Spare Time

There's a lot of downtime in the life of a Peace Corps VolunteerTo keep myself from fits of boredom, I try to diversify my activities and entertainment.  Below is a list of what I do when there's nothing else to do.  It's a fluid list and will grow and change as the months pass.

Crafty Things
I've always found a lot of joy in letting my creative juices flow and making things by hand.  It's good to know that my muse followed me to Africa.  Here are some of the things I've made in my spare time:
  • November 2010, I received a care package from my folks and in it was a silk fall leaf garland.  I converted it into a costume for our Regional House Thanksgiving party.  We were told to come dressed as would be appropriate for the first Thanksgiving.  Okay, so I may have stretched the meaning of "appropriate" a bit ;-)
  • December 2010, I had fun with fabric, scissors, and glue.  I made cards and a cool pencil cup (using a Pringle's can).

  • January 2011, I finally finished knitting a pair of socks I've been working on for over a year.

  • February 2011, I embroidered napkins while waiting for lunch and made Valentine's treats for my students.

  • March 2011, I made a Turkish knitted market bag from a pattern and yarn that my friend Heather P sent me.

  • April 2011, I knitted a pair of Panorama stitch socks with yarn I brought from home.

  • May 2011, I altered a cheap back pack I bought in the market using some leftover fabric scraps.

  • August 2011, I knitted the "Damn Scarf' from yarn and a pattern that my knitting girlfriends (Ann, Maggie, Lisa, and Linda) back home sent me.

  • Sept 2011, I finished knitting a pair of socks that I started over the summer.

  • November 2011, I knitted a sparkly scarf and a pair of beer bottle cap earrings as going-away presents for my host mom, Khady.
  • December 2011, I knitted a beehive hat for the "cool season" (ha!), a scarf for Ibou for Christmas, and a chunky scarf for me from some wide cotton yarn I found in the market.

  • January 2012, I added one more pillow case to my growing collection of hand-sewn pillow cases (the large one also has matching sheets that I made from fabric I bought in the market, the multi-colored one is made from a pant leg I cut off, and the monkeys are made from a t-shirt my mom sent me that was too small.)

  • February 2012, After my Mega Month of project work in January, my creative side needed a little boost, so I let I let my muse run free and filled my free time with crafty projects.
    • Using objects I found on my path into town (tile, desert glass, and wire), I made some pretty cool jewelry, if I do say so myself.
    • Inspired by DIY projects I found on Pinterest, I cut up a t-shirt and made it oh-so-much-cuter.  Hey, look, it matches that pair of tile earrings!
    • Jerry, the visiting beekeeper, left me his travel-sized water color paint set, so I painted my first water color still life in probably 35 years.  Hmm, maybe I should practice a bit more?
    • After coveting a sweater in a knitting magazine my friend Krista sent me last year, I finally ordered the yarn my friend Heather Rae included it in a care package.  The result was perfect!  LOVE, love, love my new sweater, although it will soon be too hot to wear it.
    • I "hair-wrapped" my headphone cords with some leftover yarn to keep them from tangling.
    • I upcycled a cotton shirt that I was bored with into a cute little shrug.
    • Made macrame bangles on a practice run for my next Girls Club meeting
    • I crafted wall art made from cut up and painted toilet paper rolls (I'm particularly fond of this one, as are the many birds and bees that have come to visit it).
    • With the leftover toilet paper roll, I made a sweet little match cup for my porch.
    • Somebody STOP ME!!!!


  • March 2012 - This month inspired me to make a creepy President Wade collage, take another stab at watercolor, and perfect the sock bun and next-day sock bun waves (never under-estimate the effects of a good hair day, especially when living in Africa).



  • May 2012 - Lots of fun with acrylics this month

The morning air is often cool enough to inspire a little exercise.  I've been trying to do a 20-min Yoga podcast or a a little "bootie camp" workout session in the morning after I enjoy my coffee and  petit-déjeuner.  Some days I'm more successful at this than others.

Other times, I kick back and listen to NPR podcasts or some of the playlists I've made on my iPod OR I work one of the many Sudoku or Crossword puzzles that my cousin Susan saves up for me.


