Category Archives: Change

Chips, Dips, Chains and Whips

(Republished with permission (from me to me) from the Your Fitness Mate post 5/7/10)

That’s a classic line from “Weird Science” where hottie Kellie LeBrock talks tough with Gary’s parents.

It’s also highly descriptive of the problem with most parties…  calorie-packed bowls of fatty deliciousness and piles of the saltiest, snackiest crackers, chips and breads you’ll ever see.  The only way to avoid them is to chain yourself to the chair or stay home.

Unless you know how to cheat properly.

First things first, STOP using Mayo and Sour Cream.  For crying out loud… you are just asking for a heart-attack.

If you can season properly (a skill ANYONE can learn), you can skip the fatty, heavy bases of most dips, and just use yogurt.
The problem you’ll find is that fat-free plain yogurt has the wrong consistency.  Easy fix = strain it!  (Coffee filters will work too.)

Our good friends at Yoplait have also just launched a greek yogurt with extra protein.  Love them!

Another fun little trick is to use cottage cheese or beans (garbanzo, edamame, white) as the base and to mix in flavorful additions.

My weakness is the Spicy Crab dip from Straubs. Those people are the devil with how they tempt me to eat rich, fatty foods! Now don’t misunderstand me, much of their ready-made offering is fine in moderation and always delicious. My typical choices, however, are not.

I’ve figured out how to make a delicious Crab dip that is a pretty good rival:

Skinny Crab Dip:
1 can crab meat
1 cup small curd lowfat cottage cheese
1 garlic clove
1 TBS of Thai sweet chili sauce
(or if you’re super-hardcore, 1 packet of stevia, 1tsp sriracha, and red pepper flakes)

Mix up until consistent in color throughout.  Serve with celery for the lowest of low-cal options or whole wheat crackers/pita triangles.  I’ve also had it as an openfaced sandwich for lunch (toast the bread).  Either way – it’s darn good.

Another surprising winner is Edamame Hummus.  The following is a knockoff from Robust in Webster.  It isn’t quite as good as theirs but I bet I saved a few calories.

Skinny Green Hummus:
1 bag of frozen SHELLED edamame (thawed)
1-3 garlic clove(s)
Sesame Oil
lemon juice
fish sauce
fresh cracked pepper

This dish requires a food processor.  I got my Cuisinart mini at Sur la Table but any will do.
Add all thawed edamame, garlic and 1tsp of sesame oil at a time until consistency is something like good mashed potatoes.  The lemon juice and fish sauce will make a big impact with very little so be sparing.  I would estimate 1-2 tsp of each should suffice but this is to YOUR taste, not mine.  Fish sauce is very salty so the less you can use, the better your skin will look the next day.  I like cracked pepper on top as a garnish.  You’ll be surprised how people love this.  It is excellent with crudite as well as crackers or pita.

The tsp or TBS you use of premade sauces (bbq, sweet-chili, etc.) won’t derail your efforts to be healthy when combined with a bean or yogurt based dip.  You can also use horseradish and spicy brown mustard which are very low in calories to liven up a bland dip.

Finally, those handy premade packets of spices (hidden valley ranch and knorrs vegetable) that we love to use so much are almost always full of sodium.  You can get the same impact on taste without the harmful side-effects by using sea salt and spices.  Sea salt has the added benefits of magnesium and calcium (Yay bones!).  Get in the habit of looking at the labels of pre-made food stuffs.  If you can’t replicate the ingredients at home (because they are chockabock full of things like methylchloroisothiazolinone or disodium EDTA sodium nitrate) do you really want to be eating them?  or have your family eat them?

One final thought:  if you’re used to eating salty, fatty food, your tastebuds are about as dead as a smoker’s.  As you wean yourself off this crap, your tongue will become more discerning for the subtleties of flavor in dishes.  You won’t need as much of anything because you’ll appreciate everthing more.

Now, where’s the party?!?!?!


Note from Schugarmama:  If I ever pretend that my mom’s opinions don’t matter to me, smack me.  Schugarmama’s mama mentioned my work on the Fitness Mate blog recently and said how much she missed reading my tips & recipes.  Since the business (and the blog) are essentially defunct, I thought I might just transfer a few of the posts to my current project.  Being fit, healthy, and still enjoying good foodies are definitely part of the ‘sweet life.’

