Monday, December 30, 2013

Online Christmas Card from the Wulfs

We Wulfs haven't been the best at taking pictures of ourselves in recent years, mostly because we haven't really changed much [physically anyway]. And printing and mailing Christmas cards did not top my priority list this year. Don't take it personally, please. We still like you. No one got a picture Christmas card from us, so here is one for all to enjoy.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the Wulf Pack!! We wish you love, joy, and peace this holiday and always.

2013 has been very eventful for the Wulfs. Tracy has become quite the world traveler, going to London, the French Alps, and Norway this year for work. [Yes, I am keeping a running list of the places he has been without me.] He loves his job and has good friends at work. He finishes the Foundation program and receives his first assignment, which will likely last two to three years, in January. As he always has, Tracy still unofficially commentates for any and all sports games he watches, 90% of the time predicting what the commentators will say or having his own debates with the commentators.

Lacey [Isn't it custom to use third person for these things?] had two major surgeries within the first six months of 2013 for two ectopic pregnancies. She also made a difficult career choice and decided to quit her technical writing job. This year hasn't been easy for her, but luckily, she loved serving in the Young Women organization and volunteering more has given her life special meaning in other ways. She participated in NaNoWriMo and completed the challenge . . . but not the novel. Not yet anyway. She spends most of her time writing and researching, crafting little bits here and there, helping friends with their little ones, and cleaning up after Tracy. :)

Tracy and Lacey have downsized back into an apartment for probably the next two or three years. The Wulfs have big plans and high hopes for 2014, and we wish the best for all of you this coming year.

Thank you for being our wonderful friends and loving family.

Monday, December 2, 2013

NaNoWriMo Winner!

"This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until its done. It's that easy and that hard." --Neil Gaiman

"There is no real ending. It's just the place where you stop the story." --Frank Herbert

"Writing for me is largely rewriting." --Khaled Hosseini

I won!! Out of more than 300,000 people who signed up for NaNoWriMo, only 41,940 people completed it, including me!

Okay, I'm done trumpeting my own triumph.

I still have a bit left to do to get the rest of my story down on paper (or screen), but getting this far pushes me to complete it. Maintaining the pace through the holidays will be challenging, but if I can get at least a couple productive writing days in a week, it hopefully won't take too much longer to finish.

And then . . . the games and the editing begin. I only hope that I don't end up trashing one fourth or more in the editing process, but if that's what will make the story better, so be it.

Thanks for all the congratulations! I have amazing friends!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

NaNoWriMo Update #3

“10 Steps to Becoming a Better Writer
Write more.
Write even more.
Write even more than that.
Write when you don’t want to.
Write when you do.
Write when you have something to say.
Write when you don’t.
Write every day.
Keep writing.”
― Brian Clark

“Start telling the stories that only you can tell, because there’ll always be better writers than you and there’ll always be smarter writers than you. There will always be people who are much better at doing this or doing that - but you are the only you.
Tarantino - you can criticize everything that Quentin does - but nobody writes Tarantino stuff like Tarantino. He is the best Tarantino writer there is, and that was actually the thing that people responded to - they’re going ‘this is an individual writing with his own point of view’.
There are better writers than me out there, there are smarter writers, there are people who can plot better - there are all those kinds of things, but there’s nobody who can write a Neil Gaiman story like I can.”
― Neil Gaiman

Day 26
Total word count: 46,699
Pages in Word: 90
Estimated mass market paperback pages:187

In my last post, I said I would share the plot of my story, so I guess I have to deliver now. Just keep in mind, that by sharing this plot idea, I present a brain child to the world like Simba in the Lion King: up for view, for potential admiration or critical judgment.

I have based my novel on true accounts I have read about women during WWII who worked in the OSS, the predecessor of the CIA. My novel tells the story of one young woman's experience. I don't want to reveal too much about the storyline, but I hope that tiny snippet simultaneously satisfies and piques people's curiosity about it.

With only a handful of days left in the challenge, I can see that I will not be finished writing down the entire story by the end of this month. I hope that is a sign of a decently strong plot!

I hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving! This year, I am particularly grateful for the gift of my expression and for this experience. I am also grateful for a supportive husband who has cheered me on this whole time, even at his own inconvenience.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Save Thanksgiving!!

I love Christmas. I like finding gifts for my family, catering presents to their hobbies and personalities, to our inside jokes and connections. But I have to admit that I dislike Christmas shopping. Crowds. Tons of merchandise no one needs. People buying stuff they can't afford. Children screaming--more than usual anyway.

A few years ago, Tracy and I stayed up and decided to go to Walmart to witness our first Black Friday. In the past, we have gone shopping later in the afternoon on Black Friday, well after the rush, and found some items we wanted. But we wanted to see what we had heard about on the news: the mass of humanity in a whirlwind of chaos and greed. Although we did not witness a trampling, we saw people who had three or more TVs stacked in their carts with another cart full of toys. We saw the lines circle completely around the store. In all honesty, my stomach churned. Didn't we just spend a day being grateful for what we have? Now we're stocking up to get more stuff.

I'm sure everyone has heard the news that Walmart will open its doors at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, which shocked me. Even more alarming, Kmart will open its deal-busting doors at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving! Before we can even put the turkey in the oven (much less take it out and eat it), play turkey bowl, watch the parade, count our blessings, or even wish family Happy Thanksgiving, some of us are out anxiously shopping and pushing for deals in store lines, convinced that this stuff will make our holidays meaningful.

Although some companies attribute their early opening to a Christmas season six days shorter this year, I would argue that businesses already start the commercial Christmas season before Halloween. Commercials play jingly tunes before we've carved a pumpkin. Christmas products, decorations, and specialty items crowd the stores well before the spooky costumes leave the shelves. So why do Christmas deals have to occur only on one occasion, Black Friday? Why not have a Black Saturday (or whatever color you'd like to put with it) the Saturday before Thanksgiving? Then wait and have more crazy sales on Black Friday.Why not sprinkle the crazy deals from October through December?

The Huffington Post posted an article a few days ago that made me want to hug some business executives--or at least give them a friendly high five--for the first time ever. Some companies stand for preserving Thanksgiving for the holiday that it should be. I hope that their integrity will be rewarded with increase sales as well as warm fuzzies from doing the right thing.

According to the Huffington Post article, some shoppers have started petitions, which I wouldn't not sign (for the double negative impaired, this means I would sign it), but I think what would send a clearer message to companies is simply not shopping until Black Friday really starts--on Friday. You may miss some deals. You may even have fewer gifts. But there comes a time when you have to decide: what are you willing to spend your holiday time with? Family or things? People or prices?

When I think back on Christmases and Thanksgivings past, I remember some significant gifts, some significant objects or things. But more than that, I remember moments, traditions, time spent with my parents, siblings, and friends that no door-busting deal on a cell phone can replace. I hope people realize that by saving Thanksgiving for family and reflection, we save what truly makes this time of year special.

Monday, November 11, 2013

NaNoWriMo Update #2

"Writing is an extreme privilege but it's also a gift. It's a gift to yourself and it's a gift of giving a story to someone." -- Amy Tan

"There is no great writing. There is only great rewriting." --Justice Brandeis

Day 11 
Words: 20,457
Pages in Word: 40
Estimated mass market paperback pages: 82 pages
Days remaining: 19

After eleven days into the NaNoWriMo challenge, my first wind or high from doing this challenge has started to fade, and now comes the exhausting reality of writing so much in a short amount of time. It is now time to push until my second wind. Like in running, I could quit or slow down now after my first wind, convinced that I have done enough, more than I have in the past. I could, but I won't. I have to dig deep for motivation and drive. Even on days when I feel tired, when I feel overwhelmed with other tasks, when I run out of ideas or specific words I want to use, I have to keep writing. I want to finish this challenge, and what's more, I actually want to see this novel exist on paper, rather than just in my head.

