Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Post-Partum For Reals

Yesterday I tried on my jeans from last year. That was a mistake. I couldn’t get them halfway up my thighs. Eli (bless his heart) told me, “It’s too soon. Don’t worry about what clothes fit.”

Since my second child isn’t even five weeks old yet, my husband has a point. I am just getting tired of (still!) wearing maternity pants and whatever baggy shirts are breast-feeding friendly. It’s also rough because I feel like we see so many images of women on the media bouncing back to perfect shapes after childbirth—and social media is no better! The online pregnancy and baby group I follow has a bunch of women posting not only their adorable April babies, but also about how they’ve “only got 5 pounds left to lose!” It’s been one month, ladies! I have…well, let’s just say a few more...

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Fortunately, weight usually doesn’t bother me much. I’ve never been one of those people who can diet. I would rather eat healthy, if possible. I try to eat more fruits, veggies, and whole grains, but I can’t deny my soft spot for cheese and ice cream. And baked goods. And dark chocolate…
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Ideal weight aside, I feel a lot better after this pregnancy, and I think there are things I’m getting right this time around. After my first son was born, I felt incredibly worried and anxious, and I dealt with a lot of pelvic floor muscle problems. Overall, I felt sore and exhausted for weeks, despite a relatively easy delivery (well, I did suffer through over 30 hours of labor, but I had no complications). This time around (15 hours of labor and a few pushes), I felt much better much sooner, and, besides having been a faster process, I think these are some of the reasons why:
  1.  Physically taking it easier on myself. I’ve been trying to spend more time lying and sitting with my feet up, both during pregnancy and post-partum. When I walk or go out of the house, I make sure to limit myself. I will work up to more activity, but I’m taking it slowly this time. 
  2. Eating better. A few years ago, my diet consisted of way more salt, carbs, and sweets. Probably about the same about of dairy, but I’m balancing it with way more fruit and fiber than I used to eat. 
  3. Avoiding harmful exercises. If you’ve had a baby, seriously, do not do traditional sit-ups or planks. They are bad for you, and there are other movements you can try. This is coming from two legitimate physical therapists I’ve worked with in the past, not from me, so it’s credible. ;)
  4. Having a positive labor and delivery experience. I know this isn’t always a choice—sometimes, far from it. Last time, there were some issues with the hospital and my doctor that made things a bit rough, and I know other women who dealt with real emergencies. This time, I had the same amazing doctor I’d seen all nine months, a comfortable labor room, and a wonderful nurse who talked me through my options at every step. Being in the hospital for a much shorter time beforehand and doing everything naturally helped a lot, too, and gave me more confidence and strength.
  5. Taking a chill pill. I’ve learned that everything is not going to work out the way you plan, and that life is different with a newborn in the house. I’m not stressing out over things that stressed me last time around (like breastfeeding in public—I use a cover anyways—or baby not reaching milestones at the “right” time). I’m also getting more comfortable with just being home and not needing to be somewhere all the time. Our home is out in the country with relaxing scenery, which also helps. 
Overall, I’ve been benefiting from taking life one day at a time. I joked with Eli on Mother’s Day that a great gift would be the boys growing up and being more independent, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t love this time—awkward moments, sleepless nights, and all.
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Monday, April 2, 2018

Pregnant Workaholic Mothers of the World Unite


Sometimes, because I wear so many hats, I’m not sure what to call myself. The rebel in me groans at the labels Stay-At-Home-Mom, Work-From-Home-Mom, Working-Mom, etc.… In reality, I am all three of those at different times of the day and year. In the summer, I get to be at home with my son (soon to be sons) and write (usually in the early mornings, late evenings, weekends, or during the occasional Curious George marathon). In the school year, I get to run around like a headless chicken because I teach both online, at Cameron Academy of Virtual Education, and in person, at UW-River Falls.  


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The weird fact is that teaching doesn’t feel like work. (Okay, I have to qualify that sentence.) It doesn’t feel like work most of the time. With my virtual students, I enjoy hearing about their unique ideas, especially when they take on new projects and writing challenges; with my college students in Reading Circles this semester, I spend Tuesdays involved in their engaging and (often) amusing discussions. Plus, call me crazy, but I enjoy reading research papers. (Usually.)  

The downsides are the times when I feel overwhelmed, and the fact that my writing has, effectively, been shuffled to the back burner during the school year. Life can be especially overwhelming these last few weeks of pregnancy, when every annoyance seems amplified by 3rd trimester discomforts: back pain, insomnia, heart burn, constant bathroom trips, and basically feeling claustrophobic in my own body. (I’m convinced these last few weeks are the worst to make us mothers almost eager for the pains of labor.)

