Freeze-dried insight

Author: natalie  //  Category: Home sweet home, It's all about me

My yard looks awful. Most of the plant life is crunchy, dull brown, and decaying. The only things lush and green are the unsightly weeds that somehow survived the hard freeze.  It’s an embarrassment given the “Yard of the Month” sign has graced the plot of land in previous years.

My personal yard man, Jeff, gathered all my potted favorites prior to the cold-weather event and put them in the shed. The one I most wanted to save (received it at the hospital after the birth of my now 17-year-old) fared quite well, but all of the others, not so much. I’m hoping to nurse them back to health.

The flowerbeds went uncovered as the major occupants are freeze-hardy, and the lesser inhabitants, well, I’ve wanted to dig them out and do something different for a good while.  It seemed harsh ripping up live plants while they still served their purpose, even if they were no longer what I desired. In a cruel act, I allowed them freeze to death. Until very recently, I busied myself to assuage the guilt and turned my eyes from the carnage upon entering and exiting my home.

Since February is knocking on our door, I began my customary early-spring cleaning. (We only get so much sunshine minus the sweltering heat. I’ll not waste one minute of it cooped up indoors once spring has officially sprung.) Worked like a mad woman inside, cleaning this, scrubbing that, gathering up items and clothing no longer wanted or needed, etc.  Long, boring story short, and since I refuse to clean kids’ rooms, I finished with time to spare.

A couple of nice sunshine-filled days prompted Scooter (my guard dog) and I to begin working in the yard – assessing what needed to be done by the resident yard man. (I should mention that Jeff LOVES for me to do this. He more appreciates it when I prepare a written list where he can check items off and track his progress. It’s the least I can do.)

The nice weather also provided me an excuse to stay outside post assessment and actually do some work. I pulled up the victims of my premeditated herbicide and began plucking the weed-infested areas.

True to my form, I started thinking of the parallels between the human condition and nature. (Yes, it’s sometimes exhausting being inside my head. Planning to spend some time thinking about whether or not I overthink things. ) Anyway, it occurred to me that over the course of many years I’ve blown a few of my own arctic blasts – froze a few things and left them to rot.

Through a great deal of reflection and a subsequent thaw, I realized that I had turned my back, chose not help those things recover, or bother to clear away the weeds that nearly choked them out for good.  My flowerbeds have been sprinkled with my blood and sweat on numerous occasions.  I can now add tears to the list.

The upside: as I care for my still-alive plants, I realize that a hard freeze doesn’t necessarily mean the end. Pruning away damage and providing tender loving care makes way for something fresh, new, and possibly better than what was there before. And since I remember how quickly I frosted a few things, I have the added comfort of knowing that rapid freeze-drying actually prevents decay and spoilage – what’s underneath has been perfectly preserved.

So don’t be alarmed if you see a woman watering flowers with tears on a sunny day, she’s pouring out her heart and melting some frosty layers away.

© 2010 Natalie Whatley

Measure your feats

Author: natalie  //  Category: Holidays

I sort of pride myself on being a repository of useless knowledge. It’s an occupational hazard and probably a danger to what few good brain cells I have left, but given writing’s many other maladies, I’ll take it. Am I living on the edge, or what? 

Unless you’re a podiatrist or in shoe sales, I bet you had no idea that today, January 23, is Measure Your Feet Day. No, I’m not pulling your leg.

Most of us have probably gone through life post-childhood – barring foot problems – without measuring the foundation upon which we stand. I take my feet for granted – file them under “if it’s not broke don’t fix it” – but upon further review, a couple of minutes spent gathering dimensions could be a positive experience. I need all of those I can get.

There are various methods and correlating opinions on what works best given your motivation (shoe shopping or just for grins) for measuring. The Brannock device (that funny looking silver and black thing you see in shoe stores) seems to be the most standard, effective way. If you don’t have one handy, tracing your foot while you stand on paper and measuring from there is also acceptable. Because I never give the size of my feet a thought unless I’m on a quest for footwear, I’ll probably stick to my tried-and-true method of sticking my foot in a shoe. If it’s too big, locate a size smaller and vice versa.

Equipped with pencil and paper, I decided to pay a few minutes homage to my feet and the lesser-known “holiday” mentioned above.  While bent over and close enough for a thorough inspection I became dizzy as blood rushed to my head. Just shy of a hallucinatory state I had a revelation: I was wasting precious time measuring the wrong feet! And you thought the creative process worked in some other mysterious way, didn’t you?

I’m learning with far too great of frequency that life throws curve balls, which disrupt a batter’s timing. The good news: If hit well, that curve ball has the potential of gaining tremendous backspin giving it added distance.  I’d like to think I have it in me to hit it out of the park, but given the speed these things are coming at me I’ve realized my mental foundation needs some bolstering. It’s high time to yank the yardstick away from the list of defeats and measure my feats.

Taking stock of the instances in life that required remarkable skill or valor seems an excellent source of “I’ve done it before, I can do it again” strength.  Each year, it can only get better as I add new feats and see tangible progress and my footing in life expanded.

I hope you’ll join me in participating in this little twist on an otherwise obscure day of observance. Make that list and delight in adding to it each year. Don’t ever take your feats for granted. They’ll carry you wherever you want to go. I’m going to take extra special care of mine—might even treat them to a pedicure.

© 2010 Natalie Whatley

No pain, no gain

Author: natalie  //  Category: From me to you

Since it’s only mid-January, many of us are still bathing in the fresh-start afterglow. Resolutions promise to deliver conditional change if we’re prepared to do the hard work. The result is often a worthy prize and more often than not, way too lofty a goal. It may help to set several mini-goals and remember that the longest of journeys begins with a single step.

The fact that my running/walking route has been more crowded on the days weather permitted proves I’m not alone in my quest to log some extra miles in 2010. It’s said that to fully understand a man, one must walk a mile in his shoes. Thus the reason I’m going to walk several hundred in my own.

Last summer, and for the first time ever, I got a head start (or maybe it was just a very late start to the previous year’s resolution) on what has become an annual New Year’s tradition: promising to take better care of the vessel that dutifully carries me through both tumult and triumph.

I was glad I did it and vowed to get through the holidays without the scale inching higher – realizing that if past behavior predicts future, I could count on failure. But I made it! And I’m not bragging, although I am very proud of myself. I know it sounds a bit cliché, but if I can do it anybody can, because this girl likes to eat!

Having made it over that hurdle, I was on to phase two: pushing myself out of maintenance mode and into things much harder. With the recent spate of frigid temperatures forcing me indoors, I’ve had ample opportunities (my motivational word for a chunk of time that could be better spent) to go heavy on the weight training and spend some time with fitness gurus who motivate me.

Courtesy of Billy Blanks (Tae-Bo), Jillian Michaels (Biggest Loser), and Denise Austin, I hurt in places I forgot I had and amble about like I assume I will 50-plus years from now. (No offense to those blessed to be in their 90s. I bet the spry Gladys “Granny” Adcox of Highlands could run circles around me on my best day.)

To provide more depth to the experience, I’m also working towards increased mental strength. In so many ways, it’s much harder than the physical. I dig deep, unearth regrets, get angry, get sad, cry, laugh, and repeat. Mental gymnastics are exhausting.

Why am I intentionally inflicting pain upon myself? To get something that won’t be as immediately recognizable as a more toned physique. The body will shrink, but hopefully the mind will grow. I know it’s working to some degree as my threshold for discomfort has risen. Naturally-occurring anesthesia gained through perseverance is a wonderful thing.

I’m learning a great deal – mostly along the lines of pain being a great motivator. Running away and cowering from the source doesn’t mesh well with my independent spirit. So, I’ll stand toe-to-toe, look my adversary square in the eye, and turn the tables. Anguish can be a powerful propellant.

When I rise the following morning, stiff and painfully aware of the battle waged, I’ll grin, bear it, and remember no pain, no gain.

© 2010 Natalie Whatley

Weather you like it or not

Author: natalie  //  Category: Baytown, Texas

“Whether the weather be fine, whether the weather be not, whether the weather be cold, whether the weather be hot, we’ll weather the weather, whatever the weather, whether we like it or not.” (Author unknown) I don’t know who opened the freezer door and left it ajar, but B-R-R-R-R!  

Being an outdoorsy kind of girl who needs plenty of fresh air and sunshine to survive requires me to keep track of the weather. I recall the last cold snap we had of this magnitude because I was home with a newborn. We curled up in blankets and napped peacefully in between feedings. That was 13 years ago.

So, I’ve had a long run of not being too confined inside my home’s walls during winter. Now that my kids are older and I’m free to roam during school hours, I didn’t take the news that it may be two weeks before we see highs over 60 well.

Meteorologists say that the cold blast reaching us down in Texas is likely caused by El Niño, which makes our winters here in The Lone Star State cooler and wetter than normal. (If memory serves me, El Niño also lessens our threat from hurricanes. In that regard, I welcome its return.) I believe 30 degrees below our “normal” high temps qualifies as “cooler”.

