By Eve W. Engle

The dogs rule in our house. They are fed first, allowed in our bed, have their own bed in the guest room and sneak up onto the sofas when we aren't looking. Maxie, short for Maximus, is a Golden Retriever/Great Pyrenes mix, Sammy is a Black Lab/Border Collie mix. His full name is Samuel L. Jackson after one of my favorite actors. Both were abused and rescued from their former owners. They get cookies every morning.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Obsessing on Weight Loss

Here I go again. My up and down waist line is the bane of my existence. There is no one to blame but myself. I know it. My closet shows it. Instead of organizing it by color (I'm a bit OCD about it) I really should organize it by "big", "medium" and "small" sizes. It really is ridiculous how many times I have gone down this road.

In 1973 I started losing my "baby fat". I was very proud of my new womanly figure even though I was a bit self conscious about my measurements. By the time I started college in 1976 I was a fit and trim 94 lbs. Before you gasp at that weight let me explain something. At my tallest I was 5' 3 1/2" with a small bone structure. I was also a dancer on my college contemporary dance team. We rehearsed constantly.  When I married in 1980 I was up to 117 lbs. That seemed heavy to me at that time. By the time I was in graduate school I had started working out with weights and riding a bike 14 miles five days a week. I weighed in at 127, which seemed a high number on the scale but I had gained a lot of muscle weight. Then I found out I was expecting.

Son number one did a job on me. I'll spare you the details, but suffice it to say I developed gestational diabetes and was very sick. As soon as his 9lb 2oz butt entered the world I started working to get all the weight off. In fact, I overcompensated. He learned early what the inside of a gym daycare looked like. I lifted weights like a crazy woman. Power lifting wasn't really my intention, but I was damned good at repetitions and the weights just kept being added. So much so that I moved out of the women's program and into the men's. I was Superwoman and in better shape than I had ever imagined. But no sooner had I gained that lovely hard ab tummy than son number two decided to derail me. Even though I was pushing a baby stroller and running around after a toddler I was back in maternity clothes and fighting to keep my weight stable. And afterward I was back in the gym.

Now a few years went by, I had gained a little more weight and a lot more width around the middle, when son number three arrived. That did it. I got really serious and joined Weight Watchers. I still went to the gym but things were different. The weight wasn't coming off as quickly as I had hoped, so I threw myself into the world of obsessive weight management. In other words it was all I thought about and talked about. I counted everything that went into my mouth. I wrote everything down. I discussed every ounce of solids and liquids that entered by body with anyone who got trapped and had to listen. I was obnoxious, but it worked. I lost 40 lbs and looked better than I ever had. Then tragedy struck. My husband left. All the weight loss hadn't changed the fact that I wasn't in a happy marriage.

Over the next several years I had more stress, my profession became more sedentary, I ended up with a job that kept me working long hours, I had a bad second marriage, and I passed out of my 40s into my 50s. And the weight kept creeping up on me. I would lose then gain. After another divorce I got myself together and started working out and losing weight again. This time I was really going to do it. I was going to get back into those size 8 clothes! Shakira had nothing on me when I shook my hips in a tee-shirt and leggings! I feverishly belly-danced, hulaed, and discoed. Even my dogs got embarrassed watching me sometimes. They would exit the family room to find dark quiet corners in other rooms to escape the loud bass and the wild gyrations. It was working though. I lost 25 lbs.

Then I got sick. Really sick. Too sick to gyrate. I was diagnosed with endometrial cancer. There was no choice but to have a hysterectomy. I did. My friends who knew warned me that it takes about two years to get back to feeling 100%. In the meantime the weight crept back on. Then I found out about the wedding next summer.

Not just any wedding. The wedding of the son of my closest friend. The friend who used to be overweight and who moved to Florida and got thin and in the best shape she's ever been in. The friend who gives me her old clothes because they are too big for her. The friend who is ever supporting and encouraging whenever I need her to be. I refuse to be fat for her son's wedding!

