Athleisure. Please Stop.

18 Nov

We live in a casual age. Long gone are the days when men wore business suits to college classes and women wore pumps to the grocery store (except people that shop at Publix in Florida apparently–my cousin once told me it was the best place to find a date). That’s nothing to cry over–ugh, I can’t even imagine taking an exam in a blazer. When it comes to attire it’s hard to find that ever-shifting line of appropriate and not-appropriate, and I’m the first to admit it’s even more fun to push on it and see how far it will stretch.

But you guys. You guys.

Workout clothes are not clothes.

Is anybody with me on this? It’s an epidemic that’s sweeping across every demographic–millennial to boomer, women and men, black and white (although evidently not so much South Koreans, who have a reputation in the fashion world).

Please tell me you’ve seen this stupidly hilarious vid, which perfectly sums up how I feel about this trend.

I get it, you like to work out. And why should you have to change out of your sweaty, grody garments to get a coffee afterwards (snort)?

I actually have no problem with wearing cute yoga pants and sneaks to Starbucks…provided you actually are coming from yoga (or just rolled up on a Schwinn). But let’s be real, what percent of people walking around in Lulu are actually coming from or going to the gym? I’m laying money on NAH.

Hey, I am not immune to the siren song of compression wear. I’m guilty of wearing leggings as pants. But I usually wear them under a dress or a long top, and with jewelry and real shoes. And even then sometimes I have to pull that ish up all day like the worst pair of hose you ever bought from CVS.

I submit that dresses are actually the most comfortable thing in the world, but some of us have issues with sitting like this.

A couple months ago I was at the zoo and spotted this perfect specimen of a group. Every one of them gorgeous people, and every one of them dressed like they just finished a 10k. They had the cropped leggings, the high performance jackets, the neon cross-trainers with low profile socks. They also had perfect blowouts and a full face of makeup. I mean, what?

The dudes were in similar attire, only not as form fitting (ha). I didn’t sneak a photo because my  paparazzi skills are lacking, but I’m pretty sure baseball caps were involved.

It just seems like when you’re young and fit and hot is prime time not to wear clothing with elastic waistbands?

Not that it does anyone of any age or type any great favors. Not long ago I was at a boutique popup thing geared toward “normal” women (whatever that means, but ya know). The organizer was wearing your standard black yoga leggings and a kind of drapey tee. It was long, but not long enough–when she bent over I could totally see her undies through her pants (yellow with tiny flowers).

Maybe somebody can explain the attraction to me. Comfortable, got it. But what else? Do people just want to advertise the fact that they exercise (although many Athleisure enthusiasts don’t–it’s by definition “athletic apparel that can be worn in non-athletic settings”). Do we think it makes us look skinny? Is it sexy…are the dudes falling all over themselves to get someadis?

Gents, feel free to chime in here. Is this what you like to see on the ladies these days?

Speaking of guys: you are not exempt either–you’ve long been the poster children of overly cazh. But for whatever reason–perhaps because guys’ jeans are more comfortable, or maybe just because they stink more when they work out–dudes don’t tend to wear gym clothes to Target. Actually I sense there’s been a sweep of the pendulum in the opposite direction with menswear lately. I see a lot more guys interpreting casual as this

as opposed to this.

Thank God.

I know I probably sound fusty and #getoffmylawn. And yes, some might call hypocrisy as I used to wear sweatpants with PINK on the ass out in public. But it was usually to rehearsal or dance class (or possibly an 8 AM exam), not a date at the zoo. It’s just getting kinda ridic when designers are making serious bank on gym clothes and denim brands being pushed out of their market share by companies who make things that absorb sweat.

Not that I want to return to the days of Umbros and Champion Sweatpants. I’m all about looking adorable while working out. Look, I was the girl in 8th grade getting made fun of in PE for her coordinating chartreuse sweatshorts and spandex top. I just think we’re really missing out on the charm, creativity, and personality of a well-assembled outfit. Not to mention blurring the lines of unspoken social dress code almost beyond recognition.

At the office?!

Fashion is constantly evolving, and thinking about it and analyzing it is something I enjoy (which according to cultural mythology makes me a vapid snot–but that’s a whole other post). There’s probably a lot to be said sociologically and anthropologically about Athleisure. I’m just not sure I’m on board with what it’s saying. So I implore you: next time you’re headed to the movies, try putting on a pair of jeans. Just for kicks (HA).

All I know is, the day I see someone walking down the street in this is the day I know it’s all over.


Click on photos for source.

*There’s a lot of horror and darkness in the news this week. This lighthearted post is a tribute to the beautiful nation of France, which has more style and glamour in her little pinky than the rest of the world combined. J’taime, Paris. 

Why I Quit Coffee Part III: Wrap Up

6 Nov


Hard to believe, but it has now been two months since I had any significant amount of caffeine.

Considering what a packed few weeks it’s been, with rehearsals and work projects and holidays and social obligations–two months without caffeine is not insignificant.


