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1. My First Book of Chinese Words: An ABC Rhyming Book | Book Review

This unique and charming alphabet book uses rhymes and fact snippets to introduce Chinese words to a pre-schooler. The words are written in Pinyin, a sound system using Roman letters to write Chinese sounds. Words introduced are significant in Chinese culture, but relatable in any culture.

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2. London Doodles



Yes, I'm in London. Which is wonderful, especially as I'm with family, about to go on an amazing trip to celebrate my dad's 80th birthday ... yet a wee bit frustrating as well, as I'm missing two whole weeks of the e-course that I've been so thoroughly enjoying ... But yes, I am definitely counting my blessings.

I did manage to take some time off and doodle. We're having a few internet connectivity problems so I'll keep this short and sweet, and post it before I get cut off. Here's the black and white sketch:




I'm not sure if I'll be able to carry on blogging much till I get back home, but I'll be posting photos and updates over at the Floating Lemons Facebook page so pop by there if you'd like to accompany me to Istanbul ...

Have a wonderful day. Cheers.


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3. World Wide SketchCrawl in Amsterdam!

Saturday, April 19 is the 2nd World Wide Sketchcrawl of 2014. 
Are you joining?
The World Wide Sketchcrawl is a global drawing marathon, organized in many different places in the world. You can read about it, and also find out if there's a group of sketchcrawlers to join, in your area by going here: 
This way, on the same day, we can all draw 'together' during this sketchcrawl, even though we're scattered around the earth! 
This will be FUN!

I am hosting a SketchCrawl in Amsterdam, and if you happen to live in or around Amsterdam (or planning to go there), I would love for you to join me!

Saturday April 19, 2014This time, let's sketch at Westergasfabriekterrein in AmsterdamIt's a great place with nice architecture and a lot to see. I will be there at 2.30pm, in front of Espressofabriek. There we can meet and then go find a fun place to sketch and see each other's work. I'm looking forward to it!

How to get there:
-Westergasfabriekterrein: Polonceaukade 27, 1014 DA AmsterdamGet onto the westergas terrain and when you walk between the buildings, you will find a square on which the espressofabriek is.
-Tram 10Station Amsterdam Centraal: Bus 21Nachtbus 348
-Parking:Parkeergarage Westerpark (€3/uur)Van Bleiswijkstraat 81051 DG AmsterdamDe Westergasfabriek is on just a few minutes walking distance, on the other side of Haarlemmertrekvaart
-Parkeergarage Willemspoort (€0.50 per 8 minutes/ €3.75 an hour)Haarlemmer Houttuinen 5491013 GM Amsterdam
De Westergasfabriek is about 5-10 minutes walk from Haarlemmerplein
info about the location:http://www.westergasfabriek.nl/whats-on/altijd-te-doen

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4. Teen Hitchhiker’s Guide to Europe – Part Seventeen

Wilkommen in Österreich! I stopped counting after detecting thirty bites on the first arm. It had been my idea to camp deep in the forest instead of the open ground near the highway. It was a mosquito invasion so comprehensive that … Continue reading

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5. Travel Journal - 5

Is it hard to draw bikes or cars? Well, why would it be harder than drawing anything else? When I draw, I look at the shapes and the colours and try not to think about what I am actually drawing. For instance: I draw a rounded shape. Not a wheel.
The only problem you could have drawing one of these rides, is that they move. Or you are taking your time to draw a parked vehicle, and then suddenly the driver decides to take off with it!
The Tuk-Tuk driver decided to do so, but luckily a new one parked at the same spot, so I combined the two, to finish the drawing on the left page.

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6. Travel Journal - 4

Our first day in Cambodia: a day of temple complexes, many pagodas and...a LOT of tourists! I wonder if most people actually really looked around, as they were very focused on taking pictures.

I did a sketch of the Bayon temple complex, but before I could finish and/or add colours, our guide took us to the next sight seeing spot.
At the end of a day full of temples, we sat down in the centre of Siem Reap and enjoyed the city life. I made a drawing, using a purple ballpoint, and discovered that wasn't such a great idea when I added watercolours. Also, I didn't really think much ahead, when I started drawing, because I ran out of space to draw the rest of the building, where it meets the pavement. Ah well, it was fun to draw anyway:

And the 'What We Ate Today' project pages for 15 and 16 feb:

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7. Eating Dessert First

The whole idea of traveling is to learn about new places and new people.  You can buy tours where the itinerary is planned by someone else.  But for me, the best trips are the ones where I start the process that will create a trip to research a new project.  Make no mistake; it takes time and attention to plan such a trip.  This winter I made two trips to research my next book How Could We Foil a Flood?I’m particularly interested in the engineering aspect of flood control because more than forty percent of loss of life and property from natural disasters comes from flooding, and because we’ve been engineering to prevent flooding for at least 1000 years.  Most other natural disasters have had little to no engineering applied to controlling the phenomenon—we’re struggling hard enough learning how to predict them.

So the first question I ask, after reading extensively is on the subject is, who knows about this?  It is always useful to start looking for contact information though tourism or government sources.  So I made contact with the Mississippi Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) who connected me to the ACE in New Orleans, where they’re putting the finishing touches on an enormous post-Katrina resiliency post-flooding  project.  (It is no longer politically correct to call it “flood control.”) 
Lexi poses next to the new West Closure Pumping Station
--the most powerful pump in the world.
It can fill an olympic-sized swimming pool in 5 seconds.
Next, I contact the tourism people and tell them where I plan to visit and ask if I can get media rates on accommodations, freebies, etc.  Since New Orleans, a tourism mecca,  was on the itinerary, I was booked into a great hotel in the French Quarter at an affordable price.  My nineteen-year-old granddaughter, Lexi, had approached me last fall, “Please, please, please Gran, I’ve never been anywhere or seen anything.  Take me with you.”  How could I resist that gift?  My response,  “Okay, but you’ll have to work.  I need you to listen to all the interviews, take photos and videos, and keep track of all my contacts.”  And so the deal was struck.  It took a good three months to make the arrangements.
Here I am in front of some major sluices that keep the North Sea from flooding
the lowlands.  It was cold and windy with wind turbines everywhere.

