Saturday, November 22, 2014

Thoughts on a Lovely Saturday

I love and adore Saturdays. I don't have to go to the day job, I can sleep in, and best of all, I can write.

Today I'm working on my war dogs article while sitting in my office, listening to Big Band music. I'm contemplating going to get a large slice of chocolate cake later, but then I remember I already had my "Dessert Day" this week (huge blueberry muffins that were SO GOOD) and I reluctantly put the temptation aside.

Yet it has already been a glorious Saturday without the chocolate cake. I've made a nice dent in the article. As we all know, sometimes getting started is the hardest part. I tend to freeze up when I write non-fiction, and I think it's because I have so much information to disseminate into a prescribed word count that I panic.

That's why I prefer to write fiction. Those words are mine and mine alone.

But while I prefer to write fiction, I have an overwhelming desire to write my non-fiction World War II articles. I love to dig into the research on the topics of my choosing. And writing an article that will educate hundreds (thousands?) of readers on a little-known part of WW2 history and get paid for it? That is sheer bliss.

Thus, I've come to terms with my desire to write WW2 articles (and to overcome my frozen state each and every time I start to write one) and my need to write fiction. If you told me tomorrow that I couldn't write any more WW2 articles, I'd be naturally upset; but if you told me tomorrow that I couldn't write fiction anymore, I honestly would fall apart. Fiction is what brings me to life, what makes me think and question and explore. Without writing fiction, I wouldn't be me.

I am truly blessed to be able to do both.

I hope you are pursuing your passion and doing what you love. Life is simply too short not to.



Monday, November 10, 2014

When A Book Title Said It All

I'm neck-deep in research for my next World War II article, and that means I've been having a fantastic time digging into newspapers of the 1940s. It truly was a different time in so many ways, but there was one thing that wasn't different: romance.

Take, for instance, this very sweet story from the Chicago Daily Tribune on October 7, 1942, in the Front Views and Profiles" section written by Marcia Winn.

A girl we know received a letter this week from a soldier she knows pretty well. As a postscript he wrote, "Consult the title of Ludwig Bemelman's latest book." On her way home from work, she stopped in a book store. A priest, two business men and an elderly women were waiting at the counter as she leaned toward the clerk and said, "I don't want to buy anything, but can you tell me the name of Ludwig Bemelman's new book?" The clerk, a nice, friendly man, leaned far over the counter and whispered, " 'I Love You, I Love You, I Love You.' " The girl, her face crimson, turned and ran.
P.S. - The boy is coming home on furlough this week-end.


Not the couple from the story, but representative of wartime romance
I'll take that kind of letter any day.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Hodgepodge

Is it really November? It feels more like it should be, oh, I don't know, August? I feel like I lost two months of my life when I was going through my health issues, but I'm glad to report I'm on the other side of it and feeling better.

Which means I'm writing and planning and researching again.

What I've been doing: researching an article on the K-9 "Dogs for Defense" of World War II, researching/plotting my sixth novel, and watching The Blacklist.

Ok, so the last one doesn't quite fit with the other two, but I'm in love with this show. It's well-written (sure, a bit far-fetched, but it's TV!), James Spader is amazing, and, the best part of all? The creator and writer of this show is a Nebraskan!

And it counts as research, right? Because when you're writing a thriller, dissecting how thrillers work - even if they are t.v. shows - helps you figure out how to make it work on the page.

On the homefront, I've begun my purging project. We plan to buy a house next spring and I intend to go through every single box in my house and get rid of stuff we no longer need/want. My daughter has taken to this project wholeheartedly and has gone through her room, tossing things she's outgrown. I'm realizing, through, that I'm much more sentimental than she is - she can easily get rid of stuffed animals or drawings or stories she's written without a care. I, on the other hand, have a hard time putting those beloved stuffed animals in the garage sale pile or throwing away any of her creative work.

Still, it's a good feeling, to get rid of excess in your life. Now if I could just get rid of the excess weight that crept up on me the past three months, why, life would be better.

No, this post doesn't have much point to it- just a hodgepodge of thoughts going through my head that needed to be "purged" - and also, I needed to update my blog. How do I get so far behind on it?

I confess, I turn to Twitter much more these days - maybe it's because my brain can only handle 140 characters at a time.

If you're still reading at this point, let me know what you've been up to. =D


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Life Is Beautiful

Despite the setbacks we all have, despite the sorry state of the world, life is beautiful.

I see, hear, and feel it every day.

In my husband's morning kiss goodbye.

In my daughter's smile as she heads off to school.

In the gorgeous autumn colors painting every tree.

In the words that stream from my mind onto the page.

I have to remind myself that life is beautiful. And today, I'm reminding you.

Life is beautiful.

Enjoy it and embrace the beauty.


Thursday, October 09, 2014

Finding Me


Finally.

I'm back to work.

The physical therapy is helping.

And no more prescription pain meds are necessary.

I won't go into the sordid details of how I quit those pain meds cold turkey and suffered horrendous withdrawals because honestly, I lived through it and I'm still trying to process it. I learned a lot about myself during the whole thing, and I realized that sometimes when you think you're in control, you're really not.

Anyway.

I'm slowly, slowly getting back to my old routine. I'm not at 100% yet, but I'd say I'm at about 80% and that is far and above where I was two weeks ago.

It's been rather odd, like the last two months were a nightmare, like who I was then wasn't really me.

Now it's time to find that person again.

Time to find my joy of writing, my love of studying World War II, my delight in autumn's cooler temps and gorgeous colors, my zest for reading and finding new authors, my devotion to living a full life and enjoying and embracing all that it has to offer.

All of it got lost in the shuffle. My brain is still recovering and trying to put the pieces of the last 2 1/2 months back together.

When you've lost yourself for awhile, the process of rediscovery can be a bit painful. Mistakes made must be confronted. Lessons must be learned, no matter how hard. All of it is necessary to emerge a better, healthier person on the other side.

But it is also a slow process. I don't have any grand plans to finish my novel within the next week, or to start exercising again beyond taking my walks, or the determination to lose the weight I gained while being sick. There's no energy or motivation for that yet. What I am doing is taking it one day at a time.

After all, that's how we became who we are, right? One day at a time. And thus, I will rediscover who I am, one day at a time.


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

I Got Ya A Dollar...

Have you watched the commercial where the gal wants a purse using money her insurance has saved her and she shouts, "Insurance, come find me money!" and this old guy in fishing gear appears, dangling a dollar in front of her? "I got you a dollar," he says. She tries to grab it and he yanks it away from her and says, "Oops! You gotta be quicker than that!"

That's how I feel with my health right about now.

I shout, "Give me health! I need to get back to work!"

And for a moment, a glimmer of hope appears, just like that dollar. I'll feel better for a few hours and think, okay, it's getting better. Maybe I can go to work tomorrow.

I'll reach for that hope. Then, just like the old insurance agent, that hope is cruelly snatched away a few hours later when the pain pills wear off, or when I wake up the next morning cringing in pain.

It's getting old.

I can't believe it's been two months since I had surgery and since all of this started. I'm now going to physical therapy three times a week and I won't lie - it hurts. We are trying to break down the scar tissue and adhesions in my abdomen from past surgeries. But getting to that point is very painful.

Nevertheless, I know hope will continue to be there, dangling, and I will continue to reach for it. It might decide to keep out of my grasp for awhile, but one of these days I'm going to catch it and darn it, be well enough to get back to some kind of a normal life.

I will continue to believe. I can do no less.

Monday, September 15, 2014

In the Mood? Nope.

Now before you think the title of this post refers to something naughty, let me assure you that it doesn't. Would I do that to you? :-)

No, I'm talking about being in the mood to write - and how I'm not. At all.

It's rather bizarre how I will be a writing machine for a few weeks, excited about my project, immersing myself in the world of literature and the craft of writing, connecting with other writers, and having a grand ol' time. But the past few days have shown a decided lack of enthusiasm for much of anything to do with the English language.

It's disheartening to feel this way, especially since I'm so close to finishing my edits of the novel. I've already got a query letter drafted and ready to send to agents. But I have to get the novel done first.

So what's a gal to do when she needs to write but can't?

Write anyway.

Now I'm not saying I've been a writing machine lately because I haven't. But I've managed to write a few sentences here and there and still stay connected to the story. After an epiphany on a certain aspect of the novel, I wrote a nice chunk tonight. Good, yes, but still not where I want to be.

However, I've been writing long enough to realize that this is just a phase I need to get through. The creative well may very well be dry and I need to refill it. My weekend was full of family time and tonight I took a walk with my daughter to enjoy the changing weather. Autumn is pretty much upon us even though it won't be officially here until next week. I have faith the urge to dive into the novel will return shortly.

Sometimes, forcing yourself to write is the correct move. Other times it's not. It depends on the situation and the writer. Everyone is different.

What about you? When you are not in the mood to write, do you do it anyway? Or do you take a few days off to refill your creative well?

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Invisible Illness Awareness Week

It's Invisible Illness Awareness Week!

