My life for the past 3 months

Ah, it feels good to be back in my cozy little corner of the interwebs, even if it’s only for a fleeting moment. I don’t know if I have any blog followers left after 3 months of MIA, but for those that have hung around, I feel like I should let you know what’s going on in my life right now.

My husband has Cystic Fibrosis. Looking back on my posts of 2011, there are a lot of little comments about how things weren’t going so well for us or that my hubs was sick a lot, and yet somehow his declining health managed to sneak up on both of us. CF patients have to undergo regular IV antibiotic treatments (for Richie this meant usually 1-2 per year) as a sort of “tune-up,” but starting in February of this year, he was needing IV treatments on an almost monthly basis. He was very ill in May and we were concerned that he wouldn’t be well enough to travel to Costa Rica, but he managed to get healthy for 2 weeks (long enough for travel) and that was probably the only time he’s actually been healthy in the past 8 months.

Things took a turn for the worst in August when he was hospitalized and diagnosed with “end stage Cystic Fibrosis” at the age of 30. Basically this means that he only has one option of treatment left, which is a double lung transplant. After he was released from the hospital, he went through a gruelling 2 week evaluation process to determine if he was eligible to be listed for new lungs. He managed to survive the bombardment of stressful and invasive tests to learn that he then had to have his wisdom teeth removed before being listed. We then went through that surgery (and the subsequent challenges) to learn of even more obstacles that would prohibit him from being listed.

Long story short, he was officially listed last Monday, but his kidney function started to decline on Wednesday and he is now back in the hospital. No word yet on whether or not this will impact his status on the waiting list. Needless to say, things have been crazy, hectic, frustrating, stressful, SAD, and generally overwhelming, especially since I am still working full-time in addition to my role as his primary caretaker.

I am tossing around the idea of starting a blog about his experiences. It would be both a way to keep family and friends updated as well as a resource or connection for those who may be in a similar situation. (There is a thriving community of CF bloggers that we discovered after getting the transplant diagnosis. We learned so much that the doctors didn’t tell us and I also like the idea of being able to help others in the future.) On the other hand, I obviously haven’t had time (or the mental capacity) to maintain this blog, so I find the prospect of a second one somewhat daunting. I don’t have a smart phone, so blogging on the go is not really an option right now. I will let you know if it pans out.

I am not abandoning Blue Moon Magnolia, I love it dearly and hope to find some time in the very near future to post again. I planned to come back at the start of the month and revive my “Month of the Pumpkin Challenge,” since Richie and I started it together last year and took great pleasure in it, but alas, life has not been so generous as to allow me the time.

Blogging has taught me that the internet has a remarkable way of bringing together people with seemingly random interests or rare shared experiences. If by cosmic coincidence, any of you have CF, have a loved one with CF, or have had experience with double lung transplants, I would love to hear any advice or words of wisdom. If you feel like sharing, please send me an e-mail (bluemoonmagnolia@gmail.com) or just leave a comment.

Thanks for listening.

Scottish Cookery, Harry Potter, and Peppermint Humbugs

I have been super busy with a lot of unfun crap for the past month and a half that is really cutting into my reading time. I’ve been bummed that I haven’t had time to read or cook or sew or craft or enjoy the summer weather (as much as one can enjoy 99 degree temperatures…) or basically do anything that I used to do for pleasure. Thus, I attempted to get my weekend off to a good start by taking an early morning trip to the library to just wander around. I do this occasionally and I have stumbled upon some fantastic books this way, plus, I just think it’s fun (huge nerd, I know). On this particular trip, I discovered the cookbooks. I came home with 3, including The Home Book of Scottish Cookery by Aileen King and Fiona Dunnett. It’s from 1967 and says funny things like “The fashion for afternoon tea, introduced during the fifteenth century, spurred on the Scottish housewife to develop her skills with the girdle and oven,”  but I was intrigued by some of the recipes, and of course, one can never tire of Scottish references ;)  

Now, fast forward to Saturday night when I was exhausted from a day of intensely hot yard work (that included being simultaneously swarmed by mosquitos and chased by a cicada killer wasp while mowing the yard…) and I just wanted a light, quick, fun book to read before bed. I went through the old TBR stack and found nothing to satisfy me, so hubs suggested Harry Potter. (On the long drive home from Jessica’s wedding, we had a conversation about how I haven’t read any of his favorite novels, even though he’s read many of mine [excluding Outlander, however, which he still vows never to touch]. His list includes The Lord of the Rings series, The Game of Thrones series, and the Harry Potter series.)

I started reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. There was a particular description in Chapter 5 that caught my eye…“Hagrid’s coat seemed to be made of nothing but pockets – bunches of keys, slug pellets, balls of string, peppermint humbugs, teabags… ” PEPPERMINT HUMBUGS! I had just seen that recipe in The Home Book of Scottish Cookery! I took this as a sign that I had to make Humbugs that weekend.

My extreme enthusiasm did not last, however. Silly me thought that I could whip these puppies up in the hour I had between supper and “True Blood.” Long story short, they took FOREVER to make and they ultimately made me miss more than half of TB. (This is actually a really big deal because Eric has amnesia…I’ve been waiting over 3 long years to see amnesiac Eric…plus, he was drunk and naked in the lake…). They didn’t turn out as pretty as I would’ve liked, since I was running back and forth between rooms to catch as many Eric parts as I could, but they are pretty tasty and could be a very cool treat for a Harry Potter fan if you have the time to make them properly. Since we’re in the midst of HP mania again, I figured someone out there would enjoy the recipe…

Humbugs

  • 1 lb. demerara sugar
  • 1 1/2 oz (3 tbsp) butter
  • 1 dsp. syrup (dsp. stands for “dessert spoon” and is equivalent to 2 tsp.)
  • 1 dsp. treacle
  • 1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
  • 1/4 pint water (16 oz.)
  • 3 drops oil of peppermint

Put the water and sugar into a pan and dissolve slowly. Add the cream of tartar, syrup, and treacle and the butter in wafer-like slices. Stir till boiling and remove spoon. Brush down sides if necessary. Boil to the crack stage (i.e. 290 degrees). Remove from heat and allow bubbles to subside and a thin skin to form. Oil a marble slab or strong enamel tray thoroughly and pour the mixture onto it. Add oil of peppermint. Oil the hands well and when cool enough to handle, pull the toffee until smooth and light in color and beginning to stiffen. Pull to a long strip and cut in 1/2 inch pieces with oiled scissors. Store in jar with tight-fitting lid.

It takes a surprisingly long time for it to come up to 290 degrees.

Terrible picture, but rather tasty little treats :)

Jessica and Jason got hitched!

I travelled east this past weekend to attend the wedding of my dear friends, Jessica and Jason. I spent a good portion of last week prepping and sewing for this event, since I was assigned the paramount role of garter-maker. The weather was sweltering and the humidity was borderline oppressive (as is customary for any southern wedding, I suppose), but everything was absolutely beautiful and a good time was had by all!

The strung-out 1980’s bride on the Nash-vegas strip (circa last month’s bachelorette party)…

(Just for the record, she's not really strung out.)

Morphed into a gorgeous bride…

The garters…

The mother of the bride…

The lovely flowers, courtesy of Brittany…

Brother and sister of the bride…

I didn’t get any great shots of the actual ceremony, but all the personal and hand-made touches around the grounds were really fantastic…

 

Two of my favorite people…

The bustle was a major pain in the arse, but the process made for some very pretty pictures…

And then came the dancing…

Yep, that's her brother...probably one of the funniest moments of the night :)

While those crazy kids were dancing the night away, I was cuddling baby Liam…

And then came the 15 seconds of fame for my garters…

I never tire of a bouquet toss photo and the aggressive, preparatory stances of the ladies in waiting…

The winners…

They had the most vulgar vehicle decorations I’ve ever seen! No innocent balloons or beer cans for these two…

And then they were off to the Ritz in Hawaii…

Congratulations, Jessica and Jason!!!

The Comeback Post: Costa Rica!

