ASK Musings

No matter where you go, there you are.



August 2018



What I’m Reading – 12 August 2018

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Disability Rights

“Paper straws were of no use, especially for hot liquids—the paper would just disintegrate. Metal straws were not an option either, because they could lead to potentially serious burns in my already fragile mouth, face, and body from their hot content, not to mention that the metal could damage fresh surgical sites. But also, if I did not have the fine motor functions to eat or drink by myself at the time, having to clean and disinfect reusable metal straws was certainly out of the question. I tried every type of straw there was during that time period to find that only the bendy disposable plastic variety were of any use to me. This is likely the case with people suffering from ALS, dementia, stroke, seizures, or other kinds of disabilities and health issues that would require the regular use of them.” Strawgate: The Ableism Behind Exclusionary Activism (by Saigon Flower for The Establishment)

Reproductive Rights

“On Saturday, June 30, the Missouri Democratic Party approved a new platform, which included an amendment that would allow anti-choice members into the party. The amendment states: “We respect the conscience of each Missourian and recognize that members of our party have deeply held and sometimes differing positions on issues of personal conscience, such as abortion. We recognize the diversity of views as a source of strength, and welcome into our ranks all Missourians who may hold differing positions on this issue.” The language was directly pulled from the website of anti-choice group Democrats For Life.” Missouri Democrats’ New Platform Caves on Abortion Rights (by Alison Dreith for Rewire)

“Judge Carol Bagley Amon of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn denied the request for preliminary injunction, saying she did not find the center’s security camera videos and testimony to be “credible.” Women’s rights activists found the decision disappointing and told Rewire.News they fear Judge Amon had her own bias in this case. Nominated by President George H.W. Bush, Amon has freed a married couple who conspired to help a man who gunned down an abortion care provider in 1998.” Federal Judge Sides With New York Anti-Choice Protesters, Dismissing Clinic Workers’ Testimony as ‘Unreliable’ (by Auditi Guha for Rewire)

“A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed a district court’s ruling that the law constitutes an “undue burden,” and dealt the latest legal blow to Indiana Republicans’ legislative efforts to restrict access to abortion care. Judge Ilana Rovner wrote in the ruling that while it is a legitimate goal for the state to attempt to dissuade pregnant people from having an abortion, the law seeks to accomplish that goal by creating a barrier to abortion “without any evidence that it serves the intended goal of persuading women to carry a pregnancy to term.” Pence-Era Indiana Anti-Choice Law Dealt Major Legal Blow (by Teddy Wilson for Rewire)


“In February of this year, the Michigan House passed a bill to make English the official state language. The bill is expected to pass the state Senate, though it would need Governor Rick Snyder’s signature to become law. If it succeeds, Michigan will become the 32nd state to make English its official language and clear a victory for the “Official English” political movement.” Inside The Racist Push To Make English The United States’ Official Language (by Samantha Yenger Cremean for The Establishment)

Criminal Punishment System

“In the vicinity of the shooting, protesters began to gather and clash with authorities. Protests went well into the night. Reporter Nader Issa captured video of police attacking a protester with batons, using what could be perceived as excessive force.” Protests Erupt After Chicago Police Shoot, Kills Local Black Man Believed To Be A Barber (by Rickey Riley for Blavity)

Fighting Bigotry

“Leen Schaap was appointed to stamp out what late Mayor Eberhard van der Laan described as a “closed culture in which racism, discrimination and bullying take place”. But Mr Schaap angered serving and retired firefighters when he spoke publicly about the problems he faced in recruiting more women and immigrants.” Amsterdam fire chief Leen Schaap ‘had death threats from staff’ (BBC)

Biomedical Ethics

“An inquiry into the ethical issues surrounding genetically altering a human embryo has found there is “no absolute reason not to pursue it”. But appropriate measures must be put in place before it becomes UK law, said the report – which calls for further research both medically and socially.” Editing human embryos ‘morally permissible’ (BBC)

“It will now be easier to withdraw food and liquid to allow such patients to die across the UK. When families and doctors are in agreement, medical staff will be able to remove feeding tubes without applying to the Court of Protection. Lady Black ruled there was no violation under the Human Rights Convention.”


“In November of 2017, the Farmers Market Coalition’s contract came up for renewal, and the USDA awarded the $1.3 million contract to a new company, Financial Transaction Management of Reston, Virginia. The company, which has one employee, was formed just before the contract became available. Their address, 1900 Campus Commons Dr., is a virtual office. The company does not have technology up and running to process SNAP benefits at Farmer’s Markets. It planned to start taking applications for replacement equipment on July 14, but there has been no news since then. SNAP Recipients Might Be Shut Out Of Farmers Markets Soon (by Andres O’Hara for Gothamist)

Gun Violence

“MGM Resorts International filed complaints in Nevada and California, arguing it could not be held liable for any deaths, injuries or damages caused during the attack. “Plaintiffs have no liability of any kind to defendants,” the complaints argue. It says the security company it hired was certified by the Department of Homeland Security and was therefore protected from liability under a 2002 federal act. MGM argues that this protection extends to the hotel giant, as it hired the security firm.” Las Vegas shooting: Mandalay Bay hotel owner sues 1,000 victims (BBC)

Labor Rights

“With the help of SEIU Local 105, PPRM workers won their election for a union in December 2017, but in the months leading up to the union election, PPRM management attempted to dissuade workers from supporting the union, Martin said, by distributing anti-union flyers and holding mandatory meetings meant to discourage workers from supporting the union. While PPRM is the most recent example of a Planned Parenthood affiliate pushing back against workers, it is not the only time the health-care organization has taken an oppositional stance to its workers organizing.” Planned Parenthood Has a History of Trying To Beat Back Labor Unions (by Erin Heger for Rewire)

“In a 63-57 vote, legislators approved the measure granting 10 days of extra leave a year, separate from annual holiday or sick leave. Green Party MP Jan Logie, who proposed the bill, said it would help victims “stop the violence and get help without worrying about losing their jobs”. New Zealand is the second country after the Philippines to pass such a measure. The Philippines passed a law granting 10 days of paid leave for domestic violence victims in 2004.” New Zealand grants domestic violence victims paid leave (BBC)

“A pair of former hourly Walmart workers allege in a court filing that the corporation fired them for seeking treatment in a hospital for extreme nausea, vomiting, severe cramps, and fears of miscarriage. Although the women told their supervisors they would miss work and later furnished doctors’ notes, the retail giant considered the absences unauthorized under its “absence control” policy, the women allege.” Walmart Accused of Unlawfully Punishing Pregnant Hourly Workers (by Nicole Knight for Rewire)

“Ms Williamson said she was sacked after writing tweets critical of the state government. CA said only that it would not tolerate “offensive comments”. The recent closure of Tasmania’s only abortion clinic has been controversial. Its closure, due to lack of demand, has forced Ms Williamson and other women to travel to mainland Australia to seek an abortion. Ms Williamson has launched legal action against CA over her dismissal.” Cricket Australia accused of sacking woman over abortion tweets (BBC)


“Hilde Hall said she filed an administrative complaint Thursday with the Arizona State Board of Pharmacy because she was discriminated against for being transgender, according to a statement from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). In a redacted complaint provided to Rewire.News, Hall described trying to fill prescriptions for estradiol, spironolactone, and finasteride in April, but said the CVS pharmacist refused to fill her prescription for the hormone finasteride.” Complaint: CVS Pharmacist Refused to Fill Prescription for Transgender Woman (by Nicole Night for Rewire)

“But the case isn’t simple. It’s a way for Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF)—which the Southern Poverty Law Center has called a hate group because the firm spreads ludicrous conspiracy theories about a vast “homosexual agenda”—to turn its anti-LGBTQ fantasies into a reality. ADF’s lawyers have turned the weaponization of religion into a cottage industry. Their goal is to strip LGBTQ people of their civil rights by prioritizing religion over their humanity.” Christian Law Firm Asks Supreme Court to Allow Workplace Discrimination Against Transgender People (by Imani Gandy for Rewire)

“Judge Joseph W. Kirby of the Warren County Common Pleas Court has engaged in a “pattern and practice” of treating transgender minors differently than other minors by denying transgender minors’ requests for name changes “without a rational basis,” states the complaint filed by three families against the judge.” Ohio Judge Accused of Denying Transgender Teens Legal Name Changes (by Jessica Mason Pielko for Rewire)




August 2018



Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

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Three Stars

Best for: Young adults who want a love story that isn’t as absurd as Romeo and Juliet but that doesn’t discount their feelings.