So how am I doing?

Short answer: better.

As I write this, I’m nodding off over my keyboard. But that’s because we’re coming to the end of tech week, b.k.a. hell week, for Guys & Dolls (get your tickets now, Atlanta folks!).  Before this week, I felt like the pall of fatigue that had hung over my head like my own personal Eeyore-style rain cloud was finally lifting.

The overwhelming hunger I experienced at first has abated as well. I’ve even managed to trim down a bit for the show. Which is amazing, considering I haven’t exercised much beyond dance at rehearsals.

GI Janie

So that’s the symptoms of withdrawal taken care of. What about the GI symptoms for which I embarked on this epic journey in the first place?

I am happy to report that the nausea and stomach pain is completely gone. That’s probably the most significant development. The heartburn is practically gone too. I haven’t taken a Rolaid or a Pepcid in weeks. The bloating is considerably improved (although to be fair, I’ve also dropped white carbs in the interest of aforementioned “trimming down”). The wet burping, the fluttering in my chest, the lump in my throat–all have shown marked improvement, if not abated entirely. I do still occasionally get a dry cough, but it’s hard to point at that as a gastrointestinal indicator when there’s ragweed saturating the air.

Sing Out, Louise

I’m sure you’re all on the edge of your seats wondering whether I’ve recovered my beautiful singing voice HA. The answer there is not quite as brief.

Suspecting that the caffeine issue couldn’t entirely explain it, I made an appointment with the specialists at the Emory Clinic Voice Center. We are fortunate to have here in Atlanta an enormously vast medical network. Got some obscure problem? There’s a app doc for that.


I was lucky that they were able to squeeze me in quicker than anticipated–my initial appointment was during that first week of tapering off. I wondered if this would hide or highlight any damage to ye olde singing parts.

A thorough examination of my vocal chords revealed…

That they were perfect.

This should have been good news, but I was bummed. It meant that I couldn’t blame the many issues I was having with my voice on physical (outside) factors. In other words, I was singing wrong.

A follow up appointment with vocal therapist Marina Gilman  revealed that I wasn’t just a shit singer. Even though I had no visible acid damage (further proof that I never had GERD in the first place), past acute “acid incidents” (her words) had led to my compensating in a damaging way. Kind of like when you say, pull a muscle and then strain the surrounding muscles favoring it. And like a muscle injury, what I needed was a course of rehab.

Over a series of sessions Marina gave me some vocal and breath exercises to help relax the wrong muscles and work the right ones. She also affirmed that, according to the clinical assessment of my voice structure, I really should be singing soprano and not alto. It was all stuff I already knew from previous training, but the reminder was key–and, unlike voice lessons–billable to insurance.

Since then I’ve seen vast improvement in the pain and strain while speaking, and to some extent while singing as well. I still have quite a ways to go in this regard though, and I’m trying not to be too frustrated with my progress (apparently you can’t undo six years of muscle damage in four sessions). I think I will have to spring for voice lessons on top of the coaching eventually, if I ever want to achieve solo status again.

I’ve Learned to Live Without You, Darling

I still take exceeding comfort in a hot drink or five, especially with the dreary weather we’ve been experiencing. So I’ve been drinking lots of Teeccino, a little hot cocoa, and even hot tea. I’m really loving Teeccino. Unlike coffee, the different flavors taste nice, not just smell good. Unlike coffee, it tastes good cold or reheated (meaning that that half pot not drunk first thing in the AM doesn’t go to waste). But unfortunately, unlike coffee, it is somewhat caloric (about 20 calories in a 10 oz cup brewed–I usually drink a classic 12-oz) and when you add as much cream as I like (about four tablespoons at 25-35 calories per tbsp ), you’re looking at a heavy appetizer’s worth of energy. So I can’t really pound it like I am sometimes tempted to on a long, chilled day.

A better replacement choice is hot tea, but I had a problem with it at first. My fellow coffee fiends will know what I’m talking about when I say the taste, feel, smell, richness—it’s just not the same. In the way that avid tea drinkers don’t enjoy coffee as much, tea is simply not my daily jam.

Plus, until recently, I really only liked the taste of black tea–which of course, has caffeine. So does green. I don’t like chamomile, peppermint, lemon, or any kind of fruit flavor in herbal tea. That basically wipes out 95% of teas on your average grocery shelf. Then I discovered Rooibos. A red “tea” that grows in South Africa, it’s a bit more pricey than the average, but doubtless I spend way less on it than I once did on coffee. Plus Yogi makes a nice Chai variety, which has a complex and full-bodied taste and the benefit of the healthy spices used in chai flavoring while being naturally caffeine free.

What about decaf, you say? At first I shunned coffee entirely, trying to lose the taste hankering I had for it. Eventually I did begin to treat myself to a cup of decaf when out to breakfast, or occasionally at the daily coffee hours at work. Decaf is not great in and of itself, first of all because coffee is still acidic which contributes to many of my problems, secondly because decaf labeling is highly unregulated in the US and can vary widely, and thirdly because the process used to decaffeinate most drinks uses chemicals (although nontoxic apparently, and with better taste results than the more “natural” but much more expensive and rare method of water decaffeination). Not to mention many decaf coffees, including the kind they serve at work, taste gross. But the fact is, I can never give up treating myself to the occasional happy Starbucks raspberry mocha. So decaf will continue to be drunk by this lady.

So….does all this mean it’s true: I’m allergic to caffeine?

I really don’t think so. If I had a true allergy, or even a sensitivity, I don’t think I could have been drinking as much coffee as I have for as long as I did with any level of comfort. The fact that it took 7 years to pinpoint the issue is proof alone. Who knows? I might even resume coffee drinking one day. But you can be damn sure it’s going to be a lot less. I think the lesson we can take away from this is that anything you use as a crutch to function–running the gamut from heavy drugs and alcohol to gossiping to chewing gum to running marathons to spicy food to binge watching Netflix–has the potential to be damaging both physiologically and psychologically.

In the wise and oft-repeated words of my Granny: Everything in Moderation.

So. What’s your addiction?

The Rattly Old Skeleton

29 Oct

In the last post about my very own Schrödinger’s cat experience, I referenced a story called “The Rattly Old Skeleton,” which I’d told T a few days before. It’s one of the only scary stories I know by heart, so even though it’s a children’s story I continue to tell it anytime a likely occasion arises. I even used to tell it to my college roommates, lying on our XL twins, the dorm dark and hushed.

This story originally came from an audio tape of spooky stories we got from the public library when I was a kid (yes, a tape. It’s called history.). I wanted to link to the story in my post, but after scouring the interwebs I determined that it is absolutely nowhere in print.

This cannot stand. As a graduate of the Theatre & Performance Studies program, I am acutely aware of the paramount importance of oral history, stories being passed from one generation to the next. This is one that, no matter how slightly silly and strange, I really don’t think should die. So in honor of Halloween, light up a fire (or at least turn up the sound effects; I love A Soft Murmur) and gather round for the only (as far as I know) publication of the story of:

The Rattly Old Skeleton

Once upon a time, there lived a Little Old Man and a Little Old Woman, deep in a dark forest. That winter, the cold was so harsh and the snow so deep that all the game animals moved on. So they had very little to eat. The Little Old Man and the Little Old Woman watched their food and firewood slowly dwindle until one day, they had no food left at all and only enough kindling for one more fire.

The Little Old Man said to the Little Old Woman, “Little Old Woman, I must go hunting or we will surely starve. I know it is cold in the cabin, but you must not light a fire. We have only enough kindling for one more and we’ll need it to cook the food I shall bring back.” Then he shouldered his rifle and left.

The Little Old Woman sat as long as she could in the cold, dark, house. But soon she was so freezing that her hands and feet were going numb and turning blue. And she was so very hungry. Finally, with the last of her strength, she used the last bit of kindling to light a big, roaring fire.

It was so warm. She stretched her frozen hands out closer to the fire to thaw. Closer, and closer she put reached, vainly trying to warm her chilled bones until — OUCH! — the fire burned her finger. She quickly drew it to her mouth to quell the pain. And found…hm.

It tasted good.

Tentatively she took a little nibble. A queen’s meal could not have tasted finer. But she was still so very hungry. So she took her whole hand and put it in the fire, and ate it. Then she put her whole arm in the fire and ate that too. Little by little, she put her whole body in the fire and ate herself down until she was nothing but a




But. She was still hungry.

By this time the fire had died down to embers. The Rattly Old Skeleton heard the sound of The Little Old Man shuffling back through the snow dragging something heavy. Quickly she positioned herself behind the door and made to hide. As she moved, her bones made a terrible rattling sound: CLAtAW, CLAtAW, CLAtAW.

The Little Old Man slowly opened the door. Creeeeeeaak.

The cabin was empty. But he saw the embers of the dying fire and cried out, “Little Old Woman! You’ve lit the last fire! How we will cook this deer I caught?”

A shadow fell on the room as the door slowly swung shut behind him. Creeeeeeeak. The man slowly turned around, and there she was…

The Rattly Old Skeleton. And she was still hungry.

She made to grab for the Little Old Man with her long bony arms, but he managed to slip from her grasp and run back out of the door.

Through the snow he ran, getting slapped by branches and pelted by falling ice, and all the time he could hear the CLAtAW, CLAtAW, CLAtAW of the Rattly Old Skeleton following close behind.

The Little Old Man ran and ran and ran until he came to a huge, gaping gorge. It was so deep there was no way to climb down, and there was no bridge–no way across. And he knew the Rattly Old Skeleton would be upon him in moments.

Looking around in despair, he suddenly noticed a tiny cottage half hidden by trees at the edge of the gorge. Heart pounding, he raced to the door and knocked upon it, THUMP THUMP THUMP.

