Blogs: Adults

As a child, I spent a lot of time with animals. My family had dogs, cats, chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, lizards, assorted tropical birds, and even a herd of 13 goats. Moose visited the yard once or twice a week, and when the snow was deep sometimes ermine (those little weaselly-looking white critters with the black-tipped tails) peeked in our windows. To while away the dark winter nights we would check out a film projector from the local library, tack a white sheet up on the wall of the log cabin, and watch films (on reels!) of wildebeests stampeding across Africa, bears fishing in Canada, warthogs wallowing in the mud… somewhere far warmer than where we were. To this day, I can’t resist checking out lavish books of animal photography, big expensive books that would be awkward to own but that are a treat to look at for a few weeks.

Across the Ravaged Land book jacketAcross the Ravaged Land by Nick Brandt. is my favorite of these. When it arrived on hold, I was shocked by its size. Opening it revealed majestic and ominous black and white photos of elephants, lions, hyenas, and other African wildlife, created without a telephoto lens or digital camera. Apparently Brandt is gutsy enough to walk right up to a hyena to take its portrait. Especially striking are the eerie shots of animals whose every last feather and hoof have been preserved by the mineral waters of a natron lake, including a bat perched among thorns that looks like it belongs on the cover of some long lost apocalyptic folk album. But the heart of the book is with the elephants, so monumental and solemn - fittingly so, since some were killed by poachers not long after their portraits were taken. A beautiful but sometimes bleak book, well worth a look.

Calico Pie,

The little Birds fly

Down to the calico tree,

Their wings were blue

And they sang 'Tilly-loo!'

Till away they flew,—

And they never came back to me!

They never came back!                                                                                                   

They never came back!

They never came back to me!

A couple of years ago I was a school librarian desperately trying to encourage poetry reading and appreciation among students kindergarten-eighth grade. I was succeeding to a certain degree, but one afternoon I was sitting at my desk wondering if I ever would be able to get through the barrage of Disney princesses and  Lego warriors to the just plain silliness of Edward Lear.  

Among the things  I tried with my students:

  • Reading out loud in unison
  • Memorizing
  • Colouring a picture with the words
  • Clapping the rthymn
  • Encouraging students  to write their own silly ryhmes

The response was lukewarm and after my last class left I sat there wanting to cry from frustration thinking that such poems would be lost to the newer generations forever.  Lucky for me I did what I often do when upset - listened to music.  Suddenly I heard from my computer where Pandora had been merrily playing away - Calico Pie, Little Bird fly….WHAT?  HOW? The very poem I had just read to the  first graders. The tune was peppy and clean.  I was so happy  I felt like dancing. The voice sounded familiar. Was it Natalie Merchant? Yes, Yes it was.  When given the option to listen to the whole album, I hit  'enter' so enthusiastically that my keyboard almost  bounced off the the desk .Natalie Merchant Leave your sleep

The rest of the afternoon passed  in a dream, poem after poem set to music and sung with Natalie Merchant’s unique personal style.  One poem was  new: "Bleezers Ice Cream", by Jack Prelutsky, but most were classics; " Maggie and Milly and Molly and me"- by e.e. cummings and "Spring and Fall: To a Young Child" by Gerald Manley Hopkins.

Other verses like "The King of China’s Daughter" and "The Man in the Wilderness" were so well-worn into my memory that I couldn’t remember where I had first heard them. When I consulted Natalie Merchant’s website I found that she and I were worried about the same thing: how to give children a sense of poetry, a sense that past things should be remembered. Natalie wanted her young daughter to know poetry at an early age. So she composed music for a selection of her favorite poems. She looked up the background of each poet  and added it to the package.  The result is Leave Your Sleep, a beautiful collection of readable, singable poems. I have been singing them ever since. I am no longer a school librarian but I know that many of my students memorized poems through her music and I am inspired to know that there are still those who are using their talents to keep poetry alive.

