Saturday, November 27, 2010

God Winked

Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I drove to the airport to pick up my daughter, my mind racing with a frenetic "To-Do" list for the coming days:

1) Pick up last minute, forgotten items at the grocery store. (I did this about four times.)
2) Go to the bakery to pick up birthday cake.
3) Purchase extra pillows for overnight guests.
4) BUY LIQUOR.
5) Clean the toilets.

Faster than the miles that ticked on the odometer, I added new items to my list:

6) Pick up more candles.
7) Look for the tablecloths.
8) Buy pretty paper plates.

I changed stations on my XM Radio from Fox News Talk, to 60's music. I needed something upbeat, no arguing about the same old political stuff on that day! When I couldn't get into the song that played, I changed stations again, this time to Oprah Radio with Maya Angelou.

I cleared my mind of thoughts just long enough to hear her say, "I thank God for rainy days." She told the story of preparing for a large outdoor party, when suddenly, dark clouds began to form, and a downpour began. But she said she thanked God for that rain, because it gave her the opportunity to be more creative, and it made her thankful for the good friends she had who helped her pull the party together indoors.

Profound, yet so simple. What we count as our blessings is all a matter of perspective.

So, though Wednesday it was sunny and warm, a perfect day to sit outside around the fire pit, Thanksgiving Day had turned bitterly cold and rainy, with sleet and snow later in the afternoon. The weather kept my 22 guests locked up in the house with me as I chopped, stirred, slurped, sipped, and washed, and NOT outside enjoying cool, crisp autumn air near the fire pit scented by burning cedar.

But, it also allowed me to enjoy bits and pieces of everyone's conversation. It kept my sisters and children close by, constantly offering help in the kitchen.

Any time I felt the hustle and bustle of Thanksgiving tightening in my back, I looked outside at the first snowfall of the season, even at the sleeting rain and thought to myself, "Thank God for rainy days." And looking around at the people I loved, I was reminded of all I have to be thankful for.

video
We really did forget to make the gravy! (And unfortunately, didn't take many pictures, either!)


Monday, November 22, 2010

Change of Heart

I was going to post a Thanksgiving blog today, but I learned a lesson that I thought important to write about, and in the end, it left me thankful.

As with most days, my morning started with sipping a cup of coffee as I flipped through various news channels. One story in particular caught my attention.

David and Susan Axelrod Put Up Fight Against Daughter's Epilepsy

The fact that I was not drawn to change the channel is a surprise in itself, because it was a story that involved David Axelrod, President Obama's senior advisor. Honestly, in the past it has not been unusual for me to flip to another channel or turn the news off completely when he has spoken. With all due respect, all I heard when he spoke was "blah, blah, blah." That will change after today.

The story was about how he and his wife, Susan, have been fighting a 29-year battle with their daughter's epilepsy. Strange, that seeing Mr. Axelrod as a loving father and husband came as a surprise to me, and I found it curious that all those times I watched him speaking on politics and policy I only saw him as another bloviating talking head.

It shouldn't have been such a lesson for me, as it is a subject that I often think about - learning about and respecting each other through open communication. I have even blogged about in the past:
Sister Left, Sister Right
Going Tapeless

I often miss a lot by turning the channel, or turning someone - anyone - "off" when I'm not interested in what they have to say. Perhaps it is a safety mechanism, so that I don't have to deal with that person as a multi-dimensional human being, only as a flat, one-sided person I can more easily disagree with.

But the story on the Axelrod family showed me - or perhaps reinforced to me - that every person is a multi-faceted human being, with unique triumphs and tragedies. If we open our hearts and learn from them, even those of us with differences might get along better.

And wouldn't that be something to be thankful for?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Honor

"All of us can't stay in the [internment] camps until the end of the war. Some of us have to go to the front. Our record on the battlefield will determine when you will return and how you will be treated. I don't know if I'll make it back."
            -- Technical Sergeant Abraham Ohama, Company "F"
            442nd Regimental Combat Team, Killed in Action 10/20/1944

Since beginning work on my novel, Broken Dolls, (see synopsis), I have learned many new things, not only about the history of the internment of Japanese Americans, but also about the history of my own family. I always knew my mother and her family had been forced to sell their belongings before being relocated to Tule Lake Relocation Center. When Tule Lake became a high security segregation camp for those Japanese Americans deemed to be "disloyal," they were moved to Topaz Relocation Camp in Utah.
My Grandparents
My grandparents were from Japan - Issei, first generation. Due to the Naturalization Act of 1790, they were not allowed to become American citizens. However, my mother and her siblings were born in the United States - Nissei, second generation. Therefore, they were citizens of this country when they were relocated to internment camps.
My mother and her mother

What I didn't realize until recently, was that my Uncle Yoshio - my mother's oldest brother - fought in the United States Army while his family was interned in these camps. He was a member of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, composed entirely of Japanese American soldiers.  The 442nd became the most decorated unit in United States military history for its size and length of service.

