Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Borrowed

This is sort of silly, but somehow, the borrowed numbers on Amazon are thrilling. Currently, 31 people have borrowed Ghosts. I want to rush up to all of them (except me) and shake them and say, do you realize you can only borrow ONE book a month? ONE! One book!! The people who buy it, eh, let's be real: it's priced at $3.50 and for most people that's a coffee, it's no big deal. But the borrowers have selected this book--my book!--to be their only book for the month. Okay, so yeah, it's free, that means they've actually literally invested less than the people who have purchased it. But at the same time, it feels as if their investment--the ONE book! for the WHOLE month!--is actually really exciting.

But I bet there's some macroeconomics rule that make my enthusiasm pointless.

Macroeconomics takes all the fun out of life.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Anatomy of a year (2011)

January: A scene that doesn't fit any fanfiction story grabs me and doesn't let go. I write down a line of dialog: “Chemists think it’s all about chemistry. Hormones and pheromones. Some peptides, a little oxytocin, and that’s the whole story. But what do they know? Really, it’s all about physics.”

Dad is diagnosed with cancer.

February: Dad has a massive heart attack, followed by quintuple bypass. Unfortunately, that means delaying the cancer treatment until he recovers. Everyone is anxious.

I write two chapters of Ghosts. I realize that books with ghosts in them are books about death. I think maybe this is not a good idea.

March: I decide to quit my job and return to school full-time.

I'm stuck on Ghosts at Chapter 4, because I realize that ghostly fifteen-year olds are really dead teenagers.

April: My birthday, and the one year anniversary of my mom's Alzheimer's diagnosis. And quite a year it's been, I think. I thank God that year is over, the next one has to be better. (Jinx!)

I'm not writing anything.

May: I officially quit my job and make plans for August through fall, including finally doing the house repairs that have been waiting forever.

I'm writing a little, maybe finally breaking through the writer's block, but I decide to toss two of the five chapters that are done. I'm back at Chapter 3. I post chapters to fictionpress and bookcountry.

June: Dad's having cancer treatments in Jacksonville and Mom gets sick. He brings her home and takes her to urgent care, then heads back to Jacksonville. Tests ensue.

July: A diagnosis. Pancreatic cancer that has metastasized to the liver. 4-6 months.

I meant to start really writing as soon as my job ended in early July, and I try, but I spend a lot of time staring into space. I read the first chapter of Ghosts aloud to Mom while sitting by her bed, and decide that it's not bad.

August: Yeah, that should have been 4-6 weeks. Mom dies August 6th.

I try to write every day. I succeed some of the time.

September: My (ex) father-in-law dies September 6th. Needless to say I'm not really working on my house repairs. Mostly I'm sleeping a lot, crying a lot, and trying to stay on top of schoolwork.

But I'm writing almost every day.

October: I'm in Seattle for Malcolm's memorial service when I get the call I've dreaded for years. A beloved college friend's cancer is back, and this time it's terminal. They're moving to palliative care.

I'm back to writing when I can. I write Zane's goodbye with tears running down my face.

November: Thanksgiving would have been my mother's 68th birthday. My sister's best friend dies unexpectedly, massive heart attack, the day before. She was 53.

I'm trying to let the book sit before starting revisions, but the self-imposed pressure of NaNoWriMo is making me insane and tweaking Ghosts makes me feel better. I tweak. I tweak some more.

December: Revisions! I add a few scenes, make some big changes to the ending, let a few more people critique it, then self-publish.

There are many ghosts in my book. Reviews describe it as wry, fun, breezy and charming, proving...something. That escapist writing isn't just for readers, maybe?

I said at the end of 2010 that 2011 had to be a better year. I'm scared to say that again. So my resolution for 2012 is simple: I want to be kind as often as possible. That's it.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Raising the Bar

So I set realistic goals for A Gift of Ghosts. What did I say, something like 50 sales in 6 months and 20 reviews? It was a nice realistic goal, based on realistic information, and having it made me feel very safe. This is where I am, this is where I'm going, this is where I hope to be in six months. Structure is comforting for anxious perfectionist types and goals create structure. Okay, artificial structure, but that's not the point. If you know what you're aiming for, you can relax while you're getting there.

Ironically, I am better at getting lost than anyone I know. Possibly because I get lost all the time -- I have no sense of direction -- but also because I don't get anxious about lost when it's physically lost. Once, when I had my son and my nephew in the car, I was returning to my sister's house from the grocery store and I wound up in the wrong state. It was mildly shocking to me, no big deal to my son, and extremely distressing to my nephew. I think R. said something blase, like, "She always gets lost but she always gets found again." That's the thing about physically lost -- you always find your way home again eventually. You might wind up in Kansas along the way (road trips from Illinois to Nebraska include Kansas when I'm driving), but so what? I guess maybe when I'm physically lost I still know what the goal is: I just don't know how to achieve it.

So back to book goals. My realistic goal has been, um, shattered, and that's a good thing. I'm happy about it. Except when I feel really stressed out and anxious which is actually all the time for the past 48 hours. I've lost my structure. I don't know what the goal is anymore. What am I hoping for? What do I want? Should I want a bestseller? I definitely never expected a bestseller -- it's a quirky little fun book, pure entertainment, and doesn't really fit into any genre. If I'd tried to go with a mainstream publisher (I didn't), I'm reasonably sure I would have been asked for changes and I didn't want that. I like Ghosts just the way it is. But what should I want? Should I want 100 sales? 1000? 10,000? Should I want to break into the Kindle Top 100? What's the bar?

No surprise, the anxiety's killing my writing. My editing is going great -- I've revised every chapter of A Gift of Thought (four of them) and they're all much improved. But if I don't write any more of it that really does no one any good.

So I'm looking at the bar and I'm thinking about why my anxiety level has skyrocketed and what it means to me, and I realize I need to lower that bar. I'm not insane -- I'd love to make lots of money from my writing and be really successful, but that's not why I started writing and that's not why I want to continue writing. A Gift of Ghosts is out in the universe now and I need to let it go and let it find its own way and let the process work. Because I didn't publish it to reach it a goal. I published it because I thought it was fun, and I wanted other people to have fun with me.

And that's why I'm writing: for fun, and so that other people will have fun with me. 

And that's the bar. Now I just need to live it.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Whee!

So I'm staring at the Kindle Direct Publishing Report page. It's 5:08. Ghosts has been free for 14 hours and 8 minutes, and I have been so much more obsessive than I wanted to be. I think I managed to turn the computer off for an hour and a half. But I'm trying to refrain from pushing the Month-to-Date Unit Sales link again, because I just pushed it two minutes ago and really, how neurotic can I be?

I think, though, that there will be a moment sometime in the next two hours that I'd like to catch, so that I can write it down and post it to my OhLife and on some future day, I'll get reminded of the exact, precise, specific time when 1000 copies of Ghost had been downloaded. And then I notice that there's a little down arrow, indicating a menu, next to the View Report For Amazon.com field. And I look, and oh, you can also view the report for Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.de and Amazon.fr and a few other Amazons, and that's kind of cool.

Even cooler? At 5:08, 946 copies of Ghosts had been downloaded in the US. But 113 had been downloaded in the UK and 3 in Germany. Which means, basic math skills don't fail me, 1062 copies total downloaded. And wow, wow, wow. Okay, lots of those people probably won't read it and some of them won't like it. But still, it is a thrilling feeling.

OhLife, incidentally, is a wonderful online journal: it sends a daily email that asks the question, How did your day go? and includes one of your past entries. Way too many of mine have been sad, and it's made me less inclined to respond to the email. (Yesterday's said, "Trying to write a girl from the 1950s. Six months ago, I could have called Mom for help with the voice. Sometimes the sad is just overwhelming." Unsurprisingly, I didn't feel inspired to answer it.) Today, though, today, I will definitely write back.

It's 5:23. 961 copies downloaded in the US, 119 in the UK. Thank you all!

Amazon's Instant Gratification

Today is my free day on Amazon. If you're reading this blog and you haven't already downloaded A Gift of Ghosts from Amazon could you please go do that? Pretty please? I'll wait right here, I promise.

Okay, so yes, it's not quite 7 AM east coast time. And I'm not sure what time Amazon's promotion starts, although I could probably find that out pretty quickly, but I'm going to guess that it starts at midnight Pacific time, since that's where Amazon is located. (I'll go check after I finish writing this just to make sure.)

I'm super anxious about today's free day. I wish I could say that anxious wasn't the right word; I mean I really long for the day when I am so healthy that anxiety isn't my default switch. I believe in the possibility of that day, I really do, and it's why I spend so much time working on mindfulness and relaxation exercises and trying to learn to live in the moment. But anxious is still the right word for today.

I love my book, I love Akira and Zane, and I want some geeky teenage girl who likes science to find Akira and decide to be a physicist. The only way that geeky girl finds it is if it sells enough that it's visible, and so today's free day matters. Not a lot. Not as much as a free day when there are more reviews posted. Not nearly as much as a free day next year when I have three books written and a fourth on the way (although if I don't get back to writing every day, that goal starts to look a little ambitious).

So, I tell myself, I need to set a goal. I know that if you're reading this and you're not an anxious person, you think I'm crazy. I actually could tell a funny story about that, but it would be a serious digression and take a while, so I'll save it. Suffice to say that goals and anxiety work together like bagels and cream cheese, red wine and marinara sauce, ice cream and hot fudge, and yes, I am hungry, why do you ask? Anyway, I decide to set a goal. That way, when I know that my goal has been achieved, I can relax and let go of my anxiety.

