I finished Dewey today.  The book about the library cat.  *Big sigh.*  I checked it out because last fall at a writer’s symposium the speaker said this book was coming out.  He said it was proof that people can find writing topics anywhere.  His buddy ghost wrote it.  It was funny, it made me cry, it was a pet book, just like every pet book.  Even a world famous cat does not lead a life worthy of 271 pages.  Fortunately the author didn’t even try, he wrote for the librarian in first person, so he included her story and then general historical and economic info about northwestern Iowa.  The librarian seemed like a nice lady (she was a librarian, of course she was) but her biography was…well like reading my own biography.  Not that I lived her life but that it was… unexceptional, to me at least.  I am from a similar town to hers, so the historical and economical part was…well like reading about my hometown.  I read the book in about 24 hours, so I must have liked it to some extent but I could have better used my time.  It was okay, if you are a fanatical cat person you may enjoy it, or if you knew the cat, but otherwise, eh, I warned you.

I am having some serious book issues this month, maybe because I am caught up on the Bible…I start Job today.  I decided to keep track of my pages this month as well as the books, which is a good thing because I will be lucky to finish the two books I have before mid September at this rate.  When I cleaned my office I ran across an article from Time Magazine about Eleanor Roosevelt I had put aside to read “when I got a chance.”  The article was too short so I hit the library about Eleanor, a person I should really know more about.  Our library had almost nothing about her.  One book was written by a grandchild who referred to her as “Granmere” or what ever that should be in French.  It sounded pretentious and annoying.  There was something about her and her mother-in-law which didn’t click with me as well as several about her and Franklin, then finally a book written by a staffer of hers with tons of photos.  I chose that.  Right off the bat I realized that if you are going to be writing about a family who considers themselves aristocracy (especially with intermarriage) you should include a FAMILY TREE!  It is written like the reader should know things I didn’t, and I don’t consider myself unknowledgable.  Along about page 40 I decided to peek at the book about Alice Lee Roosevelt Longworth I got from the same shelf.  Lo and behold there was the family tree.  I am now on page 128 of 500.  I took a hiatus to read the cat book.  Alice is easier to read than Eleanor, but the sheer length of it looms like a mountain.  The one on Eleanor, I may not finish.  I hate to not finish a book permanently.  It seems like giving up, but I do believe that is what I will do.  Maybe I will page through and look at the pictures.  Surely there is something out there about Eleanor that is readable.  Suggestions?

Free-Range Kids by Lenore Skenazy


Skenazy is the mother who let her nine-year-old son make his way home from Bloomingdale’s in NYC.  I remember hearing about this.  My first reaction was, “Oh, my!  I would be scared to make my way anywhere in NYC alone!”  Then I realized that it was his hometown and he had been traveling it with his family for years.  The more I thought about this the more I thought she might not be crazy after all. 


When I was a kid my mom let me loose in thousands of acres of hills rife with dangers including rattlesnakes and coyotes, drowning in the crick, breaking a leg in a hole, poisonous plants, getting chased by mean cows; all nature of dangers lurked in our back yard, and few were within yelling distance.


When I heard Skenazy had written a book, I found it on Amazon and bought it, new.  (I don’t even GIVE new books as gifts to my family, much less buy them for myself.)  I started it the day it came and finished it less than 24 hours later.  When I got to page 45 I thought, “I want to remember this, maybe I should…gasp…fold the page down.  No, there were some good things before this too,” so I got a pen and started underlining.  I haven’t done that in a book since college.  The first line I underlined was, “Normal childhood has become just too risky to permit.”  This was said in sarcasm.  But is it is true?  Mothers my age said that 70% of us used to play outside everyday, but only 31% of us let our kids play outside regularly.


The point she hammers is, “The statistics cited by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children itself show that the number of children abducted and killed by strangers holds pretty steady over the years-about 1 in 1.5 million… .00007 percent…if you actually wanted your child to be kidnapped and held overnight by a stranger, how long would you have to keep her outside, unattended, for this to be statistically likely to happen?  About seven hundred and fifty thousand years.”  It does happen, but almost never.


