Sunday Coffee – Hello

Time for some general updates from the Gignacery!

We made it through Week 1 of Band Camp. Seriously, as I mentioned in my July wrap-up, band camp is insane here. It’s band camp with a capital BC. This week was just a bit over 40 hours of practice, including one day that involved three sessions between 8am and 8:30 pm, for a total of ten hours in a single day. Sheesh. And on top of all the hours, we had to go pay $350 in fees yesterday just for Morrigan to be in band. What happened to the concept of free public school? Not here. Here it’s all about Winning.

The other two boys finished up with summer school. So they at least get a few weeks off.

Construction went slow because our contractor was very sick for most of the week. He only got in one good work day. He still believes he’ll be able to finish by the 9th, but I have a feeling there’s going to be stuff left to do when he leaves. Since he’ll be gone for several weeks, we aren’t just going to wait until he can finish. We’ll just do the rest ourselves. There’s nothing else in this process that we can’t do. We have plenty of practice fixing up houses by now! Completed this week: drywall up; kitchen ceiling up; the rest of the kitchen demolition (pulling down the rest of the cabinets/countertops); upstairs bathroom demolition (toilet removal and the rest of the tile removal); bathroom floor sealed with waterproof sealant; kitchen cabinets about 75% installed; countertops ordered. [Note: a big chunk of this done by Jason and the boys.]

There was, of course, the incident yesterday when Jason was hanging cabinets and slipped off the stepladder. His knee went through the top of our glass-top stove. Thankfully he wasn’t hurt, not even a scratch! Unfortunately, the stove didn’t fare so well, and we had to scramble to figure out what to do next. Sigh.

In my personal world, I’ve been a bit up and down this week. There was the funeral on Monday of course, and then fretting about the state of our house and me not being able to leave/run errands/pretty much anything during the day since I had to be home for whenever our contractor could come over. Also, still adjusting medication, so I was prone to bouts of depression or panic. In the second half of the week, I did manage to start exercising again, which helped. We’ve had a few highly unusual cool mornings (70 degrees instead of 80) and I took advantage of that with some long walks. That didn’t help the overall chaos and emotion-explosion, but at least I wasn’t antsy on top of it all, right? Unfortunately, after a month of respite, insomnia has reared its ugly head in the worst way again. And still no word from the sleep center people about a possible APAP.

Yesterday was a big day for us, too. We had a large family party to celebrate two things. First, my grandfather is turning 90! Second, my grandparents are celebrating their 65th wedding anniversary. Despite everyone flying in for the funeral less than a week ago, we were all back for this grand celebration. A big giant family reunion to celebrate something lovely this time. It was really nice. There were some family members I hadn’t seen in almost a decade, and the decorations were lovely, and one guest (a professional photographer) set up an area to take group shots. It was a big whirlwind of a day, but lovely in every respect. A good note to end this week.

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The Invisible Girls, by Sarah Thebarge (audio)

Sarah Thebarge grew up in a fundamentalist household, which later caused her severe anxiety issues, and a personal crisis of faith when she was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer in her late 20s. After several years of cancer treatments and recurrences, she moved to Portland, and encountered a Somali refugee with five young girls. The family was barely surviving, and Thebarge stepped in to help. This memoir weaves together Thebarge’s personal history and her time with the family in Portland, telling how they saved each other.

I loved this book. Normally, I’m not big into religious memoirs. They usually come off as either preachy or angry (particularly in the case of people who have left religion behind). I’m not used to encountering religion in modern-day books (fiction or nonfiction) that approach it matter-of-factly and related only to that individual. That was the case here – Thebarge never discussed religion in a way that reflected on the reader, just on herself and her own personal relationship to it. She never expressed her views in a way that told you that you had to or should believe them as well. It was the same as if she discussed a relationship with running or home improvement, and the same as she discussed her experiences with cancer. Unique, individual, and personal.

Her time with the Somali family was equally compelling. Not every experience was good, and Thebarge struggled to find the balance between overstepping and helping. She didn’t approach it as I’ve seen other people, as “the Christian who saves people” or “the white person who saves people.” She was aware of her privileges and tried to learn about the family’s needs, culture, and history. Again, it was not preachy, and Thebarge genuinely seemed to love each of the family members, as they seemed to love her. As I said above, not every experience was ideal or good – there is no veneer of happy-golden here – but overall the partnership was a positive experience.

The book was well-written and nicely paced, with a good balance between the different narratives. My only complaint is actually not about the book, but about memoirs in general. Memoirs don’t really have endings. You never know what happens afterwards. At the end of this book, the Somali family are still out there, and still (as far as I could tell from the end of the book) in some contact with Thebarge. But after that, the reader knows nothing. Memoirs always feel incomplete for me, and a bit unsatisfying for it. But again, that has nothing to do with this book itself, which as I said was a very-written book. I just want more.

Performance: This audiobook was read by Kirsten Potter, who did a very good job. The accents she gave to different characters were subtle, which I appreciated. The way she read the book lent itself to the practical and matter-of-fact tone of the writing. It was a good pairing.

Posted in 2018, Adult, Prose | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

July in Review

July was a month of crazy-busy. Summer school, study abroad, four birthdays, extreme heat (over 105 many days), and the beginning of band camp. The insurance didn’t approve our house claim until late in the month, so construction didn’t start until the last week of July (and is still ongoing). Then the a/c broke on the hottest day of the summer (109). Yay! I began a whole bunch of medication changes and treatments, and have more still to come. Summers are always crazy here, but it’s INSANE this year. We have about four weeks until school starts again, and I’m really looking forward to it!

(one of four birthdays)

July was also a very sad month. My uncle moved from the hospital to hospice care, refusing to continue further cancer or blood treatments, and passed away a week later. The grief kicked me in the gut. The second member of my extended tribe to leave us in the last six months. The rest of the month passed somewhat in a daze.

Very little happened in goals this month. You could also say I went backwards a little, because instead of using the last of the yarn I already had (which would have completed that goal), I got new yarn and started a new project. Oops. My health also slid way off track:

My health suffered quite a bit this month. My doctor is slowly taking me off my antidepressant and putting me on a mood stabilizer. He also put me on a short steroid treatment for my eczema which I quit after two days because it gave me severe heartburn and made everything taste like copper. Yikes. One medication was finally approved (been waiting since January), and ironically it caused a lot of weight gain so I had to get off it anyway. Then the health insurance rejected my doctor’s request for a second, in-lab sleep study, and instead suggested I get an APAP machine. No further word on that so far (sleep center is trying to get an RX for one). Additionally, I’m in the process of getting in to a dermatologist for a punch biopsy in one part of my skin (for what might be eczema or something autoimmune) and in to an allergist for eczema issues.

(after C25K Week 5 Day 3)

Food-wise, with everything going on, I ate out way too much, drank too much alcohol, ate too much junk food, yada yada. I tried to exercise when I could, mostly indoors, but as I’ve said before, I’m kinda on hold somewhat until the construction is done and the boys are back to a regular schedule again. I managed 15 days of exercise this month, totaling about 13 hours, and including 9 yoga sessions and 25 miles walked/run. Somehow, with all this going on, I actually started sleeping this month for the first time in about four years! No sleeping pills beyond melatonin this month. It was crazy and awesome. So that’s good news, especially given lack of sleep study approval for further testing. At the end of the month, my weight was up about half a pound and most of my measurements are up about an inch too. Sigh.

My reading mojo was nowhere to be found for most of July. I signed up for the reverse readathon, but that was the week my uncle passed and so I didn’t end up doing it. Of course, I’d ordered a pile of books for the thing, and I needed something to occupy my brain a lot while I processed grief, so I ended up reading and culling a bunch of books in the last week of the month. In total, I finished five books in July. Likely I’ll barely remember most of them as time passes, simply because my brain wasn’t really in the right place. Oh well. Favorite: The Prince and the Dressmaker.

In Construction
Since our claim didn’t get approved until the end of the month, we didn’t get nearly as much done as I’d prefer this month. Things completed: replacing the dining/living room floor; rewiring for better lighting in the kitchen; the beginnings of new drywall and the kitchen ceiling. (In other words, not much. Between scheduling conflicts, funeral, and our contractor getting very sick for a week, this is dragging out…)

Highlights of July
There were some good moments in July of course, and as usual, I’d like to list them out so I can remember them when I look back.

  • Morrigan’s trip to Japan, which was a wonderful opportunity that he really loved
  • Morrigan also got his AP scores back, getting a 5 in three of his tests and a 4 in the 4th!
  • birthdays for Ambrose, my mom, my stepdad, and my half-sister
  • my siblings all came down for my half-sister’s birthday, which was a weekend of lots of hanging out and fun (if too much eating out and junk and alcohol, heh)
  • meeting my grandma’s new rescue kitten
  • not needing sleeping pills this month!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  • I managed to do the last day of Week 5 of C25K (where you suddenly jump from 8 mins to 20 mins nonstop jogging). It was indoors on level ground and very, very slow, but I did it.

Coming up in August
Band camp. The holy terror that is marching band has arrived. The boys’ high school is INSANE about band, and it just began Monday. The other boys finish summer school tomorrow, so they’ll be free until the end of August when school begins. Which, I’ll add, is the thing I’m looking forward to most this month – school starting again, and hopefully the construction finishing. Our contractor believes he’ll be done by the 9th, but my guess is the 25th at the earliest. Sigh.

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Happy Birthday Ambrose!

Sweet sixteen, I can’t believe it’s been that long! Happy birthday to my wacky, sneaky, self-confident weirdo child and may you always be as independent and self-assured as you are today.

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In Memoriam

My Uncle Jim passed away in the night. About a week ago, he left the hospital and entered hospice care in a nursing home, declining further cancer and blood treatments. I knew what that meant of course, but didn’t know it would be quite this soon. My mom was talking this past weekend about going to see him next week.

Jim is the second person in my family to pass away this year. The second person our circle has lost, the second set of goodbyes in less than six months. I know part of that is getting older, but still part of me wants to just scream at something. He was too young and too good a person to pass away already, and only nine years after his wife passed away. I know it doesn’t work that way, but that inner child part just wants to yell that it’s not fair to his family, my cousins, to him.

I’m tired. Between this news, the construction that has my house ripped apart and unusable again, and the a/c that broke yesterday when it was 109 degrees outside, I think I’m about tapped out. I have a few posts pre-scheduled, but other than them, I’m probably going to be taking a little break here. I’ve signed up for that reverse readathon this weekend but have a feeling that my brain is just going to say no for now. Thank you to those of you who have been here for me and are here for me now. Please keep my family, especially my cousins who have lost both parents now, in your thoughts. Thank you.

Posted in Personal | 5 Comments

Top Ten Sensory Reading Memories

I rarely associate books and sensory experiences – that’s usually more music for me – but I do have a handful of books with strong ties to a time or image or other experience.

1. Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller – I read this in my hotel room at the beach while everyone else was out swimming. I’d gotten really sunburned and I needed a chaos/noise break from my kids. I’ll forever associate this book with the peace of that afternoon.

2. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith – It’s hard to tell if I think of Christmas when I think of this book because I read it in December or because of the really awesome Christmas-tree-throwing scene.

3. We by Yevgeny Zamyatin – This is an odd one for me. It actually only has a sensory memory because it got tied up with a song from a particular band. A line from the song says, “Hammer down the walls, it’s only broken glass.” The songwriter is known for referencing classic books and movies, and I could have sworn he was referencing a scene from this book. Only when I went back and reread years later, the scene I’d “remembered” didn’t even exist.

4. Crossed Wires by Rosy Thornton – This one doesn’t conjure up a particular feeling, but instead a longing for fish-and-chips wrapped in paper as described in the novel. I’ve never actually eaten this, but the sensory description was so well-written that I will always crave the experience. Perhaps if I ever get over to Britain…

5. The Painted Veil by William Somerset Maugham – This is another one of those false associations. I must have had a dream about the end of this book, and the dream-ending completely obscured the read ending. I only figured it out years later, and for whatever reason, I still feel the emotions that came with the dream-ending (and see all the scenery in that particular version) whenever I think of this one.

6. The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan – I listened to this one on audio and whenever I think of it, I remember walk after walk after walk in the late summer evenings on the wiggly sidewalk near our home.

7. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy – This is the book that converted me to audiobooks, read by Alan Rickman. What I remember most is that I took five weeks to read it, while doing C25K around my living room, and how I pretty much gave up at the end of week five because my audiobook had run out. Ha!

8. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath – Hot summer afternoons, road trips to the Frio River, obsessively marking in the margins for the only time in my life. I could not put the book down. I most particularly associate it with car rides, as it’s the only time I could ever read a book in the car without getting sick.

9. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo – It’s probably very silly, but this book reminds me (obviously enough) of the months I spent following the book’s process, and all the little discoveries I made about myself during that fall. Plus, baby Gavroche!!

10. Will Grayson Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan – One night shortly after reading this, I had a dream that mixed this book, Germinal by Emile Zola, and the song Sleepyhead by Passion Pit. Since that time, I can’t see the cover/title of WGWG or think of the book without Sleepyhead automatically popping into my head. The two are inextricably linked. Ha!


Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

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The Poppy War, by RF Kuang

Rin is a war orphan who does everything she can to escape the life of an opium-smuggler’s errand girl and become one of Nikara’s elite trained soldiers. With the country drifting once again toward war, Rin discovers that learning to fight is not the only thing she can do. She can access the gods and hone their powers, though she may possibly lose her mind and soul in the bargain.

That is a terrible description for what is a fantastic book. I hardly know what to say about The Poppy War except that I loved it. It’s messy, gruesome, and the very definition of shades of grey through all types of physical and psychological warfare. Let me say this up front: trigger warning for self-harm and violence against women. This violence (and other violence, of which there is a lot) is written both graphically and tactfully, so that while Kuang never turns away from the reality of warfare, she doesn’t glorify it either. Likely I wouldn’t have been able to read it if she had. Even with all the violence and triggers (for me, it’s drugs, which are a big thematic element), this book was worth it. This mini-review sucks, but I definitely think y’all should give this one a chance. Read the first few chapters and see if it strikes a chord with you. It only gets better from there.

Posted in 2018, Adult, Prose | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments