And I was doing so well with that updating thing for a while...

Apologies for the lack of updates lately. I've been dealing with a family emergency that isn't my story to tell (because you know if it was, I'd be the loudmouth blabbing it all over! I am an open book. Plenty of other people are not.).

In any case, I've been too stressed out to blog or write really, but I'll try to get back to things as soon as I can. I am at the Emerging Writers Festival in Alexandria, Virginia this weekend and will be sure to write about that soon; I’m tweeting and facebooking about it over at @RachaelDickzen and www.facebook.com/rachaeldickzenauthor .

Thanks for your patience. :)

The Vanguard: My Current #WIP and Some Cool Ancient Civilization Facts!

My current work in progress (WIP)is “The Vanguard: The Cats that Conquered Egypt.” This is about the Battle of Pelusium, which took place in 525 BCE between the Ancient Egyptians and Persians. Legend has it that the Persians put cats (and other animals, although this part gets left out of a lot of retellings) on the battlefield before them in order to discourage the Egyptians from attacking; the Egyptians at that time held cats sacred and actually put to death anyone who killed a cat, even if it was by accident.

When Cambyses attacked Pelusium, which guarded the entrance into Egypt, the Egyptians defended it with great resolution. They advanced formidable engines against the besiegers, and hurled missiles, stones, and fire at them from their catapults. To counter this destructive barrage, Cambyses ranged before his front line dogs, sheep, cats, ibises, and whatever other animals the Egyptians hold sacred. The Egyptians immediately stopped their operations, out of fear of hurting the animals, which they hold in great veneration. Cambyses captured Pelusium, and thereby opened up for himself the route into Egypt.

Polyaenus - Strategems, VII.9 (Published 163 A.D.)

Realistically, this almost certainly didn’t happen and if anything like it DID happen, the Persians probably just painted cats and/or Egyptian gods on their shields. But it’s a great story, and I do love my cat legends.

This is the African Wildcat. From what I’ve been reading, this is probably what ancient Egyptian cats looked like. Honestly, it’s probably what ALL cats looked like at that time. But for the sake of differentiating them in my head, I’ve been envisioning just Bahadur (Persian cat) as an African wildcat (i haven’t been able to find ANY descriptions of cats in ancient Persia because than I just pull up “Persian cats,” which probably didn’t develop until like, the 1700s).

This is the African Wildcat. From what I’ve been reading, this is probably what ancient Egyptian cats looked like. Honestly, it’s probably what ALL cats looked like at that time. But for the sake of differentiating them in my head, I’ve been envisioning just Bahadur (Persian cat) as an African wildcat (i haven’t been able to find ANY descriptions of cats in ancient Persia because than I just pull up “Persian cats,” which probably didn’t develop until like, the 1700s).

The story starts about a year or so before the battle and tells the background leading up to the battle from the point of view of two cats. One cat, Bahadur (this is Farsi for “fighter”), lives in the royal palace kitchens in Persepolis, Persia, and ends up befriending an Egyptian woman who is sent to the Persian King as a decoy wife (he had asked for the current pharaoh’s daughter in marriage; he actually sent the PREVIOUS pharoah’s daughter instead, which Cambyses took as a grave insult). The other cat, Nedjem (which actually just means “sweetie” - Egyptian cats weren’t usually given individual names), is the in-house cat in the Department for the Protection of Cats (Upper Egypt branch) in Thebes. This government agency (which actually existed, although we have no idea what it was actually called or how exactly it functioned) existed to prevent the exportation of cats out of Egypt. I’ve also put them in charge of punishing people who hurt or kill cats, as it makes sense to me, but I have no actual evidence that this was the case.

I had planned on publishing this on Amazon in July but it’s actually still not finished, for a few reasons. The primary reason is that my face and head have hurt for most of the last month, which made it harder for me to like, concentrate on anything, and I’ve had to spend a lot more time at various doctors’ offices lately than I’d like. Ends up I have a deviated septum which is causing all the problems and I’m getting a septoplasty next Wednesday for it. Yay. PLUS, this story has honestly just been a lot more complicated and interesting and difficult than I thought it would be. It’s turned from a short story into more of a novella, as it’s over 14,000 words now and I still have a few more chapters to write.

So since the story itself isn’t quite out yet, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite tidbits I’ve learned in my research.

It’s unlikely that cats in ancient Egypt actually looked like an Egyptian Mau looks like now, but they’re so pretty, and I love them, so I’m imagining Nedjem as a Mau. :)

It’s unlikely that cats in ancient Egypt actually looked like an Egyptian Mau looks like now, but they’re so pretty, and I love them, so I’m imagining Nedjem as a Mau. :)

Egypt:

There’s evidence that every cat in Ancient Egypt was considered a demi-god. Mere humans couldn’t own a cat, and all cats were under the guardianship of the pharaoh.

Diodorus Siculus wrote “Whoever kills a cat in Egypt is condemned to death, whether he committed this crime deliberately or not. The people gather and kill him. An unfortunate Roman, who accidentally killed a cat, could not be saved, either by King Ptolemy of Egypt or by the fear which Rome inspired.”

Instructions for the deceased were written on the inside of sarcophagi. These would remind the soul of who they’d been in life and what to do in the afterlife.

Persia:

Ancient Persians practiced Zoroastrianism, the world’s oldest monotheistic religion. Zoroastrians consider both water and fire life-sustaining, so they generally pray in the presence of some form of fire. They did not build temples, altars, or statues of their god. As they conquered numerous other countries, they allowed them to keep their temples and practice their religions, but did not build any new ones. It’s believed that the tenets of Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) were all shaped by Zoroastrianism, as it established the idea of one god, heaven, hell, and a judgment day. It’s still practiced today, particularly in India.

Oh fun fact - “Magi” literally refers to priests of zoroastrianism. So the three Magi were three…priests of zoroastrianism. I thought all this time it was just a fancy word for “wise men.” That must be a thing they just tell you at church.

Zoroastrians didn’t really like cats - it was sad they were created by an evil spirit and there were numerous supersitions against them- but plenty of ancient Persians kept cats as pets anyway. At one point, there was a prince who loved his cat so much that petitioners would write out their requests and tie them to the cat’s collar so he’d have to see them!

I'm a ChildFree MomFriend and That's Just Fine With Me.

I used to think I really wanted kids, but over time, as I grew up and realized that I didn’t have to want the same things as everyone else, I determined that it was a lot more complicated than that.

Now, I’m not anti-kids at all.My nieces are one of the best parts of my life and I really enjoy talking to children. They’re hilarious. But I also really enjoy handing them back to the parents at the end of the day and going home with my husband to a quiet house. I totally support any of my friends who want to have kids and will cheer them on and give their kids stuffed animals and personalized onesies galore, but it’s just not for me. And John agrees as well!

Me as a kid, with my dad. I was a handful, can you tell? And let’s just be honest, if John and I procreated, our child would be way too smart and mischievous for anyone’s good.

Me as a kid, with my dad. I was a handful, can you tell? And let’s just be honest, if John and I procreated, our child would be way too smart and mischievous for anyone’s good.

I DO have some very maternal qualities, and I really enjoy taking care of other people. A friend labeled me “a momfriend” not too long ago, and I loved it. I want to check in on my friends and make sure they’re doing okay; I definitely worry about them and try to help them whenever I can. I love having a house that my friends feel comfortable in and I hope they realize that they can always come over if they need to get away from their parents or roommates or boyfriends or whatever. I like feeding people! I also adore my cats and mother them ferociously. But just because I have those qualities doesn’t mean I want to be an actual parent.

First, I have lots of medical issues, y’all. Chronic neck pain from osteoarthritis, clinical depression (which is controlled and generally stable now, but still exists and is a real concern in my life), ADHD, the New Fun Unnamed Chronic Pain is still rearing its ugly head pretty regularly, bad allergies, plantar fascitis (so my feet hurt all the time, yay), occasional tendinitis in my wrists, and now I have this deviated septum thing that needs to be fixed. Have I mentioned I also have a bicuspid aortic heart valve? I literally have a valve in my heart that’s SUPPOSED to be 3-sided but is actually 2-sided. This doesn’t generally cause a problem, but it does make me more prone to infections and such. And I’m 31! Like - who knows what else is wrong with me that I just haven’t discovered yet? I may develop something new tomorrow. And pregnancy and a baby would literally make all of those issues worse. It wouldn’t improve /any/ of them.

