Monday, August 29, 2011

The Grand Sophy, part 2 (or maybe 3?)

This is written in response to a thread of comments on another blog, not to anything anyone said here.  I end up on a soapbox, so skip it if you're not in the mood.

I flipped back through the Grand Sophy before I left for the weekend (see previous post).  Just like the first time through, I found the heroine (Sophy) to be really, really irritating-- manipulative and high-handed and immature-- so I didn't re-read the whole thing.  This is not even in the top ten of my favorites of Heyer's books.  But I have to confirm that the anti-semitism is occasionally but definitely there.  I guess it just depends on the reader how much you are able to let it go as an unfortunate example of cultural blindness. 

I'd like to make clear--after reading some additional comments on other blogs-- that I'm not *excusing* Heyer's depiction of Jews.  Anti-semitism is inexcusable.  I'm just saying that in the context of the book, it bothered me, but not enough to make me quit reading Heyer.  Anti-semitism isn't the only reason to be offended by Heyer.  The stereotypes of Jews only appear in a couple of her books, but she is a classist snob in every single one.  Her depiction of a character with mental challenges in Cotillion vaguely offended me.  Her denouements are often so quick as to be disappointing.  She occasionally resorts to deus ex machina to resolve a relationship. But I still enjoy her books for the strong characters and witty dialogue.

Which maybe just says I'm an insensitive slob.  Or maybe that I find it difficult to condemn someone for attitudes they probably were unaware are offensive.  I still read Shakespeare in spite of the The Merchant of Venice.  And Hemingway in spite of his misogyny and homophobia and and and.  Abraham Lincoln wanted to send the freed slaves back to Africa.  We are all products of our time.

I completely defend anyone's right to not read an author because of certain elements of their writing.  I quit reading a Bud Guthrie book this weekend (The Big Sky) because I was so offended by his glib description of prostitutes and the effects of sexually transmitted diseases.  But another reader would just shake their head over it and keep going-- or maybe not even notice.  I hope we can not only show a little tolerance toward people who live in other times, but to each other and our differing opinions about what we're willing to read and what we're not.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


Well, I sat down to write what I'm sure would have been a brilliantly witty post about something or other, but got distracted by getting caught up on Jennifer Crusie's blog, which then led me to check out the sale on Georgette Heyer's books at Amazon, and to read the SBTB review of The Grand Sophy, and eventually to generally completely forget what I was going to say.

I have to admit they've got me thinking about The Grand Sophy, which I reviewed a few months ago.  I may have to re-read it.  The SBTB reviewer was horrified by the anti-semitism, which made me a bit ashamed of myself that it hadn't bothered me more.  I did notice it, and I did think it was poorly done-- not just that the stereotype of the Jewish moneylender is there, but that it was done in such a heavy-handed way.

But it was such an brief, isolated incident in the book, sort of like a cul-de-sac, that I am embarrassed to admit that it didn't really register with me. Partly because I think you have to cut Heyer some slack (not a lot, but some) for being of her time.  Yes, it was published after WWII (1950), but the 50s and early 60s were one of the peaks of anti-semitism (at least in our country, I'm not sure about England)-- not so much physical harassment as exclusion from social clubs, country clubs, sporting events, the political arena, etc.  It doesn't excuse it, not by a long shot, but maybe gives it a bit of context.  Heyer was probably typical of her era.

So maybe I will re-read it and report back.  On the other hand, it's not one of my favorite of Heyer's, so maybe I don't care enough to re-read it while there are still so many others of hers I haven't read. 

Anyway.  I'm off for the weekend.  My boys are going on a backpacking trip, and I'm turning everything off and having my own mini-retreat.  I have a stack of books, but I may end up just doing a jigsaw puzzle and listening to music.  I'm going to the new student barbecue on Saturday afternoon, but other than that, I'm going to be completely anti-social for the next four days and I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to it.  YAY.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

back to school part 2

Last night we put Nell on the train to Seattle to start her senior year of college.  I'm sure she just went to kindergarten last week.  And I just got back from taking MadMax to his first day of eighth grade, his last year of middle school.  I swear I was still changing his diapers yesterday.  (He would kill me if he saw that.)  And I start classes next week.

The first day of school, more than any other day of the year, makes me sentimental, way more than the last day of the school year, when we're all so glad for it to be over that we can do nothing but celebrate.  I cried after dropping them off on the first day of school every single year until at least fourth grade-- usually I managed to wait until I was in the car, but one notorious year (MadMax's first grade), there I was sobbing in the classroom as the teacher did her welcoming spiel.  It was awful, and believe me, I wouldn't have done it if I could have helped it.

But I haven't done it in a long time, until this year.  It was too much-- both of them in 12 hours.  and Nell is a senior in college.  How did that happen?  MadMax, ever reticent, spoke only enough to cajole me into picking him up this afternoon so he wouldn't have to ride the bus, hopped out of the car, and was gone.  I don't even enter the building anymore.

I didn't sob, but I did get teared up.  I'm so lucky to have such great kids, and here they are growing up on me and pretty soon they'll both be gone.  OK, that's enough of that or I'm going to get all mushy again.

I start classes next week.  And since I continue to have readers who find this blog after searching for "back to school," maybe I will write a little bit about what it's like to go back to school in your 40s (because I was still in my 40s when I started, unlike my current advanced stage of fifty-ness).

I started out here locally at our community college about four years ago.  I'd taken the occasional on-line class, or six-week non-credit class over the years, so I wasn't completely unfamiliar with the campus.  I even taught spreadsheets (and DOS!) back when we first moved here almost 20 years ago.  So other than feeling like a dinosaur compared to the other students, it wasn't too bad.  I only took two classes that first semester (Chinese and a programming class).

I became the self-appointed den mother in each class after awhile-- the classes were small, and we all knew each other before long.  Of course, that was completely unofficial, other than teasing about feeling like the den mother, I never really said anything about it.  But it was a helpful idea for me.  It gave me a way to understand how to relate to these kids who were so much younger than me.

But the next fall I decided it was time for bigger things and started driving to our state university in UTown, two+ hours away. And that was completely terrifying.  In some ways it was worse than being a freshman, because when you're a freshman, there are several hundred other freshmen there feeling like neophytes along with you.  The next oldest person in my fall classes last year was 27.  And most of them came straight out of undergrad, so they hadn't taken much of a break from school at all.  It had been 25 years for me.  You should see my student ID card, which I had to have made the week before classes started:  I look like the proverbial deer in the headlights.

But if you're doing this, here is my best piece of advice:  hang in there.  Don't give up.  I can't tell you how many times I almost quit that first semester.  In fact, the only  thing that kept me from quitting is that practically every one I know was aware that I was doing this, and I was too embarrassed to quit.  My classes were very different from what I expected.  In some ways they were a bit easier-- the reading load was considerably lighter than it was 25 year before.  But in most ways it was much more difficult, because I had to learn how to deal with theory-- about which there will be more in the next few posts.

But I kept slogging along, because I couldn't let myself quit, and much to my surprise, I ended up with a 4.0 that first semester.  You just never know.  So.  Be brave.  You can do it. 

Saturday, August 20, 2011

more on the fairness thing

1. after a couple more days of thinking about this, what I've realized is:  this is another area where it's important to let myself feel what I'm feeling, to not block off my feelings.  Feeling angry, disappointed, betrayed, or hurt is perfectly legit.  But once I move into "it's not fair," it's no longer about my feelings, it's about comparing my situation to someone else's, or to a situation I wish I had or that I imagine would be better than what I have.  That's not a feeling, it's a mind game.  Feelings are meant to be felt and then released; "It's not fair" moves into something else, something that is better off just nipped in the bud. 'Scuse the lecture. 

2.  I hope you will find this bit as hilarious as I do.  Turns out I don't have carpal tunnel syndrome.  While I was writing the last two posts, I did a little poking around on google.  The symptoms didn't sound exactly like what I have--carpal tunnel syndrome involves the median nerve, which leads to the thumb, first two fingers and inside half of the ring finger; the numbness in my hand is the outer palm, ring finger, and pinky finger.  So yesterday I checked with dh, who is a medical type, and turns out what I have is some kind of pressure on the ulnar nerve, which goes to... you guessed it... the outer half of the palm, ring finger and pinky finger.  The ulnar nerve doesn't pass through the carpal tunnel of the wrist, so therefore can't cause carpal tunnel syndrome, or be fixed by carpal tunnel surgery.

(an aside:  this isn't Lynne's fault-- I didn't ask her to diagnose me, I just told her I had carpal tunnel syndrome.)

So go ahead and cue up Mick Jagger ("You can't always get what you want, but if you try some time you just might find you get what you need...") because even though what I wanted was a cure for my numb fingers, what I got was what I really needed, which was to get over feeling sorry for myself and move on. 

3.  I'm also re-evaluating my standard response to the kids' complaint of "That's not fair!" -- which used to be (as I said in the previous post) "Life's not fair.  Get over it."  Because while it's true that life's not fair, and they do need to get over expecting it to be, it may not be the best way to handle the situation.  If I tell them, "Life's not fair, get over it," and that's the end of the conversation, it leads to exactly what I was talking about above:  I'm essentially demanding that they stuff their feelings of disappointment and anger before they've had a chance to even feel them. I'll have to experiment with this.

4. I googled not only CTS, but also "life's not fair" looking for wisdom on the topic.  There are a lot of wise people out there in blogland.  One person said "It's a good thing life's not fair, because if we got what we deserved, we'd be in much worse shape than we are now."  Which is a nice little jolt to my usual way of thinking about things, but not exactly the way I want to approach the issue-- it seems a little too negative.  More helpful to me was a psychologist who recommended that rather than waste energy trying to make things equitable, to concentrate on what you want moving forward into the future.  That sort of matches up with Louise Hay's affirmation for this topic, which is "I choose to create a life that is joyful and abundant."

and that's enough about that.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Inflamed, Part 2

When last we saw our plucky heroine....

So I'm there with Lynne, and she says I need to let go of the feeling that life isn't fair.  Which immediately set my blood to boiling, because I KNOW THAT.   If I had a dollar for every time I've had this exchange:

kid:  That's not fair!
me:  Life's not fair.  Get over it.

I'd be several hundred dollars richer.  This one is a no-brainer.  I know that life isn't fair.  but I was so mad, so instantly angry:  It is SO NOT FAIR that I have to let go of the feeling that life isn't fair.  Which, if I hadn't been so mad at myself, would have cracked me up.  I was also irrationally mad at her, because who was she to remind me of something I already knew? Of course I know that life isn't fair. But obviously from my reaction, she was on to something, so I gritted my teeth and was pleasant for the rest of the appointment, waiting till I could get in my car and drive and think.

