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Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness, Susannah Cahalan (2012)

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness, Susannah Cahalan (2012)

13547180Susannah Cahalan wakes up in a hospital room, restrained to the bed, with electrodes all over her head. She doesn’t know why she’s there, how she got there, or what’s going on. She learns that she has spent over a month, none of which she can remember, descending rapidly into madness. She moves robotically, she has erratic outbursts, her speech makes no sense.

Susannah was a young and successful journalist for the New York Post. When she began acting strangely, her colleagues and family assumed she was having a tragic but not-so-unusual mental breakdown.  Susannah, however, is extremely lucky to be in the right place at the right time– a prominent Philadelphia researcher recently published about women suffering similar afflictions to hers, and while test after test came back negative, he ultimately discovered an extremely rare kind of brain inflammation.

Her family worked together with her tireless and dedicated doctors, and ultimately Susannah recovers. Her memory of her month of madness is nonexistent, and she uses her skills as a journalist to investigate what happened to her and why it happened.

Brain on Fire deals with heavy material, but it’s not a downer.  There’s always a glimmer of hope for Susannah (after all, you know from the outset that her story has a happy ending).  I was drawn to this book because of I am interested in the interplay between personal memory and the story that can be reconstructed from outside evidence.  Cahalan takes care to research and recreate what she can from journals and medical records, but because she has absolutely no memory of most of her illness, that fascinating issue never really presents itself.  Because she has no memory, she is distant from her subject, and it’s like she’s researching someone else altogether.

Brain on Fire is full of medical terms and science, but it’s not dry.  Although you know the outcome, the journey to getting there is an engaging one.  It’s a bit too serious for me to recommend this as summer beachside reading, but it’s perfect for a long plane ride.

Sidenote:  If you’re interested in the interplay between memory and outside evidence of events, be sure to check out The Night of the Gun by David Carr.  He, too, was a journalist who uses his reporting skills to research some of the darkest nights of his life, in the depths of very desperate drug addiction.  He has memories of those dark nights, and it’s fascinating to see the comparison of what he remembers and what his investigation shows.

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Waffles, Taters and a Cuppa Joe at Waffles INCaffeinated @wafflesINCaffein

Mr. Beez and I are lucky to have the opportunity to go out on dates fairly frequently, but last night’s date was especially awesomely fun.  Today, however, it’s rainy and gloomy and Baby Beez is whiny because she doesn’t feel well, and I just don’t feel like doing that whole write up.  For now I will share with you our breakfast this morning: fantastic delicious waffles from Waffles INCaffeinated in the Southside.

Waffles INCaffeinated specializes in all kinds of waffles, but they also have omelettes, sandwiches, soup and all kinds of other good things.  When it comes to breakfast foods, I lean toward savory while Mr. Beez prefers sweet.  Waffles INCaffeinated has plenty of offerings of each, as well as a build-your-own option.  WafflesINC

Mr. Beez selected the banas foster waffle with fresh sliced banana, ice cream and candied walnuts. He also ordered a side of home fries, which was a generous portion of roasted white, purple and sweet potatoes. If I knew that was what the home fries were, I would have requested an order myself. (Although I did help myself to plenty of Mr. Beez’ order).

I went for the option on special for the month of April: Dijon Chicken & Waffles.  It was a sourdough waffle with cheese and scallions baked in, with a fried chicken cutlet and a dijon sauce.  It was GOOD. And it totally hit the spot.  The only change I would suggest would be for this waffle to be made from cornmeal instead of sourdough batter. That would be perfect.

WafflesINC2The service was fine, although kind of slow.  It wasn’t so slow that I’d avoid the place, it’s just a factor to keep in mind when choosing a breakfast spot.  I was very hungry when we got there, so my hunger aggravated my impatience.  It’s the right kind of pace if you’re going somewhere for a leisurely morning meal with friends. Also, it is kid friendly for older kids (like older than 6), but the space is pretty tight, and combined with the not-completely-fast service, I probably won’t bring my 2 year old there until she’s a little older ad has better control over her behavior.

The coffee comes from a local coffee roaster, and was smooth and flavorful.  I’m so used to getting weak diner coffee with my breakfast, that the bold cup was a nice surprise.  Waffles INCaffeinated definitely places within the my top 5 of Pittsburgh breakfast places, especially because their offerings are unique and their ingredients high quality.
Waffles INCaffeinated on Urbanspoon

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Party party with @BestBuddiesPA

Party party with @BestBuddiesPA

Last night the Beez family attended the Life is Sweet Showcase hosted by Best Buddies PA.  Best Buddies is a nonprofit organization with the mission of establishing a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The Best Buddies Life is Sweet Showcase provided Best Buddies participants with the unique opportunity of working together with local chefs to prepare and present dishes.  Participating chefs included Kate Romane of e2 and Kevin Sousa of Union Pig & Chicken/Salt of the Earth/Station Street Hot Dogs.  Rick Sebak also joined the fun as a guest emcee.

Most charity events involve talking about the charity, and maybe there is a person there as a “spokesperson” for the work the charity does.  This event was truly unique and special because so many Best Buddies participants were there, both paired and working with the chefs, and also partying and having a good time.  In addition to the food and drink, there was plenty of music and dancing dancing dancing!  Everybody had such fun!  Charity events usually aren’t an appropriate place to bring a toddler, but we found ourselves without childcare and were told it would be OK to bring her along.  Baby Beez had SUCH fun!   She loves getting dressed up fancy for a party, and she had the time of her life dancing to the music and chatting with people.  She’s truly a party girl!

The chefs pulled out all the stops and created delicious (and generously portioned) dishes for the attendees.  My absolute favorites were the pork dish from Union Pig & Chicken

unionpig

And the divine chocolate shell with cookie dough mousse and pop rocks from Cioppino.

cioppino

The Best Buddies event was a hit both with the awesome food, and also because it provided a unique showcase of how much this organization has meant to the individuals with disabilities and with the volunteers, both of whom have been enriched and benefited immensely by the experience.  My life is already crazy-crazy, but I would love to participate in the difference Best Buddies has made in peoples lives.  I’m signing up to participate in the e-buddies program (you should too!) and I made a pledge to Best Buddies of PA (you should too!!)

And an extra thanks to Emily Levenson, from whom we received the tickets to the event!

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New Exercise Experience: Aerial Yoga

Tyrannosaurus arms here took the plunge and tried out an Aerial Yoga class at Verve 360 yesterday.

IT IS VERY HARD.

To be skilled in aerial yoga, you should have lots of arm strength. Lots and lots and lots of it.

I have none.

You should also not have motion sickness. 

I have lots and lots and lots of motion sickness.

All that being said, it was not a disaster.  I did my best, and the class was extremely hard, but I got through it just fine. Aerial yoga isn’t really open to modifications like regular yoga is.  Since you always have some sort of limb suspended, you’re either doing the pose or you’re not, there isn’t much room to kind of do the pose.

aerial yoga

Used under Creative Commons License, Credit to @heylovedc on flickr

 Nope. Upside down did not happen.  I made it through most of the poses (sometimes in pathetic fashion, but still made it), except for one of the upside down poses. I was able to turn upside down when I got there by leaning forward, but I was not able to turn upside down when it required me leaning backward.  I don’t know if it was the unsteadiness of leaning back, or if my legs were just too tired/weak to pull up once I leaned back, but upside down wasn’t happening for me yesterday.  At least this gives me something to work toward.

I don’t know why I foolishly envisioned this class to be easy.  I imagined myself swinging on a silk like I’m on a swingset, kicking my feet all carefree. IT IS NOTHING LIKE THAT.  After the class a classmate and I quizzed the instructor on her background.  No, her background is not in skipping through the daisies.  Instead she’s a Pilates Master Instructor, Rock Climber and Aerialist.  This makes more sense to me, after yesterday’s hour of suspended torture.

Would I do aerial yoga as part of my regular exercise routine? Probably not. But it was fun and different.  I took this class with a LivingSocial coupon for a full month worth of unlimited classes at Verve, so I’m definitely going to take it a few more times during this month. Maybe by the end of the month I will be turning upside down, and I’ll gain a little strength in my tyrannosaurus arms.

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She’s a Day Tripper

She’s a Day Tripper

The weather is getting warmer, and I’m gearing up for some DAY TRIPS! The only rules are: driveable and don’t miss time from work.

So they don’t necessarily have to be just a day, but close enough to fit in a weekend is good enough for me.  The top quick trips on my mind right now are:

1.  The Greater Cleveland Aquarium

It just opened up in January 2012 and is supposed to be awesome.

aquarium-header

I WANT TO FEED THE STINGRAYS.

2. Sesame Place

sesameplace

Baby Beez will love it, and I have to admit that I will too.  Yes, I love Sesame Street.  You do too, don’t lie.

3.  New Vrindaban, WV

roadside-architectural-wonders-1

A Hare Krishna architectural wonder outside Moundsville, WV? YES PLS.  (See also: Erin’s awesome series on her visit there)

4. Niagara-on-the-Lake

1635956_Niagaraonthelake_Canada

Pretty, old timey, and chock full of adorable little wineries (and wine!).  A trip best made with a chauffeur, I must say.

Where will you be day (or weekend) trippin’ this summer?