She Had A Book Inside Of Her (#1617)
My beloved grandmother died when I was 19, and now I’ve just turned 57. It’s been 38 years (longer, really…) since I heard her say those words so many utter at some point in their lives. “I’ve got a book inside of me.”
I was young and naive and honestly didn’t know what she meant. But the only time I ever saw her with a pencil in her hand was when she was scribbling out a recipe for homemade cream puffs, or making a grocery list, or perhaps jotting a note of thanks or condolence to a dear friend.
Well, then there were the letters she wrote me after I moved out of my parents’ house and into my first apartment. It was right around the time of the Watergate scandal and I remember being so impressed that she—-a staunch Republican—-could bring herself to admit that Nixon had flubbed up big-time.
I treasure those letters for what were then and what they have become with the passage of time, the envelopes containing as they do not only her inked thoughts, but also ambered newspaper clippings from the Kansas City Star—-historical documents one and all.
I find these letters among my personal ephemera from time to time and inhale her scent—-White Shoulders—-and miss her with a sudden pang of grief that defies logic but is true nonetheless.
I miss her wisdom, her teaching of homemaking skills, her cooking (best pan-fried chicken in the known universe), her beautiful needlework, and the lunches of Ritz crackers, peanut butter, and a large glass bottle of Coca-Cola we shared so often.
Most of all, though, I miss the book she didn’t write. I never even knew how to ask her what it would have been about, had she gathered the momentum to begin it. My father was a frustrated poet (and a frustrated banker because of it….) and I didn’t know how to broach a subject with her that might have caused her (as it did him) angst I couldn’t soften.
“I’ve got a book inside of me.”
I inherited so many belongings of my grandmother’s, but the items that have disturbed me most over these 38 years since her death are her unfinished projects. Since she taught me to sew and knit and crochet and embroider and quilt, it was assumed by my mother and non-crafty sisters that I would complete what Grandma started—-that I somehow owed it to the family to do so.
And now, all this time later, her projects are still unfinished, languishing in my attic, waiting for….me?
I don’t think I’ll be finishing the work she began, not anymore. I’ve finally realized that there was a part of Grandma that started all those projects to avoid the book inside of her, to keep the words locked up even while her fingers worked furiously on other beautiful projects, on substitutes for her thoughts and feelings and creativity with words.
The best I can do is use her snippets of filet crochet and random quilt blocks to decorate pillows or fashion simple doll clothes in her honor, and offer them to family members as a memorial to a treasured ancestor.
And then use the rest of my life to honor her in the only other way I know how, by pushing aside the distractions, no matter how beautiful they might be in their own rite, or how cherished they might possibly be by my own grandchildren someday.
Because, after all, I am her granddaughter. And I’ve got a book inside of me.
Posted by Katy on 01/04/11
Between A Rock and A DNR (#1616)
“Make sure you’ve got DNRs in place,” a friend of mine advised recently. “That way you won’t have to make horrible decisions when the time comes.”
This friend couldn’t possibly know all the particulars of our situations with The Moms, but suffice it to say, DNRs Backwards ‘R’ Us. With the emphasis, more often than I’d like to admit, on the Backwards.
Both of The Moms have black-and-white, lethal-looking signs clearly posted in their nursing home rooms, apprising staff and paramedics that they are NOT to be brought back to life should they completely and fully expire. That’s the essence of the Do Not Resuscitate order, a step both my mother and my mother-in-law chose to take for themselves back when they were of sound mind and which we, their representatives, verify and re-verify at every hospital, ad infinitum. (A hospital will not honor a nursing home’s DNR, and vice versa. And, living in a big city, we are often diverted to different hospitals than the ones that have our mother’s files, such as in the case of an emergency room already being filled to capacity.)
A DNR form, no matter how explicit and final its wording (deceptively leading you to hope you’ll never have to think about THAT again), can end up being the wrenching decision that keeps on taking.
I’ve even had the onerous experience of using my body as a shield against heroic efforts, propping my weary self up in my mother’s hospital room doorway all night long, when the hospital where she was admitted was unfamiliar with her wishes and could not get a doctor to sign off on her DNR until the next morning.
“If she ‘codes,’” the nurse informed me, “we have no choice but to bring a crash cart in and attempt to revive her.”
“But most of her ribs have already been broken,” I protested. My mother has Osteoporosis of Unusual Severity. “She does not want to be revived and I can’t allow you to crush her fragile bones doing chest compressions.”
“Then I suggest,” she said, “that you physically block the doorway. Because if anything happens before you produce the paperwork or the doctor signs a new form, we WILL use the crash cart.”
I have learned the hard way, over the course of ten years, to never leave home without copies of DNR papers. Sure as anything, if I head to Walmart for a gallon of milk, I’ll get the call to meet the ambulance—-carrying one or the other of The Moms—-at the hospital. And the FIRST thing I’ll be asked as durable medical power-of-attorney is to produce documents related to end-of-life wishes.
It was bad enough (and, I guess, a little creepy, but there you go….) when I just kept grab-and-go copies in plastic sheet protectors on the fridge, next to random pictures of the kids, the dog, and the grocery list. Now I keep DNR papers in the glove boxes of both cars, along with proof of insurance and evidence of timely oil changes, because a daughter just cannot be too vigilant.
But I’ve got to say, there’s a LOT of wiggle room between a rock and a DNR, and that’s the spot I’ve found myself in too many times now to count.
If you’ve never found yourself in the position of saving an elder’s life, trust me. It could happen to you, and before you know it, producing DNR papers will look like child’s play. In fact, it’s downright EASY, by comparison, to insist that those in the medical profession honor your loved one’s written wishes. What’s NOT easy are all the scores of decisions you may end up making between now and when that DNR gets put into play.
Say, for instance, your parent lived in an assisted living facility or nursing home, and in the process of being transferred from the bed to the wheelchair, she gets dropped. You could pretend that you don’t fear a head injury when your mom tells you the story, including the part where she felt the back of her head hit the hard floor. You could act as if you aren’t cognizant of the fact that the employees at the facility don’t seem to be noticing her developing symptoms in the 24 hours after the incident.
There’s a reasonable chance your elder could die after such an event, unless you intervene and insist she be evaluated at the hospital and treated for any injuries incurred. So what do you, a person with a reasonably refined conscience, do? If you act to “save” her and succeed, you may be inadvertently prolonging her suffering, should her head injuries be the type to result in long-term mental disability.
