Monday, February 01, 2016

Snow Day?

We have a big snowstorm headed our way. Now usually these snowstorm predictions tend to be far grander than what actually happens - i.e. we usually end up getting a few inches as opposed to the foot they were predicting.

But this time, it looks like it might be different. And since I work at a university, if the administration decides to call a snow day tomorrow, I will get one, too!

I have visions of baking chocolate chip cookies, of hunkering down with a blanket and a good book, or maybe a few movies. Maybe a nap. Maybe some writing. Maybe all of the above!

What would your ultimate snow day look like?

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Never Forget

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. On this day 71 years ago, the Soviet Army liberated Auschwitz, one of the worst concentration camps.

Even though I studied and read quite a bit on the Holocaust during graduate school and in my own free time, it's still difficult for me to wrap my head around how such a cultured nation as Germany could allow it to happen. Historians are still trying to answer this question.

For today, though, I'd like to feature some artwork from survivors of the camps that shows how they felt after liberation. This online exhibit is at Yad Vashem's website. I encourage you to look at all of the art and read about the artists.

Here's one that particularly wrenches my heart:

Israel Alfred Gl├╝ck (1921 – 2007)

Liberation, from the album My Holocaust
Drawn at Bergen-Belsen DP Camp, 1945
Charcoal on paper
Israel was first sent to Auschwitz in 1943, and ended up in Buchenwald in 1945 where he was liberated.

I urge you to take a moment today to remember the Holocaust. We must keep its memory alive.

Never Again.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Pure Joy

Sometimes, the heavens align and that perfect idea for your novel hits you while you're doing the most mundane thing. In my case, it was brushing my teeth last night. I was mulling over my novel, searching for the solution to deepen the central conflict, when it hit me.

And oh, the idea was perfect. So very perfect.

In that moment, I experienced pure, unadulterated joy. I went to bed with a smile on my face, content and happy. Since the writing life is usually full of snarls and pitfalls, moments like these are to be treasured and celebrated.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

House Hunting Woes

They say what kills you doesn't make you stronger...but I'm beginning to question the validity of that statement!

We're planning to buy a house this year. This isn't only a want, but a need. We're currently renting right now and our landlady simply doesn't wish to invest any more than she needs to in this property. That means the windows are all original (1952!), the basement walls have huge cracks which have led to flooding, and there is mold in the walls.

So not only is this a need on a monetary standpoint (we're losing money on heating bills alone) but from a health standpoint. Mold is never a good thing to live with, and when you have an autoimmune disorder like I do (rheumatoid arthritis and chronic fatigue syndrome), it can be downright dangerous.

But we, of course, are not the couple that can simply look at a nice, basic house with a two car garage and call it good. Oh no. That would be too easy! My husband is an auto body guy and is tinkering in the garage more often than he is in the house. So that means we need to find not only a nice house with updated electric, a solid foundation, new windows, etc., but we also need to find a place that has room enough for his projects.

I'd take a cute house like this!
And when you live on a budget, finding those things is downright difficult.

I've looked at houses that fit what I want, but don't fit what he wants. I've found houses that have a mechanic's dream garage, but the house is completely awful. I've found houses that would work, but don't have enough room to build a garage, or are too expensive to budget in the building of said garage. I've found places that would be perfect, but are far too out of our budget. And honestly, I do not want a big house. That's just more to clean! No McMansion for me, thank you very much.

It's enough to make me want to curl into a ball and weep in the corner.

We may end up building what we want - though that might turn into a nightmare in itself! Still, it would be better than our current situation.

If only I'd won that $1.4 billion jackpot, this wouldn't be an issue.... ha!

So if you have any pointers on house hunting, lemme know!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Writing Companions

I've written about my writing companions before, but it's a topic that can be revisited again and again. Why? Since writing is quite a solitary occupation, having a companion - i.e. a pet - to be there while you're tapping away is a definite bonus.

Here are my three writing companions:

This is Kathryn. She came to me from a local cat shelter, and when she first came home several years ago, she was skittish and frightened. It took some time, and lots of love, to bring her around to my side, but now she is one of the best pets I've ever had. She doesn't cause any trouble like my other one (I'll get to him in a moment), loves to be by my side, and is sweetness personified (well, except when the other two irritate her!).

 And now we come to Slick. Oh, Slick. He came to us as a rambunctious kitten, and he vexes me at every turn. He is also irresistably cute and has the fluffiest fur imaginable, leading to many belly rubs. I've had several problems with him tackling the Christmas tree every year. He also jumps on the kitchen counter an awful lot despite knowing better. And when he wants fed, he lets me know in no uncertain terms. This often means he jumps on my dresser, knocks things over, pulls at the curtains, jumps on my legs, and scratches at the dresser - all while I'm trying to sleep in the morning. Still, he has his moments where he is calm and snuggles close to my side. So I tend to forgive him. Wouldn't you? Look at this guy!

