Friday, October 23, 2020

Bless me father for I have sinned—life in the time of COVID-19

 

Right now I'm supposed to be in actual Paris for a writer thing,
but reality. It's biting all of us.

This morning I got on the British Museum website to look for a book about cartouches (hieroglyphs of names of Egyptian kings). It was out of print, so I spent nearly £200 on things like a Rosetta Stone wristwatch and a pencil sharpener that looks like a little trebuchet. 

Let's pretend those things are going to be Christmas gifts.

Are they still Christmas gifts if you give them to yourself?

Hubby promised to clean the sink and forgot. When I pointed it out he said he'd do it tomorrow, so I muttered, "You'd better or I'll throat punch you." Let's face it that's not okay. Yes, I apologized, but wrapped up my apology with, "But I meant it."

He's a good man. He puts up with my crap. That's really important in a spouse. It's really important to know your spouse would never actually throat punch you, no matter how much she wants to. Next week is our anniversary. I'm planning to make him those tiny gluten-free cupcakes Wegmans makes and pass them off as effort. I also think I'll gift him a tiny trebuchet pencil sharpener. I'll keep it in my office.

Halloween is next week and what with the virus no one can trick or treat. I decided to offset this rift in the force by making up little bags of candy (and letting them sit for a week to neutralize cooties) and giving them to family/friends/the people who bring my Amazon packages. As I assembled them, I ate enough of those tiny Snickers bars to make an entire Snickers bar. They're gluten-free (unlike most candy) so they had it coming. 

It's the end of the week and we're still having leftovers from the one meal I made this week. I've perfected the fine art of cooking two meals a week. That's not a sin. That's a talent. If one of those "cooked" meals is takeout, it's genius.

Good gravy I should write a cookbook about that.

Contrariness is in the air like leaves falling off trees. I think it's an excellent time for low expectations and not expecting too much from yourself, or others. Bet my expectations are lower than yours. 







Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh—a book review

 

I gave the three-year-old a bowl of marshmallows so I could read this.
Don't tell.


You're probably familiar with Allie Brosh's work from her Hyperbole and a Half memes. She's a writer and comic artist with a real gift for capturing the awkwardness of humanity. If you want to see how well your sense of humor jibes with Brosh's, read this free excerpt from her book about her neighbor Richard. 

That's how I discovered her and I immediately ordered the book, in hardcover. She really captures the heart and soul of (and awkwardness) of life. I loved her stories of herself as a three-year-old stalker. Brosh is one of those people who hasn't glossed over her childhood, but remembers it well. 

Her stories reminded me of the less idyllic but memorable parts of growing up and how children behave. The neighbor girl who's so insistent on showing grown Allie her purple bedroom is brilliantly awkward and perfect. If you've ever tried to politely bypass an insistent child, you'll understand. The combination of her writing and her drawings convey both story and emotion. It made me wish I could add such genius illustrations to my own work! 


Think this would help with my Viking novel?


This is a quick read, I finished it in a day. I laughed out loud many times, though there are achingly sad stories woven in here too—divorce, depression, and death. It's a realistic take on the absurdity of life, and easy to relate to. As soon as I finished Solutions and Other Problems, I immediately got online and ordered her other book, Hyperbole and a Half.

It's difficult to rate a book that's both art and story, but I'd say five stars and I recommend you don't miss this one. It's a wonderful bit of escapism during COVID, and a reminder about priorities too. It's both hysterically funny and sobering. A perfect blend, wouldn't you say?


Monday, September 28, 2020

Another one of those times you thought you had COVID—life in the time of coronavirus

 



You know how it goes. You're masked up. There are four tiny bottles of Bath & Body Works hand sanitizer in your purse. You're fine. You don't have a fever. Yet you cough, like an inconsiderate festering petri-dish of end time germs, you cough in PUBLIC. Heads swivel like that alien invasion movie where everyone has been taken over by aliens except one person (who just coughed). They all point at the violator and make that high-pitch alien whine sound. GET HER.


Moral of the story: don't cough in public. I don't care if you have to swallow your tongue to avoid it.


It's allergy season here in the shire (it runs April to December). Histamine is the only thing running through my veins (does it run through veins?). I'm now allergic to all life on earth. My sinuses are Death Valley dry. It's a bit worse than normal Sjogren's Syndrome, but honestly, you can get used to about anything. So, I volunteered to watch my favorite little person, Three, though she has a cold. It was totally worth it because we made a cooking show (pretend) out of a bag of gluten-free flour and water. (Yee-Um.) Priorities. Everyone in the family caught Three's cold. She's a total carrier monkey. I wasn't sure if I had it for sure but it looked bad because a couple days after she left, I sneezed once. It came out like a gust of wind in Egypt. 


Without getting into too many gory details about sinuses—I was having difficulties. Despite the pandemic, I decided I would go see my doctor for my annual physical. I wanted to tell her about my desiccated dryness. Hubby kept insisting I wiggled my nose non-stop, like Bilbo in The Hobbit. (Can't help it, but I denied it.) The best thing about mask-wearing is that no one else can see that so he has no proof.


Then I remembered that last year when I complained about dryness the doctor said buy a vaporizer. Oh, yeah. Fact is I bought two of them. Apparently you have to turn them on. You also have to put water in them. (Ain't got time for that sh—.)


Deciding that before I showed up for my physical having not done what she told me to do LAST YEAR, I turned on both vaporizers and put them at face-level with water in them and everything, and I went to sleep.


In the morning I woke up with a fever and a hacking WET cough. (Not a COVID dry one, but a fever and a cough makes you suspect!) I spent the day hacking and lying on the comfy recliner in my office and befouling tissues, figuring I'd rehydrated some kind of a mummy curse or something. 


Someone said the word COVID test to me. First I said, it's a WET COUGH and I don't have COVID! Then I thought, but WHAT IF...and my writer brain ran with it. Like most of my first drafts, it was awful. (So many plot holes, like where did I catch said virus?) Even then I may have been able to ignore that niggling doubt, but I'm to watch Three again in a couple of days and IF I have IT, or even maybe could possibly have IT, they won't let me. What with her magical carrier monkey abilities, she could infect the entire planet in the time it takes to make one pretend cooking show. Plus, I have leftover water balloons, powdered chalk, neon sidewalk chalk AND grand plans.


Watching Three is like hitting the lotto.


Anyway, the county I live in was doing free drive-by tests. 


Only, the drive-by testing site was full up for the day. So I coughed myself to sleep, vaporizers blowing at me, a fan swirling, and a hat on because maybe I was hot, maybe I was cold. I couldn't decide so planned for both.


In the middle of the night I woke up because I realized how to fix a problem I was having in the Viking book I'm writing. Also, then I realized I wasn't hot or cold or coughing anymore. I checked my temperature and it was below normal, which is where I live. Below normal.


No COVID. Absolutely nothing. The mummy curse has left the building. All is well. And you were so worried. Again.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars. A Novel by Joyce Carol Oates—a book review


Tuesday, September 8, 2020

This Summer I made a Greek Alley in my Own Backyard—newsletter

 

This summer didn't go as planned for anybody. It reminds me of that essay about planning a holiday in Italy and winding up in Holland.
Only in our scenario there is some pestilence there too, in the form of a pandemic.
Holland isn't flashy like Italy, but it's a nice place. Kind of like being home for months and months isn't a bad thing, and since I couldn't take my writer trip to Greece, I built my own Greek alley at home. Lemons to lemonade, right?
My big thrill recently was getting a refund from United. Remember they're the airline that dragged that doctor off a flight? Fly the friendly skies my eye. I've spent many hours on the phone with them. They're not my favorite people, so I felt a bit like Rocky doing his victory laps when I finally wore them down.

Hope, patience, and low expectations are my superpowers this summer. Okay, hope and low expectations are. I'm still working on patience (and I'm sick of waiting for it). Let's be real here. I only have low expectations when it comes to housework and paperwork. But I've got hope! I definitely have hope! Yeah, hope is my superpower.
Recipe for an at-home Greek alley: Use farm stand plants and the sad remnants of last winter's grocery store herbs. Get ALL the clearance sale lavender from Lowe's, potting soil, and new pots. Voila. 
It was fun until I got tired of watering everything. So I found them new homes with better plant parents this month, and picked all the herbs. 
What's your answer when someone asks you how're you doing? Are you in the It-Could-Be-Worse column? Couldn't-Be-Worse column? Mr. Brightside one? All of the above within a ten minute time-frame? 

ME TOO!

That said, I don't think anyone's eye is going to stop twitching until we admit at least to ourselves what we're really feeling. For instance I'm feeling anxiety, frustration, fear, disappointment, discouragement, and contentment all at the same time. Can you tell I've discovered the Dr. Marc Brackett/Brene Brown podcast about Emotional Intelligence?

If you're struggling (and who isn't), I wanted to share how much it's helped me to carve out time and space to sit quietly. (Away from the news.) Maybe it'll help you too. There's also the classic Oatmeal comic take on why all the conflicting data is driving us nuts. Matthew Inman has a great way of getting to the root of the problem.  
When reality takes my words, another thing that helps me is sketching and making collages in my journal. I also do it during ZOOM meetings. Don't tell.
This summer I read through old journals. It's been great for spotting bad habits and reminding myself how wonderful life is.
My phone has 63,192 photos on it. I take pictures of beautiful things. That helps too. As Louis Armstrong said, "What a wonderful world." He never said it's an easy world.
My little olive tree. An evening walk. A postcard I sent. A sunset here in the shire. It helps me to document every bit of wonderful.
Playing helps too. Sometimes I find a kid to play with and make art with. It justifies all my water balloons, stickers, chalk, and the kaleidoscope collection. 
This summer I've rediscovered the library. It makes me read faster because I have to return those books. I also share my books and am gifted more in return. Life is good.
My favorite reads this summer have been the often mentioned book Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates,  Madeleine L'Engle's collection of short stories The Moment of Tenderness, and War with the Newts by Karel Capik. I put my reviews on my blog and cannot recommend them more highly.
A couple summers ago I discovered Eugenia Gerontara. I love her uplifting whimsical world. This year I ordered a couple more pieces of her art and sent her so many I LOVE YOUR WORK messages that she invited me to visit her studio in Athens!
Believe me I will visit ASAP after COVID. When I can get there. If her work speaks to you, check it out online. She has an ETSY store too. I had my pieces personalized.
The Little Red Riding Hood pieces are wonderful. I love Little Red swallowing the Big Bad Wolf. I love him sleeping with Grandmother. That one reminds me of Hubby and me. Don't tell.
I'm making myself stop with all the photos. We didn't even get into me feeding gluten-free bread to the chipmunks Hubby caught in his catch and release traps. Apparently hundreds of chipmunks are a problem. They like gluten-free bread and I'm pretty sure they run all the way back to my house when he releases them a few miles from here.
Hail to the bird using my hanging flowers to build a nest on my front porch. Hail to the hummingbird who sits in my tiny olive tree. Hail to ZOOM classes, books, and summertime. It's not what I planned, but what's not to love? So, how you doing? 
"You're only going to be as good as the stuff you surround yourself with." ~Austin Kleon
Writer: Stephanie Karfelt/S.R. Karfelt/Saffi Karfelt
Specialty: Seeing the bright side 
Aspirations: Backing up all my photos

Monday, August 31, 2020

Midnight Sun by Stephenie Myer—a book review

 



On Goodreads Midnight Sun by Stephenie Meyer has approaching 30K reviews with an average rating of nearly four stars. That's not so shabby. Do you remember that Meyer began writing this book back when Twilight was popular and the partial draft got stolen and posted online? She stopped writing it and said she wouldn't pick it up again until someday when we'd all forgotten about it. Despite having read the online excerpt, and enjoying it, that was so long ago I'd definitely forgotten about it. 

In fact I had no idea this book was out. Once I did, I tried to get a copy but there were none to be had. (I wanted a hard copy.) A kind reader mailed me one. I took it to a local lake house for my one and only vacation this year, and read it sitting by the lake. It took me all week to finish the whopping 658 pages. 

It wasn't just the size that slowed me down. It's that throughout the entire book I kept drifting into the realization that I'd read this book before. It's the entire first Twilight book from Edward's perspective and I mean it's that entire book scene by scene. Sometimes I'd stop reading to hunt down a young adult and quiz them about the Twilight world. I couldn't figure out why I knew so much about the vampire's perspective in Midnight Sun as I read it. Why were the rare bits of new information that weren't in the original Twilight books still so familiar to me? 

The young adults told me because it's the same book, with the haughty disdain of people who don't want to admit to their teenage obsession. A couple of them told me that the Twilight books are popular with women "my age" and not theirs. Years ago I wrote a review for Twilight, admitting I liked the books. I don't entirely believe that millennials don't plan to read the latest book. Thirty thousand women "my age" didn't leave all those reviews on Goodreads. I know this because many of them don't even know how to leave a review on Goodreads.

One of the reasons I've defended Twilight to my serious reader/writer friends is simple. If a book sells millions of copies and spawns fan clubs and movies, it has succeeded in taking readers into another world and is an undeniable success. Picking on the writing or characters feels like sour grapes to me. If you want a higher brow book, read one or better yet, write one. I read a bit of everything—fiction to non-fiction, literary to Twilight. Sometimes I want to be educated and sometimes I want to escape.

All that said, I wasn't crazy about this book. I plodded through the last couple hundred pages, muttering to myself. I had a copy of Glennon Doyle's book with me too, Untamed.  I didn't want to finish it on vacation though because it makes me yell at my husband. I thought there would be more new information in Midnight Sun, but the greater bulk of the book is Edward's feelings and they're not all that different from Bella's. There was also what seemed like some justification of Edward's actions—you know his stalker behavior. Not to mention some justifying Bella's wimpier moments. I didn't care, but sometimes it made me chuckle because he did stalk her (and I'd bet most stalkers feel their actions are justified), and sometimes we're all wimps and we justify those times to ourselves too.

It didn't matter to me. Though there were also times I enjoyed the mental gymnastics of all the justifying. I write and it's great insight to really dig into your characters. But it didn't forward the story for me. It didn't matter. Sure, I could have stopped reading it, but what if I missed something interesting?

The beginning is fun, though I couldn't tell where the stolen online excerpt info ended and the new book began. It seemed like halfway in. The pace is slow. There is some new information, but it felt like panning for gemstones in all Edward's feelings and they can be a bloody mess. The ending gave the greatest amount of new information, yet even the part where the Cullen's are tracking down James the tracker didn't really tell much that was new. I did enjoy the details of the car race through Phoenix to the ballet studio. I enjoyed how Alice's vision works. I would have liked to know more about Jasper's brilliance. Emmett is a great side character, and Rosalie's cussing out Edward at the top of her mental lungs was probably my favorite detail.


Despite my criticisms, if Stephenie Myer's writes all the books from Edward's perspective, I'd probably read them. It's fun. You can only put so much detail into a book without slowing it down and boring your readers, but doing it like this does enrich a story with it's depth. Yes, I said Twilight and depth in the same sentence. Midnight Sun is a nice enough summer read and I enjoyed some COVID escapism. Kudos to the author on that accomplishment alone. We all need to go somewhere these days. If it's a familiar neighborhood we all used to like, what more could you want? Hopefully you'll read it too and come argue your perspective with me. Especially you millennials. Read what you like, and like what you like, no apologies. That's advice from a woman "my age". 








Saturday, August 15, 2020

The Moment of Tenderness by Madeleine L'Engle—a book review

 



The Moment of Tenderness by Madeleine L'Engle is a delightful anthology of short stories she'd written throughout her life. Most readers know L'Engle from A Wrinkle in Time. She brought Science Fiction to the YA world and introduced many of us to tesseracts for the first time. 

L'Engle's grandaughter, Charlotte Jones Voiklis, went through her papers after her death and read through her short stories. This book is a result. It contains eighteen of them. Some were from college complete with grades (A- for Gilberte Must Play Bach). It's a brilliant collection and I enjoyed every story. They inspired me to spend more time writing short stories myself. 

It's difficult to pick which stories I enjoyed most. That Which is Left stunned me with the selfishness of the narrator (that's the same reaction Voiklis had when she read it), but the truth of that story also left me reeling because we have only to look around to see examples of such horrible selfishness. The Foreign Agent, Poor Little Saturday, A Sign for a Sparrow, and the story that the book is named for The Moment of Tenderness, are all works that leave no doubt about the author's incredible talent. Much as I want to say more about them, I won't because I don't want to spoil the stories for you.

Let me just say this is a collection of many types of stories, spooky, non-fiction, small town life, big town life, and fantasy. All of them are good and it's short, quick, escapism just when you need it. 

If you haven't read L'Engle, don't let the YA (Young Adult) label on her most popular books fool you. All of her books are for anyone who enjoys good story. They're fast, concise, and brilliant. As popular as A Wrinkle in Time is, and as much as I loved Charles Wallace and Meg, I think my favorite book was Many Waters (it's about the Murray Twins with a touch of Noah's Ark thrown in), at least it was until The Moment of Tenderness. Now I only wish for more of her writing. I hope there will be another collection.