Book Report: Wonder

Even though practically no one reads my book reviews, I have another one already. That’s what you get when you pick up a Young Adult selection; they go fast.

The Wall Street Journal is right! The cover does not lie.

Oddly enough, I am not sure where this book came from. Maybe someone loaned it to me? Maybe I bought it that last, wonderful time I went to Barnes & Noble and got it on sale? Anyway, I’m glad Wonder, by R.J. Palacio (apparently a pseudonym) showed up magically in my stack of books to read. I needed something uplifting and cheerful, in which everyone learns from their mistakes and grows.

I can see why Wonder was a best seller and why lots and lots of adults read it. All the characters in the book were interesting and fun to learn about. It made you want to follow them as they go through the rest of school. It’s great to see how people learn and screw up and keep learning, including the adults in the book.

Also, it’s just funny, and I think that’s important, since a book about the trials of a child with facial deformities going to school for the first time could be mostly heartbreak, otherwise. Instead, you empathize along with everyone as the hero, Auggie, shows how much of a normal (and resilient) kid he is and makes it through the ups and downs of his first year in a school.

Lee and Penney patiently waited for me to read the book aloud, but I told them I’d do it later.

If you have a child who’s “different” in any way, this would be good to read along with. And if you were a “different” child, you’ll enjoy rooting for Auggie and his family. I’m glad I had parents who were supportive like his, since I played the role of Auggie’s big sister in protecting my younger brother, who wore an eye patch and got picked on when he was little. We both ended up fine, or at least survived to adulthood!

I promise I’ll write something on another topic later. Until then, enjoy the new week.

Book Report: The Vanishing Half

Been wondering where those book reports went? I had to take some time off while reading The Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennet, because at some point, my dislike of almost every character in the book made me not look forward to picking it up again. I was also disappointed that I’d scheduled a trip to Austin just to attend book club there, and they moved it to next week, when I have to stay in Cameron to attend all-day meetings that would drive Anita nuts.

I didn’t figure out that the cover art was anything more than blocks of color until five minutes before I started writing. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad.

In the end, I came to appreciate how everyone in the book constantly lied to themselves and each other, because it became clear that the theme to the Bennet’s story was that we are both tied to the labels we are assigned at birth, but we are also free to move away from them, when we are seeking our true selves. More on that in a bit.

The Vanishing Half was chosen by the book club members, and I wasn’t there for the discussion, so I knew nothing about it until I opened it up. I was hoping for something less intense than How to Be an Antiracist. Imagine my surprise when I found out the symbolism-laden Louisiana “town” the book centers around is populated exclusively by light-skinned Black people. It was a chance to explore race in a fictional context. Serendipity!

This skin color thing was a source of great pride in the community, which consisted of people with freckles, red hair, hazel eyes, and other combinations of superficial markings of White people. But, the surrounding area deemed them Black, and they worked at jobs that Black people in the South used to be stuck with. They were proud of being culturally Black, but also looked down at darker-skinned people. As you can imagine, that can complicate things.

Eventually, the very light twins who are the pivotal characters end up exploiting all the possibilities you can imagine for people like themselves. One stays home, and one vanishes. They each have daughters, one very light, one very dark. The daughters meet, and all sorts of racial stereotypes get twisted, turned, and explored.

Every single character you run across is very human, capable of truth, lies, devotion, desertion, prejudice, and acceptance (which explains why, at some point, I really didn’t like some of them). The only character I didn’t feel like I got to know well was the husband of one of the twins, but maybe it’s good that the stereotypical White business dude is the one who’s not worth fleshing out. At least it’s a nice change.

I liked how the daughter of the twin who lives an entirely new life after disappearing becomes an actor, herself, and feels most comfortable when playing a role. It’s all acting, for them. They fluidly go from identity to identity.

And I liked how Jude,the daughter of the twin who stays and plays the role tradition assigned her, knows who she is and what she wants to do, despite hardship and prejudice. She never doubts herself, just her confusing family. She never doubts the love of her life, Reese, sticking with him as he transitions his external appearance to match who he is inside.

I hope the world comes to accept everyone like the characters in The Vanishing Half. Be who you want to be. Love who you want to love. Cherish your roots, however tangled they may be.

I Competently Ranched

Actually, my neighbor, Sara, competently ranched and I assisted, but it felt darn good to achieve a series of competent duties.

As you may recall from yesterday, Apache reached over the fence and chomped into the tenants’ round bales, nearly ingesting some of the netting. We wanted to nip that habit in the bud.