Happy is as Happy does.

Last February, I posted a note on the Fitness Mate blog about The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.   

At the time, I was still struggling with my “Schugar” v. “Mama” drama.  I wasn’t convinced I’d made a good move to my hometown.  There were a 100 challenges in the finance department.  So setting up a project for myself was exactly the right medicine.

In January of this year, I wrote about the business of getting on with BEING happy instead of looking so damn hard for it.  So obviously this is a theme I like.  I hope I’m not getting into the broken record realm of blog posts.

I don’t buy into the whole “this is my lot in life” mentality.  I don’t think there is a master plan into which you fit.  I don’t think your struggles are your destiny and that there is some great reward for the poor suckers who suffer through.  The Beatitudes are a bum rap to keep the oppressed from changing their station.  It’s a lot like the promise of 7,000 virgins for Jihad martyrs.  And I call ‘Bullshit’.

Everyone deals with a bag of shit at some time in her life.

Some of us experience it early and some of us experience it often.  Dr. Phil has made a fairly successful career pointing out the obvious to people who don’t learn from their mistakes and who wonder why they continually experience the same shit.

The real insight is that only one person in this world is responsible for your happiness.  YOU.

You either make it or you don’t.

You either live it or you don’t.

You either spread it or you don’t.

Nothing anyone can do or say can interfere with your happiness unless you allow it.  That’s the wicked great thing about the incredible complexity of the human mind and spirit.

I’ve lost friends who couldn’t celebrate my happiness with me but chose to spend their time and focus on mourning their perceived missing pieces.  The revelations came harshly but once you’ve seen selfishness  you can’t unsee it.  As with most hindsight, I was able to recognize the signs of pathological Takers only after I’d said goodbye to them.

I’ve heard people complain about having to plan their own happiness, be it weekend activities, trips, dinner parties, birthdays.  Their thinking is why doesn’t someone ELSE do this for me?  My question back is ‘why would you ever put someone else in the driver’s seat of your happiness?

I often repeat a favorite Einstein maxim “There are two ways of living:  as if nothing were a miracle or as if everything is one” and once was rewarded for the statement by being called the anti-Christ.  This was a pretty clear indicator of an unhappy person.

I find that statement a renewed inspiration every time I hear, read or repeat it.  It is so hopeful and grateful a sentiment.

If you’re mourning the loss of Oprah this week, you’ve probably attempted some kind of gratitude exercise during your devotion to the big O.  But isn’t there some irony involved in being taught/reminded to be grateful by a woman who has more money than our Treasury department?   Of course Oprah is grateful, she could buy the Louisiana Purchase and still have change for a West Wing full of Jimmy Choos. 

No, the idea of looking at life as full of miracles is much humbler.  Much simpler. 

Looking at life as full of miracles requires you to part with your baggage. 

Unhappy people are carrying around the belief that they were somehow short-changed.  That their suffering is somehow more significant or mournful than that of others.  The most unhappy people seek out that suffering so that they can justify their own pity party and invite others to join them.

I love love love the question “Who would you be without your story?” as posed by the clever Byron Katie in her books.

I think many of us get so used to the backstory we’ve been told or have been telling ourselves that we forget to rewrite it when it loses shape, no longer fits, or hurts.  As adults we may not grow in physical shape but our personality, spirit, and mind certainly do.  Are you still wearing the story from your youth?  Your 30s?  Your darkest moments?  I hate to tell you, but that is SO five minutes ago.

The most obnoxious sap of happiness are people who project their pain onto you.  You know who I’m talking about.  YOU are the cause of their loneliness, their tears, their absolute desolation.  You have my permission to politely tell them to Fuck Off.

If someone’s happiness is tied to you (and they aren’t a minor) then they have some serious emotional and psychological issues that need to be addressed.  This is not your issue.  It is theirs.

No one has the right to use emotional blackmail to suck you into a vortex of their misery.  No one has the right to antagonize, patronize, or use passive aggression to manipulate you into enabling their story.

