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Use Your Vacation Hours

I will never understand why people let their vacation time pile up at work.  I mean, if you are working your dream job and you love your work, then I can somewhat understand that. After all the big goal is to find a job that you don’t need a vacation from. However, even in that situation you still need to take a vacation every so often to refuel your batteries! Or to give your brain a rest, or visit loved ones, or just to do something different. I take it back, I don’t even understand letting vacation hours pile up in that circumstance. Taking time off is good for you even if you love your job!

I was talking to a co-worker today who has over 200 hours of PTO banked – my company doesn’t differentiate between vacation or sick, it’s all PTO. I’m fairly certain that my jaw hit my chest. 200+ hours!!! That is over five week’s worth of time off. Good lord! The things I could do with that kind of time off blows my mind, and she’s just sitting on it! When I asked her why she hasn’t used any of that, she gave several answers, but the one that stuck with me the most was this one, “Something might happen, and then I’ll need it.”


Okay, there’s some sense to that. Be prepared and all that jazz. (Name those two musicals) However, tomorrow you could drop dead from a heart attack, and then what good did it do stockpiling those hours? None! Those hours could have been spent pursuing a hobby, road-tripping across the country, or sitting on a beach reading a good book. Instead, you spent them sitting on your butt at work … just in case. I don’t get it. For perspective, I am the person who keeps fully stocked earthquake survival kits at home, in my car and at work. I am all about being prepared! But that does not translate to time. I refuse to stockpile time for future use.

The fact that I lost seven family members before I could legally buy a drink, probably has a lot to do with this. There’s something about watching people you love die, especially before their time, that puts a whole new perspective on things.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s sad when anybody dies, but somebody in their nineties has done one heck of a lot of living. Someone in their forties or fifties, not so much. My mom was in her forties when she died, and my aunt was in her fifties. They still had vacation time in the bank. Not literally, well maybe literally who knows, but I can guarantee that they still had things they wanted to do.


My aunt and I had been “planning” a whitewater rafting trip for over ten years. It would come up every so often when we were together and we would both agree that we really needed to do that, because it would be so fun. Then it would be filed back onto the ‘Do It Later’ list. It has now been moved to the ‘Can’t Ever Do It” list. I guess that’s why I decided to go to England next year. I can’t really afford it, but I’m doing it anyway. One of the things on my bucket list is to see a live performance of every play in Shakespeare’s canon. As it stands today, I have seen every one of his plays, except one. And wouldn’t you know it, The Royal Shakespeare Company is mounting that exact play in Stratford-Upon-Avon in late 2016 – early 2017. So I am flying half way around the world to see a play. Why? Because I can.

Use your vacation hours.



A Sea of Self-Loathing Tears

I feel like it’s a pretty universal truth that comparing yourself to others is the death of happiness. That being said, it’s hard not to compare and contrast your life to your neighbors, your coworkers, and your family and friends. It’s really damn hard on the bad days, when the self-doubt starts creeping in, to not look at your BFF, and think, “Damn! She’s got everything together, I suck.”

That’s damaging enough, but what I think is even worse, is comparing and judging yourself against the outliers. The novelist who hit the NY Times bestseller list at the age of 17. The entrepreneur who made a million dollars before their 25th birthday. You might as well pack up the shop and go home, because that comparison is going to wind up creating a sea of self-loathing tears.


Outliers are out there for a reason. They either have some amazing gift in their field, or just happened to be in the right place at the right time with the right idea. Or quite frankly a combination of the two. I’m not saying, there isn’t a good amount of work involved as well, but that hard work and determination met with some luck somewhere along the line. How else do you explain two people who work their asses off and one does okay, while the other one is a huge success? There’s got to be some sort of luck/right-place-at-the-right time thrown in there. So what good could possibly come from making that comparison? None.

Now I’m not saying that I’m crying myself to sleep at night because I’m not a Christopher Paolini. Far from it, I have a healthy respect for myself and the work that I’ve done. However, lately I’ve noticed that I’ve been making some pretty major comparisons without even realizing it. In talking to people about my search for an agent, I have lost track of how many times I’ve said, “Stephen King was rejected over a hundred times, before he was signed.” Which seems innocuous enough, it’s a way to set the bar for my own experience. But then it hit me. What happens when I hit 100 or 150 rejections? I’m already half way there, so those are plausible numbers. If you add to the count the number of agents who have ignored my query letter, I’m already there. What happens to my comparison then? If I surpass Stephen King’s number and still don’t have an agent, does that mean that I’m a failure? Does that mean that I’m nothing special, just one of the average masses?


Honestly, I don’t think it means anything. The world in which he was sending out queries is so completely changed from the world in which I am it’s like trying to compare apples to water buffaloes. There is no relevant comparison possible! Which brings me back to my first thought. Even if I step away from the outlier league and look at friends, coworkers and acquaintances, I have to come to the same conclusion. THERE IS NO RELEVANT COMPARISON. Each person has their own set of gifts and hurdles that they bring to the table. Clearly, those with only a handful of hurdles are going to get further faster. Clearly, those who realize immediately what their gifts are and how to use them are going to get further faster. Those who have a couple hundred hurdles and have had to devote a good part of their life to clearing them before they could even look at their gifts, well it’s no frickin’ wonder they’re just now showing up. Contrary to popular belief, they are not late to the party. They are not behind or a late-bloomer. They are simply running their race, the best that they can.

I think it’s high time that we realize that we each have our own race to run, and cut ourselves some slack when we don’t arrive at the same milestones at the same time as those around us. Myself included.



Much to My Astonishment

I never used to smile at people. If somebody initiated contact, or said hi, I would be polite back, but I was never the initiator, and if there was a smile it was a weak one. I went through life head down (sometimes literally, but mostly figuratively) focused on my destination, or my goal. Amazingly, I rarely got the ever so prevalent, ‘Smile,’ which a lot of women get. Instead, I was called a bitch, or referred to as bitchy. I think that’s because I had perfected my ‘Fuck off!’ vibe. I sent out the aura wherever I went that I was not interested in any sort of interaction, and people must have picked up on it, because I was left alone.

The odd thing is that I didn’t do this to avoid interacting with people. Sure, there were days that I was feeling anti-social, but for the most part I actually craved interaction. I yearned for someone to say hi. To show a modicum of interest in me as a person. To see through my façade and realize how truly lonely I was. But the risk of rejection was too great to face, so instead I made the choice to repel the very people I wanted in my life. I didn’t smile or say hello, because in my head they didn’t want to interact with me. I was an albatross and it was my job to stay away so as not to burden other people with my presence. With my hello. Or with my smile. It was my job to exist as unobtrusively as possible until I reached some place where I had actually been invited. Then, and only then, was I allowed to take up space, interact and smile.


I lived like this for years. I even bragged about the fact that I was able to navigate crowds of people without a single interaction. Then one day I realized how very sad that was. How many interactions and quick greetings did I miss out on? For all I know, I missed a chance encounter with my soul mate because I was so intent on ignoring every person around me. Who knows?

What finally broke me out of this wasn’t any sort of conscious decision on my part. It was because of my dogs. It is damned near impossible to ignore people when you’re outside multiple times a day with the most adorable and friendly dogs you’ve ever met. Seriously, when the puggles were puppies, people would cross the street to come say hi to them. The managers that worked in the office of my apartment complex would stop what they were doing to come say hi. One of the managers even pointed the puggles out as a perk of living there, while showing prospective tenants an apartment one day. Everybody knew the puggles, and the puggles loved each and every person they met. This happened pretty much everywhere I lived.

Wouldn't you cross the street for these puppies? I would!

Wouldn’t you cross the street for these puppies? I would!

Eventually, the people that I would see over and over again, introduced themselves to me and I became Kat instead of simply the puggles’ mama. I began to smile, say hi and exchange small talk. I definitely wound up in a conversation or two that I couldn’t wait to get out of, but for the most part it was pleasant. It was nice to be recognized and to some degree welcomed. I’ve taken that to a whole new level where I’m living now, as I now consider several of my neighbors friends, and on days that my neighbor’s four-year-old doesn’t feed the puggles dinner, I generally forget until just right before bedtime.


