March 20, 2015
by Kate
12 Comments

holding steady

* Disclaimer: This post is full of health-related over-sharing. Proceed at your own risk.

Though I took a small break for Zoë’s birthday festivities, it feels as though once again most of my time is dedicated to navigating my health issues. Last week I had a double colonoscopy/upper endoscopy, which was, um, lots of fun. Really, the actual procedures weren’t bad. (I was happily sedated.) But the prep—my God, people. Not to mention that I was teaching the night before, which involved a half-hour drive to and from a church in Edina. That I didn’t have a messy accident on the way there or back is a minor miracle. Luckily, the class was with a group of understanding and laid-back women who didn’t seem fazed by my frequent disappearances.

The tests showed that I have some “baby” ulcers in my duodenum. (On hearing this, a friend of mine told me that she thought “duodenum” was the most beautiful word she’d ever heard; i.e. “Vittorio liked to serenade the young American señoritas with a duodenum from his home country.”) She thought it would sound like this.

I love that—LOVE it—despite the fact it doesn’t actually make my baby duodenal ulcers any sexier.

Anyway, I’m on omeprazole for eight weeks to try to heal those tiny suckers, but I still have something going on with my gallbladder, so I’m still plying myself with tinctures and herbal supplements and doing my twice-weekly acupuncture. The pain persists on and off throughout the day, and it doesn’t seem to correspond to certain foods or drinks (though the gallbladder triggers, if I “accidentally” eat any, definitely make it worse).

The good news is that my mental state seems much improved. (If you can’t tell from this post, well, read the earlier ones and imagine me writing those with a grimace. Today I’m actually smiling. Really.) I know I’ll find some answers and recover eventually, even if that involves more food testing and giving up more of things I love (which I’m hoping won’t be the case).

But what I need now is a break. A real break. A no-email, no-work, no-computer break. Which I’m taking, starting tomorrow. So I will be quiet here for the next two weeks, but then I’ll be back, hopefully miraculously transformed, dancing to the serenade of a dozen duodenums.

When I’m back, I look forward to doing a book giveaway of Silent Running, which is now shipping from Amazon and has been getting lovely responses from readers. And I’ll also be reporting from AWP, which will be here in Minneapolis for the first time ever. Until then, I hope spring appears at your doorstep.

Oh, and I still have a couple of spots open in both my online Motherhood & Words class that begins April 15th and my spring retreat, May 14th – 17th. Let me know if you’re interested. (Though I won’t respond for two weeks. Just know I’m not intentionally ignoring you if you don’t hear back from me right away.)

March 5, 2015
by Kate
6 Comments

seven!

I will spare you a medical update this week to instead write about my sweet Zoë, who is seven years old today.

Last night she snuggled into my lap on the couch and said, “Can you believe I’ve been alive for seven years?”

“Only seven years!” I said. “I can’t imagine a time you weren’t here. It seems like you’ve always been a part of our lives.” I leaned down and kissed the top of her head, and she tilted her face up, smiling that smile, clearly pleased.

Zoë has been counting down the days until her birthday for over a month, and in last week she’s been holding court at the dinner table: “Raise your hand if you’re excited about Zoë’s birthday.” (All of our hands go up. She smiles deliciously.) “Raise your hand if you love Zoë.” (All of our hands go up. More satisfied smiles.) “Raise your hand if you already got me a present.” (Some of our hands go up. She furrows her brow.) “Okay, raise your hand if you are going to get me a present.” (All of our hands go up again, and she giggles, full of glee.)

I remember when I was pregnant and Donny and I were trying to decide on a name for the baby kicking and spinning in my tummy. We couldn’t agree on anything, not until we landed on Zoë. And I’m so glad it’s the one we did land on because there couldn’t be a more perfect name for my daughter who, in all her spunk and sass and silliness and tenderness, seems to embody life itself.

So I’m happy to put my health stuff on the back burner for a couple of days to celebrate my daughter with cupcakes and dinner out, then a weekend full of balloons and cakes and gatherings of friends and family. I’m so grateful for her smiling face and gleeful spirit. Happy birthday, sweet Zoë!

February 25, 2015
by Kate
24 Comments

update

Well, I’m holding steady. The good news is that I met with a wonderful gastroenterologist on Friday and he did not recommend surgery. He said that in cases like mine, gallbladder removal only improves symptoms in *one third* of patients. One third has the same symptoms after surgery and one third gets worse. Hell no. I’ll keep the thing, at least for now.

