The Mom’s Guide to Growing Your Family Green ~ review

The Mom's Guide to Growing Your Family GreenTitle:  The Mom’s Guide to Growing Your Family Green

Author:  Terra Wellington

Paperback:  322 pages

Published: 2009

ISBN:  9780312384739

Acquired:  won in the March 2009 LibraryThing ER batch

Challenges:  ARC Reading Challenge 2010New Author Challenge 2010

Because most parents have limited time and budgets, an understandable reaction is, “I have too much on my plate already.  How can I possibly add more to my to-do list?”  Have no fear.  All the how-to’s in this book are about raising your family green in a practical way– so that it becomes part of your lifestyle.  Trust me:  It is doable.

…This book is all about creating lifestyle changes.  Some of these changes don’t add more to your plate, they just change how you do things.  Other changes ask you to care more, and donate what time and resources you have available.  This is how you create meaningful change in your home, your community, and beyond – one person making a difference in a real way.

The Mom’s Guide to Growing Your Family Green by Terra Wellington, pages xi-xii

Terra Wellington has been around the green circuit for a few years now, guesting on The Montel Williams Show and other TV shows, as well as being a syndicated collumnist, ClubMom contributor, and has her own blog, MomsandthePlanet.com.  And I grant you she knows quite a lot about green living.  However, I found this particular book not my thing.

To be honest, I can’t fathom why the LibraryThing algorithm picked it for me, other than I am a mother who read and loved The World Without Us.  Quite frankly, I’m a very naughty polluter.  I’m bad at recycling, often throwing my cereal boxes, newspapers and aluminum cans in the garbage with everything else.  I do try to keep the plastic bags, though, because they make excellent trash bags for the smaller cans in the bedrooms and bathroom.  I have the CFL squiggly-looking light bulbs because some dude on the morning show I watch said they lasted 5 years, and I’m lazy and hate climbing ladders to change light bulbs, so I ran out and got a bunch.  After changing almost every bulb over now, I can tell you this:  The whole 5 years thing is a lie.  More like one year, maybe a year and a half.  BUT they do save on the electric bill, and they last 3 times as long as the cheap bulbs I was buying, so the cost is offset, I think.

Honestly, I do think about what I buy before I buy it and what impact it might have on the environment.  I’ve taught my kids that styrofoam is evil, and never breaks down.  I never buy the six packs because I’d hate to kill some bird or fish or dolphin because I forgot to tear the plastic rings.  I don’t leave the fridge door open, oven on, water running, and I keep my thermostat at around 70 degrees.  Frankly, I’m pretty much doing as much as I am willing to do.

Most of what Wellington offers in the book is either impractical (for me), expensive (I’m not running out and buying new appliances, hiring an energy guy to go over my house for leaks!), or not possible since I’m a rentor.  A lot of what she suggests I already do.  There were a couple things though that actually irritated me:

If it’s possible, have your pet stay outdoors to reduce pet dander.

Or better yet, give your pet to someone who will love it, dander and all.  HONESTLY!  It infuriates me when I see some dog tied up outside, year round, never see a person talk to it, pet it, and often see it’s bowls empty, and I wonder WHY on God’s green earth do these people even think they need an animal?  How ’bout we reverse that.  Let the pet stay inside, and have the owner stay outside to reduce his dandruff.  BTW, it’s about 16 degrees here right now, and I don’t let my cats out on the front porch right now, even.

Another one that made my eyes roll was the “reduce your showers (if you must take them) to 10-minutes”.  Maybe I could just shower ever three days, then I can have a nice long shower.  How ’bout if I just skip them altogether?  That’ll save even MORE water!  Also in this book is things for pool heaters and stuff, but how many 10-minute showers worth of water are in all these private pools?  Why not get rid of those, everyone swim at a community pool and enjoy more community? 

Do you know that if everyone parked their cars, took public transportation instead or EVEN BETTER, walked everywhere (OMG, I know… scary!) the carbon gases would be greatly reduced, and maybe so would the rising obesity rates.  AND, you would have much more time to stop and smell the roses, so maybe the heart disease rates would drop, too?

Okay, so what did I like about this book?  Wellington is trying.  She’s offering solutions.  She believes in what she’s doing and writing, and it shows.  There’s great cheat sheets and worksheets for readers to fill out.  Most of the sections are short and readable.  I think the book would work best as a reference book on someone’s shelf who actually is into that stuff.

I give The Mom’s Guide to Growing Your Family Green by Terra Wellington 3 out of 5 stars.

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Here’s a quick and funny video (Mom and Maggie approved) about recycling.  I enjoyed this vid a lot more than the book, and actually feel inspired to get a recycling tub after watching it.

Islands Apart by Ken McAlpine

Islands Apart by Ken McAlpineTitle:  Islands Apart:  A Year on the Edge of Civilization

Author:  Ken McAlpine

Paperback:  256 pages (Advance Reader’s Edition)

Published: 2009

ISBN:  9781590305300

Acquired:  won in the May 2009 LibraryThing ER batch

Challenges:  ARC Reading Challenge, New Author Challenge, We Didn’t Start the Fire Challenge (under California)

A humorous and wise look at contemporary American life—and how time spent alone in nature can give us a fresh perspective and greater clarity about what matters most.

In this touching and often humorous book, author Ken McAlpine does what many of us long to do. Overwhelmed by the hectic pace of his life, he escapes to a beautiful, remote location where he finds the open spaces and solitude that bring him some peace of mind. McAlpine camps alone in the Channel Islands National Park off the coast of Southern California, a place where time slows down, the past reveals itself in prehistoric fossils, and where a person can become attuned to the rhythms of the natural world and find their rightful place in it

For McAlpine the Channel Islands become a modern-day Walden Pond—an enchanting, isolated location from which to reflect on nature, civilization, and what matters most. Back on the mainland, McAlpine continues his explorations by seeking out experiences that reflect who we are and what we value today. His travels include spending time at a soup kitchen in Beverly Hills; a Catholic monastery; and visiting Arlington West, a veteran-run memorial to soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Islands Apart is an engaging meditation on what we can learn about ourselves and our world when we open ourselves to the wisdom of nature and begin to look more deeply.

