Monday, November 04, 2019

October Podcast Roundup

Have we ever talked about what a heathen I am? It actually doesn't look like we've covered my religious background here on this blog because I am essentially areligous. It just doesn't cross my radar. I know other people go to church/synagogue/mosque because I'm not a moron, but I never have. I don't even THINK about religion. My celebration of religious holidays is so secular my mother-in-law used to sob at my soul. My husband's family is quite religious and I've been to a lot of Catholic ceremonies, but beyond thinking of it as a familial obligation, it's not a thing I think about.

But because I've never had an interest in or education of religion, I miss A TON of allegory in modern life

The King James Virgin is the podcast made JUST FOR ME. Two dudes, Alan and Adam, who grew up in Protestant homes, going to church, Sunday school, and religious schools in their childhoods, tell their heathen friend Nick stories from the Bible. It has been so eye-opening for me that I can't even tell you. I was even able to win a Bible-based argument with my husband about how many times Jesus spit on someone in the Bible (a conversation I provoked because I knew the answer and I was SO PROUD) because of this podcast.  It is three. He spit on people three times to heal them.  As you do.

Anyway, I don't know if I wholeheartedly recommend this to everyone. If you, for instance, are a true believer, you might find the whole podcast a bit heretical. If you already know your Bible stories, this will not be your cup of tea. But if you're an ignoramus like me, go forth and finally understand why the dove always has an olive branch!

Last Day is a podcast about the opioid epidemic in the United States. Our narrator is Stephanie Wittels Wachs, whose brother Harris Wittels (an actor/comedian that many may know from Parks and Recreation, but I know because he was friends with Mike Mitchell, one of the co-hosts of my beloved podcast Doughboys) died from a heroin overdose in 2015.  It's a hard listen, but since every person in this country is impacted by the rise in illegal drug use, particularly heroin laced with fentanyl, it's worth it. I especially found the episode in which the host talks to doctors about what it's like to OD (does it hurt? how long does it take?) incredibly powerful.

I don't always like to listen about drug use. There's a moment when a recovering addict basically says that people blame addicts because addicts put the needle in their arm for the first time and, honestly, that's sort of how I feel. But we all make mistakes. And a one time bad choice shouldn't lead to such terrible consequences. The whole show is making me rethink how I feel about treatment and how society treats people who are chemically dependent. Also, let's be real.  Addiction doesn't JUST impact people who are addicted - our entire society suffers.
I love to talk about the census and, luckily for me, so does Code Switch. In the episode "Political Prisoners?" the team looks at a small town in Wisconsin in which prisoners make up half the population, but the alderman who represents those prisoners has never been to the prison or talked to anyone incarcerated there.  Counting people is hard, yo, and this raises lots of ethical questions.  This town is getting more money because it's counting these prisoners, but it's not really giving them any services.  Should they be counted as members of their home districts?  I mean, that doesn't make sense since their home districts aren't giving them services, either.

Maybe, just maybe...the solution is that politicians should listen to prisoners and represent them?

Reveal recently had an episode called "Catch a Killer with your DNA." Joseph DeAngelo was identified as the East Area Rapist/Original Night Stalker (EAR/ONS), a man suspect of committing at least 13 murders, more than 50 rapes, and over 100 burglaries in California from 1974 to 1986 through a process known as genetic genealogy.  Law enforcement had his DNA (more than 50 rapes!) from his crime spree and they uploaded it to a website that allows people to upload their own DNA profiles to help them identify family members.  From this, they were able to narrow down the suspect DNA profile to DeAngelo or his brother.

This sounds great, right?!  DNA solving crime! Woot!

Well, this podcast delves into what happens when genetic genealogy goes awry.  And I'm here for it. (Over Christmas, I almost got into fisticuffs with my brother-in-law the DA and my brother-in-law the cop over this very topic.)

