29 June 2009

All good things must end

I hate to give you another of my lazy posts full of photos, but I am dog tired and can't think of all the amusing things I've been storing up to tell you. Tomorrow I'll be back to normal (as far as I know).

All the treats and lovin' just wore my girl Pixie out.

Most of my first cousins showed up for the festivities. (Hey, where were Davey and Becky and Eric?) Except for the weather (hot hot hot), things went off without a hitch. Aren't we a motley crew? I'm the fat one on the right. Please believe me when I tell you that we are not always so sweaty and red-faced. Our collars are wet because we were forced to wear wet wash cloths on the backs of our necks so we wouldn't die of heat stroke.

This is my mama (left) and her two sisters. They are as sweet as honey. They are participants in the southern belle relocation program, whereby steel magnolias who were born in some other part of the country are retired to Tennessee to live out their days making seven-layer salads and saying, "Well, bless your heart."

Here's the house at the end of Mom's lane. I don't think anyone lives there, but there is a big television antenna on the roof, so you have to wonder.

We don't have to pay attention to this sign. We have connections.

Here's what I wanted to drive home, but it wasn't quite ready for me.

I stayed an extra day, so you know I had fun. There were no sister incidents. In fact, except for a couple of demon children, there were no unpleasantries at all. Just for the record, I believe that children should be taught the proper ways to interact with dogs. Then perhaps they will be ready for human contact.

I do have a funny story. My cousin Suzie has a sweet little boy named Michael. He was petting my Pixie gently and exclaiming over how much he liked her, although he is generally afraid of dogs. "Is this a Chihuahua?" he asked me. When I said yes, he told me, "This is the first Chihuahua I've ever touched!" While I was laughing at that, he added, "Well, except for that one that ran away in the woods." I never got a chance to ask him why a Chihuahua was in the woods, because we were laughing too much.

I'll be back to normal and back to actual blogging tomorrow. Thanks for vacationing with me.

28 June 2009

The reunion continues

The sun came up through the fog.

Spiders had been busy during the night.

My heroic mom killed a dive bombing bee with the hairspray she had handy.

Pixie, my best girlfriend, was very hot.

An unsteady hand on the camera in the cemetery made this nice ghostly shot.

27 June 2009

Update from the reunion

Just a quick note to say that the drive to Tennessee to the family reunion was uneventful and pleasant. We passed up a lot of chances to create fireworks.

The roads are narrow but scenic. The bad part of the day was that the temperature reached 97 (heat index 105 degrees F), there was a minor blow-up concerning sleeping arrangements, and I don't enjoy kids. The food was good, and I managed not to eat bad things. I really did.

I wanted to stop at Dinosaur World, but the schedule wouldn't allow it. After all, I had the buns for the cookout.
I promise more news and photos tomorrow. Stay tuned.

26 June 2009

Mother and child reunion

I'm on my way to a family reunion, my mother's family, not the crazy side of the family. About 30 people are planning to show up, from the East Coast and the Midwest and the South.

Joyous gatherings like this I usually find somewhat stressful. My mom and I get together and talk nonstop like magpies. My sister and I can do the same, although we can also fall into a disagreement and avoid each other for the weekend. Sometimes that sort of intense catching up can be fun, and sometimes it can be exhausting. Then there is all the coordination and bossing around; Mom has to do a lot of that because she is the oldest sister. So am I.

The long table is always laden with dishes. I told you how I have begun to avoid dishes, which have hidden within them delicious morsels of fat and carbs that at one time I would have loved to eat but now I won't. Because I'm stubborn. Because I'm smart. Because I have somehow flipped a switch in my brain and now many of the calorie laden foods I have wanted to gorge on in the past do not appeal to me. We went to Golden Coral last weekend, and I was getting kind of sick at what other people were eating - just the shear amount in some cases. They seemed to take the "all you can eat" thing to be a challenge.

I've lost 5 pounds since I started to walk purposefully 30 minutes a day. That's not too big of a chunk out of the day, is it? I'm still not hating it, and I'm trying to stay positive until it's a habit. My mom has an oval track mowed out of the pasture so I'll have a place to walk.

Having felt cranky and moody and low for the past few weeks, I took a couple of days off work to make a nice long weekend. I'll rest up and finish cleaning on Monday, and back to work on Tuesday.

So I will try to blog every day while I'm gone. If I can't manage that (not sure how much computer time I can beg), I should at least be able to post some photos from the festivities.

Remember that Christina Aguilera video I like to follow for good sweaty exercise? Well, today it was the king of pop. Every news channel I usually watch was full of nothing but Michael Jackson, so I took advantage of it and danced with him when I wasn't moving furniture and sorting paper. I'm not a fan, but the music is very danceable, and I don't think Michael would find it objectionable, except for the way I dance. Sweat was shed, and that's my measurement for whether I worked hard enough.

The photo at the head of this post is the car I drive, which the Woodsman waxed and shined and scrubbed. If you look close, you can see the flowerbed he planted reflected in the side of the car. I think it looks great, especially for a 17-year-old car. It's a Thunderbird Super Coupe, 1992. Some people love this car so much they have a club for owners.

When I went to an interview for the job I have now, I drove this car, which I had parked under a mimosa tree for about a month beforehand. The car was covered with bird doo and desicated mimosa blooms that had stuck. The back seat was full of books stacked every which way, and the passenger seat held a multi-colored afghan that my dog Pixie likes to nest in when we travel.

You don't expect your prospective employer to get a look at your car when you interview, but I had to park at a meter, and the meter had to be fed. My (now) boss volunteered to go out and do it. He came back laughing, but didn't say anything during the interview. He later hired me, but he still likes to tease me about the way my car looked: "Exactly the kind of car I expect an editor to drive," he says.

Have a good weekend, and I'll post something tomorrow.

25 June 2009

My daily egg

I went to a rumpled, overweight nutritionist. It seemed ironic that she would advise me to give up my daily egg when her practices weren't working too well for her.

She pointed me in the direction of Weight Watchers and advised me to join a gym. Hmm. So that's what nutritionists do. I was hoping for a simple diet plan that I could easily follow. I'm broke, and if I need exercise I'm not going to pay to get it.

I got much better advice from powdergirl: Food is fuel. I have lost 3 pounds since I started walking purposefully and pondering the food I will eat. I hope I can keep it up.

Last November I learned that I was diabetic. That piece of news was totally unexpected and threw me off a little. None of the medical professionals were able to give me a good idea of a simple plan to follow. If this disease is so prevalent today, why isn't it easy to find good advice?

One doctor did tell me that if I would lose as little as 20 pounds, I might not need medication. I want that. So I am learning how to eat heathfully at the ripe old age of 53.

I had to do my own research, reading a whole shelf of books and websites galore, and testing my blood before and after I ate a food and noting the effects on my blood glucose level. I found the foods that I can eat and keep my levels reasonable. Very few of them are carbs.

I would have thought that I would lose weight just by giving up the six Cokes I liked to drink in a day. Add to that the fact that I have always been an absolute sugar hound and now I consume a teaspoon of sugar a day for my first cup of tea in the morning.

