Finally Answers, Five Years Later

Last November marked five years since my pulmonary embolism which led to the discovery of my kidney disease: Idiopathic Membranous Nephropathy. The idiopathic part, which literally means unknown cause, is the part of my diagnosis that has bothered me the most all these years.


Why the hell did my body–the healthy body of a runner with no other underlying disease or malady–develop this disease?

It’s been a roller coaster of a ride through immuno-suppression therapy and all the terrible side effects, three hellish months of strict veganism, and becoming a vegetarian to gain my health back. Years of vegetarianism to stay in remission, which I thought I could handle and which, turns out, is harder than I thought it would be with school and a family who does all the cooking. All this and still no real answers to why it happened in the first place. Especially after forty years of health with no lead-up or warning.

December 2017 marks the official removal of the ‘Idiopathic’ part of my disease. I FINALLY have answers to the why question and let me tell you how surprising they are…

I’m skipping ahead so let’s go back to the beginning. The beginning that didn’t look remotely related to me personally at the time.

I have several friends who struggled with food that made them sick a few years back. Two of them researched enough that they believed they had a gluten allergy since eliminating gluten eliminated their symptoms. Both went to extreme measures to avoid all things gluten, and still got sick. Both are kick-ass and didn’t take it lying down. Which led me to the LEAP diet and MRT test.

I halfheartedly longed for a way back to my omnivore days where I could eat lean chicken and the occasional filet mignon when the need arose. Seeing my trail-blazing friend figure out exactly what she was allergic to (yeast, not gluten) and able to manage her debilitating pain without medication had me hopeful that this was the way to do it.

March of 2017 I started working with my friend’s dietitian who specializes in kidney disease. I did the MRT blood test in May and (halfway) embarked on the LEAP protocol in June. MRT stands for Mediator Release Test and is a measure of how my immune system cells react to 150 different foods and chemicals. It gave me a list of foods that are causing an inflammatory response in my body split between a “you should stop eating these for now” red and yellow list, and a “you should eat these foods” green list.

What does any of this have to do with kidney disease? MY kidney disease is an autoimmune disorder which is triggered by inflammation in my body. That’s the same reason vegetarianism keeps it at bay since digesting the flesh of animals increases inflammation. Now you’re with me, right? My whole thought process setting out was this: if I can trade the decreased inflammation from not eating meat with not eating whatever I specifically am allergic to then I could theoretically eat meat again.

It was a long shot. I knew it. I didn’t care. Stranger things have happened, (look at me with a kidney disease!) so why not try.

In December, my nephrologist (fancy word for a kidney doctor) confirmed that the changes I’d made to my diet based on my MRT testing had resulted in such stunning changes in my blood work that she was confident in saying that we’d found the cause of my disease.

Did you catch that? Cause = inflammation from immune reactions to various foods. I can’t make this shit up, people! The last five years of hell are because I was eating foods that my body doesn’t deal with well (for forty years). I’ll write up all the details (it will be a VERY long post, I warn you) but this is the gist of my answers.

It is stunning and overwhelming to think of this one case, mine, and wonder how many more people out there suffering with crazy health scares that don’t make any sense might have similar causes. It’s a soapbox topic from the beginning of my blog, this food that isn’t a food and how terrible we eat as a country, but this takes it to a whole new level. Don’t you agree?

Stay tuned if you want nitty gritty details because you know I’ll share them! And my dietitian is doing a case study of me (look, mom, real science and shit!) to publish. Maybe I can somehow help others in similar circumstances by sharing my story. For me, I’m just glad I get to eat meat again!


2017 Books Archive

Time again for my annual housekeeping where I archive for my own posterity the things I read over the course of the year. These are in reverse order because I successfully avoided the OCD trap that screamed I needed to put them back in order of reading. I initially aimed for more reading in 2017 but fell short. Since I’m still in school and a lot of the books on the list this year were textbooks, I count it as an overall achievement that I read more than the year before.

  • I’m Thinking of Ending Things, Iain Reid – this was a short read over Christmas break. It was confusing during the reading but couldn’t put it down because it was so different. It left me with a WTF kind of response but it keep me thinking about it for days later which was pretty cool. If you like psychological mind twists, this one is good.
  • Orphan Train, Christina Baker Kline – read for upcoming book club discussion. A quick read that gave me some insights to events in American history that I hadn’t heard of before. I wish it had been longer and gave more details but it was entertaining.
  • Enchantress from the Stars, Sylvia Engdahl *didn’t finish* – It is rare that I don’t finish books but sometimes it happens. No one has time for books that don’t hold your attention and this one read like Star Trek fan fiction rife with “telling” rather than showing. After giving it a fair shot, I put it down. It was a book pick for a SciFi/Fantasty book club I’m in but it wasn’t for me.
  • The War of Art, Steven Pressfield – highly recommended for artistic types. This was a quick read but had a ton of “Ah-ha!” moments (as well as “oh shit” ones) when I discovered a lot of behaviors I had been doing that follow self-sabotaging patterns. 2018 will be much more productive because of this little book.
  • 100 Years of The Best American Short Stories, Heidi Pitlor (editor) – one of my textbooks for my creative writing degree. Great collection of short stories arranged by decade. I enjoyed it as a reader and as a writer studying successful authors.
  • The Book of Joy, Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu – a book club read. If you’ve ever read any self-help/enlightenment books it will seem like a recap but if you haven’t ever read this particular genre it was a great one to start with.
  • First, Break All the Rules, Marcus Buckingham – I read this after I became a supervisor of people at the recommendation of my manager. It has lots of insights about the nature of people and how to play to their strengths (instead of focusing on weaknesses) to lead more effectively. It was a great book, if you’re into that kind of thing.
  • IT, Stephen King – this was a re-read after I watched the latest movie version. I initially read this when I was a teen and wondered if it would scare me as much as an adult. Surprisingly, I remembered so few details and I thoroughly enjoyed all the tie-ins to the Dark Tower series that I hadn’t realized were there until now. Still love this book.
  • The Real World: Introduction to Sociology, Kerry Ferris – surprise, a textbook! This course taught me that while I really enjoy reading about Sociology, I don’t like writing papers about it. No more plans for a Sociology minor for me.
  • A Man Called Ove, Fredrik Backman – a book club pick that I didn’t love in the beginning but ended up SERIOUSLY loving by the end. It’s a slow build but so worth the read. One of the best books I read this year.
  • Ready Player One, Ernest Cline – finally read this one when I saw the trailer for the movie coming out in early 2018 and after hearing a bunch of hype from friends who had read it. It’s a fun book, mostly because I’m a child of the 80’s and lived all the things that were referenced (and adored) in the book. A surprisingly enjoyable read based solely on the entertainment value.
  • Unwind (Unwind #1), Neal Shusterman – I had several people recommend this book to me when they heard the premise of my latest novel. It was a quick, YA read that held my attention enough to entertain me but not enough to keep reading the series. Another example of the dystopian YA trend that has been done to death in my opinion.
  • The Art of Writing Fiction, Andrew Cowan – a fabulous book on how to write that was used as a textbook in one of my classes. I made a ton of notes, used it to build a new presentation that I taught to high school creative writing classes, and will continue to reference. If you’re a writer, you should have this on your to-be-read list.
  • A Grown Up Kind of Pretty, Joshilyn Jackson – a book club pick that was very entertaining. Adult themes and a story about three generations of women full of twists. A great discussion at book club. If you’re looking for an accessible book, easy to read with lots to talk about for your book club, I recommend this one.
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams – another pick of the sci-fi/fantasy book club. I read this mostly because so many people quote this classic and I felt left out (and not geek enough) having not read it. It was disappointing. I liked the movie much better!
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot – book club pick and a fascinating Non-Fiction read. I came away from this looking at the medical profession and the medical research field completely different. A fabulous read for anyone, especially for a book club.
  • The Lie that Tells a Truth: A Guide to Writing Fiction, John Dufresne – another book on the writing craft used as a textbook. This one had fewer takeaways for my personal writing but it did influence me to do more free-writing to collect character sketches from real-life. A good one, but not a great one.
  • A Game of Thrones (Song of Ice and Fire #1), George R.R. Martin – I gave into the hype (hubby watches the HBO series and I met George R.R. Martin in person this year) and wasn’t disappointed. Although, I wonder if I would have been able to keep the characters straight if I didn’t have actors to picture from the TV series. I don’t have much time for epic tomes of this size much but I will slowly make my way through the series at some point. (It isn’t like they come out very regularly, so I hear!)
  • A Monster Calls, Patrick Ness – a book club pick this year which I had read previously. I listened to it again to refresh my memory for the discussion and loved it just as much the second time around. Still one of my all-time favorite books.
  • Sustainable Energy, Jefferson W. Tester – a textbook (no surprise) about one of my favorite subjects. I loved this course and would take it again if they’d give me credit for it. Interesting tidbit: three years ago I had a discussion about current research my brother in law (a materials engineering major at the time) was up to. At the time, I used the future possibilities he told me about as world building for my current novel. Then I got to see what had already been implemented and what is already emerging commercial technology now when I wrote the research paper for this class. I’m definitely a science geek (minus the math skills!)
  • Introduction to Mythology, Eva Thury – a textbook for a class I thought was going to be my favorite and which was actually my LEAST favorite to date. I wanted this class to be something totally different (not sure why) and ended up hating it. I don’t want to read old texts and analyze them, I’d rather discuss myths and what they all have in common I guess. *shrug*
  • Finders Keepers, Stephen King – a second in the series book with only a slight tie-in to the original book’s cast of characters. Not sure I love that approach but I’ve got a signed first edition of the third book in the series so I had to read this one.
  • The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson – my attempt to read classics in the horror genre. Apparently I’m a jaded horror girl who doesn’t like her horror subtle. This felt like watching a sixties movie today. So disappointed.
  • Bluescreen (Mirador #1), Dan Wells – who knew I liked cyberpunk!? This was a great read from one of my favorite local authors. If you like science and like to imagine what the future is like, pick this one up.
  • Small Great Things, Jodi Picoult – book club pick that was just meh for me. If you’re a privileged white person who’s never considered how it is to be black in America, you’ll probably love this book. (Because that’s who it was written for.) If you already read very diverse books, this will fall somewhat flat for you like it did for me.
  • Service Fanatics, James Merlino M.D. – I read this because our new CEO at work was quoted in it and I wanted to know the culture of the Cleveland Clinic where he came from. It was a fantastic read! I love that my company will help shape the future of medicine in the U.S.
  • Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides – one of my all-time favorite books that someone else picked for book club so I got to re-read it. Just as good the second time around!
  • The College Handbook of Creative Writing, Robert DeMaria – the first textbook on the subject I’ve read. It slants a LOT toward literary fiction but it had many great lessons to teach me that I have already applied to my writing toolbox. A great starting point if you’re a writer.
  • Red Queen (Red Queen #1), Victoria Aveyard – my teen couldn’t stop talking about this book and finally convinced me to read it. It was, you guessed it, another YA dystopian world. It had some great ideas and was entertaining, but I have no desire to keep reading the series.
  • Dark Matter, Blake Crouch – an impulse buy for myself at the bookstore that I couldn’t put down. I ended up picking it for book club this year and everyone else who read it raved about it, too. If you’re a fan of sci-fi and like mind-twisting plots, you’ll love this one.
  • Pope Joan, Donna Woolfolk Cross – book club pick based loosely on evidence that there once was a woman who pretended to be a man so she could be educated and ended up as Pope. It was entertaining and fascinating from a historical perspective.
  • The Dark Tower (The Dark Tower #7), Stephen King – this rounded out my re-read of the entire series that I started in 2016. Overall, I still love the ending (especially as it plays into the new movie of the same title that came out in 2017.) I love the first four books in the series much more than I love the last three which came out so close together I had never re-read them. Still my favorite King series.

