Pumping Iron

In my younger days, I never thought of myself as the weight-lifting type. We focused on calesthenics in gym class, and the 80s was the decade of aerobics. If I thought of strength training at all, it was as the province of jocks—male jocks, at that.
Not that lifting weights was a bad thing, it just wasn’t a thing for me.
Then, some fifteen or twenty years ago, I ran across a book on my mom’s bookshelf.

Strong Women Stay Young

The crux of the book was that people lose muscle mass as we age. This could lead to unpleasant effects—not just overall loss of strength, but decreased bone density, lower bone density, and others I can’t quite remember.
But! Strength training could combat this muscle loss, and slow or reverse the effects of aging!
The book laid out a strength-training plan carefully modified to be safe for women over fifty, complete with line drawings of a very serious fifty-something woman demonstrating the various exercises.
I wasn’t certain of the health benefits, but I liked the idea of getting stronger. And I liked the clear explanations of each exercise and the muscles it was meant to tone.
I can’t remember whether my mom gave me the book or I bought my own copy, but I also bought its companion book, Strong Women Stay Slim, not so much because of its alleged slimming effect as because I wanted more exercises to do. I quickly acquired the recommended 2-, 3-, 5-, 8-, 10- and 15-pound dumbells and adjustible 20-pound ankle weights.
And I was off!
At least for a while. Then life got busy and Bob the Brain Tumor reared its ugly head and a bunch of other stuff happened and strength training fell to the wayside.

The Strong Woman Returns

In December 2018, I had a dilemma. I was watching a lot of YouTube, and sitting on my butt in front of the computer was getting boring. Also, I wanted a way to work out, but a gym membership wasn’t in the cards.
Then a happy idea struck me: I still had my old weights tucked away. Why not pull them out and exercise while I watched videos?
So that’s what I did.
I started with the basic six exercises from SWSY. Next I added the weighted leg exercises I could remember. Unfortunately, I couldn’t remember the exercises from SWSS, or I’d have added them, too.
The workouts worked, at least for my purposes.
I didn’t lose any weight, but my muscles got harder and shapelier, and my clothes fit better. I was stronger (well, duh!) and, after some initial tiredness, had more stamina. My balance and flexibility improved, and my blood pressure and blood sugar readings dropped significantly.
Interestingly, even my hands and wrists got stronger and slimmer. I could actually wear my wedding ring again!
I was going strong through June or July, but then I began to backslide. I think there were a few reasons behind that:

  • In June, I attended Camp Dogwood. I had an awesome time, but the break made it hard to get back into my routine.
  • I’d added a lot to my original workout. The longer my workout got, the harder it was to work it in.
  • I’d seen significant changes at first, but I’d plateaued. It was getting harder to add weight or reps, and my body wasn’t changing dramatically any more.
  • I was getting bored with the routine.
  • I was taking on other projects and had less time to work out. Even now, my New Year’s workout goals are bumping up against my New Year’s writing goals. And meal planning goals. And… Well, there’s only so much of me to go around.

Beginning Again in 2020

I like the benefits I’ve seen from my workouts, and I’ve committed to getting back into it in 2020. Based on my list above, I’ve made some changes:

  • I’ve gone back to the basic six exercises. Keeping workouts short has let me slip a workout in on a couple of occasions I almost let it slide.
  • I’ve committed to working out twice a week, instead of three times. If I get that third workout in, great, but I’m not ocunting on it.
  • I’m going to ask MrH or one of our sons to go over the exercises I can’t remember. Maybe having more variety will keep me more engaged.

That’s about it, really, and it seems to be working. Three weeks into the new year, I’ve managed to get two weekly workouts in, and I’m already feeling stronger and fitter. I suspect it’s easier to get back into shape than to get there in the first place.
I’d still like to join a gym, partly for the workout equipment, but also for access to treadmills and exercise bikes, the walking track, and swimming pools. Until then, I’ll keep plugging along on my own.
I love walking, and I’d love to find a walking buddy or a walking trail I’m comfortable taking on my own. In our neighborhood, it’s hard for me to tell the paving apart from the packed dirt beside it, and driveways from the roads themselves. Still, if I get stir-crazy enough, maybe I’ll try again.

What About You?

Do you have an exercise routine or fitness regimen? Do you have a gym membership, and if so, do you use it? What kind of exercise do you like? Work it out in the comments below!

The Bad Egg

So, since I can’t think what to blog about today, and since I’ve been working on my creative writing, let me tell you a story. This one isn’t fiction, though.

Unfortunately.

Once Upon a Time…

MrH and our son went to the store. They came back with, among other things, one of those double 18-packs of eggs strapped together with plastic.

A few days later, when they went to cook the eggs, they stripped off the plastic to find…a mess. A gloppy, gooey, broken egg mess.

Yecch.

They transferred the eggs to clean egg cartons we’d saved for a friend, checking each one as they went. All the eggs were intact, so they concluded that a loose egg had slipped between the two cartons and been smashed.

They threw away the nasty egg cartons and plastic, thinking that was that.

But We Didn’t Live Happily Ever After

A few days later I noticed that the bottom of a cardboard box of individually wrapped cheese sticks on the bottom shelf was soaking wet, and my fingers smelled…off…after I touched it.

No big deal. Water does sometimes pool on that shelf, and the smell was probably just damp, musty cardboard. I moved the cheese sticks to another box and wiped down the shelf.

Problem solved, right?

Nope.

An unpleasant odor began to linger around the fridge. Younger son noticed “smutz” on the bag of shredded cheese also on the bottom shelf and transferred that to a clean container. I wiped the shelf again.

And still it persisted.

It wasn’t until Older Son opened the produce drawer to discover a puddle of nasty water that we identified the smell:

Mr Bad Egg had apparently slipped his plastic confines and spread his influence across the bottom shelf of the refrigerator and into the produce drawers.

“What an Incredible New Smell You’ve Discovered.”

If you’ve never smelled rotten egg, consider yourself lucky. I don’t have a great sense of smell, thanks to damage wrought by Bob the Brain Tumor and his surgical eviction, but even I could detect the pungent bouquet wafting up from that produce drawer.

And so began the clean-up.

The rubber mats kept most of the produce out of the slimy liquid in the drawers, but it had become so infused with the pervasive odor we had to throw it out. Before I transferred the snack cheese to yet another container, I carefully rinsed and dried each piece.

I wiped each shelf with soapy water, then clear water, then bleach water. Meanwhile, Older Son sprayed the produce drawers and mats with Simple Green and wiped them down. We bleached those, too.

Gone, But Not Forgotten

Mr. Bad Egg is gone but his memory lingers. As does his aroma.

In the bathroom after my bath. In the laundry room. In the crisp Granny Smith apples that replaced the ones Mr Bad Egg ruined. It’s so faint I can’t be sure if it’s a smell, or only the ghost of one.

Is that you, Mr Bad Egg? Are you still here?


Has something funny (or not so funny) happened to you recently? Tell me the story in the comments below!

What I Read in 2019 (Because you were dying to know.)

As I mentioned in my post on resolutions, every year I keep a list of the books I’ve read.

I’ve done this since 2006, when someone in the Bookcrossing forums mentioned it and I thought, “That’s a great idea! I’m totally doing that!” I missed a few books in 2007, because I wasn’t in the habit, but otherwise I’ve faithfully logged my reading ever since.

I enjoy looking back at what I’ve read, and the lists are a great way to jog my memory when I can’t quite recall a title or author or whether I’ve read a particular book.

So, what did I read in 2019?

Though I didn’t exactly make it a resolution—I didn’t make any resolutions last year—I had a soft goal of reading at least 52 books. In addition, I wanted to read at least two non-fiction books for every fiction title I completed.

How’d I do?

I read a total of 68 books. Not bad, eh? Some were short, others quite long — but if I read it, I counted it. Of those, 51 were non-fiction and 17 fiction, for a ratio of exactly three to one.

Breaking it down further, , the single biggest non-fiction category was memoir/autobiography. I counted 22, nearly one-third of total books read. What can I say? I love to hear people’s stories.

Nine books slotted into history, and there were eleven how-to books, not counting cookbooks—of which there were 3. There were also 3 books on language, either its history or usage, and 4 relating to service dogs.

(Category definitions are my own and may not match the library’s. Also, a couple of books may have slotted into more than one category.)

None of the books covered science and technology specifically, unless you count The Perfection of the Paperclip, about the history and development of various office supplies. The SecretLife of Pronounsinvolved computer analysis of word categories and their frequency, and Isaac Asimov’s Galaxy incorporated a good measure of science, though that wasn’t its main thrust.

What does it all mean? Darned if I know. I consider myself a bit of a magpie when it comes to reading—I’ll pick up just about anything shiny and add it to my pile.

What will I be reading in 2020?

I have 64 books on my BARD wishlist. (That’s the National Library Service’s Braille and Audio Reading Download service, for those of you not in the know.)

In theory, I could clear the entire list this year. In reality, I tend to add books at roughly the same rate as I download them, so though the list fluctuates, it remains eternal. That’s not a bad thing!

However…

Seven of those books date back to The Great Cookbook Binge of 2017, when I pored through BARD’s entire cooking section and added 30+ books to my list. There’s an eighth from that period on my flash drive now.

Since I tend to read cookbooks a few recipes at a time, it takes me a while to work my way through them. This year, I’d like to knock at least four off the list, whether by reading them or by trying them and deciding they’re not for me.

Of the remaining 57 books, three each were added in 2017 and 2018. I’d like to move those along — again, either by reading them or by attempting them and removing them from the list.

Of the 51 books that leaves:

  • 11 fiction
  • 13 memoir
  • 5 instructional books on knitting
  • 4 books in German, which I don’t quite speak but wanted to listen to to see how much I could pick up. [Spoiler: not much.]
  • 7 history

The remaining—eleven?—are mostly about things or how to do things.