It doesn’t take a detective to see the evidence of this crime!

So, we planned to put an electric strand along that stretch of fence. Hmm, there was already wire. It’s as if some large spotted horse had done it before.

So, this evening, I went to get the solar unit that was over by our shipping container. Smart me. I first checked for wasps. There was a Yellowjacket nest. When Lee came to help me, I got spray and removed that menace. Sara was relieved I’d thought of it.

Then, after dinner, I headed over to the horses, and we set up the whole system. It was teamwork! I identified which wire was which. She figured out how to open the screwdriver part of the Leatherman tool to pry it open to change the battery.

Competence! Note Big Red at back left, supervising.

We got it all hooked up, and in another stroke of ranch competency, Sara inspected the connection to see if Apache had re-damaged the wire since last night. He had! But I was there to turn off the power so she could fix it.

Sara is inspecting the fence. Apache has already figured out the power is on.

Ralph came by to see if we needed help, long after we triumphantly fed our animals. He was duly impressed! We did it.

Now, hooking up an electric fence may not seem like a big deal. But for someone who had never even been on a ranch property (other than caring for turkeys at the farm for sad children that Declan went to one summer), doing something without asking for help is a big thing. It makes me feel like I sort of know what I’m doing here! No more ranch imposter syndrome for me!

I’m just innocently eating this delicious, expensive hay. After this, it’s back to the old stuff, thanks to that darned wire.

Also, once again, we had fun. I’m just racking up the fun quotient for each day. Take that, stress.

Testing Our Resilience

Last night I read a good article in the current Psychology Today about resilience (this link is to their article defining resilience). Since the current issue doesn’t appear in the archives (lucky me, for being a subscriber), I can’t link you to it, but I will as soon as it’s available. But I can summarize my thoughts after reading the article.

Humans always struggle. Suffering is part of life. But, it’s not ALL of life.

What sticks with me most, and what I find really helpful in today’s world of challenges, is that the author repeatedly points out that resilience is the default state for humans. That’s how we managed to keep on going through our evolution, as new challenges keep cropping up. No matter what, a large proportion of people will make it through hard times and learn from it with out too much permanent damage.

Sure, some folks are negatively affected more than others, and as is the case with most psychological trends, both your inner makeup and your life situation help determine how well you will cope. And people can learn to be more resilient, which eased my mind – I’m pretty sure I’ve done that. One thing the article points out, and that I’ve used to help me become more resilient, is to accept and cherish the fact that suffering and joy are both a part of life. No one gets a life of total ease (and it would be boring).

Right now it is!

Encouraged by reading the article (which is quite long and fascinating, and included interesting case studies – you might want to go buy a copy), my plan is to use my experiences during 2020 to hone my ability to rise from stressors and challenges and keep on going forward. I guess my campaign to keep having fun is a part of it. If I can find ways to support and nurture my mental and physical well being, I will be able to help others, as well.

I think I’m psyching myself up to find the good in what will be a very stressful upcoming work week complete with extra worries about coronavirus upticks, concerns for my black and brown fellow citizens, and fighting the urge to move to another country (as if there are many countries that will take Americans).

You do! My shirt doesn’t say that everyone else doesn’t matter, just that things are broken and it’s time to fix them. Ooh, political content.

Still, I want to make sure to be there for friends and family who aren’t feeling very resilient right now. Some of us just aren’t, especially people who feel the pain of others very strongly, those who don’t cope well in isolation, and those who are struck with known and unknown fears. Empathy is something we’re all going to have to work on, and work on hard, if we are all going to find ourselves in a better place, eventually.

What Else Tests Our Resilience? Assholes.

Imagine my delight while looking for the article I read, when I found instead a fun article on exactly what constitutes an asshole. Turns out there are three different types, who knew? They are the dominant asshole, the callous asshole, and the quiet asshole. Since my spouse self identifies as an asshole, I’ll have to check and see which type he thinks he is.

Why isn’t there a lovable asshole category? I think they need it. If you have some resilience, they can be worth the struggle.

Feedback welcome, as always!

Horse Bites and Sitting Donkeys at Sunset

I’m still laughing inside after a fun evening romp with our trusty steeds, even though there was some drama in the middle. And, um, my hand hurts.

We met at 7:30 to do our evening horse chores together, which we always enjoy. Everything went fine, and we paused afterwards to watch Spice and Lakota walking together like old friends, and to look at how beautiful the sunset made sone eastern storm clouds look.

