16 October 2019

#WritersLife: Time Management for Writers



This week I struggled with my blog post. Not necessarily with the topic (although, there was a bit of that also), but mainly just finding the time to write. As a devoted dog mom of three high-energy pups, I am in the habit of pouring my heart and soul into each of my furry children every day.  Not to mention all my other responsibilities associated with my daytime occupation, volunteer work and of course life in general. I realized long ago that it is not healthy for me if I continually focus all of my time and energy completely on others and their needs. Fact is, when we give of ourselves every day, but hardly ever re-energize, we eventually find ourselves completely drained. At this point, we just go through the motions. 

We do need to find a way to recharge and refresh from time to time. We can’t just keep on giving when we have nothing left to give. Everyone around us will eventually catch on when we’re frazzled and running on empty. It is essential that we take some time for ourselves in order to re-energize, so that we can keep going. There are countless ways to give ourselves a break from the everyday hum-drum of life. Exercising, painting, cooking and baking, and many others. And although I have many interests, I have found, that writing is one of the best ways I can refuel. 

Over the past eight years, I’ve written and published eleven books. My next historical fiction piece EXCERPTS FROM THE IMPERIAL DIARY is almost ready for the editor. Not to mention that part five and six of The Country Girl Empress-series as well as several other writing projects are in the works. Some of the questions I’m asked frequently are, “How do you balance everything? How do you manage to find the time to write AND do all this other work, plus volunteer work?”  I openly admit, it is never easy to juggle the growing demands of a published writer's life, with everything else. As I have mentioned earlier, I am in the midst of a struggle right now. But it helps me to keep in mind that writing plays a big part in my renewal process. Writing is a unique gift, which provides me with a creative outlet, and a way to connect with others. But how can we find the time to write with all of the other demands on our time? 

Here are some techniques I use to juggle writing along with all my other responsibilities: 


Pencil it into your daily planner or block it off on your online calendar. I like to block a little bit of time in the early morning hours before everyone else awakens. Everything else is a bonus.


It's a fact...we simply can’t do everything, no matter how hard we try. When we fill our lives so full with going here and there, we often lose out on the downtime that we hold so dear. It is, after all, the time we can let our creative juices flow. 


Otherwise, we will never get around to writing. Whenever possible, I like to begin my afternoon writing session after everyone has been fed, cleaned and all other responsibilities have been taken care of (or put off until tomorrow?!). Many times that means that my writing time is full of interruptions, but I write anyway...or at least I try. 


...once a week, if at all possible. Due to the less than ideal conditions throughout the week, I make it a point of taking a large block of writing time on the weekends. Sometimes it's just easier to focus when our surroundings are calm.


I know, it's not always easy to ask others to help out, and not everyone is blessed with a very supportive husband as I am. But when I take writing seriously, others (including my husband) are more apt to follow suit.  


...for taking the time to write. I sometimes struggle with this, because there are days when I feel I really should be doing something more productive with my time. But then, writing is also a productive activity, and when we can pursue our passions, we are our happiest. Now, who can argue with the pursuit of happiness?

So, what about you? Do you take the time to refresh on a regular basis? Do you ever feel guilty for spending your time writing?


Piper is the author of several non-fiction books, and recently added four historical fiction novels to her ever-expanding collection of published writings, In the Shadow of Her Majesty , The Country Girl EmpressA Life in the Shadow of the Crown, and The Perpetual Traveler. When she isn't busy typing on her computer, she can be found chasing after her furry children or holding on tightly to a good cup of coffee. Follow her on LinkedInFacebook, and Goodreads.
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09 October 2019

The Silent Killer All Dog Owners Should Know About: Immune-Mediated Hemolytic Anemia



This cutie is 'Zoey'. Our troubles with her began a couple of days before Halloween 2016. Zoey was extremely lethargic and had no appetite. All she wanted to do is stay in her bed and sleep. This was very unusual behaviour from the dog who usually couldn't wait to eat breakfast and dinner. After we ascertained that she had not sustained any injuries, her belly was soft (so, internal bleeding was not high on our list of potential culprits), and she wasn't running a fever, we checked her gums. They were stark white. As we rushed her off to the nearest emergency vet, my husband and I couldn't help but flashback to the many times our late epi-warriors, Lana and Darren required emergency medical treatment for their canine epilepsy. We feared for Zoey's life. After several days of inpatient treatment at the veterinary hospital, the diagnosis was IMHA or Immune-Mediated Hemolytic Anemia. 

Simply put, Zoey's immune system was destroying its own oxygen-carrying red blood cells.  Her bone marrow still produced trace amounts of red blood cells to replace the destroyed ones. However, once they were released into circulation, her immune system mistakenly recognized them as foreign bodies, such as a virus or bacteria, and eliminated them. I'm the first to admit that my husband and I aren't novice dog parents. Instead, we are, what some might categorize as helicopter pet parents, highly-informed and hyper-aware of our dogs. So, any deviation from Zoey's 'normal' is immediately scrutinized in great detail for possible causes and potential results. IMHA is an autoimmune disease, and is, unfortunately, often fatal because either the initial symptoms go unrecognized, relapse, or complications such as pulmonary thromboembolism (PTE - a blood clot that can travel to the lungs). Based on a cursory search, breeds that seem prone to this illness, are Cocker Spaniels, Springer Spaniels, Finnish Spitz, Poodles, Basenji, Bichon Frise, West Highland White Terriers, Old English Sheepdogs, and Irish Setters, but any dog can be affected. Zoey is a Rhodesian Ridgeback. 

What causes IMHA?

In most pets, the underlying cause of the disease is never identified. Some experts believe IMHA may be caused, in part or because of:

- Blood loss
- Decreased production of red blood cells
- Toxins
- Drugs used for the treatment of another condition. Implicated drugs include antibiotics (penicillin, trimethoprim-sulfa), methimazole and acetaminophen
- Cancer
- Insect bites/stings
- Spot-on flea and tick preventatives
- Vaccinations/over-vaccinating is suspected to be a culprit, although the jury is still out on this. However, core vaccines play an essential role in controlling the spread of diseases like Parvovirus and distemper, so it is never a good idea to stop administering them altogether.
- Infection

The Symptoms

Symptoms include, but are not limited to: 

- Weakness/lethargy
- Dark orange or brown urine
- Yellowing (jaundice) of mouth and/or eyes
- Labored (heavy) breathing
- Refusing to eat
- Pale/white gums
  Note: If your dog has black gums, you can also check their eye  
  membranes. Just pull the eyelids gently up or down and look underneath. 
- Seems a little “off”

Note: Not all dogs will experience these symptoms or all at once.

The Diagnosis

If your beloved furry companion shows any signs of the above, time is of the essence. Get your dog to a veterinarian immediately. He/she will need a full medical history. Be prepared for questions about the symptoms you've observed and how long they have been present, any medications your dog may have taken, when the most recent immunizations were given, and questions about your dog's urine and stool. The vet will want to run several of the following tests to determine the underlying cause for the anemia, such as:

- A complete physical examination.
- A complete blood count (CBC) to identify if your dog is anemic.
- A packed cell volume (PCV) to test for the number of red blood cells present.
- A reticulocyte count allows the veterinarian to determine if new red cells are being made in appropriate quantities. 
- A blood film to look for parasites and blood cell characteristics.
- Chemistry tests to evaluate liver, kidney, and pancreatic functions, along with sugar levels.
- Electrolyte tests to ensure your dog isn’t dehydrated or suffering from an electrolyte imbalance
- Urine tests to screen for a UTI, other diseases, and to evaluate the ability of the kidneys to concentrate urine.
- Fecal analysis to look for intestinal parasites.
- Screening for vector-borne disease.
- Radiographs, ultrasound examinations, or blood tests for potential underlying infectious diseases or internal injuries.

