Monday, March 28, 2016

Book Review: Inside Out & Back Again

This semi autobiographical tale by Thanhha Lai is about a young girl's experience fleeing Saigon under siege. Her father is missing, and the family makes the heartbreaking decision to leave without him.

Ha's thoughts about her home do not include the bombs and war, but of papayas and the flowers her father grew. Her new home in Alabama challenges her as she struggles to fit in and deals with teasing from classmates and distrust from neighbors.

The details in this National Book Award winning novel are terrific and appropriate for middle school readers. It is written in verse, which makes it an easy, lyrical read. The main character charms with a heart big enough to let go her only possession to make her brother feel better about losing his. I am rooting for that girl, and it sometimes hurts to see what happens to her. Yet there is always a spring of hope, like the flower seeds saved from her father's garden. 

Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Paws of Life

This is Otis.

He may be the most annoying cat on the planet. He loves babies and toddlers and rushes to them and insists on being by them and playing with their toys, then he bites them and chews holes in the diaper cream tubes in their bags. He will drink coffee out of the cups of guests with gusto and extreme impoliteness. He knocks over any water glass he can find, and if Otis is in your room in the morning, you can forget about sleeping past 5 a.m.

We adopted Otis from a rescue organization more than 14 years ago and were told he was returned twice due to "allergies." One family kept his brother though.Yeah, they weren't allergic to Otis' brother. He must have gotten a different kind of cat fur. I think Otis was returned because he was mischievous with a specialty in being really annoying.

My Siamese meows at my door for breakfast. Otis won't meow. Instead he barges into the room and knocks everything off the nightstand....everything. My son Elliott doesn't have a nightstand, so Otis knocks over his garbage can and paws at it, making that crinkly sound of paws against plastic lining and making a huge mess in the process.

Meowing would be easier, cleaner, and MUCH less annoying.

Otis once escaped and lived on the lam for four months during the coldest winter in Wisconsin. Somehow he survived. He found a four year old boy to take care of him. I wonder if he ever bit him.

He is about 15 years old now. It is hard to tell exact age with rescue cats. We noticed he was getting kind of scrawny, especially along his spine. The vet told us to prepare ourselves. We may have to make a decision about Otis soon.

It is hard to imagine the end of Otis. Our pets barge into our lives and are bigger than life. Logic tells us their time is short. The lifespan of a tabby cat is somewhere between 12 and 20 years. My vet told me he is definitely geriatric. He and I both know it. We ignore it. I put extra blankets on the couch for him, and when he can't get on the couch, I put a heating pad under his cat bed. I chop up his prescription food for his old cat disease and add a little water to keep him hydrated. We are all a little more careful with Otis, not dropping him from our arms anymore, but setting him on the ground to save his joints the shock of landing. But we still depend on him to patrol the house and yard for pests. He is the best mouser we ever had, and he still has a great nose.

The neighborhood kids know Otis, because he is pressed against the door when they come over, trying to escape between their legs in the most annoying of ways. We recently had eight middle school boys sleep in the basement for the night and Otis chose to snuggle up with the warm bodies on the floor, perhaps hoping to find a dropped Flaming Hot Cheetoh in the process.

I don't know how to live without that. Life without Otis would be a lot less annoying. Folks can drink coffee in peace and water glasses will not longer be in peril. Babies are safe from attack. We can sleep until seven and get out of bed without having to pick up a mess or trying to find where our glasses were tossed on the floor.

Someday we will have to make a decision about Otis, but it is not today.