Insurance


I missed the memo about insurance.

insurance

In recent days, news about the Affordable Care Act has been dominating the headlines.  All the hubbub about Obamacare got me thinking about insurance, and it called to mind a time when I really, really needed an insurance policy of sorts.  Brace yourselves, folks.  This is going to get a little gross.

One afternoon at work, I started to feel a little queasy.  As the day wore on, I shivered miserably in between trips to the bathroom as I cursed my husband, who happened to have my car that day. With him across town, I toughed it out through the rest of the day, but by the time my husband picked me up, my digestive system was in full revolt.  I had been trying really, really hard not to barf, but as I rode down the 17 floors from my office to the lobby, I confronted the mortifying reality that I was going to throw up, like, immediately.  As soon as the elevator doors opened, I stepped into the plushly carpeted lobby and lost my lunch.  Those cute Mary Janes with the rosette on the buckle that I got in France?  History.  

Once home, the situation deteriorated quickly.  I will not mince words, people…I was basically peeing out of my butt.  And then vomiting.  Or doing both at the same time.  It was…undignfied.  I’ve  had stomach flu a time or two before, but what made this particular episode particularly gnarly was that the early warning system that usually permits a potty-trained person to make it to the bathroom in time to take care of business had been completely short-circuited.  I soon realized that in addition to losing my lunch and my dignity, I was starting to have a real laundry problem on my hands.  And then it occurred to me that in my state, I would not be able to sleep, like, at all.  I needed every second of vigilance I could muster and even that wasn’t really cutting it.   This was not just a “gambled and lost” situation…I was not even making it to the table to place a bet. 

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Seriously…this was me. But I mercifully had the presence of mind to take a seat and position a bucket in front of me. It’s the small things, really.

But I was exhausted and desperate.  Then it occurred to me…if I was going to get any rest, I needed… a diaper.  Yep, a diaper.  To this point, my husband had wisely been giving me a wide berth, but since I couldn’t go to the store in my condition, I beseeched him to go and get me some Depends.  Because he was a little embarrassed at the prospect of buying adult diapers, he questioned whether I really needed them.  I said, “Don’t judge me!  In sickness and in health, dude!” 

When my husband dutifully returned with the bulky purchase, I gratefully donned a diaper and went to bed.   In those stretchy, papery, plastic underwear, I slept like a baby, at least until I had to barf again. 

When it comes to insurance, it’s all about risks and odds…I had calculated that the odds of me falling asleep and suffering the rudest of awakenings were pretty good, and that was not a risk I was willing to take.  I needed insurance…in the form of a diaper.  Memo received. 

P.S.
As noted, when I asked my husband to get me some diapers, he initially balked a bit.  In his estimation, a diaper represented over-insurance.  But he was making his calculation as a person who was not in the throes of epic diarrhea.  A couple of days later, however, he came down with the same flu.  I went to work and came home to find him lying miserably on the couch.  When I asked him how he was feeling, without a word, he pulled down the waistband of his sweats and revealed that he had reassessed the risk and taken out a little insurance policy of his own.  He got the memo, too.

Reaching the Beach and Feeling the Feelings


I missed the memo about reaching the beach and feeling the feelings.

You know that thing about stuff happening in 3s?  I don’t know if that’s an actual thing, or if it just happens that once something happens twice, you’re more likely to notice when it happens a third time.  However it works, last week, I think the universe was trying to send me the same message on three different occasions, so I’m trying to take the hint.

Message No. 1 came when  the lovely and hilarious Glennon Doyle Melton over at Momastery posted a link to the latest viral video from the incomparable (and oddly sexy…) Louis C.K.

This video killed me…both with its humor and its truth.  I definitely catch myself using my Smartphone as a way to escape from unpleasant emotions…boredom, frustration, worry can be temporarily suppressed as I experience the illusion of interconnectedness that social media and the 24-hour news cycle provide.

But as Louis C.K. pointed out, we’re ultimately so much better off if we just let ourselves feel the feelings, even the painful ones.  If I constantly distract myself from my feelings, then yeah, I avoid the painful ones, but then I short-change the good ones, too.

