Saturday, December 29, 2007

Don't Be Scared, Pump Real Iron

The much-fitter-than-thou (or me, or anyone I know) blogger at Fitness Fixation takes umbrage with the model selection in the Champion catalogue, whose little skinny-ass arms belie their presense in a fitness catalogue:

"...I was flipping through your latest issue with the chicks awkwardly rollerblading and everyone lounging on the b-ball court, and I noticed that you had this little section where the models were prancing around steps (like step aerobics) and using dumbbells. When you look closer, you can see that they are, in fact, using 5 pound dumbbells. Hence the straw arms, hmmm?

I then wracked my brain to think of one exercise I might do using 5 pound dumbbells. Pinky curls for when I want a more toned coke-snorting finger? Maybe I could try and lift a 5 pounder with my eyelashes? Because, you know, I don’t think that’s gonna do a hell of a lot for my arms…

Now I’m not trying to be all big-dick weight (as in, my massive barbell is my penis stand-in, which it is sometimes, but hey, cheaper than a Ferrari.) 5 pounds is a fine starter weight for someone new to fitness and weight training and all. But, um, shouldn’t the models in a sportswear and fitness getup catalog be somewhat farther along in their fitness travels than your average novice lady exerciser? Like up to using (gasp) 10 pound dumbbells at least…

Okay, so why am I so pissy about 5 pound dumbbells, other than the fact that pissy is my true nature (even Buddhists think so.) Well, I’ll tell you, and thanks for asking. Because a few studies have shown that women do not lift NEARLY enough weight to get much or any benefit from weight training. I think most were lifting like 35 percent of their 1 RM (the max amount you can lift one time) which is waaay below where anyone should be. But you know, chicks get scared of bulking up (the vast majority won’t) and I think many women are sucked into the myth that we are ladies, we lift itty bitty weights cuz we get the vapors and we are delicate and those big, rusty barbells are for dudes with no necks. Which means plenty of females wasting hours upon hours at the gym, 'weight training' in a way that does NOTHING.

And of course, aside from the time-waste, there’s that part of me that always comes back to fitness as a kind of feminism. Do not, repeat, do not give me any stupid shit about proportionally less upper body strength than men, blah blah blah. Cuz so fucking what? That should not mean that women are relegated to “girl” push ups or abandoning pull ups or dicking around with teensy little colored dumbbells (or pencils or air, hee hee). Bitches can totally do push ups from the feet, get pull ups, learn Olympic lifts, press heavy dumbbells, bench press like monsters, etc. Do you want to ask the out-of-shape guy in your office to carry that box for you because you are a woman and somehow he must be stronger because he has a dick? Do you want to tolerate feeling like the weaker sex? I fucking hope not. Lift, grunt, and flex those guns, my girls. Please. Don’t be a wuss because you think you should be one. It’s bad form.

So Champion catalog people, do you think next time you could find some models who can pick up something heavier than a hairbrush? Toss out the 5 pound dumbbells and bring in some good weights? Have the girly models challenge the guys to a push up contest? Please? Let’s see some actual sweat and athletics to show how effective your wicking shit is. (Cue inspirational music, cut to shots of Rosie the Riveter and Billie Jean King and so on.) Do it for the future of our girls. C’mon, bitches! "

RIGHT ON, SISTER!! I love how she writes, too--no pussyfooting around, and I always feel an affinity for any woman who will drop an f-bomb. (You can take me out of the Army, but the Army will always live in my potty mouth.)

I hate looking at fitness magazines and clothing catalogues with little stick-figurines who look like the only weight they lift is their mascara wand! Check out the fit chicks at Title 9 Sports...real women who are active and look the part, not some bullshit little lettuce-fed martini-sippers. I read both Women's Health and Shape, but vastly prefer Women's Health for that same reason--Shape always has these exercises with little bitty weights evidently meant to increase muscular endurance, when I want definition and some visible evidence of strength.

Women don't bulk up unless they spend a great deal of time, energy, and money to do so. Do you know any bulky women? Do you know OF any bulky women (outside, of course, the 1988 East German Olympic Swim Team and those freaky, orange-colored, bed-baked bodybuilder chicks--think steroids here, ladies)? It just doesn't happen unless you spend more time at the gym than you do sleeping. A little definition is sexy, lifting heavy torches calories for hours afterwards, it helps prevent osteoporosis, and it feels good.

I spent over an hour a day on the elliptical trainer all summer--true, I had the resistance cranked up, was worn the hell out afterwards, and dropped a few pounds. But it was when I split the workout into :30-:45 cardio, :45 heavy weights/low reps that I really started to see results. After about a month of super-heavy (I lift as much as I can for about 5 reps, and do 2-3 sets, and the last rep of each set is generally very slow, with my face contorting and sweat running off), I started seeing shoulder muscles. Then my hamstrings and quads poked out. It's serious stuff, folks, and I'm a convert. Cardio's great, don't get me wrong, for health and to torch some calories. But weights are the holy grail.

And with that, I'm off to the gym--it's lower body day, which means full-body squats with 90 pounds on the bar, lunges with 25-pound dumbells in my hands, hamstrings at 90 pounds, quads at 75 pounds (I don't dare go higher with my crap knee), leg presses at 210 pounds. It makes me feel like a superhero, even if I still have too much junk in my trunk and could stand to lose 20 pounds. At least I'm a fit fluffy!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

...That's Better...

Spent the last several days celebrating. Dear God. We had two "down days," when we were as close to "off" as you can get in a combat zone. Trouble was, I spent them recovering from the night before and being called in for mission needs. I ended up more tired from the time "off" than when I'm in my work groove...but it's been great.

J and I have "Baghdad Boyfriends" (think summer fling, lighthearted and fun) who don't work as many hours as we do. They have a great deal of leisure time, and we generally do not. I'm dragging ass after sitting around *yet another* bonfire last night, partaking in the holiday cheer and hanging out with like-minded folks. It's a mixed bag--some Marines who guard the Embassy, State Department folks, some three-letter Agency people, a few of us Defense Department workaholics. And of the bunch, DoD people work the most hours by FAR. It's just what we do--you get indoctrinated in the no-time-off mindset in the military, and you carry it around with you for good. Well, at least while on deployment.

My Baghdad Boyfriend is a retired Army Sergeant Major--and when I say "retired," don't think of some whitehaired crumbly on a golf cart with a little flag on a cane pole. He joined at 18 and retired 20 years later. He recently divorced a woman he was with since JUNIOR HIGH. I cannot even imagine that, and I don't ask--or think much--about the implications. Am I only the second/third whatever woman he's ever...holy crap, don't think about it, much less ask. He's a big, strapping manly-man who laughs easily and brings everyone else in on it. This will not follow us home to the U.S. It just won't, and that's all I've got to say about that.

I'm finally back in the gym all the way--the box of clothes and my iPod I sent myself to keep from dragging it all over Kuwait finally made it here. I'm lost in the gym without my headphones. And I got 5 new CD's of workout-worthy funk: Dap-Kings, The Budos Band, and some excellent rare funk out of Detroit. I'm back to hitting the weights--The Girls seem to have healed up nicely, feel comfortable, and don't object to the weight-induced bullying. And I'm still having a great time picking clothes every morning--everything looks great and it's no small thing.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Mama in the Middle

I walked into a hornet's nest with all the seething cattiness I mentioned while on vacation. Friendships and loyalties are so complicated in an environment like this, where there are so few of us and there is no separation between professional and personal lives.

Turns out, my peeps (J1, J2, and C) are engaged in open warfare with the woman they'd told me was talking out of school (M)...really, this seems like a wormhole straight into high school, but this kind of shit never ends. We even have a cafeteria with tables assigned by clique, and everyone watches where you sit and with whom. I'm stuck in the middle and I refuse to take sides. But my close friend here, J1, has the "with me or against me" mentality, and by refusing to hate (and say horrible things about) M, I'm making an enemy of J1. I get the cold shoulder if I sit with M in the cafeteria. I wish I were making this shit up.

My three peeps are all my age, mind you. I think it's one part boredom, one part miscommunication, and one part malicious silliness by all involved.

I just want to stay neutral. I don't want hard feelings with anyone. I'm certainly NOT reporting conversations to either side. I listen to all the venting each way--but I refuse to engage in it, and actively try to diffuse it. J1's begun to get a little icy towards me, especially when the subject of M comes up and I don't join in the mean-spirited, spiteful ramblings. All the stuff they told me while I was on vacation--I shouldn't have believed it. All evidence contradicts it--M pushed for me to get promoted and was instrumental in my getting a big award here, and has said nothing but great things about me to M2, who was with me here in Iraq as a soldier and would not misreport.

I talked to M about it all a few days ago, and she seemed genuinely hurt by it all. Maybe I'm a sucker, but she didn't trash-talk the other involvees in retaliation and her story is backed up by events and evidence.

The way I see it: I'm an adult. I don't have a dog in this fight. If that costs me my friendship with J1, then she's acting silly. I really like J1 and consider her a close friend. But for the love of God, if she'll turn on me for not hating someone who never wronged me, then what kind of friend is SHE, in the end? I'll fight in the pit like a dog for a friend who has been genuinely trespassed against, but it's just not the case here. There's no moral imperative--she wasn't swindled, lied to, taken advantage of, etc. They just plain don't like each other.

The hatred towards M has clearly been a way for the three of them to bond, and I'm seen as traitorous for not bonding with them on it. And I could get left out in the cold by all involved by not participating. So be it. I have almost seven months left here, and the malice is what people will remember about the warriors. I'd rather be detached and somewhat left out of my former posse than engaged in this energy-sucking drama.

Saturday, December 15, 2007


I left Mississippi early Sunday morning. I finally made it back to the International Zone *yesterday*. Yes, Friday, as in, five days later. I'm glad to be back.