In a nutshell: Eleanor comes from a fucked-up home. Park does not. Both are a bit outcast-y. Events transpire.

Worth quoting: “When Eleanor was around girls like that — like Park’s mom, like Tina, like most of the girls in the neighborhood — she wondered where they put their organs. Like, how could you have a stomach and intestines and kidneys, and still wear such tiny jeans?”

Why I chose it: I didn’t realize how many of the most popular CBR books I’d already read. I was sort of avoiding this one as it wasn’t appealing to me, but ultimately I’m glad I read it.

Review: This is a very quick read. I got it from the library on Wednesday and finished it Thursday night. Given its popularity, I think there probably isn’t that much more for me to say. But I’ll try…

The writing is good, but even though this is such a thoroughly character-driven book, I felt that the characters weren’t that well developed. Am I alone on this? Probably. We seemed to get some more interesting information about these two people prior to them meeting, but it mostly came in the last 10% of the book. I suppose the author was going for just a slice of life, but still, I wanted to know more about Eleanor especially, beyond just not liking how she looks.

I also appreciate that Ms. Rowell treated young relationships with such care — she doesn’t condescend, she doesn’t doubt their feelings. She explores them. And that’s pretty awesome.

I also like the very, very end. I know it is controversial for some people, but I like it. My copy has an author note where Ms. Rowell addresses this controversy, and I totally got her reasoning. I thought it was pretty cool.



August 2018



Iceland is Out of this World

Written by , Posted in Adventures

I’ve technically been to Iceland a handful of times, thanks to the low fares of IcelandAir, but I’ve never left the airport. The ground outside looked a bit like I imagine the moon would look if it had a few hundred folks living on it. Many friends have visited, and all have raved about it. This summer I finally got to bust out of the Reykjavik airport thanks to the suggestion that my sister, her partner, Austin and I all go together after they visited us in London.

Getting There
There are a few airlines that fly to Reykjavik, but let’s be real. If you’re going, you’re going on Iceland Air. And that’s just fine. It’s a budget airline, but not horrifying like Ryanair. Both our flights we just fine.

We decided to stay outside of Reykjavik, in the town of Hveragerði. The thinking was we didn’t want to be in the big city, but we did want to be along the Golden Circle (more on that later). My sister found a cute little guest house — we got the code for the front door and our rooms via email, and just let ourselves in. The rooms had fine bathrooms, very comfortable beds, a desk and small fridge. We were a two minute walk from the restaurants in town, as well as near some nature trails.

Food and Drink
Iceland is expensive — there’s just no way around it. That said, we were generally able to eat good food without spending all the money. We did eat every meal out, but that’s a bit of stretch. Each of the three mornings we were there, we went to the local bakery and got some Icelandic yogurt (skry – SO GOOD) and a pastry, and then would buy a sandwich to eat later for lunch. Then for dinner, we’d get something local.

Our first night we ate at a restaurant that uses the geothermal energy in the area to cook the food, and one of us ate horse goulash.

Our second night we were in Reykjavik, and thanks to my sister’s research we stumbled upon the Iclandic Street Food restaurant, which happened to be celebrating their one-year anniversary. There were balloons, and cake (so much free cake). They only have three items on the menu, but we each found something we wanted, and ate our food in the bar next door (same owner), as we were entertained by a live saxophonist playing along with 80s hits.

It was amazing.

On our last night, we got pizza in town at a very popular restaurant. That was the only time where the prices REALLY seemed a bit much, mostly because of the cost of the drinks. My gin and tonic was about $17 USD. Yikes. But the food was super good.

We rented a car, which I strongly recommend. If you’re going to go in the high season (which is basically July – August), you can’t just wing it — you need to book ahead. And if you want to do any off-roading, you’ll need to specify that with the car you rent. Our car was a basic sedan, which could have been an issue when we ended up on a road that was definitely a road, but also not entirely paved.

The landscape of Iceland is like nothing I’ve ever seen, and yet every part of it seems familiar and bizarre at the same time. Like, there were parts that reminded people of Arizona, or Ireland, but at the same time were unique.

On our way to town from the airport, we made a stop at the Blue Lagoon. I mean, have you ever seen anything like this?

Me neither.

On our first full day we went to two major sites along the Golden Circle: Geyser and Gullfoss.

Geyser is a geothermal park with an active geyser. It’s pretty amazing.

Gullfuss is a giant waterfall more like Niagara Falls than, say Yosemite Falls. Think big, not tall. Also, think breathtaking.

On our way from Gullfoss to Reykjavik, we passed some Icelandic horsies that we could feed and pet. They were adorable.

Reykjavik was fine — I’d like to go back — but the highlight there was definitely the dinner.

On our second full day, we went to Þingvellir, a national park. Gorgeous and odd. It’s situated on the seven-kilometer split where the North Atlantic and Eurasian continental plates are pulling apart. We mostly just stopped to look at some of the natural beauty, although we did see the Law Rock. So, so cool.

On our last day, we drove to a couple tiny towns to get a sense of the country, then made our way back to the airport.

Three nights was obviously not enough. We lucked out and had fantastic weather, but we barely scratched the surface. I’d love to return and do the entire ring road of the island, taking a couple of weeks to really explore it better. But as a first visit? It was pretty great.




August 2018



Paris in the Summer

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Another cool thing about living in London is that friends will plan a trip to Europe and we can find a way to meet up with them. That was the case with Paris this summer, when our friends from Seattle visited Paris as part of a trip to France.

Getting there
Train travel is so romantic in my mind. Austin and I once took an overnight train from Paris to Munich, and it was both uncomfortable and amazing. Thanks to the chunnel, we can get from London to Paris in under three hours, and it’s amazing. We start out traveling through neighborhoods of London, which eventually dissolve into the English countryside. Then there’s the darkness of the tunnel (where I try to forget where we actually are), followed by the French countryside, and then finally the buildings of Paris. Gare du Nord is a fine station, and on this trip was on one of the metro lines that got us directly to our hotel.

We wanted to be near our friends, so we picket Hotel Victoria Chatelet ( It was absolutely fine for what we needed — centrally located, with a fan (which was much appreciated during the hot summer), a comfy bed, and breakfast (though we didn’t partake). I don’t know that I’d recommend it, but I wouldn’t tell people to avoid it, either.

Food and Drink
I mean, it’s Paris. Breakfast every day was a pastry, lunch was a sandwich, and dinner was something French and delicious.

Our friends recommended we get a museum pass, since it would keep all of us from waiting in lines. I’m so glad they did, because it was delightful to just show up at one of the dozens of included locations, pass through security, and head in. Especially given how hot it has been in Europe, not standing in long lines was priceless. For the most part, we joined our friends on their adventures, but we also explored the city a bit on our own.

We started out visiting the Louvre. We avoided the most crowed parts, but still managed to see Napoleon’s apartments (he also knew how to throw a dinner party) and the French crown jewels.

We spent a morning at the Rodin museum with our friends – the sculptures there are beyond fascinating.

We also explored the Jardin du Luxembourg.

I finally got to explore the Paris sewers — kind of a must-see for any fan of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. It smelled down there.

I’d never been to the Pompideu Center, as modern art hasn’t really been my thing, but I’m glad we went. It was funky and interesting and also a million degrees inside the escalator tubes.

We went to Shakespeare & Co. to buy books.

Saw the Orangerie and the Musee D’Orsay.

Wandered around the Latin quarter, visited the Conciergerie and Sainte Chapelle.

As always, I cannot wait to go back.



August 2018



Lean Out by Dawn Foster

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Four Stars

Best for: Folks who claim the feminist title; folks who thought there was something off about Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In.”

In a nutshell: Foster picks apart the main themes of Sandberg’s best seller and points out all the ways that it is harmful to feminism; namely, that it doesn’t acknowledge the bigger issues at play, such as patriarchy and capitalism.

Worth quoting:
“A woman may be as ambitious as she wants, but the people hiring and firing have their own preconceptions, in a society that maintains that women are less decisive, logical and driven.”
“Lean In points all the blame inward, and ignores structural inequality.”
“The benefit of having women in the cabinet remains to be seen for migrant, low-paid, or abused women.”

Why I chose it:
I care about women succeeding but was turned off by Sandberg’s premise.

Dawn Foster packs a lot of useful, depressing, and motivating information into 81 pages. While the overarching premise is a response to Sandberg’s Lean In, the book’s focus is on the failings of corporate and white feminism as a whole. How feminism isn’t about the number of women at the board table (in fact, despite our hopes, women and POC apparently don’t tend to hire people who look like them once they’re in that position); it’s about uprooting and overturning a system that punishes women for being women by denying them access to quality jobs, quality housing, and basic respect for work.

Foster covers a lot of ground across the eight chapters. In the Hiring and Firing chapter, Foster discusses zero-contract jobs and jobs that require heavy emotional labor. Regarding zero-contract jobs (basically, hourly wage jobs where you aren’t ever guaranteed any work), she points out that your livelihood is essentially based not on how well you do your job, but on how well you get along with your manager. And sure, that can be the case in salaried positions, but in those, the feedback and punishment for not doing the emotional labor happens over time – individuals in zero-contract jobs may find themselves with no hours a week after a clash with the manager. She also looks at PR jobs, with are 80% women, even though fewer than 40% of the journalists they interact with are women, and how that, too, is a field dependent on doing a ton of emotional labor, including while off the clock.

The chapter on choice feminism was, I think, the best as a way to introduce to others who claim the feminist title that perhaps there’s more to it than arguing about taking a spouse’s last name upon marriage. Yes, we can manage multiple concerns at once, but she put it in a way I hadn’t thought about when she said:

“Time and attention within life are finite, and “wins” that seem more achievable are more likely to spur the column inches which are then denied to issues that hit the invisible, the poorer, and the more marginalised.”

Honestly, I’ve always been a big proponent of the easy wins. I sign petitions against corporations who have absurd ads. But I hadn’t though about how this anger — which is usually justified — takes away time and space from other, more pressing, less easily digested challenges.

I never read Lean In, and I never will, because I don’t think Sandberg is doing any of us any favors. It’s not up to women to lean into the way things are; it’s up to women to change the things that don’t work for the most marginalized among us.




August 2018



Lisbon is Amazing (Ryanair is Not)

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Part of the appeal of moving from Seattle to London is the ability to travel all over Europe fairly easily. Our first attempt to actually do this was thwarted by a snowstorm in March (we promise we’ll get to you some day, Belgium), so we decided that our five-year wedding anniversary would be the moment. We picked Lisbon as the spot, as it was a country that neither of us had been to before, and booked five nights away.

Lisbon has something I appreciate whenever I travel: an easy way to use public transportation to get to and from the airport. Upon exiting baggage claim at the Lisbon airport, you’re literally facing the entrance to the subway. Tickets were easy enough to procure, and the one transfer we needed was simple to follow (the train lines are color-coded). It was then just a short walk to our hotel.

After we were settled, we decided to walk around, and realized that we were in town on a religious holiday. Corpus Christi is a Catholic holiday, and in Lisbon they close of streets for a processional, and they also pump the mass audio out into the streets. We were beyond confused at first because we didn’t realize what was happening — we were just hearing choir music all around. A little Googling helped us determine we hadn’t wandered onto a movie set.



Because this was an anniversary trip, we went a bit overboard in hotel selection, picking Hotel Corpo Santo which is currently #2 in Lisbon. It was amazing. It’s a new hotel, and not overdone or absurdly fancy — it’s just a lovely place to be, in an excellent location. The staff were delightful, our room was comfy, the shower had lighting and music displays that you could choose to accompany your time in there), and the windows blocked out all the noise. We were only a couple of floors above the main street, and we could hear nothing. Glorious.

It might be a questionable choice, but the first place we got food in Lisbon was at a Mexican restaurant called Mez Cais, which was just across from our hotel. I enjoy eating local food, but I also think it’s kind of fun to try food from other countries while traveling, to see if it similar to what I expect of such cuisine in my own neighborhood. This was delightful — the margaritas were excellent.

In fact, throughout our time in Lisbon, we had some very good meals, and some fine ones. On the day we visited the castle (more below), we were hot and exhausted and ended up at an Italian restaurant. Their A/C made it one of the best meals I’d had in awhile.

(Side note: has anyone figured out how to do lunch when traveling? I’m always exhausted from site-seeing, cranky from waiting too long, and overwhelmed by options.)

We sampled from the Confeitaria Nacional, which had some tasty (and some odd) baked goods.

We went to the beer museum where I got green wine and accidentally ordered cod cakes.

