Meet My Buns

Early in October 2019, I attended a writer’s workshop presented by Northwest Houston Romance Writers of America. The guest speaker was Kristen Lamb. The morning workshop covered antagonists, and the afternoon’s, social media. When I said I need resocialization, I wasn’t kidding. I’m not exactly technically challenged; but other than Pinterest and two blogs I wrote for my own entertainment, I’ve avoided social media like the plague.

Ms. Lamb recommends developing your brand before attempting to publish a book, so here I am. The first time I saw something on building your brand, it was on the cover of a Tiger Beat magazine at the grocery store checkout, a few years ago. I nearly died laughing at the idea of tweens and teens building their brands. Well, who’s laughing now? Not me.

Ms. Lamb recommends using your own name, which I totally agree with. The only problem with being a late comer, ahem, excuse me, late bloomer? Turns out I seem to have a million doppelgängers. While setting up this blog, I used mrharrybuns as my user name. Not so much because I was trying to be cute, but out of sheer desperation. Imagine my surprise and relief to discover it wasn’t taken. If there is a person out there named Harry Buns, I’m guessing they aren’t copping to it on the internet. The same goes for my blog title. Apparently, no one wants to come right out and admit they’re middle aged either. Besides, Ms. Lamb recommended I capitalize on my rabbits, because they’re cute and fuzzy (very fuzzy).   Since they are going to be a part of this endeavor, we may as well designate them board members. I would like to introduce the CRO (Chief Rabbit Officer). Meet my Buns…

Mr. Harry Buns, Chief Rabbit Officer

Buns is the first of my rabbits and was a Humane Society shelter adoption. I brought him home Feb. 13, 2013. Who says 13 is unlucky? I believe he celebrated a birthday recently, making him seven years old now. He may be a purebred Lionhead, though I can’t confirm that either. According to the shelter, someone found him loose in their neighborhood. He used to be a bit feisty when I first brought him home. Can’t blame him really. Life on the streets is hard. He settled in eventually, and is now my little buddy, kind of like Gilligan.

Wait! Did Someone Say Caregiver?

Follow the yellow brick road…

Yes… yes, I did. You thought this was going to be blog about my journey as a novelist, and insights on the craft of writing. In the immortal words of Lord Dark Helmet “Fool you!” (Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs)

Well, maybe a little bit. I have written a novel and will eventually want to send my baby out into the great world. Hopefully to land on a best seller list or two. Storyteller and writer have been a part of who I am for most of my life. But they aren’t the only part, and certainly aren’t the most important.

If you read my first post, you will notice an over-riding theme. Mentioned at the beginning, and again at the end. Which is a nifty writer’s trick, by the way.

I fell into professional caregiving out of necessity. It is not a career path generally chosen by creative types, though I knew many nurses who had creative pursuits; such as cross-stitching, knitting, crocheting and quilting.

It can be a profession which generally pays better than some, but it is never one you go into expecting riches. Unless you attend medical school and do the residencies, to become a fancy-pants surgeon. With the high cost of said schools, and the outrageous debts people graduate with these days, being a rich doctor who golfs in the afternoon is no longer a given. So, I must tip a hat to all the people who enter the medical and caregiving professions. You will never be paid the compensation you truly deserve, for your compassion and hard work. Thank you.

Ultimately, I ended up working as a Nurse Assistant/Ward Secretary for nearly ten years. I encountered a few family caregivers, especially working in a small-town hospital. Just because their loved one, usually a spouse, had an issue which could not be handled at home, didn’t mean the caregiver got a few days of vacation. Usually, they were at the hospital the entire day, during visiting hours, often doing much of their loved one’s care. Or at least assisting with it. I would go home at the end of my shift, grateful no one in my young family needed such intense help.

Ah, but fate can oftentimes be cruel in ways you don’t expect. Less than 10 years after I went into what I considered my true profession, my husband, Karl, injured his back while preparing for deployment in Iraq. That was in 2006. A common complaint for most disabled veterans is the way their employer treats them when they are hurt on the job. It is not the main purpose of this blog to complain about our government; but it does bear mentioning, that it makes the role of a caregiver even more difficult, when you also have to worry about keeping a roof over your family’s head.

My husband’s injury involved 13 herniated disks and nerve damage to his right leg, right arm and shoulder separation. Because he was not receiving the disability compensation he was owed, in a timely manner, he had no choice except to return to his teaching position. All teachers spend a lot of time on their feet, and music teachers spend almost an entire day on theirs.

It goes without saying, Karl’s injury was never properly addressed by the Navy or VA Medical System. I recently saw a news story about a man’s emergency surgery for one herniated disk. The hospital surprised him with a $600K bill, which his insurance refused to pay. After he complained, they graciously lowered it to $200K. Yes, my tongue is in my cheek as I write this. Little wonder the government can’t pay to fix 13 of them.

Due to continuing degeneration in his back and an undiagnosed neurological condition which causes constant headaches, Karl was forced to leave teaching in 2011. He was 44 yrs. old. That is a really young age to be forced into medical retirement. In 2010, I started working at the same school Karl taught at, running the copy machines and helping him with his after-school activities, such as setting up and breaking down concerts; since he did not have an assistant. My help was mostly off the clock. Finally, in 2013, at the end of the school year, I left. I wasn’t being paid enough to justify leaving him home alone, to fall on the stairs. I would be making even less once Obama Care went into full effect.

The funny thing about caregiving, is you don’t realize how many of us there are, until you become one. I have actually been surrounded by caregivers. My mother-in-law for my father-in-law who had Alzheimer’s; my uncle for both of my grandparents; one of my husband’s brothers, and his wife, for my mother-in-law; and a friend in Iowa who has now cared for a grand total of four people, including both of his parents. I may know a few more, if I think about for a bit. The biggest reason I can’t remember them right now? I haven’t seen or heard from them in a while.

Which brings us to the hardest part of being a caregiver. Despite all the support information and attention being given to the issue, we’re still largely invisible to society. Until you happen to see us sitting in the waiting room of a doctor’s or therapist’s office. Even though my husband is still somewhat ambulatory, he is in pain 24/7. He has little patience for socializing these days, never mind going out into society, which is increasingly losing respect and empathy for others. It goes without saying, we don’t leave the house much. That’s true for many caregivers, often because of the sheer logistics required just to leave the house. Especially if their loved one uses mobility equipment.

I will be the first to admit I could benefit from resocialization. I have a few hobbies which could actually get me out of the house for a bit, such as knitting and crocheting. Other than the Bolivian lady who taught me to knit, I’ve always done that as a solitary endeavor. As a de-stressor, I usually work on a project between the other things I have to do. We live in a large urban area. Driving somewhere else to knit would have the opposite effect of de-stressing. It might be worth it, if I taught some classes. I have been knitting and crocheting for more than 30 yrs., but the time it takes to prepare a class is an issue.

So, why return to writing then? Part of it is the social aspect. I am also a fine artist and amateur photographer, in addition to being a graphic designer. Some of those folks will occasionally get together and discuss craft, and issues which affect their ability to make a living. But writers? They are the true herd animals of the creative world.

Not long after I revived my nearly dead book of 30 yrs., I looked up the closest chapter of Romance Writers of America. I knew RWA had a chapter near where I live, before we moved here. They meet once a month. And unlike a knitting class, where I am on someone else’s schedule, I plan to publish my books indie. While I do have financial goals for my writing, I am on my own schedule to release a book. I am also a control freak, which puts indie publishing right up my alley. Nor does it hurt, I’m a big box of crayons kind of gal and can make use of my other skills. Instead of letting them go dormant.

It could be an interesting journey, and like all journeys, they are most enjoyable when undertaken with friends. Just ask Dorothy. Why else did she collect all the rejects of OZ, as she skipped down the yellow brick road?

