Give Homemade: The DIY Guide to Gift-Giving

Don’t let this holiday season get the better of you! I say start now, gather supplies and ideas, and get to crafting the perfect DIY gifts for friends and family. The library is a great place to start looking for inspiration. No matter the recipient, I guarantee you can find a great DIY gift idea at the library.

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Whether you’re looking for your baby’s first holiday gift or you want to dazzle a mom-to-be, you need to check out Cutest Ever Baby Toys to Knit by Val Pierce. For adorable toys, check out Tusker the Elephant (cover image; project starts on p.86), Rainbow Butterfly (p.92), and Freddy Fox (p.78). For other cute baby items, try Little Bunny Bag (p.39), Goody Two Shoes (newborn booties-p.36), and Under-the-Sea Mobile (p.83). My favorite project by far has to be the Soft and Squishy Playbook (p.22). It’s a knitted play book with a different object (car, teddy bear, etc.) on each page. Research shows it’s never too early to introduce children to books and this is a sweet way to begin.

If you’ve always wanted to dabble in chemistry look no further than Homemade Nail Polish by Allison Rose Spiekermann. I’d never really considered what would go into making your own nail polish at home, but apparently it begins with a good face mask so the solvents don’t send you face-down on the work bench before you even get to the color mixing part. And speaking of colors, I learned you can use eyeshadow as a color base for nail polish and that there are many different types of glitter. Who knew?! There are sections in the back for troubleshooting and perfecting your mixes as well as tips for applying the perfect manicure and designing your own nail art. So maybe if you don’t have time to make your own nail polish you can at least set up a lavish manicure to pamper your BFF.

Do you know your away around a pair of pliers? Have you always wanted to use your butane torch on something other than crème brûlée? Then you’ll want to check out The Jewelry Maker’s Design Book: an Alchemy of Objects by Deryn Mentock of Something Sublime. The first section of the book contains descriptions of all the tools you’ll need, as well as techniques you’ll want to become familiar with before you start selecting beads. The bulk of the book, however, is packed with specific projects to help focus your efforts on a balanced and beautiful piece. I was really thrilled to see old pieces of jewelry, like brooches, used in designs for necklaces. I have a large amount of inherited jewelry that I don’t know what to do with–but now a plan is forming, and I think I like it.

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The pouches, bags, blankets, clothing, and accessories in Project Teen: Handmade Gifts Your Teen Will Actually Love by Melissa Mortenson definitely appeal to me, someone who hasn’t been a teen since The Cranberries were popular. Melissa is the genius behind The Polka Dot Chair, one of my favorite DIY blogs. Even if her book is checked out you can always hit up her blog for an amazingly creative selection of projects that range in both difficulty and time required. And, much like her book, there’s truly something for everyone. In particular, who wouldn’t want one of her Swim Bags (p.20)? The wide opening and flat bottom make this tote bag ideal for book lovers as we cart home our latest selection of library books each week.

Not ready to take up a needle and thread or put the pedal to the floor with a sewing machine? No Sew Love by Ashley Johnston of Make It, Love It is just what you need. There are 50 projects that require zero sewing and the finished products look stellar. The Fabric Wristlet Key Fob (p.122) is a cheery, practical gift that you could personalize for pretty much anyone on your gift list. The Leather Fringe Necklace (p.110) looks simple and chic enough to make for my entire gaggle of girlfriends. But the project that really has me sold is the Basic Skirt (p.130). It’s a skirt that requires no sewing, has an elastic waist, and is a decent length. Not only could I make a bunch for my friends but I could totally practice my technique on skirts for myself. Total win-win!

Bibliophiles and librarians alike will adore something from the Little Book of Book Making: Timeless Techniques and Fresh Ideas for Beautiful Handmade Books by Charlotte Rivers of Lottie Loves. From simple binds to complex fold-and-cuts, there are a wide variety of projects inside this book. You’ll not only learn the skills to bind books, but you’ll also find beautiful and sometimes quirky designs for the cover. There are also interviews with artists where you’ll find even more inspiration. The one that really caught my eye was Cathy Durso (p.84) who specializes in embroidered book covers. If you’ve ever done embroidery or know someone who has, you understand how very special this is. The cutest image of one of my favorite animals, the narwhal, is featured on the opposite page. Mom, are you reading this? I would love a book embroidered with a narwhal, please!

