Category Archives: Life

An Idea of Home

The more, and further, that I have gone from home the more I’ve realized exactly what home means for me; what being “Minnesotan” means for me, what being “Minnesotan” actually means, and how that has shaped me.

Until I left to finish my studies at Arizona State University I had always lived in the Upper Midwest. I was born in Minnesota, moved to Wisconsin at 10 (but went back to MN every summer), and then moved back to Minnesota at 15. While a rivalry does exist between the states, major differences in culture really do not. Maybe Wisconsin’s a little more Polish Catholic and Minnesota is a little more Norwegian Lutheran, but mostly they are the same mix of stoic Scandahoovians who’d give you the shirt off their backs but never they key to their emotions.

I truly do not think the culture that exists here is that far removed from the culture that exists in today’s Northern Europe, at least not from what I’ve seen both being there or on TV/in movies. We don’t ask questions, we accept the differences between people (at least outwardly- even if it makes us intensely uncomfortable), and we would rather set ourselves on fire than openly tell someone that we think they are a backwards heathen that will surely burn in hell- even if we actually believe it. Even among families negative emotions are not shared except between those who are closest to you. For me it is easier to cry when I am alone than it is to cry even in front of my husband (which is purely my quirk as my husband is the sweetest shoulder to cry on in the history of shoulders to cry on,) and I haven’t had a fight with any member of my family since the last time my cousin and I fought over dolls in elementary school. Dr. Phil could devote an entire year to all of the problems and messed-up dynamics that exist in my extended family but no one talks about any of them. Ever. Maybe it’s not entirely healthy but we love each other and we would rather forget that there was/is a problem than cause a rift or strife.

It is comfortable for me, but not so comfortable for Mr. MM who can never tell whether members of my family are happy, sad, excited, or angry and therefor, conversely, upset with him about anything. He’s not sure how to deal with that as, for him in his culture, there are a million nuances to read from Egyptians based on a million more body-language cues that direct how all social interactions go. Interacting then with my family is like trying to read a book filled with blank pages. Thank God my mother is more effusive, and from her I am as well, compared to the more stoic members of my family.

But, when I was younger I was drawn to the passionate interactions of Hispanic culture; I sought the intense interpersonal relationships and dynamics of immigrant friends. I embraced my Mexican friends, my Desi “adopted family”, and my loud Arab in-laws. Everything was brighter, louder, and more filled with color. I loved it.

But now, as I get older, it kind of exhausts me. I love the quiet, the silence, the lack of drama that I find with my Upper Midwestern friends and family. Of course I still adore my Egyptian family and the vibrant Muslim community, but I find myself craving peace and quiet. And I just CAN’T with drama. Nope.

And as I have embraced that quiet, Scandinavian part of myself I’ve thought back to my childhood and how much a part of me this culture is. And I have come to treasure it.

Especially now, in the fall. Something about the falling leaves, the crisp air, and the gradual approach of winter seems so very Minnesotan to me. I read an article online that said that Denmark has an actual word for the warm, fuzzy, cozy nostalgic feeling that you get and is attached to fall and winter: hygge.

When I was younger I wanted to leave behind the Scandinavian part of me because I was bored by it. Bored by the simplicity and the quiet, the sameness. And so I traveled, I cultured, I explored.

Now I’m older. And I like the quiet again. And I hope that no matter where I ultimately end up in the world, that I can still impart into my children the concept and love of hygge.

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Dreams

Last night I dreamt about two of my grandfathers; it was a sweet dream. It was sunny out, the golden kind of sunny where everything glows. They were both hale, healthy and strong and they were carrying heavy things for me. They were joking and laughing and when I ran over to them they both smiled at me. I kissed them each on their cheeks and told them that I loved them and then I ran on.

 

I don’t remember where I was running to or what else was in the dream, but I have the feeling that I will carry this memory forever, cherishing the moment, real though it may not be, because of the perfection of it and the realness of the love, given and taken, between them and myself.

 

They are both still alive, thank God, although not quite as robust as they were in my dream, and I look forward to the next time I get to kiss them and tell them how very much I love them. I may even remember the dream when I do so.

Completely Re-Learning How to Cook and Other Adventures

For years Mr. MM had dealt with crippling stomach issues that often left him curled up on the floor in pain. As you can imagine this was extremely distressing for me; I couldn’t bear to see him hurt but didn’t know how to fix it. Being the only one who knows how to cook chef of the family I had formed a somewhat tenuous link in my head between what foods I cooked and his resulting stomach pains so I consulted Dr. Google and what I found there matched what I was already thinking. I believed that he was gluten-intolerant as anything involving bread or pasta left him in pain almost immediately however I was thrown off because it seemed that rice did the same thing. But rice is gluten-free so I was hesitant and confused. It also didn’t help that Egyptian food is built on a three-fold foundation: rice, bread, and pasta, and as such Mr. MM had never gone without eating one of those three for more than a day, if that. I was at a loss and Mr. MM himself was no real help in that every time I brought up the idea that he stop eating them he balked, add into that the fact that I had no idea what I would feed him and that meant that he continued to suffer while I dithered. *sigh* 

Finally it got to the point that I could no longer handle watching him in pain and he could no longer handle being in pain and we made an appointment with a gastroenterologist. As usual there wasn’t a GI doctor appointment to be had sooner than two months out, but we plugged along while I began serious research into what I would do if he did, in fact, turn out to be gluten-intolerant. I read, I researched, and then I did what I had never really done before: I planned out weekly menus.

Armed with this, and a test-run with quinoa that turned out much better than I expected, I approached Mr. MM with the suggestion that while we wait for the GI appointment we put him on an elimination diet. It took a bit of persuasion, me pointing out that the GI doc is going to suggest it anyway, and a promise that it would only be for two weeks, and he finally agreed.

Two weeks, and many new dishes later, Mr. MM was feeling great, while I was a bit kitchen-burnt-out. But whatevs, stomach-pain GONE. The next day after the Great Elimination Diet of 2012, Mr. MM had himself a sandwich and was curled up in pain after a few hours. A few more days without gluten or rice and he was fine again, and then a dish with rice and the same pain began.

My poor husband is not only gluten-intolerant but he is also rice-intolerant. I honestly can’t imagine anything worse for an Egyptian trying to eat Egyptian food than this. Our appointment with the GI brought the same diagnosis, especially as there really isn’t any way to test for gluten-intolerance other than an elimination diet. We could test for Celiac’s, but I don’t believe he has that, and we could test for a gluten allergy except he doesn’t exhibit any allergic reactions like hives, itchy anything, or swelling.

So, poor Mr. MM. And poor me!; poor, poor me. Because almost every gluten-free substitute for sale in the market uses rice flour as its base. So buying gf bread is out of the question, gf cookies almost as hard, and definitely no gf brownies or gf cake mix.

What’s a girl to do?

This last week I finally took the bull by the horns and mixed up my own gluten-free all-purpose flour mix and began baking with it, but that’s a story for another post later.

For now I can say that we are eating really healthy and I am very happy about it. I don’t think I’d go back to cooking rice and eating bread now, even if we could. Post gastric-bypass I shouldn’t be eating rice, bread, or pasta anyways so not keeping it around the house isn’t hard. I’ve had to become a little adventurous in my cooking, yes, but it keeps things interesting. And thank God – seriously alhumdulillah – for quinoa because having that as an option has made all the difference. I can still make most Egyptian main dishes, simply using quinoa instead of rice, so not too much has changed.

I have to say though that molokhia over quinoa really isn’t the same. *sigh*

Still, we both feel healthier and happier, and I’ve been looking into ways to further clean up our food through reading my friend Rehaam’s blog Steak and Sass.

Now, she’s gone Paleo and that’s a bit lot further than I care to go, but some of the principles of cleaning up what we eat make sense, especially working in Cancer Care, as I do.

