Break

It’s no secret that I’ve barely been on my blog for the last two months. I’m hardly reading, not really writing/posting, not really looking at my feed reader, etc. I’m repeating the same things over and over, and I’m getting tired of doing so. With the summer coming up and a lot on my family’s plate both in scheduling and in health, I’m going to take some time away from blogging. I’ll probably still post month-in-reviews and maybe a book review here or there, but I’m officially taking away the pressure to post on a more regular basis. I’ve done this over the summers before and usually return invigorated by the end of August when my boys start in school again. Hopefully it’s the same this year. In the meantime, I plan to focus more on my feed reader and connecting with all of you, instead of spending my time trying to force out posts here when I’m not feeling it. See you all on the other side!

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Sunday Coffee – The Power of Good Narration

This week I listened to a book, title not to be mentioned here, read by my favorite audio narrator, Kate Reading. (If you need to know, you can check out my 2019 Books page for book #20.) This is a story of how a truly good audio narration can alter a book. This is a perfect example. If I were to write a review for this book, which I won’t, I would mention stuff like:

– There’s no plot. The entire book is world-building and character-building and setup for book 2.

– In a book where thousands of humans are culled from all times/places and brought to a single location, there are ridiculously few non-white (three so far) and post-current-day (one so far). Also, of course the bad guys culled from history are going to be WWII nazis.

– The book needed some serious copyediting. There were lines like, “They were dirty and sweaty, their faces streaked with mud and dirt.”

If I’d picked this book off a library shelf and begun to read, I likely wouldn’t have finished it. The world-building was interesting and compelling, but eventually I would have needed more than that. And yet, I read the entire book – because Kate Reading is amazing.

Kate Reading kept me engaged even when the story didn’t. She helped me to connect with the characters and get past things that normally irritate me to no end in stories and in writing. Despite all my issues with the book, I never considered abandoning it, and I’ve even considered picking up the next in the series when it releases. If and only if Reading will be narrating again. To me, that shows the true power of a fantastic audio performer – to take a book and make it great, regardless of where the book lies on its own.

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April 2019 in Review

It has been a very busy month for us. As a senior in high school, Morrigan has had event after event after event this month, and beyond that, we’ve been pushing hard to finish our front yard after 14 months of work. Blogging fell to the wayside again this month as other things took precedence. I’m looking forward to getting things back to a more even (and predictable) rhythm soon. (Ha! It’s almost school’s-out-for-the-summer…say goodbye to routine!)

Books
I managed to read a few books this month – five – but honestly I was forcing myself to read, at least until I got to my favorite: What Alice Forgot. That one was so good that I used an Audible credit and then reread it via audio immediately, then didn’t pick anything else up for the rest of the month.

Movies
Last year when I was going out to see a lot of movies, I’d watch the trailers and find so many movies that I’d want to see next. This year, I’ve gone to half a dozen movies in theatre, and I’ve seen the same trailers pretty much at every one. So there are a few movies coming out this year that I want to see, but not many, not like last year. The only movie I went to see this month was Clue, which of course came out in the 80s. And since I’ve watched pretty much all of my backlist now, I mostly spent the month binge-watching a few Netflix shows instead. Favorite: Big Dreams, Small Spaces.

House
We made a big push to finish the front yard this month, since we had family coming for Easter. Because of some miscommunication in plans, one of the projects became much bigger than it was supposed to be, so we’re still not 100% done. However, we’re very, very close, and I hope plan to finish this by the end of May.

Health
I was so hopeful when this month began. I finally had a doctor listening to me and testing so many things. I thought the answers would be soon forthcoming and I’d have a path out of this nightmare. Only then the tests came back with no answers, and more steroids still didn’t get rid of the hives and inflammation, and I was back to square one. My nose is still messed up (everything still smells like rotten onions), I still can’t sleep, my depression and fatigue make it difficult to do anything at all. You know that metaphor about the spoons and chronic illness? I have like two spoons a day and I have to use one of them just to get out of bed. There was one day when I was on my steroid treatment that my alarm rang and I popped out of bed, throwing the covers off, and this felt simultaneously normal and foreign. That’s how it used to be for me all the time, and it’s been years since that was the case. Even when Jason and I had three infants/toddlers and were barely getting any sleep, I’d still pop out of bed at the alarm and get going immediately. I’m more exhausted now than when I had three babies. This. Is. Not. Normal. 

My doctor put me on a couple new medications toward the end of the month and we’ll see where it goes from here. (I’ve had no hives since then, which is definitely a start!) I’d really like to get to the bottom of this though. I’m barely able to function, much less exercise or prepare healthy foods. What energy I’ve had goes toward the yard and making it to Morrigan’s various functions and attending doctors’ appointments (mine and the boys’). After that, I’m tapped out, and I’ve consequently spent a lot of time watching TV as I recover!

Highlights of April
My world was quite insular in April. Other than appointments and Morrigan’s functions, I rarely left the house, so many of my highlights this month are little things I’ve come to love about the place I live.

  • Morrigan’s senior prom
  • Easter brunch with my extended family
  • Morrigan’s senior award night
  • Clue movie party
  • finding all these little lives in the garden – ladybugs and teeny snails on leaves and baby praying mantises and lizards and bees – we have ourselves a mini ecosystem! Honestly, while this is only a single bullet, nearly all my happiness of the month came from watching the garden spring to life.
  • seeing Morrigan on TV with the band for the Battle of Flowers parade
  • an impromptu afternoon hangout at home with a new(ish) friend
  • complements from strangers on my outfit when I went to vote
  • wind-chimes outside in my garden that I can hear from anywhere in my house

Coming up in May
I don’t know. Because of the traumas I experienced in May back in 2014 and 2015 both, the last few years of Mays have been very PTSD-laden. I can tell myself that I’ll fight against this or whatever, but you can’t control what your amygdala does to you. Memory-echos are powerful things. I’m hoping that four years out is enough that I can function this year. Fingers crossed. Especially since we’re going to be prepping for the summer, which in addition to being harder for me (as my job becomes 24/7 nonstop once the kids are off school), will involve college visits for Ambrose, a trip for Morrigan’s college orientation, surgeries for both Jason and Morrigan, moving Morrigan across the country in August, and my brother-in-law’s wedding. This all, of course, on top of the ongoing medical issues. May is my last month of semi-freedom until September, and I’d like to make the most of it, PTSD be damned. Fingers crossed!

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Wellness Wednesday – Bloodwork

I’ve had so much bloodwork and other testing in the last month! Unfortunately, we’ve had no answers from any of it. I can tell you that I’m sick of needles at the moment, though.

Allergy+ testing
In late March, I had nine vials of blood drawn to run 28 tests for my allergist. I got the results back in early April. First, let’s just say that I was relieved to find I’m not allergic to my cats. There was some concern that I might have developed an allergy! Second, it turns out that I’m not allergic to any of the pollens and other common irritants they tested me for. Third, I tested negative for mast cell activation syndrome and other hive-related diseases. Yay! In fact, the only thing these tests showed is that I have almost no protection against the 23 strains of strep-pneumonia that are now vaccinated against. This makes me susceptible to sinus infections and bronchitis – I get bacterial bronchitis every time I get a cold! – and so I needed a strep-pneumonia vaccine. (Which I got. And that thing HURT in the days that followed. In fact, even though it’s been three weeks, there’s still a dark spot on my arm where the vaccine lump swelled.)

That vaccine won’t stop the hives, though. It’s purely to keep me from having to get on antibiotics several times a year for bronchitis, sinus infections, and other chronic problems of that kind. My allergist believed that I was still having the same hive attack that came from all my antibiotics/probiotics (since mast cell attacks take 120 days to go away on their own), so she prescribed me another round of steroids. Unfortunately, the hives returned within days of the treatment, so I’m obviously still being exposed to whatever is causing the problem. I’m back to square one and waiting to meet with the doctor again. At this point, it’s been four months of continuous hives and fatigue, and I’m so very tired. 😦

Note: Bloodwork isn’t as accurate as skin testing for allergies, but since I’m on antihistamines, skin-testing isn’t possible. So there’s still a small possibility that I’m allergic to my cats or some other common irritant. However, I’m told it’s unlikely, and that it would be very mild.

Women’s Exam
Everything came out normal. Woohoo! My ob/gyn is concerned about the hives, though. She’s the one who sent me to the allergist I’m seeing, and she says that hives can be an early indicator of an emerging auto-immune disorder. The last time I was tested for a bunch of auto-immune disorders was autumn 2015, so anything’s possible. I see her again in three months for my two-yearly hormone panels (related to PCOS), and I guess it’s possible we’ll explore further testing then.

Check-up
My primary care doc does full-panel bloodwork twice a year, and I came due mid-April. I was particularly interested to see how this panel went because a lot has changed in the last six months. The two big things that come to mind are the four months of chronic hives/inflammation, and the switch to a higher carb diet about a month before the tests. I also wondered how the tests might be skewed by the fact that I’d just gotten off a steroid round two days beforehand.

On the plus side: My fasting glucose dropped from the low 90s (over the last two years of tests) to 72, my cholesterol (previously on the high end of normal) dropped to levels I haven’t seen since I was much thinner, and my LDL cholesterol is normal for the first time ever (even lower than when I was at my thinnest/fittest). My HDL cholesterol is back up to normal too, probably because I reincorporated some wine into my diet. Additionally, I track several liver measurements because of my high-iron blood disorder, and both of those decreased dramatically as well.

Neutrally: My A1C (long term marker of insulin fluctuation, as an indicator for diabetes) remained exactly where it always is, on the high end of normal.

On the downside: My triglycerides are back up, probably because I’ve had an increase in sugar consumption with the increase in carbs. I’ve also had an increase in some numbers I watch for my iron disorder (hemoglobin, hematocrit) and both are slightly too high again. These two are always borderline, though, and I have a feeling they were influenced by the steroid use, as the steroids cause dehydration which in turn causes elevation of those two numbers. Last, my TSH (thyroid) increased to the highest it’s ever tested (3.6) which is still technically considered normal but probably has a lot to do with the chronic fatigue I’ve been feeling.

So generally, I saw a significant increase in two numbers, but dramatic improvements in several other measures. I had my follow-up with the doctor yesterday, and we had a lot to talk about: chronic fatigue/inflammation, four months of hives, eight years of insomnia, five years of depression, and sixteen months of smell loss/distortion. Clearly, something is very, very wrong, and I need someone to figure out what the hell is going on now. I need someone to really listen to me and not just blame all this on my weight or age. Unfortunately, my doctor has gotten so busy and overbooked that he no longer spends time talking to his patients. I remember having actual conversations with him a few years back. Yesterday’s appointment was the new typical: five minutes with two other strangers in the room and my doctor cutting me off mid-sentence every time I tried to talk. In the end, he prescribed an antidepressant and a prescription-strength antihistamine, then said he’d see me again in a month. And even though I said the insomnia and anosmia were the most pressing, longterm issues, he didn’t even bother to address them. This, of course, just contributes to my frustration, and I’m just about at the point of looking for a new doctor. Again.

Square 1. I seem to live here these days.

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What Alice Forgot, by Liane Moriarty

When Alice wakes up from a fall and knock on the head, she doesn’t know where she is or what’s happening. In her mind, she’s 29, in love with her husband, and a few months into her first pregnancy. In reality, she’s 39, a mother of three, and going through a very nasty divorce.

First: This is the first book I’ve read in months that I was fully invested in and couldn’t stop reading. That felt good.

Second: Alice’s situation is closely related to one of my worst fears. As a teen, I once read a book about a girl who went into a coma around the age of 13 and didn’t wake up for four years. She had no memory of those four years of course, and everything around her had changed, including her body. I used to have nightmares about this situation – falling asleep and waking up to find so much of the world altered. Not knowing, not remembering, is a terrifying thing. With Alice’s situation, there was always the assurance that eventually, her memory would return, so it’s not quite as scary. The “in the meantime” moments, however, were difficult. Even though I loved the book, it was hard to read with my personal fear.

Third: The best part of this book involves spoilers, so you’ll want to stop reading if you don’t want to know them. The whole setup of this book is that Alice spends the days after her fall acting like her 29-year-old self. She doesn’t know her children, she doesn’t remember her friends, she doesn’t recognized her changed body. And especially, she doesn’t understand the change in her relationships from the last ten years. Slowly, she pushes people to tell her things that happened with friends and family and her husband, Nick. She pushes him to talk to her as well, trying to get him to come back to her and for them to be a family again. As the days pass, Nick softens little by little, and he tells her some of things that they fought over and how trivial things got between them. When Alice’s memory inevitably returns, she gets a new perspective on the things he told her, and the quotes cut down to the core. Some examples:

Of course she’d told Gina she was pregnant with Olivia before she told Nick. Nick was in the UK for two weeks. He only called twice.

and:

It was not “cherries.” It was half a fruit platter. A beautifully presented fruit platter she’d spent the morning making to take to his mother’s place. She was rushing around trying to get the children dressed and instead of helping, he was reading the paper and happily eating his way through the fruit platter, as if Alice were the hired help.

All throughout Alice’s amnesia, the idea is presented that in her missing ten years, she became a bitter, nasty wife who took advantage of her husband’s time and money, and who treated him like an afterthought and a perpetual money machine. Alice didn’t like the person she’d become. And when her memory comes back, her bitterness and nastiness and anger all slot into place. Nick didn’t help with the children, didn’t pay attention to her concerns, didn’t listen to her, didn’t involve himself in family affairs, didn’t notice her or the things happening around him. He was career-driven and content to have her take care of 100% of the house, kids, school, and daily life of the family. And then complained about being treated unfairly when she wasn’t happy.

I’ve rarely read about the dissolution of a marriage (not involving infidelity etc) that has been captured so well in all its nuances. The way Moriarty was able to turn perspective like that was brilliant. The book was equal parts satisfying, distressing, painful, and nostalgic. It’s by far my favorite of Moriarty’s that I’ve read so far.

Additionally, the book goes into other deep topics, from infertility and miscarriage to friendships that become lifelines, from the way negative emotions can unintentionally get tied up in your relationships with your children to the tricky navigation of dating post-separation. It also asks the question – if you lost ten years of your life, what would you want your ten-years-younger self to know? And what would she tell you if she could see what you’d become? I finished the book a week ago, and I still haven’t gotten the question out of my mind. That right there, even without all the rest, marks the novel as a great one.

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Sunday Coffee – In the last two weeks…

…Jason and I attended a Clue movie party at Alamo Drafthouse! Clue was one of my childhood favorites and I’ve literally seen it hundreds of times. (Funny story: When I was nine/ten years old, I spent over a year writing the dialogue for Clue down in a “script” from memory in my spare time. This is how much I loved that movie. I also forced my poor sister to do this with me, ha!) We were so excited when we discovered the movie party and snatched up tickets right away. At the movie, we got a random character card (I got Miss Scarlet, Jason got Mrs White), a party popper, a mini flashlight, and a foam weapon – all for use during parts of the movie. There was singing and dancing and movie-quoting (“Flames…flames…on the side of my face…”), and I bought a special Miss Scarlet mixed drink just to get the commemorative glass. It was one of the best movie experiences I’ve had in quite some time. Next month, they’re having a Three Amigos movie party, and we might just have to attend! (And by “might,” I mean that I’ve already purchased tickets.)

…Morrigan had his senior trip, during which he lost his glasses. The bus department for the school district found them (or so they thought) and tried to give him this pair with polka dots and a tiny frame. Ha! So he spent a week without them, poor guy, until the next available appointment at his optometrist. He also had to do his DOD physical and visual evaluations without glasses, sigh. The good news is that our optometrist is awesome and he was able to get us the new frames same-day, so at least there wasn’t a several-week wait for shipping!

…Morrigan attended prom with his girlfriend Eliya (who is affectionately nicknamed Henry in our house ever since our Super Bowl party back in February). (And look! He has glasses! He didn’t have to do pictures without them!) He made her a Texas wildflower corsage and the two of them went to a nearby local restaurant called Pesto’s. I guess they don’t get a lot of prom guests there, and I’m not sure exactly what moved their waitress, but the waitress decided to pay for their meal for them. (As it turned out, a lot of the prom couples had their meals paid for them at different restaurants, I’ve heard, which is so nice of people!) Morrigan in turn left her a $20 tip. Then the two came by the house so they could take photos in the garden, and then it was off to prom, where they had a lovely time.

…we got a massive amount of work done on the garden. Some miscommunications in plans meant that one of the projects grew a lot larger than expected, so we couldn’t finish by today’s brunch, but we now have an unexpected side deck and new front fence, plus planters to finish off the side of the yard. Pictures to come after we finish connecting the porch and deck, and have the entire yard finished.

…I took more blood tests and got more results. More on that soon. Also: I’m really tired of blood draws. I’d like to not do that again for awhile.

…I began sanding down the banisters in our stairwell. I have no idea why the previous homeowners used the wrong kind of paint and put it on so thickly that it peels off, but it’s an easy project that costs just about nothing to fix. We have a whole list of house projects that are low-cost and will make the house much nicer, and I’m trying to work my way through the few that I’m capable of doing (or helping with, at least).

…we prepped the house and food for an Easter brunch that we’re hosting later this morning for extended family. This involved making scones and cake and brisket and bread and multiple kinds of breakfast taco filling and asparagus quiche and of course Easter eggs, in addition to extensive cleaning, yard stuff, and generally prepping the house for up to 15 guests. And on that note, I’m posting this in the wee early morning hours because guests will start arriving in four hours and there’s still some prep work to do! Y’all have a happy Easter!!

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The True Queen, by Zen Cho (audio)

From Goodreads: When sisters Muna and Sakti wake up on the peaceful beach of the island of Janda Baik, they can’t remember anything, except that they are bound as only sisters can be. They have been cursed by an unknown enchanter, and slowly Sakti starts to fade away. The only hope of saving her is to go to distant Britain, where the Sorceress Royal has established an academy to train women in magic. If Muna is to save her sister, she must learn to navigate high society, and trick the English magicians into believing she is a magical prodigy. As she’s drawn into their intrigues, she must uncover the secrets of her past, and journey into a world with more magic than she had ever dreamed.

Honestly, I wasn’t sure if I was going to read this book. It had been years since Sorcerer to the Crown came out, and while I liked it a lot, I didn’t remember much about it. I certainly didn’t remember a story that needed to be continued into this sequel. This is very possibly because the sequel isn’t really a sequel. It’s a related story that takes place in the same world several years later. It’s completely standalone. I considered going back to reread Sorcerer first, and in the end, decided not to because of my recently reading slump. I didn’t need to. Nothing was difficult to follow, and the primary characters were new to this book. I was hooked right away, and I think I actually enjoyed this one more than Sorcerer, particularly because there was so much more exploration of non-British magic/culture.

As usual, Jenny Sterlin did a fabulous job reading the audio, which helped me to engage with the story more than I think I would have in my current mind-frame. I don’t know how well the story will stick with me longer term, but it was a fun, quick listen and I’m glad that I gave it a chance.

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