Guilty Pleasures

We all have them.  My husband is a lover of bubble gum pop.  I will tell you, there is nothing funnier than listening to him sing all the words to a Lady Gaga tune at the top of his lungs, while driving his very manly truck down the freeway.  It’s one of the reasons I love him. 

I have one too – guilty pleasure, that is.  The Real Housewives of (insert random city here).

Snicker away.  I’m not ashamed.  I’ll tell you why.

I’ve been a vocal opponent of “reality” television’s hostile take over of primetime scheduling for a very long time – since it’s onset in the early part of the last decade.  I would much rather go skinny dipping in a tank of hungry sharks than lower myself to the level of watching grown people eat bugs, sing bad karaoke or strategically sabotage each other all in the name of prize money.  Give me a well written drama or situation comedy or even a news magazine show highlighting a gruesome murder and I’m a happy girl.  Of course, every fall they give me exactly what I want only to yank it away ten episodes in and replace it with some mind-numbingly stupid game show or yet another version of the Bachelor/Bachelorette – because one’s true love can always be found by putting twenty men (or women) in a house together and making them compete for your affection – oh and a rose.  Absolutely, a sure-fire way to find your soul mate. 

The fact that I am now a full-fledged Real Housewives junkie is a testament to the power of a flu-like illness.  About two years ago, I was lying in bed in a fever induced fog, flipping channels.  I blame the fact that I’m not an accomplished napper for the ease in which I was sucked into this franchise.  If I’d been asleep, like any normal person should have been, I would not have stumbled upon a Housewives marathon.  But I wasn’t and I did.  I don’t remember which city it was and it really doesn’t matter.  What I do remember is being completely mesmerized by the train wreck playing out before me on the screen.  It was absolutely breathtaking.  These women’s antics – all unscripted, of course (wink-wink) – were the funniest thing I’d ever witnessed on television.  I don’t think I have ever laughed so hard in my life.  I watched for two days straight and from that moment on I was hooked.

Now, two years later, there seems to been an endless stream of Housewives to choose from, for your viewing pleasure.  Just as one ends, another begins.  Right now, New York and New Jersey – my favorites by far. Why, you ask?  Could it be Ramona S’s crazy eyes and demands for cases of Pinot Grigio?  Teresa G.’s table flipping temper or her flair for um…fashion? Caroline M.’s voice of reason and sage advise?  Jill Z’s proclamations that “that’s just not who I am” (but she really is)? The Countess’ belief that using the word “darling” and dropping the names of European “royalty” we’ve never heard of makes you classy?  Or maybe it’s Dina M’s adorable Grandma Wrinkles?

I can’t decide.  It’s all so fabulous.

These women are like caricatures to me.  I equate them to characters I might find in saucy novel.  Not real housewives by any stretch of the imagination.  But, really, would a television show about real, honest to goodness housewives be any fun?  I think not.  I was a housewife once.  Nothing remotely interesting about it.  Unless you want to chronicle the number of times I was poo’ed on, puked on, or walked around in a sleep deprived trance.  I once put a carton of milk in the cupboard instead of the fridge and didn’t notice for several hours.  Funny?  Perhaps.  Television worthy? No.

Judge me how you will.  I care not of your opinion of my viewing choices.  I’m unashamed at my obsession with the manufactured adventures of these synthetic women.  They make me laugh.  Out loud.  Until I wanna pee myself.  It’s great.  Now, I ask you – can Big Brother do that for you?

My summer reading

There is a temperate zone in the mind, between luxurious indolence and exacting work; and it is to this region, just between laziness and labor, that summer reading belongs.  ~Henry Ward Beecher

I don’t get to read as much as I’d like.  Most of my days are filled to the brim with work, school, and family.  What little time is left over for me, I tend to devote more to the task of writing than to the enjoyment of simply reading a book.  A prioritizing failure on my part for everyone knows that to be a good writer, you must first be an accomplished reader.  I am lacking in this department of late.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, I have lots of books that I intend to read.  They are piled on my nightstand, the floor next to my nightstand, all over my desk and even in a box in my closet.  I am a compulsive book buyer.  I just can’t muster up the time to read them and even if I do crack the spine on one, fifty pages in I find myself wondering how this work of complete shit ever made it to an editor’s desk.  

This summer I vowed to break my reading dry spell.  Classes are over until the fall.  I have a couple of day off during the work week from now until then.  What better time?  I also have a trip coming up – the perfect opportunity to make a dent in my pile.  So last weekend I started thumbing through the stacks and I found that my book clutter was all in vain.  There was nothing worth reading in any of the piles.  How could this be?  Perhaps it is because a lot of the books lean toward the heavy side – definitely not fun summer reading material.  So, off to my favorite local bookseller I go, member discount card in hand. 

I went with the intention of buying a good old-fashioned, trashy romance or two.  I perused the shelves endlessly and could find nothing that was even remotely appealing.  I did discover, though, that when I wasn’t looking paranormal romances seem to have overtaken the genre.  I’d rather put an ice pick through my brain than read anything about vampires or werewolves or whatever else constitutes paranormal these days (to this category I must exclude Frolay because that story is just good fun – love you tons, Helen).  Feeling slightly depressed, I meandered over to a table of high school English required reading selections.  I shuffled through them, considered for a minute rereading a few of my favorite classics – Of Mice and Men, Animal Farm, Alas Babylon.  None of which are light, easy summer reading.  I considered an Agatha Christie mystery.  I’ve always loved the antics of super sleuth Hercule Poirot, but even that didn’t tickle my fancy.  I’d all but given up hope when a lone display caught my eye.  On a whim, I picked up the first book that my fingers touched.  That is when I discovered the brilliant intrigue of Daniel Silva.

Not exactly a bodice-ripping romance.  But then, who was I kidding?  I was never going to be satisfied with such fluff, especially in light of what I’m currently writing.  There wasn’t a lot of description of the content given, just a brief snippet beneath the author’s picture on the back cover but something about it felt right.  I bought it and the next in the series.  Like I said – compulsive book buyer.

What I found within the pages of The Kill Artist was absolutely spine tingling.  Silva is a brilliant writer.  He sucked me into the depths of a story as exciting and thrilling as it was heartbreaking and tender.  For the first time in a very long time, I read a story with unbridled anticipation, page after page, word after word, craving to know what would become of Israeli assassin, Gabriel Allon.  The nature in which Silva crafted this story, brought this quietly powerful, yet shockingly fragile character to life, left me breathless and wanting more. 

Up next The English Assassin.  I can’t wait.

Things I learned this week (July 11-15)

In keeping with the theme of last Friday’s blog entry…

__________________________________________________________________________

This week I learned…

…that fashionable (not functional) suspenders are back.  Apparently, we didn’t get enough of this trend in the 80s.  To this I say:  Gag me with a spoon.

that no matter how safe you think your neighborhood is, there is still someone out there sick enough to harm your child

…that I am not alone in my love affair with the trash that is The Real Housewives franchise.

Table flipping fun
 
 
eek!
 
 
 …that it takes exactly five days for the stench of something dead in the wall at the office to stop stinking up the place to high heaven.  This is indeed a good thing to know because next time, I will know exactly how many days of vacation to take.
 
…that stabbing yourself in the eye with a mascara wand will cause two days of incessant eye watering.  This of course, will lead to excessive eye wiping – which in turn, will lead to a redness, puffiness and soreness.  Joy.

And to think I saw it all on Mulberry Street

Well…not really, but I always did like that particular Dr. Suess offering. 

So, today was cardio day.   I’ll be honest, I wasn’t feeling it.  I waged a war within myself on the drive in from the office.  Go.  Don’t go.  Go.  Don’t go.  It would be so easy to drive right on past the exit.  Of course, just as I made my mind up not to go, a nagging little voice inside my head said:

“Hey, stupid.  Key West.  Swimsuit. Gym. Go. Now.”

I took the exit, changed and went in search of my favorite spinner.

Ocupado. 

Sigh.

This is one of the drawbacks to exercising in a public gym.  People.  They don’t seem to grasp the unwritten rules I have decreed upon them.  Bike number three is mine. 

Mine. 

Not the dude with the swirly tattoos and flat billed hat. 

Mine.  

Unfortunately, at this stage in my life, society demands that I conduct myself with at least the illusion of decorum.  That means it would be unacceptable for me to pull him off of bike number three and scream “MINE!!!” in his face while kicking him in the stomach.  I will have to make do with shooting him my best stink eye – to which he is oblivious, of course.  

Being a grown-up sucks. 

