Category Archives: Reading

A Tale of Two Cats

I am not a cat person. Never really have been. Never really will be.

But, there have been two cats in my life that wiggled their way into my dog-loving heart. Is there is a common factor between these two felines that has raised them above a “leave me alone and go catch mice” relationship?

Why yes there is. They’re badasses.

BAD ASSES.

Big Bad Bud was one of a kind. He didn’t really like people and he was a killing machine. Birds. Mice. Rats. Squirrels. If it moved and/or pissed him off, it was dead. I can’t find the video or the photographic evidence, but Triple B once killed an adult squirrel and laid its lifeless body in front of the back door. I know, many cats do this. But do they also eat the squirrel starting at the head and leaving only a fluffy tail on the doormat? I don’t think so.

And the really incredible thing about Big Bad Bud was he only had one working eye. The other one was blind when we adopted him. Much to my dismay, we had to give him away when he got old, got cranky, and started to become nasty toward our other cat and some of the kids who hung out around the house.

We gave Bud away to some friends who live in the country and needed a mouser for their outbuildings. It was a match made in heaven. Bud fulfilled his duties wonderfully for a period of time until, one day, he disappeared.

Common sense states the elderly cat was caught by a coyote or wandered off to die in the woods. But for me, I believe in the Legend of Big Bad Bud. I believe he is still out there wandering Washington Co. hunting and surviving on his own.

The other cat is our current senior feline, Willie. The family we adopted Willie from years ago was moving and could no longer keep him at their new residence. They asked if we were interested, we said yes. They thought Willie was around eight-years-old when we took him in. That was twelve years ago, making his age now around 20. He adjusted to Hays House life pretty quickly. Until his first Christmas at the house and he peed on the Christmas tree skirt and was permanently banned to the life of an outdoor cat. He went out. He rarely complained. He, like Bud, was also not a fan of people.

The past 12 months, Willie has been slowing down. He is truly showing his age. He’s fought off several bouts of unknown illnesses, worked through the introduction of a new cat, Nala, and worked through the death of his respected friend and housemate, our chocolate lab, Sophie. I’ve known for the past few years that his days were numbered and getting close.

A few weeks ago, he got backed over by our Yukon. He hadn’t been feeling well for a few days. He’d been down and sleeping most of the time for about 3-4 days. I thought he was a goner, but he rebounded. He was still kicking but kicking it slowly. Willie never sleeps under the vehicles. Never. When we turned on the SUV to back out of the driveway on a Friday evening, for some reason he was under the Yukon. He must have not woke up and the rear tire ran over him.

I thought he was a goner. He crawled to his spot behind the garage and wouldn’t budge except for his labored breathing. I sat with him and tried to make him comfortable. I almost called the vet to get him put down. I convinced myself to give Willie until the morning and see if nature took its course during the night.

When I woke early Saturday morning and went to check on him, he was gone! I couldn’t find him anywhere around the garage. I wondered if a dog or coyote or something took him off during the night. But when I trudged through the house and out the front door to get the newspaper, there he was lying in his third favorite spot by the front porch. Alive but not kicking very well. Again, I thought about a trip to the vet. Again, I thought if Willie got his three-quarters dead-self moved all the way across the yard, he deserved the gift of time. I gave him until Monday.

I raked and mowed leaves that afternoon. In the middle of the process, I catch movement out of the corner of my eye. Wille! He was standing on all four legs. Moving 10 feet or so, and lying down for a rest. Incredible.

Every day I gave him another day before getting him put down. Every day he survived and improved. Limping and moving slow, but eating and drinking again. This past week, less than two weeks after the accident, he showed up to greet me one evening when I came home from work as he’d always done. Walking normally with a slight limp. I hate to get sentimental, but I just about cried. Willie is one incredibly tough cat. He doesn’t know any better than to survive. He has to be on Life #8.99999.

BADASS.

So, we will see what the future brings for Willie. Today I even shared with him a piece of my t-bone steak. He deserves. In the meantime, the next badass cat at the Hays House will have big shoes to fill to follow Big Bad Bud and Willie.

My kind of cats. Badass SOBs.

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A Words Look: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

I read The Legend of Sleepy Hollow at least once a year, preferably in the month of October when the winds turn chill and the leaves fall and swirl in our path. There have been cartoons, movies and shortened version of this story that are very entertaining in their own right, but none compare to the original bestowed upon us by Washington Irving. In a day of age where we rush and run and squeeze activity after activity into our lives, it’s a fine thing to be able to turn to Irving and disappear into his stories and settings. His descriptions, which may be considered verbose by today’s standards, transport the reader back into another space and time. In The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, he does this masterfully. I always feel like I’m walking down a Hudson Valley path listening to the narrator tell this tale while he points out the Van Tassel home, the schoolhouse, the churchyard, and the wooden bridge.

Here is the opening of the story in all its glory. I hope it entices you to have a read or reread of the whole tale this week in the spirit of the roaming spirits of the season. You can find the eBook file here to download. 

Have a safe and happy Halloween!

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

In the bosom of one of those spacious coves which indent the eastern
shore of the Hudson, at that broad expansion of the river denominated by
the ancient Dutch navigators the Tappan Zee, and where they always
prudently shortened sail and implored the protection of St. Nicholas when they crossed, there lies a small market town or rural port, which by
some is called Greensburgh, but which is more generally and properly
known by the name of Tarry Town. This name was given, we are told, in
former days, by the good housewives of the adjacent country, from the
inveterate propensity of their husbands to linger about the village tavern
on market days. Be that as it may, I do not vouch for the fact, but merely
advert to it, for the sake of being precise and authentic. Not far from this
village, perhaps about two miles, there is a little valley or rather lap of
land among high hills, which is one of the quietest places in the whole
world. A small brook glides through it, with just murmur enough to lull
one to repose; and the occasional whistle of a quail or tapping of a
woodpecker is almost the only sound that ever breaks in upon the
uniform tranquillity.

I recollect that, when a stripling, my first exploit in squirrel-shooting was
in a grove of tall walnut-trees that shades one side of the valley. I had
wandered into it at noontime, when all nature is peculiarly quiet, and
was startled by the roar of my own gun, as it broke the Sabbath stillness
around and was prolonged and reverberated by the angry echoes. If ever
I should wish for a retreat whither I might steal from the world and its
distractions, and dream quietly away the remnant of a troubled life, I
know of none more promising than this little valley.

From the listless repose of the place, and the peculiar character of its
inhabitants, who are descendants from the original Dutch settlers, this
sequestered glen has long been known by the name of Sleepy Hollow,
and its rustic lads are called the Sleepy Hollow Boys throughout all the
neighboring country. A drowsy, dreamy influence seems to hang over the
land, and to pervade the very atmosphere. Some say that the place was
bewitched by a High German doctor, during the early days of the
settlement; others, that an old Indian chief, the prophet or wizard of his
tribe, held his powwows there before the country was discovered by
Master Hendrick Hudson. Certain it is, the place still continues under the
sway of some witching power, that holds a spell over the minds of the
good people, causing them to walk in a continual reverie. They are given
to all kinds of marvellous beliefs, are subject to trances and visions, and
frequently see strange sights, and hear music and voices in the air. The
whole neighborhood abounds with local tales, haunted spots, and
twilight superstitions; stars shoot and meteors glare oftener across the
valley than in any other part of the country, and the nightmare, with her
whole ninefold, seems to make it the favorite scene of her gambols.

The dominant spirit, however, that haunts this enchanted region, and
seems to be commander-in-chief of all the powers of the air, is the
apparition of a figure on horseback, without a head. It is said by some to
be the ghost of a Hessian trooper, whose head had been carried away by
a cannon-ball, in some nameless battle during the Revolutionary War,
and who is ever and anon seen by the country folk hurrying along in the
gloom of night, as if on the wings of the wind. His haunts are not
confined to the valley, but extend at times to the adjacent roads, and
especially to the vicinity of a church at no great distance. Indeed, certain
of the most authentic historians of those parts, who have been careful in
collecting and collating the floating facts concerning this spectre, allege
that the body of the trooper having been buried in the churchyard, the
ghost rides forth to the scene of battle in nightly quest of his head, and
that the rushing speed with which he sometimes passes along the
Hollow, like a midnight blast, is owing to his being belated, and in a
hurry to get back to the churchyard before daybreak.

Such is the general purport of this legendary superstition, which has
furnished materials for many a wild story in that region of shadows; and
the spectre is known at all the country firesides, by the name of the
Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow.

By w:Emanuel Leutze – http://archive.org/details/legendofsleepyho05irvi, Public Domain

 

 

 

A Words Look: Linda Sue Park

“In order to find yourself in a book, you have to lose yourself in a book.” – Linda Sue Park

I kind of came to a Linda Sue Park fandom through a roundabout way. I didn’t read her books first. The way I came about it was through hearing her Ted X talk, Can A Children’s Book Change the World?. I highly recommend this video if you haven’t seen it yet. She hits it dead center in the middle of the target. Reading is magic. Libraries are the magic castle.

If I were a rich man, I’d buy every middle school kid in the country a copy of her book A LONG WALK TO WATER. All I can say is that it is great in a riveting, dramatic, true-life story kind of a way. Everyone NEEDS to read this book!

Empathy is another of the superpowers that grow from being a reader.

Empathy —> Engagement

A LONG WALK TO WATER is one of the three middle reader selections for the 2017 Global Read Aloud starting October 2, 2017. The other two books are Victoria Coe’s excellent FENWAY AND HATTIE and the completely awesome out-of-left-field book, THE WILD ROBOT from Peter Brown. These three authors (and possibly GRA Founder Pernille Ripp) have agreed to participate in a #MGLitChat Pro Chat I am hosting on September 21, 2017, to spotlight the 2017 Global Read Aloud program, the three middle reader selections, and these authors. This is your invitation to join us at 9:00 PM Eastern on the #MGLitChat Twitter feed.

And to let you in on a little secret…

Linda Sue Park, Victoria Coe, Peter Brown, and Pernille Ripp are just about the nicest people you’d ever “meet”.

Keep reading people! Read out of your comfort zone. Read about the “other” and develop an empathetic eye and mind. We need diverse books in each of our lives. Diversity = difference. Empathy allows you to accept the differences and build relationships.

Build a better world, one book at a time. Right, Linda Sue Park?

 

Early North American Culture Clash

One of the great powers of the 16th Century northeastern woodlands were the nations of the Wendat Confederacy. They were a highly successful, highly organized confederation populating the Lake Huron region.

The Wendat were a maternal society, meaning that women played a meaningful role in the politics and economics of the tribe. All property was held down the maternal lineage and marriages had to be outside the maternal clan. Women were even in charge of selecting the tribal chiefs.

This strong maternal influence on the tribe caused more than a few riffs with the French Jesuit missionaries who were the first whites to establish contact with the Wendats in the 1600’s. There is a story told of complaints by the Jesuits to the men of a village about several outspoken women. The Jesuits convinced the men they were being led away from the path of salvation by these outspoken women. To force them to change their ways, the Jesuits threatened to bind the ankles of the women and tether them to a stake in the ground.

Needless to say, this philosophy did not go well and soon the Jesuits found a way to look past the maternal leadership and influence.

Culture clash…early North American style.

The American Dream

Almost 230 years ago, a group of men gathered as part of a convention in Philadelphia and dreamed. What came out of that convention was the United States Constitution. Flawed men (some more flawed than others) produced a document for a nation which did not exist, which could not exist under their current leadership limitations, and could only someday be realized when the United States of America could and would live under the credo that “All men are created equal”.

The Founding Fathers, most of whom had as many character and moral flaws as patriotic and leadership attributes, possessed a vision of the potential in their young nation. They set the groundwork and, most importantly, made the constitution an open-ended document. The created a constitution which could be amended, or added to, as problems arose. For their part, they addressed the pending issues of their time in their first ten amendments, collectively called The Bill of Rights. They allowed for change. They allowed the people of the near and far future to move the country forward as issues, new and unimaginable in 1787, threatened the potential of what the United States of America could be.

We still aren’t there in 2017 as witnessed by the divisions of race, economy, philosophy, and policy. But this is not a complete failure of the dream. It is the fight between moving forward toward the dream and staying firmly planted and looking back. These are the growing pains of a diverse nation that dreams of greater things. Two steps forward and one step back.

The Civil War was the first hammer of change after 1782. It changed the nation. Not completely, not permanently, but it changed who and what the United States was forever. It recreated the shift of the young nation as being a single nation and not a collection of separate entities. Historian Barbara Fields and Shelby Foote perhaps said it best at the opening of the final episode of Ken Burns’ classic documentary, The Civil War.

Dr. Barbara Fields, professor of history at Columbia University, on the American Civil War:

“It is the event in American history in that, it is the moment that made the United States as a nation. And I mean that in different ways. The United States was obviously a nation when it adopted a constitution. But it adopted a constitution that required the war to be sorted out and therefore, require the war to make a real nation out of what was a theoretical nation as it was designed at the Constitutional Convention.”

Author-historian Shelby Foote:

“Before the war, it was said the United States are, grammatically it was spoken that way and thought of as a collection of independent states. And after the war, it was always the United States is, as we say today without being self-conscious at all. And that pretty much sums up what the war accomplished. It made us and is.”

In my humble opinion, our responsibility as Americans—the job devised and written into this dream document called the United States Constitution—is to keep pushing toward the goals set by the Founding Fathers. Two steps forward and make sure we fight and scratch and claw to limit any step back to one, preferably short, step backward. We need to push toward an American vision and dream to which we have pledged our allegiance to virtually every day of our lives.

“…one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Let’s be the people the writers of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence hoped we would become. Let’s acknowledge our horrific deeds and flaws of our past in order to make this a better place for everyone today. Let’s leave this country today a little closer to the dream for those of tomorrow.

Live the American Dream.

  • Sacrifice
  • Respect
  • Hard work
  • Compassion
  • Honesty.

These are the attributes that make America great (as always).

A Words Look: Hamlet, 4.5

I received a daily quote from my Shakespeare app which is usually the first thing I see on my phone in the morning and often the last things I see in the evening on my iPad. There are worse ways to start and finish a day than with The Bard.

“Lord, we know what we are, but know not what we may be. ”                                      -Ophelia, Hamlet, 4.5

Reading and contemplating on this quote by Ophelia from Hamlet, I wonder if this is the perfect description of who we are as a nation. The United States of America is struggling with itself right now in 2017. We are a nation that has entered into its adolescent years. We’ve survived infancy, Independence and setting up a tremendous framework, called the Constitution, and struggled through our terrible two’s during the American Civil War.

Now that we are firmly in the adolescent period, we are struggling internally as a middle school or early high school kid might do. We may think we know  100% more than 99% of everyone else, especially the adults/parents and we often fly off the handle emotionally and physically. With a lack of disregard for the opinions and viewpoints of others, we continue to sludge through the muck, making mistakes, and moving further to opposite ends of the spectrum.

Things may seem crazy now, but we will work through this. We will grow as a nation into the fine young adult stage and maybe figure out a thing or two about ourselves as a nation along the way. The opposing forces in the U.S. currently driving at breakneck speeds away from each other will eventually realize it’s time to turn around and address each other because nobody likes running full speed into a wall.

Have hope America! As we mature as a nation, we may actually find out “what we may be”.

Thanks, Bill Shakespeare! You would have been a great American.

Boom! Boys are reading influencers!

Great news from the 2017 Digital Book World Conference via Jane Friedman and Porter Anderson in their January bonus issue of The Hot Sheet.

According to Nielsen Book Research director, Jo Henry, boys ages 9-12 have grabbed an increased market share of the juvenile book market! Boys are influencing more book purchases so (hopefully) we can infer boys are reading more. That is fantastic news!

Several very interesting points from Jo Henry’s presentation were highlighted in The Hot Sheet about this current upward development in the boy reader.

  • This trend shows up when comparing 2010 to 2016 figures, with an increase in books being bought for boys aged 9 to 12.

  • What books are being bought for boys? Fantasy and adventure.

  • Authors represented in this realm include J.K. Rowling, of course, as well as Rick Riordan, Suzanne Collins, R.L. Stine, James Dashner, and Kathryn Lasky.

  • Interestingly, 64 percent of these books aren’t being bought for boys as gifts; in many cases, they’re being asked for by the boys and offered by their parents.

  • The main discovery method of these books by boys is in-person, usually through spotting a store display or TV ad.

                                                     (Source The Hot Sheet, January 2017)

Boy readers, I applaud you! You are awesome. You are readers, despite what we are continually fed about your lack of desire to read. Keep it up. Keep seeing books or hearing about books you are interested in and asking for them. Your action in regard to finding the reading material you like is impressive. It gives me hope.

Reading builds empathy. Empathy builds great human beings. Great human beings build great societies.

Boy readers, keep searching for books that interest you. Keep struggling until you find your fit. It is out there. Don’t give up. Ask your librarian, your friends, or your teachers for recommendations. Check out http://www.guysread.com or send me a message if you are struggling to find your reading niche. Find your place in the world of literature. You are never bored with a book around.

But most importantly, keep reading, boys!

lincoln-as-a-boy-reading-at-night

Eastman Johnson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons