Sunday, December 7, 2014

The holiday season is here

I love this time a year. I love the colors of the holiday decorations, all the lights, foods, goodies, presents, and a chance to pause and reflect on life, the universe, and everything. However, I think I liked it better back home than here in the USA.

Take this for what it is - I'm a foreigner and I see things from another point of view that might not always sit well with Americans. In this country everything is a religious battle.

I don't care who believes in what, who celebrates or doesn't celebrate, or how a person celebrates. Live and let live.

The American debate of what to call the holiday season drives me nuts. I don't understand how people can be offended by the phrases "Happy Holidays" or "Merry Christmas" - how does it matter what greeting a person chooses? The important thing is that someone took the time to pause, see you, and wish you joy.

I often mention that Sweden is one of the most secular countries in the world. We say "God Jul" and we call the season "Juletid." This is clearly related to the ancient yuletide traditions, but it's still neutral enough for no one to be offended. It's what we call it, it's a name, and I don't think anyone gives it any more thought than you would be offended by the names of the week.

I also don't understand bumper stickers saying "Put Christ back in Christmas." The church decided to celebrate the birth of Christ at this time a year because people refused to let go of their old traditions. I sort of think the old traditions won, because they're still present in almost every home.

The Christmas tree comes from pagan origins, and the Mistletoe has origins in Norse mythology. Christmas presents come from pre-Christian Saturnalia. Santa Claus is believed to be a mix of a Turkish bishop who lived around the year 300 and norse god Oden.

Did you know that Christmas was banned by the Puritans and illegal in Massachusetts between 1659 and 1681 because of the pagan origins?

What do you think? Does it matter what we call the season?

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Real life problems

It has been a long time since I blogged. Months. I've been too exhausted and most of this fall is a blur, so even when I've encountered blog-worthy things I haven't gotten around to writing about them.

So, where are we at?

You might remember the husband got the big C in a big way. We're both hanging in. He got chemotherapy for months and we went to get radiation treatments every day for seven weeks, and it hardly put a dent in that thing. The doctor said the tumor shrunk from 8 cm to 6 and then went right back up to 8 again.

Disheartening, but we live in a time of medical miracles, and we're trying a new chemotherapy cocktail. This one is much more aggressive and pretty much knocks him out for days - he can't eat or drink - so every time he gets it we have to go to Sarasota every day for the rest of that week so he can get fluids.

All this sounds pretty easy in writing, but I'm spent. I'm so exhausted I barely know my name some days.

The day he gets his treatment I drop him off in the morning, go back to check in on him during lunch, and go get him in the evening. The only do infusions once a week here in Bradenton, so the other days we have to go to the Sarasota office. It's 45 minutes away, and these are whole day adventures. The whole operation takes at least five hours, but often longer.

Of course, he'll be sick during the nights, which wakes everyone up. Sleep is good. I miss sleeping.

All this still wouldn't be so bad, if it wasn't for bills, and life, lol. People - especially the ones working with health care - think I can spend all my time taking care of hubs. They really think I have nothing to do besides caring for him. I guess other people have fairies that take care of everything else?

In reality, everything we both used to do is now on my plate. There's everyday stuff like cooking, dishes, dogs, laundry, cleaning, yard work, and so on, but also finding money for us.

I have to pay everything everyone else has to pay. All those bills don't stop just because one person is sick. Mortgage, power, water, phones, insurances, car payments, food, dog food, credit card bills... And then there are healthcare bills. We owe more to healthcare providers than our house is worth. I never thought it was possible to owe someone more money for anything than for a house.

I could pull the everyday stuff off if I could put in the time, but when being away with him at 20-30 hours every week... You get the picture.

I'm not saying this to complain; I still have a roof over my head and we're all fed. I'm just saying it so you'll understand why I'm absent and grumpy.

My local friends here are wonderful, especially the family for whom I used to work. They have been angels, and I can't thank them enough for their support.

Okay, let's talk about something more light hearted, or I fear you'll never want to come back to my blog again, lol.

Early this week, hubs felt good enough to take himself to the pharmacy to pick up more medicine. It is a long and outdrawn process because of all the pill mills Florida used to have, and I was grateful to be spared an hour at CVS. I sat in my office, typing away on a project, and I heard a male voice say something. I couldn't make out the words, but it was definitely a man's voice coming in the direction of our living room.

It made me jump in my seat and my heart race.

It wasn't my husband - when he comes home all the dogs go crazy happy.

