This trip around the sun

For me, 2013 has been a year to forget.

It started off confusing, which morphed into shocking and hurtful before careening along at a nice "meh" pace for months.

Granted, since summer, it's been on a gradual upswing. In fact, since about September, it's been downright delightful. But it had a way to crawl back up. A long, long way up.

So I am more than ready to kick this year to the curb.

In the interest of fairness, though, I have to admit there were some marvelous moments. I won't list them.

But I will say thanks to those who helped make those moments. They know who they are.



I just got back from an extended trip to Ohio, my usual return home for Thanksgiving and my birthday. This year, though, there was a different focus: Mom's surgery.

The surgery was just three hours and, at worst, would have required a one-night stay in the hospital. But, Mom has been having breathing troubles regularly now --- being 72 and a heavy smoker since you were 9 will do that -- and so the anesthetic was a real concern.

It took a lot of energy and time, but with my pressure and the presence of two anesthesiologists, she made it through pretty well. She's still on the mend but can heal from home.

That was my first reward. My second: Snow!

We had a heavy, wet Turkey Day snow for the first time in about a decade. Poor Mom, she was just worried I'd forgotten how to drive in it (I didn't). Me, I was just happy to see everything look so clean and white. And you get some really great sunsets that way, too.

No pics. Just imagine skies of pink and purple reflecting on the ground and in the trees.

I hope everyone else's Thanksgiving was just as lovely.


Book 14

I'll be lucky if I hit 25 books this year instead of 50.

And there is that matter of being a month behind on the Economist, too.

But I did finish another one:

Book 14
Brene Brown - Daring Greatly.

A social worker and researcher, Brown gained attention by suggesting her work shows that the happiest people, with the most fulfilling lives, embrace vulnerability. Interesting stuff. My favorite is the authenticity paradox: Vulnerability is the last thing I want you to see in me and the first thing I look for in you.

Friends and family

I've been AWOL here for what seems like eons, but mostly, it's the past year. That's because 2013 has been a particularly dreadful year. And that  seems wholly unfair for someone whose lucky number was always 13.

Anyway, in the past month, I've had some truly wonderful moments. And I notice, as I did this weekend, it was always due to a close friend.

I have many friends. Or, I have many acquaintances with whom I am friendly and enjoy their company.

But I also have a relatively small core group of close friends that are, in effect, family. I need that. I'm an only child who has lost nearly every biological relative. Yet I have some people who I know I can rely on more than some people can rely on a sibling or parent.

I'm a lucky girl. That point was driven home by a close friend's visit this weekend. Sometimes it isn't a single moment but a collection of them that form the best memories.


Happy Halloween!

So, I'm not in costume this year. In fact, I don't go in costume most years.

Why? One of the most wonderful nights of my childhood.

First, you need to know that I spent a lot of time in the hospital as a kid. They put me and a boy, whose name I've long-since forgotten, at one end of the long hall of the children's floor, far from the kids with more short-term stays. Neither of us was dying, just hospital pros. And no one wants the potential freak-out factor when their kindergartener who just needs a tonsilectomy starts talking to the pint-sized hospital veteran about body scans.

My playmate was the first person I knew who had Star Wars figures. His mom brought one in for every day he had a test. I liked that idea and asked my mom for the same. And we paired up -- getting the complementary figures. He had Luke, so I got Princess Leia. You get the idea.

I hadn't actually seen the movie Star Wars at that point. But when I got out of the hospital, it was clearly a priority. My Mom hated it (and likely me for making her go). I, of course, loved it. And I was beyond smitten with ... Chewbacca. I think it had to do with my love of dogs. Who hasn't had a canine co-pilot? I know most folks think he looks more ursine, but this was a dog-man to my little brain.

I immediately made my pitch for a Chewie costume for Halloween. I'd never had a store-bought costume before and knew neither me nor my non-crafty mother would be able to replicate the look. I whined, I begged, I pleaded ... and I won.

The all-plastic costume (it was the '70s after all) looked almost nothing like Chewbacca. But I adored it. I didn't even mind that it had that faintly polymer smell when I finally put it on for the first time, to got out on Halloween night. Unusual for Ohio, it was warm enough, too, that I didn't need a coat. Everyone would get to see me in costume!

I was so excited. When we got to the first house, instead of saying, "Trick or Treat," I unleashed my version of that gargled mix of noises that pass for Chewie's speech.

Mom was not amused. She was even less happy that, instead of saying, "thank you," after I got my sweets, I uttered that same garbled sound.

As we walked to the next house, Mom threatened to take me home if I didn't shape up. I was completely exasperated, having to explain to this ancient woman (younger then than I am now) about the non-English speaking ways of the Wookie.

The back-and-forth continued for a few houses. Mom just kept getting more and more angry at my rudeness. I stayed in character at every doorstep.

Mom was not one for idle threats, though. We hadn't even covered one side of the street when Mom grabbed my bucket of candy and ordered me back home.

She wouldn't let me have what little candy I got. She made me turn over my beloved Chewbacca outfit, which she immediately threw out, and pledged to never buy me a costume again.

I told you. Mom was not one for idle threats. There would be no purchased costumes in my future.

I tried making my own costumes for a few years -- usually something simple that would be just enough to pass muster during trick-or-treating. I also made a few costumes as an adult, most notably during my years at Ohio University, where Halloween is a religion.

But none of them have surpassed my truncated time as Chewbacca. I don't remember the candy I missed out on. I'm not even sure who else in the neighborhood walked with us that night.

In my mind's eye, though, my costume-wearing peaked in 1977. No one can trump Chewbacca. So why even try?

*This is not me. But it sure looks a lot like it!

So much for checking in more ...

Clearly, as previously mentioned, 2013 has not exactly been a year of my knowing what's going on. You know, on things like trying to keep track of myself, much less my reading.

Some good things of late, though: A trip to Boston, visits with very close friends and, last week, got to see the Indians play in Atlanta. Sure, they lost. They're the Indians. Still, they're my team.

Anyway, I've again forgotten much of my reading of late. I'm behind on books as well as behind on my renewed subscription to The Economist. But here's what I recall:

Book 10: Burial For A King - Rebecca Burns. Worth it.
Book 11: Ready Player One - Ernest Cline. Very worth It.
Book 12: Platonic Love: Poems - Michael Bugeja. Very worth it.
Book 13: With You In Spirit - Steven Cooper. Very worth it.

Not hardly on a tear, am I? But I still have that stack of Economists ....

What a year

Amazing to me that it's already July.

Sorry to my loyal readers (both of you!) for falling off the face of the earth. Lots going on, and it's been that way for basically all of 2013.

Sadly, in all of the activity, I've both slowed down and not kept track of my reading. Here's what I can recall, with the world's shortest reviews. There are more, which I'll add if I can remember them.

And yes, I'll try to pop in here a bit more often, too.

Book 4: White Teeth - Zadie Smith. Worth it.
Book 5: The Theory of Clouds - Stephane Audeguy. Worth it.
Book 6: Silverado: Neil Bush and the Savings & Loan Scandal - Steven K. Wilmsen. Very worth it.
Book 7: Lean In - Sheryl Sandberg. Worth it.
Book 8: The Faith Healer of Olive Avenue - Manuel Munoz. Very worth it.
Book 9: Wildflower: An Extraordinary Life and Untimely Death in Africa - Mark Seal. Very worth it.

In closing, a gratuitous pic of some lovely light.



First 3 books of 2013

Let's keep it brief, shall we?

Book 1
The Other Side of Normal - Jordan Smoller

A Harvard psychiatrist looks at what constitutes a mental disorder, based on the spectrum of what is normal. His take is that mental illness is sometimes a diagnosis of a constellation of issues that often don't look at the intersection of biology and environment. That is to say, we are willing to say grief and depression are normal after a loved ones' death, but we have a hard time drawing the line when that grief/depression is expected to revert. Or, more to the point of blurred lines, anxiety is a normal evolutionary development that everyone possesses. The ability to tamp down anxiety, then, could be as much about understanding the normal range of its uses, via neuroscience tests as much as talk therapy. Very well done.

Book 2
Unbearable Lightness - Portia de Rossi

Speaking of mental illness, this memoir looks at body issues and anorexia from a woman who worked through them in the spotlight. I is weary enough to read someone explain how they tied their self-worth to their looks in general and weight specifically. I can't imagine living it, much less struggling with my sexuality in such a raw way. The book ends on the happy note that we know her life to be now. but you hear a lot of the blunt details along the way.

Book 3
Salt: A World History - Mark Kurlansky

I read one of his books last year, on baseball in the Dominican Republican. There, like here, the author relies too much on factoids and long, winding sentences to pad this book. In fact, the first section of the book, a look at the chronological importance of salt in preserving food and maintaining health from ancient China to the Roman Empire, is a repetitive drone that could easily have been done in about 50 pages at most. He instead writes for three times that amount, detailing the archaic ways each society gathered and produced salt. Worse are the recipes, throughout the book, that he feels showcase a time and place. Instead, it just pads the book and perhaps lends to his self-important view of his work. Most reviews on this and his other books have been raves but I was unimpressed.


I posted this photo over on Facebook recently.

it's one of the rare photos of me and my dad. He wasn't much for parenting. But this photo, prompted by a photographer at the newspaper he worked at, is still pretty cute. Basically, the guy my dad worked with told him to pick me up and snapped a couple of shots at a company picnic for the newsletter. The headline, which I saw two decades later when I worked at the same paper, said, "Father-Daughter Haircuts."


Books 2012

Well, for the first time since I started the 50 book challenge, I fell short this year.

However, I did a lot more traveling this year - several trips to Ohio; back to New York for the first time in years; my first visit to Minnesota; out to Vegas for a convention; to North Carolina for both happy and sorrowful family moments; and my usual back-and-forth to Florida, too.

So we'll blame that and offer up a list of what I did manage to read. Basically, some pretty great non-fiction and fiction, some real stinkers in both and a lot more mysteries than in a usual year.

Below is my final tally, with the review of my final book at the end. Favorites are in bold.


1. Catching Fire - Suzanne Collins
2. Mockingjay - Suzanne Collins
3. If You Ask Me (And Of Course You Won't) - Betty White
4. Cool, Calm and Contentious - Merrill Markoe
5. Hero At Large - Janet Evanovich
6. The Lost Dogs - Jim Gorant
7. Drinking Arak Off An Ayatollah's Beard - Nicholas Jubber
8. Margin of Error - Edna Buchanan
9. Mohamed's Ghost - Stephan Salisbury
10. Sellevision - Augusten Burroughs

11. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao - Junot Diaz
12. Being Wrong - Kathryn Schulz
13. Happy Accidents - Jane Lynch
14. Sex And The Kitty - Nancy the Cat
15. Steak - Mark Schatzker
16. Horns - Joe Hill
17. The Whore Child - Richard Russo
18. A Little Bit Wicked - Kristin Chenoweth
19. Spiritual Writings - Soren Kierkegaard
20. The Stranger You Seek - Amanda Kyle Williams

21. The Line - Olga Grushin
22. Hamas - Matthew Levitt
23. Tyrants - Marshall Klimasewiski
24. Twin Cities Noir - Various
25. Smothered in Hugs - Dennis Cooper
26. Death Du Jour - Kathy Reichs
27. The Miracle At Speedy Motors - Alexander McCall Smith
28. Holly and Homicide - Leslie Caine
29. Santa Clawed - Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown
30. Size 12 Is Not Fat - Meg Cabot

31. Elizabeth and Mary - Jane Dunn
32. The Eastern Stars - Mark Kurlansky
33. It's What Inside The Lines That Counts - Fay Vincent
34. More Baths, Less Talking - Nick Hornby
35. Dewey - Vicki Myron
36. The Silver Hearted - David McConnell
37. Dewey's Nine Lives - Vicki Myron
38. Raining Cat Sitters and Dogs - Blaize Clement
39. File M For Murder - Miranda James
40. Maggody and the Moonbeams - Joan Hess

41. Between the Lines - Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer
42. Unfamiliar Fishes - Sarah Vowell
(Editor’s note:  Sarah Vowell is only slightly older than I am. I read her debut, “Radio On,” when we were both in our 20s. My first reaction to her was something along the lines of, “Seriously? She listened to the radio for a year, jotted down her impressions and criticisms, and she’s considered literary?”)
Vowell is the lady who parlayed a debut novel about listening to the radio to appearing on it, after her topic caught the ear of Ira Glass of NPR’s “This American Life.”
American lives have since become the topics of Vowell’s books ever since. I have tried, I really have, to read them. But my first impression has never let me get too far, frustrated at what I think is awfully simple and easy analyses and writing.
This book was supposed to be different. It’s about the brief independence of Hawaii and its Americanization in the 1800s, through both religious missionaries and business interests.
I find the topic interesting because I think Hawaii is the best example of the cultural demands put on Puerto Rico when the U.S. annexed it (and several other territories such as Cuba and the Philippines) in 1898.
To be fair, there is some interesting stuff here. Vowell has never made a dusty archive she doesn’t adore, and some of her finds are genuinely awesome.
She feels compelled to tell us in every book that she’s part Cherokee. Really? Part Cherokee and from Oklahoma? Shocking! Next you’ll tell me there are people who are part Nordic descent in Minnesota.
I think the intent is to draw us in to what friends tell me is her outrageously wry humor. I just find it distracting in the same way I do when someone recounts a story in person by jumping back and forth between the event and, say, breakfast or traffic that day.
I suppose it could all be jealousy. I don’t find her abilities as that impressive, since I’m pretty sure we share much of them. But I’ve never been asked to fill in for Maureen Dowd when she’s on leave, either.
See? I can put random person tidbits in stories about other things, too. Annoying, isn’t it?