Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
Caution: This blog contains information that just may be too cute for your reading pleasure. If you are disturbed or irritated by anything cute, STOP IMMEDIATELY and avoid any potential future exposure.
Even though I don’t watch much television, one of my favorite shows is Too Cute! on the Animal Planet channel. This program showcases mostly puppies and kittens, (but also occasionally exotic pets), as they are born and develop for the first two to three months of life in various, usually for-profit husbandry households. Each show culminates in the members of the new generation being adopted by their “forever” families. Even though I have watched some episodes numerous times and know that they are slanted toward the “And they lived happily ever after” ending, I still can’t help myself. There’s something about the newborn, no mater what species (well maybe not snakes), that draws me in. Especially so if the producers contrive and manipulate the action to hyper boost the cloyingly sweet “cute quotient.”
But then, a little over one month ago I came upon a book that was “too cute” without the hype. I’m referring to A Little Book of Sloth, written and photographed by Lucy Cooke, a zoologist and founder of the Sloth Appreciation Society. It documents the activities of the real-life sanctuary of Slothville, located in the wilds of Costa Rica, which is devoted to saving these sleepy-looking, engaging, and mellow creatures. The book features some of the “cutest” inhabitants of Slothville, from the orphan Buttercup to Mateo, Sunshine and Sammy, Ubu, as well as numerous other endearing two and three fingered sloths.
Thanks to a uniquely slow nervous system, sloths are known for their lethargic, unhurried movements. They epitomize a lazy, laid back, and ultra chilled lifestyle. But while sloths may look sluggish, they are also quite acrobatic and have the ability to turn their heads around up to 270 degrees, due to an extra neck vertebrae.
Although they appear to be huggable cuddle-bugs as depicted in this volume, sloths do not make good pets and definitely belong in the wild. In captivity, they require special care. For instance, at the Sanctuary, the sloths are given regular baths in a specifically formulated, green leaf tea solution to keep their skin in good physical condition. They also appreciate hibiscus flowers being part of their standard diet.
But don’t despair at your inability to have one of these creatures hang around your home. You can always visit slothsanctuary.com to help an orphaned sloth in need by making a donation, or go to slothville.com to join the Sloth Appreciation Society.
And don’t forget to check out this book. The pictures alone are adorable, precious and may very well lead to you having an absolutely slothful “too cute” day!
A Little Book of Sloth
I have not read much in the way of teen novels lately, but did get around to Paul Griffin’s 2010 effort entitled The Orange Houses. It concerns three rather unlikely allies, brought together by various circumstances into a state of friendship. The novel takes place during the course of a little over one month and the stories of these three individuals are told in alternating chapters.
First, there is Tamika, or Mik, who has been partially deaf since childhood. She attends a tough high school and manages to close herself off to the world around her by using her disability as an excuse.
Then there’s Jimmi Sixes, a nineteen year old war veteran, whose girlfriend committed suicide while he was enlisted. He turns to drugs, and despite trying to straighten up his life, his thoughts are regularly interrupted by a nagging question...Is life really worth living? And if so, then at what expense? Although he is Mik’s protective friend, (especially from the bullies she encounters at school), he is nonetheless detested by her mother as being a bad influence.
Finally, there is Fatima, a rather gentle soul who is an illegal immigrant from Africa. She arrives in New York on a ship all alone, with only the clothes on her back. She is looking and hoping for a better future in the United States and longs to see the Statue of Liberty up close. She is also a whiz at making beautiful, folded paper creations that are endearing mementos to those she shares them with.
This novel is a fast moving and absorbing read, ending in a dreadful outcome that the reader will not soon forget. The “orange houses” in the title refers to the projects, where all three characters reside; a place that offers little hope of redemption, where poverty prevails and where life is put on hold. The book made it onto the 2010 list of the best books for teens.
Reading this novel, brought back very fond memories of meeting one of my favorite teen authors, Robert Cormier, who did a book talk at Kent State University in the late 1970s while I attended library school there.
During the mid to late 70s and beyond, Mr. Cormier had written The Chocolate War, published in 1974 and I Am the Cheese, published in 1977, probably his most prominent and attention receiving books that were later made into movies. His other works included Beyond the Chocolate War, Tunes for Bears to Dance To, After the First Death, and Other Bells for Us to Ring.
His novels were famous at the time for their complex intensity. They covered sensitive as well as controversial themes, such as abuse, violence, revenge, betrayal, and conspiracy.
All in all Cormier, who passed away in late 2000, was considered by many experts as a gifted author and a major influence on teen literature. To this day, KPL still owns many of his books in their collection, and if you are not familiar with his writings, whether you are a teen or not, do yourself a favor and check them out.
The Orange Houses
Crows have glossy black feathers with glints of dark blue and purple. Their life span usually ranges from 9 to12 years. Like humans, they can pretty much adapt to a variety of habitats, eating just about anything that their bodies can digest. Crows are highly social and enjoy traveling in groups. They can mimic various sounds and have a highly specialized and evolved language of communication. A flock of crows is called a “murder.” Although worldwide there are 45 different crow species, the ones most commonly seen in Michigan is the American or common crow.
