A Brick in the Wall

I am writing this post with my feet up and an ice pack around my left ankle. No, I haven’t suffered a dramatic injury. It’s more a matter of running into a wall I’ve seen ahead of me but haven’t had to acknowledge before now: age.

Not old age, yet. Just age. My ankle is on ice because I had my weekly ballet class last night. For several weeks, we’ve been working on a complicated section of petits battements, small jumps and footwork. These movements require speed, strength and elasticity. Until recently, I was pretty decent at them. Now, repeated practice has resulted in swelling and tenderness along both Achilles tendons, to the point that I am in pain not only when I dance, but when I do other things. Like walk down steps.

I’ve danced most of my life and know what to do to minimize injuries.  I’ve also tried to dance through the pain, but it has worsened progressively. Despite my attempts to avoid a doctor’s appointment until June, I’ll go in sometime in the next two weeks. Online research about my symptoms keep bringing up articles about tendonitis, and they all have variations of the phrase “often afflicts people over 40”.  Well, I am over 40 all right. Way over 40. Over ten years over 40, in fact.

As walls go, this one is more an annoyance than a serious, stop-you-cold-in-your tracks issue like catastrophic illness or losing your retirement savings. But it IS an annoyance. I may have to cut back on an activity I love because my body can’t do it any more.

That weekly dance class is a huge stress reliever. No matter how rotten my mood is when I go in, I am calmer and happier when I leave. I don’t pretend to understand how movement and exertion affect human brain chemistry. What I do understand is that the stylized posture and movements of ballet require my complete attention.  I can’t pirouette and let my mind wander to the car repair bill or the chapter that is not working. If my attention wanders from the steps I’m doing, I lose balance or fall behind.

There’s also the pleasure of mastering a new skill, or at least improving it. And I’m not going to lie — it’s an ego boost to know I can keep up with girls my daughter’s age. At least I could before now. Grumble.

If I can put my poor baby self-image aside, there are solutions to my aching ankles. First, I need to get to the doctor and get her diagnosis. Second, I will discuss my dilemma with the dance studio director and ask for her recommendation. I once joked in class that I’d continue ballet until I had to hobble to the barre with a walker. While it seems less amusing today, I do know that adjustments are possible.

But nobody says I have to like them.

More Passion!

We all need a good passion in our lives. I don’t mean sexual passion, although that’s fun, too. I refer to those activities, objects and relationships that make us want to jump out of bed and seize the day. Or if you’re like me, to at least shove the covers back and stagger to the nearest source of caffeine without as much whining.

One of the greatest encouragements I ever heard for giving in to passion came from a sermon. The priest said that those things that make our heart sing are what God means us to enjoy. Whatever you believe (or don’t) about God, we human beings are not meant to slog through life with a mental chorus of ‘should do’ and ‘ought to’ making us miserable. Among the obligations to do things for others, we also have the gift of  intense attraction to certain activities or objects.  These are our passions, and they deserve exploration.

What makes your heart sing? Old houses? New houses? Gardening? Hiking? Movies? Dinner with family? Gaming with friends? I get excited by writing, ballet, period movies, roses, sitting under a shade tree on a hot day. There’s more, but hopefully  you get the idea.

Note that I said “good passion” in the first line. Those feed our souls. People who are drawn to activities or behavior that hurt themselves or others need to explore their passions as well, but under the guidance of a professional who can help them heal or master their urges.

Granted, any unmastered passion causes problems.  It’s a matter of balance. If you indulge in your love of restoring hardwood floors 24/7, you’re going to alienate the people around you who don’t share that particular passion, and you’ll neglect practical matters like washing the sawdust out of your clothes and eating right. Much as I love writing, at some point I have to turn off the computer or put the pen down.

Souls are smart. Once you discover a way to do things you love on a regular basis, your soul knows it will have another chance to sing. The trick is finding or making the time to feed it in the first place, and then keeping that commitment to yourself. Have you always wanted to learn to dance? Maybe there’s a beginner’s class out there somewhere if you can set aside the time and money, although I’d be careful and ask to observe the class first. The director of our family dance studio believes that dance benefits anyone of any age and sets up ‘adult beginner’ classes so no one is intimidated. It is better to forgo classes if the atmosphere does not nurture you.

If you explore your passions, you might find an activity that brings you so much joy it gets you through the work week. You might even end up with a new job that gives you a sense of purpose and wonder. Either way, a good passion brings out the best in you.

If I had not explored my fascination for telling stories, I would not be published. How many of you have discovered things, big or small, that make your heart do a happy dance? What have you always wanted to try?

Madness and Mash ups

Cover of "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies...
Cover via Amazon

In the world of romance writing, a mash up is the juxtaposition of two or more (preferably quite different) genres.  Probably the best known example is Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith. While both zombies and vampires are popular ingredients in mash ups, I discovered that with a little imagination, there are a lot of possible tropes and genre combinations out there. I’ve thought of a few myself. (This is what happens when I get distracted.)

Having the Shapeshifter’s Baby: A graduate student handles her unexpected pregnancy calmly until she gives birth to a bundle of joy with fur and retractable claws.

SEALs and Sensibility: The proper Miss Elizabth FitzDashland and her sisters experience a severe shock when a commando unit parachutes into their garden party.

Courting the Alien Debutante: The Duke of Broodley, known rake and secret agent, has a new assignment: get to know the  green-skinned beauty from Orion-5 who has taken Victorian London by storm, and discover the secret of her mysterious weapon, the ‘phaser’.

The Preacher and the Airship Pilot: A missionary faces danger while flying to a new post on another continent. Not only has an assassain’s guild targeted him, he is far too tempted by Victoria Smith-Smythe-Smith, his transport’s unconventional captain.

Knitting for Three: A yarn shop owner is attracted to both her handyman landlord and his free-wheeling best friend…until they tell her she doesn’t have to choose between them.

Are there any romance combinations you’ve enjoyed or would like to see?

Advice to New Mothers: Victorian Style

With Mother’s Day coming up in many countries around the world, this historical romance writer thinks it might be interesting to take a look at motherhood during the Victorian era.  Strip away the sentimental gauze which covers the 19th century and you’ll find some alarming advice given to new moms.

A young bride could go from complete ignorance about sex to motherhood within the first year of her marriage. And in an age where widespread knowledge of contraception did not exist (and providing it was often a crime), the average middle class Englishwoman would give birth four more times over the course of her life. (Provided she did not die of puerperal fever or the effects of a complicated birth.) Then, as now, advice books to help her through the process of raising a family abounded.

However, attitudes differed from our day. For one thing, women were not encouraged to follow their own mothers’ advice or their own common sense. The (mostly male) writers of books on ‘the management of children’ urged their readers to defer to “the superior wisdom of medical experts.”  While the possession of a functional uterus does not automatically make a woman a good mother, some of the ‘wisdom’ offered is astounding. In a bad way.

New mothers who wanted to breastfeed were discouraged.  Even where the occasional doctor might acknowledge some advantage to the practice, nursing for longer than three months interfered with a woman’s perceived duty to her husband and household.  Also, advice books opined that breast milk was not nearly as nutritious as ‘pap’ — a concoction of bread soaked in water and sweetened with sugar. (And they wondered why so many infants didn’t survive to their first birthday!)

In the ideal painted by experts of that time, mothers did not spend excessive amounts of time with their babies and young children.  Instead a nurse, nursemaid, or nanny provided most of the care, with the mother in a supervisory role.  The old maxim is “Children should be seen and not heard.” While that is still an excellent piece of advice, especially when we take our kids out in public, in some families in the 19th century, children were barely even seen. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were considered model parents for visiting their two oldest children once a day.  Their younger children got much shorter shrift, as the Queen noted in a letter that she scarcely saw them more than once every three months.  While I believe that children are small wild animals that need to be trained in at least the appearance of civilized behavior before we let them loose on the rest of the world, this is extreme even for me.

So is the Victorian concept of proper food for growing children.  Meals were to be plain. Highly flavored food might arouse passions (especially dangerous in girls)! Fruits and vegetables were suspect, and even fresh bread and butter might lead young people astray. Mrs. Beeton suggests day old bread is good enough for the schoolroom. Jam was considered inappropriate for children.  One young woman only tasted marmalade for the first time after her marriage!

What about you? Would you have enjoyed raising children or growing up in this era?