Today is the fourth anniversary of the day I had my first symptoms of Guillain-Barre Syndrome. It now seems like a very long time ago. A lot has happened.

For many months I blogged frequently about everything I went through in my battle, and to this day, those entries are still among the most popular on my blog. There’s good and bad in that. The bad is that people still need to read about GBS because they, or a family member, are going through their own battle with GBS, or maybe something that presents like GBS, but has yet to be given a name. The good is that those same people can (hopefully) gain some solace from the fact that my story is one of recovery and a resumption of my normal life.

That’s where I am now. Living a normal life. Sometimes a few days goes by without even considering GBS and all the trouble it caused. I don’t have much in the way of numbness or discomfort left that I haven’t grown used to. My eyes aren’t the same as they were pre-GBS, but the last four years has also seen me stumble through my early-forties, where even a healthy person’s eyes go to crap, so it’s hard to tell if it the GBS, or just old age affecting them.

As for my endurance, I think I’m back to being in pretty good shape now. At its worst, I wasn’t able to walk at all. I then spent a few weeks using a walker, and a few months unable to walk farther than the mailbox and back. Now, I routinely do two or three mile walks around the neighborhood on weekends and weeknights, and sometimes do longer hikes in the woods. A few weekends ago, we took the kids to Snoqualmie Pass for some inner tubing on the snow, and my Microsoft Band said I did the equivalent of 74 flights of stairs that day and over 11,000 steps. I barely even felt it the next day. I’m hoping to do some significant hikes and paddles this summer, if my schedule lets me. At the very least, GBS no longer factors into my daily life, nor my weekend plans, or my life goals. That feels pretty amazing.

So, four years on, I’m feeling pretty good. I take fewer things for granted than I used to, and I try to stay strong and healthy as best I can. Hopefully, those of you who are still tightly in its web of pain and numbness, will soon be able to reach the same milestone. I remember saying to myself, and to my family and friends, while I was sick, that I just wanted my life back. I have to tell you, it’s a wonderful thing to get back, and I think only those of us who have come so close to losing it all can really, and truly, appreciate that.

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Over on Goodreads, I’m starting the year off with a giveaway for a signed copy of NOWHERE WILD. The contest runs until January 24th. If you been thinking of getting the book, and want a signed one, this might just be your lucky day. Enter soon!

My 2016 New Years Resolutions

I’ve done resolutions in the past, and I like to look back upon them at the end of the year, and laugh. There’s always something in my plans that was so reasonable to expect, yet so impossible to achieve, that I just have to sit back and chuckle.

So here are some of my plans and resolutions for 2016—if not for your enjoyment, then for mine a year from now. Note to future self, I’ve left these fairly opened ended because I know how much you hate failure.

Resolution #1 – Write!

Notice I didn’t say write more. I’ve actually been writing what I think is about the right amount the last few months—about 800 words a day. I can sit for 45 minutes in the morning before work and reread what I wrote yesterday, and then write 800 new words and feel good that the story is on track. When I put pressure on myself to write longer, or more frequently in the day, the story just doesn’t seem to work as well. I think my top day this fall has been about 1300 words, and I’m pretty sure I deleted about 500 of those the next day, so 800 seems to be working for me. At this rate, I’ll be done the first draft of the sequel to Nowhere Wild by the end of January. I’d hoped to be done a little sooner, but as of yet, I have no official deadline or contract, so I’m just working on making the first draft a lot better than the first draft of Nowhere Wild, so it doesn’t take seven years to get it published. I do have plans for another book in 2016 as well—another YA one—though I haven’t finished the plotting for it. We’ll see how it goes, but I definitely won’t stop writing after this book is done.

Resolution #2 – Exercise

Again, I’ve been doing this pretty regularly throughout the last year. I used my Microsoft Band to set up 3 custom workout routines: one for core muscles, one for cardio and one for back and shoulders. Once I hit the start button on a workout, it’s really hard to stop the workout before its done, or to cheat on the number of reps or sets. It keeps me honest. I’ve also been walking more outside when the weather isn’t god-awful, and as I mentioned in my last post, going for hikes on a regular basis clear my head and gives me time to think about my writing away from the keyboard. Who knew that exercise could be good for the body and the mind? My resolution for 2016 is to turn my exercise into more fun activities for the family like hiking, camping, kayaking, cycling. I’m sure they’ll love it! I can hear the whining already!