Boo Bear barked as if there were an intruder in the room, but the other three dogs didn't make a sound.

I went to look. The living room was empty - except for Boo Bear barking at the front door. Ellie must have been sleeping right inside the door, because she was looking up with an expression of "What's with all the noise?"

If there really had been someone in the house, all the dogs would have been going bonkers. Bonnie loves people, but she wouldn't let someone in without telling me.

I threw a quick status update up on Facebook just in case someone was really there and I would disappear, and went with Boo to look through the house.

No one inside.

No one outside.

If he hadn't heard the voice too I would have thought I was dreaming.

My theories cover everything from a ghost to someone peeking in through the front door, realizing they were in the wrong house.

The comical thing is that one of my heroines would have undertaken this search task armed with something - knife, baseball bat, something - while calling for help, because my heroines have self preservation instinct. Me, not so much.

I have a gun - in the office. I put it there after the big police thing we had here a few months ago, and it would take a couple of seconds to grab it. An intruder could have been in the house. Did I bring my gun?

Nope. I brought my cell phone and a furry little dog. In retrospect I'm surprised I didn't grab my coffee cup, LOL.

I guess my life expectancy if there were an actual disaster wouldn't be all that good.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A bit too exciting for my taste

I had a hard time finding my "work-groove" this morning, and spent an inappropriate amount of time dilly-dallying around on Facebook, playing with the dogs, and making coffee. Right before eleven I decided that I had to buckle down and do something. No work means no pay, which makes Maria a sad girl, lol.

I was formatting a blog post about the benefits of Tourmaline hairdryers (long story) when a siren made me look out the window. Bradenton is filled with old people and there are sirens all the time from emergency vehicles and ambulances. This one sounded close, and I kept peeking out to see what type of car it would be.

An ordinary gray car drove past and turned in on the road across from ours. Two police cars with blinking lights followed. Then, two more, and two more, and two more. I stopped counting at fifteen.

That never happened before. The most exciting thing along our street is normally the neighbor's dog getting out of the yard and going walkabout.

When officers bounced out of the cars with drawn guns and police dogs I finally closed my gaping mouth. They have big guns! There were at least fifteen police cars between our house and the potential threat, but it still seemed prudent to lock the doors and tell the dogs to go lie down.

The neighbors ventured outside - one guy came right out of the shower with a towel around his waist. I thought, "No way, indoors might not be safe if there's a shoot-out, but it's sure safer than outside."

Since hubs got sick he's almost always home, but not today, so I called him and reported all the excitement. By the time I thought to pull out my camera about ten of the police cars had already left.



Later in the day, after all the cops left, the local newspaper updated its website. Allegedly, three men kidnapped a guy in the parking lot of our nearby Walmart. They took him to a place on a street a couple of blocks away from here and beat him up, but he managed to escape - despite them trying to shoot him.

Police officers saw the suspects' car five blocks from my house and chased it here where they could trap it. Right outside my window.

I do hope these men had a previous relation so bad guys aren't just kidnapping random people at Walmart!

Not much getting done around here today - I keep peeking out the window, expecting more stuff to happen.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Undercover is a winner!

There is a wonderful screenwriting contest called the WILDsound festival. It is the coolest thing ever, because winners get their script read by professional actors.

I tried with Kidnapped, but the judges thought the script moves too slow. Go figure - I've gotten so much criticism saying it moves too fast. They sent a list with constructive points to look at in the screenplay, and I put all that to the side for another day. I need to tweak it so I can submit it again - I really want to hear it read - but I'm too scattered to take on something big right now.

Anyway, I submitted the first ten pages of my screenplay for Undercover to their "first scene" contest and forced myself to forget about it, so I wouldn't be too disappointed when I didn't win.

Undercover did really well! The judges said, "An extremely strong opening to a first scene. It has everything: Mystery, Drama, Romance, Friendship, Intrigue, Foreign Relations... And asks key questions that are relevant to today's world without being too preachy about it."

Yay!

The first scene has been read, and Undercover has its own page here. And, I have an interview page here.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Close to going Viking #frustration

I'll have to back up a bit for this post to make sense. I'm sure some of you have heard it before, so skip the first couple of paragraphs, LOL.

A couple of months ago my husband fell ill and eventually had to succumb to going to the hospital. To make a long story short, he has a big tumor, and ever since then we've bounced between healthcare providers like balls in a pinball machine. It's tough, and poses many challenges.  Like, I had to quit my job, because I couldn't make the schedule work out.