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Rayden was born in August, probably not the most relaxing time in a teacher’s schedule, but still, it was summer. Adding a second child, in April (possibly the most chaotic time of the school year), is not ideal, but I’ll roll with the punches. Bonus: since I’m only in a physical classroom environment for about 6 hours a week, the odds are in my favor that I won’t go into spontaneous labor in front of my students.

Unfortunately, since adjuncts don’t enjoy sweet benefits like maternity leave, one can hope my second child will follow my lesson plans and avoid making his arrival for another week at least. Everyone knows babies are so good at following orders.

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I do know it won’t be easily juggling the end of the school year at two schools, as well as two kids. However, I am feeling up to the task. I think I can chalk up my superpowers to two feelings.

The first is that it seems like others are in the same boat—if people of our generation want to do cool things, like take a family vacation, or…pay off a mortgage before we die…we sort of need to work a lot. I’d rather those jobs not feel like work, if I have a choice, even if that means doing extra since teachers don’t exactly rake in the Benjamins.

The second feeling is that I sort of enjoy the chaos. Switching my hat every season, even every day of the week, is oddly appealing. I could never sit at the same desk five days a week all year long. I can do this balancing act much better. And my brain enjoys it. (I swear it’s not the pregnancy hormones!) I’ve always been a multitasker. I guess it’s just coming more in handy these days.

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Even this summer, I plan to keep myself busy. There is our garden to plan and trips to take. I want to play in the backyard with two kids. And, after cooling off the front burners, I can finally braid the bits of unfinished stories that have been waiting far too long to be woven together. It will be a different kind of busy, and those evolving seasons are what I prefer.

Despite loving my busy days, though, I've come a realization this year. I need to plan for down time. Relaxing time. Friend time. I’m in a new town, but I know this is one area I need to work on: taking time away from the chaos to meet and chill with others. Maybe I can even find a local compadre (com-madre?) in the same scenario—someone else who is shredding the typical mom labels and juggling life with open arms. I know there must be more of us out there, and I think we need to start a club.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Writing for Mere Mortals

A few years ago, I survived NaNoWriMo. Though I barely dragged myself and my manuscript to the finish line, the process was the perfect balance of challenging and cathartic. Trying to meet a daily word count and competing with acquaintances on Twitter, I typed frantically and let the unexpected dance onto the page.

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I still have the manuscript, with all its gaps and typos from my speed-writing. The book tackled issues I had never written much about simply because I felt naive about them. While some say to write what you know because it will feel the most real and connect with your readers, others say to write what you don't know, to challenge yourself to learn more. If you only write about your own experiences, you've got a pretty narrow spread to choose from. I think I fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum-- I am definitely drawn to the unknown, eager to challenge myself and to learn constantly. However, in the back of my mind is a natural low-key worrier, triple-checking everything I write, and I think that keeps me from writing sometimes.

Almost two weeks ago, I was awoken by a terrifying phone call. My husband said his truck slipped on the ice and rolled on his way to work. His 4-wheel drive went out this summer and we hadn't yet had a chance to get it fixed, dealing with our house expenses instead, assuring ourselves that winter was still weeks away. Unfortunately, us mere mortals don't get to decide the weather, and a patch of nasty ice ripped his truck off the highway in the wee hours of the morning. In my shock, I asked, "Were you wearing your seat belt?"

In his always-casual tone, not concerned that his truck had just performed cartwheels over asphalt, he joked, "Of course. You wouldn't be talking to me now if I wasn't."

He calmly called the insurance and towing companies and arranged for a ride. Meanwhile, I imagined myself in a rolling car in various scenarios, glass shattering around me and the pitch-black ditch engulfing me. Sometimes having a vivid imagination is not very fun.

Even though my husband came home in one piece, his truck didn't, and the pictures made me cringe. Unexpected accidents like these trigger reminders of our mortality.  Nothing compares to an accident's ability to squash our fearless exteriors.

Beautiful writing can arise from our tragedies, though. I haven't been writing much since finishing my second book. Instead, I've been pushing my words aside to make time for my two teaching jobs, believing them to be more important. Of course, there is something beautiful, both tangible and intangible, about teaching. However, there is also an immeasurable power in the written word, and I could feel its absence.

