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My Friends, the SuperHeroes

If I had to choose, it really wouldn’t be much of a contest between Marvel and DC Comics – Marvel would win just about every time. That said, I happen to be friends with a family of superheroes that would probably fit right in with the DC gang.

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SuperEwan being interviewed by the press on an Adventure Day!

Like every legend, it didn’t start out as a way to get publicity or notoriety; it started in the kind, epic heart of a little boy named Ewan, who wanted to help people who are homeless in Detroit, near where he lives. His parents decided to put Ewan’s heart into action, and through the magic of social media, it has become a cause that not only the family works on, but one that the community is helping make happen. Elderly widows, Boy Scout troops, and random strangers contact SuperEwan’s mom, Ange, and twice a month, they load up vehicles and take food, clothing, and other supplies to people who struggle. No questions asked. No names collected and turned into any agency. As far as I know, no one has ever been turned away.

SuperEwan is humble, silly, empathic, and smart. It’s no surprise that he is such an admirable kid when his parents are such welcoming, open-hearted people who continue to impress me with their honesty and grace. His younger siblings, a preschooler and a toddler, get in on it, too, packing baggies of toiletries and tagging along on “Adventure Days.”

If you haven’t seen his page already, pretty pretty please check out http://www.SuperEwan.org! There, you’ll find links to articles about their adventures, television interviews, and more. There are also ways for you to get involved, whether it’s a donation or reblog or other effort. There is a Facebook page, too, and he gets really excited about new likes/followers, do even if you can’t donate, a “like” will make him smile – and he has a great smile. SuperEwan is a nonprofit organization, meaning donations are deductible.

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Encouraging Awkwardness

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The Cindy they didn't recognize.

About a week and a half ago, I went to a work retreat where I knew I would be seeing people I hadn’t seen in a while. I was looking forward to it. Just before dinner, as most of us headed down the hill towards the dining hall, I saw Brian and Teri, a couple who were a year behind me in seminary. I waved. They didn’t seem to notice. I said “Hi, [surname]!” and waved again, to which I got a polite “…Hello…” in response.

I was a little bummed. Had I done something that offended them?

“Wait, is that Cindy?” Teri said as they got closer.

Oh, right. I haven’t seen them in probably a year and a half, maybe more, and they wouldn’t necessarily have known that I’ve lost a ton of weight, or that I wear bright red lip stain now, or that my hair is about six inches shorter. They weren’t ignoring or placating me before, they just didn’t know it was me. I waited a few seconds for them and we kept walking together. Inevitably, they said the two things everyone says when they see me now:

“You look so great!”
Thank you. I have moments when I feel I look better than other moments, and overall, I’m more pleased with how I look than I was 10 sizes ago. But it’s really awkward when people say some variation of this now because I am accustomed to being ignored. I had the same green eyes, same pretty freckles, and better boobs a year ago, and no one ever greeted me with “you look amazing!” Which makes it feel like the fat I am so ashamed of really DOES make me ugly and undesirable, because the more of it I lose, the more compliments I get. Take that one anxious step further, and in a society that fixes a woman’s worth to her appearance and it feels like the less of me there is, the more I’m worth.

“How did you do it?”
This one is a little less common, but still happens often enough. I’m never sure how to answer it, because weight is a complicated issue. There is no way to answer it without there being stigma attached. For me, I started losing weight by accident a little while after my PTSD started to settle down a bit, when I was suddenly flirting all day with someone, when an old friend became one of my very best friends, when work was in its busiest season. In other words, I was the happiest I’d been in a very long time. For a while, the “how” was flirting and smiling.

Then it became a real effort. The flirting ended for a while, work was slow, my boss was on my case, PTSD never went away, and then losing weight became the only thing in life that kept me sane. The “how” was hours in the gym, and counting calories, and spending what little money I had on Ace bandages, sports bras, and blister Band-Aids.

Mono, it turns out, is also an effective way to lose weight, mostly because eating made me want to wretch and I was too tired to cook anyways. “How” meant hours laying in bed, relying on others to help with basic things like laundry, praying that my liver count would return to normal.

Right now, it’s a fight. Every friggin’ day is a fight to unlearn a lifetime of habits and attitudes. It’s exhausting. I don’t have to look up calories all the time because I remember them, but it’s a running total all day, remembering every bite of chicken or carrot or cookie to know if I should have the graham crackers I’m craving before bed. It’s harder and slower now because I can’t eat much less than I do most days without being too low on calories and workouts are a habit that still feels forced. “How” is trying to be kinder to myself, disassociating shame and food, going broke buying clothes that I keep shrinking out of, and figuring out how I am going to live in my differently shaped body.

I don’t know how to explain those two things as anything but awkwardly encouraging. I know it’s my own hang-ups that bog me down, and none of the awkwardness and anxiety I feel comes from anyone else. I just never know how to respond when people say them. My weight isn’t complicated for them, it’s complicated for me. At the same time, it’s almost as awkward when I see someone I haven’t seen in a year or more and nothing at all is said. I can see it on their faces, flashes of surprise and adjusting to my “new” face, but nothing gets said, and there is an underlying awkwardness for a few moments until it fades.

And I won’t even begin to talk about how awkward it is that I still have a long way to go if I’m going to lose all that I should.

I don’t know what the answer is, if there is one. I don’t even think I know if there’s a question. Maybe just an acknowledgement of the weird, stupid, nebulous place I’m in, and maybe a request for a little bit of grace, should you ever have to endure my whining about choosing an apple over potato chips.

Cooking: A Love Poem in Photographs

1607014_10100839226300967_2783017495446474500_nHeld long and smooth
in my hand, firm flesh and
thin skin, examining the veins,
coaxing out the seeds that
spill everywhere;
it is most definitely the star
of the evening, but only because
I know what to do with it.
Red pepper, chopped.

I didn’t hesitate to pull1380128_10100839226340887_4180434938949517361_n
back layers and display
everything that had been hidden
and speculated about, thankful
that I found quality, strength,
yet with quick movements,
I turned that nerve into bits.
Onion, chopped.

 

10712904_10100839226405757_7087650198388075323_nI pushed through people
to get to you, grabbed brazenly
with my whole hand, and took
you straight home where you
were swiftly disassembled and
crushed, for my benefit;
my need is all that mattered.
Garlic, minced.

 

10482073_10100839226515537_1719495179856291131_nSudden heat and corresponding
sweat, a dissolution of individual
identities until there was just
fragrance surrounding me,
clouding my vision, almost
transcendent, lingering on my hands
long after I was through
with the handling.
Medium heat, until tender.

1528685_10100839226485597_3423709291077621631_nDrown everything in unexpected
spice and ease, tightly lidded so that
nothing escapes, not the heat, not
the sweat; relish the anticipation of
flavor, the melding of particulars
into that which is something entirely other,
more beautiful and lovely than then its parts.
Simmer 30 minutes, blend.

10269440_10100839367018967_5201095481048835091_n
In a whir of color and motion,
it’s about damn time, hotter than
expected as it burns my lips too
swiftly to keep it from scalding my
tongue, a welcome pain drenched in
pleasure, and my eyes close
and I sigh, satisfied.
Serve with caution.

A is for Apple

One of the best things my mother said to me and my siblings over and over again was to not assume that everyone has had the same education we had. She usually said this while we were talking about how someone had done something really stupid and should have known better, or we were bring flippant about someone not knowing something that we thought was basic knowledge. If I were a betting woman, I would pretty safely place my money on the supposition that my mother told us that more often than not while we were in the kitchen, because that’s where she spends an awful lot of time, either cooking, cleaning, or doing dishes. While we managed to weasel our way out of a lot of cleaning and dishes, we usually didn’t fight against cooking too often. Like every kid young enough to know everything, I was gracious enough to whine an “I know, Mom!!” while I thought to myself that while they may not have had the same education, they should know these things.

A few years ago, celebrity cook Jamie Oliver decided to take on some of the school lunches that kids are eating in the United States. In one of his early episodes, he went to a school in California where a notable number of third graders couldn’t identify a whole tomato as a tomato. I remember thinking that it must have been an exaggerated instance, because really, every third grader knows what a tomato looks like.

When I lived in Illinois, I knew a family that struggled with stomach trouble, and to combat it, the mother was convinced that adding table sugar to everything made it better. The sugar cut out the acid in the spaghetti sauce, she said, and no matter how many times I explained that sugar is an acid and that commercial spaghetti sauce is already full of sugar, she was convinced that adding heaping spoonfuls of sugar to her kids’ plates helped them.

While standing in line for coffee about six weeks ago, I was bored and eaves dropping on the conversation between the women in front of me. One of the women had lost about 15 pounds in the previous few months, and she was gushing to the woman with her that she had swapped fat for sugar “because a teaspoon of sugar has fewer calories than olive oil, so it’s really better to have cake than a salad with olive oil and vinegar dressing.”

A couple of weeks ago, I walked past a young mother with her two kids, none of whom knew what it meant on the outside of the package when it said “early potatoes” – the mother, who looked to be in her early 20’s, didn’t know what an early potato is.

Tonight, while I was teaching my young troop of boys, one of the ten year old boys asked me, in all honesty, if crab patties come from cows. He had just been caught off guard by the information that hamburgers come from cows and was wondering if any more of his food came from them. When I’d heard about the tomato ignorance in California, I had thought that just maybe the issue is that they were kids in an urban area and hadn’t had much of an opportunity to do a lot of gardening, but here, in Iowa, 92% of the land is farmland. There is farmland within city limits, and yet, I find myself having to assure a ten year old that crab meat doesn’t come from cows.

I’m not a health food freak. I eat my share of things I shouldn’t, and too much of it, too. When I was talking to a friend in Australia today, she said that she has a secret desire to go to an American supermarket because she has heard about how very processed our food is. I told her that what I have learned is to try to stay away from the aisles because that’s where the worst of it is. If I stick to the perimeter, I’m more likely to go home with produce than products. While I’ve been trying to eat better, I’ve noticed that many of the processed things don’t taste like they used to. I am not as used to them anymore.

I’m not going to jump on some crazy bandwagon and campaign against Kraft. I’m not going to suddenly believe in the magical power of kale.

At the same time, I can’t help but think that maybe this has gotten a bit out of control. People seem to be increasingly food illiterate because so much “food” doesn’t look like food anymore. I know that heavily processed food is cheaper and faster because they’re so heavily subsidized and marketed. I know that it takes longer to cook real food and that’s time that we don’t always have.

Honestly, though, it breaks my heart a little to know that so many people lack even basic knowledge about what their food IS. If you don’t know what it IS, you don’t know how to make better decisions about the options you DO have. I was lucky to have a mom who was able to teach me what she knows – and is still teaching me. When I have a question about how to do something in the kitchen, my impulse is to call her instead of googling it.

Somewhere along the way, between getting rid of home economics and gutting science classes and parading billions of subsidies through Congress and a broken food assistance program, we made it harder and harder for people to know what their food is. So now, in the age of robots on Mars communicating with computers on Earth, I have kids who tell me that they are allergic to tomatoes except when it’s on a sandwich from Subway and that their “Fruit by the Foot” really is fruit, just like a banana.