» Archive for January, 2010

Frank McCourt, yer a grand writer, and sure

Saturday, January 23rd, 2010 by kara

I’m an unapologetic hedonist. I LOOOVE fast food and being lazy and trashy novels and comedic, childish movies that have no redeeming social value. I tend to avoid anything of substance, whether it’s books or movies or healthy food.

There. I said it.

But every now and then I get all perversely noble and feel like I should increase the fiber in my diet and try to be a better person. A deeper person, psychologically speaking. Part of that aberrance is a desire to read “the classics”–or at least, to read some of the writers that other people rave about.

So recently I went to the local lending library and borrowed “Angela’s Ashes,” Frank McCourt’s memoir of growing up in Limerick in grinding poverty, and “‘Tis,” his story of immigrating back to his birth city, New York, and his struggle to become a teacher there and find his place in his world. Many reviewers praise McCourt’s storytelling, saying that he managed to show the difficulties of living through unimaginable indigence while spicing stories of his childhood with humor and caring.

I’m not disputing that McCourt is a wonderful storyteller. His writing is riveting.  I just didn’t see the humor that so many others note offsets the troughs of despair. I tried hard to find it, honest–and failed. Is there something wrong with me?

Maybe I failed to see the sunbeams in “Angela’s Ashes” and “‘Tis” because I’m essentially a melancholy person. I’ve tried for most of my life to emphasize the positive, the happy, the funny elements in my everyday life. A friend commented once that I was the most positive person she knew, and that I could find the silver lining in the foulest garbage bag. What she doesn’t know is that this is a constant struggle for me, that it’s a perversion of my “I’m only happy when it rains” mindset. Inside my head, the sky is always cloudy–it’s either just stopped metaphorically raining or is about to start another downpour. ‘Better keep the windows shut and get the dogs back inside,’ is my grim everyday mindset, which I try to keep to myself.

So maybe I identified with the non-stop strife of McCourt’s childhood. I just couldn’t stop reading these books until the last page had been turned. I read compulsively until I couldn’t focus on the print anymore, which is what happens while I’m reading Diana Gabaldon.  Unlike Diana Gabaldon’s work, I wasn’t enjoying it.  While I was plowing my way through McCourt’s two books, I couldn’t muster up the strength to do anything else, I was that morose.

No, I don’t live in a wood-stove-heated hovel in Ireland, begging clothes and bedding from the Salvation Army.  I’ve never batttled communicable illness borne by the rainy season flooding our kitchen and an outdoor toilet shared by the entire neighborhood, and I’ve never had to worry about what we’d eat for breakfast, dinner or snacks. I’m sitting in a warm, dry, cozy home in Knoxville heated with a gas furnace and supplied with running water and not just one, but THREE toilets to call our very own.

I have felt that ominous shadow of “Oh, Jaysus, what in the name of the Blessed Virgin could possibly happen to us next? Will we ever have a moment of peace to call our own, for the comfort that’s in it, at all, at all?” But it’s been nothing like what McCourt and his family and others like them endured during his childhood years.

So what the hell IS my problem? Dunno. Guess my empathetic funk was a tribute to McCourt’s power as a storyteller. He compels his reader to stay with him, even as we tear up watching his mother suffer from emphysema and contemplate the maddening discomfort of sharing a flea-infested bed with three siblings.

Maybe someday I’ll be able to mesmerize readers with my storytelling. But for my own psychological well-being I should probably avoid writing about real life and stick to happy tales of lottery winnings and reunited best friends and lollipops and rainbows.

Animal rescuers (and foster homes, and money) needed

Saturday, January 23rd, 2010 by kara

This recession has taken its toll on so many of us. We’re worn out with worrying about making ends meet with no income or half an income or with trying to find work where there’s none available.

Unfortunate casualties in these trying times include domestic animals, our companion pets. Many people who’ve lost their jobs have also lost their homes, and they’ve lost their ability to keep and care for their pets.

In the mad crush and confusion of foreclosure, many families find themselves unable to take their pets with them, and rehome them via Craig’s List and rescues. Or they drop them off at their local animal shelter. Or they just toss them out of the car and quickly drive far away. Or leave them locked in an empty house to (hopefully) be discovered by a caring human.

At the same time rescuers also find themselves stretched to the breaking point. Between the increased influx of animals needing rescue to decreased contributions and the inability of dollar bills to stretch in order to cover greater costs, everybody is worn thin, emotionally and financially.

Rescue at any point is hard, never-ending work that requires relentless optimism. It seems that no matter how many animals you manage to help, there are dozens, hundreds, THOUSANDS more who need help desperately. That thought alone is enough to drive me to tears.

That’s especially true now, when we’re overwhelmed by the number of animals needing a new port in the storm–and we’re fighting our own financial battles.

I am unimaginably thankful for the positive, optimistic and inhumanely STRONG people who surround me in rescue. I don’t know how I’d keep going without their broad shoulders to lean against.

If you don’t work in rescue but you’d like to help, dive in! Do a Google search for a rescue specializing in animals of which you’re particularly fond. Rescue groups always need fresh, optimistic faces. Or donate a few dollars or some old blankets or toys or that just-opened-but-totally-disdained bag of kibble your finicky cat won’t touch.

If nothing else, tell someone who does work in rescue ‘thanks for your efforts.’ Sometimes it’s enough to know that others understand and appreciate all the hard work and heartbreak. We gotta get our warm fuzzies from somewhere in order to keep going.

Score on bottle brush for SIGG-type bottles!

Thursday, January 21st, 2010 by kara

Last summer I bought a SIGG water bottle for the Pumpkin. It was kind of expensive, painted a really cool acid florescent green color and I thought he’d like it, plus his plastic water bottle had cracked and/or was growing something exotic inside. I don’t know if he’s used his new metal bottle yet.

This past winter, I bought myself a SIGG-type bottle (actually made by Gaiam) at Target, to replace our numerous plastic water bottles that tended to break or just generally develop leaks for unspecified reasons. I figured that having only two bottles would lead to more accountability in keeping them clean. If you have a bunch of plastic bottles you can just grab one of the clean ones out of the cupboard, and you’re not as concerned about getting those dirty ones from the car into the sink to be washed–and NOTHING smells worse than soured soymilk left sitting for a few days. Trust me on this.

So we have these lovely metal water bottles that are more durable than plastic and hopefully aren’t leaching harmful chemicals into our drinking water. But I was worried about using my plain ol’ dollar store bottle brush on them. I don’t want to scratch the lining of the bottles, which creates refuges for bacteria and other naughty things to grow inside the bottles.

Right alongside all these metal bottles at Target was a SIGG brand cleaning brush that was obviously intended specifically for scrubbing out narrow-necked bottles. Unlike most bottle brushes, which are made of twisted wire that can scratch the inside of the bottle before the bristles brush it clean, this whole brush was molded plastic with lots of bristles on the very end, and the handle was narrow enough to fit through the narrow bottle neck. Lovely!

And it was $11.99. Whoa, buddy. I appreciate the quality of this brush. I understand the importance of scrubbing out the bottles without scratching the interior, to maintain their integrity. But I just could NOT justify spending $12 on a brush to be used for ONE purpose.

So I decided to tough it out, carrying only water in our bottles, and scrubbing them out carefully with my existing bottle brush, (plastic-coated wire) and periodically soaking them with a solution of OxyClean and water, which should kill any lurking pathogens without eating holes in the bottles’ liner.

But at the beginning of January, I was at Cost Plus World Market searching for a 2010 calendar on clearance when I found a wonderful OXO bottle brush in specs very similar to the SIGG brush–but for only $4.99! Oh joy! Oh marvelous chance! I won’t spend $12 for a bottle brush, but I WILL spend $5!

Now I just have to figure out where Rick’s bottle is so I can clean it.