Peanut Butter is Disgusting?

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Taken at the time of my grandparents visit which I share below. I am seven.

 

This morning I sliced a banana and put a dollop of peanut butter on my plate. All of a sudden my stomach lurched. I remembered something that has not crossed my mind in years.

I was triggered.

Anyone who has suffered trauma is triggered from time to time. Trauma happens as a result of anything that challenges or strays from what feels right to us as human beings. Whether the trauma is the result of an accident, the horror of serving during a war, sexual abuse or any other event, trauma happens.

I was seven years old and in the second grade. I got off the bus at the end of the driveway, walked up and entered my house to greet my mom, Nana, and Grandpa, who were visiting for a few days.

THE Grandpa. My abuser.

Mom asked if I wanted my usual snack, peanut butter in a small orange ramekin. Of course, I accepted.

As I sat there enjoying, propped up on the kitchen chair by The Yellow Pages, and swinging my little legs. Grandpa looked at me, curled his lip and said, “That’s disgusting.”

That moment turns my stomach. Not the peanut butter, mind you, but the way he was turned off by my snack choice.

All the while, he was sexually abusing me.

So peanut butter is disgusting.  What?

I have been thinking all morning about how insanely twisted and skewed that scene was.

My grandparents came to visit often. I remember their visits as a young girl before my abuse had started – before I was seven-ish.

I loved their visits.

I have fond memories of sitting at our octagonal kitchen table with the yellow 70-ish chairs playing Rummy 500. Dad and Grandpa would drink a Knickerbocker Beer and Smoke Raleigh Filter tips, the ashes of which they flicked into the amber, plate sized ashtray.

We had fun.

I remember that Nana was dear to me. She was kind and sweet and spoiled me. When I had an occasional temper tantrum kicking and screaming on the floor, she would gently put her foot on my back and say, “OH! What a nice rug!”

I would soon come out of it and return to my cheerful self. She would give me a chocolate out of the box with the red bow on it. I always chose the candy with the pink rosebud on top.

Grandpa was standoffish. He left me alone for the most part. Then things changed. He took an interest in me.

We would walk to the playground. I would run my little fingers along the chain link fence that abutted the sidewalk. I would pick up the remnant of a deciduous a tree – that little bit that looked like a coat hanger and hold it up to my face as if they were my mustache.

One thing lead to another.

Things changed. He was not longer aloof. He paid attention to me. I was little. I did not know what he was doing.

Grooming.

He was grooming me.

You see, sexual abuse does not always just start with a “BOOM!” Most of the time it happens at the hands of a family member or a close family friend who takes the time and interest to foster the victim.

It happens over time. I may start with things like tickling, or an inappropriate touch or the perpetrator telling secrets as a way to build a bond. The abuser wants to build trust.

Over time, it changes. There is a sick takeover, an overpowering, so to speak.

Dominance.

Children are usually dumbfounded, scared out of their wits and lose their sense of selves. They don’t know what to do.

I knew what he was doing to me was wrong. It felt yucky. But I did not know what it was or meant. Was it the baseline? Did it happen to every little person?

I was ashamed and embarrassed. I did not know how to communicate what had happened to me to my mom and dad. Even if I did have the words, I was too mortified to speak them.

Much like most children, I looked up to my folks. I was a pleaser. I was teacher’s pet and was the only seven-year-old at the YWCA that was brave enough to jump off the deep-end diving board.

I did not want to “upset the applecart,” anger my parents or make a fuss. It was only me after all.

Yup. That is when that feeling started. It was only measly little me.

Way. Back. Then.

In my case, I kept my mouth shut. For years. I did not have the words. I did not know how to tell anyone that that “innocent kiss” did not feel right. I sat on his lap, but I was told to do so. I had to. Most of the time I quickly struggled and squirmed away. Again, it felt yucky.

I would give anything to go back in time and change it all. I wish that I had shouted “no!” I wish that I knew how to say the words. I wish that I had the confidence in myself to tell. I wish that he was locked away.

If I had, my cousin would have been spared. And others would have been spared, too.

I do not feel responsible for the abuse that happened to My Laura and other children. I did not know any better. No one taught me.

I did know enough to warn Laura about what Grandpa might do to her.  But she laughed. She had NO idea what the details of my warning really meant. She laughed. She was little.

To a child,  my words, my warning, the details sounded preposterous.

How can a child effectively warn another child when she, herself, doesn’t have the words?

As adults, it may be uncomfortable to do so, but necessary. Imperative, even.

I am not sure that people think to educate themselves as to how to protect their children. I protected my child out of absolute fear; I was overprotective, and a helicopter but that was because I was keenly aware of the peril.

But I never studied or researched HOW to protect my babe. I made it up as I went along.

Now I know. Now I know that there are tools and sources, and there is valuable information to educate us.

Parents. Everybody.  You can learn the warning signs. You can teach your children the proper language to express inappropriate behavior or violation by another. You can convince them that it is safe to tell. You can cut it off before it begins.

There are no guarantees that you can prevent sexual abuse, but you can arm yourself. Be smart. Be proactive.

And if it has already started, that is not the worst thing. The worst thing is if your child never tells you about it.

I eventually told my parents. My abuse was swept under the carpet; it was not acknowledged by the other family members who were also told.
And neither was Laura’s, except by her mom.

Here is the takeaway.

Smarten up. Don’t be uncomfortable or embarrassed that you will insult someone or hurt their feelings if you are suspicious. Call the person out. Interject if you suspect someone has inappropriate behavior. Listen, speak up.

Join the bandwagon because when it comes to peanut butter and incest, you know which is is disgusting.

That’s all.

 

For more information or to register for a workshop or a lecture, please visit sayitsurvivor.org

 

Sharing “Personal” Information

I spent some time with a good friend yesterday.

I was mentioning how the past year has been one full of changes in my life. Great changes, hard changes, exciting changes.

I shared that the most impactful changes in my life have been around friendships. I have made some incredible friends over the past year, and I am so grateful for all the new people with whom I have connected.

But then I shared the sadness I am experiencing over the loss of some friends over this past year.

These are friends I have known for years. These are friends who I thought would be in my life forever. They seemed to have disappeared. They have stopped being there. They have stopped engaging.

