Monday, January 31, 2011

Hospital Time

I’ve known hospitals, in general, and one in particular far more than I’d care to--never as a patient, but even so, more than I'd care to.

Starting in sixth grade, I spent a lot of time at the Medical College of Ohio (MCO) in Toledo, where my father had two surgeries a year apart to try to remove malignant brain tumors. And then he was there quite a while after the second surgery went awry. We drove the hour-plus between my childhood home and MCO more times than I can remember, and mostly they all blend together.

One scene stands out in my mind: Back then, smoking was allowed pretty much on every floor except for the one with the lung cancer patients and where oxygen was in use. I remember the ash trays,with their little beaches of sand, and just as vividly I remember a man who was dying from lung cancer coming down to the waiting room where we sat. First, he tried to bum cigarettes off the people waiting there, but when the nurses had told everyone that he had lung cancer and was not to be given cigarettes, he took to rooting through the ash trays looking for butts that still had something worth smoking—and it didn’t take much to meet that criterion for him. That was probably the first time I saw true desperation.

Another scene. December of 1989 or 1990. There was a big Christmas tree in the lobby, and hung on it were ornaments that had been crocheted from white threads. My mother took a few of the ornaments off the tree to take home and copy. A man on the elevator saw her take them and said “Lady, you sure have your nerve.” I don’t remember if it was before or after that, but my mom made a lot of ornaments and not only brought back the ones she’d taken but also donated more ornaments. She might already have been donating ornaments to the hospital and just wanted to learn add new patterns to her repertoire, or maybe that’s how she got her start. In any case, it didn’t hurt anyone and she made and gave away a lot of nice ornaments not just to the hospital but to many other people as well.

Step forward over 20 years and I find myself there again, though MCO is now the University of Toledo Medical Center. It looks a lot like MCO to me, but at the same time everything’s changed; the stream is the same but the water’s moved on.

We got a call Thursday night that my mother had fallen, either from a heart attack or a heart attack had followed her falling. She’d been taken to the local hospital and from there to UTMC. She said she almost just decided to lay there on the floor until morning, but she did drag herself to the phone. If she’d stayed there, said the first doctors she saw, she would have died. Fortunately, she didn’t and she didn’t. We nearly left Thursday night to head to Ohio but were prevailed upon to get some sleep and make our way out in the morning. Details have been slow to follow. One that's emerged is that her carotid arteries are pretty severely blocked. They discovered pretty quickly that she has a fairly severe kidney infection, and until that has been treated, they can't treat her cardiovascular problems or even fully diagnose them. 

All of which leaves us in limbo. We don't know whether or what kind of surgery she may need, nor the recovery period that will follow. We don't know if/when they'll release her to "home," and we haven't figured out what that will mean. In less than a year she's fallen and broken her hip and now had a near-fatal fall and heart attack, so it seems clear that her days of living alone, four hours away from us, are at an end. But where, precisely, do we go from here? Unclear. Today, she seems to be fairly sharp, mentally, but that hasn't been uniformly true since she's been here.

And this gets at one of the biggest differences between when we came to this hospital for my dad's cancer treatment and being here now: responsibility. Back then, I was along for the ride, responsible only for sorting out and managing my own emotions, dealing with the prospect of losing my father. It was, of course, plenty of responsibility for my age, but it's very different from these adult responsibilities, trying to find a balance between home life, work responsibilities, and care for my mother. As a friend told me, "It's not easy or particularly graceful to dance through adulthood." Especially since we seem to be making up the steps as we go.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Eyes Have It

Not to turn this into the "John goes to the Doctor" blog, but I went to see an optometrist today, which I probably would not have done if the little one hadn't broken my glasses.

And that's another subject. I first got glasses when I was in junior high, though I really wanted them when I was much younger, just because my parents both wore glasses. So when I went in for the kindergarten screening, I intentionally failed a test in the hopes of getting glasses. I was not, however, as clever as I'd hoped, because I failed the wrong test. They thought my ability to process what I saw was what was screwed up.

So I didn't get glasses at age 5, but did get them 8 or 9 years later when I started developing headaches from reading, which was problematic since I read a lot. It turned out that one of my eyes was far-sighted and the other was near-sighted, so the two didn't play well together and I got headaches. Glasses for me.

By then, naturally, I was not so keen on having glasses, so either in my freshman year of high school, I tried contacts, but I always hated how they felt on my eyes and just couldn't get used to them--glasses for me!

I've always had a fairly weak prescription. In fact, I've never been legally required to wear glasses when I drive, as I've always managed to pass the vision test (there was a time or two when I wondered if they actually checked the letters I was saying or if they just assumed if you could see anything that looked like a name-able letter, then you were good to go). 

Over the years, I've had different styles of frames, and for a while even a different style of lens: the wildly un-stylish "transition" lenses that my friends jokingly referred to as "amber vision." In any case, I've had glasses now for longer than I haven't had glasses, including all of my adult and most of my adolescent life.

And now, I don't. The last time I went to an optometrist, four and a half years ago, I was told that my eyes had gotten themselves more or less back to 20-20, though I had astigmatisms in both eyes that would cause details to be just a bit blurry (and it wouldn't matter whether things were near or far, it would still be true). This time around, the eye doctor told me that one eye was a little less than perfect, though my two eyes together can manage "better than perfect" vision. I do still have astigmatisms, but if they don't really bother me (I've gone almost a week without glasses), then he's doesn't see why I need glasses. No more glasses for me!

But really, it's rather strange. I mean, I feel like I've always had glasses. Every picture depicts me with glasses. They're virtually a part of me, or so it seemed. Ah well: I'm sure I'll need glasses again soon enough, in the grand scheme of things!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

What's up, Doc?

I went to see the doctor this week, largely based on the results of a health screening that my employer paid for back at the end of October. It said my cholesterol levels were high, which wasn't exactly a surprise.

When I lived in Providence, I found this out and went on medication, which I took for perhaps two years. When I moved to Pennsylvania and my prescription ran out, a combination of laziness and wishful thinking took me off the medication. It turned out to be a hassle to find a new doctor, so I didn't do it. I've been off medication for two years, I've exercised with regularity off and on, added more vegetables to my diet, and hoped for the best.

No such luck, it turns out.

So, I went to see the doctor. It wasn't quite as tedious to get a new doctor this time, since our pediatrician is also a general practitioner. He wasn't taking new patients, but since I had a family member seeing him (our baby), they fit me in. Our pediatrician--now my primary care provider--seems like a really nice guy, which is why we sometimes feel bad about lying to him all the time. You see, it's just that our infant care philosophy (attachment parenting) doesn't really fit with what he thinks we should be doing. We have the feeling that he would be appalled at how long we waited for solid foods, the fact that our daughter still sleeps in our bed with us (or even in our room with us!), but oh well. Like I said, he's a nice guy, and we don't know of a pediatrician in our area who would be more in line with what we're doing.

With that in mind, let me say that I really felt good about my appointment with him. I basically went in to reluctantly renew my relationship with cholesterol-lowering medication. I showed him the results of my blood work, we talked about my lifestyle choices. For instance, the way I work out five days a week (at least, when I work out--after Thea was born I didn't see the gym for over 5 months, then I worked out consistently for 2, and then had almost 4 more months off before I got back into a routine again (which, admittedly, lost a few weeks to the holiday break). And I've been working to eat more vegetables and less meat--I also told him about my New Year's Resolution to only eat meat that I feel good about.

As we went through this, he admitted that it if I wanted a prescription for cholesterol-lowering medication, it would be hard to argue against it, because my cholesterol levels are high. However, out of the top five risks for heart problems, I only have that one--I don't smoke, I'm not diabetic, I don't have high blood pressure, and I'm not physically inactive. Interestingly enough, he asked me what I thought my ideal weight should be. I weighed in at 200 pounds and told him that I thought probably around 180. He said that while the charts might say my weight should be even lower, that since I exercise and lift weights, 180 might be a very good weight for me, and attainable. I've heard stories of people going to their doctor and being told to lose weight, so I thought it was an interesting and positive approach to ask me what I thought. Granted, he might have come out and told me I needed to lose weight anyway if I'd said I thought I was already at a good weight, but ultimately it felt more meaningful this way. To look my doctor in the eyes and say--not be told--that I could stand to lose 20 pounds: I think it's more likely that I will do what I need to do to get there. I've already started, though the biggest step was probably planning out our family meals for the next week from the Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites cookbook. We had steaks on Saturday, but we'll probably go more or less meatless over the next week (and the recipes look delicious, so I don't think we'll be suffering for the lack!).

So yeah. All things considered, it was a pretty good visit to the doctor's office.

Monday, January 17, 2011


Okay, I wasn't there, I didn't live through it, but it's pretty clear that in many ways Martin Luther King, Jr. lived in a different America--a different world--than the one I live in today. I overheard a student today wonder what King did "besides give speeches." Once I got over being appalled by the ignorance (well, okay, moved beyond it), I could see that at least to some extent, this was at least in part the usual sort of ignorance that the young are prone to: being unable to imagine the world being much different than it is now.

From this misconception, with only a vague notion of Dr. King's life, it might be easy enough to see King as little different than, for instance, a politician or other public figure today. He gave speeches, he inspired people, so what? What this young man fails, I think, to recognize is that King lived in a world where black Americans did not have the rights of white Americans; that King lived in a world where his protests could--and did--get him jailed, get his house bombed, get him harassed by the government, and draw death threats--and ultimately, of course, assassination. Nonetheless, he continued standing up for his convictions and his causes. So on that side of things, we have him as a man of strong character, which is always worth celebrating and holding up to inspire us all to be better, more heroic than we are.

Even more historically important, perhaps, is the way that King shaped the Civil Rights movement. Things were pretty bad, all in all. There was, throughout, a rather appalling level of violence, primarily from opponents of civil rights, but also from some of its proponents. Malcolm X, with his famous "Bullet or Ballot" speech exemplifies the other face of the African-American struggle, a militant face that would fight violence with violence. As I said--an appalling level of violence was already the order of the day: lynchings, police violence against protesters, riots, the Kent State shootings, and assassinations--King, Malcolm X, JFK, RFK, to name the most prominent. Now, imagine for a moment that, in that context, there wasn't Martin Luther King, Jr. or any other black leader of prominence advocating non-violence. Imagine what a world that could have become: more violent, more racially polarized, and no end in sight. Escalating violence gives you Northern Ireland, it gives you Israel, it gives you a world where acts of terrorism, acts of politically-motivated violence are common, still tragic, but something like normal, something like accepted. It gives you Iraq or Afghanistan.

We Americans live in a country where the September 11 attacks were shocking. We live in a nation where the shooting of a member of Congress is shocking and understood to be the act of a mentally-ill individual, not par for the course in a place where politics and violence go hand in hand. And we live in that country in no small part because of the influence of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This holiday isn't just to celebrate the historic achievement of the civil rights movement, it isn't just a time to celebrate the fact that racism has been greatly diminished, and it isn't just "a black holiday." It's a day celebrating a great man whose influence made America vastly better than it would likely have been without him. We all owe a debt of gratitude to him.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Reading on the small screen

Although I've started a few different entries since my last published one, I just haven't been able to put anything together--after a good month of Holidailies, I guess I just ran out of steam. Tonight, to start a new week, I'm going to get a blog entry written, however inconsequential it may prove to be.

A friend recently asked for advice about whether to get a Kindle or a Nook--for those who don't know, these are two different eBook readers: the former being Amazon's reader and the latter coming from Barnes and Noble. I didn't have much to tell her, but I have been using the Kindle app for my iPod Touch (and for those who don't know, an "app" is basically a little program for the iPod, iPhone, or iPad that mimics roughly the function of another device (such as a Kindle) or a computer program or website).

Surprisingly, I've rather liked it. Don't get me wrong: I'm staunchly neo-Luddite in my preference for dead-tree books over digital ones. I don't envision myself ever snuggling up on the couch or a comfy chair or in bed with my iPod Touch to read a book. However, I have found that an e-reader on my new favorite portable device is a nice thing to have.

First, it should be noted that in the past when I've carried a dead-tree book around to anywhere, whether she's expressed it or not, my wife has been vaguely embarrassed by me. Somehow, it is less embarrassing of me to be engrossed in a small electronic device, presumably because many other people are doing it too. So the first thing the e-reader on my iPod has going for it is that it fosters marital bliss (or its rough equivalent), because I do like to have something to read when time might otherwise be "wasted" while waiting.

And those are precisely the times when I pull up an e-book to read--stolen moments. It's not unusual for me to read a bit of a book that way while taking the dog for a walk or any number of other such occasions. And while I've looked a bit eccentric when I've done the same thing with an actual book, no one bats an eye at someone engrossed in an electronic screen. Added bonus: not only can I still read after if would be too dark to read an actual book, it's actually easier at that point than when it's sunny.

Not surprisingly, you can't fit a lot of words onto a 2-inch-by-3-inch (or whatever it is) screen, but that's actually a positive thing, the way I'm using it, because with a normal book I more or less have to stop at the top of a left-hand page if I'm not at a chapter break. I finish the paragraph that's carried over the the previous page and then stop--it's how I've done it since elementary school, so I always know where to look to start up again. With the Kindle app on my iPod, a "page" is a couple short paragraphs, one modest paragraph, or a portion of a longer paragraph, which means, practically speaking, that it's a lot easier for me to stop and start.

I like the fact that anywhere there's wi-fi, I can download a new book, either paying for something I want enough to pay for (haven't done it yet) or getting public domain books for free. I recently read A Christmas Carol that way and have started War and Peace. I also got through the preview of a book that I have since acquired in dead-tree form (for most every book Amazon sells in e-format, they let you download a sample before you buy).

And that, my friends, is my limited experience with an e-reader of any sort. What experience do you have (or lack)? How do you feel about e-readers?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Rethinking AP classes and tests

A recent article in the New York Times explored the way that The College Board is "Rethinking Advanced Placement." The focus of the article was on AP Biology and AP US History, but the overall philosophy of the change is moving from an emphasis on memorization to an emphasis on the skills and processes of the discipline. For my part, I think this is a needed change to keep--or finally make--the tests relevant to colleges.

I would compare this to the two English tests, the AP English Language and Composition (usually taken junior year) and AP English Literature and Composition. I have a fair bit of experience with both and can say that both do a relatively good job of testing skills rather than, for instance, particular works. Although I spent a couple years teaching an AP English Language and Composition course, what it really amounted to was tracking the juniors who were the stronger readers and writers into a separate class, not a year of cramming for the test. One school at which I taught didn't have any specialized course, just a couple nights going over the format of the test for any juniors who wanted to take it. I make a point of all this because the nature of the test allowed for students who were good readers and writers, who could analyze others' arguments and make their own, to do well.

In other words, by and large the same things that the test looks for are the things that college professors--and good high school English programs--look for from their students.

Years ago now, I read James Loewen's Lies My Teacher Told Me, which examined high school American history texts and courses, and one of Lowen's assertions was that high school history (largely "social studies") programs do little to prepare students for university history programs. In fact, college professors in history have to spend their time at the introductory level unteaching students, because the study of history is not a collection of facts but a toolbox of skills to utilize the sources from which we learn about history and to make and interact with arguments about not only what happened but also why it happened, how it happens, and the like (if I seem vague, I'll confess that it's because I have only a layman's view of what historians actually do).