The cottage was the home of an ancient enchantress. She opened the door and saw the Little Old Man upon the step. “How may I help you?” she asked.

“Please,” the Little Old Man wheezed, “there’s a Rattly Old Skeleton chasing me, she wants to eat me up. I must get across this gorge so I can get away.”

“I will help you,” the enchantress said. “IF, you pick me some berries, and chop me some wood.”

Seeing this as a small price to pay for his life, he readily agreed. When he had picked a bushel of berries and chopped a log into firewood, he brought them back to the enchantress and begged again for her help.

Smiling, the enchantress walked to the edge of the gorge. She reached her hands up and before the Old Man’s very eyes, she began to grow. She stretched taller, and taller, and taller, until at last she was as long as the gorge was wide. She fell down across the gorge in one big flop, creating a bridge out of her body.

Without hesitation, the old man scurried across, over the hills and away to safety.

The enchantress pushed herself back up and shrunk down to her normal size. Then she went into her cottage and shut the door.

Not two minutes later who should come along but the Rattly Old Skeleton: CLAtAW, CLAtAW, CLAtAW.

Seeing the impassable gorge, and the Little Old Man escaping into the distance, she rattled up to the cottage and scraped upon the door with her long bony fingers. SCREEECH SCRECH SCRRECH SCREEEEEEECH.

The enchantress opened the door and said, “how may I help you?”

“I must get across this gorge!” the Rattly Old Skeleton snarled. “I am HUNGRY. That’s my dinner over there and he’s getting away!”

“I will help you,” said the enchantress. “IF, you pick me some berries, and chop me some wood.”

“I don’t have time to pick your berries and chop your wood!” rasped the skeleton. “Get me across this gorge right now or I’ll eat YOU!”

So calmly, as before, the enchantress stepped to the edge of the cliff. She reached her arms up to the sky and began to grow taller, and taller, and taller until at last she was able to stretch across the gorge and make of her body a bridge.

Without hesitation, the Rattly Old Skeleton started across.

But no sooner had she reached the middle of the bridge, she began to feel the Enchantress’s body sway under her bony feet. Faster and faster, and wider and wider went the arc of the swing, until the Rattly Old Skeleton lost her balance and


into the gorge below, cracking at the bottom into a thousand bony pieces.

So the Little Old Man got away. But to this day, if you go to the edge of the gorge, and put your ear down to listen, you’ll hear a strange sound:


It’s the sound of the Rattly Old Skeleton, trying to pull herself back together.

And she’s still hungry.

*I am sorry I cannot attribute the original author or source. Oral history is one big game of Telephone and I’m sure this version has changed somewhat in the telling. If you know the source, or have heard this story before, please tell me about it at cushioncutblog at gmail dot com. 

9 Lives: That Time my Cat Came Back from the Dead

27 Oct


Our pets are becoming renowned for cheating death.

This is to say nothing of our beta fish, that actually sleeps, floating belly up, but shakes himself awake as soon as you go to flush him. Or of one of our turtles, who appeared still and pale after her tank light blew while we were on vacation, but turned out to be in some kind of enchanted hibernation and revived as soon as we went to fish her out.

Around this time last year, our beagle Ruby June was about a goner.


Something in her back had been bothering her for weeks; she’d yelp whenever she jumped up or someone touched her there. We gave her muscle relaxers but it only got worse. Soon she couldn’t manage stairs, she couldn’t reach her head down to her food bowl, and eventually she could do nothing but lie in her crate whimpering and yelping in pain. She was only five years old so surgery was an option, but it cost thousands of dollars. So we prepared ourselves for the difficult decision to put her out of her misery. The dreadful date was set. We prepared T to say goodbye to his best friend. We bought Ruby a huge box of chicken nuggets for her last meal. Some of you may even have seen the farewell Facebook post I dedicated to her.

But just as I was getting ready to leave for The Appointment, P called me at work. Because she is young and otherwise very healthy, a munificent benefactor had offered to foot the bill for Ruby’s surgery at the veterinary school at UGA. She was rushed there that day. The operation went smooth as silk. She came home shaved with huge freakish staples in her back, looking like some kind of cross between Sally the Ragdoll and Frankenweenie.

It was even weirder IRL, trust.

It was even weirder IRL, trust.

She bounced back unbelievably quickly–within weeks she was running, jumping, and playing with T fine as you please, with no evidence of her ordeal unless you feel the odd dip in her back where two disks are missing.


And enduring the usual torture.

So the year passes and here we are again. Our cat Buster, a recent convert to the indoor/outdoor lifestyle, hasn’t been seen since Saturday night and here it is Monday afternoon. He’s been gone for a day or so before, but the weather had gone from mild and clear to rainy and cold, and since he’s kind of a snob about that sort of clime (not to mention always hungry), I thought I’d post a casual notice on our neighborhood page to discover his whereabouts. I suspected he was two-timing us with another family in the area–it’s been known to happen.

Not ten minutes after I post his picture, someone responds that she saw a cat matching that description dead on the side of the road, hit by a car. Someone else responded they’d seen that cat too. I felt a stone drop in my stomach. After ascertaining the location of the cat, and a fretful afternoon of clock-watching until the end of the work day, I went searching. Out in the pouring rain, I found him by the bank teller drive-through, on the main road close to our house. I realized I must have driven past him several times. I couldn’t recognize his distinctive Hitler-ish mustache because of the damage to his face, but the fur length and pattern made me sure it was him.

Buster isn’t the best pet by any means. A grumpy, prissy old bachelor, he’s temperamental, doesn’t really like to be held, gets under your feet and then hisses when you step on him, drops his long fur everywhere, has stabbed me in both the ear and eye, and he stinks.

And we had legit fears he might smother the baby.

And judging from our practice doll, we had legit fears he might smother the baby.

But he’s my cat. I had him before I even met P, he was my first adult responsibility. And God help me, I loved that mean, snooty kitty. I was heartbroken.

I called P who left work early to collect him for internment. That had to be a terrible job–despite being technically my cat, Buster liked P best. His was the only lap Buster deemed worthy of snuggling up to. I hated that P had to see him like I’d found him, especially when he has to deal with that kind of thing at work all too often.

But I had my own trying task–breaking the news to T. I don’t believe in lying to children about these kind of things, no matter how young. I was rather shocked at how well he took it, although perhaps I shouldn’t have been (those two interacted rarely and when they did, the encounters tended to be, shall we say…fraught). He was so unperturbed I wondered distantly, between fresh bouts of tears, whether he didn’t really understand or I was raising a sociopath.

Rehearsal was a merciful distraction from these thoughts. I put all my concentration into dancing and it felt good. Anything not to think about the lonely little box I would see sitting in our carport when I pulled into the driveway, the dish full of food he would never eat going stale in the kitchen.

Over the sadness was a layer of guilt. I was the one who pushed for him go from an indoor-only to an outdoor cat. I thought he would be happier, but I was also tired of chasing him down every time he got out. And I was tired of him clawing up the furniture and carpets. I knew there was always a chance something like this could happen, but since he rarely even left our yard I wasn’t too concerned. But I should have known 10 years was too old to learn street smarts. Now it was my fault he was gone.

Lying in bed that night unable to sleep, I composed his requiem in my head. I wished bad things on the driver who’d smashed him and left him wet and dirty on the side of the road. That was unfair of course–he wasn’t wearing his collar so what could they do?–but I couldn’t help it. He would have hated having his beautiful coat so muddy and matted.  I drifted into a fitful sleep vainly trying to comfort myself with the thoughts of how he surely must not have suffered. And how much cleaner the house would smell without a litter box.

Around 3 or 4 in the morning, T cried out for us. He said he heard the crackling sound of the Rattly Old Skeleton outside his window. P got up to soothe him and did indeed hear a strange sound coming from our front stoop.

He opened the door…

And there was Buster.

Wet, pissy, and hungry AF–but very much alive and unharmed.

Lived another to do cat things like this...

Lived another day to do cat things like this…

...and this...

…and this…

...and of course, this.

…and of course, this.

Cats. I’m telling you.

Earlier that night, I couldn’t erase the image of the last time I’d seen him alive. He’d slipped out as we were coming in from a play and hesitated a moment on the doorstep, looking back at me. Even as I shut the door on him, I briefly wondered if it was the last time I’d see him. Maybe it’s only in the clarity of hindsight I had thought, but his posture and look seemed full of portent. He seemed to be saying, should I really go out into the night all alone?

I guess what he was really saying was, Trick or Treat.



Why I Quit Coffee Part II: How I went from seven to zero cups of coffee in 5 days

15 Oct

The day my doctor told me to try giving up caffeine to relieve my GI and vocal symptoms, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

I mean, I knew caffeine is an addictive substance. I knew also that quitting such a substance would produce real, physical withdrawal symptoms.

I knew it would be hard. But I didn’t think it would be that hard. My little bro (the one with h pylori) gives up coffee periodically just to make sure he can. He doesn’t like the idea of being dependent on anything outside himself. So it’s clearly possible. Of course, I never asked him how long these coffee-free periods last.

I decided against cold turkey. I’m not a glutton for punishment.  I didn’t really have a plan to taper off, but I knowing me, if I planned too much I wouldn’t get around to actually doing it, so I dove right in. With the information here, if you ever have to (or want to) give up coffee, perhaps you can make a plan of your own.

Note: if you don’t want to read through the nitty-gritty, you can skip to The Takeaway at the bottom.

The First Day

I woke up a little under the weather, another attack of the upper respiratory crap/fall allergies. This would normally suck balls, but in this case was sort of a blessing. I usually don’t even feel like drinking coffee when I have postnasal drip.

