Tuesday, July 16, 2024

After World by Debbie Urbanski


After World by Debbie Urbanski was on a list that the author Michael Chabon recommended and someone in my book club sent it along. It's not right for our book club, but it sounded like something I'd like!

I also borrowed Dearborn from the library. We'll see if I read that one.

In a terrible future Earth, humans ask an Artificial Intelligence to find a solution to the climate crisis. The solution is to release a virus into the world, S, that eliminates humans from the world. The AI writes the story of one of the last (the last?) humans left, a young woman named Sen.

It's a weird little epistolary novel, with diary entries, news announcements, and all sorts of weird messages from the AI interspersed with the AI's attempt to fully capture Sen's story. 

This book was so hard to read. It's an unflinching examination of a possible world and is merciless in its personal attacks against the reader. While I sort of know that the extinction of the human race is possible, reading about how we get there is hard. It's hard to balance the thoughts that humans sort of deserve everything they (we?) get because their (our?) stewardship of the planet has been so terrible with the thoughts that we're still human beings who are aware and the biological imperative of how meaningful and important life itself is. 

It's also sort of hard to figure out what's going on. Who or what is narrating? What timeline are we in? But that makes is more special when you do figure out how everything connects in the end. This book isn't really about the humans - they're all going to die in the end - but about what happens after the humans. 

Tough read. But really thought-provoking. 4/5 stars

Lines of note:

Either she imagines this happening or this actually happens. The border between these two states is become frayed and delicate. (page 38)

Ha ha. Do you ever have those moments when you're like "did I turn off the heating pad?" and you honestly just can't remember the details of how you got from one room to another? I feel like my border between those two states has been frayed since I was sixteen. 

Maybe humans weren't meant to be here in such enormous numbers. Maybe we really had ruined everything and were ruining everything. But even if we ruined everything, I think we still deserve to live. Don't we? Didn't we? (page 107)

So many literal existential questions in this book. Didn't every extinct species deserve to live?

At what point in this process do we stop being human and become something else? And are we all operating on the same timeline, or are some of us further along in this process than others? And what will we become? (page 175)

In the year of 2024, I sometimes find myself thinking that some humans are not as fully evolved as others. And I'll leave that there.

The collective grief of billions of human beings flaps its wings across the clearing. (page 205)

Is there a collective anymore? 

Negative Carry is the point at which the cost of sustaining humanity on Earth exceeded any possible benefit, occurring approximately on S. - 109,500 days, way before any of us were born. This means we shouldn't feel guilty about the state of the world we inherited, as the world we inherited had already been fumigated, dynamited, melted, drilled, scorched, bombed, overcrowded, deforested, and submerged by the poor choices of our ancestors. Let us blame our ancestors. Let us wash our consciences clean in the overfished and flooded rivers. (page 257)

Scientists put the carrying capacity of the planet somewhere between 2-40 billion (we're currently at roughly 8 billion). I will just leave that fact there. 

Voice Widow, n.

Here's what I'm wondering. What if the sea ice wasn't meant to last forever? What if the planet wasn't meant to stay forested and pristine in its pre-industrial state? What if human beings belonged here more than other species? Like many people, I had liked the Earth. And, like many people, at the same time, I didn't mind its destruction. (page 303-304)

It's hard, isn't it? We want to see this world, so we get on a plane and pollute it. We want to enjoy ourselves, so we light fireworks and scare wildlife and tiny babies run away and can never find their ways back to find their mothers. We want to protect the environment, but we still use single-use plastics and throw away that food that rotted in the back of the fridge. We are all pro-environment until it becomes an inconvenience for us. 

Things I looked up:

lobelia (192) - Flowering plant that, if ingested, can be potentially toxic to humans. 

bacopa (192) - A perennial, creeping herb native to the wetlands of southern and Eastern India, Australia, Europe, Africa, Asia, and North and South America. It's sometimes used to treat anxiety, insomnia, and epilepsy. 

cranesbill (192) - AKA geranium. I'd never heard this alternate name before. 

Uebelmannia buiningii (194) - Brazilian cactus currently threatened by habitat loss. 

Dioscorea strydomiana (194) - A critically endangered species of yam from South Africa with fewer than 250 mature individuals known to exist.

Cadiscus aquaticus (194) - A critically endangered species of aquatic flowering plant in the aster family, Asteraceae. It is endemic to the Western Cape of South Africa, where it grows in vernal pools.

Sunda pangolin (194) - A critically endangered species of pangolin known as the guardians of the forest because they protect forests from termite destruction, maintaining a balanced ecosystem.

dwarf wedgemussel (194) - A small freshwater mussel that rarely exceeds 1.5 inches (38 mm) in length. It is brown or yellowish-brown in color. Classified as vulnerable with a decreasing population.

Powassan virus (283) - Flavivirus transmitted by ticks, found in North America and in the Russian Far East. It is named after the town of Powassan, Ontario, where it was identified in a young boy who eventually died from it. It can cause encephalitis, inflammation of the brain. Approximately 10-15% of cases are fatal. 

