A New Look + Some Updates

This weekend was busier than I’d anticipated, so I didn’t get a chance to do much in the way of writing. I did, however, update the template for the site — it’s a bit cleaner than the old one, and it’s cheaper to boot. A win-win, in my book.

So! Since I spent more time managing the aesthetics of the blog than I did with a writing exercise or even just dumping my random thoughts into WordPress, here’s a compilation of things happening lately.

I made these amazing Thai sweet potato veggie burgers from Oh She Glows. They’re gluten-free when made with GF oat flour, and they’re incredible. I amended the recipe a bit, so they don’t hold together as well as hers — but that’s ok in my book, actually, because I wound up combining them with sauteed kale and mixing it all up into a bowl full of steaming deliciousness. Sweet fancy Moses, they’re amazing.  By way of further endorsement, every time I warmed them up for my lunch at work, random people would walk by my office and go “Ohhhhhh my God, that smells amazing. What is that?!” If you’re looking for something to keep you warm and full, I highly recommend them.

Also, this almost happened last week. I was thwarted by some logistics (namely that I can’t bring dogs past the security guards outside my building, and there was no enclosed park to play in), but for a brief, shining moment in time, I was crawling out of my skin with excitement over the mere idea of seeing a pack of puppies. Since it didn’t, I’m back to being a total creeper around other peoples’ dogs. This is how I look every time I’m in the elevator with a random person’s dog:

let-me-love-you

Over the weekend we had one glorious day of warm weather and sunshine before winter came roaring back. It was 65 and sunny on Sunday, so I abandoned all my other plans in favor of a lumber in the great outdoors. You guys, I *so* want to be able to run outdoors all the time. Weather in DC isn’t conducive to it at all, since it’s God-awful hot in the summer, equally God-awful cold and rainy in the winter. Clearly I need to move to SoCal, or someplace where the weather is equally magical. Anyways, I loooooooved my 3 1/2 10-minute miles. (Side note: when I got back, Brandon noted that I had, in the words of Magic Johnson’s basketball commentary, “worked up a good lather.” Despite doing just over a 5K at a pace nowhere near race-worthy, I  still managed to schvitz like a wildebeest.)

I also just discovered a website that I already adore: Trying to be Good, which is hysterically funny, poignant, and an awesome dose of real talk. Anyone who feels feelings and appreciates humor should read it.

Anyways, that’s a brief update — I’ll be back later this week with real writing!

Feels Like Home

This post got me thinking about the idea of home — and the idea that while I’ve lived a great many places, very few have felt like my own. We moved around a few times when I was growing up, so the concept of home became very (ok, incredibly) important to me. Home wasn’t just where I slept; it had to feel like home in addition to being a structure that I happened to live in.

One of the pitfalls of being a millennial who lives and works in an expensive city is that home ownership isn’t in the cards for me. Instead, I’m a serial renter: a few years here, a few years there. All told, I’ve lived in four different places in the DC area over the last ten years.

Apartments tend not to feel like home for most people, and generally speaking, that has been true for me too — with one huge exception. My apartment in Denver, which I rented while I was in grad school, was glorious.

When I moved back to Colorado (where I grew up) for school, I was basically on the brink of exploding with excitement. I was excited about my grad program, and I was doubly excited to be living in Denver. I began to look for apartments near campus, though, and my excitement started to wane a bit.

I didn’t need a big space; I wanted a studio apartment, but I couldn’t find anything smaller than a one-bedroom.

I wanted a controlled-access building, since this was going to be my first-ever solo apartment, but I couldn’t find one to save my life.

I didn’t need anything fancy, but every place within my price range had shag carpet that hadn’t been cleaned since the Nixon Administration.

My mom and I drove around for two days, finding nothing but places that didn’t fit my parameters. Just when I was thinking I might need to bite the bullet and compromise, I saw a Craigslist ad for a studio condo near my school. The price was right, so I decided to get more information.

An hour later, the landlord, Tony, gave me a tour of what would wind up being my home for the next two years: a gorgeous, newly renovated studio in a controlled-access building, replete with decorative finishes that I never would’ve thought were possible in a place I could afford on a grad school budget. I was sold. He even reduced the monthly rate if I was willing to sign a two-year lease. Done and done, my friends.

And oh, did I love that place. It had soft pink halogen lights spanning the ceiling and highlighting a brushed steel panel against one wall. The kitchen and bathroom fabulous. There were sliding glass doors that led to a wide, spacious balcony where I spent many hours doing yoga, working on presentations, or reading under the shade of the tree growing next to the building. It felt like my home from the moment I walked in.

The feeling of home wasn’t the only thing that made this apartment so awesome. It was there that, after living with other people for all of my 25 years, I finally had a place of my own. I lived there under my own rules, and I got to let my idiosyncracies run the show.

Did I want to watch Law & Order for 5 hours on a Saturday morning during spring break? Yes, I did. Did I turn up Madonna and Britney while cleaning or doing the dishes? Indeed. Did I want to cook random meals for no other reason than the fact that they sounded good? You betcha. Did I want to take a break from writing papers by either somersaulting across the room or having an impromptu dance party? Heck yeah. And I didn’t need to ask anyone for permission to do any of those things.

When I finished grad school two years later, I decided to move out to North Carolina to be with the guy I was dating while I waited for my job in DC to come through. (Side note: this turned out to be a disasterous decision.) I was verklempt while packing up my apartment, even though I knew it was time for me to go. The space was tiny, yes, but I had loved it dearly.

