Tag Archives: NaBloPoMo

Sunday Salon/Currently … Be Here Now

Currently …
Happy Sunday, everyone. It’s another cold one here in Pittsbrrrrgh today. We’ve had several consecutive days of temperatures in the 20s, making this weather somewhat a shock to the system. It feels like we went right from late summer (a few weeks ago we had a string of gorgeous days in the high 70s) to the dead of winter. Looking back at my Facebook memories tells me that on this day four years ago we had our first memorable snowfall of the season, so I suppose we can count ourselves lucky.

I’m not much of a fan of winter and cold weather. I can handle the cold but it just means that the snow and ice isn’t far behind. Ugh.

Today, I have to work this afternoon and help out at a special event (a lecture and VIP reception) for a few hours. The Boy is a bit under the weather. Nothing major, just the usual change of season congestion and sore throat. Young Living oils to the rescue … I’m diffusing eucalyptus radiata for him and have rubbed Thieves on his throat.

Weekend Recap …
Last night The Husband and I went out for what passes for a big night on the town to us. The Girl was attending an event in the city and it didn’t make logistical sense to drive all the way home and back, so we turned it into an actual date night. We wound up going to The Butterwood Bake Consortium in Lawrenceville for dessert and coffee.

I’ll do a full review of the experience in a separate post, but suffice it to say we enjoyed it.

Reading … 
I didn’t finish any books this week and the book I’m currently reading is a review book, so I can’t say much about that right now.

Listening …
Current audiobook is H is For Hawk by Helen Macdonald, a memoir that has been on my TBR list for awhile.

Be Here Now …
The subject line of today’s Salon post has several references. I loooovvvvveeeee the TV show “This Is Us” and on Tuesday’s episode they played a George Harrison song “Be Here Now” from 1973. I didn’t immediately recognize it until I checked the Spotify playlist (did you know there’s a “This Is Us” Spotify playlist with all the songs from this season and last? You’re welcome.)  I mentioned it to The Husband, who loves everything Beatles-related. The next day, it came up on his Spotify, totally at random, and then I stumbled on a friend’s blog post with that title. It just feels like a message being sent, a reminder for me to … well, be here now. It has relevance for a lot of things lately.

OK, time to wrap this up if I’m going to be at work on time. Here’s George to take us out.

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Weekend Cooking: Like Buttah

Earlier this year, I joined a women’s group at our UU church. I saw this as a way to become more involved in the congregation while connecting with others, especially after the election. Each month, our meetings focus on a different topic. For November, our  theme was food and memory — appropriately enough with Thanksgiving just two weeks away.

We were asked to bring or make a food that we associate with a memory, along with an accompanying photo, if we had one. I knew right away what I would be baking.

I grew up in Northeast Philadelphia and its suburbs and most of our extended family lived close by. Many special occasions, holidays, and celebrations included family dinners at my grandparents’ house with my aunt, uncle and cousins. Those get-togethers also always included butter cake, often from Geiger’s Bakery located on Frankford Avenue. My grandparents lived a few blocks away from the bakery; whenever we visited my grandfather would have already “walked up the Avenue” to get one.

If you didn’t grow up in Philadelphia, chances are you probably don’t know what I’m talking about with this butter cake. (I’ve since learned it is popular in St. Louis, too.)

It’s a thin crust of eggs and (of course) butter, topped with a mixture of cream cheese, powdered sugar, more eggs. It’s ridiculously decadent. Suffice it to say that butter cake is the food of the gods. I mean, if they serve food in heaven — and I would like to imagine that it’s a 24/7, all you can eat, calories and carbs be damned to hell smorgasbord — then butter cake definitely has a place on the menu.

So, I knew that I had to bring this. And I knew I had to make one because you can’t find a real, authentic butter cake here. Nobody I’ve met in Pittsburgh has ever heard of butter cake.

However, I’m now gluten free and butter cake doesn’t quite lend itself to being easily converted.

