Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Brightly Burning (or Jane Eyre in Space)

I recently ordered a bunch of books from the library that were supposed to appeal to the same crowd as Marissa Meyer's "Cinder." The first three or so I read were...okay. A couple were depressing. One ("Stitching Snow") was actually pretty good but I'd recommend only with caveats for those who have abuse trauma. And at last, "Brightly Burning" by Alexa Donne was FANTASTIC.

Honestly? I put off reading "Brightly Burning" toward the end because the premise, "Jane Eyre in Outer Space as YA" sounded like a recipe for a terrible mash-up. I've read so many Jane Austen redos that were so disappointing. And YA? I'm so tired of YA cliches...

BUT.

SURPRISE.

"Brightly Burning" is really good. Not just as a retelling, but as a stand alone book. I would have enjoyed Stella Ainsley, her world, her friends, and her adventure on their own. Stella is a refreshing change from the typical YA heroine, and the cast of characters are an engaging bunch.

However, as a retelling of a beloved classic, "Brightly Burning" is stellar (pun intended!). It took all the best parts of Charlotte Bronte's classic, mixed them up, added a few twists and turns, and presented them as a brand new story. Stella is a pitch perfect Jane, and Hugo Fairfax is a surprisingly well done Rochester. And I really, really did not think that a 19-year-old guy in a YA novel could possibly compare to the original Rochester...but he actually does. And yes, the book is appropriate for a YA audience. The changes that Donne made to transition her characters work well, staying true to the spirit of the original while adjusting to accommodate a younger hero.

Perhaps most delightful of all is that this book holds plenty of surprises even for old fans of Jane Eyre. Even though I was able to quickly guess the biggest change, I could not anticipate how everything was going to roll out and was genuinely on the edge of my seat and unable to put the book down!

Thursday, August 29, 2019

How's Mom? A four-month update

My daughter was four months old yesterday, which means this blog is WAY overdue for an update! Since we want to respect our daughter's privacy, this post will focus largely on myself and how I've made the transition to motherhood. However I can share that Katie is very healthy, VERY strong, meeting all her milestones, and charming us every day with her easy temperament and infectious laughter.
As for Mama? I'm doing really good. Not perfect--the headaches I've struggled with for years are back, but right now they seem easier to tame than previously. I can't remember the last time I was in the ER with a migraine. Yet despite having about two difficult headaches a month, my post-pregnancy life has been an improvement in life.

My pregnancy was difficult. Crippling morning sickness for the first half, then extreme fatigue and a VERY low baby made for reduced mobility and high discomfort for the second half, not to mention the month of prodromal labor (while my baby's position was +1! That's VERY low, most babies don't get that low until active labor!)

Postpartum recovery, on the other hand, has been really good. My body is really enjoying the hormones of breastfeeding, and that coupled with a great new chiropractor has resulted in a reduction in my shoulder and head pain. Good nutrition care from my naturopath, good support from my family, enough sleep, and I've been blessed to be able to fully enjoy my baby.

Make no mistake, this would not be the case without my support team. My health issues mean I do not sleep efficiently, and my deafness means that I can't hear Katie when I'm asleep, so my body has so far refused to relax enough to let me sleep when I'm home alone (and yes, we've looked into/tried/eliminated many helpful ideas). My family has arranged for a superb level of accommodation and assistance , and I'm forever indebted to them. They allow me to feel like a super mom!

Going into motherhood, I set my expectations for breastfeeding very low. I knew that this could be the hardest part for sufferers of fibromyalgia pain, and I was prepared to be okay if my body gave out after a month. It definitely was difficult on my body to get through the first month when baby and I were learning everything. However I am super thrilled (and feel tremendously blessed) to mark four months of exclusive breastfeeding as of today! After a lifetime of feeling like my body just was not up to the mark, I am astounded and grateful to have had excellent supply, neither over nor under. Lots of thanks to Mother's Milk tea, lots of oatmeal, and a husband who learned quicker than I did how to execute a perfect latch and became my personal lactation coach those first few weeks. (An involved and educated dad can be SUCH a help!)