I’ll let the chips fall where they may on those. It’ll be interesting to see what’s left by year’s end.

All my 2019 reads were audiobooks, but I do have a bunch of ebooks on my computer, in .pdf, .epub, and on my Amazon Kindle for PC. E-books are more of a PITA, because reading them means I’m tethered to my keyboard. But maybe I’ll try to get some of them in.

As much as I enjoyed the non-fiction I read last year, I think a 3:1 ratio is a bit much. This year, I’ll try again for a 2:1 ratio. Not going to sweat it, though.

I’d like to read more short fiction this year, since that seems to be what I’m writing. I’ll also keep an eye out for interesting science and technology titles.

What About You?

Did you read any good books last year? Does your reading trend toward fiction or non-fiction, or is it about even? Do you track your reading, or is that my own particular nuttiness? What’s on your TBR pile for 2020? Reveal all in the comments below!


Books read in 2019, in order of completion:

  • The Golden Egg: The Personal Income Tax, Where it Came From, How it Grew by Gerald Carson
  • Traveling With the Dead by Barbara Hambly
  • High Latitudes: An Arctic Journey by Farley Mowat
  • Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
  • Almost Like a Song by Ronnie Milsap and Tom Carter
  • The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr
  • Old Sturbridge Village Cookbook: Authentic Early American Recipes for the Modern Kitchen by Caroline Sloat, Lydia Maria Child and Old Sturbridge Village
  • Uniquely Felt: Dozens of Techniques from Fulling and Shaping to Nuno and Cobweb by Christine White
  • Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy by Carlos Eire
  • The Fall of Neskaya: The Clingfire Trilogy, Book 1 by Marion zimmer Bradley and Deborah J Ross
  • A Handbook for the Prospective Guide Dog Handler by Guide Dog Users Incorporated
  • Pride: The Charley Pride Story by Charley Pride with Jim Henderson
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
  • Broken Angels by Richard K Morgan
  • How to be a Tudor: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Tudor Life by Ruth Goodman
  • Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
  • I’d Rather Be Working: A Step-By-Step Guide to Financial Self-Support for People With Chronic Illness by Gayle Backstrom
  • A Resource Guide for Parents and Educators of Blind Children by Doris M Willoughby, National Federation of the Blind
  • Keep It Simple: Thirty-Minute Meals from Scratch by Marian Fox Burros
  • Admissions: Life As a Brain Surgeon by Henry Marsh
  • Starless by Jacqueline Carey
  • Keep Chickens: Tending Small Flocks in Cities, Suburbs and Other Small Spaces by Barbara Kilarski
  • Bad Monkeys by Matt Ruff
  • Women in the Middle Ages by Frances and Joseph Gies
  • They Were Just People: Stories of Rescue in Poland During the Holocaust by Bill Tammeus and Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn
  • Zoe’s Tale: An Old Man’s War Novel by John Scalzi
  • The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us by James W Pennebaker
  • Out of Captivity: Surviving 1967 Days in the Columbian Jungle by Marc Gonsalves, Tom Howes, Keith Stansell and Gary Brozek
  • Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive by Stephanie Land
  • Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship and Purpose by Jo Biden
  • Vulgar Tongues: AnAlternative History of English Slang by Max Decharne
  • Adulting: How to Become a Grown-Up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps by Kelly Williams Brown
  • Authorisms: Words Wrought by Writers by Paul Dickson read
  • Vibrator Nation: How Feminist Sex Toy Stores Changed the Business of Pleasure by Lynn Comella
  • On Call in the Arctic: A Doctor’s Pursuit of Life, Love and Miracles in the Alaskan Frontier by Thomas J Sims
  • West Like Lightning: The Brief, Legendary Ride of the Pony Express by Jim de Felice
  • My Love Story: A Memoir by Tina Turner
  • Infinite Hope: How Wrongful Conviction, Solitary Confinement, and Twelve Years on Death Row Failed to Kill My Soul by Anthony Graves
  • The Perfection of the Paperclip: Curious Tales of Invention, Accidental Genius and Stationery Obsession by James Ward
  • The Time of My Life by Patrick Swayze and Lisa Niemi
  • Dancing Through It: My Journey in the Ballet by Jenifer Ringer
  • Woken Furies by Richard K Morgan
  • We Are All That’s Left by Carrie Arcos
  • Hero Dogs: How a Pack of Rescues, Rejects and Strays Became America’s Greatest Disaster Search Partners by Wilma Melville and Paul Lobo
  • The Girl With Seven Names: Escape from North Korea by Hyeon Seo Lee and David John
  • Training Your Own Service Dog: A Step-By-Step Guide to an Obedient Service Dog by Max Matthews
  • Animal Dreams: A Novel by Barbara Kingsolver
  • Head On by John Scalzi
  • Trident K9 Warriors: My Tales from the Training Ground to the Battlefield With Elite Navy Seal Canines by Mike Ritland and Gary Brozek
  • Knitgrrl: Learn to Knit With 15 Fun and Funky Projects by Shannon Okey
  • Bird Box by Josh Malerman read
  • Elevation and Laurie by Stephen King
  • How to Behave Badly in Elizabethan England: A Guide for Knaves, Fools, Harlots, Cuckolds, Drunkards, Liars, Thieves and Braggarts by Ruth Goodman
  • A Gradual Disappearance: A Personal Reflection on Living With Memory Loss by Elizabeth Lonseth
  • Saving the School: The True Story of a Principal, a Teacher, a Coach, a Bunch of Kids, and a Year in the Crosshairs of Education Reform by Michael Brick
  • An Iranian Odyssey by Gohar Kordi
  • Dancing on My Grave: An Autobiography by by Gelsey Kirkland and Greg Lawrence
  • Barracoon: The Story of the Last Black Cargo by Zora Neale Hurston and Deborah G Plant
  • Lost Country Life by Dorothy Hartley
  • Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover
  • Asimov’s Galaxy: Reflections on Science Fiction by Isaac Asimov
  • The Church Supper Cookbook: A Special Collection of over 375 Potluck Recipes from Families and Churches Across the Country by David Joachim
  • A Short History of Modern Angola by David Birmingham
  • Free Lunch by Rex Ogle
  • Backtalk: Stories by Danielle Lazarin
  • The Institute: A Novel by Stephen King
  • Indianapolis: The True Story of the Worst Sea Disaster in US Naval History and the Fifty-Year Fight to Exonorate an Innocent Man by Lynn Vincent and Sara Vladic
  • Adrift: A TrueStory of Love, Loss and Survival at Sea by Tami Oldham Ashcraft with Susea McGearhart

Happy New Year! (Or, You Say You Want a Resolution…)

Well, another year has begun, and if the list of resolutions isn’t an evergreen post, I don’t know what is.

Some folks prefer setting goals to making resolutions, feeling that it gives them the flexibility to revise their aims and keeps them from getting locked into commandments that aren’t working or are no longer relevant to them. Others prefer resolutions, on the grounds that they’re more, well…resolute, and they prefer that stronger structure.

I take a middle-of-the-road approach. I like to have firm and specific aims, but I tend to lowball the requirements to give myself wiggle room, and I reserve the right to alter or remove items that are no longer in line with my goals. Hey, if the Constitution can be a living document, how can my list of resolutions be any less?

So, what do I hope to accomplish this year? In no particular order:

Blog at least every other week.

See? Perfect example of lowballing my goals. I wanted to say “Blog every week, come heck or high water!” but I know myself well enough to suspect that’s not going to work.

I have a tendency to start a post and then sit on it, trying to get it just so, or to get swamped by other demands and never finish it. Future posts may not be scintillating wisdom, but I will try to let go of perfection and get them up.

We’ll make weekly blogging a stretch goal.

Submit at least one story to a paying market or contest

It’s not just the blog. I’ve been stalled out on writing in general for a while now. I wanted to write, but there was nothing there, or other responsibilities took priority.

Back in September, I decided to prioritize writing.

I got active in a couple of online writer’s groups. I started writing flash (very short) fiction. It feels darned good to stretch those muscles again.

Admittedly, December knocked me down a bit. (Long story.) But in the new year, I’m going to block out time for writing. I’ll keep you posted. (See what I did there?)

Read at least 52 books (stretch goal: 60 books)

Every year since 2006, I’ve made a list of the books I read that year.

Back in the day, it wasn’t uncommon for me to read over 100 books in twelve months’ time. Unfortunately, having to switch from print to audio format has slowed me down considerably. And devoting more time to writing might cut into my reading time.

Still, I think a book per week is reasonable—and five books per month is not unreasonable.

Finish one braille course

Last month, I finished the Hadley Institute’s introductory braille course, Tactile Readiness for braille.

The course was not particularly difficult, though it could be challenging to distinguish between similar characters. The biggest challenge was setting aside time to do the exercises and assignments, though I always enjoyed them when I did them.

In 2020, I’m challenging myself to complete the next course, which is something like Learning the Braille Alphabet.

I suspect I need a post on that, too—and maybe some thoughts on braille in general.

Exercise at least twice a week

Last December (as in, December 2018) I was watching a lot of YouTube videos. Which was great, but sitting around in my computer chair got tiresome after a while. So I dug out the hand weights I’d bought over a decade ago and started doing some simple exercises.

I worked my way up to strength training three times a week, and the workouts were having a definite effect. Then I slacked off a bit, and the whole thing went downhill.

In 2020, I’d like to get back on track again. (Also, maybe a stretch goal, I want to find a place or a walking buddy and start walking regularly.)

Make a weekly meal plan

Most nights, MrH works until 6:00pm. If I have ingredients on hand, I can have dinner ready or nearly ready by the time he gets home.

