Thursday, December 29, 2011

hints from the lazy rambler

I confess...I am not handy, fancy, or fashion-forward.  I think that this makes me an ideal hint-er.  Heloise spends a lot more time on everything than I takes special skills to be lazy.  So, for my lovely readers, assorted tips from the Rambler...

  • Although I kick them off at some point every night, I tend to start out with socks on in bed.  I like slathering my feet with lotion beforehand, ideally sitting on the bed so I can avoid standing after socking-up.  Helps keep my gym-worn feet a bit softer.
  • Maybe this is obvious but I didn't start doing it until I was in my the shower, I'll shampoo first and then put on conditioner. I'll shave and wash up while the conditioner soaks in. Multi-tasking both saves water and lets the conditioner work longer than if I was twiddling my thumbs for a minute.
  • Another hair tip -- I have THICK and long hair. I do NOT need volume but, when I've been able to w/ the back issues, I flip and dry my hair upside down a bit first. It speeds drying by getting to the underlayers and I finish upright which takes out the excess volume.
  • Plucking eyebrows is easier after face-washing...kinda similar to shaving after exfoliating.  Both make it easier to get "at" the hair and do a thorough job.
  • I pick and chose generic products. Most drugstore stuff is pretty equivalent, especially medicines since they are subject to rules. I test out generic sodas....some are perfectly fine but others will go to waste because they simply aren't as good. Unless there's a sale, most of the store-brand yogurts work fine for me but I see a marked difference in frozen meals. 
  • If I'm buying something online, I'll do a quick search for "STORE coupon codes". More often than not, I can get some degree of discount or free shipping. It takes a few minutes to dig through the websites and try codes to see if they work, but it is totally worth it. I find I buy stuff I don't really use if I focus on paper coupons, but this is focused on something I'm already buying. 
  • I use the same credit card for almost all online purchases. I haven't had any issues, but I'd be able to spot a fraudulent charge faster since I check the bill knowing it is the riskier one. 
  • I don't carry a credit card balance. Obviously, this isn't possible for everyone. It is nice though to have a card you know you'll pay can pick one with good rewards that might have a higher APR. My Amazon Visa isn't the best rate but the points add up and the rate is irrelevant since I wouldn't use it if I didn't know I could pay the bill. Folks with a balance could use a lower interest one for bigger bills but still keep a good points one for bills they can pay.
  • Not only is men's Barbasol cheaper than frilly girl shave gels, I like it MUCH better. However, I suppose because most men don't shave in the shower, it lacks the rust-proof bottom. When I don't have it sitting on another item, it leaves awful rust rings. Solution that totally works -- Coat the bottom "ring" with clear nail polish. Easy and effective.
  • I have two laundry hampers. I kept ending up building a new "pile" when the hamper was holding clean clothes that I hadn't gotten around to putting away. The spare is smaller, which encourage me to eventually put away stuff, but it keeps PJs and sweaty gym stuff from sitting on the floor for a day or two mid-laundry-process.
  • I haven't been able to help with cleaning much of late, but I always do bigger jobs post-workout. It allows me to shower after cleaning, which helps with allergies and just feels "earned". It is also nice to shower in a freshly cleaned bathroom.
  • A little plastic crate keeps my bedside "necessities" (meds, lotion, etc) handy but under control.
  • When I need to write something professional, I try to spread out writing and editing. I find it too easy to overlook errors immediately after they are made and I am more likely to catch more intangible things that are "off" (like a sentence that made sense to me when I wrote it but wouldn't make sense outside my head) when I am a bit removed.  
  • I also find that the tip-of-my-tongue, perfect word is more likely to come when I step away than when I'm sitting and pondering. If time isn't on my side, the Word thesaurus is a start but sometimes I get closer if I just play with Google a bit and either type in the less-ideal-substitute or the general context.
  • The number one thing to focus on in ANY writing project -- the audience.  I've written for judges, lawyers, hiring professionals, and the general public.  Heck, I've written for my own amusement.  I try to keep the audience in my head, especially if it is something I'm being paid for, and to respect the reader while not assuming knowledge they may not have. 
  • I think I've said this one before, but the little "button bags" that carry spare parts for new clothes are PERFECT for stashing medicine.  I tuck the bag into a pocket of my wallet w/ "might be needed" medicine and it keeps them clean and easy to access.
  • I like leaving random cards for MM.  I'll buy a few at a time so I've got one to leave out if the mood strikes or cheering-up is needed.
  • I totally plan my workouts around mindless but entertaining TV.  It makes the treadmill time much easier. 

Saturday, December 24, 2011

One New-to-Me, One Well-Read Review: The Imperfectionists (Rachmann) and The Remains of the Day

I feels a bit funny to do a book review post X-mas Eve, but I'm halfway through my next read and I like doubles for than triples.  I actually had a few "new-to-me"s on my nightstand but I'm trying to get back in the habit of throwing in some re-reads (like Remains of the Day, below).  I don't really re-watch movies but I do like re-visiting old books, some get nearly annual reads (Red Tent, Cider House Rules).  I suppose my lack of memory skills are an asset in saving on books. 

I don't tend to like short stories and this book straddles the line between a novel and shorts-land.  It is in a similar style as Olive Kitteridge but, luckily, I enjoyed this one much more.

The chapters alternate between portraits of a newspaper's modern-day employees and a history of the paper's founding and development.  There is some overlap in the portraits, which makes sense, but they are also pretty distinct stories that could each stand-alone.  The paper is international in scope, traditional in format (not even a website), and based in Rome.  Characters vary from an aging stringer to a writer whose career becomes his focus after a familial loss.  Many are not overly likeable but most are interesting and fairly well fleshed-out for the style (my usual complaint about shorts is the lack of fullness in the characters).

I enjoyed this quite a bit and give it a solid four stars.  I'd certainly seek out more works by Rachmann since I enjoyed his writing style and his attention to character development.  I wasn't as frustrated as I might have been by the brevity of each "visit" and I think that's largely a testament to the amount he fit into the pieces.  Yes, they aren't all likeable but, in my view, that makes them all the more real.  A favorite was the piece on the Chief Financial Officer who finds herself seated on an international flight next to a man whom she'd just laid off.  There is commentary on the impact of modern life on the newspaper trade but I didn't find the context to be incredibly central to the book.  It did remind me of a favorite chapter in Ulysses (and I just like being able to tout surviving that one, as all Haverford English majors do...and even enjoying it....).

Definitely for readers who want character over plot.
This is one I've revisited several times and always enjoy (four stars).  On the surface, it is simply a six-day journey to visit an old colleague, but there's much more underneath.  Stevens is a career butler in England who recently "came with the package" when an American purchased the house he has tended for decades.  Stevens prides himself on his "dignity" and spends a lot of time reflecting on the quality which, for him, often involved staying focused on his professional role despite any personal matters.  He asserts pride in having continued to serve impeccably on the day his father, a butler as well, passed, but there is some clear doubt about his choices.  He also reflects on his long-time employer.  Stevens had been proud to serve a man involved in international affairs who claimed to be hosting gatherings with global implications in the time between WWI and WWII.  However, even Stevens will admit that his employer made some poor choices in his loyalties, having been a clear Nazi sympathizer prior to the second war.  Stevens admits his employer was mistaken but argues strongly against anyone who demonizes the man, asserting (to himself as much as the reader) that the man was truly a decent person who just chose a wrong allegiance.

Again, this is a book of characters more than plot, even though there IS much more plot than just the roadtrip.  The trip serves as a chance for reflection since it is a rare time off-duty and so it does have the "action" of many years within the short trip.  It is more about character though and about concepts like dignity, class, and culture.  A key question left to the reader is whether the quality of a worker should be judged in relation to the nature of the employer.  Stevens clearly hopes his life of service has been worthwhile, but worries about it in hindsight. 

I consider this a key piece of twentieth century fiction and recommend it to literary folks who want to be comprehensive in their reading as well as to those who like their books to provoke thought.  It is a treatise on moral reflection in the dressing of a novel and carried off well by a wonderfully talented writer (loved his more recent Never Let Me Go, 4.5 stars, and just ordered two more of his works).

Thursday, December 22, 2011

(Non) Material Girl

I confess....I never wrote a letter to Santa.  Of course, the fact that my custodial parent was Jewish, may have had something to do with that.  But, even as a kid, I generally didn't have the holiday lists that other kids generated.  I spent X-mas at my Dad's and my half-siblings always had quite the lists but I always struggled to come up with gift ideas.

I'll admit that I know this was/is a source of frustration.  It was compounded by the short gap between my birthday and the holidays...some years it overlapped with Hanukah and it is less than two weeks before Christmas.  Since I only spent a couple of weeks a year out there, I know my father found it particularly maddening when I couldn't come up with many gift ideas.  I'd try to save a few up, but I was never a great help. 

The truth is, and I really don't want this to sound "holier-than-thou" and am quite aware it might, I'm just not all that needy when it comes to material goods.  I'll admit that I am emotionally complex, but I am not all that in need of "stuff".  When MM and I faced our first gift-giving occasion, he was doubtful I'd be happy with wine, a DVD, and dinner.  I think he's since learned.  I do love the teddy bear he got me and I'd save that well before the "bigger" present of a necklace. 

