Sunday, July 26, 2015

On Adversity

What's on my mind this Sunday evening?  A lot.

My little family has suffered quite a few setbacks this year. It hasn't been easy to weather these times, but one thing I do know: it has brought us closer and made us stronger. I take comfort in this Bible verse:

"We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair;
persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed."--2 Corinthians 4:8-9

"Hard-pressed" to me means that I am being molded and shaped and compressed - in other words, I am being strengthened. And there is joy in that.

When I look back on my life at all the struggles I've been through, I can see how they have made me stronger, more resilient. They haven't made me harder; instead, they've made me more compassionate. And doesn't this world need more compassion?

Adversity is not a curse - it is a blessing. Without it, we would not be able to connect with those who are suffering and offer them hope and understanding. Without it, we would be weak and easily broken.

Our culture likes to think that we should be happy all the time. I reject this. Sometimes, the things that make us happy can actually destroy us. "Being happy" doesn't necessarily equal "good for us." We've lost that in the cultural narrative, I think, and it's dangerous. I may want to eat a slice of pie and a cookie and two pieces of cake every single day because it makes me happy - but I won't be happy when my health deteriorates because of it. That's a small example, of course, but useful nonetheless.

Instead, we should be open to experiencing all that the human condition has to offer, even if it means we go through rough times. How else can we relate to others? How else can we truly live? How else can we learn?

Embrace life, even the bad times, because yes, it does build character, and it does make you stronger and it does make you more resilient. And even better? You can help others. People who see you going through adversity, enduring it, not buckling under, can find inspiration from you. And yes, you are definitely allowed to "lose it" sometimes - I've had several times in my life when I've cried and wailed and wondered, why me, God? But the point is, you keep moving forward. Always forward.

One day at a time. One hour, one minute, one second.

Remember this:




Monday, July 20, 2015

Writing: Setting the Mood

I'm a person who loves to be cozy. During the autumn and winter months, I thrive on snuggling under blankets and wearing long sweaters. I love sipping hot cocoa and making thick, hearty soups.

I need to feel cozy when I write, too. It sets the mood, makes me feel comfortable, puts me in a safe, warm place where I can put my thoughts on the page without fear of reprisal. That's why I usually can't write in busy cafes or parks. Being around too many people makes my introvert nature scream.

On summer evenings, being cozy can be a bit tricky. Using a blanket is likely to give one a heatstroke (especially in the middle of July) and sipping cups of warm cocoa just makes me hotter than I am already (thanks, menopause!).

So what do I do? I light candles. I turn on my lamps (no harsh overhead lights for me!). I turn on my classical radio station. I don't need to worry about shutting off the television because in this room (my living room), there IS no t.v. - and that's on purpose. I wanted a room I could retreat to without the lure of the blaring box. And of course, my cats always join me. (I'm beginning to think cats are integral to the writing process! Or maybe that's just me).

Lulu and Slick - being cozy!
One feature of summer that I thoroughly enjoy is listening to the cicadas singing outside. They're singing right now as I type this, and it's soothing and calming, reminding me of those long summer days when I was a kid and had nothing better to do than read all day and enjoy the freedom from adult responsibility. Oh, if only to go back and have a summer like that again!

Combined, all of these these things help put me in the mood to write. And for a few hours or so, I can forget the outside world and immerse myself in my fictional world.

How do you set the mood for your writing time?




Thursday, July 16, 2015

Restless

Do you ever feel restless? I don't mean sitting around the house, bored, and wanting to do something but not knowing what. No, I mean restless with life. As in, let's change it up. Let's do something totally life-altering.

Move to a different town, a different state, a different country. Meet new people and experience new places. Do a job you've always wanted to do. Toss a ton of the stuff you've been carting around with you for years. Explore. Go out on a limb. Start over at the age of 40.

I'm feeling that way right now.

Except it's not that easy to just pick up and move to a new place and find a new job and all of the rest. There's responsibilities and family and reality to consider, not to mention the financial side of it all.

That's why I'm glad I'm headed to England in the fall. That will be my chance to get away for awhile, to experience and explore a country I love, and to assuage the restlessness in my soul.

Sometimes I wonder...if I won the lottery tomorrow, would I stay in the same town? Would I up and move to a foreign country or a different state, somewhere I always wanted to go? Or would I play it safe, stay here in Nebraska, where it's familiar?