I have seven months to lose 50 lbs. If I lose exactly that amount I will be thin enough to wear a sleeveless summer dress for an outdoor summer wedding. I CAN DO THIS. I WILL DO THIS.

And that piece of wedding cake at the end of the ceremony is going to taste so sweet!

Wish me luck. I'm going to need it.


Saturday, January 24, 2015

Wedding Bells and a Fluttery Stomach

Weddings, weddings, weddings! 2015 will be a big year for two of my dearest friends as they plan their children's weddings. One a son, the other a daughter. Both friends have older children who are already married. Both have their first grandchild. Both are waaaaay ahead of me. 

I have three children who spent their early childhoods in the company of the engaged. To be clear, they aren't engaged to each other, but they all know one another. I knew the bride while she was still in the womb, and had the privilege of changing her diaper in the hospital. She was the only baby girl whose diapers I changed. She is only three months older than my youngest son. How is it possible that she is old enough to be engaged much less actually getting married? 

My stomach is fluttery. I feel emotions that I can't fully explain: excitement, envy, anticipation, grief, pride. I  feel old. And I feel a particular sense of loss. Loss because these are the children we left behind when we moved to a different city 15 and 1/2 years ago and we haven't been part of their lives. Loss because one of my sons' came close, but the relationship fell apart after a three year engagement, so there is no wedding in the near future and I know he is lonely.

I also feel fear. That has to do with the "state of affairs" between my bank account and me. My house is the real culprit. It robs me of money every month. It gets creative in searching for new ways to frustrate my savings account and keep it sliding up and down, usually through the plumbing. Weddings get expensive, even those that are not your own kids'. Knowing that two very important events that I don't want to miss are coming up means I have to double my efforts to add to my savings. But I am afraid something else will break.

Truth be told, I would sell my house before I would miss these two weddings. One will be only four hours away and I am bound to find someone who will put up with me on their couch that weekend. The other is all the way in North Carolina. So, I am thinking I'm going to plan a serious vacation that week. I could do more than the wedding. I could actually visit the mountains, or go hunting my ancestors in Mt. Airy, or even tour Biltmore again (I saw it in 1985 when my eldest was six months old). Or I could enjoy the wedding and then head home to fix the plumbing. It's bound to break while I'm gone.

Time to start making plans! 

But first I have to get rid of the fluttery feeling in my stomach. I'm thinking chocolate as the remedy. Everything is better with chocolate in my tummy. Then I can start making plans.

After all, it isn't every year that two of my closets friends see their babies get married.

Best wishes to Matt Crowe his fiancé Lauren Burianek, and Morgan Marr and her fiancé Kyle Mann.


Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Attack on "Humor", "Satire", and "Freedom of Speech"

From Google

the quality of being amusing or comic, especially as expressed in literature or speech.
comply with the wishes of (someone) in order to keep them content, however unreasonable such wishes might be.
the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people's stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.

free·dom of speech (free speech)
the right to express any opinions without censorship or restraint.

  1. No one questions the lack of humor in terrorist theory. Every moral person knows that dictators, thugs, and terrorists are bullies, and that bullies can't abide someone else not taking them seriously, or promoting humor at their expense. But this idea of controlling the world media through threats, murder, and economic instability affects us all. The attack on the World Trade Centers was an obvious warning that dangerous minds can destabilize the world market through destruction, murder, and mayhem. The same message was sent with the recent hacking of Sony and the threat to theater owners. Show this poorly written satirical movie meant to promote a comedic actor (Seth Rogen) and a heart-throb (James Franco) and we promise some kind of retaliation (destruction? murder? mayhem?) which means all your other movies will suffer because Americans will be afraid to come to the theater, resulting in economic instability. But the message sent this week in France went a step further. 

    It wasn't a random target with random casualties. It was very specific. And the message was loud and clear. Take us seriously and don't ridicule or criticize our stupidity or vices through satire. Do not express any opinions that question our authority or our purpose. It isn't funny to us. We don't see the humor (noun). 

    Humor (verb) us and we will not kill you or destroy your means of economic support. 

    Personally I love humor, but I'm not so sure about satire. There have been enough bullies throughout my life that I tend to find satire suspect. But instead of trying to censure it I choose to ignore it. Growing up during the '60s and '70s I loved Mad Magazine. Maybe it was because the cartoons were funny and I loved silly looking illustrations. But I didn't care for All In the Family even though I understood it's purpose and the humor behind its satirical script.  Maybe it was because there were "real" people being bullied. Maybe it was because I felt the bigotry, the undercurrent of mistrust, dislike, and fear between the characters. 

    This week we have all been hurt and offended. That anyone would hide behind a religious doctrine that condones torture and murder in order to force that doctrine on others goes against everything democratic societies find morally precious. Standing together to define our outrage and to show solidarity is commendable but it cannot be temporary. This isn't a "problem" of another city, country, or culture, or even of this generation. This involves us all. This is forever.

    Freedom is more than being able to write and publish satirical cartoons or write and produce satirical movies. It's more than having the ability to buy a magazine or a movie ticket.

    Freedom is about living without fear. It's about the ability to live WITH HUMOR. 

    Je suis Charlie. Vive la liberté! Longue vie un sens de l'humour!


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Sanctuary from the Storm

Last Saturday my middle son and I dared to cross the great divide to reach T-Town. For anyone who is not a native Alabamian that means we left War Eagle Country for Bama Country and Tuscaloosa, the location of The University of Alabama. If you are still confused it means you aren't a football fan and the references don't matter. The point is, I was returning my son to graduate school after his holiday break.

The weather was nasty. The air was full of rainy drizzle and the sky was a depressingly monochromatic shade of gloomy befitting our moods. The end of the holiday break is always a bit depressing anyway, add a little gloom and you have a the perfect mix for a post-holiday funk. Then add a poor lunch stop decision and a standing still interstate (with no idea of how long a delay due to a wreck) and a girl just wants to throw a hissy fit, the only redeeming factor being the company which you are keeping.

After three and a half hours I dropped the kid (he's 28, hardly a 'kid') at his apartment in T-Town and headed out to our home in the country. Windy Hill is a nonworking farm with a mysterious looking house half hidden by overgrown azaleas, rambling roses on a chain link fence, and a giant magnolia tree. Even if you are lucky enough to know the owner there is still a protocol you must endure in order to acquire admittance. But once inside, the house is a refuge of esthetic overload, fine food, drink, reading material, and conversation. On Saturday there was none of the above. I was only there long enough to drop off my bags, and the kid's laundry, pet the two doggies on the head, race to the bathroom, and head right back out.

My mother wanted to brave the elements and drive back to town to purchase a new mattress. When my mother has a single minded purpose you either go along or you get out of the way. She knew what she wanted, just not exactly where to find it. After reviewing two newspaper flyers we chose one and headed back into town. We were on a mission.

The original plan was to look the mattresses over and compare, but time and the elements influenced our decision to go to the first place we came to, which was probably the better choice anyway. Their flyer was nicer. We stepped inside and were a bit overwhelmed by the sheer number of giant marshmallow white mattresses and boxed springs confronting us. The saleswoman was jovial and immediately called my mother "sweetheart". Usually not a good sign. My mother does not care for false affection. But this young woman seemed to be all heart. She was very informative. My mother lay down on several mattresses and encouraged me to do the same. She was a bit overwhelmed. I was entertained.

Memory foam is fascinating. I found myself poking, prodding, sitting and jumping up quickly to see how fast the mattress would recover. I giggled. I dug my hand as deep as possible into the 'example'. "This stuff is awesome!" I burst out. The young man behind the desk found that statement (and probably the fact that I am too old for such juvenile exclamations) amusing. He grinned. After all the poking and bouncing and sitting, my mother made a decision and the transaction was finalized.

Good grief.

