I just finished reading the riveting MY DARK VANESSA, which tackles the subject of a young female student falling in love with her predatory male English teacher. It called to mind TAMPA, another book I read where the roles were reversed, involving a predatory female teacher grooming and attracting one of her young male students. Both are compelling reads and force you to see why some of these lines feel murky and blurred, while also revealing the steady, surefooted nature of the pedophile mind.
#mydarkvanessa #tampa #tampathebook #kateelizabethrussell #alissanutting #whatareyoureading
We love to emphasize romantic love when Valentine’s Day hits. And let’s face it, romance and companionship and love are all wonderful and life affirming to experience (except when they’re not). But it’s hard to be fully immersed in those things if you don’t love yourself.
And I know a lot of folks who do not love themselves, whether they are aware of that or not.
You can go from one side of that spectrum to the other. I know because I’ve done it. And once you flip that switch, you not only can fill those incredible shoes you’re wearing and embody the full glory of you, but you can also begin to truly experience giving love away.
P.S. This heart-shaped potato came in my five-pound sack recently. Isn’t that a nice message from the universe? They’re all around you if you look.
#katherinecobb #loveyourself #selflove #theselfloathingproject #liveyourbestlife #believeinyou
I love to review the year once we’re kicking off a new one. Here’s what stands out from this past one, in no particular order:
1. Weeza Joins the Pack
A young hound dog a beautiful shade of auburn showed up at our property on January 15. She appeared malnourished and abandoned, likely by a hunter who didn’t think she panned out as the huntress hoped. She also presented as abused by her skittish, anxious and distrusting behavior, but she stuck around when we showered her with love, kindness…and food. It took time for her to trust us, but every day she made continuous strides to overcome her fears and give in to all the goodness we could provide. Ultimately, she chose to stick around, and we chose to care for her. It’s been a wonderful, heartwarming and life-affirming true story to witness and take part in. As I shared her story, little Weeza fast became an online sensation, bringing joy to many who bore witness to her brave heart.
2. A Whole Lotta Writing
I wrote a new novel this year—expanding my foray into the domestic suspense category to examine how love and hate are just two sides of the same coin. Currently titled Little Wife Lies, it’s: A husband with anger issues. An unfaithful, scheming wife. When the ugly truth is revealed, only one will be left standing. Editing begins in earnest in 2021. I also wrote a fun “pandemic parody” microvella plus some additional microvellas under a pen name. And I rereleased Skyline Higher, my first novel, under the new title, Falling, with some improvements and a new cover. It received a very nice reception.
3. The Great Outdoors is Always Reliable
Even despite the whole Rona thing, I feel blessed because quarantining and social distancing aren’t discernable from everyday life here in Nature Central. It’s a pretty great place (and a pretty, great place) to live during a world crisis. I'm so grateful for my backyard lake, surrounding woodlands and abundance of fresh water and air. I also managed to get out for a few hiking excursions in both Virginia and West Virginia plus a visit to Natural Bridge, and those outings were definitely restorative. The Great Outdoors and moi? We’re like peas and carrots.
4. Year of Learning
When some work shifted out of my hemisphere due to the pandemic, I delved into a lot of learning—related to writing, marketing or personal growth—that was often achieved through webinars or online classes. When life hands you lemons, better get to making some lemonade and do something productive or worthwhile with the hand you’ve been dealt.
5. Significant Health Decline then Reboot
The perfect storm of injury and malady, gym closures and inhaling copious amounts of pandemic ice cream caused my health to significantly deteriorate on multiple levels, not to mention tip the scales to a worrisome place. In desperation, I tried something, well, desperate. In short order, the great reversal and reboot was On Like Donkey Kong. In the final third of the year, I lost close to 45 pounds and over 45 inches and all discernible health metrics had improved. My lifelong gut issues are at bay, I’m not popping antacids like candy, I have no cravings for sweets, I’m off allergy meds, my joints don’t ache, I am finally understanding and changing some longtime unhealthy habits and I have energy, radiate more joy and feel comfortable in my own skin. The best part is feeling like I am in control of myself, queen of the castle, captain of my ship, firmly grasping the wheel of this hot rod. I can plainly see why this is working and how I can go forth and continue said awesomeness. It’s a relief I really can’t aptly describe, and I am hopeful for longevity as I am so tired of this un-amusing ride called weight and health management I never seem to fully exit (like The Vortex minus the carnies!). My success has inspired others, and it pleases me, even more, to help pay it forward.