Going from full time employed to self-employed virtually overnight was scary, but I was confident I could pull it off. Right now I work more than ever before and make less money, but I'm happy. I like working from home, surrounded by my doggies, and I'm glad life pushed me to really do it.

The problem is, hubs refuses to go to his appointments on his own, which I understand. He's not feeling well, and dealing with all this takes a healthy person and more. I can't make the healthcare providers understand that in order to make money - which pays for health insurance, amongst other things - I have to work. That implies being able to plan my days.

I have a schedule. It starts at 7:30 AM every day around the week, and I know exactly what I need to do every half hour of the day to make everything come together.

Healthcare providers set appointments, and naturally, I plan around them.

Cancer center number one - the one that gives chemo - has done good with scheduling for a while.

They're really sweet, but changed the appointments at least three times every day until I lost the Swedish polish and told them this would have to stop. Since then they've been really good until today. If they start all that again I might have to remind them how much trouble they cause, but I'd really rather not, because they're awesome. The doctor is so nice, the nurses are fabulous, and the front desk girls are fantastic.

Cancer center number two gives radiation treatments and we have to go there every day. They're also awesome, but they don't get it at all.

The first day we sat foot in the clinic - and waited for well over three hours which has caused me to live on toast for the past week due to loss of income - I told everyone that we need appointments in the afternoon. Preferably after four. Everyone nodded and pretended that they understood.

Reason? We have to be there every day for seven weeks. Driving there, waiting, the procedure, and driving home takes at least an hour. I can't afford to lose 35 hours more of income than I already have through sitting in waiting rooms. If I do, we'll lose the house.

I'm not joking. I'm a lone provider for two adults and four dogs. We have hospital bills for almost $60,000. I need to work to pay the mortgage, keep the power on, keep the phones working, and all other good stuff a household needs - like food.

Every day, they give us an appointment for the next day at a decent time, and every day they change it. Every day, they seem equally shocked when I say no.

I've tried to explain that if they reschedule with us, I'll have to reschedule everything with all my clients, which means that they have to reschedule, and it's a never ending domino effect.

I explain this every day. I'm starting to think I accidentally speak Swedish.

Check this out. Tuesday morning last week they had us come in at 6:30 in the morning. That was going to be a one-time thing only, and we had a time set for late in the afternoon Wednesday. As I sat there watching the sun rise, the nurse came out and said, "I'll need to change your appointment tomorrow. How about 10:30?"

I said, "No. I'm going to St Pete's for a meeting tomorrow morning. We need a time in the afternoon. Like the one we already have at 4:30."

She said, "I understand. How long will you be gone?"

"I don't know for sure, but I don't count on being back before lunch."

"So you can't do eleven?"

"No, I'm going to St Pete's, and I won't be back until after lunch." I feel like a parrot - I say the same thing over and over and over again, every day, and they still don't listen.

"Okay, I'll let you keep your appointment. I guess we'll have to move someone else."

The next day, they started calling hubs, trying to change the appointment to the morning. He explained that I was away at a meeting and he couldn't come. The same person called several times within a few minutes. Because if I'm expected back after lunch I will surely come home between 9:30, 9:32, 9:35 and 9:40...

I came back around one, and we went in at the time we originally had.

This continued through the week. Thursday night I wrote the clinic an e-mail. The only answer was to call hubs and change the Friday 4:30 appointment to 12:30. I said no, but it was still 12:30, because suddenly every other appointment - including ours - was impossible.

I'd had it. I was so mad when I came in I was about to storm past the reception desk and find someone responsible for all this crap.

They saw the crazy-woman glow in my eyes and the horns about to grow out on my head and ran for reinforcements. An experienced nurse came to the waiting room, sat down, listened patiently, nodded, and said,  "So how about right after one?"

I said "No" and explained it all again. She tried to counter and I said, "I'm sorry, but there's too much at stake here for me to be able to care about that."

I save up the type of work I can do in the waiting room in the afternoon. The parts of the job that include communicating with people needs to happen when they're available.

The other people in the waiting room chimed in, "C'mon, she has to work, give her a late appointment."

Faced with overwhelming and probably surprising opposition, she disappeared off and came back with a note. "Monday through Wednesday next week, we'll get you a 4:30 appointment. After that you will have a standing time at 4:15 every day. We will not change this."

I was really happy all weekend. I felt like a boulder lifted from my chest. Silly naive Maria, believing what people tell her, after all these years...

Yesterday, a new nurse came out and wanted to change today's appointment from 4:30 to earlier in the day. I said no, and explained the whole thing again. We ended up settling for 4:15.

Today, another new nurse came out. She said, "I have an appointment for you tomorrow at 3:30."

I said, "We already have an appointment for tomorrow at 4:30."

"Yes, well, now it's at 3:30."

"We can't come at 3:30."

She looked at me as if I sprouted antennae.

"But, we have so many empty spots in the middle of the day, and we have to fill them. Can you come earlier?"

"No. I have planned my day around being here at 4:30. He has another doctor's appointment in the morning, and I have a meeting between two and four.

She still didn't get it. "But, I'm giving you this appointment at 3:30."

"Yeah, in that case we'll be late."

"How late?"

"Probably around 4:30. I'm not sure how long my meeting will take, but I counted on it lasting until four."

It still didn't sink in. She said, "Our managers look at the schedule, and they see all these openings in the middle of the day, and we have to fill them."

By now I'm starting to think I'm surrounded by kind and pleasant idiots. These people are the nicest you can imagine, but they clearly don't understand English.

I said, "I'm sorry to have to say this, but your scheduling issues aren't my problem."

She recovered quickly, and said in a cheerful voice, "So we'll see you at 3:30 tomorrow."

"No you won't. I have a meeting. I have to work. If I can't work I can't pay his health insurance, and no one here gets paid."

That one usually works. She said, "So, when do you think you'll be here?"

"I'd say around 4:30."

"Okay, I'll keep this time for you at 3:30, and we'll wait for him. Some patients are really serious and we try to take them in late in the day in case it takes longer, so everyone else won't have to wait. Especially on Thursdays, but tomorrow isn't Thursday, so we should be able to get him in."

I thought,  "So why are you changing the appointment in the first place, when you know we won't be here until 4:30, which was our original time?"

The problem clearly needed another approach. I held up the computer and explained what I do for a living. I showed the blog posts I'd written while waiting, and showed that company's app on my cell phone. I explained how I have customers I need to talk to at particular times every day, and how I have a break around four every day. I explained - again - the domino effect of changing appointments.

She nodded and said, "Okay. I'll try to get you a steady appointment, so you can come in at the same time every day."

"They gave us that on Friday. It was supposed to be 4:30 Monday through Wednesday this week, and after that 4:15 every day."

"Yeah, that's not gonna work. When is a good time for you?"

It's a good thing these people are so nice and friendly. It keeps me from snapping.

I took a deep breath and said, "In the afternoon. Some time after four is best, like 4:15, when our appointment is."

"I can get you any time in the mornings. I can get you in early, so you don't have to worry about this the rest of the day."

She's doing her best, I get it, but it still doesn't work.

"No, as I mentioned, I have a lot to do in the mornings. As long as he needs me to take him here we will come as late in the day as possible."

She attempted to explain their scheduling problem with a lot of gaps during the day again. It's a valiant effort, but it doesn't change the fact: as long as he needs me to take him, we can't come in the middle of the day.

I said, "I'm sorry, but that's still not my problem. I have other problems of my own, like supporting my family."

"So, we'll see you at 3:30 tomorrow."

Yeah, whatever...

I have to see this from the comical side, but even when doing so it's still frustrating.

It reminds me of these commercials, "Nine months? I can have a healthcare career in only nine months?"

Friday, July 18, 2014

Frog adventures

Mornings aren't my thing, and it takes a while for me to open my eyes and actually see something. Isn't it strange how you go to bed awake and wake up super tired? Shouldn't it be the other way around? Anyway, it took a few minutes to spot the very large frog on the living room floor.

It was huge, and looked dead. No movement, closed eyes, entangled in dog hair... It looked almost collapsed, if that makes any sense, and I worried that one of the dogs might have found it first and chewed on it. I know some Florida toads are poisonous. When it comes to frogs, no idea. And how the heck did it get in here?

I tipped our spare food bowl over it, so the doggies wouldn't get the idea to taste dead frog, and proceeded with their morning routine.

But, what should I do with it? It was beautiful, and it deserved a proper frog burial. Where could I bury it where the dogs wouldn't dig it up? Had it come to the house to die, or did something inside kill it?

The froggie would have to wait. I needed doggies to do their outside stuff, have breakfast, and settle down enough to be locked in my office. Some things are just easier to deal with if there aren't four curious dogs helping. LOL!

Removing the bowl, I tried to push my super-cool hot-pink dustpan under the frog. It opened its eyes, looked like, "What the hell are you doing?" and jumped away to the kitchen.

I'm not afraid of frogs, they're really cute, but it startled me and I yelped. I hate that I do that - I sound like a huge wuss - but the sound just comes out without any conscious decision.

Naturally, that woke hubs. He probably thought I was being murdered or something.

He said, "What are you doing?"

My answer came out in one long breath. It's a miracle the man makes any sense out of anything I say. "There's this really big frog and I thought he was dead so I was taking him out but he's alive and jumped away and I caught him and he's really big and beautiful and I don't know what to do."

Hubs said, "I see. How did you catch him?"

He was, of course, smart enough to push a thin piece of cardboard under the bowl so we could carry froggie outside. We put him on a chair so he wouldn't have to battle the fire ants on the ground, and once he realized he was free and outside, he jumped away.

Hubs also solved the mystery of froggie's origin. He said, "I thought I saw something jump in here last night." The poor thing probably spent the night under the sofa or something. I hope he makes it. I should have taken a photo of him, but I didn't think of that.

That was my morning. How 'bout you? Did you have any adventures?

Monday, July 7, 2014

King's by Mimi Jean Pamfiloff

I wrote about Vampires Need Not Apply and the Accidentally Yours series by Mimi Jean Pamfiloff the other day. She has a grip on me; after I read all those books I looked at my iPad, expecting it to automatically fill up with new excellent reads to entertain me. It didn't. The absence of something great to read created a void in my life, and I had to fill it with something.

Enter The King Trilogy, also by Mimi Jean Pamfiloff. There are currently two books available: King's, and King for a Day, and I'm waiting eagerly for the third to be released.

The main character, Mia, is a young woman whose life is shattered when her brother is reported kidnapped in Mexico. When she seeks help, she accidentally stumbles into an agency that helps immigrants locate relatives. They can't help her, but the receptionist slips her a note and tells her King can find anything or anyone, at a price. In her desperation Mia agrees - even though the price is steep.

Pamfiloff's characters jumps off the pages and pulls you in. Mia is - in my opinion - an ungrateful and angry girl. It doesn't matter what people do for her; she will never be happy. Others risk their lives for her, save her when she gets herself into trouble, and she keeps yelling insults at them.

She is also unreasonably attached to her family and sounds as if she might be nine years old instead of twenty-something. Despite this, the men in the book seem willing to do anything to appease her. I had to keep reading to see if she would ever become nicer.

King is an enigma. Pamfiloff drops clues to his true nature through the books, but it still took me quite a while to figure him out. He's an interesting character and I sort of wish I had invented him.

Page-turner? Yes. Unfortunately, the last book isn't published yet. I need to know what will happen and how everything will end. Please, hurry up with the writing! =D


Sunday, July 6, 2014

Vampires need not apply, by Mimi Jean Pamfiloff

Vampires Need Not Apply belongs to a series called "Accidentally Yours" by Mimi Jean Pamfiloff. I got the book at the RT conference in May and thought, "Vampires... Another book about vampires. Can't people think of anything else?" Bad attitude on my part, I know, LOL. I started reading it anyway, and I'm so happy I did. This is an excellent book.

Ixtab is the Goddess of suicide. Her job is to take darkness and depression out of good people, and to send the truly bad over the edge so the world gets rid of them. Not a pleasant job, especially since everyone who accidentally bumps into her is filled by an irresistible urge to kill themselves.

The situation doesn't get better by feeling responsible for the death of her one true love. When she meets scientist Antonio Acero, he is a dead ringer for her lost beloved, but everything goes wrong, and to make matters even worse, his cat bumps into her and jumps out a window.

The book is laugh out loud funny, dramatic, sexy, and nearly impossible to put down. The characters are endearing, silly, and hilarious, and Pamfiloff has created a believable backstory and setting.

After reading this I bought the other books in the series. They are also good, but do quite a bit of jumping between first and third person, which throws me out of the story. If you can live with the first/third POV hopping, I would warmly recommend them, because they are also hilarious. Just be prepared to set off a few days to reading, because reading one makes you want more.

Vampires Need Not Apply is consistent third person - it is a long and hilarious adventure - and it's one of the best books I've read for a long time.

I want more!