Reviews are in the following categories, listed in order of appearance: Arts and Crafts, Fiction, Gardening, Lifestyles and Otherwise.
Art at the Speed of Life: motivation + inspiration for making mixed-media art every day
by Pam Carriker - 143 pages
This book is a mediation on how to fit art into a busy life inter-mixed with 14 projects and seven journal-page projects for a journal.  (There's also an explanation of how to make the journal.)  The pages are sprinkled with inspiring examples of art, much of it either 2D or 3D of the little-bit-of-this-and-a-little-bit-of-that type.  There are pictures, and the projects are step-by-step.  I am particularly excited about one technique where one starts with a photocopy of a photo, which would enable me to get my proportions correct when doing art that isn't abstract.  (A happy thought!)

The chapters are:
Chapter 1 - I Want to be an Artist When I Grow Up
Chapter 2 - So Many Supplies, so Little Time
Chapter 3 - Creating Cyber-Space and Setting Limits
Chapter 4 - Art Therapy
Chapter 5 - The Working Artist
Chapter 6 - Art on the Go
Chapter 7 - Reclaim Your Creative Time

It's on my get-at-the-library list, unless you are looking to splurge.  It would be a great gift for an artist you love, to say, "Spend time on yourself and your art.  You are worth it!"

By Grace Dobush
158 pages
This book is for people considering selling their crafts and DIY creations for some supplemental income.  It covers everything from deciding whether or not you want to do it to pricing, production, marketing and publicity, craft shows, developing an online presence, and even balancing your crafty life and your real-life/other job.  She also briefly covers some of the legal considerations, like tax ID numbers and how to find a lawyer if you decide to incorporate.
The book is similar to other the of its ilk, so you aren't going to find something that you haven't read already if you've been reading other books on the topic, but what I particularly like about this one is:
1.  It is well-written, with some verve and humor.
2.  She doesn't assume that everyone will follow her path; she includes stories from many others who craft for profit.
3.  She is honest about the difficulties, and doesn't promise that you will make piles of money.  Which is good, because you probably won't.  But there are other reasons to do things besides money, and having someone want to buy something made with your particular style is very satisfying.  Besides, we can strike a blow for individual and original instead of mass-produced and plastic!

Junk Genius: Stylish Ways to Reinvent Everyday Objects
By Juliette Goggin and Stacy Sirk
187 pages
The idea of the book is to make useful objects out of flea market finds.  There are some thrift store options as well, although the authors are much more interested in vintage.  The book features 80 projects categorized by raw material: jewelry and decoration, fabric and trims, paper and card, china and wood, glass and mirror, metal and wire, furniture and furnishings.
            I like the approach.  In the beginning of the book, the authors list 40 common items that are frequently found at flea markets and are cheap.  They then go on to come up with things to do with these items.  Some stuff on the list of 40 would be things like old photographs, wallpaper, old keys, neckties, measuring sticks, lace doilies, old sweaters, picture frames, buttons, etc. the book is also full of beautiful photographs.
            What I don't like is that the ideas weren't all that original or inspired, except for a few, and the instructions are not particularly detailed.  They also tend to be for things that you're only going to want one or two of, like chandeliers or mirrors or lamp shades made with vintage silk scarves.  Plus many of them are style or taste kind of items that therefore wouldn't work all that well for gifts.
            My vote: It is worth checking out from the library, but not buying.

1000 Ideas for Creative Reuse: Remake, Restyle, Recycle, Renew
by Garth Johnson

I rarely buy books.  If I am only going to read it once or twice, then I get it from the library.  The reason I own this book is because I find inspiration on almost every page.

It is a picture book, eye candy for creative upcycler.  It contains 1000 photographs of projects from recycled or repurposed materials.  Each photograph has a number and a caption which lists the artist, the business (if the artist has one), and the country.  I hadn't realized this when I had checked the book out of the library, but there is an index which lists the materials that the artist used.  For example, item 115 is an apron, for which the listed raw ingredients are: hand woven fabric made from plastic bags, caution tape, yarn, cornhusks, plastic strawberries, loteria card, belt, wire, tarp, nylon webbing.  Or there's the bracelet, item 445, made with "metal, recycled tin cans, game pieces, found materials, resistors, pop tops, rivets."

The chapters are:

Chapter 1 -- paper, collage + assemblage
Chapter 2 -- couture + soft goods
Chapter 3 -- jewelry + adornments
Chapter 4 -- geek craft + man craft
Chapter 5 -- housewares + furnishings
Chapter 6 -- art, interiors + installation

The first two chapters are probably the most useful to me since I do altered books and clothing from recycled materials.  But almost all of the book inspires me.  Yes, occasionally you find the too bizarre or, less often, the too familiar, but I'm inspired to play every time I open it up.