Looking Ahead to 2018

It’s the Winter Solstice, the shortest day and longest night of the year. I’ve always been in tune with the natural ebb and flow of this annual changing of the seasons and thus it has become my own time of reflection as the year closes and a new one dawns. 2018 is poised to be a year of growth for me. I’m finishing revisions on my latest novel and will fully enter the querying trenches in the coming months.

Seeking an agent to represent my novel is monumental; an exciting – and frightening – step in my journey toward being a professional author. Short stories provided entry into the publishing world, but a novel with my name on the cover will be the real test of professionalism. I also know, if I’m successful, that revision and deadlines will become my new taskmasters. I’ll have to write books faster. Part of me screams “what are you thinking? We aren’t ready for this!” but I squash that voice and power through the fear despite it.

2018 will also bring the completion of the required elements of my degree program, leaving me only electives to complete. In many ways it will be the hardest year with upper division classes, but the day job will *hopefully* be slowing down now that our three-year implementation project is done.

Choosing to push through the things that threaten to stop me in my forward progression is difficult sometimes. So often lately I look up from distraction and realize I’ve wasted time I didn’t have on things that don’t progress my goals. Reassessing priorities and finding ways to keep those things that are most meaningful to my long-term goals in focus will likely be the theme of 2018.

Putting The Work First – My 2017 Report

I’ve been a little radio silent this year. Maybe you noticed? Here’s the truth: being a working mom with a full time job and going to school full time took me to my limit. Not to mention all the things I didn’t say no to that I had to cram into the extra spaces.

My day job moved to new offices about this time last year and my commute is an hour each way. Each. Way. Some days it takes a toll, some days I rejoice in the extra time to multi-task homework. The work itself at my day job constantly evolves and now I’m on call again every other week. Facing a division-wide reorganization at the end of the year, I’m hopeful that things will settle down and I can go back to fitting all my work into a forty hour week instead of the fifty or more it takes now. We shall see.

In looking back on the course of this year, it was a lot of saying ‘No’ to others and saying ‘Yes’ to me. I only attended two author events this year – StokerCon in Long Beach as an attendee, and LTUE as a guest panelist. I’ve got a well-oiled machine in my Infinite Monkeys chapter and this year’s motto was if anyone suggested adding something new to what we do, they had to head it up. So far it has worked really well. We are kicking off an attempt to publish an anthology open only to our members and I have zero involvement in the day-to-day project. Fully delegated. It feels super refreshing. I assembled an amazing Conference Committee who successfully pulled off TWO conferences this year and I still have not qualified for another Presidential Service Award, which was my goal headed into this year. Okay, that isn’t completely truthful – I did qualify for the Bronze level and likely will have enough for the Silver level by the end of the year, but I definitely will not qualify for the Gold level like last year. Goal achieved!

School has been amazing – I’m a junior now and working through my degree program instead of all the general ed requirements I had to do the first year. The last few months of coursework forced me to write a query letter and synopsis of my latest novel. It was a fantastic experience to be forced to take these steps whether I was ready to do so or not. Coincidentally, it also meant I was ready when there were out of town agents at the League of Utah Writer’s Fall Conference last month to pitch to.

Here’s the biggest news of the year so far: I pitched my novel to those out there who could get it published. My first choice of literary agencies wants to see it. We even talked about book two, which I hadn’t even considered.

Now, I’m working on the finishing touches of my continuity edits so I can get it to my editor, polish it all up, and submit it to *hopefully* my future agent. Oh, and just in case that doesn’t pan out, there is another acquisitions editor (who’s also a fellow Utahn) whose publisher wants to see it as well.

Surreal. This is what being a working writer feels like.

This is what stepping away from everything and protecting my writing time to focus on achieving my own goals first feels like.

I can do better – at delegating and trusting others to do things as competently as I do. At relegating social media (all of it) until after I’m done writing every day. At drinking more coffee so I can sleep less and be more productive. But I still did better than I had ever dreamed when I started out this year, struggling through January.

I’m taking six days off from the day job for Thanksgiving. To finish mid-terms, to work through this round of edits for my novel, and to spend time with family. I’ll also be thinking about how to say yes to even less things next year so I can write faster.

Writing first – the motto for 2017 – has paid off handsomely so far. I can’t wait to see how I can improve on this approach and take whatever the next step in this journey will be.

New insights on author events

Here’s something new that I have realized by stepping back, and it might seem counter-intuitive for others out there hoping to make it as fledgling authors. Before I start, I can’t take total credit for this concept since I heard another author voice this idea first – one who is more prolific and has published more than me and whose identity escapes me. He (I’m fairly certain that I at least have the gender correct) was discussing something else entirely but I realized it applied to my wanting to do all the things, so I stole the idea (as all great writers do) and twisted it to my own to share here. It is one part strategy and one part prioritization.

Here’s some background. I live in Utah, home to the likes of Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Shannon Hales, Larry Correia – all NYT Bestselling Authors that most folks have heard of even outside of Utah. Add to that, a massive amount of mid-level authors who are talented enough to make a living as a writer without the need to have an additional day job that pays the bills. Utah is also home to a multitude of writing conferences and other related events like Salt Lake Comic Con, Life the Universe and Everything Science Fiction and Fantasy Symposium, StoryMakers, League of Utah Writers, and Teen Author Bootcamp to name some of the big ones. This mecca of writing talent and opportunity means there are a LOT of events happening from single day workshops to free writing classes and author events through the public library system.

This is both good and bad. Let’s break them down for both those who attend and those who appear at these events.

For Writers

Arguably, there is far more good if you’re a writer who wants to learn or improve your craft.


  • Opportunities to learn – every weekend there’s an event where you can learn new skills or improve the ones you already have. This is not an exaggeration. Every. Single. Weekend. Especially in the spring – what others have referred to as “con season” – because there’s a conference or convention locally and regionally back to back for months starting in February and lasting all the way through into Summer.


  • Money – face it, there is a downside financially when paying to attend all the things that are available. It’s the only con I could find… initially.

For Authors

I’m sure most authors will disagree with what I’m about to say so bear with me while I defend my arguments.


  • Opportunity to connect with readers. There’s really only one sure-fire way to make it big – write a story that people read and talk about with their friends who then also read it. They tell their friends and then everyone is reading your book. No one would argue with that. With today’s market, it is increasingly hard to get noticed amid all the new books released every day so connecting to readers directly through events and conferences is a great opportunity.
  • Opportunity to connect with other authors. Networking which fuels the old adage “It’s not what you know but who you know” is no different in the publishing industry than any other. The more connections you can make to other authors who can introduce you to agents or who are willing to blurb your book, the better your network grows. Conferences every weekend is a great way to meet and solidify relationships.


  • Money – unless you’ve hit it big enough to be invited and paid for your appearance at a conference or convention, you’re looking at a lot of time and money to appear at conferences.
  • Over-saturation. Here’s where it gets controversial.

Make too many appearances and you become just another face in the crowd of “s/he’s always here” and people stop listening and stop caring. They start taking your presence for granted. What if you haven’t published a new book since the last conference you appeared at (whether it’s last year or last month)? If you aren’t talking about a brand new release in the last couple of months or have something brand new coming out right away, and people see you on panels and giving presentations over and over again… you aren’t going to leave an impression that you’re someone to watch.

What if you’re a mid-list author who has several successful books and name recognition? You want people to seek you out, thus limit your appearances. Why? Because then there is huge buzz about the fact that you’ll be there at the events you choose to attend and people will miss you in your absence at the ones you aren’t attending. Take Brandon Sanderson – he teaches at BYU where LTUE (Life, The Universe, and Everything Science Fiction and Fantasy Symposium) started over thirty years ago. He also lives in the same city where the event is held. It would be SUPER easy for him to arrange to be there every year but he doesn’t. Instead he is there every few years and it is a special treat when it happens.


I propose that as an aspiring author, it behooves you to limit the appearances you make and be selective of the events you do. I know some will argue that you should say ‘Yes’ to every appearance once you become published and once you have more than one book to sell. But I hold true to the idea that writing a book that others will talk about is the best way to get name recognition and increase sales. So instead of spending so much time (and money!) attending conferences and seeking to make author appearances, spend that time writing the next book. Or polishing the one you just finished so it’s the best it can be before it hits the market. The career you better might just be your own.

Coming Up For Air, or Finding Balance in 2017 Update

You’ll remember that I headed into 2017 hoping for a better experience than what I had going on at the end of 2016 (read the original post HERE if you missed it…) and armed with a plan to make it happen. Either I did a really good job of implementing the plan or I’m getting really good at juggling all the things in my life now. (Jury is still out on that one…) Things do feel better and I’m seeing positive results in my stress levels. I’m here to share some insights if you want all my secrets. Why are you reading my blog if it isn’t to get my secrets, right? *wink*

My powers of saying NO and delegating everything I can are becoming well-honed skills. This is still not always easy for me. I always wish I was doing the things that I am missing out on when I know others are enjoying them without me, thanks to my raging case of “FOMO” (Fear Of Missing Out). But practice makes everything easier. When I didn’t die after not participating in every author event that was available to me the last six months, I realized I could survive. I also realized that when a person is found with the right skills to hand off something successfully, they are an invaluable find. I have so many people around me who are rocking things that I’ve given them, and making my life easier in the process. If you’re one of these – you know who you are – thank you!

My efforts to break the constant draw of being connected to social media is still a daily struggle. However, limiting the times and ways I get notified of things on Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter has been amazing. We all know I’m addicted so it isn’t like I’m not going to check in on social media whenever I have down time (like the end of the day, whenever I’m on public transit, at lunch, etc.) so I’m not missing things. The difference now is that I’m not distracted by notifications that pop up and interrupt whatever else I’m focused on. Seriously, if you are getting these kinds of notifications outside of the social media site itself you may not even realize how disruptive they are until you turn them off.

The best part of all of these efforts is the amount of writing I’m doing again – even while maintaining a 3.9 GPA and consistently hitting the President’s List at SNHU. I’ve written two short stories that I’m extremely proud of, POETRY that I’ve never been inspired to write but now do, and I’m working on my novel consistently. It’s funny how everything I do looks the same to observers – me, sitting in front of a laptop in various places around the house. Is she doing homework? Working on League business? Messing around on social media? I didn’t realize this until I was sharing with my hubby how great it was to be almost to the 70K mark on the novel and getting toward the ending. He was surprised to hear that I was even writing. His assumption that I was always swamped with coursework (or distracted by Facebook) was eye-opening. Nope, I’m doing ALL the things now that I have arranged my life for better effectiveness.

None of these things are new insights, I was already seeing some success by the time I originally blogged about them. What is fabulous to know is that now they are habits rather than merely new and promising. Sustainable behaviors are always more effective for long-term results. What steps are you taking to increase your success?

The End of an Era

As I settle into my new normal and take a minute to look around, many things are shifting. May was a monumental milestone.

Life as a dance mom with competition dancers is officially behind me. Big Sister is headed for high school and is leaving the competition dance studio behind her for dance company endeavors instead. While it’s been a solid decade of crazy schedules and running kids to and fro between home and the dance studio all year, extra practices in February and March, and weekends spent sitting in high school auditoriums or on bleachers in the gymnasium all day on Saturdays from March to May every year, it’s officially over. Baby Sister likes dance but loves the friends and socializing AT dance far more than the dancing itself. Every week it was a struggle to make her go to dance classes and it isn’t worth the time, energy or money to force it. She will take a dance class with her bestie for a very manageable hour a week and we will still have our evenings and weekends in the spring free. The one thing I won’t have to ever say again: “I can’t, we have dance”. I have mixed feelings about this. While it will certainly free up a lot of family time, I will miss the connections to the dance community and the family at our dance studio. We will replace this will family camping and other things we haven’t been able to do much of easily.

The passion Big Sister had for dance, Baby sister has for skiing. She begged her daddy to take her every weekend and even now, she was begging for skiing last weekend. Spring in Utah is a wondrous thing with the weather sunny and warm but snow still at the higher elevations and at least one ski resort still open. The girls are both fabulous skiers. Where it used to be mommy-daughter weekends around dance, now it will be daddy-daughter weekends on the ski slopes. It does my heart good to know they will have things they only do with their dad that will create memories to look back on well into adulthood.

Speaking of adulthood… Big Sister is headed to High school… and driving… and dating! How the hell am I old enough for that to be true? (yeah, yeah, I know I have friends who have kids that are already married and pumping out grand-babies… it doesn’t help me accept the new reality of my life!) My oldest has just over two years and then she herself will be an adult. Time is fleeting.

I’m officially in management at the corporate day job now. A step I said I wanted a year or so ago and one of the main motivators for finishing my degree. Now that I’m here, it’s a lot of work, which I knew about. What I hadn’t anticipated was how hard it would be to give up all the things I do really well to let others do them instead while I lead their efforts and create the overall strategy. It’s a pretty insane shift required in my psyche and I’m hoping I don’t royally fuck it up. I’ve got a couple of great employees so far and I’m sure I’ll figure it all out at some point. Because that’s how I roll.

It’s been a year, almost to the day, since I decided to return to school and finish my degree. Before I even realized it, I’ve got almost a year of classes under my belt. While it feels like I just started and am still adjusting, it’s also flying by. When I look at all the classes that I have completed and the ever-shortening list of ones I have left before I’m done, it doesn’t seem so overwhelming.

I’ve been focusing so much on school that I’ve had very little time for writing my own creative works. Don’t get me wrong, I’m doing plenty of writing each week, it just isn’t in the form of my own stories. I’m still hovering at about two-thirds done with my latest novel and have written several short stories so far this year, but I would have had more to show for a year of writing if I hadn’t also been working on my degree. The good news is, this term I have writing courses instead of literature and science courses and general ed is behind me, which is fantastic. I know I’m becoming a better writer because of the courses I’m taking. Catch-22 right there. Because I don’t have a ton of time on top of the priorities I am currently chasing, I have taken somewhat of a hiatus from doing author events this year. It is proving to be both a good thing and a sad thing. My fear of missing out on adventures and experiences that others in my local writing community are doing rears its ugly head at every turn. But when I stop and think about how much my focus can remain on my writing because of it, I admit it is a good choice. I’m getting really good about saying no to things. Practice makes perfect, apparently.

As I close the chapter of dance mom insanity and look ahead to all the things I’ve still got going on that fill every day to the brim, my heart is happy. I’m living a full life, a life I love, and squeezing every ounce of fulfillment from each day. I lost a co-worker this past week to a sudden illness and it was a sobering reminder that every day could be our last, much like it could have been mine once not so long ago. I’m grateful I’m still here to enjoy this thing I call life.

Advice and perspective from my younger self

One of the best things about Facebook is the “On This Day” feature. This week, my memories included a bit of irony from a previous post two years ago. I was deep in the throws of a serious pity party about how much time I hadn’t gotten that week to write while I was deep in the first draft stage of my latest novel. I gave myself the permission to be too busy that week of life getting in the way, sharing the epiphany that every week is not the same and sometimes you aren’t productive. And it’s okay.

Today I look back and laugh at how silly I was and what I thought the picture of “busy” was back then. That was before I was in leadership in the League of Utah Writers. Before I planned large conferences for hundreds of people in my spare time. Before I had returned to school full time. Before I had two kids on a dance team. Before I was a manager at the day job. Before I had an hour commute each way to work every day…

The lesson is the same now as it was then, just the perspective has shifted. If I could go back in time to those blissful days full of all the time in the world to write if I didn’t have anything else scheduled I would be hard pressed to turn it down. But when I’m being honest with myself, I have a much fuller life now thanks to all the things I have added in the past couple of years and I likely wouldn’t change a thing.

Doing all the things is also much easier with a solid support system. I’ve added a level of insanity while I finish my degree but I have traded away the cooking, grocery shopping, laundry and house cleaning to others in order to do it. Most of that now falls on my children and my ever-indulgent and uber-supportive husband who is my biggest fan cheering me on while he takes up the slack. Today, I remind everyone who’s watching that you never know what you’re capable of until you stretch yourself to the furthest limits in pursuit of your dreams. Just protect yourself from burnout and maintain balance in all things. Once that’s achieved, you’re unstoppable.

President’s Volunteer Service Award

2016 was a monumental year for me. None of the things I accomplished were ones that I had planned to achieve when I set out in January. In fact, when the year began I had barely registered there was a League of Utah Writers organization out there. By the end of the year I had become a chapter president, turned membership on its ear with humbling numbers of people who wanted to join us, created and pulled off a writing retreat, had helped organize my first statewide conference and been nominated to be the future conference committee chairman. Along with all of this, was a lot of sacrifice in the form of time. Time away from my family, time away from my own writing. What do I have to show for it?

A seriously amazing award, that’s what!

I could show evidence of over 500 hours – FIVE HUNDRED – that I volunteered for the League in 2016. Because we are a certifying organization with The President’s Volunteer Service Award program, I can tout yet another prestigious accomplishment on my road to wherever I’m headed as an author: Gold President’s Volunteer Service Award Winner.

The very best part is that I was awarded this by my favorite U.S. President (so far) of my adulthood – President Obama – with a signed letter to go with my spiffy certificate and the pin I can wear on my lapel. Service does have its advantages!

For 2017, my goal is to NOT qualify for this award by finding better balance and more people to delegate things to so they can earn this award themselves. We shall see how successful I am.

Finding Better Balance in 2017

The Universe has a way of sending me exactly what I need, when I need it. As I wrapped up 2016, I reflected on the year. While I had stayed on top of all the things I’d said yes to (and then some that I inherited out of familial duty) with most of my sanity intact, I hadn’t accomplished as much as I wanted to or had set out to do. Keeping up isn’t always the same thing as being effective, I found.

Confession time: I had a really rough January.

I spent the last half of 2016 teetering at the edge of losing all the things I was juggling just trying to stay on top of everything. I volunteered enough hours in my several roles within the League of Utah Writers that I won a really prestigious award (when I’ve officially been awarded it, I’ll share details!) but I hadn’t completed the novel I’d been on track to finish when the year started.

I still haven’t.

A lot of this is because I decided (almost on a whim) to return to college to finish my degree. However, that wasn’t the only reason if I was being completely honest with myself. In the darkest moments of January I actually resented my shiny prestigious award. It represented concrete evidence of over 500 hours that I’d given to people besides me and my writing.

I spent 2016 doing things that were amazing. Don’t get me wrong. But much of it was at the expense of my own dreams and goals. I had done it all, except what made me happy and what meant the most.

Here’s where the Universe comes in. I follow a blogger and fellow writer who is a productivity expert. She supplies me with my yearly statistics and writing progress tracker and I’m in an online writing group she started. I don’t know her personally but she changed my life by writing about her own similar struggles last year. When I read her blog post reflecting about it, I realized just how ineffective I’d been last year at the things that really mattered to me.

I got to take a turn with my friends receiving, rather than giving, support and talked through a ton of these things with Hubby. Hard as it is to hear “I told you so”, he HAD been telling me this was where I was headed all year long. I just hadn’t believed him, thinking I had it in the bag and could handle whatever life threw at me. I was wrong.

Yes, me. Wrong.

Mark your calendars. This might not happen again for eighty years, folks!

What I realized from all of this is that my personal productivity was suffering because I was not focusing on the right things. I was doing everything believing I was being successful and effective and in reality I was neither. I started taking stock of things I did and evaluating if they were the right things to be spending my time and energy on based upon whether doing them would bring me happiness or achieve my own goals. When I approached things from this place, it was much easier to say no to things without my FOMO (fear of missing out) rearing up.

I spent February implementing changes and am in a much better place because of it. Here’s a rundown of the subtle changes I made that had the most impact.


I moved Facebook (and all the other social media I do) last in order of things I do each day. I thought I was already doing this since I usually set aside specific time every day for that. The small change I made was to stop getting notifications that popped up when I would get a new message or someone would interact with me online. I was getting them so I would know if something pressing came up that I could handle easily. These things I thought kept me on top of things were actually Unscheduled Interruptions. Once I eliminated them, it was easy to see how much. I still can see the total number of notifications as a passive thing if I happen to glance at my phone over the course of the day. But not knowing the details of what I’m missing gives me the freedom to “do” my social media on my own time after the things that matter most are done. I do this even for email – which surprised me. But, the idea of keeping up on email and being reactive to requests doesn’t support the reality of getting the right things done. Let’s face it, email was created as a way to communicate without the need for instant response.


I knew when I enrolled in school that my writing time would be cut in half at best and I was right. I lost steam on the novel and found it harder to pick up seamlessly when I only had stolen moments to write. But I still have stories in me and I’m much happier when I’m writing. So I committed to what’s left of my writing group to write a story a month with specific deadlines. We’ve only been at it for a month but January was successful. By the end of the year, I’ll have at least twelve drafted stories that I can have at my disposal when that perfect opportunity presents itself without stressing about how I’ll find the time. Making my writing the first thing I do when I have free time has kept the focus on my own creativity.


This one is a tough one for me. But it’s been a year with my fellow leaders within the League and I’ve discovered others who are just as anal and committed to getting things done as I am. Knowing what each of their strengths (and weaknesses) are and who has what specific skills has allowed me to trust more and more things to others. I also get to be in charge of building a team to split up the work of putting on conferences and it’s going extremely well. Much more so than where I was a month ago when I was ready to quit completely so I could spend all my free time on my own writing. Bottom line, I love the work I get to do to help others achieve their dreams and find opportunities within the writing community to grow. I wouldn’t trade it but I’ve also found a way to make it work better within the boundaries of my life.

Spending time on what is really important to me and focusing my efforts on activities that drive my goals, not just crossing off things on a list, has made a huge difference for me. The key for me is mindfulness about what each thing I’m doing and how it is contributing to those things that matter most to me.

Shout out to Jamie Raintree, without whom this journey out of my dark place would have taken forever! Here’s to a fantastic and productive 2017.

Overachiever: College Edition

I am now officially a sophomore and entering my third term since returning to college. Just got word that I made the President’s List because I have a 4.0. Not going to lie – that feels amazing and worth every amount of hard work and suffering when I say that. I found out recently that my perfectionism comes from my Dad – who very quietly his whole life has never started anything he didn’t know he would be good at and who pushes himself to do everything perfectly. Overachiever is apparently a genetic trait.



2016 Book Archive

Time once again for the yearly recap of my reading. I’ve read a bunch of books this year and while I no longer have time to do extensive reviews of each on GoodReads, I offer you the following short reviews in case you’re looking for recommendations. This also is my way of keeping track of what I’ve read in one nice and neat format I can look back on. These are in chronological order because this year my OCD got the best of me. Enjoy!