6. The Fungus Among Us
As I have in recent years, I delved into the intriguing “secret” world of fungus. They grow prolifically in this wet, steamy part of south-central Virginia. I snapped a lot of photos on my discovery walks of the colorful, vast varieties…never growing tired of peering into their strange, pop-up world.
7. Turtle Watch Fakeout
I was so excited when I came across one of the painted turtles from the lake laying eggs near our driveway. We took action to protect the nest from known enemies, but when the hatchlings didn’t show up in late summer, I went back online to find out why. Turns out, many babies will wait it out until spring, and just hang out in the nest those extra months. So, while Turtle Watch 2020 was disappointing, Turtle Watch 2021 is eagerly awaited!
I really enjoyed the wonderful friendships that blossomed this year. Some were relationships that got a boost from the move, while others were completely new to me. It was an unexpected pleasure that prevailed despite social distancing!
As has become my norm, I was able to remain grateful, hopeful and present in 2020. Peace and blessings to one and all as we kick off a new year.
A writer friend was grappling with her perceived reality about her talent, dream and relevance. In our online group, she wrote:
“…I cannot write. I am average at best, and my voice is meaningless. I'm clearly irrelevant. So my goal this week is to clear this passion and dream I've had since elementary school completely.”
Other writers and I rallied around her, trying to help her process these feelings of failure. And while artists are particularly prone to questioning their talent and significance, these questions plague many.
It got me thinking about the idea of relevance. Is my writing relevant or irrelevant? Will it ever have significant impact? What about my life in general has relevance? What is irrelevant?
My answer is that relevance can only be defined by the individual.
It’s about what matters to me, not what matters to the world. Do I hope to make a significant contribution to the world? Sure. Do I hope to leave the world better than I found it by doing so? If I can, yes. Am I actively pursuing those ideals? Every single day.
To my friend, I wrote that passion is innate, but craft can be improved and nurtured, and to define her own relevance—as much of what she’d based her feelings on were the input of others or comparison to others. Plenty of writers from our group also chimed in, where we collectively acted as buoys until she could float on her own. And float she did before week’s end, realizing the truths she needed to carry on.
Don’t let the world, or others, define your relevance, tell you what success looks like or squelch your dream.
I’ll leave you with this quote by Donald Hustad:
“Somehow, about forty percent of churchgoers seem to have picked up the idea that singing in church is for singers. The truth is that singing is for believers. The relevant question is not ‘Do you have a voice?’ but ‘Do you have a song?’”
When a friend suggested (joked?) that I make a video of me reading from Fifty, Four Ways to share online, my brain took it a step further. I thought, why not act out some of the parts?
First I had to find a passage from the book that wasn't 1) too complicated (with four female narrators, sometimes they are together in the same scene) or 2) too racy to act out. I chose the one you're about to see between one of the females, Lynn, and her hairdresser, Bruno. It's silly but fun, and I hope you enjoy. Stick around for the bloopers at the end if you want, too.
And if you haven't gotten the book, reading this while holed up during a pandemic might just put a little kick into your, ahem...relationship!
COMMEMORATING THE 27TH DEATH ANNIVERSARY OF NATASHA SINGH I didn’t know the forever in BFF would be a solo ride
I’ll never forget the call.
My parents had only just arrived in Virginia. We, along with my then-boyfriend Greg, were in my studio apartment in Falls Church, jubilant after sharing our engagement news. It was April 16, 1993.
The phone rang, the kind connected to the wall. It was Todd, Natasha’s once-boyfriend. He worked at the radio station as a DJ and saw the announcement as it ticked over the AP Wire. Natasha, along with sixteen others, had been killed in Afghanistan in a helicopter crash. She was a full-fledged journalist by then, abroad for a couple of years or so, pursuing a career she was passionate about, and actually using that bachelor's degree.
The air left my lungs at the news.