Crows can be noisy, nosy, and downright annoying at times. Because of their raucous tendencies, some people don’t like them very much, and most farmers tend to lump them into the pest category of animals since they are inclined to dine on their crops. On the other hand, crows have also been proven to be beneficial in farm settings since they consume many insect pests that can ruin a harvest.
I’ve always been intrigued and fascinated by these highly intelligent, comical, and mischievous birds. When my husband and I walk around KVCC’s Texas Township campus, we usually see and hear numerous crows. They tend to hang out in small mobs, idling on and around lamp posts or sauntering along the parking lots and fields; forever on the lookout for a scavenging opportunity. They don’t have to look far since college students throw away lots of fast food offerings such as fries or buns, making the entire site an ever changing smorgasbord. The garbage bins seem especially suited for quick crow take-out buffet dining, and we’ve been amused many times by crow dumpster divers in search of their next snack.
As the Crow Flies is a new children’s picture book that was published in December, 2012. It was written by Sheila Keenan and illustrated handsomely by Kevin Duggan, an experienced nature painter. It beautifully captures and celebrates crows and their world in rhyming verse:
“All day long you’re on the go.
You don’t have time to watch a crow.
But we’re here ...and here... and there.
We poke our beaks in everywhere.”
Just a few weeks ago, I also happened to watch a very well made PBS program, originally filmed in 2010, entitled A Murder of Crows, a part of their “Nature” series. It was enlightening, entertaining and made me especially aware of these birds’ high level of intelligence, as evidenced by the fact that they can manufacture and use tools to solve problems.
And since I was on this crow kick anyway, I also read the “J” non-fiction book, Crows: Strange and Wonderful by Laurence Pringle with illustrations by Bob Marshall, who are both popularly known wildlife advocates.
So the next time you are out and about, listen for the familiar “Caw, caw,, watch for streaks of black wing, and you might be fortunate enough to see crows in an entirely different, more appreciative way.
Crows and humans; we are so different, yet so alike!
As the Crow Flies
It’s late February, that time of year when people from all over the US and the rest of the world are beginning to see some positive results from their New Year resolution dieting regimens. If only that were true! More likely is that they’ve become demoralized, disgusted and are ready to throw in the towel. They are abandoning the promise that they had made to themselves for a new start at improving their health and body profiles. For them, it’s turning out to be another winter of discontent, as weight once again begins its ceaseless ascent!
This year I too had made a similar resolution: To lose the ten or so pounds I had put on during the holidays. Ah yes, the holidays! A particularly perilous time for those of us for whom weight watching is a nasty, yet necessary, lifelong pursuit. Those cheery holidays, chock full of friendly parties and family get-togethers, each laden with high caloric temptations disguised in minute, innocuous forms such as pierogies (well, in my family anyways), snacks, cakes, cookies, toffees and cocktails among other so-called “goodies.”
But wait, there’s help on the horizon. Luckily, many new weight loss books have suddenly appeared like so many healthful sprouts in a pan found in one’s kitchen window winter garden. Two that have received an especially generous amount of exposure on the morning talk shows recently are, Shred: The Revolutionary Diet: 6 weeks, 4 inches, 2 sizes written by Ian K. Smith, and Al Roker’s Never Goin’ Back: Winning the Weight-Loss Battle For Good.
The Shred book claims to be an easy to follow, complete program for those who have reached a weight plateau in their dieting and now need something to overcome that hump. It’s a six week “jump-start” regimen, each week devoted to a different phase in the process.
Roker’s Never Goin’ Back book is part autobiography, part plan for reducing weight and keeping it off over the long term. It’s written in a casual, personal style that has become Al Roker’s on-air trademark over the years.
Of course, if these newly published works don’t strike your fancy, there are many, many more both current and from years gone by. KPL owns quite a few of them in its collection. Some are better than others, but if nothing else, they can all be counted on to effectively burn calories if bunched up in a bag or backpack and lugged about while doing one’s regular daily chores.
From personal experience, I know that what works for one person won’t necessarily for another. And fad diets are called just that for a reason; they impact popular culture in one great, but short lived, burst of attention and then fade quickly away, somewhat like a one-hit wonder, Hollywood celebrity. I tried a number of fad diets about ten years ago when I had a much more serious weight problem. I was becoming desperate and wanted to find an easy fix. In particular, I remember indulging in, (if you could call it that), the infamous Cabbage Soup Diet; the diet of choice for college students with limited means, and others, such as myself, who must have had cabbages for brains. At first, the diet seemed like it would do the trick. Starvation usually does. Unfortunately, it did much more than that, leaving people ill, constantly hungry, energy depleted and worse. Some ended up in the emergency room with gall stone attacks which apparently the acids in the cabbage seemed to aggravate in some people. I was luckier than that, but after emerging from the restroom for the fifth time in one day, I came to the realization that this road to salvation was not for me.
I then did the only sensible thing I could think of, and simultaneously joined Weight Watchers and a gym. I tried each alone before with little to show for it. But together, they clicked for me. The Weight Watchers points system proved to be easy to implement. And physical exercise was no problem at all because I am fortunate enough to be one of those nuts who loves to work-out, walk and swim. In the end, I lost a total of 77 pounds between the beginning of the year and July when I finally attained my goal weight.
The point of the matter is to never give up! In the beginning, my goal seemed lofty and unachievable. But as I started to see results, and with the support and encouragement of my family and friends, I began to feel more empowered over the task, and the goal appeared to be not that far away after all.
So, good luck to all you dieters out there. Persevere and remember that it’s all within your reach! You might just have to stretch a little more than you’re used to in order to get to the place you want to be.
Shred, the revolutionary diet : six weeks, four inches, two sizes
First of all, I would like to take this opportunity to wish all of our wonderful KPL patrons a very happy and healthy 2013! And to start this New Year off on the right note, I would like to correct a glaring omission that I had committed in the preceding year; amends for which will allow me to once again indulge in one of my absolutely, positively most favorite topics of all...cats!
To be specific, I regrettably forgot to mention in my personal “Best of 2012 List,” a book by well known cat lover and owner Hudson Talbott titled, It’s All About Me-ow (special emphasis on the Me).
Intended for early elementary kids on up (yes, even through adulthood), this particularly clever tome delves into the question of who is truly in control of any household where felines may be in residence. In this case, an older and wiser cat named Buddy welcomes a trio of wide-eyed, innocent kittens into his abode; one that he just happens to share with some naïve, yet well-intentioned humans. Soon after their arrival, Buddy takes it upon himself to train the newcomers as to the workings of their new world. In Buddy’s judicious and experienced opinion, success at being a housecat is all predicated upon the very well known and established fact that humans’ only goal in life is to want to make their feline companions happy. But in order to achieve this lofty aspiration, the cats themselves must take control of the situation from the very beginning, thereby aiding their human housemates in finding the exact, correct paths to feline approved pleasure. The accompanying illustrations to the various hilarious scenarios that Buddy utilizes in educating his young charges are very revealing, and are also evidence of the fact that the author/illustrator really does know his cats intimately!
In my own household, there are three very special and beloved cat occupants; Ollie, the eldest, as well as Graham and Lionel, two littermates my husband and I adopted some eighteen months ago. Upon the latter duo’s appearance, we were quite amazed by Ollie, who at first shunned them, but then took it upon himself to show the little guys just what it takes to be an upstanding cat and thereby fit into our family unit. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if part of their training consisted of something akin to the gospel as advocated by Buddy in this book, since all three have us trained very well! In fact, there isn’t one (reasonable) thing that we would not do to make them happy, from impromptu chin scratches, to sharing a cuddle, to daily group play time. We are crazy about these guys. And that’s because they have taught us that to please ourselves, we must first please them. Love has never been so unselfish!
It’s All About Me-ow
For many more years than I would like to admit to, I remember spending innumerable Saturday afternoons enjoying Julia Child’s cooking shows on the local PBS station. First, there was her classic “French Chef” series, then “Julia Child & Company,” followed up by “Julia Child and More Company.” All in all, her television career lasted for over thirty-seven years, and included nine more separate series in addition to the ones already mentioned. Considering the hundreds of episodes that she appeared in, it isn’t all that surprising that in 1996, TV Guide named her to their list of the “Fifty Greatest TV Stars of All Time.”
Of course, fine food was the centerpiece of all these programs, as it also was in Julia’s personal life. But there was an additional source of great pleasure for her that until recently was not all that well known. Cats!
When Patricia Barey’s and Therese Burson’s book entitled Julia’s Cats: Julia Child’s Life in The Company of Cats appeared late last summer, I immediately placed a hold on the title. Being unabashedly cat crazy myself, and admiring Julia Child’s spunky, unpretentious, joie de vivre style, I very much looked forward to reading this slim volume, which is enhanced with many black and white photos of Julia and her felines.
As is told in the book, Julia’s story begins in 1948 as a newly wedded bride of thirty-six, who is madly in love with her husband Paul. They start married life living in Paris, France, a country and city obsessed with food and romance. There, Julia and Paul begin to collect the first of many cats who would grace their lives, several of whom adopted the young couple rather than the other way around. By throwing in their lot with Julia and Paul, these felines ended up winning the cat equivalent of the lottery, going on to live in the lap of luxury with a master chef and hanging out as the perfect kitchen comrades with the couple who truly adored them.
But this book is not only about cats. It also follows Julia as she begins attending the world renowned culinary school, Le Cordon Bleu. Here, she receives a failing grade in her final exam at the hands of her instructor and nemesis Madame Brassart, who states that, “Julia does not have any great natural talent for cooking.” Over time, this has come to be recognized as one of the greatest misjudgments in the history of culinary arts education. In 1961, after her well received book titled The Art of French Cooking hit the stands, Julia went on to become an overnight sensation, and her name is still synonymous with fine cuisine to this day.
