Tuesday, May 8, 2018

When Mother's Day is "Not This Year."

Mother’s Day can be hard for many reasons. Estrangement, abuse, death…there are many factors why thinking about your mom might be difficult. Or maybe you are a mom who lost a child. Or maybe you want to be a mother yourself, but for whatever reason, you are not.
I fall into the last category. This probably won’t come as a surprise to many of you. After all, chronic health in general, and endometriosis in particular, are significant barriers to parenthood. But Nathan and I have been married four years, and I am turning thirty very shortly. My biological clock is ticking away hard, and my heart is grieving.
This past year we have watched as post after post on Facebook, message after message, conversation after conversation, have turned into pregnancy announcements. And while we have deep joy for our friends and the new lives they are bringing into the world, each new pregnancy and birth feels like a death knell in my own heart. For not only is it a reminder of what we don’t have, but it is another set of friends moving on to another stage of life. And however much we might work to maintain the friendship, there is a drastic difference in having children and not having children, and how it affects everything. Getting married can change friendships, but I think the addition of children to one half of the equation but not the other has the potential to be even more so.
Both Nathan and I have felt a call to parenthood from a very young age. We both worked as nannies, and we both have always taken a great delight in connecting with our young relatives. We absolutely adore our nieces, nephew, and godson.
We also deeply trust in God’s timing. We both have family history that had long prepared us for the possibility of an infertility struggle, and for the same reason our families are deeply sympathetic, understanding, and supportive. And we can see in our own lives just how God’s timing for the birth of a child is perfect and out of man’s control.
I trust God. I trust him so much, that even when I am crying, and I want to be pleading for a child, I still find myself wanting his timing more than my immediate joy. If we are to be blessed with a baby, I want the best for that baby, and I want God’s perfect timing for my child in our lives. At this point, I don’t know whether it will be a biological child or an adoptive one. I don’t know if it will be soon or late. I don’t know if it will ever happen.
It’s a lonely struggle. People don’t talk about infertility. I know very few people of my own age who have openly shared with me that they are in the same boat. And even when you do find someone, chances are that at some point one of you is going to become pregnant and the other is not. And then you are so, so happy for them, but once again you are left behind. Or you worry about leaving your friend behind and hurting them.

And the rest of the world...well, there are so many kind, loving people in this world, who mean nothing but goodness, but still don't know what to say. Things hurt all the time, even when people are trying to be helpful and positive. Words, no matter how well-meaning, can cause so much pain. And so often I will just not talk about it, because I'm afraid of receiving more kind but upsetting platitudes.
I’m not hopeless. Indeed, at many times I am full of great hope. “Maybe this month…!!!” But I’m also really struggling. Many of the things one starts doing to try and achieve a pregnancy is adjust your hormones, so that an already emotional struggle becomes far, far more difficult to navigate. There’s a lot of crying. And there’s a lot of just walking around with a deep, deep sadness that you can’t talk about.
In part, this is a big reason of why I haven’t been blogging as much this year. It’s really hard when the biggest thing on my mind is so heavy. I don’t want to be a complainer. I don’t want to drag other people down into my depression and grief. But I also know how uplifting it has been whenever I do find another couple going through the same struggle. Whenever I feel less alone. Whenever I know that someone understands, someone else is also waiting on God. It helps so much. And so Nathan has encouraged me to write this post, in the hopes that it will do many good things, including some comfort of solidarity to anyone else going through this struggle.
It’s taken me five months to finally sit down and write this. I really didn’t want to do it. I really hoped that I’d have good news, not sad news to share. But I’d feel guilty every month I didn’t write it. I felt like I was missing an opportunity to be honest and shine a light on a very dark corner.
I don’t know if, or when, I will ever have happy news on this subject to share with you all. But if this journey continues to be a hard one, I may have further thoughts and reflections to share, as I feel they may be of use. I never, ever want this blog to become an outlet for complaining.
So. Mother’s Day. If you’re feeling apprehensive or sad about it, for whatever reason, know that you are not alone. And if you have any thoughts on how to navigate the day, please feel free to share.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Rook by Sharon Cameron

They seek her here, 
they seek her there, 
they seek that Red Rook everywhere...

This rhyme doesn't appear in "Rook" by Sharon Cameron, but it ought to. For this tale of a young girl seeking to rescue the unjustly condemned of of a dystopian future Paris is a clear homage to "The Scarlet Pimpernel" if not quite a retelling.

