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Friday, August 28, 2009

Back to Blue

Dad always enjoys going to Red Hot & Blue when he's here, and, of course, we love going anytime! While we were waiting for our yummy food, we busted out the camera and had some fun...

Dad with a crown of guitars...

We were hoping to get a good picture of both of us, but while the first one was decent of me and funny of Jason...

...the second was reversed...

Then Jason got hold of the camera.

It was funny at first...

Then I wanted him to stop taking my picture...

I've probably said it before, but it's worth saying again. If you're a Southerner who's been transplanted to the Southwest (and, yes, Texas is the Southwest, not the South), and you're missing sweet tea, pork bbq and catfish, this is your place. Yum!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Book of Unholy Mischief

The Book of Unholy Mischief by Elle Newmark

I am Luciano, and this book is my story.

I grew up on the streets of Venice around the turn of the century--the 16th century, that is...1498, to be exact. It was an exciting time for many, but for me, daily life was simply a matter of survival. Of stealing whatever food I could get, sleeping wherever I could find a safe place and being very careful about my so-called friends.

Then one day I stole a pomegranate...and got caught. By a chef. Not just any chef, the chef to the doge, one of the most powerful men in Venice.

But instead of turning me in to the corrupt local police, the Cappe Nere, he took me back to the doge's palace and made me his apprentice. He not only taught me the secrets of cooking, but he also began to teach me the secrets of life. Big secrets. Secrets that involved the doge, the Cappe Nere and even the Catholic church.

Why me? Why was I the one chosen to learn these secrets that others had died to protect? And with love, fortune and honor in the balance, could I even trust myself?

The Book of Unholy Mischief is quite the adventure.

Luciano is a young adult protagonist who is sympathetic because he has had a tough life and because he is not perfect. I love that we see him make mistakes, even though I found myself saying "No!" to several of his decisions. Elle Newmark does a great job of capturing the way a teenage street kid thinks and acts--even when that is irrational.

Newmark also includes amazingly vivid accounts of seemingly mundane household activities--cleaning, eating and cooking. The detail of the meals the chef prepares for the doge's visitors literally made my mouth water, and she takes a fascinating look at the alchemy and magic of preparing and appreciating a meal. And any book set in Venice will have its fair share of scenic descriptions.

There are other themes, of course--father-son relationships, jealousy and the protection of information and knowledge from those who wish to destroy it (a theme dear to this librarian's heart). But The Book of Unholy Mischief is mostly just a fantastic book with beautiful language, lively characters and a worthwhile story.

Read it. You'll love it.

Favorite quotes...

The treacherous soft place inside me opened and deepened and would not close up. It worried me. If I wasn't careful, if I let myself feel too much, I'd begin to feel the ache that was always lurking.

In those days I suffered from an inflated opinion of my own opinions.

Food has power, Luciano. Each dish works its own magic, a kind of alchemy that changes our bodies and our minds.

Venice is an uncommonly painful place to be poor. To be poor in Venice means deprivation amid staggering wealth; it means scavenging garbage heaps in a city bursting with delicacies imported from all parts of the world; it means shivering in the shadow of marble palaces that are breathtaking in their opulence.

I felt it wasn't so much a lie as a premature truth.

Much of life is waiting. It helps if you can do it with grace.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Musical Farming

I was trying to finish the ironing last night (shows you how behind I am--that stuff is usually done on Saturday), and I asked Jason to give me a background soundtrack to help me push through the sleepiness and finish. He was on the computer just a few feet away pursuing his latest passion--Facebook farming. (Cracks me up...his avatar has little overalls and everything.)

Anyway, he wisely chose a mix of James Taylor and John Denver--not too slow, not so peppy I'd get hyped up at 11 p.m. Perfect for singing along.

So I'm ironing away, belting out I've seen fire, and I've seen rain, and I hear...


Perfectly timed.

I've seen sunny days that I thought would never end.


On it continued. The sheep was quite the musician, hitting the perfect background spots not only on Fire and Rain, but also on You've Got a Friend and Follow Me.