Not even your family.

DNA is not a life-sentence.  Happiness means that it is not by obligation that we socialize, but by choice. 

I wish as much happiness as you can find for yourself this weekend. 

If you don’t have a plan for finding some happy, make one.

If your happiness will be magnified by the presence of others, invite them along.

If you aren’t sure what to do next, do happy.

Growing girl

Recently, the hub and I found out that baby #2 is a girl.  Up until then, we’d been saying we win either way – a girl meant we don’t have anything to buy, that we know the plot, that baby #1 will have a fun shadow to teach/torture/tease and a boy meant we could be done with the whole pregnancy thing.

Now that I know, that statement was actually incongruous with how I feel. 

Getting another girl isn’t a consolation prize for me.  This is quite possibly what I was meant to do with my life – raise daughters.

I can remember when I was young, I would opine that I’d want five boys because girls were just too much trouble.  Back then, that was my experience.  Girls WERE trouble.  Girls made my life miserable.  Boys were often dimwits, horndogs or annoyances.  Girls?  Girls were dangerous.

Girls spread rumors and played psychological games.  Girls wielded friendship like Uzies.  Girls were catty and fickle and passive aggressive.  A few standout exceptions aside, it was a world removed from the homogeneous, isolationist Middle where I found a different kind of woman.  I finally understood that not all women need you to be low so they can be high. 

Most of these lessons were hard-learned.

In middle school, it wasn’t my many awards or the intense, shortlived friendships that made me swell with pride – it was my leadership in a successful coup against the top mean girl. 

In high school, my besties were fringe girls – the kind my parents were hesitant about – who listened to the Cure or Al B. Sure.  No matter in what sport or art I dabbled, I was never ever included by popular girls. 

In University, I deigned to pledge a sorority.  Parties?  Sports?  Elected leadership?  I couldn’t sign up fast enough.  But the night before I went active, despite my rank as the pledge with highest points, I was very ceremonially dismissed.  I can only point to my tenuously composed diatribe of curses to the sanctimonious president and her wholly unconvincing panel of henchwomen before I exited that house and entered my life as both legend and outcast as a positive takeaway.

I’ve read several of the pop psych ‘biggies’ on this topic, from Reviving Ophelia and Please Stop Laughing At Me to Mean Girls Grown Up.  The stories were so familiar to me that it helped to contextualize my experience as common and not the wholly unusual, even abnormal, one my own family believed it to be. 

Through several decades of harsh introspection and the odd evening of alcohol consumption even Hemmingway would envy, I learned to stop accepting and start liking myself.  Someday I will write a book about spiritual inheritance and the wastefulness of shame, the value of self-esteem, and the most important gifts a woman can bequeath another – her offspring or otherwise.

Whether by chance or Karmic justice, I have now a collection of women who are sisters in everything but DNA.  These women are proof enough to me that there is divinity inside us and that friendship isn’t a gauntlet to be run.

I unwittingly participated in much of my own suffering for fear of exclusion, unfortunate prioritization, or simply not having confidence in my own person, my own voice.

My daughters will suffer that same fate over my dead body.

I have no doubt that each will encounter situations I can’t foresee or forestall.  I have no doubt that each will wield a personality wholly unique to mine and values completely foreign to me.  I can only hope to prepare them to defend themselves and their ground with wit, charm, and defiance. 

Even against me.

No, I’ve no need to “keep trying for a boy.”  I have everything I need – a hub (in whom feminism thrives), a daughter (with a fiery Leo mane and spirit to match), and a mystery making its way to me as we speak.

If I do nothing else in my life, I will honor my daughters with honesty, empower them with tools to navigate their own path, and respect their gifts whether I understand them or not.

Throughout my time with them, I hope to show them how to pursue and embrace happiness. 

The Buddha says that all life is suffering.  I think many of us in America, especially those raised Christian, have a flawed sense of injustice if our life includes suffering.  Suffering isn’t punishment.  It isn’t unique to any of us.  It is a universal truth of humanity – a thing that binds us as sisters and brothers. 