If not, and if Thing One and Thing Two aren’t handy to run to the store, MrH has to either stop at the store on his way home or go back out. We end up eating later than I’d like, and often not as healthily.

For 2019, I made up a monthly meal planner in Excel with spaces for date, day of the week, any activities I might have to work around, and potential meals for each day. And then I ignored it. Bad SherryH. No cookie.

A supplementary goal for this is to stock the freezer with homemade “convenience foods”—cooked chicken, cooked ground beef, homemade meatballs, etc—and frozen vegetables, and the pantry with rice, pasta, beans, canned goods, etc. But I’m not making a specific item for it.

Have a vegetable or salad (preferably both) with dinner every night

You know how I said that without a plan, dinner sometimes ends up being late and rushed? Well, guess what’s first to go when we’re cutting corners?

We’ve been doing better on that score, but our family should be eating a lot more fruit and veggies than we do. Gonna work on that.

(Bonus goal: Keep some cut vegetables and some fruit in the fridge for easy snacking.)

Declutter and make the center of the house (Living room, dining room, kitchen) presentable

This resolution is well on the way to becoming an evergreen all on its own. We’re making progress, but in 2020 I really want to make the public areas of the house something we can be proud of. Also, I’d like to be able to use our dining room both as a dining room and as a game room when we or the kids have friends over.

This project is going to involve some decluttering, some shifting furniture, and some cleaning—which would be considerably easier with said clutter removed.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a project I can tackle alone, and MrH’s work schedule has been pretty demanding. But I hope we can make some real progress this year.

What about you?

Do you have any goals, resolutions or projects you want to accomplish this year? Do you make goals or resolutions? Neither? Anything above you’d like to hear more about? Dish it up in the comments below!

2018 Year in Review

As we move into the last week of 2018, now seems like a good time to contemplate the year just past, and to lay out goals and possibilities for the year to come.

What I Haven’t Been Doing: Blogging

Well, duh.

I’ve been more or less MIA around here, particularly in the latter half of the year.

Part of that is that there hasn’t seemed to be much to write home about. Excursions that were grand adventures when I started the blog are old hat now.

The learning curve has leveled out, and after five and a half years of living with blindness, that’s to be expected.

The obvious answer, one employed by several bloggers I admire, is to transition from a genre blog to a lifestyle blog. I have lots of things keeping me busy, and surely at least a few of them ought to serve as blog fodder.

Ah, but there’s the rub. Many of the items eating away my time aren’t particularly noteworthy, but do drain away my time and energy. Cooking. Washing dishes. Laundry. Meal planning. MrH’s doctor visits and follow-ups.

Yeesh. No wonder I just want to jump on Twitter, then hop over to YouTube and watch a few videos.

On top of the busyness and personal stress, there’s been the general mental malaise that’s afflicted 2018. Political stress. (Hint: No matter which end of the political spectrum you adhere to, if your idea of patriotism is shutting down anyone who disagrees with you, you’re doing it wrong.) Worldwide turmoil. Natural disasters.

Ugh. See above about YouTube and Twitter. I sincerely, earnestly hope 2019 is a better year.

Even so, parts of 2018 were worth remembering. So, as the old year slips away into quiescence, let us consider some of the highs and lows for the H family.

The Blind Chick Goes to Camp

In June, I spent a week at Camp Dogwood, a summer camp sponsored by the North Carolina Lions Club for blind and visually impaired adults.

This was my second time at Camp Dogwood after a break of several years, and age had not made it a better fit.

Perhaps I’m jaded due to doing so many things alongside my sighted counterparts, but in general I find activities provided for the visually impaired population, particularly by sighted groups, lukewarm and unfulfilling, and I suspect many of those sighted individuals underestimate both our interests and our capabilities.

On the plus side, the food was excellent and I got a lot of reading done. Which was great, because…

The Blind Chick Takes On the Summer Reading Program

Through June, July and August, the NC Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NCLBPH) offered its members a summer reading program.

This, honestly, was much more my speed.

I did make one mistake: Normally I download books that I read, but because the summer reading program was run through the library, I thought that only book cartridges that were sent to me counted. So I requested a bunch, and then I called the library to ask that they raise my check-out limitin order to avoid downtime between books.

“Oh,” said the nice librarian I spoke with. , (All the NCLBPH librarians are nice. Honestly, they’re wonderful.) “We run two seperate contests, one for book cartridges and one for book downloads.”

Oh.

Ah, well. Having begun with the cartridges I continued with them, and it was really nice getting each new book in the mail.

How many books did I read for the program? I’m not sure, because I’m not exactly sure how books were counted and I can’t quite remember now which of the books I read on cartridge and which I read as downloads.

Counting books I’m pretty sure came on cartridge, and counting only books that were mailed after June 1 and sent back before August 31, I get somewhere between eighteen and twenty books.

No wonder I didn’t do much blogging!

The Blind Chick (And Family) Ride Out a Hurricane

In early September, Hurricane Florence came calling.

