Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Dog Days of Summer

Recently, my live-in boyfriend, Jordan, and I made the decision to get a dog. We already had two cats, Digit and Lily, but we longed for an animal companion who we could take for walks, bring to the park, and play fetch with. We have tried to do all of these things with our cats unsuccessfully. I even bought a kitty harness and leash for our more playful cat, Lily, in hopes that she would accompany me on walks around the neighborhood, but found that as soon as I strap the harness on her, she immediately goes stiff and falls over on her side as if she is made out of cement. She made it clear to me that she was not going to be doing anything while wearing that harness, much less walking.

And so, this past winter, we started entertaining the idea of adopting a dog. We agreed on getting an older puppy or young adult dog, because we didn’t want to go through the hassle of house breaking and training. We started looking into adoption and went to go meet some dogs at the Kankakee County Humane Society. We fell in love with one, an 8-month-old Australian Shepherd mix, and decided we would name him Merlin. We were just about to go put our deposit on him when I got a call from my brother. His Australian Cattle Dog was pregnant, and he was wondering if we’d like to take one of the puppies when they were born and old enough to give away. We weighed our options.

Getting an older dog would mean that we wouldn’t have to worry about house breaking and training, but we would miss out on the cutest stages and those early bonding opportunities. Also, we were getting ready to move into a new house, and the extra time before the pups were born and ready to go would be helpful.

Our minds were made once the pups were born and we went to see them in March. There were 6 of them, 2 girls and 4 boys. Two of the boys were red, and the rest of them were black with brown faces and paws, and a couple of them had white on their chests. They were just a couple weeks old, and so tiny and adorable. They were just big enough to romp around and play with each other. Immediately when we entered the room, 4 of the pups ran up to greet us and crawled on our laps, but then easily got distracted and went off to go play. While the others were playing, there was one little female, a black and brown one with a white T on her chest, who seemed a little more shy than the rest. She came up to me, crawled on my lap, and went right to sleep. This was the one I wanted!

While the puppies grew and developed at my brother’s house, we tried our best to prepare ourselves for what was about to come. I checked out a bunch of DVDs and books on puppy training from the library’s collection, and we did our homework. We also went and bought toys, food, treats, a little pink collar, and all of the necessities. We decided on a name- Priscilla, or “Prissy” for short.

In May, the time came to bring Priscilla home. She cried most of the way through the first few nights, but seemed to adjust pretty quickly and get used to her new routine and surroundings. Also, she seemed to be doing a great job with not going potty in the house. Had we chosen some miracle puppy that wasn’t going to be any trouble or work at all for us?

The answer, as I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, was no. Within a week, her angelic façade had started to wear thin, and her true puppy nature began to show through. As is natural for new puppies, she has been a lot of hard work for us. She is now 4 months old and 30 pounds (she is expected to reach 60-70 pounds), and has the idea pretty much down that she should only go potty outside, but she still has an accident almost every day. Also, she has started teething, and has chewed up some of our window sills, corners of walls, and pulled up some of our carpeting. She greets us by jumping up on us and getting our clothes dirty. She bites our hands when we play with her. She bites our feet when we try to walk away from her. She tries to herd the cats and any small children that come into our house or yard. When we go for walks, she pulls so hard it feels like my arm might come off. She barks at the neighbors, garbage men, mail carriers, and anyone else who might dare to come within 30 feet of our house. But for each of her bad habits, she has at least a dozen redeeming qualities.

She is very intelligent, and very sweet. I have already successfully taught her to sit, stay, lie down, beg, jump, and dance. We are working on speak, but she doesn’t ever bark in the house, so she’s having a hard time getting it (which is actually a good thing). She loves to play fetch, and will play for hours on end. She is a very cuddly dog, and still tries to get up on my lap with her bone in her mouth, even though she is now too big for all of her to fit on my lap. She is protective of us, and lets us know with a soft but alert “woof” if there is someone or something outside of our house. Though a little on the timid side, she is very happy to meet new people and loves to make friends with other dogs. I enjoy taking her with me to the Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings, on long walks almost every night, to my friends’ and family members’ houses, and on the weekends, we like to go to Prairie Trails or the State Park and go swimming in the river or play Frisbee in the grass.