I read a lot.  In fact, I've never read so much in my life. Here are a list of the books I've read so far:
    My homemade bookshelf
  1. The Girl Who Played With Fire, by Stieg Larsson.  The 2nd book in the captivating Swedish Millennium trilogy.  I must admit that these dramatic mysteries are hard to put down.
  1. Little Bee, by Chris Cleave.  An interesting novel about a young Nigerian girl who flees from her country and finds herself seeking shelter in the home of an Englishwoman she barely knows but who are bonded by a life-altering event.  Both women find special meaning in their new-found friendship.
  2. A Long Way Home:  Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, by Ishmeal Beah.  This is a haunting true story of a young boy from Sierra Leone who is separated from his family and forced to serve in a rebel army to save his lifeAfter years spent torturing and killing, he is rescued by UNICEF, rehabilitated, and later served as Sierra Leone's representative to speak to the United Nations on the problems of children in war torn countries.  A heavy, but good read.
  3. The Corrections, by Jonathan Franzen.  After seeing the fifth copy of this book floating around Peace Corps lending libraries, I decided to pick it up.  This dense novel details the lives of a dysfunctional mid-West family whose mother yearns to bring her self-involved adult children back together for one last Christmas before she and her ailing husband are forced to leave their home.  Witty, authentic, and well-written.
  4. Mennonite in a Black Dress, by Rhoda Janzen.  Having spent the last three years involved with Old Order Mennonite farmers, I couldn't resist grabbing this book when I saw it.  It's written by a Mennonite woman who was raised in a conservative household but then broke away to live a more modern adult life.  After her husband leaves her for "a guy named Bob he met on" and she gets injured in a car accident, she takes a sabbatical from her job as a professor to convalesce for three months with her still-conservative, still-Mennonite parents and shares the experience with much humor and grace.
  5. The Theory of Everything - The Origin and Fate of the Universe, by Stephen W. Hawking.  Desperate for something to read when I was in my training village, I picked up this book and now know everything there is to know about Black Holes, The Big Bang, String Theory, etc--NOT, but at least I kind of get the gist of it, which is more than I could say before.
  6. The Food of Love, by Anthony Capella.  A quirky little love triangle set in modern day Rome involving two best friends, a chef and a waiter, and the American exchange student with whom they are both enamored.  Mouth-watering descriptions of Italian and Roman foods but the story itself was a little predictable.
  7.  Pipsqueak, by Brian Wiprud.  A whacky mystery involving a missing TV-idol squirrel puppet, named Pipsqueak the Nutty Nut, a taxidermy collector, named Garth Carson, and a murderous gang of Retro-Rockabilly-types that want to take over the world.  An entertaining read, to say the least.
  8. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon.  This book was sent to me in a care package by my friend Linda.  This novel is cleverly and insightfully narrated by Christopher Boone, a 15 year old boy with Asperger's Syndrom living with his dad in the a small town in England.  Until he found his neighbor's dog murdered, he had spent his days comfortably engaged in the daily routines that made his life ordered.  Now he's obsessed wtih trying to solve the mystery of the dog's murder and finds himself continually crossing inappropriate social boundaries in pursuit of the truth.  It's narration reminded me of another book I enjoyed, Steve Martin's Pleasure of My Company.
  9. Garden Spells, by Sarah Addison Allen.  This book was sent to me in a care package by my friend Krista.  A magical tale of two sisters who find themselves back in each others lives after 10 years.  Their differences tore them apart a decade before but now serve as a basis for their renewed friendship and love.
  10. Defying Gravity, A Celebration of Late-Blooming Women, by Prill Boyle.  Written by a good friend of my friend Tamara, this book had been on my "must read" list for years.  Then one day, when browsing the lending library bookshelves in Dakar, there is was staring at me.  It's an amazing collection of stories of women who've made significant changes in their lives after the age of 40, including the author herself.  Prill and I are now FB friends and I'm pleased to report that she's now the host of a public-access TV interview program called "Ageless."
  11. Lunenburg, by Keith Baker.  A decent mystery novel that unearths a 30-year old murder in a small Nova Scotian town.  
  12. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, by Stieg Larsson.  The last of the Millenium books and although admittedly not the best of the three, still kept me turning pages until late in the night.  Looking forward to seeing these last two books on screen.
  13. Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, by David Sedaris.  A laugh out loud collection of dysfunctional family memoirs.  I've listened to David Sedaris on American Public Radio's "This American Life" for years and he was equally entertaining in print.
  14. As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner.  "My mother is a fish."  So, finally, I can quote Faulkner.  His colloquial stream-of-consciousness style was hard to grasp at times, but I'm glad I stuck with it.
  15. Sleep with the Fishes, by Brian M. Wiprud. A quirky crime novel set in a small town where fishing, eating at the local diner, and making porn videos are the most exciting things to happen until an ex-mobster decides to restart his life there after being released from prison.
  16. A Soft Place to Land, by Susan Rebecca White.  This book was sent to me in a care package by my cousin, Susan.  It explores the relationship of two half-sisters who were very close when they were young, but were separated after the unexpected death of their parents, each sent to live with relatives on opposite coasts.  Their relationship is tested not only by distance, but by differences that were made more apparent the longer they stayed apart.  I appreciated the character development in this novel and girls' stories kept me captivated.
  17. Wishful Drinking, by Carrie Fisher.  A tell-tale account of an addict/manic-depressive actor/writer growing up in the shadow of two famous parents.  This memoir is written after undergoing Electroconvulsive Therapy. (ECT) in an attempt to regain some of her lost memories.  A funny fast read, but not well-written.
  18. Running With Scisscors, by Augusten Burroughs.  Wow!--and I thought my formative years were rife with turmoil.  This guys takes the cake.  At the age of 13 after living in an unstable home, young Augusten is sent to live with his crazy mom's crazy psychiatrist and his equally eccentric family.  He  takes on a homosexual lover 20 years his senior who just so happens to also be a patient of his new guardian and no one seems to bat an eye, as the people around them are all caught up in their own drama and "the doctor" believes in the power of free-will.  A strangely addicting page-turner.
  19. A Remarkable Mother, by Jimmy Carter.  President Carter's memoir about his strong-willed and outspoken mother who served as a Peace Corps Volunteer at the age of 70 and charmed many world leaders, Hollywood stars, and even Popes, with her folksiness and her gift of gab.  After Carter's inaugural speech, she was asked by reporters, "Miss Lillian, aren't you proud of your son?", to which she replied, "Which one?"  She was a feisty one, that's for sure.
  20. Stones for Ibarra, by Harriet Doerr.  This book's author won the 1985 National Book Award for First Fiction at the age of 75.  The story takes place in the 1960s and follows the relocation of a young married couple from urban California to a tiny village in the hills of Mexico, where they set out to reopen a copper mine that was once owned and then abandoned by the husband's grandfather. The story focuses on the wife, who learns Spanish from the local nuns and about her new surroundings through the elaborate tales of her neighbors.  Although they'd intended for this relocation to be permanent, this couple finds themselves counting down the years, then months, then days until the husband succumbs to a fatal illness. 
  21. Nine Hills to Nambokaha: Two Years in the Heart of an African Village, by Sarah Erdman, RPCV (Ivory Coast).  Although this memoir was written by a Health Volunteer who served in another country over a decade before me, the stories she tells and the people she describes are so similar to what I am experiencing here now.  West African culture knows no boundaries and time has not changed it much.  I found that reading this book, that so closely described what I am seeing and feeling right now, did not provide me with the mental escape that I usually enjoy when opening a book here.  I would highly recommend this book for anyone who is interested in what life as a Peace Corps Volunteer in West Africa is really like.
  22.  Cutting For Stone, by Abraham Verghese.  As I told the friend that sent this book to me, "Cutting For Stone was the best of all of the 20+ books I've read since I've been here.  It was dense with character and emotion, history and happenstance. It took me three days to read the last 50 pages because I didn't want it to end. I was amazed at how similar Ethiopia is to Senegal. Colonized by different European countries and being on the opposite side of the continent surely caused some major differences in culture and climate, but the underlying atmosphere was much the same. I wish I had stopped to write them down when I came across descriptions of things that could have been occurring outside my door as I read them." 
