Friday, February 24, 2012

Book Reviews: The Boiling Season (Hebert) & Boys Keep Being Born (Frank)

I confess...since we've seen that I do more than read, it is clearly time to return to books.
This is another book that was provided to me by the lovely folks at Harper.  They are an unemployed book lover's dream.

The Boiling Season is set in the Caribbean, on an unnamed island that bears much in common with Haiti.  The protagonist is determined from an early age to escape from the run-down slums of his childhood and his shop-keeper father.  He finds his way to a stint of employment with a Senator and then spends most of his life as a caretaker at a lush, secluded resort.  He is determined to ignore his roots and the growing political unrest in his country in favor of the lavish life at the resort and the magical oasis it provides.  His determination to ignore the realities of his land's politics continue even as the world eventually comes knocking at his door. 

I greatly enjoyed this book.  The narrator is well-drawn and beautifully flawed.  The reader is not allowed the solace of his blindness but continues to have some degree of sympathy with his desire to see only a paradise.  Hebert's characters are vivid and well-drawn, many of them more complex than secondary characters are usually permitted to be.  I do think that the novel could benefit from some editing, it did drag in points, but I'm still giving it four stars.  A good read for people who like a bit of political complexity lurking behind the curtains.
I picked up this collection, along with another book, after immensely enjoying Frank's Make It Stay.  This is a series of short-stories, most focusing on or involving middle-aged women contemplating the meaning and the content of their lives.  I don't tend to love short stories, but many of these pieces overcame my usual objections with beautifully crafted characters and emotional depth.  I particularly loved a piece where a woman is attending the ninth birthday of her long-term boyfriend's son.

In the end, I did struggle a bit and push to get through it because the format just isn't for me.  3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 since I think my rating was tempered by an unfair bias.   

Thursday, February 23, 2012

b/c i don't read ALL the time

I has been a bad week.  An unexpected increase in my expenses and less than lovely interactions with the X.  A lot of tears, which means a horrid not-responsive-to-Imitrex migraine.  But I really don't want to talk about any of that.

I am the type to leave the TV on in the background during the day but I only have a handful of appointment shows.  Please don't talk during them....I definitely "nest" rather than "hunt" when it comes to watching them.  I've given up a number of shows this year (NCIS, Good Wife) for one reason...or no real reason at all.  Or b/c On Demand is mean (see not updating Parenthood).  I hate to admit this, but I think the shows give my week a bit of structure and more normalcy than I might have given the long-term unemployment.

My appointment shows:
  • Once Upon a Time -- I normally am not a fairy-tale, fantasy gal but I've been hooked since Day One.  I have a Bad Girl crush on the Evil Queen/Regina.  Some of the acting (the darn kid) leaves me cold but others blow me away (Mr. Gold/Rumpelstiltsken, Regina/EQ).  I love the gradual flushing out of backstories using different focal tales.
  • How I Met Your Mother -- I joined this train really late but there are enough reruns that I'm pretty sure I caught up in a summer.  I'll agree that it needs to move on and a lot of this season has been less than lovely (house party ep sucked) but then they throw in an episode like this week's and hook me again.
  • Glee -- I keep debating dropping this one, which MM wouldn't mind (though it does give him an hour to go play his Xbox game w/o me asking him to spend time with me).  This one is more a habit at this point and I suspect I'll eventually abandon it and just read recaps to see what happened since I do still have mild curiosity.
  • The Middle - IMO, the most under-rated and under-watched show on TV.  It is just a simple family show, never "edgy" and always something that kids and parents could both enjoy.  The characters are well-done and it never fails to bring me a little joy and warmth.  The Hecks bicker but always have each others backs (often in secret, esp the teen boy).  It is one of the few, maybe even the only, show I can think of that rings true and real.
  • Community -- It's coming back next month!!  Pure opposite in some ways of The Middle since it definitely is quirky and uses a lot of storytelling devices.  I love the characters and the relationships.  I do find it has a few "misses" for me (I hated the beloved Paintball episodes) but the "hits" are simply amazing work.  Creative and always different.  And it has Abed.  I love Abed.
Five shows...Not so bad, right?  Just don't call during them.  Or speak unless it is directly show-related and no one on screen is speaking at the same time (my ears aren't good at competing noises). 