That situation I mentioned with the talking out of school--I knew my sources had their own motives, and I put out some feelers when I got here. There *may* be a 5-10% truth there, nothing more. It was nothing like I'd been told, and it's all cleared up now.

I finally have my own room here, and it's a nice, big one at that, with a double bed! I'm still trying to get all my crap moved in, but it's coming along bit by bit. I'm about to give away several large boxes of clothes and accumulated crap in the process. Need to lighten up.

Nothing more to report--I have been inundated with catching up, and my main operation needs immediate attention. I don't have to worry about being bored anytime soon, that much is clear.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Hang On St. Christopher, Cause and Effect, and Please Forgive Me, For I Have Evidently Sinned

What did I do to piss off the Patron Saint of Travelers, and how can I atone for my wickedness? You want a finger, you bastard? I got your finger right here.

I don't think I've ever had a trip go so horribly wrong. The ice storm in Chicago led to a late arrival to Frankfurt, and even after sprinting full-out across the airport (completely inverse to doctor's orders, no less), I missed the Kuwait flight. The Frankfurt Airport is a chaotic nightmare staffed by the rudest people Germany could find, and Lufthansa was completely uncooperative with the missed flight. The next one was 24 hours later, they wouldn't let me into any of their eight lounges, and I was faced with a night in a steel chair, or shelling out big bucks for a hotel. Wipe your ass with American dollars, and that t.p. hurts even more overseas.

I went the hotel route. And it was expensive. When I have the energy to dig my camera out of my bag, I'll post separately on the Germany experience...airport shitty, hotel lovely. Worth every dime.

And THEN I got to Kuwait, finally, and after waiting over 90 minutes in the visa line watching the staff talk and joke on their cellphones, take long breaks at their seats, and generally take things slow, I got the visa and booked it to the US liaison/bus just in time to watch the shuttle pull away from the curb. Which means I lost my opportunity to turn in my passport tonight. Which means I won't fly tomorrow.

And they don't fly on Thursday. Which means I'm stuck here until Friday. It's only Tuesday. So I have to take the shuttle out to the airbase (which leaves four hours from now), hand in my passport, and given the shuttle leaves at 2:30am, it's too late to check into a hotel. Which means I'm stuck in the tent, and I did not bring a towel or a blanket. Which means a cold night on a cot under flourescent lights, waiting until the PX opens at nine, buying one of those towels that's too small to cover my big ass, showering in the trailer, and hoping that by some miracle, my passport is ready before tomorrow's flight out of here.

It's not the end of the world. If the passport doesn't come through, I'll check into a hotel (again, at my expense and obscenely expensive), and spend the rest of Wednesday, all day Thursday, and Friday morning basking in the bathtub, eating at the obscenely expensive restaurants, and just enjoying myself.

*Sigh* I really can't wait to see the ordered inside of my room in Baghdad.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

On the Road Again

I'm in terminal C16, Chicago/O'Hare, watching it snow outside and hoping we lift off on time. I have over 5 hours in Frankfurt for leeway, but I hate sitting around in airports. And I'd rather have more time in Frankfurt, where I plan to walk around, drink Hefeweisen, find breakfast, and utilize my rusty German.

I sat next to a guy named Kelly on the flight from Memphis--big good ole boy from Birmingham. We chatted the entire flight. He works sound for concerts, speeches, etc., and has been to both Oxford, MS, my hometown, and Athens, GA, where I went to college. We know some of the same people. He's been at it for over 20 years, so he listed concerts he'd worked in both towns, and I remembered most of them. BB King at Ole Miss in 1988. Widespread Panic and Drivin' and Cryin' at the Georgia Theater in Athens in 1993. I like to chat with people while I'm traveling, as it passes the time and can be pretty interesting.

After wandering around O'Hare working out the kinks in my legs, I settled in at Chili's for a big fat margarita and a big fat cheeseburger. Finished the margarita, only ate about a third of the cheeseburger--my philosophy on food is that it's okay to have a cheeseburger, especially on the event of my last night State-side for the next six months. But I don't have to cram the whole thing down my piehole.

An elegant older lady named Judy sat next to me and we talked through our meals. She was much more interesting before the sales pitch--she works for some supplement company, the kind that sells pills and shakes via individual associates who run home businesses and make more money for every new individual associate they sign up. Which is the textbook definition of a pyramid scheme.

She went on and on about how their products will essential fix all that's broke: my sister's torn ACL healed up, my uncle had a stroke but lived 20 more years, I lost 60 pounds, etc. You've heard this same line from every snakeoil salesman on HSN, including that nitwit Kevin Trudeau. I'm sure these supplements are fine, but I'm equally sure the cheap ones I buy through Pilgrim's Pride contain the same ingredients and boast roughly the same absorption rate. She kept pointing out how great their shakes would be for me while in Iraq. But I already have shakes there, three canisters in fact, of vanilla Kashi Go-Lean.

So here I sit among the crying babies and fellow bored-shitless travelers. I don't mind going back--this beats the hell out of when I took leave from Iraq last time, when I got back on the plane with a heavy heart and clenched stomach, knowing how miserable it was there, and that I had a full nine months to go. This time, I have six, and it's relatively easy time.

There's been all sorts of drama in my organization in Iraq while I've been gone, and I found out my own site lead (the manager for the company I work for) has been saying terrible things about me behind my back and has even blocked me from moving into the job I want. Nice. I'm more puzzled than anything--she's saccharine-sweet to my face, then says I'm horrible to anyone who will listen. Or at least, that's how it's been reported to me.

I have no interest in garnering attention, positive or negative--I'm there to do what I can for the fight and save money for law school. She's the Princess. I guess I'm the Pea.

I don't need to jockey for position--there's no sense in it for me, as this is the last position of its kind I will ever have. I'm not looking to snag some prime follow-on assignment in DC or impress the leadership of my company.

Cattiness and this brand of cliquish, say-shit-about-people-to-get-everyone-on-my-side (we have SIDES???)-against-whomever bullshit is not only highly unprofessional and immature, it takes more energy than I care to expend on peripheral activities. The job sucks enough energy on a good day, the gym takes a pint more, and there are all the fun things I get to do for fun elsewhere in the Green Zone. There's Mantasy Island, for chrissakes. Who has that kind of energy, and is hateful enough to use it against a fellow analyst for the same company? I've never done anything to this girl but disagree with her, like any self-respecting professional would do in my situation.

She's about 8 years my junior, and I think that may be the crux of the issue--8 years ago, I probably created some drama myself. I guess it's entertainment in a monotonous environment. But I don't remember ever being this mean-spirited and/or dishonest about it, even on deployments or in smaller units, where boredom was rampant and drama encouraged. Just a couple of months ago, she was pushing to get me promoted, so her keeping me from the job that would both satisfy me and keep me more motivated, it just doesn't make sense.

Every business environment has a seedy underbelly of backbiting, powergrabbing, and professional jealosy. I've just reached a point in my life where I've recognized the futility of such pursuits--usually, people believe that kind of gossip only until they get to know you better. I have a great attitude and my analytical work stands utterly above reproach. People see that and start to wonder where the animosity came from. Hell, I wonder where it came from--I know she dislikes someone who's become my close friend, but I try to stay neutral in spats like that. I don't tell either one the things anyone has said--it's only hurtful and damaging to any organization.

And really, it's not awful that she's doing this--I'm well-liked there, and have only six months left. It's a big enough place, I can avoid all but the most perfunctory of interactions with her. I'll always be civil, even while annoyed, and will pretend nothing's happened. I just want the next six months to glide by, not rattle and hum on highs and lows of triumph, little spoons full of shit, and high drama.

I don't want to have this hanging over the two of us--we've gotten along well, or at least I thought we did, so maybe I'll approach her and ask what happened, tell her how disappointed I am, and try to clear it all up. And it is entirely possible it's been blown out of proportion through the telephone game, especially considering my source. I should be the grownup, hear her side of it and judge for myself where the truth lies. Many spats like this lie in one miscommunication somewhere that could be cleared up with one conversation, and hard feelings can be put to bed. I hope that's the case here.

When it's all said and done, though, It's all about perspective, and being home these last couple of weeks has reminded me why I'm there--save up for law school, do it honorably, and go home happy in July.

Friday, December 07, 2007

*The Result*

This surgery was no picnic, despite assurances from my augmented friend that she had no trouble, flew across the country four days later, etc. Last Sunday morning, I awoke at 6 am to find the left Girl hugely swollen and bruised. I called the doctor's office for advice. And he asked me to come in and let him check it out, at 6 am on Sunday morning. That's how you know you chose the right surgeon. It was okay, just me freaking out a little--lefty was pretty ugly and uncomfortable. The stitches dug into my armpits like barbed wire, I was bloated as a dead whale on the beach, and just generally felt shitty.

I even had a day or two when I wondered if this whole thing was a good idea...what have I done to myself, this is crazy, what was I thinking???

So after about ten days of trying not to use my chest muscles and lying round the house like a slug, I drove to Memphis yesterday for a follow-on appointment to get the stitches out. The healing's on track and I instantly felt better once the stitches came out. I felt good enough to try on clothes, which had been painful with the stitches. I've been stuck with loose things I could easily pull on without straining, and I couldn't lift my arms--I'd been hanging around in sweatshirts and jeans. So I decided to do some quick shopping.

I meant to just buy a couple of things, a top or two to take back to Iraq with me. Normally, if I take ten items into any given dressing room, only one or two would fit and look good. I started at SteinMart, and stuck to the clearance racks. I found about eight things--cute empire-waist tops, a gorgeous Anne Klein blazer at $60 from the original $350, a couple of really nice blouses. I wore jeans and a cami under my clothes, since I have discovered how many nice pieces there are out there that look great over one. And I have *never* been able to wear a cami, mind you. Nothing to hold it up and it accentuated my lack of proportion.

