Struggling to Keep Focus

I can tell it's nearing the end of the semester. Homework is a struggle. While I've been pretty good about staying on top of my reading, I'm starting to daydream about all the books waiting for me on my to-be-read shelf.

Not that I haven't been able to squeeze in a couple of fun reads over the last few weeks. I have. A few weeks ago I read A Wrinkle in Time and, a week or so later, The Sea of Monsters in the Percy Jackson series. This weekend I not only finished my weekly reading assignment in Our Mutual Friend and a few scholarly articles on Dickens's treatment of the feminine, but I also managed to finish off Seduced by Sin.

Those three books were easy, quick reads. I purposely picked them because I know that I can't afford to get drawn into any of the more complex novels sitting on my TBR shelf. Young adult novels don't require a lot of brain power or thoughtful reflection. The same goes for historical romances. Not that I'm knocking them. Quite the opposite. I quite enjoy "bubble gum" reads.

Since I've signed up for classes in the winter - call me a glutton for punishment - I'm already plotting what I'm going to read over the Christmas break. I'm thinking more bubble gum books! Strangely enough, the plan is to borrow my sister's Sookie Stackhouse books. I believe she has the boxed set and I plan on devouring those books in that week between Christmas and New Years. (I have to catch up to my cousin and sister so we can discuss what happened!)

But first, I need to get through the rest of Our Mutual Friend and write a 16-page paper about angels and demons in Dickens. Sounds fun, right?

I Am Thankful For..

I am thankful for my family.

I am thankful for the husband who cooks and cleans, who helps with homework, who takes my boys hunting and fishing, who lets me soak in the tub and enjoy a good book, who bites his tongue when he'd rather not, and who loves me despite all my faults.

I am thankful for my oldest boy who plays the same games his brother wants to play, who doesn't argue with us when we remind him to do his homework, who is content to be alone or can enjoy a good friend's company, and who still asks me to tuck him at night.

I am thankful for my littlest boy who gives me hugs and kisses whenever and wherever, who cleans his room even when he doesn't want to, who idolizes his big brother, and who writes love letters and leaves them lying around the house for Mom and Dad to find.

I am so thankful for each of them.

I am also thankful that the recent scare with my brother didn't have anything to do with the heart problems he had as an infant. I'm thankful the EKGs, the Echo, and the heart enzymes all came back normal. I'm thankful he didn't have a heart attack or need open heart surgery again. I am thankful that antibiotics and a lot of rest will be enough to make him healthy and obnoxious once more.

I am thankful for my sisters who spend time scrapbooking, talking books, and going out to the movies with me, who irritate me and then make me laugh, who sit in hospital waiting rooms and share their worries, who listen to my complaints, encourage me to do better, and never except my lame excuses.

I am thankful for my baby brother who cherishes family above all, who has become a wonderful husband and father, who gathers us together with bonfires and parties at all times of the year, who makes me smile when he smiles, and who never fails to watch over his sisters when we're out drinking and dancing in public (we think it's quite adorable).

I am thankful for the wonderful women my brothers have married who never make me feel like unwanted in-law, who enjoy spending time with our dysfunctional and crazy family, who are there to lean on and celebrate with, and whom I can't imagine not having in my life.

I am thankful for my husband's family who has always treated me like one of their own. I am thankful for hours spent playing board games and cards, for the care and concern they show to my side of the family, for camping trips, and for the love and laughter they share with my boys.

I am thankful for my parents. For my dad who is always there, who will drive to Canada if necessary to retrieve my stranded husband and his family, who babysits whenever asked, who loans out his vehicle, his camper, his house, and who comes to his grandkids's sporting events in foul and fair weather. I am grateful for my dad who never fails to show us just how much he loves us.

I am thankful for my mom whose face lights up when she sees my boys walk through the door, who e-mails me when she can, and who tells me she cried watching the DVD I made of our boys playing football.

I am thankful for the nieces and nephews who make my heart melt.

I am thankful for our friends who always have a cold one waiting, who enjoy doubling up on "date night", who will always say yes to a concert or a show if able, who spend vacations with us, and who have become a part of our family.

As you can see, I am truly blessed by all that I am thankful for.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

A snippet from Great-Grandpa's Writings

Disclaimer: I did not write this story. As I did not write this story, it does not belong to me. All credit is due to my Great-Grandfather, Arthur E. Spencer.

Great-Grandpa Spencer and his siblings.

“Doc” J. C. Johnson, P.T.

I got into a very tough scrape with the same bug that killed my mother’s father, Harvey Farrar, out in the Dakota Territory in the spring of 1888 and my grandmother’s second husband, Henry Rextrew in February of 1924, while they were living on the farm across from the Spring Hill School – pneumonia.

There being no penicillin, Dr. Chapin’s only treatment was lots of liquids and mustard plasters. These were prepared by making a paste with lots of mustard. Take two tablespoons to a cup of flour, enough water to moisten and then spread this on a piece of cotton sheeting and cover with two or more thicknesses of cotton flannel to retain the heat. The plasters were heated by placing a pan of hot water on the “sandwich” and then placing the plaster on the back or front of the chest successively for half an hour every two hours. Somehow I survived the disease and the treatment, but barely! I became ill on March 22, 1922 and when school opened in the fall in early September, I was still too weak to walk more than a few steps. I had a coaster wagon and my sisters took turns hauling me to school, a journey of four blocks, to the old high school building in Columbiaville. After a few days, one of my “worst enemies”, J.C. Johnson, with whom I had engaged in many fights, hauled me home a few times. Then one afternoon, he proposed that we make a game of getting my strength back. Jay had a job of getting George McIntyre’s cows back to the barn on the hill a half a mile west of town. It would take about an hour. The key to Jay’s plan was Trixie, a boxer bitch. The plan was for me to slip my hand through the loop of the leash so I could not let go, hold Trixie by the collar till Jay could get out ahead of us about 50 feet. Then he would yell “Here Trixie” and we would go. Often sprawling in the gravel – sometimes bawling – but go we did. Day after day, longer and longer spurts, until in late October when the pasture gave out, I was able to run, really run, by myself!!

If J.C. had only written a paper and sent it to the County or State Medical Society, he might have become the father of Physical Therapy. The way Jay figured, if lame horses could be healed with careful exercise, maybe I could be made strong again. It worked, thanks to J.C. Johnson. The year again was 1922.

Need Help...from Kazakhstan.

So, I've mentioned that I'm enrolled in two classes this semester, haven't I? There's the Dickens class that meets every week and then there's the online Kazakh-American Reading Group that I'm participating in as an Independent Study course.

The first course is going well. I've managed to stay on top of the reading. Done well on both the first presentation and the small paper. As of today, I'm about halfway through the last book, Our Mutual Friend, and beginning to work on my final paper. Things I have complete control over.

What I don't have control over? My Kazakh-American Reading Group. Participation has been a bit sketchy. We only had a handful of Kazakh women participating and all of them were doing it because they wanted to, not because they were in any way required to. On the other side of that equation, there were the handful of graduate students who are absolutely required to participate if they want a good grade at the end of the semester. I fit into the second half of that equation. While I was very excited and eager to take advantage of this unique opportunity to learn about another culture through a discussion on American literature, I was also aware that at some point my instructor would be grading me.

So, to make a long story short, participation was sketchy. I think we're down to one active Kazakh woman and perhaps three or four graduate students. Because we only made it through one book, I need to do something extra to receive full credit for the course.

So, I decided to explore an alternative delivery method. I created a Blackboard course (well, I'm still creating it, to be honest) and now I need to test the international internet barriers. I need someone from Kazakhstan to visit the university's Blackboard site.

I've sent individual e-mails. And now I've resorted to posting directly to the group, instructor, fellow grad students, and all.

I find it very difficult to not be in complete control of my coursework!

Enjoying the Weekends

The last couple of weekends have been so very enjoyable. Right now we're in between sporting seasons, so there are no games or meets to attend on the weekend. We're also in between holidays, so there are no parties planned or last minute shopping to do. Nope, these last couple of weekends have been completely free.

For the first time in who knows how long, my weekends have been free!

Sure, I've had to do homework, but even that has been relatively easy because I've only had to read and make a few comments in my Kazakh-American reading group. No papers to write just yet. Research, yes. Actual writing, no.

Since the homework has been on task and the house isn't a complete disaster, I've been able to fight a few monsters on Final Fantasy XIII, read a couple of non-school-assigned books, and watch a few movies.

This weekend I also made a point of visiting with my Grandma. She's 82 and not in the best of health. Her lungs can't really handle Michigan winters, which effectively keeps her housebound during these cold months. Understandably, a visit goes a long way in relieving the boredom.

Yesterday, we went through a box of very old pictures - pictures from the eras of my great-grandparents and great-great grandparents. She helped me put together a rudimentary family tree; it's missing a lot of branches right now, but hopefully we'll be filling this in as the months go by. Even better? I videotaped the whole thing, so when my chicken scratch fails to do the job, I can always go back to the video in order to check the facts.

On a completely unrelated note, I guess I should probably mention that I've sent out several queries but have yet to hear back from the majority of them. Patience...that's what the publishing game truly requires of its players.

Love This Quote

I resent people who say writers write from experience. Writers don't write from experience, though many are hesitant to admit that they don't. I want to be clear about this. If you wrote from experience, you'd get maybe one book, maybe three poems. Writers write from empathy.

~Nikki Giovanni, interview published in Black Women Writers at Work (1984)


While the hubby and I were on vacation last week, we did a whole lot of nothing. It was fabulous.

Of course, since it was the end of October, there were lots of Halloween related activities to help us pass the time.

There was the annual trip to the Pumpkin stand.

Which, of course, means that there would be carvings to do. I love the fact that, for the most part, the boys are capable of doing the messy work themselves! The only thing the hubby and I really did was cut out the stalks. The boys emptied out the guts and did most of the cutting. Very little parental assistance was required.

Gage's is on the left, KC's is on the right. Not bad! KC's carving was 100% all him, but Gage required some assistance on the mouth and one of the eyes.

Later that week, we visited the little man's 4th grade classroom during their Halloween party. Even though we were a tad bit late getting there, he still gave me the thumbs up.

After the kids finished eating, there was a make-your-own-mummy contest. Gage's group won!

Then there were the parties! Oh, how we love a good Halloween party. The first one took place just over a half-mile from our house, which was awesome! The kids joined us for the first few hours, then, when they had had enough, we took them home and left the oldest in charge. He ended up babysitting his brother and five cousins that night. And everyone behaved!

We didn't get in until after 3 a.m. As you can imagine, the kids were all fast asleep in front of the television.

Ken, KC, & my brother, Jake.

My sister, Megan, me, and my sister-in-law, Jaime.

Me with my brother and sister.

Me with my oldest.

The next party was the night before Halloween. This one wasn't right around the corner from home, though, which means we left the party much earlier than we had the previous one.

I also changed up my costume. Instead of a Renaissance dress, I put together a steampunk costume. Of course, no one else knew what I "was", but that's okay. I don't know how well you can see the bits and pieces of the costume, but my favorite parts were the hat and the lacy shirt/jacket with the red bodice. And my boots. Love my new boots.

My steampunk costume.

Angie, Amie (our hostess), Terri and Me.

Me & the hubby.

Archie, Me, Ken, and Terri

Erik (our fabulous host) at his DJ station.

And finally, there is Halloween night. This year we broke with tradition and did something completely unique. Usually my Mother- and Father-In-Law play host on this particular holiday. This year several contributing factors, not the least among them my Mother-in-Law's health, made it impossible for them to extend their hospitality to everyone.

When my brother heard about this, he offered to pull a hay wagon around North Lake. He just had to clean off the trailer and find some bales. Everyone agreed this sounded like a fabulous idea. Soon enough his wife was also planning a bonfire and cookout.

The food was awesome, by the way! Good job, ladies!

After the kids ate, it was time to get them dressed. Soon enough we had them lined up for pictures and onto the hay wagon.

The only missing child is my nephew, Christian. He went trick-or-treating elsewhere.

I think the kids enjoyed the experience despite the bitter cold. By the end of the night their bags were heavy with candy and they were covered in blankets for the short ride back to Uncle Jake and Aunt Jaime's house.

All in all, I'd have to say it was an amazing Halloween!