Quick Lit – May 13th

So I can join the roundup over at The Modern Mrs. Darcy, here are a few capsule reviews of what I’ve read in the past month:

The Hundred Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais. This is my book club selection for the month of May. One of our members had seen the movie and loved it, so we put the book on the list. It’s the story, a novel, of Hassan Haji and his journey to becoming a Michelin three star chef. Starting in India, with stops in England and rural France, it ends in that most food-oriented town, Paris. It’s the author’s first novel, and I think it was good, especially for a debut, but not really great. Part of that may be that I am not a foodie. But the other part was that I found it odd that a man who is not Indian himself, and had never been to India for more than a couple of weeks, would choose to write in the first person as an Indian. While I am not generally a politically correct person, I thought maybe he needed a little more intensive experience before he tried that.

Still Alice by Lisa Genova. Oh, my goodness. So heartbreaking. A wonderful novel that deals with the devastation that is Alzheimer’s. In this case, Genova has chosen a younger person to be the sufferer and that choice really makes a difference. While early onset Alzheimer’s is not as common as the disease that attacks the elderly, it’s bleak prognosis and the effect on a person’s life and family are the same. My stomach was in knots as I read it, and I wept at the end.

Left Neglected by Lisa Genova. After reading Still Alice, I felt compelled to read the next Genova book. This is the story of a woman who is in a car accident that causes a traumatic brain injury, leading her to be faced with a condition called Left Neglect, where the brain ignores everything on the left. It simply does not recognize them. A beautiful story of learning to live with impairment and compromise, Genova’s book is a true antidote to those who so easily declare “I wouldn’t want to live like that!” – especially when they are young and fearless and relatively unattached. It is refreshing to read an author who says straight out that a diminished life, while different, can still be worth living. Not as good as Still Alice, but I enjoyed it a lot.

And finally, An Incomplete Revenge and Among the Mad by Jacqueline Winspear. Books 5 and 6 in the Maisie Dobbs mystery series. Set in London and neighboring parts after WWI, Maisie is a woman making her own way in a whole new world. A world devastated by the effects of the Great War, and now the effects of the worldwide depression. I find Maisie’s character enjoyable, though some reviewers over on Goodreads certainly don’t. While they find her cold, I find her realistic. She is a woman born in the “lower class”, educated beyond what her birth would normally have allowed, who saw the worst of the world as a nurse at the front lines in France during the war. Nobody who lived that life would be open and cheery and carefree. Winspear has good cases for Maisie to work on and I think she plays mostly fair in laying them out. I will continue reading the series.

Best Books I read in 2014

Lots of book blogs are publishing their “best of 2014” entries, so how could I resist?  One thing I like about Goodreads is that it makes it easy for me to review 2014’s reading! While I still keep a paper notebook as well (why? I don’t know, I just can’t imagine NOT doing it after so many years, I guess.) that immediate availability of reviews, etc. make it easy to look back.

I don’t think 2014 was a particularly *good* reading year for me. While I read a few things I would recommend to friends, I’m not sure there is a single book that I have raved about and told everyone “you just have to read THIS!”  It’s been a long time since I’ve had a year like that and I’m a little puzzled by it.

So, let’s see. What did I read that was good enough to tell you about?

Best book, without a doubt, was, of all things, a zombie apocalypse novel. The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey grabbed me from the very beginning and never let go. I am still thinking about Melanie and her teacher and how the future played out for them. An unexpected take on zombie lit, worth the read.  And I don’t even think I’m the target audience for books like this! Still not as good as The Reapers Are the Angels, it is a solid second place.

Second best book:  Atticus by Ron Hansen. A retelling of the prodigal son parable, it is a wonderful tale of the love of a father for a son and lengths to which he will go to bring him home. The prose in the book is spare and wonderful. Worthy to sit next to Exiles and Mariette in Ecstasy on my shelves.

Best fiction reread: Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank. I have a soft spot for apocalyptic fiction and this is one of my favorites. Wholly inconceivable that a place could be so rich in everything necessary to survive, but I have always wanted to hope that something like that would happen. And the ending paragraph of the book slays me every time.

Best series I found last year: The Gaslight Mystery series by Victoria Thompson, featuring midwife Sarah Brandt and NYC cop Sgt. Malloy as the main characters. Turn of the century NY is vividly portrayed and after every book I am thankful that I live NOW and not THEN. Thompson mostly plays fair with her mysteries.