"The Lynching of Thomas Finch" tells the story of a man who was shot and killed by an Atlanta police officer who later became the leader of the KKK.  The man's body was later drug through town and then lynched. Not much was known about the case, but the investigator telling the story digs into it. The granddaughter of the victim just wants to know what happened; the grandson of the perpetrator wants you to know that his grandfather was "only" the Imperial Wizard for a brief time of twelve to eighteen months.  It's quite revealing (not to make a pun on the name of the show or anything) how your race can color how you view an event more than 80 years after it happens.   
One of the hosts of Radiolab, Jad Abrumrad, put together a limited run podcast called Dolly Parton's America. The podcast focuses on the uniting nature of Parton, whose likeability as measured by her Q score, is off the charts. She is popular with the left and right, urban and rural, educated and non-educated.  Frankly, I'm not sure this podcast is in her best interests (I recoiled when she recoiled and said she wasn't a feminist in the first episode and, frankly, lost some of my respect for her), but I like that the podcast takes what I thought was going to be an annoying trope (big boobs - heh heh) and actually engages with Parton as a businesswoman and artist.

So far I've lost respect for Parton as a person, but gained respect for her as an entertainer.  Give it a listen.

StartUp was Gimlet's OG podcast.  The first season chronicled how the founders started the company, got funding, and started creating podcast shows.  It has recently released three episodes about the selling of Gimlet to Spotify and how the original owners and employees dealt with this huge change from start up to part of huge entertainment company. They're saying this is the last season of StartUp and I appreciate how the show has gone full circle with the company. I was happy for these update episodes and they were fun to listen to and reminded me of the early days of the show, but I'm glad to see it end on a high note.
Do you know the story behind the song "Monster Mash"? Well, I didn't either. Frankly, I didn't know I wanted to know the story until Nate DiMeo told it to me.  DiMeo is a national treasure. He is the storyteller I want to be.  Listen to "Late One Night." You won't be disappointed. I honestly can't get it out of my head.
I just did a search and I don't think I've talked about the podcast Criminal on this here blog! How is that even possible?  Phoebe Judge does an amazing job in this podcast in which she examines all facets of crime, from criminals to law enforcement to everything in between. Each episode is completely standalone, so there's no barrier to entry and no huge backlog you have to listen to to get all the jokes. Here are a few historical Criminal episodes you should listen to.

1) "Dropping Like Flies" - There's a black market for Venus flytraps in North Carolina. Judge goes to figure out what this is all about. This episode is FIVE YEARS OLD and I still think about it.
2) "Final Exit" - A woman goes around the country helping people kill themselves in a humane way.  I believe wholeheartedly in what she's doing, but this lady...she was abrasive.
3) "He's Neutral" - A man comes up with an interesting solution to a pervasive litter problem in his neighborhood.
4) "Money Tree" - A woman's identity is stolen and she's surprised to learn who is responsible for it. I also think about this episode all the time - almost every time I use a credit card.

So, all of that is just context for me telling you about the episode "The Less People Know About Us." Apparently I'm not the only one who can't stop thinking about the lady in the "Money Tree" episode.  Judge follows up with her, learns more about the identity theft, and how this impacts her life to this day. It's powerful, sobering, and yet still hopeful at the end.  Great podcasting.

Friday, November 01, 2019

Four Months with Hannah

Hannah's most notable accomplishment of the month is that she passed her Canine Good Citizenship test.  She was actually kind of stubborn and naughty during the testing, but the evaluator gave us a pity pass and since I knew she could do everything on the list when she wasn't in a bad mood, I took that pity pass with glee.
I spent the extra $10 to get a nice certificate and I'm going to get it framed and we're going to put it up somewhere in the house because that's how I roll.

Hannah has also started to experience the changing seasons.  She was super happy with the few weeks of autumn. We were going on hikes in our favorite county park, chasing tennis balls in the field, and frolicking through crunchy fallen leaves.  She enjoyed the cooler weather and would happily walk with me for hours.
She's happy here, I promise. She's with her person  in the county park!
But then, earlier this week, it snowed a teeny tiny bit.  Poor Hannah was underwhelmed by the snow, to say the least. She walked on exactly one patch of grass with snow and immediately ran off it. She mostly stayed under trees where there wasn't much snow to do her business. We've been working with her to wear winter boots and I am glad we started doing this in early October. I thought we'd need them because of people using salt on sidewalks, but I think she might need them to keep her paws dry and warm.
She's very much NOT happy here. She wanted to get in the car and LEAVE and I was making her STAY on the cold ground.
The other thing that has been going on in Hannah's world is that we've been trying to figure out exactly what she can and should eat.  

When we first got her, her gastrointestinal tract was a disaster. Her skin was itchy and she scratched everywhere. There was a rash on her belly and little red blisters all over her back.  The vet quickly put her on a bland diet, but it became clear that it wasn't enough. The hypothesis is that she's allergic to something, but that something is not entirely obvious.

So we've had her on an elimination diet since late July.  She's eating this absolutely repulsive dry food. It smells like buttered popcorn and most dogs hate it (at her training class one person ran out of treats for her dog and I handed her a few of these kibbles - her dog spit it out).  Hannah eats it because it's essentially all we'll give her.  She's allowed sweet potato, pumpkin, carrots, and marshmallows, too.  

Her GI issues calmed down almost immediately after this diet started.

Her skin...was not so easily dealt with.

In the meantime, her weight was a big problem. We couldn't figure out how much to give her and she was so skinny that random people were stopping me to ask if she was okay (answer: well, we're working on it).  This has settled a bit once we realized that this tiny dog (only 45 pounds!) should be getting 3 cups of food a day and all the sweet potato she'll take!

She started to get a rash on her chest and she had to go to the vet to get shaved and put on a super duper antihistamine named Apoquel.  So now Hannah is on 3/4 of a tablet of Apoquel a day, her prescription dog food, and a probiotic.  Her skin is mostly cleared up (!), but I feel like I should knock on wood about that because her groomer always finds something new. Her winter coat is starting to come in and she looks shiny and beautiful.

Earlier this week we reintroduced chicken. She had the equivalent of about 3/4 of a chicken breast for four days in a row. She LOVED getting meat, even if it was just plain chicken with no spices.  Now we're going to wait for a few weeks and see if everything holds steady. So far so good.  If all goes well for a few weeks, then we can introduce eggs.  Someday we hope to be able to transition her to a high quality food that's available in pet stores!

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Happy Halloween!

...from our house to yours!

We carve our jack-o-lanterns sitting on opposite sides of the table without discussing what we're going to do. We didn't plan on similar themes.  But can you guess whose was whose?

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Feast Your Eyes by Myla Goldberg

Feast Your Eyes by Myla Goldberg has an astounding 4.2/5 star rating on Goodreads and I have NO IDEA how this came to be.

The conceit of the novel is that our narrator's mother, a famous photographer, has died recently. The daughter did not have a great relationship with her mother, but nonetheless was put in charge of putting together a retrospective show of her mother's work.  Each photograph has a description of its background, told through an interview the narrator does with someone, a letter, or the narrator's own memories.

This is all good in theory.  In execution, it's flawed. There are no photographs in the book and the descriptions of the photographs are not good enough for this decision to make sense. Now, there's two possible explanations for this decision.  The first, uncharitable, explanation is that the author's writing, while competent, just isn't good enough to fill in the blanks about what makes one photograph better or worse than another.  When the author writes about how the light struck the bench at just the right angle, that legitimately means nothing to me without knowing more (or seeing the damn picture). The second, more charitable, explanation is that the narrator wouldn't describe the photographs in great detail in this format because the photographs would be right in front of a person in a gallery if they were reading all this.  This is still a problem with the format of the book, though.

There was a lot here. Relationships between mothers and daughters, how hard it is to be a single parent, the madness of a creative person, and how to be a creative person who doesn't sell out.  But, frankly, I felt like all of those things were glossed over and the narrator never took a stand on them. Did she feel resentful that her mother virtually neglected her because the mother was too busy taking photos?  I don't know. Did she think the photographs were great?  I don't know. Did she respect her mother for the decisions she made to help her daughter?  I don't know.

I guess that's the take on this book. I just don't know.  I wouldn't recommend it, personally, but 2/4 of the people at our book club this month liked it well enough.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Keeping Our Vet in Business One Animal at a Time

I'm going to talk more about Hannah the Dog's health issues in a post later next week, but for now I want to focus on Zelda the Cat who, until quite recently, I would have called a low-maintenance pet.  Sure, her long fur means that we have spent a lot of money on specialty cat combs (verdict: she hates them all, but the knock-off Furminator does the best job) and a lot of time cleaning up hairballs (note: check the top of your cat's tree - the one that's taller than you? - there's probably a hairball up there).  Sure, she was a bite-y, bite-y nightmare for a couple of years there and there was a time when I panicked because she had a reaction to a vaccine, but she has been a healthy feline.
About a month ago, I took her in because she had dark spots on her chin and she was scratching above her eyes, leading to angry looking red spots.  I was told that her weight was good (yay!) and that it wasn't dental pain, but just kitty acne. We rubbed her chin with a special cleanser every day for a week - which she didn't love, but tolerated reasonably well - and it went away.

Then, shortly after that, Zelda became even more vocal than usual. She's never been a quiet cat. She meows for food, she meows for pets, she meows because we're sitting there quietly reading. But this was different. She would just sit in the corner and stare and meow. She would come right over to our feet while we were eating at the table and YELL at us.  We tried to pet her, we'd refill her water, we'd check her private areas to make sure she was clean, we'd take out a toy and play with her, but she just kept crying.

I mentioned this briefly to our vet at a Hannah-related appointment and she was a bit puzzled. It wasn't that she was crying in the litter box. It wasn't that she was crying when she was trying to jump. She was just crying.

Vet says to bring her in if the crying intensifies.

About a week ago, I noticed a tiny spot of red on her (white) litter box in the bathroom. I asked Dr. BB to look at it and we both agreed it looked like blood, but, well, we both had bled in the bathroom recently. Maybe her box was in the splash zone. Zelda was acting normally, I cleaned it up, and we moved on with our lives.

Saturday, Dr. BB and I left for the day and Hannah stayed with our friend Eric (not even an alias - his name is Eric).  When we returned, there was a spot of blood smaller than a penny on the bathroom floor. We knew it had to come from Zelda.

I googled "blood in cat urine" and the answers ranged from UTI (annoying but treatable) to OMG crystals obstructing your cat's urethra and your cat is GOING TO DIE.  It was, of course, Saturday night, so there was nothing to do except call the emergency vet who told us that we should bring her in on Sunday morning.

Not much sleep was had Saturday night, what with one of us getting up every hour or two for a fabricated errand that really was checking to make sure the cat was still alive.

Meanwhile, we notice that if we check her litter immediately after she urinates, it's pink. Also, she's going in the box all the damn time. Also, other than that, her behavior is normal.

Sunday we take her to the vet and she's given painkillers and we're told to take her to our vet on Monday.  Thanks for a lot of nothing.  No urinalysis or ultrasound was done. Nothing beyond a perfunctory physical examination.

We take her in on Monday. Her urinalysis shows blood in her urine. Seriously.  That's all they can see. We start giving her antibiotics because the assumption is its a UTI.

Frankly, she's even more miserable now. She's hiding from us because we're constantly shoving nasty tasting medicine down her throat. The antibiotics are killing her GI system and things are getting messy in her private areas. Our normally fastidious cat can't even be bothered to clean it up.  Her litter box . . . is a thing of nightmares.

By Wednesday, she's no better. I'm NOT happy at this point. We call and our vet (who, by the way, I'm actually friends with outside of the vet clinic world) can tell that I'm upset. She asks us to bring the cat in again. Now, this is THREE trips in her cat carrier in FOUR days. The cat fights it, but we eventually get her. This time they do an ultrasound and find bladder stones. 

So my pretty kitty is in surgery RIGHT NOW as I type this. The rumor is that she's going to be fine really quickly after surgery, but I'm so angry over how long this took to diagnose. If the emergency vet had just done a quick ultrasound on Sunday, Zelda could have been treated almost a full week earlier. 

Also, the vet bills? Staggering this week.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Baltimore Blues by Laura Lippman

Laura Lippman was on Fresh Air talking about her new book Lady in the Lake a couple of months ago after Trump made some rude remarks about Baltimore.  I found myself much more interested in the bits of the interview about her Tess Monaghan books more than the new book and I immediately put Baltimore Blues, the first Tess Monaghan book, on my hold list at the library.

Former Baltimore newspaper reporter Tess Monaghan is working several part-part-time jobs to make ends meet, lives above her aunt's place of business at below market rent, works out compulsively, and has a somewhat serious case of doesn't know what to do with herself when a friend hires her to do a small favor for him and suddenly Tess is thrown into exactly the kind of crime procedural a girl like me likes to read.

I can't believe I'd never heard of Lippman before this Fresh Air interview. I mean, this series has a dozen books in it!  Girl detective. Awesome city.  Pre-cell phone technology. What more could you ask for? Tess is a bit like my girl Kinsey Millhone from the Sue Grafton Alphabet novels. They both seem to be loners who fall into detecting more than choose it. They love the places they live and workout enough to make me feel guilty about the fact that I'm always sitting around reading about them instead of moving my own body.  They both occasionally binge on fast food, which makes me feel less bad about my constant $1 large McDonald's Diet Coke addiction. 

One of the biggest elements that I enjoyed about this book was that the city of Baltimore is an important character in it. There's a lot here about the declining newspaper industry and its impact on the city. Tess knows the ins and outs of the streets and how the fancypants part of town has a different naming system of streets than the rest of the city.  You hear about how the crime statistics are a daily topic of conversation for the citizens.  It's not just an exploration of a weird, convoluted crime. It's a story about Baltimore. And I'm here for that. 

So I liked this book. I'm going to read more in the series. I'll keep you updated on the quality as the series progresses.

Monday, October 07, 2019

The Temeraire Series by Naomi Novik

I started the Temeraire series on a bit of a lark and the first book was so good, I just had to keep going.  It was sold to me as the Napoleonic Wars with dragons and that was the payoff, indeed.

There are some spoilers ahead for the series, but those spoilers wouldn't diminish your enjoyment of reading about DRAGONS in any way.

Book 1
His Majesty's Dragon
Captain Will Laurence has a promising naval career and a blooming romance back on shore when he becomes bonded with a dragon and is swept into a career as an aviator who will be assigned to Temeraire the dragon for the rest of his life. Adventures ensue.  Was this great literature? No. Did I devour every second of it? Yes. Is Laurence a terrible chauvinistic bore? Yes. Is Temeraire the Hermione Granger know-it-all of dragons? Yes.  Did that make me love this any less? No.

Laurence gets to fly on the dragon!  You guys, nothing has been so thrilling as when Harry Potter flew after that Remembrall and thought McGonagall was going to kick him out, but he really got recruited to be a Quidditch player (I just checked my spelling and got Remembrall, McGonagall, and Quidditch correct - don't make me doubt myself, SPELLCHECK).

There are dragons!  It is brilliant and exciting and I hope the rest of the series lives up to my excitement.

Book 2
Throne of Jade
Well, after an exceptional first book, this book was quite a let down. So, Temeraire is a Celestrial dragon, a special breed that only serves members of the Chinese Imperial family.  The Chinese had intended his egg to go to France and they are pretty upset that the English have him now. So this entire book is about Temeraire and Laurence going to China on a boat (I love a good book about the sea, but Temeraire is a FLYING CREATURE) and the boat trip was just interminable.

Frankly, I knew that Laurence and Temeraire couldn't stay in China forever and this whole book was a bit of a bore.  Eh. T knows Chinese now, so I'm sure that will come up in future novels.

Book 3
Black Powder War
In this novel, Laurence and Temeraire are sent on a mission to retrieve two dragon's eggs and escort them back to England. One of these dragons is a fire-breathing dragon (Iskierka - she comes up a lot later in the series, so I best name her) and that is a BFD to England, whose dragon unit does not include any fire-breathing members.  But there is villainy afoot. Another Celestial dragon from China is attempting to stop our heroes from meeting their goal.

I enjoyed the bits about the eggs and I definitely enjoyed the baby dragon. All that aside, this book was really in the weeds about military maneuvering and troop movements and aerial versus naval campaigns. I didn't love all that. I'm really in these books for the joy of the dragons and I want more of that!

Book 4
Empire of Ivory
This book was actually quite exciting. There's a sickness going around the dragons and it causes a long, protracted death. England does not have dragons to spare, so Laurence and Temeraire go off to find a cure. Once the cure is obtained, our intrepid duo go off to commit treason and make sure dragons in France get the cure, too.

Meanwhile, the relationship between our dragon and his handler is very touching. It's clear that each would die for the other and it might actually come to that. The very literal parallels between the treatment of slaves and the treatment of dragons are interesting to examine. We spend a lot of time on boats (again!) and it's interesting to see how Laurence, whose family is very anti-slavery, deals with issues related to slavery and pro-slavery individuals, especially the captain of the dragon transport ship.  Unlike the third book in the series, this book left me incredibly excited to get the next book from the library.

Book 5
Victory of Eagles
This book is the fallout book. After committing treason, Laurence is locked away, Temeraire is sent to a breeding grounds where he is suitably bored and worried about Laurence. Laurence's feelings of  shame regarding the treason are real. I admire Novik for really digging in on the fact that taking the morally righteous action has serious consequences for Laurence and Temeraire. This is the low point for our duo, who are eventually taken out of their confinements to do menial tasks. Laurence loses all of his money due to a lawsuit because he freed some slaves in a previous book (the right thing never pays off for Laurence) and he loses his job in the aviation corps.  He's isolated from friends and family and frankly, as I'm writing this, I see more and more parallels to the fifth Harry Potter book.

Laurence and Temeraire manage to take London back from Napoleon, though, so they do eke out a victory.  Now they're being sent off to Australia and I can only imagine we'll be back on a boat for most of the next book and then be poisoned by the famously deadly Australian wildlife.

Book 6
Tongues of Serpents
Australia. This is the Australia book. It's fine. We get a couple of new dragons and I really admire how Novik is able to give each dragon its own personality.  It feels like Novik grew up on a farm with a half a dozen dogs and each of those dogs had its own unique relationship with her. I love the dragons.  But otherwise, I don't know what to think about this book. We ran around the Australian Outback, chasing eggs, and attempting to stay alive despite no water and lots of dangerous beasties.  Eh. You know I'll go back for more dragons.

Book 7
Crucible of Gold
You guys! Something, something, war plot, and Laurence and Temeraire, Granby and Iskierka, and Kulingile and Demane end up heading to Brazil. One the way, their ship catches fire due to some unsavory sailors from Australia (you know they're all criminals, right?), and they end up being captured by a French vessel. The French deposit them on a small island our crew figures out a way out (I felt a lot like I was reading parts of In the Heart of the Sea, which is beloved to me). Then there are political machinations and they eventually find their way to Rio de Janiero, free some (more!) slaves, and then learn that their loyal cook was actually a servant to the Chinese prince who has been spying on our boys. We're going back to China in the next book!

This book was so good. The plot kept moving and we  weren't on the home front of a lot of battling, so we didn't have to deal with a lot of the ins and outs of battle formations. There were lots and lots of new dragons, an exciting escapade on the sea, and skulduggery and espionage. What more could a girl ask for in a book about dragons?

Book 8
Blood of Tyrants
 What is even happening in this series? It's like every other book is good. I will call this the amnesia book. Laurence gets amnesia in a shipwreck that happened in between this book and Crucible of God as our heroes attempted to get to China. He is separated from Temeraire and we spend the first third of the book trying to reunite those two, a third of the book in China trying to prove that our heroes aren't bad guys, and another third of the book in Russia with battle after boring battle. I was less than thrilled with this book. Remember that Laurence has amnesia this whole time and doesn't remember any of the events of the previous seven books. Does that sound annoying to you? Yes, yes it was. If the next book wasn't the last book in the series, I would have given up on Novik at this point.

Book 9
League of Dragons
I was excited for this book because this series has been reliably consistent in its every other book is a good book-ness And it was a good book!  It wrapped up everything in a nice bow for me. I feel quite satisfied with the ending of the novel and the series.  There are some gaping holes left (whatever of that villainous white Celestial dragon, Lien?), but overall I was so happy to be spending time with my guys, winning the war and fighting the bad guys. I was pleased that the rights of dragons will no longer be ignored and that Temeraire will have a purpose in life once Laurence inevitably dies before the dragon does. I enjoyed the new baby dragon.  Thumbs on this book.

Overall, this series is quite hit or miss, but in general I loved the way Novik depicted the dragons. They all had individual quirks and mannerisms and their characters were, in many ways, better developed than the people. We read the first book for my book club some months ago and the veterinarian in my club, who is not normally a reader of fantasy or science fiction, was amused that this was simply a "boy and his dog" type of book.  If you like to think about the inner lives of animals, this might be the series for you.  But if you take your history seriously, this light-hearted view of the Napoleonic wars might not be for you.