It is not a how-to book.  I don't mind that.  I am a craft-book junkie, but I don't think I've ever followed instructions to replicate someone else's piece of art or work of craft.  This book inspires me to play, not to imitate.

Faux Mosaics  by Tera Leigh --79 pages, 20 projects

This book is about creating the look of mosaic tile using various kinds of paper.
I like this book for three reasons.
  •     First, she says, "Don't worry if you..." often.
  •     Second, she has a section on painting and otherwise embellishing paper which is brief, but clear and has good pictures.  I'm going to try out her technique for painting simple, two-toned roses and leaves one of these days.  I also think I might check out her book on decorative painting.
  •     Third, paper is cheap.  I am all about cheap arts and crafts!
There are three reasons, though, that this book falls into the "library" category instead of the "buy" category.
  •     She talks about using faux mosaics grout, and specialized products like that.  Granted, I know you can get by without using them, because I have.
  •     The projects tend to involve buying something that is then mosaiced, like a wooden box, a tray, a picture frame, etc., rather than making these things from scratch.
  •     The process for making every single item is almost identical: 1. Paint your grout.  2.  Apply your titles.  3.  Glaze.  Ergo, while the technique is simple, the book is a bit repetitive.
 If you are after simple, and don't mind buying the raw materials instead of using stuff you already have, the book does do a good job of thinking of a wide variety of surfaces to add mosaic to.  As Tera Leigh points out, because paper is light, you can use this technique to apply mosaics to surfaces that normally would not work because mosaic tile is heavy.

Decoupage, Paint and Fabric Projects
by Sheila McGraw
125 pages
Lots of photos, step-by-step instructions and detailed, basic information on the different types of painting for furniture (brush, roller, spray) as well as staining and varnishing.  A good resource and inspiration.  It's only got 11 projects, but I'd rather have 11 spelled-out projects than 50 vague ideas.

by Danny Seo -- 221 pages, 92 projects, and a pictorial index

Why do I like this book?  First, it has Danny Seo on the cover with his infectious grin.  Second, he is quite precise about the particular products he used in each project, including brand names and sizes.  And because this is a quote I think every upcycler needs to read:

“For example, a Tide bottle recycled into a bird feeder is what I call downcycling: it is still ugly, probably reeks of detergent, and no bird really wants to stick their head inside to feed from sticky seed.  However, a plastic water bottle that is cut, manipulated, and painted to look at the most magical flower that might live, say, in Wonderland, is upcycling” (11).

So some of his projects I would do, and some I wouldn't, but it gets me thinking, and that's what I want in a craft book.

If anybody does the "bear" rug or the clouds, please send me pictures!

Papercrafting Room by Room
by Deborah Spofford
127 pages
This books is mostly how to cover things with paper, not make things from paper.  It has large, clear photos and 30 projects. I liked it but I'd still vote "library" instead of "buy."

Altered Shoes: A Step-By-Step Guide to Making Your Footwear Fabulous

by Marty Stevens-Heebner
128 pages
I really liked this book.   
  • First, it's pretty practical.  It considers things like where and how you're going to wear the shoes and using materials that are going to crack and covering up mistakes.  While it doesn't have a photograph for every single step, there are enough that any moderately experienced (or reasonably) patient crafter will be fine.   
  • Second, if you do any crafting at all, you'll probably have the overwhelming majority of the materials on hand.   
  • Third, her ideas are interspersed with essays about different women and their favorite shoes.  These essays introduce us to some interesting people, but they also thoughtfully consider the different ways we think about what we wear and how our possessions come to mean more to us than just utility items.  
  • Fourth, the ideas are wonderfully varied and inspiring.  Lots in the "I would never have thought about that" category.
  •  Finally, reading this book made me want to play in my studio.  That is always a good sign.

At Home In Mitford
by Jan Karon
I really enjoyed this book.  It's a lot like the Anne of Green Gables series: not much happens but you love it because you love the characters.  The main character is an Anglican priest.  You don't see that every day.  I liked that, though, because I work with priests and the Scripture-laced running commentary of his thoughts made me feel a bit more in touch with the warm, yet carefully reserved men at work.  It's really not preachy in the usual sense--it just takes religion as another reality and goes from there.

I don't usually read modern books, but this one was just what I needed. 

Much Ado About Nothing 
(DVD) 109 Minutes

Directed by Joss Whedon

This movie grew out of afternoons at Joss's house where friends would gather to read Shakespeare for fun, and it retains some of the playfulness as well as a hint of the dysfunctional, hyper-public life of Hollywood.  Everyone is well cast, and if Benedick isn't as handsome as I'd like, well, my sister Rachel thought he was cute and we never agree on that sort of thing.
-- The most natural Shakespeare I've ever heard. The lines were delivered like normal conversation.
--The comedy was physical in many places, which was appropriate (The Three Stooges probably had nothing on the Bard.)
--The production made great use of the set (I think Joss's house) and there was a lot of humor in the little details.

Other notes
--It's darker than most people like their Much Ado.  The dysfunctionality of that world, such as the constant drinking in the first half, and the dysfunctionality of the prior relationship of Beatrice and Benedick makes the viewer question a bit whether this is going to go quite as smoothly as the rejoicing at the end would suggest.  But that hint of a shadow is in Shakespeare.  It just usually doesn't make it into the productions.
-- There's one gender switch.  One of Prince John's henchmen becomes a vamp, which also leads to a highly suggestive scene.  The change works very well for the movie, but it means I can't show it to my students without skipping.
-- Benedict is much nastier at the beginning.  There's a real edge to his insults, and that makes his change harder to believe, at least for me.

I enjoyed it.  I've seen Shakespeare on two continents, and performed by everyone from my students to actors with the Royal Shakespeare Company, and I found this production creative and compelling, while staying true to the text.


The Frugal Gardener: How to Have More Garden for Less Money
by Catriona Tudor Erler

Please buy me this book for my birthday.  Please?  I've been good...

I got this book from the library, and I love it.  It is all about saving money in the garden, often by going organic and letting nature do things her way.  Topics include saving money on everything from acquiring plants, tools, and compost materials to choosing plants that are low cost, low maintenance, and/or multipurpose.  There are also plentiful tips on stuff you can build yourself.

So for example, which flowers can you collect seeds from?  How long can you keep particular seeds in storage?  (Hint: the answer is different for cucumbers -- 5 years -- than it is for leeks -- 2 years -- than it is for....)  Which perennials can you start from seeds?  Which shrubs will spread quickly?  What are some shrubs, trees, and lines that root easily from cuttings?  What herbs can you propagate simply by dividing them? What (usually free) stuff can you put in your compost pile?  How can you defeat disease?  Brew your own fertilizer for particular needs?  Thwart weeds, bunny rabbits, and deer?  What is some cheap ground cover you can plant that will slowly take over your lawn, making it more beautiful and reducing your mowing at the same time? 

I recommend this book, especially since it is focused on saving time as well as money.

by Gordon Hayward

241 pages

While the first of the author's "inspiration of Gardens" is extremely small (18 x 32 feet), he's generally used to working with the wealthy, so he has comments about your garden transitioning into the woods, or path leading to beautiful views, and that sort of thing.  But if you don't mind that, there's actually quite a bit of practical advice, especially in the latter half of the book where he describes exactly how to install paths of wood, stone, concrete, brick, pebbles, and loose materials like mulch and pine needles.  The book also has a lot of the drool-worthy pictures of beautiful gardens owned by the wealthy in the United States and Britain, but I actually found that helpful because I could figure out what I liked and didn't like by looking at some widely varying styles.  (There's even a vegetable garden -- it serves an elite hotel.)  The most useful part of the book for me, I think, will be towards the end where he lists plants that can be planted between stepping stones in a path, further divided into those that can take a lot of abuse, those that can't, plus which ones like shade and which ones like sun.  I'd say it would be worth buying if you couldn't get it from your library and are planning your garden layout.

The Complete Compost Gardening Guide
by Barbara Pleasant and Deborah L. Martin

I love this book because it is very thorough, hands-on, and easy-going.  (It would also make a great birthday present for me.  Just saying.)  It's got the how-to, the why, the science, and the practicalities all included in straightforward, well-written prose.  There's plenty of pictures, lots of details, and hints for specific kind of plants.  (For example, I learned that plants that prefer acidic soil like as azaleas, blueberries, strawberries, and rhododendron will enjoy a mulch of pine needles which will eventually tilt the soil towards being slightly acidic as they compost in place.)

I like how the authors realize that not everyone's garden works the same way theirs does.  They talk about a wide variety of ways to practice composting, including piles, pens, moving batches, buried compost, and compost as mulch.  They explain in detail what you can compost, and I finally understand what gardening books mean when they talk about the ratio of greens and browns in once compost.  (It's not about color -- it's about carbon and nitrogen.  The greens have lots of nitrogen and the browns have lots of carbon.  I thought we didn't have very much "green" because our compost has a lot of kitchen scraps, like banana peels.  But those are actually in the green category because of their nitrogen content.)

I learned a lot about worms, the virtues of the various types of manure, and the secret life of soil.  And I was reassured that composting is a learning experience with a whole lot of winging it going on.  And that is just fine.

by Miranda Smith

160 pages

I checked out a whole stack of books on growing herbs, but this is hands-down my favorite.  It talks about how to plan a herb garden, and has detailed instructions, with pictures, of using herbs in breads, teas, oils, vinegars, salads, beauty products, pillows, sachets, dried arrangements, and insect repellent.  But what I really love is that it provides a whole page on each herb, from aloe to yarrow, which is detailed, easy to understand, and includes a description, information on growing the plant, details on harvesting, a list of ways you can use it, plus a quick chart that details how much attention that herb requires, how easy it is to grow, how much it yields, and whether or not you can grow it in a container.  With one-page per herb, this is perfect.  I'm planning to photocopy each page that includes an herb I'm going to use and stick it in a gardening binder.

by Eric Toensmeier

241 pages
I love the concept -- a plant that you can plant once and continue to harvest from.  However, while he does include yams and asparagus, he is much more interested in bizarre foods that you have never heard of.  Unfortunately, most of them are tropical and can be grown in the United States only as an annual.  Not all of them, but quite a few.  He does provide extremely detailed information on each plant's preferences, common problems, propagation and planting, harvest and storage, and even cooking tips. There's also a section on an edible water garden.  I would recommend this book for an experienced and adventurous gardener, preferably one that lives down south.

Garden Lunacy: A Growing Concern
by Art Wolk
246 pages

A collection of humorous essays on gardening, the divide between gardeners and non-gardeners, and the world of competitive gardening.  Most of it isn't laugh-out-loud stuff, but Art is a likable guy and I enjoyed reading this pleasant little book.  The different chapters are headed with amusing cartoons.  I would buy this book as a gift from a non-gardener to a gardener.

Here is a sample of some of my favorite bits from the chart on page 105-106:
non-gardener: Peter Rabbit
Gardner: Peter Raptor

Non-gardener: fluffy tail, fun to feed
Gardner: contortionist that destroys bird feeders while twisted into the shape of a pretzel

Plastic plant
Non-gardener: plant
Gardner: oxymoron

People buying canned corn in the summer
Non-gardener: people buying corn
Gardner: people who have forgotten to take their medication

People wearing Wellie boots
Non-gardener: people who have forgotten to take their medication
Gardner: potential life-long companions


I just finished reading The Prosperous Heart: Creating a Life of "Enough", by Julia Cameron.  She wrote , a book that moved me, which is designed for blocked artists of every stripe.  (I've never faced a dearth of creative energy, but I still enjoyed the book.)

The Prosperous Heart is for anyone whose relationship with money is troubled.  It incorporates a spiritual approach to money issues, which makes it pretty unique.  It is well written and packed with insightful anecdotes.  While Julia tends to write for artists and their fluctuating income, I think anybody who is interested a healthy relationship with money and who practices any kind of spirituality would find the book helpful.

Here is a sampling of some of the quotes that she has in the margins to give you an idea what the book is about.

By using prosperity affirmations, you're not trying to make God give you anything.  You're only trying to open your mind to see the abundance He has already given you.
-- Catherine Ponder

Tenacity is when you follow your heart -- when the whole world is screaming to get back into your head.
-- Sonia Choquette

When you have fear and do the thing anyway, you are holding on to the hand of God.
-- Edwene Gaines

We are very good at preparing to live, but not very good at living.
--Thuch Nhat Hanh

In order to demonstrate true prosperity, you must to get rid of what you do not want, to make way for what you do want.
-- Catherine Ponder

We have been taught to believe that negative equals realistic, and positive equals unrealistic.
-- Susan Jeffers

New York Fashion:The Evolution of American Style
By Caroline Rennolds Milbank
303 pages

This isn't just a pretty coffee table book.  It is an exhaustively researched and detailed look at American fashion, starting in 1800 and going all the way up to the 1980s.  It has plenty of pictures, and I like the way it connects history and ideas with clothes.  I think, in fact, that it was probably originally a textbook for a history of fashion class -- it is that detailed and thorough.  It also traces the history of particular designers through the different eras, so if you want to know what Bill Blass or Oscar de la Renta was up to in the 1960s, here is a great resource.

The book focuses on New York City, specifically as a rival to Paris, although since New York designed for the whole country, the book would be useful to clothing historians and costume-makers studying any part of the country.  The New York details are so extensive, though, that if you were writing a novel set in New York in 1880 you could talk about shopping on this particular street in this particular store for gloves, and then going around the corner to see particular couture designer at particular address.  It is that well researched.
I recently read Organized Simplicity: The Clutter-Free Approach to Intentional Living by Tsh Oxenreider, 256 pages.  (Yes that name is spelled correctly.  She has eschewed the usual vowel.)  I enjoyed it because ...

-- it starts with the theory and then moves to the practical

-- she isn't afraid to be opinionated

-- she includes recipes for everything from homemade dishwasher soap to make-your-own deodorant

-- she provides tools she uses to simplify and organize her life, showing us what her to do list, budget, and weekly cleaning list look like

One of the things I was most struck by was the idea of having a family mission statement.  It sounds kind of buzzword-esque.  But it's really an invitation to step out of the ongoing and endless rush of our busy, consumeristic culture and ask: What do we value?  What do we want?  What do we stand for?  Not the family next door--us.  It's entirely possible to go through our entire lives on autopilot, and then get to the end of them and realize that we were living somebody else's version of happiness.

Also, I have been following her advice about cutting back on TV and computer time, and I've noticed I feel happier.  It's sort of odd.  I'm not sure what that means.

Anyway, I'll end with my favorite quote from the book.

"Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don't want, to impress people they don't like."
-- Will Rogers

Paige by Paige: A Year of Trading Spaces
by Paige Davis
222 pages
 I enjoyed this book.  It is light, easy reading and a behind-the-scenes look at one of my all-time favorite TV shows.  Trading Spaces was one of the things that encouraged me to think of doing more DIY stuff and more creative stuff, so I'm grateful for that.  The book is basically pages from Paige's journal which highlight the surprises and mishaps that we never get to see on camera, plus an insider look at the world of television with its glamorous and not-so-glamorous moments, and, in her case at least, lots of travel.  (As much as she flies around, I have to say that I am amazed I have never bumped into her on an airplane.)  On the page, she is very much like she is on the screen: an upbeat, positive person who really cares about the people around her and wants everything to go well for them.  She's also very honest, and talks about things like what happens when a homeowner doesn't like his or her room, or mistakes she's made, or what it's like trying to stay married when your spouse also has a job that involves a lot of traveling.  The only thing readers might not like is that the fonts are either typewriter font or handwriting font, but I got used to both of them.  I would say that it is a good read for a fan, but not if you're looking for DIY decorator tips.

The New Frugality: How to Consume Less, Save More, and Live Better 
by Chris Farrell
229 pages.
Don't bother buying his book unless you need a gift for the financially clueless.  He's a nice guy and everything, and it's well-written, but it's all common sense stuff your parents presumably taught you.  I truly hope none of my readers needs to be told:  Save money by using public transportation and turning down the thermostat in the winter.  Don't buy more house than you need.  Don't borrow money to invest in the stock market. 
He did make one point I found interesting: For some, quitting a high-paying job in relief at 65 as compared to taking a lower-paying job you love at 55 that you don't mind keeping until you are 75---they can add up to the same amount of $, so why not do the job you love?  (page 165) 
There.  Now you don't need to buy the book. 

Handmade Living: A Fresh Take on Scandinavian Style
by Lotta Jansdotter
149 pages

This book is artsy and fun, but not practical.

It's basically a lavishly photographed look at this hip young fabric deisgner's lifestyle via her apartment.  There are a few recipes and a few how-tos, but mostly lots of artsy photos.  It's more of an inspiration/ coffee table book than a DIY book.  I enjoyed flipping through it, though.

Natural Home Heating
by Greg Pahl
281 pages
Love!  A thorough, clear, practical to guide to heating your home with solar power, wood, biodisel, biomass, and geothermal methods.  I'm listing it here so I can find it again when my husband and I decide we want a soapstone stove.

Barnheart: The Incurable Longing for a Farm of One's Own
A Memoir by Jenna Woginrich
184 pages
I savored this book.  It’s the well-written tale of a broke, twenty-something girl with a simple, impossible dream: to own a farm.  I’m sympathetic to her inclination to self-sufficiency (or at least as much as is compatible with, say, electricity and indoor plumbing).  But mostly I enjoyed it because it tells a true story of the set-backs and triumphs that happen when you want something so very, very much that you take steps toward it even though there’s no path that leads all the way there.  It’s about love and longing, with hefty doses of humor and reality.   

It appears to be the second in her series, (the 1st being Made from Scratch: Discovering the Pleasures of a Handmade Life) but that caused no problems for me in reading it.

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