Sunday, December 31, 2017

A Review of Milk and Cookies by Tina Casaceli

Just so we are clear, most of my memorized cookie recipes have three ingredients (peanut butter, sugar, egg). Before I had three kids, I could make a more detailed version of chocolate chip cookies in large batches from my husband's recipe. 

I'm lucky now to remember where I put the bag of chocolate chips. 

Baking requires precision. It just does. And it kind of burns to pay that much attention to small details at this point in my life for cooking. So, when I tell you that a cookbook doesn't suck, you should listen. 

Milk and Cookies, named after the amazing New York cookie shop, was still an okay read for me. It was written by the pastry chef, Tina Casaceli, who owns and operates Milk and Cookies, and it contains basic mixture recipes as well those that build upon those flavors. It has her family recipes in it as well. For people really looking to level up their baking skills, this would be an excellent thing to have around. 

When I saw that the basic vanilla cookie base included me using a food processor on my oatmeal, I was kind of out. I don't have a stand mixer, I have never owned a food processor, and anything I can't mix or knead by hand needs to get out of my life. 

But the book did include some easier recipes for the baking-challenged like myself, like oatmeal cookies (with whole oatmeal in it) and some really nice brownie recipes which are simple enough to look like fun to mix. 

Overall, this is a fun book. It's meant to be a fun book, even for those of us who would probably accidentally light most of these recipes on fire; and with a good mixture of difficulty ranges, it can be a good fit for most readers. The photography is lovely and playful, too, which fits with the mood of the cookbook. I'd recommend this first for the elevated baker, but everyone can find something that works for them in Milk and Cookies.  

Credit to the photographer for the background of my illustration, check them out
on Unsplash unsplash-logoToa Heftiba

Friday, December 29, 2017

Pint-sized Scary: A Review of Little Nightmares and Half-Minute Horrors.

I was really happy that my son asked Santa for Little Nightmares, a new imaginative horror game that's catching fire with kids and adults alike. 

He loves the game and the expansion pack, and honestly so do I. When he plays new scenes, everyone in the house kind of gathers around the computer to watch because the art and the vaguely placed storyline here are intense and amazing. 

The gameplay isn't overly tricky for kids, the puzzles are mostly a matter of timing (so make sure you have a good PC game controller if you get the computer version because some of it felt impossible with a keyboard). 

Like my other favorite horror games (Fatal Frame, Clocktower), you don't really get to fight back much (and when you do, you had better make it count). You're weak here, starving, mostly alone, and tiny. And everything stronger than you wants you dead. 

Credit to the photographer for the background on my fan art
unsplash-logoPatrick Tomasso

The heroine (and hero in the expansion) don't have backstories, their faces are mostly hidden because the only thing you need to know is that they are children in this monstrous place. 

And I mean monstrous. 

The creatures are inventive, not gory in my opinion, but creatively grotesque; A janitor with long arms whose face is falling away like a bandage, and gooey fat chefs and their patrons dripping with gross as they grab for you whenever you're spotted, and a beautiful ghost-faced woman who seems to oversee it all. My son was able to handle the creatures and storyline and really enjoyed it, so if you have a bigger kid who loves colorful scares (Last Kids on Earth, Bendy and the Ink Machine, Goosebumps) then this might be a good find, but as with everything at this age, play it with them and talk about it first. 

If you're looking for a book for middle-schoolers with the same level of scares, I recently checked out "Half-Minute Horrors" by Susan Rich. 

It's a collection of super short horror tales (and some illustrations, photographs or comic panels) with this age-group in mind. And yeah, I read it, too. This one my oldest daughter really enjoyed, and it has some of our favorite authors like R.L. Stine and Lemony Snicket in the collection. Some pieces fall short, but it's worth it for the more creative yarns to read through the entire volume. And, as the cover states, it won't take you long. 

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Free Holiday Short Story- "The Noise Underground Will Drown It".

Sharing free stories and my illustrations was something that started with Gaiman's idea for All Hallow's Read, and now I'm going to move it to Christmas, too. It's a grand holiday. And it was a writer, Dickens, who changed how we celebrated it forever. 

So, here is my holiday short story involving milk, blood, vampires, snow, and the voice we have that tells us to fight back and survive. 

Happy holidays and merry everything to you, and those you love. 