In spite of the foregoing, people are what get me through days like this when I have absolutely no desire to be sweating like a pig, riding a long imaginary road to nowhere.  Of course, I don’t want to interact with them, just watch them and then only as long as they stay off of my cloud and keep their distance.  Under the right circumstances, it can be a lot like watching lions in their natural habitat from the safety of the covered jeep. Utterly fascinating with a hint of danger.

Now set their movements to music only you can hear and you have workout motivation gold.  It’s better than watching Richard Simmons’ Sweatin’ to the Oldies.  What?  Never heard of Richard Simmons?  Google him.  You’ll never be the same.  My music choices vary from day-to-day, mood to mood.  Some days I’m in the mood for some 80s hair band rock or The Police, other days a little Elvis mixed with a dash of the Beatles and a side of the Stones do the trick.  Today, it’s random shuffle day and up first is Gnarls Barkley’s Smiley Faces.  This song indeed makes me smile – and want to bust out with the Carlton right here in the middle of the gym.  I will refrain for the sake of the children and the elderly.

As I listen to the infectious beat, I settle into the rhythm of the bike (after grudgingly getting on bike number one) and take my first good look around.  It’s like gazing out into the Serengeti, a vast array of specimens lie before me.  All of them going about the business of getting their fitness on in their own special way.  Over in the back corner, you have the predator species better known as the hard-core body builder types.  They prance around their marked territory, grunting and groaning as they pump iron.  No one daring to venture any nearer than necessary.  Until…oh wait…what is this?  My music changes to Britney’s Oops! I Did it Again just as a female wanders into their midst.  Not just any female, either.  It’s my favorite buxom blonde, who I’ve not see in quite some time.  A rare treat, indeed.  It takes them a minute to notice, but slowly, one by one, they become aware of her.  Perhaps because she is now lying supine, legs up and spread wide as she proceeds to do several repetitions on the reclining leg press machine.  Men are such simple and predictable creatures.

In the center of the room, amongst the more user-friendly machines, you will find an eclectic group of grazers.  They are a lot like me – dedicated but not enthusiasts.  Just trying to either lose the bulge or keep the bulge at bay.  For the most part, they aren’t all that interesting to me.  Just drones flitting from machine to machine.  But as Florence & the Machine’s haunting vocals of Howl fill my head, something odd catches my eye.  I do a double take.  Surely my eyes have deceived me.  They haven’t.  Coming towards me, through a space in the crowd is a man – a man who the 1970s have surely thrown up on and he’s failed to notice.  Or maybe he just doesn’t care.  Why else would he consider going out in public with that ridiculous terry cloth sweat band wrapped around his head and those white tube socks pulled up halfway to his crotch?  And, as if that weren’t bad enough – and that alone was pretty frightening – his shorts were on the wrong side of too short, leaving little to the imagination.  Horrified beyond words by this sight, I take a big swig from my water bottle and pray the bitter bile that is tickling the back of my throat will recede.

Forty-five minutes in, I am treated to another Florence & the Machine tune, Drumming Song, and I pick up the pace.  As the sweat streams down my back in earnest now, I catch sight of a class beginning just beyond the glass windows that enclose the room with the dance floor.  An aerobic class with dance overtones, it seems.  They remind me of those little furry rodent things – Meerkats, I think they’re called – all lined up in nice neat rows.  I watch as they begin to move in unison – well almost in unison.  Some are quite coordinated, their movements flowing and graceful.  Others not so much.  They are awkward, stunted even, and struggle to keep up as the intensity of the class builds.  This seems to me to be a classic game of survival of the fittest.  The stronger ones will dominate while the weaker ones are destined to be trampled upon and left for dead in piles of panting goo on the shiny wooden floor.  I shudder at the potential carnage.  I vow to never step foot in that room.  I would surely be picked off by the stronger members of the pack.  A coordinated dancer, I am not.

So, finally the bike’s screen tells me that I’ve accomplished what I didn’t think I could do today.  I’ve made it through the entire hour of spinning.  I wouldn’t say it passed quickly.  An hour is an hour, after all.  I’d be lying if I said I didn’t consider getting off at the thirty minute mark.  But I didn’t and now it’s over.  I head to the locker room to collect my things on legs that feel a little like numb Jell-O – not that I know what numb Jell-O feels like, but I can imagine – feeling quite pleased with myself.  I round the corner and BAM!  I am accosted by a sight that I should be used to, but sadly, I am not.

Naked lady.

Things I’ve learned this week…

My favorite political morning show ends every broadcast with a brief segment called “What We Learned Today”.  I love it.  I thought it would be fun to have a similar thing here on the blog every Friday.  Perhaps nothing of importance to anyone else, but things that have given me pause throughout the week.

_________________________

I learned this week….

Megan at 2 years

…that my sweet-natured ten-year old is quickly blossoming into a mouthy, teenaged nightmare.  They told me it would happen – I knew they were right, but to be smacked full on in the face by it was a little startling. 

…that telling folks that I will be a grandmother around the New Year didn’t cause me to spontaneously combust, though as the words left my lips, I did feel slightly itchy. 

…that watching a certain monumental legal event play out only reaffirmed that our justice system is far from perfect.  Flawed, even.  However, I’d rather live in a country where the burden of proof is on the prosecution – even if that means a murderer might walk free because their defense was able to plant the seeds of reasonable doubt.  Our system of justice, even with its flaws, is much better than the alternative.  I think folks need to take a step back and reflect on that.

that black-crested macaques have a sense of humor and a keen eye for photography.

…that no matter how much I want to, I still can’t watch the Space Shuttle blast off.  Every time I see it perched on the launch pad, I am taken back to that horrible day on January 28, 1986.

that hiking in Yellowstone is still on my list of no-can-dos.

(Getty Images)

What did you learn this week?

Wednesday’s woes.

“Wednesday’s child is full of woe.” – Monday’s Child (nursery rhyme)

“Some days are born bad.” Sweet Thursday, John Steinbeck – Chapter 14, Lousy Wednesday.

Wednesday – that day of the week that falls just before Thursday and right after Tuesday.  I know, you’ve heard that before but now it just makes me smile and think of my friends over at Wikipedia. 

Hump Day.  That’s what they call it around my office.  I suppose it’s because that as of 5 o’clock Wednesday afternoon you’ll have successfully made it up the arduous climb that is the beginning of the week and will be rewarded with an easy descent to fabulous Friday and a weekend of freedom from your labors.  Of course, if you have read my previous blogs you will know that Friday is just a sad, drunk who has been recently murdered by crazy Tuesday.  I guess there’s always Saturday to look forward to, but I think she ran off with Monday and hasn’t come back yet.  I’ll get back to you on that.

As I often do, I wonder what Wednesday is really like beneath all the hype.  There’s a lot of pressure that goes into being the beacon of hope for so many – that point at which the drones finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Has he embraced this role?  Or is he more like Friday, rebelling against expectations by running headlong down a path of self-destruction? 

I like to think of him as the voice of reason in a sea of dysfunction.  A sort of cheerleader/self-help guru, talking the other days down from the ledge, imploring them to make good choices with their lives.  Perhaps he is regarded as a killjoy by the more willful days of the week.  Friday certainly would think of him as a stick in the mud but his girlfriend, Sunday, might be secretly turned on by Wednesday’s unflappable persona. 

But what if Wednesday is indeed a child full of woe?  What if hidden beneath his quick smiles and logical words, lies a deeply wounded soul.  No one would ever suspect. He is the master of the facade having had years to practice it to perfection.  Though, to be fair, it wasn’t all that hard.  The others are enveloped within their own train wreck lives, blind to the pain that lurks behind his eyes.  They take his presence and support for granted, piling their trials and tribulations upon his back, never once thinking that it might all be too much for him.  That he might break beneath the pressure.  

Until that day he does. 

Break.   

Standing on a ledge looking down at the traffic below, Wednesday searches for the strength to go on – one good reason why he shouldn’t take that last step forward right off the edge.  The pain would surely end then, right?  Who would notice if I’m gone?  Who would care?  They certainly wouldn’t, they never had before.  He takes a deep breath and just as he is about to end it all, he hears a noise behind him.  A whisper of words.

“I care.”

He turns to find Sunday, standing there with a gentle smile playing on her lips, her hair blowing in the wind.  She repeats herself and extends a hand.  Wednesday looks at it and then at her face.  He sees the friendship etched there, maybe even something more.  For the first time, he doesn’t feel so alone.  His eyes stray to the ledge beneath his feet, to the street far below – then back to her.  Life is all about choices and he is at a crossroads, unsure of where to go from here.  Then, something blossoms deep within his chest, something he thought long dead.  

He takes her hand. 