  23. Starting Over, by Robin Pilcher (Rosamund's son).  A light novel my mom left behind that tells the story of a Scottish farm family that's struggling along a path of loss and heartache but seems to find new friends and new possibilities along the way.  Once in a while, the mind just needs some fluff.  Thanks, Mom.
  24. Wench, by Dolen Perkins-Valdez.  An interesting look at the pre-Civil War relationships between female slaves and the masters whom they serve.  The main setting of this novel is an actual summer resort in the free state of Ohio, Tawawa House, where Southern slave masters came with their female slave mistresses to enjoy a holiday away from their plantations and, in some cases, their wives.  Intermingling with free blacks and with whites who disapprove of slavery opens the eyes of some of the slaves who have never known anything but the Southern way of life.  It also opens the eyes of the readers to the true nature of some of these master-mistress relationships.  It reminded me of a book I read a few years ago, Kindred, by Octavia Butler, where a modern African American woman periodically, and with no notice, journeys back to a Southern plantation through time travel, thus disrupting, endangering, and altering her current life forever.  Thanks for sending this one along, Kathy.
  25. The Winter of Our Discontent, by John Steinbeck. This book just confirmed why I love Steinbeck so much.  His characters are so rich and complex.  I don't know how this book escaped me before.  Certainly a classic worthy of another look, if you haven't done so already.
  26. This Time I Dance! Creating the work you love, by Tama J. Kieves.  An inspirational guide book for people re-evaluating their career paths and exploring their inner passions.  This book was sent to me by my friend Melanie with whom I've shared a similar journey.
  27. Hardball, by Sara Paretsky.  My Dad read this V.I. Warshawski private detective novel while he was visiting and left it for me to read.  A true page-turner.
  28. The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho.  A truly inspirational story of a young man in search of his "treasure."  Well written and translated into languages around the world, this book became an international phenomenon.  If you haven't already read it, you should add it to your list.  Thanks for sending it, Kathy.
  29. Solo, On Her Own Adventure, edited by Susan Fox Rogers.  A collection of 23 essays depicting women's experiences traveling alone in the outdoors, discovering new places and new levels of emotional freedom.  Being out here, on my own, this was a fun read.  These women were way more athletic than me, however, so it also made me feel a little inactive--but have I mentioned, it's HOT here.
  30. The Memory Keeper's Daughter, by Kim Edwards.  A sad tale of the unraveling of a family after the unexpected birth of a child with Down's Syndrome in the early 60s.  One rash decision leads to a lifetime of secrets, lies, and longing, overshadowing the happiness that could have been.
  31. The Sugar Queen, by Sarah Addison Allen.  A delightful second novel by the author of Garden Spells (found earlier on this list) that binds three women from a small mountain resort town in an unusual and magical way.  Allen's characters are enchanting and whimsical.  I could see her work easily turn into movies that would be fun to watch.  Both of her books were recommended and sent to me by friends.  Thanks, Linda, for this one.
  32. To Timbuktu: A Journey Down the Niger, by Mark Jenkins. The story of 4 American men who take off on kayaks in search of the long-sought source of the  Niger River.  Along the way, they realize that they're each on the journey for very separate reasons, eventually leading them on divergent paths.  The story is well-crafted and Jenkins intersperses memories of an earlier trip, as well as historical details of others who have attempted to understand this part of the world.  Because they traveled so close to where I'm currently living, I enjoyed the familiar descriptions of the people and the culture these men encountered along the way.  Thanks for sharing this story, Jeremy.
  33. Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett.  This novel details the events of an elegant dinner party in an unnamed South American country that was overtaken by rebels in an attempt to kidnap the president.  As the terrorists deal with a stand-off with the government, the hostages, most of whom did not know each other before the party, begin to form unlikely relationships with each other and with their captors.  Patchett's descriptive style lends itself well to the waiting that overshadows this book.  I'd definitely pick up another of her novels.
