On Immunity

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

On Immunity 
An Inoculation 
by Eula Biss 

I'd like to start by saying I do not have kids. I think the topic of immunity and vaccination is an incredibly personal one and if you are a mother who is even thinking deeply about these things you are already doing your best you can to care for your kids. 

Biss' book is a nonfiction look into the history of vaccination and a discussion of some of the current issues. She presents the information without berating people. I love the details she gives about milkmaids, cowpox, the development of the polio vaccination and so much more. She brings the topic to life by giving it a background and talking about real examples throughout history. She also makes a fascinating connection between disease and Bram Stoker's Dracula. He stands as he example of the plague and sickness we fear, sucking our life away 

She brings the AIDS crisis into the book to show an example of how the views of disease have become driven by fear and sometimes even a belief that if we do things "right" we can protect ourselves and our children. She talks about her own experiences and the decisions she's made with her child. She presents current CDC or WHO statistics about disease and outbreaks around the world. 

One of the most interesting aspects to me was the explanation of herd immunity and the important part it plays in protecting people with compromised immune systems. She pulls no punches when talking about scare tactics that are sometimes used based on no fax or incorrect or false studies that have already been disproved. It really made me think about where we get our information and the tendency that all people have to believe things without fact checking them. 

BOTTOM LINE: I wanted to learn more about this issue from a well-researched source and so this book worked well for me. Everyone will approach this issue with their own belief system, so that will obviously affect your view of the material, but I thought she did an excellent job. I especially appreciated how she drew a clear line between what was packed and what was her opinion. 

“Wealthier countries have the luxury of entertaining fears the rest of the world cannot afford.”

A Day in the Life

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Well, it's kind of fitting that I couldn't manage to get my Day in the Life post up on the right day. Folks, that's just how life has been lately. Anyway, Trish had this awesome idea about posting what your daily life looks like. Of course, I let a million other things get in the way of actually writing my post, but I'm hoping she'll be ok with better late than never! So here's an average day in my life...

6:20 - Up and run on the treadmill (right now that's only happening about once a week... boo) while watching Call the Midwife. OR sleep in a few more minutes and up at 6:40. Say bye to the Huz as he heads to work. He's already feed Ollie pup and let him outside. Shower and get ready for work. I listen to an audiobook while I get ready (right now it's Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry).

7:20 - Head to the office. I listen to a different book in the car while I'm driving. I'm listening to American Lion right now, which helps take the edge off the stupid morning commute drivers. 

7:55 - Into the office, have my first giant cup of coffee and a greek yogurt cup for breakfast. 

8 to 1 - A million different work things. Some days it's writing an article for my magazine. Some times it's a meeting for a committee that I run. Other times I'm at the Statehouse for an event or interviewing someone for an article. Some days I edit people's columns or put together our monthly E-Newsletter. Honestly, it's always something different and I love that. 

12:30 or 1 or 1:30 - Whenever I remember, I take lunch. My latest favorite has been Greek salad (see above) or a turkey wrap and an apple. I love reading while I eat my lunch, but it just depends on how busy work is. This week I've been reading Hollow City during my lunch break.

1:30 to 5 - Whatever other random work stuff my day holds. Assume at least one meeting and some writing. I work at a state association, so it's a lot of putting out fires, planning events, etc. I'm pretty strict about trying to leave by 5 pm, because otherwise my whole day disappears.

5 to 5:30 - Sit in traffic for too long on the way home while listening to an audiobook. 

So my week nights are a mixed bag. Monday nights are spent at Bible Study Fellowship until 9 pm. Once a week I review live theatre in Indianapolis, which means I get home around 10 pm. Once a month I have book club. The Huz and I usually do dinner with friends at least one night a week. So an average week for me is about 3 or 4 nights out, 3 or 4 nights in. 

Nights In:
5:30 to 6:30 - Grocery shopping some days (see absurd shopping selfie above, taken when my sister texted and asked what I was up to last week), others I start cooking when I get home after sorting through the mail, letting Ollie pup out, feeding him, changing into comfy clothes, etc. 

6:30 - Dinner with the Huz, always a highlight. We like to cook together when we can, but lately he's been having to work later.

8 - The best nights end with me, Ollie, and the Huz curled up on the couch with a great TV show or book and a glass of wine. Lately we've been watching Bloodlines on Netflix. SO GOOD! 

11 - We usually go to bed between 10:30 and 11:30. Sometimes I read in bed for another half an hour or so. 

So that's what my days normally look like. Nothing too thrilling, but despite the occasional chaos I kinda love it.

The Return of the King

Friday, March 27, 2015

**If you haven’t read the book, just skip this review. I tried to avoid spoilers, but there is just too much to talk about.**

The Return of the King
by J.R.R. Tolkien

The final book in the trilogy holds many battles. Some are with hordes of orcs and others are battles of the will. One thing I’ve always loved about this series is that you can have the most incredible showdown on the battlefield, but those scenes are no more powerful than Sam picking up Frodo and doing all he can to carry him to Mount Doom.

In The Return of the King we get to see the brilliant triumph at Minas Tirith and then the loss of hope at the Black Gate when the Mouth of Sauron shows Gandalf Frodo's belongings. We see Sam and Frodo lose their strength and we finally understand the role that Gollum and had to play in the whole saga.

I love that this final installment reaches what you think is the climax of the story less than halfway through the book. Then the rest of the novel is about the reuniting of characters and a glorious return to all of their lands. I think that's indicative of the true focus of the story being more on the characters and less on the war. Once their goal is achieved and the war is over, their stories still continue.

Rereading the trilogy reminded me why I fell in love with it in the first place. Although I love the movies, the books have so much more depth and heart. I think the Battle of Bywater is a perfect example. Because of the sheer length of the final movie, it was completely left out, but it's in that scene that we see just how much our little hobbits have matured. Merry and Pippin are now brilliant warriors and Sam's become a leader willing to stand up against any foe. Frodo has found that above all he values peace and knows that mercy is much more valuable than revenge. His journey changed him in a different way than the other hobbits.

The scenes in the Shire made me think about World War II. The few that stood up to Hitler were immediately punished. Ruling that way instilled a fear in everyone else which made them easier to govern. The same happened in the Shire and so the hobbits stopped resisting their cruel leaders. I was glad that Gandalf didn't fight the battle with the hobbits. He left them to return to the Shire on their own because he knew they were ready to defend it themselves.
"He is a moss-gather, and I have been a stone doomed to rolling. But my rolling days are ending, and now we shall have much to say to one another." – Gandalf on leaving the hobbits to visit Bombadil.

There are a few interactions between Sam and Rosie at the end of the book that I just love. When they meet back up in the Shire they were adorable with each other. After everything that Sam had been through I couldn’t help smile when he gets the girl in the end.

BOTTOM LINE: I have a feeling I'll never tire of returning to Middle Earth and I'll certainly never let 13 years go by between rereadings again! I'll always have more to learn from these rich characters. Tolkien tells so many beautiful stories within this trilogy and I got even more out of it the second time around. 

"'I do not fear either pain or death. What do you fear, lady?' he asked.

'A cage,' she said. 'To stay behind bars, until use an old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire.'"

“In that hour of trial it was the love of his master that helped most to hold him firm.”

“Though here at journey's end I lie in darkness buried deep, beyond all towers strong and high, beyond all mountains steep, above all shadows rides the Sun and Stars for ever dwell: I will not save the Day is done, nor bid the Stars farewell.”

“And the journey's finished. But after coming all that way I don't want to give up yet. It's not like me, somehow, if you understand.” – Sam

"I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil." - Gandalf

A few tidbits where the book differs from the film:

- The beacons of Gondor were already lit before Gandalf and Pippin got to Minas Tirith. 

- Only 13 days pass between Boromir's death and the beginning of the fifth book when we meet Denethor.

- Beregond is part of the city guard and he shows Pippin around the city. In the end he’s the one who saves Faramir by blocking the door from the guards when they're trying to burn the pyre. 

- Aragorn is the one who heals Faramir, Eowyn, and Merry. He has the gift of healing and he’s the one who saves their lives. 

- Eowyn takes a different name when she pretends to be a man in the Rohirrim.

- Sam is tempted by the ring and wants to go off on his own for a moment when he sees himself in a place of power. Even Sam couldn't resist the temptation for a second.

Appendix Notes:
I've always loved the appendices as well for the light they shine on the history of the characters, especially Arwen and Aragorn. Here’s a few other bits of info that they include…

- Galadriel is Arwen's grandmother. Whoa!
- Elrond's father was a man and Elrond's chose to be of Elven-kind.
- Gollum had the Ring for more than 450 years when Bilbo found it.
- Sam's daughter, Goldilocks, married Pippin's son Faramir!
- Arwen was more than 2,700 years old when she and Aragorn first met. Talk about a cougar!
- Sam went to the Grey Havens at the end of his life and passed over the sea after his wife Rose died.
- Leogalas built a ship and sailed over the sea with Gimli after Aragorn died. 

Names Aragorn went by:

Strider, Estel, Elessar, Elfstone, Isildur's Heir, Quenya, The Renewer, Longshanks, Wingfoot, King of Gondor, Chieftain of the Dunedain, and Thorongil

The Two Towers

Thursday, March 26, 2015

**If you haven’t read the book, just skip this review. I tried to avoid spoilers, but there is just too much to talk about.**

The Two Towers
by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Two Towers has always been the slowest book in the trilogy for me, but it also contains some of my favorite scenes. I particularly adore the Ents and Lady Eowyn. The book is split between three separate stories: Merry and Pippin's, Aragorn, Leogalos and Gimli's, and Frodo, Gollum and Sam's. But unlike the movie, we don't switch back-and-forth between each story. We hear about the first two groups’ stories in their entirety and then the second half of the book is devoted to Frodo and Sam's story. Their tale is at times exhausting, just in the way that their journey must have been.

At the beginning we see the fellowship split apart. Merry and Pippin are taken by orcs; Frodo and Sam leave on their own to take the Ring to Mordor. Boromir is killed by orcs while defending the hobbits and Leogalos, Gimli and Aragorn follow the orcs trail to rescue Merry and Pippin.

Merry and Pippin finally escape in Fangorn forest and meet Treebeard. He is one of my favorite characters in any book. He is so thoughtful with his “Hum ho hum boom barooms.” It’s Merry and Pippin’s role in the story to bring the ents into the War of the Ring. When they discover how Saruman has been destroying their trees they are furious and ent anger is no joke. I did think it was interesting that the ents say it was the elves who gave them their wisdom. I also love their names: Leaflock and Skinbark.

Meanwhile Leogalos, Gimli and Aragorn meet the Rohirrim. They also encounter a wizard that they think is Saruman. When they realize it’s actually Gandalf the relief is palpable and as a reader you’re just as thrilled to see him again. When they go all travel to Edoras to meet King Théoden they realize how bad the situation in Rohan has become. We get to meet Théoden’s niece, Eowyn, one of the most badass characters in literature.

This book also contains the destruction of Isengard, Saruman’s stronghold. His voice is one of his greatest powers. He can put his listeners under his spell with his words, but he doesn’t even think most of Middle Earth is worthy of considering a foe. His neglect to consider the ents leads to his downfall. The scene where Merry and Pippin described the destruction of Isengard by the Ents is one my favorite things in the book. The ents are absolutely terrifying in their righteous anger.

Sauron has a similar fault. He assumes his enemies will act in the same selfish, power grabbing way that he does. It never crossed his mind that the fellowship’s goal is to destroy the ring, not to struggle to rule in a position of power over all of Middle Earth with it.

Tolkien descriptions of places are so incredible. In my opinion that’s why people love the movies so much. For many authors much of the location and situation is left to your imagination. So what each reader pictures is invariably different. But Tolkien described everything is such detail that what you see in the movies feels like the books have come alive…

"There stood a tower of marvellous shape. It was fashioned by the builders of old, this moved the Ring of Isengard, and yet it seemed a thing not made by the craft of Men, but riven from the bones of the earth in the ancient torment of the hills."

… there's more than a paragraph after that which continues to describe Isengard.

I’m constantly surprised by how quickly things are happening in this book. There are only nine days between Boromir’s death and the breaking of the fellowship and the day when they all reunite in Isengard (except for Sam and Frodo)!

** As I reread the books I used “A Guide to Middle Earth: A Complete and Definitive Concordance of the Lord of the Rings” by Robert Foster. It was incredibly helpful because so many things that are called by different names. At one point they're going to see the Wizard's Vale, which when you look it up in the concordance you learn that it's also called valley of Saruman and Nan Curunír in other sections. There are a dozen more examples of the same thing and so the concordance was really helpful.

BOTTOM LINE: The adventure continues without a single lag from the first book. Frodo and Sam’s section is slow at times, but I love the whole trilogy.

“Yet do not cast all hope away. Tomorrow is unknown.”

“The brave things in the old tails and songs, Mr. Frodo: adventures, as I used to call them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and look for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life is a bit though, a kind of a sport, as you might say. But that's not the way a bit with the tales that really matter, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually - their past relayed that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn't. And if they had, we should know, because they'd have been forgotten.”

A few tidbits where the book differs from the film: 
I feel like some of the major book to movie differences with this one are important because they speak to each characters’ motivation. These changes paint the ents, Faramir, and Gandalf in a different light and in each case I prefer the book to the film.

- When Frodo has to lure Gollum into captivity for Faramir, he tries to explain to Gollum that the men will kill him if he doesn't come quietly. I think it’s important that he’s not trying to trick Gollum.

- In the movie Gollum tries to make Frodo think Sam was stealing the food. Frodo sends Sam away because of it. That never happens on the books. Sam goes with Frodo into Shelob's lair. Also the book talks about Sauron and what he thinks of Shelob. He sees her as his pet, his cat that he lets eat orcs and prisoners.

- The Huorns (trees of Fangorn Forest) were the ones that turned the tide at Helm's Deep with Gandalf.

- Faramir knows that he can gain power and glory by taking the ring back to his city, but he chooses not to. He makes the impossible choice to send Frodo on safely and he never falters from that. In the movie he does the opposite and then later changes his mind.

- The ents decide to go to war with Saruman during their moot. In the movie they decide not to and then later Merry and Pippin convince them.

- The Palantír: In the movie Gandalf is beyond furious at Pippin, but in the book he's frustrated at first but is quickly grateful to the little hobbit even though he still calls him a fool. He says, "Maybe, I have been saved by this hobbit from a grave blunder. I had considered whether or not to probe this Stone myself to find its uses. Had I done so, I should have been revealed to him myself. I am not ready for such a trial, if indeed I shall ever be so."

- Another important note, Sam put the ring on to hide from the orcs. Even with his pure heart, he couldn't resist that temptation.

Wordless Wednesday: Milford Sound

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Milford Sound in New Zealand 
A glimpse of the land of the Hobbits in honor 
of the Lord of the Rings posts this week!
More Wordless Wednesday here.
Photo by moi.

The Fellowship of the Ring

Monday, March 23, 2015


**If you haven’t read the book, just skip this review. I tried to avoid spoilers, but there is just too much to talk about.**
The Fellowship of the Ring
by J.R.R. Tolkien

It’s been 13 years since I first read the Lord of the Rings series and it was high time for a reread. This epic trilogy starts out quietly enough. There’s the Shire, a peaceful place full of hobbits and rolling green hills. Anyone familiar with The Hobbit will recognize Bilbo Baggins, but this is not his story. His nephew Frodo inherits a ring from him and nothing in his life will ever be the same.

There’s no need to rehash the plot as most people are familiar with it because of the movies. Suffice to say Tolkien is a master story teller. He pays attention to every detail and you can feel the terror of the hobbits as the Black Riders hunt them. You share in their awe as the meet the elves and hear their songs. Middle Earth is both completely unique and infinitely familiar. It’s almost as if you’ve stepped back in time and you’re witnessing the history of a simpler people, but none of them ever existed.

The trilogy has such depth and deals with issues that are relevant in every time period. The heart of the story is about friendship, loyalty and sacrifice. It's about trusting those who are wise and setting aside your own goals for the good of all. It deals with grief, temptation, greed, trust, overcoming your fears and prejudices, and stepping outside of your comfort zone. It’s about knowing what’s really important in life. The only people who can truly resist the ring are the ones who don't value power and wealth above all else. More than anything, Frodo wants to go home and he has no desire for glory. That’s the only reason he’s able to resist the ring for so long.

"Yet such is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great or elsewhere."
The book teaches so many beautiful lessons but even more than that it's an incredibly readable story. Tolkien’s descriptions carry you away into a world with elves, dwarves and hobbits. You can feel the encroaching darkness and taste the stagnant air in the Monies of Moria. You can see the leaves grow golden in Galadriel's forest.  
There were so many things that I had forgotten about the books. In the years since I first read them I’d begun to believe they were dense or hard to follow because of all the unusual names and locations, but that wasn’t the case. I felt instantly transported and thrilled to be traveling with Strider and the hobbits as they made their way to Rivendell.

I absolutely adore the movies and think they are some of the best adaptations of book to film that I’ve seen. But there are a few parts that differ from the books and I couldn’t help notice those sections. Some of them are just wonderful, but I know you can’t fit everything into a movie.

There’s one scene where Frodo and Sam cross paths with elves early in the book. Same is enthralled with them, because he’s been dreaming of meeting elves his whole life. Then there’s Tom Bombadil and his lady Goldberry, the daughter of the River. They are such lovely characters. Tom is wise and stands outside of the normal rules and faults of others in Middle Earth. I love the scene with the Barrow-wights and Old Man Willow when Tom rescues the hobbits.
I’d forgotten the original reasons so many were gathered at Rivendell for the Council of Elrond. Leogalos was there to let Elrond know that Gollum had escaped from the Mirkwood elves. Boromir had been traveling for 110 days to get from Gondor to Rivendell. He came because his brother, Faramir, was having a dream over and over again to "Seek the sword that was broken... for Isildur's Bane shall waken." Boromir only had the dream once. I couldn’t help but wonder how differently things might have turned out if Faramir had been part of the fellowship instead of his older, brasher brother.
There’s also a scene where Gandalf is rescued from Saruman by the eagle Gwaihir because Radagast told birds and beasts where Gandalf was going to be. That section reminded me of Harry Potter and how Voldemort always underestimated people he thought were less powerful than him. Sauruman used Radagast to unknowingly trick Gandalf into going to Isengard. Saruman underestimated Radagast and never thought that he would be the reason Gandalf was able to escape.
BOTTOM LINE: Completely irresistible. This might be my favorite book of the trilogy. It’s our introduction to the wonderful world of Middle Earth. It holds the first glimpse of Rivendell; it cements the lifelong friendships between the members of the fellowship, and takes us on a trip through the hallowed woods of Lothlórien. We meet Tom Bombadil, attend a party in the Shire, and above all else we see the strength it takes to for someone to sacrifice themself for the good of others. 
"It's a dangerous business, Frodo going out of your door," he (Bilbo) used to say. "You step into the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to." 

"Elves seldom give unguarded advice, for advice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise, and all courses may run ill."
"A hunted man sometimes wearies of distrust and longs for friendship."

"He breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom."

"Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens."

"The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, he grows perhaps the greater."
 A few tidbits where the book differs from the film: 

- Frodo was orphaned when both his parents drowned.

- He and Bilbo have the same birthday, September 22, and when Bilbo turned 111 Frodo turned 33, which is the age when hobbits officially become an adult.
- Almost 20 years go by between Bilbo leaving the Shire and Frodo leaving. He was 50 when he started out on the journey.
- He sold Bag End before he left.
- Merry and Pippin were always planning on going, it wasn't a last minute thing.
- They stop at Farmer Maggot's house and then he drives them to the ferry.
- The Elf Glorfindel met the hobbits and Strider, not Arwen and Gandalf is the one who made the water turn into horses during the flood that scares the Ringwraiths off.
- Aragorn and Bilbo were great friends. They had been at Rivendell together for a long time and Bilbo called him the Dunadan.
- Aragorn was the one who found Gollum and took him to the elves.
- Gandalf was in Gondor when he found info about the ring in scrolls Isildur wrote.
- After Gwaihir Eagle saves Gandalf he takes him to Rohan where Gandalf gets Shadowfax.
- The Hobbits spend two months in Rivendell after Elrond's Council before embarking on their journey.
SIDENOTE: The decision to make the Hobbit into a trilogy seemed silly to me, but re-reading this trilogy helped explain that decision. There’s so much in Hobbit movies that is discussed during Lord of the Rings. They talk about what Gandalf was doing during that time period and so it made sense to add it into those movies.