The Saga of the Pink Bunny


It’s been a lo-o-o-ng time since I blogged (March 22!). I could say that I’ve been busy, but that isn’t really true. I finished my third novel, “Lords of the Night,” the third book in my trilogy, in February. I sent it in to my publisher. My publisher informed me that they have decided to focus on non-fiction books. That leaves a fantasy writer right out in the cold. The good news: they will continue to stock and sell my books until I find a new publisher.

I decided to look for a literary agent. I’ve never had one, but I hope that an agent can secure a better deal—with more book promotion, ideally. So I am sending out pitches to agents. Fun.

But that doesn’t keep me busy enough to justify my failure to blog for almost three months. Well, there’s always the looking-after-the-grandkids excuse. Or the volunteering-for-voter-registration excuse. Or I could blame the pink bunny.

My youngest granddaughter, Jessamyn, thinks I am a master seamstress because I once sewed something together. The truth is that I am a person who owns a sewing machine. The machine, a sturdy old Kenmore, was once the property of someone who really knew how to sew, judging by all the bells and whistles I don’t use.

So one day Jessamyn asked me, “Nana, would you make me a pink bunny?”

I was stricken with terror. I had never made a stuffed animal before. I had no idea in the world how to make a stuffed animal, or even if patterns for such things existed. I was strictly a two-dimensional kind of gal. But I thought, “How hard could it really be?” Experience answered this question.

I went online, of course, searching for bunny patterns. It soon became apparent that there are tons of bunny patterns online. Some are even free, but I chose a pattern for sale on Etsy because it was modeled after “The Velveteen Rabbit,” a childhood favorite. I paid a small fee for the PDF download.

I then searched for suitable fabric online as well, and found an inexpensive remnant of light pink “minky” fabric, which is that impossibly soft and cuddly fabric used a lot these days in baby blankets. I also purchased crushed walnut shells for the weighting called for in the instructions. So far, so good. I settled in to wait for my purchases.

That was when Jessamyn, dear little creature that she is, began saying things like, “Have you given up on making my pink bunny, Nana?” Or “Is my pink bunny ready yet?” At five, I don’t expect her to understand that these things take time, but the heat was definitely on.

When the fabric arrived, I read the instructions more closely. Uh-oh—the instructions said if using a stretchy fabric (minky fabric is stretchy), to buy fusible interfacing to give it stability. Okay, off to the nearest fabric store to buy fusible interfacing. (Interfacing is one of those advanced mysteries of sewing that I never bothered with before.)

At the fabric store, there were many bolts of white netted stuff in various weights that were clearly marked “fusible,” but none were marked “interfacing.” I selected one of them, bought a half a yard, and carried it home.

By the time i realized that what I had purchased was not interfacing but actually adhesive designed to glue one fabric to another, my iron was covered with melted plastic. (Come on—I said I wasn’t very good at this, right?)

Okay. Clean iron (not very successfully). Back to the store. This time, I asked a sales associate to identify interfacing for me. Home again. Iron interfacing onto fabric. It didn’t stick very well, but I decided to plow onward regardless.

Laying out the pieces for cutting, I realized that the instructions had skipped a few steps. Because the PDF was downloaded and printed onto regular letter-size paper, the head and body had been split into smaller pieces that needed to be assembled, taped, and then used as the pattern. Not only did the instructions never mention this, the pattern pieces required for this operation were unlabeled. No worries, I figured it out. But then I had three unlabeled pieces that didn’t seem to fit anywhere. Plus, the main body piece didn’t have any paws, and none of the random unlabeled pieces fit as far as I could tell.

I contacted the creator/seller of the pattern to ask about this, but received no reply. So I improvised the paws myself. Then I cut out all the pieces, including the unlabeled ones.

Now that the tedious setup portion of the project was over (by this time I was at least three weeks into the bunny), I began to sew. I really think it would have been a lot easier if the instructions had been correct. For example, in making the ears, I was instructed to place two pieces “right side to right side.” No problem. Except when the ears were finished, the wrong side of the fabric showed along the sides. I got out the thread picker and picked all those tiny little stitches out and did it all over again. The parts of the interfacing that hadn’t stuck properly slipped and slid across the fabric, making sewing more difficult.

Have I mentioned that my husband would remark at least once a day that I should have purchased a white bunny and dyed it pink? Really, if I were going to succumb to defeat like that, I would buy a pink bunny and save some time.

Not that I wasn’t tempted. The pattern pieces fitted together awkwardly at best, and I did a lot more improvisation before I was done. There were still three unlabeled pieces that never fit anywhere. And there was also a lot of hand-sewing as I tried to make up for both my lack of expertise and the shortcomings of the pattern and instructions.

Despite the setbacks, yesterday I finished the pink bunny! The kids were out all day with their parents, so I set up the bunny on a child’s chair in the front hallway to greet Jessamyn on her return. I was waiting to see her expression when she came through the door.

She walked in, stared at the bunny, then ran past me, giggling hysterically. Her parents called her back and told her that it was the pink bunny that Nana had made for her. She picked it up and buried her little face in the soft pink fur, and slept with it last night.

That made it all worthwhile, of course. Except that now she wants a rainbow unicorn sloth. If there is a rainbow unicorn sloth pattern online, it is safe from me.

The Tale of How a Little Book for Kids Grew Up and Became a Little Book for Kids


Once upon a time, many years ago (many, MANY years ago), I was a college student at Beloit College (it’s in Wisconsin and that’s all you need to know about it). I was earning a Master’s Degree in Teaching, and one of the courses I took was Children’s Literature. Much of our grade was based on two essays the professor had assigned. Two essays that I am sure the professor had selected carefully for their learning potential, but which I thought were incredibly boring.

So without any notion of what I was really doing, I asked my prof if instead of writing two essays, I could write two children’s books instead. He agreed.

I spent the better part of the next several weeks holed up in the house trailer where my husband and I lived at the time, writing a little book called “I Am Not a Bear,” and illustrating it in pen and ink and watercolor. I painted the scenes and then pasted the typewritten text onto the watercolor paper. Lacking any sort of binding option, I punched the pages with three holes and fastened them with binder rings. It was a crude production, but the best I had to hand.

The original illustration of Paul picking up his room.


The new illustration of Paul picking up his room.

The story is about Paul, a little boy who wants to live with the bears because bears don’t have to do math, pick up their rooms, or eat oatmeal. He winds up trading places with a bear cub, Growf, who wants to live with people. Both discover there really is no place like home, but they do meet each other in the end and have a good laugh about it. It’s a simple story with a sweet message about family and home—and whether or not the grass is really greener elsewhere.

My prof liked the book and read it to his kids, who also liked it. I got an A+ in the class. End of story.

Except it wasn’t the end. I kept this opus in a file drawer for many years. When my kids hit the right age (around four years old), I pulled out my “book” and read it to them. They seemed to enjoy it, even if it didn’t become a favorite like “The Cat in the Hat.” But then, my book didn’t rhyme.

The decades passed. The grandchildren came along. I read “I Am Not a Bear” to them, too. But as I was reading it, I noticed a few things with embarrassment. It was too long and wordy for the target age. The illustrations were crude, and I had learned how to paint in oils by this time and had paintings hanging in galleries. Even more important, print-on-demand had been invented, so I could create a genuine book for my grandchildren—something they could keep if they wanted.

I rewrote the book, trying to cut verbiage and page count. Then I re-illustrated it in pastels. I wanted a soft, fuzzy look, and pastels seemed ideal. I had never used pastels before, but I didn’t let that stop me. It turned out pastels weren’t that much different from painting in oils, just…drier. Then I formatted it for lulu.com and printed a few copies for the grandchildren and sundry other kids belonging to friends and family.

I thought that was the end of this little story. But no.

I became distraught over the separation of families at the border and the imprisonment of immigrant children. I lay awake at night, agonizing over those poor kids and their families, frustrated because there was nothing I could do to help.

Then it occurred to me I could help. If I could find an appropriate organization aimed at helping immigrant families at the border, I could self-publish “I Am Not a Bear” as a bilingual English-Spanish book and donate all the proceeds to that organization to help them be more effective.