And then, grief engulfed me. Like a tsunami. Waves of intense sadness, helplessness and regret, obliterating everything in its path and drowning me in its undertow.
My head would rise above water and I’d experience the calm after the storm, where even occasional laughter at a memory or inside joke surfaced, briefly, before the crash of the waves dragged me below again.
It was at least a year before I strung together more than a couple of days without this avalanche of grief following me everywhere I went, maybe more.
She died at twenty-eight.
No one should die so young.
I realized, years later, after death claimed so many, many people I knew, that unexpected death causes a chasm of pain different from the kind you experience after you lose your dear grandmother, for instance, who lived a long, full life. It may be sad, but you take solace in all they had, did, experienced. Death is part of the natural order of things. But snatching the life of someone “before their time” feels cruel and undeserved. The younger they are, the worse.
Natasha was a light. She glowed with a brilliance that blinded. Heart-on-her-sleeve, authentic, and often, selfless.
She loved two men who shattered her heart and didn’t even come close to deserving her. She had one terrible habit: perpetual lateness. In our earlier years, she tried different techniques to force herself from bed in the morning. She placed her alarm clock across the bedroom with it set on high. In high school, I called and talked her from the warm cocoon of sleep to standing. Only then, would I hang up. She drank too much, so much that she would eventually give me a suffocating hug and slur how much she loved me. She had regrets and her own barrage of terrible experiences, but those aren’t mine to share. She once hoped to become a model and went through Barbizon’s modeling school—the one advertised in the backs of magazines—coming home with professionally posed pictures and understanding how to apply makeup. In college, she did mine and it’s the only time I’ve liked how it looked.
She loved photography. Back in those days, it was all manual, with fun filters and lenses and just you and your subjects. She shot so much film, she couldn’t afford to pay the developing charges. Thousands of images were lost. We were still in college then.
As kids, we used to love walking in the rain. If I find myself caught in the elements now, I can sometimes lighten the mood by remembering I once enjoyed such moments with her.
She rescued me from myself during one of my darkest hours. It helped me get on the road to recovery, a forever pivotal moment in my life. She would later rescue fellow reporters, part of her boots-on-the-ground, no-man-left-behind way of thinking.
I think and dream of her often. She is one of the biggest constants in my life despite being gone now for twenty-seven years, almost as long as she lived. What I also realize, in hindsight, is her impact on my life.
I have been raped, beaten, hurt, disappointed, drowned, afraid and suicidal. I have also known great joy, elation, success, victory and purpose. I have seen shattering world events, and terrible transgressions on, and in, our own country. But her death transcends it all. I can forget about these other moments, events and pain and joy, but I never forget her. She is never far from my thoughts.
I realize how lucky I am to have met her that summer day before fourth grade when my family moved to the Oakland hills. To go all the way through school as best friends, and experience college together as roommates. To get on an airplane and visit her after she left California to start her first job as a radio news anchor in a tiny place called Charles Town, West Virginia. To meet, through her, the man who would become my husband and cause me to uproot myself to the Mid-Atlantic, likely forever. To have whatever sacred time the universe gave us.
It’s a blessing.
One I no longer take for granted, wiser now about such things.
On the anniversary of her death or on her birthday in July, I like to celebrate her with some of the things we enjoyed: I take a drive and listen to the music we used to belt at the top of our lungs. I might watch Top Gun, one of our fav movies. I eat some Haagen-Dazs Chocolate Chocolate Chip ice cream, which she introduced me to during our college years (I probably shouldn’t forgive her that) and sometimes a cheeseburger (she finally got me to eat these, too, because I never felt cheese and meat went together). And I cry as much as I want.
Want to read more about Natasha?
I like this obit by one of her reporter colleagues:
A report of the crash in the LA Times:
Our neighbor growing up, well-known sports reporter Dave Newhouse, wrote this piece:
A brief history written by her family:
A few years ago, I wrote this column about letting go of all the diets, tricks, rules and pressure I felt to lose or maintain weight. After decades of heading down several rabbit holes and getting dogmatic about anything that made sense in the moment, I realized it was all a bunch of BS, really. I wondered why I couldn’t just go back to eating like I had in my youth, when I never gave it much thought at all. If it didn’t work out, I could just be fat and happier, or if truly compelled, always jump back on that merry-go-round I hated and that offered so little serenity, despite whatever outcome.