And allows her to be the voice of reason in his sea of dysfunction.  

“Sometimes you put walls up not to keep people out, but to see who cares enough to break them down.” Anonymous

 

***During my half-assed research, I found this interesting article which referenced a recent (2009) study that found 25% of suicides occur on Wednesdays.

Now that I’ve thoroughly depressed us all…

Forsaken Friday

“It is bad luck to fall out of a thirteenth story window on Friday”  American Proverb

Indeed.

After much badgering from my devoted followers – all five of them – I’ve decided to continue on with my personality analyses of the days of the week.  Today’s victim – Friday.   

Friday, that day sandwiched between Thursday and Saturday (as always, thank you Wikipedia).  He’s arguably the most beloved day of the week with ardent worshipers numbering in the millions.  They come together to sing his praises with Facebook statuses, cute tweets declaring TGIF, and, of course, with songs.  The Cure fell in love on Friday, Nancy Sinatra proclaimed herself “Friday’s Child” in this bluesy offering, and who can forget tween internet pop “sensation” Rebecca Black’s Friday masterpiece?  You know you know what I’m talking about.  You were just like me – fixated on the YouTube video like a rubbernecker ogling a car wreck on the freeway.

But all this unabashed adoration is misguided.  Friday is perhaps the saddest, most pathetic day of the week, maybe even more so than slutty Tuesday.  Unless you’re Scottish, that is.  It seems Friday is a very good day to plant potatoes in Scotland.  Who knew?  All in all, though, Friday, is bad news.  Just ask any of those camp counselors who thought it was a good idea to go out to Camp Crystal Lake on a Friday.  Didn’t end well for them now, did it?  No, it didn’t – not even after twelve tries.

Friday wasn’t always like this – a pathetic shell of his former self, wreaking havoc throughout the masses.  In fact, he started out life with such hope and promise.  Friday was popular, the star of the Varsity football team with rugged good looks that drove the ladies wild.  At his side, the best wingman a guy could ask for – Thursday.  But as it happens sometimes with these promising young stars that society elevates to God-like heights, it all went to his head.  He became egotistical and cavalier, believing himself invincible and above the rules that governed the common man.  Everyone loved him, after all.  He could do no wrong; and even if he did, Thursday was there to clean up the fallout.

But Karma is a fickle bitch and soon it would all come crashing down around his ears.  First to go was the scholarship to that big ten conference college – a blown knee suffered not on the football field but during a midnight cow tipping prank on Old Mr. October’s farm.  Next to fall by the wayside – his girl, Sunday.  She was a religious girl, holy in her upbringing.  Her father was a reverend at local Episcopalian church.  Friday’s erratic and irresponsible behavior simply could be tolerated no more – it went against everything she believed in.  She broke up with him via text message as she boarded a plane to India to begin a six month pilgrimage to find inner peace.  Emotionally stunted, Friday was ill-equipped to deal with such harsh rejection and thus, turned to drinking to drown his sorrows.  As these things often do, drinking progressed to drunkenness and before you know it, Friday was whoring around with women from Sassy June’s Gentlemen Club every night, leaving a trail of self-destruction in his wake.  It was more than Thursday could handle and so he walked away from his friend, as well.

Now, Friday can be found every night of the week down at the local pub.  His good looks gone, replaced with a body worn and weary from years of hard living and overindulgence.  He sits at the end of the bar, empty beer glasses all around, and waits.  He knows that soon the end of the week will arrive and all of his worshipers will pile into this smoke-filled dive to once again pay homage to the man he used to be – the man they still believe exists.  He will bask in the glow of their adoration, and feel a temporary resurgence of what it had been like all those year ago.  He will walk down memory lane with them and tell exaggerated stories of his wild escapades, relishing in their undivided attention.  He will feel whole once again.

Inevitably, though, the night must end.  His admirers will leave as they are wont to do, and Friday will have to drag his drunk ass home.  As the sun dawns bright and early Saturday morning, he will be awaken by a slamming hangover and the seductive caress of slutty Tuesday wearing a hockey mask and brandishing a bloody machete.

“Revenge is sweet and non fattening.”  Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980).

Another Remake?

So, with everyone throwing around words like remake, reboot, prequel, and sequel, my head is spinning.  I’m so confused by it all and it makes me wonder if the creativity well in Hollywood has finally run dry?  Do the powers that be think the viewing public so incapable of espousing something new and fresh that they must look to the past for the next great flick?  Or maybe it’s not them.  Maybe it’s us.  Are our imaginations so stunted that we are truly inept at embracing anything other than storylines and characters we already find intimately familiar? Frankly, I find it all exhausting and a bit of a blow to my intelligence.   That’s not to say I’m immune to it all.  I loved the Star Trek reboot.  What self-respecting, closet geek didn’t?  Tron Legacy, anyone? Bond? Well, it did take me a while to get on board that reboot.  Though, my issue was more in the casting than the direction of the franchise. I eventually did come around to the idea of Daniel Craig filling the Bond shoes – even if Quantum of Solace did suck ever so slightly.  Okay.  A lot.

Then there’s the Footloose remake.  It’s a remake and not a reboot, right? Again, I have no idea but I do know that there can be absolutely no logical reason to futz around with that flick.  Kevin Bacon = Ren McCormack.  Period.  End of story.  Any remake, reboot, sequel, prequel – whatever – is doomed to failure and will likely tarnish the good name of a perfectly wonderful 80’s classic –  again.  Do Hollywood executives not remember the debacle that was Fame circa 2009?  Or that monstrosity that was 2004’s Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights?  The next thing you know, they’ll be remaking Flashdance and Top Gun.  Oops…too late.  Top Gun is slated for 2013.  Excuse me while I beat my head against my desk.  Pure blasphemy. But wait – there’s more.  At a theater near you this summer, you will have your choice of remakes and reboots (define them how you will – I’m tired of trying).  You will be treated to fresh offerings of Fright Night, Conan the Barbarian 3D (because 3D makes everything better – not), Spy Kids 4 in 4D (oh goody – the added bonus of seeing a sucky movie AND getting wet), Final Destination 5 (they haven’t gotten there yet?), Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, and The Smurfs (also in 3D – *sigh*).  Next year you can expect to be dazzled with remakes/reboots of Spiderman, Superman (entitled Man of Steel), the next Dark Knight film (Batman) and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (because as Americans, we have to do things our way).    And of course, for all you stoners out there – Bill & Ted 3 appears to be a go. Again, I ask:  Has Hollywood run out of ideas?  Or have we lost our willingness to embrace new ideas; thereby, giving writers no choice but to give us what we already know?

My love affair with the stationary bike.

Several people have suggested that I sit down and write an entry about my weight loss experience.  I’ve resisted doing so because I can’t believe anyone would really want to hear about my self-image epiphany or the subsequent shedding of the excess pounds.  It wasn’t profound and it certainly wasn’t exciting.  Anyone can do what I did.  You just have to want it.  Instead, I think I will tell you about my love affair with the stationary bike.

In the first few months after the dreadful Christmas photo tragedy, I was in denial.  Not denial about having to do something about my weight, but in how I was to accomplish it.  I dabbled in diets.  Atkins, South Beach, SlimFast, Weight Watchers.  You name it, I tried it.  I even tried supplements.  It soon became clear to me that I was going to have to do this getting skinny thing the old-fashioned way.  I was going to have to sweat it off.  The realization of this sent a shudder of despair through my body.  I sucked up, though.  It had to be done.

The first step was to figure out how I was going to go about it and that posed a bit of a challenge for me.   I am not a joiner.  At least, I wasn’t then.  The thought of stepping foot in a public gym where I might have to actually interact with someone I didn’t know made me itch all over.  I did have a treadmill at home.  Though, it was really more of a dusty clothes hanger that took up the entire corner of my bedroom.  I hated it.  Let’s face it, there is nothing exciting about walking on a treadmill.  Even with a TV to watch or a book to read, it is “kill me now” boring.  It also hurt my foot.  Several years ago, I had corrective surgery on my right big toe.  It involved straightening of the toe, a pin and a bone graft.  It didn’t end well.  Needless to say, I don’t run, I can’t wear heels and continuous use of a treadmill is quite painful.  I also didn’t like that the calorie burning potential of a treadmill is relatively low compared to other forms of cardio exercise.  I considered an elliptical – for about 30 seconds.  It is certainly foot friendly and I could burn a ton of calories on it.   There was just one small hiccup.  Coordination.  I have none. 