Hello, long-lost blog friends! I have finally returned! I didn’t mean to be away from you for so long,  but I went to Costa Rica and then my summer classes began (I may or may not be going back to school in the near future…) and I found myself buried under a massive pile of work which I have only recently begun to reign in. I wanted to do a pre-trip post back in May about our upcoming travel to Costa Rica, but the hubs kindly asked me to refrain from announcing that we would be gone for an extended period of time, fearing that someone would show up at our house and rob us blind (he has apparently seen one too many Dateline specials). Thus, the excuse for my virtual disappearance from the face of the earth.

I’ve had many requests to see pictures from the trip, so I’m happy to finally be able to oblige. Brace yourselves: an exorbitant number of photos and narration lie ahead…

This was my first experience with group travel, which mainly consisted of  my father-in-law’s friends, but also included Scott, Andy, and Rachel (my brothers and sister-in-law), as well as Susan and Art (hub’s co-workers).  The trip got off to a rocky start for those unlucky souls who were flying American Airlines when their plane got a flat tire and (after sitting on the runway for over an hour) they were detoured to Houston for an unexpected 8 hour layover. (Who would’ve guessed that spare tires would be such a rare commodity at an airport?) The rest of us flew (on Delta) into Liberia, Costa Rica without any hitches and thus began our drive to the Tabacon hot springs.

En route to Tabacon, we spotted Howler monkeys in the trees along the road and we all piled out of the van and fully laid to rest any questions of whether or not we were a bunch of fresh gringos.

Do you think it was obvious that we were tourists?

Tabacon was my favorite, we had lovely views of the Arenal volcano and the resort had created a huge landscape of pools fed by the natural hot springs at the base of the volcano.

Arenal Volcano

It rained the entire time we were there, but it really only added to the atmosphere. The pool bar will go down in history for creating the freshest and most delicious pina colada I have ever tasted.

I would have been content to stay here for the entire trip.

From there, we took a bus, and a ferry, then another bus through the mountains to get to the cloud forest in Monteverde.

It's hard to believe that these three are brothers!

While we were getting to know our tour guide, Dino, on the first day, he mentioned that his favorite thing from the United States was Jack Daniel’s Whiskey. We all laughed and told him we were from Tennessee and that some of the group lived literally miles from the distillery. He couldn’t believe it and was thoroughly impressed. My father-in-law called the group that was stuck in Houston and asked them to pick up a bottle of Jack Daniel’s for Dino, so we surprised him on the ferry…

He was very happy and promised to be salsa dancing later that night after a few shots... (and yes, he is wearing a Jack Daniel's hat!)

Monteverde was beautiful. We hiked in the Reserva Biologica Bosque Nuboso Monteverde and spent some time in the small town square.

Rachel!

 We stayed at the Hotel Fonda Vela, the views were lovely and the fog rolled in to create an unearthly and unique experience.

Hotel Fonda Vela

I found some time here to read on the porch, surrounded by the rain and fog - optimal reading environment!

In the town square, this drunken gentlemen with the machete strapped to his chest attempted to give me a fist-bump, which resulted in him losing his balance and nearly falling over. Later that evening on the way home, we saw him passed out in a clump of grass on the side of the road.

We also visited a butterfly garden where we were introduced to some of the insects of the area. I love insects and this was one of the highlights of the trip for me. I especially love large beetles (well, when they aren’t landing on me…) like this elephant beetle munching on a piece of sugar cane!

How adorable is that face?!

I fell in love with the leaf-cutter ants as well…

We walked out of our hotel one day to find the landscaping crew hard at work…

The last leg of our trip was spent at the Flamingo Resort in Guanacaste, on the west coast of Costa Rica. The beach was gorgeous and I ate my weight in fresh tomatoes and local cheese. There was a lot of lounging in the pool, lounging on the beach, and for Susan, lounging in the secret hammock that she discovered.

We bought a huge bottle of Cacique (the national drink of Costa Rica, made from sugar cane) at the market in Monteverde, and it was carried to the pool and beach multiple times, but no one had the guts to drink it! Well, except for Art, who braved it alone one evening and then the following morning vowed to never touch it again. 

Hubs found a decorator crab, which made him very happy, and then I found hermit crabs, which made me ridiculously happy. One evening while we were eating by the beach, an anteater walked by! There were also thousands of large and scary birds that had lost all fear of humans. The scariest ones were the White-throated Magpie-Jays…

And there were lots of lizards running around, including Black Iguanas, which I adored…

Oh, and we also ran into Jeff Gordon!

Just kidding, that’s only Andy. Anyhoo, there were some cringe-worthy moments induced by long hours in a bus with 20-some people, but there were some great memories as well. It was good to see Kevin and Kathy…

And fun to spend some time with Scott, Andy and Rachel. I still miss my breakfast time with Susan and Art. Will I ever do a group trip again? Hmmm…probably only if it means I get to go to Scotland, but it was undoubtedly an experience to remember ;) Pura vida!

Dead Reckoning by Charlaine Harris

SOOKIE’S BACK!! Yaaaaay!!! I say that not just because there’s a new book, but because she’s back in business…as in, good book business. After Dead in the Family, I had begun to worry that the series was sliding downhill, but alas, we are saved. (For now, at least.) My hubs – who has read the entire series – asked me to rate it “one to ten, how many stars? Wait…only compare it to the other Sookie books and don’t factor in all those depressing, sad books you read…” Hmmm, how long until he understands that not all sad books are bad books??? Anyhoo, I gave it a seven.

So someone attempts to firebomb Merlotte’s and Sookie and Sam are caught in the crossfire. Was the attack meant for Sam or Sookie? (Sookie, of course.) Victor has recently been made regent to the new King Felipe and he’s invaded Bon Temps and Shreveport, setting up two new bars that have put a kink in both Sam and Eric’s businesses. Claude and Dermot are living with Sookie and there is something suspicious happening with the fairy refugees that were left behind when the world of fae was sealed off. Eric is keeping a major secret and one of Sookie’s (many) enemies is back for vengeance.

It starts out a little slow, but the pace does pick up and there’s quite a lot of action in the second half. There are a few storylines that don’t go anywhere, but I assume they will be central to the next book. And I do tire a bit of the fairies, since I haven’t really made a connection to those characters yet.

However, the best part for me is that it gets back to the heart of the series: Sookie, Eric and Bill. Yep, you read that right, Bill’s back in business too!! (Hush, all you Bill-haters out there…) Sookie and Eric on the porch swing and Sookie and Bill – naked – underneath Bill’s house (the set-up for the latter was a bit hokey, but I can let that slide). Not exactly book 4 material, but still good. (At this point in the game, I should face reality and admit my weakness for a good love triangle.) And the ending is open-ended, frustrating, and annoying, much like Dead and Gone, but successfully makes you want more, more, more.

I’m really happy with this book and my interest has officially been re-piqued. All the books in this series are TOO SHORT and I’d like to see them at least 100 pages longer, but a fun and quick read is just what the doctor ordered sometimes. My interest in “True Blood” as been rekindled as well…just when we were planning to drop the cable altogether…damn you, Eric Northman!!

Should I admit to owning this poster? No, probably not...

 

As Meat Loves Salt by Maria McCann

In what little spare time I’ve had during the past week, I’ve either been reading or thinking about Maria McCann’s As Meat Loves Salt. The wheels have been turning non-stop, trying to figure out how to describe this book, or why I liked it, or the secret to the hold it had on me. Honestly, I still don’t know what to think about it, but I do know that I can’t stop thinking about it either. And that, to me, is the sign of a good book.

