Oh, the Places I Write!

Our Kaysersberg flat

I’ve been taking every spare moment of late to finish my second novel (and begin the sequel to THE STONE MANOR), so my blog has sat dormant. With Book One of my YA Fantasy ready for an agent, I thought it might be interesting to backtrack a few of the many enchanting places I sat creating this fairy tale. It began in our cozy flat in the Alsatian village of Kayserberg, the setting for the novel. The village, not the flat. That’s our building. The ground floor is the restaurant, the next three floors are apartments. Ours is on the top floor, sitting up under the eaves. It was the old family flat, so lots of room, full kitchen, lovely antique furnishings, fantastic views.

Jean Jacques restaurant

This is the enchanting restaurant on the ground floor of our building, Le Capucin. It was home to my writing fits on numerous occasions. I ate more tarte flambée than should be allowed, but then I was in Alsace. If you are ever in Kaysersberg, which everyone should be at least once in their life, stop in and eat. Tell Jean Jacques and Gabrielle, I sent you. They are enchanting! More about them later.

Me writing in front of Kaysersberg apartment

When not writing inside the restaurant, I might be found outside in their sidewalk cafe area.

Me writing in kitchen in Kaysersberg

Some days I chose to stay in our flat and write at the kitchen table.

Me writing at bakery in Kaysersberg

Just down from our building was a trendy little French cafe. If the weather was nice, which it was often, I could be found here, trying to focus on my writing and not on the people around me.

Me writing at favorite bakery in Kaysersberg

A bit further down the street is my very favorite pâtisserie, Au Péché Mignon. Have you noticed a pattern? I eat, and I write. Why wouldn’t I? Right? The chocolate pastries are legendary. It’s a good thing our flat was on the 4th floor. Lots of walking, climbing, walking some more. And then we eat.

Me writing on bench Kaysersberg

Another of my favorite places to write was on this bench, above the village, near the chateau ruins. I would say this one does not have to do with food, but I think we actually picnic’d here.

Me writing at apartment in WF

When I was first diagnosed with Lymphoma in 2012, we got an apartment in Wichita Falls, Texas to be near our daughter and her family and near my oncologist in Grapevine. When we weren’t in Europe training and traveling for Young Life, I was here. And when I had moments of clarity and small windows of creativity, I would write . . . this fairy tale. I believe this story, this Alsatian tale, has been a therapeutic exercise for me, a means of escape through difficult times. There were days I killed off characters, and it was the right thing to do. I felt guilty the first time it happened because, as is often the case, she didn’t deserve it. I loved creating a world of my own making, some parts of it drawn from history, some drawn from folklore told me by people from our village, and some from my own imagination. I love being a writer!

My writing studio

We are no longer in that little apartment, a place that became my sanctuary. We now live right around the corner from our daughter in a lovely home. A gift to our family from God when we weren’t looking for it because we didn’t know we needed it. A few months after buying the home and moving in, our daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer. Now, this is where I write in those spare moments when we are in Texas and not in Europe, my very own space. It is as quirky and eccentric as I am.

The End screen Amélie

It is where I typed this. Book One has come to an end and is waiting to be discovered and given wings. I am very attached to this story because of the life I lived while writing it. Amélie and I have gone through a lot together. I am so grateful she introduced herself to me in that enchanted village in France. I have loved telling her story so far, and I can’t wait to continue the adventure that is her life in Book Two.

The smoke rising from lavender candle

And now, we wait.

 

Guest Post: Cameron Von St. James

The following is a guest post by Cameron Von St. James…

Caring for My Wife During Her Fight with Cancer

On November 21, 2005, my wife Heather was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma. We will never forget that day, the day that our lives were changed forever. Just three months earlier, our only child, Lily, had been born. We had hoped that we would spend the upcoming Christmas together as a happy new family, but our happiness fell apart when Heather was diagnosed, and I became a caregiver in addition to a husband and father.

