Thursday, August 29, 2013

What Have I Been Reading?

I have been reading a lot, and across a number of genres. So here are a few brief book reviews, in, as they say on TV competitions, no particular order.

1. The Beggar King by Oliver Potzsch. The plot finds Jacob Kuisl, his daughter Magdalena, and her lover Simon Fronwieser (a medicus who dropped out of his training to be a doctor, but still practices medicine in their hometown of Schongau) all in the imperial free town of Regensburg. Jacob went there to visit his sister, but is arrested and framed for murder. Not knowing what has happened to her father, Magdalena and Simon have eloped to Regensburg hoping to find a place where they can build a life together. In Schongau they are not allowed to marry because Magdalena is considered unfit to marry out of her class because her father is the hangman. All kinds of crazy plot convolutions follow. Can Magdalena help save her father? Who is behind the murders? Why is the Venetian Ambassador so attentive to Magdalena? What is the blue powder at the murder site? Magdalena and Simon meet the leader of the city's beggars and hide out in the beggar's secret city within the city. Jacob is subjected to the same tortures he is required to use on others in his job as the Schongau executioner. There are political plots and revenge plots, and never a dull moment.
This is a story in the Hangman's Daughter series. It is translated from the German, and sometimes there is a little awkwardness in certain phrasings that I think are due to the language change. For the most part it flows smoothly. Although I have the book both in Kindle and Audible versions, I mostly listened to it, going back to the print when I did not understand something such as a name, or missed something. The reader does a very good job.

2. The Courtiers, by Lucy Worsley. Ms.Worsley is the Chief Curator of Historic Royal Palaces in England. In this very interesting book she tells the story of life in the royal circles in the time of King George I and King George II--these are the kings sometimes referred to as the German Georges. Determined not to have another Roman Catholic king, the British Parliament had bypassed the deposed rightful royal line and went to distant cousins in Hanover, Germany to find a ruler upon the death of Queen Anne, who had no living children. I've always heard that the Georges did not even bother to learn English for the first two or three generations of their line, but I learned this is not true. Georges I and II both were adults at the time they were called to England. They spoke German, French, some Latin, and learned English. As it was not their first, or even third, language, they did not speak it with fluency and preferred German or French. This book is nonfiction, but reads as easily and with as much interest as a novel. It has a juicy, gossipy feel to it and is full of fascinating information about life, fashion, loves, and family feuds in the royal circle. I enjoyed it so much I immediately ordered another book by the same author, which is--

3.  If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home. I'm only part way through this book, but I am finding it very interesting. Ms. Worsley uses the rooms of a house to show how life was lived through many eras of history: styles, customs, morals, beliefs, child birth and child rearing, and food are some of the ways of life she covers. We live in a messy, sometimes dangerous world, but I am glad I am living in this era of its history! Just reading what women had to go through to get dressed in some eras is enough to make me even more grateful for jeans and shirts! The only disappointment I have so far in the book is the fact that it deals mostly with upper to nobility classes in Britain. I wish she had given more details about the way the lower classes lived. However, the people leaving records, letters, diaries, and items that ended up in museums were the upper classes. This author has another book I plan to read also; Cavalier.

4.The Blackbird Sisters series, by Nancy Martin. The eighth novel in this lighthearted mystery series, Little Black Book of Murder, recently came out. Besides the eight novels there are two novellas that I also have on my Kindle. Although they are murder mysteries, there is a lot of humor in them. The three sisters are all young widows, and fear they are under a curse that anyone they marry will die. They deal with the deaths of the spouses they have lost in different ways, some sad, some hilarious. The story is seen through the eyes of middle sister Nora, the most balanced of the sisters. In addition to losing their husbands, the sisters have been thrown from life as Philadelphia upper crust wealthy to near poverty, because their charismatic but irresponsible parents have run through the family fortune, including their children's trust funds, and then absconded to South America. Each book has a stand alone mystery, but continues the personal stories of the sisters. When Little Black Book came out I went back and read the entire series, including the novellas, over. It was fun entertainment and I look forward to the next book, which the author says will come out about this time next year.