Despite this, it occurred to me a couple of years ago, that while I was very friendly when out with my dogs, I reverted back to my aloofness when by myself. Especially at work. Every day for two years I had walked down to the mail room to get the incoming mail at one and then back down to drop the outgoing mail off at five. I saw the exact same group of people almost every day, yet I didn’t know any of their names and had never said hi. So one day, I decided to do an experiment. I swallowed my awkwardness and started to say hi to these people. Much to my amazement, no one was awkward. No one cared that it had taken me two years to warm up and say hello. They all just said hi back, and now on days where I’m not super busy, I’ll even stick around and shoot the shit with some of the guys. It’s nice. And even more amazing to me, is that I have largely become that person who says hi and smiles at just about anybody. Even the ones giving the ‘Fuck off!’ vibe, because you never know.



Anxiety vs. Panic

I have always assumed that in the world of mental health, the terms anxiety and panic were pretty much a cause and effect thing. That’s at least how I used them. Panic attacks were simply the result of your anxiety flying off the hook. After all, nobody says they have panic. You say you have anxiety. I was wrong. They are similar and can combine for some good old fashioned heart-pounding fun (sarcasm font needed), but they can apparently exist independently as well.


How did I find this out, you wonder? Because about three months ago, my anxiety came back with a vengeance. In fact, I was having days that were worse than before I started treatment for PTSD. Only this time around, all of the tricks that I learned to combat anxiety weren’t working. I can meditate, do yoga, deep breath and practice gratitude until I am blue in the face, but as soon as I stop the feeling that I am having an asthma attack or heart palpitations comes rushing back in. I’ve spent upwards of ten hours straight unable to take in a deep breath. I have used my asthma inhaler more in the past three months than I have in the past three years. But the inhaler did absolutely nothing to free up my breathing. That’s because I have graduated from generalized anxiety disorder to panic disorder. Whoo!

The racing thoughts and social interaction worries are totally gone, instead 90% of all of my symptoms are physical. With the remaining 10% consisting of worrying about the physical symptoms. It’s not really a trade-off I would have chosen, had I been given a choice. But then of course, why would anyone choose any of this. So what is my point of bringing all of this up, other than to complain? To bring awareness to the fact that there is a difference. Since I first started dealing with anxiety, I’ve had numerous conversations with people on that topic, and a few of those people have expressed problems with the exact same symptoms that I’ve having now. I of course don’t remember who any of those people are now.


So in an effort to reach at least one of those people, I bring you this PSA. If the majority of your anxiety symptoms are physical, to the point that you think there is something medically wrong with you, chances are you need to look into panic disorder. Especially since the tricks to alleviate those symptoms are drastically different. For anxiety I calm myself and relax. For panic I tense and hold the muscles around where I’m panicking then release. If that doesn’t work, I run up a couple flights of stairs, which sounds counter-intuitive, but generally brings relief. Except that one time that I was actually having an asthma attack. That didn’t go away until I used my inhaler. Ooops!

This website has a pretty good article differentiating the two.



Shout-Out Sunday!

I wanted to share the Twitter love, and give a shout out to some of the accounts that I follow whose content I enjoy!

Check out @RachelinTheOC who is the fearless leader of #MondayBlogs, #BookMarketingChat and #SexAbuseChat. She’s an author and advocate for child sexual abuse survivors and provides great retweets on writing advice and women’s issues. She has some great stuff!



Follow @WriterSideUp for tweets about reading and writing. In a recent blog post she provides a great list of interesting podcasts.


Follow @AndrewSurreal to get some awesome original paintings popping up in your timeline. They always make me smile!

By Andrew Baines

By Andrew Baines


Last, but certainly not least, I can’t get enough of @cutest_animals. What can I say? I’m a sucker for a puppy picture!


Who are your favorite people to follow?



Not if I Have Anything to Say About it!

“There’s nothing we can do.”

At the age of 21 those were the words said to me by my orthopedist. I had been diagnosed with scoliosis at the age of 15,and it had developed into a triple curve starting in my neck and finishing at the bottom of the shoulder blades. Five vertebrae had naturally fused together. It was slight enough, that no medical intervention was warranted, yet severe enough that I was in pain every day of my life and experienced muscle spasms at least once a week. When it was really bad my right shoulder would sit 2-3 inches lower than my left shoulder. That combined with several traumatic back injuries, left me in pretty bad shape. Living like that, for the rest of my life was not an option for 21 year old Kat. So when he said that, I was furious.