Hat mentions:

Adults in sun hats and robes scrubbed the exterior walls. (page 54)

...women wearing broad hats, and open beach umbrellas...(page 66)

Sen is to pack a jacket, gloves, and a winter hat. (page 101)

...we would have seen people wearing hats on vacations, and people holding their babies in a waiting room, and people standing in line, fanning themselves with their hands...(page 212)

Monday, July 15, 2024

Rhabdomyolysis or Bust

I am tired. I am chronically exhausted. And Friday night all I wanted to do was come home and go to bed. Alas, I got home and had to walk the dog and then make dinner and then eat dinner. After dinner, I walked the dog (because she is still on edge about fireworks and won't go out if it's even close to sunset) and then I started getting the process of what I thought was going to be going to bed. 

But Dr. BB's left arm was swollen and it was super noticeable and there was no real cause for the swelling. We did a brief phone consult with my FIL, a retired family physician, and he suggested we go to urgent care/ER just to get it looked at. I sighed, knowing that my early bedtime was not happening. Dr. BB drove us over the river to the hospital

(Ours is a rural hospital that is independently owned. I have no idea how it's still in business, but the employees there are the happiest I've ever met in health care.)

and we were giggling the entire time because we thought we were overreacting about a silly thing. Not a silly thing when he skipped triage and was booked into a room right away. The ER doc decided, literally because it was not busy, to run some blood tests. Turns out he has exercise-induced rhabdomyolysis and normal CK levels are between 30-200 and his was close to 12000. 

The thing about rhabdo is that it happens to people who exercise too much or too hard. I've only ever heard of rhabdo in the context of long-distance athletes, including runners and cyclists, and when some Iowa football players did a squat off that landed a bunch of them in the ER. It's also common in folks with a BMI of 35+, either because of obesity or because of musculature. You know who you don't usually see it in? Healthy 45-year-old men who weigh less than I did when I graduated from high school. On Tuesday he did a lifting practice he's done dozens of times before. On Wednesday he did a lifting practice (different body part). On Thursday he did a what he called an easy tennis lesson. On Friday he was in the ER and if we'd been twelve hours later, the doctors were pretty sure he would have been in kidney failure. 

(Several doctors have talked to him about the importance of rest and recovery. I honestly don't think he did anything unusual or out of the ordinary for him - or me, for that matter. We are both befuddled.)

Meanwhile, the ER doc gets him admitted and the hospitalist comes down to the ER to check in with him and as soon as he walks in the door, he starts laughing. He was expecting a college football player and he got my husband. Jokes all around except my husband was NOT laughing because this is a Big Deal.  

Anyway, he's a weird case. His numbers are not coming down as fast as the doctor would like, so he's still in the hospital and we don't know if he'll come home this afternoon or tomorrow. One of the doctors he saw over the weekend even seemed to indicate he could be in the hospital until Wednesday, which would be very, very bad because the hospital is very, very boring for a guy who actually feels fine, but is rather confined in his movements because he is hooked up to a constant IV drip. 

Oh, but somehow this has become about my husband.

ME! I'm so fucking tired. I am not sleeping well. Saturday night there was a terrible storm and my girls were already out of sorts because Dr. BB wasn't here and I ended up sleeping on the couch because someone has to comfort Hannah. I'm doing all the chores and bringing my husband food in the hospital. 

Oh, I guess I should stop complaining. At least I'm allowed to come home. 

So I guess this is a PSA. Exercise is bad, just like I always thought!

What about Zelda?! She needs love, too. And someone to murder.

Have you ever had rhabdo? My husband has never spent a night in the hospital before - have you? How many nights were you in the hospital?

Sunday, July 14, 2024

20th Anniversary Countdown: Guest Post #13

In celebration of my blog's 20th anniversary, I'm having guest posters every week leading up to the big day. 

J lives in California with her husband Ted (who is actually an Edward, like my own Ted!) and her daughter Maya. She used to have an adorable dog named Mulder and I only bring this up because she has a controversial opinion that it's worse to pick up warm dog poop than cold dog poop and I just find this stance to be insane. Okay, back on track. J writes over at Thinking About and covers all the important topics of the day from what we should be watching on television to what summer salads we should be eating. Also, I learned from her that grapefruits grow on big trees, not small shrubs. 

Let's welcome her!

When Engie asked if I would be able to participate in her 20 years of blogging celebration, of course I said yes.  How could one possibly say no to Engie?  Answer: One could not.  I debated about what kind of list I might make.  Favorite songs, favorite movies, cities I’ve been to, favorite recipes, pictures of my past dogs…but when she sent me an email telling me that my post would run today, Bastille Day, I knew my theme had to be France.  Without further ado, here are 20 I have been (and loved) in France.

I have been to France 3 times (so far).  My husband and I went on our honeymoon in 1993; we went back in 2018 with our daughter, to celebrate our 25th anniversary and her graduation from college; and my cousin and I went in 2022.  I will happily go back as many times as they will have me.  Here are some pictures and memories of the places we went.

1. Point Saint-Mathieu - Brittany

On our trip in 2018, we flew in to Paris, and then drove out to the far west coast of Brittany.  My husband, Ted, wanted to meet up with his friend from graduate school, Jean-Marc, who is a college professor in Brest.  It was a long drive, but it was so lovely to see the French countryside.  The west coast of Brittany reminds me in some ways of California, with its rocky shoreline, and in some ways of Ireland, which makes sense as Ireland and Brittany are both Celtic nations.  I have not yet actually been to Ireland, so I should really say that Brittany reminds me of what I think Ireland looks like.  This pictures are of Point Saint-Mathieu (and bonus, horses!). The ruins of the Abbey are across the street from our little hotel.  It is said that the abbey once held the skull of the apostle Matthew, though that was lost to the sea.

2. Locronan - Brittany

Jean-Marc (could he look any more French?) took us to the historic village of Locronan, a member of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France (meaning “the most beautiful villages of France”), and it is indeed a beautiful and charming village.  He brought us there to see the village and have crepes, as he said that the best crepes in France are in Brittany, and the best crepes in Brittany are in Locronan.  Who are we to argue?  They were amazing, and I wish we had known our first stop was going to be for a meal, I would have skipped breakfast.

3. Quimper - Brittany

From there we went on to the town of Quimper, which is charming and lovely.  The historic part of town has half-timbered houses with shops at street level selling crepes, macarons, chocolates, and pottery.  They are quite famous for their pottery, called Quimper faience, which has been made there since 1690.  We didn’t buy any faience in Quimper, I saved that for later in our trip.  Quimper has a distinctive Celtic heritage.  The street signs are in both French and Breton.  There is quite a sad history of the language in Brittany, as it was against the law to teach Breton for many years, and it is now considered an endangered language.  There is a revival effort underway to educate children in Breton.  I believe that Jean-Marc’s son attends a bilingual school (though it may be an immersion school, only in Breton, I don’t remember for sure.)

4. Landerneau and Pleben - Brittany

Landerneau, is known for its inhabited bridge, above.  I liked Landerneau, which has a thriving artist community, though I think I liked the busy vibe of Quimper more.  I sometimes dream of retiring in Brittany, it’s so beautiful.  I’m not sure I would like to get older in a country where I am not fluent in the language though, so I’d have to get serious about learning French.  (I got an F in 2nd year French in college.) Another town we visited in the area was Pleben, with a Calvary dated from 1555.  Sadly I did not know what a Calvary was when we visited, so we kind of passed right by that in looking at the church.  No pictures from me, but there is one on the link above.

5. Omaha Beach – Normandy Beaches

After a few days visiting with Jean-Marc and meeting his lovely family, we drove back east toward Paris, and stopped at Omaha Beach, one of the beaches where the Allied forces came ashore to liberate France from Nazi rule in World War II.  There are museums and tours there, as well as cemeteries, you can easily make it a full day.  We did not stop long, however, and merely visited the beach after our long day of driving.  We were there a couple of days before the June 6th anniversary, so there were bleachers and fences set up in preparation for commemorations.  The sculpture above is ‘Les Braves’, by Anilore Banon.  From NormandyWarGuide.com, it consists of three elements:

The Wings of Hope
So that the spirit which carried these men on June 6th, 1944 continues to inspire us, reminding us that together it is always possible to changing the future.
Rise, Freedom!
So that the example of those who rose against barbarity, helps us remain standing strong against all forms of inhumanity.
The Wings of Fraternity
So that this surge of brotherhood always reminds us of our responsibility towards others as well as ourselves. On June 6th, 1944 these man were more than soldiers, they were our brothers.

6. Rouen - Normandy

Our next stop was Rouen, where Joan of Arc was burned as a heretic in 1431.  There is now a modern church at the site of her immolation, surrounded by more traditional buildings inhabited by restaurants and shops.  The beautiful stained glass windows were rescued from the 16th century Church of St. Vincent, which was destroyed in World War II.  Luckily, the windows had been removed for their safety prior to the war.  We had dinner one night at La Couronne, which was founded in 1345 and is the oldest inn in France.  Julia Child ate there in 1948, where she had her first French meal, which famously changed her life.  If you have seen the film Julie and Julia, the exterior of the restaurant looks nothing like the real building.  It is pictured above, the brown building with all of the flags.  If you’re so inclined, read this post about a woman who traveled to France in search of the meal that Julia Child had in 1948.  Spoiler alert: She loved every bite.  Maya was the smart diner in our party, and ordered the Sole Meunière.  She said, “If it's good enough for Julia, it’s good enough for me.”  I had a bite, and it was divine.  I had duck, and Ted had a steak.  Both were good, but not divine.  Still, it was fun to eat there.  While in Rouen, I bought some faience, a plate for Ted’s mom and a little covered dish for myself, which sits on my desk.

7. Monet’s Gardens – Giverny

I have visited Monet’s famous gardens in Giverny twice, in June of 2018 and again in September of 2022.  The gardens are stunning, though they have the feeling of being a palette rather than a place to relax and visit.  I loved seeing the many colored flowers, and his house.  The purple ball shaped ones (allium) in the left lower picture look like they belong in a Doctor Seuss book to me.  I’ve tried a couple of times to grow them, but I’ve not even gotten a sprout from my bulbs.  I have a brown thumb.

When my cousin and I visited France in 2022, we spent a week in the Côte d'Azur, and a week outside of Paris.  She had a timeshare in Mougins, so this is where we stayed.

8. Mougins

The Côte d'Azur, also known as the French Riviera, is the French coastline on the Mediterranean Sea.  It is made up of coastal towns and hillside villages.  Mougins is one such hillside village, located uphill from Cannes.  This historic village has been occupied since the pre-Roman period.  It is a charming village, full of artists and artisans, restaurants, homes, and a wonderful antiquities museum.  I was recently daydreaming about my trip, as one does, and thought of the Musée d’Art Classique de Mougins, and discovered that it has closed.  The museum is a private collection of a very wealthy art collector, and he has decided to sell off a lot of the antiquities, and re-open with his collection art by European women, renamed Female Artists of the Mougins Museum.  If I ever find myself in the South of France again, I would love to check it out.  I will always have a special place in my heart for Mougins, especially the amazing boulangerie where we bought our baguettes and croissants every morning.

9. Cannes

Just down the hill from Mougins is Cannes, famous for the annual film festival, and for its beautiful beaches.  We stopped at the beach to put our feet in the Mediterranean Sea, though we did not spend a lot of time in Cannes.  We did visit the gothic style stone church, the Church of Notre-Dame-d'Espérance which dates back to the 1600s, where we lit candles for our parents.  We perused the shops, had a couple of questionable meals (our worst in France, I believe) and stopped for a drink or two.  Mostly we enjoyed the seaside vibe of it, and people watching, though certainly the majority of the people we were watching were tourists.

10.     Nice

We spent one day in Nice, where we visited Cathedrale Orthodoxe Russe St. Nicolas, a beautiful Russian Orthodox church, which is said to be the finest outside of Russia. It is very much an active church.  When we arrived, a bride and groom and their family were leaving the church, and while we were there we were unceremoniously asked to move out of the main area so they could baptize a couple of babies.  We also visited the Musee Marc Chagall, which houses 12 large paintings dedicated to the books of Genesis and Exodus.  Truly stunning.  From there we walked through the main square, the Place Masséna, to the Promenade des Anglais, where we enjoyed an ice cream cone and watched parasailors taking off and landing.

11. Grasse

Grasse is up the hill from Mougins and Cannes, and is known for their perfume industry.  The historic village there reminded me a lot of Mougins, with its narrow winding roads, though the shops were different.  Mougins was artists and artisans, whereas Grasse was more clothing shops and perfumeries.  We had a lovely day there, looking through the shops and sampling perfume.  While in Grasse, we came across a statue of the Comte de Grasse, a French Admiral whose fleet was instrumental in helping the United States win the Revolutionary War.

12. Saint-Tropez

On our last day in the South of France, we took a boat ride from Cannes to Saint-Tropez.  Neither of us had a strong desire to visit Saint-Tropez itself, but we wanted to go out on a boat and see the coastline from the water, and this was a lovely way to do it.  Saint-Tropez has a port full of yachts, and is full of high end shops and restaurants.  We walked around for a little while, then found a café to enjoy lunch and a glass of wine.  The stores were too expensive for my blood, though I did buy postcard stamps and a small hairbrush (it was VERY windy on the boat, and my hair was full of tangles when we got there.)

After our time in the South, we took the train to Paris. One of my few regrets from this trip is that we did not get sandwiches from the boulangerie in Mougins to eat on the train.  It never occurred to me that we could bring our own food, until one of our seat mates did so.  The food in the dining car was definitely questionable, and how much better would it have been to enjoy a sandwich and a bottle of wine?  C’est la vie.  Next time.

13. Mont St. Michel

One trip we made from Paris was to visit Mont St. Michel, a Benadictine abbey off the north coast of France, where the provinces of Normandy and Brittany meet.  This was a bucket list item for my cousin, who used to have a poster of Mont St. Michel on her bedroom wall.  From Paris, you can take an all day bus tour, or you can drive.  We chose to drive, so we could also visit Monet’s Gardens in Giverny, and Rouen.  Especially if you are making stops to other destinations, it’s a pretty long drive, so we spent the night in a nearby Air BnB.  The Abbey was beautiful, and we enjoyed our visit, though this was easily the busiest, most touristy place we visited in France.  That’s saying a lot.

14. Vincennes

Vincennes is just to the east of Paris, and is separated from Paris by the perifique.  Vincennes is known for its castle, the Château de Vincennes, and its large park, the Bois de Vincennes (which is technically part of Paris).  The castle was built between 1361 and 1369, and was a residence for French kings.  Later it became known as a prison and military headquarters.  The prison housed such notables as King Henry IV, the Marquis de Sade, Marie Antionette, and German spy Mata Hari.  The Bois de Vincennes is the largest public park in Paris, and includes an English landscape garden with four lakes, a zoo, a botanical garden, and a horse-racing track.  My cousin’s timeshare was located in Vincennes, so we began and ended our days here.  We visited the Château and saw some horse races, but sadly did not see any more of the park.  I enjoyed Vincennes, the shops and restaurants were lovely.  It was less bustling than the touristy areas of Paris, and it felt more like a place for locals.  Would I leave my hotel in the center of Paris to come to Vincennes?  Sure, if I were there for a couple of weeks or a month, it might be worth a day trip.  If I were in Paris for a week or 10 days, I think I would probably skip it.  You can read about things to do in Vincennes, here.

Of course, PARIS, my favorite city in the world.  I don’t think any of the things we did on any of my trips would be considered ‘hidden gems’.  Maybe if I go a few more times I will get to that phase.  For now, here are the places we went in Paris.  Coincidentally, we were in Paris on Bastille Day in 1993, as Paris was the 3rd leg of our Honeymoon, after London and Amsterdam.  I remember being suddenly very worried about my horrible French when we first arrived, but everyone was lovely, though brusque in that big city way.  I fell in love with France, and specifically with Paris.  There are so many wonderful neighborhoods, museums, parks, and restaurants, it would be easy to spend years there just soaking it all in.  This is my impression at least, I’ve never been there for more than a week at a time.

15. Montmartre

While in Paris, it is fun to visit the beautiful church, Basilique du Sacré-Cœur in the Montmartre neighborhood.  The church is truly lovely to tour, and the neighborhood is vibrant and busy with artists, restaurants, and nightclubs.  In the heart of Montmartre is the Place du Tertre, where artists set up tables and umbrellas and sell their works.  This area is very touristy and very crowded.  We must have gone earlier in the day when I was there in 1993, but it was much more crowded when I went in 2022.

16. Notre Dame Paris

We went to Notre Dame in 2018, even though we had been to several gothic cathedrals in Brittany and Rouen, because Maya had studied Notre Dame in an art class in college.  The fire was the following year, so I’m really glad that we got to see it when we did.  St. Denis, the saint above carrying his head, was bishop of Paris in the 3rd century.  After he was decapitated for his faith, he picked up his head and walked several miles preaching a sermon of repentance.  He is the patron saint of France and Paris.  The suburb north of Paris, St. Denis, is named for him.  Notre Dame is scheduled to reopen on December 8, 2024. [Note from NGS: I was not expecting "he picked up his head and walked several miles" from this post.]

17. Sainte-Chappelle, Palais Garnier, and Musée de l’Orangerie

On my trip in 2022, my cousin and I visited the beautiful Palais Garnier, the Musée de l’Orangerie, and the stunning stained glass windows at Sainte-Chappelle.  The Palais Garnier is known as the Paris Opera House, and while it sometimes has operas, most of the Operas are now held at the newer Bastille Opera, while the Palais is used for ballet performances.  The Musée de l’Orangerie is known for the amazing paintings by Claude Monet of his water lilies pond in Giverny, his gift to Paris after World War I.  It also houses other impressionist and post-impressionist works, and is well worth a couple of hours of your Paris itinerary.

18. Musée d'Orsay, Musée de Cluny, Jardin du Luxembourg, Batobus Seine River

Other very touristy and wonderfully worthwhile things we did in Paris included the Musée d’Orsay, which I had seen when I was in Paris in 2018, and houses a wonderful collection of impressionist and post-impressionist art.  The Musée de Cluny is in the Latin Quarter, and is a museum of the Middle Ages, with its most famous pieces being the beautiful tapestries, the Lady and the unicorn.  Nearby is the beautiful Jardin du Luxembourg, a beautiful, relaxing, serene park.  We also took a ride on the Batobus, which is a hop-on, hop-off boat that travels the Seine from the Eiffel tower to the Jardin des Plantes and back. There are definitely fancier boats you can take, but I liked the low key vibe of this one. It dropped us at the foot of the Eiffel tower, which was very crowded but fun.  We walked across the river and found a place for dinner, and watched as the sun set and the lights came on.

19. Food, Glorious Food!

One cannot mention France without mentioning the food.  The French take their food very seriously, and meals there are to be savored and enjoyed, not rushed.  On our honeymoon, we mostly ate at inexpensive restaurants near our hotel.  We had some amazing Chinese food at a little deli around the corner.  We picked up roast duck, fruit, and wine from nearby shops, and brought it back to our hotel.  We had one amazing meal (which everyone should do if possible, one amazing meal in Paris!) at Lapérouse (the website makes it look like a brothel or something.  I don’t think it is that, but it was certainly a memorable meal!)  We’ve had wonderful crepes, baguettes, croissants, fish, cheese, souffle, quiche, salads, wine, on and on and on.  We’ve had some less than stellar meals – weird steak in Brittany, tasteless mussels in Nice, soggy vegetables (also Nice).  Not every bite is amazing.  But so many are.  France is a foodie's paradise, especially Paris.

20. Dreaming of Next Time

This picture is of our Bastille Day dinner a few years ago, which seems an appropriate time to dream of possible future trips to France.  There are a couple of things I would still like to do in Paris.  I would love to stay for a week or three, and not be quite so go-go-go.  I struggle with this, there is so much to see, and I want to see it all!  Between my three trips to Paris, though, I do feel like I have seen a lot, and would like to spend quieter days, sitting on the banks of the Seine or in the shadow of the Eiffel tower with a nice picnic.  I would like to walk the Promenade Plantée, and peruse the shops and restaurants of Le Marais, the neighborhood where we honeymooned.  I would like to visit the Musée Marmottan Monet.  I have seen the Louvre, and while it is spectacular, I found it a bit overwhelming.  Perhaps I would go again if I could find a quiet time.  Is there such a thing?  Outside of Paris, I would like to drive through the Loire valley and taste some wine, maybe visit Champagne.  I would be open to Province, to revisiting the South or the West.

Thank you, Engie, for giving me this chance to dream of my trips to France.  I hope to go back someday!  What should I see, do you think?

Who's dreaming of a fresh baguette now? Have you been to France? What do you most want to see there?

Saturday, July 13, 2024

Edge of Eternity (The Century Trilogy #3) by Ken Follett

The Century Trilogy
Fall of Giants (78 hats)
Winter of the World (62 hats)

Edge of Eternity is the third book in Ken Follett's brilliant Century Trilogy. Have I listened to almost a hundred hours of these books in (consults spreadsheet) the last month? Yes, yes, I have. 

In the final installment, we whizz through the Cold War, including political events like the Cuban Missile Crisis and the building of the Berlin wall, through the counterculture of the 60s, race riots in the streets, the Vietnam War (what do people in Vietnam call it - the war of American aggression?), Reagan, the evolution of rock and roll, and so many other things. We're following descendant of our original families and I just love the glimpses of how things shake out for everyone. 

A note about the narrator of this series, John Lee. I think he does a great job, I really do. He had to do so many accents. But my quibble is the way he narrates American women - woof, it's bad. Apparently even women from New England have southern accents. Oh, well. In general, I thought his narration was fabulous.

Look, I learned more from these books about modern world history than any history class I have ever taken. And I did it gleefully. 5/5 stars

Lines of note:
(timestamp 6:48:12) "We don't have evidence either way," he admitted. "We have to argue from probabilities."
"Or we could delay arming Castro until the position becomes clearer." 
I remember so very little from my time at grad school, but I was thinking about Graham Allison's game theory analysis of the Cuban Missile Crisis the entire time I was reading this book. I even remembered Allison's name, which is saying a lot about what an impact this article had on me twenty years ago. 

(timestamp 18:13:05) It had an antique desk and some leather chairs, a fire smoldered in the grate. On the wall was a picture of Lloyd at Cambridge in the 30s. The room was a shrine to everything that was out-of-date. It seemed to smell of obsolesce. 
This made me sad. It sounds like a lovely room to me. 

(timestamp 26:35:42) "Even if he wins, Congress won't let him do anything."
"They'll try to stop him and we'll have a political battle and one side and the other will lose. It's how we change things in the America. It's a lousy system, but all the others are worse."
I don't know about you, but hearing this right now, with two presidential candidates who couldn't be more terrible and a Supreme Court that has been corrupted by political influence made me question if it is the best system. 

(timestamp 29:10:06) Worse, as new revelations about Watergate scandalized the liberal intelligentsia, Nixon's popularity remained strong. Five months after the election, in April 1973, the president's approval rating stood at 60 to 33.
The parallels are just there for us to see.

(timestamp 29:30:40) You draw the friends of your youth large. Then later it's impossible to rescale them when other more important people need to be added. Anyone who has done you wrong is shown too big and so is anyone you love. 
This is an interesting way to look at why my friendships from second grade (HI TABETHA! - she doesn't read my blog) are so important. 

Hat mentions:
28 hats. Quite a huge comedown from the first two books in the trilogy. Caps replaced hats in this one. Lots of hats/scarves/coats and hats, a few top hats, a few pillbox hats (oh, Jackie Kennedy), a trilby, straw, black, and fur hat. But this was the funniest hat section - about someone being inducted into the House of Lords. 

(timestamp 5:32:23) They sat down, then immediately stood up again, they took off their hats and bowed. They sat down and put their hats back on again, then they went through the whole thing again, looking for all the world like three marionettes on strings: stand up, hats off, bow, sit down, hats on. 

And that's a wrap on Ken Follettpalooza 2024. Or maybe I should listen to the Kingsbridge books on audio next?  

Do you have a random piece of somewhat esoteric knowledge from school (like knowing who Graham Allison is) that you're proud you remember?

Friday, July 12, 2024

Five for Friday, Edition #7

 1) Collective nouns: I do some public speaking in my work role and I am Midwestern. I have intentionally steered away from "you guys" as a collective for the entire group and have replaced it with "friends" and now I say things like "okay, friends, let's get started." But this is dishonest. They are not my friends. I used to say "dudes," but I'm not in my 20s anymore (*sigh*) so I think it makes me sound like a tryhard even though I do use the word dude with reckless abandon in my private life AND I worry that it's just as gendered as "you guys." 

What word do you use in this situation? My husband, for his part, avoids any sort of address and recently said to me that outside of "you," he can't remember ever using a pronoun at work and I...don't understand how that's possible. When he addresses a class, he simply says "let's get started." I think he has more authority than I do, though, because he's a white man with a beard who looks and speaks authoritatively. 

2) Reality television and culture: There was a clip going around of Paris Hilton testifying before a Congressional committee. She's testifying about the dangers of youth residential treatment facilities in her role as a child welfare advocate, but she starts by complimenting the Congressperson's outfit and then she switches her tone from light and playful, discussing fashion, to serious, professional woman talking about serious, important matters.

I think some people are shocked by this. But, what are they shocked by? Sure, Paris Hilton is a Hilton and came from a position of privilege. But, like, a lot of that family money is not going to come to her and she has been a successful entrepreneur making billions of dollars on perfume, clothing, and accessories. She also makes boatloads of money in personal appearances and did you know that when she was DJing, she made up to $1 million an appearance? Sure, she had the Hilton name and the very big advantage of knowing that if she ever failed, she had a great big safety net, but the lady has done the work. She's a successful person. 

And, honestly, the same defense can be made of Kim Kardashian. Everyone seems to roll their eyes at her, but that woman is a businesswoman. You can be dismissive of the products she sells, but she managed to parlay notoriety from a sex tape/friendship with Paris Hilton to become a billionaire. 

I think reality television has a lot to answer for. The 2024 Republican presidential nominee as one huge thing to be answered for. But I reluctantly give props to said presidential nominee and people like Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian for figuring out a way to use their experiences on reality shows to create success in their lives outside of that milieu. I might have a lot of qualms with the things that they have done in both reality television and post-reality television (some of which is evil in one very specific case) and I can't deny that all of the examples I've given you had a leg up in terms of privilege, but they really have done the work.

I made this spirited defense, particularly talking about how since Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton made their money in "feminine" enterprises like fashion they are looked down on as if they aren't "true" businesspeople, to some of my colleagues. They stared at me like I was crazy and started talking about what a negative impact they've had on the *culture* and how they are terrible role models. And, as I was watching that above clip of Paris Hilton, I kept thinking about how they are just examples of human beings with many sides to them, nuanced and complicated. 

But then it felt like perhaps I was mounting a defense of Donald Trump and backed away.

What do you think?

3) Glamor: In the fifth series of Taskmaster (some of you still haven't watched this show - this is an excellent season and it's perfectly fine if you start with this one), there was a contestant named Nish Kumar. He is a well-known UK comedian now, but was a bit less established when this series aired. He was TERRIBLE at the tasks and created a lot of hilarious moments. I think of him as a goofball.  

But there was a task that was filmed at a beach and the way they filmed Nish as he was walking to the task made him look glamorous and hot. See below. (If you do not think Nish is glamorous or attractive in this photo, you and I have different tastes about everything.)

I bring this up because my co-worker and I were recently leaving the building where our offices are to go to the student union to set up for an event. As we were doing so, a man wearing sunglasses and a well-fitting suit was walking into the building. I was immediately transported to this moment of Nish on the beach and my co-worker said, "doesn't he look glamorous?" and that's when I realized that the man in the sunglasses and well-fitting suit was my husband

4) Summertime: Because I have been in Work Mode, I haven't fully appreciated that it's SUMMER. Like, I just walk outside in a sundress and it's gorgeous. Yes, I have complaints about the rain and the heat, but forget my complaining. Look at campus!

I feel so badly for the landscapers that they work so hard on making our campus look gorgeous during the summer and there's hardly anyone here to appreciate it. I watched six young men just walk by this without appreciating just how lovely it is.

5) Homework: If you haven't already filled out the form to ask Dr. BB questions for an upcoming, please do so. This is the last time I'll pester you about it! If you haven't voted for a CBBC book, please vote! I'll tally up the votes on Monday, so if you haven't voted by then, your voice will not be heard. 


Are you excited for summer or are you already over it? Have you voted in the CBBC poll?

Thursday, July 11, 2024

Thursday Photos

I used to write something EVERY DAY and then I realized I didn't even have a topic for today and so I am going to do a random photo dump here.

1. Things growing in the jungle that is our yard.

2. Just over here being a cat. (This makes me sound so conceited on Zelda's behalf, but she is SO PRETTY. I love her confidence, her swagger, her insane whiskers, and her crazy tail. I just want to squeeze her so hard, but she won't let me. Why do cats have to be so pointy?)

3. It really has been so rainy. The Riverwalk is flooded and Hannah is very upset that we can't walk along the river.

4. Art installation by the community center.

5. Words of wisdom from my friend over at A Graceful Life

6. Hannah had a bad morning walk on Monday, so we withheld food from her. She had another bad walk at lunchtime, so she didn't get dinner, either. On Tuesday, she was acting normally and had no stools or barf, so we fed her small meals throughout the day. Then we waited and waited for her to have solid stools again. When those stool manifested, I sent this photo to my husband.  If any of this paragraph seems TMI for you, dog ownership is probably not for you. Ha!


What's the last photo you took? 

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Vows & Honor: Valdemar Saga by Mercedes Lackey

Valdemar saga (in chronological order of the world, not order of publication):

Back in Valdemar! Remember how excited I was when I finished Burning Brightly? I just dove right back in to capture some of that Valdemarian magic. Unfortunately, this next trilogy called Vows & Honor is super confusing. I first got Vows & Honor, which is an omnibus of the first two books called Oathbound and Oathbreakers, but then I realized that I should have just taken out the omnibus with all three books - it's called Tarma and Kethry and includes Oathblood, which is just a collection of short stories. Anyway, if you're as confused as I am, blame my guy Mike who has a timeline of Valdemar and makes all of this clear as mud. And then! After I figured all that out, there's THIS little introduction:

And I don't like that Lackey had a working relationship with Marion Zimmer Bradley. And I am certainly not going to read OUTSIDE OF THE VALDEMAR saga to figure out what's going on here.

So let me tell you I was super confused when I started this trilogy.

#1: Oathbound

We "meet" Tarma, the last of Clan of the Hawk, a nomadic Shin'a'in people. She swore to find those who eliminated her tribe and destroy them. Kethry is her newfound oathsister, she of noble birth who was sold into a violent marriage that she had to flee only to find her skill and life's calling as a mage. (We apparently actually met them in some Marion Zimmer Bradley story I did not read.)

We are not even in Valdemar for the entirety of this book. We hear stories of Valdemar, with their mind magic and white Companions, but Tarma and Kethry know nothing of Valdemar. In this book, Tarma is also bonded to a kyree, a dog/wolf creature that can mindspeak, there are some very problematic scenes in which Kethry put an illusion on a bad man so he looks like a woman so he can be raped as a form of justice (!), and we learn all about Kethry's magical sword (like a real sword, not a euphemistic one). 

This book has not aged well at all. The sexual violence in this book is outrageous and made me super uncomfortable and I felt truly unwell.  

1.5/5 stars

Hat mentions (why hats?):
...for the lizard Gervase was playing at being a wizard, just as they had often done, with a hat of rolled-up birch bark and a "wand" of a twisted branch. 

Words I looked up:
rede (page 130) - advice or counsel given by one person to another

cresset (page 193) - a metal container of oil, grease, wood, or coal burned as a torch and typically carried on a pole

#2 Oathbreakers

Things are much better in this book. Our dynamic duo (trio if you count the kyree) are working as mercenaries in Idra's Sun Hawks. Idra goes to do some family business and goes missing and they have to find her. Magic and battles ensure.

Look, this was so much better. The women in this book are badasses, there is no rape on page (low bar, I guess), and it was fun to see how magical battles go in this world outside of Valdemar with its mindspeakers. It was also nice that we did get to be in Valdemar, however briefly, in this book. Back on form with this one.

4/5 stars

Lines of note:
At the sight of the books, Tarma felt a long-suppressed desire to get one of them in her hands; she hadn't had a good read in months, and her soul thirsted for the new knowledge contained within those dusty volumes. (page 329 - I was reading the Vows & Honor edition with the first two books as an omnibus)
Can you imagine MONTHS without a book? I honestly can't even fathom it. 

...to have something, sometimes you must be willing to lose it. Love must live free...
I don't know why this struck me. I guess because I'm not sure I agree with it, maybe?

Things I looked up:
leman (page 257) - a lover or a sweetheart

salle (page 431) - borrowed from the French meaning a fencing school

#3: Oathblood

I DNFed this book early on because it turns out that I was not interested in the backstory of these two. I feel like I have been enthusiastic about Valdemar, but this has really decreased my interest in reading more. I'll have to move forward I guess