B.S. Broadcast Journalism,
SI Newhouse School of Communication
M.A. Political Science
Maxwell School of Citizenship
PhD Higher Education Leadership
studied with Master Chef Sompon Nabnian
in Chiang Mai Thailand
I think I’m part Weeble. You remember Weebles don’t you? Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down… the Hasbro Playskool toy launched in the 1970s. Despite an almost unbelievable history of challenges, I too wobble but don’t fall down. As a tsunami survivor I often tour and talk about my experience in Thailand in 2004 when the water swept in and I was swept under 16 feet for over two minutes. Trapped in the middle of the biggest natural disaster in modern history and certain I was experiencing my last few moments on earth, I refused to stop trying to free myself. The Weeble in me wouldn’t give up.
So many people have referred to me as a tsunami victim. I’m not a victim. I’m a survivor. And while this sounds weird, I am almost thankful for the experience. Surviving a tsunami changes everything. No longer do you take life for granted! No longer do you sit by, wishing you could do things. I survived a tsunami. After you come through something that big, you have a lot of questions. What is my purpose? What should I do with the rest of my time here? After lots of soul searching, I have to think that I was left here because I still have work to do. There is a lot I want to do for my students. There is a lot I still want to do for myself. You’ve heard the old adage, live today like it’s your last. Oh, believe me; surviving a tsunami will make you take that to heart! No longer was I willing to sit by wishing it would happen. I can make things happen. So what exactly is “it”? What do I want to do with my life? That’s the simple part...
“It” is changing lives. It’s something I’ve been doing on a small scale for years, but now I am ready to kick it up a few notches. Let me start by going backwards. You see, a few years ago I was diagnosed with a non-life threatening medical condition. In order to manage my symptoms, I changed my lifestyle drastically. And in the process, I gained a ton of weight! Having struggled with my weight my entire life, this was devastating to me. Ultimately, I ended up having bariatric surgery, which helped me manage my weight and my medical condition. But it also left me longing for the foods I was no longer able to eat. Bariatric patients cannot eat sugar without having an insulin overload. So I began experimenting with baking and cooking with sugar substitutes. And guess what… The results were disastrous! Like many people, I thought the substitutes just didn’t work. But what I found out is that the substitutes worked just fine, I just didn’t know how to work with them. Once I learned, I started sharing it with my friends who had the surgery, were living with diabetes, or were watching their weight. My friends were astounded. They too had written off sweets of any sort. And they too felt a bit cheated at the holiday party, or the dinner with friends when once again they had to decline so many foods.
So where am I going with this? Well, this is what happens when you come through something as life altering as surviving a tsunami. You realize that you want to live your life to the fullest. And that forced me to ask myself, “What would I do with my life if I didn’t have to worry about an income?” And there was only one answer. My mother could tell you too. I’d have my own cooking show. I have been watching cooking shows my entire life. Way before there was a Food Network or before cooking was even cool. As my mom tells it, I would toddle into the kitchen, reach in the fridge, grab my own baby bottle, and then head to the living room, where I would tune in the UHF channel to Graham Kerr’s the Galloping Gourmet cooking program on PBS. This was 1969! (Yes, I know, the question is, why was this nearly 2½ year old still on the bottle?! Ask mom. I am still holding her accountable for that one!)
As a broadcast journalist, cooking on camera is natural for me. Storytelling and entertaining is what I have done for a career my entire adult life. But what’s so cool about The Sweet Life is that now I am able to link all of the loves in my life in one endeavor. Cooking, broadcasting, and teaching. TSL allows my students to take part in a professional production. Students are able to intern behind the scenes in both broadcasting and food prep. Not only do I get to teach my own students, but the folks watching at home who so desperately need to learn how to reduce the amount of sugar and fat in their diets. Obesity…type 2 diabetes…it’s not something we should be concerned about. It’s something we need to do something about! Just like I am thankful for the tsunami, and the clunk on the head that helped me see what was really important in life. The Sweet Life to me is more than just a cooking show. It’s a calling. We all need to change our relationship with food.
So for me, The Sweet Life; it’s not just about changing a recipe.
It’s about changing lives.