Friday, April 29, 2011

Pawprints on Our Hearts

We bought Kodi for our son for his second birthday.  It was our first pure-breed-with-papers dog.  We picked him from the litter and anxiously awaited the day when he would be old enough to take home to join our family.  Kodi was short for "Jakob's Kodiak of Fallbrook".  I guess when you have a "papered" dog you have license to come up with wacky names.

Puppies are hard work.  Kodi  was the pick of the litter. The alpha male.   Jake was a precocious two-year-old.  They would fight over who would sit on my lap, pushing each other out onto the floor and then crying.  For a few weeks, I thought we had made a big mistake.  I was exhausted by my toddler and our psycho puppy.

Over the years, though, Kodi became the best dog I have ever known.  He was awesome with kids, fiercely protective of our property, and funny too.  One time when we were sleeping at my bro/sis-in-law's house, E n I were discussing our upcoming Avocadofest party.  Kodi burped and it sounded like he said, "GUAC" really loud.  We laughed so hard we woke the house up.  He would also make Wookie noises if he really wanted to get our attention, like when there were apple slices on J's plate that he felt he was entitled to.

He was big and barrel chested, like most boxers.  He was great to hug.  He would follow us around and fall to the ground at our feet when we finally sat down.  He let our son ride him like a horse.  He didn't like it, but he tolerated it and never snapped at him.  He farted like no-one's business. 

He loved to chase thrown grapefruit.  He would jump high and pick them out of the tree, then get this really distinctinctively sharp yip that described his love/hate relationship with the bitter fruit.  He would follow and snap at bubbles.  He made our child feel safe in his bed at night.

Kodi died last week.  After dealing with a mysterious malady that almost killed him and put him on antibiotics and steroids for a few months, he had a heart attack in the vet's office while awaiting a routine blood check. 
We were devastated.  The vet's office is going to make a paw-print in clay for us. 

A few days later, E drew parallels between the recent loss of his father and our doggie.  Both lived life to fullest, right  to the end.  Right now, Kodi and Punky are living it up in the afterlife, binging on salami and beer.

Kodi sent another dog our way just days later.  Two, actually, but only one to stay.  (Another long story.)  He knew we couldn't bear to be dogless.  He knew that us taking in another dog wouldn't diminish our love or sorrow, but build a bridge to heal our hearts.  He was intelligent and loving and will live forever in our hearts. 

                                                    R.I.P.  Kodi.  We will love you forever. 

Girlfriends . . . 15 Years Later

One of my favorite books of all times is Waiting to Exhale by Terry McMillan.  It is one of the few books that was made into an equally awesome movie.  I have watched it more times than I care to count.  A week or so ago I was trolling the newly-built and breathtakingly awesome Fallbrook Library and found a sequal in the audiobook section.  It is entitled Getting To Happy.  You know I had to snatch it up and give it a listen.

I was a tiny bit apprehensive, as I didn't know what to expect.  Well, it was wonderful.

Read by four different actresses, the main characters Savannah (the outspoken and smart tv producer), Gloria (the overweight, single-mom-finally-found-love salon owner), Bernice (the gourmet chef, mom, and divorced-because-her-man-cheated-on-her) and Robin (the shop-a-holic, promiscuous, impulsive and gullible insurance underwriter) were brilliantly portrayed.  (The only voice my mind had a hard time accepting was Savannah's, who was played by Whitney Houston in the movie and the voice actress was a bit gruff and crass sounding.) 

It is 15 years later.  All the women are single, save for Gloria, who is still married to Marvin, the ideal man.  Robin was pregnant when we last saw her.  Now her daughter, Sparrow, is a precocious and creatively mismatched high schooler.  Savannah is bored with her marriage to a carpenter and finds out some dirty secrets about him on his computer and decides to end it.  Bernie has been two-timed again and is barely coping (with the aid of some pills).  The girlfriends are as close as ever, even though they don't hang out as much as they used to.

This book made me laugh a lot and cry more than any other audiobook has.  I will not ruin the storyline for anyone who is interested in getting caught up on the ladies and their drama-filled lives.  But trust me.  It's worth it.  It's awesome.  McMillan couldn't have done a better job if she had tried. 

My thoughts went out to my own girlfriends.  We call each other when we want to go out, when we need to vent, when we're bored, and just to check up on each other.  We leave each other boxes of tissues and chocolates when we most need some extra love.  I am blessed to have them in my lives.  Here's to girlfriends!    Thanks for listening. 