The Noise Underground Will Drown It

There was a mechanical whirring, a rough sound of the ancient gears of the mixer that could be heard close to the feeding station.
            It didn’t have to be that loud. Thamer had once observed in the chamber that the noise was suddenly subdued because an attendant had a headache in the next room.
            The machine was loud because it could drown out thoughts. Nothing existed in the feeding room except the impressively shiny medical table, bought from the humans in the medical district, and the machine designed to mix blood with nutritional gruel.
            Thamer’s ears hurt as she was escorted into the chamber, she was strapped by every limb into place by a vampire. The full-blood was a wide and toad-faced thing, pale-skinned like all whose familial lines prevented being in the sun for long. A cousin long distant, maybe? It didn’t matter.
Some hybrids knew their families, but Thamer was with the majority who did not, the majority whose blood proved insidiously nutritious. Full-bloods needed to interact with the humans on the surface, and that meant they could not be used as a food source according to the treaties, but the spawn of full-flooded vampires and humans had all the vitamins and qualities lacking in the vampiric bodies. When mixed well with ground oat flour and milk, it was a complete food.
The toad-faced thing had shining round crystalline blue eyes that placed in any other living thing would be lovely. In the head of a vampire, they looked nothing but menacing to Thamer.
 Thamer appeared mostly human except for a slightly gray tint to her skin and fully black eyes with no discernible pupils, as was common for Hybrid mixes. The color of the eyes and skin were thought to aid in surviving the sunlight, but immunity to it varied among those with human ancestors.
The vampire tied a cloth band around her arm to bulge the vein, but it was a human physician who would breathe it. It had been arranged that they would train the vampires the proper way to get enough blood without killing a hybrid. The blood was drained into a porcelain vat, then down to an ice block first, then guided to the large chamber where the gruel was constantly mixed with the lifeblood of Thamer’s kind.
It was almost a relief when the human appeared and opened his large black case in search of a golden tool with a knife tip. Finally, the knife, wiped down with an ointment, went in and began to draw out the blood. In seconds Thamer could hear, and almost feel, the patter of it against the ice. Even over the machine, it was a clear noise. That was the sound that made the whole room shake, not the mechanical ridiculous machine that was made ridiculous to prove a point, but the splattering of red life against the cold. The toad-faced vampire left the room. The human physician, a small balding man with apologetic large brown eyes continued his work, making two more incisions and holding her arm even though it was strapped down.
There was pain. There was always pain. The cuts stung, but it was nothing to the deep pain of large blood loss. And the dizziness would set in soon, naught to disappear for days even with regular food and water. And then the list would arrive again to Thamer’s name to offer blood once more. It was safer now with the human physicians.
A shiver ran through her. A shiver that allowed her to move her arm more than it ever had been able to during the process.
“I can’t do this anymore,” Thamer whispered.
“Hardly can I,” the human said. He slightly loosened the bond on her arm. He left the room after instructing her loudly to not move or struggle while the rest of the blood drained.
The idea of moving, of fighting back at all, was excitement. It was anger, but it was happy to even entertain it.
Thamer moved her arm upward a little and began to break the buckle on her strap.
It hurt more than lying still would. And the toad-faced creature would be in here to wonder why the blood supply had stopped at any second.
But this was it. This was over. One way or a million ways, death or freedom or punishment or nothing at all, this was over.
            The chamber door opened, and vampire stared at Thamer angrily. Thamer stared back into that face, the face of privileges long denied to her world and kept the gaze as the thing moved over to her.
“They won’t let you live if you don’t contribute. Women like you won’t be able to do anything else, you can’t even comprehend what a kindness this is,” Toad-face said and moved to fully unbuckle the strap on the bleeding arm now that the draining was over, and wordlessly Thamer brought it to the vampire’s face.
With both free limbs the vampire could not pull off the death grip of Thamer’s fingers and nails digging into that fragile skin. The vampire was screaming but the machine was louder. Still, others would be coming to see why the blood was not flowing from a new body. Thamer skimmed her nails down to the vampire’s round eyes and tried to pull them out.
