She was supposed to offer advice, instead the doctors words were complicated

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Yesterday, I went to see a ENT specialist (ear nose & throat). For years, I’ve had ringing in my ears and it had finally gotten to the point where I’d had enough. Whenever I went to see my general doctor I filled out the ‘why are you here’ form and marked ‘ringing in ears’ as one of my symptoms. No one ever commented on it, and I admit, I never brought it up. I should have. Now that the ringing has gone on so long, there’s nothing that can be done.

Not that there is anything you can do for tinnitus anyway. There’s no medically proven cure or help for it. I was told to try to find something that distracts me from hearing the ringing, like ocean sounds, or rushing water in the background. I ordered a sound machine that hopefully might help. If nothing else, one of the settings is woodland/night which would sound like nighttime on the east coast, and that is one of my favorite sounds. Crickets and cicadas.

The unexpected part of the visit to the doctor came after she did a full hearing test. With ear bud like devices firmly planted in my ear I said the words I heard and acknowledged the beeps. I really thought nothing of it. Just a standard test for someone with ringing in their ears. But what the doctor told me has significantly thrown me.

I have mild hearing loss in my right ear.

This is why my right ear rings. They go together and there’s nothing to be done about either one. I do not listen to loud music, I don’t go to very many concerts, or to the movies. I have never been around firearms, so where this has come from is a mystery. And so very unexpected. From now on, every year when I get my mammogram, I also will need to book a hearing test. The doctor wants me to be checked yearly to track any decline, and should I experience sudden diminishment or loss of hearing in my ear I should come back immediately.

I am so stressed out by this, I’ve already triggered a migraine. I was annoyed enough that there’s nothing to be done for the ringing, which at times makes me feel like I am going crazy, but the loss of hearing on top of it seems cruel. I know there is plenty that can be done if I do lose hearing in that ear. In London, a friend had hearing aids in both ears and you could not even tell she had them. Things are not like the past, they are so small now, no one would notice unless you told them. But at my age, I am still young, and this has really thrown me.

Cope and move on is what my mind is telling me, but it’s a little harder for the rest of me to manage. It is not the end of the world. I am not sick, or hurt or anything more terrible that plenty of others face. But it is perhaps a shot at my vanity.

So if you ask me something and I don’t answer, I’m not ignoring you, I really just didn’t hear you.

We should read things that make us cry, here’s why

When we read something, often we do so for fun. A lighthearted book can lift us into a better mood, provide entertainment, and frequently serve as a departure from everyday life, if only briefly. But here’s why I advocate for reading things beyond the lighthearted, beyond the fluff. This is why you should read something that makes you cry, feel, makes your breath catch, and makes your heart beat faster.

In the last month or so, I’ve a lot of books about the military. Not so much on military history (as yet), but on the stories of my generation and the generation after me. The compelling stories of the cost of war, what everyday soldiers, marines and people in the very thick of things go through. I have no relatable experience to draw from to understand what a war is like. I only know that for me, 9/11 will be my generations Pearl Harbor. I know exactly where I was (at work) and exactly how that day unfolded (with my boss running from his office to let our small group of 5 know what was happening.)

I started reading personal stories of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan because of something I am writing. My character is a former Army soldier. While his past service only plays a small role, understanding what military life would have been like for him, helps to define who my character is now. I am nothing if not thorough in my research. Accuracy is one of the things I try to get right even in the imaginary worlds I create. Details matter.

It was in reading these books about personal sacrifice, that I started to have a deep appreciation for everything that these men and women give. I have always believed in and supported those who fight for our country (my dad was in Vietnam before I was born and saw most of his friends die. That is not something I can ever understand.) Two of my cousins are/were Air Force. One has chosen to make it his career, and as I type that it reminds me he’s not much younger than I am, and is close to hitting his 20 years in already.

We should read these stories to get an understanding of what these people go through. I believe most would shrug off the mantle of hero. They are simply doing their jobs. But to me, as someone who does not risk my life every day, they are heroes and more. They fight for my freedom to say what I think, and live a free life. These heroes should be celebrated and read about. Even if I do not believe in the unending war we cannot seem to get out of, I will also 100% have the back of the person who puts themselves front and center to the danger. That is what every American should do. Find fault with the people behind the war, not those on the front line. I’ve spent 6 years living as an ex-pat in Europe and traveled to 23 countries in the last 14 years. Not everyone enjoys the same freedoms that we do.

Everyone should read a book that makes them think beyond themselves. I have thought of the people in the following books almost daily in the weeks since I read them. I encourage everyone to go to the library or bookstore and pick them up. Take five minutes out of your world to inhabit a little part of theirs.

The Fighters by C.J. Chivers

One Bullet Away by Nathaniel Fick

The Good Soldiers by David Finkel

The Things They Cannot Say by Kevin Sites

Sacrificing interests

I realized yesterday that I hadn’t picked up a paintbrush since April 30th. For someone who once was pretty active in this department, it surprised me. This is the last painting I did:

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I’ve been so busy writing I’ve forgotten about my art. This is the way it usually goes in my brain: Have flash of character or story, or both, and cannot stop thinking about it. The character, usually a pain in the ass, will not stop talking to me. While cooking dinner, driving on I90, and grocery shopping, this character (or sometimes more than one) continues it’s little conversation in my head. I’ve been know to write whole chapters and sequences of dialogue on my phone, random receipts and anywhere else. I talked about this in my last post.

So here’s the tally since end of May on the writing front. Completed first drafts: two, both in edits, and beginning bits and pieces of a third. WIP 1 has 102,373 words. That needs some serious editing to get down to a manageable length. Written May22-July18, 2018. I like the story (and the research for this book including into How to Disappear was seriously fun. I learned a lot should I ever decide it’s a good idea.) I just finished the second WIP that brings one character from the previous piece forward. He’s a tough cop with a serious soft spot for his kids and a certain woman who proves to be hard to pin down. She has a complicated past, one she’s just not ready to let go of quite yet. For research I read I Love A Cop. This one is sitting at 98,738 words. I like the witty back and forth (my main character, Meg, is a feisty, rather smart-assed journalist, who has a serious penchant for drunk dialing her ex-husband.) It needs a few tweaks so this word count will go up. They say anything over 100,000 words is a tough sell, but dang it, if that’s what it takes to tell the story then… I started this one August 7th and finished it three days ago.

Like I said, the characters YELL AT ME at TOP VOLUME sometimes and don’t let me accomplish anything until I tell their stories. This happens a lot. Back in 2008-9 I spent many a night after kids were in bed sitting at my desk pounding out a two-book series. I still love those characters and frequently have What Would Kara Do moments. I queried it around for awhile, had beta-readers, and it received positive feedback but has yet to be published (the typical story of a struggling writer).

I’ve already written premise and a couple of chapters of the continuing story of my journalist. I’m currently digging into background research for the second main character even though he is not currently military, his past life influences some of the choices and plays a role. I’ve started reading lots of military stories including more unusual behind the scenes ones like Grunt by Mary Roach (which I’m finding hilarious because of the authors dry humor in certainly unfunny situations). On my bookshelf at present (among others):

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I’m a bit of a freak about research. If I say they get on a plane from DC at 10:30 pm and fly to Seattle and the only option is via San Fransisco, then that’s the way my character gets to Seattle. Accuracy as much as possible brings realism to the story in my opinion. Sometimes I make myself insane trying to get details like a cop’s work shift cycle correct. But then again, I hear voices so…

I mentioned to an IG friend of mine (you can see her art at PricklyPearArtAtx) that I hadn’t painted in months, and she mentioned she hadn’t written in a year since getting wrapped up in her painting. I wonder if it’s like for other creative types as well. You fall into something you’re enjoying and all other creative pursuits go by the wayside. I’d like to find time to paint again, but I know the upcoming months are going to be crazy (school, homework, kid management, a very needy dog, life). I’m just hoping I still have time to write. I wrote day in and day out for a few years and then suddenly stopped for a few years. I’ve only really just come back into obsessively writing in recent months. I would hate to lose that again (though I’m sure my family would enjoy not seeing my laptop glued to me 24/7. I even bring it when we go camping, because: voices.)

What creative outlets do you enjoy? Do you sacrifice one for another?

 

A dilly-dally on writing

“Generally speaking, men’s judgements are based more on appearances than on substance. Everyone can see what you appear to be but only a few people are able to apprehend who you really are, and those few will hardly want to contradict the majority.” – Niccolo Machiavelli, ‘The Prince’

Until a few years ago (maybe 5 or 6), I spent quite a lot of time listening to voices, click-clack away on my computer, making mad notes on my Blackberry (yep, that’s how long ago it was), and writing on anything; back of a receipt, front of a receipt, uncurled sticker sticks (personal favorite). My family is very accustomed to my insanity. (It’s not like they have much choice. Oh great, mom’s hearing the voices again!) It becomes increasingly embarrassing to have the voices appear when out in public with other people, especially when they have no idea you write, and of course it’s awkward to explain that you’ve just GOT to get this scene down real quick, or throw down some INSANE piece of dialogue that’s just occurred to you. Because what’s the very first thing they ask when you explain how sorry you are but you’re in the middle of writing this piece and you just need to jot something down really quick.

Are you published?

That’s the definition of a writer isn’t? If you aren’t published (like me), then you can’t possibly be a writer. Well, I say anyone who is spending loads of time wrapped up in an imaginary world they’ve created for other peoples enjoyment, and who spends hours a day deciding how to describe a character’s outfit or house or inventing the reason why she’s on the run from the law, is in fact a writer. The publishing bit is just the glory at the end of the rainbow.

Would I like to get one of my stories published? absolutely It’s the holy grail a writer is supposed to shoot for. It is’t exactly for lack of trying. I have submitted (last time in 09), and I received some really standard rejections, and one very lovely one, who while saying no, did at least compliment my writing by saying I really understood the emotions of my characters.

So that’s something right?

Here’s where we get to the point of this post.

I’m hearing voices again. That hasn’t happened in a few years. I’ve gone back over some things I’ve written in the past, one in particular I never ended up finishing for lots of reasons none having to do with the actual story (which was read by about 10 people who all really thought it had potential). But this is the first time in a long while that the characters are keeping me up at night, scrambling for my phone to make notes while out and about, and inviting me to seek out cafe’s to write in (something I don’t normally do).

These are good voices. My lead character has all kinds of sarcastic comebacks, and jaded views on his life, and plenty of intelligence. There are pages upon pages of notes, character sketches, random bits of dialogue I want to use down the line. My most side eyed look from my family came when I ordered this book. It’s fascinating and proving that my character could have and did disappear in a logical way. I’ve also been reading many a psychological thriller to help me develop my writing (read what you write). So far I’ve read some crap, some good, and pretty much scared myself silly peeking out the curtains at midnight and making sure I did set the house alarm.

If you write, write, don’t worry so much about the publishing part. It happens if it happens. I have never heard of a writer who wrote only because they wanted to be famous or published. Writers write because they have a story to tell and they write for the pleasure of telling that story.

I’m writing to tell a story. If it goes somewhere into the world and someone decides everyone should read it, that would be amazing. It’s the icing on the cake. I’m writing to write, because that’s what I like to do.

Write on my fellow writers. Do it because you want to, not because you have to.

Friday Inspiration

Lately I’ve been wondering if the digital age has been a good thing. There are certainly a lot more crappy drivers out there thanks to all the texting while driving (I was on the freeway the other day next to a woman in the passing lane – doing 70+mph by the way- who was looking down, texting with both hands, and driving with her knee. Needless to say I moved over a lane, just to be safe.) But the digital age has also changed the way we take pictures. It’s been good in that the images are crisper, immediately available, and can be edited straightaway (you can fix that overexposure before sending it to Instagram.) It also means that of all the pictures we take, we are less likely to print them.

I have 7,041 pictures just on my phone. On.My.Phone. It is insane, I am insane, I do realize that.

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We recently went on vacation to Hawaii (yeesh, already 3 weeks ago…) and we probably took 500 pictures between our DSLR and my pocket camera, not including 3 cell phones. Have we even looked at them yet?

No.

I just learned the Kilauea volcano erupted. I’m so glad that we aren’t there right now. Even though we were staying in Waikoloa, on the opposite side of the island, I can’t imagine how scary that is. I hope everyone stays safe.

We take the pictures and maybe we move them off the camera when the next thing comes around that we want to take pictures of, but we never do anything with the pictures. This has become starkly clear to me as I am trying to procure frames for various items to hang on my living room wall (and I say procure because it feels like I’m buying art from Christies. The cost of framing a 24×36 $20 poster is no joke. It is however distracting me from the recent quotes for renovating our backyard, which are seriously depressing.)

So on this Friday, a little colorful inspiration:

Very bold. But I did once transform an old Ikea coffee table with this exact color.

This certainly would be an awesome dinner party to attend.

This bridge would make me happy dance across. Every.Time.

This would be quite the walk up the stairs at night.

Who wouldn’t want to grab a drink from one of these pretty glasses?

I think now that spring has maybe come to Seattle (though it looks gloomy at present which is not good seeing as I need to add one more coat of paint to the front door….), color is everywhere. And it definitely looks good.

Do you feel drawn to bright colors in the spring? What are some of your favorites?

Allergy Chaos

There are a lot of things that went click for me a few weeks ago when I received the results of my skin allergy testing. Those sunscreens I kept reacting to? Not the problem, or at least the actual sun-blocking components of the sunscreen wasn’t the problem. It was 4 little things, that have pretty much turned my life upside-down and have me becoming a label reading maniac. Let me back up to the beginning.

For years, I’ve had itchy skin, mostly on my legs, but also on my back and arms. Sometimes I’d have little bumps, or what I thought was a severe itching feeling, but what I know now was more like burning (and now that I know that, when I come in contact with a ‘bad’ item, I can feel it.) A year and half ago we went on a summer vacation and stayed at an AirBnb on a lake. The lake had a good amount of seaweed/algae present. It was gross but we still swam because it was HOT! The day after I first put on sunscreen, I noticed that my legs were super itchy. Like I want to claw off my legs itchy and I ended up making them bleed a little because I had been itching in my sleep. Ew. I noticed little bumps and redness. It continued, and without really realizing what was going on, I continued to use the sunscreen thinking it must be a reaction to something in the lake water (I have pretty annoyingly sensitive skin.)

I continued to be itchy for another 7-8 days even after we returned to London. A couple of weeks after we were back home, I took my daughter to the park to meet a friend and it was a rare hot sunny day, so I put on sunscreen (it was even a sensitive skin brand).

The same reaction happened again with this new sunscreen. I went to a dermatologist (for rosacea treatment) and mentioned the sunscreen issue. She recommended cutting out two ingredients that can cause issues. I did. The next time I wore sunscreen, expensive free from sunscreen….the same thing happened.

A few years ago we went on holiday and after one night in the hotel I woke up with this terrible burning sensation on my face and it was red and full of bumps. I’ve always been sensitive to detergents, and we all know hotels don’t exactly use the most gentle detergents for obvious reasons like I do at home. I spent the rest of the trip with a t-shirt over my pillow.

After moving back to the US last summer I decided to finally have allergy testing done. And after months of waiting for the doctor to find the ingredients to test on my skin (which aren’t easy to get a hold of apparently), I had the testing done after we came back from Iceland.

The good news is I’m only allergic to 4 items. The bad news is that 3 of the 4 are so common in everything from detergent to shampoo to makeup to food, and the real kicker, commonly found in finishing dye on textiles. The dreaded 4:

The first two I can avoid pretty easily as long as I read every label, or look up every ingredient list on everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, I buy/own. Goodbye to my favorite shampoo Living Proof, and that mascara I loved, and that Tide Sensitive that always cleaned so well, and my favorite scent of the Mrs. Meyer’s cleaners. And let’s not forget my old deodorant and toothpaste while we are at it. Handsoaps too. And dish washing soap (I tried saying I should just never wash dishes again because of it. It didn’t work. Dang it.)

Basically, MI (as it’s commonly known) and propylene glycol are in lots and lots and lots of things. They are preservatives, and I have a very strong reaction to them. It explains why my underarms were always itchy (attractive) when I used Dove deodorant. Why my head itched even though I didn’t have any sort of scalp issue (my shampoo was to blame). These are the chemicals I can (relatively) easily avoid.

Avoiding formaldehyde is really, really hard. You wouldn’t think so, because who puts formaldehyde in makeup? or in other products? (lots of companies, though it is becoming less common.) The real problem is that it is used in the dyes for textiles to bind the color to the fabric (if I understand it correctly). There is little restriction on it’s use in US goods. There are bans in other parts of the world (mostly parts of Europe and Japan). How do you figure out if your clothes contain formaldehyde? It is not easy. If you already own it, it’s pretty difficult. (And you should always wash your clothes before you wear them, because they are COVERED in chemicals to keep them crisp during shipping and sale. But if you are sensitive like me, washing, even repeatedly won’t help. Wrinkle free/no iron clothes are huge culprits for formaldehyde. That’s what keeps them from getting wrinkles.) Even if it says ‘organic’ on the tag, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have formaldehyde in the finishing/dye.

Where has this led me? Since the reaction can last from 2-8 weeks after your last contact with the offending substance, I have done my best to eliminate everything I come in contact with so I don’t get re-exposed. (Including bringing my own sheets and towels when we go on vacation. Oh don’t mind me, I just travel with my own linens….) This also means spending hours and HOURS on the internet, researching at sites like GOTS and Bluesign and Oeko-Tex – places that certify brands that don’t use these chemicals. Have you ever looked at a clothing label though? Or tried to find the designation on a brand website, and then relocate it in the description of the item you might be thinking of buying? It’s like Where’s Waldo and not the fun version I remember as a kid. Even communicating with customer service reps – both brands who directly said on their websites that they carry Bluesign designation, and one who directly lists it in the description of the products they carry that are Bluesign – both reps said they didn’t even have Bluesign, nor had they heard of it. I actually had to send them the link to the page on their own websites.

So, imagine being the consumer trying to figure this out and buy all new clothing, just so you don’t spend your life itching and full of bumps and rashes.

It has been a long few weeks. A very long few weeks. I have spent way too much money on 17 pieces of clothing so I can stop itching (because of course these designations and qualifications and changes to manufacturing cost money, and of course the consumer gets to pay for it in the final price). I’ve never been one for thinking $100 for jeans was really okay, and now that’s the clearance price of the Bluesign pair that I’m hoping to buy. Jeans have been my daily uniform, and that’s quickly giving away to yoga pants and loose fitting linen. (Athletic brands seem to do very well in adopting these chemical limits for some reason, I’m not really sure why.)

I’m utterly exhausted from all this, and more than a little frustrated and down about this entire allergy thing. I didn’t always have this, though I’ve probably had it for at least the last 5 years without realizing it. The constant exposure to these chemicals caused me to become extra sensitive to them. It sucks. I really liked my previous closet, and starting over again has not been my favorite thing (especially since a lot of the Safe Brands aren’t exactly my style or in my price range).

I’m hoping to have all my new pieces in the next two weeks, and then spend a solid two months wearing them exclusively (and yep, that includes underwear and socks, they don’t get left out of the formaldehyde process either). I always wanted to try a really, really lean closet experiment.

Guess I’m getting my wish!

Brands that sell or are part of the Bluesign/Oeko-Tex/GOTS that I have purchased from

(I included a very small list, and you have to check every item you want to purchase because not all of them have the designation, I recommend calling CS asking about each item you’re interested in specifically):

 

Iceland; stunning beauty & lots of people

Last week, my family and I went to Iceland for a week long adventure. We’ve been thinking about going to Iceland for a few years, and when we lived in London we never managed to make the trip.

So a trip involving an 8 hour time difference seemed like the perfect time right?

Right.

Iceland is very, very beautiful. When you arrive in the heart of winter everything is covered in snow {often including yourself as well}. There is something about the pure whiteness of snow that seems to be magical. It is pure and to me, has a quiet reverence.

{I could be feeling this way because I went to mass this morning, something I haven’t done on my own, voluntarily, without a family member or holiday involved in probably 15-16 years?? There is an ‘afterglow’ after church. I always felt that way as a kid, likening it to simply being released from sitting still, but I found it this morning as well, awkward as it was to be in a church I’d never been to before, with people I’d never met.}

Here are the things i knew about Iceland before we traveled.

It’s cold. No, really cold. (and it did not disappoint in this area, though being in 3 layers top and bottom plus coat, hat, gloves and waterproof boots, I was toasty warm.)

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Iceland is expensive. No. SERIOUSLY FREAKING EXPENSIVE.

We ate lunch one day at a tomato farm, and while you think okay, upticked prices for the scenery (which was cool, eating lunch right next to the tomatoes that were in the soup I was eating was cool). But a bowl of soup (unlimited) and bread was 2400 kroner, which is roughly $24. We had breakfast at a cafe around the corner from our AirBNB and bowl of porridge was 1900 kroner = $19. For oatmeal. It was fabulous but…

Be prepared if you go. I’ve lived in central London. I’ve been to Norway. They’ve got nothin’ on Icelandic prices.

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Iceland is crowded. I’d read that it is becoming one of the hottest (unfortunately, not literally) places to visit. I’d read there are crowds. But nothing really prepares you for the HORDES of people everywhere, even the ‘out of the way’ places our guide took us on day 2. People everywhere.

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These are with severe editing to try to take the people out of my pictures. Maybe it was the week we went being a holiday for most US schools, and Chinese New Year, I don’t know, but if you are looking for a remote, lonely vacation, Iceland is not the way to go.

While I am still glad we went, it did diminish the experience for me a bit.

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Shoe Crampons for the win

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The other things I learned about Iceland: In Reykjavik they do not shovel the sidewalks. No, they really don’t. Whenever we walked anywhere (which was all the time) you just slug along through the snow/slush/ice. It seems to be a regular thing. The only places that had cleared sidewalks were those in the very heart of the city who had the benefit of the underwater hot spring which they use under the sidewalks to melt the snow in certain areas. {I have pictures of sidewalks and the city etc on my Instagram. Phone shots were easier in the city than large camera shots.} So when you are out on tour, Crampons (little spikes you put on over your shoes) are your friend. Your best friend.

We spent several days at the beginning of our trip in Reykjavik and then we went on a 3 day tour with Goecco. Our guide, Gunni, was really interesting and very friendly. He previously was a movie scout in Iceland. Small little movies like Interstellar. To say he knows Iceland, is saying something. He had some great stories in the evenings at the guest house.

While the tour itself definitely was great – and I say that even though we had rain/hurricane winds most of the time, and I unfortunately learned the difference between waterproof and water resistant – I wasn’t as huge of a fan of the ‘living’ part of the tour. Me and 15 other people sharing a guest house. It is definitely a dorm situation with shared showers (welcome to college life kids!).

Food is another area to keep in mind. If you are at all a person who doesn’t eat fish (that’d be me and one of my kids), you are kind of out of luck. Fish will be the only thing on the menu, and unfortunately, our microwave macaroni cups did not come in handy. As the guest house had no microwave. Lunch one day was whatever chips/cookies you could find at the convenience store.

All I’m saying is be prepared if you don’t eat fish, or you enjoy regular meals. I ate a heck of a lot of Kind bars and fruit strips.

It was a successful trip; the husband finally saw the Northern Lights after 10 years of trying, those pictures are somewhere on another SD card, though I will say I never saw any of the green in the pictures. That is actually a product of leaving the camera shutter open. The green isn’t often visible to the naked eye. It really does require the miraculous set of perfect conditions to see them like that, or really see them at all.

Would I go back? That seems to be the ultimate judge of a vacation for me. Scotland, Ireland, Hawaii, all unequivocally YES.

Iceland gets a maybe. I’d like to see it in the summertime. Gunni says it’s a complete different world, all the colors and pearls hiding under the snow. The popularity, and expense, definitely give me pause. But if you get the chance to go, GO. It’s a beautiful place with friendly people, and a real look at how people survive in a pretty harsh climate.

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