Saturday, December 31, 2016

My Year in Statistics and Life Facts

Jim and I have been a couple for over 40 years. Wow, who'd've thought? ;->

We've been parents for 36 years and Leslie finally moved into her own apartment.

I walked 1500 miles (1505 after First Night). Really. I'm particularly proud of that. I've been trying to break walking 1000 miles in a year since 2013 and I finally did it. "House walking" in cold weather has been very helpful.

I lost 19 pounds. That's not a huge amount of weight, but for a post-menopausal woman who stress-eats (and this was an unbelievably stressful year), that's definitely in the right direction, even though I've gained and lost the same 5 pounds about 15 times since last June. Will go back to using the Always Hungry diet soon and hope to lose a little more weight.

I lost my mother, which made it a hard year, but I know I was lucky to have a mother until I was 59. My Aunt Jamen also died.

I lost some friends - David Hartwell, Morris Keesan, Kira Heston, Kate Yule. Also made it a tough year. And the parents of a number of friends died. We're just at that age.

Supported Hillary Clinton and am still a strong supporter of Democratic policies. While I accept the fact that Trump will be our next president, I do not believe he is capable of being president and expect he'll do something impeachable very quickly.

Continued to be the curator for Dead People Server, which was a little tougher this year as so many celebs I liked, like Alan Rickman, David Bowie, Carrie Fisher, Patty Duke, Bill Nunn, Gwenn Ifill died youngish.

I edited the MidAmeriCon II newsletter

Worked on the Nebula Award Weekend which will be in Pittsburgh next May and the Smofcon bid for Boston in 2017 (which won).

Continued to volunteer for Global Links.

Joined the Renaissance City Choir.

Worked a few days as an extra, mostly for Outsiders season 2 which will have its season premiere on WGN starting on Tuesday, January 24.

Spent 7 days as security for the U.S. Open in Oakmont. Kind of fun, lovely weather, got to tell a bunch of people working for Fox Sports "Walk to your left!"

Traveled a lot, mostly between Pittsburgh and Massachusetts (many family trips this year), but also to Kansas City twice, Chicago, DC and North Carolina. Planned trips to New York City and Italy for 2017.

I broke a tooth and finally had the rest of it extracted almost 6 months later.

Still have fairly severe insomnia, but I think I'm finally back over 5 hours of sleep a night after sleeping less than that for much of the year.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Carrie Fisher, Patty Duke and Me

I never met these two famous women in my title. However, I really knew both of these talented women better than most.

I absolutely idolized The Patty Duke Show when I was 6. I had an on-going fight with my mother for months as she felt it was on too late for me to see. I think eventually Mom relented as I know I saw most of the shows over the three year run of the show and the afternoon reruns that followed. Patty Duke was very talented, playing two (and sometimes three) characters every week. And around that time I caught The Miracle Worker on TV and was even more impressed, Patty Duke playing a famous person (Helen Keller) I'd also idolized. She could do anything.

I was also aware of Carrie Fisher as a very young child. She was about my age and her mother was a lot like my mother - blonde, perky, a singer. As I learned later, her mother, Debbie Reynolds, had very similar views about sex as my mother had. In the mid-70s, I read a book called The First Time, where celebrities talked about sex and their first time. Debbie Reynolds talked a lot about the importance of pre-marital virginity, how she hoped her daughter would stay a virgin until her marriage, and I nodded a lot as I'd heard that talk quite often, though my mother always concluded that talk with "If you can't be good, be careful." I'm not sure that I ever told my mother "But I am good...and careful" once Jim and I started dating, but...

Carrie Fisher literally burst on the screen in Star Wars which quickly surpassed Jaws, The Sound of Music and Gone with the Wind as the biggest grossing movie ever. I thought she was terrific (though her wavering accent bothered me a bit). She was a strong hero in an adventure movie at a time it was utterly unknown for a woman to do that. She withstood both Imperial torture and helped get "our heroes" out of the prison. After The Empire Strikes Back there were constant arguments about who "The Other" Yoda references could be. I argued for three solid years that it had to be Princess Leia, while many people disagreed with that. I got to say "I told you so" a lot after The Empire Strikes Back came out.

On December 19, I was driving up to Massachusetts and brought Carrie Fisher along with me. I'd gotten the audio book of Princess Diarist and was reliving the spring of 1976 through Carrie Fisher's voice. She was in England making Star Wars and having her first serious affair...with Harrison Ford. Meanwhile, back in Pittsburgh at that time, I was a college freshman who'd fallen for Jim and was doing many of the same things she was doing when she wasn't on set (except for smoking pot as I'd learned in high school it did nothing for me but trigger an asthma attack). But Jim and I were still together 40 years later, and while she was at least still friends with Harrison Ford, her personal life had been radically different. She had many addictions and mental health issues, and my addictions were more for chocolate...and cheese...and champagne.

Patty Duke died fairly suddenly of a ruptured intestine in March at 69. Carrie Fisher died four days after an apparent heart attack (or sleep apnea & other factors) this month at 60. I was very much saddened by both women's deaths, as I'd hoped they'd be out and about for years ago come.

What the three of us had in common in spades was manic-depression.

Back in high school in the early 70s, there were a bunch of books about mentally ill teenaged girls (I think it was always girls, I don't think boys, no matter how outrageous their behavior, were ever considered mentally ill). I'd read I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, about a teenaged girl with schizophrenia. I was fascinated by it but I didn't really relate to it. About the same time, I read Lisa, Bright and Dark, about a teenaged girl with manic-depression, and I related to it instantly. That explained so much, the periods of black depression, the bad temper, the very fast talking, the multiple suicide attempts, the feeling of never feeling worthwhile at times, while, at other times, I felt like I could do anything and I was being cheated.

For me, generally, the manic periods were great - I'd get an enormous amount of work done in a very short period of time, but there were times when it did lead to stupid and reckless behavior. The depressive periods were utterly miserable. But I was generally very functional; while I had therapy on and off for a long time and took Prozac on and off, I generally had enough control over myself that I never needed to be hospitalized. My last serious depression ended in 2004, about a year and a half after developing insomnia (the only good part about insomnia, which I still struggle with).

I can't begin to say how much I appreciated both Patty Duke and later Carrie Fisher helping to take mood disorders of all kinds out of the closet. I will miss the courage of both of these women. They will continue to be my role models going forward.

After Carrie's autopsy report was issued in June 2017, her daughter Billie Lourd wrote the following:

Carrie Fisher must have been a great Mom to have a daughter as young and wise as Billie Lourd.

Related blog post: "Honeymooning with Wookiees - A Star Wars Story (sort of)"

Friday, November 11, 2016

Fairness and Donald Trump

Fairness and Donald Trump

On November 10, 2016, the "real" Donald J. Trump tweeted:

Just had a very open and successful presidential election. Now professional protesters, incited by the media, are protesting. Very unfair!

No, these are not professional protesters. These are people who are angry that Donald J. Trump is now the president-elect.

These are people Trump criticized and tried to marginalize.

These are people whom Trump supporters have been harassing, attacking, and vandalizing the cars, houses and businesses of.

And yet, while Trump claimed in his acceptance speech:

"Now it’s time for America to bind the wounds of division; have to get together. To all Republicans and Democrats and independents across this nation, I say it is time for us to come together as one united people."

Thus far, we've seen little evidence of this.

Trump lacks the common decency, the cajones:

  • to acknowledge we live in a country with freedom of the press and free assembly
  • to tell his supporters to stop their harassment of people they've been carefully taught to hate
  • to be truly presidential which means acknowledging Americans have the Constitutional right to protest

Even John McCain, a man I frequently disagree with, had the guts to remind his audiences once the birther movement got started that President Obama was, indeed, born in America. That's something that Trump never had the courage to do in front of one of his screaming crowds.

While Trump is now claiming that he can be a uniter, the fact that he's already talked about bringing very polarizing people into his administration like Newt Gingrich, Chris Christie and Steve Bannon (of Breitbart fame) means his presidency is going to be all about pleasing loud, conservative, old, rich, white guys. More evidence a Trump administration will not be inclusive: The architect of the most racist law in modern American history has been named to Trump's team, Kris Kobach, Kansas secretary of state. The Trump team is also showing itself to be anti-science with proposal for climate-denying EPA head, Myron Ebell.

It's going to be a long four years. I'm sure I'll be one of those protesters from time to time, and I'm going to go because I have read the Constitution and there are times when I still wonder if Trump has. I will never purchase a Trump-related product, go to a Trump-related property, and generally avoid NBC which helped to make Trump a "star" with his reality show. Being president is not a reality show - it's reality, an ugly reality for those of us who know Trump and his people are going to ruin our country (but hopefully, only for four years).

The Southern Poverty Law Center is collecting reports of hate-incidents in the US. If you see vandalism or hear harassment or attacks, you can report them here: and on Twitter using the #reporthate hashtag. Keep your smartphone camera at the ready - that's our strongest weapon against harassment.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

From Registered Republican to a Registered Democrat

Many women have been writing about how their experiences with misogyny have led them to support Hillary Clinton.

I whole-heartedly agree, though my experiences have been a little different. So I want to talk about my gender issues and how my politics have evolved over time.

I was never a girly girl, I was the classic tomboy. Now, I'd identify myself as "gender queer" - I never had much interest in dressing up or wearing uncomfortable shoes or make-up or pretending to be stupid to satisfy other people's beliefs about what a woman should be.

I was and am loud and fat and I never related well to other kids, got harassed and beaten up but also fought back and stood up for myself. Unlike most kids, I didn't automatically assume I was straight. I thought about it and realized I was straight (on the Kinsey scale, I'm probably more of a 1 than a 0). I wondered if I might be trans as I was a very aggressive girl, but I realized I was comfortable with my physical gender, it was more society's expectation around what a girl was that angered me.

So I was a straight girl interested in boys but they generally weren't interested back, though I've always had male friends. I didn't have the kind of sexual harassment most women report. I was more harassed about my weight and my hypersensitivty (struggled with depression from very early in childhood). But I decided I was going to have an interesting life, and not be afraid to try different things. Loved theater from an early age, sang in groups, loved travel early on, went to the movies a lot, and wasn't afraid to go do things on my own. I had some friends, but kept getting close to girls who would then move out of town. I was isolated much of the time so I read more which led me late in high school to find science fiction and science fiction fandom, a place where loud, fat, smart women were welcome. While there was some sexism in fandom, it wasn't as pervasive as it felt in the culture at large. Men did assume you were more sexually available, but they also seemed much better about taking "No" for an answer, at least from me, as I was never afraid to say "No" until I was damn good and ready to start a sexual relationship. No, I wasn't a romantic but I fell for the right guy anyway, someone who was smart, very independent, geeky and not into rigid gender stereotypes. So I've had a very happy personal life for the last 40 years despite a rather rocky start.

While I haven't had the blatantly sexist experiences that many women have, I've believed women who talked about the harassment and assaults that are all too frequent in this society. While a few women may lie about sexual assault, that pales beside the number of men who lie about sexual assault, or, in the case of Donald Trump, boast about sexual assault and then deny it.

