Trials and Travels: A Comparison of 3 Recent Reads

Isn’t it funny how, without intending to do so, one can end up selecting three books for simultaneous reading that seem to share the same underlying themes? Well truthfully of late, all of my chosen titles are alike in ways I couldn’t have anticipated. Examples are four straight books that featured persons with diabetes, and five (six?) With some kind of painter character.

Given that, I could randomly pick any grouping I wish and make them work as a collection. But the three I’m going with here are Big Lies in a Small Town, by Diane Chamberlain; Ghosts of Harvard, by Francesca Serritella; and Three Ways To Disappear, by Katy Yocom. Each of these stories is driven by the crazy things that can happen as a result of a mother’s love and/or her mistakes, mental illness, and big secrets. The secrets I shall not give away, at least to the best of my ability, because they represent big plot twists and might therefore be considered spoilers. I will, however, do a brief summary of each title and then talk about how they compare and contrast.

Chamberlain

This book caught my interest because it is set in North Carolina, as a quick perusal of this author’s catalog shows is common for her. The past meets the present as Anna Dale, born in the late 20s, is hired to paint a mural for the Edenton NC post office. (This is a real town, to which I’ve never been but I have heard of.) Being from the North, she encounters the kinds of racism and even outsider-ness that one would expect in a small Southern town of the day. She works with an African American named Jesse Williams who then becomes a major artist and makes as his last action a wish to have Morgan Christopher help to restore the Dale painting and to be released from the prison where she is held for supposedly causing a drunk driving accident. We are then bounced back and forth in time over alternating chapters until the story’s apex.

Serritella

Whereas Chamberlain’s book takes place in a lesser-known small-town environment, this story is set at Harvard: a place we’ve all heard of but know little about. The amount of insider information Serritella, who went to that school also, provides through her characters’ observations is fascinating. Cadence (Cady) Archer has chosen to attend this university despite, and maybe in some ways because of, her brother Eric’s having taken his life there in the prior semester after a protracted struggle with schizophrenia. This is similar to Chamberlain’s book, in that Anna was driven to follow her artistic dreams after her mother died, perhaps of suicide, while experiencing bipolar disorder. In Serritella’s story, Cady’s mother has a particularly visceral reaction to her daughter’s choosing to attend Harvard, going as far as to withhold assistance on move-in day and skip out on the drive from Pennsylvania where they live. Of course, mom comes to regret this decision later, and its initial upset probably drives Cady to make many questionable decisions throughout. Then Cady’s life and experiences there takes a strange and rather interesting turn. Let’s just say you’ll quickly understanding the meaning of the title.

Yocom

This is also a story built largely on a mother’s regret for hastily made decisions and the depression, disguised as coldness toward her children, that she feels as a result. Opening in 1970s India, twins Sarah and Marcus, along with their older sister Quinn, who will later become something of a painter and raise twins of her own, live a privileged life of big houses, servants, and the like as their father works as a doctor in a local hospital. A tragedy befalls them and the family, minus the father and Marcus, relocate to the US.

Told alternately through Sarah’s and Quinn’s perspective, we see Quinn and her mother especially struggle with the events that occurred over there and the incomplete information they both have on what actually went down. I like how Yocum shows Sarah and Quinn telling the story as they remember it and in so doing demonstrates the fallibility of memory and ways we can so easily reshape it.

Sarah, on the other hand, has difficulties in establishing her own identity. She is ultimately drawn back to India to work in tiger preservation after a long but dangerous career as a journalist. It takes time, but Quinn eventually accepts Sarah’s choice to relocate and their relationship, maintained through email and expensive calls, is strengthened. After all, this book’s “present” is the year 2000, so the technology is not yet as robust.

I hope you enjoy any or all of these three semi-related but also rather different reads as much as I do. They all feature such lush landscapes and travel that they make for good consumption as my Stay-At-Home continues.

50 Days of Solitude: When and How To Return To Work

And it goes on and on and on and…

Almost eight weeks of mostly poking around the crib, trying to stay awake more than I sleep, and wondering what it all means. As states, including my own, tentatively begin reopening, I know that it is time for me to start contemplating what the “outside” is going to look like. One thing is for sure, it will not be anywhere near what it was for the foreseeable future.

I got a little taste of what to expect this past Saturday. My in-laws, needing supplies not readily available in their rural town and tired of being boxed in, decided to make their way up to oversupplied Cary to collect the gathered items. We paid them a short, appropriately socially-distanced and masked visit, just to say hello and talk to others for a change. Our hands grazed as we met, and I felt my own air pushed back into my face.

Ugh wearing that mask is not going to be comfortable, that much I know. Two good things about it though, I guess: A. You sure know how your own breath smells, and B. Others (hopefully) aren’t able to smell it. My wife did find some that are, well better than many, as they have a slightly cupped middle that gives you at least a little breathing room. I will of course wear them, as I understand that they are more for those who encounter me than for myself, but marbles. The eight-hour workday and transit to and for will be very long.

Speaking of transit, I am now trying to sack the admittedly somewhat involved system I had of taking GoCary’s Door-To-Door vehicle to the Cary train station and boarding the bus in favor of having the former take me all the way in. There are two main reasons why I hadn’t done this a long time ago. The first and most pressing is money: it costs just $2.50 to have them drive me to the station, but $8 to go all the way in. I think though that they have some kind of program that provides low-income individuals with a discount, so I will try and sign up for that and see what happens.

The second reason is more about my own needs I guess? I will feel more isolated, having little to no interaction with the wider community. I had gotten to know the five people I saw on a regular basis pretty well, and always enjoyed talking to them and whomever else I came across while waiting about any and everything. But with all these measures being put into place for who knows how long, I’m sure that such spontaneous encounters will not occur for a long time, and I might find it difficult to get assistance from others who wish to stay socially distanced. (I prefer to think of it more as physically distanced, as the last thing I need is to not socialize with folks in some way).

RELATED: The Cary Characters

I am hesitant about returning to work and will wait for them to call me back in while keeping a metaphorical eye (I’m blind after all) on the Covid numbers in North Carolina. I do hope things can get going soon, but I hope we don’t end up doing things too soon. We shall see.

Tele-Everything

So here we are, almost last week of April. And, I will have to make a massive push to meet that goal I set a few weeks ago. I shall give it a go, even with the relative dearth of content these days.

How are we? It’s been five weeks, and still no buildings entered, no person seen outside of my wife and her sisters. That in itself is unreal and would have been unthinkable a short time ago. Like all of us though, I have better days and worse days. The latter has kind of predominated of late, but I am praying that I’m starting to emerge from the fog and get going again.

Of course, a large part of my sustenance, and the thing that reminds me that life is still going on beyond these four walls, is the Internet. Can you imagine if we had something like this happen in the early 90s? How would we have stayed entertained. Found stuff to read. And most importantly, stayed connected.

Like all of you, I suddenly find myself doing everything online these days. First, I have already experienced three Zoom meetings: two of which were with the Norrie Disease Association. There was also a third wherein someone instructed us on making Google Docs accessible with screen-reading software. I was pleased to discover that the Zoom software is easily accessible, and I could hear people in fairly high quality. Plus, whereas our phone NDA board meetings tend to feel more stilted, the one we conducted over Zoom felt a little closer to the natural flow that occurs when in person. I must admit though that I still had (have?) Qualms about enabling my video, because I don’t know what y’all sighted folk are seeing or the reactions it may cause. It does show a nice still photo of my background, though.

SIDENOTE: A country song by the group Big and Rich called Stay Home just played on my Apple Music. It’s clearly written for this period. Interesting, first I’ve heard of such a thing.

Anyhow, my other tele-experience occurred yesterday as I spoke with the nutritionist to whom I had been recommended by my doctor. The medical folks of course use a proprietary platform, and here I also could not get myself to be seen. I asked her if this mattered, and she said not really. We had a good conversation, but the changes she suggested will require me to eat more unusual vegetables. Hmmm…

Other than that, still beating the job search grind. I’ve recently also acquired a representative at NC Works, the program that is run by the office that also administers Unemployment benefits. We’re doing the 11th re-design of my resume, but I think her idea, that of composing a combination resume, is one of the best. Not sure when or if I will return to my old employer, but amazingly to me they’re still open and about 80% staffed, according to their latest update. This makes me feel a little questionable about not going, but I also have a more complex set of health needs. Hopefully we’ll soon see these numbers start going back down if people can be patient a bit longer, and we’ll all be able to return to our lives and livelihoods.

In theory, I will be writing to you again on Sunday, then I’ll have to get entry number 4 in by next Thursday. Perhaps. Till then, stay safe.

On Goal-setting and Recurring Dreams

Before this Covid stuff began, I set a crazy goal to write the number of blog posts that correspond with each month of the year. Easy in January, not so much by December. Realistically, I’m already finding it difficult to do so as a malaise creeps in as day what? 18? Who knows, of this time locked inside rolls around.

I came up with this idea for a couple of reasons. First, I have set, and mostly successfully met, reading goals every year since 2015. I have no doubt that reading as much as I now am is increasing my comprehension and ability to take in large amounts of information quickly. I guess I am hoping to have a similar impact on writing, though this is admittedly a much harder mountain to scale. It depends on coming up with good topics and being able to wax poetic on them on a consistent basis, a benchmark which I can by no means guarantee.

But then that’s just it, isn’t it. I want also to get myself to post on a regular basis, as I must do if I hope to really turn this into something. So sometimes it will just have to do to sit here and bang on the keys, letting the thoughts stream onto my screen as I rock (literally in my recliner) to music streaming from my Bose speaker.

So what do I have for you today, after all that prattle? Recurring dreams. I seem to have them, or at least some really similar versions of them, more than the average bear. If asked, I would put them into three categories: some kind of crazy family drama, college or high school oddness, and not reaching my destination on some form of transportation.

The family dreams naturally leave me the most unsettled. They usually involve people arguing back in my childhood days, or me doing or saying something at home that I definitely shouldn’t. I mostly feel like these occur because I need to call my parents, something I do not do nearly as often as I should. In the latest of these, I break an oven when trying to prepare some sort of meal. Perhaps that just means I need to stay out of the kitchen?

Then, there are the dreams of going back to school. In one of the more amusing of these, Tupac is teaching a class at the Governor Morehead School for the Blind. I do not know about what, but of course the room was packed. Mostly though, I’m in my college dorm room wondering if I should have registered for classes by the time we get to the day before. Or I somehow still have a room even though I am definitely no longer a student at the university, and live in constant fear of getting caught. In another, the housekeeper encounters me in the hall and tells me “you have to go downstairs because you’re in the way!” “Can I go back in my room and get my stuff?” I asked. “No,” she says as she shoves me into an elevator that leads me into a basement with no exits and what sounds like a loud boiler going. It was scary.

The last kind involve getting onto some form of transport; a bus, train, or plane, and never quite reaching my destination. The plane starts to land, and just goes down, down, down, until I finally awake. Or the bus seems to continue on the highway for hours, days even, without stopping. In the latest, one of my sisters and I were on a train. We did reach our stop, but had to run nearly a mile to get out of the car before it pulled off. Somehow we managed to slam through the doors just in time. Without question, these transit dreams are the most common.

I wonder what these mean, if anything. Would you say you have recurring dream categories like that? Dreams have always fascinated me with their depth and complexity.

The At Home Post 1: Learning to Function in This New Reality

And oh what a difference a week makes. If I thought things were strange at the time of my last posting, well they are just plain unheard of now. Other than an appointment to get my heart checked, (sort of a long story that resulted from random passing out/vomiting on the floor and being taken to the ER [ugh hospital bills!] Fortunately all is normal though) I have not seen anyone but my wife and her sisters. When the weather is warm, this is ok as I can step out onto the balcony to feel the kiss of much-needed sunshine and relax in the lounge chairs for hours. Or we can take a socially-distanced walk around the neighborhood as we did this past Sunday night. But when the temps and rain fall, as was the case today, it can result in a sense of sluggishness, isolation, and perhaps depression.

