Free to Be You and Me and Gluten-Free

Lily pads at our local art museum.
The blog “The Wanderlust Gene” posted a lily photo today… but hers is actually growing wild in Sri Lanka. I have feelings of inadequacy.

Miles run today: 9

Temperature forecast for this afternoon: 105

Hours spent walking through the woods at a local park yesterday: 2

I have spent the week cooking gluten-free: fish and rice and vegetable, meat and rice and vegetable, even turkey meatballs (no breading) and rice and vegetable.

I have been so hungry, y’all.

I do realize that if I were to eat in this manner at all times, I would lose roughly 10 pounds in 10 days hours. This is because my current diet includes things like Cracklin’ Oat Bran, sweet tea, Goodberry’s ice cream and our neighbor’s divine peach cobbler (positively riddled with gluten).

My mother-in-law is living the gluten-free lifestyle that so many espouse these days. And while she is here, we want her to stay healthy and happy.

This week, I maintained a veneer of calm strength: I cooked pure things. No shredded cheese in sight. No spaghetti. No stir fry. Nothing bad for us in any way.

A sad fact: while in the ocean, I contemplated grabbing a tiny shark and gnawing at it, but it swam away very quickly. It could sense my desperation.

In a purely perverse way that I am not proud of, I tend to crave things that are denied to me.

Historically, my mother bore the brunt of my annoying denial/acting out. When she was baking things, I would stand beside her as she measured flour or sugar. She would ask me to be quiet and still. She would count, “1, 2…” and I would hurriedly rattle off, “3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10!” She found it annoying. (I still do it today: I am sure one day she will discover she secretly loves it.)

When we would go out to swanky restaurants, my sister and I were (mostly) very well-behaved. However, I had a penchant for fits of laughter at inappropriate times. The restaurant (for instance, Galatoire’s in New Orleans) would be calm, dignified… and it would make me giggle. And then my mom, who was mostly likely imagining herself childless and among demure adults, would whisper, “Anne, please stop.”

That was exactly the wrong thing to say.

Ridiculous, over-the-top giggling would commence.

There are other ways I know I should act appropriately but don’t.

My husband and I went in for my son’s third grade conference a couple of years ago. The teacher kept bringing up these evaluation tools called “Dibls” (sp?) (pronounced “dibbles”). I couldn’t help it; professional jargon starts me laughing. Do they really expect me to take something pronounced “dibbles” seriously?

My husband started sympathizing with my mom that day. He kept nudging me to get me to stop and giving me “that look,” but that, of course, made things worse.

How the teacher kept a straight face during all those conferences is beyond me. I would have to provide a written disclaimer before every parent conference if I were a teacher: “I am unable to discuss Dibls with you. Please read about them online at this link:____”

My complete lack of self-control may be one reason why I run: for me, it’s easier to add an activity than to take one away. I’ve tried cutting way back on sugar, only drinking wine on every seventh Saturday (or whatever) and cutting out most processed foods.

These things don’t seem to stick.

I am most impressed with people who have denied themselves some key and beloved item and branched out into some alternative lifestyle. If you are one of these people, I will be admiring you from afar and chanting from the “Moderation is key” handbook.

Because somewhere, there is a baby shark being born who is not a very fast swimmer. And he may not appreciate becoming sushi at the water’s edge.

My Favorite Place, Submersion and Truth

Nothing better.

Days in the ocean: 4

Miles run with my husband: 7 (ha! tricked him again!)

Words written in my novel this week: 0

My apologies to all my fellow bloggers whose writing I’ve missed the past few days…

In the vein of those corny plaques you can buy about fishing and golf, I’m of the opinion that a bad day at the beach is better than a good day most other places.

I have never been to the beach in June here in the South where the weather was so cool, the water so warm. It was pretty wacky.

