Friday, October 23, 2020


...on leftovers and pantry items, but take the wins where you can.

The lentil soup and vegan chili I made a few days ago are now all gone. Yes! (Anyone who has ever batch cooked and then had the food stare back at them for a week -- or more -- will understand my excitement.) My husband helped, thankfully, and we both decided that the next batch of lentil soup should have more kick to it, both as far as salt and spice. Easy to fix.

As promised, I took the squash that had been sitting on my kitchen table for a while and turned it into a pie. The original intention had been a pudding, but when my husband saw the vegan gluten-free pie crusts I had in the freezer, he made the case for pie. This was very easy. I took the whole squash -- barely medium, closer to small -- stabbed it a few times, put it in a pan with a little water, and baked it at 400 for about 40 minutes. I let it cool over night, then cut it in half, scooping out the seeds and pulling away the peel. That went into a blender with some salted cashews (that was what I had), water, 2 tablespoons of cornstarch, about a cup of pitted dates, fresh ginger (because I didn't have dried), and then the usual suspects for pumpkin pie spice, including cinnamon, nutmeg (my absolute favorite), and cloves. This went into said frozen pie crust and baked for 50 minutes in a 375 degree oven, and after a few hours of cooling was delicious. I was worried that this wouldn't set up well, but the texture is perfect.

Realized this morning that I was running low on my homemade yogurt. I had about a tablespoon and a half left, which is the perfect amount for starter, so I soaked what was left of the salted cashews with the same amount of salted pistachios, then several hours later blended the nuts with the diluted yogurt, now starter. It is currently sitting on my kitchen window sill, and I have a feeling it will be just fine. Why cashews and pistachios? Primarily because the only other nut I had was walnuts, and that's something my husband can't eat. 

Cashew-pistachio yogurt, which I swear tastes better than it sounds

About six weeks ago my husband and I got a big box of tea from the Algerian grocery store at Haymarket, and quickly realized that the tea was too bitter. I had also ordered some Scottish tea (among other things) from Adagio Tea, which my husband liked much better but which he felt guilty about using too much of while we had to slog through the bitter tea. Because I could not stand to look at a quart and a half of tea that neither of us really liked for too long, a few weeks ago I decided it was time to crank up the kombucha and chai machines again. 

The chai recipe I use is essentially the recipe from How Not To Die: six cups of water plus however much fresh ginger, cinnamon stick, cloves, peppercorns, cardamon, and tumeric you want, plus some ground dried orange powder I made a few weeks ago (dehydrate the orange peel then grind up in your blender). Boil the water and spices for about ten minutes, then turn off the heat and steep one-quarter cup of tea for three minutes (yes, that's a lot of tea, which is why you don't go over three minutes). Most people could use this with an equal amount of milk and a teaspoon or two of sweetener; I usually blend it with a handful of nuts (whatever I have), one or two dates, and an equal amount of water. Hot or iced, it's delicious, and the recipe above will yield about four servings, if you're not overly greedy.

The kombucha recipe I use doesn't differ too much from what everyone else uses. Worthy of note: 1) my starter was a half cup of store-bought kombucha I had a few weeks ago, mixed with some strong tea (possibly re-brewed from some tea my husband had lingering) and a lot of sugar. After a couple of batches, I started wishing for something that wasn't sugar, and then I noticed that my favorite brand (GT) lists kiwi juice in the ingredients, not cane sugar. I couldn't find any frozen juice concentrates that didn't have corn soup (what is wrong with these companies?), so I broke down and bought a bottle of white grape juice (and yes, I verified that it doesn't contain anything but juices). I used this as part of my next starter batch of kombucha, and I was shocked at how much more quickly it fermented. Win!


Even in this fuzzy picture, you can see the grape juice-fed SCOBY

...Except that I'm trying to avoid glass bottles, and the juice was also not cheap. Yesterday I picked up a can of organic peaches (and yes, I verified again that it only contained fruit and juice), and when I was contemplating what I could make with the peaches and how I could reuse the juice syrup, it occurred to me that this would be a perfect substitute for grape juice. So woo hoo! I'll let you know how this turns out.

One more thing about the kombucha: using a tip Jack Monroe left on their Twitter account, I purchased some "blueberry nectar" when I got the grape juice. My final step with kombucha is to separate it from the SCOBY and let it ferment with about a cup of juice mixed in for a day or so. It is SO good with blueberry! I'm wondering now if I can use another batch of diluted canned fruit juice, or blended canned fruit...?


Blueberry kombucha, which tastes as good as it sounds

While I puzzle that out, I'm going to celebrate tonight by making a vegan quiche in the gf pie crust. I am SO excited to make a simple tofu pie since for so long I couldn't eat one. And I'll also make the long-promised Thai tofu curry since the coconut milk and Thai curry paste are staring at me (pretty much from the same place the squash was). It's the little things that make life good.

Deb in the City

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Cook Through Your Anxiety!

That will totally be the title of a self-help book in the next two or three years. Don't worry, I have no intention of writing it.

Thinking about food, as I did in my last post, makes me think about food, and on Monday night I took a close look at what I had in my pantry, refrigerator, and freezer. I couldn't even face my over-stuffed spice shelves, and what I had was SO. MUCH. that I'm not going to list out everything. Just know that it was A LOT, and even after going on a cooking binge, it's still enough that I don't need to go shopping for almost a month (but don't worry, that didn't stop me -- more below).

I came up with no less than seventeen recipes that I could make without having to go shopping. When I say I could eat for a month, I wasn't kidding. On Tuesday, feeling anxious about my sons' food issues, the upcoming election, poverty, the environment, and pretty much everything else, I made: vegan, gluten-free sourdough bread (in my Instapot, no less), chocolate beet cake, tomato sauce, vegan chili, and lentil soup. That's just me cracking my knuckles -- seriously, I have twelve more dishes to go -- and the fact that I needed to do some homeschooling and other general parenting. The latter included a phone call with the nutritionist, during which it was decided that they both need a lot more protein. So, budget conscious though I'm trying to be, I spent more money than I'd like to confess to on animal protein sources. As I watched my husband and son devour one-fifth of what we'd spent in one sitting, I started to wonder if the mathematics of better food needed fewer times really works out when you're talking about two growing boys. 


I think even this picture is giving a good idea of the awesome texture of the cake and the for-real red velvet color.

(I'm making meat for my sons because they need it. And before someone wants to get on me for not giving them vegan sources of protein, please know that one of the things that seems to be bothering them is, yep, beans. Soyfoods, probably because of the fermented nature, seem to be bothering them less, but that's not cutting it for their growth. Before you say at least give them vegetarian options, they both have issues with dairy and one of them has issues with eggs. And to anyone who wants to argue that their growth and general health isn't worth what I'm feeding them, we don't have anything to discuss.)

Perhaps you'll be surprised to hear that stress-cooking doesn't actually make your stress go away. To really burn through stress, I need to move around, but I was confined to my home both Monday and Tuesday. By the time I got back from shopping I was ready to jump out of my skin, but then I found that my body bars (36 and 15 pounds) had arrived much earlier than I'd thought. Woo hoo! As soon as my husband cut them out of the boxes for me I did what I had been promising myself I'd do: deadlifts and squats (36 pounds) and overhead presses (15 pounds). Oh, my! You know how your body can just scream for something it hasn't gotten for a while? That's how I've been feeling for a very long time, but when I picked up those bars, the delicious ache in my muscles told me that it was finally getting what it needed. 

With the prayer that I will be able to avoid food shopping for, I don't know, a week, I attacked the kitchen this morning, making chicken soup stock and then chicken soup. (Did I mention we roasted a chicken last night? It happened.) After a little calculus and chemistry with the boys -- highlight of my day, I kid you not -- I think I'm going back for vegan, gluten-free mac and cheese and squash pudding. Or we'll see what else we can come up with that I can fit in the fridge.

Off to make someone an egg and vegan cheese sandwich on gluten-free bread,

Deb in the City

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Dogged by food, again

One of the consequences of ongoing toxic stress that no one tells you about are digestive failures, and not just something as well known as IBS. It was during the, well, decade that I was living through hell that I developed a number of nasty sensitivities. While I can eat soy and sesame now, wheat is still off the table. (Dairy is as well, but that's down to straight up lactose intolerance.)

Things are better, though not always good (which is why I'm drafting this at 1:28 AM), and I thought I could finally rejoin the eco-conscious food system and buy farm-fresh produce for my family, and focus on things like zero-waste. Well, no.

Let's call COVID-19 "stressful", and for many of us, let's call it toxic. Fair to say that teens are suffering from that even more than adults are. My teens are, and they both manifested some extreme digestive symptoms. After consulting a nutritionist for both, we got some blood work done. One of them was relatively straight-forward -- as expected, don't even look at dairy and wheat, and tomatoes and beans are iffy -- but for the most part, he can eat within relatively normal parameters. I fully expected that his brother would be less dramatic, but I was wrong.

My other son showed up highly sensitive for the vast majority of what he was tested for. FYI, "vast majority" includes not only wheat and dairy, but also beef, chicken, eggs, pork, and most fruits and vegetables. I want to say that pretty much everything he's eaten showed up as something he was sensitive to, but that's not entirely correct as tea, coffee, and chocolate are all things that he's just fine for. 


Who doesn't love lasagna? Now all I have to do is make this with gluten free pasta, vegan cheese and meat, and figure out a tomato-free substitute for the sauce...

I spoke to another healthcare provider the day after I got the results, and her perspective was that his (and maybe both of their) immune systems need to be strengthened, and he should have small amounts of the foods he's sensitive to in the meantime. Confining him to a narrow set of food choices is going to add more stress, both physical and mental. That was the conclusion I had started to come to as well: if the food wasn't killing him, I wasn't going to take it away. (Please note, these are food sensitivity results, not allergies. I do not advise anyone to be as blithe with things that could cause anaphylactic shock.)

All of this came to a head as we had an order of farm fresh food waiting to be picked up, which I knew included things both of my sons had shown sensitivities to. Even with a more relaxed attitude, I can't help but wonder what the point is of going out of my way to get premium farm fresh produce (and meats) when my sons can't eat that much of it. Or does that mean that there's even more of a point to it?

Around this time I also found that my favorite food blogger, Jack Monroe, was posting again. Seems for now they've tightened their belt even more (Brexit is rearing it's ugly head in so many ways), and as they're cheerfully shopping for two on a weekly budget of $25.82 (the current equivalent of 20 pounds), I'm wondering how well they would cope if their family members were diagnosed with the same level of sensitivities to things like wheat and dairy. (Let's pretend that people on that tight a budget can access a test like that in the first place.) Actually, I don't have to wonder, because I've been in similar straits myself. The answer for me was to suffer through the things I was sensitive to because I didn't have a choice. I don't think I'm the only parent who has had to make that decision for themselves, and it's horrible. But having to make that decision for your children is the worst. It is also extremely -- wait for it -- stressful, which exacerbates everything and keeps you cycling through your vicious circle. My hat is off to Monroe and anyone else who can continue through that and power through.

Not sure this makes me feel better or worse about the farm order, but for now I've suspended it. It doesn't make sense right now to order something four days in advance, not knowing who will be sensitive to what. This feels like the right decision for me right now, but I can't but feel like I'm part of the problem now.

Deb in the City

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

You go with what you've got

Several years ago I read Apollo's Angels: A History of Ballet by Jennifer Homans. It was absolutely fascinating, particularly because it linked the success -- and promotion -- of ballet to politics, specifically revolution. It also explored the ways in which ballet argued with itself for centuries as it tried to find its identity. How was dance going to tell a story without being a secondary player in a play or an opera?

According to Homans, that question isn't answered until George Balanchine, who choreographed ballets that existed for their own sake (a version, perhaps, of the "medium is the message"). Balanchine is the pinnacle of ballet as high art, and it's had trouble re-establishing its footing since his death.

Maybe. I'm strictly an occasional audience member, and I have no sense of what goes in the dance world. Why I still think of Apollo's Angels is because of an anecdote Homans relayed about Balanchine. While choreographing one of his ballets -- possibly Emeralds -- he made what may have been the unusual decision to choreograph for seventeen dancers. Why? Because those are the dancers who showed up when he put out the call for the first rehearsal.

