It’s been forever since I wrote about yarnie goings-on. Mainly that’s because I’ve been in a slump for several weeks — um, months — and have hardly touched any of the pending projects. In fact, I just took a look back and the last time I posted anything yarn-related was in June.

*sigh*

Tunisian Terror squaresThe only project that’s seen any significant progress is the Tunisian Terror. This picture was taken in July. Since then I’ve completed several more squares but haven’t taken any more recent photographs. If I buckle down, it’s possible I might get it completed by Christmas, which would make Mom happy, but part of the trouble I have with this project is the process of making the squares bores me silly. After about the third or fourth square, I’d mastered the Tunisian simple stitch and there’s simply no challenge any longer. Something to look forward to, though: The pattern calls for several squares that require color changes; however, due to some color and yardage Wildflower 8
Wildflower 6limitations, I had decided to wait until all of the solid squares were completed before getting into the mixed colors. I’m regretting that decision. It’s still the right decision, and I won’t change my mind, but I keep looking longingly at the directions for the multi-color squares…

The Wildflower Cardigan has had virtually no progress. The back was completed several months ago, and the left front was started, but once I got into the part where I had to follow the chart for the pocket design, I fizzled out. Again, this photo was taken in July. I have done some work on the first few rows of the pocket chart, but again, no pictures. In the meantime, please admire the scalloped bottom detail. And those little flaps on the stitch holders are the pocket backs. :)

Ultra Pima cardi attemptThat turquoise blue cotton lace shrug stalled right at the point the ribbing was done and the lace pattern began. I hated the lace pattern, so I put the poor thing in a bag for a time-out while I rethought the whole thing. Here we are, months later, and over the weekend, I finally did a couple of fresh Ravelry searches, which resulted in a few other lace cardigan or shrug patterns that may work. I just have to grit my teeth and rip this piece back to the beginning. Again.

Spouse's socks 6And the less said about spouse’s socks, the better.

Normally, I’d refer you to Tami’s Amis for the usual WIP Wednesday roundup, but there isn’t one for this week. If you’re on Ravelry, though, you can look in the group The Blog Hub for the WIP Wednesday thread and catch up there.

RIP 9 Peril on the Screen
I almost forgot I pledged to join “Peril on the Screen” too. Luckily, spouse’s and my general TV/movie viewing choices tend to fall into the mystery/horror/thriller/suspense categories anyway. I can’t recall all the way back to September 1 by myself, so we’ll check the Netflix “recently watched” list and get started.

Actually, no. First, let’s talk about TV!

Walking Dead Banner
Naturally, The Walking Dead season premiere was avidly consumed this past Sunday, and it took up almost immediately where last season left off. I was rather surprised by the way the episode turned out with regard to a certain threat, but I’m awfully happy to see Rick putting the band back together. I’m so glad this show is back, even if it’s more gory than ever! Yeah, I usually watch a good third of each episode through my fingers. Love the story but the blood? Not so much. But I’m looking forward to the rest of the season, regardless.

Sleepy Hollow TV Banner 1
Then there’s Sleepy Hollow, back for its second season. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are still approaching: what will Ichabod and Abby do next to thwart their plans? Spouse and I both love this show not only because of a distant family connection with its source material, but because it’s so well done! The storyline is utterly implausible, of course, but the acting is wonderful, the stars very easy on the eyes, and all the supporting players are superb. I don’t quite know what to think about the newest character, Nick Hawley the “antiquities” hunter, but I’m sure his loyalties will be revealed soon. And let me just say this: I’m extremely happy to see a mainstream network (which Fox is now) series featuring a woman of color in a powerful leading role without making her a racial stereotype (at least, not so far as this middle-aged Caucasian woman can discern).

Gotham Banner
Speaking of Fox, we’re also rather impressed with Gotham, the network’s take on the origin stories of Batman, Catwoman, Penguin, and so forth. Thus far, young Bruce (played by David Mazouz) is rather whiny and self-involved, which is understandable due to his age and trauma, and Fox has wisely limited his screen time, preferring to concentrate on the adults in the series and the events that will give rise to the Caped Crusader and his sworn enemies. The bad thing about young Bruce’s limited screen time is it also limits the screen time of the loyal Alfred, played by Sean Pertwee (yes, the son of the Third Doctor and a marvelous actor in his own right).

