Monday, October 31, 2016

Open Mind

My first year in Spain, I opted for the ‘cultural experience,’ which was a fancy way of saying that I lived with a host family. It was definitely an experience, for sure!

The woman I lived with was probably eighty years old, and she had a mentally handicapped sister who was just as old. My first semester, I had a roommate who lasted almost a month before she decided to live somewhere else. The women we lived with weren’t the easiest to live with, and I think that it made it easier for her to choose to live in student apartments, where she could do things with other girls her age.

My second semester, I had a unique roommate who didn’t seem to know anything about living abroad.

During that time, there was an orange alert out to US citizens abroad, meaning that we were supposed to be cautious while traveling. I honestly don’t know why anyone wouldn’t be cautious, but apparently it was slightly more dangerous. Maybe it’s because I look less ‘American’ than others, but I didn’t worry too much. I already knew that I used caution when traveling, and that I didn’t do anything stupid to peg myself as an unwitting tourist.

My roommate, however, went into full panic mode. She had a whole cover story where she was a Canadian who didn’t speak English, but if they asked her to speak French, she would tell them that she didn’t understand Spanish, because she also didn’t know French. Every time we went out, she would tell me that people would bump into her on the metro on purpose, or that some of the men were following her.

Even though she was living in a different country, and apparently attempting to appear from Canada, she didn’t do a good job of hiding her roots. After about a week, she started going to the American store and bringing food to the woman hosting us, asking her to make ‘real’ food. The food she brought were things like hamburger helper, macaroni and cheese, and cold cereal. Things that the woman had no idea how to cook, or what to do with. She made us fresh meals every day, paella, garbanzos, oh it was so good. But my roommate didn’t want that food. She wanted American food. Real food.

She didn’t last very long with our SeƱora either. Within a month, she had moved into student apartments.

It was amazing to me, every time she refused to adapt, or even try the culture she’d chosen to live in. And it was even more astounding how offended she would get when others didn’t eat or think the same way she did.

There’s so much we can learn from other cultures, if we’re only willing to adjust and adapt to new ways of thinking. 

Friday, October 28, 2016

Health Literacy

Now that I work in the hospital, I feel that my eyes have been opened to so many different parts of nursing. Sometimes, I feel like a brand new nurse, experiencing this for the first time. One of the most amazing parts is the education. I don’t think that I’ve ever worked anywhere that focuses so much on keeping their staff educated and up to date on evidenced-based practices. I’m not complaining. I’m actually incredibly grateful.

Part of my training required me to watch a video on something called health literacy. They interviewed several patients, some of who were educated, but who didn’t understand their health. Why? Because healthcare providers have a whole new language.

I didn’t even think about how many words and phrases I use that just don’t make sense to people who aren’t entrenched in the medical field. Even something as simple as medications can become confusing for the patient, especially if it isn’t explained in a way that they can understand.

When I was in high school, I started having really bad abdominal pain. It was excruciating, and to the point where I didn’t want to eat. Finally, my mom took me to the doctor and they did a typical exam which included an x-ray. One of the questions the doctor asked me was about my last bowel movement. I was seventeen, and I had no idea what that was, but my mom and the doctor acted like I should, so I told them that I had one the day before. Then I had the x-ray, which showed that I had extreme constipation. I didn’t have an obstruction yet, but quite a bit of buildup.

Later, my mom asked me why I said I’d had a bowel movement when I obviously hadn’t. I admitted that I didn’t know what that was. Then she told me that if I didn’t know, I should have asked.
It’s an experience I completely forgot about until I watched the video for work. Patients admitted that they had no idea what their diagnoses were, or what medications they were taking. They didn’t want to admit that they were confused, so they didn’t say anything.

It happens so much more than I realize. I even did it at one point. It’s so important that we ask. And it’s so important for healthcare workers to educate their patients in a way that they can understand. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Rexburg Teen Writers Conference

Earlier this month, our region hosted our second annual Teen Writers Conference. Last year, I attended as a participant, and this year, I was so excited when I was asked to be a part of the planning committee.

It was definitely a learning experience. I guess I never thought about all the work that happens behind the scenes. There’s the financial aspect – knowing where the money is coming from, and where he’s going. Then there’s the location. Finding a place big enough, especially in a small town, is a lot harder than you’d think.