Having her in our home and life has been an adventure, but mostly a good one. We are enjoying watching her grow and learn more every day. She has given me something extra to look forward to when I come home, and even though there are days when I come home to messes on the floor or chewed –up walls, it is difficult to stay mad at her, especially since she is just doing what puppies do. I know with work, she will eventually grow out of her bad behaviors. Also with work, we will grow to be better dog owners and not give her the temptation to be bad. We look forward to the days when she is the epitome of a perfect dog, but for now, we are enjoying these fleeting moments of her puppy-hood.

Sarissa Johnson
Adult Services Media Lead
Kankakee Public Library

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Mom Spa

Come with me to the “Mom-spa”

A few years ago, I was given a children’s book entitled Five Minutes Peace by Jill Murphy. In it, Mrs. Large, an elephant mother of three rambunctious children, decides to retreat to the bathtub for “five minutes of peace.” After settling herself into warm bubbles, complete with a cup of tea, her five minutes are interrupted one-by-one by her children, all wanting to share something with her. Eventually, all the children decide to join her in the tub, and Mrs. Large escapes to the kitchen, where she has “exactly three minutes and forty-five seconds of peace.”

As a single mom of two active daughters, I can relate to poor Mrs. Large, which is probably why I was given the book. (Well, that and the fact that I collect elephants…but that’s a whole other blog.) I’m can guarantee that I’m not the only one, either.

It is difficult, however, to even get to where Mrs. Large was in the book. As I climbed into the shower the other night, it struck me that it had been years since I was able to take a bath. Showers, yes; baths, no. In my childless youth, I loved to sink into a nice hot bath, maybe even with some soft music, candles, bubble bath, the works. That’s not really feasible anymore. Since preparing a bath takes quite a bit of time, you want to really make it worth the effort, but trying to take a chunk of time out at home – with pets, kids, phone calls and everything else – is next to impossible. And if you can’t stay in until the water is cold and/or you’re nice and pruney, what’s the point?

Wouldn’t it be nice if someone opened a Mom-spa? I’m not talking about a place where you drop a couple hundred bucks to sit in mud or be wrapped in plastic. I’m thinking of a spa for those of us who clip coupons, buy generic, and actually celebrate when we find a dollar in the pocket of a pair of jeans we haven’t worn for awhile. In other words, the Mom-spa would be affordable.

The Mom-spa would consist of several rooms with bathtubs where a mom could escape for about an hour. You call in and make your reservation. The staff would run your bath to a specified temperature and add whatever luxuries – bubble bath, salts, oil, rose petals, etc – you desire. The atmosphere would be to your request as well. If you want low lighting with candles and soft music, you could have it. Perhaps one or two rooms would have a skylight for an evening soak. A gentle chime would tell you when your time is up. In the Mom-spa, absolutely no one knocks on your door. (Unless the building is actually burning down, which, incidentally, is not equivalent to “the cat threw up on my shoes.”)

Of course, the Mom-spa would provide one of those turban towels to keep your hair dry and a nice, fluffy bathrobe to use when you get out of the tub. When you come in, it’s all ready and you can have a nice long soak. No children are allowed in the Mom-spa. There are no arguments in the Mom-spa. Cell phones do not work in the Mom-spa. Messages will be taken for customers whose family members have misplaced their math homework or need the correct spelling of “explanation.” Peace and quiet are the rule.

Unfortunately, the Mom-spa is just a lovely fantasy, but there is a place where a Mom can escape for a little while. The Kankakee Public Library has a number of programs for kids, teens and adults to have fun, learn something new or discuss a new book. The fall programming has just started. If you don’t receive KPL’s newsletter “The Mane Event”, stop in, pick up a copy, and see what events might be your “Mom-spa.” You can even check out a copy of Five Minutes Peace.

Teresa Cline
Adult Services

Monday, July 27, 2009

Coming of age - 21st century style

Decisions have never been my strong suit. I can decide things like “Where should we go for dinner?” or “Does this look okay with that?” but when it comes to making serious decisions – ones that involve money or are potentially life-altering – I need a lot of time and a lot of information.

You can imagine, then, my dilemma as my elder daughter’s 14th birthday approached, and the one gift that came up over and over was…you guessed it, a cell phone.

For the past year or so, both my daughters have bombarded me with an endless litany of which friends had acquired a phone, why their lives would be greatly enriched by joining this coveted group, and how could I possibly continue to stunt their social development by denying them this valuable technology.

The arguments fell on only partially deaf ears. I have never been one to buy into the “Everyone’s doing it” philosophy, but as both girls have become increasingly involved in sports and other extra-curricular activities, maintaining consistent communications has been a problem. Practices are changed, games get rained out, I run late – all these become issues when there’s not an easy way to share the information. About 6 months ago, I told both girls that I was thinking about the cell phone idea, but they’d have to prove to me that they were mature enough to handle the additional responsibility. My older daughter rose to the challenge, setting her sights on a cell phone for her birthday.

Of course, once I’d laid the foundation, I needed to follow through, which meant making a BIG decision…or a several small ones, as it turned out. Contract or pay-as-you-go? Verizon? Sprint? Cricket? A few I’d never heard of? Camera or no? Texting or no? I went into information overload more than once as July 25 loomed closer. The biggest question of all was, were we ready this?

I discovered it wasn’t the cell phone decisions throwing me for a loop, it was the idea that the sweet 6-year-old that I brought home nearly 8 years ago is growing up…too fast. (Both my daughters were adopted at age 6.) Gone are the days of Barbie, Legos and Magic School Bus videos. Now it’s computers, cell phones, and the Jonas Brothers. Boys are more than just baseball teammates. As a single mom working two jobs, this prospect is a bit scary.

I was thrown a lifeline of sorts last month when I came to work at the library. We’ve had cards for some time, but now that it’s my second job, my girls have been spending a lot more time here. While I head to the third floor, they remain in the Teen Zone; reading books, hopping on one of the teen computers or usually a combination of both. They love it. Once school starts, the library will be an excellent place for them to do their homework – quiet but with access to computers for research.

In the end, I can’t do anything about my daughters growing up. Like it or not, it’s happening. One thing I can control is the atmosphere in which they grow up, and KPL has become an important part of that. If you’re a parent, check out all that KPL has to offer your child. You’ll be glad you did.

By the way, I FINALLY decided on a cell phone and plan the day before her birthday. Now I can relax until October. That’s when her sister turns 14.

Teresa Cline
Adult Services

Monday, July 13, 2009

How to Shop at Your Farmers' Market in 7 Easy Steps

I've mentioned before what a huge fan I am of farmers' markets. I also volunteer at mine two or three Saturdays a month, and in talking with folks I've learned that people can be intimidated by the farmers' market with all of the assorted mounds of produce, baked goods and plants - let's face much selection can be overwhelming! Also, many shoppers are not used to having a vendor present while they look at the goods. I've spent some time observing the way people shop at the market and of course, I have plenty of experience shopping at my own farmers' market. Here are some tips:

1.) Bring cash. Set an amount that you are comfortable with each time you go and try to take only that amount. Most vendors don't take debit or credit (though some do), and also you will want to make sure that you are not spending more than you'd like each time you go.

2.) Bring a big reusable bag or tote with you - throw your wallet and keys in there so you're just carrying one bag and not multiple bags to keep track of.

3.) Go once or twice around the vendor circuit telling yourself that you aren't buying anything right away. This will give you a chance to see everything that is offered and giving you a mental list of what you want to buy before delving in.

4.) Buy refrigerated items like eggs, meats and cheese, and big items like plants last.

5.) If you are intending to buy bread, buy that first as the good ones tend to sell out quickly. And if you're intending to buy cheese, make that the first of your refrigerated purchases as the best flavors tend to sell out quickly.