Although it is perhaps not as profound of a gap, the same thing seems to exist in the sciences, where learning science in high school is often a rather different enterprise than the practice of science at the university level (to say nothing of doing science as a profession). AP classes purport to be doing college-level work, but in some disciplines it seems that the AP tests have more or less prevented that from happening.

I believe that one of the effects of this rethinking of many AP tests could be that it puts a greater burden on high school departments as opposed to the teachers of AP classes. Again, I go back to my experience at the school where students were, essentially, prepared to take the AP Language and Composition test not by a class but by their overall experience in the discipline over the course of three years. We trusted that students, at each grade level and by each teacher, were achieving the same goal that our department chair set before us: make them better readers and writers. And by doing that, we prepared them not only for tests but for college and beyond. The alternative is that one teacher tries to teach the skills and processes of the discipline in just one year (or, on a block schedule, one semester)--I'm sure it can be done, but I should think by far fewer students than could achieve a similar level of competence through a couple years of poor to mediocre classes followed by one "AP" class. Now, if all we want from our students is to memorize a boatload of "facts," that can more or less be done in a year (which is not to say that it's easy to do so--or particularly worthwhile).

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Sunday Evening Meme -- 9 things for Jan 9

I started a different post, but I ran out of steam, so I'm grabbing a meme from another blog.

1. Where did you grow up? Where do you consider home?
I grew up in northern Ohio. There's a part of me that still probably sees that as home or at least home-like, just because I know the geography of the people and places better than anywhere else. But my real home is with my wife and child and dog, in Indiana.

2. If you could paint your car any color with no loss in value, what color would it be?
I could care less. I happy with it in gray.

3. What do you think comes after death?
I'm no medical professional, but I'm pretty sure it's rigor mortis. Also--and I know this--your features get kind of blackened because your cells have used up all the oxygen in the blood that's no longer pumping. Long-term, entropy takes over and you decompose.

4. Name a TV show that should NOT be renewed for another season.
Beats me. I like all of the few TV shows that I watch. And although I liked it, Heroes did deserve to be canceled.

5. If you could have a free subscription to any online service, which would you like to have?
The on-line version of The Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Close second: Oxford English Dictionary.

6. Where did you think you’d be at the age you are now?
Really, I had only the foggiest idea. Thirty-three seemed awfully far away until I got here. At one point in my life, I thought I'd be a published author. At another, I might have hoped to have been making a living as a composer.

7. What did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was probably 6 or 7, I wanted to be a truck driver, because my dad was. Then, early in elementary school, I wanted to be a school bus driver, because everyone seemed to like the bus driver. Late in elementary school and into high school, I wanted to be a writer. I was going to write fantasy and science fiction. Now, I'd like to be gainfully unemployed when I grow up.

8. If you were to suddenly become famous, and were forced to change names, what would you choose as your stage name?
Because I'd considered being a writer, I've thought about this, but the best I came up with was Nolan Richardson. Then I discovered that a basketball coach already had that name, so I guess that's out. I'm not really sure why I would be "forced" to change names, anyway.

9. What is the first book that you can remember reading by yourself as a child?
I have no idea. There was so much reading going on, first by my parents and my grandmother to me and then eventually by me on my own that there's no way I could say for sure. Really, no idea. I think, though, that it was around the fifth grade that I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and that experience marked a turning point in my life, so I'll take the opportunity of this question to mention it.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Very Hungry Baby

The day after her birthday, we had a party. We made lots of cake:
 Not only did we make the very hungry caterpillar out of cakes (two chocolate, two yellow, two carrot), but the plates and napkins are also VHC-themed. And the other foods we had available were also taken from the book.
 She is, understandably, very excited.

 She started out very dainty, taking small bites with a spoon.
That didn't last long.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Happy Birthday Sweetpea!

This time last year, Lauren was finishing up a few hours of labor with one final push and the midwife was extracting our broad-shouldered daughter. It was a bloody mess, but we were all so happy to have it done, especially Lauren, who made it to the finish line without the aid of drugs.

So... how to celebrate her first birthday? How about dropping her off at our nanny's house for roughly 12 hours so we can go to hear the Chicago Symphony? Yeah, that sounds about right.

We're having a real birthday party for her tomorrow. You're all invited, except that there won't be enough cake for everyone and most of you would have to stand outside because we'll quickly run out of room in our apartment. Feel free to bring gifts; think gold, frankincense, or that other stuff that I can't seem to spell this morning and don't have time to look up. I mean, she already has plenty of toys, so what else does she need?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Book Pre-Review: The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook

I'm calling this a pre-review because it just doesn't seem right to review a cookbook after only trying one of the recipes. That said, I'll stride boldly forward into what amounts to a book review.

One of the surprise gifts I received for Christmas this year was The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook by Diana Bucholz. I didn't quite know what to make of it and figured I probably wouldn't find much use for it. I mean, something like that just doesn't sound like something that would come off my cookbook bookshelf all that often.

I did, however, at least take a look through it, and I realized a few things. First, there's a lot of food mentioned in Harry Potter. Under each recipe's name is a synopsis of the scene in which a particular dish is mentioned, and I really hadn't realized how much food comes up. Second, while I was expecting hokey recipes for magical foods like every-flavour-beans, what this really ends up being is a cookbook that tours the food traditions of the British isles. To be honest, when I saw some of the names of these foods in the Harry Potter books, I probably assumed that they were fictitious dishes. Treacle Tarts? Spotted Dick? But they're not. Besides the scene setting, each recipe also has a little blurb about the recipe--its origins or the traditions around it or some cooking tip. And these were really interesting; I found myself paging through the whole cookbook just to learn a bit about British food.

So far, I've only tried one recipe--a pumpkin tart that has a layer of bittersweet chocolate between the pumpkin filling and the homemade crust (it didn't call for lard in the text of the cookbook, but clearly this was a recipe that called for lard from the very soul of its being). I'm not sure I've ever had pumpkin and chocolate together, especially not such a dark chocolate flavor, but this was really good. I'm looking forward to trying more dishes from this cookbook, because it really looks like what we have is not a frilly cookbook attached to a Harry Potter theme but a good cookbook attached to a frilly theme.

And that is one place where the cookbook gets into trouble: its organization is basically thematic ("Good Food with Bad Relatives," "Treats From the Train," "Recipes from a Giant and an Elf" and the like). It can be a real pain finding something when you want it. The index isn't bad, but if you don't know the name of something, not having grown up under a monarch's rule... well, it can still be hard to find some things. The author does very kindly let us supply our own Muggle sorts of magic--food processors, for instance--to replace house elves and wands.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Take Me Back: Rhode Island Edition

What takes you back in time?

For me recently, it was an app I downloaded for my iPod Touch. Specifically, it was an app that allowed me to listen to the NPR station out of Rhode Island. For the past few days I've been listening to WRNI and it's taking me right back to my two years living in Providence. I listened to a lot of NPR since I never had television beyond what little would come through the rabbit ears, and as a result I felt plugged into national and international events and especially to the events and politics of Rhode Island. Of course, I was living in the capital and RI's such a small state that it's relatively easy to be plugged into the goings-on, but NPR was what took me there.

While listening the last few days, it was the little details that really took me back: hearing the traffic reports that reminded me of the roads I used to drive, the exits I used or drove past, the local landmarks. Hearing about Linc Chaffee being sworn in as the new governor took me back to the 2006 election, when Chaffee--a popular Senator despite being a Republican--was rather reluctantly voted out by RI voters as national politics trumped local politics (Chaffee's defeat helped usher in Democratic control of the Senate). In case you're curious, Chaffee has become an Independent, which was a better description of his politics all along.

I'm not entirely sure, but I think the programming schedule may have changed since I lived there, but one fixture was On Point, which comes out of Boston's WBUR. What a great show. Tom Ashbrook is really a great host (he's a perceptive interviewer and today Lauren and I loved hearing him--politely--smack down a listener who was straying way off topic) and the programming on the show is routinely interesting.

I also heard that the school where I used to teach sponsors the NPR station--I always knew it was a great place, but its support of a great NPR station sealed it for me.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Render Unto the Lard What is the Lard's

To help meet my resolution, on Friday I brought home two coolers full of pastured pork from a small farm, along with some extra pastured chickens and a bag of fat. More on that later.

To get all this, I had to drive to a small-scale meat packer that Google Maps told me was an hour and twenty minutes away. I was kind of in a hurry and kind of driving on back roads, so let's say I made good time. Seriously good time--it was more like an hour, maybe less, for me to get there.

And that's even accounting for the time it took for local law enforcement to pull me over!

The guy was really nice, though. He informed me that I was going 73, I apologized, he asked if I'd had any tickets, and I said not in several years. He checked license and registration, allowed that the road wasn't very busy, but cautioned me that 73 might be a bit fast. And then sent me on my way. Fair enough.

I told the guy who carried my pork out to the truck about my good fortune and he asked me what the officer looked like. "You mean, other than wearing a uniform and driving a car with lights? No idea." He told me that it could be this guy who, besides law enforcement, is also a priest. Apparently the only class of citizens that he never lets off from a speeding ticket are nuns. In fact, other officers will call him in if there's a sister behind the wheel and he'll go and really throw the book at them. Not necessarily the book, but a book anyway. The point is, Father Burn-Rubber-Don't-Burn-in-Hell ain't letting none of the nuns run.

I don't know whether that's the guy who pulled me over, but I'm glad to know he exists.

Oh, but I was going to tell you about lard. Besides the half-pig that I paid for, they gave me a bag full of fat--the good fat for rendering into lard, not the back fat. Three pigs-worth, for the price of none.

Saturday, I started cutting up the fat into little bits when Lauren stopped me short. "What are you doing?"

"I'm rendering lard. I told you about this."

"In the house?"

"Yes?" No. No, I wasn't. Lauren had no intention of living in a porky-smelling house. We compromised: I borrowed some crock pots and set up an operation in our garage. And just so our garage didn't end up smelling like a pork chop--although that would be a delicious way for the tools and spare lumber to smell--I set up a fan in the window.

I read instructions all over--books, the internet, everywhere--and then barely followed any of them. One said to add water. Another didn't use water, but did add baking soda. I have no idea why either of those things is a good idea, but I failed to do either. Twelve hours later, I had a lot of liquid fat and a lot of cracklins. I brought the first crock pot up to the kitchen to sort the two out from each other, and within roughly 3 seconds Lauren was ready to vomit from the smell pervading our house. Or, as far as I could tell, lightly scenting our kitchen and nowhere else.

It just goes to show, we all see--or smell--the world differently. She's a lot more sensitive to smells than I am. It kind of makes me feel like I'm missing something, though all in all it's probably an advantage. How sensitive does a nose really need to be, anyway?

But I digress.

At the end of the day, I ended up with 6 1/2 pint Mason jars full of lard. Some of you may be saying: why would you want that? Isn't lard the byword for ill health, for clogged arteries and coronary failure? Sure, but I think it's gotten a bad rep. As one article on rendering lard put it: "the paranoia that doomed lard was both uninformed and incorrect. We are now learning that lard has a greater concentration of good HDL, and less bad LDL than does butter, has no harmful trans fats, and in fact, is nature's second most potent source of vitamin D."
So there. Put that in in your fryer and smoke it.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

2010: The year in books

The period before and after Jan 1 seems like a good time for looking back on the year. Some probably prefer doing it earlier, but I didn't get around to it. In today's post, I want to look back at 2010 through the lens of the books I read.

Unless I missed recording some of them--a distinct possibility--I only read 24 books this year, and six of them were re-reads. That's down from 43 in 2009 and 53 in 2008. Gosh, maybe having a baby had something to do with that?

I've reviewed a number of these on my old blog and on Goodreads, but if you want my thoughts on any of them, just ask in the comments. I'll sort them by category and author rather than order read, and I'll mark the ones that were re-reads (R). Also, the ones that were audiobooks (A).

Fantasy and Science Fiction
Treason's Shore by Sherwood Smith
Dies the Fire by S.M. Stirling
Iorich by Steven Brust
American Gods by Neil Gaiman (R)
Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson (R)
Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erikson (R)
Turncoat by Jim Butcher (R)
Changes by Jim Butcher
Od Magic by Patricia A. McKillip (A)
Fugitive Prince by Janny Wurts
Grand Conspiracy by Janny Wurts
Peril's Gate by Janny Wurts
Traitor's Knot by Janny Wurts
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (A)
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (A)

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
World Without End by Ken Follett (A)
Hester by Paula Reed
The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett (A, R)

Everything I Want to Do is Illegal by Joel Salatin
How to Make a Forest Garden by Patrick Whitehead
The Greek Way by Edith Hamilton (A)
Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer (A)
Columbine by David Cullen (A)

There are a lot of audiobooks there because we've listened to quite a few while driving. Sometimes Lauren and I listen to them together (the fiction) and some of them I listen to while I'm driving and Lauren's sleeping or on my mp3 player, for instance when walking the dog (that's all the non-fiction).

The re-reads have either been for a book club (American Gods) or because I was getting ready to read a new book in the series.

I've also had a lot of books that I partially read without finishing. There was Gaia's Garden by Toby Hemenway and Edible Forest Gardens by David Jacke and Eric Toensmeier, which I read along with the forest gardening book mentioned above--I was preparing for a presentation, which I finished, and will probably get back to those books eventually. I started listening to a history book, Through a Distant Mirror, but I found myself wanting to take notes all the time, so I couldn't very well listen to it under the circumstances when I would normally listen. I started reading Stormed Fortress by Janny Wurts, as a preview on the Kindle app of my new iPod Touch, and I will read that now that a paperback copy has arrived in the mail. I similarly started Aristotle's Ethics and A Christmas Carol on the Kindle app. I'm currently re-reading Steven Erikson's Memories of Ice, part of my re-read of the whole series in preparation for the final volume coming out in March.

And that's that. How was your reading in 2010?

Saturday, January 1, 2011


I don't routinely make resolutions for New Year's. Sometimes I do, mostly I don't. This year, it seemed like a convenient time to make a change.

It is this: in the next year, I intend not to eat meat that I don't feel good about.

Philosophically, I've been against industrialized meat production for several years now. From the treatment of the animals to the healthfulness of the meat itself to the environmental costs of the methods of agriculture that I'm calling "industrial," there are a lot of things not to like. I've long believed that the facts of industrial meat production are not necessarily an argument for vegetarianism, because there are alternative agricultural methods that give the animals a better quality of life, that produce healthier meats for us, and that can be a benefit to the environment rather than a detriment.

And while we've supported just such a farmer, buying beef and chicken ever since we arrived in Indiana, I've also continued sending my dollars to the meat industry by buying meat at grocers that comes from I know not where, by eating meat from fast food restaurants (and slower restaurants, too), etc.

So, as I said, my intention is to eat only meats that I can believe in. This is, admittedly, only a step in what I believe to be the right direction. It's not going to solve the world's problems, it's not going to make me the healthiest guy in the world, and it's not even going to get me into full compliance with what I should be doing.

But it's a start.