Author Archives: Kate Preston

About Kate Preston

A writer, lives in Montreal with her family. Loves the outdoors, (prefers summer to winter), tennis, and cooking.

Writing Around A Concussion

From a writing perspective, I have been silent and unproductive over the past year, although it’s been particularly bad for the past 6 months. This is due to experiencing Post Concussion Syndrome (PCS) from a concussion I received FIVE years ago.

In 2012 I fell while skiing (and yes, I was wearing a helmet) giving myself a nasty bump on the head. For the next few weeks, I did the bare minimum — which, when you have three kids, is still significant. I off-loaded laundry to the kids (which they still do to this day) and made simple meals, and took a lot of naps, outsourced carpooling, etc.

I couldn’t work. I’m a writer and consultant during my day job but had to pretty much stop for six months. During the first three months I couldn’t look at a computer screen without feeling nauseous, but perhaps even scarier was that I couldn’t form sentences in my head. It’s a bit of a problem for a writer.

On top of all that, I began experiencing migraines. I’d had two in my life before the fall. As I started getting back into an exercise routine, I noticed that each time I exercised I got a migraine within 24 hours. Concussion protocol is to stop anything that gives you symptoms for at least a week, better two, and then try again at a lower level.

Over the next four years, although I slowly improved physically and was able to get back to a normal exercise routine, I still suffered from migraines. I figured it was just “that time in my life” as my mother told me that my grandmother had suffered from migraines during menopause.

I tried everything to get rid of them and lead a more normal life. I saw a neurologist who prescribed all kinds of medication to prevent them from coming on or make them less severe. Nothing worked except the medication to alleviate the pain once I had one. I saw a physiotherapist (several, actually), acupuncturist, cranial-sacral therapist, massage therapist, my family doctor, a nurse-practitioner who put me on hormone cream, my gynecologist, a naturopath and finally a sports psychologist. At least you can’t say I’m suffering without doing anything about it!

Each of these professionals, while good at what they do, felt that there was nothing more they could do and that my migraines were no longer concussion-related. It was discouraging because I knew they were a result of the concussion and that there was still something wrong with my brain.

The migraines are debilitating. When I get them and can’t stop them, they last at least 5 hours and then it takes me another day to recover from the episode.

By early 2016, I was having migraines that lasted for three weeks. A dull pain that rotated around my head, never staying in one place very long, just enough to make me lose my concentration and patience with anyone who crossed my path.

A friend of mine is a doctor and she told me that one of her patients who also had continuous migraines took gluten out of her diet and later turned out to be celiac. Maybe I should give it a go. As much as I love my sweets and bread, I was ready to try anything.

Lo and behold, for about three months I was headache-free! I felt amazing! I exercised, I was patient, happy, pain-free! I could write and concentrate!…..and then, they came back.

I had started tracking the migraines in a journal and noted that I seemed to get them after exercise – again! I felt like I was right back to the beginning of my concussion journey four years earlier. I stopped exercising. I cut out dairy. The headaches went away. But, it wasn’t really a way to live. Plus, I couldn’t understand the diet-concussion connection. It didn’t make any sense to me.

The worst was, when I told people that it all went back to the concussion, most people would look at me with disbelief or disdain like I didn’t know what I was talking about. It makes you feel stupid —  like you aren’t diagnosing your own symptoms properly.

I got progressively worse through the fall of 2016. I could eat very little without triggering a migraine, I couldn’t exercise, I couldn’t even drown my sorrows….and I couldn’t write. Producing articles was painful, there was something about the thought process that wasn’t working for me.

Finally, through friends and referrals, I found a health professional who actually looks at the brain damage as opposed to just the symptoms. I was encouraged when one of the referrers acknowledged that I wasn’t making it all up, but that my concussion hadn’t been treated properly at the time of the trauma and that’s why the symptoms had come back. The thing I’ve noticed about concussions is that all the health professionals treat what they are best at, but no one puts it all together and goes back to the original source of the symptoms. I was checked for a hematoma and nerve damage, the physiotherapists treated my skeletal and muscular issues, the neurologist just wants to give me meds to deal with the pain instead of addressing why I get the pain in the first place. No one seemed to think that brain damage was an issue, although by definition, that’s what a concussion is.

The health professional I’m currently seeing says there is absolutely a brain-gut link – what you eat will affect how you feel, and he’s given me the studies to back up the claims.

It’s a slow process and given my experience with professionals from both the alternative medical track and the traditional medical track, I’m not holding my breath, but I’ve started to notice very small improvements – for one thing, writing is becoming easier again.

 

What Are Cozy Mysteries?

By brewbooks from near Seattle, USA - i103005 254, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19945728

By brewbooks from near Seattle, USA – i103005 254, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19945728

I am new to the cozy mystery genre but have been reading many books in it since I started signing up for ebooks through various websites (For information on where to find free e-books, see this post).

I couldn’t figure out the phrase “cozy mystery” and wondered about the definition. What does someone do when they want to figure out the origin of something? She Googles it, of course!

I found this great article by Brian Klems over at Writers Digest, which explained the genre and history of the genre – and of course, the reason why I tend to gravitate to it. So, here are four things about cozy mysteries I didn’t know:

1. G-rating

Lack of violence or sex in a storyline. According to Klems, the first ones were written by Agatha Christie. While we see the dead body, we follow Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot around as they interview (never interrogate) their suspects.

2. Amateur Detective/Shop owner

These days, the sleuth tends to be amateur and owns his/her own business in a small town or community.

3. Fast-paced compared to the originals

The pace of the story is much faster today than in Agatha Christie times. In my opinion, this is probably due to our being accustomed to the fast pace of  TV programs and movies which translates into a page-turner in fiction.

4. Usually developed as a series

What hasn’t changed since Christie’s writing days is that most cozy mysteries are written as a series. They have become a popular sub-genre of crime fiction.

For more information on cozy mysteries, visit Brian Klems’ original article:

http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/4-things-you-should-know-about-writing-a-cozy-mystery-novel

 

 

Is Pride and Prejudice Outdated?

Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle in the BBC's Pride and Prejudice http://www.express.co.uk/comment/columnists/adam-helliker/164240/Colin-Firth-to-reunite-with-Pride-and-Prejudice-star

Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle in the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice http://www.express.co.uk/comment/columnists/adam-helliker/164240/Colin-Firth-to-reunite-with-Pride-and-Prejudice-star

I ‘ve probably read Pride and Prejudice a thousand times — yes, that is an exaggeration, but I have read it enough times to help my daughter get 100% on her English assignment (yay me!). When I am looking for story structure, vivid characters and a plot with various sub-plots that fit together seamlessly, it is my go-to novel for inspiration!While my daughter was studying the book, she offered me her opinion  which was fairly blunt and blasphemous to Austen fans the world over. “It’s so boring. All they worry about is who is going to marry who, and what kind of match it is. Who cares?”

To say that the premise of the book was lost on her would be an understatement. She is 15 and brought up in an age and country where girls are taught that with the right amount of work, skill and talent, you can achieve what you want without attention to class level or gender. So Austen’s focus on “marrying well” and “above your rank” was something she couldn’t understand.

In a way, this is a story that should be taught along side history  or women’s studies in order to better understand the context of the story. Yes, marrying well was important, really, right up until a few decades ago.  I suggested she just read it for the story itself, the plot line and how all the characters interacted, instead of trying to fit it into the modern world.

She begrudgingly accepted my advice (I think it’s a first!), and read the entire thing, although she said she liked Darcy before he confessed his actions in the letter to Elizabeth after his first proposal. My daughter thought he showed too many signs of weakness after the letter! Wow, not much of a romantic.

In an age when fewer couples are marrying and women earn their own incomes and can choose whether or not they even want to marry (or get out of a marriage that isn’t working), Austen’s focus on marriage and social status seems “silly” according to my daughter. Listening to her comments about the novel, I can understand her perspective. It also provides a good opportunity to demonstrate just how much women have progressed in terms of equal rights thanks to the trailblazing women before us.

We also discussed how doctors and lawyers and other professionals were looked down upon at that time by the upper class, which she also had trouble with. Austen, at least, portrayed Elizabeth’s uncle (a lawyer) and aunt as smart, level-headed people who could get the job done. These characters contrasted with the lazy, indulgent and superficial relatives of Mr. Bingley. So, Austen was ahead of her time in terms of respecting the professional class of people vs. the aristocracy.

Had Austen been writing today, I like to think she would have created an entertaining piece on the social ills of our times. All in all, the romance of the story Austen created is timeless, and my daughter notwithstanding, Mr. Darcy is still held up as the ideal mate for many women out there.

 

 

What is biodynamic farming anyway?

512px-Wineries_Hwy_99

By Flickr user eyeliam (http://www.flickr.com/photos/eyeliam/542571706/) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

In A Vintage Year, the main character, Harris Tucker, ends up working as a farmhand on a vineyard that happens to be bio-dynamic. I decided to make the farm bio-dynamic instead of organic for the interesting aspects of bio-dynamic farming. I did a lot of research and have found that a lot of bio-dynamic farms tend to be vineyards, especially those in North America.

Bio-dynamic farming was developed by a German scientist, Rudolf Steiner, in the 1920s. The idea behind it was all about helping the soil be the most fertile soil possible, and to work with the plants and animals raised on that soil. In the ’20s, a lot of farmers were becoming concerned with the quality of their crops based on the chemical fertilizers they were using. They had noticed that the quality of their crops was deteriorating.

