thejuliemeister

Musings from an unsuspecting navy wife


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Soft Eggs

“The nurse said you had a question about soft eggs,” my doctor says as he enters the room.

 

He’s English with a strong accent, watery blue eyes that match his scrubs and a bald head. His wife is Thai, a fact that he’s mentioned at each of our appointments, though I’m not sure why. Despite his multicultural household and decades stateside, something about him immediately broadcasts that he’s British. It reminds me of my boss whose coiffed hair, gold chain and unbelievably long O’s point to his far removed youth in Long Island.

 

Before I have the chance to ask my question, the doctor continues. “I love soft eggs, don’t you? Great for dipping toast into. I wonder how they do that. Get the eggs just right. Boil them so that the outside is firm but the yoke is still soft. I’ve never perfected that.”

 

His words stream together without the chance to interject in a way that I’m confident would annoy me if it weren’t for his accent.

 

He finally pauses to look at me and I shrug. Cooking has never been my forte. For years I couldn’t adequately bake a potato. If I’ve ever soft boiled an egg, it was certainly a mistake en route to hard-boiling.

 

“Hmmm…” he muses. “Delicious.” Suddenly he interrupts his reverie and looks back to me from staring into an unseen abyss. “What’s your question, love?”

 

“Can I eat them?”

 

His brow furrows. “Eat what?”

 

“Soft eggs. Can I eat them? The app on my phone says I shouldn’t.”

 

He waives a hand dismissively while exaggerating an eye roll. Apps are not to be trusted.

 

“Feel free,” he finally answers. “Anything else?”

 

“What about raw salmon. Is that ok?”

 

He starts to rise from the examination stool he’s just plopped onto. “You can’t cook mercury out of fish,” he begins. “It doesn’t matter if it’s raw or cooked, the mercury is there.” His voice starts to fade as he opens the door to the hall, quickly returning with a pamphlet titled “Local Guide to Fish” that he’s given me twice before. I take my latest copy. I already know it says to eat as much salmon as I want.

 

“This pamphlet,” he continues, “has all the information you need about how much fish to eat throughout your pregnancy.”

 

I nod. I assume this means raw salmon is fine, and parasites and bacteria that I imagine will kill my baby one bite at a time are just that, imagined.

 

My voice always seems to fail me in this office. I’d like to blame the doctor’s gregarious nature and clear intellect rendering me shy, something completely out of character, but I’m sure that’s not it. At least not all of it. It’s mostly the fear that takes me every time I walk through the door.

 

Every appointment when the doctor unveils my growing belly and douses it with jelly, I’m afraid that when his practiced hand comes down with the ultrasound wand my baby will have stopped developing, his heartbeat dormant, his life having eased away undetected. I imagine this every appointment, and often in between, preparing myself just in case. The weeks between each visit are a near constant stream of anxiety.

 

I bought a fetal heartbeat monitor early on that was so cheap I couldn’t even distinguish my own pulse. I thought if I could just verify his presence with the device it would ease my mind. Now I can feel him move and kick and I’m still scared because there will be long hours when he sleeps where I feel nothing, and I’m terrified all over that he’s gone, always waiting and praying for the next flutter to let me know he’s still alright in there.

 

I don’t know if my anxiety-addled mind would have felt like this regardless, or if it’s a direct outcome of losing the first life to start to develop inside me last year. The distinction doesn’t seem to matter. Either way I’m scared.

 

Pregnancy is scary. It’s also magical and wonderful and hard and everything else that women feel when they are growing a tiny person from scratch. But it is scary. Some believe that the greatest fear in life is that of the unknown. Pregnancy is a major question mark on one of the most important milestones in any life.

 

Will I be able to deliver naturally or will I need a C-section like my mom and sister? Will he be healthy? Will he be a good baby who easily sleeps through the night, or will he be colicky and hard to manage? Will I be able to breast feed? Will I be any good at it at all?

 

There are so many questions. A million variables. It’s impossible to predict what will happen when he finally arrives. I’m used to planning and preparing, always with a contingency in case things don’t turn out as expected. But with a baby it’s impossible to know what to expect, bestselling guides with catchy titles be damned.