Yes, we knew the risks. Yes, we chose to shelter in place and ride out the storm. No, I do not recommend this course of action to anyone else. There were valid arguments for evacuating, and valid arguments against–but that’s a discussion for another time.

I’ve lived in coastal North Carolina for twenty-six years, and Florence was easily the worst hurricane I’ve ever experienced. I’m normally pretty blase about hurricanes, but I slept in my clothes Thursday night (at the height of the storm) in case we had to jump up and make a run for the cars. Luckily, we didn’t.

In the end, we got off lightly. We had damage to the roof and siding. We lost our gutter, one storm door, and some skirting. Two windows were cracked, and our outdoor light fixtures need to be replaced.

We lost power around 4:30 Thursday afternoon and got it back about 10:00 Saturday morning, which means we were lucky there, too. Friends of ours were without power well into the next week, and some people longer than that.

The destruction was amazing. Or appalling, take your pick. One neighbors lost their siding, another lost part of their roof, and a third had a tree fall into their house. And that’s just within two houses’ distance of us.

I was a bit insulated from the destruction by virtue of not being able to see it. But for weeks afterward, MrH would casually mention another business or landmark that had been hit, and I’d be struck all over again by just how pervasive the damage had been.

If the physical aftermath was bad, I think the emotional aftermath has been worse. I think most people I know are only now beginning to feel a sense of stability and recovery. It’s going to be a while before we’re all whole again.

MrH: Seeing With New Eyes

MrH had been developing cataracts for a while, but losing a kidney apparently accelerated the process. By midyear , his vision was getting pretty bad. And so he was scheduled for cataract surgery–right about the time Florence blew in.

Needless to say, the operations had to be postponed. He ended up having the first operation when the second had been scheduled, near the end of September, and the second eye in early October.

The difference has been amazing. According to MrH, colors are brighter and clearer, and things that had been fuzzy are clear again. For the first time in his life, he’s able to drive without glasses, and he needs lighter ones than before for computer work and reading.

At a recent follow-up exam, he learned that there is still some clouding on the lens of one eye, and he’ll have laser surgery in the new year to polish that up.

The Blind Chick Gets Involved

One of the things I’ve tried to do this year is to get more involved, primarily within our church but in other areas as well.

In January, I joined the church’s monthly book club. Because we try to read books that have been around awhile, I’ve been able to find each of the books in the NCLBPH system except for one–and it turned out our group leader had inadvertently ordered an audio copy of that one. I’ve enjoyed all but one of the books, and it’s exposed me to some authors I hadn’t previously known.

I think it was actually last year that I began to attend the monthly women’s discussion group. This year, however, the group’s facilitator moved to be closer to her children and grandchildren. And I made the tactical error of asking whether anyone had offered to continue the group. Guess who’s now the group facilitator?

It’s not a difficult group to facilitate. Each month we draw a topic for the next month’s meeting, and each month we enjoy the lunches we’ve each brought and a lively discussion. I have let the email contact list slide and occasionally been remiss in getting the topic to the newsletter in time, and I need to improve on both of those in the new year.

Last year and early this year MrH and I participated in another discussion group offered by our church. We signed up again this year, and guess who was asked to co-facilitate our group? No, not MrH. (I’m sure your turn is coming, m’dear…)

I’m afraid this got off to a rockier start. Hurricane Florence had delayed the start of the groups and everyone was discombobulated, and I was so anxious to do my part and not get left out that I’m sure I drove my co-facilitator buggy. I think we’ve got that ironed out now, and I can’t think of anyone I’d rather work with. (If you read this, thanks for your patience, V!)

Finally, as long-time readers may know, I occasionally participate in a support group for blind and visually impaired individuals in our county. I’ve had occasional philosophical differences with the group’s structure, but I feel strongly that there needs to be a network for support and information in the county. And so, when it looked as though the group might dissolve if no one could be found to lead it, guess who put her hand up?

The group was on hiatus in July and August and was supposed to resume in September. Remember who else showed up in September?

Between Hurricane Florence and other scheduling mishaps, we haven’t actually had a meeting come together yet this fall/winter. Yet another situation in which I hope to do better come the new year.

Looking Ahead…

It’s been a busy year, and a stressful one, but overall I feel pretty positive about how my 2018 turned out. I’m hoping for a little more forward movement and a lot less turmoil in 2019.

I do want to blog more often, and I’m hopeful that I’ve thrown off the deep funk that has made writing feel like an uphill battle over the past year or so. If you’re reading this, thank you for being here, and I hope you’ll come back in the new year.

I hope that whatever winter holiday you celebrate brings you warmth, joy and renewal, and that the new year brings wonderful things.

The Ugly Tree: A Family Tradition

Many, many years ago, when I was ten or twelve, my sister and I bought ourselves artificial trees at a post-holiday sale.

These were not beautiful trees. They were about two feet tall, with sixteen thick limbs (can’t call them branches, as there was no branching involved) and a tall central limb standing proud and tall in the midst of it all. In short, it looks as though it was assembled from a handful of dark green bottle brushes.

