Friday, June 24, 2011

Books of June

I've been reading a lot recently, and between my reader's log--a blank book with penned-in, one-sentences descriptions of what I've read--and Good Reads, the website that's represented by the widget to the right of this post, I think I'm keeping track of what I'm reading.

I noticed some discrepancies this evening--books I'd written down in my log that I haven't yet put on Good Reads. Nice to have both options! I have to say, though, despite what they say about "nothing ever goes away on the web," I feel like the log is the more permanent list. I mean, I still have my mom's reading log that she kept in the 5 years or so before her stroke.

Here are a few books I've liked a lot recently:
Cleopatra, by Stacy Schiff

I don't usually like histories, but historical biographies, with their focus on the life story of one person, fascinate me. This one did, and the author was working with pretty scanty materials. Or maybe I should say LOTS of not particularly accurate materials. She did a great job of sifting through to give a sense of what Cleopatra's culture was like, and what her life did and might have involved. Lots of triangulation between varying sources, many of which were very anti-Cleopatra.
Murder in Passy by Cara Black

Can't remember when I started reading Cara Black's series of detective stories set in 1990's Paris. They're fun, with a sense of that city's shadow side--not the side we tourists see! The main character, Aimee Leduc, is spunky and smart.
Private Life by Jane Smiley

Read this book!--or at least read it if you love big, fat, juicy novels that you can just sink into--and that also give you something to think about. I loved the way this one revealed the meaning of everyday interactions and daily tasks and revealed the life of a thoughtful yet retiring woman. My one-sentence review is: "Midwestern 'spinster' marries handsome genius and lives in his shadow (along with other lively characters) until she discovers his secret--mental illness."

This one gives a great sense of the history of the turn of the century through WWII--these events affect the characters and help drive the plot, which is at turns exciting and heartbreaking.

The Pain Chronicles by Melanie Thornstrom

I heard the interviews with the author on NPR when this book first came out, but lost track of the book until I spotted it at the library. I'm so glad I found it--I loved reading this compellingly-written page-turner of a book. It's one of my favorite genres: lively, personal writing about a scientific topic. My review: "The author, who suffers from chronic pain, explores the myths and science of pain and suffering."

OK, so now I can submit my list to the adult summer reading program at the library. I'm hoping to win a Nook.

I need a new book--hate to be without one! Any suggestions?

Thursday, June 16, 2011


Tuesday morning, Eli and I spent about an hour in a windowless room with a concrete floor that was filled with the smell of cat litter and bleach.

It was our first day of volunteering at the Cedar Valley Humane Society and we were cleaning cat cages in the back room of the facility.

I got the idea to volunteer 'round about May when I was starting my annual fret about what I was going to do with the boys in the summer. When they were little, I was their social planner. I decided which days we'd go to the pool, which days we'd go to the playground, who we'd see, when we'd run errands, etc.

Now, of course, they go to the pool on their own . . . but also tend to slide into way too much screen time if not nagged.

So I decided we'd try some volunteering. I offered CVHS and also the Art Museum's junior docent program for Eli. That second one sounded interesting--I could just see Eli leading tours at the Grant Wood studio downtown . . . but he went for the kitties.

(As of now, Robbie's "not in" on the volunteering, but I bet we can get him to come with us sometime.)

Our official assignments are: Tuesday--clean cages 10:30-11:30 Thursday--socialize cats 9:30-10:30.

Most of the other volunteers seemed to want to walk dogs, so they were grateful to have some cat folks. And of course Eli is great with cats. On cage-cleaning day, he located one who'd escaped and caught him. His friend Chris joined us, and he did a great job, too.

Cleaning cages seemed like the least we could do for these homeless cats. The shelter keeps things very tidy (cages cleaned every day), and the staff seemed kind and knowledgeable (especially Kathy, the person in charge of cats, who knew every cat's name and had a kind word for each). But still, it was hard to be there, especially in the back room where cats were first put when they arrived at the shelter. Between the piteous meowing, the realization that many of the cats would probably live the rest of their lives there . . . and the smell, I was pretty much exhausted by the end of our stint.

I told Bruce that I think people who do social work--for people or animals--must need to harden their hearts a bit or their hearts would always be broken.

Today's visit--to "socialize" (read: play with) cats was more uplifting. First of all, we were in one of the front rooms, where they put cats who've had all their shots and are ready to be adopted. We brushed and petted cats and let them roam around. Eli especially liked a huge pale tomcat named Himmy (aka Hemmi). He must have been about 20 pounds!
(A professional photographer takes pictures of all the adoptable animals for the website.)

We also enjoyed playing with a couple of teenage kittens named Abner and McDreamy. Kathy told us that they were given up by a woman who'd had 18 cats! Crazy cat woman indeed! But some of the others had already been adopted, so we were hopeful for those two.

The center's front rooms are great--huge two-story cat cages in one room, fairly large ones in the other, and big windows for the cats to look out of. It's really a good place. They do important work. I was happy to see a bunch of photos up on the window under the sign "adopted this month."

Thursday, June 9, 2011

After the storm

This morning, the power was still off--no surprise--but the rain finally let up.

Robbie and I went over to Coe--that's how I managed the last blog post. Luckily I have these new nifty fenders on my bike, courtesy of Paul, who put them on for my 49th birthday present! The streets were wet, but I did NOT get an unsightly streak up my back.

When we came back, the utilities folks were busy at work, cutting up the tree, looking at the wires, etc.

They used two cherry pickers to restring the wires. It made me nervous to watch them, even though I knew the wires had no power. Still, it was really interesting to watch.
We also had to hire an electrician to come out and fix the pole that's attached to the house where the power comes in. It's called a "mast," not a pole, according to my neighbor. When the electricity came on, we cheered.

At one point, I went out to ask if I needed to hire someone to clean away the tree. They nodded. (They just cut up the tree so they could get to the wires; they weren't going to haul it away.) Then someone suggested I call the city first. The tree was on my neighbor's property, but it fell across the alley, where the city garbage trucks were going to need to drive tomorrow. . . so I called over there.

The city guy came out to assess the situation. He looked tired. Apparently, the northeast side of town got hit hard. (We are on the southeast side.) And he was skeptical about having to clear up a "private" tree. But because it was blocking my garage and the alley, he said he'd send a crew over.

They arrived just as the cable/internet guy was done, and they had a cool truck.
It worked like one of those carnival games: try to scoop up the toy you want. The claw easily grabbed the enormous logs and the big piles of branches. They crew even raked my driveway and patio!

The odd thing in all this is that our neighbor has never contacted us! We saw him last night, but not her. I'm thinking she's out of town--she would have at least come over to see if everything was OK. Really, it was their responsibility to clear out the tree. They should have hired someone to do it.

I'm glad the city stepped up, though. Our driveway clear, I went straight out to the grocery and bought celebratory steaks for dinner!


So last night I'm reading the paper in the family room and I hear a strange noise outside. It's windy out there (a storm was on its way), but this is a different noise.

I look out our big window to see the top of big tree near our neighbor's house slowly cracking off the trunk. The wind is breaking it off! Cool, I think, then I wonder if I'm in danger?

The top of that tree splinters off with a big CRRRAAACCCK! and falls toward our house, right into the alley and our driveway.

Turns out I was not in danger. The tree missed our garage, our basketball hoop, and it fell just short of our pretty picket fence. It tore a few limbs off our beautiful old red maple, but that was it.
Actually, that was not it. It also ripped a transformer off an electrical pole, pulled down the electrical wires, and ripped the wires right out of our house!

I immediately went outside. The air was full of sawdust and wind. There were snapping and buzzing sounds from the live wires, and a smell of hot electricity. I think I said "wow" a few times.

The boys came running down. Robbie said he saw the transformer get hit--it exploded in sparks and fell to the ground. We watched as the live wires squirmed in the air like snakes--the ends white hot and sparking. Our neighbor ran by and went back in to call the power company.

Although there was no rain, the wind was blowing and we could hear distant thunder. All the neighbors came out to see, and we stood on the lawn as the weather sirens started up. "The weather sirens go on, and everyone comes outside," said Eli. "Typical Iowans." Bruce came home from his guitar lesson and was amazed, too.

Robbie took this picture of the broken tree from the roof of our garage. See how it neatly fell between the garage and our house?!
Eventually the live wires seemed to die, so we felt a bit safer. We chatted with our neighbors for a bit, then went inside when it started to rain. Eventually, we had hail--the biggest I've ever seen. Some pieces were about an inch in diameter. We watched and gaped at the downed tree, and eventually lit some candles.

Luckily the storm brought with it some cool weather because of course there was no air conditioning or fans!

This morning, things are about the same. The power company was out, and they said they were going to start work today.

Today, Robbie and I rode our bikes over to Coe, where I am now--can't get the cars out of the garage, can't phone anyone (I'm charging my dead cell phone now!), can't use the internet at home! Still, I feel pretty lucky about that tree--no damage to anything except the electrical wires.

Now that tree--a choke cherry, good riddance--is a playground for squirrels and chipmunks until they come and clear it out!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Archives and Hardware Cloth

I wish I'd brought my camera this morning when we went over to Franklin Middle School to see the Archives. Eli worked on the Archives this year, organizing yearbooks, scanning photos, and sorting through a small room full of stuff. He really enjoyed it, so we arranged to visit once classes were over.

If I'd had my camera, I'd have taken pictures of:
  • the 1936 globe that Eli identified by knowing which countries existed at that time
  • the cabinet full of old Franklin yearbooks
  • the cat fetus in a jar ("everyone wants to see this," said Eli, rolling his eyes)
  • the school's underground tunnels . . . that we couldn't visit because the principal made them off- limits (some non-archives kids got into them and left graffiti)
The school was built in 1923, so it has lots of history. . . . more information is available on the Franklin website. They're working on a google site, too. Some of the other kids were working on an Ashton Kutcher project. He attended Franklin back in the day

Well, I don't have Franklin archives photos, but I do have a few photos of other things: some items I made with hardware cloth.

It's not really cloth, of course. It's wire mesh. I bought some a while ago to make a cap on our furnace exhaust pipe. Small critters had gotten in and met their doom when they got down to the furnace. And they caused the furnace to shut off . . .

Anyway, the leftovers were great for making this lettuce cage.
It's not to keep the lettuce in, but to keep the bunnies out. The lettuce doesn't like this location (note how spindly it is) so I'll do spinach next year.

I also made a cage for the strawberry pot. Same idea.
This project was an indoor one. An earring rack.
So now I'm a wire textile person, too.

Saturday, June 4, 2011


Bill, Kim, and Sam drove out to visit us over Memorial Day weekend. That's a long drive, so I was VERY glad that they came.

It's hard living so far away from my brother (10 hour drive away in Cleveland) and sister (? hour drive away or plane ride away in Atlanta), but we manage to get together a few times a year. I love being with them. There's nothing like being with your siblings. Well, we get along very well; I'd probably be friends with my brother and sister, even if we weren't related. And with my sister- and brother-in-law!

This trip was especially nice because I got to visit with baby Sam!
Look at this delicious little guy!

We met Sam last summer when he was just about 6 or 8 weeks old, and my sister and I visited him in November. During this visit, Sam was in the midst of the "stranger anxiety" phase, so he didn't want me pick him up and hold him like I did on the other visits. But it was lovely to kiss his little head and play with him--the boys brought down the Box of Baby Toys and the Fisher-Price train set, which he loved.

It was so nice to be with a baby and hear the little noises he made, watch him pass an object from hand to hand, get him to smile, watch him pull up on furniture and crawl around. I was just happy to sit there with him.

And of course, when he was really sad, he just needed his mom, so even though I'm pretty experienced with fussy babies I got out of the tough parts.

I figure it was kind of a preview of being a grandma. Pretty nice!