Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford

Book 45

This book is the reason I pick up so many of the modern book club favorites.  Because every once in awhile, one is so good that it restores my faith.

1986.  Chinese American man aged 56ish loses his wife to cancer.  In his melancholic haze, he reads that an old boarded up hotel has been sold, and the new owner has discovered a bunch of WWII era stuff that presumably belonged to "evacuated" Japanese families.

Henry recalls his friendship with a Japanese American girl and her family in 1942.  He obtains permission to search the stuff.  Drama ensues.

The thing I like best in this book is that even in Henry's 12-year old perspective, he finds sympathetic adults that appreciate him, help him and keep him safe - both from baddies and from the harsh old world judgement of his father.  The thing I like least (SPOILERS) is the old "daddy kept the letters from getting through" gambit.  Seriously, it was so obvious that I didn't even think of it.  I seriously thought there was going to be a reasonable explanation.

I also like that despite the title of the book, there is a surprising lack of bitterness displayed by most of the characters.  There are a couple generations of people here that have a few reasons to hate the world, but almost no one takes that route.

Score one for the bestseller list.  This time.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Blankets 50 - 52

I finished these between Wednesday and Sunday:

The above pink fleece with Red Heart Soft yarn in Plummy, left over from a previous project.

Above has two rows of Red Heart yarn in Light Coral and two rows of white.

And three rows of Red Heart yarn in Cherry Red.  I almost didn't have the nerve to use red, but I like the way it turned out.  My mother would say that dog looks just like Rin Tin Tin.

Monday, September 26, 2011

New Favorite Dog Toy

Gibbs likes these:

They are called Hide & Seek toys.  His current favorite is actually from Martha Stewart, because it has some kind of crinkly plastic in it that makes a lot of noise.  Of course, then he loses the little stuffed toys.

As it happens, Drs. Foster and Smith sell refills of the stuffed toys.  But they cost $8.00 and I didn't have enough other stuff to justify an order when I was looking.  But today, I spontaneously decided that Gibbs needs a Big Boy Collar, so I went in to PetsMart.  They didn't have the refills, but they did have some little stuffed toys from Kong:

Actually, the one I bought is a brighter green.  It is the right size to stuff in the Hide & Seek toys and was on sale.  I think three of them cost me $10.  It is "low stuffing" and has a squeaker inside.  It even came with an extra squeaker, which I don't think I will be using.  Although it did occur to me for five seconds that I should try to talk my mother into making some toys for him.  The squeakers would work for that purpose.

Anyway, Gibbs loved it.  He took it out of the Hide & Seek toy and ran of squeaking it.  And squeaking.  And squeaking.  He finally dropped it and I went over to "reload", but the "fur" is all wet.

I wouldn't want it to get mildewy.  And I'm glad I got three.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

My Favorite Person Today

Because The Bride wants to hear more about my mother and less about my blankets, I will tell you that I brought her home from the hospital - for the third time - last Tuesday.  I don't think she will mind my telling you that she needed surgery to remove a large mass on her ovary and while they were in there, they just took the rest of her reproductive system.  Then she developed an infection, then she had an allergic reaction to the anti-biotics.  She is nauseous and in pain most of the time, but she doesn't have cancer, which is, I think the important thing.

So. Tuesday night.  I will spare you the debacle, but the punchline is that it took two pharmacies and over two hours of my time to get the drugs that she needed.  And no one seemed particularly interested in the fact that I'd been waiting all freaking night for this stuff.  I was sorta hating the world right then.

So today, I walked into the Noodles & Company in Glenview.  I am a serious regular.  I have regular orders and a regular table.  I generally come in by myself, on the early side of the rush, order some pasta and read my book.

Today, I decided to bring home stuff for my mother.  I asked for a bowl of pasta for myself, and some other stuff to bring home.  This is not the first time in the last month that I have done this, but the young lady at the register was a bit thrown.  She called over a more senior staffer, who also had trouble making it happen.  I realized I was making things difficult and was ready to tell them to just place it in two separate orders.  It didn't make much difference.  Then Stacy saw me.