Or so I thought. That’s why Google is your friend. Searching for “gluten free butter cake” led me immediately to this recipe for Gluten Free French Butter Cake from The Frugal Farm Wife. 

I’ve never made a butter cake, so this required doing a test run on Monday evening in order to have time to fix anything before our Wednesday night meeting.

As one might imagine, the fact that Mom was baking was met with much delight in my house. The Husband, who was part of more than a few of those family dinners back in the day, was eagerly anticipating the results of this experiment. The kids couldn’t remember ever having butter cake, which was just another reminder to The Husband and me that since most of their formative years have been spent here in Pittsburgh (plus four in Delaware), they don’t identify as Philadelphians the way we do.

I’ll cut to the chase. This butter cake?

Absolute.

Perfection.

And the fact that it’s gluten free? That’s just … well, the icing on the cake.

The kids were in love at first bite.

“WHY HAVEN’T YOU EVER MADE THIS?” they demanded.

“To be honest,” I admitted. “I thought it would be harder than it was.”

That’s true of a lot of things in life, isn’t it? We have a notion that something is too complicated, difficult or beyond our abilities and lo and behold, we surprise ourselves by succeeding. The butter cake was well received at the women’s group meeting, during which we also feasted on pavlova, jello salad, date nut bread, port wine cheese and crackers, sparkling cider, shortbread and noodle soup and heard wonderful stories connected with each of these dishes.

My kids requested that I make a butter cake every week. No, I told them. For one thing, we’ll all gain 500 pounds by Christmas if I did. Besides, there are reasons why it’s a special occasion cake. It’s part of its magic.

But now that I know how to make it, I’m betting we’ll be seeing it more often.

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Book Review: Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, by Atul Gawande

being-mortal

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, by Atul Gawande
Metropolitan Books / 2014 / 282 pages
Audiobook narrated by Robert Petkoff
Macmillan Audio / 
2014 / 9 hrs and 3 mins

Lately, there seems to be a spike in the number of popular books — particularly memoirs — written by physicians and focusing on the issue of medicine.  Maybe this has something to do with aging baby boomers or our society’s preoccupation with health and wellness — or perhaps it’s the opposite and we’re overly obsessed with death. Whatever the reason, I can’t be the only one who has noticed this literary trend.

Because I read When Breath Becomes Air by the late Paul Kalanithi (and loved it, as per my review here), I was a bit hesitant to read Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal.  I thought they would be too similar. In some ways they are, but where Kalanithi’s story is on facing death in the prime of one’s life, Gawande’s centers on the aging process and what society and the medical profession needs to do to honor life with a more compassionate approach to death, rather than prolong the inevitable at any cost. For all of medicine’s advances, we still haven’t gotten this right.

“A few conclusions become clear when we understand this: that our most cruel failure in how we treat the sick and the aged is the failure to recognize that they have priorities beyond merely being safe and living longer; that the chance to shape one’s story is essential to sustaining meaning in life; that we have the opportunity to refashion our institutions, our culture, and our conversations in ways that transform the possibilities for the last chapters of everyone’s lives.”

Those conversations, Gawande writes, are where doctors and loved ones need to place their emphasis. We need to do more talking about what is important to patients and what their understanding is regarding the nature and prognosis of serious, terminal illnesses. In Being Mortal, Gawande shares those personal conversations — the ones he’s had with his family, loved ones, and patients — and how they’ve shaped his perspective as a doctor and a human being.

“Being mortal is about the struggle to cope with the constraints of our biology, with the limits set by genes and cells and flesh and bone. Medical science has given us remarkable power to push against these limits, and the potential value of this power was a central reason I became a doctor. But again and again, I have seen the damage we in medicine do when we fail to acknowledge that such power is finite and always will be. We’ve been wrong about what our job is in medicine. We think our job is to ensure health and survival. But really it is larger than that. It is to enable well-being. And well-being is about the reasons one wishes to be alive. Those reasons matter not just at the end of life, or when debility comes, but all along the way. Whenever serious sickness or injury strikes and your body or mind breaks down, the vital questions are the same: What is your understanding of the situation and its potential outcomes? What are your fears and what are your hopes? What are the trade-offs you are willing to make and not willing to make? And what is the course of action that best serves this understanding?”

Gawande views life as a story with each of us holding the pen. “You may not control life’s circumstances, but getting to be the author of your life means getting to control what you do with them.”  It’s an effective analogy.

“All we ask is to be allowed to remain the writers of our own story. That story is ever changing. Over the course of our lives, we may encounter unimaginable difficulties. Our concerns and desires may shift. But whatever happens, we want to retain the freedom to shape our lives in ways consistent with our character and loyalties. This is why the betrayals of body and mind that threaten to erase our character and memory remain among our most awful tortures. The battle of being mortal is the battle to maintain the integrity of one’s life—to avoid becoming so diminished or dissipated or subjugated that who you are becomes disconnected from who you were or who you want to be.”

I listened to Being Mortal on audio and found it to be incredibly engaging. Gawande has a very practical yet compassionate narrative style that (at least in my experience) is rare among physicians. If his bedside manner is anything like his prose, his patients are in good hands.

 

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we interrupt this nablopomo to say …

..that there won’t be a #NaBloPoMo post tonight because of technical difficulties. *

*technical difficulties = The Girl needs my laptop to research a homework assignment (a persuasive essay about how strengthening mental health services in schools could improve academics)

I’ve been reading tonight and it’s actually been quite nice.

More tomorrow.

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One Year Later: Still Seeing Red, Still Resisting

I admit, I had zero intention of voting yesterday.

None whatsoever.

I had no inkling who was running or for what office. No clue about a ballot question about property taxes and school funding and what it all meant to my dwindling financial bottom line. Retaining judges? Hello, has anyone even heard of these people?

After the disaster of last November, I was convinced my small vote wouldn’t make one bit of difference, that turnout would be pitiful and, really, what did any of this matter anyway, given the bully in the White House tweeting his way to obliterating all of us from the face of the Earth?

And what’s worse is that despite playing a political analyst, pundit and prognosticator every day on Facebook, I. Just. Didn’t. Fucking. Care. And I knew how hypocritical that made me.

Until Facebook’s always-a-double-kick-to-the-heart On This Day feature reminded me that yes, indeed, I really did take the above photo a year ago, on November 7, 2016.

It really happened.

As if I could forget.  As if I – or anyone else – could forget anything about that bizarre, unimaginable week.

I wrote about seeing Hillary Clinton 48 hours before the election in this post (“Seeing Red”). I’ll always remember the glorious, bright blue sky and crisp fall day when she spoke at a final rally on the University of Pittsburgh campus and then crossed the street to say hi to the crowd where I stood.

She looked stunning, confident, resplendent in her red pantsuit.  We cheered wildly, equally confident that we were meeting our next President of the United States.

We were so close.

Election Night 2016 will likely be forever seared on my heart. As long as I live, I will never forget holding my then almost-14 year old daughter, both of us sobbing , my telling her I was profoundly sorry that this is the world she would be growing up in.

That no matter who was in the White House, I wanted her to know that I would always, always love and protect her and her brother.

That despite what people in positions of so-called power said, I will always accept both of you and work like hell to make sure both of my children have every opportunity to reach their dreams, no matter who is President, no matter who tries to make you feel less than.

That I wished so much this had been different.  That I was so very, very sorry.

My daughter still talks about what we refer to as “Mom’s election night concession speech.” As much as it is seared in my memory, I think it’s one of those moments that will be part of hers forever, too. (Which was my intent, so, #winning.)

So, yeah, last year’s ghosts were (and still are) looming large.

But seeing the picture of my all too brief encounter with Hillary show up on my Facebook feed (as I knew, of course, that it would) provided some kind of fuel to my flagging resistance that I didn’t realize or think I needed.

Hillary would want — no, she would insist — that I get my ass to the polls after my after-work appointment despite the dark and cold evening.

That if I was truly serious about everything I had been screaming into the online ether for the past 364 days and before, that this was what I had to do.

That voting was the way that, at least for today, I could still make my voice heard to protect the rights of my family and for others who are less fortunate than me.

Because — at least for today, I still possessed the right to vote.

So just as I did last year, I walked into the same township building, smiled at the same poll worker who was in the same spot from a year ago, and made small talk about the weather and the turnout.

“I hope you win something,” he said, referencing the slot-machine sound that played when he inserted the cartridge that sent my data to Russia made my vote count.

“Well, I certainly didn’t last year,” I snarked, receiving not even a half-smirk in response from anyone in our staunchly Republican town.

This is what resistance looks like, I thought, selecting a straight Democratic ticket and voting no on a referendum question. (And yes, I researched both issues on my lunch hour yesterday so I felt fairly well informed.)

This is still what democracy is.

This is why the fight still matters.

She may not have been on the ballot last night. But as I walked out of the same poll booth where I proudly voted for Hillary exactly a year ago, I knew that once again, I was #StillWithHer.

 

 

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Book Review: The Rain in Portugal, by Billy Collins

the-rain-in-portugal

The Rain in Portugal: Poems by Billy Collins
Random House
2016
160 pages 

Reading Billy Collins is like visiting with a longtime friend. There’s a comfortable predictability; you understand each other. (Is he always late? Someone who likes to talk about the same subjects, rehash the same stories? Does she usually order the same meal at your favorite restaurant? There are probably a few people in your circle who don’t like this particular friend, for some reason or another. Doesn’t matter. Sometimes you just need a little time with someone who doesn’t put on airs of sophistication and isn’t pretentious.

That’s what Billy Collins’ poetry is for me. Having read four of his collections (Nine Horses; Ballistics; Questions About Angels; Picnic, Lightning) plus Aimless Love, a compilation of new and selected poems, I know what to expect.  He’s comfortable. I don’t need to think much. This collection, his twelveth, is all of that, with more than the usual number of references to literary greats and imaginary encounters with them. (One example, “The Bard in Flight,” fancies an airplane ride with a skittish Shakespeare holding the narrator’s hand.)

These offerings have been described by other reviewers as whimsical and imaginative, which I feel are accurate descriptions. The Rain in Portugal is an enjoyable collection for Collins’ longtime fans and a fine place to start if you’re new to his work.

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Nonfiction November – Nov 6-10

I’m participating in Nonfiction November which is being hosted by Julie (JulzReads), Sarah (Sarah’s Book Shelves), Katie (Doing Dewey), Lory (Emerald City Book Review) and Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness).  Each week, a different host will offer a writing prompt pertaining to nonfiction books and reading.

For Week 2 (Nov. 6 to 10), Sarah @ Sarah’s Book Shelves invites us to pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title. It can be a “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story.”

Here are three combinations that come to mind:

In these times, I think there’s no better pairing than What Happened, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s reflections on the 2016 presidential campaign with Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, because I honest-to-God believe that’s where we’re headed. And it terrifies the hell out of me.

The Floating World, set in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, shows the Boisdoré family emotionally adrift from their community and each other. It would pair well with Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital, Sheri Fink’s harrowing account of the storm’s impact on patients, families and the medical team at Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans in August 2005.

Thirty years after its publication, And the Band Played On by journalist Randy Shilts is still the definitive account about the beginning of the AIDS epidemic and a book everyone should read. So is The Heart’s Invisible Furies, a novel by John Boyne which spans seven decades. I’ve been recommending this to everyone.

Do you have a fiction and nonfiction book pairing to suggest?

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