Honestly, it felt blissful to let it go.
When I started researching resources for The Self-Loathing Project, I found a litany surrounding the anti-diet movement. Much of it seemed to be touting the very same ideas I’d embraced the past few years. Last year, I shared my review of The F*ck It Diet, a wonderful book on the subject, which verified many of my newfound beliefs and gave me some more ideas to chew on (ha!). This past month, that led me to begin reading Intuitive Eating, which anyone will stumble across when researching anti-dieting. This book has been around since 1995(!), although the fourth edition is about to debut because the concepts have evolved with the times. The book is authored by two dieticians/ nutritionists who specialize in eating disorders (don’t let that scare you, if it does). This book is furthering some additional healing around eating for me, things that devolved over time due to all the weight-loss mania and dogma that basically replaced my ability to listen to my own body’s cues.
Because I give a you-know-what about your evolution and healing, and because so many people are screwed up in this arena, I want to recommend this book to anyone who:
• Thinks they have to/should diet or follow a program to lose or maintain weight
• Is on (or breaking) a diet, whether it’s eating paleo, doing keto, counting macros or calories, doing WW, eating low-fat, on their tenth Whole 30, drinking shakes, following a program with guidelines or rules, practicing The Secret for weight loss, getting hypnotized or whatever
• Thinks they are a food or sugar addict
• Thinks they have no willpower
• Thinks their situation is hopeless
• Thinks there is “good” eating and “bad” eating (and subsequently, that they are good or bad)
…and probably lots, lots, lots more (but you get the idea)
Doesn’t that list give you hope? It should.
Could it be none of this is your fault? That you aren’t some willpowerless loser? That there might be some logical explanations for how you arrived at this way of thinking and being and that you can overcome them without the only solution you thought possible?
Sure wish I’d found this book back in 1995, which is about when all my weight loss lunacy began…but hey, now is better than never. And so it may be for you, too.
P.S. Even though the anti-diet movement is out in full force and this book has been around since 1995, I literally have only one friend who talks publicly about this topic. Conversely, I have hundreds of other friends who have talked about weight loss, dieting, being fat or having an eating disorder (including sometimes how they’ve overcome theirs, even if they haven’t). This topic affects MANY. That’s why I’m bringing this up.
P.S.S. Want to read the 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating? You can right here, as well as learn more about the book and the topic.
I had quite a year in 2019. Here’s what stands out, in no particular order:
1. I made a major move from the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia to south central Virginia. That’s definitely “deep south” y’all. From the accents I could listen to all day, to the friendliness of most of the folks to a whole different vibe (but a good one), I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Also, I freaking love living in the middle of a forest with lots of privacy. No one was more worried about this city-bred girl adapting to our environs than my husband, but he has only seen me blossom. I think humans were meant to be regularly connected to nature, and man, have I gotten ginormous doses of it everyday since coming to this wondrous place. Between the woods surrounding our house and neighborhood to the backyard lake, the place is teaming with wildlife, the stars are plentiful at night, and there is a solitude and rightness about being here that fills me up.
2. Despite a) selling our home ourselves and b) making an arduous move (which we mostly tackled on our own; don’t ask for details as I’m trying to repress it) and c) learning we have no business being on opposite ends of lifting a couch together let alone moving an entire house, garage and woodshop, our marriage remains intact.
3. I left some disappointments and frustrations back in Charles Town that I didn’t drag with me. I was looking forward to a new slate, and intentionally made it so. As a result, I am lighter, happier and more aware of being in control of my wants and needs. It’s refreshing. Another takeaway: stop waiting for people to go do things and just do them yourself. I put life’s desires on hold many times waiting for friends or family to join me. We aren’t getting any younger, so go do what you want, where you want, when you want. I promise your company is enough!
