The Two-Bite Rule

macaroons-3375255__480I’m a hardcore sugar addict. My addiction waxes and wanes, depending on the level of self-control I’m able to muster. When my addiction is under control, I’ll indulge in a sweet treat once every week or so, or not at all. But I don’t believe in deprivation. I have sugar in my morning coffee, and I employ what I call the two-bite rule. This rule allows me to eat two average-size bites of anything sweet. So if there’s a birthday cake at work, I’ll have two bites of it. Two bites don’t seem to trigger sugar cravings and I always feel as if I’ve indulged just a little. When I can implement the two-bite rule, it works well, and I don’t feel deprived. When I jettison the two-bite rule, I’m always striving to return to it.


This article was published on on July 25, 2019

My new dishwasher is not my friend. It cleans dishes adequately and dries them no better or worse than my old machine. But I swear the thing is possessed. If I so much as brush against the touch controls, the machine turns itself on. After the dishwasher was installed, I needed two days and several frantic phone calls to the store where I purchased it to master the controls when it mysteriously self-started. I have a narrow kitchen, and when the dishwasher door is open, it’s easy for me to accidentally make contact with the ultra-sensitive control panel. While it turns on with a mere brush of my calf, it’s challenging to turn it off. I have to press the Cancel feature numerous times before it will obey my wishes. I’m pining for my dishwasher from the 1980s even though it periodically flooded my kitchen. At least that machine had levers and knobs that were user friendly.


I forgot two basic truths when I purchased this dishwasher. The first, and most important one: I should never undertake projects, large or small, when I’m recovering from illness. Years ago, after a two-week sinus infection, as I was regaining my energy, I stood on a step stool and trimmed a hanging plant, accidentally killing it with my zeal. I have numerous stories like this. So fourteen days after undergoing a splenectomy, when my thirty-plus-year-old refrigerator suddenly and completely died, I should have replaced it and left the rest of my kitchen as is. Instead, just recently off painkillers, I thought, why don’t I replace my dishwasher too, since it’s clearly on its last legs, and rip out the old trash compactor and replace it with a cabinet while I’m at it? I knew I’d be putting in half days when I returned to work and wouldn’t need to take extra time off to let delivery people and my handyman into my condo. This thinking was delusional.


The second basic truth I chose to ignore is that all home improvements are more complicated than expected. For example, three delivery dates were scheduled when I bought a new stove, and the deliveryman was going to bail on the third one except I cried when he tried to cancel. In order to install my stove he needed to bring his girlfriend with him, for reasons I don’t remember. While he worked on the stove, I sat at my dining room table making small talk with a stranger, yearning for the process to be over. I also have several stories like this one.

The men who delivered my new refrigerator and dishwasher were over an hour late and didn’t bother to give me a courtesy call to inform me of their tardiness. They were subcontractors of the big box store where I’d purchased my new appliances, and it required four phone calls to confirm they were on their way. Once they arrived, the new dishwasher needed a longer hose than the one that came with the machine, so one of the deliverymen left to get one, causing my installation to end four hours later than the delivery window. I accidentally pressed some buttons on the dishwasher after their departure and couldn’t figure out how to void the instructions. Neither could my neighbor, who came over to help. I called the big box store for assistance, but they wanted to schedule a tutorial for me on another day. Only after I begged did they put another person on the phone, one who could assist immediately. He figured out what I’d done wrong and instructed me on how to fix it. This guy was so nice, I wrote his boss a letter praising his customer service.

After this initial experience, I lived with the machine for a week before discovering that it sometimes flashes an error code that neither the big box store nor the manufacturer are familiar with. When that code flashes, the only way to reset the machine is to turn the breaker off and then back on. It’s a huge annoyance.


Now I’m living with a machine I don’t like. Compared to having my spleen removed, this is hardly catastrophic. But I hate the hypervigilance needed in my kitchen whenever the dishwasher door is open. To maintain good mental health, I’ve decided to reframe the problem. I lived with a special-needs cat diagnosed with four medical conditions a couple of years after I adopted him. He required a great deal of care, none of which was invasive, but all of which annoyed me. I loved my cat and managed to keep him alive for two years with feline AIDS and heart, bladder, and anxiety conditions. I’ve begun to think of my new dishwasher as a special-needs appliance. It’s not the appliance’s fault that it has a terrible design I should have paid more attention to when I purchased it. It’s not responsible for the fact that I purchased a machine two weeks after losing an organ and shortly after tapering off painkillers. It can’t be blamed for my disregard of basic truths about my life. So I’m going to try to think of it with more kindness, the way I might an ailing animal. And unlike my pets, I don’t need to love it. It only needs to work.