Gracepoint Banner
Finally on the “small screen” is Fox’s Gracepoint, a nearly shot-for-shot remake of BBC America’s Broadchurch, aired earlier this year, and featuring David Tennant reviving his Broadchurch role as a detective brought in to investigate the murder of a boy in a small town. I wasn’t sure I was going to watch this, not even for the pleasure of Mr. Tennant’s company (and his partially successful American accent), since I’d already seen the BBC America production, but then I learned it would have two or three more episodes than the BBC show, and possibly a different ending. Thus far, nothing new has been revealed, but the casting is good, the acting is very good, and the location (northern California coast, ostensibly Mendocino or Humboldt County) is gorgeous.

The Last Days on MarsOn the big screen (which, in our house, means movies we watched at home because we seldom go to the cinema), Netflix must serve as a reminder. In September, we saw The Last Days on Mars, which to tell the truth I remember virtually nothing about except that it starred Liev Schreiber (yum) and had a bunch of folks in spacesuits running around trying to kill each other. According to Netflix, I gave it three stars (for “I liked it”) so it was at least enjoyable.

A Japanese film with English subtitles caught me by surprise. The Doomsday Book is a sci-fi anthology flick: three separate stories, three separate takes on an apocalypse (actual or implied). In the first segment, zombies. Second segment, robots. Third segment, death from the skies. Of the three segments, I think the zombie story is the least successful. I loved the Zen robot in segment two; and the third story was quite good and funny, but left me scratching my head (which means I should probably watch it again because obviously I missed something). The subtitles are only a marginal distraction from the gorgeous cinematography. It’s not rated, but I wouldn’t call it family-friendly by any means.

How I Live NowHow I Live Now (based on the YA novel of the same name) was another post-apocalyptic flick that came as a pleasant surprise. Daisy, an American teenager, is sent abroad to spend the summer with her English cousins. Shortly after she arrives, nuclear war breaks out, leaving Daisy and her cousins alone in the countryside to survive as best they can. In the beginning, Daisy is clearly a bitter, self-entitled, selfish little beeyotch; she’s as unlikeable as a character can be without murdering someone. As the film progresses, though, we learn just a little about what made her that way, but more importantly, we watch her grow up as she is forced to care about someone other than herself. Some truly heart-rending scenes and lovely acting by all involved.

Solomon KaneAnd finally, Solomon Kane, an historical horror story that gets its history all collywobbled, but still manages to be entertaining. The title character is an evil mercenary who plunders and pillages and murders at will in what appears to be the Middle East (circa 1600). But when he’s confronted by The Devil’s Reaper come to claim his soul, he escapes to his native England and takes up residence in a monastery to atone for his lifetime of sin. A year later, the abbot tells Kane his destiny does not lie within the abbey walls, and he must leave his sanctuary to seek his true path. Naturally, his true path leads to encounters with witches, demons, and other types of evil. It’s actually rather silly, and I suspect the historical context is there only for the mud and the blood and the general societal belief in witchcraft, because English Catholicism is awfully conspicuous for events taking RIP 9 Portraitplace in the last few years of Elizabeth I’s reign. Still, the film stars James Purefoy (yum) and features the marvelous Pete Postlethwaite (may flights of angels sing him to his rest) and equally marvelous Alice Krige in crucial character roles.

And that’s it thus far for Peril on the Screen. Click that badge over there to be whisked away to a list of other R.I.P. IX blog entries.

RIP 9 Peril the First
Today we’re going to discuss the Amazon Kindle freebies read in connection with R.I.P. IX. Amazon freebies are always hit-and-miss as far as quality goes. The books I pulled out of my library of Kindle freebies were no different. Let’s start with Awakening: Children of the After #1.
Awakening: Children of the After #1Siblings Jack, Samantha, and Will emerge from the family security vault six months after their father left them inside and told them not to come out until he returned. Upon reaching the last of their stores of food and water, they decide to take a chance and open the door upon a devastated Chicago. The rest of this short novel follows their trip across town in search of (a) food and water; and (b) the way to Grandma’s house outside the city. While the story is reasonably well-written, it has one fatal flaw: The author decided to switch perspectives continuously between the three children; and reading about the same event three times from three POVs (one of which is that of a 7-year-old boy) is annoying. Given that annoyance, my minor intrigue into the mystery of what happened to the world isn’t sufficient to warrant seeking out the other books in the series. 2 stars (out of 5).

