May 9 2020

Diet food

I just ate a doughnut with chocolate frosting on it. There were sprinkles sprinkled in the chocolate. I ate it in a few bites. It wasn’t a big doughnut. I felt no guilt for eating it. It wasn’t the best doughnut. Not as good as an Entenmanns crumb doughnut but you can’t get them here so I settled for the chocolate coated one I bought in the fresh-baked section of the local grocery.

For most of my life I could eat anything I wanted and as much as I wanted of anything I wanted and never gain a pound. An entire bag of salt and vinegar chips – the large economy size? No problem finishing it off as I sat in my office working on a PowerPoint presentation for a client. Two large pork chops and several small potatoes with 4 or 5 stalks of broccoli steamed just right was an ordinary dinner. My favorite trousers at the time had zipped pockets on the thigh and fit totally flat against my stomach. I could lie down on the bed and the span between my hipbones sank down into a hollow curve.

Maybe I’ll have another doughnut.

I never had to diet, at least not the way so many of the women I know did all their lives. When I was a teenager, my mother would buy me a drink I remember being called Weight-on but maybe that was the wrong name. It doesn’t matter – I drank the high-calorie chocolate flavored one to gain weight. That was my diet. I was that skinny. All arms and legs, like the spider. I used to tell my mother “I only eat to live”. I rarely ever got hungry, then or even now. I wasn’t anorexic. Anorexics are consumed by the thought of food. I didn’t care about food. I ate whatever I felt like.

I was also very tall – that’s part of why I looked so skinny – all elongated. If you just shortened my arms and legs and torso I would have seemed more normal. I wasn’t bony looking with my collarbones sticking out the way people who are skinny in a really sick kind of way are. I was just long.

I sewed most of my own clothes. Clothes off the rack rarely fit me well. In high school we had to wear this one-piece gym uniform. Light blue, it had a stretchy waistband, was sleeveless and had shorts. It was purchased though the school and came in a lot of sizes: extra small, small, medium, large, extra large and extra extra large. No tall skinny size. To get it to fit the length of my torso I had to buy the extra extra large size and then use my sewing machine to take it in about 5 inches on both sides. But the waistband never really was in the right place – too high.

I still have clothes I made during the 70s and 80s hanging in my closet. I don’t wear them anymore. Except for those drawstring pants that were super wide and gathered around the waist. I can still wear them. I made the string longer and they aren’t as gathered as they were before.

One outfit is a bright yellow, jacket & skirt suit. It was a pencil skirt, tight and straight down to mid-calf. The jacket has narrow lapels, hip pockets and it ends just below my butt. I don’t know anyone I can give it to. The skirt would practically reach the floor of anyone who fit the waist and hips. The pockets would fall below their hips and if the width of the jacket fit, the shoulders would most certainly be too wide. And we won’t even talk about the length of the sleeves.

Another is my red and white striped jumpsuit. Last time I wore it was when my son was under a year old. I don’t know anyone but my 28-year younger self who would fit that.

Somewhere in my mid 50s the never-gaining-weight principle seems to have faded away. And has continued to non-exist. When I lie down now, the space between my hipbones, seems more to resemble an arched bridge instead of the low hanging suspension bridge of my younger days. Back then no matter how much I ate my waist never expanded. Now, no matter how little I eat, my waist never seems to contract. During my formative years, I never learned to diet. No one in my family was big on physical activity then or even now. I still have in my head my grandmother Bertha’s half Yiddish admonition, “Ess, Ess. You have to eat more. You’re so skinny.” She was very good at spreading guilt around but never for eating too much.

I am still long and I don’t think anyone would call me fat. But I’m having trouble finding my waist and I am starting to become Big. That’s what happens when you are tall and start putting on the pounds and padding. You get big. You don’t fit in small spaces. I eat less than I used to but still eat what I feel like eating – though maybe not the entire bag of chips at once. My head might tell me that’s a bad idea but I still don’t know how to feel guilty about it. I maybe should look into some sort of dietary regimen. And some sort of exercise program. But I have always been so terrible at following rules.
What am I supposed to do?

There are two more doughnuts left in the bag on the kitchen counter.
I’m going to eat one.


May 5 2020

Over social

I woke up Sunday morning with bright sun shining on the blackout shade. My eyes were all gravely, my voice felt hoarse and my body had absolutely no desire to move. I was totally drained. I looked over at the clock on the wall and saw it was already 10 am but I decided to lay there a while longer and put off getting up. I had time…no plans until the evening. I wasn’t hungry for breakfast yet. I picked up my phone and checked Facebook. After 15 minutes of scrolling through miscellaneous posts, I clicked on my email app. 

What!!

At the top of my inbox was an email from my friend containing the link to the meeting she had scheduled for a group of us to meet… today…at 11 am! I remembered helping to plan that meeting but I also thought that we were going to do it in the early evening. The meeting was with 2 girlfriends I used to do GNOs with before one of them left Stockholm. Now I had half an hour to get ready. So I threw on the clothes I had worn yesterday (and maybe the day before and the day before that). I hobbled over to the kitchen, made a cup of instant coffee, buttered a piece of toast and sat down at my computer still only half awake and barely mobile. My terminal glasses weren’t helping much to see the screen as I logged in. 

This pandemic that is sweeping the world right now is going to be the death of me.

While here in Sweden, we aren’t under an enforced lock-down, we are nevertheless expected to practice voluntary self-isolation and to stay-at-home as much as possible. This is not a hardship for me since I like staying at home. I don’t go out to movies. I don’t attend concerts or dance recitals. I have no interest to try out the latest new restaurant in the neighborhood either. Did I say how I like staying at home? I am not a complete hermit though. I do go out. And meet friends. Occasionally.

Before Covid 19, I would meet a group of writer pals every other week at a charming cafe; we would chat for a while, then write for an hour and then chat some more.

Before Covid 19, I would attend board meetings once a month or so, at the home of the chair of a small Jewish organization whose board I am a member of. I can see her apartment from my apartment window and it only takes 10 minutes to walk to the meetings. I have been on this board so long that all the other members have become my friends and the chair makes great soup for us to eat before the meeting. 

And before Covid 19, a friend would sometimes manage to talk me into going out to have dinner with them as long as it wasn’t too far from my home. And sometimes I got tempted into seeing a movie (as long as it was sci-fi) with a group of other like-minded friends.

But now…because of this pandemic, no one is going anywhere or at least not anywhere outside of their house, unless it’s to the grocery store to try to stock up on toilet paper. All my board meetings were cancelled.  My writers group…cancelled. The few organized activities that I had planned on attending have been cancelled. I cancelled both a doctor’s checkup and my dentist appointment. My google calendar which is never really all that filled up anyway is now totally empty. Instead of going to a restaurant for dinner, going on a walk with a friend in the fresh air is the new way to hang out…as long as you keep your distance from everyone. 

In spite of all this anti-socializing, I’ve been meeting old friends and even making new ones more now than I usually did in pre-Corona times. I was never this social before Covid19 arrived and I am not sure how well I am going to survive this sudden social upswing even though I’ve been able to do it without needing to travel further than to my living room. I don’t have to put on my shoes because I can walk barefoot to my computer screen. Most of the time I don’t bother with putting on my face. I do try to remember to put on pants. Once I was wearing my nightgown but from the shoulders up it looks like an ordinary knit shirt with stripes so no big deal. My new frenzied social life is all the fault of this app called Zoom.

My recent stress started on Thursday evening in a zoom meeting with 2 of my writer pals who I haven’t seen for awhile because all our writing evenings were cancelled. We spent over an hour discussing plans for virtual writing workshops and we got to meet a very cute cat. Then a few days later on Saturday afternoon I had a zoom meeting with a couple of old co-workers. We used to get together a couple of times a year for dinner but this time we just sat around in our homes and caught up on how things are Coronating in different parts of the world. Later that same night or rather morning, I attended a Zoom party held by a friend in New York City. It started at 7pm NYC time which is 1am my time. She was a friend to both me and my husband. He dropped into the party long enough to say hello and then goodbye. I stayed for the next 2 and a half hours! There was one other person at the “party” that I knew but all the rest were strangers. When I signed off at 3.30 am, I saw on Facebook that one of them had asked to be my new Facebook friend. It took me a while to finally wind down and fall asleep. After a few hours I woke up to discover the unexpectedly early new Zoom meeting that I mentioned at the beginning of this post. By Sunday afternoon my introvert self had had enough.. This was just too much talking and socializing for me. I found that I couldn’t remember what I had said to who and who had said what to me. I hadn’t had enough time between conversations to process everything. I felt like I had gotten hit in the face with a ping pong racket. Five virtual social events in 4 days – I needed to look for a dark room somewhere.

All this virtual viewing reminded me of a book by Isaac Asimov that I had read way-back-when as a teenager – The Naked Sun.  It was the second in his sci-fi detective trilogy staring Elijah Baley and R. Daneel Olivaw, a human-looking robot. While the first book in the trilogy takes place on an overcrowded Earth, most of the action in this book happens on a planet named Solaria that has a small human population and a huge robot one. People live isolated on huge estates that are hundreds of miles from each other and are taught from birth to avoid personal contact. They almost never meet in person. Even married couples who live on the same estate have their own parts of the home so they also rarely meet in person. Face-to-face interaction, referred to as “seeing” is considered dirty and the idea of being in the same room as another and breathing the same air makes them almost physically nauseous. But the inhabitants of Solaria are not hermits.  They socialize by “viewing”, a kind of 3D two-way teleconferencing that was so advanced that you can go out for a walk on your property, contact a friend and view/talk with them as they are walking on their own estate and barely notice the difference in backgrounds. 

We aren’t there yet. The quality of the Zoom app experience depends to a great deal on the quality of your WiFi and the state of your computer or smart phone. Mostly people just sit there in front of their video camera and hopefully you see their whole face and not just the top of their head. One friend did take me on a tour of her new house and neighborhood but as soon as she got out of reach of her WiFi the picture started to break up. 

I have been video Skyping with my best friend Roz, from college, for many years now. Our Skype calls have become as humdrum as a phone call. The fact that it was free made it even better. However the use of Skype just never seemed to catch on with anyone else I knew in the States. Zoom on the other hand, with a kick from Corona, seems to suddenly be everywhere and used by everyone. Timing is everything, I guess. 

I admit that the appeal of being able to sit in my pajamas and meet a friend without leaving my home has its charm. Just being able to see everyone while Zooming with a group of friends who all live scattered around the world is really fantastic. But what happens when all this virtual socializing runs its course? Humans are touchy-feely. We need to breathe each other’s air, pat a back, give a hug. When these Corona times let go of us and we can go out once again a Zoom call will pale in the face of a real face-to face date. And even this introvert will put on her face and some clean clothes and go out into the world again. Occasionally. 


Apr 5 2020

Corona times

We are living in strange times now. Corona times.
For many weeks the Corona virus has been traveling – on a world tour – starting in China, spreading through Asia, running around Europe, and jumping the fish pond over to America. And yes…it’s here in Stockholm too.

We are not yet under lockdown like Italy and Spain. But most of my younger, still-working friends have been ordered by their employers to work from home, my son included. Universities and all high schools have been closed & are trying to do online teaching instead. I have no idea how that’s working but I saw a funny video on YouTube about that. Schools for children who are too young to stay at home alone are still open but if their parents are home, often the kids are kept home too, regardless. The thinking about keeping schools open for younger kids is that the government wants the parents who work in the healthcare field & have young kids who need minding, to be able to continue going to work.

All the activities I had written in my calendar, such as writing workshops, board meetings, plans to meet friends and any other miscellaneous events have been cancelled. I cancelled my doctor’s appointment that had been booked over 6 weeks ago because who wants to go to a place all the sick people go to? All activities in the Jewish community are cancelled except burials, food delivery to old people and some Saturday morning services. All the big Seders are cancelled. My annual J.A.P.S. Seder, gathering my Jewish/American/Swedish gang, is also cancelled due to the fear of passing the virus from hand to mouth along with the chicken soup. I went to Bajit, the big new Jewish Center, on Friday to buy matzah. The place was empty and only 1 person at a time allowed in the shop. Me & the other 2 people on line all waited our turn far from each other. Hand sanitizer was everywhere to use while we waited.

And speaking of hand sanitizer, I can’t find it to buy in any of the stores. And Håkan has looked on-line. Nadda, nothing to buy there either. I can understand that. In these plague days it works better than lamb’s blood. But toilet paper? What’s the big deal about hoarding toilet paper? I can not understand that at all – it’s not a plague of diarrhea.
Dare I say it??? People are idiots.

But key words these days are definitely “social distancing” and “self-quarantine”. Or in other words STAY AT HOME!

But I do get out. My friend Barbara, working from home and living on Kungsholmen, walked over to Reimers last week and we took a long walk together on Långholmen. We foot-bumped first, keeping safety in mind. There were other people also out walking but everyone kept their distances. We stopped at the Långholmen värdshus in need of fika. We had the whole place to ourselves and enjoyed coffee and a bulla. There was lots of hand sanitizer there too.

I still go to my local grocery. I see people from my neighborhood there – but everyone keeps their distance – this is Sweden after all. Nobody hugs or talks to each other anyway, a simple nod is enough if you meet someone you recognize. Even in normal times, people sit as far away from you as a park bench allows. This is not Italy, France or Spain. Swedes are not huggy types, they are good at aloneness and don’t need much encouragement to isolate.

And it seems neither do we – Håkan, Bevin and I. My little family hardly notices the new societal rules operating now. All three of us are introverts and staying cooped up in our home doesn’t seem to be a problem for us – that’s how we usually live. I am mainly the only one who goes out now and its just to the grocery store. Occasionally I will walk the 20 minutes to Hornstull and go to the large Hemköp grocery there or maybe the drugstore. Once I also went to Clas Ohlson because we needed good glue. Hemköp has started special early morning hours for seniors but the way I figure it, I’m retired, I no longer have to (or want to) get up super early in the morning. Especially not to do grocery shopping! I try to go later in the morning or early afternoon when its not too busy and we customers can keep a decent distance from each other.

Bevin, a programmer at Ericsson, has been working from home now for the past 3 weeks and his longest walk is from the kitchen to his bedroom. He spends his evenings and late into the night socializing online with his pals around the world. No worries about catching anything that way except maybe a computer virus.

Håkan spends most of his time sitting in front of his computer screen, commenting on Facebook or watching TV programs there. He is busy devising all kinds of plans for growing sweet corn out at our country house this summer, ordering necessary things online. For weeks now, he has been bugging me about completely moving ourselves out to the countryside, trying to justify the move by saying that we are supposed to self-quarantine. He is so happy to finally have society on his side. But I am resisting. It’s still too early for me and too cold to turn the water on yet. But we have been out there a couple of times already just for day trips to plant potatoes and to get his corn seeds started in his new mini-greenhouse. Easter weekend will be our first overnight stay.

So this Stay at Home directive hasn’t changed much for us personally. My apartment is not a bit cleaner! I haven’t painted new colors on the walls of any room. My freezer is still mainly filled with ice instead of enough food to last months. And my kitchen cupboards are still cluttered, as are my closets. If I am not laying about on the sofa to read, then I am laying on the bed. And I only have enough toilet paper and paper towels to last for the next week. I spend a lot of time looking at Facebook but that is just a distraction from what I should be getting done on my computer. And just for you dog lovers who have been spreading nasty rumors around social media about cats, our cats are exceedingly happy that we are all home. Coco wants to always keep Bevin company by sitting on his keyboard, so during his working hours he has to close his door. She lies patiently outside, waiting for him to open it.

But as I said we are all introverts here – we need others to plan activities that can entice us out of our homes. And I admit, looking at my empty Google Calendar is a bit depressing. Though, secretly, I am happy not to need to put on makeup or get dressed in clothes I haven’t worn for the past 4 days. Putting on my Extrovert Coat in preparation to leave my home and venture out there in the wider world takes energy. So I have started calling people instead of just texting. I have been using Skype to talk to friends and family in the US. And I have participated in two Zoom meetings! I think a lot of self-isolated folks must be doing that now – there is not a web camera to be found, either in stores locally or even online!

So us introverted folks are coping OK but what about all my extroverted friends out there? You know who you are…all those of you who have kept inviting me to do things with you out there in the world even though 60% of the time I say I can’t (because I don’t want to leave my cozy shell) and yet thankfully you keep asking. Life now is probably harder for you guys. So while this is going on, give me a call and let’s talk…either by phone or Zoom or Skype. Drag me out for a walk in nature too – I promise to keep my distance.  I hope you all are also doing OK and I promise to say yes next time you invite me to eat dinner with you, or even just fika, after this is all over.

I know that a lot of people out there are feeling anxiety or fear due to this pandemic sweeping the world. I don’t really know what to say that could make them feel better. But my go-to advice that I like to keep in mind, is taken from one of my favorite books, Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. I like what Ford Prefect tells Arthur Dent, when Arthur finds out that the Earth is about to be demolished to make room for a hyper-space bypass.

“Don’t panic,” he says, “and always know where your towel is.”

Stay healthy everyone.


Dec 10 2011

Fading

December 9, 2001

Here I am, sitting in my mom’s room in a nursing home. Dinner has been served, even to me – on a tray. I help to feed my mom but she doesn’t eat much. I’m reminded of the days when I fed my son when he was still a baby. The food is all in small pieces – chopped up turkey (whole pieces for me), stuffing, gravy. All her liquids are thickened because they are worried about her ability to swallow liquids. I also get some ick “onion soup” and spinich. We both get lemon merange pie. She has dozed off and is sleeping and peaceful. The TV is on, turned to the Food Channel. I am sitting at her desk trying to type this out on my mini computer’s tiny keyboard.

Earlier, just before dinner my mother was often getting very upset. All afternoon she has been asking me to “get her out of here”. When I ask her where does she want to go, she can’t find the words to tell me. She doesn’t know. All she knows is that she doesn’t want to be where she is – lying in bed with her feet up. Finally she starts crying, almost on the verge of hysteria. I go to stand next to her bed. While I hold her hand, my other hand gently scratches her head through her hair, like one does with a dog, while saying schoosch, schoosch, its OK. She gets calmer, settles down.

I had a meeting today with her doctor. He seems like a nice man. I guess you have to be to specialize in geriatrics. Dealing with the relatives of dying patients must be a very common part of his practice. He is unable to give me any time reference for how long she has. Days or weeks, probably not many months. Her kidneys are failing. We have decided not to do anything to correct problems. We will let nature take its course. And in the meantime try to keep her comfortable. Now its up to Nature to decide how long it takes to fade. I can only watch and wait and be here.


Apr 3 2011

The relay race

My mother was recently in the hospital. She’s back home now, but not really home, not in her own apartment but in the rehabilitation health-care center of the independent-living facility that she has been living in for the past two years or so. It seems she had a pelvic fracture and had trouble standing up or walking. So she is there for them to look after her and give her physical therapy to help her heal. When they are not busy torturing her with exercise she spends most of her time in bed watching the television. I call her most every day and talk to her, ask her how she is doing, telling her about small things happening here in my home. Its really all I can do, living so far away. She sounds tired as I talk to her. She still manages to be cheerful but often she sounds tired. Anyone who has had to spend more than a few days in bed just watching TV knows how tiring that gets to be after awhile. You start wanting to be able to leave the bed and get on with your life. Start doing things again. But doing things has been getting harder and harder for her to do.

Talking to my mom makes me think of my grandmother. Not that my mom is anything like Grandma, she is definitely much nicer than my grandmother ever was. But the tired thing. It reminds me.

I remember a day, standing in front of the large bathroom mirror in my parents house with Grandma, looking at our reflections. We were dressed up for some holiday family get together. Grandma is in her 80s. She looks at herself and says she doesn’t recognize the person she sees there. She doesn’t feel as old as that person looks. She talks about how she used to be as strong as an ox but not anymore. I didn’t really understand what she meant then. After all, I was barely 30, strong and healthy, still.

I recognize my grandmother in the black and white photographs that I have from her. I see her in my mind’s eye in the story she told of herself, newly arrived and processed at Ellis Island after her 2 week-long journey from Poland in 1920. She was 20 years old then, just a few months older than my son is now. She sees her brother Nathan, standing there in the large hall, tall and well dressed, waiting for her. She runs into his arms, knocking off his bowler hat in the process. Her life is just starting. She has almost a decade of good years after that, and then the Depression starts. Her married life during the 1930’s, her thirties, bring with it all the years of economic hardship, but she struggled through it. Followed closely by the 1940s and the discovery that almost all of her family left behind in Poland were gone. In 1948, she and Grandpa made a nice wedding for their daughter and saw Evelyn start her life as an adult with my dad.

I didn’t know Grandma then. I was born when she was already in her 50s and probably younger than I am now. I can remember her loudly arguing in Yiddish with Grandpa in their kitchen in their house in Budd Lake. I was over their house when I was a kid, playing in the backyard. I saw a snake crawling through the grass. I ran into the house screaming, afraid of the snake. My grandmother ran out, grabbed a hoe and killed the snake. I thought she was the strongest and bravest person I had ever met. I must have been about 8 or 9 years old.

I think of my mom. I turn over in my mind, memories of her, mind photos you could call them. I think of her when she was a young woman and I was just a kid, in her 30s and 40s, active, working, volunteering, raising children. Competent, taking care of things. Getting on with her life. I knew her then but didn’t give her much thought. She was my mother. I took her for granted. When I was 18, my father and mother drove me off to Brooklyn with all my transportable belongings and delivered me to the dormitory at Pratt – starting me on my journey towards adulthood. They continued on their trip back home to Budd Lake to live their life, to retire, to move to a new home in Columbus, New Jersey, taking with them boxes of my stuff I had left with them in Budd Lake.

I’ve known four generations of my family now – Grandma Bertha, my mom Evelyn, myself of course and now my son. I’ve seen these generations as they go by. I’m 10 years older now than my grandmother was when I was born. I’m almost the same age as my mom was when I moved to Sweden. I’m at the age I am now as my son is starting his first tentative steps into adult life. Our generations overlap. They are like a part of a revolving relay race through time. Each generation handing on the baton to the next. A real relay race has an actual begininning, at the sound of the starter’s pistol. But this generational relay race has no real beginning – before my grandmother started, there were her parents and before them more parents; and hopefully, it has no end, though sometimes it does when the next generation isnt born. But my personal race has a beginning. It started with the oldest family member that I actually got to know – my grandmother and is continuing with my son. That is my snippet of the eternal ever-revolving relay.

In my snippet, my grandmother stands at the starting line, waiting for the sound of the gun. Off she goes, running as fast and as strongly as she can. Sometimes the path is straight and easy, sometimes it’s curving and difficult but she keeps on going. There ahead of her she sees the next member of her team. That’s my mom – there, jogging along the track in the hand-off zone. They run together for awhile, both running strong, working together. And there it is – the hand-off! Now its Mom who has the baton. She’s in the field now, running her own race. Grandma of course doesn’t stop running immediately after the hand-off. She keeps on going, slowing down gently, but still running along. Now Moms coming around the bend. I enter the track, start jogging in the hand-off zone. We both run together until finally, the time is right and Mom hands me the baton. I’m off! Running my race through Art School in Brooklyn, then life in New York City, then the big curve – moving to Stockholm. I’m now approaching the next hand-off zone. I see him there entering the field, my son Bevin. He’s starting to jog while I come up along side him. We run together a good pace while he comes up to speed. Soon, very soon, I will hand him the baton and he will be off on his own race as I wind down, slowing my pace, preparing myself to stand on the sidelines cheering him on, as my Mom is now doing for me.

This race of ours is a good one, as we all make it around our track in our individual legs of our journey. I hope my son gets to run a good race on his leg of the track and as he runs, remembers the runners he has met that have helped to hand him the baton.