442nd Regimental Combat Team Website

Even more amazing to me was something I learned just last week from my cousin, Uncle Yoshio's son: his dad, my uncle, my mother's brother, received the Bronze Star.
It's difficult for me to put into words how I feel when I think about these young men fighting - some even sacrificing their lives - for a country that put their families behind barbed wire. But, there were many stories like my uncle's. Many of these young Japanese Americans soldiers must have held the same sentiments Tech. Sgt. Ohama expressed in his words above:

"Our record on the battlefield will determine when you will return and how you will be treated."

This history is not something my mother or her family spoke about much. Perhaps many Japanese Americans are unnecessarily ashamed of this history, or it is too painful a period in their lives to re-live. Perhaps it is the philosophy of gaman - patience, endurance. Or, maybe it is the attitude of shikata ga nai - resigned acceptance.

I am Sansei, third generation. The more I have learned since beginning work on Broken Dolls, the more I realize this is history we should all remember. Most of all, I respect the honor and dignity of those who experienced it.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Wonderful Years Between Two Yucky Events

It is with some trepidation, intimidation, indecision, embarrassment, and finally resolution, that I post this blog about my colonoscopies. But, after listening to Gayle King speak of her “event” last week, my feeling that we shouldn’t be embarrassed about such an important screening won the battle of “should I or shouldn’t I?”

It’s important, and we all need to get over the “yuck” factor. So, here I go . . . 

Sometime in 2001, after a close relative found he had colon cancer, I reluctantly made the decision to have a colonoscopy. (I was only 43 years old at the time.) Surprisingly, though I had no symptoms of any intestinal problems, the doctor found a couple of polyps. Fortunately, they were benign. However, it is within these polyps that colon cancer develops, so it is important to catch them in their early stages.

Because polyps were found, I had to have another colonoscopy in 2004. Nothing was found in that screening, and I didn’t have to have another one for five years.

I’ll admit, after my “clean bill of health,” I procrastinated going through “the event,” and did not schedule another colonoscopy until 2010 – last week, as a matter of fact. Once again, no polyps.

Okay, there’s no getting around the fact that a colonoscopy is UNPLEASANT, in other words, yucky. But, so is a mammogram or a pap smear. And though I have no experience with it, I suspect certain PSA screenings are no cup of tea either. But all are important screenings to detect cancer in the earliest stages possible.

The day before the screening is by far worse than the screening itself. First you flood your system with a variety of “preps,” as the medical community genteelly calls it. I would say the more graphic description is atomic laxatives. I took three different kinds – one harmless looking pop-sized bottle of a rather pleasant tasting lemon-lime carbonated liquid called Magnesium Citrate.

Hmmm . . . I thought. This isn’t so bad.

Next, I mixed powdered Miralax (238 grams) with 64 oz. of Crystal Light Lemonade, and had to drink an 8 oz. glass every 30 minutes. Initially, that didn’t seem so bad either. Until about the third glass. Between the frequent trips to the . . . well, you know . . . and the pewky sweet and sour taste of the concoction, I never want to taste another Crystal Light Lemonade again. And only five more glasses and umpteen trips to the . . . you know . . . to go.

Somewhere around the sixth glass, I was instructed to take four--yes, FOUR—Dulcolax laxative tablets. And there you have atomic.

This is all not to mention starving yourself the day before – not that you’d want to eat anything as you’re attempting to clean yourself out.

The next morning, feeling drained (literally,) we headed to the clinic at 6:45 a.m. for my procedure at 8:00. What a way to start the day. But, I was happy the whole thing would soon be over with.

The nurse explained to me that I would be given a sedative where I’d remain conscious, but that I wouldn’t remember anything. As I waited to meet the doctor, I scanned the room, wondering what all the pieces of equipment were for. To say the least, I was a little uncomfortable looking at the large flat screen TV in the corner of the room, knowing my innards would soon be flashed on the screen in all its HD glory. I hoped I wouldn’t be too conscious to experience that.

A rather handsome doctor came in, and the first thing I thought was, “How old are you, anyway?” He looked younger than my son.

I glanced back at the big screen TV and suddenly wanted out of there.