The Bird EaterThe Bird Eater by Ania Ahlborn is good on atmosphere, not so good on character development. 20 years after being orphaned, Aaron returns to his childhood home in Northwest Arkansas to grieve the death of his son and the collapse of his marriage. He moves into his aunt’s old house, itself abandoned for the last 20 years, and starts making repairs, with the idea that he would sell it and be done. Then odd bits of vandalism begin, often accompanied by a quick sighting of a young boy.

As Aaron begins asking questions, trying to find out who this boy is, he learns his old home is considered haunted or possessed or just plain evil by the townsfolk. Naturally, Aaron scoffs at the idea, but when one of his childhood buddies turns out to be an amateur ghost-hunter, he becomes a little more open-minded. Throw in the now-married childhood sweetheart who never got over her crush on Aaron, and the recipe is complete for a Ozark Peyton Place by way of Dark Shadows.

While this book isn’t totally awful, I quickly grew tired of the two-dimensional characters and heavy-handed Portents of Dread that permeate the narrative. And I wasn’t satisfied with the skimpy explanation of the origin of the evil the author eventually provided. It’s almost like she remembered near the end of the book “Oh, yeah, I have to give the reader some kind of closure, don’t I!” Kudos for the pervasive gloom and some genuinely terrifying moments. 2 1/2 stars.

The BarkeepThe Barkeep by William Lashner isn’t exactly your standard-issue thriller. Justin Chase tends bar in one of the city’s more trendy nightspots. It’s more trendy because Justin is behind the bar. He has a following. He also has a father in prison for the murder of his mother; and an older brother who resents him because his testimony was instrumental in the conviction of their father. Then one night a man with the unlikely name of Birdie Grackle walks into the bar and tells Justin he was the one who murdered Justin’s mother. He had been hired to do so. And would Justin like to know who hired him? Enjoyable noir-ish fluff. Bartender psycho-analysis dispensed with pseudo-Zen philosophy and a dry vodka martini, blended with beautiful women, fisticuffs, and mayhem. I liked it. 3 stars.

In the DarkI’ll tell you right up front I didn’t finish In the Dark by Brandon Massey because I didn’t like either of the main characters and the story wasn’t interesting enough to put up with people I didn’t like. Len and Olivia Bowden have finally purchased their dream home: a classic Victorian in an upscale historic Atlanta neighborhood. But they’ve hardly begun to unpack when the home’s former owner knocks on the door, bluntly states the house was stolen from him, and gives them three days to leave or else. He utters some kind of weird chanting and makes odd hand gestures before Len shuts the door on him; and Len thinks: “Voudou? Nah, no such thing.”

Regardless, secure in the knowledge that their purchase of this foreclosure was legal and aboveboard, the Bowdens ignore the old man. After that, I assume bad stuff started happening, but I quit reading at around page 80. Why? Len was wimpy and hid nekkid RIP 9 Portraitpictures of his college girlfriend (who wasn’t Olivia, by the way) in the bottom drawer of his desk. Olivia treated her husband like she thought he was stupid and wouldn’t tell him why she was so afraid when Len described the chanting and gestures made by the old man. This marriage has severe communication and trust issues. And while that might be realistic, in this setting it made for two extremely unlikeable people. So, when I don’t like either of the main characters, and the story isn’t good enough to tolerate unpleasant people, it’s time to bail. And that’s exactly what I did. 1 star.

Want to read more R.I.P. IX progress posts? Click that badge over there to go to a whole list of them!

RIP 9 Peril the First
Constant readers may recall I committed to “Peril The First”, which means I pledge to read at least four books in the mystery, gothic, horror, dark fantasy, etc. genre between September 1 and October 31. At this point in the challenge, I can safely say, “Been there, done that.” Books read and finished so far in this challenge total 14. I’ve sort of been concentrating on books in a series recently. I’ll give mini-reviews of just a few here. You can click on the book covers to read the full review.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar ChildrenHollow City

Hollow City was read as part of this challenge. I’m including its predecessor here (but not in my challenge count) because you can’t read one without the other. Picking up immediately where its predecessor left off, Hollow City follows the further adventures of Jacob, Emma, and the rest of Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children as they search for a cure for Miss Peregrine’s condition. Their search leads them to one timeloop and another, and ultimately to war-ravaged London during The Blitz, where they encounter more danger, not only from the bombs but from the hollowgasts and wights who have been pursuing them ever since they left Wales. Another cliffhanger ending left me scrambling to find out when the next book will be published. (Late 2015? Waaaaaaaaahhhh!!!! Who does this guy Ransom Riggs think he is? George R. R. Martin?)

The TalismanBlack House

The Talisman was a re-read, mainly because The Black House had been sitting on my bookshelf for several years (and through several moves), glaring at me with baleful eyes. I wouldn’t have felt right responding to that glare and picking it up without refreshing my memory and renewing my acquaintance with young Jack Sawyer and his epic quest through the Territories to find the Talisman and save his mother. As it turns out, a re-read wasn’t strictly necessary, because The Black House isn’t strictly a sequel. One could read it without having read The Talisman, although the story is richer if one has. The Black House catches up with Jack, now in his late 30s, after he left the LAPD and retired to rural Tamarack, Wisconsin. A child murderer has surfaced in this sleepy little village, and local law enforcement requests Jack’s assistance on the case. The murderer (who is revealed to the reader fairly early in the book) isn’t any ordinary human being. He’s a dark and twisted personality straight from the Territories themselves; only Jack’s forgotten almost everything that happened then. This novel has a shaky start, but eventually finds its feet and delivers a solid, satisfying read, and maybe even a happy ending for Jack.

WoolShiftDust

Wool was read before the start of the challenge, so it’s not included in the count. Its sequels, Shift and Dust, were read after the challenge started. These three novels, taken as a whole, constitute one of the most original SF/post-apocalyptic/dystopian scenarios I’ve encountered in a lifetime of reading. To preserve the joy of discovering them for yourselves (and to avoid spoilers for anyone who hasn’t read them), I’ll give you the set-up for Wool only: Several thousand people live underground in a self-sustained silo. No one goes outside because the world is poison. No one knows why or when the world was poisoned; they only know “the gods” did it; and anyone who expresses a wish to know more is granted that wish and sent outside to die. Then Juliette is appointed sheriff; in this position, she becomes privy to certain information previously unknown to her, and she begins to suspect there’s more to the ancient stories than she’s been told. RIP 9 PortraitGood stuff, people. Really. You should read them. By the way, if you’re an Amazon Prime member and have a Kindle, you can borrow them free of charge through the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library program. No, Amazon doesn’t pay me for this plug: I’m just that impressed with the selection in their lending program.

Stay tuned for another blog entry about a few more of the books read for R.I.P. IX, coming soon! And click that badge over there to be taken to a list of many more blog entries about this reading challenge.

FrightFall 2014I’ve been so busy reading that I haven’t taken any time to blog about the reading! While I suppose this is not necessarily the worst sin a blogger can commit, it certainly doesn’t aid one’s credibility in the book-blogger category, especially after committing to a couple of simultaneous reading challenges. But we’ll set aside the breast-beating and mea culpas for the nonce, and get on with the writing about the reading of the books.

FrightFall has one more day in which to read another spooky story (or mystery, or thriller, as the case may be). I think the two I’ve read in the past week will be all she wrote for this challenge, though. Laundry and cleaning the house (or at the very least, cleaning the shower) have to take priority over reading time for the rest of this weekend, especially since I spent a good portion of today ditzing about on the internet and having lunch with my sister. So, um, the two that I read that meet Frightfall’s requirements were
The Dark Tower II: The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King; and The Barkeep by William Lashner. Click the covers shown below to go to the reviews.

The BarkeepThe Dark Tower II:  The Drawing of the Three

RIP IX continues through Halloween, so there’s lots of time left to go on this challenge. The two books read for FrightFall also count for RIP IX; several others were read ahead of them. RIP 9 PortraitI committed to Peril the First, which means I would read at least four books out of one of these categories: Mystery, Suspense, Thriller, Dark Fantasy, Gothic, Horror, or Supernatural. Going back to the date this challenge began (September 1), I have finished ten, so I’m well ahead of my goal. My actual goal for RIP IX, though, is to re-read Volumes 1-6 in Stephen King’s Dark Tower series and then finally read Volume 7, which has sat on my shelf for several years, glaring at me with baleful eyes. First two volumes down. Five to go.

Watch for upcoming blog posts specifically about the RIP IX books as well as the other RIP challenge I took on, Peril on the Screen.

Find Banned Books 2014
I suppose there are some individuals out there who are NOT aware of the American Library Association’s annual celebration of the freedom to read. If you, dear reader, are among them — or if you’re not and want more information anyway — click the above badge to be taken to the ALA’s webpages and learn everything you ever wanted to know about the subject.