But honestly, our best meal was probably our last night, which was at the hotel! I know, hotel restaurants aren’t usually the stuff of memories (well, good memories), but this was great. The food was delightful, the waitstaff were so so nice, and the suggested wine pairings were spot on.


On our third night in Lisbon, there was a friendly football match that we wanted to catch. We initially were in a place called the American Bar. We left at the half because folks were smoking inside. And I’m so glad we did, because next door was Crafty Corner Beer. They serve local beers, have one giant bottle of cider if beer isn’t your thing, and a small bites menu that comes from next door. It’s a relaxed environment that we returned to each night because we could grab a drink, settle into a chair or stool, and just read or relax.

We also got drinks at one of the outdoor cafes along the Tagus. It was beyond relaxing to sit at a shaded table on a sunny day, just sipping something cold and reading a good book.

June is when the Festivities of Lisbon take place, so there were little pop up markets in many of the city parks. The one across from our hotel featured some traditional Portuguese singing one night – everyone in the area was singing along and having a blast. It was delightful.

There is a ton to do and see in Lisbon — here is a sampling of what we did.

We visited the old palace, which is now open to the public as a museum. They did not fuck around with their dinner parties.

We enjoyed walking around that neighborhood because it wasn’t as tourist-focused as some others, at least not on the walk from the palace to the river. It felt more like just a normal place where people live.

Also, there were peacocks.

So. Many. Peacocks.

By chance an M. C. Escher exhibition was in town, and we stumbled upon it as we were exploring the Alges area.

We also looked at the monastery from the outside, but the line to get in was a bit long.

Instead, we went down to the river and spent a little bit of time puzzling over this giant monument. The focus on exploration as a very Portuguese thing is understandable, but there wasn’t a lot of acknowledgment of the whole colonizer thing…

We walked up to the Castelo de Sao Jorge, which gives you an amazing view of the city.

We walked back down, and saw some shops (include bookshops!)

We strolled through back streets and visited church ruins.

We also visited the museum celebrating the works of Jose Saramago, who wrote my favorite book – Blindness. (That’s his Nobel Prize!)

Lisbon was a lovely place to visit, and I think the five nights we spent there were enough to get a small taste of the full city. We’d like to come back, but this time rent a car and travel out to some of the nearby cities and parks to see more of Portugal beyond the city limits.

Air Travel
Only read this if you have a strong stomach…

We made the rookie mistake of booking Ryanair for our travel. It was the cheapest, and had some good travel times. But we failed to factor in the fact that you have to FLY RYANAIR. Which is really never what anyone wants.

Our flight to Lisbon was slightly delayed, but that was fine. It was the return that was awful. It was pretty toasty in the airport (we were in the ‘budget’ terminal, which includes some chairs, some gates, and a McDonalds), and once we were scanned through to board the plane, there were no screens, so we had no idea what was going on. At one point we were close to our departure time and still smushed into this little unventilated part of the airport. So I called Ryanair.

Me: “Hi, we’re boarding for the flight to Heathrow but we have no idea what is going on. We’re through the gate but not to the plane and there’s no information. Is our flight delayed?”

Them: “You should talk to the gate agent.”

Me: “I would, but you see, we can’t get to them, because we’re already through the gate.”

Them: “Oh, well I see that there are some thunderstorms in the area, so maybe you’re delayed by like an hour?”

Me: “Maybe? Or is that actually what is happening?”

Them: “I don’t know, I’m just saying the weather might cause a delay.”

Me: “Okay … I’m calling though for actual information, not guesses. Can I speak to your supervisor please?”

Them: “Ha ha. No.” Click

Yup, Ryanair hung up on me. I was flabbergasted. But then we were released to board the plane. When Austin went to put his seatbelt on, we discovered … vomit. Vomit on the seatbelt. Vomit on the seat back that had been sort of wiped off. Little bits on the floor. You see, Ryanair is so fucking cheap that they don’t even have seat back pockets, which means they don’t have barf bags, so if someone lets loose, it’s going everywhere.

We told a flight attendant who came back with some cleaning supplies but then said “nope” and told us to “find other seats.” Um, what? Austin was able to find one, I was not, so I sat next to vomit for the two hour flight.

I complained to Ryanair. They basically told me to go fuck myself. So yeah, I don’t care if they are paying me, I’m never boarding one of their planes again.



