Elementary School Potato Chips

As erroneous as it may be, in my head hearing, “Ella, you need to gain weight” is synonymous “Ella, please start eating lots of organic junk food.” So in yet another attempt to gain back the weight I lost in Europe, I sat down with a bag of Route 11 Barbecue Potato Chips this afternoon.

As a child in D.C. Route 11 Potato Chips were my favorite. But the company is fairly regional, and it’s rare to see them very far outside of the Shenandoah Valley area. In fact, I don’t think I’ve had them for upwards of five years. But when I went to West Virginia a few weeks ago, I snagged several bags at a deli to eat when I returned home.

Route 11 Potato Chips were once a elementary lunchtime staple, broken into small shards in a plastic bag that inevitably ended up smushed at the bottom of my brown bag lunch. I preferred them to cookies or sweets, and everyday in the cafeteria I would very carefully save them for last. I once even managed to get my parents to take me to the factory where we could buy their “exclusive” flavors like fried chicken and watch the workers toss the potato slices into the fryers. Needless to say, this afternoon I was very excited to eat the chips.

So at around two when I was ready for a treat to distract me from the endless headache of trying to submit college forms, I grabbed a bag and sat back down in front of the computer to snack on them as I worked.

In retrospect, I suppose that I should have known that I would end up crying. And sadly, it wasn’t that nostalgic now-those-were-the-days crying.

The moment I put the first chip in my mouth, I felt like I was eight-years-old again and absolutely miserable. Those chips tasted like the bullying and isolation of my elementary school years. They tasted like loneliness and desperation, like purposely slicing my thumb on a can so that I could go to the nurses office rather than spend twenty minutes sitting at a sticky table and staring at my Route 11 potato chips and a dry PB&J sandwich on whole grain bread while I got kicked in the shins and mocked. They tasted like hiding in the stairwell to avoid going back to class, like being disliked by nearly every one of my teachers, like sitting for hours in the nurse’s office because I got kicked out of the classroom for the second time that day.

Each bite tasted of the misery I have worked so hard to bury underneath my happy memories of playing with my neighbors. Lee, Zach, Joseph, Pippa, and Beth took that pain away every afternoon and weekend, and I try to focus on the hijinks I got up to with them instead of school. It works most of the time, too. If I box it away tightly enough, it’s almost as if it never happened. I’m determined that my childhood is going to be thought of as happy.

But the chips uncovered the pain–made it a reality again–and all I wanted to do was throw up. I wanted to have to kneel in front of the toilet, holding my hair back, and retch until the chips were all gone, and I could forget about the pain again. Just make it go away.

However, I made a promise to myself recently to be more brave, to do the things that are painful and scare me without flinching or backing down, so I finished that bag of chips. I ate every last bite of that sorrow, and I forced myself not to cry.

I rolled up the empty bag to throw out when I finished my forms, stuffed it out of sight behind the monitor, and got back to work. It was time to move on. I’m not in elementary school anymore, and I’m not going to let myself wallow in the past, no matter how acute those sensory memories can be. I’ve got strong mental duct tape to seal back up that unhappy memories box, and a new vow to never eat Route 11 Barbecue Potato Chips again. It’s going to be okay, I thought, Everything is going to be okay.

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Eleanor and “French Math”

My mother’s side of the family is French and when I was young, we used to spend my birthday weekend/Memorial Day visiting with them. And while there were many aspects of these trips that I enjoyed, the visits were never very kid-friendly. I usually felt underfoot and like one of the adults was doing me a favor by watching me*. Then, when you factor in all of the adults speaking French and/or (though usually and) about France, relatives I didn’t know, and art/music, it was like being in a constant state of confusion.

And every year, things really came to a head when we went out to dinner on my birthday. It was a big affair that involved fancy clothing (often my arch-nemesis, the pale blue frilly blouse that had a habit of unbuttoning itself every few minutes and the flowered skirt that “I-was-absolutely-under-no-circumstances-to-spill-anything-on”), my very best table manners, and sitting across the table from my 100-year-old great-grandmother who terrified me.

My mother insists that she has never met anyone who has ever lived up to my grandmémé’s standards, and while I understood that it was probably true, I still was determined to be the anomaly. Of course, things never went as planned, and I somehow always managed to mess up and be swatted at within five minutes of sitting down. The swatting would be accompanied by some remark in French that I did not understand, and some adult would whisper in my ear what I supposed to say in response. I would manage to bungle the sentence, the adult would have to apologize for me, and the cycle would continue until I finally gave up on trying to be perfect and got incredibly antsy.

It was on my eighth birthday that my dad introduced me to what he called “French math.”

“Okay, Eleanor, so you know how you have to kiss everyone hello and goodbye? Now, I want you to add up how many kisses that is going to be. Remember Mémé, Grandmémé, and your great aunts each get four, and everyone else gets two.”

