Saturday, September 24, 2016

How I'm Paid as a Housewife

A couple of weeks ago, I watched Churchill's Secret, a made-for-TV movie about the late British Prime Minister's recovery from a series of strokes in 1953. Ramola Garai plays Churchill's plucky nurse. She delays her emigration to Australia to marry her sweetheart to care for Churchill. According to the movie, she loves her job and is having some angst at moving to Australia to become 'just a wife.' (Do we know Millie Appleyard was feeling this way? Or is this some feminist spin injected into the life story of a woman about whom, really, we probably know very little?)

Last year, I finally got around to watching the last couple of seasons of Foyle's War. You know, the ones that tragically did not include Sgt. Milner. Less eye-candy, for sure, but still a great show and worth watching. In these, the character Sam(antha) is now married, and at the end is expecting a child. As per the dictates of 1950's culture, Sam has to leave her job to be home full-time with her baby. She's not too happy about it, and makes some pretty disparaging comments about the horror of being 'stuck at home changing nappies all day.'

My firstborn is in a World War II phase. He's like his mother--he gets a topic in his mind and reads voraciously about it until his obsession is spent or he has read through all the books on it in the library, whichever comes first. So we're reading a lot about World War II, and invariably, the Rosie the Riveter chapters tell glowing stories of women thrust into the workforce during the war, and their GREAT, SEETHING DISAPPOINTMENT at having to go back home after the it was over. I mean, really, according to every book, every single woman absolutely *LOVED* her factory job and was severely disappointed at having to chain herself to her kitchen when the men came home. You can almost hear the 'clink' of the prison gates as she shuts her front door.

From all this, we can only presume one thing: housework is inherently dreary, oppressive and demeaning. You can't possibly be 'fulfilled' doing housework. No way.

But I'm going to let you in on a little secret: I'm 'just a housewife.' I'm 'just a wife,' 'just a mother.' And I love it. I thank God everyday that I can be home, and I have pretty much no desire to go back to work. I actually like cooking. I don't mind working in the yard. I get a little thrill when I can use up all the leftovers without anything spoiling. I get jazzed when I find a good deal on raspberries or chicken (I got a whole chicken for free once. For real!) I like making crazy birthday cakes for my kids. I feel immensely satisfied when a room is tidy, or I tuck my kids into beds that smell like clean sheets dried on the clothesline, or when order has been restored to the chaos that is the LEGO corner or our upstairs playroom. (That doesn't happen very often, but when it does, it's nice.) I like teaching my kids to vacuum and dust even though it's easier to do it myself.
Yup, that's me. Except I'm in yoga pants.

I like doing letter worksheets with my five year old. I like reading World War II books with my eight year old. I like tying them into their train and pumpkin aprons and baking cookies, talking about fractions and macro-nutrients and yumminess as we pour things into a bowl.

I like paying bills and saving money and strategizing how we can pay off our mortgage early.

I couldn't do all these things if I worked outside the home. I'm just not that productive. And I don't think people should feel like they have to do all these things and work outside the home. Yes, some need doing (laundry), others are just for fun (birthday cakes.) There are only 24 hours in the day. Something has to give.

When people ask me 'what I do,' I tell them 'I'm at home.' No one has ever been snarky or rude about it. People are always very nice and polite, but the conversation usually stops there. There's typically a rather awkward silence. People just don't usually know how to engage me in conversation once I admit I'm not splitting the atom. Feeling the awkwardness, I usually end up saying things like, 'I do volunteer work.' Which is true. 'I help out at the kids' school.' Also true. 'My husband works crazy hours and travels a lot, so I don't even know how we would manage if I had a job.' 'I'm very involved with my church.' 'I have a child with special needs.' True, true and true. But it's as if I feel I have to justify being home. As if keeping house is not enough. Because although people are very nice and polite, I feel like they're thinking.... what does she do all day?

Sometimes I think I'm probably just projecting. That people aren't really thinking that. And they probably aren't. They probably aren't thinking about me at all. They're probably making their grocery lists in their minds. Or thinking about a work deadline. Or maybe they are thinking, how on earth do I relate to this dinosaur from the 1950's? How do I make conversation with someone who washes dishes and does laundry all day? Her house must be so clean.

Well, it's not. Right now the upstairs toilet is kind of nasty, but I'm procrastinating by writing on my blog. I lose my patience and my temper and my keys. And I'm certainly not the world's greatest mother. I lost my temper in a kind of epic way last week, and begged my firstborn's forgiveness with tears in my eyes. And he gave it so freely.... that I cried even more.