Which brings me to The Fixx…as part of my husband’s birthday extravaganza, we recently went to see The Fixx perform in concert.  “Who are The Fixx?” you ask…well, they were part of the 80s New Wave, but they’ve continued to record and tour and just be exceedingly awesome in the decades since.  Most will remember a couple of their big hits (“One Thing Leads To Another” and “Saved by Zero” from their smash 1983 album Reach the Beach, among others), but their music has gotten more beautiful and more interesting since then.   My husband and I are definitely “Fixxtures”, as they say.

Cy Curnin
Fixx Front Man, Cy Curnin…still crazy and sexy after all these years.

Cy Curnin and crew put on a great show, and they played one of my very favorite songs of all time…”Treasure It”.  This was message No. 2.  Seriously….think about these lyrics…

When you’re feeling insecure, do you treasure it?
I treasure it
Feel the pull of nature’s course and treasure it
Oh, I treasure it

Let that sink in, people…treasure feeling insecure.  As uncomfortable as they are, moments of insecurity are when we feel ourselves having to open up to a new idea or experience.  Put another way, sometimes when we grow, it hurts.  But growth is usually a positive thing, so embracing insecurity, treasuring it, even, that could be good.

And message No. 3…this one came because I am particularly dense, and after getting home from the concert I was dinking around on my Smartphone (sweet irony!) and came across this image….

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Aw, c’mon!  There it was, spelled out in oil paint and in the gentle words of Bob Ross (can’t you just hear his sweet, soothing voice…)  You need the darkness to appreciate the light.  Pretty simple, but hard to remember.   I apparently needed to get this memo three times, but alas, memo received.

Breastfeeding, Backpacks, and Life Hacks


I missed the memo about breastfeeding, backpacks, and life hacks.

When my first son was born, I decided to breastfeed him.   No big whoop.   I say ‘no big whoop’ now with the benefit of five years of hindsight, because at the time, it seemed like a very big whoop, indeed.  All things considered, my #1 son actually had a pretty easy go of it, and because I could breastfeed him, I did.  When I went back to work, I dutifully pumped…in my office, in airport bathrooms, in rental cars, wherever.  The longer we went without formula, the more convinced I was that there was something kind of magical about my son being exclusively breastfed.  My milk supply barely kept pace with the voracious milk demand, but I was never tempted to use formula because I didn’t want to break the spell.

Fast forward five years…#2 son debuts via unplanned c-section, so instead of the cozy baby-on-the-chest moment, he gets whisked off to the NICU while my guts get put back to together.  Then, the magnesium sulfate therapy I needed for treatment of pre-eclampsia after the birth left me totally incompetent  to care for my baby.  My muscles were like over-cooked pasta and I lacked the strength and coordination to even hold him that first night.  But some very good nurses held him for me.  And they gave him formula.  The spell was broken before it was even cast.   It made me sad, but there was a big part of me that was really, really relieved.

My relief came from a pretty selfish place.  I realized that with my first son, I had derived a lot of ego gratification from the fact that he had been exclusively breastfed.  I could do it all…have a baby, be a fancy lawyer, go on business trips, and still exclusively breastfeed.  I was the best mom ever.  Bullshit.  Breastfeeding was just something I could control when, as a new mom,  there were so many other things I couldn’t.  The combination of ego and magical thinking was powerful and not entirely dysfunctional.   But as a second-time mom, I was, I think, a little wiser, and a lot more weary.  When my new baby got formula, it forced me to recognize that I couldn’t and didn’t have to do it all.  There was some sweet surrender in that.

The great thing about breast feeding is that it isn’t an all or nothing proposition.  My sweet little baby gets all the breast milk I can make.  And he also gets formula.  He’s happy and healthy, and I’m not driving myself crazy.  Win-win.

And like the first time around, I am pumping…mostly in a tiny room designated for the purpose, but in Fire Station bathrooms when need be.  My constant companion, both last time and this, is my Medela Pump In Style Double Electric Breast Pump.

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See how sleek and fancy it is?  No wonder I was completely deluded into thinking I was Angelina Jolie or something.  But here’s the thing…after about 10 months of torture, the sleek little backpack began to disintegrate.  The actual mechanics of the pump were in perfect working order, but the backpack was falling apart.  I had it held together with staples and tape.  I contacted Medela about replacing just the backpack, but no dice.  The pump itself is actually attached to the backpack with industrial strength Velcro and taking it out is a big no-no, apparently.

