Friday, October 31, 2008

Arwen, Halloween and an Unexpected Journey

What a difference a day makes. Yeah, I know, the saying's overdone. But sometimes it really does fit the situation.

Case in point: Tuesday morning E and I braved rush-hour traffic to commute into Chicago for what was supposed to be a routine visit with her kidney doctor. E's blood pressure was a bit high after we arrived, but the fact didn't surprise me. The ride into the city took us two hours when it should have taken an hour, and with service dog Jewel at E's side we race-walked our way to the office in order to arrive at the appointment on time.

The visit went predictably enough after that. The nurse logged E's pressure, temp, height and weight, and confirmed meds; the resident took a new blood pressure reading; and, well, that's when the morning took an interesting turn.

The resident's reading was high, too. Three more staffers took pressures. E is significantly smaller than the average 16 year old, the resident reasoned out loud, and he'd taken the reading off her weaker left side. Maybe he was using the wrong sized cuff. Maybe if they used a different cuff on her good side...

I don't remember the exact numbers everyone got, but I know the average on top was in the 140s and on the bottom, over 110. E is the size of a two year old. Two year olds shouldn't have pressures that high. My mind went numb at that point because the last time we had numbers like that E was in the pediatric ICU fighting for her life after her aneurysm rupture.

Crap, I remember thinking. No way this can be good. "That's not good is it?" I asked the room. All eyes turned to Dr. L who took his own reading. "I can't let you leave," he said at last.

I remember staring at Dr. L at this point, hearing but not hearing what he was saying. "What do you mean?" I said, knowing his answer before hearing it.

"I need to admit E," he said. "Her pressure is too high. With her history of aneurysms, and the one in the kidney, we need to find out why it's so high and get it controlled."

I nodded, very much aware that just like that our world had shifted sideways.

Long story short, E spent the next 36 hours undergoing a battery of tests and blood draws to uncover the reason for her high blood pressure. The team ruled out aneurysm rupture, shunt malfunction, infection, and heart, kidney and lung issues.

In the end, the culprit was E's diet. Thank God for easy solutions. E's now on a restricted sodium diet. She's not thrilled she has to give up her favorite after-school snack of baby pickles, but as we find new "legal" snacks, she's getting used to the idea.

Now onto the next hurdle. Getting E over a nasty cough and cold, which seems to have taken hold in time for her to miss Halloween. Bummer.

E planned her costume for the day all by herself. We were looking forward to seeing people's faces as they opened their door to a diminutive high schooler dressed as Arwen from Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.

First choice for a Halloween costume a fictional character from a beloved childhood favorite? Makes my muse proud.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Carnival of Children's Literature is Live

For some of the latest on children's books and all things kids lit, attend the October Carnival of Children's Literature.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Writerly Report from the Trenches

The life of a writer mom is never dull. The last couple of weeks have been no exception. Just a few of the writerly to-dos I've crossed off my list recently:

Harvest Literacy Conference
J's and my presentation at Saint Xavier University about writers' workshops for youth and teens went quite well. The room was full. Feedback was positive. What you should keep in mind before offering your own teen writers' workshop:

1. Don't lecture.
2. Be flexible.
3. Keep activities short.
4. Look for hands-on ways to illustrate various aspects of the craft.
5. Provide a safe, supportive, creative environment.
6. Offer an open mic. The majority of the teens we work with want to read.
7. I said it earlier, but it's so essential when working with teens that it bears repeating: be flexible.

Critique group
J, A and I met last week. A was the only one who submitted creative. It's been this way for the last couple or three meetings. J and I are still working, but not on our novels.

J's been working hard on her new website, LitforAll. The site is based on the premise that great art isn't created in a vacuum. Readers are encouraged to explore the connections between some of the world's most famous writers and the peers of their time.

I've been working on short stories for Chicken Soup for the Soul and Cup of Comfort. Since the end of August I've completed and submitted three. Along the way, I've shared a couple of my drafts in progress with the group. But, in general, I've worked on my own because crit group deadlines didn't lend themselves to my schedule.

Our group celebrated a milestone not long ago. We've been together three years. Hard to believe it's been that long. We found each other in the fall of 05, not long after I graduated from Vermont College. I feel so fortunate to have found this group. Without it, I know I would have dropped kicked my novel by now. Thanks, ladies. You inspire me to keep going in the face of fear, self-doubt, and life's little conspiracies. You keep me honest with your editor's eyes. And you encourage me to trust the process.

Teen Writers' Workshop
Last Friday's teen writers' workshop was a blast. Our topic, writing ghost stories, was well attended. Kate Gingold, an old high school friend and fellow children's book author, talked about her most recent book project, Haunted by History: Spectres in a Small Town, and shared her own personal connection to things that go bump in the night. After her talk, Kate helped us read a ghost story to the light of an electric candle and glowing pumpkins. After discussing the elements that make the story work--mood, atmosphere, language, plot, and, of course, a ghost with an agenda--we built a group ghost story using the lessons we'd learned, and objects drawn from a witch's hat--a clawed hand, a roll of tape, and a bat, just to name a few. The teens jumped at the chance to share stories about their own ghostly encounters. We ran out of time, but extended the meeting after it became evident that most everyone had come ready to read at open mic, and was eager to do so.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Walking More, Driving Less, and Amusing the Muse

The downside about walking more and driving less in an effort to stretch the family budget: getting caught in the rain on the way home from walking with your daughter to school.

The upside: amusing the muse and arriving home with story ideas because of it.

Note to self: Write them down before you leave for the Harvest Literacy Conference.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

This and that from the Writer's Front

1. Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to meet Kelly Herold, editor of Big A little a, and Edge of the Forest. Kelly and I "met" two and a half years ago when I began writing for her fab publication, but, until Saturday, we had never had the opportunity to match faces with names. Kelly spoke at the SCBWI-Illinois Chicago Southlands network program about blogging and making your writer self known on the Web. The talk was informative and inspirational. Way to go Kelly! Thanks for making the drive to Illinois, and inspiring me to expand my horizons with the following:

2. I created a Facebook account tonight. Fair warning, it's rudimentary, but it's a start.

3. Despite the short notice, I made yesterday's submission deadline for "My Resolution," a book in progress for Chicken Soup for the Soul. No word yet on whether or not the story made the cut. But I did receive confirmation that they received it. Felt great to bang out another short story in such a finite amount of time. God bless a deadline. It does a writer good.

4. Anticipating the Harvest Literacy Conference . Everything's packed and waiting at the front door. J and I are presenting on writer's workshops for youth and teens. Last we heard, the conference was sold out.

Friday, October 10, 2008

On deadline for Chicken Soup for the Soul!

I'm on deadline for another short story for Chicken Soup for the Soul. The book in progress is called My Resolution. The piece is due Monday morning. The awesome thing about this job: I was invited to submit. How cool is that?

Looking for an Escape from the Muggle World?

Attention Harry Potter fans. If you're tired of watching your retirement savings tank and you need an escape from the Muggle world, surf on over to this live journal where characters from the Harry Potter universe post on a daily basis.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Best Laid Plans of Writer Moms--Or Why My Characters Had to Wait Another Day

Living the life of a writer mom is never dull, and often crazed. Why? Our kids inform our lives, providing us with reams of writing ideas. Yet, finding the uninterrupted time to breath life into those stories is damned near impossible some days.

Take yesterday, for example. E had an appointment with a new doctor. The appointment was necessary because we've been limping along without a formal neurologist for quite some time.

To be honest, we probably would have limped along even longer if E's opthomalogist hadn't noticed something odd about E's behavior during a routine visit not too long ago.

"Mom, how long has E been doing that?" Dr. D asked after chatting with E about how sophomore year was going.

"Doing what?" I asked, unable to see what she was driving at.

"Stopping in the middle of a conversation like that?"

To me, the behavior was part of E's lexicon. Ever since the aneurysm rupture, she's routinely stopped in the middle of stories and sentences to find a word or thought or to start over again. Of late, the pauses had become more prolonged, but I chalked them up to E's most recent illness, and the fact that she was still catching up on her sleep.

The doctor suggested that maybe those pauses were something more serious. Seizures.

After getting reassurances that the suspected type of seizures didn't require emergency care, I wasted no time finding a neurologist and making an appointment for the next available time.

As long as the physician didn't order any tests immediately following E's appointment, my plan afterward was to return E to school and zip back home in time to sit butt in chair for a good three hours of writing and work time before meeting the bus.

The universe had other plans.

E's appointment was at 9 with a promised 8:45 arrival to allow enough time fill out all the necessary paperwork. The ride was 40 minutes on a good day. I knew ahead of time that the tollway was under construction, so I took a short cut. Unfortunately, the short cut took twice as long.

An hour and a half after leaving the house, we pulled up to the hospital. It was under construction, and signage was so confusing that I swear--and this is no lie--that at one intersection, the arrows to the entrance we were looking for pointed in opposite directions.

This wouldn't have been an issue if we weren't running so late. By the time we pulled up to the Women's and Children's Pavilion entrance, we had less than five minutes to unload the service dog and our gear, and find the clinic so we'd be on time for the actual appointment.

Locking my keys in the car in my rush to unload E and Jewel was the piece de resistance. I stared at the keys with disbelief.

The doctor's office policy clearly states that anyone later than 15 minutes must reschedule his or her appointment. I've wasted enough time waiting for doctors that I truly appreciate a policy like this one. Unfortunately, here I was, needing to hear if my fears about my daughter were true. And I was about to be turned away and forced to wait another six weeks for a new patient appointment to open up.

The valet took pity on me. Rather than making me wait for hospital security to arrive and attempt to unlock the car, he let me leave it in the unloading zone, and promised to call me on my cell if they ran into problems freeing my keys.

Hospital security worked its magic and moved the car without disrupting our appointment. The physician, like the majority of Children's Hospital specialists we've worked with, was knowledgable, thorough, and willing to spend the time needed to educate me, and calm me down. Yes, he confirmed Dr. D's fear, and mine. E's behavior is consistent with seizures. Further testing must be done before a definite diagnosis can be made, and treatment can be as simple as tweaking her existing medication.

Long story short, by the time we got home yesterday, I had little time or energy left for writing. But I don't consider the day a bust.

Thanks to our journey there and back again, my muse has plenty of fodder to work with for future stories, and I came away with a plan for E, one we hope will provide workable answers and a path forward in the near future.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

It's Away!

Woohoo! I did it. I finished my short story for Cup of Comfort on time. Pressed send at 10:53 p.m. yesterday. Now it's the waiting game.