In 2002, I entered Vermont College’s MFA writing for children’s program and menopause. I was a size 4. By the time I graduated in 2004, I was a size 8. Then I began 7 years of Hollins summers where I ate worse than any third grader. As the weight piled on I blamed it on menopause, medication (which causes sugar and carb cravings and weight gain), and aggrevation.
In August I stepped off a curb while out walking, getting a stress fracture. When I went to a clinic for an x-ray, I was weighed for the first time in well over a year. It was a depressing number.
The week before, I’d bought a book at Borders close-out sale, Acedia and Me: A Marriage, Monks, and A Writer’s Life. Author Kathleen Norris examines acedia, a condition reported by monks in the 4th century. Often in isolation, some monks lapsed into lethargy, restlessness, and a sense of not caring. Acedia was considered a sin. When the Seven Deadly Sins were established, acedia was replaced by sloth. But the condition still existed.
Kathleen Norris believed she was depressed. But the more she studied acedia (she meditated with monks), she realized the difference. As I read, I wondered if I too had acedia. I could barely function some days and yet I knew I wasn’t depressed. I took a lot of naps.
I treated my lethargy with sugar. Sugar has always been my drug of choice and I’ve known for years I’m a sugar addict. The number on the clinic scales jolted me. Not only was I overweight, especially for my height and small frame, I didn’t feel well. I had gained nearly 30 pounds since 2002.
I had tried diets over the years. Weight Watchers (again and again). South Beach (I lasted an hour and ten minutes). Dieting became equated with failure. So I bought bigger dress sizes and pretended it didn’t matter I weighed more than my husband.
In the library I found a book called Menopause Reset. I was skeptical, but knew that regular diets don’t work for post-menopausal women. The book has the usual advice–cut back on fat, exercise, etc. But there was a large section devoted to blood sugar with several graphs. For the first time, I could see how my horrible eating patterns affected my body.
Then I thought, “Suppose the way I eat can’t be entirely attributed to menopause and my medications? Suppose it’s a habit?” The next day I began the program in Menopause Reset, adapted to suit my particular needs. I got my butt out the door and started walking. Knowing I can’t walk in the cold, I joined Curves, only a three-minute drive from my house.
My biggest hurdle–giving up almost all processed sugar and flour, which consisted of 90% of my diet (fried stuff was the other 10%). I won’t lie–it’s freakin’ HARD to give up sweets and bread! I switched to Ezekial bread. I started eating the fruits I tolerated (bananas, pears, apples).
Because my husband is a stick, I cook for him. Meatloaf, casseroles, spaghetti, but I eat other things like salmon, sweet potatoes, fresh green beans. Cooking for two is tough. Cooking for one person who needs to keep their weight up and another who needs to lose is no picnic!
Last night I made Brunswick stew and homemade bread. I ate my cup of stew with a flatbread cracker that had the taste and consistency of cuttlebone and coveted my husband’s warm bread. I stared at his birthday cake but didn’t eat a bite. When I decide to have dessert (and I will!) it will be something I truly want.
Here’s what happened the first week off sugar and flour: my heartburn, GERD, lethargy, and most of my restlessness went away. Gone. Poof! For the first time in ages, I have enough energy to power through the afternoon.
It’s been a little over a month since I started what I call “eating close to the ground” (fruits, vegetables and protein, fixed plainly). I walk an hour a day for health and clarity. A few times a week I go to Curves and sometimes take a Zumba class. I set a modest goal of losing 12-13 pounds.
Monday I got on the scales. I’d lost 11 pounds. I’m still “nobody’s tiny thing,” as my mother would say. Since I’m so close to my goal, I’m now aiming for 15 pounds. Do I still crave sugar? Yes. But I consider myself an addict and will always have to fight the cravings. When I’m in the grocery store, I try to remember how much better I feel. Is a brownie worth the calories, sugar spike, and heartburn? Not really.
It feels good to have some control over my body again. And it feels wonderful to weigh less than my husband again!
It was a beautiful day. The kind of fall day that tugs you outside to lap up October sunshine, watch the leaves turn red before your very eyes, listen to robins socializing in treetops (yes, they are still here).
It was the kind of fall day I would have loved to be let loose in Colonial Williamsburg. Not so crowded as in the summer. Plus did I mention it was gorgeous weather? Well, my husband got to roam the old streets that day. He got to eat Brunswick stew and barbecue in Chownings Tavern.
But down the road at William and Mary, I was having just as good a time. First, the Joy of Children’s Literature conference was held in the barely-year-old School-University Research Network building that was so cushy, I wanted to move in.
