Saturday, December 31, 2016

Gains and Losses ~~ 2016

So 2016 comes to a close, and I think I can hear a huge sigh of relief going around the Earth's sphere; it began around Samoa and is heading my way as I type.

I haven't blogged much this year, and I haven't read other blogs much either.  I hope I do better in 2017, but no promises. 

So 2016...

My mother turned 93. Her health is very good still. She had a bad bought of sciatica during the summer, however, and for the first time EVER she lost some of her independence and had to use a cane or walker and a wheelchair when she had to go out somewhere, and was in so much almost constant pain that she couldn't really relax and do even little things that usually bring her pleasure, like baking biscuits. They found the nerve causing the pain and gave her a shot in it with minimal success.  She went to a chiropractor two and three times a week during this time, also with minimal success.  But then she began physical therapy and that began working quite quickly. Very soon my sisters were able to put the walker, cane, and wheelchair back in the storage shed, and she is, for the most part, back to her happy self. I hope she continues this way forever! :)

Thomas and I celebrated our 29th anniversary. There are, supposedly, landmark years where things change for people as individuals biologically and mentally, aren't there? I mean, supposedly our food tastes change every so-many years. We go through periods where things shift inside us, physically and emotionally, (like adolescence, mid-life crises, adjusting to senior status, etc.), right? I can't really find the words to describe what I'm talking about, but I have noticed that as far as our marriage goes, every few years something seems to shift, for the better, so far. Maturity? Is that what I'm talking about? lol  Well, anyway, I found that this year Thomas and I reached a new "plane" in our marriage, and it's a very good plane. It seems like in areas where we might have been prone to disagree or make a big deal out of something, we are now more relaxed and accommodating toward one another.  We've always been close, but every few years that closeness that was already there seems to tighten up considerably so that we are bound exponentially tighter than before. And that happened this year. We're both in our 50s now, so maybe it has to do with the time of life we're in. We've stuck together through thick and thin, weathered some really difficult times, and weathered the good, easier times too (which sometimes are harder on a marriage, to speak truth). We've seen what we can do together and we appreciate it. We have more health problems, and we see ourselves slowing down a bit, but we still have (hopefully) so many more years ahead of us. Anyway, THIS YEAR I have seen and felt a lot of little things solidify or bend, as the need may be, and I have felt more contentment as an individual and as a couple and a family. 

Eler Beth turned 20, so I no longer have a teenager. Very soon in 2017 she will be 21, actually. She is now working a job that gives her much satisfaction and is content with her private life as well. She has great friends she can depend on, and is still intent on staying single until the perfect man for her comes along. I have a feeling she may be thinking about getting her own place in the next year or two, and I will deal with that well, I hope, if and when it happens. She is a great girl with a big heart and a good head on her shoulders.

Andrew turned 27, and I still have a hard time believing that. He too has a career that he is happy with and is doing well on his own.  His girlfriend of two years now, Alexandria, is the daughter-in-law of our dreams, even though they haven't made any announcement yet. We think of her as a daughter (and sister) and love her with all our heart. They hit a rough patch this year, and for about a week I grieved their separation as if I'd actually lost a daughter. I was actually shocked at how hard it hit me, and I think they were too.  But they patched things up and seem to be sailing along. Andrew is so much more mature than he was just a couple of years ago. I think it's true that men don't really reach a good level of maturity until they are well into their twenties. He and Alex are a good combination, boosting one another up where needed, and encouraging the good in one another. 

I have Wilder, my English Setter. I wasn't looking for him or expecting him. I didn't think I'd have another dog who would grow to mean as much to me as my Scout, but by-dogies, this dog has! He is a sweet baby who looks after me, consoles me, needs me, knows when I'm feeling bad, loves me unconditionally and lets me know it, and loves being a part of our family. I needed him, and he came to me.

The losses?

Well, we've had what, 26 celebrities go this year? And in my own life I've lost four family members, namely, an aunt, a first cousin, and two sisters-in-law, and another family connection, the sister-in-law of one of my sisters, plus two classmates and a friend of the family. I've been to a lot of funerals and signed a lot of guestbooks. 

I had a LOT more trouble with depression this year. That may seem strange, considering the paragraph above about my marriage. But you can have a signally good year as a couple and still have a bad year mentally. I powered through a lot of it and then paid for it with some near breakdowns. My family, especially Thomas and the kids, helped, or it would have been so much worse. I learned that I do have limits that I'd been ignoring, and I'm learning to recognize them and respect them. I am probably peri-menopausal, and I wouldn't be surprised if that has been a very big factor. I'm not alone; I have a great network of friends and loved ones to call on, as long as I let myself call on them. I have a God who is real to me, a very real Father and Friend. And I'm here! I'm still alive and relatively healthy!

I don't do New Year's Resolutions or even really spend any time, usually, thinking about a past year critically or anticipating a new year in any special way. But this, my fiftieth year, has been different for me in very personal ways about which I can't do a good job of putting into words. For me Fifty HAS been a key, landmark year, an eye opener, in lots and lots and lots of little, unexpected ways.

I hope anyone reading this has a very nice 2017. I hope I do too.

~~ Lori

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

A Post of Gratitude From My Heart

I feel the need to check in again and express my gratitude about a couple of things.

Yesterday afternoon I made a FB post asking if anyone would have any items of clothing they'd be willing to donate to two young girls we know who are in real need of clothing for the new school year. We've known the family for a few years now, and we knew that this past year has been emotionally and financially tough for them. They are struggling but are not without any resources, but the school year has sneaked up on them, and they honestly have nothing for the girls. Thomas found out just the day before that the girls have no school clothes. The older girl, who is 13, hit a growing spurt at the end of the last school year, and she has shot up three inches to 5'5". The younger girl, the 9 year old, is still tiny, about 4' tall and weighing maybe 65 lbs. She can't quite wear any of her older sister's clothes that she'd grown out of. 

Anyway, Thomas told me the situation and asked if I'd post to our local Freecycle to see if anyone clearing out their children's closets might have something in the right sizes. He also suggested that we might be able to budget a bit to get them each an outfit or an article of clothing before next week. Eler Beth said she'd contribute something and, only half jokingly, said she'd go with me to get them something to make sure I didn't get anything a 13 or 9 year old wouldn't wear.  :)

SO..... I posted to Freecycle, and I decided to make a FB post as well. 

Wow! 

As of this typing, a J-Land friend in another state is contributing toward something new for the girls. A school friend of mine who lives in California put the word out to her friends who still live in our hometown in Kentucky and is expecting to be able to put together a few things. A friend of ours in Oregon has surveyed her friends there, and they are sending a package to me. A school friend in Bowling Green, Kentucky is mailing me some items of clothing, and another school friend is dropping off some things at my Mom's house tomorrow for me to pick up on Thursday. And that is in addition to some local friends who are going through their kids' closets and drawers right now to see if they have anything suitable. 

Having something nice to wear the first day -- the first week! -- of school, something that is neat and fits well, that is attractive, even if it isn't brand new, can mean a confident child who goes into the classroom feeling like she can handle anything thrown at her, especially if she's in those middle school years. Getting the response that I have gotten is very humbling and encouraging, and, besides private messages of gratitude, I wanted to post a big thank you here because I appreciate more than ever the friendships I have made through J-Land, be they ever so virtual!

Another thank you goes out to some J-Landers who made a donation to my sister-in-law's GoFundMe page last year. (You know who you are!) As a result she and my brother-in-law were able to get a little truck that was reliable enough to take them from their little town in Alabama on the hour+ drive to Atlanta for her cancer treatments. Sadly, she passed away from her terminal illness a few days ago, but this past year was a bit less stressful for them, knowing that she could get to her appointments without their old vehicle breaking down on them. This is Thomas' youngest brother and his wife; both of them so sweet and quiet and unassuming. Again, friends and family stepped up for them, and so did J-Landers whom I've never even met in real life. 

I will try to "pay forward" the generosity and willing spirit shown me at every future opportunity.

Thank you!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Checking In

I'm doing better than last month, although I still feel more anxious and depressed than what should be normal. I have gone to my doctor and we are trying various things. We are in agreement that peri-menopause is playing a large role in how I am feeling.

Eler Beth and I are getting ready to go on our annual road trip, and this time we are going to Toronto. We leave Thursday. I know I will enjoy the trip once I'm on the road, but I would so much rather just be home! I won't let her know that, though. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Depression and All of Its Little Friends

I have been having more trouble with my depression lately; episodes more often and for longer duration. I thought that when spring finally got here maybe it would be better, but it has actually gotten worse. It's that darkness that creeps over me periodically, only it seems to be settling in in a way it hasn't done for many years. Perhaps I need to make a change to my medication.  My anxiety issues are a bit worse as well as my compulsions, and even my RLS has been acting up. I'm sure they are all tied in there together. I'm fifty now and am quite sure I am in peri-menopause, so certainly that must not be helping matters.

I have known the depression was getting worse because I've had to force myself to read books off my TBR pile. Also, other little things that normally would bring me pleasure are now a chore, so I've cut a lot of little daily things out of my normal routine. And the only reason I'm blogging today is that I made little slips of papers with things I usually enjoy doing and projects I've wanted to get to written on them, put them in a bowl, and picked one at random. It happened to be "Blog," so I'm blogging. Whoo-hoo.

Yesterday I had a really bad migraine, worse than I've had in a while. I had a very euphoric postdrome that had me zipping around the house and writing a rather frenzied letter to Barbara before crashing and feeling like crap for the rest of the day. Oh yes, and a crying jag or two went along with that crash. Yes, depression and all its little friends are visiting me, and I don't seem to have the strength to kick them out!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

February Catch Up

January went by in a sort of blur. Did anyone else find that so? Our weather was unusually warm and mild, with one dip down into below-freezing temperatures and a four-inch snowfall that didn't stick around very long. Thomas had to miss a bit of work because of the snow and some cold and windy days when they canceled work. He was so glad to get back to work after his injury, and I was so glad for him to get back to work, that being off a few extra days in January pushed both of us closer to the breaking point than the entire eight weeks he was off in the fall. It really was strange. While he was off because of the broken thumb we were both relaxed, but on the days he was off because of the weather, both of us were on edge and grumpy. We're both over it now, though. :)

My mother turned 92 in December, and my eldest sister turned 68 in January.  Mom is doing very well at 92. She gets tired more easily and naps more often, but she is still very healthy and does whatever she feels up to doing. She reads a lot, listens to audio books with Alton, works puzzles with Barbara, and cooks only if she wants to. We're very fortunate to have Barbara, Lois, and Dennice right there with her and Alton. And Dennice is still a whirlwind, even at 68.

The kids are doing very well.  Eler Beth loves her job. Right now she is happy and satisfied doing what she does and caring for her own animals. She is busy all the time, and we still have never had any angst or drama with her. She is 20 now, but she says she has trouble not thinking of herself as 12!  Andrew's job is working out well, too. He's second-in-command of quality control at the company where he works, and they are giving him more and more training responsibilities as well. Right now he is working a lot of overtime while they are meeting a deadline. He and Alexandria are still together, and we still hope to hear wedding bells in the near future -- but we don't want them to feel rushed,so we keep that to ourselves. :) 

As for my reading goals I was able in January to cross off two of the books that had been on my To Be Read list for years, The Sherlockian and Virginia of Elk Creek Valley.  I also read two more in January which puts me on track for my goal of 50 books total in 2016 (24 of which must be off that TBR pile). The other two books I read in January were Artemis Fowl: The Eternity Code and Cover Her Face. I first read Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl years ago and enjoyed it immensely. A couple of years ago I read the second in the series, Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident, and meant to continue with all the books in the series, but got out of the mood. So I decided I'd pick up the series this year and try to complete it if I could. I began the series on audio all those years ago and love the narrator, so I'm continuing on audio. Cover Her Face by P.D. James is a re-read, but I read it so long ago that I honestly couldn't remember how it ended. It was her first novel, and I had only read it once. I want to read her entire Dalgliesh canon, since there is only one that I have read more than once, and there are two I have never read; don't know how that happened. We'll see how many I can get read this year.

And that's about it, I guess.  I have much fodder for continuing my "Letters From My Sister" series; I just have to make myself sit down to write them. (I actually have drafts of several entries started.) I haven't felt much like writing for the past couple of months, but perhaps as March gets closer the muse will visit again. I'll be back soon with a new post, hopefully.

