Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 in Review

This has been one doozey of a year. I say this every year, it seems – and yet each successive year just gets doozier and doozier. I tell you, I am ready for BORING!  

It started out well enough: I got to spend 3 weeks in Peru on-board a riverboat on the Amazon River. I volunteered with Earthwatch on another scientific expedition, this time studying the Pink River Dolphin. It was quite awesome, needless to say. I even got to come home with an exotic bug bite! Who wouldn't love that?

Then the year kind of leveled out and was neither exciting nor boring. I only wish it had stayed that way. In early May it started the whole domino effect thing – just one after another, each one getting worse and worse.

Most notably were my two surgeries. Thankfully each one went off without a hitch, unless you count throwing up for 24 hours afterwards a hitch (which, come to think of, I do). However, two major surgeries in a row, plus all the required physical therapy afterwards to help heal really tend to take a toll on ones body.

To say nothing of the pocket book: so far (not all the PT is done) I’m looking at One Hundred Thirty Three Thousand Nine Hundred Twenty Dollars and Ninety Six Cents!!! That would be $133,920.96 for you math minded people. Insurance has been great, picking up the bulk of that amount so that I only have to come up with $11,115.16 – but that’s still a financial stressor to add on to the physical stressors mentioned above.

Then of course there’s the emotional stressors – can’t forget them.  First of which is the fact that he has well and truly left me. Somehow I had convinced myself that he would never do that – but he did. I’m having a very difficult time accepting that fact, and find myself in tears at random moments throughout the day. All day. Every day.

And finally, to put the cherry on top of this blankety-blank year, an event that was so hoped for and so joyously anticipated turned about as sour as it can turn. I am talking about my nephew Hayden, who blessed us with his presence for only two and a half short days.  This was such an unexpected turn of events: his sister Tabitha was supposed to be the one with medical issues, not Hayden. Thankfully, Tabitha is fine. She is home with her parents and is gaining weight every day.

So forgive me if I don’t close with the obligatory “Happy New Year!” wishes, and instead let me ask you to wish me A BORING NEW YEAR

Because honestly, I don’t think I can take another year like this one. I just can’t’.

Monday, December 17, 2012

More Good Books to Read

Lost in the Jungle
            By Yossi Ghinsberg

Four travelers meet in Bolivia and set off into the heart of the Amazon rainforest, but what begins as a dream adventure quickly deteriorates into a dangerous nightmare, and after weeks of wandering in the dense undergrowth, the four backpackers split up into two groups. But when a terrible rafting accident separates him from his partner, Yossi is forced to survive for weeks alone against one of the wildest backdrops on the planet. Stranded without a knife, map, or survival training, he must improvise shelter and forage for wild fruit to survive. As his feet begin to rot during raging storms, as he loses all sense of direction, and as he begins to lose all hope, he wonders whether he will make it out of the jungle alive. Lost in the Jungle is the story of friendship and the teachings of nature, and a terrifying true account that you won t be able to put down.

King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa
            By Adam Hochschild

In the 1880s, as the European powers were carving up Africa, King Leopold II of Belgium seized for himself the vast and mostly unexplored territory surrounding the Congo River. Carrying out a genocidal plundering of the Congo, he looted its rubber, brutalized its people, and ultimately slashed its population by ten million--all the while shrewdly cultivating his reputation as a great humanitarian. Heroic efforts to expose these crimes eventually led to the first great human rights movement of the twentieth century, in which everyone from Mark Twain to the Archbishop of Canterbury participated. King Leopold's Ghost is the haunting account of a megalomaniac of monstrous proportions, a man as cunning, charming, and cruel as any of the great Shakespearean villains. It is also the deeply moving portrait of those who fought Leopold: a brave handful of missionaries, travelers, and young idealists who went to Africa for work or adventure and unexpectedly found themselves witnesses to a holocaust. Adam Hochschild brings this largely untold story alive with the wit and skill of a Barbara Tuchman. Like her, he knows that history often provides a far richer cast of characters than any novelist could invent. Chief among them is Edmund Morel, a young British shipping agent who went on to lead the international crusade against Leopold. Another hero of this tale, the Irish patriot Roger Casement, ended his life on a London gallows. Two courageous black Americans, George Washington Williams and William Sheppard, risked much to bring evidence of the Congo atrocities to the outside world. Sailing into the middle of the story was a young Congo River steamboat officer named Joseph Conrad. And looming above them all, the duplicitous billionaire King Leopold II. With great power and compassion, King Leopold's Ghost will brand the tragedy of the Congo--too long forgotten--onto the conscience of the West.

The Firecracker Boys: H-Bombs, Inupiat Eskimos, and the Roots of the Environmental Movement
            By Dan O’Neil

In 1958, Edward Teller, father of the H-bomb, unveiled his plan to detonate six nuclear bombs off the Alaskan coast to create a new harbor. However, the plan was blocked by a handful of Eskimos and biologists who succeeded in preventing massive nuclear devastation potentially far greater than that of the Chernobyl blast. The Firecracker Boys is a story of the U.S. government’s arrogance and deception, and the brave people who fought against it-launching America’s environmental movement. As one of Alaska’s most prominent authors, Dan O’Neill brings to these pages his love of Alaska’s landscape, his skill as a nature and science writer, and his determination to expose one of the most shocking chapters of the Nuclear Age.

The Children’s Blizzard
            By David Laskin

Thousands of impoverished Northern European immigrants were promised that the prairie offered "land, freedom, and hope." The disastrous blizzard of 1888 revealed that their free homestead was not a paradise but a hard, unforgiving place governed by natural forces they neither understood nor controlled, and America's heartland would never be the same. This P.S. edition features an extra 16 pages of insights into the book, including author interviews, recommended reading, and more.

Ada BlackJack: A True Story of Survival in the Arctic
            By Jennifer Niven

From the author of The Ice Master comes the remarkable true story of a young Inuit woman who survived six months alone on a desolate, uninhabited Arctic island n September 1921, four young men and Ada Blackjack, a diminutive 25-year-old Eskimo woman, ventured deep into the Arctic in a secret attempt to colonize desolate Wrangel Island for Great Britain. Two years later, Ada Blackjack emerged as the sole survivor of this ambitious polar expedition. This young, unskilled woman-who had headed to the Arctic in search of money and a husband-conquered the seemingly unconquerable north and survived all alone after her male companions had perished. Following her triumphant return to civilization, the international press proclaimed her the female Robinson Crusoe. But whatever stories the press turned out came from the imaginations of reporters: Ada Blackjack refused to speak to anyone about her horrific two years in the Arctic. Only on one occasion-after charges were published falsely accusing her of causing the death of one her companions-did she speak up for herself. Jennifer Niven has created an absorbing, compelling history of this remarkable woman, taking full advantage of the wealth of first-hand resources about Ada that exist, including her never-before-seen diaries, the unpublished diaries from other primary characters, and interviews with Ada's surviving son. Ada Blackjack is more than a rugged tale of a woman battling the elements to survive in the frozen north-it is the story of a hero.

The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl
            By Timothy Egan

The dust storms that terrorized the High Plains in the darkest years of the Depression were like nothing ever seen before or since. Timothy Egan’s critically acclaimed account rescues this iconic chapter of American history from the shadows in a tour de force of historical reportage. Following a dozen families and their communities through the rise and fall of the region, Egan tells of their desperate attempts to carry on through blinding black dust blizzards, crop failure, and the death of loved ones. Brilliantly capturing the terrifying drama of catastrophe, Egan does equal justice to the human characters who become his heroes, “the stoic, long-suffering men and women whose lives he opens up with urgency and respect” (New York Times).

In an era that promises ever-greater natural disasters, The Worst Hard Time is “arguably the best nonfiction book yet” (Austin Statesman Journal) on the greatest environmental disaster ever to be visited upon our land and a powerful cautionary tale about the dangers of trifling with nature.

Triangle: The Fire That Changed America
            By David Von Drehle

Triangle is a poignantly detailed account of the 1911 disaster that horrified the country and changed the course of twentieth-century politics and labor relations. On March 25, 1911, as workers were getting ready to leave for the day, a fire broke out in the Triangle Shirtwaist factory in New York’s Greenwich Village. Within minutes it spread to consume the building’s upper three stories. Firemen who arrived at the scene were unable to rescue those trapped inside: their ladders simply weren’t tall enough. People on the street watched in horror as desperate workers jumped to their deaths. The final toll was 146 people—123 of them women. It was the worst disaster in New York City history. Triangle is a vibrant and immensely moving account that Bob Woodward calls “riveting history written with flare and precision.”