We also discovered pretty quickly that doing some pumping was a great stress-buster, as it allows me to sleep through a feeding and lets other family members have a turn bonding during feedings. This isn't a good option for babies who won't take a bottle or suffer from nipple confusion, but somehow we introduced it well enough at the right time and had the right baby and it all worked out.

There have been hiccups, of course, mainly sleeping, colic and allergen issues, but after some trial and error and seeking expert advice we have ironed those out and it makes a huge difference for baby. I cannot recommend highly enough being aware of the effects of food allergies, trying elimination diets, and learning what acid reflux in babies looks like (and how to manage it). Now we're entering the world of nap schedules and teething and a baby who is starting to get mobile...wheeeeee!

Now past the first three months, I'm in the next phase, which is integrating regular life with baby life. I'm learning to balance that desire to do nothing but play with my baby all day with things I need to do for my home, my work, and myself. I'm working on finishing the home organization that a March flood and a month of crippling prodromal labor interrupted. Cooking is happening (I even made a beet and potato pie with a phenomenal new gluten free pastry crust recipe I found), and I'm managing a very low maintenance garden this year. I'm finding times to do some sewing and, yes, even some editing on "The Professor and the Siren." Writing is the most difficult part of all this, because Baby Brain/Mom Brain is real and I'm struggling to hold all the threads of the story in my head at once.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

The Other Part of Katie's Name Story

I can't believe I forgot the best part of Katie's name story!!!

So when I was a little girl, my dad gave me a baby doll when my baby brother was born. I loooooved that doll. And her name was Katie.

Where the name Katie came from, I have no clue. There was a neighbor girl named Catherine, but we moved next door right about when I got the doll and as far as I know, Catherine was never called Katie and I never associated the two names until I got a lot older.

I do know that I was obsessed with the name for awhile. In fact, when my best friend got a little sister, I really wanted the sister to be named Katie, and I cried when she was named Abby instead. (Sorry, all bearers of the name Abby. I was 3. I also cried when I was given a doll wearing purple instead of pink. Nowadays, my current novel stars heroines named Kate AND Abbey...Obviously things have changed.)

About three years later we DID get neighbors that named their baby Katie, and this time around I was upset because that was MY special name. Oh, Elizabeth...

Anyhow, a few months ago I was digging through my keep-forever box and I found my Katie doll!!! I brought her up to the nursery, knowing that there was a really good chance I was about to finally get a real live baby Katie... and I DID!

My Katies

So, yes, I've loved the name Katie for a long time, even though I actually forgot about the doll for awhile!

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Presenting Miss Katherine Hosanna


Katherine Hosanna
Born 4/28/19
8 lbs 6 oz
21 inches long

15 hour labor (after 4 weeks of prodromal labor)
Natural labor and delivery at birth center
Labor was rough, but there were no complications and I'm recovering well. I had excellent support from my husband, mother, doula, and team of midwives.

Katie had some trouble getting enough oxygen after she was born, so she was taken by ambulance (to receive continuous oxygen) to the NICU for observation and continued oxygen. It was nervewracking and stressful, but within two days everything was stabilized, and after four days we were cleared to take her home. 

Despite the disruptions of NICU living, we utilized the lactation help available there and established solid breastfeeding. We also jumped right into cloth diapering and elimination communication as soon as we got home. 

Although very tired, we are very thankful for our miracle. 

"They call me Katherine that do speak of me..." 
Very early on in our relationship, Nathan and I discussed how many kids we each wanted and shared some names we liked. Although we vetoed a LOT of each other's names, we discovered that "Katherine" was a top girl's name for us both. We liked the many nicknames available (Katie is what we are using right now, also Katie Anna, and maybe someday Kate. But not Kathy.) and I also liked the connections to English history, Jane Austen, X-Men, and just generally the awesomeness of heroines named "Kate." 