My husband’s parents are here from England, and my mother-in-law is used to swimming in bone-chilling water and shares some DNA with polar bears, so she was fine. The rest of us plunged into the waves and tried to stay under the water as much as possible; to venture out into the wind was an act of foolishness.

Wind, huddle, wave buffet, laughter.

I try to remind myself to stay submerged when I write. Sometimes I find it easier than other times.

When I first started writing for the newspaper, I feared personal columns. There were a couple of columnists who wrote about their lives, and I cringed when I thought about exposing my feelings, the lives of my family and my past to public scrutiny. What if I wrote something that no one could identify with?

What if I wrote that I loved the beach, and people thought I was crazy? Only kidding. Everyone loves the beach, right?

Well, not my mom.

But anyway, a weird thing happened when I started writing longer fiction: I was able to let my feelings get all mixed around in and mushed up in my characters. And then, when I started blogging, I was able to spread my feelings all out in a messy way, smeared all over the blog entries.

And then, that whole thing that’s supposed to happen when you’re middle-aged and forget to stand up straight to pull in your belly or when you throw caution to the winds and ditch the mascara for the day without caring happened to my writing.

I realized that by staying in the water and not trying to keep coming up for air, my writing improved. Or at least, it improved from my rather limited perspective: all of the truth spilled out of it.

How do you access truth in your writing? Do you ever have a cringe-worthy moment when you write something personal that you wouldn’t want a reader to know? Or do you feel free?

Can I Get An Amen? Catch the Exercise Bug.

Our version of a Rave Run in Boone, NC, a few years ago.

Miles run today: 10

Temperature at 9:30 a.m.: 80

Bunnies spotted on our run: 6 (yay!)

I may have a teensy problem with evangelizing. About exercise.

My parents get a glazed look in their eyes when they comment on being stressed or aching or feeling overwhelmed. The first thing I ask is, “Have you exercised lately?”

They roll their eyes. Thanks, Mom and Dad, for giving me a preview of parenting teenagers.

In my opinion, I’m not as bad as, say, my running partner or my husband. They may be out at a store or at the pool or at a cocktail party, and the conversation goes like this:

Clerk: You get an extra bag of cheese free with the purchase of two bags.

My running partner/BFF: Well, that sure will help with my sodium levels after my 15 mile run this morning!

Or:

Poor random pool-goer: Wow! This is some wonderful weather we’ve been having!

My husband: Yeah, it’s been great when I get up at 5 a.m. and run 13 miles before you’ve rolled out of bed.

I’m embellishing a tad, but not much.

I love my running, but I’m convinced that if I weren’t running, I’d pick up another exercise obsession hobby. Trying to keep me away from exercise would be like trying to keep me away from orange juice/sweet tea/wine. (Wow. Seeing that in print makes me sound like an addict. Well, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the truth hurts.)

Middle school P.E. might have been the origin of my exercise love. For anyone who has read some of my earlier posts, I gravitate towards activities that stimulate me socially.

And by stimulating me socially at the middle school level, what I really mean is: there were boys there. Lots of boys. And I liked boys.

P.E. became my favorite subject.

I mean, I wrote papers on Edgar Allan Poe and learned about Virginia Dare and stuff, but let’s be real: there were boys in P.E.

We did units on aerobics and archery, kickball and soccer, even square dancing and this cool dance thing with two long bamboo poles we got to bang together on the floor while people danced in between them. I still wonder how I kept my ankles intact for that one.

After we got dressed out in the locker rooms where my friend Kim would sing, “Things Can Only Get Better” by Howard Jones every day for all of sixth grade, we had to sit on the gym floor in set spaces determined by the P.E. teachers at the beginning of the year. It went boy-girl-boy-girl, and the idea was that we were far apart from each other that we couldn’t touch.

The boy who sat directly in front of me was named Geoff, and he was a swimmer. Have you seen how fit swimmers are? Most of the girls thought he was pretty cute. And for the first five minutes of P.E., he was mine. One time, Geoff touched my leg, and I was incredibly glad I had shaved my legs that day.

In today’s world, it would be sexual harassment. In the mid-’80s middle school world, it was pretty cool.

When we broke off for special units with our groups, our group might head to the kickball field. Boys would always get chosen to be captains, and out of about 20 kids, I was chosen roughly twelfth. I had long, gangly legs, and I was in good shape.

However, I had absolutely no athletic skill whatsoever. And the boys usually forgot this fact each time teams were chosen.

There was then a moment during the kickball game or softball practice when they realized they had made an egregious error. By then, it was too late.

I would say it was part of my wicked plan, but I had no such plan. I kind of just wanted to run around and be on a team with boys.

Later on, when I was in high school, I didn’t have time for exercise. And I had back problems and stress problems and lack of muscle tone problems.

But when I took up running as an adult, I started feeling so much better. Exercise is a good balance for someone like me whose chosen work and fun activity consists of sitting in a desk chair.  I wish I could say my legs are still long and gangly, but I would be lying.

And I wish I could say I’ve outgrown the boy craziness. But I haven’t.

If my husband would let me run with him all the time, I probably would. When he allows me to accompany him tag along behind him, he has this moment during the run when he realizes he’s made an egregious error. And then he doesn’t ask me to go with him for a while.

Until the next time. Ha! He gets sucked into my wicked plan.

Things That Make You Go “Hmmm”

What doesn’t add up: how our Lady Banks Rose can climb a trellis and proliferate but every orchid I’ve ever owned dies a painful death.

Miles run today: 4.5

Words written in my novel so far: 18,417

Games of gin rummy my 11-year-old beat me at in the past two days: 7

My running partner almost got hit by the Fun & Frolic Fitness Bus the other day while we were out running.

I asked her if I could speak at her funeral and say something pithy like, “At least she was doing what she loved when she got hit by a big dose of fitness.”

She said no.

My parents collect wacky experiences and pass them along like precious gem stones. I can’t remember all of them, but here are some from my own life history:

1. When my sister, the vegetarian, worked at a steak house. She got Employee of the Month. Patrons asked her all the time which cut of meat was the tastiest. Of course, she told them filet mignon. Duh.

2. When your mom won’t believe you about the truth. One day when I was four, my mom sent me out to get the mail. The mailbox was not far beyond spitting distance of the house, but it was a foggy morning.

I returned to the house and said, “Mom, the mailbox is gone!”

She didn’t believe me. In my mom’s defense, I did have a history of living in my own little world. But still. She sent me back out to get the mail.

Still no mailbox. I was perplexed, and my mom was possibly more perplexed.

By the third time, she mustered up some energy (this was before her fourth cup of coffee, I’m guessing) and trailed behind me to where the mailbox used to be. Turns out, some teenagers had knocked it down and thrown in it a heap at the back of the neighborhood.

See? I’m not as crazy as I appear.

3. When my husband, the scientist and computer whiz, puts me in charge of numbers. I handle paying the bills and setting the alarm clock. I don’t know which part of the brain setting the alarm clock uses, but it’s not one my husband accesses easily.

4. When I, the shoe lover, have a difficult time putting shoes in a box. I love seeing new shoes. New shoes on my feet. And new shoes in new boxes. The problem comes when I try to put shoes that were on my feet back in a box. There’s something about the orientation of the shoes that throws me off every time.

And skates? Forget about it.

5. When a tour guide assures you of something  you know to be untrue. One summer, my parents took my sister and me to New Orleans. Yes, in August. Yes, it was hot. But I digress.

On one of my dad’s excursions out to the Back of Beyond, we drove to a place few tourists ever see, about an hour and a half outside the city. A guy with a pontoon boat called himself something like “Alligator Dan.” I think we’d been on other alligator outings, but this one was legendary.

Alligator Dan got those gators to jump way, way out of the water to eat some raw chicken. My sister and I were not completely sure which emergency procedures to employ when and if one of those gigantor gators landed on the front of the boat in a miscalculated leap.

After all, we were Raw People, which to our minds might taste better than Raw Chicken.

We escaped unscathed.

But the next summer, we went to the Everglades. After we got on a small pontoon boat, the tour guide told us, “Don’t worry, the boat looks low to the water, but alligators can’t jump.”

My dad started laughing. And my sister and I moved to the center of the boat.

6. When your kids don’t understand something. We were playing the game “Apples to Apples” yesterday at my sister’s house. It was the adult edition, not the one made for kids.

The adjective we all had to match up with a noun was “Natural.”

We all chose a noun and passed it to the “judge.” Some of the things that came up as “Natural” were “Redwood Forest” and “Caves.”

The next word that came up was “Loan Shark.”

“What?” my son asked. “A lone shark is natural! It’s alone. And it’s a shark.”

My brother-in-law got so red in the face that he couldn’t breathe.

I love quirkiness. And coincidence. And irony. Do you have things in your life that just don’t add up?

Roses vs. Daylilies

Daylilies are the embodiment of summer. My grandfather used to have huge gardens full, and he gave me some several years ago. They make me happy.

Miles run yesterday: 4.5

Clothes my mother folded at my house because she was horrified felt sorry for me: 54

Hours we have spent in the past six days sitting on my sister’s deck (the baby bluebirds flew away!): 20

My mother said she heard one time that there are two types of gardeners: Rose gardeners and Daylily gardeners.

Rose gardeners prepare the soil, carefully plant the roses, spray them with pest deterrents, prune them and cut them back for the winter. If they see black spot, they take extreme measures and baby the roses. When there are extravagant blooms, they cut off the best ones and display them inside.

Daylily gardeners stick the plants in the ground and say, “Grow.”

My grandfather is a master gardener and a big talker. He says he’s grumpy with his plants and pretends to throw them out in the side yard.

Then, when no one can see how much he loves them, he carefully digs a hole just the right amount deep and knows just the right amount of soil conditioner to use. His gardens look like the type my parents used to parade us through as kids; the ones where I whined and said it was hot and could we please go somewhere fun.

The proof is in the pudding: you have never eaten a tomato as good as a tomato from my grandfather’s garden.

I told my mom that maybe my grandfather is a Rose gardener masquerading as a Daylily gardener.

But the more I think about it, a master gardener must be both: the type of person who prepares and creates the best possible conditions and coddles while still allowing nature to take its course.

There is a magic about people who have a feel for gardening; they sense the right amounts, commune with the plants. When they run their fingers along the leafy tomato plants or flowering camelias, the foliage seems to lean into the caress.

I started this post thinking that I was a Daylily sort of writer, one who doesn’t coddle but allows nature to take its course. But as I continued to write, I realized that through strong editing, I need to develop my Rose-type skills. Pruning and babying and fertilizing and treating the black spot.

Which type of writer are you? How much do you rely on intuition, and how much do you fuss over your work to create a beautiful finished product?

Run. (A Father’s Day Post)

My daughter drew the picture; my son edited it on Photoshop.

Goodberry’s ice cream eaten today: 1

Miles run today: 3 (not enough to counteract the 1 ice cream)

Chickens my husband rotisseried: 2

I bought my husband something for Father’s Day that might not have been a great idea. He’s going to run his first marathon in November, so he can’t yet put a magnet on his car that says, “26.2.” So I got him a nifty magnet that says:

run.

After he put it on his car, I studied it and wondered if maybe I was sending the wrong message to his fellow drivers. Like maybe they would read it after he cut in front of them signaled and changed lanes and think, “Ooooh. So now this guy is threatening me. Okay buddy, I’ll run. Run over you.”

Somehow 26.2 looks less sinister.

Back when we were dating, I got worried about my future husband because he liked to help people in other cars. I decided it must be because he didn’t grow up in The Big City like I did, and also, in England, the people you stopped to help probably weren’t carrying guns.

One time, two of his friends from England had come over to visit, and we took them to the beach, which was two hours away. We spent the day there, and after getting too much sun and sand, we headed home. About thirty minutes into our trip, we spotted a couple on the side of the road who were on a little trip of their own.

“Stop the car!” he said. “They look like they need help.”

We have a word for that where I come from: foolhardy. Also, sometimes, dead.

So we stopped, and I gnawed on the dashboard because I’m not a big nail biter. I watched through the rearview mirror as the people wandered around in a fog. I reviewed the steps for flagging down police officers, administering CPR and the little I had seen in movies about removing bullets with a pocket knife.

When he ran back to my car and said, “Let’s go,” he seemed peeved that the people were so high that they didn’t care if they got help or not.

I was just glad all of his major veins and arteries were functional.

We got back home without further incident, and from that day forward, I didn’t have to allow an extra hour of drive time in my planning because of drug addicts who had forgotten to put gas in the car.

It was around that time that a stray cat wandered into his life. He named her Flo and used every extra penny he earned (not much exaggeration involved here) to pay for her food, her litter box, and the three kittens she thoughtfully birthed in his apartment.

While helping down-and-out types at the side of the road earned my grudging respect, his care of Flo and her little ones made me realize that he would make a great dad someday. For his charges, there was no expense spared and no need unmet. Those kittens didn’t know how good they had it.

Our kids may not realize their good fortune until age 30. But I sure do. He’s the most terrific dad ever.

And I want to thank the druggies who did not have the money to buy a gun all those years ago.

Happy Father’s Day, D!

In Charge of Fun

Words written in novel so far: 17,770

Games of Apples to Apples my dad won yesterday: 1 (he was very proud)

Days until Fathers’ Day: 1

When I was growing up, my dad was the Executive in Charge of Fun for our family.

During the work week, he got up early, spent ungodly amounts of time driving to work in downtown Atlanta, and came home hoping to disappear behind a newspaper. Many nights found him asleep on the recliner. Or asleep on the floor. (He insisted he was doing The Sponge as a yoga move.)

But recreation was Dad’s specialty. I mentioned the sailboat yesterday; that was an ongoing treat. But he also took me to the circus, to various and sundry museums and out to eat at restaurants with white tablecloths and shrimp creole.

When it was time to plan vacation, Dad talked to people and researched the heck out of it. And this was before the Internet, people.

We traveled all over the Southeast, touring historic homes, jumping in the ocean and obsessing over the Wright Brothers, his favorite. In the days before digital cameras, we visited Charleston and came home not with photos of The Battery or horse-drawn carriages, but a series of pelicans. Flying. And landing. And flying again.

By the time I was 14, I could correct the tour guide at any antebellum home about why the houses didn’t have closets.

There might have been a bad moment in the Florida Keys when we got out of the boat that took us snorkeling.

I was so excited. “Didn’t that coral feel so weird?”

My dad just looked at me. “You weren’t supposed to touch the coral.”

“Yes, we were. The guide said, ‘be sure to touch the coral.'”

“He said, ‘don’t touch the coral. People are destroying the coral reefs by touching and killing them.'”

“Oh.”

Tomato, to-mah-to.

Anywhoooo, my dad was also the one who worried over guided my college and career choices. When I started getting apathetic in sixth grade math, he took the family on a tour of colleges and quoted SAT and grade point average numbers to me.

When I showed an interest in planning events, he took me out to lunch with an executive who was helping him orchestrate a conference.

When I applied to colleges and considered going to a secondary one because my friends were going there, he said, “Okay. But there is nowhere more beautiful than Chapel Hill in the fall.”

There is nowhere more beautiful than Chapel Hill in the fall. I was there.

And when I started writing in earnest, he was the one person who read every word. Every single word.

Thanks, Dad. Happy Fathers’ Day!