Checking In About Checking Out

March 9, 2012 Photography Friday 2

I wish I could tell you this post was brought to you by the Minneapolis/St Paul airport wireless.  Unfortunately, the airport doesn’t have free wireless so this post will actually be brought to you later tonight by my refusal to pay money for wireless internet.  I’m sure I’m just horribly spoiled by being a college student for so long, but I simply believe wireless should be free.  Given that many restaurant chains are now offering free wi-fi, it really seems like a large airport should be able to afford to do the same!

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Container Gardening in the 635’s

March 4, 2012 Nature, non-fiction 2

Finally, a book review!  Just for those of you who are new and were beginning to believe I don’t actually do those 😛  In fact, today I have several short book reviews for you, as I spent last week slowly absorbing information from a variety of books on container gardening.

The book I started with was Container Gardening for the Midwest, one of many books at my library which has caused me to be pleasantly surprised by the ability of even a small library to collect lots of region specific books.  This book followed a layout typical of the books I read, starting with general information about container gardening.  This included the benefits of different pot materials, different design elements (color pairing, shape, etc), how to plant your garden, and how to care for your garden.  Following the general care section was a section on specific plants.  Unfortunately, for gardening I think location north/south matters at least as much as what region of the US you’re in, so there was still some generality to this section.  I don’t think it’s fair to blame the book for that though when the only way to improve that would be an even more specific focus.  In fact, the plant specific section in this book was one of my favorites, because it had great pictures for every plant and I prefer to pick plants by appearance before determining whether or not I can really grow them.  I think it was a good book to start with, since it didn’t provide overwhelming details, and the long, picture-filled plant section made it the book I used most to make a to-be-shortened list of plants I might like to include in my own balcony garden. Read more »


Photography Friday

March 3, 2012 Photography Friday 0

My first belated photography Friday.  I suppose it had to happen eventually, but surprisingly it’s not because I didn’t get out and take pictures but because I was out all day.  First, working on my third lab rotation (fighting with other people’s code and not enjoying working with protein structures) and then re-plating some e coli that died to finish up my second lab rotation and finally taking some prospective students out to play pool and drink some beer.  It was a long day!  So when I finally got home around one and finished playing with my cat to make up for being gone all day, I just didn’t have the energy left for a post!  However, today I have for you a picture of the cute snake someone keeps in the plant pathology building as well as a few touched up pictures from a sailing trip with the boy this past summer.


Monday Musings

February 27, 2012 Monday Musings 6

This week the Monday Musings question is the following: Do you read books that are part of a series?  Do you collect all the books in the series before starting? What if the series is brand new, and the only book that’s been published so far is Book one? As subsequent books in the series are published, do you go back and re-read the preceding books?

I read a lot of books that are part of a series, although I honestly don’t pay much attention to whether or not a book is part of a series when I’m first deciding to pick it up.  If a book is in a series and  it’s a book I don’t like, I don’t need to read the rest and if I do like it, so much the better 🙂  But I do always, always, always make sure I have a complete series checked out of the library when I start the first book.  There’s very little I find more frustrating than wanting to start the next book and not being able to get it!  At the same time, if the next book is just not published yet, I’ll still read the first book.  I don’t like it when the book turns out to be a cliff-hanger, but I don’t mind waiting for the next book to come out.  In fact, one of my favorites series to read is The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan and I re-read all of the books every time a new one comes out.  The same with the Harry Potter books when I was younger.  It’s just fun to become more familiar with the series, re-meet characters you loved, and get to follow their story a little bit further.

Feel free to answer the Monday Musing question yourself, either in the comments here or on the blog of the memes host, Should Be Reading.


Really Great Bookends – Part II

February 26, 2012 Fiction, Historical Fiction 13

This week I read two non-project books which were so good, I thought they each deserved their on post.  You can read about the first one here.

Current Fiction Readings

As I’ve spent more time wandering the library, I find more and more books that I’ve heard a lot about and which I can’t believe I haven’t read yet.  The Help was one of these books and based on the waiting list after me, I was lucky to stumble on a copy!  And I must say, along with the Percy Jackson series, this book is a convincing argument in favor of listening to all the hype some books get.  I loved this book.  In fact, my first thought when I finished it was that I just didn’t have words to describe how much I loved this book.  Since then, I’ve been pondering what to say about it and there are two specific features which I think contribute to the success of this book.

First, the author does an incredible job of telling the story from three different perspectives, accents and all.  At different times you almost believe a matronly black woman, a spunky young black woman, or a shy young white woman is sitting down next to you telling her story.  (For those of you who avoided the hype, this is a book about three women trying to enact change in a racist community during the period of Jim Crow laws, so my identification of the women’s races is both pertinent to the plot and important because of the great job the author does capturing the accents of the two black women.)

The second really great thing about this book was the subject, because more than a book about the process of desegregation, this was a book about people.  A book about human nature.  A book about people bravely coming together to do something good.  I’m almost scared to watch the movie, I just have trouble imagining it living up to the book!  I think I might rent it some times this week though (as the waiting list at the library is almost 100 people long!) and I’ll let you know how it goes if I do.


The Help – 5 stars – Awesome!  The characters felt very real and the story was incredibly moving.  Listen to the hype.  Read it.

Other Review:

  • The Mind of Tanitha – “I loved this book. I loved the way it took me to a different country, a different time…”


Really Great Bookends – Part I

February 25, 2012 Nature, non-fiction 7

This week I have read two really great books, one non-fiction and one fiction, and I felt like they both deserved their own post.  So today, I’ll be posting my review of my non-fiction book and you can check back tomorrow for my fiction read. (Update: now available here)

Non-Project Non-Fiction

This morning, I finished reading The Eye of the Elephant, one of the extra books I picked up in the 639’s.  Although I occasionally think about the fact that I could be doing this until I die if I pick up multiple books for every number, I don’t think that would be so bad, especially if my digressions always lead to such great books!  As the subtitle says, this was truly “An Epic Adventure in the African Wilderness.”  This story of Mark and Delia Owens’ efforts to save the elephants and other wildlife in a Zambian natural park was without a dull moment.  In the first few chapters, Mark had gotten lost in the dessert and both authors had encountered a cobra and a pride of lions.  The book continues with awe-inspiring encounters with wildlife and more frightening encounters with poachers.

Despite the action-packed nature of the book, both authors found time to describe the natural beauty and majestic animals surrounding them.  Their love for nature made these poetic descriptions incredibly moving.  Each chapter in the book was written by either Mark or Delia and I suspect their editor deserves a ton of credit because their distinct personalities come through without ever disrupting the flow of their narrative.

Even though the point of a book like this is to raise awareness of a problem, I really appreciated that they wrote the book at a point where most parts of the story have a happy ending.  While it’s definitely important to alert people to the plight of endangered animals, you get too close to specific animals they describe to deal well with an unhappy ending.  The struggle they face with corrupt officials is also incredibly frustrating, so it was nice to see that things were moving in the right direction at the end of the book.

Alison at The Cheap Reader was just discussing the pros and cons of having a happy ending, and I mostly thought about this in terms of YA books, where I favor happy endings because I like to feel happy after reading a book.  In the case of a book like this, I was still glad of a happy ending, but for a different reason.  I hate for a book discussing a big problem I care about to end unresolved because I don’t feel like I can do anything about it.  Unlike A Spring Without Bees which discusses a problem everyone can contribute to from their own bee-friendly, pesticide-free garden, poaching is not a problem I feel equipped to deal with.  But I think part of the message of this book is that that’s not true – it is possible for very few people to have a huge impact.  In that spirit, I’ve donated to The Owens Foundation already, to do my little bit for conservation, and I hope you’ll consider doing the same for them or for any other cause you care deeply about.  Even as poor college students, we can spare a little 🙂


The Eye of the Elephant  – 5 stars – Great, action packed story with a positive message about conservation and the difference a few people can make.


Photography Friday

February 24, 2012 Photography Friday 0

Although my post is quite late in the day, I actually took this picture very early this morning.  I got to campus shortly after 9 (alright, very early for me :-P) and everything was beautiful, sparkly and coated in snow.  I’ve been thinking about trying to get a nice silhouette of these plants for a while and as soon as I saw how pretty the campus was, I knew this was the day.  I wasn’t a huge fan of the lens flare I ended up with, but the pictures without just didn’t do justice to the snow on the plants.


Iowa Bird Watching

February 23, 2012 Nature, non-fiction 3

As I mentioned in my Monday Musings, I’ve already started to have birds show up on my balcony!  In hopes of attracting more I’ve decided to prioritize getting a feeder up, although I don’t know if it will get much use until I have some plants out there to provide shelter for more cautious birds.  This week’s book, Iowa Bird Watching, was a great introductory resource for a beginning Iowa bird-watcher or for someone like me who is mostly hoping to watch birds from home.  The book includes lists of the best places to go birding and of the top ten must-see birds in Iowa.  In addition, there are beautiful pictures provided for the 100 most common birds in Iowa.  The sections I found most helpful were the bits on what to feed different birds and a list of bird-friendly plants. Read more »


Monday Musings

February 20, 2012 Monday Musings 3

This week the Monday Musings question is the following: What is the last book that you learned something from? What book was it, and what did it teach you?

One wonderful thing about reading non-fiction is that you nearly always learn something interesting.  Here are a handful of the fun/interesting things I’ve learned recently:

  • Golf-course landscapers are very highly at risk for cancer because of the pesticides they use.  For the rest of us, the take away is don’t use pesticides and don’t walk all over the house in your shoes, especially if you have small children! – from A Spring Without Bees
  • There are more darkly colored cats in the city than in less urban areas, even though humans tend to select for lighter colors.  This could be because the cats people adopt are often neutered/spayed or because cities provide areas where darker coloring serves as camouflage. – From The Character of Cats
  • There are five different categories of cheese: fresh, soft-ripened, semi-hard, hard, and blue.  Also, people actually order bacteria online in order to make cheese.  Who knew! – From The Joy of Cheesemaking
  • And most recently, the birds that have started visiting my balcony are House Sparrows.   – From my current read, Iowa Bird Watching.
  • Given that these birds have started showing up, I decided to prioritize getting some bird feeders out over planning a container garden for in the spring.  Although I’ve also recently learned that having sheltering plants available for birds will help convince them to visit 🙂 – From Welcoming Wildlife to the Garden
Feel free to answer the Monday Musing question yourself, either here or on the blog of the memes host, Should Be Reading.


Bookends – The Week With All the Cats

February 18, 2012 Uncategorized 2

Despite being in the lab so much this week, I did have some time to read, mostly while waiting on reactions to happen.  So I decided to finish the alarmingly large pile of cat books I picked up while reading in the 636’s and for bookends this week I’ll be giving a brief review of each of them.
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