Sunday, January 31, 2010

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Ada's Third Birthday

My model:

The cake:

The cake before I edited to make it look a little less unfriendly:

The birthday girls (cousins):

If you sent Ada a birthday present, she probably hasn't opened it yet; we're spacing them out. And here's why.

"You're going to hate me after this weekend," my mom told me.


"You'll see!"

"What presents did you get for your birthday?" I asked Ada after we'd been home for a few days. (The party was Way Up North at Grandma and Grandpa's house.)

"I didn't get presents. I got one perfect present."

"Really? What's that?"

"Um, it's really tall. And has lots of balls. And you can put them in the top, and - It's in the front room. C'mon, I'll show you."

This weekend we'll let her open the rest of her gifts.

P.S. There are 300 balls. And it's not staying in the front room. Also, it sings.


"Elizabeth Edwards and John Edwards have separated. And it's just too bad because they totally belong with each other."

I read a Facebook status update this afternoon that stuck with me as I was chopping vegetables for dinner.

Wow.  I mean, that's . . . harsh.  Thinking back on my least favorite politicians, their spouses, other world leaders, etc., I have a hard time thinking, "You know, what this person really deserves is to lose a child in a car accident.  Then to be diagnosed with terminal cancer while still having young children at home.  Then to have a spouse publicly cheat on you, have unprotected sex with someone else, and father a child outside your marriage."  I'm sure Elizabeth Edwards is no saint.  But to say that she deserves this?  I'm not sure anyone "deserves" that.  And if someone does deserve to have such terrible things happen to them, I'm quite sure I'm not the one to made that judgment call.

But some of the political hate spewing around lately is so terribly personal.  And, also, dishonest.

The other annoying comment I keep hearing regarding Edwards's infidelity goes something like this.  "At least she finally grew a spine. She should have left him long ago; the only reason she stuck around was for the chance to live in a big white house."

There's a lot to unpack here:
  1. To suggest that adultery should be a universal marriage deal-breaker - and to judge anyone who stays with a spouse who has cheated - is narrow-minded and wrong.
  2. And to be so cynical about the value of someone else's marriage seems ridiculous (and ignorant) to me.
  3. Many people have called Elizabeth Edwards an "idiot" for believing her spouse until given good reason to doubt him.  She's a smart woman.  But surely trusting one's partner is more a virtue than a vice?
  4. My not-so-hidden agenda rears its head here: I believe in marriage.  I did not make a lifetime commitment lightly.  In addition to the pledge I made to my husband, my community, my God, I also have children.  There are certainly situations where it is unhealthy or unsafe for a marriage to continue.  Barring that, I believe that I do have a responsibility to try to "make it work" (to quote Tim Gunn) and build/maintain/nurture a healthy lifelong partnership.  I'm not going to judge someone else for taking her commitment similarly seriously.  (But I'm very glad I'm not married to John Edwards!)
  5. The sorts of comments I mention above are as offensive and ignorant as the ones I've heard suggesting that because Elizabeth Edwards looks her age, because she hasn't had "enough" plastic surgery, because she is not a size two, of course her husband was going to cheat.  And deservedly so.

As it turns out, I have some pretty strong feelings about adultery and I think Edwards is a giant ass - regardless of any specifics of the situation and his marriage to which I am not privy.  I appreciated a lot of what he had to say on the campaign trail, especially about poverty.  But I never felt a personal sort of connection to him.  In fact, I generally distrust extremely charismatic people of any political or religious conviction.  (It's no coincidence that I joined my current church because of an intellectual connection with a pastor rather than the motivational speeches of a charismatic megachurch leader.)  So I don't feel a sense of personal betrayal.  Sadly, I almost expect this sort of behavior from our elected leaders lately.  I don't condone it.  But I'm not shocked anymore, either.

Alito's reaction notwithstanding, I liked tonight's speech.  It breathed a hint of optimism into a year that's started off feeling pretty cynical to me.  So mote it be.

Feminists and Cheating
More on Feminists and Cheating

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Ellie's Home Sick

for the second day in a row.

She has a fever (100-101 degrees usually, not too high, fairly responsive to Motrin).   She's congested and has a wet-sounding cough.  Her chapped lips are badly cracked and bleeding.  She's miserable.  So's Daddy, since Ellie's having a hard time sleeping and he's taken the brunt of that for the past two nights.  (She tends to prefer him in the middle of the night and goes to his side of the bed, bless her heart.)  I don't know why he hasn't woken me to share the joy, perhaps because he "gets" to go off to work while I "have" to stay here with the sick child all day.  I love it, of course.  Not the middle of the night thing, but the not-too-scary illness meaning an especially cuddly child during the day.

Ellie doesn't usually nap but yesterday she did - twice.  She played happily in her room after a nap for a little while in the morning, but she didn't eat much all day.  (Fortunately our girls rarely get juice so Pedialite is a big treat when they're sick.)

By the end of the day, she felt just awful.  She didn't want to play games, read books, or even watch a video.  She didn't want me to sing to her or rub her back.  She just wanted me - and it had to be me - to lie next to her in bed and be quietly nearby while she lay still.  What a gift!  The need to put my to-do list aside and just be with my daughter for a bit.  As she grows up, these moments are fewer and further between.

Last night was another rough night and this morning dawned similarly: cuddly, "I'm too sick to eat" Ellie.  Fever.  No school.

So I fed Ada, settled Ellie with her Pedialite on the couch and took my Newsweek back to bed for a bit.

Soon, I heard loud, energetic playing all over the house.  I smiled, stretched, and turned the page to a new article.  Then I heard the oven  door opening, closing.  By the time I made it to the kitchen - not very long, I assure you! - I smelled gas.

Good feeling gone!  But not really.  Because I had to separate the girls during their resultant time out to keep from from tickling each other.  And as soon as the timer went off and they'd helped me with a quick chore, they wanted to get out of their pajamas, put on play clothes, and go downstairs to the playroom for a while.  I hear them now, opening and closing the dryer door.  This is a big no-no - they're not allowed in the laundry room and must have climbed over the gate - so I need to bring them back upstairs as a consequence.  But my right leg is completely asleep so it will be a minute before I can move.

I think Ellie will be back at school tomorrow.

Monday, January 25, 2010


Inquiring mind wants to know:

1) How often do you clean your bathrooms?

2) Clorox wipes, cloth rags and spray bottle, or sponge and bucket?

3) And how do you care for your granite counters?

4) How often do you wash your hair?

5) How much time do you spend on Facebook or reading blogs every day?  (I figure most people underestimate this figure.)

6) What's one thing you want to learn more about but somehow never make the time to study?

Avatar 3D

This weekend we "finally" went to see Avatar.  Paul really wanted to see it and I agreed to go along because I'm cool like that.  (I also went to Star Trek, which I surprised myself by enjoying, and GI Joe, which was laughably bad, but I drew the line at Transformers.) 

And I didn't mind "having" to see Avatar; I was interested in the special effects and 3D.  I'd heard a lot about the 3D.  "It was better when I took off my glasses."  "I was really nauseous at first but got used to it."  "I had the worst headache when I got home."

The 3D didn't bother me (though I did get a little dizzy for a moment when the marines started jogging in formation early on).  In fact, I thought it was pretty cool.  Most of my previous experience of 3D had to do with gimmicky things jumping out of the screen and attempting to land on my face.  Avatar isn't like that.  Nothing comes out of the screen; it's more like the screen itself has significant depth.  It's more like watching something through a window than watching a flat projection of an image.

In general, I thought the effects were very cool and the world Cameron created was pretty nifty.  The creativity that went into the people, their religion and mythology, their world and its creatures . . . fabulous.

The plot?  Not so much.  For example the resource "The Sky People" (Earthlings) were on Pandora to recover was called . . . unobtainium.  Un-obtain-ium.  Seriously.  The dialogue was a little weak, the plot itself was overly familiar.  My biggest complaint was that ever-so-cheap plot device whereby an outside comes into a foreign community and within a short period of time (in this case, 3 months) is more Them than They are. 

Avatar's main character, Jake Sully, starts out his career as an avatar being hugely ignorant and disrespectful and clumsy.  A few months later, he's mightier and more skilled than the finest warriors of a hunting, fighting, warrior-respecting race of "humanoids."  Whatever.

But the imagery was beautiful, the creativity inspiring, and the filmography wonderfully enjoyable.  I'm glad I went! 

What did you think about the movie?  (Interestingly, Paul didn't enjoy it as much as I did.)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Fitness and Health Week 4

"You'd look really plain with straight hair." 

I reacted the way any fifteen-year-old girl would, upon hearing this from her boyfriend.  I spent the afternoon painstakingly straightening my hair.  I did it the only way I knew how: using my small curling iron on centimeter-wide sections.  It took hours, but it looked fabulous.  Then I convinced my dad to give me a ride over to the boyfriend's house.

"Your hair looks fantastic!" said his mom when she opened the door.