The pain is slightly improved this week, but I’m still uncomfortable and still bloated. I’m taking my herbal tincture (which tastes like the floor of a hospital) and enzymes and going to acupuncture and going to sleep super early, and trying to keep things moving through me. But overall, it’s a drag. I’m a drag. Oh I know I should be positive and grateful that it isn’t anything more serious—things could always be worse—but I’m sick of feeling like this. A few of you have commented that I seem to be dealing with it so gracefully, but really I’m not. I want to feel like myself again and eat peanut butter on gluten free toast. (It’s gluten-free, for heaven’s sake.) And some chocolate. And maybe an egg salad sandwich. (We were watching Ramona and Beezus last night and there is a scene in which the girls are eating gummy bears. I almost wept with longing. I haven’t eaten gummy bears in a very long time, and I don’t even like them that much. This is what I’ve been reduced to, people.)

Tomorrow I’ll be heading to Danbury, Wisconsin for my winter Motherhood & Words Retreat, and even though I’ll be “on” all weekend, I’m hoping that healing place will work its magic on me. After my afternoon conferences, I might try a slow ski around the pond. And I’ll have a massage after my last conference on Saturday. (The massages are new this year, and I’m very excited about them!)

I always come home from this retreat energized by my students’ stories, by the work they’ve done, but I’m hoping that this year I’ll also come home feeling a little better. Maybe?

February 17, 2015
by Kate
38 Comments

holy gallbladder

Last Tuesday I craned my neck to stare up at the monitor above my head. It was awkward because I couldn’t move my body; if I did, the picture from the gamma camera positioned inches above me might end up fuzzy. On the screen, a white star throbbed like a bright lung breathing in time with me. Periodically it would reach its fingers out across the universe of my organs, and small constellations would appear like white, gold, and red fire sparking then fading into darkness.

What I was watching was the radioactive tracer that had adhered to my bile cells and was traveling from liver to gallbladder to small intestine. Or at least that’s what I was told. I actually couldn’t tell which organ was which or whether they were working as they should. And because my neck hurt from twisting it like that, I spent most of that first hour with my eyes closed, reminding myself to breathe.

This was the fourth in a series of tests to figure out why I’ve been in so much pain, why it seemed my digestive system had suddenly revolted. The culprit, it appeared, was my gallbladder, but the previous tests had been normal. This one, however, would show how that organ—that organ to which I had never given any thought—was really functioning.

I felt fine lying there as still as I could until the second part of the test, during which I was injected with a medication to contract the gallbladder and see if bile was being ejected from it as it should be. For the next half hour, with each push of the syringe into my IV, a swell of nausea surged through me, and pain gripped my abdomen. “Breathe,” the technician reminded me. “Just breathe. It will pass.”

It’s funny how easy it is to take our bodies for granted, to forget how many systems have to work and work well in order for our whole bodies operate smoothly. I’m not used to being sick. Certainly I get sick: colds and sinus infections and the flu. And I have occasional back pain and hip issues that sometimes keep me from running. But for the most part I’m healthy. I exercise, I eat well, I meditate—I take care of myself.

So what’s going on here? Was it the fall, all those stressful days of waking up too early because of that impossible deadline? Perhaps I pushed it too hard. It’s true that I’ve felt irritable, uncertain, and overwhelmed lately, even when I really shouldn’t be. Hello, gallbladder! I’ve learned that according to Traditional Chinese Medicine the gallbladder is responsible for our “passion for life, inspiration, action, and assertiveness.” I guess that explains why I’ve been feeling what I’ve been feeling.

When I left the hospital last week after that test, I felt woozy and unsteady. I was disoriented when I pulled out of the hospital parking lot to find the streets slick with sleet and slush. It had been overcast but dry when I went into the hospital, and now it was again overcast and dry, but clearly a winter storm had swept through as I lay as still as possible watching my organs in that darkened room. It seemed impossible, and I couldn’t muster the energy to do anything but go home and lie down on the couch, where I  slept, the dog next to me in her bed on the floor.

I learned that I do indeed have a borderline problem with the way my gallbladder ejects bile. So what now? I could have it taken out, and that might solve the problem. But it might not solve the problem. I’ve heard that removal doesn’t always take care of the symptoms. And I hate not knowing if I would improve, if I’d be able to run and sit and laugh without pain. If I’d be able to go to my favorite exercise class again without having to slip out after twenty minutes.

So first I’m going to try to heal that damn thing. (And when I say “damn thing” I mean that in the most loving way possible—I don’t want to create any more trouble here, people. I love my gallbladder. I want to take care of it.) I’m doing acupuncture twice a week and have met with an herbalist, who prescribed herbs and enzymes, and I’m now on an elimination diet: Day 6 of 21. I won’t even tell you what I can’t eat or drink (everything I love). But I’m committed to it, and I hope it will help.

And, between my many appointments and all the research I’m doing, I’m trying to figure out how to do what I’ve been talking about these last couple of months: clear my plate, open up some space so I can get back that passion for life, that inspiration and action and assertiveness. I want to feel like myself again.

 

I have to add a big shout out to my family and friends who have heard WAY too much about this in recent weeks and who have called and texted and taken me out and sat and listened as I talked about that angry organ again and again. I appreciate it so much and I promise I’ll stop talking about it now. I’ve decided that instead I’ll just write about it. (But not too much here. Promise.)

February 2, 2015
by Kate
11 Comments

smashing our fears

I always encourage my students to write towards vulnerability and explore the things they’re too afraid to say out loud. And always—always—I’m blown away by what emerges when they really do that, when they craft something beautiful from digging deep and confronting the things that scare them most.

I love what one of my former students has said about writing her fears:

Writing my fears helps to “deflate” them; I get them out of me and onto the paper, where they have less dimension. I can read them and reread them, and because I am reading them now with the eyes of a writer instead of a scared mother, they have less power. I can reshape them, edit them, or even delete them. It doesn’t make them really go away, but it helps me feel like I have power over them, even if it’s just metaphorical power.

 Writing our fear changes us, and it changes other people too. I’ve written here about facing my own fears, about being honest and real and how important that is not only as a writer, but as a mother. And as a mother to girls, I think about it a lot—in modeling how to speak my mind, own my truth, and walk bravely in the world am I raising Stella and Zoë to do the same? I certainly hope so.

I’m thinking about this today because of Heather Von St. James. In 2005, Heather was diagnosed with mesothelioma and given 15 months to live. A decade later, she’s going strong, and today she’s celebrating Lung Leavin’ Day, the anniversary of the day she had her lung removed. Every year, Heather gathers with family and friends and other survivors and they all write their fears on plates and smash these plates in a huge bonfire.

Lung Leavin’ Day is about sharing your fears, about not letting them control you. In solidarity with Heather, you can write your fears on a plate and smash them into your own bonfire (if you have a safe place to have a bonfire, of course). You can write them on an index card and burn it over your stove. Or like so many of my students, you can get them down on the page, dive into them, and by doing so, deflate them.

What are your fears? How do you face them, make sense of them, let them go? I’d love to hear. And if you have time, check out more about Heather and her journey.

January 30, 2015
by Kate
14 Comments

hello, blog!

Well hello, friends. Once again I’ve been absent for too long, but I’m back and committed to spending more time here this year. I’m not sure what that will look like yet but I hope to post about reading and writing and life at least once a week.

It’s taken me a while to check in partly because I’ve felt a little low lately. In my last post I wrote about clearing away things that needed to be cleared in order to make more space for myself and family and writing, but damn that’s difficult to do. This winter I’m juggling lots of smaller editing and teaching gigs, and there are still lots of reviews and interviews that I need to catch up on. And all of it feels more daunting than it should–the constant shifting of gears. So I’ve been thinking about what will help, and I’ve come up with a few things: 1) get more sleep (no staying up late on weeknights to watch a series on Netflix); 2) daily meditation (I just renewed my membership to Headspace, the best $80 I’ve ever spent); 3) begin each workday with the novel; 4) eat and drink healthful things and cut way back on the unhealthful things; 5) get some sort of exercise everyday (a lifesaver for me).

I’d also like to create space to simply play with words. Ideally some of this playful writing will turn into short essays, but instead of focusing on publication, I just want to focus on the FUN of writing. Because it’s fun sometimes, right?

Speaking of essays, if you don’t know about Steven Harvey’s The Humble Essayist, you should. The Humble Essayist is a website “devoted to the personal essay and the reflective memoir, forms that use the personal to shine a light on a truth that speaks to us all.” Each week Steve highlights an essay or memoir and posts a short commentary. I love this website, which is why I was honored when I found out that he was featuring Ready for Air this week. Check it out, my friends.

And I’d love to hear what you do to make yourself feel sane, happy and healthy.

December 5, 2014
by Kate
21 Comments

done

Well, I did it. I turned in the manuscript on Sunday morning. And I’m proud of it, not only the fact that we met the deadline, but of the work itself. It’s a lovely book.

After I hit the send button and announced it was done, Stella asked why I wasn’t crying.

“Because I’m too tired?” I said, my eyes filling with tears.

I went out and got fancy lattes and hot chocolates for the girls and we toasted to the book being done, and then I took a short nap before we headed out to the Science Museum’s butterfly exhibit and Imax movie, which was the perfect thing to do. I probably would have slept all day if we’d been home, and I’m actively trying to be “fun mom” to make up for my months of “I have to go to the coffee shop” and “I’m sorry but I have to work” and “I need to lie down for just a few minutes” and my general irritability. (We also hit MOA’s rides after school on Monday, which they loved. I’m 2-for-2 in the new fun mom category.)

I’m elated to be done. Definitely. But more than that I’m exhausted. I can’t shake the tiredness that has settled in my bones. I tried to run outside the other day and it felt like I was running in mud. I’ve been going to sleep super early, and finally the last two days, sleeping later than 4 am, which is a relief, but still, I’m wiped out, totally discombobulated.

There is a certain kind of pleasure in being primarily focused on one project, pushing to the side the things that can be, well, pushed to the side. But now that the book is finished, all of those little (and not so little) things—hello, blog!—are now clamoring for my attention. I’ve begun to look at next year and sort out teaching and retreats and the schedule into the summer. And family trips and conferences and editing and updating my website, lining up author interviews, ordering new business cards, etc. etc.

I know need to turn my attention to most of those things, and I definitely start reading the news again everyday, as disturbing as it is. But this morning I wondered what I could let slide completely. Do I really need to step back in and do all the things I was doing before I was so busy? I’d love to carve out more time for reading and thinking about writing in addition to recommitting to the novel (hello, novel!) and working on a few short essays. That sounds like so much fun. But what has to go to create space for what I really want to do? I’m not sure yet, but I’ll be thinking on it.

How have you created the space in your life for the things that matter to you? What have you had to let slide?

September 30, 2014
by Kate
8 Comments

nicu awareness month

September is NICU Awareness Month. The fact that I am posting this on the last day of the month is not lost on me. Between kids being sick and crazy work/writing schedules and life in general, it’s not surprising that I’m behind schedule. But as I lay on the couch this morning, alternately sweating and succumbing to chills—I, too, am now sick—I realized I needed to give a shout out to the families who right this minute are sitting next to their babies’ bedside, their hearts both breaking and full of hope. And I needed to give a shout out to the organizations and individuals who are supporting these parents, trying to ease the pain of their journey.

September is always the month that I’m pulled back in time to our own NICU experience, to those hours and days and weeks that Donny and I sat next to our tiny Stella, hoping hoping that she would be okay, that we would get to take her home soon. This year, on the anniversary of my diagnosis with severe preeclampsia and the night before Stella’s eleventh birthday, I stood at a podium at the Preeclampsia Foundation’s annual Saving Grace Gala in front of hundreds of people who had been touched by preeclampsia and who had spent hours, days, months holding tiny lives in their arms, praying.

It was an emotional night, full of stories of loss. (You can read the story of Baby Grace, for whom the gala was named, here.) But it was also full of stories of hope. And a call to action: What can we do to help, to make a difference, to stop this kind of loss?

Having a child in the NICU is like being catapulted into an alternate universe—a terrifying one. And sadly 10-13% of babies spend time in a NICU. Luckily there are organizations that are providing support to families with babies in the NICU. Eden’s Garden is a local Twin Cities organization that was born from loss, created in memory of Eden Bryn Hedin, a twin, who was born at 28 weeks and spent her entire life—241 days—in the NICU before she passed away in her parents’ arms. Scott and Amanda Hedin understand how difficult and heartbreaking having a child in the NICU can be, even if that child survives, so they started Eden’s Garden as a way to honor their daughter’s short life and to help families on a similar journey. They are hosting their annual fundraiser, Wine in the Garden, on October 10th at Cannon River Winery, so they can help more NICU families in need.

As you know, Stella is now a happy and healthy book-loving, soccer-obsessed eleven-year-old. (Her latest record for foot juggles is 117. You should see her out their on the sidewalk with her soccer ball, not willing to give up.) I know how lucky we are. But no one should have to start parenthood in the NICU. No baby should have to begin life attached to tubes and wires, surrounded by blaring alarms.

If you can, please support families who are living through that nightmare.

September 10, 2014
by Kate
11 Comments

our first mother-daughter book review

I’m sorry for my long silence this summer. I’ve been juggling so many things, and I just couldn’t get here and catch up. I’ll be better this fall, blogging about my ghostwriting gig, and teaching and posting a few reviews. But today I’m happy to revive the blog with my first mother-daughter book review!

The fabulous Emily Hedges (of Hedges Virtual Tours) contacted me a couple of months ago asking if I’d be interested in being a part of Michael Perry’s tour for his first middle-grades novel, The Scavengers. I like Perry’s writing, but I was/am so behind on reviews/interviews that I was going to gracefully decline. But then I read that Emily’s daughter (a self-declared non-reader) loved the book, so I popped over to Perry’s website and saw the cover, and I knew Stella would also love it.

 

Scavengers_hc_c-front-panel-280x422

Right? What’s not to love about a bad-ass girl on the roof of a Ford Falcon with a wild rooster? And in the background what looked to be cities under bubbles. And then Perry himself described the book as “Little House on the Prairie meets Mad Max.” So I asked Stella if she was interested in reviewing it with me and she smiled that huge smile and said, “YES!” So then I said “yes” to Emily and not long afterward, the advanced reading copy arrived and I pressed it into Stella’s hands. “Your first book review!”

Stella fell in love with reading two years ago, in third grade when she fell under the spell of Harry Potter, the beloved series that my friend Margie calls “the gateway drug to reading.” It certainly was for Stella. More recently she has fallen in love with Percy Jackson and has read just about everything written by Rick Riordan. I honestly can’t keep up with her. She read The Scavengers in one day.

“What do you think?” I’d ask periodically.

“I LIKE it!” she’d say, her face lighting up. “Do you want to…”

“Don’t tell me anything,” I said, knowing she was about to give me a plot blow-by-blow.

Because my plate overfloweth, I had to wait until Labor Day weekend to read it. We went up to my mom’s cabin in Northern MN, one of the only places I don’t feel guilty planting myself on the couch and reading for hours. This time, Stella kept checking with me: “What do you think? What part are you reading?”

I, too, loved the book.

So I’m happy to welcome Stella today. We’re just going to have a short conversation about the book, something I hope we’ll continue to do here at Motherhood & Words and, of course, in real life.

Kate: So, Stella, what was your favorite part of The Scavengers?

Stella: My favorite part was when Toad, Toby and Maggie/Ford Falcon went to town in the Scary Pruner and had to fight the GreyDevils.

Kate: Oh that was scary. What about that part did you like?

Stella: You know I like battles, Mom.

Kate: That I do, my dear. What other parts of the book did you love?

Stella: I liked it when Maggie met Toad, and Toad helped them rebuild their shack because it was such a relief for Maggie and her family to finally have a neighbor and to stop moving around.

Kate: I loved that part, too. But my other favorite part was when Ma first read Emily Dickinson to Maggie. I love these line: Maggie says, “I love when we read Emily together. Her poems—even the weird ones—do something to me. They’re short and some have strange punctuation, but sometimes they make me burn inside like each word is a spark.”

Stella: Oh yeah, I remember that part. I liked that too.

Kate: Toad switches his letters around so the words get all confused. I sometimes had trouble deciphering them. What about you?

Stella: At first I was a little confused because it went from pig latin to the discombobulated letters, but then I understood it. My favorite words that Toad switched around were “knull dife.”

Kate: Ah yes, I like that one too. I did seem to get better at it figuring out what he was talking about as the book went on.

Stella: I think it’s easier for kids. (Eye roll.)

Kate: You might be right about that. I’d love to hear from some more readers on that front.

Stella: I also liked it when Toad gave Maggie The American Boy’s Handy Book and she made all sorts of things like boomerangs and jack lights.

Kate: And I love that she was disgusted that it was a book for boys only. She showed them, didn’t she?

Stella smiles.

Kate: What did you think about the ending? (We won’t give it away.)

Stella: I think he set it up for a sequel.

Kate: Oh yes, I’d certainly read the next one.

Stella: It should be called The Founders.

Kate: I love it!

Stella, thanks for reading and talking about The Scavengers with me! Let’s do it again soon!

Stella: Maybe, Mom.

Kate: Alright then!

Check out Michael Perry’s website for information about his book tour and for more information on The Scavengers!