4. I launched two books into the world. I published the novel, Fifty, Four Ways, in January. Fiction is challenging to write well, and this effort was funny, poignant, relatable and told by four interesting females. Reviews and comments were overwhelmingly favorable. It hit the Amazon best-seller list, and was ranked five stars by ChickLit.com and Elle’s Book Blog. In November, I published my nonfiction effort, The Self-Loathing Project. This project is near and dear to my heart. Started fifteen years ago and worked on over the years, I was ecstatic to finally pull these candid interviews and information together in book form and put it into the universe. The response has been uplifting and heartening, and it’s my hope many more women will find it, read it and realize they are worth embracing and loving just as they are. It is important to me to put positive, thought-provoking, intentional content into the world, and this meets the criteria in spades (I would argue Fifty, Four Ways does as well). Writing is a lifelong passion, and pursuing it continues to be rewarding and fulfilling, despite the discouraging moments.
5. My youngest graduated from college and did it in an unforgettable way: on the ball field, in his baseball uniform, with his graduation regalia over top. When graduation coincided with The Fairmont Falcons vying for a spot in their conference championship tournament, the president of Fairmont University administered commencement at the field for the fifteen seniors on the team. Not only did my son feel glee at skipping what he assumed would be a long, boring ceremony of pomp and circumstance, but he graduated in a baseball uniform, something he’s been wearing since age five, when he began this whole baseball journey. My son’s baseball career is likely over, and that knowledge tugs at the heartstrings. It has been my privilege to watch him play from a tiny kid, to graduating to the big field in the “Little League majors,” to finding travel ball, to donning that high school uniform, to playing all four years in college (and even getting some scholarship money to do so). I am incredibly proud of him for his perseverance and growth through the sport, dealing with adversity and earning good grades throughout. Along the way, I fell in love with baseball and his role in the game. Time will tell how the sport manifests through him from this point forward, but I’d be shocked if there isn’t more to this story.
6. I fell in love with pop country music. I still don’t love the old twangy stuff, but I sure do love the tempo, sound and lyrics of many newer artists, especially the male artists and bands, whose music sounds less produced. For those who love to hate country, I’ll say this: music is one of life’s greatest joys and embracing different genres can only bring you mo’ joy. Don’t gyp yourself out of something you might like because of your prejudices. Music continues to be an immediate mood enhancer for me, and I’m happy to be listening to more of it, in general, since moving.
7. I threw down in another CrossFit Open, and finished in the top third worldwide and in the country, able to complete every workout as prescribed instead of scaling for the first time since 2014. I admit, I felt a tad badassy. That said, when CrossFit added a second Open competition in October, I was not physically well enough to compete and not even that interested in doing so. Sometimes you’re hot—and sometimes you’re not!
8. Family dynamics continue to have its ups and downs. Through talking with a couple of close friends in one debilitating moment, I realized these dynamics persist for many (we just often aren’t aware), and it took much of the strife and burden away. I also am cognizant other relationships fill those needs, meaning I have brothers and sisters from other mothers, so to speak. Whether related or not, I value and treasure the interactions that aren’t laden with all the history, mystery, drama, intricacies, disappointments and misunderstandings the way our relational kind can be. In short: throw all the rules and expectations out the window and feel free to create your own “family” with your band of misfits if the one you’re born/married into ain’t cutting it.
9. After my husband regaled us with a story about a carving of Adam and Eve created by his great grandfather Henry Bernhardt (once profiled in Life magazine for his eccentric art), I decide to research the man. I quickly discovered one of his relief carvings on Sotheby’s was about to go up for auction for a hefty sum—and it looked very much like the item my husband told his very tale about. Said artwork had gone missing in his youth during a cross-country move (was it stolen? Lost in the move? Destroyed accidentally? Alas, anyone who would know was deceased). It was a pretty thrilling couple of weeks as I investigated the whole thing and learned about his great-grandfather. In the end, the provenance suggested there was more than one relief carving depicting the Garden of Eden. We do wonder where the other may reside, as well as any other art Henry created. I was soberly reminded that once enough family has passed on, much of this type of thing (original art, photographs, letters, etc.) are likely discarded. It seems like such a tragedy. We are fortunate to have a few pieces carved by his great-grandfather. As for the story? In his youth, my husband charged his friends to glimpse the “anatomically correct” carving—until his mother got wind of it!
