A Degree of Mischief at University of Vermont

The college admissions scandal has highlighted what some have referred to as “affirmative action for the wealthy.” As I mention on my “about” page, I grew up in subsidized housing but went to an Upper East Side prep school with the aid of a scholarship. My freshman year of college was spent at Bennington College, also via scholarship before transferring to the University of Maine in Orono. It was too painful for me to be the kid from the wrong side of the tracks in places where the vast majority of students came from very wealthy homes. 

Then, once at grad school at UVM I lived in a tiny house in the woods complete with big spiders* (steel-toed Doc Martens are a form of organic pest control) and was fortunate to have been awarded an assistantship for two years which paid my tuition in full and gave me a small stipend. However, that also meant my days began at 5:00 a.m. and I didn’t get home sometimes until 10 at night. Even so, my most valuable life lesson learned wasn’t a part of my curriculum, but in a playground.

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The New England Diet

The photo of me above on the left is from 2009, before I lost 10% of my body weight in 2010 by following a 1950s diet that I documented in my book American Women Didn’t Get Fat in the 1950s. The photo on the right was me at my wedding in 2018. Since 2013 I’ve been reading diet books, articles and cook books from the 19th century through World War II, many of which are New England sources. I’ve maintained my weight loss and continue to have very healthy cholesterol levels by eating a traditional New England diet. And so, I have an announcement!

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Simplifying: Only One Blank Check

I’m always working to reduce mental clutter and recently had an opportunity to clear some out!

In the past I’ve spent too much time feeling guilty and inadequate because I had the mistaken belief that I wasn’t doing enough to help others beyond friends and family. Reading the news daily and passively witnessing reported tragedies, seeing good people fall on hard times or lose loved ones to cancer or other horrible circumstances can be so disheartening. But oh! There’s a GoFundMe! Now multiply that by a thousand. Then there are community causes that I’m passionate about, I want to serve in church and also continue my annual donation to the animal shelter. Because of so many great needs, my donations of time or money can feel like pennies thrown in a can no matter how expansive my desire to be of service. Then, having to set limits by not giving to every good and compelling cause has left me feeling powerless and anxious. Worse, I’ve often compared myself to others who have more time, energy or much deeper pockets. Until now.

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Sickness and Self-Care

That cold I wrote about at Christmas, where I lost my voice? Turned out to be bronchitis which I haven’t had since high school. Cough suppressants, including a heavy duty prescription syrup did little to reduce my coughing fits, but I did have some relief from taking Olbas cough syrup which I highly recommend (and it’s alcohol-free).  Ricola Mixed Berry with Vitamin C (non-menthol) also continues to be helpful along with lots of tea and homemade chicken soup. My voice, although slowly coming back, is not my own!  I sound like a hard-livin’ chain-smokin’ barfly until I laugh. Then I sound like “The Nanny”!

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Time Travel: Reading an Old Book by Candlelight

Here’s a simple evening exercise to help you gently step away from overly complicated living. One of the greatest conveniences of brief mental time travel (or going off the cultural grid) is that it doesn’t cost anything. No fancy machinery, expensive tickets, long lines, or invasive security searches need be involved. In fact it’s the opposite!

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Simple, Old-Fashioned Help for PTSD Nightmares

My experience from both sides of the “couch” has taught me that there’s nothing simple about PTSD nightmares. The things I tried in my teens and twenties–using food and alcohol to try and bury and drown them, sometimes to the point of blacking out, created new real-life nightmare scenarios. In my late twenties through my forties I was afraid to go to sleep; I averaged about five broken hours a night. When I did sleep, and the nightmares struck, I woke up extremely exhausted.

I wish I could say that I am now completely free of nightmares and experience restful sleep. The good news is that I have made incredible progress over the past couple of years. I have fewer nightmares, am not terrified of going to sleep and am making my peace with them.

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Harvest on the Harbor Maine Lobster Chef of the Year

Yelp comped me a ticket to attend Maine’s Lobster Chef of the Year, a sold out event, which is a part of Portland’s Harvest on the Harbor. Lucky me! Wayne was also invited but had to work since it was mid-day Friday, so I met up with a fellow Yelp Elite. As judges we were served eight different tastings (one of the nine participating chefs had to cancel) and we then voted for our favorite. Check out these beautiful creations!

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For Christine

Note: I never thought I’d be sharing this publicly, but in light of a recent event, I am called to do so.

Good care, whether physical, medical, psychological or spiritual, is important for maintaining one’s well-being. Long gone are the days of the old New England doctor that knows and forms a relationship with the entire family and makes house calls. Yet medically, while we have made progress in disease recognition (but I call foul on some of those infomercials trying to sell us sickness) and management, it seems like we’re in a futuristic dark age. Between issues with for-profit health insurers, politics and a growing lack of empathy and good communications skills as a society, getting quality medical care can be really hard to find. Compounding that further, my experience has been that it’s not easy to find competent and compassionate medical care for the challenging issues women face later in life.

When I found Christine some years ago I knew I had hit the jackpot! She was the first medical professional to ask me a very important question that, in retrospect, should be asked of every woman during her annual wellness exam.

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Twenty-Four Years Ago

Twenty-four years ago I left Rasputins in Burlington, VT and way of “coping” after a humiliating, frightening, dangerous and FINAL drunk. The next day I opened the door to a church basement to begin a program of recovery that I’m still practicing today. Whatever illusory “liquid courage” I imagined I had back then can’t compare to the badassery of living sober.

Centering Prayer by the Sea

At our summer church in Kennebunkport a small group meets once a week in the rectory for Centering Prayer, a meditative practice founded in Massachusetts by three Trappist monks in the 1970s.  We meditate for twenty minutes by focusing on a sacred word of our own choosing, then watch a short teaching by Thomas Keating on DVD.

The first time I went last summer I was very intimidated by the prospect of a twenty minute meditation! Sitting in a quiet room alone listening to the “noise” in my head is old hat to me and I often mistake it for being productive. Making mental to-do lists, planning, lamenting the past, worrying about the future can happen in the most bucolic of settings. Sitting with a quiet mind? It’s a challenge, but meditation gives me moments of inner silence, the benefits of which are deep and lasting.

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