-Product description at Amazon.com

I have had Islands Apart by Ken McAlpine on my ARC-alanche pile since June of 2009.  It’s one of my way-overdue ER books, and the second one I’ve completed this month (three more to go, woot).  When I first read the description and clicked the button to enter my name in the fandangled LT ER algorithm, I was intrigued by the premise of the book.  McAlpine wants to get away from it all, and find a quiet place to reflect on humanity… kinda like Thoreau with Walden, but on the Channel Islands in Southern California.

For the most part, I really enjoyed this book.  The chapters on time spent between the islands and the mainland alternate, so that it has a feeling of interaction with people and then reflection on our place in this world.  I liked this book so much, that I have struggled to understand how the two diverse world are suppose to relate to each other because a lot of the time it felt like I was reading two different books that were mashed together.  What do a hustler/wannabe actor, a tree-loving priest, homeless diners, veteran protestors, and preschoolers have in common with each other, let alone with the foxes, eagles, and xantus murrelets of the Channel Islands?

We lay claim to the things we come across in our lives, as if it is possible to own them, but you can no more own an island or a stoic gull than you can possess the fleeting moments that accumulate into a lifetime.  It is good to recognize life’s gifts, but foolish to hold them too tightly.

Islands Apart by Ken McAlpine, page 201 (ARE)

I think what McAlpine was trying to do was to show that there is a deep desire in all things, in people and in nature, to know that there will be some piece of them left behind after they die.  To know that they won’t just fade into oblivion.  It is why we have children.  It’s why writer’s write, cavemen drew, why the park ranger’s work so diligently to preserve the foxes and murrelets and the ugly scrub that’s native to the islands.  It’s why the xantus murrelets continue to lay eggs in caves where rats destroy the embryo within before it’s even had a chance to firm up.  What’s more, in an effort to ensure we continue on, we do what we can to control what little bit we can, whether by planting a tree in the desert or by working long hours to invest every cent possible in a future hoped for. 

This book was a slower read, no matter how much I wanted to hurry, and I almost abandoned it at one point.  Despite absolutely loving the first 127 pages, when I hit the chapter on San Miguel Island, it was like falling into a pit of quicksand.  It’s the only part of the book that I hated.  I think it was too long, too boring, and interminable (a word I had to learn to spell to describe this chapter)  That chapter should just say, “Spent a week on San Miguel. Ian was cool. The elephant seals were horny buggers. The fur seals are mean little shits. And all the pinnipeds are louder than a Greek convention at Grant’s Farm! There’s bird poop everywhere, the ravens know how to pick locks… oh, and some dude killed himself because he thought this place was Heaven on Earth.” Next chapter!

I’m very glad I didn’t abandon it, because the next chapter, “Almost Famous”, was the best part of the whole book.  In this chapter, McAlpine explores the extent people go for the chance to be famous.  He spends long hours with James, a Captain Jack Sparrow working the tourists outside Grauman’s Chinese Theater.  I liked James, and you can tell McAlpine does, too, but I can’t help but wonder how much more he could accomplish if he would put his hard work toward something tangible.  At what point in time do you accept the reality that your dreams are just that, pipe dreams, and the real world is calling.  James wants nothing more than, and WORKS harder than anyone I’ve seen to achieve it, to be a star.  But does he have a viable and real future in it?  Sadly, I don’t think so.  I think he should grow up and get a job and find a way to contribute that way.  But… no one’s depending on him, he’s his own man, and he’s not taking public assistance, so who is he hurting?

I also relished the chapter “Lunch in Beverly Hills” where Ken spent time getting to know and gaining an understanding and appreciation for the homeless.  I have a personal interest in this issue.  You see, seven years ago, the girls and I WERE homeless.  We weren’t without a place to stay, there’s a large shelter here in town, and the people who run it are fantastic.  Thanks to them, I was able to take some time to look at my life and where I was taking my kids, and to reevaluate my priorities.  I want to go back to school to finish up my degree in Sociology so that I can get a job as a client-to-community liaison in a homeless shelter.  In this book, McAlpine says that homelessness is a complex problem, and that is very true.  Some people have chosen it as a lifestyle, others are there because shit happens, while still others are there because it’s better than where they came from.  We were in this last group, having left an abusive and volatile situation with the hope of something better.

I must admit, however, that I can very much relate to MRS. McAlpine, who told him at one point in his working on this book, “I hate you, you know.”  Ken is a white professional male, close to, if not already, middle-age, and has the means, ability, and the people in his life that affords him the ability to just take off whenever he feels like it to spend a week camping on an island or at a monastary, to just sit and think.  Kathy McAlpine makes the statement that she doesn’t have time to go off and think.  And I have to say this:  Where are the books where women just take off, leaving their children for weeks at a time with their fathers, so they can go listen to their inner voice? 

No Where.

Why?  Because we live in a society that, despite the lip-service of equality, that if Ken had been a Kendra, she would have been railed against as a bad mother who abandoned her kids to selfishly wander.  Mr. Kendra would have filed for divorce, and NOT wanted custody, so that Kendra would have had to either cart the kids around, (What a bad mother, not giving her kids a stable place to live) or leave them with someone (What a bad mother, she just dumps her kids and runs off). 