Crickets.

I told her that there seemed to be a direct correlation between me losing my friends and me telling my story.

This year I stood firmly in my truth, in my story, and spoke of my sexual abuse, shamelessly. I made a conscious decision to speak out, to reach out to all who would listen.

And the good that has come of doing so has been humbling. It has been life-altering. Speaking out has helped people.

She said, “Well, you took some very personal information and shared it all over the internet. People might feel that it is just too personal to share. It may make people uncomfortable.”

Ah HA!

You see, therein lies the problem, folks.

I do not see it as sharing PERSONAL information. In my opinion, my abuse was anything BUT personal.

It had nothing to do with me, personally.

I was not a “person” to my abuser. I was his prey. He selected me for no other reason than he COULD. I was available. I would not tell. I was safe, and I was an easy target.

Then I played out a scenario. I played devil’s advocate.

What would happen if an entire family became homeless overnight as victims of an arsonist? What if someone violently set their house on fire? What if they lost everything tangible and were out in the cold. What would happen?

Right.

The media would be all over it like white on rice. Social media would be the gasoline and their story, too, would run ablaze.

People would flock to help them out. People would pull together and pitch in. Money and blankets and clothes and casseroles would abound.

People would feel so badly for these victims. They did nothing to deserve this horrible crime.

My tragedy, my victimization, and that of all my brothers and sisters in survival was no more personal than theirs.

My perpetrator victimized and desecrated my body. Their perpetrator victimized and desecrated the physical structure where they resided.

Victims.

Does it matter how one is victimized?

Think about it. There is no shame in being the victim of arson, right? Those unfortunate people didn’t do anything to deserve it.

So, then, why is there so much shame attached to being the victim of rape? Of sexual abuse?

Because “Sex” is private.

Actually, sex is selectively private.

Turn on primetime. Is sex private?

Nope. Not on primetime.

Now, walk around the mall. Flip a magazine.  Not there, either.

When sex is nonconsensual, that is private. When the topic makes people uncomfortable. Then it is private.

But if a crime becomes shameful to the general public merely because of the nature of the crime, sexual, that is criminal in itself.

Everyone has the right to respond the way they respond. People have very different reactions. I have no right to judge others on how they feel about it if they want to stay silent or ignore it.

I respect that everyone has their story. I believe that everyone is living with the best of intentions.

But for the love of the Good Lord, can we stop saying that sharing this is too PERSONAL? There is nothing personal about it.

Carry on.

That’s all.

 

More “MEAN”-ing

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I called my mother the other day. We were catching up, and we got to talking about MARYMORPHOSIS.  I told her about my post “MEAN”-ing.

Together we recalled how horrible and nasty those girls were to me in middle school.

Then she said, “Oh! Did I tell you that one of those girls ran by my house recently?”

Me, “Really?”

Mom, “Yes. She stopped and introduced herself.  She lives right up the street in that house where  Mr. So-and-So used to live.

Me, “And? Then what? Who was it???”

Mom, “She said that she was awful to you in middle school. She admitted to terribly bullying you.  She apologized to me. I can’t remember her name.”

Me, “She apologized to YOU?”

Mom, “Yes. She told me that she has middle school kids and that she does not want that to happen to them.”

My. My. My.

I wish I knew who it was that owned up to it. I also wish that that woman would apologize to me- not my mother.  I am pretty sure that she could find me, by social media or otherwise.  She could have asked my mom how to find me- right?

I am not holding my breath.

And I am so happy that this bully now is aware of the potential effects on her children; that she recognized her mistake.   I really and truly hope that mean kids spare her children.

My boys start school in just nine days, and all three will be in middle school this year.  I am biting my nails.  I am not ready. I am not talking about the 3″ binders and #2 Ticonderoga pencils ready, my friends.  I am talking about being mentally ready.

Middle school can be a fire pit.

SO many people reached out to me after I wrote “MEAN”-ing.  Many could relate.  Many have children who are victims of bullying. It is an epidemic. And there does not seem to be a vaccine.

It is highly contagious.

Victims are the hosts. And they are eaten alive by their peers who are cowards, hiding behind social media and electronics.

With Instagram and Snapchat kids can post pretty much anything they want.  They can comment any way they want. And with social media like Snapchat, the evidence disappears in about ten seconds.  It is easy to get away with it.

And that child who is on the other side is powerless and victimized.

And those feelings don’t go away in ten seconds.  They may never go away.

Don’t get me wrong, the folded square notes I found in my locker were painful. But social media is a killer. And it can be, literally, too.

I could put my thermometer on the radiator for days and miss school.  But now? There is absolutely no way to escape. Those electronics are inescapable.

My son just told me of how a girl from his grade posted a photo of her family on the beach during their summer vacation.  Some kids commented on her photo in which she was wearing a bathing suit. She was at the beach.

They called her “Shreck” and other names.  She took the picture down.

Another instance? My friend’s son posted a gorgeous image of a rainbow he saw in on vacation in Maine.  He was called “gay.”  Hm.

A child who is very close to my heart suffered from bullying in grade 5.  Several boys would taunt him, stomp on his foot, call him names and steal his lunchbox and throw it across the cafeteria.

bully-obesity

This boy who had always been gregarious and well liked all of a sudden withdrew.  He did not smile. He refused to take his puffy winter jacket off in the hot classroom because he said that it was his “protective armor.”

Doesn’t that break your heart?

Everybody, guess what? That happened recently.

For three months, the mother contacted the school.  The boy reached out to the school on numerous occasions.  Then, the mom put her foot down.

And finally, an action was taken. The parents were called in. The school intended to contact the police if the boys did not cease.

They stopped.

But it took three months for the school to take it seriously and do something.

Although there is a “no tolerance” policy in our schools, it STILL happens.

What are we going to do about this? How can we stop this? We need to educate our kids not only on what it means to be a bully but how it affects others.

Sit down with your kids before that first day of school. Explain that their devices can be a source of entertainment and fun and a way in which to connect with their friends. We need to educate our children that phones can be weapons too.

Tell them to put their weapons down.

Can we model the Golden Rule? Please?