Even the sale price was atrocious. But the guarantee should see her through at least 10 years. And she got one that raises and lowers both the head of the bed and the foot. She was happy. I was envious. My mattress is a 20 year old nightmare hosting a love nest of dust mites. We said our 'ta-tas' and headed out into the dark to go get the kid for dinner and to head back out to Windy Hill. Then, my mother turned the key of her new car.

There was a funny sound. "RrrrrrAhhhhRrrr".

"What was that?", she asked cutting off the ignition.

"I don't know."

"This is a new car, and it shouldn't be making that sound."

"I don't see any indicators on the dash that you have trouble. Try it again.", I said.

She turned the ignition again. "RrrrrrAhhhhRrrr". We rolled down the windows to better hear the engine.

"That's a siren." we both said at the same time. The timing with the ignition had been spot on.

"What do we do?", she asked.

"Go back into the store and find out what's going on.", I answered.

Just what we needed. A tornado warning in Tuscaloosa. And we were in the precise location of the 'big one' that hit in 2011. Just lovely. My thoughts went to my son on the second floor of his apartment building. I called him. "Tornado warning.", he answered calmly. He was watching The Weather Channel.

"We're still at the mattress store. You're on the second floor," I stated the obvious, "do what you have to do. We'll be there as soon as we figure out what's happening."

Inside the store both clerks were on their phones. Our saleswoman was talking to her mother. The young man next to her informed us all that the T-Mobile next door was closing. That explained why a family with young children were frantically running out from the T-Mobile store and jumping into an SUV as we had been sitting in our own vehicle. We approached the service desk. "It's a tornado warning for the southwest corner of Tuscaloosa County," our saleswoman said a she disconnected from her mom, "and we aren't closing."

The young man promptly disappeared through the 'employees only' door. Our saleswoman handed us her phone so we could see the squall line ourselves. "You're welcome to come into the back of the store with us."

Hmmmm. Memories of the devastated area four years ago flooded my head. My mother refused for the same reason. I looked up to hand back the phone but the woman had also disappeared. My eyes went back to the squall line on the tiny screen.

"Let's go get the kid and go home.", I said, heading for the back to return the phone. We could avoid the worst if we went north and then west toward home. And so we did.

The drive back to Windy Hill was long, through torrential rain, lightning, and thunder . We were passed by multiple emergency vehicles along the way. Something had happened on the highway, and for a while we weren't sure if it would block our exit. Whatever it was turned out to be on the opposite side so we were able to make our way through the county down our old road, and eventually to the house and sanctuary. It poured and thundered around us but we were safe and warm.

Outside on the back porch two orange tabby cats huddled, obviously miserable. My mother tried to feed them, but instead a beautiful young opossum appeared. The cats looked on with disgust as the little fellow with a very pink nose and little pink feet knocked over the bowl and devoured their food. We watched through the window in awe.

"It's a baby. I've never seen him before. The opossum that usually eats the cat's food is bigger." my mother said. Living in the country guarantees wild encounters but I found her statement amusing. The cats never tried to defend their food. They watched too.

The next morning was still. Pools of water lay across the grounds behind the house. Looking up I noticed a kettle of vultures (or 'buzzards' as we call them) circling over the northeast field. Not good, I thought. I went for my 'wellies' knowing I would need them to get around the swampy ground. My son came with me. Fearing a downed coyote or deer we trekked around the fencing to reach the area. By the time we made our way around the birds were down. We couldn't see them, or what it was they were turning into their breakfast. Thankfully it was on the other side of the tree line. On the way back to the house we discussed planting an orchard on the hill where we were walking. The storm was over and it was time to think about planting and harvesting. All was right with our world.


Friday, January 2, 2015

Tigers and Badgers and Elephants and . . . Buckeyes?

Football and New Year's Day go together like team names and their mascots. Not really. The whole team name/mascot thing confuses me. I have never understood why my alma mater is named 'The Crimson Tide', as if there might be confusion about some other team with the same name. How does a team named after red water (which has always sounded a little sinister to me, like blood or dangerous algae)  have an elephant for a mascot? Oh I get the whole legend thing, but why didn't someone stop and say "Wait a minute! That makes no sense. Maybe we should call it one or the other? We could be the 'Crimson Tide Sharks' or the 'Stampeding Elephants'!" Elephants in Alabama never made sense to me either, but I love and respect elephants and no one else has one for a mascot.

Frankly last night the tide ebbed. In fact it was kind of like when the water is sucked out from the shore before a major rogue tsunami thunders in and drowns all life. There were no thundering elephants at the end of the Sugar Bowl last night. They were taken down by buckeyes.

'Buckeyes', now there's a name for you. No stampeding herd there. Not even a snarling beast. When I hear 'Ohio Buckeyes' my mind's eye sees the Ohio fans pelting the opposing team with acorns, or worse, one of my favorite peanut butter and chocolate candies. Seriously, autumn in Ohio must be as difficult to walk around with all those buckeyes to step on as the family room after the gifts are opened on Christmas morning and the kids received Legos. Why would you want to remind everyone about that? Thankfully The University of Alabama (there is that capitalized 'The' again. Is there another?) doesn't call itself the "Sweet-gum Balls", though those nasty buggers are all over the place down here.

The Crimson Tide may be my alma mater but I live and work in Auburn Alabama. My three sons attended Auburn. Two of them crossed over to the 'dark side' for their graduate studies. We support both football teams except on the Saturday after Thanksgiving when my boys consider themselves 'Tigers' all the way. I like Big Al, but I am in love with Aubie. He's hands down the cutest of all the college mascots. His head wagging and silly antics will make anyone smile, except maybe an LSU or Clemson fan. But we should give them some slack. They can't help it if they have tigers of their own that aren't as cute. However, Auburn has their own legend about a war eagle. So why weren't they called the 'Eagles' or the 'Raptors'? In this the two schools have something more than their home state in common. Or maybe it is because they are both located in Alabama. We like to have nicknames down here. What we don't have here are badgers.

Badgers are nasty animals. They are mean. They are a relation of what we call 'polecats' in Alabama. We don't want any in this state.

We do have ducks though and this morning I realized I have a new appreciation of them.

Quack, quack!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Into the Woods and Out the Other Side

New Year's Eve is my least favorite holiday. Actually that is a misnomer. It isn't a "favorite" at all. For reasons close to my heart, I hate it. I'm already aware of who died during the year, what horrible tragedies befell us all, what wasted moments piled up, who divorced whom, and how another year has passed and I am still in debt with no end in sight in the coming year. The new year isn't going to make me rich, or younger, or thinner (At least not permanently. I know. I've lived long enough to catch on to that pattern). I'm not going to win the lottery, board a time machine, or have the money for a gym, a personal trainer and/or a nutritionist.

So how do I get through it?

A movie.

Not a DVD, or something on television (although I did watch "A Time to Kill" last night and realized Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock, Keifer Sutherland, and Ashley Judd were all about 12 years old when they filmed it. Just kidding. They were 18 years younger than today, which freaked me out when I did the math. New Year's Eve must really be a challenge for them in the "younger and thinner" category!) But I digress. Every year I actually fork over the green stuff to a kid dressed in a shirt topped by a vest with black slacks for a little piece of paper (remember when we actually got a ticket?) to be allowed to sit in a seat other people have had their butts in before mine, in a darkened theater with a bunch of strangers (not really true this year, since I knew a bunch of the people in line getting tickets), and eat crap that definitely makes the weight loss resolution a joke.

I love going to the theater to see a movie. There is something about it that connects me to my mother like the traditions of Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. I can pretend I'm part of the "golden days" of going to see the Hollywood greats. With the exception of just about everything about it, it feels like I've gone back in time. My mother loves going to the movies. She was raised on it. I can just imagine how she giggled and squirmed on Saturday mornings at the cinema when she was a little girl. Or how she tried not to cry when she was out on a date with a cute guy next to her and they were watching "Anna Karenina", or not be too scared while watching "Sorry, Wrong Number", or to laugh too loudly while watching "I Remember Mama".

My daddy didn't really like films. He knew a lot about the actors since he had ended up in Lost Angeles working for Lockheed Corporation during WWII. Many of them he found lacking in some way or another. There were only two movies during my childhood that he felt compelled to view. He escorted my mother and me to see "Patton" and "True Grit". My father was a man's man.

This year I sat down and looked over the theater offerings. To be honest even though there was a good selection, there was really only one choice for me, "Into the Woods". I had to see Meryl Streep as the witch. The previews were too provocative. And it was fantasy, my preferred New Year's Eve genre. There was only one problem. My son had the car.

A little thing like transportation doesn't deter me if I am really set on something. I just grabbed his girlfriend and informed her we were going to go to the movies, and she was driving. Oh and, she didn't have a choice as to which movie. She went willingly since I was paying. It helped that I bought her candy and popcorn. Some would think of it as generosity. It was a bribe, plain and simple.

The theater parking lot wasn't full, the result of a newer, bigger, and swankier alternative in the next town. We were able to pull in close to the front and go in quickly. There was a big sign over the old ticket booth saying "Tickets inside at concession stand". Bastards. They know we consumers are dumb enough to fork over more dough if we have to get close to the popcorn. I didn't let them down. The slight discount I received by going to the matinee was quickly erased and superseded by the cost of the refreshments. I refused a small fountain drink since it cost over five dollars, but the popcorn and candy plus tickets ran me over thirty dollars. Back in the day my mom would have paid a nickel for a ticket and about a quarter for a soda. According to author Richard McKenzie in his book Why Popcorn Costs So Much at the Movies: and Other Pricing Puzzles movie studios ran the theaters until 1948 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the studios had to divest themselves of their theaters. The end result was skyrocketing ticket prices. And the price gouging has never ended. Since the theaters are privately owned competitiveness has pushed them to be creative (and greedy) in their marketing and product sales. And the movie studios themselves are the same. We aren't really paying for the right to see the movies, we're paying for the rights of the theaters to show the movies and the cost of all those folks involved with production. And we pay by buying all those salty and sweet things we gorge ourselves on during the previews.

I skip the previews. 40 minutes of trailers is not why I have come to the theater. I can Google them if I want to see them.

Now, back to "Into the Woods". It was great. It was also very Grimm even though it was adapted by James Lapine. Since I have not read the original book by Lapine or seen the musical I can't speak for how authentically the director Rob Marshall stuck to the actual written script, although Lapine did write the screenplay. Stephen Sondheim's music was great and I loved Meryl Streep's voice. That dame can sing. The costumes and sets were beautiful and the special effects were dazzling at times. The beans when thrown exploded in light, and the beanstalk was formidable and terrifying. The witch's transformations are spectacular.

There was one confusing element. Rapuzel appeared to have her hair wrenched off by the baker's wife in one scene only to have it miraculously regrow in the next so her "mom" the witch could climb up the tower. There was no explanation, just Hollywood magic. Who am I to question that miracle? Overall I left the theater satisfied and excited by what I had seen. My companion must have enjoyed it. I heard her gasp more than once, and observed her cover her eyes. She kept her opinion to herself in the end, and I didn't ask her how she felt. I wanted to keep my own thoughts focused on how it had affected me.

After returning home I worked on some crochet and eventually spent the remainder of the evening alone watching "A Time to Kill" and playing Christmas music by the cast of Glee while I dismantled some of the decorations. By midnight I was ready to call it a night so the dogs and I stepped out on the back deck to look at the stars and listen to the sound of firecrackers. Everyone else was partying somewhere. It was peaceful with the exception of the popping somewhere in the distance. I thought of the wondrous beanstalk, and was glad I was on the ground on my deck looking up, not in the woods, and not in the clouds. I live in my own fairytale.

Another New Year's Eve over and done. Another year begun. I had been through the woods and come out on the other side. And all is well.

Happy New Year,