I HATE Exercise, Don’t You?

English: Picture of a common measuring tape in...
English: Picture of a common measuring tape in inches. It is divided into 1/32nd of an inch. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This will be an uncomfortable blog. I will share more about myself than I’m used to. It won’t be pretty.

I adore comfort, don’t you? I like to be warm, bedded into softness, my feet safely tucked under blankets. I like to be fed, the cravings vanquished, the night song of satiated stomach lolling without a worry of when the next bite of food need come. I like to sleep and wake up refreshed. I like my caffeine jolt in the morning. I like my day to start so slowly that I don’t even feel it. It’s the luxurious stuff of vacation time.  I strive for this.

Don’t you?

When my children were young I did as every good mother does and made sure they had everything they needed. My husband and I worked hard to provide warmth, safety, comfort, food, love. I hurt when they hurt, was happy when they were happy. I believe my parents were the same with me. I started young in my constant quest for comfort. Not everyone in the world is so fortunate, but that’s another blog. Because this blog is about me, not starving children and puppies in India, it is about me. Comfort and nicety is boring. I hope you have guessed by now that this isn’t about comfort and nicety and so eventually it won’t be so boring, but just in case you’ve about given up and read ahead, I won’t fault you. It’s okay to skip to the juicy bits.

Now that my children are grown and capable and productive adults. Now, my everyday life is about me and I like comfort. As I believe the majority of mankind does. So I’m no different from anyone else. That’s why I think it’s important to talk about it.

That’s right. I’m talking about comfort. Getting it, and losing it.

Because my comfort-level has just been given a left hook out of nowhere, a blow to the crotch, a serious set-back of epic proportions. In other words I can no longer afford to search for comfort all the time. I have to get serious and now I will explain why.

Here’s the juicy bits, the stuff I don’t tell just anyone until now. Now I’m telling you (feel special). I am fifty-six years old. I am five foot, two inches tall and weigh a hundred and forty-two pounds. No surprise to me. I knew that. In fact, I’ve been meaning (and trying) to lose twenty pounds for donkey’s years. With no success. Mind you, part of the reason for lack of success is that I hate diets, and exercise because – you guessed it – it isn’t comfortable. Not only is diet and exercise uncomfortable, it is boring. Not that I haven’t tried diets. I have. I’ve done the Butter Buster’s diet, the Adkins diet, been a vegetarian, cut back on portions, and “left a little on the plate.” All that and I’ve hardly maintained my weight but rather, I’ve gained weight. Bummer! I’ve packed on five pounds every year for ten years starting at forty, until this past six years where I’ve managed to maintain or only put on a pound a year. Isn’t that funny? Not only is my body’s ability to lose slowed, even my gaining has reached a “snail’s pace”. But no matter what I do, it won’t quit.

I joined the YMCA of Downtown Houston about two years ago. The old 1910 building’s inside air stank, especially if there were enough people (read that as men) working out at the same time. I figured the outside air downtown wasn’t the best quality anyway so being at the gym to work out was much like taking a good long walk around my neighborhood.

This year they opened the new Downtown YMCA. I adore it. It smells good. The pool is a comfortable temperature (yes, comfortable) and the weight machines are new and clean. Airy, bright, every machine hooked up to a computer program that logs on exactly what weights I use and how many pounds I lift. This place rocks! This past Saturday I logged thirty-seven minutes on a treadmill and lifted an impressive 7, 640 pounds.

Okay, now that you’ve not been impressed by my boasting, let me explain. If I lift ten pounds, ten times, that’s a hundred pounds. I do three sets of ten lifts on each machine in my workout. If I walk around and use enough machines I can rack up some astounding poundage. Believe me, it isn’t that impressive. To give a better picture, I’m still in the yellow zone after two years. Like a yellow belt in Karate, I’m a beginner.

So this past week I went to get my body “composition” measurements done. I know I’ve got fat around the middle, the dangerous fat, the kind that holds the insulin and tricks the body into believing it doesn’t have enough insulin, so more insulin is produced thus adding to the fat and not helping a bit. It is also the fat that contributes to heart disease, high cholesterol and a ton of other bad stuff. I know that. I’ve read up on it. Reading up on it doesn’t make it go away. I thought exercise would help. So, on this day, I go to get my body composition stats done so that they will be added into the computer program that my weight lifting and cardio workouts are on.

The young lady takes my height and my weight and enters them into the computer. There’s a chart that pops up. I can see it from across the room. Green, yellow, red. She looks at it, her finger trailing across the range of numbers that look much like the chart on the back of the pantyhose box. She says, “You’re in the normal range.”

“Wow,” I say. “You’re kidding!”

“Nope. Now let’s measure your fat.”

Another young lady enters the room. She will enter the numbers while the first girl measures. I have to take off some layers of clothing, all the way to my T-shirt. It was cold outside. I don’t like cold. It isn’t comfortable.

She takes out a calibration thingy that looks like a cross between a pair of pliers and a drafting compass. She uses a measuring tape to measure an exact distance between my shoulder and elbow. She kneads the fat part at the back of my upper arm, yes, the part that “flaps”, and she pinched it and measured it with the thingy. She said, “Thirty.”

The other girl in the room tapped the computer keyboard.

Girl number one has me roll up my gym pants. She measure from my hip bone to my knee and punches my thigh right in the middle, where the muscle is. I’m proud of that muscle. “Flex!” she says.

“I am,” I say.

She pinches my fat in the thingy. “Forty,” she says.

Entered.

She lifts my shirt so that my FAT shows. “This is where it’s embarrassing,” I remark.

She doesn’t say anything. She pinches the fat. There’s lots of it. She says, “Forty-two.”

I think – that’s all?

Then, and this is even worse than the fat-omometer. She uses a tape measure. “Chest, thirty-eight, waist, thirty-eight (AACH!) hips, forty-four.”

Oh, now that’s going too far. I can’t be that bad off.

Girl One bends over the computer while Girl Two presses buttons. Girl One straightens up, looks me in the eye and says, “You’re obese.”

“I’m sorry. What? I thought I heard you say ‘obese’.” I chuckle.

“You’re obese. Sorry. It’s what the chart says.”

I’m shocked. “You mean I went from normal to obese? What happened to fat?”

“It’s the chart. Are you exercising?”

“Yes.”

“Then you’re doing the right thing. What about your diet?”

“Well, I do like butter and cream.” (fatty meat, gristle, turkey necks, caramel ice cream and any other comfort food out there.)

“Well, you need to think about a diet. Exercise alone isn’t working.”

I’m flabbergasted. “I see,” I say. I don’t like this. I’m not happy. I’m obese. I begin to re-dress in a daze.

Girl One says, “Aren’t you going to stay and exercise?”

“Uh, no, I have something I have to do.” Yeah, like go home and weep.

And eat something.

Chips.

I need chips.

Girl One says, “If you need anything I’m studying to be a dietitian. I’m here to help. Just ask.”

She’s cute this girl, with her perky nose and gorgeous hair. I hate her. With a pleasant controlled voice, I say, “Um, that’s great. Thank you so much.”

I leave and drive home and sit in a fug of despair for a while. Kimberly calls. I tell her I’m obese. She laughs. “Who told you this thing?” She does great impressions and cheers me up no end.

“The girls at the Y.”

“They lie.”

“No, seriously. I’m obese. My fat – it’s taking over.”

“Well, they still lie.”

I’m in a better mood. I decide to hit the library and look at diet books. I get one about the South Beach Diet. I’d heard it was good. I haven’t done that one.

But because I’m a little obsessive and a whole lot research-oriented. I pull book after book from the shelf and check them all out. Ah ha! (throw in evil-genius heinous laugh) I will conquer this obesity by reading about a diet and doing a diet and sticking to a diet. That’s the trouble – I don’t stick to it when I go on a diet. Got to change, I repeat this over and over in my head. Got to change. Got to stick to it.

One of the books I checked out was written by that energetic, exercise guru on “The Biggest Loser” Jillian Michaels. I hate her. Don’t you hate her? She is pretty, and perky, and can afford to be on TV telling people how to lose weight. Ugh! But I know I am insulin resistant, and that has to do with how I metabolize food, so I’ll read a little about what she says. Ugh!

The first few pages are all about her. Oh right, you were a fat kid. Yeah, and I studied to be an astroNOT. But I kept reading. Hmmm. Okay, so this makes sense. It isn’t so much about the amount you eat but WHAT you eat. Duh. But some of this stuff about hormones and estrogen and thyroid and all this is making a lot of sense all of a sudden because I’ve been struggling with hair loss and splotchy, flaky, sallow skin, and weight really since about the age of thirty-four. About two years after my daughter was born. I slowly fell apart physically. By the time I was forty-two I had poly cystic disease of the ovaries and endrometriosis. The pain and such got so bad that I had to have a hysterectomy. And I’ve tried the creams to boost my progesterone and boost my testosterone and taken pills that reek made from the adrenal glands of a pig . . .

And then I read this (quoting from Master Your Metabolism by Jillian Michaels):

NORMAL WEIGHT OBESITY – DO YOU HAVE IT?

Even if you’re not officially overweight, you could be overfat – and that excess fat makes you more susceptible to insulin resistance. Recent Mayo Clinic research show that many normal-weight adults actually have high body fat – greater than 20 percent of men and 30 percent for women – as well as heart and metabolic disturbances. Researchers found this “normal-body-weight obesity” (what I call “skinny fat”) in more than half of the patients with a normal BMI. They also tended to have altered blood lipids (high cholesterol), high leptin (a hormone found in fat that is involved in appetite regulation), and higher rates of metabolic syndrome. Body composition is what really counts, not weight.


Okay, I no longer hate her. I love her. She’s wonderful. She’s nailed it. I’ve got to read this book cover to cover. I’ve got to have this book on my shelf! I’ve got to get control of my body fat. Because right this minute, my body fat is controlling how I feel, what I think, and my comfort level, to the point that it will kill me. And I’d rather not die of fat.

This moment I’m taking medicine for my insulin resistance, my low thyroid, and my high cholesterol. I want to get off some of my medications. I want to get rid of the middle fat that is contributing to my high blood-sugar, and cholesterol and according to this book my low thyroid.

So I’m going to be blogging about this for one hundred days. This is day ninety-seven because for three days I have been eating zero processed sugar (yes, I crave it), and low-fat, high protein stuff.

My breath stinks and I’m tired.

There are lists to be studied of foods that contribute to hormone imbalance such as soy and many processed foods which contain soy which raise estrogen levels in the body. Estrogen contributes to the fat cycle, inhabiting the waist-fat cells and instructing those cells to be fruitful and multiply.

It isn’t about calories and non-fat and non-sugared foods. It’s about processed food that contain unnatural amounts of chemicals that work against weight-loss. It’s about eating healthy foods in healthy quantities. Yes, I must stay away from sugar and fat, but those won’t kill me if they pass through my body without “sticking”. So cheating isn’t an issue. It’s about getting rid of things from my pantry that don’t help. It’s about adding things to the pantry that will help.

So I’m not going to comfortable doing this. I’m going to complain. I’m likely going to be boring. But I will be honest. I will tell about failure.

Note: I”m weak. Heavy emphasis on weak.

Especially about comfort, which I like, just like you do. And ultimately I hope that by being honest, reporting failure when I fail, and success when I succeed, that you will find encouragement to join me.

Goya’s Cats: a Sketchbook Project 2011

"The sleep of Reason creates monsters&quo...
Image via Wikipedia

So two months ago I signed up to do a Sketchbook Project. I didn’t start it until nine days ago and it has to be postmarked and in the mail by January 15th. I work well with deadlines. Yikes!

It is finished.

What is the Sketchbook Project 2011? It is a group project (put on by Art House Co-op) whereby artists all over the world sign up and receive a tiny sketchbook in which to draw, paste, paint, sketch, etc. anything according to the assigned topic. Then the sketchbook is mailed back (on time or else it doesn’t get in!) and then put on tour across the US. Each individual sketchbook is assigned a bar code on its back. That bar code will allow anyone to look up the sketchbook online and look at it, if the tour doesn’t come to your city. Cool, huh?

So I signed up. The topic I chose is Nightmares.

I had lots of ideas in the beginning. My ideas didn’t make any sense when I worked them out.  So I was stumped for a while.

Until I came across something in a murder mystery I was reading at that time. It is the title of one of Goya‘s paintings: The Dream of Reason Produces Monsters.

I wanted to practice drawing cats and kittens for another project so I blended the two and came up with Goya’s Cats. It starts out with Goya writing: “There is but one nightmare that haunts the creative spirit, the nightmare of imminent failure.”

I’ve got two more pictures to go before I’m finished with what amounts to a picture book dummy. There aren’t any finished paintings or drawings, more like really rough sketches. Because the paper is like newsprint. But mainly because I’m scrambling to make the deadline.

So I picture Goya, surrounded by his cats (I don’t actually know if he had cats but float along with me here). Next picture is the same only this time Goya has his head on his desk as if he has given up. The next few pictures are all of his paintings and sketches with cats here and there. The ending shows Goya watching one of his cats sleep and wondering what cats dream about.

Who doesn’t wonder what cats dream about? So Goya wondered, would they dream of things they eat? Perhaps things they would like to eat? Then he comes up with a wild thought that maybe “The Dream of Cats produces Mice”. This leads him to a brilliant idea for another painting, which he accomplishes. It becomes, of  course, his most famous painting.

All because of the cats. Which is all fictional. But you knew that.

my barcode number is 46027

Holiday Fishes Coming Your Way

It’s a silly heading. I’ve been thinking about logos for a few weeks. I saw a billboard with holiday wishes from a local seafood restaurant and wondered why they hadn’t taken advantage of the obvious. I’ve come up with a few billboards over the past few months. Such as:

In my head I have this great picture of my dog as an advertisement about the importance of

Trinity Church during Houston's 2004 Christmas...
Trinity Church during Houston’s 2004 Christmas Eve Snowstorm (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

adopting from the pound or a shelter. The camera angle is from my point of view as I’m sitting, looking down. It’s Big Boy with his paw on my knee and his big “bulldog” eyes looking up at me as if to say “Thanks for rescuing me. Now, please give me whatever it is you’re eating.”

Another of my billboards is a clean up Houston campaign. It’s a picture of a woman walking away from the camera. She’s obviously in her home. She’s tossing a fast-food drink container over her shoulder, discarded liquid arcs across the scene. The heading would be “You wouldn’t do this in your living room, would you?” Next line: “Keep Houston Clean.” Pales like vanilla ice cream when I see it in writing.

So I’ve got this idea of red and green fish with holiday hats tail-dancing across the space singing “Happy Holidays” and the caption below . . . well, you get it.

Thing is, the billboards are going, going, gone. No more billboards in Houston, as their lease runs out, so they are removed. Hallelujah! The idea is to leave air space along the roads. No more ugly. I’m all for it. In 1982, when I graduated from Texas Academy of Art, a month’s rental of decent billboard space was $12,000 a month. It went up considerably in the last thirty years. A tiny billboard of perhaps ten feet across and twelve feet off the ground in Sugar Land was $8,000 a month in 2004. That’s the size of a poster board when you are traveling at sixty miles an hour down the road.

I haven’t been well. I’ve had a cold all week. It’s New Year’s Eve as I write this. Happy New Year. 2011! Hip! Hip! I’m better now. But it’s been a rough go. The first day of it was last Monday, the day after we returned from Arkansas. We went to Arkansas on Friday and came home on Sunday. Britt was sick with a cold. This means Amy and I were shut up in the car with his illness all weekend. I didn’t sleep at all last night, due to taking too much codeine.  Codeine is good, apparently, because it muddles your brain into  believing you don’t need to cough any longer.

A little about Christmas songs. I had this sudden brain storm last week (Christmas) that these Christmas songs were just a little bit toooooo happy. Suspiciously happy. Don’t-cha think? Honestly? Don’t-cha hear -Methinks she protests too much? I mean, who is really happy at Christmas? I don’t see very many happy people. It’s the kids. They are really happy up until Christmas. Then they aren’t exactly happy, either. Not at Christmas. It’s always “Is this all I got?”

Really?

Okay, maybe I’m being extreme. My children have grown up into really great people who ask why we are still spoiling them.

I never, ever thought I would say it, but my parents were right. Christmas is way too over the top with commercialism. It’s all about the decorations, the music, the events, the parties, the presents, the family (everybody’s got to be made happy – see the movie: Four Christmases), what to get, what to give, where to go, what to do. I started to think about this years ago really when my father was still alive. I thought about maybe escaping to Tahiti for Christmas or somewhere that wasn’t very Christmas-y and maybe not give gifts at all between my husband and children. Then I spent the Christmas of 2007 mostly at the hospital with my dying father and I was glad we hadn’t taken any of those past Christmases away from him with his grandchildren.  And now my mother is 85 – and how many more years will she be with us? So maybe Christmas has to be pared down right here and now. Maybe we can do this.

I know that this year I didn’t pull the tree down from the attic and do the home decor up big like I usually do. I like Christmas and decorating and being extravagant but this year I wasn’t feeling it. I couldn’t get past that dullness either. Maybe it was this cold virus  knocking at my bronchial tubes like tuning forks and waiting for the opportune moment to pop forth as the most awful cold I’ve had in five years or more. I don’t know. I tried to put on a happy face and liven up Christmas at my mother-in-law’s. She’s a dear lady and I love her much. I’m afraid the liven up thing didn’t work.

And I missed the Christmas Eve service this year.

I went to a Christmas Eve service at an Episcopal Church last year. Wow. Gorgeous. I’ve never seen anything quite so fancy and colorful. The music made me think a bit of heaven’s own choral beauty had streamed down to our ears that night. Maybe these services were designed originally to have us common folks thinking that. Perfection made corporeal. I was brought up in simpler church thinking, which matters not. God is God in the greatest as He is in the smallest. Elijah found him not in the fire, nor the wind but in  the still small voice. It’s not as if He needs us to advertise for Him. (i.e. billboards – God listens). Though some, and especially ME, need to be reminded about things:

like Christmas isn’t about happiness at all.

When Angels Come Down

A fully mature Monterey Pine cone on the fores...
Image via Wikipedia

As I listen to the winter rain dripping from the roof outside, and silver drops slide down the panes of my study window, wishes for warmth and sunshine aren’t far.

In the summer of 1978 Travis Lake in Austin had been engineered into a bigger lake but hadn’t filled completely. This feat of man’s desire had so far created several stump-studded inlets and striations of deep water surrounded by piles of boulders.

I had traveled from Houston with a group of church friends to swim and frolic in the sun beside one deep part. All around the lake, bright parties of sun-seekers sprawled on warm rock amidst drifting Marijuana smoke. I had only recently completed a course in lifesaving. It meant that I could swim a mile, seventy-five laps to be exact. I stood and declared that I would swim across the inlet. (Because I was prone to declaring and still am, so watch it!) It was less than a mile, probably seven hundred feet in width.

But then came the spanner in the works ~ friend Don decided he would go with me.

Don was sweet but he had just learned to swim. That compounded with the fact that he had a mild case of cerebral palsy so that his left side was slightly crippled meant I didn’t trust that he should swim across and said so. He insisted he could, besides he mentioned that I had been the one with training as a lifeguard. What is it about guys that they make such declarations in the face of facts.

I protested strongly, appealing to those around us. No help there. There was nothing for it but to do or die. I’m afraid the die part came much too close.

We started strong, swimming side-by-side. The water was warm and clear, but too deep to see the bottom. Small talk didn’t last. Don’s strokes weren’t strong and he appeared winded. It wasn’t until we were halfway across that the trouble began. Don started breathing harder, his breath coming in short gasps. I glanced over at him and his face was anxious and red. I asked, “What’s wrong?”

“I can’t go on.”

“What?”

“I can’t.” His voice was thin, strained, catching between gasps.

“You have to!” I insisted, starting to feel panicky myself. “I can’t help you.”

“Life . . . saving . . .” He choked on a mouthful of lake.

“You’ll have to let me drag you.” I worked my way around behind him, swung an arm around his bare chest and hooked him with one hand in the pit of his arm. Immediately he gripped my arm with both hands and started to thrash pulling me under beneath him. I jerked away and pushed him with my feet. He fought me. I socked him. He let go. I came to the top and screamed, “What was that?”

He gasped, “I’m going down.”

“No! Swim!”

He gurgled, thrashing weakly.

“Keep swimming! Help! Help!” Crowds lined the shore in the complete semi-circle around us. Desperate, I waved with both hands. Amidst laughter, a few waved back. “Help us! We aren’t joking.”

Still nothing. Oh Lord! Help us!

Don was barely moving forward. Like a great ship beaten in war, he was taking on too much water. We were probably two hundred yards from shore when he said, “That’s it. Goodbye.”

He sank beneath the waves.

Dear Lord, help us! Don’t let Don die like this.

Then, and this is the part that happened too fast for me to actually have any reaction save astonishment but this IS what happened, Don shot up out of the water. I couldn’t even now describe what happened in any other way. There was a man beneath him, raising him. Where had this stranger come from? He cradled Don in his muscular arms and turned to me and asked if I needed help. I told him I could make it. We swam to shore in silence. Once ashore, the stranger helped Don to a dry boulder. A crowd surrounded us at once. Many explained they thought we were playing out there. I turned to thank the stranger, but he was gone.

I asked others where the big guy who had rescued Don went. No one knew what I was talking about. No one had seen the rescue. We were flailing in the middle and then we were crawling out of the water. Don knew there was someone else out there but hadn’t seen where he’d gone either. I couldn’t describe the man. He had long hair but all the guys in the seventies had long hair. I couldn’t tell you what his face looked like, the color of his eyes, only that he had muscular arms.

Today, I reflect that if Don had passed into eternity that day it would have taken me a long time to get over it. I would have been angry, blamed myself, all kinds of mess would define my life. But it didn’t happen that way. Don lived. The last I heard he was doing what he had always wanted to do – be an airplane mechanic in Seattle.

In 1996, I was in a van with six other ladies on Saturday afternoon. We had been out in the Round Top, Texas area looking at antiques after enjoying a good time together at a ladies Bible study retreat. From here on what I retell will be what I have been told because I can not recall any of it.

Our van had slowed and come to a stop to turn left off of the highway. A small truck traveling at about 55 miles an hour slammed into the back of the van sending it spinning across the highway and head-on into a ditch between two live oak trees. I was the last one pulled from the accordioned van. I was lengthwise down the middle aisle of the seats covered by the decorative paneling and window blinds and other van parts which hid my body from the paramedics.

I first became aware of the dark because it was growing lighter. There were waves of gray all around me. I couldn’t see anything but the curtains of different shades of gray. I heard the voices. They were discussing my condition. Would I make it? I had to, I replied. I had to live. I couldn’t die. I had small children. They couldn’t grow up without a mother. But the voices didn’t pay any attention to my distressed answers. They spoke over me. They didn’t speak English. I couldn’t tell what kind of language it was and I couldn’t figure out why I understood it so well. This back and forth took some time. I don’t know how long, just that it seemed time passed in squiggly lines of gray. Finally, the consensus was that I would live. Or was it that I would get to live. Because God wanted me to live.

I recall bits and snatched views of people I knew. They spoke around me, it seemed, as if I wasn’t there. Asking me what I thought were ridiculous questions and then roaring with laughter. I was quite serious about my answers but everyone else thought I was a hoot. I was puzzled as to why I couldn’t see them. I thought my eyes were covered but I touched them, they weren’t. I kept trying to explain that we were in the hospital because of the pine cone fight. Hoots. Pine cones hurt, you know. Laughter. What happened to the ducks? Ducks? The ones all around us. More laughter. I couldn’t grasp why they didn’t understand the seriousness of the situation. The situation about the pine cones and the ducks.

When I came to, the first thing I remember was the clock on the wall was upside down. Someone bent over me and their face wasn’t right. It was wavy and all nose. Whoever it was probably wouldn’t want to be remembered like that, but there you have it.

The second time I came to, my husband was sitting at the end of my bed. He asked me how I was. I asked him where I was. The hospital. It was Monday. That is really NO way to wake up from the weird pine cone fight dreams, I can tell you. I didn’t understand why I was in a hospital. That was when he explained I had been in a wreck. I was most concerned about where the children were. They were staying with friend, Wayne and Shirley Pittman. The second thing I was most concerned in what I now think was an absolutely over-the-top way was the dog. Where was he? Did he have water? I wanted to know details. About the others in the van. Yes, they had been hurt. Mostly stitches and staples and bruised innards. None in the hospital.

The young man who had hit us had been drinking and was reaching for something when he ran into us. Didn’t even see us. The van’s gas tank had imploded upon impact, all the windows except the front one were gone instantly. My seat belt had torn, my captain’s chair shorn from its base. All the other seats had gone flat back and the other passengers watched my rag-doll-like body thrown from front to back several times as the van spun. I had concussion with mild brain trauma, the bruising that occurs when the brain is jostled inside the skull. The real damage wouldn’t be apparent perhaps right away.

Over time I had to deal with speech problems – lost nouns, halting speech, and unable to co-ordinate the tongue during speech so that I would bite it – loss of some long-term and a lot of short-term memory, depression and uncontrollable emotional outbursts, loss of the brain’s maps of time, dates, what the days of the week look like, over-impulsive lack of judgment meant I couldn’t drive for some months (though now I regret I didn’t go out and buy a Mercedes and blame it on impulsive disorder).

I determined to get better and believe I’ve achieved that goal over the years though I still get flustered when I lose the word I can see in my head like on the computer screen in front of me, but can’t find the name of. This willy-nilly speech problem led me to finally pursue my life-goal of writing novels.  Because tomorrow is never a guarantee, there is no putting off until I “get around to it”. I do as much as I can every day. Writing is also a wonderful tool of speech therapy, searching, always searching for the perfect word.

The accident changed me in more ways, too. I remember after the accident as my full body bruise turned from black to blue to green and yellow, I would sit outside and stare at nothing and reflect that life goes on with or without me. I have very little to do with the running of life. There is peace in that.

The accident gave me a certain understanding of eternity. Beyond the waving gray are the angels. They don’t know the future but they know that God holds the future. And this is as it should be. I was given another day just as Don was given another day. We can’t thank the angels. They don’t stick around for us to thank them. They want us to thank the One who deserves our thanks. To God be the glory.

The Bog Blog

Most will recognize that the word bog might mean many things. Here, especially in south Texas the word calls to mind a swamp that is “swampier”, perhaps with a little quicksand lurking beneath the green duck weed, and the faint odor of rotting vegetation.

In England the bog means different things also, not only a type of swampy marsh, but it could mean a toilet. It isn’t a nice word for toilet, more a derogatory term. The English have many words for toilet. If you visit, you could ask for the toilet, or the loo, or the “ladies” or the “gents”, only don’t call it a bog in polite company.

This week I had a bog experience of the worst kind.

Upon waking and getting busy around the house, I found the vacuum had broken, then as I was taking some paperwork to a certain government office to drop off, I discovered their offices closed due to flood. (No it didn’t rain. It was either a toilet overflow or a pipe burst type of flood.) So I had to drive back across town to await their office re-opening. I discovered in an email communique that the offices were open so I drove back. AND I’ve never seen such a line. I think it was the day to turn in papers, or something. At other times I have parked, walked in, handed in the papers, received a signed receipt, and walked out. That day I stood in line. After hour one I was well acquainted with a nice family who were in front of me. By hour two we had exchanged email addresses, by hour three we were discussing the politics of the world and specifically France’s responsibility in the Vietnam war.

It was during this time that my renter called. She had just moved in and the next morning when her son was showering she discovered water coming from beneath the toilet. Later when she was washing up the dishes, her sink wouldn’t drain, later she was bathing and noticed black stuff coming up from the drain.

Gross! Ack! Ack!

Then the tub wouldn’t drain, and yes more black stuff. I don’t want to write anymore about that.

I have a handyman who works on most everything to some extent. I asked him if he would go “snake” the trap line. The ‘snake’ is a long wire with a type of bent pipe at one end so that if you drop the wire into the line and wind it, it should squeegee out the blockage. The ‘trap’ is a pipe sticking above ground that leads to the intersection of all the main drain lines underground. He went after work and did that and said he could find nothing.

During all my adventures in house renewal and fixing up, which we’ve been doing for almost two years, my main disappointment is in finding a good plumber who was half-way affordable. And this was an emergency. My renter has young children.

I remembered in one of my trips to a local big-box home makeover store that I had discovered one of the employees in the plumbing department did plumbing as a side job. So I went back to that store and couldn’t find him. I asked another employee, “do you know one of the employees who does plumbing on the side?”

“Nope.”

Now, hummmm, how frustrating is that? Here in Texas it isn’t customary for a customer to be brushed off in such a manner, I would have questioned his attitude, but I was tired. It had been a long day. “Okay”, I said. “Do you know where the wax ring seals are for the toilet?”

“Yep, over there.” He pointed, and didn’t move from his spot.

I nodded and dragged myself over to wax ring seals which go under the toilet where the sewer pipe meets the porcelain. It completes a leak-proof seal in the assembly. As I’m looking at the variety (who knew?) I heard a voice whisper, “You’re lookin’ for Milton. He works tomorrow from eight to one. But you didn’t hear it from me.”

It was the abrupt guy. “Okay.” I whisper back. “And thank you but I’m not speaking to you.”

“Right. I haven’t helped you in the least.”

“Right.”

This is top-secret stuff that we’re talking about. I figured Milton must be on some supervisor’s “watch” list or something. I have a name now and I determine to come back the next day.

So I let the renter know that her plumbing was not up to par(umm, she called me about it, oh yeah) and could she go back to our other rental property to give the children baths? Like camping, I say. I don’t think she thought much of that prospect. She said, “I’ll take the kids to my grandmother’s.”

Whew! So I went to the big store the next day about ten o’clock thinking Milton would probably be on break. I recognized him. He was in the plumbing department talking to some customers. I sauntered over, looked at valves, noted the impressive line-up of pvc fittings. Milton asked if he could help me. There were customers there and this was top-top-secret-agent-stuff so I said I had a bath that wasn’t draining. He finished with his customers and took me to the display of drain mechanisms. I said, “It isn’t really going to work. Something has plugged up the line and we can’t get it unstuck. I need a plumber.”

He pulled a couple of boxes off the nearby shelf and opened one of them, emptied out the various parts to lay them out on top of another box, and spoke into the open end of the now empty box, “I’ll need your number so I can call.” I gave him my number and the address of the house. He said he knew just where that was. He said he would call me after work and meet me over there. He would start work immediately.

I went home to await his call. He called. He set a time that he would come with his crew. They showed up and flushed the lines from the bath (Ack! Ack!) and the toilet and discovered that the trap was clogged with cement. Apparently when the previous owner poured his porch slab, some of the cement went into the trap. Whoops. It dried in little hills forcing the exiting waste to have to squeeze through. Or not.

The next few days he was able to come with his crew and dig. Thirty-eight feet of pipe was replaced. He discovered on uncovering the pipe nearest the house that the palmetto bugs were rushing out of the hole by the hundreds. The palmetto bug is a relative of the common roach, only they are about three inches longer. Almost the size of those Madagascar Hissing Roaches. Yuck! I hate palmetto bugs! He said that the reason there were so many is because the pipe was actually broken. They like the broken sewer lines. Double Yuck.

So tonight I report that the bog is finished! done with! FINIS! Except I can’t because the renter just called and her sinks won’t drain.

Just the fats, Ma-am.

Fact #1  America’s number one health issue is obesity. I’ve been aware of this perhaps longer than the average American because this hugeness issue first showed up at my house. Not saying we were the only ones, just that it was what it was already in 1969 and that’s a long time ago.

Weight is an issue I struggle with, yet while I type this I remind myself this obsession isn’t a weight issue at its core, it is a food issue. You see, my parents were foodies before foodies were cool. In fact, my parents were so uncool in their foodicity that many, many years ago I said that I hoped they lived to see their grandchildren graduate. I wasn’t a cool thing to say, more like a cruel thing to say. It was then my father took me out to eat, something he did when he needed to discuss some serious something. During that wonderful Italian meal, he said, “It cost a lot of time, money and effort to put on this weight, why would I want to take it off?” Why indeed.

Fact #2: Obesity spawns incredible health risks such as diabetes, high blood pressure, hypertension, heart disease and stroke, breathing problems, sleep apnea, joint pain and strain, and the list goes on. It may be un – PC to talk about fat. Sorry. While there is a movement undertaken by overweight young persons to reclaim their sagging, uh, self-esteem, the monetary toll that fat takes on health care in general will only increase as the largest generation ever (pun not intentional), the baby-boomers, reaches medicare age as it is on the brink of doing.  Can we afford it, I doubt it.

My father did make it to my children’s graduation. Sadly, he died of pancreatic cancer (not known to be related to weight problems) and in his last year of life he lost so much weight I was begging him to eat.

My parents loved food. They took the family out to eat every week. I’m traveling down Memory Lane as I recall all the places we ate at. We hit every good place in Houston: The Golden Palace on West Gray, the original Antoine’s Imports and Deli, Valone’s  across from The Shamrock Hilton, Alfred’s on Stella Link, Captain John’s Seafood or the original Christie’s in the Med Center area. On Sundays after church we would sometimes take a drive (over 80 miles) to Don’s Seafood just this side of Beaumont or to Gaido’s in Galveston. (With the exception of Christie’s, Antoine’s, and Gaido’s all these places are gone.) When we kids left home the parents reported their visits to Tony’s, Brennan’s, Kaphan’s, Sonny Look’s Steakhouse (where an armored knight sat on a white horse in the parking lot), San Fransisco Steak House (a girl on a trapeze swung over the patron’s), Vargo’s (peacocks in the gardens), and all the ones in between.

My parents loved food. Not just at restaurants, my mother was an exceptional cook. My parents made a point of inviting the large families from church over for a meal – because who else would invite a family with four or more children to their home? Since we were a family with four children, we knew from experience. It was a great ministry they kept up for all the years we were growing up. My mother was an excellent cook and we children developed enduring friendships. It was all good.

Eventually their love of food caught up to them with lots of extra weight and later with diabetes, strokes, and sleep apnea.

Fact # 3: My parent’s generation grew up during the Great Depression. They didn’t have much food. If their families couldn’t grow it or raise it they probably didn’t eat it. And my parents were better off than many, at least they had a home. My mother in her old age tends to hoard her food. When my father passed away and we had to relocate my mother to a safer environment, I found food in drawers, in cabinets, hidden in bookshelves. Candy jars and cookie jars resided throughout the house. I’m not sure but that my parent’s love of food wasn’t colored by their childhood want.

This doesn’t excuse the younger generations of large people – generation after generation of fat. I worked for twelve years in a public school where I noticed a growth in numbers of large kids and fat families. There were always exceptions — large child, skinny parents, large parents, skinny children but the most common phenomenon were large parents with large children. And The Great Depression can’t be blamed for this.

So what can be blamed? We’ve gotta blame something. I say let’s blame Poncho’s Mexican Buffet. It’s those little flags that you could raise at the table when you ran out of something. It was non-stop, all-you-could-eat mexican food and it was cheesy, it was greasy, it was yummy. My parent’s loved that place. I loved that place. I can’t believe they went out of business.

Plenty of all-you-can-eat restaurants have taken hold and I see this no matter the size of the city or town. I saw an all-you-can-eat Chinese Buffet in Lufkin, Texas! Don’t-chu know that’s gotta be some good stuff in there, boy howdy!

I don’t even like to go in an all-you-can-eat place any more. Mainly because it’s a waste of good money. These days I try not to eat my weight in food. Also, it seems such a waste of food. Health laws require that any food set out in a service area can no longer be re-served, even if it was never touched. All that food must be tossed at the close of the day. Now don’t all rush to eat it up, ’cause they’ll just put more out. And isn’t it a shame with hungry people all over the world that so much food is thrown out every day? I say if no one patronizes those places they will gradually go away.

Fact #4: (Okay, opinion) Poncho’s was the first of its kind that I recall. I still say it’s Poncho’s fault we’re all fat.

Write Now

Hitchcock-PD
Image via Wikipedia

Sometimes when things are the busiest I find it easiest to write something. For over two weeks there have been health issues to deal with. Ugh! The most uninspiring bit is the part where I lie around like a sloven harpy for hours. Peel Me A Grape!! It can’t be helped. The body is recovering after having had its resident kidney stone blasted by sound waves, I prefer to think it was punk-slammin-stuff because when I hear that it seems like overwhelming sound waves which mean nothing. Pretty destructive stuff.

So I haven’t been very productive in the writing department and for that I suffer unbearable feelings of self-doubt and recriminations. I’ve come to believe that these “real downers” are all part of the writing experience.

About the detective fiction. P. D. James in her book “Talking About Detective Fiction” says we humans have always had to deal with a dangerous and violent environment and we turn increasingly to diverse pleasures such as the detective fiction novels. “Today there is undoubtedly an increased interest in detective fiction. …  which offer at least temporary relief from the inevitable tensions and anxieties of contemporary life.” I like that. I love her detective fiction novels. She is one of the few contemporary writers of detective fiction which is made up of a simple puzzle that must be solved. I would equate her works with Agatha Christie. Other detective fiction writers whom I love to read include a more complex set of problems and usually a couple of sub-plots which are thoroughly enjoyable.

Most of my life I’ve loved reading mystery stories. I spent many an enjoyable summer afternoon reading Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine or Alfred Hitchcock Magazine or old worn copies of Agatha Christie paperback at my grandparent’s old fishing shack on Caney Creek by Sargent, Texas.

The time has come. With a bit of luck and pugnacious persistence, I will drum up enough gumption to complete project after project and launch them much like a kid with a bottle rocket in the middle of a deserted night-scape. There is no telling where it will land but it will make some sort of bang somewhere.

Social Me

The La Salle Hotel located at 30.6730° -96.373...
Image via Wikipedia

Today I’m just back from a long weekend in Bryan, Texas. Such a great old hotel on Main street. A night’s stay at the La Salle includes a glass of wine, cookies and milk, and breakfast. The beds are quite comfortable, the sheets just the right sort of “smooth”. I love cool, smooth sheets. They feel rich. I was there for a novel revisions conference with Darcy Pattison who wrote a book called “Novel Metamorphosis: Uncommon Ways to Revise After the First Draft”. I’m on draft twenty-seven but who is counting, right? I found the conference incorporated just the right amount of work, social interaction, and food.

One subject outside of the subject of revision was social media. It’s a huge topic at writing conferences, it seems. Building the writer’s platform is something I’m hearing now and I wonder just how long I have been out of touch. It feels like a new subject. It’s not. A writer’s platform is not just about social media. Social media is all things internet such as Facebook, blogs and twitter. Add to this now the idea of “platform”. Michael Larsen in his book “How to Write a Book Proposal” states that “Your platform is what you have done and are doing to give your ideas and yourself continuing visibility around the country in the media or through talks — ideally both.”

Apparently it used to be that publishers created an author’s platform with scheduled book tours, book signings, and even school visits. It was an invisible and unspoken agreement. That hasn’t been the case for a long time. Even I, the out of touch one, knew that. Hence the huge surge in self-published books especially in recent years. After all, why wait for a publisher to publish your book when you can do it now? Especially if  the book’s author will ultimately be in control of the book’s market and advertising buzz anyway.

I understand the frustration of going the traditional route because it can take years of rejections for a manuscript to find its publisher. I will not be self-publishing, though because despite recent upgraded avenues of self-publishing where the book is expertly edited, there are still self-published books which have not been. It’s hard to tell which are which at first glance. This is not an indictment of self-published books. There are excellent ones. I’ve read a few. I’ll still be working my way through more and more manuscript revisions so that the product I send to an editor is the best I can make it. So I plow forward for what it’s worth.

I’m at that waiting in hopes space now with one manuscript getting tighter and another nudging an agent. This is that glorious space between high hopes and getting dashed to terrible bits by a rejection.

Here’s looking at ya.

Acadia National Park

English: Rocky coastline on mount desert Islan...
English: Rocky coastline on mount desert Island, Maine. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are some places around America that inspire with their tremendous beauty. One of those places I visited when I was fifteen. I remember discovering wild blueberries, eating them by the fist-full, and hearing the huffed warning of a bear. Running away with our pails of berries back to momma at the camper. She made pancake syrup, which we ate right away with campfire hotcakes.

Ankle deep in freezing clear water, I stood until I could no longer feel my feet to watch a starfish moving along lichen-covered boulders in a tidal pool. The evergreen trees were close to shore and sort of leaned toward the sea. Morning mists swirled and  twisted between the thick deep brown tree trunks.

Huge gray-brown rock cliffs worn by weather and waves jut unevenly into surf, the colors of everything piercingly bright in the gray dawn. I haven’t been back but …

Let me fly away,

toward that eastern shore to

face sunrise, while waves roll and

fold across my feet.

To stand again in clear water

cold,

between slate gray sea and Hiawatha forest

tufted along the beach.

Reclamation of lost

pieces of the heart means

more than anything rediscovering

the fine earth rhythms of life.

Chasing Dreams

Breakwater and fishing boat near the harbour o...
Breakwater and fishing boat near the harbour of Boscastle, Cornwall, UK (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’d always wanted to write a novel. Who doesn’t, right? I’d written a few children’s stories done some illustrating for friends, done some professional illustrating and artwork. Okay. But I wanted to write something like a novel. And my favorite pass-time reading is murder mysteries.

The first time I determined to write a novel, I began to write. I hand wrote, filling a lot of composition spirals, did my research, hand-wrote more or less a plot. But I didn’t like it. It wasn’t good enough.

The morning after a bad dream I wrote it down. The story, I wrote in a logical beginning, middle and end which real dreams rarely have, turned into six neat pages. There was conflict. It was fairly interesting. I took it to my critique group at Houston Writer’s Guild and Tony told me “there’s way too much you’re not telling us. This needs to be a novel.”

Great, I thought, how do I start? I thought about it for a few days. The first chapter has to have an eye-opening, cut-to-the-quick scene. Do I open with the murder? Do I open with the victim confronting the killer? Do I open after the deed has been done? AND most importantly was this really a murder?  I wasn’t sure. It was bad but was it murder bad?

In early versions I opened with the deed done. In later versions this morphed into the killer confronting the victim. Then later, the victim’s point of view was included. And still later, the victim became not a dead girl but a kidnapped girl.

But the kidnapper was still a killer. His inaction was not weakness. One victim at a time, please.

Now the setting was a matter that needed serious thought. The terrain or setting is extremely important in any story. In this one there had to be a beach, a lot of fields, a storm of great magnitude, a cave, an ancient house with secret passages. Hmmm. Where could that be?

I’ve always. ALWAYS been a fan of British Murder Mysteries. I think because in the place of guts, gratuitous sex, and unnecessary language there is the best hook of all – suspense. Alfred Hitchcock hook ’em with shadows suspense. PLUS I happen to adhere to the school of “write what you LOVE” not “write what you know.” Because if you love something truly, you will know it through the research you will do to write it.

So naturally the setting had to be in Britain – but where? Should I choose my own ancestral home of Scotland? I’ve grandparents from both Glasgow or Edinburgh? Or can I manipulate my Texas-born heroine to consider the warmer climes of Cornwall?

The answer came after I viewed the mood-setting “Coming Home”, “Wuthering Heights (the newer one), and of course the best of all – “Rebecca” (the old one). Creepy stuff. Love it.

It took me a year to write the entire story, taking the chapters one at a time to critique group and writing and re-writing everything a ga-zillion times. I researched Cornwall and established friendships with an inspector with the London Metropolitan Police, a nurse in Devon, and the owners of the best little Bed and Breakfast in Cornwall (more on that later, if you want more info on that- ask). With lots of questions and making myself a real nuisance with queries about titles, and names, and the way things are pronounced. This was before all the flood of books on the subject which are now on the market.

It is amazing that a country so close to ours in culture and language is soooooo different! There are as many colloquial sayings, different accents and different cultures within England as we have here in America. It is an endless fascination for me.

In all this I researched the material I needed through the internet. A wondrous thing. This was before September 11, 2001 and the open government policies on police procedures and the available brochures from the Home Office were beneficial.

But I didn’t have a FEEl for the place still. I knew that in order for my novel to have any kind of honesty about it I needed to go to England. I needed to taste and smell the place. Something, thankfully the internet can’t provide yet. So I set my plans in motion.

My family didn’t have any desire to travel clear across the “great pond” to stare at grass in Cornwall. My neighbor Elizabeth was more than thrilled to accompany me.

Meanwhile, I invited the Met Inspector to lunch via email to pay him back for all the putting up with repeated questions and endless emails. He had also agreed to read the clumsy tome itself which was an added bonus for me.

Elizabeth and I set out for England. A grand adventure for both of us. She would see relatives she hadn’t seen in years and I would see … what? The place my forefather’s left. The place that had always been in my blood. Why I read and watched anything and everything English.  That was where I was going. I was going home.

The plane touched down and I looked out on a gray morning like all the gray English mornings in London I had ever read about. The drizzle inching down the plane windows and the cold hitting me as I disembarked. So unlike Houston. I was thrilled. My heart sang. Here it was … England, at last!

It was a week of amazement and wonder. The first thing Elizabeth and I did was visit her cousin whom she called “Auntie”. Auntie offered us kippers and eggs. I had never had kippers and eggs. I can truly say now that I won’t ever again have kippers and eggs. I happen to love smoked herring which is what kippers are. But our canned smoked herring is a far cry from the vacuum packaged smoked herring I had that morning. I got it down and it stayed, but I didn’t feel like eating the rest of that day.

My kind, generous, wonderful hosts at “The Old Rectory” Bed and Breakfast just outside Boscastle, Cornwall drove me everywhere. They wouldn’t ask but I offered money for their gas. I don’t think I gave them enough, I just have that sinking feeling, because petrol (gas) there is so much more there than it is here. It’s the VAT. Drat the VAT!

Back in London it was time to meet and take the inspector out to lunch. I didn’t realize it but he was nervous because before lunch he wanted to meet at a Starbucks. And he brought a colleague.  After all, it was an email friendship. I could have been anyone or anything!! We met. I passed because we had a great time. After a full lunch at “The American Cafe” he took me to meet his family and his wife served “high tea” which is usually served at about four but they were so nice to give me tea and finger sandwiches and desserts at ten at night.Thank you, Anne for serving high tea out-of-place.

That’s one thing I wasn’t used to. Here in America we tend to go to bed early. Maybe it is the old Ben Franklin early-to-bed-early-to-rise thing but in England they eat later and hit the hay later. So I think I got back to the London Bed and Breakfast around twelve. Elizabeth had been worried. We didn’t have cell phones back then. I apologize again, Elizabeth. It was thoughtless.

The next day it was time to go and I cried and I sobbed and I couldn’t help it. I didn’t want to go. I wanted to stay forever. I don’t know. Maybe because Elizabeth and I were so well-treated. We felt like stars at every turn. Maybe it was the Foot and Mouth that had kept all the other tourist away so that E and I were just about the only foreigners in Cornwall that week … I don’t know. It was a wonderful trip where words can’t quite convey how great it was.

I met a good friend Jamie on the train between London and Cornwall. (Hi Jamie, told you I’d include you here.) I met Sharon and found a soul-mate. I met lots of wonderful people who brought alive that England which I had stored up as a dream.

I got the book researched. Smells and tastes included.

It was a good place to go. There aren’t so many murders, really. That’s the point isn’t it? The quiet, peaceful village and then the piercing scream? Ha! It’s fiction. England is everything it was ever chalked up to be in all the books. I recommend it.

Years passed while I DIDN’T work on the novel because I wanted to write a children’s fantasy novel that had me intrigued. Then my father passed away and I couldn’t write or think of anything but trying to work out the logistics of getting my invalid mother to a safe environment. They lived out in the countryside.

When I went to rewrite the novel, it took a different course. It isn’t so much mystery as suspense now. So let’s see what happens soon with this.

Cheers.

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