Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Fat Karma: Health Care Bigotry

I got my first glimpse that I would be treated differently by the insurance industry and health care providers when I was turned down for insurance over 15 years ago. At 5'6", they wanted me to be under 200 lbs, and I weighed 205 lbs. I sent Blue Cross Blue Shield a letter asking them to reconsider, that I was a vegetarian, I was a meditator, I exercised regularly, that my blood pressure and cholesterol levels were quite normal. They relented, and agreed to give me insurance, but would not cover any health care having to do with weight loss, heart disease, blood pressure, or diabetes. This despite my normal indicators and healthy behaviors.

Years later, my indicators are still normal, but for a slightly elevated blood pressure, which is easily controlled. Fortunately, my work-provided insurance has improved for part-time employees, and I no longer need the gutted cheap insurance. Fortunately also I like my job, because I could not get insurance otherwise, and some jobs actually weed potential employees out according to these same health factors.

My own experiences of fat bigotry from health care providers has been subtle, but I have heard some horror stories from others. A few years ago I met a woman who was forced to walk around with a broken tailbone, in constant pain. The surgeon she spoke to would not do the surgery because he said she was too fat. He would, however, recommend bariatric surgery. That, well that is a horror story in itself. Don't believe the soft-light commercials in which they say,"It's time." At least 1 in 100 people die from bariatric surgery and its complications, and it's hard to pin down the actual rate because deaths further in time from the surgery are not included.

Think about this procedure that has been touted lately as the life-saver for obese people. Because you know they tell us we're going to die if we don't lose weight. Our life will be shortened. What they don't say about that is people with diabetes experience a shortened life, sometimes. People with heart disease experience a shortened life, sometimes. People with obesity don't always have diabetes or heart disease. And what is it supposed to shorten my life by? 3 years? 5 years? So that means I'll live to be 85 barring accidents, because my family lives into the upper 80s? Meanwhile, people who undergo this surgery lose weight because they must necessarily starve themselves or experience severe consequences. This is a surgery that deliberately cripples the natural functions of a person's body for the rest of their life. It's an induced health dysfunction, and doctors recommend it.

A doctor told a good friend of mine that her 17 year old daughter "is a good candidate for bariatric surgery." My eyes about popped out of my head. I was sure this not only had to do with fat bigotry, but with class. Did this doctor think because this family was poor, they wouldn't know any better? Fortunately she mentioned it to me so I could tell her the horror stories of people dying from intestinal blockages, or from beriberi disease. Complications from this surgery last the rest of your life, and for the rest of your life, you must take steps not to be vitamin-deficient because of the tiny amounts of food you have to eat. Complications also cause the need for follow-up surgeries.

Oh, but it cures diabetes, you say? Well, duh! The patients aren't eating the calories, so their fat is being consumed. Of course there is a reversal. I once read the blog of a woman who was happy she'd done the surgery because she believed it saved her life, this in spite of the fact she had severe complications which almost took her life, and necessitated further surgery. Oh, and when they say it cures diabetes, this is from studies that only looked at short term followup, not long enough to determine a cure, really.

Whew, enough about that evil surgery disguised as good.

As I mentioned, the difference in treatment I've experienced from health care providers has been more subtle. It ranges from a doctor taking one look at me and saying, "I want you to take a cholesterol test," to doctors/nurse practitioners saying, "You need to exercise more." When I say I do, they've said, "Well you need to walk faster." I think part of this is not just fat bigotry and their assumptions that I don't do these things, but the way an HMO is set up and the way doctors think. As I learned from How Doctors Think, they will latch onto a diagnosis and stick with it, disregarding other possible illnesses. In this case, they go with the most obvious defect, and hammer the protocols. They don't ask me questions.