I approached only two refugee assistance organizations. The first one never replied to me. The second, the National Network for Refugee & Immigrant Rights (NNIR), responded immediately and enthusiastically that they would love to work with me on this. They have been an appreciative partner.

Just one problem. I don’t speak or write Spanish. I can find my way around a Spanish-speaking country by dint of speaking only in the present tense and waving my hands around a lot, but I didn’t even know the Spanish word for “bear cub.” (It turns out a lot of people who speak Spanish don’t know that either, which made me feel better.)

Fortunately, I have a Spanish-speaking friend who grew up in Mexico, Clod Barrera. I asked Clod if he would translate my book, for the magnificent compensation of nothing but my eternal gratitude. Clod, being a wonderful person, did so. And then I passed the translation around to a few other people to make sure all was copacetic—because I sure wouldn’t have known if there were a problem!

Finally, everything was ready to go. Except for formatting the new version of the book on lulu.com. For some reason, this took forever, and I have no intention of boring you with why, but it is finally ready to sell.

I don’t usually ask people straight out to buy my books, but I’m making an exception. If you care about the plight of children and families at the border—and know a child (around four to seven years of age) who would enjoy the book, or know of a school that could use bilingual books for young children—I’m asking you to buy “I Am Not a Bear/Yo no soy oso.” One hundred percent of the profits will be donated to the NNIR for at least two years. Here’s where to get it: http://www.lulu.com/shop/kd-keenan/i-am-not-a-bearyo-no-soy-oso/paperback/product-23979188.html

I thank you in advance. Every book that sells sends more money to help immigrants and their families.

This illustration didn’t make it into the book for purely technical reasons. but I kind of like it anyway.

The Death of a Thousand Cuts

Lingchi, or the death of a thousand cuts, was a form of torturous execution practiced in China and Vietnam until the early 20th Century. Without going into too much gruesome detail, this involved cutting small pieces of a person’s body off until they died from blood loss, shock, or systemic failure. The idea was to inflict the maximum amount of pain, anticipation of death, and humiliation upon the victim.

Every woman in America knows the death by a thousand cuts. It starts when we are little kids, and as we get a little older, it only gets worse. Let me offer some examples from my own life. I am not using my experience because I want your sympathy. I want you to remember when this sort of stuff happened to you, your friend, your mother, your aunt, your sister, your classmate. And I want you to be furious and stay that way.

As a child, my father’s worst insult was to call me “girlish.” Being girlish was the worst thing you could be, that was clear, but I was at a loss as how not to be girlish, being a girl and all.

As a girl, I wanted to be an archeologist. My father talked my mother, who was a former archeologist, into telling me that female archeologists never got married. I pointed out that she had, and so had Margaret Meade—five times—but this was ignored. Nonetheless, I was told I could “be whatever I wanted to be.” Puzzling.

As a child of perhaps nine, my friend and I were pursued down the street by older boys demanding a “blow job.” Neither of us knew what that was, but we were pretty sure it was something we needed to flee from—quickly. I learned as a child to avoid groups of adolescent boys or young men when I was walking because of the filthy comments they made. Again, I didn’t understand most of them, but they conveyed a slimy contempt that frightened me.

As a seventh-grader, I was harassed on the school bus by a boy in my grade. When I turned to ask him to stop, he slapped me as hard as he could across the face before I could even speak. I wish I had been more of a fighter as a girl, but I was raised to be sugar and spice and everything nice and I had no idea how to retaliate without getting badly beaten. I turned around and said nothing and repressed my tears. I heard one of the boys behind me say, “Well, at least she didn’t cry.” When my father called his father, the boy’s father basically said suck it.

When I developed secondary sexual characteristics, of course it got much worse. I became adept at spotting and avoiding trouble by being alert for predatory males all the time. Once I was walking through a park in the afternoon and a car driven by a solitary man began following me. He followed me everywhere until I approached a family of picnickers and asked if I could sit with them until the man left. They kindly allowed me to stay and the stalker took off, but it frightened me.

The very next morning, my younger sister and I went for a walk before my parents got up. We were visiting Monterey, CA, and it was foggy. We wandered down to the wharf, not far away, and walked out to the end of the dock. On the way back, we were approached by two transients, toothless, filthy, dressed in dirty rags, who told us to go with them and have some “fun.” It was two men against two young girls (one just a child), and they were very threatening. No one else was around, and the thick fog obscured everything. I put my arm around my sister and began yelling, “NO!” They finally gave way and let us go, but that was the scariest moment of my young life.

In college, I was groped multiple times at dances by men who were just walking past, as though I were a fruit display. Casually done, as if it were their right to touch me in such a way. One man who shall remain nameless as he isn’t up for a Supreme Court judgeship, tried to rape me when he thought I was unconscious. Just napping, as it turned out, but I never trusted him again.

I remember the first time I realized that men did not have my back—even men who weren’t doing anything objectionable. I was waiting in line in a liquor store. The guy in front of me was enormous. I am nearly six feet tall, but this man dwarfed me. After he paid for his purchase, he whirled around abruptly, glowered at me and said, “You wanna go out?” Startled and a bit frightened, I stammered, “No!” He turned away and left the store. I definitely felt threatened and I was worried that he might be waiting for me outside. I looked at the men in line with me (there were no women). I looked at the checkout clerk, also a man. Their eyes were blankly unconcerned. I realized that I was completely on my own. No one was going to offer to walk outside with me to make sure I got to my car safely. I waited quite a while inside the store, peering out to see if I could spot this giant man, before I dared to leave the shelter of the store.

Much later, when I was in business, I ran into men who refused to work with women, and were fairly rude about it. One man, who probably weighed over 300 pounds, made a joking remark about my being overweight in a room filled with men who laughed at his clever joke. In another testosterone-infused business meeting, a man began loudly talking and sharing jokes during my female colleague’s presentation. He was not reprimanded by the male vice president who was running the meeting.

I can’t even tell you about all the times I’ve been catcalled, or ignored, or talked over, or had my ideas repeated by a man to general acclaim—minutes after I had suggested them and been ignored.

I’ve been followed. I’ve been stalked. I’ve had perfect strangers (men) feel free to comment on my attributes or lack of them. I’ve been called bitch, cunt, whore, and slut by people who have never met me before.

I’m not telling you this because my experience is so awful. I’ve never been raped, for instance, or physically abused by a man. No, I’m telling you because EVERY WOMAN IN AMERICA SHARES THESE EXPERIENCES WITH ME. Every. Last. One.

This is the death of a thousand cuts: every day, women and young girls face the lust, scorn, disgust, hatred, indifference, and ridicule of men. After a few decades, it feels very old indeed. The good news is, if you become fat or in any way deemed unattractive, such as getting gray hair or saggy tits, it all goes away! No one catcalls, stalks, or gropes you anymore because now you are COMPLETELY INVISIBLE! No one hears you, no one sees you. It’s better than the catcalling and groping, which should tell you something.

Obviously, I am not talking to or about the good men, of whom there are many. But sadly, because these men are good, they think that these criticisms are aimed at all men. Some get very defensive, “I don’t do those things!” and refuse to hear about it. We need these good men on our side, not defending themselves against us. Women know that “not all men.” So don’t get defensive on us when we’re asking for your support. Don’t tell us that not all men. Show us that not all men.

Thanks.

Book Review: “Magpie Murders” by Anthony Horowitz


Mysteries are different from other genres in that the author has a specific contract with the reader. This contract says, roughly:
1. Thou shalt provide the reader with the clues needed to solve the mystery, if the reader manages to look at the clues in the right way.
2. Thou shalt not conceal the one piece of information needed to identify the criminal.
3. Thou shalt not make the criminal easy to identify because that would be no fun at all.
4. Thou shalt not invent random crap like time travel to explain how the criminal managed to pull off the crime.