Second, partly because of said medical issues, partly because of…just my own personal feelings, pregnancy is like one of the most terrifying things in the world to me. My body does PLENTY of things on its own already that I don’t want it to do; the thought of actually losing it to another being is really unpleasant. Every time I hear about someone’s pregnancy or what it does to them, I just….ugh, no. It sounds awful. No, thank you. I’ve already firmly decided that if I ever DO change my mind and want a child (not likely), adoption is the way we’re going. I know it’s expensive and not easy, but pregnancy is just not a thing I’m ever willing to go through. My feelings might rise to the level of an actual phobia of pregnancy, honestly; it’s called tokophobia! It sounds like it’s hellish for people who WANT kids but are terrified of pregnancy/childbirth; I feel lucky that that’s not my situation.

I did almost buy this father’s day card for John and sign it from the cats, but I just sent him a picture to save $5 instead, lol. (He HATES the entire concept of calling pets your children, hah).

I did almost buy this father’s day card for John and sign it from the cats, but I just sent him a picture to save $5 instead, lol. (He HATES the entire concept of calling pets your children, hah).

Third, from a purely practical standpoint, life is expensive and my husband and I are often struggling even just with us two. And we’re lawyers! We’re better paid than many! But our house has lots of issues that still need to be fixed and my body persists in developing new problems that require lots of money, so money is still a serious concern. I can’t even comprehend the idea of trying to fit a kid into our budget.

Finally, I just really like my life the way it is. I enjoy having time to spend with my husband and with my friends. I like being able to participate in community theater. I love that my day job is flexible enough that I can also fit in writing on this blog and creative writing! I want to travel the world and see everything out there. These things are all certainly possible with children, but they are certainly much more difficult. And it should be! I value children enough to know that having them shouldn’t be a default or an afterthought. I don’t want to have kids unless I KNOW I really want them and am wiling to put in the time and money and effort needed to being the best parent I can be for that kid (not in a pinterest perfect way but in a “I need to help this tiny human become a decent person” way). And I’m not willing to do that, so - nope! No thanks. I’ll spoil my family’s kids and friends’ kids instead. :)

DIY Traction for Cowboy Boots!

I’ve had these pink cowboy boots for years now; they were somewhat of an impulse buy shortly after I started my first full time job post college. I had very few bills then and lots of savings (ah, what a time), so I splurged on ridiculous boots. I don’t wear them too often these days, but sometimes they’re just exactly what I need to spice up an outfit .

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I’m acting in a community theater production of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale this weekend. I’m in a line dance in one sheep shearing festival scene! It’s super fun, although I’ve been pretty nervous about it throughout the rehearsal process because I haven’t danced in a show since....2012? But overall it’s delightful. And i get to wear my pink cowboy boots for it!

I discovered during our first dress rehearsal that my boots are quite slippery! It was bad enough that it made me quite nervous that I’d fall over onstage in front of everyone. I needed a solution! Fortunately, the internet, as always, provided. 

This was a super easy fix and relatively cheap! I got one strip of traction tape for about $6.50 at Home Depot; part of it was reflective, but I didn’t need to use that bit.  I ended up with some left over as well, which I can use for other super slippery shoes!

Materials: 

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  • One strip of traction tape. This is the type of thing you use on ladder steps for safety reasons! 

  • Pen or pencil

  • Scissors

  • Boots! 

    1. Position boots on the paper side of the traction tape.

    2. Trace around the boots.

    3. Cut around the trace lines with the scissors. If the boots have heels, cut the tape portions in two so you can put them flat on each portion. 

    4. Stick the traction tape to the bottom of the boots and press it firmly onto it. 

    5. Check for any parts that are lifting away from the sole and trim them away. I found that I had to trim my tape back away from the thread outlining the sole for it to lay completely flat (pictured below).

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And there you go! This has worked well and has prevented me from slipping or falling since I added it. It should work for other shoes as well!

One quick caution, courtesy of my wood obsessed husband (seriously, our backyard is full of firewood and his workshop is full of lumber for building stuff?): this is NOT a good idea if you plan on walking or dancing in the boots on nice hardwood floors. The traction tape is quite rough and could easily scratch up wood. 

And a FINAL word of caution from me: Traction tape is rough enough that it can rub your thumb down just a little while you’re manipulating it. I haven’t been able to use the thumbprint capture feature on my iPhone since I added this tape to my boots! I’m sure my skin will renew quickly and I’ll have my easily readable print back soon, but it is slightly annoying. 

My First Book Club Meeting! (Mostly Dead Things, By Kristen Arnett)

Mostly Dead Things
By Kristen Arnett

My sister’s family visited DC from Texas not too long ago. After a very hot morning wandering around Mount Vernon (the historical site, not the neighborhood), John and I took them to Virtue Grain and Feed in Old Town Alexandria for lunch. My sister suggested we check out the bookstore right next to it afterward, and I am SO glad she did!

I discovered three things on that visit. 1. Old Town Books is cute and fun. 2. They have book clubs! Which I decided immediately to join. and 3. They’e hosting an Emerging Writer’s Festival in August (that I knew I HAD to be part of).

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I’ve actually been meaning to read more fiction for a while now. I generally gravitate toward nonfiction books, usually history or self help. If I DO read a fiction book, it’s probably a Tamora Pierce novel or historical fiction set around the English Renaissance (Tudor Times are MY JAM), or maybe Jane Austen. I also regularly act in Shakespeare plays, although I’m not sure how much that counts towards reading. But since I’m writing fiction now, I clearly need to read more of it. I wasn’t sure where to start though, which is why I was so happy to learn about Old Town Books’ book club! I figured this was a perfect way to discover new fiction and make new literary friends while also overanalyzing stories (which is one of my favorite things).

My first meeting was this last Saturday! This is the first book club I can actively remember going to, honestly. And it was delightful! We discussed “Mostly Dead Things,” by Kristen Arnett. It’s a wonderfully wacky book about how a family moves on after their paternal figure’s suicide. He was a taxidermist, as is the narrator Jessa-Lyn, and the book explores this craft in a really fascinating, realistic, and occasionally gory way. The narrator’s mother starts to work through her grief by making art in the form of sexually explicit taxidermy scenes, which leads to her meeting an art gallery owner and creating her own full art exhibit. The narrator ends up in a twisty relationship with the gallery owner, Lucinda, and shenanigans continue from there. It’s also a beautiful exploration of the nature of grief and family. It’s a tough read at times, just because it’s so emotional and raw, but I really enjoyed it and I greatly enjoyed talking to other book fans about it. My friend Arielle came along with me and we had a good time!

Also there was a dog. A DOG. All bookstores need dogs.

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The author Kristen Arnett joined the meeting after a bit and we got to ask her some questions! She had some really thoughtful answers. She also talked about how she fit her writing into her life with her full-time job as a librarian - basically, she committed to writing 1,000 words every day Monday-Friday. She didn’t have to write on the weekend, but if she did, that was cool too. I’ve found this mindset really inspiring and have made a similar commitment in my own life (using the Momentum habit tracking app).*

Afterward, Kristen signed books for everyone. She had the coolest way of doing so too - she put hearts into various portions of the title on the title page! I really appreciated the extra effort she put into making the autograph experience more unique and it gives me ideas for the future. :)

I can’t wait for next month’s meeting! I haven’t figured out what the book is yet, but I keep checking their website obsessively and someday I’ll know!

*I previously used the Habitbull habit tracking app, but I switched to Momentum to save money. It’s a very similar set up and only cost $5-6 instead of the $20 per year for Habitbull.

Feeding the Kitties + DIY Reusable Wet Wipes for Cleaning Up After Them

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I currently have three cats residing in my house. Two are mine (Schrodinger and Ziggy Stardust) and one is a long term guest who’s hanging with us until his owners find a place to live where they can have him back (Martok).

Every morning, I feed them two cans of wet food (generally Friskies). One or more of them had some diarrhea issues earlier this year, so I now mix a scoop of probiotics into each can (I do all this prep work in the basement bathroom with the door closed so they don’t try to eat it while I’m serving it out!).

I then divide this food up into an automatic feeder (linked below) which goes off numerous times throughout the day and one extra bowl (so that they all don’t just scramble at one serving). I’ve been using this automatic feeder system for a few years now; it ensures they get some of their favorite food throughout the day at various times and also keeps them from associating me /too/ much with food. This has really helped reduce early morning wake up meows. I also take care not to feed them /immediately/ after I wake up.