The quality of your life is defined by how you roll with the punches.  You can lay yourself out if you aren’t bobbing and weaving in time.  I’ve never met a soul who wasn’t sucker punched once.

So I’ll teach my girls how to get back up, how to dust themselves off, how to get back after it.

And I’ll teach them to love being a woman.

And I’ll teach them to be women who love.

And I’ll learn from them my legacy.

_____ New Year

I love movie characters who show unglossed disdain for whiners.  I especially like the wise, old codgers who advise the desperately-seeking-happiness set to get on with the business of life and quit wallowing around like self-indulgent, spoiled inheritance brats.

I definitely think that there’s something privileged about devoting time and energy to “finding happiness.”

But that isn’t to say that I am not one of those schmoes who reads self-help/improvement books.  In fact, in 2010, I read three:  The Happiness Project, Savor, and Loving What Is.

As I think about my resolutions for the coming year – things I want to accomplish, change, learn, share, I can’t help asking if  pursuing happiness is incongruous with the value of just shutting the eff up and getting on with it.

Einstein is credited with saying that there are two ways of looking at the world – as if there are no miracles or as if everything is one.  The more I think about (and read about) happiness, the more it seems to me that maybe we just need reminding that we are, in fact, happy.

The most recent example of this is in my own household.  I haven’t been feeling very “wonderwoman” this week and it has made me testy (read: bitchy).  My poor hub did his best to dive-bomb in support while steering clear of the indiscriminate scud missiles of nasty I was firing off.  As usual, my zen master of common sense dispensed wisdom that both chastened and inspired me.

It was something along the lines of, “I hope you can be happy tomorrow.”  I am not unhappy was my instinctual reply.  Unhappy people are miserable bitches who make everyone around them miserable too…. oh, shit.


There’s another embarassing truth at play here.  My husband is not American.  Ergo, it is more painfully obvious to him than most when I show every emotion I have at the exact moment I have it.  Americans as a rule have no filter for politeness or decorum or shame.  We are a selfish, showy lot.  It mortifies me.  I’d kill to have a stiff upper lip.  But no, I’m a bawling mess of emotions even when I’m not hormonal.

As soon as he shared his simple wish for me, I started counting up all the ways I’m lucky instead of all the previously-glaring have-nots that were bumming me out.  I didn’t suddenly pay off my debt, get skinny or move into a polished mansion.  All that changed was my perspective.  So is that it?  Is all this fuss really that easy to alleviate?

Maybe so.  At least for me.

If there is one thing common amongst my Phacebook Phriends, it is that everyone seems to have a moan or groan about 2010 to share.  I don’t know anyone who has posted something joyful or celebratory about how the last year treated them.  Perhaps that’s indicative of the economy.  Maybe every year is like this and I’m just noticing because I can easily jump on their bandwagon of crab.  In any case, each post seemed an invitation for me to one-up my acquaintences for “worst year ever.”

But what is the sense in that?

I’m a big believer in speaking your mind.  Legitimate grievances, to be fair, need airing.  The generic whining that is a poor excuse for most conversation does not, however, qualify.  Not even close.  Complaining doesn’t actually make people feel happier. It doesn’t change your plight.  It spreads your miserable dissatisfaction to others and invites the snowballing of poor-me syndrome. 

So yes, I will set out my resolutions tonight and tomorrow.  I will outline some things that will make me happi-ER and some things that will make those around me happier.  Of all these, the most important ones (and probably hardest to keep) will be to  shut up about whatever it is giving me a sourpuss (jelly belly, skinny savings, dust bunnies, etc.) and just get on with it.

It is, after all, a wonderful life.

Happy New Year.

Dirty Girls

No, I don’t mean in the ‘good’ way.

Girls are filthy. 

I went to an industry party last week where there was a set of bathrooms tucked away in one of the halls.  Since I don’t drink much (in public) anymore, I didn’t use the Ladies Room until fairly late in the evening.  When I did, I was completely aghast at the condition.

One stall was completely unusable.  The remaining three had so much paper, trash, bottles, cups, etc that you almost waded into them.  Platform shoes would have come in handy.  The floor was wet and dirty; the sinks were wet and dirty.  There were glasses everywhere. 

