Monday, March 30, 2015

The Monday List

Hershey's favorite perch.
 
Not going to lie.  This particular Monday is going to be a tough one.  After a lovely Spring Break, it's back to reality...and reality is hitting hard.
 
Ah well, routine is good, too.  Give it a few days and the girls and I will be right as rain! 
 
So now that we're back to a normal schedule, let's get back to the regular Monday List. 
 
First, a wrap up of last week's list:
  1. I did finish the center, and am starting on the stripes of the new Hap today.
  2. I did not get anything else done on my cardigan.  I'm afraid that's rather more than I had the energy for last week.
  3. I also didn't do the mini socks.  No excuse.
  4. Decisions have been made...more on that in a moment.
  5. Happy to say, I did play with the lambs
  6. and I played with them some more
  7. and I sat quietly in the barn with them.  It's good for the soul.
  8. The letters were written!
  9. I did not journal.  More on that in a minute, too.
  10. And yes, I did get started on my online class.  Yay me!
And my list for this coming week:
  1. The second Hap is going to take priority for my knitting because it's for a baby shower in a couple of weeks.  Good thing is that it's smaller than the last one I did, so it shouldn't take quite as long.  (I have no idea if mama reads my blog.  She certainly has access to it...but she's busy, and I don't know if this is her thing.  I'm not naming names, and I know multiple pregnant mamas, though.)
  2. I do want to get those mini-socks done.
  3. About that Estonian lace decision.  It occurred to me as I spent time pouring through all of my (many, many) lace books and browsing all of my favorite online sources last week that I'm just not satisfied with anything that anyone else has published right now...which means it's time I get over my fear and start designing something myself.  I have three batches of inexpensive KnitPicks laceweight right now that would be perfect for experimentation.  It's time.  Maybe if I state it publically that'll goad me into actually doing it.  I give you all permission to harass me. 
  4. Back to editing my husband's book. I didn't touch it over spring break - he's got a lot of work to catch up with what I've already done - but I'd like to get the last 10 chapters done asap so that I can move on to other things.
  5. More letters!  Last month I started writing letters for The World Needs More Love Letters, and it was an amazing experience.  I recently received the latest request for letters, and I want to get those done this week.  Seriously people, it takes no time at all...and yet it makes a difference.  I also have at least two personal letters that are a bit overdue. 
  6. Likewise, I'm also going to check out the Camila network in more depth.  Their work is near to my heart because they are addressing a major problem that I was made aware of through my last job.  I may not be able to donate money, but they do have an option to help provide emotional/moral support to the youth they work with...and I'm thinking that might be another good fit for me. 
  7. Journal, Journal, Journal.  I had a bit of an epiphany last night.  I'm avoiding it because there are a couple of topics I need to address, and I'm afraid they will swamp me if I get started with them.  Another example of needing to get over my fear/myself. 
And I think that about wraps it up for the day. 
 
Have a great week everyone!


Sunday, March 29, 2015

An Unusual Month, For the Most Part

I spent a lot of time this month working on editing my husband's book.  It's a slow process.  (one chapter averages 45 minutes, and I had 25/35 to do)  I'm a tough editor, and Sean had given me a first draft that needed a lot of attention.  As a consequence, I didn't have quite as much time and energy for my regular reading as I usually do.  I also didn't want to pull my focus away by getting into the big novels I'm drawn to right now.  I found myself instead turning towards books on my reading list that are a bit unusual for me - short stories, memoirs and essays. 

Just as a point of fact - most of these were pretty short books.  (I consider audio under 12 hours and print of under 300 pages to be short)  Thus, the larger number of completed books this month.  I also utilized the library for more than half of them, so there was some incentive for getting through them before the digital loan was up. 

In order to better talk about these books, I'm going to do something a bit different this month.  Rather than go through the books in the order I read them, I'm going to first list them in order and then group them by type for my comments. 

The books:
  1.  Almost Famous Women, (audio), Megan Mayhew Bergman
  2. The Killing Moon, N.K. Jemisin
  3. Trigger Warnings, Neil Gaiman
  4. Doc (audio), Mary Doria Russell
  5. It's What I Do, Lynsey Addario
  6. Bettyville, George Hodgman
  7. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Lisa See
  8. Wolf in White Van, John Darnielle
  9. Queen Victoria's Book of Spells, ed. by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling
  10. Ex Libiris: Confessions of a Common Reader, Anne Fadiman
  11. The Faraway Nearby, Rebecca Solnit
  12. H is For Hawk, (audio), Helen MacDonald

Short Stories:

1.  Almost Famous Women, Megan Mayhew Bergman (audio) - This is a new publication that is getting a LOT of buzz right now.  B's first book was a bit of a literary sensation, and the reviews on this, her second, book are sensational.  I was really intrigued by the concept - short stories about women who are close to, but not quite famous.  Some are relatives of famous people, some almost, but not quite, got there on their own.  I was delighted when I found this book available through my library's streaming service, especially as I really do enjoy consuming short stories in audio better than print.*  I have two small quibbles about the audio for this particular book, though.  The reader's voice was almost too soothing and too sweet.  I think the stories lost a bit of punch because of that.  Also, the break between stories was very short, and at times wasn't quite obvious enough. I lost track a couple of times, and had go to the book sample I'd downloaded to check the page of contents.  As to the stories themselves...honestly, I was disappointed.  They very much were more of a 'slice of life' style of story rather than fully fleshed out stories with a beginning, middle and end.  Yes, they were beautifully written, and yes, the women were fascinating.  I just wanted more...oh so more.  It was not truly a satisfying read.

2.  Trigger Warnings, Neil Gaiman - Part of the problem with Almost Famous Women is that I was listening to it at the same time that I was starting to read my eagerly anticipated copy of Neil Gaiman's latest story collection.  No, it's not truly fair to compare two such different writers, but I did....and Berman lost by a mile.  Gaiman is able to create a beautifully complete, tightly written, fully plotted, and emotionally impactful story that leaves you haunted for days...in only a few pages. This is a gorgeous, gorgeous collection.  I have a feeling I'll be coming back to it time and time again.  (Bonus points for the introduction, which is signature Gaiman, and for the little blurbs about each book.)

3.  Queen Victoria's Book of Spells - I've actually had this for a long, long time, but had only read a few. It's edited by the magical Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, who's work I've followed and admired for years and years and years.  Those two have an amazing gift for putting together story collections, and I have many of their books on my shelves.  This particular collection is an anthology of Gaslamp Fantasy - by definition "historical fantasy set in a magical version of the nineteenth century" - which is right up my alley, even if I'm not into the subgenre of steampunk.  I absolutely enjoyed this book, although I will admit that there were several stories I wound up skimming/not finishing because they just weren't my thing...that's fair in an anthology.  Of course, one of the best parts about an anthology like this is the recommended reading list in the back....my wish list runneth over!

Memoirs:

1.  It's What I Do: A Photographer's Life of Love and War, Lynsey Addario - I put myself on the library wait list for this book just as soon as I heard Addario's riveting interview with Terry Gross for NPR's Fresh Air.  It didn't disappoint.  (And as a side note:  It was available in both digital print and audio.  You must actually read the print version because Addario includes some of her photographs, which are truly amazing.)  When I was finally able to check it out, I devoured this book in two days, staying up way too late on a school night to finish it. Not only does Addario have an amazing story to tell, but as a woman in a largely male field she's someone to look up to.  One thing I really admire is Addario's ability to find the humanity of both sides of a conflict.  Also, she may admit to fear, but she's one of the bravest women I've ever read about. 

2.  Bettyville, George Hodgman - I snagged this book from the library digital services within hours of downloading Hodgman's Fresh Air episode, based solely on the short description of that episode.  A gay man moves home to Paris, MO to take care of his ailing mother?  Gotta read that.  I know all about small town Missouri!  I did listen to his interview before reading the book, and while it did give me a few more spoilers than I would have liked, I nonetheless very much enjoyed this reading experience.  Hodgman writes with both humor and warmth, and it was a truly delightful read.  I kind of wish I knew him so that I could sit down and have a cup of coffee with him sometime. 

3.  H is for Hawk, Helen MacDonald (audio) - This was one of those books that started popping up on recommendation lists all over the place, so I had to check it out.  I fell in love within minutes.  MacDonald turns out to be the sort of writer who is the perfect reader for her book, with a quiet calm voice that draws you in.  And her story...wow.  After the sudden death of her father, MacDonald, an experienced falconer, decided she wanted to train the notoriously difficult goshawk.  I knew absolutely nothing about the art of falconing, much less about goshawks, and it is always a treat to be introduced to someone else's passion in such a beautiful way.  MacDonald connects her story with that of the writer T.H. White, again introducing me to a piece of literary history I knew nothing about.  This was the most literary of the memoirs I read this month, and is the one I would like to purchase a copy of for myself.  It's another gorgeous book. 

Essays:

1.  Ex-Libris, Anne Fadiman - 18 short essays about books!  By someone who loves reading as much as I do!  Yay!  I will say, though, that Fadiman confesses in multiple essays that she's someone who loves writing in books, and is generally ok with abusing them horribly...and I cringed every single time that came up.  Sigh.  This book was almost enough to make me long for the days when I read paper books...almost. 

2.  The Faraway Nearby, Rebecca Solnit - I started this the same day that I finished Ex-Libris, and oh my goodness....it's fabulous.  Ex-Libris is totally a light-weight book in comparison.  Where it is a fun ode to the love of books, The Faraway Nearby is an exploration into the power and importance of story.  (I started reading it the same day that I saw the new live action Cinderella, driving to the theater just after reading Solnit's beautiful words about the importance of fairy tale.)  Each of the essays is connected, and there are themes and stories that run throughout the entire book.  I know I keep using the word gorgeous this month, but this truly was.  I'll be buying a copy hardcover, to sit on my shelf next to Jane Yolen's Touch Magic, and I now want to read everything else Solnit has ever written. 

Novels:

1.  The Killing Moon, N.K. Jemisin - Not going to lie, it took me a long while to get into this book.  Like maybe 100 pages.  Like, if it had been any other writer, and if I hadn't bought both books, I might have given up by then.  This particular fantasy world is modeled somewhat after Ancient Egypt...and that's just not my thing.  Fortunately the characters were enough to keep me going.  Jemisin is one of the best new fantasy writers I've found in a long while, and even her lesser novels are still worth more than many others. 

2.  Doc, Mary Doria Russell (audio, read by Mark Bramhall) - Silly Kristin.  Russell is one of my favorite writers.  Her book, The Sparrow, is in my top 10 all time favorites, and her WWII novel is one of the most heartbreakingly beautiful books I've ever read.  One of the things I love about Russell is that all of her books are different.  She's someone who LOVES to switch up genres, so you never know quite what to expect...except you know it's going to be great.  Despite all of that, I hadn't read Doc because I have no interest in Westerns or in Wyatt Earp or Doc Holiday.  Silly Kristin.  Russell just published a second novel about the OK Corral, Epitaph, and when one of the hosts of BOTNS mentioned that he'd listened to Doc so that he could go back to that world before reading the newest I had a bit of a eureka moment.  To my delight my library had the audio available for immediate download.  I mention the reader's name because he was perfect.  Bramhall sounds like an easygoing old cowboy, which is just exactly what you want for this type of Western, and he does amazing voices for all of the characters.  This is a book with depth, heart and a cast of amazing experiences.  In audio it was just about the best storytelling experience I've ever had. 

3.  Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Lisa See (audio) - This was on my wish list for a long while, but I had removed it at some point.  Happened to stumble across it while browsing the library's audio, and thought I would give it a try.  I very much admire See for bringing to life a culture which is very unfamiliar to me...as brutal as it can be at times.  (The foot binding parts were really, really tough to take.)  I have some minor quibbles with the pacing of the story, and I'm not sure I actually like any of the characters.  See did her job so well that the women she portrays are thoroughly of their time, and therefor beyond my ability to relate.  However, I'm very glad I listened to this book.  I think it's important to expose ourselves to other cultures!

4.  Wolf in White Van, John Darnielle - I happened to snag this one from the library right after listening to a Literary Disco episode based on it.  I had seen it on a bunch of 'best of' type lists, but hadn't really had much interest.  Now, I will say that I love Literary Disco, and I find a lot of their commentary to be pretty spot on....but I don't always actually enjoy their recommendations because my taste does not line up very well with theirs.  I'm not sorry I read this book, but I can't say that I really enjoyed it either.  It's beautifully written, the main character is compelling, and the plot is centered around the type of gaming stuff I've been around for a long while because of friends and loved ones.  At the end of the day, though, I'm glad I didn't pay for it, and I'm glad it was pretty short.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Things That I Can't Control


Springtime sunset on the farm.
 
I've been promising an allergy update....but this one hasn't been so easy to write.
 
The fact of the matter is that I have an incredible amount of power when it comes to my allergies.  I can faithfully take my allergy drops.  I can keep the house closed up.  I can follow my allergy diet carefully.  I can pack along my own food for various events.  I can say no to potentially difficult social events and meals out.  I can make sure that I don't come into contact with certain allergens.  I can judiciously use OTC meds to control any lingering symptoms.  I can follow through with periodic appointments with my allergist.  I can adjust my lifestyle to get the type of exercise and rest I need. 
 
I can do a lot...and every little bit helps.  In many, many ways I'm better off now than I was back in the summer of 2010, just prior to my official allergy diagnosis.  I am proud of the progress that I've made, and am especially pleased with how well I've done over the last year.
 
But at the end of the day, I must recognize that I'm dealing with a chronic illness, and that no matter what I do there will always be a few things which are beyond my control.
 
For example,
 
I can't control pollen and mold counts.
 
I can't control the amount of stress that life throws my way.
 
and
 
I can't control the way people around me feel about or behave towards my situation.
 
Let's take a moment to look at each one of those.
  1. Twice/year I have to deal with a peak allergy season.  Spring and fall are, for me, the absolute worst....which is really sad because my natural inclination is to be outside as much as possible enjoying the weather and the beauty of nature.  During peak allergy seasons I'm taking into my body with every single breath things that make me sick.  At best I'm tired and will have to deal with cravings for the foods I shouldn't eat.  At worst I wind up as I am now...sick for weeks, praying for a frost - natural or otherwise - as I struggle to breathe, sleep, function, maintain a good mood, fight food cravings...you get the idea.  For roughly 4-6 weeks twice a year I suffer.  It is what it is.  The very good news is that my allergy drops generally do a fantastic job of protecting me from the worst of it.  This is the first year since I started them that I've had to deal with full blown hay fever...and I admit I'm more than just a bit disappointed to be dealing with this again.  (The theory is that my immune system is shot right now because of the shingles, thus explaining why the drops weren't enough to protect me this year.)  To make matters worse, there is a lot of convincing evidence that pollen counts are getting worse every year.  At what point will even the best of medical care fail to be enough?  I'm worried.
  2. Like it or not, stress plays a powerful influence on health.  True enough, I do a lot better with handling stress than I used to.  My toolbox is much, much better than it was when I was 17, and I now know that I can control my anxiety and depression problems largely by doing everything I can to keep my allergies under control.  I'm never, though, going to be someone who can just let things roll off of me.  Life happens, and I'm proud of how I can now generally rise to the occasion...but there is always a cost.  Case in point, the shingles that trashed my immune system are generally triggered by stress in someone my age.  Much as I'd love to wave a magic wand and make everything all right all of the time...or at least make myself a gazillion times better at coping...that's just not the way it works, nor is it who I am.  I do the best I can, but. 
  3. There are always going to be people who just don't get it...people who refuse to support me or believe me...people who insist on making a big deal out of it when I'd rather be quietly left alone...people who want to argue....people who want to pity....people who get angry about the information I present to them when they ask...people who want to fix it for me by suggesting a million things that just don't work, and then who expect me to comfort them.  I think many of you would be horrified if I wrote out a list of the types of reactions my allergies have generated in others.  I know I have several truly good friends who are angry, horrified on my behalf about the things that have been said and done to me since I got the diagnosis.  One of these days, maybe I'll figure out how to handle all of the craziness.  For now it's generally best to withdraw or to avoid.  I have to protect myself, after all. 
     
    
      If all of this sounds sad, it's because I am.  It's difficult when we run up against our limitations and realize that no matter what we do we can't fully overcome them.  The last three months have been particularly trying as I've faced illness after illness.  It's forced me to recognize that what I want and what my body needs are often two different things.
       
      So why do I write all of this?
       
      Well, it's not because I want your pity.  Absolutely not.  Nor do I want to set myself up as a martyr or a victim, and believe it or not I don't want this to be the first thing you know about me.
       
      But I do want to be honest, and this is my world right now.
       
      And, I'm hoping that by being honest I'll open some hearts and minds.
       
       

Thursday, March 26, 2015