Things I learned in the last two weeks

The threat of Christmas hung in the air, visible already in the fretful look of passersby as they readied themselves for the meaningless but necessary rites of false jovialities and ill-considered gifts. – Peter Dickinson

I couldn’t help myself.  Now that Thanksgiving is over, I must turn my attention to bashing the holiday I find the least appeal of them all.  This is only the beginning.  There are 28 shopping days left until Christmas.

I learned the last couple of weeks…

Source: http://fineartamerica.com/featured/hamlet-agnieszka-reichelt.html

…that group projects don’t suck after all.  Okay.  Perhaps that is being a bit overly optimistic.  Let’s try that again.  Group project, in general, suck.  However, there are rare occasions when you are grouped with a person who is a bigger overachiever than you are.  In Western Civilization last week, we were divided into four groups and instructed to develop an argument that was either for or against the Protestant Reformation and explain its impact on Western Europe.  The guy who sits in front of me is a devote Christian and….wait for it….an award winning debater.  SCORE!

…that I love Shakespeare’s Hamlet more this time around than I did last time.  I didn’t think it was possible.  But I always did love it when all the important characters die at the end of a story.  Is that weird?

…that hard drives will crash at the least convenient time possible.  It’s like they wait patiently, biding their time, for the most advantageous moment to strike.  Unaware of the treachery lurking, you spend the day writing and revising.  Just as the last word is written, the very last source properly cited, you make the fatal mistake of turning your back on the lecherous laptop – just for one brief moment – and BAM!  It’s all gone in the blink of any eye, never to be seen or heard from again.  Bastards.

…that my little old lady kitty, the one I thought was misdiagnosed, does indeed have a tumor.  The vet has offered to biopsy it for us.  I think I am going to decline.  We’ve spent a fortune the last few months with no real answers or solutions.  As sad as it makes me, I think it’s time to throw in the towel and allow nature to take its course.  She’s had sixteen good years of life and we are going to do our best to make sure the rest of her time with us is as comfortable as possible.

…that I should probably stop cursing my overly sensitive tire pressure sensor.  Turns out that my tire really was low, though not for the reason I thought.  My tire was fine.  My rim was not.  Apparently, somewhere in my travels, I hit a pothole lethal enough to crack my front driver’s side rim.  Rims for my car at the dealer aren’t cheap ($600 each), but the internet is wondrous place with many deals to be had.  My car is as good as new.  Well, almost.  I still have that door ding that irks me every time I see it, but that’s a rant for a different blog.

…that looking into the face of your child’s child is a strangely emotional thing, especially when the newborn baby girl strongly resembles her father.  It is even stranger and more emotional to see pride and love etched in your child’s face and he gazes at his own child.  Very surreal.

…that Black Friday is an atrocity that does nothing but feed on the greed and depravity that is overtaking our society.  Call me old-fashioned.  Call me a cynic.  I don’t care.  I remember when nothing – and I mean nothing – was open on Thanksgiving, people weren’t camped out in front of big box stores looking to snatch up flat screen TVs, Blu-Ray players, and laptops, and no one was “neutralizing” the crowd with pepper sprayed or getting trampled to death.  Yet another reason to ditch the holidays for a warm, sandy beach on an island far, far away.

…that – in keeping with my Scrooge-like attitude – nothing makes me want to throw the remote at my own flat screen TV like the intro credits to “It’s a Wonderful Life”.  I hate that movie.  Yeah, I said it.  I HATE THAT MOVIE!  If they are going to make me watch Christmas themed shows, the least they could do is make it “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”  The original.  Not that “update” Charlie Brown mess.

…that jacket shopping with my daughter is worse than shoe shopping.  This weekend brought a blast of cold air to our little neck of the woods.  The coldest of the season and thus, it was necessary to replace the winter jacket my daughter had long outgrown.  She is a sweet girl with an easy-going personality, but she has very clear likes and dislikes.  She likes jackets with zippers.  She does not like puffer jackets.  She likes a little faux fur.  She does not like jackets that make noise.  She likes jackets with hoods.  She does not like jackets that are too long.  It was a long, arduous process.  We finally found one that was deemed acceptable at Macy’s, a store that I really don’t like all that much and only went into because I desperately wanted out of the mall.

…that my daughter is moving out of the kid’s department and into the junior’s department.  Have you seen some of the things these teenagers wear?  Scary prospect, indeed.  Just for the record, bedazzling the bum of jeans, regardless of the targeted demographic, is a bad idea.  Very, very bad idea.

…that the onset of the holiday season brings a whole slew of new faces to the gym.  The day after Thanksgiving was crazy.  I was predictably annoyed by the newbies who hampered my workout process with their ignorance, but I was also secretly thrilled.  I find a lot of my character inspiration at the gym.  There’s just something so special about those people.

…that Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2 is grosser than the first.  I didn’t think they could top the “cheese touch”.  I was wrong.

…that I really liked the movie Fair Game.  It is Hollywood’s version of the Valerie Plame scandal.  I love spy thrillers and political conspiracies, so this one was right up my ally.  Of course, I am sure the story has been enhanced for the pleasure of the viewing public, but it was entertaining and gave food for thought on the far-reaching power of the White House.

…that since my last “Things I learned…” post I’ve sat and watched Pride & Prejudice on the Oxygen channel twice.  I’ve also watched Bourne Identity (my second favorite movie) twice – in the same day on Starz.  Don’t you judge me.

WARNING!  WARNING!

My pet peeve of the week is…

…that I can’t seem to get away from those radio commercials that swear that you can lose weight and keep it off simply by subscribing to their prepackaged “restaurant quality” meals.  No exercise or life style change required.  Is this company on crack?  Are people so desperate to avoid sweating that they buy into this crap?  Calorie in/calorie out people.  The weight may come off initially, but it will be back.  With vengeance.  Serious lifestyle change is required to obtain good health and certainly, if you want to keep it.  Believe me when I say it is easier, and less expensive, to just suck it up and get your ass moving.  [Okay, I shall step off the soapbox now.]

…and lastly, this week’s awww moment is brought to you by a very over-ambitious hamster with eyes bigger than his stomach…or mouth.

Get in my belly!

Things I learned this week (November 7 – November 13)

I learned this week…

…that snickerdoodles will be added to my holiday cookie line up this year.  I’ve made all sorts of cookies over the years – chocolate chip, pizzelles, peanut butter, spice cookies, etc. – but never snickerdoodles.  I made them for the first time this week.  I’m not really sure why I’ve excluded them in the past.  However, I will rectify this mistake as I delve into the my marathon of holiday baking in the coming weeks.  They were very tasty.

…that it is time to up the resistance on the elliptical to a solid 9.  I surpassed my best distance record this week.  I was able to cover 6.56 miles in one hour.  I think it’s safe to say that I’ve mastered the elliptical and am officially a convert.  I’m going to have to expand this thought into a blog entry.  I have a lot to say about it.

…that my little old kitty does not have lymphoma, after all.  Misdiagnosed.  She does have a slew of other health issues, but all of them manageable.  It’s always much easier to take a misdiagnosis when the error is in your favor.  Of course, this doesn’t alleviate the sting of the vet bills.  I’ve spent a fortune over the last month or two trying to find out what is wrong with my kitty and if it was time to make THE decision.

…that Shakespeare’s sonnets are much more entertaining than Petrarch’s sonnets.   Though, if I am to be completely honest, I probably only understand the meaning of one in three without prompting from dear Dr. W.  This sonnet, No. 130, I understood perfectly, however.  I’m sure you will, too.

An earlier version of Summer, 1563. Giuseppe Arcimboldo
My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun
Coral is far more red, than her lips red
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head
 
I have seen roses damasked, red and white
But no such roses see I in her cheeks
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks
 
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound
I grant I never saw a goddess go,
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground
And yet be heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.
 

…that inexplicably, I will experience a surge of excitement when I stumble across Pride & Prejudice on the Oxygen channel.  It matters not that I own it on blue ray and can watch it whenever my little heart desires.  It seems I am too powerless to change the channel, and too lazy to get up and pop in the DVD.  So, here I sit typing away at this blog, watching my favorite movie in low resolution, and suffering through endless commercials.

…that crazy gymnastics moms + vendor selling racks and racks of bedazzled leotards = calamity + a near homicidal me, squared.  You would really think that after four years of twice weekly practice at the same gym, surrounded by a lot of the same people, I would be more tolerant of these magpies.  I’m not.  I don’t think this is any fault of my own, but rather the fact that these woman have had their brains sucked out by some unknown force.  I am convinced that I am the only person in the entire place who is somehow immune to this mystery brain sucking foe.  I wonder if this is how Ripley from Aliens felt.

…that ineptocracy is a fun, new word.  I wish I could take credit for this one, but I learned it from my fellow WCer, Bill.   [Click here to for more from Bill].

…that I don’t know squat about what a biochemical lab looks like, or what it may contain.  This poses a problem for me because I am currently writing a scene for my novel, Retribution, that is set in a biochemical lab.  Guess I am going to have to consult my friends over at Wikipedia and Google images.  If anyone wants to share some expertise…

…that my husband should not be allowed to “clean” the coffee pot.  For a few years now, we have had a couple of those dispensing pots.  You know, you stick your cup underneath the spout, press it against the big button, and coffee magically pours into your cup.  Every time my husband “cleans” it, the stream diminishes.  Last year, he decided to “fix” this little problem by taking the pot apart.  Needless to say, I picked up a new one on my way home from work the next day.  Yesterday, my husband decided to deep “clean” the pot again.  I am now the proud owner of a new Kitchen Aid 14 cup coffee pot.  It is not the dispensing kind.  Lesson learned.

…and lastly, this week’s awww moment is brought to you by this adorable little piggy.  I have a soft spot in my heart for pigs.  I think they are freaking adorable and when all my kitties are gone, I’m going to get me one.  (Shhhh don’t tell Nolan.  He thinks we are getting a dog).  This little piglet has a story.  [Click here to read it].

Things I learned this week (October 1 – October 7)

I learned this week…

…that it sucks when my ankles swell up to a size they’ve not been since I gave birth to my youngest child some eleven years ago.  It also sucks that it took three days to get the swelling to go down.

…that my doctor will look at me like I have grown a second head when I come in with a written list of things I wish to discuss with her.  I’ve been saving them up for the last year – since my last appointment with her.  I think I may have overwhelmed her.  I really like her, but I miss my old doctor.  She understood me.

…that perhaps I should stop self-diagnosing and informing my doctor of what ails with me before she has a chance to offer her professional opinion.  I think she sends me out for diagnostics just to prove to me that she is the one with medical degree.

…that I still hate Beowulf with a passion and I am still unable to retain the story.  This caused me a great amount of angst and embarrassment this week when I bombed a surprise quiz on the piece.  When I say bombed, I mean I received credit for one correct answer out of five.

…that I really am disgusted with the cafe on my college campus and am dismayed to know that this campus is the only one in the district its lack of sufficiently nutritious lunch choices.  I am planning an extensive letter writing campaign to rectify the problem.  In case you miss my previous post on this subject, you can read more about my recent experience [here].

…that it is absolutely wonderful to see the beginning of October.  I am looking forward to spending a few hours at my favorite pumpkin patch this weekend and heralding in the start of the best season of the year.

…that I enjoy studying with the older gentleman who sits in front of me in my Western Civilization class.  He is a lot like me, in school for the sake of learning and no other reason.  However, the slacker who sits at the end of my row, in the same class, can bite me.  I would be more than willing to share my notes and study guide with him if he actually put forth an effort to show up to class.  Does this make me a bitch?  Perhaps.   However, in the last couple of years, I’ve become very familiar with the two types of students that darken the door of my classes.  You have your worker bees – like me – and the mouth breathers, as I affectionately like to call them.  They are the late arrivals, the nappers, the texters, the food munchers, the “my dog ate my homework” excuse slingers.  And that’s if they even bother showing up to class at all.  These are also the ones who dissolve into a full-blown panic attack on test day and want to borrow everyone elses notes and study guides so that they may have a snowball’s chance in hell of passing.  I am an unsympathetic person by nature.  I feel that your lot in life is determined by your own actions.  If you don’t put forth an effort to advance yourself, then you have no one to blame but yourself when everything goes terribly bad for you.  This makes me very unpopular.  I couldn’t care less.

…that my beautiful daughter is obsessed with something called Invader Zim.  I don’t know if I should be disturbed by this or not.  It seems to be a far cry from her former iCarly obsession.  Perhaps it will pass soon.

…that nothing ruins a workout more than having a woman get on the elliptical next you with foul-smelling breath.  Yesterday, I was minding my own business, getting my grove on to some 70s era disco music, when I smelled something horrifying.  I looked to my left, the direction I thought the odor was permeating.  Next to me was a woman who I regular see at the gym.  I’ve been stuck next to her on the elliptical before and it was a slightly unpleasant experience then, too.  Yesterday, however, she must have eaten a whole bushel of onions the night before because she reeked.  It was so nauseating, that I had to leave the area completely.  So, unfortunately, I did not get my cardio workout in, and instead had to pass the time on the weight machines.  I guess it all worked out.  Today, she was there before me and I was smart enough to opt for a machine at the opposite side of the gym.  The air quality was much improved.

…that it has been one of those weeks where I am academically overwhelmed and creatively uninspired.  Hopefully, next week will be better and the Man vs. Beast segment will be back in full swing.  I do have some great stuff bookmarked and my ever diligent brother has sent me a couple of things I missed.

…last but not least…this week’s awww moment is brought to you by Fran, a fifteen year old gorilla who resides at the Bronx Zoo in New York City, and her encounter with a duckling who wandered into her enclosure.

Tom Warren / Solent News & Photo Agency

Nutrition + College = Huh?

Nutritional health is something very near and dear to my heart.  As anyone who knows me can attest, I am very particular about what I deem worthy of ingestion.  I can give you a ballpark estimate of the caloric content of just about anything – within reason, of course.   I wasn’t always this way.  I used to feast unabashedly on anything and everything that caught my fancy.  Of course, one cannot overindulged for any length of time without suffering devastating consequences.  It’s that whole cause and effect thing.  It will bite you in the ass every time.  It certainly bit me in the ass.  Hard.  At my heaviest, I tipped the scales at 170 lbs. That may not seem like much to some, but put that much weight on my frame and, well, let’s just agree that it wasn’t necessarily my most attractive moment.  I’ve talked about my awakening before and the journey to meet my weight loss goals.  It wasn’t easy.  It took discipline, committment, lots of exercise, and constant calorie counting.  This may sound burdensome, but after a while the counting became second nature and part of my everyday life.  A true lifestyle change.  My new normal.

Losing the weight, however, was just one step in the journey.  The moment of truth would come in maintaining it.  It is something I am still doing and will until I take my last breath.  Hopefully, I’ve staved off the end by a few years with my due diligence.  Or maybe it will all be in vain.  There is always the possibility that I will get hit by a bus crossing the street, but the way I choose to look at it is like this:  I will not have to worry about looking fat on the medical examiner’s table when he’s cutting open my chest in search of which blunt force trauma did me in.  I say that alone is worth the sacrifice.