The House of Special Purpose book jacketIn a tiny Russian village of Kashen, seventeen year-old Georgy Jachmenev steps in front of a bullet meant for the Tsar’s uncle. As a reward for his bravery, Georgy is offered a job working for Tsar Nicholas and his family as the personal bodyguard to young Alexei Romanov. Georgy excels at his job and becomes part of the Tsar’s inner circle. But when Georgy meets and falls in love with the Tsar’s youngest daughter Anastasia, his life is changed forever. Flash forward to 1981, when an aging Georgy is retired, living in London and caring for his cancer-stricken wife Zoya. Told in alternating chapters, these two worlds travel toward their inevitable meeting. Readers get a bird’s eye view of life in imperial Russia, from the glitz and glamour of life in the Winter Palace to the evil influence of the legendary Rasputin and finally to the sad fate of the Romanov family at the hands of the Bolsheviks.

As with many of his other fascinating novels, including Crippen, The Absolutist and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, John Boyne has once again made history accessible and timeless. In The House of Special Purpose, he takes a much-examined story and makes it fresh and inviting. It is a story of love across sixty-five years of history, and a testament to the power of accident and determination to control our lives.

Ahhh riot grrrl , be still my heart. I have fond memories of you.  When I was fresh out of college with my women's studies certificate I got to witness and participate in the rise and fall of your movement.  

One of the most memorable days of my life (besides my wedding day) was when I did a poetry reading for 150 Canadian teens at a Vancouver Riot Grrrl concert in 1992.  I was the only poet on the bill. I was told by an organizer at the event that most of the audience probably hadn’t heard a poet before.  

I was shaking in my shoes when I started with these words:

Spoon Fed Our Daily Dose of Violence

You may wonder but may not care about my primal deep weep.

Or my cautious unspeaking nature.

Sure the words can be spelled or spilled upon the page but when real things are said I stutter.

I feel people shy and not so afraid of death.

They responded with screams and applause after this first poem.  As a poet I felt like a punk rock star for a moment.

Riot Grrrl was a grassroots feminist movement in the punk scene.  Riot grrrls were fighting against mainstream misogyny and subcultural sexism evident in punk rock shows and culture.  They fought the good fight and their efforts still echo in our contemporary culture.  Publishers and record labels have been collecting, reprinting and producing books, videos and music from this prolific movement.  I created this list in honor of these cultural “sheroes.”


 

When would you like to have lived? I sometimes wonder what I would be doing if I lived in a different time. What would my life be like? The Time Traveler's Guide to Elizabethan England by Ian Mortimer has helped me learn about life in England during the reign of Elizabeth I, 1558-1603.

book jacket for Time Traveler's Guide to Elizabethan EnglandThis is a prosperous time in England. Towns and cities are growing. London’s population hits 200,000 by the end of Elizabeth’s reign. While I am visiting London, I would want to see Shakespeare's latest play. Many customs are very different. Even the Queen likes a good bear baiting. This is a much rougher time. Some things have changed more than others. Lawyers were just as skilled then as now, but doctors are much better in the 21st century. If I were sick in Elizabeth’s time, I would probably do better if I called a priest instead of a doctor. I also need to remember to pay heed to my social betters as this is a very class-conscious time.

There is lots of beer. It is safer than the water. I will be drinking about a gallon a day. Unless I am a gentleman, I won’t be able to afford wine. A strong nose and lots of perfume are helpful as there are many noxious smells. The growing populations only add to the problem. The Elizabethan people don’t enjoy the stink, but there often is nothing they can do.

Does Elizabethan England sound interesting? Why not take a trip back and see if it is for you.

Wit and compassion are two qualities that do not always go together, but they always seem to mingle nicely in the work of David Rakoff. It was bittersweet reading his last book, Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish. I’d heard him so often on the radio, especially on This American Life, that I could hear Rakoff’s quiet, witty voice in my head as I read. Rakoff died of cancer at the age of 47 in 2012, and I miss him.

This novel in verse is short and sweet, sometimes dark, but leavened with rhymes that are so clever I’d sometimes have to stop and give a whoop of pleasure before returning to the story. At one point, a 1950s secretary named Helen, her affair with her unworthy boss having ended badly, is remembering the scene she made afterwards at a memorable office Christmas party.

...Where feeling misused, she had got pretty plastered,
And named his name, publicly, called him a bastard.
The details are fuzzy, though others have told her
She insulted this one, and cried on that shoulder,
Then lurched ‘round the ballroom, all pitching and weaving
And ended the night in the ladies lounge, heaving.


The story jumps through the whole 20th century through a number of loosely connected characters, and is more a series of character studies and vignettes than a novel. Terrible things happen to some of these characters, but what shines through more than anything else is Rakoff’s pleasure in life and his pleasure in observation.

Towards the end, a chapter about Clifford, a character who is dying of AIDS, ends with these lines:

He thought of those two things in life that don’t vary
(Well, thought only glancingly; more was too scary)
Inevitable, why even bother to test it,
He’d paid all his taxes, so that left… you guessed it.

Here you'll find a list of audio books by Rakoff and by other familiar voices from public radio. Please let me know if I forgot to include a good one.

Witch of little Italy bookjacketI've been working as a librarian for eighteen years. I have been involved in projects over the years. I heard about the My Librarian project. I thought about applying. Then I read a novel I loved. I had to share! I wanted to spread the love. My Librarian is about spreading the love of reading. I especially love novels about witches - witches that succeed and dispel evil or dark forces - witches who, against all odds, disarm evil.

Ok, maybe you're wondering what the novel is that turned my head. The Witch of Little Italy by Palmieri made me excited again about this genre. The story is about Eleanor Amore who returns to her grandmother and aunt’s home in the Bronx. She is pregnant and needs the comfort of home with her estranged family. Oddly enough Eleanor doesn’t remember her life before that tenth summer that she spent with her family. She is hoping they have the keys to her memory loss. If you liked Witches of Eastwick and Practical Magic, try The Witch of Little Italy.  Also check out my list of Witchy novels.

Earlier this week I attended the reading of a will. Unfortunately, the reading wasn't received well, and it looks like we are headed to trial. Thankfully, I get to witness the debacle from the comfort of my easy chair.

I'd like to share what I am reading this week. The best seller lists call out to me, and this week I am enjoying Sycamore Row by John Grisham. Featuring several of the characters from A Time to Kill, Sycamore Row takes us back to Ford County, where we realize that racism is still alive and well in the late 1980's. Seth Hubbard, termminally ill with cancer, has ended his life, and left behind a handwirtten will leaving almost all of his 21 million dollar fortune to his black housekeeper, and that does not sit well with his family. This story reminds me that, although we as a society have made great strides with regards to racism, we still have a long way to go.

Grisham's writing evokes the south in glorious ways, from the drawl of its residents, to the wrap around porches on the most stately of the town's houses. We also get a taste of the wrong side of the tracks, the areas where the poor blacks live. Put it together and throw in the trial and you've got a simmering pot of racial tension disguised in the genteel conversation of the south. 

If you've been wondering what happened to young lawyer Jake Brigance, think about placing your hold for Sycamore Row.  Access the title here, and take your pick from the book, the audio CD, or the ebook!  And while you are waiting your turn in the holds queue, maybe revisit some older John Grisham titles, and rediscover one of the great storytellers of the day.

 

Holding HandsBecoming a caregiver is a life-changing event. Maybe it starts gradually, with a bit of household help now and again, or maybe it starts with the sudden shock of a phone call in the night. Whatever your situation, take heart in knowing that you are not alone. A wealth of resources is available to support you.

Multnomah County

When you don’t know where to turn first, the Multnomah County Aging & Disability Resource Connection (ADRC) Helpline is a good place to start. Information and assistance is available to seniors, people with disabilities, and caregivers 24 hours a day. Call 503-988-3646 Monday - Friday, 8am-5pm, to reach the most knowledgeable staff. Through this same number, you can contact the Family Caregiver Support Program, which offers services that can take some of the burden off unpaid caregivers.

Elders in Action is another great local resource. Through their Personal Advocate Services, trained volunteers help older adults and link individuals to community resources. They focus in the area of housing, healthcare, crime, and elder abuse. Personal Advocate volunteers assist older adults in Multnomah, Clackamas, and Washington counties.

Oregon

The Aging and Disability Resource Connection is a resource directory for Oregon families, caregivers, and consumers seeking information about long-term support and services. Here you will find quick and easy access to information about resources in your community.

National

The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) knows that caregiving can be overwhelming. Through their Caregiving Resource Center, you can connect with caregiving resources both local and far away. Topics covered include Planning & Resources, Benefits & Insurance, Legal & Money Matters, Care for Yourself, Providing Care, Senior Housing, End-of-Life Care, and Grief & Loss. Caregiving Tools include a Care Provider Locator, a Long-Term Care Calculator, and even a Caregiving Glossary.

Caregivers for persons with Alzheimer’s and dementia face special challenges. The Alzheimer’s Association Caregiver’s Center can help arm you with the information you need to handle those challenges, whether you’re facing them now or need to be preparing for the future. Also through the Caregiver’s Center, you can locate local support groups, which can become an indispensable source of information and emotional support.

The Family Caregiver Alliance provides information on all aspects of caregiving, from public policy and research to practical tips on caregiving. Fact sheets on multiple issues are available in English, Chinese, Korean, Spanish, and Vietnamese.

Caregiver’s Magazine is an online magazine for, about, and by caregivers. Here you will find first-hand stories of others’ caregiving journeys, as well as an online bookstore and tips on resources and strategies.

There are 65.7 million family caregivers in the US--29% of the adult population--and caregiving affects the whole family. The National Alliance for Caregiving is a non-profit coalition of over 50 national organizations focused on family caregiving. The organization identifies new trends and sheds light on the varying needs of caregivers nationwide.

Caregiving is challenging enough when Mom is next door. What if she’s in Chicago? Or Boston? Having an ally on the ground to help you assess the situation can be exactly the extra bit of assistance you need to make sure that all goes well. The National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers can help you locate a professional Geriatric Care Manager, a health and human services specialist who helps families who are caring for older relatives.

If you’re a primary caregiver, or if you’re coordinating care at a distance, no doubt you know what it’s like to feel as if you don’t have enough hands, or enough hours in the day, to do everything that needs to be done. Lotsa Helping Hands harnesses the power of community and links it through an online service to provide help when it’s needed. You can create your own community and ask for help, without having to make a dozen phone calls or feel that you’re putting friends on the spot.


Finally, don’t forget to take care of yourself! The stories of other caregivers and how they’ve handled their challenges may give you the ideas you need to take care of yourself.

Contributed by jennyw

Why this cure? An antidote to screen time, a break from the princesses and ninjas, finding time to share a passion with your children of all ages, even something to read for grownups that can be digested in small bites.

Where’s this cure? Right here in the greater Portland metro area, in our backyards and urban forests.

What’s this cure? Reading books that have inspired me to delight and revel in the natural world, followed by a visit to a nearby park to answer questions I didn’t know I had. What? I was trampling on efts? What are those again?

Here are some of my favorites: fiction that includes natural history and natural history that reads like a story. Find out why voles turn somersaults or learn to tell bird nests from squirrel dreys in books about your backyard or our urban forests.

Did you know that there are regular programs for preschoolers at many of our natural areas?  Or that you can see live owls and vultures at Audubon’s Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center? You might also try a guided family hike to explore painted turtles or working to evict invasive species. One great website that consolidates these opportunities is Exploring Portland's Natural Areas.

Maybe instead of a cure we should just call it fun.

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