Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Genomics Revisited the Quest for my BRCA

Rosalind Franklin: the scientist who used
X-ray diffraction images to reveal 
the structure of DNA.
My first foray into exploring my genome was through the Genographic Project. Instead of whetting my curiosity, it lit it on fire. I’ve been reading articles and books, and I dream of one day visiting some of these places. (Read More)

My second peek into my genome was for practical purposes. I needed to know whether or not my boobs are going to try to kill me—a question that has haunted me since adolescence. My mom and her mother were both diagnosed with breast cancer in their early forties. My mom was an only child, as was my grandmother. I have no sisters…so 100% of my maternal, female relatives have had breast cancer. Small sampling group, but still—100%.

Breast cancer before menopause is particularly indicative of a genetic issue. There are two well-known genes related to breast cancer BRCA1 and BRCA2 (BReast CAncer). These two genes contain instructions for building proteins that repair or kill cells with damaged DNA in the tissues of the breasts and ovaries. Mutated genes produce weird proteins that can't carry out their jobs properly. If cancer cells appear, they are more likely to grow unchecked.

According to Cancer.gov, 55-65% of women with mutated BRCA1 genes will develop breast cancer by age 70, and/or 39% will develop ovarian cancer by age 70.  The BRCA2 odds are better at 45 percent for breast cancer and 11-17 percent for ovarian cancer by age 70.  (Source)
BRCA1 Protein
Got any damaged cell DNA
for me to repair?
(Wikipedia)

These are all odds. It's all ifs and percent risks—not a diagnosis.

OK. BRCA genes don't cause cancer. I get it.

My doctors and I have discussed genetic testing in depth since I'm approaching the age my mom and grandma were when they got sick. I was on board with the testing, so my doctor sent in a referral and told me where to call.

I put in a call.  A pleasant voice from the Genetic Testing Department of my local hospital explained that prior to being tested, I would meet with a genetic counselor who would chart my family history, and explain to me how genetic testing works. That part costs $250.

Oh, wow, um, OK, go on.

Then I would be tested by a certified lab costing somewhere between $2,000-$5,000.

WTF—a $3,000 price range? Is there a wheel to spin? Wow, OK.

To get the results, I would be required to meet with my assigned genetic counselor for another $150 to explain the implications of my results.

Pleasant Voice Lady asked if I would like to schedule my first counseling session.

I think I'm going to check with my insurance company first.

So I did, and Annoyed Voice Man said, “Nope.”

See! It's right there. Just tell me what it says!
WTF! For $150, science told me that I have Inuit ancestors from Siberia, and that 1.1% of my genome is Neanderthal in origin, but it's going to cost me upwards of $5,000 to find out if two well-known genes can do their job!? Maybe...

Knowing this information already existed due to my participation in the Genographic Project, I went on a quest to get to it. The FDA boob-blocked me the whole way. The Genographic Project referred me to myFamilyTree.com, who is their partner in the project. I transferred my results and looked into the health information they provide. Here is a list: What are Factoid tests? What will I learn?

No cancer results? What? They can tell me if I have the Warrior Gene but not the state of my BRCA1 or BRCA2? I emailed and asked, they said they replied the FDA prohibits them from giving medical advice. Since when is information synonymous with advice? Doesn't advice imply guidance? I don't want advice; I want data.

Humph.

Next on my list was 23andMe. They provide genetic health reports too. They can tell me if I carry the gene for Cystic Fibrosis, but again, no BRCA1 or BRCA2. I emailed them to make sure I didn't miss it, and they also replied that the FDA prohibits them from giving medical advice.

Grrr!

I found a few more services, Ancestry.com, and myHeritage.com…FDA says NOPE!

I called bullshit.  In June of 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that naturally occurring genes could not be patented, meaning testing for a specific gene couldn't be patented either. Score one for the old guys in robes! This should have led to a rapid drop in the price of genetic testing, but that's not what happened.  The FDA made sure of that.

This led to a FaceBook vent about the injustice of the FDA protecting the monetary interests of those in the medical profession by withholding information that belongs to ME about MY DNA that is a part of MY BODY. Worse, they are blocking this information under the pretext that the average person is too stupid to understand that a defective gene is not a diagnosis and might do something rash… Like what, get a back alley breast removal? Apparently, only the wealthy deserve to know, whereas us plebeians should just get sick and die and decrease the surplus population. (Apologies to Dickens.)

A reply to my FB post from a caring friend brought me back from Angry Injustice Town. Being involved in a medical field, my friend offered some insights and did some substantial research into the topic. During which, she found Color Genomics. Color is a new online genetic testing service that circumvented the FDA blockade by having an in-house doctor order the test, review the results, and offer counseling services.  All of which is included in the $250 price tag. The FDA still blustered when Color launched their service, but had no way to further derail their mission: “Half of the women who carry mutations of these genes don't have the family history that would allow them to get tested,” says Gil. [Color CEO] “This information can help everybody, not just the select few who can pay for it or have insurance coverage.” (Source Article)

As it happened to be Breast Cancer Awareness month, Color was offering a $25 discount. The genetic test would return results about my BRCA genes and 28 other genes known to be associated with hereditary cancers, e.g., melanoma, colo-rectal, and stomach. Here's a full list, 30-Gene Test for Hereditary Cancer Risk, which includes many lesser known genes related to breast cancer as well.

The whole package was less than what was required for my first counseling session!

I ordered the test and submitted my doctors' contact information so they would receive a copy of the results. The box arrived, I followed the directions and popped it back in the mailbox. A few days later, an email arrived stating that the test was received and would be analyzed. Then a week or so later the results were in. Before I even had a chance to log in to see them, my OB/GYN doctor called me to let me know he had received the results. Happy news—my BRCA genes were fine! I logged in and took a look, all 30 genes are happy and productive.

OK. Wow. That was easy and awesome.  This test saved me three doctor appointments and somewhere between two and five thousands dollars.

So Amy, what were you going to do if the test reported a mutation?

Excellent question! My plan was to share that information with my doctors and do what they told me to do, then go home and fix dinner for the family.

I needed to know.

I'm not totally off the cancerous hook. My family history component of cancer is still there. At first, I wondered how something related to family history wouldn't be revealed in my DNA. Then after some reflection, I reasoned that 3.3 billion base pairs is...well…a lot. And we are only starting to understand our genome—there are infinite ways the genes could play against each other. Also, there is a nurture component; if I mimic behaviors that led to my mom's cancer, I elevate my risk factors. So based on my mom and grandma's cancer alone, I will need to continue getting mammograms et. al. even though I am not yet 40 years old. Fine with me. Momentary discomfort is better than being dead.

Also, since all females get two X chromosomes, one from each parent, I have a 50-50 chance of passing a bad one onto my girls, even though it didn't express for me. Luckily they get an X chromosome from their dad too, giving them a 25% risk of inheriting a faulty gene from me. (If I even have one, the only way for me to know would be to test my mom.) When they are grown, it'll be worthwhile for them to get tested too.

To the CEOs of Color:
Thanks Gil.
Thanks Laraki.
You guys rock.


Further Reading:

Press about Color:

Genetics - BreastCancer.org
Excellent breakdown of the genes associated with breast cancer and how they function.

BRCA1 and BRCA2: Cancer Risk and Genetic Testing - Cancer.Gov

Monday, December 5, 2016

Genomics

This might come as a shock to you, brace yourself—I'm a little bit of a geek. Not a nerd exactly, as they tend to be more academically inclined than I am, whereas I just get super-passionate about something for a while. The more irrelevant it is to my daily life, the more I seem to enjoy immersion in the topic. Lately, that topic has been DNA.

If you and I are FaceBook friends, you probably already know a little bit about this already.

I’ve had my DNA tested twice.  For the first test, I signed up for The Genographic Project to slake my curiosity about my family heritage.  For the second, I used Color Genomics service to find genetic mutations that are linked to cancers and other diseases. (Read More)  Just to end the suspense: Color lor Genomics reported: “No mutations were identified.”