On the day I moved out, my parents arrived with a moving van to help gather up my stuff. As they drove up, dark and ominous clouds rolled in — and these were dark and ominous even by the standards of Colorado summer thunderstorms. We tried to beat the rain, but as soon as we walked towards the door with the first load of stuff to go into the truck, a flash of white light was immediately followed by a thunderclap so loud that it shook the building. And with that, the skies opened up into a a downpour so torrential we could barely see across the street.

I try not to read meaning into random events, but it absolutely felt like a sign. It was as if my ancestors, who were among Denver’s first inhabitants, were telling me not to go. “Stay here,” they seemed to say, “In this city you love and this apartment that feels like it was made for you.”

Two months later, I was back in Colorado (like I said, the North Carolina thing wound up being a complete disaster) and staying with my parents. I went to Denver every week or so to see friends, and every time I went, I’d go on autopilot and find myself parking in front of my old apartment building.

I once got as far as the building’s front door, perplexed by why my keys weren’t unlocking it, before I realized I didn’t live there anymore.

Even now, almost seven years after I moved out, I still think of that apartment, how much I loved it, and how lucky I was to have had it basically fall into my lap at exactly the right time.

Writing Exercise: Do You Rehearse Phone Calls Before Making Them?

Last week, The New York Times ran a Modern Love column that, as far as I can tell, garnered more attention than any previous Modern Love column has. In it, the author writes about how she and her now-fiance decided to test-drive a set of 36 questions designed to make people fall in love with each other. (As you may have deduced, it worked.)

The Times later provided that list of questions, and I thought some of them would also make nifty writing prompts. To be clear, I’m not out to make any of you fall in love with me – hence why I don’t plan to write answers to all the questions, nor do I plan to stare into anyone’s eyes for four minutes – but a handful of these made me think “Heeeyyy, that could be fun to write about!”

And that’s how I make decisions.

So, without further ado, the question: Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?

Oh God, do I ever. I don’t do this for all my phone calls, but when it comes to the calls that make me nervous, I not only rehearse, but I write out a note card with talking points. I’m not even kidding.

I’d love to be one of those unflappable souls who remain calm and collected under pressure, but I’m not. One of my lesser qualities is that if I’m nervous, there’s an exceptionally good chance that I’ll get completely flustered, discombobulated, and forgetful. If I don’t have notes in front of me, I’m liable to lose my train of thought – or, worse, have full command of my train of thought but be unable to be even minimally coherent, thus leading to all the words coming out in a jumbled heap of nonsense.

When that happens, I get even more flustered, which makes my voice go up at least one octave. And when that happens, I start thinking of the scene from 40 Year-Old Virgin in which Steve Carrell says that his girlfriend’s daughter, who’s having a total meltdown and becoming increasingly hysterical, sounds like a tea kettle. And then I get even more flustered, if that’s possible.

So, to prevent this generally wretched scenario from happening, I sometimes bust out the note cards and rehearse their content.

I vividly remember the first time I did this, too. It was the summer before I started 9th grade, and I liked a boy who’d been in my English class the previous year. We’d gotten all googly-eyed after dancing together at the spring formal at the end of the year, so I was very much in like. And, because I was a Sassy, Independent Young Woman Who Didn’t Think Traditional Gender Roles Did Anyone Any Favors (note: I maintain this stance), I decided to call him and ask him out.

I was wringing my hands about what to say when I called, and that’s when my dad suggested writing out what I wanted to say on a note card and rehearsing it a few times before picking up the phone. This was a brilliant idea!

I did just that, and although my hands were shaking when I picked up the phone in my parents’ basement (this was in pre-cell phone 1995, and I needed privacy in order to make this very important phone call), I got through it without sounding like a concussed tea kettle. And, not only that, but he said yes!

We never wound up actually going out, because our vacation schedules didn’t mesh and then I wound up changing schools, but still: NOTE CARDS AND REHEARSAL FTW, YOU GUYS.

Writing Exercise: Three Things that Stopped Me in My Tracks

This exercise, which comes from Now Write! Nonfiction (edited by Sherry Ellis), asks that you describe three things – all of which happened in the fairly recent past – that stopped you in your tracks. This can be a literal or figurative stop, but should basically just be something that really grabbed your attention.

While we were on vacation in Texas earlier this month, I stumbled upon three things that – for me at least – were incredibly cool.

First: My parents just moved from Colorado to Houston last month, and it turns out that while my mom was packing up their house in Colorado, she dug up some awesome stuff that I’d completely forgotten about. One such no-longer-buried treasure is a Denver Broncos t-shirt that I bought when I was in Israel, and which my mom thankfully knew I’d definitely want to keep. In the interest of full disclosure, this t-shirt came from a shop that sold kitschy, awful junk and catered exclusively to American tourists looking for, well, kitsch. But you guys: it’s a piece of Broncos paraphernalia in both English and Hebrew. Is it kitschy? Probably. Was I beyond thrilled when I found it sitting on the desk in the room where Brandon and I stayed? You betcha.

Second: Also while visiting my parents, I walked by a table and was totally sidetracked by a book: A Yard Full of Sun, by Scott Calhoun, which documents his efforts to build a xeriscape garden at his home in Tucson, Arizona. Now, at first blush, I can totally understand why most of you might be perplexed by this book’s ability to sidetrack me so thoroughly that as soon as I saw it, sat down on the couch to check it out and didn’t get up for another hour. Well, my dears, let me explain.

To start, I miss the sunshine like you wouldn’t believe. I’m a sun-loving kind of gal – I’ve been known to force everyone outside when the sun comes out, regardless of things like work commitments or hungover roommates during college – and the sad, limpid East Coast sun just bums me out. There’s even a quote about this in the book: “Here in the West you can’t get away from the big sky and full light…differences in light make the West unique. As Larry McMurty says in his book Roads, ‘Eastern light is never as strong and full as Western light; a thousand McDonald’s will not make Boston feel like Tucson.’” So, the title book’s made a part of my brain jump up and scream “OMIGOD, I WANT THAT.”

Furthermore, I’ve always loved the idea of xeriscape gardens using desert plants. (At the risk of sounding weird, I love pretty much any plant native to the southwest desert. If I could have a saguaro cactus in my living room, I would.) Obviously that can’t happen here in DC, so reading about someone else’s extensive work using desert plants in their native territory really struck a chord with me. On a related note, some poor fools have tried to do desert-style xeriscaping here in DC, using, get this, cacti. DC is a swamp. Cacti aren’t native to swamps. At all. Here’s a glimpse of how beautifully this landscaping experiment has turned out:

IMG_0072
Cacti in DC really thrive, as you can tell from the fact that they’re waterlogged and wilting in sadness.

Third: Since Brandon’s and my parents are all living in Texas now, we also spent time in San Antonio visiting his family. His mom and I are big fans of thrift shopping (seriously, you can score some amazing threads and save so much money!), so we hit up one of the bigger thrift stores in SA. When we first got there, I found a tile trivet showing a traditional Shabbat scene with “Shabbat shalom” written in Hebrew. I have very few things left from my year in Jerusalem – I’d bought tons of spices and textiles, which have long since been used or been packed away – and I really miss some of my memorabilia. The tile didn’t remind me of Jerusalem itself, but it did remind me of the many Shabbat dinners I shared with my friends when I was there. I put it in our cart, but the more I thought about it, the more I felt like I not only didn’t need another trivet (I have plenty), but it wasn’t worth getting something I wasn’t going to use just because it vaguely reminds me of a place I lived almost a decade ago.

So, I went to put it back – and as I walked towards the shelf where I’d gotten it, a second tile caught my eye. The artwork on that tile looked exactly like the depictions of Jerusalem that most local artists use in their tile paintings. No, that’s not possible, I thought. There’s no way I would’ve missed a Jerusalem tile earlier! As I got closer, I thought I must be imagining things. But then I got to the shelf, and there it was: a tile depicting Jerusalem. My jaw must’ve hit the floor. Needless to say, I bought it without a second thought.

What are some things that have stopped you in your tracks lately? Let me know!

Don’t Call It a Comeback*

*Nah, it’s actually fine to call it a comeback.  That’s pretty legit, actually.

Welp, it looks like I pulled a disappearing act again. I’m like Houdini, but with less magic!

Truth be told, after all the messiness of 2013, in 2014 I found that my creative mojo decided to take a prolonged leave of absence. (I think it didn’t like the extreme stress and decided to move to Aruba. I can’t say blame the poor thing.)

Being in survival mode led to very little in the way of creative output, so even after my last couple posts, I struggled to come up with something — anything, really — to write about. I’d sit down at the computer and basically drool on myself, then give up and go watch TV. Basically, writer’s block has been following my around like a puppy with the world’s worst case of separation anxiety. I wish it were an actual puppy, because at least then it would be cute. So, I guess it’s better to say that it’s been more like a barnacle with separation anxiety: scratchy and uncomfortable, and seemingly permanently affixed.

During that time, though, I’ve been desperately missing creative work generally and writing specifically. Writing has been like an old, dear friend throughout my life, and this persistent case of writer’s block has been like having that dear friend disappear into thin air.

So, reviving the blog signals the beginning of my effort to lure that dear friend – aka my creative mojo – back from its sojourn in Aruba.

I’ve put together a long list of writing prompts, and my plan is to post my responses to those prompts here a couple times per week. A public creative writing exercise, if you will. Those responses will likely be interspersed with random thoughts, somewhat coherent musings, and updates on life — but by and large, my goal is to help myself get back into the groove of writing, if only to prove to myself that my writer’s block isn’t permanent. I need to know that my creative mojo is still in here somewhere, at least in some small measure, and that it didn’t permanently relocate to a gorgeous beach where it’s now sitting in a hammock while drinking a piña colada from a coconut. (Yes, friends: in my mind’s eye, this is exactly what it’s been up to.) This cowgirl needs to get back in the saddle.

Before I do that, though, I have some updates:

– I had my most recent biopsy in September, and – drumroll, please – everything’s back to normal! This was cause for serious celebration, as you can imagine. With apologies for the impending TMI, the next task is for me to get knocked up as soon as possible, since a successful pregnancy is protective against recurrence. (There’s also that whole “I’ll be 34 in a few weeks and am quickly approaching that magical ‘advanced maternal age'” thing too. So, y’know, time is of the essence.) Think happy pregnancy thoughts for us/send baby dust/allow me to hug any super-fertile women out there.

– My dad got a great new job in Texas, so my parents have relocated to the State With Which No One Should Mess. I never in eleventy billion years would’ve thought my parents would leave Colorado, but they did – and lo and behold, their new setup is pretty fantastic. We went to visit them earlier this month, and it was lovely. Not to mention the fact that having my parents live 3 hours from Brandon’s is awfully convenient!

So, those are the big-ticket items going on in my world.  I’m excited about this new writing project (we need to come up with a formal Operation name for this…hmmmm) and, hopefully, the triumphant return of my creative mojo!

With that in mind, tell me: what’s new and exciting in your world? What have I missed out on while I was away from the blogosphere?
 

I Call Bullsh*t: Fear Mongering and Pushing Perfectionism in Health Articles

I’ve spent a long time being a voracious consumer of health research. My interest began after my Celiac diagnosis and continued unabated for years. I (metaphorically, and with pun intended) gobbled up anything I could find on nutrition, disease prevention, and healthy living. But, as I found recently, the more I read, the more I became…scared sh*tless.

I didn’t even realize it until my health-panic reached critical mass a few weeks ago — but prior to this epiphany, I’ve spent untold amounts of time vigilantly avoiding everything that I’d read was harming me: canned food, tap water, non-stick pans, plastics, household cleaners (hence the article I wrote about it last spring/summer, when I realized that a lot of products are seriously no bueno), grilled meat, non-organic foods…the list goes on.

While all those habits are definitely good, I didn’t realize until recently that they’ve fed into a growing reservoir of “holy crap you guys everything is poison and I’m going to die an early and painful death because THE ENTIRE WORLD IS MADE OF TOXINS AND DOOM.”

 

DoomThen, a few weeks ago, the reservoir breached its banks. I was reading yet another article about the horrors of drinking water, even though this is a generally venerable habit: tap water is horrible for you, and bottled water is apparently no better. The proposed solution is to buy some sort of reverse osmosis uber-filter and install it in your sink, but since we live in a rented apartment and can’t exactly take apart the plumbing without getting into a heap o’ trouble with the property management office, the alleged “only solution” isn’t viable for non-homeowners like us.

Cue the panic: “Omigod. The bottled water is toxic. The tap water is toxic. I can’t install the filters they say will keep the water from being toxic. I DRINK A LOT OF WATER AND IT’S ALL TOXIC AND IS GOING TO KILL ME OMIGOD.”

Then, a few seconds later, just as I was about to weep and curl up in fetal position beneath my desk, I had another thought: “I do the best I can with the resources I have and the circumstances I’m in. Why do I feel so scared that I’m not doing enough? Why do I feel that despite all my effort, I’m totally doomed?”

A few more seconds later: “Wait a minute. This is bullshit.”

EpiphanyThen I took a brief tour through some of the articles I’d read in recent months, and you know what? According to pretty much everything I read, THE WORLD IS MADE OF TOXINS AND EVERYTHING IS GOING TO KILL YOU.

Here’s a small recap of all the things that are going to lead to you being sick, miserable, and probably dead: being tall, your bottled water, your tap water, your tea, your food, the air in your home, your air freshener, anything plastic, getting angry, taking vitamins, flying, insomnia, your antiperspirant, and, wait for it, pretty much everything you own.

Oh, and BTW: being stressed or anxious about the fact that everything is going to kill you is, in fact, also going to kill you. However, be forewarned that using modern medicine to treat your anxiety is going to kill you even more.

Now, I’m prone to freaking out about, well, everything — but these articles had the collective effect of making me nearly crap my pants in sheer panic. The fear-mongering, as I realized with my highly scientific (cough, cough — sarcasm — cough, cough) meta-analysis, actually looks pretty epic. “Scary,” “could kill you,” and “is killing you” are some of the most common themes that cropped up, over and over and over.

Now, there’s a definite difference between actual scientific studies saying that X (for example, height) is correlated with Y (in the case above, cancer) and the outright fear-mongering pieces that tell you to be afraid, very afraid, of everything. But even in those legitimate study results, I realized that no one ever brings up the fact that correlation doesn’t imply causation. Just because two things are linked, it doesn’t mean that one causes the other. But no one ever says that when writing about studies linking X and Y, which then leads the reader to draw the conclusion that X actually causes Y. And let’s be honest: these studies usually correlate everyday things, like your height, with really scary, life-altering/ending sh*t like cancer. Which is terrifying.

Brandon — AKA The Rational One — has occasionally called me on my panic-induced BS, noting that our water is fluoridated (ergo, my fit of freak-out, which happened after I read some terrifying article about the dangers of fluoride in toothpaste, was really just an exercise in futility), and that the whole antiperspirant-breast cancer link has been resoundingly debunked. (Which is good, because my brief foray into all-natural deodorant sans antiperspirant led to me schvitzing right through my sweaters, thus yielding sweat stains the size of watermelons. I despised it.)

Deodorant without antiperspirantI also noticed that along with these prophecies of doom, there are ample recommendations on what you can do to prevent horrible health outcomes from befalling you. What’s the best way to prevent being killed by everything you own, touch, or ingest?

According to all the health literature I’ve read over the years, it’s simple: adopt this easy 80-step, time-sucking process to propel yourself into vibrant health!