It reminded me of college parties. 

Except these girls are not so much girls as women.  Professional women.  Women with jobs and reputations.

And they were filthy.

I’ve seen dirty bathrooms.  I’ve road-tripped, backpacked, and camped.  But actual dirt is not as gross as human filth.

Why the hell are grown women unable to clean up for themselves?  What is so difficult about keeping your own water or that of the sink in the proper place?  Why would you leave your drink in a bathroom?  I fear I may be channeling Dear Abby here, but if you make a mess, CLEAN IT UP.

I actually like cleaning.  My first job was as a housekeeper at a retreat house.  I scrubbed toilets and sinks, stripped and made beds, vacuumed and dusted the 43 rooms with 84 beds every week.  In college, I moved into a rental house with friends and single-handedly stripped decades of grime off the shower and floors of the bathroom.  (Who knew they were white?)  I used to pride myself on keeping a clean (albeit cluttered) house. 

And then I started making money.

Suddenly, cleaning was no longer something I could be bothered with.  Time was money, damn it, and I was an important so-and-so.  So I hired a cleaning lady.  This made me feel like I had truly ‘arrived.’  Only rich people had cleaning ladies.  I was officially ‘upper class.’

Except, when I wasn’t.

The last two years brought our share of turmoil.  Most of it wrecking havoc on that precious asset I call financial security.  First to go?  Cleaning service.  Thankfully, I have a husband more evolved than most.  Not only does he do his share but some of mine too. 

But here’s the thing (me, handing you a thing)… I remembered how much I love to clean.

My friend, Nucking Futs Mama, (and by friend I mean someone I have never met but whose blog I read religiously and therefore know her hilarious life) wrote that Cleaning is Bullshit.  Her blog reminded me of the Simpson’s episode where Marge finally gets the house gleaming, you see the kitchen door swing open with sparkles on every appliance, her family walks through, the door swings open again and you see the kitchen covered in jelly, dirt, dishes, etc.  As Homer would say, “It’s funny cuz it’s true.”

I certainly GET the futility of trying to keep a house perfect with an active family.  Yes, we do the same chores day after day after week after month after year, ad infinitum.  But the ACT of cleaning itself is so gratifying to me.  There is a process, a strategy, and a positive outcome.  I use cleaning time for daydreaming.  If no one is in the house, I use it for singing (my voice is not what it once was).  I tackle issues that are niggling at my psyche.  I debate various courses of action.  I make lists of things I want to do, or should do.  I fantasize about happy memories.  I heal over bad ones.  It is the manual and mindless physicality of cleaning that allows me to indulge purely in mental exploration for no purpose other than my own entertainment, growth, contentment.

That and cleaning is hard frigging work.

Girl gets a sweat going and it feels good.  Especially since I gave up all those uber-toxic “wonder” chemicals that used to practically eat through my hands.  Nothing more than elbow grease and some good tools do more for me than an hour of therapy.

But, ladies, I’m still not cleaning up after you.

Finding me

Do you know Story People?

It’s a beautiful collection of child-like art with simple, witty, heart-wrenching quotes like this one:

I was never good at hide & seek because I’d always make enough noise so my friends would be sure to find me. I don’t have anyone to play those games with any more, but now & then I make enough noise just in case someone is still looking & hasn’t found me yet.

I was given the book years ago by a friend and devoured it during a time I needed something a little less cheese-tastic than “Chicken Soup for the Soul.”  Story People fit the bill.  The quote above has always been one of my favorites.

I remember myself always being loud.  I write it like that “remember myself” purposefully.  (Don’t we all color our memories?)  I watch young girls with their friends with one or more of them inevitably shouting out her words so as to draw attention to herself.  I see friends or even strangers at bars or parties being audacious and looking around the room to see who is watching them.  I used to be just that way. 

It really doesn’t take any great psychological mind to figure out why people do this. 

Everyone craves recognition.  Not just being seen and heard but really being known.  It is among the greatest gifts we can give another person – to know them.  I think people seek that out in myriad ways but mine was usually to act out loud, to create my own spotlight, to shock and awe.