The Window’s of Heaven
            By Ron Rozelle

Set in Galveston during the 1900 storm, the most devastating natural disaster in the history of the United States, this sweeping novel follows the fates of several richly drawn characters. It is the story of Sal, the little girl who is wise beyond her years and who holds out as much hope for the world as she does for her father, the ruined son of a respected father. It is the story of Sister Zilphia, the nun who helps run the St. Mary's Orphanage. The only thing separating the two long buildings of the orphanage is a fragile line of sand dunes; the only thing separating Zilphia from the world is the brittle faith that she has been sent there to consider. A faith that has never been truly tested. Until now. And it is the story of Galveston herself, the grand old lady of the Gulf Coast, with her harbor filled with ships from the world over; her Victorian homes and her brothels and her grand pavilions set in their own parks; and her stately mansions along Broadway, the highest ground on the island, at eight feet above sea level. All must face their darkest night now, as nature hurls the worst she can muster at the narrow strip of sand and salt grass that is doomed to become, for a time, part of the ocean floor. This is the story of heroes and villains, of courage and sacrifice and, most of all, of people trying desperately to survive. And it is the story of an era now gone, of splendor and injustice, filled with the simple joy of living. RON ROZELLE is the author of Into That Good Night (Farrar, Straus, Giroux), which was a finalist for the PEN American West Creative Nonfiction Prize and the Texas Institute of Letters Carr P. Collins Award. He lives in Lake Jackson with his wife Karen and their daughters and teaches creative writing and English.

My Lobotomy
            By Howard Dully

At twelve, Howard Dully was guilty of the same crimes as other boys his age: he was moody and messy, rambunctious with his brothers, contrary just to prove a point, and perpetually at odds with his parents. Yet somehow, this normal boy became one of the youngest people on whom Dr. Walter Freeman performed his barbaric transorbital—or ice pick—lobotomy.

Abandoned by his family within a year of the surgery, Howard spent his teen years in mental institutions, his twenties in jail, and his thirties in a bottle. It wasn’t until he was in his forties that Howard began to pull his life together. But even as he began to live the “normal” life he had been denied, Howard struggled with one question: Why?

“October 8, 1960. I gather that Mrs. Dully is perpetually talking, admonishing, correcting, and getting worked up into a spasm, whereas her husband is impatient, explosive, rather brutal, won’t let the boy speak for himself, and calls him numbskull, dimwit, and other uncomplimentary names.”

There were only three people who would know the truth: Freeman, the man who performed the procedure; Lou, his cold and demanding stepmother who brought Howard to the doctor’s attention; and his father, Rodney. Of the three, only Rodney, the man who hadn’t intervened on his son’s behalf, was still living. Time was running out. Stable and happy for the first time in decades, Howard began to search for answers.

“December 3, 1960. Mr. and Mrs. Dully have apparently decided to have Howard operated on. I suggested [they] not tell Howard anything about it.”

Through his research, Howard met other lobotomy patients and their families, talked with one of Freeman’s sons about his father’s controversial life’s work, and confronted Rodney about his complicity. And, in the archive where the doctor’s files are stored, he finally came face to face with the truth.

Revealing what happened to a child no one—not his father, not the medical community, not the state—was willing to protect, My Lobotomy exposes a shameful chapter in the history of the treatment of mental illness. Yet, ultimately, this is a powerful and moving chronicle of the life of one man. Without reticence, Howard Dully shares the story of a painfully dysfunctional childhood, a misspent youth, his struggle to claim the life that was taken from him, and his redemption.

Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City's Most Unwanted Inhabitants
            By Robert Sullivan

Love them or loathe them, rats are here to stay-they are city dwellers as much as (or more than) we are, surviving on the effluvia of our society. In Rats, the critically acclaimed bestseller, Robert Sullivan spends a year investigating a rat-infested alley just a few blocks away from Wall Street. Sullivan gets to know not just the beast but its friends and foes: the exterminators, the sanitation workers, the agitators and activists who have played their part in the centuries-old war between human city dweller and wild city rat. Sullivan looks deep into the largely unrecorded history of the city and its masses-its herds-of-rats-like mob. Funny, wise, sometimes disgusting but always compulsively readable, Rats earns its unlikely place alongside the great classics of nature writing.

