Sunday, December 29, 2013

Speculating on the world and our roles therein; Reviews of The Department of Speculation (Offill) and What I Had Before I Had You (Cornwell)

This blog has always included chronic illness as one of its theme, a natural result when it is also the overwhelming them of your life much of the time.  Two days after saying no to the flu shot, I woke up, you guessed it, with the flu.  I take comfort in knowing it wouldn't have helped if I got the shot that day (and wont mention the prior offer to give a flu shot).  Anyway, I think I got on the upswing from the low point and then got knocked out by anther bug....and another. Not flu now, not well now either.  I seem to only feel well after I take my Ambien but before I am actually relaxes my twisty belly, crampy endo, ouchy sinuses, and tighter-than-tight-since-I-can't-do-my walks-legs/back.  May need some med discussions...we recently adjusted two medicines and if the way I feel is due to the change and not likely to abate, then it needs to be changed again b/c this is not tenable.  Reason for the ramble: to explain falling behind once again.

This a short book and can be a short read, but there's an awful lot of the ebbs and flows of modern life between its covers.  The premise, the couple once hit on the idea of writing letters to each other marked :"Department of Speculation," a phrase about the uncertainties in the path two separate people when they opt to marry and journey together.  The woman is the protagonist and we mostly she her view.  We watch as she falls in love, becomes a (sometime uncertain) mother, battles bedbugs, and deal with a painful blow to the relationship at the heart of her assembled life. 

There's a lot there. And yet there's a lot not there.  We, the readers, learn bits and pieces of many topics from history to philosophy with some astronomy thrown in.  We don't go to deep into the specific couple, heck, we don't give them names, but we see the decisions they make in order to preserve or change their circumstances, especially in the area of marital fidelity. 

I enjoyed it.  I wanted to enjoy it more.  I wasn't sure if I wanted to root for ANY outcome, which can make a reader less invested in the journey.  I enjoyed the little data bits and how they connected up (esp one focused on child age and paternal infidelity).  3.5 or 4 stars.  It might actually improve with a second spend some parts trying to catch up with what it happening and the knowledge could allow you to enjoy the ride more.

An Advance copy was provided by Knopf but all opinions are my own.

This novel take place in two primary eras, a pivotal summer for teenage Olivia, and a close-to-present-day time when Olivia and her own children pass through her childhood town, a part of the process of ending a marriage.

Young Olivia knows her mom is different.  She tells fortunes, reads palms, and speaks to her "twins." Olivia has been told her would-be-older-sisters died in infancy.  There is a lot of turmoil in the home that is hard to grasp until it becomes clear that mom is severely bipolar and there are early signs in Olivia as well.  This is a summer of rebellion and pulling away as Olivia also tries to figure out who she is, and who she could be apart from her mom.

In the latter year sections (woven throughout), Olivia's marriage is fading.  Her daughter Chloe appears to be fading a bit too as nine year ol Daniel is showing signs of a very significant, early onset, bipolar disorder.  When the trio stops for a breather, Daniel goes missing.  Present day Carrie retraces some of the important places of her youth and revisits an old friend as she, along with police, search for the boy.

Don't just call this a novel about bipolarism.  It is that, and notable for looking at three different manifestations of a broadly applied label, but it is also about family, both those of blood and those of other bonds. 

I read this Harper early release in exchange for my unbiased review.  It was a good book and I enjoyed most of it, but I'm not sure that it is going to be one I seek out to read again and I would likely struggle to describe the novel six months from now if only given the book's title.  3.5 stars, rounding down b/c it just didn't resonate with me.  Could be good for the right book club or an airplane ride, but can't picture shoving it into someone's hands as a must read.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Non-Fiction Review -- Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol (Johnston)

Someday I'll blog more regularly again.  But I do want to at least keep up my reviews since 1) I promise to as part of the whole "getting free advance copies" deal and 2) I like the basic idea of book reviews from normal folks. 

Friday, November 8, 2013

a moment to grieve

I keep thinking I'll find the time to blog again and it keeps not happening.  My father was always really interested in my writing....heck, he wanted to read my ghost-blogging stuff too but 'fessing up kinda defeats that whole "ghost" idea....  Since he loved the idea of the blog, he deserves a post. 

We had a complicated relationship, but it grew and prospered as I became an adult.  I still called him "Daddy," even if I drew looks.  He wanted nothing more than for those he loved to be happy.  He also wanted to help people...which is, sadly, all-too-rare in his chosen field of neurosurgery.  His staff always had kind words for him...I believe that the way people treat those who are "lower on the office food chain" is one of the best measures of a person.

He passed away very suddenly on Tuesday November 5.  He was 66.  He'd done three miles that day and then felt ill.  One moment he was here, the next he was gone.  I didn't get to say good bye and that saddens me.  The last time we talked, he'd woken me from a nap and I was groggy and asked if we could start aiming for a different time of day (he had an uncanny ability to wake me!).  But I know he knew I loved him.  I also know he loved me and the other members of our family, be they of blood or of heart. 

Goodbye Daddy.  I love you.

Friday, October 25, 2013

We Are Water by Wally Lamb -- A Modern Day Family's Saga

I was at a point where I wasn't going to say "Yes" to an advance reader copy (free from Harper in exchange for an honest review) for a bit since I wanted to clear off my "to read" pile a bit.  However, I felt like I just couldn't pass up a new offering from Wally Lamb (like everyone else says, I read him before everyone else did....).  We Are Water chronicles the life of the Oh family, although it actually opens with an art critic/historian telling a reporter about an African-American artist who'd gone largely unrecognized in his time.  He'll get revisited during the novel, linked to the Oh's because, prior to a suspicious death and years before their arrival, he lived in a small shack behind what became the Oh family home.

When we turn to the Oh's, we find Orion and Annie divorced and both at a crossroads.  Orion has left his long-time work as a college psychologist.  Annie is in the throes of planning an elaborate wedding to Viveca, a woman she met and fell in love with while still married to Orion when Annie's art (very modern, often very angry and quite explicit).  There are three grown children: twins Andrew (only son who bore the brunt of his mother's temper, now a conservative and a military nurse, engaged and not planning to attend the wedding at the novel's open because he and his fiancĂ©e disapprove) & Ariane (running a service organization in California, travelling home with some unexpected news) plus youngest daughter Marisa (a struggling actress in NYC, seems to enjoy being spoiled by the wealthy Viveca, coming off a recent trauma that she hasn't shared).  We also travel back to both Orion and Annie's childhoods, particularly the latter which involves secrets and a lot of pain.

A lot has happened and a lot happens.  Maybe too much (in particular, I thought the novel could do without the major event that impacts Orion in the latter part of the book).  There's a lot of interesting stuff here.  I enjoyed the way Annie's story unfolds (well, given some events, "enjoyed" is an odd word choice) and appreciated that Lamb doesn't throw all of her story out at once.  I also was interested in how that past played out in her role as mother.  Overall, I thought Orion & Annie's pasts were more interesting and felt more textured and real than their present day stories (I didn't care too much for how Annie's present went either....though I was more appeased by her ending than Orion's).  I'd have liked to see more of the kids, in particular to have gotten a better understanding of Ariane's choices. 

It is well-written and complex with a lot to think about.  The psychology is complex and Lamb does a skilled job of showing how our pasts unfold into our presents.  It isn't the type of novel that a writer can churn off in a few months (or a reader in a few hours) and I count that as a positive (there's a time and place for the new-bestseller-twice-a-year writers, but I tend to feel the best books take a lot more time and simply take more out of a writer...and they aren't subject to a main author lending his name to someone else's work with the main writer getting a minor credit).  However, in addition to feeling dissatisfied by the major present-day plot advancement in the latter part of the book, there may simply be "too much" taken on.  Lamb can manage the plots quite deftly, but the sheer number of plot points means some stories get more time/complexity than I'd like while others get too little.   Be prepared for a lot of socio-political commentary (very much liberal leaning...I'm a liberal but still felt it was a bit too slanted at times).  Also, readers should know there are some graphic parts including violence and different forms of abuse (in particular, a descriptive account of child sexual abuse and a look inside a pedophile's mind...I don't think the existence of abuse is much of a spoiler and ultimately think that the value of the warning outweighs any revelation). 

I think 4 stars is probably right for me, though I'm having trouble committing.  The style and writing talent, the complex character development, and the interesting voices are strengths, as is the simple fact that I looked forward to reading it for most of the 500+ pages.  The latter parts of the current-day plots disappointed, as did the inability to give more attention to certain stories given how many plotlines are included.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

a very rambly update

Quick update to show that I haven't completely disappeared....

Still looking for answers on the back pain.  Films suggest that the bones have fused at least somewhat, which is good but means the docs are still unsure what is causing the pain.  Trying acupuncture but the first two rounds haven't given positive results (the second, on Monday, seems to have sparked an INCREASE in pain).  Sticking out the four-week/four-treatment test run.  Really unsure what my next steps will be.

Adding in a little bit of strength-building exercise.  It does spark a temporary pain increase, but I can't take the total lack of muscle tone and the docs don't think I'll cause any sort of lasting damage by doing some well-chosen exercises.  The whole bride-to-be thing may be a major factor here....I miss my tone and miss it even more when I contemplate a strapless gown.  There's also an aspect of resignation....if this is my life, I'm gonna at least try to feel more at-peace with some aspects of my body (this is both a good thing and a bad thing...I could ramble for days on that duality),

I am also taking an Aquacise class at the local Y.  The class includes 10-15 older women (at least one woman in her 80s...), 2 men (one husband, one 50ish post-op knee patient), 1 pregnant woman, and me.  Most of the class are long-time repeats but they are all welcoming and all supportive of my presence.  I try to avoid noticing that I have more trouble moving than anyone else in the class.

Reading a bit more.  Keeping totally odd hours, but going with what works.  Ghost-writing has been taking more of my time, enough that I contemplate cutting it down because worrying about getting it done is not good for me.  MM is not furloughed, but we know plenty of folks who are.  His mom's had some health issues and we may be headed out there this weekend (my body hates car rides, but we haven't been out in a while and it is the right thing to do...the 2-2.5h trip is pretty much my limit).  Once again feeling compelled to cheer for our HS football team (not that I had the slightest interest when I was in HS)...poor kids are 0 for 4 and, as in past years, it seems like a victory if they lose by fewer than 30 points. 

Keep intending to start blogging regularly again, but the intentions aren't translating into actions (despite still composing many a post in my head).  Largely tied to the time the ghost-writing takes me and the continued problems with mental focus (and, frankly, staying awake).  But I'm still out here!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Two Book Day!: Big Brother (Shriver) and Sea Creatures (Daniel)

Two reviews, neither spooky but delivered on Friday 9/13/13...which i believe is a LUCKY thing for those of us born on the 13th (two of my good college friends were also 13th-ers).

Pandora is married to Fletcher and helping raise her step-children as her own.  She used to run a catering company but a silly birthday gift turned into a toy empire and she's done very well over the recent years (though expects the fad to fizzle in time).  Fletcher is a brilliant artist who makes the type of furniture that take love and time.  He's also health and fitness obsessed, sometimes in an unhealthy manner.

When Pandora picks up her brother,Edison, at the small town's airport, she's shocked to see he's put on a LOT of weight (hundreds of pounds, making him tough to recognize).  He's developed sloppy habits on top of his constant extreme eating.  His visit is tough on the family and Fletcher is counting the days till he leaves while Pandora is getting increasingly worried.  At the end of the first segment, and I won't go further than that), Pandora begins plans to move into an apartment with Fletcher, leaving behind an angry husband, and help him lose the weight through an intensive diet plan and, later, exercise.

I feel mixed about this book.  I'd given four stars to one of Shriver's prior works, but only two for a second.  The frank discussion brought up so many issues, which i liked since obesity is an issue that I've thought about.a lot.  What bugged me was some of the stereotyping....of course, hes also started becoming sloppy and a bit rude.  I appreciated the discussions on diets go too far, though that issue wrapped to quickly for one character and didn't seem to focus enough on another,  Another plus was the portrayal of the teens.  Thanks to Harper for the advance copy!

I'll go with 3 - 3.5 of 5 stars.

Georgia has just left the midwest and is returning to her native Miami, along with her husband, Graham, and 3 year-old son, Frankie.  The book hints that a bad moment led to the move, which ultimately lands them on a houseboat docked behind her father/step-mother's home.  Even prior to the events surrounding the move, Frankie had stopped talking completely, though he can hear and communicates via sign language.

There are several issues running through the book.  Frankie is still mourning her mother, a loss made more clear by being back in Florida.  Frankie met Graham at a sleep center they call Detention; Georgia had pretty bad insomnia but Graham's issues was/is more complex and dangerous to him and those nearby.  The issue of Frankie's lack of speech leads to some difficult appointments that press on Georgia.  Then there's Georgia's part-time job in Stiltsville (a collection of homes set in the water and built on stilts, boats are the only way out of a home), where she meets Charlie with whom she develops a connection.

I enjoyed this book.  I liked the development of the characters, all having some imperfection.  However, towards the end another story/issue develops and it just felt too thrown in there for me.  I did, however, appreciate the ultimate ending.  3.5 to 4 stars (of 5).  Character driven novel, not a taxing read but did provoke thought.

Harper provided me an advance reader's copy for this review but the opinions are my own.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

on wood chips, grocery stores, and farmland

 "---- Area School District Property"
(Side Note: The treadmill has been broken for much of the summer, they "fixed" it and it'd be good for a bit and then stop again. After three failed repairs, the new treadmill comes tomorrow. Walking outside is much harder on my body, as in crying at night after many walks, but I'm stubborn.   I "write" while I walk, especially when I can't watch TV and read magazines.  Still, I've been struggling with energy and neglecting the blog.  My pain-fogged mind has meant my ghost-blogging takes a lot more time and saps all of my writing energy.  All of which means I've "written" this post half a dozen times, but never committed it to actual writing). 

The signs appeared early this summer and have been the topic of discussion here in the Rambling Man (I am highly amused by that combination of "Rambling Blogger" and "Military Man") household.  They've been the subject of even more mental ramblings and a good bit of thought about what may follow.

I moved to Lower Bucks County when I was eight, the summer before 4th grade.  My mom had married my step-father not long before and the relocation to southeast PA was for his new job.  We'd been in New York....a nicer part of the Bronx than people tend to first picture on hearing the word, but still within the NYC boroughs.  The move was to an area that mixed suburbia, small town, and rural living.  Our development (where my mom & step-dad still live) had farms on two sides and one diagonal.  When my mother asked how I'd remember where to get off the school bus, I proudly said it was the stop next to the wood chip piles.  She cautioned that the wood chips might not always be there.  I replied: "But Mom, we're in the country now!" 

While the wood chips were there as long as I needed them (and I switched to another bus stop anyway....the complex decisions of youth...), her prognostication (I'll collect my 50 cents) proved correct and the pile eventually disappeared.  It happened gradually, starting with two very large homes on one edge of one of the fields (we watched them go up from the bus stops).  In time, the farms bordering our neighborhood were all gone, replaced by houses, houses, and more houses.  They added some small roads within the developments, but they all dumped onto the same "main" roads which resulted in back-ups that made the town seem even more crowded than it was. 

When people in Central PA hear we grew up in Lower Bucks, they almost inevitably mention the traffic.  A friend who is also a transplant to Central PA from Lower Bucks (a classmate of mine but one I didn't know...the sole high school was bursting at the seams by the time we graduated) reported that one person asked how she was finding the quiet environs out here after growing up out there.  She replied, quite accurately, that the Central PA of today is not all that different from the way it was in Lower Bucks when we were kids.  MM likes to recall riding his 4-wheeler into "town"...home to a few retail establishments, including a Woolworth's style store, a small video rental place, and a grocery store that somehow sill hangs on despite much larger competitors.  Both MM and I prefer the quieter life of that time, hence enjoying Central PA today (as memorialized in my little series for a freebie paper). 

But, we wonder if time will catch us.  Less than two years ago, our small grocery store was replaced by a sprawling supermarket (same regional chain, much different store).  We didn't see the need, especially since it took away the option of walking there and added a bit more traffic near out street) although we have grown accustomed to the big store.  Aside from on the few inevitable days where it smells like farmland (more accurately, fertilizer), we like having farms nearby.  The big expanse of land in the picture above is just a stone's throw away...our yard backs into another yard, the farm is right across the street from that house.  We can see the land from our kitchen window and both appreciate the solitary tree in the midst of the fields (okay, there are two...but from some viewpoints you only see the one and I think that's much cooler).  The signs, showing the recent purchase of the land from the farmers, seem like....well, a sign.

From what I've read, the school district purchased the land with an eye towards building a track and adding in more athletic fields.  This has me characteristically torn.  I favor public education and know, despite never being involved myself, that athletics can be an important part of schooling (though still think the district needs to work a bit more on literacy and writing skills).  I think it is a bit sad that the baseball team's field is adjacent to the high school but the softball team is housed behind the nearby junior isn't far at all, but it bothers me in principle (especially since it seems like the softball team does better).  Still, I prefer "my" farm (not the typical case of NIMBY...or, more precisely, Not in My Back Yard-neighbor's-front-yard).  MM worries about traffic and noise (it's garbled, resembling a Charlie Brown adult, but we can hear the PA during football games as it is), noting the proximity to the farmland was a big element in favor of choosing the house.

There's other farmland nearby.  We'll still be a quiet little town (at least when there aren't trials and CNN vans).  It is just a few athletic fields, not a big housing development or shopping area.  But, it is the end of one more farm.  And I wonder if it's the start of time catching up with us (and if maybe I should have seen the grocery store as the first sign).  And I still miss my wood chips....

