Day 9 or, I imagine some of you have lost a bet by now

As I sit down to write this, I am eating a heaping bowl of brown rice pad thai noodles with mushrooms, red peppers and tatsoi and topped with - wait for it - nutritional yeast.


Forgive me. I suppose you could say that the self-pity has settled in full-force. I think it started about five days ago and I expect it to last, oh, say, 18 more days. This eating plan, she wears on me.

And perhaps I'd be more chipper if I had undergone some sort of miraculous transformation in the last nine days but, sadly, this is not the case. Where I expected to feel energetic and invigorated, I am tired and cranky. I'm still not eating enough. I'm hungry all the time and my intestines are in a constant state of legume-induced agony.

I have hopes this will soon pass. Otherwise, I shall snap and kill someone.

I will say I owe the fact that I am still on plan to my kind and supportive husband, Chris. Were I doing this alone, it would be a nightmare. Can you imagine the marital fall-out if I sat eating a bowl of faro while he chowed down on a burger? No doubt our recent wedding anniversary would have been our last.

Chris deserves all the credit for keeping our eyes on the prize these last few days. Yesterday, I was rolling around on the couch, moaning, "French fries! Freeeeennnnnch frieeeeees!" He did not cave. He may have suggested I have a sweet potato instead. If I'd had the energy, he'd have been punched in the face. I'm still feeling very face-punchy. But ultimately, I appreciate his fortitude.

I think. Now that I'm writing about it, French fries are starting to sound mighty good again...

In other news, I am also feeling quite poor. Now, I realize I am not poor but I'd be lying if I wasn't having a little produce-induced financial insecurity. What I'm saying is: eating a ton of fresh produce is expensive. I've always known that this is a major reason that America's poorest are also our most obese and health-challenged. But I get it now more than ever. Yes, the whole grains are cheap, but the shopping carts full of fruits and veggies - which we are consuming, dutifully, in giant quantities - add up.

There's an anecdote in the Engine 2 book - which I have grown to hate with a searing, white-hot intensity (see, Rip Esselstyn's not the only one who can draw on fire analogies) - from a woman who says she's saving a ton of money feeding a family of four on a whole-foods, plant-based diet. Unless she was feeding her family a rack of lamb every night - and maybe she was - I don't see it.

Speaking of the book, I understand that its goal is to promote this healthy-eating lifestyle, and that from a Marketing 101 perspective, it's a good idea to pepper the text with glowing testimonies. However, I think I'd be more on board with this if there were also testimonies from people saying, "This is hard. It's challenging. It's not always delicious and it takes a good deal of adapting. I had to struggle for a while before I found my stride." Selling this sort of transition as easy and without obstacles, claiming that substitutions taste JUST LIKE their high-fat, processed food counterparts seems disingenuous to me.

And a final observation from the past few days: vegetarian products that fancy themselves meat-like generally a) aren't and b) suck. I'm looking at you, seitan. Although it's been 20 years since I last had it, I thought perhaps there had been some massive leaps and bounds with seitan. Alas, it seems the scientific community has inexplicably been focused on other things.

I thought, Hmmm. Maybe this giant, chewy lump of wheat gluten really does taste like chicken.


We won't be doing that again. Why, if we're eating a plant-based diet, do we even need to pretend like we're eating meat? It's not fooling anyone. So I'm sticking with tofu which, although not always pleasant, at least we understand one another. No block of tofu ever said, "I'm exactly like chicken!" Because we'd all just laugh at that, wouldn't we? SILLY TOFU!


Day Four

Is it a bad sign that I'm still counting the days of this four-week adventure? I mean, is it bad that the last thing I think before I fall asleep at night is "Three down, 25 to go..."? Or that the first thing I think when I wake up is, "Jesus, really? We're only on day four?"

I may be losing my enthusiasm for this change and could require a serious attitude adjustment. Or perhaps - just perhaps - I need to be a little patient with myself and acknowledge it's gonna take a little while for me to settle in.

I'm finding that the biggest challenge to eating a whole-foods, plant-based diet is my deep and abiding commitment to laziness. You guys, this thing is hard work. I don't mean it's hard work avoiding big piles of meat and bowls of ice cream. So far, that hasn't been too difficult. But the problem with whole foods is that they come whole. Which means you have to do a lot of prep work. Significantly more than pulling a Lean Cuisine out of the box and bunging it in the microwave for five minutes.

If anyone says that all things worth doing require hard work, I will punch them in the face. I'm playing it pretty fast and loose with the face punches right about now.

That said, there have been some gratifying experiments - my quinoa, corn, mango and black bean salad, for example, turned out to be delish. There have also been some food experiments that taste distinctly like punishment. Like the chocolate "pudding" from the Engine 2 recipe selection. It involves mixing together cocoa powder, silken tofu, agave and vanilla.

There's an anecdote in the Engine 2 book that they served it to a fire chief who doesn't subscribe to their healthy living approach and he didn't know it wasn't regular chocolate pudding. To which I say, with all gratitude and respect for the service he provides, that fire chief's an idiot.

Of course, I still ate a bowl of it.

In addition to - or perhaps because of - the amount of planning and prepping required to eat this way, I'm finding my biggest obstacle is that I'm not eating enough. I'll put off meals or snacks because I can't be bothered trying to get my pea-sized brain to figure out what to ingest and then I find myself at the garden center grasping at giant pots so I don't pass out. I have to work on eating more and more often. Not normally a problem for me in the face of junk food. Odd that it would be so difficult when the challenge is to eat healthily.

I also realized that no matter how much lip service I paid to my intentions, I have to recognize that some of my expectations are unrealistic. The purpose of this exercise is to lower my cholesterol, to become more heart-healthy and try to upset my genetic legacy for heart disease. And yet, I found myself, on day two wondering why I wasn't rail thin yet. Clearly I have to do some work on the strong mental connection I have between eating changes and weight. Considering my mother put me on my first diet when I was 11, it's probably understandable that this is a tough rope to cut.

And then there's my pain. The book talks about how eating this way helps with any number of chronic ailments and, even though there wasn't a single mention of pain-related issues, I secretly internalized a hope that it would cure my fibromyalgia. In four days, at that. I don't think I even knew how much I'd hoped this to be the case until a pain cycle settled in and I got mad at the diet. Nobody promised me less pain. I made that part up. Get it together, brain!

In case you're interested, here's a rough "recipe" for the quinoa salad I made the other day. I just played with the ratios, so you can adjust them to include more or less of things. You could also substitute other whole grains or even whole wheat cous cous for the quinoa if it's not your bag.


  • 2 cups quinoa, cooked & cooled
  • 2 cups black beans
  • 1 cup corn (I used the canned Summer Crisp corn, as it's crunchier)
  • 1 mango, diced into little bits
  • 1/3 cup diced green onions
  • 1/2 cup diced red or yellow peppers

Mix 'em all together in a big bowl and toss with the following dressing:


  • Juice of 1 or 2 limes
  • 1 large clove of garlic, minced
  • 2 TBS agave syrup
  • Couple pinches cumin
  • salt & pepper to taste

Now, the Engine 2 Diet technically nixes adding oil to food, but I added about a tablespoon of grapeseed oil to the dressing. I don't actually think it made much difference, so I'd probably just pass on it next time.





I survived day one. Can I be done now?

