Hand surgery

handI’m having hand surgery next week, and I’ve been quite busy getting ready.

First, I had to get my “fake” nails removed. I put quotation marks around the word because I’ve had acrylic nails since 1981. That’s the year I quit my 4-pack-a-day smoking habit. I decided I’d spend the money I saved from buying cigarettes on something I wouldn’t normally spend money on. Something outrageously girly. Something like acrylic nails with British racing car red polish. That was thirty-one years ago when a carton of Marlborough cost twenty bucks. It was a nice trade.

My malady, which is requiring the surgery, is called Dupuytren’s contracture. It’s a disease I’ve inherited from my northern European ancestors. The palmar fascia thickens and contracts, small hard nodules form just under the skin near the base of the fingers, and hard bands form across the palm. All this works together to cause my fingers to bend toward my palm. It’s not a disease for a writer. Surgery won’t cure it, but it’ll help me regain a better range of finger motion in order to play this computer keyboard and create prose poetry, flash fiction and action-packed plots for the novels playing in my head.

In the last couple of months, as slowly as water heats in a pan where a frog sits blissfully unaware of the danger, my ring finger thickened just south of the knuckle. When I read the pre-op directions to leave all jewelry at home, I realized I couldn’t get off my engagement ring–even with lots of lotion. What’s a girl to do? Well, according to the doctor’s office, a girl is to go to the nearest fire station or an emergency clinic and get someone to cut through the band. You’d think the surgical center would have such a knife, but evidently Memorial Hermann Medical Surgical Center in the world renown Texas Medical Center has other things on which to spend its money.

My sweetie drove me to our Navasota Fire Department this afternoon and John, a fireman and our neighbor, pulled the ring cutter from the fire truck and took me inside to cut the band. It’s actually a simple procedure: The cutter slips under the band and then there’s a tightening screw that advances the cutting blade through the ring band. Hardened steel cutting through 18-K white gold. John was gentle and in less than a minute, he had cut through. Eric, another fire fighter, took me in the kitchen and doused dish washer liquid on my hand and started twisting the ring around and around until it slipped past the knots and glided right off. I looooove living in my small town.

But I have to tell you: I also feel blessed to be living within driving distance to the Texas Medical Center. They may not spend money on ring cutters, but they have world-class physicians. My surgeon, Dean W. Smith, is board certified and is a “Top 10 Doctor” in Texas. I’m glad he’s recognized as a serious player in his specialty, but I will tell you what impresses me as much as his “Top Doc” status is the recognition he’s received earning the “Patients’ Choice Award” (every single year since 2008) and the “Compassionate Doctor Award – 5 Year Honoree.” I revert back to being a scared little girl when I’m in the hospital, no matter how routine, and it’s good to know my doctor is going to be compassionate as well as precise.

When the stitches are removed and the swelling goes down, Ronnie says he’s taking me back to Ernst Jewelers in Huntsville, TX, where he’s having my engagement ring resized and placed back where it belongs. Awwwww. Mic drop and walk away, babe.


rlduck-haircutMy sweetie has worn his hair biker long for most of his adult years–except for a brief time when he shaved his head, going completely bald, in protest of his mother’s nagging for him to get a haircut. I’ve seen pictures, and trust  me, you don’t wanna. Knowing this extreme response to nagging, however, made me very, very cautious about even suggesting he get his locks trimmed.

Instead, manipulator that I can be, I’ve been pointing out the short haircuts that are worn so well by the likes of Anderson Cooper, Ben Affleck, and Jake Gyllenhaal. It’s taken a while, but last weekend Ronnie accompanied me to my hair stylist and told her to cut off his hair.

“How short?” she asked.

“Just a tad longer than a buzz,” he answered, and he pulled up a photo on his iPhone of George Clooney. “Like his, except shorter on top.”

I’ll admit it. I was nervous. I’d only wanted it off his shoulders and out of his eyes. Was he going to look like a freshman Aggie in the Corps of Cadets?

He looks ten years younger. Sharp and clean-cut. A much better look on him than that of an aging hippie or bad-ass biker who’d lost his bite.

Oh, be still my pounding heart. I’m falling for this man all over again.

Mother’s hand-me-downs

pinky swearRemember all those times we swore we’d never be like our mothers? We were serious, too. We even made pinky finger swears with our best friends.

The bad news is that the older we get, the more like our mothers we become. (The good news is that we don’t live in ancient Japan where we’d have to cut off that finger for breaking the swear.)

As we age, we even begin to look like her.  The familial bone structure, without added collagen or Botox injections, faces us in the mirror. The downturn of our mouth or lift of our left brow when we’re annoyed is a twin of her expression. Omigod, we groan. I’m turning into Mother!

Such times are times to pause and reflect, not reject. Let me tell you a story to illustrate what I mean.

About a half-dozen years ago, when my mother was still living, I remember getting in a fight with her. She was criticizing something I was doing or a choice I had made—I don’t really remember exactly what it was she said, but I was so furious that I left the room and headed upstairs. I thought seriously about packing and going back to Houston, but decided I’d just go to sleep and drive home the next morning. No way I was going to stay around and listen to her berate me. (Can you visualize my stamping my foot?)

The next morning my mother woke me by stroking my hair and saying, “I’m sorry about last night. I want you to know, that wasn’t me criticizing you—that was my mother’s voice. She was so critical. Can you forgive me?” For the record, my response was: “Yes, of course.”

That’s when I began to realize we inherit more than our mother’s looks. We inherit their attitudes and values, and it is imperative that we reflect on those attitudes and values. Only then can we embrace them as our own, or release them so they don’t control our thinking.

My grandmother had many attitudes and values worth passing on. She believed in education. She taught third grade, and she cashed in her teacher retirement to pay for my mother’s last year in college. She believed in God and although she was baptized a Baptist, she followed her husband into the Church of Christ. She believed in showing a stoic character in public and grieving in private, which meant no funeral hysterics or emotional outbursts in public meetings. She believed in dressing well. An expert seamstress, she made her own and my mother’s clothes by copying haute couture outfits from high fashion magazines.

My mother embraced these same values. She was a lifelong educator, going from public school teacher to university professor to Texas prison school superintendent. She and my dad paid for my brothers’ and my undergraduate degrees, and she paid for study abroad excursions for three grandsons. She believed in God and felt especially close to the Holy Spirit. She left her Church of Christ upbringing to join the Catholic Church when she married my father. She had an iron will that earned her the respect of men and woman alike, but she was equally known for her kindness. She seldom sewed, but she had a keen eye for fashion and knew how to invest in classic clothes. Heads turned when she walked in the room.

She also inherited her mother’s sharp tongue. Did I? Much as I’d like to say no, my very close friends, my son, and my sweetie will tell you, “Sometimes.” Which is their way of saying yes, but in a nice way because they love me and know I’m trying to stop being critical of others.

I pinky swear I am!

What’s your story?

my storyWe create the narrative of our lives by the stories we tell (or keep secret). They are created through the influence of others we meet in life, the adversities we survived, and the adventures we embarked upon (or refused.)

I have an invitation for you:  Explore the twists and turns of your emotional, intellectual and spiritual journey, and write the personal stories of your life, both told and untold.

Beginning on Thursday evening (September 8), from 5:45-7:15, I will be leading a women’s writing workshop at the Jung Educational Center, 5200 Montrose Blvd., Houston 77002. You can enroll in 4 weeks or 8 weeks. I recommend you enroll in the first 4 weeks and if you feel you got your money’s worth, enroll in the second session. (That’s how confident I am you’ll be satisfied.)

We all have stories to tell and by Telling Our Amazing Stories Together, we each make TOAST. There is no grammar test or grade for punctuation. Our stories are unpretentious—we simply remember stories that have given shape to our lives and if we choose to share (it’s always a personal choice), other women listen with their heart’s ear.

By telling our story, we share traditions and rites of passage, celebrate our life choices, heal past transgressions, discover our personal truths, and bequeath our heard-earned wisdom to others.

To learn more, click here: Telling Our Stories: A Writing Course for Women, Session I .

Whether you sign up for the class or not, embrace the value of recalling your past and piecing together your life story. No one else can tell your story, for only you know the details that reveal its rich texture and meaning.