I’d work out the sum in my head, and then my dad would change it up so that I had to come up with the number of kisses for the people with blue eyes or everyone wearing black. Eventually, this turned into me making up my own rules for calculating kisses, and I’ve done it during every long family dinner since.

So the next time you find yourself stuck in a room full of French people you are going to have to kiss, you can pull out this trick and go wild.

Note: You can adopt it for hugs when you’re not with the French, but the level of difficulty and fun vastly decreases, so I’d suggest that you instead spend your time changing the lyrics of Yankee Doodle or plotting escape routes in case of an attack.

*Or often not watching, with the case in point being the time I nearly drowned in the pool when I was five because all of the adults thought someone else had an eye on me.

Eleanor Eats Ice Cream

There is an often-told family story about my first reaction to ice cream in which I have a complete meltdown because it’s too cold and sweet. It ends with my mother having to actually take apart the stroller to clean up the sticky mess I made.

I always assumed that I remained stuck in my only-broccoli-and-sweet-potatoes-please phase for much longer than I apparently did because I recently discovered photographs of me at the age of three devouring a very large bowl of chocolate ice cream and making a huge mess in my grandparents’ dining room.

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At least, I make an attempt of helping to clean up.

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Lentils and Ella’s Evil Plan

As it turns out, there is a huge difference in the amount of time it takes to cooked green versus red lentils, and if you don’t feel like eating close to nine, you should take this into account before beginning to cook. I did not learn this the hard way, of course.

I have succeeded in getting Cecelia addicted to Downton Abbey. My work here is done, I think.

Ella and Virginia

This weekend, I drive south.

I’m not sure what it is about rural Virginia that attracts me, but it does, and I find myself missing it all the time.

There were county fairs as a child, riding tired ponies in a circle for five minutes while parents snapped photographs, big slices of ham to eat, watching the very odd spectacle of sheep-showing, and tiny pieces of hay stuck in my hair. We visited battlefields, famous houses, cemeteries, farms, antique fairs, and restaurants. Dad gave history lessons.

Pippa threw up on me in the car.

I threw up in a parking lot after eating a hamburger.

Once, we spent a day going to the Route 11 potato chip factory where I ate my weight in fried chicken flavored chips. I discovered barbecue and hush puppies and there was no turning back.

Of course, there were the hikes up mountains, catching the Appalachian trail for ten miles or so, and defiantly sitting down on logs and refusing to budge another inch, only to get back up and march uphill for another two miles looking as sullen as possible.

I began my first in-depth study of regional accents.

And then it was gone.

We moved and weekends spent exploring life outside of the city were over.

Sure, we go back from time to time. A year and a half ago, I spent a week working with my church in true Appalachia, repairing trailers (This was the time when I fell through the floor, but that’s another story for another day.), which was amazing, but not the same as the luxury of frequent trips into the area.

But for three days, I’ll get to feel a little bit like nothing has changed, that I’m just on another weekend excursion into one of my favorite corners of the world, and that will be wonderful.

In other news, my ability to make typos is particularly embarrassing when it is in a post about teaching. In my defense, however, I’d like to point out that I was extraordinarily tired at the time and wasn’t fully mentally present.

As always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if, you know, you’re into that kind of thing.

Explorations in the World of Ella’s Nutrition

Winning the reader-selected topic poll with an impressive 33.33% of the vote, I thought I’d talk about nutrition and body image today. However, instead of focussing on my own nutrition and body image, I thought I’d talk about some of my second-grade students and how the girls are already beginning to perceive themselves as fat and unattractive.

I was standing in the hall today, while the students were lining up to go to the bathroom, and one of the little girls came up to me and gave me a hug. It was incredibly sweet, and as I untangled her arms and sent her back to her place in line she said, “Wow. You’re so skinny. I wish I were thin like you. You ate a huge bowl of soup at lunch, and you’re still soooooooo skinny.”

(Necessary background information: I am currently around five foot four and around 104 pounds. In short, I am underweight and probably look it.)

I was shocked. Sure, I get bizarre questions and comments from kids all day long (Today, one of the boys wanted to know if the carved wooden monkey bead on my necklace was a real monkey that I had trained to stay still, and another boy is convinced that jalapenos don’t actually exist.), but I’ve never heard anything like this. It certainly would have been easy to laugh it off with a “thank you, that’s very sweet,” but I do not want to become another member of society telling these girls that in order to feel good about yourself, you have to be underweight.

While I stood there trying to come up with an appropriate response, other girls started to chime in as well, making comments about the small size of my waist and wrists. If I wasn’t teaching second-graders, I would have loved to be able to have a frank talk with the girls about body image, but seven-year-olds aren’t ready for that. Instead, I pointed out that my mother is also quite thin and that metabolism and size are often hereditary. I told them about my frequent bike-rides, and pointed out that while I did eat a lot of split pea soup at lunch, it was low in sodium, organic, and homemade. My entire lunch was well below four hundred calories.

