Hump day!

It’s my virtual Friday. I have a conference tomorrow, which is almost like not being at work, and then a vacation day Friday. Of course I feel sort of bowled over by the amount of work I have today, but it’s all good, right? (nod to my CIO – that’s his catchphrase and he’s proving to me that hearing something enough times makes it feel true even if it doesn’t actually become true).

Today is the first day I made a smoothie in my brand-new smoothie maker. We went and bought one of these at Walmart last night, despite my shuddery dislike of all things Walmart. I was tired, and Target is all the way on the other end of town, okay? So I made up my typical smoothie, or the current typical one anyway. If you’re curious, it’s been a scoop of vanilla protein powder, a cup of unsweetened vanilla almond milk, a cup of low fat vanilla Greek yogurt, and a cup of frozen fruit (current selection is the cherry-berry-blend from Giant). Well. The new cups are just not that big. And I made a bit of a mess, because my how-much-more-will-it-hold eye is quite inaccurate. Tomorrow I think I’ll try it with 1/2 cup of yogurt.

While I was drinking my still very delicious if rather messy breakfast, I discovered two quite interesting things on Facebook. I don’t spend a ton of time on there anymore, I sort of check in once a week or so. I treat it like I treat Twitter, basically. Jump on if I have something to share, but mostly try to consume chunks when I don’t have enough time to get into my current book but have too much time for something like daydreaming. So anyway!

The first very interesting thing was a message from an old friend with whom I had a falling out almost four years ago. I think maybe we have been un-friends longer now than we were friends, but that has no effect at all on how much I’ve missed her. She’s a pretty awesome person in general, and she really hurt me there at the end, and then this out of the blue missive. I started replying but realized I couldn’t just reel something off like it was nothing because it is so much more to me than nothing. I asked Wayne what he thought about it and he suggested I sit on it. Sitting I am. Hopefully I will compose something worthy of what we shared but not too weird and pushy and not too push-over-y, and compose it soon, because if nothing else she deserves my answer.

The second thing was less shattering but still interesting. My sister, who seems to be a different person now than she was a year or two ago (not my story, not sharing it), posted an update that said she’s glad she doesn’t look like all she’s been through. Wow, did that resonate. And it set my brain scurrying off on a list of what I’ve been through, and what I’ve done to others, because I am far from blameless in my personal drama. Are any of us, really? But still. My mind took me in a curious direction, and brought a few thoughts to the fore. For example:

  • I told someone recently that I write every day, and didn’t realize when I said it that I was lying. I stopped writing every day some time ago, but did it for so long that it still feels like it’s part of me. I felt a twang of guilt for this unintentional lie, and then I got out one of the journals Wayne gave me for our first (paper!) anniversary and I wrote and it felt good.
  • I thought about the fact that I now spend more time with non-readers than I do with readers (the former friend was a reader). Part of what attracted me to Husband One and Husband Two was that they read some, more than most men do. Wayne is not a reader. I don’t think he’s read the book I wrote, and I’m his wife. He reads news articles and sometimes he reads my blog posts, but he’s not anything like the type of reader I am. And you know what? He’s making me think that being a reader is really not as important as I thought it was. Readers hurt me, and he does not. Thanks for tossing yet another long-held belief on its head, dear and darling husband.

Thinking big thoughts in the morning is sort of fun, you know? I bet, though, that the “it’s all good” guy, and my actual boss, would prefer me to do work rather than think, so to work it is.

Happy VF, everyone!

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Reviews, of books, of course!

Not reviewing doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading. Rather, I don’t feel the need to share everything. Some things I don’t finish (because life’s too short to read something I don’t l0ve), some things I don’t feel like sharing, and of course there are lots of times when I just plain forget. That last one is probably truest when it comes to the lack of reviews in the near-recent past. To make up for it, here’s three seemingly unrelated reviews….

Gangsterland by Tod Goldberg

  • Crime fiction
  • Library hardcover
  • PopSugar Challenge Category:  None

First a disclaimer: I am not normally a reader of crime fiction; I read this book because of Tod Goldberg. I’m a huge fan of Literary Disco, a podcast about books, sort of, and Tod is one of the three co-hosts (the others are Julia Pistell and Rider Strong). I am late to the scene of Literary Discoland, and started at the beginning. I’ve been listening to at least two episodes a week for months and some days I feel like the hosts have taken up residence in my head. I dream about them, I hear their voices in my head when I read. Of course, none of that has a thing to do with Gangsterland…

I was blown away by this book. It’s funny, but not the kind of laugh out loud and have to explain yourself to random people around you funny. I’d say it’s more clever-funny. Just the idea of hiding a hitman from a Chicago crime family in Las Vegas by having him pretend to be a rabbi is cleverly funny. I loved the little details, like that Sal (our main character and hitman), thinks of himself as David as he gets more and more into his new role, but when he makes a call to do some business, he’s Sal again. I liked how he gradually learned that the words he had read to prep to be David had sort of dug themselves into him, and he has started believing them. I loved the in-your-face attitudes of the other family members, the gay informer, the blinged-out funeral director. I loved this book.