Not the actual bike but pretty close

Next on my list was a stationary bike.  I ventured over to my local Academy Sports and Outdoor store and tried a couple out.  There were so many to choose from.  Basic ones, ones with lots of buttons and programs and plugs, scary spinners.  I picked one that was relatively comfortable, user-friendly without a lot of stuff, and had a place for my water bottle.  That was a must have feature.  It also happened to be the cheapest.  $88 before tax.  I loaded it up, brought it home and, after some assembly, plopped it down in front of the tv and proceeded to ride.  A lot.

It wasn’t love at first sight.  Oh no.  I hated that thing when I first brought it home.  It made my butt hurt in places it shouldn’t, my knees ached, my hips ached.  Sometimes I was so sore I could barely walk.  But I stuck with it, determined to meet each and every goal I set for myself.  At first it was 20 minutes, then 25, 30, 35.  Before I knew it, I was trucking right along at 60 minutes and my waistline was noticeably smaller.  This is about the time it dawned on me that I no longer hated this silly little bike.  In fact, I looked forward to the hour I devoted to biking a night – my “me” time.  I had fallen head over heels, utterly and completely, in love with my stationary bike. 

It was by far the best $88 I have ever spent.  Sadly, my faithful bike was a victim of the house fire.  In a previous blog, I said that there is no one material object that I couldn’t live without.  That was perhaps a bit of an overstatement.  I couldn’t (and can’t even now) live without my stationary bike.  I was almost like an alcoholic craving a swig of booze.  I needed to get back on a bike.  Within a week of the fire, I had Nolan down at the Academy picking up another bike.  That time around, though, I decided to get a more expensive one with a few more whistles and bells.  Big mistake.  I hated that bike.   I suffered with it for a few months, hoping that I would get used to it, but it just wasn’t the same.  I missed my old bike.  Finally, in an effort to shut me up, Nolan went back and bought me another $88 bike.  I love that man.

Since then, I have had to say a painful good-bye to that one, too.   It was a trooper but it just couldn’t hold up to my obsessive pedaling.  I’ve tried in vain to replace it but they do not make that specific model any longer.  Currently, I have two stationary bikes in the house – a recumbent and an upright.  I ride neither.  They just don’t hold the same allure for me.   The loss of that bike left me feeling lost and struggling to find something to fill void left in my heart.  Then, in November I discovered the spinning bikes at the 24 Hour Fitness.  

Spinner

Love at first sight. 

 
 
 
 
 
 

Tuesday: Lucky or not?

Calvin & Hobbes

So, I really wanted to write about narcissism today.  I’ve encountered more than my fair share of people who believe the world revolves around them over the last six month and I feel like I have a lot to say on the subject. Probably too much for my own good.  But, then I thought: geez, won’t that make me sound like a holier-than-thou, self-centered twit?  Probably, considering I write a blog all about me that I put out there for all the world to read.  Although, to be honest, aren’t all writers narcissistic?  Isn’t it what gives us the confidence to put pen to paper?  Sylvia Plath thought so and I tend to agree to some extent; but, on the other hand, I am amazed that anyone would be interested in the shit that goes up on this blog.  In my defense, I really do this blogging thing to exercise my writing muscles.  Keeps the creativity good and lubed up.  (oh my, what a mental picture).  Okay, so instead of getting on a soap box and venting about the self-centered nitwits that have pissed in my Wheaties lately, I’m going to delve into the mysterious world of Tuesday.

Yep, Tuesday.  You know that day after Monday and before Wednesday.  This brilliant definition of Tuesday is courtesy of those genius contributors of Wikipedia.  Who writes that crap?  Oh dear.  I just used that crap as source material.  What does that say about me?  Lazy writer.  Anyway, Tuesday seems to be a somewhat uninteresting day, though a bit controversial.  In some cultures, it is considered an unlucky day.  Lord help you if the thirteenth of the month falls on a Tuesday.  You’re totally screwed.  However, in Judaism, it is considered very lucky because the Bible tells us so in Genesis – twice.  This, again, is according to Wikipedia and not via any personal knowledge on my part.  Of all the books in the Bible, Genesis is the most mind-boggling to me and thus, I’ve never read it completely.

Well which is it?  Lucky or not?  I guess it just depends on where you’re standing on the globe.  Personally, I feel I’m largely indifferent to Tuesday, as I suspect most people are.  But now that I think about it, I imagine Tuesday at the school dance dressed in pink (Tuesday is associated with the color pink on the Thai calendar – Wikipedia again) standing against the wall.  She really wants drunk Friday to ask her to dance but instead straight-laced nerdy Monday will do the honors.  Do you think she feels lucky?  Probably not, although she is.  Friday has no substantial earning potential.  Monday is worth the investment but she doesn’t see it.  She is blinded by Friday’s rugged good looks and shallow charisma.  Monday will eventually move on with hot Saturday and the opportunity for Tuesday to live happily ever after will have slipped through her greedy little fingers.  Tuesday will have to settle on Thursday who has remained mostly obscured in Friday’s shadow for years and thus will end up bitter and disillusioned.  They will likely divorce.

Tuesday doesn’t seem to be particularly lucky to me.  Seems to me that she makes bad choices because she is superficial and petty, even narcissistic.  I guess Tuesday deserves her place in the week, largely ignored between dreaded (but fabulous) Monday and Hump Day Wednesday (he’s like that self-help guru who pumps you up and gets you through to Friday).  I think Tuesday might be my least favorite day of the week.  She has become to me what Monday is to you.

*On a more interesting note:  Today – a Tuesday – will be the longest day of the year as it is the summer solstice and marks the first day of summer.  If you live where I live though, it’s been unofficially summer for a way too long already.  At this point, I’d be more impressed with the winter solstice.

Stonehenge

No ordinary day.

Just an ordinary day.  A lazy Sunday – Father’s Day, in fact.  It began like any other Father’s Day, with a breakfast of foods we shouldn’t eat and showering Nolan with silly cards and even sillier gifts.  It was a good day.  Hot, though.  Too hot to do anything other than hit the local water park for a little fun in the sun.  Swimsuits were donned, beach bag was packed and off we went.  Without a care in the world.  Just an ordinary day.

But it was no ordinary day.  It was a day that would change us forever.  From that day forward, our lives would be split into two distinct halves.  Before and after.  It all started with a phone call.

Isn’t that the way with bad news?  A simple ringing of the phone, an unsuspecting hand reaches out to answer.  The voice on the other end delivering a blow to the gut.

Your house is on fire.

Indeed it was.  Though I have to admit I never really thought it was going to end up being any big deal.  Perhaps a little damage, easily fixed.  But as we headed north the short distance from the park to our neighborhood, we realized that this was bad.  Very bad.  Thick, black smoke billowed up over the trees, filling the sky.  Panic set in then.  Smoke like that meant only one thing  – this was going to be a big deal.

As we turned onto our street, we were met with a sight I will not soon forget.  Four engine trucks, one with its ladder extended, an ambulance and several police cars blocked the street. A sea of neighbors stood in their yards braving the 100 degree temperatures to bear witness to the destruction.  All we could do was stand there with them and watch as our house burned.

In the end, there was nothing anyone could do.  The firemen did their best but the house was a total loss.  Everything we owned and collected over the last twelve years was either ash or buried beneath feet of charred and sodden debris.  

It is an eerie thing, to walk through your still smoldering home.  A home where just a couple of hours before you were laughing and giggling in your pjs debating what to do with the rest of the day.  Still in shock, I picked my way through what had been the foyer.  Now it was filled with the remains of wet ceiling, roofing and insulation – the tiled floor beneath invisible.  My feet sucked down into the muck, the acrid scent of smoke and charred material filled my nose and stung my eyes.  I couldn’t believe the utter and complete destruction.  It was overwhelming.  What were we going to do?

We would move forward, of course Later that night – after a visit from the American Red Cross (give and give often – they do good work) and the dearest, most unselfish friends anyone has the right to have; after calls to the insurance company were made and all of those gawkers who sat in lawn chairs to watch the excitement had gone home – I stood in line at Wal-Mart in donated pants two sizes too big, panty-less and laughed.  I laughed because I couldn’t cry anymore but also at the absurdity of my standing here buying underwear at midnight, and thinking how ironic it was that we just had the foundation fixed.

In the days and weeks that followed, I would come to accept that stuff is just stuff – a house is just a house.  It is all replaceable.  Homeowners insurance saw to that.  Sure it was a frustrating and even traumatizing ordeal, one I don’t wish to ever repeat but it made me appreciate the tangible things in my life – there is no one material object that I can’t live without (although underwear is nice to have).  Stuff doesn’t make you who you are, it doesn’t make your house your home – the people inside do (and cats).