I was lucky. My mother read to me all the time, probably from the moment I was born. I honestly don’t remember when I learned to read myself. I know I was already reading by the time I entered kindergarten at age 4, although it must have escaped the notice of my kindergarten teacher. Mom told me once that my first grade teacher called her shortly after the start of school and asked her if she knew I could read. Mom said, “Of course.” Teacher said, “No, I mean really read, not in a halting one-word-at-a-time fashion, but easily? In flowing sentences?” Mom said, “Of course, why wouldn’t I know that? I taught her.” My mom rocks.

This was the library when I was a kid.  Now it's the home of the Paso Robles Historical Society.

This was the library when I was a kid. Now it’s the home of the Paso Robles Historical Society.

Every Saturday in the summer, when Mom went into town to do the grocery shopping, she dropped my sister and me off at the public library. I still remember running up the big stone steps and then down another set of stairs which led into the basement where the children’s section lived. Sissy and I would spend a couple of hours reading and picking out new books to take home. We always checked out as many books as we were allowed, devoured them through the week, and brought them back the following Saturday. During the school year, we had access to the school library and didn’t visit the public library all that often.

My folks never questioned the appropriateness of any book we brought home from the school or the public library. We were reading and that’s all that mattered. And I read everything as I grew up: horse books, abandoned children books (such as Island of the Blue Dolphins and Green Mansions), Mother West Wind stories, science fiction, biographies, horror, fables, fairy tales, books about science and rocks and dinosaurs and geology. I read the books my parents had read: mysteries and crime fiction, mostly, with the occasional steamy romance tossed in for good measure. I was forbidden to read a book only once. When I was 11 years old, The Exorcist was the hottest title on the bestseller lists. Mom bought it for herself. When she finished reading it, she told me, “You may not read this book until you are older.” “Okay, Mom,” I said, and never gave it a second thought. With the wide open freedom I had to choose my own reading material, being barred from one book in which I had only a vague interest was not a big deal.

So how is my being barred at age 11 from reading The Exorcist not censorship? Simple. My mother exercised her parental prerogative to control the reading material of her minor child within our family unit. And then she stopped. She didn’t try to prevent other people’s children from reading it. She didn’t mount a protest with the school or public library to have that book removed from their shelves. She and Daddy didn’t write letters to the editor of the local newspaper proclaiming that devil worshippers and Satanists were trying to indoctrinate the youngsters of San Luis Obispo, so stop them, stop them, stop them now!

Parenting. Yeah, they did it right.

That’s where the line gets drawn, though. At the edge of the family unit. No one, I repeat, no one other than my husband and I have the right to dictate what our children (if we had any) will read. I applaud those librarians who tell the naysayers and it’s-for-your-own-good-niks to stuff it. I weep for the school boards who cave under the pressure of a very loud and vocal minority. I want to buy a copy of every book removed from a middle school or high school reading list for every student in that school. I want to tell every single one of those parents who object to any book their child brings home to leave their objections at the door of their house. They have no right beyond that. My goodness, if they’re that afraid of what their children might be reading in school, why are they sending them to school in the first place? Home schooling is an option in every state of the Union, you know.

Books are the best weapons

Books open minds, point in new directions, reveal different viewpoints, question received wisdom. Book encourage thought. Books are powerful. This power threatens certain individuals. I get that. But be afraid in your own house, and stay out of my library.

By the way, some 40-plus years later, I still have not read The Exorcist. Not because my mother still forbids it. In fact, when relaying this story at a family gathering several years ago, Mom said, “Well, you’re allowed to read it now if you want to.”

Thanks, Mom.

(DISCLAIMER: This piece was originally written for 2012 Banned Books Week, but I liked it so much that it’s now become an annual essay.

I’ve been away from this blog for a number of reasons, not the least of which was dealing with an injury from a car accident and its attendant miseries. Nothing major, but enough to warrant hiring an attorney and going to the chiropractor several times weekly for the last several weeks.

My poor baby

My poor baby

Ugh. Luckily, my car wasn’t totaled and the body shop was able to make it just as beautiful as it once was. And the upside, if there can be one, was that the time my doctor took me off work was productive in the reading department. I’ve already met my Goodreads books-read goal for the calendar year (which was 52), and now am trying to see how many books above that goal I can reach.

Toward that end, I’m hereby pledging participation in two of my favorite reading challenges. They’re my favorite because they take place in my favorite season, Autumn, and they involve one of my favorite genres, the spooky story.

RIP 9 PortraitFirst, R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril IX (RIP IX), hosted by your friend and mine, Carl, over at Stainless Steel Droppings. (Every time I reference his blog, I promptly remind myself to read those damn Harry Harrison stories, and then just as promptly forget to put them on my list. Maybe this time will be different.) This is an annual challenge to read something in the Mystery, Suspense, Thriller, Dark Fantasy, Gothic, Horror, or Supernatural genres, or (as Carl says) “…anything sufficiently moody that shares a kinship with the above.” As usual, there are several sub-challenges within the challenges. I plan on tackling Peril The First and Peril on the Screen. If you click the badge over there, you’ll be taken to the sign-up post with lots more information about the challenges.

FrightFall 2014One of the best things about RIP is it coincides with Seasons of Reading‘s annual FrightFall Read-a-thon, which involves reading at least one “scary” novel during a specified week. Two birds with one stone, one might say. This year, the FrightFall Read-a-thon is the first week of October. Click the badge to the left for details and sign-up instructions.

By the way, the Estella Society is coordinating with RIP 9 to host a read-along of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. Carl has the details in the RIP 9 sign-up post linked above and, of course, you can get the information directly from the Estella Society’s blog post. I read that book too recently to participate in this read-along, but by all means, if you’ve never read it, or if you haven’t read it in recent memory, I encourage you to visit Ms. Jackson’s legendary haunted house. It’s worth every shiver.

Regardless of which challenge you choose, come join us! We’ll have a spooky good time!

High SummerI finished five books. Five! Okay, I started one of them before the High Summer Read-A-Thon got started, but I’m counting it anyway.

First finished was Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner. Borrowed from the library, and returned already. I thought it was amazing, but no review yet.

Then came Night Film by Marisha Pessl. I loved this. I have yet to write a review because I’m still thinking about it, but I loved it.

Next was Imago by Octavia Butler. As disturbing as the preceding books in the Xenogenesis series. I haven’t written reviews for any of this trilogy, either.

The Widow File by S.G. Redling was a fun and quick-paced genre thriller. Click the title to get to the review.

And finally, The New Madrid Run by Michael Reisig, a train wreck of a post-apocalypse thriller that kept me reading in large part because the premise was amazing, but I couldn’t believe how awful its execution. Click the title for my review.

The New Madrid RunThe Widow File

ImagoNight FilmAngle of Repose

I find it curious that I was able to whip out reviews for the books that impressed me the least, but am at somewhat of a loss to write about the books that actually made me think. Oh well. If you want to read more wrap-ups of this read-a-thon, click the High Summer Read-A-Thon badge at the top of this post.

AisleShotNormally, I don’t get overly personal on this blog because it’s public. But today I’m breaking that self-imposed rule.

Why today?

Because it’s an anniversary.

23 years ago today, I walked into a treatment center for drug and alcohol addiction in Northern California, clutching a pillow and the few shreds of dignity I had left. I walked out four weeks later, clean, sober, and free.

I hear a lot of people say they were born alcoholic. I don’t know about that. I just know that from the first time I drank at about age 15, I liked it. I didn’t drink very often, at least not then, but always enjoyed it when I did. I liked the fuzzy headed feeling. I liked how alcohol changed my perception of myself, turned my short ordinary plain-Jane self into someone tall, beautiful and dazzling.

Three PeasI was a good kid, the oldest of three, brought up by parents who were married to each other — they’re still married, in fact. I went to church, sang in the choir, joined in youth group activities, went on mission trips. I made mostly As in school, twirled a flag on the pep squad, competed on the varsity gymnastics team, graduated near the top of my high school class, and was accepted at an exclusive private college in southern California.

This isn’t to say our family life was untroubled. Far from it. My sister and I fought constantly. Money was always tight. My parents did their best, but they didn’t know what to do with a kid like me, one who liked science and art and books and history, one who was filled with the need to be noticed. All I wanted was a little of their attention. I knew they loved me, but they, especially my father, were distant and unsupportive of the things I was most interested in, impractical things like music and singing and dance. And we had secrets that we didn’t talk about.

Spouse and PhoebeAt any rate, I was in the final weeks of my senior year, more than ready to leave home and attend that exclusive private college, when my perfectly-planned life derailed. The financial aid everyone told me I would get did not come through, and my parents couldn’t afford to foot the extra tuition costs. I allowed myself to be talked out of taking student loans and decided to delay college for a year and work instead. To save money, you know. Oh, the stupid choices we make when we’re 17.

So. I went to work full time at a local department store. And I started dating. I rarely dated in high school — too busy with the books and the pep squad and church activities — but after graduation was a different story. A few months after my 18th birthday, I fell in love. With a bad boy. Who drank and smoked dope and drove a fast car. My parents hated him. I thought he was the most handsome fellow in the world. Unfortunately, he had a live-in girlfriend, so we had to sneak around. I moved out of my parents’ home and became roommates with two of his friends. We turned our little coastal town into our own Peyton Place, at least among a certain age group.

Mom and Steph Easter 2011Two broken engagements (only one of them mine) and a broken heart later, I gave up on the idea of that southern California college — I had never managed to save the money, anyway — and moved north to the Bay Area. I was 19. It was there I discovered I had a talent for theater. I started acting and working backstage at every community theater within a reasonable driving distance. I learned how to party and smoke dope and put powder up my nose with a bunch of other theater folk. But it was still under control. I still got up and went to work every day. I couldn’t manage to fit classes at the local junior college into the work and party schedule though.

It’s funny how, starting at about this point in my life, many of my major decisions or courses of action were connected in some fashion to a man. I moved to the Bay Area to get away from my first love. I switched shifts at my job to avoid the next fellow after we broke up. And I started drinking heavily after the end of a two-plus year relationship with someone I had thought would become my husband. I was 23. This time, the drinking affected my work. I called in sick a lot. I was late. I was grouchy and rude to customers. I quit before I could get fired.

Mom and DadBy this time, my folks had moved north as well. I moved in with them because I couldn’t afford to live on my own. And for the next six years I moved in and out, in and out. I’d get a decent job, save some money, get my own place, get evicted because buying booze was more important than paying the rent, move back home, and start the cycle over. I got drunk every single day for those six years. I lost a car, I lost friends, I lost jobs. One night, while babysitting my infant nephew, I passed out with a lit cigarette in my hand. If the couch had not been fairly new with the flame-retardant self-snuffing cushions, the house would have gone up in flames, taking me and my sister’s son with it. I never knew it happened until late the next day when my mother dragged me out of bed to show me the charred arm of the sofa.

I could tell you story after story about poor choices: stupid decisions, countless men, near-brushes with death, humiliating experience after humiliating experience. I could tell you about the day I finally remembered that secret we didn’t discuss: the one about my grandfather who liked little girls. It all comes down to one fact: I did anything necessary for me to get that next drink.

C70 open 1In July of 1991 I was back living with my folks again. I was 29 years old. I had a part time job as assistant manager at a little bookstore, working for a friend. Every night when I left work, I stopped at a gas station, a different one each time, and picked up two sixpacks of beer, a fresh pack of cigarettes and a bag of ice. I had a little plastic tub in my car. I put the ice in the tub, the beer in the ice, and set off for one of the numerous back country roads near my parents’ home. Once there, I’d find a dark place to park, pull out the flashlight and my trashy historical romance, and sit there, drinking, reading and smoking until all the beer was gone, usually about 1:00 AM. Then I’d drive home and let myself in and go to bed. This way, my folks wouldn’t know how much I drank.

Wrong.

FrontOne day, my mother told me she knew I was drinking. And she told me I had two choices: go to treatment or find somewhere else to live. I wasn’t prepared to live in my car, so I told her I’d go to treatment. But ooooh, I did not want to do that. I didn’t want to face myself. And the truth is, if I’d had even one person left that I could call who I thought would take me in, I’d have gone there instead. But there was no one.

And so, on July 26, 1991, I took my own pillow with me to the treatment center. I must have been a sight, standing there in the lobby, clutching my pillow and looking around with wild, scared eyes, like I’d been brought to the seventh circle of hell. How the staff must have laughed at me later. But I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep on one of those institutional pillows, so I had my own. That was a comfort.

AA Symbol BlueI was not unaware of the existence of Alcoholics Anonymous. I had even been to a meeting once, about three or four years prior. The people there scared the crap out of me; they were so happy about being alcoholic! I decided I didn’t have a problem after all, and vowed I was never going back. And naturally, the first place I was taken after entering treatment was an AA meeting.

Funny thing, though. This time, I listened instead of judging. I empathized instead of looking for the ways I was different. And I found out a lot of people drank like I did, secretly, ashamedly, telling themselves this was normal behavior and everyone behaved this way when they drank. Those people at the meetings were friendly, and concerned, and genuinely wanted to help. They told me the truth in a language I recognized. They understood me. And they paid attention to me. I felt — validated. And wanted. And welcomed. I can’t remember ever really feeling like that before walking through the doors of Alcoholics Anonymous. They loved me, and they didn’t even know me.

Angela and Phoebe 2It’s been like that throughout the years I’ve been sober. I’ve done stupid stupid things in sobriety — again, mostly man-oriented — and come closer to suicide than I ever had in my drinking days. Without the numbness that self-medicating with alcohol provided, I had to face my demons. I had to talk about being molested as a child. I had to talk about that catastrophically detrimental year-long affair with Mr.Married. I had to break down and bawl in meetings. But the love of the fellowship always picked me up, sometimes literally. I remember sitting in a meeting one night, five-plus years sober and at my lowest emotional ebb, talking about making the decision NOT to kill myself the previous night and breaking down in the middle of a sentence. A man at the meeting left his chair, crossed the room, sat down next to me on the couch and put me on his lap, and rocked me like I was a child. That’s love.

No one told me staying sober would be easy. And, at first, it wasn’t. I struggled. I didn’t drink, but I wanted to. Oh, how I wanted to. Still, slowly, gradually, incrementally, that desire decreased; the thought came less and less often…and for the last several years, when trouble has arisen, getting drunk hasn’t crossed my mind. Although that option is always available, I have so many other choices to make, so many other directions to go, so many other steps to follow — drinking is so far down the list it’s not even a contender.

Church RotundaThe best thing about being sober? It led me back to God. I had abandoned the church at about age 19. During those ten years of drinking, I would attend church occasionally, but never felt like I belonged. I was too dirty, too sinful, too horrible a person for God to ever love or forgive. AA taught me my God was too small. I came to understand a different concept of God, a truer concept, and this concept has become the rock solid foundation of my life: Nothing in the world will ever make God stop loving me. Nothing. Not ever. I learned that forgiveness comes when I let go of the hurt or the shame. I learned to love and accept love. And that lesson brought me my beloved husband.

My brother's kidsThe youngest members of my family have never known their Auntie as a drunk. My husband has never known me as a drunk — in fact, sometimes I think he doesn’t quite believe my drinking was ever really that bad. My parents and sister don’t watch me out of the corners of their eyes; my brother has no qualms about leaving me in charge of his children. I’ve had the same employer for almost 20 years, the same husband for more than 12 years; we live in a beautiful house in a beautiful neighborhood; I drive a convertible (!); we have no debt other than the house and car notes; I wake up each day clearheaded, bright-eyed, and ready to face the world.

Best of all, deep in my heart lies the rock-solid certainty that God loves me. He always had, even when I had convinced myself otherwise. That gift alone makes the journey worthwhile. With the gift of sobriety as well, I am truly blessed and eternally grateful.

~~~~

The photographs scattered throughout this blog entry are the gifts that sobriety brought.

High SummerIt’s been a while.

I tell you, once our class starts and I’m teaching a couple of times a week and getting lessons finalized in the times I’m not on air, I am exhausted when I get home. Very little knitting and crocheting going on recently, but quite a bit of reading gets done on the commute.

Speaking of reading, I’m taking part in the High Summer Read-a-thon (click the pretty picture over there for the link). I happen to be off work this week, so at least one book will be started and finished. Maybe two. I might even write a book review or two this week. It’s not like I’m 40 books behind in reviews or anything… ;)

I finished Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose yesterday morning (been reading it since July 14) (it’s wonderful), and started Marisha Pessl’s Night Film yesterday afternoon. So far, Night Film is every bit as good as Special Topics in Calamity Physics, which I thought was amazing, even though I have yet to write a review. (40+ books behind, remember?)

I’ll try to get a knit-and-crochet post up this week, too, because of course you want to know how many WIPs are currently floating around the house. And the new Vogue Knitting and Rowan issues are sitting here giving me the hairy eyeball.

*sigh* Projects are many. Discipline is lacking. And I’m beginning to feel the fun has gone out of blogging because it feels like a chore instead of an opportunity.

This feeling is probably temporary.

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