Friday, August 21, 2015

What's Kristine Reading? August Edition

   Last month, I read a book that was kind of off of my radar, but really enjoyed it.  This month's book? Not so much. This month's book is literally an example of why you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. And that book is "Wolf Hall" by Hilary Mantel.

   Everything about this book screams "Kristine." It's historical fiction (possibly my favorite genre), by an English writer (she's actually Dame Hilary Mantel). And it's based on the time period of Henry VIII, which is arguably the most prolific era for scandal in British history. Let's face it, the Tudors were a mess. Royal affairs, bribery, beheadings... Oh, and that little thing of bringing down the Catholic church - the Tudors had it all going on. All fodder for an engaging story. It also won the Man Booker Prize, which is awarded to the UK's best original novel every year. Though this book was 600+ pages, I should have knocked it out in a week, if not a weekend.
   Y'all - it took me two years to finish. TWO YEARS. If it wasn't for my rule of always finishing a book once I start it (I've only not finished one book that I can remember), I would have thrown this book in the fire almost immediately. It was that hard to read.
   I'll get into why in a minute, but let me just give you a rundown of the plot. With other books, I would state "Spoiler Alert" here, but I'm assuming that everyone reading this knows the story of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. If not, stop reading this and go pick up a history book. "Wolf Hall" tells the fictionalized biography of Thomas Cromwell. Not born into nobility, it tells of his rapid rise from the son of a poor, abusive father to Henry VIII's chief advisor / evil genius during the time of Anne Boleyn. The dissolution of the Catholic church in England and Henry's annulment of Queen Catherine of Aragon? That was our man Thomas. Fascinating time period and an extraordinary man. This should have been an amazing book. Yet, it wasn't. And here's why.
   I had no idea what was going for most of this book. Seriously. Here's what I took away from "Wolf Hall."

  • Thomas Cromwell was born poor and his dad was a jerk (to put it mildly).
  • He somehow got a job as a secretary to the very powerful Cardinal Wosley. 
  • He married and had children. His wife and one daughter died of the plague.
  • Through his connection with Wosley (I think), he met King Henry VIII.
  • King Henry VIII was married to Catherine of Aragon. They had a daughter, Mary, who wasn't male and therefore couldn't be an heir. 
  • Queen Catherine was previously married to Henry's brother (gross).
  • Anne Boleyn? Not a very nice person. Manipulative and had pretty loose morals.
  • Same goes for the rest of the Boleyn family, though I actually felt bad for Anne's sister Mary, who was forced to be the King's mistress while Anne was pregnant (again - GROSS!).
  • Cardinal Wosley fell out of the King's favor, yet somehow Cromwell didn't.
  • Lots of people were beheaded or burned at the stake.
  • There was a witch. Or at least, King Henry thought she was a witch.
  • Cromwell bailed Anne's cousin out of jail.
  • At some point, thought I'm not sure exactly how, Henry divorced Catherine and married Anne.
  • Royals throughout Europe hated Anne. 
  • Anne gave birth to a daughter, Elizabeth.
  • There is a family named Pope who somehow had claim to the throne.
  • There was a guy named Thomas More, who also died at the stake.   
   That might look like a lot, but for a book of this density and length, it's not. I was completely lost for most of the text. This was for several reasons. The first being the details. Oh my God, the detail in this book! Give Mantel credit - the woman knows how to research. But I think 50% of the book had nothing to do with the action of the book. While I like a good setup for an action, this was way too much. 
   Also, and this isn't really the author's fault, but everyone in this time period was named Henry, or Thomas, or Mary, or Elizabeth. You get the idea - they weren't very creative with names back then. And everyone had several titles. Sometimes Mantel would use a first name to reference a character, sometimes a last, and sometime a title but not always the same title. I had no idea what character she was referring to half the time.
    Mantel also did this really strange thing of starting paragraphs with "He." Why was this confusing? Because she would be talking about the King, and then start the next paragraph with "He," so I would assume she was still referring to the King. Nope - not necessarily. It took me a really long time to figure out that 90% of the time, she was referring to Cromwell with this "He."
   Additionally, and probably most importantly, the book was just confusing. It was one of those books where you could read a page three times and still have no idea what was going on. I KNOW Cromwell masterminded the annulment of Henry and Catherine, and I'm sure it was stated in the book, but I still have no idea how. I'd also love to know how seemingly everyone around Cromwell ends up dead at the request of Henry, but so far, Cromwell has been spared this fate. How does that happen? I guess he was really charismatic as he just kept rising up the corporate ladder while everyone is being exiled or beheaded. I would have loved to have known why this was, but I don't. Because I had no idea what was going on.  
    Maybe I'm just too shallow to appreciate a book of this depth. Maybe it's because I'm American and not British, so I don't care about the minuscule details and all of the titles confused me. I don't know. What I do know it that I read A LOT of books, and rarely have I had to struggle to finish one as much as I did "Wolf Hall."  