As for the boy, I doubt he even remembered his off-hand comment by the time I showed up.  No worries; I did it to prove something to myself more than to him.

Twenty years later, I still think of the remark occasionally, usually with a chuckle while a hairstylist is blowing my mane out straight.

Speaking of which, I got my semi-annual hair cut this week.  I lost a few dry inches, alas, but the rest is soft and healthy (see above).  To tie this in to Fitness and Health Week, I thought I'd illustrate how I tend to carry weight in my face (last summer vs. now).

I'm not saying the fifteen-year-old boyfriend was wrong, mind you.  (Looking at you, Grey.)  But I think I'd look a little less like a "before" picture if I ditched the glasses and wore make-up.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Fitness and Health Week 3

I have a maximum weight.  I'm sure it's physically possible for me to get heavier than this arbitrary number, but there's a moment at which I've finally had enough.  I don't want to make plans to go out in public, I'm miserable, my inertia finally is overwhelmed by my need for positive change.

I've hit this point twice in my life.  Each time I started to take steps to address the problem,  I stepped on the scale and saw the exact same number.  So that's my max.

It's not pregnancy that does me in; it's the aftermath.  Not the immediate aftermath, but the subsequent two years.  I love my babies.  I love snuggling them and nursing them and changing them and dressing them and helping them explore their world. 

But I lose myself in the process.  And when I do, I fill the void with food.

You don't get fat in a day.  I breastfed each of my girls for over two years.  During this time - not related to the breastfeeding, I believe, but who knows - each of them were very clingy and attached to me.  This is, I am assured, how it's supposed to be.  It took each of my children two years to begin to venture out into the world on their own just a little (walking independently, talking, being willing to stay with a sitter or in a kids morning out program without screaming the whole time I'm apart from them).  Around this same time, they're ready to stop breastfeeding.

 I don't think it's a coincidence that just a couple of months later - after each daughter - I suddenly feel ready to diet, to exercise, to at least stop binge eating.  I begin to take care of myself a little more.  I might put on lipstick, have my hair trimmed, buy a few new clothes.  It's like I'm becoming reacquainted with myself, neglected for so long.

But you don't get unfat in a day, either.  I've lost weight over the past several months as I've been exercising.  It's coming off a lot faster, now that I'm dieting too.  I'm about halfway back to where I want to be.  There's a long way to go, but I've already lost the weight of, say, a two year old.

I love babies, but I don't think they're very good for me.  I wonder if there's any way I could ever have another one and still keep myself healthy and sane.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Fitness and Health Week 2

"Oh, you're on The South Beach Diet. All those low-carb/high-protein fad diets are the same: ridiculous and unhealthy."

I get so annoyed with this comment, which is usually delivered with a dismissive nose wrinkle.

"The South Beach Diet is not low-carb. Nor is it low-fat. The South Beach Diet teaches you to rely on the right carbs and fats - the good ones." (P. 3, The South Beach Diet.)

Arthur Agatston is a cardiologist. After becoming disillusioned with the 1990's American Heart Association-recommended low-fat diet (the results were not as good as expected, patients relapsed into bad habits, significant health benefits were few) Agatston developed his own diet to combat his patients' cardiac and vascular problems. Weight loss was a side effect, but a good one, he says, since it gets younger people interested in eating healthfully and keeps people of all ages motivated. Oddly enough, not dying of a heart attack is less motivational to many Americans than not fitting into skinny jeans.

Many people talk about The South Beach Diet and The Atkins diet as though they're interchangeable. I tried Atkins briefly a long time ago and did not find that to be the case. At the time I had only a few pounds to lose and I quickly did so, but the diet was not one I was willing to maintain long-term. I couldn't believe I was eating such decadent foods on a DIET. I couldn't drink milk or coffee, alas, but I could lighten my morning tea with heavy cream. I couldn't have a whole wheat pita, but I could make a ham and cheese roll with real mayo - not low fat or Miracle Whip. I couldn't enjoy a piece of fruit, but I could eat buttered steak with a side of sauteed mushrooms and spinach au gratin, heavy on the gratin. Dr. Atkins didn't recommend eating like that, of course. But fat and cholesterol aren't - or weren't then - considered worrisome on the Atkins diet. (IIUC, The Zone diet is similar in its strict restriction of carbohydrates.)

That's different from the South Beach Diet.

The South Beach diet has three phases. Phase one is challenging, optional, and not intended for long-term use. Nor is it - like the Atkins "Induction Phase" - intended to put the body into ketosis. It's intended to change bad habits. That it does, at least for me.