Okay, social rant is over.  In the interest of full disclosure, I hate Ken, too, and wish I could run off to an island and just sit and ponder, too. But, I still love the book, even if I am jealous. 😉

I think Islands Apart by Ken McAlpine is a book that will stick with me for a while.  The Channel Islands are a beautiful place, and I recommend you take time to check out their website.  The Parks Department has put together an extensive, multimedia site with details of what’s being done to preserve as much of the indigenous species as possible, as well as the discovery of the best preserved and most complete fossilized remains of  a pygmy mastodon.

4 out of 5 stars

Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar by Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein

Title:  Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar… Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes

Authors:  Thomas Cathcart & Daniel Klein

Paperback:  196 pages

published:  2008

ISBN:  9780143113874

An Irishman walks into a Dublin bar, orders three pints of Guinness, and drinks them down, taking a sip from one, then a sip from the next, until they’re gone.  He then orders three more.  The bartender says, “You know, they’d be less likely to go flat if you bought them one at a time.”

The man says, “Yeah, I know, but I have two brothers, one in the States, one in Australia.  When we all went our seperate ways, we promised each other that we’d all drink this way in memory of the days when we drank together.  Each of these is for one of my brothers and the third is for me.”

The bartender is touched, and says, “What a great custom!”

The Irishman becomes a regular in the bar and always orders the same way.

One day he comes in and orders two pints.  The other regulars notice, and a silence falls over the bar.  When he comes to the bar for his second round, the bartender says, “Please accept my condolences, pal.”

The Irishman says, “Oh, no, everyone’s fine.  I just joined the Mormon Church, and I had to quit drinking.”

-“Illogical Reasoning,” Plato and a Platypus Walks into a Bar… by Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein, page 29

In Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar… by Thomas Cathcart & Daniel Klein the authors use jokes to illustrate a wide variety of philosophical schools of thought.  Sometimes they do it with great intelligence and deftness, sometimes not so much.  Most of the jokes are quite funny, with an occasional belly-buster, but some do fall a little flat.

But the jokes are only a vehicle for the authors to open the door for the layman to understand different philosophical thoughts.  For the most part, they are successful in this venture, but there are a few sections which I didn’t understand any better after reading them than I did before.  Overall, however, the book seems to be meant only to introduce the reader to philosophy, leaving it to them to explore different concepts on their own. 

Two cows are standing in the pasture.  One turns to the other and says, “Although pi is usually abbreviated to five numbers, it actually goes on into infinity.”

The second cow turns to the first and says, “Moo.” -“Metaphysics,” page 20

What this book really accomplishes is make philosophy accessable to readers who have had little to no exposure to it.  After reading, I also want to look into some of the philosophers mentioned in this book.  For readability and for inspiring me to get MORE books, I give Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar… by Thomas Cathcart & Daniel Klein 4 out of 5 stars.

An eighty-year-old woman bursts into the men’s day-room at the retirement home.  She holds her clenched fist in the air and announces, “Anyone who can guess what I have in my hand can have sex with me tonight!”

An old man in the back shouts, “An elephant?”

The woman thinks for a moment and says, “Close enough!” -“Philosophy of Language,” page 141

By the way, the website is pretty cool, as well.  You can watch videos as well as take tests and read the authors’ latest news.  Check out Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar… the website.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Title:  The Glass Castle

Author:  Jeannette Walls

Hardback:  288 pages

ISBN:  9780743247535

Dad came home in the middle of the night a few months later and roused all of us from bed.

“Time to pull up stakes and leave this shit-hole behind,” he hollered.

We had fifteen minutes to gather whatever we needed and pile into the car.

…An hour passed before we finally tied Mom’s paintings on the top of the car, shoved whatever would fit into the trunk, and piled the overflow on the backseat and the car floor.  Dad steered the Blue Goose through the dark, driving slowly so as not to alert anyone in the trailer park that we were, as Dad like to put it, doing the skedaddle.  He was grumbling that he couldn’t understand why the hell it took so long to grab what we needed and haul our asses into the car.

“Dad!” I said.  “I forgot Tinkerbell!”

“Tinkerbell can make it on her own,” Dad said.  “She’s like my brave little girl.  You are brave and ready for adventure, right?”

“I guess,” I said.  I hoped whoever found Tinkerbell would love her despite her melted face.  For comfort, I tried to cradle Quixote, our gray and white cat who was missing an ear, but he growled and scratched at my face.  “Quiet, Quixote!”  I said.

“Cats don’t like to travel,” Mom explained.

Anyone who didn’t like to travel wasn’t invited on our adventure, Dad said.  He stopped the car, grabbed Quixote by the scruff of the neck and tossed him out the window.  Quixote landed with a screeching meow and a thud, Dad accelerated up the road, and I burst into tears.

“Don’t be so sentimental,” Mom said.  She told me we could always get another cat, and now Quixote was going to be  a wild cat, which was much more fun than being a house cat.  Brian, afraid Dad might toss Juju out the window as well, held the dog tight.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, pages 17-18

This incident haunted my mind throughout the whole book.  I couldn’t help think, “If they could just toss the cat out without a thought, telling me we could just get another, who’s to say they wouldn’t do that to me, as well?”  Later in the book when Jeannette takes a tumble out of the moving car, the same thought occurred to her as she watches the family disappear down the road.  “What if they decide I’m too much trouble to come back for?”  It had to be a terribly difficult uncertainty to grow up with.

Not only is there the impermanence of home and things, there are virtually no rules nor supervision, as the Rex, Jeannette’s father, spends much of his time “researching” at the local tavern and her mom, a narcissistic enabler with some sort of mood disorder fritters her time and money away escaping reality in books and painting.  Too many times to count, the kids are forced to go hungry… or worse, dig through garbage to find food… while Dad drinks and smokes the money away and Mom sneaks nibbles of Hershey bars hidden under her covers. 

