mommy&melibraryeslstudentlibraryI was six. I was in first grade, my sister was in third. We’d been tagging along with my Dad on some errands in Charlotte and, I guess, as a treat, were rewarded with a trip to the city’s glistening main public library. Here was the Emerald City of libraries. Outside was a fountain that stretched the length of the building, water toppling down the marble steps like a Slinky. Inside were four stories of open, light-flooded space, a cheerful children’s section complete with squishy bean bags and reading nooks. This was not our 1970s suburban library with the shag carpet and crumbling paint. I remember my trepidation penning my name on the back of my white and burgundy card, carving out the letters like initials in tree bark, afraid, perhaps, that someone would notice my first grader’s penmanship and bar me from this most adult of activities. No one ever did, thank God.

Do you know, though, I had to think for a minute before that story came back to me? I almost didn’t remember getting my first library card. I remember the ones that came later. In high school, feeling very unbalanced about the fact that I’d lost my card some years before and driving myself to the nearest library to renew it. In a new city, walking into town, filling out an application, getting a cup of coffee afterwards. There’re all really mundane memories. It’s actually a pretty mundane activity, when you think of it. At least for those of us who grew up with public libraries and parents who valued them.

mommy&melibrarianeslstudentslibraryrefugeestudentlibrarycardrefugeestudentslibrarycardsThese days I teach English to a group of refugee women at an intergenerational family literacy school. The women I teach live in a town where over 60 languages are spoken in the 1.2 mile radius that forms the city center. They live in crowded apartment complexes with neighbors from Africa, the Middle East and Asia. They decorate their walls with posters of tropical paradises. This particular class — almost all of them Burmese from the Chin province, though there are others from South Sudan, Eritrea, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo — are all adventurous gardeners. They grow pumpkins, burmese eggplants, green beans, and chillies in the medians and along chain link fences in their apartment complexes. They eat chillies like potato chips and laugh at me when I explain that most Americans only cook with a few cloves of garlic at a time — they cook with them by the bulb. They walk to school two days a week, pushing their children in second-hand strollers or carrying them in slings on their backs. They sing Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes with their children at the end of the school day and mispronounce the words “kitchen” and “chicken” with regularity. They crack themselves up every time. They swirl thanaka on their children’s cheeks and smile mischievously when I ask them what it is, why they do it. When they are not at school, they spend their days perpetually in waiting rooms, at the doctor’s office, at the Georgia Department of Human Services, at the DMV, at the chicken plant. What are they waiting for? Interpreters, mostly. A lull. Someone with time. Back home they were weavers, teachers, and farmers. Many of them lived most of their lives in refugee camps in countries not their own. The ones who remember, talk about the forest, the river, the roses.
IMG_5651 IMG_5653 IMG_5652 mommy&mereadingThe other day we went to the library for the first time as a class. These are not provincials — they’ve been to a library before (we have a small one at our school that they use every week). And they’re not completely newly arrived to the United States, either — they’ve been here for fewer than five years. So they know about libraries. Do they use them? No, probably not. Possibly because, well, where do you begin? Having lived in the States we know librarians as a whole don’t bite, that they love to help you find things. Burmese refugees don’t know that.

I’m wondering: do librarians ever phase out of that stage where they seem to genuinely enjoy talking about awesome kid’s books? Does that excitement ever die? It’s actually adorable to watch.

I won’t say adorable, but do you know what else is spectacular to see? An adult getting her first library card. Also, seeing a group of ESL learners demolish an entire shelf of the coveted Picture Dictionaries. Picture Dictionaries that don’t cost $25 like teacher keeps telling them. This time they’re Free.

Mind. Blown.

We need a new way of storing our books. Luke is all for contributing them to these, but… eh… I dunno. Would they be loved?

In any case, they’re piling up.

If I’m completely honest, the fireplace method would suit my organization style best — just shove it in and go. But alas, I haven’t a fireplace.

(Found these on Pinterest, along with so many more good ideas.)

cumberlandislandWe’re officially into my favorite season now and, make no mistake, the pumpkin-scented blog posts will soon start inundating your inboxes. But before I get carried away with homemade chai recipes and cold weather book recommendations, I thought we could all enjoy the last rays of fading summer sunlight together. It was a good one, no?

st marys georgiaIMG_5395 IMG_5393cumberlandislandbeachIMG_5420 IMG_5446 IMG_5457 IMG_5504 IMG_5524We bid farewell to the season with a high humidity camping trip to Cumberland Island. Similar to Assateague Island, which we visited a couple summers ago, Cumberland boasts wild horses and a complex coastal ecosystem. Unlike Assateague, Cumberland is pedestrian only. During the day, the place looks like any other popular (if somewhat out of the way) southern natural attraction. It’s after 4:00 when the last ferry chugs away with the last group of day visitors, that you realize you’re the only one walking on the beach and have been for the last mile, and, why yes, those are wild scuppernongs hanging on that low hanging branch along the trail you’re hiking. No other hikers saw them, because no other hikers have been on the trail that day. IMG_5555 IMG_5479

Unlike books or food, I am less carefree about buying new clothes. There, I hesitate. In my book? They’re a luxury. I do try to shop at second hand stores most of the time and generally feel less bad about spending money on clothes then (though I still only do it rarely), but sometimes you just really want that pretty new thing. Of course, this time of year I find myself thinking like my school and college-aged self: a new outfit for a new school year — wouldn’t that look nice? Tax free weekend doesn’t help the situation. Neither do cute, Frenchy frocks. Add to the equation that this August I am starting a new job, and it would be so very nice to add some color to my wardrobe that is currently black and white attire as per the dress code of past jobs. You can hear the internal monologue I’ve been having here of late.

But a dress is not a book. Sure, it’s the cost of a few books and I’ll wear it for a few years. But I could also spend that money on other things. Books and breakfast, for example. And this time of year also has me thinking about new books, too. To put in my new backpack, naturally.

So it’s a conundrum, really. New books or a new frock? One is clearly a necessity and the other is, to me, a major luxury. Of course, every so often, if you’re frugal, I see no reason not to indulge. That’s what this series is all about, right?

Tell me. What is your feeling about splurging on a little luxury every so often? What are your splurges?

Speaking of books, would you like to win one? The giveaway for Gone Girl is going on until 5pm today. Make sure to enter and good luck!

gone girl hardback IMG_5228I’m pleased to announce that I’ll be doing my first ever book giveaway for one lucky For the Love of Bookshop reader. And the book is … Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn! If you haven’t already been swept away with Flynnvy, let me just tell you: Gone Girl is a sneaky, page-turner of a psychological thriller that some are calling the book of 2012. Flynn immerses the reader instantly into an intriguing missing person plot — Amy Dunne vanishes from her home on the morning of her fifth wedding anniversary and all fingers are pointing to husband, Nick. The only problem? Nick is one of our narrator’s and he swears he’s innocent. Told in two different voices — Nick’s in the present and Amy’s from seven years of past journal entries (all disturbingly sentimental despite the years of marital hardship they describe) — we piece together a picture of a young couple whose relationship goes awry when both lose their journalism jobs in New York and are forced to move back to North Carthidge, Missouri to take care of Nick’s ailing parents. Neither narrator is particularly trustworthy, both being adapt storytellers and, you soon discover, expert liars. So whose version of the story is correct? And in any case, where’s Amy?

Flynn is the master of trickery, throwing in new twists and turns just when you think you’ve figured out what’s going on. With unpredictable characters, the reader’s task isn’t just to guess whodunnit; that’s the easy part. The real task is understanding how and why, and unraveling the complex psychological case studies that make up the Dunne family. It’s a ride, y’all, and perfect for a summer read.

If you’d like a chance to own my hardback, good-as-new copy that I’ve owned for exactly one week (because it’s that good!) please leave a comment below with an email address and the name of your favorite indie bookstore. Since this is my first giveaway and I want to include as many readers as possible, I’m making it open to anyone in the US, Canada or Europe. I hope to continue these book giveaways as a way to show my appreciation to you, my wonderful readers, and because, selfishly, I’d love to talk to you about the books I’m reading.

IMG_5232I will choose a winner on Friday, August 9. Until then, Gone Girl will sit on my shelf looking at you all with big puppy dog eyes (“Someone wants to take me home?”). Good luck and happy reading!

BTFPoster0809WEB2SM papersculpture EJExplainingTechniqueCan I confess something?

I suck at math. Growing up I was never the least bit interested in it, which didn’t bode well for me ever being good at it. Blame it on the school system for never (or not soon enough) furnishing us with energetic math teachers, or blame it on my right brain propensity for words, images and stories. Or just blame it on me giving up way too early. The fact is, I don’t remember a single time I ever enjoyed math class. I even remember not being all that wowed at those interactive kids museums that all the other kids seemed to love. You know the ones where they had exhibitions that tried to show math in action, math in real life? You know, the ones that tried to show how math could be fun? If anything, they made me more suspicious. “I see what you’re trying to do here. You’re trying to make math fun. Well it won’t work because I know better.” That generally was and, I’m sorry to admit, is my attitude toward math.

Until last night. (Actually, that’s a bit dramatic. My attitude hasn’t changed that drastically, but it has changed a little.)

Poor Luke. As the maths guy in our small family, he often has bursts of intellectual discovery of the mathematical variety and is just brimming over afterwards wanting to describe it to me. But unfortunately, as soon as that kind of talk enters the room, my survival instincts kick in and I shut down. Try as I might to stay with him — attempt to ask some intelligent question or some such — before long my eyes glaze over and I withdraw. So it was really quite brave of him to suggest we watch a documentary about origami last night, which he admitted, would probably have a math angle. And if I do say so myself, it was really rather brave of me to concede to watching it.

Origami really is pretty mathy when you come down to it. And yet, I find that it’s a visual representation of geometry and physics that’s distracting and disarming enough that you can talk to me about mathematical theories and I don’t want to run out of the room. I’m so distracted by the process and the final product, that I’m not thinking “math is bad, math is evil.” I’m just admiring this crinkly, light-flooded piece of paper and marveling at the life of the character that has emerged from its folds.

In the documentary Between the Folds, writer Vanessa Gould interviews some of the most brilliant artists and theorists (yes, that exists) in the origami community, all of whom seem to have multiple degrees in physics or math. They all get going in their equations and dimensions speak, but, they are definitely artists and their creative energy is palpable. I can latch onto that. I get that.

What do you think: Have you seen this documentary? Have you ever tried your hand at origami? I highly recommend Between the Folds, if you find yourself in the mood for documentary-watcing. Knowledge or interest of complicated math not required. You can watch the trailer below.

IMG_5200 IMG_5213 IMG_5176 IMG_5169 IMG_5166 sweetwater park eharwood IMG_5216 IMG_5218 IMG_5156sweetwater park eharwoodComing up to our two year anniversary in the Atlanta area, it seemed only proper to finally visit the park that so many of our green-seeking friends rave about on the regular. For good reason, as it turns out. Luke and I periodically crave the outdoors — as in, always — but living in the city you can feel miles away from them. Mostly because you are, though not always. But then, occasionally you remember that Stone Mountain is literally just down the road, and oh by the way, so is Sweetwater Creek State Park. And so you tootle on down the road, make your donation to Georgia’s conservation efforts and you let the white noise of the river clear your fuzzy brain. You admire the dappled river light glowing through the skeleton of an antebellum mill (burnt down the same time as Atlanta). You watch a heron for far too long expecting to see it do something clever like catch a fish. You walk along a shady river-flanked path and agree it would be the perfect place to read Huckleberry Finn. The perfect backdrop. And wasn’t it smart of your husband to pack it? But in the end, you’re too distracted with newts and turtles and herons and there’s so much to see, to soak in before it’s time to return to the city. And speaking of, you are getting hungry. So you promise yourselves to come back the next week and find out where that other trail leads, and then to come back another time after that and rent a canoe for a couple hours. When it’s cooler. Forty minutes later, you’re back in some hip neighborhood drinking craft beer and munching on heirloom veggies dipped in cheese fondue. Served on a slate, naturally. There are perks to the city life.

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