Ornamental Graces by Carolyn Astfalk

Hey, there.  Long time no proper blog! I’m hosting Carolyn Astfalk as she shares the news about her latest romance, Ornamental Graces, so please read on! I’ll be talking about Ornamental Graces at my December 4th Sabbath Rest Book Talk.


Inspirational Romance that brings the reader the joys of Christmas all year long: ORNAMENTAL GRACES by Carolyn AstfalkAfter his duplicitous girlfriend left, Dan Malone spent six months in a tailspin of despair and destruction: emotional, physical, and spiritual. Just when his life seems to be back on track, he meets Emily Kowalski, younger sister of his new best friend.

Emily’s the kind of girl he’d always dreamed of—sweet, smart, and sincere. But he’s made a mess of his life and ruined his chances for earning the love and trust of a woman like her.

Could Dan be the man Emily’s been waiting for? How could he be when every time they get close he pulls away? And will he ever be free from his shady past and the ex-girlfriend who refuses to stay there?

An inspirational Christmas romance that spans every season.



Ornamental Graces on Amazon

Ornamental Graces on Goodreads

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Read an excerpt from Chapter 1: Sortir du froid (Come in from the Cold)

It had come to this. Daniel Malone sold instruments of torture just to keep food on his crappy Formica table for one. Of course, that probably wasn’t how others saw it.

They were bringing home a piece of the outdoors, a symbol of the season, a reminder of Christ’s nativity and resurrection, the eternal—evergreen—promises of God. Dan had seen things that way too before the past year took everything he had and shredded it with a mulcher. Mustering his remaining whit of self-respect, he’d succumbed to desperation and now sat in a drafty shack waiting for the next giddy Christmas revelers to select a fresh-scented, needle-dropping nightmare.

Okay, so maybe the trees weren’t exactly torturous, but he’d had enough of rough bark, sticky sap, and sharp needles to last a lifetime. After this, he’d be an artificial tree enthusiast—if he bothered to put up a tree at all.

Inside his small, weather-beaten shack, the one he’d assembled mostly from leftover wooden pallets, Dan couldn’t smell the fresh, evergreen scent, the only trait of Christmas trees he still enjoyed. Instead, the odor of burnt coffee lingered though he hadn’t made a pot in days. He never cared for the taste, burnt or not, but he had needed something to keep him awake during the long, boring hours when no customers visited his lot.

The space heater at his feet gave a death rattle, and its electrical hum ceased. He kicked it with the tip of his boot. Nothing.

Great.

Dan folded his large frame under the wooden table that served as his desk and jiggled the wire where it entered the cheap heater. It knocked against the laminate floor remnants and hummed to life. A blast of warm air hit his face and then penetrated his boots. As he sat upright, he glanced out one of the two square windows and spotted a young couple beneath the lights in the rear of the lot.

The man had lifted a Douglas fir from where it leaned against the rope Dan strung across the lot. He stamped its trunk on the frozen, dry ground a couple times and then twirled it around so the woman could see every side. It was a woman, wasn’t it? No telltale pink gloves or hand-knit, sparkly scarf. No expensive boots designed for gawking rather than walking. Just a puffy, navy jacket and white tennis shoes. It could be a skinny dude.

The person spent less than three seconds observing it before planting hands on hips and signaling disapproval with a shake of the head. Yeah, definitely a woman.

Dan rolled his eyes. Another one. If nothing else, this job had given him an unforgettable real-life lesson in male-female dynamics—a lesson that would’ve been helpful a couple of years ago. The man would ferret out the best-looking tree, well-shaped and full, and the woman would turn up her nose, forcing them to cycle through four to seven more trees before one met her approval—sometimes the same tree the man had first shown her.

Poor sap. He had at least three more trees to go.

Dan grabbed his gloves from the table, pulled the lined hood of his jacket over his knit cap, and made for the door. He knew from experience that if he wasn’t standing at the ready the moment the woman found the one, he risked losing a sale.

Dan glanced down to kick aside the rags that kept the cold air from creeping beneath the entrance. He twisted the knob and used his hip to shove open the door. The wind nipped at his bare neck, so he zipped his jacket over his beard and past his chin. He strolled toward the couple, expecting to see them examining another tree. Instead, he witnessed a scene that could serve as a death knell for any romantic relationship.

The man leaned toward her, gesturing wildly with one hand while the other clasped the tree trunk. When his hand dropped to his side, the woman yelled something Dan couldn’t quite make out and kicked the guy in the shin. He hunched to rub his injured leg, and she swatted his back with her gloved hand. The tree careened forward, hit the ground, and sent out a small spray of dust and gravel.

The man regained his footing, gave the woman a light shove, and stomped down the row, out of Dan’s line of sight.

The shove hadn’t been forceful, but Dan decided he should probably check to see that she wasn’t hurt. And that his tree hadn’t been damaged.

A small, white puff of breath billowed in front of the woman and then dissipated. Unaware of Dan’s approach, she crouched down and seemed to search for the best place to get a hold of the trunk. She muttered something to herself, the words unintelligible.

Dan stood beneath one of the overhead lamps, casting a shadow on the tree.

She rocked back onto her heels. “I’m sorry.”

Light brown eyes with amber flecks peered out from under long lashes and a worn, gray knit hat. He expected a huffy, controlling glare, not that doe-eyed innocent look that reminded him of his oldest sister, especially with the twin rosy patches blooming on her fair, winter cheeks. She wore no trace of makeup, but by his estimation, she didn’t need any.

She moved to grab hold of the tree.

“I got it,” Dan said. From the kick and the whap she’d given her companion, Dan knew she didn’t need his help, but the scrap of chivalry he maintained required him to at least offer.

“I didn’t think he’d drop the tree. I make one little suggestion, and . . .” She growled. “I should’ve kicked both his shins, the big jerk.”

Dan raised his brows. No way would he interfere in their lovers’ spat. He’d right his tree and head back to his shack. She could stay out here and fume about her boyfriend or husband or whomever he was as long as she liked. He set the tree against the line and brushed the needles from his gloves.

“Did you see which way he went?” She stood and squinted towards the parking lot.