Phase two is sustainable long-term. This is important, since it's how you eat for months or years until you reach your desired weight/BMI/size/cholesterol level.

Phase three is maintenance. Basically, it's healthy eating for the rest of your life. The horror!

A sample Phase 1 menu from the book includes:
  • Breakfast: 2 vegetable quiche cups (spinach and low cholesterol egg substitute with a little cheese, baked in a muffin tin) and V8
  • Morning snack: 1 part-skim mozzarella cheese stick
  • Lunch: Greek salad (feta and olives: yum!)
  • Afternoon snack: hummus with raw vegetables
  • Dinner: fish kabobs, oven-roasted vegetables, and sliced cucumber with olive oil
  • Dessert: mocha ricotta creme (I hate ricotta and skip this one, though Paul loves it)
Tasty and healthy! But after a little while, I start wanting bread. Fortunately, it's soon time to switch to Phase 2 (which you can do at any time, if you use Phase 1 at all. As I'm young-ish and healthy with no kidney disease, I find that I can do Phase 1 for two weeks before my body is ready to switch. More on this tomorrow.) A sample Phase 2 menu from the book includes:
  • Breakfast: fresh strawberries and oatmeal
  • Morning snack: apple and peanut butter or skinny cow cheese
  • Lunch: Lemon Couscous Chicken, tomato and cucumber slices
  • Afternoon Snack: "lite" yogurt
  • Dinner: turkey meatloaf, steamed asparagus, tossed salad
  • Dessert: chocolate-covered strawberries
Delicious. I could eat like this all the time. And I did, actually, for months before I got pregnant with Ada. All of a sudden I needed to chew Wheat Thins all day long to avoid throwing up, so I got busy snacking. And then I was too exhausted/lazy to do the weekly shopping for lean meats and fresh produce thing so we ate a lot of casseroles and take out. Bad eating habits crept into our lives and multiplied. But eating as I did before my second pregnancy didn't feel like a "diet," especially as I allowed myself one meal a week to eat whatever I was craving, whether it was spaghetti and garlic bread or tortilla chips and enchiladas. An unintended benefit of this was that I found myself really looking forward to such "treats." These meals became extra special again rather than just the way I ate every single night.

The South Beach Diet (re)teaches good habits, like listening to your body's hunger signals rather than snacking indiscriminately, portion control, reacquainting oneself with the outside of the supermarket rather than the aisles, and so forth. Naturally our weekly grocery bills increase accordingly.

It shocks me how little modern science seems to know about the female reproductive system (or, more accurately, how much we seem not to know). Similarly, it surprises me how little "science" goes into official - and even government - recommendations for a healthy diet. Was anyone else surprised to learn that "drink 8 glasses of water a day!" was purely invented advice? Ridiculous! This is the 21st century, after all.

I'm not a vegetarian, though I understand all the wonderful environmental, health, and ethical arguments for making such a diet choice. Barring that (or, rather, not barring meat, etc.) I hardly think that a diet featuring fresh vegetables and fruits alongside low-fat dairy products, lean meats, eggs, and whole grain breads is "unhealthy" or even a "fad." It's just new packaging for healthy advice.

Sure, it's a gimmick. But even if one doesn't stick with The South Beach Diet forever, some of the good habits - or at least the knowledge - might stick longer. I needed to break bad habits, create healthier ones, and wanted a guidebook to walk me through the an overwhelming transition.

This did it for me.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Fitness and Health Week 1

Last summer - such a nice, cool, low-insects summer - I wrote about about our struggles to model an active lifestyle for our girls. We try to keep them active, though one of my daughters can't walk all the way around the block. This impacts all of us and what we can do as a family. She's six years old; too big for a stroller and nearly too big for our bike trailer. We could invest in a larger special-needs stroller but we'd rather not. For one thing, it would allow her NOT to walk when she well knows that she can ride. So we have to be creative.

We took the girls in the bike trailer as we rode, or Paul pushed him as he jogged, whenever it wasn't too hot. Then, naturally, it grew too cold. None of us much like exercising outside in the cold. Ellie still does gymnastics; Ada will soon start a rhythm and dance program. Ellie also plays soccer in the spring and fall. (She likes the idea of playing soccer but the reality of it makes her cry.) They both enjoy the swimming pool. I'm not much worried about Ada. She's nearly three and tends to run everywhere, frequently doubling back and dashing off on side trips. She gets her own exercise.

But Ellie, Ellie would rather sit and watch a movie. Or play with her beads (she acts out everything with her long strands of plastic beads, spreads them out all over the floor). And Ellie likes to snack. She's a fabulous scavenger and manages to find food even when I think I've put everything away. Something good in the frig? She's on that. Unwashed plates on the kitchen counter? Leftovers are fair game. Magnetic lock for pantry door left too high for her to reach? No worries; she'll just drag over a stool, stretch for the magnet, unlock the cupboard, and help herself. She won't eat fruit or raw vegetables, not even with dip.

So I bought tiny tupperware containers and filled each with an appropriately-sized serving of snack food (plantain chips, raisins, snap pea crisps, goldfish crackers, pretzels, etc.). I showed Ellie where to find them and reminded her that she could have just one each morning, one each afternoon.

She's excited to have this independence, the freedom to select and serve her own snack. But I'm not yet terribly optimistic about her willingness to stop at just one serving.

Yesterday I measured the girls' heights and convinced them to stand on the Wii Fit long enough to update their weights.

As I expected, Ada falls smack in the center of "healthy weight" for a 2-1/2 year-old of her height. She's also pretty average for height; I suspect I measured low. She's just a bright, healthy, fascinating, fun kid who'll be three later this week. I can't believe it!

Ellie's bright, healthy, fascinating, and fun, too. She's also within normal and healthy height and weight ranges for six-year-old girls. Amazing! We can thank Daddy for the height. At this age, children with Down syndrome rarely fall on the typical growth charts for height any more, and as for weight, well, she's not lean according to a typical BMI chart, but she is pretty lean according to a Down syndrome growth chart.

So, yay, girls! And yay, us! It's a struggle and we have to be creative. We have to push ourselves, not just coast. But it's working, and it's worth the effort. None of us have even been sick this winter, despite being exposed to all kinds of contagious bugs from H1N1 (which stalled Ellie for one day last fall) to pink eye. Knock wood, etc.

Healthy is good.

  • The South Beach Diet is not unhealthy.
  • What I'm doing for my own weight and health.
  • Friday photoblogging

    Thursday, January 14, 2010

    Wiggle Wiggle

    Ellie has two more loose teeth! Should be a quick cleaning at the dentist next month.

    I continue to be amazed at how excited - rather than alarmed - she is at this process of losing teeth. I must just be at a different stage of life.

    But wouldn't you be alarmed at seeing this much blood?

    The tooth:

    The hole:

    The little sister who wants to have a loose tooth, also. Failing that, she'd like to wear one of mommy's curlers. (Yes, I sleep in curlers a couple nights a week. It's dead sexy!)

    Plugging My Ears, Closing My Eyes

    Here in America we have freedom of speech. Pat Robertson is welcome to speak his mind.

    Then again, so am I.

    And I'd like to point out that Robertson has a nasty habit of blaming the victims of tragedies.

    He blamed Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's stroke on Sharon (because of his work with the Palestinians). Ditto Yitzhak Rabin and his assassination.

    He blamed Hurricane Katrina on legalized abortion.

    He blamed the 9/11 attacks on the ACLU (and, like, me).

    And today Robertson shared a "True Story" "proving" that the Haitians brought this quake on themselves by making a deal with the devil a few hundred years ago. You can easily Google video of his remarks; I don't want to link to the CBN and drive up their traffic.
    And you know Christy, something happened a long time ago in Haiti and people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French, uh you know Napoleon the third and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said we will serve you if you'll get us free from the French. True Story, and so the Devil said OK it's a deal. And they kicked the French out. You know, the Haitians revolted and got themselves free. But ever since they've been cursed by one thing after the other desperately poor.

    "Why does it matter? Everyone knows he's crazy."

    Well, it matters because hundreds of thousands of people watch his show. Which is still on the air! The 700 Club, a show of the CBN (Christian Broadcasting Network), airs multiple times each day - including much of the morning - on ABC Family.

    We don't watch anything on ABC Family, haven't for years, and won't until they drop The 700 Club. That's us exercising our freedom of speech.

    Sponsors of The 700 Club, CBN, and ABC Family include:
    The Book of Eli (movie)
    Regent University
    Swiss America Trading Corporation
    And that's just a few of the website sponsors. I'd tell you who advertises on the show and network itself, but I don't watch that channel, let alone that show. Alas.

    Related Reading: Anne at Fernham and Forgetting Haiti.

    Wednesday, January 13, 2010

    A few more thoughts

    on yesterday's post.

    I don’t believe that a norepinephrine deficiency makes my daughter the sweet, wonderful, amazing person that she is.