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I should note that they literally always have some dry food so it’s not like they’re starving. I put a cup of dry food into their food tree every morning. The food tree (linked below) works really well for slowing down their eating and reducing “scarf and barf.” It also provides a bit of a challenge for them so they’re not just mindlessly eating all day.

Right after putting their wet food out, I put one of Schrody’s pill-pocket-and-capsule-covered-Prozac pills into whatever container he’s scarfing that day. I also put a squirt of salmon oil over his food, to help him with his senior cat joint pain.

As an ADHD cat owner, I’m not always the GREATEST at remembering to do things like, clean the cat bowls (they’re nowhere near the kitchen and I use them daily so it’s a little inconvenient to figure out when to do it). It’s much easier for me to remember chores when I make it super convenient and simple for me though, so for quite a while now, I’ve kept some wet wipes down stairs in the cat room to wipe out all the cat bowls and containers on a regular basis.

Recently though, I’ve been really trying to reduce the amount of waste in our house (thanks to the By the Book podcast episode on “Zero-Waste Home”), so I decided it was time to stop buying wet wipes. They’re really not good for the environment. Adam Ruins Everything did a segment at one point on why these “flushable” wet wipes are actually TOTALLY NOT flushable and how they wreck havoc on our plumbing systems. They also aren’t biodegradable.

So I made my own reusable wet wipes! It was super simple and they’ve worked really well as a replacement. In addition, the vinegar in it disinfects the bowls and helps keep the kitties healthy.

DIY Reusable Disinfecting Wet Wipes

Materials:

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Bambooee towels (we’ve actually used these for years now; they’re a great replacement for paper towels. John still insists on keeping power towels in the house for SUPER big messes, but we rarely use them at this point; our use has gone WAY down). OR Extra cloth rags
White vinegar
A container with a lid to keep them in.

  1. Use scissors to cut the bamboo towels/rags in half, so you have a nice little pile that’s approximately the size of your usual wet wipe.

  2. Stack the rags all in a Tupperware container.

  3. Pour white vinegar over them all. Ensure all the towels/rags are completely soaked. If there’s a bit of excess vinegar in the bottom of the container, it’s not a problem.

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And that’s it! I’ve been using them for weeks. When they’re dirty, I just throw them in the laundry and then stack them up for the next time I need to make new ones. The cat bowls and containers do need to be properly cleaned in the dishwasher or with dish soap regularly, but this definitely helps reduce the mess in the meantime.

The vinegar wipes work great for wiping down general cat room messes, cat bowls, their food mats, and the floor around them, when they’re being particularly messy eaters. I have found that they’re not a good replacement for wet wipes for litter box or poop mess (I completely clean out the litter boxes once a week or more, but it can be useful to have these on hand for in-between time messes) so I still use paper towels for those occasionally, but I’ve /way/ cut down on my waste for this.

My Deviated Septum is Trying to Kill Me With Pain, but At Least I Got a Diagnosis Quickly

WELP. I believe I’ve mentioned before that I’ve had pretty intense sinus and headache pain that I believed was sinusitis for over a month now. On top of that, I’ve had various bouts of nausea, lighteheadness, and eye blurriness, which I believed were all related at the time. After I tried three different antibiotics and a round of steroids from my general practitioner with no relief, I ended up going to an ENT, Dr. Sharma.

I took this in the waiting room because my hair looked cute. I really like the new yellow, orange, and salmon colors I added in last weekend!

I took this in the waiting room because my hair looked cute. I really like the new yellow, orange, and salmon colors I added in last weekend!

On my first visit to his office, he put some drops in my nose to dilate something inside it and scoped out my nose with a camera (this was all weird-feeling, but not painful or anything). He quickly determined that my facial pain was NOT in fact, the result of sinusitis. My sinuses were totally fine. This was mildly confusing to me, as my GP had previously said that my sinuses looked irritated (something I should address with him at some point).

Dr. Sharma initially suggested waiting a few weeks before getting a head CT, but once I explained how much of a toll this constant pain has been taking on me, he ordered one right away. I’m really glad I got it done sooner rather than later, as I was starting to get pretty freaked out over what might be the problem.

I got my head CT yesterday. Easiest medical test I’ve had all year! Yes - this is…at least my fourth, maybe my fifth, medical test to figure out mysterious pain this year. LUCKY ME. But this one didn’t require any fasting or medicine prep or anything. I just made sure I wasn’t wearing anything metal around my head, lay down, stayed still during the CT, and then left. It was awesome. I must admit though, I was pretty nervous and keyed up about it all afterward, just waiting for those results and hoping I didn’t have a tumor or something terrifying.

In the past, it’s taken several days for my doctors to get back to me with results, but I actually got a phone call from Dr. Sharma’s office first thing this morning asking me to come in and bring my CT CD so he could look at it and tell me what was up. So less than 24 hours after actually getting the CT - I had an answer. My sinuses are still totally fine. It’s a deviated septum that’s causing my facial pain. My nose looks totally straight and non-distinctive from the outside, but on the inside, it apparently is super wavy. So I’m going to get surgery to fix it and hopefully that should solve the problem.

I’m actually a little surprised that my septum ended up being the issue! That was not something I expected at all. My nose is straight and pretty non-distinctive - not really too small or too large or anything. I’ve never had a problem with it because it’s just…my nose. I’ve also never had trouble breathing out of either nostril and I don’t breathe through my mouth, so I really don’t display most of the classic deviated septum signs. The facial pain I started having at the start of July is really the only trouble I’ve ever had with it. If I hadn’t had that, I literally would never have known my septum was anything other than totally completely ordinary. I don’t actually mind it too much, but it definitely wasn’t the diagnosis I was expecting! (I thought my CT would be totally normal and I’d probably have migraines or something, which would be a pain in the ass to treat. :/)

Dr. Sharma actually was trying to get me in for the surgery tomorrow, but because I’m in a play next weekend and going to a writer’s conference the weekend after that, I elected to put it off for a while. From what I’ve read online, recovery from a septoplasty can be pretty grody and you can look pretty awful for a few days after it. I don’t want to risk messing up my performance or my face right before a theater production we’ve been working on for months. I also don’t really want to go to a writers festival that I intend to use as a learning AND networking opportunity with a giant bandage on my nose. So as bad as the pain is, I’ll just tough it out for a few weeks and then get the surgery. I feel like I can handle it now that I know what’s going on and I’m not just flailing around for a diagnosis.

This picture of my head CT results is blurry because I was trying to take it without being too obvious, but it’s the only pic I have documenting this whole diagnosis experience so, here it is.

This picture of my head CT results is blurry because I was trying to take it without being too obvious, but it’s the only pic I have documenting this whole diagnosis experience so, here it is.

All in all, the whole experience hasn’t been too bad. Considering it took me YEARS to get a diagnosis for my osteoarthritis/neck pain and over 8 months to get a diagnosis for my more recent chronic pain issue (which I’m choosing not to name, as it’s…of a slightly more private nature, and I am Southern, after all. I gotta have SOME boundaries.), getting a diagnosis for my new fun facial pain in just about a month really isn’t so bad. AND I’ve got a solution for it which is likely to remedy the pain entirely; in contrast, my neck pain and unnamed chronic pain #2 are continuing issues that I’m going to likely have to take active measures to battle the rest of my life. :/

I think the fact that I have a good ENT who believes me, takes my pain seriously, and is willing to work with me to get that pain addressed ASAP is a huge factor here. Dr. Sharma and his office followed up with me on my medical test faster than any other doctor I’ve ever had, and they were literally ready to get me in for surgery within 24 hours! That’s seriously quick for a relatively minor outpatient procedure that isn’t life threatening in any way. I am very very grateful for his work and his office and am very happy to have an answer!

I’ll have more updates later as I actually go through the septoplasty and recover from it. I had trouble finding straight answers online on what the recovery for an outpatient septoplasty under local anesthesia and without rhinoplasty would be like. The doctor’s office estimated 2-3 days, while accounts I was reading online and heard from friends was more like a week or two. But everything I read was also for in-patient procedures, under general anesthesia, or also included a rhinoplasty. So I definitely want to document my exact experience for anyone else who might want to get some answers in the future!

