Sunday, December 28, 2014

I Admit It – I Am a Nervous Nellie

I’m not sure when my husband began referring to me as a “Nervous Nellie,” but he has been doing so for quite a while now. I mostly ignore him when he does this not allowing him to deflect my anxiousness. That is until my mom got cancer. 

Last March, my mom was diagnosed with clear-cell carcinoma, an aggressive form of uterine cancer. She required in home care after undergoing a radical hysterectomy, so I volunteered to stay with her for a few days post-surgery.  Before sending her home from the hospital, a nurse spent a few minutes with the two of us demonstrating how to change my mom’s catheter, teaching her how to inject a syringe containing blood thinner into her stomach and giving me a breathing tube she was to breath into every hour to alleviate her coughing.

That evening my sister who works in health care pointed out I had not changed my mother’s catheter properly, my mom was refusing to eat and managing all of her medications was turning out to be a more daunting task than I had anticipated.

To say I was nervous when the visiting nurse called to check on us the following morning was probably an understatement. She asked me a few questions, recommended I purchase a probiotic and offered to stop in. After meeting my mom and talking to her, this nurse turned to me and said, “You are a Nervous Nellie aren’t you?” I couldn’t help but be amused, perhaps my husband has been right all along; a fact he enjoyed immensely when I shared her comment with him when I returned home.

The remainder of the year did not ease my Nervous Nellie tendencies. In August my Mom was in a car-accident on her way to a family get-together to celebrate her cancer-free diagnosis. No one was hurt and the accident had not been her fault, but this party may have been the worst family celebration I have ever attended. As the year progressed we learned my mom now has two hernias resulting from her radiation treatments and will most likely have to wear Depends for the rest of her life; apparently the radiation also damaged her bowel. The good news is my mom continues to remain cancer free.

As I re-read my 2014 goals, I realize other than keeping a gratitude journal (the only resolution I managed to stick to) they were all focused on trying to be more perfect – don’t eat sugar, be organized, suffer for 15 minutes, find my Calcutta – no wonder I am so nervous. Perhaps my 2015 resolutions should be to kayak more, spend more time playing with my dogs, going to movies and reading for pleasure.  

Are you a “Nervous Nellie?” If so, what do you do to relax?

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Early Retirement One Year Anniversary

One of my former co-workers had been miserable in his position for several years – actually he had been perfectly happy with his job until our company hired another family member and put this co-worker in charge of him. The new employee was like a bull in a China store and my co-worker was forced to work long hours attempting to control the damage.  

He began talking regularly about retiring early and asking questions about finances related to retirement. My post, "Should I pay off my house with 401(k) monies?" was for him. He did end up using his 401(k) money to pay off his home. His wife had retired at age 58. I am not sure, but think she receives a pension from the hospital where she worked for 30-years as a nurse. She also has a part-time job working one day a week for her church. There would be no pension for my co-worker, just his 401(k).  My co-worker’s biggest retirement concern was the cost of their health care. He went over and over the numbers eventually concluding he couldn’t afford to retire early.

Then a good friend of his died at 61 from cancer and his 90-year old mother in-law stopped recognizing him when he visited her in the nursing home. He began not caring if he ran out of money; he surmised from his mother-in-law’s experience that when he is 90 he probably won't know if he is living in a dump eating cat food (his exact words) or in a nice home receiving expert care. He retired on his 62nd birthday not even taking my advice to work until the end of December to receive his holiday pay.  

I thought of him on his birthday a few weeks ago and sent an email congratulating him on first retirement anniversary. I also asked if there had been any financial surprises he had incurred or words of wisdom he could give me since my husband plans to join him in retirement at the end of the year and I still plan to retire early. Here is his response:
THANK YOU for remembering my retirement anniversary. Retirement is one word: AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Between kids, grandkids, remodeling, gardening, dogs, travel and sleep there is not enough time in the day for everything. I can honestly say I have yet to have a boring minute, hour or day. I think one of the biggest differences between work and retirement is stress. For "me" retirement equals ZERO stress. Physically and mentally I feel twenty years younger. During the first couple of months I would feel "kinda" guilty when I would encounter people that were still working. No more. I paid my dues and have arrived. I used to look at retirement as winning the "race". Now I look at it as just "finishing" the race.
Notice he doesn’t even acknowledge the financial aspects of retirement. As my husband’s benefits come to an end, I am forced to enroll in my company’s inferior and more expensive benefit plans. Add in the $800 I just spent to replace my two-year old computer that crashed and my nervous Nellie tendencies are operating at full capacity.