When the doctor left, the nurse came in to give me an IV. She told me to turn onto my left side. I remember staring at a poster on the wall, wondering when the words would start to get blurry. That was the last thing I remember before waking in the recovery room with my husband looking over me.

I felt a little queasy at first, certainly not hungry. I came home and slept for a couple of hours, then ate a few soda crackers, then some soup. For a couple of days, I felt a little “gurgly,” and didn’t have my normal appetite back, but after that, felt back to normal.

Not only was I thankful “the event” was over, I was thankful for the negative screening – one time when “negative” is a good thing. I couldn't help reflecting back to my colonoscopy in 2001, and wondered what might have happened to that benign polyp had the doctor not snipped the darn thing.

Here’s a list of the wonderful things that happened in between the two yucky events:

*  My daughter and son both graduated from college.
*  I got married.
*  I have traveled to many places around the world, including China, Japan, India, Turkey, Italy, France, Peru, Greece.
*  I have become an artist.
*  I am about to finish my first novel.
*  I’ve met wonderful new friends.

Had I not had the colonoscopy in 2001, had the doctor not found the polyps, maybe they would have continued to be benign, maybe not. But if not, think of all the good things I might have missed.

I don’t have to have another yucky procedure for another five years. I smile when I think of all the events I’ll experience in that time.

Note: The American Cancer Society recommends the following for screening of colorectal cancer and polyps:

Beginning at age 50, both men and women should follow one of these testing schedules:

Tests that find polyps and cancer:

• Flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years*, or
• Colonoscopy every 10 years, or
• Double-contrast barium enema every 5 years*, or
• CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy) every 5 years*

Tests that primarily find cancer:

• Yearly fecal occult blood test (gFOBT)**, or
• Yearly fecal immunochemical test (FIT) every year**, or
• Stool DNA test (sDNA), interval uncertain**

* If the test is positive, a colonoscopy should be done.

** The multiple stool take-home test should be used. One test done by the doctor in the office is not adequate for testing. A colonoscopy should be done if the test is positive.

The tests that are designed to find both early cancer and polyps are preferred if these tests are available to you and you are willing to have one of these more invasive tests. Talk to your doctor about which test is best for you.

The American Cancer Society recommends that some people be screened using a different schedule because of their personal history or family history. Talk with your doctor about your history and what colorectal cancer screening schedule is best for you. For more information on colorectal cancer screening, please call the American Cancer Society and ask for our document, Colorectal Cancer: Early Detection

Information taken from American Cancer Society website.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Recognizing Sacrifice

My father was a career Air Force officer, from approximately 1955 until 1975. I thought Veteran’s Day would be a good day to write about my memories of his time in the service and about being an “Air Force Brat.”

Most of all, I want to honor my father and all veterans.


My parents met in Hawaii, while Dad was stationed as a young Air Force pilot there. Mom was a stewardess with Pan American Airlines. They married, and before long, I entered the picture. Within five years, my arrival was followed by three sisters, and one brother.


Dad often had to be gone for long periods of time—sometimes up to six months or longer. As you might imagine, my mom sometimes had a difficult time raising five kids alone during his trips. I remember how empty the house felt when he was gone, but when he’d arrive home, our family finally seemed “normal” again.

At last, he’d walk in the front door, still wearing his flight suit, a khaki green one-piece zip-up, with zipper pockets all over. The five of us jumped and climbed all over him, and when he hugged and kissed us hello, I still remember how he smelled. I didn’t really know then what the scent was, but it meant he was home, and I loved it. Today, I suspect it was the smell of the cockpit of the C-141 he flew.


Some of my fondest memories are of the surprises he’d hide in those zipper pockets. After our hugs, we’d unzip and search them for our “goodies,” finding little trinkets from foreign places he’d visited. But, I think my favorite surprise was when he hid “Juicy Fruit” gum in his pockets. I always thought those striped pieces of gum looked like the stripes he wore on his uniform.


Throughout my school years, we were transferred to many different bases. I only recall one time when I had to leave in the middle of a school year, so I was lucky. We were stationed in California, Texas, Georgia, Bermuda, California again, Oklahoma, then once again to Travis A.F.B., California, where Dad retired in 1975.


Though I missed my father when he was away, I still remember the pride I felt when I told my friends and teachers he was in the Air Force. He looked handsome in his uniform, and I know I beamed every time he’d arrive to pick me up somewhere dressed in it. I’d watch the huge airplanes he flew in “formation,” in awe that my dad piloted one of those behemoths, and that such a monster-plane could even lift off the ground!