She dislodged only one, but the toad-faced vampire still fell back. Thamer couldn’t move fast enough, it was like being underwater and out of breath as she unbuckled her other hand, then her feet, and her now bloody and shrieking vampire was running toward the chamber door, opening it.
No, that couldn’t happen. Thamer pulled her backward by a wad of short black hair and threw her toward the medical table. The vampire reached out with both hands covered in her own precious blood. These creatures were strong, and Thamer had to keep out of her reach or risk having a limb pulled off, or her skull opened up.
There wasn’t anything in the feeding station chamber room to defend herself with. The human had taken his blood-letting tools.
It was just the two of them.
And winning didn’t seem possible.
The vampire got her slick hands around Thamer’s neck, and they were seconds away from popping it closed, mashing her throat into nothing. Thamer threw her weight back and hit the floor, unrelenting, the vampire didn’t even move to change her grip.
The world was blacking out and the agony spiraled through her body from the points in her throat being crushed to death.
Thamer struggled against the vampire’s arms, and in those disconnected seconds saw the glint on the grimy floor. The discarded knife tip. He’d left it here, still wet with her own blood. And she could just reach it.
Thamer stabbed the vampire in the cheek with the knife edge twice before the death grip was released and then moved the creature’s face over the porcelain vat that was stained deep red and bashed the thing’s head over it until there was no resistance.
Toad-face was still breathing. And Thamer was suddenly thankful for that. Whatever else happened, she didn’t want to kill any of them. Not really. 
Hybrids were not hardy like their full-blooded relatives, and the injuries the vampire sustained would be healed with care and blood mixture, but Thamer knew the damage done in this fight might cripple her for life. But nothing had ever felt better. Nothing.
Thamer quietly exited the feeding chamber, a place of nightmares since she was barely able to toddle into it. She left the full-blood to bleed out her wounds into the food mixer as it ran out and around the ice block. It would halt any suspicion that the machine wasn’t working, and any vampires eating it would soon be very, very sick.
They couldn’t eat their own kind.
Thamer climbed the ladder to the surface, to the human town above them all. She was covered in blood and dressed in nothing but the dripping tan medical gown. She would probably be killed or captured and returned to the full-bloods. The humans had no desire to end up as food supply and would gladly return a hybrid to the underground city.
It was suddenly cold as she moved into the night air. Cold and snowing. Like magic, it was floating around in the light of still burning lamp posts like little white bugs. Thamer’s breath was coming out in wisps of smoke.
She’d read about snow. Once they’d been able to look up and watch it fall into their homeland.
There was sky here, Thamer imagined it like a window to a God. The people living here under such scrutiny of the skies must surely behave better than where she came from, where ground level hid everything.
There was a terrible noise on the street, and she noticed several Growler carriages running her way on the muscles of giant horses. Thamer made herself as small as possible in a building’s dark corner and hoped that would be enough.
She hadn’t anticipated that the streets would be full of people. They were well and warmly dressed and a few women were carrying platters, and Thamer could smell the food; turkey mostly, some bread, some soft cheeses. There was a group singing near a tower that seemed lit with a thousand candles. She sunk to the ground. There was no choice but to stay there, stay hidden, and hope not to freeze in the snow. Too many people. Too many obstacles. Always too many obstacles. 
Thamer hugged her knees and rested her head on them. She began to fall asleep even as thoughts of angry vampires crawling through the snow to pull her in pieces back to the underground made her want to stay conscious.
“You can’t really walk around in a suit of gore on Christmas. That’s not in the spirit of tradition,” A man’s light and whispered voice woke her. Thamer’s heart painfully raced. Her brain tried to make sense of it as a gentleman handed her a handkerchief, and he smelled like a hybrid. He looked completely as a person, though. With dark blue eyes the way humans sometimes have them, and long, straight brown hair. “I don’t have a huge roasting bird, but we do have food. I can only guess you haven’t had that in some time.”
“How can you be like them and like me?” Thamer said, she handed him back his dainty piece of cloth. He took it, and sighed, then made a motion to wipe her face. Thamer pushed his hand away.
“I’m going to give you my overcoat, and if you clean the blood off of your face, and if you keep your head down, we can make it to my carriage. My driver won’t ask questions but any other human that gets a good look at you is going to have many.” He said.
Thamer only nodded. She wasn’t sure how long the streets would be crowded, and if she could last that long and not freeze to death. She melted snow in her fingers and scrubbed at the blood, now mostly brown, on her face. The man put the dirty handkerchief in his pants pocket, cringing. “They do smell awful, don’t they? And bleed like farm animals on their diet of lifeblood.” He whispered as he placed his long overcoat around her. Thamer slid her arms into the sleeves and they walked quickly, she could not really see where they were going. Unable to look up or around, she simply crawled into an open carriage door and could only breathe when it began to move forward.
“I didn’t kill one if that’s what you think. Nearly, but not quite. I escaped when they brought in a physician to breathe a vein and he left me barely tied down, I’m not a murderer.”
“Well, how disappointing,” the man said.
            “You hate them?”
            “If you’ve ever met a hybrid that didn’t, they were lying. Or being bribed with something incredible.”
            “Why do you look like a person?” Thamer asked.
            “Luck. It happens every so often. My vampire ancestor is not my parent, but my grandfather. I’d of been placed there, in the same feeding trough, had my mother not sent me away. I look human, and humans can’t smell what we can. I did tell the truth about my heritage only on one more occasion than this one,” he sighed, “The humans want the vampires dead and gone, maybe more so than us. My company works to that end. I’ve made my fortune as a murderer of vampires. I’d have it no other way.”
The carriage pulled to a stop. Thamer again kept her head down and walked into an open door blindly on the arm of the stranger and only exhaled once the outside world was shut out. His home was immaculate and tall, with a wooden staircase coiled like a snake in motion, and a warm fireplace. Thamer moved beside it and held out her hands as if to greet it.
“I’ll have them bring the game hen out, it’s not turkey, but I wasn’t anticipating feeding anyone else this late. Coffee, too. And one of the cheeses, please,” the man said to an older gentleman who frightened Thamer until she saw that he was unphased by her presence.
“My attendants are human, but they know what we do,” He said.
“They know what you do. Nobody here knows me,” Thamer said.
“That’s true.”
“They called me Thamer,” she said.
“Do you want to keep that name?”
"I'm Sir Courtenay Sela. You may call me Court, or Sir," he said.
“You should know that I poisoned the batch in the feeding machine, Sir. I let the vampire bleed onto the ice and into the mixer in my place.”
“They’ll be looking for you, then,” Courtenay said, “That is something we haven’t been able to do yet, contaminate the food supply. I’d feared they’d blame the hybrids, or the poor human souls forced to work for them. If they have someone to pin the blame on that they don’t have custody of, though, that would save some lives."  The older gentleman sat a plate of food on the small table near the fireplace. Thamer immediately rose to eat. Hybrids were fed, fed well just before and after being bleed, but the times in between were often hungry ones.
“You may eat all you like here. Ask one of my attendants when you want a warm bath drawn. You may go outside but I ask that you wear a dress, overcoat and a bonnet. Be careful to hide the black of your eyes with your hair, which my attendants will be happy to assist you with. Rest, now. And if you want to do what we do, let me know when you’re ready," Courtenay said, he turned to the stairs and began to climb them. She hadn't noticed how tired he looked before, and there was a limp to his step. 
In the back of her head, Thamer could still hear the machine. The blood machine. The food machine. The mechanical noise that made thoughts hard to sustain for more than a moment. Right now, they’d be already onto a new hybrid, a new plate of food, a life encased in servitude to be feasted on.
“I’m not a murderer. I am a fighter. I’ll help you. I’ll help anyone who wants this stopped. Even if it means they get rid of us, too. I’ll help.” Thamer looked around at the garlands of Evergreen on cases of books and the living tree, though small and leaning, in the grand room. Everything here was alive-was beautiful. There was but one great window of the house, and outside the little pieces of snow were frantically dancing around each other.
            “You know, I have only brief memories of the underground. Little flashes because I was a tot when I was sent away. But those flashes are dark, grim. Slimy darkness, and this noise," Courtenay trailed off. 
            “Always the noise. It’s not painful until you are in the room with the mixer, but I can barely remember not hearing it,” Thamer said. “This, though, this place is beautiful.”
“It is,” Courtenay said. “It very much is.” 