Whether true or not (and whether I got the ballet correct or not), I love that story. We all have our ideas of what would make something perfect, and some of us go to great lengths to force the components we imagine we need into place. And its exhausting, and while we may get something good, I've found that it's better, both for the sake of sanity and the ultimate "result", to go with whomever shows up for that first rehearsal.

Image from the Boston Globe
The people who show up are the ones who get things done

Monday, September 14, 2020

Romney knew exactly what he was doing

Another new book I'm reading (as opposed to something I'm re-reading) is America for Americans by Erika Lee. I loved The Making of Asian America, but this one is even more powerful, perhaps because it is so timely.

Or so you might think, but the truth is that immigration is an evergreen issue in this country, and it's easier to name periods where that wasn't a constant argument, rather than when it was. (And wow: if anyone wants to wax poetic about Boston's storied history of fighting for liberty, just toss this book at them and tell you to call you when they're done. My city appears way more frequently than it should, as does Harvard University.) My family and I just finished the chapter about what happened to Mexican Americans all over the country during the Great Depression. Really sickening to read about how people were tricked into leaving, including by social workers they trusted, so "real" white Americans wouldn't have to compete with as many people for scarce jobs. And for all of the people who go on about the calculated plots people draw up that center around US-born "anchor babies", such children were in the same boat as their parents when they were pressured to leave and coerced into signing documents that meant they wouldn't be able to return. 

You can read more here about just how well Mexico fared during the Depression.

This program was sold as "voluntary departure" and "repatriation", and when I saw that term I couldn't help but think of Mitt Romney is 2012 touting his strategy of "self-deportation" for undocumented immigrants. I remember rolling my eyes when he first proposed that during the debates, and I remember the way he said it. To me, it sounded like a hokey mix of aw shucks and someone reaching for words in the moment, something Romney did frequently on the campaign trail. But it was completely disingenuous to suggest that someone who became the Republican nominee for president had never heard of what had happened during the 1930s when he was coming up with talking points on a hot-button issue and just came up with that phrase -- and concept -- on the spur of the moment.

Romney is a much better actor than many of us ever gave him credit for, and I don't think I can see him casting a vote to remove the president -- or even marching with Black Lives Matter -- and think he's the real deal.

Deb in the City

Friday, September 11, 2020

Coming back, and concerns about recent literature

Haven't been here as much this year, or last year, though I still keep trying. Which is probably what I can say for every other part of my life.

This is an evergreen issue for every blogger who hasn't monetized their blog, I know. (Looking at my blogroll right now and seeing at least three blogs that haven't been updated in months.) My excuse is that I've been dealing with the fallout from addiction for a while. No, I don't mean my own. I don't think I want to get into too much right now, but suffice to say that being around people who have ceased to be people is wearing on soul, psyche, and body. As much as a recovered addict will feel remorse for the damage they've done, that goes only so far in helping the people they've damaged.

I've been reading, of course, but at a slower pace than before. I'm re-reading some books, which is why I've been quiet about my observations, but finally getting into some new material, including The Kingdom of Copper by S.A. Chakraborty and The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang. Looking forward to reading The Dragon Republic by Kuang, but I have some concerns.

I watch K-dramas, although less so as I've been trying to get through a backlog of books, and it's impossible not to notice the hostility against the Japanese. To the point where I'm beginning to be alarmed. Yes, I've been following the news, so I know that Japan and South Korea's relations are at a nadir, but the glee involved in taking the Japanese on and winning doesn't seem constructive. And, yes, I know the history very well. 

I noticed this particularly in The King a few months ago; there was a minor arc in which the very strong and wealthy Kingdom of Korea fended off an attack against the Japanese in uncontested waters. I had conflicting feelings watching the scene. On the one hand, I'm Korean too, and watching US take on a powerful enemy and win felt thrilling. On the other hand...what was the point of that scene in the overall story? It's come up in little and not-so-little ways all over the place for the last few years, including Crash Landing on You, Bad Guys, the Movie, Drug King, and Nameless Gangster, and that's just off the top of my head. 

I bring this up in conjunction with Kuang's series because it comes up there, too, and in disturbing, graphic detail. And it's interesting to me, because the author is American. I noticed this, also, in Ellen Oh's Dragon King series a few years ago, in which the primary villain was an evil Japanese ruler who had give himself over to an even more evil spirit.

I guess what disturbs me most is that these books are directed at younger readers. It worries me because while there are very good reasons to make sure we know our history, at this moment in time, when people are a hair-trigger away from nationalism and xenophobia, reviewing that history needs to be done such that those worst instincts aren't encouraged, but tempered. 

To be continued, I'm sure.

Deb in the City


Monday, June 1, 2020


I have nothing to add about the violence against African Americans that everyone else hasn't already said. It's horrifying, and it seems to defy the rule that people get numbed to something the more they're exposed to it. I haven't seen the video of George Floyd's final moments because the descriptions themselves are so sickening. 

I will only add this: when I was younger, it took me years - years - to understand the deeper meaning behind the casual, common graffiti that read "John Doe was here". It wasn't until I was in my early twenties that I realized it was someone simply memorializing that they had, indeed, been in that particular spot. It was so self-evident that someone who searches for deeper meaning, who's always so sure she isn't getting it, missed it. I consider the statement "Black Lives Matter" to be as self-evident. That other people have to repeatedly shout back "White Lives Matter!" or "Blue Lives Matter!" or "All Lives Matter!" seems to both miss and at the same time confirm the point. Are those people also searching so intently for a deeper, presumably more sinister meaning that they're missing the obvious? Or do they simply disagree?

This was my weekend (forgive the artless segue): My husband and I took one of our sons out for a walk on Saturday. We've been cooped up for far too long in our apartment, and I miss my city and the feeling of my body moving for significant periods of time. (Sadly, my home workouts weren't giving me the movement I need.) It was sunny but not insufferable, so I literally dragged my husband and son through parts of Chinatown - in case you're wondering, it's still a ghost town - down to South Station, and then along part of the Harborwalk before my son politely asked if I'd had enough of a walk yet. I hadn't, but I took that as a cue to head back any way.

On Sunday, even after working out at home, I still needed both more of a walk and more of my city. So my husband kindly agreed to another round of torment and let me guide him through Beacon Street, to the Charles Rives, then up Charles Street, before landing in the Public Garden for a break, and then continuing down Boylston Street under we were back where we started. It was a beautiful day, and though I was freaked out seeing sooo many people along the Charles and in the Public Garden, I understood why we all needed to be out.

I felt bad that I didn't hear about the protests until after I'd returned home and my husband and I were both in need of a nap. I wanted to show my solidarity, and I do try to show up for these things when I can. But maybe it's a good thing I didn't go out.

The protests were, by most accounts, hearteningly positive until they weren't. Things apparently got out of hand between 9 and 9:30 PM, and by out of hand I mean there was looting and violence. People have already talked about Newbury Street and certain parts of Downtown Crossing, but my heart went cold when I heard that there was damage in other parts of Back Bay. This is what I saw today on Boylston Street, apologies for picture quality.

Crate & Barrel, obviously

Star Market


The CVS my husband I stopped into yesterday

Sweet Green, and yes, that's the starting line for the marathon that didn't happen this year



There was also damage to Lord & Taylor, but someone was doing work on the windows, and I didn't have the heart to angle myself at that moment to get a picture.

I feel fortunate that I got to see this part of town with my family before all of this happened, because I feel like something is now gone. 

Most people are not going to understand why the vandalism here causes me to feel a tremendous sense of loss. I don't live in that part of town, and where I do live was just fine. I can only tell you that I have been going to that part of town since I was twelve and discovered the Boston Public Library, and the loss of so many of the surrounding stores during those thirty-five years to gentrification and "the market" has left me with that emptiness we call nostalgia. The fact that more of those were compromised, if not lost, to other factors last night feels like someone yanked even more away from me. I get that people are angry and that they grapple with things much worse than what I described, but don't expect me to thank them for what they did. The fact that they did this while other people were protesting sickening systemic injustices outrages me.

The good news is that the Boston Public Library, my haven, is safe. I'm not sure what I would have done if that building had been harmed. And so is the Barnes & Noble at the Prudential Center, the site where I used to have regular meetings with a group of writers before lockdown and where I am hoping we can continue to meet when this is over. (When I realized that people had vandalized Neiman Marcus and Saks, both in the same mall complex, my first concern was whether they had gotten into the book store.) 

