Category Archives: Musings

Of tonsils and candy stripers

Bloganuary: What is the earliest memory you have?

My earliest memory is having my tonsils out when I was three years old. Most of these memories are fragmented. Being in a huge bed is one, although whether that’s true, I can’t really say. I was small for my age, constantly sick from my rogue tonsils. Any bed would have felt enormous.

The other memory, the most vivid one, was glimpsing ethereal, enchanting creatures in red and white. These teenagers. These candy stripers.

They made such an impression that when I turned twelve, I volunteered at our local hospital. At first, I had to wear the blue and white striped uniform (a visual cue for the nursing staff), but within a year, I’d graduated to the coveted red and white striped one.

My shift partner was a girl from the junior high across town. Rhonda was sunshine itself bursting into the rooms, often three patients in a room, chatting and laughing. I was endlessly shy. I busied myself refilling water pitchers, pouring juice, and being asked why I wasn’t as smiley and talkative as Rhonda.

We were a good team. She made everyone happy. I kept us on task and made sure everyone had fresh ice.

Each shift earned us a meal ticket to the hospital cafeteria, which thrilled us to no end. The macaroni and cheese with the breadcrumbs on top? Followed by chocolate pudding?

Chef’s kiss.

Sometimes I think about my rogue tonsils and how they led me down this path. I was never as ethereal or enchanting as the candy stripers of my memory, although I desperately wanted to be. But I like to think something came full circle during those three years of volunteering at St. Joseph’s Hospital.

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Small Acts of Bravery

Bloganuary: How are you brave?

My first reaction to this prompt was: I’m not.

Then I thought of caring for my mom these past few years. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I wasn’t sure I could do it. (I’m including my time in the Army and deploying to a combat zone in that calculation. Hands down, 2022 was one of the hardest years of my life.)

And I think that’s maybe what bravery is. Doing—or attempting to do—the thing you think you can’t do. And like small acts of kindness, I believe small acts of bravery are important.

Creating a blog and putting your words and voice into the world for the first (or tenth) time? That’s brave.

Confronting FOMO and deleting all social media apps on your phone so you can focus on what you want to do? That’s brave.

Starting a novel? Picking one back up? Painting a picture when you haven’t held a paintbrush since elementary school? Baking a cake from scratch?

Creating something—anything—and offering it to others with a:

Here, I made this. I hope you like it.

That’s brave.

Because maybe they won’t like it.

But I’m pretty sure someone will. It may take a while to find that someone. The catch is you must be generous first, offering up your talents, your time, your attention—offering that up without the promise of a return.

That’s brave.

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How’s the Water: Taking Stock Before the New Year

In the next few weeks, we’ll be bombarded with all sorts of blog posts and articles, podcasts and self-help books about goals and accomplishments.

I have nothing against goals and accomplishments, but these messages often focus on lack: not being enough, doing enough, having enough.

Before all that happens, I want to remind you to stop, take a deep breath, and remind yourself that you already know things, have accomplished something, and have what you need.

If you’ve been on this planet long enough to own a device that brings you here, onto the internet, and (somehow) to my blog, then you have skills. You can read words and process them. That, in itself, is no small thing.  

I think we don’t always recognize what we do know. Like the old joke, asking the fish how the water is, and the fish replies: What water?

We take for granted the things we do know and can do. Like the fish, it’s the water we swim in, and we don’t recognize that someone else may find what we do both fascinating and impressive.

So before you’re bombarded with all that you haven’t done or have yet accomplished, take stock. You know lots of things, and you can do lots of things, from the small to the large. Can you whistle? Know how to deal with a surly customer? Cook the perfect egg?

Skills. Serious skills. I mean, I’ve never been able to whistle, and all attempts to teach me have failed.

Take a moment to give yourself credit for everything you already do. Take a moment to celebrate your accomplishments—big and small—and recognize your value before the onslaught of the new year.

Take a moment to breathe.

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Of fallow fields and second acts

This blog has been fallow for a while. And I’ve been thinking. Do I continue it? This is what I don’t know. But here’s the thing.

I miss it.

Or rather, what I miss is blogging from the early aughts, before social media grabbed everybody’s attention. I fell into that time suck along with everyone else—not blaming anyone here. Because initially, social media seemed like it might be a good thing—keep up with everyone in one place. Wouldn’t that be fun? Useful? Unifying?

We all know what happened with that. I find myself (doom) scrolling and not interacting. I miss posts if I’m not on the site(s) every day or even every hour. I know there are ways of finessing feeds, of filtering, and so on. I don’t want to work that hard at something so fleeting. And social media is still far too loud (for lack of a better word). It always has been. What seems like an introvert’s dream is kind of a nightmare.

