Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Day I Became Diabetic - 2012

As a child I watched how my father’s family coped with diabetes.  My grandmother’s brothers and sisters all had it.  The moment “los tíos” went into the hospital and started losing a foot or a leg, it signaled the last fight against the disease.

My grandmother never had it, neither did my dad.

My younger sister discovered her legacy at an early age – Diabetes, Type 2. She kept it from our parents for a long time, trying not to worry them.  Then my mother had it. My youngest sister and both my brothers followed.  It was everywhere around me.

They are all savvy as to the course it takes.  They share information.  They make jokes when they dig into a taco or fork into a dessert.

It seemed to skip me. It made sense.  I resemble my dad and paternal grandmother.  Maybe I was the lucky one?

My internist gives me meds for cholesterol and blood pressure.  She recommends a low-dose daily aspirin to keep strokes and heart attacks at bay.  I take these meds because I am “borderline” in all categories.  I take these meds to ward off my double shotgun genetics. 

Until last week.  The day I became diabetic.

It would be inappropriate to write the words I’d like to use here, but know this – I am angry, very angry.

I took precautionary measures – meds, exercise, diet, yet I didn’t escape my genetics.  I eat Kale, for mercy’s sake!

Honestly, I didn’t become diabetic last week.  It started a long time ago, before I was born.  Along with the pride I have for my rich family bloodlines, I also inherited its burdens.

Goodbye donuts.  Hello Nikes.

Monday, August 26, 2013


Every year I make New Year’s Resolutions.  I write them down in my journal and try to do more than just thumb past them as I scribble my daily thoughts.

I actually work on them.

Often I move resolutions forward from one year to the next, but that is because resolutions are meant to be permanent and do not have a “best if used by” date. Losing weight and keeping it off is a battle I will fight for the rest of my life.  Finishing my current work in progress will never end because it will be replaced with another manuscript and another and another. Though resolving to exercise more is almost laughable, (since one cannot measure “more” unless you start with “some,”) the intention is always there.

I make resolutions/goals all throughout the year and not just on December 31st.  I make them on important anniversaries or milestones, like my birthday, the start of a season, and the beginning of a school year (since the teacher in me continues to reference school calendars and not just those measured by lunar months).

The lists resemble each other because they are reminders to “get along little doggie,” and do what I promised myself at the last revision. Most often things do get scratched from the list, either because it was accomplished or because it no longer has value for my mental, physical, or emotional growth.  
I have friends who pooh pooh my list of resolutions.  They swear they never make them, but I wonder if they realize that every time they go to the gym, change their diet, or plan a trip, they are doing the very same thing I am doing except they are not jotting their goals down in a journal or bragging about it to the world?

I make promises to the people around me and I always try to keep my word.  Why shouldn’t I make promises to myself and try to live up to those promises? Am I not as important as those around me?

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Blame the Hamburger

I blame the drive-thru hamburger or the coffee shop with the creamy drinks. 

I’ve been misled by the Mexican food restaurant with the bottomless bowls of chips and salsa and the to-die-for enchiladas. I’ve been snookered by bags of Snickers and seduced by salty chips, two-timed by an egg and bacon taco (or two), and hoodwinked by a side of hotcakes.  
It’s their fault my belts won’t buckle and my jackets won’t zip. I blame them for my shortness of breath and my aching back as I carry armloads of Blue Bell ice cream and glazed donuts to the car.
I know I am not alone, so I say we sue those who have made us this way:  they force me to eat that taco (or two) for breakfast; they lure me with their double lattes topped with whipped cream; they snare me with their Number One specials (then try to mask the truth with side salads and diet sodas); they sing their siren songs after a long, hard day with their “Hot and Ready” pizzas and drive through dinners that come complete with desserts.
They charm me with coupons.
After all is consumed (after all it is my Christian duty to clean my plate; some poor child in a third world country is counting on me), I reason with myself.  I assuage my gluttony with promises to do better tomorrow. 
The next day as I struggle with my stretch pants or drag my dress over my derrière, I . . .
blame the dryer.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Code Switching

In my family, we jabber away in two languages, using both English and Spanish interchangeably.  Fluent in both, it is easy for us to substitute words, phrases, and clauses in one or the other language.

We don’t notice what we do because to us the two are easy on our tongue. In our brain they are one.

Someone will ask a question in English and get an answer in Spanish.  Someone will make a joke in Spanish and all the rejoinders will be a mix of both languages. Gossip about a relative is discussed at great length in both English and Spanish and no one notices, except for those who get caught in the middle of our barrage and speak only one of the two. Even then, they are able to keep up because it’s like listening to one side of a phone conversation.

