Books: Call the Midwife

October 2, 2016

Tomorrow is our monthly book club meeting, and I just realized I had not written a post on last month’s book, Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth. It’s not a book I would have thought of reading otherwise (mostly as I hadn’t heard of it before), but it was an enjoyable and fascinating read.

It is a view not only into the world of midwifery, but also into the lives of people living in postwar London Docklands. Worth recounts the stories of a wide variety of people, both the nuns (she lives and works at the convent of St. Raymund Nonnatus) and the women they serve and their families. There are a number of memorable characters, especially Conchita Warren and her very large family.

It is also a view into a historical era that exists now only in books and in memories. The slums have since been torn down and families moved elsewhere, ending a way of life that was very hard but that had its positive aspects also. The practice of medicine has changed a great deal since then also, so some of the practices of the midwives in the book seem strange to us in the 21st century. (I had never heard of boiling urine before, to test for pre-eclampsia.) Read the rest of this entry »


My kind of lawnmower

August 21, 2016

When I was little, my nickname within our family was Piglet Moon. At one point it was lengthened to Piglet Moon Who Likes to Help Daddy with the Grass. Not that I actually went by that name on a daily basis – I’m not sure whether anyone actually called me Piglet Moon very much. But I was at that age when children actually do enjoy helping with house and yard work.

Daddy used an electric mower, which to me was loud and kind of scary. I think anything loud was scary to me at that age – I was particularly scared of some public toilets that flushed very loudly. I probably also had absorbed some of my mother’s fear of what could happen if something went wrong with powered tools and appliances. I do remember at least once that my father ran over the mower’s electric cord while mowing and sliced it in two. I wasn’t sure whether one could be electrocuted that way, but I didn’t want to find out.

When I was big enough to push a mower, I decided to haul the old reel mower out of the garage. It hadn’t been used in a long time and it was probably a bit rusty, but it did cut grass, as long as the grass wasn’t too high. And there was no noise, and no cord to worry about. Eventually I also learned to use the electric mower, and discovered it wasn’t so scary. But I retained a liking for the quiet and simplicity of the reel mower.

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Back on my bike

July 9, 2016

I rode my bike a lot when I was growing up. My bike was a single-speed 20-inch with baskets in the back. It wasn’t fast, but I could carry a load of books back to the library and come home with a bunch more. On Saturdays I could ride from one garage sale (which I knew as a “tag sale” growing up in Connecticut) to another around town, occasionally buying a used paperback or jigsaw puzzle (as long as they could fit in my bike baskets).

Often I just rode my bike for the fun of riding it. When I was a teenager, I got a full-size bike, with three speeds, and I could manage hills better, but I still struggled to keep up on weekly bike rides with the local American Youth Hostels group. I dreamed of someday getting a ten-speed bike.

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Books: Calico Joe

February 23, 2015

This is not really the kind of book I was looking for to listen to on my iPod. I used to listen to books on tape while riding my exercise bike, but changing technology has put an end to that. I hadn’t thought I had any interest in strapping an MP3 player to my arm as so many people do at the Y, because I had no interest in listening to music while exercising. (The classical music I enjoy just doesn’t have the driving beat that goes with pushing yourself physically.)

Then recently it occurred to me that these days you can listen to books on an MP3 player. Our library participates in a service that makes more titles available to me than just what is owned by our own library. Surely there must be enough out there to motivate me to get on the bike so I can listen to another installment of a gripping story.

It turns out there is less out there than I had hoped, at least of the sort of story I enjoy. I don’t mind a certain amount of violence in mysteries and thrillers (pretty hard to have a murder mystery without some violence) but not as much as a lot of books have these days. I have no interest in most romances or any vampire stories.

But I like John Grisham’s writing. Most of it, anyway – I did not enjoy A Painted House. The description of Calico Joe indicated it was about baseball, which I’ve had little interest in for the last forty years, but as a young child I loved it. I borrowed books from the library about children playing baseball, I slowed my steps passing the baseball diamond on the way home from the pool if there was a game going on, and I practiced hitting a softball in the back yard (hard to do, though, without anyone to pitch it to me). Besides, there was some mystery involved in the story of Calico Joe.

I did enjoy the book. It is well-written, giving out information bit by bit about what really happened when narrator Paul Tracey was 11 years old in 1973 (when, as it happens, I was also 11 years old). It’s about family, and about behavior that can destroy family relationships. It’s about the need to tell the truth, and about the pride and fear and stubbornness that can make it so hard to let the truth be told.

And of course it’s also about baseball. Enough memories of my onetime love of the sport remain that I enjoyed even the descriptions of games. I knew nothing of most of the players mentioned, but Grisham is a good enough writer that my ignorance didn’t get in the way of appreciating the story.

But it’s not such a gripping novel that I felt compelled to ride my bike just to hear what happened next. I did feel compelled to ride it enough to finish the book before having to “return” it to the library, but I really want to be exercising every day that time permits. The library director tells me that soon many more titles will be available, so I look forward to an expanded selection.


Back in the (bicycle) saddle again

October 26, 2014

When I was growing up I rode my bicycle everywhere. Well, almost everywhere. I’m not sure why I didn’t ride it in the younger grades, maybe it wasn’t allowed. By the time I was in middle school, I carried my violin case to and from school every day and that just doesn’t fit in a bicycle basket very well. (There were days I wished I had chosen to play clarinet.)

But I rode it to the library – a trip I made often. I rode to the grocery store, the drugstore, the bookstore (my favorite), and the swimming pool. On summer weekends I went to yard sales (or tag sales, as they’re known in Connecticut where I grew up), trying to get to as many as I could find on a big circuit around town. Sometimes I just biked for the fun of riding, without going anywhere in particular.

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Back to baked potatoes

January 20, 2014

The first sentence of an article in the Wall Street Journal Friday caught my attention: “Tucked into the 1,582-page 2014 spending bill passed by Congress this week are 85 words that aspire to end the government’s decadelong war on the potato.” Why has the government been making war on the potato, and what does it have to do with Congress passing a spending bill?

Well, apparently for the past several years, participants in WIC have been prohibited from using their vouchers (or the newer EBT cards) to purchase white potatoes. Like other restrictions on the list of WIC-eligible foods, this was meant to improve the nutritional value of the food eaten by program participants.

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5K in 33:26

August 4, 2013

For months I have been preparing for yesterday’s 5K race, hoping to beat my time from last year. Until last week, though, I remembered wrong how long it took me last year, and thought I just needed to finish in about 36 minutes or so.

Then I went back and checked last year’s time: 36 minutes, 29 seconds. How had I managed that? (I remember being equally surprised last year when I was told my time upon finishing.) My best time in my recent runs averaged about eleven and a half minutes per mile.

That would put me under 36 minutes, but not my much. What if I couldn’t push myself nearly to exhaustion as I did last year? (Last year I ran with someone who kept pushing me to keep going, and it was easier to put my energy into complying than arguing I couldn’t do it.)

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