Well, folks. I did it. I survived yesterday, our first day of LIFE CHANGE - by which I mean, following the Engine 2 Diet for a plant-based, whole-foods approach. And, let me tell you, it's every bit as exciting as it sounds. Sunday I made a lengthy list of items the book recommended I'd need to pick up. Being the good, obedient girl that I am, I added things to my list being careful not to think too long and hard about a) what they were or b) what the hell I was supposed to do with them.

However, as Sunday slipped away, I became increasingly gun shy about the whole thing. What was I doing? Why was I doing it? Amazing how quickly I can forget. At Whole Foods, I tossed items dutifully into my cart, fighting a feeling of doom with each addition. Liquid amino acids? I don't know what ANY of those words mean. NUTRITIONAL YEAST FLAKES? ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?

But I promised myself I'd make this change. And so I came home Sunday night, put away all the evidence that I was about to embark on a brave new journey, and then promptly ate McDonald's and a big slice of chocolate cake. If I gotta go down, I'm going down fighting.

Then Monday rolled around. D-Day. I woke up refreshed and ready to meet the challenge with this attitude: I'm not doing it and you can't make me. I was facing the first of many moments of panic-induced catatonia as I thought: what the hell am I supposed to eat?

Starting off gently, my husband handed me coffee with almond milk. Well, that'll take some adjusting.

As the day progressed, Chris kept saying,  "Look at us, being all vegan." Until I told him that if he didn't stop using the word vegan I was going to punch him in the face. Now that I'm actually doing this thing - as opposed to flapping my mouth about it - there's something about that label that gets me panicked, makes me think I'm doing something impossible or undesirable. Yes, it's shorter than saying, "Look at us, trying to eat a whole-foods, mostly-plant-based diet." But that version doesn't seem quite as scary.

Not quite, anyway.

I decided that the only way I'll survive the days ahead is to stop looking at this as some overwhelming, foreign change - and focus instead on what I'd normally eat and figure out how to adapt it. Morning, then, wasn't that tough. Usually I just have coffee and fresh fruit-and-vegetable juice and, except for the fat-free creamer I like to mainline, there's not much to alter there.

Then lunch came around and because I hadn't wanted to think too much about it, I delayed it to the point where I was shaking with hunger. I almost cried at the realization that I would have to make some food. And while I wasn't up to tackling a recipe from the Engine 2 book, I know enough about what I'm supposed to be eating to throw something together. Into a bowl went some cold brown rice, a rinsed can of chickpeas, some chopped cucumbers, asparagus and peppers. A small handful of walnuts and dried cranberries.

I made a quick dressing of fresh lime juice, garlic, and agave. And, here's where I have to confess my first serious departure: I added a little grapeseed oil to the dressing. I KNOW! The Engine 2 police would have confiscated it, but it made it a little more tasty for me. While I'm wary of giving myself too much rope,  I'm also trying not to be too rigid about this. Success will be if I incorporate most - or even many - of the nutrition lessons into my everyday life. I'm not going to freak out about a tablespoon of oil split across a giant salad. (Although clearly I AM freaking out a bit, since you can HEAR the rationalization, can't you?)

The rest of the day progressed okay. Ditto today so far. I won't pretend that it isn't tough. Again, the biggest thing I'm battling is this voice inside me that screams "YOU CAN'T EAT ANYTHING," when, clearly, that's not true. It's just that I'm going to have to try. Put forth a little effort. Get creative.

I know. It sounds exhausting, doesn't it?

And a final observation: if there's such a thing as the Chickpea Council of America - and I like to think there is - then all I can say is they are going to owe me BIG TIME. They are fast becoming a mainstay of my diet, and if they're casting for Miss Chickpea USA, I guess all I'm saying is I'd like to, at least, be considered.

Like a vegan

A few months ago, I watched the documentary Forks over Knives and – persuaded by its arguments for a plant-based, whole food diet – I promptly became a vegan.

In my mind.

In reality, I didn’t immediately change much about my eating habits. Maybe I bought a little freekeh at the store and a handful of wheat berries, but it’s not like I cooked them or anything.

On some level, though, the messages from the film got stuck in my craw, for better or worse,  especially those linking an animal-protein and dairy heavy diet with heart disease. I’m no good with science-y stuff – as evidenced by the fact that I just used the phrase “science-y stuff” – but the fact that heart disease and cancer rates are significantly lower in countries whose diets are nearly devoid of those things is pretty heady stuff.

Especially since, nearly three weeks ago, my father underwent open heart surgery, a quintuple bypass. He is, thankfully, recovering well but the experience has forced me to take a more serious look at my heart health.

My mother died at 60 of a heart attack brought on by an aortic aneurysm. There had been no previous symptoms or indications that she was suffering from heart disease. And this seems to be in keeping with statistics – for many, sudden death is the first and only symptom of heart disease.

My parents’ history combined puts all four of their children in the highest risk group for developing heart disease.  For someone who spent a chunk of her twenties having panic attacks and feeling certain her heart was going to explode, this isn’t calming news.

I mentioned in a previous post about my struggle with some corticosteroids I was on for low blood pressure. When we were trying to figure out the cause of that issue, I did a stress test. If you haven’t had one, it’s a delightful process in which they hook you up to an ECG while you exercise on a treadmill for a few minutes, as hard as you can, to see how your heart fares. It’s intended to uncover any irregularities or blockages. The good news was that my heart, as far as that’s concerned, is in dandy shape.

But taking the steroids left me packing a lot of extra weight, which is piled on top of the extra weight I was already carrying and have carried for most of my life. That’s no good for the ol’ ticker, either. So far, my meager attempts to lose it haven’t amounted much and that’s been nagging at me – not to mention dampening my spirits.

In addition, I have high cholesterol and I’ve been unsuccessful in lowering it significantly, even under the specter of being put on a statin – something I really, really would like to avoid.

A segment of Forks over Knives covered the story of a firehouse in Austin, Texas, where the men had banded together to eat more healthily when it was revealed one of their members had dangerously high cholesterol. The firehouse adopted – and still sticks to – a plant-based, whole-foods diet. I kind of love the idea of all these strong, bulky men sitting around eating quinoa and carrots.

Fear, as you probably know, is a terrific motivator. Sitting in the waiting room for five hours as they cracked open my father’s chest and removed veins from his legs to build five different bypass sites, my thoughts weren’t all about his wellbeing. I wish I could say they were. But a part of me was equally consumed with fear because I couldn’t help thinking: I don’t want that to be me.

Thus, a few weeks of mulling later, I find myself gearing up to make the change. The Change.  I’m about to embark on the 28-day eating plan outlined in the Engine 2 Diet by Rip Esselstyn, the Austin firefighter who designed the eating plan for his station.

The book says you can make a significant change in your cholesterol and triglyceride numbers in just this short period. Now, I’m not a person who is converted instantly and without skepticism by documentaries. Does part of me wonder if this isn’t all selective research citing and hype aimed at moving more books off the shelves? Sure. But I also know, on some gut level, that eating this way is going to be elucidating.

I do, however, like that the book is frank about the fact that, after the 28-day period, people maintain their plant-based, whole-food diets to varying degrees. It helps me that the message isn’t: you have to change your ways forever and ever. It seems to be: try this, it’ll help you, and if you decided to hang on to some or all of the eating habits, that’ll be great for you.

So…here we go. Monday is The Day. And since I have a little history of writing about my struggles with change, I’ll be tracking the experience here in the hopes it’ll keep me a little bit more accountable.

Now, who’s with me?


Where’d everybody go?

In which our heroine diagnoses herself & curses the healthcare system in our country

It took me a while – embarrassingly long, actually – to figure out why I haven’t been fired up about writing this blog. Or taking and posting photos on Learning Curve. Or doing much of anything, really. It took me until two days ago to figure out why the last six or seven weeks have been marked with a staggering ennui, requiring energy I simply don’t have just to go through the motions of each day. Weeks of being a ghost presence in my own life, feeling disjointed and disconnected from everyone and everything. A few days ago, I was self-diagnosing online – as you do – examining the side-effects of a corticosteroid I started taking a couple months back. I had noticed sudden weight gain, face puffiness, fatigue and an increase in joint and muscle pain and, sure enough, each of those was on the checklist.

Then, I saw, at the very end of the list, this little gem: depression.

I know it seems obvious looking at it from the outside, but to me it came as a bit of a lightning bolt. A disinterested, dull lightning bolt, but a bolt nonetheless. Here I had been thinking that my life had just reached a point of being patently uninteresting, that I had used up all my enjoyment and would need to hunker down for the next few decades of disinterest.  When what was actually happening seemed to be real, clinical depression.

Now, I am no stranger to depression. I’ve suffered from it on and off since adolescence. Clearly, though, it’s been a long enough time since I’ve experienced it in full force that I had trouble recognizing it. That, I suppose, is the good news.

I also think that I’ve become used to certain cyclical dips in engagement, shall we say, that come from being in chronic pain. It’s a given that if you don’t feel well much of the time, your energy and enthusiasm are going to take a hit. And I think I too easily call those moments depression – we do tend to bandy the term around, don’t we? – so that when the real thing comes a-knocking I didn’t recognize it early enough.

So now I am left with a choice – although it really doesn’t seem much of one. The corticosteroids I was taking were keeping my blood pressure stable; somehow mine became weirdly low, which I discovered because I felt faint all the time, tired, and had no energy. Ironic, then, that the treatment for it created a similar set of symptoms. Similar, but not the same. Because even when I was wandering around the surface of the earth with blood pressure of 70/50, I may have felt woozy and tired, but I didn’t feel despondent.

That’s the trade-off with modern medicine, isn’t it? Do I choose the condition or its treatment? How do you determine which is the lesser of two evils?

And all of it leads me to another place today: some very real anger at and sensitivity about the healthcare debate that is at hand in our country. It is difficult for me to hear people argue theories and abstracts when I am one of the people upon whom the outcome will have a real and serious impact.

My husband and I are both self-employed, each of us bringing a pre-existing condition or two to the table. He’s largely a healthy guy, a marathon runner. On paper, I’m a mess. I have fibromyalgia (a chronic condition with no known cure), hypothyroidism, polycystic ovarian syndrome and orthostatic hypotension. I’m a recovering alcoholic to boot – which seems to give actuaries the heeby jeebies above all else.

From a health insurance standpoint, it makes life difficult. I can’t tell you how many individual plans we were rejected from before finding one that would accept us – at an exorbitant monthly copay. People like us cannot have it all. Would we choose catastrophic coverage and keep our fingers crossed? Good prescription medicine coverage or copays for doctor visits, because we couldn’t have both?

We wound up with a plan that helps cover prescription meds, procedures at 70/30, but no doctor visits. Before, when we had group insurance through work, I was able to see specialists who could help keep all my ailments in balance. That’s simply not a reality for us anymore, and it has had a very real and significant impact on my health.

That said, I am truly grateful that we have health insurance at all, or else we’d be facing two possibilities: either we’d go bankrupt trying to take care of my many and sundry illnesses or I’d just have to go entirely untreated. It is not lost on me that those are the options many face.

I don’t like to get too political on here, mostly because I’m not particularly good at it and I rarely have any idea what I’m talking about. But at a gathering the other night, some friends debated the question of whether or not healthcare is a basic human right. I understand that some people don’t think so and I can intellectually process their rationale, but it’s awfully hard to hear it and not take it personally.

Because no matter how objective we pretend to be about it, what we’re really talking about, to me, is whether or not I have the right to be well, to have access to a pain free life without it costing us everything we have and jeopardizing our financial security. And it seems to me that those arguing against it always seem to be some combination of young, healthy, or wealthy enough to afford access to private, top-notch care.

I don’t really wish to start a debate, though, and perhaps I’m over-simplifying matters. I often do. I’m a Scorpio, after all. I’m hard-wired to react. And what does all this rambling have to do with the original matter at hand, my depression? I don’t know, but I will say this: despair is a terrible place to be, even temporarily.

Yesterday I was able to email my doctor and get her advice on coming off the corticosteroids. It made me aware, simultaneously, of how lucky I am to have a doctor who consults with me via email to help keep visit costs to a minimum, and how crazy it is that I can’t easily and affordably get help figuring this out, achieving some sort of balance.

So I have been off the corticosteroids for two days. I won’t say it’s been a miracle recovery, but I’m starting to feel better. My spirits are slightly lifted, but now I have to wait and see if my blood pressure plunges. It feels like a tremendous trade-off and I feel a little bit like I’m figuring it out alone.

However, I do notice that I seem to have written a blog entry here, something that has felt entirely too daunting the past few weeks. That’s something, right? It didn’t cost me a penny, either. And I didn’t have to wait for the Supreme Court to decide on it.

For the love of Leslee, Facebook & humanity in general

I’ve been thinking a lot in recent days about my friend Leslee. At least, I think she’d agree that we’re friends. We both lived in St. Louis at the same time, ran in the same circles, and while we didn’t get to know one another as well as I’d have liked, we always enjoyed each other’s company. And I think we’d have become better friends if I hadn’t moved to Ann Arbor in 2005. Although, considering Leslee’s always off gallivanting in some other part of the globe, teaching English or generally doing good, it’s hard to say for sure. Instead, my friendship with Leslee has moved primarily to Facebook, “liking” a comment here and there or leaving a smart-ass remark on the other’s “wall.” As with many of my Facebook friends, I haven’t actually laid eyes on Leslee in a very long time.

Yeah, I know. I’m aware that cynics denounce Facebook and other social media as substitutes for “real” friendships. I get that they’re the lazy person’s way to stay up-to-date on people’s lives with just a mouse click. And I know that it’s far more de rigeur to roll your eyes and declare oneself “over” Facebook, but I love, love, love the fact that it has allowed me to keep tabs on people I might have lost track of otherwise.

This is all swirling around my head right now because on March 1, her first day back in Korea, Leslee was hit by a car in Daegu. To clarify, with details that tell you enough about Leslee that you’ll start to feel you know her too: she was in a taxi when she witnessed a car accident and got out to help the victims. When she did so, Leslee was struck by another car. She sustained massive, life-threatening injuries, including multiple broken bones and damage to numerous internal organs.

I may never have known about Leslee’s accident had it not been for Facebook. And I’d have missed out on one of the most moving, uplifting uses of social media I’ve ever had the privilege to witness.

Within hours of the accident, a friend of Leslee’s had created a Facebook group for her friends and family. It garnered hundreds of members in extremely short order and quickly turned into an online vigil, a virtual gathering place for her loved ones to seek and lend comfort and prayers. People from all over the world post photos of Leslee every day, share thoughts and good memories, write messages directly to her – even if she isn’t yet able to read them.

The Facebook group has become a clearinghouse for information, providing updates from her hospital bedside, sometimes hour-by-hour. The group has also proven tremendously and pragmatically helpful to her parents and friends in Korea – in one case, something as simple as helping her parents find an adapter for their laptop in Daegu. It’s remarkable – a unified, mobilized throng of people all focused on a single goal: loving Leslee back to health.

For me, Leslee’s Facebook group has allowed me to express my sympathy to the friends and family who know her far better than I do. It’s allowed me to bear witness to an extraordinary force: an online community in the very best sense of the term. I now check for updates a few times throughout each day, always touching in right before I go to bed.

I do it for two reasons. The first is, of course, to see how Leslee’s faring. The second is because, when I take in the outpouring of love and support for her scrolling across my screen, I feel somehow less alone, less vulnerable and fragile about life and the world.

I’m grateful to the friends of Leslee who created the group in the first place, and to those who labor to bring us updates on the latest setback or small triumph. And I’m feeling extremely grateful – and even charitable - towards our ol’ pal Facebook which, damning multi-million dollar movies and waning street-cred aside, maybe isn’t such a bad thing after all.

A little open mindedness, a lot of good

It was about 15 years ago that the first of many writer friends suggested I consider doing Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. And it was just the first of many times that my reaction was: “What? That hippie shit? Not a chance.” Because I’m just naturally open-minded like that. For those of you unfamiliar with Cameron’s work – which has given her vaulted status in creative-self-help circles – it’s a 12 week program for those who consider themselves “blocked” creatively. The idea is to take a fearless look at old beliefs, excuses and self-criticism that is holding us back from achieving our creative goals – and to start practicing being “honoring” our creative selves on a daily basis.

I know. A lot of hooey, right?

I should also mention that the subtitle of The Artist’s Way is: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. At the time my friend suggested I try this program, I was brand-spankin’ new in sobriety. I was having a terrible time going from agnostic-with-atheist leanings to someone who could find a place in a 12-step recovery program that asked me to embrace the concept of a higher power. One spiritual struggle was enough. I wasn’t anywhere near ready – or open enough – to consider The Artist’s Way.

As you can probably guess by the tenor of this post – which, I confess, I am writing despite lingering feelings of sheepishness – I have recently had a mind-shift about this hooey. And if you’re as astute as I think you are, then you’ve already guessed that it’s because I’m in the process of finishing up The Artist’s Way, and I have found it – much to the chagrin of my inner judgmental, stubborn self – revolutionary.

First, let me say that I am a firm believer that everyone has to be completely ready to undertake any sort of self-help endeavor and that we all come to these places in our own time, if ever. That is, I may be copping to having sipped some Kool Aid, but I want to be clear I’m not in the business of converting others.

I just want to stick with my intention of being more honest than ever in this blog, of trying to write without fear (or despite fear) about things that I’m, well, afraid to talk about. And right there next to “pain,” which I wrote about recently, is “writing about writing.” Or, more specifically, my fears about writing and my own ability to do so.

Nothing has brought these fears closer to the forefront than my decision a few years back to try my hand at writing a novel. When I first embarked upon this project, I was incredibly rusty at writing fiction, only recently having returned from a 15-year hiatus. But I was fueled by the rediscovery of my passion for fiction and I received some terrific encouragement to continue from very generous mentors. And so I did.

At the time I was writing the first draft, I found it to be a mind-bogglingly frustrating experience. I had no idea what I was doing, but I had an idea and I would just bang away for hours at the keyboard just to get all of it out of my head. Of course, in retrospect, as I flounder in the world of rewrites, those now seem like halcyon days. It actually helped that I was unaware then of just how little I knew; I could propel forward on enthusiasm alone.

The last two years, as I have continued revising my novel (with long intervals in between efforts), attendance at workshops has also taught me just how much work I still need to do to get where a good book needs to be. Ironically, it was after a particularly invigorating and encouraging workshop last July at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival that I found myself hitting a wall, and hard.

I had in my hands some very useful, very helpful input – practically a road map for what needed fixed. Yet when I got back to the solitude of my own cave, I had a very strange experience. I felt absolutely unequal to the task before me. I would open the damn file up and stare for hours. A tsunami of self-doubt – far greater than I knew I possessed – came rushing in. I became absolutely convinced that I couldn’t possibly do this.  I spent the next few months telling people I was “struggling” with the rewrite – which was code for “avoiding.”

And that - of course, crazy universe - is when another friend suggested The Artist’s Way. While I’d been extremely fast to poo-poo the idea in the past, I was at a particularly low place, creatively-speaking. It was painful to feel so…useless. To question whether or not I had been foolishly pursuing an endeavor that I simply lacked the talent for.

Before I could give it too much thought, I picked up a copy of The Artist’s Way and, surprising even myself, I dove right in. You know what they say about desperate times. I figured if I committed myself to a 12-week artistic “recovery” program, then at least I could buy myself 12 weeks of excuses why I wasn’t writing. I can’t write and recover, man.

I’ll be the first to say that it was tough to slog through some of the earlier pages in the book, especially those that hinged on the notion that creativity is a gift from God. You know, God. The Creator. Fortunately, my 12-step background had given me loads of experience with figuring out how to take what works for me and leave the rest, and I was able to do that (mostly) successfully here.

What I didn’t expect, going in, was how difficult and painful and absolutely essential it was to do the tasks aimed at helping me identify what exactly my inner critic is rattling on about – and the source(s) of all that negative thinking. It’s one thing to know you have self-doubts. It’s another to write each and every one of them out on paper and try to trace its origin.

However, I believe that hard work is required to do our biggest growing. That’s been my experience in 15 years of sobriety, and in the past 15 weeks of doing The Artist’s Way. (Yeah, I know it’s a 12-week program, but I’ve fallen behind a few times and had to push the reset button.) Until I identified all that horrible critical noise in my head, it was impossible for me to counter it, to separate it from reality. That alone has been life-changing for me.

I really needed to be told to stop using outside validation to define whether or not I’m a creative being. I needed to stop pinning that definition on how much I’d been published or how much money I earn with my creative pursuits. How refreshing just to know that you’re a creative being just because you are. No other justification needed. Really.

It has also helped me immensely to commit to writing morning pages – a few hand-written, stream-of-consciousness pages every day, aimed at clearing your mind and jump-starting each morning with a creative nudge. My morning ramblings haven’t consistently revealed anything mind-blowing, although a few genuine moments of epiphany emerged as I was busy writing about how stupid the assignments were. What’s actually been most useful to me is to look back at the morning pages I’ve written so far and it’s a stack. A stack. I didn’t realize how much it helped to know that I can be prolific, even if it’s not with anything I’d ever want others to lay eyes on. I can produce work.

I dragged my feet and rolled my eyes heartily, too, at the instruction to take myself on an Artist Date every week. Something the focuses on or informs my artistic self, by myself, for at least one hour. I’ve done a little creative tap-dancing around what qualifies – watching a documentary or making a pie, for example – but I can also say that merely acknowledging that the creative side of me requires and deserves attention – has had very tangible side effects. I’ve become a better baker. I’m reading more for pleasure than I have in years. I re-dedicated myself to learning about photography and on January 1, started a project on my Tumblr photo blog, Learning Curve, where I try to take and post one photo a day in 2012. I’m not nearly as worried about what other people think of my photos as I once was. That’s kind of amazing for me.