   On a side note - I'm actually racing this weekend! I'll be down on Hunstville, AL for the Rocketman Olympic triathlon. Not that I'm in shape...  Dealing with Hef's illness and passing pretty much left me in a state of shock and then depression from which I'm now just recovering. I basically had nothing but pizza and ice cream for a while there, with absolutely no exercise. So, I'm not expecting too much from Rocketman. But it's supposed to be a lot of fun and I'm looking forward to it. Race report soon! 

Friday, August 14, 2015

Hef - A Tribute

   Our pack lost one of its own this week. Our beloved dachshund, Hef, lost his battle with cancer on Monday. This came as a shock to us, as we didn't even know he had cancer. As stated in my last post, we knew he was sick, but he had been getting better. At least, that's what we had thought. Unfortunately, we were wrong. Very wrong. Our little guy had cancer in his liver, spleen, lymph nodes, and possibly his prostate. Being that sick, I can't believe he wasn't acting stranger than he was. He was a tough little dog, that Hef.

   But this isn't a post to dwell on his illness. This post is to share the immense awesomeness that was this dog. Don't get me wrong - I love all of our dogs. However, Hef was different. Special. This dog was...   I can't even begin to describe it. He was funny. He had spirit. He had swagger. In our minds he spoke like Inigo Montoya from "The Princess Bride." (Don't judge us - all of our dogs have voices.) And man, did he suck. Seriously. That was actually his nickname - "Suck." You know how most dogs love their humans more than anything? Hef wasn't like that. Hef put himself and his own comfort first. Every time.

   Hef was originally Dudley's dog. He rescued Hef about three months before we met. How much did Hef suck? He bit Dudley on the first day. The first day!! "Thanks for rescuing me, nice man! CHOMP!" Turns out, Dudley was Hef's fourth owner. He'd been turned back into the rescue because of aggression issues. While most people would have taken that as a clue, Dudley decided to give Hef a chance.

    I wasn't expecting very much when I first met Hef. Dudley had said that he wasn't that affectionate of a dog, so I figured he'd just kind of hang out and not pay that much attention to me. Wrong. Hef came running up to me and started licking my face. Dudley was shocked, and probably a little pissed, to be honest. His mean, unaffectionate dog loved me. Over time, we figured out that Hef didn't really have an aggression issue - he had trust issues, specifically with men. We have no proof, but based on his actions, he had to have been abused before Dudley adopted him. Most of the time, he was a normal happy dog, but if Dudley hit on one of his triggers, watch out. He'd go crazy. Teeth everywhere, snarling, biting - for a little dog, he was quite intimidating. Fortunately, we were able to figure out his triggers pretty quickly: food, heights and his kennel were the main ones. We worked on these with him the first few years we had him. Well, honestly, Dudley worked with him more than I did. Hef never even thought about growling at me. Not once. I could literally reach into his food bowl while he was eating and take food out without any issue. If Dudley did that - he would have lost a digit.

   Unfortunately, the worst trigger for Hef was me. Because even though Hef was all about Hef, he loved me. LOVED me. When Dudley and I first started dating, Hef used to sit on my lap and growl at Dudley whenever he walked by. After we got married, Hef would sit at the top of the stairs and block Dudley from going down the hall because I was in the bedroom. He considered himself my protector, even though I was in no need of protecting. He was like the Black Knight from the Holy Grail. "None shall pass!" Except Hef actually would bite your legs off. It was endearing, a little creepy and extremely frustrating. Fortunately, his possessiveness of me eventually diminished and Dudley was finally able to sit on the sofa with me without any issues.
   Hef left us with some great stories. Here's a brief rundown on some of them.

  • Hef was laying on the sofa with us and Dudley had to move. So, he put Hef on his doggie bed which was on the ground about six inches away. This hit on several of Hef's triggers: disrupting his comfort, being moved away from me and heights (Hef didn't like to be set down at an arm's distance. You literally had to get down on the ground with him to put him down. We think he was dropped a lot before we got him.). Hef went ballistic - a dog possessed. He whipped around and started barking and snarling so much that both Dudley and I jumped on the sofa to get away from him. Dudley grabbed a pillow to keep Hef back because Hef kept lunging at Dudley. Hef grabbed on to the pillow with his teeth. When Dudley pulled the pillow back - Hef went with it. FLYING WIENER DOG! That snapped him out of his frenzy. Bless him. He wasn't hurt, but he was definitely confused as to what happened.
  • We starting noticing scratch marks on the dining room table. We couldn't figure out where they were coming from. That is until I came downstairs and found the wiener dog on top of the table eating cat food (that we had moved up there to prevent the dogs from eating it). In order to accomplish this, he had to jump from a chair that was three feet away. The scratch marks were from previous tries when he didn't make it.
  • I made a breakfast sandwich and was going to eat it on the way to work. I put it on the bar, which was several feet high, and went upstairs to grab something. However, before I did this, I made sure that the chairs were moved back so the dogs wouldn't be able to get my sandwich. But when I got back - no sandwich. What? I got a little closer and saw Hef on the floor eating something VERY quickly. My sandwich. HOW did he get it? Again, he climbed onto a chair, got on the back of it and launched himself several feet across the room. Since the chair was so far away, he couldn't make it onto the bar, so he smashed into the wall. However, while mid-air, he got close enough to the bar to grab the napkin the sandwich was on and pulled both the napkin and the sandwich to the floor as he fell to the ground. Dog could have killed himself. At least he got a tasty snack out of it.
  • Out of sheer will and stubbornness, he stayed awake through a big family Christmas dinner, even though he was drugged so much that he couldn't stand. He was completely loopy, but every time I tried to put him in the kennel to sleep, he'd start to bark. He just couldn't stand being away from everyone.
  • Since he was all about his own comfort - he would burrow into anything he could. He LOVED warm laundry, but blankets would do just fine. As would a pillowcase (below).

   But for all of the craziness and attitude of Hef, he was also one of the sweetest dogs I've ever known. Yes, he had some triggers, but those were situational and could be predicted. Otherwise, he LOVED people. Never met a stranger. Believe it or not, he was the only one of our dogs that we completely trusted around kids. The Corgis can be a little standoffish with kids. Not Hef. He loved them. Going to the park or to festivals that had a lot of people around were some of his favorite things to do. Granted, I always ended up carrying him after a while because a dachshund can only be expected to walk so far before he just stops. Yes, I know, he probably had me trained, but it was much easier to pick him up and carry him than to 1) drag him (which is mean) or 2) wait for him to decide to start walking again.

   And he loved to sit in laps. Again, this was for his own comfort because he liked being warm, but I think he also just wanted to be touching a human.
   I know I sound like a crazy dog person, but I could go on and on and on about our little Hefalump. He was just the coolest and there will never be another one like him. For such a little dog, he's leaving a huge hole in our hearts. He will be severely missed. Rest in Peace, little man. We love you and we'll see you on the other side.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Sick Pup

   I've been trying to write a post for two weeks about my trip to the US Masters Track Nationals. It was a really great experience and I loved watching my Dad race. Unfortunately, since we've been back, we've had a very sick dachshund at home and writing isn't a priority at the moment.
   It started with Hef being really picky with his food, and he was also moving really slowly. Originally, our vet thought Hef was in pain from a bad back (doxies traditionally have bad backs). But then he got really lethargic and was having a hard time keeping food down, so we went back to the vet. He had developed a fever and an elevated white blood cell count. The vet diagnosed him with an infection of some sort and also a liver issue, but nothing specific. He was put on antibiotics and rebounded for a few days, but took a few steps backwards yesterday when he stopped eating completely. So, back to the vet he went. The good news is that his fever was normal and his white blood cell count has lowered (YAY!), but his liver and pancreas numbers were still off (BOO). He's now on another antibiotic to help his liver, as well as continuing the one he is currently on. And let me tell you something. This dog HATES taking pills. It's amazing how strong and toothy a little dog can be when he doesn't want to take a pill.
   After a very long night of worry, we took Hef back to the vet today because he still wasn't eating and just wasn't doing well. The vet gave him some fluids and also a shot to help with nausea, because he thinks that's why Hef isn't eating - he's nauseated. And you know what? It worked! He ate tonight! Not a lot, he's actually showing interest in food and that's a VERY good sign. He also started following me around the house a little, which is what he does when he's healthy. He's slow, but he's walking and I'm thrilled about that.
   We're hoping he's on the way back to health. If you have a minute, say a little prayer for him, will you? He's a little guy and needs all the strength he can get.  Thanks.

My buddy, Hef.