Monday, October 15, 2018

Podcast Roundup Weeks 40 and 41

Since I last rounded up, I've listened to 107 episodes. That's a lot. I've narrowed it down for you and this is what you should be listening to.
The City is a limited run podcast that does a deep dive into an illegal dump that was operating in a black neighborhood in Chicago. When I first heard the premise of the show, I was less than enthused about listening to it, but it's so good. If you ever think about environmental racism, this is the show for you. A dump gets put up in a white neighborhood and it's immediately dealt with, but black residents deal with it for decades. It's a USA Today production and I guess I didn't know that it had an audio division, but if this is going to be the quality of its work, I'm going to be a fan.
I don't always love podcasts that use tape from secondary sources like courtroom proceedings or 911 calls. Usually the quality of the sources is not great and I can't hear it well.  That's why I think I've probably not talked about Court Junkie on here before. She is focused on courtroom trials, and she generally picks interesting cases, but I frequently end up just skipping episodes because the audio quality is not great. Her most recent episode " The Fatal Football Practice" looks at a case in Kentucky in which a high school football coach is tried for the death of a player on his team after the player died after a practice in incredibly hot conditions. I have so many qualms about sports and athletics and this case really resonated with me as I was listening to it. I didn't know anything about the case going in, either, so I was really surprised by the ending.
The most recent episode of The Moth that I listened to is "Disney, Racecars, and Red Sox" and the first three of the stories really just struck a nerve in me. In the first one, Jessi Klein tells the story of attending her younger sister's wedding at Disney as a single person and all the baggage, figuratively and literally, that comes with that.  In the next one, Joe Limone tells the story of how he and his best friend are responsible for the recent greatness of Boston sports franchises.  And in the third one, a child of hoarders deals with being the child of hoarders. As you can imagine, I really felt for her.
My last recommendation is a collaboration between The Boston Globe and WBUR called Last Seen. So far there are four episodes out and I binged them all on yesterday when I was cleaning the house*. In the art world, the story of the heist at the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum is a legend. On March 18, 1990, two men dressed as policemen entered the museum, tied up the two security guards using duct tape, and stole thirteen works of art valued at a combined total of $500 million. Despite the fact that this was nearly thirty years ago, no one knows who stole the art or where the art is.  This podcast is looking at what we know and has some fascinating interviews with fascinating people, including the two security guards who were working that night.

*Gah. I had to wash the windows. Is this a chore other people do? It took approximately FOREVER.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates

Let's discuss kerning, shall we? The author's name on the cover of this book is incomprehensible. Come on. Use a space bar.
We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates came into my life when Oprah picked it for her book club. I didn't have high hopes going on, but YOU GUYS.  That was me ugly crying on the couch on a random Wednesday night, trying to tell my husband that it was okay, but there was this cat and this girl and her dad wouldn't talk to her and she was being taken advantage of and they sold her horse and she never got to say goodbye and THERE WAS THIS CAT.

I definitely had an emotional reaction to this book.

This book walks us through the life of a family, the eponymous Mulvaneys, in a small town in New York. It's a happy enough family until The Incident. After The Incident, the parents fail to successfully put on their big people pants and deal with it, leaving the children to cope in their own ways.  Then we follow each member of the family as he or she deals with the fallout of failed parenting.  I mean, that's my take on it. I've read reviews that say the goal of the book was to demonstrate how the fallout wasn't really anyone's fault, but if that was the goal, the book failed.  The parents are solely responsible for being idiots.

For me, the daughter of the story was the protagonist and I just wanted to hug this fictional girl. Life handed her a bunch of lemons and then she threw up.  It was a tough slog.

And that's the deal. This book was a tough slog. I didn't WANT to read it. It was moving and I was touched, but it was too real. This is what happens to people. You don't set out to become a slacker, a crazy dog lady, an alcoholic, or a high school dropout.  But life isn't always easy and when life isn't easy, sometimes there's no way out of the downward spiral. And that's what I took from this novel. Downward spirals are impossible to stop. You shouldn't bother trying.

And, yes, that made me cry. 

In light of what's going on in the world around me, I couldn't help but look at the scenario in this book, throw in some opioid addiction, and wonder how the United States can be a hopeful place again. We're in a downward spiral and I don't know how to stop it.

Monday, October 08, 2018

Where I Lay My Head is Home

Dr. BB and I got engaged in the kitchen of an apartment he lived in on Emerson Avenue in Minneapolis. I can still picture it with its black and white tiles and table by the window. We moved into an apartment on 38th Avenue together and it was flooded with sunshine and had a lovely cross-breeze and tiny, impossible to clean pink, grey, white, and black tiles on the bathroom floor. I cried when I left those apartments for the last time. We started our life together in those rooms, building our relationship one Bones episode at a time, and I couldn't imagine being away from them or the city itself.   How were we, Dr. BB and I, how were we us without Minneapolis?

I get attached to places in a way that I don't get attached to things. I loved those apartments and the ease to the lakes and the Greenway and the light rail and downtown and Caribou Coffee just across the street and grocery stores just around the corner. I loved how the rooms enveloped me in safety from the bustling city outside.  

My mom lived in the same place for more than thirty years. She and my father bought a "handyman special" when I was seven and we lived in this drafty giant farmhouse for many years until one day the county declared it uninhabitable and my parents built a prefabricated home on the same lot.  I was in college when they build the "new house" and I didn't have time or energy to deal with the loss of that first house. I just picked out a paint color for a room I probably only ever spent one hundred nights in and moved on with my busy life.

My dad died in that "new house." Gizmo, Salt, Midnight, and Dusty roamed the yard as nearly wild dogs over the years. I had a major fight with my high school boyfriend in his Hyundai in the driveway. My sister broke her wrist climbing the giant oak tree in the front yard. 

It was a place I could count on. I knew my mom would always welcome me. I knew it was my safety net. It was messy and full of stuff and smelled terrible, but it was my childhood home. 
I took this photo last summer when my mom still owned that house.

Last week my mom sold that place. She packed up all her stuff, moved it into a barn on my sister's property, sent me old report cards, photos, and awards, and left that property.  I drove there and packed up old Legos and stole a trunk from my old bedroom and filled it to the brim with the detritus of my teenage years.

And as I drove away I cried.

I get attached to places and my roots are deep there in that tiny map speck in Michigan. I haven't lived there longer than I did live there, but that doesn't mean I'm not attached to who and what it made me. I don't like the idea that my mom is now rootless and without a place to call her own.  I don't like knowing that I no longer have the right to climb up on a tree in the yard and look out over the cornfield. 

So now I'm here in a big old drafty house in a small town in the next state over. I have two end tables, a trunk, and a dresser that I took from my mom's house. It's time to make new memories in a new place, I guess. It's time to acknowledge that my home is no longer my childhood home. And maybe someday soon I'll be okay with that.

Friday, October 05, 2018

2018 Yearly Goals, Quarter 3

Here's my original post on my yearly goals. The third quarter was dire.
Area One: Fitness Goals
1) Workout four times a week - I met this goal 10/13 weeks. One week was vacation, though, so it was more like 10/12.  My average was 4.08 times a week, though, so this is solid. I definitely notice when I don't work out these days.

2) 11,500 steps a day - Look, this wasn't great.  There were a lot of mosquitoes and it rained pretty much nonstop in September. My average step count per day was over 12,000, but there were plenty of days I missed.

3) Track food intake each day - Ha ha ha. No.

These fitness goals are stable, which is good, I think. They could be better, but a person only has so much time.

Area Two: Communication Goals
1) Update my blog twice a week - I posted 37 times in this quarter, for a total of 2.9 posts a week. Yay.

2) Make contact with four people (MDTT) at least once a week -I missed two of the people twice. I think that's fine.

3) See my mom four times in the year - I saw my mom THREE times this quarter. That's going to make this year a win.

4) Send a letter or postcard to my grandmother and two of my elderly aunts at least once a month - I did not do this in June. I am a crappy granddaughter and niece.

Mixed success on communication. I'll be better about mail in the next quarter.

Area Three: Finances
1) Track every penny I spend each day - Ha ha ha. No. And we're paying for it. The "we need to talk about money" talk happened and we were both unhappy.

2) Low buy year - Heavy sigh. I'll do better.

3) Save $XXX to savings account each month - This didn't happen, which is part of the "we need to talk about money" talk.I'm exhausted thinking about finances.

Area Four: Personal Improvement Projects
1) Complete three sewing projects this year - I literally sewed a pocket shut. That's what I've done with my sewing machine this quarter.

2) Spend 10 minutes a day on Spanish practice - I did do this. Duolingo for the win.

3) Complete the Book Riot Read Harder challenge this year by reading two of the books each month - Yes!

Area Five:  The House
1) Brush Zelda at least three times a week and brush her teeth each day - I'm getting tired just reading this. But we did it!  She went to the vet this week and it was noted that she is a well cared for kitty and she better be because this is so much work.

2) Complete items on Tody list every day - No, we stopped doing this. We need to get back on the wagon.

My finances goal is really bringing me down. Let's keep our fingers crossed that it gets better in the next quarter.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith

In this first novel of the Cormoran Strike series, Galbraith tells us the story of a war veteran turned private investigator, Cormoran Strike, and his plucky secretary, Robin Ellacott, as they attempt to figure out what exactly happened to a famous model on the night of her death. Was it a suicide or was there foul play?  Strike is dead broke, just got kicked out of his home by his ex-fiancee, and is sleeping in his office. His war injury is a constant source of pain for him and he's smoking too much and not eating well.  Robin is just using this position as a temporary position until she gets a "real job" and her fiance Matthew is not necessarily in agreement that working for a private investigator is a good idea.

Wait...did I say this was a Robert Galbraith novel?  That is the pseudonym for JK Rowling. You know her?  The writer behind the Harry Potter novels that sold millions and millions of copies worldwide.  Rowling chose to release this mystery series under a pseudonym for reasons only known to her and her agent, but the secret was revealed almost immediately.

I have had this book on my shelf for a long time, but I kept putting it off because I'd read a lot of negative reviews of it. But I finally told myself that I enjoyed The Casual Vacancy despite all the criticisms of that book, so maybe I would enjoy this one.

And enjoy it I did. It's incredibly formulaic, but the mystery was solid and I enjoyed Strike and Robin as characters. I wanted to hang out with these people, even as imperfect as they were.  It turns out, in an unsurprising twist, that Rowling writes in a style that I can get onboard with.  I'm going to get the next book in the series as soon as I can.

Things I had to look up:
Dana Gibson - An illustrator for The New Yorker who famously created the image of the Gibson girl.
Iconic Gibson girl
Acro clip - I can't actually find this, but I'm assuming from context it's a brand of paper clip?  It's not capitalized in the text, though, so I don't really know. Any British readers? What's an acro clip?
Emmeline Pankhurst - I don't know how it slipped past me, but I'd never heard of this British suffragette who was a leader in the British's women's fight for the vote.
Scouse -  An accent and dialect of English found primarily in the Metropolitan county of Merseyside, and closely associated with the city of Liverpool.  
Johari window - A technique that helps people better understand their relationship with themselves and others. Used a lot in self-help groups.
Kairos moment - From a Greek word, this denotes an opportune moment.
Pierrot - A stock character of pantomime.
Rizla papers - A brand of rolling papers and other related paraphernalia in which tobacco or marijuana is rolled to make homemade cigarettes.
bonheur du jour - A type of lady's writing desk.
piquancy - A pleasantly sharp and attractive flavor.
pellucid -  Translucently clear.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Podcast Roundup Weeks 38 and 39

Okay, so I have been busy listening to podcasts (97 in the last two weeks - although some have been just short trailers of upcoming shows) and watching The Expanse on Netflix (thumbs up, especially if you've read the books), so I haven't been updating here. Let's discuss.

Serial is back! My life is complete.

When I lived in Minneapolis, I volunteered for an organization that did court monitoring of cases involving domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse. I went to pre-trial conferences, hearings for orders of protection, felony arraignments, trials, and a variety of other everyday court business.  I sat in courtrooms for hours waiting for court business to begin, I watched judges discuss incredibly inappropriate topics from the bench, and I watched as mothers cried as they testified about how they didn't  know their children were being abused. I saw mostly black victims and defendants surrounded by mostly white lawyers, judges, clerks, deputies, and probation officers.

I was sometimes judgmental. But mostly I was sad. I was sad that people committed crimes, but I was also sad that once someone was in the system it seemed impossible for them to get out. This included victims, too, by the way. If you're the victim of a crime, you could be required to come to court half a dozen times before anything is resolved.  That's time off work, money spent either taking the bus to the courthouse or for parking in the garage, and months of endless worry.  It was a tedious process and a process I found frustrating for its necessity.

So I was excited to hear that Serial was going to be hanging out in a courthouse, just like the one I had hung out it for so many years. A courtroom in Cleveland, a city I know and love. And it didn't disappoint. It started out with a case that never should have been a case. A woman is sexually assaulted and gets involved in a bar fight in which she accidentally touches a cop. She should never have been charged in the first place, but when she is charged, it finally ends up as a misdemeanor on her record, hundreds of dollars in fines and fees, and too many wasted hours of her time and life to count. The second episode followed up with an in-depth look at a well-meaning, but racist and power hungry judge. It's really been everything I could possibly have hoped for.

Okay, well, that's an obvious recommendation. NGS recommends the biggest, most popular podcast in the world. Thanks for a lot of nothing.  Well, here's one that seems to be flying a bit under the radar, but I think is quite fascinating.
CBC's Escaping NXIVM is about a woman who somehow found herself heavily involved in an organization, NXIVM, that billed itself as a self-help group, but the woman now claims is a cult.  It's gripping, really. How can someone fall for this? It's fascinating to hear the story in a member's own voice.  It's also really fascinating to think about what it is in your life that seems innocent, but might have a dark side.  There are seven episodes out right now and each one is an excellent listen.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

The Railway Children by E. Nesbit

I have two strongly opposing feelings on the classic children's book The Railway Children by E. Nesbit.

On one hand, I can totally see how I would have loved this when I was a new reader. Three siblings go on adventures together, always ending up in the loving arms of their mother. They make friends, they save lives, they solve mysteries, and they do it all together. The importance of family, friendship, and community are powerful in this novel.  It was exciting and it was never clear to me what exactly would happen on the next page.

On the other hand, I am an adult. Who the hell is watching these kids? Why aren't they going to school?  I also am not a big fan that the solution to a bunch of their problems is that an old capitalist with lots of money swoops in and saves them. It's a bit too much of an ode to a problematic form of economy that has left these children in such a state that they are forced to steal coal for me to really get on board with this solution.

So I guess I'm left with the third law of library science - every book its reader. This is not the book for me; I don't think most adults would find it enjoyable. But guess what? It's probably the book for some child out there. And that child should read it.
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