On the rare occasion the mother works, it’s the kids who have to force her out of bed and onto school where she’s a teacher, then clean her classroom after school, grade her papers and make out her lesson plans in the evenings.  After spending 8 weeks away from Rex and the kids, living in a dorm, eating regularly and taking classes to keep her teaching licence up to date, she comes home to report she’s had an epiphany.  She tells her teenage daughter who has been handling the bills, working and feeding her siblings, that she’s spent her whole life taking care of everyone else and now she’s gonna live life for herself… say WHAT?!

yeah….. m’kay.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls is a shocking and heartbreaking memoir of growing up with an alcoholic father and mentally ill mother.  Over and over, I was stunned and even angered by the so-called adults complete and total lack of parenting skills.  At one point, Jeannette, who was 7 or 8 at the time, wakes up to find a strange man touching her beneath her covers, and when she tells her parents maybe they should shut and locked the doors at night so as to keep the creeps out, they tell her some crap about fresh air and not letting fear get the better of you.  In her teens, when Jeannette tells her mom that her uncle has been inappropriate with her, her mother tells her he’s just lonely and that “sexual assault is a crime of perception.”  Time and again, these two genetic donors (calling them parents is going too far, to be honest), show a complete lack of common sense and sheer laziness to step up to the plate.  I am amazed that the kids lived to adulthood, let alone to be anything close as successful as they nationally syndicated columnist and regular contributor to MSNBC.  Brian and Lori also made good despite their upbringing.

One thing I can say about reading this book is that I can say with 100% certainty that I’m not that bad as a parent.  It’s done a lot to make me feel better as a parent… at least I shut the doors at night and feed my kids and make sure they bathe regularly.  I make sure they’re fed before I feed myself and I’d damn sure have food in the fridge AND pantry before gnawing on a Hershey bar.  I feel guilty if I decide not to share my candy bar.. or Lindt truffle balls, nom nom nom…  but that’s because they’ve ate plenty and had dessert, and By GOD, this is ONE thing I kept for myself.  And I feel guilty for THAT!  I can’t imagine the utter self-centeredness, truly clinical narcissism, the mother wallowed in.  Also, I can say with certainty to my kids that they’ve never gone hungry.  They may not like what’s in the cabinets, but there IS food… it’s just not ready-made junk for them to snack on. 

I read a few reviews of The Glass Castle, and one reader dinged the book because the author conveys such neglect and abuse in a very unemotional manner.  How could anyone suffer such a life without feeling a sense of indignity and injustice?  To this I must point out that Walls is a professional journalist, and relaying information in an objective, matter-of-fact way is part of the job, so I wasn’t surprised by that at all.  Also, I think it’s a normal part of the coping skills of an abuse survivor to learn to be able to talk about it with some distance and disconnection.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls is a great story of resilience and survival.  I don’t recommend it to be read in one sitting, as it can get emotionally overwhelming, but definitely a worthwhile read.   If I could ask Walls one question, I’d want to know how she thinks her life might have turned out without public libraries and books to turn to.  At times, it seems the only escape the kids had and a part of her best memories.  I give The Glass Castle 4 out of 5 stars.

Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron with Bret Witter

Title:  Dewey:  The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World

Author:  Vicki Myron with Bret Witter

Hardback:  277 pages

ISBN:9780446407410

That’s life.  We all go through the tractor blades ever now and then.  We all get bruised, and we all get cut.  Sometimes the blades cut deep.  The lucky ones come through with a few scratches, a little blood, but even that isn’t the most important thing.  The most important thing is having someone there to scoop you up, to hold you tight and to tell you everything is all right.

For years, I thought I had done that for Dewey.  I thought that was my story to tell.  And I had done that.  When Dewey was hurt, cold, and crying, I was there.  I held him.  I made sure everything was all right.

But that’s only a sliver of the truth.  The real truth is that for all those years, on the hard days, the good days, and all the unremembered days that make up the pages of the real book of our lives, Dewey was holding me.  He’s still holding me now.

Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron with Bret Witter, page 271

*sniff I am not going to cry

Dewey Readmore Books was one of the luckiest felines in the world, but his life didn’t start out so hot.  In fact, it started out very cold, when he was dumped into the book drop box of the Spencer Public Library on the coldest night of the year.  When author and then assistant director of the library, Vicki Myron, and her co-worker Jean Hollis Clark found the eight-week-old shivering gray ball of fluff, his foot pads were frost-bitten.  It wasn’t until after giving him a warm bath, through which he purred non-stop, that they discovered he was actually orange, he had been so dirty.  After working through a bit of red tape and the cat charming the hearts of the library board, one member at a time, it was decided he would live there and become the Spencer Public Library cat.

Called Dewey after the inventor of the Dewey decimal system, used by libraries as a way to organized books effectively, it bacame official after allowing the town to vote on his name.  “Readmore” was added by the Children’s Department and “Books” gave his name an official and stately feel.  Not only was his name a reflection of his living arrangements, but turned out to be an auspicious challenge “Do we read more books?”  Spencer, Iowa answered yes, and library attendance rose dramatically.

Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World tells how this small cat, this extraordinary feline, came along just at the right time and helped provide the bridge between people, gave hope to those who were down, lent his ear to the lonely, and loved every single person, from infants to the handicapped to the elderly, and made each of them feel special.  He loved them through their hard times and, in the process, put Spencer, Iowa on the map of the world. 

I really enjoyed this book.  Funny story on it, though…  Originally, I bought a copy when it first came out.  I saw the bright-eyed kitty on the cover and was compelled to pick it up.  After reading the description and the first few pages, I was hooked and had to buy it.  Being from a midwestern small-town, and a farming community to boot, I could relate to the people and the feel of the story-telling.  The book sat on my TBR shelf for over a year.  Then last week I decided I wanted to read it.  After reading Homer’s Odyssey, I was in the mood to read another touching kitty book, but when I went to look for Dewey, he was no where to be found.  Poo!  And I so wanted to read it!  I gave up and decided to go to the next book on my short stack, but I couldn’t stop wanting to read Dewey.  So I went to my small-town library and checked out The Small-Town Library Cat.  After reading the book, I think this is all very Dewey… lol.

Besides being touching and heart-felt, Dewey is written from the heart of a librarian.  I love Myron’s description of how we picture a library:

When many people think of a library, they think of a Carnegie library.  These are the libraries of our childhood.  The quiet.  The high ceilings.  The central library desk, complete with matronly librarian (at least in our memories).  These libraries seemed designed to make children belive you could get lost in them, and nobody could ever find you, and it would be the most wonderful thing. -page 118

She also beautifully answers the fears many have that books are a dying genre, and libraries with them…

And when you walk into the library, you still notice the books:  shelf after shelf and row after row of books.  The covers may be more colorful, the art more expressive, and the type more contemporary, but in general the books look the same as they did in 1982, and 1962, and 1942.  And that’s not going to change.  Books have survived television, radio, talking pictures, circulars (early magazines), dailies (early newspapers), Punch and Judy shows, and Shakespeare’s plays.  They have survived World War II, the Hundred Years’ War, the Black Death, and the fall of the Roman Empire.  They even survived te Dark Ages, when almost no one could read and each book had to be copied by hand.  They aren’t going to be killed off by the Internet.  And neither is the library.  -pages 163-164

I could not help mentally drawing a comparison between Dewey and Homer’s Odyssey, the other cat book I read recently.  Is there a need for two cat books?  Doesn’t it get redundant?  I mean, both started out their lives being rejected and unwanted, and both found a niche in the hearts of almost everyone who met them.  So how are they different?  Well, both cats are unique individuals.  They had similarities, but where as Homer changed Gwen’s world, and those in her orbit to a lesser extent, Dewey’s life was much more public.  Gwen writes about how her life was blessed when she saw value in an eyeless kitten and decided to build her life around him, where as Vicki writes about how Dewey touched lives, gave hope and helped heal a community and beyond.  Both have very different and worth messages, and it makes me hug my own kitties and pause to think what they have done for us, as well.  Did I save them? or did they save me.

It’s not much of a spoiler to tell you that Dewey passed away.  The language of the book gives you that.  I only add that here because I know there are some people who want to know that before choosing to read a pet book.  He didn’t die a horrible, painful death or anything… honestly, Vicki’s own life stories made me run through more hankies than Dewey’s death.  What was more heart-tugging was how far-reaching the news of his passing was and what he meant to so many people from his own small-town and those far away from it. 

I give Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron 5 out of 5 stars.  I also recommend you check out Dewey’s website at http://www.deweyreadmorebooks.com/  There are videos there of the Dew himself, as well as other tid bits 🙂

Find your place.  Be happy with what you have.  Treat everyone well.  Live a good life.  It isn’t about material things; it’s about love.  And you can never anticipate love. -page 270

Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper

homers-odysseyTitle:  Homer’s Odyssey:  A Fearless Feline Tale, Or How I Learned About Love and Life with a Blind Wonder Cat

Author:  Gwen Cooper

Hardback:  289 pages

ISBN:  9780385343855

Challenges:  ARC Challenge

The last thing Gwen Cooper wanted was another cat. She already had two, not to mention a phenomenally underpaying job and a recently broken heart. Then Gwen’s veterinarian called with a story about a three-week-old eyeless kitten who’d been abandoned. It was love at first sight.

Everyone warned that Homer would always be an “underachiever,” never as playful or independent as other cats. But the kitten nobody believed in quickly grew into a three-pound dynamo, a tiny daredevil with a giant heart who eagerly made friends with every human who crossed his path. Homer scaled seven-foot bookcases with ease and leapt five feet into the air to catch flies in mid-buzz. He survived being trapped alone for days after 9/11 in an apartment near the World Trade Center, and even saved Gwen’s life when he chased off an intruder who broke into their home in the middle of the night.

But it was Homer’s unswerving loyalty, his infinite capacity for love, and his joy in the face of all obstacles that inspired Gwen daily and transformed her life. And by the time she met the man she would marry, she realized Homer had taught her the most important lesson of all:  Love isn’t something you see with your eyes.

Homer’s Odyssey is the once-in-a-lifetime story of an extraordinary cat and his human companion.  It celebrates the refusal to accept limits -on love, ability, or hope against overwhelming odds.  By turns jubilant and moving, it’s a memoir for anybody who’s ever fallen completely and helplessly in love with a pet.

-Inside dust cover of Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper

Okay… breathe…  I’m going to do my best to review this book on the its merits alone, and not gush about the author herself.  It would be easy for me to go on about how, upon hearing that my daughter, also named Gwen, loves animals and has a black cat, was really excited by the book when I got my advanced reader copy and wanted me to read it to her, emailed me for my address and not only sent her a signed copy of the finished book with a beautiful hand-written card and pictures of Homer, but also sent her a copy of the audio book.  AND that, with all that she’s got going on in her life with book-signings, fundraisers and feeling under the weather, she still takes time message us and even remembers my daughter’s cat’s name.  But this is a review of the book, not the author, so I will focus my attention on that.

Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper is a memoir of how the things that we might never choose on our own can be exactly what we need.  It is about recognizing value in someone or something and building your life around it.  It is about how, by looking at life and love through the eyes of another, we take on the traits we admire in that person.  In Gwen Cooper’s case, that person was a blind wonder cat, through whom she learned courage, how to love, and perseverance.