Folks here in these parts aren’t accustomed to these frigid temps. For starters, we don’t have the wardrobe for it. Heck, I’d go buy some thicker clothing for me and the family, but it appears I missed the winter-clothes-shopping window.  

If you haven’t seen, bathing suits are already out in stores. I’ve pointed out previously how this frosts me to no end.  The weeks following the astounding pig-out triad –Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years – are not the time to remind me of swimsuit season. Even though I’m actually in better shape now than I was this past summer, I refuse to go there. It’s the principal of the matter. I will boycott swimsuit purchasing until at least March.

Since we’ve had such a long spell of relatively mild winters, I quit buying standard winter-wear. I lost count of the boxes and bags of clothing donated –tags still hanging from the never-worn garments –because children outgrew something before it was cold enough to wear it, or heaven forbid, it went out of style. Those goofy kids running around in shorts and flip-flops right now . . . mine. And know that they all own jackets and jeans, but adamantly state it’s too hot at school with the heat cranked up. Sigh. I try, but there’s not much fight left in me.

I guess we can all be thankful this round of record lows was forecasted to be without precipitation. How to put this tactfully? Let’s just say that many of us in this neck of the woods can’t drive on ice. And I say that lovingly as I’m included – born and raised in Southeast Texas. We’re not mentally equipped for the task (admitting it is the first step), and most of us don’t own the tools necessary to outfit our vehicles.

Another silver lining: Millions of fleas and mosquitoes will perish. Join me in not shedding one tear.

Even covered vegetation isn’t expected to survive. For years I’ve dreamed of pulling everything out of my flowerbeds and starting over. Sounds like I’m going to get my wish, much to the chagrin of the men in the house who will be forced to provide the labor.

Best of all, it gives us something to talk about – a real ice-breaker to get conversation (or a column) flowing.

“Weather is a literary specialty, and no untrained hand can turn out a good article on it” –Mark Twain.  I tried. And you read it . . . whether you liked it, or not.

© 2010 Natalie Whatley

An experimental year

Author: natalie  //  Category: Holidays, It's all about me

I recently read A.J. Jacobs’ The Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life as an Experiment, where A.J. makes himself a human guinea pig in “radical lifestyle experiments”. I think he’s on to something. I’m intrigued to the point of wanting to conduct a few experiments of my own.

The title and author, whose other books I’m currently reading, came to my attention during the last Starbooks at Starbucks presentation by Sterling Municipal Library’s Jamie Eustace. Check the library for availability of the book and future Starbooks dates.

A.J.’s intentional shenanigans include posing as a beautiful single woman (he’s a married man) on an online dating service (that should serve as a warning) and following the teachings of the Radical Honesty Movement’s guru, Dr. Brad Blanton.  He lives through each of these little slices of life—among others—for a month and gives hysterically poignant accounts of his findings.  If you enjoy the nonfiction/humor genre – one of my personal favorites as it provides the best medicine, laughter – I highly recommend it.

It was fitting that The Guinea Pig Diaries and the idea of experimenting with life came to me as 2009 drew to a close. I was in a period of intense introspection and was already thinking of trying on a few radical changes. Why not? There are plenty of days when I get the feeling I’m a lab rat – the subject of scientific study on the pliability of the human soul. Any loud “SNAP!” you hear coming from my direction, will be indicative of my personal study’s conclusion if not my demise. Rest assured science will go on as specimens living with teens are in plentiful supply.

For longer than I care to admit, I’ve been scurrying around the bottom of a beaker. (No trying to bust a glass ceiling here – just glass walls, mostly of my own construction.) Some days I felt the Bunsen burner was on its highest setting; I reached melting point and came close to boiling before the gas supply was exhausted. I won’t be refueling that particular device, but must find another source of heat or risk having the contents of my beaker reach freezing point. Science is complicated.

In the spirit of the new year, I’ll be donning a white lab coat and goggles. Please join me with some of your own ventures and tell me all about them. We only get one ride through this thing we call life. Who knows what I’ll put myself and my family through, but it sounds fun.

For all the things that don’t prove to be too embarrassing, I’ll give an account of my findings here, lab-report style – complete with hypothesis, method (to my madness), supplies (this could get funny) and results.  Goodness, just expecting a little unexpected is exciting.

Since it may be impossible to remain objective and avoid skewing data in the roles of scientist and subject, I might ask for outside input from unbiased parties. You’ll know you appear a reliable soul if I walk up and ask you to participate.

Gosh this is going to be fun – sort of like going to the high-school-chemistry lab knowing the potential exists for a spectacular explosion. Happy New Year! It’s going to be a blast!

© 2010 Natalie Whatley