How I Get My Cranky Anxiety-Ridden Old Man Cat to Take His Damn Prozac

This is an older photo of us. My hair hasn’t looked like that in a while!

This is an older photo of us. My hair hasn’t looked like that in a while!

I’m starting to experiment with Amazon affiliate links, friends, so you’ll start to see links to products I personally use and love now. :)

Schrodinger Beethoven Dickson-Lorenzen is my first and most favorite kittyface. He purrs when he sees me, naps on my lap for hours while I’m working, and meows at me to turn on the bathroom faucet for him every night.

However, dude’s got some issues. He is pretty terrified of people and has a lot of anxiety. Now, some cats are shy naturally, but I don’t think that’s the case with Schrodes. He really loves people and loves being cuddled and pet, but he seems to be held back by his fears. He also still hisses at my husband John on a regular basis, although they’ve lived together for over two years now.

Based on my knowledge of his backstory before he was given up to PAWS (out in Chicago, they’re amazing) and his current emotional and physical health, here’s what I think probably happened. His previous owners got him declawed in his front legs. This resulted in his feet being really hurt by the cat litter, so he developed cat litter issues and ended up peeing basically everywhere else (the surrender papers were pretty awful to read). I’m guessing his previous owners got very frustrated by this and abused him in an effort to train him to stop doing it. He’s got one kidney that’s larger than the other, which probably means he was kicked at some point.

He stopped eating when he was at the main PAWS facility in Chicago, so they put him in a foster home with my bestie Holly. I met him through her and fell in love with him. For a long time, we had to put puppy pads in the litter box for him so he had a soft place to put his paws when he used the box. He hasn’t needed that in a couple years now, but it really helped him at the beginning when he was still recovering from the declawing and his previous owners’ abuse.

He was a pretty anxious cat who seemed lonely when I wasn’t around, so I adopted Ziggy Stardust pretty soon afterward so he’d have a friend. They’ve been great bros since and get along really well. He’s much happier now, but he’s definitely still got anxiety issues.So finally, last August, I went to the vet, explained the whole situation, and asked if we could get him on some anxiety meds. He’s been on daily Prozac ever since. He’s been on these meds for the past year now, but it took a LONG time to get him to take the meds regularly and consistently.

My Initial Attempts:

First, I just gave him the pills in his food. He quickly caught on within a week or so and refused to touch them.

Second, I put the pills in pill pockets, which i then hid in his food. I got a few weeks out of that before he refused to touch it anymore. :/ (I later discovered that he greatly prefers the tuna and cheese pill pockets to the salmon ones! Picky animal.).

Third, I got fancy tuna-flavored liquid meds for him and tried putting it in his food, then just squirting it into his mouth. Each time, he caught on and struggled and fought against it even more.

I resorted to getting some flavorless gelatin capsules online to put his pills in (I bought a pack of 1,000 capsules on Amazon, which should last me a couple of years!). I do have to cut these down to a more cat friendly size, but it doesn’t take too long if i just do a whole bunch of them at once. I had to experiment with the best ways to use these capsules - for a while I actually was putting the capsules into a pill pocket and THEN covering it with tuna to get him to eat it, but I FINALLY FINALLY found a method that works. I’ve been getting him to take his medicine consistently in this way since April! HALLELUJAH.

It only took me NINE MONTHS to figure out a system that consistently works!

So. What I do.

My Foolproof Method of Getting Schrodinger to take his damn pills:

  1. Cut a flavorless gelatin capsule down to a cat friendly size.

  2. Put his pill into the capsule.

  3. Put the capsule into a tuna and cheese pill pocket, Schrody’s favorite.

    [I actually work in batches and put a ton of pill/capsule/pill pockets together at a time. I store them all together in a bag so the pill pockets don’t dry out. The capsules soften up a little within the pill pocket, but Schrody doesn’t seem to notice or care.]

  4. Once Schrodinger starts eating his morning wet food, I put the pill pocket into the food immediately next to where he’s scarfing, so he eats it up without even really noticing it. It works every time!

Just look how pleased he looks with himself.

Just look how pleased he looks with himself.

I’ve also started squirting a little salmon oil on the pill pocket lately, as he’s been walking stiffly lately and I’ve read that it can help relieve joint pain in senior cats (he hasn’t been taking it long enough for me to really tell if it’s working, but he does lap up EVERY BIT OF IT, so clearly it tastes good).

The pills combined with more exposure to friendly people on a regular basis (because of the theater troupe that’s been rehearsing in our basement all summer) have REALLY helped him. He’ll actually come out to greet my friends now! He seems much more relaxed and happier.

He still hates my husband John, but that seems to be pretty mutual. Not sure there’s anything I can do about that at this point! But

Chronic Pain and Identity: I Do Not Talk About Spoons

A person with chronic illness, they say, has only so many spoons to get through a day. Each action, each sentence, each movement can take a spoon away, and when the spoons are gone, so is the energy, the ability, the strength left to face that day.

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I have grown more comfortable talking about my pain over the years. I talk about it commonly now, I give it breath, it is a matter of fact topic in my week. Yet I do not talk about spoons. Spoons make me feel like an impostor, like I’m claiming a story that is not mine.

My pain sits heavy and aching in my neck, my shoulders, my jaw, where it has lived for years and years. It was small at first, and easy to ignore, and then it grew and grew.

Now it has made a home throughout my nerves and muscles. It has had so long to expand in my body that it has remodeled, painted the Pepto-Bismol pink bathroom blue, planted perennial flowers, hung pictures on every wall. Its domesticity has been so insidious that I do not know when it moved in, or why, or how. I know it now better than my friends, better than my husband, for it is with me all the time, in every moment, in every joy and sorrow and scrap of boredom. My pain resides within me contentedly without fear; it knows its tenancy is permanent. It sleeps with me every night; it rises with me every morning.

I am a woman and society has taught me not to complain, so years and years built on before I started voicing the concern that this was not quite right. I spoke at first timidly, than louder and louder until I was singing a song of my pain, writing an opera about the ways I felt broken, pouring out my melody. I crescendo to a fortississimo, like Holst and his planets chanting about war, like Turandot singing for her freedom. I sing as I must to have someone notice me. Help me, I beg, something is wrong; good thoughts and music are not enough to make it stop.

I went through a phase in my 20s where I was convinced something was so not right with me that I’d joke darkly about not surviving until I was 30. I had no evidence to support this, none at all, but I was so young and so full of life - the pain residing in my bones persuaded me that it was death.

A journalist recently asked to interview me about my experience with chronic pain. Beforehand I tried to jot down a few notes, trying to recall all the doctors I’ve seen, the treatments I’ve tried, the thoughts I’ve had. My “notes” turned into three pages, over 1,000 words of my misery. I spoke to that journalist for 40 minutes. The article came out recently; reading it made me feel very strange.

But with all that, I am indescribably lucky. My pain is constant but low level. I may need to use a book holder to avoid agonizing my neck when I need, I may own every gadget and cream touted by Buzzfeed that’s supposed to reduce muscle tension and soothe my burning nerves, but I can live my life generally without any great trouble. I do not have many issues with fatigue, although I am often drained of energy and willingness to deal with anyone or anything. I can’t move my neck as far in any direction as I’m supposed to be able to, but there are no activities I explicitly cannot do. The adult gymnastics class I went to recently left me sore and hurting for days after, but I did it.

And thus because I am functioning decently, I do not talk about spoons. I do not usually refer to myself as disabled; I do not feel I have a right. There are so many who struggle more than I do. I often fear that by admitting I too struggle, in various ways, I may steal a status which is not mine, appropriate a life not my own, acquire the pity of others.

I do not want it, you know.

It makes no sense. I too, get tired sometimes. If pain is my longtime tenant, depression and attention deficit disorder are my neighbors - not always visibly present, but usually close by with a wave or an awkward conversation to remind me they’re there. On some days, all three will gang up on me and I find I cannot move forward or back, but stand paralyzed by my own body’s confusion and misery. I too, can run out of spoons.

Yet I fear to say these things, I fear to put them in these words.

I do not speak of spoons.

"Purr Like an Egyptian": Inspiration from Daphne Du Maurier and Ancient Egypt

Have I mentioned that my cats-taking-over-Memphis story "Purr Like an Egyptian" will be in Grumpy Old Gods Volume 2? It's open for Pre-orders now and will publish on August 9! https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07VJZVM5C

This was the first short story I’d written since…high school? Junior high? I just heard about the submission prompt and I was instantly captivated; I HAD to write a story for it.