When I prepared to go back to work this time around, I wanted to avoid buying a brand new breast pump, since my old one still worked fine.  But the the taped-together backpack just would not do.  So I thought about my options, searched high and low, and this is what I did…

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Yeah, I Caboodled that shit.  Remember Caboodles?  The pink tackle boxes we all coveted in the 80s have come a long way, and this particular make up bag had just the capacity and compartments to hold all my milk-making supplies.   Caboodle as breast pump carrying case, how’s that for a little life hack?

Memo received.

 

Easter Island, Indifference, and Orange Is the New Black


I missed the memo about Easter Island, Indifference and Orange is the New Black.

Over the weekend, my husband was geeking out watching this documentary about how the ancient inhabitants of Easter Island transported the ginormous statues from where they were carved to their final resting places.  I managed to watch a few minutes myself and it was intriguing as hell.  These statues are huge and were carved centuries ago.  These folks had simple tools and not much in the way of transportation technology, so how in the name of Zeus’ butt hole* did they move these massive creations over several miles of sometimes hilly terrain?

Easter_Island_Figures,_c._1000-1500

Well, it’s a marvel of engineering and ingenuity that I cannot even begin to explain.  But as I contemplated this feat of human achievement, something struck me.  These “primitive” people had been able to tackle a pretty extraordinary problem and work out a solution using pretty limited resources.  And here we are, with the interwebs and science, and space ships and whatnot, with lots and lots of unsolved human problems.  If ancient Polynesians could move a monolith over many miles, then it stands to reason that we human beings could solve pretty much any problem we set our big brains upon.  As a species, we sorta decide where we are going to direct our brain power, and some problems don’t get solved because we simply choose not to solve them.

And this brings me to Orange Is the New Black…OMG people, have you watched this show?

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I binge-watched the whole series a couple of weekends ago.  So totally engrossing.  And because OITNB is like crack, and I was totally hooked, I was thrilled when I received a copy of Piper Kerman‘s memoir which inspired the series.  Ms. Kerman’s descriptions of the people she met and the experiences she had in prison were just as compelling as the TV show.  But what really got me was her reflection on themes of empathy and indifference.  She considered her own misdeed (of carrying drug money) and expressed some gut-wrenching remorse about it, not just because it got her locked up, but because, once she saw the face of addiction in some of her fellow inmates, she really understood that she had been a part of the agony that addicts endure.  She observed that the “central thing that allows crime to happen [is] indifference to other people’s suffering.”

The juxtaposition of Polynesia and prison got me thinking… human beings are utterly amazing and we also suck really, really bad.   Our capacity for problem-solving and  industry are apparently limitless.  As such, there should be very little suffering in the world.  But somehow we are indifferent to lots of forms of that suffering, and thus don’t apply our big, fat brains to the cause of helping to alleviate it.  Or worse, we go all Lex Luthor and use our intellect to victimize people with crimes large and small.

Rather than getting all depressed about this, I am trying to feel empowered.  Even though we suck, we  can do extraordinary and deeply good things.  Our ancestors may not have moved mountains, but they moved big freakin’ hunks of rock.   If I exchange my indifference for empathy once in a while, maybe I can move a pebble or two myself.

So glad I didn’t have to go to prison to get this memo.  I look like shit in orange.  Memo received.

*Bonus points for this reference…hint…if you squint, it is thematically related to this post. 

Hang Time, Taye Diggs, and The Unbearable Lightness of Being


I missed the memo about Hang Time, Taye Diggs, and The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

So, I’ve spent the last couple of months holed up with my new baby. When I had my first son, I felt that I needed to be fantastically productive during my maternity leave.  I also had a strong desire to get out of the house as much as possible. This time is different. I’m older.  The birth was a bit more strenuous.  And this baby, though very cute and wonderful, is a bit more demanding.  As consequence, I’ve spent a lot of time just sitting around holding my son. On a molecular level, we’ve both been very busy.  Me, making milk and healing my body, and him growing at an exponential rate.  So we’ve been busy.  But there has been a lot of sitting around.

