Feb 11, 2015

Reading With Diversity in Mind

My Weeks in Books

I set out in 2015 with the goal of reading more diverse books. I found a #DiversityReadingChallenge to keep me on track, but it’s only six weeks into the year and I feel a little thrown off of the structured challenge. Mainly, in month two I am supposed to read a book with a person of color on the cover, but it turns out I read very few books with people on the cover! I haven’t given up just yet, though, and have been reading a wider range of stories.
  • This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett is a book of essay by Patchett. I love her fiction but it turns out I like her essay writing only so-so.

  • Frog Music by Emma Donoghue is about French immigrant circus performers in the United States and the relationship one woman forms with a woman who prefers wearing mens clothing and, sometimes, the romantic companionship of women. There’s way more to the book than that, but to be honest, I really, really struggled with Frog Music. About four-fifths of the way through I started to enjoy it, but that’s just not enough.

  • I was such a fan of The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion so I was very excited for his follow-up, The Rosie Effect. Where the first book really stuck with me and is one I’ve referred to repeatedly for a compassionate representation of a person with Autism, I found the second book very entertaining but forgettable.

  • What She Left Behind by Ellen Marie Wiseman was recommended to me by a friend and I loved it. In fact, I set aside all other activities and finished the book in only one day! Told through a lovely story, Wiseman explores asylums in the United States in the early to mid-1900s. Going to school in Athens, Ohio, I am very familiar with the lore surrounding The Ridges asylum there. The mere idea that people could be institutionalized at a whim is astounding. Although not exactly upbeat, I think stories like this one are important to educate people about the history of mental health treatment and the changing definition of mental illness in our country.

  • Taking advantage of some of the alone time I bragged so much about, I listened to The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson on audio while taking a nice, long walk. I think it’s good I listened to this book because the language was a little hard to follow and I suspect I would have given up were I reading it. That said, so many of our present day plot lines in television, movies and book are based on the basic storyline of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that I’m happy to be familiar with it.

  • The first “assignment” in the #DiversityReadingChallenge was to read a book by an author of color. I chose The Bridegroom: Stories by Ha Jin, which is a book of short stories taking place in China just after the death of Chairman Mao Tse-tung. I’ve never really been keen on visiting China, but sheesh! Jin paints a very unappealing picture. The Bridegroom: Stories did give me a better understanding of what people experienced in China during that time period (late 1970s - early 1980s) and the writing was beautiful but I am content just reading about the place.

  • My attraction to A Partial History of Lost Causes by Jennifer duBois was the beautiful title, but I also learned a lot about life in the Soviet Union and Russia. (I’ll be visiting there right after I check out China!) What I like about novels that take place in other countries is that I learn about the world without having to do much research. duBois taught me more about Putin and the experiences of people during different political regimes in the Soviet Union and Russia. I haven’t quite decided if I’ll be passing the book on to others or not (my sign of a book worth reading), but I’m pleased to have read it myself.

A selection of books with diversity in mind - diversity of authors, styles, topics and places.

Feb 10, 2015

Essential Supports for Post-Surgery

In planning for my hysterectomy surgery, I had ideas of the type of things I would need to assist in recovery. For some I was spot on, but for others, it took a while to figure it out. If I have a friend who ends up in a similar position, and I hope I don’t, I’ll have all sorts of great gift ideas or tips to give for planning ahead of time. Why not share those with you?

Great gift ideas and tips to for time spent on bed rest.

The Perfect Ways to Support Yourself or Your Friend, Post-Hysterectomy

  • A Breakfast-in-Bed Tray
    This is a must have if you’re going to be spending the better part of many weeks in bed. It lets you have a surface on which to write or prop up a book, but it also protects your stomach from pets who might walk all over you. This is especially important if you have an overweight cat, teetering precariously close to 20 pounds, who likes to stand right on top of you.

    I bought the cheapest one available at Bed, Bath & Beyond. This is about functionality over quality. 
 
  • Entertainment Station Wonder Boy and I don’t have a television in our bedroom. In fact, we only have one television in our house and it’s in the living room, which is on a different floor than the bedroom. Fortunately, I have an old iMac that was sitting in the attic and I carried it down to on top of a bedside bookshelf. The computer was slow for doing real work, but was fine as an internet browser. I was able to watch lots of Netflix and stay up to date on my ever-essential reality television shows, like America’s Next Top Model. (Don’t judge.)

    If you don’t have a television or computer you can use for while on bed rest, maybe another sort of device will work like an iPad or smartphone. Bed rest sounds like a great time to catch up on reading, but pain medicine hinders that quite a bit. Mindless entertainment is where it’s at!
 
  • TV and Movie Access Hulu and Netflix are great options for access to mindless entertainment. If you feel like splurging, Amazon Prime is another good option. Services like these expand viewing options tremendously! I was fortunate to have a Netflix account of which I could take advantage and I watched a lot of television.
 
  • Comfy Pajamas and Housecoats Not too surprisingly, my stomach post-surgery was huge. (Stomach isn’t quite the right description … The area under my belly button? Stomach is close enough.) It took me a few weeks move up to even yoga pants so I spent the time leading up to that in pajamas. My Thanksgiving attire was very casual this past year! I was grateful to Wonder Boy, my mom and my sister for hooking me up with cute PJs, cardigans and a bathrobe.
 
  • Small Foam Pillow When you’ve lost all core strength, one challenge that looms large is sitting upright. It sounds so easy! But, after you’ve been in bed for a while, you just start sliding down in your seat and scooting back upright is an ordeal. What worked for me was a foam pillow, really intended for neck support, set just below my butt. The foam prevented me from skidding down the bed.
 
  • Some Nurse or Murse Support We always joke about Wonder Boy being my personal murse (male nurse), but I don’t really see him exhibit nursing day skills too often. When I was sliding down in bed and struggling to get upright (see above), he had some fancy maneuver where he pulled me back up to sitting in no time flat! Not everyone has a personal nurse or murse, but it’s worth making sure your caregiver gets some tips and tricks from someone with some medical background. Much pain saved!
 
  • Kindness I had people let me know they cared about me in so many different ways. Some friends found book on my Goodreads To Read list and sent those over. I had food sent over that I could just heat up, which made lunchtime a much easier process. I had at least one visitor every day, which definitely broke up the monotony. Some came for lunch, some for movie dates and some just to hang out. I had cards and flowers galore mailed to me. My niece called me almost every day, and while I know that some bribery was involved in that and the conversations weren’t actually very good (she’s more interested in my cats than me), it was so entertaining and so sweet! I received gift cards to Michael’s (for crafting I could do while sitting), Amazon (more books!) , Graeters (ice cream!) and more. The outpouring of love was much appreciated.
 
  • Rest When I returned to work I had one person ask me, “So, felling well-rested?!?” To be fair, I don’t think he knew why I was gone, but still. No matter how much sleep I got on bed rest, it wasn’t enough. My post-surgery tired was unlike any tired I had ever known. People would come and visit and all we would do is talk. Afterwards I would take a two hour nap. I was grateful that all of my friends were okay with me saying to them, “I need to take a nap now.”
I know everyone's experience is different. If you have things you'd add to this list, please share!

Feb 4, 2015

Your Core Is So Much More Important Than You Know

I hear people talking about their core. Doing core strength training. Engaging their core. It all sounded like nonsense to me until my core really came into play.
A diagram of some your core muscles.

The thing about being sliced open is that it really makes you consider the importance of certain body parts. For the first week of my bed rest after my hysterectomy, I moved very little. After that, I gradually gained more and more strength. I tried to find one victory for each day. "Today I started to roll over!" "Today I almost rolled over!" "Today I rolled over!"

The victories were small.

Although my incision certainly hurt, my biggest roadblock to doing a lot of things was a lack of any muscle strength in my core. Some things I was surprised to learn used core muscles:
  • Going up stairs is not too bad but going down stairs is quite challenging.
  • Sitting down and getting up in general is tricky, but sitting down on and getting up from a toilet is especially hard because of the small surface area with which you have to work and the erect position in which you typically sit. I had to bring a pillow with which to prop myself up.
  • Getting back to an upright position after sliding down into more of a slouch is a near impossibility. Thank goodness Wonder Boy knew some tricks from his nursing days to help me.
  • Tapping your feet at a concert is almost impossible to do but relies more than you know on your core. (This had me in near tears.)
  • Coughing. Ouch.
  • Sneezing. More ouch.
  • Vomiting. I never did this but I spent one evening crying because if a fear of doing it.
  • Picking up something off the floor, or pretty much anything that involves squatting.
I'm moving about with ease now and only have the occasional twinge of pain, usually along my incision line instead of muscular pain.

When I stand up straight  and try to flex my stomach muscles, I'm aware of it. And consider it a pretty big victory.

Jan 30, 2015

Finding a Gym and Knowing Where Your Motivation Lies

I've been itching to go back to a the gym for several weeks now, but didn't want to join back up on January 1 among the thongs of people trying to keep resolutions for the new year. Thinking enough time had passed, I finally visited an L.A. Fitness. (My beloved, comfortable YMCA is under construction and they don't have another location close enough for me to be sure I won't use distance as an excuse not to visit.)

In my mind, many of the chain fitness places, like L.A. Fitness, are where people go to work out but also look pretty. You know, see and be seen. Many years ago I was briefly a member of a similar chain. It was a bad match. But I need to get in shape! And so...

Free visitor pass in hand, I went to the closest location. Upon entering, I was overcome by the noise. Top 40 music was playing and machines were clanking everywhere.

I was directed to the office of a sales guy. It went badly right from the start.

"So, Kate, what brings you here tonight, Kate?"

Um, I want to join a gym??? Why else would I be there. I explained about my YMCA being under construction and needing a new place.

"Well, Kate. Tell me what you liked about the YMCA."

I decided not to beat around the bush.

"It was quiet. They didn't have music playing. It was mostly attended by older men and people were there only to work out. I felt no need to dress up or look pretty. It was about working out and it was nice."

It was a little combative. He knew it. But he went forth as if he clearly had the upper hand, criticizing the YMCA multiple times during his sales pitch and saying my first name no less than 30 times. AS IF I DIDN'T REMEMBER IT.

Before my tour, he asked for my ID so he could fill out some paperwork and then said he needed to keep my ID until after my workout so he could "process some things." Alarm bells were going off in my head because it meant a repeat meeting, but I played along.

The thing is, my decision would hinge on only a few things. Did they have the brand of elliptical I like? Could I read while I worked out? Did they have the few other machines I use? 

I'd work around the noise the the girls working out in full make-up.

I was relieved to see that all off their ellipticals were my favored brand, but disappointed to note that they had personal viewing devices (TVs) mounted to the tops.

"Do you have book holders for your machines?" I asked.

The sales guy pointed out the little lip that comes default on the machines that might, might, hold a magazine.

"Right, but do you have book holders? For real books? Thick books? The YMCA provided that."

He looked at me like I was an idiot.

After our tour I worked out and it felt great. On my way out I went back to the sales guy so I could pick up my ID. He tried to sign me up right there.

"Um, I don't think you understand me. I'm not joining tonight. I was testing it out and as I explained, you do not have book holders, which the YMCA did. If I can find a book holder that will work, I'll join. If not, I will pay more money to attend a further away YMCA."

I think I blew his mind. And not in a good way.

But you need to know your priorities right? It's cool they have a movie room where you can work out in a theater. It's nice they provide televisions on nearly every machine so you can distract yourself during exercise. But my distraction of choice is a book.

So now I am brainstorming ways to create a book holder that will attached around the TV screen. And, if it works, I'll join that gym and be that girl. The girl with no make-up, stinking and sweating and carrying around her own book holder like the full-fledged book nerd I am.

My distraction of choice while working out is reading.
This book is a dainty collection of short stories. By dainty, I mean fairly thin.
And even it won't stay in the built-in "book rack" on the ellipticals at the gym.