Steiner went to work, believing that there were many factors involved in developing good soil that grows superior produce. He believed that soil fertility could be increased by using field preparations and compost preparations. The field preparations he developed are called 500 and 501 — these are the ones that involve stuffing a cow’s horn with manure and planting it in a field for the winter, then digging it in the spring in time for field preparation for planting. Compost preparations consist of herbs stuffed into the stomach of a red deer, or the lower intestine of a cow, and left in the sun for the summer, then buried in the winter and dug up for use in the spring. These preparations, six in total, are dubbed 502-508.

Planting your crops is based on the cycle of the moon and whether it is a root, leaf, flower or fruit type of crop.

Annual crops are rotated from year to year in order to stimulate the soil.

There is no scientific evidence that bio-dynamic farming produces any better results than organic farming, and it sure seems like it’s a lot more work than organic farming. However, I have spoken to bio-dynamic vineyard owners who swear by it and say that the flavour of the terroir so much more pronounced in bio-dynamic wines versus wines made from conventionally grown or even organic grapes.

For more information on bio-dynamic farming, check out some of these links.

Biodynamic v Organic Winemaking – Southbrook’s Ann Sperling Video

https://www.biodynamics.com/what-is-biodynamics

Here is a great website on the practicality and reality of biodynamic vineyard farming – love the website url: “http://biodynamicsisahoax.com” !

For the record, while my farm family are bio-dynamic farmers, I have to admit, that if I were a farmer, I would fall on the organic side of things. The extra work involved to make a farm bio-dynamic just doesn’t have me convinced that it’s necessary. Also, when you think about the tiny amounts of “preparations” that are mandated for field coverage (1 tsp. per hectare), you have to question how much work the preparation would really do. Sorry to those bio-dynamic farmers out there for being a skeptic.

 

 

California Here We Come!

Dana Point Marina, California

Dana Point Marina, California

Over the holidays we went out to Southern California to visit my sister and her husband. A Vintage Year takes place in Santa Barbara and surrounding area, which is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to. With the amazing climate, you can be outdoors year round and not freeze your hiney off (unlike Montreal where it’s a high tomorrow of -20C). A little further south is the picturesque town of Laguna Beach, near where my sister lives. It was our home base and from there we branched out into nearby towns and cities to explore. The great thing about California is that it is so dense. There is so much to see in such a relatively small area. The drawback is that navigating the traffic will make you glad that everything is relatively close as it takes forever to get anywhere — especially during holiday time. Our favourite time to visit is during our March Break — the western schools are all still in session, so there are fewer crowds and lineups at theme parks. Plus, the weather is perfect for travelling.

Surfing in Long Beach

Surfing in Long Beach

The kids love visiting because they love California in general. Now, we’ve been there enough times that we now don’t bother the with theme parks having done all of them except for Knots Berry Farm and Warner Brothers Studios — but we’ll save those for a calmer time of year.

Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Pier

 

San Clemente Pier

  San Clemente Pier

 

This time, our boys tried surfing (two BIG thumbs up!), and we toured the Dolby Theatre, (formerly Kodak), where the Academy Awards are held.

We also did some old standbys such as the Santa Monica Pier, San Clemente Pier, Rodeo Drive and drove down to San Diego to visit and have lunch at the Hotel Del Coronado — quite possibly the most expensive sandwich I’ve ever had. I almost fainted when we got the bill.

Dolby Theatre. It's smaller than it looks on TV. Occ: 3400 people.

Dolby Theatre. It’s smaller than it looks on TV. Occ: 3400 people.

These are cronuts (I don't think I want to know the calorie count!)

These are cronuts (I don’t think I want to know the calorie count!)

 

Hotel del Coronado: where they filmed Some Like it Hot, (also home to a really expensive sandwich)

Hotel del Coronado: where they filmed Some Like it Hot, (also home to a really expensive sandwich)

 

 

 

 

One new-to-us “delicacy” our brother-in-law introduced us to was the Cronut. Has anyone ever tried that? Apparently it’s a cross between a croissant and a doughnut. One bite was enough to turn me cross-eyed from the sweetness, and wondering where the nearest defibrillator machine was.

We took many walks through the hillsides which offered great views of the ocean and some pretty spectacular homes. There was a vineyard on the side of a hill in a few of the larger homes. While good drainage is important, with the drought in California, these vines were looking pretty parched. Not sure about the quality of the grapes this year.

 

Vineyard in Southern California

Vineyard in Southern California

It was a lovely trip — it’s always great catching up with my sister — and we got lucky with the weather. We had one day of rain and the rest were all brilliantly sunny. Although it was a little on the cool side (3-17C) while we were there, Montreal was getting a dump of 40cm, so we weren’t complaining!