In this version, however, the role of the titular masked rescuer is played by a young woman (it's YA fiction, what else do you expect?). Sophia Bellamy, English gentlewoman by day, Red Rook by night, is devoted to both her family and the endangered citizens of France. Whether it takes a sword or a marriage proposal, she'll do whatever it takes to ensure that no one is left to prison--or worse. Yet she soon discovers that she is not the only one wearing a mask...

Initially, I picked this book off the library shelf because I confused it with another book of similar title. However, the moment I read the jacket blurb, I was hooked. I'm an old fan of "The Scarlet Pimpernel", always intrigued by things French and British, and fascinated by anything that lets me view history in a new light. In Cameron, I found an author with the same interest.

Although the world of "Rook" could be loosely cataloged as dystopian, this future world is not your usual sci-fi fare. After the shifting of earth's magnetic poles, all technology fails, leading many governments to declare machines 'evil' and require their citizens become self-sufficient. In consequence, the far off future of the Sunken City is no so very different than the 18th century of Baroness Orczy's tale of adventure and romance. And yet, set in a semi-wasteland where plastic artifacts like 'diet' bottles are highly prized, humanity has not changed so very much.

I appreciated the set-up for a future that mirrors the past, but was even more delighted to find the writing and plot well above your average YA book. There is a love triangle, sort of, but the real love story in the book manages to be sizzling, sweet, and sincere. Worthy to follow in Orczy's footsteps, in my very humble opinion.

So if you're looking for another Parisian adventure to tide you over until my next book is released, you may just find this worth checking out.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

It's finally time for me to review "Star Wars: The Last Jedi." My thoughts may not be what you expect, but there will be spoilers. You've been warned.

You'd think that, being chronically ill, watching movies would be one good way of filling the time. And that is partially true (I'm superb at keeping up with TV shows!) However, due to extreme sensitivities, I cannot go to the movie theater without getting a migraine.  So our household tends to lag behind when it comes to seeing the latest releases. This has put a damper on my enthusiasm for film consumption.

However, there are some films that are still really hard to have to wait for. Most of the Marvel films. Some special ones like "Beauty and the Beast." And Star Wars. Always Star Wars. 

My husband works for a company that will typically rent out a theater on opening day of a Star Wars film and all the employees go watch it with their families. My husband comes home and we read the spoilers together. This sounds pretty sad, and it has been, but this time, I'm really glad that it worked out this way. Because while a large portion of geekdom sat on the edge of their seats waiting for certain revelations while watching "Star Wars: The Last Jedi," I already know what was (or more importantly, wasn't) going to be revealed.

Let me tell you, based on the uproar on the internet, I believe "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" is a much more enjoyable film when you can go into it without any expectations. Indeed, it is a beautiful film, easily the most gorgeous and visually striking of any film in the Star Wars saga thus far. It also is the most grounded, stepping beyond the realm of fairy tales and myth and into a landscape of flora and fauna that felt real and solid in a way that I have never before experienced Star Wars.

I really appreciated the many homages in the film. Whereas "The Force Awakens" was a heavy-handed retread of "A New Hope", "The Last Jedi" paid more subtle tribute to "The Empire Strikes Back" (and other films), by taking iconic set-ups and tropes from the earlier films and then reworking them in a fresh an innovative way. For one example: I loved how Crait looked like it was going to be another snow planet, but then was revealed to be salt, with each thrust of battle scraping away the white veneer to reveal the scarlet beneath.

This is not to say that "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" is a perfect film. It is easily the busiest of the Star Wars films, with too many subplots and perhaps more than the typical number of head-scratching logic holes.. Yet I can see how every one of those character arcs was important for the story that Rian Johnson decided to tell, and I'm not sure which of them I would have cut.

This is a personal opinion, you understand. For instance, I have heard that many people didn't like Canto Bight, but I thought it did a great job of finally showing the audience a) the evilness of the empire on a personal scale and b) the range of gray among the citizens of the galaxy. The ride of the Fathiers brought a moment of true joy into an otherwise fairly dark film that was greatly needed. It reminded us of what our heroes are fighting for.

I know people argue about Poe, and Poe's arc, and Haldo's secrecy, and who was right--and really, it all makes a very interesting conversation, doesn't it? Rebels, by their nature, are breaking the rules. But what rules do we still need in order to actually function? (Some, apparently, since breaking radio silence was disastrous...) To cut just Haldo as a character is perhaps the one edit that would interfere with the overall film the least, and yet, you'd lose that magnificent sacrifice scene. Because Leia couldn't do it, she hadn't reunited with Luke yet, (and during filming, of course, they expected Carrie Fisher to be around to carry the biggest legacy role in IX). And if Poe had done it--oh how fans would have cried. Plus, you know Harrison Ford probably would have griped about it. Y'know. They didn't let Han go off young and heroically, so why should Poe get that kind of juicy end?

