Happy Veterans Day: “In Flanders Fields”

Jelly-Side Up:

The day is almost over, but I wanted to send a thank-you to all those who have served, risking their lives for freedom. We owe our happiness to your sacrifices.
Read on for some history about the holiday, as well as my thoughts about it.

Originally posted on Jelly-Side Up:

Happy Veterans Day, readers. Thank you very much to those who have fought for our freedom, risking–and, in some cases, losing–their lives. According to the Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs, Veterans Day is “when an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities [of World War I], between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. For that reason, November 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of ‘the war to end all wars.'”

Across the pond and in other Commonwealth of Nationscountries, the day is called “Remembrance Day,” “Armistice Day,” or “Poppy Day,” all really the same holiday with different names. King George V (the father of Colin Firth’s King George VI in The King’s Speech) made the holiday official in 1919, while President Woodrow Wilson made it official (at the same time) here…

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Banned Books Week Fun–Ways to Celebrate

Jelly-Side Up:

Hello, dear readers! In celebration of Banned Books Week, I wanted to share this post I wrote last year of my thoughts on the event and ways to celebrate.
Stay tuned next week for a new blog post on what I’ve been up to lately. :)
Enjoy Banned Books Week–read something controversial and push your comfort zones–that’s when we grow the most. :)

Originally posted on Jelly-Side Up:

Image courtesy of www.bannedbooksweek.org

Hello, readers! Happy Friday!

Tomorrow marks the end of Banned Books Week, which you can read about in my previous post. It’s an important holiday to me, as both a reader and a writer.

And there’s still plenty of time to celebrate. Since it’s Friday, I know you’re in the mood to party. Here are some exciting ways to kick off your weekend.

Check out the “Fun & Games” section of Marquette University’s Banned Books feature. You’ll find a word search, a crossword puzzle, and a trivia quiz!

If that quiz isn’t enough for you, try The Guardian’s “Banned Books and Censorship” quiz. No need to study, but you will see the answer to one of those questions by the end of this post. ;)

And to find out just how you rank as a banned books…

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Fangirl Moment: Author of “Seraphina” Accepts My ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Jelly-Side Up:

Please allow a major fangirl moment, in which the author of one of my FAVORITE books ever, “Seraphina,” accepted my ALS Ice Bucket Challenge in an adorable way. Rachel Hartman wrote a song and sang it in a bathtub, accompanied by ice over the head. And she named me on her blog. Squee! Authors can still be fangirls, right? Because I sure am hers.
By the way, AWESOME news from the ALS Association: because of the ice bucket challenge, $100.9 million has been raised in just one month, from more than 3 million donors!!

Ice Bucket Infographic

Originally posted on Rachel Hartman:

I thought I would escape the ice bucket challenge unscathed, since everyone who knows me personally lives in fear of my basilisk’s glare. However, fellow writer and alert reader Amanda Fowler has called me out, so here I am getting silly in support of ALS research. I sing. You’re all doomed.

You’ll notice I didn’t explicitly tag anyone in the video. My camera operator (who came down with the giggles there at the end) BEGGED me to challenge him and has just run to the gas station for ice, so he’s my main challengee (and yes, we’re both donating).

As for the rest of you scurvy knaves, if you watched this video and had a good laugh, consider yourselves challenged, and even if you don’t dump ice on your heads, please throw a few bucks at the ALS Association. If we all do a little good, it adds up…

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Memorial to Erik

I can’t believe it’s already been a month since my friend Erik passed away. He was a vibrant part of our friends group, and the long-time boyfriend/fiancé of one of my best friends.

On the one-month anniversary of his death, I wanted to share the eulogy I wrote for his wake. It was, perhaps, the hardest speech I’ve ever given, but I’m so glad I did it. It represented just a fraction of what Erik meant to all of us; he was a constant source of laughter and encouragement–and, truly, he still is. Writing this brought me a sense of peace, and I hope hearing/reading it brings peace to others, too.

Our friends group on New Year’s Eve 2013-4. Read on for Erik’s NYE sauerkraut story. Clockwise from left: Kara, Erik, Megan, Lindsey, me, Jennifer, Warren, and Jeremiah


Memorial to Erik

I’d like to share a couple of memories with you about Erik. His girlfriend is one of my best friends, and so he quickly became part of our group of friends.

It goes without saying that Erik left us too soon. But if we measure lives in memories instead of years, Erik lived a fuller life than many people ever will, with the impression he left on all of us. In this way, he will never be gone, for he certainly is not someone you’re likely to forget. Erik taught us how to enjoy every moment—can you ever remember him not smiling? He made everyone he came into contact with feel important and interesting—that your place in this world is valid. That even if you don’t know where you’re going yet, it’s OK, because life is just as much about celebrating the journey as it is the milestones themselves.

There are so many things I’ll remember and miss about Erik. Most of all, I’ll miss his kindness—he was always there to help anyone who needed it. I’ll also miss how he could make anyone laugh, through his quirky sense of humor or his astonishing repertoire of accents. Two memories in particular stand out for me, ones I feel are representative of him overall—and I’d like to share them with you.

The first one is small, but I’ve never forgotten it. A few years ago, our group of friends went to the Bristol Renaissance Faire. The highlight of the day was the big joust, so there was a huge crowd of people, and you were lucky to be able to see anything. We finally found a spot, on the slope of a hill, where we could see if we stood on our tip-toes. At one point, I lost my balance and stumbled a little bit, and Erik caught me and switched places with me. He was cheering for the knights just a moment ago, and I don’t know how he even saw me out of the corner of his eye, but that was Erik—always there to help you before you even knew you needed it, no matter what else was going on in his own life. And if he could ease your pain and take it onto himself, he would do that in a heartbeat. If I know Erik, this is only going to be more true now that he’s in Heaven.

The second memory is one of my fondest and most recent. On this last New Year’s Eve, Erik brought over a large jar of sauerkraut to Lindsey’s party. He insisted a healthy pinch of it would bring us good luck in the new year. “It’s a Czech tradition,” he said. Now, sauerkraut had never been a particular craving of any of ours, but we weren’t about to turn down a bite of good luck.
It was such a funny thing to do, all eight of us eating sauerkraut at midnight, but that was just like Erik to share any good luck charm he’d found with the world.

Erik, we are raising our sauerkraut and our glasses to you in Heaven. This is just another part of the journey, and we hope you’re enjoying it as much as all the parts that came before. I know you’re preparing a fresh set of jokes for us until we meet again. Thanks for the memories—in those and in our love for you, you will always be with us.

Dropping Temperature to Raise Money and Awareness: ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Hello, dear readers! I hope you had a lovely weekend. I am happy to say that I did! I had the pleasure of visiting Jeremiah and his family’s farm, which was a nice way of re-orienting myself with being back home in the Midwest. Though we don’t have oceans (which I miss), there is lots to love here. :)

While I was there, we decided to participate in something fun, for a good cause.

If you’ve been on the internet at all for the past month, you have probably heard of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. I think it’s wonderful that an effort to raise money and awareness for research on a fatal disease has gone viral like this! As someone who works in the healthcare industry, I’ve seen firsthand how devastating neurological diseases can be from the patients we treat, and I applaud the efforts of this campaign.

For those who are less plugged-in (probably getting more writing done! ;) ), the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge dares you to dump a bucket of ice water over your head and post the video online. The rules have evolved so that now, either way, you are supposed to donate: If you take the ice-water challenge, you have to donate a minimum of $10 to the ALS Association (or other ALS research foundations). If you do not do the ice-water challenge, you have to donate a minimum of $100. The movement was started by former baseball player Pete Frates, who has lived with ALS since 2012.

Believe it or not, the trend has sparked a bit of controversy. Some are saying that people are doing it just to gain popularity by posting videos of themselves. To that, I say–any attention that ALS research garners is good attention, no matter how it gets there! As of today, the campaign has raised $79.7 million, compared to its usual average of $2.5 million at this time of year. Although I was somewhat familiar with Lou Gehrig’s plight, I have learned more about the disease through this movement.

Some background info about ALS, from ALSA.org:

ALS was first found in 1869 by French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot, but it wasn’t until 1939 that Lou Gehrig brought national and international attention to the disease. Ending the career of one of the most beloved baseball players of all time, the disease is still most closely associated with his name. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body. The progressive degeneration of the motor neurons in ALS eventually leads to their death. When the motor neurons  die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, patients in the later stages of the disease may become totally paralyzed.

Other protesters cite the drought-burdened areas, where dumping any amount of water would exacerbate the drought problem. That–I get. However, people are coming up with creative alternatives. Leave it to Neil Gaiman to be one of them–his video is one of my favorites. Because he’s in California, he used ocean water–and he’s assisted by several people dressed as his character of Death. His wife, Amanda Palmer’s, video is also one of my favorites. And Gaiman challenged George R.R. Martin, who accepted.

So, while our version was less epic, we had a lot of fun doing it. We are also donating to the ALS Association, which you can do here:

Welcome, Ice Bucket Challengers

(Click image to donate)

Without further ado:

Play Video

Of those we challenged: Erin Lawless (author of The Best Thing I Never Had), poor thing, said she has a cold, but she will be donating. Rachel Hartman (author of Seraphina) said she will be completing the challenge; she’s just figuring out the logistics. Our friends Jessie and Marcy completed the challenge right away! Chris is waiting to be in a less drought-ridden area to complete his challenge. And Sarah will be doing it soon! So, yay to all of you lovely people for raising money and awareness for this great cause!
And, dear readers–I challenge YOU to participate in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge! If you cannot or would rather not dump the ice, please consider donating anyway–you will still be part of the movement. Every dollar helps. If you’d also like to donate to a hospital that treats patients with neurological afflictions like ALS, please consider ours at Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital.
If any of you have or will be participating in the Ice Bucket Challenge, please post a link to your video below–I’d love to see it! :)

Reflections: Travel and Fantasy as Lenses for Real Life

Hello, dear readers! So much has happened in the weeks since my last post. In fact, this calls for a list. In the last five weeks:

  • I have been traveling for three of them
    • Six foreign countries for two weeks
    • Northeastern U.S.A. for one week
  • In between that travel–a friend died, suddenly :(
  • I found out one of my best friends of 20 years, Lindsey, is moving to Colorado a week from Saturday—a possibility I did not want to face
  • I was asked to be in a wedding
  • I’ve been very sick twice
  • I assisted with my sister’s huge Disney-themed surprise birthday party, dressed as a feverish strep-throated Rapunzel
  • I’ve written–a lot

Each of these bullet points deserves at least one post of its own; life has been a whirlwind of good and bad lately. I’m struck by all the extremes and opposites I’ve been experiencing, as if life is off-kilter and trying to correct itself, swinging wildly side to side. I’ve been disoriented, honestly, never quite having enough time to process any one thing before the next occurred. I was thankful to have my fiction and travel to escape into–or so I thought.

It felt like escape, whisking myself away into unknown lands, real or fictional. I wasn’t running away, per se–it was all scheduled, hours-off-earned, wages saved. But it sure did feel nice to leave the stresses of the everyday behind. I am grateful for the life I have, but even the most beautiful lives earn stress–I think it’s automatic when you join with people and activities you care about. ;)

Through it all, I wrote and wrote and wrote. I wrote scores of pages for my novel; I wrote whimsical poetry; I wrote a eulogy. Somehow, writing kept my life stitched together, all these crazy layers that didn’t match.

I had an epiphany today, reflecting on what to write for this blog post, as my blog is part of returning to my normal life. I realized that these “escapes”–travel, fantasy–they are just lenses of the everyday. My memoir teacher, who is also a travel writing teacher, told me that people find themselves when they travel. “That’s bizarre,” I thought–I’ve been traveling all my life, and I’d never noticed that. But now, after more than twenty years of it, I’ve finally experienced what she meant. It crept up on me, flowed through me, like the waves that were a part of all those three weeks away: a certain peace that came from knowing that life was not, in fact, falling apart; that every footstep was new and full of possibility; that the world was much, much bigger than me. It was a relief to walk on millenia-old pathways to find destinations at once ancient and new to me; and in this way, in this ritual of one foot in front of the other, I remembered old paths can be made new again. Even though I treasure words for expression, I find this concept difficult to describe–it is a feeling so deep within me that I can’t unwind it and pull it out. Suffice it to say, I found travel made me stronger, despite–or maybe because of–kayak and hiking blisters and scrapes–stronger in my knowledge of who I am, how I feel, and how I navigate life.

I’m almost done with this abstract post, I promise. ;) My last point is the other lense: fantasy. I believe I’ve mentioned this in previous posts, but to me, fantasy is just reality dressed-up. I think it’s harder for us to stare difficult truths in the face than it is to disguise them in whimsy and impossibilities. (This is part of the fun I have in cosplay–it’s a disguise of truth, emphasizing chosen personality aspects in a visual way.) So–it’s easier for us to understand ourselves when we’re reading about people and places that aren’t ours–we don’t put up defenses, because why would we defend something we don’t know? And in that openness, we learn truths we can apply to our own lives.

Perhaps this is a little dense for the hour–so I shall end the post here, for now. I hope to expound upon some of those bullet points more soon, in future points. And if my tone seemed melancholy, I didn’t mean it–I am feeling more awestruck and full of wonder than anything else. This world, this life is beautiful; we only have one, whatever else we make up in our minds–and this span of time has only reinforced the idea, for me, that we must treasure every day, every love, every adventure, every second, as much as possible.

A Wedding and a Campaign: Andrea & Ben | #LikeAGirl

Good evening, dear readers! It seems the whole Midwest has been pelted with thunderstorms and worse today; I hope everyone is OK! As for me, that puts me in that gothic melodramatic writing mood (it’s all so sweepingly romantic), so I have come here to funnel those energies. My novel characters have been awfully greedy with my time lately, talking to me in every moment. (Writer friends–does this happen to you, too? :) ) I tell them my blog misses me, but they don’t listen…so I put the towel over their cage for the moment, if only briefly, for one of them will surely set it on fire sooner or later (*spoiler alert*). First, I’d like to say congratulations to my writer-friend Andrea, who got married this weekend. It was a beautiful wedding, and Jeremiah and I were so honored to be invited to share the special day. The reception was a blast! Andrea snuck several literary details into her wedding design, which I absolutely loved. I wouldn’t expect any less of this clever lady! ;)

Bridesmaid Meg reads a Shakespeare sonnet during Andrea and Ben’s ceremony

Writing buddies :)

Jeremiah and I had so much fun! :) (A special thank-you to Jennifer for wrapping the gifts gorgeously, as well as buying that dress for me without me even there!)

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Secondly, I’d like to share something that’s been going viral on Facebook, which I first saw from my sister. It’s for a campaign the company Always is trying to start: #LikeAGirl. It’s based on the concept–what does the phrase “Like a Girl” mean to you? This video, comparing what little kids think, versus adolescents, is so moving–and it says a lot about our society.

It reminds me of a conversation I had with a few friends several months ago (they shall remain anonymous…you’ll see why ;) ).

They were talking about a time when *someone* had, for some reason, an electric fly-swatter. She wanted to test it on our male friend, because obviously, right? (Haha, I couldn’t, but she can get away with these things. ;) ) Anyway, the best way to go about such a thing is with shock, so she snuck up behind him and zapped him. Since I was hearing this story for the first time, they courteously reenacted the subsequent scream for me. “He screamed like a girl!” exclaimed another female friend. “That’s an insult!” I retorted. They laughed, but, to his great credit, the male friend laughed hardest of all.

But all of us were playing off of the societal message that “like a girl” is a bad thing, somehow lesser than the average. [Scholarly note: Even the French diminutive “-ette” suffix, borrowed into English is a feminization.] To translate for people less strangely obsessed with language than I, it means that even on a language level, we make “lesser” mean “like a girl.” I love this usage note on dictionary.com (at the bottom), which says that the diminutive forms for females is going out of style and evolving into gender-neutral. Yay!

This also echoes my earlier post about strong female characters–that “strong” has to be said, because it’s not the socially believed standard. I hear “like a girl” all the time, from people I love and respect; I’ve said it many times, myself!

I am all for this #LikeAGirl campaign, and I hope you will be, too. From now on, when someone says I do something “like a girl,” I will say, “Thank you. I take that as a compliment.” (Or, if I just did said activity poorly, I will simply say that it is not my gender, but rather the negative aura of their company that has influenced my performance. Yessss.)

Until next time, my dear readers. I shall try to escape my characters’ demands soon, if only for brief updates or shares. ;)