Monday, August 5, 2013

Siblings, Parenthood, and a Dash of Illiteracy (book review): Instructions for a Heatwave (O'Farrell)

Overdue review (without rhymes, at least without intentional ones):

First things first, many thanks to the folks at Knopf/Random House for the advance reader's copy.  The overview of this book, the sixth novel from an Irish author in her early 40s, made me request a copy despite knowing I have an over-sized "to read" list.  Amidst a drought and heatwave in July 1976 London, the Riordan siblings gather following the news that their father, Robert, went out on a common errand and didn't return. 

Gretta is the matriarch, a woman who has spent the past decades being defined by her family role and battling some pressing emotional demons.  Eldest child Monica is a loyal daughter accustomed to being a mini-mom to her younger sister and currently trying to find her footing with a new husband and two resentful step-daughters.  Sole son Michael Francis, whose life plans were altered by a sudden pregnancy years prior, is watching his marriage dissolve and worrying over his two kids as their mother seems to pull away.  Youngest Aiofe is living in NYC, a much less steady life than her siblings and one constantly hampered by her long-kept secret that she cannot read (she seems to be severely dyslexic).  The novel explores their shared pasts and their various presents as they try to solve the mystery of their dad's departure. 

I've waivered between a 3.5 and 4 star review on this one.  I enjoyed seeing how the siblings shared roots translated into varied adult lives (but with connecting elements).  I wasn't as grabbed by some of the mysteries of the past, including those that led to the patriarch's disappearance.  I was most interested in Aiofe's story, including the haphazard way she copes with illiteracy in her job (or, more aptly, doesn't cope... she shoves papers in a file and ignores them).  I also enjoyed Michael Francis's interactions with his kids and wish there'd been more.  However, Monica bugged me...I appreciated her in her youth but less so in her adult-past and didn't care for her present step-kid drama...and I didn't care too much about the missing patriarch (the impetus for the action, but not really the focus) or the history or either Robert or Gretta. 

Writing style was solid...not enough to make me seek out the author's other works, but I would read more if the books stumbled into my pile. Read it for sibling relations and the various forms of parenting.  Don't come looking for much in the way of setting...could be set anyplace and the attempts to tie in history felt forced. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Note: Disturbing Example of Poor Writing Skills from Local Student

Really, I blog quite often.  Unfortunately, it is in my head and somehow that doesn't make it magically appear here.  I also do six posts a week for my ghost-writing gig and that's taken a lot out of me these days.  This AM was one of the times I stared at words for long stretches with no idea what to do with them and had trouble rephrasing parts of a news story.

This story has been sitting in my head (and, partly, in a drawer) since May 28.  It was while my treadmill was broken and I had to walk outside (MUCH harder on my back).  I was walking across the street from our high school and it was just starting to drizzle.  I spotted a folded up piece of paper and felt compelled to snoop.  It turned out to be a note.  A love note.  There was more rain on the way so I knew putting it back wouldn't do much good....if the recipient even found it, the note would be destroyed.  I feel guilty, but I kept it.

Part of me thinks the note is cute, with the sender marking the anniversary of sitting next to the recipient in Spanish class and realizing he (well, I'm going with "he"....I'll get to that) was in love with the recipient.  A bigger part of me alternated between amused and pretty darn upset.  The author is either a junior or senior and, even granting that a note doesn't always require perfect grammar, the poor writing quality is disturbing.  A few examples:
  •  "Remeber" instead of "remember"....multiple times
  • Refers to being told to "site" instead of "sit"
  • "I new I loved you.  I new, I wanted you"
  • "For ever" instead of "forever"....twice
  • "Allways"
  • Mentions wearing a "flanel"
  • "I remeber what you where wearing to" 
It is also a bit confusing (yes, I've spent too much time pondering this letter!) since the author signs it "Your Boy" while referring to the recipient saying "(Female name)...will you site with me today?"  Given my views, I'd be all in favor of a teen being comfortable being transgendered in high school.  However, it is probably more likely that the author is a male and the quote is just another error.

I still feel a bit guilty having the letter.  I'd have put it back where I found it if it wasn't clear it would be destroyed by rain anyway.  But, I admit, I've also gotten an odd level of enjoyment from watching a few people read it and take in the errors.  I've read it several times and I'm still shaking my head as I write this. 

It really does upset me that this is the product of my local schools.  I had a similar reaction to some of the papers submitted by the X's college students.  I feel like we've done a disservice to this student.  I've certainly heard about worse stories, including the number of people who manage to graduate while being functionally illiterate.  Still, I can't imagine a future employer reading something written by the note's author, even a simple note written in a job that doesn't demand a lot of writing. 

I know many wonderful and committed teachers and imagine this has to be more of a system-wide issue than about specific educators.  I want to bring the note to a school board meeting.  I either want to demand my tax money back or demand we invest more funds specifically aimed at literacy-related skills.  I may be biased given my love of both, but I feel that there are few skills as crucial as reading and writing.  Shaking my head isn't fixing anything, I know this.  I need to find a way to do more (though it may need to wait till I have more mental energy). 

Side note: I know the grammar in my blog is FAR from perfect. I admit I don't always proofread. Still, I hope any errors don't distract from the content and don't rise to the level found in the note. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Weaving Connections and Characters: A Review of The Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booty

Really, I haven't fallen off the face of the earth. I've been having trouble getting my brain to play nice lately and using the writing energy I can muster for my law firm ghost-blogging. I have been doing a bit better on the reading front of late and this review has been on my to-do list for a bit....

This book sits somewhere between the (recently trendy) format of linked short stories and a novel.  The settings range from World War II Europe to the twenty-first century U.S., with some of the focal characters getting revisited at multiple times in their lives.  Early on we meet Mr. Hugo, a man severely deformed in the war who we meet as an elderly man whose days are brightened by a young neighbor.  We meet him again in later chapters, learning more about his life.  We meet a young blind woman hoping for love.  We also meet a couple in love when the man leaves for the war.  The woman comes to believe her young love has been lost in the war, only to have him reappear many years later.  These stories weave together, along with others, and the characters impacting each other lives in ways small and large.

I am struggling to put words to my experience of this book.  At times it felt like it was trying too hard.  Or I was trying too hard...and I don't know if that's my doing or the book's or both (that brings up memories of literary theory, not a subject I enjoyed).  I focused too much on trying to identify overlaps and spot connections that I sometimes didn't enjoy the journey of the read.  Ultimately, I think the big connections do become clear enough that the extra focus wasn't needed, although I might have missed little pieces if I didn't keep the level of vigilance. 

Trying to set that all aside for some other thoughts....I came to care about many of the characters, appreciating their human-ness and their desire for connection.  Several of them pulled at my heart, always a sign of a good read.  Van Booty clearly has a talent for words and the language is lovely.  There's a lot of sadness and loneliness, but there's an underlying reminder of enduring connections.

It's a beautiful book, but it is very much trying to feels a bit unfair to criticize that, but it did impact my reading experience.  Three and a half to four stars (with thanks to Harper for providing me an advance reader's copy).

Sunday, June 9, 2013

a haunting first novel.....Loteria: A Novel by Mario Alberto Zambrano

...and when I do finish a book in a reasonable time (largely owing to it being a short one), I am a bit slow in getting my review up.  Still, I'm happy to get this review up in the pre-release time-frame (though it means remembering to go back and put it on Amazon after 7/3 since they only let their own advance readers write customer reviews ahead f time).

Loteria is a Mexican game, similar to Bingo but with pictures instead of numbers and relying on a deck of cards instead of Ping-Pong balls.  Eleven year-old Luz is refusing to speak, but she uses a deck of Loteria cards to spark memories as she journals about her story.  She has recently fallen into the hands of social services as her older sister, Estrella, struggles in the ICU and her father sits in jail.  Her Aunt Tencha comes to visit, but her mother has been gone for some time.  Through her journaling, the reader learns that Luz's life has been haunted by domestic violence and alcohol abuse. 

I don't want to tell too much about the story, which develops in pieces and is far from chronological.  One pivotal moment that I will note is when an older cousin forces a young Luz to touch his genitals (she compares what she touches to an infant's arm).  Luz's father blames her, leading to one of the books hardest to read scenes. 

This book is a quick read, though I can hardly call it easy.  It is around 250 small-sized pages, but a good quarter of them are taken up by illustrations from the loteria deck.  Zambrano did an amazing job showing how a life of violence can be simply "life" to a young girl who knows nothing different.  Fighting is normal and she struggles with the difference between her father's abuse and spats between other family members.  That is by far the element that impressed me the most...moments feel shocking from the outside, but little shocks Luz since she is telling the only story she knows. 

There's a short section where the novel remains a journal but falls more into "real time."  While I see why it needs to happen for the narrative, it throws off the balance for me and I wish it wasn't in there.  I did not see all of Luz's story in advance and I always do appreciate when a novelist can catch me off-guard while remaining true to the story and keeping it realistic to the narrative.  I thought the ending was well-chosen, it avoids the "magic wand" treatment but also doesn't leave the story on an entirely down note (hopefully that's not a horrid spoiler).

Enjoyed is never the right word for books like this, but I give it 4, maybe even 4.5, stars and recommend it. I thought the narrative device of the cards was well-done.  It was unique without feeling overly gimmicky.  I did sometimes feel like something was a bit off in Luz's voice, although I can't point to what made me feel that way.     Impressive for a debut novelist.  An advance copy of the book was provided by the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Book Review - The End of the Point (Graver)

This is a long time coming.  My brain is still acting fuzzy and I'm suddenly a very slow reader, some nights I can't really read at all.  So the speed is a reflection on me, not anything I'm reading these days.  Many thanks to the Harper folks for putting up with a slow reviewer! 

This is a story of a family and of a place.  It opens in 1942 with the Porter family summering in Ashaunt Point, a fictional community on Buzzards Bay in Massachusetts.  Ashaunt is very much an insider's community, the summer home to wives, children, and hired help, where the husbands visit on weekends and when they can get off work.  Bea, a nanny largely focused on the youngest daughter, is the main character in the early chapters as Ashaunt is altered by the arrival of soldiers building a base for WWII-related purposes.  As the novel progresses, it focuses on several other characters (all members of the family aside from Bea, who is essentially an adopted family member).

We see the years progress, the women juggle family and work/intellectual lives and one son deal with the after-effects of a bad drug trip and another war.  Different characters take the lead as the years progress from 1942 through 1999, although Bea is revisited as a focal character at several points. 

A number of themes run through the novel.  Family relations, both blood and heart-bound, are a major topic, including the strained relationships that can exist between parent and child.  Family ties with the theme of place and the way a place can shape an individual and an entire family line.  War's effects are another theme as WWII and Vietnam impact Ashaunt and the Porter family.  Nature and conservation are also key topics. 

My thoughts -- I'm not sure I'd seek out another Graver novel, but I did enjoy the book (supplied to me by Harper).  The writing was good, but I didn't find it as spectacular as other readers report.  I liked the concept of focusing on how time flows and how people and a place evolve together.  I wasn't overly interested in the character of Charlie (son of one of the three daughters from the first section), so those parts dragged a bit for me.  I enjoyed being able to revisit Bea throughout the novel since she was definitely one of my favorite characters.  I'd have loved more of a glimpse at the dynamic between the hired help and the well-off families of Ashaunt, including those who become part of the family and those who do not....although the novel is already a bit packed.  The novel is, perhaps, too packed and could have benefited from dropping one or two themes. 

Overall - A decent read.  Lots of themes and not a frivolous read but I think it would still make a good vacation/beach book.  Three and a half stars....rounded up for sites that require "full" stars because of the well-developed characters and sense of place. 

Friday, May 24, 2013


The Background
In a show of stubbornness, I've often devoted the hour or so I can manage out of bed each day to the treadmill.  The treadmill provides a safety net since I don't run the risk of getting stranded far from home if the pain beats my will.  The docs have essentially said that the walking isn't likely to cause greater injury, although they all seem surprised that I keep at it.  Honestly, it helps me stay sane.  The endorphins help during the walk and I just try to put the inevitable bounce-back of pain out of my mind.  It helps balance things out....the pain of my body and the old body image demons in my brain.

This week, the treadmill broke.  There may have been tears.  Miraculously, there were nine days remaining on the labor side of the warranty (the motor is lifetime).  Thankfully, our call in sets the date on this end, so we're covered even if it takes a bit to get the part and then get the tech out. 

It was with a great deal of trepidation that I decided to take my walk outside.  I am afraid of getting "stuck" but the mental need to exercise is stronger (esp since there's a dress shopping trip at the end of the month). 

The Meandering
I've meandered through Bellefonte twice so far.  I'm reminded how lucky we are to live in a town that loves its parks.  I can think of four separate parks in our town, all within a few miles.  Although not the closest, I also appreciate that the "Down, Around, and Back" loop (well, more accurately a "lollipop" shape) through one of the parks is almost precisely two miles.  My head (which appreciates the numerical feedback of the 'mill and demanded I find an "app" to give me numbers outside) likes that.  Another park is closer, but has a nasty hill that pushes to the side of "too much pain". 

In addition to parks, we also have multiple cemeteries...which seem to me both very similar to parks and very different all at once.  I noticed that the most interesting of Bellefonte's homes face onto the main town cemetery (the one not tied to a church).  The homes alongside the town cemetery have colors and shapes that make them notably unique.  I suppose that makes sense, only certain people would be comfortable with the location and that group probably tends to include some of the more eccentric types.  And you might as well construct the home your heart desires when you already know there will be a special challenge if you ever sell.

The cemetery itself is remarkable.  Apparently they offer tours, although I've never noticed any mention of the tours beyond a sign by the cemetery entrance.  There are stones from the turn of this century and the turn of the last, with one spot having a 2012 memorial next to one from 1912.  Apparently there are much older memorials as well, with the cemetery dating to 1795.  Skimming headstones as I walked by reminded me how recently it was that the loss of infants and children was a more common reality.  One family stone included the spouses and two children, both who passed before their second birthday.  Many of the women's names were followed by "his wife," although fewer men were noted as "her husband."  Though there was one stone that marked three losses, with the titles "Wife, Husband, Wife" above the names. 

This didn't feel nearly as depressing as it might sound.  It was a lot to ponder though (and more complex than my "treadmill fodder" of  Gray's Anatomy or Four Weddings).  I also appreciated the economic diversity I saw.  I passed some tucked away homes with large lots and more rooms than I could imagine.  I also passed some rundown apartments and townhomes, places that clearly don't have a hired gardener to weed around the beat-up parking lots.  An impressive mix, especially since I never wandered more than two or three miles from home.

I've managed two outside meanderings.  And physically paid the price for the added work of an outdoor walk.  My head is pressuring me to keep this up, my body is not so sure (again, no reason to think it'll cause damage so not a long-term danger).  I've hurt at night.  A lot.  But I've enjoyed the new view.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

a rough few weeks...a messy allergic reaction and a tough treatment...

(warning: another ramble about health demons...I'd write something more interesting, but this is what I've got to share....)

Sometimes it's almost amusing....almost....

When I was 13, I started getting hives.  I spent a couple years in and out of doctor's offices, even making it to some pretty special specialists with "hive clinics" and "hive calendars" and the like.  At first, the hives were large welts that pretty much covered my body.  The ultimate conclusion was that they had no conclusions.  Most likely, it was some form of auto-immune reaction.  Which I pretty much read as meaning I'm allergic to myself. 

Over the years, they've calmed a lot, they are nowhere near the horror they were at some points.  But they are always lurking and I doubt a week goes by when I don't have some sort pop-up, particularly on the backs of my knees and other heat-prone areas.  I do avoid a number of classes of medications because they can aggravate them...while the hives come from nowhere, they can also come from "somewhere"...

All this is a long way of saying that I'm used to my skin acting up.  So when my back would get a bit irritated from the capsacin patches, I just kind of ignored it.  I weighed the demons and the patches helped more than they hurt.  Until recently. 

It was probably the "sticky" ingredients in one of the generic patches that was the culprit.  I've had trouble with the steri-strips and medical tape in the past.  The region on my back stayed aggravated for a few weeks and, despite laying off using any patches and dosing with some allergy meds, it got worse.  And it grew.  It took longer than it should have, but I finally caved and saw the doctor.  By that point my chest and arms were also troublesome, which is putting it lightly, becoming a systemic reaction rather than a localized issue.  It didn't help that I kept caving and the rash was joined with areas that were almost raw. 

I suspected going in that they'd do a down & dirty course of steroids to knock my body into compliance.  I'd done the oral steroid thing before and dealt with a bit of water-retention and such, but this time it has been truly horrid.  The first few days I was pretty well incapacitated by nausea and a migraine.  I'm still feeling a bit flu-like and need to chase the meds with other meds to control all the side effects.  The steroids are doing the job, there are traces but the reaction has definitely calmed.  Still, it has been a pretty rough time and I will be thrilled when they are gone. 

I'd liked the capsacin patches.  They helped distract me from the back pain, even if they didn't truly treat it, and I liked the non-pill option.  I'm not risking even the brands that I'd been okay using in the is NOT worth the risk and I suspect that I'd be more reactive in the future. 

My mom remarks that there was a time when she thought the hives would be the hardest thing I'd face physically.  Then came the endo.  Then came the back.  Sometimes I think I HAVE to be done....and sometimes I'm terrified what my body has left to throw....