One thing I really like about this book is the format.  It’s set up as a journey from who and where Gwen was when she got the call from the vet about the eyeless kitten whom nobody wanted and would likely be put down if she, his last chance, didn’t adopt him, continues through jobs and moves and romances, and ends with what she has learned and insights she has gained through knowing and loving and living with Homer.  But, each chapter is also a tale in and of itself, making it a book that can be devoured straight through (honestly, it’s very hard to put down) or you can nibble on it and ponder each lesson.  Also, each chapter begins with a picture, usually of Homer, but occasionally of Scarlett or Vashti, Homer’s big sisters, and a quote from the other Homer, the Greek storyteller.

Another thing that I enjoyed with this book is Gwen’s sense of humor.  There are so many laugh-out-loud moments,  like bringing her date in and the two of them being greeted by a cat who not only discovered the tampons, but how to unwrap them, proudly carrying them in his mouth to show to his mommy.  Also, there is a quality to her writing that made me feel like we’ve been friends for years.

Like life, though, the book isn’t all sunshine and roses.  There are real dangers and some terrifying moments, like waking up to find a burglar in her apartment.  As well as the heart wrenching days after September 11th, when Gwen tried desperately to get back to her cats who were trapped in their apartment, just blocks from where the two towers had stood.

I found Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper to be moving and inspirational, at times hilarious and touching, and am thankful that there was a vet who refused to accept that an eyeless kitten was better off being put down, that Gwen Cooper was in the vet’s contacts list and opened her heart to him, and that she has shared Homer and his wisdom with all of us.  I give Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper 5 out of 5 stars.  It’s one of my favorites and I’ll be rereading it again and again 🙂

Something Beyond Greatness by Judy Rodgers and Gayatri Naraine

SBG coverTitle:  Something Beyond Greatness:  Conversations With a Man of Science and a Woman of God

Authors:  Judy Rodgers and Gayatri Naraine

Paperback:  122 pages

ISBN:  9780757307812

Pull up a chair and prepare to be inspired as the Something Beyond Greatness TLC Book Tour pulls in for a stop In the Shadow of Mt. TBR 🙂

First off, I have to say that when I first read about this book, I was expecting something different.  I had understood it to be a book of tales of heroism in the face of danger, stories of people who stood up for what’s right without thought for the consequences, stories of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ghandi and everyday people.  While it did have a few stories in it, it was more a book about the recipe for such people.

[Great acts have] three elements: (1)seeing with love, (2) acting from the heart, and (3) the mystery of destiny -right place, right time. –page 20

At first, I didn’t think this book was much.  At times it was difficult for me to retain what was being said, which may have to do with the fact it’s been hot and I had walked to the library in the heat to read it there.  But the crazy thing about it is that the info pops out and says boo! now as I’m watching the news, movies, or reading.  There’s this little voice in the back of my mind that analyzes events I encounter through what I’ve read.  AND the whole time reading it, every heroic act I’ve seen or heard or done popped up for application or proof of what I was reading.

The person who will step into greatness must see the others with love, compassion, and concern.  He or she will have a sense of “mine” towards them.  Then he or she must be able to sense or see the way through to help.  Third, this person must have the will to step out and do it.  Usually, this will is recalled by the person afterwards as more of a compulsion, “I just did what anyone else would do.”

Every human being writes a small page in history; every human being -irrespective of how big or how small- writes a small page.  That is real human history. –page 19

My first impulse was to give this book three stars, but after watching it ooze and stew and bubble, I’m thinking it’s much more effective than I first thought and I’m going to give Something Beyond Greatnessby Judy Rodgers and Gayatri Naraine 4 out of 5 stars.

Additional resources for this book are:

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And now, because I think this book is very much a worthwhile read… and, because I somehow got a second book 🙂 … We’re gonna have  a giveaway for a new copy!

This giveaway will be open until 11:59 pm, Saturday July 4th, 2009 with the winner to be announced on next week’s Sunday Salon post (July 5th).  Contest is open worldwide 😀 , as long as you’ve got an address for me to slap on the packaging, you’re welcome to enter!

  1. To enter, leave a comment here letting me know you’d like to win a copy.  This will count as your official entry.
  2. Each day this coming week I will be posting something pertaining to the book, one day will be about stories you’ve heard that inspired you, inspirational movies, acts of greatness you yourself have done or witnessed, etc.  When you comment on the daily posts, you’ll earn a bonus entry!
  3. Post this contest on your blog and leave the link here for an extra entry
  4. Tweet about it, make sure to use @koolaidmom so it’ll show up on my TweetDeck, or leave the link of your update, for an aditional bonus entry.
  5. If you do all the above, commenting everyday, blogging it and tweeting, that’ll be 8 entries and I’ll add 2 more as a bonus, giving you 10 chances to win 🙂 (This post is technically a Monday post for June 29th)

Good Luck!

Stop Dressing Your Six-Year-Old Like a Skank by Celia Rivenbank

Title:  Stop Dressing Your Six-Year-Old Like a Skank:  And Other Words of Delicate Southern Wisdom

Author:  Celia Rivenbark

Hardback:  262 pages

Date Published:  September 2006

PublisherSt. Martin’s Press

ISBN:  9780312339937

When my daughter announced her class was taking a field trip, I involuntarily shrieked “No!” but then had to realize that it was doubtful the kindergarten classes were going to prison or the dookie factory.

Indeed, it was the zoo.  This would be safe and fun, I thought.  Animals frolicking – what could go wrong?

Well, for starters, the baboon, who was frankly obsessed with amorous activities that didn’t require a partner.

“What’s he doing?” a few of the kids asked.

My husband, who was the only man who had come along to chaperone, decided he would deal with this question, and deal with it he did.

“That’s just the traditional baboon way of waving hello,” he said, sounding remarkably poised and knowledgeable.

“Oh,” a little boy in the class said.  “Should we wave back?”