I tried on the blazer over my lace cami, with the jeans. ****WOW**** I have an hourglass figure! The blazer has one big button at the waist and perfectly brought out my new shape. I stared at the mirror in disbelief and went out into the fitting room to look in the three-way mirror. The sales lady said, "Oh, yes, you're taking that one home." I couldn't believe the transformation. I still have my wide booty, but it looks totally proportional.

In all, I only spent a couple of hundred dollars at SteinMart and Ross, and made out like a bandit. Top after top, 90% of what I tried on looked fabulous. No more doubts about the surgery, that much is clear. The surgery was not as expensive as many people would imagine--I was able to pay for it out of my checking account, straight out. It won't impact my ability to pay for law school.

Like it or not, women are judged on appearance, and much moreso than men. Just listen to comments made about any woman in any position--Condoleeza Rice's wardrobe, Hillary Clinton's haircut, it's the first thing people consider, even for women in the highest echelons of power. Listen to people you know--most discussion about a woman refers to her appearance. I'm not judging right or wrong, I'm acknowledging a fact of American life. It impacts everything--studies have shown attractive people are more likely to be hired for any given position, and just look at all the bias against fat people. Looking good imparts power in all facets of daily life. And feeling like you look good is half the battle. Call me superficial (my brother did--won't be attempting any more contact with him anytime soon), wasteful, silly, I don't care. I've always hated trying to find clothes (and bras, for that matter) that didn't make me look like a walking pear.

But no more. It looks even better than I'd imagined, and it's a joy to get up and choose clothes for the day. It'll be interesting to see the reaction when I get back to Iraq--I'll have to wear one of my new, flattering tops for the trip back.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

See, What Had Happened Was...

This is the terminal in Kuwait. If it looks like total chaos, that's because it is. Total. Chaos. Also note the lack of seating--you have to sit on the floor. These people seemed to all come from an Indonesian girls' school, and the noise level in this concrete hallway rivalled that of the airplane pulling up to the gate outside.
This is the smoking area. Note the woman smoking just outside the door. The terminal, which is really just a hallway, was blue with smoke at one point. Call our smoking laws fascist all you want, I'm pretty damn glad we have 'em.

I really dread going back through Kuwait. It is a true pain in the ass. I don't dread going back to my job in Iraq--I actually like my job.

But I love being here. I've spent the last week stuffing my face with BBQ and catching up with the wonderful people I've known all my life, family and friends. It was absolutely the best choice to come back here last year. I had gotten so tired of starting over every time I moved, trying to find a niche and make friends. Here, it's all set for me. And I love it.

I have an awesome family and a core handful of friends here who used to sneak away from school to go hang in the park in high school.

Disclaimer--I just took another oxycodone and I'm feeling pretty damn good. See, I had surgery yesterday, and now I look in the mirror at a proportional, almost hourglass figure. It's wonderful. Just the proportionality makes me look like I've dropped 20 pounds. I did the right thing getting these girls.

So here's how it went down--Bob, my wonderful stepdad, drove all the way here from Adamsville, TN, about two and a half hours away on Monday night and slept on my couch so that we could get up and get to Memphis by 9 am. See what I mean about being here among family? How cool is that? AND he drove the Caddy, which rides like an airboat. Post-op, I was really happy to be in that car and not a truck or something less padded that I'd have to climb up into.

I woke up with nasty allergies but didn't dare take the Claritin I'd been taking all week. My throat was terribly dry and I couldn't stop coughing--nothing to eat or drink after midnight, so it was a bit uncomfortable. We arrived a bit early and after filling out some paperwork and paying the nice folks at the Memphis Surgery Center, they led me back to the pre-op room. I had to pee in a cup--quite the feat, given that I hadn't had even a sip of water since the night before.

The nurse had a tough time finding a vein. Actually, she couldn't--I simply have no visible blood vessels. I look like the undead in that respect. She called the anesthesiologist in--he was an older gentleman I had pegged as a Harley rider (I was right), and even with his years of experience, my dehydration meant that what little veinage I have was buried too deep for him to get a hold of one. He tried all four extremities, which made me uncomfortable--an IV in my ankle? Didn't sound good! He asked me if I was an android.

So what did he do? Went for my neck. I swear I'm not making this up.

They injected some numbing agent first--good thing, because I probably wouldn't have been able to sit still if I could feel a needle going in my neck. After it was numbed, it didn't hurt a bit. The only uncomfortable thing about it was sitting there with a little catheter in my neck, trying hard not to move or sneeze. I had to pinch my nose at one point to keep from sneezing.

The doc came in and I had to stand up with that damn thing sticking out of my neck--again, it really sounds worse than it is, it was just knowing it was there that made me all squeemy. He drew all over me with a surgical marker, then they wheeled me into the OR and gave me some great drugs that made me all giggly.

I'd heard that people act and talk crazy just before going under with anesthesia. I have no recollection, but I'm told that I looked right at the Harley-riding anesthesiologist and said, "If I start talking about Iraq, please tape my mouth shut because it's probably classified and I'd hate to have to kill everyone in the room." Much hilarity ensued, I'm told.

The next thing I remember is being in a dreamlike state and totally incapacitated--shadowy people moved around me, I was handed a styrofoam cup filled with ice water (which I gulped down), and I babbled incessantly about God knows what. The anesthesia made me shake violently, which hurt enough to cut through the drugs. I was wrapped in a heated blanket, but still shook until they'd administered two separate doses of Demoral to stop it. Several times I babbled on and realized there was no one around, particularly after the Demoral. Then I'd start giggling and drift off again. Going to the bathroom was quite the challenge--the nurse had to more or less heft me from a wheelchair right onto the toilet. Thank God I could at least wipe myself.

They wheeled me out to the car. I put a handtowel over my face to block out the sun and passed the hell out until we reached Oxford. Bob was really ready to get home by that time, and I cannot blame him one bit--he sat in that waiting room for a long damn time. It was so kind of him to drive all the way down to pick me up and take me there and something I could never expect anyplace else I've lived the last fifteen years.

So yes, I am high on Percoset and in love with everything and everybody right now. I love my house, my animals, my family...I'm a walking Hallmark card right now. It's pretty silly.

And the boobs? They look great! I think I chose exactly the right size--it'll be a C, not ridiculous porn boobs, perfectly proportional for my frame. I can't really tell what they'll look like, since they're in a light bra with some bandaging and they're locked in tight behind my chest muscles. There is a phenomenon with breast implants called "drop and fluff," in which the muscles finally loosen their vice-grip and the boobies settle downward and get softer. It takes several months. Even still, they look great already.

And with that, my eyes are fluttering...time for a nappy!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Next Phase

So now I'm in Kuwait at the International Airport. There's a Starbucks. So here I sit with a cup of strong coffee with real half-n-half, not the weak simulation of cream we have in Iraq. It tastes lovely.

I'm sitting in one of Starbucks' little conversation corner things, my enormous bag in a cart behind my chair. Some American guy working in Afghanistan instantly sat down next to me and started talking. I just want to watch people. And I'm trying to look as inconspicuous as possible--not an easy task with my coloring. But I have a gorgeous Iraqi pashmina wrapped around my shoulder, my hair tied back, and I'm dressed better than most of the Americans wandering around.

There's a Kuwaiti family next to us and they seem used to having Americans around. The only one who stares is the little boy, probably about six years old. I keep smiling at him and he acts like any kid interacting with a stranger. He's grinning widely, hiding behind his hands, staring. I made a face at him and he giggled, then excitedly said something to his father, who didn't smile. Didn't scowl, either, just looked at me. Mom smiled, though.

Arabs don't smile at strangers like we Americans do. It's not unfriendly, they often just think it's odd that we smile at everyone. Maybe they think we look like baboons, wandering the earth with a big, stupid grin. It's better received from a woman than a man, for whatever reason.

There are men in full Arab dress--dishdasha (the white robe thing), headress, etc. Women in groups--some dress traditionally, in long dresses and scarves (hijab) over their hair, some are dressed Western with or without hijab. You don't see this in Iraq. The women are in traditional clothing with their hair fully covered, or they invite unwanted attention of exactly the wrong kind.

I wish I could take pictures, but it's considered terribly inappropriate, especially to photograph women. I'll keep my eye out for anyone else snapping shots, see the reaction, then gauge from there just how taboo it is.

I will shell out the $300 for a room at the Crowne Plaza on the way back--the airbase was utterly miserable. The light stayed on in the tent all night, people came and went, there were no pillows or blankets--I had clothes piled up under my head and used a towel for a blanket. I bet I slept about two hours overall, fully clothed. And on the way back, I'll be 2 weeks post-op, and the extra money will be worth a shower and pillows and sheets.

All things considered, it feels really good to be out in the civilian world, with shops and restaurants, and away from that shithole American airbase. I'm on my way to seek out an ATM for more Kuwaiti dinar.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

On the Road Again

I'm in Kuwait, in a tent with about 30 other bored ladies, out in the sand in the middle of no. where. I turned my passport in at about 2pm local, and it will be ready for pickup with the mandatory visa at 9am tomorrow. I fly through Germany on the way back and don't need a visa for it. So why here in Kuwait? Because our friends and allies figured out that there is big money to be made on visas for Operation Iraqi Freedom, and since we're on Arab time (think New Orleans time, only slower), it takes an absurdly long time to take that money and put a little colored stamp in the passport.

I'd rather some little guy just stand by the airfield we fly into and hold us each at gunpoint. Smack me with a camel whip and demand it of me, then let me board my United flight to Dulles. I'd gladly hand over fifty bucks and a smack on the ass to not have to sit in this wasteland for 36 hours.

At least there's a shower. Sort of. It's like the tent--open area. Water everywhere, and the clean clothes you bring to change into? Yeah, wet.

But I have a good book (Philip Roth, Sabbath's Theater), I didn't sleep well last night at the safehouse in Baghdad due to one guy snoring to beat the band, and I even have about ten episodes of This American Life on the iPod to take in.

There's a little McDonald's here--I made a beeline for it, given my lifelong love of the little cheeseburger (not the Quarter Pounder or Big Mac, just that crappy little cheeseburger) and fries...and got about three bites into it before it just didn't taste all that great. I tossed the rest. Don't get me wrong, it tasted like the ones in the States, it just wasn't worth all that fat.

It could be that I've gotten used to indulging in amazing Middle Eastern food, thanks to our interpreters from Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco, etc. They cook a couple of times a week and since I'm friends with them, I have an open invite. Last Friday was lamb-stuffed eggplant with fresh hummus and little flat bread things, also with lamb and cardamom. Amazing.

Things could definitely be worse. I think it's time for a long nap...home on Monday, boobies a week from Tuesday. Yeah, things could be worse.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Internet Dickwad

That one's for you, "Anonymous." Probably the same dickwad I fired from two different positions, then reported for compromising classified materials. Coward.

I moderate comments, and summarily reject the pointless, insulting, or ones I don't have time to write a big response to. Call me a Nazi, a censor, whatever. It's my blog and it's for the entertainment and edification of my friends and family, plus friendly strangers. I'm not in your world, sweetheart, you're in mine.

So go right ahead, Anonymous, and send childish little schoolyard comments--they all end up in the "rejected" pile anyway. Gave me a great excuse to put the "internet dickwad" pic up.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

I Freely Admit..

...that I am not worth one good goddamn at work right now. All I can think about is going on leave--thirteen days until I'm actually home, ten days until I leave the International Zone. I'd be looking forward to it even more if it weren't for the Kuwait piece--the Kuwaitis make is as painful for us to travel through their crap airport as they possibly can, including a 24-hour cooling-off period to wait for your visa.

I worry about my tailbone injury--I have some sort of bone issue down there that makes sitting around for long periods of time, especially on hard benches like the one on the C-130 we fly down in, downright excruciating. Even driving in my sweet little leather-interior car hurts like hell after a bit. Traveling? I see a beer in my future as soon as I land at Dulles. No pain meds, though, since I'm having surgery on the 27th.

I've been researching the hell out of this surgery--I'm really looking forward to this. Not the surgery itself, mind you, but having a pair of Girls that are swimsuit-worthy. I may even have a bra-burning party for all those A-cups I barely fill out--liberating, but in a markedly different way than the bra-burnings 30 years ago.

It will be difficult not to work out--it could be over a month before I'm able to lift weights again. And I am so sold on weight lifting--huge bang for your workout buck. I now hit the elliptical for 30 minutes of balls-to-the-wall intervals (9 low, 17 high--my legs are on fire as I complete each rep) followed by about 45 minutes of heavy, intense lifting. I've broken into freeweights along with the sissy-ass machines after reading about the benefits of going free. I'm not in there to fuck around. I'm drenched and ass-whupped when I finish up...but why carve out time in a busy day, particularly at 5am, to go in there are get a little glisten on?

If I'm spending my precious time at the gym, I want to most bang for my time buck.

I plan to conduct some sociological experiments once I'm a C+/D-. Get pulled over--to ticket, or not to ticket? At the bar--what's my new drinks-paid-for-by-me to offers-to-buy-drinks-for-me ratio? Are more doors opened?

If I've learned anything, it's that you cannot underestimate the power of a great rack. I have a co-worker here who would likely not warrant a second glance, but for her size G porn boobs. Guys drool all over themselves in her presence, and I can't help but notice it's usually while staring at her chest.

Do I blame her for any of this? Certainly not. We play the hand we're dealt. I have really great, muscular, rock-solid legs...but they're in pants all day, except at the gym, and I don't think most men are *really* "leg men." I look great in a skirt, but a) can't really wear them here, and b) legs, while certainly important, are far from eye-level and are therefore peripheral. I suspect they're ALL "breast men," whether they admit to it or not.

I'll have to wait until July to truly solve these mysteries--just being cute and female in Iraq guarantees as much attention as anyone could possibly want, but it'll be interesting to see if even that gets affected.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Conversation with an Iraqi

I flew up to another Forward Operating Base this last week to interface with the Special Forces muldoons. It's been a long time since I've ridden in a helicopter--I'd forgotten how nice it can be if you're sitting by the window. The first few times you fly in one, the straight-up motion is a bit disconcerting--one moment, you're sitting there on the helopad feeling the wwwhhaammpp wwhhaammpp wwhhhhaammp of the blades churning, then the tenor changes, and you just lift straight up.

In this case, we flew over Baghdad at sunset. I kicked myself for not bringing a camera. Helicopters fly fairly low, so you can see everything going on down there--black-cloaked women hanging laundry on their rooftops, people gathering in the streets to enjoy the evening cool, the brightly-colored jerseys in the children's soccer game we flew over in central Baghdad, the blue minarets. Date trees, cars, markets. No one looked up at us--they are so accustomed to the noisy birds, it no longer warrants a glance.

As we left the city, I was surprised to see how much farming takes place here in the desert. It looked much like any rural American landscape--patchworked crops, livestock, irrigation devices, date tree groves. However, we crossed a line at some point into straight desert--nothing stirred as far as you could see.

Every so often, we flew over a house, just out there in the desert, with deep wells dug all around. Imagine that life. You'd be isolated enough in the U.S. if your closest neighbors were miles away. But here? Where they lack many of our modern conveniences? Something must keep them from going mad. Islam, perhaps.

As I've gotten to know some of the Iraqis who work with us here, it's becoming clearer to me how much of a bum rap they get. Most Iraqis are just trying to make a living and send their kids to school without getting shot or blown up. I told one about North Korea and how they're brainwashed, how they have no electricity in most places, no internet, they're starving to death, and they get killed for saying the wrong thing. He bowed his head in understanding. Saddam.

I like to ask them things: What did Saddam tell you when Iraq invaded Kuwait? What did he tell you when we intervened? What was the Iran-Iraq war like?

Saddam, it turns out, pitched the Kuwaiti invasion this way: There is no true separation between Iraq and Kuwait, they are our brothers and sisters, the border should not exist and *poof*, I proclaim it does not. See, many Iraqis have immediate family in Kuwait, so that wasn't a stretch. Iraqis believed the Kuwaitis welcomed the invasion in order to reunite them with their families under one, righteous banner.

Here's what is wrong with that, though--why on Earth would Kuwait welcome reunification with a penniless state ruled by a madman? Their own booming economy would get irrevocably dragged down by Iraq, and Saddam would be in charge on top of that!

This point evidently did not enter into the Iraqi dialogue for obvious reasons. Then, when the U.S. answered Kuwait's desperate plea for help, we became the evil, meddling West, a title whose validity is, at this particular moment in time, admittedly debatable.

I posed these questions--albeit very carefully--to Ibrahim, an Iraqi man who speaks good English. He thought about it, then nodded. "No one would wish to be ruled by Saddam. You would be a fool to wish this, even if you have family in Iraq."

It takes a long time for people to see past the picture they've had of America for thirty years or longer. We haven't exactly made it easy for many Muslims in Iraq and elsewhere to reformulate their opinions, and only a select few actually live and work in any proximity to Westerners who can challenge the stereotypes. Their exposure is often limited to the crap on TV--and hell, many Americans have a love/hate relationship with our own media and entertainment industries.

I asked Ibrahim what he thought Iraq would look like in five years. His face lit up. "It will be prosperous. It will be like it was in the late-70's: nightclubs, people having fun, no more religious extremists." He believed it.

Then he sighed, gathering the change of clothes he has to bring into the International Zone so he won't be recognized when he leaves the checkpoint. Followed home, killed, his family murdered before him. It has gotten better, most Iraqis agree. But we're a long way from nightclubs in Baghdad yet.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Only 17 Days...

...until I go on leave. Not that I'm counting or anything.

I put a deposit down yesterday to a plastic surgeon...that's right, folks, the AA's days are numbered. After 37 years of not being able to wear swimsuits and dresses I like, I decided that if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. I will NOT go to Vulgar Porn Boobs. Just proportional--and given my build, I think C's will be just right. Having lost some weight (I'm not skinny, but muscular and substantial now), I've had a hard time even finding bras that fit and are comfortable. So here goes.

I'm having it done in Memphis so I can recuperate in my house, rather than the five-star resort in Malaysia where I'd originally planned to do it. My time is worth the price difference, and I do not want to go on a two-week vacation while I'm in Iraq, or when I get home next June. I just want to be at home for as long as possible.

Traveling back to Iraq post-op could be a bit uncomfortable--I have two weeks to recuperate, but the journey into the combat zone is really, really long: four flights, several days, visa bullshit in Kuwait.

Disclaimer: The rant below constitutes my personal opinion, and does not represent that of any organization. It is not intended to influence--nor will it, given that I make no claim to any sort of institutional credibility. It's purely the opinion of a private, pissed off customer. If Travelocity records its customer service phone calls, it only gets worse for them. I got so frustrated I cried on the phone.

And in that vein, I will ***NEVER*** use Travelocity again. I spent about an hour and a half on the phone (to India, mind you, never could get a corporate manager who wasn't reading from a flow-chart, and never once spoke to an American) trying to fix the mess that they made of my return trip. Bottom line: they've outsourced their "customer service" to India where no one is empowered to address their own mistakes (in this case, I was outright lied to about flight availability--I could see it right on their own site while I was on the phone), you cannot resolve complaints by telephone, they don't answer or even acknowledge complaints on their website.

Just ask Dell. You outsource your customer service to Asia, then don't train/empower employees there to address complaints, you will lose market share. Dell never did recover from that.

My solution? If I'm stuck in Chicago for 6 hours I'd rather spend at home? I'll squat my ass right there in the Chili's in O'Hare and tip back about six Presidente margaritas, so I'll be chock full of holiday spirit by the time I board. We're not talking belligerent, sloppy drunk. I won't get kicked off the plane for lifting my shirt and showing off my new boobs. I'm a giggly, happy-buzz type, never an angry drinker. So I'll board very happily buzzed, then happily passed out, all the way to Frankfurt. Layover in Frankfurt? That's got Hefeweisen written all over it.

I'm thinking I should save some surgery pain meds for when I get to Kuwait and get to sleep on a canvas cot for a couple of days awaiting transport to Baghdad. And I could be hungover. Pass the oxycontin!!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Shake Your Fist at the Sky

How is it that I can stick to my 3-meal, 2-snack plan, work out like a madwoman for a week, lose about a half pound, then regain TWO POUNDS on two lousy pieces of greasy pizza in a moment of weakness?? And do you ever get tired of hearing people (men, mostly) talk about how they can eat anything they want and just spend a few extra minutes in the gym to compensate, and never gain a pound?

Or here in Iraq, my favorite:

Kristen: “Hey, Ryan, you look like you’ve lost a couple of pounds.”

Ryan: “Thanks. Since I can’t drink beer over here, it just fell off. I’ve dropped 15 pounds just from not drinking beer!”

Kristen: You go to hell. A pox on your house. "Oh, that’s nice.”

I sat up on the roof of our huge building last weekend, where folks gather to smoke cigars and/or houka pipes and look out over Baghdad. Since it cooled off, it’s been pretty pleasant up there. We discussed how hard it is to eat healthy here, how limited the options are. The leadership of my organization has access to the Embassy, and we lowly contractors do not.

T: “The Embassy’s been coming up with some great salad dressings! And they’ve had grilled fish. Why don’t you just eat grilled fish?” Grilled fish?? Our chowhall boils and fries everything beyond recognition. It distinctly felt like Let them eat cake!!
Kristen: “Thanks, rub it in.”

T: “Oh, well, you can eat some salad and stuff here.”

Kristen: “Well, yeah, that’s what I’ve been doing, but I had to order dressings online. And they usually don’t have healthy entrees–I eat about ten sandwiches a week.”

T: “Well, I eat to live, I don’t live to eat. Anyone who wants to can manage it.”

Kristen: Practices admirable restraint in not dumping her cup of grapefruit juice on his sanctimonious head.

America, I was bumperstickered. Hit with a slogan from a dead standstill on a 7-story roof right in the middle of an active combat zone.

Don’t talk to me about how to eat here when you haven’t been in Iraq long enough to get tired of the crap food and can always skip on down to the Embassy for a grilled chicken wrap at any moment. I’ve lost 15 pounds since I got here in April, and still, a lecture by way of a bumpersticker slogan.

We can all go on and on about how unfair everything is, and how hard it is for us to lose weight. How smug and self-righteous most people who’ve never struggled with weight tend to be. How life continues to throw obstacles in the way. While it’s gratifying to gripe about it and a constant test of our patience to deal with the Sanctimoniously Skinny, it doesn’t make any of us any thinner.

So I laughed with a girlfriend about the bumpersticker mini-lecture and promptly resumed my small-portion, heavy-exercising ways. I’m on a bit of a plateau right now, but I won’t give up like I have in the past when dealing with plateaus. I’m still retraining my brain, but discipline is like a muscle–the more you use/train it, the stronger it becomes. Every time I pass up the care package overflowing with crap in the hallway, the easier it is the next time. And the next.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Burning Down the House

Weellll, this was just one hell of a day.

We had a meeting with some Special Forces guys this morning. Imagine my grin when I walked in to find that a couple of them were HHHHOOOOOTTTT!!! Movie star hot. Mantasy hot. Perks my Groundhog Day existence right up when this type thing happens.

I didn't have much to say during the meeting and the Hottest of the Hotties talked the whole time, so I got to just sit and watch him. They came into my office to chat a bit before heading out to another meeting, and some kind soul had placed my mail on my chair--a large package of Dr. McDougall's soups...yummy and better for you than chow hall crap. We talked as I removed the packing slip, put it on my desk, and began unpacking the little cardboard bowls into my file locker/pantry.

I turned from the cabinet to find my desktop on fire. And no, the beautiful men weren't sitting on my desk in their skivvies. The small stack of papers on the desk was On Fire.

I yanked the papers onto the tile floor and stood there sheepishly as it burned out. While my attention was focused on trying to look suave while rattling off some witty repartee', I had tossed the packing slip onto the girly little scented candle du jour I always have burning on my desk to chase off the smell of Enclosed Facility with Little Air Circulation.

No getting those cool points back. That's right up there with laying my Harley down at a gas station after forgetting to put the kickstand down.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Something Old, Something New

I'm still cranking it at the gym--intense 15-minute interval session on the elliptical, then about 45 minutes of heavy weights comprised of two sets of total muscle fatigue, then back on the elliptical for 30 minutes of endurance work. I do this at least 5 times a week, and the total calorie burn is about 650-700 calories. I don't think you should quit sweating when it's time for fact, I sweat more lifting than during the intervals. I'm not in there to waste time.

I just added the weights about five weeks ago, and the transformation is amazing--I see it most in my shoulders, where I'm already seeing MAD definition. It's a beautiful thing. I'm still losing about a pound a week without feeling terribly deprived.

Here are some of the items on my workout playlist, guaranTEED to get your blood pumpin' and your booty shakin':

Beck: Elevator Music, Cellphone's Dead, Strange Apparition, Earthquake Weather, Beercan

The Clash: This is Radio Clash, Untitled (Stand by Me)

The Cult: FireWoman, Wildflower

David Byrne: Make-Believe Mambo

Treme' Brass Band: Gimme My Money Back

Rebirth Brass Band: Do Wacha Wanna, Grazin' in the Grass

Lucinda Williams: Bleedin' Fingers

David Holmes: $160 Million Chinese Man

Dr. John: Blues in the Night, R U 4 Real, Sweet Home New Orleans, Good Night Irene (Trippin' Live)

James Brown: Sex Machine 1 & 2 from Dead on the Heavy Funk 1975, Funky President, Gimme Some More

Led Zeppelin: I Got A Woman, Fool in the Rain

It's a start, about 10% of what I've got loaded. I have a couple of hours of this stuff on the nano so I don't get bored, but these are some of the songs that make me forget that working out is supposed to be work.

Speaking of work--and none of this is classified--I finally finished a Counterintelligence Analytical Summary on some aspects of foreign influence here in Iraq that was due today. I spent three days researching it, all day every day, then banged out the first draft yesterday. Tweaked it this morning and sent it up...and was met with WOW, knocked it out of the park. It was good. It's always a bit daunting to present an analytical paper--so much is based on opinion. But if you've researched it and explain what led you to draw conclusions, it's what decision-makers WANT. They don't want journalism, they want us to use our brains, contribute to the dialogue. Good commanders do not want you to tell them what you think they want to hear.

Sometimes this job is incredible, and working at this level can be really exciting. I'm actually being moved out of my job as an operational manager to an analysis-pure position, acting as our organization's point person on Jaysh al-Mahdi, the biggest militia operating here. It's infinitely more interesting than management.

And I took the rest of the day off. I like writing point papers, but staring at a computer screen for three 14-hour days is exhausting.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Seasonal Sun Outages???

As I try to do every night, I'm watching Jon Stewart. Tonight's poker night with the Massachusetts National Guard crew that handles our security. I have a 12" screen, little bitty thing I watch maybe half an hour a day, Jon Stewart or one episode of The Shield.

Jon's interviewing--very cordially, I might add--Lynne Cheney, the Second (?) Lady. We get Armed Forces Network out of Germany and Italy. Check out this somewhat puzzling screen shot:

The full text: "Seasonal sun outages may interrupt TV and internet service until October 14."

What? The sun's going out? Is it taking a little break? Is it the holiday season for life-giving, gaseous orbs?

Ponder this while I go "play cahhds" with the Massachusetts muldoons.

Friday, October 05, 2007

I was thrilled to see that Belle de Jour found my last entry, and asked if she might link my blog. I'm honored, and quickly consented (although her site has no email link), and then Googled her to see what popped up, what's being said.

There is only a rare mention of her material for its quality, only the more sordid aspects of the content. Mostly, the commentary is pure garbage, tabloidesque speculation on her identity, musings as to whether or not she even exists and was truly a callgirl, and pc-fueled speculations that the British TV series based on her blog and novels "glorify prostitution."

Baah! What crap! It's perfectly acceptable to glorify murder, violence of all stripes, and adultery in many of the movies and games for the kiddies to play, but horror of horrors, how DARE you portray prostitution as anything more than the default career for beaten-down crack whores. It's somehow outside the realm of plausibility that a high-end callgirl could love Jimmy Choos, have an advanced education, and still like men at the end of the day.

And as for her identity, if she was ever a callgirl? I couldn't care less. It's great writing, I enjoy reading it. What's the harm, and why spend so much time spinning up the sewing circle on the topic?

Which leads me to another point--it pisses me off when prostitution and pornography are described as "objectifying" and/or "victimizing" women. "Victim" suggests the women involved lack the maturity, wits, or intellectual capacity to know exactly what they're doing, and the risks involved.

I did a series of sculptures of prostitutes (back in The Day when I was a sculptor in New Orleans) called Hey Father Flannigan, featuring some sassy-ass mommas flashing their boobs at all the proper folk on the street. It didn't scare up the kind of controversy that Beauty Pageant did, and in a city like New Orleans, no one batted an eye.

Beauty Pageant, by the way, was my art school final show in Athens, Georgia. It was born one night in The Globe, a sweet little bar in Athens, when this bitch in a wheelchair swiped the skin off my achilles, didn't apologize or even look at me as I stood there in excruciating pain, and reacted with pure shock when I lit her ass on fire (verbally, of course). She screamed FUCK YOU and charged off through the crowd, injuring at least two others. The world, it seemed, clearly owed her something.

I was later informed that she was Miss Georgia Wheelchair.

I laughed my ass off, "Miss what? No way that exists."

But oh yes, it does. And as I stood there with my beer, I hooted and hollered, "What the hell is next, Miss Georgia Glass Eye? Miss Georgia Pegleg?? Miss Georgia Prosthetic Arm???"

And then it hit me. Series. Wall-hung sculptures. Miss Georgia Fill-in-the-Blank.

When I finished, they were all over one wall of the art school's gallery. Most people laughed...Miss Georgia Pegleg's talent portion was in full swing as she flung Miss Georgia Prosthetic Army around in a spirited foxtrot. They were doll-sized, with different animal features (rabbits and goats, mostly), all having a high old time.

A letter to the editor hit the stands the next day, slamming me for making fun of handicapped people. I responded, "You completely missed the point. I'm making fun of pageants, not handicaps. Had you actually seen the show and not just the review, you likely would have understood."

*Sigh* Sometimes I really miss that life. But then I remember the months when I had to call the landlord and tell the nice man that I would, once again, be late with the rent. Which was only $400 a month, so you can imagine what my finances looked like. I went into default on my student loans and had to scrounge through the sofa cushions to find enough change to get onto the streetcar when my truck broke down to get to my job waiting tables at one of Emeril's restaurants near downtown. The starter went out on the truck, and I ended up removing the old one myself, putting it into a backpack, riding to AutoZone for a new one, and putting it in myself. My credit was in the toilet and even when I showed and sold work, I was so far behind on all my bills, I could never buy new clothes or go out to a nice restaurant for dinner.

That shit, I don't miss.

It wasn't all bad. There was a little dive on Magazine called St. Joe's Bar and I don't know if it survived Katrina. That section of town didn't flood, but so many businesses became casualties, even if they didn't get water. It was our destination after spending 16 hour days on our feet at Delmonico. It was dark and the interior was voodoo red, but the best part was the courtyard out back. Lined with banana trees, beautiful lanterns and the sounds of frogs and crickets made this place a very special hangout. Pair all that with 15 cent oysters, the place was heaven.

But anyway, I digress. Now that all feels like someone else's life, and if someone had told me then that I'd go to law school with the intent of becoming a federal prosecutor, I would have laughed. But then I would have taken another slug of the Abita Purple Haze and thought about it. Federal prosecutor with the Department of Justice? Kick ass!!!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Great Minds Think Alike

It's amazing, how the universe at large delivers the occasional message. This one reads loud and clear: everyone has the one little thing they think makes them freakish, and many women my age have it much worse than I do in the Marriage Pressure department. From the lovely Belle de Jour, the wicked British former-callgirl and current modern lit sensation:

My mother's a savvy woman, she gave up long ago straight-out asking when I was going to settle down and produce a family like L***** (perfection itself expressed miraculously in the form of my little sister). No, she's moved on to working that rich seam all mothers in our family since time immemorial have mined so well, the passive-aggressive guilt.

And in such matters, she is but the padawan learner to my grandmother's Supreme Master Yoda.

So it's late, and me, my mother and grandmother are sitting in the kitchen, eating chocolates - you know how it is. They manouevred themselves into the seats closest to the door, which in retrospect was my first mistake.

'It makes you think about things, doesn't it, this time of year,' Granny says, exmaining her stockpile of sweets. She's bagsied all the strawberry cremes since 1972. It's family law.

'Mmm. Yes, it certainly does.' My mother skips over the last dark chocolate caramel, favourite of both of us - she NEVER does that - and hands the chocs on to me. I pluck the caramel from the box triumphantly. Mistake number two.

'I always reassess at this time of year.'

Mum nods with considered thoughtfulness. 'You can't help but do.'

'I look back over my life an wonder about this or that little thing in the last year that made me angry or fretful.'

'Mmm.' (At this point, it starts to dawn on me that their purring exchange is not necessarily for the benefit of each other.)'But it's all put in perspective - you can see now the things that really matter.'

'Family,' my mother says in agreement - and the caramel sticks in my throat halfway down - she never says anything like that. My mother is not a Stepford Wife. She rode motorbikes and smoked hash in Morocco and flashed her tits at a university don. Her youthful misbehaviour drove her family to prayer and countless men to despair. She is a good person, but was most emphatically never a Good Girl.

My eyes dart round, panicked, wondering where the pod people got in.

'Yes, I could worry about what I might or might not have achieved in life. But when I look at my children -' glowing smile for Mum - 'and grandchildren, and now, great-grandchild, I know, that is really what this is all about.'

Now, for those familiar with my books, this would ordinarily be the point at which my father comes in and rescues me from this. But, my parents are now divorced. There will be no saviour. I'm on my own here.

'I think my mobile's going,' I say, pushing up from the chair.

'Oh, honey, it's the holidays,' my mother says, all eggy puddings and sweet wine. 'Whomever it is will understand if they have to ring you back. Here, have another caramel.'

I don't remember much more of our conversation that night, but recall that mentions of JDate were made. Also some nice fellow with a son my mother saw in town recently. Also the cost of freezing eggs. I think someone - probably me - uttered the words bride price. I don't know for certain.

All I know is, next time, I'm staying at a hotel.

posted by belle @
12:00 PM

I have to give my lovely family credit where it's due--they've never cornered me, pressured me, or insinuated I wasn't living up to anyone's expectations. Maybe it's because I'm the only one who made it out of my immediate family alive and fully functional, and that's better than what was likely expected, especially given the direction it looked like I would take early on. My mother, rest her soul, expressed pride to other family members that I had taken control of my life and found a career I enjoyed and in which I excelled. I never heard her or anyone else, even my once-ultraconservative father, express anything that remotely resembled disappointment. I honestly don't even recall being asked if there was anyone "special."

It's not family that's the issue. It's all the rest of the nosy world. And in all honesty, it's a dynamic that's much more prevalent in the Army than in the rest of the world. The Army pays you more if you're married and/or have children and put you in barracks like a college kid if you're not, age immaterial, so it's easy to understand how that message would get translated to the bias that drove me nuts and ultimately drove me to civilian life.

In the end, I'm glad I was so uncomfortable in the Army. I'd no doubt be here in Baghdad as a Captain on a 15-month rotation with the Infantry, feeling miserable, angry, and out of place.

I'm interested to see how (and if) that dynamic plays out once I'm completely divorced of the military.

I'll keep you posted.

All this having been said, have I mentioned that I would agree to an arranged marriage with Jon Stewart without ever having met him, and would even agree to pay him a sizable man-dowry?

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

October already, which means a mere six weeks until I get to go home. I’m thinking seriously of taking three weeks instead of two…I’m pretty burned out right now, and my investment accounts (where I’m dumping all my savings) are actually making a fair amount of money.

I broke it off with Jay, and I definitely could have handled it better. I did like him—he’s a very sweet, smart man, nothing at all wrong with him. But it just wasn’t there. And the way he was talking all about a big future together, the more I felt that if I let things progress, I’d just end up making it worse. On the other hand, I kept thinking that something would click and I’d suddenly be “on board” the way he was…I know myself better than that. I know within the first three minutes of talking to someone if it’s “there,” so I don’t know why I thought it would appear magically.

I wanted it to. I really did. He had all the makings of a great partner and the help with finances and, well, LIFE, was extremely appealing. But I can’t fake it. Some women can, many marry just because it’s what you’re “supposed” to do, and if you reach a certain age (which I’m now way past) without having married, there’s “something wrong with you.” Yeah, I guess there is something wrong with me—I won’t settle for halfway, I can cope on my own, and I’m not so worried about what other people think that I’ll take the easy way out and marry someone whose company I only kind of enjoy.

Don’t beat yourself up too much over your life’s position, or congratulate yourself, either. Most choices are about 85% chance anyway. I can’t remember who said that, but it rings true.

Maybe when I finish law school, I should gravitate to a mid-sized city either in the Northeast or Pacific Northwest, where it wouldn’t be considered so freakish. Or I’ll just marry some guy who looks good on paper, but bores me to tears.

Naah, I’ll stay on my current course. I don't want anything that I have to fake.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

A Fool and his Money...

...soon part. I came across this guy on Diet Blog, which I like to read for motivation and the discussion boards. I also read Advice Goddess for the same reason--hilarious!
Kevin Trudeau is a snake-oil salesman who has gotten very rich selling "natural cures" for everything from obesity to average-memory to cancer. He's an idiot. Seriously. One of his natural cures for obesity: walking around barefoot and staring at the sun eliminates the need for food. The sun doesn't cause cancer, but sunscreen does.
He's a convicted felon (credit card fraud) who was kicked off of the infomercial circuit for quackery. He holds no advanced degrees, yet advocates shooting up with Human Growth Hormone. Together with a 500-calorie-a-day diet, you can CURE OBESITY.
Sounds like the Keith Richards diet.
That's about what you'd look like if you followed his advice, only too-cool Keith Richards got there with the benefit of 35 years of hard partying as a rock star. You can get there by starving yourself and staring at the sun. Barefoot, of course, and no sunscreen.
Here's the Washington Post's take.
So on the discussion board, this illiterate wench wrote:
joanSeptember 20, 2007 5:51 AM

JOAN ;-)

My response:
Kristen in IraqSeptember 23, 2007 5:57 AM

Anyone who spends 30 bucks on a book that tells you that walking around barefoot and staring at the sun eliminates the need for food, deserves to lose the money.

Seriously. Read this:
I suspect that Joan works for this nincompoop and spends her days Googling his name so she can SHOUT IT FROM THE MOUNTAINTOPS and earn her $9/hour. She's probably the same rube who defends this assclown on Wikipedia.