6.) Don't be afraid to ask questions of the vendors. The vendors are there not only to sell their wares, but they love talking to customers and sharing their knowledge of the product. You don't have to buy from a vendor if you ask them a question - they realize that not everyone is going to buy each time! The plant vendors are good sources of explaining what you can do to help keep your plants alive (which is always helpful to those of us who's thumbs are not quite yet a lovely shade of green). Herb vendors can help you with recipes incorporating the herbs. These vendors are there because they love their product and want you to love it, too! Ask away!

Also, the market info table, or the market manager, is a good source to ask questions of what vendors are there each week.

7.) Early shoppers have benefits that later shoppers miss out on - the most popular items usually go quickly. However, if you're wanting to have a bit more of a social experience with bigger crowds of locals and music, arriving a little later or midway through the market hours is your best bet.

And here is a tip for vendors: Mark your items clearly with signage!...many shoppers may feel uncomfortable asking for the price of an item, or may not want to wait in line just to find out the price. If price info or names of items are not clearly marked, they may get frustrated and move on to the next vendor.

Check out the book Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America's Farmers' Markets by Deborah Madison - this is one of my all time favorites! Also, if you're interested in getting into the business of being a vendor or just fascinated by all things farmers' market, a good book to read is The New Farmers' Market: Farm-Fresh Ideas for Producers, Mangers & Communities by Vance Corum, Marcie Rosenzweig and Eric Gibson.

And there you have it!...7 easy steps to getting the most out of your local farmers' market (and a couple of good books, too). Enjoy shopping, reading and eating local!

Allison Beasley
Head of Adult Services
Kankakee Public Library

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Midnight Nation

I have a wonderful job working in the Adult Services department at the Kankakee Public Library. I love reading a wide array of books. From chick novels to murder filled non-fiction to young adult books. More recent additions to my reading selections are graphic novels. If you have any negative preconceived notions of what they are I am asking you to throw them out the window. For those who don't know, graphic novels are basically longer versions of comic books. Sometimes they are a complete series of comic book stories all bound into one large book other times they are their own story. One of the most popular graphic novels is Watchmen by Alan Moore which was named on Time Magazine's 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to the present.

Two people turned me on to this genre. First, was Leah Bill who came to the Kankakee Public Library to complete her practicum for her Master's in Library Science. She was telling me about her class on Trends in K-12 Literature and I took notes as she told me about great graphic novels for my 8 year old daughter to read. Babymouse, Nancy Drew, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Bone, Amelia Rules and many more. My daughter loves these books very much and is always asking me to find her more.

The second person to turn me on to these books is my friend, comic book artist, Don Kramer. What better person to suggest these kind of books than from someone who does the artwork for them? He has loaned me stacks of his favorite ones including Midnight Nation by J. Michael Straczynski.

Midnight Nation is a deep and thought provoking book. This book doesn't have flashy superheros in capes. It has a world of people who have slipped through the cracks in life and find that they are invisible to ordinary people and can only interact with things that have been discarded by the living. Detective Grey awakens to find himself in this strange world. A beautiful guide, Laurel, appears and tells Grey that his soul has been lost and that with her help they need to retrieve it. On their journey they encounter the Walkers who they have to elude in their quest for David's soul. The Walkers are other lost souls, like David, who want to keep his soul in their world and make him one of them. David is forced to review his life. How he lived it, how he affected others, how he hurt his wife and has to make a difficult decision. What confronts him in the end is eye opening and surprising to him and us. Midnight Nation is the kind of book you can read over and over and pick up something new each time.

Since these two people have brought graphic novels to my attention I now notice them everywhere. Next time you go to a bookstore or better yet your local library be sure to look for the Graphic Novel section. You will be truly surprised at what you see. I know I was surprised by the selection of books geared towards girls and ones that are based on classic stories. I read Beowulf by Stefan Petrucha and Kody Chamberlain and loved it. I have fond memories of reading the original Beowulf and it was a lot of fun to read a shortened, illustrated version. You can also find works by Edgar Allan Poe, H.G. Wells, Charlotte Bronte...I could go on but just do an internet search on your favorite. Happy reading!


