Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Postcards From No Man's Land

Postcards from No Man's LandPostcards from No Man's Land by Aidan Chambers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I grabbed this book to read I was frantically packing for a trip to Boston. I needed some reading material for the flight and, since I had recently moved, I couldn't find the charger to my Kindle. There were several titles already loaded on it that I was excited to read. Disappointed and frustrated, I snatched Postcards From No Man's Land by Aidan Chambers from my bookshelf, slightly glancing at the description on the back cover. It seemed like it would suffice.

Not paying attention while packing, I realized on the plane that the book was Young Adult Literature and the winner of the Carnegie Medal and the Michael Prinz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature. Somehow this book made its way from the books I had purchased for my classroom that are now boxed up and in the basement to my "to read" shelf (yes I have one of those) in my halfway organized new office.

I admit, I don't mind Young Adult Literature from time to time, and in my former English teacher life I quite enjoyed using Young Adult titles in class. So I opened the book, and plunged into the story with hope that this would be a worthwhile backup to my non-charged and useless Kindle.

Immediately, I was blown away and captivated by the storyline. Jacob, the main character, travels to Amsterdam to track down family roots in a quest to honor the grandfather he never knew who died fighting World War II. Not only does Jacob learn about a surprising family secret, but he also falls in love with Amsterdam through a series of unplanned experiences, starting with an encounter with a pick-pocket which leaves him desperate and vulnerable in an unknown place. This vulnerability propels Jacob forward on an unexpected discovery of self.

Without spoiling the surprises of the novel, it is rich with complex characters and some mature situations. At moments the book kept me turning the pages, yet there were a few areas that were predictable. There are certainly some parallels to the novel The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford where the main character discovers a rich family history from a war-time past. In both titles, through the family discovery, the character learns much about love, loss, and living.

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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Home is where the dog is

While Charlie is obsessed with us, his humans, I am equally obsessed with him and his crazy personality. It would be great to find him a dog friend since he is incredibly attached to us. Whenever we take Charlie with us to visit other people who have dogs, he is incredibly happy. Obviously, part of that is due to the fact that dogs are pack animals. When we got Charlie, we plucked him from a cage with another dog from his litter. The first few days we dealt with him whining at night as we acclimated him to his new surroundings.

Since I haven't been regularly writing the blog, there is a backlog of many Charlie pictures in his new home; there are countless stories to go with these pictures. I need to share these stories and pictures, documenting our mutual obsessions.

Honestly, I think Charlie could live anywhere as long as we were there. We spent weeks painting almost every room in our new house before we moved in. This was a great idea because the place was vacant and prepping and painting were a breeze. I hate painting but recommend doing it this way rather than after moving. Charlie investigated every step of the painting process, presenting extra challenges at every moment. His constantly wagging tail is a long-haired hazard to wet drying paint. If I would have let him be with me, there would have been lovely streaks along the bottom portion of every wall. To protect the drying walls from the destruction of Charlie, I improvised by stacking up moving boxes in entryways and doorways to blockade him in. I found that a crockpot box was perfect for keeping him out of the bedroom, while allowing him to check-in on the progress.

One of my favorite traits about our new home are the original wood floors everywhere. Charlie is not much of a fan. He struggled adjusting to the fact that he had no traction when he wanted to run, or when he needed to stop quickly, leading him to dangerously slide into furniture or even walls. Eventually he was able to alter his technique and adjust accordingly. The other obstacle for him is our lack of rugs. Charlie definitely doesn't like sitting or laying on the hardwood floors. He is an ingenious dog, and made great use of painting drop clothes for naps in the sun.

While we are leisurely looking for floor rugs for certain rooms throughout the house, Charlie makes due with the one rug we have so far--the bathroom mat next to the shower. He will lay on it first thing in the morning. He utilizes it while we brush our teeth and get ready for bed in the evening. And, occasionally, when we spend extended periods of time upstairs folding clothes or doing some other chore, Charlie can be found there on the bathroom rug. The spot provides him multiple amenities: a soft spot to lay, the warmth of heated air coming out of the vent, and a place containing a view to watch his humans. 

In our first home, The Castle, we had a fenced in backyard. The problem was the backdoor didn't lead directly to the back yard. Charlie would have to walk out a few feet on the driveway and then enter the back yard gate, which we left open for him. He was decently good about walking on his own into the fenced yard. Although he was also good at sneaking out of the open gate when he was curious about what was happening in the rest of the neighborhood. This setup was occasionally problematic when he would chase squirrels or rabbits: it would create a great getaway for these poor small creatures, but Charlie would pursue them even sometimes crossing the street. I shamefully admit this made us poor dog parents and irresponsible pet owners. Our new home, Castle 2.0, has automatically made it less likely that the Dog Protective Services would take Charlie from us since the back door leads directly to the fenced in back yard. Charlie loves the staggered planks of the privacy fence as they allow him to watch people come and go. This same fence does an awesome job of keeping rabbits cordoned off, restricting escape. I've seen many rabbits sprinting for minutes around the yard as they stress-fully try (because Charlie is close behind) to locate how they found their way into the yard in the first place.

My other favorite feature of our new home are the large windows in every room, allowing in natural light and views of the outdoors. Charlie also takes advantage of this, and I've written about this before in another blog post. Charlie quickly learned which windows are the ones he must use to get views of his humans in the backyard or the garage as we leave to run errands or go to work. I've discovered that it is imperative to raise the blinds just enough so that Charlie can see out the window. If not, he will persist, finding a way to get his little head through to see what is happening. I realized this the hard way one day when I went out to shovel the snow while Michelle was not home. I came back inside the house to discover Charlie had destroyed (beyond repair) the upstairs blinds on the windows that overlooked the backyard. 

The joys of owning a home also come with those unwelcome surprise moments. We've already had several of those, but I knew that when we wanted Castle 2.0 to be an older house with character. I've put my do-it-yourself skills to use, unclogging a toilet on the first floor and replacing a broken garbage disposal in the kitchen. I'm secretly excited for other projects in the future, just as long as they happen on my timeline and when we can financially afford them. I know that is impossible to control, but I can sure try. As long as Charlie is right there with me, I'm confident we will survive it together.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Already obsessed

My dad enjoys writing. I try to add my own ideas and, generally, I'm pretty supportive when he has the laptop out. I've been wanting to do more than just sit next to him when he writes so I took matters into my own paws.

Recently, I've been very carefully watching his fingers to memorize key strokes and my determination paid off: I discerned his blog password.

I have exciting news to share with the blogging community and I hope that actual canines read this, not just humans. But humans are great. I love them. So humans should read too.

My parents are very good to me and I'm seriously obsessed with them. Several months ago they told me I'm going to have a human baby sister. Now I'm even more obsessed! I can't stop thinking about her. I'm thrilled about living with a little person. Small people are the coolest. But as a dog who does an impeccable job of protecting two fully-grown people I'm concerned what changes a little one might bring.

I hope I can sleep in her crib, curling up next to her to keep her warm.

I want to chase her around the house, just like how dad plays chase with me.

I hear that pregnant women are absent-minded. The other night glass cookware exploded all over the kitchen because my mom inadvertently had the incorrect burner turned up on high heat. It was scary. Accidents happen, but I hate how dad carried me to my kennel and wouldn't let me run on shattered glass to check and see if my mom was OK.

The little kids from the neighborhood came to our house and rang the doorbell on New Year's Day. I can't wait for little neighborhood kids to play with my sister. Kids everywhere! I will chase them. Chasing is fun.

My parents think they can teach me not to jump before little sister is born. I will jump all over her anyway. I will also lick her face, lay on her neck, and show her how much I can love her.