Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Social media and life satisfaction

Sometimes I think I need to take a break from social media. Aside from all the negativity floating around about the upcoming election, everyone presents the most perfect, blissful version of their lives on there and I'm left feeling like my own life is very small. Small and dull.

I know I should be grateful for all that I have. And I am. Usually. But every time I open Facebook or Instagram it's a constant stream of fabulous trips, engagement photos, new baby announcements, great new job announcements (that one really hurts), "we bought a house!" pictures and assorted "isn't life grand?!" types of posts. I hate the fleeting feelings of jealousy they inspire in me, and I'm ashamed of them.

I know that my life is good in a lot of ways. Quietly good, but still. I have a husband that I adore, and vice versa. Even after 10 years of marriage and 18 years total as a couple, we still look at each other in disbelief sometimes and wonder how we got lucky enough to find each other. We don't have a lot of money, but we make enough to not worry about how the bills will get paid this month, and we have a comfortable little nest egg stashed away in savings. And speaking of savings, when we finally decide to buy a house we have enough for a down payment, and we'll still have some cash in the bank for emergencies. We've put off buying a house because Gregg wanted to wait until he hit his five year mark without a cancer recurrence--which will be this December--and what a blessing it is that he's even still here with me. (I'm really ashamed to complain about anything considering the miracle that he's alive and well five years later). I may not like my job, but it provides an adequate salary and health insurance benefits for us while I look for something else. And we have our two dogs and our parrot, and they're a constant source of joy to us. I love those crazy pets of mine fiercely. I have a lot of friends. I'm healthy. I live in a place that's peaceful and safe, and how many people in the world will never know what that's like? I was lucky just by the sheer accident of birth.

So I know that I shouldn't mope or complain. I'm also aware that people put a highly edited version of their lives on social media and don't often mention their struggles, or disappointments, or the bad things that happen to them. And despite any twinges of jealousy I may feel, I'm always quick to congratulate others on their good fortune. To encourage them and to muster as many sincere good wishes for them as I can. I hope that counts for something. I want to be a good person. I want to remember my blessings each day, and not think about the things I feel like I lack in life. These feelings of being "less than" are a somewhat new phenomenon for me and are probably related to the issues I've had just lately with depression. (Which is getting much better, by the way. Likewise the anxiety is starting to dissipate, too. Thank goodness.) I think that, in addition to not complaining about work, I need to spend less time on Facebook and Instagram for a while.

How do you feel about social media? Does it add anything positive to your life, or does it increase feelings of dissatisfaction with it? I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on this.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Two book reviews

Since I haven't posted any book reviews in a while, I decided to make up for it today and post two small ones for books I've read recently.

The first book is The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende. Here's a short synopsis from Goodreads. com:
The Japanese Lover

In 1939, as Poland falls under the shadow of the Nazis, young Alma Belasco's parents send her away to live in safety with an aunt and uncle in their opulent mansion in San Francisco. There, as the rest of the world goes to war, she encounters Ichimei Fukuda, the quiet and gentle son of the family's Japanese gardener. Unnoticed by those around them, a tender love affair begins to blossom. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the two are cruelly pulled apart as Ichimei and his family, like thousands of other Japanese Americans are declared enemies and forcibly relocated to internment camps run by the United States government. Throughout their lifetimes, Alma and Ichimei reunite again and again, but theirs is a love that they are forever forced to hide from the world.

Decades later, Alma is nearing the end of her long and eventful life. Irina Bazili, a care worker struggling to come to terms with her own troubled past, meets the elderly woman and her grandson, Seth, at San Francisco's charmingly eccentric Lark House nursing home. As Irina and Seth forge a friendship, they become intrigued by a series of mysterious gifts and letters sent to Alma, eventually learning about Ichimei and this extraordinary secret passion that has endured for nearly seventy years.

I was really looking forward to this book, because I'd never read anything by Allende and she's supposed to be one of the great modern writers. To my disappointment, the characters were somewhat flat and the "great love affair" between Alma and Ichimei barely got half a chapter's description. I didn't feel any emotional connection to their story at all.  I read a review somewhere that said that "Allende tells us rather than shows us" what the characters were like and that's as good a description of what I disliked about the book as I can think of. I also thought some of the characters made choices and had ways of thinking about things that didn't ring true at all. It was an easy read, but overall I thought it kind of bland and I was disappointed that it left me with very little desire to read another Allende book anytime soon.