I'd like to think I'd do something adventurous.

But the chances of me winning the lottery are virtually nonexistent (and I guess you actually have to buy a ticket to win, right?). And up and moving to a new state and getting a new job and all of the rest of it probably won't happen because my health stinks and I need good medical care, and my husband is quite content to stay put, and my daughter needs to finish school.

Which is why I write and why I read and why I watch miniseries like Poldark and Downton Abbey and Foyle's War.

Then again, we tend to think the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. I remember the last time I went to England (in 2008). I was seriously considering moving there. At the time, my husband and I were separated (we since worked things out) and I thought it would be a fresh start for me. But once I got to England and traveled around, I realized how much I love living in America. My daughter is convinced she's going to live in the UK when she grows up, and honestly, I'd be fine with that - gives me an excuse to visit England as much as I want!

This house was near Chatsworth in Derbyshire. I love the blue door. 
But I'm happy with my life here. The restlessness gets to me once in awhile, and I must scratch the itch.

If I'm honest, though, I'd really liked to try living in another part of America. I've lived in Nebraska my entire life. So has all of my immediate family. What would it be like to live somewhere completely different? I think it would be an adventure. So I'm leaving that option open, though whether hubby will agree with me or not is another matter!

For now, though, I'll write my stories, take vacations when I can,
and count my blessings that I can do both.


Sunday, July 12, 2015

Saved By "Poldark"

If you've been reading my blog, you'll know that I hate, loathe, and otherwise detest summer. I don't do well in the heat at. all. To make matters worse, I'm on a few new drugs for my rheumatoid arthritis and they cause sensitivity to the sun which means the sun has really turned into something of an enemy.

That means I'm housebound most of the time which usually doesn't bother me, but this year, it's been particularly irritating. Maybe that's because life has thrown me a whole slew of curveballs lately and I'm reeling from it all. Having these curveballs happen during the Most Awful Time of the Year (a.k.a. Summer) has made it worse.

But there is one thing that I have to look forward to each week that has kept me sane: Poldark.

I'm a sucker for stories set in eighteenth century Britain, and even more so if they include romance, adventure, incredibly good-looking actors, fantastic scenery, and gorgeous costumes.

Poldark has all of that and more.

When I found out about this television series, I was elated. What I didn't know was that it was a remake of a series done in the '70s that appeared on Masterpiece Theater here in the US. I was too young to watch that one, but thank goodness I'm around for this one!

Based on a series of novels by Winston Graham (the first was written in 1945) Poldark is set in 18th century Cornwall and centers on Ross Poldark, a soldier in the British Army who served in the American Revolution and was thought to be dead. When he returns home, his father has died, his home is in ruins, and his love is betrothed to his cousin. Ross struggles to get his mine back into working order, and he also falls in love with his kitchen maid, the high-spirited Demelza, a girl who isn't of the upper classes like Ross is, but is of mining stock herself. Drama! Conflict! Romance! This show has it all.

The first three episodes have aired here in the US and I've savored each and every one of them. Tonight is Episode 4 and I'm already glancing at the clock more than I should be (I'm trying to work on my novel) in eager anticipation of the appointed hour when Ross Poldark gallops onto my television screen.

And with Aidan Turner (he of The Hobbit movies fame) playing the lead role, honestly, why wouldn't you watch?

And I have to ask: why are the British so darned good at making costume dramas? Seriously. We did the Civil War series North and South in the '80s (I loved it, but looking back on it now, it was a bit, erm, over-the-top), but we can't consistently create good television dramas like the Brits can.

But as long as they keep producing shows that are this good, I'm ok with that.


Friday, June 12, 2015

Digging in the Archives

Because my 40th birthday is Monday, I spontaneously decided to make a four-day weekend out of it and took today off. (I'd already decided to take Monday off because if you're turning 40 on a Monday, you definitely should NOT have to work!).

So what did I decide to do today? Hit the state archives, of course! I'm so fortunate that I live in the city where our state historical archives are housed. I also have access to our university's vast collection of resources, too, so it's quite a blessing.

