Wednesday, October 21, 2015

BRCA Genetic Testing: My Experience with the Ups and Downs of Waiting for Results

As a note up front: I eventually found out that I tested negative. I am posting this because while I went through this, I wanted as much information as I could find about the testing process. Not all testing is done in the same way, but I give you my experience in case you are interested. If you do test positive, search around and you will find some great blogs that detail everything certain women have been through. Information is power.

This is one of those posts you debate with yourself about putting out there, but today I decided that I would go ahead and share my experience with you simply because I was desperate for information when my doctor told me I needed to have the BRCA genetic test.

Back in August, I went for my usual yearly exam, and while filling out the usual paperwork, I noticed that my doctor's office had added a new information gathering sheet. The form asked for information about family history of cancer, and some of the questions were really specific--especially when it came to cancers like ovarian, breast, colon, and others. I had an idea that this was probably a way to find people who qualified for genetic testing, but I didn't think too much about it all.

I do have family members who have died of cancer. My paternal great grandmother had ovarian cancer and died before the age of 40. A great aunt on my mother's side had breast cancer, and another cousin on my mother's side had colon cancer. I assume there are probably other family members out there who had cancer, but I don't know who they are.

Anyway, my doctor came into the room. He had already gone through the sheet's information, and he told me he wanted me to be tested for the BRCA mutation. He explained about what would happen (a simple blood test), insurance would cover it because I qualify, and what would happen depending upon my results.

For those of you who don't know what BRCA testing is or what it tests for, you can get more information here: BRCA 1 and BRCA 2

Results are never universally simple if you have the mutation, and there are all kinds of options depending upon what they find, but my doctor told me that the results, if positive, could lead to me needing significant surgeries to prevent cancer--and I would need to have these sooner rather than later, because I am pushing 40.

Anyway, not sure that I would recommend that a doctor go into all of this with every patient, because it can seriously freak you out. I, on the other hand, am big into doing anything to prevent such outcomes, so hearing all of this actually made me feel better. I kind of went into the test by looking at it as a win-win situation: If I have the mutation, great--I can do something. If I don't, great--I can keep my schedule open for things other than surgery.

If this sounds all peaceful and calm to you...well, it was. I felt that way for a good 48 hours. Then, I started to panic with all of the "what if" questions. What if I had it? Would I be able to cope with all of this? I would do what I had to do, but how would we deal with it? (Those of you who know me well know that I have an unusual family situation...and dealing with two sick people would not be a good thing.) I wasn't afraid of surgery, but I was afraid of how I would cope with getting it all done (which might sound really odd, I guess).

The doctor told me all of this on a Monday. I came back to the office on a Thursday for the "simple blood test." My test was done through Myriad Genetics, and I don't know how other tests go, but this one took quite a bit of blood. I was thinking they would take a vial like they do when you have your blood drawn as usual, but I want to tell you (in case you are having this done) that the vial is much larger. I am fine with needles, and the test didn't hurt at all. But I wasn't prepared for the length of time it took. I keep waiting for it to be over, and finally I looked down (as I was starting to feel a little woozy) and realized what a big vial it was! Anyway, just be prepared. You don't feel it, but it is odd.

This was the same day, I might add, that I started feeling panicked. I wasn't at ease at all, and I just wanted out of there. I had a meltdown that night (my poor mom...ugh...bless her), and finally just resolved myself to being a nervous wreck.

Anyway, the nurse told me it would be about ten days before they got the results back. In the meantime, if the folks at Myriad saw that my insurance wouldn't cover the test or if I would have to pay more than around $350 for the test, they would call before processing the sample.

So, I waited. Almost a week later, as I was driving out of town for a meeting, I got a call from a number I didn't recognize. I didn't answer, but listened to the voicemail. It was a lady at Myriad asking me to call her. When I did, she told me that she didn't think I would qualify for insurance coverage because no one who had cancer was a first or second degree relative.

And this is where I come to my most problematic reactions to this whole testing thing: I've been told I need the test. I've been told outcomes. I've been nervous. And now I'm told I probably don't qualify.

Out of pocket expense for the test if I wanted to pay for it? 

Nearly $4000. 

Yep. People. I work for a nonprofit and have student loan debt. What the what? The problem is, I now had the question: "Well, if I don't take the test, and I do have the mutation, and I never did anything to stop me from getting cancer and I did get would I feel about that?" I felt confused and trapped and without a lot of information. Did I really need the test? I don't know about you, but $4000 is a lot of money for me.

So, the very nice lady at Myriad (she was awesome) told me she would process the request for payment to the insurance provider, just to see what would happen, but it would take about 10 days to get a response. She also told me that if I decided to take the test even if the insurance didn't cover it, Myriad would work with me to get a payment plan I could live with. But I was still confused and gradually became a bit angry about all of it.

So, another ten days passed. My nervousness lessened. I looked at the situation logically: Usually you see patterns of cancer, and we don't really have that in the family. My grandmother and her daughters are fine. Most ovarian cancers are caused by unknown reasons. And, most importantly (and I can't stress this enough), I went back to my "This test is a win-win" attitude again. Because it really is, when you think about it. And, yes, in spite of all of this, I had decided to pay for the test, because I can't deal with the idea that I "might" have a ticking time bomb that I could deactivate in some way.

Well, ten days came and went. Nothing.

Twenty days. Nothing.

I actually started to forget about it.

Sometime in mid-September, I received a note from my insurance company. They were approving the test. I hadn't heard from anyone at Myriad again, so I just assumed this would take place pretty quickly. I guess in the grand scheme of things it did, but it didn't feel that way.