The Artist’s Way and my Artist Dates are also directly responsible for my re-starting this blog, because even though I still feel very uncertain and often overwhelmed in the world of novel-writing, I realized that I needed to get back to doing the kind of writing that comes easily to me – even if it doesn’t garner a lot of readers. That’s not really the point. The point is I need to remind myself not only that I’m someone who can write, but that I’m someone who does write.

Is that, technically, artistic recovery? Who knows? And who really cares? All I know is that, for the first time in years, I’m feeling a greater sense of possibility than insecurity regarding my creative life.  I’m recognizing and prioritizing how crucial it is for me to be a creative being. It feels pretty great. And if that ain’t worth the cover price, what is?

Ten reasons I love Olivia

Few Valentine's Days are life-changing. Perhaps I should rephrase that: few of my Valentine's Days have been life-changing. (It could be that I'm doing them wrong.) But one was - February 14, 2002, when my sister gave birth to her youngest, my crazy-wonderful niece Olivia. You should know this kid. You really should. She's smart and hilarious and full of beans and she is our full-on guarantee that, no matter what, there will never be a dull moment. I can't believe I've gotten to be her aunt for a decade.

So I just wanted to take a moment to say: Happy birthday, Livvie Lou. I love you. And here are just ten of the gazillion reasons why:












Beside myself

I'm practically sitting on my hands I'm so excited. Wait. What? You thought I would post about my travels? While I was gone? Oh, reader. You are so, so precious. And I'm certain that I shall, eventually, get around to writing some perfunctory recaps of my trip to Glasgow and Amsterdam. But for now, I'm rendered too nervous because of this:

Or, more specifically, because of this: lemony olive oil banana bread, which I put in the aforementioned thing. It is my first foray into baking with an oven so far out of my league I swear it laughs at me a little when I open the door. Not unkindly. Maybe.

I've never really had a great oven before, certainly nothing this fancy-pants. Nor have I, for most of my life, much cared whether I had a great oven. Now I find myself in a place where my horizons have broadened (read: I've aged) and suddenly I care a great deal more about things like baking pies and my own bread.

I know. I'm not sure who I am, either.

We have lived in a rental house - which we like a lot - for nearly six years now. It has a deck that practically doubles the living space in summer, our landlord's the nicest guy and we're in a great location. Yet, for years there has been an increasing tension building between me and the previous stove, a gorgeous-looking old-timey Roper vintage number.

It was frequently the first thing people commented on when they came into our house. Enjoy the following short play:

Them: "Wow. Awesome stove."

Us: "Yeah, but..."

Them: "It's super cool looking."

Us: "Yeah, but the oven temperature's uneven. And the oven itself is uneven. And there's only one rack. And only one of the burners stays lit..."

Them: "But do you love it?"

Because it's a curious thing - when people see something they think is lovely and unusual, especially if it hearkens back to another time, they get all soft and gooey. Soft and gooey to the point of having selective hearing. And it's not fair to blame it all on others because, let's face it, we put up with that stove for a lot longer than we might have otherwise were we not keenly aware that it had some sort of intrinsic cultural value simply by dint of being Vintage.

It's an interesting topic for me to consider at a time when I'm trying, despite appearances, to think more about what I own and what I need to own. In Glasgow, I stayed at the flat of my Grandma, who has recently  moved into a retirement home. At nearly 94, she's about as mentally spry as they come, although her hearing could use a little boost. And until the last year she's enjoyed an enormous amount of independence, thanks to assistance from her loyal son and the NHS.

My grandma lived in that flat my entire life. I think the family lore is that she bought it nearly 50 years ago for 800 pounds, perhaps the best investment anyone in my family's ever made. Until this visit, I'd never even been in the place without her. It was a strange confluence of feelings - I felt a little as though I were spying on her life, but it also made me feel closer to her, somehow comforted, as I'm still trying to get used to the idea of her living anywhere else.

I had thought I would do an artsy project of photos from my Grandma's life - you know, Granddaughter Sums Up Grandmother's Life Through Objects. But as I started to look around my Grandma's tiny flat, I realized just how few things she owns. Partly by necessity - a small flat doesn't lend itself to an acquisitive lifestyle. But I think it's also just who she is - sentimental in a way she's had to be to get through life, unattached to things , unwilling to toss something aside simply because a newer version is available. The negotiations it took to get her to use an electric kettle a few years back made the Camp David Accords look like casual banter.

There were only a few things I found truly, searingly personal. Her rose-colored dressing gown, hung up behind her bedroom door. The drawer with neatly folded nightgowns in pastel shades, with a little cotton lace trim at the edges. Four small canisters of Elnett hairspray and a handful of half-used Coty powder compacts. A few pieces of jewelry - nothing I particularly recognized - scattered in a few different boxes throughout her bedroom.

And I guess that if there were a place where all this babbling about the new oven and my Grandma's old flat were to cross over, it would be something I haven't quite crystallized yet, something about stuff and value. What defines us. When we're supposed to hold on and when we're supposed to let something go. When we're being pragmatic and conscientious and when we're just being stubborn and defeatist. When we're reusing and when we're just resisting.

It will not surprise you, I'm sure, to learn I have no answers. I'd blame jet lag, but I think we all know it'd be unfair to jet lag.

All I know for sure is this: right now I have banana bread. She has risen. She is level. And she might actually be cooked all the way through.



I hurt. Am I boring you?

I took a writing workshop once where the teacher made us go around the room and say what we were afraid of writing about. It was an unexpected - and jarring - question. I don't even remember what I answered. I do remember, though, that whatever I said wasn't my real answer. The real answer would have been that I was terrified to write about my weight. But I couldn't even bring myself to say that out loud. Today, the answer would be different. It wouldn't be, as some might guess, my recovery from alcoholism. Hell, anyone who knows me knows I'll shout about that baby from the rooftops. No qualms whatsoever. Not even a residual modicum of shame.

No, today I'd have to say that the thing I'm most afraid of writing about is my life in pain.

Not the emotional kind. Like almost everyone i know, I've had my fair share and I can write about it with my eyes closed. What I'm afraid of writing about is my physical pain, the chronic pain I live with. Only, I keep hearing this little voice telling me that I need to write about it. So I've been thinking that I probably need to figure out how to write about it in a way that won't - as I fear - annoy the hell out of people.

I am currently involved in a long-term relationship with pain. I wouldn't call it a domestic partnership - more like an arranged marriage. I feel like I've got pain's number and yet I'm still  thrown when it does exactly what I expect. Somehow, we're making it work. There is no choice. This is a condition without a cure and without a really effective treatment.

Many of you may already know my story but, for those who don't, please indulge me. It all started about 16 years ago, when I was rear-ended twice within a year. (Get your mind out of the gutter. I mean my car was rear-ended twice.) Neither incident, by the way, was my fault. I am only a little surprised that I still feel it necessary to point that out lo these many years later.

I suffered whiplash and some serious damage to my left trapezius muscle, which is this large kite-shaped beauty that spans your upper back, reaching across your shoulder blades and into your neck. (Whiplash, by the way, is not nearly as funny as they make it look on sitcoms.) Unlike most people who suffer these injuries, I did not get better over time. My pain grew. It spread. I was baffling modern science. I'm just that interesting!

Eventually, I was diagnosed by my very ahead-of-the-times doc as having fibromyalgia. This was 1996, and only about  three people had even heard of fibromyalgia. Including my doctor and me. Ever since, the pain and attendant set of unpleasant symptoms have been among the most central and overwhelming factors in my life. This doesn't begin to make me even remotely unique - anyone with chronic pain'll sing you the same song.

I'm not trying to be dramatic when I say that I cannot remember - or imagine - what it is like to be pain free. My pain presents mainly in my neck and shoulders and it operates in shades of grey. I can't predict with any certainty when it'll be better or worse. It makes planning one's life a tad difficult. I'm the queen of canceling at the last minute. Some people get it. Others, understandably, don't.

I haven't been able to sleep without an ice pack on the left side of my neck for 15 years. Sometimes the pain migrates into my limbs, making it difficult to lift my arms above my head or climb a flight of stairs. Occasionally, the arches of my feet feel like they're being pried away from the rest of my body. Add to that the cruel exhaustion-with-insomnia, the charm of irritable bowel syndrome,the embarrassment of a compromised memory - and it's all just a bit too effing much.

At times I feel as though I've reached the point where I cannot possibly deal with it any more. (And what exactly does that mean? THERE IS NO CHOICE.) I hear friends share their tales of woe and I think, "I'd trade with you in heartbeat just to know what it was like to be pain-free for an hour." Sometimes the self-pity overwhelms me and other times I err far too far on the other side of that coin - insisting to everyone around me that I'm fine! I'm great! until I've run myself into the ground.

Which sort of touches on why I'm afraid of writing about it. I'm clearly far more addled than I like to admit when it comes to Caring What Other People Think About Me. And I'm afraid that people will think it's boooooooooooooooring to read about someone's pain. But I'm reaching a point in my life when I don't know how to talk about myself, to be honest about who I am, without talking about my pain.

So I'm trying to figure this out. Trying to find a way to write about it that might be something, anything more than just annoying - maybe that could even be a teensy bit helpful to someone else. I don't know how to do it, but I seem to be on a self-punishing tear of trying to write things I don't know to write.

Might as well give this some more thought. I'm sure you'll let me know how I'm doing. If you're still awake.


Hello? Is this thing even on?

Pssst. Hey. It's me. From a few years ago. I'm thinking about trying to turn over the engine on this blog to see if she still runs. I keep waking up in the night lately thinking that I miss blogging. How weird is that?

When I blogged here back in the good ol' days - before abandoning ship for that wacky year-long change experiment - I was pretty new to Ann Arbor. Exploring the town gave me things to write about, especially in the early days. Until I ran out of things to write about.

I think this go-around will be different. More "life," less "northern town."Some stuff about my trying to learn how to take photos. Some adventures in cooking and baking. Some travel. Some navel-gazing. Okay, probably a fair amount of navel-gazing.

I suspect I'll probably be writing a lot, too, about recovery stuff, especially since that's the subject matter of my novel I'm struggling to finish. I know that's not always comfortable and/or interesting for people to read about. That's okay. I get that. And I forgive you.

Damn, I'm magnanimous.

Now I just have to go off, deal with some dough that's rising* and decide what to write about first.

*Not metaphorical. If I meant that as a metaphor, I'd probably have to insist you stop reading for your own sake.

A new blog

So it appears the hiatus from this blog is turning a little bit more permanent, at least for now. The truth is, I'm just not finding the impetus to write here. It feels too amorphous to me and I figure if it's boring me to write it, it's DEFINITELY boring you to read it. However. I do miss the writing practice, only I figured I could use a little more help in terms of structure, focus and deadlines. So to tickle my own fancy, I've started a new blog here. I'm hoping I'll use it to chronicle changes weekly leading up to -- and perhaps beyond -- my 40th birthday in November of this year. I have no idea if this little experiment will pan out or not, but I figured it's worth a shot. I hope you'll find it somewhat entertaining. And if you don't, I hope you'll let me know. No, really.

Also, on an administrative note, I'm trying to figure out a way to copy my commenter user registrations over to the new blog, but so far no success. If you're driven to comment, you may need to re-register. Thanks!


I think I've decided to take a hiatus from this blog. I know what you're thinking: "How could we tell? You never post here anyway." That's sort of my point. No, that's precisely my point.

I started this blog four years ago when Chris and I first came to Ann Arbor. I've chronicled friends, family, travels, projects, photos and what seems like countless other things one encounters when discovering a new place and building a new life.

But lately? I just haven't been feeling it. Writing here looms over me like an albatross. I feel all this pressure to come up with interesting stuff and it's not forthcoming. Maybe it's because I'm already suffering writer's block while trying to take a stab at the second draft of this novel-wannabe I'm crafting. Maybe I don't feel like the little writing energy I have is best spent here. Maybe I've just run out of things to say.

I believe a blog should be a couple of things: purposeful and regularly updated. I'm 0 for 2 on that count right now. I don't think it should feel like a chore and it does. So I'm going to take a break for the next couple of months and reassess in January. I'm not sure how many of you are still out there reading but perhaps if you think of it, you'll check back here then to see if I've reappeared. In the meantime, thanks to the friends and family who have "stopped by" here from time to time the past few years to see what's up.

One of the projects I'm going to undertake in the next couple of months is -- finally! -- the rebuilding of the writing samples portion of my site. So look for that coming soon, too!

For Margaret, on the occasion of it being fall and all

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Oh, Margaret. Dear Margaret. How I'm thinking of you and the horrible poisons they're pushing through your veins in order to stem an even bigger, horribler affliction. How little you ask for when you hint, very heavily, in your comments that only my blog postings can keep you in good health. What power I have. How important I am.

Thus, for you, this rambling posting, even when there isn't much to tell. Except this: it's fall. It's FALL! My very favorite season. And not the fall it has been, with grey skies and rain for days and weeks and weeks. No, this has been the sunny fall I love, the kind where you slush around in piles of leaves on Sunday walks, everything tinged yellow and orange and red.

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The kind where Orangey and I head out for what we know will be one of our last rides of the season. But we try not to talk about it, Orangey and I, pretending instead that there are endless days like this ahead of us. That we will always be able to comment at the spooky pumpkin on this doorstep or the peach-colored Maple leaves on that street. Sure, you could call it denial but Orangey and I, we're calling it "living in the moment."

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Sometimes on walks or ride, there are strange things to see. A lonely, beat up recliner at a street corner, in full chillaxin' position, like maybe someone's invisible Grandpa's trying to get some shut eye. Or a poster of beer bottles in a scratched acrylic frame with a sign saying "Free." (And still, no takers? NO TAKERS?) Or this, a box of books, textbooks and novels in Spanish, curious enough to make me think that this might be here for a reason, just for me to find, so that I will finally, finally have the incentive to improve my Spanish.

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And then I decided: nah.

Oh! What about this table? This crazy wooden table that sits at the front edge of someone's yard, under a tree, with this little locked box on top and nearly DRIVES ME TO DISTRACTION wondering what on earth is in there...

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Then, coming home, in my very own yard, this beautiful leaf. Which I felt a little sorry for, what with it lying there all by itself, separated from all the other leaves. Only, really, you can only feel so sorry for something so good looking. Just ask Jan Brady.