I'm working on research for my next novel. It's set in 1946, and one part of it deals with veterans issues - THE political hot button issue of the time. There was a pivotal election held in 1946, and being a World War II veteran was a definite advantage for candidates. I loved going through all the newspapers and newsletters of the various veterans organizations. It was (and still is today) a huge community with lots of different aspects. There were the Marine Moms, the War Dads, the Auxiliary of the America Legion, and on and on.

Interestingly enough, there was infighting between the vets organizations, as well. Did you know that the American Legion, who spearheaded the fight to get the G.I. Bill passed, had opposition from the V.F.W (Veterans of Foreign Wars) and the D.A.V. (Disabled American Veterans) over the bill? I didn't. Another historical tidbit buried within the past and largely forgotten.

I think one of the most interesting items I turned up today was that General Eisenhower came to the Nebraska State Fair in Lincoln on September 1, 1946. The Nebraska Veterans Group sponsored him. Pretty cool.

My only complaint from today? I wish I had a microfilm machine and I could just take those rolls of microfilm home with me so I could spend hours and hours pouring through everything. :)

Yes, I'm a history geek - and proud of it!

Thursday, June 04, 2015

When the Milk Spills, Pour Another Glass

Can I whine for a minute?

Last month, before the big work events hit, I was feeling great. I walked in the park every night, had energy, and felt pretty good. When I say "pretty good" I don't mean I was free from aches and pains. When you have rheumatoid arthritis, that's never really the case. But "pretty good" for me meant being able to exercise, clean, write, spend time with my family, and not take any sick days from work.

Well, that was last month. The last few weeks haven't been good. The headaches are back, my energy levels are low, and I've been hit with another flare of RA.

I get really, really tired of this cycle. It wears on a person to taste of how it feels to have good health for awhile. And I'll think, "Wow, this is awesome. I can do things! I wake up in the morning and don't feel like I've been hit by a bulldozer! I can exercise and take my daughter shopping and hang out with my husband and...and...by golly, I feel good!" 

And then comes the bad health and those good days feel like they are a distant memory. Stuck in bed, watching old movies, sleeping, sleeping some more, calculating how much sick time I have left and if I can take the day off, giving friends and families excuses as to why I can't go to something because I feel awful (and feeling awful for not being able to go), and the depression and "why am I not tough enough?" gets to me.

I still haven't figured out how to accept that this is my new "normal." I keep thinking I need to be able to do the things I used to do before I got sick. Heck, I should be able to lose weight and exercise even when I'm in the middle of a flare and I can barely move, right? Ha! (Yes, my thought pattern goes there).

Alright. There is my whine.

Now for some cheese.

Kidding.

Here's what I do know. That I am strong. I am capable of handling this. I can choose to look at this in a different way, even if I have to remind myself every.single.time that this is not my fault, that this is how my life is, that I need to be kind to myself, that I need to stop crying about the spilled milk already and just myself pour another glass.

And no matter how many times the milk spills, I still need to keep pouring that milk, still need to keep going, one day at a time.

What gets me through? My faith. My family. Chocolate. Friends. My writing. My study of WW2 history. Classic movies. My cats. So, so many good, wonderful things in my life.

And I keep learning, keep growing, keep getting stronger through it all. That's the most important part, I think.

So remember: when the milk spills, pour yourself another glass.



Monday, May 18, 2015

A Sigh of Relief

Oh my. I have been so busy. May has been a month that never quit moving. I had my nephew's graduation to attend, a busy, all-day work event, my daughter's birthday, and then a HUGE two-day work symposium that left me drained and a few pounds heavier (there was SO MUCH FOOD).

Now, though, I'm on the downhill slide. I've got one more scheduled talk this week on my book, Nebraska POW Camps, and then it looks like the summer might be smooth sailing.

Which means I can get back to writing.

AND back to exercising.

I was walking an awful lot the past few weeks, but I'm not seeing much in terms of weight loss. And after this last week where I scarfed a lot of not-good-for-me food (sweets like chocolate mousse cake and chocolate candy and brownies and cupcakes and...and!), the clothes are a little tighter and I'm feeling rundown.

So back to Curves I go.

However, this time, I want the following quote to be at the center of my work-outs:

Yes. I'm deciding to exercise not for weight loss so that I look good, but because I want to be healthier, fitter, and stronger (faster is debatable!).