The Treatment

Dogs can and do survive despite a diagnosis of IMHA. It is not an automatic death sentence. It can be costly, and it is a disease that also requires the pet parents to be diligent, especially where the aftercare is concerned. Treatment isn’t easy, and it is ongoing, and it may include, but is not limited to:

- Hospitalization
- Intravenous fluids
- Blood transfusions
- Immune system suppression (immunosuppression) with corticosteroids or stronger immune suppressive drugs when necessary 
- Repeat vet visits and close monitoring

Treatment of IMHA is one battle, and the side effects of those medications can wreak havoc on your beloved pet's already compromised systems. 

The Costs

Like most life-threating diseases, IMHA treatment is expensive! Zoey's overnight stay with intensive care for four days at the emergency vet cost us nearly $5000. Medications ran about $250/month for an additional six months. Not to mention the cost of each follow-up vet visit and blood tests. Treatment costs will vary from vet to vet, and the price for the medication can significantly differ from pharmacy to pharmacy. It's always a good idea to shop around for a budget-friendly drugstore, and it also doesn't hurt to get an estimate from your veterinarian before you agree to any treatment options.


The Prognosis

I am not one of those pet-parents who believes every so-called fact or statistic she reads online. The published survival rate runs the gamut, but dogs can beat this disease. Zoey is living proof. IMHA is not an automatic death sentence. Patients with IMAH require close monitoring. Red blood cell counts must be rechecked every two to three weeks, and the medication regimen and further treatments will fluctuate depending on blood work results. After stabilization, a basic blood panel and urinalysis should be performed every four to six months. Also, keep in mind that it's not recommended to have your dog routinely vaccinated after an IMHA diagnosis since you just don't know what will cause your dog's body to go through another bout of anemia. 

Thankfully, Zoey is still with us, and we are grateful to have this spunky girl in our lives. Miraculously, her red blood cell count stabilized in the normal range after nearly four months of treatment, and she's been in remission for over a year. But, I still check her gums at least twice a day for any change in colour from their usual pink, healthy shade to anything that even slightly resembles a pale to white-ish tint. Our favourite colour is now pink! While this illness cannot be cured, it can be managed. There are great resources and online forums available to lend you some much needed emotional support and provide you with information. You are definitely not alone. 

Disclaimer: I am not a veterinarian, just an experienced, well-read, and hyper-observant pet parent. This article is not meant to diagnose or treat any canine illness, nor does it replace professional veterinary care. Always talk to your vet about your dog’s health as health care is an individual matter. 

Resources and further reading:

Petplace.com: 
https://www.petplace.com/article/dogs/pet-health/immune-mediated-hemolytic-anemia-in-dogs-imha-autoimmune-hemolytic-anemia/

petMD: https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/cardiovascular/c_dg_anemia_immune_mediated

Pet Health Network:
https://www.pethealthnetwork.com/dog-health/dog-diseases-conditions-a-z/immune-mediated-hemolytic-anemia-dogs-imha



Piper is the author of several non-fiction books, and recently added four historical fiction novels to her ever-expanding collection of published writings, In the Shadow of Her Majesty , The Country Girl EmpressA Life in the Shadow of the Crown, and The Perpetual Traveler. When she isn't busy typing on her computer, she can be found chasing after her furry children or holding on tightly to a good cup of coffee. Follow her on LinkedInFacebook, and Goodreads.
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02 October 2019

Month in Review - September 2019



Can you believe it's almost Halloween? Where did the time go? I guess I better start stocking up on Halloween candy. But before I get sidetracked by my fresh cup of pumpkin spice latte, it's time to recap last month. So now, without further ado, here's the list of the most popular blog posts for September 2019, chosen by you, the readers:

Book Cover Reveal: EXCERPTS FROM THE IMPERIAL DIARY - A Country Girl Empress Novel


I am so excited to reveal the cover of my upcoming historical fiction novel: EXCERPTS FROM THE IMPERIAL DIARY - A Country Girl Empress Novel. To make it a little more interesting, I decided to turn it into a game. Below, you will find two images of the new book cover, but there's a difference. Can you spot it? If so, go ahead and comment that you found it. Spoiler alert! Some of you might be too excited to keep the answer to yourself, and that's alright. So, if you don't want to risk seeing a spoiler, then you might want to avoid reading the comments at first, and don't forget to read on to get the inside scoop...


Empress Elisabeth of Austria, The Animal Lover




Over the last few weeks, I've received several inquiries to write at least one article about some lesser-known facts about the main character of my Country Girl Empress series, Empress Elisabeth of Austria, Queen of Hungary. Since I share the trait of being an animal lover with the late Empress, I thought it only fitting to start with this little known fact...


A Writers' Adversaries




As writers, we face many hardships, such as rejection, criticism, lack of time, writer's block...just to name a few. But of them all there's one, in particular, that seems to sneak up on us often unnoticed, and we don't realize we're battling it until it squeezes the creativity out of us. That adversary is called exhaustion. It can happen to the best of us, and it occurs in a variety of ways. Perhaps we lost joy in the writing process altogether, or we've run out of fresh ideas. Maybe the act of juggling our writer's life with all our other obligations has become too much to bear...



Sometimes I think that I take my love for the characters in my books a little too far. A couple of days ago I had such a craving for Gugelhupf (a yeast-based Bundt cake, which often contains raisins) that I decided to bake an Emperor's Gugelhupf just like my grandmother used to make...

Why I Love to Write and Read Historical Fiction



Someone recently asked me during a dinner party why I decided to write historical fiction. I had, after all, up until just a couple of years ago, written nothing but non-fiction. What is it about historical fiction? What makes it so charming? And what ensures its continuing popularity? I will gladly admit that I’ve always been a bit of a history buff and enjoy researching different eras and cultures.  But my love of this genre goes well beyond that...

Thank you for reading my blog! Please feel free to come by often to catch up on my latest endeavours and Happy Reading!


Piper is the author of several non-fiction books, and recently added four historical fiction novels to her ever-expanding collection of published writings, In the Shadow of Her Majesty , The Country Girl EmpressA Life in the Shadow of the Crown, and The Perpetual Traveler. When she isn't busy typing on her computer, she can be found chasing after her furry children or holding on tightly to a good cup of coffee. Follow her on LinkedInFacebook, and Goodreads.
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25 September 2019

Empress Elisabeth of Austria, the Animal Lover


Over the last few weeks, I've received several inquiries asking me to write at least one article about some lesser-known facts regarding the main character of my Country Girl Empress series, Empress Elisabeth of Austria, Queen of Hungary. Since I share the trait of being an animal lover with the late Empress, I thought it was only fitting to start with this little known fact.

Source
Empress Elisabeth, affectionately referred to by her family as Sisi, was undoubtedly an animal lover. She was considered one of the best equestriennes of her time, and she owned numerous dogs. Many photographs and paintings depict her favourite ones. Sisi likely had more photos taken with her dogs than with her human family members. Luckily, her lifetime coincided with the development of photography. So, plenty of pictures have survived the test of time for us to admire today. 

Source

"I fear a dog breed large enough for my tastes does not exist!"
-Empress Elisabeth of Austria

Source

The Irish Wolfhound was one of her favourite dog breeds. She named her first Irish Wolfhound puppy "Shadow", and the dog was aptly named as it followed her from room to room. This was the first dog to carry that name, and at least two others "inherited" it. 

Source
The Empress did not only have one but at least two more Irish Wolfhounds of similar coloring. She was said to have preferred larger dogs such as Great Danes, Leonberger, and Greyhounds. However, there are several photos still in existence today that show here posing with smaller ones, among them a black Poodle and a Miniature Pinscher.

Although many photos of Sisi and her dogs have survived, not all the names of the dogs are known. In addition to Shadow, as mentioned earlier, there were others named Houseguard, Dragon, Diana, Roma, Hamlet, and Plato...just to mention a few. Empress Elisabeth loved Shakespearean dramas, notably "A Midsummer Night's Dream". 

Source
Elisabeth's son, Crown Prince Rudolph actually remembered his canine friends in his Last Will and Testament and bequeathed his gun dogs and luxury hounds to his shooting companions, loaders, as well as assorted staff members. It seems he, as well as his siblings, had inherited their passion for dogs from their mother, along with other personality traits. Their father, Emperor Franz Joseph showed no particular fondness for dogs.