And advertising – wow. That definitely forced me out of my comfort zone. My best friend and I offered to do the fundraising/advertising portion of it. Fortunately, our local library was a hug supporter and printed all of our fliers for us. After that, we went to all of our local businesses to see if any of them were willing to support us. We were honestly overwhelmed by the support we received from our community. They really made the whole experience possible.

The conference was a huge success. Of course, there were a few hiccups along the way, but I think that’s to be expected, especially while we’re all still trying to figure out how this all works. I was just happy that there weren’t any huge emergencies.

The best part was being around other writers. There were some with way more experience than me, and others who were just beginning. I almost felt like I could see the past and the future – the writer I was, and the writer I could be. It really made me look at myself, to make sure I’m always progressing.

Alyson Peterson. Her Ian Quicksilver series is awesome!

Lisa Mangrum

J Scott Savage

And of course, I love getting autographed books!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Food Heritage

Recently, hubby and I went to visit family. We first went to my uncle’s house for dinner and had some amazing soup. It was cheesy, and potato-y, and reminded me of home. I don’t tend to make a lot of recipes that I grew up with, mostly because of my husband’s different tastes in food. However, during dinner, he leaned over to me and whispered that it would be okay if I made that soup at home.

Later that week, we traveled to my grandma’s house, and to our surprise, we were served the exact same meal. We didn’t complain because it was so good, but it made me start to think.

My aunt is my grandma’s daughter, and she grew up with the foods that my grandma made. She learned how to cook from my grandma. It makes sense that they would have similar tastes and that they would serve similar foods. Whenever I have dinner with my dad’s family, we have fresh made bread, and usually homemade jam with it. I love their amazing food, but it’s not what I grew up eating for every meal.

My mom cooks very differently than my aunt and grandma.

One of the things I remember about my mom’s cooking is that she loves to barbeque. Even during the winter months, she had my little brother shovel a path to the grill so that we could have salmon or steak. I remember one time, when I was home alone with my dad for Father’s Day, I made lasagna because that’s the kind of thing my mom would make. When I told my grandma about it, she commented on lasagna was so fancy and she’d never made it before.

Because I lived in a different country, my tastes in food have drastically changed from when I grew up. I eat a lot more rice than I did growing up, and I use a lot more spices and flavors that I used to. Even so, something as simple as cheesy, broccoli, potato soup can bring back the best of memories. I love how food can be a heritage, and how even the simplest things can bring back our past.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Nursing and Time Management

Nursing school prepares you for a lot of stuff. You’ve got to remember medications. What class of medication are the beta blockers? What do the lols do again? Then you’ve got to remember how the body works. The way that each system of the body interacts with the other. Now if your kidneys are malfunctioning, how does that affect the heart? And what do you do if they go into liver failure?

There’s so much to remember, and in the short time that you’re in school, information is being crammed into your head as fast as physically possible. Until you think there’s no more memory space left.

Then comes the day you take the NCLEX, the day that terrified me beyond anything else. Trying to recall everything I’d been taught for the past four years? Staring at up to 275 questions and hoping that I finish above the line? That’s the kind of pressure that nursing school prepares you for.
Here’s what nursing school doesn’t prepare you for: Time Management.

No one cares how well you did in your classes, or how well you did on the NCLEX. In fact, when I was doing my preceptorship, I remember sitting with my preceptor and her friend and they were talking about another nurse. She was really struggling, and she just couldn’t seem to get her work done on time. They commented on the fact that she was a straight A student, and they were both C students in school. The difference was that they knew how to manage their time and prioritize their work.

Grades matter very little in the real world, unfortunately. I remember when I was training a brand new nurse who was really struggling. I was in a facility where the nurse was in charge of twenty patients. That included wound care, medications, notifying doctors and assessments. There was a never-ending list. She couldn’t keep up, and usually, her morning med pass would finish right when she needed to start her noon pass.

I sat down with her and told her my biggest lifesaver. At the beginning of my shift, I look over my list of patients. I go through their medication times and then put them in order of who needs it first. Then I work down the list. Obviously, things change, but as long as I have a general game plan, it makes the day much easier to survive. That way, even if there’s an interruption, I know what goes next on my list once things have calmed down again. I also told her to cluster her care. Does she have a dressing change? Do it when she takes the pills in. She’s already in the room, and that way, she doesn’t have to backtrack to do all of her dressings later in the day. It takes maybe fifteen minutes to go through the list and write it out, but it saves so much time in the long run.

Now that I work in the hospital, I still do the same thing. It’s a little different, since I know that at any point, I could have a discharge or admission, but it’s the same general concept. I have to be aware of the time I’m given and what I need to do within that time. Then I make a plan and work toward it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Hair Donation

Guys, I have a confession to make.

I am susceptible to peer pressure.

I know, shocking right? I mentioned several months ago that I donate my hair. This started years and years ago, back before I was a true teenager, and at that point, we didn’t have the internet quite as available as it is now. Wikipedia didn’t exist, and we didn’t google everything. Actually, I’m pretty sure any research I did do online was through Encarta.

Anyway, at that point, there was really just the big name if you wanted to donate your hair: Locks of Love. And that’s where I donated. I never questioned whether I was donating to the right place, or whether there was even another option. But after the last time I donated my hair, I had several people start to make comments. I heard people tell me that Locks of Love was a scam and that they didn’t even give hair to children.

The closer I got to donating my hair, the more worried I became. What if I donate to the wrong place? What if my donation doesn’t even mean anything? What if it just arrives to the Locks of Love warehouse and they burn it in some kind of ritual? (Okay, I didn’t worry quite that much.) But I started to research different companies that accepted hair donations. I think I might have researched a little more than was necessary, but I was curious.

I can see why people are a little disillusioned with Locks of Love. But I don’t think it’s all their fault. Most of us, when we do something that selfless, want to know that we’ve made a difference. Locks of Love is one of the only companies that is willing to take any hair. Whether it’s been colored, or permed, or if it’s greyed or bleached, any hair is acceptable. And they’re willing to take shorter hair too. Ten inches is the minimum. Most of the other companies are very specific. Nothing dyed. No shorter than 12 inches. Some even say that there can’t be any grey hair.

Here’s the thing. Hair that is damaged can’t be used for wigs. It’s just a fact. So yes, Locks of Love doesn’t use all of the hair that’s donated to them. But they also don’t have the higher standards that the other companies have. At least, not up front. I kind of applaud them for helping people feel like they’re doing good and helping others.

Oh, and then there’s the whole outrage about the fact that Locks of Love doesn’t donate to just cancer patients. I know, right? What other kind of children are there?

Cancer is a devastating disease. I’m not going to deny that. But there are other diseases out there that can be just as cruel. There are some kids who don’t even go through chemo or radiation, yet they still lose all their hair. And some never get the chance to grow it back. Don’t they deserve some hair too?

The last big argument that I’ve heard is that they charge the children for the hair. The hair that was donated to them in the first place! There’s a huge process that goes into making wigs, and from what I’ve seen, it’s quite an expensive one. They charge for the process. Hey, they’re a non-profit company, but that doesn’t mean that they can function without an income! There were some companies that I researched that wouldn’t take hair donations without also receiving a monetary donation as well. Every company deals with the cost in a different way.

Even with all of that information, I did decide to use a different company. The reason was very personal, and had little to do with Locks of Love, or their supposed reputation.

So here’s foot number 9! Uncolored, undefiled by chemicals other than shampoo and conditioner.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Paradigm Shift

A few weeks ago, I posted about agents being open to diversity. I didn’t expect the kind of positive responses that I received, and I was so grateful for the discussions that followed. I love having grown up conversations about issues that really matter, especially after watching the fiasco that’s turning out to be our election year.

But I digress.

I wanted to share a few more thoughts, and some comments that really made my day.

One of my friends asked this amazing question:

We all like to talk about ideas. But I think it’s more than talking about it. Or even bringing attention to the issue. As another person stated:

We have to change the way we talk about it. Making diversity seem like the half-brother freezing out in the cold only sets it apart even more. We have to treat it like it’s a part of the family. There’s no reason to act like it’s a new thing, or like it’s something no one’s considered before. Because we’re all exposed to diversity. Even when we don’t realize it.

After that conversation, I started combing through the MSWL threads on twitter, and I noticed two very different ways of approaching diversity.

Here is example number 1:

As you can see, this is what I mentioned in my previous blog post. They want diversity! They’re open to it! But what does that even mean? All that it tells me is that they’re on the band wagon, when they don’t even know what it really means.

Here’s example number 2:

See the difference? These agents take diversity as a given. They’re not throwing out random keywords, they know what they’re looking for, and they’re asking for it. It’s like if you represent speculative fiction and you say something like: guys, I’m seeing way too much paranormal fantasy. Got any contemporary fantasy? Same thing. Diversity is just a part of their list, and they know what kind of stories they’re looking for. 

And this one I just loved:

It's specific. They know what they want, and they're willing to ask for it. 

Even though I'm the one who brought up the topic, I feel like I'm the one who learned from the rest of you! So thank you, to everyone who added comments!

Friday, October 14, 2016

Patients That Changed My Life: Susan

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.

When working in skilled nursing, sometimes it’s so easy to go through the motions. We have a huge cart full of cards and each card has a medication. We pull the cards out, we check the boxes or click on the button to indicate that we’re giving the medication and then we carry the cup of meds into the patient’s room.

I had one patient, Susan, who was admitted in the later evening, and her admission was a little bit of a mess. She was having a difficult night, which is understandable. No one wants to be in a skilled nursing facility. Add to that, doctors just couldn’t figure out what was wrong with her. She was grumpy, and most of her medications weren’t even in the facility. I spent the evening running around, calling pharmacy, searching our pixus and generally pulling my hair out. Finally, I got the majority of the medications, brought them to her room and she had decided to take a shower. So I labeled the cup with her initials, put it in the top of my cart and continued to the next patient.

About twenty minutes later, Susan asked for her medications. I grabbed the cup and brought it into her, and she asked me what the medications were. I honestly couldn’t remember. I’d prepared them twenty minutes before, and I’d passed medications to at least three or four other patients since that time. She was appalled and told me that she wouldn’t take any of the pills until I could tell her what they were.

I’ll admit, it was a long night. Susan and I went back and forth several times before she finally took her meds. But she taught me one of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned as a nurse. It’s too easy to go through the motions, or to take an order and just follow it. As a nurse, we should be doing more. We should know exactly what we’re giving our patients, and why. They depend on us. This patient was able to ask questions, to tell me that she wasn’t comfortable with specific medications. There are others who don’t have that luxury.

Since then, I’ve always stopped when preparing medications. Whether I’ve done every night for the past six months, or whether it’s their first night in the building, I always make sure that I know what they’re taking. And I make sure that they know what they’re taking. It’s my responsibility to protect my patients, and the best way to do that is by keeping them informed.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Act, Don’t Think

This past year has been a whirlwind for me. Last year, I made the decision to make writing a priority in my life. Since that decision, I’ve thrown myself into not just my writing, but also different writing groups in the area.

I’ve loved to get to know other writers in the area, and even those online. There’s a different kind of energy when you’re part of a community, rather than writing alone. But there is one thing that I’ve noticed. There seems to be two kinds of writers out there.

Those that write, and those that talk about writing.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the ideas. To think about the illusion of being a writer, and to create something out of nothing. Here’s the thing about creating. It’s hard work. Not just hard work, but grueling, exhausting, tedious work. It’s never ending. There’s the planning, and the actual writing, and then you’re stuck with months and months, and possibly even years of revision. It’s so easy to cut corners. To not revise as much as it really needs. One round of edits, right?

I’m one of those obsessive kind of planners who has to know exactly what’s going on. In the writing group that my Co-ML and I lead, we work really well together. We knew our theme for this year by the beginning of December last year. We started preparations as early as January and February. We bounce ideas off one another, but that’s not where it stops. We push one another to actually act on our ideas.

The best writing partner anyone could ever ask for!

We assign one another different responsibilities. I work on one part, and she works on another. We come together to always move forward, instead of dwelling on our dreams. We make them a reality. Whether it has to do with our own personal writing goals, our group goals, or even random, silly things like a music video, we don’t just dream.