Then I look at how stressful my husband has been in his job this past year, the long hours he worked including Saturdays and the occasional Sunday. How much I enjoyed him being laid-off last winter. How far behind we've gotten on basic home maintenance and cleaning. A real vacation; what is that? Then I think of my co-worker and how awesome his year has been. I want that for my husband and eventually for myself. My co-worker is right in that we don’t know what the future holds – whether we will be blessed with a long healthy life or succumb too early to a horrible disease or that we will end up penniless in a nursing home. As to our finances, I will never be able to control everything; appliances will need replacing, medical premiums will increase and I will need procedures like gum recession surgery. We have our 401(k) plans and we are maximizing his social security benefits by waiting until next year when he is 66 to begin collecting. If our finances become unmanageable we can always sell our home which is paid off. It is time for my husband to cross the finish line.

Are you retired?  Do you have any words of wisdom?


Sunday, November 30, 2014

Travel the World in Books "Cuba" Selection

For Nonfiction November, Tanya of Mom's Small Victories and I paired up to read Carlos Eire’s book Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy. We were also reading this book as the “Cuba” selection for our Travel the World in Books Reading Challenge.

What is Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy about?
Triggered by the Elian Gonzales affair Carlos Eire, one of the 14,000 children airlifted out of Cuba in 1962 – exiled from his family, his country and his own childhood by the revolution has written a memoir about his childhood growing up in Cuba.

Carlos Eire was born into a privileged Cuban family. His father is a wealthy judge who believes he is a reincarnated Louis XVI and that his mother is Marie Antoinette. Carlos’s days are filled with private schools, birthday parties, movies and swimming pools. He shares story after story of his childhood antics stealing toy soldiers, lighting off firecrackers, throwing rocks, breadfruit and almonds, while taunting the underprivileged, lizards and a chained monkey.

His idyllic childhood comes to an end when Fidel Castro ousts President Batista. Christmas is made illegal, he is no longer allowed to view his favorite movie, his neighbors and relatives are forced to turn over their businesses and life savings to the state and his cousin and uncle have been arrested. Fearing her sons are in danger his mother ultimately sends them to the US. 

My Thoughts:
Carlos Eire’s descriptions of Cuba are exquisite. I was reminded of my Caribbean vacations and could easily picture the turquoise water and feel the warm sun. I also have a better understanding of Cuban life pre-and post-revolution, the Bay of Pigs incident and Castro’s idea of communism. I had no idea 14,000 children refugees were sent to the US without their parents prior to reading this book or how difficult it was for these children to become acclimated to life in the U.S. once here.

Two of Carlos’s observations about differences between his life in Cuba and the U.S. I found interesting are:

Why his parents had so much free time:

Rearing three children of my own has made me wonder about my parents and the lives they led. Especially because my wife Jane, and I have done it without relatives, nannies, or baby-sitters of any kind. My parents had one nanny for each child, a maid to do all the housework, one grandmother, one great-aunt and one aunt in the house.

No wonder my dad could type labels for each of his objects, make kites, referee rock fights and take us car surfing. No wonder my mom could make us costumes for parties and spend so much of her day designing and making clothes. There wasn’t even a lawn to mow. Plenty of tiles and plenty of canteros, or planting beds, full of foliage and flowers, but no lawn. How I’ve envied them sometimes, my parents, especially after three hours of mowing. All that time they had on their hands. (Pgs. 158-159)
His skin color changed in the US:
They’d been right after all, those who told me that dark food couldn’t turn you into an African. What they didn’t know was that it would take only one brief plan ride to turn me from a white boy into a spic. And I’m reminded of it every time I have to fill out a form that lists “Hispanic” as a race, distinct from “white” or “Caucasian.” (Pg. 160)
I still can't understand why Louis XVI chose to stay behind. Did he really prefer his collections and Cuba over his wife and children?  Or did he believe Castro would be overthrown and his family would eventually come home? I don't think Eire knows for sure himself, but he does change his last name to Eire, his mother's maiden name, once settled in the U.S, so he obviously didn't forgive him.

Unfortunately, this book tends to drag. Eire writes his story based on memory rather than chronologically, so at times you are not quite sure if he is in Cuba or the US or if it's pre-Castro or after Castro. Plus, it seems Eire feels the need to confess every one of his boyhood sins. I became bored with these antics after a while and feel the story would have been better if he'd left a few of them out.

