Let’s Go Swimmin’!

Texas has beautiful lakes, and Lake Brownwood in central Texas was where I spent countless hours, swimming like a tadpole. I swam a lot in pools, too. I remember swimming in the pool in the apartment complex where we lived when I was eight and my dad taught me how to blow out under water and how to dive off the edge of the pool; when we moved to Grand Prairie, the heavily chlorinated community pools were regular destinations. My mom signed me up for summer swim lessons at Cottonwood Park, and this, along with sports practices and games, were the only things she could be reliably depended on to take me to as her depression and addiction worsened.

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The head swim teacher was named Miss June, and she was magnificent! She was tall and athletic, loud and bossy, with spiky strawberry blonde hair and a slightly crooked front tooth; she ruled the pool with an iron fist, a shrill whistle, and a sharp eye. Forty years later I can hear her voice as clearly as my own: ordering flutter kicks, holding up tummies so our backs stayed straight, and teaching us how to cup our hands to get good water resistance. Over the course of several summers I moved from beginner swimmer up through the ranks to advanced, swimming 60 to 75 laps a session under her watchful eye. She taught me the jackknife dive, and she tried, summer after summer, to get me to dive headfirst off the high diving board. I would walk right to the edge of the board, toes gripping the end, breathe deeply and visualize a smooth easy fall… but I could never do it. I could never take that plunge. Fear was too much, like I said, I have ever been cautious. She wanted me to swim on a team or certify to be a lifeguard, but I didn’t quite have the resources to make that happen. Later, when I was thirty-one and offered the chance to certify as a river front life guard for the church camp my husband worked, I jumped at the chance. I got into the pool with all the teenagers and swam the laps, drug the weights off the floor of the deep end, and earned a bright red swimsuit and my very own whistle. That was a dream come true, and every time I grabbed my float and climbed the ladder to the lifeguard stand, I swelled my chest just a little and sent a thank you to Miss June.

2000_22Even better than the pool at Cottonwood Park was the lake. I have a very favorite place in the world: my grandparents’ lake house in Brownwood, Texas, a cedar shake cabin surrounded by live oaks and marked by a mailbox set in an antique milk can. My love affair with this place began when I visited it for the first time as an awkward twelve year-old, lost in the morass of junior high hell, wearing a polyester red gym suit and having my bra strap popped by idiot boys. Mornings began on the porch swing, my grandmother June drinking coffee while I had orange juice. She loved to watch for birds. My brothers and I caught tiny frogs and kept them in plastic margarine bowls provided by my grandmother and we spent the afternoons taking running leaps off the top of the boat dock. One time, my brother Lance grabbed my hand for a pellmell vault into the brown water, and my foot caught on a nail. The nail embedded itself in the fleshy ball of my foot and I just sort of rooted myself to the spot. Lance kept pulling me, exhorting me not to be a chicken, until he realized my silent misery. Seeing my wound, he helped me to the house for first aid and loved on me the rest of the day. He had a sweet heart. There were three life jackets for all the cousins to share: blue, red, and yellow. Big to small, we all graduated through the color-coded sizes until we were grown. I slept on bunk beds covered by quilts that my ancestors had stitched.

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As I matured, I began to see the paneled walls, blue kitchen cabinets, colored striped carpets and brightly hued quilts and displays of art glass as the very safest and most love filled place on earth. After my grandmother died of breast cancer in 1982, this cabin became the living embodiment of her compassion and joy, and of the love she and my grandfather shared. My grandparents spent the first months of their marriage living in a tent near the dam on Lake Brownwood while my Pop recuperated from TB. That lake was a place of love and romance for them. To honor that, I wanted to get married there, but the logistics of planning a wedding somewhere far away from where I was in school were so daunting, I changed my mind. I have always regretted that. I believe now that we must acknowledge and pursue the deepest desires of our hearts, no matter how seemingly impossible.

2001 #4_7I took my kids there every summer. We have many, many pictures of them jumping on the trampoline or riding the inner tubes, wearing the very same red, yellow, or blue life jackets that I, their uncles, and their second cousins had worn. Their childhoods can be traced at the lake, like growth marks on a doorway. We had Hilary’s seventh and Travis Austin’s third birthdays there, and Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations that revolved not around the water, but around the card table. Lake Brownwood is where I spent time with my dear cousins, aunts, and uncles.

I dream of the house often. Always surrounded by water, sometimes Pop is there, sometimes my aunts and uncles, sometimes my cousins. The new owners have replaced the old dock and blue kitchen cabinets, much to my dismay, but the spirit of my grandparents lives on.

Today, my home is filled with little lake touches. My grandmother’s glass collection is on a shelf in my kitchen, the quilt that was on my grandparents’ bed hangs on a rod in my living room, and I painted my kitchen cabinets blue. I keep geraniums because my Pop did, though to my chagrin I can’t seem to get house plants to flourish like Grandma did.

I never stopped loving water.

img_0006As a forty-eight year-old lady, I got to own my first swimming pool. We built a tiny little pool, the smallest a contractor would do, with a spa in the corner, a sun shelf, a turquoise painted wooden deck, and enough room for me to do water aerobics or just float in a chair that had a cup holder for wine.

I loved to go out in the back yard at night, strip to nothing, and float on a pool noodle under the moonlight. I could spend hours floating. When it was too cold to swim, I would relieve work stress just by sitting near the water and letting its drift and shimmer soothe my spirit.

 

I don’t have that house or pool now, but I am counting pennies to get one at our new house. I still crave water. My spirit needs it.

If I could be the architect of my perfect Afterlife, it would be a slate blue boat dock with a swing and an eight-foot roof from which I can take endless joyful flights into the refreshing water.

This selection is an excerpt from Dandelion Wishes: The Magic of a Quiet Spirit in a Noisy World,  a work hopefully coming soon!

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I hate drinking water.

WaterWho doesn’t love Jennifer Aniston? She’s the perfect woman. Perfect hair, sun kissed skin, and blinding white teeth atop a gorgeous red-carpet-ready physique. She drinks Smart Water. I know this because she does their ads. She tells me that if I drink Smart Water, I will look (oops- I mean be healthy) like her.

As I get older, I am trying really hard to rehabilitate all the bad health habits from my youth. Awful sun damage from my baby-oil-lying-in-the-kiddie-pool-baking-in-the-sun teenaged afternoons, eating orange slice candy on road trips or during stressful tech weeks at work, and not drinking enough water are top on this list.

I now wear sunscreen and a hat if I am by the pool, though I have not mastered that skill in other settings. These days I keep fruit or chocolate free trail mix nearby for stressful situations at work. And I keep count of my water intake on an smartphone app.

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I start my day with orange juice, no sense in ruining it from the very outset. I feel about orange juice like some do about coffee. I need it. I need its pretty color and its sugar and its promise of sunshine. I cut my serving size down to 4-6 sad little ounces. Metabolism shifts suck.

When I get to work, the chore begins. I fill up my sippy cup. I manage one 12 oz glass, all the while wishing for Diet Dr. Pepper. And don’t talk to me about health and Diet DP. I have looked at it, I know its brown color is all chemical and not nutritious. I don’t smoke or overeat or gamble. A woman’s gotta have one vice.

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I drink water at lunch, unless we go out for Tex-Mex. Only Diet Coke with lime or frozen margaritas go with Tex-Mex. If we eat at home and Travis is fixing the drinks, when he asks what I want, I answer “water” in a voice akin to a four year old having to take cough syrup.

Back at work, I refill my cup, telling myself if I can just finish this glass, I can treat myself to the rest of my Diet DP.

Once home, what I really crave is a glass of Pinot Grigio, but instead I fill a glass with…water. Then I work out (PiYo manages to make me thirsty for actual water), or I head out for a wog. That’s what my husband and I call the ridiculous practice of walking with terribly plodding jogs mixed in. I look so pitiful doing those. The other day I took a little rest while running at a golf course (Texas heat at 5:00 p.m. is no joke). A nice lady offered to drive me back to my house on her golf cart. She said something like “I am a runner, too, and even I had a hard time with this run last week.” I wanted to laugh because she mistook me for a runner, but I was afraid to waste the oxygen. I have a water bottle in my hand when I wog, otherwise I would perish. Really, exercise is about the only thing that can get me excited about water. And as I roll through another set of PiYo push ups, which are a special sort of torture, or try to lift my foot far enough off the pavement to jog, my mantra is “You are stronger than you think you are, and there’s a chilled bottle of Sauvignon Blanc in the fridge.”

After I get my 48-64 ounces in, I get my wine, and it is like having heaven in a glass after months in the desert.

Then I pee all night. That’s the horrible injustice of this thing. I am doing what I am supposed to, drinking the water, but then I wake up every hour to go to the toilet (that’s what my newly Aussie daughter calls it). I am sleep deprived, but hydrated, so tired and frustrated! But still…I drink the water.

Here are my coping techniques for meeting the daily H2O quota:

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1. Drink water out of a sparkly cup. Bling helps everything. Except those thick soled black foam flip flops Texas women wear. I hate those things.

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2. Drink with a straw. It’s easier to suck down the tasteless liquid that way. I can get 4 ounces down in one slurp, it would take me ten times as long to get that much down if I sipped it. Bonus points if the straw is twisty. Remember how fun it was to drink out of a Crazy Straw when you were a kid?

2. Spike it with stuff. No, not fruit infusions, though those can certainly take the edge off the blandness. No, I am thinking cranberry juice and VODKA.

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3. Promise yourself a treat when you hit your goal. As you can tell from reading above, Diet Dr. Pepper (during work) and vino are my treats of choice. You might like chocolate or a ten minute Netflix break to watch Magic Mike (though watching Magic Mike will get you all hot and bothered, then you’ll be thirsty, and you’ll have to drink more…wait for it…water).

4. Drop a Jolly Rancher into the bottom of the cup. It’ll flavor your water and you can eat it when you finish! Candy FTW!

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5. Freeze it, grind it, and squirt sugary colored juice on it. That’s a snow cone. Completely legit method of hydration delivery. Especially if doused with, you guessed it, VODKA.

Whoa! Just as I hit that last period, I finished my afternoon sippy cup! Time to go get the rest of my soda out of the fridge! Take this last word from me- it’s summer, so drink lots of whatever you love, preferably by a pool or lake with someone you love sitting nearby. Cheers!

By the way, if you’re interested in actual helpful ways to get more water, give this a look:

http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/blog/easy-ways-eat-more-water?sf39184943=1

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