Sunday, July 31, 2011

Corralling the Horses

One of the concepts which Mike presented to me was the idea of "corralling my horses." As he explained it, I have many gifts and many deeply felt emotions. It is quite possible that I have more horses in my corral than others have in theirs and thus more horses to responsibly manage. While someone else might only have five horses, and experience no great difficulty in keeping these horses in line, I have (his example) fifty horses and at times find it quite challenging to keep them in my corral where they belong.

I believe part of the reason he gave me this image was so that I would stop trying to find fault with myself all over the place. He wanted to silence my tendency to think there is something wrong with me which triggers the depression and the inability to deal with the life I have been dealt. If I compare myself to others, they might have absolutely no difficulty living in the middle of the country with no close friends and the constant demands of small children. I need to think about the fact that I am unique and my manner of coping, as well as the level of effort this requires, will not be the same as someone else's coping tactics or effort levels.

Most of the time, I don't really share with my family what I'm learning from the counsel. Sometimes I get off the phone from my weekly session and the boys can tell that I have been upset, but I rarely discuss what we have been discussing. Yet, a few weeks back, when Mike presented me with this word picture, I felt a need to share it with the child who is most like me, Trevor.

Trevor and I had gone on a walk. As we went along, I told him about Mike's analogy concerning a person's gifts and emotions. I emphasized that some people have a limited number of horses and their horses stay in the corral quite easily, but that others, like me, have fifty horses and sometimes find it difficult to keep a handle on all the emotions and gifts.

I turned to him and asked, "Well, how many horses do you think you have in your corral?" I wasn't surprised when he told me he probably had fifty. But his next comment slayed me. He said, "Yeah, and I think my biggest horse of all is called 'Art'."

When I passed this on to Mike, I had to explain it a bit. He doesn't know that Trevor lives and breathes art and even writes his own art blog. He said it made him chuckle so much that he shared it with his wife.

Now, I have a little supervisor around me. When I get extra upset about something, Trevor will pipe up with "Mom, you'd better corral those horses!"

I don't mind because there are plenty of times when I have to say the same back to him! Ha!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Addressing the Missing Social Spokes

Our new Salvation Army corps officers recently requested volunteers to help take some disadvantaged children to Target for some back-to-school shopping. Although I don't want to take on so much that I feel even more depleted than I already am (caring for three boys and a husband), I do believe that volunteering helps to meet my personal need for social interaction and caring (as Liz commented on the last post). When I discovered the officers would provide supervision for Sean in the gym while I assisted (Trevor is visiting his Grandma for a few days), I jumped at the opportunity.

I was paired with a delightful 6th grader named Monay. She told me that she is named after the artist Monet, but her mother wanted to spell it differently. She just recently moved into the neighborhood near our Salvation Army corps and came with her younger sister, Dayonna, who is going into kindergarten.

We were given a budget of $80 for the purchase of school uniforms and school supplies. Monay was my kind of girl. She explained to me at the outset that when she shops with her Mom, they find something and then hang it on the end of the cart handle. If they find a similar item for a cheaper price, they return the more expensive item to the racks and place their final choice in the cart.

Monay was true to her word, and a delight to shop with. As we neared the end of her list, she ran into her sister and sister's shopping buddy. She turned into an extension of her mother. She picked up each extravagant item and informed her sister that she really didn't need an $11 pencil box that looked like a mini suitcase, covered in sparkles and labelled for a princess when she could purchase a plastic one for 50 cents and then have more to spend on other school supplies she really needed, like glue and pencils and markers.

As we sat waiting for all the other children to finish going through the check-out line, Monay turned to me and told me that she really enjoyed shopping with me. That made my day!

Here is a photo of me and Monay:

And one of her little sister, Dayonna:

Later that day, I visited with a lovely retired lady named Delores. I met Delores a few weeks ago, when she was having a garage sale at her son's home. She was selling the cutest little note cards accompanied by a tea bag holder and tea bag, with this little poem tucked inside:

"Wish we could get together
and have a cup of tea,
but since we can't
when you drink this
I hope you'll think of me."

I purchased one and sent it to my mother. Then, I began to kick myself for not purchasing more (they were only 50 cents each). So, I drove back to the house and asked for her name and number. She invited me to come to her house and purchase more.