At first, I felt a little guilty.  Shouldn’t I be doing all the stuff I never have time to do when I’m working full-time?  I mean, with all this extra time on my hands, my house should be spotless, I should be trying lots of new recipes, I should be doing post-natal yoga, and I should be writing lots of blog posts.  But then something dawned on me.  Since I will not be having any more kids, until I retire, this is likely the last time in my adult life that I will get to stop working for a good chunk of time.  When that occurred to me, I said to myself, “Fuck it…I’m on vacation.” Sure, I’m busy bonding with my baby and whatnot, but I’ve let go of any expectation that there is going to be anything particularly productive about this maternity leave.  So for my baby son and me, this has been pure hang time.

While I’ve been sitting around, I’ve watched a truly shocking amount of TV, including all six (seriously, six) seasons of “Private Practice.”  I was never a fan of “Grey’s Anatomy”, so how I got sucked into watching its spin-off is somewhat inexplicable, but I think it might have something to do with Taye Diggs.  I mean look at him…

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He looks like he has been sculpted from a particularly delicious variety of chocolate, doesn’t he?

And then there’s the rest of the cast…beautiful people, all.

Sexy doctors are sexy.
Sexy doctors are sexy.

And the show is pretty much a round robin of these gorgeous people having sex with each other.  Even though the show was mostly just cheesey drama, there was one lovely little moment in which my boyfriend, Taye, really got to me.  Check it out…

As Taye adorably explains, an “Anyway Friend” is a friend who, no matter what you do, will love you anyway.  That’s unconditional love. And unconditional love is hard.  I’m supposed to love my innocent little children unconditionally, and I sure try to, but I have to admit that it feels easier to love them when they’re being good.  That feels kind of conditional, so yeah, unconditional love is hard.

And that brings me to The Unbearable Lightness of Being.*  Set in the former Czechoslovakia, it tells the story of Teresa and Tomas, an unlikely but passionate couple.  They have a dog, named Karenin, to whom they are both pretty devoted.

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Daniel Day-Lewis as Tomas and Juliette Binoche as Teresa. Karenin as Karenin.

When Karenin dies, Teresa observes that she did not love Karenin more than she loved Tomas, but she did love Karenin better because she loved Karenin unconditionally.  Teresa’s love for Karenin wasn’t a function of what Karenin did or did not do; Karenin could just be and Teresa would always love her.

Maybe that’s the point of all this hang time…for me and my new baby to just be. Enjoying the hang and memo received.

 

 

*Both the book and the movie are really good, though very different.  The book is very deep and is very heavy with the Nietzsche.  The movie, much like “Private Practice,” is mostly a delicious depiction of beautiful people getting naked and sexy with each other.  

My Pop Culture Birth Plan


I missed the memo about my pop culture birth plan.

So, I had a baby a few days ago.  And before I launch into some of the crazy details of how he came into the world, I want to first say that he is perfect and I am fine, and what follows is told through a hormonal haze.  I further disclaim that I am on drugs.  A lot of drugs.

To begin at the beginning…my due date came and went and so the time came to contemplate a chemical eviction of this little guy.  My first labor had been induced and it worked out reasonably well for all concerned.  I didn’t relish having all the medicines and interventions, but I had been assured by some very earnest people in lab coats that a second induction would almost certainly be faster and easier than the first.  However, as my labor progressed, this is the image that repeatedly came to mind…

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Actually, the early part of labor was relatively smooth. And I have Tom Hanks to thank for it.  As the contractions got stronger and closer together, I summoned the images of “Castaway”…you know, the amazing scenes close to the end when he’s made that raft and is paddling for dear life, then holding on to crest those enormous breakers…As the contractions swept over me, I said to myself, “Paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle!!!”  Inexplicably, this helped a lot.

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Hold On!

After a while though,  the paddling image wasn’t cutting it. I got an epidural placed and it was amazing.  So amazing that when I later heard the sound of water cascading onto the floor, I had no awareness that this prodigious gush had come from my body.  When the nurse came in to check things out and get me cleaned up, I also had no awareness that my abdominal muscles were no longer functional, and thus I tried to pick up my entire upper body using only my neck muscles.  This turned out to be a very bad idea.

TLC-Waterfalls
Seriously, don’t go chasing waterfalls. Especially while you’re in labor.