Most recently, I suspect my new physician's assistant thinks I am non-compliant and/or stupid and/or lying. With my newly diagnosed high blood pressure (now that the defining numbers have been lowered), I wanted to be sure it wasn't Sudafed that was sending my numbers up, so I delayed the bp medication for 3 weeks while I stopped taking Sudafed, and we worked out that I could try Benadryl at night instead. That worked fairly well, and I could sleep, but my blood pressure didn't lower, so I started on the blood pressure meds. (Initially I was never told Sudafed could raise a person's blood pressure.) I told her I wanted to go back to Sudafed, as it hadn't made a difference. She reluctantly agreed, and refused to give me a stronger dose, writing on my record, "Lay off the Sudafed, it raises your blood pressure!" Seriously, did she think I was lying when I said I tested my blood pressure before and after taking it? Or did she even pay attention to me? If she thinks I'm being non-compliant, does she even realize she may be allowing bias to affect her judgment? At least she ordered a full blood workup for me, as that unearthed anemia and vitamin D deficiency. I believe I've been suffering from anemia for almost 3 years, but my previous nurse practitioner termed my worsening monthly conditions as normal. I'm not sure why, but I think she ordered the tests in part because I complained about doctors always telling me to exercise without asking questions about my health habits. Am I making this up, that her views of me have to do with my fat? Probably not.

Well here, watch this. It pretty much covers the kinds of bias a fat person experiences from health care providers. I noticed though, even this video fell a little bit short in its advice to doctors: nowhere do they mention the need to recognize the good health habits a fat person already has. It seems they didn't root out the common assumption that we haven't any good health habits.

Earlier posts in this series:
It Starts Young

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Slow Read: Swann's Way, Week 2

In Search of Lost Time, Volume 1: Swann's Way by Marcel ProustIn Search of Lost Time: Volume 1, Swann's Way (Modern Library Classics) (v. 1)
by Marcel Proust, translated by Scott Moncrieff

Combray, Section 2

It strikes me that many of the memories of the narrator are from his imagination. Also, any time he gets close to some real life drama, his parents remove the responsible actors from his life, thus necessitating more of his memories be of future fantasies.

M Legrandin --> poser?

Besides, she thought it in not very good taste that M. Legrandin, whose sister was married to a country gentleman of Lower Normandy near Balbec, should deliver himself of such violent attacks upon the nobles, going so far as to blame the Revolution for not having guillotined them all. ...

"Oh, I admit," he went on, with his own peculiar smile, gently ironical, disillusioned and vague, "I have every useless thing in the world in my house there. The only thing wanting is the necessary thing, a great patch of open sky like this. Always try to keep a patch of sky above your life, little boy," he added, turning to me. "You have a soul in you of rare quality, an artist's nature; never let it starve for lack of what it needs."
This reminds me of some I know who had ideas about how things would be when they grew up, but when they got there it wasn't like that. (And how I did not have these fantasies about how it would be, just that I had to get out.)
At this date I was a lover of the theatre: a Platonic lover, of necessity, since my parents had not yet allowed me to enter one, and so incorrect was the picture I drew for myself of the pleasures to be enjoyed there that I almost believed that each of the spectators looked, as into a stereoscope, upon a stage and scenery which existed for himself alone, though closely resembling the thousand other spectacles presented to the rest of the audience individually.
I find it interesting that he terms his inexperience in how things actually were as Platonic.
My heart beat loud while I counted out to myself "Shall I do it, shall I not?" and then I ceased to ask myself what I ought to do so as at least to do something. Blindly, hotly, madly, flinging aside all the reasons I had just found to support such action, I seized and raised to my lips the hand she held out to me. "Isn't he delicious! Quite a ladies' man already; he takes after his uncle. He'll be a perfect 'gentleman,'"
So then he goes and blurts it all out to his parents and they and his uncle is estranged.

