Cat, Back, Seattle, Dream

First things first, Squeak seems back to normal. She spent a week in cat jail, this playpen thing with a mesh roof on top, something we had from when she broke her leg back in 2009. We’d let her out here and there for supervised play time, but there are metal stairs and too many ledges and things for her to jump on. She was also on a heavy dose of gabapentin, which kept her pretty sedate. But by about day four or five, she was getting restless, and we were lowering the dosage. She seems fine now, and the jail has been taken down, so that’s all good. If the idiots in my neighborhood would cut the shit with the fireworks, things would be perfect in cat-land.

* * *

I guess I didn’t mention it, but my back has been out for about two weeks. It started on a Sunday, and of course there’s no great story behind it, like that I was jumping from a helicopter or fighting sharks or whatever. I think I was putting away a tube of toothpaste after brushing my teeth in the morning.

I have the occasional thrown back, a pulled muscle or whatever, but this is probably the worst one in memory. Maybe back in 2015, I had a situation that lasted about a week, but this one is considerably worse. Sitting, standing, walking, laying down: all were bad. So I iced it every hour, and kept on the TENS thing constantly. (If you have back or muscle pain and you don’t know about these, it’s the best $40 you’ll ever spend. Go to Amazon and pick one up immediately.) I’ve also got the chiro doing some work on it, and it’s getting there, but I haven’t shaken it yet.

My conspiracy theory on this is that the sudden weight loss over the last few months (I’m just shy of 25 pounds since April) is pulling everything out of alignment. Great news that my gut is going away, but my back muscles are used to a certain amount of tension there, and it’s all shifting. So the back tenses up, the pelvis tilts, the front of my thighs are overworked and hurt, etc. It’s getting there, but it’s been brutal. Hopefully in another couple of weeks, I can get it fully under control.

* * *

I figured out the vacation stuff, after a big struggle with travel sites and destinations and stuff. Anyway, I will be in Seattle from the 7th to the 14th of next month, which will be interesting. Aside from a plane change at SeaTac, I haven’t been back to Seattle since I left in the spring of 1999. And things have 100% changed, from what I hear.

Example: I will be staying in Northgate. As I mentioned in The Death of Northgate, the mall in Northgate is completely dead, and currently getting torn down. The Denny’s is long gone, as is the pancake house where I ate brunch every Saturday for years. Northgate is an okay-ish place for me to stay, because it’s by the highway and I didn’t have to pay another sixty bucks a day to park. But it will be weird.

I was also thinking about driving versus public transit, and I think all of the systems other than the busses happened after I lived there. Sound Transit was nothing more than an ongoing political argument when I left, and had a major scandal after that, but seems to now have a light rail system going everywhere, plus a streetcar system that goes very close to my old digs in First Hill. I’ll probably try it out, but I have a feeling I’ll spend a lot of the trip driving giant circles on the Jon Konrath Reality Tour when I get there.

I have no real plans yet, and need to work on that. I might try to go to a Mariners game, and tick that ballpark off my list. The MoPop is something I definitely want to check out. I will also probably do all the usual shit, Pike Place and Pioneer Square (which I hear is a bit dodgy now) and whatever else. Plus all the remaining malls, I guess.

If you are in Seattle, ping me and we can hang out, too.

* * *

Last night’s dream was this technical failure loop where I was trying to buy a Queen album to listen to out of curiosity or whatever, and I could not find one. I was scrolling through three devices: a phone, an ipad, and some kind of music review/player tablet thing. I’d find a hit on one device and it would redirect to the other; the search button would vanish on the tablet thing; the band’s entire discography would be missing from Apple Music; google searches would either go to articles about the queen of England or would just redirect to ads. I wondered if Universal was in a fight with Apple and pulled everything, or if I was just having a senior moment with the technology. And I started to almost see the edges of the dream, caught myself thinking “Is this really happening?”


Car, Trip, Cat, Work, Food

Another dumb car update – the maintenance stuff is about done. I had the 30K service, but I looked it up, and the only thing Toyota recommends is to see if anything has fallen off, rotate the tires (but I have new tires), check the floor mat (sudden acceleration lawsuit cover-your-ass inspection), and change the oil and air filter. You only change the oil every 10,000 miles in this car, which is bizarre to me, because I drive that much in two years, and I used to always be told it was every three months back in 1747 when I had a big V-8 (that leaked most of its oil, anyway). So I went to Oil Changers, then bought the air filter on Amazon, and the car maintenance saga has concluded.

* * *

I am taking vacation in August, but have no idea where. It is insanely cheap to fly to Iceland right now, but I don’t want to deal with the jet lag, and it’s a pain getting back into the US. I think the current guidance is you need a C19 test three days before you return, and then it’s advised you get it again three days after you come home. The after one is fine, but I don’t want to deal with the stress of finding the testing place and then getting the wrong one, or not getting it with the right seal or stamp on the piece of paper, or whatever. I’d like to assume they have a simple little thing at the airport where they do it right there for a few bucks, done. But I could also see wandering from agency to agency to hospital to clinic downtown for days on end, only seeing signs that say “þú ert hálfviti og finnur ekki baðherbergið!” or whatever the hell. I think having to find an emergency dentist in a town where nobody spoke English back in 2009 was enough trauma to throw me for a while.

I have more thoughts and ideas on the vacation thing, but I’ll shut up until I book anything. Pricing is getting weird, and there are a lot of places I won’t go because either the weather will be hell at that time of year, the general C-19/vax numbers are too out of control, or I’ve been there too many times recently. (Vegas is all three, BTW.)

* * *

Had the day off on Friday, and here’s the fun I had. We’re eating dinner, and Squeak, the little cat, is nowhere to be found. I look around, and she’s hiding in a corner under their little kitty condo thing, which is where she retreats when there is a vacuum or she’s sick. She’s holding back her front paw, not walking on it. She’s the one who broke her rear leg in 2009 and had to have surgery, so of course we freak out that it’s a repeat performance. I look at the leg, and there’s no obvious broken bones, no swelling, perfect symmetry with the opposite leg, no blood, no obvious toe/claw issue, no injury on the pads. But we thought maybe it’s serious, so off to the emergency vet we go.

I’m not going to name this vet, but it’s the only one in Oakland that’s open 24/7, and I think it’s a bit of a sham operation. We went at maybe 9PM and checked in, and they had us fill out the forms and then check her in and take her inside. We’re told to wait, not leave, and they’ll call us, but it’s like a 3-4 hour wait. So… we waited. She was not considered a priority, so a bunch of other cases line-jumped in front of us. We’d call every few hours, and they’d say “oh, you’re next.” And I didn’t think this through — I should have brought an iPad, a dozen movies, some books, a battery charger, two meals, a cooler of drinks, etc etc etc. All I had was my phone, and I think I read the entire internet twice while waiting. I got so bored, I logged in at work and started reviewing GitHub pull requests on my phone.

Anyway, eight hours later, they examined her, said the same thing I said above, and it was probably a muscle strain. They gave us liquid gabapentin, and said to limit her movement for a week. Also, I was expecting this to cost us two or three grand, and the bill was something like $103. We got home as the sun rose, set up her little tent-playpen thing she had when she broke her leg, and she’s now sitting around stoned out of her gourd, and forbidden from using the stairs. Crisis averted, I hope.

* * *

Interesting thing happened yesterday: I actually met two people from my job. One of the managers in another group said he was going over to a brewpub in Alameda, and asked who in the East Bay wanted to meet up. So I drove over and met up with him and another guy I work with. It’s such an odd situation that I’ve worked at this place for three months and have “met” with people and talked to them every day on zoom, Slack, and through GitHub and Jira issues and whatnot, but I have not met anyone, even an HR person or my own manager. So we hung out, and I don’t drink, but Smish Smash burger had a pop-up, so I got a burger and some fries, and we shot the shit about what’s going on at work. That’s another thing I’ve missed: when I’m only in official meetings, I never find out what’s really going on, so this was my first experience of hearing what other people thought. So that was great.

I just typed a much longer thing about the fact that this was also the first time I’ve eaten in a restaurant in a year and a half, but it’s hard to get into that without getting political and stupid, so I’ll skip over that for now.