Friday, February 17, 2012

Reviews: The Paris Wife (McLain) and Then Came You (Weiner)

I confess....I read these in the opposite order but want to put The Paris Wife first since its a PBFingers book club pick. 

I'll include a quick added note that I think I'm pulling out of my mental funk but I still have no energy or motivation for my workouts.  I'm hoping that returns soon. 

I nearly skipped this round of the PBFingers book club.  I'm not big on romances and couldn't find a super-cheap copy.  But I've come to appreciate historical fiction and I really enjoyed Loving Frank and it shared a similar theme.  Plus, I'll be honest, I got a ton of extra blog traffic with the last book club link up.

This is a fictionalized account of the love affair between Ernest Hemingway and Hadley Richardson.  Hadley is 28 when she meets Hemingway, eight years her junior, at a party.  The pair soon marries and most of the book centers on their years in Paris between the two World Wars.  The attraction is immediate and the love affair builds quickly over correspondence due to distance.  Hemingway is not yet the famous author he becomes and much of the novel sees him struggling to write and to build a name for himself.   In addition to the main couple, we meet a lot of famous ex-pats who were part of the art scene. 

I didn't dislike the book, but I didn't like it either.  I found myself continuously wanting to enjoy it much more than I did.  As I've said before, I'm motivated more by character than plot but I never felt overly interested in Hadley (although that's long been "my" girl baby name in my head) or Ernest.  I felt like I should be interested but simply was never compelled.  I didn't really understand Hadley and at time it felt like one big exercise in name dropping.  I'll give in 3.5 stars simply for the amount of research involved, but it is definitely a "round down" book for me.
I'm picky with my "chick lit".   I like to occasionally pick up a book that falls into that realm for a little bit of a mental holiday, but I only really enjoy a few authors.  Weiner has written a few of my favorites in this realm so I was glad to pick this one up after sludging through The New Republic.

This book has several female narrators all tied by a thread: they are all involved in a surrogate pregnancy.  There is the intended mom, her step-daughter, a young egg donor, and a surrogate who is desperate for the money.  The novel explores both the physical and mental aspects of the journey for all of the characters.  I found myself most interested in Jules, the egg donor whom we meet while she is on scholarship at Princeton and who wants to money to help her dad get into drug and alcohol rehab. 

I tend to like the multiple narrator technique and was able to keep the numerous stories straight.  However, I couldn't put my finger on what bothered me until I read it in another review -- the women all "sound" identical.  Their stories are fairly diverse, but the voice really doesn't vary.  I also felt like they were all pretty one felt too real or, despite tons of obstacles thrown at them, too complex.  I think Weiner may have spent her best stories early and may be suffering from simply trying to write too many books.  It was an interesting plot but lacked the texture that made a few of her early works (Good in Bed and In Her Shoes) special.  Three stars. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

love means being accepted for who you are....and wanting to make that person better for your loved one

I confess...I get corny a decent amount on here.  And this may veer into that territory, but I hope it contains some essential truth about love generally.  I believe that celebrating love means including not only romantic partners but also friends, family, and four-legged friends (or two if you have a pet penguin...and if you do, can I come over????).

As I recently wrote, I had Dar-inspired revelation about love during my recent 3 hour trek for a doctor's appointment.  Her lyric, "I don't know what you saw, I want somebody who sees me" is a wonderful summary of what I've learned in the past fourteen months.  I spent eight years in a relationship with someone who saw what he wanted me to be, not what I was/am.  And I did a bit of the same, assuming I should be in love with someone so perfect on paper.  In the show Wonderfalls (shared by perhaps my oldest, in time known, friend when I was recovering....I need to finish it sometime!), there's a character who is asked if her spouse is the man of her dreams and she says "He's the man of my list."  That felt familiar to me.  And I've realized that I was never fully happy because I never felt like I was "enough" for my partner.  He wanted someone who liked football, would debate a small point for hours, enjoyed cocktail parties with intellectual folks.  I was never that.  I never pretended I was, but maybe he pretended I might be.