Monday, April 11, 2011

A Last Note from Your Narrator . . . I am Haunted by Humans

As a rule, I don't do the Holocaust.

For me, the horror of what people do to each other just gets worse with age.  I remember lying on the floor of my Jr. High library, continuously drawn to a Time Life book on WWII.  In it was a double-paged picture of a Jewish woman whose breast had been cut off.  I must have looked in that book 50 times.  I couldn't believe it was real.  I was hypnotized by the mind-numbing atrocity of it all.

Over time, I have sheltered myself from war movies, TV shows, and any book set during WWII.  Last year when the high school classes were finished with their Holocaust studies, I asked the head librarian if he would mind shelving the books.  I was afraid one of them might open and sear me with yet another miserable image.  In the first Middle School where I worked, I stealthily wept while investigating our collection.

So you can see why I was in no hurry to read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, especially when someone told me that I had to read this book but that the ending would make me cry.

The book kept popping into my existence, however.  When you have a book to shelve in the "Z's", you tend to notice it, as there aren't too many of them.  On the cover is a finger ready to push over a row of dominos and The New York Times quote that it is "BRILLIANT and hugely ambitious . . . It's the kind of book that can be LIFE CHANGING".  So a few months ago, I found a copy at a used book sale at a local library.  Fine, I decided.  I'll get it.

I put off reading it for a bit.  What horror awaited me in its pages?  It took me a few months to read it all the way through.  I refused to read it at night and let myself get sidetracked by all sorts of other titles in the meantime.  But by page 25 I knew I had something special in my hands. 

I am a sucker for good figurative language.  This book overflows with the most beautiful prose and imagery.  It's enough to make you want to eat it up with a spoon. 

Her wrinkles were like slander.  Her voice was akin to a beating with a stick. 

The book is told, in third person, from the perspective of the Grim Reaper, who's awfully busy in this book. 

Summer came. For the book thief, everything was going nicely. For me, the sky was the color of Jews.

The book thief is Liesel, a German orphan, who steals her first book on the day her little brother is buried.  She is illiterate.  A book drops unnoticed from a gravedigger apprentice's pocket.  Liesel picks it up.  She is on her way to a foster home in Molching.  She never sees her mother again.  She sees her dead brother nightly in her dreams. 

A Photo of Himmel Street
The buildings appear to be glued together, mostly small houses and apartment blocks that look nervous.
There is a murky snow spread out like carpet.
There is concrete, empty hat-stand trees, and gray air.

 Hans and Rosa Hubermann take Liesel in.  Later, they also take in a Jewish fugitive, Max, who lives in their basement for months and months.  Rosa is an insultingly loud woman who makes horrible soup.  Hans is tall, quiet, pretty much invisible painter and accordion player who becomes the center of Liesel's world.

Max spend a lot of time writing, down there in the Hubermann's basement, while Liesel is out playing soccer, getting into trouble with her best friend Rudy, and stealing books from Nazi bonfires and the mayor's wife's library.  Max writes, among other things, a story called "The Word Shaker".  I have never read a more touching fairy-tale-esque take on the Holocaust as this little story that Max writes for Liesel.  In it, the Fuhrer decides to rule the world with words.  His words create forests of farmed thoughts.  Word Shakers climb these trees of terrible words and throw them down to the people below.  One Word Shaker has a single teardrop made of friendship that has dried into a seed.  She plants it among the other trees.  This tree grows faster than all the other trees.  The Fuhrer demands that it is chopped down.  The Tree Shaker climbs up in protest and stays for many months.  No axes are strong enough to bring the tree down.  Eventually the Tree Shaker is coaxed down by a friend, the man whose tear grew the tree in the first place.  The mighty tree falls and carves a "different-colored path" through the forest of hateful words. 

This was the best book I have read in years.  Tomorrow I will take it to work and slap a barcode on it and start feeding it to the students who are ready to read it.  Maybe if it comes your way, you'll read it too.  It's worth it.  And you might cry a bit at the end, in the middle, and even in the beginning.  It's worth it.  Every word of it.  Thanks for listening. 

Thursday, April 7, 2011

"Mrs. E, Is That A Fax Machine?"

So a few weeks ago, I decided that I wanted a typewriter. 

Working in a library, one of my tasks is to make call stickers to place on the spines of the books.  (You know, those funky letters/numbers that tell the librarians where the book belongs in the stacks?)  When I worked at the High School last year, we had an honest-to-God typewriter that dutifully made us stickers anytime we turned it on and pressed the keys.  I know.  Amazing. 