Bottom line:
Despite its flaws, Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy was a good “Cuba” selection for my Travel the World in Books Reading Challenge. I recommend this book if you enjoy coming-of-age memoirs about boys or are looking for a book from an insider that takes place during Castro’s Revolution. If you prefer books heavy on history or politics I’d probably skip this one.
Have you read or can you recommend any books that take place in Cuba?

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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Thanksgiving week Family Friendly Read-a-thon

Are you or members of your family looking for something to do over thanksgiving break?

If so you many want to check out Miriam of Miriam Mimi's Bookish Blog's first ever read-a-thon. It is a family friendly read-a- thon for ALL ages and will be held November 24-November 30. All you need is a book and a phone!

There will be daily book recommendations, page count challenges, photo challenges, twitter sprints, reader stories, games and more. 

You or your family members can sign up here to be added to the official participation list! Http://

As a co-host of the read-a-thon I have assisted Miriam by developing the challenge for the daily photo. You know how teens love their phones and iPads. If you have Instagram, WordPress, Twitter, or Facebook on your phone you and your child can take bookish photos as part of the read-a-thon. 

Here is the challenge for the bookish daily photo:

Monday: post a photo of your favorite book cover

Tuesday: post a photo of your favorite science fiction of fantasy book

Wednesday: post a photo of your favorite mystery book

Thursday: post a photo of your favorite book about family

Friday: post a photo of your favorite classic book

Saturday: post a photo of your favorite book

Sunday: post a photo of a book you read this week or are reading now

Use the hash tags: #MnMReadAThon #MMReadingWeek

Have fun, enjoy your break and have a great week of reading.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Outstanding Nonfiction Books Written By Women

As I looked at my latest library book sitting on the kitchen table, I was surprised by the author’s name:
– Beth Macy – 

Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local - and Helped Save an American Townwas written by a woman.

Despite going out of my way to read mostly nonfiction books written by women for the past several years, I find it interesting that a business book authored by a woman is still enough of an anomaly to cause me to pause.

In light of the perceived/actual shortage of nonfiction books written by women (that don't come with a purse or a shoe on its pink cover), I’ve decided to share a few of my favorite nonfiction books written by woman:

Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc:
In addition to being one of the best nonfiction books I’ve read written by a woman, this is also one of the best nonfiction books I’ve ever read. This moving and powerful account of two girls coming of age in the South Bronx has changed my understanding of how the circumstances into which you are born affects your economic future. Here is my original discussion of the book where I ask if it is possible to change the course of a young girl's life.

Special Exits by Joyce Farmer
This book written in comic form is considered a fictionalized memoir, but since it is based on Farmer’s real life experience taking care of her elderly parents as their health declined I am including it here. When I originally read it, I was reminded of my husband’s parents as he and his sister managed their care in their later years. Now as I attempt to care for my own mother I am again reminded of this book. I wrote about it here.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Lifeby Anne Lamont
I’ve read other books on writing: Steven King’s On Writing and Brenda Ueland’s If You Want To Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit, this book is so much more than a book on writing. It is a memoir Lamott wrote based on lessons she learned over the years working as a writer and teacher of a writing class. She provides advice on the craft of writing as well as humorous antidotes about life especially the life of a writer. Her chapter on jealousy is outstanding.

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Culturesby Anne Fadiman
This book, the story of a Hmong girl with epilepsy and the conflict between the Hmong community and Western medical personnel, is narrative nonfiction at its best. Fadiman explores in detail what can go wrong with cultural assumptions and misunderstandings.

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick
This one follows the stories of six "ordinary" North Koreans who defect to South Korea beginning in the late 1990s. It is another eye-opening book – what living in North Korea may actually be like. Here I include an excerpt from the book in my post about making a mistake at work.

Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life by Justine Picardie
Coco Chanel covered up much of her past and told enormous lies about her life. What I love about this book is Picardie sorted through personal observations and interviews with surviving friends, employees and relatives; Chanel’s abandoned memoirs and tabloid rumors to uncover the truth and give us an accurate portrayal of Coco Chanel’s life.

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Leadby Sheryl Sandberg
This book has its faults, but I’m including it here because it has inspired so many women to begin talking and thinking about their career choices: leaning in and opting out.

The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan
This book has its faults too. It is long and repetitive and like Lean-In is written from a white middle-class perspective, but this is the book that reignited the feminist movement. Plus, it helped me realize how much influence advertisements had on women’s lives – so much so they abandoned their careers to buy the latest carpet sweeper.

I know there are many more outstanding nonfiction books written by women. What are your favorites?

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Tuesday, November 04, 2014

My Favorite Nonfiction Reads of the Year

This week’s question for Nonfiction November asks:

Take a look back at your year of nonfiction and reflect on the following questions – What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year? What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? What is one topic or type of nonfiction you haven’t read enough of yet? What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

My favorite nonfiction read of the year:

Ryszard Kapuscinski’s book The Shadow of the Sun. Kapuscinski worked as a news correspondent for a Poland paper for over 40 years.  This book is a collection of essays where he shares his observations from several of the African countries he visited.  I learnt more about Africa, its climate, politics, history, culture, economy and people from this book than in any other book I’ve read. I also enjoyed Kupuscincki’s writing and hope to read more of his books in the future.


The book I quote most often:

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancerby Siddhartha Mukherjee.  This book is the book I mention most often in conversation.  It is incredibly comprehensive and discusses many different cancers, treatments, causes and related diseases.  I can’t help but be reminded of it when these topics come up in conversation.

The book that gave me biggest aha moment:

Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfectionby Debora Spar. While reading this book I realized how my life was influenced by those perfume commercials of the 70’s that led me to believe women (I) could have it all. 

The book that was the most therapeutic:

Let's Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendshipby Gail Caldwell which I wrote about here.

The best story:
Undress Me in the Temple of Heavenby Susan Jane Gilman was my biggest page-turner.  In this honest memoir Gilman writes about her 1986 backpacking trip to China with former college classmate Claire.  Her experience in pre-Tiananmen Square massacre China along with Claire’s story and the people they encounter is fascinating.  It is interesting to note she and Claire for the most part were treated with incredible kindness and hospitality by the Chinese people while they acted like spoiled brats, were rude and at times down-right mean.  

My favorite nonfiction books are those that help me better understand the world or books where I am motivated to pull out my notebook and begin taking copious notes. To be honest, I haven’t read many of these types of books lately and hope to discover a few new titles to add to my reading list this month.  I’m also looking forward to participating in the read-a-longs and book discussions.    

What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year?

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Sunday, November 02, 2014

Nonfiction November Reading Goals

Since I am a huge fan of nonfiction I am excited to participate in Nonfiction November (A month long event hosted by Kim of Sophisticated Dorkiness, Leslie of Regular Rumination, Becca of Lost in Books and Katie of Doing Dewey) created to celebrate Nonfiction. I’ve made a pretty aggressive list of goals for myself, but with the Thanksgiving Holiday coming up I’m hoping to squeeze in more reading than usual.

Three of the books on my reading list will count towards my Travel the World in Books Reading Challenge – for my challenge I plan to read 50 nonfiction books from 50 different countries over the next 5 years.

Here are my goals for Nonfiction November:

Co-host Waiting for Snow in Havana read-a-long:
I am pairing up with Tanya of Mom's Small Victories to read Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boyby Carlos Eire. Triggered by the Elian Gonzales affair Carlos Eire, one of the 14,000 children airlifted out of Cuba in 1962 – exiled from his family, his country and his own childhood by the revolution wrote a memoir about his childhood. This book, a national book award winner, is exquisitely written and paints a picture of pre-revolutionary Cuba you won’t forget anytime soon. Tanya and I will be posting questions about the book throughout the month and hopefully a twitter chat at the end, so please join us for this casual read-a-long.

Participate in Becca and Katie's read-a-long for Cleopatra: A Lifeby Stacy Schiff:
This book has been on my reading list for a while. What better way to read it than with a read-a-long.

Finish A Heart for Freedom: The Remarkable Journey of a Young Dissident, Her Daring Escape, and Her Quest to Free China's Daughtersby Chai Ling:
This book recommended to me by Create With Joy is the memoir of Chai Ling one of the leaders of the 1989 hunger strike in Tiananmen Square. I started this book in October and hope to finish it this month.

Begin reading Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local - and Helped Save an American Town by Beth Macy:
I’ve mentioned before how much I enjoy a good business book. This book is about John Bassett III, a third generation factory man, who decides to fight back against China to keep his furniture factory in the U.S. This one came in at the library a little earlier than I anticipated. I doubt I’ll finish it in November, but do hope to read a few chapters before I have to return it.

What is on your November reading list? 

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