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Good Reading: A Review (April 2008)

This month, I started two books that I felt would be worthwhile. First of all, I finally read “Angela’s Ashes” by Frank McCourt. This is a wonderful book, though I struggled with it. I’ve been depressed lately and parts of his story are hard to read in that state of mind. Three of his siblings died when he was a child and the description of his parents’ reaction was very difficult to read, but very well written. The story overall is excellent and well worth reading; it really gave me a new perspective on my own life and my own struggles. It also contains a great deal of humor, despite the struggles portrayed, which made me take a closer look at how I face problems in my own life. I highly recommend reading this book; it took me longer to read than I expected because I struggled through sadder portions of the book, but I was so rewarded with the language, the humor, the story as a whole.

The second book I picked up was “Words to Live By” by C.S. Lewis. Now, I made the mistake of thinking this was a book of his writing; I expected … well, a normal book to read straight through. This, however, is more a reference book. It might be very useful in that respect, but it definitely isn’t something I’d read straight through. It is arranged alphabetically and contains quotes from his works on various topics. Some quotes are from his letters – and I found those interesting – and others are from his books. Those I found less helpful, since many are out of context. I am going to read some of his other works and I think that I will see if I can find correspondence of his that has been published.

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Good Reading: A Review (February 2008)

This month I read a book by Zora Neale Hurston called Their Eyes Were Watching God. I highly recommend it. I had decided that I wanted to branch out from my normal themes or genres and try something that I hadn’t been exposed to during my education.

I found this to be a wonderful book.  As a woman, I really identified with the main character, Janie.  My life experiences and hers are widely different and  yet I understand her and I understand her emotions and her thinking.  The book covers her growth and changes as she goes from a young girl to a widow; it covers three marriages and life afterward.

I’ve seen criticism of the language Ms. Hurston uses in the book – it is too black, it is spelled phonetically, it made the characters sound stupid, and the like.  While it took some getting used to for me, I found that it added to the story.  I don’t personally know if people in the areas of the country actually talk that way, but I assume that they do.  For me, it added to the texture of the book, the way it felt to me; it drew me into the environment.  As for making the characters sound stupid, I find that an odd argument.  I have talked to various intelligent people from different parts of the world; some accents can have an impact on how someone sounds but listening to WHAT a person is saying makes it apparent that they are indeed intelligent.  To focus on how the characters talk in this book is to focus on one tiny insignificant detail and ignore the beauty all around it.   The language is too black?  For what, I want to know.  I am indeed white but I had no problem understanding it.  Some things I gathered from context, but most of it was clear to me without effort.  I don’t know; perhaps I am not analyzing this enough but the criticisms I have seen in other places just don’t make sense to me.

All in all, I recommend this book.  I believe that any woman would find something in this story with with they could identify.  I found the language interesting and in some places absolutely beautiful.  I fully intend to read more by Zola Hurston.

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What is wrong with people?

There are just days when I cannot bear to read the news. Today is one of them. Two stories I found are Woman on Trial in Baby’s Microwave Death (from The Washington Post) and Somerset, PA, man accused of assaulting 11-day-old infant (from the Times Leader).

Yes, the first story is exactly what the headline describes. Wow. It just leaves me speechless. The woman (27) apparently confessed to it, saying, “I killed my baby” and the baby “fit right in” the microwave. Her defense attorney claims that other people had access to the baby, that she was drunk to the point of being on the edge of blacking out when the baby died, and also questions the reliability of science to determine what effect microwaves have on humans.

In the other story, a 31-year-old man has been charged with assault on the 11-day-old infant after it was discovered that the baby’s arm, leg, skull, and nose had been fractured. It seems that the injuries occurred when the man attacked the baby’s grandmother (the suspect’s girlfriend, apparently) while she was holding the baby – he beat her and the baby at the same time. What a charming individual.

It is days like this that I really wonder about the future of our society. How do people like this come to be? I’m aware of the “cycle of abuse”. I’m aware that alcohol alters people’s behavior significantly. I know these things, just like I know that people can have trouble coping with crying babies, sleep deprivation, and the like. But there is help available! Frequently family will help. If not family, churches can sometimes help out and there are some community/county/city programs that can help. It is a matter of reaching out, of asking someone around you for help.

I have two children now, two young children.  As I look at their small, beautiful faces, I cannot imagine losing control of myself to the point of hurting them.  I have been terribly tired, sleep-deprived, and completely without privacy for any longer time than that required for a shower, but I still cannot imagine it.  Yes, I get angry, particularly when I’m overtired, but I can step away.  I get out with friends from time to time.  When the grandparents visit, my husband and I go out and leave the children with the grandparents.

Of course, in some cases there are other underlying issues. For example, in the microwave story, the prosecutor says that the woman and her boyfriend had argued over whether they had been faithful to each other. She didn’t want her boyfriend to know whether he was the father because he had said he would leave her if he was not. What happened to admitting to a mistake, breaking up, and moving on? What happened to being faithful? If you don’t want to lose your boyfriend, wouldn’t it make sense to be faithful? Seems so easy to me.

These things make me so sick. Add these to the stories of teachers seducing children, either ones that they teach or others that they know and you have to wonder what happened to society. Yes, I know these things probably happened before the advent of television and they are just getting more publicity, but that doesn’t comfort me.

How can anyone other than a thirteen-year-old be attracted to a person of that age? I know that when I WAS 13, I didn’t like 13-year-olds.  Why, why, why would someone be attracted to a child?  I just don’t understand at all.  I suppose that I should be grateful for that.

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Researchers say to drink and exercise

Now here is a study I can get behind! According to Danish researchers, “drinking is healthy, exercise is healthy, and doing a little of both is even healthier.” This is according to an article published by Reuters on January 8, 2008 (here).

Obviously, you are not supposed to go out and get drunk every night – that is most definitely NOT healthy and not what is being touted by doctors. Rather, a drink or two regularly in addition to regular exercise is a healthy way of life.

According to the article, people who neither exercise nor drink have a 30-49 percent higher risk of heart disease than those who do one or both of the activities, according to a report in the European Heart Journal. “Several major studies have found that light to moderate drinking – up to two drinks a day on a regular basis – is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, and some have also found this leads to a lower risk of some cancers.” The Danish study, though, is the largest of its kind to examine the combined effect of drinking and exercise, and it found there were additional benefits from doing both things. Non-drinkers had a 30-31 percent higher risk of heart disease compared to moderate drinkers, regardless of the level of activity. Moderate consumption of alcohol was defined as up to 2 drinks per day (1-14 drinks per week). Teetotalers were able to reduce their risk of heart disease by exercising at least moderately. The people with the lowest risk of dying from any cause were those who performed both activities while those at the highest risk were those who were physically inactive, heavy drinkers.

Just something to think about…and of course, you do have to wonder if a study next week or next month will find the opposite. My husband’s doctor did indeed recommend a drink a day for health benefits; he gets a kick out of telling people that he’s having a drink due to doctor’s orders.

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Good Reading: A Review (January 2008)

A Quaker Book of Wisdom by Robert Lawrence Smith

This is an excellent book. I found it informative about Quaker ways of life, as well as beliefs. It has also inspired me to seek out a meeting and attend one (or more). I believe that this is a community that I would fit into very well and I want to learn more.

There are 10 chapters, covering different areas of Quaker life. They include such things as Silence, Worship, Truth, Simplicity, Business, and Family. In each, Mr. Smith explores ways in which we can focus the expression of God that is found in each of us and use it to guide us in our decisions and the challenges that we face.

I found so much in this book to comfort me, strengthen me, encourage me, and give me hope. It is a warm, friendly book – one that should be read over and over again. It contains a little bit of history of the Quakers, the roots of the movement, and its core beliefs, but mostly it contains tools for leading a more meaningful life. You definitely don’t need to be Quaker to read this book, nor do you need to be seeking a different path than the one you are on. I believe anyone would find things in this book that are useful for day to day living.

Some bits from the book:

  • I have always felt that the reason Quakerism took root and flourished in the colonies was because there was, and still is, something quintessentially American and profoundly democratic about this optimistic faith that declares that all people are created equal; that exalts classlessness and the perfectibility of people and institutions; that insists on the freedom to worship in whatever form one chooses – and that recognizes a direct one-to-one relationship with God. (page 10)
  • Quakerism is a very pragmatic religion, based on experience, not ideology. Silence is valued by Quakers because it is useful. The practice of silence – and it does take practice – is rewarding because it enriches and clarifies our lives while offering a bit of a time-out for our souls. (page 12)
  • The well-known Quaker virtue of frugality has also served to bring heightened efficiency to their businesses and industries. Waste is anathema to Friends, and many have shown remarkable ingenuity in finding new ways to eliminate it. (page 130)
  • Quakers have always recognized that the most valuable and nonrenewable resource of any healthy business is the people who work in it, and their labor practices have reflected that belief…Despite the growth of their operations, they set a high standard for employer-employee relations, always based on the concept of equality of all people.

The stories from the personal experience of the author are what make this book so special. I felt that I could see and feel the family environment and the closeness he expressed. He also did point out evidence that the Quaker family and environment isn’t perfect; they have their problems like everyone else. Still, those stories produce a wonderful, warm feeling – at least they did in me. They also inspire me to reach for more, to try harder to better myself and to be a better family member/friend/coworker to those around me.

Robert Lawrence Smith is the former headmaster of Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C..

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More on Children’s Cold Remedies

If you’ve been following the news lately (and the articles I’ve posted references to in this blog), children’s cold remedies are under fire. Now it turns out that they have been “raised questions for years”, according to the Washington Post. (Here, for now). This article was in the Post on Friday, October 26, 2007.

This situation has raised a number of questions (from the article):

  • How could the products remain on the market so ling without proof that they work?
  • Why didn’t the FDA act sooner?
  • Why didn’t the medical establishment warn parents?

It seems that about two-thirds of drugs prescribed for use in children have not been tested in children! In addition, “there are a huge number of drugs that are regularly given to children that have never been tested in children,” said Michael W. Shannon, a professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. “I’m very concerned that many of these agents may also be inappropriate for children.” One factor in the lack of testing in children is the fact that it was considered unethical and unnecessary to test drugs in children. The dosages were extrapolated from dosages for adults.

In 1972, the FDA did organize a panel to review nonprescription cough and cold medicines; previously, their attention had been focused on prescription medicines. This panel concluded that there was enough evidence to endorce 35 of the 92 ingredients. That recommendation was based on studies in adults. In 1976, the group recommended that doses for children be extrapolated from data for adults.

“As researchers began testing some of the products directly in children, they slowly started to raise disturbing questions. The Journal of the American Medical Association published an analysis in 1993 that concluded there was no good evidence that the medications worked. The Cochrane Collaboration, an independent international project that regularly evaluates medical therapies, reached a similar conclusion in 2004.”

The article goes on to say that although many pediatricians began to counsel their patients not to use these products, some continued to tell them that they could use them. The products remained very popular. In 1997, the American Academy of Pediatrics adopted a policy stating that cough medicines are ineffective. The American College of Chest Physicians produced a similar statement in 2006. However, many other organizations have never issued any formal guidance to doctors on this subject.

I have a two year old (almost two and a half) and my doctor has never mentioned any concern. I have to admit that he is rarely sick, but he has had an occasional cough/cold. I had no idea that these products had not been tested on children, that there were concerns that they were ineffective. Giving a child medicine is enough of a struggle; why would I continue to do so, if it is not going to help?

Some experts are defending the doctors’ groups, saying that they are up against a multibillion-dollar industry, a group that aggressively markets their products (spending more than $50 million a year to sell their stuff). I can understand that to a point – it is like going against the tobacco lobby and all the tobacco firms; they have a lot of money to throw at the situation. Still, as a patient, it would have been nice to have been told this. I don’t understand why more doctors don’t say something to their patients.

On the bright side, the FDA has started demanding that some prescription drugs be tested in children before they are approved. It has also enticed drug companies to conduct pediatric studies of some medications already on the market; unfortunately, the article fails to say how they enticed them. The FDA is reviewing recommendations, but it says that formal action could take years. The industry has voluntarily removed products designed for children younger than two from the market, but “maintains that the remedies are both safe and effective for older children when used properly.”

Well, I’m going to keep watching to see what happens. I want to know if the industry will police itself, if the FDA is going to wake up and take action, … I want to know if doctors are going to pass on information like this to their patients in a more organized fashion. I’m also going to do my part and be a more aware consumer.

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Recall of Children’s Cough Medicines

Johnson and Johnson recalled specific infant cough and cold products today, saying that “rare” instances of improper use, particularly in infants under two years old, have lead to overdoses. These products include:

  • Infants’ Tylenol Drops Plus Cold
  • Concentrated Infants’ Tylenol Drops Plus Cold & Cough
  • Pediacare Infant Drops Decongestant
  • Pediacare Infant Drops Decongestant and Cough
  • Pediacare Infant Dropper Decongestant
  • Pediacare Infant Dropper Long-Acting Cough
  • Pediacare Infant Dropper Decongestant and Cough (PE) products

This recall does not include cough and cold products for children two years and older, or products that are single-ingredient pain reliever and fever reducers expressly labeled for infants.

The Washington Post article is here.

This certainly got my attention. I use, or have used, one product on that list. Of course, I used it properly and after my doctor said it was fine. Still…it makes me second-guess myself; should I give my child this medicine? On the other hand, how can you not give a sick child something if you think it will help?

Well, now the FDA’s Nonprescription Drugs Advisory committee will be meeting this month to discuss the use of cough and cold drugs by children. I will be very interested to see what comes out of that meeting.

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