I wrenched the muscles in my neck an upper back really badly. Turns out, when those muscles are spasming, it makes it really hard to get into an effective position to push out a baby who is nearly 9 pounds.  And sunny side up.  And jammed in your pelvis at a pretty obstinate angle.  The kid would not come down.  He would not come down, but my blood pressure kept going up, and my liver enzymes were getting all wonky.  So that’s when we made the call.  I wish I could say I was all cool and stoic, like this…

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But at this point, I was truly hysterical and begging for whatever help or relief I could get.  The epidural had been turned off, so I was feeling all the pain and pressure of the contractions.  And this may be hard to believe, the muscle spasms in my upper back were on par if not worse than the contractions, so I was in this horrible no mans’ land of agony in which the one thing I could do to end the pain of the contractions was the thing my body couldn’t do because of the pain in my back.  It was really starting to suck.

Everything that happened next, happened really fast.  Thank God.  With the high blood pressure and  liver enzyme wonkiness, people started to get a lot more serious, and I had some dim awareness that folks were scared that I was about to go all Lady Sybil on them.  Mercifully, I was in the hands of doctors and nurses who worked quickly and cautiously, and it was all over before I really knew what was going on.

Unfortunately, the one salient memory I have from surgery was the fact that I was barfing right at the moment that my son emerged from my body.  I wish I had been more able to focus on him, but instead, I was having a little moment with a very compassionate person in scrubs who was basically doing a Garth for me…

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If you’re going to spew, spew in this.

So, there you go.  There’s the part about the magnesium drip and the spinal headache, but really, that’s where this birth story starts to sound like an Abbott and Costello routine.  I was grateful to have all these pop culture resources to draw upon throughout the experience…friends come and go, but movie and TV characters stick with you through the hard times.  And in the end, I was was justly rewarded…

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And now I have a few weeks to kick back and take care of a newborn and catch up on my TV and movie watching.  Just in time for the return of SMASH.  Good timing and memo received.

Hell, Heretics, and Jean-Paul Sartre


I missed the memo about Hell, heresy, and Jean-Paul Sartre.

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It’s Christmas night, so come all ye faithful and ruminate with me about a bit of Christian theology that I’ve been turning over in my heart and head for the last couple of weeks.  If you’ve got an hour, go listen to this episode of This American Life which tells the story of the Bishop Carlton Pearson who was once a rising star of the Pentecostal Church, but has since fallen from grace for preaching what he calls The Gospel of Inclusion.  It’s a riveting story that I can’t do justice here, but it’s stuck with me and probably will for a long, long time.

Through his own study and reflection, Bishop Pearson came to the conclusion that there is no Hell, at least not in the fire and brimstone sense.  Instead, Hell is sort of “No Exit-y“.  We create Hell here on Earth through war, violence, cruelty and all the awful stuff we’re capable of as human beings.  Bishop Pearson figured out that  there is no Hell, per se, because no one is going to Hell.  And no one is going to Hell because the birth, life, and death of Jesus resulted in de facto salvation for all of humanity.  Let that sink in…no one has to tell you the Good News, you don’t have to accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior…it’s a done deal.  It’s the ultimate Grandfather clause.  (Or would that be a Godfather clause?)

Being a theological simpleton, I found a lot of comfort in Bishop Pearson’s ideas, but apparently they don’t jive too well with the Pentecostal tradition, so he basically got kicked out of the church that had been his home pretty much his whole life.  Seriously, he was declared a heretic.  I had naively assumed that declaring people heretics went out of fashion around the time of the Spanish Inquisition, but apparently it’s still a thing.  Not to be a total cynic, but I’m guessing Bishop Pearson’s heresy comes down to the fact that the Gospel of Inclusion is bad for business.  If people are already saved, then there’s no reason to work particularly hard at, and more importantly, spend any money, on being a Christian.

Even though Bishop Pearson is a heretic and all, I see a lot of wisdom in the Gospel of Inclusion.  There are a lot of good Christ-like people in the world who don’t call themselves Christians, and I like the idea that all those people are not damned to burn and gnash their teeth for all eternity and whatnot.  I also like the idea that as a Christian myself, I’m off the hook for saving other people.  Not that I get a free pass to be an asshole, but maybe trying to be a good person is enough.

Anyway, I can’t claim to have anything totally figured out, but  I’m going to spend some time enjoying the idea that we’re all in this together, and whatever comes after life, maybe we’re all included in that, too.  Merry Christmas and memo received.

