The Jewel in the Crown

The Jewel in the Crown is a PBS aired miniseries from 1984 depicting the transitional years of India shifting from British to self-rule. This, of course, would include the partition of India and Pakistan. I actually watched this series when I was a kid and I realize now it was my first introduction to India and Hinduism, topics that would remain lifelong interests. I’m surprised my mother let me watch it, as it’s rife with risque scenes and taboo material, though watching it now as a 41 year old I realize most of it went right over my head at the time. For instance there is the ongoing theme of repressed homosexuality- to the extent that it begins to feel contrived and gratuitous, but I didn’t really “get it” as an 11 year old. There are also very disturbing themes of suicide, despair, and war-induced PTSD (though it’s not called that in the series) all set to the background of World War II and a threatened Japanese invasion of the country.

The series does not lend itself to binge watching; it took me two weeks to plow through it (my husband kept saying, “You’re still watching this?”). There are fourteen ponderous episodes, all of them about an hour long; the first episode is 1 hr 45 minutes. At times the script feels more like a stage play, with lots of introspective and philosophical dialogue, though the slow pacing is punctuated with high and tragic action- particularly in the first and last episodes.

The acting is by and large outstanding. Tom Piggot-Smith is especially good as the icy Ronald Merrick, the one character who appears in most of the episodes. The scene where, clad in a tuxedo, he robotically asks Daphne for her hand in marriage is painful to watch. Likewise Charles Dance (who would later appear in Game of Thrones) is excellent as historian-turned-spy Guy Perron.

It is fascinating to watch the depiction of an affluent, secular Muslim elite. I suppose this still holds today as the majority of secular muslims are highly educated and come from privileged backgrounds (though not all privileged muslims end up secular).  It was also fascinating how seemingly laissez-faire muslim rulership was to foreign interlopers, though of course this could be artifice constructed  by Paul Scott (author of The Raj Quartet) but it makes for a compelling narrative nonetheless.

If you have about 15 hours to spare then The Jewel in the Crown is well worth watching. A few scenes are boring, but that’s what the fast forward button is for.

Floating Bridge

This is a great song I heard on the ancient contraption known as the radio. Gregg Allman had to have been in his 60s when he recorded this- not bad. He sounds great. As I’ve mentioned previously I (briefly) attended high school with his sons, until they were kicked out for drug use. Knowing what I now know about private schools, they must have had a DEA worthy stash for the school to forfeit so much tuition.

I’m puzzled by the lyrics. Are they about a suicide attempt? If so, I’m glad it wasn’t successful. I really hate suicide. It’s just about the saddest thing in the world. This is a cover of an Eric Clapton song, but this version is better.

Fed Up

I finally got to watch the much touted documentary Fed Up, co-produced by Katie Couric, yet another film about the obesity epidemic in the United States and its supposed causes. Maybe because the film was so hyped I had unrealistic expectations, but I came away disappointed because not only is this a poorly executed documentary, but we get the same confusing and contradictory information that The Weight of the Nation and A Place at the Table offer.

Fed Up decides to place the obesity blame squarely on junk foods and the sugar they contain. “Sugar is immediately converted into fat!” quoth the film. Gary Taubes (who is surprisingly dorky and a tad creepy, that disappointed me too) is briefly interviewed… why I’m not sure, because the film doesn’t explore, much less endorse, low carb diets. And once again we’re told that “real food-” lovingly grown organic fruits and vegetables- will keep the populace thin and fit.

There have already been several refutations of the “science” presented in the film, such as this one by Harriet Hall. To be clear, no one, including me, is claiming sugar is a health food, only that sugar cannot be pinpointed as the sole cause of obesity over the past 30 years. I’m increasingly convinced that the junk food vs. real food debate is status signaling not based in real science. To call pizza junk, while enjoying your quinoa-cherry tomato-goat cheese salad signals to everyone around you that you are erudite and classy, even though both dishes are the same at a nutritional level: grain, tomato, cheese and olive oil. Even the first lady famously scoffed at the notion of tomato sauce in pizza being considered a vegetable, and Couric makes the same mocking reference when interviewing a senator in Fed Up. Yet the few tablespoons of sauce on each pizza slice contain at least an entire tomato (remember sauce is reduced in volume during cooking, so is essentially compacted tomatoes), and cooked tomatoes are considered healthier than raw tomatoes due to their increased lycopene content. Tomatoes are technically a fruit anyway, but I digress.

Another food in the Fed Up cross hairs is infant formula. It’s too sugary! Babies are being conditioned to inhale junk food! Couric must not have breastfed her kids, because human breastmilk is extremely sweet with a higher sugar content than cow’s milk. Out of curiosity, I’ve tasted a couple drops of breastmilk over the way too many years I’ve spent breastfeeding, and it tastes like sugar water. In short, babies are supposed to consume sugar, and infant formula manufacturers are copying the content of human milk.

Those issues aside the film just is not good. The pacing is choppy, neither here nor there, and bounces between different pundits seemingly randomly. The obese children featured in the film, while heartbreaking, are not examined in depth nor are their diets. We get glimpses of what they eat and see a few grocery trips, but it’s unclear how much of exactly what kinds of food got them to their large girth, nor what factors compel them to overeat. If the film had dropped its preachiness and instead examined their histories exhaustively, it would have been better overall and more informative.

Kinda Man No More

Way back when my husband and I first married, I decided to buy a dining room table. Up to that point we’d used the floor or a wobbly card table for our evening feasts. This was back when we still ate dinner as a family; work obligations have made such dinners a thing of the past.

So I peregrinated to Port Richmond where a fly-by-night used furniture shop had set up business. A bunch of burly guys, sat round a cash register, greeted me heartily and I wandered the floor looking for just the right table. I discovered it tucked in a corner: dark wood, sturdy, and on clearance special.

I paid the burly guys $50 and inquired as to delivery.

“Well,” they said authoritatively, “Do you have a man in the house who can help us get it in the door?”

I hesitated, imagining my husband- comic book nerd extraordinaire- hauling weight with these guys. The image just didn’t gel.

“Uhh.. kind of.”

Well that was just too much for them. They broke out into barrels of laughter. “KIND OF!” they exclaimed, gasping through chortles. “She KIND OF has a man at home!”

I rolled my eyes and made my way back to the house, where I related the tale to my husband and warned he was conscripted into manual labor.

“Kinda man? You called me a kinda man?” And it stuck. For the next nearly two decades he jokingly, if snidely, referred to himself as “kinda man” whenever he failed at a manly task such as starting a dead lawn mower, or fixing an unhinged kitchen cabinet.

“What did you expect my dear? You married a kinda man.”

Until last weekend. Saturday night, with the baby and non-verbal three year old asleep, I decided now would be a good time to plant the Costco azalea I’d purchased that morning. I donned my boots, grabbed a shovel, dug a hole as deep as I could, and trundled across the lawn with the hefty azalea in a bear hug.

CRACK! My ankle twisted violently beneath me while the azalea went flying. The next thing I knew my face was in the lawn and my arms were splayed out. I realized, blinded by the azalea, I had stepped on the edge of a shallow but wide crater left from the above ground pool hauled away shortly after we moved to our home.

My ankle’s life flashed before my eyes. I relived that same ankle’s sprain as a teenager, and how dreadfully slow the healing process had been. Crutches, limping, pain: in fact I still felt pain from the initial sprain at age 41. And here I did it again! Heartsick, I somehow got back inside and collapsed into bed (but not before crawling to the azalea, to set it upright).

I woke in the middle of the night to agony. The ankle was grossly swollen and throbbing. I fumbled through my bureau for the percocet from my back surgery and swallowed a pill without water. The next morning- Easter Sunday- I crawled up the stairs and begged my husband to drive me to urgicare.

The facility was empty at 8am Sunday. I was ushered into an exam room where a doctor, whom I later learned was Pakistani (he offered up that information) looked at my ankle and glared ferociously at my husband.

Did you do this to her?!

