Hoopla is?

Today I cancelled my Amazon Prime. You may be thinking: is she crazy!

The tall blue vans are making their rounds in my neighborhood like birds in spring. As I drove down Evergreen Way Sunday evening, I spotted no less than 4 vans gassing up. I thought to myself: things must be getting serious.

That was earlier this week and it is true; things are serious. I was told on Monday along with other city employees 60 years and older in my department, that I would be telecommuting from home as a safety measure. Sunday March 22 the library will be closed temporarily until further notice.

At first I found all this news so hard to grapple with, but it is not the end and I’m choosing to look at the many marvelous options now available. As a wannabe optimist, I look at this as an opportunity to learn new things. This includes looking at the library’s digital collection with fresh eyes.

A few weeks back I overheard one of my co-workers rave about how she loves Hoopla because of all the free stuff. Keyword FREE! Hoopla is accessible to library users with an Everett Public Library card in conjunction with their pin number.

Hoopla offers not just one thing but a variety of online venues. For instance, under the tab video you can select Movies or Television. So lets say you missed an episode of your favorite TV show or maybe you don’t want to wait in for the DVD. My husband and I are die hard Doc Martin fans and I am very pleased to see season 9 is available on Hoopla.

I’m not particularly ‘Techy.’ But I was pleasantly surprised how easy it is to navigate in this app.

HOOPLA basics: There is Video, Music, and even Books. The book selection has a wide variety and genre of Graphic Novels and Comic books.

Browsing in any of the categories allows you to view popular, recommend, or featured items plus the Genre of your choice. The choices are endless. Here are some I hope to borrow.

Video:

Movie: Love Comes Softly We’ve enjoyed this tearjerker featuring Katherine Heigl, but it’s a feel good movie as well, and to be honest I need a feel good movie about now.

Television: I highly Doc Martin Season 9, hands down my favorite season yet. There is also a good selection of BBC mystery and a plethora of other shows.

Music:

Got kiddos, kiddos at home? Put on Moana or Frozen and let the music do its magic. Don’t miss, It’s Such a Good Feeling: The Best of Mister Rogers.

The adult collection is comprehensive from A-Z, including Grammy nominees and winners.

Books:

Confession: I’ve only checked out one Graphic Novel in my lifetime. It was actually very good, however. Looking under the genre Non-Fiction, I found a winner. How to Read Nancy. Nancy was my first and favorite cartoon as a little girl. How cool is it to rediscover a beloved character!

The end of the story: I still have an account with Amazon, I’m not that crazy! However, I am saving money in one small way by shopping at the library for FREE!

The Dutch House

I can still remember my first diary. It was blue with a little lock and key, inside it contained my secret thoughts and youthful dreams. Nowadays, I journal spilling my thoughts onto paper in order to keep the cobwebs of my mind clear. Writing is therapeutic but writing something for someone else to read is an exercise of the imagination. Reading good literature stimulates my mind and inspires me to write, luring me out of the comfort zone of staying in my head.

Over the holiday we had the pleasure of spending time with our son and daughter-in-law. As is common in these rich visits, the topic of art and creativity came up. One of our conversations centered on the medium of writing where I found myself waxing eloquent on what I think makes for a good book.

Characterization is pivotal. In The Dutch House by Anne Patchett, Danny recounts the story of his life from his early memories to the present. The story seamlessly moves the reader back and forth from past to present without confusion of time, place or setting. A rare talent!

Anne Patchett’s latest novel is told in the first person and felt a bit like reading someone’s diary. It is a story of substance, interjected with Danny’s intimate thoughts as he grows up and as a grown man. The book is also a survey on the complexity of family and the myriad of issues that can arise and how one deals with hurt, mistrust, health, and abandonment.

A mystique surrounds The Dutch House, a stately home whose previous owner’s portrait still hangs on the wall. It’s after World War II and the house lies abandoned and in decline. Danny’s father Cyril Conroy makes his first major real estate investment by buying the house, moving his wife and young daughter, Maeve, out of poverty and into a new life of comfort and ease, or so he hopes.

Maeve is about 10 years older than Danny, their inseparable relationship solidified by their mother’s absence and their father’s neglect. Maeve is brave, smart, and confident. She fills Danny in on life before he was born and the things he was too young to remember after his mother left. The brother/sister bond is strengthened when their father marries a younger woman, Andrea, who has strategically won her way into The Dutch House and their father’s affections.

As a boy, Danny learns unforgettable lessons while spending Saturdays with his dad as he collects rent and makes repairs for his various tenants. The practice of meeting people of lesser means and the business of being a landlord plants a seed deep in Danny’s soul.

Their stepmother is a hard and demanding woman, ungrateful for the loyal housekeepers. Andrea clearly runs the show. Once Maeve has gone off to college, she inserts herself further into the family by moving Maeve’s room up to the attic. This allows her eldest daughter Norma to have Maeve’s room with its coveted window seat. When Cyril suddenly dies from a heart attack it’s not long before Andrea dismisses both Danny and Maeve, taking over the house and inheritance.

After college Maeve returns to their home town despite her potential to make more of her life in the big city. She is a devoted employee helping to revolutionize her employer’s frozen vegetable business. Danny lives in New York where he pursues a medical degree, maximizing the only inheritance money Andrea concedes to him. His real interest lies elsewhere, but his unwavering devotion to his sister compels him to push through school. Throughout the novel there is a cyclical scene of brother and sister parked down the driveway a distance from the Dutch House. They are irresistibly drawn to the house and sit smoking cigarettes recalling their past and imagining what’s transpired since their departure.

I don’t want to give too much away; there is a reason the book has a long waiting list. The novel begins and ends at the Dutch House. Patchett unveils a story so unexpected and unpredictable, masterfully opening metaphorically closed doors and exploring family dynamics amid poverty, wealth, inheritance, and more. It is a book worth reading!

Depression isn’t forever

Writing of a personal nature— sharing a part of my life, I take the risk of allowing myself to be exposed.

I grew up in a big family and as a kid I felt loved and secure, but once I got into my teens my world turned upside down. During those years music and books impacted me. The spellbinding music of the 60’s and 70’s coupled with books like Go Ask Alice, published anonymously in 1971, and I Never Promised You A Rose Garden, published in 1964, fueled my young easily-influenced brain, tightening the tentacles of darkness. I experienced a deep depression and was ripe for self-destruction. I considered thoughts of taking my life.

Sadly, there are many people (young, old and in between) who out of desperation view suicide as the only solution to their pain. Depression is a tough subject to discuss, yet it’s a conversation that cannot be ignored. Consider the character of Eleanor in Gail Honeyman’s debut novel Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. The reader quickly discovers that Eleanor is not fine. She fastidiously maintains her Monday through Friday job keeping to herself, then on Friday night with equal purpose she stops off to pick-up a frozen pizza and 2 bottles of Vodka which she proceeds to drink over the weekend.

It is easier to discuss a complex character in a book than it is to admit you may be struggling with depression or suicide. It’s awkward, no one knows what to say, so often nothing is said at all — It is my sincere intent to open up the dialogue in hopes that lives may be saved. Indeed it is a hard subject to discuss because those who suffer feel stuck and weighed down by the stigma of shame.

Today more and more resources are becoming available, which is encouraging, because the truth is that mental illness comes in a multitude of manifestations, depression being one of them. I recently came across two books in the Library’s collection that offer insight and hope.

Just Peachy: Comics About Depression, Anxiety, Love, and Finding the Humor In Being Sad by Holly Chisholm is a great little book, a quick read and an outstanding example of the power of art as a tool for recovery.

If You Feel too Much: Thoughts on Things Found and Lost and Hoped for is a collection of personal essays by Jamie Tworkowski. The book evolved after he wrote an earlier story about helping a friend in her struggle with depression, drugs and self-injury. The piece was called “To Write Love on Her Arms.The piece went viral and the outcome led to the organization TWLOHA an internationally recognized leader in suicide prevention worldwide.

Grace June’s “Phil”

Last October my daughter-in-law, who bravely admits her own struggle with depression, received grant funding to develop a forum bringing light on the subject of suicide. She used the medium of photography to convey a message of hope and healing dubbing the project Survivor Series. The photo essay was compiled into a book of individuals who had either lost a loved one to suicide or had contemplated taking their own life.

For the culmination of her yearlong project, she hosted an event inviting the community and those photographed for the project. Photos were on display with a brief synopsis of each story. A portion of the evening was an open mic in a second building where a poetry group kicked things off, followed by anyone who wanted to standing up and share their story.

The evening was successful and affirming for those in the infancy of their grief as well as for others who, like my husband who lost his brother 20 years ago, have been grieving for a much longer time. It also was a catalyst for change in the Spokane community. The exhibit is currently on display at the Spokane Public Library.

Next month my husband and daughter will team up with hundreds of people to walk through the night on the streets of San Francisco in the Out of Darkness Overnight. The walk serves to raise money and bring attention and support to our nation’s increasing number of suicide deaths.

Thank you for reading this blog. It takes courage and honesty to admit the need for help. We’re not meant to walk this life alone. If you want more information on suicide prevention, there are people who are trained to help at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Succulent and Sultry

If Christine Mangan’s debut novel Tangerine was not on your radar when it released a year ago, you may want to check it out now. Mangan draws on her rich memories of Tangier with a seductive style and a mystery that cannot be ignored.

Starting with the prologue, hints of madness give the reader a subtle sliver of what lies ahead. The narrative alternates between Alice, a young woman living on a monthly allowance from a trust, and Lucy who grew up living in an apartment over the garage where her father worked.

Lucy’s scholarship affords her an opportunity to attend Bennington Women’s College, only a few miles from the small town in Vermont where she grew up. Such a fate grants her access to a life she’s only heard of. Is it by chance or is it random that Lucy and Alice become roommates?

Alice is in the charge of her doting aunt who’s become like a parent after the death of Alice’s own parents. Their deaths were an accident for which Alice believes herself to be at fault. This fact has left her withdrawn and bereft.

They say opposites attract: Alice is shy and quiet, Lucy confident and bold. The two form a friendship that grows over the course of time. They make plans to travel after graduation, with Alice generously offering to pay Lucy’s way to Paris.

Lucy draws Alice out of her grieving and Alice is delighted to have a friend and confident in Lucy. She shares her deepest secret about the tragic loss of her parents. Lucy lets out bits and pieces of her past keeping elements of her life secret, but she revels in the closeness and camaraderie she shares with Alice.

A well-developed plot unravels beginning in Tangier, 1956. Alice is living in a small sultry apartment married for convenience to John, who unlike Alice is swept up in the exotic allure of the place and its people. Alice is stuck: gone is the light-hearted care free young college woman who’d blossomed in the years spent with Lucy.

And then one day out of the blue Lucy shows up in Tangier at Alice’s door— unexpected and uninvited.

This is where the mystery and intrigue begins. Who is telling the truth? Why is Alice not excited to see her old college roommate? How did Lucy discover where Alice is living?

Mangan masterfully gives shape and presence to her characters while skillfully building the readers understanding through the fluctuation of narration. As revelations grow, so to does the suspense. We learn the shocking reason why Alice did not stay in contact with Lucy. And we find that Lucy is cunning and clever and much, much more.

Though I’m bursting to say more I dare not!

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

When Kristin Hannah’s new book The Great Alone became available there was a bit of a buzz around the office. When I received notice that my electronic hold was available the timing couldn’t have been more perfect: we were scheduled to leave on vacation the following day.

Once the pilot gave the okay to power on electronic devices, I pulled out my new iPad with a relish of anticipation only to be quickly disappointed that I’d failed to download the book.

Lesson number one: You do not need to use Wi-Fi to read or listen to e-books or e-audio books, but you do need to download them to your device. I’d only gone as far as checking the book out; consequently it was unavailable on my flight down. However, I was pleased to access it on my return flight. Being on vacation is the best place to start a book. I sat on my sister’s patio on a balmy Tucson morning and entered into the uncharted pages of The Great Alone.

Alaska and Maine have long-held a fascination for me. They are destinations where I imagine adventures with unique grandeur and scenic marine swept beauty. Someday I hope to travel to these geographic east/west opposites. So far my experience has been literary. I have been to Maine in Christina Baker-Kline’s A Piece of the World and to the Alaskan Yukon through Eowyn Ivey’s To the Bright Edge of the World.

Hannah’s book engaged me from the get go. Set in Seattle in 1974, the story quickly moves into the wild outskirts of the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska. Ernt Allbright is a Vietnam vet and POW survivor who receives his ticket out of Seattle via an unexpected inheritance of land from a deceased army buddy. The family packs their meager belongings into a VW van and head up the ALCAN Highway.

Told through the eyes of Lenora (Leni), Hannah fleshes out a dysfunctional family bound by fear and devotion. I sympathized with Leni who had to move from school to school, starting over far too many times. The peacekeeper of her family, she maintains a protective and loving relationship with her mom and a skewed but respectful relationship with her unpredictable father.

Situating the novel in a rugged and remote outpost of Alaska during the post-Vietnam era creates a tension that slowly builds in the pit of your stomach and continues to grow. Hoping to escape reoccurring nightmares and failed attempts to keep work after returning from Vietnam, Leni’s father promises things will be different this time around. Secrets, shame, and disillusion begin to breed contempt, however.

For me, it is difficult to understand how a woman can allow a man to beat her in one moment and then take him back in the next, but that’s what Leni’s mother Cora does. She makes excuses explaining that her father is sick; mother and daughter form an alliance and learn to speak the language of silence. Leni’s mom chose her man over a stable home and parents who loved her — Leni doesn’t have a choice.

The family arrives at the start of summer where deceptive sunshine floods into the late hours and food is in abundance. Had it not been for the intervention of wise and caring neighbors who extended their kindness by helping the Allbrights prepare, the family would never have survived their first Alaskan winter. The hopeful enthusiasm for a fresh start begins to fade as the long dark days of an Alaskan winter creep in. The promise Leni’s dad made to stop drinking and beating his wife slowing dissipates, replaced by violence and vengeance fueled by whiskey and a growing paranoia.

The stage is set for disaster and the plot thickens. Leni’s father’s jealousy is aimed at the father of her best friend Matthew. Leni and her mother become adept survivalists not only in the Alaskan Wilderness, but in their own home.

At the time of this writing there are 26 holds on the book, but the list was longer when I was reading the electronic version. At first I couldn’t put the book down, but I was forced to in order to meet the deadline for my book club. Then, about two-thirds of the way through The Great Alone the story took a turn and went from a page turner to a ‘I can finish this later’ type of book. I was not ready to completely give up, however, and was fortunate enough to snag a large print copy to continue reading.

I grew up in the Northwest and in the era depicted in Hannah’s story I would’ve been about the same age as Leni, but my life looked much different. Even though I had my own family drama by the early 80’s, I was living my own dream: young, newly married and starting a family. We lived out in the country with a wood stove and thrived on simplicity. My idea of roughing it was romanticized by Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie. I knew little of the horrific aftermath of the Vietnam War and less of the devastation it took on men like Ernt.

The Great Alone is a story of ‘behind closed doors’ giving insight into the pain and suffering that our country was still reeling from in the late 70’s early 80’s. Things were not perfect. Hannah captures and develops believable characters and portrays a young family trapped in crisis. I found the transition of pace and tension shifting gears a bit abrupt, but I loved the beautiful description of Alaska and how the story segues into a redemptive ending.

The Great Alone is a must read for 2018!

Sail in and Saddle up!

If one of your goals this year is to join a book club or simply get out of your comfort zone and try something new, then look no further!

Everett Public Library’s Evergreen Branch Southside Book Club commences its first book discussion of 2018 on Tuesday, February 13th at 6:30. We will be talking about Before the Wind by Jim Lynch and you can expect a welcome atmosphere, light refreshments, and an enjoyable exchange of insights and comments. Consider yourself invited.

If you are participating in the 2018 Reading Challenge at the Everett Public Library, Before the Wind is the perfect match for the month of January. This book is a classic Northwest story by a local author. It is set on the inland waters of Puget Sound where boating in all its forms is a way of life for many. The story follows the Johannssen family. A family that is a portrait of dysfunction bound together by their love of sailing.

Locals will recognize landmarks and your knowledge, or lack thereof, of sailing will not affect your enjoyment of this book. Lynch captures the nuances of Northwest living (for example “rain becomes your roommate”) and he appreciates the mystical love affair men and women have with their craft, be they seaworthy or not. My colleague Leslie blogged on this very same book two years ago, sharing first hand her families own experience.

If book club or sailing isn’t your thing, saddle up and come out for an evening with author Craig Johnson, best known for the award-winning Longmire mystery book and TV series. Johnson will be speaking at the Everett Performing Arts Center on Saturday, February 10th at 7 pm followed by a chance to meet and socialize with the author. This event is sponsored by the Friends of the Everett Public Library and, appropriately enough, Rainier Beer: Walt’s favorite drink.

The series is about sheriff Longmire and is set in Wyoming. Local law enforcement and a nearby Native American population are the perfect mix for solving crime and creating the Wild West tension of lawlessness. My husband and I just started watching the TV series and are hooked by the credible characters and adventure. Both the books and DVDs are available at the library.

No Where to Go But Up

I’m a boomer and I’m married to one. Our birth years fall before and after the peak year 1957, when 4.3 million baby boomers were born. Growing older is not an option it’s a fact and I’m not alone.

Consider this statistic: “as of 2016, the number of baby boomers ranged from 74.1 million to 81.3 million, depending on whether the generation begins with the birth year 1943 or 1946. By 2056, the population 65 years and over is projected to become larger than the population under 18 years.”  (Information cited from The Baby Boom Cohort in the United States.) The question is how golden will baby boomers ‘golden years’ be.

My folks are both still alive in their 80’s and for the most part independent. They provide me a glimpse into what my later years might well look like. When I began reading Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande it was like I’d been given a key to unlocking some of the mystery to changes I’d seen in my folks  granting me a greater understanding of those changes.

Over the past several years my mother has had two orthopedic surgeries and has elected to not have another because of the long grueling process of getting back to a measure of normality. Consequently the severe arthritis she suffers from will eventually limit her mobility, which we’ve briefly discussed.

My Dad has been on blood thinners most of his adult life prompted by a surgery gone awry in his 30’s. While he celebrated his 70th skiing Sun Valley, he has slowed down considerably. A bypass surgery and circulation issues have taken a toll despite his disciplined diet and exercise. On my husband’s side we have had the unique experience of participating in hospice care for both his dad and mom; the one in their own home the other in ours.

You need look no farther than the evening news to hear about the latest medication to ‘ask your doctor about’ with a promise of eliminating the discomforts of getting older. The good news is that there is more hope than advertisements suggest for staying youthful and finding anti-aging supplements.

There are many books on staying young, but I recently came across several books on the subject of aging which is what attracted me to Gawande’s book and taking a candid look at this topic. I recently listened to a local webinar about servicing the aging population in our libraries giving me food for thought and leading me to investigate what our library has available on the subject.

Popular blogger Ashton Applewhite writes This Chair that Rocks. The library has her latest book by the same title This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism. Applewhite is passionate about the subject, and is widely recognized as somewhat of an expert by the American Society on Aging. She asserts that stigmas associated with aging are largely overlooked when it comes to marketing, despite the fact that the ‘silver market’ is the fastest growing. Advertisers cater to 15 to 35 year olds. For a well-researched look at this topic, this is the book that looks to be very relevant.

I remember when I turned 50 years old and felt enthusiastic to make some sort of contribution to society, as if raising a family and working the greater portion of my life wasn’t enough. I surveyed my first 50 years and rationalized that the larger portion of my life had passed and if anything meaningful and creative were to occur I’d best get started.  Laurie Russell’s Journey to 50: How to Live with Gratitude, Grace, and the Effects of Gravity captures the same spirit I once aspired to. She offers women a practical approach to navigating the 50th decade, sprinkled with humor and spiritual insights. Here is a quote: Giving up is easy. Letting go takes effort and can be painful- but it frees you to become anew.

Eric B. Larson, MD is an expert on the science and subject of healthy aging. He has spent much of the past 40 years studying the aging process. From our own backyard in the Pacific Northwest, Dr. Larson is a clinical professor of medicine at the University Of Washington School Of Medicine and of health services at the UW School of Public Health. He has worked and cared for thousands of elderly people. In his book Enlightened Aging: Building Resilience for a Long Active Life, co-authored with journalist Joan DeClaire, Dr. Larson shares case studies giving the reader a scientific and medical perspective. Right up front he states “There is no magic bullet’,” He believes resilience in those who age well is born out of their capacity to adapt and grow stronger in the face of adversity and stress. The book discusses key concepts that contribute to individuals in the aging process. They are proactivity, acceptance, and the three reservoirs: mental, physical, and social.

If Our Bodies Could Talk a Guide to Operating and Maintaining a Human Body by James Hamblin M.D. is not solely about aging. It contains a plethora of subjects addressing an exhaustive list of questions; questions you may want to ask your doctor but think are too silly to ask. Take for example these two: How much sleep do I actually need? and Can I train myself to sleep less? This book is broken up into six categories associated with the body and how various parts operate. There are hand drawn diagrams that combine entertainment with educational answers, breaking up what might otherwise have been too technical. Whether you read one or two sections, you will find plenty of practical advice including the main topic of this blog: ‘Enduring: the dying parts.’ I really enjoyed the book jacket depicting a colorful word cloud.

If you’d prefer to read a less technical book with a more personal connection, there is Malachy McCourt’s memoir Death Need Not Be Fatal. Or you may find solace in reading Thomas Moore’s latest book offering a more philosophical approach, Ageless Soul: The Lifelong Journey Toward Meaning and Joy.

Life is a series of seasons from youth to old age, how we weather those seasons is largely up to us. As I look forward to my golden years I’m grateful for my health and the many resources available at the library to help me through them. I realize golden may look bronze or silver, but that’s OK!