  • Spend 20 minutes per day doing oil pulling. And no, it doesn’t matter if you usually barely have 2 minutes to spend brushing your teeth.
  • Make your own toothpaste, shampoo, body wash, lotion, and all personal care products, only using fresh spring water that you retrieved yourself and carried on your head in a fair-trade, non-GMO, certified organic clay jug.
  • Similarly, craft your own non-toxic stone ware out of fresh clay that was found in a sacred clay deposit after the rainy season in Sedona.
  • Cut gluten, dairy, meat, vegetables, sugar, fruit, grains, and beans out of your diet, because they’re all toxic. Subsisting on air is the way of the righteous.
  • If you do choose to consume food (because you don’t love Mother Earth), don’t buy almond or coconut milks from the store — they have carrageenan, which will kill you! Instead, make your own from scratch. Please note, though, that it must be infused with unicorn saliva, or else it will be unhealthy and still likely to kill you.
  • You must cook solely from scratch, using only organic produce that you foraged from your local forest/city park/vaguely terrifying remote wilderness populated only by militiamen and aspiring Unabombers/whatever.
  • Get at least one hour of exercise per day. And, as one of my track coaches used to say, if you’re not on the brink of barfing or passing out, you’re not working hard enough.
  • Meditate whenever you’re not actively oil pulling, foraging, exercising, cooking, making toothpaste using your artisanal mortar and pestle, or hunting down unicorn saliva.
  • Never allow yourself to experience stress. Always be filled with serenity, gratitude, happiness, and positivity. Horrific tragedy is no match for the power of positive thinking!!!1!
  • Make every effort to be the perfect parent. Not doing so will irrevocably screw up your kids for the rest of their lives. Having screwed up kids will stress you out, which will kill you.
  • Sleep at least 8-9 hours per night.

 

Unicorn SalivaBasically, it comes down to this: 1) at the end of the day, most people are just doing the best they can with what they have, and 2) scaring everyone into doing 80 kajillion more things to keep our lives from killing us probably isn’t going to help.

Yeah, I get that “scary” and “this everyday thing could kill you” make great click-bait – it appears that in the health world, fear seems to sell far more than sex ever could – but after my “this is bullsh*t” epiphany, I’ve become acutely aware, and exceedingly tired, of fear-mongering headlines and articles.

But look: we can’t all take the time to make a bajillion DIY products, 8-9 hours of sleep is sometimes outright impossible (shout-out to all those with newborns or, hey, any children under age 12), and there are plenty of times when people really do need anti-anxiety/depression medication. Ain’t no shame in any of it, folks. You play the cards you’re dealt.

So, in calling bullsh*t on a lot of the aforementioned fear mongering in a lot of health literature, I’ve decided that I’ll continue doing the best I can with what I have. Buying mostly organic, using glass food storage, and using non-toxic household products and cosmetics wherever possible? I’m on it.

However, I’ve decided to quit freaking out about drinking the bottled water at work (plastic bottles > lead pipes), the occasional serving of canned soup, my store-bought shampoo and body wash (Pantene and Dove 4-EVAH, yo), the absolutely necessary antiperspirant, my beloved almond milk, and the fact that it saps all my personal willpower and discipline just to make myself floss regularly. (To my dentist: Sorry, dude. But it really is onerous.)

After all, trying to add oil pulling, detoxing, and DIY almond milk-making to my schedule would make me totally lose it.

And that would probably kill me.

Oh, Hai!

Oh hai!

Well, after swearing that I’d never go AWOL from blogging again, I totally did exactly that. (We all know what they say about the road to hell and good intentions and yadda yadda yadda.) Forgive me, por favor?

In the interest of full disclosure, I wasn’t blogging for a handful of reasons – the most notable being that I felt like my brain had been drained of any and all creative mojo. I think the last year, which involved more trauma and upheaval than I imagined possible, caught up with me over the last few months. Whenever I tried to sit down and write, nothing – zip, zilch, nada – would happen. Much like my skin during the winter (am I the only one who feels like a parched iguana from December through March?), my creative juices had dried the hell up. My brain was *so* not having it. Writing about normal, everyday topics felt trivial when I’d spent so long in survival mode, and so anything I managed to eke out was basically drivel.

And I don’t want to publish drivel. Soooo…I just didn’t publish anything.

Adding to the whole “I have nothing but drivel” motif that kept me from blogging, I also have often felt overwhelmed by all the things blogging entails — but mostly replying to comments here and leaving comments elsewhere. Guys, it’s muy time consuming. My schedule already feels like it’s at max capacity when I incorporate writing a post into my daily routine, and adding to that fragile balance leads to a sense of overwhelm that quickly snowballs into, like, an abominable snowman of Sh*t I Have to Do.

Lastly, I’ve generally put a lot of pressure on myself to make my posts perfect before putting them up on the internets. I’m a recovering perfectionist in, um, pretty much every facet of my life. (I’ve been late for work because I’m determined to flat-iron into submission the one section of my hair, in the very back of my head, which insists on being wavy. No lie. Because priorities.) I’m gradually getting better at it, but since writing feels like the closest thing I have to a baby at this point in my life, I’m prone to spending waaaaaaay too much time fine-tuning my words, finding the perfect graphics to break up the blocks of text, making sure the formatting is exactly how I want it to look, and so forth. But really, that needs to come to a screeching halt, because…

 

 

So, I’m going to test-drive a new policy:

First, I’ll write what I can, when I can, and I’m going to work on being ok with a less than perfect post. That last bit is going to be a big – nay, colossal – challenge, but, being that perfectionism and obsessively worrying about random crap I can’t control are my biggest strengths (and by strengths, I mean weaknesses), I feel like it’s probably something I’d benefit from.

