Thursday, November 29, 2007

Writer's First Novel: The Outback Stars

The Outback Stars is a keeper - a book that will stay on my library shelves because it is original and enjoyable. McDonald creates a unique and believable premise - that an Australian astronaut discovers an alien method of star travel connected to aboriginal artifacts - which she skillfully weaves throughout her plot.

Hundreds of years after the discovery, the protagonist and other characters are from planets the Aussie discovered, around a chain of stars which the rest of civilization refers to as the Outback. I was fascinated by the setting, an enormous military ship bringing settlers and supplies and keeping peace among far-flung planets.

The Outback Stars is McDonald's debut novel. With that as her opening standard, I've pre-ordered her next work, The Stars Down Under.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Panda News and Mandatory Voting

The baby panda at the San Diego zoo will be one hundred days old tomorrow, and according to Chinese tradition, will receive her name. (see informative article here).

I was surprised - no, Astonished! to discover that Australia has a mandatory voting law. I've voted in every election, and worked at a precinct and also county level for various candidates in the past. It never crossed my mind that a country would pass a law to require voting. I looked up the issue on Google, and discovered this thoughtful article on mandatory voting law. I still don't know if I think it would be a good idea here, but the thoughts and statistics in Dean's essay has made me consider the idea.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

So Very Thankful

An attitude of gratitude - that is what Thanksgiving Day is all about. Those Pilgrims lived in conditions that would make so many of us complain and cringe. They had just survived terrible and decimating diseases and famine. So when they were blessed with the food the Indians brought them, they gave thanks, and hundreds of years later, we commemorate the generosity and kindness, the compassion of those Indians, and we give thanks for all the blessings in our lives, starting with the people who have shown us kindness.

I give thanks for my husband whose generosity and love has provided me with a fast Internet connection and encouraged me to blog and reach out into the world through my computer. I give thanks for the creative and generous people who invented BookCrossing, and LibraryThing, and BookMooch, eBlogger, Forward Motion, NaNoWriMo, WikiPedia, and all the rest of the incredible online world.

For everything I have lost through FMS and CMP, I have gained even more. My life is richer, not poorer, for having to deal with chronic and painful illness.

I give thanks for my sister and her family, my children, all my relatives and friends, and the wonderful strangers I've met on the Internet, who have become friends also.

I also give thanks for everyone who has commented on PandaBaby. Thank you for visiting my blog.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Understanding Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain

My purpose for this blog entry is to increase understanding of fibromyalgia and chronic myofascial pain. First is a list of highly rated books I own on the the subject. Next, some of my personal experiences with FMS/CMP. Tomorrow will be on my own experience of what is helpful. A Google search on "fibromyalgia" will reveal many websites with more detailed and thorough information than what I present here.

The Fibromyalgia Advocate - get sufficient pain treatment medication, and other help.
Fibromyalgia & Chronic Myofascial Pain - similar conditions, often confused or conflated by medical professionals. Find out the difference and get an accurate diagnosis.
The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook - don't just stand there in pain: do something about it!

I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia on December 17th, 2003, by a rheumatologist who specialized in fibromyalgia patients, after being initially diagnosed by my family doctor. At first, I didn't even tell my relatives -- my mother, sister, son, daughter, etc. I didn't want to admit I have a painful, chronic and incurable condition. I didn't want people trying to manage my life for me, and 'helping' me by limiting what I could do. I didn't want to be seen as different, or helpless or some kind of damaged goods. I was in a deep flare because of doing everything as if I didn't have any pain or exhaustion. I was diagnosed after I passed out one morning, and discovered that denial doesn't work as a cure, and can push a mild case of FMS into a major flare.

I'm writing about FMS and chronic pain now because I hope to empower others who have FMS, and people who love someone with FMS. Knowledge is power: the power to stand fast and get the correct treatment, the best medication, for a condition. Knowledge is the power to be not intimidated by people who, whether out of ignorance or malice (usually ignorance), try to manage you (for your own good, of course!) with comments such as "well, everyone has pain, you know". Knowledge is power to vote with your feet and fire a doctor who tells you it is all in your head.

When I tell those people that studies have shown that people with fibromyalgia have at least four times the amount of the pain neurotransmitter in their muscles, they usually look blank for a moment as they process the concept, and then most of them look shocked, as they try to imagine what that would mean in terms of their own aches and pains.

CMP and FMS do not show "on the outside". Sufferers look 'normal' and, in between bouts of pain, weakness and exhaustion, can be as busy as anyone else, or even busier as they try to regain control of their lives and catch up on postponed work and play. Like other "invisible" diseases that leave no surgery scars and require no casts or splints, the chronic pain of FMS and CMP (Chronic Myofascial Pain) deals sufferers a double blow: that of dealing with a condition that limits your choices and greatly greatly alters your life, and also the isolation that comes from living with a condition that most people don't understand.

My husband's first comment on hearing I had the condition since I was a young teenager was, "Well that explains a lot." Meaning: why would someone who was graceful and loved to dance also be clumsy and drop things frequently? Why would someone who loved people and life and parties be too tired to go do anything for months at a time? Why would someone who 'popped out of bed in the morning like toast out of a toaster' suddenly start sleeping fourteen hours a day? Why would his wife be busy and enjoying work and other other activities, and suddenly collapse and be unable to even complete household chores?

As we learned more about FMS (FibroMyalgia Syndrome), these and other mysteries were answered. After spending days reading books on FMS, and weeks in a class from my HMO on how to manage it, I discovered that, even allowing for a vast range of individual differences, "my" FMS was extreme. It took years after that to understand that I have two concurrent diseases: FMS and CMP. CMP cannot be managed like FMS, and knowing which you have is essential.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

True Colors: book review

It is giving nothing away to observe that True Colors, like the two works preceding it, is about clone warriors. What I love about True Colors is that it takes the Star Wars concept of identical soldiers, cloned for only one purpose - to fight and die on command - and examines that concept, shakes it down, and ultimately turns it inside out.

For me, this is the essence of military science fiction, a sub-genre that I love: to weave into the story a deeper meaning than the tactics and battles. A thoughtful examination of what it means to be human, and to be a person, resides comfortably within the plot and the characters, without detracting from the story.

I found it easy to identify with the characters in True Colors. They had gained my interest and sympathy in the first two "Republic Commando" novels, and now they are living in my head, patiently waiting for further developments when the fourth book in the "Republic Commando" series, Order 66 is released July 15, 2008.

The "Republic Commando" books are set in the Star Wars universe, but it is not necessary to have read any of the Star Wars books first. For more details on True Colors and other books by Karen Traviss, visit her website.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Star Wars Republic Commando: True Colors

The only problem with finding an author I can't live without is that I can read their books faster than they can write them, even if I read them twice!

So it was with anticipatory joy that I opened the latest publication by Karen Traviss, her third installment in the world of the Star Wars Republic Commandos.

I'm on page 93, and can only promise a complete review once I've read the whole book. Traviss writes with depth and passion, skill and experience. She creates worlds, cultures and languages as easily as some women bake cookies. The characters I met in Hard Contact and Triple Zero continue to fascinate, amuse and amaze me in True Colors.

For anyone who appreciates military Science Fiction, Traviss is a bright star in the Constellation of Very Good Writers.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Further Adventures in Traveling with PandaBaby

Panda's perpetually smiling face fell into an introspective frown as he mulled the end of his quest for a dancing bride. "I could pay the bride price, however high, for I have lived long and saved up carefully. But I would die here in the heat of your land; even if I shaved off all my coat, I could not live long in your desert."

A rough, angry voice interrupted the bear, and a loud young man stomped into the little tent, ducking his head under the low portal. "Eliana, what are you doing in here? Why aren't you out with the goats? You lazy girl, I'll have your hide nailed to my tent if you have let one of my flock suffocate in this storm!"

The goat urchin looked down at her bare feet, her thick hair falling over her face and hiding her expression. She spoke in low, even tones that belied her anger and contempt. "My brother, you have not the right to my hide, nailed or any other way, so long as our father lives. Your precious goats are safe in the thorn brakes, as you well know. I'm sorry to disappoint you, but I will not suffocate this day, at your whim or any other."

An excerpt from my '08 NaNo Novel, copyright 2007.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Trains and Airplanes and Taxis - Oh My! Memoirs of a Panda's Travels

PandaBaby is a traveling bear, well-seasoned now in the art of touring her country. In the hopes of saving other and wiser travelers (i.e. - those willing to learn from the sad experience of our own mistakes), we are confessing the true highs and lows of our recent vacation.

To begin with, we rode Amtrak from coast to coast: Union Station at Portland, Oregon to Union Station in Washington, D.C. We boarded the Viewliner with "sleeping accomodations" (a misnomer!) Sunday afternoon, and quickly discovered our first mistake. Luggage capacity for our room was listed as "two small suitcases and a garment bag".

NOTE: always believe Amtrak's capacity remarks! GoldieBear, our traveling companion, did not believe, so we brought four large suitcases, a laptop, a briefcase, a camera bag, and a voluminous purse. Severely overcrowded conditions for three solid days and nights can strain even the most loving relationships, however, we adjusted and learned to communicate with mere growls and teeth-baring instead of the ferocious frowns and loud squawks of day- night number one.

NOTE: always bring industrial quality earplugs for sleeping on trains (unless you are naturally deaf to begin with). We discovered on the morning of Day Two, that no one in our sleeping car slept the night before, however, we had the privilege of having our bunks positioned directly over the faulty wheel and spring, so the racket was undiluted by distance in our cabin. We expressed our gratitude to the porter who brought us earplugs for the second night with a healthy tip when we reached Chicago.

The food on the train was surprisingly good and the wait staff was skillful at delivering meals and drinks without spilling, a marvel which PandaBaby appreciated, as she couldn't stand up and walk the length of one train car without grabbing for a support. A cruise ship might normally be a less turbulent ride.

Strangely, the rhythm of the rails put the normally sleepless PandaBaby to sleep, day and night and in spite of the groaning wheel and spring. All I need to do now when I have insomnia is ride a train - or acquire a bed that rocks.

The train trip finally did end, and we exchanged the interminable train ride for the interminable taxi ride. The time from Union Station to our destination in Virginia would be a half an hour even in traffic, but our taxi driver managed to get lost, then a spectacular freeway pile-up halted us in place for half an hour, so that we spent three hours getting to our daughter's home.

It was a strange four days.

The National Zoo was the best day of our vacation. We saw lions and tigers and gorillas and Panda bears!

Returning home, we took the non-stop airplane from Dulles to Portland airport - a five and a half our trip that was (pardon the pun) heavenly compared with the train. The price was nearly the same as the train, flying economy seating.

Home sweet home, there is no place like home - especially after being gone for a couple of weeks. Ahhh, asleep in my very own bed.

Friday, November 2, 2007

So Many Words, So little Time

Novel writing is a wonderful way to spin time - when lost in the Muse, time stretches out to the infinity of thought, vast and endless as space, moving at the speed of light without expenditure of effort or energy. When lost in the woods looking for ones Muse, time slows down to crawl like a sloth on the ground, out of its element, looking for a way back up to the stars.

Today PandaBaby will stretch and spin and shrink time. Come join the wonder of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and find the writer hidden inside of you. Come join in the fun.
PandaBaby is off and running at NaNoWriMo.

Excerpts of her new Panda-novel will appear on her blog (copyright retained by the author as usual).
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Thursday, November 1, 2007

I am an endangered species

I try not let it worry me, knowing that my species is headed for extinction. When I was younger, I lived solely for the pleasure and experience of my day - after all, everyone said there is no future for us pandas, and what could just one little PandaBaby do to change that? So eat, get high and be merry, that was my motto. I climbed trees, and enjoyed the good life. What more was there for a panda?

Education was my downfall. Put one little thought into the head of a PandaBaby, and it might stick there. Pandas have a lot of time to just think, so I thought. And found more ideas. And thought some more. Lots more.

Maybe, I thought, there is more to life than a hedonistic treadmill. Maybe one little PandaBaby could make a difference - even a difference in just one thing, one life, even my own, could effect a change, and who knows where change may lead?

So I rejected the despair disguised as hedonism, and I discovered even pandas can be disciplined and have self-control. Why, I actually exercised! A challenge gives life spice - more pleasure in a flavorful existence than in all the self-indulgences in the world. What a curious conundrum. I do not say this would work for all hedonists - only that it affected me.

Challenge of the day: NaNoWriMo. Have you ever thought of writing a novel someday? Today is someday. Just do it. I double Panda-dare you.
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