But what's a good goal? Dean Wesley Smith said first book, first-time author, 30 sales in six months. Realistically, I always expected to do better than that. Not because I know more about the market than he does (I don't, nowhere close) but because I was pretty sure my first 10 sales would be friends and family. I thought probably 10 sales in the first week and five reviews. I hoped for 20 sales and 10 reviews in the first month. Then they'd slow down, of course, and maybe then I should expect 5 sales a month and 2 reviews? At the end of six months, I would have sold 45 copies, and had 20 reviews. And yeah, that sounds pretty reasonable to me for six months, first book, first author. Then the second book would come out, and I'd be on my way to my long-term goal. I think I want to write more about that long-term goal, but I'll save that for later, too.

But that goal -- 45 copies in six months -- doesn't include free days. So the question is then, what to expect on a free day when no one really knows the book? I decide that 20 downloads is the reasonable goal, and 50 is the happy goal. More than 20 is the number that will make me say, okay, that was good, right choice to make a free day this early, and 50 is the goal that will make me say, yay, yay, yay, let's dance with the dog around the living room and eat another Christmas cookie to celebrate. It's never been about the sales, not for this book, just the readers.

Of course, I need to know how many copies I've already sold in order to know whether I've reached my goal at the end of the day. If I've already sold 14 (which I had), I'd need to reach 34 for the good goal, 64 for the happy goal. So I decide to look at the Report page of Kindle Direct Publishing and find out how many copies are already sold so that at the end of the day, I'll know whether I've succeeded.

Yeah, can you believe it took me this many words to get to the point? Amazon has these reports. You can look at the report and find out exactly how many copies of the book have sold. There's another report that tells you royalties, but it goes week by week and I'm not at the end of my first week until the end of today, so it's currently useless to me. And yes, I am starting to drag this out. But I'm scared to write it.

86.

86 units sold.

It's now 7:35 AM on my free day, and I am 22 units ahead of my goal. Should I change the goal (I will, I have to, I can't help myself) or should I go dance around the living room and eat a Christmas cookie? (And yes, that's going to come first!)

If you downloaded my book, thank you, thank you, thank you for giving me this happy morning! If I could email you a Christmas cookie, I would. :)





Thursday, December 15, 2011

Free day on Saturday

I decided to use my first free day on Amazon on Saturday, one week to the day after I published. I had intended to not use any of them until after Christmas, but I'd also thought that once I had ten reviews, I would use one. And as of yesterday, I have twelve reviews. Yay! Twelve! It makes me so happy.

I sort of feel as if I shouldn't write that, as if being happy because people say they like my work is juvenile and I should grow up. But I also hope, of course, that someday I'll have hundreds of reviews. And when that day comes, I'd like to be able to come back to this post and remember this joy. I want to be able to stay as excited when other people like Akira and Zane as I am right now. That's probably unrealistic (apart from anything, I love Sylvie and Lucas, too, now and I hope more and other characters will be stealing my attention in the months and years to come), but still this is a memory I want to keep. And that's what this blog originally meant to be: saved memories. So...it may be silly of me, but today I am happy.

And on Saturday, Ghosts will be free. I can tell already that I'm not going to be able to settle into writing at all, except probably emailing people to say hey, please download my book, so Caroline is coming over and we're going to bake Christmas cookies. And I'm going to spend two hours in the morning nudging people to make the download and spread the word, and then I'm going to shut the computer down and make cupcake cookies and sugar cookies and maybe even some snicker doodles, and hope for the best.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Remembering the plan

A Gift of Ghosts is on Addicted to EBooks today. (Scroll down. No, more. No, way down. Wow, there are a lot of books in the world, aren't there?)

I'm trying to remind myself that I'm not supposed to worry about marketing this book. It's available for sale, and that's all that needs to happen right now for it to feel like a success to me. Right now I need to be writing Thoughts. If I want to get distracted by another book, I should let it be the one that comes after Thoughts. Sales success isn't the point, not yet.

And yet, it's easy to think that. At the moment, it's impossible to feel it. I have six reviews on Amazon, two from fictionpress readers, two from Critique Circle readers and two from friends & family. I love all of them. Each one makes me happy, each one gives me little bubbles of joy when I look at it. I have no idea why it's such a big deal. Ghosts had 140 reviews on fictionpress, at least of dozen of which were from the final chapter, so about the whole book. But there's something really different -- oh. Ha. I just realized. It's the stars. Oh, I'm amused at myself. Five stars feels like an A, and of course, that external locus of validation training springs to the surface. Getting As just feels good.

Ironically, I picked up my final paper for one of my classes yesterday and the person who graded it gave me a 3/5 for writing quality because I used first person and she felt that was inappropriate.I was annoyed until I realized that if someone had said to me, "You can use passive voice and get an A or you can refuse to use passive voice and get a B," I would have taken the B. And since this wasn't a difference between an A or a B (I still got an A on the paper), I should probably not complain too much. I wouldn't write badly for a better grade.

But back to my point, it's much harder than I expected it to be to let go of Ghosts.  I'm trying to tell myself to just let it be, but I found myself browsing indie reviewer book websites this morning.

Updated: Dean Wesley Smith  tells me to get back to work. Just what I needed to hear today!




Sunday, December 11, 2011

Razor Productions

When I filled out the form to submit my book to Amazon, there was a space for publisher. Duh. Obvious question. Why hadn't I thought about it? I had a choice, of course: I could leave it blank or I could name a publisher.

I went with Razor Productions. Back when I was a single mom with a ten-month-old baby and I quit my job -- an act that seemed highly irresponsible and yet entirely irresistible -- my plan was that I'd take the year I had enough money for and figure out the rest later. When I was down to $10,000 in savings, I'd start looking for another job. But meanwhile, I'd enjoy the time I had to spend with the fattest, smiliest, happiest Gerber baby that ever there was.

I lasted over three years freelancing before I had to take a real job. Three years that I mostly got to spend with a baby, toddler, preschooler, watching him grow and learn and become. And wow, the talking? It was just the coolest thing ever. I tried to count his words as he learned them, but between 18 months and 21 months, they multiplied at such a phenomenal rate. He was learning new words faster than I could write them down.

My freelance name was RaZoR Productions: it stood for Rory Zane Rafferty, and although I fully supported us with writing and editing, my big production was definitely the happy kid.

So I made it my publisher name. And I decided that if this writing business actually makes sense, maybe I'll make it official and set up a business and all that. But meanwhile, if you followed the author link to find out whether this is a legit publisher, your suspicions are exactly right. It's not. It's just a name.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Published

I think I just published my book.
What a weird feeling.

Part of me is sure that something's wrong with it: it's going to turn out to be the wrong file, or there will be mistakes that I didn't catch, or making the company name "General Directions" will get the owners of "Global Dynamics" mad at me . . . and that's just the typical stuff of being a high anxiety person. If any of those things happen, I'll deal with them, and it won't be the end of the world.

Another part of me sort of desperately wants to cry. This year has been the worst year ever. Cancer, heart attacks, death on all sides -- we've barely recovered from one blow when the next one hits. And through it all, I kept writing. I don't know what the crying is from: I guess I am both proud of myself and really sad that my mom isn't here to be proud of me, too. She would have been, though.

It is strange that I outlined Ghosts eleven months ago, and thought I was writing a light, fluffy romance. I don't think it turned out that way. Still, it's amazing to me that right now, having read the whole thing at least a dozen times in the past week, I still love it. I love my quirky physicist heroine who is mostly a coward and doesn’t believe in happy-ever-after. I love my easygoing, videogame-playing flirt of a hero who grows up despite himself. I love my plot which has nothing to do with people being stupid and everything to do with people making discoveries. I love the secrets I’ve hidden, the details that readers find out 80% of the way in, that make them say, “Wait, what?”

I should probably write a longer blurb for it, and maybe I will. But maybe I'll give it a month.

And meanwhile, Dillon is waiting for me. But first, laundry (I think it's been a month!), dishes, planning for Christmas cookies, and finishing putting up the Christmas tree. Eh, and maybe checking on my Bitizens. My tiny tower won't run itself

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Minor tweaks

Tweaks. A few font changes, including playing with the shadow effect on the title to make it pop. I'm hoping to get it readable in a thumbnail, but since that's hard to judge in Powerpoint, I have to look at it online to be sure. Is this boring anyone else yet?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Getting close

I have the one big revision to do and I'm going to tackle that tomorrow. Then I'll start the read aloud, which ought to be fun. Then a copyright page, then deciding whether to learn how to create a real TOC for the Kindle. It seems as if it might be a good idea but I don't know whether anyone cares. Still, learning is useful.



Today was playing with cover files, though. I believe my preference is number 3. Maybe, anyway. I wish I didn't start to get so insane about the fonts. Powerpoint just doesn't have the right tools for them.

Credit where due

I just spent a frustrating hour searching for the image that I used on the Ghosts cover. I think I've basically decided that it is the real and final cover (maybe some tweaking), and so even though the image was public domain, I wanted to credit the photographer and the website on the copyright page. Argh. Of course, I bookmarked the site, but then I lost all my bookmarks.

For future and current reference: Lightning Strike by Adam Weeden is the original image.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Following the rules


Agents don't like . . . 

If you want to sell, you should  . . . 

I've heard that it's bad to use . . .

Using (word) slows down your writing, you should always . . . , Never put . . . , You should . . . , You must . . . You have to . . .

I've so appreciated the feedback I've gotten from other writers over the last few weeks.  Really, I have. But I need to vent anyway.

When did writers become so rule-bound? How has publishing managed to inflict such an endless list of shoulds and have-tos and musts on people who want to be creative? I'm not talking about knowing the fundamentals. (Although, frankly, I'm perfectly happy to break those rules, too. Most of the time, yes, your sentences should include both a subject and a verb. But not always.) No, I'm talking about writers following rules they don't even understand. Someone's told them a "rule," and suddenly every sentence with "was" should be re-worded, even if doing so changes the meaning of the sentence. How can meaning be less important than following a nonsensical rule?