And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that she (or Louise, or whoever) has a point.  I've been simmering about a couple of things that aren't fair for awhile now.  Mostly they are too tedious to bore you with, but one you already know about, so I'll use that as my example. I'd been planning that trip to Europe for a long time.  I love to travel, and we don't get to do it nearly as often as I would like. 

But then my dad passed away, and we came home after eight days. (We had planned to be there three weeks.)  It was my choice.  My dad would have wanted us to stay-- no one loved to travel more than he did, he would have understood.  My sisters assured us it would be fine if we didn't come back.  Dh, MadMax, Nell and I were sitting in the room of the hostel where we were staying in Munich, and all three of them said, "It's your decision.  Whatever you decide."  And I decided that we should cut the trip short and come back for the funeral.

No one made me do it, and even now I don't regret it.  Not only was it the right thing to do, but it was wonderful.  I had irreplaceable times with my mom, my sisters and their families, my dad's wife, relatives I hadn't seen in a year or more and family friends I hadn't seen in twenty or even thirty years.  It was great.  But I couldn't shake the regret, the disappointment, that my long-awaited trip had been cut by nearly two weeks.  And, to be entirely honest, my disappointment over missing the trip was growing with time instead of dissipating.

So it occurred to me as I was driving along, that there is a difference between knowing that life isn't fair, and accepting that in some individual set of circumstances.  It truly wasn't "fair" that our long-awaited trip got cut short.  But since I know that life isn't fair, and that there's no reason to get upset about it, I hadn't let myself feel that.  I'd been sitting on those feelings, because I know you're not "supposed" to have them.  It made me impatient with myself that I was thinking that at all.  Grownups don't get upset when life isn't fair.  I was both feeling "it's not fair" and not letting myself feel it at the same time.

I don't think I'm explaining this very well.

It's a complicated set of feelings, and I'm not sure exactly what to do with them.  What I did today was just let myself rant and rave for a few minutes, and try to get it out of my system.  I'm still not sorry we came home; I'm glad we did it.  And I'm disappointed and angry that we had to cut our long-awaited trip short. I need to let myself feel both of those. and then let it go.

I already feel calmer and more at peace about it.  Now I guess we'll see if my arm gets better. :-)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Inflamed, part 1

I went to see my alternative health care practitioner today.  I mentioned her before in one of the migraine posts.  She is wonderful.  She's a chiropractor, but she doesn't ever crack anything-- she says she helps your body adjust itself.  I don't entirely understand what that means, but it works for me, so I'm not going to complain.  It's a bit like getting a massage, but without the decadent feeling.

I've been seeing her for four or five years now.  Usually I go every other week; sometimes once a month.  It just depends.  We started out working on my migraines.  When those got so much better, I quit going for awhile, only to discover that she was part of the reason they're so much better.  Most of the time I see it as a "tune-up," part of taking care of myself.

But sometimes new things come up, and she has helped me heal from several physical things unrelated to migraines (like last winter when I sprained my ankle in a graceful move on our stairs) and the occasional emotional trauma as well.  As anyone who has experienced alternative health care can tell you, emotional trauma and physical ailments are often connected. 

You know, since I've never written about this, I'm feeling the need for an aside here.  Unlike many who use alternative health care, I don't have any problem with conventional medical treatments (and vice versa).  In fact, when my migraines were at their very worst about ten years ago and I had tried all kinds of alternative remedies, good old drugs, just plain old pharmaceuticals from major drug corporations, were what finally started digging me out of the misery I was in.  "Better living through chemicals," was my motto at the time.  I believe very firmly in being in charge of your own health, which means I pick and choose the treatments that I want to pursue, whether they're conventional or alternative.  It's my responsibility to be in charge of that.

OK.  now that we've got that out of the way, let's move on, because I haven't even come close to the topic I sat down to type about.

So anyway.  I've been having a lot of trouble with carpal tunnel syndrome for about six months now.  Occasionally it's so bad that it wakes me up at night.  Numbness, tingling, pain, loss of strength.  But it's inconsistent--it will bother me for four or five days, and then go away for a couple of weeks.  So thus far I've been letting Lynne, the chiropractor, deal with it.

This morning when I got up, it was far and away the worst it's ever been--I could barely hold a pen to write out my to-do list.  I was supposed to see Lynne today, anyway, so I asked her if she thought I should have the surgery done.  "Well, that will take care of the pressure on the nerve, for sure," she answered, in her usual calm, gentle voice.  "But it doesn't take care of whatever is causing the pressure in the first place."

Can I just pause here and say I really hate it when she can't just fix me?  Preferably without me having to put any effort into it. *sigh*

What apparently causes CTS is inflammation (usually).  Inflammation can be caused by hormonal changes, dietary factors, weight gain, high cholesterol, arm-intensive activity like painting or carrying heavy weights, and any number of other things.  I could go off on the immediate guilt trip I (of course) went off on (in my head) because of the 15 lbs I've gained in the past year, but even that's not what I want to write about.

So she pulled out Louise Hay.  Just about anyone who has tried alternative health care has run into Louise Hay's books.  You look up your symptoms, and she tells you what the emotion behind it is.  Trouble with your feet?  You're having a problem with moving forward in your life.  Et cetera.  If you've never tried alternative treatments, it may sound nuts, but I've often found her to be pretty spot on.  Sometimes in ways that you don't really want to think about.

So I heave my mental sigh and get ready for whatever it is that I need to deal with, already pretty certain that it's going to be something that I don't want to know.  Lynne flips through the book.  "Let's see... carpal tunnel syndrome.... 'Frustration with feeling that life is not fair.'"

Which IMMEDIATELY caused me to start steaming.  There is a long history here. 

Is there a limit on how long a post can be?  This one is getting too long.  Will continue in part 2.  The good thing about doing it this way is that now I'll have to finish this, because I'm already regretting starting.  

Sunday, August 14, 2011

we interrupt our reglarly scheduled programming...

I sat down at the computer to write "back to school part 2" and got distracted by the newsfeed on my google homepage.  It may say bad things about me, but I clicked on the youtube video of the stage collapsing at the state fair in Indiana.  It was frightening and scary, and my heart goes out to the injured and the families of those who were killed. 

but what distracted me from my original purpose was all the hate in the comments.  I only read about the first dozen, and I was shocked.  I don't spend much time on youtube, so I have no idea whether or not this is the way things usually are, but in a place where there should have been nothing but support, sympathy, shock, and horror, there was (can you guess?) political extremism.  Both sides, weighing in, blaming the other or claiming in some weird, strange, utterly inexplicable way that the victims deserved it.

I just can't even begin to comprehend this.  Have we sunk so low?  Can we not even express sympathy for a tragedy, no matter what its size, without choosing up sides, aligning ourselves with red or blue states, picking our political agenda and flaunting it? And how exactly is that even remotely relevant to the death of five people and injuries to more than 40 others? 

And can I just reiterate that the hate was coming from both sides? 

I can't tell you how much this depresses me. 

Friday, August 12, 2011

the back to school post

Two weeks from Tuesday, I'll be back in class.  Twice last week someone wandered here from a google search for the words "back to school," and they were probably looking for advice on school supplies or sources for kids' uniforms or good ideas for sack lunches (which would be a great topic, let me know if you have good ideas-- I am the world's most boring maker of sack lunches).

But this is just me, now ancient of days and back in school again.  I'm working on a master's in English.  I started last year, and if you decide to go back to school 25 years after your last experience, I'll just warn you:  it's terrifying.  The first few days, you feel like you've accidentally beamed down to the wrong planet as you wander around with all your years of life experience tucked under your belt but with no more clue of where you're going or what you should be doing than the rankest 18-year-old freshman.

But you get over that.  That's not to say you never feel out of place again, but you get used to being the Old One, and you figure out where your classes are and where to eat lunch (and how to pay for lunch, which can be more complicated than you'd expect), and where you can get a locker so you don't have to lug your books around all day.

So if by chance you did find this blog because you googled "back to school" and you really are going back to school as.... um..... a mature adult, shall we say, just hang in there for the first ten days or so while you are thinking, Why the hell did I think this was a good idea?  Because chances are, once you get past that first week and a half, you'll be fine.

anyway.  that wasn't what I sat down to type about.  If you've been around for awhile you might remember that last fall, the first semester of my master's program, I posted and posted and posted about my struggles to wrap my brain around literary theory, and academic feminism in particular (if you missed them, the labels "gradschool" and "feminism" over there in the left column will provide more than you ever wanted to know).

But last spring, to my surprise, the gradschool posts mostly petered out.  There are a couple of reasons for that, and the main one is that I realized how dumb I was being to wade into a huge, ongoing academic discussion without knowing what I was talking about.  Not that I didn't have legitimate opinions-- I still am not a devoted follower of the theory way of thinking-- but I didn't really understand the implications of what I was arguing.  As I learned, it became a case of "The more you know, the more you know how much you don't know."  It seemed wisest to keep my mouth shut for awhile.

But I did learn a lot last semester, and I thought as soon as the semester was over and I was done writing all those papers, I would start hammering out posts to finish thinking through what I'd been working on.  Instead I discovered that once the semester was over, the last thing I wanted to do was keep thinking about school.  I've been more than happy to take the summer off.  I've read some school-related stuff (background on Ulysses, and some Montana lit in search of a thesis topic), but not nearly as much as I had planned.  I think it has been good for me to have a break.

this was going to be the first of a couple of posts about things I learned last semester, but now it's become plenty long without me even getting there.  I do go on and on.  More soon.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

p.s.  I know you're probably getting tired of reading about my ongoing processing of my dad's death, so I'll keep this short.  Yesterday, a dear friend's father passed away.  Today, I went to a funeral for the mom of a friend of mine.  In both cases, they are heartbroken that their beloved parent is gone.  I've grieved far more than I thought I would, but I'm not heartbroken.  This is an entirely different thing.  My heart goes out to both of them.  So I just wanted to say to my friend LAT whose dad died yesterday-- because she sometimes checks in here-- I'm sending you all the strength and love and healing vibes I can muster.  You're in my thoughts and prayers, and I'll keep you there for the next few months. 

the big five-oh

A couple of weeks ago I turned 50.  It's the first birthday I've ever had that really bothered me.  I've had a 35-year-old personality since I was 8, so 30 didn't bother me a bit.  I just felt like I was finally reaching legitimate adulthood.  Somewhere around 37 or so, it suddenly occurred to me that I was quickly approaching 40, and that bugged me briefly, but by the time I actually turned 40, it wasn't a problem.

But 50 was hard for me.  It started a couple of years ago with a sudden panic that my life was practically over and I hadn't done many of the things I wanted to do.  (I know, those of you who are over 50 are cackling in the background, and I deserve it.)  I went through about a year of inner turmoil, trying to figure out which of my old dreams were still important to me, and which I could ditch.

One of the old dreams was to write a novel.  I had always wanted to, and always assumed that I would be good at it if I did.  But I'd never really tried.  I did NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) a couple of times, and that went OK, but not exactly great.  And then in the spring of 2009, I signed up for a creative writing class at our local community college.  A real, semester-long creative writing class.  And although it wasn't exactly a disaster, I discovered that I hate writing fiction.  I don't like it at all.  So that was an easy one to cross off my list.

But a few of the other ones have been harder to let go of.  I just typed out a couple, but it started turning into a pity party, so I deleted them.  I'm re-evaluating them.  I'll leave it at that, because that's not what this post was going to be about.

What was it going to be about? 

Oh, yeah.  So anyway, I went through a couple of years of really struggling with my advancing age.  But I seemed to have worked my way through it by the time my birthday rolled around.  I'm fifty.  I've earned it.  But last night we were watching some TV show where someone was turning 60, and I realized dear god in ten years I'm going to be SIXTY.  And it's not that there's anything wrong with being 60-- I know plenty, plenty of people in their sixties who are interesting and active and vital and doing as much or more than they ever have before.  Seventies, too.  It's just the mental adjustment to thinking of myself as being that age.  There's that whole thing of having been a 35-year-old since I was 8-- I still feel about 35. 

So how about you?  what age do you feel?  And how big a discrepancy is there between that and your current age?

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Practicing works wonders, and hiking is pretty good, too

Well, it's time for a new post, but I can't think of a thing to say.  We did a "big" hike on saturday-- big is in quotes because it was big for me (6 miles with 1,800' elevation gain) but not for my family members, who churned through it with no problem.  It made me realize that 30 minutes on the treadmill at 5% incline 3-4 times a week is not enough to really keep you in shape, dang it.  I did well on recovery time-- every time we stopped for five minutes, I would be fine-- but I had to go so slow on the uphill parts, I was holding everyone back.  I finally just told them to leave one of the bear sprays with me and go ahead.

Which was great, because then I could dawdle and take pictures.  I thought about coming up with an internet name for our dog-- Dingbat came to mind-- but then it occurred to me that she is a dog and doesn't need internet privacy.  So the dog, who is a dingbat, is named Jazz.  The mountain goats didn't seem to mind human beings-- since they were still right there next to the trail and there were at least a couple dozen other people on the trail on Saturday-- but they did not like Jazz.  It was kind of interesting to watch, actually.  At one point dh got worried that we were going to be charged by a male who was starting to huff and stamp his hoof.  We decided it was best to just head back down and get out of his territory.

Anyway.  It was well worth it.

View to the West--The big lake in the background of this first shot is the one I drive along every time I go to UTown.   Maybe I will do a photo log of the drive sometime, because it only gets better after the lake.

This is the Climb Every Mountain shot.   Ford every stream.  Follow every... oh wait, sorry.

View to the East.  I can't remember if the ridge we were standing on is the Continental Divide, or if you're looking at it in this picture, but it's close by, anyway.

Nell and one of our goat-y friends.
And after all that about the dog, I ended up not finding a good one of her to upload.  She was a trooper-- probably put in twice as many miles as I did and didn't look nearly as tired at the end.  Although she did sleep the entire next day, while I had to get up and be at church by 9 because I was playing.

I've told you before I play the flute.  I don't play all that often anymore, which is a shame, because I love it.  But once or twice a year someone will ask me to play for something, so I pull my flute out and start to practice.  Of course if I haven't touched it in six months, it sounds awful.  Breathy, out of tune, and I have no stamina-- all my flute-playing muscles are out of shape.  And every single time, I think, shoot-- I'm too old, I can't do this anymore, I let it go too long this time.  But every single time-- and it still surprises me, every single time-- if I start practicing, and play every day for a week or ten days no matter how bad it sounds, I start to get better again.  Every. Single. Time.

So you may have discovered that I churn out these little moral lessons on a pretty regular basis.  They come into my head far faster than I can type them out, and far more often than you'd want to hear them-- sort of like Lucy and Ethel with those chocolate candies coming by on the conveyor belt.  I blame it on a childhood spent in Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, camp, and Children's Church.  I hope you know I'm halfway making fun of myself when I do it, because I just can't seem to stop-- I'm the conveyor belt, not Lucy.  You, my gentle readers, would be poor Lucy and Ethel.  Anyway.  Do what you will the practicing the flute story.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Why I read romance novels

This has been a topic on several blogs recently, so I thought I would chime in with my two cents.  As most of you know, I read romance novels.  Usually 2-3 out of the 8-10 books I read monthly, more if we're on vacation.  That's mixed in with literary fiction, mysteries, suspense, non-fiction, and classics, but they're in there.  I'll even say they're often the ones I enjoy the most. 

What has irritated me about the recent discussion, what makes me just roll my eyes, are the very serious, very caring men who weigh in with a great deal of gravitas that it is unhealthy for women to read romance novels since it gives them unrealistic expectations of men and harms their ability to deal with real relationships.  Really?  Really? 


shake head.

OK, seriously.  So men are going to stop looking at the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue because it gives them unrealistic expectations of what women should be like?  We're going to stop using well-endowed, scantily clad women to sell cars, cigarettes, booze, tractors, tools, lumber, boats, and hunting gear? Because if that's your objection, that we shouldn't objectify or idealize the opposite sex because it makes it difficult to deal with a real person in a real relationship, then hell, yeah, let's get after it.  Let's change that.  You guys go first.

OK.  I just had to get that out of my system because I've heard it just one or two times too often in the last couple of months.

Here are the reasons why I read romance novels.  Although first of all, I would like to say that there is a difference between an intelligently written romance novel and a run-of-the-mill one, and I'm not saying that all romance novels are worth reading--any more than I would say that all mysteries or even all "literary" fiction is worth reading.  But many of them are well worth the time.

1.  They're fun.  They remind you what it's like to be in love, and that--contrary to what the male pundits predict--actually reminds you why you fell in love with your partner, and makes you forget about how mad you are that they put all the coolers up on the top shelf in the garage where you can't reach them without a ladder.  Not that anyone would do that around here.  Of course not.

2.  You get great relationship advice.  I'm a much better partner for having read romance novels.  There are some pretty wise women out there writing about what it's like to be in a relationship with a member of the opposite sex-- and the advice goes both ways.  I know a few men who could stand to read a romance novel or two and get a clue, as we used to say in the 80s.

3.  Satisfying ending.  Reading a good romance novel is like listening to discordant music that resolves at the end.  It's fundamentally satisfying, because things work out.  It may be unrealistic, but it's not any more unrealistic than thinking that things never work out, that no one ever has a happy time period in their life.

4.  They're about the feminine side of the world.  The side that gets shunted aside and ignored in our culture as unimportant, trivial, icing on the cake.  It's not what's real, it's not what matters, the anti-romance folks will tell you.  Well, according to who?  I think you could make a case-- let's even say evolutionarily speaking-- that there's nothing that matters more.

Why do romance novels get so much guff?  I honestly can't figure it out.  The sneering condescension goes way beyond anything rational.  Remember Jonathan Franzen and his disdainful comments about "women's fiction" ten years ago?  Or how about Michael Chabon, who valiantly defends genre fiction like mysteries and science fiction in Maps and Legends, but doesn't even mention romance?   I think it has mostly to do with #4, but maybe it's the cheesy covers.  Or the steamy sex, which is de rigueur with some authors.   You could say it's the formulaic plots, but mysteries and suspense novels have formulaic plots, too, and even literary critics will admit to reading a good suspense novel on the plane. 

So which romance novels would I recommend to convince you if you're a skeptic?  I've thought about this quite a bit.  I think for intelligently written, with biting-but-funny things to say about the state of male/female relationships in our world, I'd go with Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie, or maybe Anyone But You or Agnes and the Hitman, also by Crusie.  Joanna Bourne's spy series is really good, and the most recent one, Black Hawk, was maybe the best of the lot. For just a good, funny romantic story, I might hand you Lord Perfect (Loretta Chase), whose hero reminded me so much of my spouse that I gave it to him to read, or Agnes and the Hitman, also by Crusie.  Any other suggestions? 

Four-letter word: odds and ends

So I wrote that post last night, and then on the treadmill this morning, I thought of more things to say.  Things you might want to know, because I'm helpful like that.  Actually, I hope none of you are dieting.  Or not dieting, like me, but still trying to be healthier.  But here are some more thoughts, anyway.

First off, music to exercise by.  The key for me with exercise is having good music.  I'm a bit of a music nut-- every few weeks I spend several hours setting up playlists for myself, for driving to UTown, for dinner music, for running errands, and especially for the treadmill.  ITunes is my friend, I can't tell you how happy it makes me to be able to mess around with playlists.  But anyway.  The current music that is getting me moving:

How Bizarre-OMC
I Want You-Savage Garden
Shut It Down-Pitbull
I Know You Want Me-Pitbull
You Make the Rain Fall-Kevin Rudolf
All For You-Acey Alone
plus several Lady GaGa and Black-Eyed Pea songs

And I still have days when nothing but "Tubthumping" and "I Know I look Good" (Lady Te) will do.  Fair Warning:  I rarely notice the lyrics, so some of those are definitely, um...., adult.  I'm pretty sure I'm glad I don't understand Spanish so I don't know exactly what Pitbull is saying in "I Know You Want Me" (although I do know enough to get Calle Ocho and uno dos tres quatro).  :-)

All of that to say:  if you have any other suggestions, let me know.  

Secondly, a friend of mine is doing the Flat Belly Diet, which she really likes.  We've already discussed my inability to follow a diet plan, so I'm not going to do it, but I do love the recipe for water that she passed on.  Mainly because how can you not love a recipe for water?  I'm a big water drinker anyway, so I get plenty of water on my own, but at meals--especially with spicy food--I want something besides water.  So what you do is get a half gallon pitcher, grate some ginger into it, slice up a cucumber and a lemon, and shred some fresh mint into it.  Fill it with water and let it sit overnight.  Strain or not, as you like.  It's actually really good.  And since I can never leave good enough alone, I sometimes add a sliced orange, and I usually leave out the ginger, although I love ginger, because I don't have it in the house very often.  Or only do a quart of water and then add sparkling water when I'm ready to drink it.  I love carbonation.

I did actually buy the pocket guide for the CarbLovers Diet after reading about it in a magazine.  As already stated ad nauseum, I'm not going to follow it as a diet.  But it has some great recipes in it for healthy food that just look like stuff we would eat anyway.  But hello, do they ever have to feed anyone that's not dieting?  Since I'm feeding dh and MadMax, too, I have to at least double the recipes.  They think half a pound of pasta will feed four people?  seriously?  When it is just the three of us during the school year, we go through a whole pound in one meal, and trust me, I'm not the one eating lots.  Dh is a true athlete, and he's so busy at work that he rarely has time to eat.  He starts eating when he comes in the door and doesn't stop until the kitchen is cleaned up, which means all the leftovers disappear.  And he can still wear the same size pants he wore when we got married.  It's a little disgusting.  and MadMax is at that age where he has two hollow legs.  But I'm slowly becoming a convert to whole wheat pasta, which they recommend.  Partly because it's a lot better than it used to be. 

and finally, in that same magazine, I read about a study that was done comparing exercise on an empty stomach vs. after breakfast.  Turns out that if your goal is weight loss, it's much better to exercise on an empty stomach--it made about a 40% difference.  Which surprised me-- I always thought you should eat something before exercising, so I always did, even though I'm not hungry when I wake up.  It works really well for me,  but it wouldn't work at all for dh and Nell, who wake up starving.  And plus, they aren't exercising for weight loss anyway, they're exercising because they inexplicably love it.  What's wrong with them?

and that's it.  this post is proof positive that I can go on and on about absolutely nothing.  When I sat down, I thought it would be a quick list, about half the length of my usual posts.  I did spend several minutes trying to figure out how to make the paragraphs shorter, because I worry about that since Bloggers are Supposed to Keep their Paragraphs Short.  But I don't know how you'd split these up.  I'll stop now before this one gets too long.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

the Four Letter Word: summer update edition

So awhile back I told you about that-which-shall-not-be-named (the four letter word: diet), so here is an update.  If you're male, tune out now.

To be entirely honest, in terms of numbers, it hasn't gone very well.  But I told you from the start it wasn't going to be about the numbers, and from any other perspective besides the numbers, it's going pretty well.  I'm starting to enjoy the exercise-- and if you're new, lest you think that I am some kind of fitness fanatic, I'll just say that it has taken three years of exercising regularly to get to the point where I can say that.  I am a lifetime couch potato.  This is new.  I've exercised more in past three years than in the previous ten years.

And although I've had plenty of slipups on the healthy eating agenda, I've also had plenty of excuses.  I was not going to skip having ice cream on my 50th birthday, for one thing.  And there have been plenty of other similar occasions in this crazy, crazy summer.  I guess you could say it's a miracle I haven't gained weight with all the family gatherings, pot lucks, vacations, and celebrations we've had.

So I'm calling it good.  It's not a perfect system, and it definitely has required plenty of starting over (if you click on the link, the revelant part is the last third).  But it's do-able for me, and I think if I stick with it long term, it's going to work out fine.  I've made a few modifications (like ditching the food diary, which just made me obsess about food), but the basics are still good:  only eat when hungry; avoid sweets and empty calories; and don't eat after 8:00 (and that last one is where most of the slipups have occurred).  I try to exercise 4-5 days per week, usually doing the treadmill MWF and stretching/abs on T-Th.  And I try to stay active-- carry laundry up and down the stairs, go for walks, park at the back of the parking lot.

But what I really wanted to write about today is something I've been thinking about quite a bit.  I'm not sure how to find the balance between indulging myself and becoming a food nun, if you know what I mean.  I have no desire to become someone that only eats healthy food all the time.  Of course, when you put it like that, it sounds kind of crazy, because who wouldn't want to be healthy all the time?  But what I mean is, I don't want to become an ascetic, someone who can't enjoy food, the sensual experience of a caramel brownie or a plate of enchiladas.  I'm not even opposed to using food for emotional comfort from time to time-- I'll be first in line for the compensatory Peanut Buster Parfait after a day from hell, thank you very much.  After a long day of one difficult thing after another, I'm entirely in favor of comfort food.

But on the other hand, I reached the point sometime in the past year or so where I was reaching for comfort food a dozen times a day every day.  Boredom eating, emotional eating, whatever you want to call it.  And I also find it difficult to stop eating once I've started.  Often because my brain is disconnected from what I'm doing-- I'm not really paying attention to what I'm eating.  So I'm trying to pay attention to eating.  But at some point, I have to literally stop moving my hand toward my mouth; I have to not put that bite in my mouth, even though I want to.  And oddly, thinking that thought--"I need to just not put this food in my mouth"-- helps. 

This is ongoing, obviously. Oh, and wildlife spottings today!  As I was driving home about 9:30 tonight (which is still twilight this far north), a doe and two bucks (whitetails) ran right across the road in front of me-- fortunately not too close, I had plenty of time to stop.  Then about half a mile further, there was a big horned owl sitting in the top of a bush.  He was so heavy that the branch he was on was bending over. 

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Riffday: buried

Dh had a four-day weekend this past weekend so we went out to our favorite lake.  It's far enough out that there is no internet access and cell service is spotty.  Sometimes we can text if we stand at precisely the right point with cell phone held high overhead; sometimes we get "Searching for Service" for hours, sometimes the signal is clear and we can even make phone calls.  The cell gods are in control.

It's usually relaxing and fun, and it was this time, except for one thing.  We've already been gone so much this summer that I keep getting further and further behind, both at home and on the internet.  But we needed to get away, so it was worth doing.  I just feel buried in stuff to do, not the least of which is the half dozen blog posts that have been bouncing around in my head clamoring to get out.  The weather was absolutely perfect-- low 80s, clear blue sky, just enough breeze to keep it from feeling hot.  If it hadn't been for the mosquitoes, it would have been the iconic perfect summer weekend.  Actually, maybe mosquitoes are necessary for iconic summer.

Wildlife spotting report:  at least a dozen tiny bunnies (pygmy?); a mama elk and her adolescent twins; more deer than we could count; a family of ground squirrels; and we just missed seeing a yearling black bear according to friends we ate dinner with.  Although of course any bear is not to be trifled with, black bears are sort of like bumbling, lazy cousins of their more ferocious grizzly cousins.  I wish we had seen it.  Last Wednesday we saw an adolescent moose standing in a stream up at Glacier National Park.  Even for the natives, sighting a moose is cool-- they are pretty reclusive.

I'm punctuating this post with trips upstairs to try and drag madMax's lazy ass out of bed.  He is not a morning person ever, but in the summer, he drags it out to extremes.  He would sleep until after noon if we let him, which of course we don't.

Anyway.  Leaving for the weekend forced me to quit obsessing about one thing, which was that I posted the link to this blog on the Bettyverse last week.  Even though I was very deliberate about it, and even somewhat determined since I had to get the webmaster's help to do it (the standard anchor tag didn't work), I still just about had a heart attack after it was done and worried off and on all weekend about who might find their way here and whether or not they would like me.  Sorry, I know that's a little pathetic, but it's true.

However, it seems to have been yet another tempest in a teapot, since on my stats page this morning there is not a single link from the Bettyverse, so there was nothing to worry about after all.  the stats page is notoriously flaky about traffic sources, though, so if I'm wrong and you're new here, welcome!  

As some of you know, I turned 50 last week. I thought I was going to have some very wise and witty things to say on the occasion, but at the last minute my mom decided to come up for the week, and every possible thing I could think of to write about dissolved into guilty reflections on the steadily mounting pile of unsorted mail, dirty laundry, and stuff from our summer trips that still has not been put away.  So I decided it would be better to hold off on that for a few days.

I did have a lovely day, though.  Dh had to work on the actual day, so he took us all out to dinner the night before at a very nice restaurant, where we sat out on the lakeside deck and ate wonderful food.  I had goat-cheese ravioli with lamb meatballs in marinara, which probably sounds strange, but it was one of the best meals I've ever eaten.  Then the next day, I was nearly inundated by calls, texts, facebook messages, and friends coming by.  That night we took my mom up to get ice cream at Apgar Village and watch the sunset over Lake MacDonald.  It was one of the nicest birthdays I've ever had.

That's all for now.  This is my catching up week, more soon.

Monday, August 01, 2011

an old story

I've never come up with internet names for my beloved sisters because they don't appear all that often in this blog.  But I need names for them for this story, and even though I'm a lot less concerned with privacy than I used to be, it still feels wrong to use their real names.  so I googled "names that mean brave" for my older sister and came up with Val, and "names that mean friendly" for my younger sister and came up with Amy.  I love google. They are, of course, much more complex people than a single character trait, but I needed something to start with.

Fourteen years ago, Val surprised us all by deciding to get married in her late 30s-- much to the relief of my mom, who at that point was still married to my dad, and couldn't imagine that it was possible to be happy while single.  In our dysfunctional youth, Val was the star of the family.  She was a talented athlete (and still is, although now with six kids she doesn't have much time for it), an excellent student, and an amazingly hard worker.  Everyone in town knew Val and watched her athletic career with interest, although since she isn't particularly outgoing, I know that sometimes made her uncomfortable.  Dad was an athlete himself, and since he had no sons, Val was his chance to mold an athlete, to put it mildly.  Their relationship during that period was alternately tense and stormy.  Amy and I tried to stay out of it as much as possible. 

But Val never met the right guy until she moved to a big city and started attending a new church where she met my future brother-in-law. Amy and I had been married for a dozen years at that point, so it was the first wedding in the family in a long time, and it was a big deal.  My dad was doing double duty by walking Val down the aisle, where he would "give her away" while the pastor of  her church officiated, and then moving up to the front to conduct much of the rest of the ceremony.

So about fifteen minutes before the wedding was supposed to start, I found myself alone with my dad in the waiting area for the bridal party.  We were past our estrangement years at that point, and I had already spent hours and hours with a therapist trying to understand him.  I thought I had a handle on it.  I thought he must be feeling pretty emotional about his favorite daughter getting married, about giving her away and all that.  I laid a hand on his arm and said, "How are you doing?  Are you hanging in there OK?"  He looked up from my hand, surprised, his ice-blue eyes cool.  "Oh, yeah, I'm fine," he said, holding his hand out to show that he was rock-steady, no nerves.  I'm not sure he even understood what I was worried about.

Fourteen Years Later....
So the day we were leaving for our trip to Europe, I got a call from Amy that Dad had started to go downhill.  But of course we didn't know if it was temporary, or a final descent.  I talked to both Val and Amy, and they each urged us to go ahead with our plans.  But Val said, "You'd better call him before you leave.  It might be your last chance to talk to him."

I didn't want to.  I hate talking on the phone, for one thing, and for another, what the heck was I going to say?  But both sisters were urging me to call, and I knew it would mean a lot to his wife, so I called.  "Hey, Dad," I said.  "I hear you're not feeling very good."   He talked for a bit about feeling really weak and not being sure he was going to pull out of it this time.  I felt nothing but numb.  I couldn't think of anything to say.  Silence fell, then stretched out for ten or fifteen seconds.  "Are you OK?" he finally asked.  I realized he thought I was silenced by grief, and only just stopped myself from blurting out, "Oh, yeah, I'm fine."  "I hope you're feeling better soon," I said instead.  "I love you." 

I didn't catch the parallel until this morning.  Am I turning out just like him?  Maybe so.  But at the time it felt like, and still feels like, I was just done.  I had no more emotion to spend on him, I had already given it my all.  and yet here I am, still processing.