sunday salon/currently … need a little christmas now

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Our tree went up this afternoon, and you can see it there, above, tucked between the sofa and the old half-broken chair where I write this (and every other blog post) in our mismatched and oddly-configured living quarters.  I’m hoping the presence of the tree raises my spirits a bit and gets me more into a proper Christmas mindset, whatever and wherever that might be.  I’m just not feeling it this season.

It’s everything and not just one thing — there’s the election aftermath, of course, with its accompanying stew of sadness, anxiety, hopelessness, and anger I feel on a daily, constant basis. I know — and I don’t really care — that I’m one of Those People whom others are frustrated with for what appears to be an inability to move on and accept this new reality. Believe me, I wish I could find some peace with this. I wish I could be all optimistic and hopeful but I can’t. I wish I didn’t give a damn.

I’m finding it hard to focus, which makes reading a bit of a challenge. I didn’t finish anything this week. However, November was a pretty decent reading month with six books read.

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I’m at 40 books read for the year, which is my lowest total since 2008 (when I read a measly 28 books!) and the year I started blogging.  I’ll be happy if I reach 45 books. We’ll see.

Not much else to say today.  Hope all is well in your world and that you have a good week.

 

Sunday Salon/Currently … Thankfully Reading, Christmas Music, and #turnonthelight

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We’re back from a quick (less than 48 hours!) trip to Philadelphia, where we spent Thanksgiving with both sides of our family. If you read yesterday’s post recapping that visit, you know this holiday had special meaning this year.

It’s also been an extended break from work for me; I’m off from work through Tuesday, thanks to an abundance of vacation days needing to be used before year’s end with still more time off at the end of the year. Nothing is planned for today except church and grocery shopping. Tomorrow’s fun includes a follow up visit to the vet — our cat had dental surgery two weeks ago and all of her teeth needed to be removed, except for two.  She’s made a remarkable recovery and is doing well so hopefully this will be an uneventful check up.

Thankfully Reading
ThankfullyReading2014Because of the Philly trip, I didn’t have a chance to participate as much in Jenn’s Bookshelves annual Thankfully Reading Weekend event as I would have liked. This is one of my favorite bookish happenings because it’s a no-rules, whatever works for you kind of thing. Since I’m jumping in late (officially signing up with this post as Thankfully Reading concludes) I’m extending my participation into Monday.

Here’s what I read this week:

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As a Springsteen fan, I was pretty sure I would like Born to Run — and oh my, did I ever. At its conclusion, Bruce (I feel I can call him Bruce) writes that he hasn’t revealed everything about himself in this memoir, but you definitely come away from this feeling like you know him and his music in a whole new way. A must-read for Bruce fans and one that will be on my Best of 2016 list (in just a few short weeks!).

Springtime: A Ghost Story is a bit of an odd novella by Michelle de Kretser, an Australian novelist who was born in Sri Lanka. Frances is a 28 year old woman living in Sydney with her partner Charlie. She sees a ghost while walking her dog and … that’s about it. I liked the concept of a ghost story in springtime, but this felt more like an unfinished short story.

Last night I finished House of Silence, a debut historical fiction/mystery/romance novel by Sarah Barthels. This is a review book, so I can’t say much more until after its December 27 publication date.

I’m not sure what I’ll read next. I have several books in progress and another review book on the docket so probably one of those.

One thing I’ve been reading more of is The New York Times. I decided that something I can do in this post-election world is to support quality journalism by subscribing to the NYT. (We also subscribe to our local paper.)  They had a deal last week where a subscription was $10 per month. For that price, I can forego a few breakfast bowls or afternoon coffees at work.

Need a Little Christmas Now … 
Every year, on the day after Thanksgiving, The Husband puts on Christmas music and listens to nothing else until January 2. (The two exceptions are November 29 and December 8 when he plays George Harrison and John Lennon nonstop, respectively, in honor of those two greats.) The Christmas music, though, usually drives me crazy. I can handle it in small doses.  Not this year. I’ve downloaded a bunch of new tunes from Spotify and am cranking up the holly right along with him.

#turnonthelight …
Our friends Jason and Rachel have launched The Holiday Lights Project  #turnonthelight to bring more kindness and joy into the lives of those around us.  They’re doing this in a big but quiet way, as is their style. They’re the folks who, while having breakfast at IHOP, pick up the tab for everyone in THE WHOLE RESTAURANT, not just the table next to them.  They load up gift cards with hundreds of dollars and hand it to a cashier, instructing them to pay for everyone’s coffee until it runs out. And they do this year-round.  (I know, because we’ve been the recipients of Jason and Rachel’s generosity many times.)

