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?

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Where Have I Been? Across the Pond...

Oh, my poor blog, how I have neglected you! And honestly, blogging is something I really enjoy doing. I can't believe I haven't posted anything since September, but life was awfully complicated the last few months. And in October, it was complicated in the most delightful way!

I went to England for nine days. It was glorious and wonderful and frustrating and difficult and so, so many emotions rolled into one.

This is my third trip to England and this time, I took my 15-year-old daughter with me. The original impetus for going was to see Benedict Cumberbatch play in Shakespeare's Hamlet. When they made the announcement that he would be performing, I had a year and a half to save the money for the trip, so it was the perfect opportunity.

Therefore, most of September and the first few weeks of October were spent planning our trip. We left on Oct. 16 and came back Oct. 24. We spent a few days in London seeing all the usual tourist spots...

Churchill!

Parliament, the London eye, and of course, the iconic red double-decker bus.

The Thames next to Parliament.
Buckingham Palace. The Queen was in residence as evidenced by the flag.
...and some of the not-so-usual spots like Churchill's War Rooms and the Sherlock Holmes Museum.


The Map Room in Churchill's War Room. This is almost exactly like it looked during World War II.

The Sherlock Holmes museum!


Sherlock's violin.
We then went to see Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet. Oh my. It was quite glorious. He did an amazing job.

On Tuesday, we set off for Salisbury in southwest England to visit the Cathedral and take in some peace and quiet. I like London, but it is a city - dirty and busy and full of people - and my introvert nature had a really hard time after awhile. So I was more than ready to take a nice, leisurely train to Salisbury!

We were rewarded when we got there: a perfect, beautiful day of sunny skies and gorgeous, gorgeous scenery:

Salisbury Cathedral in the distance!

Calm. Quiet. Clean!

The River Walk.
We went to Salisbury Cathedral. I'd been here before on my first trip (back in 1995), but my daughter wanted to see it, so I was more than happy to go again. It didn't disappoint the second time around. When one walks into a cathedral, the enormity of the structure, the amount of time and skill it took to create, is breathtaking.



The worship hall.

One of the many prayer chapels.

Beautiful stained glass windows.

Detail of the ceiling work.

The Prisoner of Conscience Window

Organists have been here since 1463!
The Salisbury City Centre is absolutely charming. Salisbury is a medieval town and many of the buildings are original. The people are friendly, the atmosphere is relaxed, and it is altogether a different feel from London. I relished every minute of it.




Our plans were thwarted the next day. We had wanted to go to Wilton House, a grand estate a few miles from Salisbury, but we discovered on their website that they were closed for the season. We were heartbroken. But we decided to use the time to become further acquainted with Salisbury. During our time in Salisbury, we'd take a walk from our charming bed and breakfast to the city centre along the river walk. It was a beautiful stroll.



Then back to London we went. I was quite sad to leave Salisbury behind, as was my daughter. She's always wanted to live in London, but after experiencing London and then experiencing Salisbury, she'd much rather live in Salisbury! I don't have a problem with that at all. :)

In London, we took our last day there to visit The Who Shop (all things Doctor Who!) and then headed over to the Imperial War Museum. This is my second visit to this museum, but last time I went, I was not a World War II historian, so it was much more meaningful this time around. Plus, they had some new exhibits. The Holocaust exhibit was very well done and very sobering.

The Imperial War Museum

A boat used during the evacuation of Dunkirk.


A Nazi eagle from the Reichstag.
Why was our trip frustrating and exhausting as well as wonderful and amazing? Well, a few things. My health for one (I was running on adrenaline the entire time and as recent days have shown, I'm paying for it now!), but more importantly, it was navigation. I never use public transportation for anything here in Nebraska. I drive everywhere. I don't have to worry about Tube tickets and changing stations and train times and all the rest. Getting from point A to point B was challenging. Thankfully, after our first day there (where we got lost on the Tube, ended up running smack into a Free Palestine! rally complete with a helicopter and police presence, and then my bank card wouldn't work and I couldn't get any money, but that is another story...), I figured out how to navigate the Tube and also downloaded some very handy apps on my phone. But honestly? I'd rather take a Taxi or walk. When we left the Barbican Theatre late Monday night (where Hamlet was performed) I ponied up the money for a taxi home. It was much easier (and safer) than taking the Tube.

Wonderful and amazing? Well, I was in England. I am a Anglophile and I love this country and its culture. I loved eating fish and chips and scones with clotted cream and jam, and staying in a glorious Bed and Breakfast in Salisbury (travel tip: if you are going to England, stay in B&Bs! I have done that the past few times and have had a much better experience with them than a regular hotel) and watching my daughter's delight and fascination in experiencing a new country. I loved seeing Benedict Cumberbatch in person and seeing Shakespeare performed. I loved talking to English people (our B&B hostess was such a delight) and soaking in the beauty of the country itself.

Although we were ready to come home after our time there, I was a little bit sad to leave. I could easily live there a few months out of the year (maybe during our horrendous summers!), and there is so much more I want to see and experience.

But that is for the next trip!

A Note on Blogging...

I am going to make an effort to blog more. I miss it. And with my big trip behind me and life settling back to normal (here's hoping!), I'm going to try and blog at least twice a week. That's the goal!

On Writing...

I'm working on my novel again and it is wonderful! Plus, it's autumn and the trees are gorgeous, the air cooler, and November is here!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Coping

My health has been so up and down lately. I have had more bad days than good, and to be perfectly honest, that scares me. Finding the energy and motivation to do what I want to do are hard to come by. Will it be better when autumn finally arrives and the temps aren't being like a yo-yo, going up and down over and over again? Because my body certainly doesn't react well to it.

I've been coping by watching lots of classic movies, interacting with people on Twitter, and trying to rest.

But I'd rather be writing.

I've been thinking a lot about writing, but keeping my eyes open for more than 20 minutes at a time isn't easy. And when it comes to rheumatoid arthritis, brain fog is unfortunately one of the symptoms.  I often lose my train of thought, can't focus, and have trouble finding the right words. Some days are better than others.

I have to keep pushing forward, though. In fact, I found this on Pinterest today and it really seems to fit:
I refuse to let this disease win. I may have to compromise on the bad days and allow myself to not do a darn thing but rest, but that's ok. The important thing is that I keep going.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Season In Your Story

The last few days have blessed us with cool, crisp breezes and temperatures reminiscent of October. It's been glorious. It's no secret that I loathe summer. I'm pretty sure I have the opposite of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) as people generally understand it. More sunlight makes me depressed. For the majority of summer, I fight from falling into the black pit of despair. I'm listless, and a gray cloud hangs over me most of the time.

But when autumn comes, oh, I come alive. Pure, unadulterated joy infuses my heart. 

It's funny, then, that my love for autumn is often reflected in my stories. Stories set during the summer are harder for me to write (even if they do line up with the historical events) and my characters often gripe about the heat (what can I say? Every character does embody a few traits of the author!). Likewise, stories set in the autumn are not necessarily easier to write, but my characters enjoy the weather much more. Writing descriptions of autumn feel effortless, and the story itself feels more alive than do those set in different seasons.

But no matter what season it is in your story, for me, it almost becomes a character in itself . My last novel was set in the harsh Nebraska winter and it was a metaphor for what my main character endured. He fought against the prevailing winds of prejudice and bitterness, and it was fun to use the winter season to reflect those same attitudes. 

The novel I'm writing now, however, it set during autumn, and it's actually a lot easier for me to write since the season itself is nearly here and because it's my favorite of all four seasons. It will give me an opportunity to observe the changing weather, the leaves turning glorious shades of red and gold and brown, the scent of earth beginning to prepare
Via http://bella-here.tumblr.com/
for its long, winter slumber, and use it in my story. It will give it an authenticity that might be lacking.

It's not always possible that your novel will be in the season you're currently experiencing in whatever part of the world you live in. But when those two do mesh, it's an opportunity to slow down and really take in everything that season has to offer to infuse your story with the sights, smells, and sounds occurring around you.

Weather is a big part of our world. It affects so many different things - how we dress, what we eat, our activities, how we feel. So, too, should it affect your character. 

How can you use weather in your current story? Share your ideas in the comments. 




Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Battle Worth Fighting

The mind is a persnickety thing. I wish I understood more how the brain works, but I know that not even neuroscientists can fully understand the intricacies of it.

But sometimes, I really wish I could make my brain just behave already. (If you said that in Austin Powers' voice, you get 10 points!).

The plot for the novel I'm working has given me fits. I've deleted several chapters and started over - twice.

But then the angels sang and suddenly, there it was: the plot I'd been searching for. And as I began to draw up a basic outline, all these terrific scenes kept bombarding me and I got so darned excited about this novel again that I experienced a giddiness that is part and parcel of why I write.

Fast forward to the next day's writing session. I didn't even want to open my laptop. Tonight, I don't want to, either. Fear, or resistance (Steven Pressfield's The War of Art tackles this topic and is a book every writer and artist should read), keeps holding me back.

But why? Why do I have this unease in the pit of my soul when I think about actually writing that lovely plot I came up with? It's utterly bizarre to me. And I can only think that it boils down to one thing: that what I write will not be as good as what is in my head.

That's a pretty common fear for every artist. I have struggled with this in the past and I know I will continue to struggle with it in the future. What we create is usually not going to be as good as how we envision it in our heads. I'm sure it has something to do with those neurons and synapses and all the rest of that complicated yet perfect creation called our brain. What we envision in the mind that creates such vivid, incredible dreams somehow doesn't quite translate perfectly to the physical world of reality.

Every time this happens to me, I have to fight it. I have to give myself permission to create anyway. Let's face it: perfection doesn't exist. We can always change a word, delete a sentence, and tinker endlessly with a manuscript even after we've been through it sixty times or more. Giving ourselves permission not to be perfect is the key.

It's hard, which is why it is a continual battle.

But it is a battle worth fighting.

It's okay to whine and moan for a bit and say, "Why can't it be easy?" Relieve some of the pressure and let the air out of the balloon, so to speak. But then, you must get to work. Start writing, ignore that voice in your head that says you're doing it wrong, and immerse yourself in the world of your story.

Remember that perfection doesn't exist, but neither will your story if you don't write it.




Thursday, August 06, 2015

Dreaming of a Life Not Yet Lived

I admit it. When I see people living abroad and embarking on an adventure, I'm slightly envious.

As a kid and a teenager, and heck, even into my early 20s, I always wanted to live abroad and experience new cultures. I even applied to go to graduate school at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. Unfortunately, I didn't make it, but that didn't stop me from dreaming about it.

Life has a way of taking our plans and turning them completely around, and I think that can sometimes be a good thing. Shortly after I found out I wasn't accepted to Trinity, I met the love of my life, got married, and had a baby 9 months later. That baby, my daughter, is now 15 and I absolutely could not imagine life without her.

I also went to graduate school two years after she was born and earned my master's degree in history. My thesis led to me getting a contract for my book, Nebraska POW Camps, and has led to numerous speaking engagements and lots of other opportunities. In fact, I'm pretty happy with where I am in life. I've published lots of nonfiction, have an agent who is shopping around my historical novel, have a wonderful marriage (though it's not perfect - it's really HARD sometimes, but that's what marriage is!), a gorgeous daughter, a good job that has given me insight into the state where I grew up that I didn't have before, as well as teaching me about academic publishing, and the ability to be able to afford a few trips overseas here and there. My last trip to England was in in 2008 and I'm taking my daughter with me this time when we go to England in October.

Despite all of this, there's still that thirst for adventure. And if my health would cooperate more (if you're a new reader, I have rheumatoid arthritis) I tend to wonder what leaps of faith I could take here and now.