August 2018



Do No Harm by Henry Marsh

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Three Stars

Best for: People who like stories from clinicians but don’t mind a mildly obnoxious storyteller.

In a nutshell: Henry Marsh has been a brain surgeon for 40 years. So, y’know, he’s got some stories.

Worth quoting:
“She would be added to the list of my disasters — another headstone in that cemetery with the French surgeon Leriche once said all surgeons carry within themselves.”
“Informed consent sounds so easy in principle … The reality is very different. Patients are both terrified and ignorant. How are they to know whether the surgeon is competent or not? They will try to overcome their fear by investing the surgeon with superhuman abilities.”

Why I chose it:
I love medical stories. Don’t know why. But I do.

This was not my favorite. It’s not a bad book – and obviously many people think it is fantastic. In fact, the people sitting next to me on my flight home yesterday had read it and loved it. The stories are interesting for sure – and I like that each chapter is headed with a quick definition of the condition we’ll be learning about via a patient story in the pages to follow. But it’s not organized in any real way, there’s not much of a through-line or theme, and I was not impressed with some of the things the author shared.

Specifically, Marsh seems to hate fat people, hate administrators and any policy that means he doesn’t get to do things the exact way he wants, and generally seems to view himself as a bit of a martyr.

Regarding the fat hate: I saw this a little bit in “This is Going to Hurt,” which I read earlier this summer. But Marsh at one point refers to bariatric patients as small whales. Like, what the fuck, dude? I appreciate wanting to tell a story where you aren’t always the hero, and to be honest to who you are, but when that honesty involves being hateful to a group of people — some of whom have been under your care in the past — you’re being pretty shitty.

Marsh also rails against administrative changes in the NHS. He screams at non-neurosurgeons who have the nerve to come into what they’ve been told would be a shared lounge space. He completely disregards and disrespects the idea that doctors maybe shouldn’t work a million hours a week. And he apparently doesn’t give a fuck about patient confidentiality — and is proud of that.

Some of the stories he tells are interesting, but as I got to know the version of the author that he chose to reveal to his reader, I found myself less and less interested in what he had to say. I know that arrogance and ego are often hallmarks of (good!) surgeons; I’m just not sold on the idea that they are hallmarks of good writers.




August 2018



While I Was Sleeping by Dani Atkins

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Four Stars

Best for: Those who enjoy Liane Moriarty’s work; those who like stories told from multiple perspectives and that jump back and forth in time.

In a nutshell: Maggie is 14 weeks pregnant and getting married in four days. She is hit by a car and falls into a coma. When she wakes up, she thinks she’s been out for seven weeks. It’s been … a bit longer.

Worth quoting:
“ ‘Aren’t you fed up with books after working here all day?’ Her question was so alien she might as well have asked if I was fed up with breathing. I lived for books.

Why I chose it:
I think the name caught my eye (I am a big fan of “While You Were Sleeping”), and then once I read the first few pages, I was like “yup.”

I don’t know about you, but when I fly, I bring a bunch of books but often get so antsy that I end up watching a movie. Not this time. I started reading this book on a flight to Iceland last week, and ended up finishing it up a couple of days later, despite the fact that it is 560 pages long. It was just that compelling. As I said above, if you like the Liane Moriarty-style books, I think you’ll like this (though it doesn’t have any murdery bits). My review requires revealing some things that you’ll find out in the first quarter of the book, but because I loved discovering them, I’ll leave them to the bigger review below.

*Minor Spoilers Below*

Maggie has been in a coma for six years. SIX YEARS. Yikes. Her fiance is married to someone else, and he has a kid.

Correction: THEY have a kid.


The story follows how Maggie, Chloe (the new wife) and … the husband, whose name I’ve forgotten (I left the book at my hotel in Iceland so others could enjoy it). The entire first bit is from Maggie’s perspective. So you really get to be on her side. You understand how her fiance (I want to say … Rick? Richard?) would eventually move on, but still, you also know that for her, she is not at all removed from the days when she was about to marry the love of her life.

But then, we get things from Chloe’s perspective. We learn how she came into Maggie and … Ryan’s? … lives, and eventually fell in love with Maggie’s fiance. And it becomes harder to root for or against anyone. Everyone is sympathetic, everyone is doing their best.