    In fact, the older she gets and the greater the expectations of her, the greater the differences between Ellie and her peers become, I see the beautiful light within her dimming slightly. I think her challenges are becoming more apparent to her and getting in her way.

    This transition is visible in the pictures of her framed on the wall in our family room. At one, at two, and three, she beams at the camera like she carries the light of a supernova within her soul. In preschool, she smiles. And in this year's school picture she looks directly into the camera: eyes open, mouth slightly quirked up one side, a little puzzled. She spends more time alone than she used to, working through her day's experiences and fixing them down. She's still my Ellie. But life is getting harder.

    Before Ellie had surgery to fix her heart, we gave her digoxin and captopril. Because she has low muscle tone she works with a physical therapist, an occupational therapist, and a speech therapist. If Down syndrome is accompanied by a legitimate medical problem, why wouldn’t I treat it medically?

    If norepinephrine supplementation would help Ellie's brain function better, we'd look closely at the research, talk to her doctors, and consider giving it a try.

    She'll still be my Ellie.

    Monday, January 11, 2010

    Reverse Down Syndrome?

    "If I could wave a magic wand and take away my daughter's extra chromosome now, I wouldn't do it," a mom told me while I was pregnant with Ellie.  She told me a lot of great stuff and gave me both hope and comfort.  But . . .

    "Wow," I thought at the time.  "I can't even imagine feeling that way. I can't wait 'til I get there!"

    I haven't gotten there.  I love Ellie.  I love her with all my heart and soul.  I have learned and grown so much from being her mother and I am glad and proud to be her mom.

    But if I could make things easier for her?  If I could wave a magic wand and take away her frustrations because processing information is so hard for her?  I would do that in an instant.  And I believe she'd still be the same sweet, wonderful, giving, generous, special child she is.

    Drugs Could Reverse Down Syndrome Symptoms: A newly-found neurotransmitter link to the condition's associated learning disabilities could be targeted.

    The learning impairment that characterizes Down syndrome and keeps people with the developmental condition from adapting to new environments could be reversed with a simple drug regimen, a new study suggests.


    Cognitive impairment in Down syndrome is the result of a breakdown in the function of the hippocampus. This region of the brain is responsible for contextual learning, or gaining and applying knowledge in real-world situations. Recalling the location of certain items is a prime example.

    "Remembering where your keys are isn't just based on navigation," Salehi told Discovery News. "It also includes the sound the keys made when you placed them down and all of the other little bits of information involved."

    The hippocampus pulls all of these disparate sensations and awareness of our bodies in relation to our surroundings together to form new memories. When we need our keys again, we draw on these memories to help us find them.

    People with Down syndrome may have trouble forming such memories, and Salehi and his team appear to have pinpointed the reason why.


    Salehi and his team probed the hippocampi of the mice used in the study and found that the region wasn't functioning correctly due to a lack of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, a chemical that allows neurons in the hippocampus to form the connections that form contextual memories.

    In the study, Salehi and his team found that this dysfunction could be corrected in the mice -- and surprisingly easily. The researchers injected modified mice with a drug that is converted into the norepinephrine within the brain.

    Within five hours of injection, the modified mice that previously couldn't learn to fear a tone accompanied by an electric shock could now remember the conditioned response. The modified mice also learned to nest in a novel environment, which is a standard sign of intelligence in the rodents.

    After being injected with the drug, L-DOPS, the mice modified to express Down syndrome showed no significant difference from their counterparts in terms of intelligence.

    There's lots here that's fascinating. (And I didn't quote the whole article. It's not long, definitely worth a quick click-over-and-read!)  But some of my favorite parts:
    1. The description of brain processing glitches with Trisomy 21
    2. Sucessful animal trials of
    3. A drug that's already widely available and might provide near-instant improvement.

    Wow.  I'm looking forward to seeing how this plays out.

    Who Am I?

    "What kind of books do you write?" a friend asked me at dinner the other night. It's a good question, and one I didn't know how to answer.

    "I'm still figuring that out," is really as close as I can get.

    My short stories have all been sort of literary (except for the few that I've written and published under a pseudonym).

    And my novels, well, I've written a mystery (but I can't really fit it perfectly into a sub-genre like "cozy"), a mainstream/literary novel (the type of book one might find with a book club discussion guide in the back), a middle grade novel with slight elements of fantasy, and an erotic romance.

    So far the style that feels most natural to me is a sort of mainstream fiction voice.

    But I read in a lot of genres so I thought I'd give several different styles a try before settling down, as it were. (And who knows? I might never settle on just one style.)

    For the last month I've written no fiction at all - though of course I've thought about writing quite a bit and frequently draft little pieces in my mind as I go about my day.

    For the last month I've been seriously concentrating on reading.

    Over the past few weeks I've read: Robert Jordan/Brandon Sanderson (fantasy), Laurell K. Hamilton (totally different kind of fantasy), Robin Hobb (yet another style of fantasy), Sara Paretsky (hard-boiled mystery), and Patricia Cornwell (thriller), just for fun. I'm currently reading Jill McCorkle (literary short stories) and Kathryn Stockett (historical fiction) for book club meetings next week. And I have the latest Diana Gabaldon (historical fiction? romance? fantasy?) all queued up and ready to go after that. I also have a stack as tall as my bedside table and a shelf on a bookcase at the foot of my bed that are the rest of my "to be read" pile. And that's just books I own or currently have checked out from the library!

    Even more than I'm a writer, I'm a reader.

    Thursday, January 07, 2010

    New Year's Day

    and our family Christmas gift opening celebration:

    That was back when we still drank eggnog and ate cookies. Now it's all skim milk and spinach salad, all the time.

    Tuesday, January 05, 2010

    The Gathering Storm by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

    This month for Barrie Summy's Book Review Club, I'm discussing The Gathering Storm by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson.

    I lived in a town with an independent bookstore.  If you needed to own a book, The Book Bag was happy to order it for you.  I hadn't yet become accustomed to the destination bookstore experience and I well knew the importance of supporting small local businesses over national chain stores.  So I'd never visited the new threat in the next town.

    But my boyfriend's mother did.

    One day she brought home a paperback with a silly cover and dropped it on my lap.  "They were giving this away for free as some kind of promotion over at that new Barnes & Noble.  I don't read this crap, I told the cashier, but my son's girlfriend reads everything."

    More true than untrue.  I immediate dove in.  "Feh. Blatant Tolkien knock-off," I thought after reading the first few chapters.  Well, I liked Tolkien, so I kept reading.  And, suddenly, it wasn't a Tolkien knock-off after all.  It was something quite new and different and compelling.  The giveaway was the first half of Robert Jordan's The Eye of the World and I bought the full book so that I could finish it.

    I also bought, borrowed, or begged each of the next books in Jordan's Wheel of Time series until I caught up to the author - then on his sixth series novel - and began anxiously awaiting new titles as they were published.  The series has its ups and downs - there are some sagging books in the middle where I feel Jordan has introduced too many characters, has too many balls in the air, and concentrates too hard on keeping them all up and spinning to actually move the plot forward or resolve any of the loose ends.

    Then he died.

    I was saddened by the author's death, of course.  And I also was concerned about the rest of the series.  I'd been reading it for more than a decade, since I was in college.  Many thousands of pages, some reread several times.  I wanted to know how everything turned out.

    Several weeks later, I read an announcement: the series would be completed by a young author named Brandon Sanderson.  I immediately looked him up, read what he had to say about taking on the challenge of finishing a series started by another author.  An author with particularly enthusiastic and demanding fan base.  Then I picked up a few of Sanderson's books and started reading.

    I enjoyed the books, but Sanderson has a strong style of his own, and it's different from Jordan's.

    When the newest Wheel of Time book came out this fall, I immediately bought it in hardback.  Then I left it sitting on my nightstand for a couple of months.  I was scared to read it, or to read anything about it.  I cared too much for the series.  "Maybe I should just wait until it's all done (two more books after this one) and read the summary online," I thought.  "That way I'll know what happened in the end - Jordan summarized the ending and closed the character arcs before he died - without having someone else's voice change the characters for me."

    Then I was chatting with a friend who has very strong opinions and shares them freely.  (A little like me, no?)  He's also a big Wheel of Time fan.  "Have you read the new book?" I asked.

    "I got it from the library and I stayed up until 6:00 the next morning reading," he said.  "Stuff really happens in this book."

    "Really?  It's good?"

    "It's good," he assured me.

    I stopped waited for Christmas vacation and started reading immediately.  He was right.  The book is good.  Stuff happens.  The plot advances.  Character and story arcs close.  Tension builds.  Best of all, the style, the characters, the world itself, all of the important stuff still "feels" like Robert Jordan to me.

    Very occasionally I could hear Sanderson's voice (he is fond of opening sentences with a "However," construction).  But those moments just served to remind me of what a great job he was doing with Jordan's story, telling it as the creator himself might have done.

    I've read lots of fan fiction online, and none of it has ever satisfied me.  It feels . . . forced when a fan manipulates someone else's characters to do what the fan would like them to do, and the imitation of style is never convincing to me.  I have no idea how Sanderson managed to take on this huge challenge and succeed so mightily.

    But he did it, and I can't wait for the last two books.

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    @Barrie Summy

    Monday, January 04, 2010

    Vacation Down

     We arrived home from my parents' house last Monday night.  On Tuesday morning, the girls and I went to The Magic House.  Wednesday morning, Paul took a couple hours off work and we all went to see Dinosaurs Unearthed at The Science Center.  Thursday I took the girls swimming.  Friday was New Year's Day and we had our second Christmas, opening gifts from Paul's side of the family and enjoying a quiet day with the four of us at home together.

    Today (Monday) Paul returned to work and the girls had one more day of vacation.  What on earth were we to do?  I wanted the girls' whole winter vacation to be special and fun, but due to circumstances only partially beyond my control I was up until 3:30 a.m. and exhausted this morning.  Plus, it's really really cold here and outside activities (e.g. the zoo) are unappealing.  So: what to do?

    Pajama Day!  We've never stayed in our pajamas all day long, but we did today!  The girls played fabulously well together without whining, fighting, or urinating on the carpets.  No injuries, no accidents, no extreme Mommy-neediness, just a fun day at home together. 

    We played games, read books, watched a little TV, rested, cooked, and tidied (a tiny bit right before Daddy came home, but it makes me sound a little less lazy to add something productive to the list).  Mostly, we just relaxed.  A perfect end to vacation, and easily the least stressful day I've ever had with my girls.  Heaven.

    To top it all off, Ellie lost her first tooth this afternoon!  Ada was napping as Ellie and I sat on the couch reading stories.  I noticed that one of her bottom teeth seemed slightly crooked.  "Ellie, may I wiggle your tooth?" 

    She let me have the briefest moment of contact with it.

    "Ellie, your tooth is loose!"  And bleeding.  I had a moment of concern.  I'm not ready for this!  Also, was this for real?  Or had she knocked her tooth against something hard - like her sister's head - so that this was the result of an injury rather than a natural process?

    "Like Caillou!" she replied, immediately excited.  Bless that fictional little Canadian kid.

    She jumped up and ran into the bathroom.  When I heard the faucet, I peeked through the doorway.  Ellie was brushing her teeth (voluntarily!) until the loose one fell out with a clink.  I rescued it, showed it to her, and provided several tissues to help with the bleeding.  Once her mouth was cleaned up, the new tooth was clearly visible.  It obviously pushed the baby tooth out of the way, just as it should have done.  And Ellie was so excited.  All her baby dolls lost their teeth this afternoon, and she proudly told everyone who called the house all about it.  "Grandpa! My tooth was loose!"  At bedtime, she was thrilled to drop the baby tooth into a tooth fairy pocket and place it directly under her pillow. 

    Paul says she checked on it several times as they read stories together before bed.  The tooth fairy was generous here tonight.  Paul decided that $2 bills are the way to go.  (He's a little excited and proud of our big girl, too.)

    When we slipped into her room, I turned off her reading light and pressed play to start her lullabies CD.  At some point today, Ellie must have changed out her music selection because instead of soothing night music, her Christmas present from my sister began singing out with great enthusiasm.  "Wake up, Ellie! It's time to go play. Wake up, Ellie! It's time to start the day!  Wake up, Ellie!"

    Our baby really is growing up!

    Horses Built by Committee

    Dear, State of Missouri,

    Can you explain your reasoning to me?  I understand the concept of Prohibition.  I "get" dry counties.  I even grasp the reasoning behind disallowing alcohol sales on Sundays.  I understand liquor licenses, laws determining why certain locations can sell alcohol while others can't, and even the seventh inning stretch (sort of).

    But why oh why do you restrict the sale of alcohol on Sunday nights after midnight?  What logic is behind that decision?  Who does it benefit?  What purpose does it serve?

    On the other hand, who does it annoy?  I'll tell you the answer to that one: people like me who occasionally do our weekly grocery shopping late at night after all other family responsibilities are completed.  Or sleeping.

    And now I have to make a trip back later in the week for the Yellowtail Merlot I so deviously attempted to purchase as 1:02 a.m. 

    I did attempt to look up state regulations to cite here.  But that mess is ridiculously complicated (in length, scope, and verbiage).  Seriously.  I recommend starting over.  The first step is a simple statement of purpose in everyday language.  Now keep that in front of you as you write the law, using as few words as necessary to convey your intent.  Good grief.

    --Sarahlynn Resident