So I began the day with a small cup of hot chai tea and honey. Black tea contains caffeine, but not as much as coffee, especially if you don’t have a tumbler of it. I spent the morning intermittently working on projects and researching this so-called caffeine allergy.


I don’t always enjoy colds. But when I do, it’s when I’m trying to quit caffeine.

By 11:00, it was clear one cup would not do. I didn’t have a headache, at least not yet. But I felt very groggy. I made another cup of tea with honey. Something else would be necessary.

Meditation! That would be so totally zen of me. I’d found this Binaural Beat Meditation a few weeks before I’d been wanting to try out. (I sort of got into meditation after reading this book). Plus I had these two tea bags! I could put them on my eyes and lay on the couch (lotus position is for suckers). Because that’s another thing–I’d been noticing lately that I had visible pouches under my eyes all the time, regardless of how much sleep I’d gotten. I suddenly remembered that they can be caused by allergies. You mean…like caffeine allergies?

In the later part of the afternoon, I developed a bit of a headache. I was fully expecting it so it was no surprise. What I wasn’t prepared for was the tiredness–the absolutely bone crushing fatigue I felt the whole afternoon. Also, I was starving. I kept snacking on little things every hour–a piece of cheese, a strip of roast chicken, a cup of strawberry yogurt, hummus on a cracker. I chalked it up to the bit of nasal sumpin’ sumpin’ I had going on.

I was so tired and cruddy I couldn’t manage my daily workout. I tried to imagine that the zen I was getting from the binaural beats was, in its own way, just as good for my body–which was clearly involved in some kind of battle at the moment. I crashed into a dark stupor after two pages of reading around 11 PM.

Day 2

The next morning I still felt a little cruddy. Thus it was difficult to determine whether the dull headache pulsing against my skull was from withdrawal or sinuses. Trying to head it off at the pass, I had my first cup of black tea as soon as I arrived at the office with my breakfast, and the second shortly after.

The headache persisted quietly. I began craving coffee, like, the actual taste of the drink, in the late afternoon too. But it was nothing compared to the hunger. Within less than two hours of eating, the pangs would return.

I did some deep stretching in the evening along with a huge glass of white wine. I felt I deserved it.

Day 3

The third day was a Saturday, PRAISE. Until now I’d been avoiding coffee entirely–even though my doc said switching to decaf would serve the purpose fine–because I was really curious about whether caffeine or coffee was the true culprit. Anyway, we know that decaf still contains some caffeine. But this morning I broke down and had a mug of decaf Starbucks with cream. It was divine.

Later that afternoon my throat burned and I felt extremely bloated. But it was hard to tell if it was from the decaf, or from the postnasal drip, or from the huge decked-out froyo I had for lunch. I tried to drink extra water but I’m here to tell you–water is not coffee.

Day 4

This was the first day of trying an entirely new hot drink substitute: Teeccino.


Teeccino is billed as an herbal coffee alternative. It’s completely caffeine free, non-acidic and allegedly nutritious. It’s even supposed to give you a natural energy boost, but without the stimulant effect. The reviews on Amazon were pretty good so I ordered one pack to try it out.  I purchased the vanilla flavor, but only because that was the only one sold in a single pack. I didn’t want to commit to something I might not like.

You put it through your regular machine like coffee. It looks quite a bit like coffee when brewed. It smells nothing like coffee. The taste? Well, it’s hard to describe. It’s full bodied, definitely sweeter than coffee, which makes sense since because what isn’t? It’s rather nutty overall. But it’s not at bit like tea, which is what comes to mind when you hear the word “herbal.” My first impression was that a) it would take some getting used to, but b) I could definitely get used to it.

The only real caffeine I had was a few swallows of P’s sweet tea. We went white water rafting in the afternoon, which as it turns out, is a great distraction from headaches, hunger, bloating, or anything else that ails you.

I went to bed very tired.

Day 5

For the fifth day in a row, I was starving. I began to suspect that my body, so used to be sustained with caffeinated glory, was looking for a replacement energy source. The Teeccino was slowly growing on me. I was able to work in some squats and planks in addition to my deep stretching (I’m finally set on achieving my splits, now that I’m in my 30s–as if one lofty goal wasn’t enough).

We had a work reception that day and I mentioned to a group of people that I’d gone off caffeine, and they all took a step back like I might bite them. So are you super irritable? They asked. I stared back at them dully. I wasn’t grumpy–that would take way too much energy.

I fell into bed utterly exhausted, about 30 minutes earlier than usual. I didn’t realize until the next day that it was my first day completely and totally caffeine-free.

The Takeaways

Decaf, sigh…just not quite the same.

So what can you expect if you decide to break your own caffeine habit?

  1. The headache is not bad. If you taper off instead of going cold turkey, and replace your coffee intake with another liquid (even icky water), headache shouldn’t be a problem. I’m almost certain that what little headache I did experience was the result of having a cold.
  2. You will miss coffee. Make no mistake. no matter what sub you use: decaf, herbal tea, hot cocoa, or my new fave Teeccino–this is like breaking up with a good friend. And like a break up, every time you accidentally run into each other it will be a little painful.
  3. You will be starving. Lock up the Doritos and gelato and stock your pantry with healthy, filling foods that you can grab quickly, like nuts, beans, bagged salads, avocado, popcorn, hummus, peanut butter, protein shakes, whatever your thing is–because the hunger machine is coming and it’s sucking up everything in reaching distance. If you drink your coffee with cream and sugar, expect the sweet tooth to come out swinging as well.
  4. You will be tired. I think the thing that surprised me the most in that first week was realizing how heavily I leaned on caffeine for daily energy. I have never felt so tired in all my life, and I’ve had walking pneumonia. It ranged from being a little slow on the uptake to all out head-on-the-desk sleepiness. And, as you will see in the next installment, this symptom lasted the longest.

Why I Quit Coffee Part I: The Symptoms

8 Oct

The chest pains were what took me to the doctor in the first place.

Six years ago I was doing my first production as an officially married woman: Sweeney Todd, The Demon Musical Barber of Fleet Street. I mention the show because it’s difficult to sing. Sondheim is a lover of dissonant chords and screeching harmonies. I was on mezzo soprano. Sometime during the harried weeks leading up to opening, I noticed my voice was sometimes cracking, and it felt thin and reedy. Sometimes it was like singing through pudding, or perhaps through a sieve–like my voice was trying to pour out through thousands of tiny holes. Then came the chest pains.

I hate going to the doctor but I’m also a hypochondriac. I couldn’t ignore the fact that I was probably dying of congestive heart failure. So I saw my doc and got an EKG. I remember that day because I had to strip for the test and was really glad I’d worn a matching underwear set. I also remember it because the EKG was clean. Dr. Maxa suspected heartburn.

I really don’t want to bore you with the minutiae of my health history. (For reference: I wrote the entire saga down and brought it to my new PCP a few weeks ago, and I could see her visibly shrink when I whipped it out. And she’s my doctor!). But suffice it to say that since that time, I struggled with what I thought was an inherited case of gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, or GERD.

My symptoms weren’t very typical. Hiccups, wet burps, dry cough. A lump in my throat like I was constantly holding back tears. Hoarseness and cracking. I found it difficult to talk loudly or for a long time. Sometimes I would lose my voice completely, even when I wasn’t sick. I also had stomach aches, particularly in the morning, and weird fluttery feelings in my chest. I was sick all the time, struck down with upper respiratory crud at least four times a year.  And the bloating–OH THE BLOATING. Even before I had a baby my stomach looked postpartum while the rest of my body stayed curiously slim. I almost never had heartburn.

The worst of it though, was the loss of my singing voice. The problems I experienced during Sweeney Tard-I-mean-Todd got worse. I used to occasionally get cast in principle roles. In Sweeney I had several solos, and had actually been called back for Mrs. Lovett. Over the years, that all dried up. So did my range. I started singing alto parts.* I stopped getting solos. I wasn’t getting called back for principle or even supporting roles. When I went to auditions, I lived in fear because I never knew how my voice would perform on any given day. Sometimes my voice would completely cut out in the middle of a note. Just drop off–like Thelma and Louise, go-go-going one minute and disappeared a moment later.

*Not that there’s anything wrong with singing alto. But there is a tiny grain of truth to the stereotype that weak voices sing alto, just as there is to the one that people who can’t harmonize sing soprano. As I’ve sung on both parts many times, I can say this.

It got to the point where I didn’t want to sing anymore. I auditioned for straight plays, and fell back on my dancing abilities in the few musicals I did. The last time I sang in a musical, I wasn’t even given a mic pack.

All this I might have been able to stomach, if I wasn’t still having all the other GI symptoms. They cleared up temporarily on the two PPIs I tried, but they’d always come creeping back. In the past six months or so, I even began to have regular heartburn. At last.

As of a few weeks ago, I’d been to two ENTs (one that specializes in voices and had worked with Usher), a vocal coach, and a gastroenterologist. I’d been on experimental drugs that made me violently ill. I’d suffered through two endoscopies. I’d been on four or five rounds of antibiotics and steroids for throat infections. And my voice was still slowly disappearing. Not only my high notes, but also my low notes were fading away. The worst of it was that the most recent GI specialist I’d seen, on reviewing my symptoms, didn’t even think I had GERD to begin with.

But the last straw was when I had to tell my son I couldn’t read him a third book, because my voice hurt too much.

I went to my new PCP armed with those four pages of health history. She seemed hesitant to address my case. If I’d been to all these specialists and nothing was gained, what could she do? To me it was obvious–somebody needed to hear the whole story from the beginning, with a fresh perspective.