I admit, when I was an editor, I was guilty of inflicting some arbitrary rules on authors myself. I remember telling one author never to use a pronoun. But his sentences were getting tangled. Forcing him to think about the real noun behind every "it" helped him clarify his meaning, and in some cases, probably his thinking, too. And I would not have told him to write pronoun-free fiction, nor would I have tried to make it a universal rule.

I do have some of my own rules that I try to follow. Most of the time, one exclamation point per paragraph or page, because I tend to get excited. Try to change "thing" to a real noun, because using it is easy but often unclear. Use vague language, including "just," "sort of," "kind of," "pretty much," inside quotation marks, but not outside, because it makes dialog feel real but writing feel sloppy. But I know the reasons for all those rules, and I know that I can break them whenever I want to.

I think the saddest aspect of seeing all these people following all these rules is the belief behind their actions: if I follow the rules, I will sell books. If I do everything "right," I will succeed. But book publishing doesn't work that way, never has. If it did, Harry Potter would not have sold. Twilight would not have sold. Danielle Steel, Nora Roberts . . . best-selling authors break the rules. And it's not because they became best-sellers by following the rules and then started breaking them. Harry Potter breaks the rules on page one. And yes, that's why it was rejected by multiple publishers before finally getting picked up. But last year over a quarter of a million books were published in the US. Most of them made it to print, but didn't make it to success. That's because publishers don't know what sells. Not really. Neither do agents. Neither do writing teachers. Neither do I, for that matter.

I do know, though, that writing for money is a waste of time. Most people would do better by getting a minimum wage job and spending their entire paycheck on lottery tickets. (Favorite writer joke: Know the difference between writing a bestseller and winning the lottery? You can improve your chances of winning the lottery.)

Writing for fun, on the other hand, is a wonderful way to spend your time. Writing for fun and then trying to sell what you've written so that other people can enjoy the world you've created? Also makes total sense to me.

 The dog is looking imploring and she's a half hour late for her walk, so off I go. And when I come back, I'm working on Thoughts. But tomorrow, I want to write more about self-publishing.










Monday, November 28, 2011

Cover 4 (sort of)

Decisions, decisions.

I was looking at my Kindle books, trying to choose what to read, and started really noticing the covers. I realized that I could pick out most of the self-published books from the trade books by the size. Not that it was a glaring difference, but it was a difference. Even though this book will never be a trade paperback, It should probably use the trade paperback trim size, which meant changing the page format on Powerpoint from the standard to a 8 by 5.25 layout.


I also decided that the cover really didn't pop enough. I love the gray and the subtlety, but subtlety is not necessarily the most compelling selling factor. So I spent a half hour or so tweaking. I'm not sure I feel like it's an improvement though. It's brighter, but less balanced. I think I might need to start playing with the typography again. I did change the colors and move my name down to the power-corner. But I think I'll post it for a while and see how I feel about it after I've been looking at it for several days.

I posted the first chapter for critiques at Critique Circle and that's been fascinating. It's fun to find out what changes other people would make. I was an editor for long enough to know that there are always words that can be changed, sentences that can be improved and so on, and that no work is ever perfect, and a lot of that feedback is quite useful. If it wasn't going to take months and months, it might be fun to go through this process on each and every chapter. But I think that's the same level of obsessiveness that used to inspire me to spend days on a presentation that other people would pull together in a couple of hours, and I'm not sure it's actually a sensible use of my time. Do I really want to spend years on one book when I could be writing story after story and getting better with each one instead? And phrased that way, the answer is really obvious. At least to me. So on to Sylvie! I love, love, love the scene I wrote last night.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Writing badly

I think the chapter I wrote over the last couple of days is, um, not good. But I posted it to fictionpress anyway, so that I could let go of it and move on. I do keep trying to remind myself that first drafts are allowed to be terrible, that it's okay to be struggling in the early days while I try to figure out what's necessary and what's not, where the story is going and who these people are.

But I overwrote somehow the only paragraph I really liked and it seriously vexes me. It's the fiction of thinking that the work that's gone is better than the work that remains, but even knowing that it's probably not true doesn't make me feel better. I'm quite sure that paragraph was somehow perfect. The rest of it? Dry. Tasteless. Like the turkey from Thanksgiving dinner, only without the cranberry sauce and gravy to hide its flaws.

I think I have to get rid of the parts about Sylvie running. That was to set something else up, later, and maybe I just need to either not foreshadow that run and/or not have that run. Oh, well, either way, I can think about that when I'm revising. For now, it's time to move on and let Sylvie and Lucas meet up again, yay. Or no, actually it's time to write a 20-page paper. But after that, time for my characters to meet!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanksgiving

I think maybe I need a camera. And then I think I bet I can have Mom's old camera. Dad won't care.

And I know I need a new electric mixer. Then I think I'm sure I can have Mom's, Dad's not going to be using it.

And maybe I ought to try to get Photoshop, so that I can get serious about my book cover design? But maybe Dad will let me have Mom's software.

I can't decide whether it's good to know that my needs can be met so easily or just sad.

But I didn't  intend to write about that. I don't want to be bleak, just to save some notes for next year.

(That said, in a way, the day was just as bad as I expected it to be, although not in the way I imagined ahead of time. K had to work, and I just didn't want to try to deal with making a noon-time Thanksgiving meal. It was too much like a chore, too hard to do, too likely to make the end of the day be a long quiet lonely stretch. I didn't want to get up at 6 to start cooking. So although I felt bad that she couldn't there, I made a plan that worked for me, with dinner at 5. Only then her best friend died unexpectedly the day before. We don't know how yet: the optimistic vote is that it was a heart attack in her sleep; the pessimistic, that it was an asthma attack and she was unable to call for help. But it doesn't really matter, except that it turned an already rocky day -- Mom's birthday -- into something rocky in an entirely different way.)

Back to the food -- so much more fun to think about -- I made a recipe from Smitten Kitchen, roasted sweet potato rounds topped with celery salsa, and it was yummy, yummy, yummy. None of the kids would even try the salsa, but they all liked the sweet potatoes, I think. I also made brussels sprouts with maple syrup and chestnuts, which added a nice flavor to the table, but wasn't nearly as good as it should have been. And the cranberry sauce this year was orange juice flavored with cinnamon and allspice, and it was delicious. It's really tough to go wrong with cranberry sauce, in my opinion, although the one I made with Pinot Noir and blueberries last year was not my favorite.

Oh, but my real motivation for posting to make some notes for next year on the pumpkin pie. Mom always made really good pumpkin pie but her recipe actually makes no sense, so I'm going to have to experiment for a while to try to figure out what she did. (Her measurements would require actually measuring the ingredients like evaporated milk and pumpkin rather than just dumping a can into the bowl, and there's no way: she was a dump-in-the-can kind of cook. I think she had a basic recipe but she followed it loosely.) So this year, I followed the recipe on the can for the basic ingredients -- pumpkin, eggs, milk -- and then Mom's recipe for the spices. I would say that's probably pretty close to successful, but with a couple of issues. First, I used Mrs. Smith's frozen pie shells and no, they were not as good as whatever Mom used. I am absolutely sure that she used frozen pie shells, but next year I need to try a different brand. Next, my filling feels heavier than hers. I mixed by hand and she always used an electric mixer, so next year, assuming I've stolen her electric mixer or gotten one of my own, I should try it with an electric mixer and see if that gives the filling a fluffier feel. And there's something not quite there about the spices: I added cloves, which was part of her recipe, but I think maybe I needed nutmeg, too. There's a flavor that's just missing slightly. Most important, though, would be to try to get the filling lighter. I might need to switch out some evaporated milk for real milk (her recipe uses both, the can recipe used only evaporated.) That said, I ate two pieces for breakfast this morning, so I'm not really complaining!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Names, names, names

I got reminded the other day (from a review) that I started writing Ghosts almost as an extension (rebellion might be a better word, really) of Eureka fan fiction.With two glaring exceptions, the connections are subtle enough that no one who didn't know that would ever guess it, but the two exceptions are my hero's name and the company name.

When I started writing, I figured, eh, if I ever decide to do anything with this, I'll change those. Turns out, though, it's much, much, much more emotionally difficult to change a name after spending 60,000 words with a character with that name. I probably spent half an hour today using find-and-replace on my file, changing Zane's name to something that doesn't belong to a character from a television show.

Zeke. No. Zack. No. Niall. No. Neil. No. Nathan. No. Aidan. No. Mark. No. Kieran. No.

I finally settled on Shane, because it was as close to Zane as I could get without staying Zane, but it still feels wrong, wrong, wrong. I may have to keep his name Zane, despite the connection with the television show. I'm pretty sure if they tried to sue me, they'd have a tough time, since the differences are far more obvious than the similarities. But still, I wouldn't like it.

General Directions, I'm not so bothered by. On Eureka, it's GD, too, but that's short for Global Dynamics, which is a very different name than General Directions. And I like the whole vagueness of General Directions, so I'm keeping it.

But Zane/Shane, I just don't know. If you're reading this and you've come to the blog from one of my fiction accounts, what do you think? Can I keep his name Zane or does that make it just too much like Eureka? 


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Why Is My Book Not Selling?

Okay, not my book -- it's not posted for sale anywhere yet, so that's a fine reason for it not to sell. But I stumbled across this blog, Why Is My Book Not Selling, and spent a fascinating hour reading. I also added it to my RSS feed. It's such a terrific source of help for self-pubbed authors and I'd like to start commenting there. Partially to build up karma for when Ghosts gets there, but also just because it seems truly useful.

I did realize, though, while reading other people's blurbs that I'm a truly critical reader. If I do start commenting, I'm going to have to qualify everything I say with 'just my opinion' and 'personal taste.' Reading for a while made me want to go through my work and delete every adjective and adverb. I wonder what Ghosts would be like if all the adjectives were missing? I might have to try it and find out.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Thought defusion

I learned this little mindfulness technique for class and I've fallen in love with it. It's called thought defusion and it's from acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and also dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). Both types of therapy emphasize learning how to accept life as it is and yourself as you are. Basically that's figuring out how to know that my natural instinct is to be anxious and to worry, and acknowledge that that's just who I am, and then still try to let go of the anxiety, rather than telling myself to stop being so anxious.I think it instills self-sympathy instead of self-criticism, if that makes sense. Anyway, this is thought defusion:

Pick an image of something moving away from you, clouds in the sky or leaves on a stream or waves washing in and out. Then take a few slow, deep breaths and close your eyes. Imagine your thoughts moving away from you. Let the thought arise, and then picture it floating away on the clouds or leaves or being wiped away by the waves. As new thoughts come up, let them float away, too. Don't judge the thought -- don't think about it as being a good thought or a bad thought -- and don't judge yourself for thinking it. It just is what it is and then it floats away. Go for as long as you can, and then take a few more slow breaths and open your eyes.

I say go for as long as you can because me being me, two or three minutes is about as long as I can handle. But if you're better at being peaceful than I am, you can set a timer and go for ten minutes or fifteen minutes.  The nice thing is, two or three minutes, at least for me, can almost feel like a nap. It's very relaxing to let my thoughts float away instead of having them build intricate webs inside my brain.

I wish I had a picture of a floating leaf to add to this post! 






Saturday, November 12, 2011

Cover design number three

Somehow, I'm going to have to figure out how to get other people's opinions on my cover designs. I need to do a poll or something, in a place where I can get more than a response or two. I guess that probably means Facebook, but eh, that gets complicated, too.

This, however, is cover design number 3, and yes, I am starting to enjoy the cover creation process a little too much. I made it in Powerpoint, using a public domain photograph of lightning. I cropped and rotated the photo, so I could keep the palm trees and put the lightning on the left, and then tweaked. I think I enhanced the brightness by +20, and did something to the contrast, then nudged the color to the cooler side. I wanted to bring the green of the palm trees out and make the lightning look a little more magical than it did.

I then spent an endless time playing with the text and the fonts. Powerpoint does not exactly have the best font tools, and I didn't go absolutely insane in the way I would have if I were a real designer. (To wit, the G in Ghosts is too far away from the H, in my opinion, but in Powerpoint, I would have needed to make them separate text blocks to nudge them together, and I was not quite willing to go that far. Six text blocks were quite enough.)

I took a quote from a review on fictionpress that was from someone who reviewed only at Chapter 33, figuring that review was for the whole thing, not just a piece of it. I didn't want to be misleading by using a review that was just for a chapter. Maybe if and when I actually get ready to publish, I'll ask a couple people for reviews that I could put on the front page. It's not possible to read the quote on the thumbnail, I don't think, which is a pity. But I suppose I can use a bigger image that then gets turned into a thumbnail? I'll have to figure that one out.

I'm still trying to refrain from revising until December, but I have definite ideas about some big changes toward the ending. I think I'm going to try not to go crazy on most of it, though. These are just words 300,000-360,000, and if I get too obsessed with achieving perfection, it'll join my first novel (oh, book of many names) in spending the next decade on my hard drive.

I really like this cover, though. I think for me, it's definitely jumped ahead of both 1 and 2.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Bookmark disaster

Something strange went wrong with Chrome today. It kept returning errors, and wouldn't show me any pages. I tried using Internet Explorer but found it confusing; downloaded and installed Firefox but found it frustrating. I'm just used to Chrome. It works the way I think it should. And it's fast. And it knows all the places I like to go.

So I read some suggestions in the help pages and the simplest seemed to be to uninstall the software and reinstall it. A moment -- a single moment -- of thought would have made me question the wisdom of this decision, but did I pause for that moment? No, I did not. I was too frustrated.

All of my bookmarks, all of my carefully organized folders of bookmarks, interesting writing sites, college sites, links to... everything... are gone. Strangely, I feel like I've been robbed, that weird little shock when you open the car and realize that the glove compartment has been ransacked, that the CDs are gone, the change in the cupholder has been cleaned out, and that instead of hopping in the car and heading to work, you have to call the police. Only I'm not sure there are any police to call.

Ironically, it made me happy that I'd changed the address of the blog, so at least I knew how to find it. It'll take me forever to recreate my bookmarks.

If I looked for a picture to represent this post, it would be a sad face.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Revisions

While walking the dog this morning, my head was busy with thoughts of 'Thoughts' -- hmm, and I detect a problem with that name -- but there, I just added a link to differentiate, woo-hoo -- and back to my point, I was thinking about the story I'm working on. Then I got home and a friend suggested something about 'Ghosts' (link created just for the fun of it) and now I've been trying to write both stories at once and getting nowhere with either. It reminds me of when I was working on two Eureka stories at once. I'd say that both suffered as a result, but that wouldn't really be true: one suffered greatly as a result, one got most of my attention. In this case, I don't want either to suffer. I need to figure out where I'm going.

I'm noticing with Thoughts a little bit of the same problem I faced with Ghosts about three chapters in: I thought that I was writing a light, fun, cheerful, entertaining paranormal romance, only then I discovered that it had a remarkable amount of death and tragedy in it. After all, telling a story about a teenage ghost requires that there be a dead teenager somewhere in the background. In this case, I'm writing a romantic thriller, I thought, only I have the same dead teenager problem. Not to mention poor Rachel. Sylvie's reaction to finding out about Dillon's death is important, but I can't let it take the story too dark. I need to find the right balance. 

I did have a clever cover thought (I think), which was that I ought to find a picture I like for the cover right now, and then I can be sure that the right picture exists. I spent a lot of time looking at pictures of women on stock photo sites trying to find one that I could use for Akira, for the cover of Ghosts, but alas, in my head, she looks just like Marie Digby. I never did find anything that satisfied me. For Thoughts, on the other hand, I found a great Sylvie almost immediately, but the pictures of her were probably only usable by someone who is really good at Photoshop. (In other words, not me.) Cover design thoughts are really just ways to distract me from thinking about writing, though. And drat, how did it get so late? Time to write...

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Three months

It's been three months. I hope that the sixth of every month isn't always a reminder.

Note the camera in her lap? She
was always the one taking the pictures,
so of course there are few of her. 
Hmm, maybe that's not true. I wouldn't mind having a day of the month on which I always thought about my mom. But I'd like that to be more as if when I remember, I feel happy and loved and lucky to have had my mom as my mom.

Right now, I'm not there. I just miss her. Yesterday, for the very first time, I almost forgot for a second. We passed a garage sale sign and I thought, oh, it's good weather for garage sales, I wonder if Mom...and then I had to cry in the car for a while.

Poor R was distressed that I was crying again. We were going to pick up a friend of his, and I'm sure he was worried that his friend would think his mom was crazy. (Well, not 100% sure, I could be projecting. But I suspect he was worried about that.) He was good with handing me the tissues, though. Some future female in his life is either going to be impressed or insulted that his response to tears is simply to find the box of tissues.

NaNoWriMo is not working well for me. The pressure to write has actually reduced my writing to even less than it was before. I've been aiming for 1000 words a day (except for Thursdays) since September, but for the past week, I've been lucky to eke out a few hundred. And somehow knowing that I'm not supposed to edit just makes me edit all the more. I've revised the same 600 words about a dozen times and it's still not good enough. I finally let it go and posted it on fictionpress, but that was just to let it go and move on, not because I was satisfied.

That said, I can tell that my new romantic heroine is going to be just as quirky as my last romantic heroine, although in a totally different way. Apparently, I like quirky in a heroine. But I'm finding Sylvie very entertaining, if only in my head. She's kickass, cynical, stoic... completely non romantic lead material. If it were a movie, she'd be the sidekick who gets killed while saving the day.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

NaNoWriMo

I signed up for NaNoWriMo thinking that it would be really motivating and fun. An exciting challenge, so to speak. So far, my kitchen is really clean, I've done a lot of laundry, I actually filed some papers that had been sitting on my desk for months and months and threw away a bunch of others, and I've got homemade stew simmering in the crockpot. Oh, and I've taken three naps in the past two days. Rock on, NaNoWriMo.

I am thinking about the story I want to work on, but I've actually written less than 100 words of it. I spent a long while this morning (before my thinking turned into a nice nap) pondering identity theft and how a seventeen-year old girl would go about stealing someone's identity. I made a great story about it, lots of interesting details, then realized a) this is all just backstory, completely unimportant to the real action and b) I killed off another teenager. That would make my third dead teenager in two books (Rose, dead at 19, Dillon, dead at 15, and Elizabeth, dead at 18.) Admittedly, that's over 50 years so it's not impossible, but it's sort of a depressing theme.

Still, no complaints. I have a clean kitchen and that's a nice change. Maybe I'll go fold some laundry now!


Random picture, found while cleaning off the desk. And tweaked with Picnik. I'm searching for a better image-editing tool than Photoshop for my book cover creation.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Beats Now and Then - Patricia C. Wrede's Blog

Beats Now and Then - Patricia C. Wrede's Blog:

'via Blog this'

I've spent a lot of time looking at writing blogs, and 9 out of 10 are really marketing blogs. They might say they're about writing, but really they're about selling. (Also an interesting topic, but not the one I'm interested in.)

This blog, from Patricia Wrede, is absolutely the exception to the rule. I think I learn something every time she posts. And this post, on creating beats with punctuation, fits right in with what I've been trying to figure out lately.

(Also trying to figure out whether an ellipsis is three periods in a row or three periods separated by spaces. But such is the life of a geeky writer.)

Saturday, October 29, 2011

And a second draft, too



And a second draft, too. The first one looks absolutely nothing like the cover of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, but there's some book it resembles, I'm sure of it. I'll find it someday and feel stupid for not remembering. But I realized while looking at it that it's wrong, anyway -- it's too dark, too serious. So I tried making it more colorful and I kind of like this one. The blur makes me think of Akira talking about what the energy of the house looks like. I suppose it would be better if I found a house picture and blurred that. Hmm, maybe with some Spanish moss in the background? But using Powerpoint for design is not so easy. (Not to mention that I'm not a designer.) But this, or something close to it, might do. 

There's a terrible catch-22 with cover design which is that if I want to sell the book, it makes sense to pay for a good designer, but obviously, I can't do that while I'm an unemployed graduate student. Or shouldn't, anyway. I need to remind myself that I'm not at a million words yet. Worrying about cover design is approximately 700,000 words in my future. Two days away from NaNoWriMo, and I should decide what to write! 

Cover design


I made my first draft of a cover tonight, just for the fun of it. It is definitely not going to be the final cover because it reminds me much too much of some other book. Midnight in the Garden of something or other, maybe? Spanish moss might be too much of a cliche.

That said, trying to design a cover in Powerpoint is not exactly easy. Especially the Windows version of Powerpoint. (I was once quite adept at the Mac version, but of course they're different and I can't find the same tools.)

Also, I might need to change that title. I sort of know what it means or what it meant to me, but it's probably pretty mystifying to anyone else. Still, it's exciting to have finished writing. Woo-hoo, I wrote a whole book. Conclusion and everything. (Okay, pretty abrupt ending, might need to add to it. But still, a definitely possible ending.)

Friday, October 28, 2011

Procrastination vs block

I'm suffering from the worst case of writer's procrastination at the moment. I keep opening the file and then finding something else to do. I've browsed, I've read, I've played games, I've cleaned the closet, I've tweeted...it's bizarre, mostly because it's not writer's block, it's just writer's procrastination. I know what's going to happen next in the story (or what I want to happen, anyway), I'm just not writing it.

Amusingly, though (to me, anyway), when I decided to try one of my favorite writer's block cures, I couldn't do it because it doesn't fit. Whenever I'm stuck, I try to imagine what the character is smelling at that moment in the story. It makes for a nice sensory detail and it gets me back into the place to see what comes next. But at the moment, Akira is a ghost, so she can't smell anything. So this is just procrastination, and now I'll write something else.

I want to find a picture of Spanish moss to use for the cover. If I had one, I'd include it here. I need to get some more pictures for random blog posting, I suppose.

Goal setting

I am wondering whether I should create a new blog that's just about writing and books. I don't tell anyone the address of this blog -- it's not the most secret blog in the world, but I don't include it in my signatures or post it in comments or profiles or really anything. I figure it's a "what I had for lunch" blog and I have faith that the world really doesn't care, so I haven't encouraged anyone to read it. But if I want to start making it easy for people to find the other things I've written than maybe I have to be more public about it. So then the question is do I start a new blog or just stick with this one and realize that maybe someone is reading it? (Hello, oh, unknown reader! Delighted to have you here, really.)  Decisions, decisions.

I think my uncertainty...huh. I just realized that I'm feeling that "ought to" pressure again. If you're a writer than you "ought to" have a blog. If you're going to be successful, than you "ought to" do social media. (Which I do, kinda. Sorta. Once in a while.) To earn money from writing, you "ought to" promote your books like mad. Actually that last is even more of a "you absolutely have to" according to all the experts I read.

I decided, though, a few months back when I was feeling stressed, that my goal was going to be a lot simpler. I'm going to write a million words, and then I'm going to think about what I want to do with my writing. A million words that I let other people read, that is. Fan fiction counts, work posted on fiction press counts, work self-published counts. The million words of journals don't count. The marketing writing and words written for work over the years don't count. Just fiction posted publicly. So doing a new blog just got moved to the end of the million words goal. I'll think about it again when I've finished the million words. (The best thing about the million words goal is that I can push everything I don't want to do to the end of it! Clean the house? Sure, after I've finished writing a million words. Ha.)

But I should be writing some of those million words right now. I'm really close to the end of Ghosts and apparently now dragging my feet about finishing. I'm not sure why, except that endings are hard. I want it to finish with that sigh of happiness sensation, and at the moment, I don't know how to get there. But I never will unless I keep writing, so time to wrap this up.

(This new dynamic blog design makes me want to start randomly adding photos to every entry, just because...so here, random photo. Rory on a cliff in Santa Cruz.)


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Light

video


This morning, I woke up to some very odd light outside. I went outside to check it out and it was the loveliest sky I had seen in ages, white clouds, gold light shining through, and while I was standing there a bird -- one of the kind with ridiculously long legs -- flew overhead, and I knew that the world was, at the very least, beautiful. 

Then Rory came out and I went back in to start my tea, until he called me and told me to bring a camera with that hushed sound in his voice that meant that either the dog was being insanely cute or there was some weird wild animal in the yard. I carefully hurried to join him. 

It was a double rainbow, amazing and magical and stunningly beautiful. We stood there and looked at every color, the purple, the blue, the green, the yellow, the orange, the red, each one distinctly visible yet blending into the next. And as we walked inside, Rory said, perplexed, "But how can we have rainbows now? Isn't the light all wrong for it? Doesn't it have to be at a certain angle?" 

While I'm sure some truly scientific person could have explained how a rainbow could exist at that time of day and in that sky, I don't feel the need to. I think Malcolm's spirit met up with my mom's spirit and with his exuberance and energy said, let's go visit. 

May your day have rainbows. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A Graceful Death

At noon today, Pacific time, Malcolm (Rory's other grandfather) will take his own life.

Malcolm is such a survivor. In a way, it feels like the only fitting end for him. He fought through illness, dialysis, a transplant, anti-rejection drugs, skin cancers, pneumonia -- he hung onto life with all his will. At Rory's naming ceremony, thirteen years ago, it was clear that Malcolm had very little time left. And yet here we are today.

Over the course of the last year, taking care of him became overwhelming at home, so he entered a nursing home. He must have hated it, because after a short time, he chose to stop all medications and come home for what was expected to be a few short weeks. A few months later, he's gotten to spend time with all his children and grandchildren, but the summer's over, and I think now must just feel like the right time.

I think of him dying and I'm filled with sad. It's been obvious for years that he didn't have much time left, that any visit could be the last, and yet... I think we just always hope that life will continue.

At the same time, I'm glad he doesn't have to go through the indignity and misery of the last days. My mom's hospice was lovely, but catheters, drugs by suppository, position changes to avoid bedsores -- not to mention pain, nightmares, and terminal agitation -- those things are not fun.

Malcolm's taking control of his death. Go, Washington State. Thank you for giving him that option.

But my mother died one month ago today. And Malcolm will be gone in an hour or so (assuming all goes as planned.)

And, oh, I am sad.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

My eulogy for my mother

(Written to be a speech, obviously)

A few years back, one of those chain emails made the rounds of the Internet. It was called something like, “things our mothers said”, and I remember it mostly because I was pretty sure my mother never said anything on the list. I was never told to wear clean underwear in case I was in an accident, never asked if I thought she was born yesterday, never reminded that money doesn’t grow on trees. I might have been warned about the starving children in China, though, and I was definitely told that if I didn’t behave they’d give me back to the Indians. I distinctly remember being very confused at a young age about why the Indians had all the babies.

But there were, of course, things that my mother said that I remember well, and I’m going to talk about three of them today.

The first was “If that’s the worst thing that happens today…” It’s really more of a phrase than a complete sentence, and it has lots of possible options for endings. If that’s the worst thing that happens today, you’re in good shape. If that’s the worst thing that happens today, we’re doing all right. If that’s the worst thing that happens today, life is good. If that’s the worst thing that happens today, we’re lucky.

To me, that phrase really sums up my mother’s attitude toward life. We talk about glass half-empty, glass half-full people – she was more of a “that glass has plenty, more than enough for anything we need” kind of person.

One specific example that I remember well happened this winter. I got the phone call that Dad had had a heart attack and headed straight to the hospital. When I got there, she was annoyed at the way the hospital had made her wait, and worried about what was going on, but not an hour later, she said to me, “We’re so lucky.” Um, lucky? Dad had just had a major heart attack and was in the ICU waiting for what turned out to be quintuple bypass surgery. I didn’t feel all that lucky. But when I said so, she told me that the timing was terrific. He’d been at home, it had been in the daytime, Karen and I were close enough to be there, wonderful neighbors had been at the house even before the ambulance left to offer help, he hadn’t started his cancer treatments yet so it wouldn’t interrupt them – she had a whole list of reasons already why we were blessed. That was who she was: someone who could take the bad news and find the good in it.

Another thing that she used to say was, “You’ll be fine.” Now, “you’ll be fine” was sometimes, maybe often, a kick in the pants. As a pediatric nurse, she worked with seriously ill and injured children. She told us how when we were little, she would sometimes come home from working at the hospital and hold her healthy children and just cry. But that meant she could be pretty tough about her kids’ injuries. In one famous incident – and she might be horrified that I’m sharing this – Karen hurt her finger at school and the school nurse insisted that mom pick her up in the middle of the day. Mom was so annoyed by this that she actually told Karen that if that finger wasn’t broken, she was gonna break it herself. Fortunately, for both of them, the finger was broken – in two places – so she didn’t have to live up to her threat. But “you’ll be fine” definitely often meant, “get over it.”

