Wednesday, July 22, 2015

My Name is Not Eddie

My husband recently took on a part-time job in addition to his 40 hours a week as a career services advisor.  We have some financial needs.  It happens.  I don't see him much anymore, which is definitely not cool.  Tonight was the first time we'd get to eat dinner together in a week.

I know, my charming, clever, domestic self thought, I'll make my beloved hunk of man-candy something truly spectacular - an Eddie Dog!

If you lived in Clarion, PA, for any amount of time, you know what I'm talking about.  If not, then please go with me to a magical place that sparkles mysteriously in the starlight and only smells just the slightest bit of stale beer and regret.

The Hot Dog House was known affectionately as Eddie Dog's.  An Eddie Dog was also the product of said house.  You went to Eddie Dog's to buy an Eddie Dog.  Simple.  Which was good, because most of the people who went to Eddie Dog's were drunk.

It was only open between 9:00 PM and 2:00 AM.  It pretty much only sold about 4 different kinds of hot dogs and Coke products.  That was it.  

Eddie, you smart, smart man.

I was one of those rare college students who abstained from alcohol but still went to parties.  (With all due respect to my boys, the Phi Mu Alpha house, full of Star Wars posters and action figures, was definitely NOT the wildest place on campus, but that's probably why I felt safe there.)  Still, no matter the hour, I was always up to accompany an inebriated friend on a stumble off campus to Sheetz or Eddie's.

Because food.

Eddie was (is?) a character.  He was always in short sleeves, reaching into his bun warmer and slapping ketchup on lukewarm weenies.  He always miscounted change.  Always.  You could hand him a $5 bill for $3.15 worth of dogs, and you'd get $3.78 back in quarters and pennies.  And woe, woe, WOE to the unsuspecting student who commented snidely about the political news he always had on the TV.  Eddie was remarkably outspoken about politics.  And if a drunkenly slurred comment was slung his way, he was able to launch into a pretty impressive tirade about - whatever.  Immigration, the deficit, trade agreements.  

Stuff that drunk college students are really good at ignoring.  Or not.

On a few occasions, one of the more, um, belligerent of the fraternity brothers I was with decided that he wanted to get into a political debate with Eddie.  I left and sat on the shop's cold stoop, watching the misty midnight air swirl around the street lamp on the corner.

Those cheap little frankfurters were worth it, though.

Poor college kid chow.

So of course I thought I'd make one for The Hubbs.

Behold THE TACO DOG in its majestic, chili-smothered splendor!

Yeah..., it was kind of awful.

I guess I just don't have The Eddie Touch.  

I used turkey dogs, which were probably 60 or 70 calories less than an authentic Eddie Dog.  I was really disappointed, especially because they were from Aldi and I really, really like most everything I've tried from Aldi.  The dogs themselves had kind of a funny aftertaste.  

I like to toast whole wheat buns and bread for sandwiches, which is exactly the opposite of the moist, limp, starchy white Eddie Dog buns.  Failure, again.

I used the Hormel chili with beans.  Also a mistake.  I remember Eddie's Taco Dogs being beanless.  

The cheese happened to be made with 2% milk and was acceptable.

The tortilla chips were slightly stale.

My husband ate two, then the last bite of the Faux Eddie Dog I left on my plate.  "These aren't that good," I apologized, but he shrugged.  "They're fine!"  He didn't seem to care, but I died a little inside.

I guess he'll never REALLY understand me, and I'll never understand that you do NOT mess with an original.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Perception, Part 2: The Mirror Can't Talk

Yesterday, I shared some lessons I learned about perception: what others assume about a person or situation based on what they observe or are told.

Today, I want to talk about how we see ourselves.  And how it might change your life.

Recently, I became aware of Project Semicolon and its beautiful, ambitious, faith-based mission to decrease acts of suicide and self-harm among people dealing with depression and other mental health issues.  Although I've never explicitly dealt with depression, I've had some very dark pages in my life.  Had I made some different choices, I know that my life could be very different right now.  I also know that there is still a stigma surrounding mental health, especially among the Christian community.  There's this awful idea that it's "all in your head" and that you can "pray it away".  I'm not doubting that God heals.  Believe me, I'm one of those folks who enjoys tent revivals and healing meetings, and I've seen some pretty amazing stuff.