It may be too late to jump into NaNoWriMo this year, but it's never too late to start writing something new. I will challenge myself to explore the unexplored in both my fiction and nonfiction. After all, I don't have forever to write about what I don't know.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Excerpt from New Novel in Northwoods Barista Mystery Series


 I'm happy to announce that the second book in the Northwoods Barista Mystery Series will be released in August! The new novel follows Jordan and her BFF Samantha as they investigate a missing person's case, leading them into a dark, supposedly haunted forest. Jordy is now a legitimate part-time investigator with the Eagle River PD, but she still can't seem to quit her day job at the Coffee Cravin' Cabin. Chaos and hilarity ensue as the partners hunt down an increasing list of suspects, fight off raccoons, pursue love interests, and try not to get lost in the woods. 

I'm grateful to everyone who enjoyed Decaf & Drones, and I hope you're thoroughly caffeinated and prepared to join Jordy and Sam on a ghost hunt in the upcoming Lattes & Loony Lights
 
 





Below is an exclusive excerpt from the new book!



Samantha decided that a terrifying 911 call would be just the thing to ruin my relaxing Sunday afternoon, so we planned to stop by the cop shop first. Unfortunately, she sidetracked us by making me change into nicer jeans that didn’t have a hole in the ass before we could head out.
            “Do I really have to dress up?” I whined, as she ordered a switch from the band t-shirt to a simple, high-cut blouse.
            “This is hardly dressing up,” Sam sighed, eyeing the artistic mess that was my closet, “but it’s an improvement. Seriously, I could see your lime green undies through those old jeans.”
            “Spunky, aren’t they?”
            Samantha rolled her eyes.
            “You know, my mother always told me your eyes could get stuck like that...”
            After a few more moments of friendly insults, we piled into Sam’s truck and eventually arrived at the station.
            As we walked in through the back door, Samantha scanning her ID card for access, I wondered aloud when I would receive one of those thingamajigs.
            “You could talk to Judy about it. But she’s not working today, of course.”
            “Is anyone working today?”
            “Well, of course there’s Jim, our phone dispatcher/switch board operator, who we are here to see. And Sarg is usually around off-and-on during the weekends. Unless he’s fishing. After this latest occurrence, he is probably fishing.”
            “Hey, we should go fishing!” I suggested.
            “I’ve seen you fish, like, twice.”
            “Well, that’s because I don’t own a fishing pole.”
            “There used to be some at your parent’s cabin, in the second bedroom’s closet, remember?”
            “Oh, yeah…” That room was currently cluttered with various boxes of things I hadn’t gotten around to unpacking yet. I’d managed to stuff the boxes into the room, but I was a bit nervous about what would happen if I popped open the door again. I envisioned an avalanche of cardboard boxes, paperwork and winter clothing. A furry boot would certainly smack me in the head. “Anyways, where can we hear this suspicious phone call?”
            Samantha led me to the room where the phone dispatcher was. “Hey, Jim, this is Jordy.”
            Jim was wearing a headset over his balding brown hair but apparently wasn’t receiving any life-threatening calls at the moment because he was kicking up his feet on the desk and eating what looked to be a bologna and cheese sandwich. His office chair tipped back dangerously under his impressive girth.
            “Hey, Jordy, good to meet you!” He swallowed a large chunk of sandwich. He stood up, taking off his headset, and brushed breadcrumbs from his hands before reaching out to shake mine. “You ladies must be here about last night’s call.” He wheeled over to a nearby recording machine that held previous emergency calls. “Let me just cue it up…”
            “Were you working last night?” I asked as he was fiddling with the machine.
            “Yes, indeedy. I cover the night shifts. Make a local 911 call from 5pm to 5am— I’m your man.”
            “That’s helpful. So then you must know what the call was like?”
            “Yes, I was the one who reported it to Sergeant Jones and the guys in the patrol cars last night. By which I mean Paul and Johnny. Johnny’s the guy who actually drove all the way up there to the Light, only to find an abandoned car, no body and no witnesses.” He gave a little shiver. “Creepy, eh? We do occasionally get some weird and dangerous situations up here, but for the most part a typical night involves me and my bottle of Fanta, maybe a domestic disturbance or a drunk driver or two…” He looked off into space. “Sure, there are lost pets, bears wondering onto folks’ porches, car-versus-deer accidents…couple times we get a call about a wolf in someone’s backyard or a raccoon throwing garbage around like confetti…One time an eagle picked up a wiener dog in one swoop…” He shrugged and gave a crooked smile at us. “We’re fortunate that we don’t have a lot of trouble up here…mostly animal-related—” Listening in on his headset with half an ear, he must have found what he wanted in the recordings, because he unhooked the connection and cranked up the volume so that the emergency call would fill the room. The first thing we heard was a woman’s panicked, heavy breathing.
            “911, what’s your emergency?” Like it was in real life, Jim’s voice on the recording was the picture of calm, cool, and collected.
            “Someone’s out there! Someone’s watching--” The woman’s voice was a hushed whisper and difficult to hear. The call kept cutting out, likely due to the poor cell reception up in the forested area near the Paulding Light. “The light is— is changing colors—”
            “I’m sorry, ma’am,” Jim’s voice said, “I will need some more information. Are you at a stop light? Has there been a traffic accident? Can you give me your location?”
            “Paulding, Michigan— at that light, the Light,” the woman whispered, “Please help me!” There were some shuffling noises and then her voice cut back in, sounding more muffled than before: “—out of the car—” (static) “—got him. I think—” (static) “—think I’m next. Please help me!” This was followed by a crashing sound, a terrified scream, and silence.
            Listening to the recording, I felt equal parts confusion and fear. It was obvious from the wavy and panicked tone of the woman’s voice that she was scared out of her wits, but it wasn’t clear why. “Can we hear it again?” I asked; I hoped to gain a better understanding the second time around.