Second, I’ll comment and reply to comments when I can, but please know that even if I don’t get to it, I love all you guys and I love your posts. Hearing about what you’re up to, even if I’m just lurking in the proverbial shadows (and I mean that in the most non-creepy way possible), makes me smile and send loads of mental hugs and warm fuzzies out to each of you. So, even if you don’t hear from me often and I become the Lame Lurking Blogger, I still love all the awesome things you guys have to say.

So, with that, here’s to imperfect posts and Lame Lurking Blogger tendencies!

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot? (Or, Why I’ve Been AWOL from the Blogosphere for Three Months)

So, as y’all may or may not have noticed, I’ve been on an extended hiatus from blogging lately. And by “extended,” I mean three months. Which, in the blogging world, is basically an eternity. (I don’t know if I even have readers anymore. Is anyone out there? Please come back?)

This wasn’t a hiatus that I’d expected or wanted to take; to the contrary, on the day of my last post, I had every intention of blogging merrily along. Life, however, had some other plans.

As you might recall, starting in late May I had some fairly serious, shall we say, lady-troubles. I wound up having a uterine polyp removed in early July, which solved the Flaming Lady-Troubles of Death problem – but as it turns out, the story didn’t end there.

On July 11, my OB/GYN called to give me the results of the pathology report on the polyp. Fact: when your doctor starts the conversation by saying “The results of your path report were really, really surprising,” you know that things are about to go in an unpleasant direction.

As it turned out, the polyp was playing hostess to a party-crashing group of cancer cells. Um, WTF?

The bad news: Multiple pathologists had confirmed the presence of cancer in the polyp.

The good news: The cancer cells were very early-stage, low-grade, and non-aggressive. In other words, it’s highly treatable.

 

You are stronger than you think.

 

Endometrial cancer usually shows up in post-menopausal women, so the normal course of treatment is a hysterectomy. Being 32 and still wanting to have children, however, is a game-changer.  In the interest of preserving my fertility, my OB/GYN and gynecologic oncologist opted for three months of high-dose hormone treatment, followed by another round of tests to see if the hormones had knocked out any remaining cancer cells.

The hormone treatment does the trick 80% of the time – so as you can imagine, my fingers are crossed that I’m part of that 80% and can thus hold off on yanking my baby-making bits (for now, at least, since it’ll all need to go once my child-bearing days have passed).

When I first got the news, though, I was in complete shock. I was at work when I got the call, and I very nearly vomited on my desk. My whole body shook like mad as I wrote down everything my doctor said. My handwriting looked like that of a six-year-old.

I mean, I’m young, I eat well, I exercise – how could my body just go rogue like that? (Side bar for a brief public service announcement: ladies and gents [if the dudes haven’t gotten grossed out and stopped reading, that is], if anything seems off or just generally out of whack with your body, go to the doctor. Get it checked. It’s never, ever a waste of time to make sure that nothing sinister is going on.)

My doctor, luckily, was and is incredibly compassionate. Over and over, she gently told me that I’d done nothing wrong, and that there was nothing I could’ve done differently to keep this from happening. It was a case of a hereditary genetic mutation gone awry and plain bad luck.

I started the hormone treatment that night – endometrial cancer feeds on estrogen, so I take uber-high doses of progesterone twice a day – and began to wrap my head around the fact that this really was happening.

 

Look forward with hope quote via Alanna Chasin (AKA the Dog Buddha)

 

The process of wrapping my head around the situation took a while, and the fact that it took me a long time to feel up to writing about this came as a bit of a surprise. Writing and exercise have always been my go-to forms of DIY therapy. Writing is my catharsis, my release, and my home. And yet, I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

A bit part of why I didn’t write until now is the fact that I don’t want to be forever branded as a cancer patient. I was torn between wanting to let people know what’s going on and my deep desire not to be labeled as “Lillian, that chick who has cancer.”

Now, I also want to note that there’s no right or wrong way to deal with the Big C. There are people who take great comfort in being part of a community of current patients and survivors, and those communities are often wonderful sources of support. There are also a lot of people who find tremendous purpose, meaning, and hope through activism and other activities. More power to all these folks! Many of them are doing amazing and inspiring work, and they deserve a ton of credit for what they do.

For me, though, my visceral reaction was – and is – that I want to get through this, get better, and put it all behind me. I don’t want cancer to be the focal point of my life or my writing.

So, while the issue of the rogue elements in my baby-making parts will certainly show up here from time to time (especially since I have my next  round of tests coming up next week), it isn’t going to be the sole focus of this little slice of the blogosphere.  I continue to love – and will continue to write about – normal things like food and fitness, as well as generally inane things like celeb gossip, cosmetics, and flavored coffee. It’s all good.

And, most of all, it’s good to be back.

Gettin’ My Goal-Setting On: Goals for June, the Summer, and the Big Picture

Ok, so I know I’ve mentioned this before, but…seriously, how can it possibly be June already?!

I’m flabbergasted, y’all. Bewildered. Thunderstruck. How did this happen? Didn’t Brandon and I move into our new place, like, a month ago? Insert sigh of astonishment here.