“Uh—” He jerked a thumb in the opposite direction. “Walked off that way.”

Her gaze followed the path he’d indicated. Beyond the tops of the Christmas trees, a neon sign glowed in the narrow window of an aluminum-sided building. The front door swung open and shut as a couple of rotund men in flannel jerseys exited and thumped down the five wooden steps to the sidewalk. The unlit sign affixed to the second floor read: The Watering Hole. Beneath it, a smaller, vinyl sign read: Voted Pittsburgh’s Favorite Hometown Hangout.

The woman huffed again. “I should’ve known. He only told me three times I was keeping him from relaxing with a beer.”

Dan knew it was none of his business, but in an effort to wrap up the uncomfortable conversation and retreat to the relative warmth of his shack, he asked, “You going to join him?”

She let out a scoffing laugh. “I’d sooner army crawl naked over broken glass and a swarm of scorpions than sit in that stinky rat hole with him. I’ll wait.”

Dan suppressed a smile and shrugged. “Suit yourself.”

He retreated to the shack, closing the door behind him, and toed the rags back toward the base. He dropped onto a folding chair and rubbed his gloved hands together. Not feeling any warmth coming from the heater, he nudged it with his boot until warm air circulated at his feet.

He gazed out the window, expecting the young woman to have gone back to her vehicle, but instead she stood beneath the light where thick snowflakes landed on her hat and jacket. She rubbed her hands together and jumped up and down, presumably trying to warm herself. Maybe the guy had taken the car keys with him.

The snow came down harder, sticking to the cold ground. The wind gusted, blowing the flakes against the side of the shack. The woman clapped and did some kind of awkward hip-wriggling, bouncing jig to keep warm.

He didn’t want company, especially female company, but his heart would have to be colder than his toes to let her stay out there when he had four walls and a roof, paltry though they were. He cracked the door and called to her.

“You can wait in here if you want.”

She jogged toward him, her heel sliding on a patch of black ice partially covered with snow. Her arms flailed as if she were making a snow angel in mid-air before she caught her balance and stumbled forward, her cheeks redder than before.

He pushed the door open wider, and she slipped in. A blast of cold air followed.

“Thank you.” Her teeth chattered, and she hugged her arms close to her body.

“You want some hot cider?” He motioned to a miniature slow cooker on the battered table in the corner. The pot and its contents came courtesy of his sister Colleen. The strangely odorless, brown liquid didn’t tempt him, but maybe it would help warm her.

“I’d love some, thank you.”

He stirred the cider, ladled it into two mugs, and handed one to her. Now the spicy, warm scent of cinnamon wafted through the cool air.

She slipped off her gloves and wrapped her hands around the steaming mug. After blowing on the hot liquid a couple of times, she raised it to her lips. “Mmmm. That helps.”

Dan opened a metal folding chair and dusted the cushioned seat with his glove. He set it on the side of the table opposite him. “You can sit.”

“Thank you.” Her pink lips turned up in a small smile. She sipped her cider, draining the mug in no time. It must have worked in warming her because she unzipped her jacket and slipped the hat from her head.

Luxurious auburn-brown tresses spilled onto her shoulders, dark and luminous. His gaze traveled her back as her hair cascaded down. How could he have mistaken her for a man?

Her magnificent hair mesmerized him, but otherwise her features were pretty but not glamorous or beautiful like—

No. He would not allow her to invade his thoughts.

He turned his attention back to the cider and took a sip. Not bad. “I’ll, uh, keep an eye out for your . . . your boyfriend? Husband?”

She sputtered and covered her mouth with the back of her hand.

“You okay?”  He didn’t need some stranger choking in his ramshackle workplace.

She nodded and cleared her throat. “He’s not my husband or boyfriend. Robert is my stupid, know-it-all brother.”

“Oh.” Dan lifted his chin in acknowledgment. “Whoever he is, I’ll keep a lookout.” It explained their unnecessary roughness. He had four older sisters, and he’d admit to having shoved them a time or two. Not that he’d treat another woman that way.

“My name’s Emily.” She extended her right hand. “Thanks for letting me come in out of the cold.”

“You’re welcome.” He took her small hand in his and gave it a firm shake. “Dan Malone.”

She withdrew her hand and laid it inside her jacket, over her heart, her expression pinched.

“Are you okay?”

“Uh, yeah. Just . . . that was weird.”

He had no clue what she was talking about, nor did he want to know. She wouldn’t be hanging around much longer. He hoped. He’d give the guy another five, ten minutes before he went over there and dragged him out himself. Apparently they were no longer in the market for a tree. Another lost sale, and only one day left before Christmas Eve.

“I don’t know how Elizabeth puts up with him.”

Dan raised his brows. Should he have known who Elizabeth was?

“His wife. He can be such a blockhead. Insists it’s ridiculous for me to get a real tree when I’ll hardly be at my apartment for Christmas. But he can’t let it go at that. He’s got to lay into all the old spinster jokes.”

“Spinster?” Dan peered at her through squinted eyes. She couldn’t be more than twenty-three.

“I know, right? I’m not even twenty-five.”  She flung her hair back and pouted.

Dan shrugged. “I’m twenty-eight. Guess that makes me an old bachelor.”

She smiled, and it lit her face. It was a reserved smile intended to be polite and nothing more, but it made him wonder. When would a woman smile for him again? Not at him, at something funny he said or did, but because the joy he brought her couldn’t be contained.

He hoped never.

Dan switched on the radio, wanting to fill the dead air with something other than silence, and dialed through four stations before he found one that wasn’t playing Christmas songs.

The woman’s eyes, Emily’s eyes, glimmered, and her lips turned up as if she were suppressing a laugh.

“What?” It was his shack; he could listen to whatever he pleased.

She shrugged. “For someone selling Christmas trees, you seem intent on avoiding the sounds of the season. I understand passing over ‘Santa Baby,’ and ‘Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer,’ but ‘Greensleeves’ and ‘O Tannenbaum’?”

“It’s not Christmas yet. When it’s Christmas, I’ll listen to Christmas carols.”

She opened her mouth to say something, but Dan pointed toward the window to cut her off. “Your brother?”