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GRUMPY OLD GODS: SEEKING

We’re looking for stories about mythical Gods who are waning, reborn, retired, or otherwise AWOL from their assigned post.

We invite you to re-imagine old myths, mine your local retirement home for things that tickle your fancy, and invite your Muse to go wild.  The only requirement is that the god or goddess in question (or whole pantheon if you so choose) must be retired, retiring, waning in power, or ignoring their responsibilities. Bonus points for good humor.

I mean, how amazing is that? I came up with the idea to use Bastet, the Egyptian Goddess of cats, pretty easily, and I knew I wanted her to run a cat cafe. The idea of all the cats migrating to Memphis to be near her developed more slowly over time.

Once I did get that idea though, I knew I wanted to look to Daphne DuMaurier’s The Birds, which has a similar premise, only much more frightening. I tried to get across a similar, but more modern, depiction of animals taking over a town. In addition, my intro was a direct homage to the story’s beginning.

The Birds:

On December the third, the wind changed overnight, and it was winter. Until then the autumn had been mellow, soft. The leaves had lingered on the trees, golden-red, and the hedgerows were still green. The earth was rich where the plow had turned it.

Purr Like an Egyptian:


On March 10th, Tennessee finally realized it was spring and the temperature rose 20 degrees. Everywhere in town smelled damp, like fresh sod, green and expectant.

So my opening is a bit more folksy to bring across the humor of the piece, but you get the idea.

I also specifically picked out names for everyone in the story that had an extra layer of meaning for anyone who bothered to look into it. In the story, Bastet’s human form goes by Nenet Elmasry. Nenet means “divine, spiritual,” and “Elmasry” literally means “The Egyptian.” Her husband, Sef, is the human form of Ptah, the god of craftsmen. His physical description matches Ptah’s - hairless and wearing a skull cap. “Sef” literally means “yesterday.”

I also used to have a cat character named Aten who was intended to represent the divine cat aspect of Ra, who was strongly associated with Bastet, but I ended up cutting him out during the editing process. We just didn’t need another cat around, particularly one with more of an obscure origin. Aten means “sun,” which referenced Ra as the sun god.


On Being Ill, with Rachael and Virginia

While on the subject of chronic pain, it appears I might have an even newer, funner type. :/

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been feeling pretty terrible for the past ~5 weeks at this point. I’ve been having a ton of painful sinus pressure, headaches, and fatigue, along with fun spats of dizziness, lightheadness, blurry vision, and nausea. I’ve seen my general practitioner twice in the past month; he said my sinuses were inflamed, so we assumed it was a sinus infection. I’ve tried three different antibiotics and a course of oral steroids.

This photo meme of my cat wearing a tie has nothing to do with this post but look how charming he is!

This photo meme of my cat wearing a tie has nothing to do with this post but look how charming he is!

I still feel awful, so I went to an ENT (ear, nose, and throat) doctor yesterday. Dr. Sharma looked around in my nose with a scope and told me that there’s actually no sign of a sinus infection at all, or any sign of what is actually causing the pain. He posited that it might be a side effect from one of my medicines, so he started looking around online for those, but didn’t find anything that seemed to fit. His next suggestion was to wait a few weeks before I get a head CT, but it’s been so long and this is really affecting me so badly at this point, that I just asked if we could do the CT now. I’ve got an appointment next Wednesday.

This constant pain in my maxillary sinuses and head is really starting to take a toll. I’ve had way more trouble this month focusing on work than I usually do. I’ve taken off more sick days than I have in years (although of course not as much as I’d like, because I can’t actually afford to take off that many days), and I haven’t been writing as much on my short stories or on this blog as I’d like. And now on top of that, I’m worried about what it might be that’s causing all this. It might be like, sinus headaches or something simple I can treat relatively easily and quickly. Or it might be something more serious (my mother helpfully informed me shortly after I relayed this information to her that two members of my family have died from brain aneurysms in the past. So comforting, right?).

I’m rather nervous about it all, and my nerves are already frayed from ~35 days of sinus pain and headaches, but I’m trying not to google symptoms any more and just be patient. I may need to meditate and read a lot more over the next couple days to keep my mind off of it. Because even if the CT doesn’t give me a definitive diagnosis, it will at least be helpful for ruling out options.

It all makes me think of Virginia Woolf. In 1925, when she was in bed recovering from suffering a nervous breakdown, she wrote “On Being Ill, a beautiful essay on the nature of illness that was published by T.S. Eliot in The Criterion. In it, she asks, how can something so common and universal be so little written about?

Her opening sentence can be a little hard to read, as it just keeps going and going, but it is so beautiful when you actually parse it out and examine it [line breaks mine]:

Considering how common illness is, how tremendous the spiritual change that it brings,

how astonishing, when the lights of health go down, the undiscovered countries that are then disclosed, what wastes and deserts of the soul a slight attack of influenza brings to light, what precipices and lawns sprinkled with bright flowers a little rise of temperature reveals, what ancient and obdurate oaks are uprooted in us in the act of sickness,

how we go down into the pit of death and feel the waters of annihilation close above our heads and wake thinking to find ourselves in the presence of the angels and the harpers

when we have a tooth out and come to the surface in the dentist’s arm chair and confuse his ‘Rinse the mouth—rinse the mouth’ with the greeting of the Deity stooping from the floor of Heaven to welcome us

—when we think of this an infinitely more, as we are so frequently forced to think of it, it becomes strange indeed that illness has not taken its place with love, battle, and jealousy among the prime themes of literature.

Then she continues:

Novels, one would have thought, would have been devoted to influenza; epic poems to typhoid; odes to pneumonia; lyrics to toothache.

But no; with a few exceptions De Quincey attempted something of the sort in The Opium Eater; there must be a volume or two about disease scattered through the pages of Proust—literature does its best to maintain that its concern is with the mind; that the body is a sheet of plain glass through which the soul looks straight and clear, and, save for one or two passions such as desire and greed, is null, and negligible and non-existent.

And so she continues. You should go read the whole thing, it’s great.

I would like to write such wonderful odes to sickness. I think I will at some point. I feel I am getting better at writing all the time; already, just looking at stories from a few months ago, I see the things I would change or phrase differently now. I see how I would tighten a chapter or make a story beginning more interesting. I will write such things soon, but for now, I am behind on a short story I wanted to have finished, polished, and published online by now, so I should go work on that. But yet my head aches so, even with loads of ibuprofen and sudafed, and it is difficult for me to remember from moment to moment what I should be doing.

The “On Being Ill” essay was actually the first one to really get me to understand “creative nonfiction” as a concept. I learned about it from “Reading Like a Writer,” by Francine Prose, which helped me really start to think about the craft of my writing. That section actually helped “Estate Sale,” which was my first real attempt at creative nonfiction. I tried to emulate a lot of the imagery filed sentences and careless grammar that Woolf uses. This book also fed into my short story “The Caterer,” as it was what inspired the first and second person POV.

I don’t exactly know where I’m going with this post. I’m essentially saying I plan to write something epic and beautiful about illness someday, but not right now. This is but a Tribute .

An ADHDer's Guide to Chronic Pain: Daily Management Part 2

 If you haven’t read the other parts of this series yet, here they are!

An ADHDer’s Guide to Chronic Pain: Getting a Diagnosis

An ADHDer’s Guide to Chronic Pain: Daily Management Part 1

4. Make Simple Adaptations in Your Daily Life to Reduce Your Pain

If you’re still having pain issues after getting treatment from a doctor and/or a physical therapist, look at what else is going on in your life that might be exacerbating it. Even if one thing isn’t /causing/ the pain, doesn’t mean it isn’t a factor in it. There are often a lot of small changes you can make to your life to reduce your pain level.

For example, sitting on a couch can actually really make my neck pain worse. It promotes bad posture and doesn’t give me the support I need. So I pretty much never sit on couches these days. I use a floor chair, which offers me a lot more support and still allows me to “chill out” in a way that a straightback chair doesn’t. Heavy purses also can make my pain worse, so I usually use a backpack if I’m carrying anything significant around. If I do use a purse, I make sure to regularly clean out anything that could make it heavier.

If you have neck or shoulder problems, like me, make sure you’re using a mattress and a pillow that properly supports your neck and body. You spend so much time sleeping that you NEED to have a good setup or you’re going to just undo all your pain relief work every night in bed. People have different opinions on pillows; I have, gosh, probably 3 that I’ve bought specifically for my neck? One that has water in it, another that’s got microfoam beads in it, and another one that’s memory foam. I’ve tried them all and the memory foam one works best for me personally, but you should try them out and take notes on how you feel the next morning to figure out what works best for you!

Finally, I’ve done a lot of research on home office ergonomics and made sure that my workspace actually fits right for my body. I recently discovered that my desk and chair heights were completely wrong for me! I’m so short that the average measurements for a man just aren’t accurate, so I had to modify a few things and add in a foot rest to make it all work. I also use a headset while making or receiving phone calls so I don’t have to crane my neck in weird ways to hold a phone.

5. Massages and Home Tools for Muscle Pain

Massages have never “cured” me of my pain, but they do tend to really loosen up my muscles and prevent them from “fossilizing” or getting overly stiff. I have a Massage Envy membership and go in once a month as a maintenance measure.

I wish I could afford to go in more often, but since I can’t, I also have numerous tools at home that I use for massaging or relaxing my painful neck/shoulder muscles. I leave little reminders for myself to use these tools in a mass to-do list note I keep on my phone and in my journal. Alarms can be good for this too, but if you’re setting an alarm for medicine and stretches and pain relief tools, you might just get to the point where you have so many that it doesn’t even register for you, so be careful with that.

Me using the acupressure mat and pillow while guest cat Martok nests in my hair. He LOVES my hair.

Me using the acupressure mat and pillow while guest cat Martok nests in my hair. He LOVES my hair.

One of my favorite tools currently is an acupressure mat and pillow, which has tiny plastic spikes all over it. I don’t entirely know how it all works, but lying on this really relaxes my neck and shoulders and make them feel like they’re “melting” and less stiff. It’s a relatively cheap option, but you do need to lie on it for 30 minutes + for it to have any effect. In addition, for best results, you probably want to be shirtless. So it’s not the most convenient pain treatment.

Another cheap and easy options are tennis balls and pressure point tools. I keep a Back Buddy Jr. by my desk and pull it out to work on my neck when it’s getting really stiff. It’s great for pushing on stiff areas you can’t quite reach on your own. Lying on a tennis ball or putting it in between your pressure point and a wall can be really effective, if initially painful. With these tools, you can either just apply pressure straight on, or you can rub the tool or ball around and on the stiff point; both techniques work pretty well.

I also have a massage machine that works really well when placed between my neck and a wall, but its fabric cover has come off over time, so it’s more painful to use than it used to be. I can’t use it too often without really irritating my skin.

6. Use Over-The-Counter Medication and Treatments

If you have chronic pain, you’re probably very familiar with ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and aspirin. These can be really valuable tools in reducing your pain, but remember to watch your dosages and not overdo it; you can definitely screw up your stomach or other parts of your body. Also remember, no aspirin if you’re under 18!

Here’s another trick though: taking a pain reliever with a small amount of caffeine can actually reduce your pain further. It’s unclear how much caffeine can do on its own, but it does appear that it can reduce joint pain and headaches as well. This article on Disabled World explores that topic if you’d like to know more.

There are a few natural supplements out there that can really take the edge off pain as well. I’ve tried turmeric and capsaicin pills before and had some good results. I also take vitamins, fish oil, and probiotics, which all play different roles in keeping my body healthy and reducing inflammation. WebMD has a great overview article of different supplements and how they treat pain.

Finally, don’t forget topical treatments! Lotions or rubs containing menthol or camphor create a cooling sensation that can really distract you and make you forget the pain. Capsaicin lotions can also really help joint pain or nerve pain, although it can also irritate your skin if you’re not careful. In addition, you’ll want to use gloves to apply this, as it can be pretty difficult to wash totally off your hands. I’ve accidentally got capsaicin in my eye before and it really hurts!

 

Well, that’s all I’ve got for now. Thank you for reading. I hope this helps!

An ADHDer's Guide to Chronic Pain: Daily Management Part 1

If you haven’t read the other parts of this series yet, here they are!

An ADHDer’s Guide to Chronic Pain: Getting a Diagnosis

An ADHDer’s Guide to Chronic Pain: Daily Management Part 2

I wrote this whole post and then realized it was over 2,000 words and should probably be split into two parts. Oops! Here’s the first one!

I’m a young adult with both ADHD and chronic pain. These two issues can often work counter to each other and cause a lot of frustration, but over the years, I’ve learned a few tips and tricks to get better about dealing with both of them. This blog post series will hopefully help other people dealing with the same issues- the first post addressed getting a diagnosis, and the second and third posts will address day to day management. 😊

The first post also summed up my background with both ADHD and chronic pain, so this post will go ahead without recapping that much.

I tried a LOT of different things to treat my chronic pain before I actually got a diagnosis of osteoarthritis, but I’m going to focus on the time /after/ I got a diagnosis, just for simplicity’s sake. If you are having chronic pain, I do think it’s important that you get to a doctor to figure out what the underlying issue is, if at all possible. If you don’t have the insurance or money for a doctor though, there are a lot of options out there for DIY relief, which I’ll cover further down in the post.

A lot of this advice focuses mostly on painful muscle treatment, because that’s what I deal with and am most familiar with, but hopefully the general headings and tips are helpful even if you have non-muscle pain issues! I’m not going to discuss opiates in here because I personally have very little experience with it and don’t feel fully qualified to cover it in depth. I do have friends that use opiates for pain relief though, and I plan to interview them for this blog soon!

  1. Follow the Treatment Your Doctor Prescribes.

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I currently undergo radiofrequency ablation about once or twice a year; this burns off my arthritic neck nerves and really reduces my pain. However, 1. this procedure never COMPLETELY erases my pain, 2. the procedure itself is very painful and expensive (even with insurance) and 3. the nerves grow back and I have to go through it all again.

But it’s still the best option I have for actually treating the root cause of my chronic pain, so I undergo it. Don’t let yourself feel guilty for using what’s available to you. A lot of people out there say “Oh why don’t you just do X?” or try essential oils or whatever and downplay your pain; ignore them. You, as the owner of your body, get to decide what’s best for treating its pain (in conjunction with your doctors)

If the treatment you’re getting isn’t helping as much as you thought it would, or if it’s giving you bad side effects, let your doctor know! A lot of times you can follow up with your doctor without actually coming in for an appointment. My pain doctor actually is cool with me emailing her, which can be VERY helpful, as I’m bad about remembering to call her office and setting follow-up appointments.

2. Try Physical Therapy and/or Daily Exercises/Stretches!

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So after I told my pain doctor that the radiofrequency ablation wasn’t completely getting rid of my pain, she wrote me a referral for physical therapy. I then ignored that referral for like, a year and a half, because I had some strange idea in my head that PT wouldn’t help me. I had gone through some basic stretches with a chiropractor years before and that didn’t seem to do much, so I didn’t believe it would help this time either.

However, earlier this year, I managed to pull a muscle in my leg badly enough that I was still in pain a few months after the initial injury. I did actually go to PT then (after getting a referral) and it REALLY helped me. I was out of pain before my second appointment. That made me a believer and encouraged me to finally sign up for physical therapy for my neck! I did about a month-ish of PT and it made SUCH A HUGE IMPACT on my pain. It really reduced my every day pain level and reduced how many tools I had to use to manage the pain. My therapists taught me various exercises and stretches and had me do them daily; they also did a few dry needling spots, massages, and manipulations on them. I’m now capable of treating a lot of my own issues at home. It’s pretty awesome.

So I highly suggest Physical Therapy - when you get that referral, set up an appointment with a PT right away so you don’t forget it or lose the script! And once you start doing the exercises and stretches, put an alert on your phone or computer so you remember to do them daily. I’ve got a “neck stretches” one that goes off every night at 9 pm. And if you’re not as connected to your phone as I am and need a different reminder method, a post it note on your bathroom mirror or by your daily medicines can be a good method.

3. Pay Attention to Your Mental Health Too

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Honestly, chronic pain can be incredibly disheartening and it can really mess your brain up. For a while when I was younger, I developed a certain fatalism and would often say things like “oh I don’t think I’m going to live past 30,” because no one I knew had the same pain problems I did. I clearly remember asking my parents at one point if they had chronic pain issues. They said no, and I was seriously so depressed by that. I was 24 and having more pain problems than my almost 60-year-old parents.