Resolution #3 – Attend at least two Writers Conferences besides the PNWA

I’ve “grown up” with the PNWA, and it will always be my home conference. I’ll be doing a lot of volunteer work there this year, and that’s great. But I want to get out and see a few other conferences. I’m thinking Surrey, BC in the fall, and maybe one of the other big conferences out of state. If anyone has any good suggestions when a new author can meet other authors, catch some great presentations, and perhaps sign a few copies, please let me know.

Resolution #4 — Learn to be a better cook

I’m already pretty good with a barbecue, and I cook a mean French toast, but I‘d like to add a few things to my repertoire. I’d like for my kids not to say at the end of year that every time mommy was gone for dinner that we had eggs or something out of the freezer. I want them to know that men can do more in the kitchen than just wash dishes.

Anyway, those are my plans for self improvement in 2016. Of course I’ll be doing all the normal things, like reading and working hard at work, but these are things I want to be more conscious of. If I can add these to my routines, I’d like to think that 2016 will be a great year.

What are your plans?

I know they’re been around for a while now, but I only recently discovered The Pretty Reckless, a band fronted by the incredible voice of Taylor Momsen. They’re definitely more in the hard rock / metal side, and some people won’t appreciated their lyrics or their videos. But, damn, do they know how to rock.

Here’s my current favorite song, an anthem called House on the Hill,

and one of their rockin (but safe for work) songs, Just Tonight

and then this one was the one that caught my attention first, Make Me Wanna Die,

The list of great songs goes on and on. I suggest you check them out, if you haven’t already. Some of the videos are NSFW, but cool nonetheless.

What would the end of a year be without an end of the year blog entry? Well, actually, it would be 2014, where I didn’t blog about what happened in 2014 until January 2015, because, well there were so many secrets and all.

But as far as I know, I don’t have any big secrets pending right now, so I decided it was a good time to do the whole recap thing when people actually expect it. Because I like to be predictable. But you probably expected that.

Anyway, 2015 had some pretty huge things happen. Let’s recap:

I kicked the year off in style when I became a full time employee at Microsoft at the beginning of January. I’m on the Microsoft Health Team where I spent a good chunk of the year prepping for the launch of the Microsoft Band 2.0, but also did a lot of work on the MS Health Public API which continues to evolve. It’s a great job, with ridiculously smart people, and I love it. Which makes it much easier to go to work each day, compared, lets say to my days doing billing systems for a direct marketing company.

Also in January, my wife and I bought a new house, and in February, we sold our old house. Between the purchase, the move, and the sale, and all the work needed to get the new place into shape, it took a few months for our lives to shift from crazy to merely hectic. We’re pretty much moved in yet, but still have a pile of boxes in our bonus room that haven’t been unpacked, and dozens of pictures yet to be hung. Someday, we’ll get around to it.

In April, my wife and kids and I traveled back to Canada to visit my parents, and I made a trip to Toronto to meet with HarperCollins to discuss Nowhere Wild related matters. This turned out to be the first of many trips I made this year.

The next trip was in May, when my wife and I surprised the kids with a funtastic weekend trip to Disneyland. The kids nearly fell over in shock when they found out, and by the end of three days, I was falling over in exhaustion. Two days in a row of 24000+ steps. For those of you who don’t count your steps on a daily basis, that’s a LOT.

In June, my family and I participated in the 2015 GBS-CIDP Walk and Roll raising money for support of people who are dealing with the disease that nearly killed me in 2012. It was only a mile, but it was huge step for me, and very inspirational.

In mid-July I did a bunch of volunteer work at the PNWA Conference. This event holds a special place in my heart, and is just one of those conferences I will try to make it to each year going forward. Great people, great conversations and great books. What else do you need?

In July, I led a team in the 2015 Microsoft Hackathon that came up with a really cool concept project. It probably won’t ever go anywhere, but it was a great introduction to the hackathon style of development, an excellent networking experience and something I will definitely do again, though maybe not as a lead, just from a time commitment point of view. I have a lot going on these days. Especially last summer… which leads me into my next distraction: Two of my coworkers and I filed paperwork for my first patent, which was paperwork intensive, but an interesting process to go through once. Don’t know that I’ll do it again either. Again, a lot of time taken in a schedule that didn’t have a lot to spare.