It strikes me that writing is a new extension of that behavior.  Writing is nakedness.  It is opening up one’s mind and soul for others to inspect.  (You have been weighed.  You have been measured.  And you have been found wanting.) 

There is both selflessness and greediness involved in revelation.  I think each circumstance and each relationship require a slightly different balance of each for success.  Inevitably we get it wrong sometimes.  And the hope is usually that we learn to get better at what to show and when.

I married a man who knows me.  He doesn’t just tolerate some parts and secretly wish there were less of those.  He celebrates me for the whole of my being.  He knows bits about me that I’ve never revealed to him.  Insight is a rare and amazing gift possessed by few.  They are the true people-persons.  It is this insight that enables one to be compassionate in ways most of us will never be capable of.

I remember my younger self with compassion – all that showy, bravado.  I’m happy she lived through it and came out the other side.

Compassion, though, is difficult to come by most days.  An Aunt of mine signs her emails with a beautiful quote, “Be kinder than necessary.  Everyone is fighting some kind of battle. ~Billie Holiday”  It makes me pause every time I read it because of its simple wisdom – a reminder that you are not the protagonist in others’ lives.  Everyone you meet is someone’s daughter or son,  mother, father, brother, sister, friend…

I believe wholly that everyone is loved by someone.  There must be some good in them.  No matter what they show you.

Recently, a classmate of mine reached out to introduce himself.  His approach was cautious and unconventional but his delivery was kind.  According to his note, if he had never read my writing, he’d only have known that young, showy girl who was just a little louder than necessary in case someone was looking for her.  He was glad to meet the rest of me, he wrote.

Me too.

Don’t drink the poison

I’m one of those all or nothing people.

I suck at faking it.  Whatever ‘it’ may be.

People close to me love and hate this with equal intensity.  I’m incapable of bullshit because I just think it a waste of time.  The rubber-band sting of immediate disappointment/rejection/truth is far preferable to the severed-limb agony of being lied to and let down after an emotional investment.

Mostly I’m referring to private live, but something happened last week in my professional life that made me pause.

I’m no stranger to work drama.  A friend and former colleague rationalized this unhappy truth by saying that I make jobs too personal.  This always makes me think of that scene in You’ve Got Mail, where Joe Fox keeps repeating to Kathleen Kelly that “It’s not personal; it’s business.”  At times, I wish I could have such a Spartan view of my work life but then again, it would take all the color from my day.

Passion is probably the thing that has sustained – me through job losses, company bankruptcies, recessions, implosions, exhaustion, demotion, and descrimination.  Sure, I’ve learned a few lessons along the way (I hope).  Sure, I’ve made mistakes that cost me financially, personally, and professionally.  My preference remains, however, to go out in a blaze of glory.  Or at the very least, with my head high.

Ok, admittedly, that is a little dramatic.  And I haven’t actually pulled a Jerry Maguire exit at any of my employers.  Once, however, two HR professionals had flown in from out of town to admit the company’s fault and prescribe no repurcussions for the guilty executive.  I listened for three whole minutes before saying, “I think we’re done here”  and walked out of the meeting leaving them with nothing to do but wait for their flight home.

When it comes to my work, I, inevitably, end up “drinking the Kool-Aid”.  I can’t give my all to a cause I don’t believe in.  Maybe that’s a defect.  But on the upside, I have never suffered through a toxic work situation without actively participating in changing that situation.

So when I found out a former client went to work at a place that gut-punched me when I was most vulnerable, I got vertigo.  As politely as I could manage, I said, “I’m sorry.  I just can’t talk about that.” 

(Pause for dramatic effect.)

I know this probably sounds childish.  It certainly isn’t her fault what happened to me.  She likely has no idea that it did.  The job is likely a great step for her career path.  I feel sad that I am so changed by that experience and that I haven’t “gotten over it.”

Maybe I will someday.  Maybe I won’t.  Some things cannot be made right, but I hear they get less pointy with time.

While likely confusing to this client, my abrupt silence accomplished one thing:  I didn’t poison her with any of my own experience.

I may be guilty of drinking the Kool-Aid, but I refuse to drink the poison.