Obviously, we all don’t have the financial means to do this.  We certainly don’t. But we can all do what we can, even in a small way. (For example: since we weren’t going to be home for Thanksgiving, I donated some pumpkin pie filling and canned vegetables I’d purchased to the food pantry at church.) Jason’s post gives some inspiration for how we can all fight darkness with a little light, regardless of our status and station in life.

I hope your Sunday and the week ahead is filled with more light and less darkness. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I wanted to take this opportunity to say how grateful I am for all my blog readers. Whether you’re a newcomer to the blog or someone who has been reading for the past eight years, I’m very appreciative for you and your friendship. Thanks for being here! 

Second Helpings

Before this tumultuous year, Thanksgiving and the weeks leading up to Christmas were already emotionally-charged holidays for me and The Husband.  A lifetime ago, we got engaged during Thanksgiving week. After years of infertility, our twins were born on Thanksgiving Day in a scenario straight out of a Hallmark movie:  twins, Thanksgiving Day, the most incredible gift you could ever imagine.

And then, exactly one year ago today on Thanksgiving Day 2015, The Husband collapsed in the middle of dinner. We hadn’t even brought out the pie. I found him barely conscious in the bathroom and performed CPR right there on the floor. Dessert was replaced by a rush of paramedics, police, tears and two hospitals before 10 p.m.

Thankfully, he survived this unexpected (and somewhat still unexplained) event; it goes without saying that this year — not to mention the rest of our lives — would have been extremely different if he hadn’t.  Grateful is an understatement. In the face of some significant losses and challenges, we still have each other. That counts for something (a lot, actually).

Nonetheless, there was a push-pull effect to this particular Thanksgiving.  Stay home or spend the holiday with family in Philly?  Part of me felt like sheltering in place after the past 17 days since the election. The appeal and comfort of home far outweighed the prospect of politically-charged dinnertime conversations awaiting us on the opposite side of the state.

At the same time, I didn’t want to be home with the ghosts of last Thanksgiving sitting at the table.

We decided to do a quick trip to Philly — less than 48 hours in duration, with 12 of those spent driving. Some close relatives have had medical scares in the past month, and this would be an opportunity to spend some time with them. As if we needed any reminding, life doesn’t come with guarantees. Take nothing and no one for granted.

At a rest stop in the middle of Tr*mpland, we instructed the children that there were only two acceptable topics of conversation for this visit (and probably every other visit thereafter):  The Weather and How Is School Going?.

“What if [insert name of relative who likely voted differently than us] asks us about the election?” The Girl asked, a bit worriedly.

“You say, ‘on the advice of counsel, I decline to answer the question,'” The Husband replied, prompting a discussion of the Fifth Amendment, because that’s how we roll.

As it turned out, everyone behaved themselves as best as possible. No politics were discussed. Instead, we celebrated the kids’ birthdays (and a nephew’s) with both sets of grandparents. My sister-in-law made a delicious dinner. The cousins had a chance to hang out and laugh and reconnect with each other, reminiscent of the kind of holidays The Husband and I remember as children with our own cousins. It was the first Thanksgiving our extended family spent together in six years.

And best of all?

Everyone had more than enough pie.

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Book Review: Tomboy Survival Guide, by Ivan Coyote

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For several weeks, I’ve been hinting about a new freelance book review gig. I’m thrilled to announce that I am a new contributor to the popular book site Shelf Awareness.  My first review for Shelf Awareness was Ivan Coyote‘s memoir Tomboy Survival Guide about growing up transgender in the Yukon during the 1980s and their process of discovering and accepting their gender identity.

As coincidence would have it, this review was published last week — on Election Day, no less — and I share it with you now, during Transgender Awareness Week. In these uncertain and frightening times, Ivan’s voice becomes even more important.

Read more about Ivan’s story and my full review of Tomboy Survival Guide in the Biography and Memoir section of Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, November 8, 2016.

Sunday Salon/Currently …What I’ll Be Reading in These Uncertain Times

 

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“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.”
James Baldwin

A week ago, when I titled my Sunday Salon post  “Welcome to the Last Week of America as We Know It”,  a line borrowed from Saturday Night Live, I was not expecting … well, this.

I speak, of course, of the election’s aftermath and what appears to be an unprecedented, dark, grave new world.

Lest you think I’m being overly dramatic, sarcastic or cavalier, let me assure you otherwise. I am deeply, deeply concerned about the path we are on as a country and the days ahead. In yesterday’s post (“Seeing Red”) I shared my initial thoughts on the horrific state of our union.

While my anger hasn’t abated — indeed, it’s likely to stay heightened in light of news of loathsome individuals en masse who are being appointed to the highest positions of power in the land and plans already in the works to deport 30 million people — it is being fueled by a desire to do whatever I can to be a strong voice and effect change.

I’ve been reflecting on how this unprecedented moment offers an opportunity for avid readers, especially book bloggers, to make a renewed, focused commitment to elevate and celebrate literature that is more diverse, that raises awareness, that focuses on the issues and the people who will need us as champions and advocates in these uncertain times.

I’d like to think I already do this — or, at least I try to. My literary diet already consists of ample helpings of literature with LGBTQ themes and issues impacting women, girls, and people with disabilities. That’s certainly not going to change. But I recognize that I need to step up my game in this area considerably by reading and blogging about books outside my comfort zone. 

These times require nothing less. 

I want to read more books by and about people of color and other ethnicities in order to deepen my understanding of history and race, of the lives and experiences of people whose background and circumstances don’t necessarily mirror mine.

I want to read more books about feminism and to get on a first name basis with the suffragettes and the pioneers of the women’s movement. I want to read more books about the process of creating “the old mechanisms of compensatory care and activism” from the past because I think the grassroots, underground movements that provided health care and services to people in crisis are going to be the models for the path forward.  (h/t to my friend Sarah Einstein, author of MOT and Remnants of Passion for letting me borrow some of her words)

I want to read more books from our library’s extensive World Fiction collection and seek out voices from other cultures besides this one.

I want to read more books to strengthen my knowledge of the issues that allowed someone like the President-elect to tap into the anger and frustration of so many people.

And above all, I want to read more books about ways that I can continue to cultivate a healthy and calm spirit with a strong mind and body, because these times are going to require all that we have to give to ourselves, those we love, and the changed world in which we now live.

Seeing Red

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There we were, in the middle of a Pittsburgh street, when Hillary Clinton approached.

She looked stunning, confident, resplendent in her red pantsuit.  We cheered wildly, equally confident that we were meeting our next President of the United States.

We were so close.

It was the second to last rally of a unending, unprecedented campaign. Monday afternoon, November 7.  A bright and brisk day, a deep blue sky — not unlike that on 9/11, as horribly ironic as that seems now. She had just spoken and as we were leaving, a small crowd gathered in the blockaded intersection hoping just to wave as her motorcade departed.

And then suddenly, there she was. Crossing the street toward us as we erupted into a cacophony of shouts, cell phones capturing what felt like a historical moment. After all, how often do you have an opportunity to meet the next President of the United States on the eve of her election?

Less than 36 hours after I took this picture and after I proudly let my almost 15-year-old daughter push the VOTE button for the most qualified person to ever run for President, my girl and I were sobbing uncontrollably as we watched the election returns. As state after state turned red, we held each other as the realization set in that our country and our lives were now changed forever.


Like many of us in the aftermath of this election, I am a maelstrom of emotions. For three days, I’ve been a cauldron of feelings: anger, sadness, fear and despair, just for starters. Quite simply, I am devastated and shaken to my core, unable to rationalize the juxtaposition of events this week — the exhilaration of seeing Hillary Clinton in person and the pride of voting for the first female President of the United States …. to the empty jack o’lanterned feeling like my insides had been hollowed out and turned to orange pulp.

I will be honest with you, as I’ve always tried to do here on this blog and elsewhere. I have been struggling mightily since the wee hours of Wednesday morning when it became abundantly clear that this country is now bathed in a sea of red.

And yes, I’ve read enough in these past several days, thank you, to recognize that we have been living in a red country for quite some time and this is a wake-up call for some.  I get that, and I’ve seen and I understand enough about the culture wars that have been raging to know that the pot has been dangerously close to boiling over for some time.

And now, that pot has been doused with kerosene and is exploding with students being threatened in vandalized schools, women harassed by men yelling about grabbing their pussies, and a President-elect tweeting about how unfair all this is, rather than leading the nation in being a voice of reason.


Somehow, in all of this, we still need to get through our daily lives. On Wednesday morning, after less than two hours of something barely resembling sleep, I somehow got my ass out of bed and went to work.  I had to; I’m the sole breadwinner in a family of four that is on a fucking financial precipice. My husband has been out of work for 16 months. He’s a cancer survivor and is someone who spent Thanksgiving Day last year being resuscitated by me on our bathroom floor after he collapsed from a seizure, which he now has long term effects from.  Our medical bills are ridiculous and our income is 1/3 of what it was this time last year. (Not less than one third; it is one-third.)

So, yes, I absolutely, completely understand the feeling of being left behind in a world with a changing economy that shits on your 25 years of professional experience in your field where you can’t get an entry level job. I know about skyrocketing health insurance premiums and paychecks that don’t cover your basic needs and savings that have been depleted because you lost everything in the housing crisis and the Great Recession and how you can’t send your kids to college and what it is like to be angry about this.

But here’s the thing. I don’t simply understand this mentality because I’ve read about it from some think-piece in the New Yorker.  I understand this because I am living this, too.

It’s just that my story probably looks a little different from someone else’s story because I am a white female living in a middle-class suburban neighborhood.

Maybe that’s one of the takeaways here, that we’re not really all that different after all. If so, then that’s one of the things I am struggling hard to understand.

Because I simply can’t fathom how people in these circumstances could willingly vote for someone with a non-existent track record of delivering on anything that would improve our lives AND who happens to be the kind of racist, sexist, xenophobic, narcissist that the President-elect is.  And no — I do not buy for one minute that the outrageous things and the abhorrent behavior and conduct in the campaign waged by the winner was simple campaign rhetoric. I do not.  Maya Angelou was right: when someone shows you who they are, believe them. The first time and every single goddamn time after that. The reality is that our President-Elect has been showing us who he is for much longer than this campaign.


I know not everyone reading this will understand and I don’t expect everyone to. Nor do I really care. This post is just where I am right now as I try to capture and relegate my emotions and regain some sort of equilibrium in what is a very difficult, fragile, scary time. Wednesday morning felt eerily similar to 9/11, when my coworkers and I huddled together in tears, sharing news and trying to find solace in music and poetry. Just as 9/11 was a difficult day, so was its numerical fraternal twin of 11/9.

I’ll remember the tearful embraces and shaky words with my coworker and the cook in the cafeteria who makes my breakfast bowl each morning — both people of color, both people who I have developed a friendship with over time. I’ll remember needing to go back to church, just as I did on 9/11. Then, as now, I went to a service at my Unitarian Universalist church.  The Girl came with me and we listened to Carrie Newcomer’s “Sanctuary”  and the words of Terry Tempest Williams and the poetry of Ellen Bass. We shared our feelings with others and held hands and cried together.

At times, I feel a little stronger, even empowered. I’m trying to find ways to use my anger as a force for good and how I can fill this deep chasm in my heart.  I’ll be using my voice and this blog to speak louder, to call foul, to raise awareness of injustices and the issues and the people who — make no doubt about it — will truly be forgotten in this new political administration that isn’t going to do jack shit to improve anyone’s life. We have a con man as the leader of our country now and I fear that dark days are on the horizon and I am preparing for them.

In spite of that,  I’m cultivating a new circle of friends while holding closer those who share my belief that it isn’t just our own life that matters, it’s that all people have value and worth and dignity — those with disabilities, those who are members of the LGBTQ community, those who are newcomers to this country, those who are minorities, those who haven’t even been born. Those are the people I will be championing and those are the people and the causes who will get my time and my talents.

I will remember until the day I die Hillary Clinton’s bright red pantsuit as she crossed the street to greet us.  I will remember the gorgeous day we shared and the gray, rainy gloomy day in every sense of the word on 11/9/2016. I will remember the red hot anger I feel in the aftermath of this election. And in this red country, one that will see more red blood spilled on our streets in violence, I will remember the people that need championing with every beat of my heart and with a red-hot passion fueled by love.

Sunday Salon/Currently …Welcome to The Last Week of America as We Know It

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To paraphrase Benedict Cumberbatch’s intro to last night’s episode of Saturday Night Live, welcome to the last week of America as we know it. Regardless of how this election turns out, we’ll be waking up to a different country on Wednesday morning. It will either be a country that will have made history by voting for its first woman President and someone who has spent her entire life fighting for women, girls and families while representing the nation on a global stage … or it will be a country careening down a dangerous path led by an unstable, racist, xenophobic, sexist, egotistical, uninformed hot-headed monster with complete disregard for anyone’s interests except his own.

It’s pretty clear where I stand on this election — solidly, enthusiastically, emphatically 100% and then some With Her, if you had any doubt.  I cannot wait to vote for Hillary Clinton. Yet there’s a part of me that wants to crawl into bed right now and not emerge until all the votes are counted and we (hopefully) know who won this thing. I’m not banking on that being Wednesday, so if that means I need to become Rip Van Winkle, that’s fine with me.

As appealing as that is, however, the anger and vitriol fueling this country’s deep divisiveness won’t vanish overnight. It’s not like we’re going to learn the results, immediately turn to our neighbor and start singing Kumbaya.  (At least, I’m certainly not.) Who knows what kind of America we’ll be living in this time next week? It’s scary and stressful and anxiety-producing.

Still, I feel that I should be chronicling this pivotal moment in history somehow, maybe writing more about what this feels like. I’m not sure why or for whom, exactly; I guess I have this notion of potential grandchildren asking me about this unprecedented time and me not remembering the intensity, as hard as that seems to believe.

Both of my kids are very, very engaged with this election, so maybe I feel compelled to capture this moreso for them — so they can remember how it felt and what this time was like.  I am taking The Girl with me to vote on Tuesday evening and into the voting booth itself.  We’ve taken the kids to vote often, especially when they were younger, but I want my girl to be able to tell her potential grandchildren that their great-grandmother cast a vote for Hillary Clinton way back in that crazy historic year of 2016, and that she was part of it.

I want them to remember this.

The election has been the main topic of our dinner time conversations and The Boy, in particular, is very inquisitive.  (For the record, The Boy has been invited to accompany us to vote, too; he’s declined.)  While I don’t want to quash his interest and enthusiasm, he’s like me in that when he likes something, he is ALL IN and somewhat obsessive in his consumption, taking things to extremes at times. There have been several occasions when we’ve had to tell him to dial it down or take a time out from the election talk.

I do think about the impact this election is having on Generation Z (my kids’ generation, those who were born in the mid-late 1990s or early 2000s) but who are taking note of the discourse of this race. I wonder (and worry) about their long-time views on voting, democracy and public decorum.  I think the reality-showification of this election, our politics as entertainment, would be an interesting study or book as it relates to this generation. (I’m available and willing, agents and publishers who may be reading ….)

That’s been part of the reason why, as I mentioned last week, I’ve been trying to be more intentional about limiting my media consumption of election-related news. (I know how hypocritical that sounds; I say this and then I write a whole blog post about the election, effectively contributing to the noise.) That means no political podcasts, no opinion or think-pieces, very little political engagement on social media. Everything that’s said has been said; everything has already been analyzed from every possible perspective. There’s nothing more I can learn, no new insight to be gained, nothing I can offer that you haven’t heard me say already.

Instead, I’ve been listening to music on my commutes to work, running, and reading, so since this is technically a Sunday Salon post, here’s a brief recap of all that:

Reading …

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This week I finished three books in TWO DAYS, which is unheard of for me.  My current pace is more like three books in a month, if that. With a total of 37 books read this year, my revised 2016 goal of 50 books feels more doable.

Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift will be among my favorites of 2016.  This novella is simply spectacular. Set in England, the story takes place in 1924 and centers on Jane Fairchild, a maid to the wealthy Niven family. They are friends with the Sheringhams, whose son Paul is engaged to marry Emma Hobday.  That small detail doesn’t stop Paul or Jane from having an affair. The entire story unfolds over a few hours, making this the perfect book to read over the same amount of time. In fact, I’d say that this should be required to be read in one sitting, as I did yesterday afternoon while The Girl was at the library’s Anime Club program. It’s resplendent and luxurious, sexy and suspenseful, with hints of Virginia Woolf and reminders of Mrs. Dalloway.  I loved every word and every minute I spent immersed in this. What a decadent way to spend a Saturday.

The Rain in Portugal: Poems by Billy Collins is the former Poet Laureate of the United States’ twelfth collection. It’s a perfectly fine, enjoyable grouping of poems.  Those of us who are familiar with Collins’ work will find his usual fare here as he’s not a poet who surprises in terms of style or subject matter. He’s comfortable, pleasant, an easy read.

Shut Up and Run, by Robin Arzón offers runners of every ability motivation, training plans, practical tips and advice combined with Robin’s personal philosophy of fitness and story of how she left law to become an ultramarathoner (that’s someone who participates in events exceeding the marathon distance of 26.2 miles). Robin Arzón is fierce, strong, a real badass and I really liked her perspective.

Running … 

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Since Labor Day, I’ve ran or walked a total of 26.2 miles — my own personal marathon! — by following Couch to 5K. I’ve also lost 10 lbs. But with the days getting shorter and colder weather making its presence known (not to mention easy access to an abundance of Halloween candy in the house), I felt like I needed additional motivation and accountability to maintain my running progress.  I was excited to see that Run Eat Repeat, a running blog I’ve been reading, is hosting Pile on the Miles, a fitness challenge during November which sounds like a good way to stay on track.  I set myself a goal of 15 miles this month, which may be too ambitious for me.

It’s going to be quite a week.  Go vote, my American friends. (And if you’re in Pennsylvania and need a ride to the polls? Lyft and Uber are giving you a free ride.)

See you on the other side.