I do, however, like thoughtful gifts.  In some cases, this may actually make me MORE demanding than the girl with the endless list of wants, especially from closer folks.  It needn't be pricey, but I appreciate a present if it shows thought about me and my world.  I did suggest it so it isn't quite the perfect example, but the jars of deep conditioner from my mom are in this field.  It is something useful to me that helps in the love/hate battle with my thick, dark, long hair that I force straight since its natural state is a messy spot between curls and waves.  And, since it is the weekly treatment type (vs daily use necessity), it is something that adds up in price and a luxury that I question spending the extra funds on given my limited income.  Way back when, I had friends travel far to Big White Dress day who gave a small gift but whose presence meant more than the big checks and gift cards from family friends (not that I didn't appreciate the latter!!!).  Likewise, Teddy MM is special not only b/c he was an early present but b/c his outfit has a bit of meaning behind it (note: I was mad at MM last night....when I am mad, I want nothing related to the target, so Teddy MM got thrown across the room....sorry, Teddy, not your fault...). 

Again, I know that depth can be a tall order sometimes.  It may even be unfair.  It does, however, fit with the not-a-material-girl trend.  I don't care about the object, I care about the sentiment.  And dessert...I always like dessert :P 

Tangent alert -- I was in CVS the other day.  A mom, grandmom, and young boy were there too.  Mom walked away and grandmom asked the boy what he thought they should get a younger child for a present.  The boy (maybe 7ish, I'm not good at guessing) suggested a board game set.  Grandmom asked if it might be a little too old for the kid in question.  The boy, with all sincerity, replied, "It's okay.  I can play with it for him."  Favorite comment of the week!   Loved that he really meant it and didn't see any conflict at all.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

the anti-resolution rambler: working on me

I confess...I am not a fan of New Year's resolutions.  I have rambled about it before, but I think change comes when it is ready rather than when a calendar flips.  I am, however, realizing that sometimes external cues can be cause for evaluation.  For me, my birthday tends to do that more than the calendar flip, but the timing is close since I flip to the next year less than three weeks before the calendar.  I'm not really thinking in terms of make-or-break goals but more "things to work on in year 34."  It is, I think, a more fluid concept.  I hope that I'll continue to evaluate as the year progresses, but a few things I want to focus on as I continue to evolve and grow:

  • Finding what gives me satisfaction -- Minds out of the gutters, folks!  Satisfaction comes in many forms and I want to find things that nurture me and feed me.  This could be tied to the job search but it could also come from elsewhere....if I knew the details, it wouldn't be on the list!!
  • Getting to my physical best -- Like many folks, I have a goal weight in my head.  I doubt that I'll ever stop caring about the digits on the scale.  But I'd really like to work on framing it differently and achieving a body that is healthy and balanced.  I want to know it is a body I work to maintain but also one that I can live in peace with and that also allows me to enjoy life.  It means not abusing myself with binges but also not beating myself up if I slip.  It doesn't mean "perfection"....I don't want to live a life without some indulgence.  My physical best is about balance.
  • Nurturing my relationships -- Of course, the relationship with MM is a big one, but it isn't the only one.  I want to enjoy the people in my life and have relationships that bring joy and strength to both me and the others involved.  I want to take each person as an individual and respect each relationship with that in mind.
  • Giving back -- I'm not sure what the best way is for me, but I do want to feel like I am an asset to the world around me and that I make a difference.  I look at this very could be financial support or in-person volunteer work but it could also be supporting others going through battles that I've also endured.  I know my e-buddies help/ed me with so many fights and I'd like to do the same for others who feel alone in their battles.
  • Loving myself -- Again, folks, minds out of the gutters!!  I can own a few of my strengths, but I know I'm harsh on myself.  I often say that we should never treat ourselves any worse than we'd treat our dearest friends.  I want to work on LIVING that, a process that means being honest about my weaknesses when necessary but also owning my strengths and taking care of my inner and outer self. 

Saturday, December 17, 2011

wherein i jump on the holiday survey bandwagon

I confess...this is an odd time for me to jump on the blog survey wagon, but it seemed fun.  My mother's family is Jewish so there wasn't a holiday debate as a kid....I spent X-mas at my father's every year.  During my childhood, that included a step-mother (I have a new one now, the old one fit the "wicked" moniker but the new one is very kind) and half-siblings (when it was still unusual enough that people asked what a half-brother and half-sister looked like).  As an adult, some were spent quietly and others with X's family.  This year, MM and I will have a quiet holiday at home.  I am hoping to get brave and make a roasted chicken (better sized for two than other similar meals).

So, my holidays were always a bit different and I'm not a religious person but I still feel like playing.  Stolen from Tina (if you are an ATL friend and need a personal trainer, call her!!  and read her stories if you're a fellow fighter against the binge-eating demon): 

Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree? All wrapped, but rarely well!!

Colored lights on tree/house or white?  I prefer simple so white/silver and blue.  Maybe it is my way of blending in Hanukah colors.  MM says his chili-pepper lights are required.  I'm down with that, though they are distracting when set on "blink".  Our neighbor across the street must have doubled his electric bill this month!!

Do you hang mistletoe? No.  Kisses shouldn't be forced

What is your favorite holiday dish (excluding dessert)?  It's varied so much over recent years, but I made MM my mom's lox rolls at T-day and look forward to them at family gatherings on that side.  As a kid, my dad's house had a huge X-mas Eve gathering.  I hated ham which was always the entree for days on end but loved various pastry-laden appetizers and the corn casserole

Favorite Holiday memory as a child? Given that Dad is a surgeon, much of my time on visits as a kid was really w/ wife 2 who I always knew kind of hated that I existed and my half-siblings, who were fun but the 5 year gap was a lot.  But Dad and I were in charge of a bunch of errands on X-mas Eve before the big party and I loved that time together.

Snow? Love it or dread it? It is lovely to watch but needs to time itself can fall when I am not going anyplace but should stop and be gone when I need to exit the door. 

Real tree or fake tree?  No real opinion

What’s the most important thing about Christmas for you?  I'm not religious.  I'll resist the temptation to say cookies and say I love watching people feel a sense of community and joy.

What is your favorite Holiday dessert?  Gingerbread cookies!!  But it is tough....I'm not good at control so I really need single-serving desserts and they can be tough to find.

What is your favorite tradition? Too many variables to really answer these days. 
What tops your tree? Same.

What is your favorite Christmas Song?  Because I cried like a baby at the scene in Love, Actually, "All I Want For X-mas Is You". 

What do you leave for Santa?  No kids, so nothing.  But I'm recalling the little girl in an ad who got awesome gifts and explained she'd left cheese.

Do you have a Christmas morning tradition? Again, too varied.  Quality PJ time is always good!

Do you prefer to shop on-line or at the mall? Online.  I hate crowds so get any mall-going done a few weeks in advance.  I like the options online too and generally can find deals to compensate for shipping (or get it free).  This year, I was loving the Signals stuff too....I joined the "club" and did get some coupons to use that paid for the membership but those had to be ordered by phone which was somehow incredibly annoying to me.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Harper Review Trio: The Flight of Gemma Hardy (Livesay), First You Try Everything (McCafferty), Ali in Wonderland (Wentworth)

I confess...while these books are all courtesy of the lovely folks at Harper (which will be reiterated in the reviews since I also post them on Goodreads), I did leave a book-lover piece out of my recent Things the Rambler is Lovin' post.  While the APR is high so I wouldn't reccomend it if you don't pay it off every month, the Amazon Visa is lovely for fellow book lovers.  You get 3 points on Amazon purchases, 2 at drugstores, and 1 on other stuff.  A penny a point did add up when I used it on some of my medical bills instead of paying them directly.  Since I usually find used books for under a dollar (with a $4 shipping fee), a horrid $1,000 co-pay earned me a couple free books.  Always good in my world.  Anyway, reviews:

Inspired by Jane Eyre, when we meet Livesay's heroine she is a young orphan living with an Aunt and cousins who clearly let her know she is more a burden than a loved member of the family.  Gemma is excited by the prospect of a boarding school scholarship, only to find herself living as a servant at the school with a rough group of fellow working girls.  The reader follows Gemma as she grows to young adulthood, including a role as a governess in a house with its own secrets.

I spent the majority of this book (which was provided to me by the publishers) convinced I'd never be able to decide which way to round from 3.5.  The ending, however, didn't fit with my preferences and I ended at 3 stars.  I do like that Gemma isn't made into a paragon of perfection, she has and acknowledges faults.  I just don't tend to be a fan of too much literary magic.  But, I know that sometimes fits with the type of novels that inspired this story so others might feel differently.  I'd also have liked to see some of the characters more fully fleshed out.  It was a nice read, but just not one I see myself passing on or revisiting in the future.

Switching between characters, this novel tells the story of a marriage ending and shows one partner unravelling as the other begins to move forward.  In early chapters, I related a bit to some of the descriptions of Evvie from Ben's viewpoint but she quickly began to deteriorate and a troubling underside to her became clear.  She has trouble accepting Ben's departure and her sanity begins to crumble over time.  Ben is concerned but is trying to walk the line between being supportive and giving her false hopes or falling back into old habits himself.

I wasn't quite sure how I'd feel about this novel as I progressed.  There's a key story element that I won't reveal but that I just didn't enjoy at all.  Despite that, I am giving this novel (provided to me by Harper) a solid four stars for the deep psychological study of a woman shaken to the core.  The author shows that the roots of Evvie's disturbance went deep (vs. having her just crack one moment) and I think both partners are well explored.  I'd very much like to remove the one storyline that felt like too much of an add-in (I can see how the author got caught by the concept, just think it'd be a better novel without it) but it is a worthwhile read as it stands.  Good for folks who like compelling character-driven studies of personality and psychology.
Having enjoyed a few of Jen Lancaster's books, I was glad to have the chance to read a copy of this book provided to me by the folks at Harper.  It is a humorous memoir of a woman who grew up in an elite D.C. circle and roamed around a bit before finding herself back in the D.C. arena after marrying a well-known political advisor/journalist.  The book covers event's of Ali's childhood, her adventures in love, and her life as a wife and mother.  The author is a comedienne with come acting creds but not someone I was familiar with prior to the book.

Unfortunately, this just didn't fire right for me.  I was amused but never in a laugh-out-loud fashion and I never felt like I could really relate to Ali.  I'd go with 2.5 stars given the option.  I'll round up to fit the full-star needs of the review sites and because I certainly never debated abandoning ship.  It just never quite spoke to me and it lacked the "girlfriend gab" aura I had hoped to find.

rambler in print

I confess...I don't want to put my name directly on my blog (even though I know that folks could find it if they really wanted to) but I will say that a certain Rambler has a series in  the Gazette, our local freebie paper.  It is the 12/16 edition (in case you see this some other time).  See the editor intro on page 4 and the piece at the bottom of page 10.  FYI -- It's a local free paper that one grabs in the grocery store or DQ so it is kinda low-tech and a bit slow to load.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

things the rambler is lovin'

I confess...this post comes with a warning.  There's a dismaying link between me loving a product and it being altered or disappearing.  You've been warned.  That said, I wanted to share some random things I've been loving lately.  These will be things I haven't touted before (of course, I still ❤  my Diet Cherry Dr. Pepper) and all are just from my experience, none were provided to me (but I'll take thank you samples!!!): 
  • Dove Conditioners -- My hair is thick and course.  A previously touted anti-frizz serum from Avon is still key to my mane control, but I've become a big fan of Dove's conditioners.  I've tried a few and all leave my hair nice and soft (NOT its natural state).  They are also pretty reasonably priced which is key when your hair DRINKS conditioner (a "dime-sized" amount?  try palm-sized).
  •  Tiger Balm patches -- I have tried LOTS of pain patches.  Many are pricey and still offer very little relief.  The Tiger Balm ones are not cheap (often $8/5) but they DO help.  There is some odor but it is absolutely worth it.  I did score a decent deal on Ebay blogging gig pays via PayPal so it inspired me to come into the 2000s and use the site.
  • Simply Saline - MM got me onto this one.  I was terrified to try it, having imagined an aerosol hairspray can up my nose!  It isn't like that but it does flush things out.  My step-dad (in drug development) wondered about preservatives but the kind I have notes it is preservative-free.  A neti-pot WOULD be greener, but this is an easier first step.
  • Special K Chips -- Yummy and you get a whole bunch per serving.  Light but tasty.
  • Alka-Seltzer Cold Night & Day -- Honestly, more than the actual medicine, I liked that the pack I bought finally recognized that there are more "day" hours than "night" and varied the amount of pills accordingly.  It did help with sinus issues too!!
  • Miracle Foot Repair (warning: link "talks") -- Somehow, my left foot was a horrid mess while the right stayed baby smooth.  Using this twice a day, under my socks pre-treadmill and under slipper socks pre-bed (never stay on all night...), had made a definite difference.  I've done the same with regular lotions and this did actually merit mention b/c it worked better than other products.
I'm still waiting on a new blanket I ordered like two months ago.  It is made of bamboo fibers and I am planning on it becoming a favorite once it FINALLY arrives!!!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Follow-Up Post: Further Thoughts on the Sandusky Story

I confess...a lot is swirling in my head.  I'm going to pick one topic though, to keep things under control, and it is one I already rambled about before

I continue to follow the Sandusky case more than I really want to admit.  I'm not sure what it is that compels me to tune in to the story.  I've lived in cities so it isn't the first time I had a national story in my backyard (I lived only a couple miles from the so-called Craigslist Killer, my shuttle van driver went to his complex after mine), even if it is unusual for Central PA.  Part of it is about hoping to see justice, especially for child victims.  Part of it is about the way we idolize sports figures and other celebrities as well.  But there's something else and I just can't put my finger on it.  I was sick of Casey Anthony and Conrad Murray after a day or two, but I keep seeking more details this time. 

However, I am NOT interested in attending the hearing next week.  The courthouse is in our small town that neighbors State College.  We aren't right there downtown, but we do live only a mile and a hald from the courthouse.  Out town does NOT get crowds...the highway is a bit busier on game days but the traffic isn't in our town itself.  It seems odd that they are doing a lottery for seats, with a portion for media and a portion for the public.  I guess though that it might be the easiest way and prevent some sort of crazy standing in line that might otherwise be the default.   Regardless, it will be nuts.

There is so much tragedy in this story.  It is horrible to imagine how many kids might have been hurt and hard to understand how people turned a blind eye.  But I'm also trying to focus on some positive outcomes.  I hope the attention makes it a little easier for victims of abuse, past or present, to come forward.  I cannot imagine how hard that is, especially when the perpetrator is touted as such a great community-centered advocate for youth and part of an idolized sports saga.  I had a teacher who blurred the lines once, I didn't even speak up about that (it was borderline, not at all akin to the Sandusky accusations).  The stranger cases are the exception and most victims trust their abuser, making it much harder to speak about the abuse.  I imagine it is even worse for boys/men.  I hope this encourages past victims to seek help and anyone currently dealing with it to speak up. 

Side note: Lawyers need to advertise.  I write for a legal blog and part of the blog's purpose is advertising.  It is important that victims be able to identify legal resources.  I think advertising that you represent abuse victims is appropriate.  I am not so fond of a local lawyer whose TV ad specifically targets victims of the PSU abuse.  It feels a step too far to me. 

I am also encouraged by the call for reform in reporting rules.  Many laws do exist that acknowledge the special challenge of child abuse, including mandatory reporting obligations on many people who have contact with children and suspect abuse.  This case makes it clear that we need more such rules.  We need a system that makes it crystal clear what needs to be done when allegations or suspicions arise in ANY system that involves children.  Two people spoke here....well, at least two.  I do have a level of sympathy for them, both were lower in the food-chain and both did "report up" about what they saw.  A rule that makes it mandatory for those receiving these reports bring them to the police is needed.  It is best for the kids.  It also just eliminates the choice, which I hope these people at least struggled with. 

I have also been heartened to see the community dedicate energy to fundraising and other efforts to stop abuse.  In my first post on the scandal, I expressed hope that the community would take all the emotion and turn it into positive action.  That happened at the first game after the news broke and continues to happen.  Some of it is a PR thing, PSU will have to work to get its reputation back and they have announced several efforts including donating bowl game proceeds to charity and working on a special center dedicated to helping abuse victims.  I see the mixed motives, but I'll take it. 

I hope the victims find justice.  I hope that others speak up if they were also victims, especially those within the limitations period (another side note: I want to say "He misused it.  Cut it off." but I do believe we need to let the system work and in proving guilt in court).  And I hope this tragedy helps us, as a society, learn and move ahead to a better and safer world.

P.S.  I feel silly noting it at all, so minor in the sweep of things, but I will admit the press on the 13th are not here for me.  And I'll see it as an excuse to spend my birthday/hearing day in my PJs. 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The New and The Old: Reviews of Red Ruby Heart in a Cold Blue Sea (Callan Rogers) and Plainsong (Haruf)

I confess....since learning how to work deals on Amazon and getting hooked up with the folks at Harper, I've been re-reading less that I used to.  I suppose it is the upside of a less-than-stellar memory that makes it possible to revisit books.  They feel familiar and cozy but not stale or boring.  This set of reviews has a re-read from my pre-reviewing days and also a new book, one that I was excited to win an advance copy of over at Goodreads (my first win there!).  Since it was a freebie advance copy, I'll put that review first (and hopefully it'll help me earn brownie points to be a future winner!)....

  • Red Ruby Heart in a Cold Blue Sea by Morgan Callan Rogers
I've entered many Goodreads contests and was excited to finally be among the winners!  This is a coming-of-age story, set largely in the 60s in a small town in Maine where only a handful of families live year-round.  Florine finds herself adrift when her beloved mother, Carlie, disappears while on a girls' weekend away.  Florine is left with her father, who loves her but with whom she struggles a bit, and a grandmother who is an institution in the town and is known to all as Grand.  We see Carlie struggle to define herself in relation to her town and her family and to grow into her own person while the shadow of her missing mother never fades.

I was reminded of Fannie Flagg's writing while I read this novel (more Daisy Fay and The Miracle Man than her better-known Fried Green Tomatoes), a link that seems to have been made by others out there in the book community.  This isn't a light story, there's a lot of sadness here and a lot of struggle, but it still flew by.  It was easy to read but in a very pleasurable sense of that phrase -- you drop in and visit with some friends who are there when you pick it back up the next evening.  It isn't earth-shattering but it is a very enjoyable read and great for a reader looking for a fictional escape.  The residents of The Point are a type of family and I enjoyed sitting at their warm table.  Throughout the book, there are references to cooking and especially to bread.  At one point, a summertime cottage dweller remarks on how wonderful a basic loaf of fresh bread can be and I think that's a fitting analogy for the book -- no frills, but warmly welcoming.  Again, it isn't a story of many joys but there's an undercurrent of love and community that makes it retain hope. 

I suppose the ratings folks help me here since I'd be torn b/w 3.5 and 4 stars and the lack of half-stars resolves that dilemma. I think it is also more fair...the novel doesn't ever really pretend to be overly literary (it is fresh bread, not a fancy torte!), but it does its genre well.  FYI -- The novel does appear to have come out previously in German with the US edition slated for early 2012 release. 

A month or so ago, I stumbled on a TV movie while putting in my treadmill time.  I knew I'd read the book but couldn't bring the name to mind and the "guide" insisted I was watching The Golden Girls.  It took an IMDB visit but the name came back and the desire to revisit the book came with it. 

This was my second read of Plainsong.  Set in a small town in Colorado, the novel introduces the reader to a number of residents who feel both very ordinary and also a bit extraordinary.  There's a pregnant teen cast out by her mother, a pair of boys whose mother leaves them emotionally and then physically, a set of old farmer brothers who never married, and a teacher trying to do right in a complicated world.  The chapters shift focus but the stories all overlap with some frequency, much as one might expect in a rural town.  These are people trying to get by and do right.  They are never fancy, nor is the language flowery, but there's a beauty in the simplicity that reigns even in the face of some complex challenges.  I love character-centered books and this certainly qualifies, though it also has a strong sense of place.  Things DO happen, but it is more about how the events shape the people (and how the people, in turn, shape each other).

Strong four stars.  I didn't see the whole TV movie but it seemed worthwhile too...a good warm cup of hot cocoa and a blanket kind of movie (by the Lifetime folks). 

Friday, December 2, 2011

33, part 2 - the pretty-darn-cool

I took me a bit longer to sit down to write this than I intended.  And I'm totally using bullet-points.  The good things that happened in my 33rd year:
  • Really, I could just write about MM but I'll just say that I found the love I never imagined I would have with a wonderful man who can be all macho and fix stuff but still buys a gingerbread-scented candle from the little boy going door-to-door b/c he felt bad for the kid and knows I love gingerbread scent.  I honestly had thought I just no longer liked kissing or being held...I just needed the right set of lips and arms.
  • I took action, put on my Brave Face and went through major surgery.  A lumbar fusion is a pretty big-deal operation and I'm still in recovery mode but there WAS bone growth on my last x-ray which is really encouraging.  I keep citing it but the doc said it was among the worst discs he's seen in years (and he does these several times a week) which was such a validation that the pain was real AND gives hope the surgery will help.
  • Only one trip so far, though at least three more before the official 33rd year ends, but liking the new physical therapist.  I'd seen two in I loved, the other felt a bit too much like an assembly-line, factory approach.  I'm hopeful this one will get me back into fighting shape.
  • Put my past behind me.  It took an emotional trip to a Boston courtroom and then a long wait after, but the divorce is final and official and that's good.
  • Loving my new Centre County home.  I read up on the area when I was looking at a job here summer-to-fall 2010 but came in second.  I was disappointed since I'd truly become a fan.  Then I met some boy at a party.  He lived near State College and it opened a conversation and swears he didn't want to meet the girl he was supposed to meet since I talked to him first.  So, I ended up out here after all.  Love the fact that most anything I need is close but I still feel like I live in a small town where neighbors wave and the mail-lady asks about my back and chases us down for a signature if she spots us going out before she gets to our door. 
  • I may still lack the FT job but I can officially say I'm being paid to write.  It is just a ghost-writing gig for a attorney blog (largely personal injury but branching out), passed on by a friend when she took a full-time job herself, but it is writing and I get money so it still counts.  Another plus is it makes my resume less stale.
  • I still have body image issues, but I have also been learning a lot about how I function.  I figured out an uptick in endo was tied to the pheromone/hormone change in having a man sleeping next to me after sleeping alone for a while (before the divorce too...partly his snoring, partly emotional).  I can tell when I'm getting sick by the endo too.  I'm getting better at reading soreness as well and figuring out how to tackle it. 
  • Silly one -- I perfected the use of Amazon to order cheap books. $3.99 shipping isn't bad when the book costs a penny, especially when it is a book I wanted rather than just a "bargain bin" leftover.
  • I know some new folks stumbled onto my blog and that makes me smile.
Hopefully 34 will bring more good news.   My little town seems to be making major preparations for my birthday....okay, maybe that's unrelated to my birthday and it may make me afraid to walk out our door that day (State College deals w/ crowds, we don't get them here).  Though I have suggested we offer the guest room for rental to someone with AP press creds (kinda like a background check, right??)...only about 1.5m from the hoopla-center.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

33, part 1 - the not-so-good...

I confess....I'm not waiting two more weeks to write this.  It is drumming loudly in my head and I hope hashing through it helps me with that. 

My pre-turkey gratitude post referenced some of the events of 2011 but I also want to reflect more broadly on my 33rd year.  As I noted last year around birthday time (early then too....), my AP English teacher once told us to be alert for 33yo characters.  The age carries biblical significance and often is a hint that the character will be experiencing some significant change.  33 has been busy for me...I do have two weeks to go but I'm ready to reflect early.  In pondering the process of pondering, I decided two posts were needed.  When asked, I always pick "bad news first, good news second"...I'd rather start down and end up.  So look forward to a celebratory post to come...but this isn't it....

The most obvious disappointment of 33 (and the focus of most of this post) is on the career front.  In a week, I become one of the 99ers....unemployed long enough that my benefits all expire.  I do have my little writing gig (that will be in 33, Part 2), but I haven't found a full-time job.  I feel exhausted by the job search.  I apply to many jobs each week, some that I'd truly love and others that might work for now.  I don't hear back much, though I get totally jazzed when I do and start dreaming and planning and thinking about how perfect that job would be.  Good for showing enthusiasm, not so good for the let-down if it falls through.

I feel like my education and career background has been a huge hindrance in this.  I went to a top college.  I went to a top law school.  I do NOT want to be a lawyer (I have a lovely speech about that topic...) but people get stuck on that.  I have expressly heard hiring folks say they thought I'd be underwhelmed by certain jobs b/c of my background.  I have no big ego.  I get that I'd be entry-level in some jobs and I am cool with that.  I'd love to find and build the RIGHT career and I can pay my dues.  I would absolutely come and stay with the right job.  Getting paid helps, but I am not primarily motivated by money.  I had the high-paying job that made me miserable and I want something more intangible.  But I don't get the chance (see this post for one of the harder rejections....but there were many more).

And now I'm also prepared to take a non-career-path job too.  I do have savings and MM has never complained about paying the vast majority of the bills.  But it matters to me that I help with some when I can and that I pay for my personal expenses (groceries, drug store, cell phone, insurance, lingering medical bills).  I have savings...I won't starve....but I do need some cashflow.  But, again, I have the stumbling block of my resume.  Approaching 34, I can't leave it all blank but I know the supermarket is going to pick the high-school kid over the applicant with the BA and the JD.  Truth -- on some of those jobs, I really couldn't promise that I won't leave when I find a career-path job.  But I'd be a darn good worker (and there's no reason to suspect the career to pop up tomorrow when it hasn't yet).  I'd be on time.  I'd do my job.  I'd be helpful.  I'd be polite.  I'd respect the managers, even if they are younger than me.  I don't know how long that 17 year-old plans to stay either.  I'd at least be courteous and give notice rather than not showing up one day.

I look hard.  I've networked, I've made targeted resumes, I've applied, I've followed-up.  Heck, I went to an interview one week post-op AND prepared a presentation for it (most people can only get out of bed for 20min at a time at that point)!!  I feel defeated.  Truly, that's the biggest thing missing from my thirty-third year.  And the one I'm finding it the hardest to deal with.

Moving on....I am not thrilled with where 33y50w has me in terms of body image.  Or, frankly, in terms of body/fitness.  That one, however, I feel more able to tackle.  A lot of it relates to the aftermath of major surgery (also to be included in Part Two since it IS a positive) and is somewhat expected.  I am finally getting ready to start physical therapy and have a consult late tomorrow afternoon.  I plan to ask about being able to start getting some muscle back on my own in addition to the work with the therapist and I know that will be a HUGE step forward for me.  Losing definition has been tough on me and send me into a cycle where I feel icky and then respond by eating and then feel ickier.  I think being able to work on getting the muscle back will help break that.  It won't happen overnight, but it WILL happen.  Fitness level is in the negative column for 33 but I see it moving into the positive for 34.

There are some other disappointments in 33...a misunderstanding leading to a lost friend is one...but those are the biggies.  So, there's part one...the bad news.  Not fun but now I get to look forward to assembling part 2.  And 33 had some pretty awesome stuff too. 

Friday, November 25, 2011

Black Friday Special: 3 Book Reviews (Let the Great World Spin, The World to Come, Attachments

I confess...I'm waiting on four freebie books (3 Harper, 1 Goodreads contest) and was sad the mail-lady didn't bring any today.  I used to regularly mix in re-reads but haven't lately given the Harper books and the deals I can score on Amazon's used books.  I'll venture down to the shelves tonight though, especially since I have three newly read books to bring down.

The tie that binds the characters in Let the Great World Spin is a daring (and illegal) stunt in which a man walked on a tightrope strung between the Twin Towers in 1974.  The book has a wide-range of characters including two Irish brothers living in a rough Bronx neighborhood, a wealthy woman who lost her son in Vietnam, and a prostitute who is a grandmother to two despite only being in her 30s.  The chapters focus on different characters but they do connect up to each other so it feels more liked linked vignettes than short stories.

I'm landing back on my 3.5 star rating here, rounding up to 4.  I enjoyed the book.  I think it is natural in this type of novel to find some characters more compelling than others and I did sometimes regret not spending more time with some of them.  This isn't a happy read, although there are some inspiring moments.  I'd call it gritty realism with a hint of hope.  At times, I felt like it dragged but there were parts where I definitely looked forward to the next time I could pick it up.  Mixed feelings but still worth the read and I rounded up because I do think the author shows skill and took on an ambitious project that is not just the standard fare.
This book has a bit of history in it.  In 2001, a small piece by Chagall was stolen from the Jewish Museum in NYC during a singles happy hour.  The author takes this theft and creates a fictional story around it.  The story does include some history, including a look at Chagall's life in Russia in the 1920s and an author with whom his path crossed but whose future turned out very different than Chagall's successful career.  The fictional art thief is a recently divorced man with a rich family history that the reader sees as the focus shifts among a number of focal characters.  Throughout, there is a backdrop of Yiddish folklore, including a lovely story about the divot between a baby's nose and upper lip (I wonder if I'm alone in repeatedly touching my own lip dimple while reading). 

This is a strong four stars for me, possibly even four and a half.  It is a complex novel in that there are many interrelated characters, but it also feels like a simple little story at the same time.  I loved Horn's writing and the weaving of the folklore through the tale.  It is a rare novel that can make me root for an art thief (not that I condone his actions....though they do get placed in context)!  A great mix of historical fiction and modern characters that I enjoyed immensely.  Recommend to literature lovers, especially any with a curiosity about folklore and the way we carry the past with us.

It is unusual for a novel that borders on chick-lit to have a male lead and perhaps that's why I'm not sure if the chick lit label fits here.  I saw another review calling it a plane read and I can get behind seeing it as plane or beach fare.  The book is set in 1999 when a Midwest paper is tentatively moving into the digital age and hires an IT security guy tasked with keeping an eye on internet usage more than on our more modern concerns of online privacy invasion.  Lincoln's job includes reading flagged emails and issuing warnings on misuse, including the use of email for personal chats.  He finds himself wrapped up in the emails exchanged by two women (all the main characters seem to be late 20s) and continues to read the emails without sending a caution and with increasing guilt over the invasion as he finds himself falling for one of the women.  The novel encompasses all three as they grow into the next stage of their lives negotiating family, relationships, and potential parenthood.

This is a three star read for me.  I think it does what it should and what it is intended to do.  It is a fun book and you can forgive some of the magic that is often associated with rom-com movies.  Nothing too deep but enjoyable.  I enjoy sometimes taking a break from more serious reads and this fit the bill but it also isn't quite on the level of Good in Bed or Bridget Jones. 

Monday, November 21, 2011

gratitude 2011

I confess....I am compulsively early.  In college, it was pretty much the norm to be late and I recall one friend saying she tried really hard to be on time w/ me because she knew being 10 minutes late meant I'd been there for 20.  In one organization, they told people to put "1:50" on their calendars for a 2PM meeting.  They told me to put 2:10.

So, a pre-turkey gratitude post.  I am focusing on the past 12 months rather than just the world in general so don't expect the more general "having food to eat" stuff.  I AM grateful for such things, but I want a more specific focus.  And bullet-points.

In 2011, I am grateful for:
  • Finding MM.  There's so much I could put here but I'm gonna limit myself and go with the moment I said I was jealous of the backrub he was giving the host at a NYE gathering and the "Don't worry, you're next" response.  We'd talked a bit earlier in the evening and the first kiss didn't come till the next night (we go with 1/1 as the official marker...the backrub was well after midnight) but that's when it really started.
  • My mom "letting" me go to move in with MM even though it was crazy fast but more because I know she and my step-dad would always take me back in if it hadn't worked.
  • My dad for answering all the million medical questions and for him and my step-mom babysitting me when I first got out of the hospital.
  • My bones for growing.  I see horror stories of surgeries failing and knowing that bone growth was happening was a relief.  Hopefully next year I'll be grateful for being "fully fused" (i.e. the bones have grown all the way and the surgery was a success) and for the pain being a memory.
  • Centre County, PA.  Despite the press deluge on our area recently, I really like it here.  It is such a friendly place...our mail-lady chased us down so I didn't miss a package once and several people came to help when my car got stuck after some snow. 
  • Fireballs.  Yes, they make the list.  Think jalapeno poppers but in pizza dough.
  • Risotto Cakes.  I'll stop at two food nods.  MM uses credit card points for Omaha Steaks orders and we added these since I'm not a big red meat gal.  They are freakin' awesome.
  • A home treadmill. Yes, it is an odd one to include (though pairs well with the food), but I really love having it. It has been especially helpful in recovery since going to the gym and being able to only do a slow walk would have been even harder for me and having full cable (only about 10 channels at my gym and obv do have to consider other folks) is really helpful when I'm on the "long and slow" route.
  • Electric fireplaces.  I've never had one before and didn't really "get" the concept but it totally keeps the living area warm without turning up the oil heat.  It is pretty too....not quite the same as a "real" fire but it also avoids having to leave the flue open and losing heat after plus it is super easy. 
  • The fact that I can say I have been paid to write.  It isn't fancy, just ghost-writing for an attorney's blog (personal injury focus but also branching out) and the style is dictated by the forum, but it totally still counts.
  • People who actually read my blog.  Love that the number of followers went up a bit and know other folks click over from FB or use blog reader apps. 
I inevitably think of other things to say after I hit post.  No promises that I won't come back and edit.  But I'll throw in a catchall and note that I'm thankful for the things and folks I've found in the past year that enrich my life and I think the best things are sometimes the ones we don't even think to list.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

bullet-points are addictive

I confess...I totally go into bullet-point withdrawal:

  • Thanks to a friend who suggested me as her replacement, I am ghost-writing a lawyer blog.  It ain't fancy, just three posts a week for a personal injury lawyer out in CA, but I'm actually able to say that I am being paid to write!  Totally one of my dreams...even if it is in a very lay audience style and hampered by the need to include search engine friendly phrases that don't always feel natural. 
  • Weaning out of my brace sounded so wonderful.  I could not WAIT to be free of it (though decided it would not burn well and I couldn't have a brace bonfire).  I was NOT ready though for feeling like I'm back in the early weeks of recovery.  It makes sense that I'd have pain and spasms and my back wakes up, I just hadn't thought it through.  Not fun. 
  • Also not fun...sinus issues.  I thought a half-developed cold was to blame but it took a break and returned so I'm not so sure.  MM uses a saline sinus rinse but I'm a bit chicken about trying it myself (and would need to buy my own since it sounds even worse than sharing a toothbrush).
  • Gingerbread marshmallows are AWESOME but can never again be bought by me since they disappeared in two days.  But, if you have self-control, totally try them
  • This post is on my mind.  I am refraining from a too early check-in on year 33 (though that post was a bit pre-turning 33 itself).  A lot of great changes, but still waiting on one big one.
  • Funny how events turn.  I was dumped from a job recently for having the nerve to ask about salary or non-traditional hours (even though I agreed to EVERYTHING in the end and only insisted on seeing paperwork...see ramble here).  That job involved young children.  So, of course, the next job I get in the process for (beyond just an app...millions of those) involved convicts.  And, yes, parental types, I will make sure it is all safe and secure if I'm chosen for an interview beyond my 10min intro convo.
  • Still fascinated by the PSU story, more than I feel like I should be.  I think the tension b/w legal and moral duty is part of it.  As for Sandusky's interview where he admitted showering w/ kids, lots have questioned how a lawyer let that happen.  Well, the lawyer was once representing a teen girl in an emancipation proceeding and ended up having a sexual affair with her.  Started when she was 16 (legal in PA, apparently, which continues my legal/moral divide), she had his kid at 17 and did marry him years later and had 1 more before they split).
  • It feels like eons ago, but I saw Herman Cain's conference on the harassment claims and was surprised to see a familiar face.  His attorney had joined my firm about a year before I left.  He'd previously had a small practice that included several high power media-related cases.  I wondered how the case got approved by a big firm machine and found out he'd since left the firm.  The cool of the three partners was a friend and office-neighbor of mine at the firm.  She's a liberal who got me involved in NARAL and who is now a Democratic member of the GA State House.
  • We get a crazy number of wrong number calls on our new-ish home line.  And they are for at least 5 different people....several from collection folks.  Sixty percent are machines that never have a "you have the wrong folks" option.
  • MM and I shall have our own Thanksgiving this year.  I haven't reserved a turkey but was glancing yesterday.  I'd hoped they had a stand-alone turkey breast but only found full turkeys and cutlets.  He's the cook but I may be the shopper and I'm not sure what I'll get....leftovers are normal but a whole turkey's leftovers, esp since I'm not a huge fan of actual turkey and freakishly like turkey cold cuts but not roasted turkey, after only 2 diners is a bit much.  I plan to make my mom's lox/smoked salmon rolls as an app and might get my act together enough to make a cheesecake too.  The secret crust ingredient is Zwiebacks, the biscuits often used for teething tots.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Not-So-Happy Valley

