Friday, September 9, 2016

The Plight of Picky Eaters

I was reading Real Simple magazine today and I came across an article about picky eating by Jennifer King Lindley. On page four of the article, I came across something that left me dumbfounded:

If you have a spouse or a friend who remains picky as an adult, ordering grilled cheese at a business dinner, try to muster up a little sympathy. "No one would choose to be an extreme picky eater. It's painful and embarrassing," says Lucianovic. (They're referring to Stephanie Lucianovic, author of Suffering Succotash: A Picky Eater's Quest to Understand Why We Hate the Foods We Hate.)

Why was I so shocked by this simple statement? Because they were talking about ME. And in my whole life no one has ever addressed the issue of picky eating as anything more than something I needed to outgrow. I can't tell you how many dinners I've endured where I felt extremely uncomfortable and judged because of what I did and did not want to eat. I've cried in a Chinese restaurant about this. I've turned down a warm invitation to an Indian family's house party because of this. Stephanie Lucianovic is right. It's painful and embarrassing. And Jennifer Lindley is right. A little sympathy can go a long way.

What I'm getting at is this: Unless the person is your four-year-old child, leave picky eaters alone.

"Just try it! You'll like it!"
"You don't like your foods to touch? It all ends up the same place!"
"You would never make it at my house."
"You would never make it in a foreign country."
"That's all you ordered?"
"That's the most boring salad I've ever seen."
"You don't like tomatoes? You need to get over that."

It may seem banal to say any of these things to your buddy over the dinner table, but you don't realize that your buddy hears this everyday. And when you're told that there's something wrong with you everyday, it can be quite damaging.

There are LOTS of adult picky eaters out there. There are support groups for picky eaters. There's an eating disorder called avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder that's basically characterized by "apparent lack of interest in eating or food; avoidance based on the sensory characteristics of food; concern about aversive consequences of eating." (quote taken from this article.) Research shows that picky eating can be a result of past trauma. If I told you that I'm a picky eater because my dad committed suicide when I was seven, you might think twice about judging me for it. Now, I have no idea if that's true, but it should cause you to pause and think.

So here's some training on what to say when you're at dinner and your friend orders chicken strips for the millionth time.


Don't say a dang thing about what they ordered. Ever. They will be expecting some kind of comment. They will be braced for impact. You will say nothing. And then they will relax. They will realize that maybe the world isn't a terrible place. And they can eat their dang chicken fingers in peace.

It's hard and weird to be a picky eater. Please don't make it harder and weirder. Maybe I'll eventually like more foods. Maybe I won't.

Asia, non-eater of fish, tomatoes, curry, peaches, pickles, jalepenos, olives, sushi, hummus, jelly, beans, jellybeans, avocados, mushrooms, mayonnaise, squash, pears, and lots more.

Friday, August 26, 2016

I Love Nosy People

I love nosy people. I really do. I'm fascinated by their persistence in gathering information. If they do it without ruffling any feathers, I'm doubly impressed. I've been bad at this my whole life. A friend tells me they're going to an appointment - I don't pry. It could be a hair appointment, a surgery appointment or tattoo appointment. I don't ask. Someone needs me to babysit. They could be meeting with their meth dealer and I would never know. Just tell me when you'll be back. This used to make my mother crazy.

Mom: Is Sarah coming to the Christmas party?
Asia: No, she'll be out of town.
Mom: Where's she going?
Asia: No idea.
Mom: Is her husband going too?
Asia: Didn't ask.
Mom: You are useless.

Part of the reason I don't ask is because I feel like people will volunteer the info they want me to have. The other reason I hesitate to dig for detail is because I'm afraid the answer will be "testicular cancer."

Let me explain.

Once upon a time, a casual acquaintance mentioned to me that he was really sick as a teenager.
"Really? What kind of sick?" I asked, fully prepared to hear about mono or chicken pox.
"It was cancer, actually." Oh gosh. The air of our breezy chat suddenly halted.
"Like leukemia or something?" It was the one form of cancer I was sort of familiar with.
"Um, no. Testicular cancer." Oh gosh oh gosh. Did I do this? Did I lead us down this path? We were talking about his balls. Did he want to talk about his balls with me?
I put on my best "Yes, I understand." expression despite the fact that there's nothing I understand less than tumors of the testes.
"It's ok. I had surgery and everything is fine."
I can't even remember what I said after that. All I know is that we weren't well acquainted enough for me to know he only had one gonad. And I have no idea if he was OK with me holding that information.

I don't pry because I don't want you to feel forced to give me the low down on your genitals. I call it "giving people their privacy."

But the truth is I LOVE it when other people do just the opposite. I have sat on the sidelines of some truly revealing exchanges and for that I am grateful. Some people just have a gift for interrogation. I can think of no better question-askers than my two sisters-in-law. Because of their disarming charm and quizzing skills I have valuable information I never would have acquired alone.

Example one. My eldest brother married a girl named Lacy. She's DE-lightful. One summer my family took a vacation to a cabin in Tennessee. We spent the long days tubing down shallow rivers. Warm nights were devoted to playing card games and singing songs in rounds. One evening after the babies had gone to bed, my mom, Lacy and I were lounging on the couch talking about boys and celebrities and tv. I don't know if it was sleepiness or mountain air that caused present company to shed a layer of propriety, but that night Lacy got information out of my mother I had never before heard.
Lacy politely probed and my mother obliged with tales of her troubled childhood, torrid affairs and adventures that would make any memoir a best-seller. Lacy pressed for all the whos and whens and wheres. The stories unfolded like a book I had always seen on the shelf but never bothered to open. I sat quietly between them on the green sofa with rapt attention as my mom revealed a full and exciting life she'd lived before I was even an idea in her mind. Was the reason I didn't know my mother's history because I'd never asked? I was grateful that night that Lacy was nosy.

It should be noted that on this trip Lacy also played investigator to my younger brother and I learned far more about his "intimate" life than I really wanted to know. This was not even the brother she's married to. She really is a go-getter with those questions.

Example two. Kaitlin. She's my favorite person born on Christmas day. Put down your pitchforks, nerds. Jesus was born sometime in April. Anyway, it's thanks to Kaitlin that I married my husband. Well, sort of.
When Austin and I met, he was "waiting for a missionary." This is in quotes because he wasn't very good at it, obviously. I knew he had a girl somewhere in the world that he had once pledged his affection to, but I also knew that we were having a great time together. I didn't ask about her because I was fairly certain I was winning whatever game of emotional tug of war he was playing in his heart. But Kaitlin had the guts to actually ask.
We were all chilling in my mom's living room when the subject came up. Kaitlin boldly asked about the other girl. Was she still in the picture? Was he still writing her? "I was," he explained, "But I haven't contacted her in a while." How long? Is this because of Asia? Oh man, she was good. Rapid-fire. Austin didn't hesitate. I didn't blink. "A few months, actually. Things have just been going really well and I want to give Asia my full attention." I nodded in a solemn "good to know" gesture.

Thank goodness for nosy people. I salute you and applaud you. But mostly, I love being there when you pry open the doors I'm too shy to even knock on. May you continue seeking answers and may I be there when the goods come out.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Four Things Girls Should Stop Saying About Being A Girl

When I was in college, someone asked me about my siblings. "I have three brothers," I told them. "Oh," this person remarked, "That's why you're so cool. Raised with all boys."

At the time, I wore this like a badge of honor. Yeah, I thought, I'm awesome because I have all brothers. Thank goodness I'm not one of those pansies that was raised in a family of all girls!

Since then, I've realized that this was kind of a crap thing to say. My brothers were indeed cool. But it wasn't their "boyness" that made them that way. Nor was it exposure to testosterone that made me who I am.

Over the years I've heard various versions of this sentiment from men and women alike. Call them microaggressions if you want. I call them "statements that bum me out and make me want to violently hug you." So I've compiled a list. These are the false badges of honor I've heard women pin on themselves. Or maybe they were pinned on by someone else. But... can we please stop being proud of these things?

"I'm cool because...

1. dad wanted a boy."

I've heard this when women want to explain why they know about cars or guns or whatever. It's depressing for a few reasons. First, your dad wanted a boy? What the heck? Besides this being a serious and horrible issue in China in the 1980s and 90s, it's just a plain awful thing to say. I hope your dad never actually told you that. Or if he did, he ended the sentence with "...but what a fool I was! You're a precious angel from Heaven." Second, girls can know things about cars and guns and whatever just because that's what they're into.

2. ...I'm not like other girls."

What's so wrong with other girls that you need to distance yourself? There are no "other girls." We are all girls. Which is bomb, btw. One of my absolute favorite Buzzfeed articles discusses this concept hilariously.

3. ...I don't have many girlfriends."

This is a tragedy, not a victory. Here's one of my favorite comics on the subject.

4. ...I'm not very good at being a girl."

What does that even mean? All you have to do to be a girl is have a vagina. If you're not good at make-up, then say that. But girls aren't given a handbook on beauty and fashion when they're born.

Basically, being a lady is great and we should stop belittling it with tiny, weird, negative thoughts. My identity as a woman isn't based on how well I've been able maximize the influence of men in my life. Or my ability to curb the influence of other women in my life. I've benefitted greatly from the support and encouragement of many people, men and women inclusive.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

What was his name?

As many of you know, my dad passed away when I was a kid. This is not the kind of thing people like to talk about while standing in line at Subway or getting their hair done. It's a heavy conversation. Often stumbled into, accidentally brought up. And once we're there, things can get difficult and awkward.

You see, people don't really know what to say when you tell them that your dad (or anyone else near and dear) died. I've heard many responses.

I'm sorry.
How old were you?
I'm sorry.
Wow, that's really tough.
That must have been really hard.
I'm sorry.

All these responses are understandable. Sometimes they come out as knee-jerk reactions. Sometimes people ask for too much detail (what am I, an episode of Dateline?). Some people don't know what to say at all. Either way, it can be very difficult to navigate.

(If you've been there, here's a tip for how to respond when someone says "I'm sorry." Just say "thank you." I know that makes no sense, but for some reason it's the right thing to say.)

But one time, when I was about 16, I had an interaction that was delightfully different. All because someone asked an entirely different question. I was at a youth conference, talking with one of the presenters. He thought he knew my parents.

Presenter: What are your parents names?
Me: Uh. Christine Stryker.
Presenter: What about your dad?
Me: He's actually passed away.
Presenter: Well, what was his name?

This guy wasn't asking my dad's name out of compassion -- he legit was trying to figure out if he knew my parents. But it was the first time anyone had asked me that. And I loved it.

The trouble with talking to someone about a family member that passed away is -- you've never met the person who died. It's like a big block that sits between you and whoever you're talking to. They have a strong connection to someone you'll never meet. That's why I was so relieved when, instead of saying "I'm sorry" or asking me how old I was when he died, this guy asked me my dad's name. Suddenly the focus wasn't on me and my sad situation, it was on my dad. We weren't talking about me anymore. We were talking about him. How cool is that?

Ever since that happened, I've used this question when entering this territory with my friends. On a date once, my friend told me that his dad had passed away. "What was his name?" I asked.

He smiled. Actually smiled. "George."

This is me and my dad. In case you're curious, his name was Tim.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Better Advice for Girls

Sometimes spontaneous lady snuggles are the perfect solution.

If there is one piece of advice that I remember hearing non-stop as a kid - from parents, teachers, television, princess movies, happy meal boxes - it's "be yourself".

As a kid, people telling me this was roughly equivalent to throwing a raisin at my face. Raisins aren't bad, and certainly won't hurt you if someone throws one at your face, but chances are that it will just bounce off and you'll be confused about what happened.

Be myself? OK done. I'm pretty sure that I am a small blonde child. I will continue to be that.

I'm not saying this is bad advice, but as a kid my understanding of what that meant was pretty limited. Even as an adult, the phrase makes my head spin a bit. Am I being me? I think so. I'm eating pizza, which is a thing I like. But also I'm wearing peep toe shoes. Are they me? Who am I???

Maybe there is better, more specific advice we can give the rising generation to help them find happiness and carve their own place in the world. Or maybe the rising generation is smarter than me so "be yourself" is all they need. But when I was a kid, I would have appreciated more specificity. "Oh, so you would like me to NOT buy New Balance shoes just because Brittany Durin has New Balance shoes. That makes sense, I guess."

1. Everyone looks different.

Really, there are not two people who look the same. It may seem like everyone around you looks the same and has the same perfect body/hair/skin/cardigan/whatever and that you are the odd man out with your different-ness, but really: everyone looks different. Coming to understand this has helped me to better appreciate what I look like.

You're not surrounded by identical beauty queens -- everyone has different size and shape of thigh, different length of torso, different color of hair. And none of these sizes/shapes/colors are the "right one" or the "perfect one". You are part of the heterogeneous group - a super cool club called "everyone in the universe."

So just appreciate what you have. No one else looks like you. And no one else looks like each other. Plus physical appearance isn't really that important anyway (unless you want to be a Victoria's Secret model, but do you really?).

2. You are not special - you are capable.

You are not special. Sad day.

A while back I read an excellent article about how we do a disservice to little girls by telling them that they are "beautiful" and "smart". Little boys are more likely to hear things like "your figured it out" or "way to stick with it". The former implies that these little girls are naturally gifted or inherently smart. The other one praises children for their ability to overcome challenges and figure things out.

This means, if a child in the first category finds something difficult or fails at something, they might believe "I just wasn't meant to be a _____" or "I'm not a math person (art person, dance person, etc.)". A child in the second category, conversely, might think, "I haven't figured it out yet." See the difference? It's significant.

There are people who are inherently geniuses or naturally gifted with certain things, but you're probably not one of them (don't worry, neither am I). Furthermore, even if you are born with craze-mazing abilities -- imagine how much further you can get by relying on your ability to figure out tough things and stick with projects when they get hard. That is when "You can do this" becomes relevant and beautiful advice.

In Amy Poehler's book Yes Please, she talks about how she got where she is. The answer was pretty simple. Many years of very hard work. Anyone can do that. There are some lucky breaks and yes, some people have life handed to them on a doily, but we underestimate ourselves when we say, "I could never be on Saturday Night Live/write the next Harry Potter book/run my own engineering firm (is that a thing?)." Because yes, you could.

You are capable. You can do unlimited things.

3. When girls feel insecure, weird things happen.

While watching The Bachelor this week (as one does), I was fascinated by the ways the participants manifested their insecurity. The Bachelor is a FANTASTIC case study on what women do/say when they feel insecure. Some women shrink and become quiet, some women get loud and attention-seeking, some women cry, some women get really mean. Some women do all of it. One thing is for sure - it brings out the worst in us.

I'm so sorry this happens and I would love to say that I have never fallen into the "mean girl" category, but I have. When I have felt unpretty or uncool or undesirable, I have made crappy decisions to try to compensate for my insecurity. Because women are social creatures, they often band together to seek validation and make themselves feel better. Sometimes, to distract people from looking too closely at them, they talk negatively about others. This sucks.

It's important to know where this comes from, though. That way, when you find yourself feeling insecure ("I'm not very good at bowling", "My thighs touch at the top", "My dress was hand-sewed by my mom instead of purchased at Neiman Marcus") you can address it in a way that won't tear others down. Go back to numbers 1 and 2 on this list. Everyone looks different. Your capabilities are limitless. Believe those things.

Understanding how girl-brain works can also help you feel less crappy when you are victimized by the whispering witches. When mean girls are mean to you, it's because they feel crappy and are trying to use you to make themselves feel better. It's not about your thighs, it's about their thighs. I'm not saying this will make it go away, but it might help you shake it off.

Be careful not to do the exact same thing as a knee-jerk reaction. "You think my hair looks gross? Look at YOUR hair! It looks like a bird's nest made of poo!" is not a good reaction. All you've done is allow someone to make you feel insecure, then allowed your insecurity to turn into nastiness. It's a vicious cycle.

I think this is where a lot of bullying comes from. Maybe if we all had a better understanding of how to cope with feelings of insecurity and how to build others up instead of tear them down, we would see a decrease in bullying.

P.S. Grown-ups, you do this too. Let's all work on it together.

4. When someone compliments you, just say "Thank you."

I don't know why this is so hard for some people. I've even been one of them. But really, just say "Thank you." Don't argue. Don't seek more compliments. Just say, "Thank you." Every time. Just do it. Reprogram your brain right now. Let's practice.

Complimenter: You sang so beautifully in the choir today!
Bad responses: Ugh, really? Yeah right, like you could hear my ONE voice in the whole choir! My voice is a mess, I've been sick for ages.
Good response: Thank you!

Complimenter: Your hair looks nice today.
Bad responses: It's a mess! Really? I'm trying to grow out my bangs. At least it's clean!
Good response: Thank you!

Complimenter: Congrats on making the team!
Bad responses: Not very many people tried out. It's only junior varsity. The uniforms are so ugly!
Good response: Thank you!

Do we get it yet? Every time. "Thank you." "Thank you." "Thank you!"

So if you feel like people just keep throwing raisins at your face, maybe these nuggets of wisdom will help you sort out what "be yourself" can really mean for you. Then, pick up the raisins and make ants on a log because hello? Delish.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Deodorant Struggle (a real thing)

A few years ago, I was going to the store and I asked my younger brother, Zac, if he needed me to pick up anything for him.

"Yes, I need some deodorant." He says.
"OK. Do you have a brand you like?" I reply.
"No, just whatever."
"OK. Do you like the white solid or the clear liquid?"
"Neither. Clear solid, please"
"That doesn't exist."
"Sure it does."

My head exploded on the spot.

You see, in lady deodorant land, these are your choices:

1. White solid - they say it's "invisible" and won't mark up your black shirts, but this is lies lies lies.
2. Clear liquid - you have to get out your hair dryer to dry your armpits or you'll get a wet stain on your shirt... and don't we wear deodorant to avoid this kind of thing?
3. Roll on - this only works for the best smelling people on the planet. Everyone else needs a bit more than the 1-2 drops you get from a stick of Ban.
4. Spray on - no thanks

That's it. Those are your options. You have to decide whether you want white marks on your shirt or wet squishy underarms. Pick the least objectionable option. 

After my brother told me that there was such a thing as a "clear solid" in the boy deodorants, I raced to Target to see if this was actually real. To my shock and horror, it was. A few different brands (Dove, Degree, Old Spice) all offered a clear solid.

I took a few steps to my right to check the lady deodorants and see if I had somehow missed an innovation where clear solids were made for women.

They were not.

Even brands that provide deodorant for both sexes (Degree, Dove) would provide a clear solid option for men, but a selection of white solids and clear liquids for women.

Is the biology of our armpits really different enough between sexes to justify completely different options for this bathroom staple? I just googled "Why aren't there clear solid deodorants for women?" but apparently no one is angry enough about this because there were zero relevant results. We must begin this ruckus ourselves.

Back in that Target aisle, I bought two Dove Men+Care deodorants. One for Zac, and one for me.

I have used boy deodorant since. I sample my options and select the one that smelled the least masculine (I recommend "Clean Comfort" from Dove), but I still feet a bit cheated. Admittedly, it was convenient when I got married, because Austin and I can share a deodorant stick. However, if one of us was traveling without the other, we have a deficit.

Recently I've discovered Arm & Hammer Natural Essentials, which is a unisex clear solid that doesn't smell like man. But even as I write this post, the big drug store deodorant brands (I'm looking at you, Secret, Degree, and Dove) don't provide clear solids for women.

Join me in my outrage. Better yet, make a billion dollars by taking a pink or purple label and putting it on a stick of clear solid deodorant. And make it smell like something other than icebergs and oppression.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014


Monday night at Harmonious Monks was worlds away from the Saturday night two days previous. Glitter and confetti were swept away, the dim lights were turned up brighter and several large tables in the middle of the restaurant were carried out to make room for a full, 20-piece, big jazz band.

Starting at 5pm, buses from senior centers would show up dropping off dozens of elderly patrons who wanted nothing more than to eat chicken fingers, slowly nurse a Yuengling dark ale, and listen to the songs they used to know when their hips and memories worked a little better. They would come in and take their seats - the same seats they took every week, and order their food - the same food they ordered every week.

My portion of this regular crowd was Jim and Homer. Table 21, every Monday. Jim would order a bacon cheeseburger (well done) with onion rings and a decaf coffee. Homer would order chicken fingers and fries with regular coffee. Jim would always tip me $8.00 and Homer would tip what he could. Homer had recently been widowed, so Jim would pick him up every Monday for jazz night to help him get out of his house and exercise his legs a bit, even if that exercise was just walking to the bathroom (a walk that could take quite a while).

At 7pm, a man named Mark would turn on a microphone and introduce the band. They called themselves "The TBA Big Band", which I think was an inside joke from long ago that no one asked about anymore. Then the music would begin.

And it was beautiful. The sound would fill the room in a way that our covers of Journey songs never could. The patrons would close their eyes and hear more than music, but an emotion seldom felt in the hustle and bustle of the 21st century. Many of the musicians were jazz professors from the University of North Florida and were considered some of the best in their field. One guy, a trombonist named David "Stumpy" Steinmeyer is said to be one of the best trombonists in the world, having played at Carnegie Hall.

The wait staff was considerably smaller on Mondays, consisting of just me, Ethan and Ria. At one point Ria called us the Three Musketeers, a nickname that stuck for a while. One of Ria's regulars, a man named Rodney, loved to talk my ear off about what he called "old timey rock 'n roll". Maybe because I nodded a lot when he was talking or maybe just because he was happy to have someone listen, he made me no fewer than 8 mix tapes of "old timey rock 'n roll". He came in one day, both hands full of cassette tapes waving above his head and a smile plastered on his face. I took them graciously and put them my car so I wouldn't leave them behind. For over a year now they've been sitting in my car, waiting for a tape player to appear in my life and help me understand what Rodney was raving about.

When the evening slowed down and the patrons were done with their dinners, their places were cleared and their coffees were refilled. I would sit at the bar and watch the slow sway of the audience. Sometimes a young couple would come to dance. There wasn't really a dance floor, but near the computer there were fewer tables and enough room to allow Diantha and Josh to spin and turn like professionals for delighted onlookers. She was a trained ballerina, he was just good at spinning and catching her. They would twist and untwist in elaborate and beautiful ways that complemented the music flawlessly. A few times Josh asked me to dance and I would try my best to keep up, but without Diantha's grace and experience, my efforts paled in comparison.

At nine o'clock, the music would end and the buses would come collect their respective participants. Ethan, Ria and I would get to cleaning and back-work, consisting mostly of wiping tables and covering unused lettuce. By nine thirty, I would collect my tips and clock out.

There was something magical about Monday nights at Harmonious Monks. The money was paltry compared to the profitable returns of Friday and Saturday nights, but something about exposing yourself to Gershwin, Whiteman and the people who love them can make an empty life full for an evening. I would leave with $18 in my pocket and a wealth of appreciation for big band jazz.

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