Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Role Model This

I was on a discussion board last week at a website which shall remain nameless. A question was posed as to whether or not participants feel any differently about actors and actresses in light of the behavior of Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan. Lots of participants weighed in on the subject and the majority of the responders mentioned that while they didn't feel differently because of these two particular examples, they had a pretty low opinion of Hollywood in general. One point that was mentioned over and over again by hundreds of different people, was what poor role models Lohan and Sheen are to children.

Wait. Back up the truck for a second. Who decided that actors and actresses are supposed to be role models for kids? I've been hearing this said about celebrities for years and I never really stopped to think about it but now that I have, it's a pretty strange idea. I mean, their jobs are to entertain us. Their jobs aren't really to be role models to our kids.

Celebrities are just people. Pretty people, talented people (sometimes), rich people, famous people. But just people. People who have given up their privacy (but not their right to it) to pursue their careers. They are well paid, however, life in Hollywood isn't cheap. We're told about every detail of their lives, if we choose to care, and even sometimes when we don't. But as much as we know, we never really know them. Which is as it should be. They're people just like you and I and they deserve to live their lives the way they want to. They deserve to make mistakes as much as anyone. Let's face it, if you or I get a DUI, no one really cares. If it makes the paper, it's going to be buried in the legal notices. It's certainly not going to be on CNN, TMZ or the cover of People magazine.

I realize that there are young stars that are on shows that kids like to watch. Miley Cyrus will be remembered by an entire generation as Hannah Montana, no matter what she goes on to do later in her life. When she was filmed shortly after her 18th birthday smoking from a bong, there was an outraged reaction from the press and from parents and even some young fans. How dare Miley sully the good name of Hannah Montana? Miley has, for several years in a row, been voted worst celebrity influence in several online polls. According to Miley and her publicity team, the singer was smoking salvia from the bong, which is a psychoactive herb, legal in California and most other states (for now), a fact she pointed out in her commendably and hilariously honest SNL monologue. Proclaiming that she's "mostly a white swan girl," she acknowledges she's had a few black swan moments. "I'm sorry that I'm not perfect," she belts out in a perfect send-up of a cabaret-style act. Imperfect she may be and I'm certainly past the age of Hannah Montana worship, but that girl has got some pipes! Who cares what she smokes or if she sings country music. She's talented.

Like Miley, fellow Disney alum Lindsay Lohan has recently been in the news again, also accused of being a bad influence. I can't keep track, nor really pretend to care, if she's in or out of rehab right now. I know there's been some flap about her supposedly shoplifting a necklace and that the Los Angeles judicial system can't seem to decide what to do with her. She was a pretty girl but her hard living is starting to catch up to her and although she's still pretty, she isn't quite the natural beauty she was a few years back. Far from being worried about being a bad influence herself, poor Lindsay probably wishes she'd had a few good role models of her own. Her father, Michael, was just arrested for domestic violence and her mother, Dina, had the questionable judgement to contract herself and younger daughter Ali, into a reality show called Living Lohan. Lindsay looks tired and extremely unhappy whenever she's interviewed on camera. I kind of feel sorry for her. Lots of people have something to say about how she lives her life but does anyone help? Is anyone there for her? Does she know any other way? I wonder. And is she even the party girl the press would like us to believe?

Charlie Sheen, of course, I've discussed here before. Charlie grew up in Hollywood as did Lindsay and Miley. Normal for us isn't normal for them and I'm not sure most of us have the ability to compare. I know I can't begin to imagine the strangeness of growing up half child, half commodity. Not to mention the expectations that go along with such a lifestyle, the temptations, the constant interference from the press. Most of us don't know what it means to see ourselves onscreen, be screamed at by fans or surrounded by paparazzi. We can't comprehend being a paycheck to our parents, the stress fame places on relationships or the expectations inherent to being a "role model" for millions of children close to our own age.

I don't have kids but I remember what it was like to be one. I don't recall looking to anyone in Hollywood as a role model. I know times have changed but shouldn't parents be encouraging their children to look at the people in their own lives as role models? Shouldn't parents be striving to be the role models they want their children to emulate? Later in life, your kids aren't going to think back to how Hannah Montana handled that situation, they're going to remember what mom and dad did. Kids need role models they can interact with, who can be a part of their everyday lives. They need to understand that even our heroes are human and they make mistakes. Shouldn't they see their teachers, parents, community leaders as their first role models? If I had kids, I'd want them to understand that people make mistakes. That celebrities are no different than anyone else. There are plenty of people in the entertainment business to be admired, just as there are in other walks of life. There are also a lot of politicians among our nation's leaders who I sure would not want my children to idolize.

Don't want your kids posing suggestively for Vanity Fair? Keep them away from Annie Liebovitz. (Should be pretty easy.) Don't want them doing coke? Having sex? Texting provocatively? Wearing skimpy clothes? Talk to them. Let them know that people make choices and that they have to live with the consequences of their choices. Explain that Hollywood operates under different rules and that although it might not seem fair, that's just how it is. Tell them that sometimes adults (even you) occasionally do things they shouldn't do or that you wouldn't like for them to do. Explain why. Be a parent. Realize that they might do some of these things anyway and that the things themselves aren't necessarily bad but the context in which they happen sometimes can be.

Stop expecting the world to raise your kids for you. Stop looking to Miley and Lindsay and Charlie to be a good example to your kids. Stop watching TMZ with your 10-year-old daughter. Or at least explain what tabloid journalism is and the difference between actors and actresses and the characters they play. But most of all, take a long look at yourself and make sure that you're modeling the things that you want your children to take with them into adulthood. Because, although it may not seem like it, you're the one they're paying the most attention to.

Monday, March 21, 2011

An Etsy Monday

I've decided Monday will be Etsy day here at Bigger Brighter Days. This collection is inspired by my red, retro kitchen. Hope you find something you like!

In the Kitchen

FBC: The Man, the Myth, the Legend

FBC: The Man, The Myth, The Legend

You knew I was going to blog about cats eventually, right? After all, they do dominate the Internet. Many of you probably recognize the suave looking dude at the top of this post from his frequent appearances on Facebook. His name is Boo, or as he is known to his many fans, FBC. Most of the time that stands for Fat Black Cat. Sometimes, depending on what he's been up to, it might stand for something else.

I've had a lot of cats over the years, and even now I have four, but Boo has attained a level of celebrity, modest though it may be, that the others have simply never achieved. I attribute this to his coming of age during the Facebook generation as well as to him being the most poorly behaved of any of my current or previous pets. I often vent about his antics to my friends who seem to get a perverse enjoyment out of the fact that he's not their cat. For all of his fans who have asked for more, this is for you. His story is short, sweet and peppered with kitty indiscretions. He's asked me to write it for him because his fingers are too short to effectively use the keyboard, although he often tries.

I was working at a small elementary school in the very small town of Marne, MI, during the middle of July 2006. A co-worker and I were standing near the entryway of the school and the building was closed up as tight as an old school building can get. We stood there talking for quite some time, who knows about what, until I couldn't ignore the irritating sound I kept hearing in the background anymore. I am sensitive to noise and this particular noise was quite grating. My co-worker thought it sounded like a cat but I said no, I thought it was a bird. It sounded just like the noise blue jays will sometimes make to scare away an animal they feel is threatening their nest. I know that noise well as there was a nest of blue jays outside a house I once rented and they made their opposition to my occupying a neighboring space painfully clear each time I came in or out of the house. Finally, I couldn't stand it anymore. I flung the front door of the school open expecting to scare away an angry blue jay. Instead, to my surprise and to the delight of my co-worker who got to say, "I told you so," a little puff of black fur came running out from underneath a bush, "yelling" all the way. If you know me at all, you know that I instantly swooped down upon the kitten, squeeing with the adorableness of it all and brought it right into the building with me. 

When I say little, I mean this was a kitten that could be held in one hand. He was tiny! I closed him up in the office where he amused himself by constantly relocating to wherever he thought one of my feet was about to be, crying loudly and biting my toes with his tiny little needle teeth. I took him home with me that day, thinking if I didn't find his owners I would take him to the Humane Society. I did look for his owners but I soon found out from some neighbors of the school that there had been a litter of black kittens roaming the town. There had been a fair in Marne the previous week and it appeared as though the kittens may have been left behind. Predictably, I kept finding excuses not to take him to the Humane Society. About two weeks after I'd found him, I finally gave up and named him. A friend suggested Boo because he looked like a "Halloween cat" and since I'd just watched To Kill A Mockingbird on TV the night before, and his personality was shaping up to be somewhat... well, "special," it stuck.

