A Distressing Week

Last Friday was Morrigan’s 19th birthday. Of course, he’s away at basic training for the navy, and we have no contact with him. We haven’t even received the letter that tells us his address yet, so we can’t even send letters. When I thought about my kids leaving home, I never factored in the possibility of not being able to contact them. I thought even if they were far from home, we could call on their birthdays, and they could call us if they were sick or lonely, and we could check up on them from time to time. This is an entirely new thing for me, this silence, and I’m not 100% coping well. On Morrigan’s birthday, I woke up so depressed, and I spent most of the day crying.

(baby Morrigan)

Y’all, this is not like me! I’m pretty okay with my kids leaving home. I’m not one of those moms who cried when my kids went to school for the first time. I didn’t cry or worry when Morrigan went to Japan for two weeks last year, even when he got food poisoning. I knew he’d be all right. I didn’t cry when he left for basic training two weeks ago. I’ve prepared myself for leaving ceremonies – they’re part of life, and I’m happy that my children are going out capable and ready for their next phase of adulthood.

But this…being unable to see if he’s doing okay while he’s in a situation that’s known for breaking people down? That stresses me out. And then his birthday on top of it? It’s the first birthday I haven’t spent with him EVER, and I couldn’t even give him a ten second call. He had NO ONE to say happy birthday on that day, and knowing him, that was a source of sadness. Morrigan is like me in many ways, and he values those ceremonial traditions. So I broke down on Friday, and cried for much of the day.

The days since then have been…rough.

Friday evening: Jason and I took Ambrose to the homecoming game because he made royal court. It was awesome to see him out on the field in his gold cloak, though sadly he didn’t win King. We left after halftime, because sitting in bleachers had exacerbated the sciatica I’d gotten while painting a few days beforehand. Saturday, we found a house we all loved, including the boys, in our old pre-Boston neighborhood, and put in an offer. That night I was so anxious that I only managed to sleep until 4am. Sunday, the offer was surprisingly accepted, and we were suddenly in a time crunch to get our house fixed up and on the market. Again, I was so keyed up that I woke up in the four o’clock hour. Monday, after going radio silent all day, the seller’s realtor came back to us and said the sellers changed their mind and decided to go with someone else after all. !!! I also saw my chiropractor, and while he worked out the kinks from some of my painting injuries, the sciatica remained (and is worsening). Yesterday, after much consideration, we canceled our upcoming vacation cruise with the boys, and got what refunds we could.

I am…overwhelmed. Our house is ripped apart, with multiple construction projects ongoing, plus boxes everywhere as we pack up the things we can live without over the next few months. Everything is a mess. My right hip is killing me. I haven’t had sciatica this bad since my three pregnancies. I’m in a haze of insomnia (though thankfully I slept through the night last night!) and living on coffee. And I can’t even write to my oldest son, who is probably lonely and exhausted and homesick. I need some positive energy sent my way right now. It’s been an incredibly distressing week.

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Sunday Coffee – Dream House

In early 2006, Jason, the boys, and I were living at my mom’s house in southeast San Antonio. Jason was commuting 1-1.5 hours each direction to work, making his day about 12 hours long. I was home alone all that time with three boys aged five and under, with no car as Jason and I only had one. There were seven people living in a three-bedroom home, and the situation was obviously temporary. We’d moved from Wisconsin to Texas in mid-October 2005, and lived with my mom only until Jason found a good job and we got our own place to live.

San Antonio was a different place in early 2006. The housing market hadn’t caught up with the rest of country in terms of prices, and it was definitely cheaper to buy than to rent (especially for three bedrooms). When we began looking at houses to buy, I insisted we live close to where Jason worked. That two-to-three-hours of commuting daily was not going to work for either of us! Our realtor – a woman we didn’t know, and who was clearly new enough at her job that she had no idea what she was doing – began showing us houses in neighborhoods roughly ten minutes drive from Jason’s work. I remember every house we looked at:

  • the tile house (every surface, even the walls, were tiled throughout the entire house)
  • the half-garage house (they’d converted part of the garage into a game room that you could only reach if you left the main house first, and instead of converting the garage in a way that you could still pull your car into the other half, they cut it the other direction, essentially making the other part into a shed)
  • the tiny house (three bedrooms, one bath, super small, with a train that ran so close to its back fence that we freaked out when it blew its horn while we were viewing the yard)
  • the abuse house (fist-holes in the wall, humidity weeping through the windows, a back fence that ended at an embankment drop straight down onto the highway)
  • the crack house (a foreclosure under construction when we walked in, with dead roaches everywhere, and workmen laughing about the crack pipe they’d just found)

