Monday, July 28, 2014

Confessions of an Uneasy Rider

It was actually easier to find pictures of animals on bikes than
it was to find adult learners!

I have a confession to make.

I can't ride a bike.

I've never ridden a bike.

And yet, my upcoming trip to China includes a full-day bike tour through the countryside.

Why would I put myself in such a crazy situation?

I was actually okay with being the odd one out when I was a kid. I didn't have siblings pressuring me to learn, and my parents didn't seem to care either way. My best friend "doubled" me on her bike, and before I knew it, I had my driver's license and a car.

Aside from the occasional bike-enthusiast boyfriends who promised they would teach me and never got around to it, my lack of cycling skills really weren't a big deal.

But as I prepared for our upcoming move, it struck me that having a cheap, readily-available form of transportation on the island might be a good idea. Sure, I can always walk, but long distances are easier to cover by bicycle.

There's another incentive as well.

As I've gotten older, all the so-called childhood skills I never acquired have really started to bug me. I can't ride a bike. I can't skate. I've never learned to whistle or do a cartwheel. While ice skating isn't something I'm bound to encounter in the tropics, cycling definitely is. I can always whistle and turn cartwheels later.

Needless to say, there's a few extra challenges when you learn to ride a bike as an adult. You know that sense of invincibility you have when you're a kid? Yep, gone. I'm well aware that I can bust a wrist or acquire a nice case of road rash on my face from this little adventure.

When you're an adult, you have further to fall.

When you're a kid, learning to ride a bike is cute. Everyone smiles at you as you struggle by on your training wheels with your parent jogging along behind.

When you're an adult, you just look like a dork. At least, that's what you feel like. It's really embarrassing to publicly admit that you haven't mastered a skill most people think of as kid's stuff. (Not to mention the humiliation of toddlers leaving you in the dust.)

The Boy surprised me with a brand-new bike the other day. It has a nice, comfy seat designed to let me lean back as I learn, so I'm not contending with constant pain just from sitting on a bike (I don't know how you cyclists do it).

Now there's no excuse. It's time for me to turn one of the great "failures" of my childhood into a success story.

Wish me luck!

Have you ever learned a "childhood skill" as an adult? Any tips for me?

Friday, July 25, 2014

Fiction Fridays: Lost Chapter Forty-one

Hello Dear Readers,

When was the last time you were moved by the kindness of strangers? Has someone unexpected ever reached out to you? I'd love to hear about it in the comments.

If you miss a chapter of Lost, don't despair. All of the posts can be located by clicking on that lovely turquoise badge to the left of this post. Since the story has been running for a while, you now need to scroll down to the bottom of the file and select Older Posts to start from the beginning. 

~ Chapter Forty-one ~

Rosemary Stark pulled another box of Christmas balls out of her bedroom closet. Silent Night was playing on the radio and she sang along as she worked. The gold balls would be the perfect decoration for the white spruce Matt had helped her drag home.
“All is calm, all is bright,” she sang, plopping the box down on the couch. Matt, who was positioning the angel at the top of the tree, stopped to smile at her.
“You’re happy, Mom.”
“Of course I’m happy, angel. This is my favorite time of year.”
Especially now that no one thinks my son is a cold-blooded killer. Since everyone in Rapture had learned the truth about Tessie Martin’s death, the Starks’ lives had improved considerably.
Most people had the sense to feel guilty about the things they had said about her and her son, so they were being extra nice. Mr. Klemmenssen from Rapture Glassworks had repaired Matt’s broken window free of charge so Rosemary could remove the plywood cover. The women from the Anglican Church Ladies Auxiliary made Matthew new curtains to replace the ones that were ripped to shreds in the shooting, and Mr. Johnson over at the food store gave her a fifty-percent discount on a Christmas turkey.
Rosemary couldn’t bring herself to feel that bad for the Myers family, who were now going through the same thing that she had. Well, almost the same thing. She’d known from the start that her boy was innocent, while the Myers knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that their son was guilty as sin. Clayton Edwards had written down every nasty word about what those boys had done to that innocent girl. Everyone agreed that there was no reason for him to lie, especially since he never planned for anyone to find the letter in the first place.
Rosemary shook her head as if the gesture could clear away the ugly thoughts. It wasn’t the kind of stuff to be thinking about, not at such a festive time. The way that Myers boy shot himself to bits, right in front of his mother. Rosemary shivered at the idea. And Ash Pembrooke, stealing his mother’s car and money at Christmas time. (Though no one felt sorry for Faith, truth be told. Many wished worse misfortunes upon her.)
Rumor had it that some lawyer from Minneapolis had contacted Audrey and was urging her to sue the Myers family for the wrongful death of her daughter. Rosemary hoped she would. The money wouldn’t bring Tessie back, but it would help pay the bills. Besides, the Myerses had plenty of money, more than one family could spend in a lifetime. It wouldn’t hurt to spread it around.
Lots of people were blaming Ted and Beverley Myers for what Gregg had done. It was human nature, Rosemary supposed, to want to blame someone. People said that the couple was too busy for their own good; that they hadn’t paid enough attention to what Gregg was up to. Apparently the cops had found drugs in his room, and not just pot, either—some of the really bad stuff too. The talk was that he had enough hidden away to be selling it. Imagine a murderer, rapist, and drug dealer living right in your own home, under your very nose, without you having a clue.
People said that Ted and Beverley favored their other son too much, that Gregg felt like a second-class citizen next to his brother. According to the Rapture rumor mill, Spencer Myers refused to come home for Gregg’s funeral. Some said he planned to change his last name, but Rosemary wasn’t sure she believed it.
As for the Edwards family, they were going to Florida to spend Christmas with Gracie’s parents, but their grand old house was up for sale. No one thought Buck and Gracie would come back. Sometimes a fresh start in a new place was the only thing that could get you through something like this.
Rosemary stepped back to admire her tree. It was beautiful, and big enough to fill their tiny living room. Its wonderful smell permeated the trailer, reminding her of happier times with her own family. The Andersens had always made a big event out of getting the Christmas tree, packing an elaborate picnic lunch and thermoses filled with black coffee and hot chocolate. They’d had a sleigh—a real, old-fashioned one—that they hooked up to the horses. The whole family squeezed in, cozy under heavy blankets, and drove down the snow-covered back roads until they reached the woods. 
Those outings were some of Rosemary’s favorite memories, and she smiled to herself as tears shone in her eyes. She missed her brothers, who were so kind and good-natured, even while they were teasing her. But most of all, she missed her parents.
“Mom? You okay?” Matthew asked, startling her.
“I’m great.” She brushed away tears as she hugged him around the waist. It’s me and Matthew now. No sense dwelling on the past.
The doorbell rang, spooking them both. With a rush of hope, Rosemary wondered if it could be her family at the door. Maybe one of her brothers—or her mother—deciding to put their troubled history behind them at last.
Rosemary opened the door, her heart fluttering. When she saw who her visitors were, she got the shock of her life. She couldn’t have been more startled if her entire family stood there, begging for forgiveness.
Audrey Martin was on her doorstep, her shoulder-length auburn hair dusted with snowflakes. Beside her was a dark-haired girl carrying a huge basket. Rosemary knew the girl had to be Sara, Tessie’s older sister.
“Sorry to bother you, Rosemary,” Audrey said. “Are we interrupting anything?”
Rosemary recovered gracefully enough, and stepped back from the door to let them in. She only knew the Martins by sight and had never had them in her home before, so she was curious to know the reason for their visit. “Of course not. Come in, come in. Merry Christmas.”
They crowded into Rosemary’s kitchen, Sara ducking her head to avoid whacking it on the doorframe. Matthew came into the hall between the kitchen and the living room, his eyes widening when he saw their guests.
“Hey, Matt,” Sara said, and Rosemary loved her for it. Most people either ignored her son or yelled at him like he was deaf. “How are you doing?”
“Hullo,” her now-bashful son muttered, blushing. He disappeared back into the living room.
“Don’t mind him,” Rosemary said. “We haven’t had much company lately. He’s a little shy. What can I do for you?” She directed her question at Audrey.
“Well, this was really Sara’s idea, so perhaps she should explain.” Audrey glanced over at her daughter. Now it was Sara’s turn to blush as both adults focused their attention on her.
“Well…I  felt bad…” she began, stumbling over the words, “we felt bad about how people treated you when they thought Matt had…when they thought he was…”
“When they thought he was responsible for what happened to Tessie,” Audrey chimed in, rescuing her.
“Well, I knew Matt wouldn’t do anything like that, and you were always so nice to me when I was a kid,” Sara said. Rosemary smiled at her, encouraging her to continue. “And I thought we should do something to make it up to you, so….” She raised the basket in her arms.
“We brought you some things for your Christmas celebration,” Audrey added. “From our house to yours.”
Rosemary didn’t know what to say. “But you didn’t have to do this. You weren’t responsible for what happened.”
“We wanted to do this,” Audrey said. “It was Sara’s idea, but I thought it was a great one.”
“But why?  It really isn’t necessary. You can’t help what people in this town think or do.”
“I lost a child. You could have lost yours. There’s been too much insanity in Rapture lately, and we wanted you to have a nice Christmas.”
“I don’t know what to say.”
“We want you to have it,” Sara insisted. “We want Matt to have it.”
“Well, thank you, then.” Rosemary accepted the gigantic basket. “Would you like to have some of this eggnog with us?”
“No thank you,” Audrey said. “We only came by to drop this off—we didn’t want to intrude. Have a nice Christmas.”
“Bye, Matt,” Sara called. “Merry Christmas.”
Matt appeared in the hallway again, nervously chewing on his thumb. “Bye, Sara.”
They left then, waving goodbyes, smiling more than they had in months. Rosemary watched them through the window until they were brightly-colored specks.
“What did they want, Mom?”
“They wanted us to have a nice Christmas.” The snow was falling swiftly now, covering the muddy drive of Springhill Estates in pristine white. It was the only time of year the trailer park looked pretty.
“But why?” Matthew asked. Rosemary watched him struggle to understand, and her heart broke for her son, who was so unused to kindness.
“Because you’re a great kid,” she said, and hugged him. She wiped away tears again, but for a much different reason than before. “Let’s go finish that tree, shall we?”
Later that evening they shared chocolates, crackers, and cookies from the Martins’ Christmas gift. Exploring the basket was an adventure. Matt clapped his hands and exclaimed over each and every treasure. For the first time in a long while, Rosemary felt completely at home.