The novel is set in seventeenth century England during the English Civil War and is narrated by Jacob Cullen, a man born free but forced into servitude as a child when his family fell on hard times. Jacob serves alongside his two brothers and is betrothed to a beautiful fellow servant, Caro. On the night of their wedding, Jacob is forced to flee his home (with his new bride and brother, Zeb) when a band of men descend on the property to arrest him for a heinous crime he had committed weeks earlier. Things do not go as planned and a weakened and disoriented Jacob is awoken on the road by Cromwell’s New Model Army, of which he becomes a member. It is here that he meets the disillusioned solder, Christopher Ferris, who nurses him back to health. Jacob falls in love and becomes obsessed with Ferris, unable to tell him no. As a result, Jacob finds himself devoting his time and energy into building the “New Jerusalem Colony” of Ferris’s dreams, even though he believes it to be a foolish and pointless venture. 

There is soooo much to say about this book. Firstly, McCann is a genius with regards to bringing the past alive. Typically, I am a sucker for lush descriptions and details, but McCann manages to accomplish the same end without long-winded descriptions or minutia. She writes only what is necessary, and only what the narrator is registering and the result is an uncannily realistic backdrop. You understand the surroundings and feel them vividly, without being constantly reminded that it is over 300 years ago and very different from our current reality. I have often had a hard time “getting into” stories from this time period because (for whatever reason) it seems a period too distant or different to truly wrap my mind around, but I easily and fully grasped it here.

And then there is Jacob. Where to begin? To say he is complicated is quite an understatement. The back of the book describes him as “a man on the edge of madness,” but I would venture to say that he has already crossed that line and is officially mad throughout the entire book. He hears a “Voice,” which is generally nefarious, and shifts back and forth between a gentle giant and a ruthless savage.  He repeatedly commits terrible acts of rape and violence, yet feels guilty and ashamed after each one. He wants to be forgiven and seeks redemption, but always falls prey to his quick temper and deep-seated jealousy.  He is given countless second chances – which he did not deserve – and always fails to redeem himself. In today’s world, he would be committed as a schizophrenic psychopath and locked away for life.

It is clear from the beginning of the book that Jacob is capable of complicated deception and violence, and yet I was immediately invested in the character. I wanted to keep reading to see what he would do next, to see if he would ever learn from his mistakes or learn to master the prodding Voice in his head, knowing all the while that it wasn’t going to happen. For the most part, Jacob sees himself as unworthy of love and believes himself to be possessed by the Devil while simultaneously craving  love and adoration. Overall, he’s a despicable person, but as another testament to McCann’s writing, she hooks you into the life of this very unlovable person and makes you want good things to happen to him.

It only occurred to me today that this book is told from the villain’s point of view. Jacob is not a good person.  He is the rapist and the murderer that I usually hate vehemently in other novels, but was here essentially persuaded by brilliant storytelling to care for. It reminded me of Black Jack Randall and his need for domination, and how strongly I hated him for all his wrong-doings in Outlander, until I saw a different side of him in Dragonfly and found myself feeling sorry for him. (I saw other similarities to the Outlander series as well, particularly the difficulty in describing exactly what this book is about, as well as the realistic historical settings. If you are a Gabaldon fan, you will be prepared for the rapes scenes – think Wentworth prison – and details of battle violence found here.)

At the heart of the novel is the love story between Jacob and Ferris. It is a forbidden relationship during a time when homosexual activity was punishable by death. Ferris is Jacob’s opposite, he’s fair and slight whereas Jacob is dark and formidable. Ferris is tender-hearted and loving, while Jacob is selfish, uncaring and cruel. The way the relationship blooms and grows is seamless. You feel the tension between them and you feel their fear of being caught. There is a lot of sex, which is beautifully camouflaged and surprisingly graphic at the same time. There is no explicit or risqué terminology used, but you have no problem understanding what happens when “his blood is up.” While there is a lot (as much as you would find in a standard romance novel), it doesn’t seem excessive and feels completely natural to the flow of the story.

If you enjoy historical fiction and don’t mind going out on a limb for something different, I highly recommend this book. It is hard to put my finger on what makes it so special, and I realize that it’s a hard sell to convince people to devote a substantial chunk of their time (it’s a fat 500-some pages) to a relentless psycho, but I daresay you will be hooked. It’s not always palatable due to the violence and the narrator’s lack of empathy, but you will get sucked into McCann’s world. It’s going on my list of favorite historical fiction.