I loved all of Luke's scenes, this sense of reality and the simple life of a former legend. Everyone kept talking about how awkward the milk scene was, but gosh, when I actually saw it, it was just so short! And I just thought, "Well, Luke started off with blue milk, his final film should have blue milk too, right?" But mostly I loved the mix of grounded humor and conflicted conviction that made up old Luke. I could truly buy this as the Luke of the original trilogy, whiny farmboy to Jedi hero to disillusioned old warrior. He felt authentic to me.

And Rey and Kylo Ren -- their dynamic is the core of this entire trilogy, how could a minute of it be cut? That had to stay. (Whether they are going to fall in love or not, as I discussed after watching "The Force Awakens", I don't know. Kylo is definitely obsessed with Rey. Rey doesn't seem romantically interested in anyone. The only person I saw a spark of chemistry with was Poe, but Poe has chemistry with everyone, so that doesn't really count.)

I loved it all. And I can tell the filmmakers tried very, very hard to cut it tightly together, to keep all of the really good stuff and trim every bit of excess fat that they could. Unfortunate, for several scenes could have used just a little more time to breathe, to let us reflect...yet the running time couldn't spare it. Those seconds add up.

So it's not a perfect script, which means it can't be a perfect movie, right? And yet, I think "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" is the perfect film for this slot in the saga. It says, subtextually and blatantly, "the myth is gone. The heroes you adored are just people, and they are gone too. But that's okay. There are more people coming, out of which new myths are being born...and you already love them too. Trust us, and keep watching."

Some Star Wars movies, like "A New Hope" and "The Force Awakens" are funny and entertaining and make us believe we can do great things while laughing through them. Other Star Wars movies, like "The Empire Strikes Back" and "The Last Jedi" subvert expectations, reveal uncomfortable truths, and make us ponder new ways of seeing the world. "The Last Jedi" may not be everyone's cup of tea, but I am personally quite happy with it as the eighth installment in the Star Wars saga.

Now here's hoping that the yet untitled Star Wars: IX strikes a good balance between the different strengths of VII and VIII and delivers the strongest film yet!

Friday, March 2, 2018

Surgery Recovery Update

I am not sure that I've ever entirely missed a whole calendar month since beginning this blog. I hope I didn't worry anyone by taking so long to post this update. I've made a few updates on instagram and Facebook, so hopefully anyone who got concerned check those out!

Only time will tell if the surgery was completely successful, but right now I can say it was dramatic. They discovered stage 3 endometriosis, which is widespread endometrial cells throughout the pelvic cavity, as well as some organ adhesion and scarring. My doctor is extremely hopeful, and I have to say, I can't remember my abdomen feeling so clear before.

I feel extremely blessed to have a great support system of family and friends supplying help and prayers during this difficult time. I know many women suffer Endometriosis and other similar conditions and lack support systems, so I don't take a single bit of this help and support for granted.

There is other health stuff going on too, so my recovery is (surprise surprise) taking quite some time.It's going well, just long.  I ended up in the ER briefly and got an infection, but that all healed up well. Mostly I'm just tired, and limited in what I can do. Even though I know this is all for the better in the long run, it is very difficult to feel even worse in the short run.

Right now I'm still extremely exhausted, and still on pain meds. I'm waiting to reopen Whimsical Kitchen and return to writing when my thinking and emotional tolerance are at a higher, clearer point.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Surgery time again

Where has January gone? One month into 2018 and life is crazy.

This week I am having laproscopic surgery for endometriosis. This is a common outpatient procedure that typically has a short recovery period. However, a) it took me 2 weeks to even begin to recover last time I had it done, b) I now have fibromyalgia, c) they may discover more and need to do a more invasive procedure which would require an overnight stay.

So basically I go to sleep and am not sure what I'm waking up to.

While I'm hopeful about possible positive outcomes, it's also a pretty emotional turn of events for me. Obviously, surgical intervention is not a hoped-for step, and particularly not when you've already had it done once.

This time around, of course, I have my amazing husband. And in addition to my own parents, I also have the support of my in-laws. Considering that my mother-in-law has already stayed with us and helped me through some significant health issues to date, I am feeling very optimistic and happy about the post-op care I'll be getting!

For those who don't know...Endometriosis is a frustrating, painful, fertility impacting gynecological disease for which there is no cure. It's not life-threatening, but it is seriously life-altering. Sometimes surgery can remove all of the endo cells, but those are the lucky women.  So, yes, this surgery, (which is only one aspect of how we are fighting this disease), is a good step, but it's not a cure. There's no guarantee of success. I have a new doctor whom I am very hopeful about--but, personally, I can't hope too much. My heart can only take so many dashed hopes.

So right now my life is a mix of frantically getting everything in order before the surgery--this all happened very fast--and trying to stay distracted, work on my book, enjoy the latest season of Victoria (oh man Jenna Coleman continues to be so perfect--a perfect actress with a PERFECT nose. Seriously. Her nose is so perfect it distracts me from the excellent acting and gorgeous dresses. Amy March would probably die of envy if she knew such a nose existed.)

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Life Changes that WORKED in 2017

Despite the fact that nothing actually *changes* other than the calendar flipping over, December 31st and January 1st have become ingrained in our culture as times of reflection and resolution. It's growing more common for bloggers to devote posts specifically to this subject. I've never particularly liked making public resolutions, especially with how my health disrupts so many plans, but I thought it would be interesting to take a look at some life changes I implemented this past year and how they benefited me. With my unique challenges, I often need unique twists on traditional life changes to make them work for me!

I also want to note - this is solely meant as an interesting post that might be inspiring or useful. Everyone has different things that work for their lives. Just because something works for me doesn't mean I expect it to work for everyone! But I wouldn't know about many of these if other people hadn't taken the time to write about them, so I'm trying to pass along the favors.

Cell Phones Off Before Bed

Sometimes I wish that I could cut social media out of my life. However, between my business demands, my deafness, and the aspects of social media that I really love, it's not going to happen. Still, we made the decision in 2017 to leave our cell phones out of the bedroom when heading to bed, and it's made a BIG difference. Instead of getting caught up in what is happening on Facebook or responding to messages or getting sucked into article after article, I can instead focus on talking to my husband (and dog, haha!) and reading. Instead of checking the cell phone compulsively every ten minutes, I can just focus on my book and settling my brain down for bed.

It's made a huge difference in my stress level, sleep quality, and communication with my family. Of course there are plenty of times when Nathan and I will be discussing something and wish we had our phones to fact check a subject, but it's not a huge issue.

Individualizing How I Bullet Journal

I don't know that my bullet journal really qualifies as a bullet journal anymore -- it has more in common with a regular planner. But I really love the format where I can make each page exactly what I want it to be, and that I can have all my important life information organized and easily searchable. I may not track all my details of every day anymore, but the main organizational functions of bullet journaling have been tremendously helpful for organizing my life in a broader sense.
My favorite brand - on sale at Half Price Books!

The Straw Challenge
This may be one of the closest things to an actual resolution that I employed this year. At some point I read some article about waste and whatever they said about straws (I can't quite remember now) really struck a chord with me. See, for the longest time I had to take a lot of powders in my drinks for my health problems, and I preferred to use a straw to stir it up rather than a spoon. This year I determined to break this habit as there was no longer a need and it had become a comfort rather than an asset. All was going well until the last month when I started drinking smoothies again. I'm one of those people that is sensitive to cold (plus, as you may know, Fibro accentuates all pain) and drinking a smoothie without a straw HURTS. So I was back to using a straw a day. Which, compared to the average American, I don't suppose is a huge deal, but I was a little miffed at myself. My resolution had been working so well! Then Christmas came, and my mother gifted me a set of reuseable straws, along with a little cleaning brush. They are kind of bulky and took a little getting used to, but now I am SO HAPPY. I have my resolution AND my straws.

(I don't know if my mother actually knew about my difficulty or if she's just a genius.)

I also switched over to cloth coffee filters, which has been fun and much less fussy than I originally anticipated.

Physical Therapy

Yeah yeah yeah, an exercise regime is the most popular new years resolution. Well, that and dieting. In my case, it wasn't so much a matter of getting fit, but of dealing with headaches. My neurologist had recommended a physical therapist two years ago, but due to one thing and another, I just didn't get into see her. This summer, one thing led to another and we finally made the appointments. It was a commitment, as I had to go in twice a week, but OH MY GOODNESS. It made such a difference for my migraines. I still have other types of migraines and headaches that really affect my life, but the physical therapy helped with the most consistent ones. It was amazing. After three months of work I've moved up from my piddly 1 lb starting weights, to 3 lbs-8 lbs (depending on the exercise). A small step for most of mankind, but a HUGE one for me!

Not all physical therapists are the same, and this one is supposedly extremely exceptional. I feel tremendously blessed to have been recommended to her.

Cardboard Box Mulch

2016 was the first year of my garden, and it was sort of a golden, new soil, new beds, weed-lite paradise. I got spoiled. Then 2017 came around and the little green barbarians started waging war on my garden.

I quickly realized that I needed a good system to keep the weeds down or the garden was not going to be worth it. I tried grass clippings, but the weeds just shot up through those. So then I tried laying down cardboard boxes first...

...oh the beauty! I still had some weeds to contend with around the edges (Creeping Charlie, ugh!), but the cardboard helped beautifully. In some places I put straw or grass clippings over the cardboard so that it looked nicer, but in other places I just left the cardboard plain to make an easy walking path that wasn't infested with...er...things that move on their own.

We have Amazon Prime and, as you may suspect after reading about my Straw Challenge, all the waste of those boxes really lays the guilt on my soul, no mater how recyclable they are. So using them as *free* garden mulch was super relieving. (I don't put waxed boxes on the garden, or that has a heavily printed exterior).

Having used some cardboard mulch last year, I knew that the cardboard under a layer of any organic matter would decompose by spring 2018. So this spring I should have some light, fluffy soil where I had cardboard and grass last year and I can rotate some things around. 

Min and Stretch Writing Goals

I don't like to churn out words simply to meet wordcount goals. Personally, I find this counterproductive to my creative process. However, in 2017 I knew I needed to make serious progress on "The Professor and the Siren" and I needed to get into a solid writing routine. With my health, I couldn't commit to always writing a certain number of days or hours a week. However, I realized that I could estimate some wordcount goals that would be achievable and inspiring without being creativity-crushers.

First of all, I figured out what a reasonable minimum wordcount would be per month. I told myself that I was going to have some hard months, but as long as I met that minimum goal (4000 words), I could feel that I was moving ahead with my book and be encouraged.

Then, I set a stretch goal for myself. I knew I would not meet that goal every month, but if I could meet or exceed it, that would be awesome. For this goal, I chose 10,000 words, since ideally I would eventually be doing this regularly and thus writing a full manuscript in a year.

This system actually worked extremely well for me. In part, I had some really good health months and that helped. I also really feel that God gave me some specific inspiration and help this year and I'm tremendously grateful for that. In the end, I added almost 90,000 words to "The Professor and the Siren", not counting what I rewrote from draft one.

My difficulty for 2018 is going to be finding a similar stride for the editing phase. I've still got the rest of Act III to write, but the majority of my work this year is going to be editing and that is a little more difficult for me to quantify in goal terms.

Downsizing the DVDs
I am almost--but not quite--done with my DVD project. I have a habit of accumulating a lot of stuff. I'm not really in any way a minimalist. (One of my main love languages is gifts!!!!). We had a huge bookshelf of DVDs and I really needed the space and the shelf for other things.

No, I didn't get rid of the DVDs. Not a minimalist, remember? But I did grit my teeth, throw out the DVD covers, and sort the DVDs into binders. We ended up with six of the black binders that you see here. And, honestly, in the end the binders cost almost as much as a new bookshelf would have. But still a lot cheaper than building a little addition onto the house! (lol). Now we have (or will, once I get the last binder done), our entire DVD collection stored in about two cubic feet of space.

Not everything I wanted to change in 2017 happened.

Lest I give you a false impression of my powers of making life changes, I want to acknowledge the things that didn't work. Quite.

I wanted to try to downsize our stuff. Throwing out the DVD cases helped. But if I'm not using something, I prefer to repurpose it rather than give it or throw it away. I have boxes (yes, plural), of clothes waiting to be altered. Still working on finding balance here.

I'm trying to buy less fabric. HAHA. No. Seriously. I'm trying to use up what I have before I buy new stuff. Of course, I still end up buying new stuff anyhow for a variety of reasons...but I am trying in a way I've never done before. (I have so much fabric. The future estate sale my kids are left with will be epic for any seamstresses...) But I'm fairly sure I still ended 2017 with more fabric than I started it with.

And let's not talk about the housekeeping stuff that just doesn't happen when I get more excited about fun new *projects*...

Plus, the plan was to get "The Professor and the Siren" draft two off to Beta Readers in January and that is NOT happening...

(I'm not depressed about any of this stuff, just being honest that I don't meet all my goals, you know?)

So. There you have it. My *trendy* 2017 life changes round-up post, that was also probably the closest I'll do to a Christmas letter this year since nothing hugely big happened this year. (Well, except for the fact that my husband co-designed the Fallout Board Game and got his name on the box for the first time!!!!!!!!)

And Mateo continues to learn the individual names for each of his toys and be an overall adorable but way-too-smart-for-his-own-good pup.