Sometimes the family we are born into is not as important as the one we create for ourselves.

Every donation, no matter how small, is worth a million to me.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

One Amazing Alternative to Quitting

For an entire week, the story had been making me miserable.

False starts, terrible phrasing, weak transitions...they were all present and accounted for. I knew I had a powerful story to tell; I just didn't know how to tell it.

"You need to figure out what you want to say," my friend said.

But how? It was too complicated to fit into the neat 1500 words the writing contest required. I continued to beat my head against the keyboard, growing more and more frustrated.

"I'm thinking of giving up on this one," I told my friend. "It's really upsetting me."

"Then do it," she said. "You've already written a story for the contest. You don't need two."

She was right. I didn't need to write it. But I've been reading a lot lately about how our society has come to confuse effort with pain. If it isn't quick and easy, we won't bother. If we're not instantly good at something, most of us aren't willing to put in the time to get better.

This goes double for anyone who learned as a child that things came easily, whether that meant good marks without much studying, amazing athletic ability without practice, or getting published in Grade Four.

The problem with only doing what comes easy is that we miss out on a lot of amazing experiences, plus all those nebulous goodies like character building and discipline--not to mention the opportunity to add new strengths and skills to our repertoire.

I hate quitting. Someone told me when I was a kid that I "never finished anything," and it stuck. I may whine about quitting, but as soon as someone agrees with me, I dig my heels in. Nope, can't quit.

And the truth is, quitting would make me feel more miserable than trying and failing, anyways.

This week I sat down to give the story another try, and this time the words came easily. I wrote the entire thing in under three hours, and then wondered why it had been so simple. Had I phoned it in? Was it crap?

 I emailed the story to my copy editor. He phoned me within the hour.

"It's phenomenal," he said--a word he'd never before used to describe my work. "It's so powerful. I don't want to touch it."

So why the change? Why did I spend a week agonizing over this project, only to finish it without a single qualm the next?

Simple. When I was beating my head against the keyboard, venting to my writers' group, and complaining to friends, I was processing the story. I was thinking about how I wanted to tell it, and even though I thought I didn't have any of the answers, some part of my brain was puzzling it out.