*Go check out the photographer who provided the background texture for my illustration on Unsplash@ unsplash-logoKatie Doherty

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Note To Self: This is Not A Tragedy

If I could ask one single thing, if I could have one wish out of life, I think it would really be that my story is not a tragic one. That it was not something you heard and go "well, how horribly sad." 

It doesn't mean things have to go right all the time.

But, pff, wouldn't that be nice...

But just that it winds up an uplifting story, that would be enough. 

A lot of the pulmonary hypertension stories I get to see about women who are my age are literally testimonies of bravery. And in most of them, I see them surrounded by family. They darn well should be, and everyone deserves to be, but particularly in that situation. 

I don't have the primary PH form they initially thought, just a lesser crud that should improve with access to a breathing machine overnight, as it has a relationship with sleep apnea. It's not a good thing to have, and I've lost some lung power and gained some crossed heart wires, but all in all, it's a walk in the park, especially in comparison. 

I'm grateful for that. Very grateful. That turned a monster who was about to eat my life alive into some kind of poisonous snake I have to just go out of my way not to step on. It's a totally different situation. A far easier one than the people whose stories have inspired me, and the PH community who helped me and answered my questions with a new diagnosis.

And yet, I'm still admittedly kind of jealous of the people whose parents hug them before surgeries. 

Of the people who have parents who celebrate their accomplishments. 

Of the people who know in their life adventures that a safety net exists. 

For those of us who had an addicted parent, an abusive one, a mentally ill one, or the winning combo of all three, it's this weird reminder to be sick and to have all of those people who were supposed to love us just be absent or actively abusive (or absent because their default is actively abusive). 

It still hurts. You'll really have a lot of moments of wondering why you weren't good enough. 

I won't ever forget the kindness people who weren't obligated by familial ties showed me or my family. 

The friend who tried to show up at my house to be with my children before what was supposed to be a 5AM surgery, the one who celebrated with me when the more dangerous diagnosis was officially kicked in the butt. 

But it's a not a switch that gets flipped, it's more of a journey, the coming to terms with the loss of something you didn't really have. Being that sick made me really frightened that my husband and children wouldn't have everything they needed when I got worse or passed away because neither he or I grew up in functional homes (which might explain why we were so close in college when we met-there was attraction, shared interests and views, but there was also the fact that both of us were survivors in different ways). 

The people who showed up, who loved us by choice, did help that. They may never know how much they helped, even if I told them every day. 

But I sometimes have moments where I look back on my family history and think, well, how horribly sad. 

But their stories won't change as long as they don't.

Mine, though, is still evolving.
And, hopefully, it will be one that people can hear and think that it's motivating, positive in one way or another. That would be enough. 

I've recently tried to reframe the "why did this happen to me" with the "what led me here, and what can I do with that?" Days where your heart feels a little punched in the face, it does help. 

Stoicism also helps, and reading daily meditations about that helps to shake off the residual funk. (People get a little put off when you mention Stoicism, but just trust me- it's not the weird, cold, unfeeling thing modern culture kind of painted it as; think of it as a way to deal and handle the bad stuff that happens, not one that will make you impenetrable to it).

There is also a great website here about modern stoicism, and the author of the blog also has a book about just that subject if you feel like this philosophy has anything to offer you. 

I have to keep in mind that some days are just going to hurt a little bit and that's fine. I have to keep in mind that I'm trying to be all the things that weren't in my young life to my children. I have to keep in mind that it's possible to keep moving on, and this is not going to be a tragedy. 

Sunday, December 10, 2017

A Review of "Show Your Work: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered" by Austin Kleon

That guy who wrote about stealing ideas like an artist has another book about connecting with people through what you do. "Show Your Work" by Austin Kleon is a short and easy book to get through, and I kind of think of it like a sticky note all of us probably need to go back and read even if this stuff sounds like common sense. 

And most of it probably is common sense coupled with some modern tips. 

That said, some pages gave me a lot to think about. To connect with people requires both that you showcase (honestly) your stuff and then go out and support other people. That second part often trips me up. I'm just as shy in the digital world, I promise. 

And sometimes life with a family is so busy that I can't even get my work done, let alone uploaded and then start working to support other people. That just has more to do with the particular season of my life as a mother of small kids with an illness than it does with anything else, but it's a hurdle I have to be aware of if I intend to make it over it. 

And that's what this little book is about, just awareness of what you need to do to make a name for yourself. 

This book isn't just for artists or writers or photographers. I'm looking into getting a copy for a friend of mine who runs her own business because this advice applies to anyone who needs to be conscious of getting client attention or noticed for their work. 

Show your stuff. Show what you do that you love, show the intricate details from behind the scenes, show other people's stuff who need support (WITH APPROPRIATE CREDIT) and show your story. And use books like this as sticky notes to remind you about doing that. 

This is worth a read for literally anyone trying to make a living doing what they are passionate about. 

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Some Serious Praise for Channel Zero

I hadn't heard a word from anyone about  SyFy's Channel Zero when it aired, and had I not come across a review of it recently, would not have known it existed. 

That kind of embarrasses me, because while being as much of a tech introvert as I am a daily life introvert kind of interrupts keeping a pulse on horror news, I feel like I should have known about this to cheer it on from day one. 

But I'm glad I found it, so there is that. 

If you're searching around for things to watch after binge-watching Stranger Things 2, and you don't mind things getting weirder and insanely darker, you will probably find Channel Zero a really great fit. 

The acting struck me as wonderful. The first season centers around child psychologist, and he's portrayed just as soft-spoken and evened-out as you would expect him to be even in the deadly situations he keeps finding himself in. The second season starts out in a typical teen horror movie theme and runs it right the hell out of there on wheels of fire with interesting portraits of who the teenagers are as friends and people. All this is set against scary backdrops, creatures, and goings on that never ring as trite and are sometimes eerily poetic. It has good reviews, but I get the feeling this series is underrated for everything it accomplishes. The story lines are based on some of the best Creepypastas. 

Watching them as a fan of the genre, you can't help but think that this is the kind of beauty possible only in dark storytelling. And that is amazing.  

There are two full seasons as of right now, and should be a third in 2018. You can find "Candle Cove" of season 1 and "No-End House" of season 2 on Amazon Prime currently if you feel this calling to you. 

A Review of "Fliers" by Nathaniel Russel

You know what the best part of walking around modern art museums is? Those moments where you find something both deep and downright damn hilarious. It doesn't happen often, but when it does, it is the best. 

Art can and is supposed to do a lot of things. The part of it that can crack you up is special, even more so in this day and age.

That's what this book is, that is all this book is. 

A series of posters that feel for all the world like part of a visual art museum. A hilarious part. My husband and I loved it, and our older kids begged to take some of the posters for themselves. Needless to say, this is a good gift idea. And my copy (no, I didn't let the kids take any pages out) is going to a friend with a lovely and strange sense of humor. 

If you need a break from the world, smiles at the absurd, or just some clever stuff to hang around your house, then "Fliers" is perfect. 

**I received this book from Blogging For Books for this review**

Friday, December 8, 2017

The Snowy Day

Or evening, actually. 

Snow didn't hit until pretty late and, knowing it would melt before noon, I and many parents around Houston woke our kids up early to play in the snow before school. My son's teachers were able to take their students outside before the big melt, but my oldest would have missed it save for the beautiful, cold drive to her class. Our youngest had never, ever seen snow. None of them could believe waking up to everything wrapped up in a sparkling white blanket. 

The last few years it snowed, 2008 and 2009, were when my middle child was born and around his 1st birthday (we recently celebrated his 9th with a Christmas themed-outing). He was extra excited it came back around after all these years without it. 

We're snow-spazzes around here, but most of our winter holidays are spent with us gazing longingly at portraits of traditional winter places and wishing we had a few days of that here (not all the time, as we do enjoy shoveling all that sunshine out of our driveways, but as a seasonal beauty-snow is amazing). 

It was a strange thing seeing layers of snow on our palm tree-lined streets, but we're so grateful. 

And on a surprise snowy day, there isn't a better book than Jack Ezra Keats "The Snowy Day". Like snow, it just feels like magic. 

We also watched Amazon Prime's animated adaption of it, which is just beautiful, and a sweet Christmas show to make a family tradition. (We all watched it last year, too, but it was followed by the kids asking if it will ever snow here. This year, it was definitely something special). 

2017 has been one for the memory books. 

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

"The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger" or How I Found A Stephen King Book I Liked.

I'm not a huge Stephen King fan. There, I said it. 

I know, it's weird to be involved in the horror genre and not worship him. 

And while I didn't like many of his books, it doesn't change the fact that he did so much for writing and horror that he deserves his rightful place as a master of both. And his life story is, like most of the masters of anything, uplifting for a lot of us. 

My dad talks about reading IT in nearly one sitting. If you knew my dad and how little he reads horror books, you'd know that was really something. 

For some reason, with any of the stories I tried, I felt that the characters weren't what I personally needed or liked. They weren't sympathetic for me. 

It doesn't mean there was anything wrong with them, but I've noticed something; having the privilege of being friends with some other horror writers- we all have this favorite bubble of brand of scary. Mine is more mythic. A place where terrible, horrible things happen but there are heroes, real heroes, as reminders that things must somehow be set right again. 

My husband rented The Dark Tower film for me, and while the movie does fall short of what it should stand as, the ideas of it were intriguing. And, I thought, hey, this right here sounds like a mythic horror. That's my home. I need to give that a try. So I hunted down the first book in the series, The Gunslinger. 

I had the chance to read it on my second overnight hospital stay for sleep observation with a face-hugger oxygen mask strapped to my head. I finished it in that evening. Not as impressive as my dad's binge-read, but seeing as how I wasn't sure anything King wrote was ever going to speak to me, this was nice. 

Roland is a more fallible kind of anti-hero than some of my favorites (like D) but still a mythic archetypal hero. The bad guy, the man in black, fits in that theme, too. But, around that skeleton, there are so many fleshed out characters and stories and creatures and scenery that I found myself really enjoying the novel. 

The language in it is beautiful. Even the gory parts of it. Or especially the gory parts, which will stick in your head long after you don't want them there anymore (like brains and blood shooting out like streamers...). It was a comfortable and imaginative read on a long night for me. 

So, yeah, I guess I'm kind of a King fan now. I'll definitely be looking at getting the other books in the Dark Tower series.

If you haven't seen the movie and have heard bad things about it, watch it anyway. If nothing else, Elba and McConaughey carry it really well and their scenes together are worth seeing. 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

My Journey with Sleep Apnea Related Pulmonary Hypertension

I've always been a medical weirdo. 

Allergic to my own body, always heavy,  sinus tachycardia, with a left kidney that forgot it was a kidney, I was still relatively okay or could pretend that I was. 

But nearly four years ago, my heart jumpstarted itself to over 200bpm. 

I was heavily pregnant with my rainbow baby and alone in my house with just my preschool-aged son. 

I can still vividly remember that feeling-that I was going to lose this child, too, that I was going to die in the house and leave my preschooler without a way to get help, that this. was. it. 

I grabbed my son, I grabbed the phone, and I ran outside to my neighbor while I called for help. Having had more episodes like that and knowing how debilitating they can be, I look back on that like a real act of strength and determination, but it wasn't enough. 

My body continued to deteriorate throughout pregnancy, and I stopped breathing during labor and so did my baby, who was born at 35 weeks with only a nurse attending the lightning-fast delivery, and the cord was around my newborn's neck. She was born sick and with torticollis and severe reflux and needed all the help we could get her; including a physical therapist and occupational therapist. And my body was on a slow descent, too. 

I kept trying to ignore it. That had worked with my other medical problems which eventually seemed to take care of themselves. 

I went back to university while taking care of my family and new, sick baby. And on the weekend I had finally graduated, had the biggest tachycardia episode since my dangerous pregnancy. 

A beta blocker for irregular rhythm helped and I thought that was all I needed, but the episodes kept coming and my cardiologist just shrugged it off. I switched MDs after my friend told me about a local cardiologist that specialized in arrhythmias and after rounds of testing that I needed, we found it.

High lung pressure. 

When I heard that it wasn't my heart, I thought that was great news. "No, actually, this is very bad," My doctor said, his normally smiling face was somber. I'd never even heard of pulmonary hypertension. I didn't know it was a thing, or that it had a relationship to the tachycardia episodes I'd been plagued with. 

We hoped it was sleep-related, and the signs seemed to fit. Sleep apnea-related pulmonary hypertension is the easiest form to deal with, but my test came back negative.

My local care providers wanted to do a heart catheter to measure the pressure in my lungs seen on echocardiograms, but after a failed attempt at surgery, I transferred to my PH center of excellence in my city.