Proof positive that a fool and his money soon part...lucky it's only 30 bucks and not a retirement fund.
I'd be willing to bet she's an employee. The post reads like a trumped-up testimonial. As for this punk-ass Kevin Trudeau, I hope he ends up in ass-pounding prison someday, just for being such a turd and getting rich that way.
Blogger is screwing up my posts, eliminating the line spaces. So if this one comes out with extra spaces (or none at all), bear with me until they just PUBLISH WHAT I TYPE without altering it.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Your Temper Has Brought Great Dishonor on my Happy Mooshoo Palace

I tried to watch Balls of Fury just was just too silly for my tastes. But there was the great line about the Mooshoo Palace. It's a keeper.

One scene, though, brought back a flood of memories--when the ping pong master headlines at a nightclub, and the audience sits out there in the audience, all stuffing their faces and not paying any attention to the rube on stage.

The Ontario Playhouse is a little comedy club in the adorable upstate New York town of Sackets Harbor, where I lived for the short timeframe when I wasn't deployed with the 10th Mountain Division. Josee is a 5-foot-tall firecracker, just a wonderful woman, a Captain in the Engineer branch, and was my closest friend in New York. We worked together when I was the Intelligence Officer (BN S-2 for you military types) for her Combat Engineer battalion. We're still in touch and she's just one of those people everyone meets through the course of life--a keeper. Josee and I loved to go to this little comedy club, even if the acts were bad--they'd bring you drinks, and it didn't matter that the waitress tended to be snotty and one time refused me service. She thought my Louisiana driver's license was fake. I know it was dark in there and I look young for my age, but I was 34 at the time, and I don't think any reasonable person would seriously think I'm under 21.

Our favorite evening included dinner at Tin Pan Galley, an amazing little restaurant on the same adorable little Main Street, a show at the Playhouse, then more drinks at the Sackets Harbor Brewing Company, where my next-door neighbor was the General Manager and would get off work at about the time we'd leave the club. It was wonderful--I loved upstate New York. It was quaint, every town filled with historic homes and little mom and pop businesses, and then there was the natural beauty of Lake Ontario and the Adirondacks only an hour by Harley to the east. I still miss it, but the winters were utterly brutal--30-below and snow measured in feet.

But there was a true comraderie under all that bitter cold and lake-effect snow. We'd stomp the snow off our boots in the brewpub and belly up to the bar, which used to be a train depot back in the 19th century. I've always loved historic districts, homes, and businesses, and since Sherman didn't burn New York, it's everywhere up there.

Back to the night in question. Anyone who's ever been to a comedy club can attest to the fact that shows tend to be rated R. That's just the way it is. Most of the comics came up there from New York City and offered no exception to this rule. One night, Josee and I were seated, ordered drinks, and waited for the show to start. They filled the seats from front to back, so you had to get there a little early if you wanted a decent seat.

The place was suddenly very crowded. Sackets is a small town outside Watertown, and large crowds are not the norm. Josee and I craned our necks to see what the commotion was all about. It appeared a full nursing home had taken up residence in the back of the club. I'm not kidding. Mind you, the shows don't generally start until about 10pm and last until about 1am--they don't have all the puritanical alcohol laws that Mississippi has, and bars can actually stay open late. Hence our brewpub follow-on plans.

About a hundred elderly men and women were led into the club, complete with walkers and ventillators, nurses and chaperones. Since we were seated against the wall, we could see both the stage and the folks seated behind us. It did seem a bit odd, given the hour and the general rowdiness of this place. We ordered another round and settled in.

The club owner took the stage. Steve was one of these small-town bar owners who clearly enjoys his big-fish-little-pond status, and loved to man the stage for a little pre-show banter. He always said the same thing, some inane little monologue about turning your cellphone onto vibrate and how you could give yourself a little thrill. There was some lame joke about his kid which should be burned in my brain, given the number of times I heard it. It was so lame, I can't even recall it from rote.

The comic was a black guy who started out innocently enough, a couple of jokes about the weather in Sackets Harbor and how it was like the four horses of the apocalypse. Everyone had to comment on it--when you drive in through CANYONS of snow on the interstate, it's a bit striking for the visitor.

The nursing home folks, they laughed a bit. We noted that they were not drinking.

Then he got down to business. He told a dirty joke. The front half of the room laughed, the back half did not. I nudged Josee and pointed to the back of the room, where they all sat stiffly, clearly not amused. We quickly discerned that it was much more fun to watch the room dynamics in conjunction with the comic.

More dirty jokes. The separation between the front and back of the room, which Josee and I straddled, began to feel like the Maginot Line. A DMZ. One guy behind us sat with his arms crossed over his chest, working a toothpick around in his mouth in silent fury behind thick glasses.

And the comic? The more pissed they got, the dirtier the jokes. He crossed over into NC-17 and toyed with the idea of softporn. Finally, the nurses and chaperones reached their smut limit and began shuttling them out. Chairs clattered to the floor as they exited as loudly as they could.

Josee and I watched them leave. I was sorry for them in a way--this was clearly not what they'd signed up for--and I had to wonder what their administration wonks must have been thinking. Turned out, it was a bus tour, a "surprise" tour, where the patrons didn't know where they were going until they arrived. A 10pm show at a comedy club in bucolic Sackets Harbor, NY, likely sounded like a fine idea on paper, clearly planned by someone inexperienced in the general conduct of the stand-up comedy routine. Hell, even if you just watched the comedy shows on HBO or Comedy Central, you'd have to know there was risk involved.

We laughed about it over 1812 Ale at the brewpub later. I wondered if some well-meaning planner lost his/her job over it. The older businessman from Montreal I've posted about before (the predatory one with the sailboat) was lit when we got there and bought us all drinks.

A month later, I'd be in Afghanistan. Then I'd be sent to Iraq for a year after only a couple of months at home. It was hard to leave the Army after that nightmare, but it was even harder to leave northern NY--I had an adorable house and good friends, but no way to make a good living without the Army.

Maybe I'll get back up that way again, or maybe I'll decide I missed Oxford all these years and stay there. If I've learned anything in the last twenty years, it's that my life will always be filled with drastic career and geography shifts, and it's fruitless to surmise where I'll be in five years.

Which is how I like it.

Monday, September 03, 2007

I've been a bit remiss in detailing any of my dealings with the men over here. I still go to Mantasy Island every couple of weeks, and there were three interested parties there.

Kevin. Too young. Not much to talk about. Hung out with him once, then let it fade out.

Juan. Nothing wrong with him...except that I found out after I'd been over to see him a couple of times that he's MARRIED. No ring and they have "an agreement." Yeah, I do too, with myself: No Married Men. Ever. It can only end badly and with unwelcome (though not unsolicited) drama. The take-away: even if they don't wear a ring, never mention a wife, and come on strong, a girl's gotta ask.

Jay. Herein lies the one with potential. He's a paramedic on a VIP's security team, lives in Atlanta, divorced with three kids, 42 years old. He's already making noises about coming to Oxford to see me in December. No games, no ambiguity. It's refreshing, but also a bit overwhelming...he was talking this way on our first date. He's a really big guy, bald, and a total teddy bear. As I tend to do with all relationships, I'm taking it one day at a time, not putting too much pressure on the whole thing. He's also half-black, which is new for me and took a little getting used to. I was a bit apprehensive about telling my family, because I just never know how anyone will react--no relatives have brought home black boyfriends, at least not to my knowledge. As I expected/hoped, no one seems to take any umbrage with it at all. We're not all dumb rednecks in Mississippi, despite all evidence in the media to the contrary.

But then, since Dad and I don't talk much (he's in the VA Hospital with alcohol-induced dementia and phone conversations are pretty tense), I'll have to tell him about it before Jay gets into town. Dad's always been pretty racist, but in a stunning role-reversal, I completely punk him out these days. He may not say a word. I don't doubt he'll be polite to Jay, now that he's not drinking (by force). Five years ago, if I'd brought a black boyfriend home?? He likely would have straight lllloooooossst it. He seems to think I'm gay, despite my telling him that I would not hide it if I were, due to my not having married at the ripe old age of 37. So maybe ANY boyfriend is a relief...but in the world of a hell-bent, Limbaugh-loving conservative, which is worse? Your daughter with a black guy or your daughter with another chick?

I'd say ask Dick Cheney, but he never talks about it and would likely throw some "executive privilege" statute at you. From his rolling milkmaid stool inside the Legislative Branch, doncha know.
Great googley-moogley. Is it September already? And I'm 37 years old?

I'm not alarmed. September means it will start to cool off in about six weeks (I wish I were exaggerating), and I take leave in eleven weeks, three whole weeks in Oxford with the family, pets, and that sweet house. And turning sweat. Everything seems to get easier with each passing year. Every crisis (and they're fewer and farther between) looks remarkably similar to one I've already handled.

I just read a wonderful article about a German guy who sold a bunch of bottles of wine allegedly owned by Thomas Jefferson. The most expensive bottle of wine ever sold at auction was counterfeit. This story is full of international intrigue, ex-spies, forensic analysis on the wine and the's got it all. Highly recommended, even if you don't like wine.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

I'm Sorry I Was Caught

CNN has obtained the June 11, 2007 police report detailing Idaho Sen. Larry Craig's disorderly conduct arrest in an airport bathroom.

And what's even funnier than a Senator prowling for action in an airport toilet? He presented the cop his business card identifying himself as a U.S. Senator, and demanded, "What do you think about that???"

"Do you know who I am??" rarely, if ever, works out well for the identification/business card-wielder. Just ask Mel Gibson.

Larry Craig is sorry. He's soooo sorry. That he was caught.

Michael Vick's apologists call the intense response to his abhorrent cruelty to animals "racist." It would somehow be more palatable to the public if it were a white guy torturing dogs? One guy on Fox News yesterday (and I hate Fox News, it's just all we can get sometimes) stopped just short of calling the whole ordeal (dogfighting and the attendant animal cruelty) A Black Thang, and shouted indignantly that the Duke lacrosse players hadn't been proclaimed guilty in the public arena before all the facts were in.