Woo hoo! Light me up a cigarette, pass me some red meat, and let me slather on some aluminum-based deodorant. Hoo yeah, that felt good.

Kidding.


Anthropology and Human Migrations
In addition to my personal family heritage, I also have a lingering interest in Anthropology that evolved into an interest in understanding the waves of people migrating out of Africa into Asia and Europe, and finally into Australia (about 50,000 years ago) and the New World at the end of the Pleistocene (about 12,000 years ago).

*Breathe Amy *

To make a very long story short, early migrations washed people in, then were stranded in human tide pools for hundreds of thousands of years leaving early humans (likely Homo heidelbergensis) to become Neanderthals and Denisovians, (and probably other yet to be discovered species), later to be flooded out by many waves of modern humans washing in from Africa between 50-100 thousand years ago.

Sitting in Anthropology 101 back in ‘99, our professor told us of two theories behind the extinction of Neanderthals: 
  1. War: Modern humans, equipped with their superior numbers and intellect, actively fought and killed the Neanderthals and/or passively out-competed them for resources. 
  2. Love: Modern humans interbred with the Neanderthals and overwhelmed their phenotype through greater numbers. 
Although war was the generally accepted theory, he favored the Love theory.

About ten years later, DNA evidence would prove him right, at least partially. Neanderthal numbers had already been declining at the end of the Pleistocene, but modern humans and Neanderthals co-existed for around 20,000-30,000 years before the last of the Neanderthals disappeared around 40,000 years ago. Today, traces of Neanderthal DNA live on in almost all people of European descent. My results show that 1.1 percent of my DNA is Neanderthal in origin. They weren't wiped out, they were absorbed. Ah, la'more.

"Dad, what are we?"
Family Heritage
As a kid, I'd often ask my dad, “What are we?” The story goes that our family began from a soldier in Lafayette's army, (I'm unclear as to whether the soldier was  French or American) and a Native American woman. In the 200ish years since that time, his heritage came to also include Scotch-Irish, (whatever that means) and English on his father's side, and German from his mother. She was born from immigrant parents.

On the other side of my family bramble, my mom had no idea about her heritage. She had never met her father, so other than “some French” heritage from her mother, she had no clue from whence she came.

Aside from our music, American culture basically consists of a penchant for being overweight consumers fast food, lattes, and Ikea shelving. This always bothered me. I want to know what pockets of the world have vestiges of my roots. Where did I come from? Who are my people? What are our stories? How am I connected?


I ordered my DNA testing kit for my birthday last year. With dancing feet, I opened it, and read and re-read the directions. I registered my kit online, then swabbed my cheek, packaged it back up, and dropped it in the mailbox. Like Raphie from A Christmas Story, I checked my electronic mailbox daily for updates. Unlike Raphie, my decoded genome did not tell me to drink my Ovaltine. The results were fascinating and surprising. My dad’s family story was vindicated (see the 2% Native American) and the mystery of my mother’s revealed.

Here is a snapshot:
What surprised me the most was how blobby and undefined the regions are. There are no crisp lines delineating heritage of particular countries. Apparently, you can't put borders on love.  Check out the "Southern Europe" region:  that's a big part of the map.  Humm, looks somewhat similar to many of the Roman Empire maps...


Also, check out the Siberian Region. These people were roaming this gigantic polar region sharing DNA long enough to create distinct markers unique to this population. That then somehow came to comprise 5% of my DNA—have Eurasian Inuit DNA? Sweet!

I just found out that it is likely that my Siberian and Native American markers originated from the same woman who married the soldier of my family's lore. DNA was extracted from a baby who was determined to be of the Clovis people.  They are thought to be among the first to cross the landbridge to North America during the ice age.  The child's DNA shows Siberian markers and DNA common to 80% of Native American tribes.  (The article.)

My ancestors were there, walking across a land bridge that would be swallowed by the rising seas into a land where no other humans lived. There they lived for almost 13,000 years until a woman fell in love with a European soldier, married, and raised a family.

I can also see a map my maternal ancestors took out of Africa as revealed through mitochondrial DNA, which is only passed through mothers. So freaking cool. The deep paternal roots are only available on the Y chromosome so my brother would need to do the test to find our migratory paths of our paternal line.

What was also interesting is that I could compare my results with a genetic breakdown of average people who are from those areas. Over half of my DNA markers originated in Great Britain and Ireland. But, it shows that average British natives only have a slightly higher percentage of genetic markers that originated in Britain. Contained in their DNA, is physical evidence of the historical mixing during the era of the Roman Empire then later the settlements (and invasions) by the Normans, Saxons, and Vikings during the Middle Ages.


Learning about history is so much more engaging knowing that my ancestors were living and raising their families during these times.

It also shows me just how ridiculous racism is. Aside from some remote tribes in deep forgotten parts of the world, there are no pure races. The angriest KKK members, or other rampaging terrorist cells, likely share lineage with groups they persecute. If Hitler's DNA is similar to the average German native today, at least 5% of his DNA was of Jewish origin.  In fact, we're all a little more closely related than we should be—several times during our prehistory we experienced what scientists call a "population bottleneck" meaning we narrowly avoided extinction and barely maintained a minimum viable population.

We are all one big inbred family.

The other thing that struck me is the incredible luck involved with any of us being here. Each one of the seven billion of us descended from an unbroken line from the first life form on earth. Every one of our ancestors survived every cataclysmal event, disease, random accident, act of violence, predation, floods, fires, giant dinosaur feet… We are the result of an unbroken line extending back 3.8 billion years and all of that is still with us, written in 3.3 billion base pairs that comprise the human genome.

There are no lines.
Our very existence is a miracle.
We are all interconnected through time and space and love.


End note: I'm not naive enough to believe that genes are only passed through acts of love.  However, if not conceived in love, they were nurtured in love.  Love and life are intrinsically connected. 

Sources and Further Reading:

DNA traces Native Americans’ ancestry to Siberia - PBS Newshour

The Human Genome Project - Genome.Gov

National Geographic Genographic Project

Genghis Khan Effect - Nature.Com

Close Calls: Three Times When Humanity Barely Escaped Extinction - Gizmoto

Human Journey - Featuring Mitochondrial Even and Y Chromosome Adam - National Geographic

Why are we the only human species still alive?  - BBC Earth

Sequencing Neanderthal DNA - Smithsonian


Books:

What's in Your Genes?: From the Color of Your Eyes to the Length of Your Life, a Revealing Look at Your Genetic Traits, byKatie McKissick
An exceptionally informative, yet FUN to read book.  Explains what DNA is and how it functions in clear language with pencil illustrations at just the right moments in the text.  She explains base pairs, RNA, mDNA, protein construction and how you genetics are responsible for everything from your eye color to your hairy asscrack.

Saxons, Vikings, and Celts: The Genetic Roots of Britain and Ireland, by Bryan Sykes
A bit of a slog at times as Bryan talks procedures but makes some interesting points and give a good overall picture of the genetic composition of Britain and Ireland.

The Sea Wolves: A History of the Vikings  by Lars Brownsworth
Although it could benefit from better organization, the book is fun to read as well as informative.

The Normans: From Raiders to Kings by Lars Brownsworth
A highly readable history on the Normans movements to Britain, which includes their relationship to the Vikings and some of the major players from the Sea Wolves book.


Monday, November 28, 2016

Flash Fiction: The New Neighbor

The last TinHouse Plotto contest loser for your reading enjoyment.  The week 3 of 5 prompt:

The New Neighbor

The morning dawned gray and John awoke to the sound of the empty apartment downstairs being ransacked. He looked out his foggy window. A woman with dark hair was unloading things from a hatchback Pinto. He shook his head clear and opened the door. He hesitated, smoothed his couch-head hair, then trotted down the stairs.

“Hi, I'm John. I live upstairs. Need a hand?”

She flinched.

Oops, I startled her.

“Fuck, you startled me.“

He met her gaze and it was his turn to be startled.

I know her.

“Do I know you?” he asked.

"I dunno, do you? Look, I got a lot stuff to unload and I need to get that shithole clean before that cat piss smell sinks into my stuff.”

“You have a mouth on you.”

“Yep.”

“You're so familiar to me...”

“Whatever. I got shit to do, so help or fuck off.”

He took a step back, tripped and fell sprawling.

He whispered, “Lyanna? Is that you?”

“I'm Jo,” she said loudly and offered her hand.

He accepted and she turned it into a painful wrist lock.  She leaned in, “How the fuck do you know that name, Creeper?”

She stood over him, her blue eyes expectant. He noticed that she shifted her weight, freeing her right knee for a drop to his vulnerable ballsack.

“No, no, sorry. You just remind me of a character from a book I read,” he lied.

He hadn’t read it—he wrote it. His Lyanna is a strong, foul-mouthed woman, with dark hair, blue eyes, and a panther tattoo on the back of her neck. His Lyanna was raised in an abusive family in the slums of Chicago. His Lyanna grew up to be an undercover cop, using that abrasive personality to blend in with what she thought of as her kind, allowing her to ferret out drug dealers and sex traffickers. His Lyanna saves a group of boys and girls trapped in a shipping container. His Lyanna dies in a brutal retaliatory murder. His Lyanna lies in the musty grave of his reject trunk because his Lyanna was too “one-dimensional” in a storyline that was “too predictable.”

How could this be? It couldn’t. Coincidence; gotta be. People have doppelgangers, so why can’t fictitious characters? Overactive imagination. Apologize idiot…out loud…words!

"Sorry. I'm an idiot. Obviously. Didn't mean to creep you out, Jo. I'm a writer. I guess we tend to be creepy."

She dropped his wrist and stepped back. He got up.

“That’s OK. I'm feeling edgy. I hate moving. This isn't exactly a step up for me.”

She’s lying; she's exactly where she wants to be.

"Have I read anything of yours?”

"Unlikely; unless you're the poor bastard that has to read publishing house slush piles.”

She laughed. She fished a hair tie from her pocket and tied her hair back.

She said, “I'd better get back to to it.”

She leaned into her car to retrieve a pile of books from her hatchback. Her ponytail slid to one side and a panther snarled at him.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Flash Fiction: The New Girl

This was the week two writing prompt for the Plotto contest, put on by Tin House Publishing.  Being due a few days prior to Halloween, I couldn't help but shoot for spooky--ooooh!  The story ended up over 2,000 words (500 word limit on submissions) and after brutal cutting, I could only pare off 500 words. In this situation, sometimes an amputation of the beginning, middle, or end can save the story, but there was no part I could take without killing the story.  So I just kicked dirt over the whole thing and never submitted it. Enjoy!




She stepped from the coach clutching her bag to her chest. She missed the proffered hand from the coachman and landed on the quartz gravel with an ungainly thump. Eyes wide, she righted herself and smoothed her hair and clothes.

The coachman untied her small trunk and placed it on the ground.

“Good day Miss,” he rumbled to someone several feet over her head.

With a snap of the reigns, the coach jerked to life and rumbled away. She watched until it dissolved into the fog.

A fountain bubbled merrily as she dragged her trunk through the gravel. A house emerged from the fog. At the door of the house was a sturdy woman of later years. She looked to have been made of the same stone as the house.

She collected herself and said, “Hello ma’am, my name is Helen. I’m fourteen now and the orphanage says it’s time--.”

The woman turned and began walking away. Helen fell silent and stood there unsure of what to do. The woman snapped, “Abigail, come.”

Scrambling after her she said, “Sorry, Ma’am. My name is Helen, I come from--”

The woman waved off her talking and led her to a small stone cottage.

“These are your quarters. Leave your things and make your way to the kitchen at once.”

“Ma’am.”

The cottage was steeped in the must of neglect. Cobwebs adorned every corner, and a dead rat scented the air. There were two windows with broken shutters. It was colder inside than out.

Helen crumpled to her knees and laid her head on her trunk and sobbed.  Tears rolled down her rounded cheeks.

The crunch of gravel carried through the window as the old woman left.

Helen sniffed and stood erect eyeing her surroundings. She spent a few moments tidying, and when it suited her, she left to find the kitchen.

She stepped out and noticed a worn path from the other cottages leading to the back of the house. She followed and found the servant’s entrance. There were many servants of every age and gender, hustling about. No one met her eye. She found her way to the kitchen where a rotund woman labored to prepare the servant’s next meal.

“It’s about time you’ve arrived. Fetch me four chickens. Abigail will show you.”

A girl of about 10 years, with the darkest, most hollow eyes, turned from her washing.

They left in silence and walked again along the path towards the animal keep. Once away from the house, the little girl said, “This place is rotten. You shouldn't be here.”

“Oh, it's not so bad. I’m Helen. What’s your name, it's not really Abigail is it?”

“You don't know, the master will be home soon. Then you will know."

"He couldn't be worse than that horrid old woman.”

The girl's eyes widened in fear as she looked left and right.  She spoke in a harsh whisper, “Sshhh!  You musn't cross Ms. Trount. Yes, he is.”

At the chicken run, the girl deftly caught a chicken and cradled it in her arm. She brought it clucking to the chopping block. She grabbed it by the head flipped it onto the block and swiftly relieved it of its head. The hatchet stuck in the wood awaiting the next chicken. She grabbed the legs of the headless chicken and turned it upside down over a metal pail. The wings and feet worked less and less as the blood drained into the bucket. When it was no longer thrashing, she handed it to Helen to finish the bleeding.  She repeated the process three more times and then the girls sat to pluck and clean them together. The organs were tossed into the bucket with the blood.

They carried the chickens and the blood back to the house.

Many long hours later, Helen fell into her filthy bed. She spread her arms wide and slipped into a deep sleep.

The morning dawned gray and she decided to do something about the state of her quarters. She started by repairing the shutters.  She opened her door to return the tools and was surprised to see the dark-eyed girl little girl with her hand lifted as if to knock.

"You startled me.  You shouldn't be skulking about."

"I've been sent to fetch you to work."

“Tell me your name. If you refuse, I shall be forced to call you chicken.”

Their eyes met and for a moment a ghost of a smile appeared on her wan face.

“Danielle.”

“Danielle, that's a lovely name.”

“Shhh, we're too close to the house. We're not allowed to speak; the master has excellent hearing and our chatter vexes him.”

“He's here?”

“Last night.”

The tenor of the household servants was electric with fear. Helen labored silently during the day in the house and stole moments outside with Danielle where the girls could speak freely.

She glimpsed the master only rarely, only when she accompanied Ms. Trount in serving the rare guests to the house. The rooms were staggering in number and sometimes, when shorthanded by sickness, she would be required to take on extra duties. There were many women who lived here. They all looked different from one another but something was also the same about them too. They all looked young yet old, they never spoke, and drifted about in long revealing dresses. Their eyes burned when they saw Helen, but none of them touched her.

Ms. Trount touched her though. Often. With a rod that she kept on her person at all times.

Time was eternal here.  Each day brought the same labors, the same food, the same hot sting of Ms. Trout's rod on the backs of her legs, her neck, hands, shins.  The one change was the growing frequency in which she was seeing the master. He was always courteous, speaking to her in soft purring tones as he inquired about her. She remained silent, as she had learned from experience that any words would reach Ms. Trount’s ears and draw a sound thrashing.

She was working in a room when she felt a draft and turned to find him behind her, a lock of her hair in wound around one of the master’s fingers. She continued to work and tried not to be distracted by the stirring feeling that his presence aroused in her.

Helen retreated to her cottage, closed the shutters, barred her door, and flopped on her bed. A deep sigh escaped her. She had planned to bathe, but instead fell asleep on her covers.

Her sleeping mind swam through liquid dreams.  She woke with a languid smile. Her field of vision clarified and the master's face loomed above her own. The stirrings threatened to consume her.

“You're perfect, my dear. You will make a nice addition to my collection,” he purred.

“Yes.”

She lifted a finger to his finely shaped cheek and wrapped her hand around the back of his neck and drew him near. His kisses were cool on her neck. She moaned, and hot pain flashed through her.

She gasped.

She laughed.

“Ah-ah, that’s quite enough now,“ she said playfully.

His eyes burned as he pulled her tighter.

“Now, now let's not be rude. When a lady says, no…” He pulled her to him, ravenous.

“Oh, how I love this game. Your kind are so easy. Look at me--I’m a plump and sweet. I’m so frightened...and tasty.”

He drank greedily a few seconds more, then pulled away with a gasp. He clutched at his stomach.

“Oh, that took longer than normal. I feel a bit woozy. But better than you, I'd wager.  There’s just something about me that doesn’t agree with your kind.” She wagged a finger at him. “Naughty old man. How old are you, I wonder? No, it matters not.”

He flashed her an angry look and tried to lunge for her. He fell to the floor instead.

“Ah, ah, Master. What's wrong? Feeling a little sick?” She laughed, “I hope it hurts, I hope all the pain you've visited on the innocent is coming right back to you. Although, I think that's lofty wish, don't you?”

“Well, it's been fun. Really. A few loose ends to tie up and I'll leave your horrid manor forever.”

He cried out in pain and reached for her. She stepped on his chest and left.

She threw the front doors wide as she entered the manor house. Ms. Trount rose to her full height wielding her rod, Danielle cowered below.

“Bursting through the front door--really! Abigail, you shall feel my…” she raised her rod and Helen caught it in her hand. She ripped it away and laid it fast across her stony cheek and neck. Ms. Trount fell, clutching her bloodied face. Helen gave her back a savage lash, then broke the instrument over her knee, and threw it at her.

“Danielle, come let us gather your belongings. You're free now.”

“I don't have any.”
The house erupted into a cacophony of wailing and misery as some of the women had become aged crones, some mad from their experience, piles of dust revealed the great age of others.

“Right then, let us be away,” Helen held out her hand to Danielle who slid her small fingers into her palm.

They crossed the threshold together.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Flash Fiction: Hope

My friend Lori—it's all your fault—suggested I write for the Plotto contest, put on by Tin House Publishing. Since my stories are big fat losers, I thought I'd publish them on my blog rather than let them moulder in my Google Drive.

The parameters: An original story, 500 words or less, based on the writing prompt.
Here was week one prompt:


And the loser story:

Hope


He stepped on to the bridge railing. The breeze felt fresh on his face. He dug his into his pocket and pulled out everything he owned. He opened his fingers and watched the detritus of street life disappear into puffs of mist as it sunk into the water--except for the rock; it was warm in his other hand.

He climbed down, and an anxious crowd parted. A police officer touched his elbow.

“Sir, can I get a ride? I need a haircut and these clothes...well they don’t smell too good.”

“Sure; get in. I know a place.”

Scratching a freshly shaved chin, he glanced at his reflection in a mirrored window. It smiled at him; good to see you man.

He pulled open the door and smelled the wood of the instruments mixed with the must of old building and dog. He picked up a guitar that looked a lot like the one he remembered, but older. He fingers made forgotten chord shapes as he squeezed his eyes shut and sang.
“Wow man, that was something.”

“Thanks. I’m Eugene. You got a job I can do?”

“For someone who plays like that, you bet your ass I do.”

"I need a place to sleep too.”

“There’s a room upstairs. You clean?”

“Yes.”

****

Her morning was hectic. Her girls wouldn’t get up. They wouldn’t get dressed. They didn’t want to eat. They didn’t want to get on the bus.

Her littlest cried, “Mama, I just want to stay home with you.”

“Me too, baby.” She hugged her daughter and breathed in her buttery-flower scent.

The bus swallowed them up and left her hollow.

She weaved around people waiting for the train and bumped into a man who was rummaging in a garbage can. The blow knocked him back, sending his cans skittering over the sidewalk. She helped him gather them. She fished twenty dollars from her purse; hesitated, then wrapped a rock inside the money. She took his hand and pressed the tiny package into it.

Eugene unwrapped it. The word, hope, stared up at him.

****

Her feet ached. Her back hurt. She smiled down at the boy with a tube running from his nose.

“Sponge Bob? Boy, that show is going to rot your brain.”

The boy laughed, then winced in pain.

She picked up a remote and said, “I hear they have puppies coming in today. You want one or five?”

“Twelve.” “Hey, Harriet? Can you get my mom?”

“Sure thing, baby. You OK doll? You need something?”

“Just my mom. Please.”

His face had the shadow. She kissed his forehead and whispered, “I’ll go get her, baby.”

Harriet dialed the phone. She glanced up and noticed Luke’s mother walking down the hallway. She took her hands, “Amy, Luke was asking for you...” Harriet fished a rock from a pocket and pressed it into Amy’s palm.

Amy opened her fingers and the word, hope, stared up at her.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Dark Side of Exercise

Everything hurts and I'm dying...
Oh look, a camera!
I watched a cute little video regarding the benefits of exercise, you can see it here:

Bright Side: How Sport Changes our Bodies

Cute right?

As I watched this video I felt all warm and fuzzy, like when I see my unicorn pooping rainbow sherbert. Then a shadow passed before my eyes. As in all things with reality, the bright side is just the flip of the dark side.

Over this past summer, I sat on the grass next to my sister-in-law, who had just finished a 10-mile run. I tried not to hate the fact that her morning run doubled the farthest distance I’ve ever done. It was probably cake for her too—she has earned enough marathon medals to pave a road. I tried to strike up a conversation. She said, “Sorry, if I’m quiet; I’m just trying not to vomit.”

When the dark side is hidden and I discover it on my own, I assume something is wrong with me—that I just don't possess the talent. In reality, my athletic sister is not over there riding the runner’s high in the fragrant grass overlooking the river, she’s trying to find a place to discreetly puke. Yep, the dark side is there for everyone else too. So to prepare you, who may be disheartened by past perceived failures, or who may be getting revved up to get started, here are some of the things I’ve learned about the dark side of regular exercise...

I learned…


...I’ll never be done until they spread my ashes.

I always started a fitness regimen to get in shape, like “shape” was a mountain I could climb, plant a flag in, then retire to my life of ease. So I would take-off on a new fitness regime with enthusiasm and vigor, make a lot of progress, then lose interest and quit. Dumb right? Airplanes burn the most energy during take-off, it’s dangerous and exhausting, and I was taking-off all the time, going too hard too fast then quitting once I was no longer seeing big gains. Now I know that I want to live in that awesome cruising altitude for the rest of my life.

...how to start effectively.

What do you mean, I just put shoes on and run right?

Sure, go for it. Then when you feel like quitting, come back and read the rest of this paragraph.

Since I was going to do this for the rest of my life, I did some homework and found out that I needed to start slow, adding time and distance slowly, and extra workout days slowly. It’s not as exciting, but slow, incremental lifestyle changes stick better than sudden changes.

…that I needed to go the duration, not the distance.


I found a route that I could run/walk in about a half hour. I ran until I couldn’t catch my breath, walked briskly until I could, then ran again. Gradually, I was able to decrease my walking periods until they disappeared. By then, my route was no longer taking me a half hour, so I extended it and repeated the run/walk process until I could run the whole thing. This gave me more time out exercising, which improved my overall fitness, yet gave my ligaments and tendons time to become strong and flexible again before adding intensity. Only when I have an upcoming race do I shift my focus to distance.
Runners World: How to Start Running

...workouts have to become a priority.

But I don’t have the time.

Sure you do, but you’re using that time for other important things.

In the book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey states, “The key is not to prioritize what's on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” Like most people, I am a busy person and if it's not scheduled, it's not going to happen. I've had to make exercise a priority above this that and the other important thing. Since I've done that, I rarely miss a run day. I do get behind on laundry though...

...running requires proper training and technique.


I always thought myself an expert at running, after all, I’ve been doing it since I was two. Turns out there was so much I didn’t know. Minor tweaks to my form, stride, shoes, clothes, have made all the difference. Learn all you can about whatever fitness routine you choose, read articles, watch youTube videos, attend workshops at fitness stores, and talk to other people. Rarely is there a wrong or right, but there is certainly better or worse—and there is a lot to know about injury prevention, nutrition, and recovery.

Runner's World: Proper Running Form
I wasn't even breathing right. Runner's World: Breathing Tips

...running is not a fair weather activity.


Good running weather for me is cloudy, cool, and dry. Since this weather constitutes about 2% of my runs, I learned to tolerate all weather, hot, raining, freezing, even when I’m getting a cold or getting over one. If you give yourself a pass even once, you’ll do it all the time. Although, I do draw the line on 100 degree days—that’s just not nice.

...running is not enough.


Running works the same specific muscle groups, and I need to exercise all my muscle groups to be healthy and injury free. Mixing up my running routine with biking has helped by working my other leg muscles, and it keeps me from getting too bored. I also strength train my core, upper body, and glutes to keep my muscle development balanced. A strong core and upper body helps me maintain good posture, which helps me breathe better during longer runs; a bit of yoga helps me stay flexible.
Runner's World: Cross Training

...running is not a cheap sport.


When I started running, I was shocked and appalled at the expense of everything I couldn’t do without. (I resisted until it was either quit or cave and spend the money.)

Here’s a list of crap I can't live without while running:
  • Good shoes. There is a recommended schedule for buying replacements, but I only replace them when I can feel small pebbles through the soles. 
  • Running tights. I tried many kinds of shorts before admitting to myself that running tights are the most comfortable. I was horribly self-conscious at first, then I remembered I don’t give a rip.
  • Good bra. 
  • Well behaved underpants. 
  • Good socks. Yep, those too. Long runs mean blisters in crappy socks. 
  • Compression socks or calf sleeves. They muffle the cry of my calves as I run. 
  • iPod. Music pushes me forward and bonus: I don’t have to hear my panting.
  • Tank tops and shirts. Yep, I need “running” shirts because they don’t pull, rub, itch, ride up, blister, or otherwise make running more miserable.
  • GPS watch. My husband talked me into this one. Now I can’t do without it. It tracks my progress and tells me if I’m hitting my goals. It also keeps me honest. I know when I need to give myself a kick in the tights when my pace dips too much, or when I’m being stupid and taking off too fast at the starting line.
  • Races. Get ready to shell out cash and gas money for these. 

...running hurts, even when you’re doing it right.


I have more daily pain as a fit person approaching middle age than ever before. It’s a low-grade annoying pain, but it’s always there. There are exhaustive articles written about how runners have a higher pain threshold than people who don’t run. It’s just the way of it. Runners are so conditioned to being in pain, that they actually tend to go too far and ignore pain that should be treated.
Running World: The Big 7 Body Breakdowns

...that sleep is really important.


The video mentions how exercise cures insomnia. I’ve been exhausted from exercise, and still found my mind whirling on anxious thoughts for hours. Also, exercise requires that I get my normal sleep plus some, and when I’ve been sleep deprived, running sometimes exacerbated the effects. In general, I sleep more soundly on run days, but wouldn’t make a claim that it cures insomnia.
Competitor: Sleep Better (And Longer) To Run Better

...it takes so much time!


To get in a half-hour run, I spend a little over an hour: Ten minutes to get changed into my running clothes, hair tied, deodorant applied, iPod clipped, GPS watch strapped on and activated, pre-run tinkle, shoes, a few push-ups to get my blood going, a couple quick stretches, kissed for my kids, one last tinkle then I’m off. A half-hour later, I’m back and dripping with sweat. So it’s the process in reverse plus a shower and a hair dry. Also, I need extra sleep—more time!

...to make diet a noun, not a verb.


The word diet usually conjures up ideas about calorie restriction. A diet is something I have, not something I do. My diet is something I will continually fine tune for the rest of my life, to get what I need and cut out what I don’t, but it is not something I start and can one day stop.  Since this is for the rest of my life, I include meals I love, like tacos.

...exercise and weight loss are two separate things.


I used to hate hearing, “Why do you run? You’re not fat.” People generally don’t recognize that lean people can be just as out-of-shape as overweight people. And, as much as I’d like to shed that last 10 pounds of mom-chub, exercising a lot makes me ravenous, and when I’m ramping up training, I have to be careful to stave off weight gain. It’s a real thing.

To people who want exercise to be part of a healthy weight loss plan, that’s awesome, but be careful not to go too far with calorie restriction. Your body might interpret a prolonged calorie deficit as a famine period, something that was common during our evolution, and will try to increase your chances of surviving it by shifting your metabolism into emergency-conservation-mode. It’s better to create a smallish calorie deficit and spread the weight loss over longer period. If it took a decade to become overweight, it might take a few years to return to a stable weight. If you’re not losing weight, keep exercising anyway, you’re infinitely better off fit than not, regardless of your BMI.
Very Well: Plus Size Exercise
Runner's World: Ultra Read this one, this lady is inspiring.

...you can still be in a fitness upswing during middle age.


Every time I participate a race, whether it be an obstacle, triathlon, 5k whatever, there are always women older than me that completely smoke my time—showing me I can’t use my lack of youth as an excuse to suck. So I keep pushing myself, and I’m a better runner now at 39 than I have ever been—and I’m still improving.

...slows down the aging process?


While it may slow the overall aging process, as the video claims, I never look and feel so old as just after a hard run. The sun, cold, rain, wind, can all take a toll on your skin too. I'm going to leave this one on the shelf, I don't think I'm buying.

...someone is always faster than me.


I’m over it. This is my journey; I’m competing against myself, to please myself. I’ve been smoked by short-limbed, overweight, sixy-something women in nearly every race. I’ve been surpassed by people that started their fitness journey years after me. I temper myself from feeling good about passing others, so I don’t feel bad about being passed. Go you! And go me!

...runners are slightly obsessed with BMs.


With good reason. There are hundreds of articles on the topic.
Competitor: Why Do I Have To Poop When I Run?


So what’s the point? Running sucks right, I get it.

It does suck, but like the video shows, there are a lot of real benefits. These are the reasons I run:
  • It kills my bad mood. Running transforms me from uber-bitch to Maria von Trapp. 
  • It burns off my stress. That fight or flight energy needs to go somewhere, so I take it for a run.
  • I’m convinced it kills colds. If I feel a run-of-the-mill cold settling in, I make sure I fit in a run before it strikes and usually it goes away before settling in. 
  • I feel better about my appearance. I don’t look any different, but I perceive myself differently.
  • I get a sense of accomplishment. On days when I don’t feel like I’ve done anything more important than matching socks and sweeping up dog hair, a run feels like a grand achievement.
  • It gets me outside, even when I don’t feel like it.
  • I love being fit. I can go on a long hike or bike ride anytime anywhere, play sports on a whim, and I have energy to play with my kids. 
  • It makes me conscientious about my health. I’m more inclined to eat healthfully and pay attention to cues from my body that something is off.
  • My kids are watching me. 

Now that you’ve read all that, know that your experience with dark side and light side of exercise will be different. You may not even like to run, maybe your thing is a naked Tae-Bo in a forest clearing by moonlight. That’s great. Find it, do it, persevere.

If you get mired in the dark side—it's not just you. However, there are great pubs on the dark side. Pop into one some time and I’ll buy you a pint and we can discuss how much our runs today sucked, compare our ugly feet, and discuss our BM
schedules. But just one...we got stuff to do today.

For further inspiration:
The Oatmeal: The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons I Run Long Distances

Friday, October 7, 2016

Summer Tuna Fishing Trip

Something has shifted for Charley and me. Perhaps it’s our kids getting older, perhaps it’s just us getting older, but we are seizing opportunities to pull some rocks out of our Bucket Lists, no longer leaving them to “someday” or “maybe when”. When Charley's brother-in-law, Dave, called and asked if we wanted to join him and his buddies on a chartered fishing trip, we jumped at the opportunity, “Hmmm, I don’t know...” Which was followed by a definitive, “Um sure, I guess so,” when he called a couple weeks later.

Go, us!

Our fishing trip turned out to be a tuna fishing trip.

Ok, cool.

Tuna shoals are typically 20-50 miles off shore.

Whoa, so that’s like out-to-sea. I’ve never really been out-to-sea before.

The usual trip takes about 12 hours.

Twelve? As in 1-2 hours?

Neither of us knew how we’d do seasickness wise. The reports from my sister-in-law, Lina, is that it sucks, like really, really, just-shoot-me-and-make-it-stop sucks—Dramamine, et.al. notwithstanding.

Gosh, hope that doesn’t happen to us.

I have been on a boat in rough seas before, but only for a couple hours and always within sight of land. Using only pressure bands and ginger capsules, I felt fine. I thought I’d be OK. But I was also worried about being out that far, for so long…shit happens out there and there’s not much you can do if it does, just hope you can roll and swirl like a tenacious poo-nugget if the ocean decides to flush you down.

Charley was really tense. He and his sister share DNA of course, and he was worried he’d be trapped for twelve hours in his own personal puke fest.

His nerves zinged my nerves, and my nerves zinged his nerves. We got going on some research, and decided to get prescriptions for the Transderm Scop® patch. I also planned to wear my lucky pressure bands.

I didn’t sleep much the night before the trip; which was fine by me, because I hate getting up early, and when 4:30 rolled around after tossing and turning all night I was relieved—finally!—rather than bleary. We dressed, ate—cautiously, and packed our gear and food. After coffee, we headed out with our crew.

On the road, my nerves settled. By the time we got to the SeaBreeze Charter office my mood had improved considerably. I almost always feel better when things are in motion. We checked in and we were told that our deckhand overslept and we would need to wait a bit.

I had a good appetite, so I had some of their office coffee and an amazing oatmeal cookie Lina had made for our trip, and tucked in to wait. I had a hard time sitting still. Three tinkle trips later, I admitted to myself that maybe I was still a tad nervous. The others sat and rested their eyes, lifting a lid now and again to survey the office.

The deckhand arrived and we made our way down to the yellow Salty Dog and were welcomed aboard by Captain Jeremy. Captain Jeremy wore tattered cargo shorts, flip flops, an oversized hoodie, and a mop of unruly hair. He looked legit.

The deckhand James was a compact young man with an easy, affable manner. He wore bib overalls, a hoodie and a hat with a short brim. He has an easy smile and although he had overslept and held up the boat, he did not look stressed or anxious, just ready.

Captain made introductions, gave us his spiel as well as brief instructions on how their rod and rigs worked, and how the day was likely to play out. He mentioned that other boats reported finding tuna about 25 miles out. Charley and I shared a that's-good-news look.

Gear was stowed, Deckhand James was weaving the deck deftly untying and tying ropes and stowing stuff, checking stuff…doing stuff, unhurried and efficient. The guys, Dave, Clay, Kevin, Chris, and one other guy who was not in our broup, all packed into the cabin and sat down. With heads laid back and eyes closed, they were ready to doze through the next couple hours of driving and catch a few of the zs lost by the early rise. The little yellow boat rumbled to life. I stayed on the back deck taking in the lights of the Ilwaco Port and watching the sky turn from black to blue.




Getting cold, I poked my head in the cabin wondering if I wanted to sit inside, and the steamy, compactness, as the boat pitched and rolled filled my body with a sense of NOPE. I pulled back out and looked for a comfortable spot to ride outside, there wasn’t one, so I leaned up against a huge ice cooler near the cabin that was somewhat sheltered by Plexi windows. Charley was worried about getting sick, so he stayed out too.

It was glorious.

I was having fun. The engine roared as I turned on my GPS runner’s watch. My watch reported that we were moving at 18 mph. I was looking forward to seeing the GPS map of our route when we returned, I would find out later that in “other activity” mode, maps aren’t saved. Darn.

As we motored by the jetty, humpback whales blew and breached. The black and white striped Cape Disappointment Lighthouse blinked her light in the morning gloom. I realized that this was a first; it took me half of my life to see a lighthouse from the sea.

Charley and I watched the sea looking for blowing whales, and other wildlife. We saw a pod of small dolphins that looked black, sea lions hanging out on a buoy, many more whales, and a pod of pelicans soared by our boat.

The engine roar died and Captain Jeremy and Deckhand James appeared. DH James got busy doing stuff and Cap explained that James was setting out rigs for trolling for tuna. He told us what the rods would look like if there was a fish on, bent and thrashing, and that we were to shout over the roar, “FISH ON!” at which time he would stop the boat, and one of us was to grab the writhing rod and start reeling ‘em in. The rest of us would grab a rod from the twenty or so in the middle of the aft deck, and bring it over to Cap or Deckhand, who would bait our hooks with a live anchovy. We were all to stand on the same side of the boat, facing the wind, pitch our little fish in, flip the bail, and feed out line. They would also pitch in some anchovies for chum to keep the tuna near our boat. When a strike happens we were to count to ten before flipping the bail to set the hook. Later, DH James told Charley and I that nobody ever waits that long, they’re just hoping that by saying, ten, fishermen will wait for five. It was good he told us, because we’re both very literal and would have waited the ten seconds, and seeing how hard they run, we would be reeling in our fish from Japan by then.

Jumping fish and diving birds would tell us we were close to a shoal of tuna.

Got it. We’re ready Cap.

The boat roared back to life, somewhat slower. The two trolling rods bent and jumped as the water pulled on their rigs.

Some minutes later, one of the rods was flopping, I elbowed Charley, “Do you think that’s what he meant?” Charley looked startled, “I’m not sure, should we yell, ‘Fish on?’ I think we’re supposed to.” Then from somewhere behind us shouts Dave bellows, “FISH ON!” making us jump, and there is a dash to the rod. Dave is breathing down my neck, “Get it! Reel it in! Grab it!” I obeyed.

This was no trout. Holy smokes these things are strong!

I pinned the heel of the rod into my hip for leverage and reeled. It ran, I let it, and then I reeled some more. My whole body was activated, and my heart pumped furiously as I worked. I was vaguely aware of the other fish being reeled in and the slightly frantic, but orderly activity as the guys got their rods ready and in the water. There were several other shouts of, “Fish on!” We were definitely in a tuna shoal.

I reeled, and it ran again, I reeled some more then…nothing.

Fuck.

I reeled in the jig and it flopped on the surface of the water and I felt like crap. Dave gave me the fish to land when he could have taken it for himself, and I let it get off. Damn. My line was always tight; I was at a loss for what I had done wrong.

Cap came by to check on my progress and I told him it got off, just as I finished reeling it in. Without hesitation, he put a different rod in my hand, baited an anchovy and told me to toss it in over the port side. The line of bodies on the left side of the boat revealed to me which was port.

I flipped the bail, tossed in my anchovy and watched it swim away with my line. I fed out line and watched others reel in their fish. Shouts of “color!” sent the deckhand dashing for a net. DH James then hung perilously over the railing to net the fish. After he netted the fish, he dumped it on the deck and dashed off to the next fisherman. A trout will fold itself in half to get back into the water, tuna however, mostly just vibrate. They look like steely torpedos with a wind-up tail. Brrrrrrr. If DH wasn’t called by another shout of “color!” he would pick up the fish by the base of the tail and carry them over to a blue barrel. Then he’d produce a knife cut the fish where the gills connected to the jaw (throat?) and let the blood drain into the barrel, thereby killing and bleeding the fish, rather than leaving it to suffocate.

My anchovy swam, so close yet so far from freedom. My line fed out. After a while, I reeled in checked to make sure my anchovy was still looking perky and tossed it back in. Soon the fervor of activity died down and we were instructed to reel in so we could find the fish again. I reeled in my little anchovy, unhooked it and tossed it in the sea. “Whoop, wait, save those for chum,” Dave corrected me. “Oh yeah, whoops.” Secretly, I hoped my little anchovy would enjoy a few moments of freedom before becoming an unkippered snack for something else.

Wide awake, everyone was asking who caught what, and I retold my, I-had-one-but-lost-it story.

We trolled. The rods flopped and jumped, someone shouted “FISH ON!” and the boat rocked to a stop. I steered clear of the trolling rods, as they were clearly cursed, and grabbed an unbaited one. DH James grabbed my hook, netted an anchovy, bent it at the gills and hooked him under the gill plate to catch the collarbone, popping the hook back out of the shoulder.

I took my rod over to the port side and dropped in my swimmer and started to feed line. Wham! I waited, 1...2...3...4...5, took a breath, then flipped the bail and gave a tug to set the hook. The tuna ran and I watched 30 lb test peel off my reel. The run slowed, and I planted my rod in my hip, ouch, and began to reel. Pull back, reel down, pull back, reel down, this process went on for about 12 years, with a few runs in between, then I saw my fish! It was so small! It wasn’t anywhere near the size of the VW bug I’d anticipated. It saw the boat and dove. I watched my efforts peel off my reel and as soon as it slowed I started pulling and reeling again. My rod arm bicep burned as I reeled, Cap came by and adjusted my drag and gave me some pointers. I reeled down and pulled up, reeled down and pulled up. “COLOR!” is how I wanted to say it but I think it came out more like “gasp—color—gasp”. I held my fish there while DH helped land a different fish.  Then he leaned over, I pulled up and he scooped, and plop! my fish was vibrating on the deck of the boat. DH James pulled the hook and dropped it into the barrel.

As a person who had only seen whole tuna lying dead in ice, it was remarkable how beautiful they are. They iridescent blue on the top, brilliant sides and yellow pectoral fins, silvery undersides. Viewed from the top the blue must blend with the sea, and viewed from the bottom the silver must blend with the sky, the yellow must be there for the eye to blend with blue for shades of green. They have neat little triangular fins towards the back of the tail that open and retract.  When open, they look like something you could cut yourself on, until they retract and reveal themselves to be soft. Once dead and packed in ice they looked like every other tuna, gray and dull.

Soon the activity died down again and we were off to chase another shoal. DH James, bled the fish and left them in the barrel. Then he shoveled ice from the big coolers, working around Charley and me, into smaller coolers under the bench seats. He laid the dead fish in the cooler and shoveled in more ice handling the thirty-pound fish with ease. Then he took a hose and washed down the blood from the deck and otherwise prepared for the next stop.

I poked my head in the cabin for food, water, coffee, and to rib the guys a little and noticed Chris was missing. I wandered inside and found him driving the boat. As a long time sailor and all around eager for experiences, of course he was driving. I visited with him a bit until Cap popped out of the tiny bathroom. Cap told me I could stay, I declined. He jumped in the other seat and let Chris drive as they chatted about nautical stuff.


We made another stop. I hooked into a fish immediately. I counted, 1..2..3..4...5...took a breath and flipped the bail. I was fishing portside on a narrow, two-foot wide walkway between the fore and aft decks. Tuna tend to swim in circles, and a crossed line could mean lost fish, so we had to follow our fish, making it necessary to pass under, or otherwise maneuver around other fishermen. Did I mention the walkway was super narrow? The ocean heaved and rolled, our fish pulled and there was a few times that I thought if the boat rocked just right, I would be in the drink. You’d think that would be a bad feeling, but it was actually really, really, fun. Was I going to drown? Nope. Would it be a great story to tell? Yep. But alas, I did not.

“Color!” send Cap for a net and my fish was vibrating on the walkway. I carried it towards the barrel, and James took out the hook and dropped it in.


Having caught a couple fish at this point, I was feeling OK. I walked over to the anchovy tank and fished one out and was going to try my hand at baiting. I grabbed it and flip! it was on the deck. I chased it around the deck and got it. Flip, it was on the loose again. I grabbed it again and managed to hook it as I’d seem Cap and DH James do. I tossed it in. Wham! Another fish! I counted and the process repeated. Cap squeezed by and said, “Come on woman—reel in that fish!” I suppressed a groin kicking reflex and channeled that energy to my rod and reel. Another 12 years later and another beefy tuna was vibrating on the deck. My rod arm was quivering, my reeling hand was tired, and my hip was sore. But I baited another anchovy, after losing it a few times back into the tank, slippery little bastards, and tossed it in the water. I had only let out a little line when Cap asked if any of us was hooked into a fish. We all said, “No,” and he told us to reel in. Sweet relief! I looked over to Dave and told him, “I was a little afraid to toss in my anchovy—I might hook into another one.” Dave said, “Ha!” and gave me a look that told me he kinda sorta wanted to pitch me into the water.

The next stop, Charley and I fished together on the port-side bow. Captain came over to check on us and as he retreated he tripped over a fixture on the deck and went flip-flops over tea kettle and I noticed he had pink toenails. He mentioned earlier that he had a kid, and I concluded that he must have a daughter. We asked if he was OK, and he laughed and said nothing was hurt but his pride and made a hasty retreat. I caught another one and lost one. While I was reeling, Chris laughed at me. Mistaking it for making fun of my fumbling and struggling, I said “Hey, no laughing!” He said, that it’s just that every time he looked over I was into another fish. Probably seemed that way because of the 12 years it took me to land the buggers.

The next one I lost and it took my hook too, so I rooted around to find another. Cap said it was probably a blue shark and made a motion to do it for me and I said, “You’re using a cinch knot right?”

“Yep,” he replied as he stayed to watch me tie my hook on.

I’ve tied hundreds of cinch knots in my life, but never has it taken me the three hours it took me that day; the thirty pound test and the captain’s watchful eye conspired to make me all thumbs. But, I got it done and went over to bait another anchovy. Captain’s voice followed me, “You know, the next person to lose a tuna will be because you tied that knot.”

Rigging my own rod, did wonders for making me feel more like a fisherman and less like a tourist. I walked over to the railing and pitched in my anchovy. I hooked a fish right away. I waited, then flipped the bail and started to reel. It was much easier this time, and felt kinda weird. Before long I could see a blue back, then the triangular pectoral and dorsal fins of a shark. How cool! I caught a shark. Cap was right, it was a shark shearing off our anchovies. It was hooked it where the pectoral fin connected to the body, right in the armpit. Again, I was stunned at how beautiful it was; its back was a rich blue and had a white belly, about two to three feet long.

Cap and DH James netted him as I fumbled to get my camera out. They unhooked it and tossed it back in the ocean. I shrugged and put my camera away. Captain realized his error and apologized. He asked if I wanted a picture with a tuna. I said sure and grabbed a random smallish one from the barrel. Having my hands full of fish, I propped my hip against the railing to keep my balance. Later, I looked at the picture and wondered at my swanky pose, then remembered I was trying to keep my feet.

We reeled in and headed off again. DH James was busy as usual, the guys rested and talked over the catch, Charley and I stayed on the back deck in James’s way, as usual. Dave handed us a Coors Light, which sounded wonderful! I took a sip and instead of the usual refreshing taste it tasted like metal. I concluded that it must be the patch I was wearing to prevent seasickness, which had also given me wicked cottonmouth. I drank my beer anyway sat on the big cooler and relished the moment. Charley and I were both tired, but decidedly happy. No nausea, we’d both caught fish, and had had a great day. We were ready to head back in, but it was only early afternoon, and there were more fish to catch.

The rods started hopping again and the boat died as we surged into action. Dave and his friend Kevin headed for the trolling rods, I waited, stretched a bit, took my time selecting a rod and baited it, picked a spot then casually tossed it in. Wham! Fish on. Chris laughed at me, I sighed. 1...2...3...4...5… While I fought my fish, following it up and down the railing, boat heaving, moving for other fishermen, I could hear Captain's voice shouting to Kevin, “Come on MAN, reel in that fish!” To which Kevin’s strangled voice replied, in excellent Scottish burr, “I’m giving her all she’s got Cap’n!” Why didn’t I think of that?!


 I landed my fish as did the guys, and Captain said we had a great haul and would troll as we headed back in. Everyone agreed. Charley and I were still out back and were tired enough to hope we wouldn’t run across another shoal, and we didn’t.

The drive back in was lovely. The day had warmed, the wildlife soared and splashed, and daily life for the people of the port churned in a way we don’t normally see. There was a huge dredging machine working, boats were coming and going. Then we were back.


Deckhand and Captain got busy unloading our fish and carting them up the ramp to the landing. DH James hung a dozen or so on a Sea Breeze Charters’ rack for photos and we had fun lining up.

Photo courtesy of Clay.

Photo courtesy of Clay.
Then the one person not in our group took his share of five fish and headed over to have it processed. Of the 33 fish, that left us with 28, 30-ish pound tuna to deal with. Twenty-eight! The two large coolers Dave brought were wildly inadequate, each held about five fish with their tails jutting out in all directions. We toyed with having them processed at the port, but ultimately decided to simply load them up and go. I ran back down to the boat to get fish bags with the Captain. He found about eight or so and loaded them up with bloody, watery ice, and we trucked them back up the ramp. The guys grabbed the bags and loaded all the fish and we were off!

Hungry and tired, we trekked back to Oysterville. We cleaned up quickly and went over to say hi to our girls who had spent the night and all of the day with their Oma and Opa.

Then the real work began. We bought all the ice on the peninsula, knives were sharpened, and fish heads rolled. Dave, Lina, and the rest of the crew chopped and filleted well into the night. Removed of their bones and heads, the 28 fish now fit comfortably into four coolers and spent the night packed in ice.

The next three days would be dedicated to processing. Two fillets per fisherman were vacuum packed and frozen, the rest was canned. Four pressure cookers steamed away as we chopped, packed, salted, cooked, and cooled.


Charley and I worked for only one day and had to leave for home. Lina and Dave, and their dwindling crew labored for another two.

For about a week my arms smelled of rancid tuna oil.

It was awesome.

What an experience.

Friday, September 16, 2016

So, What are You Going to do With Your Time?

Once upon a time my time, body, and life was mine.  I spent it doing pretty much what I wanted.

Then one fine day, I got pregnant. Whoop! Whoop!

I had never felt there was a distinction between me and my body, it was all one big, dorky thing. Then when I was sharing my body with a baby it didn't feel like it was mine anymore. I couldn't eat all willy nilly, I needed to consider her nutritional needs for development, and certainly coffee, beer, lunch meat, and soft cheeses were out too. I also felt her tapping into my energy. My body had become an apartment, my baby daughter and I were roomies on a ten-month lease.

Then came that glorious day—she was born. She was perfect and healthy, yes!—it was so worth it! And bonus, my body is mine again.

Nope.

She would need milk for the next year and a half. Once weaned, my life still didn't belong to me. She would need something from me every moment of every day and night, until???

Then, when my first was starting pre-school, my second baby was born and the process was repeated with more sweetness and less angst.

It was difficult, but wonderful difficult.

I learned what it was to harbor infinite love. I learned patience, compassion, and how to put myself last, and be content. I learned how to be a teacher, leader, and listener. I landed flat on my face—a lot. I lost myself for a while. Charley and I redefined our relationship and became more solid when it would have been easier to turn away from each other. Eventually, I learned to reclaim time to develop my talents and explore new interests. I developed some wonderful new friendships. Somewhere in all of that I grew-up and became a better person. My favorite thing I learned over this last decade, is to treasure each phase of my kids’ growth, while I was in it. What once felt suffocating, became my purpose, my life’s breath—I love being with them.




As my oldest girl's third-grade year came to a close, I was excited for the adventures of summer vacation, but already felt apprehension towards the coming autumn that would sweep them both off to full day school. And just like that, it was here.

Hollow.

My days were filled up with noise, mess, hugs, and clear purpose. No more bed-heads pattering around in Hello Kitty jammies, crawling up into my lap for a morning snuggle. Who will turn the monotony of grocery shopping into an engaging learning experience?

Wait, what? You like taking your kids shopping?

Once we dialed in our routine, yep, absolutely, it was far more fun having my girls there than not.

So, what are you going to do with your time, now?

This is the million dollar question. My deflective answer is, “Lie on the sofa, smoking a cigarette (I don't smoke), eating Bon Bons, and watching my stories.” Peg Bundy is becoming something of an icon to me.

Haha, funny.

So, what are you going to do with your time?

I'm working up to that.

Short answer, writing.

Long answer, writing and other stuff.

So, what are you going to do with your time?

First, I'm going to attempt to let go of the paradigm (sorry for using that wanker of a word) that productivity = value. My intrinsic value as a human is still intact even if I don't “do it all.” I see so many SAHPs work themselves to their breaking point, looking fabulous while doing it!, to debunk the Peg Bundy perception. We are so concerned with, “what everybody thinks.” And we want a long list of checked off To Do List items to prove... prove what?

The truth is, everybody is thinking, just not about me. They're thinking about their own lives. It's genuine curiosity about our lives that prompts the, "So, what are you going to do with your time?" question. The asking person is probably hoping that the answer is something wonderful and fulfilling, that will bring joy to you and your family. They know that the SAHP gig is a tough job. I've never been subjected to derision when I’ve told people of my choice to leave my career and stay home and raise my kids—sometimes I even get admiration. “Oh, I could never do that, I need my time at my job for my sanity.” A response that any parent will fully comprehend. There is no easy-way when it comes to being a modern parent. No matter your choices, it's hard, always, with moments of amazing and wonderful.

So, what are you going to do with your time?

Next, I'm going to partition my time. Some for getting stuff done, we do need clean laundry and food. I'd also like to de-clutter and perhaps deep clean now and again, but only with the time allocated for such activities. Otherwise, the housekeeping time sponge will soak up the next ten years of my life.

Then I'd like to blog at least once a week to keep the creativity flowing.

The rest goes like this:
  • Some time for helping out at my girls' school.
  • Some time for setting myself up as a legitimate freelance writer and exploring those opportunities.
  • Some time for finishing writing projects that have been languishing in limbo and to seek publication for them.
  • Some time for longer projects, my book, maybe?
  • Lastly some time for walks with the puppy, a friend date occasionally to keep me from fully retreating into my turtle shell, and taking care of random errands.
Then after checking and rechecking my watch, I'll take a short walk to the neighboring cul-de-sac and a growling diesel engine will announce my time in isolation has ended.  And my two little loves will be subjected to all the hugs I could not give them while they were away at school.

I've given myself a year, if I can make effective use of the gift of this time, contribute to the family income, and be available for my family when they need me, then maybe longer. If not, I'll consider reentering the professional world.

So, what are you going to do with your time?

Lie on the sofa eating Bon Bons, smoking cigarettes, and watching my stories.