Robert stood in the center aisle of the lot, snow swirling around him. He called Emily’s name as he turned in each direction.

“I should make him sweat,” Emily said, her eyes narrowed at her brother. She stood, zipped her jacket, tugged on her gloves, and grabbed her hat. “Thank you for the heat and the cider.”

Dan nodded.

“Oh, and I’ll take the tree. The one we were looking at.”

Dan rubbed his hand over his beard. Her brother may be a know-it-all, but she was one headstrong lady.

Chapter 2

L’un est le nombre solitaire

(One is the loneliest number)

Emily rubbed her boot over the blue ice-melting pellets on the sidewalk, crushing the beads beneath her toes. She scanned the end unit apartment building with its nondescript red brick, darkened windows, and green shutters. With her arms folded over her chest, she huffed and waited as her brother untied the twine holding the tree to the roof rack of his minivan. He’d spent the first ten minutes of their ride badgering her about her stubborn streak and her foolishness for—how did he put it?—“getting cozy in some love shack” with a strange man.

“All I’m saying, Emily,” he said as he stepped off the van’s running board, “is you can’t be too careful. You went behind a closed door with a guy you don’t know. He’s bigger, and he’s stronger. He’s got that Grizzly Adams thing goin’ on with the beard. Who would’ve heard you if you screamed?”

“Certainly not you, since your butt was glued to a bar stool in that dive.” Emily clenched her fists at her side. Robert had been smothering her with his overprotectiveness since their parents died seven years ago. If she didn’t know his concern was born of love, she may well have strangled him by now. “If you hadn’t stomped off to the bar, leaving me stranded in a blizzard, I wouldn’t have been forced to sit in that rickety shanty with Scrooge, the tree salesman.” A closed-off Scrooge, who obviously didn’t want her there.

A twinge of guilt stung her conscience. Maybe she wasn’t being fair to Dan. He had been kind enough to welcome her in out of the cold, but even a wallflower like her could tell his invitation was grudging. Sitting uncomfortably in his folding chair, he’d only contributed curt responses to the conversation. He was a man well-practiced in avoidance.

Had Dan not told her his age, she would have guessed older—maybe late thirties? With a hat pulled low over his forehead and a scruffy beard and mustache bristling the lower half of his face, the only clues to his age had been his eyes. Those hazel irises guarded more pain and weariness than a man in his twenties should harbor.

“Earth to Emily. You gonna get the door for me?” Robert stood at the edge of her walk, the tree hoisted over his shoulder.

“Oh. Sorry.” Emily jogged to the door of the three-story building and opened it.

Robert stomped the snow from his boots, dragged the tree inside, and balanced it against the wall.

Emily, fiddling with her keys, rushed past him to get to her apartment door. Jostling the key in the lock, she turned it and held open the door.

Robert trudged by with the tree, trailing green and brown needles. “Where do you want it?”

“In front of the sliding glass door.” Emily walked to the far side of her living area, which extended via the doors to a concrete slab patio outside.

The small apartment, nondescript in its pale walls and beige carpet, had been home for almost four years. Robert and her sister-in-law Elizabeth had protested when she announced she’d be moving out of their house, but she suspected they were secretly relieved. At the time, there had been three adults and three children under the roof of their 1,600-square-foot house. Since she’d moved out, they’d added two more children. While Emily appreciated their generosity, it had been well past time to strike out on her own. She’d moved less than two miles away, but it managed to give her and them some much-needed privacy.

“Okay,” Robert said as he adjusted the tree in the stand. “Hold on and let me tighten it.”

Emily steadied the tree as Robert lowered himself to the floor and slid beneath the lowest limbs. In several minutes, he secured the tree.

“Thanks, Robert. You’d better get home.” Emily glanced at the wall clock. If he didn’t leave soon, Elizabeth would be drowning in bedtime madness getting all the kids bathed and ready for sleep.

Robert groaned. “Yeah, don’t want to miss an opportunity to chase a wet, naked toddler down the hall, strain a turd from the tub, or read How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? for the thousandth time.”

Emily smiled. She knew from experience that his kids were exhausting, but his small home nearly burst with love and life. Will I ever have that kind of life, or am I doomed to always be alone?

She ushered Robert to the door with a kiss to the cheek despite his infuriating behavior at the tree lot. Before she bolted the door behind him, she remembered she hadn’t gotten the mail and padded out to the group of mailboxes in the entryway.

Robert called from the open door beneath the exit sign. “You’re coming for dinner on Christmas Eve, right?”

“Yep. And we’re still doing that seven o’clock children’s Mass, aren’t we?”

“Yeah. Hopefully they all fall asleep on the way home.” The door swung shut behind him.

Emily hugged an arm across her midsection to fend off the cold air and gathered her mail from the metal box with her free hand. As she shuffled back to her apartment, she sifted through the mixture of catalogs, bills, and junk mail, finding two Christmas cards.

She closed and locked the door behind her, then plopped onto the couch. Sliding a finger under the seal of the first card, she pried it open. The photo card showed the smiling faces of her cousin, his wife, and their children in matching red and green scarves, relaxing in front of a fireplace. Twice she turned the envelope of the second card over in her hands, looking for a return address. Nothing. The postmark only said “Pittsburgh.”

Emily opened the envelope and pulled out a card decorated with glittering poinsettias. A three-by-five-inch photo slipped out and landed in her lap. A blond-haired, blue-eyed, fair-skinned man in his late twenties stared up at her. The most handsome face she’d ever laid eyes on. The face of the only boy she’d ever loved. His arm wrapped snugly around an olive-skinned woman whose exotic dark hair, dark eyes, and flawless skin made her a natural candidate for Miss Universe. She possessed the kind of looks that made men—and women—stop in the street and take another look.

A text banner at the bottom read, “We’re Engaged! Save the Date: August 3.” Emily scooped up the card and photo along with the other mail and flung them onto her end table. She kicked off her boots and shuffled to the kitchen. Her stomach rumbled, and she realized she hadn’t planned anything for dinner. Scanning the refrigerator, she found only yogurt, fruit, and lettuce. Nothing appealed to her. Celebrating Bryce’s engagement to Miss Universe required carbs, specifically sugar and chocolate. She yanked open the freezer door. Pushing aside a bag of frozen baby peas and a container of leftover soup, she reached for the quart of Moose Tracks ice cream in the back.