 

In truth though, none of my life plans are foolproof. Any plan or contingency can be easily derailed by the frailty of life and the myriad of possibilities at any given moment. It’s easy not to worry that tsunami might wipe away my home one day when that prospect, while legitimate, isn’t likely. Why then is motherhood so different?

 

I suppose a lot of it has to do with the idea of responsibility. We feel responsible, even liable for all of the unknowable outcomes of our offspring. Though I know that I can only do my best in raising him, and then let him go out on his own to find his own way. Just like my mom did for me.

 

Still, I worry. I probably always will.

 

The doctor has finally stopped musing on fish and eggs and asked me to lie back. I pull up my shirt and he puts a paper blanket over my leggings, tucking it into the waist. The jelly comes out, and the wand lowers to my belly. I clench my jaw.

 

There he is. My baby. I can see his skeletal frame dancing in black and white on the ultrasound monitor. At the start he looked like a blob and now here he is, a tiny person.

 

“Alright, there he is, love,” says the doctor. He’s half talking to me, half to the instruments in front of him. He moves the wand around, taking measurements and muttering to himself. Finally he seems satisfied and turns his blue gaze to me.

 

“Everything looks just fine.”


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How I knew

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There are a few things I know for certain about that night. I know that I was a god at beer pong. I know I was at a party that I had no business at, but happened to be down the street from my apartment. I know that when I walked in I spotted a guy in a mullet wig with a drawn on handle bar mustache and knew he was a student at the Naval Postgraduate School where I worked. I groaned. There was no way for me to know then that within two years I’d marry that man, and that more than five years later I couldn’t imagine my life without him.

 

It started with Ramsey. It was a typical Saturday night, and I’d texted my friends to see if anything was going on. I didn’t particularly want to go out, but I wanted to check my options. Ramsey was the one to text back that there was a mustache and wig party (so 2011) in my neighborhood. I could tag along.

 

I did. Ramsey and I partnered with a stranger and formed a champion beer pong team. On the edges of each game I noticed a guy, the same NPS student, was hanging around. He was a friend of the stranger we’d paired with.

 

I learned at least one lesson that night: even a champion beer pong team still ends up drinking a lot of beer over the course of a few games. I was not immune. But instead of full-blown inebriation, I was generally feeling good. Karaoke good.

 

That NPS student started talking to me. Apparently I’d helped him before in my capacity as a registrar employee. He seemed so interested, and for me, just then, that was exactly what I needed.

 

A couple of months prior to this night, I’d told my then male best friend I wanted to be more. He declined. I didn’t honestly think I’d find anything of value with the opposite sex for many more months or years to come.

 

Then I met Cameron. He was smoking and drinking cobra malt liquor out of a brown paper bag. He was raised in Tennessee but he doesn’t have an accent, unless he is drinking and around another person from Tennessee. That night he happened to be with a friend from Knoxville.

 

He charmed me.

 

For the rest of the party we were inseparable. The photo above is actually from that night. After the party wound down he offered to walk me the 4 blocks home. We held hands. I remember him saying he wanted to take me out, and that he could already tell we were going to be “that” couple- the couple that’s so cute it’s annoying. He was right.

 

I had a tiny apartment then that shared a front stoop with my neighbor, a woman I was pretty sure dealt drugs in her spare time. I’d planned to give Cameron a chaste kiss at my front door and hope he actually called. When we got to my place at around two in the morning, my neighbor was sitting outside with a gentleman caller, and I couldn’t have my adorable good night in front of them.

 

So I let him in. It was only supposed to be for a few minutes. Just long enough to give a little smooch then say goodnight. But one smooch turned into two, and suddenly I was waking up to daylight, still fully clothed, thank you very much, and a sweaty (also fully clothed) dude was next to me.

 

Shit. Nothing had happened aside from kissing, but I really wasn’t into finding myself in bed with a stranger after a night out. Now I had to figure out how to wake him up and usher him out.

 

Cameron was thankfully already awake. We started the awkward dance of conversation between two people who don’t know each other, but happened to share a bed the night before.

 

Conversation flowed. There were no awkward pauses. We got along. He asked if I was a dog or a cat person. I’d never had a cat before, so I answered honestly: dog.

 

He told me that he had a dog named Gus. It brought me back to a day in first grade when both of my parents pulled up to school in the minivan even though Sarah and I usually took the bus. They opened the sliding door to the backseat and on the floor was a cardboard box. In that box there was a puppy. We named him Gus. I couldn’t believe this man had his own Gus.

 

Later in the conversation I asked what he wanted to be after the Navy. A writer, he said. At that time I wasn’t writing. I’d given up on fiction and I didn’t think anyone would be interested in what I had to write about. I still knew deep down that I wanted to write. He wanted the same.

 

That morning we talked for four hours before he had to go. We could have talked for longer. It’s been more than five years since then and we can still talk for hours. Somehow on that first morning together, between finding out about his Gus (now my Gus) and his facility as a writer, I knew that we had something. We still do.

 

 


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Yaste like taste

My name is Julie Yaste. Before that, for 26 years, I was Julie Zack. I love that name. It sounds like the alter ego of a superhero. Like Clark Kent or Peter Parker. Julie Zack was definitely an improvement on Bruce Wayne. To this day I have friends who call me JulieZack like it’s one word, and will never know me by another name.

 

I didn’t intend to change my name. Being a Zack was so much a part of who I was. Even my name, Julie, was partially conjured as something to be suitable with Zack. My mother longed to name me Emily. My father reminded her this would leave them with a girl whose initials were EZ. Unfortunately their clairvoyance couldn’t predict that JZ would eventually also raise some eyebrows. If they could have predicted that, then maybe there wouldn’t also be a Jenna, Josh, Jim, Joe and Jack in the family.

 

I used to joke that I would never change my name upon marriage unless it gave me a significant alphabetical advantage. Going from Z to Y didn’t seem worth the hassle. With that luck, I’ll one day have a daughter who will marry someone with a last name starting with X. Maybe after 26 generations we’ll work our way forward to the start.

 

The problem with Yaste is that nobody knows how to pronounce it. In waiting rooms at doctor’s offices I hear “Mrs. Ya-stay?” And I know they mean me. Nobody ever stumbled over Zack. It’s easy. It’s one syllable that looks like it should be one syllable. The trouble with pronunciation led my husband to always explain his name like so: “Yaste like taste.”

 

I always think there are so many other words that rhyme with Yaste: paste, haste, waste, chaste, baste. We could be Yaste like baste! But no, we’re Yaste like taste, and that always leads to some asshole that thinks he’s clever calling me tasty Yastey. It makes me think of that time I had a doctor refer to my antibiotic induced yeast infection as the yeasty beasty and I shudder.

 

Beyond the pronunciation issues, I wasn’t keen on being JY instead of JZ. Y isn’t exactly a sexy letter. At least with Z you can imagine the three sword strikes of Zorro and know that the letter is badass. It’s bold. The same shape upper and lower case. Z is for zebra, the animal with the coolest stripes that inspired a generation of fashion. Y is for yak and who honestly wants to be associated with that?

 

For over a year after we got married I stayed Julie Zack. I tossed around the idea of never converting to a Yaste. At first Cameron was irked that I didn’t immediately want to take his name. He told me he imagined me attending future ship functions with him, and having people refer to me as “Mrs. Yaste,” and then I’d step in and correct with, “actually, it’s Ms. Zack.” I wouldn’t have done that though. Eventually he realized that it didn’t matter what anyone else thought about our marriage. It mattered how we felt in it. So he dropped it.

 

Around the same time, I decided to change my name. It wasn’t Cameron’s insistence. It wasn’t the societal norm. Instead I thought about if Cameron and I have kids. I’d want our kids to feel like their parents were a team, and we were all part of the same family, with one name. I loathe hyphenated surnames, and the thought of a Zack-Yaste or a Yaste-Zack just seemed cruel. So one Valentine’s day I walked into the local Social Security office and within an hour I had a new name.

 

For the last few years I’ve wanted to write a book. My husband suggested that when I do (his words), I should publish under my maiden name. Zack is more approachable. Everyone knows how to say it (thank you Zack Morris). And he knows how much I love that name.

 

But the thing I don’t think he realizes is that I didn’t really know myself before he came around. I worked a job I didn’t like. I lived in a place that I fell into but didn’t really choose. I didn’t write and I forgot how much I love writing. I was a shell, just going through the motions and trying to be an “adult.”

 

Cameron challenges me. He inspires me. He makes me better. I would not be where I am today, with so many of the accomplishments I’ve achieved if he hadn’t come into my life.

 

He’s right that I prefer the actual name Julie Zack. But I love being Julie Yaste even more.


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Due Date

In an alternate world, today would be different. It wouldn’t just be a day that I took off work to enjoy Hawaiian living. It would be a day when I was carefully driven to Tripler hospital to give birth to my first child. I imagined using a special water-birthing chamber. It sounded so much calmer than a typical frenetic hospital ward. It would be warm, and peaceful and by the end of the day I’d have a sleeping baby that I could contemplate in its Buddha Zen. Pink cheeks. Ten fingers, ten toes.

 

We aren’t in an alternate world. We are here. Today. And even though it’s my due date, there is no baby. I lost it months ago.

 

Its been hard knowing that everything I do right now would be so drastically different in that alternate world. Last week I went to the Big Island for work. I hiked around Volcano National Park and gained over 20,000 steps each day. It was beautiful and amazing and there’s no way I could have done it if I was 9 months pregnant. It’s hard to hold both truths in my mind. Then I remember there is only one truth, the one where that baby, my first, was never destined to be.

 

I thought about driving up to the North Shore today and buying a lei, then throwing it into the sea. A symbolic goodbye. I took a nap instead.

 

Part of my apathy is survival. I can’t feel it all again right now. It was too much when it happened. I can’t go through that again. Not today.
In a more hopeful way, I feel I’ve already said goodbye. It happened maybe a month ago.

 

Right after the miscarriage I commissioned a bracelet stamped with the initials of the baby, had it been a girl. ALY. Amelia Leilani Yaste. Our Aly girl. We never picked a boy name.

 

I wore it always. It was something that was part of me. That and my wedding band never left my person. I was afraid that without it, I would forget, and do some disservice to the child that would have been. I won’t ever forget though.

 

Then one day, I was wearing the bracelet, and suddenly I wasn’t. I didn’t take it off. It broke.

 

I remembered that a friend told me once that when a bracelet breaks off, it’s good luck. I texted her asking if that was true. I didn’t give her the details. She told me that when a bracelet breaks off, it’s a sign of completion or closure.

 

That same day someone messaged me on Twitter about how an article I’d written about miscarriage gave her courage to write about her own. Her blog was heart wrenching and beautiful in its honesty.

 

It felt right. I’d spent so many months focusing only on loss. This was an opportunity to move forward. Not to forget. I’ll never forget. But to find a path where I can remember without being totally undone.

 

When my mom stayed with me after the miscarriage she suggested I should have a mantra. Something I could say to myself to feel better in some way. I never found a mantra, but I did find a prayer.

 

Please grant me strength and shepherd the spirit of my child.

 

I don’t know exactly what I believe in. I have a complicated history with faith. But I say this to myself throughout the day, every day.

 

Somewhere, I’m sure, ALY is safe.


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Sexism, orgasms and grad school- oh my!

Over the weekend I read through novel synopses for my peers in a graduate creative writing class. Most were good and I’m excited to see how they develop. One, however, shocked me both by its overt sexism, and because the author seemed totally oblivious to the fact that it was incredibly sexist.

 

I won’t go through all the details of the plot, but it involved a man in a power position dating an unnamed Japanese-American woman who has never had an orgasm. The man makes it his quest to make her climax. They have a “great” relationship, and the man wants to propose to this woman, but isn’t sure if he can unless he can make her orgasm. That premise alone is so mind-boggling and icky in its cluelessness that I realized just how alive and well sexism is in America.

 

First off, ladies don’t need a guy to get off. If a woman is sexually active and has never climaxed through intercourse, chances are she would take the matter into her own hands eventually (pun intended). Also, I may be a bit jaded on this one as a military spouse currently on a 6-month sex moratorium thanks to my husband’s deployment, but sex really isn’t the most important part of a marriage. Sex is great, orgasms are awesome, but it’s not the foundation of a relationship.

 

It’s also problematic that the guy is an authority figure, and holds all the power of possible marriage and presumed happiness (because all a woman needs to be happy is a wedding ring, #obvi). I could go on and on about how much this synopses irks me, but the end result is it’s gross in how belittling it is to women, and highlights how subconscious sexism is still prevalent.

 

Dudes still think of women as sex objects instead of people! Not all of them, but some do. I’m lucky enough to have had good men in my life who all support strong women. It didn’t seem possible that there might be a real contingency of men, and even some women, who think of women as inferior.

 

I’ve gotten catcalls on the street, been groped in public by strangers, and had at least one boss who blatantly checked out my rack on the regular. It’s not great knowing that my gender is one reason why I’ll likely always make less money than my spouse, or that my mom used to have male employees who made more money than she did as their supervisor. These things are upsetting, but reading this synopsis was the first time I got really angry about sexism in America.

 

The guy who wrote the synopsis is an award-winning writer. He’s got his Master’s and is on track for a PhD. He should be an intelligent human being. His critiques and comments in class are always well reasoned and informed. How then, did this grown man, with an adult son, achieve such a warped view of women?

 

It’s got to be something in society that lets some men believe that women are more valuable for their sexuality than intellect. A woman’s orgasm is not the core of her being or abilities. It’s a nice treat, but fleeting. Nobody should be valued by sexual performance. The fact that any man feels that a woman’s marriageability is entwined with her ability to orgasm is complete bullshit. We need to work on making the world a place where that idea isn’t a reality.


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Christmas Carnage

crossbows

My father isn’t allowed to buy my husband or brother-in-law weapons at Christmas anymore. That stopped after the machetes. I’m surprised it didn’t stop sooner with the crossbows. I know my dad laments never buying them throwing stars. But the weapons era has ended, largely because my sister doesn’t like dangerous things in the house with her child.

 

Dad has no sons of his own. He and my mom had Sarah and me, which meant that dad was surrounded by girls for the better part of two decades. His only male compatriots were the two male dogs we had over the years, one of which never learned to lift a leg while peeing.

 

I don’t think dad regrets not having a son. He loves my sister and me. He’s always been a great dad. But there was a certain lack of boy stuff that I’m sure he missed. He used to take me to fish and game shows when I was small. He’d weave through the crowds and I’d hold onto his little finger so I wouldn’t get lost. At one show he got me a bright pink tackle box that I filled with the only fishing tackle I ever wanted: sparkly pink and purple worms that I’m confident could never nab a fish. As an adult I visited my folks and discovered that my dad still has my old tackle box and bedazzled worms.

 

Dad loves his girls, but he still likes the roughhousing and camaraderie of boys. That’s why he was so tickled by his daughters’ choices in mates.

 

My husband and brother-in-law are both such boys. They play video games religiously, love gadgets, and think of grilling as an art. One year at Thanksgiving, my dad had 3 turkeys going on different devices so that he, my husband and brother-in-law could all tend one. There were only 6 of us for dinner that year. With 3 full-sized turkeys. I think one of them was even a turducken. None of them saw this as strange or extravagant.

 

It’s not that he couldn’t have gotten my sister and me crossbows or taken part in other typically “boy” pastimes. For all the unfortunate gender normative, we just weren’t very interested in camping, fishing, hunting, or “roughing it” in any way at all. In the same way that our husbands are such boys, my sister and I are such girls. And that’s just fine.

 

So now at Christmas there are no new weapons. But dad and the boys have taken to shooting dad’s guns in the meadow of the 20-acre ranch he shares with mom, trusting that the far-off “neighbors” won’t call the cops.


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Can I get fries in my nachos?

 

A significant number of people who lose a lot of weight end up gaining some or all of it back eventually. Science isn’t exactly sure what the percentage looks like, but it’s likely more than half, and some estimates go as high as 97%.

 

I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that many people approach weight loss as a diet. It’s a temporary state. There is an assumption that once a goal weight is attained, the diet ends. Unfortunately, if the diet ends and old eating habits come back that caused an initial weight gain, the person who successfully lost weight on a diet will regain it.

 

Sustained weight loss takes lifestyle changes. It means restructuring a relationship with food. That’s hard to do. We all need food to live, and eating should be an enjoyable process. The lack of a balance between enjoying food and eating within specific parameters is one of the reasons people don’t maintain weight loss.

 

In my opinion, there’s another reason why people regain weight, and it’s one that I’m intimately familiar with: sometimes eating everything in sight feels really effing good. Well, it feels good in the moment. The self-loathing and tummy ache take a while to set in.

 

There’s an old Rodney Dangerfield joke that sums up binge eating pretty well (try to read it in your mind’s best Dangerfield impression): “Are you fat? Do you look at a menu and think, ‘OK’?” That’s basically it. Except it’s usually kitchen pantries or the contents of the refrigerator.

 

Binge eating is one of my specialties. To be clear, I only binge. I do not purge. I have no gag reflex. I could not be bulimic if I tried. I actually did try once and gave up. This is not to make light of bulimia or cast shade on those who suffer that affliction. (#nojudgment) I’m only clarifying my own eating neuroses.

 

In most circles, binge eating is frowned upon. It’s a disorder. Definitely not good. People should have a balanced diet that is broken down to three square meals a day, right? Moderation is the key.

 

The whole reason I got chubby in the first place is that I don’t do moderation well. I constantly go to extremes and it catches up with me in unexpected and sometimes devastating ways. Still, moderation eludes me, and I really enjoy going to town on a jumbo burrito or ice cream sundae (or both). It didn’t seem congruent to be able to chow down on everything in sight AND maintain weight loss.

 

Then I was introduced to the wonderful world of carb loading.

 

When I began losing weight in 2011, I used running as my main form of exercise. I started running longer and longer distances. Running races was my new favorite pastime.

 

I trained for and actually ran a couple of half marathons in 2012. It was hard, but good. Every time I finished one race I signed up for another. The training schedule forced me to stay in shape.

 

The awesome thing about training for each half marathon was the Sunday long run. The run itself usually sucked, but man, I could eat so much. 8 miles burned nearly a thousand calories, and runners actually recommend drinking beer after a long run for recovery! It was heaven.

 

In 2013 I registered for my first marathon. Now my weekend long runs were consistently double-digit mileage. That meant that I had to carb load.

 

The idea with carb loading is that eating additional carbohydrates before a long run or race will temporarily increase glycogen (stored glucose) in muscles. That leads to added energy during the run, and pushes back hitting the wall, a term that describes the feeling in your body when all spare glycogen is used and your body starts breaking down muscle to keep going.

 

Let me tell you a little bit about what hitting the wall feels like. Try to imagine a state where you have lost all ability for conscious thought. Only your lizard brain remains. At the same time, you’re moving forward, and each step is a jolt through every nerve in your body. It feels like an unfriendly giant has squeezed all of your muscles. Literally everything hurts. Death starts to look like a promising alternative. That is what it means to “hit the wall.”

 

Trying to stave off getting to this point of utter desolation and pain is a very good reason to have a loaded baked potato (or two).

 

Here are some of the many things I’ve eaten before a long run:

  • Loaded chicken nachos with added French Fries.
  • A jumbo breakfast burrito with a side of pancakes.
  • Double-scoop ice cream sundaes with chocolate sauce, almonds whipped cream and a cherry on top.
  • Entire pizzas.
  • Lots of beer. And wine.
  • Pasta in a bread bowl.
  • A full loaf of French bread with soft cheese.
  • A box of Cheeze-Its.

 

These are just a few of many examples of pure gluttony that I’ve achieved, all done in the name of training to run ridiculous distances. Somehow I found a delicate balance by embracing extremes. Essentially, I can binge eat as long as I also binge exercise.

 

Maintaining my weight loss hasn’t been entirely thanks to weekly binges followed by excessive long runs. During the week I carefully watch what I eat and track calories with an app on my phone. I’m deliberate in my choices of food 6 days a week, so that on the 7th it doesn’t matter. Generally, it balances out.

 

Is this the best or healthiest plan of attack? Probably not. I am in great shape though. I also understand that my approach for maintaining weight loss isn’t accessible to everyone, and that some people will never want or be able to run a marathon. We all have our vices and our modes for handling them though. Marathon training happens to be the thing for me. Who knew the fat kid who couldn’t run the mile in PE class would go on to run multiple marathons, at least in part, to be able to maintain the ability to eat with abandon.