10. I really enjoyed a trip to the Asheville, North Carolina area to visit my son and daughter-in-law. Appalachia for days. Waterfalls. A good-vibe city. A wonderful visit. And the pair is tackling a big project; seeing it in person was impressive. I also love traveling and don’t do nearly enough of it. This very son has a good idea for a travel blog or series the two of us can do together, and it’s a thought never far from my mind.
I’m already gearing up for 2020 and am excited for what’s in store. I wish y’all peace and blessings as we kick off a new decade. CHEERS!
These were my favorite reads of 2019. I narrowed it down to four, although I admit I voraciously read a number of excellent books (and some not-so-great ones, too) for the first time in many years. These books have been out for varying lengths of time, but they were all new to me. It was wonderful to discover new authors and instantly pursue reading some of their other works. The year will also go down as one of my best reading years in a long time, meaning, I actually got back into the pleasurable habit—I even finished the entire stack (plus oodles more) that I had lined up.
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
UNFORGETTABLE. This was the first book in the lineup to grab my attention as I read it early in the year after watching part of the series created for TV. I stopped watching and read the book before finishing the series. The book wowed me. First, it was highly original in its format—with a technique I loved that gave me an idea for a new novel. The book's characters have also stayed with me all year. I found the plot refreshing, twisted, smacking of reality and I believe very much in the idea that people believe what they want about others without knowing what's really going on in their perfect-on-appearance lives. It made me tear through Liane Moriarty's other works, and while many were enjoyable, none lived up to this piece of sheer perfection.
The Summer List by Amy Mason Doan
DEVOURED. This thoughtful novel about two best friends who become estranged affected me deeply, playing on my own profoundly emotional experience with my first best friend. It’s also set in California (can we get any more nostalgic?) and weaves an original story that left me crying and breathless all at the same time. I also loved Summer Hours, which I purchased as soon as it came out this year. Amy Mason Doan is a deft storyteller with lovely prose that almost feels like sailing. I don’t feel manipulated, pushed or any number of techniques many authors employ to keep the pages turning. Her stories unfold in an authentic way, giving you hints of where you’re going without being able to know exactly where. Her writing speaks to me, maybe because I think similarly to her characters, or have walked in their shoes, or literally on the streets and in the settings she has chosen.
All The Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood
INCREDIBLE. I purchased this when I heard about the controversy associated with it. I’m all in when people start throwing stones because I, too, think life is messy and lines are blurry sometimes. And this book has it in spades. I’m not a very black-and-white thinker and at times, that’s maybe not an asset but it challenges me to think harder and deeper. This author told a deft, challenging story using multiple points of view. It all worked brilliantly. I stayed in bed to finish this one! I will definitely read more by Greenwood.
The F*ck It Diet by Caroline Donner (nonfiction)
HELL TO THE YEAH. This book is f*cking great, validating what it took me a painstaking number of years to figure out on my own. I have experienced a lot of food freedom in the past couple of years and practiced self-love and self-acceptance a hell of a lot longer than that. I stumbled across this book doing research for The Self-Loathing Project, and was just amazed at all the anti-diet blogs, books and movements out there, including this one. Refreshing. Back when I used to try and diet (never very successful or motivated for long), and I punted on whatever thing I was trying, I’d tell people I’d gotten a case of the f*uck-its. Now, I realize, I could have written this book! I know, for some, the content of this book will seem like a bridge too far. Some probably run away shrieking. But dieting (even when under the guise of being a “lifestyle”) is a doomed-for-the-dieter-to-fail enterprise, often for-profit. Maybe you won’t fail right away, but eventually. It doesn’t matter whether you’re buying products, membership, a book, or reading a set of rules and guidelines. When the author of this book said she made intuitive eating a diet, I laughed out loud. Because we can take anything and make it a diet. Some of us are rule followers (but it’s still never enough, is it?) and some of us aren’t (f*ck it!). I highly recommend for everyone f*cked up about food, nutrition, diet, weight, what they eat or don’t eat, can’t or won’t eat, etc.
Please do tell me what books stood out for you this year—I'd love to add to my own list for 2020!
A collection of columns, articles and general