Saturday, March 25, 2017

Recreating Families

Creating families can be a funny, coincidental thing -- unless it's not.
I met my husband in Florida. We both worked for The Tampa Tribune. I lived in Clearwater and he lived in St. Petersburg. He was in a dying marriage and I was a fresh, straight-out-of-grad school 24-year-old.
On the outside, it would seem like the two of us did not have a lot in common, but once we got to know each other, we discovered that we both came from Ohio, a state about 1200 miles north of Florida.
And we both were born into families with four children, and they fell in parallel genders, girl, boy, girl, boy for both of us. So that's a coincidence.
Next we learned that both of us had lost our oldest sisters. His sister died at 36 when she was hit by a drunk driver. My oldest sister died at age 18 in the Beverly Hills Supper Club fire.
That left both of our families with two boys and one girl.

Now, about 29 years after we met, we find ourselves with a family made up of one daughter and two sons, having recreated the families we came from.
When the kids were little, I did wish that Grace could have a sister. Maybe I wanted to mirror the family that I grew up in.
I don't often think about the coincidence of my family and Earl's family, except when I get names all muddled in my head.
If I'm feeling protective toward one of the boys I might call them Kevin, the name of my younger brother. And the other day, thinking about Grace, I instead called her Tammy in my head.
I listened to an NPR story called "When the Brain Scrambles Names, It's Because You Love Them" about how certain names, names for family, friends, co-workers, all get put into different compartments and that's why people (mothers and fathers especially) call their children by the other kids' names or even their pets' names, because they are all in the family compartment.
But I do wonder, did Earl and I intentionally create a family like the ones we grew up in -- or was it just luck that the dominoes fell to create our right-sized family.
What do you think? Coincidence or do we intentionally create or avoid the families we had?

Monday, March 20, 2017

Book Review -- The Enemies of Versailles

I read the first two books by Sally Christie in the Mistresses of Versailles series and enjoyed them, but my favorite might be this final book The Enemies of Versailles. The books stand alone, but it's intriguing to read them in order to see how King Louis XV evolved from a religious, devoted husband to a man who resisted the efforts of his family to force him back to the church as his guilt ate away at him.
But the books are not told through the viewpoint of the king, instead, for this final book, we see the world of Versailles through one of his daughters, Adelaide, and his last mistress Jeanne du Barry. Perhaps there were never two women more different. Adelaide was born as a princess of France. She avoided marrying so she could stay in the luxury of Versailles, and although she tried to do good works, she always followed etiquette and thought the poor should stay in their place. She never had any sympathy for the plight of those outside the chateau.
Jeanne, however, was born into a poor family and went to school at a convent. Her beauty propelled her into the wealth of Versailles and the arms of the King, but she always had a kind heart, even for those who hated her.
This book is full of rich details that help the readers feel as if they are at Versailles, sharing the gossip and the intrigue, but also the emotions of the historical characters. Good historical fiction is a great way to get a grasp on the times the characters lived through, and this one does that. It has stuck with me through the end when (spoiler alert/not really) the French Revolution sees the next king Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette beheaded.
The actions of the king and all of the people in Versailles feel so real as I finished the book last week and saw the health care plan and the budget put out by  the Congress and President of the United States. It makes me realize that the people in power, again, have no idea what middle class and working people are going through.
This book is a fast read and whimsical escape into the past, at least until the end when the reality of repeating history might jar the reader.
I highly recommend it.
If you live in the U.S. or Canada, you can win a copy of The Enemies of Versailles by leaving a comment on my blog and letting me know you'd like a copy.

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Sunday, March 19, 2017

Dreaming of France -- French Rhapsody

Please join this weekly meme. Grab a copy of the photo above and link back to An Accidental Blog. Share with the rest of us your passion for France. Did you read a good book set in France? See a movie? Take a photo in France? Have an adventure? Eat a fabulous meal or even just a pastry? Or if you're in France now, go ahead and lord it over the rest of us. We can take it.

I had some extra points on my Amazon account, so I ordered a paperback that I can take with me to France. I'm always looking for something good to read as I travel, and books set in France are
I found this book, French Rhapsody by Antoine Laurain and didn't even read the summary before I ordered it. I truly enjoyed his novel The Red Notebook, and his other novel The President's Hat was also a fun read.
Laurain is French and sets his books in France with real French people, unlike many of us who write novels about Americans or Brits reacting to travels in France.
This novel tells the story of Alain, who had a band in the 1980s but gave up his music dream and became a doctor. Then he receives a letter that went awry and should have reached him in 1983 that offers him and his band a music contract. Should he track down his band members and try at music again? What could have been if only the letter hadn't gotten lost?
I'll have to resist opening this book until we leave for France. Maybe I should stow it in my suitcase now.
I ordered this book on Friday and it appeared on my front porch today, Sunday. So weird. I have Amazon prime, but I didn't expect it on a Sunday.
How about you? Have you read a book set in France that you love? Please share.
And, if not, I encourage you to try Paris Runaway, It's fast-paced and will definitely put you smack dab in France, at least the way I experience it.
Here's a blurb to tempt you further:
When divorced mom Sadie Ford realizes her 17-year-old daughter Scarlett has run away to Paris, all she can imagine are terrorist bombings and sex slaves. After learning her daughter chased a French exchange student home, Sadie hops on the next plane in pursuit. She joins forces with the boy’s father, Auguste, and the two attempt to find the missing teens. The chase takes Sadie and Auguste to the seedier side of Marseille, where their own connection is ignited. Since the divorce, Sadie has devoted herself to raising kids and putting her dreams on hold, but when her daughter needs her most, Sadie finds that concrete barrier to life beginning to crack. In her journey, she learns the difference between watching the hours pass and living.