It took both of us some moments to realize what exactly the doctor was asking. Now I was the one who burst out laughing.

Him?” I said, not realizing I might be insulting his manhood. “Did HE do this to me??” I was laughing so hard, I briefly forgot the pain shooting from my foot.

The doctor calmed down as I explained this was a gardening accident. As it turned out he was a plant enthusiast himself, and he wanted to know exactly what kind of azalea, where did I buy it from, for how much, and he advised I collect tuberoses; he ordered them off the internet.

Three hours later (the physician reading x-rays was offsite), brace on my ankle, I hobbled behind my husband back to the car. “What the hell was that all about?” I asked. “Do I look like a battered wife?”

“I don’t know,” replied my husband. “But I think I’m officially no longer a kinda man!” He smiled broadly.

I have three theories as to the doctor’s inquiry. One, he was obligated to ask this of any woman showing up with an injury. Every time I’ve been pregnant, I’m asked repeatedly: do I feel safe at home? Am I the victim of domestic violence? I assume this is hospital policy, if not outright law.

My second theory is the doctor was trying to be funny, but if so he needs serious help in his comedic delivery.

The third theory is that we live in a culture where men are routinely villainized while women victimized, even if reality does not reflect said scenario.

Maybe it’s a combination of the three.

azalea
the azalea

The Reproaches

The Catholic Church continues to surprise me. I’ve attended a lot of church services, but not a lot of Catholic ones, and I’ve been to Good Friday services, but never a Catholic one. Until this year. I took it upon myself to bring my 3rd grader to services as I knew the teachers, after Easter break, would be asking the class who went to mass and who didn’t. The mass attenders raise their hands while the heathens sit in shame, hands on the desk.

The Good Friday service started out with a passion play. The priest read the part of Jesus, the nun read the part of Pilate, a guy with a charming british accent read the narrator, and us parishioners played the part of the Jewish rabble (“Crucify him! Crucify him!”). It was like Jesus Christ Superstar but without music. Then came a series of prayers, including ones for the conversion of Jews and atheists. Then came the veneration of the cross, which I have to admit was a very emotional and moving ceremony. The cross is brought through the congregation and parishioners line up to kiss it, touch it, or make the sign of the cross. More than a few women in the crowd were crying, and the music ringing down from the choir balcony was solemn and heavy.

While my 3rd grader lined up for her turn at the cross, I leafed through the missal and saw that the choir was in fact singing “The Reproaches” while people venerated the cross. Hmm, never heard of that before. As I read down the page a chill ran through me and my stomach knotted up. I quickly closed the missal and stuffed it back on the rack. Wondering if I might be imagining things, I grabbed it back and opened it up anew. No, I wasn’t imagining it. This really was a lengthy list of reproaches against the Jews for rejecting and crucifying Jesus. And this was the cleaned up, post-Vatican II version of the church!

I led you out of Egypt,
from slavery to freedom,
but you led your Savior to the cross.

For forty years I led you
safely through the desert.
I fed you with manna from heaven,
and brought you to a land of plenty; but you led your Savior to the cross.

What more could I have done for you.
I planted you as my fairest vine,
but you yielded only bitterness:
when I was thirsty you gave me vinegar to drink,
and you pierced your Savior with a lance.

For your sake I scourged your captors
and their firstborn sons,
but you brought your scourges down on me.

I led you from slavery to freedom
and drowned your captors in the sea,
but you handed me over to your high priests.

I opened the sea before you,
but you opened my side with a spear.

I led you on your way in a pillar of cloud,
but you led me to Pilate’s court.

I bore you up with manna in the desert,
but you struck me down and scourged me.

I gave you saving water from the rock,
but you gave me gall and vinegar to drink.

For you I struck down the kings of Canaan.
but you struck my head with a reed.

I gave you a royal scepter,
but you gave me a crown of thorns.

I raised you to the height of majesty,
but you have raised me high on a cross.

As it turns out The Reproaches, also known as the Improperia, date back to the 9th century. They were abandoned by Anglican liturgy (which explains why I never heard them) but are still used in the Catholic and Lutheran churches. Of course, these days Christians are no longer the reigning antisemites on the earth; Islamists have handily taken up that torch (viciously persecuting Christians too while they’re at it). But I couldn’t help but feel unnerved by this relic in the modern liturgy, and the historical association between antisemitism and passion plays suddenly made a whole lot more sense.

Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course

Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course is a surprisingly enjoyable 2002 film featuring Steve Irwin wrestling crocodiles, chasing perenties, and handling venemous snakes in unscripted takes that were later written into an espionage thriller. If it sounds cheesy, it definitely is, but somehow it all fuses into a funny, family-friendly movie.

crochunter

Irwin’s ebullience is contagious as he sings the praises of Australian wildlife. We also get to meet his soft spoken American wife, and his real-life pet dog Sui who died in 2004, 2 years before Irwin himself died in a stingray accident.

I had no idea Irwin ever starred in a feature length film. My now-teenagers loved Animal Planet as toddlers, so I’ve seen more than a few Crocodile Hunter episodes. While Irwin was a superb naturalist, he was, above all, a circus style showman and clearly relished the role. He was criticized by animal rights groups for his theatrics with dangerous animals, and was universally hissed for feeding zoo crocodiles with his baby son tucked in the crook of his arm. However, I was hard pressed to label him a buffoon during the breathtaking Collision Course scenes where he deftly and enthusiastically handles snakes, tarantulas, and crocodiles. There is a particularly astonishing sequence midway through the film where Irwin chases a 12 foot crocodile through swampy waterways, wrestling it onto his boat; it’s worth watching the film for that scene alone. There’s even a cute rendition of Crocodile Rock over the end credits, performed by the Baha Men.

An interesting idiosyncrasy of the film is that it was filmed with two different aspect ratios- one for the “documentary” scenes and another for the “movie” scenes. On a widescreen TV this leaves a dark “frame” around the former with the latter appearing as a typical movie. But the best thing about this film is that it’s perfectly family friendly, with no sex or significant violence- so if you have little kids in the house, grab some popcorn and hit the couch. Collision Course is available on netflix streaming as of this posting.

Low Carb for Type 2 Diabetes

It was with great surprise during my last pregnancy that I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. I started out the pregnancy on the edge of underweight and had gained all of five pounds when diagnosed. What’s more, I was eating like a health nut, as I’ve been doing for roughly the past 8 years. My only risk factor for gestational diabetes was that I was pregnant at age 40.

I was even more surprised when my diabetic reaction to glucose didn’t go away after I delivered my son. In fact, it got worse. At five months post partum my glucose tolerance results were even worse than when I was pregnant, and I was officially diagnosed as type 2 diabetic. However, my A1C was normal which didn’t surprise me: by that point I’d been eating a low to moderately low carb diet for ten months. I averaged 50 net carbs a day, and never more than 100. The typical American eats at least 300 carbs a day.

It didn’t take me long when I was pregnant to figure out the “healthy” foods I’d grown so fond of while a health-conscious vegan made my blood sugar shoot sky high. What’s more, these were all foods recommended by ADA guidelines: whole grains, starchy vegetables, beans, and fresh fruits. The only foods that kept my blood sugar in check were low carb ones, namely meats, fish, eggs, fats, hard cheeses, non starchy vegetables (salad greens and cruciferous vegetables), tofu (including black soy bean products) and nuts.

This is when I stumbled across the strangest dietary mystery of our time: low carb diets are specifically not recommended for type 2 diabetics! Why? I’m not sure. Reasons I’ve seen range from “you need carbs for energy” (not true) or “diabetics wouldn’t follow a low carb diet” (maybe true) to “diabetics shouldn’t be ‘punished’ by following a different diet from the rest of America” (I guess true, but it feels far from punishment to eat lamb, roasted tofu, or almond butter by the spoonful).

Thinking I must be missing something I checked out some diabetic cookbooks from the library. Upon perusing them at home I noted they contained very few low carb recipes and were more of the same- whole grains, beans, starchy vegetables and fruit. Many recipes contained sugar. I tried a batch of a brown rice & kidney bean recipe only to find my blood sugar at 200 two hours later. How could this be considered healthy for diabetics by any stretch of the imagination? When I ate low carb, my blood sugar rarely cracked 100.

I’ve narrowed it down to one of three conclusions.

  1. I’m simply out of touch with how america eats. Admittedly, I’ve been a foodified health nut for a while now. For me it was easy and natural to give up anything with sugar. For the rest of america, not so much. In this respect the ADA is being realistic in how actual people actually eat and isn’t asking too much of them beyond switching to whole grains, from refined grains
  2. This is a deliberate conspiracy by big pharma to keep people dependent on their drugs. Because if all type 2 diabetics ate low carb diets and were able to keep their A1C in check, there would be little need for the various medicines they promote for treating diabetes.
  3. 90% of people with diabetes are overweight to obese. People like me, who are thin but diabetic, are the minority. So encouraging any kind of food restriction in this group might result in weight loss, which might in turn result in less glucose sensitivity. Again, this would be a case of being realistic and pragmatic.

I don’t know which answer is correct, or perhaps it’s a meld of all three, but all I can tell you is that following some degree of carb restriction is almost guaranteed to have a positive effect on A1C over time.

There is an exception to all this. Certain starchy foods will develop resistant starch if they are cooked, cooled, and reheated. For instance you could cook potatoes, cool them in the fridge overnight, then reheat them, a type 2 diabetic can eat them with less danger than eating them freshly cooked. This is phenomena only recently being explored, so if you are type 2 diabetic, proceed with caution. From my own trial and error I’ve found quinoa and potatoes have less impact on blood sugar once cooked, cooled, and reheated, but if you are seriously disabled by type 2 diabetes I wouldn’t recommend venturing into this realm if you can at all tolerate eating a low to moderately low carb diet.

Additionally, if you are meat averse like me (I love lamb, but not every day) rest assured that there are copious low carb choices for vegans and vegetarians. Eating low carb does not mean eating slabs of meat with each meal. In fact today I’ve eaten mainly greens and nuts, with a frittata in the oven for dinner. Many days I still manage to eat exclusively vegan between nuts, greens, guacamole, and vegetable oils.

So if you are type 2 diabetic and happen to come across this blog, I implore you to explore low to moderate carb options for eating. It may well save your life in the long run.

Birth of the Blob

After much anticipation I underwent the lipoma excision yesterday morning. I took a cab way way down to the south shore; my driver was a cantankerous Russian emigre who railed the entire 30 minute trip about Obama and liberals. He left the Soviet Union for a reason, he said, only to find himself in the up and coming version of it. He wished me luck as I hopped out of the car, and I made my way to admissions.

All the other patients in the surgical unit were old and sick. My brief roommate was an elderly Italian lady who smoked a pack a day. She chatted with her husband in Italian in between answering nurse questions in english. They did a finger prick on her. “180!” scolded the nurse; “I bet you ate pasta last night.” (Fasting blood sugar should, ideally, be in the 90-120ish range for type 2 diabetics). My heart sank for her as I’ve recently been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes myself (that’s another post) but I’ve managed to control it completely with diet. My fasting level that morning was 75.

Eventually I was rolled down to the operating room. They flopped me onto my stomach, knocked me out, and the next thing I knew I was shown my new “baby” in a metal specimen pan. I stared in amazement at the lump I incubated on my back for the better part of seven years: about 4 by 7 inches, it looked like a globby, raw pork chop. They turned me face up and to my sheer delight I could feel the whole surface of the operating table against my back. I haven’t been able to lie completely flat on my back for years.

But my joy was short-lived. A few hours after being discharged, and while reluctantly filling a prescription for Percocet at Walgreens, the area around the incision became hideously and abruptly swollen. I somehow managed to drive back home and called the nurses’ station in mild panic, then called the surgeon’s answering service. They said to go to the ER.

Instead of heading back to the south shore (I have a nursing baby to worry about) I went to the local ER on the north shore. That ER was packed and I waited, and waited, and waited. Why not try one of those percocets? I thought to myself, and downed one with a gulp of bottled water. While I felt a relaxing haze within the hour, I found myself wondering what all the fuss was about. These were the pills that became the scourge of Staten Island, driving the south shore into a heroin epidemic? Honestly, wine is much better!

The ER was clogged with uninsured persons seeking medical care for mild complaints. The girl next to me had a stomach ache. The Chilean couple behind me had a headache. The pack of kids sat across from me looked the portrait of health. I shifted back and forth in the plastic chair, hoping the fierce pressure wouldn’t crack open my stitches. In light of my recent diabetes diagnosis, I observed with horror the foods being eaten all around me. The pack of kids downed chips and soda. The sign-in attendant ate Cheetos washed down with Coke.

er

cheetos

In the corner of the waiting room loomed a series of vending machines offering yet more treacherous foods. After three hours of waiting I stumbled to the sign-in lady and asked where I was on the list. She scrolled through names and said she wasn’t sure. I scanned the screen myself and she snapped at me, in between bites of Cheetos, to stand away from the monitor.

“Well you see…” I said with some effort, feeling dizzy- maybe the Percocet hit me harder than I realized- “I have a breastfeeding baby at home, and I can’t remain here… indefinitely.”

She looked at the screen again. “I dunno,” she shrugged.”Maybe you’re next.”

And I was next. She ushered me to a private curtained room that, compared to the miserable waiting room, felt like a luxury hotel. Using my sweater as a pillow I lay sideways on the exam table in an effort to relieve the relentless swelling. Eventually a resident appeared and examined my back. Her verdict was it was severe post surgical swelling, but not a hematoma. She later returned with the head of surgery- a tall and ridiculously handsome guy, and looking at him I felt I’d been transported into a soap opera- but he decided it was indeed a hematoma. They ordered blood work to see how severe it was, and I knew that meant another two hour wait. So I took another percocet.

By this point it was “quiet time” in the hospital as announced over the intercom. Lights were dimmed. The poor soul parked outside my room on a gurney snored quietly.

gurney

I stared at the ceiling for a long time

ceiling

and noticed the vitals monitor still registered the year as 2014. I hand expressed breastmilk onto paper towel

breastmilk

took a selfie

selfie

and prayed my son at home would take the formula offered to him. A nurse popped his head in. “I recognize you!” he said, and sure enough he’d been the nurse for the vascular surgeon when I had my ablation done. The ER was his second job. I asked if he could check on my blood results, which, happily, were normal. I could go home.

This morning the swelling is still bad but not nearly as ferocious as yesterday. Here is a picture of my back as of two hours ago. I guess this is the closest I’ll ever come to a topless picture. It does sort of look like a boob!

hematoma
ceci n’est pas une boob

Thoughts on the Mouse Experiment

A few months ago I blogged about a weight loss experiment where mice were fed the same amount of food over different time windows. One group of mice was restricted to 12 hours a day, while the other group of mice was allowed food access 24 hours a day. The seemingly surprising result was that time restricted mice lost weight while their open access peers did not, despite the fact that both groups consumed the same number of calories. That latter group also exhibited signs of diabetes. At face value this appears to refute the calories-in-calories-out theory.

As I lay in bed last night it dawned on me: the restricted mouse group was probably more active, thus burning more calories, than the open access group. Animals fed a restricted diet (at some point over those 12 hours the mice were bound to be hungry) are known to be more energetic and active than more generously-fed comparison groups. This has been documented in calorie restriction experiments on monkeys and is a natural reaction to hunger; if an animal is agitated and energetic it will put more effort into foraging or hunting for food. The same could be said of humans: people who fast often report an initial “burst of energy” before the eventual onset of weakness and lethargy.

The explanation of excess energy expenditure is so obvious that one wonders why it wasn’t brought up in the nytimes article. As far as I know, researchers didn’t adjust for activity level in the described study.

