Writer’s Block is such a Buzzkill

My recent writer's block also kept me out of the garden. Now its overrun with weeds, which to me are simply flowers growing in the wrong place.

You would have never convinced my parents that I could run out of words.

I’m sure more than a few teachers would be surprised as well. But it happened. After a successful launch of this blog in January, something happened that I never dreamt — people actually read it. They also shared it, tweeted it, and talked about it. In just a couple of months, our blog had been read over 2000 times by people all over the world (thanks to my beloved’s international students). No matter how many times my dear friend Mish would claim to read it, I doubt that even she could read Despite Everything over 2000 times. After all, she does have a life.

The support we received was awesome! Friends were encouraging, strangers would recognize and greet us, and we reconnected with countless numbers of people. Each week, we found old friends knocking on our door or calling to catch up.  All because of the blog. Our most popular posts were those that had nothing to do with gardening and canning. “Conquering Mind over Matter on a Yoga Mat” was our most read post. On Valentine’s Day when I posted of “The Wink that Captured My Heart,” more than 300 people read it in a 24 hour period, showing that everybody loves a good love story. The post about how I had given up soda was shared 60 times on Facebook. I don’t know most  of the people who connected so much with that post that they shared it with their friends. But I am touched that they did.

Then it went quiet.  I couldn’t focus to write a single thing.

In the beginning I posted new articles 3-4 times a week in hopes of building an audience. Back then, I could have written a 400-word post about a dust bunny. But for the last three weeks, I couldn’t form a single sentence about the adventures at Chez Medlock. So I rolled up my sleeves and cleaned — nearly everything in our house. At least we all got clean laundry compliments of my writer’s block.

When we started the blog, I had no idea how important the photos would become. We’ve had lots of great feedback on our photos. People keep asking us who is our photographer? Once it was our son. Once it was our niece. The rest of the time, we’re staging and setting up our own photos. As I’m sure you’ve noticed, we don’t use Photoshop, so you get to see the real us, with every line, roll of fat, wrinkle, and double chin. Our kitchen has become our studio, complete with a few well-placed work lights that do double duty as strobes. I have no idea where our tripod is, so it’s always a challenge to get the camera in position. With camera precariously perched on a box or stack of books, we spend an hour or so taking pictures, looking for the perfect shot.  My beloved is naturally photogenic. I am not. That’s why it takes us so long to finally get a decent photo. I ruin most of them by asking questions while the self-timer is counting down.

The other thing that didn’t happen during my writer’s block, by the way, was that I haven’t done a thing in my garden. At this point, I’m not even sure if I’ll bother as a couple of precious kittens have made our garden their personal playground.  I am very allergic to cats, and just taking the photo for this post resulted in an allergy attack. So any cucumbers I grow will have to be done on the patio. Besides, the getting the weeds under control will take an army.

But at least now we’re back. With new posts, new pictures, and a few new ideas. We hope that you’re still interested and that you’ll be patient as we get back into the swing of things. I’ve always heard that weeds are simply flowers in the wrong place.  Maybe writer’s block is a creative weed that gets planted in the wrong place. Who knows? But I’m glad it’s over.


Goodbye Soda

Goodbye Soda

For years, there was always at least one soda can within my reach.

Hello, my name is Mary Anne, and I’m a soda addict.

It might sound odd, using that phrase in regards to soda.  But I remember the day that Diet Coke was introduced.  As a freshman at Western Kentucky University, I had already experienced the Freshman 15.  Diet Coke seemed to be a great solution to replace my favorite drink of choice, Coke.  In my 18-year-old mind, it seemed simple: switch to Diet Coke, jog around campus a few times, add a salad here or there, and then head off to the mall to find the perfect swimsuit.

During the spring semester, when they finally added Diet Coke to our vending machine, excited voices filled Poland Hall.  In 1983, there were few soda choices.  There were the browns: Coke or Pepsi.  The clears: 7-Up or Sprite.  The yellows:  Mello Yellow or Mt. Dew.  The fruities: Nehi or Crush.  The diets: Tab or Fresca.  If you wanted an energy drink, Gatorade Original was the only choice.  I remember riding the elevator with my roommate, going to the vending machine, then going back upstairs and tasting Diet Coke for the first time.  It wasn’t good, but it wasn’t awful.  Thankfully, it was heaps better than Tab or Fresca and I had weight to lose.  And so it began…

Growing up, I didn’t drink water.  Our farm didn’t get “city water” until 1988. Until then, we got our water from a spring-fed well that went often went dry in the fall. Each July, our father started reminding us not to be wasteful.  Five minute showers were considered good enough.  We didn’t leave the water running while we brushed our teeth, nor did we wait for water to warm up just to wash our hands.  We had bricks in our toilet tanks to conserve flushes.  We didn’t wash cars, pets, or water the lawn.

By August, things became extreme if it didn’t rain.  Laundry was done in town, and toilet flushing received a whole new set of rules.  If the well went dry, my father became tense.  It meant a lot of extra work for him, which was already jammed packed with his day job at Peabody Coal and his other job – tending livestock and farming. There just wasn’t time or extra hands to haul water.  It also meant extra work on my mom.  Money was tight back, and hauling 500 gallons of water wasn’t cheap when you were trying to get three kids ready for school to start.

In my child’s mind, I somehow concluded that drinking water was wasteful.  So I never drank it. My mother bought a carton of Pepsi’s each week.  On Sunday nights, rather than cooking, she would make a big bag of popcorn, and we’d each have a cold Pepsi for supper.  She knew we weren’t hungry because we would have gorged ourselves after church at our grandparents’ house.  Sunday nights were special; it was a quiet pause before the Monday chaos.  I think I started loving soda then — not so much for how it tasted but for what it represented: watching the fulfilled faces of my parents, spending time together as a family, and sensing all was well with the world as we watched the Disney movie of the week.

My paternal grandparents kept “little Cokes” in the fridge. Unrestricted access to these little treasures, paired with the fun-filled antics of my grandmother, meant good times.  If you packed that little Coke with peanuts, you would experience a salty sweetness unlike anything else.  “Have a Coke and a smile.”  We lived that advertising campaign on her front porch. Even now, a little Coke and a packet of peanuts can instantly take me back to her swing, people-watching the fine folk of Hanson.  When sitting on her front porch, it seemed like the entire world whizzed by on Highway 41.  She’d make up ridiculous stories about where everybody was going in such a hurry, and I’d laugh myself silly.

I’m telling you all this because I think it’s important to understand how soda became part of me.

The Freshman 15?  I never lost it.  When my father was killed working 3rd shift at the mines, the stress and grief I experienced was crushing. I gained more weight, then more, and more.  I couldn’t figure out why as I slurped my way through Diet Cokes through the 90’s.

My weight finally stabilized when my son was born.  Since then, I’ve added a few extra pounds, but nothing like before. Soda addiction is a vicious cycle.  The more you drink, the more you want.  It never conquers thirst.  It only leaves you wanting more.  Whenever I became stressed, I would reach for a soda.  It was as if I were reaching for those happy childhood moments to calm me down.  And it delivered — every time.  Whenever that cold and fizzy sweetness would touch my tongue, it was like an instant hit.

According to a recent 60 Minutes episode, your brain responds to soda just like it does to cocaine. It’s manufactured to feel that way. You’re not going to believe how clueless I truly was.  After all we’ve been through eliminating processed food and chemicals from our home, I never once considered eliminating soda.  Neither my husband or my son drank it.  But I existed on it.  A diet soda was never far away.  I always had one with me.  Photos always included at least one can within reach of me. Sometimes, there would be two or three. You could always find empty soda cans in my car, as I never got in a car with one a ‘fresh one for the road’.  If I were on a business trip, I couldn’t relax until I knew there was at least one soda in my hotel room.

Addiction is addiction.

In the past few months, I have harped about the dangers of bottled water — while holding a can of Diet Dr. Pepper.  Making bottled water the enemy was easy for me.  After all, it echoed those childhood images of hauling water.  Thankfully, a co-worker finally called me out on it.  It was like she threw water in my face when she told me that the soda I was drinking at the time was just as bad her bottled water. Instantly, I knew she was absolutely right.  As I read the ingredients on the side of the can, I realized that I was breaking my own rules about three ingredients or less.  There were also many ingredients I couldn’t pronounce.  I finally realized what I should have known all along: the soda had to go.

The thing is, it’s hard for me to comprehend that the FDA isn’t the watchdog I took them to be.  The FDA is not on our side. Corporations only want to sell their products, then find a way to get me to buy more.  If that means using chemical additives that make my brain respond, then so be it.  And if those chemicals cause cancer in animals, then it’s my fault for buying it.  After all, they only make it available.  They don’t make me purchase it.  They don’t make me use their coupons. Its not their fault that I didn’t know that propylene glycol is the scientific name for antifreeze.  And they are right.  I should have known these things.  But I didn’t.

Many of you have followed my efforts of giving up soda on Facebook.  To my amazement, many of you expressed a desire to know how I did it.  Some said that they could never give up soda. You CAN do it, and most importantly, you SHOULD do it. There are 1000 reasons why, but you have to find the reason that best fits you. I’ve had friends tell me for years that I shouldn’t drink as much soda as I did. I knew it wasn’t good for me, but I didn’t want to hear it.

What will make you listen?