Today marks the fifth anniversary of that ordinary day when our lives changed.  We will be celebrating with a bbq and a trip back to the water park that started it all. 

Are we tempting fate?  Maybe.

So, the world didn’t come to an end…

…there was no earth shattering kaboom.  I didn’t end up in the fetal position on my bathroom floor mumbling nonsense.  

Quite the contrary, actually.  I’m pleased to report that my 39th birthday came and went with barely a ripple.  I would even hazard to say it was a pretty darn good day.  A happy birthday serenade from the best nephews an aunt could ask for brought tears of joy to my eyes and began my day off on the right foot.  It was made even better by the girl taking the photo for my updated student ID who made me look like me instead of a wrinkled old hag like last time.  Top this off with a visit from above-mentioned greatest nephews, a side of bling and two – yes two – birthday cakes.  What else could a girl ask for?  Not much.     

Cody, Megan & Cory (Ages 4 and 5)

Except maybe this conversation:

Cody:  How old are you Aunt Peggy?

Me:  39

Cody makes a face – the one where he looks a lot like a very surprised horse.

Cody:  No way!  You don’t look a day over 29.

I love you, Cody Tyler. 

*Excluded from the embarrassing childhood photo is my oldest nephew.  He’s got a rep to protect.   

A cure for jerks?

“In my opinion, we don’t devote nearly enough scientific research to finding a cure for jerks.” – Calvin and Hobbes

I am a rule follower – always have been, always will be.  With the exception of a few wrong turns, I like to think that I’ve lived my life on the straight and narrow.  I never try to get something for free that I haven’t earned or don’t deserve.  I can’t bring myself to cheat on a test. I honor deadlines and commitments, and try my best to be kind and courteous to others. I’m a firm believer in Karma.  I’ve experienced the outcome of spitting into the wind.  It’s not something I care to repeat.

This is not to say that I am perfect.  I’m not – far from it.  I can be grumpy, foul-mouthed and even spiteful when provoked. On my best of days, I still get a chuckle out of slowing down to irritate the jack-hole tailgating me down the tollway – while the two lanes next to me are free and clear.  My heart will sing as he finally whips around me and gives me the finger – mission accomplished.  Will I go to hell for this?  Maybe, if I believed in hell.  Besides, I was raised Catholic.  We have purgatory just for these occasion, right?

Road rage notwithstanding, I really do try to be the better person.  I’ll give a rude store clerk a smile and a cheerful “Have a nice day”, tip the Sonic car hop a buck even though my drink only cost $1.27, let the guy on the freeway merge into my lane so he can exit even though he planned poorly and I now find myself inconvenienced.  I try to be mindful that my wants and needs are no more important than the next person.  So when I have one of those days, like today, when I am surrounded by people who are drowning in an over-abundance of self-importance, I get a little frustrated.  Perhaps, even lose my faith in humanity.  Like when the girl from gymnastics calls and gives me an hour’s notice of the summer schedule change, or the coach that tells me that I should have been told three o’clock instead of two o’clock – can you come back?  Or BMW 6 series dude at the gym who must back his car into a spot, holding up a good half-dozen cars while he gets it perfectly centered between the yellow lines.  Or the old hag in the gold Buick who nearly t-bones me because she decides she is too good to use the designated driving lanes in the Target parking lot.  This, of course, is in addition to her going 30 mph across the parking spaces designated for parked cars.  Can you say douchebaggery? 

People are jerks.

But they’re not.  Not everyone, at least.  Those rare, un-jerkifed people appear out of the blue, quite unexpectedly and perform deeds of unparalleled kindness – just when you think all is lost.  Today’s good Samaritan – a sharply dressed woman with perfectly coiffed hair.  She heroically ran across the Target parking lot to save my poor, abused bumper from the sting of yet another runaway shopping cart (that some ass hat was too lazy to put into the cart return).  Impact averted – just in the nick of time. 

While wearing four-inch heels. 

Faith in humanity restored.

Today in My History – Happy Birthday Grandma; RIP John Wayne

Grandma

June 11th marks a day in my history that I will never forget.  It is my little Italian grandmother’s birthday. If she’d lived, she would be 82 today.  Unfortunately, we lost her at the young age of 56 – way too soon.  So, today I will remember that sweet woman who let me help cook in her kitchen, and watched the Sound of Music, the Wizard of Oz, Princess Diana’s wedding, and news stories about bears eating campers with me.  A saintly soul, who once told me that although the little girl who lived around the corner was indeed an evil bitch, it was not in my best interest to beat the crap out of her for breaking the personalized license plate that my dad had given to me for my bike.  She taught me to be the better person – at least on paper.  There are other ways of getting back at people, she told me that hot summer day when I was ten.  Indeed there are.  I miss my grandma.

In addition to being my grandmother’s birthday, it is also the day the world lost a great entertainer.   On June 11, 1979, John Wayne succumbed to terminal stomach cancer years after having successfully battled lung cancer.  Now you may be thinking to yourself that this is an odd thing for me to be writing about, after all, I was only a few days shy of turning seven when John Wayne passed away.  I shouldn’t remember it, but I do.  I

John Wayne

remember it because it was the first time in my young life that I could recall seeing my father speechless.  He sat at my  grandmother’s cracked formica table, the newspaper spread out before him, in total and complete, jaw dropping shock.  His idol since childhood was dead.  I, of course, had no idea who this man was pictured in full color across an entire section of the newspaper.  I didn’t recognize him, never heard his name before that day.  But my father was visibly upset by this man’s passing.  That small moment from my childhood would leave a deep imprint on my impressionable mind.

For years to come, I would be reminded of his reaction on many a Saturday afternoon when I sat and watched a John Wayne movie with my dad.  There was Fort Apache, The Fighting Kentuckians, Sands of Iwo Jima, Rio Grande, Hondo, The Searchers, Rio Bravo, The Horse Soldiers (one of my favorites), The Alamo (which I always had a hard time watching but was one of my dad’s favorites), The Man who Shot Liberty Valance (this one introduced me to the music of Gene Pitney, although the song is not used in the film), North to Alaska (I can hear Johnny Horton signing in my head now), Hatari! (my all-time favorite), Donovan’s Reef, McLintock!, Circus World (never liked this one), The Sons of Katie Elder, El Dorado, True Grit, The Undefeated, Rio Lobo, Big Jake, The Cowboys, The Train Robbers, Rooster Cogburn and the Shootist.  Of course, this is a mere drop in the bucket of John Wayne’s entire body of work, but these are the ones that were my dad’s favorite and therefore, they are what we watched most often.  I miss my dad.

So today, June 11, 2011, I raise a glass and toast my grandmother on her would-be 82nd birthday and pay tribute to the man, the Duke, who was my father’s hero on the 32nd anniversary of his passing.  Salute.

My Friend Monday

No, you didn’t wake up in some time warp, and no, I’m not an idiot. It is indeed not Monday.  I was, however, inspired to write this on a Monday – though I did not begin to write it until yesterday.  I suppose I could have waited to post this until next Monday but then I would have had to come up with something to fill its place and well, I didn’t want to.  Deal. 
 
Monday – that dreaded day that marks the end of a fabulous weekend and the beginning of another mundane week of grueling work.  It’s the most hated day of the week.  Unjustly scorned by so many.  The Mamas & the Papas harmonize about the day’s un-trustworthiness; the Bangles’ “Manic Monday” had them longing for Sunday.  Even Duran Duran sang about a “New Moon on Monday” – was it a good thing or bad, that song?  Who knows.  It was the early 80s and I never really understood a thing Simon Le Bon said anyway.  I was to busy staring into his beautiful eyes to care about the words coming out of his mouth.   
 
Monday gets a bad rap.  I feel a pang of sympathy for it every time I hear grumblings of Monday bashing.  Can you imagine going through life knowing you were the most dreaded and vilified day of the entire week?  Surely Monday feels some sort of resentment for it all, especially towards his nemesis Friday.  Look at him there at the end of week getting all of the attention.  Everyone loves Friday, toasting him with Facebook statuses proclaiming TGIF.  Happy hour is filled with rounds of discounted buckets of beer bought in his honor.  Friday can do no wrong.  Sort of reminds me of high school.  You know, Monday is that nerdy kid nobody talked to, eating all alone in the cafeteria; Friday is the big, handsome jock that all the girls moon over.  Hm.  I am suddenly reminded of why I don’t go to my high school reunions.  High school sucked.  
 
I love Mondays.  It’s the start of a brand new week and how you approach it will set the tone for the other four days.  It’s all about attitude.  You can either go into Monday feeling glum and angry, tired and snarky, setting yourself up for a miserable existence with nothing to look forward to but Friday; or you can choose a different path – a more positive path and enjoy every precious moment of the Monday that will lead you into Tuesday and then into Wednesday, and so forth.
 