Retail therapy befitted the rich or perpetually in-debt. Ice cream therapy? Now, that even an average-looking girl overlooked by men and boys of every age and race could afford to indulge.

“So, you’ve decided to take the plunge, eh, Bryce?” She lifted her spoon and gazed up, as if he stood before her. “You could’ve had the plain but virtuous Emily Kowalski, beloved by small children and dowagers. I see instead you’ve chosen beauty, which I’m sorry to say is shallow and fleeting.” She jabbed the spoon into the ice cream, digging for a hunk of chocolate. “So, boo for you.” She slid a heaping spoonful of ice cream over her tongue, slowly scraping the metal spoon between her teeth. Tears welled in her eyes, and she sniffed. “In your defense, Bryce, I don’t think you knew I could make pierogies from scratch.”

As her spoon hit the bottom of the paperboard container, Emily’s stomach revolted. When would she learn? She pressed her hand to her belly and moaned. This wasn’t the first time she’d drowned her disappointment and envy in empty calories.

After tossing the nearly-empty carton into the trash and the spoon into the sink, Emily plodded to the bathroom, uncertain whether or not her chocolaty meal was going to stay down. She stared in the mirror at her plain, ordinary face. Brownish hair, brown eyes. But her nose was cute, right? She bared her teeth. Perfectly straight (after thousands of dollars of orthodontic work). She wasn’t ugly. She wasn’t!

With a hard swallow to force back the rising tide of Moose Tracks, she breathed deeply and resolved to change. Lord, I’m tired of waiting for life to happen to me. You have a plan for my life, and I’m fairly certain it’s not written at the bottom of an ice cream container.

The nausea settled. She filled a Dixie cup with water and held it up. “Here’s to the new Emily.” She sipped and tossed back her long, thick hair, easily her best feature. She lifted her chin and, for good measure, added, “Amen.”

Get the rest of Ornamental Graces on Amazon today!


Carolyn Astfalk, author of spicy clean romanceAbout Carolyn Astfalk

Carolyn Astfalk lives with her husband and four children in Hershey, Pennsylvania, where the wind carries either the scent of chocolate or cow manure. She is a CatholicMom.com contributor and author of the contemporary inspirational romances Stay With Me (Full Quiver Publishing) and Ornamental Graces.

Endometriosis Awareness: Meet Jessica Worthley

Endometriosis WeekBanner2016Welcome, readers, new and old!  The subject of endometriosis is near and dear (as in, costly and painful) to my heart… not to mention most of my abdomen.  As March 3-9 is Worldwide Endometriosis Awareness Week, I’m doing my part to shed light on the cause by featuring some women who also have faced this diagnosis.

JessicaWEndoToday, I’d like you to meet Jessica Worthley.  Besides featuring my interview with her, I’m also offering Tomato Pie readers my novel Don’t You Forget About Me at the low, low price of 99 cents for the duration of Endo Week.  But more on that in a bit.  First, let’s meet today’s guest!


Hi there, fellow endo-girl, and welcome to Will Write for Tomato Pie!  How about you take a moment to introduce yourself?   

My name is Jessica and I’m 28 years old. I was born and raised in a small town (<1500 people) in Iowa. I have been married to my husband Josh for just over two years and we recently welcomed our first child, Sebastian, in January! We live in a slightly larger town (<6200 people) within a half hour from where I grew up. I worked in the finance industry for eight years but am now enjoying my job as a stay at home mom.

When and how did you first discover that endometriosis is a part of your life?

My endometriosis went undiagnosed/misdiagnosed for many years. It wasn’t until I started charting with Creighton in 2013 that my then fiance mentioned my symptoms to my practitioner. She advised me to chart my PMS symptoms to better determine if it was in a normal range or not. At our next follow up she saw the 14+ days of symptoms and referred me to our local NaPro Medical Consultant. I worked with him for a couple of months but nothing seemed to help for a long period of time. It was then that he mentioned it sounded like I could have endometriosis and referred me to the Pope Paul VI Institute in Omaha. The referral was accepted and in July of 2014 I had a diagnostic laparoscopy. They found a ton of damage and decided that a second surgery would be needed. In August of 2014 they went in with the help of the DaVinci robot to remove all the areas.

Tell us about some of the ways endometriosis has impacted your life, health and relationships.   

When I was a teenager I remember having terrible periods. There were times I would lay on the ground in the fetal position crying because the ibuprofen/Tylenol/Midol was not alleviating the cramps. I would ask my mom if we could have the doctors remove my ovaries so I wouldn’t have to deal with the pain each month. After all, I could adopt if I wanted kids later on in life. I would constantly soak through pads in a short amount of time. When I was in junior high we went on a field trip to an amusement park. I brought supplies but apparently not enough as I ended up in my last pad and I soaked through it. A classmate asked what I sat in as I had a red patch on my jeans. She saw my embarrassed look and gave me her coat to wrap around my waist for the rest of the day to prevent others from pointing it out. In high school, I would get extremely light headed and the nurse would always comment how pale looking I was and would tell me to go home for the day. It got to the point where I ended up staying home every month for the first one or two days of my cycle. After high school, it started to affect my job. I would have to call in sick on some cycles still and then I started to have pains in my abdomen mid cycle. It was at this point that I started a multi month journey of doctors visits that eventually led to a colonoscopy and a misdiagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome when the colonoscopy didn’t find anything wrong.

What have been some of the treatments you’ve used, and how effective were they?  

The first treatment I was prescribed while in college was the birth control pill. Though because of a genetic mutation that increases my chance of blood clots I also had to start taking a baby aspirin to counter the increase associated with the pill. I was on this for a couple of months when I realized it wasn’t helping and in fact was making me feel worse. I figured this was just normal for me and decided to stop the pill and deal with it. Fast forward five years and my practitioner saying it wasn’t normal, my medical consultant started me on HCG injections post peak as I had low progesterone levels. It seemed to help a little but I was still experiencing painful cramps though the amount of days had decreased with the HCG. he then put me on a tranexamic acid for my heavy cycles. I was on this for a couple months but I was getting debilitating cramps at work as I was passing half dollar size clots. It was at this point he referred me to have the surgeries.

A murder mystery about… endometriosis? For real? For real!  And it’s only 99 cents through March 9, 2016!

 

Has your faith impacted what treatments you would accept?  In what ways?

My faith has impacted what treatments I would accept. When I was put on the pill, I knew it was OK since I wasn’t sexually active and it was for medical purposes and not contraconception purposes. However, when the first pill was not successful I would have been more prone to take the doctors suggestion and get the IUD placed had it not been for my faith. I knew eventually I would get married and wouldn’t want to be using birth control so, I didn’t want to choose a more permanent option like the IUD.

Have you found your Catholic faith to be a help or a hindrance in your relationship with your endometriosis treatment team?  How so?  

Had you asked me this year’s ago, I would have said hindrance since many doctors like to say birth control is your only option. However, now I see that my Catholic faith actually helped. If it wasn’t for my faith I would have settled with a treatment plan that just masked my symptoms and didn’t actually treat the underlying problems. If it wasn’t for my faith, I would have not felt the need to learn NFP which ultimately led me to my NaPro journey.

Imagine that a friend of yours has just been diagnosed with endometriosis and asks for your advice.  What would you tell her?  

I would recommend she see a NaPro doctor over a regular doctor as the techniques they use in surgery are far superior at removing the endometriosis as well as reducing the chances of it coming back in the same areas. They also listen to you and will keep trying to find the underlying cause and not just write a prescription to get you out of their office.


 

Thank you, Jessica, for sharing your story with us. I especially like how you said, “If it wasn’t for my faith I would have settled with a treatment plan that just masked my symptoms and didn’t actually treat the underlying problems.” I’ve found it to be true in my own life, and I’ve seen how true it seems to be across the board.

Readers, please comment to thank today’s guest!  Meanwhile, don’t you forget to get your copy of Don’t You Forget About Me at the low, low price of 99 cents for the duration of Endo Week.  Spread the word!

DYFAMmar16IG

Endometriosis Awareness: Meet Silver Pyanov

Endometriosis WeekBanner2016Welcome, readers, new and old!  The subject of endometriosis is near and dear (as in, costly and painful) to my heart… not to mention most of my abdomen.  As March 3-9 is Worldwide Endometriosis Awareness Week, I’m doing my part to shed light on the cause by featuring some women who also have faced this diagnosis.

SilverPyanovToday, I’d like you to meet Silver Pyanov.  Not only is Silver a fellow endomazing lady, her first name is so awesome that Echo & the Bunnymen wrote one of my favorite songs about her.  Not really, but that’s still a beautiful name.  She’s also an editor and contributor at BellyBelly and a doula and childbirth educator.

Besides featuring my interview with her, I’m also offering Tomato Pie readers my novel Don’t You Forget About Me at the low, low price of 99 cents for the duration of Endo Week.  But more on that in a bit.  First, let’s meet today’s guest!


 

Hi there, fellow endo-girl, and welcome to Will Write for Tomato Pie!  How about you take a moment to introduce yourself?   

I’m a wife and mother with four rambunctious boys.  I’ve been married to my wonderful husband for almost ten years. Our faith and ministry have always been important to us.

After having my oldest I fell into the birth world, and just supporting women in general. I started as a volunteer at a local crisis pregnancy center and over the years turned my love of supporting women into a career. I’ve been able to continue ministering to women as a volunteer in several ways while also supporting my family as a postpartum doula and writer.

When and how did you first discover that endometriosis is a part of your life?

I began having symptoms in Jr high and with each cycle my symptoms became worse. By 9th grade I began missing school monthly due to vomiting from pain every 10-20 minutes for 12-24 hours each cycle.

Unfortunately an ill informed doctor did an ultrasound and said all was normal so I assumed I didn’t have endometriosis. After having my oldest son I developed chronic pelvic pain. We assumed it was due to pregnancy and birth (despite having a completely unmedicated, problem-free vaginal birth). After a couple years of physical therapy, steroid injections, another baby and then a miscarriage, my pelvic specialist said I had to have endometriosis. She said they treated me for every other possible cause of pelvic pain, added in my miscarriage and difficulty conceiving following that loss and she was certain.

I was referred to a reproductive endocrinologist and had a diagnostic laparoscopy. He removed unidentifiable scar tissue from my intestines and burned a few endometriosis adhesions.

Tell us about some of the ways endometriosis has impacted your life, health and relationships.   

I definitely entered womanhood hating my body and not understanding the pain. I thought I was a whimp. Vicodin and antinausea medication and I was still too sick to function during my period. I worried I’d never be able to handle childbirth. Just to give an idea of how bad endometriosis cramps can be, I’ve had four unmedicated, out of hospital births that were less painful than my menstrual cramps. I was pleasantly surprised in my first labor though there was pain, when I had myt first real contraction I thought, “I can TOTALLY do this! I’ve done this for years.”

My overall health has suffered mostly due to fatigue. Breastfeeding suppressed my cycles and no one could understand how I had TONS of energy as a sleep deprived mother of a three month. Then months later cycles returned and I had days I could barely function due to the fatigue. My constant use of NSAIDs in high school also caused an esophageal ulcer. If I get heartburn I can still feel the exact spot, though it’s been pretty much healed. I can’t know for sure, but I do believe it’s played a role in my two miscarriages.

It has without a doubt impacted my marriage. I’m incredibly fortunate to be married to a very patient, loving and genuinely Christ-like man, but he’s still human. We’ve had months in our marriage where I was unable to keep up with the home, errands, cooking, etc and so it’s fallen on him. We’ve also had stretches where intercourse just wasn’t physically possible. No matter how solid your marriage, it’s a definite struggle.

Even socializing in general, there are times I’m just too tired to hang out.

What have been some of the treatments you’ve used, and how effective were they?  

The first thing I was told was to try NSAIDs. It provided little relief and after a couple years I had severe GERD and would vomit blood. Then it was vicodin and anti nausea meds. They didn’t offer relief where I could function. They essentially knocked me out. I ended up sleeping 20 hours straight one cycle.

By 17, the same doctors that told me it was normal pain, also said they could no longer offer pain medication and my only option was the pill. I was hesitant, but took it. It helped a lot, but it doesn’t actually treat endometriosis. By its very function it’s an endocrine disruptor. So while it temporarily relieves symptoms it doesn’t solve the issue and can potentially cause more hormonal or fertility issues in the future.

After the birth of my oldest I developed chronic pelvic pain. After all of my births I had incredibly heavy postpartum bleeding and horrific cramping. My last, the cramps were worse than labor itself and lasted days. I was treated with steroid injections and pelvic physical therapy. Both worked extremely well, but were more maintenance solutions helping you to cope rather than healing.

I had a traditional laparoscopy and that helped a lot. My chronic pelvic pain is now intermittent and bearable. But, I’ve also been pregnant or breastfeeding since the procedure and both suppress endometriosis symptoms. To be honest, breastfeeding has been my absolute best “treatment.” Interestingly, I’ve only had fertility issues upon weaning while I conceived easily and without miscarriage while nursing frequently.

I’m set to start more NaPro treatment, hcg or progesterone first and then if needed another laparoscopy. I’ve heard great things and am looking forward to seeing how it helps.

A murder mystery about… endometriosis? For real? For real!  And it’s only 99 cents through March 9, 2016!

Has your faith impacted what treatments you would accept?  In what ways?

Definitely. I have a lot of hesitation using hormonal contraception, especially progesterone only as it can act as an abortifacient. I’m not 100% sure how I feel about it, I just know it makes me uncomfortable so I haven’t used it since I’ve been married.

Have you found your faith to be a help or a hindrance in your relationship with your endometriosis treatment team?  How so?  

Well I’m not Catholic, I’m nondenominational Christian, but I can align with Catholicism when it comes to certain areas of contraception. I don’t feel right using the Pill, though I wish I did because the temporary relief is appealing.

Imagine that a friend of yours has just been diagnosed with endometriosis and asks for your advice.  What would you tell her?  

Find a doctor that actually understands endometriosis. There’s SO much misinformation surrounding it, even among medical professionals. It’s also probably a safe bet to stick with a NaPro provider, as the basis of NaPro seems to have a better understanding of endo than most other schools of thought.

Also, understand that endometriosis can be treated, and quite well, but for many women it is something you’ll have to chronically treat and be aware of. Be kind to yourself and know that NONE of your symptoms, physical or emotional, are in your head. You have a real medical condition and you deserve treatment.


Thank you, Silver, for sharing your experience, courage and honesty with us.  Readers, please comment to thank today’s guest!  Meanwhile, don’t you forget to get your copy of Don’t You Forget About Me at the low, low price of 99 cents for the duration of Endo Week.  Spread the word!

DYFAMmar16IG

Endometriosis Awareness Week: Meet Rhonda Ortiz

Endometriosis WeekBanner2016Welcome, readers, new and old! The subject of endometriosis is near and dear (as in, costly and painful) to my heart… not to mention most of my abdomen. As March 3-9 is Worldwide Endometriosis Awareness Week, I’m doing my part to shed light on the cause by featuring some women who also have faced this diagnosis.

Today, I’d like to revisit an interview from NFP Week 2015 with Rhonda Ortiz.  Rhonda also has lived with endometriosis and has a powerful story to share.

Besides featuring my interview with her, I’m also offering Tomato Pie readers my novel Don’t You Forget About Me at the low, low price of 99 cents for the duration of Endo Week. But more on that in a bit.

Here’s an excerpt from Rhonda’s NFP Week Interview:
RhondaOrtizHey there! I’m Rhonda Ortiz. I’m a 34-year-old Catholic convert, wife, and mother of three. Other than chasing after kids, I spend my days writing and working as a freelance graphic designer. …

I spent five frustrated years wondering, if I wasn’t destined to be a mom, what the heck was I going to do with my life. My thoughts ran wild through the rat nest that was my head, making this and that set of plans, seeking…something. Anything!…

I finally agreed to see a doctor and learned that I had endometriosis. I had my first laparoscopic surgery to remove endometrium in June 2007.

We assumed I would be pregnant right away, but that also didn’t happen…

 

For the rest of Rhonda’s courageous story, please visit the original interview at this link.

Thank you, Rhonda, for sharing your story with us not once but twice. Readers, please comment to thank today’s guest! Meanwhile, don’t you forget to get your copy of Don’t You Forget About Me at the low, low price of 99 cents for the duration of Endo Week. Spread the word!

DYFAMmar16IG

Endometriosis Awareness: Meet Barb S.

Endometriosis WeekBanner2016Welcome, readers, new and old!  The subject of endometriosis is near and dear (as in, costly and painful) to my heart… not to mention most of my abdomen.  As March 3-9 is Worldwide Endometriosis Awareness Week, I’m doing my part to shed light on the cause by featuring some women who also have faced this diagnosis.

Today, I’d like to revisit an interview from NFP Week 2015 with Barb S., aka Franciscan Mom.  Barb also has lived with endometriosis and has a powerful story to share.

Besides featuring my interview with her, I’m also offering Tomato Pie readers my novel Don’t You Forget About Me at the low, low price of 99 cents for the duration of Endo Week.  But more on that in a bit.

Here’s an excerpt from Barb’s NFP Week Interview:

Barb aka Franciscan Mom talks about being Catholic and subfertile as part of NFP Awareness Week.I’m Barb from Franciscanmom.com and Cook and Count. I’m editorial consultant at Catholicmom.com, a musician at my parish, a Secular Franciscan and a school-library volunteer…

It’s actually NFP (and all those years of carefully-recorded information about my own body’s patterns and in-depth knowledge of what was “normal for me”) that came to my rescue in getting the fourth GYN in as many years to finally listen to me and send me to yet another doctor for treatment, which wound up being a DaVinci (robotic) hysterectomy and the discovery during surgery that I had endometriosis. Suddenly everything made sense, and I felt vindicated in my decision to walk away from Doctor #3, who told me that what was happening to me was “normal, even if it is the sucky end of normal” (how’s that for a lovely exam-room manner?) Apparently the endometriosis invasion was extensive; one of my Fallopian tubes was attached to my intestines by scar tissue….

For the rest of Barb’s story, please visit the original interview at this link.  

Thank you, Barb, for sharing your story with us not once but twice.  Readers, please comment to thank today’s guest!  Meanwhile, don’t you forget to get your copy of Don’t You Forget About Me at the low, low price of 99 cents for the duration of Endo Week.  Spread the word!

DYFAMmar16IG

Endometriosis Awareness Week: Meet Brittany Schmidt

Endometriosis WeekBanner2016Welcome, readers, new and old!  The subject of endometriosis is near and dear (as in, costly and painful) to my heart… not to mention most of my abdomen.  As March 3-9 is Worldwide Endometriosis Awareness Week, I’m doing my part to shed light on the cause by featuring some women who also have faced this diagnosis.

Today, I’d like you to meet Brittany Schmidt, who also blogs over at Sapphire Blue Soul.  Besides featuring my interview with her, I’m also offering Tomato Pie readers my novel Don’t You Forget About Me at the low, low price of 99 cents for the duration of Endo Week.  But more on that in a bit.  First, let’s meet today’s guest!

Endometriosis Awareness Week: Meet Brittany Schmidt

Brittany Schmidt

EMC: Hi there, fellow endo-girl, and welcome to Will Write for Tomato Pie!  How about you take a moment to introduce yourself?   

Brittany: Hello, my name is Brittany Schmidt and I am a 23-year-old living in the frozen tundra of Minnesota. I am a devout Catholic dedicated to seeking holiness and learning about my incredible Catholic faith that astounds me every moment of every day. My husband and I have been married for almost two years and I feel so blessed to have such a supportive best friend and companion by my side. I am currently working towards my Doctorate in Chiropractic, I have two years left of school and I cannot wait to graduate and be a physician that is dedicated to optimal health and natural wellness.

EMC: Sounds like a good thing! When and how did you first discover that endometriosis is a part of your life?

Brittany: Shortly after starting my doctorate in the Fall of 2014 I began to have a persistent pain in my lower right side, I also noticed my monthly cycles became heavier and more painful. I sought help and advice from an OB-GYN who did nothing, I am still very angry about this. The pain continued and got increasingly worse until one day in May (2015) while I was at school I experienced an intense and sudden pain. I went to the ER where they told me I had an ovarian cyst rupture and that I had another one growing and should follow up with my OB-GYN. I decided to go see a different OB-GYN who was wonderful and finally listened to me. She suspected endometriosis. We set a date for laparoscopic surgery at the end of July 2015; on that date she removed an ovarian cyst the size of a tennis ball and confirmed it was an endometrioma and that I did in fact have endometriosis.

EMC: A tennis ball! Yikes! Tell us about some of the ways endometriosis has impacted your life, health and relationships.   

Brittany: Endometriosis has impacted my life in many ways. I’ve always considered myself strong and able to overcome any sort of pain or illness and I never expected to experience such a debilitating condition. Endometriosis has interrupted my hobbies such as running and exercising, endometriosis has brought on many painful periods that have caused me to miss days at school or social outings, endometriosis has sent me to the ER several times because the pain hasn’t been manageable, endometriosis has caused me to have two surgeries in the past 6 months, endometriosis has made sex with my husband almost unbearable, and endometriosis has had a major impact on my emotional capacity.

I don’t look sick and I feel like I am battling something terrible. When I realize I will have this disease forever and that I will have a future of recurring surgeries, endless pain, and possible infertility I feel my heart shatter. I’ve never been so devastated over something in my entire life and it has affected my relationships because I don’t think anyone can truly understand what I am going through. No one feels my pain, no one knows my fear of not being able to conceive, and no one knows how much it hurts both physically and emotionally to be intimate with my husband. I don’t like talking to others much about it because not only are they incapable of understanding my feelings but I am afraid they will tire of having the same conversation over and over again and lose sympathy for me. Because that’s what endometriosis is, it’s the same conversation over and over again, a conversation consisting of abnormal cell growth, pain, recurrence after surgery, infertility, and the emotional heartbreak that comes with having an invisible illness.

On the positive side, it has taught me to be more aware of my body and my needs and limitations, I do take better care of myself both emotionally and physically since my diagnosis. Endometriosis has shown me how fragile my human flesh is and that there is a need for a healing and compassionate God, endometriosis has strengthened my faith so much and shown me the power of redemptive suffering. I am a better Christian because of my endometriosis and that is a huge gift and blessing. I also believe that all of these experiences will make me a better doctor and more compassionate to those who have chronic pain.

A murder mystery about… endometriosis? For real? For real!  And it’s only 99 cents through March 9, 2016!

EMC: What have been some of the treatments you’ve used, and how effective were they?  

Brittany: It is hard to say what was effective and what was not, I may think that because I had recurrence of endometriosis after surgery all of the treatments I tried were not effective, however, what if the recurrence would have been faster or more extensive if I hadn’t been using the therapies I was? I don’t know, there is no way of knowing, but I think it’s important to keep in mind when discussing what is a valuable or effective treatment and what is not. After my first surgery in July I changed my diet by cutting out dairy, limiting gluten, switching to all organic meat, and only consuming 30 g of sugar (that included sugar from fruit). The diet was harder than I expected but I will say that I felt better while doing it, mostly because it was something I could control and I felt like I was actively contributing to preventing my illness. I also had weekly acupuncture sessions which I LOVED, it was so relaxing and the quiet time that it brought was emotionally healing. I also felt the acupuncture helped the healing of my scars and reduced my pain that continued after surgery. Again, attending weekly acupuncture sessions made me feel like there was a component of control in the midst of an uncontrollable disease. A few months after surgery my pain unfortunately returned and I had the presence of more cysts confirmed by ultrasound, I decided to yet again switch OB-GYNs and see an endometriosis specialist. The specialist explained that removal of endometrial adhesions by surgical ablation (burning or cauterizing) was not very effective and that there was a high recurrence rate. I was angry when I heard this, why did I have an ineffective surgery? Or why didn’t the OB-GYN who did my first surgery fail to tell me that there was a better surgery out there? Is it possible that she didn’t know? This is unacceptable to me. The specialist told me that he uses excision to fully resect all endometrial adhesions and that there is much less of a chance of recurrence with this type of laparoscopic surgery. I am now two weeks post-op from having excision by laser to remove more endometriosis. I am hoping that my outcome this time is much better and longer lasting than my last surgery.