Picture I took of the Chesterfield Church. Derbyshire, England, 2008
Part of the problem, of course, is that my husband has already had those adventures. He lived in Germany for 8 years, and he's pretty content to stay right here in Nebraska. But me? Heck, I'd love to be able to live in the UK for a few years, travel all across Europe, visit my family in Italy, and see and experience new cultures. Whether my health would allow that is another question. But still...I'd really like to try!

Living the routine, dare I say "safe" life is ok most of the time. I've lived in the same state my entire life and it hasn't been bad. I go to the same job every day, live in a modest house, have great friends and family, and am quite content with how my writing career has progressed.

But that siren's call to adventure catches me every once in awhile and I wonder, "What if I just took a leap of faith? What if I decided to move overseas for a year, experience it, the good and the bad?"

My daughter is convinced she will live in London once she graduates from high school. And to tell you the truth, I wouldn't mind at all! Now if we can just convince hubby to join us...


Monday, August 03, 2015

What Are You Reading? August Edition

During these long, hot summer days, losing myself in a good book is a must. And now that Poldark is over (the season finale was last night and it was SO GOOD), I really need books to tide me over! Fortunately, there is a plethora of terrific historical fiction coming out soon (thanks for the heads up, Goodreads!) and I am hopeful that someday soon, my novel will be one of those available! 

I usually have more than one book going at a time, so here's what I'm reading now:

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton. I love Morton's writing - it's so lush and lyrical. She pulls you into the story and creates an incredible world.

A Woman in Berlin by Anonymous. This is the second time I've read this book, but it's for research. It's about a woman who was in Berlin during the last days of the Third Reich, and what she saw and endured when the Russians came. 

With the Old Breed by Eugene Sledge. This is the definitive memoir of the Pacific War as told by Sledge. It's brutal and gripping. The HBO miniseries, The Pacific, took a lot of its content from this book. Again, this is for research, but it's a book that every World War 2 historian should read.

What are you reading?

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.








Friday, March 13, 2015

Beautiful, Lovely Sun

This winter has been really hard for a lot of people. The east coast of the US got hammered with so many blizzards that I lost track. Facebook friends living in those areas posted photo after photo of the piles and drifts of snow. It was unbelievable.

We had our share of bad weather in the Midwest, too. Normally, I like winter. I like to hibernate under a blanket and stay indoors and read and write. But this year, I didn't enjoy it. At all. And I'm not quite sure why.

Maybe it was too many days of bitterly cold temperatures, or the fact that my heating bill went through the roof because the windows in our house (it's a rental) are old and our landlady won't replace them. Or maybe it's because my body really did not do well with cold weather, making my rheumatoid arthritis much worse.

Whatever the case, my mood was dark, my motivation nonexistent.

And then...the sun came out.

Literally.

All this week, we've had gorgeous, sunny skies with temperatures to match. I no longer have to wear a heavy winter coat. Heck, even a light jacket isn't required! We have been hitting the low 70s and it's only March!

It's felt glorious to walk outside and hear the birds chirping, see the squirrels and rabbits darting around on the lawn, feel the sun on my face. I've started taking my walks again, slow, meandering walks that allow me to soak in the first bursts of spring. I can't wait for thunderstorms and rain and green grass.

My mood has improved. I feel more like me again.

And this reminds me that we go through different seasons in our lives. Perhaps the season of me enjoying winter is over, and I'm starting a new season of being more of a spring/summer person. In the past, I've always loved fall and winter, but fall wasn't that great and winter was definitely yucky.

Of course, this could be temporary. Last year's health crisis threw me for a curve that I don't know if I've quite come out of. My body has changed. Menopause will do that, I suppose, and I'm struggling to accept this new me.

I suppose that's a post for another day, however.

For today, I shall bask in the sunlight on my skin and praise God for bringing some much-needed spring weather to our little corner of the world.


It's Time

I've had this blog for over 10 years. But I'm finding that I go to it less and less. Maybe it's the death of blogging that broug...