Dieting…does it ever end?

I was a chubby kid.  I don’t think I realized I was chubby until riding my bike past neighbor Sam Overman’s house.  I was rounding the corner when Sam shouted, “Hello, Fatty.”

I already felt like an odd duck due to my rampant freckles, vivid red hair and titanium white skin.  Adding “fatty” to my list of perceived flaws was uncomfortable.  Red, white and fat-all-over.

Thus began my journey of starvation.

My sister Marilyn and I started our first diet together the summer between my ninth and tenth grades.  We drew a small grid of squares on paper and taped it on her closet wall.  Each day we were allowed to advance thumbtacks a certain number of squares determined by how many calories we ate daily.   500 calories, three squares.  600 calories, only two squares.  If we went as high as 900 calories we couldn’t advance at all.  Marilyn is four years older than I and has amazing self-discipline. She was the ideal first diet coach.

Normally sedentary as kids–Marilyn a voracious reader, me a sit on my butt and color kid—we began taking long walks.  Yup, we lost weight.  I went to tenth grade looking radically different from the girl Sam Overman had taunted.

Twiggy was in Vogue back then.  She became my role model for perfection in body type.  Remember her? Bone thin, toothpick arms and legs, big eyes, short skirts.  She painted long black eyelashes on her lower lids.  I did too.

My 1960s dream body

Other diets I recall–

College with room-mate Kris Kraft.  We shared clothes and religiously recorded calories.

Starving with another college buddy, Joanne Pickle.  Pickle’s are a slimming food and Joanne was also slim.  But we starved together in spite of her name and our already tiny frames.

At twenty-eight I got pregnant.  I gained sixty-five pounds during my nine pregnant months.  A friend told me I looked like my pores would soon ooze yellow fat.  He asked, “Are you going to deliver out of your gargantuan thighs?”  He was teasing, but the message was clear.  I was a behemoth.

Nearing pre-eclampsia my family doctor, Perry Mitchell ordered me to bed rest.  (Yes, I used a family doctor to catch my breech baby.  But that’s a  story for another day.)  I was to spend the last thirty days of my pregnancy in bed, lying on my left side.

I was allowed one trip a day up and down the stairs.  Each morning I waddled down, loaded a tray with food–mostly cream cheese and crackers—then struggled back up again. I laid down on my left side and spent my day reading and pigging.

Shortly after Matt’s birth, while at a restaurant, I was in a lady’s room stall and over-heard two of the women in our group cattily discussing how large I’d gotten.  “She’ll certainly never be slim again!” one crowed. The other gleefully agreed.

I got mad.  And I got thin.  Following Matt’s birth I ate carefully and nursed.  Eating carefully was a new wrinkle.  When I got pregnant the Doctor told me to eat an egg a day. I chose a Cadbury Creme egg.   Eating carefully meant switching from Cadbury Creme to chicken eggs.

My goodness!  Did the pounds fall off!  By the time Matt was six months old I weighed less than I had at his conception.  Plus I nursed.  Nursing is an excellent weight loss tool.  (Note to self: Perhaps I should become a wet-nurse.  That would keep me slim for life.)

Clinical depression is also a useful weight loss tool, but I don’t recommend it.

I’ve been dieting again and it’s working.  I’m on a low carbohydrate, scads-of-protein-not much fun, diet.  It includes appetite suppressants and weekly shots in the butt.  I’m supposed to drink a gallon of water daily.  I spend lots of time in the bathroom and little time perusing the refrigerator.

My mother spent a lifetime dieting. Mother loathed her middle-aged plumpness.  Whenever a group photo was taken she insisted on standing behind others.  In most old photos only her head appears peeking between the shoulders of those in the front row.

She died in her sleep at eighty-two.  After her death, while cleaning out her things, Marilyn and I un-earthed a small calorie counter book in her purse.  Eighty-two and she was still striving for some body other than the one she lived in.

Here’s what I wonder…Why do most women feel as though if they don’t look like Twiggy, or whoever is their ideal body role model, we aren’t good enough?  I’m not saying it’s smart to allow ourselves to get morbidly obese.  But how sad so many of us expect to still be sporting the bodies we had at age sixteen.