I know it seems like I’m all over the place when it comes to reading, and will pretty much recommend books in any genre, but usually I think of books as if you liked this, you’ll like that sort of thing. I have read very little that fits in with Gangsterland so I have no clue how to compare it. But if you like a well-written, clever, sad, funny book that talks about love and finding yourself and losing yourself, you should read this book. And if you want to experience as I did, you should listen to a couple episodes of Literary Disco first so the narrator in your head will be Tod Goldberg. It made the experience that much better for me.

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

  • Self-Help
  • Library e-book
  • PopSugar Challenge Category:  A book that made you cry

I’m not sure I agree with the genre on this one, either. There should be a single word that describes writing that is lyrical with being music, poetic but not poetry, heart-wrenching, life-affirming, gorgeous, beautiful, fulfilling, and brutally honest. I’m sure it can’t be its own genre, though, because only this book would fit into it.

This book is a collection of advice columns written by Cheryl Strayed under the pseudonym Sugar for The Rumpus. On a totally unrelated side note, The Rumpus is blocked at work. Considering the guys who determine what’s blocked and what isn’t, I have to assume they think “rumpus” = “rump,” a conclusion that would annoy my grandmother who actually had a rumpus room that had absolutely nothing to do with read ends. Anyway! Cheryl Strayed, in a nutshell, writes like I only wish I could. She’s got some sort of magical thrall-like control over words and no matter how negative the subject she’s talking about (rape, incest, alcoholism, etc) her words are still achingly beautiful.

I’m planning to produce a top ten this year, and this book is definitely on it. Considering how many really good books I’m reading, that’s a big old compliment from one lowly reader, especially one who prefers fiction. I feel like Cheryl Strayed gave me a gift of my own, personal, tiny beautiful things: all those tears she made me cry.

A Slipping-Down Life by Anne Tyler

  • Modern Literature/Coming of Age
  • Library e-book
  • PopSugar Challenge Category: A book that came out the year you were born

This is a book I could put into two categories: it’s Anne Tyler’s first book and it was published in 1969 (and now you know how old I am!). I’m sticking with the second one.

I accidentally skimmed a couple Goodreads reviews before I read this book, something I try not to do. I would rather go into a book fresh and not spoiled by other people’s opinions. It seemed like people didn’t love this as much as Anne Tyler’s other books. I do not agree.

The story is a little odd, or maybe the main character is, I’m not really sure which. Evie Decker is a junior in high school in the late 60’s. She lives with her father (her mother died in childbirth) in an aging neighborhood in Baltimore. Her father is a teacher in the school that she attends. She has one friend who is described as hugely fat (although later in the book we discover her actual weight, and it’s not all that bad). She develops this weird sort of star-struck crush on Drumstrings Casey, who plays his guitar music at a local bar. And then things go straight to hell.

Anne Tyler paints an interesting picture of a case of mild crazy that can result from living as a very sheltered and very shy girl. She also describes everything so well that I could very well imagine myself in Evie’s dusty house, sitting at a crowded table in the roadhouse, in the tar-papered shack outside of town. I felt for Evie, maybe even understood her just a bit, although I promise I would never do the things she did. But at the end, the causes behind her actions didn’t matter. I simply wanted her to succeed. And I was pretty pleased the Anne Tyler did not wrap the ending all up in a pretty little package and hand it to us. She left us hanging, and gave me some space to think about how it could go.

I really enjoyed this book. It’s on the heavier side, definitely not a beach read, but it is totally worth reading. It’s not a love story, it’s more of a life story. A slipping-down life story. 🙂

If you’re still with me…

I said these three books are seemingly unrelated, but there’s actually a common thread for me. All of them were read because I learned about them on a podcast. The very lovely Tracie and Barb of 2KnitLitChicks did an episode on Anne Tyler that led me to start reading her books, and as a relatively new Marylander I am a bit ashamed that some Cali chicks had to point me to the magic that is Ms. Tyler. Cheryl Strayed is an oft-cited author on Literary Disco – she’s one of their go-to authors when they’re trying to explain the right way to do non-fiction. And, of course, Tod Goldberg is a very obvious podcast tie-in. Podcasts = awesome, mkay?

Unwound

4-ish, Sunday afternoon, end of a three day weekend. The house is clean, the shopping done. My clothes are laid out for tomorrow. Between now and when I go to bed all I have to do is make my lunch and ask Wayne (a.k.a. my human alarm clock) to get me up early enough to spend some time at the gym before work. It’s been a weekend, for sure.

I am finding myself in a place where I am not doing anywhere hear as much as I normally do. Mostly, I’m sleeping a lot and reading a ton. But I’m not getting much knitting done, I haven’t exercised since Thursday, I haven’t tracked my food, I’ve been eating like I’m carrying sextuplets and they’re all destined to become sumo wrestlers. There have been times in my life where this combination of things represented a real problem, a need to get my meds adjusted or the beginning of a slow roll downward into one of those nasty depressions. But I feel okay, actually I feel pretty good. I’ve made the decision not to worry.

Some things that have happened this weekend:

  • I watched 5 Flights Up, loved it, cried so much I couldn’t knit.
  • I watched If I Stay with the Squirrel. I started out bashing how it wasn’t 100% accurate (I read the book not too long ago). But then… I loved it and cried so much I couldn’t knit. Seeing a theme here?
  • I watched the 2013 Carrie with the hubs & the Squirrel. I may have gotten a little snippety at all the questions – I was the only one in the room who had read the book and seen the original movie. It was okay and I’m glad I watched it. I didn’t cry. I got about 20 rows of the grandbaby’s blanket knitted.
  • I fixed my Goodreads account so it has my name on it and not Wayne’s (long story short, he got my Kindle for me as a birthday gift and it was pre-configured on his Amazon account…)
  • I finished Gangsterland, read Empire Falls, read Water for Elephants, worked on A History of Loneliness, started The Things They Carried. All of it amazing. It’s been a rather good reading week all in all.
  • I had a dream about a way to take feelings from one person and give them to another and started writing a story (book?) about it.

Tomorrow it’s back to the real world, the world of counting calories and eating salad, of sweating like a pig and not eating Edie’s Butterfinger, a world of the job that still feels new (and is still kicking my ass) and apps to build and meetings to attend and drama-attitudes-etc. Tomorrow is shoes that aren’t flip flops and no afternoon nap and answering emails. Tomorrow it’s being that other Karen, the one who isn’t told “That’s okay hon, just get your read on, I can take care of this myself.” Love that man.

Speaking of loving him, Tuesday is our first anniversary. I’ve purchased a suitable gift, one made of paper, that I really hope he loves. We both took the day off. We have a half-made plan to ride our bikes to Cambridge and split an order of seafood nachos at Jimmie & Sooks, then ride back. It would be about a 70 mile ride round trip so we would totally swing a second meal out – maybe Plaza? All I know for sure is that we’ll spend the whole day together, just like we did last year. I’m really looking forward to it. 🙂

Crazy!

I saw a picture this morning on the Internet that gave me daymares and is still quite vivid in my head. Turns out it was some sort of lotus blossom photo-shopped onto human skin. It was beyond horrible and has since caused me to get Wayne to check my heels for weird holes and to look it up again. Because why not make myself nearly vomit, right?

Actually, I think it’s called research. Or something.

As far back as I can remember, some things with holes have freaked me out. I remember in elementary school, there were two types of lunch trays. One kind was smooth and plastic, top and bottom. The other was made of something like fiberglass and had all these irregular holes on the the bottom. I couldn’t use the holey trays because the feel of those holes under my fingers made me ill. The photo-shopped picture made me feel like that.

And so the research. It turns out that (quel surprise), I’m not the only person who spends hours trying to make their skin stop itching after touching (and it turns out, in some cases, seeing) things with holes. Some British scientists are trying to get trypophobia, or fear of holes,  recognized as an actual phobia. I’m just glad I am not alone – it actually makes me feel a tiny bit less crazy.

I did discover that my issues aren’t the same as everyone’s. Regular holes (honeycomb, a handful of straws, etc) don’t bother me at all but they are on the list of ick-inducing for others. Coral is a little bad. Plucked bird skin is worse. I saw a picture of a tree with all these irregular holes that had nuts in them – that one was shudder-creating. Anything on human skin (the aforementioned photo-shop deal, a picture of knees after kneeling on frozen peas [why???], one of stretch marks right after giving birth) gives me the very strong feeling that things are crawling all over me and the almost-real fear that those things are making clusters of irregular holes. In my skin. Oh my gosh.

It’s been a couple hours since I looked at the last picture. I tried doing a bunch of things to reset the oogie feeling. I folded and put away a load of laundry. I looked at pictures of kittens. I renewed the registration on Wayne’s car (yay for online MVA). I got myself a drink. I started typing. And I can still feel the crawly feeling on my head and my arms. Oh and one more weird thing – artificial sponges don’t bother me at all, and they have irregular holes. Only the natural ones. But loofahs – those things are nightmare-inducing. Just imagine all the creepy-crawly things that could pop out of those holes!

Okay okay stop, Karen. Just stop. 🙂

Subject change! We rode almost 45 miles today, ten of them accidental because someone took a wrong turn and someone else followed. I was a tee bit grumpy around mile 35 because it was humid, I was out of water, and the voice in my head that I have all but banished popped in for an encore and told me he did this on purpose. It took getting home, half a bottle of G2, a shower, and Edy’s chocolate peanut butter cup to shut that b*tch up. I bet she grew up in a sponge. Or a loofah.

Anyway!

Fibery stuff is not happening lately. The new job is taking up a lot of time and is requiring a good deal of depressurization that I’ve found happens best when I play stupid, mindless games like Candy Crush and dump my entire brain contents on Wayne. By the time I’ve talked it out, it’s usually time for bed. I’m not sure how many active projects I have (baby girl C’s blankie, a Clapotis, a Now in a Minute, C’s afghan – and I’m sure there’s more, like a sock or something?). I did bookmark a couple patterns today before the whole freak-myself-out session, though, so obviously it’s in my head, just not demanding too much attention.

Reading is…. happening. I’m working my way through Columbine by Dave Cullen (Kindle, library book). It’s really good but it was depressing me so it’s taking a break while I read Gangsterland by Tod Goldberg. Folks I love this book. I’m about halfway through and it’s just awesome. I’ve been listening to Tod on Literary Disco almost daily for the past few months – I discovered the podcast when they were already several years in and started at the beginning – and I hear his voice while I read. Normally, I don’t hear any voice at all, so this is an interesting, albeit strange, experience. Perhaps I should get one of the books of poetry that Rider recommends on the podcast to see if I hear his voice, or maybe try Joan Didion in Julia’s. I also started A History of Loneliness by John Boyne on the Kindle (not sure if it’s a library book or Bookbub). I’m only 5% in so I can’t really give a firm opinion yet but it’s wonderfully Irish and fraught with angst so far. I’m expecting it will be quite good.

