Monday, April 29, 2013

Lactose Intolerant

Mom didn’t breastfeed any of us, so we were raised with formula.  She says I was a fussy baby.  My stomach muscles would cramp after each feeding, and I cried constantly.
She didn’t know if it was because of the milk substitute or from hunger, so after trying several different formulas, our family doctor suggested evaporated milk. That went okay for a while until someone accidentally fed me a bottle of it undiluted and I went into convulsions. Next, he suggested goat’s milk, but she felt sorry for me and that was that.
In between all of these attempts she would feed me rice water or oatmeal water, old remedies suggested by my grandmothers.
She started me on cow’s milk early.  I was close to my first birthday and it was a little easier on my stomach than the others. Besides I was old enough to supplement my nourishment through other foods.
She continued to foist glasses of milk on me throughout my childhood, and I refused to drink them unless they were camouflaged with chocolate or strawberry flavoring.  There was no fooling my stomach. It continued to rebel – cramps, bloating, diarrhea, gas.  I was the life of the party.  
For years everyone thought I suffered from a “nervous stomach” just like my dad, but it wasn’t until recently (after decades and decades of suffering) that I learned the truth – I am lactose intolerant.  
There is nothing sexy about a person who is lactose intolerant.
I don’t know if it could have been prevented if I had been breast fed as a baby and slowly eased into cow’s milk, but then my dad suffered from the same symptoms and my grandmother breastfed him as a baby. Either way, it is what it is.
I eat foods rich in calcium and take calcium supplements.  I eat yogurt and lactose-free milk, but even those sometimes give me symptoms.  My stomach can tell immediately if the cheese enchiladas or the drive through ice cream cone is made with real milk or some sort of synthetic.
I crave real cheese and ice cream. I eat them knowing the consequences - none of them are pretty nor polite – so I adjust my schedule and make sure no one is around to suffer with me (except for my poor, dear husband. Sorry, babe.)  

Monday, April 22, 2013

Rebel Without a Driver’s License

My Dad liked buying second hand cars from his friends at the office.  In 1961, he came home with a used Oldsmobile.  It was to replace the 1950, dark blue Ford he had driven for the last eight years. 
He decided to sell the older car since we had no need for two, but Mom asked him for it. Dad nixed the idea because she was pregnant and she didn’t know how to drive.  He didn’t want her behind the wheel.      
That was all Mom needed to hear. She called two of our aunts and they made secret plans behind Dad’s back, a secret everyone knew about except for him.
The aunts took turns teaching Mom standard shift while Dad was at work during the day, and in a few weeks all she needed was practice. That and courage – courage to pass her driving test and tell Dad what she had done.  
One weekend a month, Dad would take all of us to visit his mother in south Texas.  Nothing kept us from making the monthly trek, but Mom was hugely pregnant by now and used it as her excuse to stay back.  She complained about the one-way, four-hour trip and insisted he leave her at home to “rest.”
We all begged to stay to take care of “Mommy.” He suspected something was up but could never figure it out. We were not about to snitch, so he gave up and every month chose one of us to go with him.  He rotated among the three of us, and the other two tried not to look too happy.  
Dad was gone from Friday night until late Sunday, so that left plenty of time for mischief. Mom would wait a couple of hours after he left (just in case he returned because he forgot something or was checking on her) before grabbing the keys to the old blue Ford.  She would yell for us to get our shoes and off we went. She’d buy our silence with joy rides about the neighborhood and greasy hamburgers and thick milk shakes from the closest Dairy Queen.
She never did quite get the hang of the standard shift, but that did not keep her from attempting to cross two very busy streets.  Our car would sputter and die or jerk and whiplash while cars honked and people yelled bad, angry words at us.  We would squeal with delight as she gripped our lives in her hands.
Persínense, she yelled as she eased up on the clutch and stomped on the gas.  We cackled with laughter as we frantically blessed ourselves with the Sign of the Cross.  Lean forward.  She shifted into second and we would bend at the waist, honestly believing our skinny little bodies helped propel that old tank to safety.
I don’t think Dad ever learned the whole story about how Mom learned to drive, but she got her driver’s license and the old blue Ford. Years later when he had his stroke, she became his chauffeur and he bought her a brand new car for her efforts. No more old, second-hand bargains.   
If there is a museum for old memories, that old blue Ford is parked right there, front and center, a symbol of my mom’s determination and independence - my rebel without a driver’s license. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