  • Heart-Shaped Box, Joe Hill – I wanted to love this one after NOS4A2 but it was not quite as good. It was enjoyable as a horror/thriller but it didn’t stick with me like previous reads written by Hill.
  • The Finger Trap, Johnny Worthen – great meandering mystery with a main character who has distinctive voice. It was like getting a glimpse inside a middle aged guy and figuring out exactly what makes him tick while he tries his best to become an unwilling private investigator to save his own skin.
  • The Nightingale, Kristin Hannah – this was a book club pick and was heart-wrenchingly good. I cried, I rejoiced, I weeped. A period piece about WWII, which I don’t always love, but was extremely good. Highly recommended.
  • Old Scratch and Owl Hoots: A Collection of Utah Horror, short story collection – this was a fun jaunt through the minds of Utah Horror with a western theme. Western is not one of my preferred genres and not all the stories were created equal but there were several that were worth reading that I enjoyed. Short story collections are fabulous when trying out new authors or for fast reads between larger ones.
  • Waiting for Sunrise, Eva Marie Everson – another book club selection but one I didn’t particularly enjoy. It was light beach reading with a side of religious overtones. I know lots of people who liked it and thought it was inspiring but it wasn’t my cup of tea.
  • The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, Stephen King – what’s not to love in a story collection by my favorite author? Some were weird, some were frightening and all had something to like.
  • Shadows of Self (Mistborn #5), Brandon Sanderson – the “middle” book in the second Mistborn series. I LOVED the first three books and while it is interesting and fun to revisit the world that has evolved around the magic from the first three for 500 years, I don’t love or feel as invested in these characters as I wish I did. A fun fantasy from my favorite fantasy author but not my favorite from him.
  • Physics of the Future, Michio Kaku – research for my current novel in progress. Should have been titled “Technology of the Future” since it was more about that than physics. Exactly what I wanted and sparked many of my futuristic elements when writing my future-based story.
  • Shadow of the Wind (Cemetary of Forgotten Books #1), Carlos Ruiz Zafon – another book club selection and a fabulous experience on Audible. It was written in Spanish and translated to English and hearing the audio narrator pronounce all the words properly gave it a beautiful tone. Many remarked that this one had so much going on that they felt like it was heavy and needed cliff notes but I loved it because it was meaty with layers that built upon themselves. Highly recommended.
  • The Tell Tale Heart, Edgar Allan Poe – a classic horror tale that I had never read. I don’t always enjoy classics but this one was light and fun and a quick read.
  • Living the Secular Life, Phil Zuckerman – I heard an interview with the author on NPR and it intrigued me. Loved reading this one since it applied very much to my own secular life. If you’re a secular person, or love someone who is, this is a great book!
  • Strangers, Michaelbrent Collins – I gave this local favorite horror author another try after hearing the premise of this story at a convention. While I liked it better than his zombie series, it was very fast paced and heavy handed. It also left you hanging at the end with a cliffhanger that feels like a ploy to get me to pick up the next installment. Still a huge pet peeve for me when authors don’t finish a story and think it necessary to leave readers dangling. It was fun and gruesome so if you’re into that kind of thing it was not disappointing. Just be aware of the loose ends left dangling at the end and if it isn’t something you can get past, don’t start it.
  • Yellow Crocus, Laila Ibrahim – another book club pick that I really liked. This one was a period piece from the era of slavery written from the perspective of the privileged white girl raised by the African American wet nurse. It was very entertaining with great characters that I felt connected to. The story felt fresh to me with a perspective I’ve never considered. Very good pick for a book club discussion on diversity.
  • Calamity (The Reckoners #3), Brandon Sanderson – the final installment of this fabulous “superhero” fantasy series that my entire family was highly anticipating. The whole series is well worth your time if you love fantasy or superheroes.
  • A Walk In the Woods, Bill Bryson – this started out well but was more a travelog than a memoir. I had hoped it was another like “Wild” but it was merely an account of one man’s attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail in middle age. Skip the book and watch the movie on this one. All the funny parts and none of the boring recounts.
  • The Dark, James Herbert – this was a monthly selection of the Horror Afficionado Goodreads group that sounded interesting at a time when I needed something new. It was meh – mostly because it was more suspenseful because the author strung the reader along with very little new information. The reveal at the end was a let down and I realized it was an older book and forgave the shortcomings. If you want a scary story but don’t love the modern horror genre, this would be a good one to check out.
  • David (The Unseen #3), Johnny Worthen – I had been waiting for this final installment of one of the best written YA series ever and was lucky enough to get an advanced reader copy so I didn’t have to wait until the release date. Lucky since it kept getting pushed further and further out. It helps to know the author personally. This was a very satisfying wrap up to a fantastic story. If you haven’t read all three, you should.
  • Keep Quiet, Lisa Scottoline – another book club pick. The premise is that a father and son are driving home late, the son driving even though he only has his learner permit and isn’t supposed to be driving at night, and they hit a jogger on a deserted road. The father decides his son’s future is too valuable to risk and tells his son to keep quiet. I found the story extremely frustrating because the characters kept making insanely bad choices and the plot twists were outrageous and unbelievable. Not one of my favorites but could be a light beach read if you’re into that kind of a story.
  • Vicious, V.E. Schwab – book club pick that I really enjoyed. Another take on people with extraordinary gifts where two extremely intelligent college friends become nemesis’. It was a great book for a discussion with readers since there was no clear-cut good guy or bad guy but rather complex and layered characters with believable motivations. Highly recommended.
  • The Bands of Mourning (Mistborn #6), Brandon Sanderson – had to finish the series but, again, not my favorite. It has more of a steampunk flavor and none of the characters I initially loved from the first three books. It was fun and lighthearted but I’ve come to more fully appreciate Sanderson’s epic fantasy.
  • The Gunslinger (The Dark Tower #1), Stephen King – after discussion with a friend who was reading the Dark Tower series for the first time, I decided it was time to re-read one of my all time favorite series. I more fully appreciate the first installment knowing exactly how the entire series plays out but it is still my least favorite of all seven.
  • The Drawing of the Three (The Dark Tower #2), Stephen King – being back in the world of the Gunslinger and his Ka-tet, I couldn’t stop. This was the first volume I read – back in junior high when it was first released – and still is so much fun to read.
  • The Passenger, Lisa Lutz – book club pick that was layered with suspense and mystery and thoroughly enjoyable. There were mixed reviews from some during our discussion but overall well received. If you like psychological thrillers that keep you guessing, this one is a fabulous one.
  • The Waste Lands (The Dark Tower #3), Stephen King – still my favorite series ever and I loved being back with my favorite characters on their journey.
  • Burying the Honeysuckle Girls, Emily Carpenter – this was a book club book that was surprisingly good. About a girl whose mother and grandmother are surrounded by mystery when they go crazy and either died or disappeared. As her own 21st birthday approaches, she tries to unravel the mystery before she suffers the same fate. I really enjoyed this one and later found out it is a debut from a brand new author.
  • Wizard and Glass (The Dark Tower #4), Stephen King – still my favorite in this series. I found myself quoting the iconic lines along with the narrator several times. Still one of the few books I’ve read more than once. I believe this is the sixth go for me and I still loved every minute of it.
  • The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt – this was my pick for the book club since no other book I’d read since my last pick was as poignant. I listened to it again in preparation for leading the book club discussion and it was even better the second time. Such beautiful language and such a heart-wrenching story. Highly recommended!
  • Jewel, Bret Lott – book club pick that I, unfortunately, couldn’t find unabridged on audible. I thought it wouldn’t matter if I read the abridged version but found I had missed a lot of the meat of the story once I was mid-discussion at book club. A story about a mother who has a child at a later age, after she already has a house full of children, who has Downs Syndrome. The emotional parts were skimmed and if you’re going to pick this one up you should NOT settle for the abridged version.
  • Wolves of the Calla (The Dark Tower #5), Stephen King – I realized that while I’d read and re-read all the books in the series leading up to this installment, while I and the rest of the world waited impatiently for King to finish what he started, I had only read this one the one time when it was released. While the first 4 volumes felt like visiting with old friends and reminiscing about all the most loved stories from our past, this one was fresh and new and I’d forgotten a lot of things. Loved it as much as the first time.
  • Song of Suzannah (The Dark Tower #6), Stephen King – again, fresh and new and felt like I was reading new material. So glad the last one was on the book shelf and ready to go once I finished this one.