Most nursing homes, once your parent becomes a resident there, will present you with the option of signing papers indicating your decision to not “send her out” when she becomes more critically ill. In other words, even in the absence of your parent needing or wanting hospice care, you will have pre-determined that should she become so acutely sick that you would have formerly taken her to the ER, you will now simply let her die (or live, if God so chooses….) in place.
I struggle with this. How do I, a mere mortal, know in advance whether a particular onset of illness is something easily curable with judicious and prompt medical treatment, or whether seeking that treatment will cause more ultimate harm than good to my loved one? How do I decide ahead of time that Mom will no longer be going to the hospital, ever, under any circumstances?
Two years ago, when Mom’s blood calcium rose to precipitous levels and caused her to behave as if insane, I overruled the nurse on duty at the nursing home (who had chosen to ignore my mother’s worsening condition for 12 hours….) and called for an ambulance. It did not take long for the ER docs to find the problem and begin the appropriate treatment, which completely reversed the condition. However, during the days Mom spent gaining strength as an inpatient, the hospitalist assigned to her delivered a speech to Mom (in the presence of her children) which confused Mom all to heck.
“Mrs. McKenna,” said the doctor, “you really need to decide that you will stop coming to the hospital. You are receiving good care at the nursing home. Just stay there.”
I said, “Excuse me, doctor, but my mother would have died of neglect at the nursing home, of a condition that was reversed without any complications once we arrived at the hospital. Is that really what you’re suggesting is in her best interest?”
The doctor said, “Well, perhaps in this case, she should have been brought to the hospital. But not in the future.”
The moral of my story is this: If your loved one wants to sign a DNR, you will have one piece of a very complicated puzzle in place. But understand the DNR’s a piece that may be free-floating on the card table for many years, while you try to fit 999 other pieces around it, one-by-one.
You may end up saving your parent’s life more than once, and perhaps even once more than she would have liked.
Posted by Katy on 01/04/11
I’ve realized, over the course of decades of New Year’s resolution making-and-breaking, that I’m actually more of a Lent kind of girl.
In order to get something—-ANYthing—-accomplished, it seems I have to put myself through the process of elimination. I have to give up stuff, cut back, sacrifice, weed, thin out, simplify.
For instance, and this may not sound like much of a resolution to you, but I am firmly resolved to SKIP the entire season of American Idol this year. It sounds more like something a person might give up for Lent, but then catch in re-runs later. But there’s a method to my madness, at least I think there is.
It’s the same method I try to use when I say, “I saved 75% on those jeans I found in the clearance aisle.” In fact, on December 31, before my January moratorium on shopping and spending went into effect, I found a $48 retail price pair of jeans at Kohl’s on clearance for $11. Then I used my 20% discount to get them down to $8.80. Yay for me, eh?
Except that I can’t truly say I saved any money unless I put money into my savings account. So, in my mind, this excellent shopping outcome is not complete until I send the $40 I “saved” to a very safe place—-far, far away from my capacity to grab it and spend it away. And it’s even better if that account is earmarked for a specific goal, so that I can tie my saving to a future achievement.
I’m trying to apply that same logic to the New Year. I am giving up some time-squandering stuff not because I’m the type of chick who likes less stuff, haha. But because I have unmet life goals that are worth pursuing and in need of LOTS of undivided attention if I’m ever going to accomplish them.
Would less time spent online help move me toward my goal of becoming a published book author? Only if I don’t take that saved time and immediately spend it shopping at Penney’s Outlet for all those end-of-season bargains!
My saved time, captured from a variety of sources including but not limited to ditching American Idol, must be put into an account I can draw from for a very specific purpose.
In my case, that purpose is to get back to some real, potentially publishable writing.
So yeah, I’m throwing some stuff overboard, but with the goal of saving from ruin that which is more important to my life.
My load is feeling lighter already.
Posted by Katy on 01/03/11
A VERY Frugal January! (#1613)
So, here it is, Christmas Eve, and I’m already making New Month’s Resolutions.
I guess I’m early this year because our kids and grandkids have come and gone, at least as far as our big Christmas celebration goes. I’ve got the laundry done, clean sheets on all the beds, the house tidied up, the end-of-year finances tallied, and—-this is a big one for me—-the leftovers in the fridge dealt with.
Typically, after eating ourselves into a funk for a few days running, I can’t bring myself to even open the refrigerator for upwards of two weeks after the holidays. And by then, you can imagine what it looks like in there. I may not have asked for or received fur in a classy box under the tree, but sure enough, it grows in the fridge for free. And I always feel terrible to think I didn’t manage those leftovers better and ended up wasting perfectly yummy food.
Today, I attacked the leftover beast head-on and I think I conquered it. I packaged up and froze turkey (in small containers), dressing, pistachio salad, broccoli-rice casserole, cheesecake, and appetizers. And then I took my resolve not to waste food a step further. I decided not to purchase any groceries for the month of January, except for milk, eggs, and bread, and to focus exclusively on eating what’s already in this house. There are only two of us here, for heaven’s sake. The huge tin of popcorn we received as a gift is alone enough to sustain us, if need be!
In addition to putting the kabosh on grocery purchases, why not take it another step? I have a few Groupons that must be used before their expirations dates, but other than spending those, we have NO need to enter a restaurant or make any online purchases at all. Even the wonderful gift cards we received this Christmas can wait to be spent—-I bet we’ll enjoy them a lot more in February after taking a consumption break during January.
Honestly, about the only thing I can imagine wanting during the first month of 2011 is a few more prints of my two new grandbabies, Silas and Juniper, to add to my Grandma’s Brag Books. For a few cents each, I may splurge on those.
All those after-Christmas clearance sales will have to get along without me this year, and I’m sure they’ll manage just fine. Enough really is as good as a feast!
Posted by Katy on 12/24/10
Left Behind (#1612)
I know the concern of being Left Behind when Jesus comes back should cause any thinking woman considerable angst, but today it’s not the Left Behind books that have me worried.
It’s the Left Behind magazines.
Here in Kansas City, Left Behind magazines have sprung up in every borough, it seems, and right smack in the middle of the longest and deepest recession of my entire life. If you frequent doctor’s offices, hospitals, or waiting rooms of any type, you’ve been the unwitting reader of a Left Behind magazine, though perhaps you haven’t been affected by them quite as profoundly as I have, since I spend WAY more time than the average chick in waiting rooms.
Left Behind magazines are literally left behind, stacks and stacks of them, in racks at your local Barnes & Noble, too, and at grocery stores, hair salons, and even restaurants. They are free for the taking, high-gloss and glitzy, heavy-papered and full-color. And if their advertisers know their readers very well at all, I’m toast.
In Kansas City at least, a huge number of female readers apparently have nothing on their minds besides hair extensions, hot rock massages at day spas, minimally invasive plastic surgery, mani-pedis, and the application of permanent make-up. Not to mention the standard butt lifts, eyelid lifts, boob enhancements, dental implants, and botox injections.
Yesterday, I scoured one magazine from front to back for even a single ad for a fancy Kohler faucet or an Oreck XL vacuum cleaner or a Vita-Mix blender, once big draws for prosperous women with bucks to burn. Never mind the practicality of high-end fixtures and appliances, what about a good old-fashioned ad for a Kansas City institution, the Alaskan Fur Company?
Time was when, especially at Christmas, women all over this fair city wished to be one of the chosen few to open a huge coat box on The Big Day and find a gorgeous fur waiting for them. But luxuries these days aren’t so much about what you put on your body as they are about what you do to your body.
It’s clear to me finally that I’ve been utterly Left Behind, that’s there’s no way I’ll ever care enough to be poked and prodded and pummeled day after day, only to maintain, after all is said and done and paid for, an artificial look and feel so unlike me that I might get accidentally Left Behind by dear Jesus Himself.
No, thanks. For me, it’s the Kansas City women’s magazines that are getting Left Behind. And not having to haul them home and then to the recycling bin saves me the need for that pricey massage.
Posted by Katy on 12/16/10
Some Things, You Know (#1604)
Two days before Christmas, when Mom fell and broke a rib and three bones in her foot, I knew.
I knew when the ambulance arrived at her assisted living apartment and I gathered her purse and medical papers and the few items she’d need at the hospital, that when the gurney wheeled her out of those small rooms, her world would become even smaller. I almost said, “Mom, take a good look around. You’ve lived here eight years. This has been your home, and these people your friends, but you’ll never see this place again.”
But I didn’t. Some things you must know and not say. A prophet is most likely to go without honor if she opens her mouth.
“We’ll be back,” I lie to the nurse on duty, smiling reassuringly as we approached Mom’s dear friend, Annie, a 100-year-old darling who stood crying in the hallway, as was her steadfast habit when the paramedics came for Mom.
The paramedics have never once come for Annie in all these years. Annie will be one of those ladies who’s put to bed one splendid evening, sleepy and content to slumber to the lullaby of the cicadas, and who wakes up in the morning to find herself, as they say, dead. Annie plays bridge three times a week with other hallwardly mobile ladies, down in the so-called activity room, where she also takes exercises every morning promptly at nine and prays the rosary in a circle of the devoted twice weekly at three.
For a regretted second, I am jealous of Annie’s daughter, a woman who lives in Phoenix and comes to see her mom four times a year, so they can go shopping for a few new stylish outfits and enough boxes of Cheese Nips to hold Annie’s junk-food cravings at bay till the season changes again.
“Will she be okay?” Annie whispers between tiny sobs.
“She’ll be fine, Annie,” I say. “I will call you as soon as we know what the damages are. Don’t worry, sweetheart. I’ll take care of her.”
She strokes Mom’s face as the paramedics strap her onto the gurney and cover her with several warm blankets. An irrational fear comes over me that they will shoo Annie’s hand away and draw the blankets all the way up, over Mom’s head, finishing her off.
They stop just short of her chin and I exhale, and I realize we’ve been meeting like this too often. I know the paramedics by their first names, at least twenty different ones around town, and I’ve started to see them in my dreams.
Only then, they are pallbearers and the gurney is a casket and the ambulance is a hearse.
“I’ll see you soon,” Mom says to Annie, but she won’t, not this side of heaven, and I know this. Do Mom and Annie know it, too?
By this time next week, I think, I’ll be packing up this apartment with my baby sister and trying to avoid sweet weeping Annie’s questions and letting myself be jealous of Annie’s daughter in Phoenix for more than just a few seconds.
We celebrated Christmas in the hospital, Mom and me. The storms have never been as fierce as they were this winter, and I knew I’d end up snowed in once I arrived back at the hospital the next day. After admitting Mom and staying with her that first night until one a.m. or so, I drove home, slept a few hours, and then had Christmas with my own little family on Christmas Eve morning.
The clouds unleashed snow like a roaring avalanche without a mountain all day long. By noon, we broke up our party and my married kids got on the slow road to their in-laws. My youngest son made his way to work and I left my husband alone to greet the arrival of the Christ child snowed-in on our bridal-quilt-covered acreage.
“Merry Christmas, my love,” I said, as I kissed him good-bye. And he smiled and held me a nice long time, but not as long as I wished. I knew I wouldn’t get home that day, or night, and possibly not the next day, either. I’d be sleeping on a narrow cot, not much wider than a manger, awaiting the birth of hope and joy and peace on earth.
What I didn’t know was that before I pulled the cord on the dim hospital room light that evening and kissed my mother’s cheek, I’d pull the socks off my own feet and hang them by the TV with care. What I didn’t know was that I’d find two Russell Stover’s sugar-free granola bars in my overnight bag and place them—-my only sustenance for this stay of undeterminable length—-one each in those two sad stockings.
What I didn’t know was that Mom would smile once before drifting off to a drug-induced sleep in which she screamed from pain with every breath all night long.
At midnight, another voice arose in song, as if a female Magi patient from the room next door had seen the call light over the door to the East and could contain her praises no more.
“Someone’s singing,” Mom muttered between screams.
“Yes,” I said. “The lady in the next room. She’s singing every verse of Silent Night…”
And so she did. The woman never hit a single accurate note, but it didn’t matter. A child was born, one who was bound to change everything, even for those who know too much and hide behind lies to soften life’s blows.
Mom fell back to sleep and the screams resumed, one with each labored breath, the rhythmic ticking of a bruised and battered body. As I lay in abject darkness, my lips mouthed the words of the song next door along with the patient, wanting the singer’s hymn to prevail, to drown out Mom’s suffering, to usher in a new and living covenant.
And then the wailing began.
“She crying now,” Mom said in her stupor, and then screamed herself to sleep again.