This bit of rambling nonsense brings to me to what prodded me into writing this blog entry instead of working on the next Man vs. Beast offering that my husband would rather be reading right now.  I am on the campus of a community college twice a week.  I come early in order to enjoy a bit of quiet time and finish up any straggling assignments I may have or work on some of my other writing endeavors.  Unfortunately, all this exertion of brain power makes me hungry.  Sometimes, I have the forethought to stick a couple of things in my bag to nosh on, as I run out the door in the mornings.  Sometimes I don’t.  Today was one of the days I didn’t.  By midmorning my stomach was gnawing at my spine, and I was forced to wander over to the poor excuse for a dining establishment this campus offers.

My husband would say that my disdain for this place is my elitist personality rearing its ugly head.  That I am spoiled and am expecting far too much.  I would say that I pay good money (cash, paid in full at the beginning of each semester) to attend this school, the least they could do is offer me a decent place to eat with some healthy, nutritional food choices.

How bad could it be, you ask?

Well, I’ll tell you.

My first semester on campus during the lunch time hour was last fall.  I naively went in search of a turkey sandwich.  I like my turkey sandwich – and every other sandwich, for that matter – simple.  Meat, wheat bread, a little lettuce, a tomato or two.  No condiments, no added fuss.  Easy peasy.  I gave my order to the unpleasant lady manning the counter and was horrified by what happened next.  She plopped some mystery meat down on a greasy griddle, slathered two pieces of white bread with an equally mystifying oil substance, and then promptly slapped them down on the griddle next to the meat.  This was the conversation that followed:

“What are you doing?”  I asked.

“You ordered a turkey sandwich.  This is a turkey sandwich,” she said giving me a look I can only describe as demonic.

“No it isn’t.  I just want a plain turkey sandwich.”

“Huh?”

“You know, a sandwich.  I don’t want anything grilled.”

“We don’t have that today.”

What?

It turns out that this very nasty woman was right.  There was no plain Jane turkey sandwich on wheat anywhere in that place.  Every sandwich listed on the “menu” is prepared in this fashion.  That’s when I took a good look around and realized that anything that could be remotely considered healthy was relegated to a tiny area next to the cash register.  The pickings were slim.  Yoplait yogurt – not the fat-free kind (insert eye roll here) –  a pre-packaged container of a handful of grapes, a few slices of apple and a couple of crackers, those little single serving cereal things, and some unidentifiable muffins.   Though muffins cannot really be considered healthy once you factor in their overall calorie and sugar content.

I left and vowed to never return.

The problem with making vows like that is that you often have to break them out of necessity or desperation.  Desperation lead me back into that diner from dietary hell today.  I perused the “menu” tacked just outside the door and decided that I would sacrifice some carbs and allow myself the pleasure of a bagel.  I took my place in line behind a young man who ordered a hot dog.  Not my first choice for breakfast fare, but you have to remember that these are young people who have yet to grow any common sense.   I have faith he will learn the error in his way one day.  As I stood waiting my turn, I watched the gentleman manning the counter pull a hot dog out of a refrigerated unit, slice it down the middle, opening it up butterfly style, and plop it face down on the greasy griddle.  He reached into a bread bag, pulled out a bun, slathered the inside with mystery oil, and slapped it down next to the hot dog.

Deja vu.

Seriously?

“Can I help you?”

I realize that this question is directed at me.

“I’d like a bagel, please.”

He gives me the look.

Uh oh.

He turns to consult with his co-worker.  After a few seconds of whispering, they both turn to me and inform me that they are out of bagels.

“An English muffin?”  I saw that on the menu, too.  No better or worse for my waistline.  The substitution was acceptable.

They shake their heads in unison.

Are you kidding me?

“I don’t want anything then, ” I said in a voice that was probably a lot bitchier than it should have been, but really.  Out of bagels AND English muffins, but the guy in front of me can get his fill of fried hot dogs?

Out of pure desperation, I settled on a cranberry muffin and a full fat yogurt.  More calories than I wanted to ingestion for breakfast, but I suppose that was my penance for not leaving the house fully prepared for the day.

Credit: Liz Hafalia/The Chronicle

I cannot help but wonder why, in this day and age of increased awareness in health and wellness, that this diner, or campus for that matter, would choose to provide sub-par food that lacks any significant nutritional value.  I understand that this is a public education establishment and there has been quite a lot of fiscal belt-tightening needed to keep up the level of services provided to the growing student body.  I also understand that a good number of my fellow students are young people who largely have no idea that the candy bar and soda they are consuming for breakfast every morning will cause them catastrophic health problems down the road.  Health problems that you and I and every other taxpayer in America will end up footing the bill for in higher insurance premiums.

Youthful ignorance is a wonderous thing.

However, these young people who throw dietary caution to the wind do not make up the whole of the student body.  There are plenty of people like me.  People who understand that they are what they eat, and who want a healthy alternative to a fried hot dog and greasy grilled sandwiches and fries.  I’m not saying that they have to get rid of this junk food.  I would certainly never want to deprive anyone of their sodium and fat fix, but why should this be the only thing available.  Why can I not get a salad?  A plain turkey on wheat?  A fat-free yogurt cup.  I’m not even asking for the healthier Greek yogurt.  Yoplait is sufficient.  I will even pay a premium price for these choices.  As would a large number of my fellow students, I’m sure, if they were given the choice.

I understand that with healthy food choices, the mantra “If you build it, they will come”, does not always apply.  There are many who are satisfied filling their bodies with junk.  However, I’d like to think that with the obesity epidemic that is plaguing our country today and the health issues contributed to such, that more and more people are increasingly conscience of what they ingest and are seeking healthier alternatives.  I believe this school’s dining facility is operating way behind the curve and has a lot of catching up to do.

So I’ve identified the problem.  What to do about it?  Simply bitching about the lack of choices will not bring about change.  I think a protest is in order.  A picket line?  Crudely made signs spelling out our grievances?  A sit in?  Perhaps we can chain ourselves to the legs of the pool table that sits right outside of the little cafe.

That all sounds very reasonable to me.  But then again, as I sit here in the library and scan the room, I see my fellow students drinking Big Gulps, chomping on chips, and snarfing candy bars.  Perhaps I am wrong.  Perhaps no one in this school wants to eat a salad but me.

Perhaps my husband is right and I am indeed an elitist snob who expects for too much from society as a whole.

I hate it when he’s right.

Things I learned this week (September 24 – September 30)

I learned this week that…

…that it feels good to bump the elliptical resistance up to 9; bumping it up to 10 feels even better.  However, it should be noted that doing it too many days in a row leads to über sore thighs and hamstrings so it might be necessary to alternate resistance levels.  I will have reevaluate my workout routine accordingly. 

EliptiGo

…that my newfound affection for the elliptical sorta makes me feel guilty.  I see my beloved bike number 3 sitting across the room empty and looking forlorn, and it’s almost as if I’m cheating on it.  Maybe we need couples therapy.  Or perhaps I need an EliptiGo.     

…that thankfully it didn’t take long for my daughter to get the hang of the clarinet.  After nearly six weeks, the strangled goose has been replaced with a fairly pleasant, deep-throated sound and tunes that are clearly recognizable.  I’m sure the private lessons didn’t hurt the progression of this process.  Money well spent, indeed.

…that signing up for Sting’s fan club just to find out that pre-sale tickets were only available for a short window of time – an expired window of time – sucks.  Successfully navigating Ticketmaster and getting decent tickets on the day that Sting tickets go one sale to the general public, makes everything right in my world.  I think I even saw a rainbow the minute the sale went through.  Seriously.

…take home tests are just weird.  I sort of understand my professor’s reasoning behind it, but I still feel like I am somehow cheating.

The Debt

…that the movie The Debt is a spine tingling spy thriller that left me breathless.  I don’t think I’ve enjoyed a movie so much in quite some time.  I highly recommend it to anyone who likes this sort of thing. 

…that having aging animals is emotionally and financially draining.  Two to the vet this week.  One with good news; the other very bad news.  Our oldest cat has been referred to an animal oncologist for treatment for Lymphoma.  She’s very old and we have some seriously difficult decisions to make. 

…that my husband doesn’t get my writing.  Oh, he likes learning about the things I’ve learned during the week and enjoys the animal attack entries, but anything else – not so much.  I have tried to not allow this to influence what I write and my approach to this blog, but it does and it has.   I’d like to say that I don’t care what people think , after all, I dabble with this site solely for creative purposes and to exercise my writing muscle.  In truth, I do care.  Can you say crushing period of self-doubt? I think I am in need of some serious validation.  Hugs?  A pat on the head?  Anyone?  No? 

…that sometimes you just can’t wait for Wednesday to highlight man’s stupidity in dealing with Mother Nature’s most ferocious predator of the sea.  A 42-year-old British man lost a good portion of both legs when he decided he was smarter than shark spotters at a beach in Cape Town, South Africa.  Shark spotting is serious business in this part of the world.  They have individuals who are strategically situated and do nothing all day but watch for Great White sharks lurking just off the beaches.  On Wednesday, several were spotted in the water.  The appropriate action was taken – beaches were closed, warning flags hoisted.  This future Darwin Award winner disregarded all of it and went into the water anyway.  It didn’t end well.  You can read his story [here].  Take notice of the amateur video halfway down the page.  The camera will pan down and you can clearly see the monstrous shark in the shallow waters.  This man is very lucky to be alive.

…last but not least – this week’s awww moment is brought to you by Tango, a little ginger-haired Francios’ langurs monkey, born at the beginning of the month in London.   ***Thank you to my friend, Kelly, for bringing this gem to my attention.***

Zoological Society of London/PA Wire

Things I Learned This Week (September 10 – September 16)

I learned this week:

…that my daughter has kicked “Georgie” to the curb.  She took exception to his giving out her phone number without her permission.  “I gave him two chances, Mom.  He’s not getting a third.”  Good girl.  Of course, it came out during casual dinner conversation that his offenses were far greater than just mishandling her private telephone number.  He was two timing her with a 13-year-old.  “I saw them together, Mom.”  Little bastard.  Good riddance.