As for politics, I grew up in Massachusetts, always a very liberal state, but my parents were registered Republicans (at least my mother was and I assume my father, who's always been very "don't ask, don't tell" on politics, is as well). So in the late '60s and early '70s, I was one of the few kids in my school who supported the Viet Nam War and Nixon. But, at the same time, I believed adamantly that all people in America deserved equal rights under the law. Scenes on TV of black kids in the south just a little older than me being attacked by whites with water cannons and dogs appalled me. I didn't understand during the '60s and early '70s that Republicans were fighting civil rights, not just "crime" as the law and order types kept insisting.

My first step in getting away from the Republican party was in 1973. I initially believed as my mother kept saying that Nixon was innocent in Watergate. But then I watched the Watergate hearings, and it was clear Nixon was guilty. So, at first, I believed that the corruption in the Republican party was limited to Nixon and some of Nixon's people. In those days, the Republicans, in theory, were pro small-government and pro business. And in those days, you could support the ERA, abortion rights and gay rights and still be a Republican. So when I registered to vote for the first time in early 1975, I registered as a Republican. It's pretty typical for kids to adapt the political party of their parents, and in that way I was quite typical.

In 1976 I voted for Ford over Carter, partially because I was a Republican but also because I felt pardoning Nixon was the right thing to do. Ford was a bit more middle of the road than Nixon was, but, I did another typical thing in college which was to become more liberal and start fighting for the ERA. It was clear that Republicans were not very supportive of the ERA. It turned out Ford was the last Republican presidential candidate I ever voted for, but...during the '70s I just didn't like Carter very much.

My second step away from the Republican party was to not vote for Reagan in 1980. Ford might have been OK politically but Reagan was definitely too far to the right and sounded like a war monger much of the time. I voted for John Anderson, the last time I voted for an Independent for president.

Gradually, I stopped voting for Republicans. I stopped registering Republican and registered as an Independent. Sometimes I'd register as a Democrat to support a Democrat in a primary, but I'd switch back to being an Independent after the primary. I last voted for a Republican at some point in the late '90s, and voted my first straight Democratic ticket in 2000.

My complete disillusionment with the Republican party climaxed during the 2004 election when Kerry lost to Bush. I've been a registered Democrat ever since. The Democrats are the party of the future, and the Republicans are the party of our racist, sexist, homophobic past. The Republicans have done nothing for our country in decades - they voted against the Violence Against Women Act, they voted against the Minimum Wage, they voted against better background checks for guns, they voted for invading Iraq (sadly, they had too much Democratic help there)...I will #NeverVoteRepublican ever again.

I want a government that works for the people. I believe rich people should pay more of their share - not the 90% tax rate on the wealthiest common back in the 1950s and 1960s when the US was economically stable. I believe there should be more of a "windfall profit" tax on people who make over a half million dollars a year. I believe government on all levels needs to be more responsive to the people and less responsive to special interest and themselves. I believe government shutdowns should be illegal.

People like to blame the behavior of Republicans on Donald Trump, but I do not believe that. Trump is just the ultimate Republican - fact free and working only for himself and for the continuing hold on governmental power by white men.


2016.11.10: And the results of the election demonstrate how easily led about 25% of the adult population are. Nearly 50% of the possible electorate failed to vote despite the fact that a Trump presidency is likely to lead to war, chaos, evisceration of environmental laws and the Health Care Act and re-normalized bigotry. I despair for our country but I will always fight the bigots and the know-nothings, even though more of them will be in power in the US.

2017.01.25: So far, Trump has been even worse than expected. Usually there are a few people from other parties in the Cabinet, but not Trump, who just selected a Basket of Deplorables for his Cabinet & advisors. And, sadly, it seems like they're all being confirmed.

2018.07.17: Luckily, no war yet, but I've been right on everything else the Trump Regime would do. And then there was the time that he committed treason in a live television interview with Putin at his side. I'm angry and disgusted. But, today, somewhat calmly, I called my Senators and Congressional Representative and asked them to start hearings on Russian election influence, Emoluments Clause & to protect Mueller & Rosenstein's investigation. #CallYourPol

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

How to Estimate Affordable Care Act Insurance Premiums (AKA Obamacare) Using

How to Estimate Affordable Care Act Insurance Premiums (AKA Obamacare) Using

Remember the initial chaos of the poorly-designed Website? Well, overall, it is a lot better. But it's also really, really stupid in places.

Not everyone who wants to know how much health insurance will cost is necessarily going to be buying now. And it is now excessively difficult to figure out how to estimate your potential healthcare costs on the site.

There was no link for "estimating costs" so I just went through and opened an account, which was a huge waste of time.

After going through most of the motions, I called their helpline (you can't E-mail their helpline...sigh) and after a 16 minute wait, spoke to a very nice person...who had me make a few searches....none of which found anything helpful about estimating premium costs.

But, luckily, the helpline woman figured out the right URL pretty quickly even if it wasn't findable from search or the home page of She provided friendly and fairly fast customer service, but this should have been obvious information for her to have.

Any Website should make it easy to find things. The fact that "estimating premium costs" was not a findable search term on means the people who developed the Website (which is otherwise pretty good) aren't thinking about search terms and didn't run thorough user testing.

Granted, you can't put every possible task on the top toolbar, but "Estimating Costs" is a very important concept for people looking for insurance.

