Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Book Review - The End of the Point (Graver)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 24, 2013


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 16, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 2, 2013

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

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

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

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

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