Today, it’s been 35 years since he retired. He rarely flies anymore, though he still trains in flight simulators. I know flight remains a passion in his life. We’ve had many conversations about his years in the Air Force since his retirement and I’ve learned what a sacrifice it was for him to be gone from his family. I know he doesn’t regret his time serving the country, but I also know he still misses the time he was away from us kids.
That’s why today and every day, I appreciate the service and sacrifice of my father, all veterans and current service men and women. And having been an “Air Force Brat,” I also want to thank the families of veterans. For the wives, sons and daughters, of our service men and women, it is also a huge sacrifice.

Monday, November 8, 2010

These Are a Few of My Favorite Words

I love words. When I write, they are like little treasures to me. Sometimes, I find them with hardly a search, and other times they are buried so deep, no amount of digging will uncover the prized and perfect word for which I search.

To me, some words seem to define themselves just by the how they sound when I say them. They elicit an image or a feeling simply by the way their syllables spring forth.

Here are a few of my favorites:

AZURE - az·ure
–adjective
1. of or having a light, purplish shade of blue, like that of a clear and unclouded sky.

When I hear the word "azure" I am immediately taken to the bluest ocean. I can smell the sea breeze, hear the seagulls crying above me as I feel the sand between my toes.

BLOVIATE - blo·vi·ate
–verb
1. to speak pompously.

Maybe it's the beginning of the word - BLO - that told me what this word meant before I even knew the definition. But, it's one of my favorite words. It perfectly defines the communication style of too many in the media these days, and the "bloviating style" has trickled down to many of us.


SOUR - sour
–adjective
1. having an acid taste, resembling that of vinegar, lemon juice, etc.; tart.

I can taste "sour" at the sound of this word. I've heard it's one of the worst things you can say to an opera singer, because it causes the back of throat to tingle and close up - do you feel it?
  
 
MEANDER  - me·an·der
–verb
1. to proceed by or take a winding or indirect course.

This is a rather boring definition of a word that elicits feelings of happy-go-lucky wandering and adventure. As soon as I hear the word, I think of a stream, winding through the mountains. Or a tree-lined path, speckled with sunlight.
 
 
And now, here is a word that DOES NOT bring to mind what it defines. Instead, its sound makes me think of an infected wound.
 
CREPUSCULAR - cre·pus·cu·lar
–adjective
1. of, pertaining to, or resembling twilight; dim; indistinct.
 
I could continue to list more of my favorites, but for now, I think I'll meander through the woods to enjoy watching the crepuscular sky turn to azure blue. Instead of turning on the news to hear bloviating commentators that often leave me with a sour taste, I'll listen to birds sing.
 
Listen for words to see what feelings they bring out in you. I hope you'll share some them!
 
Note: All above definitions were found at:
Dictionary.com

Monday, November 1, 2010

Getting to Know Velda Brotherton

Writing has been Velda Brotherton’s passion for more than 25 years. She was born in Arkansas and has lived many places, including Kansas, Colorado, Missouri and New York. Velda and her husband now live in Arkansas in a home she designed and helped build. It sits on ten acres and to the north is the Ozark National Forest. They have two children, three grandchildren and a great-grandchild.


Velda has been published in historical romance, regional non-fiction, articles in newspapers and magazines, short stories in anthologies and non-fiction in anthologies. Her book, Fly With the Mourning Dove was a Willa Award Finalist, and she was recently honored as Distinguished Citizen of 2010 by the Washington County Historical Society. Her latest books are The Boston Mountains – Lost in the Ozarks and Arkansas Meals and Memories.
She is a member of several writers’ organizations, including Women Writing the West, Ozarks Writers League, Northwest Arkansas Writers and Oklahoma Writers Federation.

Velda has been a writing mentor to hundreds of writers, sharing her knowledge of writing, marketing, blogging, publishing, and anything "writerly."
 
I hope you'll learn something new about Velda from the following interview:
 
Q. You’ve written several fiction (Images in Scarlet,) and non-fiction books (Fly With the Mourning Dove, Arkansas Meals and Memories, The Boston Mountains: Lost in the Ozarks.) Do you prefer writing fiction or non-fiction?


A. I am totally into writing fiction. It carries me away into the world I’m creating and it’s fun. However, writing and recording our history in nonfiction form is so enjoyable I have to continue doing it. I’m fascinated by the lives that went before us and the paths that were taken to make us who we are. So I guess I have to say I prefer writing period. Rather than say mowing grass, cleaning house, knitting, or the like.

Q. Do you have a single favorite book that you’ve written, and if so, why?

A. I can’t say I do. In the fiction books, I think the best one was Images In Scarlet, but I enjoyed writing them all and still enjoy remembering the stories. I think the Boston Mountain book is my best achievement in nonfiction. It’s the culmination of 20 years work and I’m very proud of it.

Q. I still remember the thrill of being notified of my first publication. In your career, you’ve been a Willa Finalist for Fly With the Mourning Dove, and you were recently designated as a Washington County Historical Society Distinguished Citizen. What has been your biggest thrill as a writer?

A. You know what? I so appreciate and am honored by the awards I’ve won, but my biggest thrill still today is being with other writers and sharing their expertise. So many wonderful writers have passed through my life, many I may never see again. But I’ll never forget a single one of them.

Q. Can you describe your typical writer’s day?

A. It begins after our mid-day meal. I’m not a morning person and can only manage things like cleaning or staring out the window at the valley below before noon. My brain kicks in after we eat and I’m in my office from 1 til 3 when hubby insists I get up a while and take a break. We chat for 15 minutes or so, then I’m back to work till anywhere from 4:30 to 6, depending on what I need to work on. I have a weekly schedule that I try to stick to except during emergencies. On Mondays I’m on the Internet promoting: Facebook, Twitter, website and other sites that need work; Tuesdays I work on articles on deadline for newspapers; Wednesday through Saturday I work on my WIP, which is usually works in progress because I often have a short story, a novel, and a nonfiction book underway at the same time. On Sunday that’s my day and I play. I don’t even like to take phone calls to do with the business of writing.

Q. For the last few decades, you have mentored hundreds of writers. I know I have learned so much from your classes, as well as our weekly critique group. With the wealth of information you’ve shared with writers, this may be a tough question, but can you summarize what you believe to be the most important thing a writer should know?

A. The craft of writing is important, of course, and polishing your work until it shines. That done, I believe once a writer has created her best work, the most important thing is perseverance. So many get a few rejections (100 or more) and they give up. I’ve seen writers give up when their first book doesn’t sell, and what a shame. Because it could be the third or tenth book that will be the one that sells.

Q. You’ve become very skilled in how to market your books. What do you think has been your most successful marketing technique?

A. I’m still trying to keep up with marketing online and have a lot to learn, but I’m working on it. I think personal contact with groups and word of mouth will ultimately sell more books for writers, but this is a difficult thing to achieve. I like marketing in small towns through libraries and independent bookstores because in most cases these people don’t have large book stores and welcome getting together with writers. Networking online gets the word out to more people, but when I’m marketing regional books it’s more important to remain within the area of highest interest in my product, so I concentrate on those places included in the book. It’s all a crap shoot, though. We do all we can to promote and market, and some things that work for me probably won’t work for others. Everyone needs to find their best promotional tools and stick with them. I’m going to speak on promotion and marketing of regional books at OWFI in May of 2011 and will do a lot of research this winter to find all the best ways.

Q. Can you tell us about some of your upcoming projects?

A. Yes, I’m really excited about trying to break into Ebooks, but I’m still working on selling a women’s fiction to a New York House. I don’t think print books will be killed by Ebooks, but I think they will exist side by side, equally. I’m also working on a biography for Old American Publishing and I have a memoir that I write on when the mood strikes me, or I recall a vivid story I want to include. I also have a new women’s fiction underway about a woman whose past tragedy is recreated in the life of her granddaughter. She must choose between the ghost of her lost lover and this girl she raised.

Q. If you could “pick the brain” of any writer (or anyone) living or dead, who would it be and why?

A. Most writers would choose someone well known, someone who has created classics, but I’ve always been fascinated by Ayn Rand’s beliefs. They were so “out there” for the times and she was such a strong woman who had survived dreadful experiences. I think she’d be one of my top choices, though there might be others. I’ll stick to writers here, since there are many great people who have literally changed the world and who would be fascinating to spend time with. I’d like to know what makes writers like James Lee Burke tick. How he can see and present the world with such exquisite precision is entrancing. I’d like to ask him how he does it, but I’d bet he couldn’t tell me.

If you'd like to learn more about Velda, her at the following sites:

http://www.veldabrotherton.com/
http://www.veldabrotherton.blogspot.com/
http://www.vbrotherton.blogspot.com/

Leave a comment for a chance to win Velda's book, Fly With the Mourning Dove. Drawing will be held on Monday, November 15. Watch for winner notification on Facebook and on this blog. Good luck!