Thursday, March 31, 2011

Slow and Steady Wins the Race…Sort Of

Monday night was the final meeting of the local Y’s ‘Resolution Solution’ program. Faithful readers (and long-suffering family members) know I tend to wax ad nauseam on the topic of fat…much more so than family and faith.

Before the final weigh-in and a few rousing games of dodge ball and tug-of-war (it was truly exhilarating channeling my inner 12-year-old), a special guest speaker offered tidbits on longevity and living a good healthy, faith-based life.

The 91-year-old guest’s advice reminded me of my 80-plus father-in-law’s ascetic approach to life, minus the barbell stuff. A good gene pool and prudent living can take one far.

My motto, on the other hand, is everything in moderation, including moderation. I’ve always been an all or nothing kind of gal. It’s only in the last couple years I’ve decided to stop dieting and to start making lifestyle changes.

So when I stepped on the scale after lobbing a small rubber ball at the Y’s pregnant aquatic manager and then apologizing profusely (being in school pre-Title IX was rough!) and didn’t lose as much weight in the 12-week program as I planned to, I took the philosophical path…as thorny as it was.

Since last year at this time (I keep records), I’m down 17 pounds. It was a couple more, but winter is rough. And I’m weak.

Losing just over 10 more will put me at my adult low, last reached on what I call the ‘grief diet,’ a plan never to be repeated. Back then, a good friend died way too young; and my husband fell ill and I thought he was going to die (he wasn’t), etc. I’m a stress eater, but when the stress reaches the nth degree even I can’t eat. Not the way to go.

Needless to say, I gained most of that weight back and am now slowly and steadily getting it off. Ten more pounds, and I’ll call it done. Honest.

Years ago cartoonist Berke Breathed, creator of the strip Bloom County, put his character Opus, a penguin, on a diet. Poor Opus was searching for the magic cure for weight loss.

Imagine his surprise, and mine, when we both discovered the secret is ‘eat less, exercise more.’

It’s not glamorous or quick, but it does work.

Who'da thunk?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Swimsuit Season and 60 Minutes

Monday night I had every intention of going to my Y ‘Resolution Solution’ class. In addition to a demo of healthy recipes, an aqua zumba workout was scheduled. I even retrieved my olive green tankini from a bin in the storage room.

But life intervened, and I stuffed the swimsuit into a drawer.

Few tasks strike fear in the hearts of women more than swimsuit shopping. Men may shudder at this chore, also. But the only swimsuits purchased by males in this household have been snatched off the rack or ordered from Lands’ End without an ounce of angst involved.

Actually my current suit and the two-piece navy and turquoise number (no exposed midriff, rest assured!) were purchased via Lands’ End.

I have an aversion to swimsuit shopping, and shopping in general. I once went swimsuit shopping with my husband’s younger sister. She needed a suit, not me. She was, and is, five foot eleven and slender. I am five foot two and ¾ on a good day and even at my thinnest, no one would call me slender, slim, or svelte.

Ironically, the time I felt most comfortable in a swimsuit was the summer I was pregnant with my second son. There’s liberation in just not caring about resembling a beached whale. I’m not exaggerating. While waiting at the doctor’s office that summer, someone asked me if I was having triplets.

The time I should have felt most uncomfortable – interviewing Don Hewitt, then-60 Minutes producer, poolside in Vegas, both of us clad in swimsuits, ironically did not faze me that much. Ah, the confidence of 20.

College classmates and I were attending a broadcasting honorary society convention during spring break. I had a story due for my print journalism class while I was gone, and somehow Don Hewitt became my story. I’m sure we both wore cover-ups. The only details that really matter, though, are the ‘A’ I got on the story and in the class (taught by the amazing Jim Wojcik) and the fact an article on Hewitt in TV Guide later that year used all the same quotes I did. It was the legendary producer’s standard spiel, but at least I knew enough to pick up on it.

We both could have been wearing Hefty garbage bags and one truth still would have resonated: I wanted to be a writer.

I returned from spring break to find out my father, a school administrator, had accepted a new job in Iowa. In the downriver Detroit suburb we lived in, school personnel were routinely ‘pink slipped’ due to the poor economy. They may or may not be rehired. With my sister and me in college and two brothers coming up, my dad wasn’t going to wait around to see.

It seemed easier to change my major from broadcast journalism to print journalism by following my family to Iowa and transferring to a different university. Yes, my idea of easy can be skewed.

I got hired at the Iowa State Daily, took a class from another amazing professor, Tom Emmerson, and met my husband.

I’m still afraid to face the 360 degree dressing room mirrors to try on swimsuits, but pulling out that tankini yesterday reminded me of the things I’ve done in my life that should have daunted me…but didn’t.

Not bad for a piece of spandex.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Happy Birthday, Mom

This is intended to be my mother’s story, but aren’t we all the product of our own mother’s stories?

My grandmother was a so-so parent… good with her children and grandchildren when they were young but lacking overall in the maternal instincts department. She wasn’t a bad mother by all accounts; she just wasn’t the superlative mother my siblings and I were fortunate to have (still). On my late uncle’s birthday he was always ‘king for a day.’ My mom and Aunt Judy were never ‘queens for a day’ on their birthdays.

Not that my siblings and I were feted like royalty on our birthdays, although we did get out of dishes. It’s just my mom was and is scrupulously fair, treating all her offspring alike.

She’s also generous to a fault, a trait inherited from her father. My mom turned her childhood pastime of collecting picture postcards into a lifelong adult avocation; for 25 years she sponsored a mail postcard sale with all proceeds going to world hunger relief.

One thing my grandmother excelled at was taking her three children (sans my grandfather who never took vacations), her sister, her nephew, and her father on cross-country trips. My grandma loved to drive, a trait neither my mother nor I inherited. Ironically, the only driving that ever did her in was hilly pre-Interstate West Virginia (birthplace of my second son).

Though a voracious reader herself, my grandmother always prodded my mother to ‘put down her’ book and go outside to play. My mom has never been an outside person.

From a very early age, as I’ve recounted before, my late Aunt Judy would make breakfast for my mom and their brother. Grandma

Rock preferred to sleep in. To this day, I tease my mom about her lumpy oatmeal; but I’m also grateful to have a mother who got my three siblings and me up every morning for school and made us breakfast.

My mom used to say all she ever wanted to be was a mother, although her original career plan was to be a lawyer. She was accepted at law school but ended up teaching school while my father finished college.

She didn’t like teaching; she liked being a mother. Decades ago my pregnant mother thought she had indigestion from Christmas dinner, but it was just me… coming a little early.

This is one of our shared stories, a part of the family mythos. In a December eons later, I gave birth to my first son on one of the coldest days on record in Arizona. ‘It was so cold there was snow on the cactuses’ has become part of the thread of our life stories.

In addition to being my mother, she’s also my writing partner. She’s the author of more than 50 novels, and the co-author with me of more than 30 of those.

In addition to being my parent and partner, she’s something else.

My mother is and always has been my best friend. She never hovered but was there when needed. She never belittled and always encouraged and always had my back. She’s continually been there for me and my siblings and now our families, always knowing the right thing to say and do. For more than a dozen years, she’s lived with my husband, sons and me. Sure we have our differences, but we never stay mad for long.

I’m fond of another family story, one where my five-year-old self stood at the top of the stairs and threw a tiny brass vase down at her. She gave it back to me when I was 18. I try to stay on her good side.

Twenty-nine years ago this month, my Grandma Rock died. I was a senior in college, struggling through a physics class to meet a science requirement (because I’d flunked a science class the previous spring). Another class was also giving me fits. I was taking way too many hours, working at the university newspaper and applying for jobs, making sure I’d graduate so I could get a job and get married.

I loved my grandma. She spoiled me rotten (but I knew it so that made it less odious, I think), letting me stay up til all hours of the night watching Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, and old Clark Gable movies. She used to fill paper cups with M&Ms, mini-marshmallows, and cashews for my ‘midnight snack.’ No mystery why when my son and his girlfriend were stranded in Denmark in a huge snowstorm a couple years ago, I buried my face in a bag of candy-coated comfort. She was a good grandma when we were young.

Because I loved my grandma and because I was afraid I was going to flunk yet another science class, my mom gave me a wonderful gift. She told me to stay home from the out-of-state funeral and study, absolving me of all guilt for not going.

That’s the kind of mom my mom is.

Happy Birthday, Mom. I love you.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Free to be…like everyone else?

When my older son was young he had a best friend named Petey. Petey loved the movie Free Willy. He also loved hot dogs.

Erik liked neither to the point of what I feared was rudeness during play dates.

“I don’t like Free Willy, I’m never gonna like Free Willy, and no one can make me like Free Willy,” he pronounced on the way home from Petey’s one day.