So if you just want to estimate the cost of an ACA insurance plan for your state and age, go to: That provides all the information you need, and the information you need to provide is much less than the info for opening an account.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Trump Will Fail Debate - He Can't Get Past These Already Debunked Lies

This was the single most brilliant move by the Clinton campaign - to release a catalog of many (but probably not all) of Trump's lies just before the "debate:" 19 Pages of Trump's Lies, as of September 23, 2016 #ImWithHer #NeverVoteRepublican

Monday, August 08, 2016

Leavetakings - July 2016

July 2016 was a month of leavetakings, the happy and the sad.

We had long encouraged our daughter to move out, but we tried not to nag about it too much. She's 35 and really should be out on her own. Suddenly in June, she said she was starting to look for a place. It turns out she had a good reason for her long delay - she wanted to save at least a year's worth of rent before moving out. Leslie found an apartment that was even closer to her work than we are. So by July 8, she had moved out. She has us out to her place every Sunday night for dinner. So this was a happy leavetaking as we were all ready for her to be out on her own.

And then my mother died on Tuesday, July 26.

This was not unexpected. She was 86, had had breast cancer twice over the last few years, and was diagnosed with terminal bone cancer in February. Mom was an extraordinarily anxious person but took this news with equanimity. Not to say she was never anxious about anything in the intervening months. She had had a stillbirth in about 1961 and had some overpowering episodes of guilt over it this year. It was strange because she'd talked about her miscarriages (she had 3 before me) and the stillbirth pretty matter-of-factly while I was growing up. She talked some to the ministers at her church about it and she wrote a short poem about the baby and had it put in her casket.

My mother had a lot of support over the last few months, from our family (especially my brother Terry and sister-in-law Jess with whom Mom lived), from Jewish Home Hospice, and from the ministers at the First Congregational Church in West Boylston, particularly Steven Small and Chip Hurd. She was able to die at home which had been her hope.

Mom was really the first person I was very close to who's died, which seems like an odd thing to say when you're almost 60. While we visited our grandparents and other older relatives while I was growing up (and even lived with her parents for a few months when I was around three), I really never felt that close to them. But I lived with Mom for 18 years and while we fought we were close. We talked a lot about everything. We were both non-crafty, loved to read and write and really enjoyed food especially really sharp cheddar cheese and chocolate. We preferred comfortable clothes (though when Mom was young, she was thin and dressed more glamorously). We had kind of a morbid sense of humor and sarcasm (though Dad is still very much like that). I last saw her about three weeks before her death and she would still joke "I'm still here..."

She had a few scary health episodes this year, particularly in the last two months of her life. She got a little cold in late May, at a time when Jim and I and my brother Jeff were en route for a planned visit. When we got there she was having trouble breathing and was using a nebulizer. But she rallied; the next day she was feeling better. However, she was then pretty much bed-bound for the rest of her life. I was up visiting in early July and came over to find her napping but breathing very shallowly. Her aide was concerned about that too. But about a half hour later, she gradually woke up, and after about 10 minutes, she became quite alert and we had a wonderful talk. In doing some cleaning, I'd found a trunk of hers we'd been looking for for years. It had a lot of fascinating old family stuff in it, including some photos of her I'd never seen, her stepmother's nursing certificates and a hooked hanging, trim from her grandmother's wedding gown and her father's baby cap. I was so glad to show her a few things that afternoon.

Which turned out to be the last time I ever spoke to her.

Mom had written her own obituary and planned her funeral, so we didn't have to do very much other then be there.

The funeral was on Saturday, July 30. It was a very hot day in Central Massachusetts. Chip, the associate minister, led most of the service, but Steven, the longtime minister, came down from his vacation in New Hampshire to participate as well. Over 200 people came. She had a simple and musical service. While she didn't want a eulogy, Chip gave her a very warm and mostly accurate one (though did skip over her sarcasm, but that had toned down a bit over the last few months).

She was interred in her family's plot in Vermont the following Monday. It was cool and sprinkling early. Her cousins were there, and some of their children, and a few of us had breakfast at her favorite place, the Miss Lyndonville Diner. But it started to rain torentially just before the service. I felt sorry for Steven who wore a full ministerial gown that morning and was drenched despite the tent over the gravesite. She was buried beside her father (whom she outlived by nearly 50 years), mother (outlived by 77 years), step-mother (outlived by nearly 25 years) and other relatives.

We were a little lucky that she died when she did. Despite having bone cancer, she didn't have much pain until the last few weeks. On top of her other health problems, she'd had a very gradual dementia over the last 10 years or so. But she never forgot her family, or close friends, her past, or that she'd lived a pretty interesting life for the classic '50s woman. And I'm glad about that.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

An Essay By My Mother, 1962: A Young Mother's Story

[[My mother, Ruth Shonyo Trask, is a free-lance writer who spent over 20 years working for the WPI Journal as a writer and an editor. She wrote this in 1962 when she was in her early 30s. While my father recently unearthed this essay after many decades of being MIA, the last page has not been found.]]

*      *      *

Carrie, Ruth, Jeff, Laurie
All our books on child development and psychology have been relegated to the deepest part of the closet. Time was when they were referred to daily. As an inexperienced, first-time mother it was reassuring for me to have an expert as close as the nearest book shelf. Now, after five years and three babies, I have finally decided that in child rearing, it is better to play it by ear.

According to the books, Laurie, our first-born, was almost certainly doomed to physical or mental retardation. Perhaps both. At age one she had not yet sat up alone. She had not creeped. She rolled. She was placid, sometimes almost to the point of inertia. She rarely uttered an intelligible syllable. After reading what the "average" child her age was doing, I began to be frightened.

The family doctor assured me that there was nothing to be worried about. But being an anxious, expert-oriented mother, I continued to worry until at least 18 months our "little laggard" finally took her first step. She hasn't stopped going of growing since.