“Oh, God no.”

Next up:  the “desert habitat” where an ancient camel proceeded to amuse the children by leaning down to eat his own shit.  Without even moving his legs, the giraffe savored every bite as if it were the Christmas ham.

Oooh, icky gross! I think I’m gonna hurl!

“It’s just nature,” said one of the kids, trying to comfort my husband.

Stop Dressing Your Six-Year-Old Like a Skank by Celia Rivenbark, pages 53-54

I first heard about Stop Dressing Your Six-Year-Old Like a Skank by Celia Rivenbark on the April Books Brought Home Library Thing thread (the discussion starts going around message 174).  It created quite a stir, as everyone passed around their “bad parents and monstrous children” horror stories.  With the conversations circulating, as well as it’s hilarious-but-shocking title, I knew I wanted to read this book.  So I clicked on over to BookMooch, entered the title in the search bar, and voila! mooched the only copy available. 

When it arrived in the mail on Saturday, I cracked open the book and just glanced at the title of the first chapter:  There’s Always Tomorrow(land):  “If You Really Loved Me, You’d Buy Me Pal Mickey”.   The chapter’s about Celia planning and taking her family to Disney World.  Before I realized it, I was at the end of the chapter, ripped envelope still in my lap, and bladder barely holding its ground after all the laughter.  The whole book is like that, and you just about have to tear the book from your hands to put it down to make dinner, sleep or even go to the bathroom (okay, I admit it… Celia went there, too).

With the charm of a Southern Belle, and a snarky, sarcastic wit, Miss Celia expresses all that it is to be a mother/wife/career woman/person with the sense God gave a goose in this day and age.  She tells of her experience trying to buy size 7 clothes for her six-year-old, and only finding outfits that’d make a Vegas showgirl feel naked.  Later, she points out that grown women in character-embossed clothes need to grow up, which points out the Topsy-turvy nature of the American culture today:  Children dressing like sexually mature adults and grown-ups dressing like school kids at play.

Each chapter’s title both encompasses its contents, while being surprising and tongue-in-cheek.  A few examples of this are:

  • Yo Yo Yo!  Where Can a Sista Get a Cowgirl Outfit?:  Holidays Make This Mama Wanna Get in Your Grille
  • Weary Mom to Uppity Teens:  At Least I Know Where the Continent of Chile Is
  • Field Trip, Fornification, and a Shit-Eating Giraffe:  Who Says School Can’t Be Fun?
  • Montel’s Smoking Weed:  (But Will He Share With Sylvia the Psychic?)
  • Reality Bites:  Super Skanks Lewinsky and Hilton Are Fun to Watch, but Those 100-Pound Toddlers Rule!
  • The Butcher’s Great, the Baker’s Suffering:  But How Is the Anti-Carb Frenzy Affecting the Candlestick Maker?
  • The Paradoxical Male:  Smart Enough to Find “Me Time,” but Dumb Enough to Get Stuck Buying the Tampons
  • If It Ain’t On eBay, It Ain’t Worth Having:  (Whoa!  Is That Willie Nelson’s Face in Your Grits?)
  • Politicians Serve Up McValues:  (With Extra Cheese on the Side)

Amidst the humor and anecdotes, Rivenbark manages to slip in facts and evidence that support her position, but  you’re too busy laughing and enjoying her company to realize “Hey, there’s serious journalism going on here!”

I enjoyed Stop Dressing Your Six-Year-Old Like a Skank by Celia Rivenbark  immensely, and am going to buy a new copy from Amazon and have it shipped to my mom for Mother’s Day (don’t tell her, or you’ll ruin the surprise!).  All the way through, I could just hear my mom’s voice in Rivenbark, and I know she’ll enjoy it as much as I did.  While the book won’t stay with me as far as remembering specifics, the feeling of fun and laughter will live on, and I’m sure that when I re-read this review a year from now, I’ll remember specifics in the chapters mention, and laugh again.  For the joy it’s given me and will give to my mom and myself in the future, I give Stop Dressing Your Six-Year-Old Like a Skank by Celia Rivenbark 4 iout of 5 Krispy Kreme donuts 😀

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In this video clip, Celia Rivenbark opens up a book signing by reading an anecdote in an email from a friend.

Sir John Hargrave’s Mischief Maker’s Manual

Title: M3: Sir John Hargrave’s Mischief Maker’s Manual

Author: Sir John Hargrave

Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap (div of the Penguin Group)

Publish Date: June 11, 2009

ISBN: 9780448449821

Miscellaneous: This is an advance uncorrected proof and not the finished copy.

The Prankster’s Code

There are six fundamentals of mischief making, a set of rules that will guide and protect you throughout your pranking career. Just as a Boy Scout can stay alive in the wilderness by cooking and eating a bear, your chances of staying out of trouble will be greatly improved if you follow these six basic concepts. 

A: Always be careful.
B: Don’t be a Bully.
C: Be Creative.
D: No lasting Damage.
E: Excellence in pranking.
F: Be Funny.

-Sir John Hargrave’s Mischief Maker’s Manual, page 23

Sir John Hargrave’s Mischief Maker’s Manual (hereafter referred to simply as the M3) is, as the title suggests, a manual for young pranksters.  It provides some  stories of legendary proportions in the history of pranking, and proclaims the M3 Institute’s desire for excellence and creativity in mischief making.  Above all, the pranking youngster is to follow the Prankster’s Code, with particular attention to being careful that no one is injured and that no lasting damage is done.

This book mainly seems to be written for boys, ages 9-15 year old, both in its language and references and in the 1950s reminiscent illustrations.  Girls like to prank, too.  As a mother (who pranked) of three girls (all of whom prank), I can assure you that a girl likes to pull a trick just as much as a boy does.  But by the end of the book, I was getting the feeling that this was bad-girl-behaviour on my part.  Sexism aside, I found myself chuckling and snickering at several jokes, made mental notes of a few I’d like to pull (foaming toilet comes to mind), and shared several of the ideas with my kids and their friends.

Some excellent aspects of this book are that it is geared for kids who might not see science, history, math, etc, as subjects worthy of their attention, but this book promotes all these things, including explaining the science behind why a trick works.  Also, it encourages children to keep their rooms clean, do housework, get good grades, etc, so as to be above suspicion and to curry favor of the one who holds the purse strings.  It may be a little bit of bribery, but to me it seems more like psychology… while they may be doing good for nefarious reasons, they’ll be developing good habits that will outlast their prankery. 

A major thing I like about this book is that the author acknowledges “boys will be boys,” and you may as well try to rein them in to safety.  By repetitive instruction to NOT aim sling shots at people, not to use live animals in pranks, and to never do anything that might be unsafe, we can hope that students of the M3 will not harm themselves or those around them.  One particular inserted text box admonishes: 

Even though the first three letters of the word “catapult” spell “cat,” do not attempt to launch cats from catapults.  This goes for kittens also. -page 157

The author also stresses the point that not only should one’s prank not cause lasting damage, but the easier the clean-up the better.  He recommends using only water in water balloons, to use said balloons only in the summer AND near the pool, that way everyone can enjoy the joke (they’re hot and already planning to get wet). 

The only negative thoughts I have about the M3 is that it continually encourages the reader to trick people into giving them the things they need for a prank.  “Get your parents to buy the catapult kit by telling them you want to be an engineer!”  “If someone asks why you want the dry ice, tell them you’re having a party!” etc.  I find it irritating enough that children whine and beg for things, but to have a book tell them to lie and manipulate people to give you what you want, as well, is a bit disgusting.

All in all, though, I feel the M3 is a safe enough book to give to kids.  They might learn a little science in the process, and you may even find a few things to do with them, as well.  While it got a little boring after a while, and some of pranks’ directions were a little confusing, it gives a reader plenty of chuckles and inspires creativity and fun.  I give Sir John Hargrave’s Mischief Maker’s Manual 3 1/2  out of 5 stars.

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The makers of the M3 have posted the following video on YouTube.  It shows how to commit 3 of the pranks detailed in the book.  Personally, I’d commence a beat down on my children for the “Coke Explosion,” which is why the book recommends you only pull pranks on people who can take a joke.   Like my mom always said, “Fun for one is no fun at all.”

The Conquest of Gaul by Julius Caesar

Title:  The Conquest of Gaul
Author: Julius Caesar
Translated: S. A. Handford
Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publish Date: 1982
ISBN: 9780140444339

As the situation was critical and no reserves were available, Caesar snatched a shield from a soldier in the rear (he had not his own shield with him), made his way into the front line, addressed each centurion by name, and shouted encouragement to the rest of the troops, ordering them to push forward and open out their ranks, so that they could use their swords more easily. His coming gave them fresh heart and hope: each man wanted to do his best under the eyes of his commander-in-chief, however desperate the peril, and the enemy’s assault was slowed…

Book II, “The Conquest of the Belgic Tribes, “section 2,
“Piecemeal conquest of the Belgic tribes (57 B.C.),
paragraph 25, lines 6 and 7.

First off, let me preface this review by saying this is not a book I would have ever picked for myself to read. It was a randomly assigned book from Penguin Classics to review. Second, it was not the book originally assigned. The first book had been Fortress Besieged, which I was really excited to get but was unfortunately out of print. And third, I must inform you of the following caveat: I was woefully unable to finish the book. It just was NOT my cuppa.

All that being said, on with the review:

Julius Caesar’s The Conquest of Gaul is basically the battle reports from a general, Caesar, to his boss, the Roman Senate and the people of Rome, detailing the events, names and places of his campaigns in Germany, Gaul and Britiannia. It is not war reportage full of excitement and suspense and suspense, but a simple list of details. For what it is, a historical accounting of the Roman push into northern Europe, it is an excellent, informative book to study. And as you study The Conquest of Gaul, make sure to keep your notepad, pen, highlighters and post-it flags handy so that you can get the most out of it. It would also help to be previously acquainted with the histories of the area and peoples in it before picking this book up as it is dense with names and events that would have been common knowledge for the people of the day, but have lost a lot of meaning in the millenniums that have passed.

For me, the book was intolerably boring, but that’s just a taste thing, however I did learn a great deal. For one thing, Caesar was a brilliant strategist and tactician. He was able to see ways to defeat the enemy that completely amazes me. His confidence in his abilities and that of his men, made him feared and respected by those who attempted to oppose his Rome. Some of the battles were won when the warring tribe was informed Caesar was on his way. They would send envoys of unconditional surrender and a plea of mercy to him before he’d even reached their land. He is, without a doubt, one of the top military minds in history.

Not only was Caesar a brilliant soldier and commander, but he was also a man of dedication and honor. He valued his word and made certain it was upheld. He followed a code of ethics that showed the people of Gaul what a civilized people can be.  Romanization was inevitable under Caesar. Tribes converted from barbarianism and fictionalized feuding to peaceful alliances. It is debated what Caesar’s political motivations were, whether he craved dictatorship or he was truly desirous of Rome’s best interests. I personally believe Caesar was less of the manipulative power-hungry megalomaniac I was taught in school, and more the noble patrician who wanted equality for citizens as opposed to the oligarchic political system of the time. He was the Man of the People who became their beloved Emporer, their first Caesar (as a title and office) of many.

I give Caesar’s The Conquest of Gaul 4 out of 5 stars. It’s informative and a classic, though very dry and it’s strictly text book-style writing bored me to distraction.