Thursday, June 20, 2019

My Inspiration Garden

(Photo by Mark Bolton)

When I visited my grandmother’s house as a child, I saw a small framed print hanging on the wall in her bedroom. The painting may or may not have been famous. I never noticed the artist’s name. It was inconsequential then. But, after all these years, my mind’s eye can still gaze upon the scene as clearly as my child’s eyes once did.

This captivating artwork depicted an old English cottage* surrounded by a low stone wall. It beckoned me to swing open the wooden gate and enter its Victorian garden where summer roses, cheerful daisies, and pink hollyhocks competed for space, spilling over the front walk. Unlike a formal English garden with its tidy boxwood hedges, manicured lawns and neatly trimmed walkways, this parcel was messy, crowded, and exquisitely beautiful. It looked as if the gardener had tripped while carrying his load of seeds, accidently spreading them in wild chaotic non-patterns.

At either end of the cottage’s thatched roof, swirls of smoke stretched upward from solid stone chimneys to mingle with the billowy clouds above. A trellis of climbing ivy surrounded the home’s sturdy wooden door, and deep-set windows with black shutters and mullions invited me to press my nose against the wavy panes.

Because the rear garden was not visible from my favorite viewing spot where I nestled among Grandma’s pillows, I appointed myself as official landscape architect of all that lay hidden behind the cottage. Following the stone footpath around the corner and through a vine-covered pergola, I entered the backyard where my purposefully arranged flowerbeds bordered a curvy patch of verdant lawn. Here the trail meandered between generous clusters of blooms, separating them according to genus and species. Flitting butterflies, hummingbirds, and honeybees devised their own paths, feigning ignorance of local air traffic regulations. 
Willow trees reached their weeping arms over the stone fortress just far enough to offer privacy, but not so much as to shade the flowers from life-giving sunlight. Selected to bloom all summer and into autumn, these beauties emitted sweet, intoxicating scents. Roses, gardenias, jasmine, and peonies competed for first place in my olfactory contest but kindly kept their pollen on the canvas. Behind them at the wall’s edge, neatly pruned shrubs of holly, laurel, and euonymus stood as sentries, guarding the vibrant annuals and perennials.

Beside a small pond where lily pads floated and frogs performed their nightly choruses, I positioned an ornate wrought iron table painted white. Two matching chairs, their seats softened by thick floral cushions, completed the grouping shaded by low-hanging branches from the only tree permitted within the garden wall.  

As a child, I made no effort to lock the painting in my mind’s eye. I was barely conscious of its effect on me then. Yet it sparked my imagination and still does. Even now, whenever writer’s block threatens, the cottages’ back garden is where I set up my laptop and invite my muse to join me for a cup of Earl Grey tea.

*I’ve attempted to find the original watercolor from which the print was taken. A Google search of “old English cottages” took me to numerous websites and hundreds of images but failed to produce the exact painting. The site offered the closest image. Entitled “Cottage in the English Gardens Poster” produced by Koobear’s Photography & Design, the poster depicts a “lovely little cottage nestled among the flowers in Assiniboine Park.” This English garden is not in England, but rather in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and, for a reasonable price, you can have its image reproduced on t-shirts, notecards, calendars, neckties or just about any surface you choose.
Cindy L. Freeman is the author of award-winning short stories and three published novels: Unrevealed, The Dark Room, and I Want to Go Home. Website:; Facebook page: Her books are available through or

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Food: Friend or Foe?

I used to think food was my enemy. When anyone would talk about enjoying a normal-sized meal, I couldn’t relate. How could they refer to food in a positive manner? Food was bad, right? Food was the enemy that I battled day in and day out. It was responsible for my weight problem.

Even when I wasn’t fat, I thought I was. I would look in a mirror and see an overweight person. I felt ashamed, embarrassed, and overwhelmed by my latest binge. Ironically, now when I view photos from certain periods of my past, I realize that my weight was perfectly normal, and I didn’t look fat at all.

The condition is called body image dysmorphia. For me, as for many—especially girls and women—body image dysmorphia often results in one of several eating disorders, primarily anorexia nervosa, bulimia, or compulsive over-eating.

For most of my life, I’ve been a compulsive overeater. Always hungry, always thinking about food, I often indulged in binge eating, especially during stressful times. I knew if I started eating sugary or starchy foods, I wouldn’t be able to stop until I felt like I might explode. While I was binging, food provided comfort, but afterward I felt ashamed and worthless. It was a vicious cycle having something to do with the addictive property of sucrose, but more with unaddressed emotional issues. 

If I had an event coming up for which I wanted desperately to appear slim or to fit into a certain outfit, I would engage in a starvation diet, losing from two to five pounds, depending on how many days I gave myself to prepare. During this time of fasting, all I could think about was how hungry I was and how deprived I felt. My blood-sugar would plummet, my head would pound, and I felt like I might pass out.

Throughout young adulthood and middle age, I yo-yo dieted, trying to keep my weight where I thought it should be. I exercised faithfully, but my weight continued to creep higher and higher. Honestly, I thought it was hopeless. I couldn’t see my way out of a condition that controlled me all day, every day. For me, food—particularly sugar—was an addiction as powerful as alcohol for an alcoholic or cocaine for a drug addict. The problem with food addiction is that you can’t simply stop eating.

Finally, at the ripe old age of seventy, my eating is under control. I feel okay about my body image, and I have no urge to binge. So, how did I finally achieve a healthy relationship with food? First, through journaling, I addressed unresolved emotional issues from childhood. By consciously recognizing my binging triggers, I gave myself permission to feel anxiety, fear, anger, disappointment, frustration, and regret. In childhood, I was not allowed to feel or display negative emotions. Authenticity was discouraged and even ridiculed by the adults in my life. Not that my situation was unique. I grew up during a time when emotional repression was the norm. 

For years, I heeded messages about eating a low-fat, “lite” diet to be healthy and slim. Recognizing I was addicted to sugar, I tried more than once to purge it from my system, but I loved dessert. I’d stay on a sugar-free diet for six months or so, replacing sucrose with unhealthy sugar substitutes so I could get my dessert-fix. Then, like an alcoholic, I’d fall off the wagon and end up binging on sweets, feeling shame, and gaining weight. Again it seemed like food was the enemy.

Nothing changed until I started eating more fat. That’s right, more fat! Without mentioning a specific program, let me just say that embracing fat has changed my life for the better. Fat fills me up so I don’t feel hungry ten minutes after a meal. Since I’ve always had high cholesterol, I became concerned about raising it further. I wondered if I was doing more harm than good by increasing my fat intake. But eating more fat is what helped me finally give up sugar forever. The best news is I’ve lost sixteen pounds, and my cholesterol and blood glucose levels are the lowest they have ever been.
I limit simple carbohydrates like bread and cereal. But, honestly—and I can’t believe I’m writing this—I don’t miss them or sugar. I’ve found a recipe for delicious waffles made from almond flour that I eat twice a week. I allow myself pizza once a week and enjoy a glass of Prosecco nearly every evening. I smother my waffles and pancakes with real butter and all-fruit jam. I snack on nuts or cheese or veggies with dip. I enjoy chocolate milkshakes made from frozen bananas, whole-milk yogurt and cocoa sweetened with stevia. I eat real bacon and eggs once or twice a week and best of all, I enjoy my food more than ever.

Food is no longer my enemy. Instead, I embrace it, enjoy it, and eat without shame. How liberating!

Cindy L. Freeman is the author of two award-winning short stories and three published novels: UnrevealedThe Dark Room and I Want to Go Home. Website:; Facebook page: Her books are available through or