Everyone needs a support system when conquering a marathon. Tracy reminds me daily to push beyond my goal word per day count, so that if I need to miss a day for whatever reason, I will have that flexibility. I'm sure when Thanksgiving Day rolls around, I will be grateful for his nagging, I mean, his advice, and for the extra time I worked every day to build a buffer.

Friends have asked if they can read my novel when I finish this month, to which I reply, "After I have a few months of revision, maybe." Because I know inconsistencies, repetitions, remnants of past plot ideas, and usage errors are sprinkled throughout the story already. Perhaps one day I will have gained the confidence and courage to share this story with others, but until then I ask for patience.

In my next post, I will share the plot of my story, so stay tuned. Happy writing!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

NaNoWriMo Update #1

"There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed."--Ernest Hemingway

"There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are."--W. Somerset Maugham

"Two hours of writing fiction leaves this writer completely drained. For those two hours he has been in a different place with totally different people."--Roald Dahl
Day 5
Just short of bleeding, I have survived days 1 through 4 fairly unscathed. I found out early just how hard to overcome my compulsion to edit immediately would be. I sat at the computer for hours, just to complete my daily goal of 1,667 words. On day 3, this past Sunday, I had a hectic schedule, which limited my word count for the day to around 700 words (about 967 words short), which left a busy day 4 to make up the deficit. I did it though! My goal now is to work ahead, so I can have a cushion for days like day 3.

Now that we are on day 5, my mind focuses more on the larger story than on the minute details. Over the last five days, I have told myself: Let it go! I'll fix it later! It has not hindered my editing abilities, thank goodness, but it has enabled me to write longer pieces in a short amount of time, to get more words on the page faster. However, even at the end of 30 days, my story will desperately need rearranging, elaborating in some spots, cutting some parts altogether, and some serious spring cleaning. My typical writing style still serves me well, but I am expanding my repertoire of styles to include long fiction.

Now that I am getting past growing pains, I am starting to enjoy this!

Tracy and I counted the number of words from a random page in a mass market paperback and came to around 250 words per page. My total word count currently is 8,419. That's 17 pages in Word and 33 mass market paperback pages. By the end of the month, I will have at least 200, a modest novel, but still a novel.

Only 25 more days to go!

Friday, November 1, 2013

NaNoWriMo: Here We Go!

One of the best ways to ensure you'll do something: tell someone you're going to do it and make yourself accountable to that person. Well, I suppose I am becoming accountable to whoever reads this blog.

I am going to participate unofficially in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). The NaNoWriMo challenge includes writing 50,000 words in 30 days. That's about 1,667 words a day. This isn't going to be easy.

When I write, I revise. I reorganize, rewrite, reword. I revise. And then I revise more. The NaNoWriMo challenge requires that I leave behind my tendency to stew on and improve a sentence or paragraph and just keep going. This isn't going to be easy.

I have a few ideas for novels that I like, but I lack the confidence to share those ideas with the world. This challenge allows me to pursue at least one of those possible stories in a rather low-stakes way. But it still won't be easy.

I plan on sharing my experiences, progress, and lessons learned as I go through NaNoWriMo, so stay tuned.

Click here for more specific information about NaNoWriMo. And feel free to share your experiences if you decide to join me in this goal.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Redhead Costumes

When I was little, I hated my red hair. I didn’t know anyone else with red hair, and I didn’t recall seeing many actors with red hair, except orphan Annie, but let’s face it, her crazy bushy curls are a little less than cute.

I saw plenty of redhead cartoon characters like Ariel, Rogue, Mrs. Frizzle, etc. Although I liked these characters, each of them did not even resemble a real, normal person. Ariel is a mermaid, a mythological creature. Rogue is one of the X-Men, a group of “gifted” heroes ostracized for their differences from humans. Mrs. Frizzle, however cool and however much I respected her, is one of the most strangely dressed teachers ever. Not the strongest candidates for making a young redhead feel more normal in appearance.

Luckily, I eventually got over my aversion to my natural hair color and have grown to love it. I see it as something that makes me special and beautiful.

Although I still like generic costumes that anyone can do, I now also embrace those costumes that belong specifically to redheads, such as these:

Merida (Brave, which is my costume this year!! See below)
Giselle (Enchanted)
Black Widow (Avengers)
Princess Fiona (Shrek)
Poison Ivy (Batman)
Lucy (I Love Lucy)
Ariel (Little Mermaid)
Rogue (X-Men cartoon)
Jean Grey (newer X-Men movies)
Redhead sitcom characters (How I Met Your Mother, Madmen, True Blood, etc.)
Mrs. Frizzle (Magic School Bus)
Wilma (Flintstones)
Leprecaun or Irish lass
Ginger Spice (if you’ve got the rest of the Spice Girls)
MaryJane (Spiderman, but you’ll need Spiderman)
Jessica Rabbit (Roger Rabbit’s wife, for those who don’t mind showing skin)
Satine (Moulin Rouge, for those who want to be a smoldering temptress)
Strawberry or Orange (particularly for babies or toddlers)
Fox (or any reddish animal)
Pippy Longstocking
Raggedy Anne
Orphan Annie

This year, I am dressing up as Merida, although only from the waist up as you can see. Hehe.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Halloween with My Party Pooper

I love my husband. But I can admit that he is a bit of a party pooper especially when it comes to Halloween. Right before we started dating, he dressed up for Halloween as a golfer, complete with khaki pants, polo, and a glove on one hand. That was his costume. Yep.

Ever since then, I have never seen him dress up as anything else. I have tried to get him to dress up with me as a couple, and I have even suggested low-stakes costumes for him. I suggested that we could be the geologist and the gem. He is a geologist already. He would only have to put on his field gear, and I would do the embarrassing thing and dress up as the gem or the fossil. Simple, not embarrassing. But he rejects all of my costume ideas.

Some friends have suggested that he may change his mind about costumes when we have kids. Proof of this came last night when we watched this commercial, and he completely shocked me when he said, “I could dress up as Jabba the Hut if I had a baby strapped to me like that.” Awww. That’s so sweet. . . . Wait, whaaaaa?! Just when I thought I couldn’t want children more . . . Holidays really are more fun with kids, even for the party poopers! Until kids come around, I’ll just have to accept mine going as himself every year.

He does get excited about candy, but the rules of Halloween trick-or-treating dictate that we give it away to neighborhood children, which disappoints him, despite our buying extra just for us. I guess he anxiously awaits our own children taking candy from others and bringing home their piles for us to filch. Perhaps then he will be more positive about Halloween candy.

Do I get upset with my party pooper? No. . . . Well, a little, but after six years, I have learned to cope. I exploit what he can “tolerate” for all it is worth. As long as he can flip between a football game and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown or Corpse Bride, he won’t complain. As long as I do most of the work on carving a pumpkin, he will participate. Because he likes pumpkin food, I try to make pumpkin bread, pumpkin cookies, etc. to get some reaction from him.

Hoping  extra perk of having a future family and milking whatever I can get now, the work and patience required to pump up my party pooper will be well worth it!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Coming Out the Infertility Closet

My husband and I have been battling infertility for four years. Think of it: that’s about 48 months. That’s 48 times of hoping, 48 times of imagining my future child, 48 failures. Trust me, it extends four years to the length of a geologic time period. 

