Thursday, January 12, 2017

Nail Caps for Safety and Hygiene! (Or Don't Give Up!)

Johnny moved in a little more than a year ago--November 2015--when our friend, Michelle, was looking for a permanent home for her.  Johnny had lived with Michelle since her kittenhood, but then Michelle met and fell in love with a guy plagued by chronic lung conditions--and who is allergic to cats on top of that.  For a while Johnny had been living entirely outside, but Michelle wanted to find her a new (indoor) arrangement before winter settled in.  After a trial run with another friend, which ended unhappily, Matt and I agreed to try her out.  What can I say, just like with Ginger, I am a sucker for a cat in need?
Johnny is a special cat.  (They all are, aren't they?!)  One of this things that makes Johnny so special is that she's a bit obsessive-compulsive.  She gets it in her head to start scratching and licking and just keeps going and going and going and going...until she has wounds that look both terribly painful and rather gross.  She's had this tendency since she was a kitten.  Johnny has been checked out by multiple vets.  She is healthy and happy as far as anyone can tell.  "Maybe she has allergies," was the best answer provided.  So, she ate special allergen-friendly cat food for a while...with no noticeable results.  It's a puzzler.
From my research and from observations with her, I think she is just a little developmentally different, special needs, or whathaveyou.  She is quite clumsy and uncoordinated for a cat.  She drools--a lot.  She is slightly duck footed (you, know the opposite of pigeon toed).  She has had litter box issues, off and on.  The biggest symptom that everything isn't quite "normal" is her obsessive, self-injurious behavior.  She licks and scratches (and licks and scratches and licks and scratches) at her head and neck until both are speckled with raw, angry-looking wounds.
But a lovable gal, for sure, no matter how we label her.  
She has one of the loudest purrs I've encountered and she is quick to use it.  She meows in greeting and extends her hand in a welcoming high-five.  She regularly flops over on her back in the "cockroach" to elicit belly rubs.  She adores having her armpits scratched.  She is obsessed with beer bottle caps.  If she spots one she immediately goes after it.  She picks it up in her mouth and trots off to put in in her food dish.  This is where bottle caps belong, I gather.  Matt pulls them out and scatters them again and the game repeats itself.  If Ginger and I are in love, Matt and Johnny are, too.
Still.  Something had to be done, for the sake of all parties.  She was consistently peeing on the carpet two feet from the litter box.  She left gross scabs--complete with tufts of hair--lying about on the carpet/bed/couch.  Plus, she had open wounds, leaving her exposed to infections--and she perpetually harassed them, not letting them heal.  This was no good for her, in addition to grossing out the rest of the household.  We tried a wound spray to promote healing, but it wasn't working fast enough to keep up with her compulsive scratching.  We put her in The Cone Of Shame, but that was only a stop-gap and only increased the litter box issues.
We through about giving up on Johnny a lot.  More than I'm keen to admit, even.  We took her in without knowing what a special cat she would prove to be.  It seemed like too much--like in a world full of unwanted pets we could easily find a perfectly normal cat who needed a home.  One who wouldn't bring so many challenges along with her.
"Let's give it a month," we said.  Then it became, "two months."  Then, "Okay, three months."  Then it was "Just through the winter."
In the end, we realized that there wasn't an expiration date on Johnny.  She honestly needed up to figure something out.  She didn't have loads of options.  She couldn't go back to Michelle's.  She'd already had the failed trial run before she landed with us.  She needed a home.  Period.  Johnny turns thirteen this summer, which ain't no spring chicken in cat-years.  Knowing that, we just kept trying, working towards a solutions which would make us all happy.  What else could we do?  It was just the right thing.
On a whim--and not too optimistic of one--we tried nail caps.  And they changed everything.  Nail caps and a bandanna.
Now we've settled into a pattern that works, more or less.  It sure took time, but you know how it goes, the harder the struggle the sweeter the victory.  If we'd just given up this happy ending wouldn't have happened.  I’m so thankful we persisted until we found the work-arounds and solutions to Johnny's problematic behaviors.
I was totally dubious about the nail caps, thinking, "Suuuuuuuure!  I bet the cat will just lay there placid and let you put on fake nails!  Yeah, right!"  But, like I said, we were willing to try anything that might help.  The nightmare which I imagined when putting them on never came to pass.  She was remarkably cooperative.  She doesn't love it, but if we catch her when she is sleepy it is a piece of cake.  It is also much easier now since we only apply one as they fall off rather than eight all at once.

