Thursday, April 8, 2010

A Letter to Olivia

This note is, in a way, a follow-up to my fare well letter to Missy. I adopted Olivia about the same time as I wrote that note, and have been trying to really understand her since then. This letter isn't exactly a welcome letter, but it's more that than anything else.

Dear Olivia,

How's it going? You seem to be getting fairly comfortable here. I know you are still frightened by new people, and kind of skittish about when we move around you here in the house, but you seem to sort of be getting better about that. I hope you know that we wouldn't ever hurt you. Yes, we are humans and a bit clumsy, but if we step on paws or tail, its always an accident, and really you've never been close enough on the floor for that to have happened.

I'm glad to see that you like the furniture we picked up for you. I was worried that I had spent that money in vain, but since you seem to perch on it or scratch at it every time you aren't in the bedroom or playing, I guess that's all right.

I hope that maybe you will get over your fear of going outside and will try it in the harness and lead that I got you. I'm surprised that you take better to the harness than you do to the going outside part. Oh well, if not, I hope we can find things to do to keep you happy. I don't want to see you get bored. I couldn't imagine never going outside, but if its what you prefer, I'm not going to force the issue.

I also hope that you will start playing with me a little more. It kind of worries me that you ignore all the toys that I try to catch your eye with. Not to say that you aren't playful, It's hilarious to see you chase around the house after a ball, or "ambush" the turbo scratcher, but I was kind of hoping that you might play with some of the "interactive" toys with me, but perhaps that too will come in time.

I know so little about you, though I think we are starting to learn. I know that you like to give me slobber-loves to the face, and that you tap my ankle if I'm not quick enough with dinner, once we've started the process. I know that you'll eat a whole lot more than Mouse was ever willing to. So far you've tasted popcorn and chicken, and I had to fight you off of my ham sandwich.. or was it chicken casserole? Either way, we are going to have to discuss your preferences for human food. I have no problem with you eating it, but not off of my plate.. You might be given a taste, but never when I'm eating, so forget it, and I choose what you get, not you. You aren't aware of some of the things we put in our dinners that can hurt you. I know you don't like grass like Missy did, so we can skip that in your diet. However, you are a lot more excited about your treats than she ever was too. I go anywhere near the cat drawer and I have you under foot all the time. Its kind of maddening, but I can't blame you for persistence.

I'm amused by your insistence on fresh food every night, and amazed at how much you drink.. and well, we'll leave the rest to the imagination. Could you kindly let me know what food to get you though so that you stop.. um.. farting? It's kind of gross you know.. and we really need to find you some help for your breath.. You really need to visit the dentist.. which is going to cost me a pretty penny I fear. *sigh*.

Oh and thanks for getting gentler when you "wrestle" and love bite my hand. its not as tough as your fur covered self, and I like to see the little "love marks" healing. Its kind of nice to have those leave.

I do promise to take care of you, and hope that we will be good friends in years to come. I appreciate the steps you've taken toward this relationship as well. I'm not a big fan of slobbery kisses, but I know they are meant well, and its pretty endearing the way you follow me around these days. I know that your little "squeaky" voice is just your way of being polite, and yet demanding attention or food.. or whatever, so I'll work on learning what you mean with it.

I know this is a much shorter letter than the one I wrote to Missy, but we haven't know each other as long. I'll write again if I think of anything I should add.

Love you Livvy,


(I'll upload a picture later tonight or tomorrow. I still need to get them off the camera.)

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Farewell Letter to Missy

Since this is the happiest bit of this entire blog entry, I've left it at the top. I have a cat named Olivia now. She will never replace my Mouse, but its nice to hear the cat bell as she roams through the house, and she's setting up shop in her own litter corner of my heart. I plan to write her a letter in future as well, but tonight is for Missy.

I know its been a year, but I felt the need to write tonight. I had to say goodbye to my Mouse Cat (Of blog name fame) on Monday, March 8, 2010 at about 6pm. She had a bunch of fluid in her lungs, and we couldn't seem to improve the situation with oxygen and diuretics as a treatment. The vet told me afterwords that it was right side heart failure (which she said is very difficult to treat, and it was likely that if we had kept fighting, Mouse never would have recovered). In the end, we had to say goodbye and that's hurt me a lot. I felt like I wanted to write down all the special things she did for me, and honestly I don't know that I'll ever have them all down, but this is what I've written so far, and its a good, if incomplete description of her life, and what she meant to me.

