Wednesday, August 31, 2016

When Real Life Trumps Writing

Since last November, my writing partners and I have started writing together at Great Harvest. It’s a great environment, with fantastic music, and there’s a never-ending supply of yummy food. We get to write and chat, and we actually get productive, since our subconscious has adapted to writing there.

But two weeks ago, I got very little writing done. That’s because something even more exciting happened.

While I was writing, all of a sudden, I heard sirens. Actually, we all heard sirens. One woman ran to the windows of the storefront, and started screaming, “There’s rangers out there! They’ve got their rifles on the truck!” Many of the other customers ran to the storefront, but I stayed where I was. Call me a little crazy, but when I hear rifles, my first instinct isn’t to run into the line of sight. Fortunately, the slightly hysterical woman kept the commentary going.

Finally, I called my husband to let him know what was happening. His first question?

Did you get pictures?

I told him I hadn’t, and he told me that unless I had pictures, no one would believe me. So finally, I dared to go to the window and at that point, the ambulances had already arrived, and my view was mostly blocked. But I still took pictures.

Later, when I watched and read the news, there was a high speed car chase from the county north of us, and they ended up on our Main Street before the truck crashed by running into another car. They were suspected robbers from an armed bank robbery the week earlier. I was close enough that the Great Harvest I was in was within the blockade area for a few hours.

I didn’t get a lot of writing done, but I got a great story to tell! And I got a few pictures!

Monday, August 29, 2016

Real Immersion

When I first moved to Madrid as a new freshman, I had two options. First, I could live in a ‘host family’ environment, which allowed better immersion in the culture, or I could live in the university apartments, with multiple other girls. I chose the host family route. I knew my Spanish wasn’t very good, and I wanted to really experience the culture.

I took a basic Spanish class there, and my first day, I knew I was in trouble. My teacher didn’t speak English, and she gave a pre-test to determine how much we knew. I didn’t even know what I was supposed to do in most of the sections. As expected, I failed the pre-test, and my teacher took me aside and tried to explain that maybe I should try an even more basic class. That probably would have been a good idea, but occasionally, I get a stubborn streak. I decided to stick with this class.

On my way home, I passed a large park, and I sat on one of the benches next to a fountain and pulled out my scriptures, and started reading out loud, in Spanish, to myself. I stumbled a lot, but I persevered. After two days of reading out loud to myself, a man started to relay the bricks of the sidewalk, and he and I worked side by side until he took a break.

He asked me what I was doing, and in my stumbling Spanish, I explained to him that I needed to practice. He then asked me what I was reading, and we continued our conversation. He was patient with me, and after he left, I realized that I’d carried on a conversation in Spanish. I immersed myself even deeper in the culture, attending church with a Spanish congregation, and religious institute classes with my friends from church.

Over the semester, I noticed a difference. Where most of the students from my university remained in their same circles, speaking English to one another, I forced myself out, making friends with Latinos and Hispanics. By the time midterms came, I got a C on my Spanish test, and I was ecstatic. On all of my homework assignments, I’d been acing them, with the help of my friends from church. I’m proud to say, I aced the final, and passed the class with a B.

The park where it all started

By the end of the semester, I was much more confident with my Spanish than most of my other classmates, and I could carry on conversations for hours (which I did, since I was dating a Bolivian at that point!)

The more you immerse yourself in the culture, the easier it is to learn the language, and the customs. And if you’re going to live in a different country, I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t want to really experience the culture for themselves.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

I Like Secondary Characters

I’ve been a slacker when it comes to reading. I think it’s a combination of a lot of things. First, I’ve been trying to finish this revision of Hooked. Then I started a new job, and I took several vacations. And add to that, it’s just so pretty and nice outside! Oh, and I started binging Criminal Minds.

I decided to try and remedy that a few weeks ago by reading a book that was written by someone I know. I read about half of it, but the entire time, something just didn’t quite sit right with me. I kept trying to figure it out, but I wasn’t sure what it was. The main character was strong, determined, and definitely not waiting for anyone to make decisions for her. She had proper motivation, and I could root for her goals.

It took me several days before I realized it.

The character was in a bubble. There wasn’t a single secondary character for the first half of the book. And that’s about the spot where I decided to leave it. I just couldn’t relate with her. There was no one that she interacted with, and the only time there was another character was when she was fighting them while she was trying to get some magical ingredients.

I like secondary characters. They give me a better idea of the main character. I tend to fall on the side of too many secondary characters, but that’s because I can’t imagine living a life where you have no friends or family or coworkers.

An author I think does a really good job with secondary characters is Natalie Whipple. Her books always have multiple characters, and the main characters aren’t stuck with just one friend. They’re in a group of friends, like most teenagers are. Plus, her secondary characters bring so much more to the story. It’s not just about the main character anymore.

I like secondary characters. I know that sometimes we all feel alone on our journey, but that doesn’t mean it’s true. 

Monday, August 22, 2016


I think I’ve mentioned before that hubby is from Bolivia. We deal with a lot of difference from both culture and beliefs, and it’s taken years for us to truly understand one another. Even when we think we know each other, there’s always something new to learn.

Hubby hasn’t been back to Bolivia for several years, and we’ve talked about returning for a visit multiple times. Whenever I ask him if he would like to live there again, he always says no.
His response is always the same. The thing he misses most is the food.

I’ve tried some of the Bolivian food. It’s pretty good. It’s different than what I’m used to, but I still enjoy it. I’ve offered several times to try and learn how to make some of it, but he doesn’t want me to. He thinks that I’ll mess it up and it just won’t taste right.

A few years ago, we found a restaurant in a nearby town that made salteñas.

Now if you don’t know what salteñas are, you’re really missing out. The best way I can describe them is that they’re like empañadas, but instead of filling them with cheese, they’re filled with soup. One of the greatest challenges to eating them is trying to do it without spilling all over. It’s a process of eating, sucking and licking so that you can keep clean.

I know, it sounds kind of gross, but it’s not.

When we first found the restaurant, hubby wanted to go every day. Every time he had the car, he would come home with three or four salteñas, and he would share with me.

Some Salteñas my MIL made

Now, I said they were good, but not so good I wanted to eat them every day for weeks on end.

It took me a while before I could figure out why hubby loved them so much. They were his comfort food. The stuff that reminded him of home. He ate it because it reminded him of his family and his homeland. Of all the senses, I think taste and smell are the most potent, especially when they’re connected to memories.

I can relate. When I lived in Spain, I frequented the American store, and the things that excited me were always random, but reminded me of home. Things like Kraft Mac and Cheese. Or Pop Tarts.

What kind of food do you associate with home? I’m curious about all of your traditions!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Simple Words

Sometimes, as a nurse, I feel like a glorified waitress. And a maid. And a personal butler. There are the patients who ask me to clean their room, or who want me to warm their food to a specific temperature. Or who need me to tuck them into bed just right. Or help them figure out how to use their electronic devices. Or change the DVD in the DVD player. I’ve had patients who want me to snake their toilets and others who want me to dial numbers on the phone for them.

Usually, I don’t mind. But there are the days when it feels like some patients don’t understand that I have more than one patient. And then there are the patients who call me into their room, and moments after I leave, they call me right back in. I’ve had patients who are on their call light thirteen or fourteen times an hour, and since there’s always a ding overhead when a call light goes off, it gets exhausting.

Imagine the scenario where I go into a patient’s room to give them their medications. We talk for a few minutes, and then when we finish I leave. Thirty seconds later, they call me back in and ask if I can close the blinds. Sure. No problem. I do that, and then I leave again. I get halfway down the hall when the familiar ding-ding starts again. I go in and the patient gives an apologetic smile and asks me to get a coke out of their fridge. Great. I grab the coke and again try to get back to my work. Halfway down the hall… well, you guessed it.

I hated working with those patients. I felt like they were doing it on purpose, or that they were wasting my time. Why couldn’t they just ask me when I was already in the room?

A few years ago, I worked at a facility where the administrator wanted staff to focus on six important words.