The Mummy Congress
            By Heather Pringle

Perhaps the most eccentric of all scientific meetings, the World Congress on Mummy Studies brings together mummy experts from all over the globe and airs their latest findings. Who are these scientists, and what draws them to this morbid yet captivating field The Mummy Congress, written by acclaimed science journalist Heather Pringle, examines not just the world of mummies, but also the people obsessed with them.

            By Jeffrey Lockwood

In 1876, the U.S. Congress declared the locust the single greatest impediment to the settlement of the country between Mississippi and the Rocky Mountains.” Throughout the nineteenth century, swarms of locusts regularly swept across the American continent, turning noon into dusk, devastating farm communities, and bringing trains to a halt. The outbreaks subsided in the 1890s, and then, suddenly—and mysteriously—the Rocky Mountain locust vanished. A century later, entomologist Jeffrey Lockwood vowed to discover why.Locust is the story of how one insect shaped the history of the western United States. A compelling personal narrative drawing on historical accounts and modern science, this beautifully written book brings to life the cultural, economic, and political forces at work in America in the late nineteenth century, even as it solves one of the greatest extinction mysteries of our time.

A Sense of the World
            By Jason Roberts

He was known simply as the Blind Traveler -- a solitary, sightless adventurer who, astonishingly, fought the slave trade in Af-rica, survived a frozen captivity in Siberia, hunted rogue elephants in Ceylon, and helped chart the Australian outback. James Holman (1786-1857) became "one of the greatest wonders of the world he so sagaciously explored," triumphing not only over blindness but crippling pain, poverty, and the interference of well-meaning authorities (his greatest feat, a circumnavigation of the globe, had to be launched in secret). Once a celebrity, a bestselling author, and an inspiration to Charles Darwin and Sir Richard Francis Burton, the charismatic, witty Holman outlived his fame, dying in an obscurity that has endured -- until now.

A Sense of the World is a spellbinding and moving rediscovery of one of history's most epic lives. Drawing on meticulous research, Jason Roberts ushers us into the Blind Traveler's uniquely vivid sensory realm, then sweeps us away on an extraordinary journey across the known world during the Age of Exploration. Rich with suspense, humor, international intrigue, and unforgettable characters, this is a story to awaken our own senses of awe and wonder

Blood River: a Journey of Africa’s Broken Heart
            By Tim Butcher

A compulsively readable account of a journey to the Congo — a country virtually inaccessible to the outside world — vividly told by a daring and adventurous journalist.

Ever since Stanley first charted its mighty river in the 1870s, the Congo has epitomized the dark and turbulent history of a failed continent. However, its troubles only served to increase the interest of Daily Telegraph correspondent Tim Butcher, who was sent to cover Africa in 2000. Before long he became obsessed with the idea of recreating Stanley’s original expedition — but travelling alone.

Despite warnings Butcher spent years poring over colonial-era maps and wooing rebel leaders before making his will and venturing to the Congo’s eastern border. He passed through once thriving cities of this country and saw the marks left behind by years of abuse and misrule. Almost, 2,500 harrowing miles later, he reached the Atlantic Ocean, a thinner and a wiser man.

Butcher’s journey was a remarkable feat. But the story of the Congo, vividly told in Blood River, is more remarkable still.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Single Again

Once again, I find myself in the single world. What’s really pathetic about it all is that he dumped me years ago – it just took me this long to admit it.

In his defense, he was as honest with me as he could be. He said all along that we were just friends. I simply couldn't believe it – didn't want to believe it. I went along with it, telling him what he wanted to hear, so it’s my own fault that he actually believed me.

So today he tells me he met somebody else. 

The funny thing is (no, it’s not funny – but it is, sorta) she’s dumped him so now he’s all sad and wants me to comfort him. And since I've been saying all along that yes, we are just friend, I find myself in the position where I have to pretend that I care.

I do care, actually. No one deserves to be hurt, regardless of their blindness towards other people in their life.

I just keep telling him that I know how he feels.