March 20, 2010

Dear Missy,

It’s been about two weeks since we had to say goodbye. I hope you know that I love you and I miss you an awful lot. I’m writing this letter to you, to be honest, mostly so I can remember those special things you always did that made you my special little Mouse cat. I called you Missy Mystery at first, which kind of fit. There were a lot of mysteries that never were solved about you. I even called you Squeaker, before that, till I realized how loud you really were, (and what a lame name that was.) In the end, you were Missy Mouse. (Allais’s Missy, Mouse, Miss Mouse, Mau-Mouse, Fuzz brain, Loud Mouse, Trouble, Little One, Goofy-goose, Goofy-goo and Dum-Dum) I guess this is a letter to say how much I loved you, to remember all the reasons why, (and to try to figure out where you got so many silly names.)

I loved how you always used to greet me when I got home, you were always so loud, and so excited. Even that last night when we took you to the vet, and the very last night, when we said goodbye, You wanted to come to me, and you made sure and said “hello” in your vocal little way. You really were a loud Mouse, you know that right? I’m gonna miss that bit of Loud Mouse attitude. There’s nothing in the world quite like the way you greeted me, with a shout, and I love you for it. It was strange, but part of the ritual, so I also love this, but what was with “clawing” my shoes and my backpack? I kinda loved it, but you have to admit, you were being weird. It always tickled, especially those rare times you caught me in sandals or decided to “claw” my leg.

You had some other amazingly funny little habits too. You used to be so good about stretching out belly up, in all the most unlikely places. It was so funny to catch you belly up in the middle of the living room with your paws flipped forward and the goofiest little grin on your face. I loved to just watch you when you did that, just cause you were so silly.

I’m never going to forget how much you loved getting your water in strange ways either. It was hilarious to turn around in the shower and see you, front half soaked, trying to “catch” the shower water. It was nearly as funny when you would sit on the edge of the tub, and drink the water, or just hang out while I was in the bath, with your tail in the water. I never understood that about you… You didn’t want to get wet very badly, and yet, you didn’t seem to mind if it was on your terms. You also used to give me the nastiest looks if I wouldn’t run the tap for you to get a drink. Or else, after you took your “shower” you would wander between the shower curtains. My goofy goose.. You were so silly.

I always thought it was funny the way that you would play catch with me in the middle of the floor too. I’d roll the ball to you and you, like clockwork, would “toss” it back. (You didn’t have very good aim, though). And you would always get so angry if I stopped because we lost the ball. Not that you would get up after it, you lazy little thing. It was also funny how you chased cords though you drove me crazy if I was trying to work on something.

I liked how you used to turn and “butt” your head against me when I held you. I always felt so loved when you did that. It was special to me even in the beginning when we didn’t know each other very well.

Thanks for always making me laugh. You weren’t ever very good about tears though. You always would wander off if I was upset. It always exasperated me, but that was just part of who you were. You wanted an “upbeat” relationship, and by golly you were going to insist on it.

You were always such a troublesome thing about wanting to go out too. I remember more than a few trips out the door when I had to haul you back before I could be on my way. Your curiosity was boundless, (which led to you being underfoot more than once or twice.) If I remember right, you went and visited the neighbors once too. That wasn’t very nice, and was kind of an embarrassment for me. I wish you would have just stuck to the hallways. Speaking of the early days, do you remember when I was a dufus and got us locked out of the apartment at 2 in the morning? Alicia, Brandon and Alan were pissed. They had fun laughing about it later though. I know, I’m a goof too.

It was neat that you would stay fairly close in the yard so we could let you explore in the spring and summer. I always worried you were going to fall off that balcony since you refused to stay on this side of the railings, but it was nice to let you out here, at this apartment. Sorry the vest thing didn’t work out, I was just trying to protect you. I’m sorry it was too cold and nasty here the last few months we were together. If I would have known, I’d have let you out when it was at least a little nice. I remember how much you like to eat grass, I don’t understand, but I remember, and I think it’s pretty funny.

You were always so soft too. I never met a cat quite as soft and silky as you were. Your fur was a joy to stroke. You always did a good job of taking care of it. I never did have to give you a bath, which I have to admit was pretty great. I don’t think you would have liked it if it hadn’t been your idea to get wet (though I loved how you smelled a little bit like cinnamon and smoke when you were). Thanks for letting me tweak your tail, and rub your ears. I know it was odd, but I was just trying to show you my affection, and I was always so fascinated by that scar in your ear. I hope some day I can find out where that came from. It was always such a mystery to me.