…that I am getting the hang of this whole elliptical thing.  45 minutes/4.8 miles total.  Lots of calories burned.  I love it when I burn calories and sweat – a lot.  I think my loyalties are waning.

Suzy Allman for the New York Times

…that speaking of loyalties – I have been a Roger Federer fan for years.  Seriously, since he burst onto the scene and became a nagging thorn in Pete Sampras’ side.  However, during the last couple of tennis seasons, I’ve watched while my champion has slowly lost his mojo.  I am disturbed by this because, if he is on his way out, who will be worth of my unwavering devotion?  Nadal?  Egads, no.  There is just something about him that makes me want to box his ears and tell him to stop digging his undies out of his butt crack before every serve.  It’s so….ew.  I didn’t get to watch much of the US Open this year, but I did catch the semis and of course, both the men’s and women’s finals.  I watched the men’s final – well, in two parts.  I was glued to the first two sets, but was forced to drag myself away from it to take Megan to gymnastics.  When I returned an hour or so later, they were still battling it out.  It was a fierce game  – almost as exciting as the 2009 Federer/Roddick  epic Wimbledon final.  Almost.  In the end, Djorkovic dominated Nadal.  I think I may have found my new champion.

…that I was right about Mother Nature’s vindictive side.  Just when we thought we were making a clean break into fall, she zapped us with a few more days of scorching temperature.  I think we’ve been properly chastised, don’t you?  I mean, who are we to think that we are anything more than mere pawns on the board of whatever sick game she is playing?   Let’s hope that the 107* record high on Tuesday was her last little jab at us.  I think it’s time for her to move on and torture someone else for a while.  Perhaps our neighbors to the far north?  I think they are due for a little snow right about now.

…that two people died as the result of a fire on board a cruise ship off the coast of Norway.  First, let me say:  What the heck is going on in Norway?  They seem to be in the headlines a lot lately, and not in a good way.  Second:  This is one of those “I told you so” moments.  I have come a long way in conquering my fear of boats, but I have steadfastly maintained that nothing – and I mean nothing – would ever possess me to step one foot on board a cruise ship.  Ever.  Not even in the pursuit of personal growth.  I have to draw the line in the sand somewhere.  If you would like to read more about this story, you can do so [here].

Justin Lane/Pool via EPA

…that even after ten years and numerous remembrance ceremonies, the footage of 9/11 still breaks my heart and makes me cry.  In a very unpatriotic move, I didn’t watch anything but tennis this past weekend.  I just couldn’t do it.  I feel selfish. 

…that the Iliad was not as difficult or as boring as I remember.   Who knew?  Oedipus Rex is wonderfully tragic and chock full of irony.  I love irony. 

…that caterpillars possess a gene that makes them vulnerable to a certain virus.  What makes this interesting enough for the old Friday blog, you ask?  This virus takes over of the caterpillar’s brain and turns it into a freaking zombie!  Under the control of this virus, the caterpillar climbs to the top branches of a tree, where it is then liquified.  As the oozy remains of the caterpillar rain down from the tree tops, the virus is spread, thereby ensuring its longevity.  Ingenius…but what I want to know is, if it is this evolved now, how long before it mutates and we find ourselves with a real life zombie crisis on our hands?  Quick!  Somebody send me the rules for surviving a zombie attack.  You can read about these caterpillars [here].

…that there are people out there who think Do-it-Yourself botox is a good deal.  And a good idea.  Okay, I can’t even wax my upper lip without taking off my chunks of skin and breaking out in a nasty rash.  Why would anyone attempt to paralyze the muscles of their face with an injectable toxin all by themselves.  Is this stupidity at work or the desperation of a society dying to be what the media and Hollywood have defined as youthful and beautiful.

…and this weeks awww moment:

Anatoly Strakhov/Caters News Agency

Tell me, how on earth could any mother walk away from that face? 

Things I learned this week (September 3- September 9)

Mother Nature

I learned this week:

…that someone was kind enough to satisfy Mother Nature’s chocolate craving.  Why else would we suddenly be allowed to enjoy some fall-like weather?  Surely, it wasn’t because she felt sorry for us.

…that after living three months or more in an oven, it’s funny what we consider fall-like temperatures.  When I was a kid living in Germany, fall was decidedly cooler, more refreshing, and the landscape was as colorful as an impressionist’s canvas.  I miss that place more than ever, during this time of year.

…that I really am not a fan of young people.  Their parents should be held legally liable for unleashing their inconsiderate, rude asses on the rest of society.  I find it astounding, and frankly, down right disturbing, that they are our nation’s future.  I’m telling you, we are so screwed.  Screwed.

