Monthly Archives: November 2008

The bottle in my cupboard

It has been many, many years since I used to add “a little something” to my coffee.  When I did, it was always brandy, or Kahulua, or some liqueur that goes well with a steaming cup. No longer. Not for many, many years, that.

I always drank my coffee black. Then I went to New Orleans for two weeks and had that magical chicory coffee with sweetened milk, and now I must have milk and sweetener in my coffee. After I went to Italy, I could no longer bear Folger’s, but must now grind my own beans and make my coffee fresh every  morning.

A coffee connoisseur? I don’t know that I’d go that far, but I do love my java. And now I have another passion: Torani’s sugar-free syrups. I discovered them at Starbuck’s, of course, and then I found them on the grocery store shelf. My favorite is Caramel (the vanilla tastes kind of weird to me), but right now I’m obsessed with the Hazelnut. A little shot of that in my cup in the morning with some milk, and I am in fragrant caffeine heaven.

Still. Whenever I reach up into that cabinet above the microwave–the only cabinet on the coffee pot side of the kitchen that is tall enough — and grab that big bottle, I get a little shiver of recognition from the old days, the bad days, the days when I would start my day with a little something that almost destroyed me.

And then I think about how grateful I am…especially since this is gratitude month…and pour myself a nice hot cup of coffee and think about people who are struggling against that other type of bottle, who aren’t as fortunate as I am to have replaced theirs with the sweetness of sugar-free Torani syrup.

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Filed under Alcoholism, Coffee

My ugly first draft

I think the members of my writing group are saints. I have just started reading a new book to them, and it is the ugliest first draft ever.

I began last night, prefacing my reading with: “For at least the first forty pages, I’m feeling my way along, trying to figure out the design of this book…” and while they liked what I offered, and had incredibly astute insight about a few things, I sure feel odd about it.

After all, we all like to put our best foot forward, right?

Well, maybe not in your writing group. It pays to be willing to be vulnerable, and this is a safe place to do it.

I’ve always been an advocate of the ugly first draft. I’ve always given my students permission to just “Get on with it and fix it in the rewrite.” But it’s been a long time since I’ve presented something this raw to my writing group. I’ll have to get used to it, though, because this is going to be a long process, and as I’m a very busy girl, I won’t be able to carve out the time to polish a piece before reading it every Monday night.

And the truth is, I don’t mind when one of the other members brings something equally raw to share. We’re getting the story down. We’re making progress.  And we’ll fix it in the rewrite.

I know myself, and I know that if I allowed myself to edit the first three chapters of a book before I went on to complete the entire first draft, I would waste away the day agonizing over the placement of a comma, and I would never advance the page count. So this is the only way it works for me: Write, and keep writing until the entire first draft is finished. Then let it cool, read it in as close to one sitting as possible, make copious notes, and then write a second draft. Because by the time I know where the ending actually is (as opposed to where I imagined it would be), I need to change the beginning to coincide.

So I’m writing ugly these days, and it makes me cringe, but these are the times that my writing group, and their astonishing patience, is golden.


Filed under Discipline, goals, My New Novel, Writing

Skin cancers

Since I’ve opened this particular can of worms, instead of merely ranting, perhaps I could pass along some valuable information.

Melanoma is deadly. 75,000 people will be diagnosed with melanoma this year, and 7,500 will die. The rest will be mightily disfigured. Normally, melanoma begins in a mole, which grows, changes, bleeds, itches, or just looks funky. Know your skin. Go annually to a dermotologist for an all-over skin check, and I do mean all-over. Scalp, butt, crotch, armpits, the whole nine yards. Take photos of anything suspicious, so you can monitor it for slow changes. Bring any of those changes to your doctor’s attention.

Know the ABCDs of Melanoma.

A: Asymetrical. Cancer is not organized, so while most moles are relatively round, cancer grows in scattered patterns. If a mole has changed so that one half of it is a different shape than the other half, that’s suspicious. Get it checked out.

B. Borders. Because cancer grows in a disorganized way, the borders of a melanoma will be notched, not smooth and round like most moles.

C. Color. Melanoma can be all colors, from blue to pink, brown, black and even skin-colored (amelanotic).

And D. Diameter. Any mole over 1/4″ in diameter (the size of a pencil eraser)ought to be looked at and monitored.

I will add to this E. Elevation. My melanoma was a mole that grew from flat to tall.

But melanoma is not the only skin cancer. There are also squamous cell and basal cell carcinomas. All of them need to be diagnosed and removed as early as possible. These are not as life-threatening as melanoma, but they should be treated as soon as they are noted.

The bottom line is: know your skin. Pay attention to changes. Don’t tan. Stay out of the direct sun. Wear sunscreen and cover up.

Read more about it at American Cancer Society.

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Filed under Cancer

Gratitude – and a Rant

I know I have pledged to keep this blog about gratitude for the month of November, and my gratitude knows no bounds, literally. I have a wonderful husband, family, job, dog, house, friends… every detail of my life (except one) is quite wonderful, and I am exceedingly appreciative.

The one exception is my skin. And I’m going to rant about this because I just had another biopsy (the third just this year) because I ruined my skin by sun worshipping in Hawaii for seventeen years.

The first time I had a squamous cell carcinoma cut off my chest, the dermotologist said, “Oh, yes, you’ve ruined your skin. These things will be popping up like mushrooms for the rest of your life.” He was right. I’ve had literally dozens taken off, and had a very serious bout with melanoma that will continue to haunt me. I caught it early, but as the oncologist said, “We don’t consider anyone cured of melanoma until they die of something else.”

All because I loved being tan.

Why do I bring this up now? Because I have just had what we all think is a basal cell carcinoma biopsied from the middle-finger knuckle on my left hand. Basal cell is not that big a deal; it grows and the scars are ugly when it’s removed (I might need a skin graft–my second), but it’s not life-threatening. All because I liked having that “healthy glow” from a suntan.

When they cut one off my face, I almost fainted a half hour later in a department store and had to sit on a big canister of popcorn in a display and put my head between my knees. Imagine having someone cut on your face because twenty years earlier you wanted to wear a strapless dress and not have a tan line.

My gym offers a deal when you buy multiple tanning sessions at a time. I am here to tell you, living proof with scars from my face to my ankles and a perpetual cloud hanging over my happiness, tanning is expensive.

You can’t afford it.


Filed under Cancer, regrets

All Gratitude, All the Time

My friend Susan Wiggs, initiated her Gratitude Project on her blog yesterday, and I’m stealing the idea. Well, I’m appropriating the idea, with her blessings.

The idea is to think of, and post, three things you’re grateful for today, every day through Thanksgiving. Or every day, period. Things like: hot water when you turn on the faucet. Frozen pizza. Moist towelettes. Your spousal unit. Your functioning brain. Shoes that fit. Autumn leaves. Your dog’s cold nose. You get the idea.

I think we take way too much for granted, and when we look around us with gratitude in our hearts, our lives change.

So take this idea and run with it. Tell your friends. Use it on your blogs, in your churches, your coffee klatches, your bookclubs. Write an essay on gratitude and submit it. Let’s make November National Gratitude Month.

I, for one, could use a lot less cynicism in my life.

So for today, here is my gratitude list:

1. I’m grateful for my wonderful husband who gets up singing in the morning.

2. I’m grateful to have the career I have always wanted, that intrigues, frustrates, challenges, and rewards me.

3. I’m grateful to all my friends who love me as much as I love them.

Three more coming tomorrow.

Your turn.

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Filed under Social Consciousness