Sunday Coffee – Oh the Places I’d Go!

Last week, I started making a list of places I’d love to visit, and it kinda turned into a bit of a mini-bucket-list. I know it’s a long shot that I’ll get to visit everything on this list, but it was a fun thing to create anyway! In no particular order:

Indonesia – In elementary school, we had a guest lecturer come to teach us some Indonesian, and I’ve wanted to visit Indonesia ever since. (No, I don’t actually know any of the language.)

Zambia – I’ve read magical things about Zambia!

Turkey – Not sure why, but I really, really want to go!

Scotland – It looks amazingly beautiful.

Iceland – Jason really wants to go, and it looks gorgeous. My sister recently vacationed there and I’m so jealous!

Argentina – Another longstanding childhood dream.

Hawaii – Because of course, right?

Alaska – I actually want to take a cruise up to Alaska one of these days. And I’d love to see the Northern Lights.

Austria – This one is very silly. My cousins and I used to play a game set in Austria (appropriately called “The Austria Game”) and so this destination-wish has lingered.

India – Of course!

Prague – I read a play in high school that takes place in Prague and I’ve been in love ever since.

Avignon – Same play, same deal, and I regret not taking this trip during my study abroad in France!

Hogwarts (Florida) – Um, it’s me…

the Bahamas – This one should come true in November!!

Jamaica – This is another hopeful cruise destination one day.

the Rocky Mountains – Somehow I’ve been all over this country but have entirely missed out on the middle chunk where the mountains are!

Florence – In college, I signed up for a three-week study program in Rome, Florence, and Venice, and was particularly keen on Florence. Then I got pregnant and had to cancel, and I’ve regretted that missed program so much.

UK Harry Potter spots – Again, it’s me!

Have you been to any of these? Places you’d recommend? What’s on your dream travel list?

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City of Ghosts, by Victoria Schwab

Ever since her near-drowning, Cass can see ghosts. In fact, her best friend Jacob is a ghost. She doesn’t know why she seems to have one foot on each side of the veil, but it doesn’t trouble her too much – until her parents take her to Edinburgh, one of the most haunted cities in the world. There, ghosts are ever-present and hungry, and Cass encounters another person like her for the first time. Turns out, she has a lot to learn.

Oh my, this book was delightful!! It’s a middle-grade fantasy that is full of humor and tension, with a smart and sassy narrator, and a wonderful cast of characters (including ghosts!). I was highly reminded of the Lockwood & Co series by Jonathan Stroud, which is one of my favorites. The stories aren’t similar but the atmospheric feel certainly is, and since Stroud’s series is over now, this may be my next set of highly-anticipated ghost stories!

Only trouble is – the next book is out and my library hasn’t even ordered it yet!! I may have to break my own rules and go buy Tunnel of Bones before reading it. I have a feeling I’ll want to own the books eventually anyway.

PS – I really, really want to go to Edinburgh!!

Posted in 2019, Children's, Prose | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Wellness Wednesday – Rebuilding My Story (Part 1)

I’ve known the time was coming for awhile, the time to transition from a stay at home parent to the next phase of my life. My children are teenagers now, and the youngest two are fine to leave at home alone at this point. My oldest, while technically an adult, is a special case with a long history, and it’s his leaving (originally to college, and now the planned departure into the navy) that has spurred me into thinking about what’s next.

The thing is, I never really had a chance to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I went to college planning a psych degree and eventually wanted to become a therapist, while also dreaming about being a published author one day. Toward the end of my sophomore year, I had an epiphany – I didn’t actually want to be a therapist; I was studying psychology because I was trying to find an explanation for my own mental health condition. (Of course, complex PTSD is not something they really discussed or knew about in the late 90s, so I never did figure anything out…) I switched over to studying languages – French, Italian, and German – with the vague thought of possibly going into a linguistics career. Then I got pregnant, struggled through two semesters with pregnancy-brain, and decided I needed to switch to a practical course of study in order to support my family. Business, accounting, whatever, it didn’t matter, I hated school anyway and just wanted to get a job. A few months later, I had to drop out to work full time because we needed the money.

That was 18 years ago, and the only two times I’ve tried to go back to school since then were thwarted in one way or another. Both times, also, I dreaded the classes. I didn’t want to go back to school. I hated school. I was good at it, no doubt about that, got all the right grades and such, but I always felt so stifled and the classes felt pointless, and I preferred learning on my own. I did what no English class had ever done, and got myself excited about classics, reading hundreds of them and running a book club for years to discuss them. I taught myself geography and learned about cultures all around the world. I took language courses, and read hundreds of books about nutrition and physical health, and studied books on psychology and sociology, and began listening to topical lecture series that were literally college classes. In the last 18 years, what I decided about myself is that I love learning but hate formal academics.

So, to go back to where I originally began this post, I began looking at alternatives to school for a new career. Massage therapy, realty, yoga instructor? I looked into sign language interpretation through a great program we have here at one of the community colleges. And I just waffled, because nothing felt right, and because honestly, I think I needed to look back and readjust my perspective a little.

The thing is, I didn’t always hate school. I didn’t enjoy certain classes, particularly classes where I didn’t feel like I was learning anything, but I really did love some subjects and classes. And it wasn’t until I switched out of psychology that I began to grow disillusioned with academics. I’ve always attributed that to circumstances – that’s when Jason and I had met and were dating, when we got married, and then getting pregnant – but now I think it was more than that. I grew up without a career goal beyond a vague “wouldn’t it be cool to be a published author,” and it was psychology and becoming a therapist that gave me an end-goal to work toward. After that, without any real plan, I was just floundering around pointlessly taking classes that, whether or not I enjoyed them, weren’t leading anywhere. And so while I still enjoyed some classes, the rest – the ones I had to take simply to fulfill my degree – felt pointless, until college itself felt boring and pointless. Every time since then, when I’ve considered going back to school, the goal has purely been to finish a bachelor’s degree so that it would be easier to get a job, and every time, the prospect has filled me with dread.

I don’t do well without goals to work toward. I never have. I don’t like pointless work. So if this going-back-to-school thing is going to work for me, I’m going to need a better end-goal than just “to get my degree.”

This is what I’ve been working toward over the last few months, as the strain of being a stay at home parent has gotten ridiculous, and I’ve begun feeling, for the first time ever, like my job at home is done and currently pointless. I’m ready to take the next steps, but first, I had to figure out which direction those steps would be pointed toward.

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Ruth Galloway mysteries 2-4, by Elly Griffiths

With a dozen books in a series, and my clear desire to read them all back to back, I’ve decided not to give each mini-review it’s own post. I always find it hard to review books that are later in a series, particularly because it’s so easy to give away even minor spoilers from earlier in the series. This is my attempt to jot down a few thoughts on individual books without getting into book specifics. Over all, the series has been amazing, and I’m perfectly happy to spend the next little while reading primarily these stories!!

The Janus Stone (audio)
A skeleton is discovered during an archeological dig that appears far more recent. The police are called out to investigate, and though Ruth Galloway isn’t part of this investigation, someone thinks she plays a crucial role and is out to stop her.

I sped through this one. It was so well done, just as good as the first. I love the characters, I love all the conflicts in their lives that enrich the plot, I love the setting, I love all the classics and historical tidbits that pop up… I’m going to have to stop myself from reading the entire series back to back!!!

The House at Sea’s End (audio)
A team of archaeologists studying coastal erosion discover a half-dozen skeletons uncovered after a rockslide. Ruth Galloway is called in to date the bones, which turn out to be from WWII. But who the bones belonged to, and how they ended up buried on the beach for so many decades – these are secrets that someone doesn’t want dredged up, and they’ll stop at nothing to keep them hidden.

Third volume of this series was just as awesome as the previous two! I’m loving the series so much. Especially wonderful is the way the stories continue to explore not just various mysteries, but the lives of multiple characters – Ruth, of course, with her new baby and single motherhood; police sergeant Judy, who’s not sure if she really wants to get married; DCI Nelson, keeping secrets and struggling with his faith…etc. The characters are what really makes these books come alive, and I’m so happy to continue following them through all these stories!

A Room Full of Bones
Ruth Galloway is embroiled in another mystery when she goes to supervise the opening of a recently-unearthed ancient coffin and finds the museum curator, who was meant to open the coffin, dead. Meanwhile, DCI Harry Nelson falls gravely ill and may not survive.

Four things to say about this fourth book in the series: First, I love that these stories, while a continuing mystery series, don’t keep relying on the same scenarios. Ruth isn’t always in danger, nor is she always the one solving the mystery. The books are far more varied, and that keeps them from getting stale and unrealistic the way some long-lasting cozy series can be. Second, this is the first time Griffiths dives far more into deeper subjects. There are a lot of politics in here, particularly regarding the mistreatment of indigenous people over the centuries. This comes across as part of the fabric of the book, rather than like a moral lesson, which is great. Third, there had to be a dozen little mysteries all adding up to a single mystery in here, all woven together masterfully. I think A Room Full of Bones will take a second, more careful reading for me to wrap my head around everything. Good thing I’m already planning to reread the series at some point! Fourth, I love that the story delves just slightly more into the spiritual/paranormal side. There is no speculative element to this series, just a few folks who believe in various religions and mythologies, and it was fun to see that left a bit more open here. Great book!

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Sunday Coffee – Downton Abbey

Ah, Downton Abbey. For years, I resisted my friend Karen’s insistence that I would love the show. Then one day back in early 2014, I saw the first two seasons on the Express shelf of my library, and checked them out on a whim. I was hooked pretty much immediately, and I sped through the first four seasons in about a week. Then, of course, I had to wait until the next year for season five to release. By that point, I’d gotten Jason hooked, and by the time season 6 came around, everyone but Morrigan had been drawn in. After much protestation, Morrigan did eventually come to love the show. We’ve all been looking forward to the movie, which comes out next Friday.

Except for us, because lucky us, we managed to get advanced screening tickets at a “fancy” Downton party at Alamo Drafthouse. I posted a photo of my dress last weekend. The boys found a collection of suit coats and trousers and ties, and of course Ambrose opted for one of his “cultist robes” – an iridescent rainbow gold snakeskin cloak. Hey, it’s fancy, right? The five of us went out to the theatre on Thursday for the screening.

(after the film)

It was awesome. Really, it was just like a long episode of Downton, feeling very similar to the season finale in that all the stories get wrapped up. Of course you know there will be lots of happy endings and mischief and Mosley making a complete fool of himself. It was perfect, and I can’t wait to see it again. It was even better with everyone dressed up in 20s style dresses and hats, or in servants costume. So much fun!!

Funny story: In the restroom line afterwards, a woman complimented my dress. She looked vaguely familiar, though I couldn’t place her and figured she just looked similar to a few people I know. She didn’t seem to recognize me either. Then after we got home, Morrigan posted a photo on Instagram, saying he’d been at the movie, and a commenter said she’d just been there, too. It was his English teacher, the one he honored at the ceremony I mentioned back in March. That ceremony was the only time I ever met her, but she was definitely the person who said she liked my dress, and that’s why she looked familiar to me!

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The Last Resort, by Marissa Stapley

The Harmony Resort promises to be a “last resort” stop for struggling couples, run by famed marriage counselors with a perfect marriage. But no marriage is really perfect, and several couples find themselves grappling with more than they expected. Now a powerful hurricane is bearing down on the resort and no one knows what’s going to happen when all the lights go out.

Ha. Cheese galore in that synopsis, but it’s a difficult book to describe, a cross between literary fiction, women’s fiction, psychological drama, and thriller. To be honest, the weird cross-genre blend didn’t actually work for me in this case. I’m normally a huge fan of cross-genre blends, but this one fell a little flat. I was highly reminded of Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty, which I read last December and which I thought was written far better. While The Last Resort spends a lot of time on building up story and character, it’s a book that I doubt I’ll remember more than vaguely within a few weeks, and I already don’t remember individual character names and such. Oh well.

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Wellness Wednesday – Hiding in Plain Sight

When I was a sophomore, a misunderstood incident* caused my parents to send me to a therapist for a short while. I barely remember those sessions, but one thing stands out. My counselor asked me what I enjoyed, what I liked to do, etc. She specified that this had to be things I enjoyed by myself, not related to hanging out with friends/boyfriend. I had no idea what to answer. I was a swimmer, but was already getting to a point where I didn’t really enjoy it anymore. I identified as a writer, but didn’t do much of that either. I listened to music, but much of what I listened to had gotten old and didn’t appeal anymore. Swimming took up so much of my time that between the pool, school, and chores, I didn’t have time for other things. My counselor identified my inability to respond as a sign of depression, and maybe it was, I don’t know. But that’s the one thing that stuck with me – without likes and interests, it was as if I didn’t exist as a fully formed person. I was hollow, going through my days doing the things I needed to do, my sense of identity fulfilled by people outside me.

Twenty-five years later, and I am back in the same place. I’ve talked about this quite a bit in the past – invisibility and identity and smothering/deleting the things that made me an individual human being over the last 5+ years. I made my original goals in 2019 in an attempt to find myself again, and then my revamped goals roughly the same. None of it has been any use. I try to reach inside…but there’s nothing there to grab anymore. I just…exist.

And I don’t want this.

Something deep inside me is trying to rebel. At night, I have these vivid dreams of who I want to be in ten years, of where I’d like to end up. Then I wake up, and feel trapped, and spend my days hiding so that I don’t have to think about the situation. “Hiding” doesn’t necessarily mean what it sounds like. “Hiding” means reading too much, and dressing up a lot, and doing lots of puzzles, and watching too much TV. It means turning my brain off while showing the world a face that looks happy – or at least put together. It means making myself invisible through visibility.**

And how do you work your way out of this place? I don’t have the answer to that, because everything I’ve tried these last five years has failed. And it’s REALLY hard to make decisions about the future (school, career, living situation…) when you have nothing solid to base those decisions on. Inner me – dream me – is trying very hard to claw its way to the surface, and I’m doing my best to let her. But I don’t know. Sometimes it seems that I left my personality, my SELF, behind for so long that maybe I just DON’T exist anymore, and that’s all there is left for me to discover.

*A friend of mine had used a razor to draw a line up the middle of his arm. I was very upset by this, naturally, and when my boyfriend asked why I was crying, I demonstrated what my friend had done with my fingernail. It left a mark, and my swim coach concluded between my crying and the line on my arm, I must be suicidal.

**Yes, I do need to find a good therapist. So far, I’ve had no luck, and each time an option fails, it gets harder to try again.

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