Monday, November 28, 2016

Sliding on the Edge and a Giveaway from the Chubby Chatterbox


C. Lee McKenzie, Sliding on the Edge (Westside Books, 2009).  I read this on my iPad using a Kindle app.

Shawna is a tough sixteen year old, at least on the outside.  She is capable of surviving the streets of Las Vegas and the abusive boyfriends of her narcissistic mother.  When her mother flees town with her newest lover, on the day the rent is due, Shawna wakes to a bus ticket, a $100 bill and a note to go to her grandmothers in Central California.  There, she will be where her mother can find her when she gets her life back together.  Having never met her grandmother, Shawna reluctantly decides to take the trip.  Having been disappointed all her life, Shawna has developed a protective fa├žade that pushes others away.  In a similar way, her grandmother Kay also has a habit of pushing people away.  The two leading characters in the story have sad memories that each must deal with. But Shawna issues are deeper.  Having pushed everyone away, she deals with her deep pain by giving into the “Monster” and cutting herself with a razor blade.  Shawna and Kay need the other.  Kay, by taking care of Shawna, is able to finally put aside the tragedies of her past as Shawna, with the help of her grandmother and an old horse, learns to trust.   The book is told from the point-of-view of both characters: Kay and Shawna. 

I found myself deeply pained by the events of Shawna’s past.  No child should ever have to deal with a mother who used her daughter in her schemes to obtain what she wanted in life.  As we read the stories, we learn the two had worked together as petty criminals on the streets of Vegas.  Moving to Central California, where she surprises her grandmother, Shawna finds herself in a strange new world.  This is the world of horse farms and high schools where girls have sleep-overs.  It takes a lot of patience but by the end of the book, after she realizes she doesn’t want to go back to her mother, things are looking up for Shawna. 

I have often enjoyed the young adult works, especially the works of Gary Paulsen and Gary Schmidt.  However, they write stories about teenage boys.  Reading about a teenage girl, in a book written for girls is a little different.  I was curious to learn what goes on in someone’s mind that causes them to cut themselves.  As a book of fiction, this is not a handbook about the practice and how to stop it.  But I can see how one can come so jaded about life that they resort to such drastic measures to battle the pain.  

Ironically, I read two books about teenage girls last month.  The other, which was also very good, was Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, which is about a French girl who is blind during the Nazi occupation along with a young soldier in Hitler’s army.  It, too, was a good read and I would recommend them both.  

And now, for a give-away:

Stephen Hayes over at the Chubby Chatterbox  is feeling generous.  If you don't know him, I encourage you to read his humorous blog.  If you are down and need a good laugh, be sure to check out his blog.  The sun will start shinning or at least the clouds won't seem so overwhelming.  Stephen is a retired commercial artist who also taught art on the university level.  For a giveaway, he's offering up a painting he did in one of his classes.  The colors in the painting would go lovely in my living room, so don't go signing up for the giveaway so I'll have a better chance at winning.   Okay?   It'll save me some decorating dollars and if it doesn't go, it'll help me get off cheap for Christmas... Now, seriously, check out Stephen's blog and his giveaway.  A photo of the painting:
The Chubby Chatterbox

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving (and catching up)

I started out in fog.
After it lifted, smoke from distant fires kept things hazy

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.  I don’t know why I haven’t been blogging except that I have been busy.  I could be grading papers now, but its Thanksgiving and I decided that can wait till tomorrow.  There’s a lot for which I am thankful.  I am enjoying life and my daughter is home for the holiday.  It’s been wonderful talking to her.  Unlike much of the year, I am healthy and can once again take long walks.  Of course, there are still a number of things eating at me.  I haven’t caught up from Hurricane Matthew’s interruption and as a reminder, there is still a log pile and a pile of brush in my front yard waiting pickup.  They say it might be next year…  And I am blessed as to having been able to sail on three occasions and last Friday took the first long kayak paddle since the summer.  And since I’m bragging as I give thanks, I should mention that last Sunday evening I decided to go swimming at the gym (I normally don’t go to the gym on Sunday and if I want exercise will either walk or bike).  For the first time in eight years, I swam a mile without stopping!   And then there are the Cubs.  As the Pirates couldn’t make the World Series, I enjoyed watching the Cubs.