To add to its charm, the cheap plastic base broke almost immediately–before we got it home, if I remember correctly. My dad, ever the handy sort, replaced it with a leftover chunk of 2×4 (which was great) which he painted the ugliest lime green you’ve ever seen (which was not so great.)

Despite its distinct lack of beauty, the tree does have a certain charm, and through the years it’s become one of the icons of our family’s Christmas.

Through the Years: The Ugly Tree in Our Family’s History

I don’t know why I brought the tree with me when I moved to North Carolina, or what I thought I’d do with it, but bring it I did.

I cannot for the life of me remember why we first used the little tree as our family’s Christmas tree, and though MrH remembers the occasion, he can’t remember the why of it either. Lack of space? A paucity of presents? The desire for a Christmas tree less likely to be upended by toddlers and cats?

Whatever the reason, MrH used C-clamps to secure the wooden base to a milk crate, and we draped a tree skirt around base and milk crate both. We threw on lights and decorations, piled presents on the floor around the crate, and had ourselves a merry little Christmas.

The tree’s second appearance was in 2002, in the wake of a house fire that July. We’d had to rent a storage trailer and move everything out of the house so that it could be stripped and repaired, then carry it all back in and unpack it. I remember not having space to set up the big tree, but we may not even have been able to find the tree and decorations.

Ah, but we had the little tree. And paper. And glue.

That year, we set the tree atop a bookcase and ornamented it with a paper chain, hand-rolled paper candy canes, and possibly a paper snowflake or two. There were no lights on the tree that year, but it was probably the most cohesively decorated Christmas tree we’ve ever had.

Now, I seem to recall one more year, well after that, where we had both trees out, the little one on the floor beside the bigger tree. But that could just be something I joked about doing, and not an actual thing that occurred.

The Ugly Tree Rides Again

I had just about decided not to set up a Christmas tree this year.

We’ve made a lot of progress on the decluttering/rearranging front, but there still isn’t a great space to put up a tree. We’re still recovering from Hurricane Florence and hoping to have some other work done on the house. We’re probably not going to have a lot to put under it, and the general hassle was discouraging.

And yet…

It’s been really hard to get into the Christmas spirit this year. It’s been a rough year, and in a way that’s why I wanted to do something special to commemorate the season.

So I did what any sane person would do, and asked the internet. I went to my Twitter account and asked whether I should put up the Ugly Tree. One hundred percent of respondants said yes. That’s right, both of them.

It’s hard to argue with unanimity. So last night I dragged the little tree out of the back of the closet and MrH clamped it to a milk crate. Due to lack of floor space, we set the crate on the coffee table. Yeah, we’re classy like that.

MrH pulled down the box of lights and decorations and I found the short string of lights and the little garland. I pulled out some ornaments, working with a theme of handmade items big enough to show up well in the little tree’s rather beefy branches. The center branch was too big for our tree topper, so I draped the loop of an angel ornament around its tip.

And you know what? It really does feel a lot more like Christmas.

As I was finishing up (for the moment–I think there are a couple of branches I’ve managed to miss) our younger son came down the hallway. When he saw the tree, he lit up a little himself. “Hey, you put up the tree!”

Indeed I did, Son. Indeed I did.

How about you? Are you in the holiday spirit, whichever winter holiday you celebrate? Do you have any quirky traditions that make your holidays bright?

20 Things I Like To Do

If you follow personal finance blogger and author Donna Freedman (and you should, because she’s awesome!) you know that she recently responded to a challenge by posting about 15 things she likes to do.

The original challenge called for twenty things, Donna said, but in the end fifteen were all she could come up with.

Being a completist myself (terrible habit, I know) I decided to see whether I could make it to the full twenty. Turns out I could.

So, in no particular order:

1. Read

I honestly don’t remember a time before I could read, and I’ve always had a voracious hunger for words. Fiction, non-fiction, short, long, serious, fluffy–I devour it all. Having to read via audio instead of text has slowed me down a bit but the appetite remains.

2. Write

I was in elementary school when I decided I wanted to write stories of my own for other people to read. That, too, is a thread that’s run throughout the tapestry of my life, sometimes on top and sometimes beneath the surface, to reemerge when it fits the design.

3. Critique

In 2005 I joined my first online writer’s critique group, and I was hooked. There’s something about looking at the nuts and bolts of someone else’s writing, figuring out what works well and what could work better, that makes it easier to improve one’s own.

4. Dance

From the intricacies of minuets and English Country dance to ballroom dancing to the sheer joy of moving one’s body to the beat of the rhythm of the night, I think there’s a force inside all of us that cries out to dance. I tend to gravitate to the more stylized variants myself, but it’s all good. I’d probably dance every day, given the opportunity.

5. Walk

One of my early memories is Mom taking my sister and me for walks in the evenings before bed. I don’t know if it was her intent, but I suspect we slept better for it. In retrospect, I remember a lot of walks with my parents–through the woods, along walking trails, and even (when we were stationed in Germany) on Volksmarches. In college, I thought nothing of walking for miles if I wanted to get somewhere. Since losing my sight, I’m having a hard time finding good places to walk, but it’s definitely something I want to do more of.

6. Do Arts & Crafts

If you’ve read my blog or known me for any length of time, you already know that I love to work with my hands and to make things. Embroidery, weaving, braiding and knotting, leatherwork, working with clay, felting, bobbin lace…you name it, I’ll try it. If I like it, I’ll do it again. I could probably make an entire list entitled “Twenty Arts & Crafts I Like to Do,” but that seems like cheating, so I’ve lumped them all together here.

7. Cook

There’s nothing as eminently satisfying as tucking into savory pot roast and vegetables over rice, or slicing into a fresh loaf of bread still slightly warm from the oven. Yes, I spend a lot of time in the kitchen, and yes, sometimes it gets old. But on those days when a favorite meal comes together or a new recipe works out just right, it feels pretty darn good.

8. Eat

Well, it just follows, doesn’t it? I’ve always enjoyed sitting down to a special meal with family and friends, but these days even when I’m alone I’m finding I have a whole new appreciation for the tastes, the textures, the sheer beauty of food. A little odd, maybe, but I’ve never claimed to be anything but.

9. Listen to Music

I’ve always had eclectic and wide-ranging taste in music, and that’s only deepened and expanded in recent years. Sometimes I feel like I’m more aware of music now, more attuned to its melodies, harmonies, rhythms, lyrics–all the tiny nuances that come together to make up the whole. But that could all be in my head.

10. Make Music

I had piano lessons when I was in middle school, and for years afterward I’d occasionally sit to the piano and play selections from my lesson books or, more often, the 80s songbook I picked up at a music store in the mall. Of late I’ve been thinking that I’d like to play again, though it’s a whole different animal when you can’t read the music. (More on that, perhaps, in a later post.) I enjoy singing as well, though I can’t claim any great skill at it.

11. Organize

One of my little quirks is that I like to sort, organize, and put things in order. Is it any wonder that one of my all-time favorite jobs was as a file clerk? When I didn’t have any records to file, I’d prowl through folders, looking for places where a sheet had gotten misfiled and created a tangle of incorrectly filed papers around it.

12. Help People

Whether it’s registering visitors to an event, critiquing a friend’s story, holding a group office or moving tables and chairs to set up a feast hall, I love pitching in and helping out. It was one of the things that drew me to the SCA, and feeling that my help was no longer needed or wanted was one of several factors that caused us to pull away again.

13. Learn Things

If money were no object, I’d go back to school and never leave. (Yes, I know there are a slew of places online that offer free courses.) It’s no coincidence that despite having withdrawn from the SCA almost entirely, MrH and I still attend University of Atlantia when we can.

14. Dress Up

I don’t necessarily mean getting all dolled up for a night on the town–though I do own an 18th-century ballgown should a situation arise that calls for that. Rather, I like to think that I’m becoming more aware of my clothes and what they say about me, and developing a personal style that sets me apart–but not too far apart–from the rest of the crowd.

15. Travel

Whether it’s a European tour or a roadtrip to another state, I like to go new places, experience new things, hear new voices/languages/accents, and generally get to know more of the world. We’re not able to do a lot of it right now, but it’s something I’d love to do more often.

16. Go Camping

I suppose this could technically go under travel, but there are campgrounds within an hour’s drive, so we’d hardly have to leave home. I suppose we could set up a tent right in our own yard, but that’s just being silly…

17. Go Swimming

Or at least, play around in the water. True fact: Despite years of childhood lessons, I’m not very good at traditional swimming. Instead, I always preferred to take a couple of deep breaths, duck below the surface and swim along underwater, which I was pretty good at.

18. Grow Plants

Caveat: I like to do it. I’m not necessarily good at it. With one exception, my straw bale gardens have turned in a mediocre performance at best, though I once had a trio of bell peppers that lived in (indoor) pots for several years. My current foliage consists of several spider plants, an out-of-control aloe, an air plant, and a lovely pot of marjoram given to me by an optimistic lady suffering under the delusion that I’d be able to keep it alive.

19. Shop

Sometimes a little retail therapy can go a long way. MrH and I don’t usually spend much, but it’s fun to while away an occasional Saturday morning cruising the farmer’s market or thrift store and come home with something we need or have wanted for a while.

20. Spend Time With People

Yeah, surprised me too. I was never much of a social butterfly and frequently felt ill at ease hanging out with people. But in recent years (specifically, since Bob the Brain Tumor was evicted from my skull) I’ve come to really enjoy my family and friends and treasure the time I get to spend with them. I’m making new friends, too, which is great.

What about you? What things do you like to do? Can you come up with twenty? Feel free to share them (Well, maybe not all of them!) in the comments below.