Then we walked into the house we’d eventually buy. In the photos, the previous owners had still been living there. They loved roses – there were roses EVERYWHERE in that house – and the decor looked like it belonged to an elderly woman who collected every kind of knickknack possible. When we walked in, however, the house was empty. There were still roses everywhere (light fixture pulls, on the ends of curtain rods, scrolled onto the door labeled “bathroom,” glued to a lamp hanging from the ceiling…), but otherwise, the house was totally different from the photos. The second I walked in, I knew this was the house I wanted. It felt right. We put in an offer immediately, negotiated, and closed on the house a few days before my birthday. We lived in that house until we stupidly sold it 8.5 years later when we were moving to Boston. (If I could go back in time and tell myself to simply rent it out…)

There have been a lot of houses since the rose house. There was the place we rented in Boston, all the houses we looked at when we were moving back to TX, the house we lived in the year between Boston in WI, the houses we looked at and the one we eventually got in WI, and then the ones that we looked at that eventually landed us here in our current place. The market in San Antonio has caught up with the rest of the country, through it’s still cheaper to buy than to rent (not to mention it’s difficult to rent when you have five cats…). And now there are more houses, the ones we’ve been going to see at open houses and through Open Door and with our realtor. So many houses. So many wrong houses.

I mentioned a house recently that I loved, but my boys hated. I loved it for the three-season porch, which reminded me of my grandmother’s house, but I knew the rest of the house had issues. It wasn’t instalove like with the rose house. Each house I’ve gone to since then has had its own problems. I can possibly see us living there, but none have touched me in quite the same way. Honestly, I kinda figured that 2019-me had been through enough life (and enough houses) that she just wasn’t capable of the same reaction as 2006-me. Until I walked into what I’ll call the garden house.

Last week, my realtor took me to visit a few places. The second I walked inside this one, I had that same feeling of rightness. A feeling that I was already home. On the surface, there were things that weren’t perfect – the living room is too small for my tastes, and neither it nor the master bedroom have carpet; the roof needs replacing and there are some other major issues – but the home itself felt perfect. This time, it wasn’t just the three-season porch. It was the whole house. I could see myself living there, could see my family living there. It was a dream home. When I showed it to the rest of the family, the boys actually liked it, the first time they and I were in agreement.

We won’t be getting the dream home. There are too many issues, including the fact that it might possibly require Laurence to switch schools after this year. I don’t want that feeling of love and rightness to be overshadowed by financial burdens, a depressed child, or too many repairs. And I’m okay with that. We’re in no hurry to buy/sell. We can take our time, and wait until another house comes up that feels right and is in the right part of the city. I’m just happy to discover that I’m still capable of feeling that rightness and love when I enter the perfect house for us. It gives me hope that eventually, we’ll find our true home again.

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House of Salt and Sorrows, by Erin Craig

Four of the twelve Thaumas sisters have died, and people are beginning to think that the family is cursed. The girls are desperate for suitors and jump greedily at the chance to use a magical door that will take them anywhere they desire.

Caveat before I begin this review: Despite spending most of the last seven years reading primarily speculative fiction, I’ve not been in the mood for it in months. It’s also been some time since I was reading young adult fiction regularly. I knew I wasn’t quite in the right mood for this one, for both of those reasons, and I probably should have sent the book back to the library. The writing was compelling enough for me to keep going anyway. So while this review is negative, I wanted to state these things – in another mood, and perhaps when I was reading a lot of YA, this might have worked for me. Right now, it did not.

So. This is a retelling of the twelve dancing princesses fairy tale. Historically, I’ve not been a fan of fairy tale retellings, but I’ve never read (or heard) this particular tale and so I thought the retelling aspect wouldn’t matter. As it turns out, it did. Fairy tales have a certain quality to them, characters who are archetypes rather than actual people with personalities, and stories that are simple and moral-driven. To make a retelling work, you have to rise above those things, and not root so deeply in the fairy tale itself. Often, retellings are too rooted in the original for me, which is why I’ve historically disliked them. And I found the same in this book. Characters changed moods and personality traits regularly, for no particular reason except that it helped the plot along. I got all the sisters, including the narrator, confused for the entire book. Because this was a novel rather than a fairy tale, it didn’t have the same air of dreaminess that would make these shifts and blurred personalities okay. Furthermore, while I can’t say if the plot stuck to the original tale (since I don’t know it), it did feel a bit forced and unnatural at times, as if moored to a previous story.

The end-result for me was a disjointed tale that felt a bit flat. There were all these elements – the dances, the sibling relationships, the island culture, the immortals, the curse, the ghosts, the love story – but none of them really meshed together. It was simultaneously too much and too little.

I feel like this could have been better with a bit of tweaking to make it come together as a whole, rather than the sum of its parts. Like I said above, it may have just been my mood. It’s a shame, though. I really wanted to like the book.

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Wellness Wednesday – Potential Solution!

So last week I was dithering about carpet vs rugs vs no area to run etc etc in our living room. Everything felt way up in the air with a lot of decisions to be made. A lot can happen in a week! We’ve been going flat-out getting our house ready to put on the market, and we’ve been looking at houses to buy – many of which don’t have carpet in the living room, because everyone hates carpet these days except me. Either way, I was looking for solutions that wouldn’t eat up a lot of money (in this house or a new one, if it didn’t have carpet in a large, downstairs room for me to run in). And on one of the days Jason and I were driving to showings, I suddenly remembered how back in 2011, I bought a pair of Vibram five-finger shoes.

Those shoes look so weird, but they felt GREAT. I’d noticed that when I stood around at home, even for long periods of time, my feet wouldn’t hurt. On the other hand, when I went to BEA or other events where there was a lot of standing around in shoes, my feet would be in a lot of pain by the end of the day. I bought the Vibrams specifically for standing, but I used them periodically when I was running as well. (They didn’t do so well in trail areas, because I didn’t buy trail Vibrams, and most of my running was on trails.) Eventually, I got rid of the Vibrams. As I lost weight, I lost a size or two in my feet, and the Vibrams no longer fit well. Also, as I lost weight, my feet didn’t hurt so bad when I stood around for long periods of time. But for those few months when I used the Vibrams a lot, they were good to me, and I’d forgotten about them…until that drive with Jason this week.

I realized that I might have a solution to my current problem! I can’t run in shoes in my living room, because that whole half-running-in-place, half-moving-forward motion gives me shin splints in regular shoes. In barefoot shoes, however… The best thing about Vibrams is that they give your feet the same structure as being barefoot, while keeping them protected from whatever’s on the floor/ground. (I really, really hate walking on bare ground without shoes. My feet feel every particle of dirt as if I’m walking over rocks. Ugh.) With this in mind, I bought a pair. They’re not cheap, but certainly cheaper than carpet or rugs…

This time, I chose to fit these slightly smaller. I’m kinda between two Vibram sizes, just like in 2011, and that time, I chose to go to the larger of two choices. Since eventually that backfired on me, I’m hoping these will keep for longer. I have yet to actually run in them – our living room is currently a disaster zone as we work on house projects – but I’ve walked around in them and I think they’re going to be perfect. Yay!

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Lock Every Door, by Riley Sager

Broke, orphaned, recently unemployed, and between apartments. That’s Jules’ life when she answers the ad for an apartment sitter in the exclusive Bartholomew building. It’s the perfect job, she believes, until a fellow sitter goes missing. Jules follows a trail backwards to discover that sitters seem to go missing quite often…if not always.

Good things: This was engaging. The secondary characters especially were well-written. The mystery was intriguing. I liked the undercurrents of supernatural stuff even when I knew there would be logical answers. The book was fast-paced but not so much as to make me race through it. Jules’ life had a sufficiently complicated past that affected her modern-day psyche. In all those ways, it was an enjoyable book.

Bad things: The answer to the mystery. I didn’t like the direction that the book went. It felt a bit…overblown urban legend, maybe? I also felt like Jules fingered the culprit too early in the story, early enough that I thought it was a misdirection.

In the end, it was a middle-of-the-road book for me, a fun read but not memorable in the long run.

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Sunday Coffee – And Then There Were Four

Morrigan left home this week.

Let me take a moment to have that sink in. Morrigan left home. He didn’t leave for two weeks for Japan. He didn’t leave for a week on the Appalachian Trail. He isn’t coming back soon. He left home. He left to start his own life, as an adult, on his own, supporting himself, on his own insurance, on his own wits, with his own paycheck, in his own living situation. He left home.

My brain isn’t there yet. I’ve never been one to process these kinds of things quickly, and as you know, this all happened lightning quick. Monday, we got the final date, and Wednesday, Jason and I were driving him to the recruiter’s office. Thursday, we saw his final swearing in ceremony. That night, he landed in Chicago and texted me from the runway. Right before midnight, he left a brief voicemail on Jason’s phone to say he arrived safely at his final destination.

For the next six weeks, he’ll only be contactable through physical letters. Until I get that first letter from him, I won’t have a clue how he’s holding up. That, I think, will be the hardest thing for me personally. I’ve been a stay at home mom for the last fourteen years. It’s been my job to know how my kids were doing and to make sure they had everything they needed. Jason and I both did our best to prepare Morrigan for Real Life, but it’s always a shock, whether through college or military or just moving out. And with this Navy route, it’s a fast and complete severing of that tie. He can’t call home if he doesn’t know how to do something, or if he’s sick, or even if he’s lonely. That all adds to the surreal feeling that he’s not actually gone yet, or that he’s coming back home soon.

I had a moment this week. We have a calendar in our dining room that keeps track of which child is in charge of pouring clean water for the cats that night. The boys write out the calendar, and the days are plastered with sharpie: M A L M A L M A L etc. The other day, before Morrigan was gone, I looked up at October’s layout and had the startled realization that it was all wrong. The day that Morrigan left, I had to go back over all the dates with the sharpie, crossing out all the Ms, until it just said A L A L A L over and over. Such a little thing, but the first thing that started to make my brain fully realize: Now we are four.

Don’t misunderstand – I’m extremely proud of Morrigan and happy that he’s finally able to go do what he wants to do, and I know he’ll do really well. My brain is just struggling to keep up with the changes. Nineteen years ago, I was having my first child. Now he’s off in the world as his own adult self, poof, just like that. The mind reels. The world is suddenly a very different place.

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Wayward Son, by Rainbow Rowell

Now that the war is over and the Chosen One no longer has a Fate attached to his future, he’s depressed. Listless. Hardly ever leaves his couch. Baz and Penny are worried about Simon Snow, and Penny comes up with a radical idea to take Simon out of himself: an epic road trip through the USA, land of magical wilderness (and lawlessness).

So. In Harry Potter, you get “Nineteen Years Later” that only vaguely tells you what happens to Harry and his friends after the war is over. This book addresses the immediate after, the psychological ramifications of having a pre-determined destiny for so long, and that destiny done and gone. It deals with grief and trauma and depression. Because when the war is over, that doesn’t mean the trauma ends. As the book says:

There is no end. Bad things happen, and then they stop, but they keep on wreaking havoc inside of people.

Four years ago, I read Carry On, the story of Simon Snow and his predestined fight against Evil. What I mostly remember about the experience of reading that book was how happy it made me, and how I just wanted to hug the book over and over. How I couldn’t stop smiling. The book made me happy from beginning to end, and I thought it was the perfect little standalone story. I had no idea that a sequel would ever be released, and I was a little taken aback when I heard about Wayward Son a few months ago. Of course, I knew I would read it. It’s not part of the same story arc, and revisiting these characters would be a great nostalgic throwback for me. I knew I’d enjoy their story.

What I wasn’t expecting, however, was to receive the book from the library smack in the middle of RIP season, right after finishing tons of mysteries and detective novels. It wasn’t the right time to read Wayward Son. I wanted more mysteries and detective novels! But I also didn’t want to return the book and get in the long hold line at the library again. I dithered. I barely remembered the actual plot of Carry On, mostly just the feeling I had while reading it and some of the characters involved. Perhaps I needed to reread Carry On before Wayward Son, I could put off the experience until I was in a different reading mindset…

On a whim, I read the first few pages of Wayward Son, just to see if I would need that reread. 1) I would not. This reads as basically standalone, with a major teaser cliffhanger at the very end. 2) “The first few pages” turned into a few fast-paced hours and then the book was done. And while I wasn’t smiling as much as I did during Carry On – the subject matter here gets really, really dark in places, much thicker than I remember from the previous book – I loved it just as thoroughly. I feel like Rowell dove in and really explored these characters and their psychology on a far deeper level, and kept a perfect balance between serious and light. Humor is such an underrated talent in fiction, I sometimes feel, and Rowell definitely has it. She can make me laugh out loud even in the midst of Very Bad Things happening. My favorite quotes from the book are the ones that had me in stitches:

Penny insists on something low-profile this time – which, in America, means a giant white monstrosity called a Silverado. (Silverado, Tahoe, Tundra. Everyone gets it, America,  you’re very American.)

And:

“Thirty-one hours to San Diego?!”
“That can’t be right…That’s like driving from London to Moscow.” … “It’s the same country.”

This last one reminds me of my very favorite Texas meme ever:

In the end, this book delighted me all the way through. I never expected a sequel to Carry On, and I didn’t expect Wayward Son to end on a teaser cliffhanger, revealing that there will be further episodes to follow Simon and Baz and Penny and Agatha. I said that when I read Carry On, I just wanted to hug it the whole time. I didn’t feel exactly the same with Wayward Son, but when I closed the book, I did hug it all the same.

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