My son’s adamant stance against this movie (and hot dogs) didn’t seem to affect his friendship with Petey. But I still apologized to Petey’s mom just in case Erik’s independence bordered on impoliteness. She actually said to me she wished as an African American mother her son was more independent. What the teen years would bring concerned her.

I was on the verge of teendom when Free to Be…You and Me, was released, a record album and book featuring stories and songs performed by celebrities. The original message was both boys and girls could achieve anything.

When this phrase pops into my head, I think of it as meaning more. We should respect each other’s individuality, not disparage it. We can’t all like Free Willy (or hot dogs) and why should we?

Previously I’ve written about what a huge fan I am of our local YMCA and the great classes and instructors. A new type of workout is being offered at multiple times, and it’s extremely popular.

I don’t like it so I’m not doing it. It’s not the exertion that doesn’t appeal to me, it’s the preparation. Putting weights on bars is not my thing. Same with photography, make-up, accessorizing, and crafts.

During those pre-teen years my Grandma Rock, a prolific knitter, tried to teach me the art of twisting yarn on needles. She was far more successful with instructing me on playing Gin Rummy for nickels.

Those who like this new workout are usually quite polite when they ask me what I don’t like about it. Recently, though, someone I don’t know well asked me rather impolitely.

I nearly channeled Erik’s age-old Free Willy litany…but refrained.

But it got me thinking about being free to be…me. I have no problem being a non-conformist. And in some areas I conform to the norm, though what that is I often wonder.

Parents spend so much time worrying about their children “following the crowd.” I actually had a friend once who confessed when she was a teenager she did jump off a bridge when everyone else did!

How can we, as parents, exhort our sons and daughters not to succumb to peer pressure when we send mixed messages our adult selves all have to like the same thing?

And I’m not just talking about a new exercise workout.

We can’t all like Free Willy. Or hot dogs.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

To Do List Redux

So this morning I was rarin’ to tackle my ‘To Do’ list…but I couldn’t find it.

Not a good sign.

Sure it was on my computer, but I’d already printed it out and added handwritten additions.

And I wanted to be able to cross off items I’d already done. My friend, freelance writer Sandy Smith, asked me if I ever put completed tasks on my list just so I could cross them off.

You better believe it.

Last night I e-mailed the manuscript due today to our editors and was looking forward to ‘checking’ that off. The lost list included work and domestic tasks.

Rather than shuffle all the piles of papers that have sprung to life during the deadline period, I just printed out a new copy…and tossed on one of the piles.

To avoid un-shuffling said piles, I decided a blog on to do lists was in order and went back to find the one I knew I did over a year ago…yep, I’m in repeats.

The first item was the same.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

To Do List

  1. E-mail editor manuscript due this week: check
  2. Sort out books to donate to library: check
  3. Hang more girly artwork in home office: check
  4. Get caught up on laundry: never
  5. Dip whole body into river of full-time freelance writing: in progress

Has it really been more than a year since I took the item five plunge?

All these months later, I’m definitely entrenched in the full-time freelance writing lifestyle. With my old frenetic life of teaching, advising, writing, and volunteering I needed lists of my lists to keep track of things.

Now, even though things are very different (tho I’m still an aging mom volunteer) I still periodically need a list…or two.

It was nearly three years ago my husband and I decided to make a drastic lifestyle change, giving up lucrative stressful positions at a large university in the mid-Atlantic region of the country to move back close to family, to my husband’s ‘dream town.’ We now live in a middling-size city in Nebraska. He loves his job in this town on the cusp of his beloved West.

And I’ve come to love following my life’s dream of writing fulltime, even though some people still think I sit around eating bon bons all day and watching soap operas….there is James Franco…sigh…but I haven’t watched a soap opera since the early 90’s.

I still miss my students and working at home is definitely work…just work I can do in my pajamas if I want.

Having to do ‘to do’ lists is a good sign…it’s an indication of a balance between my old life and my new.

Truly, I’ll never stop missing teaching college students. I loved ‘em like they were my own children, well, most of them. I do offer up a prayer of thanks every single day I no longer have to grade. I loathed grading, absolutely loathed.

Conversely, I’m fulfilling a childhood dream: being a writer. Of course I envisioned doing it living in Connecticut, surrounded by my ten loving children…sort of a cross between Jean Kerr and Shirley Jackson.

But the prairie suits me just fine.