When I die in my sleep  (Yes, that’s my intention.  Just not tonight, thank you very much God)  my kids will come to clean out my stuff.  I sincerely hope they do NOT find a carbohydrate counter in my purse.  But I’m hoping they find Continue reading “Dieting…does it ever end?”

Whimsical Rose

In 1994 my neighbor Karen and I decided to open a gift shop.  We scouted locations and found a cute, affordable spot in sleepy Wauconda, Illinois.

We spent an afternoon floating in her pool, swilling vodka and tonic while dreaming up a name. Whimsical Rose was soon on her way to retail stardom.

For start-up money we turned to our husbands.  Mine didn’t quite get how we thought we would succeed.  He asked me how often we planned to “turn our inventory.”  I thought he meant turn it around on the shelves and dust it.  With understandable reluctance he finally ponied up.

We signed a lease, painted the walls pale yellow and sewed curtains to hide our storage area, a shoe box size annex by the bathroom.  We turned a Victorian buffet into our check out counter.  At an architectural salvage warehouse we purchased an early 20th century mantle, complete with book shelves on each side.  I painted a blazing fire with faux malachite surround, and we popped it into the center.

Karen has marvelous champagne taste.  Ours was more of a beer budget.  Never-the-less,  several fun trips to the Chicago Merchandise Mart and inventory soon rolled in.

Thanks to our many neighbors the grand opening grossed nearly $1000.00!  That was our best day.  Shortly thereafter we learned opening a gift shop in Wauconda, Illinois was a bit like opening a lemonade stand in a cul-de-sac.  Very few customers.  Very little income.

With no money for inventory we had to get creative. Gathering up all the clear glass vases we could get our hands on, I began a cottage industry.   I painted the vases with flowers and a new source of income was born.  My lonely days being a “shop girl” were subsequently spent hand-painting everything from wine glasses to olive oil bottles to pitchers.

Further, we knew a woman specializing in original artwork and cut a deal to show different artists in our shop, taking a percentage of sales.  My particular favorite, Carla Messer, painted Dutch school realistic oils ranging in price from $3,000 to well over $15,000.

The only Messer painting I could find online.

One Saturday a well dressed, affluent looking couple strolled into the shop.  I noted she was beautifully groomed, wearing a St. John knit suit, carrying a Chanel bag, and oozing class,  He had on a dark cashmere overcoat and obviously good shoes. They spent a very long time studying those paintings. They were enchanted by one in particular–a long, narrow painting of small green apples in a row. The apples were so realistic I felt I could reach onto the canvas, pick one out and take a crisp tart bite.  The price was $3500.00.

I schmoozed them a bit, praying they would purchase those tart green apples.  No deal.  They did, however, buy a cute little vase.

Eventually we sold two Messer canvases.  Karen, she of the champagne taste, bought them.  Her first choice, those beautiful  green apples.  They have graced the walls of her homes since the mid-nineties.

Somehow, by hook or by crook we kept Whimsical Rose afloat for four years.  It was a terrific experience, from which my future business as decorative painter was born.


Fast forward eleven years and the well-dressed man, now a widower, and I, now divorced, got married.  I’ve asked Jim if he remembers me from Whimsical Rose.  No, but he remembers the apples.  He wanted to purchase–his lovely wife, Toni, not so much.

We still have the vase, a sweet reminder of the curious day our lives intersected.

Clearly I need to wash this.  But it’s cute, right?



Clinical Depression

In 1993 I suffered severe clinical depression. It took years to find the “…and that’s good because” of that illness. At the time I felt ashamed of my inability to be happy. I had all the trappings intended to make for a joyful life. I had–and still have–two beautiful, healthy kids. My son was thirteen at the time, my daughter was ten. I lived an affluent life in a gated country club community. Fancy cars, fancy clothes, fancy travel.

But I couldn’t stop crying. No one knew I was so ill. I was the master of slapping on a smile and faking happiness. Sure, there were signs that old friends would have recognized, but we’d moved away from old friends shortly before the illness began. New friends commented on how much weight I was losing and how good I was looking. Ultimately I became concentration camp skeletal.

I was suicidal.

Each day I would fake being happy mommy long enough to see my kids off to school. Then I would crawl into the bed and curl up in a fetal position. I made it my rule to stay on the bed, reasoning if I got off I might make a fatal choice. When they arrived home, I resumed that odd grin until they went to bed at night.

Ultimately I was hospitalized. Upon arrival attendants took my picture. The result showed a shrunken woman, hollow cheeks, sorrowful eyes. She was wearing a strange toothy grin.

Shoelaces were confiscated, as were make-up mirrors and any other items possibly used to inflict harm upon ourselves. All medications were put under lock and key.

My first night I had a nurse seated by my bed throughout the night to make sure I didn’t suicide. The following morning I was awakened by frightening, deafening pounding from the room next door. Anger management class. The pounding was rubber bats against pillowed chair seats.

The following three weeks were a series of classes.

Anger management–I did my fair share of pounding. I found it was very therapeutic.

Art therapy–I used only black pens. Sometimes I slammed the pens so hard the felt tips were ruined, other times were weak little scribbles.

Group Discussions–Patients were seated in a circle and would take turns discussing our feelings. I had long since forgotten how to feel my feelings. I was unable to feel joy, only just learning to feel rage. I had stuffed my feelings. Piled on top of them was a boatload of pain. One man never opened his eyes. I wondered how he navigated the hallways. I have since tried his technique and now understand how it is a brilliant coping skill. One more way to keep the world out: Just don’t see it.

Sing-a-longs led by a jolly guitar playing minister. All the songs were Christian. I remember one, “This is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it.”

Private counseling– One on one with very gentle psychologists.

The patients included a long distance truck driver, John, who blamed himself for his son’s death. John had given his son a new car. Days later his son was killed in that car trying to beat a train.

Laura, who was committed for a mandatory three days. She had attempted suicide following an affair with her boss. The man rejected her. Her Jehovah’s witness family shunned her.

Doris, who had run away from an abusive home at thirteen. By fifteen she had given birth to a baby who died shortly after that. She was anger personified, often skipping classes or, if she did come, she flounced into the room with a scowl and contributed nothing.

One woman, whose name I have long since forgotten, had to spend her first night in a padded room. Her hands were bound so she couldn’t scratch herself. A camera on the wall recorded every movement to a television posted at the nurse’s station.

She was suicidal over the loss of her teenage son. Each visiting day her husband and pre teen daughter would come. Dad would spend time with his wife while the daughter would sit, stricken and alone, in the visitor’s area. My heart broke for that young girl. She must have felt she alone wasn’t a loveable enough child to make her parents happy.

For years I experienced intense shame about having been in a mental health hospital. It was embarrassing to have become crazy.

Now I’m coming to the “this is good because….” part of my clinical depression journey.

The mental health hospital I was committed to offered two treatment options. One option looked to me like a nut-hut crazy madhouse. The other choice a spiritual Christian model. I now understand my nightmare hospital experience was the first step in my journey to belief in a higher power.

That three-week experience–two weeks inpatient, one week out—was a turning point in my life. Sure, there were still miles and miles to go before I learned to trust my higher power and live the life I now have–A life filled with abundance beyond anything I could have believed possible back in 1993.

There were years of therapy following my hospitalization. Robin, my skilled psychologist, gently guided. She taught me assertiveness skills and how to recognize my feelings. She told me to close my eyes and imagine situations from several sides. Following each assessment, I was to take stock of my physical self. Were my shoulders tight? Was my breathing shallow? My body’s tension or lack thereof would give me answers my mind couldn’t manage.

Eventually, I made the most important wellness choice–leaving my twenty-eight-year marriage. Which led me back to church, back to prayer and back to simply breathing in and out. I learned to be quiet. I learned to trust that God put me here for a reason. I don’t know the reason. I don’t have to. I just have to say, “Hey God, put a neon light over the door you want me to walk through.”

And God always does.

Textural Triptych

Each of these paintings are 72′ tall by 24″ wide.  Mounted on top are three smaller canvases.

After years of decorative residential and commercial painting, I finally hung up my brushes when product design opportunity rolled into my world.   The product design experience was a fantastic one, but eventually travel to China became too hard for this old girl.

I  planned to move on, but struggled with what to move on TO.  I walked, prayed, and dropped it into the hands of my Benevolent Force.

One random day I got a phone call from house painter Gary Monaco.   Years before he had introduced me to a home owner, Karen. That introduction led to years painting in nearly every room of her huge home.

Gary began the call by saying, “I have clients who would like you to paint for them.”  Making the assumption that decorative painting was the request, I replied, “Thanks, Gary, but I’m out of that business.”

Gary then told me his clients didn’t want me to paint on their walls, they wanted canvases to hang on a specific wall in their home.

Thrilled to have opportunity to pitch my work I called the clients, Sam and Ann Wagner, scheduled a day to visit and put together a small portfolio.

I drove to their vast rural farm where an elegant sprawling home was located at the edge of a large pond.  As far as the eye could see there was rolling land topped with lush vegetation.  I felt overwhelmed at the notion of creating original artwork for people who clearly had very discerning tastes.

Clutching my meager portfolio, I took a deep breath and rang the bell.   Ann was home, Sam was not.  She graciously led me to a huge kitchen over-looking the pond.  There, at the granite counter, I nervously showed her my work.  I then asked for opportunity to wander their home and observe the many original paintings.  I needed to get a handle on their preferences in artwork.

After measuring the giant wall, I went home and dug into coming up with lots of feasible options.   Did they want nine canvases,  three rows of three?  One big canvas?  Four in a row?  Four, two rows of two?  A triptych?  And how would they feel about a collage using dried vegetation from their land?

Her response was, “Yes to the triptych.”  I then worked up a pile of triptych possibilities, with suggestions for color direction etc.  At that point Ann said, “You choose.  It all confuses me.”  Wow!  Free reign!

Shortly after, on a clear fall day,  Jim and I met Sam at the farm.  He gave us his rugged all wheel-drive truck.  We drove the bumpy fields gathering mountains of twigs, leaves, corn husks, weeds.   The painting above is what those bits and scraps became.  The metallic streak across the three paintings is gold leaf.

Happily the Wagner’s were delighted with the final result.

I don’t believe this opportunity was an accident.  It was manifested by positive thinking and prayer.  Now on to meditate.  I am excited to see what my Benevolent Force will offer next.



Pony Club Wanna’ Be

I went to a huge birthday luncheon yesterday.  There must have been thirty women, of whom I knew about five.   I rarely attend big functions because I can’t hear.   I take my response cues from visual indicators when a person speaks to me.

If you smilingly tell me you’re having your head amputated tomorrow, I will grin and respond, “That’s terrific.  Sounds like fun.”

But I like the guest of honor, so I crafted a small gift, filled out a lovely Dollar Tree card and hitched a ride in neighbor Lynda’s fancy new white BMW.

That’s Lynda in the middle.  Gayle, on the right, has all the red carpet poses when being photographed.  She has tried to teach me.  It involves a lot of twisting hips one way, shoulders another, and crossing legs in a balancing act I’m incapable of.  They were both laughing at my Joe Cocker-like attempts to “Gayle pose”.

By now you might be wondering why I titled this post “Pony Club Wanna’ Be”.

Here’s why:  In an attempt to meet a few strangers seated near me I began asking, “So, what do you do when you aren’t attending birthday luncheons.”  The woman across from me said she rides horses.

Horses!  I was immediately transported to my youth when I so BADLY wanted a horse.  I’d watched both the movie National Velvet and the early 1960’s TV show of the same name.  At one point the TV show offered a colt to the viewer that came up with the best name Colt name.


I mailed in many name possibilities.  One was Misty,  after Misty of Chincoteague.  Certain I would win, I begged my mother to allow us to house Misty in our backyard.  We lived in a suburban split level on 1/4 acre.  Amazingly, she agreed easily.  In retrospect granting Misty a home was a simple “yes”,  since the odds of my actually manifesting that animal was slim to none.

I didn’t win, but later I had the opportunity to (sort of) have a horse.  One winter friend Ann Purcell’s parents took in two camp horses, animals ridden hard at summer camps and needing foster care for winter.  Ann and I spent hours riding those animals.  Her’s horse was named Party Line, far more spirited than the short, round, brown and white animal I rode.  (name forgotten)  I loved old What’s-His-Name.

Such a delicious experience.  I can still picture looking down the road between my horse’s  ears, watching Party Line’s russet rump and tail swaying.  There was one big hill where Party Line would take off at a gallop. What’s-His-Name and I would race along behind.  I could still hear then, and the sound of thundering hooves was thrilling.

One day in late spring our mother’s gave us permission to cut school and spend the entire day riding.  We rode those animals all the way into Newark, Delaware, and right to our houses.  Yay!  Even though it wasn’t Misty, I finally did get to have a horse in my own backyard!

I’m glad I stepped out of my silent comfort zone and went to yesterday’s party.  It gave me an opportunity to reflect back on that happy horsey experience.

I used to ask, “Why me?” Now I say, “Why NOT me!”

Positive thinking can manifest whatever we desire.  My entire beautiful life was created by dreaming it up.  The manifestation of this life began after I ended my first marriage.

I was floundering with fear.  My lovely niece, Katie, sent me a small book, “The Prayer of Jabez.”   It’s a short little prayer.  Short was good.   My brain was so fried I couldn’t focus on much.

The prayer is composed of four parts. First, Jabez asks God to bless him. Second, he asks God to enlarge his territory or increase his responsibility. Third, he prays that God will be with him and stay close. Lastly, Jabez asks that God keep him from harm so that he will be free from pain.  In my prayer I changed that last bit to, “Let me cause no pain”– a largely impossible feat when breaking up a family.


That first summer I walked miles, praying the prayer like a mantra.  Amazingly doors simply flew open.

Probably the most astonishing door was the one leading to product design.  NOTHING in my background would indicate I had the ability to design three-dimensional product, made in China, sold at Costco.

But a wonderful neighbor, Cynthia Voetsch, saw my struggle.  She owned a business that did exactly that–designed and manufactured lawn and garden items, as well as furniture–all of which was sold at Costco not only in USA, but England, Mexico, and Canada.  Cynthia  hired me on monthly retainer.  Here is one of the first products I ever designed in collaboration with my later partner, Mary Beth Vieha.

This is Sarah.  She is a resin sculpture/bird-bath.  When we first bought our copy she was nice and clean. I lined her bowl with ice, topped the ice with lettuce and she served shrimp cocktail.    Now she stands in our front yard.                                                                                    Yes, that is a chain around her ankle.  We don’t want her to run away from home.

I even got to have my picture on the box!  You bet I’ve saved that giant piece of cardboard.  Co-worker Mary Beth touched up my make-up.
Another, Terry Pfister, dragged me outside to stand in front of a tree and shot several pictures.  This is the one that made the cut.


Many of  my friends and neighbors bought Sarah.   Judy Nolan sends me photos of her Twin Lakes, Wisconsin Sarah every season.  Sarah has acres of lush flowers and foliage at her feet.

Costco sold a ton of those Sarah’s.   In fact, last summer while visiting Chicago, I ran into a Sarah in Roscoe Village.  I felt fancy.

So, take it from me, positive thinking can change your world.  Now I’m off to meditate.  Will put a post-it note on my chest saying, “Meditating not sleeping.  DO NOT HURL THE POOL BALL.”  Life is excellent.

Crow Nazi

We have a nice back-yard bird feeder complete with a squirrel baffle that truly baffles the squirrels.  The feeder attracts loads of colorful feathered beasts, up to and including crows.

I believe the feeder should be an equal opportunity joint–all are welcome to come dine in our yard.

My husband, Jim, sees it differently.  He is a Crow Nazi.  Jim makes it his JOB to watch the feeder and if a crow deigns to approach, Jim hurls a pool ball across the cage.  (Floridians call the screens around their pools “cages”.  They are really just screened in porches, but cage sounds fancy, right?)

The other day I was quietly meditating:  breathing in God, breathing out love.

Crow Nazi took that moment to pitch the largest ball across the pool, thus loudly interrupting my kind, generous love-out breathing.

I breathed out something way less fortunate than love.

Later that day while Jim golfed I called him to say, “Hurry home–crows at the feeder!”  I know it’s wrong to interrupt him at the office, but someone needed to  handle the situation.

Lesson learned, Crow Nazi?  If you monkey with my meditation, I’ll  screw up your backswing.

That bell on the pole drives the squirrels nuts.  Happily for them, the birds drop loads of seeds to the grass below.

Jim is on the golf course again today.  I just went to the back yard and shouted, “Everyone  welcome!  Come and get it.”  As I type, there is one crow gobbling seed and another perched on top waiting for his turn.

Coffee makes life good

It wasn’t until age who-the-heck knows–somewhere after twenty-five and before sixty–that I embraced coffee.  Now I adore it!

But only iced with (shame on me) full-fat milk and stevia.  I pretend the stevia un-does the whole-milk damage.

Todays breakfast is in a wee teeny glass Jim stole from a bar in Hong Kong while on leave from Viet Nam.

I LOVE this little glass.  Jim maintains he swiped it just for me.  Since I am embracing the “manifest-your-future” thinking I pretend he knew I was–eventually–a part of his life.

It’s cute, right?  For a long time it lived in the garage holding pencils.  I only recently promoted it to kitchen favorite.

Only about five inches tall.  I wonder if the Imperial Hotel still exists  Project for today:  Figure out if that Hotel is still in business.                                                              Note to self: DO NOT MAKE A RESERVATION.  I’ve had enough visits to China to last a lifetime.  Visiting China was a wonderful life experience.  Happy to have done it. Happy to have it in my rear-view mirror.

I have to amend the “no go to China” thing.  I would LOVE seeing Jim Peng, Maple and Miss Gao again.  They were an enormous gift in my life.








Easter in Florida

We got REALLY lucky when we moved to our little patch of Florida.  We stumbled  into a house across the street from Lynda and Rusty Kelly. Their family, for reasons explicable only to them, have decided we are family too.   We get invited for every birthday, holiday,  and family occasion up to and including both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Lynda’s mom, Erika, is a little German lady.   One day while outlet shopping,  Erika leaned into my ear and whispered some gossip. My old deaf ears can’t compute her accent very well, so I didn’t understand a word of it.  Following her shared secret she put her hand on my arm and said,  loudly,  “I vouldn’t tell you zat, but you are family.”   How great is that?

This is Lynda’s two-year old nephew, Rowan.  I got him those  glasses at the Dollar Tree.  Only the best for my friends!

This year there were twelve for dinner.  My contribution was Ina Garten’s Potato Fennel Gratin.  I put it together in my big Le Crueset four hundred pound casserole dish.  The lid alone weighs more than our chocolate-brown lab mix,  Bronson.   There will come a day when I have to stop  using Le Creuset as I’ll be too weak to haul it out of the oven.  Daughter, Mo, will happily inherit my growing collection.   Le Crueset is expensive, but so worth it and guaranteed for life.  I managed to destroy a dutch oven by putting it on the grill.   We sent it back and got a brand new beauty in no time!

Ina’s potatoes were so well received I have decided to double the recipe next year.  We will need to borrow a dolly to lug them across the street.

I’m deaf, and this is good because…..

Jen Sincero writes that we need to think positive thoughts in order to manifest all great things in our world. If there is something negative in your life, you tack on the words, “….and this is good because.”

Tried it with my husband, Jim. His was, “I’m bald. And this is good because I don’t have to comb my hair.”

I’m deaf. I’ve been deaf for about 15 years. Lost my hearing when I had pneumonia.

Being deaf is good because…..

Loud noises don’t wake me up at night.
When I read I simply take out my hearing aids and instant quiet.
I get attention by saying, “I’m hearing impaired.”
I’m learning to lip read.

Try this little exercise! Last night I talked to a great friend who has very little money. She tried it. She said, “Being poor is good because I don’t have to worry about fluctuations in the stock market.”

Keeping the positive vibrations flowing. So, all of you, go forth and prosper. Have a beautiful positive day. Hooray for today. Is anyone reading this? Maybe not many, but eventually the multitudes will discover my blog and yay yay hip hip hooray I’ll be rich and famous and tall with long legs.

jen sincero    Go buy her book!  So great!