  34. On the Road, Jack Kerouac.  A classic story that, until now, I'd never actually read from start to finish. This zany group of friends that traversed the country in the late 1940s, while trying to define their roles in post-war America shed light on time and place for me.  Some of their travel woes almost made the experiences of travelling through Senegal seem commonplace--almost.  In truth, the writing style that gave voice to the beat generation got tiresome by the end, but I was glad I stuck with it.
  35. Nature Girl, by Carl Hiiason.  It's always a pleasure to read Hiiason.  His quirky Floridian characters never fail to be interesting, humorous, and likable, even if some of them are creeps.  This novel takes place in the Everglades and the story is centered around a somewhat wacky single mom who's so fed up with telemarketers who call during the dinner hour, that she formulates a plan to get back at one of them.  The people she loves unknowingly get caught up in her mischief and she meets a few other misfits along the way.
  36. The English Patient, by Michael Ondaatje.  As with most books that are turned into movies, there is a lot more depth to this story when it's read as originally written, although the writing style is a bit dream-like.  The four main characters are flitting in and out of their own realities while cohabitating in an abandoned villa in the hills of Italy at the end of World War II; two zoned out on morphine, one overwhelmed by grief, and the last preoccupied with his mind-numbing work.  In their own time and in their own way this mismatched group who finds themselves together open up to one another, exposing their vulnerabilities and their capacity for love.
  37. Every Last One, by Anna Quindlen.  Having only ever read Quindlen's "Last Word" column in "Newsweek", I really didn't know what I was in for when I picked up this novel.  What I found was a well-written account of a middle class mother of three whose life seemed pretty normal for the first half of the book.  Until then, the character development kept me engaged, but it was far from a page-turner.  Then, a shocking event occurs literally at the mid-point of the book, which makes everything leading up the then purposeful and necessary.  I spent the rest of the book fighting back tears and not wanting to put it down.  Certainly worth picking up, especially if you're in need of a good cry.
  38. Travels, by Michael Crighton.  A collection of autobiographical tales written by the author, producer, director, screenwriter, and Harvard-trained physician, as he 'traveled' through adulthood.  These personal stories covered his decision to leave the field of medicine, his success as a writer, his travels around the globe, and his curiosity with the mystic world.
  39. Liberating Paris, by Linda Bloodworth Thomason.  The novel explores the lives of six childhood friends who find themselves now middle-aged and faced with the issues that test their devotion to one another.  Residents of Paris, Arkansas, they struggle to maintain their small town values while maintaining grace under pressure.  Before writing this novel, Thomason wrote "Designing Women" and "Evening Shade".  This book is being made into a movie with Michelle Pfieffer, Billy Bob Thornton, and Dwight Yoakam.
  40. Burnt Shadows, by Kamila Shamsie.  A haunting tale of two families whose lives are bound by war, friendship, language, and redemption.  This novel begins on a fateful day in Nagasaki at the end of WWII and ends in New York City in the aftermath of 9/11.  The story that ties one event to the other is what binds these two families through generations and the many rich characters who make up this story weave in and out of each other's lives throughout decades and across borders, forming relationships that are worthy of sacrifice.  I'd highly recommend this book.
  41. Made to Stick, by Dan Heath & Chip Heath.  Written by two brothers (a university professor and an publishing entrepreneur), this book provides the layman with a guide on how to make ideas "stick."  They explore the common factors that make things like urban myths and brilliant marketing campaigns stick in our heads.  They lay out a model for how to recognize and recreate the formula for making your ideas (your message, or your proposal) "stick."
  42. Flower Children, by Maxine Swann.  As I read this book about a group of kids growing up in the 70's with divorced hippie parents, it continually conjured up images of my own childhood and those of my friends.  Not that my parents were divorced or hippies, for that matter, but there were certainly those parents who were among our friends and acquaintances.  The setting was familiar and the time evoked many memories.  Not the most well-written book I've read in the past year, but certainly entertaining.
