Christmas in July

Thinking about making some or all of your Christmas gifts this year? Better get started now – Christmas is coming! For inspiration, look through the series of “last-minute” books by Joelle Hoverson and Cynthia Treen which are filled with simple yet stylish projects. (Of course, take the “last-minute” definitions with a grain of salt – what might be last minute to some may not be last minute to you!)

Last-Minute Knitted Gifts by Joelle Hoverson. This knitting book has become a big favorite lately and includes the wildly popular “Hourglass Sweater” and “Chevron Scarf” patterns. You’ll also find designs for, among other things, a charming knitted bag (seen on the cover), fingerless mitts, and a baby bonnet.

Last-Minute Quilted and Patchwork Gifts by Joelle Hoverson. Like the previous book, this one is broken down by the time it would take to make each project – 2-4 hours, 4-8 hours, etc. Gift ideas include quilted coasters, an heirloom quality log cabin quilt, pillowcases, tablecloths and a stuffed elephant.

Last-Minute Fabric Gifts by Cynthia Treen. Here you’ll find patterns for a baby quilt, a zippered change purse, bags, hats and adorable felted rabbit toys. Projects in all three of these books are simple but modern and easy enough for a beginning crafts person. You’re sure to find something for everyone on your gift list.

Vacationing at Home

Price of gas got you down? Planning on canceling or cutting back on travel plans? Try taking a vacation in your own backyard. Here are some books that can inspire you to makeover your yard for your own private retreat.

Backyard Design by Jean Breskend. Covering all types of backyards – city, suburban, country – Backyard Design will give you lots of ideas and tips on handling many different situations – swimming pools, fences, driveways, retaining walls, recreation areas, patios and decks. Both inspirational and instructional, this is a good place to start.

Deckscaping by Barbara Ellis. Already have a deck, but it’s less than inviting? This book is filled with ideas for decorating decks of all shapes and sizes. As well as including ideas on choosing plants and containers, there are sections on outdoor furniture, how to build trellises and arbors and how to create beautiful container gardens for your deck.

In Your Own Backyard by A. Cort Sinnes. Illustrated with charming line drawings and whimsical paintings, here is a book that encourages you to create a backyard retreat that fits your personality and needs, not what will impress the neighbors (or Martha Stewart) Whether it’s a hammock or a gazing globe or a croquet court, this delightful book encourages you to follow your dreams.

Yoga for Computer Users by Sandy Blaine

We’ve all been guilty of it – spending too much time hunched in front of the computer, typing and clicking, either for work or entertainment. Pretty soon the stress of bad posture and repetitive motion catches up to you and your body reacts with aches and pains. Yoga for Computer Users was written with you in mind with a series of simple yoga poses targeting the neck, shoulders, wrists and hands. Each pose includes a list of specific benefits of the exercise, a detailed description of how to do the exercise and is illustrated with photographs. Many of the exercises can be done right at your desk and none require any equipment more complicated than a towel or a chair. They range from quick 5-minute breaks, to 30-minute sessions to do at home. There is also a section of lifestyle tips for adding yoga to your everyday life, such as become ambidextrous, strengthen your core, and balance your load. Blaine also recommends that you disconnect from technology when possible; she has made her Sundays computer free and was amazed at how restful and stress-reducing this practice has become. So, unkink that neck, stretch out those cramped fingers and enjoy sitting at your computer again.

Four Fun 4th of July Facts

“You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4, not with a parade of guns, tanks, and soldiers who file by the White House in a show of strength and muscle, but with family picnics where kids throw Frisbees, the potato salad gets iffy, and the flies die from happiness. You may think you have overeaten, but it is patriotism.” -Erma Bombeck

1. Both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, two of the most influential founders of the United States and former Presidents, died within hours of each other on the 50th anniversary of the founding of the country they helped to create – July 4, 1826.

2. There’s a better than 1 in 4 chance that that hot dog you’ll eat on the Fourth originated in Iowa, the nation’s leading producer of hogs. It’s estimated that the number of hot dogs eaten by Americans on the 4th is 150 million.

3. There are 31 places in the United States that have the word “Liberty” in them. Iowa is the state with the most – Libertyville, West Liberty, North Liberty and New Liberty.

4. Fireworks imported from China to the United States in 2006 were valued at $216 million. Be sure to catch some of those fireworks at Red White and Boom tonight, a fireworks display on the riverfront presented by Davenport and Rock Island.

Armchair Traveler – India

India conjures up images of vibrant flavors, brilliant colors and tropical heat. It’s also the second largest liberal democracy in the world with a varied people, a rich culture and a tumultuous history. Sample some of the exotic beauty of this fascinating country through these books.

The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar. Set in modern day Bombay, this is the story of the entwined lives of a wealthy woman and her servant, the caste system that holds them apart and the shared joys and tragedies that bring them together.

The Jewel in the Crown by Paul Scott. The crown is England and the jewel, of course, is India. Jewel describes the turbulant final days of Englands’ occupation of India through the personal stories of the people, English and Indian, that live there. This exceptional novel, written with a keen understanding of human nature, is the first of the Raj Quartet.

Imaginary Men by Anjali Baneriee. This fun chick-lit novel highlights the push and pull of modernity vs tradition in India today. Professional matchmaker Lina Ray invents a fiance to silence pressure from her family to marry, then has to scramble to find a real man. Detailed description of Indian customs enliven this light, entertaining read.

A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. Set in 1950s post-colonial India, this follows four Indian families as they struggle to survive the upheavals and change of a new order. Centered on the search for a suitable husband for a younger daughter, this sprawling novel touches on the complex issues facing the newly independent country.

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri. The latest from award-winning author Lahiri, Unaccustomed Earth explores the divide between immigrants from India and their American-born children, straddling two countries and two cultures, belonging to neither. Rich and complex, the doubts and heartbreaks that Lahiri’s characters face in this beautiful novel are universal.

The Moneypenny Diaries by Kate Westbrook

“The name’s Moneypenny. Jane Moneypenny.”

Doesn’t quite have the same ring as James Bond, does it? But what if Miss Moneypenny, M’s personal assistant who is usually portrayed in the Ian Fleming books and the movies as subserviant and madly-in-love with Bond, was actually much more influential? What if she was the one who saved Bond on more than one occasion and went on missions that were critical to the security of the free world? Set mostly during the Cuban Missile Crisis and cleverly tied to real, historical events as well as incidents from the Fleming novels, The Moneypenny Diaries are written as if they are actual diaries recently discovered by Moneypenny’s niece. This is alternative history with a twist – alternative fictional history if you will. This is the first of a trilogy of the adventures of Moneypenny, already published in England.

Welcome to Your Brain: Why You Lose Your Car Keys but Never Forget How to Drive by Sandra Aamodt

Welcome to Your Brain is a fascinating look at the mysteries of the human brain and how it functions. It’s also lots of fun to read. Find out the answers to puzzles like why yawns are contagious, why you can’t tickle yourself and yes, why you remember how to drive even though you’re always losing your keys. Included are practical tips such as how to hear a conversation on your cell phone in a noisy room, how to protect your brain as it ages and how to recover from jet lag. Along the way several myths are shattered – that we only use 10% of our brain, that women are moodier than men, that listening to Mozart can make your baby smarter. All of this and more is presented in a highly entertaining manner with stories and examples – and you don’t have to have a medical degree to understand it!

Summertime Anytime Cookbook by Dana Slatkin

We’re a long way from sunny southern California but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a taste of summer at the beach. The Summertime Anytime Cookbook by Dana Slatkin is filled with dazzling pictures and easy, hip recipes. It’s divided by mood rather than by meal or main ingredient (chapters include “Sunny Days”, “Balmy Nights”, and “Misty Mornings”) so you will want to take advantage of the index. While the emphasis is on fresh seafood and vegetables, favorites like pasta and chicken also appear. Deserts are simple and tend toward portable – bars and cookies – to take along on your beach picnic. Sprinkled throughout the books are ideas for bringing some of the beach home with you – such as how to make your backyard pool more inviting and decorating with shells and sand. Try some of the recipes now, while it’s warm and sunny and then again this winter, when it’s cold and snowy, just when you some summer memories the most.

All Iowa Reads 2008 Selection

written by Angela

Have you read the “All Iowa Reads” selection for 2008, Digging to America, by Anne Tyler?

Unfamiliar with All Iowa Reads? Each year the Iowa Center for the Book, a program of the State Library of Iowa and an affiliate of the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, chooses one book that they feel all Iowans statewide should read and talk about in a single year. Criteria used to select the All Iowa Reads title includes:

The book must:

* Be available in paperback, large print and unabridged audio

* Lend itself to in-depth discussion and raise universal social issues relevant to Iowans

* Be accessible to adults and high school age youth

It is desirable, but not required, that the book:

* Have an Iowa or Midwest connection

* Is a recent publication that has not been widely read

On June 11, the Library held a one-time-only book discussion of this modern literary tale of overseas adoption, friendship, and what it means to “be American.” The attendees had mixed emotions about this book, but all agreed that it was worth reading. The book averaged a “B” rating, and fueled a great discussion. For die-hard Anne Tyler fans, this book does not follow her traditional formula of writing. Although slightly humorous and satirical, the biggest criticism of the book was that Tyler did not explore characters as deeply as with past works like A Patchwork Planet and The Accidental Tourist. With that said, it’s still a great summer read!

Here’s a list of past All Iowa Reads titles that could help bulk up your reading list:

2007. Splendid Solution: Jonas Salk and the Conquest of Polio by Jeffrey Kluger

2006. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

2005. The Master Butchers Singing Club by Louise Erdrich

2004. Niagara Falls All Over Again by Elizabeth McCracken

2003. Peace Like a River by Leif Enger

For more information about the Iowa Center for the Book, visit their website at: