Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Soothing Grape Juice Through A Straw

"Is there anything special you will want for after your surgery?"

I remember my mom asking me this about two years ago. I was about to have major surgery and she was doing her mom thing in preparing my cocoon for when it was over. She wanted to know if there were books, magazines, foods, games or any other means of comfort that I would want while stuck on bed rest for at least two weeks. It would have been easy for me to take advantage of the situation and ask for anything at the time - A Nintendo DS, a new fluffy quilt, or probably even a puppy.

But there was one and only one thing I could think of that I wanted to have on hand after my surgery. And I mystically knew that I needed this one thing in the same way that one knows he needs water after a five-mile run.

"Get me some straws."

"Straws? Like, for drinking?"

"Yes. After my surgery, I will drink everything through those bendy plastic straws."

This was my one and only post-surgery request. I remember feeling surprised by my self-assuredness in this straw prophecy. How could I foresee with such clarity that I would not want to drink my beverages in the common lift-glass-to-face manner?

Sure enough, days later when I was drugged-up and plastered down in my couch, I coveted those straws almost as much as my powerhouse pain meds. The straws she got me were the disposable kind. They were bright white plastic ones with sharp edges and different colored stripes. I remember I would keep using the same straw for several beverages in kind of a ritualistic homage to that particular color. (i.e. "Today will be a red stripe straw day, and I will use this straw for milk, water and hot tea. Tonight I shall unveil my first blue stripe straw, and the first thing I will drink with this blue straw will need to be Coca-Cola. And next, I will use it to drink chocolate milk... Because this is the blue straw.")

So, that was how it went, and I don't know. Maybe it was the morphine, or perhaps is was my MBS (multi-beverage-syndrome) acting up. (MBS sufferers are those people who have to drink multiple types of beverages within one meal in order to eat their food. People with MBS particularly thrive in college cafeterias.)

The only explanation I can give you for my cherished post-surgery straws is that they brought me a deep sense of safety and comfort. No one would have known this except for the little spot inside me that lights up when something suits me perfectly.

Each person has their own 'straws'. They are the small particles of daily living that ease the strain and drain of 21st Century anxiousness. They are adult pacifiers. They are our Self Soothing Solutions (or, SSS)

My mom used to coax us into attending certain church services when there would be communion. We would go to church every Sunday anyway, but since we only had communion once a month, she could use this as extra ammo to show up for God on certain Sunday mornings.

Always tired, and half lulled to sleep by the slow and thick flowing organ music, I remember watching the high ceilings of our church while the ushers walked about with their highly polished silver communion trays. The trays were so ornate and beautiful. They would send dazzling reflections up on to the church ceiling. I would watch these vibrating orbs through my interwoven eye lashes. On more than one occasion, I would need a nudge from my mom when the tray would be passing into my lap.

The first trays always had the bread. Next came the 'wine.' Our church served seated communion, so the 'body' and the 'blood' needed to be portioned out into bite-sized individual servings. The bread was cut into tiny cubes and the 'wine' was served in tiny doll-sized plastic cups. I enjoy miniature things, so the first time I saw these plastic cups it took everything in my power not to collect them from the pews and take them home to wash and reuse.

(This next part will be bordering sacrilegious, but this is my story and I never truncate the truth with you.)

So, the deal is, I loved the taste of communion.

I know communion is supposed to be sacred, but for me it was also a culinary delight. Oh... that... bread. It was so delicious. Like I said, we each only got one little morsel cube, but that little morsel always packed a tasteful yeasty punch and I LOVED the texture and flavor of it. If you look around during communion, most people have their heads bowed and they are concentrating in prayer. I always tried to do this, I really did. But I had a hard time not chewing on my cube of bread, and it was hard to stay sombre when inside all I could think was,

"Oh. Jesus, you DO taste delicious."

I remember being anxious about the 'wine.' I knew that some churches used the real deal and others used impostors. I would be OK with either, but the first time I had communion at this church, the suspense of what they would serve for the blood was killing me.

I watched the beautiful silver orbs dance off the ceiling as the second round of silver trays were passed around. Down the row came the trays carrying dozens of cute-as-can-be little plastic cups of reddish purple stuff. Was it wine? Was it juice? Was it some type of exotic nectar?

As I took that first cup I shared a momentary glance with my mom. Her stern eyes told me, "Don't you dare take that miniature plastic cup home in your purse with you, Susan. This is CHURCH." I nodded with obedient self-control as I raised the mini cup to my lips to taste our 20th-century ritualistic version of the last supper wine.

We were two for two and a Go for the blood. "I LOVE THIS STUFF! What IS this!?"

For both the body and the blood, I was dying to know the brand of the bread and the type of juice selected. The fact that we were only given such small morsels made me covet the food items even more.

The juice had a familiar, yet fantastic flavor. It also conjured up a myriad of honey-colored happy memories. For the time it took me to swallow that small shot of liquid, I felt weightless, stress-free and my mouth was watering for more.

Riding home in the car, I unsnapped my small black velvet purse to check on the miniature plastic cup that I nabbed from the pew when my mom had her back turned.

"Mom? What WAS that stuff that we drank for communion? It tasted so good."

"For communion? That was grape juice, honey."

