Bookends: April 2017

April in Massachusetts was a stop-and-start process towards spring. We heard spring peepers peeping, watched the maple trees bloom and then make itty-bitty seeds, and now we’re seeing leaves galore. The lilacs and cherry trees are in blossom, and I can smell flowers on my walks around the neighborhood. And unlike last year, there’s been no late freeze (knock on wood), so it’s likely we’ll have LOCAL PEACHES this year!

What kind of monster looks at bunnies and thinks good things about coyotes?

I also see bunnies, bunnies, and more bunnies, which I bet thrills the coyotes and foxes in the neighborhood. The small-dog owners and keepers of outdoor cats aren’t thrilled about the predators traipsing around, but I’m a fan. Small furry creatures are adorable and I love them, but they spread deer ticks, which are awful already this year, so we can benefit from having a food-chain-related way to keep the furry population in check. I also like hawks and falcons.

Another wonderful thing about April: Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon! To read about my progress during the readathon, check out my wrap-up post.

Here’s some of what I finished reading in April (funny…I felt like I didn’t read much this month, but my list argues against that):

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Dewey’s April 2017 Readathon Wrap-Up

Here I am, another readathon in the books. So to speak.

I ended up reading from 8am Saturday until about noon on Sunday, with a 7-hour break to sleep and do some yoga. After I’d stayed up an hour past my bedtime, I considered going the distance, but my cat was too exhausted to continue.

Readathon Cat April 2017

During the official readathon period, I completed one novel, the audiobook of Anne Tyler’s Vinegar Girl. During my unofficial morning session, I finished Lionel Shriver’s Big Brother.

There’s a closing survey, but I don’t feel like completing it this time around. I still love the readathon, though, and definitely plan to participate in the next one, coming up on October 21, 2017.

Dewey’s Readathon, April 2017 Edition

Today is one of the best days of the year: readathon day!

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Readathon TBR Stack

My TBR is this stack plus a download of the audio version of Anne Tyler’s Vinegar Girl, a retelling of The Taming of the Shrew. I know I won’t be reading all of these. In fact, I’ll be lucky to finish even one, but I like to aim high. At least my list is more realistic than the one I made for October’s readathon.

Keeping with tradition, here are my responses to the opening survey:

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?

Sunny central Massachusetts.

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?

Probably Big Brother by Lionel Shriver, but mostly because I’ve already started it and I think I have a decent chance of finishing it today. After that, I might try to sprint through Gods and Warriors by Michelle Paver.

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?

Kale salad with tahini dressing. I can live on that stuff. I’m also looking forward to popcorn, but that’s a logistical challenge because I use the same bowl for popcorn as I do for kale salad.

4) Tell us a little something about yourself!

I’m trying to keep to a regular sleep schedule, so I’ll only be reading until about 9:00 tonight. That’s a really boring thing about me. Nominally more interesting: I’m wearing my hair in two French braids today. I worry that’s a little silly for a forty-year-old to do, but it’s a little hot today, and the two braids keep the hair off my neck. It’s pragmatic, so it’s okay.

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today?

I’ve already mentioned the quitting early and the braids. I’m also wearing yoga clothes all day and I did forty-five minutes of yoga before starting the readathon. Gotta stay limber. Oh, and I might take a break in the afternoon to watch the first Harry Potter movie with my family.

Now off to read!

 

Pushing Appliances to Their Limits

Tonight while we were making dinner, our twenty-six-year-old stove went kaput.

Luckily, just yesterday we got a new toaster since the one we bought in 2003 stopped working the day we got back from vacation.

“What timing!” I thought. Surely we can use the toaster to do some of the tasks we normally delegate to the stove!

Alas! The warnings in the toaster manual make it clear that there’s not much one can do with a toaster besides toasting stuff.

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Looks like we’ll be shopping for a new stove instead of heating pots of soup on top of the toaster, and I guess I’ll dry my nails the old-fashioned way.

But I have no idea how I’m going to heat my curtains.

Bookends: March 2017

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One of the things I love about Massachusetts.

My time in central Massachusetts, experiencing the discourtesy people here call “direct,” has been six years of cultural fatigue. There are things that I love about the area, but the people are consistently prickly. Yes, people can be impolite anywhere and in a surprising variety of ways, but most places I’ve lived and visited, the rudeness has been shocking in part because it happened so infrequently. In Massachusetts, discourteousness is like an element: living here, we swim in rudeness, whether we participate in it or not.

Late in March, my family spent a week in California. From the moment we landed, the difference was obvious. Sure, we lost thirty minutes in the rental car place because the guys working there were inept, but at least they were friendly. Everywhere we went, people smiled, they were cordial, they spoke kindly to one another. I felt little to none of the social anxiety that clings to me in Massachusetts. For the first time in ages, I felt like I could exhale.

Going to San Diego was like jumping from a polluted river into one that ran with fresh, clean water; coming back has been the opposite experience. Just this morning I observed a cashier and her customer openly ridicule another customer for thinking the cashier had given her a friendly look. “She thought since you looked nicely at her that meant it was her turn!” said the first customer, and she and the cashier brayed together as the second customer apologized and got back into line. If the three had been friends, I could understand it as rough but good-natured joshing, but I saw nothing to indicate that these people knew each other.

On the plus side, this kind of interaction makes travel even more appealing. Time to put our passports to work.

Aside from this unpleasant but not unexpected welcome back, March has been wonderful. Not only did I spend a week in a place that felt like home, but I got a lot of reading done, and I’ve had the pleasure of watching my children write and illustrate their own books and stories.

My seven-year-old has moved from filling journals with his stories to typing them out on legal-sized paper on the Smith Corona my dad used in graduate school in the early 1980’s. My son will kneel on a chair at the dining room table, typing for hours and yelling at anyone who tries to interrupt him for something as trivial as dinner or bedtime. All he needs now is a bottle of scotch, an overflowing ashtray, and a fedora.

Something to look forward to: Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon is April 29! I’m especially excited because this time around, a goal of the readathon is to raise money for Room to Read, a non-profit focusing on literacy and girls’ education across Africa and Asia. To learn more about this part of the readathon and to donate, visit the Dewey’s Room to Read campaign page.

Reading through the night won’t be happening for me on April 29, but I plan to clear my schedule at least for the daylight hours. If I take part, I’ll post about it here and on Instagram.

Until my children finish their masterpieces, I’ve had to content myself with what’s already on the shelves. Here’s some of what I finished reading in March:

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Minimalist Blues

Inspired by the hip, minimal furnishings in the West Coast rental in which we stayed last week, I’ve decided to do some deep decluttering at my East Coast home.

Today, I got through one half of a closet full of unfinished crafts.

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Before decluttering, but after I took all of the crafts out of the closet.

I still haven’t figured out what to do with our hard-drive from 2008 or data backup CD-ROMs going back to 2003, but at least we made room for the microscope and the sheet music.

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After.

We might have a better shot at “hip” and “minimal” if we just buy the rental house. Or maybe I can just share pictures of that house and pretend it’s mine.

Bookends: February 2017

Well, what do you know? It’s March. I’ve been so distracted by the crazy rollercoaster weather here in New England the past couple of weeks and so consumed with the books I’ve been binge-reading in March so far that I totally spaced on doing the February Bookends.

Here are the titles I finished reading in February:

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Nursery Song

Today, my daughter recounted for us a story she’d read about a pregnant woman who put headphones on her belly so her baby could listen to music. When my children stopped laughing, I told them I’d done just that when I was pregnant the first time.

I’d read somewhere that if you play a song for your baby in utero, it will help soothe her after she’s born. Something with a strong beat was recommended so baby could hear it through the white noise of the womb. It seemed pretty low-risk, so every night before bed I would put the headphones on my belly and play this song for my daughter:

 

After she was born, it did work pretty well to calm her when she was crying. So did running the vacuum or the hair dryer, but this way was more pleasant for her dad and me. As a toddler my daughter called it her “crying song,” but the actual title is “Captain Badass” by Songs: Ohia.

Today, my children giggled at the title, of course. When I played the song for them, they weren’t particularly impressed—“Okay. Can we eat lunch now?”—but I loved it as much as I ever had.

“Will you stand up for your one chance? Will you stand up for love?”

Bookends: January 2017

January was a very good month to immerse oneself in fiction. To do this, one needed only turn on the news, but, always one to choose the path that’s less likely to give me palpitations even if it requires a little more effort and better lighting, I opted to immerse myself in novels and short stories.

Towards the end of the month, I participated in the 24 in 48 Readathon. It was my first time with this particular readathon, and it only bolstered my burgeoning love of the “athon” philosophy of reading. Binge-reading generally seems more of an antisocial escape than a social activity, but with the magic of the Internet, it can be both. What a world we live in.

Here’s is the list of titles into which I escaped in January:

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My Planned Parenthood Story

This morning, I drove through the slush to my doctor’s office for my well-woman exam. Since the recommendations changed, I don’t have to have my feet up in stirrups nearly as often as I used to, but I still have enough experience that I know to keep my socks on so my feet don’t freeze.

It’s not exactly nostalgia, but the experience got me thinking about past well-woman exams, and particularly about those during the several years in my twenties when I didn’t have health insurance. I had no health insurance first because of cost and later because of a mistake in my medical record that caused me to be refused for a pre-existing condition I didn’t have (yes, there’s more to that story; no, I will not go into it now).

So, no health insurance. But since I was neither emotionally nor financially ready to start a family, I needed birth control. And that’s where Planned Parenthood helped me out.

I knew that I could go to Planned Parenthood and receive cancer screenings and contraception on a sliding scale that I could afford. Some clinics were busier than others, some clinicians were more compassionate than others, but regardless, the necessary care was there at a price that I could pay. And although my partner (and later spouse) had coverage through the university he attended as a grad student, I was comforted to know that he could seek medical services at Planned Parenthood, too.

But Planned Parenthood helped me beyond contraception and cancer screenings. It was a doctor at my favorite clinic in North Carolina who discovered my thyroid condition. While Planned Parenthood is known for family planning services and cancer screening, many clinics also provide general health services, and I was lucky that mine was one of those. Without access to affordable care at Planned Parenthood, I could have gone for years without learning about this condition, and I might have suffered other health problems as a result of leaving it untreated.

That clinic in particular was an especially comforting place. The staff there were responsive and caring, and they were especially skilled at working with patients who had experienced sexual abuse or assault. In my experience, this is not the norm within the medical community. Even once I had medical insurance, I continued seeking care there until we moved out of the area.

This morning, a little more than two weeks after a rally in Boston in support of the Affordable Care Act, as I handed my insurance card to the woman at the front desk at my doctor’s office, I realized that I had been without insurance at a very fortunate time. Without medical insurance, I could not have afforded to go to just any medical clinic, but Planned Parenthood was there to provide me with care that I could afford. If the ACA is repealed, millions of people—at least 18 million in the first year, according to the Congressional Budget Office—will lose their health insurance. When I was uninsured, I had Planned Parenthood, but with Planned Parenthood being threatened as well as the ACA, that might not be the case this time.

If Planned Parenthood hadn’t been there in my twenties, I wouldn’t have had contraception, I wouldn’t have had cancer screenings, and I wouldn’t have had my thyroid condition diagnosed.

What will the millions of people who rely on Planned Parenthood clinics for preventive and sexual health care do if neither medical insurance nor Planned Parenthood is there for them?

Here are some things you—and I—can do so that maybe we won’t have to find out.