These restrictions can make mysteries rather formulaic, but great mystery writers rise above them. And occasionally, an author manages to pull off a tour de force that both respects the contract and rises above it. “Magpie Murders” by Anthony Horowitz is just that kind of mystery.

But before we get into the novel, let’s talk about the two basic genres of murder mystery: cozy and hardboiled. It’s actually more like two separate genres, because cozy readers often don’t like hardboiled mysteries, and vice versa. Agatha Christie is, of course, the great-grandmother of the cozy mystery with her English villages, eccentric detectives, crumpets and tea. Dashiell Hammett and Mickey Spillane epitomize the hardboiled mystery, with gritty, urban settings and down-at-heel, cynical detectives like Mike Hammer.

“Magpie Murders” is by definition a cozy and an English cozy at that. My favorite kind of mystery, in short. Don’t ask me why I am so enamored of vicars, fêtes and jumble sales—I just am. “But “Magpie Murders” is a cozy mystery within a cozy mystery, giving the happy reader not one but TWO mysteries to solve. The murders are unconnected except that the author of “Magpie Murders,” the book within the book, is also the victim in “Magpie Murders,” the novel.

Okay, that might have been a tad confusing so I’ll back up. The story opens with a book editor, Susan Ryeland, reading a manuscript. The manuscript, “Magpie Murders,” was written by Alan Conway, an enormously successful mystery writer and the mainstay of Susan’s employer, a small publishing firm. Susan warns the reader that the manuscript changed her life completely, and then we plunge into the story of “Magpie Murders.”

This story within a story is set in post-WWII England. An apparently accidental death occurs in Pie Hall, the residence of the local gentry, Sir Magnus Pie and his wife. But was it an accident? Small-town tongues are wagging. Then Sir Magnus is found dead in his front hall, decapitated by a sword from a nearby suit of armor. There are carloads of suspects, but nothing that makes any sense. Conway’s fictional detective, Atticus Pünt, is called in. Pünt appears to have solved the mystery—perhaps—by the time Susan Ryeland comes to the end of the manuscript. But the final chapters are missing. And then her boss gets a letter from Conway that sounds a great deal like a suicide note, and they discover he is dead, apparently having thrown himself off a high tower attached to his historic residence.

Susan begins investigating on her own because she needs to find the missing chapters—her publishing firm might not survive without bringing out Conway’s final book. She doesn’t find them, but does discover that someone has taken Conway’s notes and wiped all versions of the book on his computer. She begins to suspect that Conway was murdered. She also finds that there are several people who had excellent motives for murdering him, from his recently discarded lover to his next-door neighbor.

At this point, the reader is working on two murder mysteries, both taking place in English villages, and both involving assorted vicars, village residents, and mysterious visitors. Horowitz does a credible job of keeping the stories distinct. A lesser writer might have led the reader into an inextricable bog of confusion. I listened to the audiobook version, and splitting the narration between a man and a woman helped to keep the two stories straight. Samantha Bond narrated those portions told by Susan Ryeland, and Allan Cordune narrated the manuscript mystery. Both did an excellent job.

Eventually Susan solves the modern mystery and finds the missing pages. She nearly loses her life in the attempt, but then we get to read the end of the story-within-a-story. Both mysteries resolve satisfactorily and adhere strictly to the reader-author contract outlined above. I didn’t guess the solution to the manuscript mystery at all, and only sussed the modern mystery toward the end. Far from feeling frustrated by this, I am always happy when the author outsmarts me—as long as the author plays fair. “Magpie Murders” is one of the most enjoyable reads I’ve had in a while, and I will look for more mysteries by Anthony Horowitz.

Raising Tad

First:
I love animals. I have always had pets, and never believed what I heard from others about how they don’t have the same emotions, or even the same ability to feel pain. Nonsense. Animals are more like us than not, but we have spent millennia trying to prove that we are better, finer, and superior. We have behaved accordingly, acting as though animals could not feel, or suffer. As if they didn’t matter.

So don’t read this piece if you are one of those individuals. You won’t like it.
* * * *

A few weeks ago, my daughter Kerry came home from her teaching job with a jar of water containing two tiny black commas of life: tadpoles. One of her middle-school students had given them to her so that Kerry’s two little girls could observe the miraculous transformation from tadpole to frog. The tadpoles were no bigger than my little fingernail.

Sadly, one of them did not survive. It was a rough journey from his home pond to middle school to our house. But one tiny scrap of life lived. We never named it, nor do we know its gender, but let’s call him Tad for convenience.

Tad took up residence in a plastic food container with purified water and two baby spinach leaves to eat. He swam around energetically enough for a few weeks, gorging on spinach. I marveled at him. He was so tiny that he couldn’t consume even one leaf before it started to go bad. I regularly changed his water and his spinach leaves as he worked on growing out his hind legs.

He became a bit sluggish and one morning, Kerry found him floating on his back on top of the water, apparently dead. But when she picked up the container, he flicked away, very much alive. Kerry consulted the oracle (the Internet) and found that once tadpoles get their hind legs, they also begin developing lungs, so he needed an easier way to breathe at the surface. I selected a rock for his container, one with gently sloping sides so he could almost swim right out of the water onto the top of the rock, which I left rising just a bit above the waterline. I added some sticks for good measure and topped it off with a couple of baby spinach leaves.

I swear he was way happier with the additions. (Go ahead and laugh. I don’t care.) Lethargy forgotten, he careened around his enclosure, now with far less water, dodging between twigs and hiding by the rock’s sloping sides. He did swim right up to the rock to rest in the water while he breathed. I was delighted, and I think that’s when I lost a little piece of my heart to him.

Tad’s forelegs seemed to pop out overnight, each the circumference of a thread. And one day, he climbed right out of the water and sat on top of the rock like a grown-up frog. The picture above is of this event. Terrible photo, but remember, he was teensy, and I was shooting through the plastic walls of a food container.

Tad sat on his rock the entire day without moving. My hypothesis is that he was allowing his lungs to practice breathing, and perhaps this was an energy-intensive exercise. I was smitten. He was just SO cute sitting there like a real frog, and yet—still the size of my little fingernail.

It was time to let Tad return to nature. His tail was nothing but a nubbin and his legs were fully developed. He would need to eat tiny insects now, as spinach would no longer appeal to him.

We live near a large tract of wild woodland. I thought I would let him go in the stream that winds through the woods. Lower downstream where it meanders into the ocean, there is always a crowd of ducks and seagulls, it’s polluted, and the water is brackish.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t reach the forest stream. Although there are places where you can reach the stream easily, they are not near the park road. My husband and I had taken our youngest granddaughter to witness the release and we were also carrying Tad’s container. Jessamyn, age four, is definitely not Nature Girl and objects to long and difficult walks. I had safety-proofed Tad’s container as best I could by removing the sticks, emptying most of the water and replacing the rock with a mound of sodden paper towels so he would have a safe place to sit out of the water if he needed it. But I could tell the movement and jouncing were frightening to him.

So we drove closer to where the creek empties into the ocean. The banks became much less precipitous. I found a spot upstream from where the ducks and seabirds hang out, far enough from the sea that the water wouldn’t be brackish. It was a shallow stretch of streambed with a golden, sandy bottom. I clambered as far down the bank as I could and let Tad out of his container.

With a burst of speed that surprised us, Tad leaped downhill toward the water and disappeared into the weeds matting the stream bank. We lost sight of him within a second. He was such an infinitesimal scrap of a creature that any shadow, any shelter disguised him entirely. It made me wonder how many little animals I have unwittingly walked upon without ever knowing it.

I absolutely would be lying if I told you that were the end of it. No, I worried. Did he make it to the water? Did he live through his first day as a free frog? Did he become a light snack for a garter snake or a sparrow?

Was this silly of me? Yes. Tadpoles are spawned in the hundreds of thousands, and they are ready food for many animals. Frogs, too, are the prey of birds, toads, foxes, raccoons, fish…and so on. Hakuna matata, the great circle of life and all that.

But I still think a lot about that minute froglet, sitting so quietly and proudly on top of his rock. Although Tad’s chances of survival were slim, at least I gave him a safe and predator-free tadpolehood. That is probably the best we can do for our own children before we release them into the wild.

Death Comes for Zippy

This isn’t Zippy, but it looks just like her. (Not that I can tell one Barred Rock hen from another.) I love her smart stripes and contrasting red comb–very stylish.

About a year ago I wrote a blog piece about “bathroom chickens.” My daughter Kerry decided she wanted to keep chickens for the eggs. She and her husband Mike built a sturdy chicken run and coop, capable of deflecting the local predators, which include foxes, bobcats, coyotes, rats, weasels, raccoons, hawks, and eagles. We are less certain the coop would resist the dedicated efforts of the local mountain lion, but so far, the lion has stayed on the other side of our fence.

Kerry obtained five chicks from our local organic farmer guru. These tiny, shrieking balls of fluff lived in the upstairs bathroom. As they grew larger, they became more difficult to care for. Also more annoying. I got tired of cleaning up chicken-foot-shaped shit prints. But the day dawned when our little flock moved into their new chicken palace in the back yard. In due time, they began laying eggs. We had two Easter Eggers that laid green, speckled eggs. The rest, a Barred Rock, an Australorpe, and a Rhode Island Red, laid brown eggs.

We named the chickens. I have a rule that I never eat anything that I have addressed by name. The Easter Eggers, both brownish-red, were named Henrietta and Ruby. The Australorpe, whose feathers are iridescent black, is Chix. The Rhode Island Red, a cheerful yellow, is Sunny. The Barred Rock, stylish in black and white stripes, was named Zippy.

I thought I would become more emotionally attached to the chickens. I love animals, and have had pets from cats to rats to a horse to seahorses. I wept over the deaths of my pet rats as much as over any dog or cat. But I haven’t gotten very attached to the chickens. They aren’t terribly fond of us, either. You would think that being handled every day as chicks, they would be used to us, but no. Clearly, they view us as annoying and intrusive at best—unless we have food, in which case, they prefer us to throw it in the coop and leave as quickly as possible.

I did develop a grudge against one of them, though. Chix proved to be the smartest and most aggressive of the young hens. The other girls huddled away from us when we entered the coop, but Chix came right up and crowded us. One day as I was putting fresh food down (this was before I learned to fling it and leave), Chix pecked both my wrists with lightening speed, raising two juicy blood blisters. I decided I would probably be okay with eating Chix cacciatore after all.

We originally thought Henrietta would be, as Kerry put it, “The boss bitch.” She was the largest of the baby chicks, and the most forward. Then Chix stepped up and flexed her drumsticks. But the one who ruled the roost in the end was Zippy, our Barred Rock. I think Zippy was, in her own way, an ideal leader. She was modest and unassuming, asserting her authority without pecking anyone’s eyes out or raising any blood blisters. While Chix continued to crowd us in the coop, perching on the watering bottles and knocking them over, dapper Zippy quietly went about her business, keeping her little flock on track. After Zippy assumed supremacy, we noticed that Chix wasn’t as aggressive as she had been. Which was a good thing.

As the hens grew older, the eggs got bigger and more plentiful. Once in a while we find no eggs, but usually there are three, four or five eggs waiting for us. I enjoy getting the eggs, sometimes needing to grope under a warm, sitting hen to find them. I always thought they would lay their eggs in separate nests, but all of the eggs go in one nest, and they take turns sitting on them. Sunny is our most dedicated sitter. She never pecks at my thieving fingers and even lets me pet her. (If she’s not on the nest, however, Sunny won’t let us near her.) If Chix is sitting (a rare occasion because Chix isn’t the motherly type), I shoo her away before gathering the eggs. I’m not giving that bitch another shot at me.

I enjoy their “egg song.” When a hen lays, she crows a bit as though to say, “Look what I just did!” I also quietly savor the idea that the descendants of Tyrannosaurus Rex are strutting around in my back yard, providing me with sustenance. Mammals rule, and all that.

Then tragedy struck. Kerry found Zippy’s still-warm corpse in the run without a mark on her. Zippy had laid an egg the day before, and she had also happily gobbled the table scraps I gave them. Although she was only a year old, Zippy’s sands had run out. The Queen was dead. The rest of the flock retreated in horror to the highest perch until the corpse was removed.

I had a rather odd reaction to Zippy’s death. As I said, we weren’t close. But it seemed sad that such a young bird had died. None of the other birds appear ill. Kerry’s research indicated that it wasn’t unusual for a youthful chicken to die unexpectedly, possibly of a heart attack. Just like people, some chickens are born with defective hearts. Still. She had shared my table (figuratively speaking). She was a creature under my care. I wasn’t grief-stricken, but I did feel that Zippy deserved some respect for her wise leadership and lovely brown eggs. So Zippy has been on my mind for a few days.

But not on my plate. As I said, we were on first-name terms.

Review: “The Book of Lost Things”

 

“The Book of Lost Things,” by John Connolly, is a fairy story about fairy stories—and not the kind that necessarily turn out happily ever after. More the Grimm kind, where virtue isn’t always rewarded, but evil is always savagely punished. It shows again that fairy stories are primordial, ancient, bred in the bone.

David, our protagonist, is a 10-year-old English boy who loses his beloved mother in the opening days of WWII. His father and he do as well as they can together, but then David’s father marries Rose and they have a baby boy, Georgie. None of this goes down well with David, who is grieving, angry, jealous, resentful and lonely. He also starts seeing strange things like a crooked old man lurking in his brother’s room, and begins having fits.

The one solace David finds in his new situation is the books in his room. They are fairy stories, but different from the ones he has read before—darker and more disturbing. He asks Rose about them, and she tells him they belonged to a great uncle who had loved the books, but he and a young female relative had disappeared one day and were never seen again.

One night David is awakened by his mother’s voice calling him. He knows his mother is dead, but his desire that this not be true is so powerful that he wanders into a neglected sunken garden. The voice seems to be issuing from a hole beneath a great tree there. As David hesitates, he hears the screaming of a bomber overhead, disabled, on fire, and heading right for him. He dives into the hole beneath the tree and discovers himself in a strange land as the bomber crashes through and David’s escape route is blocked. Just to let you know that the story to come will not be about sweet little creatures with butterfly wings, the pilot’s head bounces by David after the crash, blackened and bloody.

David soon discovers that a great evil is growing in this new land. A wolf army is gathering, led by the Loup, half man, half wolf. The Crooked Man is here as well, and seems to want something from David. The dangers here are genuine and they are deadly. The author doesn’t flinch at detailed descriptions of some truly grotesque and bloody deaths.

Amid the growing darkness, David also meets some good people who help him. One of them tells him to seek out the king of this land because he has “The Book of Lost Things” that will help David to return home. “The Book of Lost Things” doesn’t help him to find his home, but it does clear up the central mysteries of the story, pointing David to the truth of the Crooked Man and his agenda.

David proves he is brave, loyal, and resourceful. He discovers that not everything is what it seems, and learns to be discriminating about whom he trusts—a single misstep could be fatal. In the process, he solves the mystery of what happened to Rose’s great-uncle and his young relative, and of course realizes his mistake in rejecting Rose and Georgie. By the time David finds the way home, we feel he has earned his return many times over.

The book follows David’s life after this event. It was not a life free from pain or unhappiness, but he finds love, comfort and a purpose in life. At the end—I’ll let you read the book to find out what happens at the very end. Like a good fairy story, the end wraps everything up in a most satisfactory way.

I would have to say that ‘The Book of Lost Things” is not for the faint of heart. Although the protagonist is a child and the source material is fairy stories, it is definitely not a children’s tale. I might even hesitate to recommend it to a teenager, particularly if they were going through a Goth phase. There is a lot of violence, a pervasive sense of creeping evil, and many adult themes. I would have to say that it cleaves to the original tenor of the ancient stories, though. The old fairy tales are dark and primeval. They have nothing to do with living happily ever after or marrying the prince. They teach us to beware the evil in the dark and the forces we do not comprehend. “The Book of Lost Things” is that kind of fairy tale.