Thursday, May 2, 2013

wherein i ponder...and over-ponder (aka the one about the hairbrush)

I can't say how long it has been for certain, but it was definitely high school at the latest.  I'm change averse, but this one takes it to the extreme.  I've tried to change, but it hasn't worked in the past.  Yesterday, I tried again and I think it took.  I may finally have actually purchased a new hairbrush.

It's odd to be this reflective over something so simple, but it really has been a long time.  It went to college with me.  It went to law school.  It's travelled from ATL to BOS, back to my childhood home near PHL, and now out to SCE (the less well-known airport code for State College, PA).  It prepped for dates with the wrong guys and for a party where I stumbled upon the right one.  It has seen countless hours of fighting with my hair, which has often been the unfair target of a complex affair with the image in the mirror. 

I've bought new brushes in the past, when I simply felt like I should or when I felt like was somehow inappropriate because it didn't look like other women's brushes.  I remember trying as far back as my senior year in college.  It never took and the new brush wound up a gym bag spare, if it was lucky.  But this week, I suddenly felt like the brush wasn't "working" and I bought a new one yesterday, because I actually wanted it.  I spent way too long in the hair aisle, although I will defend it as something of a big decision for any woman and I did pick one fairly different.  And, while it is only 24 hours later, I love it.

I like to find meaning in things.  But, and there's a contradiction in writing this statement, perhaps this change doesn't have any deep meaning.  I'm not tossing my old brush.  It's seen a lot and we have a long history, it is a mere object but the history imbues it with meaning.  But maybe buying a new one doesn't, maybe I simply bought a hairbrush.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Yays and Nays

Okay, I'll admit I mostly wanted to grumble about the first item, but clearly the world needs my opinions on more than one product...
I've never dyed my hair, but I've felt itchy for a change of late and have found myself glancing at the home color aisle.  I didn't want to pay for a salon color job and also wanted low commitment, so much preferred something that would wash out in a month (vs have a demarcation if I didn't keep it up).  I only really wanted to bring out a bit of the red I'd had as a kid....I call my hair dark brown but others insist it is black...but wasn't finding anything that felt like what I envisioned. 

Then I saw this product.  The process is like a dye...mix two parts, apply, wait ten minutes, rinse and condition.  It said it would add shine.  It did note it might lightened dark hair a bit.  Sounded good either way...  It did absolutely nothing!  I did not realize it contained peroxide, a complaint I saw in reviews when I was looking for a link (the reviewers said it lightened some folks hair).  My hair does feel a bit "rougher" than it had of late (it has usually felt rough but had improved of late w/ other products)...hoping I didn't do any damage, especially since it was otherwise pointless.  If anything, I have LESS shine.  Definite NAY!
I was walking the short distance from my eye doc to CVS and spotted some earrings in a shop window.  I wandered in and learned it was a fairly new store, although the business has existed for a bit.  They make earrings out of cereal boxes (they had a sign asking for boxes...I promised them many boxes in the future...a good use for my cereal addiction!), the left and right are different but on the same "theme" and all are miniature images.  I got the penguins (#185 on this page)...adorable, a reasonable $11.50, and supporting a local business and artisan (who supports some great causes himself).  For othe Centre County folks, the store also sells some other cute products.

I'm a sucker for end cap displays at the grocery store.  Especially when the product looks like it a filling a low-calorie snack.  I actually like most variations of rice cakes, but these tasted like cardboard.  Stale cardboard.  The Military Man agrees.  I rarely just give up and throw a food out, and he's even more likely to try and salvage a product (he'll add spices, hot sauces, whatever it takes to make something edible), but these hit the trash. 

When I was looking for a link, I noticed the Amazon review page....only 6 reviews, but ALL five stars (well, until I added mine!).  I snooped and noticed a couple of the reviewers had only reviewed this item, making them a wee bit suspect.  The others seem to genuinely enjoy the product.  I'm honestly shocked.

I've never worn a perfume regularly.  I own one bottle that I bought at least five years ago, I'm a bit embarrassed to admit it's Antonio Banderas' Spirit...I had gotten a tester someplace and decided I liked it enough to buy it despite the celeb name.  It always faded fast and I never wore it regularly, though I still like spritzing it on my brush occasionally, it seems to stay better in my hair.

Anyway, I've been wanting to find a scent of late that I could wear on a semi-regular basis.  I can't say what inspired the interest, but I've been trying one on each time I'm around a beauty counter.  I've always found a really high percentage interact poorly with my body chemistry, smelling nice in the bottle but almost foul on me.  A recent trip to Kohl's with MM left me with a bit of time and I appreciated that they have a ton of testers without a pressure-adding salesperson hovering around (though the tester strips were hidden in the corner of only one shelf despite there being a couple of aisles of perfume).  I got lucky, although I sniffed about ten on the testers, this was the only one I tried on my skin and it stayed a "yay."  Fresh, clean, and a hint of vanilla without making me crave cookies! 

And a tip -- If you do get scent at Kohl's, walk around and look for gift sets.  The gift set I found was the same price as the bottle in the perfume aisle for the same size bottle of perfume plus a small tube of lotion.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

the beauty of the race

A story --

Once upon a time, when my body was friendlier than it is these days, I ran a race on a whim.  I'd called myself a "gym rat" -- I didn't quite feel worthy of the term "runner" since I was a pure treadmill gal.  But I'd acquired some decent mileage and, without telling anyone other than the X since he was driving me, I signed up for a half-marathon.  It was a smaller race, so there weren't really any spectators and towards the end we were spread out enough that I couldn't always see another runner.  It was in September but turned out to be a freak 90 degree day with high humidity and there were constant "rolling hills," making it clear why one should run outside at least once before embarking on 13.1 miles. 

A key lesson I learned that day was that running any sort of distance requires both physical and mental stamina.  I didn't wear a watch and they only marked the distance at the mile points.  I did eventually take some walk breaks, but it took a lot of will not to stop entirely.  I'm fairly certain they didn't bother marking mile 13, either that or I simply missed it, and few curves meant I couldn't see the person ahead of me nor could I see the finish.  I was tired and hot. 

And then, I spotted her.  She was sitting on the curb, with her own number still attached (there was also a 5K and 10K, but I'm pretty certain she'd done the half).  She met my gaze, smiled, and shouted "You got it!"  And I welled up with tears...and I still do when I recall the I ran by her and spotted the finish line and the small crowd, as well as more than a dozen other folks who cheered and shouted final-step-encouragements...I'd have guessed it was for someone else if I hadn't been the only one passing by (I finished smack dab in the middle of the pack, 2h1m55s...I'd have shaved off those pesky 2m if they had course clocks).

The point --

There's a quote that circulates after tragic events from Fred Rogers (whom I've sometimes found a bit creepy but have had to admit is simply a truly good man): 

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

Often in the wake of tragedies we remark upon how bad times bring out the best in people.  We saw people helping strangers after Hurricane Sandy, even opening their homes to those who'd lost their own.  And we've heard stories again in the wake of the bombings in Boston, people giving food and clothing to runners, even a story of a man giving a stranger his finisher's medal because the woman was diverted just a short distance away from the end. 

Like many others, I've often remarked on how it is a bit sad that it takes tragedy for us to come together.  But, this isn't always true.  One of the beautiful things about the Boston marathon, and many other distance races, is the role of the spectators, strangers who cheer on the runners.  And not just the elites, but the "average" (to the degree that anyone who can finish 26.2 is average) folks...the ones approaching the finish after 4 plus hours on the course.  Spectators are known to even call out runner's numbers, just to make one specific stranger feel encouraged. 

There's such beauty in that.  It is a reminder of good, the good that's quietly in most people.  I can't fathom targeting that good, that beauty.  My heart goes out to those hurt and the families of those killed and even to the runners who were robbed of what should have been a beautiful day (and I wonder how many feel guilty secretly being angry they couldn't finish...they were robbed too and should feel justified in their own hurt).  May it bring them some small comfort to know that the good will continue, that the good outnumber the wicked, and that the spectators will continue to cheer and the runners will continue to run (or walk while running in their heart). 

An added note  -- For those unfamiliar with the details of the Boston Marathon, an added note.  Boston is not a general entry event.  There are two ways one can take part.  The first is to "qualify" which means completing a prior marathon in a set time, a standard that varies based on age and gender, but one that requires a pretty strong finish (for me, a 35yo female, the 2013 time was 3h40min...I'd get an extra 5min at age 36).  The other way people are able to participate is running for charity.  Many of those, and their supporters and the other spectators cheering them on, were likely the ones in the vicinity at the time of the explosions. 

Monday, March 25, 2013

Endo Awareness 2013: Week Four - The Things That Get You Through

It's the final week of Blogging for Endometriosis 2013.  I've enjoyed the chance to contemplate my experiences and share them with the endo community and with people who may be new to this battle (patients, partners, parents, pals....). 

This weeks' focus is on the tips and tools for staying sane and generally being an endo warrior.  There are plenty of material items that can help.  Just a sample:
  • Heating pads - Pelvic Pain Solutions offers some microwavable pads shaped for the pelvic region with a belt that allows you to use it while going about your day or simply keeps it from sliding off if you are in bed. They are more natural than most products.  The boyfriend thinks it smells a bit like popcorn.
  • Pain patches - A similar idea.  I actually love capsaicin patches for both my back issues and endo....though they do mean it when they warn not to shower too close to wearing it and I'd add don't get sweaty too close to wearing/removing it.
  • Bed (a comfy one that feels like you) - Sometimes you just need to lie down (often in the fetal position).  The right pillows and blankets just help you relax.
  • Stuffed animals - When I mention that I often hold Teddy MM (really called Teddy "insert fiance's name here") when the pain surges, I find so many women relate.  It helps to hold something really tight, tighter than would be ideal with an actual person.
  • Books/TV/DVD - Sometimes you need distraction.  Sometimes it has to be fairly low effort and brainless. 
  • Medications - Are they ideal? No.  Would a cure be a million times better? YES!  But pain medication helps women with endo (or anyone with chronic pain) cope.  They allow you to function or simply allow you to sleep.  Medication is a personal choice between a patient and a doctor (though patients shouldn't hesitate to change providers if their views on meds don't match).  Yes, people abuse pain meds.  They also have a purpose.  People can be physically dependent without being addicted....the fact that a patient may have withdrawal issues and may need regular doses does not mean she's an "addict" or an abuser.  I don't think it is a decision that anyone else can judge. 
These items help.  The right people help too.  Those of use who are lucky enough to have supportive partners appreciate them more than we can ever express.  Same for friends and family who listen or offer to help with errands etc. 

There's also the world of Endo Sisters.  You might find one in person, but many of us have found them online.  There are blogs and communities where you can find women who just plain "get it."  This is invaluable and I might go so far as to call finding a community a "must" for newly diagnosed women (I wish there were more aimed at partners of women with endo).  In many of these places, you can ask the most embarrassing, personal questions and receive actual answers and support (look for CLOSED groups on FB....the posts there will not appear on your timeline or in newsfeeds).  The majority of endo sufferers also fight other ailments and you'll find support on those too (meaning no one will chastise you for going off-topic).  Beyond the advice, these women provide motivation.  They show you that there are FIGHTERS out there, BRAVE women who make the most of the life they've been given.  I admire so many of them and I am proud to call them Sisters and friends.  Thank you all for supporting me (a special thanks to one Canadian endo sister whom I've "known" for many years). 

Friday, March 22, 2013

On Not Quite Feeling Like the "Class Reader" and a Review of Jennifer Haigh's News From Heaven

Once upon a time, I had to double-up and post two reviews at a time because I was finishing books fast enough that I was posting book reviews TOO often. Lately, that's not a problem. I'm not sure what it is that's shifted, but I'm finding it very hard to focus during my usual pre-bed reading time. I previously could read for a good two hours a night but recently I often can't even make it through a page. The pain's bad, but it was bad before, and there haven't been any medicine changes. I'm just riding through and hoping that my reading light turns back on as suddenly as it turned off (though MM appreciates the lack of an actual late-night light!). Anyway, I DID manage to finish off a book...

I've started a number of reviews by noting that I don't tend towards short stories.  Still, I have found they abound of late and I picked this one (a review copy from Harper) because I'd enjoyed two of Haigh's novels (Faith and The Condition, I also read Mrs. Kimble but didn't realize immediately that it was the same author).  This is a set of stories all tied to the town of Bakerton, PA, a small town that grew around a single coal mining company).  Some characters reappear, others you can sense in the distance since the stories ranged from the boom days of the 1940s through the town's decline as the coal company shut its operations.  Apparently some of the characters had also appeared in a prior work, Baker Towers.  I hadn't read that and it wasn't any problem, although some reviewers seemed to have really loved it and that made revisiting Bakerton an exciting treat. 

The stories are both character and place driven (which is always a plus for me).  The protagonists vary widely including a teen girl meeting an exciting aunt, a young woman leaving to work as a maid in New York City in the '30s, a life-long resident reflecting on her brother's passing, and a woman experiencing a later-in-life relationship.  Some of the stories simply left me cold and I struggled to get through those.  Other stories had characters that felt vivid and whom I wished I could "visit" for longer.  I enjoyed the concept of watching the town evolve through the years, although I had trouble connecting to some of the latter day tales, despite a strong interest in what happens to industry towns as the industry fades.  The concepts of family and home are key throughout all the stories.   

There were definite highs and lows for me in this one.  I'd rate Broken Star (a woman reflecting on a summer in her teens when a relative returned, bringing a feeling of excitement that contrasts with her rather staid family) and Something Sweet (a portrait of a young schoolteacher in the mid-40s, including a glimpse at a student who has trouble fitting in small-town life) as my favorites.  On the other end of the spectrum, I didn't care for A Place in the Sun (a visit to Las Vegas focused on a man who left Bakerton but never really found his way) or What Remains (other townspeople watch the decline of one of the last members of the family that owned the mines and look towards a new industry that may bring back the struggling town).  Haigh is clearly a gifted writer and her prose can be pitch-perfect at times, but something about it can also drag when the story isn't connecting.  There are moments that are beautifully sad and poignant.  There are other times when I thought I should feel something but instead felt cold and unconnected. 

3.5 stars.  I feel reluctant to round either way...I plan to include this on two sites that favor full stars so I'll put one at 3 and one at 4....

Monday, March 18, 2013

Endo Months Week 3 - Social Impact

The Week 3 topic for the Blogging for Endometeriosis Awareness 2013 campaign is the social impact that endo has had on your life. For the first time in the campaign, I find myself staring at a blank page.   This is not because I don't have stories to share, I'm just not sure where to start. Once again, my thoughts about endo overlap with my thoughts about my back problems and my comments apply to chronic illness in general. 

When I started dating the man I refer to as MM (for "Military Man"), I felt the need to give him a few bits of information about me. These tidbits were more accurately characterized as warnings. I wanted him to know what he was getting in to and give him the chance to bail guilt-free before things got too emotionally involved. Ironically, I wasn't really able to warn him about the back issues that have really dominated the past couple of years. However, the warnings included the fact that I had endo and that the pain was a significant issue in my life. He replied that he grew up with four older sisters, felt pretty adept when it came to "girl issues," and was "not scared yet."  While I was pretty sure this went beyond his sibling-based experience, it still made me smile.  And it wasn't all that long till he faced a flare and he fared well....and I made sure to reiterate the "bail guilt-free, but do it now" message a few times in the early goings (and the middle-goings too when the back became life-altering).

The truth is that this warning was motivated by experience. I had ended a marriage not long before (well, mentally/emotionally ended, the legal process took longer), a relationship of eight years. I don't want to say that endo caused the dissolution. That's far too simple and sounds far too accusatory. Ultimately, it was a matter of incompatability. But the fact that I was not "healthy" added to the mix. It meant I was tired a lot and being social has always been a bit difficult for me since, as a textbook introvert, socializing often takes energy from me rather than adding it to me.  X wanted a more active social life, not only was I not sure I wanted that (don't get me wrong, I like to go out and play, but I'm still mostly a homebody) but also knew that I really didn't have it in me.

I also need a bit more caretaking from my partner than I'd like to admit and that wasn't the relationship X envisioned. He had seen me through the diagnosis and the three endo surgeries (for me, these were relatively simple surgeries), but he hadn't really contemplated how it would impact our lives. In one particularly frank discussion in the days following the decision to end it, X admitted that he'd pondered breaking up when I first fell ill, but he didn't want to be "that guy" and leave a sick partner. I do understand this. However, and this is why I told MM so many details upfront, I ended up wishing he had left then, especially before the "I do"s.   Illness impacts a life in many, many ways. It also impacts relationships, especially romantic partnerships. I do not think less of anyone for saying they aren't equipped for having a chronically ill partner, but I urge anyone to be honest upfront. If you are looking at a relationship with a woman with endo or with a partner with any other chronic illness, you owe it to yourself and your potential partner to be honest and to give it a lot of thought. It is better to say no early than to do so after a long involvement.

MM and I are now engaged. He's been an amazing partner and a wonderful support through some hard moments in the chronic illness journey.  I tout the five hours by my side in the recovery room, bu it is really the day-to-day that is most impressive and most appreciated.  That said, as we look towards the big next step, I hope that one day we get more of the "in health" side of the game!

While I'd like to end on that witty (at least in my mind!) note, I have another thought I want to share. Chronic illness, including endo, can become all-consuming.  It makes it hard to invest the energy in forming new frienships and nurturing old ones.

I have been mulling this a lot recently, regretting that I've let some friendships lapse. I can cite a lack of energy, tied to chronic health ailments, and plenty of other causes.  But I also need to take more ownership.  Even if visiting is tough, I have times when I could write a note or make a call (I am not a phone person).   I have one particular friend in mind, a woman I've known for many years who has done more than her share in our friendship.   She's visited and offered to host and she left more than one message in some of the rougher days.  The connection has fizzled...and it is my fault. I am sorry and I owe this friend a more than just a reference in a blog entry she may not read.

