Thursday, December 6, 2018

It's All Good (Hajek Updates)

First off, if you're avoiding the subject of babies (which I understand, since six months ago even the word 'baby' might have me off in tears), tune back in next week for some posts on completely non-baby related stuff, like awesome TV shows, good books, an an interview with Corinna Turner, author of "I Am Margaret." It's going to rock! 

I wasn't sure whether to get the TV/book post up first, or the baby post, but considering that we have a lot of news on the baby front, I thought I'd get that out first and reassure everyone who hasn't heard from me in three months. Yikes!

But yes, the rest of this post is baby updates, including how mama's surviving, and whether we're expecting a boy or a girl...

Back at 18 weeks

My oh my, this autumn was difficult. Pregnancy nausea is like nothing else I've gone through. I could barely function at all until about week 17, and here at week 20 I'm still fighting major food aversions. 

I finally felt well enough to start smiling again!

The good news is that baby is growing very well! We had our 20 week scan on Tuesday and all the measurements showed baby still on the large side! Considering how hard it's been to eat anything, this is hugely encouraging for me! 

Baby is also tremendously active! I've been feeling kicks for a couple weeks now, but it was so cool for me and especially Nathan to see her in action. She didn't want to stay still for a moment, which meant we got some really great photos. 

And yes...I said 'she.' It's a girl! Presenting little Miss. Hajek...

Ultrasound technology is amazing these days. It was fascinating to see inside her brain, to see the chambers of her heart, to see her yawn...

...and to count her little toes!!!

So here we are, approximately halfway through, and looking forward eagerly to April. I've started writing a bit again, sewing a lot again, and even managing a little food prep. Nathan is finishing off our basement at long last, and his mother has been up with us quite a bit to help out -- I don't know how we would have survived without her.

The last 18 weeks have been tremendously difficult physically, so I am terribly thankful to finally have some relief so I can have the energy and headspace to enjoy this amazing blessing we've been given. I don't take a bit of it for granted and I am so immensely grateful to have this little girl in our life.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

The Other Alcott -- by Elise Hooper

Amy March, the spoiled, vain youngest sister who steals Jo's European trip and ends up with Laurie. What if that was your legacy to the world?

Or so the general public thinks today.

Like a good many readers of "Little Women," I never gave much thought to the real figure behind Amy March. That is, I knew May Alcott was a real person who provided some inspiration for Amy, but no one wrote much about her. It was much easier to learn about Louisa and her rather unusual parents than any of the sisters.

And I did know something about the Alcotts, after all I wrote and directed a 50 minute student adaptation of "Little Women" in my late teens, the premiere of which coincided with my college course on American Literature. "Little Women" still might never rank as one of my top ten favorite novels, but I know the story and the characters very well. Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy came alive for me in a very tangible way while making that film (I played Meg), and I've continued to analyse and ponder these sisters with each new film adaptation I've been able to see.

But when I picked up Elise Hooper's engaging, well-researched novel, I was abashed to quickly discover that I knew almost nothing about May Alcott, and nearly all my assumptions were wrong.

The premise of the novel is the first sentence of this blog post--what would it be like to know that your sister portrayed you in such a fashion to the entire world? What would it be like to have everyone, as soon as they heard the name "Alcott", ask you how much of it was real, and assume that you were indeed vain and spoiled? 

May had the real gumption of the Alcotts, and determined not to let her sister's fame and public judgement overshadow her life. While early reviews praised the writing of "Little Women," they were harsh on the illustrations that May contributed to the publication. Rather than let this defeat her, May decided to seriously pursue a career as a professional artist. Unlike her fictional counterpart, she left behind a future as a society wife and chose long hours of study under drawing masters rather than a cushy engagement. It would take many years of hard work and perseverance, but eventually she would craft a legacy of her own...but would that legacy be at the expense of her relationship with her sister Louisa? You'll have to read the novel to find out!

Elise Hooper does a wonderful job of bringing Alcott's world to life. She understands how to tell an engaging story in a historical setting, paying respect to real historical figures while crafting an emotional narrative. There is a long historical note at the back of the book that goes into great detail regarding the true facts behind the story.

But the best part of the book for me is how Hooper brings the world of art study alive. I know something of art myself, both from personal study and from living with an art major. I was impressed with the accuracy and depth Hooper brought to her descriptions of artistic work. Although my own art background no doubt enriched my reading, I think it would be clear and appealing to readers of any level of artistic understanding, including novices.