Now, at five, she is a peppy, straight-backed extrovert whose strong will, emotions and off-beat humor are both our pleasure and our bane. Her exposes of family conversations keep us on tenderhooks.

Recently a very punctual professor friend who had suffered a heart attack was nearly an hour late for lunch. We phoned him repeatedly, but there was no answer. "Oh," I moaned, "I hope he hasn't had another heart attack - or something worse."

A few minutes later he rang the doorbell and Laurie greeted him with, "Why, Uncle Claude, aren't you dead yet?" (Luckily, he has a sense of humor.) [[Note from Laurie in 2016: I remember that day. He had a great laugh over it.]]

Anyway, since age one, Laurie has leaned to communicate. Sometimes only too well.

After Laurie came Carrie, 4, and Jeff, 3. Although, of necessity, the household was busier than ever, I did try to follow the book's advice, particularly in the matter of discipline. Nothing can be more frustrating, especially when the experts say:

    "Never Spank a Child. Reason with Him."

On the surface this sounds fine. I always tell my children what they are being punished for and why they should not do what they are doing. Then I ask them if they understand. This often works with the older youngsters. But trying to "reason" with a two year old when he is doing something dangerous (like darting out in front of an oncoming car) is utterly ridiculous. A sharp, open-handed spank kept our Jeff out of the road at two and today at three (the beginning of the "Age of Reason") he more clearly understands why he must be careful. The spanks are now few and far between.

On one point I heartily agree with the experts, but purely for practical reasons. In our case banishing the children to their rooms is to no avail as a punishment. They simply unlock their first floor window and slide down the bulkhead as soon as my back is turned!

If, after reasoning, et.c. the older girls continue to misbehave, warming their derrieres is still effective. Actually the worst punishment for them is taking away of special privileges. (Bribery in reverse.)

    "Never Bribe a Child to Make Him Behave."

In theory this seems sound and is aimed a eliminating the child's mistaken notion throughout life "If I'm good, somehow I'll get paid for it." There is an age, I am sure, when children can be successfully taught that "Vriture is its own reward." For most pre-schoolers (especially mine!) that concept is utterly incomprehensible. If giving a timid child a pressed leaf to take to Sunday School will get him there without the usual fuss, it seems sensible to do so. The dentist's "Good Patient" balloon lure our little ones in for a cleaning with hardly a murmur of dissent. Perhaps I should feel guilty but I just feel grateful. When they are older and more able to understand, they can elarn the adult idea of being good for goodness' sake.

    "Never Let Your Child Violate the Rights of Others."

Nearly everyone wants his child to respect the rights of his family and friends. Practically nobody wants him to be the bleak bully, the instigator of every neighborhood free-for-all. But after a pre-schooler has had his own rights violated it seems grossly unfair if he is severely reprimanded when he fights back. Naturally such altercations should be limited. No bites, sticks, or stones, please!

Our eldest is sometimes a too vigorous protector of her rights while the younger ones often let others take advantage of them. Some day they will have to learn to take their place in life without being pushed aside. Again, as they grown older, they will all learn, I hope, that good humor and common sense are better defenders than fists.

    "Never Let Your Child Feel Insecure."

Unfortunately this chestnut has led many innocent parents (myself included) into a maze of trouble. We are drawn into overindulgence of the grossest kind. We are so afraid that our children might undergo a moment's insecurity that we are constantly at their beck and call, give them expensive gifts, pre-plan too much of their time, fight their fights, and in the process erroneously teach them that life is one great featherbed of togetherness. What a shock when they get out into world and discover they aren't the only pepples on the beach!

I believe that if we truly love our children and demonstrate our love verbally or with a pat on the head, that coupled with the providing of the basic necessities and a disciplined, decent home atmosphere is all that should be expected of us parents. From such an encouraging climate there could emerge a sensible brand of "security;" a security which allows for some individual independence.

    "Never Break a Promise to Your Child."

This, of course, goes hand in hand with the "security" problem. The idea seems to be that if enough promises are broken the child is bound to be insecure. Theoretically this is probably true.

However, in practice, it is sometimes impossible to keep every promise. Conditions change. The bicycle promised in September may be an economic impossibility by Christmas. If such an unhappy occasion arises, a reasonable explanation is in order.

Perhaps the best way to get around the "promising" block is to try to keep promises at a minimum and, most of all, to keep them. We are having better luck with the "We'll see" tactic which does offer some hope of fulfillment without the ensnarement of a real promise. [[Note from Laurie in 2016: I agree with an awful lot of what my mother wrote in this essay, but I hated "we'll see" because they did use it quite a lot in childhood, especially my father. From an early age, I thought of this as the "parental indefinite." When we had Leslie, I avoided it as much as possible, though I tended to do many of the things Mom recommended here - read childrearing books to a point then did what seemed sensible.]]

Actually if things do not always turn out as expected by our children, it may be all to the good. It teaches them at an early age that life is unpredictable and that they will have to accept the bitter with the sweet.

Enough of books and experts! They are fine for occasional reference but often misleading and unnerving as a daily diet.

We parents must lear to fend for ourselves and use the system that works best in raising our particular families. Most of all, we should remember that we are...[[[Note from Laurie in 2016: Page 5 lost]]

*      *      *

[[Almost anyone who knows me know would agree with the observations Mom made about me back in 1962. I am a trifle mellower at least. My mother died on July 26, 2016.]]

Friday, May 13, 2016

Why I Love the Always Hungry Diet: Obese, Post-Menopausal Woman on the Journey to Being "High Normal"

I've been a fat person for nearly 50 years, an obese person for nearly 33 of those years, and a morbidly obese person for about 3 of those years.