Thanks so much for playing along with Dreaming of France.
I appreciate you sharing your love for France, along with food, books, movies, stories and pictures. Please visit the blogs of others who play along so we can share the love.  

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Book Review -- Abby's Journey

In the novel Abby's Journey by Steena Holmes, the author tells the story of Abby, a 20-year-old girl who has battled illness all of her life, suddenly healthy for a year.

Her grandmother swoops in with a surprise trip to Europe, especially the Christmas markets in Germany that her mother always dreamed of visiting. Her father, who raised her alone after Abby's mother died in childbirth, resists allowing her to go, fearing for her health and for what his life might be without her at home. This story changes perspective so the story is told through Abby's eyes, through the grandmother, Millie's, viewpoint, and through the father's voice.
What I liked about this book: This was a sweet book with some lovely descriptions. Anyone who enjoys travel will be carried away to Europe in the author's descriptive passages, like this one about the Christmas market in Salzburg from the grandmother's viewpoint:
Author Steena Holmes
Abby grabbed her hand to pull her close, and together they walked arm in arm, down the street. The roads were cobbled, and streetlights in the shape of stars were strung along the lanes, casting a soft glow onto the shops and people as they walked. 

The music, the setting, the large Christmas trees, the illuminated castle up on the hill -- it was all perfect. Everything she'd thought a Christmas market would be and should be. 
 The characters were well developed with many side twists so that Abby's Journey was not the only complication going on. The support of family and of a charming Canadian village added to the overall positive feel of the book.

What could have improved: The tension and drama in the book could have been intensified so that the reader got caught up more, wondering what would occur. I also had a hard time with the basic premise, which was carried out in the first book Saving Abby. In that book, Abby's mother became pregnant with her and realized she had a brain tumor. She refused treatment so that Abby could be born, thus leading to her own death and Abby growing up ill and without a mother. If it were my daughter, no chance that I would let her wait for treatment if she was pregnant. The life we have is more precious than the potential life, in my opinion, plus the sacrifices that the father had to make in order to raise his baby alone. So those controversies played in my mind while I read this novel.

This is definitely a novel that I enjoyed reading, in spite of, or maybe because of, some of the controversies that went with it.

The publisher has offered one free copy of this book to someone in the United States or Canada, so let me know if you're interested and I'll enter you in the giveaway. Make sure I can get in touch with you to get your address if you win.

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Sunday, March 12, 2017

Dreaming of France -- 55 Days

Please join this weekly meme. Grab a copy of the photo above and link back to An Accidental Blog. Share with the rest of us your passion for France. Did you read a good book set in France? See a movie? Take a photo in France? Have an adventure? Eat a fabulous meal or even just a pastry? Or if you're in France now, go ahead and lord it over the rest of us. We can take it.

In 55 days, I'll be in France again.
Can't wait!

Here I am in the French countryside in 1985 as an au pair.

In 1991, I dragged my husband along for the first time.

Bicycling around Provence and across the Pont du Gard. 

Eating ice cream in Aix en Provence.

And just a few years ago in Isle sur la Sorgue in the south of France. 
Do you see a pattern? I'm pretty much always smiling and happy. Well, it's vacation, what's not to like?
I'm looking forward to our vacation in France, in preparation for our move to France in the fall.
Thanks for playing along with Dreaming of France and please visit the blogs of others who join in too.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Minimizing Memories

My hands are covered with dust and my brain is muddled after spending a few hours in the basement clearing off bookshelves.
I have so many photo albums filled, mostly, with pictures of my children throughout their growing up years. Once Grace hit 12 or so, we switched to digital photos, scattered throughout the landscape of my computer, but easy to carry with me to France.
As I'm easily shifting books into giveaway bags, I wonder what to do with the photo albums. Do I take all the pictures out and save them in boxes?
Do I send the photos to a digital site and ask them to put them all on flash drives so I can carry them with me in my computer? I know that it's about $250 for 250 photos from Legacybox. I probably have thousands of pictures. Which do I discard and which do I keep?
And although I can easily get rid of books, knowing I won't move them to France with me, I can't get rid of my husband's books, so the shelves still hold things like Leroy Nieman paintings and the History of Baseball, not to mention some ancient books that don't even have covers any more. I wonder how we'll ever sort through everything.
I came across a Student Survival Guide to Wilmington College. That's where I went the last two years of my college. Why do I still have this? I've moved it from Ohio to Washington D.C. to Florida to Michigan and back to Ohio for more than 30 years.
That's my brother with his back toward the camera. 
My brother is on the cover but you only see him from the back. Is that why I saved it? I asked if he wanted it and he said yes!

Then I found this newspaper clipping.

My best friend got married 32 years ago right after she graduated from college, and I was the maid of honor. I held onto the clipping. Then I was the maid of honor again at her second wedding. She finally didn't invite me to the third wedding and this one has worked out. I don't think I need to hold onto the newspaper clipping any more.
Some things are easy to discard. But what do I do with all those photo albums?
If I was moving from the UK, I could load them all into my car or a moving van, but I can only take things on a plane.
Any advice? What would you do?

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Every Step I Take

I trudged up the stairs, each foot weighing a hundred pounds. What was the point of taking the stairs when no one was keeping track of it, no one was giving me credit for the staircases I climbed or the miles I ran.
No one even knew how many beats per minute my heart pounded for my resting heart rate -- all because my Fitbit broke.

The clip on the back, where the charger plugs in, pulled loose from the band, and the little computer circuit fell out too.
As soon as it happened, at around 9:30 in the morning with 7000 steps under my belt, I wanted to climb back into bed. Walking  anywhere seemed pointless.
Of course, I'm being a bit sarcastic, but people like me, who are competitive and inspired by beating our own records, are motivated by things like a Fitbit. I've always made sure I run or walk in the morning, but I could spend the rest of the day sitting in front of my computer if I'm not careful.
The Fitbit got me moving, a minimum of 250 steps for nine hours a day.
I loved checking on my resting heartrate and seeing it slowly decline to 58 beats per minute -- that's nearly athlete level resting heartrate.
Here's what the Mayoclinic website says:
A normal resting heart rate for adults ranges from 60 to 100 beats a minute. Generally, a lower heart rate at rest implies more efficient heart function and better cardiovascular fitness. For example, a well-trained athlete might have a normal resting heart rate closer to 40 beats a minute.

Some "friends" joke that they don't need a computer telling them what to do, but the Fitbit never told me what to do, it kept track of what I did.
For instance, I slept every night, but I never knew exactly how long, or how many times I woke up or became restless, until the Fitbit started keeping track.

The Fitbit might not always get it right. Sometimes it might think I'm sleeping when I'm only lying in bed reading, but I suppose that counts as resting too.

And, of course, it kept track of my daily steps. For anyone who gets a Fitbit, the daily goal of steps is usually set at 10,000, which equals about 5 miles. I could pretty much always reach 10,000 steps a day so felt good about it. Then, in January, Fitbit suggested that I needed to up my game. It wanted me to set my goal at 14,500 steps a day. It said my average steps were already in the 13,000 range, so I increased my goal. If I don't run or walk in the morning, I have very little chance of meeting my goal, but most days I reach 14,500 steps and some days I knock it out of the park.

So, now, what would I do without my Fitbit?
I knew from previous experience that Fitbit had a good warranty. I received my first Fitbit a year ago in February for my birthday. It broke at the charging sight about three months in. Here's where I first blogged about it. I contacted Fitbit and they sent me a new one. Simple enough.
So when my latest Fitbit broke, I emailed the company and sure enough, within a day, they responded that they could replace my current Fitbit.
Does it make sense though? I've already gone through two Fitbits with the same flaw. I was extremely careful when plugging the second Fitbit in and unplugging it. I knew how delicate those pieces could be, and I still broke them.
My neighbor was showing off her Apple Watch. Apparently, it does everything the Fitbit does, plus more. I looked at the cost and choked a little -- between $300 and $400.

"You push a button and it repels all the water from the watch," she bragged. 
Oh, how I wanted one. My Apple Watch envy flared. I imagined swimming laps and having them count!

In class, as I made the students bring papers up to me rather than walking around to them (What's the point if I don't get credit for the steps?) one of my students showed me her Fitbit Blaze. It's like an Apple Watch but not as extensive. 

The whole square of the watchface charges so at least I wouldn't risk breaking it in the same way as the others.
In its email, Fitbit offered me a free replacement of the same Fitbit HR or said I could take 30% off another Fitbit product, like the Fitbit Blaze. They cost $199, so that would still leave me on the hook for $130 after the discount.
Meanwhile, as I weigh the pros and cons, every step I take is wasted because no one is keeping track.
What would you do?

Recreating Families

Creating families can be a funny, coincidental thing -- unless it's not. I met my husband in Florida. We both worked for The Tampa Trib...