I remember how you liked to rub against your brush when it was grooming time too, as if to say “hey let me just get that itch.. ahh there it is.” You loved that brush that got all that dead fur out of your coat too, which I have to admit was kind of nice for me too. I’m sorry I didn’t brush you more.

While I’m apologizing, I’d like to say I’m sorry about the medicine, but I couldn’t help it. Your tummy would get so upset, and cause an awful lot of problems if we didn’t give it to you every night. I know you didn’t like it, (though once again, it was funny the way you would hold your mouth shut and turn your head away every time I tried to give it to you). I’m also sorry that you didn’t get to know my friends very well. That was a little your fault too you know. You know they couldn’t see that you were usually just sitting out of reach waiting for attention. They didn’t realize that you were strangely, a bit reserved like that. Finally, I’m sorry I didn’t see this sooner. I don’t know if it would have made a difference, but I’m sorry you were so tired in the end. That’s why I finally made the decision I did for you. I would have kept you with me if I could have. It was obvious that you were tired, you wouldn’t have been so good for the vet if you hadn’t been. Remember how nasty you would get with them? It was almost funny, when we weren’t at the vet, though when we were, you were a terror. I’m sorry about that too, I have a feeling that you wouldn’t have minded them so much if I hadn’t had you declawed. If it’s any consolation, I won’t do it again to any other kitties. I’m sorry that you probably didn’t feel very well a lot of the time. You were awfully good about it. I tried to do the best I could to keep you healthy and happy. (I know that “healthy” and “happy” were two different things when the vet was involved, but what could I do?) I hope your eyes weren’t uncomfortable, and I hope I at least helped with your tummy. Despite all that, thanks for always being so good about crawling into your carrier. I was always surprised that I didn’t have to fight with you to get you to go in there, even though we usually were going somewhere you didn’t want to be.

Thanks for putting up with all the moves, and thanks for the laughs. Thank you for being gentle to Aydyn and Amanda and all of the other little ones that came to visit us. I know a lot of other cats would have hidden, or even been nasty. I’m so proud of you for that. Thanks for handling the guide dogs pretty well too, even when they ate your food. I’m never going to forget how you “put Jockey in his place”. I still want to know what you did there. I’ve never seen a cat and a dog in a staring contest before or since then. Nor have I seen a dog that gave in so readily to a cat. It was pretty cool of you to get along with Marc too, even though he called you “Stupid” and teased you. I’m sorry that you and mom never got real close, though I’m glad that you were pretty good friends and that you would have been a better friend to her if she’d wanted it. Thanks for sitting in my lap on cold nights when I was reading too. It was great to see that you trusted me enough to fall asleep there.

I almost forgot to mention this, but thanks for always wanting to be near by, even if you were doing your own thing. It was nice to see you in the chair next to me, or napping on the couch, or the end of the bed while I was working on things. It was even nice, if a bit concerning and frustrating how you wanted to hang out in the kitchen with me (right under foot). I always laugh when I think of how you always looked in the fridge like there was something in there for you even though you wouldn’t touch human food. (Fuzz brain, you were a screwball, end of story.)
It was also pretty cool that you wanted to sleep on the “mom” blanket, even though that meant we fought for that part of the bed every night. By the way, it was not necessary for you to always try to take up the entire queen sized bed. Livvy’s doing just fine curling up in a much smaller part of it. I’m curious to see how she’ll handle me making the bed considering how you always insisted on helping by lying in the middle of it, and not even moving if I covered you up.

I hope you understand that I’m not replacing you with Olivia. I loved you too much, and there’s no other kitty in the world like you were. I just needed a friend, and Livvy needed a friend, and well, I figured we could comfort each other. You wouldn’t have liked her, but it’s not her fault, she’s very sweet, you just never did get on with other cats. I wish you could have. You always seemed a little lonely to me. Maybe when we all meet on the other side you’ll be a little more understanding of my other kitty friends. (I don’t know if we will, but I have to hope so, I can’t imagine heaven without you there to greet me, I know that sounds strange, but there it is.) If you are in heaven, do me a favor and try to make friends with Tortuga, Snickers, Whiskers, and Dolly. I don’t want to have to sort it all out when I get there, and you guys have time. You may as well make up with Shadow too. Alicia and I will be spending time together there, so it’d be pretty cool if you were decent to her cat.

