Friday, May 30, 2008

A Difficult Subject

Yesterday I helped a friend with something I have experienced myself.

Dare I say the word? There is such a huge stigma associated with it. Friendships and marriages end over it. Credibility can be destroyed by it. Families can be scarred by it. And not just by the problem itself--but by the stigma associated with it.

Here it is: Depression.

The bulk of the American medical community will tell you depression is a disease that must be treated with perscription medication.

Millions of Americans believe it's the only solution.

I didn't, and I am grateful EVERY DAY OF MY WONDERFUL LIFE that I did not.

The truth about depression is that it is NOT a disease. It's a symptom.

The truth is that study after study proves that medication has little to no success in treating depression in any kind of profound way.

The truth is that the means are available to conquer this monster, if those who suffer are willing to fight it. I fear most aren't. I fear most are looking for a quick and easy solution, and they will not find it.

So, going back to my friend; she is suffering from mild depression right now, brought on by sleep deprivation. She's the mother of three children--4, 2, and 5 months old. The baby isn't sleeping well at night and this friend is caught in a depressive loop of poor sleep, poor health, and the need to take care of her children. She can't NOT take care of her children, you know? So she was on a down cycle last night and her husband called and asked if I might be willing to, basically, put one of their children in time out while they took the others and went to do something fun.

Odd question. I told him no. I told him that it's not my job to be the ogre to his children. That's his and his wife's job. He then proceeded to explain somewhat what was going on, and I told him that he didn't need to take the kids out to do something fun. He needed to hire a freaking babysitter and take his wife out on a date, which, to his enormous young-inexperienced-husband credit, he did. They hired my daughter.

When they came to pick her up for the sitting job, my friend was sitting out in the car crying. I went out to her and hugged her and talked to her for a while, found out more details, and wrote her a 'perscription' to get her back on her emotional feet.

Most of that perscription involves making some changes in her lifestyle. It usually doesn't take much, and you can generally take it slowly. I'm a firm believer that taking baby steps toward a lifestyle change works more lastingly than trying to affect a complete reversal in your habits.

Anyway, right NOW, she is to begin:
*getting a little exercise EVERY DAY!!! I cannot stress enough how crucial exercise is to conquering depression. Sorry you fatties out there (like me, by the way), but if you don't want to spend the rest of your life in the misery that is your life, you have to get up off the couch and get your heart pumping. My friend's husband will take the kids off her hands when he gets home from work while she goes walking.
*getting rest whenever she can. I taught her the concept of 'power naps.' I've taken a lot of those in the last few years. Fewer as I've recovered from the physical effects of the depression-inducing stress and the depression itself.
*a regimen of supplements designed to heal her brain and invigorate her body. I had to use some caution on that list, as she is a breastfeeding mom. After a LOT of personal research and self-trial, I recommend a good multi-vitamin, a B vitamin that includes ALL the Bs for metabolism support, extra vitamin C, Omega 3 and Gingko Biloba to support and enhance blood circulation to the endorphin-starved brain. In addition to these, I take a low dose of St. John's Wort in the mornings to get me going and feeling good in the mornings, but St. John's is not recommended for nursing moms. She also needs to limit the amount of vitamin C she takes, as mega-doses can actually lead to scurvy in infants after they stop nursing on mom's vitamin C rich milk, even if they are receiving adequate amounts of the vitamin. I take an extra 2000 mg. a day. She'll take 500.
*relying on her support system more, including her husband. I reminded her that our wonderful husbands simply don't know what we need unless we tell them. So we sit around getting annoyed that they can't read our minds, and they sit around feeling helpless because we don't tell them what's on our minds. Just tell him what to do and he'll do it. He wants to do it. He wants to help you feel better and be happier, he just (REALLY, girls) doesn't know how.
*removing as much stress as possible. She'll spend some time in the next week or so looking at every aspect of her life. She'll learn to tell people 'no' when they ask her to do something that will only end up adding to her stress level. She'll learn that there are some things that just don't matter very much in the big picture, and that can wait, that she can set aside for now while she's dealing with this. If that includes switching the baby to a bottle earlier than she would like, that's what it means.
*taking the baby to bed with her to enable her to get as much night sleep as possible. Some will frown on this kind of thing, but if it saves her, it's well worth it.

Depression is a complex and awful thing, but it's not a death sentence. It's not even a LIFE sentence. It's a symptom, usually of stress--from short term acute stress, to long term chronic stress. And stress comes from MANY sources--emotional, physical, intellectual, spiritual. Depression is a symptom of myriad diseases, because the physical stress of the disease--even if you don't know you have it--can lead to depressive symptoms. Depression causes other symptoms because the whole body becomes depressed and doesn't function as well as it could. Addressing the whole person, the body, the soul, the intellect, is the key to conquering it.