I enjoyed this one a lot, and will be seeking out more by Ms. Atkins.




July 2018



I Am I Am I Am by Maggie O’Farrell

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Four Stars

Best for: Those who enjoy literary non-fiction and are not deterred by fairly grim subject matters.

In a nutshell: Author Maggie O’Farrell examines, with lovely prose, moments in her life that could have led to her imminent death.

Worth quoting:
“Crossing time zones in this way can bring upon you an unsettling, distorted clarity. Is it the altitude, the unaccustomed inactivity, the physical confinement, the lack of sleep, or a collision of all four?”
“To be so unheard, so disregarded, so disbelieved: I was unprepared for this. I also felt helpless, blocked in.”
“When you are a child, no one tells you that you’re going to die. You have to work it out for yourself.”

Why I chose it:
I was in a bookshop connected to a museum that focuses on health, and they were having a “Three for the price of two” sale. This one looked like an interesting third book.

I find books about health, illness, and death fascinating. Part of it is I’m sure, because of what I do for a living (even though I’ve moved, I’m still doing contract work related to mass fatality incidents), although I’d wager that perhaps that’s more of a correlation; the same thing in me that finds it interesting to think about how to handle a mass shooting is probably the same thing that makes me seek out books like this.

Although, to be fair to the author, I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book quite like this one. Ms. O’Farrell is an amazing writer; she’s able to write in a way that walks right up to flowery without ever getting there. She chooses words that at times might be slightly more obscure than necessary, but not so often that it feels affected: it’s just how she writes, and it’s lovely to behold.

It’s also a great juxtaposition to such potentially dark subject matter: nearly dying.

Don’t be confused: this isn’t a book about seeing the light, floating above one’s body during surgery, or anything so mystical. Instead it’s the story of a woman who, at age eight, has encephalitis and nearly dies. After that, she has many other near-death experiences, and only a couple are related to the lasting affects of that illness.

She starts with an essay about the time she managed to avoid being murdered. But not all essays are as dramatic or dire – one involves a flight that goes awry but ultimately is fine (there are likely thousands of people who have had similar experiences), another, a juvenile mistake that any of us could see ourselves making. In fact, save for a couple of instances, I think some of the power in this collection of essays is how mundane some of her brushes with death are. Any of us may have experienced one or two of them; but seventeen? Holy shit.

The last two essays are the longest and most dramatic. The sixteenth brush with death is the story of O’Farrell’s childhood illness; the seventeenth is of her daughters severe chronic illness. See the perspective of an ill child from the child herself, and then as a mother witnessing it in her own child is extraordinarily powerful.




July 2018



Iceland by Andrew Evans

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Four Stars

Best for: Those traveling to Iceland who want some more history beyond a couple pages in the back of the book.

In a nutshell: Author Andrew Evans provides a (more than usual) in-depth history of Iceland before sharing standard guide-book fare.

Worth quoting:
“Iceland is the most literate country in the world and one out of every ten Icelanders will write a book in their lifetime.”
“Also, don’t bring a pair of shorts just in case it gets warm. It won’t.”

Why I chose it:
I’m heading to Iceland for a long weekend next month.

As I write this it is currently 94 degrees outside. In London. A place roundly mocked for being rainy and mild year round.

Ninety. Four. Degrees.

What I’m saying is, I CANNOT WAIT to get to Iceland, where it’s going to be in the low 50s. It’s possible I will be cold again soon.

Anyway, I bought this book awhile ago and then realized the trip was coming up quickly. I am not familiar with Bradt guides, so I figured I’d try it out on a low-stakes weekend away to see if it’s worth seeking out for longer trips in the future.

It definitely is.

I think I’ve said before that I appreciate guides that provide more than just the tourist info. And I don’t mean that I need hidden gems or whatever; I mean I want to know something about the place I’m going. And this guide delivers. The first four chapters – nearly a quarter of the book – focuses on the background, history, natural history, and practical information one needs when visiting Iceland.

The book then breaks the country down into a few regions, focusing on how to get around and then providing details on the towns in the region. The only area that took some getting used to was the “things to do” piece isn’t broken down the way it normally is. Instead of little chunks of info listed out (like the accommodation and restaurant sections), it’s more of a narrative, with the needed details (like opening hours) includes in parenthesis. Not my favorite way to get information, but a little easier to read.