Right now, I'm basking in the luxuriousness of delving into my novel. I'm doing research while my two cats sleep at the foot of my bed. The stress of the day job has passed for this year (we have an annual symposium that stretches our small staff to our limits), school is nearly over for my daughter, and my schedule is wide open for awhile. I'm excited to really get into my novel and write, write, write!

So yes. I'm breathing a sigh of relief over here that the busyness of May is nearly finished!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Random Randomness

I miss blogging. Half the time I forget that I have a blog, and the other half of the time I go to write a new post and I can think of nothing to write. Or maybe I'm just afraid I've said it all in the ten years I've been blogging.

But one feature I've always liked is my Random Randomness posts where I basically write whatever comes to mind.

So, here we go:

1) Why does the time fly faster the older you get? April is nearly over with, and I'm not ready for May. At all. May is going to be a very busy month for me - birthdays, graduations, lots of work activities, deadlines to meet...

2) I had an amazing two weeks of good health. It was GLORIOUS. I took a walk through the park nearly every single day, enjoying the burst of spring, the colors, the scents. Heavenly! I also got a lot done in the house, was able to spend time with family, and of course, get some writing done.

3) I now have a new rule: No Social Media After 5 p.m. I've stuck to it for two weeks now and let me tell you something: I actually look forward to 5 p.m. I no longer have the feeling that I MUST CHECK FACEBOOK AND TWITTER NOW. Instead, I trained my brain to realize that there is nothing of earth-shattering importance that cannot wait until the next morning. Instead of wasting time on social media, I've been using that time to take walks, work in my flowerbeds, spend time with my daughter and my husband, and write. It's been life-changing.

4) I've determined something. Life is too short to worry about how you look. Seriously. Ever since I went through menopause last year following surgery, I've put on about 15-20 pounds. And it's been really hard to take off. I've had far too many days of being severely depressed because of this. Why did I want to lose the weight? Well, to look better, of course. Vanity! All is vanity! When you step on the scale every night to weigh yourself and your mood is impacted by the number on the scale, enough is enough. I want permission to eat what I want to eat, when I want to eat it, without crucifying myself for it. I want permission to skip a walk or a work-out session because I don't feel good due to my rheumatoid arthritis without feeling guilty for it. I want permission to focus on my family and my writing and my hobbies instead of constantly worrying about my weight. Once I made that decision, it's like a huge burden was lifted from me. 

But it only lasted two weeks. The guilt came back a few days ago and I've got to combat the demon again. Why do we always compare ourselves to other people? Why do we always think that if we lose 20 pounds we'll be happier? In my case, I just want to be healthy and be able to move. I do a lot of walking and I really, really enjoy it. But I also love chocolate and I want to eat it without feeling like I am putting poison in my mouth. The diet industry and the monumental focus on how we look has had its hooks in me long enough. Time to cut it lose.

5) I love studying World War II history. This is not new, of course, but sometimes I get absolutely giddy when I'm in the midst of reading a book on a certain part of the war, or I get into discussions with fellow historians, or I find a new resource that is integral to what I'm working on. Giddiness, my friends, is a wonderful feeling. We all need to feel it more. So, follow your passion - even if it's only for a few hours a day or a week. Do it. Find something you are passionate about and spend time immersing yourself in it. You don't have to do it for a full-time job, but even those few hours will give you the energy and happiness you need to sustain you. 

6) I'm headed to England in the fall. I will be seeing Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet and if I'm very lucky, I will also catch a glimpse of Daniel Craig at the London premiere of the new James Bond movie, SPECTRE. But beyond seeing enormously talented and gorgeous British movie stars, I'm also going to Bletchley Park and the Imperial War Museum and the Churchill War Rooms and...and...the list never stops! To say I'm excited is a dramatic understatement.

Hmm. Well, looking over my list, it appears I did have a lot to say after all. That's what happens when you just start typing and not thinking about what to say - you just say it. Ah, writing. 

And that concludes this post of Random Randomness. I'll leave you with this:







Saturday, March 28, 2015

When It's Time to Let Go

I made a very difficult decision last week. I decided to let my novel go.

This was a novel I started writing back in 2010. It was a historical thriller set in D.C. during WW2. I really liked my characters and the plot at the time, but halfway through, I got bogged down by how complicated it all was. While I always like to include some kind of suspense in my novels, writing a thriller was quite difficult.