In addition to this adult account, released at about the same time was a children’s volume about Child and one particular cat. Minette’s Feast: The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat by Susanna Reich is a forty-page book about Julia learning to cook in Paris with her devoted feline friend, Minette, at her side. Although she has the best products of fine food preparation within constant reach, truth be told, Minette is not too fond of gourmet meals, often preferring the taste of a freshly killed mouse instead.
So, whether you are a Julia Child admirer, a cat devotee, both or even neither, you are in for a treat with these two volumes. As Julia might have said, “Bon Appétit, happy reader, Bon Appétit!”
It should be noted that had she lived, Julia Child would have celebrated her 100th birthday last August.
Julia's cats : Julia Child's life in the company of cats
I don’t like to draw attention to myself or stand out in a crowd, but that’s what I’m kind of doing now, whenever I drive around Kalamazoo. It all started in March of 2008 when my car lease was close to expiration. Two months before that, I had approached my husband about leasing another Honda, but this time not just another plain vanilla CRV, like the ones we had owned twice previously. No, this time I wanted a Honda Element.
He wasn’t surprised at this request, but he wasn’t thrilled about it either. He had known that since about the time that the first Element appeared in late 2002, I saw it as being the ideal car for me. And he did not exactly applaud my choice. In fact, the word “ugly” may have passed his lips more than once in assessing my preference. What?! Ugly?! Far from it, I thought. But, if I couldn’t convince his heart with car looks, I decided that I’d try to convince his brain with car facts.
My brother-in-law owned (and still owns) an Element that he would drive to Midland, Michigan from Cleveland, Ohio and back every week for over two years. That’s a hundred and four trips. He swears by the steadfast reliability of his Honda Element and given the slightest opportunity, constantly sings its praises. His recommendation definitely carried some weight, and I could see my husband starting to give a little.
Then, I heard Click and Clack—The Tappet Brothers, also known as Tom and Ray Magliozzi of Car Talk fame, repeatedly recommend this “toaster on wheels” to numerous on-air callers, giving it high marks mainly for its dependability, sturdiness and versatility. I made sure my husband was listening to these accolades, and underscored them with well placed comments for emphasis, such as, “You see?”
Then, I nailed the deal by pointing out to him that in addition to these positives, there was an even greater bonus; it would cost less to own or lease an Element, than it would to get another CRV.
Well, to make a long story at least a little shorter, we decided that the Element was going to be our next car. Then it came time to select a color. Maroon was the first choice, with kiwi green (actually more of a lime green) being the back-up. Actually, the maroon was once more my husband’s selection. He said it made a bad looking car a little more dignified. My rationale for choosing the lime green was why get a funky looking car without a funky looking color to match? And besides, green is my favorite color. The dealer told my husband that he shouldn’t worry, because he was certain, (no, make that absolutely positive!) that he’d be able to find us a maroon one somewhere in the Midwest.
However, when we arrived a week later to pick up our new car, there, standing in a conspicuous place, all alone, waiting for someone to claim it was my kiwi green Element. As my heart broke out into a song of jubilation, my husband’s sank beneath waves of despair. The dealer was very apologetic saying he could not deliver our first choice because it was very, very popular and back ordered for many months to come, but that “on the bright side”, there were plenty of lime green Elements to go around.
My husband was muttering something about conspiracies while we signed the lease papers. I on the other hand, was trying to come up with a name for our new wheels. Taking the color and shape of the vehicle into account, I thought that “Frogee” would fit the bill nicely. And shortly thereafter, we received our license plate proudly emblazoned with the “FROGEE” moniker.
The car and it’s plate has brought us some unanticipated attention. It has raised a smile on numerous occasions from other drivers and their passengers, as they spot, point and react to the license plate. Some wave, most don’t. We have been approached by total strangers asking us if we collect frog themed objects. It has been photographed by several people who seek unusual license plates. It has been encouraged to “Leap, Frogee, leap”, by a laughing customer at a gas station, wanting us to move forward to the next available pump. And once, when I was lost in the Arcadia area and asked a walker for directions, she not only obliged me, but jumped at the chance to take me there personally and proceeded to hop in the car with no coaxing from me. She said that she couldn’t wait to tell her teenage son that she had driven in a lime green Element. She believed that the ride would boost her coolness factor in his eyes.
In the 2010 book Carjacked by Catherine Lutz and Anne Lutz Fernandez, the authors explore the love, lust and reality of America’s car culture and examine our obsession with cars. It details the complex impact of the automobile on modern society and shows readers how to develop a healthier, cheaper, and greener relationship with cars. Unfortunately, it tends to explore these issues from a negative perspective as is reflected by the cover art depicting a human carrying the load of his SUV, rather than it carrying him. But it did make me re-evaluate my bond with Frogee.
I can’t deny that I love Frogee, but my husband still has doubts as to whether it’s a healthy relationship. We both agree that it’s relatively inexpensive to own and operate, and when it comes to being green, well just look at it! But I also know that in reality it is just a car designed to take us from point A to point B. In our society, you pretty much have to drive, so you might as well drive a car that you’ll love, that fits your lifestyle and makes your driving experience a joyful one. That is what this Honda Element does for me.
In the end, it might not win any beauty contests, but then beauty is in the eye of the beholder and my kiwi green beauty fits me to a “T”. Despite the fact that it is a mere thing, he’s my Frogee and when I drive him, I’m in my Element.
Author Bob Tarte is at it again, this time with the rather lengthy titled, Kitty Cornered: How Frannie and Five Other Incorrigible Cats Seized Control of Our House and Made It Their Home.
Tarte, a Lowell, Michigan native whose previous books include Enslaved by Ducks and Fowl Weather, has written a laugh out loud, true life account about his wacky existence living with six cats under one roof! His feline cast of characters include Agnes, Lucy, Maynard, Moobie, Tina, as well as Frannie the star stray. Being a celebrity in her own mind, Frannie, among other attention seeking eccentricities, insists on being petted while she eats.
And as if six fussy felines weren’t enough, Bob and his wife Linda also care for a variety of other abandoned animals such as rabbits, grey parrots, parakeets, songbirds, doves, hens, ducks and geese; in other words any animal that comes their way and needs a helping hand.
But the anecdotal antics in this volume focus mainly on the felines who constantly entertain, delight and sometimes aggravate their human owners. This book gets four enthusiastic Paws Up from me. It’s an enjoyable read for any animal lover who isn’t in complete sync with household harmony or perfection, but rather thrives on chaos and constant activity. The author uses great observational humor mixed with true compassion for these animals to paint memorable portraits of each. And each one is truly a one of a kind character.
Kitty Cornered: How Frannie and Five Other Incorrigible Cats Seized Control of Our House and Made It Their Home
I walk regularly - almost on a daily basis and especially so in non-winter months. In addition to the exercise it provides, I love the simplicity of the activity. Walking is a natural form of stress releasing fun. So it’s no surprise that what attracted me to read this book titled Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail was it’s simple premise: One woman’s extraordinary solo hiking journey of 1,100 miles from Mojave, California to the Bridge of the Gods in Oregon.
It’s a memoir written by Cheryl Strayed, the acclaimed author of the very well received novel Torch. The book starts off with the 22 year-old Cheryl caring for her 45 year-old vegetarian, non-smoking mother who nonetheless is suddenly diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer and ends up dying just a little over a month after that initial diagnosis is made. This event throws Cheryl into a frenzy of confusion and doubt where she makes a number of life changing decisions, some much worse than others. She divorces her husband whom she confesses she still loves, has several affairs and dabbles with heroin. Changing her last name to “Strayed” as a reflection upon the state of shambles that her life had become, she decides to find herself. This moment of self-enlightenment comes four and half years after her mother’s death. Looking for some drastic challenge to undertake, Cheryl decides to hike the Pacific Coast Trail even though she knows little about long distance hiking.
She chronicles her journey with Monster, an overstuffed backpack weighing in excess of forty pounds, on her back, and an ill-fitting pair of new hiking boots that leave her feet blistered, sore, bruised, and with several of her toenails severed off.
On her trek, she has to regularly deal with the rattlesnakes that she spots, as well as cougars and other wildlife. If that weren’t enough, not all the people she meets on or near the trail are friendly. A few are downright fearsome and want more from her than a little conversation or a friendly smile.
I found this book to be very honest, in fact brutally so. But this is tempered by Strayed’s very easygoing and likeable writing style, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading of her soul searching adventure. It is definitely an emotional trip, and one that is not easily forgotten.
And I also look forward to reading Torch.
But first, it’s almost time for my walk! Just around the neighborhood mind you.
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
I’m Not a Plastic Bag by Rachel Hope Allison, is a wordless graphic novel about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch published in association with Jeff Corwin Connect, a company founded to raise awareness of issues facing the earth and its many inhabitants.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a swirling spiral of manmade litter in the central North Pacific Ocean. It formed accidently as the result of discarded waste (mostly plastic) bits and pieces that have pooled together through the naturally occurring movements of oceanic winds and currents over the course of many years. The Patch occupies a large and relatively stationary region between Hawaii and California. Research shows that this marine debris field negatively affects at least 267 species of marine birds and animals worldwide including seals, whales and turtles.
Plastics are materials that have been designed to last, in some cases almost forever. They are also cheap and readily available making them ever-present throughout the human world. In fact, millions of plastic bags are tossed away every single day, some of which make their way into waterways and eventually the middle of the Pacific Ocean. There they join the Patch, one of the largest, unintended accumulations of consumer waste on the planet!
After learning about this Patch, illustrator Rachel Hope Allison felt she had to spread the message of substituting bio-degradable bags for plastic ones. By using her artistic imaginings of this real threat to our environment, she does a commendable job portraying the trash items and their interactions with one another, as well as their devastating effect on marine life. The negative message is pretty clear, but there is also a strong positive one: The hope that readers will get excited about decreasing their plastics consumption footprint on the environment.