But the takeaway for dieters might still be salient: make sure you go a certain stretch of time not eating such that you feel at least some hunger. This will probably trigger increased physical agitation even if you’re not aware of it. “Fidgety” people burn as many calories as joggers- so intentionally putting yourself in a restless state might have a positive (or, negative as the case may be) effect on the scale.

mouse2

House of Cards Season 3

(spoiler free)

I marathon-watched the third season of House of Cards over the weekend and into Monday. Sitting around nursing a baby affords a copious amount of time to stare mindlessly at screens (I’ve also watched Bosch, available on Amazon prime, and the last mini-season of 24. Both were excellent.). By and large I came away impressed. Spacey’s acting is, as always, superb, and Robin Wright is outstanding as the chilly and enigmatic Claire Underwood. I even started to like Remy (played by Mahershala Ali) this time around.

This third season is less plot driven than the previous two seasons, with fewer twists and turns or cliffhangers. Instead these episodes are atmospheric, philosophical, and brooding, with lots of time spent on weighty issues like gender, marriage and the corruptive influence of power. The topic of gay rights is also pushed heavily, so much so that it starts to feel a bit implausible and ridiculous.

Speaking of ridiculous, there is a bizarre scene toward the end of the season where Ms. Underwood encounters a frazzled stay-at-home-mom. As I’ve mentioned before, housewives have lost their status in popular culture and are now usually depicted as unstable, pathetic women dragging down womanhood. House of Cards does not diverge from this profile. There’s even a brief breastfeeding incident, while a horrified Ms. Underwood shoos away the secret service guy and tries to flee herself. But this is a magic Hollywood baby who only needs a few seconds to nurse (even the most efficient nursing baby needs a good five minutes per boob) so the horror is over quickly.

I was surprised by how dark and depressing the third season is. It’s literally dark- most scenes are dimly lit interior shots, and the overall effect is one of claustrophobia and entrapment. But if you’re a House of Cards fan like me, you won’t come away disappointed as this new season is well worth watching.

The Blob

I don’t care how natural it is: I will never get used to breastfeeding in public. I even get the willies when I see other women nurse in public. I was once on the subway and a mother with huge boobs yanked up (on both sides) her already skimpy tank top for the baby to slurp away. I’m not saying women shouldn’t breastfeed in public, or even that they should be discreet about it- some babies are picky, and I know from experience there are times you have little choice. The baby’s screaming, he won’t or can’t take a bottle, and the only source of nourishment is straight from the tap. I used to hide in bathrooms, but it’s disgusting staring at a toilet bowl for 20 minutes while the baby nurses, and bathrooms aren’t always an option depending on the circumstance. But no matter how trendy breastfeeding might be, I’ll never be comfortable flashing my tatas to complete strangers, and if that means I’m repressed so be it.

Yesterday I was at another doctor’s appointment, this time to see a surgeon about the ever-growing lipoma on my back. In the waiting room it was just me, the baby, and a burly guy in workboots. And sure enough the baby started squirming and complaining. I glared at the baby. Seriously? I nursed you right before we left! 

I stared at the burly guy, stared at his workboots, stared forlornly at the Monet prints above his head, and reluctantly unbuckled my offspring. As discreetly as possible (let’s face it, there is nothing “discreet” about lifting your shirt up in public) I latched the baby onto my boob. I stared miserably at those workboots, trying to avoid eye contact with this poor guy who woke up that morning not knowing he’d have to watch a tiny human lap milk off another person’s chest. There’s a reason I didn’t become a stripper, I fumed inwardly. And this is it!

Finally the nurse called me in; I rebuckled the baby and made my way to the exam room where a very pleasant surgeon examined my back. “Oh wow,” he said upon sight of the lump (edge to edge it’s at least 5 inches). He explained it could be removed but the incision would be large and leave a scar.

“I don’t care about scarring,” I told him. “This thing is driving me crazy!”

Once home I looked up lipoma excisions on youtube. Youtube is remarkable in this respect: if you can comb through the stupidity and pornography there is a treasure trove of knowledge to be had. I found a video showing a lipoma the size of mine being removed and it was like watching a c-section birth of The Blob. I think I’ll be five pounds lighter when this thing is out.

My husband keeps joking it’s a sentient being, like those Star Trek episodes where one of the crew discovers his arm has been impregnated via alien contact. So it looks like my son will have an irish twin in the coming weeks. At least I won’t have to breastfeed it!

The Flat Tire

Yesterday started out as an unusual day. My two high schoolers had off, as did my younger children. My husband worked from home due to snow, despite little accumulation. After watching my 6th grader scrounge through a bag of hand-me-downs for a gym t-shirt, I decided today would be a good day to hit the uniform store for the much procrastinated new gym shirts, gym pants, and cardigans. I nursed the baby, bundled him into his car seat (he prefers his car seat to the crib for some reason), left him under the not-so-watchful eye of his 7 older siblings and headed off to the uniform store in my husband’s car. I’d only be gone 30 minutes. What could go wrong?

I was in the zone driving. I admit I enjoy the occasional break from the swarm of children I gave birth to. No whining, no germy hands yanking my clothes, no one begging for their tenth slice of cheddar cheese, no teen drama (“I ate five cookies, I’m sooo fat!!!)” nor my oldest son’s condescension. Just me, the road, and the radio. Until WHAM. I hit something turning into the parking lot.

Immediately the “tire alert” lit up on the dashboard. I’d hit the curb which was obscured by recently fallen snow.

I jumped out of the vehicle. Hissssssss…. air gushed from the front tire. I fumbled for my phone and dialed home. “I’ve got a huge problem,” I sputtered to my husband, who’d just replaced these tires at great expense. “I hit… hit… the curb and the tire’s dying before my eyes.” By the time I hung up it was completely flat, deflated hard against the pavement. My husband assured me he’d call AAA but the gravity of the situation quickly hit home: I had a breastfeeding infant miles away who was used to nursing every 45 minutes, and 30 minutes had already elapsed since his last meal.

See, this is the problem with breastfeeding. Unless you’re copious at the breast pump (I’m not) and unless your baby likes to drink from bottles (he doesn’t), a hiccup like this quickly turns into an emergency for both of us. For him, because he can’t eat; for me, because here I am producing milk in abundance with no baby to drain it. I tried to stay zen, bought the cardigan, gym pants and shirt, and asked the girl at the counter if I could wait in the store until AAA appeared. The AAA phone lady assured my husband a tow tuck would be at my service “momentarily,” but momentarily turned into half an hour, an hour, two hours…

A fellow customer took pity on my plight. “If you tell them you feel threatened, AAA shows up faster,” he advised. “Say you’re in a neighborhood full of white people- and you’re terrified for your life!” The store broke out in a chorus of guffaws.

But the minutes kept ticking by, and this is where the mommy brain kicked in and I began to panic. Each time I called my husband, the baby wailed piteously in the background. I talked my 12 year old through the steps of preparing a bottle of formula- our largely ineffective stop gap measure when I had leg surgery- but he doesn’t like it and always spits it right back up. At the three hour mark I begged my husband to say or do anything to get that tow truck to appear (he has the gift for the gab, I don’t). I’m not sure what he said but a tow truck did indeed materialize 10 minutes later.

It may as well have been a white steed in lieu of a beat up truck, and the pot bellied, disheveled driver was suddenly the handsomest man I’d ever seen: he would take me back to my baby! I watched with joy as the car was loaded up…

flat tire

… and, advising him I’d never ridden in a tow truck before, hopped in the cab. There were empty McDonald’s wrappers and soda bottles everywhere, and what looked like a bottle of some kind of homeopathic remedy in the ashtray. I noticed he had a Batman tattoo so I had to ask- Are you a comic book fan? Turns out he was, so we chatted about comic books as we rumbled through the familiar Staten Island streets.

I inquired: was he originally from Staten Island, and did he like it here? Yes and no respectively; Staten Island is no place to raise kids, he said grimly, not with all the heroin. He had plans to escape to Virginia. I macabre shiver ran down my spine as he described rampant heroin use on the South Shore, though I tactfully pointed out I grew up in New England and the kids there did plenty of drugs too.

“I watch a show filmed in England!” he said excitedly. “It’s called Skins.”

This isn’t the first time a native Staten Islander seemingly doesn’t know what “New England” means, and instead thinks I’m British. So I just went with it and said I’d check it out.

I practically ran home from the auto body shop where my new friend and I deposited the car, tore up the stairs despite my sore leg, and there was my 12 year old dutifully cramming a bottle into my chubby baby’s mouth. I gathered him up as though it had been weeks, not hours since last we met, and popped him on my breast while I relayed the tow truck adventure to my husband.

“I’ve never been so glad to be home,” I sighed, a la Dorothy. As though in reply the baby melted against me and guzzled down milk.

Russian Ark

I was delighted to see Russian Ark is currently on netflix streaming. This is the most remarkable film I’ve ever seen, not only for the fact that it was filmed in a single 96 minute sequence shot (perhaps the only film ever made is such a manner?) but also for its understated pathos and beautiful acting.

This is a tough film to describe. I’m not even sure if this deserves a spoiler warning, because there really is no plot per se. The “narrator,” whom we never see, abruptly finds himself in Russia’s Hermitage after some kind of accident. Time “bends” in the Hermitage allowing him to observe salient points of Russian history, including Catherine the Great and Tsars Nicholas I and II. Along the way he encounters a 19th century European diplomat (based on the Marquis de Custine) who becomes the “narrator’s” critical tour guide through the palaces and their treasures.

While this may all sound very highbrow the film is in fact charming, visually stunning, and easy to watch. It is also imbued with the mysterious aura of a ghost story; the insertion of modern day Navy sailors browsing the collection is almost certainly a sad nod to the Kursk submarine disaster which occurred two years before the film was made.

This is a scene where the grandson of the Iranian Shah ceremonially apologizes to Tsar Nicholas I for the murder of Russian diplomats at the hands of an enraged mob. There are no subtitles in this clip, but it’s pretty self-explanatory.

The film never comes out and states that these events are taking place in some sort of afterlife, but it sprinkles breadcrumbs through the narrative suggesting that the Hermitage has been transformed into a purgatory or way station of sorts for souls of the departed. For instance, in one scene the marquis complains a man “smells of formaldehyde.”

Sergei Dreiden is brilliant as the temperamental and opinionated marquis who glides through the palace, effectively embodying the splendor and ceremony of a bygone era.

The Interview

~spoiler free~

I’m ashamed to admit I enjoyed The Interview, currently on netflix streaming. Despite the incredibly, massively, shockingly gratuitous amount of scatological humor (I don’t think five seconds of the film transpire without mention of bodily functions or genitals) I found myself cackling with laughter throughout.

The general plot is probably well known thanks to the Sony hack, which, incidentally, I still don’t believe was instigated by North Korea. Perverse tabloid TV host Dave Skylark (James Franco) and his brofriend/ producer Aaron Rapaport (Seth Rogen) snag an interview with Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un (Randall Park), the CIA gets involved, and international mayhem ensues.

ciainterview
Franco and Rogen conspire with the CIA

The acting was surprisingly good- Franco plays Skylark as a likable Satan incarnate; Rogen’s Rapaport is satisfyingly three dimensional with inner clashes of arrogance and self-doubt, and Randall is especially compelling as a blustering Kim Jong-un. The great performances are all the more remarkable given how stupid and trite the script is.

The pacing is well done and the film’s overall moral or message- well I’m not sure what the moral is- but it’s generally positive and patriotic, which almost makes me believe Rogen’s mea culpa concerning his tweet about American Sniper. If they’d wanted to trash America, there was ample opportunity to do so in The Interview but it maintains a pro-American stance, even giving a nod to the Navy SEALs.

I do wonder how offensive Kim Jong-un himself might find the film. So much of the film rests on wordplay, and lowbrow American cultural capital, that he might simply find it utterly incomprehensible and bizarre.

 

“Frozen” as Anti-Male Manifesto

[spoiler heavy]

As I’ve mentioned previously, I didn’t really like the film Frozen. The plot doesn’t make sense. The animation is weird, especially the big eyeballs on the female leads.

bigeyedelsa
Demon Elsa

The music is cute but so-so. And the underlying anti-male stance of the narrative is disturbing, though in my immediate circle no one other than me seems to notice or care. My husband thought the film was fantastic, even my uptight son gives it two thumbs up. Nevertheless Frozen has seized the heart of pretty much every girl on the planet, including my own daughters. The non-verbal three year old- whose fourth birthday is fast approaching- is obsessed with the film. She actually does have about ten words on a good day, among them: Anna (“Ahh… nahh”), Olaf (“Oh-woff”), Sven (“Fen”) and the occasional Let it Go (“Edit Oh”). Thanks to her I’ve had the dubious honor of watching the film at least a hundred times, so I now consider myself a Frozen expert, and my opinion of the film remains unchanged.

There are no positive male roles in the movie; men in Frozen are evil, useless, or chumps. Grandpappy is nice, but he’s, well, a troll. Olaf is funny, but other than his name he’s not exactly a man, sounds androgynous, and his body is always falling apart (granting the audience lots of “my butt” jokes). Prince Hans is evil to the core, and we have a Duke from the repeatedly mispronounced “Weasel-town.” Kristoff is sweet but he’s what the manosphere calls a beta- he lets Anna order him around and even goes so far as to deliver her to another man (Prince Hans). In the song “Fixer Upper” sung by his adoptive troll family, we learn that Kristoff is: clumsy, grumpy, has weirdly shaped feet, smelly, mentally touched, and leave it to Disney to make an overt reference to bestiality.

His thing with the reindeer…
That’s a little outside of nature’s laws!

The song goes on to call him socially impaired, cowardly, unmanly, and makes fun of how he pees in the woods (where else is an outdoorsman supposed to pee?). In other words, even though the song sounds cute and upbeat, it does nothing but bash Kristoff, the only decent guy in the film, as a perverted loser.

The movie has strong underpinnings of lesbianism (not that there’s anything wrong with that), further sidelining men. At first I thought I was imagining it but the more I watched it the more obvious it became. Elsa is born with a “shameful secret” that her parents urge her to suppress (Don’t let them see/ Be the good girl you were always meant to be/ Conceal/ Don’t feel/ Don’t let them know…/Well now they know!) even going so far as to cover up her hands so she can’t touch anything- especially her sister. When she learns of her sister’s nascent relationship with Prince Hans she freaks out and goes on an ice frenzy, even recoiling from a baby (i.e. the quintessential emblem of heterosexuality) encountered outside the palace. When Anna is about to marry Kristoff in the impromptu troll wedding, she faints just before the words “I do” because of the “ice” her sister placed in her heart. At this point it isn’t much of a stretch to reread the title of the film as “Frigid.”

Then we have the “act of true love” which is the only remedy for Anna’s ice affliction. She interprets this as a potential kiss from Hans- “true love’s kiss.”  Even though Kristoff has selflessly put himself at risk any number of times for her benefit, the kiss doesn’t come from either him or Hans, but instead is the act of Anna sacrificing herself to save Elsa (remember Elsa has been nothing but cruel to Anna throughout the whole film!) And then, when they embrace in a near-kiss, Anna is saved too.

elsaanna
Not quite a kiss, but close enough.

So instead of a guy-girl climax we have a girl-girl one. Once they embrace and cling to each other for a while, the kingdom is set right, with Hans getting punched in the face by Anna and Kristoff getting a lousy peck on the cheek.

Since the film is based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” I was curious if all this gender stuff might be found in the original tale or if it was grafted on by Disney. The original story has been revised beyond recognition for Frozen, but the “search” in the original is a girl searching for a boy kidnapped by the Snow Queen. The girl then embarks on an epic journey to rescue him, so in that respect Disney maintains the brave female protagonist (Anna) but gets rid of the boy as the girl’s objective.

Make of it what you will, but if you have daughters you’re probably stuck with Frozenmania. Just this morning I had to break up a fight between the three and six year olds over an Elsa doll, which they carry around, in turns, like a totem.

Time Restriction for Weight Loss

The NYtimes recently reported on a study where time restricted eating (TRE) produced interesting results when applied to mice.

Mice fed a high fat, high sugar diet were divided into two groups: one that could eat whenever it wanted over a 24 hour period, and another that could eat as much as it wanted over just 12 hours.

While both mouse groups gained weight on the high fat/ sugar diet, the mice allowed unrestricted eating gained twice as much despite eating the same number of calories. These fatter mice also developed symptoms of diabetes while the time restricted mice did not. Even more remarkable, the obese mice lost weight when a TRE was applied to them, even if they continued to consume the same number of calories! This certainly flies in the face of the calories in/ calories expended model, which I’ve always thought was the most legitimate explanation for weight gain or loss.

There has been much speculation over rising obesity statistics, with couch potatoes and high fructose corn syrup typically targeted as usual suspects. Could it be, though, that the loss of traditional family mealtimes has been the primary cause? Once upon a time families ate together at set times, with meals prepared by the women of the house. With mom “guarding the gates” people were restricted to what they could eat and when. Fast forward to today, with less food being made from scratch and more women applying their efforts outside the household, and snacking and convenience foods have increased exponentially. Convenience foods like chips, crackers and packaged cookies are easy to snack on, whereas a homemade dessert served by mom after dinner doesn’t lend itself as well to around the clock snacking. And once mom closed up the kitchen after dinner, it was lock stock and barrel. Not so much anymore, and definitely not in my house. People grab what they want, when they want it, and we have no set mealtimes. However as I’ve mentioned before, my children are strangely effective at regulating their own food intake and none are overweight.

When I was a young child my mother was very strict about food. Diving into the fridge or cabinet for a snack was unheard of, and if I didn’t want what was put on the table I didn’t eat (and indeed I didn’t eat much of the time). As I got older, though, they lightened up and let me eat between meals and allowed different foods beyond the main course. For me this was a good thing as I’d grown quite underweight, but I can see how a kitchen gatekeeper might be beneficial for people prone to obesity.

So how should this translate for adults who want to lose weight? I don’t think it needs to be too complicated- just make sure you go 12 hours out of any given 24 hour period without food intake of any kind (except water, obviously). What I’d like to know is if the 12 hours can be staggered, or if the body needs a straight 12 hours without calories to replicate the mouse study effect (I’m going to assume the body is forced into brief ketosis during this period without food; this is why we can go to bed hungry but wake up feeling full).

I’ve always had a rule with myself that I don’t eat between 12 noon and 5pm. Sometimes I go 11am to 5pm without so much as a lettuce leaf. In addition I try not to eat after 7pm, so I’m technically restricting more than 12 hours- probably 17 to 18 hours a day. But I sleep a lot- and eat heartily when I do have a meal, so I’m not eating low calorie by any means.

The Great Monkey Chase

Nomads of the Rainforest is a 1984 documentary about the Huaorani people, an indigenous society dwelling in the rainforest of Ecuador. When this documentary was filmed 30 years ago, the Huaorani had only recently abandoned a life of constant infighting; up to that point fully 70% of Huaorani men died prematurely in spear attacks from rival groups. The Huaorani are the tribe famous for killing five evangelical missionaries who visited in 1955. Today, Huaorani men spend their days hunting while the women weave hammocks and tend small garden patches, and the children care for household pets such as monkeys and harpy eagles.

Like most indigenous cultures, the Huaorani devote a massive amount of time to the procurement and preparation of food (compare this to Rachel Ray’s 30 minute meals). The best part of the documentary begins at 42:00 when the camera follows the 60 year old tribal patriarch as he embarks on a wild monkey hunt. Armed with a blow gun and poison darts, he tracks the monkey for three hours, expends 30 darts at targets ten stories above him, more than once climbing trees just as high- all this for 20 pounds of monkey meat. Watching him hunt, it occurred to me that he was probably expending more calories catching the monkey than he would obtain from eating it, as the monkey would be divided between his extended family back at the hut. With the women growing casava, peanuts, corn, plantains, sweet potato, and turnips you almost had to wonder why the men bother chasing wildlife in the first place. I guess it keeps them out of the women’s hair, and with spear attacks a thing of the past they have to pass the time somehow.

The more I learn about indigenous Amazonians, the more I am struck by how remarkable it is that my paternal great uncle emerged alive- much less unscathed- from his stay with the Yanomamo so many years ago. The Amazon has historically been referred to by explorers as “Green Hell;” not only do visitors face violent and unpredictable tribes, but the vast assortment of poisonous and carnivorous wildlife stands poised to maim and/or eat you at any moment.

Nomads of the Jungle is available in full on youtube, but be forewarned that as with most documentaries about indigenous people, the film contains nonstop nudity. At least Huaorani moms are spared the toil of three loads of laundry a day.

Lost in Conspiracyland

A couple weeks ago a friend suggested the film Snowpiercer to me. I watched a few minutes but was quickly turned off. Too much violence and gore. But it stuck in my head and I eventually revisited it.

I’ve discussed so-called Illuminati symbolism before, and as I said then I don’t particularly believe in it. Yes, there are weird symbols and hints in popular culture, and yes, some are so bizarre and “coincidental” I can’t explain it, but as I said before: if I were an evil genius bent on world domination, the last people I’d entrust with my mission would be a bunch of stupid actors and singers. And I’m hard pressed to believe the government is so organized that it can dictate the minutiae of Family Guy. They can’t even de-bug the healthcare exchange for cripes sake!

Yet as I watched Snowpiercer it became clear the film is filled with precisely this kind of symbolism, so much so it is less story (most of the “plot” makes no sense) and more “conspiracy allegory…” for lack of a better term.

This led me to the fertile fields of youtube to look for videos on the occult symbolism in the film, and down the rabbit hole I fell. I’ve spent the last week watching endless of hours of conspiracy theories, youtube style.

One of the stranger conspiracy theories I came across is that Michelle Obama is, in fact, a man. At face value this seems plausible: she sure looks like a dude in women’s clothing

michelleaman
c’est un homme!

… (she is 5’11,” and hefty as of late, after all) plus my highly accurate gaydar has gone off for President Obama since he was a wee state senator. But the conspiracist’s “proof” for her maleness is that Michelle’s ring fingers are longer than her pointer fingers. Uggggh. That’s very lame evidence indeed, as my own ring fingers are longer than my pointer fingers, especially on my left hand

hand

… yet I’m very much female & have the breastfeeding newborn to prove it.

breastfeeding2

Jennifer Aniston’s ring finger’s are likewise longer than her pointer fingers (same for Serena Williams) so this too, according to the conspiracy video, means they were born male. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

Not to get too conspiratorial but there is the theory that there are operatives within the conspiracy community who intentionally plant stupid theories to make the rest of the theorists look stoopid. So I’m going to have to chalk the “Michelle Obama is a guy” theory up to a double agent. I mean, we all know some women look mannish, and if Obama is gay it would make sense he selected a masculine woman as his face-value life partner.

However Joan Rivers- not long before she died- blithely told a reporter that Obama is gay and the first lady a “tranny.” Two months later she was dead. Coincidence? Go to youtube to learn more… at your own peril.

Kate Gosselin Lands a Rich Guy

Kate Gosselin of Kate Plus 8 fame has snagged herself a CEO. Not only that but she’s looking damn good in recent interviews, so I have to recant my catty statements concerning her appearance. Maybe she quit smoking, or found a better botox salon, but with preternaturally glossy hair and larger-than-last-time boobs she cuts an impressive figure for a woman almost as ancient as I am. I’d call this look a mix of porn star + beauty queen. How does she get her hair so glossy?

thenewkate

Not only that but she has 8 kiddos!

When I saw this article I excitedly called my husband to the room. “Kate Gosselin has a boyfriend!”

He looked confused. “Who dates a woman with 8 kids?”

“Maybe he pays for nannies so he never sees them,” I suggested.

“Someone that rich could find someone without the need for nannies.”

“Maybe he likes her personality- some guys like controlling women.”

He remained baffled.

I have no idea if the new beau really is rich or not; some people look good on paper but aren’t in fact worth anything. Now if only someone could come along to rescue Octomom- I daresay she needs the help more than Kate.

My husband then speculated about Jon’s feelings. I doubt he cares much. Over the last season of Jon and Kate Plus 8 he looked perpetually stoned and disinterested.

White Flag

I surrender: life with a newborn 8th has abruptly turned rough. When I brought him home- at a teeny 5 lb 13 oz- he was very, very sleepy. This picture was taken during a rare moment of wakefulness.

20141111_081811
scrawniculus infantus

For the other 23 hours he slept while I lived the good life- cleaning the house, taking the odd nap myself. I was the one waking him up to get him to nurse. Being the oblivious person I am, I didn’t realize constant sleepiness is normal for somewhat premature infants and life would soon change.

Fast forward to today and he’s a hulking 11 lbs 3 oz,

11 lbs
chris christie cheeks

…and is awake during the day more often than not, and grumpy. Because we had no heat he grew accustomed to sleeping next to me, and now he absolutely won’t sleep unless some part of him is squished against some part of me. Being a light sleeper I constantly toss and turn while he wakes with every toss or turn, wants to nurse, passes out asleep the second he latches on, over and over and over again. I know this is how indigenous women in the jungle wile away their nights, but I’m not an indigenous woman and I desperately need a little uninterrupted sleep.

Last night I decided to kick him out of bed. I put him in the crib, which I’ve tried before but this time I meant business. I grabbed my hand-me-down smartphone and used the timer app to count down 15 minutes. No matter how much he screamed I would steadfastly ignore him and surely he’d fall asleep. And boy did he scream! I cracked at 9 minutes, tucked him up against me in bed, and we spent the rest of the night waking each other up.

His favorite trick is using me as a human mattress which wasn’t so bad at 5 lbs, but at 11 lbs I can barely breathe with him crushing my rib cage. Maybe I need a tougher rib cage.

human mattresscan’t…. breathe

 

Hearthstone Review

My son is now a published writer twice over. This is his review of Blizzard’s Hearthstone published in the school paper.

*

Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is a free-to-play online turn-based collectible card game developed by Blizzard Entertainment. The game is available on Windows, Mac, iPad, and eventually will be released on Android tablets and iOS/Android Phones at some point in 2015. Set in the Warcraft universe, the game revolves around two players with a deck of 30 cards each attempting to reduce the other player’s life to 0, winning the game. What makes the game interesting is the nine classes each player can pick to base a deck on. Each class has its own unique abilities and cards to use, so each class has its own particular tactics in the game. The game has hundreds of cards to pick from (and by the time you read this article, at least a hundred more will be added in the game’s first major expansion), allowing players to create a wide variety of different compositions to utilize.

Compared to more traditional collectible card games, the rules of Hearthstone are relatively easy to get into and understand. The closest thing they can be compared to is Magic: The Gathering where you use mana you gain every turn to summon increasingly powerful cards with various abilities. Despite its seemingly simple design, there are a lot of intricacies to the game. In fact, it has a sizable professional community, with the 2014 Hearthstone Tournament boasting a $250,000 prize pool for its participants.

Compared to other free-to-play titles, the game has a fairly decent model, but it is important to remember that this is still a card game, and these always tend to favor those with money to buy tons of cards. You have a set of 60-80 cards for free when you first create an account, gaining several more as you level up each hero through playing games. If you want to get cards beyond just that, you need to either buy Booster Packs or play Adventures which earn you a set of themed cards. You can either buy these with gold, an in-game currency earned through completing daily quests (usually something simple like “Cast 40 Spells” or “Win 2 Games as a Paladin”) or real life cash. Yes, it is a lot faster to pay with cash instead of grinding out gold, and yes, the best decks involve cards you don’t immediately get for free. However, there are plenty of perfectly competitive decks that can be acquired quickly through either method.

In the end, Hearthstone is one of the highest quality CCGs out there, with a reasonable transaction system and a set of mechanics that’s easy to learn but difficult to master. If you’re looking for a game like this, Hearthstone should be the first one to consider.

Breast is Best, or Not

When I first started getting pregnant 17+ long years ago, I took it as a given that I would breastfeed. Of course I would nurse my kids! Breast was best, the formula companies were evil cabals poisoning our planet, and breastmilk is free. I had friends who breezily nursed their children, in public even, lifting a shirt and popping the baby on her boob like it was the easiest and coolest thing in the world.

Then I gave birth, tried to nurse my son, and was met with the most blinding, horrific pain I’d ever experienced (that pain has since been trumped by my horrific homebirth). But I kept at it, and at it, until day 4 when I cracked. “I can’t do this,” I told my mother that night. “If this is what it’s supposed to feel like to breastfeed, the human race would have died out long ago.”

My mother, still working as a principal then, was horrified. “Oh you don’t want to bottlefeed,” she said in her stern teacher voice. “It’s such a pain to prepare bottles, so much effort!”

“Effort I can withstand,” I told her. “Torture I can’t.”

So we prepared a bottle for my son who guzzled that thing like there was no tomorrow. My milk had not yet come in; as a first time mom I didn’t know this was abnormal, and I realize now the poor thing was likely dehydrated and extraordinarily hungry in the name of “breast is best.”

I continued to give him bottles through the next day. This irked my husband who kept harrumphing: “But what about BRAIN DEVELOPMENT?” (Back then they still thought breastmilk increased child IQ, until they figured out smarter women choose to breastfeed, thus their kids are genetically inclined to be smart like mom.) But I kept with my line: If that was what breastfeeding is supposed to feel like, the human race would have died out long ago.

That night (this is day five by now) my milk finally came in. Something in my head clicked. “Let’s try this again,” I told myself. I took off my shirt and sat with my son in the quiet dark, gritting my teeth, and put him on my breast. He nursed, and it hurt like hell, but not quite the hell of the previous days. And this time, unlike every other time, I could hear him swallowing milk.

I quit the formula and continued to nurse him for more than a year. I then nursed my second child for 18 months. And so on. With my fourth daughter I developed recurring mastitis, but I kept nursing because breast is best and every time I tried to wean her I got mastitis from the build up of milk. One time, my fever got so high I hallucinated (which I wrote about in my Wake Up post). This went on for 14 long months while I was bedridden every few weeks with raging fevers. It was so debilitating I had to ration how many times I walked up or down the stairs of our small home. I was only 30 years old but fully expected all this misery and constant infirmity to eventually kill me. I remember lying in the bathtub one time, feverish and in agony with yet another bout of mastitis, asking god to finally take me.

But I kept nursing the babies as they came. I really didn’t know how else to feed a squalling newborn (formula feeding seemed so complicated: what kind of formula? how much? what kind of bottle?) and I still believed there had to be some health benefit to nursing, even though by that point all my kids had eczema and two have severe asthma. Breastfeeding supposedly reduces the risk for both.

In her article The Case Against Breastfeeding Hanna Rosin describes her “aha” moment when she realizes she’s been had by the “breast is best” brigade. Sitting in the pediatrician’s office she reads an article that breastfeeding may not, in fact, reduce the risk of obesity in children. She’s stunned, and realizes her years of breast-based efforts to keep her kids lean and mean may have been for naught.

My own “aha”moment came when I researched drinking during pregnancy. I was flabbergasted to find a study showing children of women who drank moderately during pregnancy actually had higher IQs than the children of mothers who abstained completely. I realized then that just like breastfeeding mothers are smarter (in our culture anyway), drinking mothers probably have higher IQs- being willing to think for themselves, researching the subject- and their children are genetically prone to inherit their intelligence. It was all a lie; breast was not necessarily best, yet I had spent 17 years and immeasurable physical anguish pouring human milk into the guts of my offspring.

But this is where the mommy brain kicks in. For whatever reason, I don’t mind. I’m ok with it, and I’m still nursing my newborn son. To quote Rosin:

My best guess is something I can’t quite articulate. Breast-feeding does not belong in the realm of facts and hard numbers; it is much too intimate and elemental. It contains all of my awe about motherhood, and also my ambivalence. Right now, even part-time, it’s a strain. But I also know that this is probably my last chance to feel warm baby skin up against mine, and one day I will miss it.

Yeah, that sums it up nicely. It’s something that can’t be articulated. When it’s not agonizingly painful or making you sick as a dog, breastfeeding is beautiful, ancient, and visceral. I remember one night those many 17 years ago where I sat up in bed with my son to my breast, and I had the haunting realization that untold women for untold centuries had been sitting up at night doing this very same act and feeling the very same emotions welling up and through them. It gave me goosebumps I was staggered by the weight of it as my son glugged down milk. It didn’t matter who he would become, it didn’t matter even who we were; we were mother and child in the most basic act of sustenance known to man.

Prostidudes

Over my lifelong fascination with prostitution, it never quite sunk in that there are male prostitutes who service female clientele. I mean I had a vague idea such a thing existed- ages ago I saw a news broadcast about it, and I watched the film Star Maps where an attractive woman hires a younger male prostitute to service her, and of course Midnight Cowboy– but it never registered in my mind as being an actual phenomena. And it never dawned on me to google about it; the internet is a treasure trove for this sort of topic.

As it turns out there’s a whole world of heterosexual (or willing to simulate heterosexuality) male prostitutes, and some of the stories are not just fascinating but hilarious. Take NY Post writer Mandy Stadmiller who took up the journalistic cause of visiting the first legal male “prosti-dude” in Las Vegas. She describes him as needy, dorky, beset by mommy issues, none too bright. She departs from the Shady Lady Ranch unimpressed and $500 poorer. She’s even turned off by his over-eagerness (I thought that was the whole point of the transaction?)

A short google stop away is the “companionship service” Cowboys for Angels. What a cute name! It almost makes you feel you’re not looking at a prostitution website. The guys certainly are attractive but my highly accurate gaydar goes off for most of them:

gaycowboy
gaydar: ding ding!

… and the remaining “cowboys” sport the fresh out of prison look:

 prisonlook
handsome from hard time

which leads me to the reason I would never, ever sleep with a prostitute even if I weren’t married and wholesome- disease! Imagine all the bodily fluids that have gone into and out of these guys.

One or two of the cowboys look like perfect gentlemen:

niceguy
exudes trustworthiness

What’s a nice guy like this doing on a sleazy website like that?

This cowboy looks like the hooker version of Obama, with some Vulcan thrown in:

obamaversion
obey my executive order

But if you put a gun to my head, and MADE me pick one, I’d pick… hmmm…

greekgod
sculpted by Michelangelo

I don’t normally find long hair attractive on men, in fact I might pay him an extra thousand to shave it off, but I guess I’m a sucker for the Greek God look. I can almost imagine him gripping a trident, or hurling thunderbolts at his enemies. I could do without that tattoo, but it’s all good.

Empty Beer Cans = 2 Points

My mother is visiting for week. The idea was, she would be here right after the baby was born to lend a helping hand, or at least an adult presence with a driver’s license. But the baby is five weeks now and I’ve managed to keep everyone fed, clothed and alive over that duration. So far she’s left a space heater on (when no one would be in the house) and left a stove burner running for hours; she didn’t turn it off after heating up soup. As someone with a high paranoia of fire, this has me on high alert for imminent disaster. She’s not senile, or ditzy, but being around so many whiny kids all day will make even the best minds falter.

This morning she regaled us with an interesting tale from her days as a principal. In the 1980s she ran a kindergarten center that offered free half-day programs to the five year olds of the town. Remember, this was before the days of universal pre-k and lots of kids didn’t even go to kindergarten, and most kindergarten programs were half-day. Her school received a Title 1 grant to offer full day programs to disadvantaged students; these students would be selected with the government’s criteria of maternal education (or rather, lack thereof) and eligibility for free lunch. So if your mom never finished high school, and you received free lunch, you were eligible for full day kindergarten.

The only problem was these two criteria produced a pool of 60 students while there were only 40 seats available. So my mom had to derive further criteria to winnow the pool. She finally hatched a plan with the teachers, that at pick up time they (the teachers) would examine the interior of the vehicle the child entered to be ferried home. Certain features would be assigned points, and the kids with the most points would be placed in Title 1.

  • interior of the car is clean – 0 points
  • interior of the car is messy but primarily with kid stuff – 0 points
  • interior of car is messy, and school projects litter the floor (as opposed to being lovingly magnetized to the fridge) – 1 point
  • interior of car is messy with empty beverage containers – 1 point
  • interior of car contains empty beer cans – 2 points
  • the parent needs to be reminded to buckle child before taking off – 2 points

With this method she got the group down to 40, and she claims the intervention of full day kindergarten helped these children so much that even by 4th & 5th grades they were achieving on par with their peers. This runs counter to studies that show early interventions have little effect by the time children reach older grades (but I kept my mouth shut). She and her teachers were even asked to give presentations on their interventive program at conventions, which they did, but when asked how exactly they selected children for the group she could never bring herself to describe the exact methodology and instead stated it was based on maternal education and free lunch status.

The subject of maternal education is an interesting one. While I haven’t read up on it, according to my mom the influence of paternal education is negligible while a child’s mother’s education is heavily weighted in that child’s future. So a guy could have a PhD, but if his child’s mother is uneducated his own pedigree won’t matter, statistically speaking. And the inverse is true. A man can have little education but if his wife is well educated the child will be at a significant advantage. Why the maternal influence is more potent than the paternal one is unclear; perhaps women are more aggressive when it comes to their child’s education, or, for whatever reason, their interest in the child’s education matters more, or is more efficacious, than the father’s.

In terms of my own kids this might put them at a slight advantage since I dropped out of graduate schools slightly later than did my husband, though he eventually went back and finished his degrees. Too bad the internet and documentaries don’t count as education, because that’s all I’ve had since.

Lilyhammer Season 3

(spoiler free)

I spent more time than I care to admit Thanksgiving weekend glued to the sofa in my husband’s office (one of the few places in the house that can be kid free; there are doors that lock). I watched a lot of netflix, including season 3 of Lilyhammer. What else am I going to do while nursing this tiny baby for hours on end (apropos: season 3 features Sigrid’s new boyfriend, the one with the breastfeeding fetish)? I watched the season over two days and came away both amazed and bitterly disappointed. Disappointed because the plot was woefully disjointed- more so than the slightly disappointing but still enjoyable season 2-and the spectacular Trond Fausa:

trondfausa

…is given little to work with. The primary plot involving Torgeir not only doesn’t make sense, but requires a double so he’s not even the sole actor, for himself. Ugh. I was really hoping to see him shine through the screen as on season 2 but it didn’t happen. Like season 2 there’s also an uber-lame and implausible love interest for Johnny. I guess this show will be like the James Bond franchise where each season features a disposable hot babe.

As for why I was amazed, season 3 offers a plotline for Jan (exiled to Iraq at the end of season 2) that is simply stunning and the pinnacle of what tragicomedy ought to be. I didn’t know whether to laugh or weep as his tale unfolds, and it’s probably the best plotline the show has seen thus far. Given that Jan is one of the show’s least likable characters, it was thoroughly unexpected to witness such a sharp and poignant tale featuring him.

jan
Fridtjov Såheim as erstwhile NAV employee Jan

There’s also some surprisingly good acting from a new goomba in town; Rhys Coiro plays the icily cutthroat Tommy Mangano who has his eyes set on Johnny’s nightclub throne. Chaos and goodfella action ensue.

Season 3 also tries to impart a spiritual message, though what exactly that message is I’m not sure. It has something to do with redemption, guardian angels and enlightenment, but the nice thing about Lilyhammer is you don’t have to think too much while watching it.