31 May 2009

What I am reading: May 2009

  1. An Ice Cold Grave by Charlaine Harris: This is from another of Harris' series (not Sookie Stokehouse/TrueBlood) and it is an interesting one. The protagonist was struck by lightning and along with various chronic physical disabilities, she ained the ability to find dead people. Not to speak to or hear ghosts, but to feel the reverberations of their end of life. Ironically, she and her step-brother have not been able to find Harper's sister, who disappeared as a young girl from their broken and abusive home. This is the 3rd "Grave" book and I was surprised by a personal twist and enjoyed reading it: I like all of Harris' work.
  2. Under Cover of Darkness ed. by Julie E. Czerneda and Jana Paniccia: It's always a crapshoot when one buys a collection. In this case, there were several authors whose work I expected to enjoy and the premise was an interesting one: tales about unseen powers operating in secret. But it palled. The Friesner in particular was so self-referential as to be cloying. I quite like the Tanya Huff and the Larry Niven, found the Durgin and the Pollotta interesting, and the rest a slog.
  3. The Story Girl by Lucy Maude Montgomery: Not sure quite where I got this, not sure quite why. It looks like it was a freebie and therefore I am quite satisfied with it. A slight and picturesque novel by the author of Anne of Green Gables.
  4. Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama: I should have read this before Audacity of Hope because Obama has improved so much as a writer that it is a bit shocking to go backward. I did enjoy learning more about the President's background and the ideas and experiences that made him into the person that he is today and that formed te individual whose ideas I so greatly agree with.
  5. Men of the Otherworld by Kelley Armstrong: A prequel to Bitten, this tells the story of the origin of Clayton and his childhood and the ascension of Jeremy as Alpha, as well as a short story about Jeremy's origins and antecedents. I enjoyed it.
  6. Stolen Innocence by Elissa Wall with Lisa Pulitzer:This is probably what Big Love was based on. Elissa Wall was married against her will from a polygamous FLDS family at 14 and this is the story of her escape and her life. It makes the queasy feeling I sometimes get when watching the HBO series quite clear.That series makes me feel guilty because although the family we watch seems as if it should be allowable, but it exists on the fringe of horrible child abuse and psychological and physical repression of women and children: it's a form of slavery. By watching the glossy "outside" family, who ask why their exotic form of marriage should not be legal, we are blinded to the reality of the sexual abuse of women and children. Elissa was very strong and she lost her family: I am ashamed that this is allowed to exist in the US. If we had a stronger safety net and children's and women's rights, I think it would not.
  7. The Chinese Alchemist by Lyn Hamilton: I like this series (my mother follows it), which has as a protagonist an antique dealer who through both her work and that of her SO, a RCP, comes into contact with unsavory elements and crime. She travels a lot on buying exhibitions and I find her stories interesting and intriguing as I read about different cultures, countries and antiques.
  8. Boy and Going Solo by Roald Dahl: I love Roald Dahl. I think he was a totally cool person and I am sad that I never wrote him a fan letter, which I could have, because, like Heinlein, I was certainly old enough to do by the time he passed. However, I know that others did and I am glad. Everything Dahl wrote was wonderful. While I was in London in January, one of the things that I did was pick up new editions of his Charlie books and this- although I had previously read Boy, the first section of his memoirs, I had never read Going Solo, the seond. Makes me want to take a summer vacation in Norway and also makes me realize how very many of the anecdotes from his novels and short stories drew from his life experiences.
  9. Find Me by Carol O'Connell: I have read O'Connell's Mallory series on and off for years, never terribly into it (too procedural for me, usually). I borrow them from my mom, who really does enjoy them. But this one was different.Although I once again didn't love the concept: serial child-killer, I enjoyed the actual and amazing character development and the exploration of Mallory's back story. If she develops in a more human way in the future, I might actually read the series.
  10. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer: reviewed here.
  11. Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett: Pratchett is one of my favorite writers. In the storage unit where the majority of my books live, I have more than one box of Pratchett hardcovers. I don't know how I missed this one, as it was originally published back in 1994. I picked it up in London when I got Nation (waiting TBR). This is Pratchett firing on all hysterical cylinders and using some of my favorite characters (Death, his grand daughter, Binky...) and I loved it.

26 May 2009

Tuesday's with Dorie: Not today.

I'm tremendously better than I have been for the last 37 days. Except for a lingering cough and a need for the inhaler, I feel safely past the point where I worry about waking up in the morning because I wouldn't be able to breathe through the night, but I'm not up to any real baking yet. I have made a few dinners for the family, though, and they have been grateful:).

Look for me next week, when I get back aboard the train and start baking. No promises, but when I get back from my weekend in New York, perhaps I can even catch up on a few missed recipes: that tramisu cake looked great.

Memorial day and thoughts of War

This is a day when I think about war. About death. About sacrifice. I think about patriotism and I think about nationalism and the difference between them. The song above, which I quite like and which showcases some real beauty and pathos relating to the USA, is an example. But it is also an example of the carelessness of some Americans in their thinking. If I lose everything but my family, I do still love the US, I do still know that there I have my freedom, but gosh- I think I would also love the freedom of knowing that I and my family will have a roof over our heads, schooling and healthcare. Western Europe (and Canada) has those things and in most cases, freedom too.

However, it is something to know that in the USA I have freedom from fear of anti-Semitism. In the USA, I am not afraid to turn my menorah to the outside window, to have mezzuzot on my doors, to send my children to schools without tall steel walls, pressure lock entrances and police guards.

That is what Americans have fought for and died for and helped to create throughout the world. We may have fallen below our own ideals, but we do still have those ideals. In a constant struggle between a desire for isolationism that would be so easy to justify by our physical separation from the rest of the world, and a desire to help the world to higher ideals of freedom and democracy, our armed forces have died for ideals and helped to produce freedom and democracy. I would not exist if it were not for the entry of the US into WWII, late as I find that entry to have been.

This weekend I hosted a book club. the book was March by Geraldine Brooks and I thought it was extremely well written and well researched. I also found it very topical, although the subject matter was the Civil War, questions common to all wars arose: Are wars worth fighting? Are the deaths that are part of war justified? Do the perhaps venal objectives of the political powers declaring the war diminish the ideals that the war may bring to fruition? It was very interesting to hear the differing ideas, from Britons, Americans and Germans. For me, it was very interesting to have this conversation on Memorial Day weekend, and to see how easily some feel that the evils of war negate the positives: I am not one of them.

My gratitude and admiration for all those who fought as our country needed, who stood up for the defenseless and abused, and my memory and condolences to the families and loved ones left behind.

21 May 2009

No Seat Belt, No Excuse

Very vivid, very horrifying, and the most effective commercial/representation I have ever seen of an accident and the reason that wearing a seatbelt is not optional.

Since I was 16 and started driving, I have always required people in my car to wear seatbelts. That actually meant forcing my parents to wear seatbelts: when I was young they both had stories telling me how they had survived accidents "because" they had not been wearing belts. I did not find that acceptable and now I can't even imagine modeling such behavior for my kids. I guess that goes along with not wearing bike helmets (still a bone of contention in this house as I feel if we require the kids to wear them- and we do- we need to model the behavior as well).

The United States should license this commercial and it should be required to play at least 4 times a day on every channel, hopefully the ones that 16-26 year olds watch. Perhaps even younger- the time to set behaviors is before the behavior is required to survive.

h/t Red Mike

There and Back Again... to the Doctor's, that is.

It's been a long slog. April 19th I woke up in bed in Paris with a high fever and tremendous bodily aches and pains: influenza.

By a week later, the fever was past, my neck pain was almost gone, I was starting to feel better. That's when the breathing problems started. I waited a while, but I reached a point when I was quite unhappy and I wound up going to the ER, as I already mentioned.

They diagnosed bronchitis and provided antibiotics and an inhaler. 4 days later I was back again. This time the higher level doctor diagnosed pneumonia and proffered 4 days more of the antibiotic and another inhaler. That's when I called my OB/GYN for a referral and the next day I was at an internist. I talked about that entry experience a bit. That visit brought me a new inhaler, a different antibiotic and a codeine drop prescription (as I had suggested the previous week at the ER).

The next Friday, I was back again. Both the doctor and I were not too pleased with the way my lungs sounded, but they were a bit better and we were still waiting to see if I was pregnant or not, so we didn't want to up the medication. Another week of antibiotics, increase in codeine drops, told to use the inhaler more and more frequently.

On Sunday, discovered that I wasn't pregnant. Monday morning, the doctor brought me back in and was finally able to run me through the hoops. X-Ray: check. Still pneumonia and still quite bad, especially in the right lung. Blood test to ensure not whooping cough as well as pneumonia (my uncontrollable coughing, to the point of being unable to breathe without an inhaler, was quite frightening). Lung Capacity test: Check. Caused quite a bit of concern and after the first run through they made me take 4 drags off a serious inhaler, wait 10 minutes, and do it again.

Result, brand spanking new kick butt antibiotic and unbelievably expensive inhaler (10 times the cost of an ordinary one!)and a refill on the codeine drops as well as the ordinary inhaler.

I must say, this has been quite bad. I think this is the longest illness I have had since mononucleosis 25 years ago (I remember that was painful, but all othre memories disappeared with that semester). 32 days and still counting. Wow. I am much better now, but I still feel it and I still feel my lack of lung capacity. It's really easy to see how folks used to die like mayflies when they had pneumonia. Thank goodness for modern medicine.

20 May 2009

The TBR 2009 Challenge: May 2009

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer: I read this book, which has been sitting on my shelf for several years, for one of my book clubs. Although theoretically I wanted to read it (which is why it is was on my shelf), my hand passed over it every time I reached for a book to read. I still have issues about 9/11 and I really didn't feel ready to read a novel using it as background.
But since it was a book club read, I felt that I would use it as a kickstart. I found Foer's use of games and ciphers and flip books so annoying, and so affected, that it was helpful in distracting me from my PTSD, which tends to pop up whenever I think about that too much. In addition, some people found it amusing to mke nasty comments about NYC and I found my annoyance about the easy anti-Americanness of some expat Americans so annoying that I also found it usefully distracting. I read the novel twice, the second time ignoring all he annoying and silly typographical stunts, and I found that the story, in itself, was worth reading. Not terribly deep, perhaps, but worth reading. I wonder whether the type stunts ehelped to get the novel noticed and whether they were, overall, benefit or a drawback. Anyone have an opinion?

15 May 2009

Odds and Ends

  • If anyone is curious and has noticed my header, that's a field of hyacinths in Lisse, The Netherlands, that we stopped and wallowed in while visiting the Keukenhof. I love the smell of hyacinths and that's my favorite color. If we had moved in other directions, we had a rainbow of beautiful colors to choose from.
  • The previous post was a "premature" one (posted accidentally), but since there were comments (some e-mailed, one deleted), I'll leave it alone. I had many other links to add and I will post next week: I reach a point where I need to remove them even though it makes my skin crawl to deal with them.
  • The pneumonia is improving, after a week of the new antibiotic and the codeine drops. I still have bouts of coughing, but with the inhaler I am getting by. I am now having uncontrollable phlegm production and I hope my nose survives the tissue here (or, more accurately, the three rolls of tp I have gone through so far).
  • The girls started ballet and they are so adorable, and love it so much, I feel guilty that they didn't start earlier. Thing1 will be part of a production in a few weeks and I think it will be lots of fun.
  • Thing1's roller blades arrived today and she is amazing! She can already fall properly (protection in her size was easier to find) and kneel on her pads as she wishes. We had to mail order them because the 4 places we checked (including two stores in France) did not have blades in her size available. The girls went out with the German, T1 on her blades and T2 on her laufrad and they are both doing incredibly well. I foresee the time when both girls are rollerblading with the German while I remain behind lamenting my total lack of coordination.
  • On day 2, Thing1 can already rollerskate backward as well as forward: I think she is an athletic prodigy. She came home from kita, put all her protection and skates on and started to skate around the house. When the German got back from Munich he took the girls out and he also thinks that Thing2 may be ready to move from the laufrad to the smallest regular bicycle (German, just a smidge bigger than the laufrad, smaller than the American bike T1 has moved on to). Wow. This is overwhelming.
  • On the health front, the pneumonia is better, but still there, according to the doctor. He has given me another week of the new antibiotics, told me to use the inhaler both regularly and more aggressively, and upped the number of codeine drops I should be taking each night.                                                                                                                                    The nurse told me today that she didn't understand why I wasn't complaining more. Perhaps it's another cultural difference, because I can't understand what complaining would do (and I told her that). Apparently, as I am now starting to understand, the German system (medical, scholastic, business) works on the basis of yelling until one gets the desired result. Therefore, one should not expect the doctor to treat pain or discomfort unless one screams about it, even if one is clearly (as shown through, I don't know, listening to the lungs) in such discomfort.  I find it funny that he felt so sorry for me that without a compaint he upped the opiates. I really need to change my stoic attitude toward life and my belief in fairness if I am going to have the results I want in this country. I can do it, I just need to remind myself that things are not as they seem....

14 May 2009

What I've been reading in links: Anti-Semitism and veiled Jew Hatred

As I listened to the Pope's speech in Jerusalem, hearing him come out strongly against antisemitism, I wonder why the pretty Latinate phrase rolls so much more smoothly than what it actually means: Jew hatred. Hating Jews. Really, antisemites don't very much care about other Semites and in fact, many of them are of Semitic peoples. And antisemites don't turn around and have flat or positive feelings towards African Jews, European Jews, Latin Jews. They hate us all. But it sounds so much prettier in the Latin, doesn't it? The Pope sounded so sincere, so decent: How can he not understand how his actions work so strongly against what his stated beliefs are?

Here's a periodic purge of some of the reasons why my children need to be under police guard in Europe, and why I sometimes just feel overwhelmed. I leave these links open in my browser until I feel that I can handle them.

This is the way that I feel all the time. And I feel the bubble shrinking.
Philip Pullman: We are living in a little bubble of time. It might not last much longer, but it is a bubble of time that is still warmed by background radiation from the Enlightenment. We are very fortunate to live in a time and place where you don't get dismembered for having the wrong political convictions, and we should be thoroughly grateful for it every day of our lives.
A fellow expat blogger asked some time ago why people who speak against Israel are considered antisemitic. She closed her comments and she did not respond to my e-mail, so I won't link her here. But here is a thorough understanding of how truly a lie it is to pretend that in most cases the two do not go together and how to tell when being against the actions of a country are not simply code for being a Jew hater. I have no respect for those who pretend, falsely, not to see the real connections. I am afraid, in this real world, that pretending does not make things true.
"...so long as it's anti-Zionist, who cares whether it's anti-Semitic?..."

11 May 2009

The View

Today I saw The View for the first time. Can no one put Elizabeth Hesselbeck (and the world) ouf of our misery? Why is someone who appears too stupid to breathe and speak at the same time allowed to speak in the same forum as Barbara Walters and Whoopi Goldberg? Even Sarah Palin, while also an ignorant fool, can string more words together in a row than she can. Or at least Palin can read a prompter more clearly and think faster on her feet (I know that doesn't say very much).

08 May 2009

What's going on right now (in my lungs).

All sorts of nasty things.

As I mentioned before, when I woke up that Monday morning in the Paris suburb, I was quite ill. Aches, pains, fever, sweats: I clearly had the grippe. Since it was before the Swine Flu panic broke, I felt that I just needed to rest, and I did. This severely damaged my sightseeing (although I did some, and now I am thinking too much).

It was quite a bad flu, with lots of pain and inability to turn my head without masses of Aleve, but I powered on through because influenza is a viral infection and as such, I knew that fluids and rest was the answer, not antibiotics which are ineffective against virus infections (and no, I never actually though of getting an antiviral).

By the following Saturday, when we drove back to NRW to get the children, I was feeling much better, with only residual stiffness in my neck, although still clammy and easily tired. But by Tuesday, I was starting to get a cough. As before, it got worse until on Saturday I was in the ER. Unfortunately, those big antibiotic tablets and the inhaler didn't seem to be helping. That is, although after a spasm of coughing, when I felt that I would drown in my inability to breathe, I could actually take a breath after using the inhaler, it didn't really seem to be getting any better. Since I was prescribed a 5 day dose of the antibiotics, I became quite frightened on Wednesday (day 4.5) when I continued having paroxysms of coughing and the crackling in my lungs worsened dramatically. What a great opportunity to use an SAT word: the rales were getting worse and were both coarse and fine.

At the ER on Wednesday, I got the semi-private room and the higher level Dr. She listened to my chest and then diagnosed pneumonia. This was certainly no improvement since Saturday's bronchitis, so she also immediately suggested a lung X-ray and a switch up of antibiotics. When I pointed out, as I had on Saturday, that we were pretty actively attempting to reproduce and that I wasn't comfortable with either an X-ray or an antibiotic that would not be safe if I were indeed procreating, she seemed overwhelmed. After consultation with someone else on staff, she gave me a refill on the inhaler, an extra (free) two days on the ineffective antibiotic and a complete lack of understanding as to what to do. After all, if 5 days of that antibiotic took me from bronchitis to pneumonia, what would an extra two days do?

Skipping over the experience with the a***h*** doctor who blocked me in my spot, and the inability to walk more than 20 paces without breaking out into a cold sweat, I contacted my ob/gyn, who seemed extremely surprised that a competent dr. could not find another course of treatment. She set me up with another internist, whose office I was in today.

That was also an experience. After I had climbed the staircase to the office, I stood to register, but the receptionist kept calling people in ahead of me. I didn't want to enter the room to sit down because there was a notice asking to stand "behind the line" to allow for patient privacy. After the second person, I said (all this in my painful German, although the husband says it was correct enough when I repeated it)- My husband called to say that I would be in, can I give you my name and sit down, I am too sick to stand. The receptionist said, very loudly and very quickly back at me: Gibber, gabble, whatever. After she stopped, I repeated what I had said and she told me where the waiting room was (in German).

Once I had been sitting for about 15 minutes, recovering my breath, I became concerned that I had not been given any forms to fill out. All medical offices like forms, so I assumed I was being totally ignored. I called the German and told him what was up and then I heard the phone ring and be answered. Apparently (he told me later), the biggest question was why I, a non-German speaker, was there alone, because the Dr. did not speak a word of English. So the German gave her all my information and said he would come if we needed him and then the receptionist came out and talked to me and was absolutely lovely and spoke wonderful English (and she was in her early 60's, while the Dr. was in his 40's). The German says perhaps that is a typical German problem, the knee-jerk meanness while underneath may be a very nice person.

When the Dr. saw me, the receptionist came and translated and I used as much of my terrible German as I could and at the end, we were back in the same place: pneumonia and what to do? So he sent me back to the waiting room and had a conference call with my ob/gyn and came up with a treatment plan that includes codeine at night (yeah!) so that I may possibly stop coughing myself into non-breathing in the evenings. I started the new antibiotic immediately and the game plan is that if I feel any worse I am to contact him immediately and otherwise I am to come back next week.

I'm still feeling pretty awful, but the codeine has helped with the rales and the German is actually feeling a trifle scared (I was offered a few days in hospital and told that may become non-optional if I'm not careful) so he came home early:). I'll be spending the weekend basically in bed, I think.

Whoda thought pneumonia was so dangerous (and painful)? The other times I have had it were quite easy to get over. And this was a definite example of 1. German niche living- these things don't require ob/gyn consults in the US and 2. perhaps a bit of over caution (I am guessing Thalidomide is still remembered here).

05 May 2009

Tuesdays... but not with Dorie

Even though today's recipe, Tiramisu Cake, from Megan at My Baking Adventures looks nice, I am still weltering in my illness and I am not doing either baking or cooking. So far I am in my third week of significant illness: this actually feels far worse than when I had pneumonia twenty years ago. I am on day 3.5 of some extremely big antibiotic pills (and quite new as well) but I am still taking drags off the inhaler as my lungs sound like they are full of crinkled up plastic bags and wax paper. The coughing has decreased to the point where I no longer think that I will break a rib, but it is still ongoing, and I just don't have a huge amount of energy. Even though I napped last evening, when I woke around midnight I had a great deal of trouble feeling that I was oxygenated enough to go to sleep and wound up staying up for about 2 hours feeling panicked. I'm hoping that I feel better by tomorrow.

02 May 2009

NOT the Swine flu...

I should have all sorts of interesting posts and interesting photos. After all, we were in Holland for the long Easter weekend, than I had 6 days out of Paris. Locally we had the riots last night.

But I have been too sick. The flu struck my first morning in France and it has just beaten me to the ground. Of course, I know that influenza is a virus and that therefore, after the first day or so (when antiflu meds can be taken) there is really nothing to be done. I dealt with the aches and the deep, bone-deep, pain. The exhaustion. The fevers. The sweats and the chills. I hydrated. I even managed some sightseeing through my exhaustion (although nothing to what I had wanted) and I endured.

Through today, in fact. This week my bones no longer hurt, I no longer had deep wracking chills and sweats that required me to shower twice a day. But I started to cough. A non-productive cough. As we all know, Germany has no adequate cough medicine. Luckily I had kid's Mucinex (guafinesin and dextromethorpane) and started swigging it (my Lors, I miss Nyquil). After 2 days I started coughing so hard that my ribs hurt. Thursday night when I started to go to bed, I was afraid to: I felt I wasn't under-oxygenated. I sat up for a while, until that weird ratting noise in my throat went away.

I felt better Friday morning, with lots of hot chamomile tea and honey. And Wednesday I had been at a different dr., for some minor outpatient surgery, and he checked my lungs and said they were fine, so I thought everything was getting better. He even gave me an IV antibiotic (as is standard in the US after minor surgery, although there they just give a pill). How could things get worse?

Well, Friday night, as I heard what really did sound like the death rattle, I realized that things were worse.

This morning we hopped up and all four of us headed to the ER. Yesterday was May Day, a legal holiday (taken very seriously in Europe as a day for rioting and idiocy) and I hadn't wanted to make us all sit in an ER for hours, yet was a bit afraid to go alone.

What a doofus I was. Of course, in a country where healthcare is not tied to wealth or job status, an ER is actually used for emergencies, not for ordinary care. I was seen within 5 minutes. Wicked strong antibiotics and a bronchial inhaler (never had one of those before) later, we were on our way. How cool it is. Why didn't I visit a regular dr., you ask? Well, I actually don't have one. My children's pediatrician (absolutely fabulous guy) has given me my flu shots, my meningitis shots, and checked me for strep. He says all peds do the same, because otherwise parents would never get taken care of. I didn't think it made any more sense to try to emergency visit my OB-GYN (who might actually have emergencies relating to her specialty) and the experience was wonderful: I only hope that all Americans one day have the opportunity to experience a medical system that is rational and not over-burdened.