With bad cholesterol, high blood pressure and the like, I've known I needed to be a thinner person for a long time.

Ever since I was very small, I always preferred processed carbs and protein. Didn't like any vegetables except for potatoes (of course), carrots and corn. Not a fruit lover either.  Major junk food fanatic.

Usually I was a kid looking at the camera, but here I am at about 5, staring at a friend's birthday cake.

But I really didn't get fat until I was about 9. The year was 1966, Twiggy was the major role model and being thin was more than in.  By the time I was 11, I looked more like this.

Being a fat girl in high school in the '70s was a miserable experience.  I was harassed about my weight every single day.  But I kept on eating, kept on feeling depressed and angry, and hated gym class most of all.

I decided to go as far away to college as I could afford.  That would be about 550 miles - from central Massachusetts to southwestern Pennsylvania and Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh.  By the time I got to college, I'd started reading science fiction and hanging out with science fiction fans.  Fans were much more accepting of people of all sizes.  I understood I  should accept myself no matter my size and not be a self-hating fat person.  And I met & fell in love with Jim Mann who was a fan who loved me back.  So, we got married, had a daughter, worked hard in the computer industry...and, over 20 years, I ate my way up to 255 pounds, even though I was happy most of the time.  Should note - I only gained 20 pounds when I was pregnant, but while I lost 15 pounds right away, I gained most of the baby weight back.

I did periodically diet a little and would sometimes lose 20 pounds...then gain back 25 pounds.  I lost weight when Leslie was a toddler and had to chase after her, but gained 30 pounds in a few months when I went to work full time and was sitting at a desk.  And we had pizza a lot in those days.   But I really hated dieting as I was hungry all the time and still didn't like most vegetables, though I would sometimes eat salad and had learned to like cooked broccoli and tomatoes that hadn't been turned into sauce.

Here I am at my 20th high school reunion, the time you want to be exceptionally thin.  I was close to my all time high weight (I might have weighed as much as 260, but I didn't have a scale in those days).

I was torn.  On the one hand, I honestly believe we should like ourselves and never hide ourselves away no matter our weight.  We shouldn't harass fat people. Being fat is not inherently bad or mean that you're lazy, stupid, non-sexual or have a character defect.  But...being fat can be unhealthy.  My blood pressure and cholesterol were already creeping upward.  I wasn't particularly active. 

It wasn't like I woke up one day and started eating better and exercising.  Very gradually over the next few years, I started doing simple things like parking further away when I went places.  Trying to eat a little less and a little better. Having a little less junk food in the house.   And I finally bought a scale.  By the time I was 40, I was down about 15 pounds and noticed I could stand longer and walk a little more.

So between the ages of 40 and 55, I continued working on a very gradual weight loss and activity increase. But by my late 40s, my cholesterol had gotten bad enough that I went on Lipitor. Later, I had to add a blood pressure drug.

In my mid-40s I developed severe insomnia.  I want to note that I was down about 25 pounds from my all-time high weight, was walking more, and when I finally had a sleep study I did not have sleep apnea.  Women in my mother's family tended to have insomnia from about the age of 45 until they were through menopause.   I wound up going on Ambien.  That gave me about an extra half hour of sleep a night...and, an odd side effect - Ambien depressed my craving for carbohydrates.  While on Ambien, I lost about 5 pounds a year.  However, Ambien stopped working as a sleep aid after a few years, as it inevitably does, so I went off it and the renewed carbohydrate craving, combined with going through surgical menopause, led to a 5 pound weight gain overall.  Not horrible, all things considered, but kind of depressing.

As I was generally unemployed due to my lack of sleep and we'd moved out to the country, I took up walking more seriously in 2012.  I started walking 2 miles a day and the next year 3 miles a day most days.  But, being post-menopausal meant my weight would rarely budge.  When we traveled, I would always gain a little weight, and when I got home, I would get back to the pre-vacation weight pretty quickly...except the weight wouldn't go any lower.  Here are Jim and I on a Game of Thrones tour outside of Belfast in August 2014.  I weighed about 220 in this photo.  During a 3 week trip to the UK that year, I walked 75 miles but gained 12 pounds.  I lost 10 pounds pretty easily when I got home.  When I got back from that trip, I realized there was a Diabetes Prevention Coach working in the same building as my doctor.  Given my weight issues and the fact that there have been a number of type two diabetics in my family,  I started going to see Joellen Brewton.  It was helpful to go and talk about food issues, weight issues.  She encouraged me to avoid juice (which I was able to do) and avoid carbohydrates (which I wasn't having as much luck with).  While I wasn't working, I was doing a huge volunteer project in 2015, which meant I didn't walk as much as I'd hoped and I often found myself snacking.  I was also achy and generally not feeling very well even after the volunteer job was over.

In late 2015, realizing 2016 would mark 50 years of being a fat person, I felt I had to make changes.  I decided I would walk at least 1,000 miles and would start dieting very conscientiously, on January 1.  And I did, but I was having the same problem I always had when I dieted - I was always hungry.  

In early January 2016, I was listening to the radio and heard Dr. David Ludwig, an endocrinologist, talking about dieting.  Yes, he had a new diet book out and it was called Always Hungry?.  Everything he said sounded extremely reasonable. Hmmm.  I think I ordered the book from Amazon before the show was over.  What did I have to lose?