Jeff Corwin, the conservationist and television host of “Ocean Mysteries”, wrote the forward to this book. In it he drives the enormity of the issue home by stating; ”The journey of discarded waste is wide-ranging and far-reaching. A produce bag from a distant supermarket, masquerading as a jellyfish, could find its way into the belly of an endangered sea turtle.” Read Jeff’s review of the book.
The United States has only 5% of the world’s population, yet generates 40% of the world’s trash. All of us can make some simple changes in our daily habits and thereby reduce ocean bound plastic garbage and help marine life survive into the future. And now is a great time to start!
After all, it may be just an innocent plastic bag at the market, but it could turn into a serious threat to an animal’s life if it joins the Patch.
I'm not a plastic bag : a graphic novel
I watched the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart interview author and dog lover Maria Goodavage about her latest book entitled Soldier Dogs: The Untold Story of America’s Canine Heroes which was published last March, and I immediately put it on my must read list. By the way, MWD is the acronym for Military Working Dog.
Throughout history, dogs have been used in numerous martial roles: Attacking enemies, protecting fighters, as well as alerting soldiers when they detect danger. They have also been deployed as trackers, messengers and first aid deliverers, especially in high risk areas where humans would more likely than not be able to get through. But today their most common job is to sniff out explosives.
This book is an engaging account of the dedicated canines who play significant roles in our military’s efforts both past and current. While the exploits of military working dogs have been documented in earlier war efforts, much of the information in this volume concentrates on the hostilities in Afghanistan. In 2010, working dog teams in that country were credited with finding more than 12,500 lbs. of explosives. Current figures show that the Department of Defense has some 2,700 U.S. military working dogs in service throughout the world, with about 600 found in actual warzones.
Ironically, MWDs are classified as equipment by the Department of Defense. It’s a designation that fell upon military dogs after the Second World War, when the military started purchasing canines. Of course handlers see their dogs as anything but equipment. Handlers put their lives on the line for their devoted canine companions, and the reverse is also true. A common refrain among handlers who have been deployed is “war would have been hell without my dog.” Dogs and their soldier counterparts spend almost every minute together. Handlers and their canines eat, sleep, play and work together. As a result it’s not surprising that extremely close bonds are formed. Some soldiers feel so close to their dogs they have even shared their honorary medals with them, and many make a point of adopting their dogs when they return home.
So the military’s practice of categorizing soldier dogs as mere equipment seems odd, out of touch and somewhat heartless. After all, these animals are hard working and vibrant partners who should be treated with respect, kindness, and love, all of which their soldier handlers freely lavish upon them.
Many of the dogs used by the armed forces are German Shepherds and Belgium Malinois, although other breeds are also occasionally drafted. I can especially appreciate the use of German Shepherds. My step mother-in-law used to breed these very disciplined canines. They are highly intelligent, aggressive and have a keen sense of responsibility and devotion to owner and family. They are natural protectors and enjoy having a job to do, which makes them highly suitable for military purposes.
This book is written in an easygoing style which relies heavily on first hand accounts, observations and quotes from those involved with MWDs. It also chronicles the stories of soldiers whose dogs did not come home, dying at the hands of the enemy; an all too common and heartbreaking reality of this world.
Over the years MWDs have become an invaluable part of the complete modern army. As former Four Star General and current CIA Director, David Petraeus put it: ”The capacity they bring to the fight cannot be replicated by man or machine.”
So here is a salute and a heartfelt thank you to our military and their canine heroes!
Soldier Dogs: The Untold Story of America’s Canine Heroes
Patrick, a Dutch Blue Dwarf rabbit, has lived with us for a little over two years. He weighed a meager four pounds when we adopted him from the Great Lakes Rabbit Sanctuary in Willis, MI, not too far from Ann Arbor.
Right from that first day when we met him we knew that he was going to be a handful. As we were readying him for his trip to his new home, one Sanctuary staff member casually mentioned that we should be careful in handling Patrick, since apparently he had started to nip people recently. No problem, I thought. He seemed docile and sweet enough. And besides, how much pain can a diminutive bunny inflict? A few days later I learned the hard way. Being irresistibly cute, Patrick was the recipient of many kisses from me; something that he did not enjoy as much being the recipient, as I did being the giver. So to get his displeasure through to me, one day he bit me on the cheek just as I was about to land a particularly loving smooch on that adorable little nose of his. The pain was tolerable. But I was shortly thereafter admitted to a local urgent care clinic to clean up the wound and stop the bleeding.
After reading up on domestic rabbits in a 2008 book titled, When Your Rabbit Needs Special Care: Traditional and Alternative Healing Methods by Lucile Moore, I was only a little bit happier to learn that only highly intelligent rabbits nip or bite. Supposedly, that’s because they know what they like and don’t like, and have no inhibitions in communicating their desires as forcefully as they can. No dumb bunnies for our family!