And then I met MM.  I remember telling him all my "warts"...the endo, the back, the eating disorder, the bad marriage, the haunting of bullies from childhood who still live in my head...and telling him he needed to be honest and tell me if it was all too much.  After each addition, he simply said "Not scared yet."  I didn't know if he really meant it, if he even KNEW what it all meant, but he's proven he did.  He's sat by a recovery bed for hours so I wouldn't be alone, he's listened when I felt racked by guilt after a binge (without ever saying "just don't do it", NOT helpful to say!), and he's sat through a lot of tears in recent weeks.  He sees me and, for reasons I can't always understand, loves me.  Despite/Because of all of it.  He'd support anything I did but doesn't ask me to be anyone else.

And yet.  He makes me want to be better.  I feel like he DESERVES the best possible me, precisely because he'd never ask for it.  I've cooked more in the year we've lived together than in all my life prior.  I'll never be in love with cooking, but I WANT to (at least once a month or so!) prepare him a nice meal when he comes home from a long day at work.

And I want to take care of me.  I've not been right lately.  I have zero energy.  I'm not sleeping well.  I am overeating and putting on some unwelcome pounds.  I can't get through my famous 6-7 mile walks....which tells a lot to people who know me since I stubbornly charge through them even when I feel ill.  I've been weepy too but I don't know if the blues are leading or following....if I feel crappy b/c of mental struggles or if I feel blue b/c I feel like crap.  I want to hide (and eat).  But, MM deserves better.  So I'm off to the doctor to be very very honest and get his thoughts.  After the Lexapro mess, I'm a bit scared to try medicine again, but maybe that's what I need.  I do believe depression can be like need the "insulin" to be normal.  I'm hoping there's another answer but I'm prepared if that's what I hear.  And I'll do it...I'll ask about withdrawal issues first, but I'll do it.  Because I need to take care of MM's girl.  Most of us struggle with taking care of ourselves but maybe re-framing can help -- I'll take care of myself b/c MM deserves the best possible me.

Beyond that all, it may be a total greeting-card-industry creation (at least in its size and manifestation), but it doesn't hurt to remind people to express love.  Happy Heart Day to my friends, family, and readers.  I don't really know how many people truly visit me here but I appreciate you "hearing" me and sharing in my journeys.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

a long short month

I confess....I'm still struggling. 

I feel just beat down and worn out.  Part of this is the fact that most nights I seem to only get a couple hours sleep (even if I take Ambien....two might get me to four or five hours).  And part is just February.  I remember gaining a new appreciation for Dar's "February" song in the Boston days but I think I felt the "February was so long that it lasted into March" line.  I'd say February is way crueler than April (English major style reference) has been cold "forever" and Spring still feels a long way off.  It really has been a mild winter, but it still gets long and this weekend is bitter cold.

I haven't been at ALL motivated to do my workouts which is really odd.  That may be largely physical...the lack of sleep and an added neck issue...but part is definitely mental.  I've just felt like I'm slogging through it.  I've split it up a few times but even then can't get my six miles done some days.  I am hoping the motivation comes back soon! 

Any advice on getting through a "long" February?

In other news, I was very excited about one job.  It would have been an awesome heart-friendly job with a cool organization and I really think it would have been a great use of my skills.  It was, however, open b/c the incumbent was moving and she suddenly had a change of plans.  Clearly, they should hire me anyway!  It's a non-profit though so they don't really have the ability to add staff w/o a real vacancy. 

