Category Archives: The Sunday Salon/Currently

currently … sunday randomness

My computer time is somewhat limited this weekend, thanks to a faulty laptop power cord. Yesterday I went to the local big box electronics store in search of a replacement; despite the 12 year old salesman’s assurances, the cord didn’t fit and back to the store I went. Another didn’t work, and after calling an incompetent individual at some affiliate of the big box store, we had an unpleasant conversation about why said person needed every iota of data I own before even checking to see if they had the right cord. I finally resorted to ordering one from Amazon which, thanks to a free trial of Amazon Prime, should be here tomorrow and let’s all pray it works.

First world problems in a country that’s on a fast-track to becoming part of the third world, I know. No doubt my curtailed computer access (and a migraine today that had me in bed for part of the afternoon) is the universe’s way of giving me a much-needed commercial break from the 24/7 reality show hosted by President Shit-gibbon. I do think I need to incorporate shit-gibbon into my vocabulary more frequently, don’t you? Perhaps I can work it in next time I tweet the newly-secretary of education Cruella DeVos, which I did in response to her dumb-ass comment the other day about not being able to find any pencils.

Don’t even get me started on that incompetent bitch’s bought cabinet position. This week I let my spineless piece of shit Senator know how I felt in my latest voice mail message, one that probably landed me on some watch list, assuming anyone in his office actually listened to it, which is doubtful.

Ironically, we had an IEP meeting the day after Cruella DeVos was confirmed, during which I asked one of our team members (The Boy’s autistic support teacher) if he anticipated staying in that capacity for next school year. He said he would and I replied, “If not, we can bribe you. We’ve heard that works well in some educational circles,” which brought down the house.

It was a really good IEP meeting. Really good. This is a wonderful team, and the outcome of that meeting was a major highlight of the past week and a much-needed pick me up.

Like almost everyone else I’m still on speaking terms with, it has been difficult during the past three weeks (Jesus God, how the hell has this only been three fucking weeks?!) to stay sane while speaking out against the danger this regime represents. At times, it’s difficult to focus and I’m more distracted than usual because so much is happening so quickly and as someone who finds it really hard to tune out from the news (not so much in a fear of missing out (FOMO) regard but in an oh-fuck-some-serious-shit-just-happened regard), it’s not a healthy way to be.

I’m trying to find some balance, though. I like the suggestion of focusing on a few key areas. (As you may have guessed, mine are disability rights, women’s rights and LGBTQ issues.) Everyone’s spouting the mantra of self-care these days, suddenly discovering the benefits of eating healthy and getting more sleep and exercise. As if these became new concepts on November 9. The irony is all this yoga-ing and social media fasting will make us the healthiest doomed society ever.

(That’s not to say I’m not doing or don’t support any of those sorts of things. I am and I do.)

What I haven’t been doing is much reading.  So far this year I’ve read three books. Three. All were review books, as is the one I’m reading now, so I can’t really say much about them until the reviews are published.

How about you? What are you reading, watching, doing?

 

Currently…Hibernation Sunday

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It’s a day for staying indoors, given that it is all of 11 degrees outside as I write. Such is January in Pittsburgh. I skipped church because of the weather and a morning migraine that has, thankfully, subsided. We de-Christmased the house earlier, then I spent most of the day on the couch with a cup of rooibos tea with the Steelers-Miami game on as background (whooooo hoooo, Steelers!) while I caught up on some blog reading and perused Pinterest for some meal planning ideas. You know, the usual lazy Sunday.

The upcoming week will be busier than usual because I’m immersed in a big project at work. This will likely require a few later evenings, on top of several hours of work yesterday during a rare Saturday in the office to try and get ahead of the game.  I took today as a break from the work project which will wrap up this coming Friday the 13th … hopefully a luckier day than the date portends). The intensity is a short-term thing, but this has been in the works for a year, so it will be good to have some semblance of completion.

Reading …
I need to spend some time this evening with a new short story collection which I’m reviewing. (That deadline is Friday, too.) This one will be my first book of 2017, not to be confused with Sheila from Book Journey’s annual First Book of the Year project. I had all good intentions of participating in that but had to temporarily set aside my choice (The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes) to focus on the review book.

Watching…
I spent a good chunk of my two-week Christmas break binge-watching “This Is Us” and am completely hooked on this show. I don’t watch much TV to begin with and I certainly didn’t need a new obsession, but here it is.  I have two more episodes to watch, which I plan to do right after hitting publish on this. Perfect timing for the season premiere this Tuesday.

Blogging … 
I’m planning to participate in the Winter 2017 Mini-Bloggiesta, scheduled for Jan 14-15.  If you’re new to Bloggiesta, it is described as “a blogging marathon revolving around ticking off those items on your to-do list and improving your blog while in the good company of other awesome bloggers doing the same thing.”

The timing is great because I’ll have a four-day weekend, thanks to the MLK holiday and a vacation day that needs to be used this month. To-do’s for this Bloggiesta include updating my Book Review page (and revising some others) and writing some posts. If you missed it last week, I shared my selections for the Best Fiction books of 2016 (meaning, those I read in 2016, not necessarily ones published during the past year). Even though the window of time for 2016 wrap up posts has pretty much closed, I still want to finish my Best Nonfiction post. I read a lot of stellar nonfiction last year that I’d really like to share with all of you.

OK, I’m off to finish watching “This Is Us” with a case of Kleenex at the ready. Hope your Sunday is going well and that you have a great week.

Sunday Salon/Currently … The Year Spins on Unheeding

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“Time, always almost ready 
to happen, leans over our shoulders reading 
the headlines for something not there. “Republicans 
Control Congress” — the year spins on unheeding.”

Those lines from William Stafford’s “Reading the Big Weather” certainly seem apt for this particular moment in time, as this dreadful year of unprecedented (or, rather, unpresidented) moments spins unheeding down to its near conclusion. A glimpse at the news shows that there certainly has been no shortage of unheeded things.

Of course my first interpretation of this correlates to the election and tomorrow’s convening of the Electoral College.  Save for a Christmas miracle and the ghost of Hamilton,  they’ll likely vote to put the most unqualified, thin-skinned, egotistical, racist, sexist, narcissistic, hateful liar and abuser ever imaginable in charge of our country. It doesn’t need to be said that I fervently hope that Santa and Alexander are in cahoots, because nothing else can save us from our apparent doom, it seems. It is all so discouraging and depressing.

As I write this, though, what to my wondering eyes did appear but word via Facebook of a true Christmas miracle here in Pittsburgh. I’ve been following for some time now Caitlin O’Hara’s need for new lungs. Diagnosed with cystic fibrosis on her 2nd birthday, Caitlin’s mom (novelist Maryanne O’Hara) has been chronicling their wait for a double-lung transplant after Caitlin, now 33, was officially listed as a candidate in April 2014.  Because she wasn’t eligible to receive a lung transplant at a hospital near her Boston home, Caitlin and her mother moved here to Pittsburgh to be closer to UPMC, which thankfully agreed to accept Caitlin as a transplant candidate, despite her high-risk status.

Last week, as Caitlin remained on life support, one of her surgeons declared her “the sickest person in the United States” awaiting a lung transplant. The situation was truly tenuous and fragile — and today, word comes of a donor and that the surgery has been completed

(A sad update:  I’m heartbroken to share that Caitlin passed away on Wednesday, December 21, three days after receiving her new lungs. She fought tremendously to live but was so very sick. I never met her but I feel as if I know her so well from her mother’s posts and Caitlin’s own writings. My deepest condolences to her family and friends who loved her so much.) 

Arctic temperatures have frozen Pittsburgh all this week and this weekend’s weather was just downright bizarre with snow and ice storms in the morning, then nearly 50 degrees. Late last night, there were rumbles of thunder. But, of course, Mr. Tweeter-in-Chief doesn’t believe in the likes of big weather (to bring this back to Stafford’s poetry) so, you know, nothing to see here.

a-scripture-of-leavesThis week in books I only managed to finish A Scripture of Leaves, William Stafford’s collection of poetry that was first published in 1990.  In the immediate shock post-election, I remember someone or someplace mentioning Stafford’s work and when I saw this slim, unassuming volume in the library, I picked it up, not knowing much about him but later learning that he was a pacifist and conscientious objector. Those themes show in his work with these poems set in nature and exploring themes of religion, social justice and the environment.

As the year winds down, I have an abundance of use-it-or-lose-it vacation time. Tomorrow at noon begins my official 13 days of Christmas vacation from work—save for one project that will need some paying attention to during this break. I have a pile of books at the ready, several blog posts waiting to be written along with some blog maintenance, a smattering of decluttering around the house, and a handful of appointments to keep both the cars and psyches in working order. Some (okay, all) the Christmas shopping still awaits along with some time with friends and family in Philly.

Mercury goes retrograde tomorrow. And so we spin on.

Mornings we see our breath, Weeds
sturdy for winter are waiting down
by the tracks. Birds, high and silent
pass almost invisible over town.

Time, always almost ready
to happen, leans over our shoulders reading
the headlines for something not there. “Republicans
Control Congress”—the year spins on unheeding.

The moon drops back toward the sun, a sickle
gone faint in the dawn: there is a weather
of things that happen too faint for headlines,
but tremendous, like willows touching the river.

This earth we are riding keeps trying to tell us
something with its continuous scripture of leaves.  

“Reading the Big Weather” by William Stafford

 

sunday salon/currently … need a little christmas now

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christmas-tree-2016

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! 

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.

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.