The New Year

This is the Gaon (Genius) of Vilna, allegedly my ancestor

It is the new year for us Hebrews (as we were called at Ellis Island) or Israelites (as we're called in France, because Juifs is too reminiscent of the Nazi occupation). My father used to say he was a WASH--a white Anglo-Saxon Hebrew. He wasn't Anglo-Saxon except in language. And much culture. I always think of my father during services, because he was known for whispering bons mots and sharing sugarless chewing gum. There's a prayer called the Aleynu, during which, according to tradition, Jews would kneel. That was discontinued because it was too much like Christianity, the rabbi said today. Generally, we bow our heads at one point in the prayer. The next sentence of the prayer begins with: Lifneymelech. See, it sounds like Lift, my father used to always say. Today some of us did kneel, because it is a high holiday. A big deal. Christians have Christmas and Easter, and we have Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Ten days apart. During which we are under judgment: Shall we be written in the book of life? Should we be allowed to live? Should we die? All this is metaphorical, at least to me. We twist the tradition this way and that in order to make it relevant. Or I do. When you look at the prayers, you can't *not* think about the Holocaust. If you're me. You can't *not* think about the professions of faith you're chanting, the images of divine light and protection you're conjuring. They believed all this (some of them), they believed they were protected, and they were torn from civilization and murdered.

There is a portion of the Yom Kippur service that recognizes martyrs through time. You are not encouraged to be a martyr, but I suppose the architects of the religion have thought that it's important to stay aware of the historical defenders of the faith. As a community we mourn them. Do we pay tribute? Perhaps. We make them (some of them) the stuff of legend. Role models in extremis.

Rabbi Yitz Greenberg tells us: When the righteous Rabbi Akiva was flayed alive by the Romans for daring to rebel, we are told that the angels shrieked in horror. "It is my decree," was God's inscrutable answer. Or as Stanley Elkin once put it in his novel "The Living End" (this is paraphrase:) God is asked why he created so much havoc and suffering on earth. He answers: It made a better story.

As always, our martyrs are better than their martyrs. Our guerrillas are freedom fighters, theirs are terrorists. God's on our side.

Update: the Search for Organic Whey Powder

Bovine growth hormones: Does she or doesn't she?

I wrote quite a while back about my search for protein powder without soy or rBGH--recombinant bovine growth hormone. I finally found Jay Robb Unflavored Whey Protein Isolate from non-hormone-ated cows and sent off for it. Then I got Whole Foods to order it for me. I recommend it. If anyone knows of a better whey, let me know. It would be "purer" if Jay Robb could assure us that the cows were fed grains and grasses that were not treated with pesticides. There's protein powder from hemp, but I can't stomach the color, green. I just found on line organic brown rice protein powder. I haven't tried it.

A note about soy: It's a great bean, but since it acts like a weak estrogen, we Cancer Bitches with estrogen-sensitive tumors try to avoid it. Therefore, it's annoying to go to a coffee place and ask if they have organic milk, and they say, Yes, we have organic soy. That's why I usually bring my own organic milk in those little boxes. For a while Starbucks had organic (whole) milk, but because of low demand, stopped offering it. In my general environs, you can find organic milk at Dollop and Julius Meinl.

Back in the Saddle

Ceci n'est pas une Cancer Bitch.

Friday I was riding my bike to French yoga at the Alliance Francaise. (It's yoga with instructions in French.) At the stoplight at Fullerton and Lincoln I heard my name. It was M, whom I hadn't seen since BC (before cancer). She was in her car next to me and said I looked great. (You could see my curls sticking out from under the helmet). I had some fliers with me for a fundraiser, Writers & Cartoonists for Obama. I gave her one.

That's not much for a lot of people, but it was more than I'd gone for two years. I felt I presented the picture of Absolute Recovery: on a bike, going to yoga, handing out a flier for something not having to do with cancer. I ended up riding my bike about 11 miles on Friday.

The next day we rode downtown to Obama headquarters to drop off more fliers. The place was mobbed. I got tired but I rallied. And every time I ride my bike in the city I feel I'm taking my life in my hands and imagine the irony, that people will tsk tsk and say: O, she had recovered from breast cancer and she was riding her bike, she was healthy and then boom! she was run over by a car.

For the Girl Who Has Everything...


I found these (above link) while I was looking for something else. A Chicago Daily News columnist, Sidney J. Harris, used to write occasionally about things he found out while looking up something else. So here's to Sidney Harris, who died in 1986, and to the Chicago Daily News, which died in 1978.

So. If you go to Choose Hope, you can find silicone bracelets in an array of colors. For example, a teal/pink/blue combo is for thyroid cancer, white is for lung cancer, yellow is for bladder cancer (that one makes sense), yellow is also for sarcoma/bone cancer. Other colors also do double duty: periwinkle blue is for esophageal as well as stomach cancer. I guess the less popular cancers have to share. Pink, of course, is for breast cancer. You can also buy a lavender and white band that says, Cancer Sucks. Each band is just $2. If you have brain cancer, you'll have to wait. That wristband, which is gray (as in gray matter), is on back order.

You can also order a Cancer Sucks car magnet with a bluish ribbon. So many choices.

How long have these been available? I'm the last to know about these things. I just found out today, for instance, that there's a Breast Cancer Awareness Barbie, not a parody bald Breast Cancer Barbie, but a real one made for retail sale by Mattel. (Why? When we played Barbies, she just went on dates. She never got sick, never even had a cold. But wait, this Barbie is aware of breast cancer; she doesn't have it herself.) Elsewhere, you can buy a book by Ruth Handler, Barbie's "mother" and creator, who had breast cancer and founded a prosthetic breast company. Click here to see Prostate Cancer Ken, which is not offered by the Matell company. At least not yet.

Wind and Water

It rained here in Chicago for almost two days straight, flooding some neighborhoods and suburbs and I kept thinking that this is what it's like in Houston, though I knew it wasn't. In Houston it had stopped raining and there was flooding but mostly devastating wind damage and widespread power outages. My sister got out Friday and drove to Austin. Like me, she has asthma and needs air conditioning to filter the air. This morning she was planning to go to Dallas to stay with our cousins. My mother, on the other hand, is staying on the 14th floor of her condo. She wouldn't go to Austin with my sister. She's just finished clearing out her freezer and she's ready to leave. She's planning to fly to Dallas on Tuesday. She's betting that the airports will be open then.

My mother called last night at 8:30. right before I got home. Her message said that she was going to bed because it was dark. She didn't have power or a land line that worked, and she had to watch her cell phone use because her charger relies on electricity. Her building allegedly has a generator, which was supposed to keep the elevators running. They weren't until today. And her land line just came on today.

She made kugel before the hurricane, because it was something you could eat hot or cold. She cooked a chicken and put it in the freezer. She filled the bathtub with water. We all remembered Hurricane Carla in 1961. I remember sitting huddled over the transistor radio and hearing a report that the roof of a gas station had blown off. My sister's house is untouched, but the garden was shredded. Her husband was grilling the meat from the freezer.

So far, Ike has caused 30 deaths in the US and 80 in the Caribbean and untold damage. In Galveston two legendary hotels are gone, and it seems most everything else is, too.

Some offices in downtown Houston had power yesterday, and the Texas Medical Center was open, according to NPR. I remember reading a science fiction story years and years ago about life where humans had total control. Each day's weather was decided by vote. That was an aside, not the main part of the story. I wonder, after days and days of beautiful clear weather, would a hurricane faction emerge? Would people form a Wind and Rain Party and urge fellow citizens to vote for destruction and death, because bad weather is more interesting?

At least there would be someone to blame.

This is not a picture of Ikea.

Everyone thinks that Dante said the lowest rung in hell is reserved for the neutrals. Actually, he said something much subtler than that. But we will continue with this idea. I am trying to figure out why Ikea is so awful, both going to, being there, and going from. I am trying to blame it on its Swedishness, and therefore its neutrality, but my theory doesn't quite work. I tried to blame it on the Swedes' propensity for suicide, but Kazakhstan and Belarus each has an incidence that's more than double the Swedish rate, but they at least had the sense (or lack of resources) not to go and spread their disassembled wares upon the globe.

Earlier this summer we made the mistake of going to Ikea. We went only because we were trying to find some cabinets to match the ones in the kitchen of the new house. The sellers of the house had committed the original sin of ordering from Ikea. On a Saturday we agreed to go on a Tuesday night, but then on Sunday L was gung-ho to make the trek. That in itself put me in a bad mood, but I was trying to be easy to get along with for a change, so I assented. After all, L insisted, there would be much less traffic on a Sunday afternoon.

He was wrong. Of course. There was mucho mucho traffic and in-car I-told-you-so tension all the way there. And inside there was just the Ikea maze. It's like the Guggenheim Museum, you go around and around, except there are beds and bedclothes and sofas and chairs and cabinets and tables instead of major works of art, and there are detailed confusing forms to fill out, like they used to give you at sushi restaurants--just like that, if the restaurants served you separate clumps of rice and fish and little eggs and pickled vegetables and nori (seaweed) with some confusing instructions in small type about how to assemble your sushi.

We found out that planned obsolescence had done in the cabinets so our trip was for naught. I made L promise that he would never ever ever make me go there again.

Yesterday we rode our bikes to Affordable Portables, which is very small and cramped but very friendly and relaxed and all on one floor. No elevators. No big parking lot. No Swedish meatballs. Lots of glass jars of candy (Tootsie Rolls, Laffy Taffy, Reeses, and more). We chose a sofa that's incidentally a futon, meaning that we found a Mission-style frame that we liked for itself, and decided on a mattress that was comfortable for sitting on, and we chose a cover, plus we got a holder for our stereo (audio center, people call it). Then we went to Cost Plus World Market and I goaded L into deciding to get a bench with three storage baskets underneath it, and a decorative trunk that we'll use to decoratively hold blankets under a window in our bedroom. We'd looked at the mud bench (it's called) and the trunk before. I am fast fast fast on big decisions (house and furniture) and slow slow slow on small decisions. I think that's true. We also need to get some more bookshelves so we can put up our encyclopedias. I also want to hang our pictures. L wants to wait. To see if we'll find furniture we like better, to see where we want the pictures to be. To mull over. I am a faster shopper. I want to do it now.

Then I mull it over afterward, after the damage has been done.

Or I feel relieved that decisions were good ones. Now I like our house and our furniture and L.

This Mortal Coil

So I'm filling out the marketing questionnaire for The Adventures of Cancer Bitch. This means I'm listing possible reviewers and interviewers who might be interested in me and the book. So I'm looking at the press list from my last book, looking up reviewers. There's Merle Rubin, Christian Science Monitor. Hmm, I guess I'll look her up. She didn't review Holocaust Girls, but maybe she'd be interested...

Oops. She died in 2006. Age 57. Of cancer. The LA Times reported in December 2006:
Merle Rubin, a book critic who was a regular contributor to the Los Angeles Times as well as the Wall Street Journal, Washington Times and Christian Science Monitor, has died. She was 57.
It is rare for a book critic to support herself as a freelancer. The profession is notorious for long hours and low pay, but it seemed to agree with Rubin.
“It is a way of making a literary life,” Times Book Editor David Ulin said of Rubin’s career. “The intellectual benefits are there.”
Nick Owchar, Times deputy book editor added that Rubin "thought of the reader" and "she wanted to be sure they had an experience of the book by reading her review, whether they read the book or not."

Her husband is also a reviewer.

How long will people be able to support themselves reviewing books? What will the literary landscape look like in 10 years?

I need to figure out what it means that more and more people are writing (blogs, emails, text messages, online reviews of everything from post offices to appliances) and fewer people are reading. Books, at least.

Here is a link to one of Rubin's reviews. Brought to you by the wonders of the online world.

Songs of the 60s

I listened to the conventions. I didn't watch much of the Dems on TV, except for one night at an Obama party. I've been listening to the Republicans on the radio. As part of the film about McCain's life, the sonorous narrator tells us that he survived a fire and explosion that rippled through on an aircraft carrier; 134 soldiers died in the accident. "Perhaps he had more to do," the narrator intones. The only implication I can come up with is that God decided he needed more time. Isn't that the inference?

When the planes hit the Twin Towers, I called B and he hadn't heard yet. When I told him what had happened, he started singing, With God on Our Side.

As Dylan sang: "For you don't count the dead/ When God's on your side."

McCain says war is terrible. So why is so gung-ho to bomb bomb bomb bomb Iran?(To the tune of the Beach Boys' "Barbara Ann.")

I don't love the ayatollahs. But I'm hoping that eventually the people will get rid of them. How can that be done without violence, Cancer Bitch? Most people don't voluntarily hand over power. Especially those with God on their side.

America should apologize for the coup against the democratically-elected Mosaddegh in 1953. Many of Iran's current woes flowed from that.

If McCain wins, the conflagration will start in the Middle East and won't stop.

Things happen/Origin of the specious

Heather Bruce, Sarah Palin's older sister, with whom Bristol Palin lived last spring, said that Bristol is "just a sweet girl and things happen in a family."

Apparently that is the family motto, on some things. Pregnancy happens. (When you don't educate kids about contraception and make it available.) Global warming happens, is not caused by humans. Sarah Palin is quoted as saying that the warming has affected Alaska, but "I'm not one though who would attribute it to being man-made."

I guess God willed it. Why? Who are we to judge or second-guess His ways? Maybe (this is Cancer Bitch speculating, not Palin) He's warning us about the fires of hell--therefore global warming is a kind of pre-emptive strike.

But the beginning of the world didn't just happen. Palin believes in creationism and thinks it should be taught in school, but pledged after her election as governor not to push it. "I believe we have a creator," she said, according to the AP. The story continues: "But she has not made clear whether her belief also allowed her to accept the theory of evolution as fact."

"I'm not going to pretend I know how all this came to be," she has been quoted as saying.

Ever cracked open The Origin of Species?

Our fellow Americans are even scarier. According to a 2004 CBS poll, only 13 percent of our citizens believe that God had nothing to do with evolution. A whopping 65 percent believed that creationism should be taught alongside evolution.

A Harris poll last year found: "Large majorities of the public believe in miracles (79%), heaven (75%), angels (74%), that Jesus is God or the son of God (72%), the resurrection of Jesus (70%), the survival of the soul after death (69%), hell (62%), the devil (62%), and the virgin birth (Jesus born of Mary) (60%)."

So why wouldn't they believe that Republicans have the answers?

The main problem, as I see it, is that it's very very very difficult for U.S. citizens to move permanently to Canada.

New Idea for Prosthetic Breast/Sarah Palin

No, the fish isn't the new prosthetic breast. The fish has to do with the next paragraph.
As Cancer Bitch, I feel obliged to bring you the news of breakthroughs in breast replacements. Here's one I hadn't thought of: A cross-dressing thief was using a water-filled condom as a breast. The problem was he left it behind. The moral is: If you're going to commit a crime, make sure that all your parts are securely attached.

In serious news (though I'm sure the theft was serious to those involved), I feel I should say something about Sarah Palin but others have had very smart things to say. I refer you to Sam Harris in the LA Times--Palin: Average isn't good enough and Ruth Pennebaker, The Power of Abstinence. Now see also Palin's Speech to Nowhere, from the Philly Daily News.

War Against the Squirrels

When I first came to the Midwest (never having heard the term "Midwest" and thinking that Chicago was the East, near New York, but that's another story) to go to Well-Regarded University, I fell in love with the squirrels on campus. They had no predators and were relatively tame. I would feed them and I still bear a slight slight scar on my right hand from the time a squirrel came up close to me after I'd run out of nuts. The squirrel started scratching at me, thinking I was hiding more in my fist. I went to student health, and found myself saying the same thing a friend of mine had said when he was scratched by a squirrel: No, I don't know which squirrel it was.

After all, birds are banded, and I'm just reading about the Body Farm in Tennessee, where in one experiment, scientists have dabbed orange paint on flies to mark them, but the squirrels at WRU were free and anonymous. And after the squirrel wounded me, I still fed him, or his brethren.

So I like squirrels.

Except when they dig up the geraniums and begonias in the flower boxes on the deck. Which they've been doing every day since we planted them. Today I found some of the plants all dug up and lying on their sides. I went on line and found one suggestion that seemed sensible: to get rocks and spray them with a vinegar and cayenne solution.

I did this. And set the rocks between the flowers. Supposedly squirrels don't like pepper. At the condo, we planted bulbs and in one flower bed sprinkled red pepper flakes to keep out the squirrels. We used moth balls on the other half, and in the spring we had about the same amount of crocuses and tulips on each side. Which proves that both were equally good--or equally bad--deterrents.