Patrick turned out to be brilliant - absolutely brilliant! However it was a brilliance that came with an attitude the size of Texas! A few months later in a momentary lapse of judgement brought on by his delightfully sweet appearance, I was once more bitten, this time on the lip. Back I went to the clinic to have it super glued together. No worries, but from that time on, I decided to show my affection to Patrick from the back of his head, so that my face was not in his. In all honesty, after that second bite, for a moment or so (actually it was a little longer than that), the thought of taking him back to the Sanctuary from where he came did cross my mind. But a promise is a promise, and I did pledge to take care of that rabbit until death did us part. However, who will precede whom into the great hereafter is still up in the air.
Well, as it happens, about three weeks ago we almost lost Patrick. On that Sunday morning, (why do these things always take place during the weekend when most vets are closed?) we noted that Patrick was uncharacteristically tilting his head and that one of his ears was drooping. After consulting the internet, we came to the conclusion that the treatment would be rather painless, relatively inexpensive, and that recovery would be imminent. The next day we took him to a local vet known to have some familiarity treating rabbits. She confirmed our diagnosis and prescribed an antibiotic for the infection in his ear. After administering one dose of the medication that day, Patrick began wheezing terribly and breathing through his mouth, which is not a good sign in bunnies.
He was visibly worse the next morning, but our local vet was not in the office, and rather than take him to the emergency clinic here in town that has little experience dealing with rabbits, we decided instead to transport him to a clinic in Grand Rapids. Although the vet there did have some knowledge of bunnies, after several hours he called saying that they couldn’t do anything more for him. However, he also suggested that we take him to see a true rabbit specialist in Cascade, MI. Although the specialist didn’t hold out much hope for his prognosis upon his arrival, after several days of intensive care, Patrick started responding positively.
After several more days, we were able to take him home where we continued his treatments. He seemed very happy to be back in his own environs at last and his condition improved dramatically, almost on a daily basis. The three feline members of our family, Ollie, Graham, and Lionel kept vigil over him and seemed to really care about his condition. They took turns lying by his cage and keeping him company throughout the day. It seemed obvious that they were hoping for his recovery almost as much as we were.
Finally after more than two weeks at home, Patrick is close to his normal self. No more force feeding him, no more meds or penicillin shots. He’s back to a normal bunny routine of constant eating and pooping with intermittent naps or jaunts around his area. He is still very assertive and isn’t above nipping the hands that nursed him back to health. But he is our bunny; we love him dearly and wouldn’t have it any other way!
When your rabbit needs special care : traditional and alternative healing methods
Author Rita Golden Gelman once lived what’s usually considered to be the privileged, good life, at least by most modern Western standards. Being materially well-off, she resided in a large house in the well-to-do suburbs of Los Angeles, had beautiful designer clothes, regularly dined on fabulous food, and attended more parties and other social events than she could remember. But when her husband asked for a separation and ultimately a divorce, she was thrown for a loop. She felt like her life was in a state of flux, yet stuck in some form of societal limbo. She began to feel out of sorts with some of her friends and acquaintances, and was uncomfortable with her old role in society in general.
She started to seriously question her then values. She had always preferred, “Goodwill to Neiman Marcus, Hondas instead of Mercedes,” but financial circumstances and community standing pushed her into choosing the latter rather than the former in most cases. She also came to the recognize that, “my house is too big, my garden too trim, and my friends too white and American.” Rita realized that she had become too complacent in her life’s cocoon, and that she had lost the spirit and zest for living, as well as the dreams of traveling the world that she had harbored in younger years.
Most other women of Rita’s age (48) and social background finding themselves in a similar predicament would have likely turned to the safe confines of some type of counseling, psychotherapy and/or course of anti-depressants in an attempt to preserve their past life sans hubby. However, Rita’s soul searching produced a completely different path: Chuck it all!
So after the divorce was finalized, she decided to seek exotic locales and to embark on the next phase of her life; a phase that neither her friends nor family could comprehend. In 1986, she sold almost all of her worldly possessions and with the little money left to her name, began a true nomadic existence, without any permanent address, bare minimum possessions and no real obligations to anyone.
This book records her world-wide adventures ensuing from this new found way of life. She lived in a small, remote village in Mexico, getting by with very elementary Spanish speaking skills. She slept with the sea lions on a beach in the Galapagos Islands. She observed orangutans in the rainforests of Borneo. She found her family and cultural roots in Israel. She spent years at a palace in Bali as a prince’s guest. She also extensively toured New Guinea, Guatemala, Indonesia, Thailand, Vancouver, Nicaragua, and New Zealand. But what really sets Rita apart from the ordinary traveler and/or nomad is her enviable way of connecting with people from different cultures, who come forward to help her along the way, and end up becoming her friends for life’s long haul.
