Thursday, March 17, 2011

Book 8: Horseradish: Bitter Truths you can’t Avoid

Horseradish: Bitter Truths you can’t Avoid
By Lemony Snicket

Given the light of the recent global events, the book I had originally chosen to be a quick read through midterm week turned out to be more depressing than funny. So this review will be bent towards my state of mind while I was reading it and perhaps, not the best of reviews of the book itself. However, I loved the book. Perhaps you will too by the end of this post.

“The moral of this story, if you are interested, is that there are bitter truths you cannot avoid in this world.” 

I am very inclined to agree with the author. Indeed, this whole week my husband and I have been monitoring the disasters in Japan; grappling with the idea that there is a nuclear plant at the edge of meltdown, watching people separated from loved ones, people searching through wreckage for bodies and memories, hearing about freezing temperatures and blackouts and being overwhelmed by just how cruel it all is. 

And the death. 

The needless, tragic deaths of people who were, for all intents and purposes, as prepared as they could be for such an event…and who died anyways. Grandparents, children, parents, the stories of people being swept away telling the utter helplessness against a massive tidal wave. 

"What happens in a certain place can stain your feelings for that location, just as ink can stain a white sheet. You can wash it, and wash it, and still never forget what has transpired - a word which here means 'happened, and made everybody sad'."

The humanity in death. 

The grandmother found dead in her home clutching her three year old grandson, the mother who rushed her small children to safety before being swept away herself, the elderly husband who disappeared into the chaos to find his wife….it’s too much for the mind to take. It’s shocking, it’s terrible, we rail against the idea that so many who should have lived a bit longer were taken so quickly, so cruelly. 

"It is a curious thing, the death of a loved one. We all know that our time in this world is limited, and that eventually all of us will end up underneath some sheet, never to wake up. And yet it is always a surprise when it happens to someone we know. It is like walking up the stairs to your bedroom in the dark, and thinking there is one more stair than there is. Your foot falls down, through the air, and there is a sickly moment of dark surprise as you try and readjust the way you thought of things."

And the humanity in life.

The stories of the daycare reopening so children could have a sense of normality again. The ‘Fukushima 50’ who are on a suicide mission to save their people from nuclear devastation,  the people opening their homes and lives to complete strangers, sheltering them from the elements and sharing meager supplies. The village who, not waiting for rescue, began rescuing themselves; setting up water, food, shelter….community.

"It is so rare in this world to meet a trustworthy person who truly wants to help you, and finding such a person can make you feel warm and safe, even if you are in the middle of a windy valley high up in the mountains."

As Greg and I talked back and forth, back and forth trying to determine the best way to help and if it would do any good and what organization had the most impact…we came to the realization that our best efforts will not rebuild Japan. It will not bring back loved ones or houses or jobs or food or cool the nuclear plants. It will help buy blankets. Some may say that is a lot. I say it is nothing really, compared with what is unfolding. And so we sat back and realized that we will help….and it will not fix things.

"It is difficult, when faced with a situation you cannot control, to admit you can do nothing."

Our conversation shifted. It shifted to what WE would do. What we’d need to take with us if we had to evacuate, if a tornado took out our house, if water was shut off, if some event happened, were we prepared?

“It is very easy to say that the important thing is to try your best, but if you are in real trouble the most important thing is not trying your best, but getting to safety.”

We decided that we weren’t really as prepared as we could be. So we’re focusing on that. Should some natural disaster affect our lives, we’re a little more prepared, perhaps even a help to people in our community. We’re being CPR certified and will be part of a Citizens Emergency Response Team (CERT) soon. It’s not a lot, but it will fix things should they go wrong here…in a part of the world where we can directly assist. 

There aren’t words to define how terrible this disaster, among so many the past few years, is. There simply isn't a good way to communicate that dull ache that lives in your chest when shown that amount of human suffering. People just like you and me. The fact we live in a world connected by all sorts of communication methods means that, on some level, this affects everyone. Our hearts and hope are with the people of Japan as they start to move forward into a future which is vastly different from the past of a week ago. I can only hope that the following eventually rings true:

"At times the world may seem an unfriendly and sinister place, but believe that there is much more good in it than bad. All you have to do is look hard enough. and what might seem to be a series of unfortunate events may in fact be the first steps of a journey.”

If you are interested in any preparedness measures for your family, please visit the following excellent links:

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Book 7: Tick Tock

Tick Tock
By Michael Bennett

Attempting to introduce balance into 2011’s reading, I decided to do a quick thriller to tune out for a few days and catch up a bit on my backlog. I am so very sad that I did. This book was pathetic. Warning, I didn’t finish this book and so it hardly counts as book 7. Still, I did get halfway thru and devoted 3 days to reading it so I decided to count it anyways. It was, seriously terrible. Before reviewing the book, let me introduce you to two types of genres that I love.

The first is Mindcandy. Clive Cussler Dirk Pitt stories are an example of this type of story. The plot line is wildly unrealistic, the characters are deliciously cheesy, the villains are appropriately villainous, and the guy always gets the girl and/or good always triumphs over evil. I love it! It is as Mindcandy should be and I very much enjoy it. Just as I don’t expect a McDonald’s cheeseburger to delicately introduce me to the wonders of fine dining, but enjoy it very much nonetheless…that’s how I feel about Mindcandy books.

On the other end of that spectrum there are fabulous thrillers that are so horrifying to read and so well written that you just. can’t. put.  them. down. And night after night you lose increasing hours of sleep trying to get to the end hoping and praying that everything turns out all right. ‘Hannible’ is an excellent example of this type of book.

I like both genres, though the latter is a bit more suited to plane-rides and vacations as I can quickly become obsessed with them.

This ridiculous book fell way before the Mindcandy spectrum attempting to meet the qualifications of the ‘Fabulous Thriller’ category. The result was dismally-written dialogue with a copycat plot line and seriously brutal murder scenes that took all pleasure out of reading the rest of the book.

I draw certain lines in books. I don’t like reading about a certain variety of scenes, and top on that list are when kids get hurt/abused/killed, even if it is just fiction. The world can be cruel enough to kids without exploiting them in storylines as well. I despise books that utilize that kind of emotion to illustrate just how bad a character is. It’s ridiculous. A well-written author need not stoop to that level as a well-written book simply doesn’t need it. The scenes are tense and the reader’s vivid imagination is fully utilized. THAT is art in writing. Michael Bennett clearly doesn’t have that kind of skill. He killed off a 4-year old girl halfway thru the book, committing a cardinal sin of writing.

So I shut it down. Nope, didn’t finish the book. Don’t want to. At halfway thru, someone else would have had to take over the writing in order to finish it off in any sort of decent matter but to be honest, I just wasn’t interested enough to persevere. So don’t read this book. Avoid it and apply your time to a Crichton book you haven’t read yet or even a Cussler book you haven’t read (he cranks out 1-2 a year so you have plenty to choose from).

I’m heading back into the world of science for another book or two, reading ‘The Elegant Universe’ by Brian Greene. More to follow shortly…

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Book 6: Why We Get Fat, and What to do About it

Why We Get Fat, and What to do About it
By Gary Taubes

Continuing what is, apparently, the theme of this year, I learned a LOT in this book that I didn’t know before. I will preface this with a small insight into my life. I love food, and I’m a big fan of nutrition books, like to give them a go, and see what happens. I get really enthusiastic about menu-changes. 

But, usually it is a matter of more vegetables, or more fruit, or less processed food or, for a year, strict vegetarianism…I just love it.  

The premise of this book was very unconventional. VERY.  I’ve never been a fan of the Atkins diet (or way of eating) because it flew in the face of everything that NORMAL nutritionists tell you to do. However, this book by Taubes clearly promotes an Atkins-style of eating to promote weight loss and overall general health.
The great thing is that he actually backs his ideas up with extensive research and medical studies. Something which, up until recently, I hadn’t really thought of as missing from other nutrition books. 

Oh yeah, and no sugar. No fattening carbohydrates, and DEFINITELY no sugar. Which is a bit depressing for me as I am, admittedly, quite addicted to all things sugary. However, giving those items up (it can apparently take up to 18 months to fully quit a sugar-addiction and no longer have ‘intrusive thoughts about sweet food’) have extensive benefits. Good cholesterol goes up, bad cholesterol goes down, you drastically reduce your chances of heart-disease and even cancer and you don’t have to work out. In fact, until your body adjusts to the new food, you shouldn’t work out. Ha!

Here’s the thing. You have short term fat (essential fatty acids, or, EFAs) and long term fat storage. Short term is constantly going in and out of your fat portion of your body, keeps you from getting hungry at night…etc, and insulin regulates all this. However, carbohydrates and sugar drastically increase your insulin-levels which in turn starts the process of shuffling away short term fat into long term fat storage (these are layman’s terms. I’d highly recommend reading the book) and as time progresses you get fatter because your insulin is out of whack and fat is just going straight into long-term fat storage rather than being burned consistently. 

Reduce (or eliminate) your sugar and carbohydrate levels, and (after suffering about a week or two of withdrawl symptoms) you’ll bring your insulin levels down and start burning fat as you were meant to do.
It removes a lot of the guilt from people who are obese. 

There are plenty of studies that state that diet + exercise doesn’t work for the majority of the population, and people who are predispositioned to get fat simply can’t do much about it as your body WILL store whatever fat it feels it needs to. In fact, in a study done of a family of rats bred for weight-gain, one half of the rats were fed however much they wanted and the other half was fed an extremely restricted diet. BOTH groups gained the same amount of weight, but the rats on the food-restricted diet had shrunken internal organs from the lack of food. Rather than burn fat, their bodies simply took what it needed from vital functions. 

Obviously, this is not the case for everyone, but it does shed light into what I feel is a huge area of discrimination in our society. Obesity is not necessarily a choice, and sugar has addictive properties like that of heroin or cocaine in its dopamine-release structure. 

So, I’m cutting back based on this book and am trying to get used to coffee with JUST a bit of cream, no sugar. A big ‘meh’ so far but still better than black coffee. We’ll see how it goes, but if it ultimately helps with heart disease and cancer risks…well, it’s something I’m certainly willing to work on. We're also eating more protein now. I don't know if we'll go full-blown into the Atkins 'Induction Phase' of quick weight loss because seriously, I don't have a lot of time for that, but we are going to go mostly on a protein-based diet and see how we feel. So far, withdrawal has sucked.

Read the book. I imagine you’ll be just as surprised as I was at a number of the falsehoods the FDA, Department of Agriculture and nearly every diet book and cook book on the market attempt to teach. Still, it's interesting how ingrained (pun intended) those ideas are. I still like the food pyramid, I like the idea that if I burn 3,500 calories I will lose a pound of weight. Now I just have to keep switching my brain over to tell myself that's simply not true.