Tuesday, March 30, 2021

On My Bookshelf: March

 Another month of wondrous Michigan out of the way...she's extra temperamental in the spring, always sending snippets of warm weather followed by a winter storm. It doesn't matter that I've spent my entire life in this state, I'm always fooled by that false spring. This year was no exception!

It's also odd to think that this is a year later after quarantine. Life is so different! One of my biggest changes is that I'm reading WAYYY more than I did before. Reading has become a necessary part of my day, which is such a contrast from before. It's like I spent years reading very little, and then I had time to read, so I took it! I haven't read this much since I was a kid, devouring those chapter books like they were treats.

This spring has also led to reading outside on our swing overlooking the backyard. Sometimes deer and squirrels will come up for a visit, much to the chagrin of my ever-present beagle, who points his tail and goes insane. Apparently once a hunting dog, always a hunting dog!

by Erika Buenaflor, M.A., J.D.

This book is similar to one I read last year about curanderismo. Now that I have a little background knowledge I have a deeper understanding of the text. This book gives more background about ancient Mayan people and their culture, which helps explain the different traditions. It's odd still to see elements of my own family's traditions woven around different customs. I never thought to question why we did certain things; they were just part of who we are and what we did. As an adult trying to learn more about her heritage, it's helpful to make those connections. I 100% think you should read this book if you're Latinx and looking for more ways to look into your past. It's opening a whole new world of research for me...books. There are more books I have to buy!

By Jean Nicole Rivers

This may be a little-known fact to my faithful readers, but I really started my love of reading in the horror/mystery genre. I first recall stealing a Mary Higgins Clark from my Mom's bookshelf in 4th or 5th grade, and then I was completely hooked. I later jumped to Stephen King and just fell hard for the scary stuff. So when this book series came across my Tik Tok last month, I decided to give it a try. 

The story jumps ahead years after the disappearance of a young woman in a small town; police find her body, and her friends and family grapple with the investigation. Regina, the main character, tried to run from her past and is pushed right in the middle of it after they discover her friend's corpse. It's a basic mystery, an oldie but a goodie, as my Grandma would say. While I did love the plot and the details, sometimes the author's writing style didn't quite mesh with my usual style. It's still good work, and I'll be reading the next one in the series since a good story is always worth reading!

By Audrey Niffenegger

This book kept popping up on my Amazon recommended list and I was interested in the front cover. Still, I didn't order it until it went on sale because I wasn't sure about what to expect. It is a beautifully illustrated story about three sisters, their lives together, and the obstacles that keep them apart. The storyline was short and to the point, but the real captivating aspect of this book was the illustrations. I didn't just look at each page, I experienced it, which may sound weird, but hey, this is my blog and I can talk about things how I wish. I will use this book to help inspire me in some of my future artistic endeavors. 

By Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook

I 100% judged this graphic novel by its cover. My favorite genre for as long as I can remember has always been horror, but this image went beyond that. There's a sort of domestic tranquility implied with a skin tucked away gently into a drawer, the blinking yellow eyes of a ghoul just inside. I was intrigued and had to read it!

The main character discovers dark secrets about herself, secrets about her family, secrets about the town where she lives. There's so much to unpack in each little scene that I keep going back to reread in case I've missed something. The art is fantastic, the storyline is well-written, and though I would not give this to children, it's certainly a good read for adults. I've already ordered the next one in the series!

By Charles Phillips

Once when I was a kid I visited my Aunt and Uncle with the rest of the family. At some point during our visit, I managed to find a coffee table book about mysteries, monsters, and other creepy coincidences in history. I can't say definitively that it was the moment I really fell in love with the genre, but it was certainly a good start.

This book brings up mysteries I'd never considered or researched; people going missing or dying under mysterious circumstances is far more common than I'd previously considered. I liked how the author made sure to address the burning questions about each case, though leaving it up to the reader to decide for themselves. Maybe I'll save this one for my nephew to find in a few years :)


Sunday, March 28, 2021

5 Months Later: My COVID Case

The passage of time is so odd. Sometimes it speeds up, nearly a mile a minute, and then it slows to a crawl. But it's not always measured by speed. Sometimes time is more time, packed tightly together until it is compressed. I would say 2020 fits that description, as well as the first part of 2021.

October 22nd will always be a strange day since that's when I received the phone call that my painful "cold" wasn't even a cold at all, but COVID. I remember standing (then plopping onto the bed) in complete disbelief. Because after months of my fiance working in a hospital with COVID patients we didn't get it, but me working with students for less than a week led to a positive test result. It explained why I felt so off.

And then there were the symptoms, the whole thing. I remember being so tired it hurt and every part of me wanted to sleep but couldn't. I remember struggling to breathe when I talked to my students every day because I was worried they would worry, and I wanted to help my school, so I logged in and taught online. In hindsight, I should have rested. 

Over time, my symptoms have lessened or changed, but COVID is still very present in my life. Even after both doses of the vaccine, I can feel some of the effects. It has been about 5 months since my diagnosis, and it wasn't until a week ago that I finally had some semblance of normal.  5 months is a long time to not feel well. And despite the fact that I did not die or end up in the hospital, it greatly impacted my mind and body.

So I thought it would be a good idea to give everyone an update about my symptoms. To be honest, we don't know what happens to COVID survivors years down the line. These effects are just the ones I can see/feel.

My Long Term Effects of COVID

***Internal damage/pulmonary embolism scare

When I didn't start feeling better by January, I knew I had to see the doctor. It had been nearly three months, and my school planned to return to face-to-face learning. I was worried that I could even walk to each location where I teach, and I needed to get a handicap pass to lessen the distance. So I made an appointment to figure it all out.

The doctor was worried about my safety after hearing that we were returning to face-to-face learning, and ran a series of tests. She found that I indeed had diminished lung capacity as well as some difficulties with my heart rate. It's common for COVID survivors to have lung/heart damage, so I wasn't surprised, but definitely defeated. She prescribed me multiple inhalers and gave some advice about recovery.

Then a test came back positive, and I received a very worried phone call; I needed to have a CT scan ASAP to determine whether or not I had a pulmonary embolism (a blood clot in my lungs). I went to the emergency room and was helped by a very wonderful group of nurses. The doctor read my scan immediately and determined that, while I did not have an embolism in my lungs, there was some scarring. It explained why I was still so tired and unable to return to normal function. 

That week was the worst. I was either at the doctor's office, blood-drawing site, or ER every day for a week straight. By the way, my blood clotted way too quickly, and I had to go back and get poked again. It was pretty miserable.

***Loss of Muscle/endurance/increased heart rate

Whenever I've been sick in the past, it might take a few weeks, but then I could go back to my previous activities. The flu might take two weeks, but eventually, I could return to my routine. 

One of the first activities I returned to after COVID was walking. I could only walk short distances at first, from the bed to my computer chair, from the couch to the kitchen. My step counter shows how I very slowly returned back to even a small amount of movement. I was averaging 15-20,000 steps a day pre-COVID, and afterward, I barely reached 3,000. There were some days lower than this.

Over the past 5 months, I've tracked my progress in the app, noting that I could not sustain increased activity for more than a day or two without days of recovery. It's very frustrating to feel well enough to walk one day, then almost bedridden the next. 

I'm able to walk much farther distances now, but I'm incredibly weak compared to pre-COVID. I can't really lift heavy things without considerable effort. Of course, everyday activities require me to lift things, so I can imagine that was part of the reason why my recovery has taken so long.

***Some difficulty typing/writing

I remember back in November trying to speak Spanish to my students and completely failing. That eventually improved, as well as the feeling in my hands and feet. 

One strange thing I've noticed is that I still misspell words. I KNOW how to spell it, but it's like my fingers don't receive the message from my brain. Usually, it's something that my spell checker catches right away, but it does mean that I need more time to write. As someone who could fly through typing, this has been an adjustment. My crafting also suffered, since my fine motor skills took a hit. I've tried to focus on crafts that don't require my fingers to be very sensitive, like doing latch hook rugs or coloring book pages.

Since returning to face-to-face learning with my students, I've noticed difficulty writing on the board too. My handwriting is the same but I make a lot of little mistakes when I write. This has taken a lot of practice to improve!

***Altered Sense of Taste and Smell Leads to Weight Gain

I'll be completely honest; I already had an interesting relationship with food. Sometimes I can't help myself from eating treats, and as a result my weight changes often. It's really easy to shovel cheap, crappy food in my mouth, but to some degree, I could keep things under control.

At first, not being able to taste may seem like an inconvenience. Why is tasting food necessary? Very quickly I noted that foods without strong flavors (salty chips, pickles, swiss cheese, dark chocolate) tasted like mush. When you can't taste you only feel, so things like vegetables and soup were so weird. Couple that with not feeling well, and it's no wonder I gained weight. Now I'm dealing with the effects of being overweight, which don't help my recovery.

When I spoke to my doctor about this, she gave me the idea to try scent therapy. Basically, whenever I eat something, I smell it for a little while and try to remember a time when I smelled or ate something similar. It's a little weird to be sniffing my food all the time, but it's slowly making an impact. Just the other day, I was walking around an outdoor market and smelled herbs/kielbasa at the same time and cried a little (behind my mask of course!). It hit me SO HARD like memories of my Grandma Dolly, and so many memories rushed at once. Of course, I ate some kielbasa and sour kraut in her honor, so it ended well! 


This is the hardest to talk about, and notice how I left it to last! It was really hard to talk about mental health even BEFORE the pandemic. I'm not excited to share my feelings, but it's so important for people to know how bad this can get before they engage in risky behaviors or dismiss it outright. Mental health is important, so I'm going to be transparent about my own.

I had a lot of trouble with insomnia at varying times. Sometimes I could sleep for days straight, and others I wouldn't even be able to nap with only three hours of sleep the night before. I'd turn off my phone, take melatonin, do whatever I could to sleep, but nothing seemed to work. Luckily I was not teaching in person while this took place, so I was relatively safe.

There's also the fear that I spent several weeks wondering if I would get one of my loved ones/coworkers sick and cause serious harm. This is not something that is often discussed, and since it is very difficult to track COVID in large gatherings, I don't know if I'll ever know if I harmed someone. This bothers me sometimes, the not knowing.

Being so tired and anxious about others for so long takes a toll on the human spirit. I barely had the energy to do things I loved, even holding up a book took considerable effort. So my joy and creativity were the first things to go; if I could barely get myself to eat or take a shower, there was no room in my life for other things. If this were for a week or two, it would be fine. It took 5 months, inhalers/medication, and extensive testing for me to return to my craft desk without hesitation. That's a long time to stop doing what I love, and that is damaging for a creative person.

Then there's the injustice of it all. There are still black, brown, and indigenous people who are dying from COVID, and many are doing nothing to help. That hurts my soul, a deep wound that I don't know will ever heal.

ALSO, and I forgot to add this, getting the vaccine was traumatic for me. Not because it was that terrible with symptoms (not even close to the actual virus), but because it triggered my anxiety that it would take a long time for me to feel better again. If I have to get that vaccine every year and still have the side effects, I'll do it in a heartbeat. I just need to emotionally prepare better next time. Get your vaccine, please!

***In Conclusion...

Yes, I am feeling better now. It took so long to get to this point. Sometimes I'll walk someplace and just take a deep breath without it hurting, and maybe tear up a little. Just this little slice of a long-term illness has changed my perspective of life.

I like to think that before COVID I was empathetic towards people with chronic illness or at least aware of the struggles they face. Nope. 100% had no clue, and even just this little bit that I experienced isn't close. There are so many ableist attitudes I've had to confront in myself because they were right in front of me, and I couldn't ignore them. Like the fact that a grocery store setup is not conducive to someone who can't lift/reach/hold things. Or that there are no places to sit in most stores if you get tired. And just forget standing up and teaching for a while, especially if you can't walk, talk, and breathe! I discovered the many workarounds for these situations, but it still affects everyday life.

So in conclusion, dear readers, take care of yourself and your families. Believe someone when they say they've had a difficult time with COVID. Believe someone when they say they're coping with chronic illness and need assistance. When someone asks for help, do whatever you can, because believe me, it takes so much out of your pride and sense of self to admit that you can't do it all.

I hope you're doing well with spring. I can even smell it a little!


Friday, March 19, 2021

The Flint Museum of Art

Recently I had the opportunity to visit the Flint Institute of Art. Over the years I've made plans to visit, and then would change those plans because of the many other things on my plate. I was driving by in the area and thought, "Yep, now works." I was not disappointed!

I wandered around for over an hour, just letting myself feel the art. Since it was during the week there were few people around. I mostly had the place to myself. The quiet made it easier to really absorb what I was looking at. I forget how rich my world was pre-pandemic, at least in terms of in-person art experiences. I used to go several times a month to either the DIA or some other museum nearby.

It is a wonderful experience to see different people interpret the world, and to have that readily available. While I tend to prefer 19th-century paintings, there are so many mediums that can be used to express them. The FIA features ancient art, as well as modern, including photography, glasswork, paintings, carvings, textile art, and even beadwork. 

When I'm viewing pieces at a museum, I look for different things. There's the usual stuff, like jewelry and items that I like to reproduce in my shop. Then I move past that, into inspiration. Sometimes a color combination, often a pattern, or even a technique I'd like to research in the future. I may even use it in my classroom for a visual learning activity.

I've realized too that this year has been incredibly difficult. Between getting COVID and coping with the trauma of a pandemic...I needed something that brought me some joy, that reminded me that this world can still offer beauty. 

Here are a few of the pictures I took while at the FIA, and you can enjoy! I didn't get pictures of every plaque/artist, but if you're particularly interested, I can find out that info pretty quickly and will send it.     
I love that coral jewelry and doll!
The dog, the rug, just all of it.
I've definitely been in the mood for spring...
I know this wasn't meant to be spooky, but church 
with old graveyard at night?
There's something about this dress that caught my eye.
Very life-like!
Again, something in this struck me.
The colors, the expression on the face.
It's hard to see this one up close, but the pattern
was this pretty green with red, blue, and gold accents.
This guy was really, really big and made from glass.
I'm a sucker for ancient greek looking statues...
The colors, patterns, all of it!
This one just brought me back to my old
Catholic School days...
This makes me want to do photography of everyday objects 
in my life as a sort of journal of the pandemic.
Ancient objects always feel like they're hiding secrets.
I'm always astounded by how these objects have survived 
for so long...
This artist had a lot of abstract art, 
and you could really feel each color with each piece of paper
I seriously thought this was a real person and freaked out. 
It is super lifelike and kinda creepy
This one reminded me of paper marbling!
It was the color combo for this one...


Wednesday, March 3, 2021

On My Bookshelf: February

As I return to school full time, face to face with students every day, I find myself a bit more pressed for time. There are still outbreaks in different buildings every week, but I imagine we'll stay in this mode of learning until we absolutely have to shut down due to staffing issues. This is what happened in October when I got COVID. Of course now I'm fully vaccinated, which is a huge plus, but I am the only staff member in my building. The numbers are going down in Michigan, and I'm hoping everything stays that way!

I've had less time to read, but I've made it a point to set aside nearly an hour every day. It's a nice escape, and with the February cold there's not much to do outside anyway! Also, I tried to focus some of my choices around Black History Month, since I'm always looking for more resources to make my classroom better. 

Written by Jo Ann Allen Boyce and Debbie Levy

I wasn't expecting this book to be in poem form when I picked it up at the bookstore. But then again, it was a totally effective technique in telling the story. Jo Ann Allen Boyce does an excellent job of relaying the events of her youth; as a teen, she was in the group of 12 students that started desegregation in Clinton High School in Clinton, Tennessee. She and the others suffered through abuse that's hard to hear; they were physically assaulted, spat on, threatened, and had family members jailed. All of this happened because they simply walked into a building with white students. Desegregation was ugly, nasty business, and I often marvel at how many modern white people romanticize the events, as if it was a small crowd of racists chanting with signs. It was much deeper, more poisonous than that. I will definitely add this to my classroom library. Maybe even a read aloud in class if I can?

By Rae Carson

I'd heard a few things about this book in some of the YA reading groups I'm in, all suggestions to read. I was pleasantly surprised to find a fantastical world with a very Spanish flavor. What do I mean? There's a ton of Spanish words in there, and I absolutely love it. There's a certain home feeling to the book, possibly because it's easy to relate to the main character. I'm loving the elements of fantasy mixed with history mixed fairy tales. It makes for a relaxing read, and YA is one of my favorite genres to visit.

by Ben Passmore

This graphic novel was recommended in a Tiktok I saw awhile ago. It finally came in the mail, and it was good! While the illustration style is not my usual go-to, it definitely complemented the subject area. It centered around all the things your black friend wishes they could say, could tell their white friends. The author did an excellent job of connecting the audience with the main character, but also describing the experiences of other black people. 

by Saladin Ahmed, Sami Kivela, Mattia Iacono, Taj Tenfold, Raul Allen, Jenny Frison

I was instantly drawn to the cover art on this comic, and the series came highly recommended by the person at the comic book store. AND the story is set in Detroit, Michigan, in the 1970's. I can say I was heartily disappointed by the fact that none of the artists or writers were black women, which would have been a much better way of doing this. While I appreciate how artists are including more diverse characters, I think it is essential to have input from those groups. Specifically, if you are going to tell the story of a black woman, you should have the input of black women. If they did that, it was not indicated anywhere. The writing and illustrations were well-done, and the storyline consistent. But disappointment in some ways.

5. Nubia Real One
by L.L. McKinney, Robyn Smith

I really try to avoid books related to the DC or Marvel universes, simply because there's a lot of other stories that need to go with it in order to fully understand. There have been so many versions of the same story that it gets a little old TBH. I did not feel that with this one at all!

First of all, I loved the graphic novel/comic feel. It felt like a little of both with the illustrations. The artist used color really well too! The storyline follows a young black woman who has extraordinary strength, much like Wonder Woman, and is trying to navigate the world with all of its pitfalls. I'll be adding this one to my classroom library too!


On My Bookshelf: December

December has been a really rough month. Between what happened in Oxford (not far from where I live...) and just the general pandemic issues,...