I suffer from a host of illnesses that can be classified as "invisible" - i.e. when you look at me, you can't tell I'm sick.

The biggest of these is rheumatoid arthritis. In fact, as I type this, I'm so exhausted I want to nap and my feet and hands are aching really bad. I don't know if the recent medical stuff or the change in weather (we're in the 80s today - supposed to be in the 60s tomorrow) is causing me to feel so rotten or what. BUT! I'm still smiling. I'm working from home, it's raining and cloudy outside, my kitties are close by, and I've got my chocolate.

And because I'm smiling, here's a cartoon of what I look like most mornings...except I have to get out of bed and keep going. That's what life is all about - we gotta keep going!


Monday, September 08, 2014

When I Couldn't Get It Right

When I was in high school and college, I could eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, and not gain an ounce. I didn't exercise (frankly, I hated physical activity) and my food choices were usually nowhere near healthy. Pot pies. Chocolate cake. Corn dogs. Cookies. Cinnamon rolls. The concept of eating a balanced meal with vegetables, protein, carbs, dairy, and fruit was usually in the back of my mind, but I didn't pay too much attention to it. After all, I was young and healthy and heck, if I could get away with eating whatever I wanted, why worry about it?

We can be so dumb when we're young, can't we? I sure was.

Here's the thing: when I could eat anything I wanted and stay a slim size 7, I got used to all my clothes fitting just fine. I didn't know what it was like to struggle with my weight.

Of course, I'd already had image issues from wearing braces and glasses in junior high and being called ugly by a boy I liked (why does that still sting 22 years later?), so when I did start to gain weight, I didn't handle it well.

Those weight issues began shortly after I graduated from college. I put on about 10 pounds or so, and when I went back to attend college graduation for some of my friends a year later, one of my guy pals said, "You've put on a little weight. You look good. You were too skinny before." Well, that comment didn't bother me too much. The trouble was, I was still eating the same and not getting in any exercise.

Fast forward a few years to marriage and pregnancy. I didn't gain all that much weight while I was pregnant, and a month after I'd had my daughter, I was able to fit into my old clothes again. Not bad at all.

And then a botched birth control shot sent my health into decline. I put on 50 pounds in a year. My thyroid started failing. And then I was diagnosed with PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome). Over the next ten years, my weight see-sawed. I learned to exercise - I loved going for walks and going to Curves - but I still didn't know how to eat properly. My female health problems became incredibly difficult to handle, culminating in a hysterectomy in 2012. After the surgery and more weight gain, plus a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis, I finally went to see a nutritionist to learn how to eat so I could lose weight.

Now part of this battle to lose weight was related to my health. I had high cholesterol and my triglyceride levels were through the roof. I also was pre-diabetic. So I knew I had to make some changes.

And while I would like to tell you that those issues were my underlying reasons for losing weight, they weren't. Yes, they were a part of it. But the real reason I wanted to lose weight was this: if I stayed overweight, I wouldn't be enough. I wouldn't be beautiful enough, smart enough, desirable enough. If only I could be a size 7 again then I would be enough.

I'm not the first person to say these words. I certainly won't be the last.

Here's the thing, though: when I lost 30 pounds last year and kept it off, I did feel like I was enough. My self-esteem soared. I felt pretty and accomplished and proud. I felt desirable. I felt like I did when I was in high school and college. And yes, I should be proud of myself for learning to eat right and exercise. I worked hard to lose that weight despite my health struggles.

But I still had a problem.

You see, I was very aware of every single bite I put into my mouth. I was always anticipating the next time I could eat. I never, ever missed a meal or a snack. I would allow myself one dessert a week and only 3 pieces of Dove Dark Chocolate a day. But if I over-indulged, the guilt would be terrible. I would cut back on my next meal to make up for my faux pas.

Then I got hit with mono in September of 2013. My appetite plunged and I ate what sounded good - mostly chocolate. It took me awhile to recover, and in the process, I gained about five pounds. No problem, I thought. I'll be able to lose it easily. But then the holidays came and I threw caution to the wind and ate whatever I wanted to. Those five pounds stayed. And so did the guilt.

And I started to get really tired of worrying all the time about what I put in my mouth. So I would indulge in hubby's chips or have more than three pieces of Dove Dark Chocolate or, gasp! even more than one dessert a week. I'd stop the descent into madness every few weeks and get back on a healthy eating schedule, but you know something? Not a day went by that I didn't step on the scale. I was still exercising and still trying to stick to a healthy eating plan, but my control was slipping. And the waistband on my pants was tightening.

I would veer between panic that I was gaining weight and apathy over how much and what kind of food I put into my mouth. Up and down the scale went. I'd ride my bike with my daughter, then tell myself I could have another piece of Dove chocolate. I'd reassert control over myself and eat great for a week or two, then revert back to two days of endless snacking. On and on it went.

And then June 2014 hit. Pain began in my lower left abdomen and it kept me from exercising. We determined a cyst on my remaining ovary was causing the problem, so I decided to have it taken out - putting me into instant menopause. What do you think of when you hear the word "menopause"? For me, it was "weight gain."

Before the surgery, I joked with my husband that maybe I should starve myself for a week and lose 10 pounds so that when the surgery was over, I could comfortably gain 10 pounds again. He wasn't pleased by the idea.

To make a (very) long story short, the pain wasn't caused by my ovary, but (they think) an entrapped nerve. I've put on another five pounds in the past six weeks and the pants are tighter. I can't exercise as it hurts too much, I'm on pain medication, and I do not care about how much chocolate I eat. My rheumatoid arthritis has been flaring something awful lately and I just feel pretty darn yucky. I wear t-shirts and shorts most of the time.

And once again, because I have gained weight, my self-esteem has plummeted. I look at women skinnier than me and feel jealous. I see women who have perfectly toned bodies running and exercising and I scrunch my nose in annoyance. Why can't that be me? I think.

Then the guilt starts.

If only you would control your eating habits...

If only you weren't such a wuss and could exercise through the pain...

If only you could just eat healthy all the time...

If only you would just drink water when you're feeling hungry instead of reaching for food...

And it all comes down to this:

What's wrong with you? Why can't you get it right? 

And it doesn't matter that I have about five different health problems that make keeping a steady weight incredibly hard, and it doesn't matter that I've been scarcely able to move for the past six weeks, and it doesn't matter that my appetite has been completely off and I eat only what sounds good to me, and it doesn't matter that the various medications I'm on can cause me to gain weight, and it doesn't matter that I'm in menopause and my body is going to do all sorts of wacky things.

The only thing that matters, in my head, is that I am failing. I am failing at controlling my eating. I am failing at controlling the pain. I am failing at being strong and fighting back against all of these medical issues and overcoming them. I am failing at pushing through and exercising.

And once again, I am not enough. I am not strong enough to stop eating chocolate. I am not strong enough to push through the pain and exercise. I am not disciplined enough to make a balanced meal even when the pain meds make my stomach nauseous.

I want to make the guilt go away. I want to be able to eat without worrying about every single thing that will go into my mouth. I want to be able to look at myself in the mirror and love what I see no matter what the scale says. I want to be able to accept that I have limitations because of my health. I want to tell myself, You are enough just the way you are.

I know that God loves me just the way I am.  Yet believing it myself is so much harder.

And for now, I don't have a solution to this self-image, weight gain problem. I just don't want to care about it anymore. I've spent so much mental energy worrying that I could have plotted five novels with that brain power!. And of course, our culture doesn't help matters any when everywhere you turn there's another "lose weight quick" diet or someone telling you that if you want to lose weight and cure your rheumatoid arthritis, well, eat this way because it worked for them! Don't get me started on society's obsession with thin people and how you can "have it all" if you're skinny. (I know there are a lot of thin people who have body image problems, too).

It's not that easy. So, what am I doing?

Taking it one day, one hour, one moment at a time.

By now (if you're still reading), you're probably wondering:

Why am I opening up such deep emotions and letting you in?

Because it's what I do. I'm a writer. And for me, writing is the way I figure out who I am and how I make sense of the world. It's how I realize what I'm feeling and what it is I'm facing, and most importantly, it's how I find the solution to make it better.   

But also, I share this with you because I want you to know you're not alone.

I can't tell you how many times I've read a blog entry where someone was sharing their struggles and I nodded along as I read, thinking, "I know exactly how he/she feels." There is such comfort in knowing you are not alone, isn't there?

If my words can help you feel less alone, offer you comfort or commiseration, then I am incredibly glad. I don't want pity or sympathy. Why? Because every single one of us struggles with something. None of us are untouched. We all have our issues.

I choose to share mine in the hopes my words might help.

Here's to keepin' on.





Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Sleeping Beauty

I haven't been sleeping very well lately, but one member of my household rarely has any trouble with that. His name is Slick and he is the orneriest, most stubborn, frustrating cat I've ever had. He's also incredibly cute, puts up with my cuddling, and has the softest fur ever. He also manages to look completely adorable when he sleeps. I present Exhibit A.

Now if only I could fall asleep as fast as Slick. But I'm afraid if I slept in this position, I wouldn't be able to move for a week!