Whatever any family decides to do with paid work and housework is up to them and it's none of my--or anyone else's--business. But we have elevated paid work above the unpaid. Whether someone works a paid job all day or not, those household chores need doing. Whether you do it yourself or pay someone else to do it, it needs doing, and it blesses people when it's done. Just because you didn't receive a check for the doing, doesn't mean it isn't worth something. Betty Friedan told us we couldn't be fulfilled without paid work, and as a society, we believed her. The irony is that I now hear feminists complain that 'care-giving,' which is usually done by women, is undervalued. Ummm, yes. It is. And who started that, I wonder?

Yet no work is unpaid, not really. Last night, as my boys and I were supping on chips, salsa and olives after flag-football practice, my firstborn said, "Mommy, this is my refuge." I looked at him for a moment with alarm. He's not usually the introspective, mushy type, so I wondered.... Why does he need refuge? Did someone bully him on the school bus?!

"What do you mean?" I replied. He said, "You told me once that our home is my refuge. That no matter what happens in the world, this is where I can come for peace and rest, and it is."

And that was payment, larger than any check I could ever be given.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Quick! Fast! Learn How I Lost 15lbs. This Summer

Years ago, when I was single, childless and living in low-maintenance, rented apartments, I was something of a mystic. I read Julian of Norwich and went on silent prayer retreats. I walked labyrinths and even made a pilgrimage to Taize, the French monastery known for it's moving chants.

That's what I did, but really, to be a mystic is more about what you don't do. In Christianity, the way up is often down. The way to salvation rests on someone else's doing, not your own.

I was led to try out some of the traditional Christian disciplines that have been almost totally abandoned by modern American protestants. I learned to sit in a verse (or even just a word) of scripture for a long time. I rested on the Sabbath, instead of stopping off at the grocery store on the way home from church. I made a Lenten sacrifice every year, and... I fasted.

The practice of fasting--that is, intentionally going without food for a period of time--is an ancient one, and it is not limited to Christianity. All the major religions have advocated fasting. Early Christians fasted, typically on Wednesdays and Fridays. It's a practice that's all over the Bible.

I'll be honest, I never really took to fasting. I enjoyed Taize chants a whole lot more. I found fasting profoundly difficult and uncomfortable. Of all the traditional practices that have fallen by the wayside since I've become a mother, fasting was probably the first to go.

However, I've recently learned how profoundly good for us it is! Contrary to modern advice, going without food for a day... or two or three... is extremely healthy. It is when we abstain from eating that our bodies can divert energy to the business of repair. By depriving the body of food for a time, our insulin levels drop. Insulin, the hormone secreted by the pancreas to deal with blood sugar, is a healthy response to eating. It is a storage hormone. Insulin scurries around, putting away all the glucose--first for immediate fuel, then into muscles as glycogen, then whatever is leftover is stored as fat. Without it, we're in big trouble, but over time, the constant eating advocated by the snack manufacturers can lead to insulin resistance, which is the precursor to type-2 diabetes. This nasty disease is so preventable--and, it turns out--reversible!

Fasting makes our bodies more insulin-sensitive. So does exercise. Going without food for a bit is not going to throw our bodies into 'starve mode,' that state in which the body cannibalizes muscle to survive. Most of us have plenty of stored fuel in our bodies to last us a few days... or weeks, even. And, contrary to other weight loss diets, people who lose weight by fasting lose far less muscle. One study found the average lost muscle in the fasting group was only one pound, compared with a 10lb. muscle loss average in the low-calorie diet group. And fasting is, in my opinion, much easier to stick with. You eat normally on non-fast days. It's not a free-for-all, but it's normal eating. It might involve ice cream. Or wine. You're not forsaking treats forever and ever. Just for today.


I'll admit, my renewed interest in fasting was not to get in touch with God in a deeper way, nor was it motivated by a desire to understand the suffering of the poor. I was driven by my growing weight gain.

As I've mentioned before, a couple of winters ago, I put on some weight. I was surprised to find that my summer clothes did not fit at all well after the long, harsh winter of 2015. I had gained 15lbs, which slowly started to increase to 20. I tried all my usual tactics to reign things in, and to my great surprise, NOTHING worked. I even went very low-carb for a few weeks. And I lost a pound. Way to much good stuff to give up for only a pound!

I eventually tried to make my peace with it. I had read that many women gain around 10lbs. during perimenopause, that this was a normal and healthy thing and not something to be feared, so I tried to console myself with that. Yet my weight continued to climb. Despite the healthy eating, despite the workouts, I was getting heavier and heavier. (And no, it wasn't muscle, but thanks for asking.) I went shopping earlier this summer and I could not believe what I saw in the mirror. I didn't even recognize myself.

The next day, I decided to fast. I didn't eat for 24 hours, then had a small, reasonable dinner. The following day, I ate normally. I alternated fast and feed days, and within the first two weeks, I had lost 6lbs. Whoa!

I continued the alternate day protocol for a total of four weeks, at which point I was getting a little sick of it. I transitioned to fasting two days a week,

Many people have taken an interest in fasting, so I'll try to answer my most frequently asked questions:

Did you read any books about fasting? Of course, because I'm a tool. The best book I read was The Obesity Code by Canadian physician Jason Fung. If you're interested in the science of weight gain and loss, this book is must-read. I really couldn't recommend it more highly.

I also read the The Fast Diet by Michael Mosely and Mimi Spencer (aka 'the 5:2 diet.') Mosley is a non-practicing English doctor who presents health-related documentaries for the BBC. The Fast Diet is basically what I'm doing now, though I don't strictly monitor my calories as they dictate. More on that later, but it's a good book that is easily readable.

Probably my least favorite book is The Every Other Day Diet by Krista Varady. She's a PhD nutritionist who has done numerous studies on fasting. Her schtick is eat 500 calories a day every other day, then eat normally on the feed days. Much of her research is interesting, and the 5:2 diet was influenced in part by Varady's work. It might be worth a read if you get it from the library, but the writing is terrible and she advocates a lot of processed frankenfoods. Yuck. I get that they're easier for the sake of compliance, but Lean Cuisine is gross and I have a hard time with a nutritionist advocating the consumption of frozen dinners with any regularity.

Is fasting hard? At first, yes. The first two weeks in particular were hard. At times, I was tempted to throw in the towel and tuck into a can of Pringles. If I hadn't been seeing such great results, I might have bailed. But I'm so glad I didn't! I'm actually pretty used to fasting now. I'm fasting today, and while I do feel a bit hungry right now, it's totally manageable.

How do you get through the hunger? The interesting thing about hunger is that it goes away. Seriously, it does. I find if I keep busy, out of the kitchen and I don't watch The Great British Bake-off, I'm fine. On fast days, I do things that keep me out of the kitchen. I run errands, work in the garden, clean out closets, whatever. Just stay out of the kitchen.

For me, the hardest time is the afternoon. I breeze through the morning. I'm seldom hungry for breakfast anyway, so mornings are easy.

What does a typical day look like? It sort of depends. Some days I will start my fast after lunch. I just won't eat dinner. Then I'll break the fast at lunch the following day. Usually, I'll go dinner to dinner. I do have coffee in the morning with heavy cream. Since heavy cream is just fat (no protein or carbs) it doesn't stimulate insulin as do other foods. Hard-core fasters would tell me I shouldn't even have that, but coffee is a non-negotiable for me, and it keeps me in the game. If I couldn't have creamy coffee, I would be a beast and I would hate life and everyone would hate me, so for the sake of world peace, I have the coffee.

Then I just don't eat. For the rest of the day, until dinner, at which time I will eat something whole, real and reasonable. Tonight I'm planning on a green salad with steak and a mustard vinaigrette. Ok, now I'm hungry. Let's move on.

Do you exercise on a fast day? Yes (you knew I was going to say that.) At first, I was doing a short, HIIT-type workout. I was afraid doing anything longer would make me ravenous, but now I just do whatever I want on a given day. (I'm trending towards shorter workouts anyway, but that's for another post.) Today I did a 30-minute Physique 57 video, and I felt great.

Are you really strict with it? NO. I'm really not strict at all. The 5:2 and Every Other Day diets say you should restrict your fast-breaking meal to 500 calories, but I don't bother. It's not that I hoover everything in sight (though I might have done that once or twice.) I just really, really hate weighing, measuring and tracking my calories. It feels really obsessive to me, and it makes me crazy, so I don't do it. I just stick to whole, real and reasonable. It might be under 500 calories, it might be over. I don't know and I don't care. What I'm doing seems to be working for me.

On non-fast days, I eat whatever. I might have breakfast, I might not. I might have ice cream, I might not. I really just eat normally, which for me is whole, real food with occasional treats. I am not very restrictive on those days, and I've still lost weight. I know some people still have to be fairly strict on non-fast days, but I just won't do it. To me, life is too short to be strict all the time! I'm still a few pounds over what I used to be, but it's ok. If I don't lose any more, that's fine.

As for Christians fasting, is it commanded? No! You don't have to do it, and I'd say most modern Christians probably never have. But I find there is great blessing to this and other spiritual disciplines. I find my mind does turn to other, deeper things on fast days. I do reflect more on the plight of the poor and others for whom hunger is not optional. I approach my fast-breaking with a more grateful heart than I normally have. It is not a burdensome requirement, but I wonder... in our post-Reformation fervor to avoid legalism, are we missing something very precious when we jettison these old practises? I think we do. The traditional disciplines are good for both body and soul.

I do hope this is helpful for some of you. If you have other questions, please post a comment below! I'll write a follow-up if there is interest.