A big secret about carbs is that the fewer you eat, the fewer you want. I would have never believed it myself, but I sure am relieved to have lost my taste for them without a big battle.

Now I eat foods, not dishes. Dishes have rice and pasta and gravy and bread. But I can make a nice little picnic from a handful of berries, some almonds, and yogurt. I have learned to appreciate my food with my eyes: a favorite cobalt-colored plate, with sliced peaches and a strawberry and a dollop of vanilla yogurt. Beautiful. A ripe tomato from the farmers market with a scoop of cottage cheese on top, sprinkled with red pepper. A work of art.

I stay away from those "sugar free" foods since I found corn syrup on the ingredients list of a so-called sugar-free whipped topping. Instead of trying to replicate my favorite desserts in sugar-free form myself, now I just eat a little fresh or frozen fruit or a nice piece of dark chocolate or warm milk with a dash of cinnamon.

No potatoes, no white bread, no cake. Aside from the cake, I don't miss it.

I do like using Splenda, but I have my doubts about whether it is advisable to eat something that has been molecularly altered. Since I gave up Coke, I have developed a taste for lemonade made with Splenda, but the jury is still out on that one.

For the first time in my life I've found an exercise I don't completely hate. I eat six small meals a day with a lot of low glycemic impact fiber and protein. A nutritionist should know these things.

Are you thinking what I'm thinking? Maybe this disease is not such a bad thing for me.

I'm not giving up my egg.

24 June 2009

Curly bubs

I want to save the world. I used to despair because I knew I couldn't. I'm older and I hope a little wiser now, and I'm beginning to see that I have to do all that I can as an individual to make my footprint as small as possible. (I have really big feet.) And then I have to try to pass on my attitude to anyone else the least bit susceptible.

I am not a proselytizer, so I guess I will have to charm people into it. Hmmmm. I may get an idea here in a moment. I know that all of my regular readers care about taking care of the planet, and I don't want to be preaching to the choir. Instead, I'll tell you what we do, and you tell me more things I can do.

Down here you'll hear people call light bulbs "bubs." I have to say that this particular pronunciation cracks me up when I hear it. I like to call those energy efficient bulbs "curly bubs." Even though the color of the light takes some getting used to and I have to let the bedroom light warm up before it puts out enough light to read by, we replaced all the bubs that we could with the curly kind. We try not to leave lights burning when we're not in a room, although I am guilty of that sometimes when I'm alone and the house seems really still and dark.

I take my own shopping bags with me to the store. It's no trouble at all to keep a tote full of shopping bags by the front door or in the car, and you don't have to carry home those nasty bags that get stuck in trees and line the ditches and gather in the sea and choke turtles and cause cows to starve. That plastic bag you brought home can last a thousand years on the earth. The U.S. uses 100 billion bags a year and only 2 percent of those are recycled. All of the plastic ever made still exists on the earth. That scares me.

It's like the Mart of Wal - I stole that phrase from the Evil Twin's Wife - is working for the devil the way they put one item in each bag so that when you get home you have enough bags to fill up a bag and you have to remember to return it to the store next time you go. Don't let them palm them off on you. I don't know what kind of thrill they get from contributing so much to an island of plastic trash the size of Texas that floats in the Pacific. Hey, that's my ocean; I was born on an island in the middle of it.

Woooooooooo. I am finished preaching. I don't find that charming, and charm was my plan just a few paragraphs above.

Our water heater is gas, and I would prefer electricity because the rates are cheaper, but as a renter I have nothing to say about that. I only wash a full load of wash, and I run the dishwasher once or twice a week. That does mean more rinsing, but I don't get carried away with it.

I drive one of the Woodsman's vehicles, and I drive 4.2 miles a day to work and back. 21 miles a week, 84 miles a month. I fill the tank every six to eight weeks. I do believe that if I want to put my money where my mouth is I would walk or ride the bus, but I don't. I like to be the captain of my ship. I don't drive far is as much as I can say for myself. When I'm a more experienced purposeful walker, I will see if I can make that walk.

I buy cotton clothes. I know that cotton sucks up water and soil nutrients, but my body rebels at the synthetics. I want nothing slinky or plastic or shiny on my skin. (If someone doesn't invent a comfortable bra by the time I'm sixty, things are going to get ugly.) Besides, synthetics are produced from oil. I have cotton clothing that is ten years old and has been taken in four sizes and was just dyed two weeks ago and I'm still wearing it and I'm going to continue another couple of years. So that saves.

We recycle. It's easy here because the city trucks pick it up at the curb once a week. We don't even have to sort it anymore. Part of recycling for me is taking clothes and household items I can no longer use somewhere to wait for a new home. I don't like to throw things away.

I make one bag of trash that can't be reused or recycled every two weeks. Two bags a month. I buy products that are lightly packaged so that I won't have much waste. Look at the picture at the head of this post to see how much packaging comes in month's worth of the stop-smoking drug Chantix. The tiny pills would fit in a tiny bottle.

I also look for products that can be refilled at a savings to me and the earth. Grandma used to have a compact of silver that accommodated a cake of powder in an aluminum tray. She had that same compact for years and years. She just bought a powder refill and dropped it in. I bought refillable pens, and the office stores don't stock the refills and don't want to be bothered to special order a small number of them.

The air-conditioning is an ethical dilemma for me. I used to hate the winter, one of the reasons I left Illinois, but now I cannot stand to be hot. I overheat easily, like an old car. The older I get, the more I hate the heat and the humidity. I make do with fans as much as I can. I leave the thermostat set on 80 degrees Fahrenheit. That's the line I shouldn't have to cross; I shouldn't have to be hotter than 80 degrees. I hate using the electricity, paying a big electric bill, but I can't sleep very well, and not at all if my sheets are damp and wrinkled and hot.

And then there's meat. Do I want to make that decision? I can't stand to watch a video of how pigs live before they are killed for meat, so why do I want to eat it, contributing to those practices? Good question. There seems to be only one answer when the question is asked that way. Raise your own or go without.

All my efforts sound somewhat half-hearted. Full of compromises. And the more I learn, the worse the situation sounds. I heard that driving a Hummer for a year causes no more pollution and uses no more resources than using as much toilet paper as a woman uses in a year. I hope to hell that I heard that wrong.

So will you tell me what you do to save the planet? What are your tricks for conserving resources? Is conservation legislated where you live? Do you think our outlook is bleak?

23 June 2009

Checking In

In the past several years, my family has developed a method of staying in touch. We call it the checking-in list. It started with me, my mom, my son, and my brother. When Mom and I would exchange email, we'd copy the boys on it. They didn't get it. Why would they want to read someone else's email messages?

So we dropped them and added my sisters. Each person's message went to all the others. Other people were gradually added, my mom's sisters - my aunts - and eventually their children. At some point, cousins of my mom and her sisters were added.

Now, most of what we report is mundane chit chat, but we stay well connected. And today, when people don't stay where they were born and a family can be spread all across the globe, staying connected is a pleasure.