The second trip I made was to the place where they know more about keeping the sea at bay than any other nation—the Netherlands.  Here, a peculiar serendipity  (not unusual for these amazing trips) played a role.  Over Thanksgiving my son had new guests—his wife’s mother’s first cousin from Scotland and her Dutch husband, Wim—were visiting from Canada. I told Wim I was planning to visit his country, so he offered the help of his brother Giovanni and his wife, Mechtild, who lived in the Hague.  Giovanni was a recently retired diplomat with time on his hands.  They stepped up and offered me a place to stay and would drive me to all my venues. In effect, they would do the job Lexi had done.  (I had been planning to take Lexi along, but she’s in her first year of college/nursing school with a heavy schedule and prioritized well.  She couldn’t take the time to come.  I’m proud of her for that.) 
I always thank the people I interview with a signed book and
an acknowledgment when the new book is published
The arrangements and schedule of what I’d see and who I’d interview was done by Arjan Braamskamp of the Dutch Consulate in NYC.  It was an amazing, exhausting and rigorous schedule.  I was wished “bon voyage” in person by Rob de Vos, the Consul General who happens to be a friend of Giovanni (talk about a small world!)
My one day to relax was two weeks before the tulips so I settled for
tiptoeing through the crocuses in the Hague.
These trips are like eating dessert first. Now comes the hard part of sifting through all the material and crafting it into something new, which will ignite the desire to learn from my readers.

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8. Travel Journal - 2

I just filled the last pages of the sketchbook in which these pages are. Great memories in this precious book.
The intention of our three week (!) vacation, was to totally relax and shake off any work stress of the past weeks, or well, let's be honest: months.
So, we took the boat to the beautiful Thai island Koh Chang. 
This Island has gorgeous beaches, but also a large area of jungle... if you ever watched 'Lost', some parts of Koh Chang look a bit like the island in the show, only without the creepy stuff.
We found a great place to stay and rented a little bungalow, at a 'lake'. Well, it was more of a big artificial ditch, but the place was gorgeous anyway, and very peaceful. As you can see in the drawing I made of it.

Oh and here's the 'what we ate today' page of that day.

When you take your time, to look around you, you will notice so many details! On Koh Chang in Thailand, my husband and I explored the Island by motorbike and found a beautiful place on the beach where we sat down for a banana-coffee shake (oh my gosh that is such a great combination!), surrounded by hipsters. 
I really enjoyed the chatter around me, the smell of fantastic Thai food, and the sound of the waves on the beach. I took my time to make this drawing. Some of the people in the drawing left before I finished drawing them, so I had to make up some bits. Doesn't really matter, as I was concentrating of the interior of the shaded pavilion.

Another lazy day: dozing off at the beach after a jungle hike...
As you can see, I started drawing my husband in the deck chair next to me, but then he went for a stroll along the surf to play his mouth harmonica, so I ended up drawing just part of him, and then the empty chair.

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9. Travel Journal - 1

Maybe you noticed. Maybe you didn't. I went away for 3 weeks in February. I know, that's already a while ago, but I haven't gotten round to post my drawings I did during this vacation, and 'digital detox'. During which I caught my breath after juggling many, many projects at the same time. 
Here on my blog, I have kept posting happily though: pre-scheduling is a life saver! So while traveling, there was no need to think about any online places, projects or work. Okay, I did check my email every now and then (because wifi appeared to be available everywhere I visited - even on far away beaches!)
So. Anyway. Even though I have been sitting on my butt for about three weeks, sipping coconut water straight from the fresh coconut, I didn't really sit still. If you know me just a little bit, you know I just can't.
Of course I took my art journal with me and drew every day. It was awesome to have so much time each day. Some days, I did elaborate drawings, other days I did more quick ones.

As the flight from Amsterdam to Bangkok takes about 13 hours, I started my first journal page while on the plane. Agreat way to spend the first hour of the long flight, before watching Last Vegas, Men in Black 3, trying to concentrate on a book, and trying to sleep.

I'll be finally scanned my journal pages to share them here. I hope you'll enjoy!

While trying to shake off the jet lag, we enjoyed the heat, a cooling iced coffee, and of course: the wonderful food! Both me and my husband love cooking (and eating), and are very eager to taste new things and learn about exotic kitchens. At home, we prepare Thai food often, but there's always more to learn! So I decided to add a little daily project to my art journal during our vacation: 'what we ate today'. This way I would document what we ate, and remember the taste of it, so we can try them out back home. Also, it would be a great way to use different techniques to illustrate food. 

Tomorrow, I'll be adding more travel journal pages.

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10. Journal Page - a Swiss trip

I went to Switzerland for the wedding of my brother-in-law. On the way back, I drew this in my sketchbook (above), with a felt pen I had bought at the airport. Ahh yes, the best way to spend waiting time is a. sketching, and b. shopping for art supplies.

On the way to our destination in Switzerland, I sketched in the train: 

We could include some sightseeing to our program while we were there, and for the drawing below, I took the time to take everything in and see the many details. Like a monk, in fact, I sat near a desk where monks used to write page after page for this library... A very impressive sight, and an almost meditative drawing:

Here's a sketch I did of the married couple, with a photo for reference

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11. Teen Hitchhiker’s Guide to Europe – Part Sixteen

My little sojourn in the hospital in Bari appeared to be just what I needed. A comfy bed, some saucy fresh pasta (once I got off the drip) and perky Italian nurses put me right back on my feet in … Continue reading

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12. Wordless Wednesday


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13. Hidden History of Portland, Oregon

As a fan of local history, I found this volume to be a fascinating and enlightening collection of vignettes on the subject of civil rights in Portland and Oregon at large. These are stories you have probably never heard — stories about the displacement, mistreatment, and murder of the native population, the isolation and domestic [...]

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14. Thou Shalt Not Curse at Missionaries

After coming home from a service trip to Swaziland a few years ago, I felt renewed, energetic and ready to go again. It wasn’t your average mission trip, we worked hard to prepare a home for abandoned infants, which is a big problem there. I loved every minute of it and started dreaming about another place to go.

You see, I like to build stuff. I’ve been doing it for years and have built almost all of the wood furniture in our house. I’ve finished rooms, our basement, and done some pretty big construction tasks over the years. I even got to build this table that now sits at the missionary house in Heart for Africa. I like to think it will be useful for a good purpose long after I am.image

I’m not the guy who is going to go door-to-door or perform street theater – but I’ll pour concrete, remove debris, or swing a hammer. It is wonderful when God marries a talent with a need and grants the ability to go somewhere to serve. When Sudan and South Sudan were splitting apart, I got burdened for the people of South Sudan and wanted to go. That got me started trolling for an opportunity and I found a cool mission group who work with an orphanage there.

I contacted a very nice lady name Rose. Several emails and a few calls later, I learned of a trip with building men like me that was perfect and I began praying about it. I emailed one last question to Rose from my iPad – “Is South Sudan a yellow fever area? Swaziland isn’t and I don’t have that sh-t.”

Whatever I typed, the glorious auto-correct feature from Apple naturally assumed I needed to discuss feces and not an inoculation. I didn’t notice until I got her response and read what I had sent. My mind went into overdrive:

Did I really send that??? To a missionary?? Why yes, yes I did!

Is there a commandment about that? Something about a special place in hell for people who cuss at missionaries?

I thought I should probably let it go, but didn’t want to be ostracized from the trip. So I sent an apology saying, “Obviously, I meant shot.”

I loved her response, “HaHa. I know, I got a snarky giggle out of it.”

Haha, indeed.

Unfortunately, the trip was cancelled due to instability in the country.  I’d still love to go there and other places to lend a hand. In the meantime, I’ll watch my words more closely and try to handle surprises that come my way with Rose’s grace and understanding.

Has God married a talent of yours with a need? I’d love to hear about it.

10 Comments on Thou Shalt Not Curse at Missionaries, last added: 3/6/2014
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15. Non-Fiction Monday: My Pop Up City Atlas by Jonathan Litton and Stephen Waterhouse

pop up atlas 1The adage “Books can take you anywhere” is beautifully exemplified by My Pop-Up City Atlas by Jonathan Litton (@JonathanLitton) and Stephen Waterhouse (@SWIllustrator), a thrilling, whistle-stop tour through 70 cities around the world.

Using pop-ups and a whole host of paper-engineering whizzery to bring to life exotically coloured urban scenes from cities both well known and surprising, this book has given us the dream ticket to travel the globe from the comfort of our sofa and duvets.


This book is no long, dry list of capital cities. In fact, it places locations together by type, creating interesting juxtapositions and taking you travelling via unexpected routes. For example you could travel London-Athens-Luxor-Xi’an-Dawson City (a historical cities tour), or Vatican City-Mecca-Varanasi-Salt Lake City (a religious cities tour). Perhaps Helsinki-San Fransico-Honolulu-Sydney-Cape Town (a coastal cities tour) is more your cup-of-tea. By grouping cities together by type the book explores answers to a question posed on its opening page, “Why do people live in cities?”, and what could have been a boring list of facts instead becomes a story with options and opportunities.

The 3-D city scapes are great fun, with lots of illustrative details partially hidden underneath and beside so that the views of the city are rich from which ever angle you look. We’ve enjoyed looking for photos which show the same city and seeing how closely the illustrations match real life; indeed I think the publishers, Templar, have missed a trick here in that they could have made this an internet-linked book (a little like many of Usborne’s non-fiction) as the facts and images have definitely left us hungry to find out more, amazed and intrigued by the facts and vistas inside this book’s covers.


“Further reading” (online or in a suggested bibligraphy) could also have provided background to the various statements throughout the book which are stripped of any (in its broadest sense) political commentary; mention is made of the Aral Sea and how it has shrunk but the causes of this change are not even hinted at. Likewise it is noted that the Dalai Lama used to live in Lhasa without any indication of why this is no longer the case. Some (adult) readers may feel it is better to leave such things out, but I believe facts work best when they are contextualised and linked to a bigger narrative – precisely why I think the themed grouping of cities works so well in this book.

A well produced, engagingly presented, and exciting book, My Pop-Up City Atlas will make young readers curious and no-doubt spark some wanderlust, quite possibly in their parents as well!

There’s an interesting interview with the book’s illustrator, Stephen Waterhouse here, on Illustration Cloud.

After reading My Pop-Up City Atlas we too wanted our own city to pop up at home and decided the best way to go about this was to use building blocks. But to give things a twist we first put our plain wooden blocks in the oven!


Once warm (about 10 minutes at 160C, starting from a cold oven), we illustrated our blocks with wax crayons, drawing windows, doors and other architectural features.


The warmth of the wooden blocks made the wax melt ever so slightly, creating a lovely feeling when colouring the blocks, and also an interesting effect with the oily wax melting slightly into the wood. Whilst the blocks were warm, it was easy to work them simply by holding them in a dishcloth. If they cooled too much in the time it took for us to decorate them, we just put them back in the oven for a couple of minutes.


Once our set of blocks was fully decorated, we laid down roads on the kitchen table, using masking tape…


And then it was time to start building architectural gems!


In no time at all an entire customised city had popped up in our kitchen. We used wooden blocks we already had (you quite often see them in charity shops), but I did order some more interesting shaped wooden pieces from Woodworks Craft Supplies (who also supply lovely wooden peg doll blanks).

Whilst decorating our blocks and building our city we listened to:

  • Istanbul (Not Constantinople) by They Might Be Giants (YouTube link)
  • Barcelona by Freddie Mercury (YouTube link)
  • Vienna by Ultravox (YouTube link)
  • London Calling by The Clash (YouTube link)
  • New York, New York by Frank Sinatra (YouTube link)
  • Viva Las Vegas by Elvis Presley (YouTube link)
  • Rotterdam or Anywhere” by The Beautiful South (YouTube link)
  • Jackson by Johnny Cash & June Carter (YouTube link)
  • Other activities which could work well alongside reading My Pop-Up City Atlas include:

  • Building your own city online. Here’s such an activity from the BBC on the Cbeebies website, whilst this site enables you to build a city and practise lots of maths skills at the same time .
  • Taking part in the Future City Competition (US only, unfortunately), a great cross-curriculum hands-on activity by the looks of it.
  • Creating an outdoor play city with bricks (here’s how we did it), creating a linocut city or paper city (here’s how we did it), or reading a range of picture books which focus on urbanisation (here’s my curated list of urban lanscapes over time in picture books).

  • What books and songs about cities do you and your family love?

    Disclosure: I received a free review copy of My Pop-Up City Atlas from the publishers.

    nonfiction.mondayEvery Monday is a celebration of all things non-fiction in the online children’s book world. If you’d like to read more reviews of children’s non-fiction books, do take a look at the dedicated children’s non-fiction blog: http://nonfictionmonday.wordpress.com/

    3 Comments on Non-Fiction Monday: My Pop Up City Atlas by Jonathan Litton and Stephen Waterhouse, last added: 3/6/2014
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    16. Around the World in Eight Posts (and Four Photos)

    The WordPress.com community is a truly global phenomenon. With bloggers spread across every corner of the world, the stories we encounter daily in the Reader give us an unfiltered snapshot of the world we share.

    Today, we offer you a free round-the-world ticket — through the personal perspectives of people with deep connections to the places that feature in their blogs. From Antarctica to Wisconsin, these eight posts and four photos will give you a taste of each locale’s uniqueness and complexity.

    Vienna, Austria. Image by Yuki Iwaoka at Picturize.

    We start our tour in San Francisco, California, where the tech boom that’s made blogs and social networks possible is also leaving entire communities struggling and forgotten. In Where No Google Buses Go, the journalist behind Pueblo Lands gives us a sobering look at the rising inequality in the prosperous Bay Area.

    Jumping to the other side of the world, Heather Mason, the blogger at 2Summersrecently led readers on a bike tour of Soweto, the South African township. As it just happened to be the weekend of Nelson Mandela’s passing, we were treated to a first-hand experience of the bittersweet celebration of the life of a national icon.

    Tacloban, Philippines. Image from A Walk with My Camera.

    Deep in the Estonian wilderness, writer Julie Riso takes us on a spellbinding hike through Europe’s largest bog in Soomaa National Park. Surrounded by nothing but mud and silence, her writing channels the ominous, strange beauty of the landscape, and her photography lets us experience this place with our own eyes.

    Sue, the blogger behind Brick House, uses humor to cope with some of the coldest weather ever recorded in her home state of Wisconsin. In Ten Advantages to Living in the Frozen Tundra, she celebrates the absence of hurricanes, spiders, and volcanoes from those frigid regions recently hit by a polar vortex.

    On the southwest coast of Africa, Namibia-based food lover Christie Keulder introduces readers to the tensions between life in a traditional culinary culture and her passion for modernist, boundary-pushing cooking. In Time for Something New, a visually striking post, she suggests that tradition and innovation can coexist, and sometimes even feed off off each other.

    Dan, a foreign kindergarten teacher in Korea, shares anecdotes at once universal and highly local on his site, Das Bloggen. Recounting his misadventures in his school’s restrooms, where privacy is minimal, we share with him a comical moment of culture shock at its most mortifying — and heartwarming.

    Street art in Santiago, Chile. Image by Bob Ramsak at piran café

    Documenting what is by now a ritualized cycle of protest and violence, the photographer at Architecture, Urbanism, and Conflict gives an unrelenting and unflinching view of everyday life in Palestine. In a recent photo essay, he follows the pre-scripted stages of a weekly violent clash between protesters and Israeli soldiers, from hurled stones to teargas canisters.

    Seemingly far away from all the world’s troubles, Antarctica seems like the final frontier of wild, uninhabited nature. On her second trip to the continent, writer Siv shares its beauty and feeling of absolute remoteness on her blog, Ever the Wayfarer. Her accounts are full of longing for a place she’s about to leave, a landscape that “gets into your soul and stays there.”

    You can discover more stories from around the world by entering the names of places that intrigue you — whether around the corner or on the other side of the planet — in the Reader’s search box. You might also consider activating Geotagging on your own blog. You’ll be helping people from your own community (and those who wish to learn about it) seek out your take on the world around you. It’s one more way to make the blogging world and the world-world come together.

    If you’re interested in keeping up with what’s abuzz in the community — from a collection of top reads to publishing news and bloggers in the spotlight — subscribe to WordPress.com Weekend Reads, which we’ll deliver right to your inbox.

    Filed under: Community, Freshly Pressed, International, WordPress.com

    10 Comments on Around the World in Eight Posts (and Four Photos), last added: 1/28/2014
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    17. Oaxaca, Mexico: Architecture

    Oaxaca street

    So, in my last post I showed you some food from our trip to Oaxaca, and here I wanted to show you a little of the town and surroundings. Excuse me if I’m a little picture happy. It was hard to choose.

    Above is a street in Oaxaca, to give you an idea of the town. This street happens to be a pedestrian only zone, though I guess bench-sitters get a pass, too. Hey, if I could sit on a comfy pink bench on this street right now, I would.

    Below is the Santo Domingo church. Georgeous. Love the landscaping out front, too.

    Santo Domingo church, Oaxaca

    And I’ve fallen hard for the church’s stone walls. The subtle color variations (and size variations, which you can see less well) are making me so, so happy. I think I’m going to have to use that colorway and grid pattern somewhere.

    Stone Block Wall

    Up next, a convent-turned-hotel. The walls are literally three feet thick. It’s a total dream. I have a thing for thick walls and courtyard gardens.

    Convent hotel

    Here and there, on the former convent walls, you’ll see little bits of painting:

    Floral border

    Wall painting

    Rose painting

    And lastly, just outside Oaxaca are the pyramids of Monte Alban. From the top, the view of the area is breathtaking.

    Monte Alban

    Monte Alban dandelions

    I’d love to show you some of the handicrafts Oaxaca is famous for, but I think I’ll have to show you after Christmas, since several that I bought are gifts for others.

    Up next, hopefully I’ll have time to post a few Christmas-themed items. I’ve been trying to be really nose-to-the-grindstone on my writing projects. Back to work for me! Be well.

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    18. Oaxaca, Mexico: Food

    Ancho Chile Relleno

    So, the secret destination I mentioned earlier was Oaxaca (say “wah-HOCK-ah”), Mexico. I love this city! I had visited once 15 years ago and always dreamed of going back.

    The capital city of the state of Oaxaca, it’s like a jewel-box deep in heart of the southern mountains of Mexico, full of stunning architecture, intricate handicrafts, and oh yes, fantastic food.

    The top photo was my first meal there, an ancho chile relleno next to plaintain mash with Oaxacan cheese. Surprisingly, it was actually a lot prettier than it was flavorful, but I enjoyed trying it anyway.

    Below are the appetizers from that night, including, from the back of the slate platter, cheese, guacamole, and chapulinas. Chapulinas are a Oaxacan specialty—roasted grasshoppers!


    Our Mexican friends told us that if you eat one, it means you get to come back to Oaxaca. It would be a lie to say they’re my favorite dish, but I was super glad I DID eat one 15 years ago. So glad, in fact, that I ate several more, hoping I will for sure get to visit again.

    Below you see chiles drying at a restaurant where we ate lunch. The set up was unusual—you walk through the kitchen area up to the roof to eat. Sadly I didn’t take pics of the wonderful chicken red mole enchiladas I had.

    Mole is a type of sauce involving many ingredients, including cocoa, which was first cultivated in ancient Mesoamerica. There are many different kinds of mole, and they’re not at all sweet, so don’t worry, it’s not at all like eating candy on your meat.

    From the rooftop of the lunch restaurant, there’s a view of the historic Santo Domingo church, and we had great seats to see a traditional wedding celebration going out of the church, complete with dancers, costumes, and these enormous puppets that lead the way to the reception.


    Lastly, here’s a photo (from the same location) of Caldo de Piedra, or “Stone Soup.” I couldn’t actually eat it, since I can’t do shellfish, but it was fascinating to watch our chef cook it, tableside.

    The rocks were heated to such a high degree that when they were placed in the bowls of raw food (shellfish and broth, veggies), the liquid immediately boiled like mad. After a few moments, the liquid cooled a bit, and the chef removed the first stones and added a second hot stone to each bowl.

    Caldo de Piedra

    If you look closely, you can see the beautiful handcarving on the bowls, which are made of what I gather is a kind of gourd.

    Delicious foods not pictured: duck tacos, Oaxacan tamales (wrapped in banana leaves), hot chocolate, and eggs smothered in fantastic sauces. Breakfast was not to be missed.

    More on Oaxaca to come. Hope you have a great weekend. It’s like 75 degrees here today. I can’t believe it’s December!

    2 Comments on Oaxaca, Mexico: Food, last added: 12/7/2013
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    19. Vintage Vacation Postcards


    Above is a little summary of our New England vacation. A little Cape, a lot of New Hampshire, including a hike through the Flume Gorge, which I had never seen before. I was tickled to find these in a little shop in Bethlehem, NH. I love when old postcards come with messages on them. The bottom one was written by someone whose vacation mirrored ours, fifty some years ago.

    I have lots to share, including some digital paintings I did while we were away. I finally finished Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. I highly recommend it, especially if you’re an introvert or have a loved one who is. There are lots of us, so you probably do! I learned a lot.

    Hubs and I enjoyed listening to Rob Lowe’s memoir Stories I Only Tell My Friends on our car trip (read by Lowe), and we’ve almost finished listening to Yes, Chef, a memoir by Marcus Samuelsson. Really fascinating and read by Samuelsson himself in his fabulous scratchy voice. His story begins in Ethiopia, then goes on to Sweden, throughout Europe, and on to New York City as he follows his dream of becoming a master chef.

    Loved this post of fun summer things to do with your kids, by Blair Stocker of wisecraft. Also, this spaghetti monsters post over at elsiemarley made me smile—it’s part cooking, part craft, and all silly fun.

    What have you been up to?

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    20. Living The Old Ways: A Q&A with Sarah Thomas, our Penguin Wayfarer

    Earlier this summer we ran a competition around Robert Macfarlane’s THE OLD WAYS for one lucky wayfarer to follow in his footsteps and win a summer trekking around the UK and blogging about their adventures. After a hard-fought battle, Sarah Thomas was crowned as our winner. Now that her journey is at the halfway mark, we thought we’d check in with her to see how she’s finding the experience so far (and to find out more about her adventures, visit ajourneyonfoot.com, where she’s chronicling the whole thing).

    A journey on foot begins

    Penguin: You’re no stranger to wayfaring – what’s made this trip different from your past experiences?

    Sarah: Indeed I'm not. In fact, of all the jobs I've done in my life, this has been the one that has fit me the most perfectly, as all I had to do was be myself. I suppose the key difference was having to come up with something to say almost daily on the blog. That entailed thinking about situations as potential blog posts, rather than just living them then some weeks down the line perhaps blogging about them, as I had previously done. I was much more aware of the need to document in photos, note taking etc. Sometimes it focuses your vision on a situation, and sometimes it detracts from the experience, but with practice you strike a balance. I have been open about these dilemmas on the blog, as I feel it is very much part of my experience.

    I have been travelling since I was seventeen. I went on a Duke of Edinburgh trip to the Nepalese Himalaya, and broke off from the group to go to India because I was rather lovestruck by a friend who was living there. I was a naive traveller then, but it was a quick and steep learning curve, and I was so in love with the spontaneity and freedom that that kind of travel offered. Anything seemed possible, and that has been an influential turning point in my life.

    Of course I didn't exactly have a standard upbringing. Born in a commuter village in Buckinghamshire, when I'd just turned 11, my dad moved us to Kenya as he'd been asked to start an office there. You'd think, knowing me now, that that would have been exciting to me, but I hated it at first. It all happened rather suddenly, and at that age you are just beginning to form a sense of self, so the upheaval was unwelcome.

    Kenya was politically unstable at the time, and I watched riots from our hotel window where we lived for 2 months while finding a house. I remember one occasion when, after eating the school dinners at my new school, I got very ill. I was getting medicine at a pharmacy in downtown Nairobi when our taxi driver ran in and said, "We have to go! They're throwing tear gas outside".

    Of course, that wasn't pleasant, but as time passed in Africa I began to enjoy the excitement and slight frisson of risk that was everywhere (and IS everywhere really), and the incredible kindness that is also there if you are open to it. We had the most fantastic geography field trips in primary school - caving inside volcanoes, cycling across the Rift Valley. We learned to cook on the campfire for the whole class, and were told to watch out for buffaloes when we went to pee in the night. Sadly this is such a far cry from the way the majority of children are raised nowadays.

    Those experiences have made me who I am. I cannot put it better than Edward Acland, one of the characters I have featured on the Wayfarer blog, who said to me one day as I was leaving his mill, "Take risks....I could say 'Take care' but you won't learn anything by taking care". 

    Since then I have travelled all over the place - Africa, India, SE Asia, Europe, America - always on a shoestring, and always without much of a plan. I don't see the point in them. If you have lived in Africa for a while you come to learn they do not work out anyway. What this role has offered me is the opportunity to travel my own country in that same risk taking, spontaneous way, which I have only ever done in a van, and not for such a prolonged period. I only wish it was longer! It has been an absolute delight to get to know an old friend again, having spent a lot of my life abroad, in Kenya, travelling, and more recently living in Iceland.

    What do you think you’ve gained from exploring primarily on foot? What did you come across that you wouldn’t have done if you’d been doing it the tourist-style way - driving to a specific location and walking from there?


    I think the overwhelming sentiment is how connected I have felt with what is around me. When you are travelling on foot, you are not covering that much distance, relatively speaking, so the trace of your trail has the chance to be taken into somebody else's path. Somewhere down the road you meet and they say, "Oh yes, I've heard about you". Or, more abstractly, different threads of stories I have come across have the chance to come around again and cross over.

    If I were travelling in any fast moving piece of metal, I would have to rely more on media rather than my physical presence, to let my tale be known. I have found it a very effective form of 'social networking' (once upon a time known as talking to people) to talk to people. I have walked around with a sign with the website and twitter handle swinging from my backpack, and been giving out business cards on mountain tops, in pubs, by streams, to whoever I meet really. Of course it is great to extend the reach of my immediate orbit through Twitter and such, but it is immensely satisfying when you actually meet those you have met on Twitter. They become part of my story and I part of theirs.

    Also, of course, the silence of walking allows you to get very close to animals. On a dawn walk recently I saw hares, red deer, and a golden eagle (this is still in question but I was very close and the video zoom that I captured it with is not), not to mention the ubiquitous sheep. If you are lucky and quiet, you can dwell with them awhile, listening to the sound of their breathing, their grazing. Feeling you are sharing in part of the same matter.

    Being the summer it has been, it has been an abundantly sensory experience to be on foot. The scents of the blossoms, the possibility when on welcoming terrain to take off my boots and feel the wet moss underfoot. Hearing the bees, the dragonflies, the damselflies and the clegs, go about their summer busy-ness. And this warm summer wind of my face - what pleasure!

    And of course not having much of a plan and being totally open has enabled me to meet people from all manner of paths exactly because I wasn't looking for them. One thing really does lead to another, and I am at the point now where some story threads are coming full circle, with almost uncanny regularity. Knowing you are going to base yourself in a place for a while, also means you will want to get to know who and what is around there - the people as much as the trees and the mountains - so I think I am more open to striking up conversations than I might be in a regular 'tourist' situation, but I don't know, because this sort of IS the way I usually travel.

    Something important that struck me when I came back to stay in a house and the radio was on, was that I hadn't listened to the news in about two weeks. I had no idea what was going on in the world apart from what I had passed through, and I was blissfully happy. The news seemed intensely negative. I'm not saying it's good to be ignorant, but I do think there's something to be said for protecting yourself from the media for a while and seeing your world for what it IS also; right there in front of you." 

    Any “what the hell am I doing?!” moments when everything’s seemingly gone wrong?

    Not yet actually, though I am ready for it! I haven't particularly liked getting drenched through, but I ended up in a barn and getting a ride out of the situation the next day, so I can't claim to have suffered! Oh well actually, thinking about it, I suppose when I was perched at the edge of that REALLY steep slope of badly eroded scree looking for the Langdale Axe factory and someone shouted, "What are you doing? Be careful!" I thought maybe it was time to accept that the objective of that walk was something different to what I imagined. But nothing really went wrong and I know other people have managed to find it so I didn't see it as such a big deal. I just didn't like the idea of slipping at such an angle, and alone. 

    Anything distinctly unwayfarer-ish that you’ve found yourself missing? 

    Sorry if this is boring, but not at all. I find in Britain you never seem to be that far away from anything. But regardless, for me when it's out of sight, it's out of mind. If anything, I've wished to get away from things a bit more than I have. I have been very happy on this journey, and I find when you are deeply content, you don't need much else at all. You even eat much less. That said, I did tuck in to a massive steak at the Old Dungeon Ghyll, when I came down - heat exhausted - from my failed search for the Langdale Axe factory!

    Walking alone vs. walking with people can be very different experiences – how have you mostly split your time and which do you mostly prefer?

    Walking with others

    I'm not sure really. I suppose I have been mostly alone and yet it doesn't feel like I have. On my initial walks around Lancaster I was joined by friends. I was joined by a friend again recently for my visit to The Quiet Site on Ullswater (one of the competition sponsors). She is equally open and spontaneous and decided to stay on to join me for what was possibly the highlight of my adventure so far - a remote valley on the East side of Ullswater where we got caught in a thunderstorm and taken in by a barrister from Newcastle who happened to have a holiday home there and let us sleep in his barn! We didn't know we were going there until we were. The Quiet Site manager had said "You can't not have ANY plan!!!". Then he told me about this valley with the oldest red deer herd in Britain. I said, "Thank you. Now I have a plan".

    When walking with someone it is important that they allow me the space still to go into myself, and I am lucky to have some people in my life that do this. My husband is one of these rare friends and that is one of the many reasons I married him. But I suppose on this journey I have preferred to walk alone, then re-converge with company at camp to share tales. That is my ideal scenario. Having said that, I really enjoy travelling with my husband but he is far away!

    I remember when I won the competition, my mum said "I don't want you to get lonely", to which I responded, "I'm sure I won't, but even if I did, wouldn't that just be part of it? I don't want to protect myself from it." Loneliness, or solitude, isn't necessarily a negative experience. It allows you to tune in to yourself, and your place in the world. It is alright to feel small. We are small after all. And believe me, after 2 years living pretty much on the Arctic Circle, I know all about feeling small and isolated. Though I am drawn to wild places like Iceland and the Outer Hebrides, on this journey I have noticed I have gone for places where people are working and walking the land. I am in a phase where I do want connection with people, signs of human habitation, and the occasional fair or festival. But I want connection with people who are connected to their landscapes. Humans are part of the landscape after all.

    How do you think a wayfaring lifestyle or approach to the world can be adopted by people who are (for the most part) stuck living in cities?

    Nobody is 'stuck' living in cities, and I think that is part of the problem with the mentality that cities impose upon you. They are closed systems that, for a large part, think of the rest of Britain as 'the countryside' to which you escape some weekends, and from where some of the produce you eat originates. I hate to make generalisations but I experienced this first hand when I lived in London for two years. There is so much going on that you can end up suddenly realising you haven't left the city for months. I think it is very important to get into natural spaces regularly to allow your mind to breathe, but you really need to build it into your life. It won't happen by itself. Even if it is just going to a park regularly and really BEING in it - not just jogging through it. That is a start.

    That said, city wandering is a wonderful thing to do of an evening, or at the weekend. Living in Iceland I came across the term 'ovissaferd' which literally translates as 'an unknown journey'. This is where you just head out without any particular destination in mind, and see what happens. I think it's a particularly exciting thing to do in cities, but the openness that comes with that approach must also be nurtured, otherwise it could just feel a lot like a Red Herring! Get talking to people, unpeel the veil, notice the small things. Start by forming an apprenticeship with your neighbourhood, then take it from there.

    I lived in Walworth, notorious for its estates and not particularly attractive high street. But I loved it. By approaching it as I would any other journey, I got to know the Turkish people running the local 24hr grocers, who walked me home if I felt over-laden, or unsafe, at any time of day or night. I ended up filming a lantern procession on my way home from work one winter's night for a charitable organisation, as they saw I had a video camera on me. I found a hammam in Europe's only Kazakhstani hotel along the Walworth Road. I found Roger Hiorn's stunning 'Seizure' installation, having walked past an otherwise unpromising council flat block, noticing lots of people walking around wearing wellies. And every Sunday I went to the most amazing flea market which used to be on Westmoreland Road. (In a twist of fate, Westmoreland is where I am now writing this, and wish to make my home). It had all sorts of characters, and all manner of objects from all over the world. Flea markets are the stories of the neighbourhood laid out on the street.

    Really the journey is not the physical one. It is a transformation that occurs in you, and that can happen within a hundred metre radius.

    What do you plan to do when you’re done? Have your travels this summer given you any inspiration for future projects or journeys?


    It has been very good for me to practice writing on a regular basis and build up networks of people I am interested in, and they in me. I have really appreciated the feedback I've been getting and to be able to talk to Robert Macfarlane has been a particular privilege. It feels like taking to an old friend.

    Having lived in Iceland for 2 years up until a year ago, I have a mountain of experience and story I would like to put into word, image and film, and have been slowly and steadily working on that. This project has given me the focus and clarity to really get my teeth into it though (ironically as I have not been working on it at all this summer). As they say, "The hardest part is starting". Having this time to immerse myself in Britain has given me the necessary distance I needed from my experience in Iceland to be able to make something out of it.

    I have started editing a documentary I shot about a sheep farmer-poet who lives in a remote corner of Northwest Iceland, and has no family to help with the yearly sheep gathering (they roam free all summer). My Icelandic in-laws and their family used to help but they are getting old and no longer have their own sheep to gather, so it is uncertain how he will manage from now on. Every year since 1985 he has written a poem about the year's gathering and my film is structured around one he wrote which is an overview of the mishaps across the years. It is a meditation on the hardships, and the poetry, in the everyday.

    As we all know, funding for the slow quiet things in life is scarce, but I hope through this project to have built up more of a network who might support and spread word of this kind of venture, and I might give crowd funding a go, as I think the small quiet voices need to be heard.

    Sarah Thomas is the Penguin Wayfarer. Follow her travels on http://www.ajourneyonfoot.com and Twitter (@journeysinbtwn).

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    21. Nomad Soul :)

     Hola amigos!

    I've been a long time silent; I apologise.  Since my last post in June(ish) I've been happily homeless in a non-serious-honestly-I'm-not-going-to-die way, & mainly doing Epic Shit.  At the moment I'm being an au pair in Somerset, but in the next few weeks I'll be moving again, either Devon to live with some donkeys, or to Bath to work in a youth hostel.  I'm putting together a project that should pull all my chaos together but for the moment I'm working on illio work as a nomad soul, which is very liberating.  Still open for business, just you never know what you'll hear in the background when you give me a call ;D

    Here are a few bits & bobs I've been playing with since I left anyway.  Being around kids makes drawing them much easier.

    Oh, this is Prolombious, I made him with an eight year old & a lot of scrap wool.  He's a magical wooly mammoth who happens to be an excellent singer, but trips over his very long trunk a lot.  This unfortunately damages his singing ability a little, so we're trying to figure out a better long-term solution for this than just tying a bow in the end of his nose.

    :) xxx

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    22. On Our Way Tomorrow

    By the time you read this, we will be on our way to Galicia, Spain, to the village and the people that have stolen our hearts. It's a long trip. But stay tuned. I'll be posting about our new ventures soon.

    7 Comments on On Our Way Tomorrow, last added: 9/15/2013
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    23. The Affair at the Inn

    The Affair at the Inn is unusual in two ways: first, it’s a collaborative novel that isn’t a trainwreck. The four main characters are written by four different writers, and I didn’t finish the book with a sense that the writers hated each other, or that the plot at the end was hastily patched together from the ruins of what it was originally meant to be. Second, it’s sort of Williamsonian (alternating points of view, traveling American heiress, Scottish baronet with an automobile) but without anyone traveling incognito. Nothing else about it was unusual, but almost everything about it was very nice.

    The four characters and their authors are as follows: Virginia Pomeroy, written by Kate Douglas Wiggin, is the American heiress, traveling around the UK with her invalid mother. Virginia is kind of a flirt, and does her best to attract the only man in the vicinity, Sir Archibald Maxwell Mackenzie. He’s written by Allan McAulay, and is a bit of a woman hater, although Virgina quickly starts to thaw him out. The other two point of view characters are Mrs. MacGill, a hypochondriac widow, and her companion Cecilia Evesham, written, respectively, by sisters Mary and Jane Findlater. I actually found the book while looking for something else by Jane Findlater.

    Basically, the book is what you would expect. Mrs. MacGill tries, ineffectually, to obstruct the romance between Virginia and Sir Archibald. Cecilia tries to forward it, but she’s not really needed — Virginia and Sir Archibald do fine on their own.

    I liked The Affair at the Inn, but I wanted it to be a little more substantial. Nothing that didn’t bear directly on the central romance was fleshed out at all — everything else was loose ends. Still, I didn’t feel the lack of anything while I was reading it, and if The Affair at the Inn has no ambitions to be anything but fluff — and if it does a pretty good job at that — then I shouldn’t ask for it to be anything more either.

    Tagged: 1900s, allan mcaulay, epistolary, janefindlater, katedouglassmithwiggin, maryfindlater, romance, travel

    4 Comments on The Affair at the Inn, last added: 9/11/2013
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    24. Heaven Is Paved with Oreos: Catherine Gilbert Murdock

    Book: Heaven Is Paved with Oreos
    Author: Catherine Gilbert Murdock
    Pages: 208
    Age Range: 10-14

    I loved, loved, loved Catherine Gilbert Murdock's books about D.J. Schwenk (Dairy Queen, The Off Season, and Front and Center). So when I heard that Murdock had written a book called Heaven is Paved with Oreos, for a slightly younger audience, I scooped it up. I didn't even realize until reading a review at Book Nut last week that this new book is set in the Schwenk universe. What a lovely and unexpected gift!

    Heaven is Paved with Oreos is told in journal fashion from the viewpoint of Sarah Zorn, best friend and science partner of D.J.'s younger brother, Curtis. It's the summer before freshman year, and Sarah and Curtis are pretending to be boyfriend and girlfriend, so that people will stop asking them if they are boyfriend and girlfriend. But Sarah is a bit concerned about another girl from their class who appears to want to be Curtis' real girlfriend, making Sarah self-conscious about, say, going to Curtis' baseball games. Meanwhile, Sarah's grandmother, who everyone calls Z, invites Sarah to accompany her on a week-long pilgrimage to Rome. The trip turns out to be a bit more than Sarah bargained for, but it certainly contributes to her emotional growth over the course of the summer.

    So, basically Heaven is Paved with Oreos is a coming of age story, a book about family, and a book about taking baby steps towards boy-girl relationships. It falls to the upper end of middle grade, I think, given the 14-year-old narrator, and a storyline involving the father of Z's illegitimate child, born some 45 years earlier. But it is absolutely perfect for middle school-age readers, I think. 

    I fear that some fans of the Dairy Queen books will be a bit disappointed by Heaven is Paved with Oreos, because the content is a bit less mature. But personally, I was happy to be spending time back in D.J.'s universe, however I got there. I found myself reading Heaven is Paved with Oreos slowly, because I was just so happy to be spending time with the characters. D.J. is a character in this book, someone Sarah looks up to and gets advice from. But Murdock is quite clear throughout that this is Sarah's story. It's not necessary to have read the Dairy Queen books to read this one, though it undoubtedly enhances appreciation of the book.

    One thing that I especially liked about Heaven is Paved with Oreos is how Murdock handles the journal style storyline. She tells you, briefly and without taking you out of the story, where Sarah is when she's writing each journal entry. There's an entry, then she goes somewhere and writes there, then she goes home and writes there, and so on. This lends an immediacy to the narration that works well. One might think to question whether a fourteen-year-old girl would really sit in a cafe in Rome writing in her journal. But Sarah is a strong enough character to totally pull it off. 

    I LOVE that Sarah is interested in science. That's the source of the bond between Sarah and Curtis, a mutual fascination with physical science (studying animal skeletons, and so on). She's also just ... secure in who she is. She has things she is working on, sure, but she's happy to eat nothing but vanilla ice cream, for instance, and work on projects that other people think are disgusting. Here are a couple of snippets, to give you a feel for Sarah's voice:

    "I wanted to be sympathetic -- Paul looked so upset -- but I could not help being reasonable. Reasonableness is a byproduct of a scientific mind." (Page 11-12)

    Oh, I would have been friends with Sarah when I was fourteen. And this:

    "Lady Z does not eat anything made with wheat. She says the hardest part was giving up Oreos, but they are made with wheat flour, so even though they are absolutely delicious and perfect, they're out. If I ever stopped eating wheat, I would make a rule that I could only be 99% wheatless. The last 1% I would leave for Oreos." (Page 16).

    Curtis is, well, Curtis. For a character who says hardly anything, he still feels completely himself. Like this: 

    "I nodded. Curtis stared at the floor, but that is not unusual for him." (Page 26). 

    Lady Z is more complex. I like that though she's larger-than-life (not at all a regular grandma), she's also clearly flawed. Part of Sarah's growing up throughout the book involves coming to terms with the fact that you can love someone even if they aren't perfect. As Z is not. 

    Fans of Murdock's books about D.J. Schwenk will definitely want to give Heaven is Paved with Oreos a look. I loved it, and plan to keep my copy for when Baby Bookworm is older. There are spoilers for the Dairy Queen books, so even though this newest book is appropriate for a somewhat younger audience, readers unfamiliar with the series may want to wait to read the Dairy Queen books first. I think that the whole series is wonderful. 

    Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (@HMHBooks)
    Publication Date: September 3, 2013
    Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

    FTC Required Disclosure:

    This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

    © 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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    25. “Only grownups would say boots were for keeping feet dry…”


    During my visit to Portland last week, my friend Ron took me to several Beverly Clearly sites he knew I’d want to see. Didn’t have to travel far to Klickitat Street, and found a geocache there, which delighted me (and, when I got home and told them, my children). We drove by Beverly Cleary’s childhood home, and the nearby elementary school which now bears her name. Between them was a busy intersection where I imagined Henry Huggins performing his stalwart crossing-guard duties.

    Then we wandered over to Grant Park, where the statues are.









    Poor Beezus! No statue!

    There’s a geocache nearby named after the statues, but we couldn’t find it, despite a diligent hunt. I guess I’ll have to leave it to my kids when I take them to this site someday.

    Karen E., naturally I thought of you and your Ramona the whole time. Perhaps our next family meetup should be in the Portland? :)

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