“Is there anything else you need?”

Before leaving any room, he insisted that we ask the patient if they needed anything else. It’s so simple, yet incredibly effective. I didn’t expect it to save me much time, but I’ve found, after putting it into practice, that when I’m not spending half of my time walking up and down the halls, I actually do get things done faster. And both the patient and I are much happier.

Imagine the same scenario. I go into a patient’s room and give them their medications. We talk for a few minutes, and then when we finish, I go to the door and ask, “Is there anything else you need?” Why yes! She wants me to close the blinds. Sure. No problem. I reach over, grab the blinds, and that’s it. “Anything else?” She wants a coke from the fridge. Got it. We do that until she shakes her head and can’t think of anything else.

That’s it. Such a time saver, but I never would have thought of it myself. Even though I’m no longer at the facility where I was taught to ask, I still put it into practice today. And I think I’m a better nurse for it.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Writing is Exciting

I live in a small town where there isn’t a whole lot of things to do. At least, that’s how it seems to me. I’ve lived in large cities most of my life, and I’m used to lots of museums, parks, malls… I like the indoor stuff.

Recently, at an orientation, we were asked to state our name, where we’re from and what we like to do. As we went down the line, there was a distinct pattern. They liked to hike, to go camping, or hunting, and the leader of the group always had advice. The best place to hike, a little known place to go camping, where the fish are always biting.

When it came to my turn, I told them that I like reading and writing. There was a long pause before the conversation turned to the next person. The leader of the group didn’t even respond.

What they don’t know is that I live a fairly exciting life. Maybe not because I’m as active than them, but because writing isn’t just the process of sitting down and putting words on a page. I get to research all sorts of stuff, and live in exciting worlds with my characters. I get to research about underground waterfalls, stone masonry, prosthetics, pirates, even the Mongolian language. I’ve traveled on sea ships, wagons, even on horseback to my different destinations. I’ve been a diplomat, a baker, a student, a warrior… there’s so many possibilities, and I get to wear all sorts of hats.

Writing is fun, and it’s never the same from day to day.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Universal Language

When I was a young girl, my dad became very involved with the Mexican population of our church, and many of them started to come to our house. Unfortunately, my dad was the only one who spoke Spanish at that point, so communication became a little bit of an issue. We learned a few words, but not enough to have a real conversation.

That was about the time that my mom found the perfect solution. We started having game night, and the game we played was Jenga. Jenga doesn’t require a specific language. Instead, it uses cheers, groans and all other noises aside from talking. Even if we’re teasing each other, we could usually figure out what they were trying to say just by the tone of voice.

And of course, you can’t play Jenga without eating ice cream.

It’s a universal language: Jenga and ice cream. We spent several months building strong friendships based off of those two things. Even though most of them moved back home, we still talk about them, and on the rare occasions they come up to my hometown, they always stop by to say hi.

Language doesn’t have to be a barrier. There’s always something that can be done to form friendships and relationships even if they can’t understand one another. 

Friday, August 12, 2016

Patients That Changed My Life: Dorothy

As a nurse, I have the chance to meet a lot of people from all walks of life. Some are fun, some are not so fun. Then there are those that change my life, and changed the kind of nurse I am. For privacy purposes, I won’t use real names, but I want to tell you their stories. To read about previous patients, click here.

Several years ago, I worked at an Assisted Living. Those facilities are usually for people who can take care of most of their needs, but need help with a few essentials, such as cooking or taking medications. Because they’re supposed to be fairly self-efficient, there’s a lot less staff then there are at a skilled nursing facility or hospital.

I had one patient, Dorothy, who was a very sweet lady that loved to walk around. She would take her walker, and her little dog, and they would just cruise around the nursing home all day. She would visit other residents, go outside and sit in the sun, or gather in the front room. When I first started working there, she pulled me aside with one very special request.

She wanted someone to cut her toenails. It’s something so small that it would only take a few minutes, yet no one seemed to have the time to help her. Most CNAs can’t cut toenails because of the risk for infection, especially in diabetic patients, but nurses can. I went into her room before I went home, and I cut her nails. It was such a simple act that I didn’t even think anything of it. But for her, it made her day. Actually, it made her week. She was so grateful, she came and found me every day to thank me.

We don’t need to do something big to make a difference in our patients’ lives. Something as simple as brushing their hair, shaving their face, or cutting their toenails can transform their day.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

How Criminal Minds Improved My Writing

A few months ago, I noticed that a lot of my patients were all watching the same show. I only saw bits and pieces, and I didn’t really know what it was, but it looked interesting. Recently, my interests have kind of shifted from sitcom type shows to more criminal investigative shows.

Turns out the show was called Criminal Minds, and I found it on Netflix and started watching. I really love it, and I absorbed more than I thought I did. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the show, it’s about a group within the FBI that investigates serial killers, rapists and kidnappers by analyzing their behavior to determine what kind of person would commit that crime and why.

Several weeks ago, while revising Hooked, I was struggling with one of my main villains. To me, it seemed like he kept switching his personality, depending on who he was with, but it seemed within his character. Finally, I had that lightbulb moment.

My villain had the God-complex. And the only reason I knew that was because of Criminal Minds. I started to profile my villain, his background, and the reasons behind what he does and it started to make so much sense. Suddenly, I could write him without even questioning his motives, because not only did I understand the why behind it, but I also understood the psychological part, the stuff that even he didn’t know.

From now on out, I’m going to profile every one of my characters. It’s a fantastic way to determine what really makes them tick, and to put together their background, their family life, and their environment to put together a whole person, not just a villain. Someone who has a desire for something, or a need to be fulfilled.

I love it when random things in my life connect like that.

Monday, August 8, 2016

English to Spanish

When I first moved to Madrid, I didn’t really know Spanish. I thought I knew Spanish, but I really didn’t. And even when I did know the language, I still didn’t always use the right words. I’ve seen hubby go through the same exact thing as he’s learned English. Making mistakes are part of learning. And learning to laugh makes it easier to keep from getting frustrated. Here’s a few of our innocent, yet fun mistakes:

English -> Spanish

1.       I was leading a class at church, and I told them that “I want to bless you.” One of the boys in our class stared at me and asked if I was allowed to do that. I meant to say “I want to welcome you.”

2.       On a picnic with a bunch of friends, one of the girls asked if I had ‘vasos’ (cups) and I handed her ‘pasas’ (prunes)

3.       When I was teaching children a song for church, there was a phrase: Cayen los grillos. I knew grillos to be a cricket, so I taught them that it was about falling crickets. Turns out grillos can also be shackles, which makes a lot more sense to the song.

4.       I also taught the children that the foolish man from the Bible built his house on oatmeal instead of sand.

Spanish -> English

1.       We were talking to a friend who was going home after an extended time away, and he said that he was excited to go, but sad to leave. Hubby placed a hand on his shoulder and said “it’s sour cream, isn’t it.” He meant to say bittersweet.

2.       Whenever someone does something impressive, hubby’s first response is “Excuse you!” it’s a phrase they use in Spanish, to show that you’re impressed. Now, it’s kind of our family’s catch phrase whenever we want to congratulate someone.

When we were teaching Sunday School to a bunch of four year olds, hubby was supposed to give directions, and since he has a thick Spanish accent, he tends to put an ‘e’ in front of words that start with ‘s.’ He was trying to get one little boy to go forward, and started yelling “Go e-straight, go e-straight!” and of course, the poor kids, who didn’t understand his accent, yelled “go e-straight” right along with him.

How about the rest of you? Any fun stories about learning another language and making mistakes along the way?

Friday, August 5, 2016

Baymax: A True Representation of a Healthcare Worker

I think that Big Hero 6 is an underrated movie. There’s a lot of great stuff that went into it, and I think it got ignored, just because of how big Frozen was at that time.

While watching the commercials, I was almost positive I was going to hate Baymax. He was big, slow, and the parts that they had of him made me think he would be there as comic relief, but I didn’t think that I would like the kind of comedy he would provide.

After watching the movie, I have one thing to say. Baymax is the greatest representation of a healthcare worker. Tadashi made him to be a personal healthcare provider. He must have done his research, because he created exactly the kind of person most facilities want.

Baymax’s first question, whenever someone is in pain is: what’s your pain level on a scale of 1-10?

You have no idea how often I ask this question. One facility I worked in, we were required to ask every one of our patients that question every four hours. It was in our medication record, and we had to record their pain level every 4 hours. On a normal shift, I probably ask that question probably thirty to forty times. And if I’m not asking, I’m assessing for signs and symptoms of pain.

Grimacing, guarding, acting withdrawn, moaning, groaning… I’m programmed to notice anything that could indicate pain. When I have patients with Alzheimer’s, or who had stroke and can’t communicate, I keep an eye for any nonverbal signs so that I can control their pain.

In nursing school, we learn that pain is the 6th vital sign. It’s so important that we should be assessing it whenever we walk into a patient’s room.

So hats off to Tadashi, for understanding how important pain is, and how often it needs to be assessed. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Camp NaNoWriMo Failure

It’s been a good summer. And a busy summer. I wasn’t expecting any changes or surprises, but that’s always when something happens, right?

The hardest part is writing when life seems to be going at a crazy pace. Last month, my goal was to edit 80,000 words of Hooked, book 2 in the series I wrote during November. During that time, I thought that my schedule would be wide open.

Unfortunately, life threw a few curveballs at me. Right after setting my goal, I ended up switching jobs, which meant extra hours of work, trying to finish my previous job and start orientation for the new one. Then my husband had a surprise interview across the state, and my mom threw in a surprise trip for the family. So all of the sudden, my extra time didn’t exist anymore.

I didn’t reach my goal. But that’s okay. Sometimes, we have to let life happen. That’s not to say I didn’t try hard. The last two weeks of July, we ended up driving for almost 75 hours. That’s like a full time job right there, just in the car. I spent as much time as I could writing, though let me say, there’s a lot of bumpy roads out there!

Just a few of the places we visited

There were some days that I didn’t write at all, but I didn’t let that discourage me. Because that’s going to happen. Some days are busy, and other days I have nothing to do and writing takes a priority.
It’s hard to find time for everything, but sometimes, it’s nice to sit back and let life happen for a while. The past two weeks have been crazy, but at the same time, I saw so many things that I got even more ideas for future stories

So I guess, in a sense, I never really stopped writing.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Checkpoint Equality

I don’t think I really started paying attention to racial profiling until I met my husband. Maybe because I’m the kind of Asian that doesn’t stand out. Or maybe because I’m so used to being treated a certain way that I don’t even stop to think about it.

Right after we got married, hubby and I moved to a big city with a lot of different kinds of people. I grew up in a town where most everyone looked the same. Once I moved there, I really learned that not everyone is treated the same.

Hubby got pulled over a lot. Not for speeding, but just for acting suspiciously. Or just randomly. In the half mile between our apartment complex and my work, they would randomly have check points on major holidays and over weekends, just to check and make sure people weren’t driving while drunk or high. There was one night that hubby had to pick me up, and he was randomly stopped on the way to pick me up, and then again randomly stopped on the way back home once he had me. Fortunately, he hasn’t ever done anything illegal, so he’s let off without an issue.

But it does beg the question. People hear his accent and they see his skin color and they’re put on guard. Even when in his own neighborhood, he’s treated with more scrutiny than most everyone else. Even me.

He's not the only one.

Several years ago, I got stranded in the Newark airport. There had been a bad blizzard, and all flights had been canceled for 24 hours. Since I spent most of the two days in line, I got to know the few people who were trying to make the same flight as me. One was a very sweet woman from Scotland, and we ended up spending the day together. Ironically, every single time we went through a check point, she was randomly selected to be searched. Three times it happened, while I was never chosen. She had become very flustered by the end, feeling like she’d been singled out for a reason.

I never noticed it before, because I don’t think it happens as much to me. But when I’m with others, I realize that equality is still a dream, and we’ve still got a ways to go.