I should acknowledge first that for folks who actually come down with this condition and sadly in some cases even die, things are a lot worse than just finding it hard to not be around others. I think one thing that is making me nervous though is hearing about all these people who continued to function through their symptoms, potentially exposing others like myself, who are coping with health conditions, to the virus. This comes from the usual American ethos that says we should not take off if we can even walk to work, and it’s a tough thing to shake overnight.

I certainly have taken off though, and I sort of hesitate to say this, but I am using this time to better myself. Being able to get adequate amounts of sleep and take the time I need to see to my health needs have meant I am experiencing the best two weeks, from a physical perspective, that I have all year. I’m teaching myself to write cover letters and searching for positions I might find interesting. I’ve even found that I have enough stamina to work through job applications that may not as well cooperate with screen-reading software and feel a deep sense of accomplishment when I manage to get a particularly difficult one submitted.

And of course, I am remembering to have fun. How I wish I could turn on some good sports! But now that I have a better understanding of how this thing works, I am also glad for the many that they went ahead and canceled those leagues when they did. The spread may have been incalculable otherwise. I am enjoying music a lot, and particularly the Apple Music playlists, both those that they create and ones I have made myself. Check out my list My Life The Soundtrack if you also happen to have Apple. It’s composed of 80 songs two per year from 1979 to 2018, and it’s fun to press shuffle and see what comes up in that grab bag.

And finally, I am reading. Trying to find books that aren’t so much about criminality, though that’s actually a lot harder than it might looks. A really good one I am about to wrap up is The Perfect Wife, by JP Delaney, where Abbey emerges five years later and soon discovers she is not who she thinks she is. It’s hard to tell you anything without giving too much away, but let’s just say it explores what exactly it means to be human, and who has the right to identity. It’s an interesting concept that suddenly lots of writers are examining.

So how are you dealing with this stay-at-home stuff. If you are an “essential worker,” I say God bless you. I hope you are holding up and staying safe, and thanks for continuing to do what you do to keep us supplied. I know that it is often those with the least income who feel compelled to keep plugging in this time, so I just wish you well. See you all in April.

Job Days No. 7: Work in the Time of Covid

In my last post, I spoke of my own entry into an unwanted “new world” of illness and coping. Since then, it seems we all have found ourselves with an unthinkable menace: a pandemic. This has caused uncertainty in how to proceed among nearly everyone, all the way up to the world’s great governments. We all live on edge, trying to figure out how far this Covid-19 will go and how long it will last. (I read somewhere, I wish I remembered which site, that the Novel Coronavirus is to Covid-19 as HIV is to Aids, in that one causes the other. So they’re not necessarily interchangeable as terms, though common usage has tilted in this way.)

Anyhow, like the rest of you I find myself trying to adapt to restaurant closures, fewer supplies being available at grocery stores, and the most difficult of all being mostly stuck at home. One of the great challenges I face is whether to continue going to work. The place has not yet closed, so I sort of hesitate to leave needed dough on the table. And unfortunately, my position definitely cannot be done from home. They are starting to practice social distancing measures though, making sure that the fewer and fewer of us who arrive each day do not sit directly across from each other and are spaced as far apart as the equipment allows. I do believe that at some point soon some sort of total lockdown will be issued, but until then I will just wash my hands a lot, try not to touch my face, and hope that I have not been passively exposed.

When things are normal, I am still mostly doing the same job I have for the majority of my seven years at good ol’ LCI: packaging light sticks. I feel like I might finally be getting up to everyone else’s speed, which means that I can be left in bliss and to proceed through my thoughts as I desire. I’m a natural introvert, but do try to interact occasionally.

The only tough thing these days is that work has become a lot less reliable than it had been. Well on looking at my previous Job Days post, some of that changeability had already crept in. The difference now is that by Wednesday each week, we will have usually run out of light sticks to package. This is because each truckload is relatively small, and they only come in on Fridays. So if no work is available in flatware, we must spend the rest of the week sorting folders or doing some other sort of busywork. The worst is when we have stretches where nothing is available at all, but fortunately these are few and far between.