After about three years and with medical aid, I had two ectopic pregnancies that resulted from tissue damage when my appendix ruptured in June 2009, only six months before we started to try to conceive. I had both of my fallopian tubes removed as a result of those pregnancies this year. At this point, without the most intense and expensive fertility procedure (IVF), my husband and I will never be able to conceive. Period. Although I am grateful that the technology exists to enable me to have children, these past experiences have called my own womanhood and identity into question. Motherhood has always occupied one of the top spots in my priority list in life, and in my view I failed at being a complete woman and achieving this major life goal that comes so naturally to others. Needless to say, vulnerable and helpless are the gentlest terms I could use to describe how infertility has felt for me at times, particularly at first. The last thing I wanted to do was talk about it with anyone outside of my tight circle of immediate family and close friends, and even within it, I tried to avoid the topic of having kids.

My ectopic pregnancies and subsequent surgeries basically forced me to open up and tell friends on Facebook, at work, and at church about our infertility struggles. People would obviously notice and be curious that I had to have emergency surgery and miss church and work, so I decided to face the inevitable and let it out. My experiences have been deeply personal and painful, and opening up to more friends and the world in general opened myself up for public view. Vulnerable.

However, without those major events forcing me “out of the infertility closet,” I might still be silently fighting alone. Now that I have broken the silence, I am grateful for the things that provoked my “coming out.” Since then, I have received support and love from many people I haven’t seen in years as well as from those I see on a regular basis. It makes me wish I had revealed our fertility struggles sooner.

Although my husband and I have developed our own calm, united determination to keep fighting and keep hoping independently of others, validating encouragement from external sources has only increased our confidence to continue working toward our family goal, no matter the sacrifice. 

In the past I have been asked, “Why don’t you have kids?” or “When are you going to have kids?” Although these insensitive questions hurt at any stage of infertility and should not be asked of anyone . . . ever, I have found that once I “came out” and comfortably talked about my infertility struggles such questions disappeared. Instead, when appropriate, people ask, “What is your plan in the future?” or “What can we do to help you?” or “Do you want to talk about it?” People say, “I [or my sister, my son, etc.] struggled to conceive too. I know it is hard,” “I admire your strength,” “I will pray for you,” or “I hope the best for you.” In their questions and statements, I sense their genuine concern for my feelings and interest to help.

I can admit that accepting my circumstances and facing them with unwavering hope require courage regardless of who or how many people know, but sharing my story and hopes with more people has created a large support system that gives me courage on days when I feel my own faltering.

Although my infertility story is unique, as everyone’s is, the feelings that all infertile couples go through are very similar. We feel confusion, anger, hopelessness, hope, frustration and stress, and pain (physical, emotional, mental, and financial). When others know what we endure and when we know that others have experienced similar feelings or at least can empathize with us, we can build a community of support and understanding together.

In general, I can talk about my infertility without reserve now. I don’t feel embarrassed or ashamed that I have these problems. I can answer people’s questions about IVF or infertility. I can speak about my future family with hope, knowing that those around me truly realize the significance of what I hope for. I can comfortably tell people that I won’t be coming to a baby shower because it makes me sad, and they support my decision with compassion. Some days I can even joke about my past experiences because I have learned and grown from them and can now share what I have learned with others.

My husband and I are still fighting to overcome infertility literally—we are not parents yet. However, I feel as if we have already conquered the worst parts of infertility in general. Although we’ve been knocked down, we are still fighting, still hopeful, and that makes us survivors of infertility.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

A Special Needs Teacher Gets a Special Award

So often, teachers go beyond the requirements of their job description. Suzette Steward, or Mrs. Suzette as her kids call her, goes even farther every day. Laura Lanstill, Mrs. Suzette’s aide, says, “It’s not just a career for her. It’s her life.” In May 2013, Mrs. Suzette, a special needs teacher at Cinco Ranch Junior High School in the Kids with Autism program, earned the America’s Top Teacher Award from “Live with Kelly and Michael.”
Mrs. Suzette teaches her students basic life skills such as folding laundry, counting money at the grocery store, expanding food preferences, and obeying instructions to make them contributors in their homes and in society. She says, “I like to see the little successes. . . . Small things are huge milestones. Even getting our kids to eat things other than crackers or simply sweet and salty food can be a challenge. If I can get them to eat other things, that is a milestone in the long run.” For Mrs. Suzette, little victories mean everything.
Not only does Mrs. Suzette teach her students during school hours, she also runs independent camps after school and during weekends, school holiday breaks (such as Christmas and spring break), and summer for special needs kids. In her camps every day, Mrs. Suzette takes her kids out into the community where they can experience activities just like other kids. For example, they have visited Sea World in San Antonio, the beach, the Houston Rodeo, and the Bluebell Ice Cream factory. The camps are designed to keep the kids active, allowing them to have fun and get needed physical exertion simultaneously. They have gone swimming, go-carting, tubing on the lake, and riding on roller coasters. “We have a few roller coaster junkies,” Mrs. Suzette states with a laugh. Lisa Clements, Mrs. Suzette’s primary award nominator, adds, “For the older children they are given the opportunity to go on overnight campouts, boating, trips to Six Flags, and participate in zip lines, horseback riding, you name it.” Mrs. Suzette explains, “We give our kids the opportunity to interact, to play. Some of the kids express things differently than others, but I try to give them the same experience that other kids would get.” All of these diverse activities allow the kids to learn how to act in public, how to communicate and interact with each other and people in the community. And they just have fun!
Mrs. Suzette also offers her services individually. Clements says, “She will bring our kids into her home and entertain them while the parents take a much needed vacation of their own.” Understanding the stress and burden parents can feel, Mrs. Suzette gives parents time to rest, go on vacation, or simply go on a date without worrying about their child: “I take care of all kinds of kids with different problems. . . . I enjoy feeling like I help in a way that others feel that they can’t. I can fill that void for families.”
Upon request, Mrs. Suzette provides personal visits to her students’ homes to offer advice and instruction to parents on creating a learning environment for their child’s growth. Clements says, “She is great at ‘problem solving’ and coming to your home to help you figure out better ways of handling situations if need be.” Mrs. Suzette teaches parents how to use motivation strategies at home to strengthen their child’s life skills. “I know it’s stressful, but these kids aren’t going to be children forever. They will become adults one day, so they need to function,” she says. Although it may be easier for these parents to do everything for their special needs children or give them what they want immediately, Mrs. Suzette encourages parents to continue challenging their children to improve their skills in small ways every day.
According to Mrs. Suzette, the community can benefit just as much from her camp outings as the kids. In the nomination video, Elizabeth Kuylen, principal at Cinco Ranch Junior High states, “Hopefully, we are teaching our community at large to be more tolerant. . . . We want to spread the idea that this is good for everybody.” Mrs. Suzette hopes additional exposure to her kids will help people overcome misconceptions and fear that they may have about special needs children and adults. She says, “They are different and communicate differently, but they are just like everyone else in a lot of ways.” Many of her kids love Disney, playing with new technology, drawing, and playing games—just like every other kid out there. Although people with special needs have varying degrees of ability and understanding, Mrs. Suzette says members of the community should be patient, kind, and open to accommodating special needs: “We can accommodate their learning in their preferred way. . . . If a child loves to sing [or draw] . . . make accommodations and don’t judge.” In a way, she says, “They are here to teach us.”
As part of the award from “Live with Kelly and Michael,” Mrs. Suzette received a new 2014 Ford Escape, useful to continue her work in transporting kids for her camps. Her school also received $25,000 and five E-Instruction technology packages, which will come in handy with her technologically savvy kids. Mrs. Suzette and her husband also enjoyed a trip to Tahiti, to which she said before leaving, “I am excited, but I will miss my kids.”
Clements finished her nomination letter by saying, “She has more energy, passion, and love for kids than you will find in any other human being. The kids love her, connect with her and respond to her like no other. . . . The kids respect and listen to her as do her peers and parents.” Her love and devotion to her students, the time she dedicates to them, and the lesson of patience she brings to the community truly merits the title of a top teacher. 
To see Suzette's video and her interaction with her kids, go here and click on her link.