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.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

fighting through a rough spell

I confess....I'm struggling lately.

I've talked pretty openly about my food and body demons.  It was hard to hit "Publish Post" on my first post openly addressing my Binge Eating Disorder (BED) but I believe in living this fight openly.  It is a lonely and overlooked condition but an all-too common one.  I know I appreciate other women (and men, but I relate more to women) who share their fight because they make me feel less alone (hugs to Tina for a brave recent series on her fight).  And it is a very lonely fight.  A fight that is always present for me but goes in spurts where it is much easier.  And others where it is much worse.  I'm in the latter now.

I think there are a lot of reasons it acts up.  I always have a bit of trouble as Fall sets in, though usually more in November than September or October.  I also am definitely triggered by an interruption in my workout routine.  Surgery and a long recovery where I am limited to some walking is a pretty darn big interruption.  I get into a tough period where I am feeling bad about myself and feel like just giving in and seeking comfort in food.  It is a nasty cycle that builds on itself.

I've put on some weight.  It isn't dramatic.  I'd lost a bit in 2011 and I am pretty much just where I was in December or so.  That is a bit deceptive though since I have lost a good bit of muscle.  There's nothing I can do about that and I try to keep in mind that I only get one shot at a proper recovery (and my bones fusing well) but I can always get my triceps back.  I can say that over and over and I do know it is true, but it doesn't make watching my toned arms go mushy any easier. I almost slapped a girl who said this once (when I was a bit bigger), but a small gain really does feel more dramatic when you are at a small-to-average size.

I can't pinpoint what gets me out of these cycles.  Sometimes, I do almost have to hit a bottom first, but it usually just stops.  I know my best times are marked by consistency in my life overall but it really just seems like a magic wand is either there or missing.  MM is being supportive.  He doesn't really understand it, but I don't expect him one who hasn't been there truly can. 

BED and the physical aftermath is markedly different from other types of weight gain (not that those are easy).  A BED lapse involves a mental place that is not the same as a normal spell of overeating, even emotional eating.  It is an addiction.  Giving in feels like a relief.  Like freedom.  Until it doesn't...but even the post-binge feeling is different from just the bloaty guilt after indulging too much. 

I am fighting.  I may falter in moments or days but I will keep fighting.  A big part of the battle is just getting past each fall, allowing yourself to move on rather than dwell which leads to deciding it is all futile and easier just to give in.  It is hard to avoid that. 

So, I'm in a rough spot.  But I am reminding myself it well end.  And putting on my fighting gloves.  I know it is worth it.  I want to be "better" and have so many reasons to get there. 

Friday, October 14, 2011

pondering woman-ness -- pro-sisterhood but never embracing my own

I confess...I often wish I felt more deeply in tune with being a woman.  I'd love to be more of an Earth Goddess.  Not in the sense of growing out my leg hair (fine if you like it but I was beyond thrilled when I could finally shave after surgery) or wearing hippie-style skirts, but just more in touch with womanhood.  I'm all for the "sisterhood" causes...I've written about letting women choose and believe in supporting women globally as they fight to be heard.  But, I've just never FELT overly woman-like.

I'm not a girly-girl.  I do love my pedicures and can obsess over my hair, but lack any interest in handbags, expensive shoes, make-up stores the size of stadiums, and purse-dogs.  But I'm cool with all that.  Despite what commercials seem to suggest, I don't think these traits define female-ness.  What I want, what I wish I had, is more primal.  It is a feeling of being in your physical self and appreciating the power of the female body.

I was never aching to start my period.  It felt like a burden and I was mortified when my mom quickly called all our relatives to share the event.  I didn't really even await the boob-fairy, although I've since often been annoyed she passed me over (seriously, dresses gape with space for assets I do not have and halter tops look boring with nothing to halter).  Of course, the endometriosis battle complicates this as well.  It is hard to love a body that turns on you of its own accord.

To be clear, I am very much a woman...this is NOT some sort of big announcement.  I'm a straight woman, in a woman's body (and can't imagine the terror of feeling wrongly-assigned).  I don't feel any envy for guys and carrying around all that extra stuff in your jeans seems like a nuisance.  But, while I'll make pro-woman statements, I've just never felt the power in womanhood that some others seem to feel.  I'm jealous of that.  I'm jealous of women who can embrace the natural shifts in our hormones (some DO still happen, per my doc, despite me being on continuous hormonal birth control for the endo).  I'm especially envious of women who can appreciate the female form.  I can tell other women that our thighs are meant to be and that our bodies are programmed to carry extra fat because nature values us and our ability to nurture new lives.  But I can't look at my own body with that framework as a dominant force.

