Bookworm: ‘Funny Farm’ will make any reader purr

‘Bridge the Gap’ is going to take some self-work, but it really could help

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Columnist

“Funny Farm: My Unexpected Life with 600 Rescue Animals”

  • By Laurie Zaleski
  • c. 2021, St. Martin’s Press
  • $27.99, 256 pages

Were you born in a barn? In other words, get in here and shut the door. Take your dirty shoes off before you walk on the clean floor. You might call your cat your “baby” and your dog is your “best friend” but really, were you born in a barn? In the new book “Funny Farm” by Laurie Zaleski, the answer might be maybe ...

The last time was different. Laurie Zaleski’s mother had uprooted the family before but in the past, they’d always returned to the beautiful house at 8 Timber Heights Court, between Philadelphia and New Jersey.

“Funny Farm: My Unexpected Life with 600 Rescue Animals” author Laurie Zaleski.

That was the house where Zaleski spent her first five years of life. It was also where her father physically abused her mother until promises to stop didn’t work anymore, and twenty-six-year-old Annie scooped up her three children, drove around awhile to throw her husband off the trail, and then brought the kids to a “shell,” as Zaleski says. Made of cement blocks, rotten wood, and mold, their new home was a one-bedroom, no-bath, no-heat, no-running-water hovel that Annie promised could be “cozy” with some work.

More:Bookworm: ‘Circus of Wonders’ – You’ll want what it’s got

Eventually, it was. It became a home before Zaleski was a teen – a home for children and dozens of animals that Annie seemed to collect.

She could never say “no” to any creature in need, in fact, and that was okay with her kids. Caring for animals and troubled friends taught responsibility. Making them safe taught self-sufficiency. Pet death taught realities and that food sometimes came first. Annie, blunt and no-nonsense, worked several jobs to make ends meet – something that embarrassed Zaleski as a teenager – but there was always room for another. The family was poor, but hers was a glorious childhood.

“Funny Farm: My Unexpected Life with 600 Rescue Animals” by Laurie Zaleski.

And then, just before she was able to enjoy an empty nest, Annie Zaleski fell sick. Her children worried about her, but she said she was fine. Healthy as a horse.

“We couldn’t have dreamed that this time,” says Zaleski, “our mother, the most truthful of women, was a liar.”

Cute as a cuddly bunny, but with the kind of kick that only a mule can deliver, “Funny Farm” is the sort of book you want to read and be charmed.

Here, readers are treated to a dual memoir – one that is mostly about two farms and the animals on them: a big horse that was “pure love,” a peacock’s miracle, pigs big and small, dogs and a chicken that thinks she’s a dog. The other part is a love letter to a mother’s strength, as author Laurie Zaleski writes about a childhood spent in an unconventional household that was first created out of necessity and then out of joy. The telling of this tale of humor, Mom-isms, love, and anguish also gives readers room to think about how awesome their own mothers are.

Come to this book on either side, human or animal, and let yourself be delighted. Find it for the critters, love it for the people you’ll meet, “Funny Farm” will make any reader purr.

More:Bookworm: A fan’s book – ‘Didn’t We Almost Have It All?’

“Bridge the Gap: Breakthrough Communication Tools to Transform Work Relationships From Challenging to Collaborative”

  • By Jennifer Edwards and Katie McCleary
  • c. 2022, McGraw Hill
  • $26, 256 pages

Okay, so let’s face it: sometimes, you work with a bunch of jerks.

Also, let’s face it: you’re no innocent, and you know that. Either way, it makes things so hard, doesn’t it? Somebody ought to step up and act better. Someone should fix this animosity at work. In the new book, “Bridge the Gap” by Jennifer Edwards and Katie McCleary, why shouldn’t that someone be you?

"Bridge the Gap: Breakthrough Communication Tools to Transform Work Relationships From Challenging to Collaborative" by Jennifer Edwards and Katie McCleary.

Like your relatives, you can’t always pick who you work with. It’s inevitable, then, that one or another or multiple of your co-workers might rankle you here or there one day and problems like that can get out of hand. The thing to remember, say the authors, is that “You have a choice about how you respond...”

You can “step up and be the one that bridges the gap.”

Humans are predictable, the authors state. We all want our physical and emotional needs met and understanding that is the first lesson in this method of getting along. The second is to accept that you aren’t fully in charge of what’s inside your brain. Your amygdala (referred to as “AMY” here) needs mindful corralling, your “Inner Narrator” will try to influence any story you conjure for yourself, and it’s easy to slide into a “Drama Triangle” if you’re not careful. These things will trip you up; it’s essential to see how they can be controlled or sidestepped altogether.

“Show up clean,” say the authors, by following the tips they offer to clear your mind and rid yourself of any lingering issues before speaking. “Show up curious” and practice the right kind of openness in order to see a beyond a person’s behavior and his politics and to quietly direct the conversation. Change conversations to include “no buts, only ands.” Learn how to truly listen and avoid the various “hurdles” to doing it well. And finally, seize the power of three little words. “Tell me about” can change everything ...

So, you’re experiencing personality clashes at work. And, come to think of it, the same is going on at home. “Bridge the Gap” can help with both.

In ways that might seem like giving your brain a long and satisfying stretch, authors Jennifer Edwards and Katie McCleary help readers to be good catalysts in conflict resolution, without feeling weird or fumbly. This is real leadership stuff, actions that you can employ without being labeled a brown-noser. You can teach yourself to do them to calm yourself and make your own workday better, and you can do them with or without talking to the boss first – but you can rest assured she’ll notice in the long run. And if you simply cannot untangle a thorny issue you’ve been handed, the authors offer some last-ditch efforts to try when all else fails.

Take what you learn to work and see the difference. Take it home and try it at your next big family dinner. Using “Bridge the Gap” is going to take some self-work, but it really could help a bunch.

More:Bookworm: ‘Fields’ offers excitement, also a bit overwhelming

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books. Read past columns at marconews.com.