He is quite an astute boy, recognizing the way books make emotional truths larger than life, more obvious, whereas in real life, changes come more slowly. Or I would say, dramatic changes happen less often than fictional narratives. Hmmm, could be why I myself latch on to drama so quickly...I read constantly just like this boy.
It is the same in life; the heart changes, and that is our worst misfortune; but we learn of it only from reading or by imagination; for in reality its alteration, like that of certain natural phenomena, is so gradual that, even if we are able to distinguish, successively, each of its different states, we are still spared the actual sensation of change.
Hmmm the conquest of truth, rather expensive, or a life based on internal fictions? Interesting passage, I want to revisit this perhaps:
Had my parents allowed me, when I read a book, to pay a visit to the country it described, I should have felt that I was making an enormous advance towards the ultimate conquest of truth. For even if we have the sensation of being always enveloped in, surrounded by our own soul, still it does not seem a fixed and immovable prison; rather do we seem to be borne away with it, and perpetually struggling to pass beyond it, to break out into the world, with a perpetual discouragement as we hear endlessly, all around us, that unvarying sound which is no echo from without, but the resonance of a vibration from within. We try to discover in things, endeared to us on that account, the spiritual glamour which we ourselves have cast upon them; we are disillusioned, and learn that they are in themselves barren and devoid of the charm which they owed, in our minds, to the association of certain ideas; sometimes we mobilise all our spiritual forces in a glittering array so as to influence and subjugate other human beings who, as we very well know, are situated outside ourselves, where we can never reach them.
Bloch, another man destined for banishment. The 'rents just don't answer the door when these ne'er-do-wells come calling to steal their baby's innocence.
Unfortunately I was not able to set at rest, by further talks with Bloch, in which I might have insisted upon an explanation, the doubts he had engendered in me when he told me that fine lines of poetry (from which I, if you please, expected nothing less than the revelation of truth itself) were all the finer if they meant absolutely nothing. For, as it happened, Bloch was not invited to the house again.
Okay, have I just missed the narrator's name or has it not been mentioned? It's like trying to find the pineapple in Psych...I keep forgetting to watch for it, but I don't want to backtrack just to look for the pineapple because by the time I've watched it I'm too late to try for the prize anyway.

Previous posts:
Week 1

Monday, October 19, 2009

Fat Karma: It Starts Young

It's pretty clear we humans are meant to come in different shapes, colors, and sizes, as we are different sizes even before we enter school. I was a chunky little girl. I was told I was barrel-chested. I could see I was bigger than the other elfin-sized kids. Sadly, it's nothing new that this is treated with alarm by many adults. Even if it isn't, children pick up pretty quickly that they are not good enough when it comes to weight. It happened to me in the 70s, it happened to girls in the 80s, and it is happening even now. Girls at the age of 11 are dieting, and this can only fuck them up for the rest of their lives when it comes to food.

Sometimes it can't be avoided. I know a girl who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. I've seen her growing up, and I've seen her develop a very needy personality surrounding food. In her case food must be measured precisely, regulated, and negotiated with insulin shots. I feel so sad for her, as this will be a life-long push and pull. But if a girl is simply a little larger than her average peer, without such illnesses, such restrictions should not occur.

I've been in the hospital one time in my life. I was sick with the flu, and got so dehydrated they put me there to get re-hydrated. They wouldn't let me eat because they were giving me all the nutrients I needed in the drip. That's what they told me anyway. They couldn't find my blood vessels in my arms, so they put them in my legs. My mom fainted. When they removed the drip they finally said I could eat, but what they brought me was broth. I wanted real food. The nurse told me the doctor put me on a diet. I cried and cried at that, thinking even the doctor was saying I weighed too much. I was 6 years old. I said I didn't like it. They brought me something else just as thin. I didn't like that. Finally they brought an orange jello that tasted like cardboard. They said they didn't have anything else in the kitchen. I think at some point someone told me the diet wasn't meant for me to lose weight, but just because I'd been sick. Already at this age 'diet' to me meant the need to lose weight.

I have heard that the best way to give little ones a good diet and a good start to eating right is to allow them to graze, and to make healthy food easily available for them to graze on. Making a small child limit what she eats, restricting access, and making her think she's too fat at the age of 6 has to be just the opposite. I don't blame anybody for this, as this is and has been the accepted fear in our society. Little kids can't be allowed to weigh too much. Geez, could it get any worse than an insurance company refusing to insure a breast-fed baby?

The other very young memory I have is from around the age of 5, going to the annual family reunion, and being told I could only choose a diet soda. This was just the way things were. This is just the way things are now...I can't stand the taste of regular soda...I only drink diet.

I'm sure I knew the calories of various regularly eaten foods by the age of 16. I still have a ballpark idea, though I have refrained from counting calories for almost 20 years. Of course I knew the best things for me are broccoli, celery, and green beans...they have the least calories! Oh, and iceberg practically has negative calories. I'm pretty sure I was dieting by the age of 12. It was a continual thing, this restriction of food, this neediness brought about through the restriction of food. I never did have a healthy grasp on satiety because of dieting, so it understandably took me many years of finding that balance when I began listening to my body's true needs when I was in my 20s.

It turns out I am not alone. Chances are if you diet before 14, you will grow up to be obese. I'm sure I would be much worse off if I had continued to try to ignore my body's natural needs.

Besides corrupting my ability to know when sated or not, I think the larger damage from learning I was not the right size at such a young age was the beginnings of the notion that because I was fat, I could not be fit. In just a few short years I would be the last one picked for t-ball or kickball on the playground. I believed, all the children believed, that the thinner we were, the better we could be at sports. It was a cultural-fulfilling prophecy from 1st grade on up.

They say our personality is fully developed by age 5. What that says to me is that the conditions that go into making the personality of the self seem to be so immutable not only because of genetics, but because of the circumstances that arise before memories stick. How much of our view of our capabilities come from the views of others from before we can even remember? A child might not remember adults clucking over her chunkiness at the age of 2, but it still has an effect on her in later years. If food was withheld at age 2 except at certain times and in certain amounts, would that not have an effect on her hunger at age 7? When adults in a society that obsesses over weight carry that karma over to their children, there's little to no chance the children can escape that karma.

Earlier posts in this series:

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Fat Karma, a series

I've been meaning to write about this for quite a while, but lack of time and the immensity of the project has kept me procrastinating.

I have taken lately to saying we have a Societal Eating Disorder. Some people get it right away. They've taken measure of the distortions they've been pressured to accept and learned in some measure to trust the messages of their own bodies. It really pushes the buttons of others, and it is nigh on to impossible to begin to have a conversation. Not only does this societal eating disorder mess with our perceptions of our own bodies and our own eating habits, it adds meta-messages and implied messages to anything we might try to say on the subject.

There are many women and men who have covered the subjects I intend to cover way better than I could hope to. What I intend to do is look at my own karma, my own experiences and thoughts, and draw upon the understanding I've accumulated, and the understanding of others who have put much more time and effort into fat acceptance and studies of weight.

I couldn't just let it be, as it seems to me the fervor regarding weight and health has accelerated in recent months and years, yet no new findings have surfaced that show that excess weight on its own causes life-threatening diseases. People think it does, but they confuse eating habits causing health issues with weight causing health issues. In news coverage of health care reform, in comments on articles online, everywhere I look I find people adamant, that people who are fat deserve all the abuse we might receive. The vehemence is cutting and at times overwhelming.

The other side of the commentary is no less demeaning. I'm talking about the seeming urgent need that people have to explain just how to eat better, exercise better, and lose weight, all for my, or some fat person's, own good. Believe me, I, and most fat people, are very well aware what good health habits are.

I finally figured out one of the meta-messages that comes up whenever I bring up this topic is that people think I am trying to say I can do what I want and my health will be just fine. I don't know if this is because people cannot separate weight from health indicators, or if they think I am trying to excuse what they are sure must be poor health habits. I think somehow people of 'normal' weight think that if we just had good health habits, the weight would disappear. The primary message is that more people need to know that it is possible to be healthy, and to improve your health habits, without it having to mean that you lose weight.

We all, every single one of us, has karma of poor health habits. We may have acted out dangerously, we may have had drug addictions. The thing about being fat, you see our karma. There is no disguising it. Not only do you see the likely past, perhaps present, of successful dieting, of failed dieting, you also see how people have treated us. If you see a fat person, you see someone who has been discriminated against. You see someone who has been yelled at while exercising. You see someone who has had a doctor who did not listen to them, or a doctor who missed other health issues because they focused only on the fat. You see someone who perhaps has had other health conditions that caused weight gain. You see someone who has been viewed as lazy, stupid, lacking will power, asexual, and it has affected how they've been treated. You see someone who has been entirely too aware of their body, or you might see someone who has disassociated from their body and its natural appetites. You see someone who carries the weight of society's guilt over consumption. You see someone who has been made the scapegoat, and it's been entirely acceptable to otherwise reasonable people.

What you don't always see is that we also have good health habits. You don't see that we probably don't eat as much as you think we do. You don't see that someone sees us as sexy, and that we too can feel and be sexy. You don't see that but for the weight, all our other health indicators could be quite good. You don't see that while everybody thinks we should just exercise more, there are precious few exercise programs that are tailored to the physics of our bodies.

There is a whole lot of karma in fat: societal perceptions; self-perceptions; distorted perceptions; bad choices; lack of choices; genetics; health myths; etc. I am going to try to explain my karmic experience a little at a time.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Cougar Cheese and the Kindle

Someone asked me how I like my Kindle. I like it a lot for the ease of highlighting and making comments for later review. It took me a couple of books worth of reading to get used to the new timing of turning a page, but that's no big deal. Once I got used to it, easier to handle than a paper book. So many feel obligated to lament the loss of the feel and the smell of a book. Not me. The Kindle is light, easy to hold, whatever your position. Not so with books. And when it comes to smell, well, if it is musty enough to smell, get it away from me...that means it will spark an allergy response. Some people wish it lit up, but that would defeat the purpose of the electronic ink. The whole point of the Kindle display is that it reads more like paper and less like a luminescent screen.

Here's something I don't like: the only covers they sell for it are freakin' leather. No, I'm not vegan, but if I can help it, I do not buy leather.

But then, here's something I really really like. When you buy WSU's Cougar Cheese, they send it to you in the pictured foam envelope in a box. This envelope is the perfect size, with a snip here, a snip there, for a case for the Kindle.

I have a lot of these foam envelopes, having bought a year's worth of cheese for my sweetie for Christmas for a couple of years now. (Full disclosure, my sweetie's other sweetie first bought it for him one year, and I asked her if I could steal that gift idea in subsequent years.)

This is so much better than a leather or faux leather case. 1. It's free. 2. It's reusing rather than creating new stuff. 3. It is not waterproof, but it is water resistant. 4. The way it looks is only limited by the owner's imagination. 5. If you have this for a Kindle case, chances are you've also had the cheese, which is absolutely fabulous. I'm a fan on Facebook. 6. The foam is slightly grippy, so holding it behind your Kindle while you're reading gives you a little extra holding power. 7. The foam envelope is bendy, so you can fold it over and use it as a prop to hold your Kindle at an angle for reading at a table. 8. If the case wears out, replacement is easy...just buy some more fabulous CHEESE.

My first protective case I created was plain, with 3 simple cuts and a fold-over for a flap. I decided though to try another, creating a loop and stick fastener, using a hairstick for the stick, the "loop" cut into the flap, which is tucked inside. The material is tough, and stretches a little. It could hold, but with the way I handle things, a little duct tape on the seamed edges and the loop fastener will help it last longer. Yes, that's pink duct tape. A person could paint or color this cover with a sharpie or paint pen, but I like the semi-translucent look of the envelope, and you can see colors of the back cover showing through. My sweetie bought that for me separately, a Gelaskins product. There are a whole lot more designs than when I put mine on my wishlist, but I like mine. Each little 'room' on the bookshelves has a theme, and the faux books relate to the theme and classic titles.

Be warned, if you're thinking of buying a Kindle, it is way too easy to buy something on impulse. Keep in mind that you can take a few steps to convert free ebooks to the Kindle format, for free, so anything at the Gutenberg Project is up for grabs. You can also put your own documents on your Kindle...again, with a few extra steps it's free. I like saving paper that way.

Oh, another use for that foam envelope? It's just big enough to fit my CPAP machine, so when I travel, I can use one of those for padding, and put the machine and components in my travel backpack without having to carry another case.

Slow Read: Swann's Way, Week 1

In Search of Lost Time, Volume 1: Swann's Way by Marcel ProustIn Search of Lost Time: Volume 1, Swann's Way (Modern Library Classics) (v. 1)

by Marcel Proust, translated by Scott Moncrieff

Part 1: Overture: Combray, Section 1 (<--link to Gutenberg free text)

As this first section is called Overture I immediately thought of music. Something to keep in mind, though I don't know that I remember much from my music-learnin' days that will add to the experience. I do remember the final notes reflect on the whole piece. I'm assuming the overture gives us a peek, a prelude, into what we can expect from the book, and the emotional overtone. And emotional it will be, dontchathink. But this kid is emotional with a purpose...he is ever so careful to take note of everything that has touched him to the core.

He seems somewhat afraid of sleep, or more accurately, attuned to that moment when he wakes up:

But for me it was enough if, in my own bed, my sleep was so heavy as completely to relax my consciousness; for then I lost all sense of the place in which I had gone to sleep, and when I awoke at midnight, not knowing where I was, I could not be sure at first who I was; I had only the most rudimentary sense of existence, such as may lurk and flicker in the depths of an animal's consciousness; I was more destitute of human qualities than the cave-dweller; but then the memory, not yet of the place in which I was, but of various other places where I had lived, and might now very possibly be, would come like a rope let down from heaven to draw me up out of the abyss of not-being, from which I could never have escaped by myself: in a flash I would traverse and surmount centuries of civilisation, and out of a half-visualised succession of oil-lamps, followed by shirts with turned-down collars, would put together by degrees the component parts of my ego.
Back to the overture idea. What can I list from this section that might be significant to the book?
  1. Swann. Is Swann's Way that of the father, who was oft quoted by the narrator's grandfather? "...for the loss of his wife, but used to say to my grandfather, during the two years for which he survived her, "It's a funny thing, now; I very often think of my poor wife, but I cannot think of her very much at any one time." "Often, but a little at a time, like poor old Swann," became one of my grandfather's favourite phrases, which he would apply to all kinds of things."
  2. Or is Swann's Way that of the son, yet to be revealed, who is hinted to be a companion of the narrator at a later time? At this time he is simply a guest who keeps his mother from giving him a goodnight kiss, as all guests do.
  3. Of course there is the famous Proustian vivid memories tied to senses and emotions.
  4. The narrator's neediness tied to parental remoteness
  5. The notion of a person:
    But then, even in the most insignificant details of our daily life, none of us can be said to constitute a material whole, which is identical for everyone, and need only be turned up like a page in an account-book or the record of a will; our social personality is created by the thoughts of other people. Even the simple act which we describe as "seeing some one we know" is, to some extent, an intellectual process. We pack the physical outline of the creature we see with all the ideas we have already formed about him, and in the complete picture of him which we compose in our minds those ideas have certainly the principal place. In the end they come to fill out so completely the curve of his cheeks, to follow so exactly the line of his nose, they blend so harmoniously in the sound of his voice that these seem to be no more than a transparent envelope, so that each time we see the face or hear the voice it is our own ideas of him which we recognise and to which we listen.
    Does this notion make a person liable for his actions affecting another? "...her anger would have been less difficult to endure than this new kindness which my childhood had not known; I felt that I had with an impious and secret finger traced a first wrinkle upon her soul and made the first white hair shew upon her head."
  6. Going to sleep is like dying. What all will he do to avoid it and to get that goodnight kiss from mum?
    Once in my room I had to stop every loophole, to close the shutters, to dig my own grave as I turned down the bed-clothes, to wrap myself in the shroud of my nightshirt. But before burying myself in the iron bed which had been placed there because, on summer nights, I was too hot among the rep curtains of the four-poster, I was stirred to revolt, and attempted the desperate stratagem of a condemned prisoner.
  7. Threads. Tugging on rope to re-awaken the world. Note to mum: "Now I was no longer separated from her; the barriers were down; an exquisite thread was binding us." The tapestry that is a person's perception of another.
Speaks to numbers 3 and 5:
I feel that there is much to be said for the Celtic belief that the souls of those whom we have lost are held captive in some inferior being, in an animal, in a plant, in some inanimate object, and so effectively lost to us until the day (which to many never comes) when we happen to pass by the tree or to obtain possession of the object which forms their prison. Then they start and tremble, they call us by our name, and as soon as we have recognised their voice the spell is broken. We have delivered them: they have overcome death and return to share our life. And so it is with our own past. It is a labour in vain to attempt to recapture it: all the efforts of our intellect must prove futile. The past is hidden somewhere outside the realm, beyond the reach of intellect, in some material object (in the sensation which that material object will give us) which we do not suspect. And as for that object, it depends on chance whether we come upon it or not before we ourselves must die.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Books Read With My Ears

Storm Front (The Dresden Files, #1) Storm Front by Jim Butcher

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Either this was a lame reading, or it was a mistaken rendering. James Marsters, if he'd had the 'tude he had for Spike on Buffy, he might have done this justice. However, he read this with a bored flat voice, so I couldn't get too excited about it. I thought perhaps he was trying for the hard-boiled detective sound, but it didn't come out that way. For that, he should have had more of an edge to the voice.

As fantasies go, this was an ok book. Perhaps I would have liked it better if I'd read it. If it comes across my desk at the right time, I might move on to the next Dresden Files book, but I'm not feeling the urgency. Hard-boiled detective + talented wizard + misunderstood by the cops = good story, but average writing

The Valley of Secrets The Valley of Secrets by Charmian Hussey

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This is a secret garden-ish sort of book; it was fun for a light listen.

At the beginning there are hints of fairy folk, but the book takes another turn. A boy inherits a country estate from a relative he never knew existed. I didn't quite catch his age, but he was old enough to be done with school. He was not academically inclined, but had always felt an affinity for the things of nature. The valley of secrets could be his little slice of heaven.

The Minister's Daughter The Minister's Daughter by Julie Hearn

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
A neat take on the hedge witch meeting the phenomena of the burning of witches. Rather than witch, she is more of a midwife and healing woman, though fairies and pixies play a part in the lexicon of her arts. The minister's daughter gets pregnant, and blames the young midwife, just a girl herself. Well-read, easy to listen to.

Fledgling Fledgling by Octavia E. Butler

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I started listening to this book from one of my favorite authors without realizing just what kind of book it was. I'm sorry other reviews give it away, but I suppose you find out soon enough. It really pulls you in, starting with an amnesiac regaining her strength and her knowledge in a phenomenal way, and how she copes with her unusual heredity and mystery of her injuries.

Parable of the Sower [Audiobook] (CD) Parable of the Sower [Audiobook] by Octavia E. Butler

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The first time I read this book I wanted "Earthseed: Books of the Living," the book as composed by the main character Lauren Olamina, to be my new religion. Now, I disagree with her on the question of God, though she has a very pragmatic reason for including it. I also read it at an age of fear of societal dissolution, and this dystopian book provided that how-to parable on how to survive.Now listening to it years later, we've had a boom and a crash in the computer industry, and another crash in the finance industry, and that dystopian future still hasn't happened to that extreme. Now I listened to it with a more mature appreciation of Butler's story, and love it just as much. It was made even better by the skilled reading by Lynne Thigpens.Butler is a must-read for any science fiction fan.

Graceling Graceling by Kristin Cashore

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I love encountering new lands and societies created by fantasy writers. This book is peopled by 7 lands with 7 kings, and a certain segment of the people are graced with abilities. In most of the kingdoms, such children become the property of the king, and are feared by the rest. Most feared are those with mind-reading abilities. Also feared is Katsa, an uncannily skilled fighter who rarely feels pain. She does her king's bidding, but forms a secret council whose members do what they can to mitigate the poor choices of kings. Things change when she meets a prince, also a graceling, from a land where gracelings are free to choose the life they would lead.

Read by Full Cast Audio, always a good listen, with different people reading the various parts.

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Slow Read: Swann's Way

In Search of Lost Time, Volume 1: Swann's Way by Marcel ProustIn Search of Lost Time: Volume 1, Swann's Way (Modern Library Classics) (v. 1)

by Marcel Proust, translated by Scott Moncrieff

I'm about to do a very slow read of this for the current series of Read the Classics at my library. I hope people will read along and chime in with comments. The professor warned us to give ourselves plenty of time for this dense read, so I am scheduling 8 weeks. I have to blog about it just to keep track! When I'm done the first bits would otherwise be as if seen through a disorienting fog.

Some of the others in the group may come here to visit. I hope folks will help to keep me on the reading schedule. That's another reason I do this...knowing someone is visiting keeps me posting. If anybody else is blogging about this at your own place, post a link so we can share.

I'm using the page numbers of the current edition of the Modern Library book for the reading schedule. I'll actually be reading it on my Kindle, so I include the first sentence for my own benefit. Kindle books lack page numbers, the one drawback as far as I can tell (it uses other numbers called 'locations'). Proust does not conveniently break up his book into chapters.


  • October 11-17: pp. 1-64; Part 1: Combray, Section 1
  • October 18-24: pp. 65-127; Section 2, beginning "Combray at a distance, from a twenty-mile radius, as we used to see it from the railway when we arrived there in the week before Easter...."
  • October 25-31: pp. 128-199; beginning "In spite of all this he would still have been received at Combray."
  • November 1-7: pp. 199-264; beginning "Thus was wafted to my ears the name of Gilberte, bestowed on me like a talisman..."
  • November 8-14: pp. 265-359; Part Two: Swann in Love
  • November 15-21: pp. 359-450; beginning "A sort of wit like Brichot's would have been regarded as out-and-out stupidity by the people among whom Swann had spent his early life..."
  • November 22-28: pp. 450-543; beginning "Even when he could not discover where she had gone, it would have sufficed him, to alleviate the anguish which he then felt, and against which Odette's presence, the joy of being with her..."
  • Nov. 29-Dec. 5: pp. 545-605; Part Three: Place Names . The Name
  • December 6: Discussing at the library
Whee, here we go! ...hurry up and slow down to read the book so many of us have been meaning to read for the longest time, but didn't because we needed just this kind of thing to motivate us...

Monday, October 05, 2009

Butternut Squash Soup

I love to read recipes, but when it comes to cooking I usually do a bit of creative fudging. From the time I was sort of a latch-key kid, I would tamper with recipes, usually adding more spice than called for. Back then, we didn't worry about shelf-life, and we probably had way old expired tins of spices. We also lived on the cheap generic foods, and these often needed sprucing up. So now, I can afford quality ingredients, but I still have that skill of knowing what is going to taste good together, and how much.

I have been so tickled with my recent purchase of a KitchenAid Immersion Blender. (I found an Xmas gift card for Target that I forgot I had.) I've been eating fruit smoothies for breakfast ever since.

Tonight I used it with soup for the first time. So easy! Simple cleanup! I wonder why I waited so long to get one of these gadgets. I made the soup in my other fairly new gadget I just love using, the Nesco 3-in-1 Digital Electric Pressure Cooker.

Vegan Butternut Squash and Potato Soup

  • 1 butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2 to 1 inch cubes
  • 3 yukon gold potatoes, cubed into 1/4 to 1/2 inch cubes
  • 3 small leeks, penny sliced (I just let those float in water a little while to get clean)
  • 7 or 8 cloves garlic, chopped (my philosophy is, you can never have too much garlic)
  • 1 box no-chicken vegetable broth

Load all into pressure cooker, set to pressure cook on high for 4 minutes. When done, allow 10 to 15 minutes for pressure to dissipate, though it's probably still done if you release the pressure sooner.

Add about 2 teaspoons ginger powder. Use immersion blender until you have the consistency you want. I still wanted some lumps.

Salt and pepper, and/or maple sugar at table to taste. Yes, you read that right, I have some of that expensive real maple sugar. It's great for just this kind of garnishing.

Am I good at cobbling things together, or what?