EMC: I hope so, too!  Has your faith impacted what treatments you would accept?  In what ways?

Brittany: My faith has most definitely impacted what treatments I would accept. Since getting my diagnosis every doctor I’ve seen has recommended the birth control pill. This was really hard for me because the pill is something I have been so publicly against for so long for both ethical and medical reasons. I could not imagine taking the pill; the very idea of it nauseates me. I decided to seek guidance from our parish priest who was also apprehensive about granting permission to use the pill. He told us that the pill works in different ways and one of those ways is as an abortifacient in case there is breakthrough ovulation, of course as a devout Catholic I was not okay with this. Our priest granted us permission to use the pill only if we could detect if there was breakthrough ovulation and then abstain during that time, if we were not able to detect ovulation then we had to abstain during the course of taking the pill. What a burden, huh? Hubby and I finally decided to reject the pill, it was a decision that came with much prayer and many long conversations, but at the end of the day we were dedicated to our faith and to protecting life.

EMC: Have you found your faith to be a help or a hindrance in your relationship with your endometriosis treatment team?  How so?  

Brittany: My endometriosis treatment teams have been very considerate and open to the fact that our faith comes first and that we reject birth control of any kind, however, I don’t think that they truly understand where we are coming from. I’ve never felt pressured or judged by my health care team because of my faith and subsequent choices but I do think that it has created a bit of a hindrance because they don’t know how else to treat me. The only other option I’ve been given is to conceive a child. Ironic, my options are either the birth control pill or to conceive a child, neither of these options are ideal right now so it kind of leaves me in a place where no one can really help me or offer me any sort of advice.

EMC: Imagine that a friend of yours has just been diagnosed with endometriosis and asks for your advice.  What would you tell her?  

Brittany: I would say first of all, if they are going to have surgery to make sure the surgeon is going to remove all endometrial adhesions by excision and NOT ablation. I feel like my first surgery with ablation was a waste and was very upset when it all grew back right away. Women need to know that there is a more advanced and successful surgical method of removing endometriosis and shouldn’t have to have undergo the effects and dangers of anesthesia and surgery just for it to be ineffective. I would also tell her that she is more than a diagnosis, that although endometriosis is devastating, that positive things can always come from terrible situations if they are open to it. Embrace suffering, keep moving forward, find support by joining an online support group (there are many on Facebook), and remember that we are never alone in Christ who is bigger than all things—even endometriosis.

Excellent point, that last one, and one that is really easy to forget on those days when we’re just underwater with the pain, be it physical, emotional, or spiritual.  Brittany, thank you so much for sharing your story with us.  

Readers, please comment to thank today’s guest!  Better yet, go visit Brittany at her blog.  Meanwhile, don’t you forget to get your copy of Don’t You Forget About Me at the low, low price of 99 cents for the duration of Endo Week.  Spread the word!

DYFAMmar16IG

Top 10 Reasons You Will Love Catholic Teen Fiction!

Thank you to Theresa Linden, author of the Liberty Trilogy and the newly released Roland West, Loner. In the style of Late Nights gone by, here’s…

 

Top

1.      Because reading Catholic teen fiction can be more fun than going to the movies.

2.      Because you might waste an entire day stretched out on the couch, reading, but you won’t need to feel guilty.

3.      You also won’t need to find that bookmark you lost because you won’t want to put the book down.

4.      And you won’t need to save your receipts or scraps of junk mail to use for bookmarks. Same reason as number 4.

5.      Because Catholic fiction reveals that there’s more to life than what we can see.

6.      Because of fun author names like Heckenkamp, Cattapan, and Peek.

7.      Because of fun story lines take the reader back in time or into the future, close to the saints, or close to trouble.

8.      Because books don’t need batteries but Catholic books still shed light.

9.      Because you ARE a Catholic teen, so reading fiction for Hindu octogenarians might not be your thing.

10. Because Catholic fiction can stir your heart and give you courage… and direct your soul to God.

Bonus reason: ‘Cause you really don’t want Roland West to stay a loner. That would be sad.

Win your copy of Roland West with this giveaway!

More about Roland West, Loner:

Roland West, Loner is a contemporary Christian story of a fourteen-year-old boy who finds himself friendless at a new school and the subject of cruel rumors. Despised by older twin brothers, he feels utterly alone but not without hope. If he can avoid his brothers while his father is away, he might have a solution to his problem. When his brothers lock him away, having a plan of their own, he gets rescued by an unlikely pair: a neighboring autistic boy and his brother. Struggling to trust his new friends, secrets, rumors, lies, and an unusual inheritance put him on a journey that just might have the power to change the life of this loner.

See the trailer here!

Roland West, Loner addresses loneliness, sibling relationships, facing fears, autism, and the Communion of the Saints. Susan Peek, highly popular author of saint stories for teens, including A Soldier Surrenders said, “A heartwarming tale of friendship, faith, and forgiveness. Linden had me laughing on one page and crying on the next. The story stayed with me long after I closed the last page. Simply put, Roland West, Loner is the best Catholic fiction I’ve read in ages.”

Theresa Linden, author of the Liberty TrilogyTheresa Linden, an avid reader and writer since grade school, grew up in a military family. Moving every few years left her with the impression that life is an adventure. Her Catholic faith inspires the belief that there is no greater adventure than the reality we can’t see, the spiritual side of life. She hopes that the richness, depth, and mystery of the Catholic faith arouse her readers’ imaginations to the invisible realities and the power of faith and grace. A member of the Catholic Writers’ Guild, Theresa lives in northeast Ohio with her husband, three boys, and one dog. Her other published books include Chasing Liberty and Testing Liberty, books one and two in a dystopian trilogy.