Sadly, December was overtaken by an ME relapse, which meant that I spent Christmas battling a lack of concentration**, a brain that found even the noise of wrapping paper excruciatingly loud, and legs that collapsed beneath me. It was unfortunate timing, as my parents were here, and my brother and his girlfriend* were visiting all the way from Australia. But I was able to be present, if not entirely with it, for the opening of the presents, and the amazing lunch.
This year, Jon had made homemade crackers, which was something of a labour of love, and several weeks of dedicated craft activity and plotting with the boy. Each one was wrapped in expensive Italian paper, and contained a work of art and a joke made up by the boy (including such diamonds as ‘what do you call a plane without wings? A car’. ), a blessing, and a little gift, slightly more sophisticated than the average cracker, (for example, a miniature bottle of whisky.)
So, now – picture the scene, I’ve read out my joke and blessing, I’ve looked at my art, and I unravel the tissue paper to see what trinket Jon has included – and a beautiful, gleaming pearl necklace falls heavy onto my lap. He’d already given me an amazing present under the tree – this was extra. I just sat gazing at it, stupefied.
It was so beautiful, and such a surprise. There was the sort of atmosphere in the room that, had we not already been married for over a decade, I would have been expecting Jon to get down on one knee and propose. I kept staring in silence, and then said what anyone else would say in my situation:
“You monkey. I can’t believe you got me this.”
And Jon grinned.
Who said romance is dead?
Music – Snow Angels – Over the Rhine. This is a sumptuous slow bluesy album, the kind of thing that you put on as the evening is ending, and the fire is dying, and you’re drinking whisky or some other such drink, musing about the preceding year. The double bass is just YUM. So glad that someone recommended this album to me – their other stuff is a bit too country for me, but this was totally stripped down and delicious. Get it from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com
TV – When I am in the middle of a relapse, often there’s not much I can do but discipline myself to rest. I find that ballet is the easiest thing to watch – a slow plot, and no dialogue to follow, can stop at any time; I just lose myself in the dance, and it makes a huge difference. These videos really saved my Christmas.
- Nutcracker by Dutch National Ballet – this is a little different to the traditional productions, but I found it utterly enchanting. It makes a real story out of what can feel a bit disparate, through the use of dream sequence, and the dancing of all was exquisite. This is my favourite Nutcracker out there right now. Get it from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com
- Step Up 1 and 2 – People who criticise the plot of these dance movies miss the point – it’s all about the dancing. These are a guilty pleasure for me – though I must confess, I don’t get what all the fuss about Channing Tatum is. I preferred the dude in the second one. Get it from Amazon.co.uk (£2.70 for Step Up 1!) or Amazon.com ($5)
- Little Women – this was the first time I had seen the Winona Ryder version. The young Kirsten Dunst as Amy and Gabriel Byrne as the Professor were the stand-outs for me, and I sobbed my way through it with great enjoyment. A classic. Get it from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.
Art – Jon has an Etsy shop! Check out his latest art-ings. They are scrumptious – Jon Marlow Fine Art.
Books – Christian books
- haphazard by starlight – Janet Morley. This will be going on next year’s advent list: a wonderful collection of classic poems, some Christian, some not, to lead you through the season of Advent through to Epiphany, with a literary commentary on the poem, and a short question to encourage you to think about how it affects you. This is literary and academic, but short, and gently spiritual. It is a wonderful collection of poems, and I really appreciated her guided tour – a great way of doing Advent for poetry-lovers. Highly recommended. Get it from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com
- Marriage Hacks – ed Tyler Ward. Short and sweet marriage advice from 25 leaders, including Wm Paul Young and Gary Chapman. The first two chapters and Jonathan Jackson’s (who plays Avery Barkley in Nashville) chapter were the stand-outs for me. Currently free from Noisetrade. http://books.noisetrade.com/tylerward/marriage-hacks
- Fallen – Annie Lobert. This gripping autobiography tells the story of how a nice, educated, middle-class girl ended up in the sex trade – and how she found faith and escaped from that life. Annie Lobert, founder of Hookers for Jesus, tells her story with frankness and energy, and I really appreciated her honesty of her own faults, as well as the injustice and terrifying nature of the sex industry. I found myself in admiration of her tenacity and strength, particularly in recovering from her pimp’s repeated and horrific beatings. It’s an easy and quick read, and though the Bible reflections are interesting, the book is strongest when she is telling her story and the story of others in the sex industry. Recommended. Get it from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com
Books – Fiction
- The Tomb of the Honey Bee – L B Hathaway. I can see this will be my new addiction. I loved the first Posie Parker cosy crime mystery, and this was perhaps even better than the first. I really enjoyed the change of scenery – traipsing with Posie around the 1920s English countryside, then Italy and Egypt. It is a quick and thoroughly enjoyable read, the sort where you stay up at night for ‘just one more chapter’. I almost, pretty-much guessed the murderer (which is always satisfying), but the book still had me hanging on every twist and turn right up to the end. I also love reading the historical notes at the end, for more of a sense of the time. I can’t wait for more in this series – L.B. Hathaway is the new Agatha Christie. Highly recommended – and bargainous (currently £5.62, or £1.99 as ebook). Get it from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com
- Life after Life – Kate Atkinson. This has a fascinating premise – someone keeps returning to relive their life in order to do it well, sort of a reincarnation idea, but with your own life rather than other people’s. I feared with this premise it might be ‘gimmicky’, but in fact it is literary and sophisticated, well-written and a eye-opening glimpse into life in the Blitz in London in the Second World War. One of those books where you’re immersed into another world, and I found it an intelligent and pleasurable experience. I guessed the twist, but still got a little confused by the very end – but even so, this is one of my favourites of the year. Highly recommended. Get it from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com
- Harvest – Jim Crace. This is a modern fable, set in an anonymous English town, at some medieval period, and is about how society reacts to change by punishing the outsider, terrorising women and children, scrabbling for power, etc. This has ‘I want to be a Booker Prize Winner’ written all over it (and indeed it was shortlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize) – nothing much happens, slowly, but beautifully. It is trying to be a Lord of the Flies, but I found that I didn’t emotionally engage with the characters, so the morals fell a little bit flat, and it was just a little too agricultural for my liking. In its favour is the way it conveys the message of quiet stability and power of nature even while authorities and rulers are overthrown. It is a good book, a very well-written book, but I didn’t enjoy it, and if I hadn’t been reading it for a book club I would have abandoned it. Get it from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com
*January update: My brother is engaged!! Exciting!
** Those of you with ME might be wondering why I can read so much even when in a relapse. The answer is partly that I started a lot of books before December, and partly because my concentration is normally a lot better than most with ME, and I seem to be able to read books at the same fast speed as I used to, as long as I do it in small bursts. My cognitive ability improved noticeably when I started taking Lyrica two years ago, but it should be noted that I seem to be unusual in that respect. These were all read almost entirely pre-relapse.
Inspired by (but leaving it too late to link up with) Leigh Kramer’s monthly What I’m Into.
** God and Suffering: Our Story is back! Stay tuned for some AMAZING guest posts this term. I’m thrilled at the line-up. **
Over to you:
- What were you into in December?