  43. Atonement, by Ian McEwan.  Even though I'd seen the movie when it came out, I still wanted to read this book because the book is always better than the movie.  Plus, I forgot how it ended (a benefit of the aging process.)  A well-crafted novel that follows a family whose relationships are forever changed by the youngest daughter's wild imagination.  Soon after, war engulfs society and the lives of everyone around them change even more.  By the end of the book, the young Briony, now an old woman, still seeks atonement for her sin but knows that it will never come in her lifetime.
  44. The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde.  Gotta read a classic every once in a while.  This was a fun read--and such a slice of another world.  This man-centric tale seems almost a parody of itself at times.  If you've never read it, it's a quick read and worthy of your attention.
  45. Immortality, by Milan Kundera.  Wow, this book was hard to get through.  I loved Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being, but this novel took his ethereal writing style to the extreme.  It jumped all over the place and was difficult to find the thread that bound it together, although, that thread, immortality, was the premise behind the whole book.  I wouldn't recommend this one.
  46. Day After Midnight, by Anita Diamant.  Having listened to Diamant's The Red Tent on tape some years ago, I was looking forward to reading this book.  Diamant  continues to focus on women and the relationships they build with one another when sequestered for one reason or another.  Based on a true story, a group of Jewish women find themselves in an English-run interment camp for illegal immigrants in the newly formed Israel after WWII.  Before arriving, they'd all experienced their own personal nightmares of survival and now find themselves stuck in no-man's land awaiting their next fate. An interesting tale that shed light on a part of history that evaded my attention until now.
  47. The Testament, by John Grisham. Truth be told, it's been a while since I picked up a Grisham book, but was pleased that I did.  The perfect light reading for a weekend at the beach.  Half of this novel takes place in the expansive wetlands of the Pantanal between Brazil and Bolivia, a part of the world I haven't given much thought to and it features an American missionary whose native lifestyle is not too far from the one I'm currently living.  Of course, it also has its fill of corrupt lawyers and a battle with the unfairness of the justice system, but then again, that's what makes it a Grisham novel, right?
  48. Rosie, by Anne Lamott.  Wow, I've never related to so many characters all in one book.  A moving story about a mother and daughter growing up together and taking life one day at a time.  These two face difficult situations with grace and humor and learn along the way how to make family out of friends.   When I found out there are two sequels to this book, I immediately asked my book-junkie friend Linda to send them to me.  Can't wait to see what life brings for these two and the folks they've welcomed into their lives.
  49. Lapham's Quarterly, Vol IV, #1, Winter 2011, Edited by Lewis H. Lapham.  A beautiful publication that includes poems, essays, short stories, photographs, and pictures of artwork all with a theme.  This edition was entitled "Celebrity" and each piece examines the effects of celebrity on individuals or society as a whole.  A lovely quarterly sent to me by my friend Kathy.
  50. Naked Pictures of Famous People, by Jon Stewart.  An amusing collection of fictional essays about celebrities throughout the centuries by the Daily Show's, Jon Stewart.   A true glimpse into the absurd way this man's mind works.
  51. Dark Star Safari, by Paul Theroux.  A tell-it-like-it-really-is travelogue of this celebrated author's (he also wrote Mosquito Coast and The Great Railway Bazaar) overland trip from Cairo to Capetown forty years after he served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malawi.  Although this journey took place in the eastern part of Africa, many of his experiences have been shared by me and my friends here in the west.  This book was dense and hard to get into at first, but I'm glad I stuck with it.  Theroux's writing is in-depth and well-researched, and although he seems a bit cynical about the state of affairs of development efforts in East Africa, he's probably not too far off the mark with many of his observations. 
  52. Crooked Little Heart, by Anne Lamott.  After having connected with the character's in Lamott's, Rosie, my friend Linda sent me this sequel (and the next).  Rosie's family, who she describes as "one you might pick up at a yard sale", continues to love and support her even when she feels she's least deserving of it.  Adolescence and competitive tennis play a main role in this novel, as do secrets and betrayal.  A well-crafted story that continues to develop the characters that so charmed me in the first novel.  I look forward to reading the last of this Rosie trilogy.
  53. Blood, Bones, and Butter, by Gabrielle Hamilton.  I love this book on so many levels.  Hamilton's writing is gutsy and truthful.  I've known the tiresome body-aching schedule that comes with working in the food industry.  Her travelogues took me back to many places I've been and her descriptions of food and hunger had me yearning for things that are unavailable to me here.  I related to her sugar-lows, her desire to hold onto a family that wasn't hers, her love/hate relationship with mosquito coils, and so many other delightful details she shared in this memoir.  I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants a peek inside the life of a woman, who by determination and hard-work alone, lifted herself out of a difficult youth and became a poly-faced success.
  54. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver.  Sticking with a food theme, I finally read this book all the way through, having initially tried to read this while I was knee deep (elbow,really) in the local foods scene.  Sometimes you just can't read about things while you're in the midst of them and a little perspective goes a long way.  Kingsolver did a great job of keeping it real, I thought, as she and her family recounted their journey through one year eating locally. If you haven't read this, I recommend it and now is a good time of year to start it.
  55. Imperfect Birds, by Anne Lamott.  This is the last of Lamott's novels about young Rosie and the people that love and surround her.  Rosie evolves from the star adolescent athlete she was in Crooked Little Heart to a challenging and troubled youth in this third book.  Her mother and step-father's relationship continues to grow, at times like a strangler fig, around this child who is the center of their world.  Strong and painful sentiments in this last story.  Tough love is never easy.
  56. Dog Day,  by Alicia-Gimenez- Bartlett.  My friend John sent me this book in a recent care package.  It takes place in Barcelona so it was fun to read about some of the neighborhoods I visited last year.  Gimenez-Bartlett's police detective, Petra Delicado, reminded me a bit of Patricia Cornwall's Kay Scarpetta with a European twist.  As the title suggests, there are a lot of dogs involved in this case which made it a fun read for me.  I miss my dogs!
  57. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott.  For a write up of this book, see my 4/30 blog posting entitled, "Sweaty Angel by Sweaty Angel".  Okay, I'll get off my Anne Lamott kick now.
  58. Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, by Dai Sijie.  I was glad to find out after reading this book that they'd made a movie about it because, as I read it, I kept thinking, "I would love to see this on the screen."   The story follows two teenage boys who are sent off  to be "re-educated" in a mountain village  during Chairman Mao's Cultural Revolution.  There they find friendship in a young seamstress and salvation in a stash of hidden books, both of which have a profound effect on their lives.  This is Sijie's first novel and is somewhat auto-biographical.
  59. The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach.  This book was recommended (and sent) to me by a friend and I have to say that once I picked it up, it was hard to put down, despite it's hefty weight.  Set in a small liberal arts college in Wisconsin, the story revolves around several key characters: the school's president, his prodigal daughter, and several members of the Westish baseball team.  This seemingly odd mix of characters, who are joined together through the unlikely mix of baseball and Melville, love and hurt each other like only true family can.  Harbach is a graduate of both UVA and Harvard and this, his first novel, has been well-received by critics.  If you haven't read this already, I'd recommend adding it to your summer reading list.
  60. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, by Anne Fadiman.  My friend and fellow-PCV, Albert Vang, recommended this anthropological account of the Hmong people and the cultural clashes that occurred when large numbers of this ethnic group resettled in the Central Valley of California.  Albert belongs to one of the clans mentioned in this book and  his family journeyed from Laos, to Vietnam, and then to France, before settling in the states.  Although he spent most of his youth in the California and Minnesota, he didn't become a U.S. citizen until shortly before applying for the Peace Corps. Other cultures fascinate me, which is part of the reason that I'm here in Senegal.  This story about the Hmong and their struggles to integrate really captured my attention, especially in light of the fact that I was experiencing similar cultural integration difficulties while reading it.  I'd highly recommend this book to anyone who is curious about the world.  You will look at the people around you in a brand new light.