Thanks, Waste, and The Good Tupperware


I missed the memo about thanks, waste, and the good Tupperware.

It’s the Sunday after Thanksgiving and it’s been a lovely four-day weekend full of chopping, mixing, blending, and baking.  Due to my delicate condition, we begged off travel and other festivities and opted to stay home for a quiet holiday.  But I’m thankful that I’m still capable of cooking, so I spent a good portion of the weekend literally barefoot, pregnant,and in the kitchen.  We had a good meal with a lot of our traditional favorites.  Then yesterday, while still suffering from a bit of a tryptophan hangover, I happened to tune in to a Food Network special called “The Big Waste“.  It was a competition of sorts which pitted two teams of Food Network chefs against each other in a challenge to see who could create the tastiest dishes at a banquet for 100 people.  The catch was that all the ingredients they used had to be rescued from the refuse.  Yep, you got that right…everything they used for their recipes was stuff that was about to be thrown out.

So the chefs set out and explored farms, wholesalers, and restaurants and what they found was astounding.  Lots and lots of high-quality, perfectly edible food that was sometimes moments away from a garbage can or a compost heap.  And why?  Mostly because of cosmetic imperfections.  The American consumer has been so conditioned to expect pristine and pretty food that we turn our nose up at every tiny bruise and blemish, and actually pass over the ripe, flavorful specimens to get to the more perfect looking, but sometimes less tasty options.

I admit to being a food snob and a food safety nazi, so I have probably thrown away way more than my share of food in my lifetime.  And now I am taking stock of the fridge full of Thanksgiving leftovers and pondering their fate.  Using Alton Brown’s recipe, I’ve transformed a whole mess of turkey into some pretty tasty turkey salad.  Add an egg to the mashed potatoes and they’ll fry up as passable potato pancakes, I suppose.  But after seeing the extraordinary amount of food that goes to waste in our country, I feel challenged not to squander the remnants of this feast that we were so lucky to have.

While the specter of so much waste also has me contemplating how I can plan meals and shop more efficiently, the most pressing issue is what the hell happened to all my good Tupperware?  (Aaaaaand there we go…I have  officially become my mother.)

So how do you creatively repurpose your leftovers on Thanksgiving and other times of the year?  And more importantly, how do you keep all those lids from going rogue?

Still digesting and memo received.

Trust


I missed the memo about trust.

 

My good friend Stacey introduced me to the movie “Trust” back when we were in college.  It’s a dark, quirky indie comedy that you should add to your Netflix queue right now.  Go on, I’ll wait…

“Trust” tells the story of Matthew, an unemployable genius who habitually carries around a hand grenade, and Maria, an adorable, pregnant high school drop out.  They’re an unlikely pair who find some kind of connection amidst the angst and banality of their suburban lives.  That probably seems like a perfectly ordinary plot, but trust me about “Trust”…the characters are sad and smart and weird, and they say things that you’ll be thinking about for decades.  Here, contemplate this exchange…

Maria: Did you mean it? Would you marry me?
Matthew: Yes.
Maria: Why?
Matthew: Because I want to.
Maria: Not because you love me or anything like that, huh?
Matthew: I respect and admire you.
Maria: Isn’t that love?
Matthew: No, that’s respect and admiration. I think that’s better than love.
Maria: How?
Matthew: When people are in love they do all sorts of crazy things. They get jealous, they lie, they cheat. They kill themselves. They kill each other.
Maria: It doesn’t have to be that way.
Matthew: Maybe.
Maria: You’d be the father of a child you know isn’t yours.
Matthew: Kids are kids, what does it matter?
Maria: Do you trust me?
Matthew: Do you trust me first?
Maria: I trust you.
Matthew: You sure?
Maria: Yes.
Matthew: Then marry me.
Maria: I’ll marry you if you admit that respect, admiration, and trust equals love.
Matthew: OK. They equal love.

Are respect and admiration really better than love?  Does respect, admiration, and trust equal love?  I first heard this dialog about twenty years ago and I still haven’t quite figured it out.

I’m guessing “Trust” swam up to the surface of my brain because life recently handed me a memo about trust and what trust means for me in my personal relationships.  I’m wrestling with what it takes for me to trust other people and what it means when trust breaks down.  Specifically, does trust mean never asking for proof?  And not to get all Ali McGraw on you guys, but does trust mean never having to say you’re sorry?