We do.

Monday, October 10, 2016

International Care Packages

My husband is one of the best men I’ve ever met. I really admire him for the things that he’s done, and especially for being willing to leave his family and his country to be with me. It’s a sacrifice that I can’t even fathom. When I lived in Spain, I missed my family more than I imagined possible, but I always knew I would see them again.

We haven’t been able to see hubby’s family since we left Spain, and I know that’s been difficult for him. Every year we try and create a nice care package to send to them. It’s hard to think of different things that they might not be able to find over there. There’s a few things that we’ve found that they really seem to like. Things that we take for granted.

His parents always ask for Advil. Not just Advil, the soft gel capsules. We have those in any general store, even in random gas stations. But here’s the thing. Pharmacies in Spain are way different from the US. They’re under government control, which means that every single pharmacy is the same. And they sell the same thing. Not the nice stuff, but cheap medications that you can mass produce. Half of it is powdered and needs to be dissolved. Gel capsules are a luxury over there.

Hubby’s brothers always ask for a bag of Hershey’s chocolate. Amazing right? We always talk about the European chocolate, the real German stuff, but his family craves the American concoction. We try and send a pound or so of the minibars, just to give them some variety.

Speaking of candy, we try and send a whole bunch of that. America has such a unique variety. Last time we were putting a box together, hubby told me that we should get those really weird ones… Air Heads! Then of course, there’s circus peanuts. Those could confuse just about anyone.

Do any of you have friends from different countries? What kind of things do you put in care packages? We’re starting to get Christmas ideas going, and I’d love any advice!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016


I’m a fairly quiet and shy person. When I need to do research, I’d rather browse the internet, reading what’s been posted by people before, and not really interacting with them. For this NaNoWriMo, I’ve got a story in mind that required a very specific type of research.

I have a character who has a prosthetic leg. I’m not unfamiliar with prosthetics, as a geriatric nurse, I’ve helped a number of patients putting theirs on, and taking it off… I can even tell you that the majority of my patients have named their prosthetic, Peggy. As in, peg-leg?


My character is a teenager, much more active than most of my geriatric patients, and I needed to know the difference between prosthetics for different activities. Someone in my writing group suggested I contact someone in our area who is known for building prosthetics, and I decided to actually call and ask questions. I wrote up a whole list so that I wouldn’t look dumb while speaking to him. I wanted to appear informed and also professional.

When he answered the phone, we chatted for a few minutes about my book’s premise and what I wanted to do with it. Finally, I opened with my first question: Do you know of any prosthetics that are available that would allow someone to mountain climb?

There was a long silence on the other line before he responded: Yes. I’m the one who invented it.

I realized that after all my research, I should have researched him a little bit, but he was very gracious and answered the rest of my questions. And I am so grateful to my friend for convincing me to call him.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Open to Diversity

I’m going to talk about something that’s confused me for a while.

Recently, as I research agents and brows the #MSWL, I’ve noticed a phrase that just sticks out to me. Seeking Diversity. Looking for Diversity.

That’s great, it really is. I’m really excited that there’s a push to represent other cultures and beliefs. And I have noticed recently that it feels like every world is the same. And it only occurred to me a few years ago that fantasy worlds could be from a different type world. That the characters didn’t have to represent Medieval Europe, and I could represent my own heritage. I’m so grateful for the awareness that’s been raised to the lack in not only books but other mediums as well.

I live diversity. I'm a daughter of a biracial marriage who married a Bolivian. We speak two languages at home, and we've brought little bits from each culture into our family. I wouldn't give that up for anything. And trust me, I have no qualms with the push for diversity.

Here’s where I have an issue with the phrase.

Wanting diversity. Open to diversity.

Is there really someone out there who isn’t? And if someone doesn’t put it, does that mean they only want white characters in Vanillaville? I wish that this could be a given, and that agents don’t feel the need to say that they’re open for it. I hope that we all want diversity, and that someday, it’s not something we feel we have to say just in case others aren’t aware.

Diversity is important, and we should all want it. I can’t count how much learning about other cultures and beliefs has changed my own worldview. Diversity should be a given, not a request.