Friday, May 29, 2020

Quarantine Quotidians, May 29, 2020

I persuaded my library to buy this for me to read after hearing glowing reviews about it from Romancelandia and then I bought a copy for myself and then 2 more for friends. It was my favorite book of 2016. If it's not the perfect contemporary romance, it's close. Maybe I should read it again.

Media Matters

I've been trying to clean up my Currently Reading section on Goodreads because earlier in the week it was like 15 books. Now it's 11. I was trying to listen to the audio book of Good Omens but I gave up after realizing the television series was (gasp!) better than the book. I skimmed through The Tale of Despereaux last night to be done with it. I gave it 2 stars instead of 1 because it introduced new vocabulary well. Really not my thing. I finally finished Rock Addiction by Nalini Singh, who is my current favorite author, but I was not in love with the book. When I asked for comments about it on one of my Romancelandia FB groups, I was assured the rest of the series was up to her usual standard of excellence. And Rock star romances aren't a trope I go out of my way to read. What I really need to finish next is Ethan of Athos, the next Vorkosiverse book, even though I'm not loving the set up. But I also recently started The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller and it's gorgeous. I enjoyed The Iliad when I read it in college, but this is a whole new world. And the prose is so beautiful. I have also started craving hockey themed romances, which is not a world I really follow, in life or romantic tropes. Maybe because it's so hot outside, my mind thinks the books will cool me off. Whatever. I read all of Pippa Grant last year, including her hockey romances, and she writes excellent books. I'm looking at Sarina Bowen and Avery Flynn's series presently.

Last week, we watched Star Trek: Picard and agreed it was the best television we've seen in a long time. We haven't agreed on what to watch next because I needed something fluffier than Expanse series 3 and Marshall doesn't want to watch Avatar: The Last Airbender, (now on Netflix) which neither of us have ever seen. We watched the first 2 episodes and he fell asleep. I guess I'll be watching that alone, along with Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Maybe we'll go back to The Witcher. He highly recommends Tales From the Loop (also on Netflix) which I only watched half of because of how much it made me cry. It's very good, though.

Family Dynamics

Yesterday, Marshall and I Zoomed with someone who may be a new family counselor for us. Miranda continues to be singular and stymies most people who try to help her, including us. We've decided to do daily checklists for everyone in the house (took a shower, put on clean clothes) and start posting the weekly calendar again (even though it's mostly empty) on the fridge for everyone to see just so we all know what day it is. There isn't a lot of structure to our lives and we need to add an artificial one to help our brains from permanently turning into laptop screens.

Alex has also started talking with a psychiatrist from The Autism Center at the Nemours Hospital in Wilmington, DE, (which is only an hour away by car) about his eating issues and after meeting with her 10 days ago via Nemours' proprietary teledoc system, we were going to start reintroducing foods he used to like. A few days ago, I had despaired because nothing I said convinced him to eat pancakes again. And then a few days ago, he wanted a new book and I said he had to earn it by trying pancakes 4 days in a row. 2 down, 2 to go.

I have to go cook that pancake now.

Palate cleanser

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Quarantine Quotidians: May 20

I wouldn't recommend starting your reading of Sherry Thomas' books with this book because I always recommend reading authors in order of the publication of their books, if possible. And if you read this one first, you'd be reading her best work first. (Well, I haven't read everything she's published; I haven't yet read her YA series or her last few books. I will, eventually.) I still think this book is tremendous and it will make you cry. I've read it or 5 times and even though I know what's coming, each plot point still leaves me breathless. Very angsty. Not fluffy. Not a cinnamon roll hero.

Harder Things

I haven't blogged in 3 weeks. There hasn't been a lot of happy news to share. Quarantine goes on, although we tried dinner in my parents' backyard on Saturday (physically distanced and since the children don't eat barbecued ribs, they ate before we left) it wasn't terribly successful. Both kids flipped out when told to get ready or get in the car. It had been 2 months since they'd gone anywhere but our backyard and the change didn't go over well. Autism in a plague year sucks.

Miranda's given up on school and I'm done trying to persuade her to do anything schoolish. So she's learning to do her own laundry and other helpful things when I think of them. Alex will still do a few things and pretend to be in school for a few moments each day. We're still hopeful that he will have his regular 6 week summer school session, even if I have to drive him to Atco and back every day (about 35 minutes one way, 15 miles cross country. Although, if there's no traffic I might save 5 minutes by going down 73. But I digress.) I wonder if it would be best for Miranda to just repeat 7th grade, since, academically, the year has mostly been a loss. I guess that depends on if there is school in September. If there isn't, it doesn't really matter.

It's hard to look forward in a plague year. Two months at home has made us all absolutely nuts or deeply depressed or both, but there is no end in sight. There is no cure, no vaccine and no real treatment for Covid19 and the virus is invisible in the wild. Alex's school can probably do the distancing necessary because it's small and private but part of its population is medically fragile. Miranda attends a middle school with all the other middle school students in the town. Classes are crowded, hallways are crowded and teenagers aren't great at keeping to no touching rules. Marshall's employer is going to start to allow people back in the building in June but never to full capacity. He expects to be working some days in the office and some days home, on a rotating basis. Herd immunity needs to be greater than 60% to be helpful, according to this article, and we aren't even close to that. Many more thousands of people are going to die before we get there, no matter what we do. And it's going to take years. As I said, it's real cheery around here lately.

I haven't been reading a whole lot. I've started a few books and finished even fewer. My favorite was another from my mother in law's shelf that I kept to read, a collection of the first three Jacqueline Kirby books by Elizabeth Peters. They were excellent; unfortunately, there's only one more in the series. I listened to Neil Gaiman read his collection of Norse Mythology and it was interesting but, as he says, incomplete. I finished my reread of Lucy Parker's London Celebrities books so now I can start the new one, when I get enough motivation to do so. I'm amazed I haven't yet fallen into a reread of the Guild Hunter or PsyChangeling series by Nalini Singh but I think that's mostly because I don't own all the paperback copies yet. I'm continuing to collect them. I miss my library but the only way to disinfect books is to leave them in an empty room for a week. I'll keep using their online options, thank you.

Marshall and I finished watching both seasons 1 and 2 of The Expanse and then I needed to take a break and watch fluffier things, so we finished The Mandalorian. I've also gone back to Star Wars: The Clone Wars, restarting at season 2, so I can finish the series. I gave up somewhere is season 4 last time, when it got really dark. We haven't decided what we're going to watch next. We started Picard but then he wants me to read the book that precedes the series, which I haven't yet. There's always The Witcher (stopped after episode 4) or Jessica Jones (somewhere in season one) or Daredevil (early in season 2) or Luke Cage (I think we finished season 1). I'm not sure Iron Fist is worth finishing; we were like halfway through season 1. I do want to watch The Defenders and I hate not watching things in order. But when a show gets darker and scarier, I am reluctant to continue. Do I frustrate my husband when I do this? Absolutely. Do we process visual media differently? Yup. Things stay with me for hours or days. He is better able to shrug them off. And no, we don't like sitcoms or reality television that isn't Mike Rowe and most crime procedurals like NCIS or CSI get boring or piss me off or both. Maybe I should start watching She-Ra.

Palate Cleanser: Presto never stops being funny

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Quarantine Quotidians, April 29

If you've never read Georgette Heyer, you should. Faro's Daughter is a very funny, sometimes mad-cap Georgian romance first published in 1941. Our heroine is not quite respectable and when a lordling falls in love with her, his family makes great efforts to distance them, most of which backfire. She is the most intelligent person on the page, save the hero, and watching her make good decisions while the waves of crazy crest around her is delightful. Of course, there is a happy ending.

My current favorite thing to listen to is the soundtrack from the movie Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse. First, it's an amazing film in every sense and you don't need to know anything about Spider-Man to watch it. Somehow, when we watched it again a few weeks ago, I was reminded how much I liked the music. And it's available on Hoopla. I just have to renew it weekly on my library card. This is what I was doing with the Frozen II soundtrack a month ago. Slightly different genre of music. Slightly

Hard Things

(I wrote, in my head, an excellent blog post when I was in the shower last night. If someone could create a device to record all the amazing and useful things I think of while I'm in the shower, I would be eternally grateful. In the meantime, I will try to recreate my thoughts.)

So, this online schooling thing is not going well. Somehow, I thought I could be everything Miranda needed. (No, this is not a logical conclusion but I had early Covid enthusiasm that has obviously waned when it crashed into reality.) When she is at school, she has 9 teachers, a case manager, and a guidance counselor to help her and she was still barely passing her classes. Now, at home, with just me and her lukewarm attitude towards completing assignments, we are floundering. And I don't even know how far behind we are because I still have logged into Powerschool and counted, but we haven't even touched math in almost a month. I know she's doing work in most of the other classes.

Last weekend I had a serious, extended panicked mood about her schooling, so much that I was avoiding all the emails and phone calls from teachers and case managers for both kids. You know what, asking for help is hard. I hate to do it. And this is about me, not her.

I had to come to grips with the fact Miranda is not a straight A student years ago. She is not Sarah 2.0 (and for the record, I didn't have straight A's until they stopped grading me in handwriting and PE). Miranda is her own person and her AD/HD especially makes exams and essays a serious trial, so much so that we may have alternate grading in place for her in future. Which is perfectly acceptable according to her IEP; we just have to keep making those changes. She has no difficultly learning in her favorite subjects of history and language arts, she just needs help expressing it. Other subjects are more difficult but her teachers are the most reasonable, helpful people you could imagine. They don't want her to fail. And her case manager is amazingly compassionate. But I had to say I was failing and couldn't keep up. And that's hard.

Since then, I have been honest with her case manager and social studies teachers. I haven't figured out what to do with math yet, but I don't feel so hopeless now that I've admitted I'm not coping well. I can't manage both kids' schooling and the house and my own stuff and food and laundry, etc. And you know what? It's not possible for one person to do all that. It's not a reasonable request of any one person. And I wasn't doing it alone before. Miranda had her staff, Alex had his staff, Marshall was able to go in to the office and have the support of his co workers instead of trying to figure out everything from a desk in Miranda's bedroom. I had people I paid to clean my house once a month and I wasn't afraid to go to the grocery store. Not to mention my library! I was at the library twice a week to pick up or drop off books. And my mother and I shared a lot of the errands that we could that are much more difficult now. And I could go to church on Sunday morning and Wednesday morning and feel the support of my spiritual community.

Without all these necessary supports, I cannot expect myself to function well, much less at optimum. It's not reasonable. Ben Aaronovitch, an author I follow in Twitter, wrote last weekend that he had started coughing and was overwhelmed by such a sense of existential dread, the kind he hasn't felt since the end of the Cold War. And that's a great description. We don't know what's coming, how bad the virus will be, if we've already had the virus (Alex has a new fever as of yesterday because, of course), how much worse the US political world will get as people keep dying of Covid19 and the poorest of the world pay the debts of those of us who have more. I have more: a house, health care, access to testing and enough money to survive a hospitalization. Many people I know don't. And if you spend ten minutes on Google news, you'll find millions of others who don't either.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

To quote a favorite Nalini Singh book, save the ones you can right now. If helping yourself is all you can do, do that. If you can help others, do that. Your local food pantry. Your favorite non profit. Your church. Your friend's church. Your parents, your family that isn't necessarily blood related. Try not to fall into thinking that your life or your way of life is more important than anyone else's. Jesus came to save all people. All of us.

My current favorite song from Spiderverse:

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Quarantine Quotidians, April 26

In the spring of 1993, before my high school graduation, before I would start my university education at Seattle Pacific University in the fall, I read Dorothy L. Sayers Gaudy Night. Not only does it contain a fascinating mystery, complete the courtship between Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, but it explores the argument of the ivory tower v. real life. That is, can a person immerse themselves in the world of learning and teaching, in the academy, and live only for learning and teaching.

