Liz Andra Shaw

Journey into the Creative Mind of a Writing Reader

Book Review: Anna’s Book by Barbara Vine (Ruth Rendell)

September 28th, 2016
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annas-book
Anna’s Book by Ruth Rendell writing as Barbara Vine is not your typical mystery. For the longest time, it seems to be the story of a family told through the eyes of a woman who has discovered her grandmother’s diary.

Anna, the grandmother, is a Norwegian woman stranded in London in the early 1900s with a husband that is never around, even for the birth of his children. She writes her feelings in her journals, but to her children, she is strict and unfeeling.

When Anna dies, her favorite daughter, Swanny, finds and publishes one of the journals. It becomes popular, and Swanny is in demand as a speaker. There are secrets within the journals, however, but Swanny is only interested in one. Anna had intimated to Swanny that she was adopted, but no matter how she begged, Anna went to her grave with the secret intact. Swanny searches the journals to no avail. They seem to say that Anna is her birth mother, but then why would Anna have told her such a hurtful thing?

When Swanny dies, her niece Ann, picks up the journals and find yet another mystery. Was it murder? And what about the young girl that went missing – could it be Swanny? Ann won’t stop researching until she has the answer.

This book jumps from Anna’s point of view to Ann’s and back again, which is challenging at the beginning, but becomes interesting as the book goes on. The story unfolds deliciously slowly, teasing and seducing the reader into reading more.

This is not a book that fans of faster paced mysteries will enjoy, but if you like British mysteries I suggest Anna’s Book by Ruth Rendell writing as Barbara Vine.

 

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The Story of the People

September 7th, 2016
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Every culture has a Story of the People to give meaning to the world. Part conscious and part unconscious, it consists of a matrix of agreements, narratives, and symbols that tell us why we are here, where we are headed, what is important, and even what is real. I think we are entering a new phase in the dissolution of our Story of the People, and therefore, with some lag time, of the edifice of civilization built on top of it….

But the new mythos has not yet emerged. We will abide for a time in the space between stories. Those of you who have been through it on a personal level know that it is a very precious – some might say sacred – time. Then we are in touch with the real. Each disaster lays bare the real underneath our stories. The terror of a child, the grief of a mother, the honesty of not knowing why. In such moments we discover our humanity. We come to each other’s aid, human to human. We take care of each other. That’s what keeps happening every time there is a calamity, before the beliefs, the ideologies, the politics take over again.

How can we prepare? We cannot prepare. But we are being prepared.

Charles Eisenstein


Thank you to Bruce Potter on Flickr for the photo of Vishnu and alla’ them from the Hindi creation myths.

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Loving my Instant Pot!

August 16th, 2016
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I got a 7 in 1 Instant Pot for Prime Day on Amazon. I’ve had an electric pressure cooker for years, and loved using it. The Instant Pot is all that and so much more. Since I got it, I’ve made beef curry, yogurt (in bottles and not in bottles), barbecue chicken, and corn on the cob. It’s quite different from my old pressure cooker, mostly because it has so many more features. I’m starting to get the hang of it, so I wanted to try some things I’ve never made in my pressure cooker before.

Today I had an unexpected root canal, so I’m home with ice on my face and a craving for something soft and sweet that will fit with my diet. I decided on baked apples! You could certainly add brown sugar, honey, or maple syrup to this recipe, but I was keeping it low cal. It’s plenty sweet without them.

First, I halved the apples and removed the cores. I placed them skin down in the Instant Pot liner pan and poured PomWonderful pomegranate juice over them. Then I sprinkled with cinnamon, raisins, and walnut pieces.

baked apples1

I put on the lid and set the thingamabob to Sealing. Then I plugged the pot in and pressed the Manual button. It automatically set as High, which is what I wanted. I then adjusted the time to 10 minutes and let it start.

baked-apples2

Once it beeped that it was done, I allowed the natural pressure release to happen. It took about 20 minutes. When I opened the pot, the fantastic smell overwhelmed me! I could hardly wait to dig in! Yum! A perfect treat for a not-so-good day.

baked apples4

Here’s the exact ingredients I used:

  • 6 small gala apples
  • 1 cup PomWonderful Pomegranate juice
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 1/4 cup walnut pieces
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon

My Fitness Pal tells me that a half-apple serving is just 101 calories, but it tastes like it’s going to break your diet. Try it!

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Quote: Trust Your Demon – Roger Zelazney

July 6th, 2016
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writer

Occasionally, there arises a writing situation where you see an alternative to what you are doing, a mad, wild gamble of a way for handling something, which may leave you looking stupid, ridiculous or brilliant — you just don’t know which.

You can play it safe there, too, and proceed along the route you’d mapped out for yourself.

Or you can trust your personal demon who delivered that crazy idea in the first place.

Trust your demon.

Introduction to “Passion Play” (1962) Roger Zelazney


Thank you to Drew Coffman on Flickr for the awesome graphic!

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Book Review: The Improbable Wonders of Moojie Littleman

June 29th, 2016
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MoojieLittleman

Moojie Littleman was abandoned on the church steps as a baby. He grew  up with bad legs and a claw hand. His adoptive mother saw his inner beauty, but she died young. His adoptive father couldn’t see past his inability to speak clearly and to do “guy” things. He abandoned Moojie to the cranky care of his grandfather, a hillbilly who ran a dairy farm. Moojie grew up angry and his longing for a real family became more crippling than his physical handicaps.

Pappy got Moojie exercising and  then saddled him with chores and work around the farm to do. Slowly Moojie learned to speak, walk with braces, and use his hand for the chores. His chores gave him the opportunity to explore the hills around the farm, and there he met The Lighteaters. This clan of loveable misfits are the sworn enemies of his Pappy and the townfolk who call them The Hostiles.

Moojie longed to become part of the Lighteater clan, but they wouldn’t accept him until he learned to live by The Code. Through his improbable adventures, Moojie learned the power of mercy, charity, forgiveness, and love.

This is a quirky, funny, and touching story that will surprise and delight you. I highly recommend it!

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My Dysfunctional Relationship

June 15th, 2016
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sleep disorder

Once upon a time, I had a great relationship with sleep. I could sleep anywhere, anytime and awake refreshed. I loved sleeping in on weekends. I loved curling up on the couch in the middle of the afternoon and falling asleep over a good book. In the 1980s, that all changed.

It started with excessive daytime tiredness. No matter how much sleep I got, I was always tired. I went to bed tired, and I woke up even more tired. At one point I joked to my roommate that I felt so tired it was like I’d run a marathon in my sleep. The next morning she told me that she’d looked into my room during a middle-of-the-night bathroom run, and that she had seen me running a marathon in my bed while fast asleep. This simple observation kicked off over a year of insanity.

I spent a week in the hospital being tested for every neurological problem my doc could think of, from tumors to multiple sclerosis to epilepsy. I had scans, including a CT with contrast where we discovered I’m allergic to the contrast. I was given such a huge shot of benadryl after breaking out in whole body hives that I was high for several days. (Yes, not sleepy, high. Paradoxical reaction.) Then there was the lumbar puncture that had me down for days with a massive headache, the nerve conduction study that left bruises over my entire body, and finally the sleep EEG.

Before I tell you about the sleep EEG, let me tell you about the nurses on my unit. They were tasked to check in on me throughout the night to see if they could observe the strange night movements. They would check one time and report to the doctor that I had slept peacefully all night long. One night, they noted that they had checked at 1:02 am and that I had been asleep in bed. At that time, however, I was actually walking the hallways because my legs were so restless. The security guard, who I walked with for several hours backed up my story that I was not in bed. At 1:02 am, I was having a tour of the lobby with him. Not that the nurses would ever admit that they weren’t actually doing their checks. Nope.

The sleep study occurred without warning one morning at 8:30 am. Yes, 8:30 in the morning. Crazy, right? They took to me a lab in a wheelchair and had me climb up on a gurney. Oh, so comfortable for sleeping. They attached wires all over my head and told me to go to sleep. I had a lovely view of the sun through the bank of east-facing windows just 5 feet to my left. The fluorescent lighting completed the mood lighting for this “sleep study.” Amazingly, I managed to fall asleep anyway, and the show began. According to the technician, she had never seen anything like it. My EEG showed that I was asleep, but my legs, arms, and entire body were flailing about crazily. She ended up waking me up in fear that I would fall off the gurney.

All this insanity ended up with me having a diagnosis of myoclonic jerks in sleep and a prescription for clonopin, which ironically made it worse. A year later, due to the jerking starting to occur during the day, I had a similar hospital stay with identical results – a diagnosis that means nothing and no help. My neurologist threw up his hands and sent me to a neuropsychologist.

The neuropsychologist was wise enough to have me fill out some dietary information. Turns out, the culprit was NutraSweet, and as soon as I eliminated it from my diet, my relationship to sleep was restored.

Fast forward to last year. I reported to a health screening at work, and my diastolic blood pressure was off the charts high. That landed me back at the doc’s being given a trial of meds to bring it down. That didn’t work, but in looking at my BP, I noticed that it was always high in the morning and low at night. I started to wonder if my legs were running marathons at night again. Indeed, I had been waking up with low back pain and tweaked muscles in my legs for a while, but hadn’t even thought about the myoclonic jerks, which are now known as Periodic Limb Movements Disorder (PLMD). My doc started me on a very low dose of a med for Parkinson’s and it seemed to be working.

Periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD) is unique in that the movements occur during sleep. Most other movement disorders manifest during wakefulness. The condition is remarkably periodic, and the movements may cause poor sleep and subsequent daytime somnolence. PLMD may occur with other sleep disorders and is related to, but not synonymous with, restless legs syndrome (RLS), a less specific condition with sensory features that manifest during wakefulness. The majority of patients with RLS have PLMD, but the reverse is not true. Treatment involves either dopaminergic medication in an attempt to modify activity of the subcortical motor system or, more commonly, sedative medications to allow uninterrupted sleep. -Medscape

Nobody really knows what causes PLMD. PLMD frequently occurs along with Restless Legs Syndrome, which is a creepy-crawly feeling in the legs that is only relieved by moving them. Ironically, exercise and stretching your legs before sleep will decrease the RLS symptoms but exacerbate the PLMD symptoms. Also, the medication that they are giving me for the PLMD is causing me more RLS symptoms while I’m awake. I don’t feel safe driving at night anymore, even if I  haven’t taken the medication yet. The RLS symptoms are starting earlier and earlier in the evening, which is a known side effect of the medications.

More good news:

The idiopathic form of this syndrome may be chronic. Relapses and remissions may occur, but treatment does not appear to modify the disease. -Medscape

All that can really be done is to try to control the symptoms. There are some foods you should avoid – caffeine topping the online lists, but take it from me, get off anything with NutraSweet (aspartame) as well.

Most of the online sources talk about a stereotypical leg movement, however I’m having full body movements, just like I did back in the ’80s. The week I wrote this, I woke up with my entire right trunk in pain due to pulled muscles from the PLMD. My low back and my hips, however, are the usual complainers.

This post is a bit of a downer, but I wrote it because there is someone out there who is suffering and doesn’t know what is causing it. I hope this post will help them reach out for help. Go have a sleep study – they are better about how they do those nowadays. And for a laugh, see if you can find the Mad About You episode where Jamie has the sleep study – it’s Season 6 Episode 22. When you see Jamie asleep, you’ll understand my story even better.


Thanks to Thomas Bartherote on Flickr for the photo!

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How a Writer Should Live – William Saroyan

June 8th, 2016
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life

The most solid advice for a writer is this, I think:

Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep really to sleep.

Try as much as possible to be wholly alive with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell.

And when you get angry, get good and angry.

Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.
Preface to The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze (1934) by William Saroyan

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Recipe: Spicy Sweet Potatoes

June 1st, 2016
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sweet potatoes

These are succulent, sweet, and spicy. I’ll never cook sweet potatoes any other way. I didn’t measure the ingredients, and it worked out perfectly.

Spicy Sweet Potatoes

  • 3 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
    (about 6 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil or canola oil
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar (I used coconut sugar.)
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

In a zip-top plastic bag, toss potatoes and oil. Combine remaining
ingredients; add to bag; toss to coat.

Transfer to a greased 11×7 inch baking dish. (I did not grease mine, as the potatoes had plenty of oil on them.)

Bake, uncovered, at 400F for 40-45 minutes or until potatoes are tender, stirring every 15 minutes.

This recipe is from Taste of Home.


Thanks to Su-Lin on Flickr for this great photo. I ate mine too quickly to snap a pic, but they look just like these.

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The Inner Life – E.M. Forster

May 25th, 2016
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inner life

A man does not talk to himself quite truly — not even to himself: the happiness or misery that he secretly feels proceeds from causes that he cannot quite explain, because as soon as he raises them to the level of the explicable they lose their native quality.

The novelist has a real pull here. He can show the subconscious short-circuiting straight into action (the dramatist can do this too); he can also show it in its relation to soliloquy. He commands all the secret life, and he must not be robbed of this privilege. “How did the writer know that?” it is sometimes said. “What’s his standpoint? He is not being consistent, he’s shifting his point of view from the limited to the omniscient, and now he’s edging back again.” Questions like this have too much the atmosphere of the law courts about them.

EM Forster, Aspects of the Novel

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Liz Andra Shaw

Journey into the Creative Mind of a Writing Reader