My Blog - End of Year Two

To celebrate I chose ten of my favorite lines from the fifty-plus blogs I posted this past year. I use them to share some of what I have learned about blogging.
1.   What do you have to say that isn’t already being said by the other 200 million bloggers?
I am an ordinary woman who sees life in a different way.
2.  It was the best piece of advice I ever got.
Consistency. I post at 6 am every Monday morning. Once a reader stumbles onto my blog, I want them to know when and where they can find me. I am honored by those who read my weekly ramblings. I truly believe that this consistency (and respect for their time) has been integral to my growing stats.
3.  If necessity is the mother of invention, desperation is its grandmother.
It is not always easy to come up with blog postings, so I read books, magazines, and newspapers with a pad and pen in hand. I look for stories or ideas everywhere – people, events, opinions. Sometimes I have to resort to TV listings, the Internet, and the innocent. I am constantly on the alert for ideas.
4.  Sadness and fear chased me in my dreams.
I am not afraid to voice the emotions we all share – grief, fear, loneliness, embarrassment. The blog is semi-biographical, but my works in progress are fiction. Because the blog is so personal, the protagonist is me. 
5.  I call it character study; my husband says it is stalking and it is illegal.
People fascinate me, always have.  I am part Freud and Dr. Frankenstein; I piece my fictional characters from "corpses" I find interesting,  three-dimensional paper dolls.
6.  You have been warned.
I like pushing boundaries, being bold, dancing outrageously on paper, but I never do it at the cost of anyone but myself (or a fictional character). My family and friends are safe.
7.  There is a big difference between writing and crafting a story.
I will not rush something to get it published.  I want to write a well-crafted story, so I will wait until I am pleased with my work before I pitch it to an editor. In the meantime, my playground is the blog. 
8.  I took snippets of gossip and scandalous rumors I’d heard over the years.
Working with mostly women all my life, I have witnessed a lot of drama (and exposition).  It will eventually make its way into story.  Writing is to my existence as flannel jammies and cream puffs are to my soul.
9.  I may never again use an extended metaphor.
When Markus Zusak revised The Book Thief, he made sure to include one visually appealing device on each page of his manuscript.  I love that idea and want to emulate it. 
10.             I walked away and refused to look back.
Why do I blog?  I am a writer and this is my new career. While I learn how to author a novel, I author this blog.    

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Tazas Book Club, 2nd Book List 2012