Unfortunately, no actual baby pictures of FBC exist, but this picture is 
representative of the "alien" phase he went through as a teenager.
Note the over-sized ears. He grew into them. Sort of.

Five years later my toothy little black furball weighs 19 pounds and holds court on my Facebook page as well as my couch. He's not so tiny anymore, but he sure is "special." He answers to either Boo, Boober, or FBC. He was also known, for a brief period, as Barack O-Boo-ma, but his interest in politics waned and he's never held public office.

FBC is a naughty cat, although I like to describe him as having a lot of personality. He's a Bombay, loud funny voice and all. The first time I took him tot he vet they laughed at him for his big ears and long rat tail. When the vet was done laughing she said "well... that will be good for balance. Maybe he'll grow into it." FBC loves to play fetch almost as much as he loves playing with ponytail elastics, which he stores in his food dish when not in use. He sharpens his claws on my sofa, fishes Q-tips out of the garbage, starts almost every cat-on-cat fight in the house, and is terrified of vacuum cleaners (even ones with no motors) and of storms. If it even rains hard, he hides under some furniture or runs to the basement. He's scared to death of plastic grocery bags. But he loves to bird watch, sometimes forgets his tongue is out and has a little whistle in his purr. His fur is sleek and tight to his body. Water rolls right off him like he's a seal.

On second thought, maybe there's a reason he's 
scared of those plastic grocery bags...

You may be seeing more of FBC here from time to time. Although we are at the beginning of thunderstorm season here in Michigan and with all the thunder last night, he made himself pretty scarce. He did manage to quell his terror and put in an appearance while I was eating dinner. For now, however, FBC and I will wish you good day and return to our regularly scheduled blogging. 

As FBC would say... "Peace, Bitches!"

Friday, March 18, 2011

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Roasted Chicken with Cauliflower, Chickpeas and Olives

Last night I promised you pictures and a recipe and today I'm finally getting around to delivering on that promise! For the most part, everything went as planned but since I had to stop at Meijer on the way home to get some of the ingredients, things got started kind of late! I also had to do dishes from the previous night before I started cooking. Once of these days I'll get on the correct schedule and won't have to delay dinner for cleanup anymore! Who am I kidding, that will never happen.

The original recipe called for grape tomatoes rather than olives and when I got to Meijer and saw they are currently almost $4 a pint, I decided I'd leave them out. I'm not a big fan of tomatoes and I like them even less roasted. The recipe was similar to one published by Cooking Light about a year ago that included green olives so I decided to include those instead. It was a good decision. I also didn't have a lot of cooking juices from the chicken so I added a little garlic olive oil. I'm not sure exactly what religion I am but whatever it is, garlic is a major part of the dogma. We insist on a liberal application of it wherever appropriate. This seemed like a recipe that could benefit from a little garlic and in fact, I think it did.

I'm a big fan of the "perfect bite." You know, those rare dishes that allow you to experience a perfect melding of taste and texture?0000 This dish fits that description perfectly. The chicken is juicy with crisp skin. The vegetables are the real stars here, however, from the earthiness of the chickpeas to the sweet, mellowness of the red onions. The cauliflower has a sweet nuttiness and the olives add a perfect, briny flavor. To be honest, I could have done without the meat, and made with just olive oil, this would be a quick, cheap and satisfying vegan meal, especially paired with a green salad and some crusty bread.

Below is the recipe and a picture of the end result. I apologize for the quality, I didn't realize until too late that I need to get new batteries for my camera! This was taken with my cell phone.

Roasted Chicken with Cauliflower, Chickpeas and Olives
Adapted from Roasted Chicken with Cauliflower and Chickpeas, Everyday Food, April 2011

One 3-4 pound chicken, cut into pieces
One small head of cauliflower, cored and cut into florets
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 large (or 2 small) red onions, cut into wedges
1 cup large green olives, cut in half lengthwise, pimentos removed
1-2 tsp garlic oil or olive oil with chopped garlic
salt & pepper

Position oven racks in the top 1/3 of oven. Preheat oven to 450 and place a rimmed baking sheet covered with foil on top rack. Cut up the chicken and sprinkle with salt and pepper. I like Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. When the oven is hot, carefully remove the pan from the oven and arrange the chicken pieces skin side up. Place on top rack and bake for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare another rimmed baking sheet with foil.

After the chicken has cooked for 20 minutes, remove from oven and move pieces to the second baking sheet. On the first baking sheet, place the prepared vegetables and toss with the juices from the chicken and a little extra oil, if necessary. Place both pans back in the oven, chicken on the top rack and veggies on the bottom and roast for another 30 minutes or so until the chicken is done and the cauliflower can be pierced with a fork.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

What's for Dinner?

I just got my new Everyday Food magazine in the mail yesterday. I'm a huge fan of this magazine. Everything I've made always turns out really well and is usually pretty easy. I'm having company for dinner tonight and I'm thinking I'll make one of their 5 weeknight dinners with 5 ingredients or less that costs less than $5 per serving. I'm leaning towards the Roasted Chicken with Cauliflower and Chickpeas. It looks like it's a takeoff on a vegan recipe from Cooking Light called Roasted Cauliflower with Chickpeas and Olives. Which, to be honest, sounds just as good to me as I'm a huge fan of olives! My guest, however, is going to want meat, so I'll just do the Chicken recipe and sneak in a few olives. It serves 4 for $3.71/person, which means I should have leftovers for lunch or dinner tomorrow, making it a great way to stretch my budget. If only I didn't have to stop and pick up the chicken it would be perfect! 

I'll take some pictures and report back later with the recipe (if it was good) and some tips. Stay tuned!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The North Jersey Burger

I made these burgers for lunch. While I wouldn't say they changed my life, they are very good burgers. You don't need to cook the onions, just make sure the water is quite hot when you put them in and let them soak for a while. They turn out kind of like a more substantial White Castle. The salt is important and so is using a cast iron pan. These burgers need to sear on the hot pan and they'll come out very juicy. I put a lid on the pan for a few minutes after putting the bottom of the bun on because my buns were starting to get a little stale and it helps the cheese to melt too. After I took the burger out, I buttered the top of the bun and let it toast in the pan.

I should have taken pictures- next time! I was in too much of a hurry to eat today! If I'm forced to cook burgers in the house, this is the way I'd do them from now on. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

It's Etsy Time!

Another treasury for your consideration. This one is called Fabulous Felts. I am continually amazed at the things people can craft out of yarn! I know the basics of how to felt and it's not easy! For these little works of art to come out as perfectly as they do is really amazing to me. Oh and some of these items are made of straight-up felt but I don't think that makes them any less special!

When #WINNING! is Losing

I felt a little relief this last Sunday evening when I saw that for the first time in days, none of the topics trending on Twitter had anything to do with Charlie Sheen. I'm not much of a celebrity stalker. I don't follow TMZ, although I find their uncanny ability to break a story amazing. I enjoy reading People but I almost never buy it. I've only landed on Perez Hilton's website once or twice. Normally I couldn't care less about celebrity bad boys (or girls). But I've been following Charlie Sheen these days, although I've never been a fan of his and I've never cared for the show Two and a Half Men. To be honest, I'm not exactly sure why I've been tuning in to "news" I'd usually avoid like the plague, but I think it has something to do with his history of addiction and mental instability. Throw in the celebrity factor and you've got a pretty interesting window into how our society loves to build people up and then watch as they fall. I think my interest is less in Charlie, than in how we're all reacting to him. 

I've heard lots of speculation on what's really going on with him:
  • Is he still using drugs and drinking? I'd put money on it.
  • Has he always been like this and his PR people have just managed to make him look mostly normal until now? Possibly.... Probably, actually. 
  • Is he suffering a drug-induced psychosis? I'm becoming more and more convinced that this may be the case. There are times he seems a little too together though so I'm not 100% sure.
  • Is it all an act? Could be, but I'm not convinced he's that good of an actor. Not to mention he looks like death warmed over. 
  • Maybe he's really clean now and the drugs were just masking his obnoxious personality all these years? I mean, check that wedding video from way back when. Charlie has been a wild child for a long time. Not to mention you can be clean and still be in a state of drug-induced psychosis.

The real answer to his behavior is probably a combination of the above scenarios. We'll probably never know the whole truth. Through it all, however, one thing seems clear; Charlie Sheen is an angry man with a tremendous ego and a soup├žon of mental illness. True, he makes no apologies for himself and there is something that feels refreshing about that in an age when celebrities are constantly offering up halfhearted apologies for their indiscretions. But I can't help but think he wouldn't be a very fun person to hang out with considering all the negativity bubbling so close to the surface. I wouldn't want him as a friend, employee, a boyfriend or husband and certainly not as a parent. 

Even though I've been following Charlie's antics, I also feel a little relief that attention seems to be turning away from him already. Which in turn makes me sad to see how easily we dismiss someone with serious mental illness and a dangerous addiction. Not to mention how we mock them. I'm not even going to address the people who think he's some kind of hero.

Our society both loves and hates an addict. We encourage drinking and build many of our most important social occasions around it; sometimes even work related occasions. We put bars on every street corner and then judge people harshly for getting a DUI. We make it uncomfortable for people not to drink. But if you're an alcoholic? Forget it, we don't want anything to do with you. After all... drinking too much is a choice. Right? We hate smokers but we sure love the tax money they pay on every deadly pack. That's what they get for smoking! Drug addicts are just scary. They're bad people and ought to just stay away from the rest of us decent folks. Mental illness makes us cringe. It's so scary. I mean a little garden variety depression is ok, as long as you're quiet about it. But please don't even think about doing any ranting and raving. (Unless you're a celebrity that is- then we will pay you to do it and put you on TV!) Hold down a job, try to act normal. If you end up on the street, you're just not trying hard enough. Get over it, already! Oh, it's so much fun to place blame, isn't it? Feels nice to experience compassion from afar. 

Obviously I'm simplifying a lot of complex issues for the sake of making a point. I'm certainly not excusing drunk driving and alcoholics and drug addicts are no fun to deal with but they are people just like you and I. They have families and friends, and the more you care about them, the less fun they become. The Sheen family has been pretty quiet on the subject of Charlie. Jon Cryer has refused to respond to Charlie's criticism and name calling. Chuck Lorre has responded only in the most minimal of ways and even ex-wife Denise Richards, she of reality show fame, has remained mum on the subject, merely saying that Charlie has always lived this lifestyle. It's nothing new. Family and friends aren't surprised. Charlie didn't get this way overnight. No one does.

The fact is, we don't know much about addiction. We've made great strides in understanding mental illness. But we're far from "curing" either problem, although they often go hand-in-hand. The human brain, for all out advanced medical equipment, is still largely a mystery. Doctor's are still trying to determine the role that genetics plays in addiction and mental illness and it looks like it's shaping up to be a more significant role than previously thought. There's not a lot of money being spent to study addiction. It's not a glamorous field of study. There's always AA. Let them save themselves.

The sad fact is that AA doesn't work for everyone. It's a great organization, I'm not slamming it. I believe it's saved a lot of people. But it doesn't work for everyone. Going cold turkey doesn't work most of the time. Putting them in prison doesn't generally work either. Many addicts lack the life skills they need to overcome their addictions. Many have lost support of family and friends. Addiction is a sticky diagnosis. Martin Sheen compares it to having cancer, as do many twelve steppers and in some ways, it's not far off the mark. Addiction is an illness. And just to complicate matters, there's that element of choice. Or at least there appears to be. But ask a longtime alcoholic if they feel like they have a choice whether or not to take that next drink. Look around at how many smokers have to keep quitting over and over. Ask a heroin addict if they ever stop fantasizing or reminiscing about getting high. The choice is only a choice for so long.

Our society isn't supportive of recovery. Because addiction is so stigmatized, many addicts don't feel they can be open about their recovery and so they may be constantly placed in situations they can't handle. Look at Ted Williams, the "homeless man with the golden voice" who was thrust into the spotlight only to end up drinking again. Almost overnight, all his contracts and financial backers disappeared. We have so little understanding of addition and mental illness that everyone involved in his so-called salvation apparently thought it was no big deal for him to handle overnight fame. The same people were shocked and appalled to find out that Williams had abandoned his nine children years prior and had a rap sheet as long as his arm. Who would have thought a homeless addict might have some skeletons in his closet? Ted Williams has the same voice as an addict that he had as a supposedly sober man. But suddenly some people in the entertainment business have developed a moral high ground about entertainers stepping over the line. Go figure.

And then there's Charlie. The difference is, Charlie Sheen is getting away with his antics and Ted Williams, not so much. What if Williams had attained celebrity before his addictions landed him on the street? What if he had all the money of a successful, longtime celebrity? I dare say his story may have had a much different ending. As for Charlie... who knows what his ending will be? Even if he were to clean up his act, I'm not sure his ego would allow even the perfunctory and insincere apologies for his bad behavior that we like to hear from even the most obviously unrepentant celebrities. I empathize with his family and friends. They are feeling pain for him and they are also, at the same time, embarrassed by him and for him.

No matter how you feel about Charlie Sheen, his very public breakdown has aroused a lot of strong emotions in people. Maybe the best thing that could come out of it is if we start talking about mental illness and addiction. They're two of the largest public health crises facing this country. From them often spring others, such as child abuse and neglect, domestic violence and homelessness. Charlie Sheen is a long way from living on the street, but he's not so different from many men and women who do. He's not so different from the addicts in our own lives, because chances are we all know a few. At the same time we may feel scorn, we should also feel pity. In addition to disgust, we ought to try and empathize. Because someday it may be our spouses, our children, our friends or even ourselves inhabiting Charlie's dark place.

Because when it comes right down to it, there but for the grace of God go you and I.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Non-Smoking Section Please

I quit smoking about three months ago. I wasn't the typical smoker. Most smokers start the habit as teenagers or young adults. I was almost 30 when I started. I'd always hated cigarettes and couldn't stand even sitting near the smoking section in a restaurant. I came from a staunchly non-smoking family; neither of my parents smoked. People are 4 times more likely to smoke if they come from a home where parents light up. But, regardless of statistics, I became a smoker.

In about 2001, I was going through a divorce. Most of my friends at the time smoked, including, I was to find out, my husband. I knew he'd smoked socially but I had no idea he'd been hiding a habit from me for years. There are no recreational smokers; at least, not for long. If you light up on a regular basis and you inhale, you're a smoker. I thought I could beat the nicotine. I thought I waited just long enough between times that I wouldn't get addicted. I was wrong and if you're a smoker, you know exactly what I mean. My smoking friends tried to warn me but I told myself I could stop anytime. I just didn't want to. But when I decided I was done with cigarettes, it wouldn't be any big deal.

Ironically, even though I had started smoking on a regular basis, I still didn't like cigarettes. But the habit spoke to the stress I was under. I felt calmed. I had something to do with my hands. I fidget. When I'm bored or nervous, I bite my nails, shred napkins, click pens and fiddle with whatever is handy. I've always been conscious of this habit as one that annoys other people and tells them more about me than I'd like them to know. So when I started smoking and it gave me something to do with my hands... it was love. Not to mention the physical act of smoking, I could fidget with my lighter too! Smoking becomes a ritual. Most smokers have their favorite brand of lighter. Some will only use Bics or Zippos, most "pack" their smokes. Everyone has a different way of ashing their cigarettes and disposing of the empty packs. You get strangely attached to all the accessories;  lighters, ashtrays, your favorite brand of smokes.

Slowly, steadily, the rituals of smoking became a part of my daily life- first smoke in the morning, stopping at the gas station or the party store to buy a new pack, fumbling for a lighter, driving with the car window cracked in the winter, a drink and a cigarette, Sunday morning breakfasts with friends in the smoking section. And with my new addiction came a new diagnosis. The cough that wouldn't go away wasn't bronchitis, it was full-blown asthma. And those of you who have never smoked are shaking their heads and wondering why I didn't quit then. Good question. But nicotine, she is a harsh mistress. So to my smoking accessories, I now added two different inhalers. More rituals, more things to hold in my hands and turn over and over, cap and uncap and recap and over and over. More money to spend on prescriptions and doctors visits.

I tried to quit several times. I did, in fact (mostly) quit for a surgery. Eight weeks without a cigarette and all I could think of was starting again, which I did, as soon as I was able.  For all the drawbacks, I didn't want to quit. I loved smoking. I hated it and I loved it. I used the patch, it made my skin itch. I got a rash and sore spots. It lasted a few weeks and I was smoking again. I tried the gum. It tasted awful and didn't do anything but make my mouth feel numb. I never even quit with it. I tried cold turkey a couple times which didn't last long. I tried Wellbutrin and I didn't even get to the point of quitting.

And then I heard about this new miracle drug called Chantix. Which I think I got three prescriptions for from my doctor before he finally asked me why I was misplacing them and not getting them filled. There just never seemed to be a right time to quit. I was always stressed about something and I figured I needed complete calm in my life before I could tackle being nicotine-free. Yeah, right. All of you who have achieved perfect calm, with the absence of all stress, raise your hands. That's what I thought. I was also freaked out by the prospect of the vivid dreams that are often a side effect of Chantix. But I finally started taking it and it worked. I quit. No bad side effects. I felt great too. I was, however, still living with a smoker at the time and from time to time I would sneak a smoke and before you know it, I was back at the bottom of the slippery slope of nicotine addiction.

Fast forward about a year and a half. I have another Chantix prescription. I live alone now and no one smokes in my house (including me). As of May 2010, you can no longer smoke in restaurants or bars anywhere in Michigan. The cigarettes which were $3.18  a pack when I started smoking about ten years earlier have now almost doubled in price. Although I like having a smoke out on my porch on a nice summer evening, I'm not looking forward to another long, cold winter spent shivering outside. I cough a lot and my throat is sore most of the time. I've been suffering terrible bouts of acid reflux, so bad that stomach acid burns my esophagus and I have to go to the doctor several times to have my throat numbed and then sleep almost upright. I start taking my Chantix again and this time it sticks. I want to quit. I am tired of having to stop and buy smokes all the time or go out just before bed to make sure I have one for morning; the panic on the way to work in the mornings when I think I've forgotten a lighter. I hate how I start feeling nervous and fidgety when I'm somewhere I can't smoke. I know people notice it. I hate having to excuse myself from groups to go out and stand in the rain, puffing. I can't stand this anymore, I feel like a prisoner and I want to quit. I want to quit bad.

The Chantix worked its magic again. I didn't finish more than a few weeks worth. I quit in the first week. I used some homeopathic lozenges. I don't know if they helped but I think they did. I didn't sneak any smokes this time. I could be around smokers and not be seriously tempted for the most part. Although there were some trying times that I may have slipped up if people had let me. The nicotine withdrawal doesn't last long. A week at most and that's probably an overestimate. It's the habit part that is hard- the hand to mouth gesture. The loss of all the little rituals. Driving is hard, I always had a cigarette while driving. After meals and on the phone I have a nagging sense that something is missing. Sometimes the urge just sneaks up on me. It's usually gone within a few minutes.

When I was painting my bedroom, about a month after I'd had my last cigarette, I kept having very frequent cravings. At first I couldn't figure out why. Then I realized that what I really wanted was a break. Smoking becomes the way smokers take their breaks. Downtime becomes about the cigarette, smoking becomes synonymous with relaxation. After I quit, I noticed that I had a hard time remembering to take breaks. I had to relearn to listen to my body. To realize that although I don't have the excuse of needing a cigarette, I still need a break sometimes. Once I figured that out, the rest of the painting went well and the cravings went away.

I'm three months in now. I've experienced some pretty significant "life" stress. I'm still a non-smoker. I'm committed. After I quit and started being able to think clearly again (it takes a while!) the first thing I noticed was that I still smelled like perfume at the end of the day. I thought that was kind of nice. I was tired all the time for a while. But my mouth wasn't terribly dry all day long. And then I started noticing my sense of smell getting sharper. Laying in bed one morning I couldn't figure out why I kept smelling cinnamon until I spied, several feet away, a half full mug of Yogi Indian Spice Tea. That was a fairly pleasant experience but let me tell you that having your sense of smell all of a sudden get sharper isn't always a great thing!

Food still tastes pretty much the same to me but then I never really noticed diminished taste. Figures, the one side effect of smoking I could have used. I breathe better than I used to; my asthma has barely kicked in all winter. I still have a sore throat since my sinuses are still draining a lot of what I can only assume are unspeakable toxins and poisons down the back of my throat. But the nagging, itchy cough caused by the cilia trying to clear everything out of my lungs is gone, or at least greatly diminished. My ears are less plugged and my skin looks better and is less dry. I stay warmer so I assume my circulation has improved. And I feel calmer. I no longer feel the need to leave restaurants as soon as humanly possible and I can spend time talking to friends and family instead of being distracted by the need to fuel my nicotine addiction.

I know this process isn't over. That it will take years for my body to repair much of the damage. I know I will have to be constantly vigilant in order not to be swayed into thinking that one cigarette is ok. But I feel up to it this time. I didn't quit just because I felt like I should. I quit because I wanted to. And just like with any addiction, to succeed, the desire for change has to remain strong. It will no doubt at times be a wild ride but I've fastened my seat belt and this time I'm ready.