~ ~ Lori

Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Sherlockian; A Review and Recommendation, and The Second Book Crossed Off My List

2016 TBR Pile Reading Challenge


The Sherlockian by Graham Moore


Full disclosure here: I actually started this book a couple of years ago. I don't know if I had a lot of things going on at the time or if I just wasn't in the mood for it, but I put it down after reading the first few chapters. It has been on my TBR pile ever since. 

Excerpt from the book:

Sorry, I couldn't choose an excerpt. This book has too much "muchness" to choose an excerpt, and, besides, it's easy to find one online if you want. :)

THE BOOK

Published in 2010, the Sherlockian is about obsession and fanaticism in many ways. The modern part of the book is about Holmes and Conan Doyle fans; the historical part of the book is about readers' obsessions with Sherlock Holmes to the point of treating him as if he were a real person and not an invention of his author. The book also touches on the more militant and extreme views and actions of the Suffregettes.  

There truly are in our modern world Sherlock Holmes fanatics and Arthur Conan Doyle fanatics, and apparently there really is a group of Sherlockians called the Baker Street Irregulars. The main character of the contemporary part of the book is a literary researcher and Holmes enthusiast named Harold White. While attending his first meeting as a member of the Baker Street Irregulars, Harold discovers the foremost Holmes scholar murdered in his hotel room. The man had been scheduled to give a talk on the famous missing Holmes diary which he had claimed to have recently found. Harold is enticed into investigating the murder and finding the diary. In the turn-of-the-century portion of the novel, the main characters are Conan Doyle and his good friend, Bram Stoker. Their part of the story takes place in the last part of the year 1900, just before Conan Doyle brings Holmes back to life.  They are on the hunt for a serial killer, and this hunt happens to take place during the months covered by the missing diary. A lot is written about Conan Doyle's hatred of Holmes and why he killed him off and the public's reaction to the "death."  This is a multiple viewpoint novel, written with every other chapter taking us along the turn-of-the-century investigations with Arthur Conan Doyle. 

Instead of my trying to tell you any more of the plot, I liked this article in The New York Times about The Sherlockian. If you haven't already read the novel, this will give you a good preview of it.

Now, as for my opinion of the book --! Hmm. I liked it and didn't like it. I'm not a Holmes fanatic. I like a lot of the Holmes stories and LOVE the BBC series Sherlock. I liked the character of Holmes in the stories after he was brought back to life better than the earlier Holmes, but I can't say that I ever had a fellow-feeling or sympathy for him. I'm not an extremely big fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. While I think he was prodigiously talented, I know I wouldn't have liked the man himself. That being said, my own favorite author is someone I know I would not have really liked much in real life, so I am quite capable of being a fan of a canon of literary work without idolizing the author. 

I do like to be able to sympathize with the main character(s) of a novel, and I really didn't feel that way about Harold or the secondary character Sarah. Their part of the story, the investigation into the murder of the Holmes scholar and the search for the missing diary (there really were missing diaries and papers from that period at the end of 1900, by the way), couldn't keep me interested and keen throughout. I kept wavering between boredom and wishing they'd hurry up and a sudden spark of interest and appreciation. Expect a couple of plot twists toward the end, only one of which I thought was well-done.

I liked the Conan Doyle part of the story better, but not because I could sympathize with him. I actually really, really liked how Moore drew the character of Bram Stoker best out of all the characters from both centuries represented. The story line for this part of the novel was more plot-driven, and the murders were more interesting. There were also references to other authors, contemporaries and real-life friends of Conan Doyle's, like Barrie and Wilde, and I really enjoyed those bits. Moore also has Conan Doyle getting very dangerously close to the murders in his part of the story, in surprising ways. I suppose they would be the plot twists to expect in that portion of the story, and I actually rather liked them.

There was nothing really wrong with the plot, and Moore is a talented writer. I thought he did well with the dialog, especially the 18th/early 19th Century dialog. I would have preferred a bit more fleshing-out of the characters in the modern portion of the novel, or at least a bit more liveliness to them, but perhaps there was really no way of doing that; Harold White was just too milquetoast for me. I don't think he could have been improved without totally overhauling him. He would probably work better on screen with the right actor playing him. I do not own The Sherlockian and will not add a physical copy to my book shelves, but I would recommend giving it a try if you haven't read it. There are more good bits than bad. On a scale of one to five I waver between a 3.5 and a 4. I would definitely read another book by Graham Moore.


THE AUTHOR

Graham Moore is a well-known screenwriter and author, probably best known at this time as the screenwriter for The Imitation Game, for which he won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. The Sherlockian was his first novel and was on the New York Times Bestseller List for three weeks.





THE NEXT BOOK

I'd Kill For That edited by Marcia Talley

Friday, January 29, 2016

First Book of the Year Down

2016 TBR Pile Reading Challenge

 

Virginia of Elk Creek Valley by Mary Ellen Chase


*I actually wrote this post on January 12 but somehow left it as a draft and didn't post it until today, January 29!


Eleven days into the new year, and I have finished the first book and am halfway through the second book of the year. I can't help but be a bit disheartened at the knowledge that not too long ago I probably would have had three books read by now. I just don't read like I used to. At 49, going on 50, I guess I just don't do a lot of things like I used to do!

Excerpt from the book:
Elk Creek Valley was a blue and golden place that mid-summer morning in the Big Horn Country. It seemed like a joyous secret tucked away among the mountains, whose hazy, far-away summits were as blue as the sky above them. The lower ranges, too, were blue from purple haze and gray-green sagebrush, while the bare, brown foothills tumbling about their feet were golden in the sunlight. 


THE BOOK

Virginia of Elk Creek Valley, published 1917, is set on a ranch in Montana not long before the start of The Great War. Virginia is about 17 years old in this story which details a summer on her father's ranch where she has invited three of her best friends from their school back east, along with two male friends and her own aunt, also from the east. The book has the expected East meets West adventures -- trail riding, camping, a barn-warming, bear hunting -- but the story isn't just about spending a summer on a ranch. Almost all of the visitors learn some very personal and sometimes painful lessons during their stay, like letting go of preconceived notions about people and that it's better to admit a mistake and laugh at yourself than to hold onto your pride and make yourself miserable. 

It's a good little story, written in the style so usual for young adult books from the early 1900s and the descriptive prose reminds me a little of Zane Grey's writing. It has religious overtones, typical of this type of book, but they aren't pushy and they don't interfere with the story. It's the type of book I would have read when I was younger. 

The only thing I didn't like about the book was that it was actually a continuation of an earlier book about Virginia and her friends, and there were many, many references to people and events from that book. I read a lot of series books, and I'm used to the author being able to weave in facts that we need to have from a previous book in order to understand certain things. There was no such weaving here. Chase simply referenced people and things without context, which was a little jarring, especially when alluding to a possible tragic romance between Virginia and someone named Jim (we get the feeling that something terrible happened to Jim). I didn't know there was a previous book about Virginia and her friends or I'd have read it first, even if it wasn't in my TBR pile. 

All in all, though, the book was good, and now I can cross it off my list. The characters were interesting and fairly well fleshed out. The plot was believable. The pace was quick. The writing style would be considered "old-fashioned" to modern readers but was typical of the period, with really good descriptive narrative and decently flowing dialog. I probably won't read it again, and it isn't something I will keep as a hard copy. Out of five stars, I would give it a good,solid four. I will look for other books by the same author, in particular the ones she is most well-known for, those set in her native state of Maine.

THE AUTHOR

Mary Ellen Chase wrote more than 30 books, essays, and biographies during her writing career. She was born in 1887 in Blue Hill, Maine. One of eight children born to deeply religious parents, Chase was a scholar, teacher, and educator, earning an MA and Ph.D in English at University of Minnesota. She taught in a one room school, at a coed boarding school, a girls' private school, and two universities, including Smith College. She retired in 1955 and continued to live on-campus at Smith with her long-time companion,  historian Eleanor Duckett. Even after retirement she continued in education, both teaching (adult seminars at Radcliffe College) and learning (taking classes in the Hebrew language). She began writing at age 16, and set many of her works in her home state of Maine, but also wrote two books set in Montana where she lived and worked for a while recovering from an illness.


THE NEXT BOOK

Next on the list (as of this writing, I'm almost finished with it) is The Sherlockian by Graham Moore.

So, how are you doing with your own personal reading challenge?

~ ~ Lori