Sep 28, 2011

Dolphin Days

by Kenneth Norris

This book was far more interesting and readable than the last one I tried. Dolphin Days is about several decades' work the author spent studying dolphins in tropical waters and also in captive environments. A large part of the book focuses on his efforts to help save dolphins from drowning in tuna nets. He went with a crew of scientists on board fishing boats so they could observe the behavior of the dolphins, what the crew did, even how the fish acted in the net, to figure out what could be done to save the dolphins. Their findings were quite surprising. I knew the dolphins wouldn't jump over the top edge of the net (floating just an inch or so below the surface, which they could easily clear) but had no idea why. I also had no idea how staggering the numbers of dolphins that died for the tuna industry were. And not only that- but the fishermen used the dolphins as markers to find the big tuna schools, because apparently the tuna shadow the dolphins, swimming along underneath them. How well did they think that would keep up if they continued to kill dolphins by the thousands? Anyway, other parts of the book deal with pure research, studying dolphin schools just off the coast of several different tropical islands, and also observing their behavior in captive pools. They made quite a few surprising discoveries.

Aside from the animal-behavior parts, much of the book also simply tells about what it is like to do field research- the difficulties involved working in foreign countries, what is involved in creating a research team, etc. It was all very interesting and told in a friendly, thoughtful manner that I thoroughly enjoyed reading. I want to look for this author's earlier book on dolphin behavior, Porpoise Watchers.

Rating: 4/5 ........340 pages, 1980

Sep 24, 2011

reading moment

Older daughter was reading the baby a board book about kitty cats.
It has simple captions describing the cats doing various activities pictured on each page: Kitty running, Kitty sunning.... 
Kitty whining, Kitties dining....
It was all good and cute until they got to the page: Kitty puddling, Kitties cuddling... o yes snuggles are good- wait, kitty what?!
and the picture is of a kitty's little hind end with a little yellow tinkle puddle on the floor
just look at the baby's face, haha (click to enlarge it if you like)

Sep 22, 2011

Dolphin Mysteries

by Kathleen M. Dudzinski  and Toni Frohoff

A book I've been wanting to read just because every time I see it at the library the cover looks attractive. And dolphins are such fascinating creatures. But a little less than halfway through I found I was forcing myself to pick the book up again every time. Something was just not quite right with this reading experience. Dolphin Mysteries is written by two authors, and most of it is in first-person and you have no idea who is addressing you until suddenly one of them identifies themself in parenthesis, which got to be kind of distracting and annoying. Personally, I think a better way to indicate which author wrote what parts would be a simple change in font, or even segregate their writings into different chapters. But that's just my reading preference.

The book has lots and lots of facts about dolphins but it wasn't very engaging or easy reading. Not quite dry, but a bit overdone somehow. I felt like I kept reading about the same incidents or explanations multiple times. About how dolphins perceive sound, how they communicate via touch and body posture, how they interact with humans... but there was something missing, some other focus or aspect that I wanted and it wasn't there. Sorry, this is one of the times I can't quite put my finger on it, why I didn't like the book, why exactly I decided to stop reading. I was disappointed, as it was praised by Temple Grandin and Sy Montgomery, two of my favorite authors on animal behavior. O well. Maybe I'll try it again another time.

Abandoned ........ 224 pages, 2008

Sep 21, 2011

The Tale of Ginger and Pickles

by Beatrix Potter

My daughter brought The Tale of Ginger and Pickles home from her school library. It's one Beatrix Potter she didn't recognize, as we have quite a collection at home but not this one. I do have a fat bound volume of the entire works of Beatrix Potter (all the way from the familiar Peter Rabbit through other animal stories and some poetry/nursery rhymes as well) but I've always found the small single-story volumes that you can practically hold in the palm of your hand so charming, I almost like reading them in that format better.

Well, Ginger and Pickles is a little story about a dog and cat who keep shop in a village. They give unlimited credit, and so get lots and lots of customers, but needless to say their business is doing poorly. I had to explain to my daughter what credit meant, and she paid attention to the fact that creatures kept coming to buy stuff, but no one ever paid for it! So of course when it came time to pay for rent, and licences they were in trouble, and things kept getting worse. Eventually they went hungry and resorted to eating their own goods, then had to abandon the shop. The next proprietor wasn't so foolish as to allow credit all the time!

Besides prompting a conversation about bad business models, the book made me explain quite a bit of British language to my daughter as well. Told her that galoshes are rainboots, pounds are similar to dollars, shillings are coins and biscuits more like cookies than bread, among other things.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 60 pages, 1909

Sep 20, 2011

James and the Giant Peach

by Roald Dahl

Just finished reading this one with my kid, because she thought Little House in the Big Woods was boring! (We didn't even make it through the first chapter. I was disappointed by that response, actually). She wanted something more exciting! so James and the Giant Peach was a hit.

If you're not familiar with the story, here goes: James lives with his nasty aunts and is thoroughly miserable until one day magic happens (I'll leave you to find out how) and an ancient peach tree in the backyard suddenly grows a beautiful peach. Not just any peach, either. This one keeps growing until it's bigger than the house! When the peach breaks free and goes rolling off on fantastic adventures, James happens to be aboard- along with a handful of insects which have also magically grown to tremendous size. They're quite the characters. We got the most laughs out of the endless banter between the Earthworm and the Centipede with his many, many boots.

It really is a fun story. All the more delightful that lots of facts about the insects are working into the story, so you don't even realize you're learning about them. My daughter and I got into a conversation about it afterwards, I mentioned one of the facts about the bugs and suddenly she said: "wait! I thought it was fiction. You mean that's true?"

So I explained that even though a fictional story is made-up, usually the setting and things that occur really do exist or could happen. But you can tell the difference. Let's see if you can tell, I said to her. "Do ladybugs help the garden by eating aphids and other nasty bugs?" Yeah, she said. "And do earthworms help with the dirt?" Yeah. "And do centipedes wear boots?" She giggled, No. "See! You already know, which parts are made-up and which parts are real."

Anyway, it was fun. I was trying to think afterwards of all the other Roald Dahl books I've read. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and its sequel The Great Glass Elevator. Matilda. The BFG. Danny, the Champion of the World (which is about pheasant hunting and poaching!) and my favorite, Fantastic Mr. Fox. And he's written so many, many others. Which are your favorites?

Rating: 3/5 ........ 126 pages, 1961

Sep 19, 2011

Made From Scratch

Discovering the Pleasures of a Handmade Life
by Jenna Woginrich

Another book about sustainable living. This one was a bit different. In the first place, it's written in a simple, friendly style that makes it a breeze to read. The author shares her experiences learning to do many things for herself and learn new homesteading skills, then at the end of each chapter gives some general advice and pointers on doing the same for yourself. In the back is a nice, comprehensive list of books and online resources to find more information. She even has a website where you can read about her doings: Cold Antler Farm.

In Made from Scratch Woginrich describes starting a vegetable garden, raising chickens, keeping bees and learning to make things like bread, noodles, pasta sauce, jam, etc. in her own kitchen. All that sounded familiar. But then she goes on to have angora rabbits to spin their fur into yarn for her own clothes (because she couldn't have sheep, but if you go look at her blog, she has them now, I think!), trains her dogs to carry packs and pull things, and learns to play music on the fiddle and dulcimer. Another aspect I found really interesting was that she made a point of hunting down antique objects to use in her home- like an old cheese grater, or a hand-cranked coffee grinder. She likes the aesthetics of old objects, plus says they're made better, and its nicer to give them a second, useful life than buy something brand-new that might break in a few months anyways. I like that. It wasn't like the guy in See You in a Hundred Years who made himself use old stuff to follow some rule he made up. Woginrich liked and wanted this stuff.

Anyhow, her book is amusing and inspiring, and I want a copy of my own if just to try out some of the recipes.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 184 pages, 2008

more opinions: You've GOTTA Read This!

Sep 17, 2011

The Gaia Book of Organic Gardening

by Charlie Ryrie and Cindy Engel

Basic introduction to the principles of organic gardening, illustrated with beautiful photographs. The Gaia Book of Organic Gardening places an emphasis on taking care of and feeding your soil, giving an entire chapter over to identifying and nurturing different soil types, and another just to composting. There's also information on planting times and methods, interplanting crops and herbs to help with attracting beneficial insects or repelling pests, how to save seeds, and keep your garden tidy. The authors points out that since organic gardeners live with nature instead of fighting against it or outright annihilating whatever they don't like, you're bound to have a few weeds and pests around. But they note that many weeds are great for feeding your compost, and without pests around you wouldn't be able to feed the ladybugs and other "good guys".

I took a lot of notes from this book. Particularly, I was interested in the interplanting suggestions, I know I need to work better at rotating my crops efficiently, and I didn't realize before that I ought to be covering my compost pile! Mine gets rained on quite a bit.

The only downside to this book is that it was written for a British audience, so some of the advice doesn't really apply to me (I don't have hedgehogs in my garden, for example). Also, I wasn't familiar with some of the terms. I knew courgettes are zucchini, but had to look up aubergines (eggplant) and tagetes (marigolds). Another book great for my itchy green thumb!

Found this one at a library sale and brought it home. I was wondering when I first opened it up, what gardening had to do with Gaia and if it was going to have some unfamiliar ideas in it (I don't know much about the concepts of Gaia). Really, it's just the name of the printing company, Gaia Publishing. And there is a small note on the publication page that says Books from Gaia celebrate the vision of Gaia, the self-sustaining living Earth, and seek to help its readers live in greater personal and planetary harmony. That's all. There's no other mention of it.

Rating: 4/5 ...... 160 pages, 2005

Sep 15, 2011

In Deep

country essays
by Maxine Kumin

I can't remember how I found this author; I think she was mentioned in some other books I read. She's a poet, and I struggle to appreciate poetry, so instead I looked for some of her prose and found this book of essays about country living on the steep hillsides of New England.

In Deep has a range of topics, from tapping maple trees and trying to divert the rivers of mud in spring to collecting wild mushrooms (which brought to mind the mushroom book) and growing a kitchen garden. But most of them are about horses- the first horse she rode as a child, the keeping of family horses (very large pets), one about a foal that was rejected by its mother and raised as an orphan. There's also a chapter all about mules, comparing them to poets (quite favorably for the poets, I'd say- mules are hardy, stalwart creatures!) and another about the virtues of Scots Highland cattle. Even if you're not excited about horses, there's something lively and thoughtful in these essays- from Kumin's thoughts on the weather and observations about other people to her descriptions of the animals and seasons they all pass through on the little farm.

Incidentally, a few of her poems were included in the book, as she also talks quite a bit about the work of writing poetry. I liked them okay, but I'm not sure if I'd get through a whole book of them. I do want to find more essays by Kumin, or has she ever written a novel? Have any of you read more of her works? Got any recommendations for me?

Rating: 4/5 ....... 180 pages, 1987

Sep 12, 2011

Linnea's Windowsill Garden

by Christina Bjork and Lena Anderson

I happened to walk to the library today, and saw this book on their sale shelf, next to another one about organic gardening. Thumbing through it for a few seconds, I knew this was a book I wanted to have. And it sounded familiar- now I recall a book my mother found at the library called Linnea in Monet's Garden, which was quite good. So I paid fifty cents, and upon returning home sat and read it while the baby fed. Charmed.

And instructed. It's all about a little girl and how she grows plants in her apartment. She grows plants from the seeds and pits of produce brought home from the supermarket. She grows plants from cuttings given by a friend. She grows from seed packets from the nursery. And tells you all about how to do your own plant experiments (did you know that a pea, urged to grow, can break out from being sealed inside a lump of plaster of paris?!), how to care for the plants, how to get rid of nasty bugs, etc. I was delighted to find info about sprouting avocado and orange seeds (both of which I've tried, my avocados succeeded and the oranges didn't- and with both I used a different method than the one she suggests) and lots of practical stuff like how to keep your plants happy when you're gone for a few days (again, not by any method I've ever used) or how to soften water for sensitive plants (just let it sit out overnight). I like that she notes that not all plants will thrive, or all seeds germinate; you just have to try again. And that the bug-ridding methods include not only pick-them-off-and-squash them or spray with soapy water but also ingenious tricks I've never tried, like putting an aphid-infested plant in a bag and blowing cigarette smoke into it! Maybe I'm silly to get itchy green thumb over a kid's book, but now I'm eager to try growing experiments again...

Rating: 4/5 ........ 59 pages, 1978

Sep 10, 2011

The Backyard Homestead

edited by by Carleen Madigan

Beyond just a vegetable garden or keeping a handful of chickens, this book aims to show how you can raise everything you'd need to eat on your own little patch of land. Even if you've just got a tenth of an acre, The Backyard Homestead claims you can produce a staggering amount of produce, fruits, grain, eggs, meat, honey, etc. It has instructions on nearly everything. Let me just make a list of the food subjects this book covers: vegetables, fruits, berries, nuts, eggs, chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, rabbits, herbs, beekeeping, sheep, goats, cattle, pigs, making wine, beer, herb vinegars, bread, cheese, yogurt, etc etc etc. It just got to be kind of mind-boggling after a while. I mean, I envision a huge veggie garden, a nice full herb bed, permanent strawberry, rhubarb, asparagus patches, chickens and maybe bees someday. I might stretch that to add rabbits. I want to try my hand at breadmaking someday, although just the idea of cheese still intimidates me. But pigs? wheat? digging dandelion roots and grinding them up in leiu of coffee? Those things I don't even dream of.

One thing this book doesn't do, is give you all the details. After reading the parts about making bread I'm almost ready to follow their recipe and try (it all sounded familiar from watching my mom make bread as a child, too) but then other sections seem lacking so it makes me wonder what they skimmed over here. I've read quite a few books on beekeeping lately and their four pages here seem woefully brief. I've tried my hand at canning green beans and making jam a few times and in no way would I sally forth into that venture again with just the information in this book. So whatever activity this volume encouraged me to attempt, I'd be sure to read up a lot more on it first. However, it does inspire and show you what kind of scope really is possible in a small space. I've already added another dozen plants to the list of what I want to add into my herb garden, and am going to try their johnnycake recipe for breakfast one day.

If you read the welcome pages, it's clear why this book lacks all the details. The editor states: It's an introduction to the best of Storey's information about food production. I hope it'll inspire you and give you a starting point, a foothold to learn a few practical skills. So in that it has succeeded admirably. I am inspired, and I do want to go forth and learn more. The Storey publications include a lot of other good-sounding titles, including a few that are already on my TBR list such as Carrots Love Tomatoes and Made from Scratch.

This is really a resource book, but it was surprisingly easy and engaging to read. Even the sections I thought didn't really relate to me I ended up reading out of curiosity. For example, I don't drink alcohol but my husband has a friend who home-brews his own beer and I was curious about the process so I read the section about making beer (sounds awfully complicated!). I have no space in my yard for a nut tree, nor do I ever envision raising a beef cow, but still I found it interesting to read about those things too.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 367 pages, 2009

more opinions at:
Mama Gone Green
Seed to Harvest

Sep 8, 2011


I just realized my blog turned four years old last month.

I've been so preoccupied with the baby and my husband's campaign and my six-year-old's first week of school it just slipped my mind. And I'm not quite sure what to think about it. I feel like my blogging here has really slacked off this year. I've been reading, and making notes of what I think, but am often too tired to write something really coherent or thoughtful. I've been following everyone else in google reader, but often short on time, or tied up with baby in arms, so don't type lots of comments (which means I get fewer and fewer visitors here). So it's just been very quiet over here, lately.

I'm hoping someone out there is still reading what I write here, so that when I get the time/energy to put more effort into this, it will reflect back again. I'm not going away, or giving up! just have my focus diverted elsewhere for a while.

I do have a sort of announcement, and this seems as good a place as any to say it. My husband pretty much volunteered me to be on the library board of our local branch. He said the board consists of lots of older folks and they're looking for younger people to get involved. They accepted him as a member because he was there offering his services, but he said they really want me! Of course he told them all about my reading obsession, but I hope he also mentioned I have a small nursing infant who takes up a lot of my time and won't sit quietly through long functions! I'm not much of a public person so I'm not sure what this will amount to, if I actually take the position. I like to stay in the background, and do things quietly... We'll see what comes of it! I'd love to help the library out, just not sure what I would do.

Sep 6, 2011

Living Like Ed

A Guide to the Eco-Friendly Life
by Ed Begley

I thought I knew quite a bit about being "green." I thought I was great at recycling, in fact my husband calls me the "recycling nazi" when I chide him for tossing plastic in the trash. But I am nothing like Ed. This guy had so much to teach me. He's been a stickler for recycling and living green in general since the early eighties! He not only has solar panels on his roof, but also a small vertical wind turbine on top of his garage. He has an electric car and a hybrid car, but does most of his transportation via foot, bike or public bus. (His wife - who gets her own sections in the book- says he often refuses to even get into a gas-powered car). This guy also recycles everything you could think of, finds ways to reuse worn-out items (or give them to someone else who will), grows his own veggies in the backyard, buys organic (including clothing) and just in general does every last little thing he can to help the environment. Even when he has to travel by plane he'll buy a TerraPass to offset the carbon used for his air travel.

Granted, not everyone can be like Ed. After all, he's an actor (admit I've never seen his television series, in fact I'd never heard of him until I first read about this book on Both Eyes Book Blog) and can do all the expensive things like buy a car with the newest technology or put solar panels on his roof. But he points out all the things people can do- from the smallest increments like turning down your thermostat or buying those funny-looking twisty lightbulbs to medium-scale improvements such as buying an energy-efficient dishwasher to the big things like making your own solar energy for your home. So I'd bet anyone who reads this book can find dozens of things they could do to live more green. I know I've made a list. Already, these are all the things I could think of that I do in my house to live green:

- recycle
- turn down the heat and wear a sweater
- grow veggies in the backyard
- compost most of my organic waste
- buy those twisty lightbulbs
- walk my kids to school
- walk to the park and most nearby stores
- have an energy-efficient washing machine
- line-dry clothes outside when I can
- potty my baby (cuts my diaper use in half)
- buy organic food when I can
- shop at the farmer's market
- make my own baby food
- buy clothing and books used
- use dishwater / baby bathwater to water my shrubs and flowers
- reuse items (my daughter makes barbie clothes out of worn-out jeans, I rinse out yogurt containers and use them for seedling pots, etc.)

Reading Living Like Ed made me think of so many more things to do. Change the air filter in my furnace/ac more often. Look up where to recycle dead batteries instead of throw them in the trash. Consider putting a water-heater blanket on my old appliance. And of course, I've always dreamed of being able to afford solar panels on the roof or a hybrid car. Someday...

What kinds of things does your household do to live green? I bet Ed could help you come up with some more. This book is highly recommended- by me!

Rating: 4/5 ........ 240 pages, 2008

Sep 3, 2011

The Secret Language of Life

How Animals and Plants Feel and Communicate
by Brian J. Ford

This book is all about well, what the subtitle says- how animals and plants use their senses to perceive the world and respond to it. Ford's main argument seems to be that we, as humans, have no right to feel superior to the rest of life on earth because most of them have been around far longer than us, and are just as capable of seeing and feeling things, of making decisions about how to act. First he describes in detail our own sense of sight, touch, smell, taste and hearing- and then points out how many animals have much superior senses, or possess ones we lack completely- like bats' and dolphins' ability to echolocate, or birds' ability to navigate using magnetism. Even tiny creatures like insects can see far better than us- have you ever tried to swat a fly? it sees you coming far faster than you can act. All of this was intriguing, but the part of the book that really floored me was where Ford talked about how plants perceive the world. Most of them can sense light, can tell direction (gravity), can respond to temperature changes and wind, and touch. At one point he says that plants sense each other's presence and space themselves out to even out the resources; that's why trees are well-spaced in a forest. I didn't quite get this point, though; he never really explained how that worked out. I always thought trees were well-spaced because when too close together the weaker one would simply fail to thrive.... The final chapters are about microscopic creatures and how they sense the world around them. Not only do they react to their environment and seek out food, but some apparently communicate with each other as well- insofar as they need to, in order to find mates and such. Did you know there's even a microbe that has a functional eye? Crazy stuff, that makes you really wonder at the world around you. The Secret Language of Life is really a fascinating book.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 320 pages, 1999

Sep 1, 2011

futile list

About a week ago I got all excited at discovering a list of the John Burroughs Medal- awarded to the best natural history book of the year. This list spans the years 1926-2002, but some years no award was given, so in total there are 68 books on it. Can you believe I looked all the titles up (except for the six I've actually read already) and not a single one is in my local library's system?

Not a single one. I guess they're just too old and obscure, plus I know natural history isn't the top subject of the day. (The section in my nearby library is woefully small). Well, the titles still catch my interest, so I've been sleuthing through reviews online to see which I might actually want to hunt down and read someday, and then searching for them on swap sites. Found a few available. Discovered several new titles along the way (of course- and none of those are at my library either!)

Thus, here are all the books I've found I have an interest in, but little chance of ever reading. Someday, maybe... [edit: the books I have found copies of and read, are now crossed out and linked to]

from the Burroughs list:
From Laurel Hill to Siler's Bog by John Terres
Iceland Summer by George Sutton
Driftwood Valley by Theodora Fletcher
The Great Beach by John Hay
A Canyon Road by Frederick S. Dellenbaugh
The Windward Road  by Archie Carr
Wilderness and Razor Wire by Ken Lamberton
Swampwalker's Journal by David Carroll
In a Desert Garden by John Alcock
The Song of the Dodo by David Quammen
Into Africa by Craig Packer
Dolphin Days by Kenneth Norris
The Island Within by Richard Nelson
Of Wolves and Men by Barry Lopez
Roadless Area by Paul Brooks
Canoe Country and Snowshoe Country by Florence Jaques et al

discovered in tandem:
Peace at Heart by Barbara Drake
The Goshawk by T.H. White

I'm particularly interested in this last title. I love T.H. White's writing, The Once and Future King is one of my all-time favorite books. And several years ago I went through a spate of reading about falconry; it's quite a fascinating subject.