Category Archives: Audiobooks

Sunday Salon/Currently: Climbing My Family Tree

Maybe it was President Shithole’s hateful, racist remarks this week about people from other countries. Maybe it was a desire to spend less time on Facebook and more time with other interests.  Maybe I was seeking a distraction from a new development in a situation that’s been weighing heavily on my mind for awhile. Whatever the reason (probably some combination of all the above, plus a snowed-in day), I spent the majority of Saturday hunkered down in a genealogical rabbit hole.

Pittsburgh’s library system has a robust collection of free genealogy databases and subscriptions (including to Ancestry.com!), all accessible with one’s library card. I’ve known this for years but never explored any of these resources — all free, mind you, and the ones that are only accessible in the library happen to be located a mere two floors above my office. We had a major ice and snow storm Friday night into Saturday morning, making the beginning of this three-day weekend a lazy one of cancelled appointments and events. (I really feel bad for The Girl; she was really looking forward to a church youth group sleepover last night. I just wasn’t comfortable driving in this weather. She understood that and made the best of it by staying up late anyway and watching a Bowie documentary on HBO.)

I went on a genealogy binge a few months before the kids were born but never really did too much with it. Wait, that’s not true; I was able to reconnect The Husband’s grandmother with some of her long-lost cousins. That was nice. But wrangling newborn twins didn’t leave much free time for pursuits like climbing the family tree (most days I was just trying not to climb the walls!).

So yesterday I spent some time with my paternal great-grandparents Anton Middleman and Frederika Krause Middleman (also known as Freda and/or Frieda). All I really know about them was that they owned a cigar and candy store on Tioga Street in Philadelphia and that they were immigrants from Germany. It looks like they came to America together in 1889 and got married in 1892. They had six kids, the youngest being my grandfather, Edward.

I also looked into my maternal great-grandparents. According to the 1940 Census, my great-grandmother Mary Schiffler is listed as being the head of her household, which included seven children ranging from age 8 to age 21. This I knew. The Boy reminded me that today would have been my maternal grandfather’s 100th birthday. I miss them.

Currently …
Woke up with a wicked tension headache today which ends my headache-free streak for 2018. It has been two weeks since my last headache. I think that’s close to a record. Right now I have all my go-to remedies underway: hot shower; ginger and turmeric tea with honey; essential oils; Excedrin Tension.

Reading/Listening … 
I finished listening to It Was Me All Along by Andie Mitchell this week. At 20 years old, Mitchell weighed nearly 300 pounds and knew she had to begin addressing her life-long struggles with food, its connection to her relationship with her parents and her sense of self. It Was Me All Along is the story of that journey. I thought this memoir was heartfelt and honest, especially in recounting the emotional, difficult aspects of her childhood. Mitchell does an excellent job of narrating the audio version.

Celebrating …
Our Eagles won! The Steelers on the other hand … well, that’s a disappointment. (My football loyalties are complicated. I’m first and foremost an Eagles fan, but I can’t help but root for the Steelers too.)

Sweating … 
I finally went back to yoga for the first time in 2018 (and the first time since October). Thursday was a stressful day and I just needed some way to release some tension and work some shit out. This was my 3rd yoga class ever — and a hot yoga class at that.  (Hot yoga is IN.FREAKIN.TENSE.) It was hard. Really hard. I spent nearly half the class just laying on my mat. What I really love about this studio is its emphasis on being a non-judgmental, accepting place, especially for newbies like me.

Hope you have a great week!

 

 

 

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Sunday Salon/Currently … Stable Genius with a Big Button

 

“Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids
In fact it’s cold as hell
And there’s no one there to raise them if you didn’t
And all this science, I don’t understand
It’s just my job, five days a week
A rocket man, a rocket man …” 
~ “Rocket Man” performed by Elton John, written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin

A mere seven days into a brand new year and — in what will undoubtedly be a common refrain for many of the 358 to come (should we be so lucky to see them) — this has been quite the week. We’ve had the Stable Genius boasting about the size and potency of his, um, nuclear button. There was a bombshell of a book release with a title that could be most Americans’ motto for this administration. (You know I got myself on the Fire and Fury holds list at the library — #180 out of #542, baby! I like my chances for the audio, for which I’m #37.)

Not to mention the weather has been downright frigid this week, with temperatures more suitable to Mars. All right, perhaps that’s a bit of an exaggeration for the sake of pithy blog fodder, but I think we can come together and agree that it’s goddamned fucking cold. Last night we got down to -14 and that’s the actual temperature, not the RealFeel (of which it was -20 on Friday.)

But here’s a little something that made me feel all warm and toasty. I woke up to find this from The Girl (who had a snow day) as I sat down to have my coffee at 5:30 am.

She’s a keeper, that one. She’s 16, so this is a proud teenage parenting moment for the win. (And yes, for the love of God and keeping the peace, please let it be known that she did spell out AWESOME. My phone camera cut it off and I’m too lazy to retake the photo.)

Reading
I had all good intentions of reading Tell Me More by Kelly Corrigan as my First Book of the Year, but decided I needed to get crackin’ on a review book, considering the review itself was due January 6. I’ll tell you more when it’s released in March. This week I’ll be reading another review book, so I don’t have much to talk about right now reading-wise.  Sorry.  I am reading a back issue of The New Yorker (10/23/2017) which includes this profile of our creepy-and-dangerous-as-fuck Vice President.

Blogging/Writing … 
Still hoping to finish my Best Books of 2017 post and a few other recaps of the year. Hopefully that will happen before, say, the Fourth of July.

I wrote a review for the aforementioned review book and submitted it within 29 minutes of the deadline. A great start to 2018. I’m working on another author piece, due tomorrow, so I need to spend some time with that today.

Oh, I almost forgot the biggest Blogging/Writing news. In what might be a regular occurrence or one time thing, The Husband made a return to blogging with this post (“Heaven and Hell Prepare For Massive Influx of Billions“)  It’s hilarious, but I may be biased. Anyway, consider giving it a look and showing him some blogger love.

Listening …

My current audiobook is It Was Me All Along by Andie Mitchell, a compelling memoir about Mitchell’s tumultuous childhood and how that affected her relationship to food. Mitchell writes candidly about her father’s alcoholism and destructive behavior, her mother working four jobs and preparing elaborate feasts for family gatherings (Mitchell’s descriptions of the food are mouth-watering), and how her traumatic formative years led to her weighing 300 pounds at age 20.

Many of the Goodreads reviews seem to be more complimentary to the first part of the book, but for now I’m finding this to be engaging yet heartbreaking. It seems odd to draw comparisons to The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls but I think this would appeal to those who connected with that book.

Podcasts of the Week …
Being back to work after a long (12 days!) break means I’m back to podcast listening during my commute. (I alternate between audiobooks and podcasts, depending on my mood.)  For 2018, I want to get back to doing my Podcasts of the Week feature, either as part of these Salon posts or in a separate discussion, because I listen to so much great stuff that I want to a) remember and have a reference point of sorts and b) share it with you.

One that stood out this week was Ezra Klein’s discussion with Jon Favreau of Pod Save America. Both The Ezra Klein Show and Pod Save America are two of my favorites so this was a must-listen.  Others I enjoyed this week:

Getting Things Done: Tips for a Year-End Review (1/1/2018)
The Bob Cesca Show: Fire and Fury (1/4/2018)
The Readers: Farewell 2017 … Here’s to 2018 (12/30/2017)

Watching … 
To my delight, The Girl is on a quest to watch all the great ’80s movies. I am more than happy to oblige. This week her selection was “The Breakfast Club” and now she’s obsessed with all things Ally Sheedy, circa 1985.

Wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, hope you’re keeping warm this Sunday.

 

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Book Review: Ageproof: Living Longer Without Running Out of Money or Breaking a Hip, by Jean Chatzky and Michael F. Roisen, MD

During the past few months, I’ve found myself gravitating to wellness-related books, blogs and podcasts. This interest started last year around this time when I embarked on Couch to 5K and made some modifications to eat healthier; however, a few factors have accelerated this.

For starters, I’m less than a year and a half away from a milestone birthday, the one beginning with 5. A year after that, the kids will graduate high school, and The Girl has recently been giving a lot of thought to potential colleges. These next few years are looming large. There’s also The Ongoing Family Situation which has me thinking a great deal about what I can control now to potentially affect future quality of life. I’m thinking particularly of retirement planning and ways to slow memory loss through food and exercise.

And I’m trying not to let all these thoughts keep me up too much at night nor preoccupy my every waking moment because if one isn’t careful, this line of thinking can quickly spin out of control into full-fledged anxiety. There has been a bit of that associated with all this, like the other week when I met one-on-one with the retirement planning guy at work. They brought in our plan’s representative–who looked like he was about 12 years old–for one hour complimentary financial consultations and I swear to you, his advice to me was basically, “I don’t know what to say.”

I kid you not. I mean, I already knew I was screwed. Thanks, Junior.

All this is to say that this feeling of health and wealth (I speak of the latter figuratively, of course) coming into fuller focus made me the perfect reader for Jean Chatzky and Michael Roizen’s new book, Ageproof: Living Longer Without Running Out of Money or Breaking a Hip which I spotted while browsing at the library and listened to on audio.

This is basically a manual for How to Live Your Life. I don’t mean that facetiously; rather, this covers every aspect of living. Yes, there’s plenty of advice that we’ve all heard or read — and either implemented, ignored or put off until “someday.” But there are also some good checklists and strategies, like starting with the importance of doing  “system checks” (both health-related and financial) before making any major changes. There are chapters on breaking bad habits, reducing stress, how one’s occupation influences health. The sections on financial information was more helpful than the representative from my retirement plan.

Here’s what Age-Proof doesn’t have: there’s no secret sauce, no magic elixir recipe for eternal life. (Besides, who would really want that anyway?) The most important thing it does have is reassurance that “no matter what you’ve done in the past, it’s never too late (till you’re six feet under) to get the body or bank account you want.”

Audio is definitely the way to go with this one, mainly because of Dr. Roizen’s exuberance about … well, almost everything. He and Jean Chatzky alternate narrating their portions of the book — sometimes interrupting and interjecting thoughts — and while it’s a little hokey in some spots, it’s also kind of cute.

Not to mention important.

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Sunday Salon/Currently … Be Here Now

Currently …
Happy Sunday, everyone. It’s another cold one here in Pittsbrrrrgh today. We’ve had several consecutive days of temperatures in the 20s, making this weather somewhat a shock to the system. It feels like we went right from late summer (a few weeks ago we had a string of gorgeous days in the high 70s) to the dead of winter. Looking back at my Facebook memories tells me that on this day four years ago we had our first memorable snowfall of the season, so I suppose we can count ourselves lucky.

I’m not much of a fan of winter and cold weather. I can handle the cold but it just means that the snow and ice isn’t far behind. Ugh.

Today, I have to work this afternoon and help out at a special event (a lecture and VIP reception) for a few hours. The Boy is a bit under the weather. Nothing major, just the usual change of season congestion and sore throat. Young Living oils to the rescue … I’m diffusing eucalyptus radiata for him and have rubbed Thieves on his throat.

Weekend Recap …
Last night The Husband and I went out for what passes for a big night on the town to us. The Girl was attending an event in the city and it didn’t make logistical sense to drive all the way home and back, so we turned it into an actual date night. We wound up going to The Butterwood Bake Consortium in Lawrenceville for dessert and coffee.

I’ll do a full review of the experience in a separate post, but suffice it to say we enjoyed it.

Reading … 
I didn’t finish any books this week and the book I’m currently reading is a review book, so I can’t say much about that right now.

Listening …
Current audiobook is H is For Hawk by Helen Macdonald, a memoir that has been on my TBR list for awhile.

Be Here Now …
The subject line of today’s Salon post has several references. I loooovvvvveeeee the TV show “This Is Us” and on Tuesday’s episode they played a George Harrison song “Be Here Now” from 1973. I didn’t immediately recognize it until I checked the Spotify playlist (did you know there’s a “This Is Us” Spotify playlist with all the songs from this season and last? You’re welcome.)  I mentioned it to The Husband, who loves everything Beatles-related. The next day, it came up on his Spotify, totally at random, and then I stumbled on a friend’s blog post with that title. It just feels like a message being sent, a reminder for me to … well, be here now. It has relevance for a lot of things lately.

OK, time to wrap this up if I’m going to be at work on time. Here’s George to take us out.

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Book Review: Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, by Atul Gawande

being-mortal

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, by Atul Gawande
Metropolitan Books / 2014 / 282 pages
Audiobook narrated by Robert Petkoff
Macmillan Audio / 
2014 / 9 hrs and 3 mins

Lately, there seems to be a spike in the number of popular books — particularly memoirs — written by physicians and focusing on the issue of medicine.  Maybe this has something to do with aging baby boomers or our society’s preoccupation with health and wellness — or perhaps it’s the opposite and we’re overly obsessed with death. Whatever the reason, I can’t be the only one who has noticed this literary trend.

Because I read When Breath Becomes Air by the late Paul Kalanithi (and loved it, as per my review here), I was a bit hesitant to read Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal.  I thought they would be too similar. In some ways they are, but where Kalanithi’s story is on facing death in the prime of one’s life, Gawande’s centers on the aging process and what society and the medical profession needs to do to honor life with a more compassionate approach to death, rather than prolong the inevitable at any cost. For all of medicine’s advances, we still haven’t gotten this right.

“A few conclusions become clear when we understand this: that our most cruel failure in how we treat the sick and the aged is the failure to recognize that they have priorities beyond merely being safe and living longer; that the chance to shape one’s story is essential to sustaining meaning in life; that we have the opportunity to refashion our institutions, our culture, and our conversations in ways that transform the possibilities for the last chapters of everyone’s lives.”

Those conversations, Gawande writes, are where doctors and loved ones need to place their emphasis. We need to do more talking about what is important to patients and what their understanding is regarding the nature and prognosis of serious, terminal illnesses. In Being Mortal, Gawande shares those personal conversations — the ones he’s had with his family, loved ones, and patients — and how they’ve shaped his perspective as a doctor and a human being.

“Being mortal is about the struggle to cope with the constraints of our biology, with the limits set by genes and cells and flesh and bone. Medical science has given us remarkable power to push against these limits, and the potential value of this power was a central reason I became a doctor. But again and again, I have seen the damage we in medicine do when we fail to acknowledge that such power is finite and always will be. We’ve been wrong about what our job is in medicine. We think our job is to ensure health and survival. But really it is larger than that. It is to enable well-being. And well-being is about the reasons one wishes to be alive. Those reasons matter not just at the end of life, or when debility comes, but all along the way. Whenever serious sickness or injury strikes and your body or mind breaks down, the vital questions are the same: What is your understanding of the situation and its potential outcomes? What are your fears and what are your hopes? What are the trade-offs you are willing to make and not willing to make? And what is the course of action that best serves this understanding?”

Gawande views life as a story with each of us holding the pen. “You may not control life’s circumstances, but getting to be the author of your life means getting to control what you do with them.”  It’s an effective analogy.

“All we ask is to be allowed to remain the writers of our own story. That story is ever changing. Over the course of our lives, we may encounter unimaginable difficulties. Our concerns and desires may shift. But whatever happens, we want to retain the freedom to shape our lives in ways consistent with our character and loyalties. This is why the betrayals of body and mind that threaten to erase our character and memory remain among our most awful tortures. The battle of being mortal is the battle to maintain the integrity of one’s life—to avoid becoming so diminished or dissipated or subjugated that who you are becomes disconnected from who you were or who you want to be.”

I listened to Being Mortal on audio and found it to be incredibly engaging. Gawande has a very practical yet compassionate narrative style that (at least in my experience) is rare among physicians. If his bedside manner is anything like his prose, his patients are in good hands.

 

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wednesday musings

image of a late winter sky with heavy and light cloud streaks over pittsburgh, february 2017

Still with me? I know, I know … it has been a few weeks since I wrote an actual blog post here–besides posting links to several published book reviews, that is. Actually, those are a big part of the reason for my absenteeism in this space. Most of you know I do some freelance workwriting, editing and the like. This in addition to my full-time, pays-most-of-the-bills-and-provides-health-insurance (for now) job, which also involves quite a bit of wordsmithing.

Anyway, to my delight, the freelancing assignments have picked up speed in recent weeks. Definitely a nice problem to have. One consequence (if you can call it that) is I’ve needed to spend more time reading–and since most of those books are for reviews post-publication, I feel I can’t say much about them beforehand.

Which, you know, doesn’t lend itself to having much material for one’s book blog.

Good thing there’s nothing else going on in the world to discuss.

(We won’t talk politics tonight because the whole state of the world has me feeling overwhelmed, angry, sad, hopeless and downright frightened. Often all at the same time.)

Tonight offers a slight reprieve from reading and writing (plus The Girl, who has been using my laptop for homework is finished early) so I thought I’d give you a few updates.


Two weeks ago I made an impromptu, whirlwind trip back to my hometown of Northeast Philadelphia for what was a sad visit. My best friend’s mother died and as I said in my eulogy at the funeral, she was like a second mom to me. I expected it to be an emotional trip–and it was. I’m working on a post or an essay about this because it was a jarring experience to return to my hometown after many years away. I’m really, really glad I went even if it took me a good week to feel back to what passes for my regular self.


On my trip, I listened to the audio of Wishful Drinking by the late Carrie Fisher. Albeit bittersweet, it was the perfect choice for what is a boring five hour plus drive across the red state of T**mpsylvania. (The audiobook is shorter than the drive.) It’s incredibly conversational, as if Carrie herself was riding in the passenger seat. An excellent audiobook. I loved it.


Mrs. Douglas, our cat, had a bout of pancreatitis last week. She’s on the mend now, thank God.


Kids are fine. I’m in summer activity mode. I think The Girl is going to be doing some volunteer work along with at least one or two week-long camps (writing and music).  The Boy is going to camp for four weeks. Thanks to the freelancing, there will likely be a family vacation after not being able to take one last year.


Speaking of The Girl, she has been working really hard to improve in math. At Christmastime, she mentioned she really wanted to see Bon Jovi in concert when they came to Pittsburgh so we struck a deal: if her math grades improved and she sought extra help after school through the tutoring service if necessary (something she has vehemently resisted), I would think about getting tickets. She hasn’t stopped talking about this. She’s been consistently hovering above or close to a B for a few months now so we’ll be seeing Jon in a few weeks.


Can I say how much I love that my girl is a huge fan of Bon Jovi and how grateful I am that she inherited my taste in music? (Because, yeah, twist my arm to take her to see Bon Jovi and pretend I’m back in 1986.)


I haven’t been running. Like, at all. Even though this has been a mild winter by Pittsburgh standards, I’m not a cold weather girl.  I haven’t managed to get myself to a yoga class or anything else I’d intended on doing. Hell, I’ve stopped taking the stairs at work. When the weather gets warmer–maybe as soon as this weekend!–I’m going to start over with Couch to 5K. That means I won’t be ready to do the Pittsburgh Marathon 5K this year, but maybe I’ll aim for the Great Race this fall instead or another 5K.


If you need a good book to read, here are two of my recent Shelf Awareness reviews.

The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff  (she’s a Philly writer, whooo!)

The Dark and Other Love Stories by Deborah Willis

 

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Sunday Salon/Currently … First Weekend of Fall

Sunday Salon banner

Currently …
Just finished watching the Eagles vs. Steelers and we’re quite happy in this house tonight, thanks to our hometown team’s win. It’s not easy being a Philly fan in these parts (especially when it comes to hockey) and I tend to root for the Steelers … when they’re not playing or in direct competition with my Eagles, that is.

Reading
No books finished last week, but I’m hoping to finish one tonight. I have deadlines this week for three freelance reviews.

Listening
this-old-man

My audiobook this week has been This Old Man by Roger Angell, who just turned 96 and is still writing great pieces for The New Yorker like the one he published this week (“My Eighteenth Presidential Election and the Most Important“). His essay “This Old Man” is one I’ve read at least twice, which is what made me interested in this collection of New Yorker pieces and other writings of Angell’s.

Running
Finished Week 2 of Couch to 5K this morning!  I thought I’d change things up a little by trying a different park and it was a challenge — definitely more hills than I expected. (I know, I know … this is Pittsburgh. Hills are everywhere.) Total distance was 1.95 miles, with .71 of those running. People tell me my pace is good (12:31 per mile) so I’ll take it.  I’ve been reading a lot of running blogs since this a whole new world for me.

Blogging
Maybe I needed some sort of mental break after 99 Days of Summer Blogging because my productivity here has nearly screeched to a big halt. I think it has more to do with being a very busy couple of weeks at work; after spending my days immersed in words, I’ve found myself needing a breather. I feel my mojo coming back, which is good.

Related to blogging, I was certain my life was complete without yet another social media whirligig, but apparently Litsy became available as an Android app this week and all the cool kids seem to be playing.  So, I’ve caved and now I’m MelissaF in case you want to follow whatever I’ll be doing over there.

Have a great week!

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