Romantic cattle chute

Suddenly, we heard coughing, rather loud coughing. Exchanging a look, we hurried toward the sound. There was Apache, continuing to cough. He was a great example of how coughs spread droplets, as we could see spray going way out.

See the moon up there?

Where was that spray landing? Why, on the hay bales on the other side of the fence, the ones encased in green netting. Uh oh. We zipped into the paddock, where Sara opened his mouth. My job was to see if there was any green stuff. Like the non-horse person I am, I stuck my hand in, to feel.

That wasn’t smart. I discovered just how powerful horse jaws are and how sharp their teeth are. Its just a little chomp, but I have a feeling it will look worse tomorrow.

I’ve put ice on it.

Sara gave Apache a treat, and he ate it just fine, so he dodged that bullet. I leaned on him to get the owie out of my hand and thank him for being okay. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement.

Whee

Fiona was done with all the drama, and decided to roll in her favorite dust patch. I was so glad I could get some pictures.

I have crazy ears.
Time to get up!

When she was done, she sat and rested for a while. We couldn’t stop laughing at her pose. She looked at us like we were crazy. Apache kept coming between us to make sure we were okay.

I’m very proud of this belly!

Then the wind came up, and we all ran around like kids. Me, Sara, Apache, Fiona. Just living for the moment. I’m still having fun!

Come back, we want more fun!

It’s been a good day. Sending love to all. Back to icing my hand.

What I’m NOT Doing between Now and November

Lately, a lot of my friends and other contacts have been publicly inviting people who disagree with their choice of candidates, platforms, or political parties to “unfriend me now!” I can empathize with what prompts such declarations. You get tired of being called ignorant, or sheep, or whatever, by people you thought cared for you, and who you care(d) about. Or you get tired of those one or two people who sniff out any tiny whiff of partisanship on your part and then blast your friends with the tenacity of a dog with a bone.

Let me tell you ONE more time why I think you’re wrong…gnaw gnaw. Image by @9_fingers_ via Twenty20

Now, I have some pretty strong beliefs on political, social, and religious grounds, and I am not ashamed of them, so I’m not going to succumb to fear and never be who I am in social media. If they come and round me up later for expressing my beliefs, well, I will have led a good and consistent life, and I’ll deal with the consequences.

I don’t think it’s helping one bit to egg people on and act like the stereotype you’re trying to deny you’re a part of, though. So, here’s what I plan to do between now and the beginning of November, which is a big election time in the US (some of you may not know; the US isn’t the most important place for everyone on earth, I’m told).

I’m also going to spend a lot more time looking at nature, like this extra cool Apache jumping spider.

I’m not going to remove from my social media accounts all my friends, coworkers, business contacts, and family members who express their affiliation with a different candidate than the one I favor. Believe it or not, I find that I do have other things in common with them, or like them for other reasons. It’s possible if your mindset isn’t that, “Every Party X member is a doofus.” (I will point out that yes, some Party X members are doofuses; some party Y and Z members are ALSO doofuses.)

Right? Image by  @desteniev via Twenty20.

I will “snooze” some folks on Facebook if something they say upsets me, but I won’t un-follow, unfriend, or whatever, unless someone comes across as genuinely dangerous or unhinged. So, yeah, if you threaten to kill me or people I love, I might put some distance between us. That’s just common sense.

I’m not going to waste my breath and time trying to “educate” or chastise people who say things I disagree with or find mildly offensive in response to comments on other people’s Facebook posts, tweets, or Instagrams. I have learned that’s how you (along wity people like yourself) earn bad reputations with other groups. I see it enough in comments on my own posts, and know how damned hard it can be not to respond (I do fail at times). Just go vote, folks, and realize most others have already made up their minds.

A good plan. Image by @MargJohnsonVA via Twenty20

If I share memes, I’m going to try to make it the constructive and encouraging kind, not the kind that puts down others. I have friends who share some real doozies that I enjoy, because I’m human, but every time I’ve even slightly hinted that some other bunch of folks might not have the right idea about something, I end up feeling bad about doing it. I guess I’m pretty firm that passive-aggressive memes serve more to make the person sharing them look bad than to shame the intended audience.

Slightly off topic, but hey, it’s my blog:

Honestly, I don’t need any help to know I’ve been a bad friend or done some things I shouldn’t have that won’t be forgiven or forgotten. I’m trying to forgive my own dang self and learn from the mistakes, so rubbing my nose in it just makes me resentful, not a better person. I wonder if all the nameless people so many accusatory memes are aimed at feel that way, too, if they see themselves in the words, of course. Targeted memes (personal or political) probably mostly miss the intended audience.

Also off topic: I did finally get a photo of the green heron!

Back on track

Anyway, another thing I’m going to do in social media and in person between now and November is be friendly to everybody I run across. I can find something neutral or positive to talk to just about anyone about, and that is what helps us all remember there’s good in everyone. Engaging with the people around me is one concrete thing I can do to help heal the divisiveness and partisan negativity we seem so mired in these days.

We’re all just chickens, say Springsteen and Patty.

I know I’m not alone in seeing people as fellow humans first, and labels second. It’s easy to disparage a faceless group, but one on one, it’s a lot harder. I am glad to have people around me who are great role models in this way of interacting, and yes, some of the best ones do not agree with all of my political and social views. When I’m feeling frustrated, I think of all the hard-working and thoughtful people I know who are trying to make the world better by working with each other. Thanks to everyone who helps with that!

How about you, are you up for trying any of the things I’m going to try to do for the next couple of months? If you’re not, what is your plan for dealing with the challenges of the pre-election period? What’s working for you?

Let’s talk!

Random Goodness

I may as well share the good and/or interesting stuff of the day. Maybe I’ll do this every so often.

First, I got the little bistro sets up in the break area by the stairs at the Pope Residence. They surprised me by fitting. I even ate lunch at one. Now that no one else eats in the office, I’ll fine solo in style!

Kathleen and I picked these out in hopes that they would fit.

And I opened the box with the dishes for the office. I just set out coffee cups, in case a visitor wanted some coffee. The rest are i. The cabinets for now.

If it’s deemed too junky, I can put them away.

So that was fun. I also had fun looking at birds this afternoon. I finally determined the small heron I keep seeing is a green heron. It was out with the blue heron behind the house, and while I was looking at them and turtles, I spied the BIGGEST bullfrog I ever saw. Turns out they can weigh up to 1.5 pounds!

There was no way to get a photo of the frog, but I did get a picture of this scary kissing bug. It will not give me Chagas’ disease because it is deceased. Buddhism fail.

Eek

The best news is this! We had four eggs today! That’s the first time I got four eggs since we built the hen house here by our house. Thanks, Springsteen!

Bertie, Fancy Pants, Springsteen, and Hedley.

By the fall molting season, we may have a few more kick in! It would be nice to be able to share them with friends and family before they shut down to molt.

In Search of Ant Lions

A set of fortuitous circumstances have led me to have something more in the naturalist vein to write about. I’ve been missing those things! It all started when I was in the horse pen, and noticed all these cool paths in the dirt.

In addition to the trails, there are a couple of donkey hoof prints, to liven things up.

I couldn’t remember what made those trails, though I was sure I used to know, so I posted about it on Facebook. I got some cute and silly guesses, then, as I’d hoped, someone from around Cameron reminded me of the answer. Burton, who’d been in my Master Naturalist class, identified them as ant lion, or doodlebug, trails. These Myrmeleontidae (it means ant lion!) are commonly called “doodlebugs,” because their trails make them look like they’re doodling around.

I knew THESE were ant ions!

The reason I should have known that the trails are from ant lions, is that I knew perfectly well that the conical holes all over that part of the ranch are ant lion traps. They call them ant lions, because it’s often ants that fall into their traps, and they are fierce little lion-like dudes in their larval phase. I don’t have any pictures of one running around the ranch, but here’s the general idea of what they look like:

Those are some scary mandibles! Photo by @LASPhotography via Twenty20.

From what I’ve read, these insects stay in their larval stage up to a few years, so this will be how they live their lives, hiding in their holes or doodling around thinking about making another hole.

I love the perfection in the dirt they throw up in little perfectly circular volcanoes. Finding them under the horse shelter is no surprise, as I discovered in an article on how beneficial they are:

Pits are oftentimes constructed under the shelter of farm buildings, under houses that are on piers, etc.

Beneficials in the Garden: Ant Lion, by Donya Camp

The adults are pretty spectacular, and I had never seen one, that I know of, until this morning, when I went to enter the Pope Residence and saw a beautiful, large winged insect. I grabbed that camera and took this picture, which told me I’d found the adult ant lion, in all its glory.

Look at how the sun hits the bristles on its legs. Looks like little bottle brushes. If you’ve never seen a bottle brush, that’s what they look like.

