Sunday Coffee – Knowing When to Quit

One of my goals this year was to make some good headway into the Wheel of Time series, with the ultimate aim being to get to those books that Brandon Sanderson wrote. There are fourteen books in the series. Sanderson wrote the last three. That made eleven books to read in order to get there, and only one that I’d read prior to this year.

I read that first book in 2013 and was unimpressed. I temporarily gave up the series, only to take it up again in late December. From December to February, I read through the second and third books, and halfway through the fourth. During my vacation, I didn’t listen to any audiobooks. My phone was acting up – long story – and audio simply wasn’t practical. Once I got home, I tried continuing the book…and I just didn’t want to. I found myself skipping through sections in 30-second chunks. I tried to break up the reading by listening to other audiobooks as a “break” from this super long book. Eventually, I decided to get the book in print instead.

My goal was to skim the rest of the book, then skim books 5-11 to get to the Sanderson books. That seemed a fair compromise between slogging through all the books I wasn’t interested in and outright skipping them. But then I couldn’t even get myself interested enough to skim the print book. I tried reading chapter summaries online, and I couldn’t even maintain interest in that. And at that point…well, if even chapter summaries bore you to tears, perhaps it’s time to just give up.

I thought about skipping ahead to see if I could read the Sanderson books without the background I’d need from books 5-11. Honestly, though, I don’t think I’d get much out of the experience. It doesn’t seem worth the effort. I gave it a good try, and this series simply isn’t for me. Not the first time that’s happened, won’t be the last. I appreciate knowing when it’s time to bow out and give in.

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Real Food, Fake Food, by Larry Olmsted (audio)

Subtitled: Why You Don’t Know What You’re Eating and What You Can Do About It

Let me start by saying what this book isn’t. This is not about so-called Frankenfoods. It’s not about Lucky Charms or Velveeta or Pepsi. When we eat those sorts of foods, we know they’re fake and highly processed. This book is about a different kind of fakery, the kind that:

  • legally and silently “enhances” products (think corn syrup added to honey without being on the label)
  • pretends to be something it’s not (think tuna in both stores and restaurants actually being a fish called escolar, unrelated to tuna at all and potentially poisonous)
  • takes the name of something higher-quality and/or region-specific and erroneously uses it (think California “Champagne” or Kraft “Parmesan”)

The book tackles government regulations inside and outside the US, and discusses the way food fraud has made its way into just about everything in our supermarket. Some of the main foods and worst offenders discussed are wine, olive oil, seafood, cheese, beef, tea…and you know, I could go on and on, but you get the point.

Six years ago, I read The Omnivore’s Dilemma. (Notably, Real Food, Fake Food directs readers to Omnivore if they want to read about the fakery practices prevalent in processed food.) It changed the way I thought about eating, and definitely changed my nutrition for the better. (Hm. It’s about time for a reread, I think…) I love reading about food, food history, and the food industry, and while this book isn’t Omnivore, I did learn a lot about food that make me think. I don’t always agree with the author on certain kinds of “fake” foods. There’s an inherent class bias in saying “Only eat Parmesan from Parma, and if you can’t find it or afford it, simply don’t have it!” Parmesan-style cheeses don’t bother me, as long as they’re real cheese, which of course isn’t always the case. Other fraudulent food practices – as defined by the author – do really bother me.

When you can’t tell the difference between pure honey and honey adulterated with corn syrup and other sweeteners, that’s a problem. When cheaper, lower-quality, possibly-lethal fish is substituted for everything from tuna to salmon to lobster, that’s a problem. When products are imported from parts of the world that allow slave labor and US-banned hormones/antibiotics in the production of those foods, that’s a problem. When loose (or non-existent) labeling laws allow chemically-created oil that’s never seen an olive to be called 100% grade A extra virgin olive oil, that’s a problem.

I’m a big fan of regulation and food protections. You know, the kind our current government is trying to cut as “unimportant” and “unnecessary.” I know that corporations, far removed from the consumer, do what they can to cut costs and meet market demand. I also know that people ought to be smart enough to know that their fast food lobster sub sandwiches have never been near an actual lobster, because lobster is an expensive item for a good reason: it’s extremely time-consuming and provides little meat yield per item. However, it’s too easy to be duped when your can of tuna claims to be tuna, or when your tea looks like tea when it’s really made up of something unrelated, or when any kind of rice in the world can be called “basmati” with no repercussions. As a wine drinker/lover, I know the trash brands and would never get “Champagne” from Korbel, but I didn’t know some of the other common fraud practices in wine production/distribution. Thanks to this book, I now know what to look for. I recognize authentication seals on certain bottles, and I recognize specific third-party authentication seals on seafood (yay Aldi for being excellent about its seafood products!), and I have good ideas about how to avoid other food frauds.

While there were some grey areas and class-bias problems to this book – the former of which is actually pointed out by the author up front – I feel that this is an important one to read. I don’t have tons of money (especially after three cross-country moves in three years! not to mention three teen boys…), but for the first time in all my years of food-reading, I’ve begun thinking about sustainably-sourced meat products. This is something I’d dismissed before not because I didn’t want to care, but because I simply didn’t have the money to afford those higher-end products. (Let’s not talk about vegetarianism. I’m an omnivore by philosophy and medical need.) Now, though, my mind has shifted into a different mode, similar to when I read The Omnivore’s Dilemma, that will (hopefully) lead to choices that are better for the animals, the environment, and my family. (I say hopefully because I live in a tiny area with very few choices, and I don’t even know if what I’m looking for is possible to get a hold of here.)

I read this book on audio, but have put the print version on my wishlist. There are many places throughout that list ways to check if what you’re buying is really what you’re buying, and while I remember some from the audio, I really want a physical copy to refer to. Multiple reviews on GoodReads mention that the written version is riddled with copy errors. While I hope that’s mostly e-copies and ARCs, I wanted to put that warning out here to others who might be interested in reading the book. This wasn’t a particular problem I had to deal with, but print-readers might come across it.

Performance: This audiobook was read by Jonathan Yen, and was my first experience with this particular narrator. Unfortunately, I did not enjoy the performance. Yen reads the book similar to shows I’ve seen on HGTV or Food Network, with exaggerated vocal inflections like a cross between a game show and a shocker news program. He also generously used accents for both real and hypothetical people, often when no accent was needed, and the accents were as exaggerated as everything else. This latter point is one of my pet peeves, so obviously this didn’t go over well for me. That’s not to say someone else wouldn’t love the audio version – I know this is a very popular style of vocal acting! – it just didn’t work for me.

Posted in 2017, Adult, Prose | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Red Queen, by Victoria Aveyard

The world is divided along lines of color: Silver and Red. Those with silver blood (literally) have supernatural powers and are the ruling class. Those with red blood are ordinary, and thus essentially slave labor. Of course, divisions like this lead to dissension and rebellion, and a “terrorist” group of Reds are attacking Silvers. Mare, the Red narrator, gets caught in the middle of this. She is an impossibility, a Red with a developing supernatural power, and both sides want to use her as a spokesperson for their cause.

While I was in San Antonio a few weeks ago, I had two different people randomly recommend this series to me. I’d seen these books around but honestly had no desire to read them. I’ve read a lot of books in this same kind of genre before. After two recommendations in a week or so, though, I decided to put the book on my investigate list. When I brought Red Queen home from the library, I thought I’d be bringing it right back after a preview. Even in the first couple pages, I thought I’d be bringing it back. Something changed partway through the first chapter, though, and I was drawn in. The book turned out to be well-written and far more nuanced than I’m used to seeing in YA fantasy. (And as a sidenote, I was reminded of several Sanderson novels through the course of this book. Heh.)

What I found most interesting in Red Queen was the politics. There is a huge philosophical divide in the real world between revolutions driven by violence and those driven by peaceful protest. Both have failed in our history and both have been successful. Circumstances seem to dictate to what extent change can be made through different kinds of actions. A year ago, I watched Suffragette, which also discusses these same things – how much can we change by peace, and how much violence is needed? Similarly, The Rock and the River by Kekla Magoon discusses these same things with regards to the Black Panthers during the Civil Rights movement. While Red Queen is set either in an alternate world altogether or a future (and unrecognizable) version of our world, these political themes are extremely relevant to today’s world.

Less interesting to me was the inevitable plot twists. One in particular ran along a track so well-worn in current fiction that it was visible almost from the beginning of the book. I would have been far more surprised (and pleased) had it never occurred at all.

Despite this one drawback, though, I was very pleased with the book and looking forward to the next in the series. I do think I’ll take a break between readings, however. These are the kinds of books that can drag you in so much that you end up staying up way too late and neglecting the rest of what you need to do. I need a breather before I dive back into this world!

Posted in 2017, Prose, Young Adult | Tagged , | 2 Comments

The Elusive Elixir, by Gigi Pandian (audio)

Given that this is the third book in a series, I’m not going to put a synopsis here. It might spoil earlier books, and I’ve enjoyed this quirky fantasy-mystery series too much to possibly spoil it for others. In general, this series is about an alchemist who accidentally discovered the elixir of life a couple hundred years ago. She is trying to start a “new” life in Portland, but “normal” is complicated by dead bodies – this is a mystery series! – and a living stone gargoyle who also happens to be a master chef.

This series is a lot of fun, and the third book is no exception. Honestly, I’m not sure if the series will continue after this volume. It could, as many cozy mysteries do, but one of the major plot-arcs has concluded. There were a few loose ends that could easily evolve into the next plot-arc, but can also simply be left as loose ends at the conclusion of the series (they aren’t central to the plot). I can see this going either way. Regardless, this trilogy-so-far has been awesome, and the conclusion of the primary arc was excellent. I highly recommend it as a light, quirky, cross-genre blend with an excellent audio narrator (Julia Motyka).

Posted in 2017, Adult, Prose | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Sunday Coffee – Birdsong

One thing about growing up in a place is the way background noise becomes ingrained in your subconscious. Even if you don’t necessarily like a place, your brain imprints things that you might not even think about. I grew up first in South Carolina, then in Texas, moving to the latter when I was ten. I hated Texas. I vehemently did not want to move, and I spent about four years in deep depression due to that move and the things I experienced during those four years (drug violence, deaths of classmates, bullying, culture shock, etc). I still carry PTSD from those years. That’s not the point, though. The point is that because of all this, I really hated Texas all through my adolescence. I hated the culture, weather, politics, everything. And quietly, south Texas sneaked into my subconsciousness.

The first time I had the mildest realization of this fact was the first time Jason and I moved to Wisconsin in late 2000. We lived there for almost five years, and there were some things I just never got used to. One: the lack of minorities in our rural part of the world, after growing up in two locations where being white was the community minority. Two: the weather patterns, not because of snow and colder winters, but because it only thunderstormed at night, never suddenly in mid-afternoon. Three: the background hum of noise was completely and utterly different.

San Antonio has some very distinct background nature noises. Cicadas are loud. Mourning doves call all spring. Grackles have a very distinctive call, and of course there are the mockingbirds that imitate anything, anywhere, anytime. I’m not a big nature person, but something about these particular pieces of background settled into me and comforted me during the four years of my depression post-move. They were sounds I welcomed back when my family returned to Texas in late 2005, sounds that had become background again by the time we moved to Boston in 2014, sounds that I anticipated and loved upon return to Texas a year later. They call to me. They sing home.

But the problem with subconscious attachments is that they’re subconscious, and thus easy to forget in times of stress. Like, say, when you suddenly move across the country for the third time in three years. About a month ago, I put on a yoga video that Adriene filmed outdoors in Austin, TX, only an hour or so north of San Antonio. It must have been spring when she filmed it. The birdsong and insect hum hit me with a wave of nostalgia. I do my yoga with my curtains open and my light off, so that the room is filled with natural light. With that light filtering through, and my eyes not on the video, it sounded as if the birds were just outside my window. I felt simultaneously peaceful and homesick.

Of course, then I went home for a couple weeks, and now I’m back, and there have been lots of changes in the nature here just in that short time. Whereas a month ago, there were no birds singing in the frozen north, there is birdsong now. It’s different from San Antonio, of course, but there are birds singing. It seems as if spring is really coming now, and hopefully with spring will come hope (how’s that for grammar, heh). I know it’ll be a few years before I can return to my internal-noise-comfort-zone, but I’m happy to at least have some song outside my window again.

Posted in Personal | Tagged | 5 Comments

Wires and Nerve, by Marissa Meyer

The events of the Lunar Chronicles series are over, but the world doesn’t just go on peacefully with perfect trust afterwards. Relations are still strained between governments, and there are consequences from former royal edicts to be dealt with. Among those are the rogue half-wolf breeds still roaming the earth. Cinder’s best android friend, Iko, sets out to control this problem herself.

I loved the Lunar Chronicles, and so even though graphic novels aren’t really my thing, I definitely had to read this one. Awesomely, my experience was the complete opposite as with my last GN. I loved the story and the art here. Doug Holgate’s style reminded me in many ways of Lucy Knisley’s style. It was very welcome as I went through to check in with all those beloved characters and find out what’s happened to them in the time since the series ended.

Furthermore, this book didn’t feel like a way to cash in on the old series. There were a few bits of catch-up that made it so anyone could read this book without reading the series first. Otherwise it was just a story in the same world from a new perspective. There were new challenges and new ponderings, and I’m happy to know that this is its own series that will continue past this initial volume. I can’t say how well it would read to someone who isn’t already in love with the series, world, and characters. For me, though, it was a brilliant way to both revisit some favorites and start a new storyline to devour.

Posted in 2017, Visual, Young Adult | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Wellness Wednesday #46: Square One(ish)

buttonComing home has been interesting. The two weeks away helped to bring forward a number of new revelations.

First, I noticed just how much more active I was in Texas than I am at home. I’m much more sedentary here. Here, when I exercise, it’s for exercise. There, I went out for walks because I enjoyed them, or because the people around me also liked to walk. I spent a lot of time going up and down the stairs for one reason or another so that I was active even when I wasn’t exercising. The whole environment was much more conducive to movement. That wasn’t just because I was on vacation. The few times I was at houses other than my dad’s, I was just as sedentary as at home. Which makes me wonder what I can do to reshape my environment to make it also conducive to movement.

Second, the time away gave me a good outside look at what my antidepressant is doing to me. Namely, it’s been helping with anxiety, but with each shift up in dose, my focus and ability to communicate has been dropping. I often feel mildly intoxicated and/or half-asleep. Everyone quickly noticed just how often I zoned out of the conversation right in the middle of a sentence, or couldn’t shift topics easily. Everyone here has been exposed to that change gradually, so it was good to see reactions from people who haven’t been around me for some time. Unfortunately, my regular doctor has basically told me she can’t do anything more for me and to try to get in to see a specialist, which will take months in this area, so I’m on my own for now. Sigh.

Third, also to do with this particular antidepressant, involves weight. While I was super-active on vacation, I managed to maintain my weight. In the week since I got home – eating about the same as on vacation, but much less active – I’ve been gaining about a pound per day. No, I’ve not been eating nearly enough to make that possible. This is the second time I’ve been on this antidepressant (first time pictured below), and the second time this level of medication has done this exact same thing to me. My doctor and I have been watching this in particular since I started the medication in December, but until I reached the current dose right before my vacation, the weight issue hadn’t reappeared. Yup, now it has. Again, I’m on my own for this. Ugh.

(before/after, seven months & 50 lbs gained on this medication)

So yeah. It’s back to square one for me. I guess it’s kinda the perfect time for it, since my birthday was on the 1st, and we had a big giant joint birthday party last weekend. (Laurence’s birthday was Monday, and both Jason’s parents have March birthdays as well.) Jason got me a Fitbit and has been doing challenges with me to try to help me to move more. He and Morrigan both got yoga mats, so it looks like we’re all going to be doing yoga together. I’ve cut back to the smaller dose of my medication since I received no direction from my doctor other than “go to someone else,” and I’m searching for a specialist. Hopefully – cross my fingers – that these little things can help me go from square one to actual progress this time!!

But I don’t want to end this post on a such a terrible note. So instead, here’s a pic of one of my birthday gifts from my in-laws, a kitty-pouch sweatshirt that just fits Nimi, even if she’s not so sure of the situation. Ha!

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