Rita delved into this new life with a gusto and a true sense of spirit that few of us have ever experienced in our own lives. Reading this memoir, may arouse a similar wanderlust in you. The closest I ever came to this feeling was years ago when I had graduated from high school and was determined to join the Peace Corps. I was dissuaded from doing so by family and friends. What would have happened if I had followed that dream? No one knows. But it’s books such as these that make me wonder.
Tales of a Female Nomad: Living at Large in the World
Toast, the movie is based on Toast: The Story of a Boy’s Hunger, a memoir penned by Nigel Slater, a famous British food writer, journalist and broadcaster. This film originally appeared in limited distribution in 2011 with little fanfare or notice. It basically came and went, but not before eliciting positive reviews from The New Yorker, The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times among others. It’s short stint in theatres resulted in its being released to DVD very quickly; a benefit to all fine movie fans.
It’s a bittersweet, sometimes comic story of Nigel’s childhood. He is portrayed as a young child by Oscar Kennedy and later as a teen by Freddie Highmore. Nigel is somewhat of a square-peg-in-a-round-hole-world sort of youth who is seriously obsessed with food and cooking. Unfortunately for him, his family happens to be acutely cuisine challenged. Mum may be saintly and loving, but her piece de resistance dish is a finely grilled piece of white bread toast. Standard evening fare at the Slater household consists of canned offerings that are prepared by boiling the unopened tins in water to heat up the contents. Nigel finds these culinary practices to be quite appalling and constantly begs, cajoles and eggs his mother on to show him how to cook properly, i.e. from scratch. While his mother tries to accommodate his wishes, she ultimately cannot, succumbing to a serious asthma condition. After her death, his rather intolerable and grouchy businessman father, played by Ken Stott, hires Mrs. Potter as the family’s cleaning lady and cook. Soon dad’s passions are inflamed and Nigel is aghast as he openly woos the housekeeper.
Following a rather speedy, and a somewhat surreptitious courtship (Mrs. Potter happens to be inconveniently married to Mr. Potter at the time), a wedding takes place. In the aftermath, the visibly more exuberant and cheerful father chooses to move the frail, newly minted family unit to a quiet countryside locale. Nigel despises the chain smoking Mrs. Potter, (played brilliantly by the versatile Helena Bonham Carter), despite the fact that she turns out very good meals, which everyone knows is a sure way to a man’s heart. And that’s where the problem lies as both Nigel and Mrs. Potter compete for Nigel’s dad’s affections by bettering each other in the cooking department. Mrs. Potter has a slight edge, but because of this she also tends to overfeed her new hubby, and this ultimately leads to his untimely demise. Nigel finally leaves this less than idyllic country setting and finds work as a chef’s assistant at London’s posh Savoy Hotel. He also stubbornly pledges to never see or speak to Mrs. Potter again; a promise he supposedly keeps.
With Dusty Springfield’s husky voice and music as a backdrop to the action, this movie is quite a little gem. It was directed by S.J. Clarkson and is highly recommended for gourmands, as well as connoisseurs of coming of age stories and all British movie buffs.
Note: The Kalamazoo Public Library only carries Nigel Slater’s memoir in book form as of the time of this writing. The movie DVD will be made part of the collection shortly.
Toast: The Story of a Boy’s Hunger
In early November of last year, I heard author David Margolick being interviewed by MSNBC’s Hardball host, Chris Matthews. Margolick, a contributing editor to Vanity Fair as well as to the New York Times Book Review, had written a new book entitled Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock. It’s the story of two women and a picture. And as soon as the picture appeared on the television screen, I instantly recognized it, and knew I had to read this book.
The two women referred to in the title are Elizabeth Eckford, who is African American and Hazel Massey, who is white. Their story begins when neither one was an adult woman, but rather two teens caught up in the ugly racial bigotry, fear and hate that school desegregation stirred up to the surface of the American South. The linkage between them was instantaneously forged by a photograph taken in September, 1957. In it, Elizabeth is seen walking stoically in sunglasses in front of Little Rock Central High School, while Hazel is seen standing directly behind her. Hazel’s face is contorted by hate as she yells racial epithets at Elizabeth. This famous image (actually there were more than one photo and more than one photographer) directly captured the true torment that school desegregation produced in Arkansas and throughout much of the South. It became an iconic record of the times of the civil rights movement, and the source of myriad articles, comments and other forms of discourse on race relations, both in the U.S. and abroad.
Margolick weaves together a complex chronicle explaining how the famous and haunting photo of the two young women came to be taken in the first place, its immediate and continued impacts, and why neither Elizabeth nor Hazel has ever managed to escape its powerful heritage. But as much as it is a story of race relations, it is also one of forgiveness in that it follows the often painful paths both women pursue to get on with life, and with each other as their relationship progresses from a simple, initial apology, to forgiveness, reconciliation, and even friendship. Although this last stage, the friendship, did not last, the common bond between them brought about by that fateful photo endures to this day.
A first class read both as a finely crafted history of one culminating event in the fight for school desegregation, as well as a study of the bad, the good and the roads of redemption that humans search for as they attempt to travel from the former to the latter.
Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock