In my book pile

I keep lists of books to read. The likely ones end up in my pile.

Pile of Books

Here’s my most recent pile: Damming the OsageEating DirtGreening VermontHoneycomb KidsIn Wildness is the Preservation of the WorldNiagara DigressionsNuclear RouletteThe Greening of Oz; and The Last Atoll. This pile is only partly by my choice. I agreed to review nonfiction books about ecology and the environment. The reviews are due by May 15! I cleared my started pile and redefined it with the books to be reviewed. I did keep Into Thick Air: Biking to the Bellybutton of Six Continents just in case I needed to clear my head while reviewing.

I started the review process by looking at the pictures in In Wildness is the Preservation of the WorldGreening Vermont; and Damming the Osage. The photos are great! Without them I may have become overwhelmed by the process. (I’ll come back to the text later.) Then I began reading Eating Dirt which doesn’t have any pictures, but is very readable. I hope they all are this appealing.  Wish me luck!

Stitch a little stitch

I’ve been working on embroidery for at least a year. Here are some of my recent projects. These flowers are adapted from a design by Clare Youngs in the book Scandinavian Needlecraft. It was noted how similar this design is to some Ojibwa designs.

Flowers embroidered on a towel

This Día de los Muertos (or Day of the Dead) inspired design is my own. The design was sketched during a Wisconsin Library Association conference. (I contend that I can listen better when my hands are busy with a repetitive task.)

Embroidered Day of the Dead Skull

I was pleased with the results. The first attempt was freehand on the towel, which didn’t please me very much. Part of the problem was that the hoop was quite a bit smaller than the design, so I couldn’t see it all at once while I was working on it. Perhaps I will “fix” it someday by adding some pretty brains, but now I am interested in other projects.

Embroidered Trial Skull

Here’s another freehand, doodle design. I would like it better if the flowers had been based on actual plants.

Embroidered Square Flowers

The tree design was adapted from one by Aimée Ray in Doodle Stitching: The Motif Collection. There is a design to inspire almost anyone in this fun book.

tree small

An upcycling project that I had been considering was to make a rug from old t-shirts. The process of cutting the strips held me back, even though I use a rotary cutter. Enter one of my favorite thrift stores, The Clothes Closet of Hettinger, North Dakota. I purchased two latch hook rug canvases, fabric strips, and a latch hook tool for one dollar! One rug was started, with a fabric strip for each “hole” in the canvas. It was bunched-up, but I thought that might be due the small size of the started rug. I added more strips. It didn’t get better. I took apart the rug and washed the fabric strips in a lingerie bag. The washing made the fabric curl up and easier to latch to the canvas. The Crafty Woman blog has detailed instructions on how to make a jersey rug and spacing the strips made the rug much easier to hook and it laid flat right away. The fabric strips that I used are 3/4″ wide by 6″ long.

T-shirt Rug

A project that I want to start is re-covering the cracked vinyl covers on four kitchen chair seats. Jenny suggested that I should cover the fabric with a clear vinyl so that they are easy to clean. What a great idea! If you have any suggestions before I start, please let me know. Here’s the fabric that I picked up  for the chairs at another favorite thrift store, Waupaca Thrift Store.

Chair Seat Fabric

While I was writing this post, I was listening to an audiobook until it got too difficult to write and focus on the story. Turns out that I can fold the laundry, but not compose, while listening. The book is The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken by Tarquin Hall, featuring the fictional private investegator Vish Puri. Besides the great title, the book provides a great description of contemporary India, detailed characters, and a good mystery without being too cozy or too violent. I highly recommend it to mystery readers. If you are a Wisconsin resident with a library card in good standing, you may download the audiobook through Wisconsin’s Digital Library. There is no additional cost for Wisconsin residents to check out this book, since it has already been paid for through taxes.

Poetry soothes

Media relaxing in the Sweet Woodruff

Media relaxing in the Sweet Woodruff

I’m in one of those moods where very little of what I read suits me now. Young adult dystopias promised lots of plot and delivered in Insurgent (the second book in the Divergent trilogy) and The Drowned Cities (companion book to Ship Breaker), however both of them were darker than what I want right now.

What looked like promising adult fiction, was simply disappointing. Garden Spells could have been fun light reading, but the unabridged version I listened to was too predictable. A Reliable Wife looked interesting, but I didn’t care for the characters, who were very obsessed with sex. I need to be able to like at least one of the characters.

The young adult realistic fiction Try Not to Breathe was good, with likable and very human characters.

What really hit the spot was Billy Collins, reading his own poetry in Billy Collins Live: A Performance at the Peter Norton Symphony Space. Five stars! I would recommend that you try it, even if you don’t like poetry.

Teaching resources

Colleen Kessler compiles a list of free resources for elementary teachers in this book covering major topic areas including literacy, mathematics, science, social studies, health, physical education, art, and music in her book, Free Resources for Elementary Teachers. Each of these topic areas forms a chapter of the book. A heading with a website URL and brief description highlight each resource the author has selected is the primary content. Each chapter also includes a section of frugal fun activities, tips, and games in the topic. Overall, the book provides a quick list of ideas for a elementary teacher to explore. Other content are chapters on teachers’ blogs and home school blogs. Essentially, this book provides a list of websites with free educational resources. Due to this type of content, the book will have a short lifespan.
Providing additional information about each website in a visual format would increase the functionality of the content. For example, the information could include: if the content is for the teacher, student, or both; the type of website sponsor (non-profit, commercial); the amount of advertising on the website and if is visible to the student; and the quality of information provided.
Reviewed from a copy received from Prufrock Press Inc through LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

I hadn’t heard about author Muriel Spark until I saw this image on Jessie’s blog.

Knowing nothing about Muriel Spark, I picked The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie based on it’s title. It’s a great title, however this book wasn’t for me at this time. None of the characters were particularly likable. There isn’t a strong plot, at least the strength of plot I require now. Written humor often is lost on me. For me the book was a dud. That’s not to say it wouldn’t be a great book for you.

I’m looking forward to reading the young adult books The Drowned Cities and Insurgent. Both are dystopias and promise tons of plot. Ahh…

Review based on a library book.

An introduction to Canada

The book Hey Canada by Vivien Bowers runs into a common pitfall: a topic as broad as Canada is difficult to cover in any depth while maintaining interest and readability for youth.

Fictional characters Gran, Cal, and Alice take on a trip across Canada, visiting every province, territory, and capitol city. Each province or territory is introduced with it’s flower and bird along with an list of items to find there. Side notes include “Cal’s Tweets,” “Hamster Updates,” “Cal’s Historial U-turns (graphic vignettes),” and “It’s The Truth!” provide additional information.

While a trip seems like a good method of introducing a country, there is too much text spent tying the travel plot line together, and too little information about Canada itself. For example, the travelers visit the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa. “We walked through the Canada Hall, which goes through a thousand years of Canadian history. Cal zoomed through his historical tour at warp speed, then spent the rest of the time going up and down the escalators. Gran took two hours for her tour. She came out looking bug-eyed.” At the surface a “personal” tour of Canada seems appealing, however a longer book with more detail, designed to be browsed will be more enjoyable.

Book reviewed provided by Tundra Books.

Volunteering around the world

Ken Budd’s memoir, The Voluntourist, revolves around a big life issue: What is my purpose and legacy? Ken’s father led a successful career and excelled as leader. Ken would love to have kids, but his wife Julie isn’t interested.

Ken decides to explore his own purpose through volunteering and traveling, voluntouring, starting with renovating homes in New Orleans. Each of Ken’s destinations has a new location with a new culture and a new opportunity: teaching English in Costa Rica; assisting disabled students in China; researching natural science in Ecuador; providing moral support (along with a little farming) in Palestine; and working with orphans in Kenya.

Ken is kind with his descriptions of himself and others, while maintaining humor and realism, which makes this book very readable. A brief section at the end of the memoir provides introductory information about becoming a voluntourist.

Reviewed from an uncorrected proof provided by William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

Poverty, birth, and unmentionables

How do you decide what to read next? For me, its a variety of sources and a great deal of serendipity. I found The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times in a list of “nonfiction that reads like fiction” books. I like nonfiction reading, so it isn’t hard for me to find something that is enjoyable. The “nonfiction that reads like fiction” label is probably used with good intention, however I find it off target. The books are well written? Have a strong plot? Are enjoyable? Are easy to digest? I’m not coming up with a good alternative description for these books, but you will quickly come up with one.

I loved The Midwife, which is the memoir of a young nurse that trains and practices as a midwife in 1950’s in London’s East End. Jenny Lee works out of a convent that provides nursing/OB/GYN services to the poverty-stricken neighborhood. Through reading this book, I met the naughty (or senile?) nun that eats at least half of a cake intended for the entire convent. I also met the pig-enthusiast nun who assures the janitor that rough pig intercourse is normal, as they observe it. I also learned the secret to a happy marriage, even after 24 children!

What I won’t be doing is discussing this book with my mother. Okay, perhaps the secret to a happy marriage, but not the naughty bits. I don’t prohibit my mother from reading this book, I just don’t want to talk to her about it.

When I recorded The Midwife in my LibraryThing list, I was thrilled to see that it is the first of a trilogy! It is followed by Shadows of the Workhouse and Farewell to the East End. These books will be approached with caution, as it is always difficult when the first book isn’t nearly as good as the second or third. I didn’t find the second or third books in my library, so I promptly purchased them (an unusual activity for me).


My interest in Haiti began with listening to the audiobook Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder. This book has been described as “nonfiction that reads like fiction” because of its strong plot and readability. MBM tells the story of Dr. Paul Farmer who works in Haiti to provide health care for all in rural areas. In particular, he works to bring health to people with drug-resistant TB and HIV/AIDS. Prior to reading this book, my view on health care for others was to provide the greatest benefit for the lowest cost for the most people.  An argument that I could have made was that in a country like Haiti, condoms and safer-sex education should be provided to all; however the expensive AIDS cocktails should not be provided to a few or all patients with HIV/AIDs because of the cost per person. After all, funds are not unlimited and we want the most people to benefit as possible. Farmer acts instead out of a sense of abundance that provides support and hope for all in his service area, which increases patient adherence to critical drug schedules. Another method that Farmer uses to increase compliance with complicated drug schedules is to provide personal, daily follow-up by clinic staff to ensure that barriers to compliance such as transportation are overcome.

The next book that I read about Haiti and the US was Brother, I’m Dying by Edwidge Danticat. This memoir provides a personal look at Haiti, immigration to the US, health care, and US policies. Again, the personal view point made this book very readable, despite the difficult emotional topics addressed.

You may have guessed that I’m primarily a nonfiction reader. My enjoyment of Brother, I’m Dying led me to read Danticat’s fictional book Breath, Eyes, Memory. I use the words beautiful, good and enjoyable to describe books that are important to me, even though they may contain horrible and heartbreaking scenes. If you’re a reader who prefers rosier topics, keep this in mind with regard to my reviews.  Danticat uses beautiful language in BEM to describe Haiti and I had the sense that I had walked down a warm, dusty Haitian road myself as I read it.

My education continued when Tammie Jo Berg of One Small Drop made a moving presentation at Scandinavia Public Library about her experiences in Haiti after the terrible earthquake of January 12, 2010.

I am now listening to the end of the audiobook Haiti After the Earthquake by Paul Farmer and others. The content and presentation is more academic than Mountains Beyond Mountains and some of the content is much more disturbing, so if you are just starting to learn about Haiti, you may want to start elsewhere. Despite this, the book contains a great deal of background information that explains why the earthquake in Haiti was so devastating compared to earthquakes of similar sizes in other regions of the world. In addition, the essays by Edwidge Danticat and others provide other facets of Haiti and the earthquake that are less academic and more personal in some ways.

Cholera that became epidemic after the earthquake continues to infect and kill Haitians. Dr. Paul Farmer’s Partner’s in Health reported on the status of cholera yesterday.


I’ve decided to link book titles to my library catalog, InfoSoup. It’s not that I think that you necessarily have access to my library consortium, however hopefully it will inspire and provide you with the information needed to find the same book in your library. Another resource that I seriously considered linking to was LibraryThing. It’s a place to catalog your own books, rate and review them, and get suggestions (or unsuggestions) for other books. I love it.

Your comments on the content of my blog, editing needs, or otherwise are welcome! Go for it.

I love the photos that Jenny and Jessie have in their blogs. If I ever get some of my own photos of Haiti, I will add them!