In August, my brother-in-law Eric and I took a nice, relaxing trip to Thompson, Manitoba to do research for my next book. Eight days on the road, and one morning in a float plane, was just the right amount of time to see what needed to be seen, but not long enough to drive each other crazy. I’d love to go back and spend some time canoeing and fishing, but barring that, I think I have enough information to make my next book pretty accurate.

Of course, on August 24th, we held the launch party for Nowhere Wild at the University Bookstore in Seattle. What a huge thrill to launch my first novel with my friends and family in attendance. I did subsequent readings in Bellevue, WA and Sumner, WA, and mailed out lots of copies of the book to readers around the US and Canada. Nowhere Wild has been getting good reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, and people have been reporting sighting of it on bookshelves at stores all over. Truly mind-blowing! I’ll never have that experience of launching my first novel again, so we did it up right, and I have no regrets. It was a fantastic experience.

In September, we started a remodel of the kitchen in our house that consumed much of October, November and some of December. At times it seemed like the project would never end, but it’s done now, and we’re enjoying the result. You don’t know how central a kitchen is to your daily routine until you go without it for a month… or three.

Unfortunately, in October, I had to make an emergency trip home to Ontario to see my father who had a serious accident. Luckily, he recovered after a lengthy battle and is now back at home. Even at 83, he’s a tough old bird. And so is my mom (though she is much, much younger, right mom?)

The little gaps in the schedule for the year were consumed with little league baseball for my son, and soccer for my daughter. Our nights and our weekends, in sunshine and in rain, were spent standing and sitting on the sideline, cheering the kiddoes on—especially in the rain during the soccer season where we witnessed some truly epic downpours.

I also spent more time outside this year hiking and biking than I have in the last five years. I missed hiking since I got sick in 2012, and now that we are so close to so many fantastic trail systems, I had to make use of them. I try to get out once a week for some peace and quiet, unless I bring my kids, in which case the peace and quiet is disturbed with chants of “Are we there yet?” and “How much further?” and “Is it time to turn around yet?”

As for reading, I didn’t have a lot of extra time early in the year, so I began listening to audiobooks while commuting to work. That has led to me to some wonderful books like Ready Player One, The Boys in the Boat, Unbroken, The Fold and 14, among others. I’ve begun reading more again as the year came to a close. Some of my favorites from the year were The Empty Throne, The Martian, Cress and The Mongoliad Book 1.

Writing wise, I’ve been actively working on the sequel to Nowhere Wild since mid August, and am currently about 3/4 of the way through the first draft. I’ll have more info on that as I get closer to the finish line, but it feels great to be writing on regular basis again.

I’d like to thank everyone involved in making 2015 such a fantastic year for me personally and professionally: my family, my friends, my coworkers and the folks at The Cooke Agency and those at HarperCollins. I couldn’t have done any of this without you!

Happy New Year, everyone!

On Trump and Politics

Today, John Scalzi went all political talking about Donald Trump and the madness that is the idea of Trump ever becoming President. I meant to just post a link to his article on Facebook, but one thing led to another, and my short intro to the article turned into an essay, and a response to someone’s support of Trump turned into another essay.

For posterity’s purpose, here is my original Facebook posting (with a couple of typos cleaned up.)

If you still support Donald Trump (or Ted Cruz or Ben Carson or Lindsay Graham for that matter), please read this excellent essay from John Scalzi about Trump and his bigoted, hate-spewing ways. http://whatever.scalzi.com/…/eight-things-about-donald-trump.

If you still support anyone that far to the right after reading that, I’m honestly quite baffled. I don’t want to chase away friends with political ramblings–though it’s tempting to go off on a rant of my own. I want to engage in reasonable discourse with the hopes that I can convince you that this type of bigotry and fear mongering and hate does nothing for the country or the world except support those who want to amplify the hate for their own goals and the solidification of their own base of power.

 

I’ve seen a lot of people I’ve known for a long time post vicious, hateful things about minorities and other religions. I’m not a racial minority (obviously) and I’m an atheist. But I have friends in lots of different faiths, and of many different backgrounds. I believe that if you’ve never sat down with many people from different cultures and shared a meal, you have no right to judge them. I do that every day, and it’s amazing how that turns the ideas in your head from US and THEM to just “WE”. WE have big problems to solve in this world, and splitting everyone up into more arbitrary castes base on beliefs and skin color is not helping anyone.