But.  BUT.

I also know enough to know that God works in many ways, and that some people's path to healing involves medication, treatment, therapy, a holistic approach and/or surgery. And maybe somethings else.


I say all of that to share a little experiment undertook last week.  I asked my social media friends - many of whom I am no longer close with in "real life" - to share their honest perception of me.  In a word, a phrase, a memory.  It wasn't a bid for flattery, though I admit I was hoping that some nice things would be said.  I heard back from about a dozen and a half people, ranging from family to folks I haven't seen in over a decade.  Their responses surprised me.

Yes, many of them said "nice" things, but what interested me the most was that no one said "Christian", "writer", "mom" or "plus-size" - the four words I find I use to describe myself all the time.  Other folks distilled their impressions of me into words like "real", "frank", "bubbly", and "accepting" (that one surprised me).  An old friend from high school relayed a few touching, nostalgic thoughts, but the phrase that stands out to me is "you took the high road".

That's weird, because I don't see myself that way.  Not really.  I'd use the words I mentioned above, and I'd add "selfish", "talented", "intelligent", "perceptive" and probably "articulate".  I'd add "needy", "introverted", "anxious", "hurting", "guilty" and "thoughtless".  
We are often our own worst critics.  Isn't that what they say?  In asking my friends this potentially loaded question, I learned that the way most of them perceive me is very, very different from the way I see myself.  

I realized that I want to live the way they see me.  Not the way I see myself.  They see in me light, and strength, and optimism.  I don't just want to be seen that way; I want to truly be that way.  I want to see myself that way.  Not only because those things are all good things, but because, as a Christian, I believe those things reflect Christ in me.  All of those attributes are not unique to religious people, of course, but, for me, they are an outward sign of inward hope.  

I didn't think that such a simple request on social media would impact me as much as this has.  I mentioned Project Semicolon earlier because I am hoping that anyone reading this - anyone struggling with self-harm or depression - might be encouraged by knowing how people see them.  That their lives matter.  That losing them really would make a negative impact on the world around them.  I'm not saying that hearing "I think you're special" is going to magically cure people of self-image issues.  But I know that those words have power, and positivity matters.  

On a side note, one of my friends answered my question with the word "cats" and it made me laugh.  She was totally accurate, of course, and I know I've styled myself as a cat lady since Thor wound up on our doorstep, but yes, in a word, I suppose I can be described as "cat" - craving solitude, needy, faithful, somewhat critical, tending towards vanity, fun to curl up with (when I'm in the mood), and polarizing.

I like seafood, too.


Monday, July 20, 2015

Perception, Part 1: Shawn

I love to learn.

When I was a kid, I used to read the encyclopedia.  As a pre-teen, I rejected the banal "Goosebumps" series in favor of books about Greek, Roman and Norse mythology.  I elected to become a Coffee Master at Starbucks because I had the chance to explore more about something I loved.  In nearly every job I've held, I've wound up training or teaching others, because I get excited to share what I learn.

Fabulous Twilight Sparkle GIF found at
I learned a lot in college about literature, theatre, and relating to people who are different than me.  I learned a lot in church about my faith and my relationship with God and people.  I learned a lot from my parents (all of them) about life in general, and about myself in particular.

But some of the lessons that have made the biggest impact on my life came from one person in particular: Shawn Speir.

Shawn was my store manager when I worked at the Starbucks in Robinson.  He'd been a shift supervisor when I joined the Starbucks family (well, then it WAS more like a family) in Collier right out of college.  We got along very well, despite numerous differences, and he quickly adopted me as both his little sister and his pet project.  He saw potential in me and he worked hard to help me improve both my hard and soft skills.  Both of us were promoted rather quickly, I to a supervisor and he to an assistant manager.  I remember being crushed the day we learned he was being promoted again, and would no longer be working with us.  He was getting his own store.  I had grown so fond of him and was learning so much from him that I couldn't bear the thought of him leaving.  That week, though, he pulled me aside and told me he wanted me to go with him.  

I probably should make it clear at this point that there was no romance between us.  Despite one person's accusation that we were "involved", I can tell you with absolute certainty that Shawn was not interested in me.  Nor I in him.  Although I must admit, until I met Ross, I was convinced that Shawn had the most beautiful eyes on the planet.

But I digress.

At any rate, hearing him say he wanted to take me, to help me work towards my own goal, which was to become an assistant manager, made my heart happy.  I learned how to drive just so my dad no longer had to take me to work (Collier was just up the road, but Robinson was a different story).  

The reason I share all of this is that Shawn had the unenviable task of teaching me some extremely hard lessons.  He took me on as his own project, took responsibility for me, and in some cases forced me to improve myself as a barista, a manager, and a person.  I remember so many private conversations in the back room on the store, where he'd flail about, hysterically angry about something, then immediately compose himself, return to the sales floor, and address a customer or barista with absolute respect and utter calm.  He was so careful never to crack in front of people.  I, too, found myself angry or upset about something beyond my control, and Shawn would carefully, quietly whisper in my ear to leave the floor and take a break.  Sometimes he'd follow me and clearly, frankly explain what I was doing wrong - it was my attitude, or my tone, or whatever.  Because I knew that he loved me - yes, I like to think we'd grown to love each other like siblings - and because I knew that everything he said was coming from a desire to improve me, I received the criticism.  Sometimes, I responded flatly that I didn't like him or was going to cry, and he nodded and told me to finish my ten-minute break.  

He never gave up on me.

But that wasn't the most important thing I learned from Shawn.

I learned that "perception is reality".

What that means is that a customer doesn't notice or care if you just accidentally spilled a 200 degree Americano all over your arm, because all he sees is you NOT making his latte, and he decides you're lazy or slow.

What that means is that your supervisor doesn't care that you're discussing a very difficult break-up with a co-worker, because all she sees is that you're not making your requisite follow-up calls, and she decides you're avoiding work.

What that means is that it doesn't matter if you want to glorify God, because all people hear coming out of your mouth is condemnation, and they decide that religion isn't worth it.

It's true that we can't decide how other people see us, or our situations.  Each person makes his or her own decisions.  About everything.  And the media is the proof of that.  We see a report about a man being gunned down, and a whole campaign rises up about that, despite the facts about the case not being released.  A celebrity tweets her thoughts about a situation halfway across the globe and she is hailed as a hero for mentioning it.  An overweight woman puts on clothes that make her feel comfortable and pretty, and strangers splash her photo all over Instagram, labeling her with unkind words.

We control our own actions.  We can even control our thoughts.  (I share about that here.) And, though we cannot control others' perceptions of ourselves, we can take those perceptions into consideration when we act.  I'm not saying that we need to tread on eggshells around every person, on every issue, but taking care with our word choices, our tone, our body language - all of that goes a long way in regards to how people see us.

In my next post, I'll share why perception is such a big deal - and how it can change your life.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Thigh Gap Vs. Thigh Clap

By now, you've heard the phrase "thigh gap", right?  It is yet another nearly impossible goal for women to aim for as they attempt to lose enough weight and work out enough so that, when they stand with their knees together, their thighs do not touch.  For the sake of beauty, of course.

Thigh gap will get you likes on Instagram.  Thigh gap will not do much else.  It, of course, will not land you a great-paying job or earn you an education.  It will not "snag you a man" or encourage people to respect and admire you.

(Please ignore the punctuation error in the above
image from 
I don't have thigh gap.  I mean, I did when I was like four, but it wasn't a thing back then, so whatever.  I have what I like to refer as "thigh clap".  Regardless of my weight, my thighs rub together when I walk.  That's the way many women are built.  Our legs, they cheer us on.  They move us.  Sometimes they look appealing in skinny jeans.  Sometimes they don't.  Some of us live in A-line skirts to hide our thighs, and some of us embrace them with jeggings and cut-off shorts.  Meghan Trainor says boys like bigger girls, right?  

(Please do not get me started on how disappointed I am with the twisted message she is sending a whole generation.  I don't have time for that post now.)

Most people who know me are aware that I've struggled with my weight most of my life.  There have been various reasons for it, and I can blame anything from heredity to asthma to gluttony to flat-out apathy, but shifting the blame never made me feel better, nor did it even help me become healthier.  Like many women, I've suffered through the rollercoaster of fluctuating weight.  I have "fat" clothes and "not-as-fat" clothes.  I've fit into everything from a size 6 to a size 14 and a small to an extra-extra large.  I've loved my reflection; I've hated it.  I've scornfully skimped on calories and I've furtively embraced them like a clandestine lover.

To combat the "skinnier is better" rhetoric, plenty of body acceptance movements have emerged.  Women purposely post photos of themselves, proudly wearing clothing they "shouldn't".  Companies have launched campaigns designed to showcase curvier and heavier body types.  A size 22 model has been signed to a major label.  Catchy pop songs talk lasciviously about thick booties and sexy, wide hips.

But what's it all for?  Celebrities we love - especially curvy ones - continue to photoshop their own images on social media.  Fat kids still get mocked on the playground.  Heavier men and women still have to pay an extra $2 for larger sizes.  And we (me included) still buy Spanx!  I admit that I am sometimes one of the naysayers who doubts when seeing an image of an obese person insisting he/she is in "perfect health".  Yet then I feel guilty, thinking that it's not my place to judge.  But am I judging?  Or am I concerned?  Am I relieved?  Am I justifying my own appearance my comparing it to another's?  

I - as a petite, plus-sized woman - still feel shame when I have to pull on my "fat pants".  I still berate myself when I feel that I eat too many calories in a day.  I still throw some serious side eye when I see the teens in the mall sporting their itty-bitty crop tops and their high-waisted shorts.  I still struggle in the knowledge that my husband loves me and wants me, regardless of how I see myself.  I constantly walk the line between wanting to love my body exactly as it is - and wanting to force it to change so I feel better about it.  It's a daily battle.  Even when I feel beautiful in the morning - my hair is bouncy, I'm trying a new lip color, or I'm sporting my favorite chunky shoes - when I see a woman I perceive as more beautiful than me, I feel like shriveling up.  

I hate it.

I hate feeling, in my mind, like I am constantly in competition with other women.  It doesn't even make sense.  What do I gain?  What do I prove?  Does her beauty diminish mine?  Do I lose value in her presence?  It isn't even something I consciously do.  Thoughts just pop into my head, and I realize I'm focusing more on what the girl in the Starbucks line is wearing than I am about the cute little baby in my stroller, or the blessings in my life.

Worst of all, I still seem to think that God's love for me depends on my appearance.

Even seeing that thought actually typed out makes me sick.

The Creator of the Universe, who loved me enough to send his Son to die for me - is actually judging me based on the size pants I wear?
It's funny because it's true.
Image from

More likely, his heart is breaking because I am letting my figure affect my joy and peace.  More likely, his desire is for me to make healthy choices that allow me to enjoy his creation more.  More likely, he wants me to know that he made me the way he did for a reason.  And that he gave me the ability to make decisions that positively impact my health and my self-image.  

He gave me legs so I could walk and run.  And become healthier.  

He just wants to walk alongside me.  And he doesn't care in the least if my thighs touch or not. 

Yay, God!

Look.  It's nice to hear, but the point of this post is not for people to feel obligated to tell me I'm pretty.  In some people's eyes, I'm sure I am.  Others see me as overweight, or they see large pores, or split ends, or calloused heels.  They see cellulite or ragged fingernails.  Okay.  Deep down, I do know that I am beautiful.  In many ways.  It's a shame that the same society that scorns women who don't meet the accepted standard of beauty also mocks those with the audacity to openly consider themselves beautiful.  So, I can think it, and I should act like it, but I shouldn't say it, because then I'm selfish and vain.  

I don't know if there will ever be any kind of real resolution on this issue.  I'd like to say that "healthy" is the sexiest kind of body, but even that has a million definitions to a million people.  I'm just deciding that I have to love my body for both its current limitations as well as its potential.  There are a thousand words to describe it - curvy, pale, soft, short, basic, cute, chubby, zaftig (that's my favorite) - but only one that actually matters:


And it's the only one I get.

It's time to be grateful for that, no matter what society tells me I should be wearing, or weighing, or eating, or thinking.  I am grateful for my body.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

On Second Thought...

Although I cannot recall the attribution, I recently read somewhere that the first thought that pops into your head about a person or situation is the one you were "trained" to have.  The second thought is the one that defines you as a person.