I did stop in at a job fair today.  I'd asked permission since it was really for military members but got the okay to attend as a part of a military guy's cheering section....I wore my "dogtag" even if it was tucked away (it labels me as "Private Property", I am not property....yes, I still love the necklace).   I gave out a number of resumes and hope to hear some rumbles next week from it.  I do think it helps for me to be "seen" in some ways, even if it is a bit nerve-wracking.  I have not resorted to pulling the J.D. and attorney work from the resume but I know people worry I'll have a bit of a work ego and being able to talk to people helps with that (one employer specifically noted she didn't see me having any ego about doing entry-level or support work).  I've thought about pulling the legal stuff from more basic applications for non-career stuff (like cashier-dom....which I'd totally do)....thoughts??  I do have the law blogging and paper as current stuff and four years in recruiting but it'd still be a 7 year gap from the end of college to the start of work w/o the attorney work and schooling.

The belly issues of January are still lurking but much better, thankfully.  I did have some awful days with arm trouble....the creepy-crawlies can drive you insane after a few days non-stop and makes you truly feel like you want to cut the arm off!  My PT suspects it is a neck issue and has me doing a chicken-head-bop-type move to help work on it.  It is def better than the first days but not "there" yet.  I have this heating pad for the endo that has straps and I've worn it like a beauty-queen sash more than a couple times.  It works well since it stays put but it smells like popcorn which still makes me think of the summer of 1996 when I spent break working concessions at the local theater. 

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Anti-Bad Review: Stuff the Rambler Loves

I confess...I want to counteract my negative review (didn't share the link on FB, only posted b/c it was an advance copy so I'd agreed to review it).  So, let's do things The Rambler is loving:
  • Hoffbrau & Mama Lucruezia -- The Hoff has awesome pizza (not that I had it last night or, even if they don't have a website and don't deliver. Mama L is the best delivery pizza and has flippin' awesome pierogies (non-fried but not exactly healthy given the amount of garlic butter).
  • The Middle -- Best show no one's watching.  Total heart.  The family feels incredibly real with bickering and spats but they always have each other's back in the end (i.e. the teen boy stands up for his dorky sister but would never admit it).  It's actually a non-cable show that a family could watch together.  The actress who plays Sue says she's never recognized -- IMHO, that's the sign of truly inhabiting a role that isn't just a carbon copy of the actor (helps that she's 20 and the character is about 16).
  • Rest Days -- I am hoping I really just need them and haven't fallen off the wagon, but I've taken some very light w/o days of late.  I am liking the fact that this meant listening to my body when it howled.
  • Sleep -- Do people know about this thing?  Nasty bout with insomnia where I didn't get more than a couple hours Sun, Mon, Tues, or Wed.  Finally slept well on Thursday and it helped SO much.
  • Blogs -- I read too many. 
  • Jennifer Weiner -- I needed a "breather" after my last book.  She writes reliably good "chick lit" that isn't TOO chicky.  I'm a picky chick-lit reader....a lot feels too fluffy or too obsessed with shopping and boys....Weiner is a reliable pick when I need mental candy.
  • Diet Cherry Dr. Pepper -- What?   I've mentioned that before?
  • Room heating options -- It helps that it has been mild, but we haven't had to refill the oil reserves thatnks to an electric fireplace in the living room and an area heater in the bedroom.  They do impact the electric bill but it is still a LOT less than the oil heat would cost and it keeps it in the room we need.  I was nervous (my Mom passed on some paranoias) but they are much safer than they once were.
  • The Centre County Gazette -- For letting me play reporter.  This week's is slow to load online for me but page 9 has my little piece on the United Way Campaign End Celebration (luckily they got some good photos from someone else...mine sucked!).  I get a small stipend...which carries me back to the first bullet (with a bit leftover....the good side of not delivering is not paying a delivery tip!). 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

I Hate Giving Bad Reviews

I confess....I hate writing a negative review.  But, then again, bad reviews give meaning to good ones.

Like many, I came to "meet" Shriver in We Need to Talk About Kevin.   Enjoyed is an odd word for such a dark novel, but I found it very well-done.  As such, I jumped on the Shriver pick when it became available as an advance read from my lovely Harper pals.  I wish I hadn't.

This is a novel about reporting, terrorism, and truth.  Edgar Kellogg is a former lawyer (one would think this would attract me, a fellow ex-attorney) who is making a move to journalism (hey, I write too...I should love this).  He lacks the journalistic credentials so is shipped off to cover a sorta-story in Barba, a fictional region in Portugal that has potential terrorist ties.  Kellogg finds himself in the shadow of his predecessor, again feeling like an also-ran in life.  He becomes steeped in the enclave of Barba hacks and more intimately involved with the purported terrorists than he ever imagined.

I truly sturggled to finish this one and it was only stubborness that propelled me.  Two stars for some interesting ideas but the execution did nothing for me.  I didn't like the style, wasn't compelled by the characters or plot, and just found it a difficult journey.  I did not have an issue with the terrorism plot being played a bit humorously, I just didn't think it was well done.

P.S.  Still a bit offended by the guy who peaked in prep school saying: "So I tossed it. I didn't apply to Yale or Harvard, but Haverford."

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

some random political ponderings

I confess....I'm gonna get political up in here...

  • I'm thrilled that California courts stood up for marriage equality.  This it truly an issue where I just don't get the opposition.  If your religion prevents gay marriage, don't get one....and no one will even make your church perform one.  Marriage is a legal status that should be open to consenting adults regardless of gender.
  • What would the groups saying religious employers shouldn't have to cover the pill say about me?  Okay, the "no baby" part helps and all, but I take it to STAY UPRIGHT.  Without the pill, I cannot function.  I haven't heard whether the anti-pill folks care about this...
  • I will likely vote for Obama. I can't decide if I'd prefer an easier opponent to beat or prefer someone I'd rather see in office if Obama loses. In 2000, I voted for McCain in the primary....I didn't have the time to caucus, VA had an open Republican primary, and I preferred him to Bush.
  • Moon colony?  Really?!? 
  • PACs are scary. 
  • I have said this before (heck, I've said all this before), but I wish we could require a certain proportion of campaign money be matched with charitable funds.  Or money towards the national debt.  If you can spend on glorified advertising, you can spend on something helpful too.  Yes, that is a value statement that political advertising is rarely helpful, at least in today's environment where there's plenty of news outlets available for true informational messaging. 
  • I prefer Colbert to Stewart.  That's more entertainment than political.  Then again, I'm not sure there's a difference these days.
Really, I mostly wanted to say the first of the bullets but felt the need to make a few more to round things out (and b/c a HS teacher said to never have just one item in a list).

Monday, February 6, 2012

the binge monster

I confess....I have no one to blame but me.  And I realize that some people will hate me for complaining.  I also know a few others who will gloat in satisfaction at seeing me unhappy with such things (yes, I know you are out there....). 

I've steadily gained weight over the past four months.  It is where I can see it, on my belly, my thighs, and even my cheeks.  I have tried to get myself into a better pattern and simply failed.  It is ALL about the food.  I do my cardio and do strength work at PT.  I have dropped from 7 miles to 6 but that's really FINE, even good since I may have overdone it with seven days a week at 7 miles, and I know it.  I can't fix this with the 'mill. 

It is all about what I eat.  This is a challenge for everyone, I know.  With my Binge Eating history, it has a special level of challenge for me.  I can't seem to balance between "good" and "not" and I've felt like throwing in the towel of late.  I hit a really bad place last night....I intelligently got on the scale after overdoing it and saw numbers that made me want to curl up and die.  Yes, that's dramatic.  But it is also very very honest.  I started shaking.  I cried.  I wrote to a friend with similar battles.

The scale was NOT as bad this AM but still over 5lbs more than it was in November and a dozen pounds more than where I feel my best.  I'd write the numbers...I don't mind doing so....but I feel like someone might take offense at them or decide they aren't worthy of me feeling so upset (haters, judgers, you win on that one). 

It is NOT muscle.  Honestly, I think women don't gain nearly as much muscle poundage as we'd like to think (though muscles CAN hoard water and that CAN cause a scale spike). 

I don't want to leave the house.  Perhaps it is good that I have to.....first for PT and then for my little reporting gig.  PT will be practice for putting on a happy face and looking normal.  And luckily the camera I'm bringing to the event will not need to be trained on the rambling reporter.

Honestly....I am just not okay right now.  And it is really hard to explain it all.  I understand that ninety percent of people have had "bad body" days but I also know my mental monkeys (to use a word borrowed from another blogger) make it harder for me to overcome. 

I also know that only I can take the actions to feel better....which sound so easy but is so hard.  It is NOT that I want to hold on to the tears.  But I wonder if part of me is holding on to the identification as disordered?  Which sound sick and horrid but sorta fits with BED being a cousin of other EDs.  Most people (NOT all) now get that you can't just tell an anorexic to eat and I don't feel like I can just tell myself to STOP OVEReating. 

I want to crawl up and hide.  I am not, and part of that is because I KNOW I am not the only one.  I want one person to read this on the right day and to feel less alone. 

Friday, February 3, 2012

seeing me -- the wisdom of Dar

I confess....I think we hear the lyrics that speak to where we are. 

I've long enjoyed Dar Williams and "As Cool As I Am" has always been a favorite.  I called it the "little sister song" because I thought it had the kind of message that women should share with younger women.  Generally, I've heard the message about fellowship among women and not allowing a romantic partner to come in between those bonds.

When I was travelling this week, though, another couplet struck me: "I don't know what you saw / I want somebody who sees me."  THIS. SO. MUCH.  It is in many ways the lesson that I've learned in the past year.  We deserve partners to see who we are, not who they think we should be.  A partner should encourage growth and should help you push to be your best you, but they also should love who you are and meet you at that place.

I won't say that I've been perfect at being the see-er either.  I needed to learn that it isn't about "the list"...that set concept of who we are meant to be is about the person.  It is about being proud of who they are inside, not their resume (although that IS part of someone, it is NOT all of them...or even most...).  I wasn't appreciated for me in my past....I was looked at as a failure to be someone else, someone I could have been on paper but never was (nor wanted to be).  Again, I was not flawless myself here and I own that. 

But finding someone who "sees me" and loves me, "warts and all", has been crucial to growing to accept myself as well.  And being able to "see them" and being PROUD to be part of another person's world...makes ME and WE pretty darn cool.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

not-quite-six month check-up

I confess....I had a lovely spike in views today after Julie included my review in her The Night Circus book club post.  Thanks, Julie!

But this is really a medical post.  I had an early version of a six-month follow-up from my surgery today.  If you are a new reader, I had an anterior lumbar spinal fusion (L5/S1) on August 8, 2011.  The surgery followed two years of increasing pain that I'd first chalked up to gym soreness but eventually became much more severe. 

Anyway, the goal is for the bones to fuse (hence the name "'fusion").  The doc removes the disc (mine was one of the worst he'd seen in years...and he does like 5 a week so that's a big statement) and puts in a titanium cage ($32,000!!!  luckily mostly on the insurance co).  Ultimately, though, it is my body that does the work and the bones need to grow over the cage to make one solid fused chunk o' vertebrea. 

So, today's appointment did show bone growth (last set of images was in November).  Not fully done yet, but seems to be on track.  I still have pain and it can spike pretty high (esp after the health issues that took up 3/4 of January) but that seems on track too...I still hit a 7 but spend less time there.  I'd worried the appointment might be cancelled b/c the doc had a family emergency but the nurse practitioner saw me.  I find NPs to be AWESOME in general....I think nurses are often better at the bedside manner stuff and NPs have an extra level of medical training beyond the normal RNs.  She said all looked well (and that she wouldn't get the surgeon's head swollen by telling him how good it looked!) and was encouraging in general.  I've made HUGE strides in cutting the pain meds....really tough since the body becomes dependent on them even when they are for "real" reasons and not "recreational"...and hope that by the next appointment I'll be pain-pill-free. 

Back in May.  If all goes well, that's the last of the follow-ups and I can put this saga behind me.  I totalled the bills that came in for 2011...the bigger hospital one actually only came in January ($750 co-pay, bill was about $52K)....over $5,000 in co-pays for docs, images, and labs.  I'll need to get CVS to give me a printout on meds and get some documentation from X on insurance premiums since I do expect I'll be able to meet the tax deduction floor.