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The Immortal Life

13 Sep

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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks was an incredible follow-up book to Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything. I am so glad I read Bryson’s book first, a book which David had told me to read pretty much the entire eight years I’ve known him. I recently discovered Immortal Life after listening to Bahni Turpin’s amazing narration of Yellow Crocus while searching for more of her books. Even though I wish Henrietta’s whole story was narrated by Bahni, she unfortunately only reads about two paragraphs of the entire thing. It was, instead, narrated by none other than Cassandra Campbell, who is a decent speaker but does so many books and never changes her voice, so it’s quite irritating to listen to her in every audiobook I download, apparently.

If I hadn’t just finished Bryson explaining how insanely miraculous it is that even just our cells are alive, let alone humans and the earth and the universe etc., I’m not sure I would have felt the same way about Rebecca Skloot’s book. But I did, and I was blown away by what HeLa cells have done for the world since 1952. Not only that, but what Henrietta and her family had to go through to even be able to “donate” the first line of immortal cells. It is hard for me to wrap my head around how the universe creates these situations, seemingly lucky and merely coincidental.

I really wanted to read this book for one of my two book clubs, but I eventually just couldn’t wait, not knowing when I’d be able to host again and get to pick the book everyone reads. Instead, I’ve told all my book-reading friends to read or listen to it, and gave a paper copy to my parents. I want to discuss this book with everyone I know.

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One Planet, One Experiment

21 Aug

I just finished a remarkably good book, Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything. It is a book that is going to stick with me a long time and continually keep me thinking. It changed my world-view. There was so much provocative information that he shared that I’m sure I will need to read it several more times.

The book seemingly got more intriguing and expansive the smaller he focused, when he was talking about living cells and how crazy lucky it is to be “alive,” and how reckless humans are in taking care of what we are surrounded with (including ourselves, which he didn’t talk about but my mind immediately went there). His last page really hit home.

“I mention all this to make the point that if you were designing an organism to look after life in our lonely cosmos, to monitor where it is going and keep a record of where it has been, you wouldn’t choose human beings for the job.

But here’s an extremely salient point: we have been chosen, by fate or Providence or whatever you wish to call it. As far as we can tell, we are the best there is. We may be all there is. It’s an unnerving thought that we may be the living universe’s supreme achievement and its worst nightmare simultaneously.

Because we are so remarkably careless about looking after things, both when alive and when not, we have no idea – really none at all – about how many things have died off permanently, or may soon, or may never, and what role we have played in any part of the process….

The fact is, we don’t know [about extinction figures]. Don’t have any idea. We don’t know when we started doing many of the things we’ve done. We don’t know what we are doing right now or how our present actions will affect the future. What we do know is that there is only one planet to do it on, and only one species of being capable of making a considered difference. Edward O. Wilson expressed it with unimprovable brevity in The Diversity of Life: ‘One planet, one experiment.’

If this book has a lesson, it is that we are awfully lucky to be here – and by ‘we’ I mean every living thing. To attain any kind of life in this universe of ours appears to be quite an achievement. As humans we are doubly lucky, of course: We enjoy not only the privilege of existence but also the singular ability to appreciate it and even, in a multitude of ways, to make it better: It is a talent we have only barely begun to grasp.

We have arrived at this position of eminence in a stunningly short time. Behaviorally modern human beings – that is, people who can speak and make art and organize complex activities – have existed for only about 0.0001 percent of Earth’s history. But surviving for even that little while has required a nearly endless string of good fortune.

We really are at the beginning of it all. The trick, of course, is to make sure we never find the end. And that, almost certainly, will require a good deal more than lucky breaks” (477-8).

The book reinforced my theory of humans being just another “germ” on planet earth, just easier to see than, say, the invisible bacteria that exists in multitudes everywhere (which Bryson does talk about). The question is, are we going to be a cognizant, helpful type of invasion, or will the earth eventually kill us off in favor of other species?

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Audible Love

23 Apr

I am in love. I have always been an avid reader, but Audible has allowed me to take it to a new level. Now I can read while I am doing other things. Not only that, but it has replaced my need for performances from TV to books (not completely! I’m not a learning robot!). I can’t remember the last time I opened the Netflix app on my phone.

Nowadays I generally have two book club books, a personal fiction, and at least one fiction and non-fiction audio books going at the same time. Because of this, I have already read 20 books in 2016! I feel smart.

Here are some of my favorites so far:

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Oh my gosh this book was so good. I was distraught when it ended, which was very soon because I listened to all 8+ hours in two days. The narrator was amazing. I will be seeking out more of her reads.

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Our first audiobook on Audible. It was a great story, and it was a good first one because I have a feeling that I liked the book more as an audiobook than I would have reading it on paper. It also introduced me and my husband to listening to books together while doing puzzles.

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I would not have gotten all the painting done to sell our house if I hadn’t gotten addicted to listening to this book and finished it in a weekend. Her other books aren’t that good, but this one is a winner.

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Bill Bryson. What more needs to be said? He is an amazing author, and I love that he narrates his own books. He makes history read like fiction. And his comedy makes the tragedies easier to bear. Plus who doesn’t love a playful English accent?

Inside Out

11 Feb

We just did one of those technology-induced movie nights where my son and I watched Inside Out at our house while my BFF – Uncle Jason – started the movie at the same time at his house, and we texted each other throughout. I hadn’t seen the newest Pixar yet, but Jason was a veteran.

What a movie. It was glorious to watch. Walt and I both sat mesmerized the entire time, and I even stopped wanting to text at all because I was so engrossed. I thought it should be a movie played in every Psych 101 class, and for every pre-teen, heck, everyone, to watch to understand their emotions a little bit better.

At the end of the movie, Walter is watching Riley cry in her parents’ arms, and he says, “Mama, she’s crying.”

He turns to me and says, “Just like a baby.”

And I have big, rolling tears streaming down my face as well when I say, “Yes, son, just like a baby.”

inside-out-651The “colored ball” movie, according to Walt.

How to be a Diva: 3 steps

22 Dec

The Diva Cup:

It will literally change your life. You’ll never have to worry if you have a tampon on you. You’ll barely have to think about your period except a couple times a day. You’ll save oodles of money, plus you’re helping out the environment AND your body. What more could you ask for? OK, I sometimes supplement with a reusable cotton pad, but I’m equally excited about those. It’s this kind of stuff we should be sending to girls and women who can’t go to school or work because of their periods.

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Magnesium Supplements:

I used to have terrible PMS, and, once my period started, I would take 600mg of Ibuprofen every 3 hours for four days just to survive til the next time I could lay down. Granted, my period has been better since I had my son, but it still wasn’t easy. Now, my period sneaks up on me (no zits either!), and I take only 400-800mg of Ibuprofen per day for the first 2-3 days of my period. I eat relatively healthy, but this supplement is my favorite so far of all the new supplements I’m taking. One 500mg pill every other day, and poof my PMS went away.

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Women’s lit:

Taking Charge of Your Fertility (which is not just about getting pregnant), Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, Nursing Mother’s Companion, and Period Repair Manual. It’s important to graduate high school and go get a college degree… but what about learning about your own body? These four books will get you started in the best possible way.

There are many stages to our lives as women. These are the best books I’ve read and cover most of what you would want to know about what physically goes on inside of you. Don’t be afraid. It’s pretty miraculous and really, really cool.

Ladies Book Club

8 Dec

It’s been fairly transformative to be a part of this neighborhood, women-only, book club since this summer.

The last book we read was My Life in France by Julia Child — though written by her great-grandnephew. Who is a fantastic writer. He made me fall in love with Julia. WWJD: my new motto.

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Julia married “late” in life, but to a fantastic man who whisked her off to Paris where she learned to love food and become an expert cook and then an international bestseller and beloved TV star.

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Paul Child: photographer, wine lover, graphic designer,  and lover of the world.

Julia and Paul Child

And a new dear friend Hannah, among others, brought her to us, and then threw us a dinner party with all Julia recipes — it was all Julia, all night! A beautiful night in a beautiful home with beautiful people.

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And our goody bag was a fondue package which I shared with Dave and friends at a game night later in the week.

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Sharing just makes everything better.

The Oscars, or Why I wanted Bradley Cooper to win

23 Feb

It has been a wild week, with the loss of the Marietta house, the possible sale of our intown house, and the feeling of being a little free-floating. The days culminated in a very creative-minded weekend.

Watching Walter learn things is so very cool. Much more fun re-learning with him, than it was learning all this stuff the first time around. I swear, the boy has gone from delayed speech to teaching himself how to read at 2 1/2 years old.

At dinner, we spoke of muses, and how to pull a poem out of you before it flows away. I also made my best pot of Killer Shrimp yet.

When I walk around with my phone in my back pocket, an album playing, it makes me feel like I have my own theme music.

I happened upon a spiritual healer, whom I plan on contacting. I am very interested to see what happens, what it is like to get a private reading or energy cleansing. I always love talking to people like that, card readers and other mystics.

I absolutely adored the Oscars this year. In years past, if I turn on the Oscars, I usually get hooked just because I am interested in which movies are nominated, as I normally don’t even have a chance to find out what movies are being released. This year, I felt like I had a stake in the game. I am a big fan of American Sniper and Chris Kyle. I find the story enlightening and heartbreaking, knowing that Kyle was murdered and his wife and children are currently undergoing their dad’s murder trial. I am reading his memoir right now and am basically learning all about Dave’s time in Iraq, as they were both in the Second Battle of Fallujah. Chris Kyle’s voice is unique, so much so that I am more compelled by him than almost any other book I’ve read, except maybe Margaret Mitchell in Gone with the Wind. And Sniper‘s story itself… there is such fodder in discussing a man who gets killed by the very weapon he so adores (and a deranged man, of course), after surviving four tours in Iraq. Clint Eastwood and Bradley Cooper brought the story to Hollywood superbly and with undeniable mastery of their craft.

I am also a big fan of Neil Patrick Harris. Dave and I both think that How I Met Your Mother is one of the most comedic and high quality sitcoms ever. I was amazed and delighted from the moment the Oscars started. Neil’s opening act was perfect. What a performance! The visuals were clever and stunning and nostalgic. And then he spent the rest of the show intelligently poking at the audience and the world, opening up even more intimate details of Hollywood. The speeches were wonderful to listen to. Political but not offensive. They hit all the high notes, such as gender equality and suicide, two subjects I’m passionate about. My favorite was the man who won Best Supporting Actor. I’ve seen him in a million movies but don’t know his name, even now. But he was the every-man, reminding us of family, and how we are an extension of the people who came before us. It was beautiful.

The show-stopping moment came when Lady Gaga performed a medley from Sound of Music, one of my top favorite movies of all time. I have never been a fan of hers, because I could never see past her gimmicks to the art. Sure, I heard a few songs on the radio, which might be catchy, but other than that I was not impressed. Gaga blew me away, however, with her simple yet glorious dress, makeup, and hair, on a beautiful stage, with the most exquisite and powerful voice. Thank you for that, my dear! I look forward to future such soul-awakened moments of pure art.

All in all it was an evening well spent. Onward and upward!

LADY GAGA