Month: July 2014

2014 Book #36: (a biography of) Richard III

richardiiiIf you’ve ever seen my blog before, you’ve probably noticed that my reading statistics are overwhelmingly stacked in fiction’s favor. I have a habit of falling asleep when I try to read nonfiction, but sometimes these books seep in.

My favorite English kings are Richards II and III. One was a tyrant, and the other was so greedy for the crown that he ruined everything for himself and his family. Richard II and Richard III are also two of my favorites of Shakespeare’s plays, so I know a little about them from his skewed view. I haven’t looked into the truth of #II’s history at all, but, thanks to a class on FutureLearn, I jumped at the chance for a little Richard III study.

If you haven’t seen FutureLearn (or edX or Coursera), you should hop over. They offer mostly sciency/techy/mathy classes presented by major universities, but some English and other humanities classes are thrown in for good measure. Each class is listed several months ahead of time and lasts several weeks. Participants are encouraged to participate through forums, quizzes, and peer-reviewed short papers. And they’re completely free with no tuition and course materials provided on the website. Have a look!

Anyway, back to Richard III. The FutureLearn class I’m taking is much shorter and less involved than Coursera classes are (I’m taking one on the French Revolution over there!), and I’m still in the reading rut I mentioned earlier, so I looked at the list of Richard III biographies in my local library’s catalog and chose the one Goodreads liked the best. Which was this one, by Charles Ross.

A very brief, cursory overview of Richard: He was king for a short period of time during the Wars of the Roses. Lancaster vs. York, etc, etc. Fight, fight, fight. Henry VI, a Lancaster, was a weak king and was usurped by Edward IV, a York. Richard, his younger brother, wanted the crown for himself, so he locked his brother’s heir in the Tower of London. Edward IV died, and Richard declared himself protector of Edward V, still in the tower, and with some great intimidation skills, got Parliament to sign off on it. Edward V conveniently “disappeared,” and Richard took the crown for himself. It seems like he was trying to be a decent king once he got there, but he’d made too many enemies and he was really bad at foreign policy. Meanwhile, the Lancaster who was to become Henry VII was hanging out in France and talked the French into helping him get back to England and take over, which he did. More fighting. Richard was killed at the Battle of Bosworth Field, and Henry took the throne.

The only version of the Richard story I knew was Shakespeare’s, and, from what Ross says, that’s (predictably) not entirely accurate. Shakespeare’s version of events was based mostly on Thomas More‘s, and More painted an especially ugly picture of Richard. And there are the obvious uses of poetic license: Henry, himself, did not kill Richard, and the “My kingdom for a horse” probably didn’t happen because it sounds like Richard was offered a horse for escape, but he refused because he wanted to die a king. Which is almost more interesting than what Shakespeare wrote.

I want to look more into Richard II’s history now. This stuff is so interesting!

As for this specific biography, it’s dry but more readable than it could have been. I mean, how interesting can an academic make a story when there’s so little actual evidence of what happened. All told, Ross did a good job, and I really enjoyed it. He explained the various sources from which Richard’s story comes and why the truth is probably a mixture of them. “History is written by the victors,” and all that.

As for Puppy News, Zelda is still growing, and the cats still hate her.

And here she is jumping at my face as I was trying to get a picture:

I finally regained access to my home library with the use of a well-placed puppy gate. I totally should have thought of that earlier.

And, finally, Palmer moved her kennel from the bedroom to the living room. I think it’ll be a much better arrangement. If my Dexcom hadn’t continually spazzed, I think I might have slept well last night.

2014 Book #35: The Flamethrowers

flamethrowersAaaand back to our regular programming.

I’ve been putting off reviewing The Flamethrowers since I finished it a few days ago because I wasn’t sure what to say about it. I think I have it straight now. Here’s the gist: It’s a really good book that could have been a Great book but got a little lost on the way.

I discovered this one because of a Facebook recommendation. After I finished Butcher’s Crossing, I had no idea what to read next, so I took a little nonfiction detour and posted my frustration with being in a Reading Rut. A couple old friends from high school suggested Still Alice and The Flamethrowers. I’d heard good things about both of them, but I started reading Still Alice first simply because I didn’t have to wait for a trip to the library to read it, as I had to do with The Flamethrowers. Anyway, I got about halfway into Still Alice when I discovered that it’s Not My Kind of Book (I talked about this in my review of The Cleanest Race) and moved on to The Flamethrowers, which Is My Kind of Book. Oh, yes.

It’s about a young artist and a twenty-two-year-old girl nicknamed Reno has moved to New York City because that’s where she thinks Artists are supposed to live. She’s from Reno (hence the nickname) and wants to go back to photograph land art. She starts dating Sandro Valera, an older artist who happens to come from the Valera Tires/Motorcycles Family in Italy. Sandro has distanced himself from his family for years, but he agrees to get Reno a super-fast bike so she can drive it really fast on the salt flats in Nevada to Pursue Her Art. She crashes said bike with only minor injuries and talks her way into the Valera camp to convalesce. Valera makes a special car that has clocked the land speed record of 700-something miles per hour across the salt flats, and their driver breaks the record again. The team talks Reno into attempting to break the women’s record in the same vehicle, which she does. The Valera family invites her to Italy for a publicity tour with the other driver. She really wants to go, but Sandro is hesitant because he doesn’t want to get back into the world of his family. Except he agrees, and they go to Italy, and Things Happen.

Summarizing books isn’t my strong point.

When I read the blurb on the back of the paperback, I thought, Motorcycles? Really? The Desert, of course, was a draw, and the recommendation came from someone whose reading taste I trust even after so many years, so I dug in. I could tell immediately that it’s a well-written, solid book, and it got off to a really interesting start along the lines of that amazing art museum scene at the beginning of The Goldfinch – though not quite as good. (Overall, this book is much better than The Goldfinch, by the way. Much more worth your time.) I was a little disappointed toward the end, though, because Rachel Kushner seemed to get a little lost in the backstory. There’s a whole long section about a messed-up story at sea involving a relatively minor character, and its excessive length made it seem like a separate story Kushner was determined to fit in. Scenes like that happen a couple of times, and I think that’s the novel’s biggest weakness. Like many books, it could have been shorter, but, in this case, only because of the long tangents that didn’t really have to be there. That’s why The Flamethrowers isn’t a Great book.

That said, I really enjoyed it, and I’ll definitely be reading more Kushner in the future. She writes My Kind of Book.

In Puppy News, Zelda continues to grow. We’ve been walking over two miles a day between two walks. She’s…improving.

She celebrated her first July 4th at a friend’s party!

She didn’t really mind the early fireworks until Palmer shot off a fifty-pack of Black Cats. She seemed to get over it, though, because the booms around here don’t seem to bother her. Which is fantastic. We took her home and put her in her kennel before it got dark, and she was fine when we got home a few hours later. No Poopocalypses were involved.

A good time was has by all.

Jacob took the Photo of the Night:


Meanwhile, in Puppyland, canine-feline relations are progressing very slowly. This is a regular occurrence in our household:

Shakespeare has spent most of his time hiding on our screened-in back porch, but yesterday he graced us with his presence on the top of the sofa.

Now that Palmer is home, I can hang out with him more, and I think that makes both of us feel better.

Two Years with the Beetus: Some Observations

As of today, I’ve officially had type 1 diabetes for two years. I say “officially” because it was a few months longer than that, of course: I got thirsty, peed a lot, lost weight, lost most of my hair, etc, etc, etc. But now it’s been two years, and I have some things to say about it.

I planned to do exactly this last year, but I guess I never got around to it. My first instinct on my “diaversary,” as it’s called, was to eat a cupcake. I bought a pair of running shoes instead, thinking I was well enough to get back into it. Except that’s not gonna happen, apparently. I’ll get to that.

It’s certainly been an interesting two years. I guess I can say my life is Back Together at this point, if only because I’m still employed and it looks like I’ll FINALLY get that master’s degree in December. As I said, last year, I celebrated with a pair of shoes because I wanted to Conquer the Beetus or the like. This year, I edged more toward the cupcake: I bolused for 100 carbs and ate a burger and some froyo. That’s more carbs than I’ve had in a sitting since all of this started. It didn’t even kill me.


Anyway. Here’s a List of Things I’ve Learned over the past two years:

Most doctors don’t know what they’re doing or don’t care. Diabetes, at least, is an art, not a science, and I’ll run this damn thing myself, thank you very much. (I’m not going to rehash the part about where the hospital internist told me that I probably had type 2 at the beginning because I learned pretty quickly that that was pure bullsh*t.) At my last endocrinologist appointment, the doctor “suggested” that I lower my nighttime basals (even though I told her I had just lowered myself the night before), then, after she left the room, had the nurse watch me do it. Which is funny because I can just change them back myself once she’s not looking. She’s not the Basal Police. Just to see what would happen, I didn’t change said basal rate back, and the next morning I woke up with a blood sugar of 160. I felt crappy and had a hell of a time getting it down because waking up with high blood sugar makes you high for most of the day. So I changed the basal rate back. Things like that make me hate doctors. There’s also the crazy stomach problems I suffered with for over a year. I went to a gastroenterologist and had a colonoscopy and endoscopy, neither of which turned up anything. I hated traveling, and I stayed home from lots of social events because of what my stomach was doing. Turns out that I was just eating too much fat for my body to process because my pancreas doesn’t produce enough enzymes to digest fat properly. Guess who figured that one out and then fixed the problem? ME. Not a doctor. I dislike doctors now.

Distractions are fantastic. One of my favorite things about Zelda is that she keeps me occupied with something other than my blood sugar. I’ve been running it higher to deal with her without worrying about lows, and I feel better because of that. My A1c went up a tiny bit, but oh well. (That’s another thing with doctors. My A1c should not be treated like a report card. Ugh.) I like having to make plans around Zelda rather than around my blood sugar, and focusing on something that generally makes me happy is much more healthy for everyone.

My life can be pretty normal. Humans can get used to anything, and I think I’ve gotten pretty used to having to run my pancreas manually. I have some of the best technology available, and it’s easy enough with all I’ve learned over the past two years. I’m now an expert carb-counter, and I’m confident enough that I’ll make an educated guess on the carb count of whatever I want to eat – within reason. I have yet to eat Pad Thai again.

I have fantastic friends. For a long time, I was afraid to eat food when I didn’t know the exact carb count, and my friends have tried so hard to help! They carb-counted their own recipes for parties! That amazes me. I should also mention the husband‘s infinite patience here, but I think I’ve talked about that before.

It’s not a huge deal. If I miscalculate, I won’t die. I might feel crappy for a while, but my blood sugar will level back out eventually. Which means I shouldn’t be afraid to eat what I want (again, within reason) at local restaurants that don’t post nutrition information. And that’s what I’ve been doing for several months now: I discovered that food from chain restaurants (and not even fast food – I haven’t touched that stuff in forever) is packed with added sugars and fat, and it tears up my stomach. I do much better eating at local restaurants despite having to guess on carb counts.

It’s a learning process. Just because I think something works doesn’t mean that it’s the best choice. When I was first diagnosed, I thought (and was told) that low-carb was the answer, so I started eating nuts and cheese. I LOVE nuts and cheese and ate too much of both. I gained more weight than I should have. I hit 175, which was unacceptable, and started counting calories – and immediately stopped eating almost any of either of those things because of the crazy calorie count. That’s when I noticed that my stomach problem stopped. Yep. I also have to figure out how to eat lots of food without skyrocketing. There’s a bolus setting on my pump called dual wave that gives me a chunk of insulin up front, then the rest of it over a period of hours. At first, I didn’t eat pizza or pasta at all because they’re difficult to get right, but then I figured out this magical dual wave. But it’s a juggling process because I have to choose the percentage up front and then how long to let it continue. I make lots of lists. I’ve also changed breakfasts several times, trying not to spike. For a long time, my go-to was oatmeal, first plain with stevia, which drove me low. I moved on to packaged gluten-free (which is the best oatmeal), but that spiked me badly, so I make regular oatmeal with cinnamon and one carefully-measured teaspoon of sugar. That wasn’t so bad. But then I discovered English muffins, and so on and so on. Learning process.

I figure that if I could get through the first year, I could get through all of them, and this second one has only gotten easier. The rest of my body has gotten more into line and everything has generally settled down. I still won’t eat All of the Things, but I’ll eat Most of Them and be happy with that since I’m more likely to keep my limbs and vision if I behave. It’s really not so bad, after all.

Once more unto the breach.

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