I Can

The fact that he said it in such a supercilious, “what did you expect?” Tone made it worse. I wanted to grab him by the lapels and tell him that that was unacceptable, and he better come up with something to do to help me! Thankfully, I refrained from doing that, because all he had to offer was sending me back to the physical therapist- been there, done that 5+ times – or a radical surgery installing rods in my back to force my spine to be straight. At the time, that seemed like a good option. Now I thank my lucky stars, that we didn’t go that route.

Instead of physically assaulting my doctor, I showed my frustration by storming out of the office. Then I did my own research, and landed on Pilates. I read accounts of people using Pilates to lesson their back pain, and I latched onto the idea like a life saver. I found a studio that was willing to take insurance where I could take private lessons, got the aforementioned orthopedist to write me a prescription and dove in head first. My trainer specialized in rehabilitation and she was amazing. It took a year of painstaking practice and patience, but eventually we got the five vertebrae in my back to un-fuse. It then took another seven-ish months before I could articulate between each one independently.


Over the next three years, I worked my way up from Practicing three hours a week to over twenty hours a week while training to be a Pilates instructor. For the first time in over 10 years, I would have pain-free days. From a skeletal viewpoint, I was doing great. The muscles in my back, however we’re still pretty pissed off and it became obvious that I couldn’t sustain the schedule that I was doing. That combined with the conflicting hours of a new job meant that I had to drop out of school before I got my full Pilates certification.

Fast forward a couple of years, and I was still doing pretty well skeletal wise, but the muscles were worse. It was also around this time that I found myself working as a manager for a MAssage Envy, and I happened to be the only manager that liked deep tissue massages. Therefore, whenever we had a therapist who was applying to be a deep tissue therapist, I took the interview . . . The interview consisting of an hour long deep tissue massage. For a couple of months when we were short-staffed I was getting upwards of two massages a week. Awesome! It was also there that I met an exceptionally gifted massage therapist, who I still go to now. Because of all of that, the muscles in my back finally calmed down enough that muscle spasms became a once-in-a-great-while occurrence, instead of a weekly occurrence. Whoo-hoo! My sciatica Problems also went away. Double Whoo-hoo!

"Was that the sensitive spot you were telling me about?"

Now this is not to say, that my back is now totally better, but I do get pain-free days and even weeks sometimes. It’s only when I skip the daily maintenance of stretching, Pilates, yoga and skip my monthly massage. I still have to do all of that to maintain, and when I slack off I usually wind up at the chiropractor,which happened last week. But here’s the thing, I wound up seeing a new chiropractor (because he had an evening appointment available) and he did a full examine to start out, including a scoliosis check. To which he reported, that there were no signs of scoliosis left in my back. The triple curve is now totally gone. SCORE! My back still hurts, and it’s something that I will deal with for the rest of my life, but my biggest obstacle is now gone, and I figured that was worth celebrating!

Also, take that Mr. Orthopedist nay-sayer man!



The Origin of #TheDisgruntledEditor

About two years ago, I started doing a weekly post on Twitter, where I give an editing tip and sign it #TheDisgruntledEditor. Because of that, I have been asked by several people if I am an editor. Once I stop laughing, I tell them no. I am most definitely not an editor. I work with several fantastic editors, because I am well aware of the fact that I need them. My general attitude toward commas is that you just sprinkle those fuckers in wherever it looks good. Apparently that’s wrong. Very wrong.

Comma usage

So why the disgruntled editor posts? Those posts came about, as thoughts that I am sure my editors have whenever going over my work. Or at least the thoughts that I have while going over my work. I am the disgruntled editor, because I don’t like doing it, and I’m not very good at doing it, especially to my own work. Really, who is? That is why, I have come up with a list of things that I check on any significant piece that I write before handing it off to my editor. I came up with this list based upon recurring comments that I would get. I figure, if they had to tell me to do something more than twice it is clearly a habit that I’ve gotten into, and the least I can do is check my work for them before sending it off. I say the least I can do, because what I should really do is learn how to properly use commas … however, as I don’t see that happening anytime soon, I go over my list instead.

What is this list, you ask? It’s a compilation of common redundancies, superfluous word phrases and helping verbs that often make a sentence passive and therefore less interesting. These are things that I can easily fix myself, and therefore free my editor up to focus on the more technical aspects of my copy. Like semi-colons. Seriously, how the fuck do you properly use a semi-colon? This is a rhetorical question of course. It has been explained to me more times than I can count, and every time the explanation goes in one ear and right out the other. My brain couldn’t seem to care less about their proper use. Once in a great while I will get one right, and when I do I celebrate. I call it the semi-colon dance. Every other time, my editor fixes it for me.


I have come to accept this about myself, and I’ve moved on. Instead of berating myself for not being able to grasp these concepts, I snarkily point them out for others via the Disgruntled Editor. And I have my list. It is how I actively edit, and feel better about my willy-nilly use of punctuation. For all of you writers out there like me, who want to give your editor’s a bit of a break, click here and I’ll send you my list. Or if you have a list, or something you always check for let me know! I’m constantly adding to my repertoire!



Onwards and Upwards

Three and a half years ago I started on a journey that has led me to a place I never could have imagined. After pitching my idea to a magazine and being accepted, I wrote my first Heroine of History article. It was a short biographical piece about Mary Elizabeth Bowser, who was arguably the best placed Union spy during the American Civil War. This was my first attempt at biography, and I loved it. It wasn’t easy, but I loved unearthing her story and telling it.

That is largely how I’ve felt about all of the women that I’ve written about. Those biographies are the hardest things that I write. The research alone is daunting. The Internet is amazing in that there are literally millions of resources right at your fingertips. But anybody can post things on the Internet, so who’s to say what is fact and what is fiction. That’s not to say that books are 100% reliable either. I have read many an erroneous account in a book. I would guess that close to two-thirds of all of my research time is spent corroborating or dispelling facts.
I’m researching Shirley Chisholm right now. Two sources say that she was born on November 20, 1924, three sources say that she was born on November 30, 1924, five sources say November 1924, and a handful of sources don’t mention her birthday at all. Now multiply that by almost every relevant fact about the woman. Half the time I feel like I’m taking a poll: “Was Shirley Chisholm the oldest of four children or the oldest of eight children?”

I spend hours weeding through similar yet varied information, and then picking and choosing which “facts” seem to be the most factual. Then comes the daunting task of telling their story in a way that honors their life. I obviously pick these women because I find them inspirational, so I therefore want to do them justice.

And none of this takes into account the content of the stories. Yes, these are amazing, take-charge, get-things-done, and overcome-the-odds, inspirational women. However, in order to overcome something bad must happen first. So these stories are also full of loss, poverty, abuse, racism, sexism, disappointment and the destruction of dreams. It is heavy stuff.


Yet, they are also the most fulfilling. The more I research and the more I delve into these stories, the more I come to realize that these women have something in common. Regardless of race, social status, background, era, etc., all of these women place their focus on something external. Their communities, the disenfranchised, the downtrodden, those who have trouble speaking for themselves. These women served. They lifted up those around them, and in doing so, lifted themselves up too.

One of the most magical things about helping others, is that it is almost impossible to do so without also helping yourself. I can’t think of a single time that I willing offered and gave my help that I didn’t feel better about myself afterwards. Despite the hours of work and the emotional drain that each of these biographies takes, I feel better after having written them. I feel better after telling their story, after doing my part to ensure that their deeds won’t slip into the darkest corners of history to wilt away forgotten.


I also feel better knowing that I have done my part to pass their inspiration on. Every person needs a hero to look up to, and it’s even better if you can relate to that hero. I had one growing up, and it’s her story that started me down this road in the first place, and so it is in her honor and the honor of every other heroine that has lent me their strength that I’ve decided that it is high time to expand beyond the Heroines of History. What started as a simple magazine article, has grown into so much more. The ball is rolling on two new steps – okay, being nudged down the road is a bit more accurate than rolling – but I am excited for these two new ventures: Through Her Eyes and the Heart of a Heroine Alliance. Onwards and upwards, here we go!



Things I Have Learned From Discussing Politics on Facebook

  1. Always read the article before posting it. NEVER trust the headline. There is nothing worse than posting an article because you completely agree with the headline only to open it up and discover that you completely disagree with what the actual article says. For that matter, make sure the article is from a credible source and not Jim Bob’s Website of Conspiracy Theories.
  2. Blanket statements will come back to bite you in the ass. It might not be immediately, but eventually you’re going to get bit.
  3. There will be people, both right-wing and left-wing, who are operating on nothing but the propaganda of their party. The second that you start giving facts and sources and asking them to do the same they will resort to calling you names and shouting invectives against your character. If this happens on their page, walk away. If it happens on your page, politely ask them to be respectful and to source what they’re saying. Eventually, in my experience rather quickly, they will run out of ways to avoid stating facts and block you. Then you don’t have to deal with them anymore, and then you have a fun story about that one time you were called a fascist on the internet.

No Reaction

  1. The odds of completely changing somebody’s mind is low. However, the odds of getting somebody to think about something in a new way, or to question the way they do think about something is fairly good. Set your expectations accordingly. People who are undecided about issues are the most fun to talk to.
  2. If someone’s fundamental beliefs are the polar opposite from yours, put the mouse down and step away from the computer. Even in the best of circumstances – face to face with charts, graphs, and expert Witnesses at your beck and call – the odds are slim to none that you will sway that person to your way of thinking, or that they will be able to sway you to theirs. The odds of it happening on the internet are non-existent. Save everybody a headache and don’t even try.
  3. It is perfectly acceptable to agree to disagree. And just because you disagree does not mean that you cannot still be friends. Always try to take the high road, and if you truly have offended someone, apologize.

High road

  1. ‘I’ statements help to further the conversation, while ‘you’ statements generally result in someone taking offense. For example ‘I disagree because of XY and Z,’ vs ‘You are wrong. The answer is XY and Z.’
  2. Know your facts, and be prepared to admit when you have entered areas where your knowledge is lacking.
  3. Sometimes you just need to preach to the choir and ignore the haters. That’s okay too.




The Irony

I have always been the independent and self-sufficient type. As such, I am more likely to struggle with something for a couple of hours in order to figure it out, instead of asking for help. Probably not the best use of my time, but it sure is a skill that comes in handy when there isn’t anyone around to ask for help. Or when there is a fee for said help, and I don’t have the funds. Thankfully, I have a pretty good record of muddling through things and eventually coming out on top. Yes, I screw things up, but I’ve always been able to reverse or fix what I’ve screwed up. Until last week.

I’ve been working to update my website so I have a page for my novel, a page for a series of non-fiction books that I’ve started work on, and a sign-up for my shiny new newsletter. Whoo! It’s the last thing on this list that caused everything to go kablooie! In all of my infinite coding wisdom – I have no coding wisdom – I put the code for the newsletter sign-up in the wrong place. The REALLY WRONG place, causing the admin side of my website to straight-up disappear. Oddly enough, end users could still see everything. I could go to my website and browse through old blog posts and take a look at my progress through the Shakespearean canon, etc. However, if I tried to do anything on the back end, like log-in to erase the offending code, all I had was a white screen of death. That’s it.


That was the most frustrating part about the whole thing. I knew exactly how to fix the problem I created, but I had no idea how to get in to fix it. Argh!!!! I tried for two days to gain access before finally relenting and paying the guy who originally coded my website to fix it. To my credit, he was impressed with the fubar that I had created, so that at least made me feel a bit better about having to shell out some cash to fix the problem. In true IT fashion, he had the issue resolved in no time flat and even offered to install the code where it was supposed to go. Bonus!

The good news, is that I now I have the aforementioned pages set-up – you should check them out – and I have a lovely little pop-up so visitors can sign-up for my newsletter, as well as a link in case you decide later that you want to sign-up. The bad news, after seeing the pop-up in action, I’m not a fan and would rather just have the link, which I added all by myself. But as I spent $75 for that damn pop-up, it gets to stay . . . at least until it’s earned that $75 back . . . or I figure out where the code is to delete it . . . anybody else sensing the start of a vicious cycle here?