Skenazy’s book is really funny and a clear headed look at why we parent the way we do.  She has some great examples of people panicking over things that nearly never happen, like not remembering that your child is much more likely to be in a car accident while you are taking him to school than to be abducted while walking to school.  Her big tips were…turn of the news (and anything produced by Jerry Bruckheimer) and trust your kid and others to do the right thing. There is nothing wrong with talking to strangers.  Just don’t go off with them.


I am going to do my best to follow her advice as my kids get older, she makes a lot of good points.  I highly recommend this book.


We read Corduroy tonight and the little girl, Lisa, goes to the department store by herself to buy a toy.  I always kind of wondered about that, but it was written in 1968.


Twilight Review

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The verdict is in.  The movie is better than the book.  I finished Breaking Dawn last week and watched Twilight.  I would not have watched the movie but I have a 14 year-old babysitter to loan me these things.  She would be shocked to learn that I read the book between 8:00 Monday night when she handed it to me and Thursday morning.  I watched the movie Thursday night.  You can easily skip over 25% of the book by skimming the Victorian descriptions, which makes for quick reading.


The movie does not contain so many winces and gasps and brittle smiles and bodies automatically freezing and eyes widening and voices trembling and people shuddering slightly.  Seriously, when was the last time you read the word “wince” outside of these books?  The word is so out of use a person could almost imagine doing it to an onion.  “Could you wince this onion please?”  You can open the book to any page and find bizarre and unnecessary descriptions. Try it with any of her books, any page, I dare you.  Of course what do I know?  I don’t have millions of people buying my books.  **wince**


Her storyline is good, it is enjoyable and engaging if you can get past the descriptive actions. I can only think of one other movie, Lonesome Dove, that was as good as the book or maybe even better, well City of Ember was every bit as good as the book, if only they hadn’t left out the library.


If you are concerned about spoilers, skip this paragraph.  It is vague and the book has been out for six months, but if you are the one person who is still waiting to read it… I caught on to several plot twists before they were officially announced; the extra person, what Jacob did to the extra person, and what Alice was up to, but how Bella’s dad was reconciled was a complete surprise.  (I had strange, silent tears streaming down my face) I was not bothered by catching this stuff early.  I think it was good foreshadowing rather than bad writing. 


When I was in college, I had a job where part of it consisted of sorting baked plants into piles.  (Either you understand or you don’t)  Of course we did this in the bunk house in front of the TV.  My co-worker was enamored of “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” and I have to tell you, I find myself wanting to do that to the Twilight books.  It isn’t nice and I am not saying that I don’t enjoy them, but they lend themselves to being mocked.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

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I just finished reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kinsolver. I laughed, I rolled my eyes, and I thought about what she said, a lot. It took me a long time to read it, because she gave me so much to think about. If you are unfamiliar with the book, the author and her family lived for a year on locally grown foods, with the exceptions of olive oil, pasta and coffee. They did the mammoth’s share of the growing, but they bought from farmer’s markets as well. They tried to buy only foods grown within 120 miles of their home, and with the exception of wheat, I believe they did.

One of her main points is…eat what is fresh when it is fresh. So, they did not eat lettuce or cucumbers in February. Makes sense, they don’t taste as good out of season anyway. But it is more than just eating what is in season, for example, the town just down the road from my home is famous for their watermelons. Do our local stores carry them, or do they carry Texas watermelons? I don’t know, I usually try to buy melons from the stands, but I am going to ask our locally owned grocery store to clearly label locally grown produce. I know they sell local squash as well. Actually one of the store managers used to work for my husband, I might give him a copy to read…or at least suggest it.

Fossil fuels figured a lot into her thinking as well. I will paraphrase, since I can’t find the exact reference, Isn’t it kind of silly to use fuel to haul food across the country, when the same thing is available locally?

Kingsolver was hugely into organic, or close to it, and avoiding feedlot finished livestock. I cannot fault her for her thinking, but I have been around production agriculture my whole life, and I understand why people choose not to raise organic crops. Livestock is even more difficult to certify organic than field crops. The production phase I am most familiar with is the beginning, so I don’t know much about what goes on at a feedlot. Most of the beef we get was raised in a home feedlot, not a confined animal feeding operation. Kingsolver did concede that organic is not always the best choice, since it might be trucked in from across the country.

As a society, we should not be proud of our factory egg production or the fact that supermarkets only carry one species of turkey, and that one has been bred to have such a large breast that they couldn’t reproduce if they wanted to. Kingsolver claims that fresh eggs and grass finished organic meat have a different composition than factory eggs and corn fed meat… higher omega 3, (which aids in fending off depression) as well as other vitamins and minerals. Our fresh eggs have specks of blood in them from time to time, they aren’t perfect, and I don’t have the technology to tell which ones are prettier inside. They have also been fertilized, so they have a little dot in them as well. I suspect many consumers want perfect eggs.  I sell eggs to three people on a regular basis, they are all farm girls who understand these things.

She had a hugely funny chapter about turkey sex, and subsequent brooding. She had all kinds of problems. If she had asked me, I could have told her some simple solutions, from experience. She writes that most of the breeding and brooding instinct has been bred out of turkeys. She makes it sound that if she wasn’t raising turkeys the world would be down to only the one breed. I would submit that first time mamas of any species are incredibly naive. I would also submit that turkeys didn’t evolve (in the micro sense of the word) in such small quarters as the average poultry house, further confusing the hens. When our chicken hens get broody, they often forget which nest they were sitting on, so we make a little gate to keep them in the right nest, then let them out a couple of times a day.

Some random thoughts about the book.

She is not a fan of corn except as sweet corn and perhaps popcorn. She is speaking mainly of high fructose corn syrup as well as corn-fed beef. As it currently is, the mighty consumer has spoken, and is asking for grain finished meat.

Kingsolver went without bananas, citrus, sugar (they used honey), rice (for the most part) and fish for a whole year. 

She blew me away when she talked of heaving overgrown zucchini over the fence instead of feeding them to her poultry flock. Our chickens eat pretty good on what gets ahead of me in the garden.

I also learned why I don’t like milk. Humans are the only mammal that breastfeeds after age 2 or so. By breast, she actually means udder. Many humans can’t digest milk products as they get older, our bodies change and mature. I don’t get sick, but I won’t feel guilty turning milk down from now on. I eat plenty of cheese (which doesn’t have lactose in it) so my bones should be fine.

She certainly has a better growing season working for her there in Appalachia, although with some work we could grow more here than we do. As you progress west across Nebraska, the variety of foods suited to the climate would be slim indeed, and by the time you got to Wyoming, well…It is important to know how food is grown, and it is even better to be self sufficient, or at least know how to preserve your own food. You never know what kind of event (like Hurricane Katrina) could have us living off our wits for a long time.

I am going to spend more time at our farmer’s markets this summer. I am sure the more we buy from farmer’s markets the more they will grow, and that is a good thing. Have you eaten a grocery store tomato in July? I will also try to spend more time in our garden. That would be good for the kids too. I love to garden, but the heat and humidity here just gets to me. Maybe I will try to garden more in the morning. It is kind of tough with a baby, keeping him out of the heat and bugs.  I am sure Leo will be busy in the garden as well.

I am sure she is right that we as a country should be prepared to live off what we can produce, and not rely on foreign countries for our food supply.  I believe trade is necessary, but dependance is not wise.  Who knows what is up the road for us as a society between wars and climate change?  I don’t have a cache, but if we could not leave the house for two months to purchase food, we could eat a healthy diet with the exception of milk and cheese.  Towards the end it might get a little boring, but it might be boring anyway…