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Got Sharpies? I have dozens of colors at home and plan to use them all to create projects found in Make Your Mark. Before diving in, you should pay attention to the suggestions for testing your pens on different materials before you get rolling. What looks great on glass may bleed like crazy on wood. For those of you experienced at what I call free-handed doodling, you shouldn’t have any problems. People like me, however, who dream of being an artist but tend to not quite have a brain for creating patterns will enjoy the pattern templates scattered throughout the book. I’m dying to make something like the Kitchen Word Canvas (p.32) because it looks like it could be a quick, simple, and inexpensive project that will cheer the home. The best part is that it’s completely customizable, so I could make a holiday-specific one, one for a guest bedroom, and the list just goes on. The ornaments on page 52, with their stark white-and-blue color combination and modern patterns, look like something someone would have hanging in their home year-round.

No DIY or crafting post would be complete without mentioning gifts created from mason jars. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know mason jars have made a huge comeback in recent years as the popularity of home canning has grown. However, you may be unaware that there are so many cute and creative ways to use them, including as gifts. DIY Mason Jars by Melissa Averinos and Mason Jar Crafts by Lauren Elise Donaldson cover everything from soap dispensers to terrariums. I feel like these are crafty gifts that will hold up over time, as that mason jar silhouette is just simply timeless.

In fact, you should really pay attention to this terrarium idea and check out the episode of DIY Dammit where Joselyn Hughes and Tyler Oakley made these adorable and portable pieces of earth. You’ll really get a feel for the technique, as well as how important it is to keep your sense of humor whenever crafting.

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If for some reason your best-laid plants don’t come to fruition or if you have to give gifts on a large-scale, you may want to check out the Urban Craft Uprising winter show, December 6th and 7th at Seattle Center. My friends and I go every year and I usually end up buying gifts for everyone on my list (and way too many for myself). Everything at UCU is handcrafted by artists and designers, most local to the Pacific Northwest. You can support the indie craft revolution happening in your own backyard!

Now if you’ll excuse me I need to unearth my hot glue gun, spray paint, and torch. It’s gift-makin’ time, and I mean business!

Heartwood 4:6 – Pushkin Hills by Sergei Dovlatov

Pushkin HIllsIn Sergei Dovlatov’s entertaining Pushkin Hills, Boris Alikhanov is a struggling writer who takes a job as a tour guide at Pushkin’s estate. The book begins with his journey there and his interactions with the other guides and cultural functionaries. He gets settled into a squalid room with a raging alcoholic known as Misha for a landlord (whose drunken babblings include some great non sequiturs and neologisms). Boris learns what he has to in order to give tours and he seems to enjoy it, despite having to put up with ignorant tourists. He stays away from offers to go out for a drink, remarking that it’s easy for him to say no to the first one but once he starts he’s like a train without brakes.

Boris has a wife, he’s semi-separated from, who wants to emigrate to America with their daughter, but he doesn’t want to leave Russia, saying it would be a disaster for an author to be removed from speakers of his native tongue. You get the idea that Boris doesn’t write much but he has managed to publish a number of pieces in literary magazines and they have caught the eyes of Soviet censors. The news of his wife’s emigration plan causes Boris to fall off the wagon in a big way, and his spontaneous candor in a phone conversation with her after she has left the country raises the question of whether or not they will ever be getting together as a family again (yet he seems like a guy whose various transgressions are frequently forgiven).

This is a stylish and snappy piece of writing that surprises the reader with unexpected turns and an episodic storyline. Dovlatov is fond of witty dialogue and of aphorisms, such as “You want justice? Relax, that fruit doesn’t grow here.” There’s something both straightforward and enigmatic in his concise sentences. He leaves you wanting more – in a good way – and he tempts you to reread him for the pleasure of his prose, in this case, capably translated by his daughter Katherine. This is a short, comic, satisfying novel that should appeal to most readers.

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Masha Gessen, writing in the New York Review of Books, says in Russia Dovlatov “went from being a writer known to very few to a household name and, finally, to the status of a classic. Dovlatov is to Russian vernacular what Casablanca and Mark Twain are to American speech.”

Just the Facts, Ma’am

Warmth of Other Suns coverThe other day I was walking out with an armload of books on CD, and Richard our audio book selector got all excited because he thought I was getting non-fiction (something he’d like to see checked out more). Shamefacedly I had to admit that it was all fiction, and that I had been slacking a bit on listening to anything factual. His enthusiasm for promoting our non-fiction audio books inspired me to put some of my selections back and browse the other shelves.

I’ve always been a big non-fiction reader, but for some reason this passion hasn’t translated well to audio books. I have a long commute and like to pass the time listening to stories. I’ve found them to be easier to listen to in the little 35 minute drives I have to do throughout the week because I don’t have to pay too close attention to make sure I’m not missing any important points. It’s also easier to pick up where I left off if I haven’t listened in a while because we’ve been using the other car; often with non-fiction audio books I have to rewind a bit to refresh my memory. The only things that combat these issues for me when listening to non-fiction books is to find ones that are written in a very narrative style and have great readers.

With that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of non-fiction audio books that I’ve listened to recently that have kept me enthralled from start to finish.

The Warmth of Other Suns: the Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, by Isabel Wilkerson (read by Robin Miles). I guess if you need a place to start, choosing a Pulitzer Prize winning book generally isn’t a bad idea. Wilkerson tells the story of the Great Migration by tracing the paths of four African-Americans who migrated north and west to escape the Jim Crow world of the South. Because the author interviewed all four individuals, the book is rich with dialogue and personal stories. Miles does an excellent job of reading Wilkerson’s work, making each individual’s personality shine through, and adding appropriate emphasis and emotion to some of the more difficult passages.

Mushroom Hunters coverThe Mushroom Hunters: On the Trail of an Underground America, by Langdon Cook (read by Kevin R. Free). Foodie, traveler, hiker, lover of the Pacific Northwest – no matter what you consider yourself to be, you’ll probably find something to enjoy about this title. Mushroom Hunters reads like investigative journalism mixed with Food Network programming (in the best way possible). Cook tells the story of his quest to learn about the secret not-always-legal world of commercial mushroom harvesting in the Pacific Northwest. I really enjoyed driving back and forth on Highway 2 as Free described the kinds of lush rainy mountains that surrounded me, and all the secret things that may be happening in them.

Detroit cover imageDetroit: an American Autopsy, by Charlie LeDuff (read by Eric Martin). This is a book that I would have loved even if Mickey Mouse was reading it, but Eric Martin’s narration took it from good to perfection for me.  Martin’s gravelly no-nonsense delivery perfectly matches the tone of LeDuff’s vignettes of the rough, hard-working, beautiful, disturbing, hopeful, and troubled City of Detroit. This book isn’t another work of ruin porn aimed at exploiting what befell Detroit after the decline of its industrial might. It’s the honest collected experiences of a journalist who has spent his entire career covering every side of a city that seems to be almost universally hated and feared by the rest of America. No predictions are made about the future. No excuses are made for the past. It’s just the facts as he saw them happen, and it’s dark, light, and magnificent.

Naked coverNaked, by David Sedaris (read by the author and his sister, comedian/actress Amy Sedaris). Ending on a lighter note, I just have to say I’m a sucker for David Sedaris in any format, but I think experiencing his writing performed by himself is always the best. Whether it be appearances on This American Life, or full-length readings of one of his many titles, you’d be hard-pressed to not be entertained. Well, at least you would be if you and I share a similar sense of humor. In Naked, Sedaris tells stories about his upbringing; considering that his family spawned two comedians, you know things had to be unorthodox.  Even though he may be describing something completely ridiculous, his sense of humor remains dry and ironic. This tone is amplified when you hear him perform his work. His readings are so well-timed and pitch perfect that it’s almost impossible to later read something of his without hearing his voice in your head.

I hope some of these recommendations inspire you to treat yourself to some of the many excellent non-fiction audio titles we have in our collections. I know I’ll continue exploring!

Spot-Lit for November 2014

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Here are some of November’s fiction releases you may want to have on your radar. Click the titles below and then the Full Display button to read summaries or reviews or to place titles on hold.

General Fiction / Literary Fiction  

Book of STrangeMermaids in ParadiseUsMap of BetrayalLet Me Be Frank with You

The Book of Strange New Things  by Michel Faber
Mermaids in Paradise  by Lydia Millet
Us  by David Nicholls
A Map of Betrayal  by Ha Jin
Let Me Be Frank with You  by Richard Ford

First Novels / Fiction

Bed of NailsPetite MortBad CountryForty DaysPreparation

Bed of Nails  by Antonin Varenne
Petite Mort  by Beatrice Hitchman
Bad Country  by C.B. McKenzie
Forty Days without Shadow  by Olivier Truc
Preparation for the Next Life  by Atticus Lish

Crime Fiction /Suspense

Burning RoomWink of an EyeKiller Next DoorMidnight PlanMurder of Harriet Krohn

The Burning Room  by Michael Connelly
Wink of an Eye  by Lynn Chandler-Willis
The Killer Next Door  by Alex Marwood
The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man  by W. Bruce Cameron
The Murder of Harriet Krohn  by Karin Fossum

SF / Fantasy / Horror

Three-BodyPeripheralDreamer's PoolRevival

The Three-Body Problem  by Cixin Liu
The Peripheral  by William Gibson
Dreamer’s Pool  by Juliet Marillier
Revival  by Stephen King

Romance

Before We FallAll Broke DownBlood MagickKraken King

Before We Fall  by Courtney Cole
All Broke Down  by Cora Carmack
Blood Magick  by Nora Roberts
The Kraken King  by Meljean Brook

 To see all on-order fiction, click here.

You Just Need a Good Book!

Recently Christin Rude from the University of Washington Bookstore came to the Everett Public Library and presented some reading recommendations to the Everett Woman’s Book Club. I have been attacking this list with fervor and have found the books to be not just good, but excellent.

index (19)The first book I picked up was non-fiction. I think we all know what we would learn if we read the book The Shallows: What the internet is Doing to Our Brains. We would find what author Nicholas Carr presents: that books and reading help to focus our minds and promote deep thoughts while the internet, with its rapid, distracted sampling of small bits and pieces, is making us good at scanning and skimming. What we are losing is our capacity for concentration, contemplation, and reflection. We don’t have time to read and even if we did, we’d be too distracted to concentrate.

That is exactly what we’d learn if we had time to read The Shallows. I know I don’t.  I’m too busy with Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, and my other online obsessions. Until I find a good book. And, you guys, I have! I have found two from Rude’s list that I’ve read more quickly than any in recent memory because they grabbed me and I was consumed with their worlds. In the interest of fighting Internet distraction, I’d like to share them with you.

index (20)Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin is fabulous. This literary murder mystery won the Gold Dagger Award in 2011 because of wonderfully drawn characters and a setting which sucks you into the world of rural Mississippi of the 1970’s. Silas was the son of a poor, single black mother, and Larry was the child of lower middle-class white parents. Despite the racial tensions of the era, they become friends until a girl goes missing after a date with Larry. She is never found and Larry lives with the suspicion of her murder for years, spending his days as a lonely mechanic and becoming known as ‘Scary Larry’ to the folks in the town. He’s a compelling character as he visits his mother daily and keeps her chickens (named after the first ladies) and home up, all the while just hoping for a friend. His boyhood friend Silas returns after many years to become the town ‘constable’ who must investigate a new murder. It turns out that Silas does know something of the long ago murder and what he has left unsaid impacts his life and that of many others. Read this book if you want an engrossing novel which you will contemplate and reflect upon for many days.

index (1)The second book I read from Rude’s list has been a runaway number one best-seller in France and is the first work translated into English by author Gregoire Delacourt. My Wish List  is the story of Jocelyne, a wife and mother living in a small French town. She runs a haberdashery and writes a successful crafting blog. Her best friends work at the hairdressers next door and dream of winning big on the Euromillions. Convinced that Jocelyne will get a taste for their lottery habit, they encourage her to buy a ticket and, amazingly, Jocelyne wins 18 million euros. Before cashing her winnings, Jocelyne begins to list her ‘desires’ which are mostly simple, everyday objects.  She ponders whether money can truly bring happiness. Should she cash the check? Or will having such a large sum of money cause more problems than it solves?

My Wish List made me contemplate just how much influence money has over our lives, not just the opportunities it can afford but also affecting how you are perceived by others and whether it is healthy to be able to afford everything you wish for. From the opening sentence to the closing message, it was a literary, yet very accessible book. Touching and heart-wrenching, My Wish List lives up to the hype surrounding it. It is a well crafted and all-consuming novel.

I am looking forward to reading more books on Rude’s list and perhaps sharing them with you. But right now, I gotta go check my Facebook page. Squirrel!

Preschoolers, Partnerships, and Plants

Do You Know Which Ones Will Grow? Ms. Leslie and preschoolers at Evergreen Branch Story Time do! Last month was especially exciting when Ranger Rick showed up at the end of story time leading 11 kids and their parents outdoors to the south side of the building. Outside the children participated in a hands on experience making stepping stones, digging and planting; parents and a few library staff also got in on the fun. The end result: a beautiful native garden was planted.

A big thank you to the Snohomish County Conservation District for their labor of love, donation of time, energy and materials and making this garden a reality. In partnership with the Everett Public Library a small urban garden was created and is now recognized as a Certified Wildlife Habitat. Perhaps more meaningful is the footprint kids from the community and their parents made while working in conjunction with the library and SCCD.

Snohomish County Conservation District is a treasure in our own back yard. The organization offers a variety of resources and support in the community. Last spring two free workshops on growing sustainable foods were held at Evergreen Branch Library. Last September, the meeting room at the Evergreen Branch library was packed for SCCD’s ‘Fall into Gardening’ series. Participant and library patron Deanna was very impressed by the workshops she attended where she learned about composting and watched a live demonstration of pruning.

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Touch a Butterfly: Wildlife Gardening for Kids is a great introduction for parents and kids who want to connect with the outdoors and gives ideas on how to create your own urban backyard garden.

Creating Rain Gardens: Capturing the Rain for Your Own Water Efficient Garden. For a mini lesson on the ecological benefits of rain gardening, obtaining a better understanding of the urban water cycle, and learning the anatomy of a rain garden, this book is for you. Written from a conservationist standpoint, readers will learn about a variety of approaches and methods as well as what works best and where to start.

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants is not about partnerships, but it does give voice to the fact that ordinary people can affect extraordinary change. This is an inspiring book that I would recommend to anyone needing a confidence booster.

Fall is here and winter on the way, now is a good a time get involved in the community or simply read up on what motivates and inspires you. Carpe Diem!

Looking for Ghosts

hauntedstuffI’ve been on the hunt for a good ghost story, not because it’s October but because ghosts scare the bejesus out of me. My friend gave me a book last week called Haunted Stuff: Demonic Dolls, Screaming Skulls and Other Creepy Collectibles by Stacey Graham. It’s not only about traditional hauntings but also about all the seemingly innocent junk around our houses that could have a dark past that is still with the object and shooting out trouble. I woke up at 3am and couldn’t go back to sleep and decided to read through this book. Big mistake, especially when I got to the chapter about a doll named Robert in Florida who likes to move around rooms and look out the windows all on his own.

That is so not cool. So not cool at all.

Ghost ships, skulls in walls that don’t stop screaming until they’re put back into the walls (because I guess there’s nothing to scream about when you’re sealed up tight in a wall), séances, this book has enough terrifying stuff to cause me a few sleepless nights. But it’s those dolls sitting on a shelf, staring and maybe moving around at night or, God no, crawling down from the shelf and touching your face while you sleep. Those were the stories that I craved. And feared. I creaved them. Yeah, I just made up a word.

roomsI wanted more ghost stories, something a little somber and less frightening than a doll moving around a room and staring out at the people in the streets. (Man, I am not going to get over that one.) I picked up Lauren Oliver’s Rooms. Ghost jackpot! In Rooms, Richard Walker dies and in swoops his estranged and EXTREMELY screwed up son, daughter and ex-wife to settle his estate. The house is already occupied by two ghosts: Alice, a house wife from WW II and Sandra, a woman who died in the house in 1987. Both ghosts watched Richard’s children grow up, lovely Minna who always seemed to have a hard edge to her and angelic Trenton.

The ghosts are disappointed to see what has become of this brother and sister in the 12 years since their parent’s divorce. Minna has become a bit of a whore although when a woman has daddy issues I don’t think you’re supposed to call her a whore when she uses sex to get what she wants. I think you’re supposed to shake your head in pity and go clean your own house. The funeral director comes over with picture samples of urns for her father’s remains and the next thing you know, bang a gong they’re getting it on. Minna’s 6 year old daughter Amy nearly catches them in the act but Minna stows the funeral director under the bed and doesn’t flinch when he calls her a crazy bitch. She moves on to the fed ex guy.

Trenton is now a pimple ridden 16-year-old who almost died a year before in a car accident. He goes to an all-boys school and is a miserable kid, more miserable than usual because he remembers almost dying and he wants to return to that feeling, of being in a warm and comforting place, a place where he doesn’t have an embarrassing nickname earned at a party. Their mom Caroline has spent years hiding in a bottle and is now a throwing-up-blood alcoholic who can’t make it past 8am without a glass of vodka. They have a whole house to get through along with a funeral. The two ghosts, Alice and Sandra watch them. Trenton is the only one who can sense them and sometimes catches them talking to one another. The ghosts have terrible secrets. In alternating chapters each tells her story full of tragedy, loneliness, and regret. But a new ghost appears out of nowhere and she can’t remember who she is or how she died.  And she tempts Trenton into killing himself so they can be together.

Like most great ghost stories, Rooms unfolds layer after layer of the past, examining wrong turns, unkindness’s and broken hearts. I don’t know if I believe in ghosts. I think we’re so chock full of energy that we leave an imprint behind, a mixed tape cassette left on repeat that keeps playing our lowest points and maybe even some of the good times.

Good news? There’s a happy ending to Rooms. Bad news? I have a weird take on what a happy ending means. Enjoy a good ghost story that won’t have you checking under the bed for evil dolls.