Blogging, though? Like back in the day? Could that be a way to engage with a community? Everything old is new again? John Scalzi over at Whatever seems to think so. With the dissolution of social media, maybe blogs are coming into their second act.

Maybe I am too. I mean, I am fast approaching that stage of life where I get to call myself a woman of a certain age. Maybe I’m already there.

If I venture into blogging again, I’m thinking less promotion (although I’ll certainly post when I have something published) and essentially ignoring SEO.

Instead, I’d like to do a little more exploring. I’m trying out new things, like signing up for the ProHort Core Course (the self-study version of the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum’s Master Gardener Course). Certainly, I could blog about my misadventures with that.

I’m still reading blogs, but I realize that commenting and interacting is a way to find a new blogging community.

I’m still writing fiction, but it’s been a gradual climb back after my mother’s death. I’m still here.

More importantly, I still want to be.

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Filed under Misc, Musings, Writing

That Good Night

I’ve been away for a while. I haven’t meant to be, but that’s how it worked out.

Last October, my mom had a major bowel obstruction, which required surgery. (Or rather, it was surgery vs. palliative/hospice care; she opted for surgery).

When I talked to her surgeon—at five a.m., after a twelve-hour stint in the emergency room—he spoke of uncertain outcomes. They wouldn’t know what they’d find once they opened her up. There was her age to consider, her other health issues.

Despite these things, she made it through the surgery surprisingly well. Her incision healed without infection. A different infection, unrelated to her surgery, needed treatment, but her care team found the right antibiotics. My sister and I were cautiously optimistic.

But it was a long winter. One hospital stay led to another. Days before Christmas, it was two blood transfusions in the emergency room. In January, it was fluid overload from the two transfusions in December. In February, it was the three a.m. call from the assisted living triage nurse followed by the frantic drive around the Twin Cities—because no one could tell us which hospital the EMTs had taken her to.

That was the time they had to intubate. My mom spent a week in the ICU. It was then one of the ER doctors turned to me and asked, “Are you a healthcare professional?”

I didn’t know how to respond to that.

During all this, I could hear the voice of that first surgeon, his words a continuous loop in my mind.

Uncertain outcomes.

He was right. Everything was uncertain. Except for one thing.

Did we see what was coming? Yes. And no. Maybe we didn’t want to admit it, not completely. There were talks, often with compassionate palliative care team members. There was a chasm between honoring my mother’s wishes and what was—as everyone else was telling us—realistic. Bridging that gap felt impossible.

Because my mother was a fighter. It might be cliché, but those lines from the Dylan Thomas poem sum it up so completely:

Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And yet it wasn’t enough. In the end, she had to stop fighting. In the end, we had to tell her it was okay to do so. In the end, we had to let go.

On April 26th, we started hospice for my mom. On May 2nd, she died. 

I want to write more about this past year. At the same time, I want to look forward, see what’s on the horizon—for me and my writing.

But for now, I leave you with my parents’ trees at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.

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Filed under Essay, Musings

The opposite of NaNo

So, we’re heading into the last week of November, which for many people means holiday food and fun and shopping. For many writers, it means either agony or triumph over NaNoWriMo (AKA National Novel Writing Month). Personally, I have mixed feelings about NaNo (as it’s called). Sure, lots of writers finish–or at least start–a novel this way. A few of those novels end up published.

It can spark a love for writing. It can be fun. The sense of community can inspire. But I think it can also discourage. Never mind the writers who pen a 50,000-word novel in November and start sending it to agents in December (yes, it happens). I get the (completely unscientific) sense that for some people, NaNo is the complete opposite of what they should be doing. By November 30th, if not sooner, they end up discouraged. They may end up thinking they can’t write.

The thing is, writing 50,000 words during one month during the year probably won’t make you a writer in the same way running during one month of the year probably won’t make you a runner. And there’s plenty of proof this sort of binge writing may not be the best for you or your writing career.

From Script Magazine: Get A New Story: Binge Writing Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up To Be. Click through and read the whole thing. It’s worth it. But I found this study they cite very interesting:

In a 1999 study by Robert Boice, “Which is more Productive, Writing in Binge Patterns of Creative Illness or in Moderation?” the findings showed that:

“Binge writers (a) accomplished far less writing overall, (b) got fewer editorial acceptances, (c) scored higher on the Beck Depression Inventory, and (d) listed fewer creative ideas for writing. These data suggest that creative illness, defined by its common emotional state for binge writers (i.e., hypomania and its rushed euphoria brought on by long, intense sessions of working—followed by depression), offers more problems (e.g., working in an emotional, rushed, fatiguing fashion) than magic.”