Astonishment aside, now that it’s June and summer is finally upon us, I started thinking about the things I’d like to accomplish during this month and beyond.

Making goals can be a tricky business. If they’re huge or unrealistic, it can feel like abject failure if they’re not achieved (especially if you’d have to be Superwoman on steroids to even come close to achieving them). Similarly, sometimes goals can change as we get more information/learn more/have more experiences – and, despite the good intentions of so many motivational speakers out there who carry on about never giving up, pushing harder, and doing more, all those messages can make a change of course feel like a failure.

Personally, I had that particular motif going on for a long time last year: I felt like a total failure for having worked so hard for so long, only to find out that the career I’d always wanted isn’t the right thing for me.

But then I realized: I had a change of heart because I have more information now than I did when I started out down this road, not because I’m a waste of resources who didn’t try hard enough. My old goals were informed by what I knew at the time, and what I learned over the course of the next 10 years led me to a very different conclusion than the one I’d reached when I was 22. This isn’t a personal failing on my part – instead, it’s simply due to the collection of many more data points that hadn’t been available to me before.

In any event, all that is to say that it’s important to remain flexible in goal setting. By staying flexible, we can amend our goals to account for new data – new information, new experiences, and new circumstances that we hadn’t been aware of before.

As for my own shiny new goals (jazz hands!), I broke them out into June goals, summer goals, and long-term goals, simply because putting them into one big list would make me feel overwhelmed like woah. I don’t know about y’all, but for me, overwhelm quickly leads to total paralysis, which means I accomplish a whole lot of nada, which makes me feel even more overwhelmed, which leads to me accomplishing even less. It’s a vicious cycle.

Ergo: lists upon lists, broken out by time frame!

 

June goals:

  • Plant an herb garden on the porch
  • Find some good GF granola recipes that I can reliably use each week (this is part of an effort to save some dolla dolla billz on groceries, because my beloved Udi’s GF granola costs a pretty penny)

 

Summer goals:

  • Form two new habits:
    • Lift 3x per week
    • Planning out and drafting blog posts on the weekend so I can have more time during the week; we do this with our meal plans, so I’d like to do the same with blog posts
  • Make GF everything bagels — I miss everything bagels like mad, but I have yet to see them sold anywhere. So, I’m going to have to take on this task myself!
  • Hike the Manitou Incline when I’m in Colorado on vacation
  • Figure out a cost-effective way to promote the blog (if any of you lovely people have any suggestions/ideas/guidance, I’m all ears!)

 

Long-term goals:

  • Continue saving money – we’ve been working on this, and it’s going well so far. I’d eventually like to open a CD or high-yield savings account too.
  • Write, write, write…with the objective of eventually being able to make it my job:
    • Continually build readership on the blog
    • Eventually get to the point where I have enough readers to warrant sponsorships, ad revenue, etc.
    • Pick up freelance writing jobs
  • Start a family
  • Explore the idea of setting up an Etsy page in order to sell some of the collages I love so much. I don’t think of myself as an artist, because I can’t draw/paint to save my life — but I do love these collages. I don’t think I’d make much (or any) moolah off of this little venture, but it’d be a fun creative outlet.
  • Learn how to do my own graphic design in Photoshop

 

What are your goals – for this month, the summer, and the big picture?

Which ones excite you the most/make you the happiest?

Do you break your goals out into short-, mid-, and long-term lists?

Inspirational Women: Rebecca Yarros

Good morning, and happy it’s-not-Monday-anymore! After yesterday’s dreary weather, I’m looking forward to the impending return of the sun.

Adding to the general awesomeness is today’s Inspirational Women interview with the lovely Rebecca Yarros. Rebecca and I met in sixth grade, and we went to school together for three years. During that time, it became clear that she loved to write — her passion, drive, and ability were all blossoming into a real talent. I remember being impressed by her writing when we were in honors English together during our freshman year of high school; however, in all my teen angsty/insecure glory, instead of being proud of her, I was jealous. (Hey, adolescence is the seventh ring of hell. I’d like to be absolved of responsibility for all ridiculous behavior from 1993-1999 on the grounds of hormonal/angst-induced insanity.)

We lost touch after I moved away, but we reconnected on Facebook when I was in grad school. Rebecca is now a devoted Army wife (and her husband is a helicopter pilot, which is seriously badass) and the superhero mom of four boys.

She has also taken her gift — that tremendous talent for writing — and used it to pursue her dream of writing a book. After a ton of hard work, many late nights, and lots of proverbial blood, sweat, and tears, he’s now the proud author of a Young Adult novel, Aeolian. It hasn’t been an easy process, but she’s been incredibly determined in pursuing her dream. (You can read more about Rebecca, her blog, and her book on her website.)

Here’s her story.

Interview Questions

Q: What inspired you to take action towards your dream of writing a book?

A:  LILLIAN!!!!  First, I love you, so thank you for asking me to answer your interview.  You’ve always been one of the smartest, ambitious people I know, and I’m delighted to still be able to call you a friend 13 years after our sleep-over days.  The fact that you think I’m inspirational blows me away.