This phenomenon among fluent speakers of two or more languages is called code switching. It is a natural linguistic outcome when they share a similar syntax or phonology, like English and Spanish, but it is not unique to just these two languages. To code switch, the correct words, phrases, clauses, or sentences in compound structures must be interchanged according to the correct grammatical rules that exist between the two. 
Code switching is not Spanglish – where a third “language” is created by defiling the two.  When someone adds the letter “o” to the ending of a word in English or when a Spanish noun or verb ending is added to an English word to make it sound like Spanish, that is Spanglish, words like parquear for to park (a car), carro for car, troca for truck, marketa for market, lonche for lunch, tochar for to touch, etc.

Spanglish words are not correct in either language and someone who uses these is not code switching, but attempting (poorly) to speak in Spanish.

I love to eavesdrop on people who are code switching.  It is so easy and so natural for them.  They are unaware that their brain is dancing between English and Spanish and that they are creating one language out of two. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Las Comadres Otra Vez

Shopping for a new dress, I heard two women enter the booth next to me.
“Aye, Comadre, you take the dressing room.  I’ll wait out here until  the other one empties.”
“No, Comadre, let’s share this one.  See?  It’s big.”
“Bueno, sí.  Okay.”
I heard muffled noises, hangers clinking,  and heavy breathing.
“Aye, Comadre.  Help me.  I’m stuck.”
More shuffling. “There.  Let me get the zipper.”Breathing. “Maybe they have a bigger size.”
“No necesito a bigger size. This is my size.”
“Sí, pero nowadays they use less material and charge you more.  Let me go see if they have it in a bigger size.”
“No, no. I need to exercise.  Me dejé.”
“No, Comadre, pero como?  It’s the style of the dress.”
“Comadre, por favor, I can see for myself.  The mirrors don’t lie.”
“We’ll go to the gym.  I, too, have let myself go a little.”
“Aye, don’t yank on it.  I don’t want to have to buy it if it doesn’t fit.”
“You can keep it in the closet as incentive.”
“I am not going to the gym, not looking like this.  Come to my house every day, Comadre.  We’ll work out there.  When I look better, then we will go to the gym.”
“Let me go see if there’s a bigger size.  That dress looks so good on you, Comadre.”
“Let’s go to Kohl’s.”
“Sí, vamos.  You get more dress for your money there.”
I heard muffled noises, hangers clinking, and heavy breathing, then there is silence in the  dressing room  next to mine.
I take a good look at myself in the mirror. Maybe I should get this dress in a bigger size.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Playing School

I was one of those annoying kids who gathered the neighborhood and forced them to play school with me.  My grandmother helped me and I would make math and reading books from used paper my dad brought home from the office.  I would copy math problems in one, and write stories and make up reading questions in the other.

Since most of the neighborhood was made up of boys, I would agree to play with them if they played school with me and “played right.”  If they didn’t, I would never play with them again.

They must have all been alpha males (or yellow-belly cowards) because none of them wanted to be the soldier/Indian/robber who died in their gun play. Sometimes they needed a human sacrifice to go get a stray baseball/football/kite from the neighbor’s yard, the one with the man-eating Chihuahuas.
When they cheated me of equal play, I would refuse them the next time.  I made them beg and super, double-dog promise before I agreed, always on my terms.  First, we played school, THEN I would play guns with them or go get their stupid ball.

I always got my justice.

I started teaching when I was twenty-one and retired when I was fifty-eight.  I loved my profession, the thousands of children who “played school” with me and the thousands of lessons I presented to them, but it all started with a handful of stinky, sweaty boys who I blackmailed into sitting on my dainty little play table chairs and who I forced to call me teacher. 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – A Mama’s Perspective

When my older brother came back from Vietnam in 1970, we thought our prayers had been answered.  We were mistaken. The living person we welcomed home was not the brother who had left us twelve months before. In his place was a frightened, angry stranger. For the next forty-three years he struggled to be who he had once been, and for brief moments we saw glimpses of him, but for the most part, we lost our brother back in the Vietnam jungles. 

My son is a Marine reservist and has been on three deployments in the last ten years, two to Iraq and one to Afghanistan.  In all three he has been in face to face combat with the enemy.  He has seen and done things that most of us could not imagine. Like my late brother, my son struggles to reclaim the person he once was and has decided to advocate for himself and learn how to control his PTSD. 

PTSD is more prevalent than the public realizes.  It is not limited to combat vets but to anyone who has experienced extreme trauma. My daughter and her husband experienced the death of their youngest child one year ago.  This tragedy affected them so severely that she was diagnosed with PTSD.  Like others with this disorder, what caused it cannot be undone, but she has been taught ways to manage her anxiety and her grief.

A person does not have to be in physical danger to “get” PTSD.  People who survive horrific accidents or health episodes might develop it. The brain perceives an incident as an extreme danger and sends out signals to help the body react and respond, but the PTSD brain never goes back to its previous “at rest” position.  This becomes the new normal for these folks.

The person’s bio-chemical response has changed and stays that way, either in a permanent alert state, in an involuntary trigger state, or in an immediate response state.

The good news – PTSD can be treated.  Unlike my brother who never recovered, my son has a chance at managing it. It involves more than just medication to calm his nightmares and anxiety or psycho-emotional therapy to help with the mental anguish of PTSD. 

Since studies show that PTSD is bio-chemical, it should be treated as such.  Studies have also shown that involvement in physical and spiritual activity helps. 
I find it interesting that the military government went to great expense to create the battle mind, but has spent so little money and effort in disarming it. They should provide resources to help those who have sacrificed not only their lives and bodies for this country but also their minds and souls.

Let us give them peace of mind. 

Monday, August 5, 2013

Adolescent Humor

Over the past year, I have occasionally blogged about my classroom experiences.  Some were sad, some were shocking, but I have decided to share three that were just downright endearing and silly. 

1.     I always started my reading and English classes with fifteen minutes of silent reading. It was a directed activity where I asked the students to look or be aware of a certain grammatical or rhetorical device in their novels which would then lead into the lesson that followed.  The students became accustomed to this and on this particular day the room was deathly quiet.  Only the sound of pages turning could be heard, when suddenly a student farted.  It was one of those where the person was trying to suppress it but did not succeed, so it came out sounding like a whistle. I instantly knew who it was because the kids sitting around him looked at him and he blushed. To help him save face, I pretended not to notice and I tried to suppress a giggle.  I was not successful.  One giggle led to another and soon I was laughing so hard I was draped all over the podium.  Those who knew what I was laughing about joined with me, the others half-laughed half-wondered what had happened. I wasn’t laughing at the boy; I was laughing at my effort to not laugh. You know how that goes.

2.    I always fancied myself a good classroom disciplinarian and to this day I still live in that dream.  On one occasion, every time I turned my back on the class, rubber bands flew all over the place.  I gave them the stink eye and warned them to put their rubber bands away, but it kept happening until one hit me on the back of my head.  I told the class they had two minutes – two minutes! – to put all their rubber bands on my desk.  I was going to step out and when I came back in if I found any on them, I was calling their parents AND sending them to the principal! I marched back into the classroom to find fistfuls – and I mean fistfuls – of rubber bands heaped on my desk. I laugh about it now, but I didn’t then.

3.    My high school classroom had no windows, so when the lights went out, the students and I were thrown into pitch darkness. I warned my students not to move.  I didn’t want anyone tripping and getting hurt.  I didn’t want anyone to panic.  I knew I could not get to my desk, so I asked the class if they had cell phones (against school rules and could be confiscated at the time) or cigarette lighters (even more against school rules and could get the students severely disciplined) would they please give us some light. Someone yelled out in the dark if it would get them into trouble.  I answered no, this was an emergency. I was amazed at the number of lighters and cell phones that lit up the room. I was able to get to my desk and distribute several flashlights among the kids. The lights were out for almost half an hour that day, and no, I never reported the students who saved us that day, but we did have an understanding for the remainder of the year. 
It helped to have a sense of humor when teaching adolescents. They kept me on my toes, a reminder that I taught real human beings and not just little automatons. 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Writing in the Company of Geniuses

Learning to write in the company of geniuses, I have writing experts for professors and my classmates are on bestseller lists. 

And guess who is struggling to keep up?

There is no secret formula, no succinct cheat notes, no clever apps to get from Novice Writer to Published Author. I read books on craft, highlighting and trying out suggestions.  I read best sellers and old favorites with a writer’s eye and emulate in bites and samples.

Getting into Character by Brandilyn Collins has changed my writing the most since I started on this quest. If you KNOW your characters well, everything else falls into place – plotting, dialogue, pacing, details.

The novel The Book Thief by Markus Zusak has influenced me with its lyrical language - indescribable and enviable. I also have to give kudos to The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs.  A gymnast in sentence structure, this novelist does strange and courageous things to compound complex sentences.  

I figure among all those words, I will find my voice, my niche, my courage. I need to trust in those who know more about the craft than I do, but the only route to writing well is good, old-fashioned pen to paper. I have to trust in my own genius and write.

I am open to suggestions.  Which craft book or fiction novel would you suggest and why?