I’m going to start blogging some recipes in the future as I can’t imagine that Mr. MM and I are the only Muslims and Arabs dealing with how to cook ethnic gluten-free food.

Maybe I can help a sister/brother out.

And if you, or someone you know, is dealing with gluten-intolerance AND rice-intolerance let me know in the comments. I feel like there are many more people dealing with that than just us.

Five Weeks Down – The Rest of My Life To Go

Anyone who says that gastric-bypass is the ‘easy way out’ has never actually known anyone who went through it. It’s been tough, especially the first three weeks between the liquid-only diet, hardest thing I have ever done hands down, and the oral thrush I caught and dealt with, I was all sorts of miserable.

The incision pain was, thanks be to God, very brief. I had surgery on Wednesday and was off pain meds by Sunday, but I would liken it to having done a hundred sit ups in 10 minutes without having ever done sit ups before in your life. I would have to have my husband literally lift me up out of chairs by my hands because I couldn’t make my stomach muscles engage my core enough to do it on my own.

Probably, the worst, most traumatizing experience came three days post-op. I had tried to switch from the liquid percoset to liquid children’s tylenol without knowing that they throw a whole lot of sugar into that crap to make it palatable for ill three-year-olds. It was too much sugar and I, having never experienced dumping syndrome in first hand, didn’t realize it. Very quickly afterward I was  uncontrollably and violently dry-heaving, having not even the faintest idea why, and in excruciating pain from my incisions with every heave. It was painful and I attempted to combat it with a dose of the percoset. Finally the dry-heaving subsided only to leave me drugged out and asleep for the messy aftermath of phase-two dumping syndrome. I won’t get into fine, and gory, detail but it left me in a very slimy and unpleasant situation.

*Sigh*, yes I went there. I wasn’t sure if I should but I want this to be a very up front discussion of what people face after this surgery.

I have been very lucky though, and very, very diligent about chewing my food to a pasty consistency, in that I have not – yet – dealt with any vomiting at all. I would truly say that this is because I am extremely careful about chewing and taking small bites. If you are thinking about this surgery, this is something that is so huge and important.

I have, however, encountered the pain of eating too much/too quickly. I would liken it to someone punching you in the diaphragm from the inside and then also pinching you in the intestine. It is unpleasant to say the least.

And due to my severe PTSD-like anxiety after that one dumping episode, I have eaten very little by way of sweets, and when I do eat sweets I take the tiniest of bites. People- there are 6 boxes of my favorite girl scout cookies sitting in the closet behind me and I haven’t opened a single one. A SINGLE ONE. That’s how terrified I am of dumping again. Aversion therapy, it works.

But the pluses are worth it. I feel so good. The last weight I took was 30 pounds lost since surgery. I believe that it has been more, as I haven’t weighed myself for a week or two, but it’s amazing. My body feels light and fluid, My energy- despite the tiny amount of food I take in every day – is high, and I already have lost a significant amount of the back and knee pain I was dealing with before the surgery. Alhumdulillah.

I made the mistake of getting over excited and trying to kneel down on the floor for prayer – omg ow – it’s still a little too early for that apparently. Felt like someone was nailing my kneecap to the carpet. But at least I didn’t feel like I was putting my back out getting up again so, you know, baby steps.

My clothes hang on me. Obviously this is a good thing, from a hijab standpoint and from a weight-loss standpoint, but it’s not such a good thing when I’m walking and my long skirt falls down enough for me to step on it and faceplant. Have I ever mentioned how graceful I am?

This soon after surgery I have stuck very closely to guidelines and not tried to get too far out into the food categories. It has been mostly basic proteins and some veggies for me. Tater tots didn’t go down so well, but at least they stayed down. Refried beans – vegetarian and healthy version of course – have been my friends, hamburger has oddly not – even though I have eaten a lot of it, it being a very easy protein to cook with. When you have to chew food as thoroughly as post-gastric patients do, you find quickly that hamburger is less meat and more un-chewable tendon than you previously had realized. And you begin to consider buying your own meat grinder in order to make sure that your meat is consumable even though you work a lot and come home very exhausted and having to grind your own meat would take forever it’s just that you’re tired of chewing for hours and having to still spit bits out like a cowboy with his spittoon. Y’know what I mean?

But, I spend a lot less money on food now. I can buy a lunch at work and have enough for two more days of lunch at work. It’s the little things.

My next few culinary adventures will probably involve trying hummus and fo’ul again. Beans are good protein, ya’ll.

If you guys have any questions about my experience so far, please ask me in the comments. I am going to set them up as needing moderation before they post publicly so if you feel your question is too personal for me to post it, let me know in the comment and give me your email and I will try to answer you directly.

Please be patient with me. We’ve had a lot of medical ordeals in our household recently, and along with work and daily life, I don’t find as much time for responding to emails and writing blogposts as I used to.

Now I’m going to get back to finishing my liter of water (flavored with Mio orange tangerine- it’s like Fanta without the natural sugar and fizz!). You’d be surprised at how freaking hard it is to drink 2 liters a day when you can’t chug.

I miss chugging- possibly more than girl scout cookies. I probably need counseling.

A Life-changing Decision

Today is one day before my surgery, but I will not be posting this until everything is said and done.

This surgery is a touchy topic no matter who you talk with, or their opinion on it. It touches on issues that vary from vanity, to shame, to health, to laziness, death and disease. It is misunderstood and the people who chose to have it done are misunderstood and continue to face misunderstanding before and after the fact. What makes me sad is that, in general, breast implants/other manners of plastic surgery are more socially acceptable than the surgery I am having and I don’t know what that says about us as a people.

I remember I was 6 or 7 years old and my cousin was sleeping over but she hadn’t brought a swimsuit for us to go swimming. So my mother took one of my old ones, a cute bikini that I had recently become too fat to wear, and gave it to her to use and I had a fit. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t wear the cute one, and instead had to wear an ugly one-piece. Oh, what an analogy for how life would be for me from then on.

At 8 or 9 my mother tried to enroll me in dance lessons to try to get me to be more active than I was, possibly to curb how fleshy I was becoming. Unfortunately as a young child with club feet and the beginnings of fibromyalgia, dancing was painful and I hated it. I more or less refused to get off an uncomfortable metal folding chair in the corner of the dance studio until the instructor gave up on me. I suppose my intense lack of coordination didn’t help much the few times I gave it the ol’ college try, either, and there is nothing, nothing, flattering about a tutu on a fat girl.

I hadn’t, at that age, really comprehended what being fat meant. All I knew was that when I sat on the toilet, my tummy would make two lips and it was fun to play with. No, understanding came later. Along with low self-esteem, horrid moments of potent self-hatred, and social ostracism at school.

On the upside I developed a winning personality to make up for my physical shortcomings; there is always a silver-lining to everything.

I spent my whole life dreaming that one day I might be skinny. One day I might be beautiful. One day I might be all of the things I never thought I could be.

But then I grew up. I realized that I was loved, and lovable, and that so long as I knew what a wonderful person I was, there would be someone in this world who knew it as well. And I did find him- my rock, my lover, my best friend; the man who looks at everything I hate about myself and tells me that I am sexy. And it stopped mattering as much.

But as content as I am, and even though my heart and my soul are whole and happy, my body has slowly started to cry uncle. At 28 I began having knee problems, something that is genetic in my family, and later I was almost prostrate with back pain on a daily basis. I’ve had to sit in a chair to pray for more than a year because I can’t handle getting down on the floor for sujood.

I couldn’t handle it anymore. I had dieted and failed. I had exercised as much as I could considering my physical limitations, and failed. I restricted myself to a 1,000 calorie a day diet and exercised and failed.

So I decided to get gastric bypass surgery.

My mom did it 5 years ago and had wonderful success, and I was with her for much of it so I saw all the ugly things about the side-effects of the surgery, and the repercussions for not following the rules. I know that with my front-row seat on my mom’s journey I am going into this with my eyes wide open.

