Books to Escape With

I’ve always had a passion for books.  Reading is one of my favorite ways to step away from the stresses of daily life and leave it all behind – even better if accompanied by a glass of chardonnay.  I’m calling this list Books to Escape With not because they’re all light-hearted – quite on the contrary in some cases – but because these are books that I wanted to read so badly once I got into them, that when they were in my hand I wasn’t worried about much else.  So if you’re looking for a good read, check some of these out.

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Oh – and if you know of a really good, laugh-out-loud book will you let me know in the comments?  I’ve been looking for one of those for a while – Chelsea Handler isn’t cutting it.

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1.  Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett
This book is amazing.  It’s sent in the 12th century in England, and follows two generations of families, all centered around the building of a cathedral.  There are poor families traveling from town to town looking for work, young men battling for earldom and trying to satisfy their manipulative families, kings and queens battling to rule, and crooked monks, priests, bishops, etc. who had a lot of power at a time when everyone took their religion seriously.  And there is Jack, probably my all time favorite character – doesn’t hurt that Eddie Redmaybe plays him in the miniseries (wait a long time after reading the book to watch the miniseries, so you won’t be pissed off about all the stuff they leave out).
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2.  Plain Truth, Jodi Picoult
In this book, a dead newborn is discovered on an Amish farm.  In a setting where people choose to remain stationary while the world progresses around them, a lawyer tries to discover the truth among people who don’t want to talk.  Who gave birth, in a community where premarital sex does not happen?  Who is the father?  Who moved the baby? How did no one notice a pregnancy?
I’ve read a lot of books by this author – Plain Truth was my first one.  At times i have to take a break from her, because they seem to follow a common path – but I always come back.  Salem Falls is another of hers that sucked me in.
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3.  Sarah’s Key, Tatiana De Rosnay and Winter GardenKristin Hannah
I’ve put these two together because they’re kind of similar – both feature a middle-aged woman questioning how satisfied she is with her marriage and life in general, and both flash back to significant moments in world history (both WW2) – the holocaust for Sarah’s and the siege on Leningrad for Winter.  Both feature some pretty serious secrets, one hidden in a house and one hidden in a person.
I wasn’t familiar with the siege (maybe I wasn’t paying attention in history class?) – apparently all communication, supplies, etc. were cut off by Hitler for two and a half years.  People in Leningrad starved – they ate rats, birds, their pets, bread that was made mostly of sawdust.  And they froze.  One and a half million people in that city died.  Insane.
Both of these books are really good.  Both have some pretty disturbing parts.  Writing this list is making me want to read them all again.  Anyway…
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4.  Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen
I considered this book my favorite for a long time.  You follow the main character as he tries to find a place to belong in a traveling circus after losing both his parents – the relationships and experiences he has with both humans and animals take you on a roller coaster of emotions – I remember being so mad I wanted to throw the book across the room.  If you’ve seen the movie already, hopefully it hasn’t ruined the book – I heart Reese and Robert as much as the next person, but their onscreen chemistry didn’t do the book justice.  And the story is so much deeper than the movie portrays, which is how it goes with books turned film.
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5.  Harry Potter and the Prisioner of Azkaban (and the rest of the series), JK Rowling
I don’t think it’s a surprise to most people that I’m a Harry Potter fanatic.  Out of all, this is my favorite.  I was traveling around Europe with a friend after college, and we arrived in Paris when I was at the climax of this book – it was so good, I wanted to stay in our hostel and read.  I didn’t want to go out.  In Paris.
JK Rowling is a genius – the way a character will appear in one book and not show up again till two books later, and then have a very significan roll that was referenced in the earlier book is amazing.  I would love to know how she kept everything straight across seven books.  If you haven’t read them, you should.
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I’m going to have to do this more than once – I just looked through my goodreads list, and realized I didn’t talk about The Help or Deception Point.  Loved both of those as well.  Or A Long Way Gone!  So many good ones.  If you’re looking for something a little less intense, here are some of my faves:  The Devil Wears Prada, Something Borrowed, On the Island, Mariana (just finished this one – thanks for the reco Morgan!).
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I’m always looking for good recos – if you have them, please send my way!
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What’s God got to do with it? Part II

Last night I met with the Pastor Melissa.  She didn’t have solid answers – I didn’t really expect her too – but she did say some things that made me think about our situation a little differently, which helped. Hopefully this will be helpful for those of you who sent me messages saying you felt the same way…on that note, thank you for all the comments and messages.  Even if we don’t agree, I really like to hear what everyone thinks – I didn’t start a blog because I like to keep how I feel a big secret 😉

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We started off by me just telling her a bit about what Teagan has been through in her short life – the double induction, not getting air right after my c-section, the cooling blanket.  How we thought the reason for her low muscle tone and delays was due to the lack of air, and the roller coaster of emotions we experienced being scared she had cerebral palsy, then relief when we found out the spot on her brain caused by lack of air was healed, and the plumet into a dark dark place when we found out on October 4, 2012 (our fourth anniversary), that the culprit was a genetic abnormality called Trisomy 12p.
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I told her I was pissed at God.  I told her I didn’t understand why he didn’t stop this from happening.  I told her that I look up at the sky and shout swear words at him.  I told her I felt like he was punishing her for something, when she is an innocent little child.  I asked her why he lets bad things happen.  I also asked her about her beliefs – does she believe in evolution or creationism, has she ever had any doubts, how does she know the bible isn’t just a bunch of stories people wrote to explain what they didn’t understand.  And mostly, I told her that believing in God was becoming a conscious decision I had to make, rather than just being the way it is.
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She listened.  After every question, she thought for a few seconds before answering.  The first thing she told me is that it is okay for me to be mad at God.  I can shout and swear at him all I want – he can handle it.  She also told me that he is not punishing Teagan, or me, or anyone…she said it was her personal belief that it is not God’s will that made this happen – but if there are people who think God makes everything happen for a reason, she would not try to take that belief away from them.
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She said that God is more powerful than anything we know, and he could have stopped it, but he didn’t, and she doesn’t know why.  She also doesn’t know why he didn’t stop a group of teenagers from our church from getting into an accident on 94 and dying recently.  She said she believes bad things happen because creation here is broken, and our world can be a terrible place – which is why we say “thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven” in the Our Father – we are praying for him to come, for earth to resemble Heaven.  And we all have to do our part to make that happen.
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She told me that our job on earth is to let God’s light shine through us and heal others (I feel that this is a good lesson whether you believe in God or not), and that for me, that healing task can be taken literally, with the therapies and special learning techniques we are always working on with Teagan.  Even though I didn’t leave with answers, it was nice to have someone who is an expert on God listen and share their views.  I really appreciated how much she listened and thought, rather than just spewing lessons at me, and how logical she seemed to be about it.
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As far as things that don’t have to do directly with our situation…she said people think creationism and evolution have to be mutually exclusive, which she doesn’t agree with (another reason why I like her so much – “I don’t agree with”, not “that’s not true”).  There is no denying natural selection and evolution, but she does not believe everything came from one cell with science and nothing else.  I can get behind that.  She said we believe the bible to be true because different texts came from different places in the world and match pretty well – also, that they were stories told from generation to generation before they were written down.  Still kind of iffy on this one – but I think I am going to read it (get excited for that blog post ;-).  And the big one, why doesn’t God stop bad people…because one of his gifts to us, that he would be taking away, is free will.  If God just “made” people be nice to each other, instead of it being a choice, we wouldn’t have free will.  And if he stopped only the activities or people who are bad, we would find new ways, or new people who would be bad.  That one is going to make me think for a while.
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My last question of our meeting was, what do I do when I feel my faith slipping.  She said keep making the choice to believe, read the psalms (apparently there are lots of people yelling at God in there), and think about the things that make me talk to God – whether I’m asking him for help or thanking him.  And to not let the devil, demons, what have you twist the knife when I’m having a bad day.  So that is what I will do for now.
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And Mom – you’d be so proud, I did not tell her I was going to start my own religion 😉  I wonder if that bishop remembers 10 year old me?

What’s God got to do with it? Part 1

I was brought up in a strong Catholic community – church every Sunday, CCD or youth group once a week, Catholic Youth Camp for a week in the summer, as a camper in jr. high and high school and as a counselor when I was in college (in Panora Iowa – you should think about it if you’re looking for a summer camp for your kids, it was AWESOME, and no, we did not pray the whole time).  I did have some issues with the Catholic church, mostly to do with sexism, so when Joel and I got married, we searched around – Catholic, Presbyterian, Lutheran – and finally found a Lutheran church we both liked.  I thanked him in good times, and turned to him in bad times – I’ve always felt my relationship with God was very good.

Then all this craziness with my Teagie started.  In my post last week, I mentioned that (while I am usually pretty happy), sometimes I am PISSED.  A lot of that anger is aimed at God.  So…I emailed one of the pastors at our church, Pastor Melissa (YEAH, GIRL POWER!!).  I gave her a brief run-down of our life, told her I feared my relationship with God was irreparably damaged, and asked her if I could talk to someone about these questions.  She got back to me right away, said she would be happy to talk to me, and that she was praying for me.  So, tomorrow night after T goes to bed, I will be meeting with the Preacher Lady.  So now I’m thinking about what I’m going to say to her.  These are the things on my mind…
If there is a God (which I have always firmly believed there is), and he is all powerful, how could he let something like this happen?  And forget about me.  No, it is not how I had pictured my life…I’ve always said I wanted to have my children around 30 so they would be off to college around 50, and I could enjoy my golden years with Joel, watching my children growing their own families, and becoming the doting grandmother that Teag’s own grandmothers are now.  But whatever – Teagan is the light of my life, and I will do what I need to do to give my babe the best life she can have.  What about her?  She is 100% innocent…why, for what reason, could God let this happen to her?  And what about all the other effed up things in the world – huh?  Why?  I seriously don’t understand.  How could humans treat other humans so badly?  Why doesn’t he stop it?
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I’ll give you a couple things we hear about God fairly often.  And if you’ve said something like this to me, please don’t be offended – I 100% understand what you mean, I’m just being a little self centered, cynical and bitchy here.
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1. God only gives you what you can handle.
Bullshit.  If this was true, no one would ever commit suicide.
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2. She has these extra challenges and that is why God chose you and Joel to be her parents.
Does God has a quota of special needs children he needs to fill?  So he looks for parents who will put in the effort for them?  If by some asinine chance that were the case, we wouldn’t hear all these stories of people not working with their special needs children because they don’t have the resources, can’t admit to themselves that something is wrong with their child, or just don’t care enough.  Which by the way, is what makes me saddest out of anything I’ve experienced so far…Teagie is living proof of how much the therapy can help.  Anyway, back to cynical and bitchy…
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3. Everything happens for a reason, trust in God and it will be okay.
What. Could. POSSIBLY, be the reason for Teagan having extra struggles.  Apart from her inspiring someone in her life to be a geneticist and figure out how to stop genetic abnormalities from happening, I can’t imagine…
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Now Mom, I know what you’re thinking – you’re worried I am very sad.  I’m not crying myself to sleep – I had an awesome day at work, a great evening playing with my babe and cuddling with her before she went to bed, and now I’m going to have a glass of wine with my husband.  So don’t worry about me.  But I can’t wait to hear what Pastor Melissa has to say, and I’ve thought about these things a lot, as I’m sure people in similar (or maybe even not so similar) situations have – so I wanted to share.
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We shall see!

Teag’s progress – March round-up

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T and I at Joseph’s b-day party

It has been a very exciting month in the life of Teagie.  I almost wrote this post early, because by mid-month she had done so many new, exciting things.  Her special edu teacher Julie had her twin baby girls (CONGRATS Julie – and we miss you!) so we’ve been working with a new teacher named Kristin, who is awesome, as well as her usual team of PTs and OT.  With Kristin we’ve been working a lot on communication – we’re ready for that Teagie to be talking!

On March 10th, Teag started saying “Mama” a lot (we’ve been getting “Dada” for months now, Joel was starting to get conceited ;-)).  She’s also big on “Nana” and b-sounds.  On March 14th she gave her pops a nice b-day present – she started dropping blocks, balls, etc. in multiple receptacles – buckets, her toy cookie jar, funnels, etc.  This is a developmental step I don’t know too much about, but the teachers/therapists were REAL excited about it.

And my favorite…on March 15th, Joel said “Teagan, clap!”…and she did.  I never thought one tiny clap could make me so happy…we knew she could hear, but with her diagnosis we didn’t know if she would understand – and obviously, she can!  That little clap was so very big.  Since then, we’ve been testing lots of words – we’ll hold up pieces from a farm puzzle she has and tell her to get different animals – she’s a pro!  And her pals at daycare have taught her “If you’re happy and you know it” – so cute.

Since Teagie is proud to be Irish, she celebrated by having a stellar St. Patrick’s Day…on March 17 she stacked a block, drew with her aquadoodle toy (just for a second, but she did it!), and lifted her sippy cup to her mouth in her high chair.  The $@%# sippy cup!  FINALLY!  Meal-time continues to be the most challenging (unless we’re having pancakes, in which case she feeds herself like a pro) – and that sippy cup had been staring at me accusingly for months.  It may not be much – but it is progress.  She is also rolling a ball back and forth and doing other activities that are precursors to speech (bet you didn’t know that, huh?).  March is my new favorite month.

We also had a great time with family for cousin Joseph’s b-day party and Easter.

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Playing the drums with Grandpa over Easter

On another note – I get a lot of comments from people about how positive I am, and reading what I’ve just written, I understand why.  But it’s not always this way.  Sometimes I’m pissed – REALLY pissed.  And if I let myself, I can go into a downward spiral real quick thinking about the unfairness of it all and the extra challenges my girl will face.  I might write about this sometime – I’ve thought about it a lot – but right now, I don’t want to put that negativity out into the world.  If it’s in my head it’s one thing, to put it down in words scares me a bit.  I want to be positive for my girl, because I expect positive things for her.

I will say this though…there are things in life we can change, and things we can’t.  Teagan can’t change her chromosomes.  That said, nothing annoys me more than when I see people complain repeatedly about things they have the full power to change.  Dude you’re dating treats you like crap?  Dump him.  Hate your job?  Brush up your resume and see what’s out there.  Change what you can, and save your resolve for the challenges you can’t control.  So thank you for the prayers, positive thoughts, dedicated yoga practices – I’m not even kidding when I say I believe they are working. Please keep doing it for Teagan.  And if there is something in your life making you sad that you can change?  Please do it for you.

(that got weird, didn’t it?)