5, Ancient Rome in So Many Words, by Christopher Francese. This is a book that I just dip into from time to time when I just want to fill a few minutes. The author reveals things about life in Roman Empire times through language. He takes a word, explains what it meant and how it was used by the Romans. It is a unique and interesting way to dip into history.

I am obviously always reading something. This is surely enough book reviewing for now!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Waiting to See

I have not been blogging much of late. I have thought of a few things to write about; I have even sat down at the computer with the intention of blogging. But it was just too much trouble to actually do it.

Tuesday I had an appointment with a very good doctor in Billings. I finally talked to her about the fact that I realize that I am operating at a low level of depression. (She agreed with my self-diagnosis.)

This is not the kind of big, bad depression that afflicted me forty years ago after the birth of my second child. That was a very dark and scary place that I don't even like to think about. My intense and protective love for my children and my very supportive husband pulled me through that time, but the healing took months. There was a time that I came to believe I would always feel that way and I would just cope the best I could for the sake of my family. I am glad that I did eventually and gradually recover.

This is not the kind of depression I have heard about, but have not experienced, that comes with crying jags and/or impulses to harm one's self.

This is the kind of depression that sucks out physical, mental, and emotional energy. It creates an overall dullness where doing anything is just too difficult. I had to admit I was not really able to handle it on my own when I realized that I was dreading an upcoming Bible class that I am to teach beginning in mid-September. I love teaching Bible classes and I have really wanted to teach this particular adult class. Now, I find that I regret getting myself into it; it just takes too much energy and mental discipline. The joy is gone and it just seems like a chore.

And that is not all that I have no energy--mental or physical--for. I'm definitely not keeping up my house the way I would like it to be. I have almost abandoned work on several projects that I was formerly enthusiastic about. I don't really care much about going out and doing anything.

So, combining this overall energy-sapping dullness and the fact that I have had trouble sleeping for months, Dr. Malody put me on a low dose of antidepressant. It was very difficult for me to admit I needed it or to tell anyone what I did know about what was happening to me.

Depression seems to be a factor on both sides of my family tree--in the past, before the development of better understanding of how the brain works and medicines that have effectiveness for mental disorders, a lot of people self-treated with alcohol. Which, of course, just caused more problems. I truly believe that most alcoholics start out as depressives. Because of family history I have always had an intense fear of alcohol.

It takes time to build up to the complete effects of an antidepressant. However, the last two nights I have really slept! That, in itself, is a blessing. I am still feeling a little "druggy" and my balance is a little off. No, two doses have not restored me to mental energy and ambition. That is the waiting to see part. But I have hope that the results will be good and I will really care about, and enjoy, doing things again!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Lazy Time

I've been lazy about blogging lately. I've made notes on Facebook, but haven't gotten my brain together to actually blog.

I'm still rather in that state!

I'm very disappointed that the most recent drop added to my treatment routine for glaucoma, and which seemed to be working, has now become an irritant. It took about three weeks of using it to develop the sensitivity, but I'm definitely allergic to it now. This makes three or four of the glaucoma drops that I cannot use.

I have been reading (or listening) to books. A lot of books.

I have watched some TV, although summer TV hasn't got much of interest on. I'm burned out on news, so just check headlines for the most part.

I am mostly a prisoner in my house with the air conditioner, because there is a lot of smoke moving in from somewhere, and smoke is death on my bronchials.

My granddaughter and I went out to lunch today, which is something we have enjoyed doing together for many years. She  will soon be sixteen, and is becoming a very busy young lady.

So, I'm just coasting along. With the asthma I don't have much energy and am certainly not getting my projects done. Just a bit at a time.

Well, that's where I am.

I certainly hope I will have more of interest to write about next time. My body and brain are both in Lazy Town!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Homemade Fun

A few years ago a first grade teacher in the school where my daughter worked at the time, asked her class about playing outdoors when they were home. None--not one--of those children played outdoors at all when they were home. Apparently their only outdoor playtime was school recess--including summers.

A few days ago there was a discussion on television about a recent trend for people (wealthy ones, I must assume) to hire a professional to teach their children how to play. I am dumbfounded by the very thought. My assumption is that the teaching was mostly directed at playing with others. But, still. . . .

So, I am thinking about what we did for play when my sisters and I were growing up.

To begin with, we did not have rooms overflowing with toys. We had some, but not many. There were no TVs; computers, video games, and all the electronic wonders had not yet been invented. Parents could not just go to the local discount store (there weren't any) and buy a nice swing set, plastic sand box, plastic wading pool, etc., for their kids.

Cousin Jackie Mackey, Brownie, Me, Pinkie in the sandbox. In the upper right side, part of the top of the swings can be seen. So few photos were taken in the back yard that this is the only
one with the swing I could find. Circa 1949/50.
So, what did we do? First of all, for playground-type equipment, my dad built things for us. He was not a great carpenter/handy-man type, but he built things for his kids to play on. He built a sand box out of some boards and a load of local sand. He built a swing set out of a couple of telephone-type poles (somewhat shortened), a crossbar, ropes, and notched boards for seats. That was a great swing set. The height and the ropes made for wonderful swinging--we could really get some height going! He also built a teeter-totter out of a very long, thick board bolted to a center support. I don't remember exactly how the center fastening was done, but it was a much better teeter-totter than what is now available from the store. The length and sturdiness of the board meant someone could play "candlestick" by standing across the center of the board while two others sat on the ends. The candlestick balanced, shifting weight from foot to foot as the others pushed up and down at the ends. I loved being the candlestick!

Some other things we did:

  • We played house--in the summertime the front porch was an ideal "house."
  • We played a lot of running, jumping, horsing around type games with the neighborhood kids--cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians (yes, we absolutely did have cap guns and none of us grew up to be murderers), tag, statues, Red Rover, Mother May I, and just generally chasing around.
  • We roller skated--not the kind of skates kids have today, but the kind that you tightened onto the soles of your shoes with a skate key, and which could be adjusted lengthwise as your feet grew. They were, of course, outdoor skates. We could skate on the sidewalks all around our block, and, if Mama gave permission, could cross the street at the north end of our block and skate on the sidewalks around the grade school. That was the absolute best skating, because those walks were very smooth and wide. We played cops and robbers on skates at the school sidewalks.
  • We learned to walk on stilts--which Daddy made for us by cutting 2x4's to the proper length and nailing a block of wood about 12 to 18 inches above the bottom end for foot rests. 
  • We played with toy cars. The fun part about that was creating roadways, tunnels, and bridges in the dirt for the cars to drive on.
  • We dug holes. Our backyard was not planted in lawn. It was dirt. A large portion of it would be garden in the summertime, but the play area between the garden and the alley was good old dirt. A kid can think of a lot of reasons to dig a hole.
  • We played hopscotch on the front sidewalk. We didn't even need chalk to draw our hopscotch game out. Our street was not paved. From time to time the city would put down a new layer of shale. We could always find good marking rocks with which to draw on the sidewalk.
  • We explored the ditch. The big Burlington drainage ditch ran across the end of our block. It usually was dry, and it was deep. In the ditch we could feel like explorers in a strange land, unseen by anyone else. True, Mama didn't let us get out of her eyesight very often, but once in a while we made it to the ditch.
  • We made hollyhock dolls.
  • We lay on the grass and watched the clouds and daydreamed.
  • We chased grasshoppers, picked up ladybugs, dug fishworms, and watched the daddy-long-legs on the side of the house.
  • We ran through the sprinkler on hot summer days.
  • We ran races with each other.
  • We learned to ride bicycles on a collection of secondhand bikes.

We were never bored.
Mother and Daddy holding the twins. They are outside the front fence (which
we used a prop for getting up on stilts), and standing on the sidewalk where we
played hopscotch and roller skated. I really put in this photo just because I like
it and because, if you look close, you can see that Daddy has a mustache. 
Thinking about all this makes me wish I could tell my father "Thank you for the things you built for us to play on." As kids we just took them for granted!

(We also read a lot of books!)