Here are the six additional ones I purchased:

I plan to give one to my mother-in-law, since she is often looking for little money-making projects for bazaars at her Salvation Army corps.

It was such a lovely thing to stand and chat with Delores for a while. She certainly puts people at ease. I found myself telling her all about our house here, my parents in Florida, their ministry to retired officers, my family Christmas visits and how spread out my family is. When she heard that my brother lives in Kentucky, she asked where. She couldn't believe it when I explained that he used to live in Wilmore. That is the exact town her nephew lives in because he attends Asbury College. I went on to tell her that my father went to Asbury and so did my brother, Mark, and sister, Dawn.

I'm feeling like the social spokes, which have been neglected, are finally being restored somewhat. Plus, I have a handful of clever little crafts to give out to others.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Lessons from Life Coaching

As my previous post explained that not all doctors are created equal ... or are equally effective and helpful, so also not all counselors are created equal. My battle with depression has been a long one, beginning with the miscarriage of my first pregnancy. I believe prior to counselling with Mike, I worked with three other counselors. Most of the others followed the same protocol. They asked probing questions, listened as I answered and wrote things down on a pad of paper. I got the feeling that the whole of counselling was the opportunity to unload pent up feelings and emotions (valuable, but something I can do in journal form).

Mike is a breed apart. I first began counselling with him when my husband and I were separated (now a dozen years ago). In fact, Mike was recommended to my husband (a reluctant counsel-seeker) by our then pastor. I was astonished when my husband came home glowing about how effective Mike was. He urged me to switch from my counsel in Wheaton (quite a drive from DeKalb, anyway) to working with Mike.

I've never seen Mike write one thing down about me in a session. He does ask questions, but he allows my answers to lead to the next question and often confronts bad thinking immediately and sometimes boldly, even brashly. Usually the first question requires an assessment of where I'm at right then. "Fine" is never acceptable and explanations are always in order.

I will not hesitate to admit that I am dysfunctional. I suppose we all are in some way. Mike has a gift for helping me to see my dysfunction more clearly and take steps to change. I am grateful for the chance to do this long distance life-coaching at this juncture in my life. It was a blessing that he already knew a fair share of both my personal and marital baggage.

I wanted to share some of the things I have been learning about myself because I'm pretty sure that they are lessons that someone else might benefit from as well. Even though my circumstances are unique and my personality may be different than someone else's, the insights still bear importance for anyone.

To begin with, Mike affirmed that there is a lot of "not-Wendy" floating around in my life at present. I feel powerless and my world seems so small. I place everyone else's needs before my own. Then, when I feel depleted, I grow angry and bitter and seem to think there is something objectionable about me.

But I'm not where I'm at (miserable and depressed) at the fault of anyone else. I abdicated responsibility for the meeting of my needs to everyone else, assuming they will step in and make sure my needs are met. Ain't gonna happen! Mike nailed my negative vortex clearly. He said I live by unrealistic expectations, then my low (depleted) performance launches me into self-critical mode. I spend too much of my emotional energy on stupidity instead of taking back ground for myself and mending the spokes that are broken in my life (spiritual, relational, intellectual, creative).

Another thing he had me think about was the inequality in so many of my relationships. I tend to carry relationships. I do all the calling. I pursue and care and give, but receive little in return. He likened it to opening a bank account with a friend. We go in to open the account and I put up $80, but the other person puts up $20. The other person is willing to withdraw without recognizing the imbalance and they don't care as much because they haven't invested much. (Perfect example: the "friend" for whom I purchased a one-hour massage because she said she's "always up for a massage," but then hasn't bothered to respond to any e-mails or calls since. Now, thanks to Mike, I'm "withdrawing all my money from that account" and I will utilize the two one-hour massages myself - even though they are in her Indiana town.)

A further key message I have been hearing: I need to stop damning Wendy and begin discovering Wendy. I need to stop asking for permission to be who I am. I need to stand up for my wants and needs and trust what I feel in situations. Here's a challenging one for me: "Dare to displease the people you are afraid to displease." Fear and guilt have been running my life and I have to put a stop to that for my very survival's sake. I need a regular pattern of nourishment.

Mike also helped me to see that I am basically drowning in the shallow end of the pool because I wasn't made for wading, I was made for swimming in the deep water. When I attended the book group and was able to interact intellectually with other women, I was firing on all cylinders. Instead of recognizing that this environment doesn't allow me to thrive (like trying to plant corn in sand), I tend to jump to the assessment that something is wrong with me because I'm not thriving here. I condemn the seed, instead of recognizing bad soil.

I also seem to believe that I'm only valuable to the measure of my "usability." I unconsciously attract "users" and then resent giving too much and only being valued when I am useful to them. I need to give myself the unconditional love God has for me. When I make wise choices it honors God. When I am inauthentic (merely jumping through the hoops of someone else's expectations and needs so that the waters stay calm), I am not giving God the best part of me. I am compromising who He has intended me to be.

Finally, I am learning to pay more attention to my focus (i.e., pay attention to what has my full attention). I waste my energy focusing on my weaknesses rather than identifying and tapping into my strengths. I need to redeem the Wendy that was meant to be. Here's another Mike word-picture: Like Superman, I need to be careful not to let my fear of the kryptonite keep me from remembering and focusing on the fact that I can fly and scale large buildings and use my super-powers. I need to take back my power and focus on the person I want to be! I have to carve out an intentional future.

I am a work in progress. With the combination of appropriate medications and beneficial life-coaching, I am getting to the place where I can see light at the other end of the tunnel again. I don't want to give up another day in useless misery. I don't want to be a slave to the shoulds and oughts (as Mike says: "Quit shoulding all over yourself!") but want to give myself grace to accept who I am and focus on becoming the me I've not yet taken hold of!

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Misadventures and Miracles of Medicine

I'm a very transparent person. On the whole, I think this makes people uncomfortable. Still, it is part of who I am and how I roll. So, I have made no bones about the fact that I have been very lonely and severely depressed.

Even still, this revelation takes people by surprise. When I mentioned to a sibling that I had been really battling suicidal thoughts, it seemed "impossible." I had appeared so "normal" at Christmas time.

Depressed people can generally mask their feelings of despair while in a room of relatives. It is when I am on my own, feeling the weight of the world, and more, on my shoulders, that I succumb to the sentiments of nobody really caring whether I exist or not. In my heart, I believe my family would grieve, but my emotions scream that I am all alone, without any one to catch my back when I fall.

In the midst of my deepest depressions, I have always, ALWAYS, felt loathe to begin another regimen of antidepressants. I worry what these drugs are doing to my body. I fear they are altering things in my brain in ways that can never be resolved. I want the sadness to disappear without having to rely upon a pill.

This spring, however, I began to really fear my own depth of despair. It wasn't merely concern for my own emotions, but also for the example and repercussions playing out in my children's lives. I decided I had better take some action, so I sought out a psychiatrist.

As I prepared myself for this visit, I re-familiarized myself with my personal medical file. As I was going through the paper work and trying to assess which medications I had been on in the intervening years of depression since Sean's birth, I came across something that almost made my heart stop.

I had been seeking counsel from a DO (Doctor of Osteopathy - naturalistic medicine) because I wasn't gaining any answers from the standard medical community. He had immediately diagnosed me with hypothyroidism and placed me on dessicated pig thyroid (a natural alternative to the synthetic thyroid regular doctors would have prescribed). After several months, when the fatigue and the strangling despair continued, he ordered new labs to assess the efficacy of the thyroid meds.

I went in for the lab follow-up appointment and he pointed out that the thyroid medication wasn't making a dent in the thyroid reading, so he took me off that medicine. Instead he placed me on a large dose of Vitamin D and Iron (based on my deficiencies in the lab read-out) and gave me some samples for a drug called "Deplin" because he said it helps to boost the folate levels (also registering low). He urged me to see a psychiatrist.

A few weeks later, his office called again to say that I needed a lab follow-up appointment. I wasn't terribly nice in that phone conversation. I said that I keep paying out money for these follow-up appointments, when nothing is changing in my medical condition. I argued that I had already received the lab results in my last appointment. After that call, I decided to wash my hands of this D.O.

And it's a good thing I did! As I scanned my file, I noticed that the results signifying no change in my thyroid levels and indicating low levels of folate, iron and vitamin D ... they belonged to someone else! This supposed doctor sat there reviewing what he claimed was my lab results and even gave me a copy of the lab results for a completely different individual. I don't even want to think about what could have happened. And I'm not terribly sure what course of action I should take. It seems obvious that something should be done, but I'm not sure what that something is!

However, back to my psychiatrist visit. That went fabulously. I felt immediately at ease with the doctor and felt thoroughly understood. He listened and then declared that I am basically "starving." I may have food and shelter, but all the other human needs are being neglected. He suggested that I should attempt to find a group of like-minded individuals closer to Indianapolis (since my efforts here at home have met with little success) to nurture my intellectual, emotional, relational and spiritual needs.

He also placed me on an antidepressant I felt good about. In the years since Sean's birth, other doctors have placed me on various new antidepressants and I worry that these drugs have not been tested thoroughly. My first antidepressant experience with Paxil may have led to my oldest son's birth defect of hemi-facial microsomia (asymmetrical face). The only antidepressant that I have ever felt entirely positive about was Wellbutrin and this psychiatrist felt that it was the right fit for my needs.

As soon as I went on the medicine, I began to notice positive changes. However, I still wasn't up to 100 percent. Thus, he decided to add a mood stabilizer, Abilify, and I cannot begin to explain how well these two drugs work for me. I am much closer to myself. I can be in the midst of chaos and stress without feeling like I'm going to have a panic attack. I am entirely present, whereas before it felt like things were going on and I wasn't fully aware. When I wake up in the morning, I actually want to accomplish things.

It feels like a miracle. I am so very grateful for the medication (even though I fight the drug regimen when I'm off it). I'm thankful to be able to function more like myself and to gain back the ability to feel strong connection to my children.

In addition to the medicinal help, I have also been receiving some life coaching. I would like to share all that I have been learning about my self and the self-defeating tendencies I carry. That will have to wait for another post because there is so much to say. For now, I'm thanking God for the miracle of medicine and accepting the fact that for whatever reasons (He knows) ... I need them at this point in life.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Book Review: The Secret Year

I'm not sure I would have continued reading this book if it hadn't been my selected reading for our trip to Holiday World last week. The cover was intriguing enough (everybody loves a juicy secret, right?). I often seek out books which use journals or letters within the plot because that is the particular form of fiction writing I favor.

I guess I found it very difficult to continue with a tedious story about secretive infidelity. The book had such a liberal agenda to it. It portrayed the late-night liaisons as passionate and good, introduced a character who is "coming out," and provided the classic rift between the kids who are born into money and those who are born into poverty.

In the story line, Colt has a night-time (entirely sexual) relationship (meeting down by a river) for an entire year with Julia. She claims to be unable to break off with Austin, her current (social-equal) boyfriend because their families have always assumed they would be together. Although disgruntled, Colt accepts this and continues their secretive liaisons until one night, after an argument with Colt, Julia gets in a car with an upper-class girlfriend and dies in an accident. Nobody would ever believe that Colt had truly been with Julia, but Julia's brother provides him with her journal full of unsent letters to Colt. Colt then connects with two other girls, who realize that he is clearly not over some other lover.

I have difficulty with books that normalize and aggrandize the actions of teenagers who drift in and out of each other's beds, casually voicing sentiments of "love," while failing to recognize even the slightest commitment or understanding of the other person. I can let such things go, if there is a deeper, more penetrating depth to the book, but when the entire book is merely a presentation of teenagers behaving badly (and then trying to make it look like this is all normal and fine), I just don't care for it.

Personally, I don't think the author's descriptions of teen sexuality even offer the option for true intimacy. Jumping in and out of bed with various partners because you feel a momentary pull towards them does not equal allowing another person to see inside of you (intimacy = into me see). Instead, it is a cheap and unsatisfying substitute ... a mere mirage instead of waiting for clean, pure, real water.

Plus, the author, via comments from one character, presents pregnancy as a disease instead of the beginning of a God-designed, human life. Colt describes Julia's disdain of pregnancy, saying:

"Julia had a horror of getting pregnant before she was ready.... we never risked that. 'You don't know what it's like, to worry about something (italics mine) taking over your body, your whole life,' she said."

Frankly, if I had a daughter, I might let her read this if she wanted to, but I would certainly want to provide ample disclaimers for the moral and ethical fallacies being presented as acceptable actions. For the author, however, this all is perceived as being faithful and true to the real world. She writes on her blog, "Gradually our literature is coming to resemble more closely the real world in which we live." For myself, I cannot say I would ever recommend this book to anyone else.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Book Review: Shades of Blue

I'm always up for a Karen Kingsbury novel. This particular one was added to my bag at a $1 per bag library book sale several months ago. The very first exposure I ever had to Karen Kingsbury was when my mother gave my sister a gift of a Kingsbury novel, When Joy Came to Stay. I guess the title really stuck with me and I quickly became a fan of her books.

In Shades of Blue, Brad Cutler seems to have it all. He works for a New York ad agency and is engaged to the boss' beautiful daughter, Laura. With only weeks to go before their wedding, Brad begins to struggle with producing for a baby clothing ad campaign. As he tries to think through the mental blockage, he realizes that he needs to return to his home town and seek forgiveness from his first love, Emma. Kingsbury never gave the ending away, but carried the reader on for a good long time wondering which girl Brad would finally end up with and whether the hurts of the past would ever heal.

This book takes on the difficult subject of abortion. It also treats the internal sin of judging others because they fell. I found the message completely reassuring, that God loves us regardless of how we stumble. It was a quick and easy read (at times a bit too stereotypical) and an uplifting story.

I also thoroughly appreciated Karen Kingsbury's use of characters based on actual people through a program she calls "Forever in Fiction." The three characters that appeared in this novel are described in the introduction and then introduced as characters in the story. What a great way to raise money for charitable causes, while allowing families of individual warriors to see their loved one honored or memorialized in print.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Why, Boys, Why?

As I've said a million times before, boys are a breed unique! There are so many things that they do that girls would never dream of. Would you like an example?

Yesterday, Trevor and Sean were outside playing on their swing set. Trev came running in to call for someone to see the gigantic spider they had caught. He had the thing (about an inch to an inch and a half in diameter) in a small lidded jar (a bouillon cube jar I had given him - that boy always wants my trash). He set it on the book bar in our guest room and I asked him to take it back outside. He said, "But I want to show it to Daddy."

At some point, Daddy looked at the thing and declared it to be a wolf spider, quite common near woods in Indiana:

Sadly, the thing was never taken back outside.

Tragically, I asked this morning if the thing was ever released back into the wild. Trevor assured me that he would do it today, but that for now it is still in the guest room.

I replied, "It would be dead by now for lack of air."

He: "No, I made a little air hole for it to breathe."

I went to the room to discover the small jar with the lid tipped slightly off. This was his "small air hole." Grrrrrr! Yikes!

We now have this spider loose somewhere in the house. I'm pretty sure Trevor and Sean will regale Bryce's friends with the story once they wake up ... Bryce's friends who slept on the floor in Bryce's room last night. Eeeeek!

Will my parents and family ever be willing to visit again? Perhaps we WILL all be meeting at Santa's Lodge after all!

Actually, my own parents are familiar with these type of boy antics. When I was growing up, my older brother Mark (now a high school biology teacher) used to love capturing various bugs and insects. One day, shortly before my parents were having guests stay in Mark's room overnight, Mark brought in a praying mantis.

Then, we discovered that it was a praying mantis giving birth to many small praying mantises. This led to a family-wide praying mantis hunt as we tried to excavate the house of all evidence of Mark's hospitality.

I suppose in Mark's case, his hospitality was to be commended, after all. We were, in fact, the home of a minister. Therefore, what better place to host a praying insect, right?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Holiday World and Santa's Lodge Vacation

Ever since we moved to Indiana, we have heard people raving about their experiences with Holiday World and Splashing Safari amusement park. It has so much to recommend itself: free drinks all day, free sunscreen, family atmosphere, and the combination of both daring rides and refreshing water. Time after time, others have encouraged us to visit this park.

I have to admit, I have been dragging my heels for years. Every year, John would suggest it and I would say, "I really don't want to go to a big, crowded amusement park with two little ones and a teenager who is chomping at the bit to ride big rides all day (thus leaving me, inevitably, with the two overwrought little boys). Part of that was my growing anxiety issues (thus the near panic attacks at Big Splash Adventure and the mobbed Children's Museum), but part of it was that it just didn't sound FUN.

So, once again, I went along just because everyone else wanted to go. By the time John got around to making our accommodations all the less expensive rooms at Santa's Lodge were taken (that's his story and he's sticking to it ... but perhaps he wanted the more spacious room all along). Thus, we found ourselves in a glorious Family Whirlpool Suite.

It was marvelous. It was glorious. It was so exciting for the little boys that ... we almost turned around and went back home on the first night (perhaps you have never experienced my boys on a high of excitement and anticipation - yikes). You can actually take a virtual tour of our room here.

The room boasted a king size bed (somehow Bryce and Sean finagled that one on the first night) and two queen size pull-outs, a microwave, fridge and kitchen area. Of course, the most exciting feature of all was the jacuzzi. The boys had been talking about it all week, saying "the first thing I'm going to do when we get in the room is jump in the hot tub."

Thankfully, the Lodge also had an indoor pool (another "must-visit" for my younger boys). So the first evening, I was able to sit in a cozy room watching a lengthy (gruesome) news show interviewing Jaycee Dugard. I would have been unable to watch this at home because the content was not appropriate for child viewing. Despite the horror the show inspired, it was so wonderful to watch in peace and quiet while Daddy took the boys to swim!

Monday morning, we headed over to Holiday World and purchased two-day tickets. The anticipated heat index for the day was 110 degrees! Let me tell you, we felt it (especially Sean and I, since we are both prone to heat stroke and sun burn). If we had not been able to fill up complimentary cups of ice water repeatedly throughout the day, I don't think I would have survived. John and I also marvelled at my new-found ability to deal with the crowded lines and anxiety laden experiences (thank you, effective medicine!).

The park is divided into themed sections based on holidays. I quickly stowed our swim gear in a locker in the water park area and met the boys in the Thanksgiving section. I loved how each part played accompanying theme music. In the Thanksgiving area, we were treated to "We Gather Together."

Bryce immediately determined his favorite wooden roller coaster of all time - The Voyage. He and Trevor rode it together first (given their sibling animosity of that morning, it was a true miracle of gathering together - ha!). Of course, Bryce was so impressed that he begged Dad to ride it with him next, so I dragged Trevor and Sean into my "favorite" ride - Gobbler Getaway (favorite because it is air conditioned, has no sudden swerves or surprises and is genuinely fun) where you shoot turkeys with a laser gun. Bryce even convinced me to try this "awesome roller coaster" on the second day of our visit. With all that shaking, my insides may never be the same, but at least I can say I survived The Voyage!

(Photos courtesy of the Holiday World web site)

Other favorite rides were: the Revolution (finally the little boys were willing to ride it alone because it was making me far too dizzy) and the Legend (which I never tried because Bryce said it has such hair-raising turns that it actually gave him a headache on the first evening). Besides, because of Sean's height (44 inches) there were many things that he couldn't ride and I stayed with him while the others went on. (He has since been drinking milk like there's no tomorrow because he is convinced that it will make him grow taller. Immediately after drinking, he asks me to measure him again ... funny kid!)

The heat drove us to spend most of the day in the Splashin' Safari section, which meant that I was sporting a major lobster-shaded burn for the second day. But it was a lot of fun. I loved riding Watubee because we were all five in the inner tube together as we went down. Zinga was a bit of a disappointment because we waited almost 50 minutes on surfaces that scorched bare feet and then the ride was quickly over. I think all the boys loved the Bahari Wave Pool the best. Even Sean was jumping to ride the waves.

Our favorite eating establishment (again, due to the intense heat) was the Plymouth Rock Cafe. The children's meals (real home-cooking, to get away from burgers and fries) were only $4. The place was air-conditioned (ahhhh) and the food was delicious.

The second day's visit was slated to be a bit cooler, but when we left the Lodge (even earlier than the first day) the temperature gauge read 98 degrees - urgh!. I was very concerned that we would end up spending a lot of time in the water and sun again, so I donned John's over sized t-shirt and Sean's floppy hat. I looked ridiculous, but I didn't damage my skin any further, so I won't complain. Plus, the second day, we remembered to bring along flip-flops and swim shoes so that the sun-scorched pavement wouldn't blister the soles of our feet so much.

Shortly after lunch, a storm blew in (and I mean blew in, because it actually pulled the umbrella right off our table). At first we were waiting it out against a wall of a building, but it was getting downright cold and the thunder and lightning were extremely dynamic. I noticed Bryce was standing by a family restroom, so I asked if anyone was in it. He and I ended up spending a half hour crammed with ten other people in the small 4 x 5 foot bathroom (we chuckled because no one offered to take the throne). I thought John and the boys were in the Pepsi Oasis, but they had come out and watched what they called "a tremendous lightning show!"

Once the storm looked like it was blowing over, we had this brilliant idea to try to get in the front of a line for the Wildebeest (billed as "America's longest water roller coaster"). Sadly, everyone else had the same idea and we discovered that the power to the ride had been knocked out. It is definitely on our to-do list for our next visit. Even the wave pool was out of the question because the lightening just kept coming back. Finally we headed to our old stand-by, Gobbler's Gathering and when even that was shut down, we went back to the Lodge.

The boys were quite bummed about the heat and storms keeping us from getting to ride all of the rides in the park or even from getting our money's worth out of our visit. Still, I reminded them, "we will never forget our first visit to Holiday World." I'm sure we'll be remembering this for years to come.

Plus, our early return to the Lodge meant that we ended up trying their downstairs restaurant/buffet. Since it was evening, the lit up decorations were stunningly beautiful. I found myself wishing my mother were there to see it. She would absolutely love a visit and a meal there. The food in the buffet was amazing! I think Bryce may have eaten 12 chicken wedges. We were all grateful for the delicious fruits and vegetables, too. And the apple cobbler was fantastic, as well.

I was so impressed that I even asked the hotel if they would send me some pictures to use on my blog post:

They don't capture the magic of seeing these decorations in the evening, but it still gives a view of how cozy and quaint the experience was. John kept saying, "we should have your family Christmas gathering here in December!" Of course, I still want to keep it here in our home, but I can understand why he'd want to bring everyone to Santa's Lodge. It was a wonderful experience. I doubt I'll drag my heels when the suggestion comes up next year!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Book Review: Love, Aubrey

I must start out by saying this book was absolutely beautiful! I was drawn to the book by both the stunning cover photo and by the lovely name. I have always loved the name Aubrey and even considered bequeathing a possible daughter with that name. Alas, no daughter named Aubrey. This book has given me a character, Aubrey, who will live in my heart and mind forever.

Although the book is slated for grades 4-6, I can guarantee that adults will be drawn into the tale equally. What a powerful voice the main character has! I don't want to give away any of the details because the story unfolds like a budding flower.

I concur with this cover endorsement by Audrey Couloumbis:

"I love this novel! Aubrey is the best kind of survivor - on the surface, an ordinary girl who no one would guess had a particular talent for making it on her own. Faced with not one, but two terrible situations, she's lost and alone, and her response is to take baby steps in the right direction. I look forward to Suzanne LaFleur's next book."

Monday, July 11, 2011

Book Review: Real Murders

This book was recommended at the end of the audio version of one of the Number One Ladies' Detective Agency books. I wouldn't put it in the same category as that beloved series, but it was still an enjoyable romp of a book. Think of it as a good beach read, or in my case, a good book to read whilst watching my boys play on their swing set (interruptions don't really annoy with this book because it isn't entirely riveting).

Aurora Teagarden is a young librarian in Lawrenceton, Georgia. She also participates in a club called the "Real Murders Society." This club gathers to discuss real unsolved murders. It is merely a past-time for the members, until one of the group is murdered in a re-enactment of the murder slated for discussion. Is it someone from within the group, with full knowledge of a wide variety of real murder cases? Is it the mystery author who has recently moved to Lawrenceton to teach a writing course? Even Roe (Aurora) herself is deemed suspicious by the police as they try to crack the case.

It is a pleasant enough read and fairly light fare. I would deem it average and the ending didn't really satisfy as much as I had hoped. Still, if you are looking for an easy, light mystery, this book could fit the bill.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Book Review: Minding Frankie

I really cannot believe how long it has been since I've read a book by Maeve Binchy. She is a fabulous writer and has that rare Dickensian gift of being able to people a landscape with her fully embodied characters so that you feel you live right alongside them and share in their joys and sorrows. Minding Frankie continues that tradition, tying in characters previously encountered and introducing new ones.

I listened to this Binchy book. In the past, Binchy's books have been ones that I prefer to hear delivered with an accent. However, I think that I would have preferred reading this one for myself. In Minding Frankie, Binchy introduces an American relative who has come to Ireland to visit her family and ends up staying and transforming the lives in the neighborhood of St. Jarlath's Crescent. Plus, there is another character who turns up from New Zealand, claiming to be an unknown son. This narrator did a fine job with the variety of Irish accents; however, I didn't really care for her presentation of the American or New Zealand. The American, Emily, ends up with a simpering sort of voice that didn't really seem to jive with her character. The New Zealand character also seemed forced, with too many pauses and inflections.

In my opinion, Binchy did not need to introduce the American character into the scene. The Dublin set are perfectly fine without bringing in a foreigner who came off with superhuman powers of observation, organization and inspiration. Emily was, perhaps, too perfect.

Regardless of the narration and possibly unnecessary character, this was again a Binchy masterpiece. The story centers around an unmotivated fellow named Noel who discovers that he has fathered a child during one of his drunken sprees. The mother, on her deathbed, begs him to care for Frankie and keep her out of the foster system. At first Noel chooses denial, but eventually the awareness of his responsibility for this child leads him to shake off his alcoholic tendencies and apply himself in ways that no one ever thought possible.

Unfortunately, the social worker, Moira, doesn't fully believe Noel is the best fit for the child. She is determined to dig up some dirt on Noel so that she can place Frankie in a "more suitable environment." Noel surrounds himself with a whole network of people in the neighborhood who help to care for and love Frankie. In the process of minding Frankie, many characters discover that nurturing a child centers life in a powerful way.

I'm thrilled that I can pick up this most recent Binchy book without necessarily having read some of the books in between. Each of her books does a fine job of standing alone. But they also provide an enduring legacy for characters we meet again and again in the landscape of her fiction.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Book Review: Still Alice

Last night, I had another wonderful opportunity to attend a book group. I love getting the chance to sit with other women and discuss the thoughts and literary devices surrounding a piece of fiction. This month's object of discussion was the book, Still Alice, by Lisa Genova.

I think that I had been earlier put off by reviews of this book. I had read somewhere (perhaps BookPage) that the book was about a woman who calls her three children together to tell them that she has early onset Alzheimer's disease and plans to take her life when her life no longer seems worth living. This idea (a false representation of the book - she never articulates the suicide plan to her children and by the time she has failed her own litmus test of importance questions, she cannot take those steps) is quite reprehensible to me. But at the same time, I can fully understand a person getting to the point where they feel that they have nothing left to offer in life and would rather choose nothingness over struggle and diminished capabilities. I found myself internally yelling at Alice, reminding her that even if she has seemingly nothing to give, God has a reason for allowing her to continue existing until He chooses to take her (I sometimes need to yell this at myself - so I'm familiar with the refrain).

We had an excellent discussion about the book. I must admit, I was dreading the possibility of a very depressing discussion. The book moved me to tears throughout my reading. I readily put myself in the place of the characters and could entirely empathize with the devastation they were experiencing. Thankfully, our discussion was not depressing (even though, the other two book club members in attendance both had family members battling Alzheimer's). We delved into topics of identity, loss, perspective, denial, and honor.

Alice Howland is a Harvard professor teaching cognitive psychology and giving lectures on linguistics. Her identity has been largely driven by her intellectual successes. She interprets a period of scattered forgetfulness (losing words during lectures, misplacing her Blackberry) as symptoms of menopause. (Perhaps this triggered my intense identification with the book because I have experienced the mental blips of menopause, where my brain doesn't seem to function as effectively as it once did.) However, when she gets lost on a run in her own neighborhood, where she has run for decades, she finally approaches a doctor. At not quite 50 years of age, she is diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer's.

I have never had anyone close to me struggle with Alzheimer's. Indeed, the closest encounter I have had was observing the mother of an Army friend. She could not recognize her own children and asked repeatedly why they were in the dining hall at a camp she had attended for many, many years. It broke my heart and I could only imagine how heart-breaking it must have been for them.

Despite my lack of experience with the disease, I gained much from contemplating the idea of identity and what a person experiences when their identity is stripped. Perhaps, again, this is why I related so strongly to this book. When faced with the inevitable decline of her mental and verbal skills, her immediate thought is of the books she had always intended to read. Like a cancer patient, she must shift her perspective of life and focus only on what she wants to attempt to glean from the remaining moments of lucidity.

This book is very well-written and provides so much fodder for discussion and contemplation. Although I found it difficult to read (in the sense that it created such a deep sadness within), I could not put the book down. It is truly a book with a message for anyone and everyone. It is a reminder that, at the end of the day, the truly important things are relationships and the opportunity to love. What a great reminder for us all!