Friday, April 29, 2011

STIRring up religion and science: Charles and Emma

STIR moves to May with Charles and Emma: The Darwin's Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman. Charles and Emma is a well-researched biography of the Darwins' marriage, written at the "Young Adult" level. As I am looking things up about it, I am becoming ever more anxious to go home and read it.
The proximate reasons that Molly selected Charles and Emma was that she and I both foresee hectic months (she's moving, among other things), and, among the many thought-provoking books on her shelves, Charles and Emma, with its YA size, seemed the one we would most likely delve into and quickly finish.
I can only speculate on the ultimate reasons that Molly had C&E on her shelf and thought we'd both like to read it in the first place, but imagine these are some of the reasons: the book is a love story about a couple who brought very different ideas, but lots of respect, to their marriage; the book treats science, religion and family life as compatible pursuits; the book has been critically very well received, winning many awards and making lists of "best YA for adults" and the like; and the book starts out with an actual image of Charles Darwin's marriage pro and con list.
I imagine that C&E would be interesting to many of my readers (Beth, Jenny, Prairie Quilter, Chateau, all the bio profs, perhaps even SalSis) and it widely available at libraries (okay, I base this on the fact that it is the first STIR book that I have been able to check out in my town). Let me know if you'd like to join the discussion.

By the way, Jenny and I are starting to discuss April's My Stroke of Insight. If you read it, let me know and I'll loop you into the discussions. Janet is working on the June selection and Tracy has picked Juno's Daughters by Lise Saffran for September.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Deferment of Worry

Super-duper ultrasound revealed yesterday that Rutherford Robinia's ventricles are normal-sized now (Hooray!). However, it is still clear that something happened and something was amiss in the brain (it's not like the heart hole ), probably some sort of bleed that is now "organizing" (i.e. blood being reabsorbed).
We'll keep monitoring it and, most likely, it will continue not to be a problem pre-birth or at birth. However, there's no real telling what the long-term effects (if any) of (what was most likely) a stroke during fetal development are, so RuthRob's development will be tracked particularly closely, even in absence of other interventions.
He or she, by the way, weighs 2 lb 6 oz, and is starting to get a face that looks more like Dianthus's than a lemur's. RuthRobinia has appropriate numbers of fingers and toes and the doctor thinks it's developmentally significant that RR clasps and unclasps its cute little hands.
Thanks for your continued support.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Rebirth with Rain

At six o'clock this morning I awakened to the sound of gentle rain. Much as I love sunny spring mornings, I'm not sure I recall any sunny Easter that captured the glory of life and re-birth quite as much as that sound of the first rain in a drought.
Things will grow. We are not abandoned. God is love.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Brain fluid beats heart holes?

A series of events that has left me longing for my overworked West Virginia OB/GYN who never had quite enough time for me and his other healthy patients:
-I'm old (technically AMA, of "advanced maternal age") so my (generally great) obstetrician schedules an appointment for me with the super-duper sonogram (in Norman, an hour and a half away) and the MFM specialist (maternal fetal medicine), which is now routine for all old mothers.
-I start bleeding and am diagnosed with a subchorionic hemorrhage the week before the appointment (January).
-Super-duper ultrasound reveals a baby growing great, but blood in the uterus which should be tracked (January).
-Return to super-duper ultrasound end of February. Blood is gone. Hooray! Baby is a great size, hooray! But wait, doctor may have seen a hole in Rutherford Robinia's heart. Look again. Baby is uncooperative, can't see anything. Come back in six weeks and we'll check out this possible hole.
-Return to super-duper ultrasound first week of April. Heart is intact. Heart is pumping great. Hooray! But wait, one of the ventricles on Rutherford's brain is enlarged. "Your baby has ventriculomegaly but don't worry, it's not hydrocephalus yet. Do you want to do an MRI?*" "No, okay, come back in three weeks."

Grrrr. It seems that RuthRob could have a brain tumor, a brain hemorrhage, major developmental problems, a fetal infection, or chromosomal abnormalities; or, much more likely, extra fluid in the ventricle in the brain that needs to be shunted after birth; or, much much more likely still, a slightly enlarged ventricle in the brain that will never lead to any observable symptoms.
How the next visit next week could go: Heart still great! Brain normal. Hooray! But wait, what's that? Your child has three tails! Want amnio? No? Okay, come back in three weeks and we'll see how well the wings are developing!

*I'm not exactly sure when a doctor is supposed to offer further diagnostic options, but immediately after alerting someone to the presence of a condition she's never heard of is not the time that she's most likely to make a well-informed decision. Still, I did ask the pertinent question, "Would we do anything differently based on the MRI?" and, the answer being, well, we'd still need to monitor it closely, I think I made the correct choice for us.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Maple babies and the first roses

We were showered with silver maple seeds Monday (April 11). It was nothing like the crazy shower of seeds last April in West Virginia, but still enough to cover the ground. Roses are starting to bloom here, and our irises along the south wall. Ornamental pears peaked on March 12, red buds were fantastic March 18- April 1 (and still interesting looking for another week). Our flowering dogwood may be in full flower, but it is so sad looking I'm hopeful there is more to come. Crocuses appeared after the daffodils (perhaps because they were newly planted) March 15 (yellow then purple then white) and the tulips (also new) peaked April 1, so that I could combine them with lilacs and new golden euonymous growth in a gorgeous bouquet. Most oaks have leaves and pecans and walnuts have been flowering (big dangling catkins) for a week. Our sad, dry lawn is peppered with prickly lettuce (Lactuca serriola) or a similar plant, shepherd's purse and Tragopogon dubious. It does not surprise me that our "freedom lawn" is a hotbed of broad leaf weeds, but I am surprised that the lactuca seems confined to our yard. What's happening in the spring where you are?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Lone Star Foray the First

I traveled to Texas over the weekend; deep into Texas, to Junction on I-10 and the Llano River. Driving for a long time and only crossing a small chunk of the map reminded me of a few things about the Lone Star State:

  1. It is a big state.

  2. I have no good sense about the diversity of the state. As an adult, before this weekend I'd flown into Houston for the weekend (my brother's college graduation), spent two days in Fort Worth at an Economic Botany conference, and driven across the panhandle as quickly as possible last July. I have no real sense of coastal Texas, or East Texas, or West Texas or the Hill Country or Big Bend or . . . but I now know what pastures covered in mesquite look like in the spring.

  3. Much as I might mock the flag-waving statriotism of many Texans, that Lone Star flag is a good flag: simple, bold and unsullied with text.

  4. I was at a TORCH workshop, by the way. Should you want to know the state of biodiversity collections digitization, a topic even this plant ethnoecologist finds a bit obscure (but frighteningly fascinating) ask about the conversation among curators, taxonomists and bioinformaticians and the Texas Oklahoma Regional Curators of Herbaria workshop.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Fingersmith, the anti-Lark Rise

While Lark Rise to Candleford had no plot (quite irritating if one was expecting one) it did have a point. Those of us who read it are discussing on e-mail exactly what we think that point was (hint to fellow readers who promised me your thoughts) but one idea is that Flora Thompson was trying to de-sensationalize Victorian England. I had the distinct impression that Thompson thought her contemporaries (as she was writing in the late 1930s) had a view of the past overly influenced by sensational novels (Dickens, Collins, Wilde, Stephenson, Bronte) and scences of dramatic, if pastoral, village life (Hardy, for instance, and how I envision Trollope and Elliot). So Thompson set out to write a book that sets people straight. Nothing seedy or unseemly happens in her hamlet in the 1880s. Nothing very good either. In fact, except that pennies are gathered for Victoria's jubilee and bicycles arrive, nothing happens at all. As you'll learn when I combine the conversation about Lark Rise into a cohesive post, despite early warnings, by the end of the third book, Marieke and I were both glad we had devoted some time to reading about nothing in the 1880s and 1890s. But afterward I needed a break from plotlessness. I devoured Fingersmith in a weekend. Sarah Waters' neo-Dickensonian 2002 masterpiece has thieves, orphans, pornagraphy, murder and plot twists galore. Not everybody's thing, but for those of you who like lots to happen, and don't mind if it happens in lots of pages with Victorian language, plenty of coincidences, a few lesbians and a dearth of "good" characters, (I know I'm looking at Beth here, and likely Irene, Jennifer, Janet and many of the rest of you), Fingersmith is a great read. Should you want to know more, Marieke posts about Sarah Waters here and raych reviews Fingersmith here and compares it to The Woman in White here. Oh, and contrary to what the Mister thinks the cover looks like, Fingersmith is not YA or about vampires.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Stroke for STIR

The April STIR selection is My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor. The book is a non-fiction account of brain surgeon's personal experience with a stroke. Jenny chose it partially by elimination; My Stroke of Insight had been on her radar for a while and other books that also had didn't work as well. I vaguely remember hearing the author interviewed on NPR and thought at the time that she and the book sounded fascinating (although I promptly forgot it). Jenny has started and is enjoying the book so far. Certainly, MSoI will be different than Breath, Eyes, Memory or Lark Rise to Candleford. Join us if you're interested.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Lek off for Love

Some clarification about things you may have received in your e-mail today, the first of April.*

  • Yes, I know this is twins for the third year in a row, but my choices become more limited every year. I can't plausibly become engaged now. I have quit my job and moved across the country recently; it's not that interesting to do every nine months. Breaking limbs as a result of clumsiness is just too plausible.

  • I did once put a leek in a toilet as part of an April Fool's joke. It's classic and not a spelling error. Like the twins, it stays.

  • Lek is a real word for the dance of prairie chickens. "Lek" is both a noun and a verb.

  • The Mister's family's ranch includes prairie chickens that are lekking right about now (assuming you are reading this at the crack of dawn, central time).

  • Hand, foot and mouth is, sadly, very real, and both husband and son have had it this week.

  • Actually, everything whiny about the trip to Kansas is true, except that it was actually a great trip.

  • Rutherford Robinia is singular.

  • I became engaged to the archaeologist from the cave April 1, 2003. Some of you have been reading these letters long enough to remember him. He wore leopard print underwear.

  • Somebody stole an April 1, 2004 idea, and is trying to open a gourmet grilled cheese franchise as part of an NBC reality show. Sadly, he misses the best part-- the chocolate and churros, the aphrodisiac foods and the fantasy of quitting a PhD to start it.

  • Very sadly, the number of students suddenly aware that they are failing (today, the drop deadline) is not any sort of joke. Yet another one just e-mailed me "willing to do anything" [except, apparently, come to class, study, or turn in homework]. Urgh.

  • It's sunny and beautifully springy here.

*If you didn't receive the e-mail, and should have, please let me know.