Finally, in early October, I got the news that I am negative for the mutation. Very good news, of course, but what a journey to find that out. I really did dread the phone ringing, because I had to mentally prepare myself for whatever news I got, you know? When I finally did see my doctor's office name pop up on caller ID, I had a moment of panic again, but then I reminded myself (before answering) that regardless of the results, I would get through it and everything would be fine. Because it would have been.

I think my biggest fear was having to put my immediate family and household through all of that. It is hard enough when we have to take the dog in for her vet visits. How would we manage with me in the hospital for extended periods of time and a lengthy recovery? 

Still, I would have faced it somehow, and it would have been fine in the end.

So, I write this post to put another resource out there for anyone who is waiting for their BRCA results. Each situation is unique, and the circumstances under which we test are unique. Results will vary. But we do have to keep in mind that knowing is definitely better than not knowing. And, especially for those of you who have children (boys and girls, by the way...because boys can carry, too), and you qualify for testing, you need to know so that they know too. And so that you can do everything you can to be around those you love for a long time.

Anyway, just putting this out there, because you feel so lost during the process of all of this. In comparison to other things, it feels so little and insignificant, but when you are going through it, it feels like it is the most pressing thing in the world. If this helps someone, great. If not, that's okay, too. :)

Sunday, October 18, 2015

A short vent about holiday music....followed by my great day at the UNITY summit!

I've been doing a lot of driving lately, and usually I plug my phone into the USB port on my car stereo and amuse myself with podcasts. But, sadly, there is something wrong with said USB port, so I have been listening to the radio lately...and there is at least one station playing Christmas music. People. It is only October. This is just sad.

Anyway, I just felt the need to vent, but I will leave it there and get on with the update. Because I am not going to waste a post on holiday music.

On Friday, I attended UNITY: Journalists for Diversity's regional media summit ("Empowering the Southern Narrative"). I had an amazing time and learned so much, and it was great to be surrounded by so many voices and experiences. I listened to Willoughby Mariano of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution speak about investigative reporting she did that led to massive community change, and I sat in on former CNN Chief Diversity Advisor Johnita Due's keynote speech about cultivating and defining diversity in the media and in our lives. This was followed up by an excellent panel at lunch that discussed diversity in Alabama specifically. Though the panel focused mainly on issues and stories involving black and white issues of diversity that have arisen following the Michael Brown shooting, there was the question: "Yes, but what about everyone else?" I wish there had been more time to address other populations in our state--religions, cultural, sexual, ethnic, etc. But, as the speakers said, the most important thing is to start conversations. You can't change anything if you aren't willing to talk. And talking, as they said, begins right next door. Talk to your neighbors and friends. Small movements lead to big changes. And as Johnita Due said, we all bring something to the table, no matter what our life experiences are.

Johnita Due speaks about her family's history in the civil rights movement
and the importance of diverse voices in media. (My photo)
Aside from all of the fascinating conversation, this event is the first journalism specific event that I have attended in years. I mean, I work for a magazine and am therefore involved in journalism. But I'm not a reporter in the sense that most people think of when they hear the word "journalist." I was never trained as a reporter, though my first degree was in journalism. I was trained in magazine feature writing and editing, and though these are both aspects of journalism they don't always involve "shoe-leather" reporting (though, I think, some of the best feature stories do involve that). Too often now we get stories thrown at us  (and I am speaking of contemporary magazine/website sources of feature articles) that are clearly drawn from internet research only. This irritates me to no end, because so many emerging journalism students are not practiced in the art of interviewing and collecting the most important resources--those not found in a database. I do hope this changes, but I am thinking it won't. But that is the reason I admire the reporters and writers who get on the streets and into the neighborhoods to discuss the people they are reporting about. Databases are great for certain things, but they cannot replace the human voice and the perspective you can get by visiting the subjects/places/people you are writing about--so go for it!

Anyway, it was a great conference, and I am so glad I went with my co-worker, Rebecca. We also got a chance to hang out with one of my favorite Alabama authors, Frye Gaillard (so of course we had him take a photo with us!):

I'm still trying to figure out why my sweater looks so huge on me. At first I thought I was crazy for wearing it, but it was freezing in some of the sessions, so I was super happy I made the decision to dress for the arctic on an October day in Alabama. :)  It was lovely to see Frye and to hang out with such inspiring and amazing people all day. I hope I get to attend another UNITY event in the future!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Best Books I've Read This Year (so far...)

I have read a lot this year. Yes, I read a lot every year, but I have been a VERY active reader over the last few months. At some point before New Year's Eve, I will put up a favorites list, but I thought I would let you know about some of the best books I've read so far.

A Tale for the Time Being: Oh, wow. I really can't say enough good things about this book. It might end up being my favorite for the year. I felt like this book came along at just the right time. Here is the Amazon description:
“A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be.”
In Tokyo, sixteen-year-old Nao has decided there’s only one escape from her aching loneliness and her classmates’ bullying. But before she ends it all, Nao first plans to document the life of her great grandmother, a Buddhist nun who’s lived more than a century. A diary is Nao’s only solace—and will touch lives in ways she can scarcely imagine.
Across the Pacific, we meet Ruth, a novelist living on a remote island who discovers a collection of artifacts washed ashore in a Hello Kitty lunchbox—possibly debris from the devastating 2011 tsunami. As the mystery of its contents unfolds, Ruth is pulled into the past, into Nao’s drama and her unknown fate, and forward into her own future.
Full of Ozeki’s signature humor and deeply engaged with the relationship between writer and reader, past and present, fact and fiction, quantum physics, history, and myth, A Tale for the Time Being is a brilliantly inventive, beguiling story of our shared humanity and the search for home.  
Nao is such an amazing character. She continues to stay with me even though I read this book months ago! I LOVED this book, and it is going to be hard to top this one.


Blood and Beauty: From Amazon:
By the end of the fifteenth century, the beauty and creativity of Italy is matched by its brutality and corruption, nowhere more than in Rome and inside the Church. When Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia buys his way into the papacy as Alexander VI, he is defined not just by his wealth or his passionate love for his illegitimate children, but by his blood: He is a Spanish Pope in a city run by Italians. If the Borgias are to triumph, this charismatic, consummate politician with a huge appetite for life, women, and power must use papacy and family—in particular, his eldest son, Cesare, and his daughter Lucrezia—in order to succeed. Cesare, with a dazzlingly cold intelligence and an even colder soul, is his greatest—though increasingly unstable—weapon. Later immortalized in Machiavelli’s The Princehe provides the energy and the muscle. Lucrezia, beloved by both men, is the prime dynastic tool. Twelve years old when the novel opens, hers is a journey through three marriages, and from childish innocence to painful experience, from pawn to political player. Stripping away the myths around the Borgias, Blood & Beauty is a majestic novel that breathes life into this astonishing family and celebrates the raw power of history itself: compelling, complex and relentless.
If you are a fan of The Borgias show on Showtime, you should check this book out. I loved that show, and I always felt that the show "sexed up" Lucrezia in strange ways and didn't show the peril of her position nearly enough. Well, this book fills in the imaginative blanks. We will never know about Lucrezia, really, but this book presents an interesting case about how she was used by her family. I believe it is to be part of a trilogy, and I am anxiously awaiting the next one!


The Crimson Petal and the White: From Amazon...

At the heart of this panoramic, multidimensional narrative is the compelling struggle of a young woman to lift her body and soul out of the gutter. Faber leads us back to 1870s London, where Sugar, a nineteen-year-old whore in the brothel of the terrifying Mrs. Castaway, yearns for escape to a better life. Her ascent through the strata of Victorian society offers us intimacy with a host of lovable, maddening, unforgettable characters. They begin with William Rackham, an egotistical perfume magnate whose ambition is fueled by his lust for Sugar, and whose patronage brings her into proximity to his extended family and milieu: his unhinged, childlike wife, Agnes, who manages to overcome her chronic hysteria to make her appearances during “the Season”; his mysteriously hidden-away daughter, Sophie, left to the care of minions; his pious brother, Henry, foiled in his devotional calling by a persistently less-than-chaste love for the Widow Fox, whose efforts on behalf of The Rescue Society lead Henry into ever-more disturbing confrontations with flesh; all this overseen by assorted preening socialites, drunken journalists, untrustworthy servants, vile guttersnipes, and whores of all stripes and persuasions.
Twenty years in its conception, research, and writing, The Crimson Petal and the White is teeming with life, rich in texture and incident, with characters breathtakingly real. In a class by itself, it's a big, juicy, must-read of a novel that will delight, enthrall, provoke, and entertain young and old, male and female.
Oh, wow. This book. THIS BOOK. I listened to it on audio, and now I am reading it. A warning: It is very gritty and graphic, so if you can't take the reality of prostitution--and Victorian-era prostitution at that--then I would say don't go there. That being said, though it could be jarring at times, this book is another one that has stayed with me for a really long time. I bought the movie (good...but not as good as the book) and the short story volume that accompanies it (fabulous). At first I thought that I just couldn't get into a book that has a main character named Sugar. Seriously. I've had the print book for a long time, and every time I would try to open it, I would see the name "Sugar" and want to groan. I had a free audio download and thought, "What the hell?" So, I downloaded it...and after about fifteen minutes, I was hooked. As in so hooked I wanted to skip work to keep listening. Granted, the narrator was fantastic, but the story just took me to so many places--good and bad. LOVED this one, and I highly recommend it.


What I Talk About When I Talk About Running: From Amazon...
An intimate look at writing, running, and the incredible way they intersect, from the incomparable, bestselling author Haruki Murakami.While simply training for New York City Marathon would be enough for most people, Haruki Murakami's decided to write about it as well. The result is a beautiful memoir about his intertwined obsessions with running and writing, full of vivid memories and insights, including the eureka moment when he decided to become a writer. By turns funny and sobering, playful and philosophical, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is rich and revelatory, both for fans of this masterful yet guardedly private writer and for the exploding population of athletes who find similar satisfaction in athletic pursuit.
Anyone who knows me knows that I have had a Murakami fest over the last year. I LOVE MURAKAMI. So, when I took my vacation in June, I checked this out from the library. I had decided to get back into running, and I couldn't imagine a better read than a book that combines thoughts about running and writing. Like so much of Murakami's work, this has its own rhythm and balance. I still want to buy my own copy, because I know it is one I would like to reread.


Cleopatra's Moon: From Amazon...
The only daughter of the last queen of Egypt watches her beloved father--Mark Antony--fall on his sword in front of her. Then she hears the haunting wails of the priestesses of Isis on the island of Pharos and knows her mother died. It is the end of Cleopatra's rule and the start of Selene's nightmare. Her parent's vicious enemy, the snake-like Octavianus, forces Cleopatra Selene to march through the streets of Rome in golden chains and then sentences her, along with her brothers, to live as political prisoners in his own home.
There she fights desperately to keep her brothers safe from poisonings and secret assassination attempts. Selene plots furiously to do what she knows her mother Cleopatra would want her to do--reclaim her destiny as the queen of Egypt. While plotting with her mother's agents in Rome, Selene knows her best shot at retaking Egypt's throne is to beguile her despised captor's nephew, Marcellus, the beautiful, golden-haired heir to Octavanius. But Selene unexpectedly falls in love with a fellow political prisoner setting off a deeply personal crisis: Does Selene choose the man she loves over the man who could help her rule Egypt?
Selene is determined to live up to her mother's last whispered words to her--"You have the heart of a great and powerful queen," but at what price? Is she doomed to live and die like her mother, trying to use sex and seduction to make strategic alliances to gain power? Or can she take destiny into her own hands and create a future her mother never imagined? 
Life in Rome has its own surprises and Selene discovers that trying to follow in her mother's footsteps unleashes dangerous and unexpected consequences. Will Selene make the same decisions--and mistakes--as her brilliant but doomed mother? Or will she find a way to forge an identity and future all her own? 