Any relationship with someone who suffers from a chronic illness requires special care and understanding.  "We" only have so much we can handle (see the Spoon Theory for a helpful discussion of this concept) and we need to focus on social relationships that are positive.  I could write plenty of advice on being a friend to or partner of a "sick" person.  However, the "patient" also needs to do her share, especially in the phases that are more about every day management than the days just after a diagnosis or the time around a procedure.  Illness makes social relationships hard and, to use a favorite concept, I think this can be an explanation. But, and perhaps this will be a bit controversial to say in the Endo Month blog campaign, that doesn't always make it an excuse.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Endo Month Week 2 - The Mental Impact

This week's topic for the Blogging for Endometriosis Awareness Campaign is the mental impact that endo has on your life.  Again, I do want to provide a link to my post from last year, although I won't promise that this won't hit some of the same territory. 

As I've pondered this topic (I still push myself to do daily walks and I've "written" countless blog posts during that time, most of which never make it to the blog), I've considered how to distinguish between the mental impact of chronic pain and endo.  I've also considered whether a distinction is possible for me and whether or not it is productive.  I've decided to start with a broad pondering of the mental impact of chronic pain followed by some more specific thoughts on endometriosis.  I can't promise they won't fact, I can pretty well promise that they will.

The truth is, endo has always been primarily about pain for me.  And the mental impact of chronic pain is enormous.  The following list is FAR from comprehensive, but provides a glimpse into the impact that chronic pain has had on my mind and my psyche:
  • Chronic pain is EXHAUSTING.  I sleep a lot, because of the pain medicines, because my sleep is often interrupted by pain, and because the pain simply wears me out.  This is true even in my current "semi bed-ridden life."  It was also true before the back issues, when endo pain would flare at least a couple times a week even with the hormonal treatments (i.e. continuous birth control).  I learned how to "put on my game face" and get through work and other obligations, but it was exhausting.  By Friday night, I wasn't good for much beyond pizza, wine, and a DVD....which had its own impact on my relationships. 
  • Chronic pain is also MENTALLY EXHAUSTING.  The pain pushes everything else out of my head.  I can't concentrate.  Some days, I've been pretty well tongue-tied by pain, especially on the phone (talking on the phone has always required more effort/energy for me).  Struggling to find my words is incredibly frustrating for me.  At it's worst, the pain has been so mentally exhausting that I just end up staring at the ceiling for hours on end....even the simplest of television shows requires more than I have.
  • Chronic pain is EMBARRASSING.  I talk about pain.  Probably too much.  Which seems to be in contradiction with this comment.  I talk about it because I need support, because it explains a lot about my behavior (note: explanations are NOT excuses, a topic I've rambled about before), and because I hope to one day make at least one pain sufferer feel less alone.  Still, it is embarrassing to move like an 80 year old when you are in your 30s and to be a prisoner of your body.
  • Chronic pain makes for a COMPLICATED BODY/SELF RELATIONSHIP.  I didn't need this to be complicated anymore, having struggled with body image issues (along with eating and exercise issues).  Even putting those issues aside, it is hard to feel truly "at home" in one's body when that body is the source of chronic pain.  I previously rambled along a similar line using the term emBODYment.
  • Chronic pain can lead to GUILT.  Pain Shrink says he's spent countless hours counselling pain patients on guilt.  This often includes feeling guilty complaining about or even just being impacted by pain when other people face "more serious" ailments (ex. feeling pain while a relative battles cancer). 
  • Chronic pain leads to DOUBT.  Most days, the vast majority in fact, I know my pain is VERY real and that it is indeed often crippling.  Most days, the vast majority in fact, I know I use pain medicine responsibly and as intended.  But doubt is contagious and seeing and hearing it so often from people who cannot see behind the "you look healthy" exterior, wears on you and sometimes you feel it too. 
  • Chronic pain STEALS.  It steals my mind.  It steals my relationships when I can't nurture them.  It steals my days when I can't get out of bed.  It steals my joy of reading when I can't focus well enough to get through even a page.  It steals my hope, when it feels like it has been so bad for so long that I can't imagine anything different and stall waking-up because I fear (sometimes "know" is more accurate) the day will only hold more pain.
There are some mental impacts that, for me, are more specific to endometriosis (although they could apply to other diseases of the female body)....
  • Endo complicates one's relationship with WOMANHOOD.  This ties back to my comment about pain complicating the relationship with one's body.  I've never felt supremely tied to womanhood, a trait I admire in women who are at home with their bodies in a certain way.  Endo makes this even tougher -- it is a disease of the female body.  It is hard to feel in touch with womanhood while cursing the existence of uterine tissue and hormonal flows (and, per a gyn, you do still have fluctuations even on CBCPs).
    • Note: Another blogger made an interesting and important point that I want to add (please respect that I felt this important enough to add but that I do not want to turn this post into a debate about gender and sexuality...let's talk about it sometime, but not now), we talk about endo as a women's disease but saying it is a disease of the female body is more respectful of transpeople.  While I am not correcting my language to show this, I do note that it must be horrific to identify as male and have a disease of the female body.
  • Endo means EXPLAINING, a process that adds to the physical exhaustion of pain and illness.  There are still many people who've never heard the word or who just don't know what it means.  No, it is not "just bad cramps"...I don't question that some women have very painful cramps (though I bet some have undiagnosed endo)...but calling endo "bad cramps" ignores the severity of the pain and the other issues that arise with endo.  Yes, it is a real illness.  Yes, it can be debilitating and disabling (it isn't constantly disabling for me, but at times it has been debilitating).  Yes, it can cause infertility, and for many that is the most significant manifestation, but not every endo patient will have fertility issues (it depends on where the tissue growths are located). 
  • Endo means living in the world of INVISIBLE ILLNESSES.  It means getting all the "but you don't look sick" comments.  It means no one offering a helping hand at the grocery store.  In my train commuting days, it meant sometimes being in horrific pain but, with no visible disability, there was no reason why anyone would offer me a seat.  I may not have needed it in the same way as someone with a more physical disability (ex. someone using a walker), but somedays it was VERY hard to stay upright and steady when it feels like there's a knife in your lower abdomen.  Asking is hard, even though most people are kind, there's a fear of facing the doubters.  I try to remember my own experience with invisible illness when someone who "looks fine" steps out of a car in a handicapped spot. 
  • Endo also means dealing with other symptoms, like HEAVY FLOW (and, as noted above, infertility....which isn't a struggle I've faced so I can't discuss it firsthand, but I know from hearing other women's stories that infertility has a very significant mental impact).  I had very little mental stamina after the first few days of my period because I was so tired, afraid to sleep more than two hours in a row without changing my protection.  This also meant fearing long trips and constantly needing to keep an eye out so I'd know where the restroom was at all times.  The pill, even taken traditionally with the placebo week once a month, helped this a lot. 
There's more.  And I'll think of more as soon as I hit "publish" but editing can be never-ending and, unless I feel something is too big to leave off, I'll just trust that "there's more" is good enough.  Actually, THAT is a big one...a major mental lesson of both endo and chronic pain in general....sometimes you need to accept "good enough" because some days that's your very best.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

back update...a surprise and some hope

While it's Endo Awareness Month and I want to keep up with those posts and highlight that health issue, I am overdue in sharing a back update.  Even though I know most of my visitors also read the update on Facebook, I want to ramble a bit here for anyone else who may wonder and for people who may looking for proof they are not alone.  I also think it is good to have a pretty full record of this back journey for both medical and mental reasons.

In September, a year and a month after my spinal fusion surgery, my surgeon took some x-rays.  I'd been in excruciating pain since February (six months post-op).  I'd been in PT and things felt like they were moving in the right direction when they took a very sudden turn and landed me in what I call an "all-but-bedridden" state, even with a good bit of pain meds (which I am sick of...and sick of having to justify....give me a real solution and I will be ecstatic to be free of the meds).  The x-rays showed there was no bone growth (the goal is to grow bone to fuse two vertebrae).  The doc suggested one more type of image and then a revision surgery.  I needed a 2nd opinion before committing.  It took a while but I saw a new doc, considered an expert in the field and in revision work, in late November.  He had a similar reading of the x-ray, noting it is a very rare result (original doc said only 2% fail to grow any bone with the process used).   He did say the surgery was well-done, that it was a result they couldn't really explain. 

While he leaned towards a similar revision surgery answer, he wanted a CAT scan.  There was a long insurance-related delay (frustrating at the time, oddly a good thing in the end) and I had the scan in late January.  I eventually got a note from the new doc with completely unexpected news....the bone was now there.  It took a bit to get him on the phone, but he said it appeared to have grown in between September and January.  He mostly dismissed me from his care, which does make sense since surgery wasn't looking like the right answer.  I was still, however, in as much pain as ever.

I eventually talked to my original surgeon and Dr. Dad.  They agreed that there was bone growth, although they said it was just starting (the other doc suggested it was complete).  The clearest statement given was that I'm "a late bloomer."  Apparently that 2% failure rate is at TWO years, not one.  I was definitely behind though....I looked like a patient might be expected to look at 3-4 months post-op (the films were 17 months post-op). 

My pain has NOT changed.  I tried a day without my supplemental pain meds and the pain got so bad that I can't even remember the day much at all.  I know I was back to finding TV too challenging for me to handle.  I clearly do still need the supplemental meds, even then I'm in bed the VAST majority of the still hurts in bed, but it gets horrid if I do too much.  However, the original doc has held out hope.  He thinks that I will heal, that it is just behind schedule.  He said he expects to see a huge improvement in about a six month time frame.  With the current progress, I definitely should not be looking at surgery.  Until the time passes, I just need to do what I can to manage the pain.  Keep on keepin' on in my own lingo. 

So, there IS hope.  And that is GREAT.  Six months still feels VERY long (though the calls were a couple weeks maybe 5.5 months??....okay, I know it isn't an exact miracle date and could be a bit sooner or a bit longer).  But I've made it through over a year with this insane level of pain and very little hope.  It has to be easier with a light at the end of the tunnel....

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Endometriosis Month: The Physical Side

Once again, the ever-amazing Jamee has organized a Blogging for Endometriosis Month.  I am hoping to join in, but resolve to do what I can and be accepting of that.  Which is, actually, a key lesson for anyone facing a chronic illness.  My life is not the same as before and, the truth of the matter is, it may never be.

As an initial move, perhaps cheating, perhaps energy-saving, I am linking you to my post from last year on endo's physical side.  For more details on endo generally, check out one of a very small number advocacy sites for their explanation (with diagrams) of the condition. One last "pimp my blog to folks already on my blog" note, the is my story for Fight Like a Girl, a group for women fighting life-threatening and/or life-altering conditions.  It is largely focused on how long I waited to speak up about the increasing problems I was having and the eventual endo diagnosis.

Over the past twelve months, the problems related to my back have compounded.  Details are for another post, but the back pain has led to a tough medication regimen including one scheduled pai med and one unscheduled (I can have 0-3, most days I have 2.....I experimented with 0 yesterday and spent today regretting it and back in the stare at the ceiling mode).  Endo has not been at the forefront of my mind, and the medication regime for the back is absolutely also helping control endo-related pain.

BUT, that doesn't mean the endo is gone.  That's the thing about chronic diseases, they linger.  They sit there, at times in the background, ready to pounce at any moment.  Every few days it pops up for notice, despite the fact that I'm on enough pain meds to kill some people.  At one point, I missed two doses of the BCP in a row (I take continuous birth control, no placebo week, it helps keep my hormones steadier and limits the endo symptoms, I do not get periods).  Two tiny missed pills led to days in fetal position (spotting too, for those who care to know....).  The error led to endo pain that "beat" the back pain....and there's rarely a day the back doesn't hit an 8 on the pain scale (1-10. 1 is no pain, 10 is the worst possible).

So, for me, endo is currently a lurker.  It is waiting to bite if my hormones shift (even being around other women long enough confuses my pheromones and can cause spotting or some pain).  It is waiting to bite if (no, let's go with WHEN) I stop using the pain meds for my back.  And I remember all too well the days it took my words and knocked me off my feet and left my crying on the floor.  It comes and goes, and I am pretty certain there will be more fetal position days to come, and days spent educating people who say I look perfectly fine.  That's life with endo. 

(NOTE: I am not having luck with the Blogger Link-Up button, but check out Jamee's blog for her post and link to other bloggers participating in a group effort to spread knowledge about endo and its impact.)

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Book Review: The Cutting Season by Attica Locke

I keep saying that I'll pick back up my reading speed, but I continue to feel too worn down to focus as well or as much as I'd like.  I suppose the good side is that I have a "to read" pile and am not fretting about being book-less (an odd comment given the "library" in the basement....I do believe in re-reading, a position eased by a limited memory).  This one was slated for reading in the fall, but late is better than never!

Mystery isn't one of my most-loved genre, but I have a great fondness for novels with a sense of place and that is what drew me to this novel (provided by the kind folks at Harper).  The setting is Belle Vie, a former sugar cane plantation turned tourist attraction and event space in Louisiana.  Caren Gray traces her family back to field slaves, including one who stayed on after being freed following the Civil War and disappeared in a never-solved mystery.  Caren's late mother worked at Belle Vie and, along with her young daughter, Caren has returned to serve as the site's manager.  The novel opens as a body is found in one of the preserved slave cabins.  The victim is later identified as a migrant cane worker employed by a neighboring farm recently taken over by a large corporation.  Caren grows interested in finding the murderer, in part because the police are focusing on an employee that she believes is innocent, and also in uncovering more about her own roots.  In a side plot, Caren's ex-boyfriend arrives because of their shared concerns for their daughter's safety, pulling complex feelings to the surface, emotions heightened by his approaching wedding to another woman.

This novel earns 3.5 stars from me, a rating I am inclined to round down to make the "full star"-only sites happy.  Locke is clearly aiming for social commentary in the novel, both relating to our view of the past (emphasized by the play put on daily that shows slaves who love living and working on the plantation) and commenting on the current world of migrant farm work.  This gets a bit too heavy-handed and overt, she's trying to show rather than tell but it needs some work.  The mystery element was above-average, better than some typical detective stories and well-related to the other elements of the story.  The sense of place was a plus. It allowed me to visit a distinct region, but I still felt it had some room for improvement.  As for relationships, I wanted to see more of Caren's daughter and less of her ex.  It also felt like some characters were tossed in, there for color (that's not intended to refer to race) and not fully rounded.  Overall, the highlight of the book is Locke's talent for crafting language.  She writes beautifully.  I can't decide if this is praise or criticism, but my ultimate verdict is on The Cutting Season is that the language trumped the plot.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Rambler Raves (pssstt....i save the best for last)

Apologies for the silence...I really intended to step up my blogging efforts but that just hasn't happened.  I'm dealing with some uncertainty on the back front (that phrase amuse me) and the pain's been rough.  It often saps my mental capacity and it has been taking longer to do my ghost-writing law blog posts so I have been neglecting this little corner.  I'd say I intend to rectify that, but I'm nervous about even making promises to myself.

Anyway, a simpler post today, making good use of my beloved bullet points and sharing some of the things your Rambler is loving these days:
  • I have a love/hate relationship with my hair.  I got it cut recently and she took a bit more than usual and threw in a few more layers.  I'm finding it really tough to control and relying on my recently acquired flat iron when I need to look decent.  However, I'm loving Treseemme's Cashmere Touch Hyrdating Serum.  Left alone, my hair can feel kinda course and rough, but a few pumps of this product makes my hair feel nice and soft.
  • I'm a new convert to Greek Yogurt.  No real brand rave here, I pick a lower calorie version which isn't always truly the best health option, but I have become a fan of the thicker texture and added protein boost.
  • On a less healthy note, Jelly Belly Belly Flops rock.  They need to be ordered but they are still a major cost saver compared to the regular packs, especially given my addiction to them.  You get the leftovers that are misshapen or otherwise imperfect.  They warn that it may include some of the icky flavors from their specialty Harry Potter themed packs, but I've only had a few that tasted funky.  Most are from the typical 40 flavor pouches.
  • On the "stuff normal folks don't talk about" front, I am a horrible teeth grinder.  One dentist said I was "impressive" after I chewed right through two temporary crowns, one metal.  After chewing through an expensive dentist-ordered night guard, I tried drugstore types.  I never found the "boil" ones comfortable and chewed through them pretty quickly.  The Sleep Right Guard has been MUCH better and much more durable.  I did actually trim it a bit to make it better for my small mouth but will try their "slim" option next (lasts longer, but not forever...I've had mine about a year and expect I have a couple months left).  It is one of the pricier drugstore options, but it definitely saved me money over time.  They do offer replacement if you chew through it or have other issues w/in a three or six month time frame (depends on specific style).
  • I have an inability to not glance at clearance sections, including a small area in our local grocery store.  I picked up a Sweet Vanilla Fig body wash and lotion set for something like $6....the website lists it at $25.  Love the scent and the fact that it is from a small company that focuses on natural ingredients. 
  • I'm moving slowly, but I am still enjoying reading for Harper....hoping to have the final pages of a book done and a new review up soon.
  • And, the best rave of all, adapted from my recent Facebook status, posted during a mini-getaway with MM -- Best hotel upgrade yet... Checked in with a boyfriend,  checking out with a fiancĂ©!  Love you more, mister. I couldn't have even imagined finding a partner as wonderful as you. Thanks for giving me the honor of saying "YES! "