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The Medieval Kitchen: A Social History with Recipes
by Hannele Klemettila

There are some really good features of this book. The best is the illustrations. I'm not sure how they got permission (assuming they did get permission) to reproduce all those period depictions of cooking and eating, but the book is worth it just for those gorgeous color reproductions. These are illustrations you'll have trouble finding together in other sources, or finding online.

Another useful section is a two page spread on the chronology of some sources from the period, which I would have no qualms (after double-checking it) sharing with my students.

Furthermore, the author's Finnish origin and her use of non-English texts leads to the inclusion of information from Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish documents that are just not available in other sources. The references to documentary history and archaeology that aren't really available to English-only readers, such as the quotations from the FInnish works of Michael Agricola, bishop of Turku, and the menus from Finnish sources, make it a valuable source for an area not usually covered by food historians.
However, the biggest flaw in this volume is the lack of source citation. While the author makes in-text references to where a recipe may be found, there are no notes indicating the sources of many of the descriptive comments. This is especially troubling when one is dealing with areas where the author disagrees with the general run of scholars, for instance asserting that radishes were now known in Europe until the 16th century. Some of these may simply be typos in translation-- the author appears to claim that brewing in Scandinavia, *unlike* in other European countries, was done in the home by women... but most modern brewing history seems to claim that in most other European countries, the majority of beer brewing *was* done in the home, by women. That could be a simple mistranslation.
The section of recipes-- one might even say 'recipe file'-- at the back is somewhat problematic. In some cases, the author includes the original text of a recipe from the period, but almost always untranslated, thus making it difficult for the English-only reader to determine whether the version presented reflects the original accurately. In many cases, however, the author only says her version of recipe "was developed in reference to" a primary or secondary source. There are at least two references of this sort likely to freeze the blood of a knowledgeable medieval cuisinier: one to "with reference to Madeline Pelner Cosman," the author of Fabulous Feasts, a text whose descriptive material is reasonably regarded but whose recipes are overly reliant on 1970s fashions; another is 'with reference to James Matterer's website Gode Cookery" a site that includes both medieval and Renaissance texts with cooking versions and "Modern Recipes for Beginners." The sources for the recipes section, in particular, are omitted from the book's bibliography as well, unless cited somewhere else in the text.

The result is the level of scholarship that we would accept, possibly with some reluctance, in the SCA publication Compleat Anachronist, where anything that sounds wrong should be verified with other sources. I still want to know how medieval pies were easily baked at home, without an oven, for instance. But the author omits the biggest sins of discussing medieval-and-Renaissance cookery (for instance, complaining about the amount of spices). But I expected better of someone with a doctorate in Medieval History-- compare it to Bridget Ann Henisch's Medieval Cook or Redon and Serventi's Medieval Kitchen; at best it's more like Maggie Black's Medieval Cookbook (a text that drives me insane by the way it uses recipes-- Le Menagier recipes for instance are ONLY in the section not devoted to Le Menagier, etc.)
It also is similar to Food and Drink in Medieval Poland, by Weaver and Dembinska, in the way it covers an area traditionally neglected, but undercuts itself by not citing sources and by including syncretic recipes without properly identifying their precursors.

In sum: worth it for the pictures, and the Scandinavian background. Double-check anything you read in here, using texts that cite their sources

book diss

May. 5th, 2010 09:01 pm
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Quirky Kids: Understanding and Helping Your Child Who Doesn't Fit In- When to Worry and When Not to Worry

I picked this up hoping for some insights into a bright, sociable girl who, approaching adolescence, is suddenly struggling with fitting in and social skills.
Unfortunately for me, "quirky" here is really a way of saying "possibly hovering at the edge of the autism spectrum". I didn't finish it, but it could very well be useful for those working with kids displaying such tendencies.
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Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things, by Randy O. Frost & Gail Steketee.

Fascinating read. Though this book's subtitle promises a sort of cultural or self-analysis, it's really more of a social science profile of a psychological problem. Of course, it begins with the story of the famously hoarding Collyer brothers. However, the author(s), doing clinical psychological work and research on hoarding, go on to present profiles and treatment approaches that are much more up to date. These profiles are the serious side of TV shows like Hoarders. Interviewing people who self-identified as hoarders or victims of crippling clutter, the authors build a portrait of the perfectionist, indecisive, anxious and overwhelmed-- and sometimes OCD-- people they worked with, and the techniques of talking them through their sorting that sometimes worked, sometimes didn't. For those who struggle with their own and other people's clutter, this is an eye-opening, sometimes reassuring, and sometimes challenging book. I couldn't put it down.

Three useful concepts: that hoarders tend toward the perfectionist/indecisive as well as OCD; that hoarders need to practice discarding things and gauging their level of discomfort over time; and the 'non-shopping' trip.
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Miss B. was just finishing a book, and I knew she'd be casting about for something new, so I handed her Mister Monday by Garth Nix. (Ok, I'd suggested it before, but she had taken it to Florida and then left it in a knapsack with a decaying lunch; it was now aired out enough and I'd re-read it.) She said she'd read it next. A little while later, I saw her reading (something) and asked her how she liked Mister Monday. "Oh, I haven't started it yet." So, was she planning to read it? "Not until you've suggested it to me three or four more times... like I always do." Yes, I know she was kidding, but after having to routinely steal back books I was *IN THE MIDDLE OF READING* from her, having her say she'd try something and then not... I realized I had been bashing my head against the way in frustration.

Bleah. I give up. I told her that a) I wasn't going to recommend any more books and b) she was no longer allowed to borrow my library books. If she wanted to read books, she'd have to pick them out and check them out herself. She could go back to "reading that drivel like "Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Dear Dumb Diary" for all I cared.

Of course, the first thing that happened was that she snagged-- and had removed from her-- one of my requested library books (Cabinet of Wonders); and then her father pointed out that she'd LOVE another one that I got out. Since I'd finished it, we went back to the library and returned it while I got my other requests-- and she asked the circ staff to pull Dussie from the to-be-reshelved truck so she could check it out.

How long will I hold out? I said, Until I forget. So, until I slip up and recommend something to her, she's just stuck. *smile*

Onward and upward to the reviews.

Dussie. Nancy Springer
I happen to love Nancy Springer's work to begin with, but this slight novel is still well-handled, while playing on the Greek Myth trend popular these days. It's only when 13-year-old Dussie wakes up with a head full of snakes the day after getting her first period that she learns that her mother is in fact one of the Gorgon sisters, and Dussie herself is half-immortal. Dussie reacts in a perfectly reasonable adolescent fashion, mad at her mother and unwilling to talk to her. That the turban her mother always wears conceals a coif of vipers is bad enough, but unlike Dussie, her mother doesn't hear her own snakes talking-- and doesn't believe Dussie does. Once Dussie tries to leave the house with facial-mudded snakes disguised as dredlocks, things get worse. A visit to "The Sisterhood" suggests there may be a way out, and a kindly acquaintance might also help... but Dussie herself makes the final choices.

Cabinet of Wonders, Marie Rutkoski
Oooh! Steampunk with some humor for tweens, set in Bohemia, with complications, magic, and the usual appurtenances. Petra Kronos and her magical metal spider Astrophil are appalled when her father is returned from the capital minus his eyes-- the prince's 'thanks' for creating the most beautiful, magical clock ever. Eventually, Petra sets out to do something about it. (Compare to the tween fantasy The Blue Shoe: A Tale of Thievery, Villainy, Sorcery, and Shoes by Roderick Townley for a completely different treatment of some similar plot elements, and a male protagonist.) Well written, with sympathetic characters, a magical-steampunk storyline that is internally consistent, and a minimal and light touch on pubescent 'learning experiences'. The author's love for Bohemia shines through-- fans of Eva Ibbotson's Star of Kazan will find a similar worldsetting touch here. In a lot of ways, this is a classic hero's journey (with family rescue) fairy tale, with classic Eastern European elements. But who can resist Astrophil, or fail to like plucky (i.e., brave but not thinking things through, followed by dogged persistence) Petra? It remains to be seen whether sequels will be as good.
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I'm not sure where I heard about Beverly Nichols' gardening books... such as Down the Garden Path and Merry Hall, but I did get my mitts on one and began reading it just when a little bit of arch post-war gay country gardener would do me the best good.

Nichols, a bachelor, in search of his perfect and last home with garden, buys basically a mansion in post-war (WWII) England, whose 5 acre grounds have much potential. He moves in with his two cats and devoted manservant (in the hired staff sense, my dear, this was published in the 1950s for general consumption!) begins plotting the garden, recruits friends and laborers to help with removing what's wrong, and slowly gains the trust of his gardener, a brilliant agriculturist who has been there more than 40 years and is disinclined to alter the plans of the previous 40 years worth of families. He also spars with Miss Emily, a rather encroaching neighbor, and Our Rose, a rather artsy floral designer, living in the neighborhood.

If you're familiar with Angela Thirkell*, there is a certain amount ofThirkell's reckless small scale politics to it, plus a rather extravagant archness as well as a genuine love of gardening. It was transparently obvious to the modern reader that Nichols was as gay as a tree full of monkeys on nitrous oxide, and his plans for the garden immediately called to mind Wade Rouse: "The first thing that gay men must do when they move to the country is rearrange the woods" (At least in the city someone would hear me scream). Some of his prose is purple, he would be embarrassed posthumously to see how much has become quaint and twee, and he's a class snob and a misogynist of the first order, but he clearly loved his garden, had as sense of humor about it and wrote beautifully about it.

* I do find myself wondering if Thirkell ever pilloried Nichols in her novels... there are a number of characters that might have been based on him.
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Wade Rouse. At least in the city someone would hear me scream: Misadventures in search of the simple life.

Rouse convinced his partner, Gary, that they should move out of the big city (Chicago) to their summer house in an area he calls "Gayberry", so that he (Rouse) could live a modern day Thoreau-like transformation.

For someone who admits to having run away from his rural area childhood and sculpted himself into the perfect socialite writer stylish gay guy, this is a big step, fraught with pitfalls, or should we say pratfalls, and Rouse milks it for all the humor he can get. He also talks about what he learned. This is The Egg and I in reverse, in some ways. And yes, it is funny.

Now, true to a certain gay guy self-parodying over-the-top subculture (he mentions that his partner's mother gets him the best presents, apparently because she seems to envision him as a 13-year-old girl, and that says it all, doesn't it), he's gotta be bigger than life and more pansy-than-thou, so I kept losing suspension of disbelief at the funniest parts: how could you grow up in the Ozarks and not expect a septic tank? Can anyone really be that obsessive about shoes and still be able to write? Do people really spend this much money? For that matter, if you're still so wierded out by the average human being, why do you live outside the rarified urban lifestyle? Yes, it set off all my "My god, people aren't really *like* this, are they?" buzzers.