We meet every six weeks or so, a group of writers who formed a book club out of friendship and need.
Our purpose?  To read currently published works, analyze their composition, and discuss the craft from a writer’s perspective. By studying published authors, one can learn what to do and what not to do.
In the last two years, we have reviewed seventeen books, hoping that what we have learned will strengthen our own writing.
Instead of offering a rated list, I would like to share my observations on what worked and what didn’t.
1.   Bel Canto by Ann Patchett and Room by Emma Donoghue are excellent examples of how to present unpleasant, uncomfortable, and realistic topics through well-written, fascinating exposition.  Both exemplify strong, sympathetic protagonists and continuous, forward action.
The Ark by Boyd Morrison is a graphic, fast-paced race against time. None of the main characters muster any sympathy and its title is nothing more than a commercial, red herring.
2.     Four lengthy tomes – The Forgotten Garden and The Distant Hours by Kate Morton, The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, and The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown – juggle multiple plots, characters, and varying time lines with finesse.  They end realistically and offer fascinating resolutions.
The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs and The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield are padded with extraneous characters and secondary story lines that have nothing to do with the whole, thus weakening the plot with their ponderous length and distracting the reader from the true story.
3.    The Help by Katherine Stockett has amazing characters, both good and bad.  The strength of the plot and its realistic, heart-wrenching ending make it a satisfying read.
A book with a similar plot line, The Space between Us by Thrity Umrigar has characters who are about as engaging as newspaper copy, and the ending is mentioned so subtly that the reader overlooks it in the first read through and has to go back and hunt for it. 
4.    The Book Thief by Markus Zusak expertly uses rhetorical devices, creating beautiful and haunting visuals on each page. His use of synesthesia is exemplary, as is his cold and horrifying personification of death.
After reading The River by Michael Neale, I may never again use the extended metaphor.
5.    Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer by Seth Grahame-Smith and Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley offer new and refreshing twists in their genres.  One plays with our knowledge of history; the other questions our knowledge of science.  In both cases, every effort is made to make the stories plausible and convincing.
In The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde and The Heroines by Eileen Favorite, fictional characters come to life and interact with people in the real world, but how and why they are able to do so is never explained.  No effort is made to give a plausible or convincing premise, so the reader never cares about the characters or their outcomes. Oddly, these famous characters were three-dimensional in their books, but become one-dimensional the moment they become real. It’s like playing with paper dolls; we never suspend our belief. 

Monday, April 1, 2013

National Little White Lie Month

We start our month with April 1st – April Fools’ Day.  One little white lie and we get to play a joke (thus make a fool) of another person. There’s a spider in your hair.  Your zipper is open.  You have broccoli on your teeth. 
As humans we have an innate need to invent, imagine, and make excuses.  We guesstimate and stretch the world around us to fit and make sense of reality. Lying is one of the things we all have in common, regardless of ethnicity, culture, religious affiliation, or gender.  It might be “bad” to lie, but we find ourselves doing it anyway.
April 4th is Tell a Lie Day.  You get a free pass to tell one lie today.  Make it good; make it worth the free pass.  It will make you aware of how many times you tell a lie to yourself or to others.
April 6 is Plan Your Epitaph Day.  You actually have permission to embellish your life’s accomplishments.  You get to brag a little and live it up.  Some good may come of this.  You might actually strive to achieve some of the things you said and listed about yourself.  
April 12 is Big Wind Day.  I have no idea what the originators of this holiday meant by this, but it fits our month-long spree of prevarication.  Lie with gusto!  Bluster away and puff off a few whoppers.  Knit a yarn or two!
April 14 is Ex-Spouse Day.  Can this month get any better?  A day for superlatives and hyperboles!  This day makes me more grateful than any Hallmark card I’ve ever received. (Could that have been a “lie”?)
April 15 is not only IRS Tax Return Due Date, but it is also Rubber Eraser Day.  Ha!  Scritch, scritch, scritch.  We spent the first half of April preparing our IRS tax returns.  We estimated, invented, and plain old stretched the definitions and the numbers to fit the 1040 Form. All this “interpretation” to get our annual taxes explains why April is my choice for National Little White Lie Month.
April 17 is Blah, Blah, Blah Day.  By now we have gotten into the hang of fibbing. Let’s stretch our creativity.  Try telling an alliterative fib today.  My, that sheath makes you look slim and svelte.  Howdy, handsome; don’t you look hubba in that Herringbone suit.
April 18 is Newspaper Columnists Day.  Learn to spin a story from the best.  First, watch the TV anchors’ faces while they read their copy and practice making sympathetic frowny faces or pitiful pouts while you listen to tragedy and mayhem.  Next read the newspaper’s front page and the editorial page, and learn to emulate slanted prose and sophisticated shamelessness.
April 27 is Tell a Story Day.  Turn fibs into fiction.  Anecdotes into action and suspense.  Go all out and dance with your fantasy.  You might even try costumes.
Our month-long foray into fib world comes to a screeching halt on April 30th.  Today is National Honesty Day.  What?  We may no longer know how to tell the truth. 
Besides it is more work and less satisfying than fibbing.