            “Sure.” Jim cued it up.
            Samantha tapped her toes thoughtfully as we absorbed the frantic 911 call a second time.
            “So, what do we know?” I asked as the call finished.
            “All I really gleaned from her was the location,” Jim answered. A tiny light flickered on the machine in front of him, and he quickly abandoned our conversation to put on his headset and take an emergency call.
            Samantha and I left the room quietly. I peeked into the break room, but there wasn’t a single drop of questionable coffee in the pot. A few people sat at cubicles in the main office space despite the day and hour, but they apparently weren’t coffee drinkers. I sighed dramatically as I joined Sam, who was just grabbing a notepad and pen from the sleek mahogany desk in her office. She widened her eyes when she saw me, observing the woeful dejection that could only accompany a painfully coffee-less Jordan Nimsby.
            “Out of magic juice?” One eyebrow twitched upward.
            I scuffed my foot on the dull gray linoleum. “When you put it that way, it sounds like I’m on ‘roids.”
            A shrug was her only response, but, as we left the building, Sam assured me that we would stop at a gas station for the good stuff. Content, I piled into the passenger seat of Sam’s Crown Victoria, conveniently parked in the back lot of the station, and we resumed our conversation.
            “Well,” Samantha began, “we know that she was with somebody else.”
            “Do we?”
            “Yes, I believe so. She said that somebody ‘got him’ and also ‘I’m next’. Don’t you think she was referring to someone else who had gone up there with her?”
            “Seems like a definite possibility. I took it to mean someone else in another car. You know how people kind of go up there like it’s a fireworks show some nights? They gather around in cars, bring their beer, and tailgate the Paulding Light…It’s sort of like a Brewer’s game, minus any opponent-bashing.”
            Sam chuckled under her breath. “It has been known to happen. Wish I could say that wasn’t the honest truth, but people complain there’s not a lot to do up here.”
            “People are weird and need to get out more. There’s all kinds of fishing and hiking up there. And a few sweet waterfalls and lakes right around Paulding. Oh! And there’s snowboarding nearby!” I couldn’t help but interject my wealth of knowledge.
            “Yeah, you remember that from the time you busted your wrist after ten seconds on the bunny hill?”
            “Hey! I’ll have you know I lasted a solid thirty minutes. And it was a green circle run, not the bunny hill.”
            “Whoop-de-doo.”
            As Sam pulled up to some gas pumps at the edge of town, I scurried in for two tall to-go cups of the dark beany goddess of life’s joys, commonly known to outsiders as “coffee”. It was one of those convenience stores with a plethora of flavors, so I tapped my chin and considered the options. Finally, I selected Vanilla Coconut Peace for both Samantha and myself as it sounded relaxing and, well, peaceful, if a bit hippie-ish. Sam seemed to agree with my evaluation if the serene expression that passed over her eyes was any indication. We pulled out of the driveway cuddling our travel mugs.
            It was a warm evening, but it was cooling off, so we rolled down the windows as we cruised down Highway 45 North. I sipped my Vanilla Coconut Peace. It was still a bit warm for hot coffee, but they didn’t have any of those plastic cups and I’d completely forgotten about the ice in the soda dispenser. Ah, well. For me, coffee had the power to transcend time; it was not a seasonal beverage—it was an eternal beverage.  
            Although I’d hate to admit it, I was grateful for the mid-summer evening sunlight that streamed in the windows and blinded my sight until the road veered northeast. I wasn’t in a big hurry to be attacked by a maniacal serial killer in the middle of the woods near a supposedly haunted location, and I hoped the bright daylight would be a deterrent. I took another sip of coffee and rested my arm on the sill of the window. Unfortunately, I couldn’t seem to recall the ghost story attached to the place…
            “What’s the story behind the light, again?” I asked Sam. “Maybe that will give us some clues…”
            “Legend has it that a railroad brakeman was hit by a train one night back when the tracks used to run up there. Apparently, he was trying to prevent a collision between an oncoming train and some cars stopped on the tracks, but he was crushed. Supposedly, his ghost still haunts the place, and people can see his lantern shining up at the top of the hill and then moving towards them down a wide, forested valley. People hang out at the dead end of the road nearby. Reportedly, the light will change colors and come toward the people watching it, but it never gets close enough for anyone to ever really figure out who or what it is.”
            “Oh, okay, that does sound familiar now that you mention it. I thought it was like the Headless Horseman, where the ghostie-guy is scrounging around for his head. Is that what the lantern is for?”
            Sam cocked an eyebrow at me. “I don’t think so. I think the lantern was what he used to signal the trains back in the day. The legend dates back to, maybe the ‘60’s or earlier, maybe back when mining was a huge deal up here and they needed all the trains. Either way, it’s not real; it’s just a legend, a ghost story, so what does it matter?”
            I waved my hands in the air and made Twilight Zone noises. “Are you sure it’s merely a story? Maybe the railroad brakeman’s ghost is the one who attacked this girl!”
            Sam was giving me that signature look, the one where she is seriously questioning my sanity, and she even topped it off with some attitude, tossing her silky black braid over her shoulder before finally returning her focus to the road. “We’re private investigators, Jordy. We don’t typically deal in conjecture or legend.”
            I snorted. “I’d say it’s about 40% conjecture, 60% facts right up ‘til the end.”
            “Okay, okay, but we’re not putting down the ghost as a suspect!”
            “Aw,” I moaned, “how about just at the very, very bottom of the list, sort of as a post-script. Like a 'just in case' suspect. You know, ‘just in case’ he’s real.” I waited a bit before I chuckled and admitted, “Okay, I’m pulling your leg, but what if our attacker is some guy who is pretending to be the ghost.”
            Now you’re thinking!” Samantha exclaimed.
            “Hey, I’m always thinking. Just not always logically.”
            “Touché.” 