Last week after hearing praise for a year or so about The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman and seeing photos from the film that's about to be released, I decided it was time to read it.

The Light Between Oceans

Here's the Goodreads plot description:

After four harrowing years on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day’s journey from the coast. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes once a season and shore leaves are granted every other year at best, Tom brings a young, bold, and loving wife, Isabel. Years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby’s cries on the wind. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby.

Tom, whose records as a lighthouse keeper are meticulous and whose moral principles have withstood a horrific war, wants to report the man and infant immediately. But Isabel has taken the tiny baby to her breast. Against Tom’s judgment, they claim her as their own and name her Lucy. When she is two, Tom and Isabel return to the mainland and are reminded that there are other people in the world. Their choice has devastated one of them.

M. L. Stedman’s mesmerizing, beautifully written novel seduces us into accommodating Isabel’s decision to keep this “gift from God.” And we are swept into a story about extraordinarily compelling characters seeking to find their North Star in a world where there is no right answer, where justice for one person is another’s tragic loss.

First let me say, the writing here is sometimes quite beautiful. I loved the descriptions of tiny, desolate Janus Rock and the life of the lightkeepers who live there. The tides, the stars at night, the constant wind and waves of the shore, the workings of the lighthouse, all were described beautifully. But then, there were the characters. I thought I was going to have major empathy for Isabel, the grieving mother who finds the baby and considers her a gift straight from God....but as the book goes on and her husband, Tom, struggles with the morality of what they've done (especially after they find out who the baby really belongs to) I started to dislike her more and more. She's completely unsympathetic to Lucy's birth family and insists on keeping the secret that the baby doesn't really belong to them. And she's horrible to her husband who, despite his love for the child, wants to do the right thing by the grieving birth mother.  In fact, Tom is the character I felt the most deeply for which was a real surprise to me. By the end of the book I just wanted to slap Isabel...her behavior in the second half of the book was just atrocious! I was also quite saddened by how the book turned out, but I knew early on that the ending wasn't going to be sunshine and roses for anyone involved. I read The Light Between Oceans in two days, and really enjoyed it. The characters I've seen chosen for the movie look really good, and while I probably won't be seeing it in the theater, I will be interested in watching it eventually. Here's a trailer if you're interested:


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Another flower surprise !

This afternoon as I headed out the door to meet a friend for lunch, I stopped to check out the baby fish in the large container pond in our back yard. An aquarium customer of my husband's (who has a large koi pond) gave him a water lily plant at the beginning of the summer, and to my surprise there was a beautiful bloom there today!

Gregg hadn't noticed it when he fed the fish this morning. I texted him this picture and he was surprised. Somehow in his pre-work hurry he had missed it.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The lost pin-up girl

Recently some photos have resurfaced on the internet of the work of Duane Bryers, an artist in the 1950's who created the delightfully plus size, redheaded pin-up girl Hilda. These photos made me smile and I hope you enjoy them, too.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

No complaining

I'm trying something for the rest of the month of August that's pretty radical, for me. I'm trying to not complain. At all. About anything, but especially my job. It's only been a few days, but it's been tough already. I've had to catch myself and shut up at least a dozen times.

See, my job is stressful. Pretty much everyone there agrees that it's not a great working environment, and most of the people I actually liked  have moved on to better jobs. And with each disappointment I've faced in my quest for a new job of my own, my bitterness has increased. Almost as soon as I get out of my car each day, I start mentally going over all the things I hate about being there. I usually don't say much out loud to my coworkers, but in my head it's a constant stream of negativity and whining. It finally dawned on me the other day that my attitude is only increasing my stress and making a difficult job even worse. And according to a ton of self-help and New Age kind of books and articles, I might even be drawing more negativity to myself as a result.

So I'm doing my best to stop. To be in the moment, and to take deep breaths and keep my mind clear and neutral. Sometimes I try to reframe a situation in a more positive light. Right now it feels hokey and I think, "Who am I fooling?" but I persist. And when coworkers are engaged in bitch-fests, instead of listening to it I just walk away.

So that's my self improvement project at the moment. Has anyone else tried something similar to deal with a stressful situation? And if so, how did it work for you? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Book club food

Tomorrow I'm hosting the August book club meeting for my group for the first time. Since we'll be discussing The Japanese Lover" by Isabel Allende and the book is set in both present day and WW2 era California, I wanted to find recipes inspired by the West coast to serve.

I played around on Pinterest and combined some ideas I saw to come up with this menu:

California Chicken Salad in Wonton Cups

Summer fruit platter

Assorted cheeses and crackers

2 California wines, a red and a white

Iced Tazo Green Tea Lemonade

Fancy little shop cookies

I went ahead and assembled the fruit platter and made the chicken salad this afternoon . The crispy wonton cups that will hold the chicken salad won't be baked and filled until tomorrow afternoon. Since the chicken salad is just mixed up in a big bowl right now (and I forgot celery so I'll have to run to the store in the morning and get some to chop and add in) it doesn't look like much, but the fruit platter is pretty:

More tomorrow...

Catching up

The last couple of weeks have been difficult for me. Although I don't mention it very often, I'm a person that struggles occasionally with depression and anxiety. Last week was very stressful for me and resulted in several days where I felt so anxious that my skin was practically crawling. I hate that feeling of barely controlled anxiety; the pounding heart, the cold sweats, the tossing and turning in bed at night (I turn insomniac whenever I'm in one of my states). There's also been some depression, too, although I'm thankful I didn't even come close to feeling rock bottom as I have in the past. About three weeks ago I started taking my antidepressant medication again, and I imagine that my blood levels are readjusting to it again, hence the troubles I've had. And today I woke up feeling a little bit lighter. I think maybe everything is finally leveling back out.

As for the job I interviewed for last week, I didn't get it...but, one of my references (a teacher named Susan who's a personal friend of mine) called me on Friday to tell me that they had called her to ask about me. She gave me a wonderful recommendation, or, as she put it "I practically told them that you hung the moon and stars, all by yourself!" which was wonderfully nice of her. They told her that I was tied with one other candidate for the job, so apparently my lack of Excel skills wasn't that big of a deal after all. Yesterday they called to tell me that they had decided on the other candidate, but they wanted me to know that they were impressed with me and that it was a hard decision to make. I suppose I should have felt bad about it, but I didn't. Their little "test" had left a rather bad taste in my mouth and I had almost decided I didn't want the job anyway. I'll just continue to look for another opportunity.

As for today, I am off work. I'm off tomorrow, too, and tomorrow night I'm hosting the August book club meeting for the Welcoming Club. Since I don't have a lot of room at my house (the group is rather large) I'll be hosting at my friend Marian's house. After I finish doing some housework this morning I'll go shopping for the refreshments I'm making. This month we read The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende. It was pretty good. Certainly not the best thing I've ever read, by a long shot, but entertaining enough. I'll review it later this week on the blog. I really need to start writing book reviews again, it's been long while since I posted one here. It's not been for lack of reading, but rather, lack of time. Book review blog posts take much longer to write than the ordinary what-I've-been-up-to sort.

Speaking of time, I'm grateful I finally have some to sit here with a cup of coffee and catch up with all of you this morning! For over a week now I've barely been able to find a few extra minutes to read blogs, much less comment on them. I can't wait to see what everyone's been up to!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

All I can do is my best

My job interview yesterday started off great, and then ended poorly. The experience was a first for me and I hope to not have any more like it.

The first 45 minutes went wonderfully. The two women who will be sharing the administrative assistant that they're looking to hire were giving the interview together. They were both warm, friendly, and approachable and so I felt almost instantly at ease. I thanked them both for delaying the interview by a day for me. I then answered all of their questions easily and it felt more like a relaxed, normal conversation than a formal interview (although I was careful to stay on topic and professional). It seemed easy.

Then, just when I thought we were wrapping up (and silently congratulating myself on how well it had went!) they told me the interview had a second part. They took me to a little cubicle in the back maze of offices and sat me down at a computer. They handed me an envelope with 3 tasks in Excel that they wanted me to try to figure out how to do. Then they said to print out my results, put them in the envelope, and drop them off before I left. Gulp.

I've used Excel quite a bit at my current job and my last one, but I'm far from being an expert at it. Clearly.

