CHILDREN’S BOOKS: JAZZ, NINJAS, and a dog called ROCKET

The Boy Who Cried Ninja Cover

It helps that the boy who actually cried “Ninja” is named Tim, but even if his name was Tom or Sam or Joe this would still be an amazing book that Kirkus Reviews called “Hip and trendy…with a timeless theme.”

Written by Alex Latimer, an author and illustrator from South Africa, he also created “Penguin’s Hidden Talent,” which I wrote about in an earlier post http://secondchancehomestead.wordpress.com/2013/11/19/picture-books-on-my-island-how-rocket-learned-to-read-and-penguins-hidden-talent/

Alex Latimer photo

Alex Latimer

Starting out with pencil drawings that then get digitized and colored, he creates a magical comic-strip like world in which we meet ninja’s, pirates, and time-travelling monkeys. And the story moves forward quickly without missing a beat. Loads of fun!

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Bring On That Beat Cover

Rachel Isadora is a former ballerina turned author/illustrator who works to capture music in book form. With words that fly off the page like the best jazz lyrics and joyous, infectious illustrations of musicians at play (literally and figuratively) – she celebrates that magic and mystery of this most American of music forms. Breathtaking.

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Rocket Writes a Story cover photo

I am really taken with Tad Hills work – from his DUCK AND GOOSE  board books for early readers to this two book series for the more advanced about a dog who learns to read and then finds the courage to write. I wrote about the first book, where a tweety-bird like teacher helps inspire the cutest little pup to learn to read. The New York Times review of this first Rocket chronicle lauded Hills for bringing a “sweet but not saccharine touch to a common struggle of childhood.”

How Rocket Learned to Read Cover

The story continues as Rocket, who is now a firmly established reader, gets encouragement from his teacher to WRITE.

Kirkus Reviews gets it right, noting a plot that “moves along at a measured pace” and “stresses the step-by-step process of Rocket’s endeavors.” Hills illustrations, in oil and colored pencil, are touching and “lovingly depict the characters and events.” The book doesn’t just chronicle a writer’s first start, but also the special relationship between teacher and student, and the role encouragement and gentle prodding can have in getting a new writer to blossom. Heart-warming.

Tad Hills with the real Rocket   Tad Hills with the “real” Rocket (Kirkus Reviews)

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I’M ALIVE: GEORGE MICHAEL’S “WHITE LIGHT”

It was just short of a year ago now that I was rushed to the hospital with unexplained internal bleeding, in need of five units of blood, and sick enough that when the source of the bleeding was discovered – cancer lesions throughout my digestive tract – it was unclear if I would be able to survive the first dose of chemotherapy I desperately needed.

It was all a blur, really. I knew it was serious by the grim looks on the faces of four different doctors who came to explain the situation to me. They seemed to want to make doubly sure I knew what I was getting into when I authorized them to begin treatment. It was only later, after I had pulled through, that my primary care physician told me honestly, “We weren’t sure you were going to make it.”

Looking back, it seems like years ago, not months. I spoke with a good old friend from Los Angeles this weekend, filling him in on all the details of this last year. When I got to the part about being rushed to the hospital I said,

“It was great! My first time in an ambulance and those EMT’s are so damn cute! And I didn’t really know how serious it was so I was just enjoying these guys in their uniforms rushing me to the hospital with lights blazing and the siren droning on!”

Thinking back though, it really wasn’t my first time in an ambulance. Years ago, when I was struggling with drugs and alcohol in Los Angeles, I had an accidental overdose and was taken by ambulance to a hospital near my home. Because of the intoxication, I have trouble remembering exactly what that ride was like, but it’s clear that I haven’t romanticized it as exciting or fun. I’m so glad that I’m sober now. At least that struggle is over.

Twice now I’ve been in the hospital, fighting for my life. Once because my addiction brought me to a point of foolish over-intoxication. And more recently because a cancer that began on my skin had metastasized to my digestive tract, weakening me and making everything more complicated.

Every time I think about this, the George Michael song, “White Light,” featured in this really honest and brilliant video, plays in my mind. I like George. He’s from the 80′s and my youth, and one of the first celebrities I had a crush on (back in the Wham! days). I relate to him as a fellow gay man, and as someone who has also struggled with alcohol and drugs. I respect that he’s been honest enough to talk about all these things, both in his lyrics and in interviews and public statements.

Not many people know that in the midst of his struggle, while on tour in November 2011, he had to be hospitalized in Vienna for a viral infection that turned into a deadly pneumonia. It was touch and go for several days. He was treated in the intensive care unit, spent time in a coma, and underwent a tracheostomy. Finally released on December 21st of that year, George Michael made a public statement thanking the staff of Vienna General Hospital for saving his life.

This song was released in June 2012, just months after Whitney Houston’s cocaine-related death. The lyrics allude to both Amy Winehouse and Houston’s deaths, and George’s fear that it “could have been me.” This lyrical honesty gives credence to rumors that the problems in Vienna were drug related. The video is haunting because it is so brutally raw, so honest, and I’ve been there. It catches my breath every time I see it.

Having just come home last week from the hospital after my own struggle with pneumonia, I thought I’d post this video tonight. As George sings,

“I’ve got so much more that I want to do
Was it music?
Was it science that saved me?
Or the way that you prayed for me
either way I thank you

I’m alive”

My thoughts exactly.

AT THE HOMESTEAD: LET’S MAKE SHAMPOO!

So what do we do at Second Chance Homestead when we need a fresh and minty head of hair? Most store bought shampoos have creepy chemicals, dicey dyes, freaky fragrances, and long lists of ingredients that you can’t even pronounce or recognize! But not us at the Homestead. We like it lean and serene. To keep it clean, we go GREEN. We make our own natural shampoo out of natural ingredients in just three easy steps!

Join the SCH beauty revolution! Watch this 4 minute film to find out how you TOO can make shampoo with built-in conditioner and nothing nasty added using Second Chance Homestead’s secret “nothing to question” recipe. It’s even PEPPERMINT SCENTED!

Your scalp will thank you!

FRIENDS: 2me4art and Amy Begun Saab

pots by amy

2me4art and Amy Begun Saab

I’m not always so tech savvy about this blogging thing. I never quite understand how some random person will come across my blog. But it does happen. I get an email from wordpress that tells me someone saw my blog and “thought it was pretty cool” and then gives me links to where I can check out their blog-life.

assemblage by amy

I just had to share this blog with you. 2me4art by Amy Saab who illuminates the sublime with her photographs of beauty hiding in unexpected places.

To see much, much more and experience the transcendent visit http://2me4art.com/

MOM: “How come the organic milk lasts so much longer?”

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One of the changes I’ve made since being diagnosed with cancer is that I only buy organic products, including milk. My mom, who usually just buys regular pasteurized milk, recently noticed that the organic milk seems to last so much longer. She asked me why.

“It’s the pus…” I answered. She looked at me a little confused.

Most people don’t know that the non-organic dairy industry is legally allowed up to 750,000 pus cells per ml of pasteurized milk. This means an 8-ounce glass of pasteurized milk can legally  contain up to 180 million pus cells.

PUS CELLS? Yep. The industry likes to call them ‘somatic cells,’ but this is just another name for pus – the same kind of pus that pops out of a zit on your face.

How does the pus get into the milk? Because non-organic dairy cows are raised in such crowded and unsanitary conditions that they are riddled with infection, particularly in their udders. Ever wonder why the non-organic dairy industry feeds their milk cows daily doses of antibiotics? Because of all these infections. But by using antibiotics so regularly, they can’t clear the infections in the cows. They can just keep them somewhat less threatening, producing less puss than if they just let the cows go untreated.

Organic milk comes from cows that aren’t treated with antibiotics. So why don’t they produce pus? Because they aren’t raised in conditions that result in infection. So when you pour yourself a glass of organic milk, you aren’t drinking down a pus milk-shake. Nor are you drinking down any antibiotic residue, which contributes to antibiotic resistance in humans.

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Pretty sick, right? But it’s true. Read on.

The problem of antibiotics being fed to livestock like dairy-producing cows is such a serious problem that the World Health Organization, the Infectious Diseases Society of America, the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics expressed their concerns in an open letter to Congress: “The evidence is so strong of a link between misuse of antibiotics in food animals and human antibiotic resistance, that FDA and Congress should be acting much more boldly and urgently to protect these vital drugs for human illness. Overuse and misuse of important antibiotics in food animals must end.”