 That was an excerpt from Lattes & Loony Lights, which will be available next month. You will also be able to purchase copies directly from me as well. Thanks in advance for your support, and stay tuned for the detailed release date! 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Cookie Tantrums and House Hunting



I read a ridiculously horrible book at the library yesterday while browsing the shelves with Rayden. (After all, he is a connoisseur of fine literature.) The book was about a girl who goes with her mom to the park and sees another kid eating a cookie. The girl then launches into a ten-page, painfully drawn-out, obnoxious tantrum until the mom takes her home and gives her a cookie. 

I'm not kidding-- it's a real book! Your child, too, can witness ten pages in the art of the perfect tantrum before learning that pure senseless rage = cookie.

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When I was little, I, too, used to throw fairly epic tantrums. I would throw items at my sisters (they will attest to this) and scream obnoxious things I would later regret. I also recall lots of tears. Looking back now, of course, I realize that I was an insane, greedy, little creature, but we basically all start out that way. 
Call me crazy, but I think that one of the positive things about being an adult is that you get used to disappointment. You can’t throw a temper tantrum to prevent the electric company from raising their rates. Tears will not get you into the school or job of your dreams. Your Ford Escape will not get the promised 40 MPG no matter how hard you kick it (trust me on this one).

Eli and I have been on the house hunt for almost a year now, and I’m realizing the housing market brings an entirely new basket of disappointments that no temper tantrum can squelch. We recently lost out on another great house, even though we came in at asking price and were in the process of negotiating a closing date when another, apparently juicier, offer swept in last-minute. When the real estate agent called, his tone dejected, I wasn't completely surprised. We're in a tough market.

Adult life naturally has its disappointments, and we have to take them in stride. I think sometimes this is easy to forget nowadays, because we see all of the bubbly Facebook photos of everyone’s happiest moments, but we don’t often see the difficulties hidden beneath the surface. Eli and I have a ton to be thankful for, including our amazing son, steady jobs, etc. A home just isn’t one of those things yet. We hope it may be soon. But, until then, you won’t be seeing any temper tantrums over here. (Well, I can’t speak for Rayden…)