Monday, February 8, 2016

Book Review: Hunger Games

I started reading this book a few weeks ago at school.  I had a sick child at home today and we were only a couple chapters from the end in class, so while he rested, I finished the book.

****Spoiler alert:  There will be some details about the book in this review, so if you haven't previously read this book, be aware that you will learn some details of the story if you proceed.***

Disclaimer #1:  I am not typically a fan of sci-fi, fantasy or dystopian style books/movies, so my keep that in mind.  That means I am not the biggest fan of movies/books like The Princess Bride, Star Wars, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Twilight...and so on.  I have friends who have almost disowned me for this (ha ha), but it's just not my cup of tea.  Since discussing this with a few friends recently, I have really been introspective, trying to determine why these styles don't do anything for me and I think I have come to a conclusion about it.  {Note: this has nothing to do with the book, but I am explaining so you have an understanding of where I'm coming from.}

When I was a little girl, there was plenty of pretend play. I dressed up.  I played house.  I built forts from sheets and blankets.  I mothered baby dolls.  I built elaborate doll houses from cardboard boxes.  I wrote stories.  I drew and colored.  I took dishes and toys outside for tea parties.  I wandered in the woods, floating Barbie dolls on boats (styrofoam meat trays) in the creek.  I played school with my sisters.  But the thing is, all of that was based on mimicking behaviors I had seen in real life.  All of my pretending and imaginative situations of my entire childhood were based in reality.  Having taught preschool for five years myself, I realize now that is very common for young children.  Many children base their pretend play off things they have seen in the world around them.  I had no context for princesses or dragons or fairies or monsters or other things of that nature. I never played pretend with situations I couldn't see replicated in real life.  It's just not how I was wired I guess.  Or maybe my parents were never interested in stories or movies like that, so I never saw it in their entertainment choices?  I don't know but that's how things were when I was little.

So as an adult, it seems that has rolled over into my entertainment choices.  I don't mind fictional books and movies, but if it's so far-fetched that I know it'll never happen in real life, I have a VERY HARD TIME staying focused on it.  The second it goes into something that isn't potentially possible in life, I find my mind wandering, I get drowsy.  I have to constantly pinch myself to come back to the story. It's like there is such a disconnect for me that I have to force myself to stick it out.  And sometimes I do.  Other times I walk away.  There is nothing WRONG with these stories, they just don't hold my attention or entertain me.  When my family wanted to see the new Star Wars movie on Christmas Day, I went. It wasn't awful, but I would've been just as satisfied sleeping through it.  I would never have bothered to see it if it weren't for my family.  I hate to use the words "dumb" or "stupid" or "weird" because that sounds so judgmental and I know lots of perfectly wonderful, highly intelligent people who loved the movie.  But for me, it was really umm.... dumb, stupid, weird.  I left listening to my family cheer and laugh and talk about particular scenes.  I left thinking "Eh.  Whatever.  Now, can we talk about something real?"

So, with that in mind, I just could not imagine enjoying anything about the Hunger Games book.  I'm a big reader and have plenty of other books to keep up with, so it never even crossed my radar to care about this book. If you aren't a fan of those styles either, this book probably won't drastically change your feelings but it's entertaining, and maybe that's what you're looking for.

Disclaimer #2:  With disclaimer #1 in mind, I should say however that I DO love musicals and most Christmas movies, which might have some smidgen of reality in them, but they are largely based on fantasy.  I also have several cartoons I've watched with my kids over the years that are hugely entertaining to me but clearly they are very far-fetched.  Do you know of any high school in the real world where students routinely break into song & the entire school knows all the moves to the dance that happens with the song? (Grease, High School Musical, West Side Story, etc...)  Have you really ever seen an elf, Santa, etc?  How many talking sponges do you know?  I can't reconcile these things, but feel like I need to confess and clear the air and share this truth since I don't tend to like anything else fiction that COULD NEVER HAPPEN.  I'm weird.  I know.  I can't explain it. Sorry.  Please love me anyway.

So.... about that Hunger Games book.

This is the first book in a trio. The second book is Catching Fire and the third is titled Mockingjay.  I watched the first movie a couple years ago and kind of hated it.  I was incredibly underwhelmed, so I had zero desire to read the book version.  While I know that the book version is always far better than the movie, I didn't pursue finding a copy and reading it. So when the classroom teacher told the class that we would be reading this book as a group, I put on a happy face and played along for the sake of the kids.  I didn't want to give them a reason to turn up their nose at the book or not participate in discussions as we read along.  I think one or two of the kids eventually got the picture that it wasn't necessarily my favorite book ever, but for the most part, my lack of enthusiasm didn't cause any issues in class.  I would never want to discourage a child from reading anything.  But this particular teacher and another english teacher on campus were REALLY anxious to see me read the book and fall in love with it.  (Or at least give it a try and make an attempt to enjoy it.)

(Are you ready, Morgan and Tiffany?)

I didn't hate it.  But I really didn't love it either.  I wanted to.  It's hard being one of the few people on the continent who really doesn't care for this style of book.  But try as I might, I couldn't convince myself to adore it.  There were some really great parts.  Then there were parts that I thought were completely ridiculous.  I guess 'indifferent' would be the best way to describe my feelings. Or maybe confused?  I still really don't know how I feel about it.  Let me explain the two sides to that coin.

The book was not entirely different from the movie, but there was way more to the story in the book than viewers saw in the movie.  The book begins by explaining that the Hunger Games were established by the government of Panem, a country divided into districts.  The games are sort of a punishment to the country, a reminder that the government controls everything after a time of rebellion against the government years earlier.  The games are an annual tradition where 2 children (age 12-18) from each district (1 male, 1 female) are trained and then put into an 'arena' where cameras watch them for however long it takes to hunt and kill each other.  Citizens of the country are forced to watch as their young ones fight for survival and attempt to be the last remaining participant. Parents literally see the brutal, graphic, bloody deaths of their children.  Sounds delightful, huh?

Hearing the history and background story before the actual games began was engaging.  At the time, I felt like those chapters were a little dry and boring, but when the rest of the story began to take on an accelerated pace a few chapters in, I realized that I actually enjoyed much more so the dry & boring parts of the book than any of the rest.  {which was completely backward from every student in the classroom!}  The main character, Katniss, is a girl in her mid-teens whose father was killed years before in a mining accident.  She, her mother and little sister Prim remain.  Katniss is a skilled hunter and she spends most of her time in the woods hunting for food to feed the family.  Her district is known for extreme poverty.  People frequently starve to death there. Hearing about Katniss's family and the place where she lives was relatable.  While I've never lived in a place like District 12, I could visualize that being a real place.  Poverty is very real today and there have certainly been times when my own family struggled to figure out where we'd get the next meal. Serving the extremely poor has been the core of several mission trips I've been on.  Meeting physical needs of children I have worked with over the years is such a part of my soul that all of this part of the book just 'made sense' to me.

Hearing the stories of her relationship with her friend Gale made sense to me.  Gale is a boy who also hunts regularly to feed his family in District 12.  Katniss and Gale have a special friendship and they look out for one another.  Their friendship feels tender and sweet.  So when they both go to the Reaping (the day when participants for the games are chosen), you can really FEEL the pain in Gale's heart when he sees Katniss volunteering to be a participant.  {She volunteers so that her very young sister will not have to go.} He is scared he will never see her again.

Learning of her history with her Hunger Games partner, Peeta, was sweet.  Peeta's father is the local baker and there was a time when Katniss's family was on the verge of starvation and Peeta intentionally burned a loaf of bread so that he'd have to throw it out.  He knew he could give it to her to help her family survive.  Katniss feels like she forever owes Peeta a debt of gratitude for his gift.


Pretty much from the moment the selection process began (to choose contestants for the games,) the book lost its thunder to me.  Everything went from feeling realistic and familiar, full of potential and tugging at the heart to being ridiculously fiction-y.  Cartoonish sounding names of characters, items and situations in the book totally distracted me from the story & felt laughable and silly. Characters with names like Effie Trinket, Glimmer; items like trackerjackers, silver discs that lifted the contestants through a glass tube "elevator" into the arena, magic potions; strange situations like images projected onto the night sky for all to see, etc.  While the storyline was engaging enough to keep me curious about what would happen next from day to day, it just felt well... silly.  It was just so far-fetched.

From the moment the games begin, each of the tributes must make decisions about life or death survival tactics constantly.  They are given the very bare minimum in supplies. They must live with these provisions, unless a sponsor chooses to send them a gift along the way.  If they do send something, it arrives on a magical silver parachute that drops from the sky into their exact location. Remember, everything is televised back home so rich people in the Capitol are able to see when they need something & may (or may not) choose to buy it for them.  As the games progress, anytime one of the tributes is killed, a cannon shot is fired for all contestants to hear, giving them a way to keep a death count.  And in the evening, as it gets dark, some sort of mystical film projector puts an image in the sky of whichever tributes died that day.

Katniss is an archer who spends her days mostly hunting for food and evading being found by the other tributes. She has a few close calls along the way.  I hate to give away too many specific details, though.  She is friended by a young girl who reminds her of her little sister, so she feels obligated to protect her. They become allies and she ultimately kills the person who kills the little girl.  Katniss's fellow District 12 tribute, Peeta, is injured pretty badly in the story and we find out later it's because he was protecting Katniss because he loves her. In the midst of the games, the government decides that it would be exciting to see Katniss and Peeta pair up, so they announce a change in the rules that will allow for two tributes from the same district to win. Katniss locates Peeta in the woods and they remain together, doctoring each others' wounds and working together for the remainder of the games, ultimately winning together. (But not without a last minute twist in the story that I'll let you find yourself if you choose to read it.)

There were brief moments in the story while Katniss was participating in the actual games that made me feel connected to her again.  When she talked of survival techniques and trapping food, hiding herself in the trees.  When she nurtured her young friend as she died, when she cared for her District 12 partner's wounds... all that made sense to me.  I have a family of hunters.  We all enjoy watching survival shows on television.  I'm fond of quite a few close friends who are doctors or nurses, and Katniss's care for Rue and Peeta's health felt maternal to me.  Those things make sense and seem real to me.

But when she got a magical silver parachute delivered to a treetop where she was hiding and it held magical burn cream that transformed her horribly burned hands to baby-pink-new skin by morning, it was a big eye-roller for me.  It's like I'd reach a point where I was almost drawn back into enjoying the story and then BAM, another completely outlandish and goofy thing would happen to make me feel like I was reading a Looney Tunes comic book.  I sort of expected an anvil to drop from the sky and hit her, followed by a silver parachute bearing some magic potion that would make her pop back up & keep running.  Ha ha!

While most people would never be bugged by these little details, these are the kinds of things that turn me off to this genre of story.  It feels corny to me. I mean really.... the day I allow my child to leave & go participate in a "fight to the death" game to entertain my horrific government is the day you'll see me shot in the head for grabbing them & running.  They might still be forced into the arena to participate but it would literally be over my dead body.  Everything about the story line of the Hunger Games feels so insane to me that I couldn't really focus because I was seeing a steady stream of holes in the craziness of the plot.  When a story's concept is so far-fetched from the first page on, I have a hard time enjoying it and not looking at every detail through cynical, critical glasses.

Don't get me wrong.  There were certainly parts of the story that even an realist like me enjoyed. I didn't hate the book.  The story just felt well... fiction.... to me.  And that's not necessarily a bad thing if that's what you're looking for.

So can you see my confusion & alternating feelings about the book?  ha ha!

As far as my recommendation (or not?) of the book:  If you like this genre of book, I think you'll enjoy it.  So grab a copy & get to reading!  But for the cynics & realists like me, let's meet in the Biography section of Barnes and Noble.  I'll point you toward some of my very favorite ever books!

Friday, December 4, 2015

Mid-life crisis, anyone?

People who know me are still giggling.  I shocked their socks off a few weeks ago when I posted a picture on Facebook of my new tattoo.  Most of them would never peg me as being the owner of inked skin.  I guess I just don't look the type.  But on November 14, a few days after my 40th birthday, I jumped into my "over the hill" years with my first (and likely only, ever) tattoo.

If you've never had a tattoo done and you're curious about the process, or if you're interested in possibly having one, this post is for you. I wanted to journal the entire tattoo experience, so come along and join me!

About 3 or 4 years ago, I started thinking about getting a tattoo.  I mentioned it on Facebook and all those same people who were shocked I did it all laughed.  They swore that I'd never go through with it.  My mom crossed her fingers that I'd change my mind, I think.  But once the hoopla died down, they started showering me with info and advice.

I can't remember exactly where the desire started or what the impetus was, but once I got the tattoo itch, there was no turning back.  I started thinking about what sort of design I'd want and where I'd put it on my body.  I wanted somewhere that a) didn't hurt TOO much and b) would be a spot that would be covered by clothing 95% of the time, so that I could hide it at work or when I am around someone who might not be entirely comfortable with tattoos.  BUT I also wanted it in a place where I COULD show someone the tattoo if I wanted to -- without having to take off clothes or reveal too much skin.  AND, if I was going to do it, I wanted it to be meaningful and special -- not just some random image chosen from a wall of designs at some random hole in the wall tattoo shop.  That's a hefty burden for one little tattoo.  So for the next several years, I put it off, saying that I'd get the tattoo for my 40th birthday.

I created a Pinterest board of possible tattoo ideas.  I looked at tattoo pain charts.  (and wondered WHY anyone would put one THERE!!)  I researched local tattoo shops.  I talked to people who had tattoos and looked at a million tattoo pictures online searching for inspiration.  It didn't take long for me to narrow down my search of designs to these three.  I knew I wanted this basic design, but with "Larry" in place of "Love".

I loved the idea of the heart made with the curvy, swirly cursive L.  I loved that it was still girlie and dainty looking.  And I liked the idea of paying tribute to my 20+ year marriage by putting Larry's name in the heart.  The last picture (above) ended up being my final choice inspiration picture.

Earlier this year, it dawned on me that THIS was the year I'd turn 40.  That meant I had to get serious about this if it was really going to happen.  I located an email address for the particular shop I planned to use and emailed a pic of the design to them, asking how pricey it would be, how long it would take to do the tattoo, etc.  I sat on that information for about six months.  In early October I mentioned the tattoo to Larry (for the millionth time) and he surprised me by saying he wanted to get a tattoo as well.  I think my reaction was "What??????????"  Until that time, he had never seemed overly interested in having one himself, so it was a surprise!  Plus, he is not a big fan of pain.  At all.  So I wondered how  he'd handle things.  We decided we'd do it together!  As the day drew near, it got a little scary & nerve-wracking that this was really happening.  But I was also very excited!

Saturday, November 14 was the big day.  When we arrived at the tattoo shop, Larry and I were pleasantly surprised by how clean and nice the building was.  It looked more like a doctor's office in the waiting area.  When we moved back into the actual tattoo rooms, they were still very sterile looking, but they took on a more edgy look with their decor.  My tattoo artist, John, was into pirates and renaissance fairs, so his room was decorated with things of that nature.  This is his room, below.  Still very clean and tidy, but a little more like what you'd expect from a tattoo shop.  But even so, both of our artists were very clean, normal-looking guys.  There were no creepy biker gang types hanging around and both of our artists were ex-military guys!  Sam had come with us, so he loved getting to talk to them and hearing about their time in the service.  (He wants to go into the Army when he graduates from high school.)  It felt safe and comfortable and the guys were men who didn't leave us cringing when they spoke to our son.

