Friday, January 29, 2010

Why should I be the only one grossed out?

I'm working on a chapter for my book in which I (finally) get around to describing the pancreas, and the best short description I found is the following:

The pancreas is the rather large, loosely made, lobulated organ that lies in the mesentery. or supporting membrane of the small intestine. It secretes pancreatine into the intestine, which helps to digest fat. The pancreas also contains the "islands" of cells that produce the hormone insulin. It is good to eat, but is considerably less delicate in flavor than sweetbreads....

Okay, it isn't out of a medical textbook. It's from Calvin Schwabe's Unmentionable Cuisine (University Press of Virginia, 1979), describing beef pancreas. He goes on to offer the following recipe (slightly modified)

Heat 1/2 c of fat until smoking, brown a cut-up oxtail and two pairs of veal sweetbreads. Reduce the heat and cook gently for about 45 minutes. Add some cut-up breast of veal and a generous quantity of sliced onions. Cook another half hour. Add a cut-up beef kidney, 1 1/2 c strong beer and a bouquet garni. Simmer for 30 minutes, add a beef pancreas cut in pieces and another bottle of strong beer and some mushrooms. Simmer until the pancreas is done. Thicken if desired.

Do tell me if you try this recipe. I plan to skip everything except the beer.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Seeing another doctor

My shoulder has been bothering me for a few weeks (arthritis,usually happens in winter) All I wanted was appropriate pain killers, but life isn't that simple.First I had to check with my oncologist, who didn't think it was likely that pancreatic cancer would migrate to my right shoulder and that therefore the pain wasn't under his jurisdiction. I made an appointment to see a physician in family practice. He decided that the pain was, indeed, arthritis, and that I needed some sort of painkillers for it.

The problem was that I can't take most opiates (allergies) and I can't take aspirin or Motrin because of my stomach ulcers. I was afraid that the family practice doctor would hand me off to the GI doctor, but he just suggested that I stay on the Tylenol I'd been taking anyhow and if the pain doesn't go away we can move to something stronger, though he warned that something like that would make my brain feel pickled.

It would be nice if there was just one doctor who could handle everything, so I wouldn't feel quite so much like this:

Monday, January 25, 2010

Me and My Kindle

Is it the best thing since sliced bread? Well, at the moment I have 4 1/2 pages of books in my index, which comes out to about 48 books. The problem is that I've read most of them, so what am I going to read next?

There are a lot of free books out there including anything that's not covered by copyright any more, so I've reread Pride and Prejudice, A Tale of Two Cities, Anna Karenina , and tried Three Men in a Boat, which I thought was funny when I was twelve. It seems a bit strange to read a classic electronically, but a kindle is lighter than a 450-page bound book. Much easier to read in bed.

You can also get a variety of Harlequin romances, Christian inspiration, and the first book in a long series (get 'em hooked)for free. I've run across some gems as well as quite a few books I delete after the first few pages. (I don't know why I even thought that His Lady Mistress would be worth reading, but on the other hand Faking It was more fun than I expected.)

I'm trying to keep a limit on the books I actually buy, but Amazon makes it much too easy to click-and-purchase. I feel like the kind of 18th-century aristocrat who never had to sully her hands with real money and never knew how much she'd spent.

But on the other hand, books are necessities.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The things you thought you knew aren't so

This is the ornamental pear tree outside our house. What you can't see is the flock of a dozen robins in the tree. They're happily eating the freeze-dried pears. In the middle of winter.

Remember kindergarten when the teacher told you that the first sign of spring was when you saw a robin? I remember when my teacher did, and then we all dutifully colored in the red breasts and the spring flowers.

So.... maybe my kindergarten teacher (and yours, too) was wrong, and if so, are there any certainties left in the world? Or Climate Change is really happening, and if so, we're all in worse shape than I thought even in my most despairing moments.

On the other hand, we haven't seen any cardinals this year. Maybe the robins and the cardinals made a deal. "Look, you guys go south this winter and we'll stay here, check out the winter sports, eat some of those frozen pears you were raving about. Why should humans be the only snowbirds?"

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Chick Lit and Cancer

There I am, on page 153, reading along happily, and suddenly one of the older secondary characters starts getting thin and tired and I know exactly what's going to happen. She's got breast cancer, or maybe ovarian. Depending on the book, she'll either recover by the last few chapters, or she'll slip gently away surrounded by the loving women who supported her throughout.

I don't know why the authors keep zapping these characters, but I have my suspicions. One is that the characters, who tend to be gutsy earth mother types, are taking the readers' interest away from the protagonist, a thirty-something woman who is mired in an unsatisfactory life. We don't want the attention pulled from her and the husband who's ignoring her and letting himself get a little potbelly, and the children who take her attention away from the career that isn't quite right for her (she really needs something more creative) -- well, I'm bored with her, too, and more interested in the earth mother myself. So why not write a novel about her and kill off the protagonist instead?

And it's always a female cancer. As I've noticed, women in real life get lung cancer, colon cancer, and everything else except prostate cancer, but in these books it's always the breasts or the ovaries. Maybe this is to stress the femaleness of life, death and the other big subjects for the readers. Maybe it's because these cancers are what the readers are most afraid of. Or maybe, as my daughter suggests, it's because a case of female cancer is written into the contract with the publisher.

A couple of the books I've read recently that fit this are The Friday Night Knitting Club, The Pretend Wife (there are more, but I'm having a chemobrain attack). Don't get me wrong. I enjoyed both until the point where I threw the book across the room and Jerry said "again?" and I asked, "Why can't they ever get leprosy or shingles instead?"

Friday, January 15, 2010


As the news about the earthquake in Haiti and its results keeps coming in, I think of Regine from Port-au-Prince, who was my student a few years ago. She was sixteen and spoke no English at all. Already tall and elegant, she stood out at Keene High School like a peacock among barnyard fowl, and I think her first two years were extremely difficult. She worked hard, learned English, made friends, graduated, and went on to college to pursue a nursing degree. I was very proud of her.

I recently reconnected with her on Facebook. She continues to do well.

Her latest post was a request for our prayers. She still has not heard from her sister in Haiti and doesn't know who in her family is alive or uninjured.

As you think about the many thousands of people affected by the tragedy, please keep Regine and her loved ones in mind. It's easy for something like this to turn into just statistics and for us to lose the human faces in the devastation.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Green Bananas, Knitting and Bucket Lists

Jerry's Christmas sweater, which I finally finished last week, after deciding that the pattern wasn't right and I should reinvent the collar. Of course you can't see the collar, but believe me, it's beautiful.

I almost bought some yarn on sale the other day, but I stopped myself. I’ve decided that I’m not going to spend the rest of my life dealing with yarn that is too hairy, too hard, too weirdly-colored (the technical term in knitting circles for a puddle of yarn that combines too many weird colors is “clown vomit”), or, basically that I don’t love.

This yarn was all of the above, but it was really cheap. A few years ago I'd have gotten it, just because some day I would find the perfect pattern for it.

Not any more. Now I’ll stick with those I really enjoy. I made a sweater a while back from a mixture of merino wool and silk, and it was like knitting a hot fudge sundae, an incredibly sensuous experience. After I finished that, I tried some fancy hand-spun yarn someone gave me, and it was splitty and full of little bits of grass, and I hated it, so I tossed it without even feeling guilty. Or not too guilty.

Instead, I resolve to buy yarn I love and start a new stash of yarn for projects that I may never get to, but every inch of it will be worth it.

Knitting even gives me some bucket list material. New yarns come out all the time, and while I’ve knitted with the standard wools and cottons and made a shawl with bamboo, I’ve never tried the trendy yarns made with corn, soy, or seaweed (truly). They sound like fun, though I wonder if I should attack them with knitting needles or chopsticks.

I know someone who got some possum fur yarn from New Zealand and made it into a scarf. Or it’s possible to get spun dog fur (note: greyhounds are not good for this), or more realistically but much more expensively, qiviut, spun from the inner coat of the musk ox and going for almost $100 for 300 yards. I figure it would cost at least $800 for a sweater, so I guess that, at least, is off my bucket list. Let’s not go overboard.

Besides yarns, there are techniques I’ve never given a fair try – lace, for example. Or there’s Fairisle, entrelac, and double knitting, techniques that I’ve read about only to shudder at the thought of following a chart. Maybe I need to challenge myself on some of these, though I refuse at this point to do something just because I “should”. And I give myself permission to quit if it stops being fun. Come to think of it, I always could have, couldn’t I?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Technology keeps winning

I apologize, everyone. Here I was thinking that everyone had gone away and I was all alone here in cyberspace, feeling sorry for myself and neglected, and it was my fault for hitting the wrong button on the comment moderation tab. Jerry has tried posting a comment and it seems to have worked, so I think we're back in business. (And he didn't even write something snarky about my abilities to navigate.)

Thanks for the great suggestions on movies! There were some old favorites and some I'd never even thought of, so my Netflix queue is going to grow exponentially. Tomorrow's chemo day again (funny how it keeps coming around), the temp is going to be down around 0 degrees, and I'm looking forward to an evening wrapped in my new Christmas-present quilt while I laugh myself silly.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Whatsa matta? No sensa hyuma?

Thanks to an email from Lin, here are some funny movie titles:

Raising Arizona
Romy and Michele's High School Reunion
The Bird Cage
Ruthless People
Ferris Bueller's Day Out
When Harry Met Sally
Galaxy Quest
Who Framed Roger Rabbit
Hocus Pocus
Groundhog Day
Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
In and Out
Curse of the Jade Scorpion
Mighty Aphrodite
Bullets Over Broadway
Small Time Crooks

Feel free to add more.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Funny Movies -- Your Favorites?

I'm heading out this afternoon for the first chemo of the new year (yippie). Jerry and I have a tradition of watching funny movies on chemo day or chemofunk day -- for a couple of hours I forget the physical effects of the chemo, all those endorphins do their thing in my brain and I feel better psychically as well as physically.

We love the Marx Brothers, Mel Brooks, Peter Sellers, and other not-so-subtle performers and films, but not all of them. Don't Mess With the Zohan was a yes; Tropic Thunder a no. Monty Python, mostly a yes.

We do watch more nuanced films. Almost everything by Christopher Guest is a yes, for example.

So what are your favorite laugh-out-loud or at least giggle-at funny movies? What are we missing?

Saturday, January 2, 2010

First Grandmotherly Boast of the New Year

First Night in Northampton, with Max playing with two of his bands, School for the Dead and The Fawns. Wonderful as always, but even more wonderful was that Miles had insisted on bringing two shakers along. That not-quite-five-year-old sat still for almost two hours, playing along with the music, his eyes fixed on the musicians. Sometimes he hit the first beat of a measure, sometimes the off-beats, and at least once he got different effects with each hand -- this kid was not just making noise. He was playing music.
I love to see the torch -- or the shaker -- being passed to a new generation.