In early January, I started tracking my eating and lost 2 pounds the traditional way--eating less of everything, being hungry all times and craving carbs a lot.  In mid-January, I got the Always Hungry? book and leapt into it (it encourages you to take a week to read the book and clean out your pantry).  Suddenly, I was eating eggs and full-fat yogurt and making shakes and not eating bread.  Aside from its Phase 1 which is pretty strict, it encourages you to adapt the diet to suit your likes, so long as you avoid processed carbs (bread, pastas, cookies, alcohol and also potatoes).  By following Phase 1 very strictly, I stopped craving breads and chips almost immediately.  Eating more full-fat foods and more vegetables (learned to like roasted cauliflower!!) made a huge difference.  And the recipes, developed by Dr. Ludwig's wife chef Dana Ludwig, were mostly excellent.

During January, I lost 7 pounds.  Yes, I know some of that was water weight.  But still - 7 pounds without feeling constantly hungry or wanting crackers.

I found a weird but good way to keep exercising even in the winter.  I walk 2-4 miles outside almost every day.  When it was too cold or rainy to walk outside, I'd walk around the rooms of the house.  It took about 21 minutes to walk about a mile in the house.  I'd also climb up to the second floor at least once a mile.  I've been able to keep walking 100 miles a month that way, well on the way to walking 1,200 miles this year, even more than I'd planned.

After 2 weeks, the Phase 2 of the diet encourages you to start re-adding whole grains and the like.  One food Always Hungry? recommended a lot was steel-cut oatmeal.  I found quickly that nothing, and I mean nothing, makes me crave more carbs as badly as steel-cut oatmeal does.  This diet encourages you to listen to your body about cravings, and I did.  So I stuck to either having eggs, a yogurt berry shake or a fritatta (more eggs) for breakfast - no oatmeal, cereal, or my longtime traditional breakfast of a piece of whole wheat toast, Smuckers all-natural crunchy peanut butter and a glass of skim milk.  We haven't had skim milk in the house since January which is very odd, but I don't generally drink whole milk either.  I've generally been drinking kefir (a yogurt-based drink) or water.  And generally one Diet Coke a day.  While the diet discourages artificial sweeteners (and there are some people who are quite fanatical about that), I like my Coke and appreciate having a little bit of caffein every day since I can't drink coffee.

Other cheats for me - some crispy-burnt hash browns when I have an omelette in a restaurant, small pieces of crusty cibatta bread, a few whole wheat crackers occasionally with peanut butter.  Generally limit alcohol to trips, and try to stick to prosecco but still enjoy a beer, red wine or Moscow mule from time to time.  But I was surprised by how well steamed cauliflower and white beans mashed together will substitute for mashed potatoes. And some of my favorite foods like unsalted peanuts and cheddar cheese are not cheat foods!

I've lost 17 pounds over 19 weeks.  Now, granted, that's not a huge amount of weight, it's slightly under a pound a week. My BMI is still in the obese range at 31 but it's getting closer to the merely overweight range all the time.  But as a post-menopausal woman who does, admittedly, cheat on this diet, it tells me I've finally found an eating plan I can live with and lose weight.  I'm down a total of 57 pounds since 1996, without gastric surgery.  I'm finally learning how to eat and exercise most of the time.  We travel some and I love to go to restaurants.  There I will eat and drink things I avoid at home.  I generally come home a couple of pounds heavier.  But I go back on Always Hungry Phase 1 diet pretty quickly, the vacation weight goes away in days and I go back to losing about a pound a week overall.

The thing I particularly like about Always Hungry? is that the carbohydrate cravings are gone.  Most afternoons, I can have fruit or cold (but cooked) cauliflower with hummus. Yes, I do sometimes get hungry between meals but mere hunger is much easier to deal with than carb cravings.  My diet counselor says that's a clear sign that my insulin resistance is in good shape.   And the second most important thing is that my cholesterol  and blood pressure are both better.  And...I still like food.  Dieters tend to view food as the enemy.  We need to eat and I'll eat unapologetically.  But I'll eat better and move more most of the time.

Most people report a lot of physical changes improvements from dieting.  I couldn't say the Always Hungry? diet made me feel better or sleep better.  In fact, I've felt like crap most of the last year.  And then I realized - a common side effect of Lipitor is body aches.  Maybe, even though I didn't have body aches the first 11 years I was on Lipitor, maybe I was getting them now?  So I took myself off of Lipitor...and the body aches went away over a week.  At the end of June, I'll ask my doctor if I can have another cholesterol test to see if the dieting is keeping the cholesterol low enough without medication.

So thanks, Dr. Ludwig and the Always Hungry? diet book for finally helping me to find an eating plan that will help take me from being an obese women to being a more normal weight.  And thanks to Joellen Brewton for providing excellent counseling over the last two years.  My goal is to get down to about 150.  I will probably still look a little fat at 150, but, technically, that's "high normal."  I haven't weighed 150 since college.  I will generally avoid processed carbs.  And any time I reach 160 pounds in the future, I will go back to eating Phase 1 of the Always Hungry? diet.

Laurie Mann, 5/13/16, 5'7", 198 pounds

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Quick Lower Calorie Smore

Desserts are often a sore point if you're trying to cut back on junk food. But sometimes you want more than fruit. Certainly eating a little 85% chocolate (thanks, Dr. Ludwig for my favorite hint from the Always Hungry? book!) helps to satisfy chocolate cravings. But what happens when you have a house with marshmallows and graham crackers after the first cookout of the year? Here's an easy way to have a smore without blowing your diet.

  • 1 graham cracker
  • 3 small squares of 85% chocolate
  • 1 marshmallow

Break up chocolate into small pieces over the graham cracker. Cut marshmallow into 2 or 4 pieces, put on chocolate. Heat in a toaster oven for a few minutes until the marshmallow & chocolate soften.

If you're tracking your foods on MyFitnessPal, the recipe "Quick Lower Calorie Smore" is in the database.