No more calmness from the next room. No more ‘round yon virgin. No more silent night. The woman screeched and moaned her mental anguish throughout the wee hours of that Christmas morn. “Why, God, whyyyyyyyyy? Jesus, I don’t understand. Why, O my God, why?”
After an hour or so, I wandered down to the nurse’s station. “Can you hear the patient in the corner room? She’s in so much distress…”
The nurse’s eyes met mine, and we understood each other even before she spoke. “She’s lost something, and none of us can find it for her.”
I knew then the story of this Christmas, perhaps the story of every Christmas that has ever been from the beginning and will be until the end. We’ve all lost something, lost everything, really. And as hard as we might try, as loudly as we might sing, as often as we might cry out in pain, we can’t find it for ourselves or for each other, either. Not on our own. Not without Him.
I knew something else, too. The lady’s lamentations and Mom’s unconscious screams and my own fears for Mom’s future and mine had somehow become one, in a communion of saints and Savior unlike any of which I’d ever partaken.
There was no deep and dreamless sleep that night, but Jesus came to dwell with us nonetheless. Instead of arriving to the bleating of lambs and the lowing of cattle, He entered our private world of unanswered heart cries and breathtaking pain and worn socks masquerading as Christmas cheer.
Near first light, Mom awakened. The lady’s wails had softened until they’d finally subsided and Mom seemed to remember nothing that had happened while I lay with eyes wide open that entire night.
“Merry Christmas, Mom,” I said.
“Today?” she said, incredulous. “This is Christmas?”
I pointed to the TV, where my stretched-out socks were bulging with small treats. “Shall we see what’s in our stockings?”
She smiled and nodded. We ate our granola bars like grateful children.
Then she turned to me and asked, “Did you hear a lady singing Christmas carols and crying in the night? Or did I dream it?”
“It was real, Mom,” I said, bending down to smooth her hair and kiss her lips. “And in a way, I guess, kind of a dream, too.”
Some things, after all, we just know.
Posted by Katy on 03/23/10
Ticking The Boxes (#1603)
“Does your mother like to cook?” the Activities Director at the nursing home asks me. I’m in the hall outside Mom’s room, where she’s occupied at the moment on the bedpan. “The residents are making homemade soup today!”
If Debbie knew my mom, she would not have ended that last sentence so enthusiastically. Sure, Mom did make a mean Irish stew in her day, but this isn’t…her day.
In fact, since Mom fell and broke a rib and three bones in her foot on December 23, her whole life has been a messy soup of ambulances, hospitals, casts, near-death misses, and two different nursing homes—a soup not of her own making, but which she’s been forced to swallow anyway.
To add insult to literal injury, Mom’s had to permanently move from her assisted living apartment, where she’d lived for nearly eight years, because they just couldn’t care for her properly anymore.
“Cook?” I say, thinking of the memoir The Glass Castle, in which the author as a three-year-old stands in front of the stove and boils the living daylights out of a hotdog. “She likes to eat, but as for actual cooking, I think she’s more of a spectator now.”
I say this with a hint of humor but cautiously, because we’re new here, and Mom will likely be living out the rest of her days in this facility. Everyone has been so kind to her, and I don’t want to tip any scales against her while she’s still in the mode of (hopefully) making a good first impression. I hear myself say the word spectator with a snap where the c meets the t, making spectating sound somehow more active than it is.
The truth is that I had to remove the manicure scissors from Mom’s room at the previous facility on New Year’s Eve. Mom was using the kind of language that forces thoughtful caregivers to expunge from her possession all implements sharper than a beach ball.
Should she be trusted with a chef’s knife?
Debbie smiles wanly and ticks off a box on her clipboard. “How about crocheting? Knitting? Sewing?” Her pencil is poised, eager. But I can only think of hooks and needles, pointy and painful things.
“Her vision’s not what it used to be, I’m afraid. Diabetic retinopathy. She made a lot of cross-stitched samplers in her time, though.”
Again, ticking a box.
“Cards, then? Board games? Puzzles?”
“That would be no, no, and no.”
I’m edging toward blunt and brutal honesty, as I always do eventually. I feel guilty, revealing the extent of Mom’s decline and lack of zest for life as I am. I scramble through memories, trying to grasp an elusive thread of any hobby substantial enough to weave through Mom’s current condition and pull her together for this personality profile. For the sake of, if nothing else, the Activity Director’s clipboard. I know how much Debbie wants to tick a Yes, or at the very least a Maybe.
I suddenly feel responsible for her job security.
“She may present a bit of a challenge,” I say, “but I’m sure you’re up to the task!” Oh, dear. Now I, too, have shown enthusiasm where none is warranted. “Maybe books on tape? She used to love to read Danielle Steel…”
I’ve finally given Debbie something she can put in the Yes column. I hear myself exhale. Mom has passed some kind of test. Evidently, she’s not dead yet.
“Books on tape, it is,” she says. Mom has no concept of how to use a cassette player, but I don’t need to go there now. It’s enough that Debbie will have definitely earned her next paycheck, when it comes.
She heads down the hall to get to know another new resident, and I take the opportunity, while Mom’s still busy, to run across the street to Starbucks. When I return, Mom’s not in her room. And the bed’s made. I get that mildly freaked out feeling, the way a character on a medical TV show acts when her loved one’s room is empty and she just knows the body’s already in the morgue.
I make the rounds of the wing, down to the physical therapy room and then the dining room, peeking into corners, searching for Mom. On my way back to her room, I stop at the nurse’s station to enquire.
She points to a narrow room, an after-the-fact offshoot of the hallway. “Your mom’s doing an activity,” she says casually, as if she thinks I hear those words every day. I try not to look incredulous.
“Oh, great,” I say. “It’s wonderful she’s getting involved!”
This time, though, I really mean the exclamation point. Sure enough, when I poke my head into the tiny room, Mom’s sitting comfortably in her wheelchair, with six or seven other ladies, listening to Debbie read a novel aloud.
Right then and there, looking at Mom’s back and hoping for her future, I tick a Yes box in my heart. The box next to the question, “Do you believe miracles happen in this day and age?”
Yes, I do. At the end of everything and everyone, I still believe in miracles.
Posted by Katy on 02/04/10
Happy Ninth Blogiversary to ME! (#1602)
Nine years ago today, I began my fallible exploits in earnest with my shortest blog post ever: “I find these truths to be self-evident…but, then again, I could be wrong.”
I started the whole thing on a dare, really. My oldest son Scott said he thought I might be able to make a go of blogging, and that maybe I’d even be able to “monetize some dynamic eyeballs.”
You probably know I’ve never monetized an eyeball or any other body part, but MAN have I had fun!
Thanks for sharing all, some, or even only a few moments of your life with me here at fallible! I hope we have many good years still ahead.
Posted by Katy on 12/07/09
So, here it is November 22. You may remember that I threw my lot in with the crazies who try to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).
I’ve accomplished this feat twice before, and since I had a wonderful novel idea outlined and ready to go, I figured November was a great time to make some fantastic headway. My experience with my own personal 50,000-word novels in a month is that they are truly horrible, so I did not intend to shoot for that particular goal. Instead, I figured ending the month of November with a respectable 20,000 words that didn’t need to be rewritten from now till Kingdom come would work for me.
I haven’t written 20,000 words, but I think I may have shed that many tears. And considering 1.) I am not a crier and 2.) My right eye has never produced tears in a quantity commensurate with my left eye since my brain surgery of Nov. 15, 1999, um. Let’s just agree that 20,000 tears is a LOT of boo-hooing.
Right this minute, I am looking over the November page of my huge wall calendar, the one with a different designer shoe photo on each day’s date. I’m trying to recreate exactly what’s gone wrong, trying to give an account—-even to myself—-of how my life has deteriorated so badly.
I love the Scripture that says, “Sufficient for the day is the trouble thereof.” I truly try to take one day at a time, even if my mind starts churning at 4 am and doesn’t stop until I believe I’ve handled all the details I must before I fall asleep again. But, O fallible ones, you should see this mess of a calendar.
If the sign of an out of control life is a messy purse, wouldn’t you think that gal could at least have a calendar where a single day’s events can be jotted within one enormous square?
Just an an exercise in something besides elder care, I am going to quote here the contents of my November page. Again, these items are scribbled across random days, with no regard for order or common sense or logic.
During the first week of November, things were relatively sane. We had one funeral to attend, for my dear son-in-law’s grandfather. Other than spending unplanned time with my daughter and her husband, who drove in from Indiana, things went as hoped. I wrote 5000 words that week!
Can I get an Amen and Hallelujah? Please?
Here are the rest of my notes from my calendar:
Nov 9. 11:57. Call her. Tracy. Dr. Holt can see Mom at nursing home.
Nov 10. Dr. Steven Gruenbaum
Nov 11. Alice = Mom’s nurse at Villa St. Jo. Dr. Holt’s phone number. Carol. By 2 pm, 4 times diarrhea. 11-20-09
Nov 12. Blank. I wonder what on earth THAT means.
Nov 13. (Crossed out: Doug GDX test, Discover Vision.) Mom admitted to Menorah Hospital after fall. First 24 hours called Observation. Dr. Gruenebaum. Disaster.
Nov 14. Doses of Vancomycin. Active: Prevention:
Nov 15. Clothing. Diapers. TV.
Nov 16. Mom to Dr. Bruce. 10 am. Shoulder.
Nov 17. Doug’s first eye surgery. (Crossed out: Mom sees Dr. Holt after lunch. Liz) Mom moves to Villa St. Jo nursing home.
Nov 18. 1-day follow-up for Doug’s eye surgery.
Nov 19. Michelle’s phone number. (Who in the world is Michelle?) Four BMs in night.
Nov 20. (Crossed out: Mom admitted to Menorah.) Mom’s C.diff is back. “Yesterday morning, man and woman. Rolling from side to side. They were staring.”
Nov 21. Mom admitted after midnight.
Nov 25. Villa St. Jo nursing home 10:30 care plan. 9:30 Doug to Discover Vision
Nov 26. Thanksgiving. Eat w/Mom? Doug with his fam?
Nov 27. Scott, Brooke, Kevin, Mike over——Brunch????
Nov 28. Katy called Dr. Peters 4 pm Friday 11-20-09. Dr. Sword—-switch to Dr. Geha he can call Suzanne Mary Linda
And now, from October, just so you’ll see what led up to this:
Oct 15. broken shoulder 1:15—Mom to Dr. Bruce. 10:00 Doug to Discover Vision
Oct 17. Marcia. Physical therapist. 20” wheelchair. 27” total width. footplates. Invacare. 20” firm cushion waterproof. standard. $390. 75. 50. 5.
Oct 18. Med history and medicines. Ask Nicole how long surgery and gen or local.
Oct 19. (Crossed out: Menorah—afternoon Mom—knee surgery. Stop all blood thinners 5 days before. No eat or drink after midnight. Get wheelchair van.)
Oct 21. (Crossed out: Doug to Discover Vision.)
Oct 23. Dr. Monaco. Kim. Nurse practitioner. Medical Group of KC. Anna. 3—5 days.
Oct 24. 390. 125. 515. Order # 16400406 Party here Sunday school Octoberfest
Oct 27. Doug and Katy dentist 8:30. Bridget to neurologist.
Oct 29. (Crossed out: 10-day post-op at Dr. Bruce w/Rebekah. 9:45
Oct 30. 9:00 Doug’s eyes pre-op. (Crossed out: 10:30 GDX test). $2650 per eye. $5300 total. Out with Colwells? 6:30. Classic Cup.
Oct 31. Call for return #. $395 total. Linda. Invacare SX5. Lightweight. $126. change. 3—4 hrs. sealed waterproof coating xtra
You should know that when things got really bad, I made no notes at all. I was too consumed with the actual events taking place. The stuff I left off the October and November pages tell the real story, the one that might get me sued for defamation or worse if I told it here.
UPDATE: While writing this blog post, on Nov 22, head nurse Bonnie called from Mom’s room at nursing home. If I had any space on my calendar during the entire month of November, I’d write this: Mom won’t accept treatment because Bonnie told her she’s there on her own dime. Medicare won’t $$$$. Said Mom is responsible party. NO!!! I am responsible party!!! Not Mom’s problem!!!!!
I hoped to be published someday, I really did. Now it’s come to this. I can’t even decipher my own calendar entries.
If I keep it up, by Nov. 30, I’ll have shed a cool 50,000 tears for NaNoCryMo.
The Bible says God collects every one of my tears in a bottle, a truly comforting thought. But I’m pretty sure He’s gonna need a bigger container.
Posted by Katy on 11/22/09
Predictability? Don’t Count On It (#1600)
I’ve never placed a high value on predictability, and it’s a good thing, too.
Sure, I like my husband to be the dependable type who shows up when he says he’s going to or calls to let me know he’s okay. I love it that, as a self-employed creative guy, he doesn’t decide to blow off work because he can or shirk his responsibilities to his clients or forget to bill them, hahaha.
He knows he can count on me to handle the bookkeeping for our business, to arrange get-togethers with our kids and our friends, to make sure our house, cars, and bodies are maintained on a regular basis, and to watch out for The Moms.
In those ways, our lives are predictable. But in so many hundreds of other ways, um, not so much.
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that I had no idea when Doug and I got married that our lives would take the path they have. When we got engaged, Doug was mowing lawns for another man’s company, destined to break many otherwise serviceable lawn mowers because, well, he wasn’t cut out to be a lawn guy. He was a brilliant guitarist and songwriter, and soon to be an up-and-coming graphic designer. He just didn’t know it yet.
At the same time, I was a highly-compensated data recorder at a major pharmaceutical company, scribbling poetry on the side and getting in trouble for my distractibility. What “word” chick WOULDN’T be distracted by nothing but numbers, numbers, and more numbers all day long for five grueling years? Still, it never crossed my mind that someday I’d write even one novel, much less attract an agent and have the opportunity to pursue publication professionally.
I’ve grown to believe we do our children a great disservice when we urge them to structure their lives around the probability that events will occur precisely as they plan. We lead them to believe that if they go to college, get good grades, graduate with a degree in a high-paying field, and find a compatible mate, everything else in life will play out accordingly.
That’s just not always the case, though. Often, in spite of a young person’s ducks being in a neat and tidy row that’s supposed to be pointed toward a McMansion and a nanny for the kids, real life comes calling.
Real life is anything but predictable.
I’m glad Doug and I didn’t compose five, ten, fifteen, and twenty year plans, even though I guess by most people’s standards we’d be considered slackers. Honestly, sometimes next week is farther ahead than I want to look. Besides, I’ve always liked surprises, and life has turned out to have plenty of them.
I saw this in an essay by David Calderwood and thought it brilliant: “This lifelong illusion of predictability leaves us woefully unprepared for the abyss of reality.”
Is your life turning out as you thought it would, as you planned (if you planned)? Or has it taken directions you couldn’t anticipate in your younger years?
Would you rather lead a predictable life than not? If so, have you succeeded in making that happen? I’d love to know!
Posted by Katy on 11/04/09
It’s That Time Again! (#1599)
In November of 2001, I did NaNoWriMo for the first time.
For any of you who don’t know about National Novel Writing Month, it’s a recurring adventure in which participants attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in a one-month period.
I’ll tell you what: I wrote the World’s Crummiest Novel that month, but I kept my BIC (Butt In Chair) and got the words down, even managing to come up for air long enough to do a turkey and all the trimmings for the fam. Plus I was going to school full time. And my mother’s health was beginning its precipitous decline, demanding a ton of my attention.
But I did it. The next year, I did it again. And then I began to write a “real” novel, and at some point along the way, abandoned it. THEN I wrote the first full-length novel that I actually finished, the one that landed me a great agent, Rachelle Gardner of WordServe Literary.
But still no publishing deal, boo-hoo. Oh, wait. That itsy-bitsy crying jag was not nearly demonstrative enough to show my true feelings. BOO-HOOOOOO and WAAAAAA! That’s more like it. You might as well know how I really feel, right?
Now, with this new book, I’m doing something that never crossed my mind with My Lawful Wedded Life. I’m plotting. And getting to know my characters rather well before much of the actual story is written. And constructing a timeline for the novel, not to mention a timeline of how many words per day I need to write if I’m going to complete it in my natural lifetime.
But those things are largely done now. And here it is, coming up on November 1. I’m afraid I may have prepped myself into a corner and it’s possible I’m losing my nerve about writing the story. So I think I’m gonna go down the NaNoWriMo road once again. What have I got to lose?
Fifty thousand words from now, I’ll most likely have some stuff I can really use and then I can build upon those elements and get this story written. I’m absolutely in love with the tale, and hoping I can execute it in a way that even approaches what I imagine the novel can be.
Anybody else gonna give NaNo a run this year? If so, let me know in the comments section. Maybe we can say a prayer for each other. Lord knows, we’ll need all the help we can get.
Posted by Katy on 10/30/09
Losing It (#1598)
Far be it from me to brag, but boasting’s okay, right?
I’m here to tell you that I am the proud loser of 8.5 pounds, in about as many weeks. Now, that may not sound like much to you, especially if you watch The Biggest Loser and see people routinely drop 10 pounds PER WEEK, and in the case of that one guy this week, 15 pounds!
I’m not the biggest loser, and I’m certainly not the fastest. But I may one day win a prize for being the one who most often gains and then loses the very same pounds. It’s like when a certain bulge starts to lessen and then disappear, I remember the last time (and the time before that…) when I felt this exact sensation of it meeting its demise.
That’s the thing, though. Fat cells never die. They fill, they empty, but they stay right where they’ve always been, waiting for the next go ‘round.
Right now, I weigh 44 pounds less than I did 10 years ago, so that’s in my favor. I’ve kept off a lot of weight, permanently, since I began losing in February of 2000. But I do have periods when the pounds creep back on, and then I have to get a grip and dedicate myself to the process all over again.
The most successful thing I’ve EVER done in this lifelong battle is to completely eliminate sugar from my diet once and for all. It’s been nearly 10 years, and I can’t go back for the rest of my life. My family is replete with diabetics and the health risks are too high for my blood, even though the gambling gene is clearly in my DNA.
So I soldier on, fighting the Battle of the Bulge with all the fortitude I can muster. It’s not about vanity for me. It’s about making this body last for as long as God intends and not inflicting unnecessary disability and illness on myself, my husband, and my loved ones.
Any personal battles you’re winning these days? Feel free (and proud!) to boast about them here!
Posted by Katy on 10/22/09
Acutely Not That Funny (#1597)
I used to write funny stories about my mother in this space. Even though she’s had—-steadily these past eight years—-more health problems than fifty mamas put together, I was somehow always able to pull out the goofy stuff and make it fallible fodder. I haven’t been so good at the pulling-out part recently. Maybe I’m just pooped. I hope to recover my sense of humor soon!
Mom’s been through a phase of breaking lots of bones these past few months. She’ll be walking just the few steps from her bathroom back to bed and two bones in her foot will snap. She doesn’t have to fall or crash into anything for this to happen—-it’s spontaneous, and not in a good way.
No sooner did her foot feel better (I say feel better rather than “heal,” because her bones don’t typically heal), than she fell and tore the meniscus in her right knee. At first, I typed “left” because five years ago she did tear her left knee and had surgery to repair it. But that was then.
We waited a while to have it MRId, because hope springs eternal and maybe the pain would stop. But after hobbling on it for a month (hobbling being its own fall risk), she found out it was indeed torn. Her wonderful orthopedic doc put a shot of cortisone in it, but Mom didn’t think it helped at all.
So surgery was scheduled, for next Monday. Scheduling surgery for Mom is not like signing a consent form. It took me LITERALLY 1.5 hours on the phone to answer the hospital’s questions about her health history, previous surgeries, and medications. She has a LONG history, O fallible ones. Then the lady who took the information said she would be shocked if, during the pre-op visit to the hospital, they did not require Mom to have extensive heart and lung tests before operating.
Mom has congestive heart failure and COPD, but even a relatively simple procedure like a meniscus repair is risky for her. My oh-oh feelings about the hospital’s obvious worries about liability kicked in and a family meeting was called. We all needed to make sure Mom knew the risk/reward ratio for going forward with surgery versus abandoning the idea and praying the cortisone works.
At the end of an hour’s discussion, we’d all decided that surgery was not a good idea for her. I would call the surgeon and the hospital first thing this past Monday and cancel the whole thing, at least for the time being.
So Monday morning, I placed the call to the doctor’s office and left a voice mail for his nurse to call me back. The second I finished leaving the message, our phone rang and I said to Doug, “Wow. That was fast.”
Well, it WAS fast, but it wasn’t the doctor’s office calling back. It was the facility where Mom lives.
“Your mom fell a few minutes ago. She says she broke her arm.”
A bit of fear shot through me, as Mom has a permanently broken left humerus. She only had one available arm to break, from where I sat.
“Which arm?” I asked.
“The broken one.”
“Do you mean her wrist, or what?”
“No. The same spot it’s already broken.”
My sister and I got down there right away and took Mom to the ER for xrays. Because she’s got this large bone with the clean break, it’s possible that those broken pieces could get badly rearranged in a fall and try to poke themselves through her skin or something. A lovely thought, eh? Oh, the pictures in my mind!
Instead, Mom took a chip out of the top of her shoulder, plus fractured it from that point down. So, technically, the very top of her humerus is broken—-the same bone on the same arm. She diagnosed herself correctly. What a gal!
The surgery, needless to say, is off. Mom’s in a sling, and therefore in a wheelchair. It’s too hard to use a walker with a sling, and she must use a walker because of her multiple issues.
The most fascinating—-but still not funny—-thing is the amazement the ER doc expressed over Mom’s xray. She called my sister and me in to look at it and pointed to the broken humerus, a five-year-old injury.
“The bone is…disappearing.”
Sure enough, there was a four-inch gap where the pieces of bone used to meet, back in the old days, when Mom was one together chick.
I googled “disappearing bone” later and there is actually an extremely rare disorder called “Vanishing Bone Disease.” Maybe 200 cases have been reported EVER.
Yesterday, we took Mom to her ortho doc, who was as shocked as the ER doc by Mom’s xray.
“Do you think she has Vanishing Bone Disease?” I asked.
“I’ve never even heard of it,” he said. “But yes, I’d say she has it.”
The funniest thing Mom’s said recently happened Monday, after hours in the ER. We were getting ready to roll out of there and the morphine had kicked in. She matter-of-factly said, “Well, I hope the rest of the day goes better than this morning.”
OK, maybe it’s not ha-ha funny, but sometimes a girl has to go with what she’s got.
Posted by Katy on 10/16/09
Coming To Terms With Writing Terms (#1596)
Today, my husband Doug and I are both writing our takes on some novel-writing terms we learned a lot about at the American Christian Fiction Writers conference last week. For the most part, we took the same workshops. But we aren’t reading each other’s blog posts until after we hit “submit.” Any guesses about whether or not we came away from the classes with similar understanding about the essential elements of a novel? Leave your comments here, or over at Marginal, or both.
Noble Goal: As a writer, I have one main noble goal with each manuscript I write: To Get The Book Published. You may be wondering what makes me so certain my goal of being published and making a ton of money selling a gazillion books is noble. That’s easy. I am a good person, a noble person, if you will. It should go without saying that Noble People Have Noble Goals. It is possible that some of the characters I create in my novels also have a Noble Goal, but I wouldn’t count on it if I were you.
Conflict: Conflict in a novel cannot and should not be confused with tension. Of course, confusion itself—especially when it’s between the two main characters—can cause conflict, thereby raising the level of tension, which is not the same thing as conflict, as I’m sure you remember. One does lead to another, though. There’s no denying that. Sometimes conflict leads to tension, but I believe it’s more often true that tension leads to conflict. As long as the writer does her job in keeping the two concepts (and executions of the concepts) distinct, the reader will have a good experience with the story. Especially if it includes an actual execution. When heads roll, tension and conflict both increase exponentially.
Tension: Tension occurs often and early. In the very first sentence of the novel, really. Even before that, preferably. The title itself should make the reader go, “Yes! There’s a question in that title—-it makes me want to keep reading to find out what happens next!” Your goal as an author is to create a new generation of insomniacs who must turn to sleep aids after the page-turning experience your Tense Titles lead them into. Remember, tension and conflict are two very different things. VERY different.
Micro-tension: This is what the main characters in a novel experience in a pub. Of course, there must be tension on every page, but when your protagonist and antagonist order micro-brews on tap, the tension subsides a tad. This allows the reader a little breather between the more intensely tense scenes that occur, presumably, sans beer.
Dark moment: Dark moments routinely occurred in all “commercial” or “popular” fiction until recently. (Literary fiction is a different bird altogether. Every moment in a literary novel is a dark moment.) Now, sadly, our good friends the Brits have dictated that in order to avoid offending people, even people who weren’t offended at all until these new rules came out, all of us including authors must avoid words like “dark,” “darker,” “darkest,” “black,” “grey” (wouldn’t want to annoy those in the midst of a heart attack, now would we?) and etc. Since it would be very hard to write a novel scene which illustrated bleakness by referring to it as the “utter-absence-of-light moment,” we authors have now banded together and decided to forget dark moments completely. We hope we haven’t stepped on any readers toes, but that’s the way the PC cookie crumbles.
Denouement: From the French, obviously. This is the part of the novel that happens after all the good parts have been read. As a reader, you could skip it, actually, and you’d have the gist of the story, but since you’ll probably want to stick around for the Epilogue (which happens after the boring stuff that happens after the good stuff…), why not tough it out? Especially since the author goes to so much trouble to get the French translation of the word down-pat and make sure your experience of the Denouement is top-drawer. First, you’ll recall that when you find “ment” at the end of a French word, it’s the equivalent of us using the “ly” construction to form an adverb. For example, we write “absolutely.” The French, in an effort to approximate English as closely as possible without copying us verbatim, write “absolutement.” So, right off the bat a writer knows that the word Denouement is an adverb. It’s plain to any armchair linguist that the remaining two syllables can be translated as they are spoken, especially since the French are known for dumbing down their language for the sake of Americans. Therefore, we have “duh” + “new” + “ly.” A denouement is successfully written when an author writes an apres-climax winding-down section that is new (duh!) and contains more adverbs than allowed in the rest of the novel.
Epilogue: Back in the day, I owned an “Epilady” depilatory system. You know what I’m talking about, right? It’s not just an electric shaver for women, it’s one of those torture gadgets that yanks (or burns, not sure which) the hairs out at the root level, so that you don’t have to shave again for a few weeks or longer. In many ways, an Epilogue is just like an Epilady. Once you read it, at the very end of the novel, you feel like the story is finally blessedly over and you won’t have to think about it again for a long time, if ever. The Epilogue nicely ties up any loose threads (hairs…), and may even cause you to look forward to the Prologue in the series’ next title. But for the time being, you’re just happy it’s finished. You can unplug the darned thing and shove it in the closet, or add it to the pile being donated to the library. Whatever.
So, dear fallible ones, tell me: Which one of us, Doug or me, got the most out of the writing conference? Think we got our money’s worth?
Posted by Katy on 09/25/09
Another Great Conference! (#1595)
I’ve attended five national writing conferences now, and in many ways each one is better than the last.
Maybe you’re a fledgling author who’s wondering how to go about making connections in the publishing industry. Maybe you’ve written some articles you’d like to get in front of an editor, but you don’t know where to start. Or maybe you’ve even got a complete book manuscript and can’t figure out the best next step.
First of all, local conferences in your own town or region can be fantastic sources for training and opportunities to meet other writers going through the same stages you are. Often local groups are able to bring in editors from magazines and book publishing companies, and you will get a chance to meet them and perhaps even talk about what you’re working on.
My very first sale ever was to the founder of our local group, who happened at that time to be an editor at the Nazarene Publishing House, which is headquartered here in Kansas City. I wrote an article about how to facilitate a successful home Bible discussion group, which basically ended up being a humorous piece about how some participants in such a group try to take discussions hostage and what to do about it.
It took Jeanette more than a month to respond to my submission, and honestly, I thought she would be bowled over by my amazing wit (and charm!) and purchase the article within 30 seconds of it crossing her desk. I mean, really, people! When would she EVER have another opportunity like the one I was so graciously offering her? She did eventually buy the article, and while I felt a tad sorry for her since she seemed to hesitate slightly over the purchase, I began to realize she had, um, several other pieces to consider simultaneously.
Oh, and maybe my writing wasn’t all that? Nah, that couldn’t be it. Forget I mentioned it.
The truth is, though, that I sold the first article I submitted, and basically all the articles I wrote subsequently. Sometimes, I did have to send them to more than one magazine or newspaper to find the right fit, but they did sell. There’s a possibility, looking back, that I didn’t fully appreciate how easily I managed to get in print. Yes, there is that distinct possibility.
Then one day, I decided to take a fiction writing class at college, taught my a well-published friend of mine, Nancy Moser. She invited each student to submit a scene from a work-in-progress, so that she could critique it. Well, I just knew Nancy would think I was brilliant. Ha! Nancy red-inked me into the next county. Basically, she said that I had not written a “scene” at all, but rather an essay. Yes, I had “told” instead of “shown”—-the kiss of death in novel writing.
I did my best to write what she asked for, and resubmitted. This time, she wrote, “YES. This is a SCENE.” Finally! I almost understood a concept!
It wasn’t long before I really wanted to find a national conference where I could meet published fiction authors, wannabe authors, editors, and agents. And so my annual trek to the American Christian Fiction Writers conference began. What a great association of wonderful, talented folks!
Through a friendship I developed there, I was referred to my terrific agent, Rachelle Gardner of WordServe Literary. If you are at the point in your own writing where you’re seeking an agent, let me just say that it doesn’t hurt one little bit to have made wonderful friends first. I did send my work to several agents without a referral from a published writer, and the rejections came rather quickly. And let me say that I never ASKED a published friend to refer me to an agent. Or to introduce me to one in person. But several friends offered to refer me, and I did NOT turn down the gift of this offer!
The relationships made and fostered through attending a good conference may be the best gift you can give yourself as a writer—-whether you’re struggling to get started or multi-published. I now count writers, editors, and agents among my closest and dearest friends.
This year, I concentrated both on renewing friendships with those I’ve met before and on making appointments with editors I’d never met, pitching my next novel. All the editors at the conference know and are in solid communication with my agent, and so I was encouraged to make sure she sends my book on to them when it’s finished. A couple of them had seen my first novel and turned it down for whatever reason, but they continue to be open to seeing my next book, so I feel good about that.
The publishing industry is not an easy one to break into, especially at the book level. We ate lunch with one editor who actually expressed her opinion that there are far too many books being pubbed, and that her company is acquiring too many titles and not doing them all justice. I have to say I do agree with her.
But that doesn’t keep me from hoping that one day one of my books will rise to the top and make it onto the bookstore shelf (or Kindle or whatever…). I truly hope I can continue to become a more solid writer, that more and more I can put into practice all I’ve learned from the tremendous conferences I’ve been privileged to attend.
In the meantime, I’m grateful for my generous friends in the world of books. Without them, we Wannabe Published Authors wouldn’t have nearly so much fun.
Posted by Katy on 09/23/09