This surgery is not the magic pill; plenty of people have had it and misused it, and gained back all of the weight. I intend to use it as a tool to help me with my goals, goals of eating healthy, goals of conquering the elliptical (seriously, this machine is my mount Everest), and a goal of finally being able to do everything I can to ease my fibromyalgia pain. Oh Lord, if nothing else I am having this surgery on the off-chance that it will help my fibromyalgia.

I am not using this surgery because I think that it will make people love me more. No, I have an immense amount of love in my life already. I have an amazing husband who is everything to me; who supports me and encourages me through the hardest times of my life. I have a mother who is there to guide me through this. I have a wonderful family who cherishes me. And I have an absolutely amazing group of friends who keep me strong.

I love you guys for that. So much.

This surgery isn’t to make me beautiful because I am beautiful already if only for the beauty of those around me.

And frankly only God knows what is in store for me, but I feel so much hope.

I apologize to all of you who want to comment with words of encouragement, but I am closing the commenting on this. I have already had my fill of people who are of the opinion that I just didn’t try hard enough and I shouldn’t have the surgery because it is the lazy way out.

Send me love, send me light, and make du’a for me please.

Token Resistance

I keep hearing about how such and such political activist or revolutionary prisoner is on a ‘hunger strike’ for whatever movement or injustice is plaguing them.

What a crock.

I’m certainly not belittling political activists or the movements they fight for, but I belittle the inanity and token bullshitness of this act.

Take for example just today Al-Baghdadi, the former PM of Gaddhafi, has gone on a hunger-strike in the Algerian prison he is being held in to protest his extradition.

Does anyone care whether this dipshit eats? I certainly don’t; Libya and the freedom fighters probably do not; if he wants to hurry the date of his execution and remove the need for a long and drawn out trial, then by all means, please commit suicide and go straight to hell.

I mean, who is going to care if this dude dies?

And it’s the same even on the flip-side, when it is a sympathetic character like a political activist who is throwing around hunger-threats like a toddler who threatens to hold her breath until she gets her way.

Angry Arabiya for example, a Bahraini political activist who went on a “hunger-strike” to protest the arrest and illegal detention of her father, husband, and brother-in-law.

As much as I felt bad for her and her family, what the french-toast did she think was going to happen?! It is apparent that the Bahraini government did not/does not care what happens to her or her family. They obviously weren’t going to give a damn if she died, by her own hand, when they have shown themselves perfectly willing to shoot protesters and move along.

And she’s no Gandhi with millions of followers ready, willing, and able to stage a mass uprising if she died, she would have simply been another drop in an ocean of people killed by evil regimes, and people would have mourned, and then forgotten about her.

I, personally, could only stomach a couple of days of her forced drama. “For the sake of my family and my little baby daughter, who begged me, I am drinking a cup of water a day.”

So, why? Why do people threaten or enact hunger-strikes if they are such wastes of time?

I think it’s because they can. Because it’s easy to fake. It’s easy to do. It’s easy to get out of.

But, can anyone name me an instance where a hunger-strike worked? Not including Gandhi, of course, because in his instance it was fear of his millions of followers mass-murdering the British if he died. Of course that doesn’t belittle his hunger-strike, because it worked, but other than him?

Maybe there have been, but for me the “hunger-strike” is the new hipster form of “protesting” and I think very little of it.

I’ll think I’ll hunger-strike the fact that I’m not a millionaire.

Addition: So, I’ve done a little bit more reading into Angry Arabiya (Zainab alKhawaja) and really….

On her twitter bio she states “. . .  I hate Arab dictators, and American neo-colonialism.”

And yet as soon as her father was beaten and detained (may Allah grant his release and the release of his compatriots), she sat down and wrote a letter to President Obama.  Reference.

It’s shit like that which really pisses me off.

Dream Home

Does anyone else look up house listings in their area, pick a house they love, and then spend hours dreaming of how to decorate it, and what things they would cook in the mind-blowing kitchen (because it must have a mind-blowing kitchen)?

*sigh*

InshAllah one day my dream home will come true.