Finally! There you are, lovely December!

I love December. It is, hands down, my favorite time of the year. Not only is it Christmas-time, so magical and wonderful, it is also my birthday on the 13th and I get as excited as a child about that. This year, I’ve been waiting even more impatiently, because I start my new job on December 1. This change is a huge one for me and so it merits its own post, hopefully coming sometime next week before Christmas madness sets in.

Looking back on (a really, really long) November:

  • I went to the TEDx Brussels event, which was very cool, but I didn’t manage to blog about it. Boo.
  • I have been blogging more though, so I’m happy about that. Though I lost most of my readers when I moved from my old blog, I should really see if I can re-direct or something. I am not connecting with as many people as I’d like to connect with and I don’t really know how to improve that.
  • I upped my excercise levels and reached the 200 minute goal I set myself for November. Thanks to Joy for the inspiration and support!
  • I read three books in November and I even managed to review one!
  • I’m still reading The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins (which is fantastic) and Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani (which is ok) and plan to finish them by the end of the year to complete Beth F’s What’s In a Name 5 challenge
  • I’m still listening to How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran on audio and am still loving it. So funny!
  • I haven’t really been listening to anything music-wise – although I did buy Michael Bublé‘s Christmas album yesterday and I expect I’ll be listening to that a lot! Here’s a taster:

What I’m looking forward to in December:

  • Um, Christmas? 🙂 We’re doing advent consisting mostly of books for our three-year-old and we have three separate Christmas dinners, all with presents. Life in December is pretty good. 🙂
  • The new job – I can’t believe the day has finally arrived!
  • All the best-of-2012 lists – I absolutely adore going through the end-of-year posts, it’s a great way to spend my time – and my money!
  • Going to Cardiff for New Year’s – I can’t get enough of that place!

What are you looking forward to in December?

Advertisements

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

This book, as fascinating as it was, made me really sad. I know that it’s non-fiction, so can’t have a Hollywood ending, but still, I was kind of hoping that there would be one anyway. I like to let myself believe in fair.

Henrietta Lacks was a woman who was born poor and black, trying to make a life for herself in 1940s Virginia. In 1951, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer and, after various treatments at the Johns Hopkins hospital, died. This would not have been unusual if not for the fact that doctors took samples of her cells and used them to create the now famous cell line called HeLa. HeLa cells are ‘immortal’, keep multiplying, so have given medical research something to do their research on. They are responsible for many of the advanced cures and treatments that we rely on today.

So why did this make me sad? Well, Henrietta didn’t give the doctors permission to take or use her cells, in fact she didn’t know anything about what they were doing. She is responsible for a large part of medical progress and yet her descendants, those alive today, don’t have health insurance. There is something so completely wrong about this, I can’t even begin to explain. I’m a naive person and look for the good in everyone and I was really hoping (though I knew it wouldn’t happen of course) that someone would come and say, ‘Hey. You guys deserve some health insurance’. But then, I think everyone should have access to health insurance…

The way things were done was just the way it was back then. Henrietta Lacks was a poor black woman, so she didn’t have many rights. I would hope that now things are different, though I understand that doctors can still keep any part of our tissue that is leftover from a procedure we’re having. And they can keep it without our knowledge or consent and use it for medical research. Doctors argue that it doesn’t harm anyone, the leftover tissue would just go in the trash and it does keep medical science going. I’m not sure how to feel about all this, I don’t think I’ve spent enough time mulling things over.

The family only found out about the ‘immortal’ cells 25 years after Henrietta’s death. Skloot’s book talks a lot about how that made various descendants feel, some were terribly angry, some didn’t believe that anyone would ever give Henrietta what she deserved, at least the truth out in the open. Henrietta’s daughter is a key part of the story and it’s really heartbreaking to see what she went through. It’s hard to imagine – your mother died when you were little, you’re trying to make a life for yourself and your family while suffering the various injustices of the poor and then someone comes along and tells you that your mother’s cells are still alive and that people are getting rich off them. I’d be angry too.

The book is a wonderful description not only of Henrietta’s life and her family – including those alive today – but also an amazing history of  how science evolved. It is also pays homage to the woman whose cells are ultimately responsible for so many of our modern medicine.

I can recommend this to anyone who enjoys reading about either science or social history, it’s a winner.

Thank you, Rebecca Skloot, for making Henrietta’s name known. That’s the least she deserves.

