Five Patients – by Michael Crichton (1970)

Five Patients

Michael Crichton is best known for his science-fiction and techno-thriller novels, but on occasion he veered off into non-fiction. In 1970 he wrote a book detailing the medical cases of five patients who were hospitalized at Massachusetts General Hospital while he was at Harvard Medical School. In it, he examined different aspects of hospital life: the non-stop atmosphere of the emergency room on any given day, the soaring cost of being hospitalized, deciding whether or not to operate, the introduction of technology into hospitals, and the way doctors interact with patients. About the time he published this book, Michael Crichton abandoned his medical career and devoted himself to being an author.

If you work in the medical field, the terminology in this book will be familiar to you. Unfortunately for me, much of the medical description was akin to a foreign language. There were parts of the book that I found very interesting, however, such as the section on hospital costs. He gave the example of John O’Connor, who was hospitalized for 31 days, yet only had a bill of $6,172.55! Mr Crichton went on to say:

“The single most important problem facing modern hospitals is cost… First, the cost of hospitalization has skyrocketed. The average MGH patient today pays per hour what the average patient paid per day in 1925. Even as recently as 1940, a private patient could have his room for $10.25 per day; by 1964, it cost $50.10 per day; by 1969, $72.00-$110.00 per day. This staggering increase is continuing at the rate of 6 to 8 per cent per year.”
(page 60)

Near the end of the book, the author gives the suggestion that hospitals should organize their patients into areas based on how ill they are:

“As they become healthier, they would be moved to new areas of the hospital, where they would be encouraged to be more self-sufficient, to wear their own clothes, to look after themselves, to go down to the cafeteria and get their own food, and so on. They would, at every point, be surrounded by patients of equal severity of illness.”
(page 221)

What a contrast between this 1970 view of hospitals and present day hospitals! Now you are lucky if you actually get to spend 24 hours in a hospital after having surgery. As soon as you are conscious, they try to get you on your feet. When you are able to stagger to the bathroom with help, they get out the discharge papers!

Sadly, the skyrocketing cost of medical care that Mr. Crichton describes continues its upward thrust. I would have to agree with the author when he says that we will need to transition to a national health care system as health care becomes impossible to afford.

The Little Bookstore Of Big Stone Gap – by Wendy Welch (2012)


Wendy and her husband Jack were tired of the big city and its fast-paced, high pressure jobs. So they set out to find another kind of life. They stumbled across an old 1903 Edwardian house in the Appalachian town of Big Stone Gap, and instantly knew it was the place of their dreams. Knowing next to nothing about running a small business, they moved into the upstairs, and turned the rest of the house into a second-hand bookstore. The first year was a roller coaster, as they made blunders as well as spectacular progress.

There were two main things I loved about this book:

First, Wendy’s observations about books and the people they are matched up with. Books, whether science fiction, cookbooks, westerns, or travel, fill a need in their lives. When you see a person find that book that makes their face light up, it makes you happy too.

Second, Wendy talks about everyone needing a third space, a place other than work or home, where someone knows you, and you can just be yourself and relax. Wendy and Jack’s bookstore became that third space for many people in town. By the end of the book, I found myself wishing that I was part of this wonderful little community.

(re-posted from April 9, 2014)

Homemade Laundry Soap (2015-02-18)



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Awhile back I read an article on making homemade laundry soap, and thought: people really make their own when they could just pick up a jug at the store?!  Yes, they do. There are folks all over the place trying it out, some making powdered soap and others making liquid soap. My son now makes his own brew, and gave me a 5-gallon tub of it. It lasted months, and worked well. When it ran out, I decided to make some myself. Below are some pictures of the process.


Ingredients bought at Walmart:

55 oz Arm & Hammer washing soda  $3.24

76 oz   20-Mule Team borax  $3.97

1 bar Fels-Naptha soap bar $.97

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Grate the Fels-Naptha soap into a gallon-sized pan.

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It’ll look just like cheese when you’re done!

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Add a gallon of water, boil gently and stir until it’s like smooth soup. Then turn off the heat, and add 1 cup washing soda and 1/2 cup borax. (Try not to breathe in the powder as you are adding it.) Mix well and cool until lukewarm so you don’t melt your soap container.

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Pour soap mixture into a 5-gallon tub, fill up the rest of the way with water, and stir well.

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When it’s totally cool, you’ll notice it has the consistency of half-gelled Jello. Stir it again with a spoon or long wire whisk. Store by your washing machine, and keep a lid over it so it doesn’t dry out. Use only half a cup to 2/3 cup per load (it will depend on your washer size, hardness of water, etc.). It won’t make any suds, but that’s okay, it’ll still get your clothes clean.

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If you’re interested in trying your hand at making soap, just google “homemade laundry soap” and you’ll find a variety of formulas. Read the comments from people who have experimented with alterations of recipes. It’s a fun experience, and costs a fraction of the cost of the store-prepared stuff!

True Crime: Michigan – by Tobin T. Buhk (2011)

True Crime Michigan

Want to read some bizarre true stories of crime in Michigan? Pick up this slim book at your public library and read up on some history you’ve probably never heard before. Read about the only king our state ever had, and what became of him. Read about our “wild west” days before we were even a state.

Think Columbine or Virginia State University were the worst school massacres in our country’s history? Think again. The deadliest school killing was right here in Michigan, in the small town of Bath. We also had a serial killer who attacked unsuspecting coeds. And then there was the Lonely Heart swindler, the reign of the Purple Gang, and of course the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa.

The book is a sampler of crime in our state, but doesn’t go so in-depth that the reader gets bogged down in detail. It gives just enough information that we know what happened, and how the police were able to solve the crime (well, except for Jimmy Hoffa). It’s also a reminder that no matter where you live, there is going to be crime.

All You Need Is Less – by Madeleine Somerville (2014)

All You Need Is Less

This title in the “New Book” section of the library caught my eye, and I brought it home with me. From the first page, I was drawn into Madeleine’s passion to simplify her life and make the world a less polluted place to live. She looked at just about every area of her life to see where she could make some changes. This is truly a woman who lives what she believes.

Don’t like the chemicals in your cleaners? Madeleine has suggestions for shampoo, floor cleaners, soap scum remover, dryer sheets, laundry detergent, and more. She’s got great ideas on grocery-shopping,  developing a more natural diet, and dabbling in growing some of your own food. If you’re expecting a baby, she’s got fantastic ideas about diapering, wipes, clothing, and toy selection.

Madeleine has a frank manner of speaking, and sprinkles her book with mild swearing, but in my mind I envision a quirky neighbor with a heart of gold. I felt a kinship with the author, as so many of her attitudes about possessions and priorities resonated with me. I particularly enjoyed reading about her love of clotheslines, which I share! There are plenty of books on the minimalist lifestyle, but I would be hard-pressed to find one written with more humor and wit.

Rules For Radicals – by Saul Alinsky (1971, Vintage Books edition 1989)

Rules For Radicals

I had never heard of Saul Alinsky until I heard Glenn Beck mention him as a radical in a long line of socialists trying to change our country. Who was this man? Mr. Alinsky was born in 1909 and died in 1972; no wonder I hadn’t heard of him. He started as a criminologist, then shifted into working in the labor movement and community organizing in Chicago during the 1930s. His goal was to unite people living in ghettos to fight for better living and working conditions. Later, he became involved in the civil rights movement. He wrote two books, “Reveille For Radicals” in 1946, and “Rules For Radicals” in 1971.

Glenn Beck was fond of saying, “Don’t take my word for it; do your own research.” So I got “Rules For Radicals” from the local library and read it. The beginning of the book seemed logical and well thought out. Some of the observations he made resonated with me, as I volunteered in my neighborhood association years ago and ran into similar issues. But as the book went on, it was obvious that he wanted more than just good living/working conditions for poor folks. Mr. Alinsky manipulated people into anger and conflict; he wanted the “Have-Nots” to rise up and take from the “Haves”.

That is the point at which I could not agree with the Alinsky approach. We can work toward better neighborhoods and work/living conditions without stirring up discontent and hatred. Manipulating people like a stupid herd of sheep into doing what you want them to do is not what I would want to be remembered for.
from pages 116-117:
The organizer dedicated to changing the life of a particular community must first rub raw the resentments of the people of the community: fan the latent hostilities of many of the people to the point of overt expression. He must search out controversy and issues, rather than avoid them, for unless there is controversy people are not concerned enough to act… An organizer must stir up dissatisfaction and discontent; provide a channel into which the people can angrily pour their frustrations. He must create a mechanism that can drain off the underlying guilt for having accepted the previous situation for so long a time. Out of this mechanism, a new community organization arises.

From page 161:
There is a way to keep the action going and to prevent it from being a drag, but this means constantly cutting new issues as the action continues, so that by the time the enthusiasm and the emotions for one issue have started to de-escalate, a new issue has come into the scene with a consequent revival. With a constant introduction of new issues, it will go on and on. This is the case with many prolonged fights; in the end the negotiations don’t even involve the issues around which the conflict originally began.

The Journey That Saved Curious George – by Louise Borden (2005, 2010)

The Journey That Saved Curious George

If you love the book “Curious George” and its sequels, you should pick up a copy of “The Journey That Saved Curious George”. You will find it in the children’s biography section of your library or bookstore. It is beautifully illustrated with drawings from Hans and Margret Rey’s books, along with photographs of the authors and scenes from World War II. The Reys, being Jewish, fled Paris on bicycles as the Nazi army invaded the country.

The story was very inspiring to me. The Curious George books are more than just entertaining tales. They are the work of two people who felt passionately about writing books for children, people who considered them important enough to be carried along on their hasty journey while almost all of their possessions were left behind.

Anyone about second grade or older will enjoy this book. You will find out what prompted Hans to choose a monkey as his main character. You’ll also learn what George’s original name was! Even though the book covers a frightening time in history, it is written in a lighthearted manner that keeps it from becoming depressing or heavy. This is an excellent biography for you to read with your young person as they learn about World War II.

Darkness Over Denmark – by Ellen Levine (2000)

Darkness Over Denmark


If there was a bright spot in World War II, it was Denmark’s battle to save their 7,800 Jewish neighbors from extermination. Germany invaded the small country in 1940 because they needed the meat and other food Denmark produced. King Christian X and the Danish leaders made it very clear to their captors that there was no “Jewish problem” in their country, and they expected their people to be left alone. For several years, the Danes pretended to cooperate, while building up a good resistance movement. In 1943 a German diplomat leaked the news that the Nazis would be rounding up all the Jews and moving them to Theresienstadt, a concentration camp, in just a couple days. The entire country went into rescue mode, and managed to shuttle almost all their Jewish citizens to Sweden, which agreed to take them in.

The story is told using the testimony of Danes who witnessed those years. The book is relatively short – 152 pages – which is enough to give you a good account of what happened without making you read forever and a day. The author did not include graphic or gory details, therefore it is suitable for reading by almost all ages. It’s an excellent book with which to introduce people to not only the ugliness of war, but the heroic efforts of many.

Excerpt from page 11:

Within days of the occupation, King Christian resumed his morning horseback ride through the streets of Copenhagen. He ignored German soldiers when they saluted him, but responded to the greetings of Danes. The king rode alone, to the surprise of the Germans, who always saw their Fuhrer protected by security guards.

“Who guards the king?” they asked the Danes.

“We all do,” was the answer.

Against Medical Advice – by James Patterson and Hal Friedman (2007)

Against Medical Advise


The Friedman family started out like any other family – a father, mother, sister, and brother, Cory. Life was normal until the day when Cory, just short of 5 years old, simply could not stop twitching his head. Before long he was making other repetitive movements. The doctor diagnosed him with Tourette’s Syndrome, and sent him home with a prescription to suppress the urge to twitch. The medication didn’t work, so another was tried, and another, and so on.

The book is written by the famous novelist, James Patterson and his friend Hal, Cory’s father. Cory’s mother, Sophia, kept meticulous records of her son’s medical care, which added to the accuracy of the family recollections. The story is told as if Cory is speaking, which allows the reader to experience what he was thinking and feeling as well as what he was doing.

“Against Medical Advise” covers the twelve years of hell that Cory and his family spent trying to find something that would control his symptoms. In addition to the Tourette’s, Cory developed Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and Anxiety Disorder. The more the doctors tried to control it, the worse things got. He couldn’t function in school, and he barely managed at home. What finally worked is one of the most amazing stories I have ever read. It is an encouragement to all of us to never give up, and to be willing try something different and bold.

Excerpt from chapter 20:

“What’s so terribly wrong with me that so many smart people can’t help me figure a way out of it? It’s been more than six years since my body started jerking, shaking, quivering, twitching, and exploding on its own. I’m more out of control than ever, and I wonder why anyone thinks another drug is going to help after we’ve tried so many. I’m already eleven years old. My so-called childhood is almost gone.

Lately I’ve heard Dr. Pressler describe some of the things I do as compulsions. That’s why she’s prescribed Celexa, the first anti-depressant I’ve ever taken. Everyone thinks it could be a breakthrough for me, since antidepressants work on compulsions, but in my case, the medicine seems to make everything worse. Celexa hypes up the need to jerk my body to one side so violently that I hurt a nerve or something, and it takes days for me to stop jerking and hurting myself.”

Hiroshima – by John Hersey (1946, 1986)



When war correspondent John Hersey went to Hiroshima, Japan shortly after the atomic bomb was dropped, he surveyed the destruction and spoke with many survivors. He wrote of the experiences of six individuals in a 31,000 word article which was published in The New Yorker magazine. The six included a female office clerk, a widowed seamstress, two doctors, a Methodist minister, and a German Catholic priest. Radio stations read the article aloud, and it was published as a small book later in the year. Americans were horrified by the testimony of innocent civilians. Instead of cheering the bomb as a tool to end World War II, many felt shame.

Forty years later, the book was re-published with an additional chapter entitled “The Aftermath.” In it, Mr. Hersey wrote of what became of the six survivors in the years after the bomb. The additional information made the book much more complete. The survivors worked hard to put their lives back together, and the city was eventually rebuilt.

I appreciated that the author did not write in a sensational, tabloid style. He told the story in a simple, factual manner and let the readers draw their own conclusions. This book is invaluable for helping people of all ages understand the devastating nature of the atom bomb. If you plan to read this book, try to get a copy of the longer 1986 version, as the earlier version feels unfinished.