The antennae are what give it away for certain as an ant lion, since the club shape is pretty distinctive. I feel lucky that I found this one in its resting spot, since their active period is at night. By the way, the iNaturalist identifier says this Vella fallax,

I’d always figured ant lions were friends, not foes, just because they ate ants, but I was happy to learn that they even eat fire ants. That puts them well into the beneficial insect category!

Let me know if you see any evidence of ant lions where you live. Sandy soil is what they prefer, so if you have sand, check around for the mounds, and welcome our fierce little buddies into your ecosystem!

My Brain-o-meter Is Reading FULL

Usually, I enjoy taking a blogging break each day, because it gives me a chance to stop thinking about work and stuff, and instead focus on fun or fascinating (to me) things. This week, my mind has been so full of other things that there’s just no room for fun. Well, maybe there’s a LITTLE room…

I’m still working on decorating the office, just figuring out what works and what doesn’t. While I’m waiting for my plant stand to arrive, I’m enjoying my plant corner a lot using the old table that’s been hanging around for years.

They’re all getting plenty of light, even with the window down here. I sort of like it this way.

The big change for today is that Chris put up a piece of plywood in my window that looks out into the hall, to dampen the sounds of me in my office, and I assume also to keep noise from coming IN, as well. It’s just temporary, I think, until the actual piece of glass comes. I’m sure the gaudy vase of flowers makes the plywood practically blend in with the surroundings. Sure, Suna.

You can also see my Mercury glass candle holders and a vase I got to go on the glass shelves, when they arrive.

I had a bunch of candles that were just sitting on the shelves, so I got some inexpensive candle holders for them, such as the shiny silver ones above and these extra pink ones for the mantel. They aren’t fancy heirlooms, but they are cheery, and will look good lit up (too bad I still haven’t managed to sneak into an uncrowded store and buy more AA batteries).

They set off the garlic teapot nicely, so I say.

Apparently, shiny things and lights help keep my mood up, and right now, I’ll take all I can get! If they distract me from work challenges, political grumblings, and natural disasters, they’re worth the time, effort and expense. I feel lucky to be able to make myself a haven here at the Pope Residence, and I’ll work really hard not to interfere with the work everyone else is doing, in return.

The other great improvement of the day is my keyboard and mouse tray. Typing is a joy, and I’m glad Chris figured out a good way to attach it to the desk!

When stress is high and change is swirling all around, little things can really bug us, am I right? The little thing that bugged me was that the inexpensive toilet paper holder I’d gotten for my bathroom had turned out to not hold those giant rolls of Charmin that I love. The horror! It was also so lightweight that it tried to fall over every time I touched it. That just would NOT do.

Sturdy and thematic.
Shiny, shiny!

This new one is made of iron pipe and has nothing to restrict the size of the spare roll. Rustic romantic, fits the theme! My bathroom is complete. Hooray. I’ll donate the other one to the thrift shop next time I go over there.

So it’s time to go think about hard stuff again. I’ll be keeping a part of my mind on everyone in the path of hurricanes and tropical storms today. I do hope we can get enough rain to have an effect on the grass from it. The little bit that showed up last night didn’t help much at all!

May you all find something shiny to smile about, and that there’s a little extra space in YOUR brain-o-meter for fun.

Lee’s Got an Office, Too

Yesterday, my spousal unit, also got a lot of his office furniture moved in. He has a massive and beautiful desk and credenza that we’re quite the doozy to get over here. Thank goodness Chris was able to help with the desk. They had to rest afterwards!

It’s a good thing Lee got one of the larger offices, because that desk takes up quite a bit of real estate! I love how the green leather on it picks up the green in the shiplap wall. It makes it all look on purpose!

The carving on the desk is really nice. He got the set used. I guess some company decided dark wood was not modern.

Lee plans to get seating in the room that’s comfy for his Hermits’ Rest Enterprises visitors, who will be able to enter through his private door and not interfere with operations at Hearts Homes and Hands.

These chairs will do for now! (The blinds make it hard to get the lighting right.)

He also decided that his old desk lamp won’t work in this office, so he has ordered a stained glass one. It will be nice to have a touch of color, I think.

He’s still bringing in art and such, but it’s just about ready to function.

It’s a crazy time for all of us, but now we have non-dungeon offices to work in. I know that’s made my morning good. Off to face the afternoon, with hopes that all of you readers have something to look forward to, as well.