The first task wasn't too bad. I managed to figure that one out pretty fast, but the second one stumped me. It was basically asking me to filter and sort the information on a large list of fictional students, and then do a mail merge with a form letter to be sent to each student's home address. I tried for 45 minutes and it was no good, I couldn't quite make it happen. It was 2:30 by then, which was the time I'd told my boss I'd be at work, and I still had a 30 minute drive to get to work. I had to go. So I only got one task of the three done.

I won't be getting that job.

You guys, I've been feeling terribly low over this whole situation. I was disappointed, and what's worse, kind of embarrassed. I feel like I let myself down.

Two friends (one a professor from the local university and the other has a Master's degree in Computer Science) told me that it was a really difficult task to ask someone without any special training to do, so that made me feel a tiny bit better. I asked the advice of the one who's a computer whiz as to how I can best go about learning to really use Excel, whether I should take a class or buy books or what. She suggested free YouTube tutorials. I plan to get on that starting next week, once I finish feeling bad and taking a few days off to relax.

I don't want to have this happen again, as I've put several resumes out there for Administrative Assistant positions. Wednesday's experience left me with the feeling of being caught with my pants down. I didn't like it at all.

Monday, August 8, 2016

A no-good, very bad day (off).

Today has been one of the worst days off work I've had in quite a while. Sorry to whine, but  I think that a day that's been total crap since I opened my eyes deserves a mention on the blog. And it's good to vent....right? Right.

First thing:

My husband has been up all night long throwing up. There's nothing that makes me feel any more helpless than watching someone I care about being sick. I don't know if he has a virus, or food poisoning, or what. All I know is that about once an hour he stumbles to the bathroom and dry heaves over the toilet. And all I can do is watch (and offer him a warm wet washcloth).

That's how the day began.

Then my phone rang at 8:30 am. It was an HR person from the school district office where I've applied for a secretarial position, calling to set up an interview. Nice, right? Wrong! They only gave me the option to interview tomorrow at 11:30am. But I can't be there then, I have to be in Wilmington, NC for a mandatory workshop for my current job. Not only am I required to be at this workshop, but a coworker is depending on me for a ride to it. There's no way I can get out of going, especially not with only 24 hours notice. I asked the woman if I could please interview any other day this week, at any time, because I could make anything else work. But she was vague and kind of blew me off and hung up. I got the impression that she was just some office worker herself who had been handed a list of names and times to confirm, and I was just a call to check off the list to her.

I'm so disappointed.

Then around 10:00 I remembered that I needed to call the dentist to reschedule what I thought was an appointment for tomorrow, since I'll be out of town. Well, was I surprised to discover that my appointment was actually for today, at 11:15. Just great!  I tried to reschedule on the grounds that my day was sucking, what with a sick husband and all, but the office manager said I couldn't get another appointment until late September. I really needed to have a hard permanent filling put in the last tooth that had a root canal before then. So I had to jump in the shower, and rush off to make it to a dental appointment.

All of this before noon, mind you.

I'd just as soon be at work today, I think.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Help me pick a poem!

I have a request to make to my blog readers and guests who might be stopping by. Last night at work a lady called and had me order a book for her that will be a gift for her mother. The mother in question is turning 100 years old later this month, and there is going to be a big birthday party given in her honor.

The daughter went on to tell me how her mom is still active, engaged in life, and happy. She lives by herself, cooks, socializes, and she even still drives!  (I congratulated the daughter on hitting the lottery, genes-wise. She must be in her 70s herself and still sounded like a young woman on the phone).  The birthday party is going to be a really big affair--as it should be!

Before we hung up (after I completed the order for the gift book) the nice lady asked me if I would ask around the bookstore and see if anyone had any suggestions for a poem that could be read at the party for the birthday girl. I promised her I would check around and get back to her in a day or two. Now, very few of my coworkers read anything at all, let alone poetry (and isn't that surprising and disappointing in a bookstore) and while I enjoy reading the occasional poem, it's far from an area of expertise for me. But I knew I could count on my blog friends! Many of you are very avid readers, and just the fact that most of the rest of you write a blog of your own shows you have leanings toward the literary in some form or fashion. I didn't mention my blog friends from all over the world to the woman on the phone, but I smiled to myself knowing I had a secret weapon to find just the perfect thing!

So help me out! What would be a great poem or reading for a vibrant, full-of-life woman at her 100th birthday party? Any and all suggestions are very welcome and appreciated!!