I try to be a nice person. I do. But sometimes I just can’t help being snarky. I attended a small dinner party in the early 2010s where I failed completely at civility. The other guests droned on and on about the wines they tasted, the travels they enjoyed, and the other parties they’d gone to. They seemed superficial and snobbish.

Novelist Norman Mailer
1987: Novelist Norman Mailer 1987 in New York.

Someone mentioned Norman Mailer. “He hasn’t published in several years,” one dinner guests observed. “Yes, because he’s dead,” I quipped. The other guest didn’t seem to hear me and commented again about the writer’s lack of new releases. “He hasn’t published because he died,” I replied. Maybe she had been off tasting wine in a foreign locale, I thought, and missed all the news about his passing as well as the annual memorials in the media. The woman looked taken aback. I knew I’d been rude, but I could no longer stand those people trying so hard to appear cultured yet being completely unaware that one of the greatest post-war writers of the twentiethcentury had died. 12467

What can I say? I’m not perfect, and it’s okay.


With the onset of menopause I began to have frequent, severe hot flashes. Among friends, I jokingly called myself Hot Flash Johanna, using the Germanic version of my name.

While chatting with a close friend and her neighbor this summer, the neighbor called me by my menopausal name. I chuckled, and so did they. I realized I must have referred to myself this way during a previous

Seven years into menopause I still have hot flashes, although they’re less frequent and less severe. But I’m glad I used humor to address this unfortunate part of


In 1983 I bought a ticket, over the phone, to a Broadway show. Although billed as a musical, the only music I heard during the first act were bits of songs occasionally belted out by a woman standing in a cage on the side of the stage. The show didn’t seem like a musical to me, and I wondered what was going on.

The second act was completely without music, and it slowly dawned on me that I’d purchased tickets to the wrong

By the third act, I felt I’d made the best mistake of my life. The play was gripping, beautifully written and acted, and deeply affecting. It ran for four hours, and I enjoyed every minute of it. I’d bought a ticket to Torch Song Trilogy instead of Forbidden Broadway.

That year Torch Song Trilogy won Tony Awards for Best Play and Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play, both statues going to Harvey Fierstein. I’ve made a couple of great mistakes in my life that resulted in unexpected and wonderful outcomes. Not all mistakes are bad if we stay centered in the moment and are open to unexpected, happy possibilities.


Sometimes life gets easier, and other times it gets harder without warning. The electronic patient record system at work recently started to require fifteen-character passwords. For the previous ten years, I’d used three-character passwords. This might not seem like a big adjustment, but when we use the same password several dozen times a day, the lengthy password is annoying. I overheard my colleagues complaining about it

Like so many of life’s demands, with time I adjusted to this change. The long passwords are still cumbersome, but they are no longer bothersome. I’ve become accustomed to countless negative changes in my health, and this one is easy by comparison.


I often have trouble hearing when I call help lines to obtain assistance with technical issues. I believe many call centers use cheap headsets and don’t adequately train their employees. Sometimes I must ask the help desk employee to speak slowly and clearly at least half a dozen times before we can communicate effectively. This is a frustrating process, and by the time I receive help, I’m often testy. I occasionally fear I’ve been the customer service representative’s worst call of the day. I often have to apologize for my behavior as the call

I try to balance this deficit by remembering to thank any customer service representative with whom this issue does not occur. I go out of my way to be generous with my praise in the hopes of creating some balance for my bad behavior during other calls. We aren’t capable of being our best selves all the time, but I like to compensate by being especially appreciative of those who deserve it.


While visiting my stepmother recently, we went to the drugstore to buy her toilet paper. Suzy had a particular brand she liked, while I prefer a different one. Standing in front of the paper goods we discussed our preferences. I laughed and observed, We know we’re getting older when both of us care this much about toilet paper. My wonderful stepmother did not disagree.roll-1239213_1280


Sometime in the mid to late nineties, a friend who I worked with mentioned that he and several other co-workers were going to a Barry Manilow concert. My colleagues were young and hip. I had difficulty imagining them enjoying the music of Mr. Manilow, whose career had peaked many years ago. I replied with something like, Really, why on earth are you guys going to a Barry Manilow concert? My friend told me off. He reminded me that every single person in our generation could sing at least one Barry Manilow song by heart. I realized he was right and that I’d been a snob.


Barry Manilow is a great songwriter. In that moment I climbed off my high horse and admitted I’d been wrong. Sometimes we are simply wrong. It’s good to acknowledge our errors. Then we can move forward with grace and good will.