It was a small conference, but since it was the first, I’m sure it will grow in coming years. The one good thing about a small conference is that you can actually talk to people. I saw Tricia of Miss Rumphius right away. She asked about Winchester, which should have made his big self feel better about being left for the day. I hadn’t seen Tricia in a few years and it was great to catch up.
Sara Lewis Holmes was there giving workshops. We had lunch outside in the sunshine and she caught me up on her doin’s. The others speakers were Pamela Duncan Edwards, Kim Norman (who I talked to briefly before she left to go home on the ferry across the James River–note to self, take this trip!), and Laurie Krebs.
My husband came by during the end-of-day book signing. I changed into comfy clothes and we hit Merchant’s Square for supper. We actually sat down in the famous Trellis restaurant, but I wanted more action. So we left for Retro, a hotdog place! There I went off my eating plan and had a hotdog with everything but the kitchen sink, boardwalk fries, and a Heath bar sundae. I was much happier sitting at boomerang Formica tables and listening to college students.
Then we were on our way home. We passed the Prime Outlets and I waved at the Coach store for my sister. Along I-64, I-295, and I-95, the day drained from the sky, the chattering robins settled down in roosts, and I let myself be tired from a good day’s work.
My first conference of the fall! The Joy of Children’s Literature conference at William and Mary.
The last time I was on that campus was in July 1979. My husband and I honeymooned in Williamsburg. We were married on Valentine’s Day. He asked me where I wanted to go on our honeymoon and I said, “Williamsburg and Jamestown.” He was probably thinking, “She doesn’t drink and her idea of a big trip is two hours away. This one won’t cost much money!”
Little did he know . . .
Anyway, we’re both going tomorrow. My husband will traipse around Williamsburg while I’m conferencin’. Report when I get back!
Meet Iva-Rebel. She’s the newest member of our family. And she arrived in our driveway Sunday, brand spankin’ new, to take this former-girl-in-Honda around. Come along on our first day!
Girls in trucks wear boots and lace and vintage pearls with their jeans.
Girls in trucks go to the dump (otherwise known as the Chancellor Convenience Station).
Girls in trucks go to the library to return books and get new ones.
Girls in trucks go to Curves and then take a Zumba class.
Girls in trucks have a truck bed to fill with antique furniture (this Girl was eyeing stuff at the dump!) and Goodwill goodies. This Girl will never again walk away from a great old chair or a table because she couldn’t get it in her Honda.
Girls in trucks are pensive. Should the new vanity plate be H-N-E-S-K-L? Or I-V-A-R-B-L?
Girls in trucks marry men who sell their trucks as a trade-in and take the almost-twelve-year-old Honda.
Girls in trucks love their new red trucks! Wanna come for a spin?
See this notebook? It looks a lot like the binders I create for the background notes on my novels.
But this notebook has a different purpose.
By the end of the week, School Days Write Notebook will neatly house one keynote address, one teacher’s workshop, and three writing workshops for elementary students.
Saturday I’m going to the Joy of Children’s Literature conference at William and Mary in Williamsburg. It’s the first-ever annual event. Virginia needs a one-day university-sponsored conference to celebrate children’s literature with teachers, librarians, students, writers, and anyone interested in children’s books. (Shenandoah University hosts a week-long conference in June, aimed at teachers.)
Besides moi, the dynamite line-up includes Pamela Duncan Edwards, Sara Lewis Holmes, Laurie Krebs, and Kim Norman.
I’m the luncheon speaker. The title of my talk is “Hardy as Honeysuckle: Place and Storytelling in Virginia.” I’m also giving a workshop. Geared for teachers, the workshop is called, “You Are Here: Personal Geography and Maps as Story Starters.”
The talk is a talk–no slides, nothing fancy. Just stories. Why we need them, why we need to pass them down, and where they are (all around us, we just don’t see them).
The workshop is on PowerPoint. But I wrote out a script. In the old days (before menopause, medication, and aggravation), I could give a one-hour presentation with a single index card with three points written on it, and make sense. I can’t trust myself to talk from slides, not a new presentation. So I wrote a script which stays in this notebook and I know it will be there (unlike talking notes at the bottom of the PowerPoint slides which have sometimes disappeared).
Later this week the notebook will contain three more scripts to my first-ever large-group writing workshops. “Write Where You Are” is three different workshops, for grades K-1, 2-3, and 4-6. As I do for all my school assemblies, I’m creating a PowerPoint presentation. But unlike in my other programs, the students will not just listen but actually write. I’ll be visiting Newton-Lee Elementary in Leesburg two weeks from today.
Yes, there is a similarity to all of these presentations: they are based on place. It’s time to put my money where my mouth is. I believe that place is the heart of writing. I plan to spread the word far and wide.
I’ve missed Mineral, the little town I discovered back in January. Since the August 23 earthquake, I’ve wondered how the little town was faring. (P.S.: I was in the shower during that earthquake–another story).
The 5.8 earthquake that rumbled from Georgia to Canada originated a few miles from Mineral, near Cuckoo. Some of the worst damage occurred in another spot in the road called Quail. There have been over a hundred aftershocks since. Schools were seriously damaged and students are on shifts, going to another school on Saturdays.
So the earthquake is still very much the topic of interest wherever you go. I decided not to take photos of the tarped-over chimneys or crumbled buildings. Because that wasn’t what I wanted to see. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to see, but I found it, right off the bat, at the farmer’s market where everyone was having a big time.
We got there a little late, but there were still plenty of vegetables and jellies and homemade tote bags. I saw this beautiful black-and-white boxer and went over to make friends. Sam is a service dog specializing in balance. He’s tall so his owner can have her hand on him in an instant. He taps when it’s time for her medications.
She was in the house on the day of the earthquake. Sam, with his acute sensitivity, warned her to move just before a bookcase toppled. It would have fallen on her. (Meanwhile in Fredericksburg, a certain cat named Winchester was so not warning his owner, who flew dripping out of the shower while he was crawling up the stairs on his belly. Our outside cat, Persnickety, deaf and senile, slept through the whole event.)
Sam weighs 140 pounds but is considered slight compared to his father, who weighs 250 pounds. Extremely shy, he didn’t want to look at me or the camera. This guy wasn’t the least bit shy. While my husband bought a jar of local honey and was told to have a blessed day, Rufus showed me how he played with the saddest, most torn-up soccer ball in existence (in the upper part of photo).
And then there was this adorable girl. She asked me if I wanted to pet her chicken. I did, of course. She said, “Me and the chicken have a deal. She’s keeping me warm and I’m keeping her warm.”
The kids had earthquake stories, too. A boy said he was joking around, getting yelled at in fourth period when it started. His teacher got confused and didn’t know what to do (I knew just how she felt but at least she wasn’t naked and wet).
We went to eat lunch at the Mineral Restaurant where the food isn’t very good, but the patrons are friendly and welcoming. We see the same people whenever we go. The last time we were there a woman was having a birthday and her friends shared with us the birthday monkey bread one of them had baked.
I always long to sit with them and become part of their world for a little while. This time I settled for parking myself right behind Birthday Woman, who was talking a blue streak as usual. I suspect when the earthquake struck, she didn’t miss a syllable.
She was rambling on about some meal: “And then I had meat loaf, mashed potatoes, green beans, a roll, and butter. And he had [her long-suffering husband, I assume, who hasn’t gotten a word in edgewise their entire married life] three pieces of sirloin tips and oh, I don’t know how many potatoes, carrots, and green beans. Listen–listen! The meat loaf was that wide and that long.”
Then some other people came in and I missed what Birthday Woman said next. When I leaned back, I heard her say, “The best days of your life and then they’ve gone bankrupt.” I don’t know how she got from meat loaf to bankruptcy in a few seconds.
Country music singer Alan Jackson is giving a free concert to any town that can accomodate 3000 people. Mineral threw their hat in the ring. A few weeks ago, they were number three, behind a town in North Dakota and one in Kansas. As of this morning, they are number one with 30, 808 votes. Make that 30,809–I just cast mine. If they win, they will figure out how to host Alan Jackson and all those fans.
The people in this little town may have been knocked down by the earthquake, but they are anything but bankrupt in spirit. I went home that day, feeling richer than ever.
If you want to vote for Alan Jackson to come to Mineral, go here and follow the very simple instructions. Mineral’s zip code is 23117. Voting ends October 10.
And if you are ever in central Virginia, swing through Louisa County to Mineral. Stop in the restaurant. Birthday Woman is sure to be there. She’ll be your new best friend inside of two seconds. And it just may be the best day of your life.
Listen to this: “Take Highway 202 and follow along the prettiest road. It’s just about the way it always was–worn deep down like a tunnel and thick with shade in summer. In spring, it’s so full of sweet heavy odors, they make you drunk, you can’t think of anything–you feel you will faint or go right out of yourself. In fall, there is the rustle of leaves under your tires and the smell of them, all sad and Indian-like. Then in the winter, there are only dust and bare limbs, and mud when it rains, and everything is like an old dirt-dauber’s nest up in the corner.”
Pick yourself off the floor and get to your library. Check out Elizabeth Spencer’s The Southern Woman, her collected short stories (or anything by her). The story I’ve quoted from is “A Southern Landscape.” I read it at lunch yesterday and felt faint and fell right of myself just reading her wonderful prose. I loved her description of the how leaves smelled–“sad and Indian-like.” It brought to mind images of Native American ghosts passing silently down an old hunting trail.
Place, I told my students this summer in our memoir class, is not just bricks and mortar. It’s the weather. A person growing up in Montana, where nature is very much a force in their lives, is different from a person growing up in New York City, where people are very much a force in their lives. Winter weather in Montana can be harsh, all that Great Plains drifting snow and wind. Winter in New York is mostly dreary, with enough snow to make everyone grouchy.
And place, as so beautifully demonstrated by Elizabeth Spencer, is also the seasons. I grew up in Northern Virginia, where the weather is “moderate” (boiling hot in summer, yucky in winter, with gorgeous springs and autumns to make you forget about the other two).
Because we had a big garden, our lives revolved around the weather. My stepfather didn’t just listen to the radio or watch the weather report on TV. He read the sky. And he taught me how to do that, too. Since we were outdoors a lot, he taught me the kinds of trees and how to identify some birds.
The minute I could read, I grabbed every book on birds I could find. I wanted to know what was around me, what lived in the world I lived in. I learned about wildflowers and weeds. I learned about the habits of the small animals in our woods. I tried to know about rocks, but their secrets seemed to be locked inside. When I go on my walks, I’m not plugged into an iPod. I still pay attention to the little goings-on around me.
And this brings me to my recent school visit. The students at this school were wonderful, bright and funny. I could have stayed for a week. During my K-1 assembly, I was acutely aware as I read The Big Green Pocketbook (almost 20 years old) that these kids were hearing about foreign things like typewriters, hand-cancelled checks, five-and-dime stores, drug stores (sometimes I have to explain it’s not where we bought our cocaine), Trailways buses . . . so many things not in their world.
Yet the question that brought me up short was from a fifth grader who wanted to know what a buzzard was. My breath caught in my throat just an instant. How could those older children not know about the birds that circled over their heads nearly every day? Just look up, you’ll see one. I described a vulture’s gliding flight pattern (truly the best flier ever), the once-twice flap of wings every twenty minutes or so.
The day I spoke, the school also hosted Young Scientists. I saw the team, dressed in white lab coats, bustling in with their equipment. The notion crossed my mind to hustle the kids out of the gym and into the fields. We would identify yellow tickseed and look for milkweed pods that had burst open. Made wishes on milkweed “fairies.” We would have watched anxious beetles scuttling through the grass. The season is changing–all creatures are anxious. We would have looked up to observe birds.
We would have gotten tipsy on late-September, grown dizzy watching the lazy circles of a turkey vulture, enjoyed the slant of the sun before autumn slips in, sad and Indian-like.
Welcome! Under the Honeysuckle Vine has moved to its new location on WordPress.
Most of the boxes have been unpacked. My Blogmaster has a few corrections to make and I still have to learn to navigate my third blog platform (like how to make my photos bigger). I’m so happy to be here!
I hope you like my new design. I have wanted to design my own banner for years, but couldn’t figure out how. The photos are my usual “organic” pictures (my Blogmaster’s nice term for someone who never changes the camera setting or edits photographs), but they reflect what I’m doing and thinking at the moment. My photos are snapshots in the truest sense.
Here, at the new, improved Under the Honeysuckle Vine, I plan to explore more deeply the meaning of place in life and writing, talk about what I’m reading, and take you with me to the small corners of my home state.
I also plan to have interviews, writing exercises (that I will do too), and give-aways. This week I’ll preview my very first give-away!
Today I changed the wreath on my front door. The mohair bears are just for show–they are far too sensitive to hang on a door and are sitting in their proper place in our den.
Fall is here! I have squawked and harangued and complained and whined to anyone within a fifty mile radius about the rainy, humid hot weather that squatted over us most of September. Then October pads in and suddenly it’s cooler and the leaves are turning, just a branch here and there, and everything is still.
Do you think I’m happy I can go on my walks without sweating buckets? No! Now I’m too cold and I miss the birds. The winding down of the year is always sad. But pumpkins and mums brighten our front porches and tickseed yellows the ditches. In the evenings, I listen to the geese–ca-ronk! ca-ronk!–flying low on strong wings, leaving us.
Fall is here. And yet . . . I still see honeysuckle lingering at the edge of the woods. I hope you enjoy my new blog location. Visit often!