After the three I have going, I have two more physical library books to read (Gangsterland is a real book, much like the velveteen rabbit became a real bunny). They are Empire Falls by Richard Russo (recommendation of the wondrous Tod Goldberg by way of a Literary Disco episode) and Water for Elephants by Sarah Gruen (my mom said I’d love it). And after those five books I think I will allow myself to read the third book in the Touchstone series. I don’t think I’ll be able to hold out much longer than that.

Now I think it’s time to read until I fall asleep. If I can stop itching, that is.

Once more into the breach!

I love Friday morning in the summer. Today I’m wearing my jeans and this awesome sleeveless shirt – it’s tan colored and dotted with camels. I just re-found it in my backup closet (don’t ask) yesterday when I was hunting for a black skirt. But this isn’t about clothes! It’s about Friday. At least that’s what it’s about right now.

It’s almost the end of an extremely busy work week. I’ve put in a bunch of extra hours, despite leaving early on both Wednesday and Thursday. I am not sure if it’s been a particularly productive week – I’ve been too busy to really notice if anything at all is getting done. It has been interesting, though. And I chose to cap it off with the first official team meeting for my new team, scheduled for 9 AM. I have a 10:00 remote webinar scheduled today, too, which will help keep the team meeting from going long. I suspect it will not go long for the first one, though, but better safe than sorry. The group has a tendency to not speak out a whole bunch, and since people higher than me in the food chain will be present, I imagine that will not change today.

I am nervous about it, though. It feels like another hurdle for me to get past, over, around, whatever.

And even though someone else is nominally in charge of our student workers, I think I may need to schedule a meeting next Friday with them. As a group, they are much more vocal. I’m actually looking forward to that one.

But back to today. I was awakened by the cat pouncing on my toes, which I am quite sure were not moving. She’s just evil. Because it’s normal hours today, I didn’t get the princess treatment Wayne’s been dishing out this week in his effort to get me ready and out the door early enough that he could stick with HIS routine and not be late. Instead, I made my own (too strong) coffee and my own breakfast. I finished off the strawberries because, well, desert. And then I sat with my coffee and finished my book. Of course I immediately started another, like the crazy person I am.

Right now, I am sitting at the kitchen table listening to a symphony of birds singing outside (the back door is open), accompanied by the hum of the refrigerator and the ticking of the kitchen clock. I’m typing on my resurrected Chromebook, which was returned from the repair depot earlier this week. My Hello Kitty travel mug of coffee is close at hand. I’m all packed up and ready to leave and longing to linger.

I’m thinking about sitting on the deck. It’s the perfect time of day, not yet breathe-through-a-sponge humid. I could take a cup of coffee out there with my Kindle and the cat. She would sit in my lap for a bit, purring and rubbing her chin on anything semi-firm. Then she’d go off somewhere and I’d turn my chair so I could prop my feet up on the next level of the deck and sink into a world painted by someone else’s words. I could stay out there until the sun creeps over the garage roof, or until I run out of coffee, or until the coffee revisits in the other direction (wink wink). The cat would run off to pounce on clover flowers and then come back and demand attention. I would read and sip and listen and relax.

I’m also thinking about the sofa. I’d curl up in my usual corner, again with coffee close at hand. Of course, I would close the back door and turn on the air conditioning first. Then I could curl under my favorite blanket and not feel too hot. I’d sit my Kindle on the coffee table, propped up by something, and grab the blanket I’m knitting for the granddaughter because it’s a simple enough pattern to knit while I read. I might find some awesome music on Pandora and cast it to the television and fill the room with something indie or maybe classical or even jazz, Coltrane-type jazz of course. I would knit, feeling and hearing the swish-click of the needle tips and the notes of the music. I’d sip my coffee. I’d relax.

But it’s Friday, not Saturday, so that means I need to hang my lanyard around my neck, get into the car, drive a bit south, and prep for this meeting. Relaxing, reading, and knitting will have to wait. I can, however, dial up some Coltrane in my office.

I think it’s going to be a good day.

It’s in the can

The first real week of the new job, that is. I found it extraordinarily frustrating. I spent many years doing the same work and now, at the ripe old age of 45, I have changed track, albeit just slightly. I’m still in IT but my role is definitely not that of a sysadmin. I am still not entirely sure what’s expected of me – we had a massive emergency crop up on Wednesday that kept the team on their toes for the rest of the week. It could have been really bad but instead I got a chance to see them in action and I must say I am more than impressed. They churned and burned and did a massive amount of work (work that should not have been necessary) in a short period of time, despite an obvious lack of appreciation from some quarters.

I had scheduled a sit-down with the people above me and lay out what is expected of me both in a day to day sort of manner and what they would like to see changed. I want a feel for where they see the priorities so I know where to put my focus. That meeting got delayed in favor of all-hands-on-deck, though, and then I was sort of bowled over by all of the other things that kept cropping up. It seems that purchasing computers and peripherals for the campus is one of my duties. This is a process that lacks a process, so to speak. There is no documentation, there is no real supply of spares or of equipment that can be transferred from our cost center to another. The lack of a process means that I am juggling requests and quotes, trying to prioritize, and spending far more time than I should on the whole thing. I can see that I am looking at purchasing taking at least half of my time until it’s all fixed, and that might take months. And it’s such a hot mess now, it’s hard to know where to start.

The next couple weeks will be dedicated to a major, campus-wide project and the answers to what is expected of me and how I am to organize and prioritize will not be answered until after that. Meanwhile I will become more and more lost. The campus has not been notified of the changes that have been made so things that should go to me go to the person I replaced, which is itself causing problems. I don’t know why that piece was forgotten but it is yet another bit of this experience that is frustrating me and making things harder than they have to be.

But I was told by one of the members of my new team that he was impressed with something I did. I got another team member to smile and talk about something other than the things that make her angry. I met some new people, shook hands with them, made them laugh (or at least smile). These tiny blessings make the struggle almost worth it. They make me believe that I can  do this, that I will  do this.

Plus, I put an owl on it, and called it art. Just saying.

Meanwhile, on the home front, our newest family member Bunny Foofoo is settling in to a life of overturning his litter box at 2 AM and harassing Noel, the kitty. One of the old, copper pipes that feed the upstairs bathroom burst and caused my sweet Wayne all sorts of stress and heartache (I am so glad he’s a worker and just jumped right in and started fixing things). The pipe has altered our remodeling timeline and we are both list makers and planners so timeline altering is not something either of us likes. This, too, shall pass though. As does everything else.

I’ve started knitting a baby afghan for Baby Girl C, Wayne’s second granddaughter. I’m so excited about the idea of a wee baby girl. Her mom-to-be just found out this week that she is, indeed, a girl (we sort of figured that she would be, considering that her mom is one of five sisters and her only cousin is a girl). It’s the only yarn-like thing I’m working on because it’s insanely hot and all I want to do is drink wine spritzers and read Chick Lit. Everything else will be hibernating for now, and I am cool with that. It’s a phase, and it will also pass. 🙂

Book wise, besides the aforementioned Chick Lit, I accidentally stumbled across some not bad good books recently:

  • If I Stay by Gayle Foreman (YA) A girl is in a car with her family when they’re in a terrible accident. She has to decide if she’s going to stay (i.e., live). It was quite readable and may have made me cry, a little bit.
  • Let’s Be Frank by Brea Brown (Chick Lit) The male protagonist, Nate, a nurse in a pediatrics practice and a lover of well-crafted chick lit, poses as an author named Frank at the behest of his domineering girlfriend. She wants to publish books as a man and finds Nate to have the perfect look. It’s very well-written and funny.
  • The Not So Secret Emails of Coco Pinchard by Robert Bryndza (Chick Lit) British author Coco Pinchard is a hot mess and I want to go out for a beer with her. She makes every mistake under the sun and makes you want nothing to be on the receiving end of one of her emails. Brit-chick-lit rocks. This one made me laugh out loud more than once and I might read it again,  it was so funny
  • Stray by Andrea K. Host (YA, Touchstone Book 1). This one I’ll be doing a full review on at some point, but as a synopsis: a Australian girl Cassandra Devlin who steps through something akin to a wormhole and finds herself in a strange, new world.

Right now I am reading a time-traveling book that I don’t love but that isn’t too bad. I’m trying to talk myself into spending the money to buy the second and third books in the series the Touchstone series. I guess since the first one was an e-library-book, I’ll buy them on Kindle – that way I won’t stress the imbalance of seeing books 2 and 3 on the bookshelf without a book 1.

Reading what I’ve written, it sounds like I’m insanely busy, especially when you take into account that the new job is demanding that I work a lot more hours than I have been recently. And then I remembered that we are also bike riding regularly, around 60 miles a week most weeks. I’d like to step that up but it’s hot and I can’t seem to get any more hours out of a day. Wayne registered us for this year’s Seagull Century earlier this week, though, so I have to ride regularly or I won’t be ready. Maybe I should sleep less, or something.

Until next time….

Take a deep breath, and then take another…

Wayne and I are on vacation this week. We’d made tentative plans for a super long bike ride and a B&B, then a return ride, but canceled and used the money we’d set aside to help a couple of our kids through a rough patch. We could have gone to work when our plans fell through but chose to do some things locally and sort of re-center ourselves. Today is the halfway point of our time off and I think it’s working, this whole reboot thing. 

I’ve been doing a great deal of reading. Much of it has been light and easy, nothing that I will bother to review. I’m currently on the second Jack Finney Si Morley book (cited by my mother as among her favorites). I was sure I’d read these before but it turns out I haven’t. They’re rather interesting, if dated. I love time traveling books, and the male traveler/protagonist is unusual  so that’s cool. The first book was written in the 60s; what’s “modern” for the characters is like time travel for me, also cool. I should finish the second one tonight and am eyeing a Wally Lamb as the next selection. 

Creating-wise it’s been a slow one. With my youngest step-daughter’s design help, Wayne and I built a cool shelf with hanging pegs for the kitchen and I’m working on some knitted bowls for that (they’ll be felted). I’m also making a bag, my design, out of some yarn like stuff I found on sale at Michaels. It’s like tee shirt yarn only fleece. It’s my non-thinking project, good for the car and knitting group. I have a baby blanket going for my oldest step-daughter’s first baby that I think will get frogged on the 9th and redone in either pink or blue (that’s when she’s finding out the sex – we all think it’s going to be a girl). And there’s a shawl and sock languishing. 

But! I’m not working on any of those. You see, we went kayaking yesterday. I thought my arms or chest would be sore but it seems I’m in better shape than I realized. The only thing that’s sore is my hands. Go figure. I’d just recovered from the sore wrists caused by riding a metric century on a hybrid bike on Saturday. I know. Nuts. At least I’m moving some to try to make up for my vacation eating. Peanut butter toast for breakfast. Grilled cheeseburgers for lunch. Fritos and peach wine for dinner. I know!

I might try putting something on the TV tonight, maybe a movie, and working on something easy like the 2nd wool bowl. Then I can felt them tomorrow and take them to knitting group on Sunday for show and tell. We shall see. 

I’d also considered getting in some hardcore revising on HPS during this bit of downtime but my brand new Chromebook had to be sent off to the repair fairies. I have some sort of block about writing on my laptop. I think because it’s work-issued, I feel it is a work tool and my writing is separate from my day job. I like having a dedicated device, you know? I guess I’ll miss the free copies deadline of June 30 but it’s all good. There’s next year, right?

So I’m lazy. I’m relaxing. I’m eating. But even though I’m taking naps and sipping iced coffee and losing myself in endless novels and rounds of Candy Crush Soda, I am still trying to live intentionally. Each day is an opportunity to choose my mood and where I will spend my emotional currency. I’ve learned a lot in the recent past and am thankful for those around me who support the changes I’m trying to make, who hold me up whenever I’m not too steady on my own mental feet. 

When we go back to work on Monday, I’ll be starting my first full week in my new job and I’ll need all the calmness, coolness, and collected-ness I can muster. I hope to prove myself worthy of the faith my director and CIO placed in me when they offered me this opportunity. It’s exciting, nerve-wracking, and nail-biting awesomeness. As an old boss likes to say, “front row seats to the show!”

For now, though, I am still on vacation and there’s a certain lop-eared, wooly, silly bunny rabbit who needs his daily brush and a guy in 1912 doing crazy time traveling stuff that I need to read about. Those front row seats will still be there on Monday morning!

A post! About books! YES!

For your reading pleasure, a Five in One book review!

A Wrinkle in Time Quintet by Madeleine L’Engle

  • YA Fantasy
  • Paperback box set, gift from my sweet husband
  • PopSugar Challenge Category: A book from childhood

Overall: I think the books were out of order, and sometimes things weren’t carried forward accurately (something you’d not notice if you didn’t consume them one after the other like they are a giant Hershey bar and you’re premenstrual). There’s lots of religion – it’s a common theme through the whole series. It gets annoying at times, but mostly I was left with a feeling the Madeleine L’Engle did an excellent job of balancing faith and science. I have loved these characters since I was in fourth or fifth grade and yes, they stand the test of time. I’m really glad I re-read (or read for the first time in two cases) the series. Totally worth it.

Book 1: A Wrinkle in Time

Summary: Meg and Charles Wallace Murry, brother and sister, team up with their new friend Calvin O’Keefe and three very interesting ladies to save the world, or at least a small part of the world. Using a technology called “tesseract,” which is basically combining space and time in your head to get to the fifth dimension, they move through space to rescue their dad from a communist-type world that has succumbed to the darkness.

This is, bar none, my favorite book from my childhood. I love the idea of kids who aren’t “normal” doing amazing things, taking risks, going far above and beyond. I love the science fiction combined and fantasy combination that L’Engle has going on here. This book is also the start of many (not just the ones in this quintet) that she uses to show a sort of balance of faith and science. The overall theme is one of a battle between light and dark, which could also be good and evil. I also love the characters, especially Aunt Beast. She’s featured in my dreams since I first read this (I think I was ten).

The sheer goodness of this book: the writing, the fact that Meg as the central character is real enough to throw temper tantrums, the descriptions of the planets they visit and their three helpers – none of these have paled with my maturity or with my numerous readings of this book. I find the references definitely dated now and am less enthused by the more faith-based aspects of the book, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a good story, with writing that’s far above what you might otherwise get in a YA book.

Book 2: A Wind in the Door

Summary: Charles Wallace is very ill. With the help of a cherubim, Meg and Calvin along with the much-maligned elementary school principal Mr. Jenkins, do a little inner-space exploration to try to make him better. This will, in turn, help to balance darkness and lightness again. Because Charles Wallace is just that important.

I’m guessing this is the second or third time I’ve read this book. It’s good, but it’s no Wrinkle in Time. I love the idea of them going inside Charles Wallace’s cells, and I love the science of it all (of course!). I also love that the fate of the entire world – heck, the UNIVERSE, is once again in the hands of a bunch of kids. Well, plus a grumpy principal. There are some scenes that stick out for me, for now anyway: Mr. Jenkins splitting into three and the farandolae dancing like dervishes are my favorites. What I don’t like about this one is the even more heavy-handed religious overtones. As I was reading it, I kept thinking cut that out already. Little did I know what was awaiting me….