Quote of the Week

Why buy the entire burrito, when you only want one bean?

Kristal DeJong

It Began with a Typewriter…

For a hook, this line might not be as compelling as “Once upon a time…” or “On a dark and stormy night…”. However, it is perfect to begin sharing my odyssey as a writer.

Once upon a time, (sorry, couldn’t resist) I was a twenty-one-year-old wife wishing to make a career change. What? At such a young age? No, it didn’t involve leaving my husband of one year.

To help pay the bills, I took a job as a nurse assistant in a nursing home. While a nice private facility which paid better than minimum wage, it was still a difficult place to work. Especially when you are a sensitive, creative soul who might weigh 100 lbs. wet. Many of the residents were bigger than me, and not all of them appreciated the assistance, most especially those with dementia. After nearly a year of employment there, I longed to find another job with fewer physical demands and fewer opportunities to have my feelings hurt, simply because I was trying to help someone.

My husband and I married in the late 1980s, just a few years before the internet started becoming widely available to everyone. It wasn’t unusual to find a computer or two in an office (no, they didn’t have Word yet), but you could still find many typewriters perched on secretaries’ desks. I took typing in high school, but funnily enough, it wasn’t my best subject. Many of the office jobs I found in the local classifieds required applicants pass a typing test to be considered for a position. What to do…

On one of my weekends off, I perused the garage sale classifieds. Fate smiled upon me. I found a listing with an electric typewriter which supposedly still worked. The garage sale was in progress that very day, so I dragged my husband out of the house to go typewriter shopping. Lucky me. They still had the machine when we arrived, and as promised, it still worked. It was even a recent enough model; typewriter ribbons could still be purchased for it. Yeah! (Typewriters do not come with backspace or delete buttons. We had white-out for that.) I wish I could remember what we paid for it, but I still believe it was a bargain.

Now that I had my own personal typewriter, I could practice increasing my typing speed in my free time. Surely, copying any old document would do, right? Nope. In my brilliant, 21-year old mind, it made more sense to write a romance novel while improving my skill. Bonus! Who doesn’t love a twofer?

Did my typewriter and novel writing get me out of my nursing home job? Sadly, no. I worked there a little over two years, until we decided to move from Nebraska to the town in NW Iowa, where my in-laws lived. Hubby was a reservist in the military. He received orders to report in California for two-weeks of training, then was supposed to leave for the Gulf War in Iraq and Kuwait. We were expecting our older daughter at the time, and I didn’t want to live four hours away from both sets of grandparents, with a baby.

My parents moved me during the two-week training period. Days before it ended, the Gulf War did too. My husband just missed being shipped out. Instead, he joined me in Iowa and found a new job at the Farmers Coop lumber yard. I went back to work when our daughter was two months old, as a nurse assistant in the local hospital.

I continued using that typewriter until 1993, when we purchased our first home computer, complete with 3 1/2-inch floppy disk storage and dial-up internet. Our younger daughter was born that same year.

Now a mother with two small children and a part-time job, the novel writing had its challenges. I joined Romance Writers of America in the latter half of the nineties, seeking support from others who would keep me motivated and help me hone my craft. In 1997, I finally made that career change, into graphic design, and within a year had a full-time position. Moving to Texas in 2000 ultimately brought my novel writing ambitions to a halt. Though the girls were still in elementary school when we first moved, it wasn’t long before they entered middle and high school. I continued to work full-time as a graphic designer. Hubby was an orchestra teacher with practices and programs, before and after school. He also rejoined the military after 9-11.

He is now a disabled veteran, with a spinal cord injury, and I am his caregiver. For a while now, I have been considering finding ways to bring in additional income, without leaving him home unsupervised. A few months ago, I had an idea and dusted off the novel I started 30 years ago. Made perfect sense to my brilliant, 51-year-old mind…

Quote of the Week

Don’t be getting anyone’s knickers in a twist. It’s painful for all involved.

Kristal DeJong