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Fat Bethany

In the 2+ years since I moved back to Pittsburgh, I’ve gained close to 30 pounds. Going from living in a city where I worked at an office, walked, and took public transit everywhere to working at home in the suburbs made my activity level plummet. Even having the dogs didn’t help much, since I live in a very hilly neighborhood so I lazily just let them run in the yard instead of walking them.

This new living situation also affected what and how I ate, because it was so easy to just hop in the car and get drive-thru whenever I wanted. In Chicago, fast food was a treat, because it required walking or taking the train somewhere. Here, there were no barriers, and I have a dozen different options within a 10 minute drive.

I also started drinking more as beer became an even bigger hobby of mine. Pittsburgh has breweries opening literally every week, so for several months, having nothing to do on a Saturday night would often turn into hitting a new brewery and sampling some beers. And if I stayed in, I would have a few beers that I purchased from Tavour or go out looking for new rarities.

Add it all up and you get one fat Bethany.

I’ve always been slightly overweight for my height, but with the weight gain, I was bordering on obese. I felt terrible. Between my weight and the drinking, my sleep was awful. I had no energy.

After a trip back to Chicago in October where I ate and drank to the point that I didn’t want to see a beer again for a very long time, I hit the reset button. I stopped drinking for a week. It felt good, so I kept going. I made it to a month, and even now, I drink a lot less than I used to. I focus on drinking beers that taste good instead of drinking just to drink.

I also changed the way that I eat and think about food. I’m one of those people who tends to consider food a reward – I had a bad day, so I deserve drive-thru. The problem is that I was constantly coming up with excuses to “reward” myself. So I’ve been doing some mental gymnastics to get my brain to think of food not as a reward, but as a regular ‘ole thing that I just need to survive. That’s not to say that food can’t be delicious and enjoyable – just that it’s not something that I should use as a reward. There are much healthier rewards for me that don’t make me fatter, like sleeping in or giving myself an extra hour to play a video game before bed.

With these changes, today I hit 20 pounds lost! I’m still planning to keep going and hopefully get back to the weight that I was in Chicago, which is the same weight that I was for most of my adult life.

I am not a weight loss guru by any stretch, but I thought I’d share some tips for people like me who want to change their lifestyle and find it really freaking difficult:

  1. You don’t have to exercise. Going to the gym and all that certainly helps you lose weight, but it’s not a requirement. For me, I just needed to be getting up and moving, even if that meant parking the car further away from the grocery store entrance so I had a longer walk. Little things add up.
  2. Be nice to yourself. At least twice in the last month, I had too much to drink which led to getting McDonald’s. I felt terrible about it. And then I weighed myself on the regular day and I had still lost weight. No one is perfect, and you’re going to eat food and do things that get you off-track. The important thing is to recognize it and get right back on that horse.
  3. Eat what you want, but in moderation. I used to be addicted to Vanilla Coke. I had at least two a day. I replaced them with flavored water, but about once a week if I have extra calories, I’ll have a Vanilla Coke. It tastes delicious. But it does not make me want to go back to two a day. It’s taken me over a month to go through a 12-pack, and it literally used to take me days.
  4. Do you research before you go out to eat. If you know what’s on a menu and is fairly healthy before you step into the restaurant, you give yourself more time to  mentally prepare and commit yourself to ordering it even though you really want the damn tater tots. And honestly, I’ve found that the healthier options at a lot of restaurants are way better than I thought they would be.
  5. Reduced fat cheese is your friend. I love cheese so much and I was dying without it. Then I found an amazing website called Emily Bites that is all recipes of “lightened up” comfort food. Girlfriend uses reduced fat cheese liberally, and it saved me.
  6. Have regular standby meals ready. I used to eat a lot of frozen dinners, because I am lazy. I still try to have some on hand (Lean Cuisines FTW), but I also try to keep fresh easy options around: greens for salad, zucchinis for zoodles, tofu to toss in a sauce. Knowing that I have a five-minute option available if I don’t feel like cooking makes me a lot less likely to go out or order delivery that will be bad for me.

Ultimately, I had to change my lifestyle when I was ready to do it, and even with that commitment, it was still difficult. When you’re ready, do it. You’ll feel better, I swear.

Wilhelmina Rose

Two years ago this month, I adopted my dog, Mina.

Mina & I on her gotcha day

I was kind of scared of dogs as a kid, and was always more of a cat person. We already had at least two shelter cats at any one time when I was growing up, and I adopted two shelter cats with my college roommates. But after college, I became pretty obsessed with the idea of adopting a dog.

Mina was three months-old, and was brought to Felines & Canines in Chicago from a high-kill shelter in rural Kentucky. As I soon as I saw her picture, I knew she had to be mine. She looked so open and warm and sweet and happy, even given her circumstances. She arrived in Chicago on a Saturday afternoon and I brought her home on Sunday morning.


Mina’s shelter photo

I really was not prepared for a three month-old puppy, and a very active and intelligent one at that. The first few months with Mina were so difficult – she wanted constant attention and destroyed everything if she didn’t get it. She figured out how to get into things that I never though she could figure out. But we eventually settled into our routine, and while she still has occasional outbursts of crazy behavior – and still has a ton of energy – she’s calmed down quite a bit.

There were a lot of things that I wasn’t prepared for when I adopted a dog, but the biggest and best one was the tremendous positive impact that it would have on my mental health.

I’ve dealt with anxiety and depression my entire life. Before I adopted Mina, I’d been taking antidepressants for quite some time, and they made things much better than not taking any medication at all. But I still had panic attacks once a month or so, and I still had dark periods that could last for a week or two where I didn’t want to do anything and just cried for what felt like hours.

When I adopted Mina, all of that changed. In the two years that I’ve had her, I’ve had only a handful of panic attacks. And each time, Mina was by my side, often crying and pawing at me because she knew something was wrong. I still have dark days, but not nearly as many as I once did.

Running on Edgewater Beach in Chicago

I think that part of the reason why is that even when things are bad for me, Mina gives me something to concentrate on – she has to be fed and go out and be played with, regardless of how I’m feeling. But I think a lot of it is her simple presence, her absolute unfettered sheer happiness. Few things make me so happy as seeing her happy – watching her run at full speed through a creek at her favorite park is the best thing in the world.

And even when I feel ugly or fat or stupid, she thinks I am the greatest human being to walk on the planet Earth. Ever. All-time. Greatest. My presence is what makes her the happiest. That’s a helluva drug.

In a week, another dog will join our little rescue family. He, too, is from Kentucky – he was found in a barn, only a few weeks old, with four brothers and sisters. I’m excited to see him and Mina together, and I’m excited to have another dog in the house. But Mina will always be my first, and will always be my baby girl.

House sweet house

HOLY CANNOLI I’M BUYING A HOUSE.

Buying a house wasn’t a big huge life event that I’ve always wanted to experience. But as I entered my late twenties and saw my first friends buy condos, I began to realize that maybe I did want to own something. And I was sure as hell never going to own anything in Chicago – definitely not a house, and likely not even a condo. Condos in the last neighborhood I lived in Chicago (Edgewater) started at more than double the price I’m paying for this house.

So home ownership was part of the impetus for moving back to Pittsburgh. I figured I’d rent for a few years, save up for a down payment, and then slowly but surely find the perfect house. But as many other people will tell you, the whole home-buying thing can from I’ll-leisurely-check-out-houses-on-Zillow-a-few-times-a-day to HOMEOWNERSHIP-INCOMING very quickly.

In my case, I found out that I would be inheriting enough money for a down payment with an FHA loan, so I started looking. I saw six houses over the course of two days, and I bought the second one that I saw because I just KNEW. As soon as I stepped into the house for the first time it felt like home.

So now I’m dealing with the fun part: moving all of my utilities, booking movers, providing copious amounts of paperwork for my mortgage application. I agreed to a 30-day closing, so that’s made things even crazier than they would have been with a longer closing. But that’s okay. I’m ready to start my life in my home as soon as possible. It’s so exciting and freeing to think about not having to do this moving thing again for (hopefully) a very long time; to buy furniture that I know will always work and I won’t have to junk or replace because of a new apartment layout or size in a year or two.

And it’s nice to commit to actually decorating a place. The longest that I lived in a single apartment was three years in my first place right out of college, but because I was so poor, I couldn’t really decorate. I had an Ikea twin bed and my couch was the futon that had been my bed growing up. Every place since then, I knew I wasn’t going to stick around forever, so I got it maybe 50% decorated (as much as I could without painting and stuff that you can’t do in a rental), so nothing ever really felt like my own.

So now I’m being a super basic bitch and Pinteresting like there’s no tomorrow and futilely attempting to resist the temptation to buy furniture online and have it sent to my current place.

What I’ve noticed as I’ve read more and more home design blogs is that they can seem so phony. Everything is so meticulously curated so that it looks like no one lives there. I get that’s the aesthetic that these bloggers are often going for, but to me, it just solidifies my feeling that I’ll never have a perfect home like these people do.

And I noticed that a lot of home blogs are written by moms who talk about the challenges of making a home practical for kids. That’s totally reasonable, but I have absolutely no need to my make home kid-friendly, nor do I really want to read about kids while I’m trying to get ideas for decor. Just not my speed.

And these bloggers never swear, or talk about how poor they are, or whatever. It’s just all too conveniently perfect.

So I’m planning to write a series of blog updates about my new home called My Effing House. Because I’m a single woman with two cats and a dog who just bought an effing house and now needs to figure out how to decorate it and feel like home. And I hope you’ll be following along with me!

The best (and worst) beer I drank in 2016

2016 was the year that my beer nerdery really took off. When I moved back to Pittsburgh last November, I really thought that the opposite would happen, since Pittsburgh is so much smaller than Chicago, I figured the beer scene would be a lot more limited. But it turns out that the opposite is true. Smart Asset named Pittsburgh its #3 best city for beer drinkers this year based on number of microbreweries, number of bars, Yelp reviews, and the average price of a pint. It feels like a new brewery is opening or announced every week.

In Chicago, the city was so big and the beer scene so intense that I often felt kind of isolated. There was just so much that it was hard to keep track of good new breweries or beers. In Pittsburgh, there’s a great community of beer people who aren’t brewers or otherwise in the industry, especially on Facebook. I also got a license and a car, which made getting to out-of-the-way breweries and stores a lot easier.

All this is to say that I drank a lot of beer this year – some great, most good, and a few terrible. Here are some of my favorites, in no particular order.

Russian River Pliny the Elder – Imperial IPA

I had my first Pliny the Elder in San Francisco in March. I was there for a conference and my coworkers and I stopped into a good beer bar. When I saw it on the menu, I flipped out. A few weeks later, I went back to northern California on a business trip. After my colleague and I wrapped up our meetings, he suggested looking for a place to grab a beer before we had to head back to San Francisco to catch our flights home. I knew Petaluma wasn’t too far, so I considered Lagunitas. But on a hunch I did a search of what was even closer, and Russian River came up. It was five minutes away.I actually may have enjoyed the sours at Russian River even more than their other stuff, but I have to respect Pliny the Elder. It’s the elder statesman in the West Coast hop bomb movement, and for good reason. It’s hoppy without completely destroying your mouth (though I love Green Flash’s Palate Wrecker for that), and it’s just so drinkable. It reminded me a lot of a less sharp version of Three Floyds’ Zombie Dust.

Dancing Gnome Wonka – Dry Stout

Dancing Gnome opened in the totally unlikely locale of Sharpsburg a few months ago, brewing “unapologetically hop pronounced styles.” As a fan of big hoppy beers, I expected to be impressed by their pale ales, and I was. But the best thing I had there and one of my favorite beers this year was Wonka, a dry stout. Chewy and full of chocolate without being overpoweringly sweet, it’s a very unique beer.

Troegs Nimble Giant – Double IPA

This was my first summer back in Pittsburgh, so I know I’m behind in singing the praises of Nimble Giant. I’d had a few Troegs beers on trips back east, but wasn’t very impressed. The deeper I dig into their catalog, though, the more I like their stuff. Nimble Giant is one of their once-a-year beers that comes out only in the summer. And it is perfect for summer – a slightly floral, slightly citrus-y double IPA that is way too easy to drink.

Hitchhiker A Different Animal – Dry Hopped Sour

Hitchhiker is the brewery I’ve been to the most this year – their beers are solid, they’re close by, and they allow dogs, so of course I’m a frequent visitor. A Different Animal is one of the first beers of theirs that I tried, and it’s one that I’ve come back to again and again. I love sours and I will generally try one when I see one, but I find it tough to find sours that are well-balanced – they’re often too sweet, too sour, or trying to do way too much. A Different Animal strikes that perfect balance of being complex with notes of lemon and a touch of hops.

Dogfish Head Beer for Breakfast – Stout

Dogfish Head tries to sell scrapple as a Delaware thing on their website, but Pennsylvanians know it’s ours. A stout brewed with molasses, milk sugars, brown sugar, and scrapple, Beer for Breakfast is dark, smoky, and sweet, without being too syrupy. I bought a twelve pack of this, and it’s rare for me to buy large amounts of the same beer. I’m pretty sure I’ll be sad when it’s gone.

Wicked Weed Montmaretto – American Wild Ale

I’ve heard a lot about Wicked Weed and picked up a few of their large formats on vacation in North Carolina this autumn. This was my favorite. Why didn’t somebody think of this sooner?! Combine ale aged in neutral wine barrels, fermented with cherries, and combined with another part aged with almonds. The result is a beer that smells like a toasted almond and tastes like a mix of sour, funky cherries with a light almond finish.

And the worst.. I mean, I drank some MGD this year, so that is obviously the worst. I didn’t really have any craft beers that I outright loathed, but I was disappointed by a few. My biggest disappointments this year were by Evil Twin.