On the other hand, well, yes, people sometimes really ARE like this, no matter how much it wierds me out, and if they are willing to develop Third Thoughts about their lives anyway, I'm all for it. There's an a lot more diversity of thought process here than in, say, Alison Bechtel. But then I never tried to read this guy's actual memoir, either. Also, it's refreshing to run into someone who writes something like this who actually has a spiritual life of a more mainstream sort, a feeling of connection with God-as-they-understand him. That's one of the best parts in the book.

At first, I thought, ok, this guy is a loser. Then I thought, Hey, he's kinda funny. Then I thought, omigod, he's SO milking the stereotypes. Then I thought, hey, wow, he's not a bad writer. Moving back to "is anybody really that shallow, and if so, is it moral to admit it in public?" And then, 'hey, that was spot-on, and this is pretty deep. Well, he's not a complete loser after all.. wait, was that a Bette Midler impersonation... what?'

There's a certain gay Gladys Taber effect going on here, as well. Yes, his heroine is Erma Bombeck and it shows, but Erma just didn't have the same material to work with for the serious parts.

Yeah, I'd probably re-read it and recommend it to you all. I'd even pick up a copy if if I saw it cheap or remaindered.

His explanation of small town friendliess and how it complicates life (spot on), followed by the sentence "The first thing that gay men must do when they move to the country is rearrange the woods" makes p. 162 the best in the book, but since I'm too lazy to transcribe it, go read a different excerpt here: http://waderouse.com/content/books_city_scream.asp?id=Excerpt
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Rashi's daughter : secret scholar Anton, Maggie. 2008.

Anton here appears to be doing a youth-targetted prequel to her Rashi's Daughters series about the daughters of this renowned 11th century Jewish scholar. The background appears to be well researched, the characters are not unbelievable, and the story-- and its background-- is fascinating, though there are some heart-wrenching moments. If you are interested in the lives of medieval women, medieval Jews, or both, this is worth taking up, though I wouldn't give it a gold star for great writing.

The entomological tales of Augustus T. Percival : Petronella saves nearly everyone Low, Dene.
Petronella is about to 'come out' in early 20th century Englad-- but her guardian has swallowed a bug and then become a fanatical bug-eater. Then two famous personages are kidnapped from her party. She, her bug-eating uncle, her best friend Jane, and Jane's hansome but oblivious brother in the Civil Service, have to solve the problem. A comedy of manners for the teen set, with suspense, high absurdity, and a dose of P.G. Wooster. Thoroughly enjoyable even if I can't remember the plot.

The puzzling world of Winston Breen : the secret in the box Berlin, Eric.
If you like puzzles, this is worth it just for the puzzles scattered throughout. The characterization makes Scooby-Doo look well-developed, and Breen is an amusing entry into crowd of Harry Reed, Encyclopedia Brown, et al.

School of Fear Daneshvari, Gitty
Another amusing addition to the absurdist adventure novel genre for pre-teens. Really quite funny, and keeps you guessing as to whether the stereotypical plot device will be used. Fun to read.

The Pepins and their problems Horvath, Polly
Oh, this is a wonderful update to the idea of the Peterkin Papers, though the Pepins have no "lady from Philadelphia"-- their neighbor is just as batty as they are. Nice, if a little light. Still, for fans of Pippi Longstocking and the like, very worth it.

The book of changes Wynne-Jones, Tim
A light fantasy touch here, but mostly grounded, these short stories are reminiscent of Joan Aiken, but with a humor more like DWJ or Jenny Nimmo. Might be 'preachy' to those who don't believe in the fantasy elements, but read as magical realism quite charming.

Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos by R.L. La Fevers.
Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris written by R.L. LaFevers.
What if one of Walter Emerson's daughters was as daring as the nephew chronicled by Elizabeth Peters? What if Egyptian magic was real? Definitely lively writing, with the independent (and excruciatingly Free Range on an E. Nesbit scale) Theodosia concocting countercharms, removing curses, and investigating frightening Egyptian mysteries, mostly in London. A certain element of absurdist and mannerist fantasy, and the major plot turns are somewhat predictable, but an all-around win of a series. I await the future adventures of the clever and resourceful Theodosia with bated breath-- she puts Hermione let alone Harry Potter in the shade.
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Though I did skim it-- it's for a College Seminar on "We Have Always Been Medieval".

David W. Marshall, ed. Mass Market Medieval: Essays on the Middle Ages in Popular Culture (McFarland, 2007).

Table of Contents:
- Chaucer for a New Millenium: The BBC Canterbury Tales
- "If I Lay My Hands on the Grail": Arthurianism and Progressive Rock *
- The Sound of Silents: Aurality and Medievalism in Benjamin Christensens' Haxan
- Antichrist Superstars: The Vikings in Hard Rock and Heavy Metal *
- The Future Is What it Used to Be: Medieval Prophecy and Popular Culture
- Idealized Images of Wales in the Fiction of Edith Pargeter/Ellis Peters *
- Places Don't Have to Be True to Be True: The Appropriation of King Arthur and The Cultural Value of Tourist Sites
- "Accident My Codlings": Sitcom, Cinema, and the Re-writing of History in The Blackadder *
- Medieval History and Cultural Forgetting: Oppositional Ethnography in The Templar
- Teaching the Middle Ages *
- Virtual Medieval: The Age of Kings interprets the Middle Ages
- A World unto Itself: Autopoietic Systems and Secondary Worlds in Dungeons & Dragons
- Anything Different is Good: Incremental Repetition, Courtly Love, and Purgatory in Groundhog Day

(* ones are ones I thought were particularly good, though the "Teaching the Middle Ages" essay is, well, rather whimperish.)
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The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters by Rose George. (Metropolitan, 2008)

Doing research for my historical hygiene pamphlet led me down a wide variety of fascinating byways-- or should I say drains? So when I heard about this modern treatment of the topic, I had to read it.

