31 May 2010

Marking the Day

Bravery is the capacity to perform properly even when scared to death
-- General Omar Bradley

To all of the men and women who have done just that, thank you, you are not forgotten.

22 May 2010

Some Saturday Stuff

We went on a trip last weekend, to Wheeling (WV) and Pittsburgh (PA), because two separate groups of friends invited us to their kids' college graduation.  It was a great weekend, with lots of laughing, hugging, eating, and drinking.  Pictures were taken.  However, when I checked the camera to upoad them to the computer -- nothing!  And I wasn't even the photographer ...

However, said trip caused me to be in a coma for the past week.  I could barely make it through the day, and then would go to bed way too early.  Only to wake up the next day exhausted.

The week before the trip, I finished knitting the main parts of my Pickle cardigan, and a lacy shawl that has been on the needles since knitting was invented.  The good part:  OMG, I finished not one, but two things!  The bad part:  No place currently available where I can block them.  Argh.

Went shopping today, and had a lot of luck all at once:  2 dresses, a summer cardigan, a blouse, pair of shoes, two bras, and a reversible tote bag.  When it rains it pours.

Have been making progress on the Springtime in Philadelphia beret; however, the winding of the yarn was so frustrating, I started to think of it as the Springtime for Hitler beret ...

I really need to get myself organized.  Seriously.  I mean, it's amazing that we have clean clothes to wear and that the house has not been condemned by the Health Department.

I recently joined a new gym.  Got one of those free personal training consultations as a result, and even before I went, the trainer e-mailed me.  The message had more explanation points than I've ever seen in my whole life.

Turns out, he is approximately 10 years old, and talks in explanation points as well.  Plus, I'm now convinced he's out to kill me, 'cause no one should suggest the kind of workouts he does to an old person.

Arlen Specter lost in last Tuesday's primary here in Pennsylvania.  I have been wondering all week if he will develop a single ballot theory.

Margaritas are yummy.

(Can you tell I was in the mood to post something, but didn't really have anything to say???)

12 May 2010

April Book Report

As it turned out, I only read two books last month.  But they were pretty intense, so I was happy to concentrate on them alone.

In the Lake of the Woods, by Tim O'Brien.   Wow. I thought this was an amazing book. I haven't read any of O'Brien's other books, though I know he is considered a good writer, and has had the theme of the Vietnam War throughout the stories. I chose this as part of my "What's in a Name 3" challenge, to represent a book with a body of water in the title.

When the book opens, John and Kathy Wade are at a cabin in the Minnesota woods, where they have gone to get away from life for a while. John has just lost an election that he was supposedly a shoe-in to win, and we are aware that something came out about him towards the very end that caused him to not just lose, but lose in a landslide.

John and Kathy talk about how they can now start over, live their lives with more freedom, and spend more time together. It's clear they are trying to be positive, but there is always the undercurrent of what happened to blow the election.

John is haunted by memories of childhood and his father, whose love he was always trying to win. He also has memories and flashbacks from his tour of duty in Vietnam. He has managed to build himself what was until recently a very successful political career, and keep his demons hidden.

One morning when John wakes up, Kathy has disappeared. Gone. This sets into motion a series of events that lead us to an explanation of what had happened in John's past that cost him the election, and also asks the question: Did Kathy disappear on her own, or did John kill her?

O'Brien weaves the story in a way where past and present mingle, and truth and hypothesis are intertwined. Each person interviewed by local law enforcement officials mentions things about both John and Kathy that make them even more enigmatic. I did not necessarily care about either of them a lot, but unlike other books where that is the case, I still wanted to finish this one.

The ending? Just like the rest of the story - confusing and murky. It seems appropriate for it to end on the note that it does.

Reading this book also brings back in horrifying and appalling detail an incident in military history during the U.S. time in Vietnam that I had not thought about in years, but remember vividly.

This book is well-written, unsettling, and defintely one worth my time. 

(P.S.  And on a totally personal level, I was glad to finally read a book by this Tim O'Brien, so I can stop thinking that he is the Tim O'Brien that I know!)

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot.  I have been wanting to read this book for a while, so when I saw it on the shelf at the library, I just grabbed! I find medical stories, particularly medical history, fascinating, and this one sounded like there was such a weird "twist" to it, I was looking forward to sitting down with it.

So, how was this book? Excellent, interesting, frustrating, and sad. It is the story of a woman named Henrietta Lacks, an African-American living in Baltimore in 1951, who gets what is years later defined as a very aggressive cervical cancer, and dies, both from lack of knowledge at the time about cancer in general, and because she never questioned her doctors. After her death, doctors took some of her cells to see if they could grow new ones. This was at a time when informed consent did not really exist, particularly not in the legal sense, and when it was routine for doctors to take cells and tissue samples from patients to use in the lab. Up to Henrietta's cells, the doctors had no success keeping them alive - but hers multiplied at an incredible pace!

As a result, HeLa cells (the first two letters of her first and last names) were traded around the world for research, and later, sold to labs all over the world. The book begins when the author becomes curious about what exactly HeLa cells are, when professor mentions them during a class she is taking. Rebecca Sloot was determined to learn what she could about Henrietta and her family.

The book details her eventual relationship with the Lacks family - Henrietta's husband, and her adult children. It was about 20 years until they learned anything at all about their mother's cells still being "alive" and used by scientists. Skloot has a hard time winning them over, as they have been approached at different times by white people wanting to know about their mother, but without any kind of useful explanations.

Without going into more detail, I can say that I found this to be a really good read. The history of Johns Hopkins Hospital, and its reputation (real and mythical) in the surrounding poor black neighborhoods is one thing. But you also have a family whose wife/mother's death leaves a huge void and causes some really terrible things to happen to her children while they are growing up. You have a climate where the doctor is never ever questioned, and where when they finally are, they give clinical and/or vague explanations. Henrietta's family is poor, and have not had many educational opportunities, so the "explanations" often lead them to even more confusing ideas about just what the doctors and scientists are doing.

I continued to be frustrated a) at the way medicine treated Henrietta and later, her children, b) how their lack of education led her family to so many traumatic worries and problems, and c) how, throughout the book, her family - when she had made such an impact on how doctors found cures and treatments for disease - was too poor to have any health insurance.

Skloot tells the story very effectively, without being patronizing or making excuses for anyone. You do begin to realize that medicine - both scientifically and ethically - has come a long way since Henrietta died in 1951.

The Lacks family's story is a compelling one, that will make you think. Not just about what happened to them, but what could be/has been happening to you and those you love.

Worth the time spent reading it, that's for sure!

Both of these were library books, so I don't have any to offer as giveaways this month.  But I can highly recommend each one as a worthwhile to borrow from your own local library.

08 May 2010

...and a good time was had by me!

Yep, these are my favorite pictures from the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival last Saturday.  I took more pictures, but they either didn't turn out (sheep herding dog trials), or I didn't actually end up with a picture of what I thought I was photographing ...

I had wondered how different the experience would be, since this year I was on my own.  I don't mind doing things on my own, but I'd always gone to MDSW with someone else, and we spent the day together walking around.  So it was going to be different, no matter what.

I had a blast!  I just wandered where and when I wanted to, stopping many times for breaks to sit and try to cool off in the shade.  No one cared how long I took, or if I wanted to look at something five more times during the day, or how much anything cost and why I shouldn't buy it - well, you get the picture.  It was incredibly hot and miserable, weather-wise, and I would have gladly traded that, but I got to see, talk to, and pet as many animals as I wanted to, and had a lot of fun people-watching as well. 

Of course, I knew a lot of people that were also traveling via the Rosie's bus, but once there I saw Carol, Amiryam, Kathy M., and Laura, and finally had the chance to meet Mindy, which was just the best thing!  We've been "friends" through blogland and Facebook for a while now, but I'd never gotten to meet her in person, so that was a treat. 

I didn't buy too much, partly because I didn't have anything in particular in mind that I just HAD to have, except that I wanted to find buttons for my Pickle Cardigan.  I am not that far from finished, and figured if I spent money on buttons, I would finish the sweater for sure.  I also bought a t-shirt for The Tim, a squirrel finger puppet for the cats, a small amount of angora bunny roving, and a drop spindle.  No I don't know now to spin.  But if it's a disaster for me trying to learn, or I can't "get" it, I'll only have bought a teensy bit of roving, and have a very pretty spindle to look at. 

(I have not been able to get pictures of said items that are not either blurry, or bleached out by the flash; however, I shall keep trying if nothing else than because now it's personal ...)

This year, it seemed pretty crowded already by the time we arrived, but by around 2 in the afternoon, it seemed like a lot of people had left.  Which was great, because you could really take your time looking at everything, without being crushed by other people, or swept along in the crowd!  I know a lot of people have said in the past few years that it is too crowded, and that Rhinebeck in October is better, and so they have stopped going.  Which is fine, 'cause it's not like anyone is forced to go.  But I have always enjoyed myself, and this year was no exception.  And you know it has to have been fun if I was able to enjoy it in the heat!  I will likely not make it to Rhinebeck any year soon, so I feel lucky to be able to make it to Maryland every now and again.

If you haven't gone, you should go.  The animals alone make it a great day.