Back After Two Years

It’s almost two years since I posted on my blog. 2013 and 2014 were full of health problems! I finally have a whole team of good doctors to help me figure out my complicated thyroid/parathyroid illness. I’m not totally better yet—and probably am going to need parathyroid surgery sometime this spring—but I’m healthy enough that I want to blog regularly again.

Over the next two weeks I’ll post several catch up posts with reviews of my favorite books, shows, and whatnot from 2013-2014. Today I’ve summed up my health saga and what goals I was still able to accomplish while sick.

 2013 Health Saga:

-Went on special allergy limitation diet (GAPS diet) to improve food allergy problems.

– Consulted a nutritionist and a certified diet nurse because I wasn’t making progress on the GAPs diet, but they weren’t very helpful.

– Discovered on my own that I have histamine sensitivities and can’t eat fermented foods (a huge part of the GAPS diet).

– Felt worse and worse into the December of 2013.

2014 Health Saga:

– Discovered I was severely hypothyroid at the end of January and went on thyroid meds.

-Discovered I’m super sensitive to the thyroid meds and spent 6 months figuring out the best stable dosage for me—to avoid a list of horrible side effects. I finally figured it out in August.

– Went to 1 horrible family practice doctor, 2 horrible endocrinologists, 1 decent endocrinologist—not on my health insurance, —and finally found 1 good endocrinologist that does take my health insurance.

-Went to a good family practice doctor, who referred me to her Naturopath colleague who specializes in diet and nutrition counseling.

-Had numerous blood tests and scans to figure out my health issues.

-Added rice and then Quinoa into my diet, so I can now eat 8 foods. Whoo-hoo!

-Switched over to another family practice doctor in the same practice, who is just as nice as my first doctor but also specializes in diet issues.

-Was diagnosed with hyperparathyroidism and referred to a parathyroid surgeon.

-Have an appointment with parathyroid surgeon for the late January 2015.

2014 Life Accomplishments: 

Despite being super sick from January-April, somewhat sick from June-August, and a little bit sick from August – December, I accomplished a lot more in 2014 than 2013—though I read fewer books because I actually had a life.

-Subbed 33 times

-Read 40 books (33 fiction, 7 non-fiction)

-Read 84 short stories

-Took 5 writing classes and 1 writing workshop

-Took a performance dance class and an Improv Theater class

-Went to dance class an average of 1 time a week from April -June

-Went to dance class an average of 2.5 times a week from June – December

-Took my youngest child to college in Portland, Oregon

-Wrote 5 short stories

-Read several books as research for new YA novel idea

-Began outlining my new YA novel idea to prepare for drafting

-Visited Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA) and spent some time in Burlington, VT

-Applied and was accepted to VCFA’s MFA program in Writing for Children and Teens

-Set up a writing office in Maryland

-Still haven’t touched my middle grade novel at all this year—hmmm…

2013 Life Accomplishments  (I posted this on Facebook last year so I’m putting it last)

-I subbed 11 times

-Read 79 books (55 fiction, 24 nonfiction)

-Took 5 writing classes and 2 writing workshops

-Went to 2 writing conferences

-Wrote 7 short stories

-Wrote 1 YA novel draft

-Planned out the revised plot for my middle grade novel

-Bought furniture for the condo in Vermont

Wyclef Jean, Problem Solving, and Escapist TV

Quote of the Week (From The Good Wife)
Will: "But let's not expose ourselves on a subway platform unless we have to."
Diane: "Oh, what a colorful and pointless metaphor."

Music:
Wyclef Jean, The Carnival Volume II (Memoirs of an Immigrant) [2007] (***); Greatest Hits [2003] (***) –  Wyclef Jean sings hip-hop with a healthy dose of social commentary and island flavor, and without the angry sexism that plagues a lot of hip-hop.  My favorite Wyclef Jean song, hands down, is "Fast Car" featuring Paul Simon.  If you liked Paul Simon's Graceland Album, definitely check out the song, "Fast Car". It's the perfect combination of hip-hop, island sound, catchy chorus, and social commentary. 

The Joy of Problem Solving:
Last week our weather turned so tropical I began to wonder if I'd moved to Florida and just forgot to mention it to myself. One evening when I was walking into town, I looked up the weather on my phone. It wasn't raining but the humidity was 94%!
 
The tropical weather brought my arch-nemesis pollen with it, and I once again battled with sinus issues.  To make things more fun, I also have a new kidney stone. Despite my health issues I had a mostly productive week.  What changed?

Problem solving is the savior I'd been waiting for.  My greatest comfort comes from imagining myself in a lab coat with Tina Fey glasses holding a clipboard and going over the facts and data about my situation.

The more facts I know about allergies and kidney stones, the better I can fight them.  The more data I take on my problems, the more I can problem solve and figure out what makes my conditions worse and what makes them better.   I note what I eat, what medications or home remedies I try, and what the result of each of the actions is.

It works too!  I had mild discomfort all week, yet I was able to keep the pain manageable enough to write, bike, cook, and even have some fun.

Yay problem solving!  You rock.

PS- So far, this week the weather is thankfully cool and fall-like.

TV:
Nikita (*** 1/2) –  I'm enjoying the second season of Nikita.  No, it's not a great show by any standard, but it is a fun show, with just the escapist qualities I enjoy in my TV watching.  There are plenty of pretty men and women kicking ass because of their dedicated training and expert skills.  Plus, the actors look like they have a lot of fun with their characters and just when I'm getting bored of the overall plot, the writers do something unexpected to surprise me.

Pam Am (***) – I've seen two episodes of Pam AM now and am still only mildly interested in it.  The sets and costumes are striking and I like all the characters but the stories haven't really grabbed me so far.

Terra Nova (** 1/2) – I was looking forward to this futuristic sci-fi adventure about people traveling back in time to an undamaged earth with dinosaurs.   It  has great sets and special-effects. I'd expect nothing less given its 20 million dollar budget. Unfortunately, what is doesn't have is a well-developed storyworld or good writing.  The characters are all lazy Hollywood stereotypes, their futuristic world doesn't make a lot of sense, and the plot is trite and predictable.  How disappointing! That was an easy one to cross of my list.

How Cognitive Behavior Therapy Protects You From Vampires

It’s allergy season, the time of year when I go from being reasonably a disciplined person and instead become an excuse machine. This allergy season the article,  5 Steps to Developing a Healthy Relationship with Food,  keeps whispering to me.


The article  begins:

"Why is it so hard to stick to a healthy eating plan and a reasonable exercise regimen?"

"From the viewpoint of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), the reason isn’t hard to find: knowing what to do and knowing how to get yourself to do it are entirely separate skills. When it comes to changing behavior, especially long-term, habitual patterns, getting yourself to do something different, even when you know it’s good for you, depends largely on what you tell yourself: that is, on your thinking."

What kind of thinking leads to overeating?

"let’s say you’re at a dessert party and see five really delicious pastries. Will you end up eating too much? You probably will if you think, I don’t care. I don’t want to deprive myself. It isn’t fair that everyone else gets to eat whatever they want, and I have to settle for one small piece. By contrast, if you say to yourself, "I’m going to pick my favorite dessert. I’ll eat one small piece slowly and enjoy every bite. I know I’m going to feel so proud of myself," you stand a much better chance of not overeating."

The article explains in step-by step detail how first changing your own thinking patterns helps you to make lasting changes. It’s worth reading the whole piece.

Instead of overeating, my weakness is my complete unconditional love of serial dramas on TV.  While the article focuses on how to use CBT to help change eating habits, the technique is useful for changing any habits.   After reading this article I realized how often I’m able to convince myself that it’s okay to read or watch TV during my writing time in allergy season.  The conversation in my head goes something like this: 

Allergy season is so hard.  I feel horrible and can’t think.  I should give myself a break and watch an episode of The Vampire Diaries instead of writing my own story.  After all, the writers of that show are excellent at plotting, so watching an episode is sort of like studying plot, which is almost the same as writing, so watching an episode should totally count as writing. Right?  Watching 5 episodes is probably five times as good. Okay, I"m convinced. 

Is it bad that the fact that this type of thinking seems a lot like Damon compelling someone with his amusing vampire powers makes the excuses appeal to me even more? 

Conclusion:  CBT is a lot like Vervain and can totally protect you from vampires who are trying to get you to overeat or convince you not to write.

PS – I’ll be writing a review of seasons 1 & 2 of The Vampire Diaries as soon as season 2 is complete.  See, I’m writing a review.  I’m practically cured already. 

PPS – The last couple days have actually been really good allergy-wise, which made writing this post and avoiding episode 2.19 of The Vampire Diaries much easier.

May 2010: In Brief (Part 2)

Highlights:
It’s A Christmas Miracle!  (But …uh… in May)  It was my healthiest May in 5 years. I’d still get really sleepy on days with high grass pollen or when I ate a food with hidden gluten, but I didn’t have any horrible sinus headaches and I even had several energetic days — a rare May occurrence for me.

Writer’s Retreat– I hung out with several writer friends in an adorable cabin in West Virginia for a few days.  We talked about writing and TV, critiqued each other’s work, did a few writing exercises, and ate tons of junk food.  What more could I ask for?

Sub Jobs:
1/2 day – Media center specialist at usual school
1/2 day- 1st grade reading teacher at another school

Fiction Books Finished:
Harriet the Spy, by Louise Fitzhugh (****) – It’s been a while since I reread this classic. I love how honest this story is about the dark emotions of sixth grade.  [For ages 9 and up]

The True Meaning of Smekday, by Adam Rex (****) – Gratuity Tucci (her friends call her "Tip" for short) has an eventful year when an alien race called the Boov invades Earth on Christmas day.  This is one of those fun stories that every age can enjoy.  It would make an excellent family or classroom read aloud. [For ages 9 and up]

When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead (****) – 1979 is an eventful year for 12-year old Miranda.   It’s the year the game show 20,000 Pyramid invited her mom to be a contestant, the year Miranda’s childhood friend stopped talking to her, and the year Miranda received notes from a mysterious stranger who knows things about Miranda’s life before she even lives them.  How can that be?  This lovely gem is a perfect mix of a slice-of-life New York City story with a sci-fi element that pulls everything together in a cool way. It would make a good family or classroom read aloud.  [For ages 9 and up]

April 2010: In Brief

Highlights:
Happy Crappy Gluten Day– Break out the lab coats and clipboards!  It was experiment day at the Eureka lab of allergy studies. For one day I ate only bread and pasta to see if gluten was the true source of my horrible sinus headaches and energy-sapping fatigue.  Oy!  Yep, gluten is not my friend. 

Health Hallelujah–  It’s been freakin’ awesome being healthy for weeks on end.  I’ve been parenting, subbing, writing, cleaning, and just generally enjoying life headache-free with plenty of energy. I don’t miss bread or pasta at all. My allergy shots have been quite effective in this high pollen season too.  Yay!

Non-Fiction Books Finished:
Republican Gomorrah: Inside The Movement That Shattered The Party, by Max Blumenthal (*** 1/2) – An interesting look at the key players and events that led to the Christian Right’s ascension into the political mainstream.  [Adult Non-Fiction]

Movies:
Whip It (****) – A rural Texan high school girl trying to escape the pageant circuit is drawn to the rough and tumble world of Austin roller derby.

I really liked this movie. The roller derby plot was engrossing– though it was more an entertaining slice-of-life film than the zany comedy it’s marketed as. It was great fun watching a group women having a good time and bonding together for their own goals.  I also liked that the romance was only one part of the heroine’s life, not her whole storyline and future. I hope Drew Barrymore directs a lot more movies if they’re all this good.

Fried Green Tomatoes (****) – Rewatched this one night and still loved it.

TV- Top 5 Favorites of the Month (In A,B,C Order)

Better Off Ted – Netflix said I’d enjoy this show because I liked Arrested Development and News Radio.  Apparently Netflix is very wise because this comedy has the silly deadpan humor of Arrested Development taking place at the fictional multi-national research corporation Veridion. The pilot was only pleasant, but by episode four everything gels together and becomes laugh aloud funny .  [The entire 13-episode first season is on Netflix Instant]

Doctor Who– So far I like eleven and his companion Amy Pond.

Fringe– Like eyeballs floating to the surface of a lab stove pot, things are reaching the boiling point on Fringe and it’s mighty satisfying.  (It wouldn’t be Fringe if there wasn’t some amusingly gross reference, now would it?)

Parenthood– Winston Churchill once said, "You can always count on Americans to do the right thing — after they’ve tried everything else."  That seems to be the secret motto of each episode on the new show Parenthood. I have a love-hate relationship with this show.  The Braverman family is a little intense for me and their constant togetherness makes me wonder how these characters have any time to work — let alone read a book, perhaps on parenting. 

On the other hand, it’s nice to see Peter Krause (Nate from Six Feet Under) and Lauren Graham (Lorelei from Gilmore Girls) on TV again.  The rest of the cast is just as good and the storylines tend to be fun. Show runner Jason Katims has a child with Asperger’s Syndrome and it  shows in the accurate details of Max Braverman’s life.

Supernatural – I’m enjoying the build up to the big season five finale where I fully expect the writers to pull out my heart and crush it once again this season. 

Sub Jobs:
1 day – Field trip with 2nd grade class at my usual school
1 day – Media Center Specialist at my usual school
1/2 day – 1st grade reading teacher

March 2010: In Brief

Highlights:
Eureka! (Or How My Life is Like An Episode of Castle) – Sometimes on the TV show Castle, Detective Beckett arrests a suspect.  They’re clearly a key to the killing but the murders keep happening anyway. That’s how my health has been.  I find I’m allergic to something, get shots for it or stay away from it… And then… I’m still unhealthy.

On the show, one of Castle’s family or friends makes an innocuous comment and Castle suddenly knows who the killer is. Apparently Martin is the Rick Castle in my life.  After describing my tainted Motrin reactions, Martin had a brainstorm and started reading about food allergies.

 And the "killer" is. …. [dun dun DUN]  Wheat.  Yep.  Wheat.  Since I’m super allergic to grass, Martin came up with the idea that maybe eating a type of grass might cause me problems too. 

It was hard giving up bread and pasta. I love their gluten-y goodness.  But when I did…Ta da!  I was healthy!! And I sure won’t miss the horrible sinus headaches. Thank goodness I’m not allergic to reading or TV.  Can you imagine?!

Harper’s Ferry Soon after I figured out my gluten-sensitivity issues, the kids’ spring break came. The bad thing about spring break?  The timing meant that after months of being sick, I had only a week or two of productivity before my schedule came to another stop (and the reason why this summary is so late). 

The good thing about break?  The daughterling and I took our third mother-daughter trip together.  This time we stayed in a historical townhouse in Harper’s Ferry.  We ate junk food, discussed our musical tastes, watched episodes of the Gilmore Girls, played games, and toured Harper’s Ferry– a quaint historical town that’s pretty much been stuck in time since the 1860’s. 

Sub Jobs:
1/2 day – 1st grade Reading/Language Arts Teacher at a different school than my usual

Fiction Books:
Gregor and the Marks of Secret, by Suzanne Collins( ***)  – The last book in the Underlander series didn’t disappoint.  It was a bit longer than the others but as intense and satisfying.  An excellent series on the realities of war, told in a way that elementary school children can relate to.  [Middle Grade Fiction, ages 9-14]

Non-Fiction Books:
Dance of Connection, by Harriet Lerner (***) – Last year I read the 70’s classic, Dance of Anger, by the same author and loved it. Lerner has a nice way of explaining the complex interactions of relationships (of any kind) and how one manages the dance between meeting the needs of both people in the relationship. [Adult Non-Fiction]

Music:
Vitamin String Quartet – I can’t believe I didn’t know about this group until now.  This string quartet has over 50 albums covering everyone from Kelly Clarkson to Godsmack.  I love rock and pop music played with real stringed instruments (though not Muzak).  AC/BC’s "Back in Black" sounds like the theme song to a Western.  The string version of Godsmack’s "Mistakes" becomes a cool post-modern dance piece and Queen’s "We Will Rock You" is like an Irish stepdancing  battle song.  My favorite covers so far are Fall Out Boy’s "Hum Hallelujah" and Mazzy Star’s "Fade Into You".  They’re both songs I like generally but are especially pretty played with strings.

Lady Gaga, The Fame Monster– I was playing this album in the car while driving the daughterling.  She asked if I could  play something else because she had heard quite enough Lady Gaga badly sung through the halls of middle school.  I’m lucky I don’t have fun albums ruined for me by going to Middle School. 😉  I changed the music right away.  Middleschoolers deserve a lot of sympathy.

Frightened Rabbit, The Winter of Mixed Drinks – While not as fabulous as Midnight Organ Fight, this album still has plenty of relationship angst, Scottish accents, and catchy tunes to make me happy. [Parent Note: Not especially good music for playing in the car while driving young kids.]

TV – Top 5 Favorites of the Month (In A,B,C Order)
(The) Big Bang Theory – There are only so many Sheldon-centered episodes they can do before it starts feeling recycled.  Still, I really enjoyed the Lord of the Rings episode.

Being Erica – A writing friend told me about this fun escapist chick-lit type show.  It was just the type of  show my TV schedule was missing.  32-year old Erica Strange has a lot of regrets about the decisions she’s made in her life.  She’s certain if she could go back and make better decisions she could have a real career– instead of a series of dead-end jobs– and a satisfying relationship–  instead of a series of loser boyfriends.  Enter Dr. Tom who offers her the chance to actually go back in time and redo those regrets.

Erica is a likable character and the way the writers move each season arc along is satisfying and clever.  The entire two season series is currently available on Hulu and each season is only 12-13 episodes long. 

Castle

Caprica – This prequel to Battlestar Galactic grew on me.  I didn’t much like the pilot and hated Eric Stolz’s character, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that the show had potential.  The plot moves slowly. There’s no real blow-your-mind type of crisis like the start of Battlestar Galactica. The exploration of the father-daughter relationships in this show is interesting though.  The fathers are presented as the powerful present and their daughters are sort of symbols of the future.  The fact that the fathers can’t seem to understand their daughters and want to control them — despite clearly caring for them — seems to be the seed that starts the cylon-human problems.  It’s an interesting perspective and I look forward to seeing what they do with the second half of the season in September.

(The) Good Wife