20 Years Ago – A Wick(ed) Loss

RandyIt’s hard to believe that 20 years ago today we lost our treasured friend and editorial cartoonist, Randy Wicks. Say what you will about Saturday Night Live having a field day with politics and the humor promised by the upcoming election, Randy’s simple drawings of the circus around us brought home the irony, the reality and sometimes the comedy of politics.

Can you just imagine what he’d be drawing now? He’d need to be published three times a day, seven days a week to get them all out.

Only 41 when he abruptly shuffled off this mortal coil, Randy was a local hero who touched the hearts and minds of so many people, especially those of us who worked with him at The Signal. He knew exactly how to zing – gently when appropriate – those whose deeds were questionable or frustrating or just plain ridiculous.

RWAfrica

He brought us the heartbreak of starving children in Africa, a look at gun worshipers, the dangers of our own prejudices and the resilience of our community in a crisis, along with a plethora of other local and national issues, depicted perfectly with his “poison pen.”

 

 

RWGunsThere wasn’t a situation that escaped his attention. He skewered Presidents and Councilmembers alike, was an observer of local politics and a visitor to the Oval Office and he loved without bounds his beloved Santa Clarita Valley.

A Distinguished Alumni of CalArts, over the 15-plus years that he spent here, his talents were evident in floats he designed for the Fourth of July parade (there was a paper mache Statue of Liberty in the newspaper’s pressroom for a long time, a bit beaten and worn from riding in the back of someone’s pickup truck a few Independence Days prior) and in the countless flyers and programs graced with his quirky and character-driven drawings.

RWRentersHe designed logos for nonprofit organizations, personal friends and the City of Santa Clarita. His was the first Pride Week design, the first River Rally T-shirt, the popular Signal Newshound. He traveled to charity luncheons and school assemblies and gave tours of the newsroom and production area, always bringing along a newsprint pad and Sharpie for on-the-spot creativity.
                           

Sometimes he even drew his co-workers when things were slow. (It’s the most treasured piece of art in my office.)

RockyWicks

 

His office walls were covered with awards from the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, the National Cartoonists Society, the National Newspaper Association, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and the Greater Los Angeles Press Club. I’m convinced the lack of a Pulitzer is only because he left us far too soon.

There wasn’t a kid he didn’t have time for during his visits and tours, or a community leader who didn’t appreciate his contributions (auctions always featured some of his original works) or his political nudges. Randy’s whole purpose in life was to make people think, even if it pissed them off.

No wonder we had to hold his memorial in the gallery at CalArts. The front walk to the Signal was covered in candles and flowers and tributes to this fine young friend to all. The funeral was packed, several speakers, hundreds of tributes from those he touched with his rapier wit and soothed with his compassion. And all for a kid from Iowa who always credited his parents for letting him “follow his cartoon dreams.”

RWApartTogetherThere was a fundraiser shortly after his passing to support a special collection of his cartoons, books that catalogued and contained his published work so that future generations could enjoy them. There was also artwork framed that hung for a while in the Valencia Library, a tribute to Randy’s support of the Friends of the Library. Somewhere in the transition from County to City, those all disappeared, and with them, the memory of Randy’s work and his contributions to our community is beginning to fade as new generations fill our classrooms and libraries. (He would have been thrilled with the Old Town Newhall Library and its homage to history).

The SCV Press Club was also formed in his memory with the purpose of raising scholarship money for students studying First Amendment courses such as journalism. Haven’t heard much of that lately. I’m sure he would have been amused at many of the previous years’ honorees. He and Ruth Newhall are probably still chuckling at her christening of one of the awards the “Ass Kisser Award.” I know someone who is proud to have won it more than once.

Randy would find that funny. And his body-convulsing laugh always made all of us smile, no matter how dangerously close deadline loomed.

A lot has happened in the last two decades. I’m determined to make sure we never forget the Wicked Wicks of the West. Here’s to the memory of a friend whose take on life made the ‘80s and ‘90s a lot more tolerable, brushed with his insights and humor.

I’ll be raising a glass in his honor today. Won’t you join me? Randy was a funny old raccoon that we miss dearly.

 

Carol Rock is a writer based in the Los Angeles area. She is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years experience covering all areas of news and features. She works as a freelance public relations and media consultant, with writing remaining her strong suit. Her tattoo, if it were real, would read “Don’t Die Wondering.”

Your comments are encouraged and welcome!

And please feel to share this with your friends throughout social media.

 

 

 

Can I stomach this big change? Yup.

So, how did it go?

Not too bad. Big change. But not too bad.

Last Friday, I was a guest at Providence St. Joseph’s Medical Center for my bariatric sleeve surgery. I left about 36 hours after I arrived, bearing five war wounds across my abdomen and a significantly smaller stomach.

So many of you have asked questions about my experience, I will share my recollections and revelations here. I hope this openness has sparked some conversations about this tool in so many people’s struggles with weight loss. It’s not for everybody and yes, I have had my moments where I wondered why I wanted to do this. Now that it’s done, I am focused on making the best of this body revision and what it can help me achieve.

First of all, kudos to the nursing and medical staff at Providence; they were friendly, professional, supportive and made my stay very comfortable, despite the frequent wake-ups Friday evening. It’s good to have people around you that are familiar with your procedure and can gently advise life changes that will make your surgery worthwhile. Got a lot of good information from all my visitors.

PuffySuit
The amazing Bear Paws warm air puffy gown. Whoever invented this deserves an award!

Additional kudos to whoever invented those Bear Paws inflatable gowns with vents where they pipe in warm air. No more freezing on the gurney waiting to go to the OR. I didn’t want to take it off. And now I have a whole slew of silly questions for my friend the surgical nurse (at another hospital) about what else happens after surgery. Somehow, someone got me out of the puffy warm gown and into a cloth gown that wrapped around me comfortably so that I could get out of my bed to do laps around the nurses’ station (required before we could go home) without mooning anyone. That’s definitely a skill!

There’s a huge memory gap that starts when I saw the anesthesiologist, a lovely Irish lass with a beautiful accent, after I shifted to the operating table and ends sometime after I arrived at my room. I remember seeing family and friends waiting there, along with bits and pieces of conversations, peppered with a lot of giggling when I dozed off mid-sentence – over and over again. I seem to remember everyone was happy that I was safe in my room, then they all left to get lunch, leaving me to blissfully snooze.

I think.

SarahWalks
Daughter Sarah took one of the first Friday laps

Later that afternoon, I started my laps, escorted by various friends and family, each making special symbolic marks on my white board to signify completion. I continued the laps after they left, our daughters taking their dad out for dinner and leaving me to rest. Walking past the rooms of fellow bariatric patients (there were four of us that night), we bonded and encouraged each other to continue to walk, because moving more is key to us becoming shadows of our former selves.

It was deja-vu, back to the liquid diet, when they brought me dinner, a tray filled with broth, tea, juice (that had to be diluted) and an orange slushy. Broth, juice and half the slushy went down easily, in little tiny sips and spoonfuls, to accommodate my shrunken stomach. I guess I did pretty good, because they took me off the IV saline that night, saying I was sufficiently hydrated.

SquishyInPink
Who wouldn’t be incentivized by this cutie patootie?

Breakfast the next day was more of the same, as was lunch. I dozed off and on Saturday morning, family arrived to chat me up and keep me company as I walked more laps. My daughters sent pictures of my granddaughter playing at our house as incentive to keep walking and late that afternoon, the nurse brought me an armful of paperwork and we were headed home.

 

Other than feeling a little twinge in my middle from the war wounds (surgery was laparoscopic, four of the holes are from where they put in the trocars that accommodated the camera and surgical tools, the last is where the drain was installed), I felt pretty good. Of course, having Sadie at home to cuddle might have influenced that, but I didn’t have any residual aches or pains. I took the pain medicine prescribed because I thought it would help me sleep, but the constant interruptions of the night before assured I would sleep like a hibernating bear.

I did. Clean sheets and a familiar mattress are simply little bits of heaven.

BreakfastYogurt
Protein-enhanced yogurt. Eaten in little, baby-spoon-sized, tiny bites.

In the last couple of days, friends have been generously bringing homemade soups and asking if I need anything. I asked a friend to find some unflavored protein powder (I have to try and take in 70 grams of protein a day to keep up my energy) because most powders I’ve found are either vanilla (gak) or chocolate (doesn’t mix with chicken broth very well). She arrived with a huge container of Isopure, which is flavorless, but doesn’t seem to mix in very well. Maybe it’s my technique – could be like making gravy, takes an expert mixer.

By the time I figure it out, I’ll probably be on to foods that actually have protein in them, like eggs and tuna.

I think most of the people who have come by are amazed that I’m not more tired or sickly. Honestly, I feel great.

I also think that a lot of the credit for that is the positive reinforcement I’ve received from my readers and friends and people on the Facebook page Gastric Sleeve Support Group who unselfishly share their experiences, challenges and offer solutions for whatever anyone asks. I’ve even heard from friends who had the surgery that never talked about it before, reaching out now that we have a common bond.

Now to make a schedule for all of those offers to walk. Gotta get those laps in, before I need another nurses’ station. And figure out how to mix that damn powder.

 

I love to hear from my readers – feel free to comment and of course, to share!

 

 

 

 

 

Engaging in some voracious mind games

It’s nice to know I have a few supporters on this interesting journey!

Day 11 of my two-week liquid diet, part of my journey to better health, or as it has become to me, “Better Living Through Chemistry.”

I swore I’d never eat some of the diet things I’ve consumed in the last week and a half, but I have and they didn’t kill me. In fact, I believe they might be working on saving me.

Speaking of saving me, I want to start out this blog post with a giant hug of appreciation and love. I’ve heard from an amazing number of people who shared their support, curiosity, well wishes, enthusiasm and just plain “you go, girl” since posting my first steps into this surgical adventure.

My operation (yes, I’m giggling and thinking of the funny looking guy in the game and wondering if a buzzer will go off if my surgeon touches the wrong thing) will be done in just over three days. When they are finished, my stomach will be more tubular with a tiny pouch that looks forward to little bits of Things That Are Good For Me instead of a giant receptacle of More Than I Need.

shrimpI ate my last fried catfish two weeks ago. And kind of hated it.

Same with the shrimp, prepared by cooks who knew their stuff. I’m sure it was perfect.

But I was disappointed. Kind of disgusted. And happy that it was my last deep fried morsel.

The next day, my final, final big meal wasn’t a go-for-broke belly buster. It was my favorite sandwich from Jersey Mike’s, with chips and a soda. A simple end to a changing habit.

I truly believe that the brain is stronger than we think.

I mentioned that I’d lost about 30 pounds already, most of that just from cutting back my portions. I know some people think if I just keep that up, all the weight will fall off. It might. But I know it would not stay off.

Over the last year, I’ve been doing the bariatric prep dance. Apparently, most of the stuff I learned in class has been sticking and the little voices that say “I’m full” have gotten louder. I have more patience with myself.

I can do a liquid diet. I can do the clear liquid part, too. And even though I swore I’d never do it, I am gleefully dropping scoops of protein powder in a glass of orange juice and enjoying it. I see a gloppy orange drink, but my brain actually thinks I’m drinking a Creamsicle.

And those sugar-free syrups that are so popular at the coffeehouses are not too bad when I’m sick of vanilla anything. Current faves are English Toffee and coconut.

The mind games are quite entertaining.

spaghettiI’m also pretty darned proud of getting through two major food events, one of which my husband and I host and I make my special spaghetti sauce and pasta for about 100 close personal friends. I didn’t even taste the sauce (that’s what daughters and Italian friends are for) and when my husband asked me if the first pot of pasta was ready, I instinctively picked a strand of spaghetti off the spoon, bit it to check if it was al dente and promptly spit it out.

What’s happened to me?

When I was at my highest weight, I was also taking steroids for muscle aches. I looked more like the Sta-Puft marshmallow man than myself and my husband said he missed my face. That might have been the toughest thing to hear, the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back and quite possibly the reason I decided to be serious about this.

I’m happy to say that I have my face back. I don’t have to hide from cameras anymore and it’s just going to get better.

nicewordsWhen my house was filled with people this weekend, it wasn’t just the crock pots of bubbling marinara and meat sauce that were overflowing. That night was a banquet of support and, as I sipped my apple juice and downed a chocolate protein drink, I drank in a lot of love and approval, for which I am overwhelmingly grateful.

Excuse me now, I need to go make my list for the drug store. There are some stronger chemicals required for the final stages of surgical prep. I’m looking at it this way: from here on out, getting ready for my periodic colonoscopy will be a breeze!

 

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Taking the Not-So-Easy Route

real unicorns have curves

I told you there was another life-changer lurking in the shadows.

Here goes nothing…

I’ve always been a big girl. My mother frequently referred to me as “pleasingly plump” and I remember shopping in the “chubby girls” section of the local kid’s store.

In high school, I was kind of average, my favorite lunch a bag of barbecue chips washed down with a chocolate milkshake. I played tennis and field hockey (yes, I know it’s shocking, but I did participate in informal team sports) and that probably helped keep the fat at arm’s length (but clearly waiting in the wings).

In college, I walked everywhere and when I was a cadet for LAPD, I had the distinction of being the first female in that role – the spotlight and pressure of trying to get into the academy requiring some running and semi-regular workouts. I wore a size 9. That didn’t last long.

When I got married, I remember thinking that I was fatter than I wanted to be, but I was concentrating on being happy. Kids came along and I gained and lost baby weight, losing nearly 50 pounds after my youngest was born because my employer brought Weight Watchers onto the studio lot. But the weight came back.

I hate gyms. I hate the culture, the sweat, the pain, pretty much everything about them. I don’t run, don’t lift, don’t spin or Zumba. (For the record, I tried salsa dancing on a cruise once, which is just like Zumba, right? Damn near killed me.)

I do like singing and dancing and when I was in musicals, I felt pretty good about the dance workouts I was getting with the rest of the cast. Bless those choreographers who overlooked my clumsiness or worked that lack of coordination into a comedic dance break. But I haven’t been in a musical for a few years.

Being a reporter doesn’t require a lot of movement, and meals are eaten either in the car or at your desk, usually on deadline. Twenty years of that and it took me a little longer to sprint to the front desk – who am I kidding, I’d send an intern – than it did when I started as a columnist.

challengeI’m at the age where groans mean more pain than pleasure; I completely understand the concept of ”warming up the engine” before making any drastic moves. I take caution when stepping up a curb. I have rented a scooter – once – to get through a day at Disneyland.

It hurts when I move sometimes and I’ve been brought to tears more than once when I had to walk a long way, gasping for breath, my arthritic knees screaming for mercy.

And there was that time when I got kicked off the carousel on the Santa Monica pier for exceeding the weight limit. I thought I was hiding it well.

My self-image is an old picture and when I look in the mirror, I just don’t see the extra me in the frame. I’m amazingly good at justifying my fluffiness by looking at people around me, noticing their fluffiness and thinking that I just blend in with the herd.

But lately, I’ve decided to come to terms with the situation and what I can do to fix it. I look harder at the 61-year old woman staring back from the mirror, perplexed, but determined. Things have to change and there is no day but today.

And there’s that little Squishy that I want to play with, encourage, inspire, see graduate and get married and welcome her own little Squishy.

My doctor suggested surgical intervention a few years ago, but I rebuffed that idea. I could lose weight and watch what I ate. But I argue with myself and find reasons why things won’t work and sometimes, it just seems like my brain can’t handle working hard on trying to lose weight while I have so many other things going on that need my attention.

There were a lot of other things going on in my life. Kids were getting married, I was going back to college, there were financial challenges, we were trying to establish ourselves as artists. I was trying to learn new skills that would keep me solvent in the job market. It was just overwhelming.

But when I went to the doctor again and again complaining of aching muscles, painful knees and being short of breath, he would make sure my heart was fine and remind me that my weight could be part of the problem. Losing a significant amount of weight might remove stressors on my bones and muscles (which completely makes sense) and if there really was a problem, it would be found much easier without the extra pounds.

easyquoteSo I started asking around. I had friends who had undergone bariatric surgery and were living better lives because of it. I found a mentor who has been an amazing angel of encouragement and support, answering my stupid questions (because they seemed idiotic to me, but she answered them patiently). I found Facebook pages with people who were either pre- or post-surgery and read their suggestions, successes, challenges and advice.

And I started the process. My insurance company required a six-month series of classes that covered nutrition, psychology, movement, life changes and the surgeries we would have to choose from (the Roux-en-Y gastric bypass, vertical sleeve gastrectomy and gastric banding). Every month, I would go to class, meet with people facing the same demons as I in a non-judgmental, safe place that offered a real solution.

But the solution, they warned, did not come easy. There was a lot of work and commitment involved. I was ready.

I chose the sleeve gastrectomy (veterans say they’ve been “sleeved”) because it offered fewer side effects and allowed me to retain the traditional absorption of nutrients that a complete bypass would eliminate. In about a week, I will undergo laproscopic surgery that will leave me with six tiny “battle scars” and a smaller receptacle for any food I consume.

One of the questions they asked us repeatedly in class was how we would respond to those who suggest I am taking the “easy way out” of my weight problem. Let me tell you, this is not easy. I have been restricting my portions for the last several months, which has resulted in the loss of about 30 pounds. I am almost through the first week of a two-week liquid diet, which is bringing about more weight loss (the purpose of the two-week liquid regimen is to shrink the liver, which sits on top of the site where the surgery will work). The surgery will be followed by four more weeks of liquids and soft foods, as my smaller stomach and I make our peace.

I have the potential to lose 100 percent of my excess weight, which means my evil twin could indeed disappear. I’ve been carrying her a little too long…

I think I’m going to do well, because my appetite has significantly decreased since I made the decision to have the surgery. I think that’s partly because of my senior status – both my husband and I have smaller appetites since we’ve crossed the sixth decade bridge. It will help me avoid foods that are bad for me anyway – fried foods, while they might taste great, are really everyone’s enemy. After the surgery, my body will not tolerate them, so best for us to say our goodbyes now.

I will miss carbonated water – not soda so much, because I hardly drink any of that, but I do like a Perrier and have had to mothball my Sodastream machine. After the stomach heals, I will be able to eat what I want, but just in tiny portions. I will never be able to finish a restaurant meal again, but that’s OK. I have a card that I can show at restaurants that explains my new stomach status and asks them to allow me to buy smaller portions at a reduced price (aka, kids or senior meals).

Right now, I really miss scrambled eggs. And pickles. Crazy, I know. But I get to have them later.

My hardest change might be my habit of eating at my desk – something that is just convenient since I work at home. I will try my best to take a break, move to the dining room table and make myself concentrate on my meal.

My mentor told me that when she started on her weight-loss quest, she didn’t want to exercise or move because it hurt. Once her weight was gone, she wanted to move because she could.

DMVweightI’m looking forward to that. I will be back in the pool doing my water exercises and will walk a bit more (and a little bit more and a little bit more as my endurance grows). I will try (but I know age and gravity might be against me on this one) to work on my flying squirrel arms. Saggy skin is something I’ve been warned about, and I’ve got plenty of time to figure out how to deal with it. I’m not going to worry about that now.

At any rate, I plan on sharing this journey so others might know it’s OK to talk about it. Obesity is the biggest health problem in America right now and if this solution would be the best for you, then let’s help each other. Everyone is different, but we can all be healthy. I’ll try and write every few days for the next month or so and let you know how I’m doing. Thanks in advance for your support.