* * *

I don’t think I’ve mentioned it yet, but I’ve been back in food jail since April. And that’s going well, yesterday’s burger notwithstanding. Since April 5, I’m down just over 20 pounds. I still have probably 20 more to go, maybe more like 25, but it’s getting there. I’m doing the same thing I did in 2008, which I won’t mention by name but includes the letters W and W. Online only now, of course. Not a lot of exercise involved, just sensible eating choices. No magic diet. I know for my body, eating any fat (even “good” fat) results in weight gain. Eating too many carbs, same thing. So it’s a balance, but the points system works well for me. The other big thing that works for me is not listening to anyone else’s idiotic advice about how fasting or keto or magic vitamins from someone’s podcast will work. I’ve lost weight before this way, and I’m losing weight now, so the comment box is closed on that one.

There’s a certain amount of shame and negativity on how I gained back what I lost after like six years, and I haven’t been at a healthy weight since maybe 2014. And the pandemic caused me to go above my not-healthy weight by another dozen pounds. (My shrink’s joke was that instead of the freshman five, people were gaining the covid nineteen.) Anyway, I’ve gotten rid of the quarantine weight, and I’m slowly progressing downward, and I’ve gone from obese to overweight. By current projections, I’ll be “normal” by the end of summer. We’ll see.


NyQuil, Cameras, DNA, Writing

NyQuil season has started. Despite my persona, I don’t actually drink the stuff unless I’m sick, and that started last week. I can usually tell when I’m about to get a cold because the bottom completely drops out of writing and I can’t answer three-line emails in under an hour. So trying to update this thing today about anything is a challenge.

The first night I took NyQuil, I had some kind of extremely minor blemish or sore on the side of my nose, like right where the pads of my glasses sit. I don’t know how this happened, but I had some dream related to this, and started digging at this in my sleep. I vaguely remember doing it, but I don’t. When I woke up, I looked like a professional wrestler who got hit in the face with the chair, and there was blood everywhere. I had tore open the side of my nose so I have this half-inch gash there now. It wasn’t that bad after I cleaned it up, but the whole experience was horrific. I’ve quit Ambien and Sonata because of playing with my phone when I’m asleep. I hope I don’t need to start wearing gloves when I’m on cold medicine.

The 360 camera experience is over. I returned that Ricoh Theta V I bought. It wasn’t really ready for prime time. The connectivity between the phone and camera was half-baked, involved too many steps, and the software was mostly garbage. Also, more than anything, it was impossible to take a photo without my fat face being in it, which bothered the hell out of me. I don’t want to be in my pictures. So it went back. Now I’m jonesing to get some other new camera I don’t need. I keep looking at mirrorless cameras, but I don’t want to be walking around the ghetto with a thousand dollars on a neck strap.

I supposedly have another camera on the way to me. Yashica – or a company that bought the Yashica name – did a kickstarter a while ago for a reboot of their classic Electro 35. But this would be digital, and have this gimmicky “DigiFilm” technology, which is where the camera takes these fake “rolls” of “film” which actually contain computer chips that swap out different filters and processing and whatnot. There’s no LCD screen, and you have to flip a “wind” lever between shots. I bid on it a while ago (probably on Ambien) and of course after the Kickstarter was done and no refunds were possible, they announced that the camera was almost invented and would take months to get into prototype stage, then they’d have to actually figure out how to build them, etc etc etc. So I don’t expect it to ever show up, and if it does, I don’t expect it to really work, but maybe it will look nice on a shelf next to my other film cameras.

Still in food jail. I have been fairly strict about it, but very plateaued. I’m managing to lose a fraction of a pound a week. I know, eat less and exercise. Or whatever crazy fad diet is going around. I get it, shut up.

I actually took a DNA test as part of this current program. It was a new offering for them, and only cost fifty bucks, so I figured what the hell. The test looks at certain genetic markers to see if you have a genetic/hereditary predisposition for certain things that might help or hinder weight loss. It said I had average metabolism, normal likelihood of regaining weight I lost, normal carb processing, a normal sweet tooth, and some other average stuff. It said I had an above average predisposition for being obese, which was a test on the FTO gene.

What was most interesting to me is that it said I had a normal ability to process carbs, a lower ability to process fat, and a higher ability to process protein. This makes sense to me because any time I try to eat some fad diet like keto or Atkins, my body clings onto any fat I consume, regardless of what it is. Scream until you’re blue in the face about “good” fats, but to my body, all fats are bad. The only way I lose weight is to eat a lower fat diet, which usually means a higher protein diet. (If you want to deep dive on this, the genes tested for this were PPARG, TCF7L2, APOA5, CRY2, MTNR1B, and PPM1K.)

Since I’ve finished my latest book, I’ve been trying to figure out what’s next. I have this morgue file of writing that I sift through and pick at and eventually pull into new books, and it’s like 406,000 words now. There’s a part of me that feels like I should just not edit it and split it into 100,000 word chunks with some clever name or title and be done with it. But I have a strong need to write the next “real” book, which is problematic, especially when I’m sick. I also have everyone coming out of the woodwork telling me what I “should” write next, which is annoying.

The seasons are starting to shift quickly here. I got a new light box this week to deal with the impending SAD. I think I’ve only got a few more weeks of walking outside before the weather really nose-dives, so I should look into joining a gym. I should probably go walk now, while the temp is still in the low sixties.


Bigger, Faster, Dumber

I did something the other day I haven’t done since July of 09.  I rode my bike.  Not a lot, maybe a mile or so around the neighborhood, a quick shakedown cruise after wiping off three years of junk from the frame and hitting the chain with some oil.  I’ve been away from the little Dahon because my last bike ride resulted in a broken arm.  And of course, we managed to close on our house a couple of days later, which meant I got to sign my name 40,000 times with a broken arm, which I’d recommend about as much as spending six or seven hours in the Oakland hospital ER.

Anyway, the bike ride is part of the latest attempt to get my shit straight with fitness.  After this latest health scare that wasn’t, I took stock in my situation, and things have been slowly slacking off since I started working from home, and the numbers at the scale have been getting progressively worse.  I haven’t had to run out and buy elastic-band maternity pants, but my absolute lowest weight during Weight Watchers was 168 at the start of 2009, and I’m currently sitting at 183.  Compared to the 250 or so I was at back in New York, that’s still not bad, but I wouldn’t mind getting back into the 170s.

So part of this new quest has been getting a Fitbit, which is a tiny little thing you clip on your belt or pocket.  It has an accelerometer in it, and works as a pedometer, recording every step you take, as well as recording how many flights of stairs you climb.  This info is beamed back to your computer wirelessly, and then back up to the mothership, where a freaky web 2.0 site enables you to track other stuff, like food, exercise, and all that jazz.  You can also wear the tracker to bed and it will record your sleep time and efficiency, graphing the number of times the cats wake me up in the middle of the night.  If this thing also tracked the number of words I wrote and the amount of money I spent every day at Amazon, it would pretty much be a total solution.

The fitbit solution is interesting, because it quantifies everything.  The only reason I ever went from 250 to 170 was from being held accountable for every piece of food I shove in my piehole, but when you make something very quantitative, it’s easier for the geek in me to deal with the whole thing.  It’s like sitting at a Jira bug tracker and seeing the number of defects that have to be resolved before a ship date, and not just some vague emotional conquest that may or may not be working.  Fitbit also heavily gamifies the whole thing, awarding badges for passing certain goals, and enabling you to add friends and compete with others.

The first thing I learned is that I walk a pathetic amount during the average work day.  The arbitrary goal is 10,000 steps a day, and unless I do anything out of the ordinary, I’ll average around a thousand.  Add in a trip to the grocery store, some trips to the dumpster, and another errand or two, and that goes up a couple of thousand. But I’m not burning enough, and I’ve been making more of an effort to get off my ass and go walking after lunch or after work.

The other thing is that my eating has drifted heavily from the WW regimen, and I need to get that shit straight.  One of the neat things about the Fitbit is that if you’re entering your food, it’s keeping track of your calories in and calories out.  So you can set a goal of how many more calories you want to burn than consume, and at any given point in the day, you can see if you’re eating too much and need to run around the block a few times, or if you’re starving yourself and you need to go eat something.

I’m trying to heavily change what I eat, not eating processed stuff and eating smaller meals through the day.  I work ten feet from my kitchen, so I don’t have any excuses about the inability to prep food.  The hard part right now is retraining myself to know what I can eat and what I can’t.  I went through this before, because left to my own devices, I’ll just eat ten thousand calories of carbs and fat, and I know that the one thing that keeps me mentally together is protein consumption through the day.  So there’s a learning curve on figuring out the routine.

Oh shit, I just found out you can track ANYTHING on this site, and add your own custom trackers.  So I just added one for writing, to track words written a day.  This should be interesting.


Knots, rings, points

Here is a tip that I think I saw on LifeHacker that is now saving me at least an hour of time a day.  I listen to my iPod a lot at work, and I also use the “go ahead and hate me for having an iPod” white headphones when I am writing in the morning on my laptop.  I went a long time hating earbud headphones, and always liked those vertical in-ear things that Sony championed, but they became harder to find and fell apart more often and I eventually gave up and started using the white ones because I have 79 pairs of them sitting around the house.

Anyway, I always have to take off and put back on the headphones constantly, and when I do, I can never tell which one is left and right without spending 17 seconds looking for the little L or R.  So here’s the trick: tie a knot in the right cord, right up by the earbud.  Then you always know which one is the right side.  And that saves me 17 seconds times the 200 or 300 times I have to take them on and off every day.

I went to get my wedding ring resized the other day.  I realized it has been two years since I started the weight loss journey, two years since I ate at McDonald’s on a daily basis and consumed a regular Coke per hour.   I’ve been at my goal weight, more or less, for a year and a half, and my wedding ring was way too big.  I bought some crap online that looks like caulk that you put inside a ring to keep it from slipping, and that sort of kept it on my finger, but I needed it permanently fixed.  But there’s a fear there, that I will pay to get it done and then immediately fall off the wagon and gain 50 pounds.  As everyone has told me, maybe getting it resized will then force me to stay on track.  And maybe if I buy a treadmill, it won’t become a thousand-dollar place for me to hang my clothes and stack my half-read magazines after like three days of using it, right?

Our rings have some kind of manufacturer’s guarantee that they will resize them for free for their lifetime, but I would have to go back to the place in New York where I bought them, or maybe FedEx them back, and that seemed like too much of a hassle, so I finally just broke down and went to a store in the Stanford mall on my lunch break and dropped it off there and paid them to resize it.

(Side note, I was driving to that mail and had a horrible sense of deja vu as I sat on El Camino or whatever that main drag is with all of the palm trees.  Then I realized that I drove down that strip in 1996 when I was in the Bay Area for the first time and wanted to see the Stanford campus late at night.)

My ring size went from an 8 3/4 to a 7 1/2.  The Asian lady that helped me was astounded that I lost so much weight and kept asking me questions, like “did you have the surgery, the thing where they suck it out?” and could not believe that I just stopped eating shitty food and got off my ass.  I’m still surprised when people interrogate me about this and wonder how a person could lose 60 pounds without going on some crazy Oprah-endorsed diet where you only eat food with two or less vowels in their name on odd days or whatever else.  I mean, one one hand, it’s simple math. Your body needs X calories to run; when you eat five Double Down sandwiches and a box of Krispy Kreme donuts and consume X * 257 calories a day, you gain weight.  So don’t do that.

In reality, I know it’s dickish for me to say that, because when I was overweight, pretty much everyone said “well just eat less and exercise” and it drove me nuts.  Because I would eat less for like two days and then freak out and eat way more, and not know why.  And a component of it is knowing what to eat or how to eat to get through the day without legitimate hunger: balancing meals with more protein and less carbs, avoiding foods that are all fat and carbs, spacing out meals, eating enough fiber, knowing what foods fill you up and what ones are just junk and make you want more.  There are a lot of little tricks and things I learned at Weight Watchers, and they vary from person to person, and it’s a learning process to figure that stuff out.

But there’s definitely a psychological factor, and there are a lot of things that kept me shoveling the food that were all in my head, and those demons are hard to defeat.  I ate a lot out of boredom.  Like, I would get frustrated that I couldn’t write (that’s another fifty posts of neurosis) and I didn’t want to just sit and watch TV and it wasn’t like I was training for the Olympics or anything, so I would eat.  And then I would feel worse, and I would try to write, and it wouldn’t work, and I would get just one more handful of potato chips.  And I have some truly addictive traits, and I know I am addicted to sugar.  There are some foods, some candies that I cannot eat just a small amount of.  Like I can’t buy a one pound bag of Reeses Pieces and eat just 16 of them and leave the rest for next week.  There’s something addictive about the sugar at a base level, and this whole tactile thing about the crunch of the candy, the way it feels when you chew it, that when I eat just a few, I immediately think about eating more, and I cannot stop.  The advent of the 100-calorie pack and the small serving, as opposed to the jumbo serving value pack, that helped me.  But when I go to a movie, unless I remember to sneak in the 100-calorie pack of something to eat, I will go for that giant $16, two-pound bag of Skittles, because they don’t sell the small size.  And that’s problematic, and saying “just eat less” doesn’t solve it.

My target weight was 175, but I pushed myself down to 170 before I officially said I was at goal weight and began the month of maintenance before they actually declared me at goal.  And I kept losing after that, and I think my lowest weight was at like 163, but I stabilized around 167 by the time we got to SF in 2008.  And now I am hovering right at 170, and for safety’s sake, I wouldn’t mind being a hair below that.  I’m at a new job with few lunch options and a Taco Bell dangerously close by, so I feel a need to really revamp things.  I have not been going to meetings in over a year now, and have not been counting points, and I wonder if I should start again.  Maybe.

I don’t have my ring on, and it’s really weird to not have it.  I keep feeling to see if it’s there and have a minor freakout after I wash my hands, thinking I lost it in the sink.  I get it back Monday, but it is weird to not have it all weekend.


So what do you eat now?

One of the problems with losing weight is that everyone, especially people from back home, will ask me “so what do you eat now?” I think most people expect that I stopped eating sticks of butter and switched to eating sticks of margarine and that made me magically drop 60 pounds. I think this phenomenon scrapes upon an issue of mine with unhealthy eating: the fact that my “default” cuisine is junk, because I have such a limited palete, and most of the food I’ve eaten as an adult was purchased from a drive-thru, because I don’t know any better.

I was a picky eater as a kid. I had a huge list of things I would not eat, and many of these carry over to today. I knew kids who were much worse – I knew a kid that would only eat Oscar-Mayer bologona, and any attempt to sneak in some Eckridge or another brand would cause him to have a fit. And I guess pretty much every kid brought up by the current nanny nation has a huge list of food allergies and limitations – seems like everyone is allergic to wheat, dairy-intolerant, and unable to go near peanut products or processed sugar. (Good luck ever eating in Indiana, btw, where the closest thing you’ll find to a vegan meal is the big bacon cheddar sandwich at Wendy’s.) I did have a period of extreme allergies where some genius in my family suddenly said I was allergic to chocolate, and I spent a year or two with my family substituting out my Easter and Christmas candy and probably subconsciously damaging me mentally (only to find out a year or two later I was actually allergic to penicillin.)

But here’s the thing – was I a picky eater because I was a picky eater, or because my cuisine was so limited, and I was never introduced to far-out stuff? Anthony Bourdain often talks of his first culinary experience as a kid, visiting France and eating a fresh oyster, and suddenly having his world turned upside-down, forever destined to do weird shit like eat ox testicles in backwater Cambodian former Khmer Rouge refugee camps. I led a much more white-bread existence, food-wise. For most of my childhood, my mom stayed at home, and did the cooking. I’m not going to say she was a good or a bad cook – actually, she later worked as a cook, and there were certain dishes she would make that I wish I could have now. But we weren’t rolling in money as a kid. And we lived in Indiana. So most of our menu was derived from Kroger’s general and more economical staples: meatloaf, frozen pot pies, canned vegetables, shake-and-bake, casseroles. Spices other than chili powder and A1 steak sauce were pretty much foreign to me. Wonder bread was a way of life. We didn’t venture far out of the box, and if it wasn’t in the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook, it probably wasn’t at our kitchen table.

One strange deviation from this rule was asparagus. When we lived in Edwardsburg, Michigan, there was a farm across the street from us, and for some reason, asparagus grew wild right on the fence line between Redfield Road and this large industrial farmland. I think they must have grown asparagus there, and never tilled up the land right at the fenceline, and the stuff kept growing back like weeds. My dad used to go over there and pluck out a bunch of the stuff, and then my mom would cook it in a pressure cooker and cover it in butter. Most of our vegetable intake was canned corn, canned green beans, canned mixed vegetables, and the occasional head of iceberg lettuce broken up into a salad with no other vegetables and maybe some bacon bits. I still love asparagus, although the advent of the microwave makes it way easier to cook.

A few limitations shaped our menu, some making sense, and some more random. When you have a limited budget and three kids constantly screaming bloody murder and doing crazy shit like we always did, it’s hard to spend time perfecting your duck confit, or piece together anything that involves hours of immaculately dicing and prepping 17 different ingredients. That’s when the “throw three things in a bowl and bake for 40 minutes at 375” comes in handy. There’s also the economical advantage of buying a pound of hamburger, a box of hamburger helper, and a tube of ready-bake rolls versus buying all of the crap you need to make a good Coq Au Vin and three side dishes. And the local Kroger or IGA did not have much more than the basics, especially in the pre-foodie 70s. I don’t know if Elkhart had any old-school butchers or farmer’s markets or other produce shops where once could piece together all of the ingredients in four or five shopping trips, but good luck doing that with three kids in tow.

I also have no particular ethnic background that shaped my family’s food definitions. I guess my grandmother on my mom’s side made a lot of good food, but it was just your basic meat-and-potatoes stuff: turkey, gravy, roast beef, ham. She was from Poland and the rest of my grandparents were from Austria, but there were no specific dishes from the motherland that I remember. It wasn’t like my grandparents were off the boat from China/Japan/India/whatever and my mom would live to whip up Chinese/Japanese/Indian/whateverian food like her mom used to make. When we had time and money to eat fancy, and we weren’t already going over the hill and through the woods to grandmother’s house, that usually meant a butterball turkey and some Stove Top Stuffing.

When we did go out, I think the most ethnic food I ever ate was Pizza Hut. It wasn’t like Elkhart had an Ethiopian district or Koreatown where we could partake in a variety of food. And even if they did, I don’t think my parents had the patience to deal with bringing me or my sisters to a place full of unknowns. The reason McDonald’s is burned into my system so much was because the cheeseburger happy meal was an easy go-to for me. Maybe Italian was one ethnic derivative we had in northern Indiana – places like Columbo’s, that were mostly pizza joints but would dish up some good pasta or a chicken parm. But I don’t think I had Chinese food until I was in college, and I know that Indian, Thai, and even Russian food was something I didn’t learn to enjoy until after I moved to New York.

So when I suddenly decided to get in shape and stop eating Quarter Pounders for every meal, I was faced with the situation that I didn’t know what to eat instead. Eating just vegetables seemed impossible to me; it was like making Kool-Aid without water. Even if I ate 19 pounds of the most complicated salad possible, I still would feel like I was missing the meat course. And avoiding fried food was absolutely befuddling to me. Weight watchers kept me focused on point values instead of complicated rules, and I was able to figure out substitutions and what would make me get through the day without crashing. But I still can’t explain to people what I eat instead. I didn’t lose weight by suddenly only eating Ugandan traditional dietary staples or by switching french fries with only purple-colored fruits, or anything like that.

I still can’t eat like Bourdain. I still don’t like olives, mushrooms, most seafood, or anything that still has eyes. But I somewhat understand the cult of spicy foods now, and I think I’m beyond being fixated on long-passed fast food chains like Hot-N-Now and Burger Chef as my salvation. I still can’t explain what I do eat in under a thousand words, though.