My little boy in November

The month is almost over and we’re getting ready for December, with all the excitement of Christmas. This will be Shane’s first holiday season when he really takes in everything that’s going on and I’m going all out creating as much magic as possible. 🙂 Today, we went to our first Christmas market, one at his school. That’s where the photo above is from, the 5 minutes he actually stood still for long enough to get a good one.

The other photo is of him eating some muffins he helped make. He loves cooking and baking. He actually got really upset with me the other day because I made a quiche before he came home from school. “Don’t make quiche without me,” he said.

We talk about Santa a lot now, though usually as a bribe – Santa only brings presents to good boys and girls, after all. It always works!

When asked what he wants from Santa, Shane says Hungry Hippos – a game he played at a friend’s house and loved – and a goat. Yes, a goat. We asked him what he’s going to do with a goat and he said: “Put it on a farm, goats live on a farm”, as  if the question was silly and the answer obvious.

My worry this month (I always have something I worry about!) is that he doesn’t want to go to school in the mornings. He’s always happy once he’s there, but mornings are tough. He doesn’t want to rush with breakfast and out the door. He wants to snuggle in bed and take his time and watch some tv or play on the iPad before we go out. Sigh. We never get up early enough to have a relaxed morning so that’s not likely to change.

He did get to spend a whole week at home this month, because he had the flu. He’s an incredibly high-spirited child though, even when he’s sick… Even when he woke up at night with a really high fever and we were on the phone to the emergency room to see what we needed to do, he was laughing and joking around. The only sign he showed of not feeling well was snuggling up to me in bed, he really wanted to be close to Mommy.

He discovered photo booth on our Mac this month, which means loads and loads of weird photos. Some of them are cute, like this one of him and my husband:

And, because my husband has a strange sense of humor, some of them are like this:

 

It’s been a fun month!

Readers work out too!

When faced with the choice of doing exercise or reading a book, I always, always, always chose the book. Always. It seems that as a child I was put in the bookish (but not sporty) category and, to be honest, I never thought about sports/exercise since. Until a few years ago, when I discovered how good a gym session could feel.  I’ve been working exercise into my life, on and off, since then, but the thing with exercise is that it’s a habit. So if you take a break and don’t do it for a while it is soooo hard to start again and get into it. Once it’s a habit, it feels natural and great and you actually miss it if you don’t have time for it one day. Strange, but true.

I’ve been on one of these prolonged breaks (for no good reason) and so decided to get some support over at Joy’s. She’s encouraging fellow book bloggers to exercise too and to support each other. She has regular posts on Readers’ Workouts, where you can link to your own progress post or thoughts. And she’s spreading her enthusiasm through Twitter, where she and a bunch of others are currently working on the 30-Day Shred.

That sounded way too crazy for me but I did commit to doing 200 minutes of exercise in November. Not too much, but a goal that should actually be achievable. Most of my exercise is taking brisk walks in the park while listening to an audiobook – that way I don’t have to choose – but I plan to go back to my yoga classes too.

And to make this post even remotely bookish, I will tell you that what I’m listening to is How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran and I am loving it. It’s funny, it’s serious and so much of it is so very true. I actually look forward to getting another half an hour of Caitlin while I explore my gorgeous local park. Look at these photos. Isn’t it amazing?

 

Weekend Cooking: Party Food

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. For more information, see the welcome post

With December party season getting closer and closer, I’ve been thinking about party food. I thought I’d jot down some of my favorites, the ones I make every time we throw a party, and hopefully get some new ideas from you guys! 🙂

Sausage rolls are my party staple. All I do is wrap hot dog sausages in store-bought flaky pastry and bake, but for some reason these are incredibly popular and always disappear first. I have tried to make them a bit fancier, by adding mustard or using flavored sausages, but the new version was never as good as the original. My guests ask me for the recipe (as if I had one!) over and over again.

One of my college friends once served this amazing sun-dried tomato dip and once I found out how easy it is I now make it all the time. All you do is put sundried tomatoes, mascarpone and a couple tablespoons of natural yogurt (because the mascarpone is too thick) into a food processor and pulse. So good as a spread or a dip!

I got a great recipe for a cheese ball from my friend Michelle. For years she would be obliged to bring a cheese ball or two to any party she was invited to and I finally got around to getting the recipe. No party table is complete without a cheese ball. Our recipe uses 2 small packs of Philadelphia cream cheese, 250g shredded cheddar, one pack blue cheese, some Worchestershire sauce and paprika (to taste) and 1/2 an onion, chopped. Put all of these in a bowl and mash with your hands until you can form a ball – or two smaller ones if you want. Roll each ball in crushed peanuts and you’re done.

Smoked salmon pinwheels – this is something my Mom made for our wedding and it was really popular. All you do is make a load of crepes (thin pancakes), then spread cream cheese on each, sprinkle with dill or chives and put on slices of smoked salmon. Roll up tight and chill – after a couple of hours you’ll be able to slice the roll and the slices will look like pretty pinwheels.

Another recipe I got after tasting the result at a friend’s house – Bacon and Cheese Slices. Fry 150g cubed pancetta or bacon with 2 chopped onions until softened and browned. Put the mixture in a food processor and pulse. Add 150 grated cheese, mix, season. Spread on store-bought flaky pastry, roll up and slice. Put slices flat on a baking sheet and bake until browned, about 15 minutes.

Other things I’ve made that have been a hit are mini-meatballs, buttermilk chicken nuggets ( a Nigella recipe, of course, yum!) and various wraps and mini-sandwiches.

What are your party staples?

Emotional Eating – Is There a Way Out?

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. For more information, see the welcome post

Somehow, it is not enough to know that sometimes I eat for emotional reasons and that I shouldn’t really do it. It’s not enough  to ask myself some pertinent questions and proceed from there. In moments of extreme stress and unhappiness and low energy, I still end up with junk instead of nourishment.  So if it’s not enough to be aware of what I’m doing, how can I ever stop?

My food journey so far has been long and tedious. I have always struggled with weight and my weight was a regular topic of conversation when I was growing up. I remember being praised for looking nice and thin (when I was about 10), but warned against eating too much chocolate or I’d gain weight (when I was about 13).  Nowadays we know that we have to be careful with girls of that age and anything to do with food, but it wasn’t such an issue back when I was a t(w)een, I guess.

Throughout my teens and my twenties, all the way up to my mid-thirties now, I have struggled with weight and food related  issues. I believed in a link between looking slim, feeling good and being worthy. It is only recently that I have improved my eating not to gain weight, but to feel good and healthy. But it’s not easy and I still slip sometimes. Like one evening this week, after a horrible day of struggling with some emotional work-related issues. I suppose the lesson there is that it’s just work, but I couldn’t help but take it personally. And the only thing that I could imagine would make me feel better was comfort food. Greasy, horrible, comfort food.

In my post about clean eating, I said that I am trying not to tell myself that I deserve a pizza, but rather tell myself that whenI’m down I deserve to have healthy food so that I feel energised and generally better. Now, if I understand that concept logically, why is it so easy to go back to past behaviors when I’m in the moment? I know exactly what I’m doing, I know that it’s for the wrong reasons and I simply don’t care. And I don’t really know how to get past this.

Does anyone else struggle with emotional eating? Anyone want to share their insight?

Hello, November!

I guess it’s time to say goodbye to October and greet November – high time, I’d say, considering this post is several days late!

October was a busy month

  • I stayed home  from work for two weeks because of a bad bout of flu, which was annoying but also needed.
  • My starting date for the new job was fixed for 16 November and then, unfortunately, changed to 1 December. I am really, really trying to live in the moment, but waiting for this new phase of my life is killing me!
  • Shane was an incredible little boy, as usual. See what he has been up to here.
  • My parents were over for a week while school was closed. Does everyone else also revert to being a teen when around their parents?

What I’ve been listening to: I finally finished Sisterhood Everlasting by Ann Brashares on audio and started listening to How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran. In music, I discovered a band I can’t get enough of – thank you, Alex, for introducing me to Mumford & Sons!

What I’ve been watching: We’re on season 3 of  One Tree Hill – nothing can beat cheesy high school shows! We also started  Flight of the Concordes, but aren’t far enough to have an opinion. I started season 4 of Gossip Girl and watched lots of romantic comedies while I was sick, including What to Expect When You’re Expecting (enjoyable), Friends with Benefits (much better than expected) and Monte Carlo (not great, but it was fun to see Leighton Meester, who plays Blair on Gossip Girl, in such a different role).

 
What I’ve been reading: I finished The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien and loved it. I’m not reading The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins, which I received from Iris in the All Hallow’s Read swap.

What I’m looking forward to in November: 

  • A calm last month of my current job
  • An inspiring TEDx Brussels event – I still can’t believe I’m actually going, I’m so excited!
  • A three-day training session on Participatory Leadership, or The Art of Hosting Conversations That Matter
  • My second session of the course on creative therapy that I am doing
  • Lots of fun reading!