Book 3: A Swiftly Tilting Planet

Summary: Mr. Murray gets a call from the President that the leader of a small, south American country has somehow obtained a nuclear warhead and is planning to start World War III. Charles Wallace, along with a friendly unicorn, must travel through time, making subtle changes in the past that will make incremental changes that will, in current time, stop the madman with the bomb.

This is the first in the quintet that I’d never read before. I LOVED it. Again, religion and faith. Again, darkness and lightness and angels and evil. But! What a fascinating story. It’s the first time that the tesseract is used to travel in time and not space, so that’s an awesome carryover from the first two books. It also relies heavily on what the call “kything” which is sort of like mind-reading but not quite. I loved the places (times) that CW visited – the descriptions were amazing. I just loved this book. The reason I didn’t read it before is when I was on my L’Engle kick many years ago, it was Meg I was following. I read everything with her in it so this one was skipped.

Some other awesome stuff: Characters that continue through the timeline and pop up in different forms. A unicorn with sass. Time travel. It was easier to stomach the faith stuff because I could put it in perspective for the times he visited. Plus it’s about time CW got to be the hero. What I didn’t like: no Calvin!

Book 4: Many Waters

Summary: For the first time ever, the normal middle sibling twins in the Murry family, Sandy and Dennys, get in on the action. While poking around their dad’s computer, they click something and are whisked way back in time. They hang out with Noah and his family and get to experience the very beginning of humans choosing dark over light.

This was another in the quintet that I’d never read and, like the last one, I found it simply amazing. There weren’t faith overtones here, there was straight up religion, of course. It’s a retelling of a Bible story, after all. And it’s a fascinatingly good retelling. I loved getting to “know” the normally overlooked Murry twins. I loved the angels who hang out with the people. I loved the relationships that the faithful had with their God. I found myself feeling that if such a pure and sweet religion existed today, I might find my way back to it. But the story is one that might be echoing forward to today: people screwed it all up so God shook things up like an etch-a-sketch and started it all over.

They should have left the cockroaches behind.

I found parallels to Eve by Elissa Elliott, a book I read earlier this year. There’s something I find rather enjoyable about the retelling of a familiar story in a new and interesting way. In this go-round of L’Engle’s books, this one was my favorite.

Book 5: An Acceptable Time

Summary: Meg and Calvin’s daughter Polly has been sent to live with her grandparents in New England, and finds herself in a bit of a precarious situation when she follows a family friend through a time portal into prehistory. Once there, she wants to help a friend and save herself at the same time.

Another time traveler! I’d read this before, a few times, and still love it. I’ve been wracking my brain trying to remember why Polly was sent to live with the Murrys, and drawing a blank. Maybe I should go back and read the other Meg books? Or maybe I should give YA a break for a bit?

Anyway! There’s whining! A LOT of whining! There’s smart girls, saving the entire universe! There’s the Murrys as grandparents, and in a much more central role than in the other books. There’s bunsen burner stew, tesseract as traps, fantasy, and haunted swimming pools! Pretty mush a whole lotta awesome packed into one little book, right?

Currently reading

  • The Odyssey by Homer (for school – a really good translation
  • Allegiant by Veronica Roth (book 3 in the Divergent series, and YA, right?)
  • An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfied Jamison (mostly hibernating)

On Deck

I honestly have no clue what I’m going to read next. I have some stacked up on my Kindle from the library and BookBub, and a pile of “real” books yet to get through from a recent shopping frenzy. So many choices!

Springtime…

…when a middle aged woman’s heart turns to mush, apparently.

I am feeling introspective and am not setting out on this little writing journey with plans to talk books or yarn. Either or both may come up, but my brain is really elsewhere.

I feel as if I am always busy, but when I actually think about it, I spend hours immersed in books (okay that was fast) and while reading is more than fundamental, it lacks a certain feel of activity. Unless I am reading in a sauna, which I don’t think would be a great idea for either paper or electronic books, reading tends to be a sweat-free sport. And it produces nothing that is physically recognizable or practically useful. In other words, it could be a great waste of time.

At the same time, I am finding myself nearing addiction to random Facebook games. How on earth does this happen to me? How do I let myself waste hours in what is really useless and non-productive? I worry about this often. I would be better off watching television, which I really don’t do, not much at any rate. Maybe an hour or two a week and always with a project in hand being actively worked, so that time is not wasted. But the stupid games? Stupid. Useless. And I am not sure how to stop doing it. And I must, like now, for my own peace of mind among a host of other reasons, like my kitchen floor and my lonely iron and the front stoop that is home to a bazillion helicopters, those lovely gifts from our friends the maple trees.

So how do I do it? I’m not ready to ax Facebook altogether, it is an easy way to keep up with my family. I am not fond of talking on the phone at all, I prefer a lack of noise, typically, and therefore love electronic communication. I also really love looking at people’s babies and kittens and puppies. Do I figure out some other method of communication (can you still buy stationery sets?) and just delete my Facebook? I think instead that I am going to try something a little more surgically precise – blocking and removing games. As they come up, I’ll block them. And if that doesn’t work, I’ll have to move on to something bigger and bolder. Perhaps I can convince my mom and friends to go to MySpace, where the temptation will be much lower. Does MySpace even still exist?

If I remember (note the bit about the mush brain, above), I’ll follow up and let you know if this little excision works. If it does, I will get a whole lot more reading done. Or maybe I should just plan to read again in October.

Speaking of reading, which I do, a lot, there are two nearly-finished books calling my name. The windows are open, birds are singing outside, the ceiling fan is stirring the air. My little living room is (mostly) clean and my books are close at hand, so what am I waiting for?

Until next time… play a round for me!

What shall we talk about today?

Hmmm? How ’bout books?

But first, let me complain a tee-tiny bit about flu shots. Yes, my sister the nurse told me they are a waste of time, but I’m more of a show me than a tell me kind of gal and my empirical evidence was proving that they do work. I’ve had one every year since somewhere in the 90’s and have not had the flu in all that time. And then. When it’s not even really flu season (hello, it’s springtime!), I go and get the flu. There was the fever that I could get under 100 for a couple hours but would pop right back up. There were aches all over my body; it hurt so badly that I couldn’t sleep. There was the headache that felt like someone was slowly driving railroad spikes into my skull. That was the first 36-48 hours. Then came the four days of exhaustion, having to nap three or four times a day, getting out of breath going from the sofa to the kitchen in our very small house. Thankfully the headache backed off a bit and I could do some reading while I was trapped on the couch.

And read I did. I’ve only got a couple reviews because I only finished two that I’m going to discuss in detail, but I’ve actually read several more. I occasionally get myself on a chick lit kick (and like many others have noted, chick lit is a horrible name for a genre) and am on one now. I’ve pulled down a few yummies on BookBub and have been reading my eyes out, or something like that. I actually read three entire books and part of a fourth on Friday. It’s crazy, right? The whole light-hearted sort of let’s all be girlfriends and drink some wine and giggle thing is a real palette cleanser when I stick a bunch of them between books that win Pulitzer Prizes and classics and the like.

Reading will slow down again now, though. I am feeling 100% better. I did yard work with Wayne this morning. I am leaving as soon as I post this for knitting group. I expect I’ll be catching up on housework after group. Reading will get back-burnered for a while.

Anyhoo! How ’bout those reviews?

Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte

  • Classic Literature
  • Kindle e-book, free classics
  • PopSugar Challenge Category:  A book with a color in the title

What a sweetly moralistic little read this was! It tells the story of a young woman (18 at the beginning of the book) named Agnes. She’s the baby of the family, her mother and older sister try their best to spoil her despite the fact that their father is nearly destitute and is slowly dying. The mother decides it’s a great idea for Mary, the sister, to try to sell her lovely little watercolors to try to make some money for her own needs, Agnes announces that she would also like to contribute. After much poo-pooing, everyone finally agrees to  her try her hand at being a governess.

And then all hell breaks loose.

Agnes makes it through almost a year at the first house before she’s sent home with her tail between her legs. And no, she’s not at all saddened by that because she was trying to teach a small army of monsters. She stays a bit longer at the second house, where her charges are older but no less nasty. Through her first-person narrative, Bronte does a great job of pointing out the no-mans-land inhabited by folks like governesses and tutors: not as low as servants, not as high as family, stuck in a place where they really have no one in whom to confide, no one to befriend.

Agnes, through it all, sticks to her upbringing and stays kind and wholesome. Despite what I found to be close to abuse (and a whole lot of it – I would have spat in at least three faces and packed my shit long before Agnes), she is sweet and loving, always. And the ending was quite satisfying to me, especially when compared to what I feel are contemporaries to this novel (all of Austen’s work, Jane Eyre – Anne’s sister Charlotte’s most popular work, etc). I like a happy ending, what can I say?

I find myself sometimes struggling with the classics, but this book was no sort of struggle at all. It was a light and easy read, the language was accessible, and the story was worth my time. I recommend it for anyone who loves a little history and a little romance.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

  • Modern Literature
  • Library e-book
  • PopSugar Challenge Category:  A Pulitzer Prize winning book

Whoa this book was AWESOME. It left me with a series of word impressions, and that might be the best way for me to share it with you:

  • Gritty
  • Horrible, but very correct, language
  • Mojo, more bad than good
  • Poverty
  • New Jersey
  • Sex, both too much and not enough

This is the first Junot Diaz I’ve read, and I have no idea why. His writing style is unique, hard, dirty, and just plain amazing. The narrator’s voice (actually narrators’ voices) are so clear and so well-done that I could see Yunior in my head, I could hear him telling his story in his own voice with his own cadences. The characters were so well-developed that I found myself looking for Lola at the orthodontist’s office, for Oscar at the library, for Yunior at Giant.

I’m not going to review because I cannot do it the justice that it deserves. I am going to say I can see why it won the Pulitzer. I think of the idea that the work should express something that is uniquely American, that speaks to our culture and our shared way of life – Oscar Wao fits that mold to a T. This is the second Pulitzer Prize winner I’ve read since I started the reading challenge and I’m thinking that my next challenge is going to be to read every Pulitzer Prize winner (fiction, at least, and possibly drama too).

I am very, very glad I read this book. It’s wonderful on a whole different level than a lot of things I read. If you can abide the use of the “f” word, you need to read it. If you can’t abide it, read it anyway and just chalk it up to realistic language. You’ll not regret it.

In Progress:

On Deck: