Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 reading wrap-up: how did I do?

At the end of 2008, I posted some general thoughts about what I hoped to read during 2009. Looking back at the books I listed, I did read Atonement by Ian McEwan, my short story collection by Chekhov, Crime and Punishment, and The Hungry Self: Women, Eating, and Identity by Kim Chernin. I'm also about a third of the way through Vanity Fair, which I've unfortunately "stalled out" with in the past week or so. I won't finish it in 2009, but I haven't abandoned it, either; just taking a break to read some poetry, and hoping to get back to it in the next few weeks. My short list of "other novels that are in my sights" are all still in my sights and never got into my hands to read. Makes me a little sad, but I'm trying to think of them as Worlds Still To Be Explored, which sounds pretty cool, right? ;-)

So what DID I read in 2009? I read (or listened to) 42 books, having just finished my new Billy Collins book. Here's the whole list (edited to add ** by my favorites):

1. Atonement -- Ian McEwan **
2. Lady with Lapdog and Other Stories -- Anton Chekhov
3. So Many Books, So Little Time -- Sara Nelson
4. Crime and Punishment -- Fyodor Dostoevsky **
5. Dead Souls -- Nikolai Gogol
6. To Kill a Mockingbird -- Harper Lee **
7. The Leopard -- Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
8. Duplicate Keys -- Jane Smiley **
9. Intruder in the Dust -- William Faulkner
10. Corsons Inlet -- A. R. Ammons
11. At Paradise Gate -- Jane Smiley
12. The Hungry Self: Women, Eating, and Identity -- Kim Chernin
13. Evidence -- Mary Oliver **
14. A Book Addict's Treasury -- edited by Lynda Murphy & Julie Rugg
15. Lucy Gayheart -- Willa Cather
16. Out Stealing Horses -- Per Petterson
17. The Browser's Ecstasy: a Meditation on Reading -- Geoffrey O'Brien
18. Miss Julie -- August Strindberg
19. Questions about Angels -- Billy Collins
20. The Woman in White -- Wilkie Collins **
21. Bleak House -- Charles Dickens **
22. Eva Cassidy, Songbird -- Rob Burley & Jonathan Maitland
23. I am the Messenger -- Markus Zusak
24. Life of Pi -- Yann Martel
25. God's Silence -- Franz Wright
26. Strong Feelings: Emotion, Addiction, and Human Behavior -- Jon Elster
27. Daphne -- Justine Picardie **
28. Walking to Martha's Vineyard -- Franz Wright **
29. Beach Music -- Pat Conroy
30. Florida -- Christine Schutt **
31. The Progress of Julius -- Daphne du Maurier
32. Tiny Alice -- Edward Albee
33. Pere Goriot -- Honore de Balzac
34. All Souls -- Christine Schutt
35. Feed -- M. T. Anderson
36. Say Everything: How Blogging Began, What It's Becoming, and Why It Matters -- Scott Rosenberg **
37. Austenland -- Shannon Hale ** (guilty pleasure!)
38. The Namesake -- Jhumpa Lahiri
39. Man Walks into a Room -- Nicole Krauss
40. The White Tiger -- Aravind Adiga
41. Native Guard -- Natasha Trethewey **
42. Ballistics -- Billy Collins

Hopefully I'll have a chance over New Year's weekend to post about some reading plans for 2010, probably with fewer specific titles in it than last year's plan. I don't want to shoot myself in the foot before I even get started!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Books I've bought twice

For a while now, I've been thinking about books I've purchased more than once. Some people find a book they love, and buy copies to give to other people. I've done that a few times, but that's not what I'm thinking of here. I'm thinking of books I bought secondhand, read and enjoyed, and then wanted a nicer copy; or books that I bought, read, decided not to keep, and years later decided I was wrong not to have kept; those kinds of things.

I know this isn't complete, because at one point the list in my head seemed longer than what I've got down on paper today. But, between my memory and my LibraryThing catalog, it's a long enough list to share. The titles link to LT; let me know if you find any that aren't correct.

Books I've bought twice because I wanted a better/nicer copy (but didn't always get rid of the first copy):
Their Eyes were Watching God -- Zora Neale Hurston
The Bell Jar -- Sylvia Plath
The Scarlet Letter -- Nathaniel Hawthorne
To Kill a Mockingbird -- Harper Lee
Middlemarch -- George Eliot
The Injured Party -- Susan Fromberg Schaeffer
The Golden Rope -- Susan Fromberg Schaeffer
The Scapegoat -- Daphne du Maurier
Charlotte's Web -- E. B. White
Dubliners -- James Joyce (My first copy was adequate, but the other copy was SO NICE and also CHEAP at the library book sale; I just couldn't pass it up!)

Books I weeded, then decided I needed:
Lonesome Dove -- Larry McMurtry
Proofs and Theories -- Louise Gluck
The Known World -- Edward P. Jones
A Theory of Justice -- John Rawls
Nine Months in the Life of an Old Maid -- Judith Rossner
Attachments -- Judith Rossner
Mainland -- Susan Fromberg Schaeffer
(Truthfully, I had to discard a bunch of books after my parents' basement flooded in the mid-90s, and a couple of titles above might actually fall into THAT category. I wrote out a list as I discarded, and replaced some, but lost the list years ago. One I finally replaced in 2008: The Struggle for Black Equality by Harvard Sitkoff.)

Books I owned in print but first "read" as audiobooks, and loved so much I purchased them on CD, too:
Middlemarch -- George Eliot, narrated by Kate Reading (over 30 hours long)
The Book Thief -- Markus Zusak, narrated by Allan Corduner
Great Expectations -- Charles Dickens, narrated by Frank Muller
(Two more I have in print and WOULD buy on CD as well if I came into money, audiobooks can be so expensive: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, narrated by Sissy Spacek; and Wickett's Remedy by Myla Goldberg, narrated by the author.)

Books that mean enough to me that I retain two identical copies:
Ariel -- Sylvia Plath (and I also have one copy of the "Restored edition: a facsimile of Plath's manuscript, reinstating her original selection and arrangement")
The Mothman Prophecies -- John Keel
Up a Road Slowly -- Irene Hunt

And finally, there must have been a few occasions when I bought a book I'd forgotten I already owned, but I only remember one off the top of my head: Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. But have I read it yet, even once? Nope...not yet!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

New video of PaPa and Kyle, set to Eva Cassidy

On the morning of Sept. 19, 2008, in the emergency room, my father-in-law lay gravely ill and unresponsive. With Grandma and Stacy, I listened to the doctor explain PaPa's status and the tests they were doing, what they'd found up to that point. Just before I stepped out of the room, I said to the doctor, "Do you see that boy in the window?" There was Kyle in the hall, looking through a small window into PaPa's room, watching me talking to this woman.

"Yes," she answered.

"That's my son, and PaPa is his best friend. Please do everything you can to save him." I was crying. Her face was genuinely sympathetic and understanding, and she promised she would.

That was 15 months ago, and you already know how that long day ended. I've referred to Kyle and PaPa's close relationship before on this blog, but I never felt I expressed it as fully as I wanted to, as beautifully as it deserved. Last week, I started making a video, using the song "Over the Rainbow" by the incomparable Eva Cassidy as the background. (I posted a blog entry about Eva this past summer, but I think that video has since been removed from YouTube, darn it.) I think one reason I didn't make a PaPa and Kyle video earlier is that I didn't have a song in mind; this time last year, I'd barely heard of Eva. But now, I'm thrilled to have this amazing song to accompany our precious memories.

I searched Flickr for rainbow photos, and was lucky enough to find some beautiful pictures available under a Creative Commons license from nicholas_t. The one I used in the video, right after the opening screens, is called "Double Bows."

Friday, December 18, 2009

Post from a Guest Blogger!

One of my favorite things about my husband is that he makes me laugh -- sometimes A LOT. He was cracking me up about something a while ago, maybe last weekend, and I got an idea. I told him he should write a guest post for my blog. "I need some new content, and I've been busy and I've had that cold, and you could totally write something funny." See, since Jeff was laid off over two months ago, he's had a lot of spare time, and has welcomed suggestions for things to do. (He still hasn't read To Kill a Mockingbird, or even listened to the amazing audio version. I gave up asking him about it.) But he surprised me when, just a day or two after I mentioned it, he actually wrote a blog post! Without further delay, I present to you a faux "job ad" that Jeff created, and then his letter of application. (Ahem...many spelling errors have been corrected, not to protect him, but so people can actually read it. His spelling is notoriously bad.)

Guest Blogger / Unemployed House Husband Opening:
Looking for an unemployed unskilled slacker to be a house husband and write a guest blog about unemployment. Good spelling, looks, grammar, and a love for reading and writing is a plus, but only a dream and is not required. Position is full time but temporary. “Oh God, please let it be temporary.” There is no salary for the position, however, we offer an excellent benefits package that includes room and board, a wife, a family, a vehicle, and health insurance, and food will be provided for you to prepare. Successful candidate must be unemployed with no real foreseeable chance of employment in the near future. Individuals need experience working as a husband and father. Applicants must fancy themselves as clever and amusing and be willing to do childcare, cooking, laundry, fetch drinks from Hasting’s, and run other errands while writing their blog posts. Prior experience dealing with moodiness, depression, bitchiness, PMS, or other issues related to a woman’s psyche would be helpful. Dress code is sweatpants casual, as long as the sweatpants outfits are laundered at least every few days. Apply online at HeathMochaFrost's blog, "All the parts of my life."

Dear Mrs. HeathMochaFrost,

Hello, my name is HeathMochaFrost Husband, and I am writing in regards to the position for a Guest Blogger / Unemployed House Husband at your website. Since I need to apply for at least two jobs a week to qualify for my unemployment payments from the State, I thought, “What the hell, I’m more qualified for this than I was for that Midwife position I applied for last week.”

The opportunity presented at your blog to reach an audience upwards of six or seven people is mildly appealing, and might help pass a little bit of my free time. I believe that my current married/unemployed status and relevant lack of job skills, current education or training, job prospects, writing skills and interest in blogging makes me a very competitive candidate for this position. The key strengths that I possess for success in this position include:

• Have been a husband for over twelve years and a father for nine
• Have been unemployed for over two months
• Have lots of free time to get bored and organize stuff
• Can hang out on the computer all day long if need be
• Like to be sarcastic; making fun of other people makes me feel better
• Have the best proofreader in the world at my disposal
• Not against sleeping with the boss
• Like to wear sweatpants
• Have experience doing childcare, laundry, and can cook crap in the oven

As you are aware, my background in unemployment and husbandry has provided me the unique opportunity to gain the practical knowledge and experience to support my candidacy for the position. Thank you for your time and consideration. I would welcome the opportunity to meet with you and discuss my qualifications. Perhaps I could send the kids to Grandma's some night so that we could meet. I believe my experiences have given me the necessary skills to make a valuable contribution. I look forward to speaking with you about this unemployment opportunity.


HeathMochaFrost Unemployed Husband

(I suppose it would be even funnier if I'd left in a few of those spelling errors -- for example, "Applicants must fancy themselves as clever" previously read "as cleaver." But for the sake of clarity, a bit of additional hilarity may have been sacrificed, and I'll take the blame for that. ;-) I'll see what I can do about posting more often than once in a very blue moon!)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Shop B&N this weekend, support a school program!

This Saturday, December 5, is the annual Barnes & Noble book fair to raise money for my sons' school district -- specifically, their Visiting Author program, which pays for a published author to visit the school, talk with the kids, and read from their books. Meeting authors is a great way to help bring books "to life" for kids. Between 9am and 5pm at the Topeka Barnes & Noble, all you have to do when you're making purchases is to tell the cashier that you want your purchases to support the Auburn-Washburn Visiting Author Book Fair.

But wait, there's more!

If you can't get to the store that day, or if you'd like to help my sons' school district but aren't even in Topeka ... or, if you're already planning to place an online order soon at, please check this out:

If you are unable to make it to the fair, you have the opportunity to order online and have the purchases count towards our district. From December 5th through 10th, go to, our book fair I.D. # is 487470. This is a great way to help our schools from your homes. Grandparents, friends, neighbors, relatives, anyone can participate!

That's right: friends, relatives, and any book lover who happens to read this blog entry! Are you about to give in to your desire for an e-reader and order a nook from B&N? See if you can order it online through the book fair link! Have a discount coupon to use and only spending about $6.50? That's fine too! (In fact, that might be what I'll end up doing, since we need to economize.) Whether your order is one item, ten items, or one item that can "hold" many many more (that's the nook again), if you shop with the book fair ID, you'll make a wonderful and much-appreciated donation to the school district's Visiting Author program, and help children to develop a love of reading.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Great Kindle Giveaway, from Bibliofreak

I've just subscribed to a new-to-me book blog called Bibliofreak, and was introduced to a jaw-droppingly amazing giveaway: Bibliofreak (J.T.) is giving away a Kindle II, and has plans to give away FOURTEEN MORE Kindles -- my God, let me say that again -- FOURTEEN MORE Kindles! The blog post states:
However, while I’ve fronted some money, I’m not rich. The first Kindle I’m paying for myself. The rest will be funded through my Amazon affiliation. For every $259 I make, I will offer up another Kindle.

I confess, I'm enamored of the Barnes & Noble Nook (and will probably be more so when I see one in the store ... next week!), and am interested in Sony's E-Readers, but one advantage of Amazon's Kindles is that wireless access from almost anywhere -- and I think it's got some level of web access as well, though of course it's no laptop -- and I don't think that's true of the Nook. And since I can't afford any of these marvelous reading devices any time in the near future (unemployed husband, discussion of furloughs for state employees like me, etc.), I would be STOKED to win a Kindle!

I get an extra entry for blogging about it, but now that you've heard about it, you can enter, too! Click the banner at the top of this post to go to Bibliofreakblog and find out how to enter. Good luck to you! And good luck to me, too!! ;-)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Book Blogs Search Engine, by Fyrefly

I started wondering a few weeks ago if there was a website or database where I could find out which book bloggers had reviewed a book (or at least posted something about a given title, not necessarily a complete or "formal" review). Since I don't tend to read what "everyone else" is reading, unless it's a couple years after "everyone else" has already finished it, I thought it would be a good way to see who else has read some of the same things I've read -- or conversely, to finally admit that I really AM the only person who loves, for example, The Injured Party by Susan Fromberg Schaeffer. (Some time ago, there were five copies of that novel cataloged on LibraryThing. Two of the five are mine: one hardcover, one paperback.)

Some days after thinking that I wanted some kind of book review index for book blogs, I found a Google Custom Search Engine developed (and maintained, as time allows) by a book blogger called Fyrefly. I recognized the user name Fyrefly from LibraryThing, and anyone who's active on LT, I'm ready to support pretty much any of their book-related activities. I'm also familiar with Google's Custom Search Engines because some of my fellow transportation librarians have developed them to search specific types of transportation websites: only state DOTs, only university transportation centers, that kind of thing. Because you're ONLY searching sites and domains that are entered by the search engine creator(s), you get the familiar Google search, but usually with more relevant, targeted, and reliable results.

I've added a widget for the Book Blogs Search Engine to the side of my blog. If you're curious to see the sites that are currently included in the search engine, check this page at Fyrefly's blog -- it's a huge list! That blog page was last updated in late September, and the search engine's page says it was last updated on October 8. It seems there are always new book bloggers popping up, and even some blogs that have been around a while might be "under the radar," so it's basically impossible to include them all, especially when the search engine is a one-person operation. It's really an amazing resource. :-)

So, fellow readers, give the search engine a try, and if you like what you find, stop by Fyrefly's blog and let her know.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Family game night?

My mother-in-law is here for the night, there's nothing "must-watch" on TV, no firm plans. After dinner, I asked Jeff, "So did we decide anything about whether to play a game or something?"

Jeff says, "No, not yet. Why, Honey, what would you want to play?"


"Oh really, nothing?" Jeff asks me, "What's your second choice?"

I collapse in laughter.

Back when I was young and single, I remember one of my guy friends talking with me about board games. He wondered why we hadn't played any, said we had to play Monopoly or something, sometime soon. The next time I talked to him, I'd thought it over, and I said, "Board games are something people do when they run out of things to talk about."

I was too harsh. I did used to love playing Monopoly and some other games when I was a kid -- usually my dad and I would play, I think, just the two of us. A game can be an "it's good just to be together" kind of thing to do.

My top choice is probably Book Lovers' Trivial Pursuit, but of course I don't have any bookish company to play it with me. I'd better close and go see if they've decided on something, or if they already gave up on me and are moving on. ;-)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

More social media -- but I think I'm wiser now.

At my mom's funeral service, as I was getting a sympathetic hug from my great-aunt Joyce, I heard her ask close by my ear, "Are you on Facebook?"

I avoided joining Facebook for a really long time, for many reasons. One, I have a MySpace account, but I hardly ever go to the site anymore -- I'm a little embarrassed to have a page on MySpace. Second, we're not allowed to access Facebook at work. I'm totally fine with that, as I have plenty of work to do! Social media is often a distraction, and we don't need extra distractions at work. Third, a Facebook account would distract me, and take time away, from OTHER things I need and want to do during my busy outside-of-work everyday life.

So why did I sign up? Well, for one thing, I've always liked my great-aunt Joyce, and she's a great-grandmother for crying out loud, and if even she is on Facebook, chances are that some 90% of the people I know and want to keep in touch with are also on Facebook. (My best friend, Marie P. in Maine, doesn't currently have internet access at home or work, but bought a laptop and created a Facebook account, and can use wi-fi at the library or coffee shops to get online and stay in touch.)

Second, I've been listed on Classmates and on Reunion (oops, excuse me, it's called "MyLife" now) for a long time, but rarely do anything on there, because you have to pay for a membership level that actually allows you to contact people. I realized recently that if I think of old friends from high school or college that I want to get back in touch with, if I see them on Facebook, I can send a note or "Friend" them for free. There's a no-brainer for ya!

Third, as I noted in the title of this post, I think I'm wiser now than I was when I got a MySpace account. One of the reasons I signed up was because several cast members from The Office had MySpace pages, and they actually kept them updated themselves! I mean, Jenna Fischer, better known as the Pam half of "Jim-and-Pam" or JAM, Jenna Fischer had a MySpace page! I sent a comment to the guy who plays Toby, and he actually wrote back! I had just fallen for all things Office, and there were Office castmembers and Superfans on MySpace that I could connect and laugh with. It was FUN!

But where was I? Oh yes, how I'm wiser now. There are a lot of fantastic people on MySpace, but there were very few people I actually knew in real life. The people I'm "friending" on Facebook are all PEOPLE I ALREADY KNOW. They are friends, relations, or professional colleagues who maybe aren't honest-to-God "friends," but people with whom I am friendly. (I do consider some of my librarian colleagues to be my friends as well.) So there's the main difference: on Facebook, I can be a Fan of The Office or Patty Griffin, but I plan to be Friends only with my friends. :-)

Friday, October 23, 2009

24 Hour Read-a-thon -- on the 24th!

The 24 Hour Read-a-thon is new to me -- like Book Blogger Appreciation Week, I first heard about it from the book bloggers I follow on Twitter. I thought it would be cool to do, but then life got busy (who am I kidding? My life is always busy!), and now the event is practically here, and I never did sign up as a reader or cheerleader, or make any plans to participate. But we don't have any basketball games this weekend, or other big commitments, so I hope to spend some time with books, both print and audio. (Being in Massachusetts over last weekend means a double dose of housecleaning to do this weekend, so I definitely need to find my next audiobook ASAP!)

Wishing my fellow readers a very merry bookish weekend!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

It's been 8 days; do I feel sad enough?

Not long after midnight on October 14, my mother quietly passed away into the next world. I spent hours on the phone with people -- family, and the funeral director, and various nursing home and hospice staff -- and got the arrangements made, and I flew to Boston early last Friday. I spent some time in South Station with a late lunch, paper and pen, and my memories. I took a train down to Mansfield, where my cousin Valerie (and her three kids) picked me up; I stayed with her, Chris, and the kids in Taunton, and they always make me feel welcome. We had a short service on Saturday morning, and although my mother was going to be cremated, I'd wanted to have her embalmed so I could see her that last time, so I could say goodbye to more than an urn of ashes. (My father was not embalmed, and was cremated before I got back to Massachusetts. I wanted some closure this time, dammit.) The service was simple, but I believe Ma would have liked it, and so I liked it, and am proud of myself for it, I feel it was just right, and fitting for her.

During Kyle's basketball game earlier tonight, I said to Jeff, "It's only been eight days. It seems like I'm not sad enough. Do you think there's something wrong with me?" He sort of shook his head, sort of shrugged. "Are you worried that I'm taking it too well?" He said no. Then I said, "Oooohhhh, you're just too worried about yourself and your own problems." (I wasn't accusing, just direct.) Yes, he admitted that's probably true.

The week of October 5, we just got more bad news than we ever wanted. On Monday the 5th, Jeff reported to work as usual, and barely more than an hour later, he called to tell me he'd been laid off; his position was eliminated. Thankfully he has severance payments for a couple months, so we're holding steady, but it's still quite a shock, and we're both concerned about what he'll do next.

On the afternoon of October 6, my mom's hospice nurse, Sherry, called to let me know my mom had "had a decline." I had gotten a call from the social worker, Jerilyn, but couldn't talk because I had someone "shadowing" me from another agency that morning. Jerilyn and I didn't talk until Wednesday, and by then, one of the facility's nurses had called me and was ALSO using the word "decline." In talking with Jerilyn on Wednesday and Thursday, I began to accept that my mom had turned that last corner. She was moving down a straight path toward death, and she had accepted that. She said she'd been seeing my father for a few weeks, that she was ready to go home.

I am not crying, right now. It's very strange. I have cried, during her last hours, and during this past week -- even today, a little bit -- and you and I both know I'll cry again, many times. But I know that she is at peace, and she is with my dad. My mother was not a happy person ... but I believe she is happy now. I also feel that my mom and I really didn't leave anything "unfinished." Our relationship was good, in the last couple years. I had come to accept her as she was, to understand her shortcomings; and I knew that she loved me and was proud of me.

I could share more details about the last pages of my mother's life, and the service we had -- and maybe I will write more of those things down in the coming weeks or months, at least for myself, so I have a record of the timeline. But I also think that my relationship with my mother, and the ways that our lives have intersected in spite of my wish to NOT be like her, is truly an odyssey, an epic. I could write hundreds of pages about her, and about us together; she was one complicated woman. So, I wanted to post about her death, but I don't want to dwell on it too much, or at least not here in my blog. To properly present my mother, I would need far more time than I have in my daily life, and far more space than a blog page should consume.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Discovering a mesmerizing novel: Florida

Last spring, I bought two books by a new-to-me author from the clearance shelves at Hastings. Her name is Christine Schutt, and I'd never heard of her. Besides the clearance price of $2.99, I remember two other things that drew me to the novel Florida: first, that's also the title of a Patty Griffin song I just adore, and second, among the collection of review quotes was one from John Ashbery. Now, Ashbery is a poet - one of the most respected living poets in America, with a career reaching back over 40 years. Unless it's from an author who writes both poetry and fiction (Margaret Atwood jumps to mind), you don't usually see praise from poets on the covers of novels. Ashbery called the book "an amazing achievement," said it had "the same brilliancy of close observation that distinguished her collection of stories Nightwork." Since Nightwork was also on the clearance shelf, I bought that, too.

After I finished reading Daphne, and before I received my copy of my book group's October selection, I decided to give Florida a try. High praise, apparently a "National Book Award Finalist" according to the seal on the front, and just over 150 pages -- just a quick novel in between my other reading "commitments."

I can't express how much I enjoyed the language in this book. The plot is quite straightforward, but the real pull of the book is young Alice's narration, her descriptions of what happens around her, and how she feels and reacts. As she grows older, her voice becomes more mature, more "knowing," but there is always a sense of dreamscape about things, a tension between what is real, what is believed to be real, and what is wished for.

I need to share some passages that struck and moved me.

I believed then that any gesture I made was felt; I believed I could make the unhappy happy just by my attentions.
"I think you're pretty," I said with my fist around the money of a compliment, but the veiled crone asked, "Who taught you to lie like that?" (p. 25)

"The reason we are rich," Aunt Frances said, "is because I am frugal."
Uncle Billy disagreed. He said, "The reason we are rich is because we are rich." (p. 41)

My father is a name and the black oily roots of hair in damp, creased places. My father is a cutout--stark, defined--a standard man as seen by me from behind. (p. 82)

The passing scenery is passing. (p. 82)

I was glad to be the one leaving--for camps and schools and college--but my intention was always to come back. (p. 83)

The urge to loll in a warm place is the same wherever I go. (p. 100)

I wander in bookstores; the fear of doing something ugly and private in front of everyone no longer seizes me. I have to summon it up for a fright, and I forget to summon it up. I am happy, happier. The newness of books for the young I teach, the way they read them as if no one before had ever rightly read them or understood them, the press and the pressure of loving books, a book, a book of poems, a poem and the poet who wrote it, and then the sorrow to discover the poet is dead! "We can only meet in air," says the dead poet. We mourn them, the students and I; they live on in their verses. I am the go-between in this romance, stalled in the clogged hallway between classes, in the breakup between classes. Even before they speak to me, they are out of breath and urgent and surprised by an older face close up. (pp. 152-153)

Last weekend, I returned a book to the library, and decided to stop by the Booktique to browse a little while. There's a bookcase with clearance items just inside the door -- fifty cents each, and usually nothing I want, but at that price I gotta look them over. When I saw the name Christine Schutt, and a title I didn't have, I snatched it up, and knew it was a wonderful day.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Reading, writing, and breathing

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.
---Henry David Thoreau (Walden, 1854)

I am thinking this evening about quiet desperation. My feeling tonight is not quiet, but angry and restless and relentless desperation.
---written by me, on Sept. 24, 2009

This past Thursday evening, I slid into a terrible dark mood. I wrote a blog, then stopped just before wrapping it up, and instead of posting it, I e-mailed it to my friend Marie, the author of the blog sweetness, sweetness. I told her it was a "long rambling angry swearing miserable blog" before pasting it below my message, giving her fair warning if she wanted to put off reading it until another time. (She's a good friend; she DID read it, and sent a supportive reply on Friday. Thank you again, Marie!)

Although Friday was a good day at work, and early Friday evening was tentative but much improved over Thursday, I didn't really feel GOOD until after I'd finished writing my review of Daphne, my latest score from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. I enjoyed it so much, I wanted to really do a good review. It was a brand new trade paperback, priced at $15.00, and I got it for FREE, and it was a great read! So I felt this responsibility to "get it right." And, I should have written it last weekend, since I'd taken Friday off. It was hanging over me, and I felt physical and mental relief when I finished it and posted it last night.

I had this idea last night that for me, reading, and sometimes writing, are as necessary to my health and well-being as breathing. In a way, that's obviously not true, or a wild exaggeration, because breathing is something we do constantly, but reading and writing CAN'T be done constantly, even if we include THINKING about books and reading and writing. I realize they're not comparable in a real and logical way.

Perhaps for me, and other word lovers, we might compare it to a vitamin deficiency. If a person doesn't get enough of a particular vitamin or mineral, it can have quite an adverse effect on one's health. For me, reading is like that. If I could have an allotment of TIME, along with peace and quiet and as few interruptions as possible, to just read good books, I'd probably be a happier person. I don't write nearly as often as I did in my teen years, but once in a while, the need to write strikes me, and I truly feel it as a NEED, and I can't regain normalcy, or any sense of equilibrium (whatever that might mean in my case), until the need is met, until I get it "written out of me." So I bark and snarl at all who keep me from it, or interrupt me before I've finished -- as though I were a starving dog searching the trash outside a restaurant. If I'm writing, or starving to write, don't mess with me, because I WILL bite you.

