Library Haul – It’s good to have choices…

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So, as tends to happen on the weekend, I visited the library and ended up leaving with quite the stack. I’m not sure if I will actually get to all of these, but it’s fun to have the choices..

Top to bottom in above image:

        • This Side of Paradise – Scott Fitzgerald 1920 (F)
        • The Crofter and the Laird: Life on an Hebridean Island – John McPhee 1969 (NF)
        • The Endless Steppe – Esther Hautzig 1968 (NF)
        • Bedknob and Broomstick – Mary Norton 1943 (F)
        • Roads: Driving America’s Great Highways – Larry McMurtry 2000 (NF travel)
        • Dreams from My Father – Barack Obama 1995 (NF – autobiography)
        • As Texas Goes: How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American Agenda – Gail Collins (2012) (NF – political)
        • Eyewitness Books: Sports – Tim Hammond 1988 (NF)
        • Eyewitness Books: Building – Philip Wilkinson 1995 (NF)
        • Eyewitness Books: Castle – Christopher Gravett 1994 (NF)

I was interested to see that the U.S. title for the kidlit book, Bedknob and Broomstick was singular. In my mind and growing up in England, I had always heard it as plural (i.e. Bedknobs and Broomsticks), but that could easily have been a faulty memory on my part. I’m going to read this as part of my ongoing Century of Books project – it fills out 1947 rather nicely.

I am deep into Obama’s autobiography. I miss that guy…

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Cowboy – David Murdock (ed.) (1993)

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I happened to pick this title up from a display at the library, and found out that this was a fascinating way to spend last Sunday afternoon. The book is part of an ongoing DK series called “Eyewitness Books” and each title takes a particular subject (e.g. cowboys, Vikings, books, weather etc.) and leads the reader through an overview of that subject using lots of high quality and well curated photographs and explanatory text. It’s mostly photographs though, and by doing this (and as the aim of the whole series), it feels rather as though you’re walking through a museum looking at all the different pieces that make up the exhibit.

It’s not text-heavy, but by looking closely at the photographs (as you would the displays at a museum), by the time you’ve read the book, you feel as though you have a much better understanding of whatever the topic was (in this case, cowboys). It’s really great.

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An example of a Stetson cowboy hat.

Here’s some of what I learned about the world of the cowboy from the last reading:

There are variations of cowboys all over the world who have been doing this type of job for decades (and longer):

  • France has gardian in the southern provinces
  • Hungary has the csikosok
  • North African countries have had similar cowboys with different names
  • The Romans had buteri
  • 1500’s Spain had vaqueros (cowboys) and churros (the people who actually owned the land)
  • Argentina has the gaucho
  • Venezuela has the llanero
  • Chile has the huaso

Which of course makes perfect sense, but this was new information to me. It’s obvious now, of course.

Other pearls of knowledge:

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Desperate Dan (English version of cowboy character and the one I grew up with…)

  • Stetson hats (which a lot of cowboys are famous for wearing) was started by John B. Stetson who was an Englishman who came to Colorado as a gold prospector and noticed the need for appropriate hatwear.
  • The name Mustang (wrt horse) comes from the Spanish mestena which refers to “horse herd”. Originally, the herds of horses were wild on the Southern Plains and the Conquistadores harnessed them to help them as they came into new territory.
  • The quarter horse is so named for its really fast speed at the quarter-mile. Huh. I had no idea about this as I had been thinking that the quarter horse name referred to its breeding stock (i.e. that the horse was 25% of this breed, 25% of another breed etc.)
  • And then, I got reminded of the comic character Desperate Dan who was also eating his way through Cactusville… (He was a character in the British children’s comic magazine called The Dandy and was the world’s strongest man who shaved with a blowtorch as his facial hair was so tough. He could also lift a cow with one hand…)

So I found this really interesting on so many levels that now I am searching for more of these Eyewitness Books as they are a great introduction to big subjects… Loved it.

Miles from Nowhere: In Search of the American Frontier – Dayton Duncan (1993)

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In the past few years, I’ve become really interested in the history of places (both the place that I live and also those of the places that I visit), and I enjoy learning about the different narratives that make up the more complete picture of a place. So, when I came across this title at one of the FoL book sales, I was intrigued.

I’d also been interested in seeing how many of the titles that I’d purchased at last year’s FoL book sale I’d actually read, and realized how very small and paltry that number was. And — I’ve also started my Fall Book Buying Ban which means making a concerted effort to read more titles from my own bookshelves. I did this last year and it was pretty fun so thought I’d start it up again.

Plus I’m heading to England next month and I can always find some interesting titles over there. Need to get some space freed up in the shelves for those treasures who cross the Atlantic on the home trip.

So, all this to say that reading this particular title was good on several different levels!

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This title is one that examines America’s contemporary frontier (as in the “Wild West” frontier). As the publisher writes in the back cover copy: “[T]he sparsely populated American frontier – declared as “closed” by Frederick Jackson Turner a century ago – remains open…” and this book explores the history and current (as in 1993 current) status of “frontier counties” (i.e. counties that have fewer than 2 people per mile population distribution wise). In other states across the U.S. and if you live in a metropolitan area, this stat may sound impossible to have in this day and age, but for a lot of Western counties (a la old cowboy film scenery), it’s very much of a reality.

I live in West Texas (in the Panhandle, really), and the county where I live was one of those frontier counties until a few years ago. You may have heard of the saying, “Big Sky Country”, and that is where I live. The topography is pretty flat, you can see for miles, and the sky is huge and uninterrupted across the horizon. There’s a joke around here that says “the country is so flat, you can see your dog running away for two weeks!”… Arf. Arf.

I love it here, and miss the view when I visit cities (especially NYC which I love but is also claustrophobic for me after a while). I’ve lived here for quite some time, but there are still some days when the region catches me by surprise (e.g. if I see a working cowboy complete with spurs and hat at the grocery store like I did the other day). When that happens, it’s like seeing a living piece of history and I really appreciate the link to the past.

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Driving around the Western states, author Dayton Duncan introduces the reader to some of the people who choose to inhabit these frontier counties. Most of his focus stays on the more typical pioneer states (such as those in Texas, New Mexico and others), but he does include states as far away as Oregon and California since they were the destinations for many of the families who traveled the Overland Trail in their covered wagons and on horseback.

(It’s amazing when you sit down and think about it. The pioneers and their families knew that they would probably never go back from where they came – how brave is that especially when one considers the complete lack of information that they were working under!)

As he drives around to meet the folk who live here and to cover some of their history, Duncan maintains his respect for the townsfolk without having to resort to stereotype and lazy reportage. As the miles go by, he writes about topics as diverse as the extinction of the buffalo herds and the process of choosing where to put a SuperMax prison facility to the known history of the nation’s First Peoples and Billy the Kid (both the legend and the evidence that’s left). Billy the Kid was a real person, but it varies as to how long he lived, where (and how) he died, and what his legacy may mean. (Actually, the place touted as his burying place is on our way west to the mountains near the Texas/New Mexico border.)

This was published by an academic press, so it wasn’t an easy read (in terms of how dense the material was), but it was really interesting to me. There was a lot of overlap between historical events at the time (slavery and pioneer travel for example), and a lot of the history that Duncan relates was new to me and I found it fascinating. (For more about one particular African-American frontier town in Kansas, see here.)

I’m very glad that I pulled this off the shelves to read, and am now digging around my TBR to see what other little treasures that I can dig up….

Why – Hello there. It’s me.

Negative Space Embroidery. Credit:?

Negative Space Embroidery. Credit:?

In reading other blogs (as one does), I’ve been paying attention to the individual posts that strike a chord with me, and much as I love the book reviews, I also like the personalized peek into my bloggie friends’ lives.

I really enjoy reading about how people spend their days (or at least the parts that they’re willing to share), and this makes sense as I’m a nosy parker interested in social history.

So I thought I’d let you into my life a little bit. (Don’t want to overwhelm you with my perfectly run life so I’ll give you small doses…)

Warning for Non-Domestic Readers -Domestic Details Follow for a Bit:

So – what I have done today? Hmm. Saturdays are usually Domestic Catch Up Days for me in our house: start/finish laundry (amazing how many clothes two people can wear especially when we’re both serious worker-outers!); Superhero handles groceries (what a HUGE gift as I can do it, naturellement, but god, it takes me ages as I go back and forth between the aisles and go waaaaay off the list if I’m hungry.)

End of Domestic Details Bit. Non-Domestic Details Resume Here.

At the moment, I am in a craze of wanting to attend some community-type one-time lectures or similar to learn something. I’m pretty open in what I’d like to learn – just anything that strikes my fancy, really – so I’ve been digging around and seeing what I can find.

Last weekend, I went to a local historical society presentation on the university’s Home Management School building that I hadn’t even known was there on campus where I’ve been the last twenty years or so. Wow. (It is very hidden away and unmarked so I do have those excuses.)

(I did happen to be the youngest person there and the only one in casual clothing (i.e. t-shirt and shorts), but I’m glad I attended as the other people were very friendly, the presentation was entertaining, and they had cake… :-))

In the early twentieth century, quite a few universities across the country participated in the government’s Home Management House program whereby qualified (white) women could attend university and yet still keep up their domestic skills. (Lucky them.) The program was open to (all? mostly?) women and once they had completed their courses and had the required living time at the campus’ house, they could graduate with a degree in Home Economics.

Students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison gather during "clothing class" in 1911. (Credit: Univ.Wis.Mad.)

Students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison gather during “clothing class” in 1911. (Credit: Univ.Wis.Mad.)

Each university that participated in this program built a large house (called a practice cottage) on campus where a small number of young female undergraduates would live and all take part in living in and running the house, from cleaning the windowsills to cooking up a storm. (I think participants may have taken other classes but I’m not sure of that. I would think so…)

Texas Tech University did have its own Home Management House and this is where the talk occurred. The house fits snugly right into campus as it is built now, but at the time, would have been far from the other campus buildings. It was built in 1927, only four years after the university was founded and 18 years after the city was incorporated and the first railroad made its way across West Texas. So it was a pretty cutting-edge program for the time and the place, historically speaking, and was a non-threatening way that bright young women could go to university without unbalancing the status quo (of men getting a university degree).

A practice cottage at the University of Idaho. Not sure when this pic was taken, but the building stood between 1920-1966.

A practice cottage at the University of Idaho. Not sure when this pic was taken, but the building stood between 1920-1966.

I had no idea that the U.S. had this Home Management House system in place but there doesn’t seem to be much on-line about it. There are lots of old photos of other university’s practice cottages (Idaho, Iowa, Arkansas et al.) but not much otherwise so I wonder if it’s an understudied area of history. It was pretty interesting learning about it as I had not heard of it before and had never noticed this building on campus. (It’s now very close to where the academic daycare facility is, so perhaps its original founding philosophy hasn’t strayed far from its roots.)

I also happened to go to an educational offering was at the university museum and covered historical embroidery. The publicity hand-out had mentioned eighteenth century pieces so I was curious how this university (out in the hinterlands of Texas) had received these pieces. Unfortunately, there were only two of those pieces, but that’s ok. Texas is not that old in the big scheme of things, so it was only to be expected that the majority of the museum’s holding would reflect that.

Still interesting, to be sure, and had lots of twentieth century examples of embroidery on domestic linens, clothing, bags and other samples. The museum holds Come and See events that invite local people to literally come to the event and see what’s in the holdings. It’s a pretty large academic museum and has limited exhibition space, so it’s pretty fun to see what the curators and museum historians have dug out of the basement and brought to light.

As it was a Come and See event, the historical information was pretty scarce and mostly covered who the donors’ families were, but we, as audience members, did get to handle some lovely pieces.  Plus, the presenter was very well informed so that was fun as well.

Plus – bonus: there was a lovely well curated exhibition of the Embroiderer’s Guild of America pieces which were colorful, innovative and opened the boundaries of how I had previously thought of embroidery. Here’s a good link to introduce you to textile art and some of contemporary artists who made some fabulous pieces.

So – who knows what’s up for community learning next weekend? …

Flying to Fort Worth…

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Just before my mum left this side of the world for UK, my twin sister and I met up with her in Fort Worth as an easy place to meet between us, geographically speaking. Fort Worth is also well known for its art offerings, and as we all like a bit of culture every now and then, this was a perfect spot.

So, Fort Worth is known to be a cowboy-town as its history revolves around that. It started in the late 1800’s as an Army outpost on a bluff overlooking the river, and then evolved into one of the main stops on the cattle drive trail via train to leave (and enter) Texas. It’s right next to Dallas, so for many people, Fort Worth gets all swallowed up in one vast metroplex, but the two cities seem to have different feels to me.

So, we stayed in Fort Worth, right in the Cultural District, and we all had so many laughs – it was so fun. Culturally speaking, we visited the Kimbell Art Museum  which was FABULOUS. I don’t know why more people don’t talk about this place as it was very very well done plus it was designed by famous American architect Louis I. Kahn (which was also a nice touch especially as I have a slight craze on that field at the moment). I’d done some research before the visit so I could astonish my family with such intriguing nuggets as “look at the vaults – Kahn liked Roman structure” and similar. 🙂

The art collection was fabbo. (Technical term for you.) It’s not a huge collection, but it’s curated extremely well and so they have some excellent pieces there. This was one of my favs:

Sorry - not sure who the artist is here... Any ideas?

Sorry – not sure who the artist is here… Any ideas?

But there were loads of others as well. The descriptions beside each of the pictures got to be pretty funny after a while — once we’d read the 20th over-earnest art statement about it, they started to seem to be a bit ridiculous and stretching to make a point. (It’s a picture for crying out loud.) However, it was fun,  it was culture, and the building was superb to see the art. (All natural light.)

Oh, and in the museum gift shop, I happened to find a book written by my favorite uncle Peter Inskip who is an expert in renovating historical architecture and works with Yale University on some projects. How about that? “I see famous relatives…”

And here's my lovely Uncle Peter on the spine of a book that he co-wrote...

And here’s my lovely Uncle Peter on the spine of a book that he co-wrote…

So once we’d finished there and had a nice lunch, we went driving around and found a Target (as is our family wont) and then really just messed around for the rest of the day. (Loads of laughs too.) The next day was sunny and pretty and we spent the morning walking around the Fort Worth Botanical Gardens which were just plain lovely to see. As it had just rained the day before, everything was very green and lush which was beautiful to see plus my sis, mum and I were just casually chatting about anything and everything. Nice combination of things to do.

So – a lovely weekend with the fam…