The FDA has announced plans to “phase out” use of antibiotics in livestock, but for now things remain the same. And unless dairy producers find better ways of protecting the health of their milk producing cows, taking them off antibiotics will result in more infection, not less. That’s more PUS…
Here’s an interesting video for those who like to get grossed out – but it illustrates the point: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NKTfkFIiQUw
And for a great article about the politics and problems of getting non-organic dairy producers to stop using harmful antibiotics click here:

ONE WEEK STAY IN THE HOSPITAL – AT PARENTS’ HOME RECUPERATING

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Stayed for one week at Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs, a hospital that started out in the mid 20th century as a resort (hence the inviting tower). Great care and food, but I was ready to check out of there. The less time in any hospital the better.

Infection in my lungs and legs (community-acquired Pneumonia and Cellulitis). Legs swelled up with fluid that ran out of room in my thighs and so creatively over-flowed into my groin, penis and testicles. The body really is amazing (and gross). Felt like an elephant for a few days. I’m headed back to normal, which in zoology terms is adequately (but averagely so) human. Healing due to antibiotics, of course. Amazing what antibiotics can still do despite increasing resistance due to the collaboration by big-PHARMA and big-FARM(Agriculture) to feed meat in the food chain daily doses of antibiotics like they were candies.

Had another chemotherapy treatment as well, because my cancer came back and we have to keep it in check.

And just in case anyone is keeping tabs, this hospital stay will be about $100,000 – just like the last one I had in April. That’s the American Health Care system for you, even after the ACA.

Should be home at my place next weekend. Need some hands-on care until then.

ANYTHING IS A BLESSING: SMALL HOMES and SMALL SETBACKS

SMALL HOMES:

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Many people think that the OCCUPY movement dried up and disappeared like dust, but OCCUPIERS have just moved into other areas of action and change.

OCCUPY MADISON is building small homes for those in need of one. Take a look at the following  local news report from NBC affiliate WMTV (Madison, Wisconsin.

VIDEO LINK OF NEWS BROADCAST:

http://www.nbc15.com/home/headlines/Group-builds-tiny-homes-for-local-homeless-218449881.html

SMALL SETBACKS:

My cancer came back. It’s still treatable. I’m meeting with a new oncologist on Thursday to discuss options.

And if that isn’t enough, I’m writing this from the Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs where I’ve been hospitalized with Pneumonia (just the regular community acquired kind, nothing fancy or antibiotic resistant). Treatable and now being treated intravenuously with Levaquin, a strong antibiotic.

I’m still just so glad to be alive and thinking and dreaming and writing. I take the greatest pleasures in the simplest of things.

As I was driving myself to the E.R. this afternoon I came up behind this old hippie-style van with the following message painted on the back:

ANYTHING IS A BLESSING

And so it is. I really brought that into my soul and heart as I drove the final few miles to the hospital. “It will be a blessing to watch the doctors and nurses do what they do best,” I told myself. “It will be a blessing to  give them an opportunity to demonstrate their skill and expertise.”

It was a blessing to be able to drive myself to seek the appropriate care for my body. And as I continue my stay here at the hospital It will be a blessing for me to interact with everyone along the way – by expressing thanks and appreciation., engaging with questions and encouragement. Smiling. Laughing. Giving a friendly nod.

It is a blessing to be reminded not only of the fragility of life, but also of the sacredness and beauty of it. And to be reminded of how precious it still is to me. Though I sometimes face limits and challenges I could never have imagined, I still am grateful every morning for another day of life. And in that sense, yes, ‘anything’ and ‘everything’ is a blessing. Even the chance meeting of my truck and the van which told me so.

MUSIC: “Tomorrow Is Christmas Day” by Mindy Smith

Singer/songwriter and Long Island transplant to Nashville Mindy Smith has the kind of lyrics and voice that haunt and linger, resonating in the mind and heart long after the record has finished its spin. This year, for the holidays, she put out an EP of Christmas songs, called “SNOWED IN”, that includes this tune she wrote just for the occasion. I couldn’t think of anything more perfect to post today.

To check out the EP visit https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/snowed-in-ep/id720815475
To check out Mindy Smith’s website visit http://www.mindysmithmusic.com