Things started changing before we even left the doctor’s office after Heather’s diagnosis. The doctor told us about mesothelioma and said we could choose treatment at a nearby university hospital, a reputable hospital in the region without a dedicated mesothelioma program, or a mesothelioma specialist named Dr. David Sugarbaker in Boston. In what would be the first of many decisions I made during that time, I told the doctor that we were going to Boston.

In the following months, our daily lives changed dramatically. Previously, we had both held full-time jobs, but Heather couldn’t work after the diagnosis, and I switched to part-time so I could focus on making appointments, setting up travel to Boston and caring for our daughter. It wasn’t long before I was drained by the amount of work and number of decisions to be made. More than once, I crumpled onto the floor of the kitchen sobbing, wishing things were different. Fortunately, these moments of weakness were few and far between, and I never let Heather see me break down. I knew I had to be strong for her no matter what.

We were helped through that time by friends, family and even strangers. The financial help and emotional support was invaluable. Cancer patients and their caregivers should always take help from those who offer it during their time of need. Emotionally, this help is a powerful reminder of not being alone in the world.

Caring for someone with cancer is incredibly difficult. In the face of so much stress, you can never quit. Although you have to understand your emotions, you also have to manage them. No matter what, you have to stay hopeful and use your resources to get through this.

After Heather dealt with radiation, chemotherapy and surgery, she miraculously survived mesothelioma. Now, seven years later, she’s still free of cancer.

Learning how to handle stress and manage time effectively during Heather’s fight with cancer prepared me for many more obstacles in life.  Two years later, I returned to school to get my degree. When I graduated with honors, I was my class speaker. During my speech, I told everyone how five years earlier, I never would have thought I’d be there. Above all, we have to remember that we can overcome if we keep our hope and believe that we can accomplish anything.

 

PET Scan Results: The Super Power of Prayer

48 Prague Lennon Peace Wall

Imagine a world with no cancer…

My doctor pulled up my PET scan results on her computer screen and smiled…a Cheshire Cat Smile. My Lymphoma is disappearing before our very eyes. The radiologist asked her what treatment I’d had to bring about the great change. I’ve had no treatment…yet. She said she’d only seen this one other time in her career as an oncologist. That patient also was a strong Christian and had also been the recipient of many prayers on her behalf. Miracle was a word used that day in my doctor’s office. No other explanation.

I’m so grateful for the grace given me. I don’t know what the future holds as I “live with lymphoma” but I do know for now I’m breathing deeper and walking lighter. I have a number of close friends battling cancer…too many. They are ever in my prayers and thoughts. Hoping for more miracles.

 

PET Scans and Super Powers

52 My Carry-On Stash

What do you pack for a PET Scan…

This is my Mary Poppin’s Bag for the two day journey for my 2nd PET Scan. Complete with my Super Power Cape, BRAVE DVD, The Hobbit, laptop, headphone, chocolate, journal, chocolate, playing cards…just a few of my favorite things.

I thought this scan would be easier…less stressful. I was wrong. The staff were amazing, but there’s just something about liquid housed in a steel casing with a needle on the end that I find unsettling. They did have a monitor in the room where I waited in case I needed anything while percolating. After an hour of the radioactive sugary goodness finding its way through my veins in search of cancer cells, my isolation was over and it was time for the scan. I laid down on the sleeve and she asked me to place my arms at my side. (Last time I held them above my head.)

I thought, This will be much more comfortable.

Then she pulled up two huge pieces of fabric and strapped me down. “To make sure my arms don’t slip off the sleeve.” Is this when I tell her how claustrophobic I am. The correct answer to that question is: YES! But, I decided to be brave.

As the tube sucked me inside its belly the first time she called out, “Close your eyes.” I did. And a bright flash went off. Then, it sucked me in further and further and it became darker and darker. I suddenly had the terrifying thought that this might be a closed tube. I hadn’t noticed when I walked into the room. My heart began to race, pounding in my chest, and I told myself to breath…now. There I was strapped to the sleeve, inside a dark, tiny tube, a mole-hole as it were. A cave, a tunnel…are there spiders in here?

WAIT A MINUTE! I regained control of my thoughts just in time and the sleeve exited the tube. But only for a moment, then back in I went, but this time not so far, and I opened my eyes and saw that it wasn’t so tiny after all…and there was light coming through the other end. AN OPENING!! YAY!!

For the remainder of the time, my heart began to regain some semblance of a proper rhythm, and I began to pray for my sweet family. Hey, I decided nuclear powered prayers must be quite strong. Why not take advantage of my new super power.

I don’t know much about physics, I have degrees in Social Work and English, but I like to imagine I am somehow connected to the same matter that powers the stars. I do love star gazing. (I also went in the restroom and turned out the lights to see if I glowed. I didn’t.)

I’m now seated comfortably on the bed at my in-laws waiting for my new super power or powers to reveal themselves. You’ll be the first to know when they appear. What would your super power be if you could choose? I’d fly…with the option of being invisible.

The Art of Waiting OR Can I Get a Bit of Closure SOMEWHERE

64 Me at Highland Loch

(Me, in 2002, in the Highlands near Inverness, Scotland, listening for a word from my ancestors. I had to wait three more years before they spoke up.)

It seems I’ve been spending a lot of time waiting lately. And I just have to say, many of the things I’m waiting for are good, or the possibility of good things anyway. Now I don’t want to complain, I really don’t mind waiting from time to time, but it’s a bit crazy for me right now. What do you mean? Glad you asked.

65 Sonic after 1st PET Scan

(Stopped at Sonic to get my caffeine/sugar fix after a 24 hour fast for my PET Scan in February. PS: I was radioactive in this photo can you tell? Are my superpowers showing? I had my cape on just for the occasion.)

I had labs drawn last week in anticipation of my oncology appointment tomorrow. I’ve been waiting for three months since my last one to see if all is well…to see if I’m holding steady in my battle against cancer. This time around it was fairly easy on the front end. I just had blood drawn. No tests, no scopes, no scans, no…well you get the picture. I’m not so much in a battle right now, I’m waiting. And this is one time I don’t mind the wait! I’m hoping for healing or a new form of treatment that is less destructive to the rest of my body. This is the heavy one when it comes to waiting. It’s better from here on out. I promise.

30 FJ40 on Trailer

(Here he is! Dr. Livingstone at Stuart’s, Land Cruiser mechanic extraordinaire!)

I’m waiting for my sweet ride to get a makeover. Dr. Livingstone, my 1974 FJ40. I love him. He’s rough and rugged and has been known to rescue many a young man’s TRUCK out of the mud. Just sayin’. You all know who you are. He is right now in the greasy but loving hands of Stuart, my new mechanic. This will be worth the wait. In the meantime, I’m without wheels.

31 The Stone Manor Spiral

(This is sitting atop my dad’s desk. Just wanted you to know I don’t keep a large current photo of myself atop my own desk.)

Then there are three very cool events I’m waiting on that have to do with The Stone Manor, my novel. I’ve entered it in two different writing contests for unpublished novels. The first is the Golden Claddagh Contest, of which my novel is a finalist in the Celtic category. Woohoo! The winner will be announced September 5th. Waiting! The second contest is The Catherine Toronto Romance Writers Contest. Finalists to be announced mid-late August. Waiting. And last but by no means least, I have submitted my manuscript to a NYC agent. She’s considering representing my work. No timeline on this one. Waiting!!!!!

66 Moving from Berg Container

(Our container preparing to leave our German apartment for Texas. Bon Voyage! Or I should say Gute Reisen!)

Jim and I are moving from Munich to the Black Forest in Germany. We are also downsizing (if that can be possible) so we’ve shipped most of our personal belongings back to Texas, where we’ve taken an apartment near our daughter and her family. So at this very moment, much of our earthly things are in a container on a ship somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean. Wait! I didn’t word that quite right. Hopefully they’re not in the ocean literally, the ship is sailing ON the ocean. Does that sound better? I have seen pictures of freighters plodding through stormy seas, containers sliding off into the water. Not a pretty sight. Image be gone! The container should be here in about a month. Wait for it.

32 Me and Jim Smiling Fam

(Isn’t he handsome? Well worth the wait!)

Finally, Jim has been in Germany without me for a month and will arrive back in Texas on our anniversary, in just a few short days. BEST ANNIVERSARY PRESENT EVER! Waiting!

I could go on, but I won’t. We all are waiting for one thing or another on any given day. Some of us wait expectantly, some excitedly, some with great fear and dread. The danger is always this, we’ll miss living in the moment, the here and now, while waiting for the future to get here. Each day is a gift. It comes and it goes and we can never, ever get it back. I don’t know what you’re waiting for, but I hope you don’t miss what’s right in front of you while you’re looking ahead. I’m writing these last words for my own benefit, really. I needed to hear them. What about you?

Waterfalls and Dragons: Who Knew?

69 Waterfall Dunvegan

(Waterfall in the gardens of Dunvegan Castle, Isle of Skye, Scotland. Photo by Jim and Terri Hale)

I love waterfalls. Always have. I love the sound they make, the roar of the waters crashing over the rocks, the mist that fills the air and kisses my skin, the wonder of what might be hiding inside the mountain underneath the falls. This wonder led to a chapter in my novel. I have woven a tale of Skye in the 1740s throughout the contemporary story. This scene takes place in this backstory. Alexander and Mari, two young lovers, ride through the Druid Wood near Uig. Alexander is taking her to a secret place. Secret because few people ever venture into this enchanted wood. He asks her to close her eyes as they reach a clearing. As she steps out of the trees he tells her to look.

Mari squinted as the brightness of the sun flooded her eyes. She lifted her hand to her brow and sheltered it. Her mouth fell open, and she let out a tiny gasp as she walked forward, dropping her grip on Alexander’s arm. Before her lay a beautiful waterfall, surrounded by green ferns and wildflowers. Wild purple rhododendrons bloomed along a path that led to a cave opening beside the waterfall. At the base of the falls was a wee loch, clear and deep. The water was a beautiful shade of turquoise.

Alexander walked up behind her and whispered. “There is someone I’d like you to meet.”

18 Roman Bridge Near Kenmore, Scotland

(Waterfall with ancient Roman bridge near Loch Tay, Scotland. Photo by Jim and Terri Hale)

Waterfalls can evoke a myriad of emotions. Giant falls suggest great power, cleansing, redemption even. Smaller falls can lead to more tranquil feelings, bringing about more contemplative thoughts. All falls are romantic! The photo above was taken while on our first family trip to Scotland. We were camping near Loch Tay, and a local told us about several things that were MUST SEE in the area. These, he said, were not necessarily to be found in our travel guides. So we were all in! We found the oldest Yew tree in the UK, Macgregor’s Leap, and this beautiful Roman Bridge complete with an enchanted waterfall. I was sure that the stone manor I’d dreamed of would be just down the road. We drove, and drove, and drove. However, no stone manor. I’m still looking!

17 Waterfall Roadside Sleat Skye

(Small waterfall on the roadside in Sleat, Isle of Skye, Scotland. Photo by Jim and Terri Hale)

While thinking about writing this post, I wondered if there might be a link between waterfalls and dragons. (In light of  my ongoing quest.) THERE IS! I found this wonderful Chinese lore about the Dragon’s Gate. Legend has it that carp (and in Japanese stories koi) will find their way to a waterfall and attempt to swim/climb/jump to the top. Those few who make it turn into dragons. Not our scary Western dragons, but powerful, magical, beautiful Eastern Dragons! Symbols of perseverance, strength, wisdom. In fact, in China when scholars passed their literary exams they were said to have “passed thru the Dragon’s Gate.” Love it!

We’ve all heard or read stories of people attempting to go OVER the falls and survive. I believe those that are truly brave and strong are the ones who start at the base and make their way to top!

I often feel like I’m swimming upstream. I tire when I focus on the current I’m battling against and lose sight of my ultimate destination. Of course, in my mind I’m imagining a peaceful pool at the end of the struggle, crystal clear waters…no fish to nip at my legs or snakes to slither toward me. However, it appears there is, in fact, a raging waterfall at the end. (Of course!) In the past few months I feel like I’ve made it to the falls, where I’ve been attempting in my own meager way to jump to the top. However, when I step back and consider what lies ahead, I know when the time comes I will have the strength I need to make it to the top of the falls and become a DRAGON. No riding, no slaying, only becoming!

19 Waterfall through Tree Window

(Small falls on Isle of Skye, Scotland. Photo by Terri Hale)

I’ve found a secret path to the top. I can’t make it there in my own strength. I’ve taken hold of my Creator’s hand, and together we will climb to the top of the falls, where I imagine myself becoming a beautiful turquoise dragon…with wings, of course. Oh, and fire-breathing. That might come in handy.

Dragon Slayer

09 Me and Trevor Bow Practice

I’ve decided to get serious about this blog o’mine. Instead of waiting for a clue as to which direction I should go…I’m going to be true to myself and be random! At first this was going to be a blog about the process of writing/publishing a novel. Then, there was this crazy little interruption this spring in the form of a cancer diagnosis. Suddenly, I decided I should blog about that. However, I’m in a holding pattern of sorts with my cancer, thank God for this. So, in light of my always unpredictable life, I’ve decided my posts should follow the same pattern. Welcome to my world.

Are there things you’re afraid of? I have a VERY long list. Topping the list is SPIDERS. I don’t even like typing the letters that form the word. I can feel them creeping onto the page and just hanging there. (Shiver.) I have high cholesterol and a family history of heart disease. So, I also fear having a heart attack. I’m kinda afraid of passing out in public, the dark, creepy movies, and merky lakes, which leads me to alligator gar! I could go on, but I’ll stop for now. I’ve been known to say things like, “I wish I knew what the future holds.” Word to the wise, don’t say this unless you’re ready for the answer!

I never ever really worried about having cancer. I mean, maybe skin cancer from my sun-worshipping days, but that’s it. Well, I know in part what my future holds. And the funny thing is I’m not really worried about the heart thing anymore. (I do still worry about spiders.)

We all have dragons in our lives. The problem is deciding what needs to be done with them. I have one hiding in a cave (my body) waiting to rise up and devour me. What this dragon doesn’t know is that I’m a dragon slayer when I need to be. I have Follicular Lymphoma, Grade One. Its a waiting game. I’ve been told it’s a very slow going game at that. It could take ten or even fifteen years before it moves to Grade Two. A lot can change in ten years. Who knows what the treatment might be by then. Maybe less destructive than chemo or radiation. I’m willing to wait, and hope, and pray for something better. But, even if the treatment in ten years is the same as today, I will not despair because I’ve been told “this is curable.” When this sleeping dragon awakes, we’ll fight fire with fire. It will be slain! Till then, I’m in training to get ready for the battle. A battle that is inevitable.

The day I received the call from the surgeon that the biopsy was positive for Lymphoma, my father said, “We have lived in fear. Now we can live in hope.” It was true. All the tests, all the waiting, all the not knowing was over. And now, we would hope. He told me this was a quote. When I asked him what it was from he said, “The Diary of Anne Frank.” Anne’s father said this as the Nazi’s were knocking on their door to arrest them. Hmm. I’m hoping for a more hopeful ending.

So, enough about slaying dragons. Tomorrow’s post is about riding them. Which, in my opinion, is a heck of a lot more fun than slaying! them. Tomorrow we’ll talk about a stone manor…not a cave!

The Night Before

70 Colonoscopy Smoothie

Tomorrow I have my second CT scan. It’s been three months since my Follicular Lymphoma diagnosis. I was told to pick up two “vials” to drink prior to the scan when I went in for my blood letting, I mean labs. The receptionist handed me these two BOTTLES and I said, “This must be a mistake. Where are the vials?” Everyone laughed. I looked around the waiting room and realized many of the people were there for a chemo or radiation treatment. I was about to complain about drinking two bottles of “smoothies.” I thanked her for the bottles and left, grateful that’s all my immediate future holds…a CT scan. I plan to document the “drinking of the vials.” We’ll see how it goes. Bottoms up!