One gentleman replied to my link with the following comment:

Bob Donohue Trump is better than the socialist Sanders and the scandal queen Hillary

To which I then replied (again typos cleaned up):

Hi Bob. All politicians are socialists. They take money from those they value least, and give it to those they value most. In Trump’s case, he wants to take everyone’s money and give it to people like himself: the rich, the powerful and the unscrupulous. He will say or do anything to convince the voters that he’s populist, but will always, always turn his back on anyone who doesn’t toe his line. Canada just had a PM like that in Stephen Harper, though Harper was less overt about it. That’s how he lasted for 9 years as PM, gutting the “Canadian Way” while stroking his own ego till his brains nearly jizzed all over Parliament.

Sanders is a self-admitted socialist and his targets for the give and take are the extremely wealthy and the extremely poor, respectively. His beliefs are no secret, and he doesn’t believe socialism is a bad thing. At least he stands for something and doesn’t change with the wind. He’s actually less socialist than most of the GOP when it comes to the amount of money he wants to “give away”. The GOP wants to give it to their big donors in the military industrial complex in the form of trillion dollar subsides for things that no longer need subsidies to compete globally (see sugar, oil, corn, pharmaceuticals, etc.)

As for Clinton, I’m not that impressed with her either, but at least I trust her on the foreign relations aspects of world issues. The thought that Trump might someday have his finger on the nuclear button should scare the crap out of every man, woman and child on this planet, and be enough for the world to declare the US derelictionem officium and invade as a precautionary measure.

Trump’s main problem is that he’s not ‘presidential’ It’s not just a matter of getting elected. It’s a matter of being able to safely guide the nation (and for better or worse, the world) through the challenges facing society and the planet without making things markedly worse. Ideally better. It’d be like letting a python into the hen house to keep the birds warm at night.

Absolutely no good can come from letting Trump anywhere near the White House. I don’t think that’s an exaggeration in any way, shape or form.

Now I could keep going on this topic for quite I while, but as Scalzi already said many of the things I might want to say, I suggest you read his article, then come back and let me know if my thoughts make any sense. I’m not the debate captain that Mr. Scalzi is (I’m more likely to pick up my mallet and go home than to swat you with a quote from Winston Churchill), so I’ll just say this: I want the debate to stay civil. I want to hear good, reasoned alternatives that try to convince me that I am wrong. Saying someone is a socialist doesn’t bother me. I grew up in Canada, for god’s sake. Saying someone is a capitalist doesn’t bother me either. I work for a multi-billion dollar company and enjoy my work (and my paycheck) quite a bit, thank-you-very-much. If you think I should go back to where I came from, well, there are definitely days where I wonder if that might just happen, but as I am an American citizen now, I have just as many rights to speak my mind as the next person, so tuck that zinger in your pants for a while and save it for someone else.

What does bother me is inciting hate. Whether it be because of religious or racial or political ideology, it’s short sighted and wrong. Just plain wrong. Unless and until we can find other planets to live on and we can choose where to live and with whom, we are stuck on this one Earth. Together. We can make the lives of the people on the other side of our debate as shitty as we want, but as Kacey Musgraves says, putting salt in someone’s coffee won’t make yours any sweeter. I’ll let her take it from there.

THE GREAT Kitchen Remodel

I think it’s a constitutional requirement in the US that every home owner, once in their lifetime, must subject themselves to a kitchen remodel while living in the house. When we bought this house back in January, we knew that the kitchen was poorly laid out, and that the appliances, were not quite what we wanted. The range-top took up half the small island, and took a good twenty to thirty minutes to boil a pot of water. It had no medium setting, which made it impossible to fry the perfect egg. The dishwasher was falling apart, and the temperature in the oven, was inconsistent at best. It was impossible to have two people in the gap between the island an the oven at the same time, and you couldn’t get past the dishwasher door if it was open.

Admittedly, these are all first-world problems, but they were serious enough for us (especially my wife, who loves to bake), that we agreed when we bought the place, that we would undertake the renovations in the first year. In our last house, we waited to fix the various issues until just before we sold the place. We never got to enjoy the features we added. That seemed a bit backwards.