I would like to think I am generally a trusting and forgiving person, but I think years of lawyering have also left me with a suspicious mind and an utter inability to suppress the urge to ask questions about just about everything.  This perhaps makes people feel that I don’t trust them, but I guess I’ve become a bit of an empiricist, even when it comes to matters of the heart.  I hope it doesn’t make me a terrible cynic, but I don’t think evidence is anathema to trust.  Evidence is like a little cushion, just in case trust gets yanked out from under you.

And I think trust means having to say you’re sorry a lot.  Trust is something that can get chipped away and eroded by both tiny slights and big lapses in judgment.  But apologies are the polish that can buff away those dings in our hearts.

So go watch “Trust” (and mourn the loss of Adrienne Shelly, who was so very awesome and just beginning to enjoy a wonderful career renaissance when she was senselessly murdered in 2006).  Then maybe take stock of what trust means to you, and whether respect, admiration, and trust really do equal love.  Memo received.

Brining, Basting & Spatchcocking


I missed the memo about brining, basting, and spatchcocking.

As you have probably surmised from my previous dispatches on culinary subjects, I am not a particularly serious cook. But as Thanksgiving approaches, I feel a little extra motivation to make a little more of an effort. Mercifully, my beloved Alton Brown recently delivered some memos in which he extolled the virtues of his finely-honed turkey preparation techniques. Because Alton Brown is not only a great cook, but also a food science nerd, his techniques are well-grounded in chemistry and physics, and if we look closely, there might be a bit of metaphysics thrown in for good measure. Join me as I contemplate the nature of the following…

First there’s brining…brining is a basically a technique whereby you cover the bird in a bit of salt or plunge it into some salt water and then just bide your time. Depending on which particular  method you employ, there are various stages of covering and uncovering the bird to allow for drying of the skin, etc. What’s fascinating about the science brining is there is something weirdly counter-intuitive about how it works in that the longer you leave the bird in the brine, the less likely it is that the turkey will taste salty. Savor that for a second. There’s something about giving the sodium molecules enough time to break down the muscle fibers or some such geekery, but if you short-change the brining process, you get a weirdly salty bird, but if you if give the process adequate time, the result is a turkey that is moist, tender and just the right amount of salty. Trippy, huh?

Then there’s basting.  Conventional wisdom tells us that we’re supposed to be baste the bird at regular intervals throughout the cooking process.  I always thought that basting helped to ensure that the turkey stayed moist and that the skin got all brown and crispy.  Well, in the world according to Alton, basting doesn’t give you much bang for your buck.  He cautions us to think of a turkey’s skin much like our own skin, it’s a barrier that keeps stuff out and doesn’t really allow much to soak in, so basting the outside of the turkey does nothing to flavor or moisturize the meat within.  And while dousing the bird in butter every half an hour may result in some decadent turkey skin, the unfortunate trade off is that opening the oven door so frequently lets a lot of heat out, and when the heat goes out, the cooking time goes up.  And when the cooking time goes up, so do your chances of having a turkey that turns out something like this…

And last but not least, there’s spatchcocking.  Say it with with me…spatch-cocking.  Wasn’t that fun?  In addition to being a wonderfully ridiculous word, it’s also a great shortcut for impatient cooks like me.  It’s a another term for butterflying, which involves taking out the bird’s backbone so it will lay flat in the pan.  By coaxing the bird into this position, you increase the surface area, and increased surface area means decreased cooking time.  And as noted above, you want your turkey’s time in the oven to be hot and short, kinda like a good trip to Vegas.

So what have we learned?  Good turkey takes a little forethought…if you’re going to brine a bird, you have to start the process a few days out, so there’s nothing last minute about it.  And basting might be a bit like tanning…it may achieve a cosmetically desirable result, but it might do some damage deeper down.  And by spatchcocking the bird (and please, let someone come up with a really awesome and disgusting alternative meaning of “spatchcocking” and put it on urbandictionary.com, like now), you can save hours in the kitchen just by honoring the physics of form following function.

So there you go.  All I needed to know about life I learned from Alton Brown’s turkey techniques.  Happy Thanksgiving and memo received.