Grape juice?


I felt confused about this because I never remembered grape juice to be as amazing as this stuff was. All I knew was that I had discovered my new favorite beverage to add into the MBS mix and that I needed to ask my mom to add this onto her grocery list immediately.

The funny thing, though, is that I always forgot to tell my mom to get grape juice. And each month I was reminded of this when my taste buds were intoxicated by the sip of sweet nectar at communion.

Years later, I am now in charge of my own grocery list. Well, actually, I never make grocery lists, but what I mean is that I am the one in charge of making impulsive purchases at the grocery store.

It was not until recently when it dawned on me that I should try something other than orange juice. I ventured down the juice aisle and found such bizarre things as Pomegranate Banana Mango juice with fiber (fiber in juice?) or Kiwi Lemon Tomato Diet (diet tomato?) Then I came to a part of the shelf that carried a wall of deep purples and reds. This was the grape juice and cranberry section. Just good old, straight forward plain juice.

I bought myself a plastic container of Welch's 100% Concorde Grape Juice. You know, just the good old classic shit. I was so excited to get it home to try it!

Once I got home with all of my groceries, I did my usual routine of eating a bunch of random things at once, mostly in celebration of the fact that I got myself out there to get food for my barren refrigerator.

In the midst of a mouthful of grape tomatoes, blue berries, string cheese and cereal, I poured myself a tall glass of the grape juice. I took a big swig.

Whoa. Grape juice, when swallowed in larger quantities, packs a punch. I mean, that stuff must be so laden with sugar that it could provide half the calories of a meal (extra calories from multiple, unnecessary beverages is one of the biggest complaints from sufferers of MBS, by the way).

Two things - First, I was immediately aware that, as with anything, limitation inspires coveting. Even though I liked the grape juice, it was not nearly as delectable as the few drops I used to get in church. I think this was because I only was allowed to have a small quantity then and that made me crave more.

Second, despite the grape juice not being as awe-inspiring as in the church setting, I immediately knew this was going to become an SSS for me; a Self-Soothing Solution.

They say you should not use food as a comfort, but they are the ones hoarding brownies in the back seats of their mini vans. Food is comfort.

Recently, I came home from a long day at my job, and my apartment was feeling especially empty and also especially dirty. I was tired and I had two semi-unpacked suitcases from two separate business trips crowding my floor. I was feeling sick of my cats and they were feeling sick of me. I turned on the TV, and I felt sick of the Olympics. No, offense, but curling was on.

I shuffled around my apartment, and I felt sick of the books on my shelves. I felt sick of the food in my kitchen. I didn't feel like doing anything or going anywhere. I didn't feel like sleeping.

THIS was a moment when I needed to engage in some self-soothing.

A mentor of mine once taught me about self-soothing. I was at her house for a cooking lesson, and I suddenly admitted to feeling exhausted. She graciously led me to the guest room and encouraged me to take a nap. She surprised me with what she said.

"Good for you. You are learning how to self-soothe."

The first time I heard that phrase, I pictured an adult sucking his thumb. I know that is a silly image, but it is actually somewhat suitable for this concept.

We each need to find our go-tos when times get rough. We need our pacifiers. For me, it is sometimes something as simple as cracking out the ol' surgery straws and sipping on some grape juice. Other times, it is watching a Classic black and white movie. (This has recently become an SSS for me because it reminds me of nothing that is present day.)

It's important to designate the things that will soothe us as individuals on our own and alone because we never know when we will be in a situation where we have nothing but ourselves as a means for comfort.

I chose to write about SSS for silliness but also for seriousness. A week ago, Brand New Sour Milk turned One, and, after a year of blogging, I was ready to kill this project.

I started writing on February 18, 2009 after purchasing a gallon of milk that turned out to be sour. I had no idea that my anger and humor-inspired post would lead to a year of very public writing about a very private subject: Me.

I had no idea that it would lead me to write about my nightmares, the ups and downs of business travel, my failures, and the pain of long term illness.

When February 18th, 2010 rolled around, I could hardly believe that I had written over 50 posts filled with odd-ball photos, swear words, and private thoughts and hopes. My intentions in concluding this blog after one year rested on the fact that after a year of public writing, I felt ready to take the next step. I wanted to keep writing, but thought it was maybe time for a new venue.

So that was what I thought. When I moved in the direction of wrapping up Brand New Sour Milk, however, I found myself getting nostalgic. I looked back at my photos from my solo vacation to Seattle and I teared up over the S'mores night adventures with my dad. It was then that I realized that I cannot leave Brand New Sour Milk, because Brand New Sour Milk is my greatest SSS (Self-Soothing Solution)!

I love the fact that others read what I write, but, at the end of the day, what I write is for me. It is a way to soothe myself through the ups and downs of this strange life, and I am lucky if I can make myself laugh while doing it.

And so, long live Brand New Sour Milk. Here's a grape juice toast to it. I will go into this second year with more victories and sorrows, more swear words and secrets. Perhaps we will clean up the place a bit and re-brand, like so many others do. I don't know, maybe we'll start calling ourselves by the acronym BNSM.

Do you like it? I do.


  1. You need to get a book deal. Period. You are a wonderful writer.

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