It was harder to get to, required my dad's and my husband's help to even get to appointments, and took forever thanks to the devastating flood, but there I was told that this was not the worst, angriest, form of PH they thought it was. It had to be sleep-related, having ruled out blood-clot related forms. And the damage was mild to my lungs.  

The alarm never went off for my lack of breathing during my next test, but it did record what happened.

A type of sleep breathing disorder was found in my second overnight sleep apnea test. 

I can't even describe how thankful I am about that, which sounds stupid but finally knowing that we have a definitive diagnosis that is treatable is a victory beyond belief for me. 

I've gone from being told I would be dead in 1.8 years to having a chance to live without being overly plagued by episodes in which my heart cannot beat correctly and I can not breathe. It's still a little scary. This has been going on for a long, long time. I wonder what it has taken from me and what I will get back with the right treatment. With SVT I guess I won't be off of my beta blocker anytime in the near future, but I have heard people say treating this helps everything, so maybe at least it will improve.

The CPAP machine won't be enough, as diet and exercise play a role, too. I can't wait to be able to actually move around more, I do okay right now but there is a huge difference in what I can do versus who I was athletically before this started. 

This is the finish line in a long, hard race in which I was only one step ahead of a monster. 

I can't wait for it to be over with and to start a new chapter. 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

A Review of "The Fringe Hours" by Jessica N. Turner

As a busy mother, you've probably done that thing-that thing where when you have five minutes to yourself and you wonder what the hell you could possibly do in only a few minutes other than mindlessly scrolling social media.

Well, don't do that. 

In addition to the fact that science says that makes us feel unhappy, if you use it for something for yourself, you will feel better. This book deals with just that subject; carving out time for you. 

I needed this book. I think a great number of women might need it, too. The truth is that we have to take care of ourselves. Nobody is going to swoop down from the sky and make that easier, it has to be a decision. We sort of know that, it just feels impossible. Things pile up and we are the fire fueling the working machines of the people we care about. 

And maybe all you can get throughout the day are just a few minutes here, maybe an hour there (That's true for me right now). This book talks about the ways in which you can use that to improve your mental and physical and emotional well-being, sometimes just by sitting in the quiet.

Your time matters because you matter. 

And if you're struggling with that right now, just give this a glance to see if it might help. 

The chapters are concise, easy to get through, ending with questions you need to ask yourself about your priorities and your own life. 

It includes only one chapter about how financial obstacles and other mighty will-power smashing things make all of this stuff harder, and that's a shame, but at least it talks about it. There's probably a whole book just in that subject that someone needs to tackle, but it's mentioned. It's also religious and very Christian. If that's not your thing or not your faith, you can still easily use everything else in this book or substitute what you need to to make this make sense for you. 

I highly recommend "The Fringe Hours". 

***If you're looking for something new to read, go check out my story "We Fly With The Red Feather" in the November issue of Double The Books magazine right here-because everyone loves uplifting tales about demonic man-eating spiders...

Monday, November 27, 2017

Spend The Rest of November With These Books...

November is National Native American Heritage Month, and that's an important thing to remember and talk about in the season of turkey-eating, harvest festivals, and Christmas shopping. These are my current two favorite books on the subject.

The first is "In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse" by Joseph Marshall III. We are reading this aloud with my middle son, and while it's great enough for an adult, this is just the right amount of action and complexity for my nearly-nine-year-old to love it. It chronicles a young Lakota boy named Jimmy learning of Tasunke Witko, or Crazy Horse, and in delving into the heroic story he learns more about who he is. That's a pretty great lesson. This is an easy but very moving read. Perfect to end November on or a great gift idea for the coming month, especially for kiddos learning about Native heritage.

The second book is just for adults. Not just adults, but historically-oriented adults.

 "The Apache Wars" by Paul Andrew Hutton reads a little bit like a textbook in the early chapters before things get going, but once they do, it's a detailed and human account of Native tribes and the war for the West. Some of it, of course, is bloody and heartbreaking, though mostly told in a matter-of-fact voice, so this is solely adult territory for reading. But the attention paid to every event makes this perfect for anyone fascinated by the history of our country. I learned things never talked about in any college history course, and the old photography pages are a great touch. This is a well-written, wonderfully put-together book. 

*I received this book from Blogging For Books for this review*

Enjoy the rest of Autumn,  because Winter and twinkling lights and biting cold are fast approaching- even for us in Texas.