Again, this is another book I had for a while before reading it. AND I LOVE IT SO MUCH. (And I am just now realizing how much historical fiction I have read over the last year...and how many are my favorites!!) Anyway, the writing in this book is lush and beautiful. It is one of those stories that absorbs you into it so quickly that you are reading more than you realized! I am still reading this one, because I only allow myself so many pages a day...I want to drag it out. The author is skillful in showing the development of Selene and the powerful family and political dynamics at work in her life. I am also amazed at how powerfully the author brings to life Selene's mother, Cleopatra. The famous queen dominates the page when she appears, and this is no accident, because later Selene learns to do the same. I highly recommend this book. It is technically a YA novel, but like the best YA, it crosses genre and audience. Beautifully done and definitely a favorite forever.


So, I do have a few more books I plan to read before the new year, and there is one in particular that could take the crown for favorite book. I  have to admit, though, I am almost afraid to read it. Here it is:

I've heard so many wonderful things about Hanya Yanagihara's A Little Life, but I also hear (from most readers) that it is an emotionally taxing book to take on. If you are thinking about picking it up, be aware that there are graphic descriptions of abuse (psychological, emotional, sexual, physical) to a child. I'm not sure I will be able to handle it, but I sure hope so. I  have heard that, even though it is a very hard book to read in parts, readers have been expressing a bond with this book that is astounding. The review that finally convinced me that I  have to read it is here (if you don't mind some spoilers): YouTube Review. So, I am going to read it before the new year and get back to you.

OH: And if you are curious about how my reading challenge is going, see HERE.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Moonlight and Magnolias: A Great Regional RWA Conference!

Hi, everyone. I have not had a chance to update the blog because so much has been going on. I went to Moonlight and Magnolias in Atlanta from Oct. 1-4. This is a regional conference put on by the Georgia Romance Writers chapter of Romance Writers of America. It was a great conference, and I learned so much! I went to sessions on plot and character development, and I attended Candace Haven's three-hour class titled "Fast Draft and Revision Hell." It was intense, but I learned more than I could have imagined. I may even sign up for her online class.

On Saturday, things got a little crazy for me. I went to one session about character development, but I missed most of another session on using humor in writing, because I had to make a phone call to my cousin (he's in the Army, and it was his birthday).   :)

We had a nice lunch with our keynote speaker, Chris Marie Green. But during the lunch, I received a text from my mother saying that my grandma was in the hospital...which led to several days (when I returned) of sitting in the hospital...and, well, you get the idea. No blog posts! Anyway, we are slowly getting back to normal now, so I thought I better update!

Anyway, that is about it for now. I'm super busy still playing catch-up, so I will post more later.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Off to a Good Start

I mentioned that I would be attending one conference, workshop, lecture, event, or class per month to help me feed my writing and Victorian passions. :) So, this weekend took care of September. On Saturday, I went to a fiction editing workshop. I went into the workshop knowing that I probably already knew most of what would be said (and I did), but I also know you can always learn something new (and I did). 

In my day job, I am an editor, but I edit nonfiction...which is very different from editing fiction. So, I learned a few little things to help me when I am writing fiction (and some things to avoid). Most of all, it was just nice to hear some really validating comments from someone who shares my line of work.

Other things going on:

1. This week I will be attending another writing conference (already scheduled) for several days. I'm excited, and this will take care of October's assignment. Also, I just found out about a small one-day conference on campus towards the middle of the month, and I will probably go to that, too.

2. I am still reading/thinking/writing, of course.

3. I'm on the lookout for a November event. My writer's group does have our reader's luncheon in November, but I would like something else. The luncheon is great, but I think I am going to be on the lookout for some kind of lecture. It is possible that the English department (or another department) will have something going on. So, here's hoping!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Vacation...Last Day: Dickens, Victorian London, and Conferences

No, I did not become a slacker and neglect my posting promise! I had a headache that wouldn't stop and kept me in bed for a day...then that turned into feeling like I was coming down with more time asleep. Anyway, I finally feel better, which I guess is a good thing, because I have to go back to work tomorrow. (See how jazzed I sound?)

Once the headache passed, I continued my Dickens reading. I am about halfway through Sketches by Boz, and I am loving it. It is so funny, and because I am relaxed and not under grad school pressure, rereading Dickens is a whole new experience. I mean, I loved him before, but having such a rich background (due to the work I did in grad school) and coming to him fresh makes me see so many new things.

Also, I am using the Penguin version of Sketches. I snatched it up when I found it, because I don't often find decent editions of the less popular works around here. The notes are fascinating, and it is really fun to read this alongside Judith Flanders's The Victorian City. I love how Dickens is actually writing about a pre-Victorian London, and it is fun to see glimpses into how things are evolving from the world of Jane Austen to the world of Dickens. It is truly a glimpse into a transitional period, and I am learning so much that I don't think I would have noticed when I was writing the dissertation.

Other things....

I've been doing a lot of planning and thinking about my future. I have decided upon a few things--both major and not so major--but those conversations can wait for another time. One thing I will talk about is my 40th birthday. It isn't for another year, but I had planned to do something fun to celebrate--like a big trip to Europe or something like that. But I thought about it, and I realized that I wanted something I could do during the whole last year of my 30s--something that would count and contribute to what I love to do (research/writing/anything literature related). So, instead of a grand trip to Europe, I am making sure that every single month (though December will be really tricky) I go to a conference, class/workshop, or event that is related to writing, research, or literary studies. This idea struck me in the middle of the night, and I suddenly felt really excited and happy and free--more so than I have in a really long time. I knew it was the right thing to do. So, that is what I am going to do. AND...luck folks that you are, you will be hearing about it, because I plan to blog as I go along. I know I will learn a lot--not just about things I am interested in but also about myself. It will be a great way to close out my 30s.

So far, I already have September and October planned. I have an all-day writing/editing workshop next Saturday, and then, the first of October, I am going to a writer's conference. Both of these were booked before I made this decision, but it is a good thing because it gives me time to plan. I am also going to a genealogy conference in October, too, so I am excited about two events in the same month! In November, I have my writing group's annual reader's luncheon. This counts...but I would also like to do something else in November, if I can.

I am planning to make at least one big trip to a large conference...likely something in Victorian literature...but I can't decide which one yet! So, I'm just going to make a huge list of EVERYTHING I want to go to and then narrow down from there. My ultimate dream would be to go to the Dickens Universe conference...but I don't know if that can happen.

Anyway, that is part of what I have been doing over the last several days. I'm excited to be back in my happy literature place. :)

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Vacation: Day 5

It has been a day built around eating. I made a trip to Fresh Market this morning and bought steaks, veggies, coffee, and dessert. So, tonight, I grilled out, and we had a feast. Of course, this was after going for my usual Wednesday lunch with my grandmother at the assisted living center. Apparently, they had an Elvis impersonator today...AND I MISSED IT. This is cruel of the universe.

Other than that, I read a bit and wrote a bit. It's been a good day. :)

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Yeah...let's hope so...


Vacation: Day 4

Ugh. This day. Exhausting and revealing in so many ways. Nothing dramatic or anything...just more signs from the cosmos (visible in small ways to no one but me, I guess) that things are in need of change. But that is a conversation for another time.

I've taken a small step into a larger project: I'm reading all of Dickens. I can't say "rereading" because I haven't read everything by him. I'm starting with Sketches by Boz and moving forward chronologically. I need more guidance about how to tackle the journalism, especially now that we just had some really significant leads and new additions this summer, so that will wait. I would like to read his letters alongside what he's writing at the time, so I need to make a trip to the library to get those. 

This is my first time to read Sketches by Boz, and I really like it. So many early portraits of characters to come. Such an amazing eye for surroundings and people. It is just fascinating.

Well, more later!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Vacation: Day 3

Wow. I really should have waited until really late last night to post! No, it isn't that anything super exciting happened, but I ended up watching Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte...and I was totally into the hot mess that is that movie! Wow. It was so over-the-top wonderful in so many ways.

Anyway, not much has happened of note. It has been a day of errand running. I did just attend a friend's book reception at the history department, and that was a lot of fun. I'm so proud of her! I couldn't stay long, but I am glad I was able to go.

Well, I am hoping for more energy and a better post tomorrow. I'm just kind of exhausted from the day's non-routine/running around!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Vacation: Day 2

Today was a fun day! I had a friend and fellow writing buddy signing books at Barnes & Noble, so I decided to make it a big family day. I loaded up the parents, and we went up to Flip Burger Boutique for lunch and then to the book signing. We all had the Oaxaca burger (AMAZING), and then we decided to have milkshakes...which always makes for a good day. (Yes, that would be me taking a picture of myself in the reflective ball is to the right.)

The book signing was great! My friend Nancee Cain was signing her book, and it was so great to see her there and signing as a published author! Dad was getting tired, so we couldn't stay too long, but it was a good time. Lots of laughter and relaxation, which is just what I needed.

I did take a short nap today, and then I went out to the assisted living center to visit my grandmother. And the evening was topped off by a fun phone call with my cousin, Jeff.

So, not a ton of thoughts to share today...just lots of fun!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Vacation: Day 1

Today has been uneventful, and that is a good thing! I'm ready for a bit of calm in my life, so having some free time to write, read, and think is is a venti iced coffee. Clearly, my addition is being fed.

As for the book: I really enjoy Judith Flanders's work. I bought Consuming Passions when I was in Oxford the second time, and it was so much fun to read. If you like social history with a lot of details, then go for it. I'm excited to get started with this one (my vacation purchase). It has taken me a while to get to this point, but I have to say that I really miss engaging in Victorian studies. I've made it one of my goals to get back into it.

This summer was a rough one. There was a health scare with my mom (she's fine, thank goodness), and then lots of other things happened that added to the stress. Good times. During all of this, I realized that I really missed what I will call my "literary life." Of course, I still read as much as always (even though I am bad about blogging about it on here). But I missed being involved in the scholarly side of things. I was feeling really down about it until one of my former professors contacted me a few weeks ago. He teaches at a university out of state, and he is retiring after next semester. This semester, he is teaching his final online class with new material--a class on Oscar Wilde. I like Wilde and know a bit about him, but I haven't read as much of his work as I would like to have read. So, my former professor invited me to participate in his online class, and it has been exactly what I needed to kickstart my interest again and make me feel as if I am engaged in my favorite field. I would really love to go to a Victorian lit conference sometime in the next year, but I can't make my preferred conference this year. That is okay, though, because it gives me time to get some ideas ready and maybe get something ready to present. Either way, I am going to the conference next fall. It is always a good time and fun to engage. It is time to get busy thinking and writing!

I am also working on a novel. I recently made PRO with RWA, so I am excited about that. I doubt I will ever do anything with the manuscript I submitted to them, but it was a big thing for me to actually finish it and submit it. I started it years ago with NaNoWriMo, and finally decided that it was time to put it to good use. So, I finished it and submitted it. Yay! Now I can attend the PRO retreats at the national conference and have access to their blog posts, which are awesome. But anyway: I am working on a different book now, so we will see how that goes!

The last year has made me realize that the most important thing in the world (in terms of personal happiness) is to follow your bliss (as Campbell says). I haven't done this for a long time, and, because of it, every aspect of my life has suffered. It is time to get back to my passions and do what makes me happy. When I have done that, the most amazing opportunities come my way. When I ignore it, I am completely miserable.

So, those are my thoughts for today. :)

More tomorrow.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Almost there...

In approximately three hours, I will be on vacation! Yay! One of my vacation goals is to blog every day. I am not sure I will have anything interesting to say, but at least it might help me make a move to get back into the habit of blogging again.

I plan to do a lot of reading and writing during my time off. I am so ready for this.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

How does this much time pass?

So, I looked at the date of my last blog post and realized that--yet again--I have slacked on the blog. Lots of things happened since my last post: family health craziness and a big move to new offices at work (among other things). So, yes, I have been busy.

Most of my time over the last few weeks has been spent getting the next issue of the magazine ready for the designer and packing boxes. Smaller amounts of time have been spent at "surplus"--a big warehouse that is basically our only option for furniture where I work. #lifeatanonprofit (as a FB friend puts it)

Anyway, you have to go to surplus *MANY* times to actually find something. Most of the time, you just come across stuff like this:

I actually took this photo today. I had to go back to surplus to find a table for my printer, and I saw this desk up on the second level of shelves. It made me sad. The photo is bad, but basically this desk...leaning and missing a one of the many fine items available for us in poor departments. Good times. At least it has all of the drawers and handles, so this is actually a nice piece...if you can find something to support that other side.

Still, over the months, I and my coworkers have managed to find some cool, not-so-damaged pieces. But it took some doing.

In other news...what have I been reading? Since my last post I have read:

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams by Philip and Carol Zaleski  (audiobook)

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Martian by Andy Weir


Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. 
Now, he's sure he'll be the first person to die there.
After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive. 
Chances are, though, he won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old "human error" are much more likely to kill him first. 
But Mark isn't ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?
Plot summary in a nutshell? Castaway on Mars.

I finally managed to track down Andy Weir's The Martian at my local library. I picked this book up a few times at the bookstore, but I just wasn't sure if I was willing to pay for a book that may or may not be too jargon filled. While I was at the library on Thursday evening, I decided to see if their copy was available. The regular copy wasn't, but there was a large print edition, so I scooped it up.

Though I enjoyed the book, I kept seeing cinematic intent behind every plot move. And, yes, it is being made into a movie. It was a fun read and good escapism, though, so if you are looking for an exciting summer read, this one might be for you. Personally, I love survival stories, so, even though I see the dollar signs for the movie version, I still had a good experience with it.

This book is a relatively fast read. Yes, there is a lot of "science speak" in it ( is SciFi), but I didn't find it hard to understand or disruptive to my reading experience. On Goodreads, I gave it a 3/5 stars, only for predictability. But that being said, it didn't ruin my fun, and I am still glad I decided to read it.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider

From Amazon:

Robyn Schneider's The Beginning of Everything is a witty and heart-wrenching teen novel that will appeal to fans of books by John Green and Ned Vizzini, novels such as The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and classics like The Great Gatsby and The Catcher in the Rye.
Varsity tennis captain, Ezra Faulkner, was supposed to be homecoming king, but that was before—before his girlfriend cheated on him, before a car accident shattered his leg, and before he fell in love with unpredictable new girl Cassidy Thorpe.
As Kirkus Reviews said in a starred review, "Schneider takes familiar stereotypes and infuses them with plenty of depth. Here are teens who could easily trade barbs and double entendres with the characters that fill John Green's novels."
Funny, smart, and including everything from flash mobs to blanket forts to a poodle who just might be the reincarnation of Jay Gatsby, The Beginning of Everything is a refreshing contemporary twist on the classic coming-of-age novel—a heart-wrenching story about how difficult it is to play the part that people expect, and how new beginnings can stem from abrupt and tragic endings.

I finished reading The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, and I really enjoyed it. The story follows Ezra Faulkner and his relationship with himself. Notice I did not say with a girl. Yes, yes. There is a romantic relationship in the story between Ezra and and a girl named Cassidy, and at first glance, you would say that the story follows Ezra's and Cassidy's relationship. But in the end, it is really about Ezra coming to know who he is and what he wants out of life. Really, it is a story about authenticity and living an authentic life.

Also, and this is no small thing: This is the first novel I've ever read that contains a geocaching scene. :)

I found this to be an easy, smooth reading experience. I loved the humor and how Schneider captures the various crowds of students at Ezra's high school. I enjoyed the humor, too. In some ways, though the story moved quickly and there was enough tension to keep you interested, this was a quiet read. I really enjoyed it and look forward to reading Schneider's next novel.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Waiting on Wednesday...

Hosted by:  Breaking the Spine

I absolutely cannot wait for this book to come out!! I have had it on my wishlist forever!! 

From Amazon...

From a ferociously talented writer, praised as “the fire, in my opinion. And the light," by Junot Diaz, comes a blazing portrait of one woman’s rise from courtesan to world-renowned diva. 
Lilliet Berne is a sensation of the Paris Opera, a legendary soprano with every accolade except an original role, every singer’s chance at immortality. When one is finally offered to her, she realizes with alarm that the libretto is based on a hidden piece of her past. Only four could have betrayed her: one is dead, one loves her, one wants to own her. And one, she hopes, never thinks of her at all.  As she mines her memories for clues, she recalls her life as an orphan who left the American frontier for Europe and was swept up into the glitzy, gritty world of Second Empire Paris. In order to survive, she transformed herself from hippodrome rider to courtesan, from empress’s maid to debut singer, all the while weaving a complicated web of romance, obligation, and political intrigue.   Featuring a cast of characters drawn from history, The Queen of the Night follows Lilliet as she moves ever closer to the truth behind the mysterious opera and the role that could secure her reputation -- or destroy her with the secrets it reveals. 

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Curious about a "Graze" snack box?

I was, too. I love snacks, and I kept seeing all of these ads on Facebook and Twitter about "Graze" snacks that are mailed to you every month or so. A friend of mine tried them last year, and she liked them. So, I thought I would give the service a try and post for anyone who is curious. :)

So, I went to the "Graze" site ( and signed up. The first box (and, come to find out, the fifth) is free. Once you get the first box, you can choose what kind of box you want. They have several to choose from, and you can rate the snacks you try (telling them that you definitely do or do not want something). Box prices vary (as do the times they ship). It seems like the more expensive/larger the box, the longer in between shipments. And, I am super excited that they have flapjack boxes!!

Anyway, they send a little card (see pic below) that tells you how to "get the most out of Graze." Good tips about what to do if you want to try something new or go healthy with your snacks (there are some good options). There are also rewards for sharing. Nutritional info for each snack is on the back of this card.

When my "Graze" box arrived, this is what it looked like:

And this is what it looks like on the inside:

So, your first box has four snacks to try. I  think they are pretty much chosen at random. In any case, here is what I got:

Sweet Mustard Ranch (a mixture of pretzels, sour cream and onion cashews, and mustard breadsticks)

Original Three-seed Protein Flapjack (three tiny rustic rolled oat flapjack with flaxseed, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds)

Punchy Protein Nuts (chili lime cashews, pistachios, and almonds)

Strawberries and Cream Granola Topper (oat and barley granola, freeze dried strawberries and yogurt covered strawberries)

JUST A QUICK NOTE: The plastic top on each snack tells you to look at the back of the card (sent with the box) to see the "best by" date. PAY ATTENTION TO THIS. I just noticed that most of these dates expire soon. I imagine that is because these are made to be eaten quickly. Also, if you are someone with food allergies, it is likely best to skip subscribing to "Graze." I noticed on the FAQ on their site that they say, "Graze is not suitable for people with food allergies." (SEE HERE:

I am not trying all of these today, but I decided to try one (I will update later): Punchy Protein Nuts.

Here is what it looks like without the plastic top:

Verdict: Tasty! I like this snack a lot! The nuts are fresh and have great tangy and slightly spicy flavor. Yay for my first "Graze" experience! The portion sizes are on the small size, so be aware of that. Still, I think if you were buying all of this in a store, the pricing would be more or about the same, depending on where you were.

I will continue to update as I try each one.

And, just for disclosure: No, no one paid me to endorse this product. I know no one at Graze, and I paid for my own box. I was just curious and thought I would post about my experience! So far, so good!

UPDATE: 6/11... 

Sweet Mustard Ranch (a mixture of pretzels, sour cream and onion cashews, and mustard breadsticks)

I really enjoyed this one, too! Sorry for not taking a picture...but sometimes hunger overrides blog love. Anyway, again, very fresh and tasty.

Verdict: Great! 10 out of 10! Yay!

Friday, May 29, 2015

AND...WOW!! I have been blogging for 10 years!!

10 YEARS!!! Who knew?? I looked back, and my first post was March 6, 2005. Wow! Crazy!

(okay..yes...I haven't blogged every day, but to still actively post on a ten-year-old blog is kind of amazing considering most are abandoned!)

New Look to the Blog

After ten years, I finally got sick of it. LOL! So, I am going minimalist. :)

A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki

Description from Amazon:
“A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be.”
In Tokyo, sixteen-year-old Nao has decided there’s only one escape from her aching loneliness and her classmates’ bullying. But before she ends it all, Nao first plans to document the life of her great grandmother, a Buddhist nun who’s lived more than a century. A diary is Nao’s only solace—and will touch lives in ways she can scarcely imagine. Across the Pacific, we meet Ruth, a novelist living on a remote island who discovers a collection of artifacts washed ashore in a Hello Kitty lunchbox—possibly debris from the devastating 2011 tsunami. As the mystery of its contents unfolds, Ruth is pulled into the past, into Nao’s drama and her unknown fate, and forward into her own future.Full of Ozeki’s signature humor and deeply engaged with the relationship between writer and reader, past and present, fact and fiction, quantum physics, history, and myth, A Tale for the Time Being is a brilliantly inventive, beguiling story of our shared humanity and the search for home.

I just finished Ruth Ozeki's A Tale for the Time Being. I tried so hard to drag this one out...and I did. For weeks. I just didn't want to give it up. And when I was finally finished, I went into book depression! This is an amazing novel told in dual narration. I think there are some problems with the ending (just for me), but I would still give it five stars (and did on Goodreads), because it was a life-changing read for me.

Be aware that there is some rough language and sexual situations in the book, but I felt it was always tastefully handled. These things don't bother me, but I know that they do bother some people. Lately, when it comes to reviews, I have seen lots of people issue "trigger warnings." I haven't decided if I am in favor of them or not, but, for the sake of argument, I would say there should be trigger warnings for: self harming; bullying; sexual assault of a minor/exploitation; suicide; abuse.

You see? The thing  about these trigger warnings is that someone might read them and then decide that I have listed way too many things that are negative and then not read the book. And if I had seen all of those, I might have done the same thing. But this book was so amazing--and, in case you are still on the fence, it all does turn out okay. The story is uplifting and fulfilling spiritually in a way I can't describe yet--I'm still too close to it.

I actually picked up this book on the bargain table at Barnes & Noble! It is a Man Booker Prize Finalist, too! At first, I wasn't sure what to make of that...because sometimes I really love the Booker Prize novels, and sometimes I ask myself, "What were they smoking?" But in terms of style and interest, this was not a hard read at all. I couldn't wait to pick it up again each night, even though I limited myself to one chapter a day!

Again: Wonderful read. Beautiful. I don't think you would regret it.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Reading Toni Morrison

In preparation for Toni Morrison's new novel God Help the Child (coming out NEXT WEEK!! YAY!!!), I am reading through her entire works. I have read some Morrison in the past, but I always wanted to start at the beginning and work my way through. Even this plan didn't go well, because my local bookstore was out of The Bluest Eye. They did have Sula, so I read that one first. (These are two I haven't read before now.) So, I have now finished those two and will move on to Song of Solomon tonight. I am super excited. I find myself falling into Morrison's books so easily--but this is not to say that the reading experience is easy. Never come to Morrison if you are looking for a quick read or something "easy." Though the first two books, as many acknowledge, are good "gateway" books to Morrison's collection, they still require effort, of course.

Anyway, I will keep you posted. There is no way I can finish everything before next Tuesday (LOL), but I hope to be well into Tar Baby (if not Beloved ) by then! Happy reading!

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Since my last post (aka making progress on the TBR pile):

Well, since my last post, I have been reading...a lot! I am actually still on schedule with my Goodreads challenge...which is amazing in itself! Most of my reading has been historical romance, but I have completed two literary fiction novels, also. Here are my thoughts...

I don't really know how to describe my feelings about Olive Kitteridge. Don't get me wrong: I liked the book. It is a collection of shorter stories that are all connected to the character of Olive. The book is intense, however. I read it in almost one sitting, and I think that was a mistake. When I finished, I was left feeling emotionally exhausted and sad. I'm glad I read it, but I can't say that I would want to go through the experience again!

I actually had this on my audiobook archives list. I LOVED listening to this book. I think this was the best narration I have ever heard. Mitchell is a great author, and once this book was over, I was left wanting more!

Thursday, January 08, 2015

My New Year's Resolutions and Back to Book Reviews (Sort of)

So, I made two resolutions this year:

1. To only read books out of my TBR pile (including books bought before 1/1/15 on my Kindle), and to not buy another physical book this year (though, if it is something I am dying to read, I can buy it on Kindle). Yeah...I fully expect that I will fail miserably at this one!

2. To take more time off from work. I didn't do a good job of allowing myself days to recharge last year, and it almost put me under.

Anyway, I joined the Goodreads challenge, as usual,committing to 100 books this year. Also, I joined a TBR challenge on Goodreads, committing to the same 100 books. Double accountability! So, I am keeping my reading logged there, but I will probably post most of the books I am reading here, too.

I have read these two books so far:

 From Amazon:
By the end of the fifteenth century, the beauty and creativity of Italy is matched by its brutality and corruption, nowhere more than in Rome and inside the Church. When Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia buys his way into the papacy as Alexander VI, he is defined not just by his wealth or his passionate love for his illegitimate children, but by his blood: He is a Spanish Pope in a city run by Italians. If the Borgias are to triumph, this charismatic, consummate politician with a huge appetite for life, women, and power must use papacy and family—in particular, his eldest son, Cesare, and his daughter Lucrezia—in order to succeed. Cesare, with a dazzlingly cold intelligence and an even colder soul, is his greatest—though increasingly unstable—weapon. Later immortalized in Machiavelli’sThe Prince, he provides the energy and the muscle. Lucrezia, beloved by both men, is the prime dynastic tool. Twelve years old when the novel opens, hers is a journey through three marriages, and from childish innocence to painful experience, from pawn to political player. Stripping away the myths around the Borgias, Blood & Beauty is a majestic novel that breathes life into this astonishing family and celebrates the raw power of history itself: compelling, complex and relentless.
I LOVED Blood and Beauty. If you watched the Showtime series The Borgias, you will like this book. I thought it was so well done, and this book is the first of two. I can't wait until the next one comes out. I can't recommend it highly enough.

From Amazon:
When Wendy Everly was six years old, her mother was convinced she was a monster and tried to kill her. Eleven years later, Wendy discovers her mother might have been right.  She’s not the person she’s always believed herself to be, and her whole life begins to unravel—all because of Finn Holmes.Finn is a mysterious guy who always seems to be watching her.  Every encounter leaves her deeply shaken…though it has more to do with her fierce attraction to him than she’d ever admit.  But it isn’t long before he reveals the truth:  Wendy is a changeling who was switched at birth—and he’s come to take her home.   Now Wendy’s about to journey to a magical world she never knew existed, one that’s both beautiful and frightening.  And where she must leave her old life behind to discover who she’s meant to become…As a special gift to readers, this book contains a new, never-before-published bonus story, “The Vittra Attacks,” set in the magical world of the Trylle.
I also read Switched. I've had this one on my Kindle for a while, and I was in the mood for a teen read. It was fairly good for a teen paranormal, and I see a lot of potential for the series. There were a few moments that felt forced, but I think that will go away with time. There are several books in the series.