Monthly Archives: September 2015

Destined to Be a Classic

WaitingAs you may know from my four-part series on picture books, I consider them to be the great literature of young children’s books. I read so many cute, sweet, or funny picture books each week, but every once in a while, I find one that stands out from the rest. Waiting, by the beloved Kevin Henkes, is destined to be a classic.

This large-format beauty is deceptively simple: just a row of toys sitting on a windowsill, waiting. The colors are soft—even the font is brownish, instead of black—and for contrast, Henkes used watercolors for the interior scenes and color pencils for the outdoors, which is almost wholly represented by a single tree branch showing the changes of the seasons. The pages are thick, creamy matte paper, and the book has just a few, profound words.

I read an interview with Mr. Henkes concerning this new book, and he said that he had been struck by how much time children spend waiting. Here, the toys have varied personalities and are all waiting for something different. For example, the pig with the umbrella is waiting for rain, and the dog with the sled is waiting for snow. Henkes said his favorite character is the rabbit on the accordion spring; he’s not waiting for anything in particular. Just waiting.

There are so many details to discuss with a little one in these pages, and some may be understood more deeply by the adult reader. More toys come to join them. Some stay, some do not. There are poignant scenes and humorous ones. There is a toy-like death and a surprising birth: the cycle of life. I felt a nostalgic longing throughout that reminded me that children are often patiently waiting, but are usually not making the choices in their lives. They do not know why the branch outside now has flowers on it, or why there is a new person living near them, but they learn, accept, and wait for more, like toys on a windowsill: able to see, but not able to change their circumstances.

No child should grow up without this innocent, beautiful picture book. If you don’t have little ones, borrow some or at least pretend to, and spend some quiet time slowly turning the pages. If you love it, you will be glad to know that Kevin Henkes has a whole row of delightful reading experiences waiting for you.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book (although if the author wants to send me a signed copy, I just might treasure it forever). Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Freshly-Hatched Music

2015-08-12 20.15.09In mid-August, David and I were wildly extravagant and rented ourselves a cheap hotel room in Florence, South Carolina, for the express purpose of stalking my two favorite bands in the whole wide world: Switchfoot and Needtobreathe. These two bands, each with a pair of brothers in the forefront, decided to tour together for the summer, trailing their warm-up bands with them, namely Colony House and Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors, respectively. So, it was a total blow-out of an evening, with four really good musical acts following one another over four hours. In case you’re keeping track, yes, I did this with my neck and arm still killing me, but hey, I had bought these tickets in February, as soon as my tax return came in, so there was no way I was skipping it.

We got there about an hour early, chatting with our neighbors—because it’s the South and we’ve never met a stranger— and, as you see, buying tour t-shirts before the first band came on. Just to let you know, we were not the oldest ones there, thank you very much. I did wonder how Switchfoot, in particular, felt about having so many old people in the audience, since they are a hard rock band. We gray-haired ones heard Switchfoot fifteen years ago, when our kids were teenagers, and became even bigger fans than they were. As my son says, they are an intellectual’s rock band. Truth. Neither were we the youngest, of course. I had a high-schooler named Elizabeth to my left—very nice, excellent taste in hats—and David had about five high school girls to his right who could go from zero to shriek in no time flat. It was startling.

Colony House Guys

They really aren’t fourteen– at least, not the guitarist, Scott Mills.

Nobody expects much from the first band. Not even all the seats are full until about an hour after a rock concert starts, in order to skip the first band on purpose. When Colony House hit the stage, we all stood politely and tried to look friendly. They left us with our mouths hanging open and people rushing to the table to buy the CD. About the second song, I leaned over and yelled to David, “This drummer is awesome!” As a fellow drummer, David refused to be impressed and replied, “He certainly seems to think so.” (He did, actually.) Every song was excellent, and they finished with “2:20,” which has such deep bass that the air in the civic center was humming. In the last act of the night, Needtobreathe came onstage with two drummers, one of whom was the borrowed drummer from Colony House. I guess he really is good.

Colony House CDWhen we got back home, I gathered up some birthday Amazon gift cards and purchased their CD, When I Was Younger. It is easy to find: it’s their only album to date. They have released EPs in the past, but never a complete album. I’ve been listening to it fairly constantly for the past month, and I can attest that it stands up to repeated playings. It’s on my phone, laptop, and in the car. David also has it on his laptop. You would be correct if you assumed that I knew all the words. One of my first impressions was that they talked a lot about death and guilt for such young guys. After listening to the album several times, I wanted to know more about them and found out that the lead singer and songwriter is Caleb Chapman, and his drummer brother is Will Chapman. Name Chapman ring a bell? They are the sons of Stephen Curtis Chapman, which might explain how they became so talented at such a young age! If you know Will’s tragic story, it also explains the depth of meaning in his songs and his great sorrow. I, for one, rejoice to see him redeem his life so beautifully. He deals with his struggle in the song “I Won’t Give Up.”

As for the sound, it is original and generally upbeat. Caleb has a surprisingly pleasing falsetto in many of the songs, which I usually dislike, but in this case, my favorite song, “Learning How to Love” shows his voice to full advantage. It also has a very complex drum pattern that I can’t quite follow, but I love it! “Silhouettes” hits me right where I live right now, as does “Lose Control.” Their usual pop-rock sound turns to hard rock on that bass-heavy “2:20” My sister and I had recently complained that you could tell a contemporary Christian radio station without hearing any of the words. It’s the same sicky-sweet sound all the time. I guess that’s what you get when your biggest goal is to be inoffensive and “family friendly.” Colony House is signed with Descendant Records, a subsidiary of Sony Music, so they are able to take full advantage of their artistic freedom.

I highly recommend that you get in on this ground-floor opportunity with a new band. You can start now and collect their albums one at a time!

In other news, Switchfoot is home, writing their next album!!! I can’t think about this too much, or I will hop on a plane to San Diegoand run into their studio like Veruca Salt, yelling, “I want it now!”

____________

*If you are unfamiliar with the Chapmans’ tragedy, you can look up Stephen Curtis Chapman on Wikipedia. Sorry, it just doesn’t feel right to provide a link.

* Veruca Salt is the girl in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory who was a “bad egg.”

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Books for All

While I was unable to type comfortably, books piled up on my desk for review. Not too many books, since I was also unable to look down to read for as long as I wished, but here are three that I still want to share.

UprootedUprooted, by Naomi Novik. Every ten years, the Dragon comes to Agnieszka’s village to choose a young woman to come to his tower to serve him for the next ten years. Agnieszka and her best friend, Kasia, are born in the year from which a girl will be chosen, and all of their lives, they and everyone they know has believed that Kasia will be chosen. She is the most beautiful and has been raised to have all of the skills a maidservant would need. Agnieszka dreads letting go of her dearest friend, and she knows she will never be close to her again, because once the Dragon— who is a powerful wizard—is finished with a girl, she is changed and usually goes to live far away from her family.

No one is more surprised than Agnieszka when she is chosen instead of Kasia. She is not ready! She has never been prepared for a life of service! But the service the Dragon requires is nothing that anyone in the village has ever imagined, and Agnieszka is more than ready.

This adult fantasy novel is filled with magic, terrifying danger, and a bit of romance. A fast-paced read, it is the beginning of a series that will have tremendous appeal to teens, as well. There is occult content and a sex scene, so use your best judgment.

Orbiting JupiterOrbiting Jupiter, by Gary Schmidt. Jack’s family took in a foster child, Joseph, even though all of the authorities warned them that he was trouble. He had almost killed someone, he had been in jail, and, at the age of fourteen, he had become the father of a daughter named Jupiter—a daughter he was never allowed to see. Jack was around Joseph more than anyone else, however, and although he could see the pain and anger that was constantly seething within him, Jack watched him stare up at the night sky through their bedroom window every night, searching for Jupiter, and he knew that there was love and anguish inside Joseph, as well. Besides, Rosie the cow loved him, as she showed each morning and evening when Joseph milked her, and “you can tell a whole lot about someone from the way cows are around him.” (p. 32) A boy with Joseph’s past, though, often has too many things already stacked against him to ever be able to live a normal life.

Gary Schmidt is one of the best children’s writers around. His sweet, often humorous prose pulls hard on the heartstrings as he tells a story that could have been too coarse in lesser hands. He sympathetically yet realistically portrays the struggles of a young boy whose actions would be seen as honorable and responsible in an adult man, but at his age could only bring grief and punishment. A Calvin College professor, Schmidt writes stories that show ordinary, church-going families giving sacrificial love so quietly that it either goes unnoticed or is misunderstood by those around them. My favorite books by Schmidt are the Newbery-Honor winning The Wednesday Wars and its companion novel, Okay for Now. Orbiting Jupiter, although it is quite brief, is intended for a somewhat older audience.

Screaming StaircaseThe Screaming Staircase, by Jonathan Stroud. Since The Problem started decades ago, ghosts and hauntings have been on the rise everywhere, and because children are much more sensitive to otherworldly phenomena than adults are, the most talented children have been trained to capture and exterminate Visitors, working through the night and often losing their lives in the fight. Lucy Carlyle is able to see apparitions a bit, but her real talent is in hearing them, as she does when she hears the last words of a famous celebrity, reopening a cold murder case and throwing her employer, Anthony Lockwood, into the public eye.

This first volume of the “Lockwood & Co.” series is flat-out scary. Do not expect a Scooby-Doo ending that shows that all of the frightening elements were no more than smoke and mirrors. Stroud dishes up hair-raising scenes involving both ethereal and human adversaries, with lots of bravery and bravado on the part of the heroes. The tone is thoroughly British and quite charming, as when Lucy and Lockwood settle down to a cup of tea before going upstairs for a ghostly battle during which they burn down the house. The characters are engaging, the action is nonstop, and the dialogue is as sharp as their rapiers. For tweens and young teens who don’t mind sleeping with the lights on.

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Disclaimer: I read advance reader copies of Uprooted and Orbiting Jupiter, and I read a library copy of The Screaming Staircase. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employers or anyone else.

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Off the Bed of Nails and Onto the Rack

Torture Rack Wikipedia

It’s the Intersegmental Traction Table!

A few days after returning home from San Francisco, my neck and arm still ached, so I thought I should stretch out those muscles by cleaning my entire house. The next day, July 4th, I was at urgent care trying hard not to weep in front of the doctor. He diagnosed a torn shoulder muscle, gave me a muscle relaxer and a prescription NSAID and sent me home. The prescriptions did nothing. I could not lie down at all, and even when propped up on the sofa, I could not sleep for the searing pain from my neck to my left hand. After a few days of this, David convinced me to see Dr. Nick, his chiropractor.

I had never been to a chiropractor before and had been raised to believe that they were not real doctors. David, however, had been in a serious car accident as a teenager and had had years of positive experiences with them. Not only did I not think a chiropractor would do me any good, I was terrified of anyone who would take your head in his hands and jerk it to the side until it cracked! I had seen all the movies, after all. People die like that! Even little Alice twisted off the head of the evil vampire, James, when he tried to kill Kristen Stewart, who was already dead, as far as I could see—but that’s another story.

Alice chiropractor uncut

Alice was obviously a chiropractor.

Furthermore, my co-worker, John, told me all about what his chiropractor did for him, and advised me to take pain medication about an hour before my appointment. “Sometimes,” he said, “I think my chiropractor just wants to see how much pain I can endure.” So helpful.

However, I gathered up my courage and went into the office, where they took x-rays and showed me that I had two compressed discs in my cervical spine—which is in your neck, not where you’d think. Furthermore, my neck looked like a ruler, rather than a graceful swan, and the doctor said that I’d been building up arthritis in my neck for about ten years. I was in stage one of three, but with treatment, I would not end up with the dowager hump that my mom and grandma endured. Then they started me on my first chiropractic treatment.

Bed of Nails Herbert Ponting 1907First, they put me face-down on a black table and pasted electrodes onto my back. That was unexpected. It was really difficult to lie flat anyway, and then suddenly, I had spiders crawling all over my back! I quickly whined to the nurse, “That muscle is going to spasm!” Yes, she said. That was the point. They were trying to wear out the muscle with electricity so that it would relax later, and would I like for her to turn the machine higher? No! I was thinking, why would I want to add pain to my pain? This was not at all what I thought would be happening.

The second station was the intersegmental traction table, or roller table. I lay on my back while a roller went up and down the table, stretching out my spine. After ten minutes, I felt as if I’d been marinated and tenderized, ready for the main course.

He cracked my neck to the left, and I gasped! He cracked it to the right, and I gasped again.  Then my back cracked, all the way down, and I’m sure I said, “Oh!” or “Ooph!” every time.  My husband heard me from the hall; I hope I didn’t drive away any patients. The big news is that I made it through my first chiropractic treatment, and I felt… worse.

Spine and nerves diagramThe next day found me in my long-time primary care physician’s office.  I poured out my whole sob story to her, and she responded, “Well, Cheryl, as we get older…” and I interrupted, “No, no, I don’t want to go there.” Then she showed me diagrams of the spine and the nerves going down my arm. I respond well to pictures. She told me that the only one who could cure me was, indeed, the chiropractor, and assured me that mine was one of the best. And then—bless her!— she wrote me a prescription for a Z-pack of prednisone and 10 hydrocodone tablets. She believed me when I said I was in pain.

The prednisone worked beautifully, even though it made my legs look like elephant legs. At night, I found out that hydrocortisone will, without fail, give you six straight hours of sleep. I am really not sure if it does anything for pain, though. I would wake up, feel horrible pain, and go right back to sleep. When you need to go to work the next day, six hours of sleep can get you through.

Thank goodness I had heard from my long-term, trusted doctor, because the next two months were rugged. I came home a couple of times bruised and crying to my husband, “I can’t believe that I’m paying someone to beat me!” I noticed that my chiropractor wrote on my chart: “VERY GENTLE ONLY” in all caps and highlighted in yellow.Crying Baby I think that translates to “THIS ONE IS A BIG BABY,” but hey, I can’t help it. One time he adjusted my shoulder and sent me straight into excruciating pain, so he sat me down and gave me acupuncture. I had always wondered whether there was any validity to the claims about acupuncture, but I was willing to do anything at that point. Within a minute and a half, I had no pain there at all. I am a believer! I’ve had acupuncture about a dozen times since.

After a couple of weeks, they added ultrasound therapy to the treatment mix. I thought, “Now this is quackery for sure. Every woman knows that ultrasounds are for pregnancy!” I knew that doctors also used it for examining internal organs for stones and other problems. However, I looked it up later (because that’s what librarians do) and saw that ultrasounds have been used in sports medicine for years to break up scar tissue in muscles. In chiropractic therapy, it loosens up the muscles so that they will stop pulling your spine back out of line after your adjustment. I don’t know why it doesn’t also dissolve your muscles and tendons, though.

So, I have been going to the chiropractor twice a week for about ten weeks now, and I am a big fan. The healing has been slow, but fairly steady. When my symptoms changed, he listened and adjusted the treatment to be more effective. It took about four weeks to be able to sleep in a bed all night, and I still ended up on the sofa now and then for two more weeks. I am religious about keeping up with the stretches and band exercises at home, and you might catch me in the ladies’ room doing stretches at work when I’ve been sitting for too long. As you can tell, I can type longer than before (although it took three sessions to type this post), and I can walk from the parking lot to the building without feeling as if someone is stabbing me in the back of the neck. One of the worst side effects of this episode has been that my exercise walking has come to a complete halt. I had been walking two or three miles a day in the spring, and had lost about thirty pounds, ten of which have found me again. So discouraging!

I still have a periodic buzzing numbness in my left arm—not very often, but enough to be annoying. Next week will be a milestone: I will drop to one visit per week! There were times this past summer when I thought I would never live without chronic pain again, but now I have hope, as well as tremendous respect for those who live with debilitating diseases and  still manage to smile and speak kindly to other people.

Got back pain? Don’t suffer and don’t be afraid. Let me introduce you to my new best friend.

__________________

Bed of nails photo by Herbert Ponting, 1907.

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