Review: Lock In

Lock In by John Scalzi
Lock In
by John Scalzi

Title: Lock In
Author: John Scalzi
Published: 2014
ISBN-10: 978-0-7653-7586-5
Publisher: Tor

Lock in is what happens when a flu pandemic turns weird.  Some lucky survivors become carriers.  Even more lucky survivors have a paralyzed central nervous system, keeping their minds alive but unable to move.  Millions die from Haden’s Syndrome.

FBI agent Chris Shane is a Haden.  He’s also rich enough to be able to afford top of the line “threeps,” an outer shell which connects to a neural network in the brain and allows for movement.  A Haden’s body remains in a sling being taken care of.  Hadens don’t actually move their bodies, their brains move the threep, and can do other high tech wizardry.

This is a murder mystery, police procedural, sci-fi thriller.  With over tones of inequality (on several levels) and political maneuvering to give non-Haden sufferers access to the same high tech.  Then people can make even more money.

I have a running debate with a friend who does not read science fiction.  In this debate, she thinks things like threeps are just too weird.  She can’t relate.  And that’s okay.  My side of the debate is that none of this, of course, is weird.  It’s just different.  Neither of us can decide if it’s because I’ve read a lot of science fiction/fantasy, or if it’s just my easy-going nature.

Either way, John Scalzi’s world-building always seem real and credible to me.  Even if the bodies of old people are genetically re-engineered to be younger and more powerful (Old Man’s War), or it’s people adapting to being locked in to a body with no functioning central nervous system.

I wouldn’t mind if there was a series featuring agents Chris Shane and Leslie Vann.  It would be very interesting to see what happens in this world created by John Scalzi as it evolves and adapts to new laws, and new attitudes.

Apparently, there was a big kerfuffle over something in the book I didn’t even notice until I read about it.  And when I thought about it, I spend more time thinking about the automatic assumption I had made, rather than the thing being kerfuffled.  But you’ll have to figure that out on your own.

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Review: Prague Winter

Sacred Clowns by Tony Hillerman
Prague Winter
by Madelein Albright

Title: Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948
Author: Madeleine Albright
Published: 2012
ISBN-13: 978-0-06-203031-3
Publisher: Harper Collins

I have long admired Madeleine Albright, the first woman to become Secretary of State in the US.  To rise to that level and make a difference seems to me to be an astonishingly difficult job.  To do it as a woman raises the difficulty scale even higher.

In The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God, and World Affairs, Albright discusses the role religion has played in world affairs, something that isn’t going to go away any time soon.  She also reveals hard truths about herself, including the fact she didn’t know she had lost relatives to the Holocaust or that she was, in fact, Jewish.

Prague Winter is a product of Madame Secretary’s research into her own history, which is intertwined inextricably with Czechoslovakia and World War II.

This is not an easy book to read.  This is well-researched, often emotional, retelling of one little girl’s life as Hitler rose to power and began to exterminate millions of people.  Albright was only a child, but her memories, backed up with research, make for sorrowful reading.

Focusing on Czechoslovakia and its struggle to remain a united, independent country in the face of internal divisiveness between Czechs and Slovaks, and the onslaught of Nazis and Communists under Stalin, Albright’s story reminds the reader that nothing, truly, is every simple when zealots and ideologues are in charge.

She is fair in her assessment, through the long lens of history, that decisions made by Western leaders, while short sighted, were what politics of the time demanded.  Neville Chamberlain will always be remembered as an appeaser, but what is rarely discussed is the force of Hitler’s personality and his ability to fool people into thinking he was a reasonable human being who simply wanted to strengthen Germany in the face of the disempowering Versailles treaty of World War I.

Albright’s story is one of heartbreak, and agony.  It’s also an important story to know, because the true atrocities of Hitler and Stalin often get masked by the statistics and overwhelming amount of information available.  Madeleine Albright’s story is about one family, and one country’s struggle during World War II.  It puts into perspective the horrifying truth of what it is to be “other,” when that means certain death.

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Personal Log: October 31, 2016

Full of Awesome
Full of Awesome
Pacifica, CA

I don’t look like this anymore. And that amazes me. The spirit is still there, probably even more present as my body changes and I find I can do more things now.

I am, at last count, 50 pounds lighter.  That astounds me to say.  FIFTY pounds.  Me.  I did this.  I asked for a healthier body and I am doing the work required to get one.

There are small events which come as a complete revelation to me.  I often ask the question, “Who am I?”  But maybe the question should be, “Who am I now?”

Love People Cook Tasty Food
Love People
Cook Tasty Food

Last weekend, I drove my poor battered Car to Menlo Park for a Penzeys run.  Their coupons are fabulous, it’s hard to resist.  I’m continuing to explore spices and blends, so my swag included a ground brown mustard seed, Bavarian Style Seasoning and Berbere Seasoning Blend – which I was warned would be extremely spicy since its first ingredient is Cayenne pepper.

My point in bringing up Menlo Park is I did a thing which still astonishes me.  I walked.  Parked a couple of blocks away – not by choice – and walked to Penzeys.  Then, I walked a couple of blocks more and discovered TJs.  And then … then, I walked those blocks back to my car in time to see the community Hallowe’en parade filled with families dressed in costume following the marching band.

I walked past restaurants, two of which had been old haunts when I worked in Menlo Park.  I walked past them.  At no time was I tempted to stop and get something to eat.  It is amazing to me that I willingly walked, and felt really good about it, and didn’t stop at any number of places to have a nice meal.  Because, I don’t treat myself with food any more – most of the time.

And that’s another thing which I’m still trying to get used to.  Emotions.  Or rather, feeling my emotions without compensating with food.  And these past two weeks presented me with ample opportunity to use food.  In all reality, since I’m an addict, every day gives me a choice to use to get through.  And every day, for almost seven months I have chosen not to.

It isn’t easy.  A friend told me when Car and I had our accident, he was surprised to find me eating the food out of my refrigerator, instead of sitting on the floor gnawing on the bones of a pizza. If there was ever a time for comfort, bashing up Car and worrying about saving money for the new one would have been it.  But I didn’t.  And I’m amazed it almost didn’t occur to me.

This journey isn’t easy for other reasons, including I am tired.  Exhausted.  Haven’t had a day to just screw around in for seven months.  I made this choice fully aware it was going to be tough.  And every time I am tempted to just skip prep for a day, I think about my options.  And I remember that even though I would rather curl up with a good book for a long afternoon, if I don’t prep I don’t have anything healthy to eat for the week.  And I’m not about to go that route.  So tired, and often cranky it is.  And the results make me happy.

My body moves better.  I walk faster and keep up with people.  A walk around the block no longer intimidates me.  I’m a long way from a walk sounding like fun, but I do it because I can feel the effects.  The lack of lower back pain nearly overwhelms me.  After years of chronic back pain and bi-weekly visits to the chiropractor, I can now go once a month for a tune-up.  Because I eat healthier and my body is changing.  I like that.  I like it a lot.

Review: Sense and Sensibility

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
Sense and Sensibility
by Jane Austen

Title: Sense and Sensibility
Author: Jane Austen
Published: 1811
ISBN-10: 0-141-43966-1
Publisher: Penguin Classics

Jane Austen’s tale of the family Dashwood, and their prospects after husband and father, Henry, dies is a commentary on the class system in England.

Austen really does not like the way in which the society she lives in sets expectations for each other, most especially, the young, unmarried women.

While first published in 1811, Austen’s themes resonate across two centuries.  Women are held to impossible standards, and always found wanting.  Austen’s main theme is that of sense vs. “sensitivity.”

Is it better to be sensible and logical where emotions, and love, are concerned?  Better to not show emotion and to explain hurt by others away by the use of logic?  Or is being sensitive to others’ feelings and wearing one’s heart on the sleeve a better approach?

While reading Sense and Sensibility, I kept wondering about “the middle path.”  One in which both sisters are allowed to be both logical and show their emotions, rather than this tug of war of trying to measure up to society’s expectations.

Which, of course, is the point.  There is no “middle path.”  Women must pick a path and stick with it in order to please both those of her class and any potential suitors.  Things are better in some ways now, but it’s still difficult for both men and women to live up to the expectations laid upon them by rigid societal mores.

Austen is worth reading, both for her commentary and for her sharp observations into human nature.

Review: Masculinity in Breaking Bad

Masculinity in Breaking Bad edited by Bridget R. Cowlishaw
Masculinity in Breaking Bad
edited by Bridget R. Cowlishaw

Title: Masculinity in Breaking Bad
Author: edited by Bridget R. Cowlishaw
Published: 2015
ISBN-13: 978-0-7864-9721-8
Publisher: McFarland & Company, Inc. Publishers

Watching Breaking Bad was one of the most entertaining times in my life.  Such fantastic story-telling about a wimpy high school chemistry teacher who is diagnosed with cancer and needs to find a way to support his family after his death.

Walter White goes from chem teacher to badass drug kingpin in the course of the series.  There are no truly likable characters in Breaking Bad, but there are sympathetic characters.  Characters with which we can identify in some way because of their circumstances.  Sympathizing does not mean liking, it’s the simple recognition of, “Yep, been there.  Understand what you’re doing bro.  My choice was different, but you be you.”

Masculinity in Breaking Bad is what happens when a bunch of liberal arts Ph. D.s, each with a particularly granular specialty, look deeply at the male characters.  It can be a dense read.

This is not to say it’s not an interesting read.  There are multiple ways of exploring the themes of Breaking Bad, and masculinity is an obvious one since the story is male-driven, and centers on one man who is forced to redefine himself because of his diagnosis.

Eight essays, and two round table discussions, cover the topics from Walt’s fatherhood, manhood, business acumen, and legacy to my favorite, “Men in Control:  Panopticism and Performance.”  Basically, Jeffrey Reid Pettis uses French Philosopher Michel Foucault‘s theory of panopticism (in Discipline and Punishment) to the use of surveillance, and reactions to surveillance, in Breaking Bad.

Panopticism is a fascinating concept in which a prison is built in such a way that everyone (including staff) can be under surveillance at any time.  When there is no way to know when an individual is being watched, he begins to perform as though being watched.  Here, Pettis delves into the performance art which comes out of the knowledge each character has that he may be watched.

It is a rich essay, dense and chewy.  But the concept of always being watched is one of which none of us is completely unaware.  How does Walt react to knowing this?  What lengths does he go to show those he imagines watching that he is “the one who knocks?”

While I did find Masculinity in Breaking Bad interesting in many ways, I can only recommend this book to those truly interested in this type of close reading  and, who don’t mind working for their read.

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Food: Menu October 17 – 23, 2016

Menu: October 17 – October 23, 2016
  • (New recipe) Tangy Pulled Chicken
  • Roasted Onions: white, yellow, purple, cippoline (Italian) with red wine & white wine vinegars (no oil)
  • Roasted Cabbage: purple & green with red wine vinegar
  • (New recipe) Roasted Brussels Sprouts
  • (New recipe) Roasted Garlicky Mushrooms
  • Fruit: mandarin oranges, Granny Smith apples
  • Veggies: cucumbers peeled and soaked in balsamic vinegar,
  • Pumpkin Energy Balls
  • 1/2 cup 2% lowfat cottage cheese

Menu Commentary
Tangy Pulled Chicken
I didn’t exactly botch this so much as put in a pan far too big.  This came out dry, and extra crispy on the bottom.  No harm done.  The solution is to make sure there’s a smaller pan clean and ready.  Worth trying again.  (Probably next week)

Roasted Brussels Sprouts
I’m not keen on the honey/savory combination.  This recipe calls for 2T of honey, which overpowered the tangy bits of the sauce.  Next time, no honey.

Roasted Garlicky Mushrooms
This recipe was meant for putting whole mushrooms on kebabs and cooking them on the barbecue grill.  First thing to go, parsley.  1/2 cup of olive oil?  I don’t think so.  1T brushed on the top is enough.  2 garlic cloves became 10 roasted garlic cloves.  Not bad at all, could have used just a pinch of salt.

General menu commentary
I continue to enjoy the roasted onions and cabbage with vinegar.  There’s no added oil on the onions, and 1T brushed on each head of cabbage.  Add my favorite vinegar, happy mouth and tummy.

The biggest challenge I face is how to make sense of the nutrition information based on the ingredients for any given recipe.  The uncooked serving sizes don’t come close to the reality of cooked food.  I know I will never have these calculations down perfectly, but I’m still working on figuring out a more accurate solution.

New ingredients:
None

New Tools:
None

Resources:
Clean Food Crush – Chicken
Bon Appetit
Martha Stewart
Clean Food Crush – Pumpkin Energy Balls
One Green Planet
Penzeys
7 Stillwell Pinterest Food board

Personal Log: October 9 – October 16, 2016

She's done For.
She’s done For.

This week was a doozy.  Back pain kept me home on Tuesday.  Thursday, I was in an accident.  The result of which means it’s now cheaper to find another car than have mine fixed.  (Both drivers are fine, )

This idea has terrified me for a couple of years now.  How would I pay for it?  Where would I find one?  Who could I trust?  I knew it would come.  Car is, after all, a 1995 model with over 226K miles on her.  She is old, and just plain worn out.

She’s also been a workhorse for me since 2000.  I kept praying, “Please don’t break down, I don’t know how to replace you.”  And yet.  Two breakdowns, a couple of fender benders, and the accident.  In ten months, she’s suffered these indignities, as gracefully as I could let her.

The universe told me in no uncertain terms, now was the time to let go.  Panicked and anxious, I took comfort in my friend’s expertise.  This is twice in two weeks he’s literally ridden to my rescue.  I cannot begin to express how grateful I am to have him in my life.

We got my car to a body shop which gave me a heart stopping quote for repair.  And then, “oh by the way, one of the managers here has a Honda Civic he’s selling for [almost half the price of repairs].”  Deep breath.

The next morning, we went back to test-drive the car.  I was in love with this 1997 Honda Civic two-door before I turned the corner in the parking lot.  The real test was on the streets when my friend put it through its paces.  I’m so happy to say New Car passed with flying colors.  Now, all that’s left is the financial details.  I have no choice but to leave it up to the universe, and have faith it has me covered.

My journey with food is becoming one of exploration.  New recipes, new techniques, new ingredients and tools.  Food is no longer about just eating to stuff my feelings down, to survive, and keep me sane.  Food is now nourishment for my body; brilliant tastes, spices, and deep caring.  I have mostly let go of  everything I learned from watching all those cooking shows with Don so many years ago,  My knife skills suck.  My knowledge of spices and what ingredients work together is next to nil.  I no longer care about any of that.

Chopping food has become a quiet time for me to ponder my creative world.  I’m processing a lot of information right now.  Ideas churn in my brain like a mixer gone berserk.  The quiet rote of chopping produce keeps my body busy while my mind has a field day like a bubble machine thinking about what comes next.  How do I get to the end I have in mind?  The chopping keeps me occupied enough that I forget to panic and be anxious about my ideas, my work.

Last week I walked around an unfamiliar neighborhood in search of sustenance and supplies.  This week, after my monthly beauty pampering, I walked with purpose.

I hadn’t intended to walk at all.  Me?  Walk someplace that isn’t next door?  What are you thinking?  Yet, there I was striding along.  Down the parking lot, across the broad street, down half the length of a large strip mall. Walking to the sushi restaurant, where I stationed myself as far away from the sushi boats as possible, because talk about triggers and temptation. I waited for my order. And then I walked back. Backpack slung over my shoulder, chirashi order and water bottle in hand. Walked the same route back to my car, without giving it much thought. As though walking was something I had done every day. I walked without pain, without hesitation, with the understanding that this is now a mode of transportation I can use; easily and comfortably.

I give gratitude for the guardian angels, the co-guardian angels, co-workers and friends who helped me this week.  There is so much to be grateful for in this life I’m creating, so much to be happy about.  The changes are becoming apparent, aside from the weight loss and my jammy pants falling off as I work in the kitchen.  I am mindful of my food, and of my life.  Calmer, more patient, more … me.  The emotional undertones of anxiety still exist, but they are merely undertones now, instead of the prevailing emotional mind-set.  This life is the one I create for myself, and I am grateful for that.

Menu: October 11 – October 16, 2016

Menu:  October 11 – October 16, 2016
  • (New recipe) Tandoori-Spiced Chicken (thighs)
  • Roasted Veggies: eggplant, Brussels sprouts, mushrooms
  • Roasted Onions:  white, yellow, purple, cippoline (Italian) with red wine & white wine vinegars (no oil)
  • Roasted Cabbage:  purple & green with red wine vinegar
  • Fruit:  mandarin oranges, Granny Smith apples
  • Veggies: cherry tomatoes, cucumbers peeled and soaked in basalmic vinegar,
  • Pumpkin Energy Balls

Menu Commentary
Tandoori-Spiced Chicken (thighs)
I really enjoy this recipe. So easy to make.  Chicken is moist and mild.  Delicious!

Roasted Cabbage:  purple & green with red wine vinegar
If it weren’t for that  pesky necessity known as protein, I’m sure I could just eat these and roasted onions with vinegar all week.   Both are easy to cook.

New ingredients:
None

New Tools:
None

Resources:
Cooking Light
Bon Appetit
Martha Stewart
Clean Food Crush
Penzeys
7 Stillwell Pinterest Food board

Review: minor characters

Minor Characters by Joyce Johnson
Minor Characters
by Joyce Johnson

Title: Minor Characters
Author: Joyce Johnson
Published: 1983
ISBN-10:  0-671-72790-7
Publisher: Washington Square Books

The women didn’t mind, or, if they did, they never said – not until years later.  (p. 218)

To be a woman is difficult in any era, but to be an independent, creative, curious woman is especially difficult.  In the 1950’s, after World War II, gender roles were supposed to be fairly well established.  But things were starting to rumble a little.  Change was stirring.

Really, the story of the Beat Generation begins in the late 1940s, when a confluence of personalities and talents converged at Columbia University in New York City.  It was there the big names began to meet and discuss a new way of writing, and of being.

A teenaged girl named Joyce Johnson lived in a “respectable” neighborhood with her “respectable” parents.  And, around the age of thirteen, this “respectable” girl rebelled.  She went to places young girls shouldn’t go, and met people who opened her mind.  These people led to the Beats; Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac among them

Minor Characters is Johnson’ memoir centered around the years 1957-58, when she was Kerouac’s sometime girlfriend.  She tells a story many can relate to, being attracted to someone who can’t reciprocate at the same level.

Much has been written about the Beat Generation writers.  The men, that is.  Not so much has been written about the women.  Especially not much about the way women were treated.  Johnson’s story about being in the middle of that maelstrom is fascinating.

She relates how women were discounted by the men.  The usual story; taken for granted, belittled, not taken seriously, etc. etc.  Her story could be the story of so many women, but what makes it stand out is that it happened with a group of men who are revered for their open-minded views about all sorts of things.  They were especially interested in changing the rules of writing, and literature.  But women were only for amusement, or housekeeping.

And as Joyce Johnson, reiterates, the women stood for it.  Because as many generations of women will say, “we thought that’s what we had to do.”  To find love, to find a life partner, meant a woman had to put up with the meanness of her beau’s foibles.

Here is a book in which the woman, after two years of evasion and half-truths, said, “No.  Go away” to Jack Kerouac.  Joyce Johnson told Jack Kerouac, she was tired of his crap and to leave her alone.  Brava!  and Well Done!

The pain of this decision is clear, as is the need for something healthier, something more equitable, more loving.  To be sure, the most famous names were men who were hard to love, under any circumstances.  Kerouac, Burroughs, Cassady; all charismatic and difficult.  Horrible in their actions, negligent in their search for self-awareness.  Of them all, Ginsberg is the one who consistently appears to exert a great deal of effort to become familiar with himself.

While the Beats were changing the way America read and wrote, literature, Joyce Johnson was changing the way women looked at the men with whom they were in relationships.  Her story is well-told, and a fascinating look at the minor characters who also played a part in the Beat Generation.

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