I tried to emphasize that being thin doesn’t mean that you are healthy and that you do not need to worry about being thin while you’re seven. I have absolutely no idea if any of it sank in, but I’m glad that I did not allow myself to become part of the silent majority that urges girls to be thinner, thinner, thinner and makes them feel bad about themselves if they don’t look like the ideal girl that the media portrays.

I know that it is impossible for a world to exist where people never worry about body image, but I do know that if whenever possible we all take a stand and model healthy body-image and food relationships, we can create a world where I don’t have seven-year-old students obsessing about their weight. As a still recovering anorexic who started down that path when I was eight (if you want my anorexia story, click here), I know that it is imperative for girls (and boys) to have healthy role-models in their lives if they want to prevent themselves from falling down the rabbit-hole of eating disorders.

You can also find me collecting lovely images and words on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/. I’d love for you to follow me on my trek into the wilds of tumblr.

Ella Eats a Face at Starbucks

Amid today’s chaos I managed to find this adorable smiley face in a very berry loaf at Starbucks. Naturally, I bought it. Like most of the baked goods from Starbucks, it looked better than it tasted. However, how many of you can say that you ate a face made out of berries today?

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Ella and the Night of Fiddle Music

There are moments when I feel particularly happy. Happy that goes beyond discovering that I did in fact put York Peppermint Patties in my bedside table to eat when I wake up. It’s that ridiculous type of happy that makes me smile so much that when I close my mouth, my teeth feel cold (I know that as weird as this sounds, you too have probably experienced this).

Tonight was a very prolonged happy moment. Clara, Jacob, and a few other friends hosted a southern dinner at Jacob’s house where we ate homemade pulled pork, mac and cheese, cornbread, mashed potatoes, biscuits, and salad at a large table. Clara had squeezed lemons to make real lemonade and someone brought a delicious chocolate cake.

But good conversation and food wasn’t the extent of the evening’s fun. Lily had brought her violin and book of fiddle music, which meant that we spent the rest of the night playing instruments and singing songs like Old Joe Clark and Bile ‘Em Cabbage Down. Jacob has pictures of me looking insane while holding a shaker egg that will hit the internet at some point, causing me much more amusement and less shame than they should.

I was brought back to my childhood when we would have near weekly music sessions with our neighbors. The kids would role around in the grass and play flashlight tag in the first whispers of darkness, the adults would drink fancy French wine out of the Dixie cups that had jokes printed on the sides–the humor of the juxtaposition lost–and I would beg for Country Roads or Downtown to be played over and over again.

I also played violin and would spend hours listening to bluegrass and Irish reels, hopeful that one day I could play that quickly, and in fifth grade we spent music class learning about local music. Two years back when I was in southern Virginia, I was surprised to discover that I can still play the spoons. I can’t recall anything from my Irish step dancing class in sixth grade, but I do know that you can’t get too close to your partner or you’ll kick them in the shins and they will be very angry with you.

Later, after Cecelia had driven me home, I sent in a lot of college applications (the first to a college in the Roanoke Valley, of course) while playing John Denver songs at a volume higher than could be considered socially acceptable. Last night, it was French punk rock, and tonight, country. Pippa had to crank up Friends in order to drown me out and complained about my music taste.

I also wore my The Great Gatsby shirt, which started the day’s awesome level at a much higher baseline than normal. I refuse to believe that there is a situation that can’t be remedied by wearing a book cover on your shirt.

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if, you know, you’re into that kind of thing.

In Which Ella Has a Lovely Christmas

Santa came with large boxes covered in geese à la The Twelve Days of Christmas.

Pippa opened it to discover a goose feather pillow-topper mattress for her bed.

Funny candies were inside of stockings.

No one has yet to eat it, and I’m not quite sure when anyone will decide to man up and eat the hard brown lumps.

And I got over twenty new books, and looked like this the entire day.

We had dinner, and I proved that I have neither a career in plating food or taking pictures of it. I swear it was MUCH better than it looks. Beef tenderloin is very hard not to like.

And then I turned on The Who and did the dishes while singing along. After all, nothing says Christmas like rock and roll and soap suds.

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if, you know, you’re into that kind of thing.

In Which Ella Eats Chocolate and Finally Takes a Picture of the Skyline

I thought that I’d share some pictures from my somewhat wild adventure with Pippa on the Monday before Thanksgiving.

Here’s a picture of my meal, replete with my very awkward hand placement. Note the big metal mixer that is entirely filled with melted chocolate.

And I also finally have a picture of the skyline. Just look at the light pollution! It’s both terribly depresssing, and oddly beautiful. When I was in Deleware for Thanksgiving, it felt so strange to be able to see the Milky Way when I looked up on a clear night–I’ve become so used to the purple-ish skies of cities.

For the month, you can find me updating my word count on NaNoWriMo here. (I need to do it more regularly so that it doesn’t become flat for a few days, only to receive a weird spike, indicating that I somehow magically wrote about twelve thousand words in one day.)

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if, you know, you’re into that kind of thing.