You know that Lewis Black bit about being fooled every year into trying candy corn, and remembering how terrible it is? That’s kind of how I feel about Evil Twin. Every time I see their cans in the store I’m lured in by the pretty packaging. I read the description and I think “huh, that sounds okay,” and buy it expecting to finally enjoy something of theirs. But I never do. It’s not that I find their beers bad.. it just seems uninspired.

They seem to save all of their really interesting ideas for the Biscotti series and other large formats. But even those have been disappointing for me. Michigan Maple Jesus was very good, but it wasn’t a beer I’d hanker for over and over again. I have a bottle of Imperial Mexican Biscotti Cake Break in my fridge right now, so maybe that will change my mind.

What were your best and worst beers this year? Share in the comments!

Between the suburbs and me

I had a very typical white suburban upbringing. My graduating class of 250+ people had a handful of people of color. I didn’t meet a Latino person until college, which I called to report to my mom (“He speaks Spanish, like he grew up speaking Spanish!”). I have a distinct memory of a classmate making jokes using racial slurs in fifth grade.

The only time that I remember riding a city bus as a kid was with an adult relative. After a few stops, a young black man got on the bus. He was well-dressed in a tailored suit and sharp shoes – the same kind of outfit my dad wore to work every day. My relative watched him get on the bus, looked him up and down, and cheerily exclaimed to no one, “Good for him.”

The fact that I remember that vignette so vividly tells me that even at that young age, I realized that what she said was a loaded statement. It meant that a young black man in a suit was abnormal. It meant that this young black man was doing something right when the other young black men were not. It meant that he was fitting in to my relative’s standards of success as an affluent white woman.

I don’t think my relative said what she said in any sort of malicious way, and I don’t think she thought about any of this when she said it. I think she was genuinely pleased that her fellow human being appeared to be doing well and was dressing the part. But that scene has stuck with me my entire life because it made me realize, even as a child, that the way that my relative perceived man was different. I knew it wasn’t because he was wearing a suit. My dad wore a suit. The only thing I could see that was different about this guy was that he was black.

I’ve been thinking about this memory a lot lately. Thinking about how our upbringing affects our perceptions, particularly in regards to race. About how our country’s natural instinct in times of racial turmoil and injustice is often to goodheartedly insist that we’re all the same, when in fact, we’re absolutely not. There are good things about our differences – our different cultures, histories, insights, food, music, literature – and there are very bad things, like the way that as white people, we often use those differences to justify the way that we treat people of color differently, both in the macro and micro senses.

In thinking about these things and asking myself lots of questions, I’ve been compelled to read articles like this, and yesterday I read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me in one sitting. If you haven’t read it already you are, like me, super behind the times, but it’s on sale for $5.99 for Kindle so you now have no excuse.

Between the World and Me coalesced a lot of the thoughts and feelings that I’ve tried to process about race for a very long time. For example, Coates talks about the false construction of race. He never refers to “white people,” but “people who believe they are white.” This sounds silly until you realize, as he notes, that “white” in America is a construction that has changed dramatically over time. 100 years ago, “white” excluded tons of racial minorities that now comfortably reside under and benefit from that designation, including Irish, Italian, and Polish people. 100 years ago, as an Italian-Armenian-German person, I would not have been “white” in America. The whole point of whiteness is to create an other, so that we are not the other. As Coates says, “We name the hated strangers and are thus confirmed in the tribe.”

And if you’re not one of those people who “believes that they are white” in America, you are an other. You are different. And, according to Coates, that means you are valued less, particularly in regards to your body:

… all our phrasing—race relations, racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling, white privilege, even white supremacy—serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth.

It’s very easy to think of examples of this – what white people often call “black on black” violence, police brutality, etc. And there are other examples that we don’t often think about, like the ones in Dorothy Roberts’ Killing the Black Body, about the control of black women’s reproductive autonomy.

And as Coates says, and I’ve learned from reading a lot lately about the American Revolution (thanks, Hamilton!), this is America’s heritage. We’ve been working to simultaneously ignore and confirm race for our entire history. We don’t want to talk about it, but we do we want to make sure that behind the scenes, nothing changes, so that as white people we don’t have to risk our dominance.

Maybe this sounds like total BS to you. I’m probably not going to change your mind, and maybe no one else is. But whether this sounds crazy or correct to you, do me a favor: always ask questions. Challenge your beliefs and perceptions. Don’t accept things at face value. Don’t believe what the people in power – your parents, your teachers, your bosses – tell you. Read Between the World and Me. Read Black Boy. Read everything you can about people whose experiences have been different from yours. Because we are all human beings, but we are very different. And our best hope for averting mass chaos and destruction is to at least attempt to understand and appreciate each others’ differences.

And guess what? There are times where it will feel like there are only questions and no answers. That’s how it feels for me right now when it comes to the way we deal with race in this country. But, as Rainer Maria Rilke said (in my favorite quote ever):

Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.