Finishing that story felt wonderful. I was elated. And if I'd quit, I'd have strengthened the belief that anything difficult is not worth the time.

Have you ever been tempted to quit? Did you stick with it, and what were the results? Please share your story in the comments. Thanks for reading!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Cats on a Plane

If the most frequent question I'm asked about moving is "Where?", the second one is, "What are you going to do with your cats?"

There is only one answer.

Take them with us, of course!

That said, moving with three cats is not going to be fun. Imagine three cranky, terrified toddlers who don't understand you and are heavily armed. That pretty much sums up the experience.

But I'm more concerned about how frightening and uncomfortable it will be for Chloe, Sophie, and Samba. If there's anything cats can't stand, it's change. My cats run in fear at the sight of the vacuum cleaner. I can't imagine them embracing the concept of transatlantic flight.

Keeping the cats in the cargo hold is the easier and cheaper option, but I'm sure most pet owners have heard the horror stories of animals being tossed in like soccer balls, or freezing to death. The idea is too horrible to contemplate.

But will an airline really let me share a seat with three yowling kitties? Would we survive the flight, or would the other passengers express their displeasure with violence? Panicked cats can't sound worse than screaming babies, right?

Then there's the issue of what happens once we land. Many countries that have rabies-free policies will insist on a long quarantine period for any immigrating animals. In addition to quarantines being expensive for the unlucky pet owner, there are also stories of animal abuse and neglect in those situations.

One thing I can promise you--I'm not going to put my beloved pets through hell only to abandon them when they're at their most vulnerable. And they will take a quarantine as abandonment--it's not like I'd be able to explain the situation to them. (Well, I could try, but I'm pretty sure they wouldn't understand.)

I've read there is a few things you can do to avoid quarantines, including making sure each pet gets a rabies shot and a vet's certificate proclaiming he or she is rabies free. Unfortunately, I've also read that the rabies vaccine is unnecessary for house cats (go figure) and can actually cause cancer.

It seems the only good solution is to move to a country that doesn't have a rabies-free policy, or find a decent loophole that I can live with.

If you embark on a romantic vacation and your flight is interrupted by three yowling cats, I apologize in advance.

Have you ever immigrated to another country with pets? Do you have any tips for me?

Friday, July 18, 2014

Fiction Fridays: Lost Chapter Forty

Hello Dear Readers,

I'm curious to see the reaction to this chapter. Does it change how you feel about Ash? Warning: this chapter contains graphic sexual content and coarse language. Reader discretion is advised.

If you miss a chapter of Lost, don't despair. All of the posts can be located by clicking on that lovely turquoise badge to the left of this post. Since the story has been running for a while, you now need to scroll down to the bottom of the file and select Older Posts to start from the beginning. 