The better news, of course, is that the officer who murdered George Floyd last week has been charged with third-degree murder. May he be brought to justice as soon as possible, and may no other lives and livelihoods be lost to people like him.

Deb in the City

Thursday, March 12, 2020

At last, I'm Amazon-Free

The whole world is starting to cancel because of covid-19, and my schedule has been impacted like everyone else's. So you know what I took it upon myself to do today? Upload my last two books onto Smashwords. Why? So I can finally announce that I am DONE with Amazon.

The clincher was when a very earnest person from a non-profit fighting hunger apologized for creating a wish list for her organization that was published on Amazon. This person was only trying to make it easier for people to be able to donate shoes and other clothing to the destitute and food-insecure clients she served - one of the worthiest causes I can think of - and yet she was apologizing for being associated with a company infamous for mistreating their workers and (credibly) accused of antitrust practices.

I mean, really, how could I still justify having my books there? I couldn't, so I didn't. Several weeks ago I removed everything I had for sale there, and I had already set my Amazon Prime membership to expire. And it's funny, because now that I've liberated myself, I can more openly say, "Ugh, I hate Amazon," when someone suggests buying gift cards there or making some other purchase. "Evil" and "hatred" are the immediate replies I've heard - clearly, I'm not alone.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Putting Amazon where it belongs 

Someone is going to say that I'm full of sour grapes, and if I'd sold more successfully there, I wouldn't have wanted to leave. It's true, I was never willing to spend the increasing amounts of money that were needed to game Amazon's algorithm, because that's what it became after a while. But I can honestly say that I am glad I wasn't someone who cashed in early on the Amazon wave and then became increasingly, desperately dependent on Amazon's whims. I know people who went from being able to pay their mortgages with their book sales to needing to borrow thirty bucks before their next check came in - and that happened relatively quickly in the evolution of Amazon. But isn't that what Get Rich Quick usually ends up looking like?

I've compared the e-book wave to the mind-body fitness bubble from a decade or so before. One of the characteristics of the latter is that, if you look closely enough, you'll see that a lot of those organizations make money off of teachers in the form of trainings; there are some yoga and Pilates instructors who can pull in enough through private lessons to make a good living, but those people are far outnumbered by the people who are running from studio to studio to scrape together enough money to supplement their other gigs. Similarly, there are some superstar Amazon indies who are still making a lot of money, but the vast majority are trying to generate attention, not even sales, and are finding that they need to pay, not for teacher training, but Amazon ads if they want any traction.

(For the love of all that is good, please don't say this is why we need email lists. No, no, no. That was great advice five years ago, but since then the internet has been pretty much ruined by the constant calls for people to sign up for newsletters, and in thanks have been aggressively spammed at least once a week. If you don't have something to say once a month that's worthy of being heard - and "My life is so fascinating and/or relevant, so buy my book!" doesn't qualify - just don't.)

I feel so much better. I've had this sticky, unclean feeling for about three years, and while removing my reviews (admittedly in a fit of pique) made me feel better, I knew it wasn't enough. While I do believe that we should have the right to hold conflicting ideas about the same thing, if I'm going to be about something, I need to act accordingly. And so, finally, I have.

Deb in the City

P.S. Apologies to everyone who left me a review on Amazon that has now been deleted. I thank you again; believe me, I appreciated it more than you can know.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Support your local businesses during the Coronavirus crisis

As soon as I heard that there was an outbreak of an infectious disease in China, I knew it was only a matter of time before people would start looking at Chinese Americans like they were all carriers. I also suspected that it would be bad for some businesses, particularly those in Boston's Chinatown. I heard a story on the radio last week that confirmed my suspicions, and with that in mind I brought one of my fifteen year olds to Chinatown last Tuesday to show our support.

Even with my deep cynicism, I was shocked.

This is one of the busiest grocery stores in Chinatown, and usually I'm stepping out of everyone's way, regardless of the day of the week. As you can see, I could have danced through the produce aisles and no one would have said anything.
This is Hei La Moon, a well-known restaurant in Chinatown. This angle makes it look emptier than it was; in reality, there was one table of customers. However, there were still more waitstaff.
We also went to get boba tea - my son loves it - and then lunch at a restaurant called Pho Pasteur. For some reason, being a Vietnamese establishment didn't matter; as was the case in the boba shop and the above restaurant, there were still more waitstaff than customers.