So now Johnny wears little rubbery nail covers on her back feet.  With her nails capped she cannot cause the terrible wounds.  This is an all-around win.  There aren’t scabs left behind on the carpet and furniture.  (Go, us.)  Johnny is healthier and at less risk of infection.  (Go, Johnny.)  Plus, it makes her more pleasant to pet which really only makes everyone happier.  (Go, team.)  
Marketed as a much more humane alternative to decalwing (which is like amputating the cat's fingers at the first knuckle) the caps are attached over the nail with a dab of glue.  They eventually fall off as the nail grows out and we trim the nail and replace the cap.  They're a non-chemical, non-invasive, quick, cost-effective solution.  
They come in colors and clear.  We initially picked clear and one could hardly notice that Johnny was wearing them.  When we bought our second pack we picked pink because Michelle’s hair is pink.  As an added bonus it makes it very easy to tell when they’ve grown out, fallen off, and need to be replaced.  
Johnny honestly doesn’t seem to mind them, now that she is used to it.  The first time we put them on she shook her feet and tugged at them with her teeth.  She wasn't used to how they felt and was trying to rip them off.  Now she doesn’t bat an eye when we apply a new one.  They nail caps seem targeted at people who have cats ripping up the drapes, but they work superbly well for this off-label use.
Like everything there are detractors who say nail caps hurt cat's feet or can inhibit their ability to walk or retract and extend their nails, but from my experience, Johnny is able to do everything she wants EXCEPT scratch herself to the point of blood and pain.  She walks, jumps, runs, climbs, scratches, plays, chases, eats, bathes, stalks, and all the other things cats enjoy.
The second prong in our successful campaign against head wounds involved fitting Johnny with a bandanna.  With the bandanna folded and secured around her neck she cannot keep licking at it past the point of baldness into raw, oozing wound.  I think it makes her looks cute, as well as providing a protective barrier from her sandpapery tongue.  I was worried the vet would give me a hard time about it being a choking hazard or something, but she said it was a clever solution and that a solution was what we needed.  She said many pets get abandoned because of behavioral issues and so she was just glad we'd found something that works.  
Even with all these accommodations, Johnny is clearly still itchy—she goes wild with purring and air-licking when we scratch her about the head or neck.  But at least we can help her with that without ripping her wide open, which we do several times a day.  Plus, with the toe caps she can still scratch herself, just without the razor sharp points.
It would have been simpler for Matt and I to send Johnny packing.  We could have gotten another cat.  That wouldn't have solved the underlying problem that there was a very special cat that needed a place to grow old though.  It took more work to crack that nut, but it was totally worth doing--in the small picture and the big picture.
In the small picture, we helped Johnny find a home.  In the big picture, we had the opportunity to demonstrate the kindness and empathy which I hope all beings find in this world.
I need my friends and family to show me empathy for a lot of things, too.  I’m far from perfect.  I am always late.  I often talk too much and too loudly.  I am a tightwad.  I get grumpy when my arthritis flares.  I can be too critical.  On top of all that someday I will be an old lady, maybe hard of hearing or clumsy or with bathroom problems of my own.  I’ll have uninteresting stories to tell and jokes that aren’t funny.  I want to believe that I live in a world where we take care of each other, even when it is not exactly convenient, where we find solutions to the problems we inevitably encounter when living together.  So, I try to model that if  I can.  To humans, to cats, just wherever I can. 
And I can’t recommend those nail caps enough.  Game changer.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Books Read (and Listened to) in 2016

I read just about the same number of books as last year.  I read 100 this year versus 108 in 2015.  I didn’t come close to knocking out my Read-Every-Newbery-Award-Book challenge, but that’s okay.  I am reading my 19th book on the list.  Oh, so often things take longer than I expect.  I am a time optimist like that.  Also, I kept getting distracted with other books to read.  Val and Hannah sucked me into that Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy, for example. 
Same as every year it took some doing to come up with my top ten list.  When I looked back over my total record for the year some books immediately jumped to mind.  It becomes harder and hard as I narrow titles down for the last few slots.  I’ve read a lot of swell books again this year on a myriad of topics, fiction and non-fiction.  As tends to be the case, most of my top ten are non-fiction, but that kind of compelling, page-turning, narrative non-fiction—nothing dry and boring.  Cliché though it may be:  Truth really is stranger than fiction.  Thus far, none of the Newbery books are contenders for the top ten list.  Maybe next year.
Beth’s Top Ten Books of 2016 (in no particular order)
  • The Big Sky Series by A.B. Guthrie (I am "cheating" and lump all these together as one)
  • Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton
  • Zoobiquity by Barbara Natterson-Horowitz, M.D. & Kathryn Bowers
  • The Meaning of Everything by Simon Winchester
  • The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
  • The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
  • Green Metropolis by David Owen
  • The Notorious Benedict Arnold Steve Sheinkin
  • Newspaper Blackout by Austin Kleon
  • Freakonomics: A Rouge Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven Levitt

Annual Stats

Number of young adult or children's books:   26
Number of adult books:  20
Number of audiobooks (both adult and YA/children):  54
100 Total Books (compared with 108 total books for 2015)
Below is the full list of books I read in 2016.  So many good books, so little time.  The books are listed in reverse order with the most recent at the top of the list.
Photo credit to Kris Prinzing.
Books Read (and Listened To) in 2016. * indicates an audiobook
  • Freakonomics: A Rouge Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything (Steven Levitt)
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by Newt Scamander (J.K. Rowling)
  • Dreams of Joy (Lisa See)
  • Shanghi Girls (Lisa See)*
  • Mr. Lincoln's High-Tech War: How the North Used the Telegraph, Railroads, Surveillance Balloons, Iron-Clads, High-Powered Weapons and More to Win the Civil War (Thomas B. Allen, Roger Macbride Allen)*
  • Thimbleberry Summer by Elizabeth Enright
  • The White Stag by Kate Seredy
  • Roller Skates by Ruth Sawyer
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Stephen Chbosky)*
  • A Confederacy of Dunces (John Kennedy Toole)*
  • Confessions of a Sociopath: A Life Spent Hiding in Plain Sight (M.E. Thomas)*
  • Caddie Woodlawn (Carol Ryrie Brink)
  • A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906 (Simon Winchester)*
  • My Heart is an Idiot: Essays (Davy Rothbart)*
  • Dobry by Monica Shannon
  • The History of the Devil (Clive Barker)*
  • Road Rage (Stephen King, Richard Matheson, & Joe Hill)*
  • Rotters (Daniel Kraus)*
  • The Autobiography of Foudini M. Cat (Susan Fromberg Schaeffer)
  • Invincible Louisa: The Story of the Author of Little Women (Cornelia Meigs)

  • Dog On It (Peter Abrahams)
  • The Big Green Book (Robert Graves & Maurice Sendak)
  • Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze (Elizabeth Foreman Lewis)
  • The Book With No Pictures (B.J. Novak)
  • Deadline (Mira Grant)*
  • Drawn: The Art of Ascent (Jeremy Collins)
  • Feed (Mira Grant)*
  • Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses (Claire Dederer)*
  • These Thousand Hills (A.B. Guthrie, Jr.)*
  • Waterless Mountain (Laura Adams Armer)

  • Pancakes, Pancakes! (Eric Carme)
  • The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Junk Food (Stan & Jan Berenstain)
  • The Berenstain Bears Get the Gimmies (Stan & Jan Berenstain)
  • The Way West (A.B. Guthrie, Jr.)*
  • The Big Sky (A.B. Guthrie, Jr.)*
  • The Cat Who Went to Heaven (Elizabeth Coatsworth)
  • The Bell Jar (Sylvia Plath)
  • Fasting Girls: The History of Anorexia Nervosa (Joan Jacobs Brumberg)
  • Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (Tom Robins)*
  • Hitty: Her First Hundred Years (Rachel Field)

  • Sh*t My Dad Says (Justin Halpern)*
  • Impulse (Ellen Hopkins)*
  • The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business (Charles Duhigg)*
  • A Clearing in the Wild (Jane Kirkpatrick)*
  • The Accident Season (Moira Fowley-Doyle)*
  • Around the World on Two Wheels: Annie Londonderry's Extraordinary Ride (Peter Zheutlin)*
  • 29 Gifts: How a Month of Giving Can Change Your Life (Cami Walker)*
  • A Tendering in the Storm (Jane Kirkpatrick)*
  • The Chosen One (Carol Lynch Williams)*
  • The Trumpeter of Krakow (Eric Kelly & Janina Domanska)

  • What Are You Hungry For?: The Chopra Solution to Permanent Weight Loss, Well-Being, and Lightness of Soul (Deepak Chopra)*
  • Green Metropolis: Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less are the Keys to Sustainability (David Owen)*
  • Flesh and Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy (Albert Marrin)*
  • Gay-Neck: The Story of a Pigeon (Dhan Gopal Mukerji)
  • Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free (Hector Tobar)*
  • Thirteen Reasons Why (Jay Asher)*
  • I Have Lived a Thousand Years: Growing Up in the Holocaust (Livia Bitton-Jackson)*
  • The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own (Joshua Becker)
  • The Last Book in the Universe (Rodman Philbrick)*
  • Loud Awake and Lost (Adele Griffin)*

  • Smoky the Cowhorse (Will James)
  • Cold War in a Cold Land: Fighting Communism on the Northern Plains (David Mills)
  • The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary (Simon Winchester)*
  • Mr. and Mrs. Doctor (Julie Iromuanya)
  • Jeff Bridges: Poems (Donora Hilard & Goodloe Bryon)
  • The Patron Saint of Used Cars and Second Chances: A Memoir (Mark Milhone)*
  • In the Kingdom of Men (Kim Barnes)*
  • Birdie (Tracey Lindberg)
  • Revived (Cat Patrick)*
  • Why We Do What We Do: Understanding Self-Motivation (Edward Deci & Richard Flaste)

  • The War to End All Wars: World War I (Russell Freedman)*
  • The Lucy Variations (Sara Zarr)*
  • Humans of New York (Brandon Stanton)
  • This is Your Brain on Sports: The Science of Underdogs, the Value of Rivalry, and What We Can Learn From the T-Shirt Cannon (L. Jon Wertheim & Sam Sommers)
  • Imperfect: An Improbable Life (Jim Abbott & Tim Brown)*
  • The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism, and Treachery (Steve Sheinkin)*
  • Sweethearts (Sara Zarr)*
  • Skinny (Donna Cooner)*
  • We Should All Be Feminists (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)
  • Zoobiquity: The Astonishing Connection Between Human and Animal Health (Barbara Natterson-Horowitz, M.D. & Kathryn Bowers)*

  • Shen of the Sea (Arthur Bowie Christman)
  • Newspaper Blackout (Austin Kleon)
  • The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (Stieg Larsson)*
  • Tales From Silver Lands (Charles Finger)
  • The Girl Who Played With Fire (Stieg Larsson)
  • French Women Don't Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure (Mireille Guiliano)*
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Stieg Larsson)
  • The Dark Frigate (Charles Boardman Hawes)
  • The Girl on the Train (Paula Hawkins)*
  • Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation (Bill Nye)*

  • Revenge of the Whale: The True Story of the Whaleship Essex (Nathaniel Philbrick)*
  • Milkweed (Jerry Spinelli)*
  • Dear Husband,: Stories (Joyce Carol Oates)*
  • The Story of Mankind (Hendrik Van Loon)
  • The Voyages of Dr. Dotlittle (Hugh Lofting)*
  • Hallucinations (Oliver Sacks)*
  • How I Live Now (Meg Rosoff)*
  • The Snow Tree (Caroline Repchuk & Josephine Martin)
  • What Pet Should I Get? (Dr. Seuss)
  • Horton and the Kwuggerbug and Other Lost Stories (Dr. Seuss)
For 2017 my reading objectives are to carry on with the Newbery Award winners, to participate in Summer Reading at the Public Library, and to be a preliminary judge for books nominated for the High Plains Book Awards again, if asked.
All photos from my lovely, two week, Holiday Break.  Sledding, games, parties, friends, family, music, food, music, dancing, Father Christmas, gingerbread houses, snow, and more good cheer than I could shake a stick at.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Outdoor Resolutions, Revisited

Last January I posted about our Great Outdoor Resolutions, a twist on standard New Year’s Resolutions.  As is so often the case with New Year proclamations of any sort however, these were met with only partial success.
Yellowstone National Park, August 2016
We set seven goals.  Of these seven goals, I regret to say, that we ticked off only three.
Mount Rainier National Park, July 2016
  • Visit a new national park 
We camped, hiked, and splashed in Olympic National Park and Mount Rainier National Park this August.  This added two new parks to our growing list of national park adventures.  Both were spectacular and unique in distinctly different ways.  We already have arrangements for our next “new park” in the works, too.
Olympic National Park, National Park, August 2016
  • Plan a camping trip with friends/family
My sister, Lisa, and her husband, Alex, came and joined us for a day at Mount Rainier.  We spent a couple days with Hannah in Glacier National Park.  Those experiences were just as incredible and heart-filling as I'd hoped.  Lisa taught us to make torches out of moss and sap.  Hannah was awed alongside us by the glaciers and flowers.
Mount Rainier National Park, July 2016
  • Learn to tie four useful knots
I follow a blog called Root Simple.  I've posted about it before.  Erik and Kelly are sure cool folks.  While I cannot readily find their post now, it was on Root Simple that I stumbled upon a video called The Only Knot You Need to Know.  Of course, with a title like that I was intrigued.  I doubt I could correctly name them all, if pressed, but I now have a handful of knots at my disposal.  I like how they're all linked together, build on each other.
Glacier National Park, July 2016
We failed to fully complete the other four, however.
Yellowstone National Park, May 2016
  • Go backpacking
We "just" car camped again this year.  I don't know why.  I guess we're satisfied with that experience.  Or we've grown lazy and soft and just want more "stuff" out in the woods.  Stuff like guitars, beers, board games, and s'mores.  I am not sure.  I'm going to remind myself of all the reasons I really do want pick up backpacking again.  I like getting away from all other people.   I like exploring new places.    I like the quiet and dark.  I like feeling strong and self-reliant.   But, even if we're just car campers we sure have a lot of good times hiking and traipsing about by ourselves out on the trail.
  • Climb to a new mountain top
We tried.  We really, really did.  Three times, I believe.  One mountain top hike was scuttled due to rain and thunderstorms.  One by deep snow.  Another was thwarted by a poorly marked trail junction and subsequent bad attitudes when we realized how much back tracking we had to do.  So, we'll try again next year.
  • Rent/Camp in a fire lookout tower
We tried on this one, too, but were too late in doing so.  I guess we underestimated their popularity and how quickly reservations for the lookouts would fill up.  The only availability we could find didn’t match up with our schedule.  But!  Refusing to let that happen again I've already got one booked for my birthday weekend this summer.  We did, however, climb an actively used firetower near Glacier.  The view was stunning and getting a closer look at the living arrangements inside was very interesting.    
  • Learn to identify the major features of the moon
I can identify two major craters--Tycho near the south pole and Copernicus, not far above the equator line in the middle of large expanse of black lunar "sea."  That isn't really much given the number of features that decorate the surface of the moon.  I guess it is a start.  Maybe I can add a few more this year and, little by little, get a handle on most of them. 

Yellowstone National Park, May 2016
For 2017 we've got our sights set on:
  • Renting/Camping in a fire lookout tower
  • Climbing to a new mountain top
  • Going backpacking
  • Visiting a new national park (or two)
  • Taking someone we love on one of our Yellowstone National Park adventures
Olympic National Park, National Park, August 2016
Happy New Years!

Friday, December 30, 2016

The Newbery Challenge - 1930s

So…I guess I grossly overestimated things when I declared that I intended to read all the Newbery Award books this year.  Ha!  Not.  Even.  Close. 

I did make quicker progress through the second decade Newbery Award winners than I did with the first decade's worth.  Even still, at just two decades per year it will take me more like five years to finish this project.  As I am in competition with no one and I made the “rules” for this challenge I shall just take my time and enjoy the process, however long it might end up taking.

1930 - Hitty, Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field
I thought that the premise for Hitty was very shrewd.  Children's books quite often feature exotic, foreign lands and/or teach moral values.  Rachel Field found a way to cover a lot of ground on both fronts by making the narrator of the story a doll, Hitty.  Because she is sturdy and made of wood Hitty travels the world and "lives" for a long, long time.  Departing from rural life in Maine Hitty goes to sea on a whaling ship where she is lost in a storm.  From there it is just one adventure (or perhaps mishaps is more appropriate) after another.  She lives with a "Hindoo" snake charmer before being bought by a missionary family who bring her back to the states.  She spends decades in an attic before being found by a Quaker girl and, ultimately, finds herself in an antique shop in New York, where she decides to write her memoirs.  The doll narrator was a keen mechanism for teaching about different religions, races, and time periods in a way that a human narrator could not.  Of course, given the time it was written, there are a few paragraphs that were a bit racist or sexist--and there was the one scene where a teen boy mimes "making love" to the doll on his knee that I just can't see making a modern children's book....  All in all the story was good, though not outstanding, but I thought it was a cleverly written book.
1931 - The Cat Who Went to Heaven by Elizabeth Coatsworth
The Cat Who Went to Heaven was a rather odd story, I thought.  It read quickly though and, of course, I am drawn to a book with a cat as a central character.  The story is set in Japan and features a poor, down on his luck artist and his housekeeper.  They have almost nothing, including food, but none the less take in a stray cat.  The cat seems to pray before their household statue of the Buddha.  This prompts the artist to resume praying himself, a habit he'd let fall by the wayside in his despair.  Before long he is commissioned to paint a portrait of the Buddha being visited by all the animals as he is dying.  Turns out, according to tradition, the house cat was the only animal that didn't go pay respects.  So, they're barred from achieving Nirvana as a result.  Cats don't go to heaven, according to Buddhist tradition.  I didn't know any of that, as I am no Buddhist scholar, but it plays a central role in the story.  The cat grows depressed that all the animals are to be memorialized in the painting except her own race.  It breaks the artist's heart so he adds a cat to the work, despite the fact it defies the traditional story and upsets the priests.  And then a miracle happens.  It was nice, albeit a rather peculiar tale, if you ask me.
1932 - Waterless Mountain by Laura Adams Armer
Waterless Mountain chronicles the development of Younger Brother into Little Singer, a "Navaho" medicine man.  As I just mentioned above, the story is a classic case of exposing young people to different cultures--the native tribes of the American southwest in this case.  Set in a time when the "Navahos" practice corn pollen rituals and hold traditional wedding sings, but where there are also trading posts and automobiles making inroads into their culture, Younger Brother is caught between worlds.  He has a great respect for the Big Man (the white man at the trading post) and while paternalistic, the Big Man treats the natives fairly well.  He is trying to improve their lot, but at the same time is trying to assimilate them.  As a result it was slightly problematic for me as a modern reader, but...it is what it is.  More than for the Big Man, Younger Brother has an even greater respect for Uncle, who is instructing him in the singing of sacred songs and helping guide Younger Brother along his natural calling to become a medicine man.  There was a passage about the importance of singing and dancing--and how all things in nature sing and dance--that really makes me happy.  I have to agree.  It was a fine story, but not all that remarkable.   One thing that did stick with me was the supreme importance of the corn plant to the "Navahos."  It goes well beyond daily diet.  Their cigarettes are rolled in corn leaves. They great the day with a corn pollen ceremony.  They celebrate with corn cakes baked in earth ovens.  And so on.  That was interesting.  American history is briefly touched on as the deportation of the Navajos to Fort Sumner known as The Long Walk, but it is primarily a more personal narrative of the young boy's life.
1933 - Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze by Elizabeth Lewis
The first paragraph of Young Fu filled me with, well, I guess dread wouldn't be too far off the mark.  I got only as far as Fu Be Be directing the "load-coolies" and had to bust out the dictionary.  In the end, I was very pleased with the book--it just took several chapters for the drama to build and the story to really take off.  Young Fu and his mother, Fu Be Be, move to the city so that Young Fu can apprentice at a well-esteemed copper shop.  His father, a poor farmer, has died and Fu Be Be has secured this opportunity for her son, though she doesn't like the city.  The story is woven through with life lessons and values from traditional Chinese culture, things like, "character is made by rising above one's misfortunes," or "jealousy is a strong passion for a youth to conquer."  I even added a few new proverbs to my repertoire, my favorites being, "laziness never filled a rice bowl," and "the shallow teapot does the most spouting, and boils dry most quickly."   In addition to learning the word, "coolie," I also picked up a few other linguistic oddities.  For example the word, "outside," was never used.  Instead the word, "without," was used in its place.  When company came over the children were ordered without to play.  People who lived without the city walls were in more danger.  [As a matter of coincidence I subsequently saw this same usage of "without" in a much more contemporary book about the great California earthquake.  This prompted me to get out the Oxford English Dictionary where I learned this usage isn't as uncommon as I might have thought--though it is now used either in literary or archaic sense.  Now, back to Young Fu...]  Every time the word, "reenter" was used there was an umlaut over the second e, as if people needed help remembering how to pronounce it.  The word, "role," had an accent circumflex over the top.  I thought that was unusual, but it wasn't actually the first time I'd seen it so far in my vintage Newbery 
reading.  I did some searching online and found numerous interesting articles about it, a couple I will link here and here.  At the end of the book were paragraphs offering some historical context for the major themes of each chapter--Transportation, Education, Foot Binding, Coinage, Sanitation, Bandits, Floods, Marriage Customs, etc.  That was very interesting--though I am highly dubious about their origin story for foot binding.  The book was decidedly anti-Communist--when Fu tells his mom about a speaker he heard urging taking from the rich to give to the poor she quickly inform him, "that has always been the ambition of the lazy."  This attitude isn't surprising, really, given when the book was published and especially when I noted that the book had been used as part of the U.S. Government Reorientation Program in Germany and Austria.  All in all it was a charming little tale about overcoming obstacles, the importance of hard work and honor, and what it means to be an adult.
1934 - Invincible Louisa: The Story of the Author of Little Women by Cornelia MeigsI will just start by saying that I have never read Little Women.  I know a bit about it--picked up here and there from comments and references in popular culture.  I initially had thoughts of apprehension about reading the biography of an author whose work I'd not read.  However I realized that Young Fu and some others I'd been dubious about had turned out quite good so I reframed my thinking and entered into the story of Louisa May Alcott with some optimism.  While very flattering to the central figure there is no doubt that she had quite an interesting life.  I had no idea that the Alcotts were family friends with the likes of Thoreau and Emerson, for example, or that they started a sort of commune called the Fruitlands where they practiced simple living, vegetarianism, academia, and commonly owned property.  Louisa's efforts as a war nurse during the American Revolution was remarkable.  Her devotion to her family was the cornerstone of her life and life's work.  I think I shall have to pick Little Women up now that I've read Invincible Louisa and see what I've been missing.  This book continues the trend of oddities such as spelling "role" with a circumflex accent over the R.  It also had an interesting spelling variation in that the S was doubled on the word, "focussed."
1935 - Dobry by Monica Shannon
Dobry was an interesting book, mainly in that is set in Bulgaria, a country I don't know much about.  It is the story of a young boy, Dobry, growing up in the countryside.  I learned that in Bulgaria folks nod their head to mean "no," and they shake their head to mean, "yes."  My initial thought was, "Well.  That is weird."  Until I realize there really wasn't anything that made sense about the fact I was raised to do the opposite.  I thought it was weird enough that I looked it up and it is, indeed, true.  Weird is just what you don't know.  I was charmed by their Christmas tradition which holds that children should put a piece of paper under the eaves of their house so that when the Christmas bird flies down from the north he will leave them gifts of nuts and fruit.  There is a religious undertone to to the book, but it was a part of Dobry's peasant life, like the Christmas story not preaching or proselytizing.  At one point his grandfather tells him, "...no animal is too bothered with himself... That grace of God we pray for in the church--that must be what the animals have already.  ...We're greedier than animals are, too--much greedier.  I don't know what is the matter with us."  I liked that an awful lot.   I also found the importance of snow to these northern people very interesting.  "Snow is the most beautiful silence in the world," they say.  They even have Snow Melting Games where the men lay out in the snow with no shirts on and see who can melt the deepest hole while everyone in the community watches and cheers!  How is that for a festival!?!  I checked online and cannot find any references to it though.  I don't know if that means it wasn't that common or if it just has fallen by the wayside and been forgotten.  Like so many of these vintage books I had to marvel at the differences in time and place.  Dobry is dazzled when he witnesses an array of foods he’d never seen before, things like pineapple, citron, nectarines, bananas, almonds, and pecans.  Bananas are the most commonly sold fruit in the United States, according to my Produce Manager husband.  My whole life there have been all of these things--and I grew up in a small town on the Great Plains!  It’s remarkable!  Oh my luxurious modern life!  Following the trend of noting spelling and word irregularities, I have a good one from Dobry.  The word “boulder” was spelled as, “bowlders,” every single time it was used.  It came up enough, actually, that I suspect the Bulgarian hillsides must be scattered with them.   Lastly, I had a swell chuckle when I read that "..each guest belched  to show his appreciation..." for the meal prepared for them.  I can remember my sister, Sarah, always trying to use that as an excuse for burping at the table.  "You know mom, in some places a belch is the highest compliment to the cook."  My mom never bought into the idea though.
1936 - Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink
Caddie Woodlawn reminded me of the Little House books.  It was a charming, simple tale, chronicling a year in the life of a Caddie.  Caddie is an independent tomboy growing up on the frontiers of Wisconsin.  She is intelligent, skilled with her hands, brave, kind, and generous.  She is friends with the area Native Americans in a time when many white folks are simply scared of them.  She stands up for her beliefs and speaks up for the little guys.  All in all a rather classic be-like-the-protagonist type children's book.  It was fine, but not terribly outstanding.  Don't get me wrong--Caddie Woodhouse--the inspiration for Caddie Woodlawn was a remarkable woman.  I'm glad her granddaughter jotted it down for the rest of us to enjoy.  As was the case when reading Dobry, I had to marvel at how life has changed in just a few generations.
1937 - Roller Skates by Ruth Sawyer
Roller Skates is a cute little story about a young girl, Lucinda, spending the summer with family friends in New York City.  I liked Lucinda a lot.  She is kind and smart and very outgoing.  She talks and makes friends with people everywhere she goes—the Italian boy from the corner fruit stand, the Irish policeman, Rags-and-Bottles, the traveling hobo.  She becomes involved in their lives and they in hers.  Sometimes this connection is just pleasant, but more often it is deeper than that.  She tries to help her friends in any way she can—from just spending time with them to making small gifts for them to arranging a doctor for the poor neighbor girl when her parents cannot afford to do so.  I think that was the big takeaway for me—that the small, everyday interactions we have with people can be transformative on both ends.  That every day is important.  Every person important, too.  Lucinda also likes the theater and music in a deeply felt way.  I loved this passage from when she goes to hear the symphony.  "And the music iteslf!  It emptied her completely of all her contents, as if she had been a box, a jug, a vase; and then it filled her full again of iteslf, to overflowing.  It was at the end as if she were nothing but a container for it."  I love that.  I’ve been there.  I was tickled when Lucinda and her friend, Tony, take a ride on the carousel and win free rides by catching the gold ring as they go round.  When I get together with my friend, Hannah, in Missoula this is one of our favorite traditions, too.  Some things don’t change, I guess.  In an interesting linguistic realization I learned that it isn’t “handsome cabs” that people ride around NYC (and other places) in.  These horse-drawn conveyances are actually just “handsom cabs,” without the e.  They were designed by a guy named Joesph Handsom.  I thought that was quite interesting.  Matt was quick to point out this was a reason that actually reading books was superior to having them read to me.  I’d have never made this connection if I’d been reading an audiobook since I wouldn't have noticed the spelling differences and investigated.  He's right, but that doesn't mean I'm about to stop listening to audiobooks.
1938 - The White Stag by Kate Seredy
In an instance of totally-judging-a-book-by-its-cover, I thought The White Stag was going to be a Christmas story.  It was red with a star and a reindeer on it.  It was coming on Christmas time when I read it, too, so the seed was already planted in my mind.  Turns out it was actually a sort of biblical tale about hearing the voice of god, sacrificial alters, signs, and prophecy which makes up the origin myth of Attila, the Hun, and as it turns out, the Hungarian people.  It was only okay.  A quick read, but not terribly memorable just a couple weeks later.  The story is, apparently, part of Hungarian folklore, though it seems that modern scientific study doesn't really hold up much evidence that ethnic Hungarians are actually related to the Huns.   I'm certainly no expert on the matter and must confess to have done only the most cursory follow-up research.
1939 - Thimble Summer by Elizabeth Enright
The Thimble Summer is Garnet’s lucky summer.  During a drought she finds a silver thimble while exploring exposed parts of the dried up river bed with her brother.  Afterwards the drought breaks, they make a new friend, her pig wins at the county fair, and all sorts of good stuff happens.  Garnet attributes this to the thimble being lucky.  It is a rather standard tale of adventures with friends and lessons learned as part of growing up.  Garnet is a girl who sometimes bumps unhappily against the limitations of her time and gender.  She is rather independent and quite resourceful.  I liked the section where Garnet and her best friend get locked inside the library after closing.  Since it is locked with a key and there aren’t telephones they are trapped until they get the attention of someone on the outside.  I almost closed the library with someone still inside once.  It was a very fast read, even for me, and I am kind of a poky reader.
All photos from our friends' wedding in September which Matt had the honor of officiating.   Flowers, root cellars, playing hack, drinking coffee, chasing kids, and more.  A beautiful day for these beautiful people.  All were taken by me except for this last one, which was taken by the wedding photographer, hence it being clearly better work!  Photo credit for the last picture goes to Jet Snelling Photography.
Reading these Newbery books has been quite the experience.  Once I got over approaching each dusty, mostly drab book with dread from my viewpoint of a modern reader, as mentioned--reframing it to assume it will be a worthwhile read, after all it was chosen for the Newbery--things improved and I enjoyed it more and more. Mind over matter, attitude is everything...or something like that.  I've learned a lot. New words, folklore and social customs from around the world, now outdated technology, cultural norms and trends of decades gone by.  Still.  I look forward to the books marching forward in time towards lives and situations that are a bit more relatable to me.  I'm off and running with the 1940's books, starting with a biography of Daniel Boone.