~ Chapter Forty ~

Ash blended into the crowd at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. When police questioned people later, no one remembered seeing him. He was just an ordinary teenage boy, like so many thousands of others, who somehow managed to look different in every photograph.
It was easier than he'd thought to get away from Rapture. What he hadn't told Gregg was that, in addition to Plan B, there was also a Plan C. He liked to think of this plan as “Saving Ash’s Ass.” Ash clutched his photo ID tightly. The name on the Minnesota driver's license was Mike Frampton. According to the license, Frampton was twenty-one. Ash had the card made when he was sixteen so he could buy beer. It had always served him well.
It had been a close call. If Gregg hadn't warned him….
But he wouldn't dwell on the negative.
He dumped his mother's old Toyota Tercel in Duluth, feigning car trouble, which wasn't far from the truth. He knew Glover would soon have cops from across the state searching for that car, so he needed to get rid of it. Using all of his considerable charm, he was able to hitch a ride to the Twin Cities.
The airport was bustling. Generic Christmas music blasted from the overhead speakers, interrupted now and then by airline announcements reminding people not to leave their baggage unattended. Brightly-colored decorations drifted from the ceiling, swayed by the energy of the crowd fighting to get home for the holidays. It was an ideal situation for blending in.  Young people flooded the airport, looking tired and bored. They dragged their overstuffed luggage behind them, sluggishly plodding from one line-up to the next. Among them, Mike Frampton was just another college student going home for Christmas.
Security was strict because of the holiday season, but Ash didn't catch so much as a curious look in his direction. He smirked to himself as he moved through the airport unimpeded while security guards detained anyone with dark skin or a turban. They're probably stopping doctors and scientists while I slip right under their noses. Idiots.
Peeling a few dollars off the wad of bills in his pocket, Ash paid for a Whopper, fries, and a Coke. It gave him no small amount of satisfaction to spend his mother's money. I hope the bitch had a fucking heart attack when she found it gone.
He sat down at a corner table and polished off his burger in a few bites. He watched the crowds of people come and go as he sipped his Coke, which, like most fast-food fountain drinks, had too much syrup and not enough carbonation for his taste. Near him, a wall of screens announced upcoming flights.
Where does Mike Frampton want to go for Christmas?
Some of the exotic locations tempted him. Tokyo. Paris. Mexico City.  But Ash rejected them, knowing that relocating to a foreign country where he didn't speak the language would be complicated. Plus, the blending was better in the States. In a place like Tokyo, he would stick out like the Easter Bunny. Not to mention his limited resources, and the fact that he didn’t have a passport yet.
He switched his attention to the American destinations. New York. Boston. Chicago.
*  *  *  *
As a little boy, Ash's nightmares were filled with images of his sister. Five years older, built like a giant and twice as mean, Marilyn Pembrooke was Ash's version of hell. Even his mother didn't instill the same level of fear.
Young Ash was often left alone with Marilyn while their mother worked all night. Marilyn took delight in focusing her talent for cruelty on her little brother. She was generous with her fists, often striking Ash down whenever he walked by. He would fall to the floor with a cry, prompting her to laugh hysterically. Sometimes she would hold him down and pinch him, or lock him in a closet without dinner. But it soon got worse.
A couple of times it happened when he was awake, before Ash learned to keep a safe distance from his sister. Then it started happening when he was asleep. Marilyn would sneak into his room, snake one of her big arms underneath the covers, and give his penis a violent pull and twist. The pain was agonizing. Ash would wake up screaming, tears pouring down his cheeks, while his sister laughed. Some nights he was unable to sleep at all. He lay awake in the dark, waiting for the door to open. For Ash, monsters in the closet held no power. His sister was more frightening than anything his imagination could conjure up.
Their mother was no help. She had some special kinship with Marilyn, for as much as the women fought and screamed at each other, Faith was always on his sister's side. After receiving a fat lip and a bloody nose from his mother for “tattling” on Marilyn, Ash realized that he was the only one in the family who was concerned about his welfare.
He'd never known his father, who took off long before he was born, but he was sure of two things. One, his mother must have hated the guy an awful lot, and two, his father was not Marilyn's father. Ash figured that somewhere out there was a skinny guy with brown hair and eyes who'd had the great misfortune of sleeping with his mother. Whoever this mystery man was, Faith exacted her revenge by punishing the one thing he'd left behind—his son.
 Just when Ash thought things couldn't get worse, they did. Their mother was at work all night, as always. He was eight years old and too scared to sleep. His bedroom door creaked open and he yanked the covers tight against him, trying to protect his body from his sister's evil hands.
“You’re supposed to be sleeping,” she said. “What are you doing awake?”
“Please go away, Marilyn. Please leave me alone.”
She sat down on the end of his bed. Her cruel eyes gleamed in the faint light from the hallway. “Relax, you pussy. I’m not going to hurt you.”
She reached for the blanket as if to pull it down and Ash scooted away from her, taking the covers with him. His eyes were huge with fear. “Leave me alone,” he said again, starting to cry a little.
“Calm down, Ash. For Pete’s sake, I’m not going to hurt you. I want to play a little game with you, that’s all.”
Ash was wary, but his curiosity was aroused. Marilyn never played anything with him. His chief role in her life seemed to be that of a punching bag.
“Whut kind of game?” He sniffled, still holding the covers tight.
“It’s really fun, and if you play it good, I’ll be nice to you.”
Marilyn was never nice to him. Ash’s mind raced with the possibilities of a life without terror, where there were no more black eyes or bruises, where he didn’t have to stay awake….
“Promise?” he asked, not trusting her.
“Cross my heart.” She made a big show of marking an imaginary X on her right breast.
“Your heart’s on the other side.” Ash said, growing even more fearful. What kind of mean trick was she going to play on him now? He winced, waiting for the slap that was sure to come for correcting her.
But to his surprise, Marilyn giggled, sounding like an ordinary girl for once. “Nothing gets by you, does it, little brother?” She made the invisible X again, this time on her left side. “There. I’ve crossed my heart. Does that satisfy you?”
Solemnly, Ash nodded, but he watched her carefully. His fingers clung to the blanket as if it was a lifeline.
“Do you want to play or not?”
“Whut do I have to do?”
She got a strange look in her eyes. When she spoke, her voice was soft, with a whispery quality to it.
“Well, first you have to take off your pajama pants.”
“No.” Ash clutched the blankets tighter. His undeveloped penis throbbed in remembered pain of his sister’s infamous winkie twists.
“Come on, Ash, don’t be a wimp,” she said, but her voice wasn’t mean. It was soothing—encouraging, even. “I’m not going to hurt you, I promise. This will feel good.”
“But I don’t wanna take them off.”
Her eyes hardened into their usual steel. “Fine. Then I won’t be nice to you. Ever. I’ll be mean. Really mean. You’ll wish you’d never been born, kid.”
Ash stared at her, horrified. He already dreaded the hour his mother left for work. Mother could be as free with her fists as Marilyn, but at least his sister went easier on him when their mother was around. He couldn’t imagine what would happen to him if Marilyn was determined to make things worse.
Slowly Ash pushed down the soft cotton pants. His sister smiled then, a closed-lip version of her usual mocking grin.
“That’s a good boy.” She eyed his exposed lower body. “You don’t have much there yet, do ya kid? That’s all right—we’ll fix that.” She reached toward his pelvic area.
Ash twisted his small hips to the side, frantic to avoid her touch. “No.”
“You’re not playing right. Hold still. I told you, I’m not going to hurt you. Do you want to play or not?”
The question made it seem like he had a choice, but Ash knew better. If he refused his sister’s game, he was in for a lot of pain. Pain that would start now, and wouldn’t end until his sister left home for good.
“All right,” he whimpered. “I’ll play.”
Ash squeezed his eyes shut as Marilyn reached for his penis. He cringed when her fingers touched him, which made her laugh. Waiting for the inevitable winkie twist, the boy held his breath. But the agonizing pain never came.
His sister’s fingers began to stroke his genitals, softly at first, then with more pressure as she found her rhythm. Ash was overwhelmed by strange feelings. What Marilyn was doing felt good, but bad at the same time. He knew very little about sex, but enough to know that you didn’t do things like this with your sister.
“What are you doing?” he asked, keeping his eyes closed.
“Shut up,” Marilyn ordered, her voice a harsh whisper. She sounded out of breath, and Ash was frightened. Still, the game felt good, and it made him tingle all over. He tried to relax and wait until his sister was finished with him. At least it didn’t hurt.
After a while, Marilyn released him. Cautiously, Ash opened his eyes. She was flushed, her own eyes closed. She was breathing hard.
“Put your pants back on,” she said, and he scurried to obey, thankful to have escaped the dreaded winkie twist.
“Did I play it right?” he asked, hoping to please her.
She shrugged, and then scowled. “If you tell Mom about this, I’ll kill you, you little shit.”
Ash was chastened. “I won’t tell her, I won’t. Please don’t hurt me.”
“Then keep your fucking mouth shut.”  She left the room, slamming the door behind her.
Ash pulled the covers over his head and cried until he fell asleep.

Marilyn visited him every night for two years. Sometimes she’d fondle him, and other times she made him watch while she touched herself. The visits filled him with revulsion and a sick sort of excitement. He dreaded her touch, but was curious about the feelings she awakened in him. Marilyn never slapped him around anymore. Terrified that he would tell their mother what she had been up to, Marilyn started protecting him from Faith.
By the time he was ten, Marilyn’s visits stopped, but Ash never forgot. By then he had learned to survive in a house with two women who were bigger, stronger, and capable of making his life a living hell. He turned on the charm with them when he needed to, but mostly, Ash got mean. Mean enough that both women learned to leave him alone. He wasn’t always able to fight back physically, but he always got revenge.
He didn’t have to do much to Marilyn. She had voluntarily given him the power to keep her under control. All Ash had to do was allude to her little game and he could get away with anything.
The older he got, the more his hatred for Marilyn grew. He was haunted by the memories of what she had done, ashamed and angered that every girl he fucked ended up having his sister’s face.

Every donation, no matter how small, is worth a million to me.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Surprising Reason You May Be Depressed

As a journalist, I learn plenty of interesting things. Some stick with me, some don't, and some have the potential to change my life.

This year has been a strange one for me. Even though nothing bad has happened, save for a few unexpected problems with the house, I've struggled with multiple bouts of the blues. These inexplicable feelings of sadness come out of nowhere and stay for a day or three, and then vanish as quickly as they appeared.

Being the analytical person that I am, I've tried to figure out where these troubling feelings were coming from. Did I need more exercise? More social contact? Was I worrying too much about things I couldn't control?

I journaled. I went back to kickboxing, which had always helped me stay sane and happy in the past. I made a point of seeing friends on a regular basis. Everything I did seemed to be just a Band-Aid on the problem. While my "blue periods" didn't seem severe or prolonged enough to be clinical depression, they were disturbing.

Complicating the problem were some minor health issues--more migraines and headaches than usual, and a stomach that still hadn't recovered from my trip to Bali at the start of the year. I was about to drag myself to the doctor--reluctantly, since I had an inkling some nasty medical tests were in my future--when I was assigned to interview a naturopath.

As fate would have it, the naturopath specialized in digestive issues and mild depression and anxiety. At the end of our interview, I mentioned I was having some problems and would like to come and see her. As she provides 15-minute free consultations with prospective patients, she offered to tell me what she could right then, over the phone. After making sure she was truly okay with this and not in any way feeling pressured by my position, I told her what was going on.

In turn, she told me something that made my ears prick up.

She said the first thing she would do is check my levels of Vitamin B12.

This really struck me, since my medical doctor had diagnosed me with low levels of this vitamin years ago, and told me to "eat more red meat." I took her advice for a time, but then went back to my normal diet of eating very little meat at all.

What my doctor didn't tell me was how dangerous a B12 deficiency can be. If it's left untreated, it can lead to blindness, cancer, and even death. (Which might have been a good thing to mention--I would have taken it more seriously.)

A quick Internet search confirmed the naturopath's hunch--every single one of my symptoms, from exhaustion to the blues and mood swings to headaches and digestive issues, can be caused by a lack of Vitamin B12.

I didn't have to wait for an appointment with the naturopath to test the theory. Taking a Vitamin B12 supplement certainly wouldn't hurt me, so I started right away. It's been four days now. Since then, I've had no digestive issues at all. I'm still tired, but I haven't had a headache for the first time in weeks. It's too early to say if the supplements will banish the blues, but I'm hopeful.

This got me to many people are put on medication when a vitamin supplement is all that was needed? How many are going through the same thing I was?

Vegetarians and vegans are at a high risk of Vitamin B12 deficiency, since the vitamin is found in animal protein sources. Women who are on the pill are also at risk.

Have any of you heard of this problem or experienced something similar? I'm going to keep tabs on how I'm feeling and make that doctor's appointment if there's no change, but so far I'm feeling pretty good.

And to think it all could have been resolved with a simple reminder to take my vitamins!

* In hindsight, I should add that this post was in no way meant to suggest that some people do not need or benefit from anti-depressants. If you suspect you have clinical depression, please see your doctor. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Fiction Fridays: Lost Chapter Thirty-Nine

Hello Dear Readers,

I hope you're having a great summer. Thanks to everyone who's still taking the time to read, even with everything else that's out there.

If you miss a chapter of Lost, don't despair. All of the posts can be located by clicking on that lovely turquoise badge to the left of this post. Since the story has been running for a while, you now need to scroll down to the bottom of the file and select Older Posts to start from the beginning. 

~ Chapter Thirty-nine ~

With shaking hands, Gregg prayed for his friend to answer the phone. Come on, Ash. Be there, be there, please God be there.
            “ ’Lo?” Ash answered on the fourth ring. He sounded half asleep.
            “Everyone knows,” Gregg said, his voice cracking.
            “Everyone knows what? That you’re a fucking retard? Tell me something I don’t know.”
            “Clayton—he must have written some kind of confession or something. Everyone knows what we did. They know about Tessie.”
            The line was silent for a moment.
            “Motherfucker…” Ash breathed.
            “I can’t go to jail, Ash. I can’t.”
            “Where are you?”
            “I’m at home. Sara Martin called me, screaming her bloody head off…you know what I’m going to do, don’t you?”
            Ash sounded as calm as he had at the beginning of the conversation. “Yeah.”
            Gregg heard the unmistakable sound of cars pulling into the driveway.
            “I have to go; they’re here.” Tears streamed down his cheeks.
            “Take it easy, friend. Do what you have to do.”
            Gregg dropped the phone. On the other end, his friend was already gone.
The key turned easily in the lock. Gregg hesitated before selecting one of his father's revolvers from the felt-lined shelf of the cabinet. He loaded the .38 quickly, as his dad had taught him when he was four years old.
            He could hear footsteps on the porch. Someone was banging on the door. Gregg listened to the tapping of his mother's heels, the brief silence as she checked the peephole to see who it was.
            “Gregg?” she called down the stairs, sounding frightened. “Gregg, there’s policemen outside…”
            He smiled a little, thinking about how he would miss her. She annoyed him sometimes, but she wasn’t so bad, really….
            “Gregg?” his mother repeated. “Gregg, are you awake?”
            Will she care when I’m gone? Or will she still be more concerned about my fucking brother?
            “Open up, Mrs. Myers,” a male voice demanded. “Police.”
            More pounding on the door.
            Quick steps on the stairs.
            The barrel of the gun was unpleasantly metallic in his mouth, like sucking on old pennies. Cold sweat poured down his face and beaded his forehead. His finger tightened on the trigger.
            “Gregg?”  Her steps were closer now.  “Gregg!” his mother screamed, coming into the room. “No!”
            Gregg pulled the trigger.
*  *  *  *
“You’re too late.”
Jake glowered at the formidable woman who blocked his way. He was glad he had a good excuse to be rude to her now. “Get out of the way, Faith. We’re here for Ash.”
“Shocking.” Faith Pembrooke’s voice dripped with sarcasm. “Search the house if you like, but you won’t find him. Like I said, you’re too late.”
Jake and Skip pushed past her, rushing into the Pembrookes’ shabby kitchen. Except for a television babbling in the living room, the house was quiet.
“What are you talking about?  If you’re hiding him, Faith, you’re going to regret it.”
“I ain’t hiding him. I would serve that boy to ya on a silver platter if he was here, but he ain’t. He’s gone.”
“Gone where?” Jake asked. The devil may have taken Gregg before Jake could have the satisfaction, but he wasn’t going to lose Ash. This was the good part of his job.
“Wish I knew. Little bastard stole my car.”
“Search the house,” Jake told Skip, but he had a hunch he was sending his friend on a fool’s errand. He was beginning to believe Faith was telling the truth. “When did he leave?”
“I don’t know,” she said, lighting a cigarette. “I worked the night shift over at the hotel, and by the time I got home, my car was gone, and so was my cash. I had me some money saved, was gonna buy something nice, but that fuckin’ little creep took it all. He’d better not come back here wanting help.” She exhaled, her nostrils as flared as a hostile bull’s. “I’ll beat him within an inch of his life.”
Skip returned to the kitchen. The house was so small it didn’t take long to ensure Faith was telling the truth.
“Any idea where he might have gone?” Jake asked. He was eager to get himself as far away from Faith Pembrooke and her filthy house as possible.
The woman shrugged. “Don’t know and don’t care, as long as he’s gone from here.”
The two men went to leave.
“Chief?” Faith called before they could shut the door. Jake turned back to her, waiting.
“If you find him, do me a favor and put a bullet in his head. That’s what I should have done a long time ago. That boy’s brought me nothing but trouble. He’s bad news, that one, like his father.”
They left the house empty-handed. Ash Pembrooke had out-smarted them for now, but Jake consoled himself with the thought that it wouldn't be for long.
Even if it took the rest of his life, he would see Ash brought to justice.

Hunting him down was going to be a pleasure.

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