It’s awfully quiet here without you. Even though I’ve got little Olivia to keep me company, it’s not the same to come home without your very vocal greeting. I’m gonna miss your purr, it was so unique, and I’m going to miss your soft fur, and your shouting. Know that no matter who else comes and shares my home, you will always be my beloved Mau-Mouse.

Cuddles and head-butts,


P.S. Oh, and you totally rocked that pink leopard print collar.

Missy - My fuzziest friend from January 2006 - March 8, 2010. Goodbye Mau-Mouse, you will be missed.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Music Moves Me…

That song is so appropriate… How many times have we all said that? A break up… a romance… a memory… a prayer… All seem to float by on the wings of a song. Music is the glue that binds our presents and futures to our pasts. It helps to define our understanding of the world. The words of a song can bring real change. A song, even one I have heard hundreds of times, can bring new meaning to a situation. They can devastate you when you realize that you've been wrong, exhilarate you when they match your current joy, and bring a sad bit of comfort to a "Beautiful Goodbye".

Incidentally, I listened to "Beautiful Goodbye" by Jennifer Hanson about 6 times after I broke up with a good friend. It actually felt right, which is twisted, but true. We weren't meant to be more than friends, and it was sad, but… very very right. Somehow, this song helped me say goodbye to that part of us without real devastation. It was sad, and sweet and fit the situation exactly. There were no angry words, but there was nothing to cling to anymore, and it was best to let each other go. The thing that made this song so right is that it doesn't place blame, there's none to place. It doesn't wish for more, instead it is a way to be thankful for what we had, and for that I will always love it. It reflected who I was, and how I felt that day. Not truly happy, but not truly sad it is a fitting tribute to all that I and my friend had. (As an aside.. I couldn't find a copy of this song's actual music video, so somebody's mashup will have to do, but it does have a decent clean copy of the song, so it's what you get tonight. )

Music is woven throughout our relationships. We always hear about "our song" in movies, books and even real life, and there is a reason… Music is magical. It can carry us to the day we met, or the day we first kissed. It can send us on a journey of the soul, back to the days of "first love", all with the simple unfolding of the melody. A few chords, a couple choice words, are all it takes to draw the memory, make it ours, and new again. The joy of love is difficult to express. Poets, actors, and artists have all brought forth stunning efforts in the defense and explanation of love, but a song is the only medium I have found that can catch the essence of an individual and unique romance. Somehow the simplicity of a song allows people to surround and infuse it with their own feelings, their own hearts. It makes the love immortal, and on some level it makes the song immortal.

"The Song Remembers When" by Trisha Yearwood is a fitting tribute to this role that music plays in our lives, so since I haven't yet found that "our song" with someone, I will share this masterpiece with you instead. (Or at least I would have if the idiot record company would have let me embed the video. The link will take you there though).

Speaking of remembering… do you remember? And that song was playing?.. or We sang that! Songs, even those that are utterly unrelated can be profound reminders of those moments "we will never forget". "I Hope You Dance," played the year I graduated high school. Admittedly, it is the sort of sappy thing you are supposed to remember when it comes to graduation, but it doesn't change the impact it has when I hear it. It still reminds me of the thrill and hope of going to college, moving on, becoming a woman (though to be honest, most days I wonder if I ever really hit that milestone.. I think I am still trying to avoid it, truly.) Or perhaps my memories float to my senior prom with Wes, where the last dance was.. I kid you not.. "American Pie". "Sweet Home Alabama" (sorry, best copy I could find on YouTube) will always be "Sweet Home Maji Modo" (Not sure of the spelling, and never got further than changing that line.. but…) We sang it as we drove into the yard of the first house we stayed in, in the Kenyan "Bush" out with the villagers. "I Can Only Imagine" will forever draw another Kenyan picture to my mind's eye.. it was a fare well dinner in that same village. We cooked, ate goat, shared, prayed and sang with the villagers who had welcomed us so freely into their homes and lives. "So Much Cooler Online," so much fun hanging out at RyanO's house while he DJ'd his internet radio show, "Swingin' Doors". And I still "Cupid Shuffle" every time I turn "to the left" or "to the right" with any of the NABS folks. "Pussycat" has become Missy's personal theme, (with minor alterations)… "Missy cat Missy cat, I love you… Yes I do!" "Manamana" is the car trip song for watching Steve graduate from basic training… Marc and I bonded over a song called "I Hope You Die," by the Bloodhound Gang (It is an awful song, but he played it near constantly, I'm always going to remember it as one of his, and it had a good beat for Audiosurf, which is a great game, so be nice. Also, I'm not really comfortable with this one, so I am not linking to it.. you want it... you find it. I can't help that it reminds me of Marc... and no I don't share the sentiment.. meanies.). So you can see, there are too many to choose, so you won't find them all embedded on my blog here, and it isn't even half my list… but I know you have a list like this too. We all do, and it helps to make us who we are. Most of these memories wouldn't be the same without these songs, and most of these songs would be forgettable enough without these memories, but together? They build a personal soundtrack. They become a musical tribute to who we were, we are, and who we may become.

Finally, I can't count for you the number of times I have been brought to my knees in prayer, and occasionally tears because of a song.. All I can say is that music can be a truly spiritual experience. I have seen it used to teach me many lessons about my relationship with God, and I expect it will be used to teach me many… many more, though there are songs that always stand out as especially relevant, no matter where I stand, and "Canyon Prayer" by Jessi Alexander is certainly one of those songs for me. The first time I heard it… balled like a baby. All right, you people that know me well know that I didn't ball, I don't really cry when stuff hits that deep. I just can't cry, when it really matters… well sometimes, but I usually can't. Anyway, that is not the point of this blog post. I have found many songs that bring me closer to my Savior. They often teach me more than I could have learned from any sermon. I think sometimes the simplicity of music works in its favor when it comes to matters of the spirit. It has the chance to bring one point across in fairly simple and profoundly powerful terms. It doesn't have to be weighed down by argument or rhetoric. It is almost pure emotion. It gives the voice to the deepest longings of the heart. The desire to love, serve, and obey is somehow easier for me to understand when it is put to music. The gift of Jesus' sacrifice is often more real to my soul when it is sung.. He calls us to sing, to praise him with instruments and voice, I have to believe this is why. He loves music as we do, and I believe He knows, better than any how powerful a song can be. This song is powerful for me, and often draws me up short, when I don't wish to go where I ought to be… It reminds me that my loyalties really must belong to Him before all others.

Can't embed this one either.. so "Canyon Prayer."

Music can help us to say goodbye, love a little more deeply, supply a soundtrack to our days, and bring us closer to that we hold most dear. It is profound in its simplicity, and powerfully reminds us of all we are, and long to be. It makes us laugh, and cry, dance, and strive, but most important, it in large part, makes us who we are. I hope that learning a bit about the music that has shaped me will bring you back to your songs "That Remember When".

Friday, April 10, 2009

Super Size Me: Review and Commentary

Hey, tell me I'm not completely late to the party on this one, and I will gladly call you a liar, however, I wanted something to write about, and boy is this it. Wow!.. just wow. First, I will not say that all of this gentleman's research and facts are wrong, nor will I say that it wasn't entertaining, but as a serious education piece, it left more than a bit to be desired.

Are we sure this isn't a "Mockumentary"? The host was not afraid to poke quite a bit of fun at the subject, nor was he afraid that swearing or sexual discussion made his story seem less relevant. I understand that in many ways what he was really trying to put together was more of a "Shockumentary," but it didn't really do it for me. Mr. Spurlock's discussion points, while often, though not always, valid were difficult to swallow in that his style was very preachy, and overblown. I will be the first to admit that I am aware he has his finger pointed directly at people like me. I won't even disagree with the placement of said finger. I am overweight, and much of this is because of my eating and fitness habits, but here's the deal: I made those decisions. Not McDonald's, not KFC, not Blue Bunny, and not Coke. I am the woman that chose to pick up banquet meals for lunch most days at work. I am the woman who usually skips both breakfast and exercise for the five extra minutes of sleep in the morning. I admit it. Am I proud? No, not really. Am I responsible? Absolutely. Do I need a snotty New Yorker calling me out on it? No, thank you.

I feel that Mr. Spurlock, like most documentary producers, had not come into this to test a theory, but to prove a point. He already knew what he expected to find when he started. He may not have expected quite the consequences that he experienced, but on some level, he was expecting something like this to happen. He expected this "experiment" to affect his health and his mood. I can't help but wonder how much of his "mood swings" and "feeling sick" were actually caused by the food, and how much was caused by the idea of the food. I just can't be sure that what he "felt" wasn't merely because he expected to feel it. On the other hand, some of the doctor's reports are fairly scary if they are true. All in all, I just couldn't take the piece seriously.

