Friday, April 17, 2015

Almost, nearly, but not really famous!

Two weeks ago was spring break for two of my northern families.  

My cousin, Toan, lives in Minnesota with his wife, Sharon, and their three kids, Ethan, Ally, and Emma.  Toan is the family electronics guru.  He speaks technology like most of us speak Starbucks.  He’s a genius.  We all love Toan.  Everyone who meets him, loves Toan.  You get the picture.  Toan is The Man. 

Where Toan is Mr. Mellow, the same cannot be said of his sister, Hien. 

Hien (pronounced “Hen”) lives on the outskirts of DC with her husband, John, and their three sons, John-Tyler (my godson), Justin, and Jag.  She works from home.  By “works from home,” I mean she is the mother of three boys.  She’s a busy mom who flits about the suburbs in her Toyota mini-van that she has labeled “The Condo.”   

Anyway, Hien texted me and said she was booking them for a week in Marco Island.  She wanted to know if I’d ever been and if I wanted to join them.  I said I’d check my schedule.  

Trying to sweeten the deal, Hien said we could spend the time discussing my upcoming book tour.  She had graciously planned a book party for my first novel, Reset.  

Actually, she had just joined a book club.  Hien.  The lady who hadn’t read a book in twenty years, joined a book club.  She then had an epiphany.  Her cousin, Shane, yes, that’s me, had written a book!  Oh my goodness.  She would have her book club read my book.   

I warned her that my first novel was book one of a trilogy.  A science-fiction, action/ adventure, dystopian novel written specifically for the young-adults of this great world. 

She wasn’t swayed in the least.  Hien was going to get her entire book club to read my novel.  Then she was going to throw a book party.  She knew The Author.  Hien would get said author to make an appearance in her home.  Then, everyone could meet The Author. 

Dear God.  That lady is a force of nature that no one can withstand.   

This came about because I had just booked my first appearance.  The prodigal daughter was going to return to her hometown—a little town tucked into the Appalachian mountains of Virginia, Chilhowie.  I’d posted on my social media sites about my upcoming appearance.   

After the appearance at Chilhowie Middle School, my daughter, Erica, and I were going to head on up to DC to rendezvous with my husband, Carl.  Carl was going to be there, at a neurology conference, for a week.   

So here we are again, back to that fateful spring break week.  Having scored a few nights on points, kissed my husband farewell, and hugged my mother, Erica and I loaded up my Honda Pilot, that I’ve labeled “The Tardis,” and headed to Marco Island.

Meanwhile, Hien had formulated a plan.  That plan contained me as her unwilling victim…accomplice?  Nah, I can’t help but think victim is the appropriate word. 

Hien had asked me to bring a few of my books along.  I complied.  I brought ten copies of Reset. 

Upon our arrival at the Hilton in Marco Island, Erica and I were starving.  We’d just driven four hours from Orlando, so we went directly to the poolside café and ordered up some food.  Feeling I deserved it after our drive, I also ordered a margarita. 

Erica texted The Families that we’d arrived.  Like a swarm of sand-crusted seagulls, they descended upon our table at the café.   

Spring break had officially begun.  After our late lunch, we went to our room and changed into our bathing suits, then met The Families back on the beach. 

We’d been lounging, basking in the glorious warmth of the sun for about an hour when the kids said they were hungry.  Of course they were.  I mean, they’d eaten lunch an hour ago.  They were most likely starving to death.  Poor hungry children. 

So Hien asked me if I’d brought my baked goodies.  I told her I was going to bake and bring some tasty treats.  I lied.  Well, I made Rice Krispy treats.  Who doesn’t love those?  And I baked brownies—from a box mix.   

Not disappointed in the least, Hien says, “That’s a lot!  Thanks, Shanie.”  She calls me Shanie.  I allow it, because it’s Hien.  I call her Hennie.  Not to be confused with Hiney.  (That’s a sheriff in my book). 

Hien has learned the art of full and complete control of her boys.  She says jump, they are already jumping before they can even dare ask “how high.” 
So, Hien sent her middle son, Justin to their room to retrieve snacks, and I asked him to stop by my room to get the “baked goods.” 

Shanie, did you bring the books?”  Hien asked before Justin had departed on his mission. 

“Yep, they’re up in my room.”  I replied, relishing the warm gulf breeze. 

“Justin, get the books from Auntie Shane’s room.” 

When Justin returned, The Families made short work of my treats.  Passing them around like I’d just won the Iron Chef episode for crispy marshmallow confections and box brownies. 

Then the real fun began.  

While we adults were waiting for our drinks to arrive from our beach side server, Gabby, Hien pulled out my books and passed them around.  She then ordered one of the kids to take a picture of all us adults lounging on the beach with our favorite reading material, yep, Reset.

“What about the boys?”  I asked.  "Ethan and John-Tyler are both seventeen.  They are the perfect age for my novel." 

“Yeah, get a picture of them.  J.T!  Ethan!  Hold Auntie Shane’s book like you’re reading it.  We need to take a picture.”  Hien commanded. 

They complied.  We’ve all learned throughout the years that we shall all comply with her wishes.  It’s a survival technique. 

When Gabby returned with our adult beverages, Hien asked her to hold my book so she could take a picture. 

But, you see, Hien doesn’t just ask.  She tells a story.  For the next three days, the story sounded a lot like this: 

“Hey, can you do me a favor?”  She'd ask as she batted her freakishly long eyelashes at her next victim. 

“Um, okay.”  They all would say, not able to deny the little Vietnamese lady with the gorgeously luscious eyelashes. 

“Great.  I need you to hold this book, pretend like you’re reading it.  Act like you love it.  That’s the author, over there.  The one hiding her face in sheer embarrassment.  She’s famous, you know.  We don’t want everyone to know she’s here.  Shhh.  It’s a secret.”  

Then she would snap the picture, smile her brilliant smile that sparks glee from her eyes.  “Thanks!  You’re awesome.  Hey, you’re really good at that.  Have you done modeling before?  I bet you have.  You’re a natural.”  She'd chirp.

Dear God in Heaven.  For three days and nights, everywhere we went.  I had no idea that Hien was packing all weekend.  Packing Reset. 

When I thought the opportunity had passed, she’d whip out her copy of Reset and repeat her little routine.   

Sharon and I had to make a pyramid for her so she could stand on our legs to take an overhead shot of towels she’d placed on the beach chairs.  The towels spelled Reset. 


Hien enlisted nearly every waiter we had to take a picture with my book.  


She got the guys manning the valet desk of the Hilton to take a picture.


Both of our beach side servers...

Hien made her husband, John,  hold the book up so the man with the three-foot long pepper shaker could peruse my novel while adding black pepper to John’s meal.   

Hien even got our jet-ski tour guide, Captain Ron to hold my book.   

By the end of the week, she’d had her family try to spell out Reset with their bodies in a silhouette picture on the beach.   

I’ve never laughed so hard.  

There’s a special magic that permeates the air when Hien is around.  She has that optimistic spark that is infectious.  Always the first to giggle, Hien brightens the world around her.  I told her that her talents as a marketing genius were sorely wasted in the suburbs of DC.   

She could make anyone a star.  For three days, she made me feel like one. 

But the funniest part?  She hadn’t even read my book yet!  I spoke with her the other day, planning her book party later this month, and she confessed that she’d just started reading it on their way home from spring break. 

“Well, what do you think?”  I asked.  I always ask that with a level of trepidation.  I mean, it is my work.  My first novel.  I know it’s not Hemingway, but it’s still my baby. 

“You know what?”  She says, “I was surprised.  It’s actually better than I thought it would be.  It’s not bad, Shanie.” 

Well, I guess I’m okay with that.  After all, it is the first novel she’s read in twenty years!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Parks and Recreation: My Magical Weight Loss Secret.

I’ve lost eight pounds in the last two weeks.  Yep, eight.

March is a busy time here in Central Florida.  Within a two to three week span, all local counties and colleges go on spring break.  This year, we were fortunate that our family from Pennsylvania was coming down during their break.  The Family Invasion was soon to begin, so my sixteen-year-old daughter, Erica, and I geared up for a week of fun and frolic at the local parks.

The Family had purchased tickets to Disney World (all the Disney Parks), Sea World, and Universal Studios.  Oh my.  I shuddered at the thought of traipsing through the parks during spring break.

You see, Erica and I hold annual passes to Universal.  She and I are more into the witches and muggles—not so much the princesses and fairy tales.  Couple that with the fact that she just started riding roller coasters this year.  Universal just suits us better.  