I came back home shaken, and my son and I agreed that Chinatown was now a ghost town. So imagine my relief when I received an email from Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu inviting me to dim sum at China Pearl this past Saturday for ten dollars at the door. My husband, son, and I jumped at the chance. (We also contributed a little extra, because I knew they would eat much more than that.) Here's what that looked like.

This is what it should look like.
I wanted to violate only so many people's privacy, so there's only this one picture, but the place was packed, so much so that I started worrying that we should leave so other people wouldn't have to wait for a seat in the cold lobby.

I was heartened to hear Councilor Wu describe the event as part of an effort to support local businesses while combating racism and misinformation. My favorite place to buy housewares is in Chinatown, but I am always wary of admitting that. "Buy Local" conjures up images of buying artisanal, handcrafted products made in a local workshop, but it also includes buying imported products from a locally owned business. And yes, some of those businesses are owned and operated by recent immigrants, and they need your dollars as much as any other local business.

When we walked back to the car after dim sum, I noticed that at least one newish business was shuttered. New businesses in Boston, especially restaurants, have a tough road in store for them, but they don't usually fold in that area in under a year. It pains me to think about what losing that business cost the people who were planning on running it.

Before I go, let me say that people are absolutely right that they should be taking precautions with their health, because there is a very real, very frightening public health problem now: the flu, which thus far has killed at least 14,000 people in the United States. Please follow whatever advice your medical provider has offered. And in case you're wondering, as of this writing, only fifteen cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19, to be exact) have been confirmed in the US.

Deb in the City

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Declaration of Independence

I had drafted something last Friday after a brutal interaction with someone. I ended the post with a countdown until I was going to be free of the obligations that were making me miserable.

Well, what a difference a day, or at most a weekend, can make. By Saturday night I had removed myself from one, and by Monday morning I had extricated myself out from another. Those two were the biggest stressors, and everything else aside from that has a deliverable and/or deadline that feels much more doable. So, even though I am not entirely free of obligation, I feel lighter on my feet and happy. Not just "much happier" but happy.

People who were unkind to me and got me to the point where I made this decision shouldn't be proud of themselves, but ultimately, this is about me, not them. I have been suffering for years under toxic stress, and it wasn't until March of last year that I realized I wasn't crazy for thinking so. (I also suffered from it as a child, but distance in time and circumstance meant I didn't have to argue with myself about that.) The health problems associated with toxic stress are well-documented, but one thing that isn't emphasized enough is that we don't make good decisions. We don't walk away from jerks because they're not as bad as monsters, and the smallest bit of praise ("hey, I see that you worked your ass off for weeks/months so something could work really well for a couple of hours" or "look at you, being a competent human being") feels incredibly rewarding when you're around people who make you feel like you're not a human being, period, so you'll keep going back for more (unpaid) work if it means that you'll eventually be rewarded with feel-good praise. And should you have a moment of clarity, one in which you can't deny that you're miserable and dread not just your next meeting but the hours of the day itself because it means there's some work you need to be getting to, but whatever it is you do, it's never going to be enough, you'll suppress any thought of taking care of yourself first because that's what selfish quitters do and you've been spending your whole life picking up after them and god, if there's one thing you can avoid, it's being one of them (FYI, they're the ones that eventually start to look like monsters). So you suck it up until you can't breathe any more, but that's okay, you're used to not being able to catch a deep breath.

Really, that says it all

I started to come out from under the stressors in April of last year, but it was a lot, and deep, and thorough. Which is all to say that in May I still wasn't making good decisions, and I wasn't even making good decisions in September. And maybe I should step back here and admit that I'm a bit of an optimist as well, and I believe in potential. (If that sounds maladaptive, you have a point, but know that looking at the future is sometimes the only way to get through the present.) So it's only as I'm genuinely beginning to feel better that I realized I wanted to feel much better, even happy. That combination highlighted for me how trapped I felt.

But here's what people don't tell you when you feel trapped: sometimes it takes just one step to start finding your way out of your prison. It started, not with the projects alluded to above, but a much smaller body, though nevertheless one I did a lot of work for a few months out of the year. After one project was completed, I heard (for the second year in a row) that there were complaints behind my back about how well the project went, never mind that there was effusive praise to my face. Maybe - it's always dangerous to believe gossip - but it was enough that I had no interest in working for that committee again. When that became official, I felt...fine. I wasn't overwhelmed by guilt, I wasn't worried that I was irreplaceable, I knew life was going to go on just fine without me. And then I was relieved that I wouldn't have to be with people who made me uneasy. That, combined with the nasty interaction above, made me start fantasizing about what it would be like to feel that way about everything.

And now here we are. I keep checking myself for dread and worries about doom, but instead I feel good. I feel like I have a bunch of things I'm looking forward to doing, not ones I need to do or else. I feel un-stressed. Might this also have something to do with the yoga practice I've been developing for myself, especially since it included a lot of twists this morning? And might it also have something to do with the green smoothies I've been drinking? Maybe and maybe, but believe me, even delicious things like twists and smoothies can feel like drudgery when that's all you see.

Another plus of my independence is that I get to blog more (in addition to things like writing and spending time with my family). So, woo hoo - I'll be back to this sooner than I usually am.

Until then,
Deb in the City

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

A spoonful of honey

My husband has been sick for the last few days. This follows a lingering cough I managed to shake last week, but overlaps with one of the kids having some kind of GI...thing. Such is winter in the Northeast, especially when everyone is pushing just a little bit (or more) past capacity.

As I was putting honey into my husband's tea yesterday morning, I was reminded of another child, suffering with another cough, but of a different. Back when my now-almost-twenty-six year old was an only child, she suffered from chronic congestion. The protocols seemed to have changed: I spent a lot of time being told that she could take hot, steamy showers to loosen up whatever was making her cough, and then she was finally given an inhaler and a nebulizer after a few trips to the ER. By the time her younger brothers were born ten years later, they just wrote a prescription for an inhaler as soon as they listened to some unclear lungs for the first time.

Back in the steamy shower days, when she was about three, my husband and I spent a lot of time in a neighboring town for certain errands. We liked being there, back then. It was smaller than where we lived, and had had for many years a thriving Jewish culture. Numerous Russian Jewish immigrants had settled in that area, and as we both have Ashkenazi ancestry, it was nice to be in that area among people that reminded us of our ancestors.

Much better than a spoonful of sugar

One of the places we went frequently, with little girl in tow, was a dry cleaners. It's not there anymore; it's either been replaced by a swankier dry cleaner, or an even swankier restaurant. Such are the ways of gentrification. But back then such a place still existed, and it was run by an elderly Russian Jewish couple. I remember now: I went there first to have my shoes adjusted. The man's English was hard to understand, but he was well-practiced in his craft, so when he handed me the shoes and the insert and gestured with his hands, I understood what he wanted me to do. He was kind, but he was busy. His wife, however, satisfied all the stereotypes of an elderly immigrant grandmother, and she thought my daughter was adorable (she was correct). I seem to remember some cuddling.

One day, they had another customer, perhaps a little younger than the two of them, but old enough to be my mother. She was one of those people who aren't given to smiling naturally. I tend to shy away from those people, especially when I have a small child in tow, and especially when that child is ill. I was aware, of course, that we should get her home sooner rather than later, and I was hurrying to make sure we could. I also had the sense that I was interrupting something, even if it was only a chance to share a conversation in their native language.

After my daughter's tenth burst of coughing, the other customer nodded at me. She spoke more softly, and more gently than I thought she would. "Give her hot water with honey," she said matter-of-factly, but with sympathy. "It will soothe her throat, but it will also bind up whatever is making her cough." That sounded...very reasonable. I smiled, as I do when I'm nervous, nodded, and thanked her.

I believe I did give my daughter hot honey water when we got home, but I'm not sure how much it helped. (Surely, it was no less effective than the hot steamy shower.) But that's not why we do everything, is it? Sometimes it's nice to be reminded of when someone wanted to help you, whatever help it was they could offer, and sometimes those are the easiest gestures to repeat.