I see Monday as a sort of do over, if you will.  A chance to get this week right, finish up those left over annoyances that fell through the cracks last week, and just work at being productive.  Indeed, it’s usually my most productive day.  Sure, there will be hiccups along the way. Life can’t always be sunshine and roses.  By Wednesday, I may feel like going postal on the next person that cuts me off on my way into the office; or even my poor, saintly husband may fall victim to my sharp tongue and expert stink eye.  Sometimes he even deserves it because he likes to push my buttons.  This week he successfully pushed them all by Tuesday.  Maybe a record for him.  But, I can honestly say that I began this week with a openmind and a smile on my face.
 
Does that make me strange?  A sort of sadist?  Maybe.  But the way I see it, I win when I stand up for my friend Monday.  Remember him sitting there in the cafeteria all alone while Friday yucked it up with all the popular kids.  Well, Monday is now a hugely successful entrepreneur and philanthropist spreading his goodness around the world, while Friday is bald, sporting a beer belly and living in misery with his ex-high school cheerleader wife who is virtually unrecognizable after having her fifth child.  She harps at him day in and day out leaving Friday wishing for Monday so that he can get the hell out of the house and go to work.
 
Think about that next Monday when you roll over to hit the snooze for a second or third time, all the while mumbling hatefulness in the general direction of my pal, Monday.  It’s not his fault.  It’s all in what you make of it.  You are, after all, the master of your own destiny.  Make a new destiny for yourself – a destiny that includes a bright smile and a friendly hello to your new friend Monday.
 

“Ima gonna kick your ass.”

Sydney Bristow - Alias

I should probably begin this post by acknowledging its inspiration.  A couple of days ago, one of my fellow Write Clubers, Bill Chance, wrote a very insightful piece about the movie Kick-Ass.  Now, I’ve never seen the movie myself.  Those sort of bloodbath flicks aren’t really my style, but what inspired me was the conversation that transpired as a result of his post, during this week’s meeting of the minds.  The notion of this ass-kicking little girl made me think of all the other ass-kicking “girls” that I love so much, both on film and in print.  I recommend you take a minute and read Bill’s blog yourself – (here)   

I’ve always been drawn to strong female characters.  These are characters who aren’t afraid of getting a little grime beneath their perfectly manicured fingernails, or speaking their minds and educating the ignorant masses in the ways of the world.  Women who know how to handle a weapon, any weapon, and aren’t scared to use it – relish in using it, even.  These female characters would never need a man to do their saving.  They can save themselves, thank you very much, with much more finesse and efficiency than any male counterpart – in heels and a cocktail dress, no less.  They have chutzpah – or balls for my non-Yiddish speaking friends. I love that.

If you know me, then you’re probably well aware that one of my all-time favorite television characters is Alias Sydney Bristow.  I got to know her quite well when I was in the midst of getting my formerly fat butt into shape.  She got me through hour after hour of seemingly endless pedaling to nowhere.  I have a special place in my heart for Sydney Bristow.  To me, she is the epitome of ass-kicking greatness.  She’s smart, tough as nails, focused – and who isn’t just a little bit turned on by the over-the-top costumes she dons?  All in the name of saving the world from evil masterminds hell bent on destroying us all. 

Of course, she isn’t the only strong female character out there.  There’s The Closer’s Brenda Leigh Johnson – a powerful woman with a dogged determination that keeps her obsessively focused on getting her suspect’s confession.  Her balls of brass tenacity coupled with her “bless your heart” southern drawl makes her a formidable foe to many a bad guy.  Then, there is Lisbeth Salander from Stieg Larssen’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy.  Not your traditional heroine, I will concede, but strong and admirable, nonetheless.  Of course, you have to get passed the emaciated, Goth thing she’s sporting and overlook her very disturbed mind brought about by an equally disturbed childhood.  Peel all that away and you will find a girl who will stand up for herself and those she loves, no matter what the cost.  I mean, how could you not love a character that will break into her rapist’s apartment, hog-tie him to a bed and tattoo his crimes in red ink across his chest?  Not necessarily how I would have gone about enacting my revenge, but it shows she’s got chutzpah.

There are a slew of other woman – a list that I am surely not doing justice – but the few that pop into my head at this particular moment are: Sigourney Weaver’s alien ass-kicker Ellen Ripley, Tomb Raider’s Lady Lara Croft, Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta, Kathy Reichs’ Temperance Brennan, Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman, Resident Evil’s Alice, Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia, In Plain Sights’ Mary Shannon, Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet.  Yes, Elizabeth Bennet – the future Mrs. Darcy – an inspiringly strong woman, especially in the context of her time.  No, you’re not going to see Lizzy packing a Glock 38, riding a motorcycle through the English countryside to save Mr. Darcy from the evil clutches of Mr. Wickham and Mr. Collins.  I agree, that would certainly make for some great entertainment.  I’d watch it.  However, for a late eighteenth/early nineteenth century, middle class woman she was remarkably defiant against the walls society placed around her.  She mocked the status quo.  Sure, she ended up marrying the handsome, rich guy and living happily ever after, but she did it on her terms and without compromise.  Something I greatly admire in a female lead.  Perhaps this is the very reason I can’t jump on board the Twilight crazy train.  Bella is a character I would kill off the minute an opportunity presented itself.  Grow a backbone, girl!  Get yourself a gun that shoots silver bullets and a big wooden stake.  Do the world a favor – get rid of those obnoxious werewolves and sparkling vampires.  Go find a real man – or don’t – just stop sniveling over those two pathetic saps.     

These kick-ass women, and countless more, are the kind of characters I find intriguing and aspire to create within the pages of my own work.  A daunting task to be sure, especially in a literary world where so many female characters are portrayed as damsels in distress. What about you?  Who are a few of your favorite kick-ass women in the world of fiction?

**The title of this blog comes from a line of dialogue in Season 4, Episode 3 of Alias.**

My Phobia Trumps Your Rationality

“What are fears but voices airy?
Whispering harm where harm is not.
And deluding the unwary
Till the fatal bolt is shot!”  Wordsworth

Inside my head there is a voice – a voice I imagine belongs to a neurotic little troll with wild hair that stand on end and is the color of rainbows.  He runs through my mind in nary a stitch, scared of his own shadow and whispering of the gloom and doom that will surely rain down upon my head should I do anything involving a plane, boat or a bear.  
 
“In everything one thing is impossible: rationality.” Friedrich Nietzsche
 
Phobia is a funny little word – [foh-bee-uh].  It’s weird how it just rolls around your mouth.  Say it.  I bet you make some strange faces as you run through the syllables (okay, you can stop now because you look like an idiot and I can’t have idiots reading my blog).  Hearing the term phobia always makes me think of those people you read about who haven’t left their houses in two decades or that movie about those spiders that scared me so badly, I slept with the lights on for a month after I saw it back in 1990 (I’m getting the heebee-jeebees just thinking about those disgusting little hairy things).   The  word embodies the very definition of incapacitating fear, but a phobia is nothing more than the irrational fear of something.  Everyone has phobias.  Some are indeed as significant as the name implies, others not so much – but all are very real to those who suffer from them.  I fear three things:  flying, boats, and bears.  Odd combination of things, you say?  Not really.  I think they all fit together quite nicely.  They all involve nasty, painful deaths – MY nasty, painful death.
 
I fly.  I don’t like it but, as I often do, I accept it as one of life’s little necessities.  I suck it up.  I am an adapter, after all.  I will book the flight and file it away under “to worry about later” in the card catalog that resides next to the troll in my mind.  I always organize my stressors in this fashion otherwise, I’d be a big pile of goo on the bathroom floor.   Dealing with them one at a time, in the order of importance, keeps the chaos down to a dull roar and allows me to function as a productive member of society. 
 
About the time I need to start thinking about packing for my little plane ride, the calamity in my head begins.   It seems my panic-stricken troll has discovered our impending trip.  Into a frenzy he goes.   It will begin as a nagging whisper, gradually increasing in intensity until my troll has convinced me that this trip will be my last and thus, I must prepare for my imminent demise.   Out comes the Will and the life insurance policies.  Next, I will begin to obsess about that family trust I’ve never set up and wonder if there is time before the fast approaching departure date to meet with an attorney or an extra grand in the budget to pay for said attorney and documents.  In lieu of spending the grand on the trust, I will seek out the counsel of my boss to have the same conversation I’ve had with her a million times.  For the millionth time, she will roll her eyes at me and tell me the same thing she always does, sending me on my way with a loud sigh and a pat on the head.  I’m beginning to think she’s grown tired of having this conversation with me.  I’m sure she will be thrilled come July.  That is when my next trip is planned.
 
Boats are another thing that sends my beloved troll into hysterics.  Or perhaps it isn’t necessarily the craft itself that is bothersome.  A boat, after all, is nothing more than a harmless vessel.  Put it in a body of water – any body of water – and it becomes a death trap.  So, I suppose it would be more accurate to say that my troll and I aren’t fans of water.  I don’t believe I can honestly lay this one solely at my troll’s feet, however.  My father, bless his heart, bears some measure of responsiblity in instilling this fear in me.   He meant well.  How could he have possibly known that sticking an overimaginative 5-year-old in a twelve-foot Jon boat and then paddling to the middle of a dark, alligator and snake infested bayou to fish would do irrevocable damage?  Impossible to predict, I’m sure, but plausible nonetheless.  If there is one phobia that I find almost debilitating, this would be it.  I do not swim, not even the doggy paddle.  I do not float.  I think life jackets are nothing more than pieces of brightly colored false hope.  If you are stupid enough to get on a boat, you’re going in; and if you go in, you will drown.  If, by some miracle, your lungs aren’t crushed under the weight of the water and you do manage to surface for air, you will be picked off by massive Megalodons that have been awaken by your thrashing.  Either way, you’re toast – or in this case, fish food.   There is simply no other possible outcome.
 
Bears.  Some of my friends are giggling right now.  I can hear them.  Shut up.  All of you.  In my mind, bears are everywhere.  It matters not that black bears and grizzly bears and brown bears are not indigenous to every state.  I believe that if there is a campground and a hiking trail then there is a bear in the vicinity – and it is bent on eating me.   This is, yet again, the result of an overimaginative child exposed to things that are beyond the ability of such a young mind to comprehend.   My grandmother, bless her heart, could have no idea that simply watching a news story could do as much damage to me as my father’s fishing trips.  However, that tragic story about the young couple eaten by a pack of bears in their tent, in the dead of night was scarring.  It didn’t matter that it happened several hundred miles away, my little ears heard only the words camping, tent, bears, dead.  That was enough for me to know that camping was not something I ever wanted to do because I didn’t want to be bear food anymore than I wanted to be fish food.
 
I know what you’re thinking.  I’m being irrational.  After all, the probability of being thrown overboard and eaten by a Megalodon is quite low – as is being eaten by bears on a camping trip.  I hear what you’re saying.  I do.  But the troll inside my head does not.   For him and thus, for me these phobias are all too real and no matter how much you argue their absurdity, they aren’t going to go away.  So, let’s just agree to disagree.  If you will promise not to come crying to me when you get yourself  eaten by a Megalodon, I will promise not to gloat and say, “I told you so.”  Deal?
 

What’s that smell? It’s called morning…

What?  I can’t understand you.  You’re grumbling. Not a morning person, you say?  Blasphemy!  I love mornings.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the jump out of bed, happy as a clam morning person.  I have fantasies about bashing those obnoxious nitwits in the face with a baseball if they dare to breathe my air.  No,  I’m more of the roll out of bed, where’s my coffee, give me an hour of silence before you speak to me kind of morning person.  Not your definition of a morning person?  Meh.  It’s mine.

I’m always the first one up in my house, usually by 5 or so.  Never have been any good at that whole sleeping thing.  On a bad night I might average 3 or 4 hours of uninterrupted sleep, on a good night 6 tops.  Don’t feel sorry for me, though.  I’m used it.  It’s one of those things in life that you just learn to accept – sort of like accepting that as soon as your husband falls asleep (which will be 2.5 seconds after he lays down) he will roll your way and start snoring.  It’s been the same night after night for the last 17 years.  It’s not going to change.  You just accept that smothering him in his sleep will get you nowhere but jail.  And then who comes out the winner there?  Him.  Who needs that?

For me, early morning is a time to collect my thoughts, plan my day and savor the coffee from the pot that brews at precisely 4:45 every morning via a preset timer.  Top ten inventions of all time, in my book, and yet another reason not to smother my husband.  He makes some damn good coffee.  I wish I could say that I sip from my favorite mug while typing feverishly away at my morning pages but alas, I do not.  Writing first thing in the morning is beyond even my capabilities.   A complete failure on my part, I know, but to get up enough energy to string a few hundred words together before the coffee has time to do its magic is just plain craziness.  Instead, while I await the collection of my thoughts, I engage is more mundane activities.  Perhaps I will read a book from the stack that covers my nightstand and has started to bleed onto the floor.  More likely though, I will surf the internet, troll Facebook and play some stupid, mindless game while listening to Morning Joe or the NBC 5 morning crew repeatedly report the same stories on the half hour with weather on the fives.

Not impressed with the morning activities of a self-proclaimed morning person yet?  Well, sometimes on particularly nice mornings when I don’t have to be anywhere, I will venture out my backdoor – in my pjs, cup in hand.  When was the last time you step outside just as the sun was coming up over the horizon?  It is an awesome sight to behold as thin fingers of light peel away the darkness.  Stars and planets slip from view and the moon slowly makes its descent giving way to a new day.  All right before your eyes.   Now take a deep breath.  What do you smell?  Dirt? Grass still wet from last night’s rain?  The sweet scent of roses drifting in on a gentle breeze?  An aroma as alluring as fresh-baked bread.  Listen.  Hear the Mourning Doves cooing and calling to each other, the munch of grass as the rabbits come out for a bit of breakfast, a lawn mower – uh oh.

So, yes, I am a morning person and with all these things to see, hear and smell right outside your bedroom window, I can’t begin to fathom why you are wasting your time sleeping.  Sleep is overrated.  You can sleep when your dead.  Get up, grab a cup of joe and join me on the patio. 

Just do me a favor – don’t spoil the mood by speaking to me.  I’d hate to have to bash you in the face with my baseball bat.  Tends to start the day out on the wrong foot.

My Character Inspiration

“All characters are based on elements of a writer’s personal experience.”  Robert Holdstock

I’ve always been a watcher.  No, not in that creepy Keanu Reeves (The Watcher) sort of way.  My watching tendencies come more out of an innate curiosity of what makes people tick.  I often sit and wonder at the lives of the people I come in contact with on a daily basis.  Are they rich?  Poor? Do they have a good marriage?  A good job? Are they nice or more of a self-centered prig?  Do they have mannerism that I find interesting or repulsive?  Why did they pick those shoes to wear with that blouse?  Are they a secret spy?  A terrorist?  A serial killer stalking their next victim? 

For instance, take the man from Starbucks my writing group observed last night.  He was tucked away in one of the room’s only comfy chairs, “reading” a self-help book.  I say this with air quotes because, although he had the book open in front of his face (and I mean literally blocking his face), he was talking on his bluetooth.   At least I assume it was a bluetooth because surely he wasn’t sitting in Starbucks, pretending to read a book AND talking to himself.  What the heck was this guy all about?  We all took a peek at him and speculated.  Was this man a secret spy?  Perhaps he was sent to observe the man across the room wearing a nondescript baseball cap and typing feverishly on his laptop.  Or perhaps he was waiting for that girl he met on that dating site and hoped to impress her with his choice of reading material.  Or maybe he was just a douchebag hiding behind a book we all knew he wasn’t interested in reading and talking way too loud on the phone.  I ruled out secret spy right away –  Jason Bourne he was not – and settled on the latter. 

This is what makes people watching so fascinating to me – speculation and the “what if” game.  Like the woman I see at the gym every so often with the ginormous…um…let’s call them ta-tas.  I see her float past me during my hour-long, 27.9 mile ride to nowhere.   I am always shocked and amazed that she can walk with such impressively good posture – shoulders down and back, perfect alignment over the hips, head up.   I don’t know much about physics but I would certainly think that she is defying gravity in her ability to remain upright with such a disproportionate top load or maybe she has a spine made of steel.   Hadn’t thought of that possibility until just now, but I digress. 

As she passes me, I always look around expecting to see a Bravo camera crew trailing behind her, catching her every move for the yet unannounced new addition to the series – The Real Housewives of Denton County.  I am forever disappointed that she is all alone because who wouldn’t be tickled pink over another Real Housewives to add to the DVR lineup.  No?  Just me?  Hm.  It is a this point that my mind begins to ask questions.  Is she a stripper? A kept woman? A kept woman who used to be a stripper?  Sydney Bristow in costume preparing to take down the membership manager who is really an arms dealer using 24 Hour Fitness as a front?  I always thought he looked a little questionable.  I’ve been meaning to run him through public data. 

The peculiar man from Starbucks and the buxom blonde would both make great supporting characters in a novel.  Neither would make it to the end of the book alive, but we all need those expendable characters to keep the story flowing.  Right?  You know I’m right.   But what about those instrumental protagonists?  My former history professor is character inspiration gold.  Not in the sacrificial lamb sort of way but as leading man material.  He looks like a young, very thin Ben Affleck with nerdy glasses and displays some distinctive and, often times, funny tics.  He is a brilliant historian, versed in his discipline with more than his fair share of passion on the subject.  He paces the room as he lectures, his voice getting louder and more animated with every breath.  Sometimes I feel like I am in church (if i went to church – don’t judge me) because his voice will suddenly boom and reverberate off of the four walls of the small room.   This is always the point in class where the devil inside me rejoices because his sudden increase in volume will cause the snoozers to jump out of their skin, knock their empty spiral notebooks onto the floor and look around in wide-eyed shock.  Maybe that’s why he does it.

He says “right” after every couple of sentences and he’s not asking a question.  He just says it.  Maybe it’s a Minnesota thing.  He is also shamefully disorganized and clumsy, dropping piles of unbound, coffee stained lecture notes onto the floor so often it becomes such a part of the daily routine that students don’t even notice anymore.   I see him not as this odd, little professor teaching me a freshman level history course, but as the lead in a romantic suspense novel.  Perhaps, the absentminded professor schtick is just a cover.  What if he is a super secret spy, a member of an off the books black ops team only activated in times of great crisis (are you seeing a pattern here)?  What if he will have to team up with the to be announced, tough as nails female character to save the world?  What if he is just what he seems, a quirky intellectual who is inadvertently dragged into some sinister plot?  Better yet, what if the bodacious blonde from the gym and the obnoxious dude from Starbucks are assassins bent on killing the president of the community college (the president that reminds me of that lawyer).  The professor stumbles upon the plot becoming a target himself, then he must team up with the aforementioned compelling character, eliminate the blonde and the Starbucks dude to save the president’s life and dismantle the bomb hidden beneath the library atrium with only his knowledge of World War I trench warfare tactics to guide him. 

Or maybe not.

Characters are the driving force in every story.  Without them, there is no point to putting pen to page.  Next time you are at the grocery store, standing in line behind that lady with one too many kids who wants to pay with an actual paper check, take a look around you.  See, that man in the next aisle?  No, not him.  The other one.  Yes, the one with the carton of milk and toilet plunger.   Take a good look at him.  Ask yourself:  Who is he?  Why is buying milk and a toilet plunger?  Could he be a super secret spy?  A terrorist?  A serial killer hunting his next victim?  Oh crap!  Did he just smile at you?

What I’ve learned about me over the last decade…

 In one month, I will turn 39.  Egads!  39.   Seriously?  How the hell did that happen?  I mean, I can see the whites of 40’s eyes glaring at me from the not so distant shadows.  It’s the beginning of a whole new decade of my life and that much closer to middle-age.   Oh wait, am I middle-aged now?  Oh God, now I’ve scared myself.  I suppose it’s safe to say that I am not really taking this whole 39th birthday thing too well.   I never do and really, who does?   I remember a time when I couldn’t wait for that next birthday to come.  Age 10 meant I could ride my bike on the street; age 16 – driver’s license; age 18 – emancipation; age 21- legal liquor.  Then it all just sort of fizzled out.  After a while birthday excitement got harder and harder to muster until one day the very thought of another birthday left me curled up in the fetal position on the bathroom floor, murmuring unintelligible nonsense over and over.  What?  Never happened to you?  Hmmmm…strange.  Happens to me every year.

As the days tick by, edging closer and closer to June 16, I find myself feeling reflective.  When I turned 29, my beautiful daughter was not yet one and my son was still under the false impression that I was, if not cool, a least a little bit fun.   But for all this happiness and promise of what my 30s would bring, I didn’t start the decade off on the right foot.  Indeed, I squandered almost half of it by feeling afraid.  Afraid of the future; afraid of change; afraid of finding out who I really was as a person – or perhaps rather, who I wanted to be as a person.  It wasn’t a good time for me.  I retreated into myself, alienated friends and got myself good and fat.  I could snarf down an entire bag of Oreos without coming up for air.  It was actually quite an impressive feat, if I do say so myself.  I stumbled my way through my early 30s this way until I saw the family Christmas photo in 2004. 

I was excited about that photo.  It was the first photo of all us in years.   I picked it up and opened the envelope with much anticipation.  It was going to be great, I just knew it.  Wrong.  Sure, my family looked amazing.  Megan with her chubby little cheeks and Brendan with his dazzling smile and Nolan looking every bit the part of a proud husband and father – then there was me.  Double chin, round face, sunken eyes, frizzy hair, sausage arms accentuated by the festive red sweater I’d stupidly chosen instead of my usual black.  My gasp of horror was irrepressible and was surely heard by everyone in the photo studio.  I don’t think I have ever laid eyes on a worse photo – not even my senior pictures which were mind-blowingly bad to say the least, was that bad.   I’ve alway wondered how I made it out of that place without disgracing myself but I made it safely back to my car before I dissolved into a sobbing pile of goo. 

That terrible, awful, disgusting, repulsive – I could go on forever – picture changed my life. It was like someone flipped a switch in me.  I didn’t want to be the person I saw in this picture staring back at me with dead eyes.  I wanted to be something more.  First thing I did was lose the weight.  Wasn’t easy – it never is.  One of life’s little ironies is that it’s always so much easier and a lot more fun to get fat than it is to get un-fat.  I did it though – me, my stationary bike and reruns of Alias (only the greatest show on television – EVER).  Once I did that, it opened up a whole new realm of possibilities for me.  I mean, if I could lose 50 lbs, what else could I do?  What did I want to do?  I wanted to write.   Writing was something I’d dabbled in since childhood but never had the confidence to pursue.

I took a basic novel writing class at Collin County Community College.  Best thing I ever did for myself – well besides loosing weight and getting healthy.  I learned several things about myself during this class – 1) I am quite capable of carrying on conversations with complete strangers without making too much of a fool of myself 2) I sweat and shake profusely when I am nervous  – I am talking sopping wet pits 3) Letting others read and critique my work doesn’t make the heavens come crashing down around my ears.  4) Change isn’t all that scary. 

In my mid-thirties, I learned that the universe has a sick sense of humor.  I was taking baby steps in my endeavor to be more open to change and find myself.   I was more than happy with the pace of things.  Apparently, the universe didn’t quite see things my way.   In the span of just a few months, I lost my house to a fire, my father to cancer, my mother came to live with us and then was diagnosed with cancer herself.  Like it or not, I was going to have to deal with some serious change – quickly – like right now.  If it had been five years early, I might have crawled into my bed, pulled the covers over my head and waited for the storm to pass but it never crossed my mind.  Instead, I dealt with it, bit by bit and I let myself grow from the experience.  I signed up for another writing class (the one I had to drop because my father passed away) and I met the most amazing people.  (Funny how the universe worked there – I never would have met them if I had stayed in the first class.)  They read my work – I had to stand up in front of them and watch while they did it.  As before, it didn’t kill me.  I did sweat like a pig and shake like a leaf but I survived.  I discovered I liked sharing my work,  I liked the honest feedback and I learned that I wasn’t a terrible writer but I had a lot of room for improvement.  I found that I liked them.  Everyone different with their own thoughts and creative ideas.  And every one of them just as quirky as me.  I felt a kinship with these people.   I found my group. 

As I make the climb up these steep steps toward 40, I am not happy about it.  I hate the new wrinkles around my eyes, the laugh lines that frame my mouth and the saggy little skin I’ve just discovered under my chin that no amount of miracle cream can seem to tighten.  I hate that no matter how much I exercise, I will never get rid of that bit of fat that is threatening to overtake my knees.  My feet hurt, my knees ache a little and I can’t fall off a ladder anymore without really hurting myself.  I’m still scared of losing the tight grip I keep on my life – I will forever be a control freak but I am learning to be more laid back and maybe even the tiniest bit spontaneous.  I understand now the importance of nurturing good relationships, cutting out the bad and not being afraid to step off the ledge without looking – well maybe just a peek before I leap.  I am getting older.  I can’t stop it, I don’t like it anymore now than I did ten years ago but the difference now is that I can accept it and feel almost a little bit of excitement about what I might be able to accomplish in the coming years.  I am a 38-year-old college student, after all.  Right now the possibilities seem endless.