The rooster kind of generally squawked in the background and seemed to do better at the end when the crowds were applauding. I was laughing so hard it was tough to iron!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Game and a Ride

Part two of...three? maybe? about Dad's visit.

We spent one afternoon just hanging out and playing games. I can't believe I actually beat the man who taught me to play chess...

No worries. He went on to soundly defeat me at Scrabble.

After that, we headed out on the bike. I wear my sunglasses at night...

I love riding with Dad! Been doing that so long that I don't even remember not riding with him. I'm so thankful he made it out to see us!

Letter to My 11th Grade English Teacher

Dear Mrs. A,

You taught me many, many wonderful things in your class. All those fun, fantastic SAT-prep words, which came in handy again when studying for the GRE; the connection of mythology, art and literature; the beauty of Kate Chopin and the absolute joy of learning and thinking.

Interestingly enough, you also introduced me to one of my all-time favorite Dr. Seuss books--Oh, the Places You'll Go. You gave that to me when I graduated, and I now give it to every graduating senior that I know (and I still re-read it when I'm in The Waiting Place).

And now, years later, you've brought another absolutely delightful work to my attention--Half Magic by Edward Eager. Supposedly for children, but really for children of any age. How did I miss this when I was growing up? You recommended this several years ago, and I finally--finally!--picked up a copy and promptly fell in love.

Jane, Mark, Katherine and Martha are hilarious and wonderful, and I was in stitches over their adventures with the ancient coin that looks like a nickel and only grants half wishes. Eager's subtle commentary (frowning upon dish-dryers and overly formal manners) reminded me of Lemony Snicket, another favorite, and I cannot wait to read the rest of Eager's magic series.

Thank you for continuing to teach me--even though I've been out of your classroom for 11 years now.

Sincerely yours,

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Half-Price Weekends

My dad was in town last weekend, and we headed out to our local Half-Price Books. Going to HPB is often a hit-or-miss with me. I either find tons of stuff or nothing at all.

Last week, I racked up.
  • A biography of Kate Chopin, one of my favorite authors
  • A collection of essays by Isak Dinesen, another favorite
  • A Norton reader of expository prose
  • A lovely copy of T.S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats
  • Bergdorf Blondes by Plum Sykes. Don't judge. I got four quality books to go with one fluffy one. :)
  • A book of music from Sixpence None the Richer that I've been having fun tooling around on the piano
Grand total: $6

Then last night, we headed to the GIANT HPB in Dallas, where we've been meaning to go for awhile. It's like a Wal-Mart of cheap books (except in a good way since I generally detest Wal-Mart).

So hard to choose, but I settled on a few.
  • Wifey by Judy Blume--I've always wanted to read this one.
  • Saving Fish From Drowning by Amy Tan. Love Amy Tan, and I've already read all her stuff. Just collecting it now.
  • The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory. Heard so many good things about this one, and I wanted to read it before seeing the movie.
Grand total: $3

Meanwhile, I also found a rare Doris Day book that I almost brought home, but it would have brought my grand total to $103, so I thought I'd leave it for now and just let you all know about it.

My birthday is in December. ;)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Take me out to the Cats game...

I think I've mentioned here before that I'm a seasonal sports fan. Even though fellow football fans are counting down the days until the Tide starts rolling, pro teams are already playing games and preseason talk abounds, I'm still in baseball mode. It's August. When it's Labor Day, I'll abandon baseball and start thinking football.

Being at a baseball game is as relaxing as doing yoga. You can stretch out your legs, lean back in your chair, sip on a coke and just watch some guys hit and throw the ball. I care just enough about the game to not go to sleep, but I usually come pretty close. In the summer, there is nowhere else I'd rather be than the ballfield.

So it's amazing to me that Jason and I haven't been to a game since we've lived here. No wonder I'm so stressed out! ;) That all changed when my dad came to town last week, and we had the chance to go see a Fort Worth Cats game. Well, Dad and I did. Poor Jason was stuck at home working on a paper. Don't worry--he has other methods of relaxation and spent some time vegging out and watching Stargate after he finished the paper.

Here are the pics...

View of downtown from LaGrave Field...

View of the field itself...

View of us during the game...

I never get tired of taking pictures of fireworks...(the Cats do fireworks at Friday night games)

It's always interesting to see how the camera translates what you see with your eyes...

You can't quite tell from these pictures, but they really were spectacular...

It was a great night. Watching a baseball game with the guy who taught me to love baseball. He grew up in Chicago and went to many a Cubs game as a kid. In fact, Dad said that he would often stay and help clean up after games, and they would give him a free ticket to the next one.

Good times. I have a feeling we'll be heading back to see the Cats soon--if not this season, then next.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Bouquets of Sharpened Pencils!

I read an entry (or two) in the encyclopedia every day. Long story for a different post, but I read today about pens and pencils.

It totally made me want to buy school supplies--especially since you can just feel that starting-school breeze in the air in the mornings.

It was also nice to know that the "lead" in my knee (from when I stabbed a pencil there in 3rd grade) is actually not lead but is rather a mix of graphite and clay.

Bouquets of sharpened pencils!

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Devil Wears Prada

The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger

Andrea Sachs has a job a million girls would die for...or so she's told many, many times every day. Problem is: she'd rather die than spend another minute working as Runway magazine editor Miranda Priestly's junior assistant.

So why does she suffer through the coffee runs, unceasing demands, late-night phone calls and verbal and emotional abuse? Because she's virtually been guaranteed a ticket to any job in the publishing world if she can stick it out with Miranda for a year, and her dream is to be a writer.

The question is can Andy make it through her year without losing her friends, her boyfriend, her sanity and, most importantly, herself?

I know I'm a bit belated on this one, and I'm also breaking one of my bookish rules--to always read the book before seeing the movie. Truthfully, I wasn't super-excited about either the book or the movie, so I stuck one on the TBR pile and the other on the queue and just let whichever come first, come first.

No big spoilers, but the main difference to me was that the movie was the story of Miranda and Andrea (cast brilliantly with Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway), but the book was the story of Andy--what she learns, how she changes through her year. Miranda doesn't start coming across as too horrible until about halfway through the book, when her character progressively grows more grotesque. And neither we nor Andy can quite reconcile the dichotomy of admiring Miranda for her accomplishments and hating her for how she treats others.

The book was...cute. Part fun; part fluff. I was bothered by the level of snarkiness, the waste of food and money and the great value people seem to place on magazines like Runway, which, if rumors are true, is based on Weisberger's time at Vogue with Anna Wintour. So the bothersome bits are bothersome to me in real life, too.

Mostly, though, I was bothered by Andy. I don't deny that her job was difficult, but it got tough to feel sorry for her when she copped such an attitude, made it clear to her co-workers that she resented having to do what she was hired to do and wasted time talking on her phone and smoking cigarettes when she was supposed to be carrying out specific job-related tasks.
Still a fun, fairly light summer read...even though I probably should have read it five summers ago. ;P

Favorite quotes...

So this was what four years of diagramming and deconstructing books, plays, short stories and poems were for: a chance to comfort a small, white, batlike bulldog while trying not to demolish someone else's really, really expensive car. Sweet life.

It was hard to fit into words the sense of urgency each of these had taken on at the time, how when I was at work it seemed that my job was supremely relevant, even important.

The starvation so endemic at Runway was not, in fact, self-induced; it was merely the physiological response of bodies that were so consistently terrified and all-around anxiety-ridden that they were never actually hungry. I vowed to look into this a little more and perhaps explore the possibility that Miranda was smarter than all of this and had deliberately created a persona so offensive on every level that she literally scared people skinny.

All things non-Miranda somehow ceased to be relevant the moment I arrived at work.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Political Correctness and Library Connections

And this decision wins the award for the worst this week. Why publish a book about a controversial picture and then fail to include that picture in the book? Politically correct, but absolutely ridiculous.

Moving on to matters less ridiculous...

Has anyone seen and/or contributed to the library day in the life wiki? Looks like a good way to make connections! Haven't done a post myself, though. Perhaps soon...

Also, check out what an Alabama library intern does with his time...

And two more thoughts on the public domain/ebooks issue...

On the review front, hoping to finish The Devil Wears Prada soon.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Shipwreck of a Nation

The Shipwreck of a Nation by H. Peter Nennhaus

In this memoir, Peter Nennhaus combines historical details, glimpses of memories and persuasive logic to tell the story of World War II from his perspective--both from when he was between the ages of 12 and 16 during the war and now as an American citizen looking back on those days.

He explains how World War I left Germany impoverished, debilitated and ripe for a leader such as Adolf Hitler and why the German people followed his leadership even after they began to question his policies.

Judging from this book, Nennhaus is not anti-Semitic and continually stresses how horrified the German people were when they learned of the Holocaust after the war--and how horrified he remains today. He compares Germans' view of what was happening to the Jews to the way many Americans reacted when Japanese citizens were placed in internment camps during the war--claiming both groups thought it was a matter of homeland security. He never defends Hitler's actions and atrocities but does take great pains to separate the German people and even the German army itself (in which Nennhaus briefly served) from Hitler and his SS.

He sums up the psychology of this war as: the German view being an angel fighting a dragon (Russia) with two small dogs (U.S. and Great Britain) nipping at its heels; whereas, the Allied view was more of a dragon (Germany) fighting angels on two sides. He also remembers that German citizens seemed to be confused about why the Allies considered Hitler a greater threat than Stalin, and he painstakingly outlines the Russian leader's own atrocities.

Nennhaus goes on to raise important questions concerning the justification of wars, the concept of a just or righteous war and the idea of a "holy fatherland." These questions are good reminders for today when so many seem to think that God is on America's side no matter what this country does. Nennhaus points out the incredible cruelty that both sides displayed during World War Two and also points out that both sides thought God was working in their favor in the struggle.

It is difficult to argue with his logic. He systematically builds his argument, citing source after source, and his writing is thoughtful, careful and precise. He is also quite academic. It might be considered an advanced read, but it is a thought-provoking one and is well worth the time and effort.

Favorite quotes

We are left with a lesson painfully learned by Jews and Germans alike, which warns future nations of never growing and triumphing at a speed and magnificence great enough to create dismay and panic among their neighbors, a panic that might spiral them into a supposedly god-inspired crusade against a satanic enemy.

Hitler...led them [the Germans] to successes and triumphs and rapid recovery of economic vitality, of social peace, and of national self esteem. For years, the accomplishments of his regime were so striking, and, after a decade and a half of anguish and affliction, almost resembled redemption, that it was not difficult for ordinary folks to overlook the disagreeable aspects of the new administration.

In this imperfect world of unabashed nationalism, the road of modern history has often been paved with acts of righteous fervor based on one-sided views.

But at a deeper level [than the war against Russia], it was viewed more like a chivalrous contest than a mortal war, and if Britain had changed her mind and had agreed to make peace and engage in friendship, the German cheers would have been heart-felt and resounding.

In fact, as the war progressed and grew steadily more violent, anti-Semitism was displaced by much more pressing concerns, and it therefore faded...As repeated itself a few months later in the United States with regard to the treatment of the Japanese-Americans, the weightiest reason was the smoke-screen effect of the erupting passions of the war. The subdued minority's suffering and fate were crowded out of view by the violence and fears of war and blurred away from the focus of public attention. People were struggling with much more immediate and menacing problems.

Fortunately for us, I thought, the twin peaks had always been in harmony with one another. God and Country, in a mysterious way they somehow belonged together, much the way I looked at my parents: They were two, but really one.

You want to be brave like your brothers of whom you are so proud, but you can't let these rogues catch you with their patriotic phrases, and run you into battle and get you killed. Yes, Germany needs you, but not now. It's the wrong Germany.
(from Peter's father)

Is there a limit to the amount of violence one can inflict in wars? What answer would you get, were you to ask your clergyman, what the fate of human--or divine--morality is in wars?...With all the other images of unspeakable devastation and mass killing in the two world wars...If any of them were morally defensible, where then, in the realm of warfare, is the border between rightfulness and genocide? What is the distinction between martial virtue and mass murder?

The Jews are still around, and so is the German nation, and they have both retained much of their vitality...the parallel pathogenesis of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust...In his [Hitler's] judgment--not unlike Franklin Roosevelt's reaction toward the Germans--their elimination from the face of the earth was so urgently needed and would provide such a relief to all of mankind that it had to be executed even without public approval. Were we, therefore, to believe that the hatred against the Jews was similar to that against the Germans--i.e. representing intense rivalry and fears of a perceived predator--and that, more or less, one pathogenesis was a duplicate of the other, it can serve as a warning that this is, in fact, a legitimate disease process, one which may repeat itself elsewhere in the world and do so, not exempting highly civilized nations.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Bichon and the Pit Bull

It was a long, long Sunday...and here is the long story about it.

It all started when Fred and I went on our normal morning walk on Sunday. We heard a puppy whine, looked up and saw her stick her head over the railing of the apartment balcony directly across and up from ours. They said hello, we went inside, and I headed out to run.

When I came back from my run, the puppy was downstairs to greet me. I figured she somehow slipped out, so I picked her up and took her back up to the apartment. Knocked. No answer. Put the puppy down, and she promptly grabbed my earbuds. Got those free. Knocked again. No answer. Puppy is now tugging at my shoelace. Knocked a third time. Still no answer. So I scooped her up and headed back to our house, where I woke up Jason (poor guy--he had no idea what was in store) and told him the situation. She and Fred are chasing each other around the apartment while we're discussing things, and he said "You've got to try to take her back again."

So I went back upstairs, tried again, and finally a woman opened the door.

I didn't get the whole story at the time, but it turned out she had found the puppy (perhaps just the day before) at a store across town and brought it home. She wasn't going to be able to keep it, so back outside the puppy went. Not that that was an easy decision for her, but there are a lot of variables to her story that I'd rather not post on an open blog.

Anyway, I ended up bringing "Neptune" home with me along with a crate and some food, and I was thinking at this point that we would either be able to keep her or at least could take her to the Humane Society for our neighbor.

So I brought her down to our apartment, but this is when we started noticing that she was becoming more aggressive with Fred--moving from playful puppy bites to full-out chomps. Biting his ears and his tail while he just ran and cried. (He's a lover, not a fighter.) We still thought it was kind of a puppy thing until she came up behind him, knocked him in the bum with her head, then, while he was down, bit him hard on his back leg. He screamed in pain, and from that point, Jason or I basically had to hold one or the other, so she wouldn't bite him. (Here's an illustration.)

I think she would have been fine with some training because she was OK with us, but she became so aggressive with him (and he didn't fight back) that I really didn't think he would make it OK through the training stage. We were going to see if some friends could keep her while we went to church since she had a crate, but it turned out that her crate had a crack in the top that allowed her to pop the door right off. (She escaped twice with us.) So we headed to the Humane Society. (This is her asleep in the floor of the car. I think she liked it there because it was cool.)

There we discovered that she was a brindle pitbull (we weren't sure what kind she was). They apparently only have four spots for pitbull adoption. The rest are kept in holding to wait until one of those spots becomes available. But the pitbulls are only kept in holding for 72 hours before they are euthanized. And there were already 20 ahead of her. So, basically, if we dropped her off, she would be put down in three days. Couldn't do it.

You know, I've never been a big believer in the idea that some breeds are, by nature, meaner than others. But I will say that she was definitely more aggressive than any other puppy I've ever had. Again, I think she would have been just fine with some training, though. It makes me so sad that this breed is singled out and demonized by some, but then also exploited by others who have hit on this breed as the one to use for dogfighting. (Here she is finally asleep at one point.)

Anyway, we headed home. Tried again to see if she and Fred would play...same results. By now, he is terrified of her. (He spent a lot of the day with this look in his eyes...hunched up against the wall or one of us. Poor little guy!)

While we juggled puppies, we posted Facebook and Twitter updates and started calling around. The Humane Society said they thought there was a pitbull rescue in Dallas, but they weren't taking any new puppies. Same story with every. single. no-kill shelter we called. And we called every one we could find in the Metroplex. Also every humane society, vet, petsmart option we could think of--no luck. Either they weren't taking any animals at all, they had the same deal with pitbulls, or they were closed.

By then, it was getting close to the time the original shelter would close, and we didn't want to take her back there, but we just didn't see any way we could keep her through the night either. We really didn't think Fred would make it through the night with her! It broke my heart, but it seemed like the only option was to take her back to our neighbor who had given her up that morning. So we did, and we told her the situation with Fred, the shelter and everything.

We also told her about Petfinder and the places we had checked that weren't open, but she didn't think she could even keep her for the night. Because of her situation, we didn't push it. She had not decided for sure when we left, but it seemed she was just going to take her back where she found her, which, I can't believe I'm saying this, seemed like the best available option considering the others.

We spent a sad night hoping and praying the puppy was OK and trying to make peace with our decision. Here's the happy ending. We talked with our neighbor the next day, and it turns out she was, in fact, able to find a good home for Neptune. Hooray!

I felt so incredibly helpless, and I was so overwhelmed not just by her situation but also by that of the other puppies. It's one thing when you read or hear the statistics and quite another when an animal crosses your path. You become more invested.

Meanwhile, I know some of you are probably appalled that we gave her back, and others are thinking "it's just a dog!" To the first group, I would say that we prayed about it, we discussed every possible option that we could think of, and we just didn't see any better way to give her a chance at life (especially working under time constraints and with limited financial resources).

To the others, I would say that I don't see her (or Fred) as just a dog. (Or any animal as "just" an animal, but we're talking dogs here.) No, dogs weren't created in God's image as we were, but I believe they are still creatures of God. As many have said, you can tell a lot about a society by how its animals are treated.

I could totally get on my soapbox about that, but suffice it to say I think animals and animal issues are important. If you do, too, here are a few links to help. I know I can't help every one, but I'll keep trying to help as many as I can...starting with the first link.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Two Views on Texas Librarians' Tattoos

And to answer the question I know you'll all, I was not featured in the calendar. ;)

High Heel Exchange

Apparently I just need to wait patiently for blog-spiration because it hit soon after writing yesterday's post.
I was walking to the car in my typically high, high heels when a random stranger lady behind me says...

"I don't know how you do it. I could never walk in those."

Me, laughing: "It just takes practice."

Strange lady: "No, seriously. You shouldn't walk in those. You'll ruin your hips when you get older."

Me...not laughing so much now: "Well, I like the added height."

Strange lady: "I'm tall, so I guess I don't have to worry about that."


Lecture me about my shoes, then rub in the fact that you're tall.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

I got nothing...

I've been a bit inspiration-less lately. Summer is ticking along with Jason in class and me working. Life is...fine. Comme ci, comme ca. I had a whole analytical post thought out and planned, but...nah. The self-analysis is just not working for me right now.

But I was tired of looking at the previous post, so here you go.

A selection of my favorite Lemony Snicket quotes that never fails to make me smile...and, sometimes, even chuckle.

Just because something is traditional is no reason to do it, of course. Piracy, for example, is a tradition that has carried on for hundreds of years, but that doesn't mean we should all attack ships and steal their gold.

Bad circumstances have a way of ruining things that would otherwise be pleasant.

A good thing to do when one is sitting, eating and resting is to have a conversation.

A good library will never be too neat, or too dusty, because somebody will always be in it, taking books off the shelves and staying up late reading them.

Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them.

One of the remarkable things about love is that, despite very irritating people writing poems and songs about how pleasant it is, it really is quite pleasant.

Grief, a type of sadness that most often occurs when you have lost someone you love, is a sneaky thing, because it can disappear for a long time, and then pop back up when you least expect it.

As I'm sure you know, the key to good eavesdropping is not getting caught.

One cannot spend forever sitting and solving the mysteries of one's history.

Waiting is one of life's hardships.

Read from the beginning...