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Monthly Archives: April 2011

Peace, Love, and Reading!

Day whatever I’m on – a picture taken at school.

Sitting at my feet is an album full of pictures, dating from middle school through college.  I have lots of pictures from high school.  I look like I’m 9 in most of them.  However, they are on paper and I don’t own a scanner.  So instead, you get pictures from my classroom.

My fourth year teaching, I decided I needed to jazz up my classroom library, especially since I would be teaching Reading three periods a day.  And what is better than a classroom library?  Why, a reading nook, of course.  But I’m sure you already knew that!

Before (almost–forgot to take a picture of the blank wall)

Imagine the wall is bare.  Reading is booooooooooooring.





Reading is awesome!  Middle-school aged boys especially love pillows.  Best reward?  You may have a pillow at your desk for the whole period.

And a close-up of my wall-art:

Reading is psychedelic.


The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The first of my promised book reviews (non-fiction). One down, five to go.

Henrietta Lacks helped develop medical advances we take for granted every day. She contributed to common vaccines, cancer research, and the educations of cellular biologists the world over. Henrietta Lacks changed the world unknowingly.

Diagnosed with cervical cancer in the early 1950’s, Henrietta was a patient at Johns Hopkins. Her doctor, on a quest to develop a sustainable cell line, took a sample of her cancerous cells without her knowledge. Against all odds, he was successful in creating a cell line. Unfortunately, the odds were also against Henrietta. The same miraculous reproductive ability of her cancer cells that made her doctor’s experiment a success allowed her cancer to destroy her body. Henrietta the woman died a painful death in 1951 and was buried in an unmarked grave. Henrietta the cell culture was renamed HeLa and lives on to this day.

In The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot explored the history of the HeLa cell line, from its contributions to modern medicine to the genealogy of Henrietta herself. Through years of research, patience, and perseverance, Skloot was able to ingratiate herself with the Lacks family. The Immortal Life tells the story of Deborah Lacks, Henrietta’s youngest daughter, and her struggle accepting her mother’s role in science.

While Skloot claims to explore Henrietta’s history, her family’s legacy, and her contributions to science, the final product is also a story about writing a story. Information about Henrietta is scarce; the reader learns little about who Henrietta was personally, although her daughter is well-developed. Skloots tenuous relationship with Deborah and attempts to develop relationships with other family members is interspersed with HeLa’s contributions to science. Cell cultures, vaccine developments, informed consent, and DNA all feature in HeLa’s impressive curriculum vitae.

An engrossing read, well-researched and informational, Skloot’s first book is worthwhile. It exposes injustices; shines a much-needed light on the failings of healthcare, and Skloots quest provided the Lacks’ with the answers to questions they could not form on their own. If you want the story of the mother of HeLa, however, there is little to be found in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. While her cells are intimately known to scientists around the world and her family is exposed to armchair scientists, Henrietta herself remains largely a mystery.

3.5 of 5 stars

Coming soon… Stiff: The Curious Life Of Human Cadavers

Bob invades VA. A true text message story.

This conversation just happened. And made me cringe inside.

V: I just saw a commercial for Bob‘s opening in Hyattsville and Tysons. Better move further south.
Me: Dammit. I may never escape.
V: Better just give in now.
Me: Noooo never! I did not invite Bob to “come on down” to the south. How did he make it past the Mason-Dixon line?
V: Dem rebels must’ve let down their guard.
Me: Slackers. That’s why they lost the war.
V: Something like that. Maybe you should man your cannon now.
Me: Did you read my blog  today?

On a side note, it appears as though Bob has gotten too old and decrepit looking to do his own ads, and now has a cartoon Bob to take his place. NOT an improvement.

This post is for the dogs.

Day 36 – a picture of your pet.

My family had two dogs when I was growing up.  The first dog was Sparky.  He was a spitz, which translates to “ball of white fur” in modern English.

This isn’t actually Sparky, but looks like how I remember him.  Sparky was also a really picky eater.  And epileptic.  It was very scary when he had seizures.  My mom would take him to the basement when it happened so we didn’t get too freaked out.  When we moved to CT, Sparky was put down.  He was about 11, I guess.

Our next dog was named Prozac of South Windsor.  True story.

We got Zack when I was in 7th grade, and he lived a VERY long life–he was about 14 when my mom finally had him put down two years ago.

I also just remembered about the fish my sister and I had when we were little.  I think the baby-sitter gave them to us.  They looked kind of like this:

They also led lonely lives in separate bowls, until one day Rose Red made the magical journey from the toilet to the big sea in the sky where all good fish go.  The other fish, in case you were wondering, was named Blue Bell.  I think mine was Rose Red, named after one of my favorite fairy tales at the time.

One day I will have my own dog.  I’m thinking the second from the left.  Or the one on top.

Or the smooshy looking one in the middle.  Or…

My hometown may be hazardous to your health

Day 35 – a picture of your hometown

Virginia likes to brag.  I’ve learned this after 5 years of college and 6 years of living in the state.  Excuuuse me, commonwealth.  Sheesh.  As I was saying, Virginia’s all about, “I’m a commonwealth, I’m special.”  Or, “I birthed eight presidents, beat that.”  Or, “I have plantations and tobacco and even have a tobacco scholarship.”

To which Connecticut responds with, “My tobacco’s better than your cheap-o tobaccy.”  Wikipedia, the world’s most reliable source, told me that 100% of Canadian cigarettes are made from Virginia tobacco.  Cuban cigars are wrapped in Connecticut’s shade tobacco.  Quality over quantity, my friends.

So with that brief botany lesson, we come to today’s picture.

I drove past this tobacco barn every day on my way to work. It’s ramshackle and sad looking, and if you pass it just after the tobacco’s been harvested, it looks like somebody walked down the inside of the barn kicking out every other slat.  That’s just the vents.  Shade tobacco is delicate.  It needs special treatment.  Got that, VA?

That being said, my hometown is not just a giant cancer pit.  It’s pretty suburban.

This is my other hometown, in P.G. County.

Boys, please don’t mess with me.  I played on cannons growing up.

True story.