Some people don't write very often. I'm one of those. I don't find much of my life interesting enough to report. Some people never write the group, or forward a joke a couple of times a year. One of my aunts writes a long message several times a week detailing her quilting, her goals, her housekeeping, her shopping, her clubs, and her church work. She does ten times more than I do in a week.

My other aunt writes a hurried message about once a week, but her life is more interesting than email, so she keeps it short. She's the sassy widow of the group. She lives right next door to my mother now, and that cuts down the number of check-ins they make.

Mom likes to forward religious pep-talks, military support, Maxine punchlines, chain letters, sisterhood messages, and rumors of computer viruses. My cousin reports on her son. Another reports on her dog and her job and her training. One of my sisters wanted to be taken off the list, and the other deletes without reading.

We exchange photos and recipes and advice. We keep track. It's a nice tradition.

22 June 2009

The Pink House in Dreamland

Last night I had a dream that I have had many times before. Maybe a hundred times before, since I was a child. It involves a large pink house with which I am very familiar and where I have been many times before.

This house is not well-kept like the one in the photo above. Its paint is peeling and its windows have the ripples and fog of old glass that has stood long in the sun. A porch runs across the front of the building, and on the second floor, a veranda does the same.

Like Dr. Who's tardis, this house contains any number of rooms, sometimes more than others. I may meet anyone I know inside the house; although they don't always look like themselves, I always recognize them.

In what I think of as the basement is a long hall with doorways on either side of it, like a hotel. Sometimes I walk down the hall and choose a door and open it and see a scene of splendor or squalor. The people in the hotel hall are usually people who have passed on or those with whom I've lost touch, but they are never as I knew them in life. Sometimes they say something that sticks with me when I wake. Sometimes I take what they say as a warning, such as the time my grandma told me that Exley should not ride his motorcycle without the sidecar.

(The next day when Exley asked me to help him take the sidecar off his motorcycle, I refused. I told him the dream. I said it was important. He didn't listen. I nursed him for months after he wrecked his bike before he was put back together enough to be functional.)

At the end of the hotel hall is a door that leads into a church. It happens to be the same church I attended when I was young, the one where I lost my faith. I usually do not go there, as it is in good repair and does not need my attention. When I dream about my dad's funeral, it takes place in this church, although in reality it did not. I remember a wedding there once, and several ceremonies involving medals.

In the dreams I always concern myself with the rooms on the first floor, a few of which I have already renovated and made beautiful, but most of which are in need of work. One room, which I worked on during several dreams, was covered with piles of dirty, stinking blankets and towels. Around the baseboards were piles of old discarded clothing. The room had the smell of motor oil and axle grease. The last time I saw it, the room was empty, but there was still a faded olive green carpet that would need to be removed or replaced.

I'm not kidding. I also cleaned and decorated a downstairs room so that the right side of the room was an exact reverse of the left side, a mirror image.

These dreams are physically tiring, because I am always climbing stairs, carrying furniture, using power tools - and I'm thirsty. It seems that people in my pink house are always thirsty. I know there are parties, but I don't remember ever having something to drink.

The veranda scares me, although the last time I was there some work had been done to make it more sturdy. I no longer felt as though my footsteps would create enough vibration to send the porch roof tumbling to the floor. I used to be so afraid to go there that I would wake up at the thought of it. On the veranda sits a pair of chairs covered in green velvet, a little French provential table between them.

Quite a few things inside the house are green - natural greens, not those horrible glowing, shouting, modern greens. But still I don't like green, whatever its shade. I have no idea why it is inside my house.

This is the part I think is the strangest. The house and its big front yard and the field behind and the barn are smack dab in the middle of a tiny town where I am free to take what I want, and I never meet any other person, although there is a veritable crowd in my pink house.

When I'm not working on the pink house, I walk slowly about the town looking in windows and potting sheds and kitchen cabinets for things I want to take home.

The idea that anyone would have a dream frequently enough to know what street she lives on in Dreamland fascinates me. The idea that I'm the one having the dream - what the heck does it mean?

Do you have a recurring dream or nightmare? What's the strangest dream you've ever had? Have you ever had a dream come true? Do you take dreams to be simply our brains blowing off steam, or do you believe they mean something? Pick one and give details.

21 June 2009

Dad and Virginia

When Dad was really "sick" and my mother sent him to my granny's, he got the car and she kept the house. He put a sign in the back window of his car that read, "Pete + Siddie" (my parents' nicknames), as if all he had to express his love for my mom was a third-grade intellect. He also bent his radio antenna into the rough shape of a heart. My heart nearly bleeds when I tell you this now, but then I had only the one thought: escaping the humiliation. When I graduated high school, I moved to another town to avoid dealing with the worst of it. There was nothing I could do but watch.

Suddenly, with Virginia, he was my old Dad again, annoying but definitely in possession of his faculties. The more Virginia needed him, the kinder he became. He still had his bullying tendencies, but Virginia took those for concern and did whatever he told her to do. She didn't even notice his criticisms and answered each of his comments with a teasing, flirtatious banter. Once she made him laugh so hard he spit his teeth into his ashtray. Those things count for something.

Virginia's children had nothing to do with her - and that is for them to live with because I know it must have been hell to deal with the situation - but we loved her because she had unwittingly and cheerfully cured my dad. And she loved him with a fierceness that she was forever shouting from the rooftops, and that made him stand taller.

As I said before, there was a lot of money. Once when my dad and I were were driving around at dusk looking for Virginia, who sometimes wandered farther than she should and got caught out in the dark, he told me she was a millionaire. Just matter of factly and without any of the greed that used to sparkle in his eyes when he thought he could get the better of you. He said she got a monthly allowance and had to ask the financial planner for money for extra purchases, like the computer. I was completely amazed. They lived in an apartment that rented for $250 a month.

"She gives me an allowance," Dad said. "Five hundred dollars a month. It makes her happy. I don't spend it; I just put it in the bank. I have my own money."

"I guess you're a modern husband," I teased, "being taken care of by your wife."

"She takes pretty good care of me," he said. "She always pays the dinner bill."

Virginia and my father went to Alaska on a cruise ship, and they came home with a camera full of photos, mostly of the food the ship served. Dad was an old hand at ships, but Virginia could not stop talking about the opulence. It seemed that they had no memory of icebergs or whales or dolphins, which I assume you might see on an Alaskan cruise, but instead they told about their lodgings, as if they had spent ten days in Buckingham palace.

Virginia would still buy a store cake every once in a while, and sometimes Dad would let her enjoy it in her own compulsive way, and sometimes he would put half of it in the freezer when she wasn't looking. She covered her closet floor in bags of potato chips, pretzels, and corn curls, toilet paper and fun-size candy bars, two or three layers deep.

"Be sure and come over here for the Apocalypse," my dad would say. "Virginia's got everything we need."

When Virginia put up new curtains and announced that my father should smoke outside, he picked up his kitchen chair and set it outside the door. I can only imagine what he would have said if my mother had suggested that years before. He had a colorful vocabulary when he wanted to use it. After all, he had been a sailor. Instead, he sat outside the front door and smoked, watching the grass grow, squinting into the sun. Virginia would stand in the door and talk to him through the screen until he'd say, "Quit air-conditioning the whole neighborhood" or "Stop letting the heat out."

When Virginia would become agitated and confused, as she did occasionally, my dad would say, "Ah ah ah," as he used to say to us when we were young and headed in the wrong direction. That always seemed to break Virginia's fixation and she would come back to us. He made the same noise when she tried to take four pieces of pie from the dinner buffet, and then she would put some back.

So they lived a small life in a small town, eating at restaurants, driving on Sundays, watching Lawrence Welk. They seemed well suited to each other, two damaged people holding their hands over the other's broken spots.

They were happily married for six short years, filling in each other's blanks, keeping each other company, giving and receiving by turns, when my dad dropped dead in the middle of the night. With no warning at all: Gone.

Virginia was whisked off by her children, and taken to a town near her money and put into a home for those who couldn't take care of themselves. I know she couldn't, but it seems so unfair. She had all that money and it couldn't fix her. I used to wonder whether she remembered her six years of happiness, because to me that seems like a very small slice in a life very full of disappointments and pain. None of us ever saw her again.

Virginia died a few weeks ago, nearly seven years to the day after my father. She was buried next to him under the big fancy headstone she had installed when he died - with the ghostly engraving of my father's face superimposed over a picture of the ship they took to Alaska. It's gaudy and I hate to see it when I go to the cemetery.

But I will always be thankful for Virginia, who was a lot like Aunt Clara in the old Bewitched show. Nothing went according to plan, but it kind of worked out in the end. She gave us our dad back, even a new improved dad who had feelings and opinions and desires, not like the lump of flesh we'd tried to relate to for years. Can you imagine what it means to his children to have those six years of memories? Like the commercial says: Priceless.

So, Virginia, I hope you rest easy. I am so grateful to have known you. I carry you in my heart.


Today's a better day than yesterday. I got dressed and made the bed and jumped rope until I sweated but good. I'm going to have to get a sports bra before I do too much more jumping. I was surprised that I remembered how to do redhots and crossovers and didn't get tangled too many times. The dogs did not appreciate my talents, or the noise I was making on the hardwood floor. I don't think I'll take it up as a regular activity. I like the purposeful walking much more. Now, I wonder if I could find my old baton and see if I still remember how to twirl it...


So, how did you like my story? I feel better for having told it to you.

20 June 2009

Here's Virginia

I guess this is background to the background. I wanted to tell you the story of my life pretty much in the order it happened, unveil events in more or less the order they occurred - explain to you and to myself How I Got the Way I Am - but I need to tell you some things about my dad in order for you to understand the sweetness of Virginia's story.

The summer I was in eighth grade my father went haywire. My uncle covered for him at his job for a while, but then he was home all the time, as my mother called it, "sick." He was diagnosed as schizophrenic, and no treatment offered relief. We were ashamed, embarrassed, and torn by the idea that this was our dad, when in reality he was someone we had no acquaintance with.

Eventually my parents divorced, and my dad went to live with his mother, my granny, which wasn't a good combination. I lived with them years later in one of the more surreal parts of my life, and by then they had settled into a rhythm of criticism and pettiness not unlike a tired old married couple. He seemed to carry a torch for my mother, about whom he would never listen to anything bad, not from me, nor my granny, nor my siblings. My granny died, and my dad went to live in a converted schoolhouse known as the Haven of Rest, which is where Virginia lived after her husband died and she was acquitted by a jury of her peers.

Virginia was the sweetest, oddest woman I have ever met. I have been having such a hard time describing her that I fear I may miss my midnight deadline for posting here (writing every day is my goal). I realize that all I can do is tell you the stories I was part of and those that were told to me. I feel silly saying that the affection I feel for Virginia is like what I feel for my best and most loved pets. It was an honor to know such a pure and unfiltered human being, but you knew that, in the most harmless way possible, she was as mad as a hatter.

So one night at the Haven of Rest, my father was sitting on the couch after dinner watching an old Lawrence Welk rerun. Virginia sat next to him. She loved music, especially the kind on you heard on Lawrence Welk. She conversed with my dad during the commercials.

In the middle of some silliness she was recounting, Dad turned to her and said, "I would like to have sex again before I die."

Virginia drew herself up very straight and said, "I don't do that with people I'm not married to."

During the next commercial break, my dad said, "Well, do you want to get married?"

And she did. They wasted no time.

I heard about it from my sister. She was so upset. I forget how she found out, but she called me and blurted out, "Dad married Virginia B___!"

"The one who killed her husband?" I asked.


"That's weird," is all I could think of to say. My sister always wanted to stop someone from doing something, and my philosophy is to leave them alone.

The people who ran the Haven of Rest were not equipped to deal with the newlyweds, so they got a little apartment and furnished it cheaply by virtue of the fact that my father was not too shy to walk into the houses of his brothers and sisters and announce, "We need a couch" or "It doesn't look like you're using that table."

Virginia did the strangest things.

She was obsessed with cake. She would buy a cake from the store, and then she would consume it over the course of a day, opening the refridgerator, opening the cake box, cutting a bite, closing the box, putting it back in the refridgerator, closing the refridgerator, eating the bite of cake, washing the knife, putting it back in the drawer. Ten minutes later she would do it again.

She took some sort of computer classes at the senior citizens center - which was just the basement of the Nazarene church with a 40-cup percolator and an activity director - then bought a computer and hired someone to set it up. She would call me over and over and ask me to tell her how to look at her email. Sometimes she would ask me to come over and get the computer to work, and I'd have to explain that I lived five hours away. One day she sent me an email message that read, "Angie, we are going to have to cut this off. We have been seeing entirely too much of each other."

My father had a miraculous recovery, possibly proving my theory that he was only happy when he had someone to boss around. The more Virginia needed him, the more he rose to the occasion. He got her a bright orange hunters cap so that he could find her when she got lost in the store. He distracted her from the cake ritual. He taught her to be obsessed with the Fighting Illini.

And Virginia was delighted by her overseer. She would tell everyone how much she loved him, how good he was to her, how sweet and kind he could be. My siblings and I always got to laughing when she did that, because Cains are known to be impossible to live with and in truth there are very few who can do it, and some say you have to be crazy.

I am ashamed of the way I spent the day. I didn't get dressed, and I ignored everything around me, sitting at the dining room table drinking coffee. Other than producing a dinner from the freezer (I did cook it myself, but a couple of weeks ago) at the appropriate time, I did nothing but read The Green Stone Woman's blog and take a five-hour nap. Now I'm writing this post with as much speed as possible, and I know that to write well I have to go over it several times.

I have been out of my regular sleep cycle, and that's something I have to watch because it is one of my depression clues, although sometimes it isn't, if that makes sense. I checked my houseplants just to be sure, but they are all doing well. I'm not sure that's a clue at all this time of year, because they always do very well once I carry them outside in late spring. I also have that stomach ache which is usually accompanied by a vague sense of dread. And then there are the dining room blinds... Well, so far I'm just reporting. I'll try to do better tomorrow.

Exercise: turning over in bed.