I hope you enjoyed those little tidbits about Empress Sisi and quenched everyone's initial thirst for more information about this fascinating woman! 


Piper is the author of several non-fiction books, and recently added four historical fiction novels to her ever-expanding collection of published writings, In the Shadow of Her Majesty , The Country Girl EmpressA Life in the Shadow of the Crown, and The Perpetual Traveler. When she isn't busy typing on her computer, she can be found chasing after her furry children or holding on tightly to a good cup of coffee. Follow her on LinkedInFacebook, and Goodreads.
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18 September 2019

The Emperor's Gugelhupf


Sometimes I think that I take my love for the characters in my books a little too far. A couple of days ago I had such a craving for Gugelhupf (a yeast-based Bundt cake, which often contains raisins) that I decided to bake an Emperor's Gugelhupf just like my grandmother used to make. 

Her recipe is based on the one from the famous pastry shop Zauner in Bad Ischl, and is said to be the same Gugelhupf recipe that Katharina Schratt served Emperor Franz Joseph for his second breakfast, whenever he visited his 'dear friend'. The residents of Bad Ischl used to say:  “The Emperor just had his daily slice of Gugelhupf!” after Franz Joseph left the villa of his mistress. 

Whether this story is true or not and whether it actually is the original Gugelhupf recipe - who knows!? But who doesn't appreciate a good story? And ultimately, it doesn't matter. I just love this recipe! The Guglehupf is so moist and fluffy, with just the right amount of sweetness. It is the perfect weekend brunch treat or can be enjoyed any time. 

Emperor's Gugelhupf

Ingredients



180 ml milk
2 tsp active dry yeast
350 g flour
100 g unsalted butter
120 g sugar
4 egg yolks
1 pinch salt
Lemon zest of half a lemon
1 tbsp of cinnamon
100 g raisins
1 handful of sliced almonds (optional)
1 tbsp of unsalted melted butter
powdered sugar

Instructions


- Heat milk in a small saucepan until lukewarm.
- Pour the lukewarm milk into a bowl, add yeast and stir until it dissolves. Add 1/3 of the flour to the yeast mixture and mix well. Cover bowl with a kitchen towel and let it rest in a warm place. 
- In the meantime, whisk butter and sugar until creamy. Add egg yolks and whisk for an additional minute.
- Then add a pinch of salt, lemon zest, and the remaining flour to the mixture. Knead the dough until it is smooth. If the dough is still sticky add a bit more flour.
- Cover the dough with a kitchen towel and let it rise for 30 minutes in a warm place.
- Butter and flour your Gugelhupf pan, and sprinkle the bottom of the cake pan with the almond slices.
- Take the rested dough out of the bowl and knead it on a well-floured surface. 
- Roll the dough into a square, approx. 2 cm thick. Sprinkle it with the raisins and cinnamon. Roll the dough square up and place the dough roll into the cake pan.
- Brush the surface of the cake with melted butter. Cover the pan with a kitchen towel, and let it rest for about an hour or until the dough has risen to the edge of the cake pan.
- Preheat the oven to 355 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Bake Gugelhupf for 20 to 25 minutes. After the first 10 minutes of baking time, check your cake. If the top has already turned golden brown, cover it with aluminum foil.
- Let the cake cool for 15 minutes, then remove from the pan and sprinkle the top with powdered sugar.

Notes: Gugelhupf tastes best while it's still warm. I recommend eating it with a bit of butter and a dollop of strawberry jam. If you don't own a Gugelhupf pan, there's no need to go out and purchase an expensive one. Just use a regular Bundt cake pan.


Piper is the author of several non-fiction books, and recently added four historical fiction novels to her ever-expanding collection of published writings, In the Shadow of Her Majesty , The Country Girl EmpressA Life in the Shadow of the Crown, and The Perpetual Traveler. When she isn't busy typing on her computer, she can be found chasing after her furry children or holding on tightly to a good cup of coffee. Follow her on LinkedInFacebook, and Goodreads.
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