Tuesday, August 31, 2010

What Happens in the Empty Nest, Stays in the Empty Nest

Even though I haven't posted for nearly two weeks, I truly have not disappeared - yet.  Between dealing with the newly empty nest and Dave's job change, not to mention job, bills, laundry and all the other minutia of life, I've been mentally overloaded and haven't done much reading.  On top of that, my enthusiasm for posting about what little I have read is sub-par, which all totals up to an empty blog.  In keeping with our current life theme of "lets change everything at once", I am seeing a change in blog style and direction coming on.  I've already made the changes in color/background scheme to better reflect my tastes.  Hope you like it.  There will still be book reviews and book-related events, and of course we'll always encourage couple's reading - but I anticipate more posts on non-bookish topics.  In short, I'll be using this blog as my personal therapy couch. :)  In honor of this new viewpoint, here are a few random thoughts and lessons learned in the past month:

1.  When women are expecting that first arrival they "nest" - prepare a nursery, purchase adorable little outifts, strap a child seat into the car - whatever is necessary to welcome the new baby.  When the last little chick flys the coop, that same woman will "un-nest".  Un-nesting involves a 30-gallon trash can, frequent trips to the dumpster and lots of incredulous shouts of "Where did we get all this stuff?" "Why did we ever think we would need THIS?", "Do we HAVE to store all 37 Barbies?" or "Did you know there was a desk in the corner of the basement?".  At our house this has been followed by Dave asking "Where is my____?" only to be met with a blank stare and an innocent "Your what?"

2.  Parenting college-aged children/adults sucks! The chicks may have flown the nest but they aren't out of the tree.  They are sure they are now responsible adults who can make their own choices, but they still want to know Mom and Dad are holding the net under them.  My role as mother has been reduced to sounding board (no response or advice, please, unless it includes the words "You're absolutely right."), banker ("I spent all my money on a - insert name of unnecessary thing here - so I'm a little short for rent.") and scapegoat ("Yes, I know I'm the one who did this dumb thing, but you should have WARNED me.")  Yes, there are moments of pride and flashes of humor, but at this moment they are outnumbered by panic and frustration. 

3.  On the flip side, the physical empty nest is wonderful.  I clean things and they stay clean.  I put things away and they stay put.  No daily loads of towels to wash.  No one to complain if we're having cereal for supper.  Late night games of Strip Guitar Hero...

4.  Dave has always been the "big picture" person at our house - life insurance, retirement investments, college funds, etc - while I handle the daily stuff like groceries, the electric bill and doctor appointments.  This works well for us and plays to our strengths, until we decide to move.  This isn't our first move (or "adventure" as Dave prefers to call them) - we have lived in 16 houses in 12 towns during the 28 years we've been married as Dave climbed the "corporate ladder" - so this isn't a new revelation.  Dave sees the big picture - new job, new town, new experiences, new friends - all good things.  I see every weed in the yard and crack in a wall that needs to be repaired before we list the house; changing banks, changing doctors, hiring a moving van, and packing.  You can see how differently our minds work and perhaps why I'm a bit befuddled lately.

5.  On the flip side (again), we are using this Adventure to help us each appreeciate the other's perspective.  I am looking forward to the freedom of a fresh start, just the two of us.  Dave has made a list of the practicalities we need to deal with before we go and is sharing that load.

6.  Golf truly is a relaxing game - if you have an understanding Hubby who is ok with you reading a book in the cart and mumbling the occasional "Good shot." 

So, now you see that I really haven't disappeared, just got lost in the maze of life's details.  I'll find my way out soon.  And that plan for spending our empty nest years as professional gamblers is still in the works.  Book reviews coming soon: "Counting Cards for Dummies" and "Making Your Own Loaded Dice for Fun and Profit."

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Veil of Night by Linda Howard

Linda Howard is a prime romantic suspense writer, and her newest volume is no exception.  Her stories are always well-plotted mysteries twined with a hot romance.  Usually - as in two if my favorites, "Cover of Night" and "Cry No More" - the suspense portion leaves a damsal in distress who is then rescued by an unlikely hero.  For some reason that I'll examine later in therapy, that lay-out appeals to me.  However, that tension was missing from this story.  While this is a solid storyline and a fun read, it just didn't have the re-read appeal of earlier books.  I would still give it four out of five stars and recommend it to romantic suspense fans. 

Tales of the City by Amistead Maupin

In 1976, a groundbreaking serial called Tales of the City first appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle. This masterfully rendered portrait of the interweaving relationships of the inhabitants of 28 Barbary Lane in San Francisco's Russian Hill was both an instant smash and a source of controversy as it paid particular mind to the city's strong gay community. In spite of naysayers, Tales of the City attracted a legion of devoted followers. Readers of the Chronicle were known to Xerox copies of the stories and pass them on to friends. Tales of the City themed scavenger hunts were held throughout San Francisco. A local pub even named a drink after one of the serial's protagonists, Anna Madrigal. In 1978, a collection of the stories were gathered together into an extremely popular volume. Most important of all, Tales of the City became a watershed work of gay literature. (from author bio @ Barnes and Noble.com)

As a librarian, I probably shouldn't admit that up until I saw this post by Keris Stainton (blogger and YA author extraordinaire) I was not familiar with Tales of the City.   But since Keris referred to it as one of her favorite books, I needed to see what I was missing.  I got a bit of a surprise - as in, "Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas any more." - but was intrigued enough to now want to read the entire series. 

1976, seen through the residents of 28 Barbary Lane, San Francisco, was a world apart from the 1976 I experienced as a high-school student in Kansas!  As you can imagine, my conservative, midwest life made parts of this story disquieting for me, but I learned a lesson about human nature.  The story begins with Mary Ann Singleton, twenty-five-year-old secretary from Cleveland, who shocks her parents by moving to San Francisco.  The tale expands to embrace the interwoven lives of the residents of the apartment house at 28 Barbary Lane, their friends, co-workers and lovers. 

This is the bohemian, free-love world of the Haight/Ashbury era. At first it seems freeing, but after a while the acceptance is revealed to be a facade. The "to each his own" or "I'm ok/You're ok" attitude eventually gives way to a common goal.  Underneath, every character, regardless of age, race, income or sexual orientation, is searching for one thing - genuine love and acceptance.  The one-night-stand, non-conformist lifestyle that they lived to prove how modern they were, eventually became shallow and left them longing for a more universal and conventional connection:

"Well, Mary Ann and I had this really heavy session where she told me she wanted to go back to Cleveland, and I gave her the whole est trip about taking control of her life and all...but the creepy thing is that sometimes I think she's right.  Maybe we should all go back to Cleveland." (p. 218)

""I need....some sort of security, Mouse.  I'm thirty-one years old...I'm sick of buying clothes at Goodwill and pretending they're funky.  I want a bathroom you can clean and a microwave oven and a place to plant roses and a dog who'll recognize me when I come home." (p. 254)

Mr. Maupin's tales combine the individual stories of the residents of 28 Barbary Lane into one melting-pot that proves the adage: "The things that unite us are greater than the things that separate us."

Thursday, August 12, 2010

West Wing, Chaos Theory and Life

Here's a little known fact about me.  I think West Wing is the best thing ever broadcast on television.  In fact, if there were a West Wing Channel that showed nothing but all seven seasons of West Wing in an endless loop, I wouldn't need the other 150 channels we receive.  Fortunately, until I can talk myself into spending $200 to buy the complete set on DVD, I have the next best thing - DVR.  (My infatuation with DVR is a whole other post for another time!)  I record two episodes on Bravo every morning and watch them at my leisure - sometimes repeatedly. 

The magnet that draws me back to this show is the dialogue.  Lines are fast paced, well researched, full of subtle humor and references to past episodes.  Because of my West Wing dialogue obsession, my thoughts and conversations are frequently peppered with quotes, which leads us to the point of this post (and you thought I didn't have one, didn't you?). 

In the first episode of season four, "20 Hours In America", Sam Seaborn comments on Chaos Theory:  "It has to do with there being order, and even great beauty, in what looks like total chaos."  That line has been running through my head lately in reference to our life.  We leave Sunday morning to take Amanda to Kansas State University (Go Cats!) to begin the next phase of her life.  On Monday, Mitch will return to Fort Hays State University to continue nursing school...and fraternity life...which means that on Tuesday we begin the empty nest chapter of our life. 

That in itself is not particularly noteworthy.  It's the natural progression of things and I think we're coping very well.  However, we have thrown in some more change.  In early July, once wheat harvest was complete, Dave resigned from his job.  We decided that with our families - and now our kids - all in the central and eastern part of the state, there is nothing holding us way out west.  So we're off on a new adventure.  Or at least we will be as soon as we figure out which adventure to choose. 

Our first thought was to sell the house and travel the country as professional gamblers.  Monday night we visited the new Boot Hill Casino in Dodge City.  We tried our luck at video poker, slots and craps.  We ended the evening down $12 plus the cost of a nice meal, so maybe we shouldn't depend on gambling as our only income.  Our next thought was to buy an 18-wheeler and become over-the-road truckers, specializing in hauls to Vegas, Reno and other locations with casinos, thus providing some income to fund our lousy gambling skills.  However, after some discussion, we agreed that we weren't cut out to live in a space 1/3 the size of the average RV, and we can't count on being comped the high roller suite at Caesar's Palace, so that plan was put on hold also.

Seriously, we are investigating several options for jobs and/or business opportunities, and in the mean time our life resembles Chaos Theory.  Although having two children in college, cutting our income by two-thirds, and setting off to parts unknown may "look like total chaos", if you look closely there is "great beauty" in there, too.  There are endless possibilities and potential benefits - being closer to family, being able to attend K-State football and basketball games, meeting new people, learning about new parts of the state - or even new states.  Maybe we'll run our own business, maybe we'll take up a new hobby, maybe we'll have our own tv reality series (or maybe not!), but whatever comes up, we are trusting in God and we're doing it together.  Now isn't that beautiful?

Friday, August 6, 2010

31 Bond Street by Ellen Horan

Who killed Dr. Harvey Burdell?  Though there are no witnesses and no clues, fingers point to Emma Cunningham, the refined, pale-skinned widow who managed Burdell's house and his servants. Rumored to be a black-hearted gold digger with designs on the doctor's name and fortune, Emma is immediately put under house arrest during a murder investigation. A swift conviction is sure to catapult flamboyant district attorney Abraham Oakey Hall into the mayor's seat. But one formidable obstacle stands in his way: the defense attorney Henry Clinton. Committed to justice and the law, Clinton will aid the vulnerable widow in her desperate fight to save herself from the gallows. (from book jacket)

Based on the true story of the murder of Dr. Harvey Burdell in 1957 New York, this book combines a classic murder mystery, historical fiction, and historical fact.  Add in the social issues of slavery, escaped slaves in the north, and the oncoming Civil War, and you have a story that is hard to describe - and hard to review.

The narrative follows two timelines.  It begins with the murder, then alternates between the events leading up to the crime, and the events following it.  This was hard to follow and I had to be sure to make note of the date given at the beginning of each chapter to know where I was in the story.  Near the end, the first timeline catches up to where the second timeline began - alltogether, nearly as confusing as this paragraph.  There came a point, maybe a third of the way into the book, where I quit worrying about the dates so much and just read.  It all worked out in the end and I was able to keep the events straight in my head.

The plot is fascinating and kept me reading quickly, although I got a bit lost at the end.  There are more insinuations than straight out solutions and it left me feeling a bit confused, but since that's how real life often leaves me, I guess it's to be expected from a novel based on real life.  This was a bit outside my recent "reading box", but I enjoyed the lessons on this era of American history and especially the plight of unattached women.  This book will appeal to history buffs as well as mystery fans.