I was also direct in asking for an h pylori test, a stomach condition with which my brother was just diagnosed, and my doctor ordered a blood panel for the major food allergies. But when she looked at everything all together, only one thing came to her mind. A man had recently been in the office with almost my exact symptoms and it had turned out to be…

A caffeine allergy.

My head started buzzing (HA) almost as soon as I heard it. Caffeine, my heart! Of all the things I might have had to give up, my most beloved legal mind-altering substance would be the hardest.

Almost not an exaggeration. source

But it kind of made sense.

I used to drink coffee only occasionally, if you can believe that. Then we moved to Orlando. The friends with whom we shared a townhouse always had some made, with lots of delicious flavored creamers. We only lived there three months, but that was all it took. By late 2009–when I was doing Sweeney–it was a daily habit. Over the years I increased my coffee intake and brewed it stronger too. Like weather is to climate change, my daily intake fluctuated depending on outside influences, but the overall pattern was one of increased consumption. As of earlier this year, when my problems really escalated, I was downing 5 to 7 (6 oz) cups a day on the reg–about the equivalent of two Ventis from Starbucks.

It was enough to convince me to at least entertain the idea. Unfortunately, there is no test for caffeine allergies. It’s a pretty rare condition. The only test is to eliminate it and see if you feel better.

I did some research on my own of course, good old Dr. Google. Just as you might suspect, it was hard to find anything on caffeine allergies at all. I did find a couple articles that made me wonder caffeine was the culprit, or coffee itself. I wasn’t sure which would be worse.

Either way, I knew it would be a long road ahead.

Tune in next week when I give you the lowdown on my journey from an all-day coffee drinker to caffeine-free. Warts and all!

Visiting Spirits

24 Sep

Last night I had a dream. I saw my Granny, who passed away the year T was born, sitting at a desk some distance from me. She looked like how remember her, not as she was in her last few years when she became rather frail, but like she did when I was little and would put her hair in pink cushion rollers every week.

I was happy to see her because I usually see Pop in my dreams, if anyone. My grandfather used to tell me that when he died he would become my guardian angel and watch over me. At the time I used to pooh-pooh it (I didn’t like to imagine him gone, you see). Since his death I’ve seen him twice in dreams. So I do wonder if, maybe even hope that, he is fulfilling his promise. When I have the occasional rough patch in life, I sometimes even…I wouldn’t say pray–my grandparents were quite religious and I am quite not, so neither of us would say pray–but I “think” at him. As my guardian angel, I am sure he would feel it his duty to care for me during dark times.

Pop was obviously very special to me and the way he loved me was completely different than anyone I’ve ever known. But in day-to-day life, Granny was often the one I really talked to, who I would call on the phone and just chat with, the person whose little bits of wisdom I find myself returning to often. In the three years she was alive after Pop passed we became very close; out of everyone I knew, including my husband, she was my greatest comfort when I lost my first pregnancy. So in some ways I miss her more–or as the French say, elle me manque plus–she is more missing from me. Sometimes I still catch myself planning to call her.

I told her this in the dream, and that I was so happy to see her. She said she was sorry she couldn’t see me more often (or really, that I couldn’t see her), but that they did hear me whenever I talked to them.

Her smile was striking, just really beautiful.  It’s hard to describe what she was like. I want to say she was glowing, but not like a halo or an aura or something. It was more like warmth, like she was radiating coziness. She was also–and this is true of the two times I’ve dreamed of Pop as well–almost more real than life. Not like when you dream of people you know and they’re obviously a dream person. Flat somehow, like a recording or a projection. She was really real, almost like she was there in more dimensions than the usual three.

I noticed then that her voice was that of a young woman’s. I realized that must have been what she sounded like when she was young, like my age. She said that was it exactly. I should mention that it was like we were talking in our heads, and it was more in ideas than clear sentences like I’m writing here. I observed too (again in my head) that she didn’t choose to look like a young woman, only to sound younger. She looked “tickled,” to use one of her words. I felt like she was glad I noticed, or happy that I caught on to that. I thought later, on waking, that maybe she thought I’d like to see her that way.

We may have talked more in the dream. If we did, I sadly don’t remember it. I hope I told her I was sorry I couldn’t sing His Eye is on the Sparrow at her funeral, as she had asked me to, but never brought up again after she saw how excruciating it was for me to sing at Pop’s service, not even when she knew she was dying. I know I slept more, I did not wake up immediately as one tends to do from lucid dreaming. When I did wake up, I didn’t remember this dream right away. It wasn’t until lunch, when I was reading a magazine where people were sharing spooky experiences, that I remembered it.

I’m not really a religious person. The supernatural interests me but I’m first and foremost a scientific thinker. I don’t know if I really received a heavenly visit from my deceased grandmother last night, or if it was some deep subconscious trick of the mind. I do know I hadn’t been thinking of her or Pop the day before, the autumnal equinox. But this morning, I went to read her obituary again, which I wrote for the paper and still have on file.

Today is the day we buried her four years ago.

Do you believe in dream visitations? Share your experience in the comments.



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