Sometimes, though, “you’ll be fine” meant “I believe in you, I know you can do this.” On one important occasion in my life, I called her in tears. I was making a decision, a big decision, and the people around me – some of them anyway – didn’t agree with it. My mom could easily, reasonably, have disagreed herself. And maybe she did. But she didn’t say so. Instead, her “you’ll be fine” gave me the strength and the courage to do what I wanted to do. And it was the best decision of my life.

Sometimes, though, “you’ll be fine” doesn’t quite cut it, and Mom had an answer then, too.

When Rory, my son, was 8, he broke his arm on a trampoline. Now I know a broken arm doesn’t sound like much – kids break bones, and two of his cousins have broken their arms, too. But Rory snapped both bones of his forearm. The bones didn’t break the skin, but they were sticking out of his arm, and his arm shifted around as if it had become a tentacle. It was horrifying. And the emergency room was pretty much a nightmare – he wound up having surgery in the middle of the night, his morphine drip had a kink in the line so he wasn’t getting any pain medication – it was just bad. But I was fine. Apart from one brief incident when I vomited, after I’d bumped him and he’d screamed. Apart from that, I was fine. I was calm and efficient, managed the whole thing, dealt with the paperwork, called people to let them know what had happened – I was fine.

Until my mom called me back, and then I burst into tears. And her answer to that was not “you’ll be fine” (which obviously I would have been) but “I’ll be right there.” She was on the next plane to Santa Cruz – and we all learned an important life lesson, which is that if you’re flying through Denver in the middle of winter, you should bring some warm clothes even if you don’t intend to get off the plane – but she got to Santa Cruz eventually and stayed with us, taking care of both of us, for a week.

So, “I’ll be right there” – that’s the third thing that my mom would say. Sometimes for the minor stuff, like Rory’s broken arm, sometimes for the slightly more serious stuff, like moving. I don’t know how many times in my life and my siblings’ lives Mom showed up to help us move. For Werner and Maggie, there was a move from California to North Carolina, and another from North Carolina to New York. For me, there was a move to Chicago, a move from Canada to California, a move from California to Florida. Mom was an amazing mover. She could pack and unpack a house like nobody’s business. I remember on my last move to Winter Park being exhausted at the end, and yet Mom, more than 20 years older than me, was still going, cleaning my kitchen so that it was what she considered move-in ready -- a standard that, to be honest, it’s probably never achieved since.

But “I’ll be right there” or “we’ll be right there” was also her answer to life’s truly more serious stuff. When my brother-in-law was in a terrible accident, Karen called my parents from Illinois first thing in the morning. They were there, from New York, by nightfall. When Karen was hospitalized during her pregnancy with Caroline, my parents rented an apartment and spent months in Illinois, helping to take care of Tyler. When she was needed -- when they were needed – my parents would drop everything to help.

I knew when I was thinking about this a month ago that what I wanted to talk about was my mom’s positive attitude toward life, and her faith in and support of the people she loved. But I realized while writing that the words she said, her familiar phrases, add up to what was to me her philosophy of life, and who she was as a mother.

“If that’s the worst thing that happens, you’ll be fine, because I’ll be right there.”

I miss my mother very much.

Please join me in reciting her favorite prayer, the serenity prayer.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time; Enjoying one moment at a time; Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; That I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him Forever in the next.

Amen.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Class tonight

Today's my first day of class and for some reason, my anxiety level is really high. My previous classes have been fun, but this semester is where we go from the theoretical, intellectual side to the practical, hands-on, and it's sort of terrifying. Not just that "what if I screw up?" feeling, but also the "what if I hate this?" If I hate it...yeah. That'd be bad. But, I remind myself (plaintively), life is filled with choices and paths and changes, and if necessary, I'll just find a new path. Another new path.

Yeah, okay, that's not helping. Anxiety level climbing.

I'm at a new place in my ghost story, one where I have to make a lot of time pass really quickly, and I realize that I haven't done much of that in the stories I've written this year. Or in the book I wrote so long ago, which basically means that I've never done it. No wonder I'm uncertain how to proceed. I think there's going to be a lot of writer-ly experimentation going on in the next few days. In between those anxiety-provoking classes, anyway.

PS I procrastinated by checking my RSS feed, and whee, Patricia Wrede wrote about this very thing today. It's narrative summary that I'm going to be trying to write. Nice to stumble upon a name for it. I don't want it to be invisible, but not too detailed either.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Writing Wednesday

Except it's not -- Wednesday, that is. I woke up determined to make today a better writing day. The last couple have been dragging, as if every word is heavy. I'm ready for a rolling day instead, the kind where the words just pour out and flood the page, and even if later half of them are no good, the pouring out is fun. So while I walked the dog I gave myself a little pep talk, all of which revolved around the fact that it's Wednesday and Wednesday is a good day, the middle point of the week, the best day to be productive and get a lot done, la-di-da. And then when I sat down to write, it turned out to be Thursday. I need a new pep talk.

Last night everyone came over for dinner. We had hamburgers and fruit salad, nothing fancy, and we ate inside, at the dining room table, because the weather was ugly and thunderstorm-y. It would have been Mom and Dad's 48th anniversary. Rory said later that it had been a really nice dinner, and I think it was, but I can't remember a single thing we talked about.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A random Tuesday

It's strange that it's gotten harder, but I now have consensus -- at least from my dad and brother -- that yes, in fact, it has. Before, we were all worried about Mom. Now. . . now there's nothing to do but feel the loss. And wow, it just sucks. I've had more than one more moment when I've thought, I am so unhappy, I need to call Mom, and then realized, uh, yeah, not so much. Such a strange, strange sad feeling.

But Dad came over tonight and we ate salmon, potatoes, salad for dinner, and then watched Source Code. The two dogs were reasonably well-behaved and remarkably delightful and it was a nice interlude in a day that was filled with a lot of unexpected tears.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Movies

When my grandfather died, back in 1990, Chris told me that we had to go to a movie, and I picked Pretty Woman. As I recall, he grumbled, but I still remember it fondly. That happy ending was just what I needed.

So this morning, I was on the phone, feeling helpless, not knowing what to do, and I said, Cowboys and Aliens. Harrison Ford, sci-fi, summer blockbuster type, what could go wrong? Only Daniel Craig spends half the movie searching for his lost love and it turns out she's DEAD. But that's okay, because he's met Olivia Wilde. Only she DIES. And then that's okay, because she comes back to life, woo-hoo. Until she DIES again. I'm not sure I could have picked a worse movie in which to try to hide our grief if I'd tried.

I think that I will always have a niggling regret that she was alone when she died. I don't know that having someone hold her hand would have made any sort of difference, but I wish I'd been there. Or that someone had been there.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Thursday, August 4th

I know I've been a little slow with this update. That's because on Monday, Karen talked to the doctor and she was told that it would be any time now, but probably within the next couple of days. I've been waiting, therefore, thinking that there would be a change any minute. But it's now Thursday morning, those two days are come and gone, and Mom seems to be basically exactly as she was on Monday.

As for how that is, honestly, not bad, at least to the best of my ability to judge. She is no longer responsive at all -- there's been no conversation, no attempts to move, no facial expressions for a while. I'm not quite sure how long, but I've been at the hospice for the past twenty-four hours and during that time, she's been essentially unconscious. The nurse was a little late with her pain medication this morning (she's getting it every 12 hours) and Mom gave no indication of being in any discomfort. Her breathing is steady and clear, and her temperature is normal. I haven't spoken to the doctor yet, but I suspect she's gone from being "any minute" to "sometime pretty soon". But from my perspective, she's not in pain and she's not agitated like she was before, so this is not that bad. I'd say that from mom's perspective, she's probably ready to be done with it -- but since she's not letting go yet, maybe not. The nurse did say to me this morning that sometimes people, moms especially, won't leave while their kids are in the room, and Karen and I have basically been with her round-the-clock for the past several days, so we'll see.

As for how the rest of us are doing, I think pretty well. It's sort of settling into a routine -- a strange routine, but a routine nonetheless. Both teenage boys are excited (at least I think Tyler is, but I know Rory is) about getting a chance to spend a night home alone: Rory's first was last night and when I called him this morning, he told me that the dog guilted him into going to bed at a normal time. He was going to stay up really late, but she was staring at him disapprovingly and so he didn't. I feel really lucky to have such a responsible teenager that he lets the dog tell him what to do! And such a good dog, too.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sunday, July 31 (and Thursday, July 28th)

It's Sunday morning, and I got home an hour or two ago from spending the night at the hospice. Dad was with Mom when I left her and Karen's headed over later. She'll spend the night there tonight, and I'll be back tomorrow afternoon.

Time is very strange at the moment: it feels both like it's moving very quickly, and that it's dragging out endlessly. The quick part is remembering that a week ago, we were still having conversations. The slow part is that this terminal restlessness thing is really not very fun. I am incredibly glad that we are mostly able to be there when she needs us. This morning she was briefly coherent enough to realize that she was having nightmares, but mostly she hasn't been. That said, the vast majority of the time she is simply unconscious -- the bad moments are mostly brief windows before another dose of medication, so they're over quickly.

She was able to swallow one of her medications this morning with a little applesauce, but that's become rarer over the last couple of days. Yesterday, Karen was using a syringe to give her water. And her temperature has started to fluctuate a bit, which is a sign that her body is beginning to shut down. It probably won't be much longer.

As always, thank you so much for your prayers and well wishes. I know I'm not being very good about answering emails, but I do appreciate them.

***
Thursday, July 28th

Mom's resting comfortably right now, so I thought I'd try writing from the hospice. It's about 1:30 on Thursday afternoon. The past couple of days have been rougher. Yesterday, Dad got here and found that she'd been moved closer to the nurse's station, so that they could keep a better eye on her. And last night, she entered a period of what they're calling terminal restlessness: the nurses had a lot of trouble keeping her in bed (and safe, because she's really not able to walk anymore) and I believe finally had to sedate her. When I got here today she was sitting up in a chair to keep her calm, but I've spent a lot of the past three hours assuring her that it's okay, and that she shouldn't try to get up. There's a nice nurse's aide sitting with me now, because they've put Mom onto crisis care, so she'll have someone with her round the clock. Karen will get here in a little while, and then I'll go home and collect Rory and bring him over to spend the night with Dad so that I can stay here through the night.

She mumbles a little and sometimes seems to say entire sentences, but they're pretty incoherent. I'm honestly not always sure whether she's not making sense or whether I'm just not understanding. But I do know that she understands us. Yesterday, Karen and I were talking about crying in the car and falling asleep the moment we get home, and Mom -- who had seemed unconscious -- sat up, held out her hand, and pulled us close to kiss us. And that time I definitely recognized the mumble as "I love you."

We got several cards yesterday and I read them all to her. I wish I could tell you how she responded but I really couldn't tell much about her reactions. But I believe that she heard and appreciated them, and I know I appreciated them -- knowing how much she is loved makes a hard time a little better.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Writing

Apparently I write extremely good cancer updates. I do not think that is a skill to which one should aspire.

Is that all I want to say about that? Maybe. But my dad told me yesterday that I should save my letters because maybe in ten years or so I'd want to write a book, and my reaction was almost revulsion. I do want to write a book -- I want to write lots of books. Fun books. Happy-ever-after ending books. Cheerful, silly, quirky, romantic books. Not books about dying.

And then my aunt said in an email that I should save my emails because they'd be helpful to someone else going through this. That...well, that I would want to do, if I knew how. This is really hard and if I could find something that made it better, yeah, that'd be good. But really, I'm not sure people head to the bookstores to find books about trying to figure out how to say good-bye. I don't know that for a fact, but I'm a compulsive reader and it never even occurred to me. It'd be a good skill to have, though.

Yesterday, Mom entered "terminal restlessness." Apparently she actually even punched a nurse, which I just find really hard to imagine. When I was with her, she steadily tried to stand, trying to get up and move around. She's so frail now that that's impossible, but she really wanted it. I kept telling her that her spirit wanted to move, not her body, and that her body wasn't up for it, and she would calm back down. Once she said, frantically, "Let me go, let me go," and I said, "You can go whenever you want, Mom, but you can't bring your body with you, you have to let it go," and she sort of nodded and then dozed off again. But then the nurse's aide came in and hung out in the room and I was too inhibited to be my weirdly spiritual self, which was probably sort of a pity. Still, the general skills I learned from having a toddler -- acknowledge the feeling, re-state the rule -- worked just fine.

I'll spend the night at the hospice again tomorrow. Really, I'm happier when I'm there, so that's okay. Although in funnier writing news, every time I come home I write an extremely short, M-rated, Eureka story. I don't even intend to, my fingers just type it out on their own. One of them I had to read ten times after I was done because a) it's awesome and b) I wrote it??? It doesn't sound like me, and I don't even remember thinking up some of the lines. I think it just wrote itself. It's really good, though (or at least I think so!)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Wednesday, July 27th update

I'm just about to head over to the hospice, but I thought I'd send a quick update first.

I saw Mom on Monday for a couple of hours, but when I say 'saw', I pretty much mean 'saw'. She woke up a little when I got there, but said she'd just rather sleep, so I sat quietly with her while she slept. Yesterday, I stayed for closer to four hours, because I was hoping to be there when the doctor did her rounds, but Mom slept the entire time. She mumbled a few times, and looked restless once, but she never really woke up. I eventually left around 2, figuring that Karen would be the one to be there when the doctor came, but it turned out that Dad was the one who got to catch up with the doctor, so that was even better.

The doctor told him that this progression is normal. They upped her pain medication on Monday evening, because she'd been having some breakthrough pain, and so she probably will sleep a lot. Although it's hard to think that our conversation time with her is completely over, it might be. Dad also asked about timing, and the doctor said it was really about food now, and how willing or able Mom is to keep eating. Although they emphasize that people are all different and predictions are likely to be wrong, she also said not today, not tomorrow, but maybe two weeks, likely within the month.

Sunday, July 24

Things here seem to be mostly status quo. I saw Mom only briefly yesterday, because Karen and her kids arrived at about the same time as Rory and me, so we didn't stay for long. (Five people and a dog is too much for her, I think.) When I went back later in the evening, she was already sleeping, so we didn't stay.

Today I spent a couple hours with her, but again, she slept through most of it. I did notice that the nurse was using applesauce with her pills now: I think that might be jumping the gun a little bit, as Mom said that she could swallow them fine, but obviously the nurse knows that it will get more difficult with time.

Werner L is headed back home tomorrow. He'll come back, but after the past several days, we seem to have settled into a temporary normal. Mom sleeps a lot, and is pretty heavily medicated, but they're very good at the hospice about making sure they stop the pain before it gets bad, so she doesn't seem to be uncomfortable.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Friday July 22 update

I saw Mom on Wednesday, with Marcia, and she was a lot quieter, and seemed really tired. She mostly kept her eyes closed quietly although still seemed to be listening to us, and sometimes responded. Goodbyes are tough, though, so it makes sense that she'd be a little withdrawn.

I had a dentist appointment yesterday so couldn't get over to Leesburg, but Werner reported that their visits were very similar to Wednesday. He and Dad have been visiting morning and afternoon, and he said that she seemed very quiet and tired.

When I got to the hospice in the morning today, she was just about to eat some ice cream, so that was a good sign. After about ten minutes, though, she lay back down and curled up with her pillows. I pulled out one of her scrapbooks and looked through it, asking the occasional question or commenting, but she was very quiet and didn't volunteer any information. I did give her the messages that you'd given me for her, and she smiled but didn't say much, if anything, in response. When I went back in the afternoon, she had just had other visitors (neighbors) and I knew that Dad would also be arriving soon, so I told her to rest and I'd just sit with her until Dad came and she took me up on that offer. I don't know whether she slept but her eyes were closed.

She looks very yellow and very thin, but she also seems very peaceful. We talked a little bit about things in the house -- I wanted to be sure I knew which pieces of furniture had belonged to which grandparents, and she was able to tell me a bit, describing where specific tables were located and who they had belonged to. But she also seemed uninterested in a way that she wouldn't have been, even just a couple of weeks ago.

I had hoped to maybe run into the doctor today so I could send an update that might be a little more informed than just my opinion, but no such luck, so this is basically just my perceptions. I've never been through this before, not like this, so I don't really have any points of comparison, but I think we can probably pretty definitely rule out the possibility that she will come home at all. I don't think that will happen anymore. And I don't really think that there's a lot of time left, either. If you do want me to tell her anything, now is definitely the time. (That goes for everyone who gets this via forwarded email, too -- please feel free to let me know anything you'd like me to tell her, special memories in particular would be welcome. I like being with her at the hospice but she and I have talked about all our best memories already, sometimes more than once!)

I'm headed back tomorrow. We'll have a family dinner -- Dad, Werner, Karen and her kids, Rory and me -- in Leesburg tomorrow night and I'm cooking, so you probably won't get another update tomorrow. (Although since I'm cooking, other people get to clean up!) But I'll write again on Sunday night or Monday morning. Werner had thought about leaving yesterday, but he's decided to stay for another week.

I get asked how Dad's doing: sometimes he seems fine and other times he seems very, very tired. To be honest, I think the times when he seems fine are when he's trying really hard for our sake, and the other times more reflect how he's really feeling.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Emails to family

I realized that I should save the emails that I've written to family members. Not sure why, but it just feels like someday I may be able to read them and process this experience a little better. Right now, it's just day after chaotic day, not a lot of reflection. So this'll be a long, time-forwards post, and then I'll update as the days pass.

***
Thursday, July 7
I had class tonight, so didn't get home until now and it feels a little late to call. (Almost 10.) Things today went not so great, I think. The doctors confirmed the diagnosis immediately: Stage 4 pancreatic cancer that has metastasized to the liver. Nothing really to do, except her bile duct is apparently completely blocked. Tomorrow they'll operate to put a stent in and hopefully open the duct. My impression from Karen is that if that's not done and/or doesn't work, her time is very short, but Karen was upset so maybe it sounded worse than it is. They didn't want to give Mom any painkillers before the procedure so she was in a lot of discomfort. Also, they immediately decided to admit her and no one was very happy about that. We had thought she'd be done today and able to come home right away and she didn't want to stay in the hospital, so that wasn't fun.

I haven't heard from Karen again, so I hope things are going better and Mom's getting all the pain relief she needs. The surgery is at 1 tomorrow, so I'll let you know when I know something.

***
Friday, July 8th,
Today's surgery was successful -- they managed to get the stent in and working, so that's great news. Hopefully the jaundice will fade and she'll be in less pain. They also managed to get some cells to biopsy through a brushing procedure -- I'm not quite sure what the point of that is, but apparently there are different types of pancreatic cancer and this will let us know which type it is. I don't think that it makes any difference to the prognosis, so I'm not sure there's any real reason to know, but I guess doctors like to have all the information they can.

