Problem fixed – I think

November 25, 2009

Haven’t logged on for some time now because I couldn’t recall the password. Found a note this a.m. with the info so I’m now in contact again.

This Writer’s Journey

November 21, 2009

I am a writer.  My work has been published in magazines and the newspaper.  I have received five writing contest awards.  Even today, with the credentials to back up this statement, I am humbled by this title.  

I’ll never forget the first time someone referred to me as a writer.  In the early 1980s, I held the conviction that the earth was in deep trouble.  Tropical rainforests were disappearing at an alarming rate.  Declining populations of our North American songbirds served as my “canary in the mine.”  With the passion of youth, I set out to inform the world.  I volunteered for the Rainforest Action Network.  I developed a slideshow on the impacts of rainforest destruction on songbirds, then proceeded to present my views to rotary clubs, local Audubon chapters and schools.  I expanded my repertoire and created a slideshow on the parrots of the rainforest.  I wasn’t satisfied. I wanted a wider audience.  That’s when I turned to the written word.  I wrote articles and submitted them to magazines.  My first piece, Are We Losing Our Warblers?, appeared in Wildbird Magazine.  The by-line indicated that I was a freelance writer.  Writer?  Me?  Writers were famous people with talent.  I had never been one of those kids driven to document events and feelings in a journal.  I had studied the sciences in college.   

I managed to get one more article, Parrots in Peril, published in Watchbird Magazine, before my first child was born.  Despite all my efforts and the work of like-minded environmental preservationists, the tropical greenery burned on.  My flame to save our songbirds and their rainforest habitat shrunk.  My attention had shifted to loving and caring for my daughter.  Yet, that by-line, that proclamation of “writer” caught in indelible black ink,  had shifted my view of the world and myself.  Someday, I would become a writer.

Almost seven years passed before I picked up the torch and placed my fingers upon the computer keyboard once more.  Once again, my love for this planet had spurred me into action.  This time I intended to write a nonfiction book about environmental catastrophes.  The first chapter was to be on the topic of the devastating impact of the introduction of the mosquito on Hawaiian birds.  I never finished that chapter or the book.  During my research, I had fallen in love with the native Hawaiian culture.  Their poetical sayings held beauty and wisdom.  Even Michener hadn’t documented this element of the islands in his historical novel, Hawaii.  Why hadn’t someone captured the essence of these amazing  people before their customs were lost and forgotten?   

My husband first suggested that I should write a historical fiction novel about Hawaii.  What?  What did I know about creative writing?  I was trained as a scientist.  Yet, the idea stuck. 

I learned the craft of creating vibrant prose through classes and workshops.  Along the way, I delved into writing short story and personal narratives.  Last year,  I joined the Writer’s on the Journey critique group.   These talented and supportive writers have taught me volumes.  With their help, I hope to create a novel worthy of publication.  Meanwhile, I can say with confidence and conviction, I am a writer. 

When did your journey begin?  When did you first consider yourself a writer?

Thanksgiving Foods and Thoughts

November 21, 2009

I did an analysis of traditional Thanksgiving foods several years ago, probably during one  of my long-term stints with Weight Watchers.

Turkey:  In the old days when I was young, before a television sat in every living room and before an air conditioning unit was installed into every windowsill, turkey was only available at Thanksgiving and again at Christmas.  Now a days, with a television in every room and central air conditioning in every house, turkey is in the frozen food section of the nearest Safeway year-round.  There’s fancy sliced turkey on display in the deli showcase and mass-produced sandwich sized turkey slices in hermetically sealed packages in the refrigerated  lunch meat section.  Having turkey at Thanksgiving is not the treat that it once was.  So, there’s not that much to get excited about.

Dressing:  Wet bread.  I don’t care how much onion, celery, mushrooms, Tabasco sauce, sausage and oysters you put into it, dressing is still wet bread.  And starch.  Big yawn from me.

Potatoes:  Sweet potatoes or yams mixed with pineapple and topped with marshmallows is an extra sweet way to serve yet another starch.  By the way, I am absolutely sure there were no marshmallows at the First Thanksgiving.

Now mashed potatoes, real mashed potatoes, are delicious and worthy of some discussion.  I don’t care if you boil them with garlic or just in salt, or if you mash them or whip them, if you add margarine, milk or cream, the end product is delicious.  The potato flavor is enhanced even more when topped with a layer of any type of hot, thick gravy.  Yes, mashed potatoes do qualify as a starch if you want to be technical.  In my biased estimation, it’s a vegetable, gravy or no.

Dinner rolls:  Any day of the year you can bake brown and serve rolls from the grocery.  Or those roll-up crescent-shaped ones from a tube in the dairy section.  They are most definitely a starch and not a once-a-year item.  I could pass them by.

Ambrosia:  By definition, food for the gods.  No one ever serves enough.  Couldn’t be easier to make – can after can of drained Mandarin oranges, drained canned chunk pineapple, and coconut out of the bag.  Note:  Cooks of America – immediately cease and desist with adding sour cream and baby marshmallows to this holy dish.  Again, there were no marshmallows at the First Thanksgiving.  No, there probably wasn’t any ambrosia then either, but it tastes so good, who cares.

String Bean Onion Ring Casserole:  OK.  It’s made of string beans so that part qualifies as a vegetable, and a green vegetable at that.  But, the canned mushroom soup in the casserole negates all the good stuff.  Those fried onion rings cause your breath to reek for at least a full day.  If you just have to kiss someone, either skip this dish or find a recipient who has also eaten the same string bean casserole you have.  I’m not sure this halitosis-producing dish deserves a spot on my plate.

Pies:  In my entire life, I have never awakened at 3 a.m. and thought, “If I just had a piece of pumpkin pie.”  Fresh strawberry pie, yes.  Pumpkin, no.  I think the only reason they had pumpkin pie at the First Thanksgiving was because, well, there were a lot of pumpkins that were going to go bad during the winter if they didn’t get used.  Besides pies and Jack-o-lanterns, what can you do with a pumpkin?  Now, apple pie.  There are a lot of apples in the fall and apples make such a delicious pie.  No, you cannot count either pumpkin or apple pie as a fruit.  Then, there’s pecan pie.  Lots of nuts in the fall.  My choice amongst the three?  Pecan, with a big blob of real whipped cream.  There are enough calories in one slice of my homemade pecan pie to put a layer of winter insulation on you that would last until spring. That would work great if we were still Pilgrims who chopped fire wood every day, hunted for meat in the forest, and cooked from dawn to dusk.  Instead, we are Americans who sit in front  of a flat screen TV while we watch football and eat a second helping of pie while our cholesterol level rises.

My dream Thanksgiving dinner?  Mashed potatoes and gravy with a small mandatory slice of white meat on the side.  After all, I am a patriotic American and therefore obligated to eat at least some turkey on Thanksgiving Day.  Ambrosia on a salad plate.

Then, I’d hit the pie table.


Happy Thanksgiving,

Susan McClurg Berman

The Naked Gardener: Java food

November 17, 2009

Do you drink coffee?  My wife and I down two mugs or so each morning.  We ground our own (Peet’s) coffee beans and then drip brew the delicious elixir.  It wards off the demons from the night before.  Before we realize it, we are socially and professionally productive again!  I edit my writing best with a steaming mug of Java by my side.

But recent research has shown that coffee has more benefits for humans than just the caffeine kick.  You’ve probably read this news.  What you may not know is that used coffee grounds are a fabulous source of growth nutrients for your garden plants also.  If all grows well in our garden, my wife and I deposit our morning’s Java grounds in one of our two compost bins.  But if an important plant is struggling, we put the laggard on a Java regimen.

Used coffee grounds are rich in nitrogen and many beneficial minerals for the garden.  Nitrogen is your basic green growth rocket fuel.  The beneficial minerals are the longer lasting nutrients that sustain your struggling plant through its darker hours.  Sprinkle three or four mornings of coffee grounds around the base of your bush or tree then water the grounds into the soil with a gallon or so of H2O.  Before you know it, your struggling herbacious child will most likely be greener, leafier, and healthier.

Mind you, spent coffee grounds do not cure all that ails your garden.  But we have seen miraculous recoveries as a result of our Java treatment.  And guess what?  Oh, you knew the answer already – it’s free, natural and naked!


November 11, 2009

One of the great things about having a group blog is cheering on each other’s successes.  Several past and present members of WOTJ have recent good news to share.  Since they’re being modest, I thought I’d celebrate their accomplishments.

David George won first place in the  18th Jack London Writing Contest for his short story, “Frog Song.”

Jack Russ’ short story, “The Pink Letter,” was named first runner-up in the 2009 WestSide Story Contest.  He’s been invited to read his winning story at the December 12th meeting of the CWC Berkeley Branch. 

Nannette Rundle Carroll‘s first book, The Communication Problem Solver: Simple Tools and Techniques for Busy Managers, has been published by AMACOM Books.  Nannette is one of the founding members of our critique circle.  Her new book is currently available for order on-line (ISBN # 9780814413081) and will be in bookstores mid-month. 

Please join me in congratulating David, Jack, and Nannette!   Wahoo!

An Amazing Weight Loss Journey

November 4, 2009

I was so confident that I had achieved my final weight loss goal this morning that I imagined the scale was the mat situated in front of Phil Keoghan of the Amazing Race.  I stepped up onto the white square appliance.  The red numerals flashed up to the exact numbers I had hoped to see.   I had done it.  I had reached an ideal weight for my height, sex and age. 

            In my mind, I heard Phil’s voice:


“Jill Hedgecock, 33 pounds, 7 months, two pairs of tennis shoes, 231 miles, 215 containers of fat free Yoplait yogurt, 215 salads, 1,100 calorie entries into the LoseIt iPhone application, YOU are the winner of the Amazing Race Weight Loss Race.  As the winner of this season, you are entitled to a shopping spree at the clothing and department stores of your choice and a lifetime subscription to a healthy eating style.” 


The truth is I do feel like I’ve won the Amazing Race.  No, I didn’t win a million dollars, but I feel like a million dollars.  I didn’t even start out to lose weight.  Back in March, a co-worker asked if I would participate in a company-wide program called Active for Life, designed to encourage employees to exercise.  It was easy to accept her invitation, since I already exercised on a daily basis.  Because I never quite got the start date from her, and working remotely, I feared my precious exercise points wouldn’t get counted for our team. 


Enter the LoseIt application on my iPhone.  This handy dandy free application had a feature that allowed me to keep track of my daily exercise minutes.  I could log my hours and my team wouldn’t miss out on points. 


Along comes my daughter, Lindsay, who insisted on setting up a weight loss goal, logging my daily calories, as well as helping me track my time spent exercising.  She logged my foods for a few days, got my routine foods stored in the “My Foods” section of the LoseIt program, and from then on I was hooked. 


I took a slow approach, set interim goals, and the weight just came off.   The LoseIt program was so user-friendly.  There were no complicated point systems.  There was no need to track fats or carbs.  The simple fact is that my calorie intake needed to be at, or lower than, my allotted daily calorie intake.    As the weight came off,  the LoseIt program assigned fewer calorie credits for exercise and less daily allowed calories.  This fundamental concept allowed me to keep losing weight when other diets had failed. 


If anyone is inspired to take the Amazing Weight Loss Journey, here are a few tips that helped me achieve my goal:


1).  Don’t skip breakfast and don’t allow yourself to get ravenous.  Small snacks can keep you on track.  Fruit is amazingly filling.  My “Good Deal” fruits include cantaloupe, plums and oranges.

2). Stay away from processed foods.  The more raw fruits and vegetables you eat, the quicker the weight loss.  Believe it or not, raw foods represent fewer calories than the same amount of cooked foods simply because you burn more calories eating and digesting raw foods.

3).  Guilty pleasures:  Fat Free Chocolate pudding: 80 calories and worth every one.  Carmel apple suckers or Tootsie Pop suckers.  Both are 60 calories and last a long time.  One Diet Pepsi with lunch. 

4).  Surprisingly filling:  Safeway’s Fiesta Chicken soup.  A cup is only 100 calories, add a piece of fruit and 6 saltines or 5 reduced fat Ritz crackers and you’ve got a wholesome and surprisingly filling lunch.

5).  Don’t deny yourself and don’t eliminate whole food groups.  I pretty much ate whatever I wanted, but in small quantities.  I did not prepare a low calorie dinner that was different that what I served my family, though I often didn’t have enough calorie budget to indulge in a roll or a slice of bread.  For the most part, I found it wasn’t what I ate as much as the portions I ate that made the difference.   When I ate Cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory, I split it with someone.  (Really, it’s plenty big- you don’t need a whole one).  I also gave myself permission to indulge my food cravings.  If I went away for the weekend, I’d make smart choices, but I’d give the LoseIt Program and myself a vacation. 

6).  Drink fluids.  I drink about 12 oz. of green tea with my breakfast, and a full glass of water with dinner.  Sometimes to ease my hunger, I would drink a 12 oz glass of water mixed with a packet of citrus BeneFiber.  It taste like tang, is filling, and provides soluble fiber in your diet. 

7).  As far as exercise, I walked once or twice a day and I did sit-ups before bed.   That’s about it.  Studies have shown if you walk in the morning, you burn more calories.  I’ve always walked my dogs in the a.m. so they won’t pester me while I work.  Toward the end of my weight loss journey, or when I was in a rush and couldn’t do my full walk, I’d do short (and I do mean short) sprint intervals during my walks.