It's worth it.

George covers the sewers of London, the World Toilet Organization, Biogas systems in China (where human and animal manure is composted together to produce burnable fuel gas for the rural family's home), the Japanese ultra-specialized toilet industry, sanitation efforts in less-developed countries including the problem of societies where "open defecation" prevails as well as "helicopter toilets" (where people eliminate into a plastic bag and throw it somewhere...), the processing of 'biosolids' (sewage sludge) into fertilizer and its benefits and dangers, among other topics.

While I'm lukewarm about her topical organization, I think that George's big strength is her amusing and sharp writing combined with a flair for the personality and the anecdote, which she finds in abundance here. From the founder of the World Toilet organization, through specific biogas-using Chinese ladies, there's an abundance of personalities here. There's also a lot of controversy, which George does not avoid.

What she does do is present both sides of most topics-- talking to the enthusiastic head of a highly scientific, class-A+ biosolids producing facility and on the other hand, a campaigning, anti-sludge activist who has documented hundreds of sludge related illnesses in her community and elsewhere, for instance-- first you find yourself all pro-biosolids and then pulled back into caution. I for one will never walk near what looks like a sewerpipe or a commercially fertilized field with the same insouciance again.

She also discusses the shame and the social constructs of human waste, and how they affect the way societies address the issue. (It's fascinating to learn tidbits such as the report that mothers asked to rate the offensiveness of several unlabelled dirty diapers indentified their own baby's as less disgusting.) This too has a serious side, of course, because that's how the problem of human waste goes unaddressed. Apocalyptic thinkers may ask themselves how long public investment averse communities (like, say, California and New Jersey) can avoid the fate of cholera-ridden Zimbabwe if all goes to heck. Development loving liberals will wonder what we can do to make conditions better, and the green treehuggers will wonder if we can make things better for the environment. Business and politics types may enjoy the profiles of marketing and planning successes and fiascos, though engineers will probably feel there is in no way enough detail.

Definitely worth reading, and not just in the bathroom.

Slate posted excerpts from this book at: http://www.slate.com/id/2201466/entry/2201467/

Rose George has a blog at: http://rosegeorge.com/site/category/blog/
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Damosel: In Which the Lady of the Lake Renders a Frank and Often Startling Account of her Wondrous Life and Times. by Stephanie Spinner. (Knopf, 2008)

This ya fantasy re-interpretation of the Arthur story is an interesting take, though I didn't find it as engaging as others (say, Gerard Morris' Squire's Tales) but it sticks with the classical plot and introduces an intriguing non-human narrator, as well as a sympathetic human one. I'm not sure whether the non-humanness of the Damosel, the floating-in-water feeling of her narrative, is what made it feel so ... odd. Nevertheless, I am glad I read it.

Princess Ben. by Catherine Gilbert Murdock. (Houghton Mifflin, 2008)

A nice little young adult fantasy, combining the misfit princess and the misbehaved princess genres. Strong female heroine, with a not-completely-horrible treatment of weight. I liked it, and liked the main character. The writing was good with flashes of impressiveness and just the sort of treatment of day-to-day things and multifaceted characters I like to see.

The Storyteller's Daughter by Cameron Dokey. (Scholastic, 2002)

Forgettable teen retelling of the Scherazade story. Don't bother.

The Laughter of Dead Kings by Elizabeth Peters (William Morrow, 2008)

I love Vicky Bliss, though this isn't the best of the series. John is not handled well, and Schmidt seems rather wooden in the first part of the book. On the other hand, who can resist Peters and her madcap desert races, people who seem to be something else and possibly are, and of course the archaeology. Worth it just for the revelation about Schmidt near the end, the feeling of completion, and the unexpected guest appearance of the author...
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The Fire of Ares by Michael Ford. (Walker & Company, 2008)

I picked up this first in a juvenile series called "Spartan Quest" think it would be Percy Jackson knockoff fantasy. It turns out, however, to be classic juvenile historical fiction, and rather well done at that. The hero is born a Helot, the Messenian serf-class in Sparta; however, it turns out that he has connections, and perhaps a destiny, connected with the ruling-class Spartans. Rather rough stuff here, with lots of bullying and combat, but with a wealth of detail and tackling complex social history with skill. Not for fantasy fans, or those who don't like 'boy fiction' but still quite good. Not sure whether I'll look for sequels.
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Oh boy, you don't need to like minatures to love this book, which comes from the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art center: if you like cool pictures of kitchens, folk art, toys, etc.

Susan Hight Rountree. Dollhouses, Minature Kitchens and Shops. (Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1996.)

The centerpiece of the collection covered here is the Morris-Canby-Rumford Dollhouse, originally built and furnished circa 1820, and donated to the Folk Art Center in 1981. (Children of the family to whom the dollhouse belonged are still allowed to play with it by permission.) A significant amount of the dollhouse furnishings dating from the early and mid-nineteenth century survive, while other pieces were added over the years. A number of the newer items, from the 1930s through 1950s, are reproductions of old family pieces. This is a dream dollhouse in the cabinet babyhouse style, with elaborate accessories-- the kitchen and dining rooms, in particular, with their extensive collections of china, metalware, and even glass pieces, are droolworthy.

The Long Island Dollhouse, found by a contractor in 1968 in a house he was demolishing (origin unknown), is more of a 20th century mansion type, built longer and lower than, but similarly to Queen Mary's Dollhouse. Donated items combine with the furniture that was in the dollhouse, but the overall effect as curated by the Folk Art Museum is still 19th c. A number of items from the Folk Art Center have been duplicated in minature to furnish the house as well-- the toys in particular. A mix of scales is more evident here than in the other dollhouse. The Music room is especially entrancing. The kitchen in the Long Island Dollhouse is beautifully full of accessories of every description, including a black silk Brazilian doll. Wood, copper, china, and even marzipan (in foodstuffs made by a Colonial Williamsburg pastry chef) will have cooks' fingers itching. There is even a well-furnished toolshed.

The last part of the book is focused on 19th century toy kitchens and shops, usually German-made, in the collection. The Nuremberg Kitchen, early 19th century, will look mostly familiar to connoiseurs of early modern German kitchen prints; there is also another tile-roofed kitchen, and a turn of the 20th century kitchen, as well as a Dry Goods Shop, Millinery Shop, and Post office. For anyone who was ever entranced by the Playmobil Kitchen (http://store.playmobilusa.com/on/demandware.store/Sites-US-Site/en_US/Product-Show?pid=5317&cgid=Puppenhaus) or Playmobil Royal Kitchen (http://store.playmobilusa.com/on/demandware.store/Sites-US-Site/en_US/Product-Show?pid=4251&cgid=Maerchenschloss), this is the pre-21st century equivalent... Oh my.

The pictures are large, glossy, and well laid out. The text is just enough to give the reader a sense of what they are seeing. This is primarily a picture book for the collection/exhibit, but it's well worth a look. (Me, I want to buy a copy.)
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Juliana van Olphen-Fehr. Diary of a Midwife: The Power of Positive Childbearing. (Bergen & Garvey, 1998)

I can't resist reading these stories, I just can't. Even when I'm feeling blue about my personal choices (or lack thereof), I have to read such memoirs.

As a document about the Certified Nurse-Midwifery movement, this is an excellent autobiographical source. It's even funny in a number of places. There's a certain amount of didacticism, a certain amount of dogmatism, involved. It's important to read this document in the context that it's the work of an activist, and of course you'll pick up on the activist tone. I wish there was better balance in the stories she tells (most of them are either 'how the OB sucked' or 'how I and other nurse-midwives were great') but it's certainly more balanced than some of the earlier works. The experiences she documents took place in the late 1970s through the 1980s, and that's important context (some things have gotten better, some worse, and some things haven't changed.) It's also important to remember, when reading this book, that this is a document about primarily a home-birth practice, where the patients accepted were SEVERELY limited by her risk definition-- no overweight patients, no smokers, etc. etc.

Basically, when Ms. Olphen-Fehr talks about her personal feelings and experiences, she is giving us a picture of what it means/meant to become a CNM and to start up her own practice, how home births work/worked while she was practicing (as of the publication of the book, she had become an administrator in a CNM training program, also a worthy pursuit). I would NOT take her strictures or opinions as generalizable to all CNMs or any other kind of baby-catching professional, and I wouldn't read this as a document about childbirth (as one of the reviewers said, too many babies suffer pain or injury for some moms to be able to deal, even if they haven't had the sort of traditional medical birth of the kind she censures. On the other hand, for those interested in how home-birthing more or less works before pursuing it for oneself, this is a good read, not least because the author points out, somewhat tactfully, problems she did have to struggle with. (Ok, I admit it: I don't think I'd want her for my midwife, but I think she's emblematic of her time and for people for whom her approach works, I think it's useful to know what she offered.)
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Gestational Diabetes: What to Expect. 5th edition. American Diabetes Association, 2005

I've been reading a bunch of stuff out there about Gestational Diabetes, and I have to say that most of the slim books that *are* available for consumers are pretty much the same as the pamphlets one gets from the Diabetes Educators. This one, at least, has a little bit about what to expect in labor and delivery, though I wouldn't spend the $10 to get it from ADA. Unfortunately, one of the things it says is "Be sure to discuss both vaginal birth and cesarian delivery with your obstetrician months before your baby is born, so you will know what to expect." My experience is that might work with a midwife, or in Wyoming, but my experience getting straightforward information from a variety of care providers early on (other than, 'at X weeks we'll decide when you're going to have the baby' was... ahem... fruitless; my partners suspect this is a way to avoid being seen as promising anything).

(One of the problems with gestational diabetes is that all the normal pregnancy books pretty much do an ABEND when it comes to GD, saying "this applies as long as you don't have conditions like X, Y, and Gestational Diabetes" and then leaving you hanging, while the books and pamphlets about GD tell you that if your sugars are well-controlled, you can probably have a mostly normal birth, talk to your obstetrician. Again leaving you hanging. Which puts a GD mom in the uncomfortable position of having little to no information about what to expect.)

One worrying thing about this publication is that it claims that one hour after eating, a Blood Glucose test should show less than 120, which is not currently the standard from the medical information I've received and the medical articles I've read; this could be a typo, or an overly-stringent recommendation. It also claims that women on insulin should test 7 times a day, which is a recommendation that I've seen only in Lois Jovanovic's work (Jovanovic contributed to this work; I have dark suspicions about her understanding of what is reasonable in time and supply cost for testing-- 50 test strips run about $25-$50 if not covered by insurance).

On the other hand, the book was the only source, other than Kmom's consumer site, to clearly state that the postpartum 'testing for diabetes' one is supposed to have is another one of those miserable Glucose Tolerance Tests, rather than the fasting blood glucose, Hemoglobin A1C, or other simple test and only mildly annoying test you might have received as a previously fat woman being checked for diabetes. (Fat women, I've found, are disproportionally suspected of and tested for diabetes automatically, while my male friends who have weight issues and turned out to have diabetes often had to present to the their doctor complaining that they suspect diabetes before being tested.)

Compared with Lois Jovanovic's older book: Managing Your Gestational Diabetes: A Guide for You and Your Baby's Good Health, by Lois Jovanovic-Peterson, M.D., this is the preferred resource. (Yes, I know I'm prejudiced. Every time I experienced some really intrusive testing or stringent protocol in my GD pregnancy, further investigation showed that it was a protocol suggested by Jovanovic.) But again, I would say it's not worth BUYING it yourself; ask your public library if they have it, or can interlibrary loan it for you. Certainly, don't bother contacting the American Diabetes Association asking for more or other information about GD; they simply don't have it or don't want to distribute it. This the best you'll get out of them, and it IS good background reading, especially if you don't have access to or the patience for reading medical journals.

However, along with this book, I would suggest spending some time looking at Kmom's Gestational Diabetes pages: http://www.plus-size-pregnancy.org/gd/gd_index.html
Looking at consumer-created sites on medicine, especially those that have a definite bias (Kmom is 'size-positive' which gives many people the creeps) is a chancy thing. However, size-positive or not, size-activist or not, if you're a person looking for information about the experience of having Gestational Diabetes, this is the best resource out there to read. Kmom has read the research papers, and she's very careful to explain what they say, and where and why she differs from them; she's also got lots of stories from other mothers who've had GD.

Though many medical professionals don't seem to feel there's any long-term stress associated with a Gestational Diabetes diagnosis and treatment, I have to say that I certainly was stressed by it. While I got some help and emotional support from sympathetic nurse-practitioners and diabetes instructors, I would recommend looking at Kmom's pages just to know you are not alone, and that things you're experiencing-- for instance, widely varying protocols for handling labor and delivery, the feelings of blame (overweight/obese women have a higher proportion of GD diagnoses, though there are certainly a significant proportion of GD diagnoses in slender women), and just general stress-- are not unique to you. Pairing that with this book may make you feel that you're taking a balanced view.

On the other hand, if you read the food suggestions in books like What to Expect when You're Expecting and/or What to eat when you're expecting and would like some more food guidance, this is probably also a comforting place to start. I can't tell you much about the information here, except that it's based on the food exchange program (I'm no diet fan or dietician). Obviously paying close attention to a diabetes nutritionist with experience with GD is key.

In the current OB climate, it seems there's less support for doing your own research and reading around before following your doctor/hospital's dictates on what must be done. If that's what you feel comfortable with, that's fine. I believe that American Diabetes Association's Gestational Diabetes: What to Expect actually will help you follow your doctor's guidelines. (Note: of special interest is the section on post-partum birth control; this book is the one resource that at least explains clearly *why* they want to talk to you about BC, because some methods of BC are considered less useful in patients who have a tendency toward diabetes mellitus II, which includes all women who have had gestational diabetes.)

If you're a maverick that is skeptical or even cynical about what OBs might say, you may want to get this book to get an idea of the general concensus; it's probably the best consumer resource on the topic, even though it's only 100 pages.

If you're just nervous and like to read up on what's going on in order to feel comfortable, this is DEFINITELY the book to go with; it's calm, relatively supportive, and reassuring, as well as having good information. You may actually want to spend the $10 to have a copy.
bunnyjadwiga: (Default)
Leonard Felder. Fitting in is Overrated: The Survival Guide for Anyone who has ever Felt like an Outsider. (Sterling, 2008)

Alexei Panshin, I think, said that to be successful, a book need not be good; it must merely appear at the proper time. So, I have to say I have no idea whether this book is good or not: it just appeared, at least for me, at the proper time.

I requested this book through my local library due to some material from it that appeared in our Employee Health Newsletter that just spoke to me. That was that if you have been treated like an outsider, the first thing you need to do is to work around the expectation of being blown off. That spoke so clearly to some of my experiences! Whether or not my reactions and way of presenting myself were responsible for the experiences of my 20s and 30s, I still react to situations based on expectations I formed at that time, and I was making things harder for myself than they had to be.

Normally, sane people are rather suspicious of books that embrace the idea that one really could be dissed because of being outsider, being excluded. This is because, well, there's that whole "Oh poor me, everyone is against me" syndrome that we can all fall into, and which those of us who have experienced exclusion at an early age (say, in adolescent cliques) are more prone to. The idea is that if you as a person are *really* being excluded, there's generally a reason, right? And it's probably your fault. Or you aren't being excluded, you're excluding yourself. So, people and self-help books reason, the first step is admitting you *are* the problem, one way or another.