For now, between last night's work and this post, I AM all written out, finally relaxed, and ready to begin the weekend. I will go for a walk, start my next audiobook, and feel some level of peace.

Friday, September 25, 2009

My review (finally!!!) of Daphne - by Justine Picardie

I received a copy of the novel Daphne by Justine Picardie through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. I’m grateful to the publisher, Bloomsbury, and to LibraryThing for the opportunity to read and review this book.

I own 16 books by Daphne du Maurier. I confess that I’ve only read a handful of them, but clearly I’ve been impressed enough with what I have read to acquire a big stack of them. When I say that Justine Picardie’s book, “a novel about the author of Rebecca,” has a sense of atmosphere similar to du Maurier’s novels, and that Picardie has captured the spirit of du Maurier’s style, it’s a compliment.

The first 40 pages or so went a bit slowly for me, I think for two reasons. First, I had to adjust to the idea that a real historical person, a novelist I enjoy reading, is the main character of another writer’s novel. Second, there are three distinct perspectives in the book, and I had to read a couple chapters from each one to truly settle into the novel. But by page 50, I was absorbed in the characters, their thoughts and actions, their separate but overlapping stories.

One of the three perspectives is that of Daphne du Maurier, and another that of an archivist / Bronte scholar named John Symington. The chapters which focus on du Maurier and Symington are written in the third person, and they cover the period of 1957 to 1960. There’s also a modern-day character whose chapters are written in the first person: a young woman struggling with her Ph.D. thesis, and recently married to a much older man. She is researching the relationship between du Maurier and Symington (they corresponded in the late 1950s; no, it’s not a romance), and their mutual interest in Branwell Bronte. (Unlike du Maurier in Rebecca, Picardie DOES give her young female narrator a first name, but I only saw it once, late in the book.) There’s a literary mystery woven through the novel, and interesting character studies as well.

Picardie states in the Acknowledgements that her novel is based on a true story. To get inside du Maurier and Symington’s heads, and create a rich tapestry of the life circumstances they were in during the time of their correspondence, Picardie outlines in the Acknowledgements the research she did in order to write this novel. She interviewed du Maurier’s children, other relatives and friends, and Symington’s grandson. She includes the books she consulted, the scholars who offered insight, and librarians and archivists who assisted her research with primary sources. The book is a page-turner with brains, for readers who really LIKE writers, and those who appreciate veracity in historical fiction.

Once I “got into” the book, it was hard to put it down, and I loved it. I hope it brings Picardie success and many new readers. I’d be doubly glad if it wins du Maurier some new readers, especially those willing to explore beyond Rebecca.

(Also posted on LT, of course.)

Friday, September 18, 2009

"Let's have some cooperation here!"

When I was in the sixth or seventh grade, I found among our endless piles of paper an old newsletter from my preschool. There was a note about me in the newsletter, among the stories for parents about their children’s doings. I don’t remember the incident itself – I would have been four years old when it happened – but only seeing it in the newsletter years later. A couple of my classmates were having some kind of conflict or disagreement, and I had tried to intervene by saying to them, “Let’s have some cooperation here!”

Although I am easily annoyed and can be quick to anger – especially in the comfort and security of my family – I believe that in the best part of myself, I really dislike conflict. I never learned how to debate, and I don’t know how successful I’d be even if I had learned it, because in many cases, I can see good points in both sides of the argument.

President Obama’s speech last week about the need for health care reform truly touched me. While I was at Smith, my father was laid off from his job as a dishwasher. He’d been at the restaurant over 18 years. He was over 50 years old, with only a high school diploma and no marketable skills. He was overweight, and didn’t care much about his appearance, and didn’t have the money or wherewithal to really “dress up” and be presentable. When he lost his job at the restaurant, he and my mom lost their health insurance. (My brother and I might have been covered by my dad’s plan at that time, too, but I can’t recall.) They were never good about getting routine check-ups anyway, didn’t have any maintenance medications, so the surface parts of their lives weren’t much affected by the loss of health insurance. For the rest of my father’s life, he was either seeking work, or employed in positions which did not offer insurance, and never again had the kind of long-term job security he once had at the restaurant.

A while after I started working with Kansas Medicaid, I realized that my parents might be eligible for Medicaid in Massachusetts – known there as Mass Health. I began mentioning it to my parents periodically, but my dad wasn’t interested in applying for that, he just wanted to work. I’m not sure if he had a bias against it or any sense of shame. There were times in my childhood when we’d been eligible for food stamps and received them, and I don’t recall seeing any embarrassment when we used those.

When my parents came to visit us after Ryan was born, for a week in August 2002, I was struck by how thin my mother had become. Her near-constant complaints about her foot and lower leg – it was either causing her pain or it had gone numb, always one or the other – clearly indicated a need to see a doctor. After my parents went back to Massachusetts, I told my dad on the phone, “Ma’s birthday is coming up on the 23rd, and the best thing you can do for her is apply for Medicaid, so she can get that foot checked out” – and maybe get some encouragement to gain a little weight, I thought to myself. Thank heavens, he did pursue that, and my mom got some level of Medicaid benefits.

During my last semester of graduate school, I took a political science course called “Liberalism and Its Critics.” I’d always thought of myself as a liberal – Massachusetts is a blue state, after all – but I wanted to know more about it. The main text for the course was A Theory of Justice by John Rawls. No, we did not read the whole book – and even now, I think it would take me many months to get through it – but my professor, Deborah Mathieu, was excellent, and guided us through the primary points of Rawls’s theory. We also read from a few other books, and multiple articles, from both supporters and critics of the theory. I didn’t know then how much the class would impact my way of thinking about the world.

Jeff and I were married in November, and I finished grad school in December. We moved to Topeka, and stayed with Jeff’s parents while looking for jobs and saving money for an apartment. My first job in Topeka was a temp position at the Department of Revenue, where I did data entry all day. Typing in numbers and letters doesn’t require much thought – particularly so soon after being in an environment like my political science class, not to mention my other studies in that last semester. As I click click clicked on the keyboard and my mind roamed, I thought about Rawls’s theory, and truly felt that it made sense, that our world would be a more just and fair place if Rawls’s principles of justice were the groundwork for our government.

I haven’t referred to the text in a long time – this is just off the top of my head, and only a small part of that heavy book's detailed arguments. Imagine that you have a kind of selective amnesia, in which you know nothing of the details of yourself or your experiences. However, you know there is at least one person in the older generation whom you care about, and at least one person in the younger generation whom you care about. If one of those people experienced a catastrophic event, it’s very likely that you would want to see them taken care of. The political and economic framework should be set up so that a person who experiences a catastrophic event will have a safety net, so her or his life will not be ruined.

This idea makes great sense to me, because we ARE social animals, and we DO have people around us whom we care about. In his speech last week, President Obama said:
One man from Illinois lost his coverage in the middle of chemotherapy because
his insurer found that he hadn't reported gallstones that he didn't even know
about. They delayed his treatment, and he died because of it. Another woman from
Texas was about to get a double mastectomy when her insurance company canceled
her policy because she forgot to declare a case of acne. By the time she had her
insurance reinstated, her breast cancer had more than doubled in size. (From,
accessed Sept. 18, 2009)
Think about these two cancer patients, and their families. Imagine that man with cancer is your father, your son, your brother or uncle, your best friend, or that the woman is your mother, your daughter, your niece or favorite aunt. Imagine that you are being treated for a life-threatening illness, and suddenly lose your insurance coverage. You’ve had stable employment, health insurance for yourself and your family, you’ve got some debts (house, car, college loans, credit card or two) but decent credit, and you pay your bills on time. Then you’re diagnosed with cancer, and your world is turned inside out: your very life is vulnerable now, as is your family’s emotional and financial stability. The struggle to regain good health is difficult enough WITH health insurance; imagine losing that insurance during your treatment.

In his address to Congress, the President also stated, “[T]here is agreement in this chamber on about 80 percent of what needs to be done, putting us closer to the goal of reform than we have ever been.” I don’t know if that’s true, but it sounds plausible, and I’d like to believe it. What our Senators and Representatives NEED to do, then, is lay out their cards on the other 20 percent, and start looking for creative ways to reach common ground. If they research the issues and options, listen to one another as open-mindedly as they can, and remind themselves that the man from Illinois was someone’s son, and probably someone’s father too, they should be able to find pieces of agreement. The President said, “Now is the season for action.” I believe it’s also the time for cooperation. Fighting one another solves nothing, but working together, we can make real progress toward solutions.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Something about age eight

Last evening after supper, I was alone in the house putting away clean dishes, thinking. Grandma was outside on the patio watching Jeff and the boys toss the football around the backyard. I was drying things and putting them in their places, then loading the dirty supper dishes in the dishwasher, starting to fill it up again as quickly as I'd emptied it -- which wasn't TOO quickly, because I do most everything slowly and deliberately. I was thinking about the upcoming one-year anniversary of Papa's death.

When Kyle's basketball skills seemed to slip away from him late last fall and into the winter, I said to Jeff, "He lost his best friend." He also seemed to struggle with his spelling last year, more than I remember in earlier years, and in the start of this school year, his spelling errors have already caused me to e-mail his teacher to express my concerns and get her thoughts and suggestions. I can't help wondering if the absence of Papa from his life has affected Kyle's spelling too. The night that Papa died, Kyle told me through his sobbing, "Everything will be different now!" He was so right; I think losing Papa has affected every part of Kyle's world.

Kyle has a much closer bond with Grandma than before. This past year, they have clung to one another in their shared grief: Papa's two best friends, trying to survive without him, day by day, week by week. But Jeff is critical of many things, starting with sports, and I'm critical of some things, including spelling and indications of selfishness, and in a few ways Grandma is critical, too, though more likely to take Kyle's side than Jeff or I, when he feels he's been wronged. Papa not only loved Kyle unconditionally, but Kyle knew that Papa loved him unconditionally. He knew that Papa would listen to his complaints and love him anyway, and be patient with him as he tried to grow and learn, and try to teach him how to be better without pointing out his faults and shortcomings.

In a sense, it seems almost idiotic that I'd link Kyle's problems with spelling to his grief over Papa's death -- and it's been almost a year; some things are still impacted, surely, but spelling? But as I dried the cups and mugs, I thought about Kyle being eight years old when Papa died. I was about eight years old when the sexual abuse began, and I still struggle with emotions and situations that are linked with thse experiences, even some situations that are completely unrelated to the abuse but remind me of it in a deep, visceral way. Sylvia Plath was eight when her father died, and clearly that loss affected her in countless ways throughout her life. The things that happen in childhood -- things that happen to you, around you, and around those people closest to you -- sometimes live on as part of you. Especially the world around you when you're about age eight, old enough to start thinking about ways to stretch your small wings, old enough to start understanding "deep things," but too young to go far on your own, and still very much a child.

As I stacked the plastic cups together, I cried. It's been almost a year, and still it breaks my heart when I think of my Kyle, and how the loss of Papa might still be breaking his beautiful little heart.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Just making a note...

I need to shut down and get to bed VERY SOON, but am making a "mental note" of sorts before the day is completely over. When I woke this morning, I told Jeff I'd just had a bad dream. I didn't say what about. Later in the day, I kept thinking about it. What I remember is that I was getting ready to marry someone that I didn't want to marry. I might even have been in a fancy dress -- it might have been THAT DAY. I kept saying, basically, "I don't want to marry this guy," and no one seemed to care that I didn't want to. Finally I was trying to think of reasons I couldn't marry him, that would make some sense and carry some weight with other people.

When I woke up, Jeff was talking to me (I'd slept late, as usual -- and since it's after 1030pm, I predict I'll sleep late again tomorrow, thank heavens for weekends), and I remember being so glad I was married to Jeff and that it had just been a bad dream. But it kept coming back to my mind, and I started thinking the dream was almost like a template for one of the primary psychological struggles of my whole life: the feeling of being trapped.

I always tell Jeff, "Don't tell me what to do," and fifty similar things. It's like I've been doing this since I was eight years old, not wanting to go to school: I hate school, don't make me go. And in college and grad school, wishing I could read and write what I wanted and not just all the stuff that was assigned for me to read, study, write, take tests, et cetera. And of course, back again to my childhood, it's also about the sexual abuse: him telling me what to do, convincing me to do things I didn't want to do and shouldn't have done, that made me feel guilty and dirty and ugly and different. Something as simple as Jeff saying, "It's nice outside, you should go for a walk," causes me to revolt, to want to say, "Don't tell me what to do, I'll do what I want to do, you can't make me walk, you can't make me lose weight, you can't tell me what to feel or what not to feel, and dammit I'll get myself a Heath Mocha Frost if I want one!"

So I think my bad dream came from a very deep place inside, and it troubles me, but also causes me to think in a way that might help me to know myself better. And yet, it does trouble me.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

BBAW, and how I feel like a poser

I recently gave in to the hype and signed up for a Twitter account. Yes, it can be addicting, especially those first couple of weeks, but I don't think I've gone overboard with it. One thing I've found is that book bloggers -- those people whose blogs are about books and reading, and/or include mostly book reviews -- are very active on Twitter. I've been hearing a lot lately from them about Book Blogger Appreciation Week, or BBAW for short, which is scheduled for September 14-18, 2009.

The first BBAW was held just last year, and was the brainchild of Amy Riley - also known as My Friend Amy. Amy and her fellow book bloggers found it to be a great experience, and now plan to hold the event every September. There's a ton of work that goes into it. One main thing is, there are a lot of categories for awards, and bloggers and their readers submit nominations for these categories. When nominations close, all the lucky bloggers who were nominated are notified by e-mail. Then there are Panels for the different categories, and the Panelists check out the nominated blogs and/or specific entries and decide upon a shortlist (which seems to be between three and five, I don't know if there's a maximum of five or six, or what). So there's a deadline for nominations, a deadline to volunteer for Panels, a deadline to decide on the shortlist, and a deadline to come up with a winner for each category.

There are also giveaways. Many book bloggers have book giveaways on a regular basis, receiving one or more review copies of books, reviewing them, and then offering them to other readers via their blogs. Giveaways are highlighted during the BBAW event, which makes good sense -- though of course it adds to the workload of all the bloggers doing giveaways, and to those on the administrative side of BBAW who list the details before the big week, so blog readers can see what fun stuff will be available.

So I was seeing all these posts about BBAW on Twitter. Last week, I was surprised -- VERY surprised -- to receive an e-mail saying, "Congratulations, you've been nominated for a BBAW award!" I went, "Huh? Me?" I didn't think it was possible. I don't consider myself a book blogger. Heck, I don't really think of myself as "a blogger" at all, but just as someone who has a blog and writes whatever on there, sometimes. The reason I chose the title "All the parts of my life" for my blog was to give myself the freedom to write about whatever's on my mind and anything I've been doing. (And because it's one of my favorite poetry quotes.)

I've started following a number of book bloggers on Twitter, and have also added several book blogs to my Google Reader subscriptions in the past four to six weeks. And I have to say, I'm amazed and impressed by the amount of time and effort these people put into the endeavor. (I think most are women -- there are male librarian bloggers, but I don't think I've seen any male book bloggers yet.) It's not just off the top of their heads: they need to READ BOOKS, and then write about the books, and sometimes they talk about publishing and the book industry, audiobooks and e-books, sometimes they have interviews with authors, and they manage those giveaways, plus they design their site, have to keep up with comments -- it sounds like a full-time job! Since getting the e-mail about my "nomination," I've started WISHING I could be a book blogger, but then I think about my everyday life and of course I ALREADY have a full-time job, and really there's no way I could do it, and do it WELL.

So yeah, I feel like a poser. But, I was nominated in the category "Best Blog Name," which is actually kind of cool. I don't think I'm a book blogger, but I appreciate that someone likes the name of my blog enough to nominate it. :-) In return, I'll give credit where it's due, to the REAL book bloggers, and will follow and read more of their bookish musings.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The life of my mind

Last evening, while walking on the treadmill, I finally watched a BookTV program I recorded in May. It was an episode of After Words, with guest interviewer Sara Nelson (author of the wonderful So Many Books, So Little Time) talking to Elaine Showalter about her new book, A Jury of Her Peers: American Women Writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx. I've seen this book at TSCPL, and would love to read it, but it's something like 600 pages long, and I just don't see myself able to read a book of that length (except maybe a novel) anytime soon.

Thankfully, I was able to devote close to an hour to watching the program (half an hour on the treadmill, another 25 minutes till the end). It made me want to read the book, particularly because of the way Sara Nelson described it -- I got the sense it was more "readable," less theoretical than much literary criticism, that it reads more quickly and easily than one would expect, for a book that size. I was also pleased to hear Elaine Showalter say of the many books that she read during her research, that her primary question while reading was, "Am I enjoying this book?" She was trying to read them as a "normal" reader would, rather than as a scholar or literary critic.

I am really glad to be a librarian, and I think it's the profession that makes the most sense for me, the best way to earn my "bread and butter," so to speak. But as I told Becky a few months ago, when we went to visit the library at Fort Leavenworth, if I had my way, I'd just read and write every day -- and I'd read more novels than anything else.

I was very lucky, last Sunday in Boston, to meet "in real life" a woman I'd only known online and by e-mail: a fellow librarian and book lover who is ALSO named Marie. (Her blog is called "sweetness, sweetness," and I think that's taken from a Sylvia Plath poem. We have a lot in common!) We spent a while chatting at Dunkin' Donuts (one of the five million in Mass.), then went to a fantastic bookstore that neither of us had been to before, called McIntyre and Moore, in Porter Square. We both gravitated toward novels, but I admitted to Marie that I wish I had the time, patience, and simple brain power to read some psychology and philosophy, and a lot more literary criticism. So although I'm more likely to choose fiction or poetry from my "to be read mountain" than anything too abstract or theoretical, I'm often drawn to those kinds of books, and sometimes buy them or check them out from the library, even though I realize that I won't have the time to properly read them until I'm retired. (Yes, that's over 20 years away.)

For example, there was a book that caught my attention months ago that was on my (comparatively short) list of "books that are probably way over my head that I'd likely buy anyway if I ever found them." Well, last Sunday, in McIntyre and Moore, I found it, and couldn't help exclaiming, "Duuude!" which Marie heard from a couple aisles away. It's called Strangers to Ourselves, written by Julia Kristeva. It was in the literary criticism section, but even from the jacket description, you can tell it's not strictly lit crit.

(description copied from Amazon, but I think it's taken from the book jacket)

This book is concerned with the notion of the "stranger" -the foreigner,
outsider, or alien in a country and society not their own- as well as the notion
of strangeness within the self -a person's deep sense of being, as distinct from
outside appearance and their conscious idea of self.
Kristeva begins with the personal and moves outward by examining world literature and philosophy. She discusses the foreigner in Greek tragedy, in the Bible, and in the literature of the Middle Ages, Renaissance, Enlightenment, and the twentieth century. She discusses the legal status of foreigners throughout history, gaining perspective on our own civilization. Her insights into the problems of nationality,
particularly in France are more timely and relevant in an increasingly
integrated and fractious world.

As you can tell, this is not a breezy or potboiler kind of book. If I had a day completely free, I would start reading it and see how far I get. I also found, totally by chance in an unsorted pile, another title that had grabbed me more recently, and had to buy that as well. This one is psychology: Strong Feelings: Emotion, Addiction, and Human Behavior, by Jon Elster. When I was at Smith, I participated a few times in a group of survivors of sexual abuse. While some women talked about not remembering, and not allowing themselves to feel anything deeply, I remember saying I was the opposite way, "I am emotion."

The books that examine the intersections of life and literature; books that seek to explore the workings of our minds as well as our brains; books that might help me see myself and others more clearly -- these are the kinds of books I want to find and read, beyond novels and other imaginative literature. A few titles from my "watch list," books that sound interesting enough for closer examination:
The Maternal is Political: Women Writers at the Intersection of Motherhood and Social Change;
Upward Mobility and the Common Good: Toward a Literary History of the Welfare State;
Adapting Minds: Evolutionary Psychology and the Persistent Quest for Human Nature;
The Engine of Reason, the Seat of the Soul: a Philosophical Journey into the Brain;
Modern Liberty and the Limits of Government;
The Hidden Writer: Diaries and the Creative Life;
Passionate Minds: Women Rewriting the World;
Just and Unjust Wars: a Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations.

You get the idea. Ever since I started getting the Labyrinth Books sale catalog, my watch list has ballooned with these kinds of titles, which sound both fascinating to me and hugely challenging to read. Back in library school, I was talking with one of my friends one day about what kind of library I might work in when I got my degree. She looked at me closely and said, "I can really see you in academia." Strange for a high school dropout, but in a way she was right. If I had access to a university's resources and the time for self-directed study, the life of my mind could be amazing and constantly growing.

Back here on earth, I'll try to wrap this up so I can actually post it tonight. (I started writing it before work, at about 745am, and now it's after 11pm and I'm getting tired!) Many many thanks to Marie for meeting me on Sunday and introducing me to such a great bookstore. Both our meeting and the store were like hot fudge added to an already good ice cream visit. :-)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

My mom receiving hospice care again

It has been far too long since I wrote an update on my mother's health and condition. I'm afraid if I start, I'll find details I need to include, and it could take me all day, and I never HAVE all day available, so I just didn't say much of anything.

My mom's eating had decreased again, and she had a lot of weepy days, so in early June, the nursing home contacted me to tell me they were sending her to Norwood Hospital for psychiatric evaluation and treatment. (They had sent her to the ER at Morton Hospital a couple days earlier to try to find a physical cause for her not eating and sometime complaints of stomach pain; no physical cause was found.) It's a medical hospital that has two or three psych units, NOT just a psych hospital. This is good, because during her stay, she had increased difficulty with her breathing, and they found she had developed congestive heart failure (CHF). So, they sent her to a medical unit for several days to get the fluid out of her lungs, and when she was stable, they sent her BACK to the psych unit for a few more days, and then she was determined to be well enough to return to the nursing home, and to her great relief, she was finally sent back.

During her hospitalization, they made some medication changes, but there was little improvement. They decided to try electroconvulsive therapy (ECT, shock treatments), and I signed a consent for this on the day before I flew to DC for the SLA conference and TKN meeting. (I was rushing around like a madwoman trying to get everything done -- getting this fax taken care of, plus trying to get refills of my OWN medications, because the ones I'd ordered were coming by mail order and wouldn't arrive till the following Monday, and I was already completely out of two meds. That day was VERY STRESSFUL.) The social worker at Norwood assured me that there are several people involved in the decision to move forward with ECT. The patient's attending psychiatrist makes the first decision, but then it must be approved by the patient or the health care proxy (me), and another psychiatrist, and a medical doctor, and the anesthesiologist. I was afraid my mom would be mad at me for giving my consent, but really, if all these other doctors also agree that it's the best course of action, the patient's relative is most likely acting in the patient's best interest.

In my mom's case, the medical doctor also wanted a cardiologist's evaluation and approval. I thought they had gotten this, but "she'll have her first treatment tomorrow" became "she didn't start that yet," and then it was on hold, and then she developed CHF, and whatever medical approvals she'd received were basically void. During the last few days in the hospital, my mom's mood and appetite did improve a bit. Someone came from the nursing home to review her case, and gave the okay for her to return the following day.

I talked to the nursing home and hospice staff yesterday (before, during, and after my conference call -- yeah, THAT was fun! -- not really), and they said that with her respiratory issues and cardiac concerns, depression and anxiety, and the small amounts of food she's been eating, she IS eligible to receive hospice care again. She was actually the one who initiated the change, apparently asking if she could receive them. The social worker at the nursing home, Sue, said that she hates to see my mom so miserable, that the only time she's close to being content is when my grandmother visits (usually every two weeks), and since the hospice nurse evaluated her and they found she was eligible again, and the doctor agreed, then it could only help her to receive those extra services.

Jerilyn, the hospice social worker from last time, is on vacation this week, but she will be the one working with my mom again. I'm relieved to hear this, because Jerilyn knows Ma and likes her, and Ma likes Jerilyn as well, but more than that, Jerilyn knows the way Ma "operates," and she doesn't hesitate to use some "tough love," or to try to redirect her thoughts and attention, rather than just letting her go on about how bad she feels, and feeling sorry for her. (Wow, that might sound quite terrible.) But the fact that she likes Jerilyn, and enjoys those visits, makes her want to "be better," I think, and having extra visits and additional care led to positive results last year, and I hope it will happen again.

I knew this would not be a short post, I knew it, I knew it.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Surrounded by piles

It seems that it doesn't matter how many plates I'm trying to keep in the air. What matters is that I'm fat. I was on a diet and exercise program -- a LONG time ago now -- that enabled me to lose 30 pounds. I've since gained it all back, and can't find a way to that place where I have some will power and motivation to change. And Jeff really, really wants me to.

But life is SO MUCH BUSIER now than the time when I dieted successfully. Kyle was in preschool for two half-days per week, and Ryan was only two years old. There was no baseball, no basketball, no homework, very few school functions and activities with one kid in preschool -- and now two in elementary school, both playing sports, and I've still got a house to keep. I'm just tired, so tired.

I have a conference call today where I have to talk, so I need to spend some time this morning preparing for that -- and of course I feel like garbage and wish I didn't have to be here at all. I have another conference call next Tuesday that I need to lead, will need to draft an agenda and send that e-mail out soon. And the calls are important, we need to have them, we need to try to maintain some of the momentum from our TKN meeting last month in DC, it's critical. But at the same time, none of that work has an impact on the visible state of my library -- and you can see below what a few parts of it looked like two days ago:

Note that none of the photos show my own desk area, except the second photo shows the little wall in front of my desk, with boxes in front of it. The other cubicle shots are where I used to have temps sitting, and one is a patron cubicle that has become a "dumping ground" for donations.

Sometimes, in work and out of work, I think I see some light up ahead, and I think, "Once we get through this," or, "After I finish with that," or, "By that time, things should be in pretty good shape." But there's always something else to crash into when I turn the corner, and the thing that's definitely not in good shape is me. Now I'm sipping cold water, thinking wistfully of snack time, and wondering which pile I should look at first.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

South Carolina's "governor" / How I love Eva Cassidy

Two completely unrelated topics, just what I was thinking about earlier, during my lunch break.

First, Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina hasn't resigned yet. I just read a story on The Washington Post's website that quotes Sanford as saying he intends to remain governor until the end of his term - another 18 months.

When this story first broke about the governor "missing," before his infidelity was confirmed, Jeff and I both had the same thought: this guy is supposed to be RUNNING THE STATE, and no one knows where he is, and then we find out that he wasn't just out of state, HE WASN'T EVEN IN THIS COUNTRY!!! It almost doesn't matter WHAT he was doing in Argentina, or anywhere else he might have been. HIS JOB is to be in charge of things in South Carolina. Imagine a plane crash, or a damaging storm - serious things happen all the time, and it's the governor who declares a state of emergency. You can't be a governor and just go wherever you want and do whatever you want; people need to know where you are and how to get in touch with you.

But NOW he says he wants to keep on working for the people of his state. Doesn't he realize he STOPPED working for them when he went AWOL??? I mean, DUH!!!

OK, enough about that man and his absence of common sense. I was looking for new music some weeks ago -- not "new" music, just new to me -- and thought I'd try a CD by Eva Cassidy. I had heard a couple of her songs on Pandora, and liked her voice. When I found a couple of her albums at the library, I checked one out. I've since checked out three others, and bought Songbird. I can't say how much I love this woman's voice, it's fantastic and amazing.

If you've heard of Eva Cassidy before reading this, you probably know already that she died some time ago -- actually, over twelve years ago, in late 1996. She was only, I think, 33 years old. She had been treated for skin cancer a couple years before that, but ultimately the cancer returned and spread. I've been more forceful with my boys about them wearing sunscreen since I learned these details about Eva. The sun is wonderful, but also dangerous.

There are very few videos available of Eva performing. A lot of the YouTube videos only contain photos of her. But there are a handful of them on there, and most of them are beautiful. This is Eva performing "Over the Rainbow," and I believe it's the same version that's on Songbird. Forget your stresses, and listen to this.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Relaxing a little...then back to work

I'm in Washington, DC, for the Special Libraries Association (SLA) annual conference (followed on Thursday by the Joint Transportation Knowledge Network (TKN) meeting). After having early meetings both Sunday and Monday, today I'm having a relaxing breakfast in my room. I've been eating out quite a bit, but my "breakfast" options have been quite limited and not too satisfying. Last night, I decided I'd just "eat in" from the stash of things I brought from home, so today's morning meal is a bit unusual: almost done with a small can of tuna (yes, plain from the can, it's how I've eaten it since childhood), will have some peanuts next, and then if I'm still hungry, I've got an apple from yesterday's lunch meeting that's still halfway decent. Best of all, I'm drinking my English toffee cappuccino from home -- filled with hot water from the bathroom sink because when I tried to use the coffee maker last night for hot water, there was quite a spill, and I've given up on the damn thing.

So something about this trip, or this place, has me energized. Sunday night, I didn't get to sleep until after 230am (i.e. Monday morning). Last night, I took a couple buses to get to the Adams Morgan neighborhood (and felt so proud of myself), and spent a good 90 minutes at Idle Time books. (And, I only bought two books, and had supper beforehand at Subway -- all in all, a cheap evening.) I got back to my hotel around 10pm, and still felt wide awake. I muddled around for a while, had my coffee maker mishap, and read for a little while, and got to sleep probably close to midnight. I was up at seven, soon on the computer and forwarding the latest ENR e-mail to one of our bridge engineers, and deleting a couple article request e-mails I'd gotten from the Solos list. I wasn't just barely conscious -- I was already alert. After only five hours of sleep the night before last, I should be wiped out, but I'm least not yet.

Today is busy: the first session I'm planning to go to is at 930am, and it's about 820 now, so I gotta get in gear very soon. The Transportation Division has its business meeting luncheon from 1130am to 1pm, and then we have a session called "The Future of Transportation" from 130 to 3pm. After that, I'll spend some serious time in the INFO-EXPO hall, have some supper somewhere, and the Transportation Division Open House is from 6-8pm in one of the rooms at TRB. A long day, but starting out leisurely here, and at least our Open House isn't scheduled for 8-10pm. I'll have some time to unwind (I hope I can unwind!), read, maybe go to the fitness center. It will be good.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Getting through June

Not a good weekend. Last night before bed, I cried for what seemed like an hour. Why? Oh, a little of everything. I'm dragging this morning, and Jeff probably is, too, since my crying and babbling kept him awake.

I'm flying out on Saturday to go to the Special Libraries Association (SLA) conference in Washington, DC. I return late on Thursday, June 18th. The last two weeks of June will be an endless game of catch-up at work, and a return to wall-to-wall baseball after my "break" at SLA. I think both boys will have tournaments in late June/early July, but most of July should be sports-free, and my conference (and the stresses of flying) will be behind me.

I can't wait to reach the end of June -- as long as I don't have a nervous breakdown or succumb to spontaneous combustion before July swoops in to give me some rest.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

It is getting late and this must be quick. I am trying to be better about what I eat and drink, to pause and ask myself, whenever I begin thinking of something to ingest, "Is that really what I want?" and if I find the answer is "No," or even "I'm not sure," then I try to move my thoughts along to other things -- and hopefully toward the shaky and uncertain "thing" that I really do want.

But, here is what I've found these past few days: family life is very chaotic, and this makes it very difficult for me to adjust my thoughts and behaviors. The boys are fighting, or annoying each other, or annoying Jeff/me/Grandma/whoever, and I find myself yelling at them -- and today, even Jeff was swearing at them, specifically at Ryan at that point but Kyle has gotten his share of reprimands -- but it is getting to be all too much for me. I can't focus, I can't get an answer to the questions "What am I really hungry for?" or "What do I truly want or need?" or "What does this feeling of emptiness mean?" It's hard enough to focus anyway, dammit, even on a good day, but seriously, without some peace and quiet, without some quality time to read and write, I just know I'll be saying "Screw it" and grabbing more of Grandma's cookies or mixing up another cappuccino or heading over to Hasting's for a Heath Mocha Frappe (The Beverage Formerly Known as the Heath Mocha Frost) or getting an iced mocha at McDonald's or having a second helping of whatever we're having for dinner just because it's there or ruminating on good tasting things to put into my mouth for no other reason than "They taste so good and I'm so sick of everything, I can't deal, I need something to brighten my day," and eating tasty foods results in dopamine production in the brain and when my sons are saying the same annoying things twenty times in a row or asking me fifty times Can't-you-do-this-or-that-or-fill-in-the-blank-with-whatever-my-spoiled-greedy-mind-is-wanting-now or not listening to me or outright disregarding what I say as if I were a voice on the wind, I just have to do something, and quick, to feel better.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Book review of Mary Oliver's Evidence for LibraryThing

(Cross-posting a LibraryThing review. Crossing my fingers that I've smoothed out my formatting issues.)

I am very grateful to Beacon Press and LibraryThing for the opportunity to review Mary Oliver’s latest book of poetry, Evidence, through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program. I’ve been reading Oliver’s poetry for the past few years, and have come to admire it a great deal. Evidence is a strong addition to this excellent body of work.

Much of Mary Oliver’s poetry is about the natural world, perhaps more so than any other living American poet. While the speed of life is faster than ever, and so many of us are overwhelmed with images, information, entertainment, and daily responsibilities, Oliver encourages readers to slow down, seek quiet, pay attention, and really notice the world around them. She is not a “nature poet,” but one who focuses on nature to better see what lies beyond it. As she writes in this book’s title poem, “Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable.”

One of the poems is entitled, “There Are a Lot of Mockingbirds in This Book,” and it’s certainly true – and other kinds of birds as well. The book’s second poem is called “Swans,” and hints at love and loss, letting go, and faith. The poem’s speaker wonders that she could wish

that one of them might drop
a white feather
that I should have
something in my hand

to tell me
that they were real?
Of course
this was foolish.

What we love, shapely and pure,
is not to be held,
but to be believed in.
And then they vanished, into the unreachable distance.

In a poem entitled “I Am Standing,” the speaker is listening “to mockingbird again,” singing its song, and finally

my own unmusical self
begins humming:
thanks for the beauty of the world.
Thanks for my life.

Time and again, Oliver describes the beauty in nature, using words like “gifts” and “blessings,” and often seems to present these objects and occurrences as evidence of God. She writes in “It Was Early,” “Sometimes I need / only to stand / wherever I am / to be blessed.” But while there is a sense of spirituality in many of the poems, they are never preachy or heavy-handed. One of my favorites in this new book is the poem “At the River Clarion,” which begins, “I don’t know who God is exactly.” Some of the observations in this poem include:

If God exists he isn’t just butter and good luck.
He’s also the tick who killed my wonderful dog Luke.
And also:

If God exists He isn’t just churches and mathematics.
He’s the forest, He’s the desert.
He’s the ice caps, that are dying.
He’s the ghetto and the Museum of Fine Arts.

“At the River Clarion” meditates on God, and nature (the River Clarion) – I might also say nature as evidence of God – but also on death and grief. Oliver’s longtime partner passed away just a few years ago, so she knows grief all too well. She writes:

There was someone I loved who grew old and ill.
One by one I watched the fires go out.
There was nothing I could do

except to remember
that we receive
then we give back.

At the end of the poem, the speaker contrasts herself sitting “in a house filled with books, ideas, doubts, hesitations,” and the birds with “wings to uphold them,” and the river “on its / long journey, its pale, infallible voice / singing.”

My only disappointment with this volume is that a few of the poems are simply too short. The very first poem in the book, entitled “Yellow,” is only four lines. It paints an interesting image, and it’s thought-provoking, and quite good, but I want more of it. There are a couple more of three or four lines – well-done, but seemingly incomplete. They need not be VERY long; I like “Landscape in Winter,” which has two stanzas, a total of seven lines – just enough to have a sense of movement, one image to another. But, this minor disappointment probably says more about my taste in poetry – and my desire to read as many wonderful lines as I possibly can of Oliver’s work! – than about any real shortcomings in the book.

Whether listening to birds or rivers, watching the sky or the trees, or feeling grief or gladness, Mary Oliver expresses an amazement with the world around her, and with life itself, that is far too rare today. She writes, “Halleluiah, I’m sixty now, and even a little more, / and some days I feel I have wings.” Her poems take flight. They make me want to be more like her.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Stormy Sunday

Sunday afternoon. All week I've been looking forward to tonight, for the fifth and final installment of Little Dorrit on Masterpiece Classic. On Wednesday I was thinking, "Only four days till the end of Little Dorrit!" Yesterday morning on the way to Ryan's (early!) baseball game, I said, "Less than 36 hours till the end of Little Dorrit!" And now it's only about seven hours away, and part of me is SO HAPPY, I can't wait to see how it turns out.

But, for the next SIX hours, northeast Kansas is in a tornado watch. We've had some rain and storms today, a bit of hail, but are sort of in a lull until the next round. Jeff and Grandma just went out to the store with the boys, and I'm going to clean the second bathroom so that will be DONE. Before they left, Jeff said, "Don't spend the whole time watching the weather." We're very lucky to have a TV station in town that has a live online chat, and sometimes live streaming video, during outbreaks of severe weather. They're at I just heard them say that Topeka will probably get its next round of storms after 4pm -- more than 2 1/2 hours away, a good sized break for us. Storms after 4pm, Masterpiece at 8pm -- if the weather is clear and we have power! But now I must close and get back to cleaning. Crossing my fingers we don't get totally clobbered with wild weather. Hope where you are is safe. :-)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

You've got to hear this ...

... if you haven't already, as the different versions on YouTube have been viewed several million times. Take seven or eight minutes to just watch and listen to this, it will make your day!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

What I'm watching

As many of you know, I am a BIG fan of television. For many years, I've always had a few "Oh-My-God-This-Show-is-So-GREAT!!!" shows at any given time, along with shows I enjoyed and followed as time allowed. In the spring of 1995, I began taping every new episode of Party of Five, and have always had a couple shows each season to which I was devoted. That devotion might shift back and forth between shows, but always there was something to deeply touch my heart, or in some cases to take me as far away as possible from the stresses of my daily life (thank you, 24 and Alias).

This spring, there are three shows making me giddy:

Lost - Wednesday nights are for watching Lost. I think that colleges and universities with strong film/media departments will be adding this show to their curriculum after it's over. It is that great, and that rich; it's a live-action epic novel. Only an hour and a half till the next episode!

Friday Night Lights - I don't know much about football, and have never had a desire to learn more about it. But, after hearing critics praise it and hearing how devoted its fans were, I started watching late in season one, and was a nearly-instant convert. I just love these characters, and the casting is perfect, and the actors embody the characters so completely. Every time I watch, I'm amazed, amused, touched, and entertained. One of the best and most realistic character-driven dramas I've ever seen. The season finale is THIS FRIDAY on NBC, and wonderful news, it's been renewed for two more 13-episode seasons, same way they did this year: on DirecTV in the fall, and on NBC starting in January.

Masterpiece Classic - They've been doing the tales of Charles Dickens, and while Oliver Twist was much better than I expected, and the encore of David Copperfield (with Daniel Radcliffe in his first role) very good, I have been blown away by the first two parts of Little Dorrit. I'm so excited to find out what happens, but also glad that there are five episodes to enjoy - still three to go, psych! After falling in love with Bleak House a couple years back, clearly I need to read a lot more Dickens novels!

What I'll be watching this summer: all the episodes of The Office I've recorded this year, in big gleeful gulps of guffaws. It premiered the week after Papa died, and comedy just didn't feel right for a long time. But I've been saving up, and how I've missed you, Dunder-Mifflin. It's not over; we've just been on a break. ;-)

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The outsider

As I've noted before, I'm the only one in my family who loves to read. Maybe that will change someday (I hope I hope I hope), but in the near future, not likely. But I was thinking about this the other day: my parents and my brother weren't readers, either, except my dad with his magazines. So, where did I come from? And, how did I get here? How did I get this way? How did I become myself?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

What was I supposed to be doing again?

So it's just after 6pm, and I ate my sandwich up here at the computer, skimming through some discussions on LibraryThing, and then I thought I'd write a new blog - a short one, with a picture. I was looking online for a new photo or wallpaper for my desktop at work, and I tried to find one of those "reading woman" kind of photos. I accidentally tripped the "KDOT won't let you look at that website" switch - and it was an old painting, I think Monet? - and the site name looked totally innocent - so I took a break from that. Then I realized I could find one on Flickr - which I KNOW is allowed! - and use it for my background. Yay!

So I found one, and have had it on my screen two or three weeks, and it's just beautiful. Tonight, after I finished my sandwich and navigated away from LT, I thought I'd post the photo in here, with just a short note about how I found it. And I DID post it, but as I was about to start writing, I thought, "I wonder if I'm allowed to post this picture?" Well, darn it: sure enough, the note "All Rights Reserved" is included on the photo's Flickr page. And I don't blame the woman who posted it at all, it's an amazing photo, and smart of her to reserve all the rights.

Being easily sidetracked, I went to the Help pages to see what they had to say about copyright matters, and found a lively discussion in the forums, and after 10 or 12 minutes, I was completely sure I couldn't post the photo, but I couldn't even think what else I SHOULD be doing with some precious time alone - Jeff and Ryan at Ryan's baseball practice, and Kyle at Grandma's, and me ... me browsing on the computer after eating my sandwich, wondering if the ant trap Jeff set out in the kitchen has had any time to start working yet. Jeff and Ryan will get home, and Jeff will be like, "So what have you been up to?" I'll draw a blank, and say, "I was on the computer ... and I read about copyright on Flickr ... and then I don't know what else I did ... and then I killed some more ants." Not impressive, I know this. I don't know if I've always been this scatter-brained. For quite a while, yes, I have been, but ALWAYS? I don't think so. Can I blame all the technology I interact with daily, or the speed of the world in general these days, or my medications? How about "All of the above, and even more!!!"?

Maybe I'll change into exercise clothes and watch part two of Oliver Twist from Masterpiece a couple weeks back, while I walk on the treadmill. (It's WARM outside, but almost dark now.) But before I leave you, here's the beautiful photo from Flickr. The heading says, "Do you ever read the books you burn?" and there's a quote from Fahrenheit 451 under the photo.

Thursday, February 26, 2009


I was on my way to my therapy appointment on Tuesday, running late as usual, and I thought, "I wonder if I was late to my own birth." Note to self: ask Ma when her due date was, and if I was running late then as well.

My book group selected Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol for our March meeting. Yay, a book I already owned! It has been slow going, but on the up side, I think I tried to read it twice before and never finished, whereas this time, I've gotten much further than my previous attempts.

I went to a talk last night by an author who wrote a book inspired by To Kill a Mockingbird. The Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library has been doing The Big Read in February, and have had a great marketing push for Mockingbird. I wish I'd had time to attend more of the programs. I'm hoping Jeff and the boys will see the film with me at the library on Saturday afternoon. We have basketball games from 9am to noon, and I'm thinking, after all the basketball I've watched (and taped, and dubbed to DVD, and my scheduling assistance), the least they can do is come watch a free movie, based on a great book. I'll let you know if that actually happens. But anyway, there weren't a LOT of people at the event last night, and after the author mentioned The Book Thief, I went ahead and raised my hand and talked about how The Book Thief reminded me of To Kill a Mockingbird, in that both seemed completely perfect, that I wouldn't change a word, and that the characters are so real to me in both, that they seem to exist apart from their authors, in a sense beyond their authors. Of course there's a lot of Harper Lee in her book, but it also lives apart from her. I hope I made sense...a little.

There was a TV cameraman at the event last night, and I saw myself on the 10pm news for about one second. It was a shot of the audience from halfway across the room, so no one would know it was me if they weren't looking for me or didn't know where I'd sat. In that one second, I had to admit: I'm fat. I'm too fat. I hardly had any will power my whole life, and then I was able to get some starting in August 2004, and then in May 2005, my dad died, and it slipped away from me. Now it's almost four years later, I've gained back all the weight I had lost, and Papa died in September, and I don't see any will power in sight. Where can I get some of that stuff? How do I get it and keep it?

Jeff and I took the boys to Great Wolf Lodge in Kansas City on Sunday, spent the night, and left early Monday afternoon. Kyle's birthday was Valentine's Day, and he was harping on us for several weeks before that about going to Great Wolf, and we finally agreed. So it was a bit belated, but he had a great time. Ryan wasn't a fan of the big slides, and I'm not a fan of swimming-related activities in general, so we had some fun, but it wasn't a dream day off or anything. I did read a good amount of Dead Souls, so that was good. One of my favorite moments of the trip, though, was coming through the lobby and seeing a couple of teen girls/young women reading. As I passed, I saw a back cover that said "Howards End." I paused and leaned over a bit toward the girl and said, "You're reading Howards End?" She smiled broadly and said, "Yes - oh, actually, it's A Room with a View," and showed me the front cover. We were both just smiling, and I said, "I love Forster." And then I continued back to the room with a happy sigh in my heart.

Tomorrow night is the last SportZone basketball game for the boys, and their last Y games are next Saturday. After that, Ryan will have baseball practices, and games starting later in the spring, but at least Jeff won't be the coach. I can't wait I can't wait I can't wait for it to be over.

And then it will be spring. And when it gets warm, I will walk outside and listen to wonderful audiobooks.