Golden Rule

That’s all.

no bullying

After “MEAN”-ing. A Loving Message

My friends, following is a timely and beautiful piece posted on one of my favorite blogs, Momastary.

What perfect timing!  The topic of one of my recent posts was about bullying. Thanks, G for this letter.

Bullying.

I experienced it. My cousin, Laura experienced it. Now, my son suffers from it.

Please. Please. Please.

Talk to your children. Read this letter to your kids. Glennon gives her permission to substitute her son’s name with your child’s.  We can minimize bullying by being aware and educating our children on what this means and what it feels like to victims.

Glennon is inspiring. She is full of love. She brings good into this world.

We connect with Glennon. Glennon connects with us.  Want to know why? She is vulnerable, honest, real, and she offers a full heart. Consistently.

My cousin, Laura, turned me on to her. Laura took me to see her.

Here is Laura, our friend, Jessica and I waiting in great anticipation for G to arrive at The Old South Church in Boston. Glennon more than delivered.

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Then, by choice, the three of us waited at the very end of the line of many, many women to say hello to G.  It was worth the wait. We loved being last.

Glennon’s sister Amanda was by her side. What lucky women. They have each other. And they share full hearts collectively with all. And they make a difference.

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Glennon says, “Love Wins.”

She is so very right. And so is Amanda.

Thank you, both.

Right on!

That’s all

READ BELOW

http://momastery.com/blog/2015/08/18/before-school-conversation/

Namaste

“Senior Salute?”

I watched the news this morning before my daily walk with my Black Lab, Dexter.  When the clip came on I spit my coffee out.

A senior conquest. Interesting.  Shocking.

Today begins the rape trial for the St. Paul School graduate of the class of 2014.  This Harvard bound student has been accused of luring and repeatedly raping a Freshman girl, a fifteen-year-old child. Owen Labrie of Tunbridge, Vermont allegedly sexually assaulted this young girl only days before he graduated.

And do you want to know why?

He was participating and vying to win a school tradition called the “Senior Salute.”  It’s a sexual conquest in which graduating young men set out to have sex with as many girls as possible prior to their graduation.  They refer to this as “scoring.”

These young men use school walls as their canvas, and their medium is a marker.  They must keep the girl’s names documented.  That is how the boys keep “score,” of course.  The more marker, the better chance of winning!

This tally seems like a good idea.  Credit them for each and every child that they “conquer!”  It is important to keep track of each notch on their belts.  Right?

And the school just keeps painting over those walls.

If you read my post “MEAN-ing”, you will see a remarkable correlation between permanent marker, school walls, and fresh paint.

Bullying. Sexual Abuse. Interesting?

Not so much.

Tuition, room and board at St. John’s School costs over $50,000.00. It is one of our country’s most prestigious schools. Our Secretary of State, John Kerry attended as did some other congressmen, Pulitzer Prize winners, and other illustrious figures.

But who cares?

Sexual abuse does not differentiate.  It doesn’t matter whether it occurs in the most prestigious institutions or under a bridge in Chelsea.  It happens.  All the time.  There is too much silence around it.

And there is always a tin of paint to solve the problem.

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God bless this girl who has had the courage to come forward and out these young men for their conquests.  Imagine her incredible strength and conviction.

The heartbreaking part is that she may need to take the stand.  They will question her. They may cross-examine her. They may doubt her.  They may challenge her truth. And she may not be believed.

And that my friends is criminal in itself.

He has not been found guilty.  I am making assumptions that he is guilty.  Maybe he is not.

Fat chance.

But that is just one woman’s opinion.

These conquests such as the “Senior Salute” are abhorrent.  And they are in keeping with the theme of sexual abuse.  It’s ego based. These perpetrators are on a quest for power and dominance.

And nobody is going to stop them.

Except brave girls. And all of us listening.  ALL THE TIME.

No matter what.

That’s all.

Throwing Rocks

One beautiful summer morning my brother and I fetched our good friend, Steven, who lived across the street.  We wanted to play. All of us were around 6-7 years of age.

I had a brilliant idea. I suggested we stand on either side of our street, Steven on one side and big brother and I on the other.

The charge was to demonstrate our 7-year-old strength, agility, and skill by throwing rocks OVER passing cars.

We were talented. We were accurate. We were well equipped to handle the challenge.  That was until the ’73 White Camaro drove by.

We calculated, we paused then I hurled that rock. But something happened.The rock neglected to clear the roof of the car. It failed me.

That damn rock whaled itself right into the driver’s side panel.

SCREEEETTTCH!

WHOA.

A thin, stylish young woman  with a large bouffant hairdo, wearing a white mini-dress and white patent leather clunky sandals got out of the car and pointed her long pink pearly fingernail at us and just-

Screamed.

We were petrified. We ran. Big Brother and I hid underneath sofa in our den. The one that had the burlap cushions and the black wood frame with swirls and little pears painted on it.

We hung out with the dust bunnies ’till mom found us. I confessed. She was angry and stern.

But later I heard her on our yellow rotary phone in the kitchen telling our neighbor, Mrs. Nichols what happened.  Mom did not seem so angry, after all.

Sometimes, we think that we have what it takes. We feel overzealous.   But our actions can be destructive even with the best of intentions. Sometimes we think we are a lot stronger than we actually are.

As grown ups, it is hard to keep company with dust bunnies under a retro couch.

I have had my moments of feeling like Helen Reddy. Other times I want to melt away.  I want to quit. And quitting is embarrassing. Quitting requires humility especially when you quit while you are ahead.

I had a crush on my banker.  There was idle prattle each day as I executed my official business banking activity. We learned that we both shared an interest in fitness. Soon after, I learned that he was on some serious, competitive Rugby team. G. Q. had just done a photo shoot of his team all dirty with “”cauliflower” ears.  But I did not know that when I agreed to go on a running date with him.

He invited me to go for a run along Boston’s Esplanade. “SURE!” an overenthusiastic Mary replied. Off we went me wearing my cute lavender/purple matching lycra running “outfit.”  He chatted. I panted

I thought, “How freaking long is this date (strike that) RUN going to last????”

I surrendered myself to a bench. He jogged in place looking puzzled.   Date over.

New bank.

I thought I was invincible. I wanted to impress him. I committed to a “running date” with an elite athlete and believed that I could keep up with him.  I bit off WAY more than I could chew.

And in trying to impress him, in attempting to be someone who I was not, I ended up feeling embarrassed. I did not end up with a second date, either. But that is another story.

That run was much like that rock that slammed into the Camaro.  I did not expect that outcome.  I was humbled. But I went to meet my friends for a beer after that humiliating date instead of hanging out under the couch. That was an uptick.

My girlfriends talked me off the ledge.

Let me share an example of my poor judgment that turned out with a positive twist.

I knew my first husband for many years.  We were acquaintances living in the same Boston neighborhood.  He was attractive and charming.  Over the years, our friendship grew and eventually we started dating.

Our relationship seemed perfect.  We were in the throws of early infatuation then puppy love.  It all seemed just ideal and fulfilling and meant to be, and I was over the moon!

Before long we were saying the L word. Within a year, we were engaged and together we bought a condo in Boston’s Back Bay.

Moving in together was an eye opener.

Our idealistic relationship became real and raw and hard.  What seemed perfect went sour.  I was unhappy. As was he.

We started out happy and loving and kind to one another.  Once the ring was placed on my finger, the tide changed.

Jealousy became poison.  I could not defend myself against crimes I did not commit. We were in constant drama and turmoil.

My stomach was in knots all the time.

We were co-dependent.  It was not good.

As a perfectionist, failure was not an option.  I could fix it. I could make him love me if I just loved him BEST and BETTER. I could teach him not to be unjustifiably jealous.

I could change him. I knew it.

All you need is love, right?

I took off my engagement ring about two months before we got married. When I learned that I was pregnant just ten weeks before our wedding, I saw it as a sign and put the ring back on my finger.

I decided that  I had enough love to save US.  I was certain that we would live happily ever after.  We would have a beautiful, perfect life with our condo in the Back Bay and our baby.

Boy was I wrong.

Three days before we said, “We do” we had our first appointment with the OB.  It was not good.  There was no heartbeat. I  miscarried.

His family was arriving from Ireland while I was in the hospital.  There was no turning back. Or so I thought.

I think he would agree that we both should have legged it from that altar.

A year later I was pregnant and nine months later had a gorgeous boy. Blessed.

But my husband and I never made it.  It was a struggle from the start. It was a hard six years.  It ended. But we had our joy, our son, which made it all worthwhile.

Here is the takeaway.  We all aspire. We have the best of intentions. But you know what? Things do not always go as planned.

We are not always capable of what we think. And that is a beautiful thing, kids!

At the end of the day, that just says that we have a high opinion of our power. Of what we are capable.

It is ok if you cannot hurl that rock over the Camaro.  The part to focus on is that you believed in yourself. You took the chance. You look back and see that your choice may not have been a wise one, but you lived through it.

And eventually, Sugar, you crawl out from under that couch, wipe off the dust bunnies and say, “Onward!”

Failure is an option.

And the strength to accept it, accept yourself as a human being with the delightful ability to be less than perfect is just, well, perfect.

Now, shake things up, honey, and have some fun.  And please, for the love of Pete, quit beating yourself up.  We can’t always clear the Camaro with a huge rock.

That’s all.

Chicken “Marysala”

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Here is my Culinary -“ARTS STUDIO.”

My bestie, Clare, has always said that I could make a few pieces of lettuce look delicious on a plate.  She is also the friend who lets me wear neon bike shorts in high school and let me marry my first husband.  But those are stories for another day.

I started placing said lettuce on that plate back when she and I were around 15 years old. I have come a long way, Baby.

I caught up with Clare tonight.  We live insanely crazy lives. But no matter how busy we are, she and I always carve out time for each other.

Because that is what best friends do.

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She has always stood up for me- both at the dress rehearsal wedding and this one, the main performance.

Clare keeps me grounded. She talks me off the ledge, encourages me and always has my back. She and I have been friends since 1982. We have had some serious run time.  The way I see it is that if she hasn’t dumped me by now, she probably won’t.

And I have forgiven her for the neon bike shorts.

She is exhilarated and exhausted by her new job.  She is trying to find the balance. She wants to crawl into bed at night and relax.  I SO get it.  I feel the same way. And I told her I could relate.

Clare said, “Mar, of course, you’re spent.  It’s not like you are writing about how to grow tomatoes.”

She was so right.

I am writing about my life. I am in a place of vulnerability. That is hard to turn off.

But, when my tank is empty, cooking fills me up.

One of my great passions is cooking. With or without tomatoes, it is as therapeutic as writing or going for a long run or organizing the sock drawer.

I read cookbooks the way some read novels. I devour them. They inspire me. The pages of my favorite cookbooks prove that they are loved by the smudges and smears of past creations. That may sound gross, but it is usually just the remains of some innocuous ingredient like olive oil. Don’t worry.

There is a process.

First, I hunt.

I get jazzed about reading a few recipes by my favorites, Julia, Ina, and Tyler.  Then,  I transform their ideas into my creation.  I encounter success and, on occasion, the big FAIL.

Then, I gather.

I am a grocery store aficionado. Maybe it is the agility with which I push my cart through the aisles.  Maybe it is the comfortable conversation I have with my favorite butcher, Douglas.  Who knows?

Trust me when I say that people randomly approach me in the aisle and ask me where to find the fish sauce or the golden raisins. It is as if I have a neon halo above my head flashing “pro-shopper” in two-second intervals. Yesterday, a dear elderly lady asked me where to find the bread crumbs.  We were standing right next to them.

Then, I create.

Creating can be messy, but it is rewarding. The transgression from “mise en place” to “TA AAA DAH!” evokes success. It brings joy and a feeling of accomplishment.  Best of all, cooking makes the people I love happy.

When my marriage was falling apart my past husband and I were disconnected and miserable, cooking became a coping mechanism for both of us. I did the cooking. He did the eating.  What a perfect arrangement.

At the time, our son was just a toddler who consumed so much time and energy, as wee ones do.  My ex and I both worked. We were always tired. At night, there were stories and prayers and tuck-ins (usually more than one.) Then, we were alone.

“Alone” and “us”:  not a good combo.

My former husband took to watching TV.  I took to the kitchen.  I would start cooking at 8:00 P.M. and usually somewhere around 10:00 P.M.  I would serve dinner in front of that TV.

It was our only semblance of togetherness. And at that time it worked. The TV held power over the dinner conversation. That made it easier for both of us.

In cooking, I found comfort.  It was my escape. It was the way he and I avoided one another, and it worked. I was so comfortable in the kitchen. I was having a fling with my cutlery and my copper core pans.

It sort of saved me.

My marriage ended, but my cooking was just the beginning of a whole new world.

My love of cooking started in my childhood home. My mom taught me well. I loved standing on a chair watching and helping as she cooked dinner on many nights.

Mom is an amazing chef who taught me, amongst other things, that cooking is chemistry. I thought I was screwed. Oh, how I struggled in Sister Robert’s chemistry class!

But as long as I was not required to balance any chemical equations, I was ok.

Mom’s Chicken Marsala was the bomb and became my “go to.” If I wanted to impress, I pulled out her recipe.  You know that “man’s heart and stomach” thing?  Chicken Marsala became my secret dating weapon.

Her recipe was decadent and delicious.  It was time-consuming as well but still worth the effort especially when love was at stake.  I cut, chopped, dredged, buttered and sautéed my way to the masterpiece (or heart-attack) on a plate.

It is funny, but I never cooked Chicken Marsala for My Michael until after we were married.  There has to be something subliminally psychological with that one, don’t you think?

My Michael sits with me as I cook, keeps me company and is my official taste-tester.  What a difference from my past days as a solo chef with no taste-tester.

Now, cooking brings our family together. It is not a means by which I isolate myself. Our routine is to come together at the table, break bread and break the news of the day. It is fun. Also, The Three Musketeers (A.K.A. our boys) provide our nightly dinner entertainment.

About a year ago one of my personal chef customers requested Chicken Marsala. Although my mom’s recipe had always been the gold star,  I decided to shake things up.  I studied a few recipes, and this is what I turned out.

It takes half the time as my mom’s delicious recipe as well as half the butter. They loved it!

So today, I wish to share a recipe with you.  I have cooked Chicken Marsala many times. Over time, however, it has evolved and become a newer version.  It has become a symbol of how I have created myself and how I have evolved, too.

So, enough of the cushy stuff.   Let’s get cooking, friends!

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Chicken “Marysala”

  •  4 skinless, boneless, chicken breasts (about 1 1/2 pounds)
  • All-purpose flour, for dredging
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbs. Bacon fat (I keep a mason jar with pan drippings on hand in my fridge. It is worth the calories.Trust me)
  • 8 ounces crimini or porcini mushrooms stemmed and halved 
  • 1/2 cup sweet Marsala wine
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoon  butter
  • 1/3 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

Directions

Put the chicken breasts side by side on a cutting board and slice diagonally so that you have thin slices.

Lay a piece of parchment paper over them (or use paper towels if you prefer); pound with a flat meat mallet, until they are about 1/4-inch thick.

Put about 11/2 cups of flour on another piece of parchment paper and season with about 1 Tsp. of  Kosher salt and 1/4 tsp of pepper. Mix well to evenly distribute the seasonings

Set aside.

Heat the oil over medium-high in a large skillet (I use my grandmother’s cast iron skillet that quickly conducts heat evenly.)

While the oil heats, dredge both sides of the chicken cutlets in the seasoned flour and then shake the excess.

Place the cutlets in the skillet and fry for 4-6 minutes on each side until golden, turning once.

Do not crowd the pan; you need to be sure that there is space between the cutlets for them to cook properly.

Remove the chicken to half-sheet pan (a cookie sheet or oven-proof platter will do) which has been covered with foil of parchment paper. This makes the clean up much easier.

When all the cutlets are cooked, place in a 350-degree oven for about 10 minutes.

Lower the heat to medium, and add the bacon fat to the drippings in the pan. Saute for 1 minute to render out some of the fat.

Add the mushrooms and saute until they are browned, and most of the moisture has evaporated 6 minutes or so, season to taste with salt and pepper.

Pour the Marsala in the pan and increase the heat to high. Boil about a minute to cook down the alcohol.

Add the chicken stock and simmer for 2 minutes or so to reduce the sauce slightly.

Stir in the butter until melted.

Place the cutlets back into the skillet.  Simmer gently for several minutes on medium low.

Season with salt and pepper.

Plate the chicken and garnish with the fresh parsley.

Serve with rice pilaf or risotto.

That’s all.

Terrible Beauty

I had been accepted to Boston College’s Abbey Theater summer program! Just imagine, a summer in the Emerald Isle. What a wonderful adventure to precede my senior year of college. I was dancing a jig. I was ready for a Guinness.  I  was ready to meet my first leprechaun.

I had never been so far away from home.  And I had certainly not been away from home for such a long time. I geared up to be homesick.  I was doing the, you know, “managing my expectations” thing. There were dramatic goodbyes and gnashing of teeth and tears and farewells.

My family, my bestie, Clare, and my boyfriend of a few years (let’s call him “Guy”) waved their handkerchiefs in Logan’s Terminal E.  I was off.

As much as I looked forward to my adventure, I was semi-stuck in a state of despair.  What would I do without Guy for the summer? Oh sure, it would be “good for us to be apart for a bit,” as well-meaning folks said.

That was the world’s greatest understatement.

Twenty-five fabulous Boston College students joined in Sandymount, Dublin to unpack for a summer of storytelling, theater and history.  Off we went on the #3 bus to Dublin each morning to the Abbey. Off we went to the pub each afternoon. Life was good.  Friendships were made.

It was heavenly.

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The Syllabus!

If you have ever participated in the theater, you will understand what I am about to say.

Theater people are dramatic, not just on stage. Everywhere. And they tend to love big and loud. Theater people accept everyone.

My oldest is a chip off the old block.  He is an actor.

He has attended enriching summer theater programs; he has had all sorts roles in many productions. He has recited everything from one single line to entire monologs. His school has earned medals and awards. I am SO proud of him.

I have been the taxi driver to said performances and rehearsals.

Pulling up to Summer School for the Performing Arts each morning over the past several summers was a treat.  Each day there was IMPROV at car drop-off in the parking lot.  There was singing and laughter and hugs and high-fives.  Everyone was smiling.  It was seriously fun. It was welcoming and warm. I wanted to jump out of the car and join in.

The awesome thing about acting is that we can step out of ourselves and morph into whatever part we are playing. The stage is a welcome mat for whomever we chose to be. Actors know that. Actors accept that. On the stage, everyone can be a star.

In Ireland, I learned a vast education outside the classroom, too. Specifically on a bench by the sea with my new friend, Bob.

Bob was the first person I met when I arrived at our summer accommodation in Sandymount.

Bob has marked charisma. He commands a crowd with his quick wit and humor. He certainly gave the natives a run for their money. He is smart and hilarious and jovial.

He is deep.

Bob is also soulful and resilient. He is fervent. He is compassionate. He had been dealt a tough hand, but he rose above it. At  22 years old he had lived, and gracefully survived, a life that some have not lived by the age of 90.

What I learned was far beyond the syllabus.  I learned about strength and resilience.I learned about hope. I learned that I got to decide how I allowed others to treat me. The unfortunate thing?

It took almost 25 years to sink in.

What was mesmerizing about Bob is that he spoke in a way that lacked SHAME. He had been through the ringer. He had struggled. And he was shameless.

Holy. Holy.

For two months, we developed a friendship. We shared our stories.  My poor choices in life became apparent.   It was inspirational to see how he came out beautifully healed, gentle and in tact.

I had so far to go.

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Just another day exploring the countryside (in my green mohair sweater)

He offered such support and kindness. Tragically, it just whizzed past me.

I shared a few stories about how great Guy was. Then I shared stories about how NOT great Guy was.

Bob looked as if I had hit him in the gut.

He could not believe that beautiful (?) me could live with that.  He was filled with compassion.

He stood up and positioned himself as a boxer. He talked about being knocked down but that we have to get up, take our stance and fight back. We feel hurt and beaten. At the time, we can’t see it but eventually, we get it. And we mend.

And our beautiful scars show growth.

It was inspirational. It was moving. He was rattled by my pain. But I was not rattled by own pain.

Or so I thought.

I thought I was in love with Guy. I stayed with Guy in that horrible place because it felt familiar.  It was my comfort zone. It is what I had come to expect.

Here was the thing.

I loved Bob way you love your best friend. The friend who accepts you warts and all.

He loved me differently.

He could not understand why I would continue to stay with the abusive, cheating boyfriend. I could not accept his concerns or heed his advice.  I was young, naive and busted.

My benchmark for love was tragically shallow.  Guy was the “greatest.” The greatest to me was the one who made me feel like I was the worst, like I was in that familiar place. I attracted abusive men.

They were like moths to a lightbulb.

In hindsight, I understand. If I had gone to that loving place with him, I would have hurt him deeply.  On some subconscious level I believe I knew that I could not reciprocate.

Yeats refers to Ireland in his poem Easter 1916 as a “terrible beauty.” His metaphor is about Ireland’s emerging independence, what it took to get there and what would be the result from the Easter Rising.

Yeats said Irish Patriots suffered and died during the Easter Rising, which was both terrible and beautiful. There was beauty in their courage and fervor for independence. It was terrible that they suffered punishment and brutal defeat by the English.

But this it speaks on other levels, too. Ireland has lush green landscapes, pots of gold, but it also has the Dole. There has been illness and strife and poverty and plague. The sun shines simultaneously during a soft rain.

Ireland survived. And it is beautiful.

I was in a beautiful place full of hope and promise with grace all around me.  Grace was inviting me to step out of that dark place. Grace urged me to look at my choices and make different ones. I could not do it. Dark was better. Standing in the rain was better even though the sky held rainbows. I did not have what the Patriots had.

It was a terrible beauty.

On one of our final weekends in Ireland my dear friends, Jane, Bob and I took a road trip.  We stopped at a shop in Galway where I fell in love with two beautiful mohair sweaters. One was green and one black. I could afford only one. Bob wanted to buy the other for me, but I wouldn’t let him.

I didn’t deserve that!

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 Here we are discussing green? Or black?

(There has never been a greater negotiation as this one since my son hit his teens.)

Later that night we drove along Dingle Peninsula.  At the pinnacle, we pulled over next to a celtic cross. There were crashing waves, a full moon and a random lone sheep that jumped over the stone ledge that defined the narrow road from the sea below.

It was a beautiful night and a holy moment. I felt happy and full.  My summer had been magical. The three of us were quiet and took it all in.

I took a photo of Bob standing on the stone ledge.

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Look at his sweatshirt (Holy Cross). Look at his halo.

In December of our senior year, he showed up at my apartment with a gift. It was the black mohair sweater we saw in Galway.

I  never saw him after that. I never communicated with him after that.  I tried and tried, but he did not respond.  Ask my bestie, Clare.  Looking for him over the years became a “thing.” I was sad.

It was all my fault. I blew it.

Sometimes people love you no matter whether you allow them to or not.

At age 22, I was broken and hurting. I was in denial. I believed that Guy loved me.  He treated me beautifully on the surface, on stage, but he desecrated me.  He was an unfaithful playboy. He was disrespectful and cocky.

He treated me in a way that felt comfortable.

I am not sure that women realize something immensely important.  Just because he is your “boyfriend” you are still an individual who gets to pick how you are treated.  He is not the boss of you in any way, spiritually, physically, soulfully. You are IN CHARGE.

My Michael has a key chain that says “I’m Third.”

God is first; others are second, and he is third.

It is beautiful.  He lives it.  He is loving and kind and gracious. He is thankful and appreciative. He looks out for others. He does not kill ants. That is our only problem.

Bob was right. Grace gave me a hint, a promise. And 25 years later here I am.

My Michael is my forever Grace, loving me with kindness and an open heart and respect. I am treasured.  I never knew that would happen. Even though Bob told me that it could.

God loans people to us.

We never know for how long or for what reason.

We eventually realize it, and it is simply divine.

Thank you, Bob.

Thank you, God, for My Michael.

You kept good on your promise!

That’s all.

re- “Do”- nion

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Last year I decided to do what I love and love what I do. So, I started a business called “table24.” I offered personal chef and small-scale catering.

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Clams Casino and the logo

Out I ventured with grand plans, a beautiful website and chef’s jackets. Oh, the chef’s jackets! I was off to the races. I immediately had clients! I was busy in the kitchen! I was trying all sorts of new recipes! I am yelling right now!

Just what I wanted. Or so I thought. It was a huge disappointment. It was also a huge lesson.

You see, for me, cooking is a creative and cathartic outlet. Best of all, cooking is the means by which I express my love and affection for others.  In my family, food is glue for our togetherness. We all participate in it, find joy in it and, well, love to eat.  And I get to put it all on the table. YAY!

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Shrimp Etouffee- On My Michaels “A” list

My Michael and My Three Musketeers (a.k.a. my boys) get jazzed about giving me cooking challenges. We have had some doozies. One of their all time favorites is Fried Chicken and Waffles. It was love at first bite.  I am so happy when they are happy. And when mention of our evening meal gets airtime at bedtime prayers. Alleluia! Score!

As the head chef (and only chef) at table24, I spent the majority of my time in the kitchen.

Alone.

Alone and I are not a super combination. I am far too social. I started to talk to myself. I began a love affair with Dierks Bently and Keith Urban over Pandora. I developed a tick. It was worrisome.

Then, it dawned on me.  All of a sudden cooking carried a new meaning, a new stigmata- money.  It was my business so I charged people. I was expressing my affection for those about whom I cared and my new clients. And  I expected to be PAID for it?  Oh, how very wrong.

Talk about conditional love.

I packed up that carnival and left town.

Much like cooking, writing is cathartic. When I started MARYMORPHOSIS last month, my goal was to help others, to serve others, in sharing my story.

I recently attended my 30-year high school reunion. I had not been back to Ursuline in 15 years and was so looking forward to seeing everyone. Going back to Ursuline feels like going home.

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The motto of Ursuline Academy is Serviam, Latin for “I will serve.”

I was pleasantly surprised and a bit overwhelmed by the number of women, classmates and otherwise, who actually pulled me aside privately to express how impactful the content on MARYMORPHOSIS has been.

That to me is success.

When I first attended Ursuline I was thirteen years old and entering the 8th grade.  It had been a year since that day in the kitchen when I “outed” my abuser.  I was still reeling from the response, or lack thereof.  I was also still being abused.

My parents sent me to Ursuline primarily because it was an outstanding school.  But also, they pulled me out of public school because I was so horribly bullied that it was unbearable.

That is a story for another post, however.

This was on the tail end of the time span that my grandfather abused me but it was still happening. Simultaneously, I was traumatized by a handful of horribly cruel girls who victimized me because I had a new pair of Nike sneakers or a cute boy had a crush on me and not them.  How Cinderella-esque, hmm?

The Ursuline girls were beautiful in every way.  I was made to feel welcome. They included me. They were so kind to me.  Thank you eighth-grade friends, Gaby, Lisa, Anna, Sarah, Christine, Kim, Sheila and on and on.

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I was shocked.  How was it possible that all of a sudden I was liked?  I had a warped perception of myself. I loathed me. How on God’s green earth could anyone like me?

As the years passed my network of friends grew and changed.  I always felt liked and accepted on some level. But that deep-rooted hurt dominated.  Having been the victim of sexual abuse killed my spirit, robbed me of my purity and stripped me of my childhood.

Then vicious, vulture-ish girls took what was left.

Chin up!

I should have won an Academy Award. I played the part well. I was wearing a costume and by that in no way am I referring to my green plaid skirt and sensible brown shoes.  It was four years of “Showtime!”

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I still have my beloved green plaid skirt.  My Dexter is its best accessory!

I put my head into my books, and I pulled my grades from a consistent B/B+ average to a straight A average. Ursuline was HARD. And my classmates were brilliant. I did homework until 1:00 AM most nights. But I did it.

I was in clubs and committees, the class VP and the captain of the cheerleading squad at our brother school. I had great roles in school productions. I was cheerful with a cute and popular boyfriend who was the lead in the school musical. (Incidentally, while I was on stage he was backstage with one of the dancers. Yawn- you know that deal.)

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“S-U-C-C-E-S-S!! That’s the way we spell success!”

And, of course, I accomplished all of this on about 300 calories a day. I starved  myself so that I would be the skinny “-est.”  Eshh

Prior to the 30 year mark, former Mary would have fasted, had a fabulous hairdo and the perfect slimming outfit prior to attending said re-union. This year I didn’t iron my pants and I had roots. Oh, and I had dirt under my nails from gardening earlier that day. I did shower, however.

But in 2015, for the first time, I felt as if I could show my high school classmates the real Mary. The real, raw, honest Mary.

It felt so good just to be myself.

And my classmates were STILL nice to me.

When I post I often feel as if I have taken off all of my clothes and am doing high, deliberate kicks with “jazz hands” across stage of  the nationally televised Presidential debate.  I feel like I am the half-time show at the Superbowl.

It sounds mortifying, doesn’t it? Strangely, there is great comfort in vulnerability.

Every day I remind myself to “love myself with the heart with which I love my child.” And Honey, let me tell you, it is a hell of a lighter load.

I left my high school that evening feeling lighter and happier. I felt as if I were re-writing part of that sad high-school past. I felt as if I got a do-over.  I was able to accept the kindness of others. It was joyful.

Writing has become a part of my daily life. I know that some of my friends won’t read what I write. Some are probably shaking their heads and snickering with others on the ball field but want in on something?

I.COULD. NOT. CARE. LESS.

HA ! Imagine that!? It feels LIBERATING!  People can relate! Through one’s honesty, others find their humanity and feel a sense of community.

But, the best feeling is that I genuinely believe that I am helping people.  And folks have told me just that. And I believe them. So there.

“I will serve.”

It is such a juxtaposition that there is power in vulnerability, don’t you think? One would think that being vulnerable simply makes you weak. That is wrong. Bet on it.

“I am she. She is me.”

When my cousin wrote “He Wrote It Down” and I subsequently wrote “BEFORE He Wrote It Down, “ THOUSANDS no… HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS read our story. HUNDREDS WROTE TO US.

Over and over we read the response, “ME TOO.”Maybe you said it, too.

Do you see what I mean? In telling our stories, in our bare, honest truth and without shame, there is power. Good power. Power in your freedom, your happiness and your self-talk.

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There is an abundance of love that we all have deep inside ourselves that is meant for US. WE MUST LOVE OURSELVES.

And that, my pretties, is it for today.

That’s all.

Jeans

I rejoined Weight Watchers last week.

Weight Watchers and I have had an on-again-off-again relationship for the past fifteen years. Weight Watchers and I get along great each time we come together. We are committed to each other. Then, I get frustrated and need space. Or I decide to go back to my “buffalo wings and pizza” ways. It’s not you, Weight Watchers. It’s me!

I paid my forty-five big ones last week and attended a meeting with my favorite coach, Nancy.

Nancy, “Welcome, Mary! What brings you back today?”

Me, “Umm, I broke the zipper on my jeans twice.”

Other weight watchers, “Giggles.”

The following Saturday, My Michael and I went off to the mall. Jeans were our mission. We started at Nordstrom where he patiently sat and critiqued about twenty-one and a half pair (I could shimmy one pair just to the knee). Over an hour later we found the perfect pair that cost more than our monthly cable bill.

Then, we trekked to the other side of the mall to continue our mission and found ourselves at Lucky Brand. This time, I tried a mere ten styles of jeans and landed with a pair of adorable “boyfriend jeans.” How fitting!

The most delightful thing happened.

I tried my usual size that were enormous on me. After a few attempts, the adorable sales girl finally brought me a pair that perfectly fit. They were a size two. I have not been a size two since I was starving myself in high school. My Michael gave me the “VA VA VOOM!” and it was all settled. I was a two-jeans girl.

There are two things worth mentioning here.

First, Lucky Brand has a brilliant marketing program.

Second, the jeans were appropriately named “boyfriend jeans.”

For years, I dated guys who were so very wrong for me. Most treated me poorly. Almost all of them cheated on me. So many times I found myself in “negative Marymorphosis.”

If I were not thin, enough I would starve myself eating only celery and cabbage soup. If he preferred blondes, I would go off to the salon for highlights. At one time, I even changed my political party to appease a boyfriend. It’s a good thing we broke up before the Presidential election.

I tried over and over to fit into that size 2 “boyfriend jeans.” Standing in the fitting room, I had a moment of “Ah-HA!”; I did not have to force myself into those size two jeans. They fit me just as I was. My Michael would love me at any size, no matter what. The fact that I could be myself and wear a 2 was freedom!

It has taken me so long to reprogram my brain. I have had to learn how to change the voices in my mind prattling that I was worthless and terrible. It was brutal to myself. My Michael often reminds me to put down the bat with which I repeatedly beat myself.

My grandfather did not see me as a beautiful little girl full of delight, innocence, and wonder. He saw me as a physical object that he chose to dominate. I was not a person to him. I was not the sweet child of his eldest daughter. I was the vulnerable baby emu in the herd. Harsh but true.

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(I was so very little)

I was a physical object without emotion or blood running through my veins or a heartbeat. That is what I accepted as my role. That defined me. I, in turn, started treating my body as an object of control. That, my friends, is why I almost starved myself to death.

The aftermath of sexual abuse rears its ugly head in numerous forms. Victims suffer from a warped sense of body image, we develop eating disorders, we accept ill treatment in our relationships. We suffer from depression and anxiety. We are prisoners in our minds and bodies.

Look at media. In so many cases, images used in advertising are about appealing to one’s physical attraction and desire. Gorgeous, stick thin women with bedroom eyes and wearing little more than that sexy pout infest the pages of countless advertising campaigns.

Sex sells.

When you are robbed of your sexual identity before you hit puberty, it is highly unlikely to learn what self-respect and self-love are. Then, you see beauty and glamor and sex appeal all over, and that is such discord. How does sexy feel good? Why did I feel so undesirable and used?

Almost forever I have felt powerless, ashamed and distrustful. That is why I inserted myself comfortably in abusive relationships repeatedly. As survivors, our comfort zone is to be that object.  It is to be a nonperson- it is to be undesirable.

Many years ago I dated a man who was a big golfer. I spent many weekends at his summer home and enjoyed the summer social events, many of which were held at his country club. There was a particular group of guys who could be equated to the “popular clique” if we were still in high school. One of them included the club manager.

He was charismatic, good looking, a tiny bit curmudgeonly and “happily married” with an infant son.

One afternoon I was shopping in Boston with my good friend and we were at the Chanel counter. The woman was a talented makeup artist and even better salesperson. I left with a heavy bag of cosmetics and a lighter wallet.

Club manager called and said that his meeting in Boston ran late, and he missed his train. Would my good friend and I like to join him for dinner? After dinner, could he crash on my couch? We had a delightful time as friends do. We dropped my good friend off and went back to my apartment where I made up the guest room and said goodnight.

Use your imagination.

I was able to escape to my room and lock the door eventually with several bruises, but the next day I woke up covered in hives. I was convinced that I’d had a reaction to Chanel.

No, I truly did believe that.

Then, I drove him to the train. We barely spoke. I am not kidding.

I never mentioned it again. I was so ashamed. I had hives from that darn makeup.

It was upsetting, but I just passed it off and ignored it. I was ashamed of my naiveté in allowing this “friend” to stay with me. I never imagined that he would do what he did. What I SHOULD have wondered is why Club Manager could not book himself into the Marriott.

After the aftermath of all this trauma, I feel very lucky that I was able to get help. I have invested years in therapy, and I cannot tell you how many journals I have filled. It has been a painful, grueling road filled with hives and poor decisions, but I got out. I changed it. I shed the shame.

I met My Michael.

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(Happiness is….)

Now, despite my Weight Watcher on-and-off relationship, I do see my body as a vessel that holds a loving and compassionate soul. My Michael tells me over and over all the time how beautiful I am and how he adores me. I believe what he says although it is a conscious decision to do so.

After my son was born, I was drunk in love with him. I created a saying that has become my mantra.

“Love yourself with the heart with which you love your child.”

I wish that for survivors. I wish that for all.

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My wonderful boy!