The look of 40

Last June, I turned forty.  A dubious milestone no woman strives to achieve but like most unpleasant things in life, aging is completely unavoidable.  I took it on the chin.  I didn’t take to my bed in a blubbering fit of self-pity, or trade in my 4 door sedan for a zippy Maserati, or wake up with a tequila hangover and a mystery tattoo.   Being the boring mature adult that I am, I opted to celebrate with a quiet dinner, a glass of wine, and a Daniel Silva novel.

The first time my age came up in casual conversation, I was honest and straightforward.  There’s no shame in forty.   Anyway, I don’t really feel any different from when I was 39, even if the elliptical at the gym insists that I somehow burn fewer calories for every forty-five minute workout since my birthday.   The evil work of some abstract algorithm, I’m sure.

“You’re forty?” said the young optician measuring my pupillary distance for my new “no-line” bifocals.  “You don’t look forty.”

“That’s very generous of you,” I said.

“No, seriously.  You look good.  I hope I have such good complexion when I’m your age.”

Hm.

I assured her there was no mistake.  I’d seen my birth certificate – born 1972.  It had an official seal and everything.  At the time, I accepted her declaration as a compliment, vowed to continue using the overpriced anti-aging cream from that high-end department store I loathe, and went on my merry way with a little extra spring in my step.  Yes, vanity is a sin; and yes, I’ve been guilty of it on more than one occasion.  Sue me.  In the seven or eight months since, others have echoed her disbelief, but the initial boost to my ego has waned.  I should probably feel jubilant, over the moon even, that I appear to look so young and vibrant – especially, for someone of my advancing years.

I’m not.

I’ve said it before – I am a personality fraught with flaws.  The list is endless.  Near the top, just beneath chronically phobic is:  tends to over-analyze life, often prone to bouts of irrational suspicion in others, and is perpetually awaiting the other shoe to drop.  A dangerous trio that makes it impossible for me to let these benign bits of frivolous flattery roll by without further examination.

What does it mean when people say I don’t look forty?

What is forty supposed to look like?

Is there some predetermined criteria?

Am I somehow deficient?

Like most women of any age, I look at myself in the mirror every morning and cringe.  I am no great beauty – perhaps passably pretty, if we’re feeling generous.  I run on the wrong side of average, with thick thighs and flabby arms.  I have to sweat a lot to maintain a consistent weight in the mid-120’s, and I’m not known for my overt fashion sense.  My mouth is flanked by laugh lines, the delicate skin around my eyes crinkle ever so slightly when I smile, and every six weeks the silvery-grey hair I work hard to hide winks at me from beneath the glare of the bathroom lights.

It’s an image I’m quite familiar with, and it is an image that has gone virtually unchanged over the last few years.   I find it strange that no one commented on how good I might look for my age when I was 37, or 38, or even 39.  It’s only after I have reached the pivotal age of forty that I am suddenly an oddity in the eyes of my peers.

This inconsistency makes me wonder by what standard forty is judged.  From my own experiences, there seems to be some preconceived notion of one’s physical appearance once a certain age threshold has been crossed.  It’s as if at forty, one abruptly reaches the apex of physicality and is then expected to begin a rapid downward spiral into the dark abyss of crippling old age.  I am, after all, now traditionally considered “over the hill.”  Or so, I’ve been told.  But am I really?

A quick internet search told me that in ancient Rome, a woman’s average life expectancy was between 20 and 30 years depending on her social status, the age she married, and the number of children she bore.   According to Sarah Woodbury, women living in the Middle Ages fared slightly better reaching an average age of 40.  This was, of course, provided she survived infancy, avoided contracting some sort of plague, and didn’t perish giving birth to her own offspring.  During the Industrial Revolution in Victorian England, life expectancy hovered around the upper 30s, but by the beginning of the twentieth century, those numbers rebounded to a staggering 50.  This upward momentum continued through the 1900s, and today women living in the United States can take comfort in the fact that, on average, they may live to be 82 or so.

Hm.

I have long wondered what it might be like to live in another time period.  Now, I know.  It drives home the true meaning of the old adage “life is short.”   While I am grateful to have been born in twentieth century, the numbers do paint a sobering picture.  At forty, I am now truly middle-aged.

Over the hill.  Long in the tooth.  A mutton dressed as a lamb.

Perhaps that Maserati isn’t such a bad idea, after all.  I wonder if it comes in red.

Even so, this depressing revelation doesn’t answer my original question:

What am I supposed to look like at forty – you know, now that I have statistically reached the midpoint of my life?

Should I have developed a hunch back?  A stilted gait?  A weather-beaten face?

Should I suddenly forget how to apply make up?  Allow my hair the freedom to convert back to its natural gray streaked frizz?

The more I think about the answer to this question, the more I’m convinced that age is simply an outdated societal construct designed to confine individuals to easily discernible categories in order to dictate acceptable behavior.  Generally, in our twenties we are considered young and beautiful with carefree spirits and the luxury of worldly ignorance.   In our thirties, we are plagued by the pressure of conformity, the harshness of reality, and the need to settle into designated career and familial roles.  By forty, any hint of the youthful spirit and beauty of our twenties is thoroughly eradicated and replaced by the exhaustion of motherhood, the cruelty of gravity, free-falling metabolisms, wrinkling skin, and mom jeans. By fifty, we are destined for the early bird specials at the local pancake house and an AARP lifetime membership.  Fifteen years later…well…it’s all over but the crying.

Do these categories represent reality? Perhaps there is a measure of truth to be found somewhere floating in the depths of these stereotypes, but I certainly do not believe that we, as individuals, fit into such nice neat boxes.  I don’t wear mom jeans, drive a minivan, or feel the weight of motherhood bearing down on me.   I did all of that in my early thirties.  Now, at the tender age of forty, I am on a wondrous journey of self-discovery and have never felt more alive.  This proves to me that I am right in my belief that age is a relative concept.  You are only as old as you perceive yourself.  I do not perceive myself as old, over the hill, or long in the tooth.  Therefore, I am not.

So, what does forty look like?

Fabulous.

Valentine’s Day: A lesson learned

I have never been one to put too much stock in Valentine’s Day – even when I was young and possessed a more romantic sensibility.  As an uncompromising cynic, I find the commerciality of it all ridiculous, and can’t help but feel a pang of sympathy for the men in our society who must live up to expectations they are structurally incapable of fulfilling.  It is as unfair a system as any I have ever seen.

To add to my derisiveness, my father passed away on Valentine’s Day, six years ago.  Any tolerance I may have had for the frivolity of the so-called holiday quickly evaporated and was replaced with the heaviness of grief.  It is no longer a day of light-hearted romantic celebration, but rather a day of quiet remembrance and reflection.

Still, I’m not completely heartless.  I usually pick up a few little trinkets, a box of chocolates, and an obligatory card or two.  This year, Valentine’s Day was a busy one.  An early morning vet appointment, last-minute cramming for a test, the test, a three-hour lab session, and finally, gymnastics practice.  I forgot all about buying gifts for the family until I overheard two classmates discussing their evening plans.

No worries.  On my way home, I stopped at a local grocery store – the one who likes to think of themselves as the neighborhood florist.  Of course, I was not alone in my procrastination, and the place was a sea of people – mostly men trying to live up to their love’s expectations.  I must say it is a funny thing to watch grown men pick through buckets of roses trying to find the nicest, yet cheapest flowers for the one’s they love.  I overheard one guy bragging to his buddy that he scored a bunch of lilies for nine bucks.  I wanted to tell him they were not appropriate – unless, of course, he was going to a funeral.  I refrained.  Some lessons are best learned firsthand.

I was quite pleased with my own purchases, especially given the late hour.  My daughter is one of simple tastes.  She prefers chocolates above all else and really likes it when I buy her a candy bar bouquet.  My mother likes Ghirardelli chocolates – done.  My husband likes chocolate covered cherries, and I almost bought him two boxes.  Then I spied a heart-shaped box of Italian truffles.  I chose those instead.  I thought he would appreciate the change.

He did not.

It seems Italian truffles are full of two things he hates most in life – almonds and hazelnuts.

IMG_1305He was even kind enough to circle them on the ingredients panel so that I could see my mistake firsthand.

Lesson learned.

Happy Birthday, Dad

My dad passed away almost six years ago.  Today would have been his birthday.   In celebration, I’m sharing with you a few of his favorite songs – songs that make me feel close to him.

Enjoy.

Things I learned this week

“A spy, like a writer, lives outside the mainstream population. He steals his experience through bribes and reconstructs it.” 

John le Carre

I’m on a bit of an early Cold War era spy kick right now.  Two reason for this:  I am writing a paper for my African-American history class that explores the Cold War’s influence on the civil rights movement; and I recently picked up a couple of John le Carre novels at my local second-hand bookseller.

I don’t have the luxury of a lot of free time this semester.  I spend most of my days immersed in a bubbling vat filled with school, work, and family obligations.  However, I have been able to sneak in a few minutes here and there – mostly in the carpool line – to delve into the 1963 classic The Spy who Came in from the Cold and the dark world of aging British spy, Alex Leamus.  It’s not a book packed with action.  Indeed, most of the story plays out within Leamus’ head as he struggles to find moral justification for his life’s work.  I find his introspection fascinating.  John le Carre is a master of his craft, and I am more than a little jealous of the intricate and thrilling story he weaves – without blowing anything up.  Amazing.

Alright, so now that I’ve bored you to tears with my spontaneous book review, let’s get down to business.  I’ve learned a lot this week.  Some good; some not so much; all of it meaningful to my journey of self-discovery.

I learned this week:

that I missed having the BFF around.   This week she and I were able to meet in the middle of the day, on a whim, for a little coffee and girl talk.  It’s been years since we’ve lived close enough to do that.  It was a fabulous way to spend a Thursday afternoon.

(rant of the week)

…that sometimes I expect too much from of my higher education experience – and my professors expect too little from their students.   As I’ve said before, I am in the midst of the group project hell.  In general, I struggle with these sort of things because a) I am a control freak; b) anything less than perfection is failure; and c) I am an introvert who finds prolonged interaction with people I don’t know (or necessarily like) exhausting.  It is no different with this project, though I do generally like the members of the group.

This assignment is two part:  written paper and oral presentation.  Everyone has an individual part to play, but success is contingent upon cohesion.  Bearing this in mind, I took my portion of the paper to my professor for help with an unusual citation.  I would hate to get it wrong and the group grade suffer for my incompetence.

He took it from me, read the first line, looked up at me over his reading glasses and said:  “Are these your own words?”

I said:  “What?  Of  course, they are my own words.  Why on earth would you ask me that?”

I glanced down at my paper because, by this time I couldn’t remember what I had written to illicit such a reaction.  It was a simple opening statement, short and to the point.  No fuss, no muss.  No ten dollar words.  Nothing complicated or provocative.  As you might imagine, I went through a medley of emotions:  shock, indignation, anger.  He backtracked then, but the damage was done.  I walked away from the conversation feeling irritated, more than a little offended, and wondering why I was voluntarily subjecting myself to such nonsense.

Over the next few days, the group began to email me their portions of the paper for editing.  My professor’s cynical attitude solidified before my eyes.  It turns out that decent writing in these sort of survey courses is not necessarily the norm.  Needless to say, I was flabbergasted by the lack of quality, and dare I say, effort, I found in their work.  While I understand everyone has different writing skills and styles, I had expected by this stage in the game, they would have gained the ability to produce a passably intelligent product – with complete coherent sentences.  You know, with a noun, a verb, and the occasional adverb or two thrown in for good measure.

I was wrong.  Lesson learned.

…that my dog’s most prized possession is his raw hide chewy thing, and it is imperative that it be kept stashed in a secret spot until it is time to finish it off.   As a novice dog mom, I am perplexed by canine behavior.  Cats are easy and predictable.  They expect to be fed, acknowledged upon demand, and left alone to nap wherever they choose.  Dogs are different.  Mine reminds me of a mischievous toddler – left to his own devices, mayhem ensues.

While in the backyard this week, I  watched Rocco dig feverishly in a remote corner.  I went to investigate.  He was burying his chewy thing.  I’m not sure why he thinks such a drastic thing is necessary, but there was an air of desperation in his actions.  I suppose he could be worried about a cat uprising.  He is, after all, the only dog in a houseful of felines.  He would be stupid not to feel a little paranoia.  I’m sure even as I type this they are plotting something diabolical.  Hmmm…it seems I understand Rocco a little better than I thought.

…that Skyfall is the best damn Bond movie I’ve ever seen.  And I’ve seen them all.  Multiple times.  In the beginning, I wasn’t thrilled with the choice of Daniel Craig for the part.  When they announced it, I was peeved.  He didn’t fit.  He wasn’t right.  I swore I wouldn’t see Casino Royale.  I was convinced it would be complete shit.  Then  I saw it.  I was speechless.  Bond had evolved.  He was grittier, rougher around the edges.  There was a vulnerability emulating from him, giving him a new level of humanity and mortality.  Despite all of my efforts to the contrary, I liked the film- I liked Daniel Craig as Bond.  I went into Skyfall with high expectations.  I wasn’t disappointed.  Don’t worry, I’m not going to bore you with another review.  If you like this sort of thing, go see it for yourself.  Tell me what you think.

…that my daughter has suddenly decided that jeans with rhinestones on the back pockets is not so repulsive after all.  I’m not real sure what to make of this sudden shift, but rest assured there is a boy involved.

that last, but not least, this week’s awww moment is brought to you by a ladybug I stumbled across in the garden.  He was an uncooperative subject who dodged my best efforts to shoot him from his more photogenic side.  It was almost as if he was mooning me.  Surely not.

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Things I learned this week

Learn we may be with another man’s learning:  we can only be wise with wisdom of our own. – Michele de Montaigne

I learned this week…

…that a simple thing like a hair color touch up and a trim is enough to ease the sting of a trying week.  It won’t make up for the B (very low B) I earned on that Geology exam, and it won’t erase the craptastic essay exam (worse heap of horse manure I’ve ever produced) in my African-American History class, but at least I will feel pretty as I go forward into the aftermath.  I can weather anything life throws at me, as long as I have perfectly coiffed hair.

…that Andy Williams has died at the age of 84.  He is best known as the crooner of the classic Moon River, but to me, he will always be the voice of Christmas.  I’m not a big fan of Christmas – never have been.  It’s nothing personal, I’m not a holiday advocate, in general.  You can read more about that here and here.   My mother, however, loves the holidays and one of her prized possessions was an Andy Williams Christmas album (circa 1963) – on vinyl, of course.  From December 1st until December 26th, that record played ad nauseum.  It took a little time, but it grew on me.  I don’t listen to it very often anymore, but sometimes, when the moon is full and the stars are aligned just so, I add it to my playlist and dream of sugar plums, sleigh bells, and snow covered hills.  RIP Andy Williams.

…that football, at the middle and high school level, is serious business in my neck of the woods.  As a Texan, however transplanted, I should understand this, accept this, and even relish in the glory of the Friday night lights.  I, however, do not.  I’m not a fan of the game and, under normal circumstances, would never entertain the thought of spending my evenings sitting on a cold, hard metal bleacher, in the chilly night air, watching kids try to plow over one another in their quest to get an oblong ball from one end of the field to the other.   It’s really sort of barbaric, if you ask me.  And boring.  This year, however, I have a middle school age daughter in the band.  The band plays at the football games.  Ergo, I am spending a good deal of time sitting on a cold, hard metal bleacher watching a game I do not like.  Of course, if you know me, you know that I’m not really paying much attention to the action on field.  Instead, I prefer to watch the parents sitting around me.  I am treated to an extra special dose of crazy at these things because not only do I get to watch the football dads freak out over an erroneous off side’s call (I’m not even sure what that is), I get to observe my favorite exotic beast, the Cheer Mom, in her natural habitat.   That right there, makes it all worth it.

***Side note:  My daughter’s middle school band rocks!

that Alias has arrived on streaming Netflix.   Score.

…that after years of boycott, I am going to put aside my grudge against Ben Affleck and see his new movie.   Yes, I know this goes against my longstanding vow to loathe him for all eternity.  However, in the infinite wisdom that comes with age, I have found it is unrealistic to stringently adhere to such limiting assertions.  Sometimes, for reasons beyond my control, I must adapt and evolve, especially when it is most self-serving.  I love a good spy thriller – one that is smart, well-written, and keeps me on the edge of my seat from the opening frame until the closing credit.  By all accounts, his new film, Argo, will do just that.  I have thought it over most carefully and have come to the conclusion that I would not forgive myself if I were to allow this work to pass me by simply for the sake of a grudge – a very worthy grudge, but one I readily admit falls slightly to the right of juvenile.   Of course, this does not mean that I am going to abandon my feelings.  I will allow Mr. Affleck to wow me with his directorial (and acting) genius and then it’s back to business as usual.  My rationality and goodwill only go so far.

…that I have to participate in a group project/presentation for a political science class I am taking this semester.  At first, I was pissed off about this.  It seems to be a growing trend among professors, even though it really is not representative of workplace reality.  At least, not in my workplace.  I can’t tell you the last time I had to work in conjunction with a colleague on a project.  I am largely a solitary worker, responsible for my own successes and failures.   I like it that way.  It keeps me from committing acts that might be construed as felonies under the current rule of law.  Having said that…this week my group had its first meeting.  They’re an interesting lot – young and energetic, full of misinformed ideology and false hope.   I sit and watch them through the eyes of the cynic I have grown to be, wondering how they will make it out in the wilds of the real world.  This week, however, I realized that all of my fears were unfounded after one member of our six-man team failed to make an appearance at our little get together.  Group participation is key to our success and as such, any weak link will be detrimental to our overall grade.  My fellow classmates took it upon themselves to nip a potential problem in the bud, and informed our absentee member that if she didn’t produce her part of the project by the next meeting, she was out.  Period.  No excuses.  End of discussion.  Please pack you knives and go.

Alright, then.  I think they are going to be just fine.  And perhaps this group project will not complete suck, after all.

…that school is putting a damper on my creative endeavors.   I apologize for the neglect this blog has suffered since the beginning of September.  I fear it will not get better until December when I can finally put this hellish semester behind me.  The lesson to be learned here – Geology is an evil best endured solo without the added distraction and pressure of…well…everything else.

…and last, but not least, this week’s awww moment is brought to you by Underdog and the Chick-fila cow sharing an intimate moment during a recent football game.  Heartwarming, isn’t it?

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Water droplets

I’ve been busy.  This semester is shaping up to be brutal.  I blame the science. 

Today, I spent a great deal of time trying to differentiate between unconformity, disconformity, angular unconformity, and nonconformity as they pertain to the calculation of geologic time.

I know, right.

I suffered a complete brain short.

So, I went outside.

Do you know what I found?

Water droplets. 

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Enjoy. 

I did.

A hint of fall and a dragonfly

This weekend a cold front blew through my neck of the woods.  The first of the season, putting a welcomed end to a long stretch of 100+ degree days.  On Friday, we set a record when the mercury topped 105.  By Saturday morning, we were enjoying lows hovering around 60 and highs in the mid-eighties.  Around here, we call that fall.

It was fabulous.  Picture perfect, and I just simply couldn’t allow it to go by without getting out to enjoy it.  Along the way, I found this guy perched on a dead tree branch.

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Things I learned this week

In nine lifetimes, you’ll never know as much about your cat as your cat knows about you.”

– Michel de Montaigne.

This week I learned…

…that after taking the entire summer off, I am having a hard time acclimating to the new schedule.  Actually doing things – every single day, all freaking day long – is hard.

that Andy Roddick is retiring from the sport of tennis.

(insert a hearty “YES!” and an Arsenio Hall worthy fist pump here)

I am neither shocked nor saddened by this news.   He’s never been one of my favorite players.   In fact, I really sort of loath and despise him with every fiber of my being – strictly from a fan/professional athlete perspective, of course.  I imagine he’s a perfectly lovely person.  Really.  Surely, he doesn’t throw juvenile temper tantrums alaJohn McEnroe when he’s not on the court.  I doubt his wife would put up with such behavior any more than his tortured circuit line judges.  Then again, I could be wrong.  It’s been known to happen.  Maybe he is, indeed, a sniveling snot in every aspect of his life, not just during game play.    Hmmm….I suppose, I should be gracious and acknowledge his contributions to the sport, but, yeah…I’m not feeling it.  I bid you farewell, Mr. Roddick and if you could do me one small favor as you fade quietly into oblivion, please take Rafe Nadal with you.  Please.  Thank you.

that, speaking of tennis, Roger Federer is out in the quarter finals of the U.S. Open.

(sigh)

…that it takes roughly six months to recover from a yoga-induced hip flexor injury. Good to know.  Of course, it would’ve been nice to have this bit of insight eight months ago.  I could have avoided the whole damn mess by choosing to fulfill my physical education credit with something a tad less ambitious – like “walking for fitness.”  They even offer it on-line.   What is it they say about hindsight?  I suppose I should tuck this lesson way for my blog entry “Things I learned in my 40s.”

…that my husband sometimes says things that cause me great concern.  This week, while driving in the car, he was complaining about a series of dysfunctional ROMs he recently downloaded for his cell phone.   I am ashamed to say that I was only half listening.  I’m not big on technology.  It all seems like a bunch of voodoo magic to me, and besides, I’d heard that song and dance before:

Week one:  Download sparkly new ROM for phone; profess love for said ROM;  it’s the best ROM ever.

Week two:  This ROM is shit.  Everything is totally effed up.  My phone keeps rebooting. I’m going to have to find a new ROM.

It’s cyclical and as predictable as the rising sun.  The ROMs are revolutionary in the beginning, but inevitably they all end up being worthless pieces of buggy shit.  However, this week, my husband figured out the source of his problems. It seems that all this time, he was…

…flashing dirty.

I hate it when that happens.

…that I must continually remind myself that change is good; and the desire to step outside of my comfort zone is what drove me back into the classroom.  This semester I am taking a geology course and a discussion based history course.   While I find the earth’s processes interesting, and have been known to tune into the science channel on occasion, it’s just not my thing.  History, on the other hand, is my thing.  I love it, perhaps even more than writing (EGADS – say it isn’t so!).  However, the discussion driven format of this particular course goes against the grain of my introverted personality.   I struggled with the decision to take this class, even put it off two semesters.  In the end, my desire to learn the covered material over-ruled any anxiety.   Plus, the professor teaching the course is one of my favorite.  He is a character unto himself who rails against our over-regulated, liberal society and the established state mandated educational bureaucracy that dares to dictate his curriculum, lock him into an unworkable timeline, and require he complete a laundry list of menial administrative tasks.  All of which he finds idiotic and nonsensical.  Unfortunately, as we close out the second full week of the semester, I find myself pained at the prospect of attending this class.  The unorganized format has increasingly dissolved into a full out free-for-all complete with irrelevant  arguments, wandering points, and, on occasion, rampant hostility.  All things that set my teeth on edge and have my inner rebellious self fantasizing about jumping up onto a desk, shaking my fist in the air, and screaming STFU!

Of course, I’m sure that would adversely effect my GPA.  Bummer.

…that after a two week absence from WordPress, it is absolutely impossible to read all of the blog entries sitting in my Reader.   I shall have to do better.

…and last, but not least, this week’s awww moment is brought to you by this little guy.  I found him feverishly stowing pecans in his secret hideaway.  As I have a nifty new lens, I stalked him with my camera until he caught on to my game and promptly outsmarted me by disappearing into the high branches of an old live oak.

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Leaping Lizard

Living in Texas, during the month of August, is akin to living on the receiving end of hair dryer – hot, dry, and windy. 

Last year was one of the worst summers on record.   This year, not so much.  We’ve actually seen a good bit of rain with below average temperatures.  This week, my daughter and I ventured over to a local nature preserve to enjoy the cool weather and to get a bit of exercise.  As you know by now, I don’t go outside without my camera. 

During our nature walk, we came across this interesting lizard.  And by came across, I mean he darted out of the bushes, bounded off our feet, skittered into the brush, and up a tree. 

I’m not going to lie, we squealed like little girls.

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Things I learned this week…and last

“Once you can accept the universe as matter expanding into nothing that is something, wearing stripes with plaid comes easy.”

– Albert Einstein

This week I learned…

…that sometimes I do stupid things.  I know, hard to believe, but true nonetheless.  This week, I beamed myself in the head with my own car door.  I blame the rain – and my vain desire to protect my freshly straightened hair from falling victim to the frizz factor.  What’s the lesson to be learned here?  Making a mad dash from the house to the car through a steady drizzle with my head down doesn’t help me avoid getting wet, it just means I will inaccurately judge the angle of the opening door.  Ouch.

that you will never catch me driving along a rural Norwegian road at midnight.  It seems in doing so, one runs the risk of literally running into a moose – and a bear.  Crazy, I know. However, one unlucky motorist in Norway did just that.  I haven’t written a Man vs.. Beast blog in several months, but I can’t help to think that this incident lends credence to my long standing assertion that the animals are conspiring to take over the world.  Obviously, the moose and the bear were intent on a carjacking.  The question is:  Why?  Perhaps an errand for the Great Whites lurking just off the New England coast?  It bears consideration.  (See what I did there?)

…that the Dead Sea Scroll exhibit at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is fabulous.  As one who is enthralled with history, especially biblical history, this exhibit gives incredible insight.  It was definitely worth schlepping an hour or so west, through rush hour traffic, white-knuckle construction zones, and torrential rain.   As I said in a previous blog, my family was wholly uninterested in tagging along.  That’s alright, I bear them no ill will.   I recognized the glazed over look they got in their eyes whenever I mentioned going.   It’s the same look I get when my husband mentions that Dream Theater is in town.   I shudder at the very thought…

…that my daughter is turning into a cynic.  This week, while we were camped out on the living room floor watching the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, a commercial for a popular adjustable mattress aired.  It boasted that 93% of users saw improved sleep.  Out of the blue, my daughter says:  “Sucks for that other 7%.”  Indeed, it does.

…that the war on women continues.  I don’t like to infuse politics into my blog.  I firmly believe political ideology is something that should never be thrust upon the unwilling.  I think doing so polarizes the nation, and breeds hostility and hate.  I believe the same can be said for religion.  I usually make a point to avoid the discussion of both.  Having said that, I’d like to take this opportunity to address something that I find troubling:  The far right’s preoccupation with the mysterious inner workings of the female reproductive system.  I’m not really sure where they received their general knowledge of anatomy, but I’d like to reassure the male establishment that my girly parts (and those of every other woman in America) do not have mystical superpowers bent on world domination.  While I agree, that might be kinda cool, and would perhaps lessen the sting of the dreaded “monthly inconvenience”, it is, in fact, not possible for a vagina to take down nations.

I think it’s time to focus on a more imminent threat to the country’s well being – a broken economy.

On a similar note:  If you’d like to have a good laugh,and have an appreciation for the ridiculous, check out the Borowitz Report over at The New Yorker.  Maybe not for everyone, but I sure do get a good giggle out of it every now and then.

…that classes begin again next week.  As always, I’m filled with a host of emotions: excitement, trepidation, annoyance.  I am taking a freshman level science course this semester.  I’m not thrilled.  Science is one of those things that I could do without.  I understand the relevance, even appreciate its need in molding our young people into individuals who can competitively carry our country into the future.  I get that.  I just don’t want to sit through a three hour lab with said young people.  Does that make me old?

…that a See’s Candies has opened up inside my local mall.  This is bad.  Very, very bad.  But it’s so very, very good.

…that I’ve been nominated for the “Addictive Blogger Award” by Katy Brandes.  I always get a big kick out of these awards.  It’s the narcissist in me, I’m sure, but it’s always nice to receive a bit of acknowledgement from one’s peers.  Thank you, Katy.   It is greatly appreciated and puts a big smile on my face.  And, I’ll admit, found me standing in front of my bathroom mirror channeling Sally Field:  “You like me!  You really, really like me!”

Just kidding.  About the Sally Field part – not about the the appreciation part.  I do sincerely love that you may be addicted to my blog.

As always, these things must be paid forward.  The list of blogs I find addictive is endless, but in the interest of brevity, here are the first five that come to mind:

Cosy Travels of a Viking and his Kitten – a chronicle of European travel highlighted by some truly beautiful photographs.

The Writer’s Advice – lots of writing advice with a sarcastic edge I enjoy.

Word Flows –  lots of writing inspiration.  One of my favs.

Mike Osborn Photo – some great photographs from across the pond.

The Sugarlump – love those cats!

…and last, but not least, this week’s awww moment.  I was going to bring you a fabulous photograph of the Monarch butterfly I saw this week at a local nature preserve.  Unfortunately, I never got a clear shot because my lovely daughter photo-bombed me.  So, in retaliation, this week’s awww moment is brought to you by my mischievous daughter.  Enjoy.

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Chihuly and the dragonfly

A love affair?

A true appreciation for art?

Either way, who can blame him? 

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On the agony of writing

I’ve written in some capacity since the third grade.   My first completed work was an alternate ending short story inspired by Aesop’s fable The Tortoise and the Hare.   I was very proud of that story.  I sat for hours, hunched over my desk, No. 2 pencil biting into my short stubby fingers, the eraser worn to the quick, and labored over every single word.  When I finished, I felt proud.  I had written a story.  From beginning to end.   I turned it in to my teacher, confident that I would earn an A for such blinding brilliance.  It was a great story.

My teacher saw things a bit different.   The evil Mrs. Rupe promptly tore my work to shreds, citing a laundry list of flaws, mistakes, and shortcomings.  She gave me a C.

I always hated Mrs. Rupe.

I’m not bitter about it.  Really.  Though, I do hold a special place for her at the top of my list of unforgivable grudges.  She was a miserable human being who should have retired from teaching long before 1980.   But for all of her petty viciousness, and she was awful for so many reason beyond just giving me a C, she did teach me a few important lessons:  writing is subjective, rejection is a rite of passage, and criticism keeps a writer grounded.

Of course, such lessons are meant for those who can actually finish something in a timely manner without falling victim to the hazards cluttering the road to success.  I seem to be having a bit of trouble navigating that thoroughfare, at the moment.   Or perhaps, it’s my mode of transportation that is faulty.  I blame the outline – I think it has a flat.

For several days, I’ve struggled to write a single scene, introducing a solitary character.   My trouble started when I made the decision to give Anna a brother.  His name is Aaron and he is a total pain in my ass.   I thought he would add an emotional depth and focus to the story, but instead he’s done nothing but cause me heartburn and an endless headache.  The latter may be from banging my head on my desk out of frustration.   I’m not really sure.  It’s hard to differentiate.

The way I see it, I have three choices:  delete him completely – move on and pretend he never happened; kill him slow and painfully – my novel is titled Retribution; or scrap the scene as it is and start over.

Oh lord, maybe I should tweak the outline again…ugh.

Writing is brutal; its hard; its agonizing.

I think I hate it.

But, I love it.

Note to self:  buy more Advil.

Things I learned this week

“Lost a planet Master Obi-Wan has.  How embarrassing.”  – Yoda

I learned this week…

that Snoop Dogg has changed his name to Snoop Lion.  I’m so relieved.  I don’t know about you, but I was beginning to question the longevity of his career if he should continue on with such a moniker.

…that I should never be trusted to do two things:  dress myself or pick out eye glasses.   I think it’s a pretty well-known fact that if given a choice between a pair of respectable black slacks and a pair with obnoxious stripes, I will pick the stripes every single time – and wear them with a printed top.  I am a fashion failure.  I get it.  I embrace it.  A few years ago I got glasses.  I went down to my local optical mart, tried on a few dozen frames, ignored the annoying optician’s suggestions, and took home a set of glasses that would never leave their handy-dandy carry case.  I hated them.  This week, out of necessity – my eyes have decided to act their age – I went to get a new pair.  I opted to go back to my optometrist’s office because it was convenient – and I get a discount.   I chose a few frames, and asked the peppy little optician for advice.  She took one look at what I had chosen, said no, no, no, and promptly made me start the process over.  As it turns out, my taste in glasses is just as flawed as my taste in trousers.  I am now the proud owner of a pair of glasses that I like – and wear.  Yay for pushy, obnoxious optician lady who is immune to my stink eye and biting sarcasm.

…that I have the best writing group on the planet.  This week our meeting turned into an impromptu photo shoot when one of our members came dressed up in an anime costume.

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There’s a special place in my heart for this girl.

…that I won something.  I never win things, but this week I found out that I won a copy of Tania L. Ramos’ new book Be Still.  She is an independently published author who still maintains her day job as a registered nurse.  I admire her tenacity and dedication to her craft.  I can’t wait to read her book.  Go check her out her blog.  Oh, and while you’re at it, check out Nerdy Book Reviews. Some good stuff over there, too.

…that dress shopping with my daughter is going to be a test of my resolve.  She is entering 7th grade band and unlike last year when the required concert uniform consisted of a black embossed polo and khaki pants, this year she will have to wear a black dress.  Yes, my friends, a dress.  My daughter doesn’t wear dresses…or anything that might be construed as girly.  She is a jeans and t-shirt kinda gal.  If she ever feels the need to spice it up, she might go so far as to slap on a button up shirt and a pair of low top Converse sneakers.  But that’s where she draws the line.  We hit a few stores this week in search of this black band dress.  We didn’t find one, but I was rewarded for my efforts with lots of heavy sighs and eyes rolls.  Can’t wait to tell her that she won’t be able to wear her sneakers with the dress we’ve yet to find.  That ought to go over well.  The last time I got her in a pair of dress shoes was the last time she wore a dress – her brother’s wedding.  She cried over the dress, and exchanged the shoes for a pair of bright blue Crocs as soon as the ceremony was over.

…that IKEA on a Saturday is torture.  Two visits to IKEA on the same Saturday is a special kind of Hell that is beyond adequate description.

…this week’s awww moment isn’t an awww moment at all.  It’s just one of my Chihuly exhibit photos.  The reflection of the glass gives the appearance of paint bleeding through the water.  I think it’s kinda cool.

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A bee surprise

I’d love to tell you that it was my mad photography skills that captured this bee in midflight, but that would be bare-face lie.  I didn’t even know I caught this moment until I was sorting through the fruits of my labor.

What a nice surprise.

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Around the yard

I had a busy weekend, but I did find the time to step out into the backyard with my camera.  Here are a few of the things I saw.

Texas is hot in the summer and with that heat comes grasshoppers.  All shapes and sizes.  This is one of the more interesting I came across.  He was a bit more aggressive than I would have liked.  I think I may have squealed like a pig when he dive bombed my head.IMG_6217.2
Up in the tree, I saw a tangle of hair snagged on a thin branch.  Logic tells me that it is remnants of a bird’s nest.  Perhaps a knot of hair snagged from the trash by one of the more resourceful species.  Of course, the writer in me envisions something a bit more chilling.  Is it evidence left behind after a sinister crime?  Will I find a body beneath the drooping branches of my Japanese maple?  Hmmm…IMG_6377
My oak tree is relatively young.  This is its first year of acorn production.  Awww…they grow up so fast.IMG_6395
Thunderstorms are rare commodity in my neck of the woods, this time of year.  Usually, the formidable “dome of high pressure” that tends to dominate our weather pattern, discourages substantial storm development.  It’s like we are held hostage by an alien life form who has placed a force field around us in order to deflect anything that will give us relief from the scorching sun.  IMG_6354

A book signing

I went to a book signing yesterday.

A bit out of the norm for me.  There are very few things that can entice me enough to schlep down into the city, fight crowds of rude strangers,and waste hours standing in line doing nothing but waiting.  I won’t do it for a Black Friday deal.  I won’t do it for a movie premiere.  I wouldn’t do it to meet Sting.

I will do it for Daniel Silva and his master Israeli spy/assassin/art restorer, Gabriel Allon.

I went early in the morning with the intention of getting some writing done.  I did, though not as much as I would have liked.  You see, I have a problem.  I am an addicted people-watcher, so writing in public often proves distracting.  Yesterday was no different.

While I sat in the café, sipping a venti unsweetened iced green tea, my writing flow was continuously interrupted.  First, there was the two women who wanted to know if my name was Kristin.  No, not me.   Then there was the older woman in a burnt orange blouse, lime green Crocs, holding a moderately sized postal box.  Her fidgeting was what initially caught my eye.  She didn’t order a drink, couldn’t sit still, and at times, paced.  At first, I thought maybe I should be worried about the contents of her box.  I mean, if I were writing this scene, there would be something like wires, a brick of C4, and a cell phone detonator in that box.  After ten minutes or so, I realized she must be waiting for someone.  I imagined it was a date with a man she’d met on a matchmaking website.  I wondered if she shouldn’t have maybe picked a different shirt to go with those shoes.  She definitely was not dressed for husband nabbing.  Turns out she did not have a bomb, and she wasn’t on a blind date.  She was a calligrapher.  Inside the box were beautifully addressed wedding invitations.  The bride-to-be was late, paid by check, and didn’t seem to notice the older woman’s lack of fashion sense.   I was disappointed.

Around eleven, a flash of movement in my peripheral drew my attention away from Anna and her troubles.  It took a second or two for my brain to register what my eyes were seeing.  Jerry Garcia, wearing a brightly hued Hawaiian-style bowler shirt over faded blue jeans and Birkenstocks, was unwrapping a straw for his blended frappuccino – caramel macchiato with no whip, if I were a betting gal.  As he walked away slurping, I texted my husband.  His reply: “You know he’s dead, right?”  Killjoy.

At noon, I moved my party upstairs.  I wanted to get my choice of seats.  I did.  Row one, seat 4.  Right in front of the podium and signing table.  A half an hour later, an older gentleman sat down one seat over from me.  He quietly read his book – not a Silva novel. Tsk tsk.  A few minutes later, a bulldog of a man with a shiny bald head sat between us.  They were friends, but their meeting here was by chance.  They chatted like catty women.  First, bemoaning the pros and cons of employment.  The bald man has a job in the surgical department of a local trauma center, the other was an IT technician who failed to keep up with changing technology.  He blames his troubles on his age – 68.  As happens, they soon began to compare their various health issues.  These conversations always make me smile.  It’s like a competition.  Who has had the most surgeries?  The most chronic diseases?  As it turns out, both men have had prostate cancer – with troubling complications.  I could describe for you in grave detail the extent of their complications, but it would likely scar you for life.  I know I will never be the same.

Thirty minutes out from the main event, the venti iced green tea I drank earlier came back to haunt me.  I needed to use the restroom, but I didn’t want to give up my prime seat.  I asked the elderly woman to my right if she would hold my spot while I ran downstairs. She smiled, patted my arm, and pulled a menacing cane from underneath her seat.  She said: “Go right ahead, honey.  I got my cane. I’ll whack ‘em if they get too close.”  Yikes.

silvaAt 2, Daniel Silva arrived with little fanfare.  He was much as I expected.  Handsome in that scholarly way, with an unassuming air and an intelligent wit.  He spoke of his characters with the love of a proud father.  I found it endearing.  I also thought he exhibited a great deal of patience with the group gathered, especially during the question and answer segment.  Some asked interesting questions; some did not.  A few even bordered on offensively stupid.  He handled it smoothly, though there were two occasions when I swear I saw his right eye twitch.

Or maybe not.

I had two books signed, took several photos for the little old lady with the cane and her friend, and left before the SRO crowd swooped in for the kill.

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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?