So I abandoned it. I wrote two other novels and one got me my agent. So I don't regret letting it go.

However, I would go back and read it every so often and get excited about it again. I decided to give it another go. So I took some time to hammer out all the plot details, all the twists and turns. Finally, I had it figured out.

I went back to the novel and had to scrap a bunch of previous writing, which I was expecting to do. But for some reason, I had an incredibly difficult time just getting myself to open the Word document. I did a few things to try and combat this - including coloring which I highly recommend if you're stuck or just need a writing break - and for awhile, it would work.

But something still wasn't right.

After a few months of torment, I finally realized that while I love to read thrillers, I can't write them.

It was a hard realization.

I'm not entirely ruling out writing this novel in the future; perhaps after I've had more experience and have another few novels under my belt. But I can't let my writing career stall because I'm trying to wrangle a manuscript that is simply beyond my writing capabilities right now.

There's relief and disappointment in this decision; relief because I don't have to torture myself anymore and disappointment because I couldn't get it to work.

But a new novel idea has taken form, one that is definitely not a thriller, and I'm eagerly looking forward to writing it.

Sometimes, you just have to let a project go. And maybe in the future, you'll be able to pick it up again. But if not, that's okay, too. There is no wasted writing. All of it contributes to our experience in some way, shape, or form.





Wednesday, March 18, 2015

What a Headache!

It was a summer day, hot and humid. I was 16 years old. The gymnasium at the small Nebraska high school was packed with high school girls at volleyball practice, and I was one of them. After 20 minutes of running the stairs in the old high school, we were now doing drills (those of us who hadn't collapsed after all that running, that is).

I was doing a particular bang up job of returning the ball, and was quite pleased with myself. Then, I went to get the ball and something wrenched in my neck. It was so painful that I nearly passed out and the world tilted.

Naturally, being 16, I shook it off, and went back to practicing. I never went to the doctor.

But then, a few days after this happened, the headaches started.

That was 24 years ago.

And the headaches have never stopped.

At first, they were just a nuisance. I mean, everyone gets headaches, right? And they didn't slow me up too much. I was a teenager, after all. But when I went to college, they started interfering more with my life. So I decided to go to a chiropractor.

He took x-rays. "You have scar tissue in your neck," he said.

And then I realized: I had a whiplash injury from that volleyball practice.

That first chiropractor visit would be the first of many, many, MANY doctors' visits over the years. For the next 20 years, I would visit three different chiropractors, two different acupuncturists, approximately four different medical doctors, two massage therapists, one neurologist, one MRI, countless x-rays, and one physical therapist.

The diagnosis is usually the same: chronic tension headaches.

I've tried different medications, different stretches, different pillows. I've tried drinking lots of water, exercising, doing this, doing that, and hearing advice from lots and lots and LOTS of people.

And as the years have gone by, the realization that I might have to live with the pain everyday for the rest of my life has become all too real. Yes, you read that right. My head hurts every.single.day.

My most recent foray has been to a spine and pain specialist. A few weeks ago, I got my first occipital nerve block on the right side of my neck. It hurt. And nevermind that I almost fainted afterwards.

But it didn't work.

My doctor wanted to try doing the left side. It hurt - again. But not as bad, and this time, I didn't faint.

It's been an hour since I had the procedure done and my spirits are sinking...because my head still hurts.

It doesn't look like this is going to work, either.

Still, I remain confident that I will find a way to find relief from this pain. I feel confident that we are on the right path, and are at least ruling out what the problem isn't - i.e. the occipital nerve.

To be honest, I don't know what it feels like not to have a headache anymore. That's rather sad. But y'know what? I'm not the only one that deals with chronic, daily pain. A person can either give in to this burden or rise above it.

I choose the latter.

Having constant pain isn't ideal, no, and I certainly hope that I can eventually find relief. But I've learned how to relate to other people who are in pain, to understand their struggles, and to hopefully be able to help.

I write blog posts like this because I want people who struggle to know that they're not alone and to remind them of this:

You are more than your pain. 

I try very hard not to define myself by my struggles. Instead, I define myself in other ways; I am a wife, a mother, a sister, a daughter, a granddaughter, a friend; I am a writer, a lover, a dreamer, a historian, an old soul. My identity is not shrouded in my pain. I am so much more than that.

And so are you.