He's adorable, that's for sure. But more often than not, you'll find him being plain ornery.

Now normally, two cats would be the most we would want in our household. But a few years ago, my stepson's living situation become such that he couldn't have his kitty, so she came to stay with us. Her name is Lucy, but we call her LuLu. She is a gorgeous black cat with a patches of white on her chest and belly. She loves to play, and we've found toy mice in the strangest places.
She and Slick love each other, and I can often find them cuddling or giving each other a bath. LuLu isn't big on cuddling, though at night, she often curls up in the crook of my legs while I'm sleeping. This often results in some rather awkward sleeping position for me. Why I don't just move her, I don't know!

I think one of my favorite things to do is write with these three by my side. I certainly enjoy their various personalities!

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

When Losing Sleep Is Worth It

In the past month, I've had an incredibly hard time with one scene of my novel. I'd tackled it from several different angles and nothing worked. It was a pivotal scene, and I couldn't delete it. I had to write it.

I figured with my 10 days off over the holidays, I'd have a chance to really work through the block and get back on track. But that didn't happen. I kept fighting it, like a fisherman battling the stubborn fish he's hooked.

All too soon, Sunday night came, and with it the end of my vacation. Monday loomed in front of me, and I was completely disgusted with my inability to crack that scene. In fact, the entire novel felt close to slipping from my grasp. Was my idea bad? Had I lost the threads of my story? Was I out of touch with my characters?

I pushed the dark thoughts aside and decided to watch the first episode of Season 6 of Downton Abbey, then go to bed. But as so often happens when I watch incredible period dramas (like Downton Abbey, Foyle's War, and Poldark), my creativity bursts open and suddenly, the difficult becomes possible.

It was around 10 p.m., my bedtime, and I was still on a high after watching Downton Abbey. I thought, maybe, just maybe, I could make the scene work. So, I opened up the laptop and got to work. And this clicked.

I happily wrote for the next hour and a half, and had a hard time sleeping because I was so giddy with relief.

This, of course, meant a very long day at work on Monday. I had the double whammy of going back to the day job after a long vacation plus not nearly enough hours of sleep. Combined, it almost took me out. But I persevered.

Was it worth it?

You bet it was.

Never give up.

Friday, January 01, 2016

Happy 2016!

I'm one of those people who thinks that you don't need a new year to make new changes. Each and every day offers you the opportunity to do that. Still, there's something about waving goodbye to an old year and welcoming a new one.

So, here's to a new year!

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Accepting the New Normal

Yesterday I woke up in a fantastic mood. I felt pretty good (you never feel terrific when you have chronic illnesses) and I couldn't wait to get the day started. I ended up doing a lot: I tackled the piles of paper that had stacked up in my office for the past 4 months, took my daughter shopping at the mall so she could spend her Christmas gift money, then went out to my brother and sister-in-law's to see my nephew who is nearly 4 months old and completely adorable.

By the time I got home, I was pretty tired and fighting a headache.

Fast forward to today: I woke up exhausted, am still exhausted, and my good mood is gone. My joints ache and I could cheerfully take a nap.

This has become the norm for me. When I have good days - like I did yesterday - I savor them and usually do more than I should. And why not? I felt great emotionally and wanted to enjoy it! But I usually pay for it the next day. This is beyond frustrating.

I could wallow in self-pity as I have done numerous times before. But I won't. Why? Because I've finally started to accept that this is my new normal. Believe me, that has been the single hardest thing to do with my chronic illnesses (I have rheumatoid arthritis and most recently, my doctor believes I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome). Coming to terms with this has almost been like going through the five stages of grief.

Denial: Just because I have a chronic disease doesn't mean I can't do everything I did before. I can! I can exercise just like before, lose weight just like before. This disease won't change my life at all. Sure, I'll have bad days, but they will be few and far between. Everything will be fine.

But as the months went by and I saw my former lifestyle disappearing before my eyes, I only double-downed on the anger and self-guilt:

Anger: What is wrong with you? You're lazy. You need to push yourself more. Why did you eat that extra cookie? Why didn't you go to the gym after work? You weren't feeling *that* bad. Why don't you have any self-control?

Bargaining: (Honestly, I didn't go through much bargaining. I didn't tell God that if he would only take this illness away from me, I would dedicate my life to *insert cause here*. )

Depression/Detachment: It doesn't matter. I'm going to be like this forever. I can eat what I want. I'll never lose weight. I don't need to go hang out with friends. Just leave me alone in my house. Don't smile or joke because then people will think you're feeling just fine even though you're just hiding the pain. I won't be able to work full-time much longer. Forget exercising. I'll just lay in this bed the rest of my life.

And finally we come to Acceptance. Yes, I'm sick. No, there is no cure. Yes, I may have to quit working full-time at some point in the future. But I'll deal with that when it comes. Yes, I have good days, but the bad days are more plentiful. That's ok. I need to be gentle with myself. Yes, I've gained weight. Yes, I've allowed myself to eat not-so-good-for-me food, but I can change that. I can start doing gentle exercises. I love to walk! I can rest when I need to without feeling guilty. I still have a fantastic, utterly wonderful life. I am blessed in so many ways that it's hard to count them all!

As I accept my new normal more and more, there's a small kernel of peace within me that continues to grow every day. Dealing with chronic illness isn't easy, but I can choose to deal with it in a way that won't make the whole situation worse. Will I always succeed in thinking positive? Most certainly not. But that's ok.

We as a society tend to put a lot of pressure on ourselves: pressure to look thin and be fit and beautiful . I've fallen victim to this mentality more than once and I'm beyond tired of trying to live up to that ideal. I am more than what I look like on the outside. I am more.

And this crazy need to be happy and content all the time?  Well, life isn't like that. It never has been and it never will be. Life is a great big ball of joy and sorrow, and if you don't experience it all, you are not truly alive.

Why did I include this pic?
Because it makes me happy.
That's all the reason I need. :)
I realize that my blog has sort of turned into a place where I share my thoughts on this new normal, but that's ok. My blog has evolved with my life and I rather like that. My health has been a huge, huge issue for me for the past year, and writing about it is the one way I deal with it. That I choose to share it with the world is a decision I made a long time ago. Why? Because if I can help one person who is struggling with the same issue, if I can make them nod their head and think, She gets it!, and make that person not feel alone, then that is all the motivation I need to share my story.

In the coming weeks and months, I hope to start sharing more how I am learning to manage this new normal. I want to embark on a year of self-love instead of self-hate. I want to be able to eat good food and enjoy a treat without feeling guilty. I want to be able to take a nap when I need to without thinking, You should be doing something else, something productive. I want to be able to start a gentle exercise program that works for me and makes me feel good - and not worry about if I'm not working hard enough or burning enough calories or pushing myself to my physical limits. Those days are over.

And I want to share how I'm going to start putting my energy toward the things that really matter to me: my writing, my family, and my study of World War II history.

I hope you'll stop by from time to time and join me on this journey.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Overcoming Setbacks

Life is full of setbacks. This we all know. But it is how we overcome them that is important, right?

I recently got dealt yet another setback with my health. I had mono two years ago - and I was very, very sick.  Fast forward to today: test results show that my mono has reactivated. This is a rare occurrence, but as I'm learning, my body doesn't follow "normal" medical patterns. I have bizarre reactions to things and my doctors are fond of telling me that "I always have a surprise" for them. This isn't comforting, actually, because I'd rather know what is wrong with me and address it then wander around for months on end with no idea.

Despite having mono again (albeit not nearly as bad as last time), I've still got a deadline to meet for novel revisions for my agent. And meet that deadline I will. It means buckling down and focusing. It means not wallowing in misery and dwelling on how I feel. It means eschewing the lure of the Internet.

To prepare for this task, I've lit my candles, have my fireplace going, and have soothing classical music playing in the background. It's a chilly, yet sunny day outside, which means I'm not tempted at all to spend any time outdoors and really can't anyway with my health. And of course, my cats are keeping me company.
Not my fireplace, but one at the Sherlock Holmes Museum in London

It's the little things that can get us through the toughest situations.

And now, it's time to tackle those revisions.

What are your simple tricks for overcoming setbacks?

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Writing, and Odds and Ends

On Writing and Deadlines

Deadlines can often feel like the enemy. But for me, they spur me to action.

Case in point. I need to get revisions on my novel to my agent by Monday, the 23rd. With that date firmly planted in my mind, I have been able to stay focused on those revisions, fight back procrastination (usually), and stay engaged with the writing process.

So after that wonderful holiday in England and a few weeks recuperating, I'm back to writing. Nose to the grindstone! And I love it. Having a hard and fast deadline and being accountable to someone makes it much easier to do the work.

A Few Odds and Ends

I've come across some really cool online events lately and wanted to share.

The Vintage Secret Santa Gift Exchange

Oh my stars. When I read about this, I couldn't wait to sign up. A secret Santa gift VINTAGE gift exchange with other vintage lovers? Yes, please! Head on over to Chronically Vintage and sign up. What a great way to start the holiday season! #vintagesecretsanta

The Pinterest Story Board Party

Elisabeth Grace Foley is hosting this writing-related blog party over at her blog, The Second Sentence. If you're on Pinterest and use it for storyboarding, you'll definitely want to join.

What about you? Anything fun to share?