Moving Forward

Before all this Covid stuff started, I was launching myself onto the path to become a CPACC, Certified Professional in Accessibility Core Competencies. This followed the SourceAmerica Training I had been doing for much of the latter part of last year, and is being completed through Deque University, a series of online courses offered by Deque Systems. The material is challenging, but no doubt my prior knowledge gained through an HTML course I had taken with the Cisco Academy for the Vision Impaired has helped me tremendously. To this point, I have completed four courses: Accessibility Fundamentals, Designing An Accessible User Experience, Semantic Structure and Navigation, and Images. Now working on one that deals with colors. The visual stuff is the hardest, but I am learning.

And finally, I have just acquired another Rehab Counselor with the North Carolina Division of Services for the Blind. She reached out to me, and we are going to try one more time to see what we can make happen on the job front. I am feeling hopeful though, and might especially see if I can find something that allows me to work from home so that I can nix the work commute. We’ll see how this story continues to unfold.

PUT DOWN THE POP: On my unwanted entry into the ‘new world’ of Type 2 Diabetes

I am a newly diagnosed diabetic. This simple statement, confirmed by a long-dreaded but I knew much-needed test at my doctor’s office rocked my world more profoundly than anything I have recently experienced. It certainly seemed more momentous than the high blood pressure noted in my Ask Your Doctor post. But, it is what it is and now I must get on adapting.

According to the American Diabetes Association, Type 2 Diabetes results from the body’s inability to use insulin properly. The NIDDK, an arm of the National Institutes of Health, says that diabetes appears in approximately 30 million Americans, most 65 or older but becoming a factor by age 45. Either way you look at it, I’m younger than I wanna be with this condition.

What do you tend to associate most with Diabetes? For me, I often think of two great but sad movies, Steel Magnolias and Soul Food, in which the diabetic characters were ultimately unable to manage due to a desire to have children against medical advice and an unwillingness to alter eating habits respectively. Popular culture does not tend to portray this well, as with most conditions, I suppose because functioning well with it tends not to be dramatic. So I seek out hopeful stories, wherever they may lie.

My own story has, in the ten days since I have known for sure that I have it, consisted of a ramping up of knowledge and a gathering of needed materials to help me. (I would venture to say that this has actually been present a lot longer perhaps in a form that could have been mitigated, which is why it is so important to have a doctor who will test as you ask! Please y’all, don’t let your voice be silenced.) Anyhow, my current, awesome medical provider told me to make slow change that sticks. As suggested by the title, my most abrupt alteration was to immediately eliminate soda because it is BAD BAD BAD! I used to have a glass with dinner, and now substitute it with sparkling water or similar sugar-free beverages. She said I can still have coffee sometimes, and while it would be best to take it black, artificial sweeteners are also acceptable.

In addition, I ordered a talking glucose meter from LS&S Products, which I am waiting to acquire. This company makes products for blind and low vision people to maintain independence with whichever condition they find themselves, and while towards the upper end of the price spectrum, I am finding them to be a lifesaver. I want to get the talking blood pressure cuff as well, but that will have to wait.

So the take-home message for you, if you’ve not yet gotten it, is to monitor your health and listen to what your body is telling you. I had already lost nearly all taste for sweets and don’t even want bread all that much. I feel in some ways that my coping strategies, which used to involve consumption of brownies and such late at night, have come back to get me, but also acknowledge that some of this is genetic. Not that those strategies were ever all that helpful. I have since found that diving into a good book, finding a sporting event or perhaps just catching some Z’s are far superior methods for handling stress. If I accomplish anything with this post, I hope it is to help you avoid having to deal with this yourself.

My Very Late 2019 Book Review Post

Already 2 months into 2020, and I still have yet to give an update on my 2019 reads. As usual, reading was important to me as I made my way through that tunultuous year. I only managed 51 titles in total, largely because of my opting to take on James Michener’s epic Chesapeake because it was published in 1979. More about that in the upcoming favorites list.

As noted, I read 51 books in total: only 7 nonfiction/memoirs, more than a usual helping of historical fiction, and a lot of sci-fi with unusual perspectives. In addition, I always try to make sure I read books from those considered underrepresented; women, racial/ethnic minorities, and even some with disabilities. Only 15 of my chosen reads were by men, and altogether about 20 came from the other two mentioned categories. I just like the broad sense of one’s world that can be gained by deliberately selecting from varied backgrounds.