Now, I’m not putting down the House of Mouse.  I do rather enjoy the villainous side of Disney.  I always imagined I’d make a perfect Evil Queen and I do so love the new Angelina Jolie version of Maleficent. 

Anyway, I digress.  Back to the weight loss. 

I would never describe myself as an active person.  I cringe at the thought of exercise and hold a secret suspicion of those physically fit people who are always out running.  They run in the rain, they run in the grueling, lava-like heat of a Florida July.  They have special heart-rate monitors strapped to their muscled, glistening biceps and even jog in place when they’re forced to pause at a red light.  Really people?  It can’t be that much fun, can it?

So, I just grasp my grocery bag of chips and crackers, clutching it closer to my chest when I see them run by in swirls of neon-colored coordinating workout gear.

My lack of activity made me extremely lethargic.  I mean, couch potatoes probably get more activity than me.  It doesn’t help that my profession of choice is writing.  

Not a lot of calories burned when killing people with a keyboard.  I know this because last year my husband went to a physician/ director’s retreat for a local hospital.  The hospital gave out FitBits for each family.  He proudly came home with two of these gadgets and I scoffed.

Yes, I scoffed.  Scoffing is one of my favorite things to do, especially when exercise or budgets are mentioned.  He said the hospital had created a competition.  The lazy competitor in me almost bought in to it, but then I remembered some of the people I’ve seen at these special getaways.  Yep, the same ones I distrust so.  I bet the husbands and wives had matching heart-rate monitors.  Ugh.  No thank you.

So, when I realized the FitBit gave me no credit for my mental skills on the keyboard, I gave mine to our daughter and my husband gave his back to the hospital.  After all, we weren’t joining their secret society of health-conscious-exercise freakdom.

Then, one day I took the FitBit back from Erica  She wasn’t using it, so I figured I’d wear it when we went to Universal. 

I was amazed at how much walking we did in one day!  All of it was logged on the FitBit and synced through the magic of wifi to my iPhone.  Wow.  I got exercise by just hanging out with my kid.  Pretty cool stuff.  But I wasn't quite sold--yet.  

Given my distaste for physical activity, I am no stranger to exercise.  I have tried many things in the past.  I’ve bought memberships to gyms—that went unused.  I’ve bought exercise equipment—that became handy places to hang clothes.  For several months of insanity a few years ago, I even had my best friend, Traci’s husband, Gary, a personal trainer, come over to my house five days a week!

Yes, five days a week.  He would come between 6:00 and 6:30 every morning.  Oh my God.  I thought I was going to die.  It is nearly impossible to beg off when someone is coming to your house before you’ve had your morning coffee.  I mean, Gary’s already on his way by the time I’ve decided I don’t want to do this anymore.  
It was hard.  He never let me make excuses.  When I was injured with a sprained ankle, he’d just shift my exercises to avoid the ankle.  Brutal.  I began calling him Mr. Get Your Sh## and Get Out.  I hated it.  I hated him.  But I was healthy and more fit than I’d probably ever been.  I was strong and back down to a size six.  But it still sucked. 

Then Traci and Gary went on a long trip.  I had been freed from his reign of terror on my fat stores.  My activity level plunged and the couch became my friend again. 

Also, I was in school getting my paralegal degree.  I had to stop the personal training.  And the weight crept back.  And by crept back, I mean it piled on me, creating a muffin top that spilled over my jeans, causing my button-up blouses to pucker at my chest.  It weighed me down—punny, I know—so I turned away from my closet in disgust.

You see, weight gain is no mystery.  It is a combination of poor eating and drinking choices, and lack of activity.  No mystery.  Yes, I know for some people there is a valid physiological disorder that inhibits their metabolism.  I’m not talking about you all, so don’t get all sensitive.  This isn’t about you.  It’s about me. 

I’m no dummy.  I know these facts, yet I still resisted.  Why?  Because regardless of how much weight the scale screamed up at me, I still fit into most of my clothes.  I’m lucky like that, I suppose.  Then I had to start creeping into size eights.  Then the size tens made a debut in my closet.  I was bouncing between sizes in my wardrobe.  But that dang scale was not nice about its factual display of my ever-increasing girth.  And yes, I may have popped a button or two. 