Most interesting character(s) of the year: Addison Goodheart (why do people want to kill him when they see him?) in Dean Koontz’s Innocence and Don Tillman (a Standard Meal Plan?) from The Rosie Project.

Best nonfiction book: Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. The story of Louie Zamperini, who was shot down and spent 57 days on a raft in the Pacific Ocean only to be picked up by the Japanese and held in captivity for two years. An amazing story of resilience and determination.

Best chick lit: The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. Just a fun read.

So, here’s hoping to a better 2015 of reading. I guess the years can’t always be winners.

Sick to death

No, not physically sick, thank God. (And I mean that REALLY – Thank God!)

But sick unto death of people who think they are so important, or so hip, or so with it, or so cool, or so I don’t know I can’t figure it out and it’s driving me crazy. My desire to rant has hit the 1000% on the rant-need-meter, and it is because of a person I consider a dear friend. Sigh. So I KNOW it’s my issue.

But, it is my blog, so I’m going to blow off the steam here. And maybe then I’ll go back and delete the snarky comment I left on his facebook post.

Let me say this up front. I enjoy Facebook. I know it’s cooler to say you don’t, but I like seeing everyone’s pictures and see what they are reading, eating, watching at the movies, listening to on the radio, etc, etc, etc. And I don’t care if they are playing Candy Crush or Farmville or Tribez or anything else. It doesn’t offend me if they send me an invite to a game. If I don’t play, I just ignore. Why is that so hard for so many people? As for me, I try not to share much about the games I play – I don’t clutter up my feed with status updates about them (I don’t think – at least I try very hard not to).

So why is there this regular bashing of people who play and enjoy the games? Or why dog on people who post too many “sentimentally religious posts”? Or why, when one person feels justified in posting odd videos, would that same person sneer at the videos of cats someone else posts? Why does anyone feel justified in judging what other people find to be fun, or amusing, or meaningful. Who died and left them God?

I know I’m not saying it right. But GAH! I am so furious that I could absolutely spit.

I am tired. Tired. Tired of people who are so much better than the hoi polloi who like such trivial things. Or who take a shred of enjoyment from something that isn’t up to someone else’s exalted standard of things worth doing.

I think it is lovely that you like to collect stamps, or ballroom dance, or drink fine wines, or build Noah’s ark in your basement. Whatever, within reason, (let’s not build bombs in the basement, you know?) floats your boat. And I think it would be interesting to talk to you about what makes you YOU. I have met exactly NO people who didn’t interest me, and precious few that I don’t like. And they run the gamut from really smart PhD types to Mr. Rudy who is on the janitorial staff with me at the church I work at in the mornings. It’s fun to talk about books, it’s fun to talk about grandchildren, it’s fun to talk (and play!) dominoes, it’s fun to talk about the best Mexican music station in the Metroplex. It’s all good. Not one of those innocent pleasures is illicit or harmful or icky.

Why can’t people see that?

Everyday life is beautiful. Everyday people are too, with all their quirks and eccentricities, their likes and dislikes. If Sally posts pictures of cats, and I don’t want to see ’em, it takes but a fraction of a second to scroll past. Why would I want her not to post what she finds fun? Makes no sense to me.

I spent a long time being sick last year. A really long time. And for some of the time I was sicker than I knew and certainly sicker than most people knew. But I wouldn’t trade my experience for anything. (And I was always one of those people who read stuff like that and went “Yeah, sure. I am not believing THAT.”) Because in the midst of all that I learned how much, how very much, I loved the people around me. How good they were. How kind. How charming. How lovely. How much I needed them. How much I appreciated them, in their vast array of differences.

And I can never, ever hold myself above anyone, in any way, ever, ever again. Not ever.

Because it is all gift.

And to spend even one second being snooty about a picture of a giraffe? (I love you GH, I really, really do!) Nobody’s got time for that.

Happy Monday, ya’ll!

And a very happy Monday it was around here. Craig started his new job–51 weeks after being laid off.

51 weeks. Think about that. That’s a long time. And in that 51 weeks, he had 2 surgeries/recoveries – one gallbladder and one heart. Whew.

His new job is about an hour away. So even on the best of days, when he works just 8 hours, it means that he will be away at least 10 hours a day. But we are so VERY happy to have him working again that this seems like a small price to pay.

I’ll admit. Both of us were far too optimistic about the prospects of another job all those weeks ago. We thought, oh, maybe 3 or 4 months to a new position. And we were sure contract positions would be available to tide us over to the real position.

Uh, no. Perhaps it is age, perhaps it is economy. Perhaps, who knows? We were lucky to have 3-4 months expenses saved up. That is, regular operating type expenses. With his severance, our savings, unemployment checks, and a little bit of money stashed for the rainiest of rainy days, we were able to make it 11 months without tapping the 401K or selling the house, so we count that a win.

However, we did have to charge some car repairs, most of Craig’s dad’s final expenses, our taxes on the house, and Craig’s life insurance policy. Sigh. I know, I know. Dave Ramsey wouldn’t approve. But it seemed to us then (and now!) like the best decision for us. Plus we still owe a substantial amount in medical bills.

In short, one year of unemployment will take SEVERAL years to recover from! How many remains to be seen. My best guess is three years. When I look at it that way, it seems discouraging. But we start the road this month. And I’m so glad.

The hard part is this: Keeping the budget tight so we can accomplish our goals as quickly as possible. Everything in my head knows this is the right thing to do. But my childish self thinks, “We’ve been so good. Let’s just put this back in the budget. Or go out to eat. Or buy a new sofa” (A new sofa? Seriously? Where did THAT come from? I didn’t say it made sense. It just is.)

Oh, how easy to slip back into the mindless spending trap. You’d think I’d be old enough to know better. But I’m not. Inside there is still a spoiled child yelling, “I want! I want! I want!”

And it’s HARD to make her hush.

Fine Art Friday

Yesterday was Childe Hassam’s birthday, so I’m picking him for today’s Fine Art Friday. And I’m picking a painting that I wish I owned. I love everything about this. The paintings on the wall, the stack of books, the woman stretched out reading. The rocking chair in the background. Everything. 



The Room of Flowers

Here’s a link to the complete works, if you’d like to see more. 

Whatcha Reading? Wednesday

“The things I want to know are in books; my best friend is the man who will get me a book I ain’t read.”

———–Abraham Lincoln


Hmmm. What AM I reading? This is one of those weeks where I am kind of “betwixt and between.” Finished a couple of things, picked up some new ones but haven’t really started yet. So, what have I recently finished?

I finished The Cuckoo’s Calling, the detective novel by J.K. Rowling, published under the pen name Robert Galbraith. This is her 2nd novel aimed at grownups and I was initially very hesitant to read it. I had read her The Casual Vacancy after it came out and absolutely HATED it. While she was quite adept at character building, I didn’t care about a single one of them and the story itself was unrelievedly depressing.

But I had read some good reviews of the mystery novel, so I gave it a chance. Frankly I had kind of forgotten all about it, since I was 95th on the library wait list – or some other equally freaky number. (You know it’s bad when the reservation system asks you – “Are you SURE you want to reserve this? You are number 95.”)

I was pleasantly surprised. A little noir-ish. A detective who is interesting, with a developing sidekick/secretary relationship happening. I assume it’s not a one-off. I’d read the next one. It’s nothing earth shattering, and it won’t make any of my “best books” list, but it was a good read.

I also just finished Sunshine, a vampire novel recommended to me by a younger friend. It was good. It had an interesting protagonist, a young woman who is a baker but gets kidnapped by vampires to act as bait in a weird vampire plot. The thing I liked best about the book was the “voice” of the heroine, Sunshine. It seemed so real to me, that it was like someone was talking in my head. One of the reviews said they though she talked too much, but maybe I’m used to it – all my kids/grandkids are big talkers, so it seemed normal to me.

I also like how the story developed, adding little wrinkles almost as an afterthought, just the way stories happen in real life. We’re reading along, only to read, “This was after the voodoo wars” which is taken for granted and thrown in. You learn about the world piece by piece. And nothing is neatly tied up at the end. Usually I hate that, but I kinda liked it in this case.

I’m also about half way through with Sherry Weddell’s book Forming Intentional Disciples. It’s good, but it is making me a little nervous that I have major work to do in becoming that intentional disciple. More later when I finish the book.

On the pile to be started? Lies of Locke Lamora, another recommendation from the friend who told me about Sunshine. She is crazy, crazy about this author’s work, so I’ll give it a try.

And then a trilogy, found just by chance cruising the clearance shelves at Half-Price Books. The first book is Cordelia Underwood, or the Marvelous Beginnings of the Moosepath League by Van Reid. Set in Maine in 1895-ish. That was enough to sell me. Well, that and the fact that 2 of the books of the trilogy were on the clearance shelves for a buck a book. And the middle book could be had for little more than shipping and handling charges from Amazon.

So, how ’bout you?

Been a while, huh?

Hi, all. All who? Who could possible be interested after so long a break? 

Well, I am, even if no one else is.

Stress has been pretty much unabated around here for the past few, um, YEARS. When I look back on the past, I am sure that it is the grace of God alone, along with the prayers of dozens and dozens of people, that have kept Craig and I standing through it all. 

Just for fun, I was listing all the things that had happened in the last five years that could be considered stressful. Because our new doctor asked Craig if we had been under any stress lately. And when he started listing things, she started shaking her head, and then she started laughing, because really? What else can you do?

So here’s the list, or at least as much of it as I can think of:

My mom died

My dad died 9 months later

Zack graduated from college (remember stress can be good or bad)

Zack got married 9 days after graduation 

We moved into my parents’ home

Kids moved into our OLD home

I cleaned out every closet, storage room, and most of the garage of my parents home, having 3 garage sales and sending the rest off to various charities, etc.

Abigail (granddaughter) was born! Woo hoo!

We had to put two beloved dogs down. RIP Luckydog and Annie.

We found Craig’s dad after he had been missing for years

Unfortunately, he had developed Alzheimers/dementia and was placed in an assisted living facility

I had surgery for an emergency gall bladder condition (one that my surgeon had never seen before) and FOUR ERCP procedures to retrieve rogue gall stones. (I am so lucky. They thought for sure that I had cancer, but I did not! Woo hoo!)

My wound did not heal from surgery. For months. Necessitating 2x daily wound changes and one day surgery to reopen the wound.

Miriam (granddaughter) was born. Woo hoo!

After 6 months of non-healing, I had two more surgeries which reopened my giant abdominal incision. My tummy will never, ever look the same.

All told I spent 54 days in the hospital in 2012. And a whole bunch more time than that getting well.

While we had maxed out our insurance deductible, Craig decided to have a colonoscopy. That was fine, but he developed an ileus and had to be admitted to the hospital, where they found a pulmonary embolism (a blood clot in his lung). Massive treatment for that. Lucky we caught it.

Right after I got out of the hospital for the last time, Craig was laid off by his employer of 21 years. Bleah. 

Craig had gallbladder surgery after an emergency trip to the ER in the middle of the night.

He got well from that! Yay!

I started working a couple of part time jobs, after 20 years of being at home. Boy, I’m tired!

Went for his regular stress test. Failed. Catheterization followed. No stents this go ’round, we went straight to bypass.

Craig had 5 bypasses during surgery. We are thankful, but one of his nerves was damaged during surgery and his left hand is still compromised. But it is better than it was and it is his LEFT hand, thank God!

Craig’s dad died. 

Craig starts a new job on Monday. 51 weeks after being laid off. Long commute but we are so glad to have the job. Looking for a new one at 61 is pretty discouraging. 

And there you have it. The reasons why it’s been hard to blog. 

But I’m not sorry for our path. There were bright sides and good times to be had along the way. And I am surer than ever that God has a plan for us. There is NO WAY I could have recovered from the last surgery I had if I had not had Craig at home. And I enjoyed a lot of my time with him, which means that when we do get to retire (if that ever happens) we won’t kill each other. We enjoy each other’s company more now than we did even when we started dating. And I’m actually thankful Craig was out of work when his heart symptoms happened, because if he had been working, he would have been tempted to push through them and keep working. Especially if he had had a new job. This way he took care of what he needed to take care of without worrying about being a “bad employee.” Know what I mean?

And God sent us two funny, beautiful, precious granddaughters, to supplement the lovely one we already had to keep our spirits up.

And our friends and family have never, ever stopped loving us and letting us know it. We have so very many friends, and we are always kind of surprised by that. How did we get so lucky? Undeserved grace.

And through it all, we tried to remain faithful, thankful, and focused on the good, the true, and the beautiful. We had friends over for dinner, even when it couldn’t be expensive or fancy food. We played games with the family and watched movies on Sunday nights. We cooked and cleaned and mowed (sometimes on the mowing) and sang and danced and lived our lives, knowing that we were oh, so blessed, so very blessed, to be having these days – because there were people out there doing lots harder things than we ever had to face.

So there you have it. Life is hard.

God is good.