The Cousins, by Karen McManus

Twenty-five years ago, the Story children were suddenly cut from the family with a cryptic note from their mother: You know what you did. Except they don’t, or at least they claim that they don’t. Now, another inexplicable letter from the family matriarch arrives, inviting her three grandchildren to work on her island over the summer. The cousins go at their parents’ urging, each with different hopes for what this opportunity will mean. Secrets are only buried until someone digs deep enough to find them, and this will be the summer they come to light.

I don’t have a lot to say about this book. I enjoyed it, unraveling the mystery slowly and figuring things out a few chapters ahead of the three island guests. The rotating narration was fun, though admittedly, each cousin sounded exactly like the other in narration, so I sometimes forgot which point of view I was reading. Every few chapters, there would be a chapter from the summer of 1996, told from the POV of the only female Story child, which helps bring the mystery to light. (Yes, I was amused that the “past” that the cousins think of as distant was from 1996/1997. I’m apparently the same age as the Story children.) The ending was quite appropriate, with no unnecessary last-second twists so often in adult thrillers and mysteries. It was a fun experience. Plus, I just love reading books about cousins, because cousins are the best!

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Sunday Coffee – A Lovely Thanksgiving

Two years ago, my dad’s side of the family got together at my aunt and uncle’s house for Thanksgiving. I don’t have any photos from that year. My immediate family was dealing with a ton at the time, from Morrigan’s medical release from boot camp, to buying a new house and prepping the old one to sell. We had no idea that everything was about to change. My aunt and uncle’s house had just gone on the market, too, and by Christmas, they had moved out to live in a temporary apartment and couldn’t host the family gathering. We’d just moved into our new house and still had boxes everywhere, and couldn’t host the family, either. There was nowhere big enough for the whole of us to gather (picture below is the family at Christmas in 2018), so we simply didn’t have a big Christmas gathering. And then covid hit.

I haven’t seen a large chunk of my extended family in two years – specifically aunts, uncles, and cousins. We didn’t know what the plan would be this year, if there would be any gathering at all given that we’re still in a pandemic, even though numbers in our area are very low at present. Happily, my aunt and uncle decided to host Thanksgiving this year. There were rules, though – my aunt’s family would be there in addition to my (blood) uncle’s side, and her mother and aunts are elderly and vulnerable. The rule was that everyone in attendance must be fully vaccinated to protect them. No hard feelings if you weren’t and couldn’t come, no pressure either way, just a group that had to be protected. I do have several aunts who have decided against the vaccine, so unfortunately, I still have yet to see them. But I did at least get to see some of the family. It felt nice to have a family gathering again this year.

I didn’t make the mistake of not taking photos this year. In fact, I brought my nice camera with me, and not only did we get some family portraits, I got a lot of nice impromptu shots and environmental photos. For the most part, though, I kept the camera away and just enjoyed being with family. We watched football and drank wine or cocktails and chatted about college or cats and ate way too much food. My aunt and uncle’s new house has part of the city’s trail system directly behind it, so Jason and Ambrose went on a walk down the trail to a rock-climbing wall. They expected to find a manmade rock climbing wall. Instead, it was an actual sheer rock wall, with anchors for belays and everything. Even without equipment, my spider-child – the one who used to stand on windowsills at 18 months old – scrambled right up…

It was a nice night. We were meant to finish it off with a fireside night at my dad and stepmom’s house, but Laurence wasn’t feeling well. He’s allergic to milk and eggs, and this was his first year of dealing with that allergy in a group environment. He ate the mashed potatoes, which were full of butter and milk, and probably had some further contamination from other foods. Poor guy. So we took him home instead.

The rest of the week was nice, too. We did see King Richard, which the rest of my family loved and I thought was okay but not my favorite. On Monday, I had the follow-up visit to the concerning mammogram, and it turned out to be nothing (more cysts!), so there was no more worry about that. I spent a lot of time prepping my 2022 goals and journals. We watched the Macy’s parade pre-Thanksgiving festivities, and on Friday, we put up the Christmas decorations.

Unfortunately, we had a bit of a disaster with the decorations this year. One of our snow globes broke sometime in storage, and the water inside seeped into an entire box of stuff. We lost some things – including all of our custom stockings (mine dated back to the mid-90s!) – as well as most of the packaging that kept the other snow globes safe while packed away. All things considered, though, we didn’t lose TOO much. Our actual tree ornaments are kept in a separate packing system, so those were fine, and we were able to decorate for Christmas without buying too much in replacement. Of course, the kittens are scattering the ornaments and lights every chance they get…ha! We actually bought that metal tub thing to go around the bottom of the tree just to try to discourage them from climbing up it. Yeah, that didn’t work. Heh. But, you know, we’ve dealt with kittens and Christmas trees many years now, and the big thing is that we just don’t put any of the fragile or priceless or very old ornaments up, or any ornaments they can pull apart and possibly eat/choke on. By next year, they’ll be better.

Yeah, you heard that right. By next year. Because these three are firmly bonded to each other now, and very attached to two of our permanent residents, and they’ve lived with us for five months now, since they were eight weeks old. It would be cruel to put them into a shelter situation, or to separate them. We have no resources to help them get adopted, much less adopted together, so this week, Jason and I decided that we’re just going to have to let them stay. So we have seven resident cats now – something no one actually wanted or planned for, but hey, that’s life, right? If people can have seven kids, we can have seven cats…

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Thanksgiving Break

Hey everyone! I’m taking the week off from blogging to spend time with my family for Thanksgiving. I’m happy to say that I’ll get to see some of my dad’s side of the family for the holiday this year, some for the first time since pre-pandemic! Unfortunately, Morrigan can’t come down from Kansas, and none of my siblings will be in town either. So it’s still Thanksgiving-lite, but it feels rather heartwarming to get to see anyone these days – especially since we’re already starting to see a small reversal in number trends and I don’t know what that’s going to do to Christmas this year… In any case, this week I’m going to take some time away from social media to be with my kids. We plan to see King Richard this week, and catch up on DVR-ed shows, and hey, I only have two doctor’s appointments this week, hurrah! On Friday, we’ll put up the Christmas decorations and hope for the best that these three little kittens won’t wreak too much havoc on the tree…

See y’all next Sunday! Have a lovely Thanksgiving, to those in the US.

Photo: Thanksgiving family portrait, 2011.

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SC – Product Review: CatLadyBox Subscription

It’s time for another subscription box review! I took a few months off between my last and latest subscription box, and then let a randomizer choose which from my list that I wanted to try. And yeah, I was really happy that it chose the Cat Lady Box for the fall months! I thought there might be some good fall-themed items in here.

The box costs ~$40/month, depending on the size of shirt you request, and if you do month-to-month or a lump subscription sum. (Note: there’s an up-charge per size once you reach plus-sizes, grr.) There’s also a Crazy Cat Lady version, for about $5 more, to include two cat toys with each box. I went with this latter one and paid about $45/month. My first box arrived in September.

September – Purple Box
In this box, I received a shirt, pen with cat-head top, an iridescent mug, a small trinket dish, and two catnip toys for the cats. There was a sneak preview of the box ahead of time that showed the mug, and the word was that while the box was purple-themed, it would also keep the autumn time of year in mind. That last part wasn’t true – there was nothing fall-themed at all in this box. But setting that aside, here’s my review.

First, I’m still wondering if I’ll use the trinket box or give it to someone for Christmas. I don’t keep trinkets out and I don’t wear a lot of jewelry, so I’m not sure this is the gift for me. Second, the mug is really cute, but before my box even arrived, the company sent out a warning email that despite packaging, the mug is not microwave safe and will get very hot, including handle, possibly even when hot drinks are used (but def in the microwave). So I was a little worried about using it, tbh – nothing like burning yourself on your mug when you have your coffee, yeah? (I haven’t used it. I tend to drink more iced drinks these days.) Then there’s the pen, which as far as I can tell works like a normal pen, it just has a big cat-head on the top. The shirt was a bit big on me as I chose a size too large and will adjust for October, and it’s honestly a little silly in a middle-class-middle-aged-white-woman kind of way. I’ve never worn these kinds of shirts before, but it’s a good bum-around tee.

The best part of the box was the catnip toys, though. The kittens went crazy over them! Gherkin doing bunny kicks on the carrot, Angus drooling over the crown…we had to buy some extra catnip toys to make sure all the cats had one, ha! These two were soaked within minutes. Not sure two toys was worth the entire box cost, but hey, they were fun. I do hope next month’s box is a little better for me. Box score: 2 of 5 stars.

October – Black Cat Box
In this box, I received a sweatshirt, a concrete planter, a black cat puff keychain, and two catnip toys.

So. Once again, I have to admit to not being terribly impressed, especially not for the price I pay. The sweatshirt looks like it’ll be cozy this winter, but it’ll be awhile before it cold enough for me to find out. Plus the Notorious BIG theme is a bit…meh. The planter, which has cat ears, was already broken when I pulled it out of the box, part of one ear torn off. I’m not sure what I’ll do with the keychain, because it’s too bulky for actual use with keys. And just like last month, the best part is the two catnip toys. The kittens took turns wrestling with them, which always makes me feel like I need to go out and buy more catnip toys for everyone else…

Honestly, I decided after this box to unsubscribe. Because the renewal auto-renews on the 14th and I received my package on the 14th, I was too late to cancel the November package. At least I’m helping nonprofits while buying this! Box score: 2 of 5 stars.

November – “Be Meow Guest” Box
This box consisted of a t-shirt, a cat-shaped soap dispenser, a couple pot-holders, and two catnip toys. Of the boxes I’ve received, this is probably my favorite. Mostly because the shirt is really soft and high-quality fabric, in an awesome color, and 100% cats > people. (Note that the picture makes the shirt look this awful brown color, but it’s not. It’s actually a really beautiful heathered rust color.)

Other than the shirt, here’s how I rank the two human items. The soap dispenser is porcelain (or whatever pottery-fired cheaper version of porcelain – point is, it’s not cheap plastic or anything) and is kinda cute in a silly way. I’m still deciding if I’m going to use it in my bathroom or give it away as a gift to someone else who also loves cats. The two pot-holders  both have different patterns and seem like fairly tradition-quality pot-holders. In other words, I wouldn’t use the to pull things out of the oven – I use my homemade cotton crochet hot-pads for that, they’re better than anything I’ve ever gotten manufactured, even an Ove Glove! – but they’ll be good for setting down hot dishes onto. And they’re both pretty cute.

As always, the cat toys were the star of the show. This month, they were shaped like a green bean (complete with little stringy end, ha!) and a candle with feather flames. The cats, especially the kittens, were sniffing around the box the moment we brought it inside, and they couldn’t get their paws on those two toys fast enough. I got this photo of them after things had calmed down a little. Nimi had stolen the green bean and Ghostie was still playing with the candle, while Gherks and Angy both looked up at me like I was disappointing them for life because they didn’t have a toy. Ha! Box score: 3.5 of 5 stars.

I did cancel my subscription in October – too late to stop the November box, but I won’t receive more. And I’m okay with that. This doesn’t really seem exactly like the right subscription box for me even though I’m quite clearly a crazy cat lady. Plus there were just too many issues with broken/dangerous items, and the shipping always took more than 2 weeks through Fedex, etc. It just wasn’t worth the money. On the other hand, I think I’ll definitely buy my cats some new catnip toys once a month from here on out. For years, we avoided anything with catnip in it because our first cat got really aggressive whenever he was around it. So our older cats weren’t really exposed until maybe the last year. It’s really fun to be able to do that for them, and to see a more normal reaction to catnip.

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Any Sign of Life, by Rae Carson

Paige is one of the first to succumb to a deadly wave of flu. She falls into an addled sleep, only to wake up six days later to an entirely different world. She’s malnourished and dehydrated, none of the utilities are working, and when she manages to explore the house, she discovers that the rest of her family are dead. And not just her family – there’s no one left on the street. From what she can tell, there’s no one left at all. Paige sets off to find answers, and to discover if she’s the only person left in this bizarre new world. When she meets Trey, she has at least one answer, but more questions arise. How has the entire world fallen to a plague so quickly, and how have some rare people survived?

Note: Do not read the GoodReads description if you dislike spoilers, as it contains hints about which direction this book goes.

Let me just start by saying that I love Rae Carson, and I haven’t been so caught up in a book like I did this one in quite some time. Most of my reading has been at night before bed, and I rarely get more than a chapter read at a time. However, I went to bed with this book one night and before I knew it, I was over 100 pages in and it was WAY past time to be sleeping. Carson’s writing and storytelling is excellent, and I was fully invested in this story almost from the beginning.

Then the book went off in an entirely unanticipated direction. It wasn’t a bad direction, just not what I was expecting. I can’t say more about this without giving spoilers – the spoilers that would be hinted at in the GR description – but I want to give an example from another series to illustrate my point. Imagine you were reading the Hunger Games, and in the middle of the uprise against the Capitol, you find out that actually the Capitol doesn’t exist, and it’s actually a portal to a time period several hundred years in the future, which would explain the weird technology they have. Suddenly, you’re in a time travel story instead of a post-apocalyptic one. Or imagine you’re reading Harry Potter, and after all this Harry vs Voldemort stuff, you find out that actually all this is happening in the mind of a person with psychosis, and Voldemort is actually an alley cat that they have to pass on the way home from school and that tends to jump out from behind trash cans and scratch them. Suddenly you’re dealing with a very different type of book. That’s what this book was like. It’s a plague novel, with hints of potential bio-weaponry and government conspiracy, and then BAM it’s not that book at all anymore.

There was a moment when I was startled and somewhat disappointed by the change. And then the change was so horrific and visceral and imaginative that my disappointment evaporated. As a reader, I felt utter despair for the few characters we meet in Any Sign of Life. I can’t fathom how they must’ve managed a much more pressing sense of despair. It made the book interesting, because it turned the traditional YA dystopian/post-apocalyptic genre on its head, reaching back to a more classic version. The ending was so powerful – triumphant in some ways, pointless in others, with no real conclusion, tons of unanswered questions, and yet no hint of potential sequel. I can only imagine how many readers will hate it. But on a higher-than-plot level, it was perfect. After all, the book is about a plague that wipes out most of humanity, and figuring out what “humanity” even means when you’ve dropped into the worst possible scenario. It shouldn’t have a neat, unambiguous, conclusive ending.

Around 2008-2010, I used to read a lot of dystopian novels (both traditional and modern versions). The YA market in particular was flooded with them. Now that we’re hitting the two year mark of a global pandemic, it might seem a bit odd to read, not just a post-apocalyptic novel, but a plague-driven one. I didn’t mind that, though, and in fact appreciated the throwback nods to our current pandemic (which ends roughly a decade before this book takes place) and how it was bungled in the US (“‘Our president at the time had already bungled a pandemic…and we were concerned that he would do everything in his power to save his family and billionaire friends – and no one else.'” Boom!). Some nice biting commentary to sweeten the read. Especially because some of the commentary contrasted with one of the main narrative questions – what does it mean to be human? When all else is lost, what is worth living for? What makes life “life”? Given that we all live in a world where more than 5 million folks have already been lost to a plague, these are questions that are worth considering. Just like this is a book worth reading, no matter how strange, unsettling, or close-to-home it may be.

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Wellness Wednesday – Hikes of 2021, #52-56

Next round of hikes, a bit sparse for the last month due to all the medical appointments. Wish me luck today. I’ve prescheduled this because I’m in for three surgical procedures this morning.

52. We had a beautiful cold front come through before this hike, so it was in the 50s out and just so lovely. Because of the cold – and the potential for mud on the trail – most of the participants dropped out, but the four of us who remained had a great hike filled with nature. I could’ve done without the wasps (eek!), but hey, we actually saved this grasshopper from a cardinal, and that was fun.

Continue reading

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Great Courses: Being Human

Subtitled: Life Lessons from the Frontiers of Science

Technically, this isn’t a book, so technically, I’m not writing a book review, and technically, I shouldn’t count this as nonfiction toward Nonfic November, right? Pshaw. I don’t care. It’s rare that I listen to a series of lectures, and as this is only my second time (ha!), I feel like I can set my own precedence here. And I kinda did already, since I also reviewed the last Great Courses lecture series I listened to (Stress and Your Body), and both Courses have been just phenomenal.

Okay. Being Human is a lecture series by Robert Sapolsky, a scientist, author, researcher and professor at Stanford. He also narrated the previous Great Courses lecture I listened to, and I find him to be an amazing lecturer. His teaching is engaging and relatable, his voice never drops into monotone, and even with subjects that I struggle to understand (like certain parts of biology), I learn tons from him. The biggest reason I enjoy listening to his lectures is that he doesn’t focus just on the biology or neuroscience or so-called hard sciences. Instead, he integrates those sciences with other kinds – sociology, psychology, anthropology, history, etc. In other words, he takes subjects and shows how broad-reaching human behavior is, and integrates it all so that you can come in and learn from many different directions. All without getting so advanced and technical that you need specific degrees to listen, but also not condescending to the listener, as I’ve often heard when trying other GC lectures. (Once, a dietitian gave a series of lectures on food, biology, psychology, and nutrition, and while I find that combination irresistible, I couldn’t listen past him saying something to the effect of, “Everyone knows sugar and bread are carbohydrates, but did you know that fruit is also a carbohydrate?” Yes, a-hole, I’m sure we’re all aware of that 1st-grade fact.)

To get more into the specifics of this lecture series, Sapolsky approaches the topic of what makes humans human. To me, the most fascinating part about this is just how similar humans are to other animals, how little is unique to us as a species. Some of the topics he addresses in various lectures include sleep/dreams, the science of bad moods, nostalgia and repetition in aging, our brains’ fascinating way of mixing metaphors into mood/thoughts, memory manipulation, dopamine response to reward/anticipation, etc. Some of the lecture series had crossover with the last series I listened to, but it’s been a few years and I loved that series so much that I didn’t mind this at all.

Favorite fun fact learned from this series: They’ve done experiments that show your neurons and mood can be changed just by mimicking the facial muscles of a smile (pen held in the teeth) or frown (pen held by the lips). Additionally, people with lots of botox injections around the face experience a muted version of emotions as their muscles aren’t as pliable. This is oversimplified – there was like half a lecture devoted to these studies – but it makes me remember back to my traumatized childhood/adolescent self. Back during that period of my life, I purposely attempted to hold my face in a mask of complete indifference, absent of all expression or emotion. (It apparently didn’t work as well as I wanted, because I have major RBF and so everyone just thought I was angry all the time.) At the same time, I was purposely trying to dampen all my emotions, to numb myself away so that I didn’t feel anything. There are some interesting correlations there.

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Sunday Coffee – 100 Happy Days, Part 3

Today marks Day 75 or the 3/4 part of this project. I started the challenge due to mental health issues, and honestly, I haven’t found that it has helped. Of course, the mental health issues over the last few months have been due to physical health issues outside my control, so it’s no surprise that a daily photo challenge hasn’t changed anything. On the other hand, I look back over what’s come of the last 75 days with a bit of fondness. At least I have photographs of one happy moment each day. In time, I’m sure I’ll look back on this time with more nostalgia than I would have otherwise, all due to the challenge. Sometimes, that’s all you can ask.

A sampling of photos from this quarter, which ran from October 21st to November 14th, are below, in no particular order:

From 11/9 – Jason brought home powdered sugar donettes! These are one of my favorite guilty pleasures. They’re awful and I love them.

From 10/25 – an eastern tiger swallowtail in my garden (I’ve been trying to spot one of these for MONTHS with no luck, and since we cut down all the mostly-dead flowers, I thought butterfly season was over – then this little one appeared!!)

From 11/7 – This is a multifold happy moment. First, my cousin Byron was in town and wanted to get together for a lunch. Even though it was last minute, a bunch of my cousins and I were able to get there. Second, we ate at a restaurant that Jason and I have been going to since 2006, and haven’t been to in person since the pandemic began. (We’ve had curbside pickup from there, but it was nice to be back in person.) The third reason is a thing discussed at lunch, which is intangible but made me so happy!

From 10/23 – Originally, I thought we would just be planting our aloe in the future succulent garden area, but instead we decided to do the entire mini-succulent garden! Mini-succulents make me so happy!

From 11/12 – LOOK AT THEM HOLDING HANDS!! My babies are so sweet now. And still have no homes. So in the meantime, we just enjoy them. Ms Gherks and Angy-boi decided to take a nap together in the rocker I use most often. Cats always gravitate to the places that smell most like their humans – pillows, most-used chairs, etc. These little ones are no exception. (PS – Angus is like twice as big as Gherkin now that they’ve grown into almost full cat size!) (PPS – Yes, Gherkin’s belly is shaved. She had her spay surgery a couple weeks back.)

As I’ve said in past posts, if you want to follow along and see all the photos, I’m posting them both on Facebook and my Instagram.

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It Could Be Worse, by Beth Probst

Subtitled: A Girlfriend’s Guide for Runners Who Detest Running

The title and subtitle basically describe the book. Beth Probst is a larger-bodied person who took up running as a kind of personal challenge, and uses every kind of running incentive possible to keep herself motivated. She’s funny and relatable, particularly to other larger-bodied runners with slower times and back-of-the-pack placements (me!!). This is not a book that is meant to tell you all the great things about running and convince you to start. It won’t gloss over the awful parts. Instead, it explores Probst’s experiences over the last decade, with many half-marathon runs (and the training plans that may or may not have led up to them). Interspersed throughout are notes from other runners who all run for one reason or another, even though running is hard and can suck and many of us don’t know why we do it or keep doing it. In short, it’s a book that inspires, and lets all us not-so-elite runners know that it’s okay to not be elite.

*****
Side story, only tangentially related to this book: Near the end of the book, Probst talks about her first 10K race. When she gave her time, my immediate thought was, “Oh! That’s really similar to my first (aka only) 10K time.” I didn’t remember my exact time, so I went to my Running page here on the blog. The difference between our times is under five minutes, which I got a bit of a kick out of. But I was also curious about what pace my 10K had been. I remembered that it was 13-something per mile, but not the specifics. Because I didn’t want to do the math, I clicked on the link about the 10K, thinking maybe I’d continue to be lazy and just get the info there. The link goes back to a post from 2019, which itself is a throwback post that was originally written in 2013 (on a prior version of the blog). It’s all about why I decided to run my first/only 10K when I didn’t know if I would be able to walk the entire half-marathon that my friends and I had trained for. As I skimmed through the post, looking for my 10K pace, I came across the following lines:

At the time we started training, I had lost 70 lbs and just crossed the line from obese to overweight. I had never walked longer than about 5.5 miles, but I thought I would be up to the training for an eventual 13.1 miles. [emphasis added]

Oh, readers, can I tell you how startled I was to read these words, originally written in January 2013, about the beginning of training in January 2012? Nearly a decade ago, while I had participated in 5Ks (though hadn’t yet run a full 5K nonstop yet), I’d never walked longer than 5.5 miles. (Why do I know that number? Because I used to walk from my house to the library, then around the library park, then back home, for a total of 5.2 miles, and I knew I’d never gone much longer than that, so I rounded up.) And why is this important? Because last Saturday, weighing 70+ lbs more than when I started that training, I hiked 5.75 miles around Lost Maples. Because over the last however many years, I’ve hiked and walked multiple 5+ mile distances. Because I’ve been so frustrated with my body for how much it hurts after a long hike, thinking that this used to be easy, that I used to do this all the time, when in reality, I only began regularly walking 5+ miles during that HM training, sometime in spring 2012. I am doing more now, morbidly obese, than I did at much smaller weights for most of my life. And that’s an achievement that I need to remember.

*****
So back to the review. It Could Be Worse is a short book, coming in just under 100 pages. It’s self-published, so there are a few problems that you notice with these kinds of books (off formatting, grammatical errors, etc). Setting that aside, the book has a lot of good info in it. Tips about shoes, motivation, gear, running groups, training plans, etc. Probst won’t try to sell running as easy, or as a weight loss plan, or as the perfect way to transform your life into Hollywood glamour. Instead, it’s down to earth and very real, conversational and, as I said above, relatable. It’s not the book I would start with if you’re trying to get into running – I personally recommend Run to the Finish by Amanda Brooks for that – but a good one to read if running isn’t the center of your life. It’s a good one to read if each run is a struggle, each day requires a fresh dose of determination, and you really don’t know why you keep running, though you do. AKA readers (and runners) like me.

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Revisiting Mansfield

Many years ago, I read Mansfield Park by Jane Austen. Of Austen’s novels, it’s one of my favorites, in particular because of one interesting thing that has stuck with me for over a decade. Fanny Price, the novel’s heroine, goes back to her childhood home at one point. Her family still lives there, and she’s aching to return to a place of familiarity and comfort. Instead, she finds that the home she’s longed for is not a true reality. Everything is smaller, shabbier, dirtier, and more chaotic. While Fanny has spent years feeling unloved and unwanted with richer relatives, the place she’s thought of as “home” has become dark, depressing, and foreign to her. She doesn’t realize how much she’s changed until she sees how she no longer fits into her old life.

That’s the thing: You can’t go back. Anyone who has ever gone back to a location that lives shining in their memory has experienced the dissonance between that memory and the reality of that location. Because memories are wrapped up in far more than truth. They carry nuance, nostalgia, trauma, sensory triggers, time-specific circumstances, and a scrubbing out of the mundane. The more shining and wonderful a location is in a memory, the more likely it won’t live up in reality.

I am a person who lives in the past. I retain very strong sensory memories of times, events, and places, and I spend a lot of time longing for what was rather than looking forward or being in the present. And like Fanny Price, I’ve experienced the slap in the face that is going backwards into our past. Sometimes that slap in the face is exactly what I need to realize that I don’t want what was in the past anymore, and it helps me to move forward. To let go, especially of grief and longing.

So let’s talk about The House.

(June ’14)

Recently, I wrote about being sucker-punched when I opened my Trulia app and saw that my old home was for sale. I struggled badly with that fact, even though I knew in my heart that all things considered, I wouldn’t want to go back to that house. Still, I wanted to walk through it. I wanted to see it, to be in the house that was home for my family for so many years, the place where my kids grew into adolescence, where Jason finished school, where my cousin and I would write every week, where I learned to run, where we hosted so many birthday and holiday parties, where so many of our memories lay. Yes, I remembered Fanny Price and Mansfield Park. I knew that it would be different. You can’t help what you want, though. I thought maybe it would help me to get some much-needed closure.

(Feb ’07)

I’m not going to talk about the events that led up to this next part, because they involve the privacy of some folks I love, but long story short, I scheduled a showing at my old home.

There was one big thing that scared me the most about this trip. When I first walked into this house in 2006, not expecting anything, I was immediately overcome with an intense feeling of rightness. I worried that the same would happen this weekend, and that walking into the house and feeling that rightness would undo all my resolve to stay where I currently am.

But I didn’t feel that when I walked in. The new owners changed a lot – floors, paint, replacing the sliding back door with French doors, adding an island in the kitchen, expanding the concrete porch, adding a large shed, etc. TBH, they didn’t do a good job with a lot of those things. The paint often didn’t go all the way to the ceiling, or was smeared onto the ceiling. One of the French doors had an inch gap between the top of the door and the trim. Each room had a different kind of flooring, and the thresholds between them weren’t actually attached (I tripped on one!). One spot of the wall must have had a crack, because there was an entire INCH of mudding built up in layers over it, not even painted, a glaring eyesore in the middle of the living room.

(July ’10)

(Mar ’06)

Beyond DIY issues, the whole place was dingy. A couple of kids lived there, judging from the bedrooms, so it makes sense that a lot of the lower walls had a buildup of hand-dirt. That happens over time. So…if you want to sell a house, or get your deposit back in a rental, you scrub the walls, right? Yeah, there was no scrubbing here. There were grubby walls and dirt build-up on baseboards and in corners. There was trim where paint had been peeled off in long strips, or scratched away. Then there was just the time-based decay that was never taken care of by the current owners – texture falling off the ceiling and walls in clumps, cracks and chips around seams of drywall (which happened ALL THE TIME in that house, well before we lived there!) – that sort of thing. It was an old house before we moved in, an older house when we moved out, and even older now. It needs more care than it’s currently had.

(Nov ’13)

(Dec ’10)

Between all the dirt and the very dark colors on the walls, the whole house looked much, much smaller than I remember. Remember Fanny Price, though – how much of the smallness and darkness is in contrast with my shiny memories? It was definitely a mixture of things. The paint, lighting, and weird furniture layouts contributed to the feeling of diminishment. But there was also just the contrast of memory vs reality. For example, I went back to look at one of the two walk-in closets of the master bedroom and was surprised to see that the walkway between the two sides was so narrow that clothes would brush both shoulders of a thin person. Looking back, I probably got used to stepping in sideways anyway, since my clothes were on one side and J’s were on the other. Then there were the bedrooms, which I thought were roughly the same as our current house (which is only about 50 sq ft bigger, after all). But no, the smallest bedroom was much smaller than the one here, and the medium-sized was about the same as the smallest here. The layout of that old house really helped to make it feel bigger, but again, it had lost a lot of that from the way the new owners had redesigned.

(Sept ’12)

It was nice to see some things in person. That stupid little chicken that I mentioned in the Sucker-Punched link above. Three months before we put the house on the market, Jason accidentally put a hot pan on the kitchen counter, making a ring of burns – and that was still there, ha! Our beautiful tree that we planted a decade ago, as well as the lemon tree that remains a weird shrubby lemon bush.

And honestly, it was nice to walk through and feel, not like home, but cramped. Because while I never meant to, I’ve outgrown this home. Would I have done so had we continued living there? Likely not. My family would have grown and evolved with the home, the way you do. Our paths diverged in July 2014, however, and we are no longer a perfect match. And that’s okay. I feel okay about that now. This walkthrough allowed me to let go of any future regrets surrounding this sale of the house, and makes me look on our approaching second anniversary in this house (early December) with more anticipation. I feel like I’ve hit the top of a particular mountain, to reach the other side. No more climb, no more looking back, no more what-ifs. Not a slap in the face, but an informed and gentle kind of closure.

(July ’08)

This isn’t my home anymore. It was my home for 8.5 years, a lovely home filled with lovely memories, and I won’t allow those memories or photos or years to be changed by the reality of 2021’s version of the house. But I’ll also no longer allow wishing, longing, nostalgia, photographs, or what-ifs color today’s home. I’m on neutral ground now – a place I haven’t been for a very, very long time. It feels wonderful to lay down that stone – not through concerted effort, but because I no longer feel the need to carry it.

A special thank you to the person who made this happen for me. I can’t express how deeply grateful I am.

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