My only qualm would be a slight regret that the book starts post "Little Women" publication and gives very little insight into the earlier years of the Alcott family. Bronson Alcott, the patriarch, was a transcendentalist who did not believe in accepting financial remuneration for work. At one point he founded a commune that the family lived on, and later they survived only due to the patronage of admirers. Alcott family friends included Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, figures who impacted Louisa's later writing.

Indeed, this backstory is so intriguing that it would (and has) quite overwhelm May's own story, so I understand why Hooper chose to start at a later point in the timeline. However, I feel that some understanding of the Alcott family history is an important preamble to this novel, so I highly recommend at least skimming Bronson Alcott's Wikipedia page before picking up "The Other Alcott."

It's not often that I find such a great work of historical fiction that is well-written, fairly accurate, and reasonably clean. Late in the book there are a few mildly sensual scenes, but nothing too risque.

This is a perfect read to cozy up with as we head into chilly autumn. I highly recommend all fans of historical fiction, art, and/or "Little Women" go and pick up a copy today!

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The Big Vacation Surprise

In my last post, I wrote up some reflections about my first fibromyalgia vacation. What I didn't mention, because we weren't ready to announce it, is that there was another complication I was dealing with unawares.


What I thought was just lack of hydration and vacation fatigue turned out to be the first calls for attention from our little baby, whose presence was only discovered on the last day of the vacation when we finally finally got that long awaited positive test. After so much anguish and waiting, it was beyond amazing to not only have such wonderful news, but to deliver it immediately, in person, to my parents and grandparents.

It had been my dream all year that I would be able to give my grandparents the 60th anniversary gift of their first great-grandchild. But given all the holidays and cycles that had come and gone already, I really did not think it would actually happen. So getting that test on the very last day of the celebration was absolutely shocking for me.

I still can't believe that something so beautiful actually happened.

We are currently eight weeks along, due in April, and everything is looking very good for baby. We got to see the heartbeat last week at the first ultrasound, and baby is measuring slightly ahead of schedule.

Mama is not doing so well, as I'm suffering under such extreme nausea that my mother-in-law has come up to stay with us because I pretty much can't do anything--I haven't even been posting on social media. (And yes, I've been trying a ridiculous number of remedies and almost none of them give even a hint of relief. It's unreal.) I've gone through some pretty bad nausea in my life, but it's been nothing compared to this. Food is just gross. This is definitely one of the hardest things I've gone through in my health journey, but it's a really good sign for baby, and a constant reminder that I am, most definitely, pregnant. Since we are not yet out of the first trimester, it can still be a time of anxiety, but most days I'm way too sick to have time to worry, and if I do worry, I know my extreme sickness is a very good sign for a healthy pregnancy.

The night before I got that positive test was one of the lowest points for me of our entire fertility journey. I didn't know how I'd have the strength to keep on trying. Infertility is utterly horrible and the emotional pain and strain is utterly exhausting. I still can't fully believe that our miracle has happened, that the morning after such a terrible night brought such a radical difference to everything.

In my first post about infertility, I talked about wanting God's timing more than anything. I suspect that we will see more about timing throughout this baby's life. But even in the four weeks that we've been aware of his/her existence, I've had so many reasons to see why this is the perfect time for this child to be coming.

God is Hope.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Vacationing with Fibromyalgia

In my youth I was downright spoiled in the vacations I got to take. None of them were excessive, but there were some really special, beautiful places that I got to visit and stay at throughout my life. Although I wasn't capable of fully appreciating them at the time, I treasure the memories deeply. Especially since now, with my fibromyalgia and other chronic health issues, traveling and finances are both severely limited. I cannot fly on a plane at all. (I can't fly with wings or telekinesis or a Tardis either, alas). Any car ride longer than about 45 mins takes several hours of recuperation time, and that's only if I have a suitable place to rest and the right support.

So when my grandparents decided to take the family on a vacation to celebrate their 60th anniversary, I knew the 2+ hour drive was going to be a major hurdle. Still, I really really wanted to make it work. They'd taken us to this same resort ten years ago for their fiftieth, and it was just the loveliest time. I'd so enjoyed being with family at that beautiful place and I both wanted to experience it again and share it with Nathan.

We discussed a lot of factors, and my grandparents worked hard to make sure that there would be a good room for us, and that we could bring Mateo along. These factors really lowered my stress levels, which made a big difference in how my body handled the weekend. The drive was rough, but I did manage to recover from it without major blowback. The only major problem I seemed to have up there was allergies, and those are the simplest issues for me to fix. Managing the big resort while still in a boot for my hairline fracture was tough, but between my husband wheeling me around in a wheelchair and the use of a golf cart, we did okay. I even managed to go swimming in a pool for the first time in years! (Which felt GREAT for my fibro, even if the chlorine was a bit irritating.)

But the best part was being with my family. I've had to miss SO many gatherings over the years and it was just truly a blessing to be able to make this reunion.

I don't know for sure all the factors that made this visit work, because we could probably repeat them at another point in time and have just a tiny fluctuation in my health upset anything. So I am tremendously grateful that this vacation did turn out wonderfully for us. (Ironically, it was my husband who came home with a bad sickness! Amazingly, I didn't catch his bug at all!)

Some Suggestions for Fibromyalgia Travel:

  • Know your limits and stick to them. 
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Make sure you can travel in a way that allows you to bring your WHOLE survival pack. Pillow, meds, vitamins, any air or water filters, etc. The more you can bring, the more your body will be supported and your vacation will truly be a time of rest. Check an extra bag if you have to. The fees will be worth it if you can support your body and not feel rotten a huge chunk of your vacation.
  • Don't cheat on your diet. If you have food allergies or sensitivities, vacation is NOT the time to relax vigilance. On the contrary, the stress of travel and new surroundings can make reactions or flare-ups worse. Do the work in advance to make sure you'll have yummy food you can eat so that you won't be tempted by what everyone else is indulging in. Even if this means checking a second suitcase full of goodies, or taking an extra hour to stop at a grocery store and stock up. Access to a fridge and microwave can be extremely helpful for this. 
  • Take rests. It's hard when everyone else is having a good time (especially if you are at all extroverted), but sleeping in a strange bed makes for a more difficult night, so take a nap if you can, or at least a reading break in a quiet, non-stimulating room. And try to get a situation where you can sleep as long as you need to, when you need to, without interruptions by roomies. 
  • Pack a wide range of clothes. It's always tempting to be practical and pack light, but you'll have more stimulus affecting your body in addition to new temperatures and humidity levels. Include your most comfy pieces that you are okay being photographed in. 
  • Don't overdo the new experiences, and don't pack your schedule too full. It is very tempting to want to do everything, but accepting your limitations from the get-go will help you fully appreciate the parts you do get to enjoy. 
  • If you can, try to fully explain your limitations and how it will affect your vacation to those who may be impacted by them, either emotionally or in scheduling matters. This will lower the stress of fulfilling expectations on both sides. 
  • Take the time before your trip to remind yourself and any close travel partners of your usual triggers. For example, I know that bright sun and rocking waves majorly upset my system. So as much as I wanted to go for a boat ride, I stayed prudent and avoided headache risks. 
  • Plan the trip duration around your health. Maybe you know you can only handle a few days, so you go for a shorter period of time than the rest of your group. Maybe you can only handle a few hours in a car at a time, so you break up your drive with an overnight stay or a nice long rest, walk or swim at a park on the way. If you are flying, look into VIP amenities, as some airlines offer lounges that may provide more rest on a long layover. 
Summing Up

Living with chronic illness is hard. Missing out on things is hard. Feeling trapped in your house and unable to get a break from daily life is all really hard. But when you do get to participate and experience and enjoy--well that is truly amazing. I savor every moment of it, all of which means so much more to me than it ever did before.

It's easy for my life to seem very small, but I work to chose to see it as full. To see and savor and express gratitude for every little piece. It helps so much.

This doesn't mean that I never feel sadness or anger or frustration, but it keeps those moments isolated. And when I do get to do something big or exciting, it becomes nearly overwhelming (in a good way, most of the time!).

And trips are probably always going to be more difficult for me, and won't happen very often, but there are ways to make some trips possible now, and maybe there will be even more going forward as we continue my healing process. After all, two years ago this reunion never would have been possible for me!

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

You won’t live forever, so write your novel today.

Novelists, I have a proposition. It’s time to write your book.
Something that someone said to me recently made me think about the limited time I have here on earth. I’m just brushing up on 30. I may get one more day of life, or I may get sixty. Who knows! But whatever my lifespan is, it is limited. There is a finite number of books I will be able to write! This is both terrifying and thrilling. I have a ton of stories I want to share with the world...and the only thing really holding me back is...ME!
We authors are quite often procrastinators. And why wouldn’t we be? Writing is hard. There is always something simpler to do that is either more fun or pays more bills.
And yet we’re not going to live forever (unless you’re secretly an Elf and totally holding out on me). Did you know that you can easily write the first draft of a novel in one year? 10,000 words a month (that’s 500 a day on a normal workweek schedule) will get you to 120,000 in a year, which is a good length for a fantasy novel and too long for just about any other genre—which means you can take some vacation days and still hit that deadline. Or write 20,000 words a month for five or six months, spend another six or seven months editing, and maybe take off December to give your brain a break.
Think about that. Each year that novel doesn’t get written is a year that one of your stories hasn’t been told. Sure, you may eventually get this novel written, but what about the five, ten, or fifteen other novels you could have written in the years that you haven’t been making your writing a top priority.
Now, I’m not unsympathetic. Life happens! Some years you just can’t write very much. There are births, deaths, crazy work deadlines, relationship crisis’s, etc. When there’s a really big thing going on, cut yourself some slack. But otherwise? If you want to be a published novelist, then write.

I really struggled the year I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. Fibro fog made writing hard, let alone the editing that I needed to do for "The Mermaid and the Unicorn." But I keep praying and persevering and guess what? Eight months after I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, my first novel was published.

(This was the same year we bought our first house, I started my first garden, and we adopted a puppy. Also publishing a book should NOT have been possible. But before you think I'm Wonder Woman... I have to give a lot of credit to God because each of those things came about from his direct intervention in our lives.)
You want to know something encouraging? Writing is like a muscle: the more you write, the faster you get! So maybe at first it takes you three hours to crank out 1000 words. That’s a lot of time! But keep doing it, and eventually you’ll get that number way down. Maybe you’ll find you can write 1000 words twice a week, or maybe you write 500 words a day, four days a week, or maybe you just carve out a four-hour marathon time each week and pound out 2000 words. Any one of those schedules will get you 8000 words a month, which is still right on track to get a first draft done in a year (unless you’re doing a REALLY epic fantasy book…but honestly, for a first time author, you probably shouldn’t shoot for anything over 115,000, even in the fantasy genre).

Does wordcount scare you? Then ignore that. Set a timer and write for at least 20 minutes a day. Some days, the writing juices will flow, and you’ll churn out more than 20 minutes. Other days? If you’re still stuck at minute 20, move on. You’ve only spent 20 minutes of your day on this, and most of us probably spend three times that on social media. Maybe you don’t get the first draft done in quite one year, but you ought to have it knocked out in two, no biggie.

Can't cope with numbers? I have a friend who would just use an hourglass. If he got distracted while writing, he had to flip the hourglass over and keep writing until the sand ran out. You could also use background music (write through a playlist), or a fun treat (write until your triple chocolate frappe is gone--or your pot of Earl Gray if you want to avoid diabetes), or even just a bottle of water. I used #hydrateandwrite as my own personal writing challange for one week this summer when I realized I needed both more water and more writing motivation.
If you implement any of these things and build up your writing muscles this year, then next year you’ll probably be able to write more, faster! This will free up time for editing that first draft even while you’re writing the first draft of your next book!
“But WAIT,” you say. “I hit a MAJOR PLOT PROBLEM IN MY BOOK. I can’t keep writing!” Fair enough! Take some time away, stew over it, but don’t stop writing! Pull out another story idea and work on that. Every now and then you might end up with a partial draft that you really cannot figure out how to finish; keep going back and reading them when you’re in a lull space, and you’ll probably find that with time, many problems find solutions, just from having further life and writing experience.

Also, it’s okay if your first novel, or even your second one, doesn’t get published. This is not uncommon, and it’s not wasted time. Consider the first full length novel you write to be your master-course in novel-writing, the final step before going on to the real thing.

Now is the day, now is the hour. Seize it. Tell us your story. And then the next one.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Weddings and Fractures oh dear...

 Four years after my own wedding, both of my siblings decided to get married within three months of each other. Wedding #1 was little sister, and it went off beautifully. All prairie flowers and light and joy and love.

I'm absolutely beyond thrilled for my sister. She's marrying a wonderful guy who comes from a great family and we can just so clearly see God's handiwork over everything. It's amazing.

(I'm far less thrilled about the fact that his job is taking them to the other side of the country, but it's for very good reasons.)

I want to protect her privacy so I'm not sharing a ton of photos in public spheres, but I did want to show off this lovely bit of art she designed for the top of the wedding program.

That was basically the aesthetic of the whole wedding and it was just great.

Also, my sister surprised me with a really special memory. Those of you on Instagram and Facebook have already heard about it, but just in case there are any Fairy Tale Novel Fans not following me on those platforms, I'll reshare it here...

Original Post here. 

Now sadly, all that lovely dancing led to the worsening of some foot pain I'd been struggling with for the previous week. I ended up on crutches the day after the wedding, and by Friday was diagnosed with a hairline stress fracture, outfitted with an Ironman boot, and told strictly to STAY OFF IT.

I've never had any sort of injury like this before. There's been a time or two when I've bumped a toe or a pinky and needed to be careful for a few days, but I've never needed x-rays and never had a diagnosed fracture of any kind. Ahhhhhh!!!!

I'm doing okay. With Fibro I'm pretty used to pain, and my mother-in-law came up to help out so that I can actually take it easy. And I've been loaned a bunch of different devices made for making life easier when one foot is out of commission, so I am nicely set.

Also, I decided it was time to reread all of my Agatha Christies AND expand my collection, so I've got plenty of reading material! Although I'm sharing a photo of the cool cover of "The Seven Dials Mystery" I've actually most recently enjoyed "Crooked House" (for which we also checked out the film on Amazon Prime - worth seeing!), and "Sleeping Murder." I love Miss Marple. I also love Tommy and Tuppence ("Secret Adversary" is another of my favorites!). I'm really not so keen on Poirot at ALL.

Also I have been aggressively persistent in my writing schedule. Meaning I've been focusing on novels rather than blogging. Unfortunate for the blog, but really good for you novel readers! I knocked out 50k in 10 weeks, which is definitely not NaNo speed, but still pretty significant for me. We'll see how long I can keep it up.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

Like the works of Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, "Murder on the Orient Express" is destined to be re-imagined by every new generation of filmmakers for centuries to come. Each interpretation will bring its own stamp of individuality to the project, as seen through the lens of the current culture. Whether an individual remake will survive the test of time remains to be seen, however, as long as it stays true to the timeless story, it should do well.

(This review is spoiler free. If you have not seen the film or read the book you may still safely proceed.)
20th Century Fox

The story's greatest strength is also its greatest weakness--the sheer size of the cast, each character of which matters intensely in the narrative tapestry. The twist hinges on the numbers, which means that a faithful adaptation cannot eliminate anyone from the cast, even though they can make changes to character specifics. The easiest way to solve the problem is also the most delightful--and the most lucrative: cast a name brand actor in every role.

The 1974 version of the film featured names that are still remembered greats today, including Lauren Bacall, Sean Connery, Vanessa Redgrave and Ingrid Bergman. The 2018 cast is no less stunning, and even if our grandchildren won't recognize every name the way we do, they will still know a decent number (if only because Disney will market their properties to infinity and beyond.) Yet each actor on this list earns their place, imbuing each character with distinction and pathos worthy of remembrance. Michelle Pfeiffer, in particular, delivers a pitch-perfect performance.

Kenneth Branagh's Poirot, although grayer and thinner than typically imagined, is also well done. However Branagh deserves double kudos, as he not only delivers a good Poirot, but also a beautiful film, both visually and emotionally. Nearly every frame of the film looks like a portrait, and every possible angle of the train is utilized to support the narrative in a way that is interesting but not distracting. Without giving away the twist (for those of you who, like my husband, have not yet been spoiled), I will say that the ending lands soberly, leaving one with a great feeling on contemplation and reflection. Like Poirot, we don't feel we can judge, and yet it is an ending one cannot help needing to analyze.

Cultural lens is a phrase I used earlier, and I will say it is clear that this is a film of the present times. The film, like adaptations before it, must set up Poirot's genius for those who are not coming off of Christie's previous novels starring this detective. Michael Green, the screenwriter, chooses to set Poirot's entrance in Jerusalem, 1934, with a crime centered around a priest, a rabbi, and an iman. Poirot solves the puzzle with careful aplomb, and so does the rest of the film weave a diverse cast into the narrative without upsetting the historical accuracy of the period.

For those of you who have read the book, yes, there are a few changes to character backstories in a few places, and a few switches of motivations. Yet, going into this film as someone who knows the story very well, I felt each substitution was faithful to the intent of the original, while serving a more accessible purpose to modern film-goers. And, in a couple of cases, the motivations were actually nicely deepened.

We live in a culture that has put every possible twist on murder shows, setting them against every possible backdrop in every possible drama. While "Murder on the Orient Express" features a fantastic reveal, it nonetheless features an ending that brings us back to the sober truth--Murder is evil, and it ruins every life it touches. Justice may not bring peace, or closure, but it does make the world a safer place.

Whether you know nothing about Agatha Christie, or whether you have every one of her books on your shelf, if you love a good mystery, you need to check out this adaptation of "Murder on the Orient Express." And while I'll always encourage you to read the original book, this film is definitely a worthy way to experience the tale.