Unfortunately, Karen also told me that based on what the doctors saw (on the endoscopy compared to the CAT scan films from three weeks ago) they've concluded that it's a very aggressive cancer: the tumors have apparently grown noticeably in just that time, so that's the bad news.

But it's the weekend and Dad is with her up in Gainesville now. She's eager to get home, but I don't know when they'll let her go. I last spoke to Karen around 7 or so, so it seems unlikely it'll be tonight, but maybe tomorrow.

***
Saturday, July 9th
Mom's still in the hospital in Gainesville. The doctors have decided they'd like to keep her there until Monday because of the risk of infection from the stent and because she seems very weak. I haven't spoken with her directly, but I suspect she's not too happy about that. Dad is with her now, I believe, but will go home to sleep (it's about an hour away from the hospital) and return again later. On Monday, I'll head up to Gainesville, so Dad can go off to Jacksonville for his last week of treatment. It'll be a relief to all of us when he finishes that.

Dad asked Karen to call hospice on Monday and arrange for them to come out for their first visit early next week. (We were originally scheduled to see them on Friday, but that was when we thought Mom would be coming home from Gainesville on Thursday.) M. has checked out our local hospice for us so we know that it's a reputable and good organization. They work with patients and family to provide at-home care, so will be able to help Mom stay at home once she gets there.

***
Monday, July 11
It's Monday night, around 6 PM, and I just got home from the hospital and from picking Gizmo (Mom & Dad's dog) up from the neighbors.

We got to the hospital this morning in time to talk to one of her doctors, the gastro-enterologist (I think). The tests last week had gotten "suspicious" cells from the first test (the endoscopy) and nothing useful from the second test (the one where they put in the stent), so he was there to discuss a liver biopsy. We talked a little about what that procedure would entail, and then asked the key question: what would change in her treatment or prognosis based on the test? Turns out the answer was nothing, so she made the decision to pass. That meant that as long as her blood tests came back okay (indicating that the stent was working), she could be released from the hospital today, to home or hospice, her choice.

She chose hospice, so we started the paperwork for that. It was very much her choice: I tried to convince her that home would be nicer because we'd have control over the ice cream supply, but I think she felt as if the hospice sounded restful. And I know that the doctor emphasized that the hospice would have free reign over pain management and be able to give her anything she needed, whenever she needed, and I think that sounded good to her, too. Even today in the hospital, she seemed to be in a fair amount of discomfort, giving the pain a 6 when the nurse asked, so the pain management may be what tipped the scales in the favor of hospice. They assured us that if she doesn't like it for any reason, she can come home and get hospice support at home, so maybe when Dad finishes in Jacksonville, she'll change her mind.

Unfortunately, with typical hospital speed, they decided mid-afternoon that she needed some more potassium (I think, Karen thinks magnesium -- but something in a drip bottle anyway) and wanted an IV started. The drip was going to take four hours, so we wouldn't have been able to get out of the hospital until after 7 and probably not make it to the hospice until 9 or so, so she's staying one more night in the hospital. Tomorrow morning, I'll go up and pick her up and bring her to the hospice. Karen will meet us there and we'll get her settled.

Dad headed off to Jacksonville around mid-day -- I know he'll be glad to get that done and we will be very glad to have him home for good.

*Minor edits for other people's privacy* Mom has decided that she would like you to officiate at her memorial service. I hope that's something you'll feel able to do. It's seems so typical of Mom to me that she's still planning -- the first time I saw her after the diagnosis, she was organizing her closet and clearing off the bookshelves. But she has the readings, the music, and the location picked out -- I was told I could be in charge of the food -- so I think that even if we are not at all ready, she has made her peace with what's happening.

***
Tuesday, July 12
Another long day but I'm happy to report that after a not-so-good start, it improved a lot.

I got to the hospital around nine and the doctor was in talking to Mom: her liver numbers and white cell numbers had both gone in the wrong direction overnight and he was worried about what might be going on with her stent. He wanted to do another CT scan, with the possibility of a few more days in the hospital. Mom wasn't happy about that, and after some back-and-forth, consultation with the social worker, some more blood tests, and a lot of hours (which gave me time to find her a Jamocha shake from Arby's and some curly fries for lunch), they finally discharged her.

Mom slept most of the way to the hospice, but we got her there and set up by about 4 or so. It seems like a good place -- it's a big room, with a recliner chair and a pull-out sofa as well as her bed, she's got a pretty view from her window of a fountain with a waterfall, and the people were very nice. Most important, though, she was as good or better than I've seen her in days -- alert and talkative and cranky with Karen when Karen tried to be helpful. (I know that last doesn't sound good, but I was happy that Mom was wanting to answer for herself and do things on her own.)

I drove back to the house and picked up Rory, the dogs, and my bird, then stopped for Chinese food, and we all -- yes, both dogs, and the bird, too! -- joined Karen and Mom in her room for dinner. Mom ate more than I've seen her eat since going into the hospital -- some orange chicken, some rice, and half an eggroll. Most importantly, though, she said it tasted good -- that's exciting because it means that despite the bad overnight blood test, the bilerubin levels in her blood are probably going down and the stent is doing its job.

Obviously, it's all just day-by-day now, but I think that getting out of the hospital was good for her, and I was very happy to see her eating and talking. And after she finished dinner, she had a good snuggle with Gizmo, who curled up next to her and let her pet him for a solid ten minutes at least. He's a very peaceful, well-behaved dog!

I have final exams tomorrow and Thursday nights, so unless something goes drastically wrong, I won't be back to Leesburg until Friday. I'll keep you posted if I hear any news, but chances are that my next update will be on Friday.

***
Sunday, July 17th
The past couple of days have been busy. I did take my exams, which is a relief because at least it means they're over. I'm sure the professor would have rescheduled if I'd needed him to, but I just wanted to finish them. On Thursday, I picked Werner up at the airport and he got to hang out with Rory while I went to class.

Friday, Rory and Werner and both dogs and I went to visit Mom in the hospice. She tired really quickly -- half an hour of the pack of us and she sent us all away, so we went up to their house and waited for Dad to come home. We helped him unload the RV and get settled, and then headed back to the hospice, this time with even more of a pack -- Caroline and Tyler had been at the house and wanted to come home with me, so it was all of us. Again, Mom tired very quickly. I think she was happy to see us, but three kids, two dogs, and four adults (Karen spent the day with her) was too much for her, and we left after only a very short visit.

On Saturday, I took Tyler back to his house, but Caroline wanted to stay with me, so Rory and Caroline and Zelda and I headed off to the hospice. This time we got to spend a solid hour or so -- the kids were great. They stayed in the room for a while, then went off to one of the lobbies and sat there peacefully. Rory is an amazing big cousin, but Caroline is a very well-behaved 8 year old. Mom, however, was in a fair amount of pain and also confused a lot. I don't think she's unhappy; I think she's accepted the situation, but I don't think my hopes that she will come home now that Dad is there to be with her full-time are realistic. I was dismayed by her level of confusion and her level of pain, but her color looks a lot better than it did, and the stent is obviously working so that's good news.

As we left the hospice, Werner and Dad arrived for their visit. It's tough to know what to do at this point, whether to have someone stay with her full-time or whether to let her have some peace and quiet. My understanding is that she was pushing the limits of the painkillers today, so the next step might be to a morphine pump.

Marcia comes tomorrow, so that'll be nice for all of us.

Karen talked to a nurse last week and asked, based on her experience, what sort of timetable she expected. Obviously, that's completely subjective and just a guess and all of those qualifiers, but the nurse said two weeks. Again, just a guess. But based on the way the pain seems to increase daily, maybe a realistic guess.

So, that's my update. I'm headed back to the hospice tomorrow morning, Caroline in tow (although planning to leave Rory at home) so I'll send another email soon.

***
Tuesday, July 19th
It's really Wednesday morning as I write -- I meant to write last night but I was just too tired after I got home. I'm not used to so much driving!

Mom's had two really good days in a row. After a rocky Sunday, they switched her painkillers again. She's now on morphine, taken as a liquid, mixed with some hydrocodone as needed for breakthrough pain. That seems to be a spectacular success. Over the last two days, she's been in really great shape, which has been nice, especially with Marcia visiting. On Monday, I saw her about mid-afternoon and although she got tired and booted me out so she could have a nap, she was talking about things she still wanted to do (she wished she could take Marcia shopping!) and finding the hospice boring. She was a little confused but not too much so, and it was only about timing of her drugs -- a subject which confuses me, too.

Yesterday, she was really great. Marcia, Werner and Dad visited her in the morning and she was able to visit with them; Rory and I saw her in the early afternoon, and in the late afternoon, we all trooped back, with the two dogs and stayed for a while. Eventually Dad, Werner and Rory headed out to pick up some dinner and Marcia and I stayed and talked with her quietly, reminiscing about some special moments and the way that objects bring back memories. I was wearing a necklace that she and I had bought together in St. Thomas and remembering about that led to stories about other good moments -- Grandma Labar giving Marcia and Mom rings that belonged to their great-grandmother (one of which turns out to be a ring that I wear regularly, without having realized that it belonged to my great-great-grandmother!), a lost necklace, a found ring -- just a really nice, really pleasant conversation that I think all three of us enjoyed. We spent so long that the guys eventually got nervous when we didn't show up for dinner!

This morning, I'm heading over --- oh, in three minutes, so I need to wrap this up! -- and will visit Mom with Marcia and then take Marcia to the airport. I know that a couple good days don't mean an endless stream of good days ahead, but it's been really wonderful to have these right now. Mom has been very present for this time with Marcia, and even talking about maybe coming home if the new pain relief continues to work so well, so we can all hope for some more good days ahead.