Every year, I set the ambitious goal of keeping a table of and rating any book I complete. And every year I fail. I have, however, tracked all 51 reads and the dates on which I completed them. I will place the entire list at the end of this entry if you wish to see it, but will put up here a list of my top ten favorites with little blurbs for your quick consumption.

  1. Becoming, by Michelle Obama
    Even better with the former first lady reading it, this book reveals interesting insights not only on her and Barack’s rise, but also her family life, with so much of it sounding familiar to me.
  2. On The Come Up, by Angie Thomas
    Her follow-up to The Hate U Give, it takes place in the same universe and involves a female teen using rap to “come up” in a world of gangs and poverty.
  3. Where The Crawdad Sings, by Delia Owens
    I enjoyed this, because it was set on the NC coast during the 60s and 70s, though admittedly not in a place I’ve ever known of. “Marsh girl” has to survive and learn to fight for herself.
  4. The Red Pyramid, by Rick Riordan
    I like this kids book especially in audio, the first in a series that introduces Egyptian mythology in a fun way: dad traveling to England, people jumping out of cats, and siblings teaming up to save the world.
  5. Cemetery Road, By Greg Iles
    As always by this author, the quintessential Southern novel, great for the baking days of June. Mississippi: tangled love, death, small-town gossip, it has it all.
  6. WashingtonBlack, by Esi Edugyan
    This book starts out being about slavery, and becomes so much more. Master lets one of his smartest slaves go with his brother, and they embark on wild adventures into the sea, sky, and the great North.
  7. Solitude, by Dean M. Cole
    Called “Dimension Space for a reason, but it does not become immediately apparent. Last couple on earth first must meet, then try to unwind a disaster to revive humanity.
  8. The Shadow Lands, by Elizabeth Kostova
    Bulgaria in the modern and the past, shines a light on events there during and after World War II as a woman tries to return luggage. Told in Kostova’s slightly rambly but amazing style.
  9. Chesapeake, by James Michener
    Set in the region of its name, this 1000+ page tome explores a slice of American history from 1588 to 1979. Traces maybe 3 main families.
  10. Fountains of Silence, by Ruta Sepetys
    A rare book about life under Franco in Spain, with an American teen-aged photographer falling in love with a Spanish woman and following her into her life of challenge.

(Shameless plug: if you want to see my mini-reviews as they emerge, follow me on Twitter [Opens In a New Window] ). That’s just a snippet of what I enjoyed last year. Some fun reads, but many that makes one think. Certainly we already have many of those coming in 2020. Below, I will place my entire, unadorned list. If you do not care to look, then you have completed this entry. Hope you find something new.

2019 Book List
Becoming, Michelle Obama (1/1-1/15)
Tailspin, Sandra Brown (1/1-1/29)
Next Year in Havana, Chanel Cleeton (1/1-1/21)
Verses for the Dead, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, (1/21-2/1)
Unsheltered, Barbara Kingsolver (1/21-2/11)
On The Come Up, Angie Thomas (2/8-2/19)
Not A Sound, Heather Gudenkauf (2/13-2/28
Adrift, Tami Ashcraft (2/20-2/26)
Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens 2/26-3/9
The Wife, Alafair Burke )3/1-3/30)
The Red Pyramid, Rick Riordan (3/9-3/20
The Liar’s Child, Carla Buckley 3/12-4/4
The Rising Sea, Clive Cussler (3/20-4/9)
Daisy Jones and The Six, Taylor Jenkins Reid (3/29-4/8)
Hidden Figures, Margot Shetterly (4/4-5/3)
Severance, Ling Ma (4/10-4/23)
Run Away, Harlan Coben (4/17-5/17)
More Than Words, Jill Santopolo (4/23-5/3)
Collapsing Empire, John Scalzi (4/30-5/15)
Cold Waters, Debbie Herbert 5/5-5/15)
Ocean Country, Liz Cunningham (5/16-6/16)
The Mystery of Alice, Lee Bacon (5/16-5/22))
Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein (5/18-6/12)
Cemetery Road, Greg Iles (5/23-6/15)
This Fallen Prey, Kelley Armstrong )6/13-7/7)
Night of Miracles, Elizabeth Berg (6/16-6/28)
Recursion, Blake Crouch (6/17-6/27)
The Other Americans, Laila Lalami (6/28-7/10)
Washington Black, Esi Edugyan (6/30-7/25)
The Monkey Idol, K.D. McNiven (7/8-7/31)
The Dreamers, Karen Thompson Walker (7/11-7/25)
Gemina, Amy Kaufman & Jay Kristoff (7/26-8/15)
Never Have I Ever, Joshilyn Jackson (7/30-8/12)
DC Trip, Sara Benincasa (8/1-8/16)
It’s Not What It Looks Like, Molly Burke (8/11-8/19)
Solitude, Dean M. Cole (8/16-9/5)
Conscious, Annaka Harris (8/17-8/28)
The Never Game, Jeffry Deaver (8/20-9/14)
The Shadow Land, Elizabeth Kostova (8/29-9/22)
Multitude, Dean M. Cole (9/6-9/29)
The Friends We Keep, Jane Green (9/22-10/7)
The Secrets We Kept, Lara Prescott (9/29-10/16)
Chesapeake, James Michener (9/29-1/13)
Ask Again, Yes, Mary Beth Keane (10/17-10/26)
The Supermarket, Bobby Hall (10/27-11/1)
Born to Fly, Steve Sheinkin (11/2-11/7)
Lady in the Lake, Laura Lippman (11/7-11/18)
The Last Astronaut, David Wellington (11/18-11/28)
Fountains of Silence, Ruta Sepetys (11/29-12/12)
Blind spot, Brenda Novak (12/12-12/25)
Scarred, Sarah Edmondson (12/26-1/9)

ValDayVersary: On Leaving Newly Wed Status Behind

Happy Valentine’s Day! If you are or have been married, or I suppose even if in a long-term relationship, you and your partner have probably developed an insider language. A collection of words that mean something only to you, or that do exist in other contexts but not with the same connotation. For example, my wife and I have demonstrations and counter-demonstrations, a concept that originated from pressing the button. It’s… a long story. But it brings us much amusement.

But my favorite word creation is ValDayVersary, a combination of Valentine’s Day, her birthday, and our anniversary, which all happen to fall within days of each other. When I first proposed this idea, she of course said “You better not wrap all of that into one day. I want all three celebrations!” And naturally, that’s what it has turned into: a two-month reveling in our relationship and all we have that kicks off each year. It really sets a tone that can carry us forward through all kinds of craziness, the likes of which we discover as we encounter unusual obstacles.

I think this kind of creativity is key to surviving and thriving in a partnership that one expects to last for a life time. Though I certainly don’t know everything yet, as our newlywed status ends I feel that I am now qualified to give some advice in how to work with your significant other in a way that hopefully both of you find pleasing.

First and foremost, as the Wesley Snipes character said in White Men Can’t Jump, “listen to the woman”. To be more inclusive, listen to the “other half”. People will let you know, either directly or indirectly, what they want. Especially in the beginning, she would sometimes say “You should buy me some flowers or something tangible to express your love for me”. I didn’t take this the wrong way, understanding that it was a way to get a newbie like me who had never been in such a sustained connection, to understand the basic expectations. As time has gone on I don’t have to be told these things, as I absolutely want to do them. The indirect hints take more attention, as she might say “I sure could use a new bag,” or “it’s been a while since we’ve had a meal out together”. Of course not everything is material in nature, as usually the most valuable thing you can give of yourself is your time. Just be aware and pay attention to what the person is saying in that regard, as I discovered on wrapping up year 1 that I had missed some subtle cues that led to missed chances to connect.

Speaking of, for me at least a very important element is to make each other laugh a lot. Life serves up enough challenges to cause anyone to crumple from the weight of it. We work together to conquer these challenges, but whenever we have the chance and are up to it we enjoy joking around with each other both verbally and physically. And to me at least, that has rapidly increased the sense of bonded purpose between the both of us.

I do not know what awaits us going forward, but I am becoming more excited as experience and age education us on how to not only deal with whatever life serves, but also to have a lot of fun while doing it. Here’s to your laughs, language, and love. I find it hard to believe that it has already been five years since that first Valentine’s Day when we met, and our origin story really kicked into gear. (Funny side note, as I wrote that, Michael Jackson’s “Remember The Time” came on as I was writing this part). What do you remember of the beginning of your relationship? Have you developed any strange language between the two of you?

Tampa Times: The Big Question (Monday 1/20)

My wife Carrol and I consider ourselves seasoned travelers. Because of the trips we’ve taken (Charleston 2015, Asheville 2016, Williamsburg 2017, Wilmington 2018, and Miami 2019) we have a pretty good understanding of what is amazing and what is just meh. So as our trip to what was supposed to be warm! Tampa Florida begins, I am filled with trepidation. The “Big Question” in question concerns our hotel choice, the West Wing Boutique, which turns out to be located in a less-than-great part of town. I worry that, despite all of the reviews, I will have to whip my phone out and book another property. But… well we’ll get back to that later. Let’s just say that she must trust me, because I usually select the properties, running them by her for approval before going final.

Things start smoothly enough. As a result of an online conversation with Delta Air Lines, we are upgraded to Delta Comfort for both flights. This means more leg room, and also a generally quieter, less bumpy experience as we knew from our first trip to Boston together. While I am of course pleased with this arrangement, I still point out that the company needs to work to create accessible seat maps so that I can make a choice about where we are to sit. After consuming the long crackers they provide, we arrive in Tampa earlier than our ETA of 10:30 AM. I think it has finally occurred to someone to schedule more time than necessary, thus vastly reducing delays and causing passengers to build the time into their itinerary.

The Tampa International Airport is large, so we spend another 20 minutes or so making our way onto one train and then another before arriving at the rental car facility, where she chooses a comfortable Nisan. Then the fun begins.

Knowing that it is unlikely, we decide to first see if our room is available for check-in. As we approach the hotel, a 30-minute ride along I-275 North, she sees two individuals standing in front of the building smoking. I think that this, as well as the general look of the area entirely, made her nervous, in turn making me nervous. Upon entering the loud lobby, we are told that we must wait till 3:30 and try again to see if a room has become available.

So off to breakfast we go, at a restaurant called Village Inn, which seems to be mostly present in the Tampa area. The people there, as well as the other places in which we ate, are very friendly. Because this was Martin Luther King Jr. Day, they are understaffed and only using a fraction of the available tables. This is not a big issue though, and I enjoy the cheese omelette, sausage links (they had run out of the homemade patties I really wanted) toast, and hash browns.

The last significant thing we do on this day is visit downtown Tampa. We are underwhelmed, as this location is fairly quiet and nothing seems to be happening. We are unable to locate some kind of bus tour, as we like to find when visiting major cities. So we just sit on the riverwalk for a few minutes, then head back to the hotel in hopes that a nap might be had. I should note as well that the temperature was only low 60s, rather than the 70s we are hoping for. But we do avoid the deep freeze that hits North Carolina. I made a joke before our trip to Miami that historic cold fronts would follow us whenever we seek warm weather, and thus far it actually seems to be happening.

At the hotel, as we walk the long halls on the second floor after successfully checking in, my panic builds. This cannot be a bust, this cannot be a bust… She opens the door with the key, and immediately exclaims: “wow!” We are greeted with an amazing suite that contains a living room/kitchen with love seat, a bar, a fridge, two chairs at a low table for eating, and a totally separate bedroom. The bathroom is very nice, having been appointed with full-sized towels that are almost like sheets. They also provide a bathrobe and slippers for use during and after the shower, which is nice. The only thing Carrol does find odd is that the front wall of the bathroom is made entirely of glass, and must be obscured with a curtain if one wishes for privacy. Overall though, it is the fanciest room we have stayed in.

That concern disposed of, our feeling about the trip finally begins to improve. Crashing, we awake around 6 and head off to dinner at Chili’s. Other than enjoying the room’s ambiance for the remainder of the night, nothing else significant happens. More on Tuesday.