Wednesday, 27 February 2013

The February Booklist

I have read a LOT of books this month. The is directly attributable to the fact I've been lying in the sun a lot this month. These were some CRACKING books, as well.

I've been debating the best way to do this book list. I'm not sure that just writing a list of books I've read is anything other than a bit brag-gy and useless. And this month the 'best' list would have been half the list. So we're going for a review of them all. I'm not sure if this will be a permanent thing or not, but we'll see, said in my best mum voice.

 Breasts: A natural and unnatural history- Florence Williams
This was fascinating, a bit depressing and totally worth the read. Williams explains that as breasts are made up of fatty tissue, they are a big ol'sponge for all the crap we put in our bodies. She talks about endocrine altering chemicals, breastfeeding, cosmetic surgery and breast cancer in a way a really good science teacher would, and the book leaves you with more questions than it answers, steering it away from feeling too preachy and hippy-ish. 

Brooklyn- Colm Tóibín
I cannot believe it took me til now to read this book, but I was blown away. It is not a high-octane, plot driven thriller, but rather a quiet, moving character study. I wasn't entirely sure I liked Eilis, the main character, but I was rooting for her, a testament to Toibin's skill as a writer. 

Bossypants- Tina Fey
Again, massively behind the times, but I LOVED Bossypants. I laughed out loud on multiple occassions, and finished it loving Fey all the more. Not just because she is funny and far from perfect, but also because she is a badass business professional, a side I hadn't really appreciated before. Reading it then getting to watch SNL: The 2000s on NBC last night was awesome. Husband and I felt we caught up the last ten years in American pop culture. Husband also read it, and really liked it. Surprising when he'd initially dismissed at as a 'girlie book'.

The Complete Works- Dorothy Parker
I really wanted to like this. Parker is a masterful writer, of that there is no doubt, but the short stories, well, fell short with me. I've never been a big fan of short stories before, but so many of these were bleak and grey and hopeless. It just wasn't for me. Sorry, Dorothy Parker.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone- Laini Taylor
So this is a Blook club pick. I think this was the month we moved over to the US so I bought the book but missed the discussion. I started to read it but never really got into it, so it lay abandoned (that sound is the collective horror of all the people who have LOVED this book.) I decided to try again and stuck with it this time. It was... ok. I liked it, but I didn't love it. After I finished it, I decided I will probably read the next one, but I was in the library today and didn't feel the need to rush to find it. Make of that what you will....

Death comes to Pemberley- PD James 
I know that the Blook Clubbers HATED this with a passion, but I loved it. I'm a big PD James fan, I have read all her Adam Dalgleish books, and thought that this mixed her slow, tension building mystery with the language and characters from Pride and Prejudice (one of my all time favourites) perfectly. It did frustrate me a little when she kept explaining plot points from P&P at the start, but by the end I was really sad that there wasn't more to read. That's the best possible sign of an awesome book for me...

Girlchild- Tupelo Hassman
This is the darkest book I read this month by miles, and it includes a month with a holocaust book... A clever young girl living with neglect, abuse and general disinterest. There is such hope that things will be different for her than her fellow trailer park residents. Rather than being a heartwarming tale of overcoming adversity, this is the sharp end of perpetual poverty. Brutal, challenging and funny in places.

The Last Girls- Lee Smith
Nope. Didn't care for this one. The story of a group of ladies who rafted down the Mississippi as college students, then meet up to do the same thing 40 years later. Too much old-lady angst. Not enough joy. Surely life has a little joy for someone somewhere. This book had none.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles- Agatha Christie (#heartswap)
With the news that David Suchet is filming the final series of Poirot, this book was the perfect way to remember why Christie's characters have such enduring appeal. It was marvellous. Thanks Katie!

Prep- Curtis Sittenfeld
If I had stopped this book three quarters of the way through, I would have adored it. The main character is squirmily uncomfortable in her own skin but Sittenfeld's development of her is just brilliant. Unfortunately, I hated the end so much it completely ruined it for me. I finished it disappointed. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks by E. Lockhart and Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl handled the same subject matter better, I think. 

Sarah's Key- Tatiana De Rosnay  (AOW Bookswap)
This is probably the hardest one for me to review, since my feelings are mixed about it. The book starts out by telling two concurrent stories. One of a French-Jewish child during the  Vel d'Hiv- Jewish women and children rounded up by the French Police under orders of the Vichy regime for deportation to the camps at Auschwitz.  This story was beautifully written, compelling and utterly horrifying. The second story is of  an American living in Paris, in an unhappy marriage researching the life of the child from the first story. I felt like it was obvious, especially during her internal monologues, that the author was writing in her second language. It felt clunky at times. I also felt like there was too much going on in Julia, the American's story to really get a sense of anything other than the plot. The plots eventually merge under the umbrella of a family mystery, another layer to things that just made it all the more complicated.

I really enjoyed the story of Sarah, the young girl. I would have happily read a whole book written about her life. She was interesting, compelling and well written. I am so grateful to Charlotte, my Any Other Woman Bookswap partner for sending it to me, I never would have known anything about the atrocities in France during WWII without reading it, which is saying something because I spent YEARS studying the war through Higher and Advanced Higher History. 

So there you have it, a month's worth of reading. All the books are from the Los Angeles Public Library unless otherwise stated. I'm so thankful to have a brilliant library nearby. They are worth fighting for, tooth and nail. Off there now to start on next month's list...

Monday, 25 February 2013

On being lucky

I am lucky to have a brother and a sister. I also have a bonus sister. I have known Pamela literally my entire life (she's 3 months older than me).

1986. The Infamous Chalk Incident.
We grew up going to church. We wandered around the building talking to people with the same ease and confidence as if it were our own front room. We were absolutely at home there, with the senior citizens, our parents' friends, the other kids in Sunday School, the babies in the creche. It was an extension of our day-to-day lives. And we had each other. There were other families with kids the same age, but in the end they all came and went, moved houses or cities and we lost touch. But there was always the two of us.

1989. The little one is my brother Andy. Knowing us now, the cowboy/princess choices were ALL wrong
I don't remember the first time I stayed over, I'd be surprised if it was any later than 1990. My house was manic and busy but it was peaceful at Pam's. We  would watch Baywatch and her mum would make carribean chicken and we would eat pop tarts for breakfast.  Her mum and aunts and uncles and cousins and Granny Vi were as much part of my life as my parents and siblings and aunts and cousins and Granny Eileen were of hers.

She moved house when we were 8 and came into my class at primary school. It wasn't always easy, being friends at school and church, which took up most of our lives. We went to high school together too. We would argue. Sometimes LOTS. But the thing with siblings is that you always love them no matter what you argue about.

I moved away for uni at 18, Pam stayed at home. We still made sure we got lots of catching up time in. We are, in absolute fundamentals, opposites. I am small and brunette, she is tall and blonde. I like blue and green and books and arguing debating and nursing and talking loudly whereas Pam is pink and sparkly and Art (with a capital A) and photography and overwhelming, fierce love for people. She expects things to be beautiful and has no stomach for gore and guts. She is simultaneously quieter and bubblier than me. She has been a bridesmaid at least 4 times because she is the kind of friend everyone wants around them all the time. She has a horrible scar on her finger from an accident with a Franking machine aged 10, has kept odd pets like rats and chinchillas and is also super super clever. We are intricately and complexly bound up in each other's lives. Whenever life has fallen apart, she's been there, championing my side, even when I'm not quite right  wrong.

2010. Me signing the register at Pamela's wedding,

She married an American and ran off to live in Colorado. We would catch up on the phone in big, long drawn out spurts. 3 hour phone conversations about life, the universe and everything in it. She was the florist at my wedding, making some of the most beautiful, interesting bouquets and buttonholes anyone has ever seen. She made it over for the wedding, and the night before she stayed over at my house. We sat up til 3am, telling stories and drinking wine. We got ready together the next day, slowly adding other people to our  cosy morning of tea and toast. The only time I cried during the whole wedding day was when she had to leave.

2012. My wedding. Picture by Lauren McGlynn. Flowers by Pam.

She recently moved back home to her mum and family and Paisley, which I know is where her heart is. We are back to crazy time zones and catching up all the time on twitter and facebook and sometimes in big, long bursts. And today, at 4.07am after a long and complication filled day, she brought Lucy Elizabeth into all our lives. I cannot wait til May when I can get some cuddles and have a long, long chat over tea and toast.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

'So how's the job hunt going...'

I get asked this a lot. I think it's a polite way of saying 'So what do you actually DO all day, you lazy cow?' but the subtext may me mine, rather than the questioners. 

The job situation has been an interesting one- source of continual frustration and panic and dull acceptance followed by calm enjoyment, then back to the start with a welling feeling of frustration etc etc. For a long time I didn't have a social security number and was not allowed to legally work in the US. I started to look at volunteering but I was pregnant and miserable then not pregnant and not really up to it then it was christmas and I had my work permit... You get the picture. It never happened.

Part of my issue seemed to be a total loss of confidence. My nursing degree is not valid here, and I could do classes to make it valid but it would be expensive. Given that we've not decided how long we are going to be here, it seems a bit imprudent to spend a lot of time and money on changing my degree over. The question then became 'What do I want to do instead?' This has no easy answer. I am essentially unqualified to do anything in a care-related position. California has certifications and regulations for EVERYTHING, all centrally controlled and all extremely unwelcome to foreign degree-holders. To the point it makes me cry hot, angry tears at times. I KNOW I am a good care-worker, and yet I'm not able to do it. 

An admin type job seemed like a good plan, but I've not got very far with that either. Lots of applications, not much response. After a while, you start to doubt if you were ever any good at anything and you should probably just stay in with the cat so you don't bother anyone. More logically, there are a couple of reasons I can think of for this- my CV is kind of all over the place, with my admin days squashed in the middle of lots of childcare jobs, but I do think not having any American work experience or references is a sizeable negative factor. 

Even the nicest Americans you meet* are still convinced everything is (slightly) better here. It's ingrained into them, a doctrine from infancy that *this* is the greatest country in the world, everywhere else is like an irritating sibling or poor cousin- trying hard, but never quite cool enough. Generally it doesn't come up very often, but when it does, it drives me nuts. It's upsetting if I think about the hours I spent on the wards holding sick bowls, suctioning snot or scrubbed in during surgery, or the teeth-rattling headbutts and hard-fought feeding battles as a support worker that are discounted for taking place in the wrong continent. I need to prove that I am up to the challenge of being with real live Americans all the time. Since no one wants to hire me to do this, it'll have to be proven through volunteering. 

This is not necessarily a bad thing. I do find some Americans challenging to deal with at times.This sounds terrible, and obviously you cannot lump an entire continent of individuals together, but people here are loud and insistent. They have a sense of entitlement that can be jarring to my inherent Britishness. They show a great deal of enthusiasm for everything. I find it needy and insincere. I'm not sure of the sincerity, I can't quite work it out. People have assured me that it is sincere enthusiasm, but I cannot quite bring myself to believe it. 

I am quieter here, less likely to wish to be the centre of attention ('NEVER' I hear you shout, horrified.) I am more reluctant to initiate conversation, less likely to join in and venture an opinion. I can't really explain why. I sometimes wonder if my desire to be the opposite of the loud, enthusiastic voices means I'm having less fun than I otherwise could, but c'est la vie. 

I set out to answer the 'what do you do all day' question, and have succeeded in only explaining why the answer is not 'earn lots of pennies'. I'm finally volunteering most days of the week. I talked a bit about Baby to Baby before, but I'm going to be branching out from beyond the yummy mummy coffee morning, giving them my Friday to organise clothes and hang out with the interns, none of whom have two nannies for one child. 

I have also (finally) completed everything that needed to be done to volunteer at the UCLA hospital, which was no mean feat, and involved approximately 80 vials of blood, a week of phone calls and general grumpiness by all involved. I should start next week. It involves some seriously early starts, but I'm looking forward to it. The best I can work it out is that US hospitals use those who want to go to med school to do all the jobs student nurses manage in between learning/making beds/doing obs (or vitals, as they call them here). Given that I'm not trying to earn myself a letter of recommendation or boost an application, and the fact I am well versed in dealing with unpleasant people, I've been recruited to the least glossy volunteering position: the surgical waiting area. This basically involves corralling unruly relatives who are waiting for their brother/mum/cousin to have their kidney transplant and are labouring under the, quite frankly absurd, illusion that the surgeon will come and speak to them when it's over. 

As this is America, they family members believe, quite rightly if we're honest, that they are entitled to an explanation from the surgeon. As anyone who has ever worked with surgeons will know, this is optimistic to the point of foolishness. I will be the one who has to tell people that the surgeon has now gone for sushi/is straight back in the OR (MUST remember not to say 'in theatre'- means something very different here...) and will not be offering them a blow-by-blow account. If I do happen to get a nice surgeon who comes to speak to the family, I will have to explain to him or her that the family has gone for coffee. It will be challenging, intense and slightly mental. I cannot wait. 

I am particularly good at dealing with grumpy families. Once, after a lady had complained at me for 20 minutes about how much she disagreed with me, I accidentally poured a jug of water over her. Another time an irritated mum told me I was 'cutting corners' administering her sons inhaler in front of my mentor (I was, he was kicking me in the face. She was apologising to him for my 'mean-ness'). I made up some shite about not upsetting him too much and finding a balance between following procedure and doing what was best for his emotional well being. My mentor told me that was the moment she knew I'd make a great nurse.

So that will be my new activities. Sorting designer baby clothes and having pagers thrown at my head. Very much looking forward to it.

*Not my friend Hillary though. This is the main reason she is my friend.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Grey Tuesdays...

The weather is miserable, yesterday was a bank holiday and my brain is convinced it is a Monday. I don't feel very well and I am grumpy.

I promise to update you on the exciting things we've been doing in a few days. Sun should be back out by then...

Thursday, 14 February 2013

#heartswap and valentine's treats...

Tis the day of a'mour, or so the card companies would have us believe. This year, since Valentine's day isn't a very big deal in our house (actually, this is the first one husband I have managed to be in the same country/not working nights for EVER) I took part in #heartswap, a gift exchange with the twitter ladies. 

Anna set it up, we answered a few questions to give a rough idea of what our swappee would like, set a rough £20 (ish) spending limit and off we went. I'm so glad the postal service came through for us. I was expecting it to be a nightmare, but it really wasn't.

I swapped gifts with the lovely Katie. I already follow her on twitter and read her blog, so I had a rough idea of what to get her, but ended up with this:

The wrapped gifts are candy. yum yum yum.
The cushion was one of my biggest sewing challenges to date. I'd never done any applique before, and I'm still not 100% sure how well it will look once I've done it a few more times, but overall I'm pretty pleased! It took about 12 hours of solid sewing to complete, from making the cushion cover (with a flap/open back so you can wash it..) designing it then cutting, sticking using heat'n'bond then the hardest bit by miles- the stitching. I love that I have made something for someone that they can use and keep in their house and generally squish and balance a laptop on and USE. 

In return, I received this amazing pile of gifts:

I confess I have finished the Agatha Christie (one I hadn't read, it's being ticked off the list now...) I am currently drinking from the mug and the tin is storing teabags, and my plan for this afternoon is to make the cinnamon and raisin cookies in love heart shapes for husband tonight. The chocolates are also all gone. Such amazing gifts, so thoughtful and sweet and it is the nicest thing in the world to open a parcel full of lovely gifts someone has picked out just for you. 

I also made some Valentine's decorations too. We rearranged the furniture in our living room at the weekend, and it looked a bit naked, so I whipped this up with some spare fabric I had from a charm pack (that's lots of pre-cut squares of fabric). I'm pretty chuffed with the result, even though Joan tried to 'help' and it took me 8 times longer than it should have. She also knocks the whole thing down on a daily basis but never mind! 

yeah, those are left over christmas candles. what of it?

All in, some rather successful sewing projects! They are definitely getting harder as Joan discovers what I am doing. She's taken to trying to eat the thread off the machine. Hand-sewing is definitely out unless she is asleep- I have too many scratch marks!

I'll leave you with these symbols of our undying love. Taking things very seriously as always...

guess who gave which to whom...

Thursday, 7 February 2013

A catch up, or how I *almost* met Jessica Alba

The cat has burned all her eyebrow whiskers off on one side. She stuck her face in a candle, as cats are prone to doing. They went all curly and frazzled like back in the olden days when we used to use curling tongs. Then the next day they were gone. This inspired me to hoover more often.

We went to my one LA friends house to watch the Superbowl. It went on a bit. I quite like American Football now, but the game was dull until the fourth quarter. We were all cheering on the 49ers for a wide variety of reasons. None of them involving living in California. We also all agreed the Colin Kaepernik is a bit of a douche. I drank three beers and sang loudly along with Beyonce. My friend didn't mind. I think she is a keeper.

I developed a stinking cold on the day of the Superbowl. I got ID'd trying to buy some NightNurse. I have long suspected I have a cough-syrup allergy, and I was proved right. I haven't been that sick since we all got Ruairidh's stomach bug on the day of the Royal Wedding. I thought I had the flu, but the next, NightNurse free day I felt fine. Moral of the story- if you suspect you are allergic to something, don't take it. Especially after three beers.

I finally arranged to do some volunteering. I read about the charity on Girls Gone Child, but when I got there I was too embarrassed to say that's where I found it so I lied and said I heard about it googling 'volunteer opportunities' and now I feel guilty because everyone thinks their intern is doing a better job than she actually is at improving their web presence. They do not need to work on improving their OK magazine presence- turns out its a super trendy 'young hollywood mom-beverly hills socialite' charity. Last week Jessica Alba was there. Maybe she'll be there next time...

The charity gives baby clothes, nappies and other essentials to social workers to pass on to mums in need. I'm not sure the mums care that the baby wipes are organic, the swaddling blankets anais+aden or that the stroller is a Bugaboo, but that's what is donated. Yesterday I was putting together gift packages to go to families in crisis. It was like shopping for all the baby things I will never be able to afford. I loved it.

I have been sewing up a storm recently. And I'm getting better at it. I've taken a ton of pictures but most of them are gifts for people, so I can't put them up yet.

I was in the gym today, running along, huffing and puffing and looking like a beetroot whilst the most irritating boy ever was lifting weights and acting like a posing douchebag. When I finished on the treadmill I could hear that he was listening to Taylor Swift on his headphones. I snorted out loud. Not that there is anything wrong with Taylor Swift. Just him.