I know this fairly short "review," doesn't really address any of Mr. Spurlock's discussion points, but that's probably not why you read my blog. If I am guessing correctly, you probably come here because you already know me, and are shocked by the spectacle of me writing anything more than I absolutely have to, and taking the time to ensure proper typing. Really I guess I just needed to see this once in my life, and then I needed to judge it on my blog. I never would have paid to watch it, but it was interesting, though not in an "I want to change my life because of this" sort of way. It was more of a… "Wow, what an arrogant jerk" thing really. However, that being said, this is my first blog post for the month, so we can thank Mr. Spurlock for that. I was casting far and wide for a topic, and he dropped one right in my lap.

So, now that I have made my opinion known on that load of… questionable content, I feel that I must mention that I do feel the need to begin some sort of weight loss plan. Certainly not because of the "documentary" though. It actually came about because I have seen the pictures from the NABS student seminar. I really looked quite a bit larger than I realized, and that makes me unhappy. So, I think first things first, I am going to look into doing a food diary for a while, just to see what I am eating, then if I can afford it, maybe Weight Watchers. If not, well I should be able to come up with something. Those of you who care, feel free to ask me about it, those who don't… well you know what to do.

Good evening for now, and I'll see you all on the flip side.

By the way, if anyone wishes to watch this "cinematic masterpiece" here's the link:

Super Size Me

Have Fun!

(I just found this "response" to the Super Size Me vid on Youtube. It proves two things. First, Youtubers will "respond" to anything that's been promoted or popular, just to get hits. Second, kittens make me much happier than arrogant New Yorkers do. Enjoy!)

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Book Review: Terrier – The Legend of Beka Cooper, Book One by Tamora Pierce

"Right now it is a thing of blood and theft and dark deeds in the Lower City." – Tunstall, From The Legend of Beka Cooper Book 1 Terrier by Tamora Pierce

What can I say I love a good story, and although every last one of my friends who I have shared it with seem to disagree concerning its status as a good story, I love this book. I love the characters, the setting and the talking cat. (Yes, I read fantasy and have a thing for talking cats, is anyone really surprised?)

So here's the setup: In a country that is very similar to medieval England and in many ways could be a parallel universe's interpretation of that time and place, a girl begins her quest to become a city guard, known affectionately in this world as a Provost's Dog. Before we continue I had better explain how this world is not like England of yore, or there is likely to be confusion later. First, Tortall is a land watched over by a pantheon of Gods, who can, at their discretion involve themselves in human affairs. Second, it is a land that contains and allows for the existence and use of magic.

Beka is proud of her involvement with the Dogs, and for this reason begins to keep a journal of all her experiences during training. She is eager, bright, and exactable, bat there is more to her than initially meets the eye. Beka has a magical gift of her own. She can hear the spirits of the dead that ride on the backs of pigeons. This gives her a unique view of what happens in her part of town, The Lower City. When strange and valuable gemstones begin to turn up, and Beka hears the voices of eight dead on the backs of the birds, she and her training partners know they have to investigate. These stones bring a second set of villainous crimes to light and make for a thrilling if unconventional mystery.

It's not just the story though. In fact, if you know me well at all, you know that generally, I don't really care for mystery. What draws me to this book, and really keeps me hooked are the characters: For instance, Beka is paired with senior Dogs Clara Goodwin, and Matthias Tunstall. Goodwin is a hard, stern woman, who is both willing and able to dispense justice with an iron will. She is skeptical of having a trainee, and is more than happy to make sure that Beka knows it and tows the line. Tunstall on the other hand is as easy-going and fun loving as a good guard could hope to be, and he looks forward to teaching Beka about guards work. They are both funny and intelligent characters who play well off of one another as real partners and friends do. They are utterly believable and enjoyable, and the book would have been lacking without them.

The next set of characters that make the book what it is are the criminal, but ultimately good hearted, Rosto, Kora and Aniki. They are a fascinating study because they manage to very effectively be friends with, and even help the Dogs, and yet still be truly and unashamedly on the other side of the law. This rich contradiction added to deeply interesting personalities makes then extremely compelling characters.

My favorite character though, is Pounce. He is described as the "God-Cat" at a few points in this story, and it's as good a description as any. His status as more than an ordinary animal is signified by his unusual purple eyes. Although the others do not seem to hear him, he has regular conversations with Beka, and infuses the book with quite a lot of sarcastic humor, and general feline antics. He is also the reason for two of my favorite quotes in the story:

"Who needs handsome idiots when we can have kitties!" Aniki

"Cats must always be cats, even when they are gods, or constellations." Beka

Finally, of course there is Beka, herself. She is as I mentioned before, bright, persistent, and hungry for justice. She's a tad idealistic, but she's sixteen. Which of us wasn't at least a tad idealistic at that age? Anyhow, Beka's main flaw is an awful and at times, crippling shyness. Although it does improve throughout the story, there are a few points where you either want to join the other characters in helping her along, or knocking her upside the head over this particular weakness. All in all, she is a fun character to follow, because she is believable.

If you have read Tamora Pierce before, this book is different from all of her other work because it is the only story, (though the rest of the series will follow in this vein), that is written from the perspective of diary entries. Some people loved this style, some hate it. Personally until she throws in a short entry, I tend to forget it's supposed to be a journal. The entries are long enough that it's easy enough to do. I doubt some of her "journal entries" would be written the way they are in the story, if they were real, but the author is going to have to make a few concessions to ensure that the story comes through clearly.

All in all, I love the book and have read it at least half a dozen times since its release. It's not for everyone, and I seem to guess wrong when I try to recommend it, but give it a try, and if you do, let me know what you think.

(One final exciting note: The sequel, Bloodhound, comes out in two weeks.)

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Bygone Places… Bygone Days: Kenya

Although I didn't officially "dedicate" the last Bygone Places entry, in many ways it was tied to a particular group of friends. This one is not. I've sadly lost touch with almost everyone from this experience, and it is something I now regret. These posts were intended to allow me to share places and times that changed me, but looking back now, this episode may be a record of regrets. How I should have changed, what I should and could have taken from this experience. Do not mistake me, I was changed and did grow from my time in Kenya, but I think I allowed much of that growth to slip away.

I am unsettled as I write this, because I know the kind of experience this was, I know at least a little of how it could and should have shaped me, and I know that where I now stand is not really where I should be. This is an introspective of a deeper more personal nature than that of Space Camp. This post is directly tied to the purpose for my time in Kenya, my Christian faith. Someday, I hope to write a more normal experiential blog about what happened in Kenya, and some of the more mundane things I learned, but truly, I feel that this needs to be written, and it is what I have to say tonight.

I truly say this with all my heart: My God, what have I done? I have wasted such a precious gift. I've lost so much of what you taught me in that beautiful place. I have willingly given up the treasure you offered me in the African sun, for the dust and day to day cares of the here and now.

For my readers' sake, I really should go back and explain a few things. I am a Christian, and have on one level, always believed in Christ. On another level though, I believed, but I hadn't really done anything with that belief. It is very much like the difference of claiming to be a Cubs fan though you never actually watch them, and actually attending every game, standing up for them in bars, and shunning all of their foes as your own, though of course on a much deeper, more personal level. There is of course no comparison between faith and baseball, but it was the only thing I could say to at least offer an explanation of what I mean when I say that I was, and yet, was not truly a believer all my life. I truly was changed by Him one June evening, (more accurately, extremely early morning) in 1997. It shaped many of my decisions as a late adolescent, including the college I later chose to attend, and the major I eventually chose. To make a long story short, (though I fully intend to later make a short story long on this point) I willingly offered my life and being to Christ, as Savior and Lord. He challenged me, pushed me to grow, and after many, many other adventures, led me to Kenya.

The country was semi-arid and mountainous, much like Colorado actually. The people were friendly and enjoyed our company. We taught in villages, and churches about Christianity and AIDS. We were taught about trusting in God for everything, because we couldn't trust ourselves. That lesson was much more real in a country where we didn't know the language of many of the inhabitants, vehicles and other equipment were so patched and ragged that it was truly a gift from Him to have them function, and where every place we went, we could see His glory in landscape and beast, alike.

I knew that our work could never succeed without His hand and blessing upon it. It was as much a fact as that the sun came up in the east, or that our Maasai hosts would invite us to drink Chai with them, or occasionally, sour milk. It was a new place of submission and trust. One I have never really allowed myself while I lived here. There have been fleeting moments of it, like when I know He has a task for me, and I truly see how unable I am to complete it without His wisdom and aid. I knew while I was in Kenya that I belonged utterly to God, and I was His beloved child. I knew that with His approval and help, I could change the world in which I lived. I might even, glory of glories, be used to help another come to know Him as their Savior and Lord. I had never known such peace, and such wonder. I haven't known them since either.

This is where the whole thing seems to fall apart to be honest. I came back, and for a time, wanted to continue to serve Christ here, until He again called me to share His love with others... elsewhere. I was eager, and I was willing to follow where I believed that He called, but slowly those feelings began to fade. Each day has been more about the things of here and now: paying bills, getting a degree, getting a job, getting a different degree so I can get a better job, so I can pay bills… For a time, I was attending a good church last year, and He began again, to remind me of all that it means to follow Him. (If you are in the Omaha area, I would highly recommend that you visit Coram Deo, by the way.) I was there long enough to long to return to the days where I tried to fully submit to Him, though I was still very bad about actually doing so. Then I moved, and honestly I am afraid to go back. It's hard to follow Him. I will say with all of my being that it is the best and fullest life I could lead, but it is not easy, and there are times that it will hurt, terribly, and I have allowed myself to be afraid, and not follow where He leads, and not listen to His call. I need to find a church where I can actively serve. I have to go to Him, and submit. It's the only way I will truly feel complete.

Will I do it? I don't know, I doubt that I ever fully will. I think it is human nature to wrestle with God, and the world for control, but I hope, and I pray… and perhaps this is the first step… that I will not forget all that I learned while I walked with God in Kenya. I know I don't want to forget any more, perhaps with His mercy, and help, I will have the strength to again say, I am weak, Father, and I know that my only strength lies in You. Take me and shape me so that I may do the most good possible in Your world. Rule me and teach me to love and trust only You.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Book Review: The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, by Dianna Wynne Jones

The Tough Guide to Fantasyland is a wonderfully funny imaginative reference guide to the cliches and archetypes found in the fantasy genre. Mrs. Jones's book is not really intended to be read cover to cover. Instead, it is meant to be read rather like an encyclopedia or dictionary. For all that it is absolutely hilarious. To give you an example of the humor in the book here is the entry on beer:

"Beer always foams and is invariably delivered in tankards. The Management is not concerned with the taste of it. That is your funeral."

(Just as an aside "The Management," refers to the author of the cliched story in question.) Ms. Jones is fairly ruthless in her remarks. She will gladly poke fun at how a situation is described, the inconsistencies of the universe or the motives of the characters. When reading the book you become familiar with terms like "The Reek of Wrongness" or the fact that all you get to eat in Fantasyland is stew.

To be honest, the book is not for everyone, nor is it for every occasion. I would never recommend this book to any of my friends, save one in California who reads fantasy as avidly, if not more avidly, than I do. This does not mean that I would not freely recommend this book to the right sort of person. "What sort of person is that ?" you ask. Well settle down and I will tell you.

I would freely and unreservedly recommend this book to people that have read hundreds of "Lord of The Rings" look-alikes. You know which ones I mean. The "high" fantasy stories that never end before you have read three 500-page volumes, and begun to wonder "Why does this look exactly like the last fifteen fantasy books I have read"? I would recommend this book to you in a heartbeat because after reading that many books that take themselves that seriously, you need a good laugh worse than the rest of us. Not to mention that I would expect that you have felt the same way as the author about these books. You too are ready to groan at the thought of another dish of stew, or wonder what does "wrongness" smell like anyway.

There is one other class of person I would recommend the book to. Anyone who likes to write Fantasy needs a copy of this book. It makes a good reference of what not to do. It really does help a writer avoid some of the dull over-used tripe in order to ensure they don't become just another cliched, boring fantasy writer.

Fantasy at its best takes us to a world never before explored, at its worst it is a sad parody of our wildest dreams and imaginings, and leaves us wondering why, when we try to escape, is it that all we get instead is a world that is bleaker and more 2-dimensional than our own. Ms. Jones is not-so-gently reminding the authors of these books to avoid dragging their readers into this bleak and barren world.

So final recommendation? Yes if your last few flights of fantasy haven't bothered to leave the ground. However, if you don't read fantasy, or don't have a satirical sense of humor don't bother, you won't like it.