Friday, June 23, 2017

Starting a Blessing Journal

L
ATELY I've been carrying a lot of stress and anxiety, for a number of reasons that don't need to be articulated here. It's not easy to live with a constant, sore weight of fear in your belly. So today I picked a blank book given to me by my sister, opened it up and wrote the first entry in what I am calling my Blessing Journal.

I'm not the first to come up with this concept. It goes by other names as well -- often it's called a Thankfulness Journal or a Gratitude Journal -- but because I believe in God, and further believe that God is the ultimate source of all good things in life, I perceive such things to be blessings. Besides, it's my choice. So a Blessing Journal it's gonna be.

The concept is pretty simple: cast about in your life for something which is a blessing to you, especially if it's something that's easy to overlook or take for granted, and write it down. The act of writing solidifies the blessing in your head, making it less easy to ignore and increasing your feelings of gratitude for what you've been given. You can keep it very simple or go into detail, as you feel inclined. (I'm sure you don't have to guess how I'm inclined.)

Here's what I wrote for today:
You can speak, read and write English.

Two of the world's most difficult languages to learn are English and Chinese -- Chinese because of its complex writing system and the language tonality where a slightly different tone can drastically change the meaning of a word; English because it has borrowed words from so many other languages that it seems to have no rules. But English is the de facto language of business, communication, art and science. Much of the world speaks English as a second language. Your early command of both spoken and written English has been an enduring blessing in your life. You can readily express your thoughts and feelings, and you have had free access to the thoughts and feelings of others, from autobiography to fiction to scripture. Because you know English, you can easily drive to a new place by reading maps and signs, pick up the items you want at the store, watch copious amounts of Hollywood movies, vote in elections, and otherwise participate in daily life in the United States without the need for an interpreter. Further, your English literacy allows you to be of service to others for whom English is still difficult. It is a great blessing, one not to be taken for granted.
In writing this, I'm not trying to suggest that other languages are inferior to English. But in the United States and other primarily English-speaking countries, it is a huge advantage to be fluent in the most commonly recognized tongue. Most of my maternal relatives had to work very hard to gain some fluency in English, so I was very fortunate to grow up learning it. And reading, primarily from English-language literature, has been the joy of my life.

Not sure I'm going to do this every day, but I do want it to be a regular habit. It's easy to forget your blessings, especially when you're stressing over something, but that's when blessings can be a great strength and comfort. Here's hoping the practice will help keep me sane and grounded.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Desert Scout

It's been a while since I did any municipal art blogging, hasn't it?

So here's a wooden sculpture I've somehow missed a couple of times, in the hallway of the Redmond Library. It's called "Desert Scout," and unsurprisingly it's by Dudley Carter.

It's especially interesting to look at the fine details of his work; much of it is deliberately kept rough to show the grain of the wood, but his stylized signature shows he's capable of smooth, finished work as well.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

When good quilts go bad

When Captain Midnight and I first got hitched, we were exceptionally lucky to have a few crafty family members and friends. As a result, we received a couple of beautiful queen-sized quilts as wedding presents, and we've used them on our bed for nearly 24 years. However, years of regular use, washing, and a rambunctious kitty cat have all taken their toll on one hard-worn quilt, which is now sporting at least a dozen rips and tears over its top. I've taken a careful look at this quilt and determined that the cover fabric is too fragile for mending and/or patching to do much good. It's time to procure a new quilt.

We could do this a number of ways. I could buy a cheap duvet and cover at IKEA. I could wander down to Goodwill or another local thrift store and see what's on offer. I could spend an arm and a leg and get a beautiful, brand-new artisan quilt.

Or I could do what I'm doing: flip the old quilt so the less-worn side is facing up and eke a little more use out of it, while I put together a new patchwork quilt from my overflowing stash of CM's old jeans. This isn't going to be the cheapest option as I'll still need to pick up some sturdy denim needles for my machine, find a good backing fabric and some batting, etc., but if I take the time to make it right, this new quilt should last at least another 24 years.

Now to determine a simple block to sew. I'm leaning toward Rail Fence or Roman Stripes, something basic that looks good in scrappy colors.
Maybe something like this? Hmm.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

My inherited magical power

Well, I can tell Mom is feeling better, because for the last two days I've sprung her from the clink to go on outings in the car. Last week she wouldn't have had the strength to go out. However, I've been pushing Mom around in a wheelchair in 80-degree "it's a dry heat," so I think I've lost some five pounds in water weight. Mom is very motivated to bring up her strength in rehab so she can go home, so she's getting a little stronger every day. (And so am I. Wheelchair pushing burns calories!)

I have mentioned in the past that Mom has this magical ability to get strangers to tell her their life stories. I don't think I've explained yet that this ability apparently runs in the family. I look (and sound) enough like my mom to have the same kind of friendly, familiar, approachable, pretty-but-not-intimidating face and manner, and many's the time I've been sitting in a public place, minding my own business, when A WILD STRANGER APPEARS! and tells me all sorts of stuff. Since I fancy myself a writer, this ability is a godsend for gathering stories.

"Your thoughts to my thoughts..."
Sometimes this magic power can be amusing, as when I offhandedly asked the driver at the rehab center how he got his job, and was regaled with a long and adventurous tale of employment woes for the next twelve minutes. And sometimes it just comes out of nowhere.

For example: I was waiting in the local pharmacy to pick up a prescription for a family member (I swear, I spend about half my waking life in drugstores) when this guy came in and sat down next to me. He cut quite the figure: big, muscular, bald, with a black eye, a padded brace on his right arm and a couple of notable stitch clusters on his right knee. He was wearing shorts and a grey muscle shirt printed with the words "OBAMA CAN'T TAKE THESE GUNS" and two large arrows pointing to his biceps. Mr. Guns listened to the piped-in music ("All About That Bass" by Meghan Trainor) for a few seconds, then turned to me and said, "Pfft. She ain't all about that bass."

"That right?" I asked noncommittally.

That was all that was necessary for Mr. Guns to launch into his tale. He told me about how he'd just had a knee replacement, about how he'd put it off for years because he was a bodybuilder and his doctor had warned him that after a knee replacement he wouldn't be able to lift more than 200 pounds, but finally it got to be a necessity and he was incredibly pleased with the results. Except... the first few days he was recuperating from surgery at home, he was all hopped up on Percocet for the pain and thought he was a superhero. The phone rang downstairs, and instead of letting his wife pick it up he decided he'd just run downstairs and get it. Well, he did get downstairs... the hard way. Which is how he picked up the arm brace and the black eye. (Remember, folks, despite how it makes you feel, Percocet does NOT give you magical powers of flight.)

I think Mr. Guns was all geared up to share another story, but just then the pharmacist called my name and I had to break things off gracefully to pick up the prescription. He gave me a cheery "Take care!" in parting, and I thought but did not say, "You too. Really. And lay off the Percocet."

Heh. Maybe I really should have gone into journalism. I wouldn't even have to ask nosy questions -- I'd just show up, smile, and let people tell me EVERYTHING.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Hey, Sooz, whatcha reading now?

Glad you asked.

I've got three books going at the moment -- two histories and one science fiction title. All three have proved to be slow going, but for different reasons.

Mom belongs to a book club at church, and during my two most recent visits I've read aloud to her from the latest book club title while she recuperates from surgery. (Rehabilitation isn't otherwise all that mentally stimulating, and Mom thinks I have a pleasant reading voice, so I suppose it's a good fit for her circumstances.) In the Garden of Beasts; Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin is a work of creative nonfiction in the style of Simon Winchester's The Professor and the Madman, in which the author uses historical documents and other media from the era to create a story about the American ambassador to the Third Reich that, while factual, reads with all the zest of a novel.

Why haven't I gotten far with this one? Well, it isn't for lack of trying. Trouble is, every time I sit down to read to Mom, she falls asleep -- usually within a paragraph or two, sometimes within a sentence or two. No, the book isn't boring (and I hope I'm not), but some of the medications Mom has been taking make her woozy and prone to drowsiness. Plus Mom has always had the enviable talent of falling asleep at a moment's notice. Sometimes I've cheated and read a chapter or two while she was asleep, but I don't want to get too far ahead.

I can't remember where I first heard about Ibram Kendi's Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, but I was intrigued by his thesis that we've been teaching about racism and racist ideas in effect-first rather than cause-first fashion. To put it another way, it's not "ignorance and hate led to racism which in turn led to racist policies," it's more like "racist policies were rationalized by racist ideas, which led to the ignorance and hate of racism."

What's slowing me down here? This is a big, thick book which means business, and with all the going back and forth between Mom's home and the rehab center, I haven't had much time to get into the meat of it -- though what I've read thus far has been both illuminating and heartbreaking. Instead I've been focusing more on the third book in my list:

Sci-fi, bay-bee! Vast is difficult to sum up simply, but I'll do my best: the Null Boundary, a partly-organic human spaceship, is doing its best to outrun an alien cruiser created by a race known as the Chenzeme, which had a peculiar appetite for annihilating all other sentient life it encountered. Five more-or-less human beings on the Null Boundary are doing their best to outwit the Chenzeme cruiser before it catches up to them and destroys them, but they have some differences of opinion about how it should be done; some would rather kill off the alien ship, while others want to try convincing it not to harm them. The writing style of this book is metaphysically seductive; most stories which involve nanotechnology feature human beings transformed in surprising ways, their tech grown more organic than mechanical. This transformational aspect of the story provides the biggest appeal, at least for me.

Why am I not getting through this book quickly? Well, actually, I've finally started to build up some steam with Vast. As I begin reading most speculative fiction, it takes a little while to sort out the world into which I've been flung, which slows down my words per minute. Once I've got it all sorted, I can get back up to RAMMING SPEED. And I need to move along with this one, because it's an interlibrary loan and I can't renew it past the due date. Read, Sooz, read like the wind!

So what are you reading lately? And would you recommend the book(s) to others?

Monday, May 08, 2017

I can drive. Really. Sort of.

As of Saturday, Mom was out of the hospital and once again ensconced in a rehabilitation center (albeit a different one this time). I've been over there every day since, talking with her, reading to her and otherwise seeing to her needs.

(By the way, if you, like me, think my mom is a lovely person and would like to help her out, we're taking up a collection to help her finish the basement of her house as a handicapped-accessible apartment. Stairs are out of the question when you've had a hip replacement, and Mom has to negotiate two flights of stairs just to get to her bedroom in this house. Not Working For Her.)

Mom had a dialysis appointment in the late morning today, so I thought I'd take the time to run some errands. I've been using Miss V's little red car, a 16-year-old sedan which has developed a few quirks, including a driver's-side window that doesn't roll down and a driver's-side door latch that no longer opens from the outside. (To get into the car, you have to unlock and open the passenger door, lean across both front seats, unlock and open the driver door from the inside, block the door latch with any handy object and run around to the driver's side before it closes again. By the time I'm done here, I should be equipped to join the circus.)

Anyway, I had a few birthday cards to mail, so I drove up beside the mail drop just south of the post office, left the engine running, opened the driver door wide and left it open, and ran to the mailbox. As I slotted the cards into the blue box, there came two ominous sounds from behind me: *SLAM* *click*. The wind had just blown the driver's side door shut. And because this model of car happens to be one where all the doors lock automatically as soon as you put the car in drive... yep. The keys were still in the ignition, the motor was running, and my purse and phone were safely locked in the car where they were doing me little good. Worse, I'd hopped out of the car in a zone clearly labeled NO PARKING AT ANY TIME.

I paused for a moment, just to listen to the universe laughing at my idiocy.

Fortunately, the shop on the corner happened to be an auto body mechanic. Hail and well met, good auto body mechanic! I went into the office and told them my sad tale of woe and ineptitude, and one of the guys grabbed a Slim Jim and had the car unlocked in five minutes. And he wouldn't accept payment, either.

So I got errands done today! Even filled and washed the car. And I am getting an estimate on having that latch fixed ASAP. Because apparently I am not bright enough to drive Miss V's car.

(Thank you, Miss V, for letting me drive your car. Even if I'm kind of derpy at it.)

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Surgery

I'll have to keep this quick. Mom's in the hospital again with excruciating pain in her right hip. Turns out the pins they put in didn't work as intended, and now the top of her femur has died and broken off. The pins are currently digging into the cartilage around her hip joint, causing pain that not even morphine can touch. So she's currently hopped up on lots of the good drugs while she awaits hip replacement surgery later today.

Why they didn't just do this in the first place is anyone's guess.

Anyway, if you're inclined to pray for Mom, that would be much appreciated. She is not the best surgical risk right now, but she can't continue as is -- the pain in her hip and groin is so severe she's afraid to move, even with painkillers, and it looks like the pins have probably done damage to her hip socket. It's just not a good situation. But I'm glad we are here and can spend time with her.