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So how about that? In a week when there hasn't been too terribly much else to tell, I hope that counts for something, Margaret. Just until I can think up something else.

Stuff I've Been Reading

It's fair to say that I haven't been writing a lot lately -- here or anywhere else -- because I haven't. I'm finding working on the second draft of my novel is moving at a glacial pace. I'm unsure of my footing and the ideas are coming slowly. I suppose I should take stock in the fact that it's moving at all. In the meantime, I've been hunkering down on some reading, fairly tearing through a handful of books the last couple months. Figured a quick round-up of thoughts on those could pass for a blog posting, no? Enjoy! stiff

A month or so ago, I breezed through Mary Roach's "Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers." I'd had it in the back of my mind to check it out for a while now. Yes, it's exactly as it sounds -- an exploration of what happens to bodies after we die. A graphic, often-gruesome explanation, ranging from the grave-diggers of centuries ago, to the human body parts used in auto safety testing to proposed new methods of disposing of human bodies.

I confess to having a gruesome streak in me. I watch more CSI and forensic television programs than is probably considered healthy. I once had a brief period where I devoured everything I could on serial killers and mass murders and lay awake at night absolutely terrified that Richard Ramirez, the freaky-looking satanic serial killer known as the Night Stalker, was coming to get me.

So maybe I'm the ideal reader for this book, although I think it also appeals to anyone who has a curiosity about how we, as a culture, value our vessels after life passes away. The real draw here is Roach's writing. It takes a skilled scribe to make a subject like this not only riveting, but also laugh-out-loud funny at times.  Her own squeamishness and reluctance sort of gives us permission to tag along for the ride and be thoroughly entertained as we go.

It's definitely food for thought and, at times, food for worms. (Oh, yes, I did!)

songsformissing Next up was Stewart O'Nan's "Songs for the Missing." Chris returned with it from a road trip, saying he saw it and thought I might enjoy it. Now, since I'm the sort of stubborn ass who decides not to see a great movie just because so many people have told me I SIMPLY MUST SEE IT, it's not surprising that I was a little turned off by Chris' certainty. I mean, what? Just because we've been together for a decade, he suddenly knows so much about me?

I know. It's a weird glitch I have. I'll talk to my therapist about it. Maybe.

Anyhoo, you can see where this is headed, right? I read the book and I did really enjoy it. I have to sheepishly confess that I'd never read any of O'Nan's previous books. In fact, I'd never even heard of him, but he has a number of titles to his name and, quite frankly, as someone struggling to finish one book, I think anyone who has finished more than one should somehow automatically become a household name.

"Songs for the Missing" is the story of a family coping in the aftermath of the disappearance of their eldest daughter Kim, a high-school senior. It's not quite "Lovely Bones" territory, as there's no narration from beyond the grave, but there's a spareness, a sadness that reminded me of Alice Sebold's work. I'm not sure it's a book that will change your life, but there's a compelling, harrowing sense to the prose that I found really seductive.

Make no mistake: this isn't a detective tale or your typical mystery. It's more of a character study of the people left behind -- Kim's parents, her sister, her friends -- and the ways they cope with her disappearance. I read some reviewers' complaints that not enough happens, and while that may be true for some readers, it was enough for me to walk their path for a while. Just don't tell Chris I liked it.

gateatstairsThen it arrived. It arrived. Oh, I'd been waiting for this book for so very long. Fifteen years if you wanna get technical about it: Lorrie Moore's long-awaited new novel, "A Gate at the Stairs."  I should warn you that I can't even pretend to be objective about this book. Moore's one of my all-time favorite writers. She and Amy Hempel were just two of the young female voices emerging in the early eighties, showing me that women could write and they could write like this -- in a brave, honest way I hadn't known was possible before. With humor and grace and simplicity and irony.

Her short story "How to Become A Writer" has been anthologized a gabazillion times and is one of the best-received examples of second-person prose. Its first line has stayed with me for more than 20 years and pops into my head whenever I find myself at my desk trying desperately to squeeze blood from the proverbial literary stone: "First, try to be something, anything else. " It makes me smile every time. It makes me do what Lorrie Moore always does. It makes me think, "This chick gets it."

But I digress. We were talking about "A Gate at the Stairs," right? It's lovely. So lovely. I may be in lovely with it. It's Lorrie Moore, only better than ever. The same wit and sense of irony. The same ability to observe the human condition in the small ways most likely to bring you to your knees.

Yet there's also an even greater sophistication, a greater skill to the way the words build sentences, and sentences make paragraphs and all of it just winds together in a way that makes you do crazy things. Like remember this is how you want to write when you grow up. It's enough to send a person back to her own manuscript after two week's absence with a greater sense of clarity about what it is she wants to accomplish, who her main character is and what needs to matter most.

The story? Oh, that. Yes. It's about Tassie, a Midwestern college student who goes to work as a caregiver for a disaffected couple who are in the process of adopting a mixed-race child. The backdrop is America post-9/11, as the country prepares itself for war in the Middle East and Tassie's own aimless younger brother considers enlisting in the military. It's a year of strange encounters, unlikely bonds and strange secrets that threaten to unravel everything.

Did I mention I liked it? 'Cause I did. Lorrie Moore, please do not take 15 years before your next novel. I know you have groceries to get and probably other things to do, but if it speeds up the process, I will help you. On the other hand, if this is what time produces, I'll wait.

possibilityI switched gears after Moore's book even though I have Richard Russo's "That Old Cape Magic" just begging to be broken into. I felt I wanted to cling onto whatever I got from the former and so I thought I'd go memoir with my next selection and, timing being everything, it worked out perfectly that Hope Edelman's "The Possibility of Everything" was out by the time I finished "A Gate at the Stairs."

I have a history with Edelman, which is not nearly as impressive and/or insidious as it sounds. I read her New York Times best-seller "Motherless Daughters" right after my mother died in 2003. The following year, when I decided to take a class at the Iowa Writer's Workshop Summer Writing Festival, it seemed serendipitous that Edelman was teaching a memoir workshop. Then I discovered that she had also roommates in college with a friend of ours and it all seemed like it was meant to be.

A couple of years ago, I took a fiction course in Iowa while another friend took a class with Edelman where she discussed the project she was working on then: a memoir about taking her three-year-old daughter to Belize to be healed by a shaman. In-ter-esting, I thought. And when I saw it was being published last month, I jumped right on it.

In 2000, Edelman's daughter developed a new imaginary friend, whose emergence touched off some behavior in Maya that Edelman found increasingly disturbing. With a husband working long, hard hours and disengaged from the day-to-day parenting, Edelman's sense of isolation and concern grew. When the family decided a vacation was just the thing they needed -- and Belize the perfect destination -- they also decide to take Maya to see a shaman to "heal" her.

I realize that on the surface this sounds like crazy talk. Children have imaginary friends all the time and it doesn't mean that they're possessed by evil spirits. But that's precisely what makes this book interesting. Edelman is fiercely honest about her own skepticism and how it interplays with her maternal instincts that something is very wrong with her child -- and the willingness to be open to anything, things she never would have thought possible, to make Maya okay.

Set against the magical, mysterious backdrop of Belize and its ancient Mayan culture, a disconnected family finds ways to heal. Edelman gamely and gracefully shares her own reluctance to try on ideas about faith and grace that she finds both confusing and embarrassing. There's something really endearing about Edelman's willingness to talk about something she's perfectly aware many people will find nutty. And I think that's ultimately what makes the book such a good read.

Next up for me? I've pushed Russo back again, poor thing, still thinking I need to keep "A Gate at the Stairs" more fresh in my mind while I write right now. In the meantime, I'm going for Esmerelda Santiago's memoir, "When I Was Puerto Rican." Then maybe Russo'll get his chance or I'm on to Michael Pollan's "In Defense of Food."

And that's you all up to date on my reading. Luck you!

The Orangecycle Diaries: Because Margaret asked edition

Yesterday, my friend Margaret posted a comment requesting more updates on the bike riding and, yes, that's enough to propel me into action. People undergoing chemo can be so demanding! The first piece of news is that Daisy is no more. No, don't panic! Not the bike. Just the name. I don't know how it happened. Maybe it'll still say Daisy on her birth certificate, but Chris kept referring to her as "Orangey" and another friend or two asked about "Orangey" and I realized that somehow it just seemed more...fitting. Maybe because she's all orange and whatnot. I'm very scientific like that.

The second piece of news is that I have become an almost daily bike rider, although I am writing this after three whole days of non-riding. (Two I blame on a family visit and one on today's lousy rain.) The third piece of information I wish to impart -- and I refer to this not as "news" because it most certainly won't surprise anyone -- I'm still not particularly good at it.

The fibromyalgia continues to be a humbling factor in it all. I find my leg strength wildly inconsistent, so one day I feel like I could go for miles (until my ass cries otherwise) and other days a perfunctory ride around the neighborhood is the very best I can do and I have to ease up even small inclines at the lowest of gears.

That said, progress is still being made. While I can't always feel it during a bike ride, I can feel it at other times -- my knee no longer hurts nearly as much when I'm hoisting myself out of the bath tub or rising off the couch after a dormant spell. I can feel it at yoga, when my legs can hold the lunges just a little bit longer.

How I feel it most, though, isn't physical. At the risk of sounding pretty darn cheesy, it's in how it feels just to be that sort of free, unencumbered, moving through space and still feeling so much a part of your surroundings. Maybe I'm going out on a limb here, but I predict this whole "bicycle" concept could really catch on. Before you know it, kids'll be asking for them for Christmas. You mark my words. Buy your stock now!

I've had a couple of emails from other owners of Electra Townies who came across my blog entries after Googling their brand, so to them I share just a few additional thoughts. I'm still looking for some info about a bike rack that'll fit the Townie. I haven't done much because I'm lazy and highly unfocused but from what I understand, the longer length of the Townie's body and the forward-placement of the wheel means the frame doesn't fit easily into many models. If anyone out there has specific makes or models that'll work, please let me know!

Also, while the jury's still out on whether it's strictly a matter of user error, I'm beginning to see why some people online have complained that the forward pedal placement means the Townie's not great on hills. You can't stand and pedal, which is probably just as well for me right now as I'd likely just fall over. So I'm hoping if I continue to gain strength hills will at least get a little easier. Especially since you can't really go anywhere from my house without hitting one.

Lastly, my butt hurts. Apparently, the Townie's upright seating technology is great for posture, easing the neck, back and shoulder strain that can come from traditional hunched-over cycling form. However, the flip side is that the bulk of your weight is distributed squarely on the seat, not mitigated by balancing some front-body weight on the handlebars. I'm not saying this is a deal-breaker by any means, but I'd be interested at some point down the line to know if a seat with shocks helps at all or if it would just be more fancy window-dressing. Which I am also not opposed to by any means.

So while it rained all day long today, I'm hoping tomorrow's forecast for only intermittent showers means I can at least find a small window just to get back on and, as some of us in the business say, claim my seat. The weather's turning chillier here, fall rolling in, and I couldn't be happier about it. I love the crisp breeze on me as I whiz down the streets, tires crunching through the first fallen leaves. I may only have a couple of months left on Orangey before the cold really takes hold, but I am on it, baby. I'm on it!

The Orangecycle Diaries: Uh, more days

It seems that God -- or whoever is in charge of the universe this week -- felt I had gotten a little uppity about my bike ("It's so pretty! It's so cool! I'm a better person than you are!") and arranged for a couple days of rain this past weekend. Because I'm pretty sure that's what a higher power does: sits around dreaming up ways of putting me in my place. Thus, my dream of taking Daisy to one of our finer metro parks to see what she's made of did not become a reality. It's possible this could happen another time, but I prefer to dwell on the finality of it all. Due to the aforementioned weather issues, I've only had a few days riding since I last posted and, to be honest, not much riding in those days, distance- or time-wise. I'd blame it all on my hectic social schedule, but I think we all know that's not the case. Mostly, I just tooled around the neighborhood, and I seem to be mastering one of what I presume to be the key elements of bicycling -- keeping my balance. It seems to me that not falling off is probably a pretty important skill to have and the more I ride, even little jaunts around the 'hood, the less likely it seems that I will lose control of my bike and veer into a parked car. Or a moving car. Or a small child. This is all good progress.

I'm still a little skittish around cars because, it seems to me that all the belly-aching my bikier friends have been doing for years about drivers being boorish and discourteous to riders might actually be true. (If I'd known I'd wind up with a bike one day, I might have listened with greater compassion and an ear towards a solution. Probably not, but maybe.) And I still haven't mastered what feels to me like a Cirque du Soleil-level trick of steering with one paw on the handles so that I can signal my turning intentions to drivers. Thus, I've been known to pass up a turn or two just to keep both hands in play. I'm discovering that a person could get lost this way.

Yesterday, I waited for the rain to stop then caught what I thought was a primo late-afternoon chance to zip around a bit. I will say this: my legs are getting stronger. The hills aren't quite so torturous. And, let's face it, by hills I mean slight inclines. We all know where this story's heading. So when the rain returned, rather suddenly, I learned first hand that one gets considerably wetter on a bike than when driving in a car. I'm not saying one is better than the other, I'm just stating facts. In a three-quarter mile distance back to my house, I got soaked to the bone, but I will confess this: it felt kinda awesome.

Two things I learned about cycling in the rain, besides the obvious "getting wet" bit, which I will share with you now:

  1. My brakes squeal in the rain. Is that supposed to happen?
  2. Your pretty bike gets dirty. Dirty!

Today I ventured out for an extremely long and arduous journey. By which I mean about 3.75 miles. WHICH IS A VERY LONG WAY IF YOU ARE SEVERELY OUT OF SHAPE AND GENERALLY LAZY! I probably taxed my knee a little too much, not to mention my legs -- all of which were pretty mad at me already after being dragged out to yoga last night. Apart from the times when I thought my knee would snap in half and my thighs might catch fire, it actually felt good. I went places, man! I went to the CVS (or near it). And Kroger (or near it.) I could have, ostensibly, gotten out and run actual errands if a) I had bought a lock yet and/or b) my basket had arrived and I had any way to carry anything home.

One last observation -- for now, at least: I noticed that people smile at me a lot when I'm riding past them. People on the sidewalk, postal carriers, old ladies driving their cars. Since they don't actually know me, I don't suppose it can simply be chalked up to the irony of my being on a bike in the first place. No, I figure it must be my jaunty orange Townie, spreading love and sunshine everywhere it goes.

Yeah. 'Cause that's so me.