The school where I'm working now has been around since the '50's and it shows.  There have been numerous librarians and library tech's running the show, each with his/her own sense of how things should be organized.  One of them decided that instead of categorizing the fiction books by authors' last name, which is standard, they created numeric categories with the name of the genre.  (For example, a mystery book might be listed as 40 Fic MYS.) Uber-confusing to the already addled teen.  But I digress . . .

One of the most frustrating (and disgusting) habits one of the tech's had (a female, by the look of the handwriting) was to use masking tape to made the call label.  A RIPPED piece of tape with the info, slapped onto the spine of the book, edges uneven and frayed.  Well, I gotta tell you, over time, masking tape gets brittle and gross.  For one, it's hard to read the tag and secondly, it's very tacky!!!  (Get it?  TACKY!)  Oh boy.     SO.          I decided that now was the time to start replacing the stickers. 

The last tech blessed me with a template on my computer and a whole bunch of stickers.  Awesome.  The only problem was, what if I only wanted ONE sticker at a time?  Open the document.  Type in the correct information.  Put the sticker paper in the printer's paper drawer.  Facedown.  Press print.  Now I have 49 unused stickers.  For a while, I was marking (on the computer template) which stickers were being used, so I could go in and just print out others as I needed them, but keeping track of that ONE certain sticker page and figuring out which direction to put the paper in once some of the stickers were missing was making my head spin.  Logistics and math are not my strengths.  So.  All that babbling just to say that I wanted a typewriter so I could receive instant gratification and get my stickers when I wanted them.  Was that too much to ask for?!?

I started my quest by e-mailing everyone on campus, inquiring if anyone knew where a spare typewriter might be.  Boy, did that open a can of worms.  The jokes and smarty comments that came flying back at me were funny at first, but a bit frustrating as the day went on and I wasn't getting what I wanted.   "Ask the 100-year-old research guy.  He might still be in his office."  "Ask my grandma."  "What's a typewriter?"  Etc.  By the end of the day, however, I heard from a security officer who works multiple sites that there was an unused typewriter at the school right next door.  I headed over there right after work, identified myself and what I wanted, and was shown the typewriter.  It was a big and beautiful old thing.  Electric, thank goodness!  We plugged it in for a test run.  Nothing.  Dang!!!  I punched a few keys and was about ready to turn away, very saddened, when it came to life.  It was like the electricity had forgotten how to flow through the cord.  It was mine, all mine (although they wrote down my name and site for "inventory" purposes and I was told that it was on "long-term loan" (meaning that if I was ever finished with it, send it back to sit all alone on the counter.  Typewriter purgatory.)  Sometimes the bureaucracy of the school district really cracks me up. 

On the next work day, I took some minions (ahem, Library TA's (teacher assistant's) to my truck to help me haul in a bunch of loot.  The typewriter inspired awe.  They couldn't wait to try it out.  At first, I was selfish and stingy about letting students type away on it, but after ascertaining that I could get replacement ink cartridges online, I let them play. 

The students' reaction to the typewriter has been amazing.  They are obsessed.  They think it is the most awesome thing ever.  They want to write their life stories on it.  (Seriously, two students have asked me if they could.  I explained how computers save and correct our work and typewriters are pretty much one-shot deals, but the romantic idea of getting their thoughts down via a TYPEWRITER has blinded them to logic.)

One TA, upon using it for the first time, was dismayed to realize that "all his work was for nothing" as he hadn't pressed the "return" key enough times to get the paper to where the keys were.  He had been typing on the roller bar. 

I will end my extremely long rant with an excerpt from a letter written by one of my TA's to her friend.  All names have been changed to protect the innocent.

(for those of you who aren't used to middle school speak, here's a translation:  annie--what's up?  I wrote this to you on a typewriter and it's so cool!  It's at the library.  She let me use it so I'm writing to you on it.  My bad, I made a mistake.  Sorry.  There's no backspace so I can't erase the mistakes but this is so cool!  Sorry, another mistake.  I don't know how to use a typewriter but you should swing by on your rope to come see it.)

(Just to set your minds at ease, there is a backspace/delete key.  It types white over the letters, but you have to delete them in the same order you typed them.)

So now I know.  Got bored kids?  Pull out the antiquities and let them roll.  Anyone know where I can get some quills? Thanks for listening.