Mental Health Monday: Counting Calories

imagesLike millions of other people, I experience depression from time to time. At age 64, I know myself pretty well. Sometimes it’s what my mother’s generation called “the blues”—a mild garden-variety depression with no specific origin. Could even be boredom or fatigue or bad weather.

But lately I’ve been all too aware that the darkness I feel is related to my lifelong battle with my body. A battle I’ve been slowly losing as I’ve been packing on weight for the past year or so. I’ve reached my all time heaviest. (No need to look away, I’m not going to share any numbers here.) They say that when something bothers you enough, you’ll do something about it. I can see how this can be true when it comes to things like cleaning out the kitchen junk drawer or the bedroom closet. But my weight has always bothered me, and I’ve only done something about it, successfully, a few times in my life. Here’s what has worked for me:


Thirty years ago....

Thirty years ago….

In the 1980s I started teaching aerobic dancing. So I was working out a lot—not only teaching classes, but choreographing routines, training other instructors, and practicing at home. About the same time I discovered the book, Fit or Fat, by Covert Bailey. Bailey’s simple solution to weight loss? It’s what you eat 80% of the time that matters. So I started eating mindfully during the week and relaxed my habits on the weekends, while working out about six days a week. Did I mention I was young and arthritis hadn’t taken up residence in my joints yet?

The next time I lost weight successfully was in the early 2000s. This time, again, it was related to exercise. I joined Curves and worked out three times a week. I lost 15 pounds pretty quickly and hit a plateau. I wasn’t dieting.

Round three happened in the summer of 2013. After my car wreck I was immobilized for several months—zero exercise. And yet I lost 15 pounds. For the first time I can ever remember, I just didn’t have an appetite. Not for food or alcohol. But it didn’t last, and within a year I had gained it back and didn’t stop gaining until I found myself unhappily overweight. Again.

calorries-tiny-creatures-320x300I’m uncomfortable in my clothes. In fact, I’ve got quite a few nice clothes I can’t even wear. So today I’ve decided it’s bothering me enough to do something about it. I don’t believe in diets. Or rather, they don’t work for me. And I’m not very disciplined about exercise right now, although I’m going to make a commitment to work out on the elliptical machine regularly. Mindful eating is something I always aim for, but I think desperate times call for desperate measures, so I’m going to revert back to something old-fashioned and tried and true: counting calories. Just downloaded a couple of apps on my iPhone to help with the math. Had to enter my current weight and my goal weight to see how many calories to budget every day. About 1300. I see lots of vegetables in my future. If this gets to be too hard I might have to revert back to Bailey’s 80/20 formula and give myself a break occasionally. But it feels good to have a plan, and to begin. If you think about it, please say a prayer for me. And thanks for reading.

Faith on Friday: Saturday Mornings: MORE Church and Fasting?

Saturday MorningI should probably begin this post with a confession. I’m slothful. It would be better if I turned that into a repentance, meaning I intend to do something about the slothfulness. Let’s just say I’m working on it. (Here’s a post from 2012 that goes into more detail about my struggle: “Why Does It Have to Be So Damn Hard?”) If you’re tired of hearing me complain about how hard Orthodox Christianity is, please don’t give up on me—I hope to put a positive spin on this post.

beheadingWhy am I focusing on this topic today? This morning my husband reminded me that tomorrow is the Commemoration of the Beheading of Saint John the Baptist, and we have Liturgy at 9 a.m. And it’s a fast day, in honor of Saint John. And it’s Saturday. Saturday is the only day of the week we can sleep in. We slow down our pace, enjoy some bacon and eggs, and often spend the morning in our jammies while watching a golf tournament on TV or browsing the newspaper or a good book. But since tomorrow is the Beheading of St. John, we should be (1) at church and (2) fasting.

I should mention that my husband is not slothful. In addition to working full time as a physician, he serves as Associate Pastor at St. John Orthodox Church. And once a month he makes a 130-mile round trip to Grand Junction, Tennessee, at 5 a.m. on Sunday to serve the liturgy at a small skete (monastery) there. He gets home around 2 p.m. But when he told me about the liturgy at church on Saturday morning, he didn’t groan like I did.

So today I’m needing to remind myself why the Church asks us to sacrifice our personal time and deny ourselves the foods we love on this particular day. What’s the big deal about Saint John the Baptist?

Beheading_of_St_John_the_Baptist_wmYou can read an account of his beheading here. What strikes me as I read this again today is how he was martyred for his politically unpopular stance against Herod’s adultery. He called sin what it was—sin—and for that he was beheaded. Today he would probably just be called out and maybe unfriended on Facebook for taking such an unpopular stand. But it reminded me that being true to your faith can be costly. And so maybe giving up my relaxing Saturday morning and denying myself certain foods for the day isn’t such a big deal in comparison. I’m going to try. And before you go thinking, “isn’t she holy?” or some crap like that, just remember that going to church and fasting are things we do for our souls, because we need God, not because we are godly. Holy Saint John, pray to God for us.

Writing on Wednesday: The Roman à Clef

WD1015A few weeks ago I did a post, “Taking Liberties,” about fictionalizing real, historical people for my novel. I had just sent the revised manuscript back to the literary agent who has shown interest, but I haven’t heard back from her yet. I’m getting nervous… it’s been 23 days and no word yet.

Meanwhile I’m still curious about what she will have to say in response to my questions about using these public figures’ real names in the novel. Their persona adds lots of weight to the story, so I hope I’ll be able to keep them. We’ll see.


Today I read an article in the October 2015 issue of Writer’s Digest’s inkwell column: “Keys to the Roman à Clef.”—When writing fictional characters inspired by real ones, you need to tread carefully. Shore up your story with these 7 tips. by Boze Hadleigh. (FYI:Roman à Clef translated from the French means “novel with a key.” In the case of my novel it’s when real persons are somewhat disguised.)

william-haefeli-less-roman-more-clef-new-yorker-cartoonHadleigh seems to be very concerned about law suits, “particularly if you’re casting them in a bad light.” He says, “If such a character is recognizable as a real person, and you portray him unfavorably, he can sue for defamation and damages—and win.”

So—just to remind you—my main historical character whose name I use died in 1989. So she can’t sue me. I guess it’s a matter of whether or not her estate would choose to. Hadleigh does say that “celebrities and other public figures are, to a certain extent, ripe fodder for creative work—once they become a part of our pop culture….” Here’s hoping my character fits into that category.

Just got home from three weeks in Denver last night so this post is a bit late and short. Please stay tuned, and as always, I love to hear from you.

Mental Health Monday: Look for the Good

Continuing my Pete the Cat postings…. on my next-to-last day in Denver, I’m already sad to be leaving my kids and granddaughters, but I’m also looking forward to getting back to my “normal” life in Memphis. Like Pete the Cat says, look for the good in every day.

PTC Masterpiece
That’s all.

Faith on Friday: The Jesus Everybody Loves

LoveLikeJesusNo time to write a blog post today, so I’m going to share this quote from an article I read in the Huffington Post on Wednesday. Have a great weekend!

Our job isn’t to make America look like Jesus. Our job is to look so much like Jesus that America says, “Wow!” The Jesus everybody loves is full of justice, mercy, and faithfulness, not only outward aspects of morality. These Christians feed the hungry and comfort the grieving. They fight for the persecuted, the poor, and the victim.—Richard Stearns, President of World Vision, “The Jesus We Love,” in the Huffington Post on Wednesday.

Writing on Wednesday: A Sense of Place

A Sense of PlaceSpending three weeks in the Denver area with kids and grandkids isn’t quite enough time to get a feel for a sense of place here. Even when I spent five weeks here back in 2012 (for the birth of my third granddaughter) I never could wrap my feelings around the city. Compared to the South of my childhood and young adulthood—Mississippi, 1951-1988—and the “MidSouth” of the past 27 years—Memphis, 1988-2015—by comparison Denver feels, well, generic. I’m sure that’s because the natives just aren’t my people. They have a different geography, climate, history, and culture. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately as my husband and I are considering retiring here in a few years.

Cotton fields off Highway 51 in Mississippi

Cotton fields off Highway 51 in Mississippi

When I say “retiring,” I’m thinking more of my husband retiring from his medical career. I don’t think I’ll be ready to retire from writing. And I wonder how living in Colorado will affect my work. Most of my published essays and the novel that’s now being considered by a literary agent are set in the South. It’s what I know. Although two chapters of that novel are set in New York City. But I’ve been there many times and had a blast researching it for those sections. Could I write something set in the mountain states? I’m not feeling it.

Colorado Rocky Mountains

Colorado Rocky Mountains

I have two friends who have published books—one nonfiction and two fiction—which are set in the Western mountain area. But although Julie Cantrell—author of Into the Free and When Mountains Move—lives in Oxford, Mississippi, she once lived in Colorado, and it shows in the sense of place she creates in her novels. And Kristen Iversen, whom I met when she was living in Memphis and directing the creative writing program at the University of Memphis before moving back to the Denver area, grew up in the Rocky Flats area that she portrays so vividly in her creative nonfiction work, Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats.

As I consider “what’s next?”—hoping that “next” means after my first novel is published—I wonder if it will matter where I live when it’s written. I’ve started a second novel that’s actually set in New York City. A good excuse to return there often, right? And another one that’s set in Mississippi, but it’s entirely too autobiographical, which is why I haven’t continued to work on it.

Most of my favorite authors have set their novels—and of course their memoirs—close to where they live or grew up: Pat Conroy and his wife, Cassandra King Conroy, Mary Karr, Joshilyn Jackson, and of course writers like Harper Lee, William Faulkner, and Eudora Welty.

But then there are exceptions. I can’t think of many, but The Tilted World, about the devastating Mississippi flood of 1927, co-written by husband and wife authors Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly, isn’t set in either of their home states. I know they did a ton of research to capture the terrific sense of place in this literary page-turner.

If something outside the South captures my interest enough for me to set an entire novel in another part of the country (or the world), maybe it won’t matter which state I’m living in when I write it. Maybe I will write the “historical art fiction” books I’ve got in mind while living in Colorado one day. I’m finally going to Paris next year, so maybe I can do some research while I’m there. Sounds like a plan.

Now that I’ve settled that, I can get back to grandmothering in peace. Just finishing up this post before heading to bed. Goodnight all.

Mental Health Monday: Granddaughter Milestones

Anna and Grace with new backpacks off to new school.

Anna and Grace with new backpacks off to new school.

Today is milestone day for all four of my precious granddaughters, so I’m just celebrating with them:

Grace (age 6) started first grade today.

Anna (age 5) started kindergarten.



Gabby (3 1/2) started preschool.

Izzy (age 5 days) is spending her first day home with Mom and Susu while Dad goes back to work and Gabby goes to preschool.

Izzy Day 5

Izzy Day 5

What a joy to be able to be here with them in Denver during this exciting time. I am blessed.

Faith on Friday: Izzy, Elvis and the Mother of God

Icon of the Dormition of the Mother of God

Icon of the Dormition of the Mother of God

August 15 is the date that millions of people commemorate the death of two very different heroes—Elvis Presley and the Mother of God.

Tomorrow is the date of the Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God in the Orthodox Church.

On this same date thousands of people from all over the world come to Memphis—to Elvis’s home at Graceland—for a candlelight vigil for Elvis.

Candlelight vigil for Elvis at Graceland in Memphis

Candlelight vigil for Elvis at Graceland in Memphis

I’ve never been a big Elvis fan. We’ve lived in Memphis for 27 years and I’ve only been to Graceland twice—both times at the request of guests from out of town. And then six years ago I was schooled on Elvis by an English nun. I’ve grown to appreciate him as a musical and cultural icon, but I don’t venerate him. I don’t plan to attend any candlelight vigils for him.

Lots of people who aren’t Catholic or Orthodox have a problem with our veneration of the Mother of God. And yet I wonder how many of those same people don’t have a problem with the veneration of Elvis?
That’s all.

Oh, and for those of you who aren’t on Facebook: I now have 4 granddaughters! Isabelle Katherine Davis was born Wednesday afternoon, August 12! She’s beautiful and healthy, and I’m so thankful for her safe arrival. Mother and baby are both doing great! I’ll be in Denver until August 25 helping Beth, Kevin, Gabby and Izzy adjust to being a family of four. Also having a great time hanging out with my son, Jason, and his wife, See and daughters Grace and Anna. Heading to Anna’s 5th birthday party tomorrow. After all the extreme heat and humidity in Memphis, it’s such a treat to be enjoying this try, breezy, beautiful weather and the mountain sunsets. Enjoy a few photos!

Gabby (3), Grace (6), Susu, Izzy (2 hours), and Anna (5)

Gabby (3), Grace (6), Susu, Izzy (2 hours), and Anna (5)


Isabelle Katherine Davis

Isabelle Katherine Davis


Davis family of 4: Beth, Kevin, Izzy and Gabby!

Davis family of 4: Beth, Kevin, Izzy and Gabby!

Writing on Wednesday: WAITING (Two Projects)

b5def9ac4d3659c63de4432a324423e6I’m WAITING… to hear back from a literary agent who is reading my third major revision of Cherry Bomb, a novel. At this stage of the work there are busy times and then these lulls. I can see it could go on like this for months. So, like most writers, I keep writing something in the meantime. I could get back to work on the next novel (I penned a first chapter just over a year ago) or find writing contests or anthologies calling for manuscripts and submit a new essay. I love essays and am always on the lookout for a good home for my musings. But right now I’ve got another project brewing.

norton-anthologyAbout six months ago I decided to try and publish an anthology. I love anthologies. Having had essays published in three collections since 2012, I decided that this time I would wear the editor’s hat. After getting input from a few experienced anthology editors and a writing buddy who was the inspiration for this collection, I put together a thirteen-page nonfiction book proposal. The elements of the proposal are:

Title Page

Introduction (2 pages—kind of a history of the book’s conception and an annotated synopsis)

About the Editor (Bio. Why I’m the right person to edit this collection.)


Social Media/Web Presence

Marketing (connections at bookstores)

Endorsements (published authors who have agreed to blurb the book)

Comparative Titles (“Readers of blah-blah-blah would like this book because….”)

*Potential Authors (One-paragraph bios of 25 women I plan to invite to contribute essays to the book. Top 5 are well-known published authors. Next 15 are lesser known but have published books. “Bottom” 5 are excellent writers who have something to say that fits the theme of the collection, although they aren’t yet published.)

*Note: A few of these authors probably won’t accept the invitation. I’d like to end up with 18-20 essays for the book, so I’m casting a wide net.

gypsy-rose-lee-1941-women-at-typewriterIn February I queried an academic press where I know the Editor personally. He was interested. We exchanged emails and phone calls for five months. After his editorial board reviewed the proposal, they decided it wasn’t a good fit for their press. Five months of waiting. Yes.

In July I decided to send out several queries at once—to another academic press and three independent publishers. I’ve heard back from three of them already: two rejections and one that shows promise but presents a problem. Here’s an excerpt from their reply:


Dear Susan,

Thank you for your query. This seems like an ambitious project. Unfortunately, the marketability of such a project will depend heavily on the name recognition of the contributors. You have some well-known potential contributors here, but I also know that many of them may not have the time for such a project. At this point, we don’t feel comfortable contracting for this book until you have commitments from at least 3 or 4 of the recognizable names you list below—and it would have to include some well-known names or it would be difficult to market this book. Other publishers may feel differently about making a commitment, but should you proceed and get some commitments from those better-known authors, we would be happy to take a second look at a more complete proposal at a later date.

So there’s the rub. It’s difficult to get commitments from well-known authors for an anthology that doesn’t yet have a publisher. One of the two presses who rejected my query said they would only accept a full manuscript. Again, why would 20+ published authors send me essays for a book that doesn’t have a publisher?

I haven’t heard back from the fourth press I queried. One press suggested other places that might be a better fit for the collection, which was nice of them to take time to do.

great-with-child-book-beth-ann-fennellySo, while I’m in Denver WAITING for the birth of our fourth grandchild, I’m also WAITING to hear back from a literary agent and a small press for these two writing projects. I’ll be home in two weeks and will refocus my efforts.

Meanwhile I’m having a great time with my kids and grandkids and getting so excited about #4! My daughter is great with child, as her due date was August 5. I’m remembering the wonderful book I gave her (when she was pregnant with her first child) by my friend Beth Ann Fennelly, Great With Child, as I keep waiting today. Stay tuned for baby news!

Mental Health Monday: Be Kind

Following up on the series which I began last Monday on Pete the Cat….

I’m in Denver awaiting the birth of our four grandchild—probably tonight or tomorrow! Took my daughter for a mother-daughter mani-pedi and then cooked some meals for the week, so no time left for blogging. If you need a mental health boost, take a look at this, and BE KIND!

 PTC Be Kind

Please come back on Wednesday… things might be a bit hectic around here, but I’ll try to post something for Writing on Wednesday!

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