Monday, November 30, 2009

Book Review: Heart in the Right Place by Carolyn Jourdan

I finished this once last week, in the midst of Thanksgiving weekend preparations. It was due back at the library on Friday and wouldn't renew, but it wasn't difficult to squeeze in time to read it, as it was a very enjoyable read.

Heart in the Right Place is the true story of Carolyn Jourdan who left a high powered job in Washington D.C. in order to temporarily fill in for her mom at her father's rural doctor's office after her mom suffered a heart attack. At least, she thought it would be temporary...

Jourdan's accounts of the patients, neighbors and friends are all thoroughly enjoyable, as is following along on her inner dialogue as the couple of days of filling in stretches to a year. It is helping people more to be instrumental in government or to be the one insuring that people in one part of rural Tennessee have access to good, cheap health care? Whatever your personal thoughts on the matter, it's discover to learn Jourdan's, right alongside her.

I found Heart in the Right Place to be engaging and novel like even though it's non fiction. I give it a 9.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Snug in the Tower

We had a most excellent trip! We hiked/snowshoed in on Thanksgiving day with packs bulging with good stuff to eat, making the hike up and in a little challenging, but not undoable.

It started raining at the end and we hiked in the rain for about 15 minutes. It made us very glad to see this sight (picture taken on Friday):

We had a little trouble undoing the lock to get in, which, after the rain and climbing the steps and the wind blowing on us and Davan worrying about having to abort the mission, Davan showed her relief in tears when we opened the door to the lookout and found warmth due to the still burning woodstove from the occupants of the night before:

We settled in for an afternoon of card playing. It rained and the wind blew all the rest of Thanksgiving. That was okay, though, because we were warm and dry and well entertained by one another.

After a short while, we enjoyed our feast:

We had all the good food we could possibly eat. Davan was so excited about all the food and kept saying, "I can eat everything here! I don't have to worry about if it's vegan or not!" The big napkin looking thing next to my plate in the picture is my birthday present from Davan, which she hauled up there for me.

After clean up (Anthony did the dishes for me because it was my birthday), we played more cards, until we got hungry enough for pie:

The one down side of the trip was that I didn't sleep well, especially the first night. Davan also had trouble sleeping the first night. But, then, Friday came and we had another great day. It snowed a lot in the morning and we had to shovel the stairs:

as well as in front of the outhouse and the wood shed to keep them accessible. Then we played! We built things in the snow,
snowshoed around and sledded for hours on end, more than once:

In fact, Davan and I were out until dark on the sled on Friday, just having a ball. After dark, we played more games, ate another big dinner (this time a dip of nonfat refried beans with sliced olives and salsa with baby carrots, sugar snap peas and baked tortilla chips to dip) and finished off the pie.

The morning was cold but nice on Saturday. We went out to sled more, but it wasn't much fun with everything kind of iced over and hard, so we played another game or two, had an early lunch, cleaned the tower and headed down the mountain with much lighter packs:

While this picture was taken with Anthony and Davan walking, Davan and I actually took turns riding the sled down when there was enough downhill (most of the way) until the sled more or less fell apart on us. It was all cracked up by the time we reached the bottom. Considering that we bought the thing when Davan was about 3 and paid about $5 for it, I guess we got our money's worth.

Davan is campaigning to do it again next year, but we'll have to see what plans develop. I'm not opposed...but sometimes there are family obligations to see to.

I hope your Thanksgiving was just as awesome as ours!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving and Blueberry Pie

We're off in a while to head to the lookout tower - woo-who! - but I've got a little time before my family is ready for breakfast, so I thought I'd post a Happy Thanksgiving! and share the blueberry pie recipe that Davan and I made yesterday. I spent some time looking around for recipes and ended up putting a couple together and then still modifying...

Now, we haven't tasted the blueberry pie exactly, as it's for today, but we did use a bit of leftover crust to make little individual pumpkin pies, with some leftover pumpkin pudding, that we had for dessert last night, so the crust has been tasted. And we did have to cut the pie up in order to be able to put it in a back pack to carry into the lookout, so Davan did taste a little of the filling that got spilled in the process...

This is a fairly healthy pie, as far as pies go, with very little fat (and I'm thinking I could have left it out all together, really) and no refined sugar. Because of the whole grains and the date sugar in the crust, it's a really dark crust. Just lettin' ya know that it will look a little different than "traditional." Also, we went for a sweet crust, which is a little on the robust side, rather than a light, flaky, fat filled crust. Still, we like it and so might you, if you're looking for a healthier alternative.


3 cups whole grain spelt flour
1/3 cup unsweetened apple sauce
2 TBS canola oil
3/4 cup date sugar
2TBS vanilla
almond milk as needed

Measure out the flour into a large bowl, then add the date sugar and mix well. In a separate bowl, mix the apple sauce, oil and vanilla, then add to the flour mix and mix well, until it resembles bread crumbs. I just use my hands for this. Now, add a bit of almond milk and mix. Test to see if it will all hold together. If not, add more almond milk, but not too much. You want the dough to just hold together in a ball if you work at it. When you reach this point, you're ready to roll.

On a lightly flourered surface, roll out half the dough, rotating occasionally to keep it from sticking and for even rolling. You want to make it large enough that it will spill over the sides of your pie dish. When it's big enough, gently fold it into quarters, put it in the pie dish and unfold. It may rip a little, but don't stress. Just press the edges back together. If you have a spot where the crust doesn't come over the edge of the pie pan, steal a little from another spot and just make a repair. Then use a knife to trim the extra, a fork to poke holes in the bottom and stick it in the fridge to rest.

Now for the other half. You can just roll it out and make it a complete top, but Davan and I made a latices work top, which wasn't too difficult. Simply roll the dough out using the same method as for the bottom, then use your knife to cut strips. We put the strips on a plate and put it in the fridge to rest.

Then make your filling.

Blueberry Filling:

5 cups blueberries (fresh or thawed from frozen, although we ended up with some thawed and some still frozen and it was fine)
a scant 1/2 cup avage nectar
juice of half a lemon
4 TBS corn starch

Mix all well in a bowl and then pour into your prepared pie crust.

Now for the lattice work. Get your strips out and start laying them out. Go one way and then the other across, weaving over and under. This was fun for Davan and I to do together, as one of us held up pieces for the other. If you rip a strip, don't worry, just pinch it back together. Your strips should make it over the edge and need trimming. Once you've trimmed, use your fork to press all around the edges, sealing together the lattice work and your bottom crust.

Bake, loosely covered in tin foil, in a 400 degree oven for about 45 - 1 hour or until the filling is bubbling. Remove the foil for the last 10 minutes or so for browning.

It makes a very pretty pie and is a fun project to do together with your 11, almost 12 year old. :)

Now, I'm off to enjoy Thanksgiving and, ahem, my birthday. Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Menu

After more consultations with my family and visits to more grocery stores, which is not a fun activity Thanksgiving week, I have to say, we've decided what's for dinner tomorrow night. A full typical (sort of - vegan and low fat) Thanksgiving meal (with tempah instead of turkey). And what does that mean for me today? Lots of cooking ahead.

We'll be having whole grain sourdough dinner rolls, which I've bought premade. The tempah just needs warming up. I'm making the mashed sweet potatoes today and they'll be warmed up tomorrow. Davan fell in love with some tiny potatoes, so we're having roasted tiny baby potatoes, which I've already roasted. Davan also insisted that green beans were needed to make a complete Thanksgiving meal, so I'll be preparing green beans with slivered almonds today, as well. Anthony is a big fan of stuffing and we found some whole grain spelt prepackaged stuffing that we'll be making like Stovetop tomorrow on site. Yeah, I could have made this, too, rather than buying packaged but I'm already feeling like I've got a lot to do today and I don't want to stress. Davan told me that she could live without pie, but it really did make it Thanksgiving, so, yeah, after being totally disgusted by what was in the pies at the stores (other than a vegan one at Whole Foods that cost $22!!!!), I'll be making a blueberry pie today, as well.

In light of all of that bounty, instead of baked beans for lunch the next day, it'll be leftovers. We'll have plenty.

Food plans are in place. As usual, I've ended up going back on my I'm-just-going-to-buy-stuff-to-keep-it-simple plan because I'll be busy and now have a day of food prep ahead, but that's okay. It's a good exchange for food I'll feel good about eating.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Food, Food, Food

We've been enjoying the offerings of fall with fresh apples and pears, abundant pumpkin related treats still lingering from two huge Hubbard squashes not to mention other savory squash dishes and plenty of sweet potatoes in various forms. In fact, I'm sitting here right now eating what is our stock breakfast for the season - steel cut oats cooked with pears, cinnamon, ginger and flax meal. Other than weekends, on which days we have pancakes with a choice of apple compote or creamy pumpkin, this has been breakfast for Davan and I for a couple of months and we still enjoy it, along with a mug of tea.

Now, though, that fall feast day is nearly upon us and, even at this late date, I'm at a loss for what to do for the big meal. The problem is compounded by the facts that we don't eat turkey or any meat, we've already been enjoying the special fall dishes to our heart's content, making sweet potato mash and pumpkin pudding less than special and we'll be at a fire lookout.

I'm really glad about the fire lookout part, but it does mean that whatever we take, we'll be carrying in 3 1/2 miles while on snowshoes and that, when we get there, we'll be limited by having only a small propane stove to work with for cooking. I've got all meals planned except Thursday's, which is also, incidentally, my birthday, making the call for a special meal that much more pressing.

Still, we do not want to eat a bunch of fat and sugar, so what's special? Frankly, I'm feeling stumped. We are having special stuff all weekend - one breakfast will be whole grain vegan pancakes and vegan prepared sausage (which we usually stay away from because it's a very processed food, even though it's vegan and low fat) while another will be a very rich breakfast of almond butter mixed with agave nectar, cinnamon and vegan, grain-sweetened chocolate chips in pita pockets. Lunches will be Dave's Peace Bombs, baby carrots and sugar snap peas with store bought hummus (which is also a treat food because of the added olive oil) two days and canned baked beans (also a treat because of all the added sugar) on the day we spend the whole day at the fire lookout. Friday's dinner is a dip of refried beans, salsa and sliced olives with veggies and baked tortilla chips to dip (again a treat because even baked tortilla chips have added oil).

So, what for Thursday night's meal? I don't know. I'm feeling like we're going to end up with Bocca burgers on whole grain buns and Sun Chips, which is a treat meal for sure, but not necessarily one I want to associate with Thanksgiving and my birthday. I'd rather have something tasty made with whole foods, but the treat of not having to prepare anything is sure appealing and the fuss over trying to make something gourmet within the constraints of the fire lookout feels a little daunting.

We're going to both Trader Joe's and Whole Foods this afternoon. Perhaps something will present itself. I do know it'll work out one way or the other and be fine.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Book Review: In Defense of Food by Micheal Pollan

I've been spending a lot of time listening to books in the last week or so because I've been walking quite a bit, but even more so because I'm working on a Christmas present for Davan. I'm making a rag rug, my first ever attempt to do so. It's going...okay. She'll like it just because she appreciates homemade gifts and the effort put into them, but it's not overly pretty, there are parts that have more gaps than they should and it's still very small for all the hours I've put into it. I shall keep plugging along, though. Yesterday's endeavors allowed me to finish up In Defense of Food.

The audio book version is read by Scott Brick, whom I did not like. He seems to be trying way too hard to force emotion and drama into the reading.

In Defense of Food is the story of how we got to our current beliefs about food, what is wrong with that and some ideas on how to correct it. The basic idea is that we have allowed government interpretation of science all lead by big business to become the corner stone of our ideas about food. On top of that, the science is often flawed due to a variety of factors, including, primarily, concentrating too much on single nutrients.

I agree with a lot of what Pollan has to say, but disagree with him on a couple of points. One of those points is the importance of a low fat diet, which was what prompted a recent post of mine. Still, I think he has a lot to say that is of value, especially about processed foods and about the history of government food recommendations.

He has some good ideas about rules for food, although, I think he'd be the first to say that we only need these rules because we, Americans, particularly, are really out of touch with what is a good and healthy way to eat. And I don't agree with some food specifics. Butter, no matter how untainted by the production line, is not good for you.

In Defense of Food is a well written and interesting book, which would score even higher for me if I agreed with several of his key conclusions and I liked the reader. Still, I give it an 8.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Book Review: Louder than Words by Jenny McCarthy

Let me start by saying that I had absolutely no idea that Jenny McCarthy was a celebrity when I picked this book up. I picked it up out of interest in autism, particularly personal family stories of autism. It wasn't until I started listening that I realized she was a celebrity and, even then, I didn't recognize her. I looked her up after I finished the book and, sure enough, I've never seen the woman in anything before on TV or in movies or in Playboy. We seem to travel in different circles, Jenny and I.

Onto the book itself. I listened to Louder than Words, which was narrated by Tavia Gilbert, who did such a good job of reading it that I was thinking it was McCarthy herself who'd read it.

One morning McCarthy's son, Evan, goes into seizure and, thus, starts her journey. It takes a while before the mystery of what's wrong with Evan is discovered and, as a reader, you get a real sense of the struggle Jenny goes through as a mother trying to figure it out and, then, doing what she can to pull Evan "through the window," a metaphor for healing autism.

McCarthy is a devoted mother and, frankly, has the financial situation to pull off some amazing things for her son. She says in the book that she isn't rich, and, no, she's probably not fabulously rich, but she can afford a part time nanny, a heart rate monitor for her son so she feels comfortable leaving him alone at night, $3000 a week in out of pocket costs for therapy and other treatment and a private jet (sometimes) to fly back and forth in emergencies just to give you a feel. I don't care how how much we stretched our personal finances, we couldn't manage all that.

McCarthy is adamant about vaccines with mercury causing autism. This may or may not be true. I believe that the jury is still out on this one. If you feel strongly that vaccines are safe, you will become pissed off reading this book and I'd avoid it.

McCarthy is strongly religious and relies heavily on her beliefs to get her through these rough times. I didn't have a problem with religion in this book, as it was simply her story and not overly preachy, but it is definitely there. Likewise, if you aren't a fan of swearing, I'd avoid McCarthy's books in general.

Overall, I thought the book was interesting, but that McCarthy is somewhat self absorbed in her world view. While that's probably true of most of us, when you encounter it in another who's world view is different, it can be a little grating. I give Louder than Words a 6.5.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Is Low-Fat/No-Fat Good for You?

The answer to this question is yes. And no. There seems to be a lot of confusion as to what it means to eat low fat or no fat. Sure, there are lots of products out there claiming "No-Fat!" or "Low-Fat!" but these are not, generally speaking, health food. Most of these products are food like substances rather than actual food. Snackwells, for instance, are not good for you, even if they are low in fat content. So, in this respect, the answer is no. Low-Fat isn't good for you.

However, you should eat a low fat diet. Is this contradictory? No. Even more important than worrying about the fat content is thinking about if it's a real food. How can you tell if a food is real food? One of the best ways is by noting the ingredients. Ideally, there should only be one. The food itself. Thus, produce, for example, is real food. Also falling in the real food category is brown rice, beans, and whole wheat flour among other things. Sometimes, if the ingredient list is short, multiple ingredient foods can be real foods, too. Some breads fall into this category.

Added fat should be avoided. So, even though olive oil is a single ingredient food, it isn't health food. Even more so, meat isn't a health food and should be avoided. Not only does it contain fat, but it also contains cholesterol and, unavoidably, animal protein, which has been shown to have a negative effect on health.

Plus, in this day and age, we have to consider, is meat a real food? Certainly, when people eat what they've hunted, it is. This isn't to say that it doesn't have negative attributes, but it is a real food. However, the slab of meat you get at the super market...well, that's a result of food processing. The animal has been feed grains, antibiotics and growth hormone rather than it's intended diet of grass. It no longer has any redeeming health value unless you are, literally, starving, at which point, any source of calories is good.

As a population, though, we are not starving for calories, but for nutrients. We fill up on stuff like Snackwells, thinking we're making a good Low-Fat choice, but it's not real food. Besides the chemicals and general junk added in the processing, these items are loaded up with sweetener, and not sugar, as a rule, but corn syrup. Neither corn syrup nor sugar is an ideal food for humans. It's calories with nothing good. No fiber or antioxidants, which are both abundant in real food.

A lot of people these days will tell you that the whole idea of low fat eating is a bust. The health of Americans has just gotten worse from the beginning of the advice to eat low fat, so fat wasn't the issue, right? Not so. The fact is that people haven't started eating less fat. From the beginning of the low fat craze, the overall caloric intake has increased dramatically, which does mean that, percentage wise, there fat intake is slightly down, but, listen, this part is important; we, as a population, are eating more calories from fat then ever before. We're just eating so much other crap - mostly refined sugars, which are their whole own health problem - that the percentage is down a bit.

So, yes, it's still good advice to eat low fat. It will help protect you from heart disease and diabetes. Just do not, under any circumstance, look for packaged Low-Fat! foods. They are not your friends.

Friday, November 20, 2009

My Daughter-in-Lawly Duties

A few years back, my parents were looking for a new home for a computer they were replacing. It's actually a bit better of a computer than the one we have currently, which was also a hand me down from them, but, what with having all of our stuff on it and everything, we opted to just keep it. The computer found a home with my mother-in-law. She likes it for email and for ordering her Avon (she's an Avon lady).

Over the years, Anthony and I have been her tech support. To be fair, she hasn't needed all that much tech support, really. Not like my grandmother, but that's another story. Really, there's only been the odd problem to solve (which seems to be my job) and a few installations to do (which seems to be mostly Anthony's job).

In the last few weeks, a problem has sprouted up. From what my MIL was saying, I had no idea what was wrong. I did suggest that she uninstall and reinstall Juno, which is what she uses to connect, and which my SIL did. Still, she was having internet troubles and could I come fix it? Honestly, I don't think I can is what I replied. I don't know what's wrong and I don't know all that much about computers, really, regardless of my now 11 year old computer engineering degree that I haven't kept up at all, pretty much sticking to surfing the web in my own computer forays.

We did give her Mozilla to install, or, more accurately, have my SIL who is at her house twice daily on school days install, as it seemed to be IE that was causing her troubles. That was tried and it failed. She asked if Anthony could come by.

Now, poor Anthony has been working overtime for most of the last three weeks, staying late and going in most Saturdays. He doesn't really have the energy to tackle her computer problems just now, but was feeling a sonly duty to go over when he could. So, I stepped up and said I would go over and have a look to see what I could do.

Today, in spite of the all day drizzle, I mounted up Jack (my touring/commuter work donkey type bike with fenders) in my rain gear and sloshed out to her house. At first, it seemed that Mozilla was working fine, so what the heck!?!?! But, that proved to be short lived.

Updates were certainly needed and were happening automatically, slowing things down. But, the problem went deeper and I didn't know if I could fix it. What I was able to do was solve the issue of access to her pictures by putting a short cut on the desktop. Then, I sat there and waited for the virus program to update.

What I eventually realized, though, was that the virus program had gone rouge and was what was actually causing the problems. It was constantly running a scan, breaking down and dumping it's data, hogging the CPU and quickly using up memory. I uninstalled it and, viola, everything worked just fine, or as fine as everything can work with slow as molasses dial up.

Of course, we can't just leave her computer unprotected from viruses, so I started the install of a new version of her anti-virus program. After ten minutes, it was 1% done and the downloading of Microsoft updates had gotten up to a whopping 11%, having been working on it for about an hour.

I decided not to hang around while those finished up. I hope either my MIL or my SIL is able to take it from there with the information on the note I left. Thus concludes my DIL-ly duties for today, no?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

To the Snow!

Anthony and I skied together a lot when we were first dating and living in Germany. When we moved back to the states, I skied a lot the first winter I was here, having gotten a job at one of the local ski resorts. Then I was in school and was poor. Then Anthony was in school and were were even poorer. Skiing was out. It was even more out once Davan came along.

However, when Davan was five, we decided to introduce her to the thrills of skiing. It went pretty well and we skied a lot over the next five years. We did a variety of pass options and got screaming deals on gear for Davan (and Max when he was here), keeping the costs down to just expensive. Each year, it was Anthony's and my Christmas present to each other to get passes.

Last year, we decided to take a year off. Davan was getting done with skiing earlier and earlier in the season and getting more picky about what sort of weather she was willing to ski in. Anthony had a year or two that he didn't get his money's worth out of his pass. We figured, we'll take a year off, save a little money, then everyone will be excited to ski again.

This year, as the ski season approached, we started discussing options. Do we want to ski this year? Do we want to buy passes? Which passes at which resort, if so? Davan had definitely outgrown her ski boots, but could we stretch her skis for another year? We nearly bought midweek passes at Timberline, which is about the cheapest option possible, but we finally came to a different decision and here it is. This will shock and astound you, but here it goes:

Skiing is a rich man's sport and we're not rich.

Yup. We managed it for a good run by not having vacations or Christmas presents, but, even with passes that cost a total of $600 for all three of us, it's a lot of money to ski. Gear needs to be replaced occasionally, especially for the growing one, and it's not cheap, either. We may come back to skiing again sometime, perhaps when Davan is a teenager and super gung ho to go (she's into it now, just not overwhelmingly so) or perhaps when Davan moves out and we have more play in the budget.

For now, though, we all still wanted a way to go be in the snow. Yeah, there's sledding and that's fine, but Anthony and I were looking for something else. We started talking snowshoeing vrs cross country skiing. Both are activities where, after an initial investment, you can go for free. Sure, you can pay to cross country ski on groomed tracks, but you don't have to go that route and, even if you do, it's a lot cheaper than downhill.

We have a trip coming up that will require us to have one or the other for three days. We looked into rental rent snowshoes for three days would cost us a little over half the price of buying snowshoes. Well. Gee. Cross country skis are a lot more expensive to gear up for and requires more skill. I'm not adverse to the whole skill acquisition thing, but Davan has to be able to do the activity for two miles next week. Not to mention that there is still the whole gear replacement cost for Davan as she grows.

We starting thinking snowshoes were the way to go. We discovered that the same snowshoes I was thinking of for myself would work for Davan. We should never have to replace them for her as she grows because of that. Who-hoo! We plunked down the cash for three sets of snowshoes, nearly the cheapest that REI carries, totaling less than half what we'd have paid for ski passes.

Davan and I went out for a trial run today. It was fun. Hard work, yes, but fun. Davan loves being in the snow and might like snowshoeing better than skiing, it seems. There was more time to just fall over and play in the snow than when we ski, I guess. The snowshoes work fine and the learning curve was easy. We're all set for our trip next week.

I'm happy about our choice and I'm looking forward to a lot of snowshoeing this winter!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Book Review: Steal Across the Sky by Nancy Kress

I'm still, as you can see, working on my Nancy Kress kick. I finished this one last night while Davan was at Zig Zag practice while sitting inside a Fred Meyer's (grocery store and general department store for those not from the Northwest), as is becoming my habit. I don't like sitting in the car in the dark and cold very much and buying a tea/coffee/prepared food item in order to sit inside a coffee shop is both cost preventative and, other than tea, not what I want to put in my body. Last week, though, I hit upon the Fred Meyer idea. This particular Fred Meyer's has a nice, big seating area for those eating out of their deli type area. I go and buy an apple from the produce section, which runs me about 50 cents, then sit in their seating area and enjoy my apple. It's cheap and I get to be warm. I just have to make sure I don't stray into less healthy food choices, as I nearly did last night before coming to my senses.

Onto the review!

Steal Across the Sky is a book with an interesting premise. It's the near future - 2020 - and aliens have some to visit. Rather than attack us or mentor us into a new age, they want to atone. It seems that, many thousands of years ago, they took some humans and seeded other planets with these humans. However, that is not what they want to atone for.

So, what then, do they want to atone for? Well, that's the question. Chosen from volunteers, they take 21 humans to visit the other human worlds. In each ship are three humans, two to each visit one of two planets in a system and one for backup, if the original two are, for some reason, unable to visit the planets or just to monitor from the ship, otherwise.

What these witnesses observe starts a large controversy upon their return to Earth. How do they and the rest of "us" handle it?

I enjoyed the over all premise and the glimpse of what tourist travel to the moon might look like in just a decade or so. However, I did not much identify with the characters. The story is told, over the course of the book, from the point of view of four different witnesses and their chapters are interspersed with little tidbits from newspapers, popular culture, presidential briefings, military briefings and the like, which I enjoyed.

Out of the four main characters, however, I sort of, kind of identified with two of them while another one of them drove me absolutely batty and the fourth was...understandable, but unliked by me. While I saw why the characters were who they were and how they helped the story along, it did lessen my enjoyment, being annoyed with them.

My rating for this book is a 7.5 - great story concept, but not always a truly great reading experience.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Hormone Express

I have a preteen daughter in the house. That about sums it up. Still, I will rant on a bit.

My daughter, who is a great person with a lot to offer the world, is also a very sensitive, emotional girl. Lately (like the past six months) she's been even more emotional and charged up. In the last two months or so, it's gotten bad enough that my mom has noticed it when Davan is at her house, which is definitely new.

Today, the crisis is about music for a Do Jump piece. We're participating in a student showcase show next week. Davan and I are doing a duet on the trapeze in addition to Davan doing a strength/flexibility/balance piece with, of all things, a scratching post. We've picked a song for the trapeze, but Davan can't pick one for her piece.

She knows exactly what she'd like it to be. The problem is that such a song, to our knowledge, doesn't exist.

So far, there have been tears, accusing me of various things, screaming, anger, trying to get me to choose for her, putting down her own piece and much, much angst. I've tried as hard as I can to stay calm and not get drawn into any arguments about it. I'm progressively getting more and more pissed off, though and it is getting harder and harder to stay calm.

Now, finally, she's picked a song. She's changed herself from a cat to a dog and proclaims to be happy with the results, but she still went off to her room in tears, angrily saying, "And now I'm not going to think about music anymore!"

Whatever. Not only is it probably not over, but we'll be facing a new crisis soon, probably when it's time to leave for book group and it'll be because, "I didn't know it was time already!!!! I didn't get to finish lunch!!!" or some such thing. Yay for the preteen years. Sigh.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Book Review: Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy by Donald B. Kraybill, Steven M. Nolt and David L. Weaver-Zercher

It's actually been over a week from when I finished listening to Amish Grace, as it was before listening to Born on a Blue Day, but I just realized that I hadn't given it a review yet and, feeling at a loss for what to post today, I decided to go ahead and do it now.

Amish Grace is the story of the school shootings at the Amish community, Nickle Mines, in 2006. I picked it up because I have an interest in the Amish, for whatever reasons...I think the simplicity that they live by is attractive to me. I sometimes, to the dismay of my family, think we should get rid of the TV and computer and I'm always giving thought to how to be less of a consumer. I almost didn't check it out because of the subject matter. I wasn't sure I wanted to read about kids getting shot.

I am glad I picked it up because I got a lot out of it. I learned a lot that I didn't previously know about the Amish from day to day living to their religion. I must admit that the part I least enjoyed was the religious lessons, which there were a lot of, not being religious myself. It rather bugs me that people have to have a reason to do good things. The Amish, for example, in a simplification of the whole issue, forgive because they have to forgive others in order to be forgiven by God.

Thus, I discovered that while I still admire the Amish for many reasons, simplicity, a manor of carrying and presenting themselves, their willingness and ability to forgive, their work ethics being some of those, I don't necessarily admire their reasons, not being religious myself.

The topic of the shootings was well handled and the authors, "English" experts on Amish society, did a good job of respecting the people involved by not giving names of their sources when they didn't want their names published and by not seeking access to the children who were there that day. The book, at any rate, wasn't necessarily about the day itself, but about the reactions of the families and community.

I mostly enjoyed this well written and informative book. However, even understanding that the heavy religious instruction is an important part of the Amish story, it still interfered with my ultimate pleasure in this book. My rating is a 7.5.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Book Review: Evil Genius by Catherine Jinks

Davan and I started listening to Evil Genius in the car. I enjoyed it from the beginning, but Davan felt so-so about it until about the middle of the 13 disks, when, all of a sudden, she was begging to listen to it in the house, as well, so she could "find out what happens!"

Evil Genius is the story of Cadel, whom we follow from seven up to just fourteen years old. He is, indeed, a genius, and he is being lead toward evil, but is it what he really wants for himself? This is what Cadel must decide and what happens when he does.

I enjoyed the book quite a bit. Davan, after slowly warming up to it, got really into it. Even Anthony, who caught parts of it here and there was asking for updates on stuff he missed. There is a sequel, which I've put on hold at the library. Poor Anthony will probably miss most of the sequel, as well, but maybe I'll get it for him to read in book form.

I found Cadel to be a reasonable character and didn't find it too difficult to empathize with him. Some of the other characters were a little one dimensional, but certainly not all of them. Some of his fellow students at the Axis Academy, where he is attending "university" are the sorts of characters where you wonder what the author was thinking with naming. Gazo, which is not a nickname, is the name of a character with scent issues, for example.

As we listened to the book, the narrator was also an important part of our listening enjoyment. Justine Eyre did a fine job of reading and navigating the various accents (at least to my ear). She was engaging and not over the top, as I sometimes find readers to be.

I enjoyed Evil Genius and give it an 8. Check it out together with your preteen/teen and see if you agree with Cadel's choices and actions. It can lead to some interesting discussions.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

How to Reduce Cholesterol

This post is a follow up from my cholesterol testing post of a couple of days ago. It's for my family, who all were wishing for a little bit better results on their cholesterol test, but the principles are sound and apply to all.

The first and most important thing you can do is not eat any cholesterol. Period. You don't need it. Your body makes all you need, and for some of us, more than you need. Some people are better cholesterol producers than others and, for these people, it's even more important that they not consume cholesterol.

So, how can you avoid cholesterol? Avoid all animal products. Cholesterol is in all animal products, with cheese and egg yolks being particularly good sources of cholesterol. However, it's in all animal products - even fish. Fish is not your friend. It is, in fact, in addition to being mercury and other toxin laden, is higher in cholesterol than other animals (chicken, cows). Cholesterol is not in plant based food. It's not in grains, veggies (starchy or not), fruits, beans or even nuts and seeds. However nuts and seeds can cause problems of their own. This brings me to the second point.

Avoid added fat. For those who are good cholesterol producers, this is really important. Your body takes fat and uses it to produce cholesterol, even if you don't need more cholesterol. Oil, even olive oil, is a a big no. It's just fat. There is nothing redeeming about it unless you are starving when your body needs any calories it can get. Very few, if any, Americans fall into that category.

Also high in fat, though, while still being plant food, are olives, avocados, nuts and seeds. If you have a healthy body weight and your cholesterol is 150 or under, then these foods are okay as long as you don't consume so much that your weight or cholesterol starts creeping up. However, if you have weight to loose or your cholesterol is over the magic 150 number, where heart attacks simply don't happen, then you should not eat these foods! (There is one caveat, which I'll get to in a bit.)

Yes, it's true that you need some fat, but the amount needed is very small and is supplied by the healthy plant foods you eat. Some examples; 12% of the calories from kale are fat, 14 % for quinoa, 5% for oranges, 13% for chickpeas. These are enough fats for most people, while growing children and athletes with healthy body weight and cholesterol do well to supplement with some whole food fats such as those nuts, seeds, avocados, and olives we were just talking about.

Next, exercise is important. Simply walking for about three hours in a week will help. More strenuous exercise helps more with cholesterol levels. Exercise, in addition to helping you to maintain a healthy body weight (while not making it happen alone - food matters most!), also increases your HDL, which is the healthy cholesterol. Why is this cholesterol healthy? Because it's on it's way out of your body. That's the only reason it's good. Raising your HDL means you're cleaning out the cholesterol.

Certain plant foods are better than others for lowering cholesterol. Oats, beans and barley, for example, are high in soluble fiber. Soluble fiber is the stuff that passes through your digestive system. The other, insoluble or dietary fiber, is the stuff that helps with digestion and healthy poops. Both are important, but, in terms of cholesterol, soluble fiber is the one to look for. It lowers both overall cholesterol and LDL, the bad, or lethal, cholesterol. Many fruits and veggies are also high in soluble fiber.

Soy products have a bit of a bad rap, but it seems to be mostly undeserved. The studies showing that soy isn't good have been funded by the meat industry who've made good use of the media to disseminate that "knowledge." Many studies show that soy is healthy and good for a variety of reasons. One of those reasons is that it lowers cholesterol. Try not to be scared of soy.

Okay, here's that caveat I promised. Almonds and walnuts have been shown to lower cholesterol. They are high fat, yes, but studies show that eating 3 ounces a day for 4 weeks has a cholesterol lowering effect. Knowing this, I'd recommend these nuts for a certain subset, but not necessarily for everyone. Anthony, who is at or below his ideal body weight and is very active, but still has high cholesterol, is a good candidate for eating those 3 ounces a day. Anyone who is overweight should look elsewhere for their cholesterol lowering foods.

Some, but not all, studies show that garlic can lower cholesterol. 1/2 to 1 clove a day is the amount used in the studies that did show effectiveness. If you like garlic, there is no reason not to give this a go.

Fruits and vegetables, in addition to their soluble fiber, being cholesterol free and being low in fat, also contain beta-carotene, vitamin C and vitamin E. This is good for those with high cholesterol because these vitamins can reduce the damaging effects of cholesterol in your blood.

In Dr. McDougall's Digestive Tune Up, he recommends the use of probiotics in certain situations. One of those is if you have a healthy diet, but your cholesterol remains high. (He also suggests probiotics if you've had a month or so to adjust to a high fiber diet and still have offensive smelling flatulence, as an aside.) Probiotics helps your gut develop good flora. This helps with digestion, which helps a whole host of issues. Most people eating healthy foods will have good guts naturally, but some need a little help. Priobiotics do not have any bad side effects, other than, perhaps, cost, so it doesn't hurt to give it a go. Do not get your priobiotics from yogurt, though, as that is counter to the number one principle - no animal foods. You can get priobiotics all on their own from health food stores or online.

What numbers are the goal for all of this cholesterol lowering? Let's review the numbers. Your overall cholesterol should be 150 or lower because that is the magic number at which people just don't have heart attacks. The US government states that your LDL should be lower than 100. However, many scientists believe that it should be more like 70, particularly for high risk patients (overweight or diabetic persons would fall in this category). Your risk of heart problems continue to decrease until your LDL is 40, though, so lower is better. As for HDL, the only reason it's healthy is because it's on the way out. Higher is better here, but, if your overall cholesterol is 150 or lower, it doesn't really matter. A good goal to aim for, though, is about 1/3 of your total cholesterol being HDL. So, if you have an overall cholesterol of 150 (heart attack proof), then 50 is a good HDL number to aim for.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Book Review: Born on a Blue Day by Daniel Tammet

While riding my bike in the rain this morning, I finished listening to Born on a Blue Day. I particularly like listening when I ride in the rain because it is distracting and riding in the rain, while I'm always glad I've done it and even am doing it, isn't the most carefree thing in the world. I find that by listening to books, I can hear traffic/people/whatever just fine. Music tends to make those things much more muted and is, therefore, not as safe, but I have to admit that I sometimes listen to music, as well, particularly if I'm on a bike path, as I was this morning.

I really enjoyed Born on a Blue Day, which is the memoirs of an autistic spectrum man who is also a savant. I found listening to Daniel's descriptions of how he sees numbers (in color and shape, which changes as he does math) and how he views the world to be fascinating.

Daniel tells the reader about his life from his earliest memories (incorporating those of his parents', as well) up through the writing of the book, as an adult man who is in a committed relationship and can function independently.

I have to admit to a particular interest in this subject matter, as I've often felt that Davan has some characteristics along the autism spectrum. For that matter, she's come by them honestly. I see a very little of myself and her in these pages. Neither of us are savants, but we have our quirks for sure. Hearing Daniel talk about his quirks, so to speak, I was often struck with a little ping of recognition regarding things that Davan says or does.

I did find that I was glossing over a lot of Daniel's more technical descriptions, but I found them interesting, as well, if a little challenging to grasp.

I give the book a 9 and highly encourage you to pick it up if you have an interest in numbers, language, or autism.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


About eight years ago we discovered that Anthony had very high cholesterol. Not just high, but over 300. Average for Americans, just for a point of reference, is 200. Anthony and myself, as well, we also edging more and more into being overweight (knocking seriously on obese for me). This was in spite of the fact that Anthony rode his bike to work often while I rode around our neighborhood quite a lot.

We started making some food changes. For a while, we ate the Ornish way, which is a good and healthy way to eat, but, for whatever reason, some known and some unknown, we didn't stay with it. For one, I didn't become a convert - a zealot. It seems you have to in order to go so against the stream of popular culture.

Popular culture says to send your kids to school. I'm a homeschooling zealot. Popular culture says to eat plenty of fast food, or, if you're choosing healthy stuff, go with chicken and fish. I'm now most certainly a zealot about that, too. Without the fanatical belief that what you're doing is right, it's hard to go against the stream.

Still, dabbling in the Ornish method still got us moving in a healthier way. We, over the years, started to explore being vegetarians and then vegans. I started to think about how much fat I added to dishes sometimes - yes, even olive oil is fat. I started thinking about how much sugar/corn syrup/total junk I was eating.

Our health got better. Anthony and I both lost weight. His cholesterol became only really high, instead of really, really high.

Mind you, we still wallowed in unhealthy food from time to time, sometimes for months, even, but the overall trend was toward more and more healthy choices.

Three and a half years ago, Anthony's cholesterol was measured at 219. This is a huge improvement from what it was, but is still high. Yes, the average for Americans is 200, but half of all Americans die of a heart attack, so being average is still unhealthy.

A few months later, I stumbled across Eat to Live. This time, I became a believer. I don't know if I was primed by earlier experience or if the material was presented in such a way that it was right for me, but I read it and I though, "Holly Cow! This makes so much sense! We've got to try to eat this way!"

I also learned that to be safe from risk of heart attack, your cholesterol must be 150 or below. This isn't undo-able. In fact, in areas of the world where people eat mostly plant based diets (rice, veggies and fruit, for example), the average cholesterol is less than that - about 125. And, no, it's not genetic. If you take someone eating traditional Chinese foods and move them to America where they start eating the standard American diet, their cholesterol will soar.

Anthony, Davan and I dove headfirst into Fuhrman's way of eating. Due, though, to Anthony's high level of exercise (two hours of bike riding most days) and Davan's being a growing kid, we used Fuhrman's book Disease Proof your Child as our guide. We did it for six weeks no cheats. Then the holidays were upon us, as well as Max moving in, and things slide a bit. Still, we kept the principles in our minds and certainly made healthier choices overall.

Over the next few years, we had a lot of stress and challenges to our eating habits and we did a lot of back sliding. My weight started creeping back up.

Then, a great thing happened. I realized I was unhappy with that situation. I threw myself more and more into educating myself about diet. I discovered many more great books, each of which helped my resolve. My mom lost her job. This wouldn't be considered great, except that it kind of was. She turned out to be glad to be done with her job and is going into retirement. She started cooking for her family. She dove headfirst into nutrition, as well. Having that mutual support system has been great.

For most of the last year, we've been about 90% on plan - that is vegan, whole grain, not much sugar or fat. Additionally, we've been 100% in the last four weeks with our challenge. We decided to get our cholesterol checked. My mom, my step dad, Anthony and I all got blood draws yesterday and the results came this morning.

My mom went from 199 just over a year ago to 163. My step dad, who is on cholesterol lowing drugs, went from 144 about a year and a half ago to 136. Anthony's is down to 176. And me? 147. Not too shabby.

Regardless, most of us were a little disappointed. After all, 150 is heart attack proof. I'm there, but, being the one who's been the most true to this method of eating for the longest, it's not a change for me. My numbers are the same as they were two and a half years ago. My step dad is there, but with meds. We're curious to see what will happen when he stops taking them, which is in his future. My mom's and Anthony's are both down, but not down enough.

There are few things to think about with this, though. One is that there's been a life time to accumulate cholesterol over the years and it takes a while for it to go away. Another is that Anthony is one of those people who is just good at making cholesterol. This is a genetic thing for him. It's not that he can't overcome it, but it is that he needs to be extra vigilant.

That said, there are even more changes we can all make. Nuts and seeds are popular with both families. Olives are a favorite of Anthony's. These things are high fat and only add to cholesterol (although there is some debate about walnuts and almonds, of which a small amount may reduce cholesterol, even though they're high in fat). We can totally ban oil from the house. Anthony can stay vegan when eating out. All things to consider. I can't make these choices for others, other than what I serve, but I can make them for myself and encourage the other. (My step dad would call it badgering, but, hey, whatever works, right?)

I encourage you to get your cholesterol checked. Even if you're young, if you've been eating like most Americans, you most likely have elevated cholesterol. It's not too late, though, to do something about it. It's not inevitable. Let's all take charge of our own health!

(See - a zealot, what can I say?)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Book Review: Recipes for a Perfect Marriage - A Novel by Morag Prunty

I've picked up several books lately after reading about them in a Chinaberry catalog. I'd never gotten a catalog from them before and it's not the sort of place I'd order from, but what was great about it was the book reviews for the books they've got for sale. They had a section for different ages of kids, audio books and books for adults. Girlwood and A House of Sisters were both books I found through Chinaberry, in addition to several books Davan has been enjoying, all from the library, of course. There is just no way I could afford to keep up with our reading habits.

Speaking of reading habits and affordability, I have a little aside to share before I get onto the review. Unless they library doesn't have a copy of a book I'm interested in or I just have to own a book for repeated reference, we don't buy books. Instead, we pay fines. Now, we pay a lot less in fines than we would for books, for certain sure, but when I do accrue a fine for whatever reason, I shrug it off and think about how much cheaper it is than buying all the books we read.

Recently, I received in the mail a post card from the library saying that we'd returned a book on CD with one CD missing. Darn. Years ago, this happened pretty much all the time. We'd find it in Davan's CD player usually. Finally, I got tired of it, talked to Davan about it, started double checking myself and the problem finally went away, for the most part. Occasionally, though, it'll happen again and it's not always Davan's fault. The post card doesn't say what book it was, so I checked in the computer to see if I'd left the CD in there when burning. Nope. I asked Davan to check her player. Nope. I checked in the car. Nope. In disk player in the living room. Nope. Finally, I checked online and discovered that it was, indeed, one of Davan's books. I asked her to look again. She did. No deal. I looked in her room. Nope. I got mad and more or less told Davan she'd have to pay for it.

By a couple of days later, though, I had calmed down and, considering that neither of us could find it in her room, it maybe really wasn't there. Davan was thinking that she'd maybe put it in another book's case accidentally. Now, the library has before told me that they check for that sort of thing and if it's gone, it's our fault. So, fine, mentally, I chalked it up. Ten bucks isn't that big a deal.

The very day I came to that conclusion, Davan came out of her room with a set of disks and said she'd found a disk that didn't belong. It had been behind a disk of the book she was listening to and was from a different book that we did not check out. Ah-ha! I returned that disk to the library and then told them I thought we'd just misreturned our disk and, obviously, mistakes do happen. They waived the fee. Yay!

Back to the review...

Recipes for a Perfect Marriage was another one I'd read about in the Chinaberry catalog. Being a foodie of a sort myself and being married, I had high hopes for this book. The result, though, was mixed. I enjoyed the Irish recipes, although I'd never make them because they are all supper high in fat or sugar, which started each section of the book. The story, though, was only okay.

Tressa is a woman in her late 30s in her first year of marriage and she thinks she's made a huge mistake in marrying Dan. She wants a marriage of love and passion as modeled to her by her Irish grandparents over the course of summer visits, but this isn't it, as far as she's concerned.

Juxtaposed with Tressa's story is the story of her grandparent's marriage as told from the point of view of Tressa's grandmother, Bernadine. The grandparents, the reader therefore knows, had a much different marriage than Tressa thinks.

Sadly, I didn't identify with either woman, really, which prevented me from getting really into the book. Still, it was entertaining enough to finish, for sure. I give it a 6.

As an aside on my scoring, I usually wouldn't finish a book that scored under a 5 unless it was for a book group or I had another compelling reason to do so. If it's below average in the wide world of books, I mostly won't waste my time on it. So, a 5 is the low score of a readable (meaning I'm deriving at least some enjoyment out of it) book in my little corner of the world.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Trip Summary - Numbers

I'm finally getting to my long delayed bike trip summary, having gotten my trip journal back and having gotten around to it. This one is just about a few of the numbers and will be quite short.

We did a total of 1014 miles in 22 days.

Davan gained a pound and a half. I lost two pounds. Anthony lost four pounds. Davan turned out to win our guess the weight challenge between the three of us and my parents, the prize of which is getting to choose the place we were to next all eat out together. That hasn't really happened, as our places for eating out (only a couple of times) have been chosen by circumstance rather than personal preference.

And that's all, folks! Like I said, nice and short.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Challenge Review

You may or may not remember that Anthony and I undertook a challenge just over four weeks ago. It was a four week challenge, so we are now done.

We wanted to keep up healthy eating and came up with these ground rules in relation to eating:

We weren't allowed to shop at grocery stores. Instead all food had to come from farmer's markets, produce stands, Amazon or our food co-op monthly delivery, Azure. This was to help us choose produce and have to plan ahead if we wanted other things. We completely stayed true to this part. I didn't step foot in any grocery store, although I did go to Target for some non food things and they do have some food, but I didn't go into the food section at all.

We were to abstain from the use of any oils with the exception of cooking spray used lightly. We also completely stayed on track here.

We were to stay on plan (whole grains, fruits, veggies, very limited oil and/or sugar) when eating out. This...well, we only ate out twice and both times we didn't do perfectly. Between the two of us, we had potatoes cooked with oil, pancakes that were whole grain, but probably also with sugar and oil and tortilla chips. Still, though, no meat, dairy or dessert items. Of course, the no meat and dairy is easy for me, as I don't want that at all.

We also wanted to keep up our fitness as the weather turned and boy has it turned. We've had a lot of rain in the last four weeks. For this, Anthony and I each had a bike mileage goal per week - 125 for him and 75 for me. City walking was to count for 3 miles of bike riding while rougher hiking would count for 4 miles.

I met my goals each week, doubling it the first two weeks. The second two weeks, between weather and my two separate bugs, found me just over my goals each week. Still, I did it, even with the obstacles, so yay!

The last one was just for me and it was to limit my computer time to one hour a day. I did this admirably for the first three weeks. Then the job thing came up, which trashed the goal with having to spend extra time on the computer for the test and communicating with my potential employers. And then I used that as an excuse to let my times slide a bit...

Overall, the challenge was a success. Yesterday we did go grocery shopping. Our list contained a lot more pantry items than usual - 4 different spices, for example - but we did well with not going overboard post challenge. Sadly I had to buy my produce at Winco, too, as the farmer's market is done for the year. Sigh. The produce at the farmer's market is truly superior and I was getting huge heads of lettuce for a buck there, where at at Winco a medium head of lettuce was $1.80. Bummer. Some things are cheaper at Winco, though, so price-wise, things probably balance out.

As for exercise, I'm glad to be done with the challenge just to open up my workouts some. I'm thinking of getting in some swimming with a punch card I need to use up at our local pool, for example. Davan and I have a new morning schedule that is working pretty well for us (preteen grumblings aside) which is an hour of working out starting at 8:00 followed by an hour of chores then breakfast and on with our day. I'd like to use that hour and sometimes more time in the day if I want to swim or do a long bike ride or the like. But, having that hour in the morning set aside for working out five days a week is a good thing and, even if that were all I did, would probably keep me in pretty decent shape.

And then there's my little computer addition. I want enough time to read and respond to my emails, write my blog, read the blogs I enjoy and take care of any other tasks that need my attention (checking pool times, paying bills, signing up for classes, what have you). Then, I want to be done with the computer for the day. This may or may not happen in an hour and I don't think I'll worry too much about that exact time. But, when I'm done, Davan will get her turn, then we'll turn the computer off until after dinner when Anthony gets to have his go and Davan can again, if she likes. At bedtime, if not before, the computer goes off again. That way I'm not sucked in when I should be doing other things.

Doing the challenge helped to keep me on track with my goals and was good. Now it's just a matter of keeping the ball rolling.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Author Discussion: M.T. Anderson

I may regret doing two posts in one day if I don't have anything to write about tomorrow, but I've been meaning to write about M.T. Anderson for about a week now. Davan and I had the opportunity to go hear a lecture by M.T. Anderson. I enjoyed the lecture, but it did feel a little haphazard as far as what he talked about.

As an aside to discussing the author himself, I have to tell you about the question Davan had for him. There was a question/answer period with some good questions and a lot of stupid ones. Yes, there is such a thing as a stupid question. The kid, for example, who made a big production of waving his hands manically and then asked, "Did you want to be a writer when you were a kid?" for the third rendition of that question asked a stupid question. Anyway, Davan never did get called on. But, seeing as how we didn't have to go get a bus, when we were dismissed, we found M.T. and Davan got to ask her question.

What was the question is, I'm sure, your question now. It was, "Do you read other books while you're writing a book?" Yes, he does. He tries to read other books set in the same time frame as what he's writing to stay in the mood. What I thought was interesting, though, was what he then asked Davan. After answering, he asked her what he hadn't asked anyone else. He wanted to know if she was a writer herself. Davan modestly shrugged, but I spoke up for her. Yeah, she is. She's written a good deal.

Back, though, to M.T. Anderson's books. I have to say that he is not my favorite author. I see the humor he's going for, but don't actually find it funny myself, for the most part. I've read three of his books now - Whales on Stilts, The Game of Sunken Places and Feed. I've read them all within the last six weeks or so, after finding that we were going to his lecture.

My favorite of those, and the one aimed at the oldest audience (teenage) is Feed. Feed is the story of a teen in the not too distant future who, along with most of his peers, has a direct feed to the internet in his head. How does this affect them? What about those that don't have a feed? I found the subject matter very interesting, but the presentation of the book only okay.

The Game of Sunken Places was the book we read for Davan's middle school aged book group last week. It was okay. Davan seemed to like this one the best of the three (she didn't even finish Feed). However, I felt that Anderson, as he does in many of his books, it seems, had a lot of made up, difficult to pronounce names of places and things (other than the main characters), which lessens my enjoyment, especially when reading aloud. Also, there were some gruesome descriptions and happenings in a second hand sort of way, but it was still off putting to me. It may well, along with the humor, appeal well to a preteen boy.

Overall, that is whom I would recommend M.T. Anderson as an author to - a preteen boy. On the flip side, Feed, or a book like it seems like good required reading for anyone with a TV/computer/blackberry habit.

Book Review: The Long Road Home by Martha Raddatz

As I've mentioned before, I enjoy listening to books on tape while working out or cooking when I'm doing those activities by myself. Recently, I got The Long Road Home out from the library on CD. I take the CDs and rip them to MP3 so I can listen to them on my MP3 player. When I'm done, I go ahead and delete them, so don't worry that I'm stealing. :) I listened along until I thought it would be done, when I was greeted with the message to load the next disk. Yikes! I'd missed ripping the last disk. That was a bummer. I put a hold on the book again, started listening to something else and waited. It came in after only a week and now I'm done.

The Long Road Home was an interesting, but rather confusing book. The story is about the April 4th, 2004 ambushing of American troop in Sadr City. What was going on with the troops, hailing from Ft Hood in Texas (they were in the process of taking over duty from another division), what was happening with which troops, what the decision making process was and what went on back at home with the wives/children/parents back at home.

The answers to those questions were very interesting, but, there were so many people who were involved that it was, ultimately also confusing. I had a hard time following the individual people. That said, I was able to follow the over all flow of the story.

As with most nonfictional books about war, you do get a good feel for the cost of war and it isn't pretty. Whatever your feelings about the Iraq war, you will get a feel for what that day was like for both the soldiers and their families. The politics are not discussed.

Overall, I give The Long Road Home a 5 - fairly average.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Book Review: Nothing Human by Nancy Kress

I finished this book on Thursday, which is the last day that I took a lot of down time with the cold. Davan was at my parents' house and Anthony was working late, so even though I still took a bike ride, cooked a large meal with enough leftovers to freeze, did some housekeeping and took care of the neighbor's cat (really Davan's job, but she wasn't home), I had a lot of time to read before going to pick up Davan at Zig Zags and Anthony at work in the evening.

Luckily for me, I had the time because Nothing Human was a great book! I really liked the whole concept of the story. Aliens do actually abduct a person (but just one). He's a doctor and they give him the knowledge of how to change a gene sequence in humans and the money to set up an invetro fertility clinic. Because of the money, he takes people from a wide cross section of life and helps them have babies. The, in spite of the clinic having a good reputation, he closes up shop and more or less disappears. All seems normal until they hit puberty.

Once these babies hit puberty, they all fall into a coma at about the same time. Upon awaking, they can "smell" messages from the Pribir - the alien race who set this all up. For the Pribir, there is one right way and that is to work with genes. They tell the humans this and...

Well, the rest is the story, right? You'll just have to read for yourself. Nothing Human was compelling with interesting characters and a very intriguing plot idea. I give it a 9, especially if you like to see what interesting ideas science fiction can come up with.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Job Again

I've been doing a lot of thinking about this whole job thing. At first, I was thinking there were lots of ups and only a couple of downs...then I started feeling more I'm thinking there are more downs than ups, although one up is big.

Of course we could use some more money. Who couldn't? But, as I mentioned in a post not long ago, life is about choices. Do we want more money? Sure. Do we want to choose more money in exchange for stress? Well, there it gets more complicated.

If I had to work, this would be a really great job. I'd still be at home with Davan. It's part time. It's not very hard. It's more than I'd make at the local coffee shop/book store/whatever.

But that's the thing. I don't have to work. We can can keep making the choice to live more simply. We can keep affirming our values as family time first.

At first I was thinking that maybe having a job would increase my feelings of self worth. But, upon further consideration, that's just not the case. I'm pretty self confident these days already. I feel a lot of pride in my family and our choices in life. And, frankly, this job would be rather tedious for me. Reading scanned in, convoluted documents is not fun. I won't necessarily feel pride about my work.

I feel a little guilty because, frankly, my life is pretty easy these days. Feeling like maybe I shouldn't take this job makes me wonder if I'm just a little lazy. Am I letting Anthony down? I know he's started to think about the joys of extra money.

Davan, regardless of the money, is very anti me taking this job. The interesting thing is that the issue of taking this job or not has raised questions about what I want to do with my life post Davan growing up. As I've pondered that question, the subject of going back to school has arisen. Davan is very supportive of that, even though we'd have to keep even more to a schedule and I'd either be away from her or she'd have to go to class with me. In some ways, it would be more of an impact on her than the job without the side benefit of more money, meaning maybe more Do Jump or the like. Odd. Maybe she's reading my feelings about it.

As far as school goes...well, I'm pretty sure about what I would want to do. It's between two things, really. One is a long standing thought on a good job for myself and the other is fairly new, but a big passion. The first is being a physical therapist (starting, at least, as an assistant, though) and the second is being a nutritionist.

I've considered physical therapy for a very long time, from when I was in college as an alternative to engineering. I regret not opting to go with physical therapy, but I can't change that now, only go forward.

Meanwhile, I'm passionate about healthy food, but what I believe is not necessarily what's taught in college (which I believe is behind the times, honestly), which may prove to be a challenge, not to mention the additional challenge getting a job afterward if few standing centers believe the same as I do. I'd be happy to work with McDougall or Fuhrman...

Anyway, regardless of which I might choose, I'm a little gun shy about spending more money on my education. I've got a whole bachelor's degree that is fairly useless because I don't want to be an engineer. My education cost more than Anthony's (sort of - I had a full tuition scholarship for a year and ITT is actually pretty expensive), and yet, it's Anthony's that has paid off.

If I did decide to go the school route, I could do a class or two a term for a while, then, when Davan was older, do a push to get done. I've thought about it before. Before we tried to adopt, I took a class that was, pretty much, "What do I want to be when I grow up?" The two things to come out of that class were A) start slowly working on an associates for Physical Therapy or B) adopt. Well, you know which way we went.

All this was pretty dormant for a while. There was the adoption and then recovery. Life has been good and I haven't had a lot of reason to consider it again. However, now, with this job situation, here it is again.

Chris, my friend who works for this company, has let me know that they really want someone who's in it for the long term and she'd rather I didn't accept the position is I'm not serious about keeping the job. So.

I'm willing to try it for the two week trail (providing they even offer - I haven't heard a thing) and see how it goes. However, I'm also feeling like it might not be the right way for me.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Sick Again

I knew that last week when Davan was sick and I was feeling...under the weather, that we did not have the same thing. Davan had a serious runny nose and my nose was pretty much normal. I was headachy, had a sore throat and mild body aches. Davan didn't, but she had trouble sleeping and was very tired.

My theory about not having the same thing was confirmed when I came down with whatever Davan had last week this week. Sigh. Being sick is, of course, not celebratory news. I am pleased, though, that neither last week's bug nor this week's has wiped me out.

I've managed to make or exceed my bike mileage for our challenge both weeks. Well, not quite yet this week, but I only need another 11 miles, so it's not really an issue. I've kept up with the house - cooking and such. I even did a long "test" for my new potential job yesterday.

This is all great. I used to get sick and be really, really sick. Like laying on the couch not wanting to get up sick. Now, well, laying on the couch and reading my book does sound seriously appealing, but I'm not suffering much by mostly carrying on with my life.

Likewise good is that, these two back to back bugs aside, I just don't get sick as often as I used to. For years it seemed like I was just sick pretty much from fall to spring with one thing or another. Last year I think I had a couple of mild colds.

What do I attribute this to? Well, a few things, actually. One is that I don't have a young child who gets everything anymore. Another is that I'm pretty happy with my life (I got sick more often and more severely when Max still lived with us, for example). Happy, non-stressed people tend to stay healthier. I work out more intensely and regularly than I have in the past. Exercise boosts your immune system. And I eat healthy foods. Nutritious foods also boosts your immune system. Additionally, one simply produces less mucous when one does not eat dairy and refined sugar, regardless of allergies.

So, yes, I'm sick. Yes, that's unpleasant. But, I'm totally able to see the bright side here. I hope the cold and flu season is treating you mildly.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Book Review: Girlwood by Claire Dean

I finished up Girlwood yesterday evening while sipping tea in the coffee shop near Do Jump while Davan was in class. Usually, I either go for a walk or sit in the van to read, but I have another cold. I'd suspected that what Davan and I had was different, as I wasn't stuffy at all with what I had last week. This week, I'm mirroring her experience of last week to a large extent. I'd still say I'm not as sick because she kept falling asleep her first day and my first day is under my belt without anything that serious. I even still did my Do Jump class, although I was totally whipped by the end. At any rate, sitting in the cold van was just not appealing last night, so I splurged on tea. The tea was only okay, but the warm place to sit and read was invaluable.

Girlwood is a fairly new book, having been released in 2008 and is a coming of age book. Our main character, a twelve year old who turns thirteen over the course of the book, is Polly. Polly loves the woods near their home, a passion she shares with her grandmother.

The story starts with Polly's older sister, who's gone astray in the last year or so with drugs and such, coming into Polly's room and telling her that she has to go to the woods to heal herself. Sure enough, in the morning, 16 year old Bree is gone. Search parties turn up nothing.

Can she survive in the woods? Is anyone helping her? Is that really where she is? These are all the questions Polly struggles with along with family difficulties and social issues at school.

While there are definitely some older themes with boyfriends, even for the kids Polly's age, alcohol and drug use and reference to sex, Girlwood is still a really good book about the pressures many middle schoolers face, woven through with themes from nature. How important is being out in nature? Should wild spaces be preserved?

Additionally, with the nature theme, each chapter begins with a short bit about a plant - it's uses and what parts are eatable, which certainly aroused my curiosity about the subject of eatable plants.

I enjoyed Girlwood and will give it to Davan to read. I give it a 7.5.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009


My best friend, Chris, has this awesome job. Well, the work itself if okay. What's awesome about it is that she can do it from anywhere (usually home, but also my house, the library, where ever she has computer access). It's come up once or twice in the past that her company may be looking for another employee and was I interested?

Well, yeah. And no. Mostly yeah, though. I've even sent a resume in before. Nothing has ended up coming of it. That's been okay. Maybe a little disappointing. Maybe a little bit of a relief.

Yesterday, though, out of the blue, Chris calls and says, "Hey! They seem to be serious this time. Are you interested?" Yeah, yeah I am.

I've actually talked to people in the company other than Chris. I've had a computer issue or two to work out. Tomorrow I'll be doing a 4-5 hour test. It's pretty much doing the work I'd be doing to see if I can manage it. I'm not overly concerned. Chris has actually shown me before what she does and it doesn't seem overly difficult.

If all goes well, we'll do a two week trial period. Then, if both parties are happy, I'll have a job. 20 hours a week from home or wherever I take my laptop and have internet connection (mostly anywhere if we get Clear or the like). That's a good thing. I think.

I'm happy about working a little. I'm happy about the money. The job is easy enough. Davan is old enough to entertain herself for 20 hours a week.

But. I also wonder if I'll feel more stressed out. Will there be less time for myself? Well, yes, of course, but will that be okay? Will Davan and I have enough time together? Will I still have enough time for the meals we're used to?

I think it'll all work out. And this is a good long term solution to giving us just a little extra money. But, I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel a little ambivalent about it. And, honestly? With people struggling for jobs and such? I should feel really lucky. And I do. I really do. But...yeah. It's a change. I don't always take well to change. LOL

On I go, though, to the working world. And it's a good thing. Mostly.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Book Review: Maximum Light by Nancy Kress

I didn't end up with a lot of time to read on Halloween, after all. I walked over to the library, got lunch together for everyone, settled down to read, then up and walked back over the the library area with Davan in costume for trick or treating. That was okay, though. It was a fun day and I'm getting better. And, regardless, I was able to finish Maximum Light on Sunday.

Having recently been reminded about Nancy Kress by my mom, I put holds on many of her books that I wasn't sure if I'd read before. Once I started Maximum Light, I realized I had, indeed read it before. However, I only remembered it in that this is familiar sort of way. I didn't remember much of anything that happened, so I decided to go ahead and read it anyway.

In the near future, humans are in trouble. The birth rate is way, way down. There are few young people. The old are living longer and longer thanks to cures for cancers and other maladies. Many of the children who are born have problems ranging from increased aggression to being blank babies - children who will never even learn to sit up, crawl or talk.

The story is told from the point of view of three different people, each from very different parts of society, brought together by circumstance (of course). They need each other to solve issues from each of their lives.

Shana is a fairly abrasive young person, serving her mandatory 12 months for the government when she sees something, that when reported, gets her labeled as a liar and kept out of the Army, which is her dearest dream.

Cameron is also young, but he is a star dancer who's had a voluntary memory wipe. He finds that he needs to know what happened.

Nick is a mid-70s doctor, serving on the congressional committee that threw out Shana's report as lies. He's interested in solving the problem of what's going wrong with the world.

It's a decent story and, some might say, pertinent to us now if we don't make changes. I give it a 6.5. It might have been higher if I hadn't read it before and, thus, had it be vaguely familiar, but it was still enjoyable and above average.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Halloween Report

One thing I forgot to mention about Halloween celebrating yesterday is that, of course, some of the best part of it is the preparation. We always carve pumpkins:

And, of course, the costume preparation is a large part of the fun, too.
Our celebrations went pretty well yesterday and we figured out some things for next year.

In the afternoon, Davan started lamenting that it didn't really feel like Halloween yet. We opted to go to the afternoon trick or treating in downtown Gresham, after all, just to be able to put her costume on and show it off to more people. It was cool with showers off and on, so, when she started putting on her costume, she chose her rain jacket:

Bunny was a cat:
and, of course, had to go trick or treating, too.

Then, the alien came along and abducted both Davan and Bunny:

We were, of course, quite scared, but when the alien just carried her around for trick or treating, we relaxed some.

Davan got a lot of positive attention in her costume. In the crush of people, we only saw two other little boys in homemade costumes. People turned their heads to look and a few even took pictures of her. That was really fun for her, but, again, the crowds downtown made it not a lot of fun to trick or treat there, so after only going to a couple of stores, we walked back home. On the way there and back (1 1/2 miles each way), Davan got a lot of pointing and staring, as well. This is one time that sort of attention is welcome!

When we got home, my parents were there, so we got to work on dinner. My mom and I decorated our sweet potato pumpkins together and they turned out pretty cute, I think:

The broccoli on top is the stem, the ones beneath are a bed of grass and the cauliflower is supposed to be the moon. They were tasty and well received. Each person had a unique jack-o-lantern.

Of course, spending time with family is what holidays are all about, right?

We had a nice time with my parents. My mom and I put a strip of paper down on the table, and, though you can't see it, wrote out "Happy Halloween" in orange and black as well as drawing a jack-o-lantern. Then markers were put out for others to add to the decoration.

Now that this meal has come off as a surprise, which was fun, we've decided to make it our regular, non-surprise Halloween meal (it came together really quickly, with the yams and sweet potatoes having been baked the day before, and all liked it), but next year, Davan gets to do the faces on the jack-o-lanterns and decorate the table.

After dinner, Davan, as is quickly becoming tradition for every holiday, did her Halloween show. Some of her acrobatics - strength and balancing, particularly, are getting really awesome. Zig Zags, going to see live circus type shows and watching Cirque du Coleil on DVD is, apparently, paying off.

We got our first trick or treater at the door during the show, for which Davan paused and did her door duties. So, after the show, she quickly put her costume back on for door answering.

Seeing as how we hadn't lasted long downtown, we didn't have a ton of stuff in our goody basket. There was some candy, a few of the cheap toys left over from another year, and the gourdes. The first group was a very large group and I quickly realized supplementation was necessary. I put out boxes of raisins, a few fruit leathers and three little Lara Bars that I'd gotten at the Veg Fest last month. Davan found a few things in her room, a couple small toys and some candy she'd recently been given that she didn't want to eat. That helped bulk things up a lot.

After a while, I added even more raisins and fruit leathers. We were surprised at how many people chose them. And the gourdes! At the end of the night, there was only one of the ten left, even though there was candy still. At the tail end, things were looking really slim, so I added a cup of noodles, left over from when we had our Korean exchange students - we don't eat it, to the basket, sort of as a joke, but it was chosen, so we put out a few more!

At the end of the night, in addition to the one gourde, the leftovers included a few pieces of candy, a couple of the less popular toys, the most recently added cup of noodles and a couple of fruit leathers.

The choices people made gave us ideas for next year as to what to hand out, that being, by far, Davan's favorite part of the whole affair. She would just as soon not go trick or treat, she tells us. She loves answering the door, though, and getting to hand stuff out. So, next year, to keep with our principles, even if it's a little more expensive, we're going to have a mix of gourdes, fruit leathers, raisins, and Halloween crayons we intend to make ourselves out of old black and orange crayons. Judging by this year, those things will probably be pretty well received.

During the trick or treating, we treated ourselves with the candies that my mom and I had each, individually, made (her's also were free of added oils and refined sugar) plus some air popped popcorn. Everyone felt like they'd gotten a good treat and had a little bit too full of a belly by the end, but we felt pretty good about the contents of said bellies, so that's pretty good for a holiday that's usually all about the junk food.

A nice evening was had by all and we've got some good ideas for next year. How was your Halloween?