She punched my order in, in about five seconds, while asking how I am because she hasn't seen me in awhile.  I told her that my mother was still laid up, which was why I was placing a complicated order.  She didn't ask for details, just whether Mom was going to be ok, which she is.

She said that she would bring my pasta out right away, and make the carryout order when I was ready to go.  Then she comped my bowl of pasta.  "Don't even (argue),"  she said.  "It wasn't a problem order and you shouldn't have had to wait."

Can I tell you?  One friendly acquaintance with whom I do business noticed that I was having a crappy time and made my day.  So:

Dear Noodles & Company:  Glenview.  Stacy.  Rocks.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Press for Project Linus

I wasn't able to make the Project Linus Starbucks night this month, but I popped in to drop off blankets and pick up some prepared fleece.  All were abuzz about how Harry Porterfield of CBS News came to visit with his news crew.  Here is the video of the story that ran tonight in his People You Should Know segment:

Thursday, September 22, 2011

That Thing in Georgia

I am not all that familiar with the Troy Davis case.  I know that he was executed and there was a great deal of controversy, as many people doubted that he was guilty of the crime.  I had been reading headlines on this case for only a few days.  I couldn't even bring myself to read all the details, and I felt sick when I read that the execution was imminent.

I have no idea whether Troy Davis killed a police officer.  No idea.  But the older I get, the less I approve of capital punishment.

When I was in high school, and all right-wing about it, my civics teacher told our class that between 1900 and 1990, 300 people were executed in the U.S. and later found to be not guilty of the crimes for which they died.

Three hundred.  That sunk in.  And I talked about it for while.  I remember some adult in my life - I don't think it was one of my parents - heard the stat and said, "You have to believe that most of those 300 were early in the century before the development of modern forensics."

Maybe.  I eventually let it drift to the back of my mind where I store things that I don't really want to think about anyway.

Then something was found to be rotten in the State of Illinois.  Stop laughing.  A journalism professor at Northwestern University names David Protess led his students in investigating a whole slew of controversial convictions and the work ended up freeing several prisoners that were wrongly convicted - including some on death row.  He has now started a non-profit to continue the work.

The State of Illinois owned the fact that something was wrong.  The governor put a moratorium on executions.  Later, the assembly abolished the death penalty altogether.  It doesn't really fix the problems on the front line of criminal justice, but with this action, Illinois definitively put a stop to the greatest injustice of all.

I gotta tellya.  There is not a whole lot for which to be thankful in my state government.  But last night, I was feeling it.  Not proud.  But..satisfied.  That my state got onto the right side of this issue.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Too Tired.

And so is my dog.  My observation is that he is like a greyhound - either going 80mph or sacked out like a total slug.  But this amused me:

<a href=';rel=MSN&amp;cpkey=5ba2ab14-4ec4-4b90-ad31-ac97481b8272%7cDog%7cMSN%7c%7c' target='_new' title='Cute Dog Plays With Baby' >Video: Cute Dog Plays With Baby</a>

Monday, September 19, 2011

Pet Adoption Photos

CBS Sunday Morning ran a great little story about a photographer in Dallas that started taking glamour shots of dogs awaiting adoption with a local rescue:

Now, granted, dachshunds are probably an easier gig that pitbulls or rottweilers.  But the idea that "marketing" is a big part of the battle..rings very true to me.  I remember the first time I read that if you are trying to adopt out a black dog, you should put a brightly colored bandana on him or her.  Of course.  Why didn't anyone think of that before?

Marketing.  That's what we need to do better.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Where Gibbs Spent the Football Game

One of his incisions was infected, so he has had to wear the cone a bit longer.  And go back to the doctor every day for bandage changes.  Hopefully, they all come out tomorrow.  Because:

After the game, Gibbs went into his crate with a Kong and I went to the hospital to see my mother.  When I came home, he had torn up the bandages.  Oddly, the wound was still covered, but obviously the cone wasn't doing its job.  As I took him to the backyard to do his business, he dragged the cone into the mud.

The cone came off.  I changed his bandages myself - have to remember to restock - and it didn't look too bad.  I really, really hope we are done with this now.

This dog needs to go back to camp.

True Compass: A Memoir, by Edward M. Kennedy

Book 44

I snapped up Senator Kennedy's memoir just as soon as I found it in the clearance section of Half Price Books.  But I decided to listen to it on audio.  The narration was good, but it took awhile to get used to hearing a not-Boston accent telling the story in the first person.

My friend Jamie had already read it and when I asked him if it was worth it, he said that there wasn't a lot of new material, but the chapter on Chappaquiddick made it worth the time.   I love a good Kennedy book, so I was all in.

Of course, there is plenty of spin here, but Kennedy does a good job of owning that this is his perspective and he is totally biased where his family is concerned.  I particularly appreciated his recollections of his father and his perspective as the youngest of nine.

He maintains that his father had high expectations of his children, but never told them what to do.  He recalls a profound moment when Joe told him that he would still love (Ted) if he chose not to have a serious life, but wouldn't have much time for there were so many other children doing interesting things.

That would have worked on me, too.

So yeah, idolizing the brothers and following the path.  He owned that he married too young and that he and Joan were ill-suited.  That can happen to anyone.  He absolutely doesn't say a thing about any other women until after the divorce.

The Chappaquiddick story was pretty good.  His story is the same (he was driving the girl home, he hardly knew her, doesn't remember all that much and it was all his fault).  Otherwise, he lets the record stand, except to say that seriously, he wasn't sleeping with the girl.  He also talks about how he had been drinking too much since his brother Bobby's death.  The context he gave that I hadn't considered before was this:

When his brother Jack was killed, Ted was so worried about Bobby drowning in grief that Ted himself held it all in and never properly grieved.  Such that with Bobby's loss, Ted was starting over at square one.  And really, feeling very alone.  I buy that.  And I buy that the human mind will make/allow one to forget things that are traumatic.  I'm not saying I condone it, but I buy it.

He talks a lot about the presidents from Kennedy on to Obama and his relationships with them.  He had the harshest words for G.W.B., but interestingly, he has a lot to say about Carter.  I think we all knew they weren't buds, but Kennedy doesn't even say nice things about post-presidency Carter.

One last thing:  he notes that Congress used to be in session five-days-a-week, and people stayed late and talked face-to-face and sometimes included their families.  Now, it is a Tuesday-to-Thursday session where people talk on Blackberries and maybe on the phone.  He talks a lot about how members of Congress with whom he had good relationships even if their political views differed.  Now it seems like...not so much.

For me, that point made the book worth reading.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Blanket 49

This will go down in history as the Blanket I Made While my Mother Was in the Hospital (Part 1).  I finished most of the centered, with the variegated yarn, the first time she was in.  After that, it was too big, so I started bringing in scrap yarn to make scarves for the winter.

So.  Loops & Threads Impeccable yarn in Lavender and..I think it was called Lilac-something.

Friday, September 16, 2011

What If?: Stories to Spark Diversity Dialogue by Steve L. Robbins

Book 43

Steve L. Robbins writes a really powerful preface to this book.  He talks about emigrating to the U.S from Vietnam with his mother, who married a U.S. serviceman in 1970.  Because of many of his early experiences, Robbins has made promoting inclusion his life’s work.   I was totally sucked in to the story. 

However, as I continued to read, many of the other short stories failed to pack the same punch.  For example, he talks about maps and driving directions and getting lost and then says our “people maps” also might have inaccurate or incomplete information.  This connection wasn’t really working for me.
However, Robbins completes each chapter with a list of takeaways focused on the workplace.  I can appreciate that.  It is also an easy read.  

I would be interested to hear Robbins speak (I missed him at SHRM this year) and I would be open to reading more of his work.  But I can’t quite give this one a whole-hearted recommendation.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Trio Animal Foundation

I can’t watch those ASPCA commercials.  The ones about the sad little homeless dogs.  I volunteer in animal rescue, I know the horrible stories out there, I don’t feel the need to raise my awareness and I change the channel. 
Wright-Way Rescue, the place where I found Gibbs, actually offers to take people on their trips to high-kill shelters to pick out the few they can save. 

Excuse me while I cry just thinking about doing such a thing.  I specifically adopt from no-kill shelters to make sure that I only walk out with one pet.  Even at Wright-Way, I was tempted to take home –with Gibbs - a Brittany Spaniel that was just spayed after having a litter of puppies.  (She has since been adopted.)
Those Facebook pages that post the dogs on “death row” hoping for a last minute rescue?  Not a chance that I am going to look there.

Some people might think that I am part of the problem when I refuse to look.  But I maintain that I do my part in giving my time and money – not to mention adopting my pets in general.  Having said that:
I don’t remember when the Trio Animal Foundation first landed on my radar, but it  was probably through its work with the Animal Welfare League – the group that had their A/C units stolen for the copper wires.  Trio is an organization that pulls together resources to help homeless pets receive the medical care they need.  It is not a shelter itself, but sponsor animals with several groups in the Chicago area.  So I started following their Twitter feed.

They have some really sad stories to tell.
“Trio” is a dog that was used as bait in a dog-fight and lost a leg.  At the age of four weeks. 

I looked at the pictures.
More recently, “Dozer” is a dog that was shot by his person.  With a gun.  He is now safe and receiving treatment.

I looked at the pictures.
Yesterday, they posted about a dog they are sponsoring, rescued from a hoarding situation that has been in the headlines around town.

I looked at those pictures, too.
As a casual student of social media outreach, I am fascinated that Trio keeps getting me to click.  I think it is because I know that any animal Trio posts about has a fighting chance.  “Dozer” for example, is not out of the woods yet, and for awhile it looked pretty grim.  But Trio has given him the best possible chance for a happy, healthy life.

I am not yet an active sponsor, or even a donor for the Trio Animal Foundation.  But today, I feel like the least I can do for them is help spread the word.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Retail Therapy

It isn't reasonable to call it "retail therapy", because I needed shoes.

OK, that sound you hear is my mother laughing her head off.  But my summer loafers are dead, as are both pairs of ballet flats.  So I went into DSW, determined to find one or the other.

In the same aisle, I found both.  In my size, which absolutely never happens.

To replace my loafer, I found this from Naturalizer:

OK, they are really a slide, but they have the feel of a loafer.  Across the aisle from Anne Klein:

The ballet look with a bit of a wedge heel, and they feel great.  The dilemma was which to choose?  Then I heard my mother's voice in my head telling me to shut up and get both.  (Sigh.)

So as I was walking up to the front, I thought about how that only took five minutes.  Normally, I will come in because I have $10 off and time to kill.  I shop when I have a discount, so that I don't end up spending more money out of desperation when I really need something.  This time, I went in with a purpose and was done rather quickly.

Then I remembered that the other thing I would normally do is start in the Clearance section.  I did a 180 and headed over, fairly certain that I wouldn't find anything I liked better than the two pairs I had already found.

You know what I found?  My Nine West ankle boots.  I bought a pair last season and loved them.  Here was another pair, on clearance.  In my size!

Seriously, people.  I don't think I have ever, in my life, purchased three pairs of shoes for myself at the same time.  I can't say that I feel guilty, though.  And since I came home to a leaky ceiling that will become $2,000 in expenses to the plumber and I don't know how much to replace and paint the drywall with my birds over at the Refuge for two days...

I guess I can call it Retail Therapy.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Volunteer Appreciation Day and Blanket 48

Today, my chapter of Project Linus held its annual volunteer appreciation tea.  It was, of course, the first I've attended.  I started making blankets for the group in January and began attending events once or twice a month since March.

I've said before that I am not a skilled or talented crafter, but the ladies at Project Linus have all made me feel very welcome and given me tons of reassurance with my very simple stitching.

The tea itself was extremely well done.  As a volunteer, I tend to feel guilty if a group spends a bunch of money to thank me.  But today, we met at our regular Blanket Day place - a local church - and heard from the staff of hospitals, shelters, and even a courthouse program for children.  They told us stories about how they have seen Project Linus blankets make some pretty crappy days a little bit better for a lot of kids.

Then - a lady that teaches stretching exercises to arthritic patients gave the group a lesson that included care for hands, wrists and elbows.  Seriously, we should all be taking better care of our hands.

There was a themed blanket-making contest - which I didn't dare enter - with some work that was so great I rather wished they would auction it off.  There were sponsored door prizes and goodie bags and a lovely lunch.  None of it was terribly extravagant, or made me feel like the organization should be spending its money somewhere else.  I was really impressed with the creativity.  

Finally, I got a good start on a blanket, that I finished late this afternoon:

The fleece was from Penny's stash and the yarn was Loops & Threads Impeccable in Lavender.  Three rows of single crochet.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Blanket 47

Horrible cell phone picture of rainbow fleece edged in Loops & Threads Impeccable yarn in Royal:

I imagine my blanket production is going to slow because I think I am going to use all of my scrap yarn to make more scarves for our friend Janis' church.  It is, however, football season.  And I tend to stitch faster during football season.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Conehead Puppy

After dropping Gibbs off at the vet, they called me.  Sorta terrifying, actually.  But the issue was that while doing a pre-op exam, they saw that he still has baby teeth that are messing with his grown up teeth and they recommended removing them while he was under anesthesia.

How many?  Five.

Dog was neutered.  Dew claws removed from both hind legs.  And five baby teeth removed.  So this is what he looks like now:

He is hiding the bandages.

But just so you believe me, these are his front paws.  You can see the dew claws are relatively straight and point in the right direction:

This is the rear one that I took yesterday:

You can see where that might get caught on something.

So he came through fine.  He has eaten some dinner and not thrown it back up.  Now we just wait and see how long we can all stand to watch him stumble around with the cone.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Poor Puppy

I believe I mentioned when we adopted Gibbs that his doctor told us he had odd dew claws.  Specifically, one was a double - with two toenails pointed in either direction - and both were very loose.  "Out flapping in the breeze" is the way she put it.   She recommended that when we had him neutered, we should have those removed.  Apparently, when dew claws are wobbly like that, they can tear and it is very ugly when that happens.

This afternoon, ten days before scheduled surgery, he tore one.  When I picked him up from camp, the staff told me that it was bleeding.  They had wrapped it up, but...

I called the vet right then, confirmed they could see him and headed over.  Jeff, our favorite tech, took him back.  After a minute, I heard Gibbs cry.  Twice.  Three times.

A staffer  that had been back there said they had given Gibbs Novocaine, so the cry was probably scared as opposed to hurting.

Bottom line: they patched him up, but he tore it for real and we will be doing his surgeries tomorrow.

Moral of the Story:  Removing the dew claws is not always a "cosmetic" thing.  When the vet says to do it, don't fool around.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Working for Peanuts: The Project Linus Story, by Karen Loucks Rinedollar

Book 42

I bought Working for Peanuts expecting to read a story about a small, grassroots effort that blossomed into an active, nationwide charity.  What happened was that one woman had a really great idea - make 100 blankets in one year to give to a local children's hospital - and went national with it.  

Seriously, after recruiting a few friends to help her make blankets, Rinedollar started writing letters to the press until she got a call from L.A.

I have mixed feelings about this.  Project Linus was a great idea in that really prolific crafters quickly run out of family and friends that appreciate their "hobby".  Project Linus provides and endless need for them to continue.  Also,  my chapter is really well run and I very much enjoy being a part of it.  However.

For one thing the author spends an awful lot of time talking about herself (if you had to do a shot every time she mentioned her college major...).  Here is a quote about "Debbie Downers":

"People don't realize how off-putting they can be when a visionary comes to them, entrusting them with their idea."

It reminded me of something that I was taught as a child:  no one who is really "classy" would ever describe herself as such.

The best parts of this book are the stories of the other people she met that joined the cause.  In particular, I remember the lady in Long Island that Rinedollar was trying to recruit as a local coordinator.  The lady, Elizabeth, said something like: It is all well and good for midwestern ladies to get together and make blankets for children.  New Yorkers won't do it.

Yes, they did.  And Elizabeth coordinated the effort.  I wish more time was spent talking about people like her.

Loucks went halfway to illustrating several great points.  One is that running an all-volunteer organization is great if you are independently wealthy (or at least don't have to work) but most of us require a source of income.  Another is that volunteers burn out (or get sick, or life just happens).  A third is that publicity is great, but you'd better be prepared for it.  Any one of these issues, if expanded upon, would have made for a great teaching moment for other groups.

OK - no fair complaining that she didn't write the book that I wanted.

However, this is much less "The Project Linus Story" and much more one person's memoir of founding a charity.  (And while I am being cranky, it was very poorly edited.)

I was very interested to read about how Rinedollar, knowing that she couldn't give Project Linus what it needed, planned to shut it down.  So good on her for putting that together before something imploded.  Then a couple of ladies in Illinois picked up the mantle.  The national headquarters is now in Bloomington, and something tells me the their memoir would be a pretty good read.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Flanders Panel, by Arturo Perez-Reverte

Book 41

This novel, by the author of The Club Dumas, has been sitting on my shelf for a very long time.  I pulled it because I needed an anti-Charlotte Simmons.  It worked.

The premise is that a restorer of art is working on a 15th century piece called The Game of Chess when she discovers that there is a hidden inscription- painted over, she later determines, by the author itself.  What does it mean and why does he do it?

Julia, the restorer, visits a great art historian (and former lover) to help her out.  He writes up a report and "accidentally" takes a fall in the bathtub.

The game begins.

The interesting thing is - and I seem to remember such a device from The Club Dumas - that the mystery of the painting is resolved to everyone's satisfaction rather early.  There is, however, a chess playing stalker in on the action by that point.

The European art/antique world developed here made for a brilliant setting.  For a moment, it was so blase and hedonistic that I almost expected vampires on the scene.

While there were several small things that irritated me (stop smoking in front of the naked, priceless work of art!), overall this book was a whole lot of fun.

There were several small things about this story that bothered me, but overall I enjoyed every page.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Socializing the Puppy

Give me all the crap you want about paying for doggie day care.  Besides not having to worry about lunch and mid-day potty.  And besides getting him to burn a bunch of puppy energy a couple of days a week, (so that he is not jumping on my mother, still in bed on narcotics).

He is officially dog-socialized.
Last Sunday, I took him on his first trip to PetsMart.  I knew the second we got out of the car that it would be terrible.  He barked at every. single. person we saw.  I grabbed a couple of things in a couple of aisles and headed to the front to get in line.  I was terribly embarrassed – we haven’t gotten to nuisance barking in dog training yet!

And then.   There was the biggest pit bull I have ever seen.  Now, I am not afraid of pit bulls.  But this guy was large.  He could have taken my puppy's head off in one chomp.  Gibbs shut his mouth, approached politely, and introduced himself.  Wagged his little tail the whole time.
So, he is still afraid of people, but does great with other dogs.
It is a start.

Here is his official Five Months Old Portrait:

I think he is starting another growth spurt!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Changing the World on a Tuesday Night, by Tammi DeVille

Book 40

Changing the World on a Tuesday Night : Hey! What are you doing this Tuesday night? from tammi deville on Vimeo.

I think it was The Blogunteer that first pointed me to this book.  It wasn't available on Amazon the last time I looked, but had this video that introduces the book.

Tammi DeVille wrote profiles of a bunch of different people that volunteer at different organizations.  Some are once a month gigs, and some are 20 hours a week.  The point is one that many volunteers will tell you:

There are plenty of opportunities out there.  It doesn't take as much commitment as you think.  Unless you want it to.

There were two organizations that I hadn't heard of before, that struck me as awesome:

First, there was the Pan-African Association, which mentors immigrant refugees from Africa.  It seems there are lots and lots of refugees that emigrate to Chicago.   Abby, the volunteer in the profile, helps with language skills, government forms and other "everyday life" things.

Another is The Infinite Family, a group that connects kids in southern Africa with mentors via webcam.

This isn't a book one would read like a novel, but it certainly gives one an idea of how much work there is to do and how much fun it can be to help.