Hosanna came along much later in the game. We discussed a few geeky options, but we pretty overwhelmingly felt that we wanted her middle name to have a meaning relevant to our faith. God's plan for our lives and the existence of this little girl has been so clear to us, and we wanted her name to reflect our joy and thankfulness. Anna is also a family name, so we liked the nod to that within the larger context of Hosanna. How I actually hit upon the name Hosanna I can't quite remember, but Nathan and I both liked it quite a lot once it was in our minds. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Due Dates, Prodromal Labor, and Expectations

Where is baby? Her due date is tomorrow!

Still hiding out!

(I swear, I start mentally composing blog posts about non-baby topics, but never have the energy to actually type them up. So here's a baby update for the curious, and for the non-baby-interested crowd...thanks for your patience. Go check out the new Padme Amidala book "Queen's Shadow" by E.K. Johnston. Slow start, but awesome read for anyone who wants a story about Leia's mom without any Anakin in it. It's the novel I waited 20 years for, and worth the wait.)

We've been going through something called Prodromal labor, which seems to have a few different definitions depending on whom you talk to. Basically I've been having real contractions for the past three weeks, but they never get close enough together for long enough to turn into active labor. I'll have the daytime hours where I'm achey and crampy and sore with plenty of braxton hicks, but not really contracting , and then at night it'll get painful and intense and close to the real thing and I'll wonder "should I wake up Nathan and start timing them..."

...aaaaaand then they stop.

Yes, things like "spinning babies" and "red raspberry leaf tea" and "chiropractic adjustment" and "acupuncture/acupressure" have all been part of our common vocabulary and toolkit...but baby's not ready yet.

Every day things change a little bit and I can tell that we are getting a little closer to the real thing...but not there yet. (Midwife told me that baby was so low that most women have already gone into labor at this point. HAHA.)

Everyone keeps saying that maybe all this progress will make for a quicker labor, which is very possible, but I'm trying not to dwell too much on that because then I have visions of not making it to the birth center on time!!! (Not really a realistic fear, since this is my first baby, but I have a vivid imagination. That's part of being an author!)

The psychological drain is the most difficult. It's been a real lesson in patience (again!) and trust as I try to remain at peace with God's timing and accept that my body is going to keep doing this and I just have to work through it and believe that at some point this child WILL actually emerge.

(I mean, everyone is promising me that. They'd better be right.)

On the plus side, I FINALLY gained some decent weight. The first half of pregnancy was so difficult with the nausea that I only lost weight, and it was really hard to gain anything even after the nausea went away. Everyone would say "you look so cute!" and I'd just think "if I wasn't pregnant, I'd look like a starving woman, SERIOUSLY." Thankfully my nutritionist was very confident that baby was getting what she needed, and everything medically backed that up, so I was never too stressed about it, but honestly I was at a point where I almost cried from happiness when someone actually said "you are so BIG" because I needed that validation at that point!!!

Also, huzzah, Minnesota finally embraced spring. About four days ago we actually got green grass. I can go outside and not freeze!!! And on the days it rains I try to go shopping or something so I can keep moving. Baby's movements hurt me these days, but she doesn't move when I'm moving, so that's something!!!

Mateo has been on high alert since the prodromal labor started. Seriously, the days I'm the worst off he is the sweetest, and will just lay around watching me anxiously.

Nathan manages to maintain an extraordinary level of energy and cheerfulness, which is extra laudatory considering that he just saw the release of his first game as lead designer (FFG's "The Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle Earth") and is also seeing a period of high activity on the next project.

Tomorrow is my due date. I can't believe it. It seems like it's taken a lifetime to get here. Which I suppose it HAS...my baby's lifetime! ;) I was SO SURE that this child was coming early that I don't know quite how to wrap my mind around her being late. She certainly could still come sometime before midnight tomorrow (pleasepleaseplease), but at this point I'm not predicting anything. I was sure she was going to be skinny too and now I feel her solid little limbs moving and realize I could have quite a chunky little lass and WOW. Now I should explain, all of my other predictions/suspicions about this baby have been correct during this pregnancy. So while it may sound so silly to be thrown by these two things not manifesting the way I imagined, I have had a perfect track record until now so I feel like I did have good evidence to back myself up! Although the coming early thing really COULD have just been wishful thinking. Most moms are more than ready to be done being pregnant by the time they hit their due date.

(I'm giving birth at a freestanding birth center with midwives, and can deliver there until 42 weeks. There won't be any induction at the center unless the increased monitoring indicates a medical need to move things along.)

Readers, I would apologize for the high number of ALL CAPS in this post, but, really, this is about capturing an emotional picture, not writing a scholarly article. Those of you who have had children may comiserate, and those who haven't may find it useful for future reference (either in life or art!).

PROBABLY, HOPEFULLY, my next post will be introducing baby. But alas, it could totally be another two weeks of waiting and maybe I'll get some energy/inspiration to write about something else...

Thursday, March 14, 2019

What's in a Name?

I've been thinking a lot about names lately. Big surprise, right? It's a common pastime for most parents-to-be. And now at the end of the third trimester (I'm due in 6 weeks!), we get two questions over and over again.

#1. Do you know if it's a boy or girl?
A: Girl!

#2. Do you have a name picked out?
A: We have some top contenders, but we are not deciding until we see the baby. We're keeping those options secret for now (although we did give each of the four grandparents a chance to tell us any names they would really hate their grandchild to have, which bright forth some hilarious results).

But it's more than the baby fever. Names are big business in the Hajek household. I'm a writer, he's a game designer. Picking the perfect name for our characters is a key component of our jobs. Not to mention all the characters we name on the fly in our RPG games... *

*Nathan likes to spell names weird.** It drives me crazy. I could never remember the weird names he picked out for our Star Wars RPG. And our team tended to care the most about the characters with the most familiar names. So I finally got to the point--after several years and dozens of NPCs--where I asked Nathan to just give the NPC's (non-player-characters) ordinary English names. "We'll KNOW they really have some weird space name. This is just what we call them so we can remember them." 

**I can say with about 98% certainty that our daughter's name will have a normal spelling.

Names are important. They convey a lot about a person/character. I work really hard to come up with the perfect name for each character in my book. I'm very happy with "Daphne" as the heroine of "The Mermaid and the Unicorn," and I love "Justin" and "Ruth" as the protagonists as the next book. These names all came pretty easily to me as well. On the flip side, however, I wrote the first half of a first draft of a novel last summer and I'm still not sure about the correct name for my heroine. Even though I'm taking a breather on that project for right now, it still bugs me that I don't know what her name actually is. Oh well. Another summer, another contemplation of names.

Anyhow. Nathan and I both have strong feelings about names. Unfortunately, we've both vetoed some of each other's longtime favorite names. Eeek. So while you'd think we'd be really good at naming this baby, the truth is we've been working on the name for six years and while we've got some good choices, I really am not sure at all what our daughter is going to end up getting titled. I wanted to start talking names the moment we got the positive test, but Nathan wouldn't seriously discuss anything until we had the 20-week-ultrasound with gender reveal, and he's been firm about deciding on a name ahead of time. Which, to be very honest, is something of a relief for me. Deep down, I don't want to even whisper a name to anyone but Nathan right now. I don't want to be at all locked in until I see her face.

I want to like my daughter's name. I want my husband to like it. I want it to fit her. And I want her to like it. I adore my own name and just hope we can do as well naming our little girl as my parents did naming me.

But I do believe the perfect name will come at the right time. We did, after all, pick a name for our dog that we still love to this day--and ended up having a perfect meaning that we didn't plan on. ("Mateo Raphael" means, roughly,  "God's Gift of Healing"). If God can lead us that well with our dog, I'm pretty sure it'll all work out well for our daughter too. Just a little more pressure!

Right now our nieces and our moms have come up with nicknames that combine into "Princess Raspberry Spitfire." I like that a lot as a pre-birth nickname. We called her Nisswa before we knew she was a girl, cuz we were in Nisswa, MN when we got the positive test. Nowadays I call her "Sweet Pea" a lot. Or, "YOU. Don't get any ideas!" ;)

(And yes, we do have some boy names in mind as back-up, even though we are 99.99% sure we will not need them).

While I can't give you any hints as to what we are thinking about, I CAN tell you this: when we officially name our daughter, I'll be sharing exactly why we picked the names. Because, as you can tell, names mean a lot to me, and I love hearing the stories behind them.





Monday, February 18, 2019

How I'm Surprised by Turning 30

I'm turning 30 this week and it is unexpectedly emotional.

Not that I consider "30" old. I don't like categorizing any age as "old." God created every stage of life with a purpose. Each new year brings new experiences of life, which should ideally bring maturity and a greater ability to live at ease with who one is.

Good mindset, right? Except I'm finding there are still a lot of emotions involved with a big benchmark year that I have to process. It's taken me by surprise because I've really achieved so much at this point in my life. I've told myself for years that I wasn't going to make a big deal about turning 30. I don't have 'regrets' about my 20's, but I do feel nostalgic. The 20's are the years I learned who I am, when I met some really big goals, when I made some really special friendships, when I found and married my husband, when I got my first house, when I started my costuming business, and when I published my first book.

My 20's were also incredibly hard. Heartbreak, health issues, financial strain, spiritual searching and growth, relationships changing, infertility, closing down my costume business, and losing some big dreams that not only didn't happen, but which I have come to accept are unlikely to happen anytime soon.

Turning 30. This is the year I get to see my daughter's face. I'm 30 weeks pregnant now. Just about two months to go. I'm so excited, and yet every day there is a new reminder that my 30's are going to look entirely different than my 20's. Motherhood is coming, and while I am beyond thrilled, excited, and at peace about it, it is still a big change and I struggle with change even while I love it. (Ah, the joys of being an ENFP with Aspergers!)

So then I think: turning 30 is emotional not because of the number, but because the number represents a milestone. A finish line to one part of life, a starting line to another. To some people these lines are less clear. To me, because it aligns so perfectly with this period of transition in my life, the lines are glaringly neon.

But with age comes loss, I can't sugarcoat or ignore that. As a Christian, I try to have the mindset that age is not about losing life here, but getting closer to the real life that is coming. That said, there is real, tangible loss that comes with age. Loved ones get older. You lose them. You come closer to losing them. Mentally. Physically. Loss is coming. Even if that loss is only temporary, and you look forward to eternity together, there are years approaching that are going to be harder because loved ones will not be there.

And too, there is the loss of health and mobility. We don't think about that so much at 30, but it's another real thing that some of us fear. I have the blessing of seeing many of my relatives healthier in their middle life than in their early life, so, with my own history, I don't fear that as much as is typical. But it's a truth I would be wrong to ignore.

30 is just a number. It's just a marker of a passage of time. There is nothing magical about it. There is nothing I can do to put it off, or make it come faster.

But age has meaning, and age is represented by numbers. And it brings real apprehension, turmoil, and transition that need to be processed. I've been trying to pretend that I was unphased by switching from 29 to 30, but I was fooling myself. This exact number probably has more poignancy overall because of how standard American culture treats it, but whatever the cause, the effect is certainly there for myself.

I'm not entirely okay with this revelation. After all, last year I cried when I turned 29 and wasn't yet pregnant. This year, even though the actual number change is considered more significant, I am filled with the overwhelming blessing of feeling my daughter move every day. I thought I had nothing to mourn about this year. But I guess, even when not mourning, transitions still need to be acknowledged and processed. I hope that by sharing this post I may help someone else come to a new understanding of why a certain birthday is particularly upsetting and begin to work through those emotions (whether they are the same or different from mine).

Whether 30 or any other year, if you are a friend who I have not supported well in bridging a major birthday milestone, I apologize. The landmarks line up differently for everyone, and I have a new understanding and appreciation for the emotional transition. I'll count it as one of those experiences I praised in the second paragraph, and hope I can do a better job of providing sympathy the next time someone laments about an upcoming age change.