Really? That's not how I recall it. The prosecutor, the press, the university, and every talking head with a microphone decried the rich, white guys' behavior and could scarcely hide their glee in predicting long prison sentences. Larry Craig is white, and his career is outta here like last year.

This is all just the modern equivalent of being put in the stockade in the public square. Shame is a very powerful tool and I hope it never lets up for hypocritical, homophobic, self-righteous Senators or anyone with the stomach to torture an animal. When you accept a job or contract that places you in the public eye and you profit from the spotlight, you have to know that the seedy underbelly of that profit comes in the form of intense scrutiny, and that you can and will be open to ridicule and condemnation when you screw up.

Michael Vick is also sorry. That he got caught. I wonder if he asked the arresting officer, "Do you know who I am???"

Neither of these trespasses was isolated--the dogfighting wasn't something Vick got mixed up in, kind of by accident and just this once, and I cannot imagine Larry Craig learned the mechanics of soliciting gay sex in a bathroom kind of by accident and just this once. Neither of these yahoos can say they were drunk at the time and check themselves into rehab, thus garnering the public's sympathy. Does that ever work? Didn't work out so well for Tom Foley, as well it shouldn't.

Our legal system is far from perfect, and neither is the court of public opinion. But I rarely feel any sympathy for those convicted in either. The recent exception, of course, is the Duke lacrosse players--they really were handed a shit sandwich. But they really were innocent, and didn't apologize; why would you, if you're innocent? The only reason for an apology is to diminish public scorn...and that's usually spot-on.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Dirty (My Same Age) Man

I work with a guy who never ceases to scandalize everyone in earshot, damn near every time he opens his mouth. Just now, in the hallway outside my office, at full volume:

"She's (so-and-so)'s WIFE?? Now I really want my guy to fuck her in the ass!!"

Don't ask what the conversation was about. It's not important and anyway, I don't know.

I stared at him, blinking. The funny thing about this guy, is that he's not some testosterone-riddled, buzz-cut jock. He's kind of a dorky guy wearing most unstylish glasses and a full beard who has a photo of his family on his desk. Not unusual, only in this particular picture, D and his two young sons are wearing the same picnic-tablecloth checkered shirts with big collars. I swear I'm not making this up. It's very incongruous with the guy in the hall whose next yelled line was, "I want him to shoot his big wad in her ASS!!!"

I was deployed with the Infantry last time I was here and never heard such a thing. I ducked behind my computer monitor, laughing to the point of tears as he went on and on in this vein.

Don't believe that sanitized crap you see in Alias or 24. The intelligence field is largely populated by the weirdest people you've ever met.

I mean, look at yours truly!!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Kick (My Ass) Boxing

Several of the men I work with have noticed my workout, which is the following: 1 hour on interval setting on the elliptical trainer, which is two minutes at a higher resistance and two at a lower. You pick the resistance settings, and mine is 13 for high (up to 14 or even 16 for a couple of them, just to mix it up), 9 for the lower setting. I built up to it--I wasn't in very good shape when I got here, and it took about a month to build up for this ass-kicker.

Mike walked up to me as I was beginning this workout, and motioned for me to take my headphones off. I was rocking hard to some Lucinda Williams.

"Hey, I wanna do your workout. What is it?" I told him, and he took the machine next to me. I was about five minutes into mine.

I occasionally glanced over at him as the hour wore on--sweating profusely, bent over the machine, glaring at me, but determined to finish.

My hour ended and I went to the back of the room to stretch. Several minutes later, he joined me. "That kicked my ass," he said. "You do that every day??"

The next morning, he leaned on the stair railing and glared at me as I bounded past him. "Damn you to hell!" he called after me.

So I've been pretty confident about my fitness level, and agreed to join Terri, the petite, adorable 50-year-old admin lady with one of the best Southern accents ever, for kickboxing. One hour, taught by a very fit-looking young woman.

It started out easy enough, some running in place, a couple of pushups. Then began the "Jane Fondas." Spread your feet out past shoulder-width, toes turned outward at about a 45-degree angle, reach down and grab your heels, and bounce your ass up and down. Doesn't seem so tough, huh?

Now do a couple hundred of them. And jump up, do pushups, lift some 5-pound weights over your head for 50 counts, more pushups, more punches, lunges, and repeat this sequence for about forty minutes in a 95ยบ room.

After about the second sequence, I could barely lift my arms. I had to ditch the weights. Terri, in front of me, kept plowing right through it, never even went to her knees on the pushups.

It was like a Basic Training flashback, only no one yelled, there was music, and several other first-timers just plain quit, most of them male. One of our Infantry guys on the security team actually puked. Well, I thought we'd get through this one without anyone puking! the instructor singsonged, barely having broken a sweat. Happens all the time, apparently.

Then came the "cardio." This is my lane, I thought, I'm home free.

Not so much. There were all kinds of sequences and turns and hops involved, punches and kicks, like a dance routine. I fumbled through them best I could, but I felt like a horse's ass. I took Tae Kwon Do in Korea and could not quit putting my fists by my sides, and that screwed me all up. I kept bumping into people, as the group moved together up and down the length of the room like a school of fish...with one fish all screwed up and going the wrong way. I started felt like a movie or a stupid sitcom. I kept trying and kept not getting it, laughing the whole time. Everyone around me was also laughing, fortunately, although I'm sure several of them were annoyed as hell.

The next day, I could not even sit down in my chair without grabbing onto the arms like an old lady lowering herself into her Hov-A-Round for a quick spin around the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Stairs? Forget it. I live on the fifth floor in a building with VERY tall ceilings, and had to drag myself up the 100+ stairs.

I saw Terri bound up the steps as I leaned on the railing, groaning and pulling. "Damn you to hell!" I called after her.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

It's Working...

I'm still losing weight. I started right around June 1, and I'm down 14 pounds. It feels wonderful and I know what the difference is this time: when I plateau, I know it's temporary and keep at it. The last 20 times I've tried to lose, I'd get discouraged and give up when I didn't see the hard work pay off. It felt like too much work. I tried Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, Slim Fast, you name it. They're all great programs--Weight Watchers is by far the best one, as it teaches you what portions should look like and how to feel fuller on fewer calories.

It took a sea change in the way I think that's making the difference. And that took changing my lifestyle and sticking with it when it felt like torture--I stuck with it, and suddenly, it felt right. It took about about a month to go from having to fight myself off the hot apple cobbler in the chowhall to feeling like it's okay if I have a small portion every so often and I'm not in danger of going back for a bigger portion once I get a taste.

At one point, I weighed exactly the same, to the decimal point, for two weeks. I kept pushing, and sure enough, one day I got on the scale and started dropping again. It goes in spurts--two pounds down, steady for a week or even up a pound, suddenly another two pounds down.

I read Thin For Life, which is a book based on folks registered in the NWCR, the National Weight Control Registry, and most of them said their mindset had to change for meaningful weight loss to occur. And it's absolutely true; I'm starting to view what a meal looks like differently. Same with snacks. Something just clicked and it doesn't feel like deprivation the way it used to--it feels natural. Which it is. This is how humans were designed to eat--not gargantuan portions and gobs of fat and sugar.

About the NWCR: in order to register, one must have lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for at least one year. The average weight loss among participants is 60 pounds, and the average time they've kept it off is 5 years. So these are the people who know what they're doing. In addition to reading about them, I'm reading studies conducted by the National Institutes of Health. The prevalence of common themes is striking and all roads lead to the following truths about weight loss:

--You must exercise. Period. I heard Oprah tell a complaining guest that she also hates it. Oprah hated it this morning, in fact. The thing that changed is that now, it feels like something that just gets done every day, like brushing my teeth...I don't always "feel like it," but I do it anyway. I do an hour of moderate-to-intense cardio, 5-6 times a week, and lift weights 2-3 times a week. Sure, it's a lot, but look at the payoff...I used to spend three times that long in front of the TV. That's why God made DVR--you only watch what you're really into, and you can record it to watch when you do have time. Right now, I have two Baghdad Boyfriends--do you think I miss TV??

Not exercising means not losing weight. It's just that simple.

--That piece of cheesecake isn't the last on Earth. I somehow reached the point where food doesn't have such a grip on me--I MUST eat those fries!! Not eating the cheesecake now does not mean I'll never eat it again. That sense of urgency has faded considerably.

--A meal does not have to take up a huge plate. I've had to change what looks like a meal--for instance, last night I had two small, baked chicken breasts and some peas, and that was plenty.

--Not eating carbs is stupid. I tried it in the Army--I did lose weight (quickly), but I felt like I'd landed on a planet with twice Earth's gravity. However, replacing some carbs with lean protein means you feel fuller and stay that way longer. I've cut way back on simple carbs, because they have no fiber and have very little nutritional value, and upped the protein considerably. It works. Where a plate of vegetables alone leaves me feeling like I've only snacked, a big slab of chicken feels like a meal. Most side dishes are the kiss of death--potatoes, rice, all that stuff. Big calories, small payoff.

--People who weigh themselves frequently tend to lose more and keep it off more successfully. I weigh myself every morning. You can correct mistakes quickly this way...oh, hell, I'm up a pound, guess that lamb schwarma at the Iraqi restaurant last night was a little too much. Better make sure I get to the gym today. Then that pound is gone the next morning. I no longer have that feeling of, well, I already screwed up by eating that cake for Melissa's birthday, I might was well have some onion rings. I guess the bottom line is, it's the way I talk to myself that's changing. The more success I see, the easier it all is.

It's changing everything. I love to get up in the morning and choose a cute outfit. Looking good feels amazing and my mood is much improved, all day every day.

I can't wait to go shopping when I go home for Thanksgiving.