When you have chronic pain issues, that does become the focus of a lot of your medical visits. However, be sure to talk to your doctor about your mental health as well. If you’re experiencing mood swings, feelings of guilt, worthlessness or helplessness, irritability, persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings, a loss of interest in things that were once pleasurable to you, and/or major changes in your sleeping or eating habits, get to a therapist as soon as possible. Talk Therapy can be incredibly helpful for sorting through a lot of these thoughts and you may be able to get a prescription that could help you as well.  

Walking outside can also be a great tool for helping your mental health. It’s low-level exercise that gets you moving and makes your brain release serotonin, which can be a mood lifter and a pain reliever. There are also studies that show that just being outside under the sun can have a huge impact, so if you’re not up for walking or doing anything else, just sitting or standing outside for a bit can be helpful as well.

Don’t forget to read Daily Management Part 2 as well!

An ADHDer’s Guide to Chronic Pain: Daily Management Part 2

Don’t Lose Your Novel!: Responsible Computer Maintenance and Backups for Writers

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So I have a tiny little Lenovo Yoga I use for all my writing. It’s kind of beaten-up, as I’m fairly clumsy and good at dropping things. It actually has tape covering some broken glass in the corner (I added a protective hard cover after I did that, lol). And my husband says it’s a computer for ants. But it works beautifully for my needs. It’s small and light so I can carry it around anywhere easily; this is particularly important because of my chronic neck pain issues.

I’m not great at remembering to maintain my laptop or backup my files (with ADHD, remembering any regular but not daily activities can be pretty hard for me!), but as a writer, I’ve REALLY got to get better about that. I keep my works in progress on my computer and it would be devastating if I lost all my work due to a computer crash. It also can be really frustrating when my computer is lagging during my precious writing time. So I took some time this morning to fix it up a bit.

Cleaning Up the Computer

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Since I have a Windows computer, I first launched Disk Cleanup and ran it to get rid of a lot of unnecessary files. This app offers numerous suggestions for what extraneous files to delete. This includes temporary files, things in the recycle bin, etc. I managed to get rid of several gigabites of excess files on my computer this morning! (I took this snip after I’d already run it). This should help my computer run quicker and more smoothly.

There are a LOT of computer cleaning apps and software out there, but my Google research indicates that they just aren’t necessary. As How To Geek says:

PC cleaning apps are digital snake oil. The web is full of ads for applications that want to “clean your PC” and “make it feel like new.” Don’t pull out your credit card — these apps are terrible and you don’t need them.

If you do want to “clean your PC,” you can do it for free. Windows includes built-in PC cleaning tools that can do almost all of what the average PC cleaning app will do for you.

That full article explains a lot about what Disk Cleanup actually does and why it’s just as good as add on softwares. It’s a good read if you’re interested in learning more.

I also went through and manually deleted several Chrome extensions I don’t use. While I was at it, I also reorganized the extensions I DO use to make sure they’re most visible, like my Pinterest button (which I use to post links to this blog) and the Honey button (which shows me when there are coupons to go with whatever website I’m on). There are some fun extensions I use that just don’t need to be visible all the time, like the one that turns all pictures of Trump into pictures of kittens (Make America Kittens Again). That’s great, but it works whether or not it’s showing up in the corner of my browser.

I also fixed up my bookmarks and organized them. This isn’t necessary for the computer to run well, but it makes the browser a lot nicer looking and also makes it much easier for me to find resources!

I have a tendency to have a ton of Chrome tabs open all the time, but that really does waste memory and results in some major lagging. As How to Geek says in yet another super useful article:

In Chrome, each tab opens in its own process on your PC. This is a good thing, because it keeps those tabs isolated from one another. A crash in one tab is not likely to bring down your whole browser. But, of course, each open tab uses up some resources, and when you have a lot of tabs open at once, it can slow things down.

The easiest way to fix this is just to close Chrome regularly and don’t keep 30 tabs open on your computer at once. That article also offers a few extensions that can fix this problem without closing the browser.


Backing Up the Computer

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This is a simple but really important step! I’ve had a computer crash twice before without a backup and it really sucked. The first time was in 2009, and the computer had ALL my photos on it from my study abroad trip to Europe, so I ended up paying a recovery company way too much money to get my files off the hard drive. The second time was a few years ago when I got some ransomware via email. That time I just restored my computer completely and lost my files; I really didn’t want to pay someone $1,000 to get my own data back. Be wary of opening links in emails, friends, even if they come from your dad!

IDrive is running a deal currently where you pay $6.95 for a year of backups. I can set it up to automatically back up both my laptop and my phone as often as I like. I’ve personally got it running twice a week, but if you are really paranoid about your computer crashing, daily might be a better idea.

Story Ideas from History and Dreams

So I keep a note on my phone called “story ideas” that I just fill with different ideas as they strike me. Sometimes these are from dreams, often they are from books or history podcasts, some are just thoughts that come to mind that I have to get down on a page /right then/ or I’ll forget them!

Numerous of these scribbled ideas have turned into future stories. I had the idea for Most Horrible probably…a year and a half before i actually started turning it into a one act play? The entire concept of “Big Dave’s Goliath” came from a simple fact I had scribbled down- that various popes had ordered the removal of all the penises from the nude statues in the Vatican museum. When I came across the call for submissions for “Big,” which asked for stories around something or someone gargantuan, the idea of a giant replica of Michelangelo’s David, and the shenanigans that ensue when someone vandalizes the statue by cutting off its genitalia, came into being. True, it’s totally absurd (and that story was HIGHLY influenced by the over the top style of Carl Hiaasen), but it was really fun to write! And now it’s published in Colp: Big. :)

Here you can see notes on one of my history story ideas and one of my dreams!

Here you can see notes on one of my history story ideas and one of my dreams!

The Caterer and the Vanguard (current work in progress) both were inspired by historical legends chronicled in “100 Cats Who Changed Civilization,” by Sam Stall. John gave it to me last December just as a fun gift; he had no idea what it would lead to! Hah. I have numerous other ideas for the AntiquiCats series originating from that book and other cat history sources online.

Here’re two snippets of my current “story ideas” note, featuring a few of my favorite ideas.

So Leichenhauses were WAITING MORTUARIES for people who were scared of being buried alive (circa 1800s). After death, the bodies would be set out and have like, strings tied between their bodies and either a bell or a harmonium or whatever. Then someone would sit up with the bodies and listen for movement noises. Bodies actually move a lot while they’re decomposing, so it must have been quite frightening! They were also viewed as a common tourist destination? It sounds utterly fascinating. I REALLY want to write a story set in one at some point and just haven’t found the right plot yet. I first heard about these from the brilliant Stuff you Missed in History Class podcast called “Not Dead Yet - Safety Coffins and Waiting Mortuaries.”

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I’ve also gleaned several ideas from a book I’m currently reading - Black Tudors, by Miranda Kauffman. It’s very good but very dense and academic, so I’ve been reading it off and on for MONTHS. I’ll finish it some day.

How I Got Back Into Writing Seriously

The Lifelong Dream

Honestly, I cannot remember a time when I have not wanted to write and be an author. Some of my earliest dreams and goals as a child involved writing as a career. My family LOVES books; literally every room in my parents’ house except the bathrooms have bookshelves and books in them. It was a wonderful place for a child to grow up. I eagerly read as many books as I could; they fascinated me and brought me to a whole other world. I wanted to make those worlds myself.

And in elementary school I did. I was always writing stories or poetry or songs or whatever. My output turned into mostly just poetry over time, as I discovered journalism and imposter syndrome. For a long time, I felt that nonfiction journalistic writing was the only thing I could do. Fiction seemed too hard. I tried doing National Novel Writing Month several times and never managed to finish; this made me feel like a failure. I had lots and lots of ideas written down in various places, but none of them ever came to fruition. I’d start and stop and get distracted and frustrated. For a while I had resigned myself to not really being a writer. I did do some writing and research on marital surnames, and had an inkling to turn it into a nonfiction book, but I wasn’t following through on any of it.

I usually write at the kitchen table these days, surrounded by books and journals.

I usually write at the kitchen table these days, surrounded by books and journals.

The Turning Point

So fast forward to my 30th year of life, when I finally got on a combination of treatments that actually treated my depression successfully. This really changed my life in so many ways. I had a focus and a determination that I hadn’t had previously; my depression was no longer a barrier dropping in front of me, but a curtain pulled to the side. I could see it and respect it and treat it carefully, but I could walk through it without a problem.

When my beloved Shakespeare troupe Britches and Hose announced that they were holding a New Works Festival and needed submissions of original one acts, I decided that it was time to take one of my favorite ideas and turn it into a play. That’s how “Most Horrible,” a one-act prequel to Hamlet set in Purgatory began. I was so excited and motivated by this success that I continued on - and turned the play into a project for National Novel Writing Month in November. I finished up the novel by the end of January (I have, of course, decided to add in a whole new historical context and many more subplots, so I have major edits and revising coming up, but that’s another issue).

Since NaNoWriMo had worked so well for non-depressed Me, I decided to set monthly goals for myself. January’s was finishing the novel, February’s was working on my nonfiction book proposal. I didn’t really have any plans to write short stories until I came across a fascinating writing prompt on the Internet - calling for short stories about Grumpy Old Gods, gods that in some way were shirking their duty. I was so excited about this concept that I outlined and wrote “Purr Like an Egyptian” fairly quickly, in only a week or two! And it felt so good to have a project wrapped up and submitted so quickly, that I decided I’d dedicate March to writing more short stories and poetry to submit to various magazines and publications. That’s how I also wrote “Big Dave’s Goliath” and “The Caterer.”

Currently

So here we are now. “Purr Like an Egyptian” was just accepted for publication in Grumpy Old Gods Vol. 2 and will be coming out later this month. “Big Dave’s Goliath” was published recently in Gypsum Sound Tales’ Colp: Big. I’ve also had a few literary nonfiction pieces published as well - on Talking Soup and The Drabble.

I also tend to write with my own personal demigod in my lap. (I’m writing a lot about ancient Egyptians lately- cats WERE their demigods)

I also tend to write with my own personal demigod in my lap. (I’m writing a lot about ancient Egyptians lately- cats WERE their demigods)

“The Caterer” was rejected, but I invested a lot of time into revamping and revising it to make it better, and then published it myself on Kindle Direct Publishing as an experiment. I’ve enjoyed the writing and promoting process for my own ebook so much that I am now writing another story in the series, with plans for more! Once I finish and publish my second volume (“The Vanguard”), I plan to get back to “Most Horrible” and revise it to add in the Danish reformation (no biggie, right?).

It’s a lot of work, as of course I have a full time job as a trademark examining attorney at the USPTO, participate in Shakespeare plays with my friends, and occasionally like to have some downtime to spend with my husband, but it’s been so worth it. I don’t know if I’ll ever make much money from it or if it will ever be my full-time career, but writing brings me so much joy on a regular basis that I don’t know if I even care anymore. I love coming up with titles for my stories. I love outlining a plot. I love all the research - from Egyptian goddesses to drones, to Ancient Persia and the Tower of London.

I just love writing. And I won’t let myself forget that again.

"The Caterer" is Free on Amazon July 16-17!

So my ebook short story The Caterer: How a Cat Survived Richard III is free today and tomorrow (July 16-17) on Amazon. You can get that here at http://tinyurl.com/thecaterercat . So if you haven’t downloaded it yet, now’s a good time to do so! It really helps drive up the ranking of the book and get it more exposure and attention. Reviews are greatly appreciated as well. :)

The next story in the series is called "The Vanguard: The Cats Who Conquered Egypt" and focuses on the Battle of Pelusium in 525 BCE, through the eyes of two cats. I plan to publish that in late July! :)

Wedding Craft Tutorial: Shakespeare and Glitter Flower Girl Scatter

Glitter and Shakespeare Heart scatter! I also painted the flower girls’ baskets bright sparkly red.

Glitter and Shakespeare Heart scatter! I also painted the flower girls’ baskets bright sparkly red.

We decided not to have any real flowers at our wedding. I have a great love for paper crafting, so I ended up making all the bouquets, boutonnieres, and corsages out of paper flowers. I’ll write about that more later. :)

Anyway, my two nieces were our flower girls/ring bearers and I really wanted them to have something special to scatter down the aisle - something that actually represented me and John .

I got two little paper punches - one heart and one cherry blossom. The cherry blossom punch didn’t work too well - it was too complicated and I could never get it to cut any paper cleanly. So most of our scatter was heart shaped.

I did cut a lot of hearts out of various covers of glitter paper and other pretty papers, but I wanted something more personalized as well, even if no one would even really notice except me.

I wanted to incorporate Shakespeare somehow. I’ve been part of Shakespeare productions on and off since 2010, and was a founding member of the Britches and Hose Shakespeare troupe. John also loves Shakespeare and one of our first dates was going to see Julius Caesar at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Our wedding ceremony included Shakespeare quotes from Much Ado About Nothing, Richard III, Julius Caesar, and Henry V. I even walked down the aisle to a version of “Sigh Not So” from the 1992 Kenneth Branagh film of Much Ado About Nothing!

A friend of mine had an awesome master document of Shakespeare quotes for various situations; I took that doc, put all the text in a pretty cursive font, and removed all the lines and paragraph breaks and such until I had several solid pages of Shakespeare text. I printed that document out on both sides of some nice leftover resume paper I had lying around. And then, all I had to do was cut the remaining white margins off the paper and bam - I had my own personalized Shakespeare stationery. I used it for the flower girl scatter and also for a few of the roses in my bouquet and my bridesmaids’ bouquets. :)

Again, it was a tiny detail and I’m not sure anyone else noticed it at all, but it made me very happy, and it was super simple. When I walked down the aisle, my cathedral length veil ended up catching the scatter and pulling them along with me. People started laughing and it was amazing; it resulted in one of my favorite photos from the day!

Anyone else is welcome to use my Shakespeare stationery as well! You can download a pdf of it on Google Drive here.

Taking Medicine with ADHD: My Attempts to Remember

The evil steroid pack

The evil steroid pack

I’ve had a pretty bad case of sinusitis the last two weeks and finally broke down and went to my doctor on Tuesday. He prescribed some antibiotics and steroids.

The nice friendly purpley-pink pill planner that usually helps me remember all my meds.

The nice friendly purpley-pink pill planner that usually helps me remember all my meds.

When I picked it up, I was dismayed to see that my steroid pack required me to take several doses throughout the day! AND the dose changes every day! Curses! With the help of a weekly pill planner, I’ve finally gotten to the point where I consistently remember to take my meds daily in the morning, but I hardly ever remember to take doses throughout the day. It’s my ADHD kryptonite! (The pills themselves also taste godawful and like, stick in the throat. I’m trying to drink and eat different things to remove the taste but it’s still hanging about. Ick.).

My medicine alarms for the day! Hopefully these work. If I actually do force myself to stop what I’m working on and immediately go take my meds when i hear the alarm, it should.

My medicine alarms for the day! Hopefully these work. If I actually do force myself to stop what I’m working on and immediately go take my meds when i hear the alarm, it should.

I’ve set alarms throughout the day to remind me to take my meds, and will place my steroid pack right by my pill planner so I remember to set new alarms each day to account for the adjusting doses. Hopefully that does the trick.

Figuring Out My Style with The Curated Closet

So my fave podcast By the Book covered The Curated Closet a while back. From what I’ve heard, the book really focuses on helping you define your own style. I don’t have the time to read the whole thing, alas, but I’m working through some of the tips on my own, bit by bit at time.

The first part is to actually look at your style and figure out what you like and don’t like. You can also come up with a descriptive name for your style, which I would love to do at some point, but I’m not quite there yet.

A snippet of my pinterest board.

A snippet of my pinterest board.

I made a Pinterest board of some of my favorite styles. I actually incorporated some of my own outfit selfies into it so I could get a better idea of what I actually wear and enjoy. That full board is here, if you’d like to check it out.

By looking through that and various articles on fashion styles and clothing articles, I’ve started making a “Style List” and a “Not my Style List.” It’s been really interesting scrolling through pictures and trying to figure out whether I like something or not and why.

Here’s a snippet of my lists so far. It’s becoming really illuminating!

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The next step is to go through my clothes and pull out anything that doesn’t fit into things I know I love. That part may take longer, because I don’t think I’m going to have time for that until at least this weekend, maybe next. So - to be continued!