So in late September, we started the process of removing everything from the kitchen, dining room and living room. The upstairs bonus room was filled with boxes and the kitchen table, the spare bedroom with kitchen items, and my office (my OFFICE!) with extra bookshelves, boxes, and even the piano! We cooked meals in our laundry room on a single burner hot-plate and a microwave sitting on a cooler. We ate off paper plates with plastic utensils (sorry, Mother Earth), and set our dirty dishes, if we had any, on our dryer. Our fridge was moved into the dining room (which had to be kept fairly empty as we were replacing the floors in there as well. We ate out so much, that even the kids got tired of it.

The remodel was was supposed to be done in late October, possibly early November. Unfortunately, we had some problems with the contractor we hired (the flooring wasn’t ordered/delivered on time, the countertops were cut wrong, the communication was poor, at best). So instead of wrapping up in first week of November, we’re still not quite done yet here in the first week of December. But since we have just one cabinet that needs a needs work on the interior shelves, I figure it’s okay now to post the before-and-after photos. By the way, the old cabinets were all given away to someone who was going to use them in a rental property they were remodeling, so we saved what we could.

BEFORE

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DURING

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AFTER

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We love the new island. It’s big, has plenty of storage with cabinets on both sides. My wife insisted on a Wolf range, which is both beautiful and amazingly fast at boiling water, with a plethora of burner settings available for making the perfect fried egg among other things. We’ve got a new KitchenAid second oven (like I said, my wife loves to bake), a new dishwasher that washes water bottles! (the scourge of parents with kids in sports everywhere). Under the sink, we installed a compost bin that opens when you open the door for ease of scraping plates clean, and a pull-out garbage can to the right of the sink. Recycling is in the pantry to the left.

The drawers and doors are all quiet-close, so no more pinched/smashed fingers. The hardware on the doors and drawers are friendly to those of us with bad thumbs (I can’t really grip things with my thumbs due to CMT).

The hardwood floors now extend to the rest of the first floor except my office, the bathroom and the laundry room, and it looks pretty, though we have a few more echoes than we used to. That’ll go away once we add some new furniture (we’ve been holding off on that while awaiting the remodel).

Overall, remodeling wasn’t the worst experience ever, but it did add a lot of stress to our lives. We’d love to never have to do something like this again—at least not while we’re living in the house—but in the last couple of weeks we’ve discovered a water issue in our master bathroom. We need to tackle that next, and sooner rather than later. So it looks like we’ll be living in a construction site a while longer after all.

Write In the Valley 2015

I’ll be down in Sumner, WA for the Seventh Annual Write in the Valley event at the Sumner public library tomorrow, Oct 10, 2015 starting at 12:00 PM and going till 3PM. I’ll be a panelist there, along with Mark Teppo, Adrianne Lee and Patrick Swenson.  We’ll be talking about surviving in the jungles of publishing. I can’t figure out if I’m Simba, Timon or Pumbaa in this show. I guess we’ll see.

And in case you missed it, The Tacoma News Tribune via the Puyallup Herald did a nice piece on the Write In The Valley event, and interviewed me as well. 

Hope to see you all there!

Two Quick, But Important, Reminders

First: I’ll be signing books at the University Bookstore in Bellevue, WA tomorrow evening (Tuesday, Sept 29th) starting around 6:00-6:30 PM (depending on the crowd). Seems some of my advertisements said 6:00 and some said 6:30, so I’m betting we’ll lean toward the 6:30PM timeframe. Buy your copies of NOWHERE WILD before the signing starts please, as the registers close at 7:00 PM I believe. I’ll sign as late as needed.

Second, you have just over 24 hours left to enter the contest over on Goodreads for signed copies of Nowhere Wild. Contest ends at midnight on Tuesday!

See, I told you this would be quick. And important!

Another NOWHERE WILD Giveaway

It’s been a few weeks since the launch of Nowhere Wild, so I thought I’d spin up another giveaway over on Goodreads. This time, I’m giving away two signed, first edition, hardcover copies.

Contest ends September 29th, but don’t wait!

And if you have read the book, please review it either on Goodreads or Amazon or Chapters or wherever you bought it. I do appreciate it!

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