I didn't realize how out of shape I'd become until I went to Ireland last October.  I booked myself a tour to Northern Ireland and one of the stops was the Carrick-a-Rede Bridge.  It's a rather short, unless you're on it, rope bridge that spans from the cliffs to a tiny island.  The twenty-minute hike to the bridge was no problem.  The stairs didn't scare me.  They were all going downhill.  But when I had to make that long hike back, my tour buddy had to keep stopping to wait for me to catch my breath.  I swear I saw the pearly gates when I glanced up the second set of long stairs.  I told my travel buddy to go on.  "Leave, save yourself, " I gasped, "I'll just die here on the green cliffs of County Antrim."  Nothing like embarrassing yourself in a foreign country to make you wake up and smell the Cheese-Its.  

Fast forward to this month, the Family was coming for a visit.  The Northern Invasion was about to descend upon us here in Orlando.  Ugh.  All those parks, all that food, all those tourists.
Well, like the trooper I am, I bought Erica and I the Florida resident passes to Disney and I volunteered to take the teenagers to Universal one day.  Yep, I can be pretty magnanimous when I want to be.

So here we are at the meaty center of my diabolical plan to shed weight and have some fun.  Would you believe me if I told you it all happened by accident?

Well, it did.  So, there!

We kicked off the week at the Magic Kingdom.  Now, when Erica and I go to a park, we are serious about getting in and getting out.  If someone were to film us, I’m certain we’d look like we were running the Amazing Race.  We dodge and weave through the milling throngs like they’re standing still.  It’s an art form we’ve perfected. 

We chuckle at the people that stop to take a picture in front of the castle, or the globe.  Those silly tourists, how cute they are.  How fortunate for us.  Because, while they are stopping to take their lasting-memory-selfie, we are already in a very short line for the first ride.  Before those tourists have made it back to Space Mountain or Gringotts, we’re already getting off our second ride. 

Yes, we hustle.  Now, before you say that I’m just a park-going-drill-sergeant, take a look at my Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook.  See all those pictures?  We take them when we’re done.  Because, guess what?  The things are still there when we get off the ride!  Unbelievable, right? 

The first day at Disney, my FitBit alerted me that I’d already walked my daily requirement and gotten one hour of “active minutes” in by 1:30.  So, I was done for the day.  I was also dead tired.  So, I handed my beautiful daughter off to the Family and I left.  They may have scoffed at me for leaving so early, but oh well.  I live here.  I can always come back. 

The next day I took the teens to Universal.  We went to Universal Studios and Island of Adventures twice in one day.  For those of you who don’t know, it’s two different parks that are rather close together.  It can be done. 

By 5:00, my FitBit app was giving me super-smiley faces telling me I’d doubled my miles and tripled my activity from the day before.  I thought I glimpsed Death in his creepy cloak, but it was probably just a tall kid wearing his Hogwarts robe.  Either way, I was beat.

At both parks, in two days, I’d probably consumed an entire day’s worth of calories during one meal each day.  Let’s not forget the awesome Dole Whip at the Magic Kingdom, the beer I had at Three Broomsticks, and the Butter Beer we snagged in Diagon Alley. 

For the rest of the week, I stayed home with family.  We ran around a bit, but nothing to the level of those two days.  We lounged.  We ate.  We drank. 

I lost five pounds that week.  Five pounds.  From having fun.  Wow.
I’m now down eight pounds.  Sure, I’ve been watching what I stuff in my face.  If I want chips, I eat some.  I put them in a tiny bowl and eat them.  I don’t refill the bowl, unless, of course, my husband is snagging some from my bowl.  Then I refill it.  Because sharing is caring, but I am still entitled to my own fair share of the small bowl of chips. 

So there you have it.  My amazing weight loss secret.  Having fun!  Weird, right? 

But we don’t have Universal—or the Magic Kingdom—you say.  Well, do you have a park?  Someplace fun you or your kids like to visit?  Just go.  Get out and do something—anything.

I’m a fan of disguising my exercise in order to trick myself into being active.  So I shall continue this trickery for as long as it takes.  I’m on a mission to look better, to feel better.  It’s working for me, and that, my friends is all that matters.  Find something that works for you. 

And if you have fun while doing it?  Well, you get bonus points, for sure!