The idea fascinates me.  As a practicing Christian, I want to be more like Jesus - more loving, more patient, more honest, more encouraging.  Yet I'm appalled, sometimes, by the thoughts that seem to jump into my head.  Seeing a young woman use food stamps while she's pulling out her brand-new iPhone and clicking at it with freshly manicured nails while her three half-dressed children are screaming in the grocery cart.  Obviously she's abusing the system, right?  How could she afford a nice smartphone if she had to apply for government aid?  And for goodness' sake, WHY isn't she taking care of those kids?!

Maybe the phone was a gift.  Maybe her best friend works at a salon and did her nails for free.  And the kids - who knows?  Maybe it was such a nightmare getting them out of the house that one lost a shoe and mom didn't have time to grab it.  Now that I'm a parent, I'm beginning to understand that kids are unpredictable.  They have tantrums at the most inconvenient times.  And sometimes, trying to find an effective method of discipline takes time and lots of trial and error.  I didn't "get" that before Ronen was born.

During my time at Starbucks, I learned a lot about relating to people.  I wasn't the perfect employee, but there were at least a few instances where I seemed to get along with "problem customers" better than some of my peers.  It might have been because, each time a guest treated me rudely or dismissively, I forced myself to think: "Maybe he had a really ugly fight with his wife this morning and he's still shaken about it" or "Maybe she has a meeting at work today that she's not ready for" or "Maybe his kid is failing out of college".  I learned - very slowly - not to take criticism or bad attitudes personally.  I learned to separate what was being said from how it was being said.  

This was incredibly useful, too, later, when I worked for another company in a totally different field.  There was a woman there who was very good at her job, but very abrasive.  She never got that "praise sandwich" memo - you know, where you offer negative feedback to an employee by first encouraging them or reinforcing their positive qualities, then give them the "bad news", and finish with something uplifting?
Image from

Yeah, it was like that idea had never crossed her mind.  Most people in the office disliked her, and many outright hated her.  One even asked me, flat-out, "How do you get along with her?"  I replied to this person that, when the woman criticised me, I tried to evaluate what she was saying, rather than how it was coming out of her mouth.  If what she was saying was valid - for example, I'd made a mistake while calculating something - then I accepted it for what it was worth, worked on the problem and moved on.  If it was something without merit - just a lady in a bad mood lashing out - then I dropped it and also moved on.

It wasn't easy and it wasn't something that happened overnight.  I'm also sad to say that it is a skill that never fully translated into my personal life from my professional one.  That's the reason I find myself having the "first thoughts" I mentioned above.  Thoughts of defensiveness.  Of judgment.  Of derision.  Most of them, ultimately, are related to pride or vanity.  "I'm better than than person - in some way."  "I would NEVER make that kind of decision."  "What a stupid thing to say; I'd never comment like that."

This even came up in customer service training at my current job in a pediatric office.  The lecturer spoke about "self-talk", which is in essence, the same thing.  He taught that we might not be able to control how we WANT to react when something happens, but we can "talk ourselves down" to a reasonable place.  It's the same thing as allowing your initial reaction to exist, acknowledging it, and moving on to a more humane or compassionate conclusion.

So I'm trying to be far more conscious of that first thought, and decide what I want to do with it.  Am I going to keep it and make it a part of me?  Or am I going to release it and replace it with a thought that expressed more compassion, more patience, more forgiveness?

The Bible has a lot to say about our thought life, too.  It tells us that God knows our thoughts (1 Corinthians 2:11), as did Jesus when we walked the earth as a man (Luke 9, Luke 11). The best advice the Bible gives about our thought life in regards to others, I think, is in Romans.  Chapter 14, verse 13 admonishes believers to "stop passing judgment on one another.  Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister." This is useful advice that reminds us that we choose to pass judgment and it can cause others to second-guess themselves, as well as make us antagonists.  Are we not supposed to encourage and build up instead of tear down?  Are we not supposed to be a united front for Christ?

Instead of "that driver is a major jagoff" I can choose to give the benefit of the doubt.  Consciously thinking,  "I hope he's not in an accident" or "I hope there's no emergency" allow me to see other people as I'm learning to see myself: flawed, but with potential.

We're all human after all, no?