You don’t need big blocks of time to write. As this other fabulous article (Get A New Story: Why You Don’t Need Big Blocks of Time to Write) points out: it’s a trap. You can get an amazing amount of writing work done in fifteen minutes a day. This is what Rosanne Bane calls Fifteen Magic Minutes.

Thing is, I’m pretty sure nearly everyone has fifteen minutes they can devote to writing three to five times a week. It sounds kind of like an exercise schedule, doesn’t it? I think the practice of writing has a lot in common with daily exercise. It’s not glamorous. It can be lonely. You don’t “win” anything at the end of those fifteen minutes.

But what happens when you work out at a slow and steady pace for twelve months out of the year? What happens if you only work out for one month during the year?

Apply that same logic to writing. Where might you go and where might you end up if only you took a few steps (or wrote a few words) per day? My guess is farther than you might think.

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Five years later and George Clooney still hasn’t moved in

Once upon a time, I TP-ed George Clooney’s house. On paper–and not even toilet paper. I wrote a short story called TP-ing Casa de Clooney. When the Long and the Short of It review site posted it as their free read, I made mention of it here.

That resulted not so much in people reading the story (I think maybe three people have done that), but an avalanche of people searching for Mr. Clooney’s house. Amused by this, I wrote a post a month later about the impossibility of George Clooney living in my blog. I even included some photos of Mr. Clooney’s charming abodes.

This, as it turns out, was a mistake. The hits on that particular post, the one with the photos? Skyrocketed. It comes in waves, based, I assume, on spikes in celebrity gossip about Mr. Clooney. Does he have a new girlfriend? (I don’t know; it’s not my week to watch him.) Break up with said girlfriend because she used the word “marriage” in an interview? (You’d think they learn, no?)

So, just as I know when it’s high school book report season (hits on my review of Tamar by Mal Peet also skyrocket), I know when it’s open season on Mr. Clooney.

I suspect I’ll regret writing this blog post as well. Still, I’d like to make one thing clear:

It’s been five years and George Clooney still doesn’t live here.

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Filed under Famous people, Misc, Musings, Writing

Blogging as part of Classics Carnival: Why Pride and Prejudice is not a love story

Pride and Prejudice

My guest blog post is up at Book Angel Booktopia. Go read why Pride and Prejudice is not a love story.

No, really. Go see why. I’m not going to tell you about it here.

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Filed under Book Review, Books, Musings, Writing

Brother turning 16 prompts (minor) existential crisis

So, yesterday was Andrew’s sixteenth birthday. As we were driving to dinner, I overhear this conversation between him and his sister.

Kyra: Andrew! Promise me you’ll get married someday!

Andrew: ?????? Why?

Kyra: I don’t want you to die alone!

Andrew: ????? Uh, okay.

Kyra: And I’ll make sure you’re buried next to your wife! And I’ll visit your grave every week!

Andrew: ?????????

Kyra: And be sure to have kids!

Andrew: Mom …

Yeah. Not really sure what that was all about. Of course, it’s not every day your brother turns sixteen. But then we arrived at the pizza place and that seemed to make everything all right.

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Filed under Kids, Musings

Of clothes shopping and BLTs

So yesterday after work, I headed to the mall with my fashion consultant (AKA Kyra) to buy some summer clothes. Somehow every pair of capri pants I own has disintegrated or mysteriously vanished. And dude, it’s nearly 100 degrees outside. I CANNOT wear jeans, even lightweight ones.

So, off to the mall it is! I only shop at one store there, so this cuts down on the angst and decision-making. I figure if they don’t have what I want, it doesn’t exist. Upon entering the store, I went immediately for the earth tones, Kyra gravitated toward color. She wove her way through the displays, selecting outfits for me.

I know what you’re thinking: You shop with your nine-year-old? Here’s the thing: She’s really good at it.

We lugged our armfuls of fashions into the dressing room, where, amazingly, everything fit. I know. I saved the Kyra-selected outfit for last. Once I had it on, she spent about five minutes adjusting the drape, and so on.

Me: You’re really good at this.
Kyra:  Well, you know, I’m probably going to be a fashion designer.

This, of course, is when she’s not being a scientist, a veterinarian, or painting all her pets’ portraits.

Then she tried to get me to pose, hand on hip, the other arm just so, head tilted at a particular angle. No matter what I tried, it didn’t work.

Me: I’m not a very good pose(u)r.

Note: Only I found that funny.

So, not only did everything fit, it was all on sale, and I bought the lot. I’m set for summer. And we did it all in forty minutes. At home, I made BLTs for dinner. Kyra took her first bite and let out a Mmmmm most people reserve for Godiva chocolate.

Kyra: Mama, you may be plain when it comes to clothes, but you’re awesome at cooking.

Yes, when it comes to toasting bread, I know no rival.

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Filed under Clothes, Cooking (disasters), Kids, Musings