I’ve always loved writing.  I can remember taking short stories to slumber parties and jotting down plot ideas and characters in whatever notebook I had space in.  Books have always been my favorite place to spend my time.  Where else can you experience someone else’s perspective or life?  On my bucket list, which I rewrite every New Years, “Publish a book” has always been in my top 10. But as to when I finally said, “Yes, I’m going to write a book,” it actually came down to the Army.  When my husband deployed his first two times to Iraq, I read about a book a night, trying to keep myself distracted.  I can’t sleep when I know he’s on mission; it’s the most hellacious form of insomnia.  The third-go around, this time to Afghanistan, I decided to write instead of read.  I lost myself in the world I created and wrote until my eyes crossed from exhaustion.  By the time he came home from deployment, I nearly had “Aeolian” finished.

I finally went for it because I realized that if I wrote a page a day while he was gone, by the time he came home, I’d have a book.  Once I looked at it as a manageable goal, and not some Titan-like feat, it became a reachable possibility.  Plus, I have a kick-butt husband who told me to go for it.

 

Q: What have been the high points and the low points?

A:  Low points… oh geeze.  Writing means rejections, and a lot of them.  During the query process, trying to find an agent, it seemed like I was getting rejected every day.  There were lots of “Sorry this isn’t for me,” or “while well-written, it doesn’t fit my list” emails.  It got to the point where I would start hyperventilating when my email dinged.  Honestly, about a month before I was signed by my agent, I debating shelving Aeolian for a while and concentrating on my second book. It’s hard to get back up after each rejection and put yourself back out there again.  I sent out 32 queries over 11 months and received two full requests from awesome agents, one of whom I am blessed to have signed with. Looking back, I was on the smaller end of the spectrum, since I know lovely authors who query hundreds of agents over multiple years looking for representation.  It’s definitely an industry that demands thick skin.

The high points?  Hearing that my husband loved the book rocked my world.  Then again, I think he’s contractually obligated to say that.  Two of my first high points were when I received my first full request from an agent, and later that day, a Hollywood producer.  It happened in person, so I didn’t get to squeal and jump up and down, but man, I wanted to!  It happened again when my agent, Jamie Bodnar Drowley, requested the full about a month later.  I may have broken into a 30-second happy dance while in my pajamas, but my kids will never tell.  Another HUGE high point was when Jamie called, offering me representation.  To know that an industry professional believes in you and is ready to back you, validate your work and go out on every limb for you is humbling.  But my favorite high point definitely came when Jamie told me that she was ready to submit Aeolian without any changes, and we received two full requests from major publishing houses on the first day of pitching.  Jason had to bring home dinner because I couldn’t concentrate on bringing my feet down from cloud nine long enough to contemplate cooking.

The highs have been worth every single moment of the lows and then some.

 

Q: What obstacles have you encountered, and how did you push past them?

A:  Finishing a book can be pretty daunting, especially since I was cake-decorating full time and raising our four boys while Jason was gone.  I pushed myself through at least a page a night, whether that was editing or writing.  Once I formed the habit, it was easier to keep.

Another obstacle might sound silly, but it was telling people that I was writing a book.  It seemed like admitting what I was doing with my time would open me up to fail.  If everyone knew I was writing it, then everyone would know if I couldn’t manage to finish it, or find an agent.  It was the public aspect of admitting my dream aloud that caused me to stumble a bit at first.  I pushed through this by telling my husband I was writing “Aeolian” once I was about half way through the first draft.  Once I had his support, it was easier to be vocal about it, especially to my parents.  They had just finished putting me through college and I didn’t want to admit to them that instead of getting a job with that History and English degree, I was going to write.  Luckily, my parents rock and never once doubted me.

 

Q: Do you have a support network and/or personal cheerleaders who have helped you in this process? What have they done to encourage you and help you move forward?

A:  I’d like to thank the academy…  No, but seriously.  My husband.  He’s read the book over and over by now, checking out my rewrites, looking for typos.  He’s read every version of my query letter, and the poor man could play memory with what agent works for which agency.  He gets up with the kids when I’m up writing past two a.m., and he’s there to supply rejection brownies or dance with me in the kitchen when the big moments happen.

There have been so many of my friends who have taken the time to Beta read Aeolian for me, who have watched it shape up from the first draft and who listened to me talk-through my plot hole insanity.  My sister, Katie, and my good friends, Thea, Andrea, Emily, and Kate Davis, these women were instrumental.  Melissa Seligman, Molly Lee, and Nola Sarina (who’s my full-time critique partner and general shenanery expert), all gave me wonderful professional feedback that I so desperately needed.

I also have a fantastic critique group that came out of the Backspace Writer’s conference and without cheering each other on and giving condolences on rejections, it would be such a lonely process.  Plus, sometimes you just need someone to tell you that paragraph sucked, and that’s not something you want to hear from your mother.  Sean, Monika, Michael, Lauren, Malia, and Alicia, you guys keep me sane.

 

Q: If you could give advice to women who are either trying to find the courage to pursue their dreams or are at the beginning of their own journey, what would it be?

A: Don’t be afraid.  It’s not you against this huge mountain, it’s you against yourself.  If there’s something you’re reaching for, then it’s always a matter of how badly do you want it?  What are you willing to sacrifice to get it?  What’s holding you back and why?  If it’s in your heart, and taking up your soul, then it’s only a matter of conquering it one step at a time.  Don’t be afraid to admit that you have a dream that others might call foolish, or silly just because it’s not profitable, or what they would choose. It’s called a dream for a reason, and there’s no reason to go through life without striving for it.  A life not spent in pursuing what we dream of is a life wasted.  Go get ‘em girls.