Calories 153
Total Fat 7 g 10%
Saturated Fat 3 g 15%
Monounsaturated Fat 0 g
Polyunsaturated Fat 1 g
Trans Fat 0 g
Cholesterol 0 mg 0%
Sodium 86 mg 4%
Potassium 25 mg 1%
Total Carbohydrate 22 g 7%
Dietary Fiber 2 g 6%
Sugars 10 g
Protein 2 g 5%
Vitamin A 0%
Vitamin C 0%
Calcium 0%
Iron 4%

For Always Hungry? fans out there, this isn't strictly kosher obviously. May be OK for Phases 2 or 3. I find this doesn't trigger junk food cravings for me, but I know different people crave different kinds of carbs. Could work well with chickpea flour crackers.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

30 Years After the Challenger Disaster

Just about half a lifetime ago, I was working for Stratus Computer in Hudson Massachusetts. During group meetings, we sometimes saw the famous wheelchair Boston marathoners Dick and Rick Hoyt train around the nearby reservoir. I had to run an errand at lunch. I was listening to the Challenger launch on the car radio as I was driving back to work...and...suddenly

....things were not going right.

I got back to work and ran upstairs where the word was already spreading. No Web with live video in those days, but everyone had E-mail, some people could lurk on USENET groups during the day and many had radios in their offices. One of the engineers had a little TV which he brought into the outer office. We just stood and watch replays of the take-off in shock for at least 20 minutes.

Most computer people were gung-ho space people so this was very traumatic for us.

It was also personal. Christa McAuliffe's younger sister Lisa was a Stratus employee. She was in Florida to watch her sister's launch.

A few months later, we planted a tree outside of Building 1 in Marlboro in honor of Christa. While Stratus hasn't been at that location in many years, I'll try to remember to visit that spot this spring to see if the tree is still there.

As an almost 30-year-old, I was cynical having already lived through the assassination of a president, deaths of 3 astronauts in the Apollo 1 fire in 1967, the Viet Nam War, Watergate, the ERA failing to pass and the election of Reagan. But I always loved space travel unreservedly. Still do.

It's one strong symbol of progress, of looking forward, of taking that next giant leap for mankind.

Thinking about the Challenger and Stratus, made me dig out and digitize a photo of myself from the winter of 1986, while at a party at Stratus one Friday afternoon, and a 2015 photo with my sister-in-law, nephew & niece

March 1986 December 2015

Saturday, January 09, 2016

My Best Movies of 2015

I had a feeling when I first saw Spotlight that it would be my favorite movie of the year, and it is. Exceptionally intelligently written, one of the best ensemble casts ever, it brilliantly portrayed how difficult dealing with child abuse in general is and how very difficult it was to deal with it in Boston when the biggest perpetrators were employees of the Catholic Church. It's a powerful and painful movie that never lost track of the importance of the past in dealing with horrors of the present.

I lived in Massachusetts in the '80s and '90s. I was horrified by the former Father James Porter case and utterly dismayed by how little things changed after that case became oh so public. Spotlight insightfully portrayed why things failed to change after former Father Porter went to jail.

The writers, Tom McCarthy & Josh Singer deserve all best original screenplay awards for 2015 hands down. I didn't see another movie all last year that was as solid as this movie. McCarthy also previously wrote & directed The Station Agent (Peter Dinklage, Patricia Clarkson & Bobby Carnivale) and The Visitor (Richard Jenkins) and wrote the story for one of the best animated features ever, Up. Almost everything he touches portrays real people like real people on camera and I love that (yes, even in Up).

I'd long been a fan of Michael Keaton and I'm very pleased that he's been in each of my favorite movies of the last two years (Birdman and Spotlight). Mark Ruffalo gave both a passionate and compassionate performance. And the actors who played the abuse survivors, particularly Neal Huff (Phil Saviano), Michael Cyril Creighton (Joe Crowley), and Jimmy LeBlanc (Patrick McSorely) captured the difficulties of telling their stories.

While much of this movie may come off as religion-bashing and a love letter to The Boston Globe, watch carefully because there were times when the Globe failed and other times when individuals in the Catholic Church tried to help and were rebuffed as no one (including the Globe) believed them.

When I look back at so many movies this year, I've seen many with great performances (like The Danish Girl and Concussion) but they seem to be lacking something in the storytelling. Spotlight lacks for nothing.

My Top Ten Movies

  1. Spotlight
  2. The Big Short
  3. Suffragette
  4. Grandma
  5. Bridge of Spies
  6. Room Youth
  7. Inside/Out
  8. Trainwreck
  9. The Martian
  10. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Honorable Mentions: Youth, Ex Machina, Spy, Steve Jobs, Brooklyn, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

I have not seen some movies as they either haven't played in Pittsburgh yet or were here very briefly and I've missed them: Room, 45 Years, Tangerine, Anomalisa. [[1/28 - have seen Room now and it's an amazing flick with a career-making performance by Brie Larson. So it's in my "Top Ten" and Youth has fallen to "Honorable Mention."]]

I don't go to movies that are overly violent, so I will not see Fury Road, Hateful Eight or Revenent in a theater, but I might watch them on cable someday. [[Have since seen Fury Road on cable (early morning of the day the Oscar nominations were announced). Charlise Theron and the production values were great. Felt the script was on the weak side, but the journey back to Theron's home was great.]]

I go to most movies shot in Pittsburgh. I tend to avoid movies that look bad to begin with, but saw The Last Witch Hunter as I worked on it. I was the worst movie I paid to see all year. Will Smith gave a great performance in Concussion but the script and photography killed it. Love the Coopers was kind of fun.