John, my tattoo guy, was very attentive, super nice and made the experience ALL ABOUT ME.  He took the picture I gave him and created an outline that I got to look at before he ever set up the chair I'd sit in.  He drew it on the lighted desk you can see on the right in the picture above, made sure I approved it, shrunk it down to size on a copier, then ran it through a machine that printed it out on transfer paper.  That paper was then applied to my cleaned, shaven, bare skin where the tattoo would be done and I had one last chance to confirm it was in the right place, turned the right way, looked like I wanted....or back out if I was going to!  LOL!  Then it was time to get started!

John set up the chair in the right position, put sterile paper on the part where I'd sit and lean my head back.  The part where my foot/lower leg would be touching got covered in plastic (several layers of it) and then a sterile paper drape covered where my foot actually touched.  He also wrapped my foot in sterile paper too so that really only the area I was having done was showing.

He showed me each piece of equipment and each bottle of ink/cleanser/etc as he opened it -- to prove it was brand new, still sealed, clean and sterile.  I was impressed with how much time he spent making sure I knew I was safe.  (I never questioned that but it was nice to know it was all "safe" after reading horror stories on the internet.)  As he began the tattoo, he explained each step, described what he was doing and made me very comfortable.  Well, you know, as comfortable as you can be when someone you don't know is piercing you with needles --- over and over!

When he began the tattoo, I took a picture, then handed Sam my phone to snap pictures of what he was seeing.  This was my view as he worked.

And Sam's view:

To the right of where Sam was sitting, you could see into the room where Larry was having his tattoo done:

He went back and forth between the two rooms snapping pictures and recording videos for us to each see how the other was doing.

Here, you can see my outline getting done.

And Larry's.

As my tattoo progressed:

Almost done!

And as Larry's progressed:

His final product:
And mine, after we got home that night:

The next few days, it oozed plasma, a little blood and some ink.  According to the tattoo artists & all the internet, that is totally normal.  We put A&D ointment on it for the first 3 days.  (as prescribed by the artists)

We were told to switch to a product called Tat Wax after those first few days, which I promptly broke out from use of.  The internet (and my tattoo artist) said it was likely due to using too much of the product, but I used it exactly as they suggested & as the product's container said.  So I really felt like I was allergic to it.  Of course, I also have pretty sensitive skin, so I think the combination of the skin irritation in general (from getting a tattoo) and then the use of products my skin is not accustomed to just threw it into a tailspin.  And I got THIS.

These little red bumps popped up a couple per day.  They itched & bugged me.  They made the whole area sensitive and tender.  One evening the whole tattoo area was inflamed and red, like it was the night I got it done.  That scared me a little, but it was short-lived and went away on its own.  But the bumps remained.  After a couple days, I went to our school nurse and asked her if I should be concerned about a staph infection or some other sort of tattoo-related horror story that would mean I should go to the doctor for heavy duty antibiotics.  She said she believed it was just skin irritation & allergic reactions to the products I was using.  She suggested I put Hydrocortisone cream on the bumps themselves (not ON the tattoo) to dry them up.  I did that and began taking Benadryl at night as well.  (And a non-drowsy antihistamine during the day.)  I quit using the Tat Wax altogether to see if it would help get rid of the bumps and began alternating between Vitamin E oil and coconut oil instead.

And now, about 2 weeks after the rash began, it's just about all dried up and my healing tattoo is getting back on track with what everyone else experiences in the first week or two after the tattoo is done.

It's peeling like crazy and looks pretty kind of scaly.  According to the 673 pictures I've found online of healing tattoos, it's pretty standard.  But now I have to get the skin better moisturized so that it can finish healing.  This is what it looked like tonight, just before I began typing this post.  Don't laugh at the stubble.  I can't shave on the tattoo for 8 weeks, so the closely surrounding area & on the tattoo itself are beginning to look a little Big Foot-ish.

Now that I am just about 3 weeks post-tattoo, my feelings about the whole experience are as follows.

1.  I would do it all over again.  (Although at least for now, I don't have any particular plans to get a 2nd tattoo.  But then again, 10 years ago I didn't plan to get this one, so you never know!)
2.  I love my tattoo. I love what it stands for.  I love that it is a physical, visual reminder of my permanent, forever commitment to my husband.
3.  Did I mention that I would do it all over again?  Seriously, it's been a great experience.  Even with the skin irritation!

If you think you might want a tattoo, do your research, spend some time figuring out what you want/where you want to put it.  Find a reputable place to get it done and perhaps even visit the shop to check out the environment and artists.  If you feel creeped out, find a different place to go.  These days, there are plenty of them.

To young people considering a tattoo, my advice is to wait until you're married.  And preferably over 30.  By then you will have a decent head on your shoulders (I hope) and you can make a reasonable decision.  You're less likely to get a funny Gummi Bear tattoo on your butt or a rose growing out of a skull on your forehead.  And since your body becomes 'shared property' with your spouse, make sure it's something they are comfortable with as well.  After all, they'll be the one walking next to you on the street if someone stops to stare at your super cool inked arm. While it is certainly more commonplace these days, there is still plenty of judgement and uncomfortable feelings by many where tattoos are concerned.  So if your having a tattoo makes them uncomfortable, you need to deal with that prior to sitting down in a tattoo artist's chair.

If you have any questions about the tattoo experience, feel free to email me!  (See the top right of this page where my email address is posted.)

In a few weeks when the tattoo is completely done healing, I'll post an updated picture below.

UPDATE:  Someone pointed out to me that I didn't cover the ever popular question "Does it hurt to get a tattoo?" so here goes.

YES it hurts.  But everyone's pain tolerance is different.  What feels excruciating to me might just be a minor irritation to someone else, and some parts of the body are more painful than others.  So here's what I have told everyone and the way Larry has described his experience.

When the tattoo first began, I recognized that it was an strange sort of feeling.  Not particularly HORRIBLE but sort of like " would be nice if you'd stop that."  It felt sort of like a scratch--but a thorn or a cat scratch.  Not the worst thing ever, but tolerable.  Definitely something I could put up with if I knew it wouldn't last forever.  But occasionally he'd hit a spot about an inch or so long that really HURT.  Like a "Why are you using a hot scalpel & cutting into my leg?" sort of hurt. But then just as soon as I felt that way & tensed up, it would be over.  Larry's artist explained that there are little bundles of nerves here and there and when you hit those, it's like every pain sensor in the body goes off & it just hurts.  But most of the tattoo was not like that.  I noticed I had more of those sorts of spots on one side of the tattoo.  My artist said "Most people say that one side has more of a bite to it than the other."  Also, on my tattoo, when the artist went from doing the outline to filling in the solid black parts, it hurt less.  I'm not sure if my leg just sort of went numb because the needle is truly piercing over and over, 1 millimeter at a time or if it was just an entirely different sensation and that didn't hurt as much to me.  Whatever the case, Larry and I had a similar response to the pain level on both of our tattoos.  However, Larry's took much longer to do than mine.

And that leads to a 2nd question that people have asked me a lot, so I'll answer that here as well.

How long does it take?
WELL.... my tattoo is about the size of the palm of my hand.  So maybe 3"x3".  From the moment I walked into the front doors of the shop until I stood up out of the chair and was completely done was approximately an hour and ten minutes.  I think.  Some of that was signing papers, paying, getting the tattoo drawn on the light board, making sure it looked right, setting up the chair & equipment, talking.... so really it was only about 40 minutes of actual needle work.  Larry's tattoo,  however, is quite a bit larger and has a lot of filled in black space, so his took quite a bit longer to do.  I'd say his is about 5"x4".  Perhaps slightly larger.  He was in the chair being worked on for nearly three and a half hours.

So, keep your pain level and size of the tattoo in mind when you plan yours!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

A whole new world

Alright.  So this post is not about a Disney movie, but the song certainly fits.

After years of recognizing that he has hearing issues, Larry finally admitted to his doctor at his last check up that he thought maybe he needed a hearing test.  As a little boy, he had lots of ear infections and there was some damage done to his hearing.  Over the years, it's been clear that he has some problems, but he's accommodated for it by turning his head to the "good side" or positioning himself on the right side of persons he's talking to.  But it's gotten gradually worse in the last few years.  In his job, he spends about 80% of his days interviewing people, talking on the phone, needing to hear he knew it was time to look into it.

Yesterday, he went to the ENT who did Sam's ear surgeries when he was little and had a hearing test.  We teased that he'd go into the same little pediatric hearing test booth & get to watch the robotic monkey that squeals & claps its cymbals together when you prove that you've heard a sound for the audiologist.  I think his test was a little more mature in nature, but wouldn't it be fun if they did that for adults, too?

When he left the appointment, he called me and stated that the doctor said he needs hearing aids.  Plural.  Both ears.  Today I went with him for the appointment where they fitted him for the aids.  (Can I just call them aids?  Is that politically correct?  I guess it's my husband so I can call them whatever I want!  It's a lot to type out if I have to write "hearing aids" every time.  Perhaps I'll just call them HA.  Or not.  It might look like I'm making light of things if I say he's getting his HAs.)

When we arrived today, we were seated near 3 other couples.  All of them were in their 70s.  The receptionist who was calling to make appointments (likely for other 70 year olds) was having to speak REALLY loudly into the phone and we had fun giggling about that.  It's kind of a scary when you have to deal with something serious like hearing loss, but our warped senses of humor helped us.

The first office we went to was a man who was sort of an educator about the different types of aids.  He explained how the cheaper end ones are mostly for "hermits"---people who are at home the vast majority of the time, have little social interaction, really only need to be able to hear the TV or maybe an occasional phone call.  They also work well for people with a very mild hearing loss.  Larry's hearing loss and lifestyle, however, don't fit that category.  His loss is in the moderate to severe level in his left ear & moderate in his right.  The educator explained a lot of things about hearing loss that I never knew.  Did you know the brain eventually quits trying to hear certain sounds/pitches if you have a loss that goes untreated for years?  So even if you get hearing aids at that point, you'll never be able to hear those pitches/tones.  There was a lot of interesting info!  Oh, and he mentioned the cost, too.  Ouch.

Then we moved into the next room where he was actually fitted for his aids.  It was fun to watch him try on the aids for the first time.  The audiologist was talking and his eyes got big and he smiled, saying how surprising it was to hear everyone so clearly.  He said it was 100% different right away.  He was shocked that things sounded so much better immediately.  When she took them out to adjust something he said "Give it back!!"  ha ha!  He said once they were out, he felt like he went from hearing clearly to having cotton balls shoved in both ears.

While we were talking to the audiologist, his cell phone vibrated beside him.  He jumped & grabbed his phone and said that he'd never heard it vibrate before.  He had felt it when he was holding it, but he never heard the buzzing sound before.  He stared at his phone for a minute, shocked at the fact that he'd never heard that.  I got choked up seeing how surprised he was.  I sometimes use the vibration only as my alarm clock with my phone.  Just the buzzing sound is enough to wake me up!  It blew my mind that he's never heard that sound at all!

It's so cool to see how much these hearing aids will open up a whole new world for Larry.  I'm proud of him for facing this and dealing with it.  I've teased him for years about being deaf....and now I have proof that he almost is!  He will pick up his hearing aids Friday.  He is really excited about it, so am I!

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Dear ex-foster child:

I saw you today.

We talked a bit. It was awkward and a little strained. We both wanted to talk, but words didn't come easily. We talked about the day, about school, about whatever we could.  I longed to squeeze your frame and tell you how much it hurt to let you go.  But I tried to be the adult and continue the conversation light-heartedly and smile.  I hope my eyes told you that I love you.

I loved you then.  I love you now.

It's been 8 years since you moved out and I guess I'm still not completely healed.  I mean, I think I am.  But I'm not.  My heart still aches.  I suppose it always will.  I still see you curled in my lap, tears running down your cheeks as we tried to distract ourselves with a Scooby-Doo movie.  Neither of us were really watching it, but we needed the background noise.  I sniffled & kissed the top of your head a hundred times and whispered "I love you.  I love you.  I love you." over and over.  I wasn't sure if I'd ever see you again and I wanted to make sure you knew.  And wouldn't ever forget.  It was as if I said it over and over it would somehow soak into your pores and stay locked inside you forever.

When you and your brother left, I didn't think I'd ever stop hurting.  I guess I haven't.  It's like a death, really.  You don't ever forget.  You just learn how to move on with your life.  I have.  I don't dwell on it all the time.  But now and then, it hurts just as fresh as it did then.  I know it hurt you far more to move again.  Being uprooted, switching schools, learning a new place, making new friends, getting comfortable in a new home.

It makes me so happy to know that you're nearly grown and you're doing so well.  I know it should make me happy that you barely remember us.  You were so little when you left.  I get it.  You've grown so much since then and you're really home now.  That's as it should be.  They've raised you and done a beautiful job of it.  You're healthy, smart, happy.  That makes me so richly, abundantly joyful.

There are still drawings hanging in my kitchen, right where you hung them 8 years ago.  I have never had the heart to take them down.  Maybe removing the magnets and putting them away means you weren't ever mine, even if for a little while.  And I don't want to give you up completely.  For a little while, you were my child.  One of your pictures made in preschool while you were here still hangs in a frame.  I'm proud of who you are and what you've become.  Preschool was ages ago and high school is your home now.  Hours away from here.  With your family and your friends.

I hope you know that you'll always be a part of my life, even if I'm not in yours.  And I hope, as you fall asleep tonight, you can still hear me whispering "I love you.  I love you.  I love you."

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Some random thoughts and time to catch up!

Once upon a time, I loved blogging.  Writing was therapy to me.  It still is, but I don't attend my sessions much anymore.

I wrote this blog and read about 100 others.  Literally nearly a hundred.  Check the list of blogs on the right side of this page that I read.  Maybe it's not 100, but it's a LONG list.  But look at that list & see if you notice anything similar.  See the date marked under each of those blog names?  It tells how long it's been since their last post.  Apparently those once avid bloggers have fallen into the same trap I have.  Social media.  It takes blogging & smashes it into short, much quicker little bites.  You get blurbs about their lives there, snapshots of their kids, but not much depth.  (Usually anyway.)

While I love social media & use it EVERY SINGLE DAY I wonder if like so many other things in life these days, we're all living too fast.  We need smart phones so we can be connected ALL THE TIME.  We take pictures & post them of everything we do.  We need drive-thru restaurants to be FAST.  We need the microwave because we don't have the patience to cook anything that takes more than 2 minutes.  Everything, every day, all day long, has to go fast fast fast fast.  In fact, I wonder how many of you opened this post, saw a lot of words & sighed because it would take more than 30 seconds to read.  Or how many clicked out of the page altogether & missed reading this?

So I'm going to make a step toward trying to do better on this myself.  I am going to set a reminder in my phone (yeah, I see the irony!) to post here at least once a week.  {And yes, I just spent 15 minutes trying to figure out how to set that on my phone, which led to me reading a couple of texts, googling something and checking facebook.  Yikes.  Have to start right here at home for sure!}  So here's the latest on us!

School resumed about 4 weeks ago.  The kids are getting settled into their new classes & routines.  I'm getting set in mine.  Time for an update on us.  I'll start at the top of our family & work down the ranks.

Larry and I are doing great!  Not much changes day to day for Larry since his schedule and routine don't alter with the change of the school year or the start/end of the summer.  So for now, he is just plugging along as usual.  His job keeps him busy.  Today we went on our September date, which is where the picture above was taken.  He got to choose a movie and a place to eat for his birthday month, so we went to the local Studio Movie Grill.  It's a little pricey, but it's a fun experience.

My school year began August 17th.  After a REALLY FUN week of in-service with an incredible staff at my school, we began our year and it's been a great one so far.  Of course there are always bumps along the way when you work with junior high kids, but all in all, it's been great.  We are all gearing up for October.  Lots of fun things coming up!  And October always seems to pass so quickly.  When it's over, we'll be knocking on the door of November and December and all the holidays...and before you know it, half the school year is over already.  I know...maybe I'm rushing things a bit, but time passes so quickly!  I've read a couple of books since school began that were really good and have enjoyed my Saturday mornings to sleep late.

Savannah began her 2nd year of college in August.  She is enjoying her classes and working at a local vet's office.  She really is suited to work with kids or animals or things that involve some combination of the two, so this job has been lots of fun for her.  She doesn't anticipate a change of heart as far as her major and career goals (which don't include animals) but it's been a fun place for her to work and nurture the pets that come in for care, grooming or boarding.  She is an art major, planning to get a degree in animation.  She has researched heavily and has narrowed down her vision for the future to 3 particular schools.  When she finishes up at the local junior college in the spring of 2016, she will move on to one of the other schools.  None of them are close enough for her to continue living at home to attend.  I am so grateful to have her home for now, but I'm already grieving her moving away next year.  I know it's inevitable and it's what we raise our kids to do---become independent adults that is--- but it's so hard to think of her being far from home.  Can I go ahead & ask for prayers for that now?  It's gonna be HARD for his mama.  She is also collecting movie posters for things that she enjoys the technical or animation side of.  (See picture above.)  She's pretty much determined that she will collect them until her entire wall is covered.  She's doing great so far.

The week before school started, Sam was at football practice and injured his quadricep. (That's spelled right, isn't it?  Blogger is saying it's not, but I could've sworn that's how you spell quadricep.)  He had to go to the team trainers daily for a while for treatment and had to sit out of practices and games for 2 weeks.  He had just made it back to full gear when he went for practice on the morning of Labor Day and ended up getting a concussion.  After a scary first few days of ER and doctor visits and dizziness and headaches, he was looking pretty much back to normal but had to wait it out for two full weeks before he was allowed to do anything at all in sports.  He was just released by his doctor yesterday to return to full activities.  He is excited about that & ready to get back on the field.  Fortunately, being out of the game only meant missing 1 game because this past week was our school's bye week.  (Or is it bi-week?  Or buy-week?  ha ha!  Whatever it is, we didn't have a game this week.)  Outside of his sports-ing, school is pretty normal for him.  He's not a big fan of his geometry or chemistry classes, but otherwise he's doing great.  He was able to begin Construction and Welding classes this year, so he's having fun in those.  {He plans to go into the Army and then to be a welder professionally, so he's happy as can be in those classes because they really suit him!}

Sarah has begun high school and is having a ball.  She is my socialite, fashionista, chillin-with-her-friends one of the kids.  She is in the band, which is massive in size and is really enjoying the friends and football games and texting and all that side of high school.  Fortunately, she's also a really good student and a good kid all around.  (But don't tell her I used the 1st pic above.  She hates it.)  She is taking American Sign Language in school so she is often found practicing words (finger spelling or signing them.)  She enjoys shopping with me and asks for new jeans or clothes or shoes or something almost weekly.  I hope she marries a rich man one day who can keep up with her shopping habit.


All in all, life is good.  Larry's brother in getting married in a couple of weeks, so we're all excited about that.  Pumpkin scented candles and harvest-print hand towels are popping up in Walmart, so I'm happy.  Tomorrow we are walking down the aisle to officially join the church we've been visiting for the past 5 months.  The weather is beginning to cool off ever so slightly, so that means appropriate football game weather is coming soon.  See?  (Yeah, I know...but it's cooler for us!)

There are times in life when I look at my little world with such happiness I can hardly contain myself.  This is one of those times.  I have an amazing God, a wonderful husband, 3 healthy kids, awesome friends, a fantastic job and coworkers, a home with a roof over my head, plenty of food to eat (actually more than plenty!), clothes on my back, a little bit of money in the bank, a car to drive.  There is music and laughter and wonder and good conversations and so much else to be thankful for.  I can't help but smile. 

Thank you, Jesus, for this rich, satisfying life.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Summer 2015 in Review

For years now, I have ended every summer feeling frazzled and irritated, unrested and not ready to give up the break from work & school.  I've perpetually over-scheduled myself for years during the summer which means when the summer ends, I don't feel like I've had a summer at all. 

So this year, when summer began I made a specific point to NOT SCHEDULE ANYTHING for the entire summer.  I didn't want to plan on any day trips or museum visits or well...anything.  I wanted to finally find out what summer looks like when you don't have something written on every single day of the calendar.

Don't worry.  We didn't just sit in the house every day all summer long and never did ANYTHING.  We went swimming.  And ran errands.  And shopped a little.  And ate at restaurants.  And visited friends.  And watched movies.  But it was all done spontaneously whenever we felt like doing it.  And THAT, my friends, made all the difference in the world!  I couldn't do this year-round because I really thrive on having a schedule and a routine with structure.  But from now on this is what my summers will look like if I can pull it off!

The summer of 2015 looked like this for us:

The kids and I have watched 8 seasons of Friends.  (Season 9 is in the mail on its way now.  Yes I know it's on Netflix but I prefer to watch it on DVD because I have been collecting the seasons for years & want to be able to go back & re-watch or loan them to friends occasionally.)

Larry and I took a weekend trip away for our anniversary.

Sarah spent the night with friends several times and went on a weekend trip with a friend's family.

Sam has fished more times than I can count and has been to my parents' house to help kill and slaughter hogs several times.  {Yes, we're THAT country.}

I went to Dallas one weekend to see Kari Jobe and Christine Caine.

I've been to lunch with a couple girlfriends just because we could.

I did three days of in-service at my school in late July.

I've slept late and taken naps.  (Well, not LATE really, but later than I sleep during the school year.)

Sam went to athletic training camp 4 days a week for most of June & July, then began 2-a-day football practices last week.

Sarah started band 2-a-days the first week of August.

Savannah got a new job at a veterinarian clinic in June and loves it.  She has also done lots of sitting:  baby, dog and house.  She is working on applications for NEXT Fall's college choices.

Larry filled in for a pastor at a church in his hometown several times.

I subbed at the preschool where I used to work twice.

I got a new (to me) mini-van that I love.  In fact, I'm going to pick up the license plates for it tomorrow.

I've read several books.

It's been a lazy, fabulous, wonderful summer.  I will miss the leisure of sleeping later and having a lot of down time, but this summer of fabulousness is drawing to a close.  It's been a great one!  Until next year..........

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Stag Leap Country Inn -- Deer Haven cabin

Last year for our 20th anniversary, Larry and I went back to our first home: Nacogdoches, TX.  That is the small college town in east Texas where we lived when we got married.  You can read about that trip HERE.  We try to make an effort to take a short overnight or weekend trip every year for our anniversary, but after twenty years of the same basic trip over & over, we wanted to do something different.  {Usually, we go somewhere, stay in a hotel--almost always a Holiday Inn Express, visit 1-2 local sights & then come home.}  So this year, I asked around on Facebook to see if anyone could suggest a semi-local place to go that was a little different.  After lots of suggestions, I settled on a place that looked really neat.  Ironically, it was back in Nacogdoches, but the place we stayed couldn't have been more different than a Holiday Inn Express.

Friday, we left home about lunchtime and after a short stop for lunch on the way, arrived at Stag Leap in Nacogdoches.  It's about five miles out of town.  This sweet little sign greets you at the main house driveway.

The owners met us at the door of the main house to welcome us and gave us directions to our cabin, which was about 2 1/2 miles down the road, totally secluded from the rest of the world.  Seriously, friends, my troubles melted away when we turned down this driveway...

....and pulled up in front of this sweet little cabin.

This front porch.  Oh my soul.  That rocking chair was just about my favorite place to be all weekend, right beside my sweet husband who was fond of that swing.

On the side of the cabin, there was this little patio area with a grill, table and chairs, and a wonderful, deep jacuzzi.  Oh the time spent there, staring at the stars, relaxing!

The front yard area was spacious, tree lined and SO quiet.

The side and back yards were equally wide-open & peaceful.

The driveway leading to the property (which was closed by a gate at the end) is wayyyy over there.

Backyard views:

And later in the evening, the front yard & front of the cabin:

The interior did not fail to wow us, either!  The owners had come over a few hours prior & turned on the ceiling fans and A/C, which was so very welcome since it was 100+ degrees outside.  Everything inside looked just like (or even better!) than what we saw on the website.

The living room area:

This little book was by the phone.  It included brochures for all sorts of tourist attractions in town, maps to restaurants, schools, churches and just about anything else you could imagine needing during your stay.

There was a full-sized pull-out Murphy bed in this pretty cabinet.  (We didn't use it, but it was neat to see that it was available for guests if they had children with them.)

The TV came equipped with satellite TV, which was charmingly set to an easy-listening station when we arrived.  There was a loveseat, recliner and gas fireplace as well.

Also in the living room area, there was a chest full of board games.

And the TV cabinet was full of movies and books to enjoy during your stay.

The kitchen was awesome!  A fridge full of breakfast foods, cabinets full of dishes, towels, utensils, a sweet little dining set.  You could almost get away with never leaving the cabin all weekend!

As you can see in the pic above, the bathroom was right off the main living area.  Let's just pretend that the seat to the toilet is down.  :)

The bedroom was also right off the main living area, through a door to the right of the bathroom.  (There was also a door that connected the bedroom & bathroom.)  The chest at the foot of the bed held more blankets & sheets for the Murphy bed in the living room.  The armoire (see picture below) held pillows for the Murphy bed.

After a hot day out in town both days we were there, we enjoyed quiet evenings in the jacuzzi tub, playing games from the living room chest, swinging/rocking on the porch or just propped up in the living room watching TV and resting.

And the mornings were easy as there were canned cinnamon rolls ready to make provided in the fridge!  (I was reading the comments from previous guests in the cabin's guest book, and then wrote my own, while I enjoyed breakfast Saturday morning.)

This morning when it came time to pack up the suitcase and head home, we had a hard time saying good-bye to this quiet little retreat.  So peaceful, so relaxing, so perfect for a get away!  If you are thinking of travelling in east Texas and need a quiet haven, a private, secluded little peace of paradise, I strongly recommend that you take a look at Stag Leap, specifically the Deer Haven cabin where we stayed.  (They have several other cabins as well!)  You can find more info about them on their website.  You can find it here:

I told the owners I would be writing a blog review of our stay at their cabin when I got home & shared the URL for this blog site in my comment in the guest book.  I hope they find it and can share it with future guests!  If you came to this post due to that comment in the guest book or through the Stag Leap family, please comment or email me and let me know.  (Email address is at the top right of this page.)