I recommend:
The Chemistry of Joy by Dr. Henry Emmons. You can find a preview of the book here:,


The Depression Learning Path at Just skip over all the ads and junk at the top of the pages. Scroll down to get to the meat and bones of this really excellent tutorial on depression.

Both sources give a good objective persepective on depression and its complexity, and treats the issue of medicating for depression a fair explanation without touting it as necessary. The Depression Learning Path gives an excellent and simple explanation of the different kinds of available therapy and what works best, as well as how to choose a good therapist. After reading Dr. Emmons' book, I realized that, because of the nature of my depression, medication would not have worked for me.

Here's to healing and to LIFE!!! Smile, everyone!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Comings and Goings


I plan on finishing up early, then spending the rest of the morning in the garden where I will plant beans, squash, second plantings of chard and spinach.

We found some funky peppers at the nursery today. Black, brown, and purple. Can't wait for them to come on. We also planted blue potatoes again. We couldn't find the starts at all last year, but loved them when we had them two years ago. They're not the prettiest cooked, but they're unusual. My son also planted giant pumpkins. We should get pumpkins that top 100 lbs.

Went to the library today. Picked up a volume of short stories and Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. I just finished M is for Magic, a collection of Gaiman's shorts targeted toward young people. I'm reading a historical fiction entitled Crusader by Michael Alexander Eisner. So far it's quite compelling.

Only 10 more days until our vacation. I think I have everything arranged for the care of our managerie. I'm most worried about the dog. She's a bit geriatric these days, and doesn't get around quite like she used to. I'm sure she'll be fine. She's staying with a dear friend of ours.

Got a sunburn mowing the lawn and (finally) planting my tomatoes.

Friday, May 23, 2008

School and Slush

School is almost out! I'm excited beyond words!

The kids are too, of course.

It means freedom for all of us. The only glitch is that now we'll be fighting over the computer. I REALLY have to sell some stories so I can afford to buy me a laptop!

The closer the end of school comes, the more anxious I am for it to be OVER. It's like pulling teeth to get the kids--and myself--to do any schooling.

Then, what should happen, but my inbox this morning was full of slush. What to do? Read them, of course. I LOVE reading slush--both the good and the bad. I also love critiquing stories, so I find it hard to send back a simple 'reject' or 'accept.' I find myself compulsively including comments about almost every story.

But slush and school make a bad combination. If I have slush in my inbox, we might as well not try to school at all until I get it all read and returned.

That's done.

The weekend is here.

I hope (sort of) I don't get any more slush until after school is done.

NOTE: For those following the snake saga, we're in the midst of a shedding cycle. One's done, another's coming very soon, the third is a ways off yet. Also, Garter snakes don't seem to be particularly keen on crickets.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Not On The Test

For those of you who are new to my blog, I homeschool--which is why, right now, I have little time for writing.

Anyway, my sister sent me the link to this marvelous video that nicely explains one reason (and our reasons are NUMEROUS!) why we homeschool:

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Waiting Game

I have three stories that have been in an editor's slush pile for two months now.

At this point I start to get antsy.

However, often (but not always) a long wait means it has passed through the first round of slush reading and is under consideration.

That's good. I think.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Tomato Love

I enjoy gardening.

One of my particular favorites is tomatoes. I LOVE them. I even love the smell of the plant.

I've grown my own tomatoes from seed that I collected from my own tomatoes for about ten years now. It's an interesting hobby that I've been tinkering with for some time--different combinations of soils, fertilizers, lighting, planting time, tomato varieties.

This year I've ALMOST got it.

I've settled on a few varieties of heirloom tomatoes that I particularly like--Porter, Eva Purple Ball, and Sweet 100. There are others I like, but these three are my standbys.

The plants are doing very well. They're still inside under lights. I put them out to 'harden off' for the first time today, hoping the weather will hold for me to plant them in a couple of weeks--I live in a zone 4 1/2 or so; we've had killing frosts as late as the first week of June. But did I plant them too early? Or have I not given them quite enough light? Or have I fertilized them too much? I don't know. They're getting very tall and fairly leggy. I had to plant them deeper today to keep them from snapping off in the wind. I used a box lined with plastic and just put the peat pots in the bottom of it, then filled the box to the brim with new soil. That should hold them until I can get them into the ground.

But I just haven't quite figured out how the greenhouses get those short, leafy, thick-stemmed plants. I'm beginning to suspect they grow plants that look like mine, then cut them off at the knees and plant the tops in a growing compound. Cheaters.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Restructing a Short Story into a Novel

Good news--I have not received any rejections recently, BUT I'm still waiting for word on three stories. Waiting, waiting, waiting. *Sigh*

I've already written about my very long story, "Nightingale," that I cut down to make it more saleable.

It's going to Interzone next. Oh, nevermind. I just checked things out at Ralan's. Interzone is NOT open to email subs in May as their website promises, and I'm not going to pay to ship it all the way to the UK. There are plenty of US markets to consider. BUT, it would help if Interzone would update their own 'website,' which isn't very helpful even at its best. I mean, really. Why should I have to get such news from a secondary source?

Anyway, I want to turn it into a novel. Right now it's in the rumination stage, filling in the details needed to fatten it into a longer work. Certainly I have room for more background, room for more character development, room for broader scenes.

But I had a bit of a breakthrough this week, partly as a result of the post just previous to this one--Nightingales.

I originally titled the story "Nightingale" because the girl in the story is turned into a nightingale. But what if my MC/hero is his own kind of nightingale? I had originally seen him as having at least a couple of extraordinary characteristics, but what if he's really quite plain, simple, unextraordinary? It's only through the resolution of the conflict that something amazing comes out in him. Not magic, though. HE can't be magic. He'll be aided by someone else's magic, earth magic, but he, himself, won't have any kind of extraordinary power--except that greater power given him by his devotion alone.


Friday, May 2, 2008

Why the Nightingale?

It's because the bird is not what it appears to be, because its outward appearance does not reflect what comes from inside. And isn't that often where some of the best stories are found? In something unexpected.

As you can see from the picture over there <---- the nightingale isn't the loveliest of birds. It's just a common brown bird. Even its feet and beak are brown. But to hear it sing! Listen here: (scroll down to the scientific names Luscinia luscinia and Luscinia megarhyncos)

I first became enchanted with the nightingale in the form of a children's story, in which the nightingale is jealous of all the other birds for their beautiful plumage, their speed, strength, magnificence, but learning in the end that what he has to offer the world--his song--is at least as good and beautiful and strong and magnificent as all of these.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Instrument Central

My children love music.

I've never been the kind of mom that pushes them into five million things to constantly keep them, and me, busy. I've been a "Hey, you're interested in that? Well why don't we try it out for awhile and see how it goes," kind of mom. And when they lose interest (after talking things over first, of course) I back off and let them find something different, and in the meantime do what I can to encourage without being pushy, to keep their level of excitement high, and to get the family involved for moral support.

With me being a piano teacher, music is a fixture in our home and the older children learned early to enjoy good music and to see how enjoyable it is (except when I'm having a hard time mastering a piece and take my frustration out on the poor piano). My oldest wanted to learn piano when she was about five. I let her goof around on the piano as much as she wanted, but as a teacher I generally don't encourage beginning children too early--their ability can quickly outstrip their physical readiness if you do. But when she turned eight--or nearly eight--I started teaching her.

She didn't like it so well. Neither did I.

My son later took a turn at the piano with similar results.

He also took a turn at baseball for a couple of seasons.

After that it was the violin for my oldest daughter. She had a chance to take some introductory lessons through her school and fell in love with the strings. In middle school she switched to viola and fell even more deeply in love with the richer tones and mellower sound of that instrument. Once she proved herself dedicated we purchased an inexpensive beginning instrument and got her going on lessons.

*A word to the wise at this point--when it comes to instruments, for the most part, you get what you pay for. Our inexpensive instrument became considerably more expensive after a couple hundred dollars worth of adjustments to make it playable. Also find a good teacher who you can actually work with. Her first was awful.*

Then my son took up the clarinet and the bagpipes. We bought him a good used clarinet at a pawn shop and a bagpipe chanter on ebay. No bagpipes yet. We'll get to those in a couple of years hopefully, expecting to pay upwards of $1000 for a good set.

Now my son has become interested in the tenor sax so he can play with the school's jazz band. Has he given up the other instruments? Nope. He wouldn't dare be so easy on us. With him we can get by with 2 teachers as the clarinet and tenor sax are almost identical in fingering. BUT that means he could use a tenor sax. The one he currently has is a rental with option to buy. We just may end up doing that. The disadvantage to rent-to-own is that you end up paying more for the instrument than it's worth. The advantage is that it's still owned by the shop, so maintenance is free until it's paid off.

Now my youngest, of course, wants to follow suit. She wants to play guitar and mandolin. Fortunately I can get a pretty good guitar for under $200. A mandolin is another matter entirely, but the fingering is pretty much the same as on a guitar, so she learns one she can learn them both.

On top of all that my kids are interested in other minor instruments as well, and all three are (again) taking piano lessons.

So, in my house right now we have:
1 piano
2 violas
1 violin
1 clarinet
1 tenor saxophone
1 bagpipe chanter
2 penny whistles
1 bodhran (Celtic drum)
1 lap harp
1 dulcimer

AND my daughter wants to buy an electric violin. I'm all for it. She can plug the dang thing into headphones and play for ears only.**

**NOTE: She's actually very good, but the noise level at my house, as you might imagine, can sometimes drive one to distraction.