I confess...I am captivated by the story, much more than I'd have imagined.  I live just outside State College.  The region is known as Happy Valley but there's truly nothing happy in this saga and, November weather aside, the town feels very gray and somber.  Beyond a quick sports score report, our local stories are rarely national news.  Until this week when the story of football coach Jerry Sandusky repeatdly abusing young boys hit the news.  The story became more involved when it became clear that other university representatives were aware of the situation, including Joe Paterno ("Joe Pa" to the town), the head coach of the football team, a legend in college sports and an idol in this town. 

Of course, my heart aches for the victims of this abuse.  It went on too long.  Even one innocent life disrupted is too many.  There are currently nine victims listed and there is little doubt that there are many more out there.  The evidence, including two separate eye-witness accounts by adults who observed blatant sexual abuse, is pretty convincing.  I do believe in our presumption of innocence, but I have a hard time thinking that this many stories are all false.  Other than a few purporting to reserve judgment until everything is heard, I have only heard condemnation for Sandusky.  The outrage at the allegations is just.  It is cases like these that make me wish we had truly harsh penalties for serial child abusers (i.e. you misused "it", we're gonna cut it off).  Okay, I wouldn't want that system most days, but I can't deny feeling like jail would be too easy.

When you get beyond Sandusky, I do think it gets more complex.  I took a course called Higher Education & The Law and I know that there are very complex rules that govern colleges and universities.  These rules can be especially detailed with a large university such as PSU.  It seems clear that Joe Paterno was informed of the abuse on at least two occasions by direct eye-witnesses.  These weren't "iffy" cases, like a hug that lingered too long, and the reports were clear.  In turn, Paterno reported the incidents to his superiors.  This is, from what I can tell, what the rules dictated.  Although there may be added wrinkles given that children were involved and child abuse does have some strict reporting guidelines, it seems like Paterno did follow the letter of the law.  Moral duty is a whole different question and I do think his failure to go beyond the reporting scheme likely allowed Sandusky's actions to claim more victims. 

I can see an argument for staying within the rules, a trust that they work and an attempt to avoid any potential false claims even though that does not feel likely to be happening here.  Even when someone is fully cleared, I doubt they can ever recover their reputation after a false allegation of sexual misdeeds, especially with a child.  I don't think this excuses anyone but I do think it merits note.  It seems to me that Joe Pa should have done more, but that the people to whom he reported bear even more of that responsibility. 

I understand the decision to fire Joe Pa.  Even more, I understand the decision to fire the University President.  Several in the middle resigned.  I think that would have been a smarter (and nobler) move for all.  PSU seems to have given them the chance and only acted when it became clear they didn't plan on it (Joe Pa said he'd retire at the end of the season).  I do not condone the violence in some student protests, but I can also feel a bit for the students.  Most of the protesters have been peaceful.  They are 20 year old kids whose idol was just ripped out from under them.  They want to still believe in him.  He did a lot for the team and for the school and, in a way only young people can, they feel this vivdly.  I do not think they are demeaning the victims...none are protesting in favor of Sandusky.  I think they just feel like Joe Pa, a beloved figure, is being made a scapegoat.  He followed the rules and that is what they see.  Beyond that, it is complex and they may not be ready to take it all in.  They want to believe in Santa, even after seeing presents in the closet.

And that idolization leads me to another thought.  I've heard some people say "this isn't about football, it is about abuse."  Of course, it is about abuse.  There's no question there and no question that nothing can give back to the victims the innocence they lost.  But, it IS about football too.  It is about idols and heroes.  It is about the power we place in the hands of the few.  The degree to which people worship the team and its leadership is a big issue here.  It is always hard for victims to come forward.  Especially children.  Especially boys.  This is exponentially increased when the abuse is perpetrated by people in power.  Sandusky was seen as a "great" and the full package.  He was not only an athletic leader but also a mentor dedicated to helping young people succeed.  This gave him access and granted him more silence.  It is hard to speak against a hero and even harder to speak against someone you are told is providing opportunity to so many young people.  This makes the analogy to the church abuse scandals feels very apt.  This story is about football because it is football, and the community work that grew out of his football career, that gave Sandusky power.  It gave him the silence of his victims and no doubt also made it harder for the eye-witnesses to report the crimes.  A winning and loved coach versus a janitor, in a town that worships sport and loves idols. 

Taking a pretty big tangent onto the sport....I also feel awful for the members of the team.  In general, I think high-level college athletes are spoiled.  I'm not a fan of the amount of glory (and, in ways that sneak around rules, fiscal reward) we give to the college football elite.  But these kids certainly have worked hard to excel at their sport and, for lack of an eloquent way to put this, it just stinks that their college sports career will be forever marred by this story.  It will be a tough remainder of the season and their football days will always be associated with events over which they had no control.  They are certainly not to blame. 

There are talks of boycotts.  Others seem even more likely to attend this week's game because they view it as a way to show support for Paterno.  I admit I'll be interested in seeing how the Saturday game unfolds, both in the stands and on the fields.  Of all the suggestions I've seen on how the community should respond, my favorite involves fans still attending the games (assuming they'd have gone prior) but wearing black to show grief for the abuse victims (others say blue but that doesn't feel like a strong message to me since it is "normal" for fans to don blue and white). 

There's a lot of emotion in this story and a lot of emotion in this town.  Legacies will be altered by the story, sports history will be written about these days.  The town and the school need time to process and time to grieve.  Tee-shirts have long advertised a city that Bleeds Blue and White.  There are wounds, especially given that the school often prided itself on a team that did right in addition to winning games.  I think the strength of the community will, however, let it move ahead.  It will heal. 

As for the victims, I doubt they can ever fully heal and they cannot be given back what they lost.  But I hope they find help and find their feet.  Maybe that's actually the best way forward...for the school and the community to show support for ALL victims of abuse.  There is little that is better for the spirit than a united cause.  I hope the community can use all this energy and all the spirit behind it to help prevent future abuse and help victims find support and guidance. 

Go Bones, Go!!

I confess....I am actually interested in chatting about the child abuse story that is focused right in my backyard, but I do want to do a quick health update too so y'all may be getting two posts back-to-back.  I know, you are excited.  My blog traffic is down according to the "stats" button on my "Dashboard" but I've been told that may miss folks who view it through readers.  Not sure if that's the case and I do get a kick out of higher view numbers, but I also find the blog pretty useful for collecting my thoughts regardless.  That's semi-honest. 

Anyway, I do like that I will be able to look back on the back journey and also may be able to refer others here who are facing similar challenges. I had my 3 month follow-up appointment on Wednesday.  As a quick refresher, I had an anterior lumbar interbody fusion at L5/S1 (a low back spinal fusion that went through the belly) on 8/8/11. It followed a couple years of increasing pain and failed attempts to use injections and physical therapy to remedy it.  The doc reported that the disc was one of the worst he's seen in years, significant given that he regularly does multiple fusions a week and a validation that the pain was quite real.

My mental chant has been "Go bones, go!" since the bones need to fuse themselves over the inserted cages.  The first month appointment was too early to tell much so I was anxious to see the x-rays this time and THRILLED to see "new bone" growing.  This is VERY good news and a sign that I will eventually "fully fuse" which makes the operation successful and hopefully remedies the pain.  The full fusion takes a year but it is encouraging to see it is going in the right direction.  The surgeon was very pleased with the status. 

I do still have a good bit of pain but the doc was not concerned.  It has been more focused on the lower back in the past weeks which scared me.  I was more certain it was my body adjusting when it was full spine and this felt too much like my "old" pain.  But the doc was not concerned.  I am going to wean off wearing my brace over the next two weeks and then he'll send an order to start physical therapy.  The PT will focus on strength and stretching related to the operation but the doc said that PT can also give me tips on getting back into weight training more generally which is great.  I miss my triceps!

I will pretty definitely have a scar.  It is a little bigger than "four fingers" and between my navel and bikini line.  A bit jealous of my wise back buddy (met her on a forum, she's a couple years younger but we have a LOT in common....she had a similar surgery about 3w later and is also a fitness person so we can relate a lot) who actually asked for and got a horizontal incision that is low enough for coverage in swimwear.  Mine is vertical.  It is still red but the doc says it will turn white.  It's funny, the first time I wore a bikini in my life was at age 27.  I'm not at my happy weight these days so the excuse to turn in the two-piece is not such a horrid thing and it certainly is not an everyday public area so it could be much worse.  The incision pain was HORRID the first few days but that did disappear pretty quickly and the itching calmed over time. 

So, good news all around.  Still feeling frustrated with the pain and the limitations but it helps to know it is all going in the right direction.  Progress is being made, I'll get to make more progress with PT etc., and there WILL be a day when this is all in the past.  Thanks to all who have shared support and sent good thoughts.  I can't express how valuable it has been to have a cheering section!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Books, The Women & Power Edition: An American Wife (Sittenfeld) and Pope Joan (

I confess...I' often amused to find that I go on unintentional theme sprees with my reading.  The two books I'm reviewing today are VERY different but both have women protagonists and both involve positions of power.  They are very different, but I like the theme and would love any suggestions for other books in the same vein.

  • An American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld (side note: Curtis is a woman....just FYI)
I very deliberately avoided this book for a long time.  I get nervous about the "big book of the month" and it just didn't intrigue me.  That all changed though when a fellow blogger (Julie) mentioned it as a possible reading selection.  I hadn't thought about it in a long time but suddenly the recap that specifically mentioned a woman with very different political views than her husband, whose career revolved around those ideals.  As you know, I'm a liberal pacifist who fell totally in love with a conservative military guy.  I ordered it even before it "won" the vote on Julie's site.

Sittenfeld admits the book takes the life of Laura Bush as its starting point (and I'm saying more about plot points b/c they have not been held secret).  She suggests it is all fiction, just with big mileposts that are the same as the former First Lady, and I'm in no position to judge how much it overlaps in terms of personality etc.  Alice is a young woman growing up in Wisconsin.  She has some liberal tendencies and some family issues, but she's a pretty typical teen until a car accident where she is driving results in the death of a classmate.  Alice ends up leaving town for college, pursuing a library/education career, and eventually ends up (in her early 30s) meeting a man from a well-known family who has some political ambitions.  They marry fast, have a child, and the book follows them as Alice adjusts to (and is somewhat uncomfortable in) a posh suburban lifestyle with a very challenging extended family.  After a bout with drinking and questionable behavior, her husband becomes very religious and grows professionally as he moves from the family business to owning a baseball team to serving as Governor and later President.  Through it all, Alice questions how she can be so in love with him and yet disagree with so much of what he stands for as their different political views becomes more prominent.

I enjoyed this book.  I'm giving it 3.5 stars but easily rounding up to 4.  It wasn't great literature, but a fun "guilty pleasure" read.  I liked watching Alice adjust to her changing surroundings and seeing her try to feel okay living a country-club life while her heart was often tugged by stories of those less fortunate.  The vast majority of the book is set in their pre-White House years and I would have liked a bit more about her adjustment to life in such a unique environment.  I appreciated that Alice fought to balance being a supportive partner with her own beliefs and related to the struggle to understand how to retain her own views while her spouse pursued a career that had some very different underpinnings. 

Recommended as an easy and fun read that is someplace between "chick lit" (which I totally think has its time and place) and "serious fiction"....though probably much more of a woman's read than a man's.
I'd never heard the story of Pope Joan prior to picking up this book.  I really haven't done any research, beyond reading the notes at the end of the novel's text, so I can't comment on how likely it is that a woman held the papacy for a brief period in the 800s.  The author suggests evidence does favor the existence of a female pope and a later attempt to cover-up the embarrassment.  She also includes many events that are supported by the history books making it fit the historical fiction genre even if the ultimate storyline is not fully agreed upon,

In the ninth-century, "female" has a lot of negative context and women are expected to remain uneducated and to submit fully to the wills of fathers and husbands.  Joan bristles against authority from a young age, seeking out learning despite being harshly punished by her father for it (and blamed for the death of a much-beloved son).  Joan eventually escapes from her father and is able to attend school as a female while living with the family of Gerold, the only man that really stirs desire in Joan and one who supports her desire to learn.  As Joan's education is ending and she is facing the more traditional role of women in her time, a Viking attack provides her with an opportunity.  She assumes the identity of a slain brother and begins to live as a man.  This life takes her to a monastery, a life as a healer, and, eventually (as the title tells you so I'm not considering it a spoiler), the papacy. 

I enjoyed this very much.  I thought the author did a great job showing that the decision to live as a man did open doors for Joan (aka John) but also came at some sacrifice.  While the time period worked against Joan in many ways, the dislike of the body meant it was usually pretty easy for Joan to keep her secret and there are only a few times when her sex is close to being revealed.  In general, Joan enjoys life as a man but she clearly feels limited in her ability to push for things, such as schooling for girls, that were contrary to the beliefs of her day.  There is also a love story weaved in.  It is not the focus of the book but it does give Joan pause and makes her question what her heart wants and whether the sacrifices are worthwhile.  I didn't always care for some of the battle stories but they were in place and necessary.  It moves at a good pace and I was able to buy into the times when a lot of lucky coincidence saves Joan's secret and her life. 

I'd recommend this book to folks intrigued by secrets and by life in a very different time.  I am not a history buff but I am interested in "everyday life" in different eras....this book had both.  I expect more women will pick it up, but I do think it can hold appeal for both genders.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

tough week, but trying some positive thoughts too

I has been a hard few weeks....

First, there's the job front.  I'd applied for a job and had two interviews.  They'd pressed for a number from me on salary and I gave one eventually but said, honestly, that it was not the sole element for me.  I really want to have a job I enjoy more than I need a certain number right now.  The next week, they said they'd loved me but could not afford me.  I called and said the number was just a number and I really could look at any offer.

So, they made an offer.  I've heard so often about how women are paid less b/c they fail to ask (Women Don't Ask) and I think that a bit of negotiating is normal so I did ask for a dollar per hour more.  They came back a couple days later and said no.  So, I said I'd take the number (it WAS really low but I did genuinely think it would be a great fit and I might like it and be of value).  I asked if they could do some hours-shifting and maybe have only a 30m lunch-break and leave early one day. I said, several times, that this was NOT a deal-breaker but I wanted to check.  I also asked to look at any contracts etc.

It took well over a week.  I sent another email saying I really wanted to make it formal, reiterating the hours were not a deal-breaker, and asked again about paperwork.  Since I agreed to everything they asked, I really thought it was fine.  Three days later, they pulled the offer.  Having been in hiring, I know they worry I'd leave fast but my resume reflects long-term stays so that's a bit unfair.  And the fact that it took forever to hear back really upset me. 

On the personal side, X is engaged.  And has been since July.  I am a bit pissed he didn't tell me himself.  We're not really friends these days but it feels like it would have been a courtesy to not have me find out from a random mention by a shared friend.  The fact that it is the girl he dated before me also feels weird.  He got engaged almost exactly a year after I moved out.  It just makes me feel like the eight years were really all false. 

I have learned that it was NOT the right relationship for me.  I am VERY much happier with MM.  But I had all good intentions and I just feel like X didn't.  All his "complaints" were there from day 1 but he hadn't wanted to leave b/c he felt bad leaving when I got sick and then later felt like he didn't want to break up and knew I didn't want to more w/o it being official so he proposed.  Going back to the girl before me (who fit may things I didn't)  just makes it feel more like he DID know it wasn't right and never really liked me for me.  I'll avoid going too much further on those thoughts in public, even without names.  I can admit that X was right on paper and wrong in practice. And, in some ways, he'd say the same thing. But I just feel like I didn't see it while he he knew I wasn't the right one but didn't act on it till too late.  It feels like a lot of false-ness. 

Which is emotionally hard.  I do NOT want to go back.  I totally LOVE my current guy and he loves me, for who I am.  This is NOT about him at all and I hope he "gets" that this mess in my head is NOT about that.  It is about processing my past.  And I know I'm not being totally fair to X.  Of course, this is all from my viewpoint.  I am the one who "defriended" on FB. I really found it unhealthy to see each other's daily updates and think that was a normal decision, not one that justifies a lack of courtesy.  And he probably did have better intentions in our life together than my head says right now.  But it is what's been in my head.


Let's list some GOOD things:
  • I DID get to fulfill a goal this week.  Thanks to a friend who had to stop doing it, I am writing a couple blog posts a week for an attorney via a legal blogger service.  It isn't fancy and it is all ghost-writing but I can officially say I got paid to write.  Not much money, but I'm excited anyway.
  • I got "sheet suspenders" with a bit of doubt.   I had flannel sheets that I loved for cold weather.  MM's mattress is the right size but is extra-thick.  It really needs sheets made for that, esp with two regular sleepers...he had been okay with regular Queen sheets alone but the corners popped off all the time (I'm a flipper when I am getting to sleep and I kick when I'm sleeping so I'm a challenge).  The suspenders work great though.  The sheets stay on fine and I love getting in a warmer bed and not the chill of regular sheets as it gets cold.
  • I made dinner last night. This is always impressive.  I had to add some extra V8 juice to the sauce (it is the base) and that cut back a lot on the flavor in my Mexican Chicken, but it still turned out well.  I also tried roasted chickpeas...I wasn't a fan but MM liked them a lot so that made me happy.
  • We're getting some sunny and warm-for-November weather.  Always a plus for me since I'm def not a fan of the cold.
  • My three month follow-up is next week.  I do still have more pain than I'd imagined at this point, but I also do feel like I am seeing progress.  I am hopeful for good news when they see my x-rays....go bone growth, go!!
  • My eye doc (still VERY near-sighted but no changes and healthy eyes even if they suck) told me that near-sighted folks have IQs than regular or far-sighted folks.  My guess is that we needed to have smarts to survive THIS blind.  She wondered if it was b/c we read more since it was all we could see but also noted it could have some random genetic tie. 
  • MM rocks.  I am so lucky to have him.  Thank you for everything MM.  You make me feel so valued and loved and I just think you are awesome and I am proud to be able to call you my guy.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Trick or Treat: Halloween Memories, Bullet-Pointed (of course)

I confess...I couldn't pass this thought up once it popped in my head during my walk.  I'd been pondering past Halloweens AND bullet points are always my style....

TRICK (or my less fond Halloween memories)

  • When I bought my Atlanta house (April or May), one of the things I was most looking forward to was my first Halloween as the home owner.  I'd manned the door in HS but lived on campus in college and my law school rentals, like the apartment I had my first year in ATL, were not in a trick-or-treat area.  I planned my day out to leave early and had my bowl ready.  Of course, my boss called at 4.  She insisted an item needed doing now, although when I put it on her desk at 7:30 she was gone for the night and I totally could have done it the next AM before she got it.  Missed my first house-owner Halloween and got harassed by some older teens boys on the way to my car.
  • I did get to man the door another time in ATL.  My neighborhood had mostly 3BR homes...the master suites were huge but the other rooms so I expected mostly littler kids as they weren't really sized for older kids.  I had my light still on since I knew I hadn't seen one neighbor and got a big batch of teens (likely from a complex nearby).  I'm a "here's the bowl, pick what you want" type and the five teen boys (no costumes) each took a HUGE handful without even a polite nod.  But that's not what bugged me the most.  At the back of the pack, two teen girls each had on a little mask and each carefully picked one candy and said "Thank you, Ma'am" (it's the really can't get offended by Ma'am).  I wanted to bring them in and explain to them they should find better boys.

TREAT (Halloween smiles)
  • We moved to PA when I was entering fourth-grade.  Our neighborhood had a lot of kids right at my age...mostly the "oldest" in the families given the time it was built so some a little younger too.  There was a lot of farmland then (now there are more houses) and our area was one of the best suited so many kids had their friends come to our area.  Totally great hauls as a kid and a lot of fun when I switched to door-duty....we seriously got 100 kids.  Usually gave out the typical stuff but Mom and I made like 20 treat bags for the kids we knew better.  Side note: I was actually back last year but I think it was the first year they got NONE...the same people own most of the homes and so the age factor has meant it trickled down and only sometimes got a few grandkids popping over at the end of the night.
  • One year in college, two friends and I decided to go to a neighborhood.  We were VERY polite and joked with everyone that we knew we were old but liked candy (and went late enough that they had enough for the real kids).  I was a I always was as a kid given the long dark hair.  One friend was Nature (this fit her).  The other wore the first-one's skirt up around her neck (a good six inch height difference and a flowy skirt = really long even at her neck)...we went back and forth as to whether she was "The Skirt" or "The Arm-less Wonder".
  • My Boston apt had very few kids but I still hurried home my first year there with some hopes.  You were supposed to tape a pumpkin picture to your door if you welcomed treat-ers (indoor halls so no lights).  I saw a mom and tot walking by my door just as I came out of the stairs.  I called to them that I had my pumpkin and begged for a moment.  Mom and son kindly let me run in, tape up the pumpkin, and even close the door so he could knock.  He was my only one but he was cute and so patent and totally worth it.
  • I had the pumpkin kit and the pumpkin for a bit before I got the guts to carve it.  Just not a part of my childhood and I was convinced I'd mess it up.  In ATL, a new neighbor held a carving party...I attended but passed off carving duties since I was intimidated since I knew she was a children's book illustrator....which was silly of me since they rocked.  Anyway, I needed a distraction one day last week so dove in.  I present Tom (b/c EVERYONE calls the turkey Tom and I'm unique)
  • (I can't indent w/ a new bullet...) I actually "messed up" and left it thicker than recommended but was glad b/c those arms threatened to snap.  Thank you to MM for the pic (my phone makes calls....that's pretty much it).  Oh, and the oddness is Vaseline which the Internet said would help prevent rot.
  •  I also did toast up Tom's seeds...I went online for suggestions but ended up winging it based on what we had and what we like (read: garlic and a few types of pepper). They turned out REALLY good. I made MM tell his parents since his Dad thinks I should learn to be domestic and mt using the oven is always a rare event
  • When I went to toss out the pumpkin innards, this was at the door:  Well, mine says my name instead of Ryan...that would be odd. 
Happy Halloween all!!  I'm told we only get a handful here but I'm still excited. I have silly little window clings that are too small for the big window and Tom will move to the porch. 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

ugly in pink

I confess...I initially thought it was just the jealousy.  I've talked before about how I have a bit of ribbon-envy.  Endometriosis is a life-altering condition that simply seems to be ignored while other diseases get the front page treatment.  Breast cancer is certainly one of those.  I see the pink ribbons and I DO understand it is important to dedicate time and money to researching and educating folks, but I also feel like it is presented as the only disease out there.  I want my ribbon.

So, I think I noticed the increase in pink more than others might.  It just seems like, especially in October, EVERYTHING is pink and ribboned.  I also began to feel increasing skepticism about it.  Envy aside and other things in the products being equal, I would pick a product that donates money to breast cancer or another cause over one that simply goes to corporate coffers (I also like small companies, but that's another issue).  But the pinkification of products makes me very skeptical about how many are truly genuine in their motives. 

I've read a few articles lately that confirmed my suspicions.  Pink has become a trend and a marketing ploy, not always a genuine cause.  I think there are some attempts at charity-development that are well-intentioned but poorly executed and those frustrate me.  But the companies that knowingly play on sympathies...I don't even have the words.  I may have ribbon envy, but the outright deception is horrid. 

I know there is SO much that needs the attention of marketing regulators, but I hope this is high on their lists and I hope there's a crackdown coming.  I believe that consumers need to be informed, both in terms of general purchasing and charitable giving but I think they need a little more help here.  Charity Navigator does some of this but I don't think they cover the marketing stuff, focusing more on donor-style giving (and are limited by their info resources).

I'd love a dedicated ribbon from a group that vets ribbons (pink and otherwise).  I'd totally buy those products.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

a literary feat: Tinkers by Paul Harding

I confess....I'm oddly nervous about writing a review of this book.  I think it would get harder to do with time so I'm breaking my "double up" trend and writing it the day after finishing.

Tinkers is a short novel by Paul Harding.  The novel's story itself is a good one, Harding had a lot of trouble finding a publisher and ended up with Bellevue Literary Press, a small joint that puts out fewer than ten books a year and has a focus on books that include medical issues.  Tinkers marks the first time in thirty years that a small press book went on to win the Pulitzer Prize.  I like that story.

On a superficial level, the book is about the final days of George Washington Crosby's life when his mind wanders randomly as he lies, surrounded by family, in a hospital-style bed set in his living room.  The book wanders from George's own memories to the life of his father and even his grandfather.  There are many scenes from before his birth, or that he simply wasn't present for, but this fits with an overall sense of interconnectedness.  The book is VERY literary and many points reminded me of Whitman's Song of Myself, including some very clear references to the work.  It is a meditation on life and time.  There are plot-like stories but more of the book is turned over to philosophical musings (and, well, some sections on clock repair).  There is also a lot in the book about illness and the bod including George's dying body, his father's epilepsy, and his grandfather's dementia (likely Alzheimer's).

I am torn between four and four-and-a-half stars (I guess the lack of half-stars on my rating sites is helpful here!).  I fell into the language quickly and my first reaction was an appreciation of the language's beauty.  I wanted to love it all the way through, but grew a bit tired as I made my way to the end.   It is a book that requires patience and attention, not something you can read with a lot of background noise.  Sentences can run VERY long and complex and many take a second look.  It IS worth IS beautiful.  I am just not sure I gave it the attention it needed and I think I got impatient. 

Conclusion...recommended for lovers of the written word who are willing to take the time to enjoy the beauty of language and truly give themselves over to the book.