Thanks to Audible and the power of multi-tasking, I was able to read 30 books this year. A number I thought I’d never attain again when life got crazy. So glad technology allows me to continue to enjoy this pastime I so enjoy. Here’s to reading even more in 2017!

Submission Stories: 2016’s Cautionary Tale

I was instilled from a young age by my parents – Mom in particular – that I could do anything I wanted. What no one told me was that I couldn’t do everything at the same time. It’s been a long year of operating at the uppermost limits of my capacity while trying not to lose what’s left of my sanity while I also suffer from a rather rare condition called FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out.

So begins the cautionary tale of 2016…

Back in January, the Utah Horror Writers decided on the theme for our next anthology. I was still riding the high of being published in the last one and started right away on brewing up a new story – this one even better than the last. Or so I hoped. A few weeks later, I had come up with a premise for the story and jotted down a few notes. But I was still deep in the throws of the first draft of my latest novel so that’s all I paused for. My subconscious could work on it while I finished the current project.

Fast forward to March when all the craziness of running a chapter of the League of Utah Writers descended on me – because I couldn’t say no, of course. Progress on the novel continued and I tried not to admit how much the pace suffered while I split my “writing time” with things related to writing but not all of it spent putting words on the page. The main focus still the completion of my latest novel, the horror story could wait a while longer. How long could it really take to bust out a short story, right? I’m a professional now with two of them published so I thought it wouldn’t be a big deal.

Then I decided to go back to school and things ground to almost a halt on any writing – minus my English Comp courses that is. It was then, when my self-imposed deadline (goal) of having the novel finished before school started flew past and I still wasn’t finished, that I admitted, as I struggled to find balance in my everyday life, school work spilling over into my writing time in order to keep up, that I wasn’t going to have time to write a short story for the anthology.

I told myself it was fine. My number one writing goal is finishing this novel. This amazing novel that started early on to pour from me. I refused to step away from it long enough to build and grow a completely different story since that would take me two steps back when it was time to return to the project. Added was the fact that all this time had gone by and no concise story or characters had grown from my initial premise I’d jotted down months ago. Which meant it wouldn’t come easy if I did pause work on the novel to write it.

Nope. I do not have a short story to submit to the anthology this year. Sorry. I told everyone this. I was fine with this. I was sticking to what my number one goal right now is and I felt good about it.

Then my fear of missing out reared its ugly head. I went to my writing retreat and there were several people working on short stories for the very same horror anthology. Some of them read excerpts aloud and they were good. I wanted to have a story to submit. Why couldn’t I? Oh, right, because my original idea was complicated enough it required a full novel to do it justice. No, I reminded myself that my number one goal was still the novel.

No short story. No short story. No short story.

I told everyone who asked that I was not submitting. Nope. Not this year.

Two days before the submission deadline, a snippet of a dream came to me. One that I’d had years ago and had stayed with me, plausible and terrifying at the same time. Hey, it would work as a flash fiction piece – super short, maybe one scene. BAM. Self-delusion engaged.

I started to write it between my school assignments. It was really cool and really fun to write. I finished it about an hour before the submission deadline. Finished the FIRST DRAFT, that is.

Everyone knows you don’t submit a first draft. Anywhere. For any reason. You’ve got to step away for at least a day or two to get perspective on the writing itself. Better if it’s longer. Then you read it and revise it because you WILL find problems. No one writes a perfect first draft. No one. Ever. Once you’re done with your revision, you’re still not ready to submit. You’ve got to show it to other people. Have them read it and tell you what you missed but didn’t see. You incorporate that feedback and do another revision. THEN you’re probably ready for a submission.

Did I do any of that? Nope. None of that. Zilch. Nada.


Yes, you read that correctly. I completely justified it to myself. I had read it three or four times. Out loud once, too. It was fine. Because the alternative was not getting it submitted before the deadline and then I’d for sure miss out.

I hit send at 11:57pm – with three minutes to spare.

I regretted it almost immediately. I knew better. What was I thinking?

Understandably I was not selected to be part of the anthology this year. It was perhaps my easiest rejection ever, since I agreed that my piece wasn’t up to par when I went back and read it a few weeks later. It still hurt. It was a rejection all the same. But I understood.

Did I learn from the experience? Yes. Will I ever do that again? I want to say absolutely not, but I also know myself and I can’t guarantee it.

What’s my lesson in all of this? The “rules” as they are loosely thought of by most of us are there for a reason. Let this be a painful lesson I lived through so that others don’t make the same mistake I did. Do not ever submit a first draft no matter how great your desire to do so. Do not query a manuscript until it is polished and just as perfected as you can get it.

I’m back to focusing on the novel – amidst the chaos of being a college student again. I’m keeping my eyes on my biggest goals knowing that right now there are major things that I’ve got vying for all my resources and it will most certainly mean missing out on other things in the future. But that’s okay.