I'm 33 so I'm not new to the whole womanhood game.  And I think the women I have known who truly fit my model of "embracing the goddess" were that way even in their twenties.  Heck, I met a young woman once who was sixteen and swore she could pinpoint when she ovulated and really enjoyed pampering herself when her cycle told her she should.  I know some women come to their womanhood after child-bearing, but I also think there are plenty of women who choose not to have kids and still feel something I'm missing.

I do think being in a strong relationship has helped a bit....MM is very positive towards me in all ways when it comes to my body and having grown up with four older sisters means he is pretty understanding of the complexities of women.  I also think it helps when I've been able to be active and seen my body show muscle while never being at all masculine (again, ladies, weights will NOT make you look like Arnold Schwarzenegger).  I do believe every woman has a unique physique...we eventually need to admit what ours is...and that's where I feel I'm at my best body.  Not being there, even if it does oddly mean being a bit softer which some call more feminine, doesn't help.  But, even when I knew I was at my "right" place, I just never felt the deep connection that I've seen in other women.

I've been pondering this one for a few days and this is definitely more of a "on my mind" post than a post with a clear point or a solution.  Just what I'm pondering this week. 

book-it: The World We Found (Thrity Umrigar) and Someone Knows My Name (Lawrence Hill)

I confess....I'm probably the only kid who liked Book-It more for being recognized as a voracious reader than for the personal pan pizzas that were attached as rewards.

I was excited to see this book among those sent to me by Harper for review since I had enjoyed Umrigar's prior novel, The Space Between Us

In her newest book, Umrigar again considers the lives of women in modern day India.  Her main characters are a group of four Indian women who were close during their politically active college days but have drifted apart as they settled into their adult lives.  One woman relocated to the US two decades prior and asks the others to return for a visit when she learns that she has a fatal brain tumor.  Each woman has her own story about how she moved from a young radical into a more settled adult life.  The most dramatic one, and the one about whom much of the plot revolves, is Nishta whose husband changed from a fellow dissident to a very devout Muslim and has kept her on an increasingly short leash.  While the reader is clearly on Nishta's side and roots for her to break free of a life in which she feels trapped, the author does take effort to show her husband as well-intentioned and a believer rather than a caricature of a controlling "bad" guy.  As the women prepare for their journey to the US, they each consider how their lives have unfolded and how much time has changed them.

I give this novel 4 of 5 stars.  I do generally like the "multiple protagonist" style, although I do feel like I'd like to have explored some of the characters more.  I also very much appreciated the attention paid to the Muslim husband and the care taken to avoid demonizing him, though it certainly doesn't paint the friendliest picture of the religion.  Most of all,  I love the reality of these friendships.  They are deep relationships that will always be there and be fundamental despite the fact that only two of the women really see each other regularly -- this rings very real to me. 

A solid read.  Relatively quick but with a lot of heart and compelling, interesting characters.
I decided a while ago to double up when I write reviews since I'd been plowing through books pretty fast.  I do, however, wish I'd written this one right away.  I'm a book-lover but I also have a very short memory for them and I wish I captured this one right after reading it.

In this novel, the protagonist, Aminita, reflects on her life from girlhood to old age.  She spent her early years happily in an African village until she is taken by a group of slave traders.  Her forced march to the sea and journey on a slave ship to the US was both especially upsetting and especially beautifully done.  From the beginning of her journey, she is set apart from the other captives by her talent for language that often puts her in awkward proximity with her captors.  Her life's journey takes her through an indigo plantation, life as a house servant, and other adventures before leading her to England where she helps the movement to end the slave trade (that's not a spoiler...we know her end-point from the start).

4 of 5 stars.  I love the concept behind the title.  It plays back at several different times but starts when she learns and repeats the name of other captives on the slave ship (from different villages so not known to each other).  It shows the power behind being named and recognized as an individual, rather than just part of a mass that is not treated as human.  The book does require buying in to the story of Aminita's life which I did struggle with at times...there are some amazing true tales of survival from former slaves, but it does still stretch belief at times.  However, when I let that go, I really appreciated the depth and breadth of the story.  I particularly appreciate novels that can show the humanity behind people who carried out horrid acts, which I found in this book.

Strongly recommended.  It does have an inspirational tone of survival and triumph, but it is a dark topic so not a "fun" read.

Aside: I really wouldn't have thought it was written by a man if I didn't know.  There's an early scene of Aminita having her first period (and earlier remarks on growing towards puberty) and a number of moments that really seem to be knowing of a woman's life (without being too focused on that fact).

    Wednesday, October 12, 2011

    (bullet) point-ilism

    I confess...I often spend treadmill time contemplating post titles. 

    • I suppose it was time...last year I wore out on Bones and CSI, this year it is NCIS and House.  The episode about Abby's history pulled me back to NCIS this week and MM enjoys it so it might still get watched, but I'm just no longer intrigued by either.  My disinterest in The Good Wife is more puzzling since it is only the third season so it isn't the "Mad About You" issue (where shows outlive the interest in them) nor is it the time-slot switch since I watch On Demand. 
    • More TV -- I love The Talk last season but they dropped two hosts without a single word this year and one of the new ladies is beyond grating. It still makes the treadmill watching routine but doesn't compel me to walk any extra to watch the end and I won't be surprised if it joins the "just suddenly dropped" crew.
    • Wearing a sweatshirt to the supermarket today meant the brace was hidden for the first time since surgery.  This resulted in some odd glances as I struggled with soda cans.  I'm used to hidden illness issues, but the visible brace has been helpful in putting others on notice that I'm not at the top of my game.
    • The long presidential season means fodder for the columnists and an even greater financial factor in a candidate's viability.  I wish there was a way to institute a rule requiring that campaigns make a certain amount of charitable donations linked to the amount they spend campaigning (ideally nice non-controversial ones).  I know there are forced speech issues and it isn't really viable, but I still like the concept.
    • We spent the weekend at an annual party with MM's extended family.  A bit out of my element, but fun...and one relative cooks up funnel cakes every year so I had a happy belly.  MM is also impressive at skeet-shooting once he gets warmed up.  On another note, the stink bugs were INSANE.  Seriously, DOZENS on the screen door (they do use a treatment that is pretty effective at keeping them outside).  I was reading outside and had to call "uncle" when the kept dive-bombing me (and my book).  Crazy.  I could not survive them on a daily basis.
    • I'm definitely in a hard place in body-image terms.  I tried a "diet" but gave it up and have had a lot of rebound-eating issues.  I am trying to get them back under control and find the right place between being the diet mis-step and overeating.  I do need to drop a bit to be at my happy place but I need to do it without mental harm.  I should write a real post on this but I need to be feeling stronger before I can devote that energy to the topic to avoid triggers.
    • I loved the gorgeous weather we had the past week.  The weather guys were totally on point when they noted there is a decent temperature drop ahead but that it was only getting the weather back to October norms.  I feel like 2011 has been the year of nutty weather and was glad it finally manifested in a good way.
    • MM's family is politically very conservative.  MM needs to respect my views but there's no reason to make it an issue with his parents so I stay quiet.The first time I mentioned my alma matter, Haverford, his dad remarked about its liberal bent.  I replied with a comment on small class size.  He's mentioned it a few times since and then finally said that he noticed I quite deftly managed to change the topic every time :) 
    • We live near the local HS.  We can hear the announcements, both daily and sport-oriented, but they sound pretty much like the adults on Charlie Brown.  I was still happy to hear the announcer sounding excited after last week's football game.  I'm no sports fan, but the poor kids had been 0 and 5 for the season...spectacularly so (35-10, 41-6, 51-0, 50-0, 56-11).  An odd love for the small-town world and an underdog made me excited when last week's opponent was 1-4.  Bellefonte won last week, 17-12, and I was happy for them.  And their mommies.  I get excited when I've seen a first-timer up at an MLB game because I imagine their mommies being so proud after years and years of carting them to practices and games.
    • On a more serious note...I've read that Topeka decriminalized domestic violence.  To save money.  Okay, there is still state law recourse but this is NOT the way to save money.  I can think of other things to decriminalize instead (even if I don't partake....).

    Wednesday, October 5, 2011

    closing in on the two month mark

    I confess...I feel the need to post a quick update on my surgery but don't have a ton to say.

    Saturday is the two-month mark since the operation.  Honestly, it all just feels slow and frustrating.  I'm still dealing with pain and feeling frustrated.  I know I've come a long way since the immediate aftermath when I couldn't get out of bed alone or without tears, but it is hard to see the more recent progress.  Intellectually, I knew it was a six month ordeal to recover...and a year to fully have the vertebrae heal...but it is tough in practice.  My "baby biceps" and toned tris have pretty well disappeared, making me a bit more psyched than I'd usually be about soon switching to long sleeves.  I'm also pretty much ready to torch my brace, which I'll have at least till my next follow-up appointment in another month (though I got one doc-okayed night off last freeing but def had pain the next day from tensing unconsciously).

    I try to focus on one big rule -- I get one shot at recovery and need to let my body do its thing.  I can get the muscles back.  The pain IS different than the pre-surgery pain which gives me confidence that it is "recovery-pain" and not "injury pain".   Here's my SAT throwback...recovery hurt is to pain as student loans are to debt.  No debt is great, but student loans are "good," productive debt.  Recovery hurt is good, productive pain.  My spine is still adjusting to the change, which makes sense when you replace mush with cages and encourage bones to grow. 

    The scale battle has also been an issue, but I'll save that for another post.  Bottom line: Slow but steady, moving ahead even if only baby steps.

    Tuesday, October 4, 2011

    book review time: In the Woods (Tana French) and The Borrower (Rebecca Makkai)

    I confess....I'm halfway through my next book so have been totally slacking on the book review portion of my blog. 

    I feel like I start a lot of reviews with "I don't usually read X," but I'm doing it again anyway.  I really think context is key in reviews since my preferences certainly impact my opinion.  So...I don't usually read detective novels but this one sounded intriguing and had some strong reviews so I decided to give it a whirl.

    There are two mysteries at play in In The Woods.  The first happened twenty years prior when two twelve year olds vanished in a wooded area and a third was found clutching a tree and wearing bloodied sneakers with no memory of the events that left him there.  In the current day, the boy has grown into a detective and is investigating the murder of a twelve year old girl in the same woods (he has changed his name and only his partner knows the link). 

    I'm falling back to my 3.5 stars.  I'm rounding down simply because I wasn't compelled by the current-day story (which got more pages, though not more emotion).  I was interested in the character of the detective and how his history impacted his life, but had some trouble suspending disbelief that he hadn't been "found out" in terms of his history as a victim.  It is a solid detective story with interesting and unique characters but it just didn't hold me as well as I'd hoped.  I am sure bigger readers of the genre would enjoy it more.  For me, I knew I had to round down when I didn't feel interested in reading the twenty page preview of the next book (focused on another detective we "met" in this book) that followed the novel.

    In contrast to my previous read, this book was pretty squarely up my alley.  I definitely put being a reader high on my list of qualities that define me and I have a love for books about readers and books.  I'd actually been looking out for a copy of this one (discounted/used) for a while and was very excited when it arrived.

    The protagonist of The Borrower is a children's librarian who pretty much happened upon that line of work when she was looking to use an English degree (a bit of a nitpick here in that I have lots of friends who have gotten master's degrees to pursue library careers and didn't so much buy her falling into the work).  The librarian feels a special attachment to one young patron who shows a love for books but has a very controlling mother who tries to limit his reading choices and sends him to a group intended to reverse suspected homosexual tendencies.  One day, the librarian finds the young boy has run away and is hiding in the library and the two take off on a road trip.

    As with many books that I've been anticipating, I did feel a bit let down with this one but I'm still happy to give it 4 of 5 stars.  I enjoyed the young boy's character the most and felt a bit mixed on the librarian.  I did appreciate that the narrator very much acknowledged she might ot have made the smartest choices.  I do like my flawed characters, especially when they are a bit self-aware, and the book clearly didn't attempt to make her actions seem perfect or even heroic (she wants to be a hero, but knows she's a flawed one).  There was a bit of writer-magic in the ending but it also didn't fall victim to the too perfect, all-wrapped-in-a-bow finale....I wasn't thrilled my the former but appreciated the latter.  I'm rambling so will try to sum isn't a book I'd put on a shelf-of-honor but it was a fun read for a book fan (and rewarded being well read with lots of references).