The trouble is, once you've identified yourself as the problem, identified the way you present yourself and your ideas as the problem, it's not always easy to find a way to change the dynamic. And what if the dynamic doesn't change? It's hard not to get discouraged and bitter when you realize that the more you advocate for something you consider important, the less likely it is to happen.

What I found especially attractive about this book (once I got past the discomfort of having the idea of experiencing social exclusion taken seriously) is that it doesn't have to require admitting you're wrong. What it does is give tools for addressing situations calmly, rationally, and surviving when things don't work out, as well as admission that sometimes things just don't change just because you want them to. It also talks about how to think about 'is this really something I want to pursue'? and how to see the people you're having trouble with as human.

The author isn't asking people to try not to be an outsider, or to accept things as they are and "get over it." What he wants to cover are these points (I'm quoting from his introduction):
  • What held-back gifts, insights, and benefits could you as an outsider now bring forth.
  • What to say when someone tries to exclude you or cut you out of the loop.
  • How to avoid the self-sabotage that many outsiders fall into.
  • How to become an excellent mentor, ally, and team member for other outsiders.
  • How to make your circle the one that people want to be in.

The book is full of vignettes, both of celebrities and ordinary people, some of whom have turned their lives around from being outsiders; some of whom have failed; and some of whom have tackled one particular exclusionary problem, or one particular personal issue, and were able to make headway. It's specifically not a 'feel-good' profile book though, as the author points out. Nor does the author suggest infinitely persisting in situations that don't work, or trying to make yourself someone you aren't.

A story out of Judaic teaching that he relates touched me very much, even though when I followed up on it, the actual story is much less gentle, so I'll reproduce his version:
...a well respected but very human rabbi in Eastern Europe named Reb Zusya who has a dream one night in which he talks with the mysterious Divine Presence. He says, "At the end of my life, I suspect I will stand before You and be asked, 'Zusya, why couldn't you be more like Moses, the great teacher and courageous leader?" Then he hears a gentle, mysterious whisper in response. "Zusya, my one and only Zusya: at the end of your life you will not be asked why you were not more like Moses. You will be asked why you were not more like Zusya."

A key strategy that the author (who is a psychologist with management experience) describes boils down to a method for reminding yourself that you are both a valuable, unique individual, and one individual among many, who doesn't need to be perfect, to be the fulcrum of the universe. Another mantra he suggests for one person dealing with difficult people is "I'm going to handle this with decency and integrity no matter what." (I know from my own experience that this often does help more than you'd think, and certainly more than my 20-year-old self, who took this up, would have thought.)

Like I said, I don't know if this is a good book. I know that it hit a spot for me, and that I want my own copy. Maybe you or someone you know would feel the same about it. I'll leave you by quoting his suggestions for responding better to hurtful cliques. I know I'm doing him a disservice by disinterring these bullet points from the explanatory text, but if this book is for you, they might whet your appetite.

Strategy #1: Find moments of service to offset the moments of discomfort.
Strategy #2: Recognize that many excluders are secretly doing a cover-up.
Strategy #3: Always be on the lookout for members of the inner circle who are flexible enough to make a side deal with you.
bunnyjadwiga: (Default)
Tracy Thompson. The Ghost in the House: Motherhood, Raising Children and Struggling with Depression. (Harper Collins, 2006).

What a difficult book to read, and yet, it seems to have been helpful to me. Read more... )

Anyway, Thompson conducted both survey research and some in-depth interviews with mothers identifying as having depression (recruited from the readership of O: The Oprah Magazine and some newspapers. She incorporates with that her own experiences as the daughter of a woman with depression, a mother with depression herself, and the mother of a child with depression. Sometimes that's good; sometimes it's a bit Too Much. (For instance, her struggles with breastfeeding clearly tint her attitude towards breastfeeding in the depressed mother.)

There's a good deal of scary stuff here, about the long-term effects of depression in the mother genetically and behaviorally on the children. The stories of the pain, exhaustion and frustration of depressed moms would get Pollyanna herself a bit down.

But there's also hope here. "One of the many great things about children is that they can learn from your weaknesses as well as your strengths..." (What a great chapter title: "How your struggles with depression can make you a better mother.")The author matter-of-factly talks about tools that she and her interviewees have shared for dealing with being an appropriate parent while depressed. Unlike many books, this one touches on the tendency in depression to be exhaustedly super-irritable, as well as too exhausted to get out of bed, though there was less attention paid to the irritable side. For me, the emphasis on making sure to get appropriate care (at whatever level one considers appropriate), on the ways that mothers trying to tough it out can fail for both mother and child, was helpful also. The admission that most pop self-help 'optimism' peddled today is pretty fake and the experience of dealing with doctors can be incredibly frustrating was reassuring. [Thompson points out one of my pet peeves: the current emphasis on incredibly close child supervision and attachment parenting can make things harder for exhausted, irritable depressed moms to cope.]

In conclusion, this probably isn't the book to read if you're in the great trough of depression, unless you're so hungry for honesty on the subject that one more "cheer up" will cause you to beat someone's head in (except you're too tired). However, it is a helpful book for those who have chosen or are in the process of choosing to be a mother despite struggles with depression, and perhaps for those seeking to understand what it was like to be a depressed mother (though if you're still pissed at your mother, maybe not so much). It is also a helpful source for coping mechanisms-- though a shorter, more concise list of suggestions might be helpful when in the throes.
bunnyjadwiga: (Default)
Caroline Osborne, Small Scale Modelling (Ramsbury, Wiltshire: Crowood Press, 2000).

Yes, I'm back on the minatures/dollhouses kick again, even though (or because) my real house is such a mess. Anyway...

This lavishly color illustrated paperback concentrates on the author's collection of houses, scenes, shops, etc. of 1/2" to 1 foot scale or smaller. As the author points out,
Most collectors and modellers swiftly discover that in an average-sized house (including full-size humans), three or four 1/12 scale houses are delightful. Twenty is an embarrassment of riches and suggests it is time to open a museum.

The author writes with a sense of humor (somewhat British) as well as a great deal of enthusiasm, though one could merely page through the book and marvel at her creativity.
I have a completely unique distressing system for furniture: I just leave it in my studio (the garden shed) for two of three months, and the combination of damp and pottery dust usually does the rest. This only recommended if you want real Victorian/Dickensian dirt.

The author makes many of her own scene houses and dolls, though she also uses a generous selection of purchased items. Sections of the book include Making minature people & animals, furnishings, building your house, minature gardenign and landscaping, interior decoration, accessories, pottery houses, paper mache houses, cold porcelain projects, Shops (of 1/12, 1/24, and 1/48 scale size), period projects, outdoors designs, and complexes. Her take on making minature gardens is especially intriguing; I've long wanted to make a model medieval garden and her work gives me a place to start. The Grocer's shop and the Alchemist's house are likely to appeal to history buffs and herbalists as well.

Unlike some of my other favorite doll's-house books, this volume gives merely verbal directions and ideas rather than patterns, but it covers a much wider variety of materials, and is the best kind of 'idea book'. The tools and materials section and the section on making dolls are more detailed. The list of sources and magazines in the back will be dated by now, but the book benefits from a good but simple index.
bunnyjadwiga: (Default)
I would have sworn that I had posted a review of this, but I can't find it.

Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation, by Olivia Judd.
Writers such as Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Dawkins successfully portrayed evolutionary biology and natural history for the layperson, even with a dollop of humor. But Olivia Judd goes a bit farther. Combining the intriguing genres of advice column, sex advice, and natural history writing with a healthy dose of laughter, Dr. Tatiana addresses the sex concerns of perfectly normal though a bit odd-sounding creatures.

From the stick insects that copulate for 10 weeks or more to the pseudophallic female hyena, Dr. Tatiana's advisees fascinate and educate us about "the battle of the sexes." Judd does give us a fairly solid scientific background on the theories behind this, but strongly advances one point: the old dictum that "males are promiscuous and females chaste" advanced by A.J. Bateman in 1948 ain't always true.

Chastity belts, monogamy, males who do child care, detachable sex organs, hermaphrodites, asexual reproduction, food in courting customs, rape, incestous species, kamakazi insemination, homosexuality, males worn out by female insatiety, female catfights over males -- it's all here, with far stranger things. The book concludes with a 'transcript' of a 'TV studio interview' with a species that has practiced parthenogenesis for millions of years.

Dip into this chapter book anywhere to come up with a fascinating jewel, and probably a laugh. Coming to the last page of this romp, though, you'll not only be enlightened as to the natural history of unusual insects, sea animals, bird and even mammals, but introduced to a wide variety of thought about evolutionary biology.
bunnyjadwiga: (diescute)
So, this morning, I finished reading Nurk: The Strange, Surprising Adventures of a (Somewhat) Brave Shrew by Ursula Vernon, the creator of Digger: http://www.graphicsmash.com/comics/digger.php
a serial graphic novel in which the main character is a wombat.

It's a classic children's story of The Hobbit: or There and Back Again format, with illustrations by the author. Nurk, who is a homebody with a vague yearning for adventure-- much like Bilbo, and very like Mole in the The Wind in the Willows, thinks wistfully of the adventures of his grandmother, the fierce, adventurous Surka. When he accidentally opens a letter that is probably addressed to the vanished grandmother, he ends up setting out to find the sender and apologize. There are, of course, adventures after that, which he survives by doggedness and practicality and a clean pair of socks.

I love it. I love the illustrations. I think it's very cute, and much better than, say, Redwall. But then, I'm a Mole/Baggins at heart, what can I say. :)
bunnyjadwiga: (Default)
So, the only reason I found out that Robin McKinley had a new-ish book out is because of reading her blog, Hellhounds and Roses (there's an LJ feed for it). It's not in any of the bookstores I looked for it in, but fortunately, the Madison library had it.


It rocks.
Ok, it's Robin McKinley, of course it rocks. There are divigations (which people complained of in her last two books) but they fit into the writing style of the main character. And of course it's about dragons, which are somewhat overdone (though not as overdone as, say, vampires). But there is also wildlife rescue, and living in a nature reserve, and... And there's lots of bits where world is clearly bigger than what we see, like when Jake talks about the troubles scientists had trying to reintroduce rescue-raised griffins and caspian walruses back into the wild population. I think McKinley has a particular affinity for talking (in retrospect) about experiences where one is so overwhelmed with a particular thing or task (such as baby-raising) that nothing else is actually computing:
"This was what Dad later named my Footman Period. Remember the Frog-Footman in Alice, who, while all hell was breaking loose around him, sat on the doorstep and said, "I shall sit here till tomorrow or the next day, maybe. I shall sit here, on and off, for days and days." That was me. Days and days and days ..."

Kyleri, have you read it? Did you keep looking over at Chocolate and saying "It's our own story exactly?"

Anybody else? I must squeee.....


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