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Great Mommyhood Myth

I was recently at a party with other non-children-like beings that are often referred to as adults. Of course, the children were nearby (because let's face it - I'm not lucky, it's not convenient to be at a party without them). As the respective parents of these children congregated in the kitchen, while the kids scampered and played, I found myself talking shop with another mother. This particular mother is what I refer to as a mommy. In my experience, there are two kinds of mothers - there are "moms" and there are "mommies". Mommies are the ones who save toilet paper rolls by the bagful because one day, they will want to make toilet paper pilgrim crafts for Thanksgiving. Mommies never forget early dismissal days at school. Mommies always make sure their kids have a healthy, balanced organic breakfast every morning, as opposed to dry cereal in a Ziplock baggie as we're running out the door. Moms are....well, moms are like me - flawed.

I always thought of myself as a mommy....until I actually had kids. As a child, my dream was to grow up and be a stay-at-home mommy, making homemade dinners every night presented on a perfectly set dining table, with two children - a boy and a girl. Upon growing up, getting married, and actually having my first child, I was shocked by how much work it was and how no one - and I mean no one - warns starry-eyed, optimistic, soon-to-parents on how much work children really are. I had read all the parenting books before I was pregnant, during my pregnancy and even after I had my children. None of them really prepare you for what is the hardest career you will never get paid for. It was a matter of months before I found out that I wasn't a bad parent - I was perfectly normal, but I wasn't a mommy. I was just a mom. Now I think I'm a pretty good mom and I like it well enough that I even had a second child...and once I got over the guilt of not regularly doing crafts with my children, I came to respect and admire my own type of parenting.

Back to the party - as I was talking to this mommy, she and I were discussing the public school system (she and I both have kids at the same school it turns out) and how much we adore the school. She mentioned it must be very challenging to work outside of the home full-time at the library and be a parent to too. I leaned in a little closer and said, "yes, and you know, everyone thinks that we have to be perfect all the time. I guess that's the unspoken rule of motherhood, right? How we really can't be perfect and we can't talk about it either." She stared blankly at me for a few moments and just blinked her mascaraed eyelashes. After a pregnant motherhood pause, we changed the subject. But there was something in the way she looked at me after that conversation that made me think she understood. Underneath that mommy facade, I could see she knew from which I spoke. Perhaps we're not all that different after all? I'll try to remember that sentiment the next time I'm desperately searching the contents of my purse for my cell phone to order take out.

Allison Beasley
Head of Adult Services

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Vicki's Food Adventures

A lot of changes are going on in my life, mostly good, but sometimes I feel like I am having a midlife crisis. It’s possible some day you might see me with hair plugs while driving around in a convertible. Part of this midlife crisis is what I decided to call my Food Adventures.

My first adventure started at work a couple of years ago while talking to my coworker, Betty. She was really selling hot dogs to me. I hadn’t eaten a hot dog since I was in grade school. The movie the Great Outdoors had a line in it that conveyed that hotdogs were made of undesirable pieces of the animal and that prompted me to stop eating them. So, one day Betty takes me to Boz’s where I order a Chicago-style hot dog. I also attribute my intrigue of hot dogs to author, Adam Selzer, who has a website all about hot dogs. ( The hot dog experience was a positive one (although my gripe there is that they didn’t have french fries at Boz) and the next thing you know I am buying packages of them at the store and eating them on a semi regular basis. I found it was best to eat them with a tasty root beer and Baked Ruffles potato chips.

Just over a year ago when my brother was in for Christmas I decided to try a family favorite. Cardoons. ( We serve these in a batter and fry them up. At family parties my cousins fight over them and I never understood what the fuss was all about. Pete wanted to make these for our immediate family Christmas Eve dinner (normally we just have them on Christmas Day) so I decided to try one right out of the frying pan. Well, dangit if these things weren’t delicious! Pete thought I was nuts putting a little bit of sour cream on them but they reminded me of a potato pancake. I realized that I didn’t like them at our bigger family get-togethers because someone makes them early in the day and puts them in a dish to stay warm. They get soggy when you do that and I prefer them when they are crispy.

Also a year ago, someone had bought two cream cheese spreads. One was cranberry-walnut and the other was pumpkin. For years I always protested that I hated pumpkin. I sniffed around at the pumpkin container and was surprised to find out that it smelled wonderful. It was very yummy and I was stunned! Did this mean that I like pumpkin? All these years of being a baby about it and I was missing out on something like this? This past Thanksgiving I tried pumpkin pie and thought it was gross, but I do like pumpkin cake and other pumpkin flavored things.

Cute side note here. My daughter, Abby, got pumpkin scented soap and lotion from Bath and Body as a gift. Even I thought it smelled great. One day she put some lotion on her hand and a dried out, discolored blob of lotion squeezed out and she exclaimed “Look! A piece of pumpkin came out!”

Another food adventure came about because of my bookclub with my friends. I have always hated olives and I hate that I hate them because they look so good! I’m Italian! I should like them! My friend Karriann brought a container of olive tapenade and a loaf of bread. It was passed around to me and I started to refuse but I thought what the heck, I’ll give it a try. Yup, you guessed it…delicious! Why didn’t people tell me all that I have been missing out on?! I even managed to bogart the leftovers.

So, this past Thanksgiving rolls around and I geared up for trying escargot. Here is where I let you in on a secret. I am self conscious when I try these new foods. I have protested for years about not eating seafood, hot dogs, pumpkin, etc. that I feel silly and maybe a bit like a hypocrite when I try them. I prefer to do it when no one is looking and report later. So, I get myself a piece of garlic bread and put a slimy, unattractive piece of escargot on a plate and run upstairs to be by myself. This will be my first piece of seafood since sometime in early grade school. I sniff it. I poke it. The escargot is mocking me. I am laughing at myself. Several times I start to put it in my mouth and then put it back down. A couple of times someone walks in on me. I wind up wandering into the kitchen to talk to my mom and I put it down and I confessed to her what I was up to. She found it amusing. Unfortunately, right around this time my Uncle Mike walked into the kitchen and it was at this time he said he wasn’t feeling well and he collapsed in my arms! It was quite scary and he wound up being ok but we had to call the paramedics and I went to the hospital with my two aunts. My mom kind of giggled though when she found my hidden plate of untouched escargot while I was gone at the hospital.

Upon returning from the hospital I still had time to have dinner. I decided to try the cranberries which I normally ignore. They look gross and slimy. They were really good but when I tried them again at Christmas someone different had made them and they weren’t as good but in general, thumbs up to cranberry sauce!

My favorite food adventure so far is my first trip to Chinatown. A friend took me to Café Huong which I have been told was on the show Check Please. I left the ordering up to him and informed him that I wanted to try some new foods. I had crab rangoon that was really good and quite possibly my favorite so far. I also tried a spring roll that had shrimp in it. I didn’t die from eating the shrimp which is a good thing but I have got to say that my brain was really freaking out while I was eating it. I used to eat shrimp, crab and lobster all the time when I was little but suddenly stopped. There is something about the texture and smell that I find unsettling. This was also the first time that I had noodles served with my Chinese food. This is definitely one of my favorite meals of all time.

What prompted me to write this today is that I decided to give coffee a try. I don’t feel this is going well. I used a package of sugar and two French vanilla creamers. I feel like my breath is disgusting and that I might as well give the ole cigarette smoking a try. Those two combos on a person’s breath should be illegal. Plus, I kind of feel like I have the shakes and that I am getting a little too giddy. No one needs a giddy, goofy Vicki on coffee at work. Just plain giddy and goofy is good enough. It’s a good thing no one is here with me because I think I would be talking a mile a minute and no one would understand me. I am reminding myself of Hammie from the movie Over the Hedge. It took me 7 and half minutes to write this whole blog. Is that a caffeine high?

I have also tried a bit of salmon, calamari and crab cakes that my mom ordered while we were at a restaurant. The hard part of all this is it adds a whole new dimension to ordering off a menu when it was already hard enough to decide as it is! I think it’s great that I am trying new things and I encourage everyone to do the same and have some adventures of your own!