Before that spring, I had expected to spend my life as a teacher and a writer. After reading Gaudy Night, I realized I would never be an excellent writer. And soon, after some attempts at teaching at SPU, I realized I was a lousy teacher. All my future plans kinda died.

I did finish my degree at SPU in English literature, got married, then moved to NJ in part to pursue graduate school, or at least that was the plan. It never happened. I even took the GRE one spring. 2001? Maybe? Life didn't go that way, I didn't go that way.

Since I haven't blogged in more than a week, you can tell it's been tough going around here. My body is not cooperating by staying well and pain free. Nonetheless, I was able to walk a little more than 7 miles, which is more than the previous week and the week before that, so, progress.

Some post cards of notice from this last week

Turkish armor

Greek art

Cambridge, UK

Grand Canyon, USA

My book choices have been all over the place: contemporary romance, post-apocalyptic romance--it's not a genre I usually like but I make exceptions for Ruby Dixon--and young adult urban fantasy, which I read mostly to find books my daughter will read because she's still in a zombie fiction phase. Marshall and I made decided to spend more time together watching things I've been promising to watch with him. I do best with only one episode per evening so after finishing the latest series of Doctor Who last week (which we barely liked), we watched Good Omens this week (which we did like, all heresy aside), we watched the last 2 episodes of Steven Moffat's Sherlock, and then last night, Ford v. Ferrari, which he likes and I tolerated. Christian Bale and Matt Damon were excellent but everything else was slow and annoying. And it failed the Bechdel-Wallace test. I mean, even Train to Busan, a Korean zombie movie, passes that test. Funnily enough, The Last Jedi passes that test but I don't think Rise of Skywalker does. We liked the former more than the latter. Does it mean that in order to be a good movie it has to pass the test? Not always, but good movies often do.

Movies from 2019 that I liked and saw (some) in the actual movie theatre:

  • Captain Marvel (um, yeah!).
  • Shazam! (maybe?).
  • Avengers: Endgame (probably but only because Gamora and Nebula had a conversation).
  • Late Night which I wanted to see but didn't but certainly passes.
  • We saw the new Godzilla and it passes only because of mother-daughter conversations; that doesn't make it a good film.
  • Spider-Man: Far From Home (maybe?)
  • I still want to see Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw but I don't expect it to ever pass.
  • Frozen II, which I liked and does pass.
  • Knives Out passes.
  • Still want to see Jumanji: The Next Level even though I don't expect it to pass.
  • Spies in Disguise was very fun and it does pass.
And I need to go eat lunch. Here's your palate cleanser:

I wish I'd had this when I needed to learn geography.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Quarantine Quotidians, April 17

I discovered Percy Jackson by reading a New York Times review of book 5 of Percy's first series, The Last Olympian, which was published in 2009. I read lots of book reviews, by professionals and regular readers. One reason why I love Goodreads so much is that it aggregates reviews from many readers and gives you the opportunity to read about a book from someone who loved it as well as someone who didn't. Some of my favorite reviews are 1 and 2 star ones. Anyway, if you like Greek mythology and good young adult fiction, I highly recommend Percy Jackson. I, myself have yet to read Rick Riordan's ten most recent books. They're on my list, I promise.

Today's interesting postcard is from my parents' trip to Greece and Turkey in the fall of 2015, when it was still fairly safe to travel there. They joined a group exploring many of the sites of early Christianity.

Mental Health Review: So Miranda and I have continued to talk to our counselor weekly. Thankfully, we have the resources to keep talking to her (and our HMO reimburses 50%) because I need someone to help me interpret Miranda and talk through alternatives when how I've been parenting her isn't working. Mostly, we are struggling with her school work because, 1) there's so much of it, and 2) I am figuring out how to adjust it to a reasonable level. It hasn't helped that we've been sick for much of the last two weeks (although, the kids are pretty much over their fever and headaches and I'm feeling better today that I have in 2 weeks, so maybe we're done with whatever it was) so I haven't had the energy to chase her down on all of the assignments and neither, honestly, has she.

Something each of us in this building is struggling with is how scary it is to be staying together here all the time and understanding that the world outside is where the virus is rampant. Seriously scary. That stress lies on top of everything we think, all the words we snap at each other and every time we get annoyed by all the boxes of Mimi's stuff still in the front room. (Half of the boxes are her current papers that we still need available to manage her estate, which won't close completely until we sell her house, and the others are things of hers we wanted to keep but don't yet have a place for. I probably really need to clean the linen closet. A clean shelf in there would help. But I digress....)

The kids can't go to school, where they are used to the routine, where they see people they like, and where they probably have better uses for their time. And where they have far better teachers than me. Marshall can't go to work in his office in Camden, with all of his co workers where it's easier to work because there are many fewer distractions and if he has a question, he can lean over the divider and ask his colleague. And he can talk about technology to people who actually care instead of his long-suffering wife (😇) who can often follow what he's saying but this latest project has her really confused. And I have to manage everyone all of the time in addition to doing all my own work. Sure, I prefer waking up about 7:30 am (my body has decided it really doesn't like sleeping longer than this, much to my dismay) instead of 5:40 am but the no peace and quiet thing except at midnight when everyone else is sleeping (which, since my body doesn't sleep in anymore, is not healthy) is wearing on me.

And this is just the tone of the house with no outside interference. Marshall and I don't read a lot of the news, but we check it several times a day. And, I've discovered, Miranda's reading it too. So, add the political squabbling and virus updates to our emotional thermometer. And while Alex doesn't follow the news himself, he picks up the household's prevailing emotional attitude and reacts to it, whatever it is.

To sum up:
We're stressed because

  1. No body ever leaves
  2. We still have to do all our own crap, but without the appropriate help.
  3. Everyone eats every single meal here, requiring food and dishes.
  4. Many of my destressing activities went up in smoke (watching tennis or Premier League futbol) or are quarantined elsewhere (parents and friends).
  5. Marshall and I both have more things to do than energy to do them.
  6. The kids are frying their brains on screens because it's hard to get them to do other things. Neither is a self motivated student.
  7. I'm tired and it's time for dinner. 
Here's your palate cleanser (this is Alex's other favorite)

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Quarantine Quotidians, April 16

(This is book 4 in the series and I NEVER advocate reading a book out of order, so if you want to read this one, please read books 1-3 first. Still, it's my favorite of the series and left me sobbing uncontrollably at one point. Jeanne Birdsall writes so tenderly about the difficulties of growing up and discovering your parents aren't perfect and can, occasionally, make mistakes. In fact, you yourself might make mistakes along the way as well. I loved these books.)

Post card of the day:

This is part of a group of postcards I bought for MaryLee when Marshall and I were in Cambridge, England, in 2002. As she was a photographer, I thought she'd appreciate seeing the deep contrasts in the photos. I found them again when I went through her personal papers and am now using them for their original purpose.

Angry Birds update: I am resisting sewing up a seam on Bomb this afternoon. But I should probably just do it. I don't know where my black thread is. I have dark brown. I don't expect anyone will be able to tell the difference.

I don't have a lot of focus today. Miranda refused to tell me how much of a particular assignment she's completed (which probably means none) which she's told me she has been working on for weeks so she is technology free for the rest of the day. On the other hand, Alex had tons of energy this morning which means he's finally feeling better. I feel the same; just groggier. I stayed up late reading.

Last night, I discovered a new to me author, Katharine Ashe, and now I want to go read all of her books. I was being a good girl last night, finishing a book on my currently reading list (At the Billionaire's Wedding, a collection of short stories, including "The Day It Rained Books," by Ashe) that I started in February of 2019. I originally started the book because I was making my way through all of Maya Rodale's published works. But, obviously, something shiny walked by. Ashe's story is the third in the collection and by far the best. She takes the Cinderella trope and makes it into something beautiful. And I don't even like Billionaire stories, for the most part (Pippa Grant seems to do them well), but this story had me in tears.

Anyway, so now Currently Reading (on Goodreads) is only 11 books which includes the Bible and my devotional but my official To Be Read pile is 781. For every book I read, I seem to add 3 more to my want to read list. I read about 225 books a year (Goodreads counts full length books, novellas and shorts each as a distinct work; if you want length reports, they do have a page counter) so if I continue in the fashion as I move forwards, I won't ever catch up.

Maybe I need a break from technology, too, the form of a paper book.

This is still my favorite Animaniacs sequence.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Quarantine Quotidians, April 15

(It's been fun choosing a book to head every post, which I only did the first day because then it explained by title but now I can pick a new one every day! I can't remember how many times I've read Silver Silence since it was published in 2017--half a dozen at least--but I never get tired of Russian bear Changelings. Russian bears! They are hilarious.)

Angry Birds toys I have repaired

Today Nico from Angry Birds Rio got his hat reattached, which I recall Alex detaching almost as soon as he came into the house, years ago, and a small seam in his butt sewn closed. Photographic evidence of the change was difficult to gather.

Strange postcard of the day

I myself have never visited Epcot Center and my mother only went for the first time last year, but this post card is old. I'm wondering if my paternal grandmother went, years ago, and brought postcards back. That's my best guess.

Road Trip!

So I had some bank deposits that had been sitting around for a while and then I needed to do one for my mother in law's estate but her bank is a 20 minute drive from our house so I'd been putting it off. I was feeling decent earlier so I decided to just drive down to her bank, and then hit our bank and McDonald's on the way home. (One of Alex's food groups is McDonald's French Fries, and right now we're trying to put even a tiny bit of body fat back on him because he's growing faster then his limited calorie intake can manage. And I got McFlurries for Marshall and Miranda. Because I'm nice.)

I felt okay on my drive down (I swear, I missed every single light down Hainesport-Mt. Laurel Road to Greentree) but I was dizzy by the time I got back. So I'm not perfectly well; still enough sick that going out is inadvisable unless I'm just going to sit in the car. Lemme tell you how that makes me feel:

Yeah. It sucks.

But a dear friend offered to do our Aldi shopping, so that's one less worry. Bless you, friend.

There's not a whole lot of other new news. Miranda is still pretending to do her homework. I have yet to log in to Google classroom. Alex has been assigned by his counselor to work through "cartoon interactive social story type activities" on the computer and watches the clock until his allotted time is done. Marshall continues to work too many hours to reasonably ask him to deal with any of his other stuff around the house. He watched The Ring last night, the American version, which he said was okay. I read another Barbara Freethy book in her Off the Grid series, which has an over arching mystery along with one to be solved in each book. I've read 4 with 3 more to go and I'm curious enough to finish them this week to find out whodunit in the larger story. I have suspicions but Freethy writes cleverer mysteries that most people give her credit for. She's not as popular or flashy as Jayne Ann Krentz/Jayne Castle/Amanda Quick (all the same person but publishing under different names for different genres) or Christina Dodd. Even the Queen, JD Robb aka Nora Roberts, with her towering in Death Series, often has obvious villians. (One of my accomplishments this year was finishing book 50 of the in Death series, the latest published. Most of the books I read last year were written either by Nalini Singh or JD Robb and I really have no regrets.)

What's funny is when I count my authors (I love Goodreads; it's like having an extra brain) and I realize how few male authors I read any more.

  • John Scalzi is still a favorite and I haven't yet, unlike my husband, finished reading all of his back list. 
  • Ben Aaronovitch has an excellent urban fantasy series that started with Rivers of London in 2011, but I still have to read the last few books. (We recommend the audio versions of any of the Peter Grant stories because Kobna Holdbrook-Smith makes you a Peter believer.) 
  • I suppose Ilona Andrews counts because they are actually a husband and wife writing team, Ilona and Gordon Andrews. (I recommend everything they write. Yes, everything.)
  • Before the Netflix series launched, I started reading The Witcher books by Andrzej Sapowski and am now halfway through the series. Honestly it's some of the best fantasy I've read in years. His world building is impressive. 
Except for the odd historian or graphic novelist, that's it for male authors in the last 3 years. I'm not sure if that says more about me or about them.

Now I really need to stop and scrounge something for dinner.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Quarantine Quotidians, April 14

(Favorite book from seventh grade that I was just thinking today needs a reread.)

First thing today: most interesting post card

My father grew up in Los Alamos, New Mexico. My only visit to his old haunts was in 1992, when I joined he and my mother in a trip to Sante Fe to bury his father. So it's possible I could have purchased this in 1992, but it's more likely that my mother bought it on a more recent trip to NM she took with my dad.

Today, I think the card got sent to my youngest brother's house in CA.

Also, Angry Birds plushies that I have repaired: Matilda

Alex loves the fact that we're stuck in the house and he can now shove all his limping stuffed animals at me for repair. I am not the most accomplished seamstress.

How many Angry Birds do we have? A dresser full. I'll take a picture next time Alex has them all out for an event.

How do the birds get damaged? He pounds them into each other, reenacting some battle or other from Star Wars and a seam will start to give, and then he'll stick his fingers into it, making it larger, and then comes to me complaining that it broke. I've already done several of the smaller birds and on Saturday night, I had to sew up the rest of Might Eagle's throat that I hadn't previously repaired. Maybe by the time I finish all the bird repairs I'll have the energy to bring out my cross stitch stuff, which I haven't touched since my father in law died in 2016. That was a tough year. Though 2020 might beat it.

Health update

So, the kids and I are now on day 10 of low grade fevers, headaches and general blahs. Do we have Covid-19? I dunno. The fevers never go above 100 degrees, nor do any of us remain feverish all day long. Our energy is lower and an appetites are definitely reduced. I haven't called the doctor because she's going to tell us to rest and drink fluids, which we are already doing. It means I have only left the house to weed the front flower bed and I'm getting a little crazed. At least I got to go to the grocery store before. Marshall went to Costco on Saturday and we're going to need him to go on a trip to Aldi soon; we can't run out of turkey bacon and scrapple. Well, we could, but it would mean Miranda and I wouldn't have breakfast and that could be scary.

Entertainment News

Marshall has been binging on movies to cope with the lock down while I have, mostly, been reading instead. (If you've known me for five minutes, this is not a surprise to you.) If you want to follow my reading, you can stalk me on Goodreads.

  • We finally finished this season of Doctor Who last week and were exceedingly underwhelmed. Great cast, especially the new Master, but terrible, horrible, preachy writing. We are long time fans (we haven't seen every single episode since 1963 but many of them) and we hate to see a great show start to die. And Chibnall (exec producer) is better than this. Or so we thought. 
  • We actually paid Amazon Prime to watch the new Birds of Prey movie and turned it off after half an hour. And I'm the kind of person who actually liked (parts of) Justice League and most of Aquaman
  • Marshall would like you all to know he's going through a Cinéma vérité phase, reexamining films from the 1960's - 1980's that he's previously missed. Recent entries have been Conan the Barbarian, All the President's Men and The Shining. I joined him for the ends of Conan & Woodstein but skipped the last. Not a horror fan, except that my brief glances made me want to revisit Ready Player One
  • I finally finished over the weekend The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam by Barbara W. Tuchman. I started reading it in paper but finished with audio (I love my library!). She's an excellent analyst although it was dismaying to listen especially to the section on Vietnam, how each president from Truman to Nixon kept chasing verifiably incorrect assumptions about Vietnam and its people to rationalize more and more death. 
  • In between, I've been reading breezy romantic thrillers by HelenKay Dimon, Jayne Ann Krentz and Barbara Freethy. And low angsty contemporary romances by Jackie Lau. I have a stack of angsty books on my TBR but I haven't had the energy for them. I have so far resisted falling back into PsyChangeling or Guild Hunter by Nalini Singh (I read each series twice last year and that's more than 30 books and novellas) but I'm sure a reread will happen eventually during this calendar year. The new PsyChangeling book comes out June 9 and the new Guild Hunter in November. 
  • Then, there's also the Vorkosiverse books. Marshall's all-time-favorite-reread-numerous-times-series that I have been trying to read since spring, 2016. I did finish Cetaganda (book 6) last week, finally, because I'd bought a used paper copy of it last year. I think because my husband prefers the audio versions (thank you, library), he can just cycle through them over and over again. Our library, however, has only the audio versions of the books. I can read some books via audio but not all and Lois McMaster Bujold just doesn't work for me in that medium. I need to see the words on the page. So, finally, I just went and bought Kindle versions of all 22 (?) books. For all that Marshall loves the books, I figured we should express our love financially at long last to the author. It's nice to have the means to do that at present. (I don't want to know how many books I've bought since December so don't ask; I'm afraid to count them.)
Scripture readings for today are Proverbs, Luke and Deuteronomy (that I haven't listened to yet). I shall be glad to leave the Pentateuch soon but after all the fun blood lettering of Joshua there's all the depressing blood letting of Judges. I'm actually looking forward to the prophets this year. I started the Bible in One Year app last July so I'm counting from there as my read the whole Bible mark. Then I'll just start again. 

Here's a good way to end things:

Quarantine Quotidians, April 13

(If you haven't read this book, you should. It's one of my favorites.)

So, I decided in the shower this morning that I should start blogging again. I'm sure it's partly because I was texting my spiritual mentor yesterday and one thing I had promised months ago was to go back to blogging regularly. But Miranda had a mental healthy crisis in October and then my mother-in-law died in early January and then Surprise! Let's everybody have a pandemic. Time passes quickly and slowly simultaneously. Or, rather, the time doing fun stuff flies by and the time supervising my children's online education drags with foot long nails. No, homeschooling isn't going well. They are both special needs kids. This is not ideal. But it's the best we can do. Oh, well.

Schooling Update:

Technically, the children have spring break this week but she's behind on assignments and if she has to work, he should, too. For the first few weeks, I provided her a punch list of assignments to work on each day but that seemed to be overwhelming to her. In the last week, I have been ill enough not to have bothered to log in to Google classroom and assess the damage. (She has fairly severe ADHD and finishing assignments is often torturous.) So I keep reminding her every half hour or so and she twitches and, perhaps, goes back to work. She dislikes anyone watching her screen and I haven't been willing to push it yet. It hasn't seemed worth fighting over.

Alex and I are supposed to be reading The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo together but after a month of homeschooling, we're only half way. Maintaining a regular daily schedule with no outside influences is pretty much impossible. But we'll keep trying.

We had both IEP meetings virtually this year. Alex's was by phone on Friday the 3rd and was done in about 35 minutes, which I think is a record. Everything that we have in place for him at Archway Lower School is still working so we just go to the next level.

Miranda's was by video call last Tuesday at 8 am which meant I had to get up at 6 to eat and shower beforehand. I'm not a fan of video chat. I prefer to write post cards or letters or emails. I'm not sure I'm really a Gen Xer. Her attitude towards others and herself has been a challenge this year so we're all trying to just gently push her through the calendar year and hope her brain grows again. We're also going to try some alternate assessments because asking her to write a paper about what's she's learned in class is pretty much useless. After many days stress, you might get a paragraph. So we may move on to videos for her.

I will log in to Google classroom soon. I promise. Her teachers and case manager are lovely and supportive and they're not the problem. My daughter is just 13, not interested and doesn't feel like moving. I remember being miserable at 13 so I try not to heckle her enough to make her hate me more. I mean, she gets mad when I ask her to refill the ice tray, so I'm already on her list.

Possible Future Categories

  • Most interesting post card of the day (I'm sending daily post cards to my nieces and nephews on the West Coast as well as a few other family and friends.)
  • Health updates
  • Movies viewed and/or scorned
  • Interesting books
  • Garden updates
  • Favorite pod casts
  • Places I wish I were instead of in lock down
  • Amount of time I spent killing zombies on my phone today
  • Today's scripture (I use The Bible in One Year app from the Alpha program)
  • Alex's current fixation (A Bug's Life and the Stuff Mart Song from VegeTales)

Thursday, January 23, 2020

MaryLee Webber - Eulogy by Marshall Webber

Surprise Baby

My Mom was born in 1943 as the surprise baby to Epps Marshall and Elena Lowe Marshall in the tiny desert town of Blackfoot, Idaho. Mom often said that she had four parents, because her eldest siblings, David and Anita, were both several years older and lavished extra care on their little sister.

5 year old portrait
The daughter of ranchers and farmers, Mom grew up in hardscrabble poverty. There was no running water on the property until she was twelve, so dashes out to the out-house in the howling dead of winter were part of her growing up experience.

Mom considered these inconveniences to be mostly irrelevant. As she described it, “We would have rice and raisin pudding for dessert because there was nothing else.
Feeding the Lambs
We kids had no idea we were poor, because it was our favorite dessert!”

David and Anita doted on their younger sister, giving her that “best beloved” feeling in her family. In that tiny house that David and their father Epps had built, David and Anita would swing MaryLee high in the air like a pair of dock-workers and chant, “Shadrack, Meshack, and A-BED-YOU GO!” and toss her flying through the air onto her bed.

The Epps McCord Marshall Family:
front: David, Epps, Elena
back: MaryLee, Anita
Riding horses, learning the piano, and playing games which required no electricity and no money were how Mom spent her childhood. She attended feeble, storefront churches which never managed to stay running for very long, and this too became part of her spiritual expectation.

So let me pause here for a moment, and at the cost of surprising many of you, let you in on the secret life of MaryLee Webber: Mom was brought up to have two modes of interaction with people: either politely public, or unguardedly personal. This was a regional and generational trait that let her gloss over personal conflicts, while at the same time letting some few people into her private life where things were a lot more zany than the surface that she projected for the public.
Zanier than you thought,
but only when you weren't looking.

So let me clue you in: My mother was so sharp, her brain should have been continued on the next three people. In her youth, she was outgoing to the point of brashness. She also sported a darkly macabre sense of humor that fed on the absurdities of life. If you remember The Addam’s Family line drawn cartoons that ran in the New Yorker, that was right up her alley: a vicious inversion of the proper 20th Century American family. In college, she cackled over the satirical and controversial Smothers Brothers Comedy albums. Throughout her life, she privately reveled in the skewed visions of reality from cartoonists as varied as George Booth and his strange cast of characters to Gary Larson’s “The Far Side” panels. These, of course, became running family “in-jokes” which my sister and I can quote as shorthand for almost any situation. During the most trying professional times of my mom’s life in the late 1990s, she regularly escaped into edgy animated shows like Ren & Stimpy, I AM Weasel, and Cow & Chicken. However, she rarely let her enjoyment of the absurd and dark humored show in public.

The siblings
As was typical for her generation, her older brother went off to University for a degree and worked a surveying job in the summers to put money away to pay for both of his sisters' college educations. 

The Beauties
My Aunt Anita worked for the local phone company before she left for college, and my mother would leave High School at lunch time and join her sister at the local lunch counter. The two beauties appeared in public as a pair of working office girls. This experience with her sister gave Mom a sense of hope that there was more “world” out there to experience beyond a dull life in a one-horse town.

Off to College!
Her brother David was eventually able to pay for Mom to attend Whitworth College in Spokane, Washington, in 1962 to pursue a photo-journalism degree. At Whitworth, she glutted herself on the college experience as only a small town girl could, siphoning up knowledge, culture and everything that always took an extra few decades to make it to her small town home. She left time for silliness, however. One of her escapades included piling into a VW Van at midnight with some friends, including one who, for laughs, styled himself as the Guru “Drawah.” They roared around the snowy, wooded campus until Drawah proclaimed a random tree to be THE sacred tree and did donuts around it in the VW. Mom later claimed that this was the closest she ever came to Eastern Enlightenment.

Between classes and silliness, Mom earned money on campus as assistant to the photo-lab manager, a World War 2 army photographer calling in his wartime benefits to get his degree. When this gruff character found out that she didn’t have enough money for bus fare to return home to Blackfoot for Thanksgiving, he took her home with him to his family of four. No, this was not my father. This was my Grandfather, research photo-journalist Bert Webber. That Thanksgiving, when he took his lab assistant home to his family, MaryLee met Bert’s number one son, Rick Webber.

My father was a seventeen year-old chatter-box, so excited about whatever he had just learned that he wanted to share it...whether you were interested or not. My mother’s father, Epps, was a loving, but “strong silent type,” as was typical of his generation. Mom found talking with Rick to be like drinking straight from the fire hose. Still, finally, someone who could hold up his end of a conversation!

When I was young, I always thought that my mother was just average smart, and my father was the really clever one because he could design, build, or improve anything. Somewhat later, I realized that while Dad was innovative in his field, my Mom was not only brilliant, but was also widely read across history, philosophy, and world literature. If I wanted to build something, I talked to Dad. If I wanted to know why to build it, whether it had been built before, and what the socio-economic consequences of building it were, I talked to mom. If mom got to me first, I usually wound up reading about someone else building it.

My parent’s courtship brought its own absurdities. Mom was grafted in to the Webber family 
in Spokane and joined in the hiking, camping and on one terrifying trip, spelunking, or cave-exploring. My grandfather, Bert, continued as her professional mentor and shot poses of her to be used as portraits for her newspaper columns.

Since my Dad was about to do two years in the Coast Guard right out of high school, Mom agreed to be “his girl” while he was on the high seas. She was surprised and pleased when someone so young, travelling the world, decided that what he wanted most was to come home and marry her. Mom did mention that the communications arrangements were not very romantic, nor very private, especially ship to shore calls. “I love you. OVER.” “I love you, too OVER.” 

Richard Ebbert Webber and MaryLee Marshall, married on June 11, 1967

She let the mask slip a little there.

Modern female photojournalist in action, photo by
her mentor and future Father-in-law, Bert Webber
While MaryLee did complete her photo-journalism degree, she opted to teach high-school English instead. She had started to feel uncomfortable with the hyper-aggressive professional journalists who were disrespectful of their subjects. But her final decision was made by nearly being a side-lines casualty during an out-of bounds tackle at a football game she was covering. Five-hundred pounds of offensive and defensive players hurtling toward her as she tried to scramble out of the way in a mini-skirt.

As my father started his Engineering Degree at Idaho State University, mom started teaching English and Newspaper copy-writing at her old High School in Blackfoot.

The Webber Family, 1969

In 1969, I was born in my mother's hometown of Blackfoot. As young parents with adventure on their minds and no money, they worked like mad at their education and jobs and regularly camped all over the Pacific Northwest. When my Dad graduated, he got a job that could be a single income for the whole family. The exciting part was that the job was in New Jersey.

My Mom was thrilled to move to New Jersey. While in college in Spokane, she had made visits to Seattle during the 1962 World’s Fair and got a taste for what city living could be. For a girl from a one horse town, moving to the busy corridor between New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. sounded wonderful. Mom came from the desert where sagebrush was as green as it got. Her move to the Garden State is one she never regretted. Small time girl goes to the big city…and only goes back to the small town for high school reunions.

The Webber Family, 1976
My parents moved to Westmont, NJ and mom stayed at home until a year after the birth of my sister, Leah, who was born in 1975. It was at this memorable point that MaryLee took my father gently by the throat and told him if she did not get out of the house to start working a mentally stimulating job, someone was going to get hurt. Mom went back to work in office management. She admitted later that it was more therapy than income. She loved being a mother, and was a great one. But there was more out in the world that she wanted to do.

About this time, my parents became involved with Laurel Hill Bible Church in Clementon. Until that time, our family had not been much in the way of regular attenders at church, though that slowly changed while my father was getting his degree. As his faith blossomed, my mother took her own faith out and gave it looking over and decided it was time to get serious, too. By the time my sister was born, my parents were at every service, every time the church doors were unlocked.

In an era when fewer American families gathered for meals, the Webber family usually ate dinner together in the evenings, with cloth napkins and with silver and china, a habit my parents set up so that from a young age, my sister and I could be taken out to any restaurant and have better table manners than most of the adults. (Tricky, mom.)

Moving up to the Stratford House, Sept. 1978
Mom’s clever modus operandi at the dinner table was the same one that she had used with her students while teaching High School in Blackfoot: "Get inside their minds, figure out how they think, so that you can help them succeed." She used the same method on my sister and I at the dinner table. Get us talking, distracted by the food, and then she and my father would often have a post-dinner debriefing where they discussed what my sister and I had said, where to apply pressure, where to back off, how to steer, and so on.

My parents were not trained in child development: They just did the things that they liked to do, took us along for the ride, and watched our reactions with great attention and then discussed our behavior in detail before adjusted course. Mom spoke with us and not at us. (Dad could carry on both sides of the conversation.) Our opinions were solicited to keep the conversation going. Most importantly, they confined their social guidance to ethical living, without any attempt to coerce Leah or I into their ideas for our careers or interests. Today, this is called “free-range parenting” and as a kid who was given his head to choose any subject to pursue, it was wonderful.

MaryLee, circa 1985.
This included our spiritual lives, where we were expected to understand the essentials of my parents' Christian faith, but the decision of whether or not to become believers in Jesus as our spiritual rescuer were necessarily up to us. Mom used to reinforce this by telling us, “You can only inherit customs from your parents, you can’t inherit faith. You must decide that for yourself. We want you to be the person God made you to be.”

I am truly grateful for my mom’s wisdom in being winsome and persistent when dealing with me, rather than trying get me into the kingdom of God with her boot in my back. I can say that I own my own faith, and I know that my sister can, too.

Our family changed churches in the early 1980’s, shifting our attendance to Grace Bible Church in Mount Laurel. Mom took up piano again for enjoyment and eventually learned enough about playing organ to offer to trade off with Grace Bible Church’s regular organist, Cathy Chattin, to give Cathy a break.

In their spiritual lives, mom and dad were a good compliment. Dad was an evangelist, the harvester who would encourage people to make their final decision for a life of following Jesus. As a teacher, my mom was a planter, a sower of seeds of spiritual thought and consideration for a later harvester to come along and help. The Gospel of John, in the 4th chapter records Jesus describing the need for both types: “What joy awaits both the planter and the harvester alike! You know the saying, ‘One plants and another harvests.’ And it’s true.”

My parents enjoyed the role of “auxiliary parents” to many here in this room today. 

My mother’s own experience of having been brought in to the Webber home on a cold November and my father’s enthusiasm for trying to parent any kid within arm’s reach helped set her on a course of loving and supporting kids and young people around her who were not her own family.

Webber Family, 1993, with our new 'plus one',
Brian Rykaczewski. They were married March 5, 1994.
One of those young people hanging around was my sister’s boyfriend, Brian Rykaczewski. When Leah was seventeen, Brian asked my parents for their permission to marry her, presenting a meticulously drafted plan to have both of them living on his single income within just a few years. To the shock of many, my parents said yes. My folks recognized Brian’s Christian faith, his drive, and his sharp business acumen when others only saw his youth.

MaryLee Webber
Certified Medical Assistant
Over the years, my parents worked a variety of jobs to keep food on the table. When Mom tired of the chaos of her office management job, she switched to medical office management.

This is the stress point where some marriages fly apart. Instead, my parents reverted to what they called, “Run the deer.” One wolf chases the deer while the other one rests, and then they swap. My father had worked while my mother had started Leah and I on our way through childhood, then they had swapped, and my father went back and retrained. Then he “ran the deer” while my mother re-trained as a Certified Medical Assistant, and back and forth over the years, each one back-stopping the other in various jobs while the other one took the next step up in their professional career.

This was exhausting. They often excused their lack of vigor in life with the quip, “We had a bad decade.” Still, when opportunities permitted, Mom escaped into historical fiction where she often found the lift of a happy ending to keep her moving forward.

Marriage of R. Marshall Webber to Sarah Boyle, June 21, 1997, in Fresno, California.
Mom got a daughter-in-law in 1997 when I married Sarah Boyle. Mom also got someone who shared her passion for historical fiction and could also keep up in conversation about a wide variety of historical, philosophical, and cultural fields. Having looked up to my mother as someone who could keep up with a broad array of subjects, I had unconsciously gone looking for someone who was as brainy as she was. She also got to switch to Grandma or “Mimi the Great” mode
Playing Piano with her first
Grandchild, Grace Rykaczewski
when her kids started supplying grandchildren. She was happy to take out her bag of teaching tricks for a new generation.

Mom eventually found a way to squeeze what she loved into one job. At my father’s urging, she pursued a Master’s degree in Adult Education from Widner University. When things got hard financially, she stopped for several years, writing it off as a missed opportunity.My father kept leaning on her try to go back and finish. Much to her surprise, Widner was happy to bring her back in, and she completed her Master’s degree. All of the cords of her professional life were finally braided together: Teaching, anatomy and physiology, and medical records management, to students that needed a confidence boost, and the opportunity to let her personal zaniness out of the box a little to keep her student engaged.

Back teaching, her first professional love. Still with Rick, both older and wiser.
She taught medical office management and medical assistance at Burlington County Institute of Technology to both adults and teenagers. She truly loved her students and sparkled as each one of them took wing in their new career. Her greatest disappointment was being forced into retirement by BCIT administration in 2008.

At the Rogers organ, Stratford Presbyterian Church
In recent years, to supplement her retirement income, mom began playing the organ at the Stratford Presbyterian Church. It was an ideal arrangement, she said. The congregation loved having an organist, and mom got to hear solid exegetical preaching each Sunday. For those of you here from Stratford Presbyterian, thank you for welcoming my mother in.

As some of you know, my father was diagnosed with a muscle wasting disease in 2000. By the time my mother retired, he was rarely able to stand. 
With the Rykaczewski family:
Leah, Collin, MaryLee, Rick, Grace, Brian, and Lilly.
Mom chose to care for him at home, even as he struggled to be out participating in symphonic bands with friends. She once cracked to me, “I married a younger man to take care of me when I was old. Oops.” They were able to get by together until both were diagnosed with cancer within a week of each other in 2015 
These times were particularly tough. But my mother, who always considered memorized Scripture to be her backstop in bad times, began repeating Second Timothy Chapter One, verse Seven to herself regularly: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”

If you knew both of my parents, you knew that my Dad kept rolling ahead with an ever present grin on his face. Mom reverted to her small town stoicism which kept her going from a well of deep toughness and faith that God’s Holy Spirit would give her just enough juice to make it through each present day. She worked to make my dad comfortable until his passing in August of 2016, while at the same time working to care for her own cancer.

With the Webber Family (Nov 2019):
R. Marshall, Miranda Elena, Sarah, Alexander Matthew, MaryLee
When it became evident in December, 2019, that her latest flare up of the cancer would be her last, Mom said to me, “I got four extra years that I wasn’t expecting!” Indeed, she had made new friends, resumed old friendships, traveled, and for a few years, was able to relax in her retirement.

When she was in her final days being cared for at Tom and Lorita Boyle’s house, the whole family was gathered for dinner on the other side of the house. We munched, talked, laughed and made all of the raucous noises that large family gatherings do when they are happy together.

I snuck out to see how Mom was doing, and found her in the bed, limp as a rag, but grinning. “What’s funny?” I asked. “I am attending my pre-wake,” she replied with dignity. When I nearly choked at this macabre comment, she continued, “Really! I’m enjoying just hearing my family all together with love in the other room. This is better than a wake, because I get to attend. Most of all, I know that when I’m gone, this type of love is how things are going to continue for my family even in my absence.”

The most remarkable thing I can say about my mother was that in her final days, she did not look at death, she looked through death, as if it were a piece of glass. Most people, even those of deep faith, look at death with trepidation. Mom saw no ending, just a mere transfer point, as benign as crossing a train platform to switch to the express for Peoria. I have never known anyone who considered their dying days with more faith that her Savior would greet her at the moment of her passing, and with so little worry for what she was leaving behind.