Of course, there are things with which I’m not happy.  I am proud to be able to boast that I have yet to watch a reality TV show.  But I'm not proud to realize that I am living in one.  I tried my best to avoid dealing with the elections on social media and didn’t blog at all about it.  I wasn’t very pleased with my options.  The decision, from my point of view, was between a tired brand who has made some bad decisions and wasn’t always forthcoming with the truth (Clinton) and a demagogue (Trump).  At one point, I thought I might vote for Johnson.  I enjoyed the humor he brought to the campaign and wish he could have joined the debates.  They might have covered some real issues.  But his seeming lack of knowledge about anything beyond our borders (not being able to name a single foreign leader and thinking Aleppo was some kind of acronym) caused me to sour on him.  So, in the end, I voted with the majority and lost.   Yesterday, we learned that Amway’s first lady, Betsy DeVos will be the education secretary.  Her most qualifying attribute appears to have been funding private school systems while the public schools in her home town of Grand Rapids are so bad.  Well, under her tutelage, I’m sure America schools will graduate excellent Amway sales personnel.   We’ll no longer have to go to Egypt to see pyramids.  Well, there is a lot more I could complain about, so maybe I better sign off.

I hope you had a great Thanksgiving.  Instead of a turkey, we did ham.  And instead of pies, we had banana pudding.  And we ate on the back deck, wearing short-sleeves!  The rest of the day I spent reading and taking a long walk.  Did I say that I was thankful to be able to walk again?   

Monday, October 31, 2016

Post Hurricane Blues and the removal of a tree

The leaning pine before the clean up started

 Everyone seems to have the blues.  Things have been crazy after the hurricane (and then there was that unexpected hospital stay the week before the storm).  We are all on edge, it seems.

At least the number of calls for the fire department have decreased.  The week after the storm, as trees were coming down, we had many calls for broken gas and electrical lines.  All the utilities are under ground, but as trees uprooted, they broke gas and electrical lines.

One of the strangest call was for a burning palm tree.  The owners of the house had no idea why it was burning but it was burning all up the trunk.  We pulled a one inch line and started to douse the tree, then the fireworks started.  The problem was the electrical lighting in the ground (which were covered with saw dust from another tree that had been removed).  The wires were damaged and shorting out, causing the fire.  When water started soaking the ground, the sparks started.  Certainly one of the more interesting fire calls.

In addition to my volunteer work, I have also been teaching graduate class at a local university.  It is my first time teaching on this level and I'm enjoying the class but it is requiring a lot from me so some things have to slide and blogging in one of them.  So with that excuse, I will post a photo essay from one of our trees that was dangerously leaning after the storm.  It cost $1500 to remove this tall pine and a smaller maple that was dying.
This was a big tree
Life hasn't been all work.  I have enjoyed the World Series (one that I want both teams to win).  On Saturday, I did sail and in four races we took three first place finishes and one very close second place finish.  The second place finish was because our spinnaker twisted and it took too long to get it to fly, allowing the other boat to overtake us on a downwind run.  We were only seconds behind as we crossed the finish line.
Topping out the tree
Piecing down the trunk
a crane lowered each piece
The limbs were feed into a shredder...
One of the workers told me bodies had to be frozen
or they made  a mess!

The stump grinder

Chewing up the tree

Finishing up with the maple stump
(I"m still waiting for the county to pick up stuff in the yard)

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Hurricane Matthew Update

Preparing to evacuate (before the storm)
This past week has been crazy.  Last Thursday afternoon, after working with my staff to secure the office computers (my manager took the server with him and I took the backup for it with me) and securing what I could around home, we all headed to safer locations inland.

Georgia Central Engine in Dublin, GA
I went to Dublin, unfortunately not the one in Ireland but in south-central Georgia.  There I hung out for two and a half-days as we watched Hurricane Matthew chew its way up the eastern seaboard.  With fears of tide surges as high as eleven feet and wind and waves on top of that (my house is at 14 feet above sea level), I was a little nervous as to what I might come back to find.  In all, it wasn't too bad except for the 1000s of trees down or leaning precariously.  The survey of the golf courses on the island (there are six) indicate that the courses themselves have 1500 trees down.  We didn't lose any trees at home, but one huge pine is leaning over and will have to be cut down.  If it falls, it won't damage any houses, but will block our road.

Our community is known for funny street names.
This street names seems prophetic

The storm hit our area around 2 AM on Saturday morning.  From those who stayed, 4 AM was the witching hour when the winds were at the peak and trees could be heard falling all around.  Being a volunteer firefighter, I was allowed back on the island early and arrived back Saturday afternoon around 4 PM.  I had to go through several checkpoints (showing my ID badge) to get back into the county.  There was no power and thankfully little traffic, so it wasn't too hard to make it through Savannah and out to Skidaway.  Crews were already hard at work and the main roads were passable.  I spent Sunday and Monday with a crew opening roads and checking on those who rode out the storm (some had to have trees cut to get out of their garages) along with homes of friends.

Power came back on Tuesday and Wednesday, depending on where you lived.  I cleaned out the refrigerator and freezer.  That was our biggest loss.  Thankfully, few people on the island  had water damage (unlike what's happened in North Carolina and in Haiti).  On Tuesday, we set the office back up and on Wednesday, we were back at work...  Like I said, it's been a crazy week.  Here are a few photos:

back deck after the storm

House after the storm (the leaning tree is not in the photo)
If you compare it to the photo above,
you'll see how trees behind the house were "thinned out"

Fixing coffee first morning back

Fixing lots of coffee on the second morning back!
Notice the "tree" on the propane bottle with a light on top

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Catching up

You don't get much of a view for the money...
A week ago, I was in the hospital.  This was a first for me.  I have had two surgeries, the latest last January, but both were out-patient.  This all changed surprisingly last Monday when I woke at 3 AM, thinking I was coming down with the flu.  I was sweating and freezing while my body ached, classic flu symptoms.  I moved to a recliner at 6 AM, having drenched my bed-sheets.  I sent a few emails out, redoing my schedule as there was no way I was able to make meetings scheduled for the morning.  As I was getting ready to take Ibuprofen, a little before nine in the morning, I decided to take my temperature.  It was 104 degrees.  I called my doctor and he said go straight to the emergency room.  30 minutes later, I had IVs dangling above me as they pumped fluids and antibiotics into my body.  My heart was racing (up to 125 a minute), my white blood count was around 18000, and I felt like crap.  They began treating me for sepsis.

Six days earlier I had a simple procedure.   The doctors didn’t think it was going to be anything to worry about but since my PSA levels (which is released by the prostate) had been rising, they thought it advisable to have a biopsy.  It was a mildly uncomfortable procedure, with the doctor shooting something through the wall of my anus into the prostate.  When it was over, I felt like someone pushed a shotgun up my butt and fired a round of birdshot.  But by the next day, I felt fine. I was back at the gym, on Friday I took a decent bicycle ride.   Even as late as Sunday night, when I was at a reception which I was to give a short talk, I was feeling well.  But that changed on Monday morning.  The urologist had warned me to get back to him if I had a temperature over 100 degrees F in the 48 hours following the procedure, but I was well beyond that window.  I stayed two nights in the hospital, eating crappy food and watching an even crappier Presidential debates (heaven help us if this is the best we can do).  On Wednesday, they sent me home with lots of antibiotics, which I’ll be on for another week or so.  I go back the middle of next week to see the urologist.
I am trying to take this week as vacation.  I was going to be in the middle of the Okefenokee Swamp for several days, but being that far from care if something arises (along with the unpleasant side effects of the drugs), I cancelled that as well as a bike trip.  Then I planned a road trip to Warm Springs and Plains, GA, places I haven’t been, but now I’m waiting to see if Matthew is going to visit.  

The good news.  As I was getting out of the hospital, my urologist stopped by and said the biopsy had come back clear.  At least I won't have to worry about that!  More later