…that sometimes I have trouble acclimating.  I’ve always thought I was the queen of adaptability.  Perhaps it is my advancing age and a certain resistance to change that comes with that.  This semester brought a lot of changes.  Megan is now in middle school.  She goes to school later in the morning and gets out later in the afternoon.  I’ve had to alter my work schedule to accommodate this change.  In addition, my own school schedule was made around her schedule.  When I did all this initial planning, I failed to allot myself sufficient time for lunch and a daily workout at the gym.  For the last three weeks, I’ve struggled with finding a balance.  As a result, I’ve allowed myself to eat fast food, on the run, for lunch and to skip the gym altogether.  I will tell you, it’s not been a pretty couple of weeks.  I find exercise to be an essential part of maintaining good mental health and boosting my immune system.  Not working out has made me feel disjointed, grumpy, rundown and fat.  Not a good combination for me or the people who must endure my general pissiness on a daily basis. This week, I was determined to get into the groove.  I brown bagged my lunch with healthy but filling foods, found a better parking spot that allows me to avoid the 2:15 pm mass exodus from campus, and am at the gym, changed and ready for 45 minutes of a good, old-fashioned calorie burning sweat-fest by 2:35 pm.  I have found my rhythm and it feels good.

…that my daughter is growing up and there is nothing I can do to stop it.  This week, a certain little boy has finally discovered where we live.  At 4:45 pm everyday, we are now treated to a very loud knock at the door.  When I open it, there stands little – let’s call him Georgie to protect his identity.  “Is Megan home?”  “She’s doing homework.  She can’t have visitors until she’s done.” “Okay, I’ll just wait right here until she’s done.”  Um…okay.

…that, in relation to the above, my daughter was asked by three boys to the sixth grade dance.  Three!  Seriously?  Nolan is going to have a stroke.

…that even though I’ve never really been a Rolling Stones or a Maroon 5 fan, I love the song “Move Like Jagger”.  It defies reason, but that song makes me wanna shake my money-maker.  You can get your own groove on [here].

…that nothing gets people’s attention like putting the word “porn” in the title of your blog entry.  Wonder how many readers were disappointed that it was actually pictures of books and not real porn?  If you don’t know what I’m talking about and would like to check it out for your self you can do so [here].

…that it is possible to be mauled by a polar bear and walk away, albeit minus your pants.  Just ask the poor woman who was attacked by one in the middle of town, in northern Russia.  Conveniently, someone had their handy-dandy cellphone at the ready and caught the whole thing on tape.  Good thing someone else had the presence of mind to put down their electronic recording device and come to the woman’s aid.  You can see the video of the attack [here].

…that some people are brilliant storytellers.  Unfortunately, their fabricated tales are not the kind you find between the pages of a book, lack entertainment value, and do irrevocable damage.

…that there are three C’s in life:  choice, chance, and change.  You must make the choice to take the chance, if you want anything in life to change.  This little piece of brilliance was stolen from my good friend Cyril.  I have a lot to say about this.  Maybe I will ponder it and write something on it in the future. 

…and last but not least…our weekly awwww moment:

L'Hoest's Monkey

Stay tuned for another exciting episode next week.  Same time.  Same channel.

Things I learned this week (August 22 – 26)

So, here we are again – another week successfully muddled through, with virtually no collateral damage.  That makes for a good week, in my book. 

For those of you that pay attention to these things, there are only 27 days left until the official beginning of the fall season and only 120 shopping days left until Christmas. 

I’m looking forward to the beginning of fall, myself.  Though, I don’t know why.  I live in Texas.  Mother Nature tends to forget about us down here in the Lone Star State when she is handing out seasonal weather.  I’m starting to think that she doesn’t care for us all that much.  Or maybe we are being punished for something.

Rick Perry, perhaps? 

Just saying.

I learned this week…

Megan the Wise

…that my daughter is wise beyond her years.  She sat down at the dinner table and out of blue said, “So many years gone by so fast, huh?”  She’s had a lot of these little zingers lately.  I’m not sure how she became so mature or if it is even a good thing, but her frankness warms my heart.  I am so blessed to have her in my life.

…that even at my age, and with more than a few semesters under my belt now, I still get butterflies on the first day of school.

…that an educational institute’s library is still one of my top five places to people watch.  The eclectic group of individuals who choose to begin their quest for higher education at a Community College make for great character inspiration, as do the facility that are determined to teach them.  I spent two days this week taking it all in and playing my favorite “what if” game.  Perhaps I will share some of the things I witnessed with you in my next blog entry.

…that even though I am not a proponent of war, I am thrilled to see Gaddafi’s regime come crashing down.  Those of you old enough to remember Lockerbie, Scotland will surely share my view.  [If you would like to read more about the bombing of Pan Am flight 103, you can do so (here), as well as (here).] Now, the question is:  Will the liberated Lybians embrace this opportunity for a new beginning, free from oppression, or will they squander it away, allowing an even bigger evil to rear its ugly head.  I guess time will tell.

Jeff Mitchell/Getty Images

that I found this little tidbit regarding the founder of IKEA very interesting.  For those of you who don’t know, I loathe the Swedish furniture maker with the strength of a thousand suns.  I have no real problem with their products, per se.  I will readily admit that my favorite writing chair is from IKEA – though my choice of decor tends to lean more toward traditional than modern.  My biggest problem with the store is in its design and layout.  I don’t appreciate being herded like little lab rats through a never-ending maze while enduring the endless stupidity and rudeness of those packed like sardines around me.  I want to get in, get what I need, and leave.  An impossibility in IKEA.  Oh, and don’t get me started on the floor.  I have never left that store without an ache that runs from my right knee down to my right big toe.  Never.

…that I was mistaken in my belief, or perhaps hope is a more adequate word, that the middle school parents would have a better grasp of pick up and drop off rules.  Their children may have matured over the summer, but sadly, they have not.  Yesterday, I saw a white Chrysler 300 (with pimpin’ rims) parked backwards – complete with illuminated reverse lights – in the moving (in the opposite direction) carpool lane.

…that the weather folks on the nightly news are just screwing with us.  We might have fallen for the arbitrary 98 or 99 degree high temperature prediction stuck in at the end of the ten-day forecast, the first few half-dozen times, but now it’s just cruel to dangle such utter nonsense – complete meteorological fabrications – in front of our noses.  Haven’t we suffered enough?

10 day forecast courtesy of http://www.weather.com

…that adaptation is born out of necessity.  A couple of weeks ago I came back from vacation to find that most of the stationary bikes at my gym, including my beloved #3, were gone.  “Out for repair”, the pimply boy behind the counter told me.  I was forced to get my cardio workout on the elliptical.  I am surprised to report that I don’t hate it.  I’ve figured out how not to fall off and how to adjust it to fit my short, stubby stride.  As always, I judge the success of a workout by the amount of sweat dripping from my body and the level of numbness I feel in my legs when I’m finished.  The elliptical delivered on both.  This does not mean that it will replace the spinner as my workout apparatus of choice – I am a biker, through and through.  *HA!  I made a joke there.  See?*

…that though I searched high and low, I was unable to find any new reports of bear attacks.  However, I did come across another Great White shark attack.  This time off the coast of South Africa.  I don’t wish to belittle such a tragedy with insensitivity, but I must conclude that this surfer was either demented or had never watched the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week.  Every episode I’ve ever seen features dumbasses shark enthusiasts in boats off the coast of South Africa surrounded by large numbers of these predatory fish.  You can read this surfer’s story (here).

…that insects can elicit the occasional awwww moment:

Miroslaw Swietek/liveScience

Okay.  Perhaps that was being a tad too generous, but you have to admit that the above photograph had you leaning in a little closer to your computer screen, musing, “What is that?”

My work here is done.

Things I learned this week (August 8-12)

Well, we’ve made it through another week.  That means we are one step closer to the end of this nightmare summer and the beginning of a refreshing fall, full of new and exciting possibilities – and lower temperatures.  But before we get too caught up in fantasizing about day time highs under the century mark, let’s take a minute to explore the useful, and not so useful, things I’ve learned this week.

This week I learned…

…that sometimes you just need a Red Bull.  Even if that Red Bull is inside Madonna’s refrigerator.

…that moving heavy boxes from a high perch to the floor can cause a hip flexor injury.  Who knew?  Though, I shouldn’t be surprised.  I did get golfer’s elbow from falling off a ladder while painting my bathroom last year.  An aging body is a strange thing.

…that I can mark camping in Norway off my bucket list.  You are either going to have to take my word for it or Google it yourself because the photo is just too gruesome to link.  (note: reference campers, polar bear, and Norway)

Dirty Dancing circa 1987

…that nothing in Hollywood is sacred.  I think I am going to have to devote another blog entry to this abomination.

…that for $32 you can get an ice cream sundae that smells (and I guess tastes) just like Justin Bieber.  So, I tried to think of something witty to say in response to this, but…yea…I got nothing.  I’m sure a few of my fellow WCers will do their part to fill the void.  In fact, I look forward to it.

…that reading your account statements from Fidelity Investments can be a lot like watching a Vegas magic act.  One minutes it there; the next, it’s gone.  My advise:  save yourself the ulcer and don’t even bother opening the statements until this storm passes.  If it ever passes.

…that the Stasi were not a fashion forward bunch as noted in the photo below.  For some reason, the first thing that popped into my head were scenes from the 1982 Clint Eastwood movie Firefox.

Reuters

…that after enduring 40 straight days of 100+ degree temperature, nothing is more beautiful than watching heavy clouds and an outflow boundary roll into the area.  No rain but that 84 degrees was mighty nice while it lasted.  Alas, it’s back to reality.  There are, after all, several weeks of summer yet to come.

…that just when my schedule is about to change and make it very difficult for me to write as often as I’d like, I find myself more inspired in my novel than ever.  I’ve had all summer – two whole days a week – to dedicate to full on, balls to the wall writing and all I’ve done (for the most part) is write these silly little blog entries.

…that in spite of the foregoing, I feel that I’ve grown both as a writer and a human being because of these silly little blog entries.  Putting my thoughts out there, for better or worse, has given me confidence.

…that the reappearance of the high school cheer moms at the gym means the gymnastic moms won’t be far behind.  There goes my peace and quiet.

…that every week should end with an “awwww” moment:

"Hold still! You've got a little schumtz on your face." Ilya Naymushin/Reuters

Awwww.

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.

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.