I am going to have to make a powderpuff. My mom gave me a nice porcelain powder box, and I am using an old footie to foof the powder on after my shower. I think I'm better than that.

19 June 2009

Meet Virginia

This story is long, so I'll have to write it in parts. This particular part, the background, will seem somewhat dark and harsh, but it's only the background. I promise you will find the story uplifting, if a bit unusual.

I don't know what my stepmother was like before she married my dad. But, I imagine that she was a lot different. There was a day when she was walking a country road and her life was suddenly cleaved in half. Stop. Begin again as a new person. A different kind of person. Of course, I'm guessing here.

All this happened before I knew Virginia, but I come from a small town, and we know everything about each other, or we know where we can find out everything. I'm telling it as accurately as I can, but most of it comes from gossip and newspaper articles I read at least twenty years ago. The rest I guess I just made up.

So Virginia was walking along a country road, which she did every morning. Whatever was in the fields she passed glimmered with fat drops of dew. Birds called: quail and pheasant and red-winged black birds. She had a lot of energy. She loved to walk. Because her mother and one of her sisters weighed hundreds of pounds each, she was petrified of gaining weight. Her walks were her only peaceful moments. She sang, prayed, and talked to God, right out loud if she felt like it. She held membership in three churches because she loved going to church. She would have liked to go every day. She was seeking peace.

Semi-trucks never used to go on the two lane country road, but in the past decade some of the Amish in the area had started manufacturing furniture in barns here and there, and they had wood delivered by trucks that drove too fast for the narrow roads and misjudged the width of the lane or didn't see an old lady at all. An old lady can fly through the air for what seems like a mile and not remember her name when she lands.

That Virginia who set out on her walk would never be again. That Virginia was gone completely, killed by a wood truck on a country road. The body was left alive, and eventually a new personality filled it. The body had to learn to walk again. The personality had to mark time in a convalescent home because it had no one to come to its rescue, although there were grown children and a husband. The insurance paid for it.

There was a load of insurance money. The truck driver was clearly in the wrong. Luckily the settlement was put in the hands of an impartial financial officer who meant to protect Virginia's interests.

After being beaten with all manner of objects, tied and bruised and browbeaten and scorned, flung in closets and hung in barns and left without water in the sun, Virginia was not inclined to express her own needs at all. (My uncle Joe was a cop, and he was called out to that farm many times. Men weren't usually arrested then for getting drunk and scaring the devil out of their wives.)

When Virginia came home from the nursing home, she was addled and nervous and unable to stand, fragile but somewhat stable. Her husband wanted some money wanted some money wanted some money and he couldn't get it away from that lawyer.

Virginia couldn't think, couldn't get away and walk between the fields, couldn't get a hold on her emotions, couldn't hear God speak. In the home, her church friends came and went in a long parade from breakfast to afternoon nap. They brought so many little treats to cheer her up. She had held court in her wheelchair with a nice lace shawl on her legs, and now she was heavy. She feared being heavy. She would have to get out of that chair and learn to use her legs again or she was going to go mad from his constant harping about the money and her fear of her weight and her overwhelming confusion about how she got in this state.

She was able to walk by the evening he took her by the neck and said he would never let go. He wanted some money. There was nothing she could do about it. She was incompetent and her money was in the hands of some lawyer. When he threw her into the corner, she stayed there crumpled and choking. She couldn't do anything.

But she did do something. There was that money at the lawyer's office to be spent to make her well. It was like a ticket on a train that went far across the mountains to a new life. She waited for him to fall asleep. This is the part that could have put her in prison for life. That she waited.

And when he was snoring, she took the gun he kept on the nightstand and pointed it down at his chest and pulled the trigger. He wasn't dead when she put the phone next to him on the bed and took the van he parked out back. She didn't even have a license to drive.

Virginia drove all the way to Ohio without stopping. Actually she drove without thinking. She drove as if she knew what she was doing, and luckily had stopped in the parking lot of a truck stop to wipe her eyes and wonder when the car ran out of gas, chugged once, and was dead to her.

She didn't know who she was. She certainly didn't know where she was. She remembered her sister's phone number. That, and her weight.


Let's not talk about Virginia yet. It hurts me to tell this part of the story, although she will find a little broken piece of happiness in the end.


The exercise is better than I ever thought it would be. After only five days I have noticeably more energy and perhaps even a better mood. I'm proud of myself. Yay.

So, how do like cruising around with me so far? I've had a ball this week and will try to blog each day next week. It's therapeutic. Blogging sounds like a good reward for jumping around sweating like a fool, doesn't it?

18 June 2009

I am obstinate

Having grown up the way I did with a control freak for a mother and a bully for a dad, I don't like to be bossed around. Early on I discovered that people cannot make you do anything if you don't want to do it. I explained a little of that when I told you about my attitude toward anything physical.

I made peace with my parents by learning what made them tick and teaching them how to relate to me as an adult. And yet I seem to collect people who are very much like my parents were when I was growing up. It has happened since grade school. Does something in my demeanor invite people to tell me what to do? Does my don't-give-a-shit-about-stuff-that's-stupid-to-me attitude look somehow like uncertainty? Is coming to terms with this issue my mission in this particular life?

I've gotten a divorce over it. I've thrown out friends because of it. I've moved and withheld my phone number and closed my MySpace account - all because I don't have the energy to argue with people over baloney. And you telling me what to do is baloney.

I may sound a lot more confident than I am. I am only now learning just exactly who I am and why I do the things I do, but I know this one thing about myself: If you boss me around, I'm going to get ugly about it.

I am not the least bit inflexible. I will listen to you. I know a good plan when I hear one. I will change my mind when I'm wrong. I will apologize when I've been a bitch. I'll ask advice if I'm at a loss. But if you plan to tell me what I should do, then just get out of my car.

There are numerous ways to get me to do something. Make a good case for your viewpoint. I've been an English teacher. I taught many people to write persuasion papers, and I have a keen appreciation for a well made case. I will even thank you for your big idea. But don't shove your opinion at me or I'm going to knock it out of your hands way before you can get it down my throat.

I don't know why people feel free to boss others around. I don't have any desire to tell anyone what to do. When I encounter people, I feel a natural curiosity about them. I observe what they do and form my own opinions. I may ask questions about motivations or request clarification. But you're never going to hear me say the words, "You know what you ought to do?" You know why? Because I truly don't care what you do. I'll watch you do it, but I have no investment in the outcome.

You must feel really superior to me if you think you can just spout off some pronouncement and have me fall right into line. Some people are just gleeful when they think they can force you into something. Like the religious farts. What a scam to come up with: If you don't do what we want you to, you'll die. And not just in this one life you're trying your best to live now, but forever and ever into all eternity. And we won't answer your questions either. Have faith.

The minister I grew up with once told me, "And when you get to college, you'd better not take any philosophy courses, because your faith is already shaky as it is." One guess which courses I signed up for first. In philosophy courses, I learned to think. That wasn't valued in my religious circle. I wasn't in church the day the minister got potted before Sunday services, fell out of the pulpit, and had to be sent somewhere to dry out. He had a lot to do with my shaky faith, and I never got a chance to tell him.

And then there are the naggers. Just keep saying the same thing over and over and I'm sure I'll start liking the message better when I've heard it a dozen times. Just keep bringing the topic up and giving your same old opinion until I'm puking with boredom. Make sure that the solution you're pushing is real good for you and of no interest to me. Don't bother to find out what I think. What do they get out of it? Do they ever stop in mid-sentence and realize that they are talking to themselves? No. Because they apparently have no audience awareness. I will eventually break down to shut you up and then I'll hate us both.

My dad was a nagger. I would resist for a while and then finally give in and make a bad deal with him so he would shut up. We both knew what he was doing, and he still enjoyed it. I traded cars with him. I bought a car from him for a dollar and he gave me a car that wasn't worth a dollar. I was involved in a complicated three-way trade with him and his brother, and I somehow ended up with Granny's TV and had to give it back when she thought I stole it. Dad never changed, except for the times his eyebrows drew together and he drew inside himself and looked only at his shoes. Depression runs in that family.

Exley was a nagger too, only he didn't really mean to be a bully as much as he meant to do whatever was necessary to get what he wanted. That feels like bullying to me. He can't help it. He's an Aries - and the youngest kid and a good guy in a weird way. He always wants to be of help but he just keeps saying it, like a kid, until he wears you down and you say yes just so you won't have to hear it again. Here's your money for the movies.

Mom wasn't a nagger. She told you once, then slapped you if she didn't think you were moving fast enough. She has developed a good bit of patience in the past fifty years. I actually like her method better than wheedling.

And the non-smoking Nazis. As far as I'm concerned, you have every right not to breathe cigarette smoke. You can allow no smoking in your house. You can require restaurants and bars to have squeaky clean air and lobby for legislation to protect your offspring and get the laws changed so that no one can smoke anywhere near the door to a public building. I even kind of admire you for going after what you think is best. You can look down on the filthy habit. But you can't make people stop smoking, and that's what you really want to do. Admit it.

There is one special person who doesn't find me lacking. He enjoys the way I am and doesn't advise me to change. That means a lot to me.

The exercise. Four days. Would you believe me if I said I was kind of liking it? It's because of the big purposeful steps, endorsed by powdergirl, whose blog post today made me bawl. I've always wondered why other people can walk so much faster than I do, and now I know. You don't speed up by taking faster tiny steps. Take big old steps and you go faster and you feel it in the back of your legs and your butt and pretty soon you start swinging your arms and then your hips. If only someone will give me to the key to swimming.

Pretty soon we'll be walking real fast instead of driving around in that Cadillac.

Oh, yeah. I have new business cards. Aren't they adorable? They tell you all the ways you can find me online.

17 June 2009

I'm imperfect

Somewhere lately I've read this piece of advice: Done is better than perfect. That's what I say to myself now when I take the silverware out of the dishwasher and put it into the drawer without sorting it. No one else gets in that drawer. Why should I worry about it? For a moment after I shut the drawer I feel a creepy gooseflesh on the back of my neck: Don't walk away. There is a mess here. Fix it. Fix it. Alert. Alert.

I'm trying to learn to embrace imperfection. For one thing, I think perfectionism contributes to my (very annoying) habit of procrastinating. If I am working toward perfection, then I can never finish because calling something finished also means admitting that I fell short of perfection. I have a room full of projects partly finished. They hold within them the seeds of perfection. Let it go. Work toward good, or even brilliant, but you can't be perfect. Face it.

Perfectionism prevents me from embracing myself. I hold myself to a much higher standard than I do others. For example, I know people who carry a lot of extra poundage, and that rarely enters my mind when I'm admiring them. A smile, the flash of an eye, the way someone moves can delight me. But let me look at myself in the mirror, and here comes that critical bitchy mommy voice telling me my hair is frizzy or my skirt doesn't hang right or my legs are as white as a fish belly. I appreciate a little of my own feedback, but I am going to have to learn to cut myself some slack or I'm going to be very unhappy as I age.

I'm trying to whip myself up into a frenzy of self-improvement, but I also want to learn to like myself the way I am. I want to be able to get some stuff out of my too-small bag and wear it again. That's the only place I'm going to get new items right now. Goodness knows my budget won't stretch to any of those new sleeveless paper clothes WalMart is selling, which look a lot like they were stitched up on My First Sewing Machine by ten year olds with spools of rotten thread. And may well have been. (The Evil Twin's Wife called it "the Mart of Wal" in her blog this morning, and I let out a little *squeal of laughter* when I read that.)

The exercise continues. Three days. Shew. Still taking big old man steps or, as powdergirl called it, walking like "a purposeful woman". (Check out the comment powdergirl left on the previous post. She makes it sound so easy: Keep walkin'. Eat for fuel. Stay away from carbs. Yes, ma'am. I'm going to do it.)

Yesterday I put on a DVR I made of a Christine Aguilera concert and tried to follow every move Christina made, except when she got on top of the piano and lolled around. Oh, I'm sure it would have made a very funny video. I put on my whorey silver platform pumps for the last number, but if I had caused an injury that required an emergency visit, I'd have lied like a rug about that. This morning I weighed myself and I feel chicken-livered not to just blurt the number out to you, but I can't seem to do it. Let's just say that I've not reached circus proportions.

So for now it's my secret number, and I'm going to make it go down. I am going to hold on to the idea that after exercise I feel really good - I mean it too; good like I used to feel back in the seventies. I will try to learn a little about this stranger who passes for my body. I know this: I like her cleavage and the way her hair curls up when it's cut the right way and her little deep-set blue-grey eyes. I want her to be able to cross her legs and carry a typewriter and go up the attic steps without trembling.

Pick you up tomorrow about the same time? And leave some comments, would ya? I need all the help I can get.

Are you a perfectionist? A procrastinator? Is your body your friend or some big piece of meat you drag around with you?

16 June 2009

I am lazy

I have been lazy my entire life. I have never liked to do anything physical. I'm not comfortable in my body. It's like I'm wearing a stranger's heavy, ill-fitting coat. My life has been one big fight to get done what I need to get done and still do as little as possible. And everything I enjoy doing - with the possible exception of listening to books on tape - involves sitting on my butt.

When I was a child, Mom would make rules about where I could take a book or pen and paper. Never into the bathroom. I wouldn't be seen again until Thanksgiving. Not into the yard. Go outside and get some fresh air, she'd say. You're not going to spend the weekend lying on your bed. Surely she didn't think she was going to look out the kitchen window and see me frolicing on the big lawn. She knew me by then. I would climb up the buckeye tree, from which I could see three blocks in several directions, and sit. Sometimes I would skate, which was effortless and made you feel like a movie star, as long as you knew where the sidewalk was cracked. I also enjoyed scribbling bitterly in my secret journal about the conspiracy unfolding all around me.

When I say that I'm not willing to do something physical, I'm not going to change my mind. I know my limitations. My mother learned this, but my teachers couldn't accept it. I didn't bend. I had teachers make me run laps around the cinder track for weeks, and around the gym when the weather was bad, because I wouldn't jump over a string of hurdles. That was a reasonable deal to me. Punishment would have been for them to continue to badger and bully me, call attention to me, tire me out before I even got started running. The same teacher made me wear a sign that said I was an idiot. I had asked her when in the world I was going to need the ability to jump off a vaulting box and over a pommel horse. I refused to do it.

I was like Bartleby the scrivener. I preferred not to. Anything. My freshman year in high school there was this program called the Presidential Challenge or some such thing. You had to do a certain number of sit-ups and push-ups and run the 50-yard dash in a certain number of seconds and climb a certain number of feet up a rope. The teacher carried around a clipboard and verified our abilities. I declined to climb a rope. I didn't like how it looked when girls got stuck halfway up, their arms shaking, their feet clamped on top of each other on top of a knot, not knowing whether to give up or go on. For no real reason. There was no reason to climb up a rope. My parents didn't even like Richard Nixon.

In high school, being lazy was difficult. Someone was always inviting me to go somewhere, and my mother was all in favor of it. She'd push me to go to a dance with some boy whose mother impressed her. Or to a picnic with some family she considered high class. Or the worst: Stay over night at someone's house. I wanted to stay home and read Edgar Allen Poe and Jonathan Livingston Seagull and memorize poems by e.e. cummings and T.S. Elliot. I wanted to watch Monty Python reruns on the educational channel and lie in bed with my transitor radio under my pillow, tuned to WLS, which wasn't all talk back then.

Swimming doesn't work for me either. I have taken lessons since I was a child and the last time I did so I was 45 years old. As a child, I sat on a bench safely far off of the tiled lip of the public pool and waited for lessons to be over. My mother paid 50 cents a week for me to ride the bus to the class on Saturday mornings, but I never once got wet. Not even tempted. The teacher quickly gave up trying to talk me into trying. Well-meaning adults would push or toss me into a body of water, believing that I would automatically swim by some instinct to save myself. Not so. I was fished out several times.

As an adult, I decided that swimming was just too hard. I was missing some vital piece of information, some technique that would make it feel effortless and fishy. Exley would swim, slow and steady, up and down the pool, caring not one bit if the water was four feet or fifteen feet deep. I'd see kids swimming in the deep end like it was fun. The best I could do was put a boogie board under my chest and flap my legs and arms like hell, hardly moving through the water at all. Not worth the effort to paddle that hard for nothing.

I never liked riding a bicycle either. I become very tired imagining and avoiding calamity. I begged my mom to give me $10 for my fifteenth birthday so that I could buy a used bike. Our little town had brick-paved streets. I was afraid of traffic, even on foot, and couldn't judge speed and distance all that well. (I have no idea how I missed learning these things, but even now I'm challenged.) I rode the bicycle about three blocks, started to wobble, fell over into the gutter, and skinned my palms and knees. See how my treacherous body is involved in my laziness? After that I was willing only to ride on the handlebars of my friends' bikes; all I had to do was hold on and keep my feet out of the spokes.

I'm so lazy that I am even a terrible traveler. It's too much trouble to go to another country. Too much trouble to run for a plane. Much too much trouble to arrange for the travel and buy the tickets and make the decisions required. I did it once, and I was so tired by the time I arrived that I fell asleep on top of a motel bedspread in Amsterdam and missed the last total eclipse of the sun for that century. The amount of energy it takes just to get somewhere else is triple the amount it would take me to read sixteen books during a week off work. And that I'd enjoy doing.

Why can't I just stay in my house and live the simple life of Kwai Chang Caine? I like to drive - or rather I like to be driven - slowly through the country. I like to walk on country roads and I like to look at things, especially in forests, nurseries, and old structures. I like to shut all the lights off and watch a good HD movie on the big-screen TV. I like to go to antique shops and read all the tags and guess what things are and ask a lot of questions and try on hats when no one is looking. I like museums and forts and farms and state parks. I like to make things of paper and cloth.

Well, lazy goes along with fat, I guess. I don't like exercise, even though I claim I'm interested in losing weight. But yesterday I asked myself to do something about it. I flapped my arms and marched and ran in place and did push-ups and toe-touches for 30 minutes, following Kirstie Alley's (a nut) instructions on Twitter. I could do this every day; I didn't even feel close to a heart attack. I started to sweat, which I usually take as a signal to stop immediately, but I worked through it. It is supposed to be good for you. Pores or something.

Here's the dirty rotten secret: It wasn't nearly as hard as I had imagined it would be. Nobody's making me, so I have only myself to blame for getting physical. I feel silly reporting that after the workout I felt very good for probably a full hour or more. When I walked to my car after work, I sped up and learned this: If I'd stop taking these little bitty steps like you do when you wear nice heels and started taking big old man steps, it can be a bit of a workout over to the parking structure. I had a few nice tingles in my legs and got home five minutes earlier than usual.

I have this funny body shape, created by childbirth and gaining a hundred pounds more than I need and my serious commitment to laziness. I look like a pregnant old lady. I believe I'm described as an apple shape. My figure reminds me a lot of a Rubens model. I can't find clothes or even sewing patterns to fit correctly. I would like to achieve the semblance of a waist, so I made that my goal for this exercise adventure. A waist - even just one inch smaller than my hips. Is it possible? I don't know. I'll have to see if I can keep myself moving.

Thanks for riding along with me. I'll pick you up tomorrow.

So do you hate exercise? If you do it, what keeps you going? If you don't do it, do you ignore all the advice and studies and experts? How often? What kind? Why? Have you ever felt as though your body is an awkward stranger you don't like very much? Help.

15 June 2009

Switching gears

I once started a blog that I subtitled "my purely positive blog". I started this blog on the shallow end of an exhausted depression, while the house plants were still alive but the curtains had already been closed. I thought I could use the writing - the routine of the writing - as a flotation device to save me from drowning. That's it, I thought, I'll find the positive in every situation. It would have been nice to have developed that talent, I think. As I remember it, I wrote a post every day for eight days. That's it.

When I started this blog, I didn't think far in advance of... well... starting. Now that we've got the speed up to about 30 mph, I'm going to grab hold of the steering wheel and turn us in a direction not everyone might like to come. If you have to excuse yourself, I understand.

I've traded in my learners permit for an official drivers license, and I'm taking this baby for a spin. I don't care to choose a destination, but I have scribbled out a little map.

Want to come along for a ride? Okay. Hop in. As my granny used to say, I'll carry us down the road a ways.

For you who are bloggers, why did you start? Did you have a message, or a need to communicate, or a marketing plan? Do you think about your readers when you write, or do you write to suit yourself, make a record, entertain?

Those of you who read blogs, what makes you return to a certain blog post after post? Are you more interested in the topics or theme, or the person writing?

06 June 2009

"Human destiny is not determined by forces beyond our control"

Usually when everyone starts liking something, I don't like it anymore. It goes for music and celebrities and food. I just don't like being bombarded with the same thing over and over. But I can't help being trendy on this one. I love our president. And I love the fact that we don't have to be embarrassed when our president represents us abroad. I love the fact that he speaks well and is charismatic in a way that inspires others to rise above the ordinary. Today he spoke about men who performed extraordinary feats of bravery and courage.

"It was unknowable then, but so much of the progress that would define the 20th century, on both sides of the Atlantic, came down to the battle for a slice of beach only six miles long and two miles wide.

"More particularly, it came down to the men who landed here--those who now rest in this place for eternity, and those who are with us here today. Perhaps more than any other reason, you, the veterans of that landing, are why we still remember what happened on D-Day. You're why we keep coming back.

"For you remind us that in the end, human destiny is not determined by forces beyond our control. You remind us that our future is not shaped by mere chance or circumstance. Our history has always been the sum total of the choices made and the actions taken by each individual man and woman. It has always been up to us."

Thank you, brave men. Thank you, Mr. President.

Photo 1: Mandel Ngan, AFP. Today, on a beach near Colleville-sur-Mer. Photos 2 and 3: National Archives.

04 June 2009

BĂȘte de Jour: The intimate adventures of an ugly man

By Stan Cattermole
Harper Collins, June 2009

This is the first book I’ve read that began as a blog. I was already enchanted with the blog when I learned about the book, but, being a book-lover, I wanted to see how the stories would hang together as a book. No worries there.

The book has a blog’s timing and sense of unfolding that makes it irresistible. Immediate. As if we’re along for the ride. And yet I can hold it in my hand, underline passages, dog ear the pages, and let it drop to the floor as I finish reading for the night. I miss that about a blog.

So, Stan Cattermole describes himself as a very ugly child who grew into a very ugly man—“a voluminous bag, fashioned from thick human skin and filled to bursting with the bones of a thousand elbows.” But we can’t tell whether to believe him on this, because people comment on his looks all through the blog/book, and they always describe him as some variation of “not so bad.” But, regardless of the “truth,” Stan believes he’s ugly, and he drags that idea behind him like an old piece of luggage.

Stan reaches rock bottom just before his thirtieth birthday and, as most of us are prone to do when we come awake to find ourselves ready to eat canned cat food rather than go out and face humanity, he decides he must change his life. Thus he begins a quest: to lose weight, to stop smoking, and to “Fall in Fully Reciprocated Love with the Woman of My Dreams.” The blog is born: a way to keep himself accountable, whether anyone else is listening or not.

The blog becomes an actual character in the book. It grows and becomes the Blog. It insinuates itself between Stan and his life-long best friend, and more than one acquaintance is put off by what is written about her. The Blog engenders other blogs, although I find it difficult to believe that any spin-off would be as bright and beautiful as the original. Because of the Blog, Stan’s circle grows wider and he meets people virtually and in the flesh that he begins to know as friends.

Regular readers comment on Stan’s stories, and this gives him courage and validation—two of the things he needs to venture forth and find his lady love. And we’re all pulling for him to do just that, although none of the women he finds seems good enough for him, with his cutting wit and his sensitive heart and his big dick and his hot-air balloon of a spirit.

About Stan’s heart. Stan evidently was born with no outer shell at all; he is like the baby he describes “with its heart on the outside of its skin, clinging to its chest like a silver bell on a kitten’s bib, beating and bleeding and raw for all to see.” For a variety of reasons we learn as we follow Stan’s adventures, he is starved for affection, human touch, reciprocated love, and sex. At the first sign that a relationship is possible, Stan tears open his chest, reveals his own beating, ragged heart, and says, “Here. Take it. It’s yours.”

The writing. Oh, the writing. I enjoy reading Stan Cattermole’s writing as much as I enjoy Mark Twain and Charles Dickens and Kurt Vonnegut. In fact, I have rarely read anything more painfully humorous and delightfully moving. For me, this book is packed full of snivels and dusted with scenes that require tissues and a break. And yet the same book contains wondrous interludes that make me laugh out loud, even on third or fourth reading.

And the mystery. Every book is a mystery, and one of the reasons we read is to find out where it ends up. But in addition to the story question, this book has a mystery author. When I first started reading the blog, I was sure that it was written by a bored author of hundreds of bestsellers who had created this magnificent Cattermole character and was shining us on while he entertained the hell out of us. At night over wine he would smirk a little and read our comments and feel superior because we were all taken in. Now I just don’t care. As long as the story continues.

I must not forget to point out that this book is subtitled “intimate adventures,” and I’m sure it’s not for everyone, because not everyone enjoys reading the intimate sexual details of another person’s quest for love. (Oh, come on now. What’s more fun?) The author offers us even his shabbiest, most embarrassing moments and invites us to study and comment upon them, as if he is determined to tell all of it, just absolutely everything that he can remember to tell, and let us judge him for ourselves.

Well, I haven’t told you the entire story the way a lousy book reviewer does, because it’s Stan’s story to tell and I want you to enjoy it the way he unfolds it. So purchase a copy of the book here in the U.S. or here in the U.K. Follow Stan on Twitter. Visit his Blog. Show him some love.

02 June 2009

This is my place

I have finished reading a book by the man I call @scattermole, and a review is percolating in my head. While I ignore that and let it simmer, I’ll tell you about how I’m trying to learn to be happy with a frugal amount of everything.

Because I’m broke (paying off bills from the carefree days) and frugal and smarter than I used to be, I look for small pleasures in my life. The Woodsman tells me it’s the little things that are the most important. Mom (and a lot of other old wives) say the best things in life are free. I find these little things everywhere. They cost less than shoes, and they make me just as happy.

Last year I rented an ugly little duplex with human animals living in the unit next door. This family’s surname was the same as a popular nut. The universe handed out something appropriate there. When the lease was up, I was too tired to move a third year in a row, but I did. For the quiet. And the calm. Now I live in a cute little house with its own yard in a quiet neighborhood on a pretty street—for the same amount of rent as I paid to be disturbed on a daily (and nightly) basis.

As you can see, the place is cute, no matter the season, and you know how good it makes you feel to be surrounded by cute. For the same amount of money as I paid to live next to the zoo—and throw in a nice landlord too.

I didn't even realize just how stressful the year next door to the "Walnut" family was until I moved. Now I am grateful every single night that I don't have to share in some other family's hateful noise and rage and thumping and bumping and yelling.
I have friendly neighbors now, and that means something. Sometimes I come home from work and think that Mr. Sweep next door has built some sort of steampunk amusement park in the driveway we share.

But he and his wife, the Feng Shui expert, are as sweet as you could ask for and always willing to help. They had a neighborhood cookout this last weekend to celebrate Mr. Sweep’s fiftieth birthday, and I got to see their backyard.

My dogs are different creatures now that they have a yard to play in without being molested by screaming children who were never taught respect for other creatures. (The hellions would actually bark at the dogs. I kid you not.) I don’t think my dogs are ever going to stop barking at the good neighbors, but I understand why they have trust issues.

And there’s a little green tomato on one of my tomato plants. I forgot to get a shot of that.

These are really good things to take pleasure in, I think. What a difference a year can make.

Are there little free things that bring a lot of pleasure into your life? Now that I've started learning to appreciate them, I feel pretty clever. And I'm a cheap date too.