Archives for November 2010

Parkside Good-byes (and Cupcake How-to)

Yara sitting next to her vet, Dr. Jackie Kucskar

For the most part, Yara’s last trip to Parkside Vet was a very good one. Aside from very nearly being trampled in the mad rush to grab a cupcake by the vet staff and Yara making a huge fuss while getting her nails trimmed. In fact, Yara exhibited a kind of elation that might lead one to believe her B12 shots are laced with LSD. She didn’t stop wagging her tail the entire time and this included the entire purpose of our visit: a rabies vaccine. She did find the lube on her rear-end to be a might disturbing and indulged in one of her less desirable habits.

I’m very pleased to report that Yara is a healthy 63.5 lbs and our vet was very happy with how good she looked, remarking especially that her coat appears wonderful. When posing for the above photo, Dr. Kucskar also remarked that after everything we’ve gone through in the last several years, she’ll really miss seeing Yara. And, possibly best of all, the entire trip only cost me $20. Even though she had a full exam and had her nails trimmed, I was only charged for the vaccine. I guess I should bring a cupcake bribe more often.

Speaking of the little pies, I’ve gotten a few emails about how they were prepared and a request to expand upon the ordeal of their preparation. If I had realized there was so much interest in how the various cupcakes I’ve made are done, I’d have made sure to do a photolog. Though, given the love for my kitchen floor these particular cupcakes had; maybe it’s for the best. But next time I’ll be sure to chronicle the steps with photos.

Anyway, follow the jump for some further details (or scroll down if you’re reading this outside of my website’s main page):

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Memorable Lasts

Before I forget, I’m having holiday card photos taken on Dec. 11th, so there’s still time to get in on having adorable German shepherd in your mailbox for the holidays!

Yes, I’m still making cupcake pies. Don’t judge, it makes you seem jealous.

Tray of cupcakes decorated as blueberry and cherry pies

This particular batch are a surprise for the staff at our vet’s office. Today Yara is getting her rabies vaccination renewed and this will (hopefully) be her last trip there. It is one of a growing list of lasts that have been going on of late. Somehow saying “lasts” seems like bad English. At least it seems so when I say it in my head. But I think my inward pronunciation leans towards a lisping sound.

I’ve been pretty quiet here in general and usually that would mean that I am much with the busy, which is true. However, it’s mostly been due to the fact that any update on Casa de Mí would require blathering on about Yara’s health and related events regarding her retirement and the complete lack of news about Guide Dog #3. The retirement stuff especially has weighed heavily on my mind lately as I’m sure anyone who’s physically seen me in the last month can attest. I’m very stressed about it. Retiring a guide dog is never easy and for a plethora of reasons this time is even more difficult than I’d ever have anticipated.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

Look! \o/ I made miniature food:

Tray of cupcakes decorated as blueberry and cherry pies

I will readily admit these were a literal nightmare to make. In fact if you look very closely through those photos you’ll probably notice the smear of frosting on the tray and some rather smooshed looking pie crusts. In a moment of supreme grace I knocked the tray off the counter and as it is not a cat it went bottoms up and landed on its cover, destroying most of the cupcakes I’d painstakingly decorated. I managed to save five of the dozen that went kerspalt! and thankfully I had another dozen still to decorate.

If you had the privilege of hearing the story of my first attempt with these same cupcakes last week, you’ll understand why I was neither surprised nor fazed by this ordeal.

Holiday Cards

Happy Holidays!

Remarkably it is that time of year again. About this time every year I prowl through my address book and discover I’m missing tons of addresses that I should have. So, I end up spamming most of my email contacts begging them to send me their snail mail address and bribing them with ludicrously cute holiday cards. Half of those people actually bother to do so, and yet somehow I’m always sending out this email. Go figure.

Anyway, for those of you who visit here whom I don’t have email contact with and would very much like a holiday card featuring a certain German shepherd guide dog, please send me an email with your address. I am hoping to get these out around December 20th. Sorry for you international people if your card ends up arriving after the holidays, I do try and get those out as soon as I can but I am bound by the printing of the cards.

Oh, and before you ask, the above image is not the card that will be sent out. (Though I am quite partial to it.)

Happy Holidays!

“The People of Sparks”

I recently received an email asking what criteria I use with which I review books. I think this might partially be because there’s no consistency that the person could determine from the reviews I’ve posted over the last year. The thing is, there really isn’t a criteria per se other than I need to have some strong feelings about the book.1 However, there are just as many books that I have incredibly strong feels about, but there isn’t an accompanying review (e.g., The Hunger Games) because I honestly can’t find a coherent way of expressing the mass of jumbled thoughts.

Anyway, that said I just finished reading The People of Sparks by Jeanne DuPrau, which I most certainly have strong feelings about and am equally sure will be expressed in a very jumbled fashion. The People of Sparks is the sequel to The City of Ember, which together make up half of The Books of Ember series. It’s a young adult series set in a dystopian future. The Earth has suffered a major Disaster (with a capital “D”) and the two main characters are at first under the impression their underground city is the only place in the world. (In fact, they don’t even know they’re underground at first.) The first book focuses on the discovery that there is a hidden exit from Ember and touches on themes of environmentalism and dwindling resources. The second book, which I’m about to review below, is the continuation of the story after the citizens of Ember emerge from their now defunct city. Major issues focused on this book are that of war and violence.

Book cover

I’ll start by admitting that while I enjoyed The City of Ember and found it truly fascinating in the issues it brought up, I actually found it almost too simple of a read. A flaw that I can easily overlook given the intended readership. I did not find this an issue with this book and this is probably because of the simple fact that the issues in this book are slightly more complex to break down. But the sheer fact that DuPrau is able to touch upon such massive issues as the roots of violence and war and neither talk down to her readers nor be over their respective heads is truly phenomenal.

I don’t think anyone is a fan of war or violence. At least not consciously. As Doon shows so adequately, he doesn’t want to be angry or react harshly, but there are situations where it can often seem the only option. Maybe it’s the only one readily noticeable or the easiest to accomplish, but it doesn’t feel right to him. I have a harder time relating to Tick, but I think that I have a harder time accepting that he’s just evil for evil’s sake. I’ll grant the possibility that such a thing exists, but I still would have liked more of a justification than he was just fueled by the enjoyment of anger or the like.

I also find it noteworthy that what the author has shown here is that the roots of such an awful thing as an outright war are in fact very simple things. Stemming the progression might be a difficult process, but the root of the entire thing starts out as something that almost seems inconsequential. Like a snowball rolling down a hill, it’s this nearly insignificant thing that grows until it very likely becomes out of control. I once heard when I was very young that every war could be traced back to this: one important person pokes another important person and the first starts to cry . . . and then of course it just balloons into a huge mess. Now that’s probably not historically accurate, but the point is one I fully embrace and certainly the events in this book would justify such a belief. Not only that but she also explores the idea that violence itself — for whatever reason — only creates more violence and thus it really doesn’t solve anything.

The other major thing that is brought up in this book is the idea of social responsibility. I have a degree in Sociology and I readily admit that this can be a difficult and complex idea to explain even to an adult and yet the author presents it in such a way that it’s remarkable in its simplicity. The refugees of Ember are in desperate need of assistance and the people of Sparks are in a position to help them: give them food, teach them the ways of this new world, etc. But does that mean they are obligated to sacrifice themselves for these strangers who seemingly have nothing to give in return? And if they don’t, what’s to become of the former underground citizens?

Also, in a subtle way DuPrau touches on discrimination and stereotyping. Right off the bat the villagers of Sparks are suspicious of the Ember refugees. History has taught them to be cautious of strangers and then of course the refugees are not used to this new world and seem stupid, lazy and weak. These initial and somewhat unfounded descriptions only feed their mistrust and cause those of Ember to feel ostracized and ridiculed. When they try and stand up for themselves by explaining their limitations, the villagers refuse to believe otherwise and justify any of the eventual misdeeds on the facts as they seem them. And it goes the other way, as well, the refugees are mistreated and feel wronged and so they accept that all of Sparks is that way and will continue to act as such.

Building on the themes of the first book, I also enjoyed that DuPrau doesn’t give her characters a simple answer. Just like the Believers back in Ember who were basically waiting around for some higher power to solve everything, Lina discovers that there is no magic solution for the refugees of Ember. She doesn’t lose hope, of course, that her people won’t find a workable solution to survive. But she does learn that just because she feels strongly that this particular answer — in this case the shining city of her imagination — is not going to be their solution.

The most amazing thing I find with this book (and its predecessor) is that the major themes presented can easily be related to our present times. Whether this was intended or not, the end result is a bit eerie and yet incredibly impressive. Truly enjoyable read; I very much recommend!

  1. The same holds true for pretty much any review I might write, which is why they’re so sporadic.