The Dog Days of Summer

I have often wondered where the phrase “The dog days of summer” came from, so I decided to look it up. Like most casual internet surfers, I took a look at Wikipedia. I thought their take on my quest was interesting, Wikipedia states:

Paul Harris and Tom Jorgensen of The Old Farmer’s Almanac write “The phrase Dog Days conjures up the hottest, most sultry days of summer,” coinciding with the rising, at sunrise (i.e., the helical rising), of Sirius, the dog star, in the constellation Canis Major. While the correlation between the hottest and most humid weather of the year with this specific calendar period has not survived the broadening of weather understanding and communications to global, the correlation of the rising of Sirius with extreme heat has been sufficient in enough climes in the Northern Hemisphere such that the expression dog days “with hot, sultry weather was made for all time.”

Sources: Wikipedia “Dog Days”
The Old Farmer’s Almanac

Checking out a couple of astronomy books will help you know where to look in the sky and what you can expect to see.  You’ll discover that the constellation Canis Major is near Orion the Hunter and Lepus the Rabbit. I thought that was pretty appropriate being the Dog Star and all. There is also a Canis Minor just up and back from Canis Major; I don’t see it as a dog as there are only two stars in it, but there it is.

We have some great materials available at the library on the topic of Astronomy. You might want to check out Viewing the Constellations with Binoculars by Bojan Kambic as well as The Stargazing Year: A Backyard Astronomer’s Journey Through the Seasons of the Night Sky by Charles Laird Calia.

Some websites with Astronomy information to consult are:  or  and you may also consider local organizations like the Chippewa Valley Astronomical Society and  Beaver Creek Reserve.

I have always enjoyed looking up at the night sky. A black velvet blanket covered in diamonds that some unseen hand scattered on the velvet. I know I have seen Sirius when looking up, but didn’t realize that it is the brightest star in our night sky. It doesn’t actually look like a dog to me, but it could be. Stargazing is a great activity to do with friends or family; there are lots of books on astronomy, websites and clubs to assist and inform.  Go to any search engine and put in Sirius star and you can learn a lot about this constellation. My quest for information led me to an understanding of where it was exactly located in the sky and allowed me view some really great images.

Sonic Youth

Enhanced Reading

We all have a favorite chair, a preferred beverage to sip upon, or a perfect pet companion to lie nearby while reading. These are some of the traditional ways we enjoy the practice of reading; some things that make it even more pleasurable.

While reading Kim Gordon’s memoir Girl in a Band recently, I noticed that I was doing a number of things that expanded my experience while reading her book. Gordon was a founding member of the alternative band Sonic Youth, so as she was relating stories about how a particular album was created I gravitated to our catalog and began requesting Sonic Youth CDs to listen to while reading. I now had these as my soundtrack to read on. Sonic Youth is also known for their ground-breaking music videos, so it was natural for me to search YouTube and take breaks to watch the music videos she references in her memoir.

This experience helped me to realize that it’s become an organic part of my reading practice to turn on my laptop, look into other books, CDs, or DVDs within the MORE catalog, watch videos online, or do some extra research that expands on my overall reading experience and enjoyment of a book I’m reading. Sort of like Reading 2.0 perhaps?

For example, The Friends of the Library Evening Book Group recently read For All the Tea in China: How England Stole the World’s Favorite Drink and Changed History by Sarah Rose. The book concerns the British East India Company using Robert Fortune, a Scottish Gardener, botanist, and plant hunter to make clandestine trips deep into the interior of forbidden parts of Chinese territory to steal their deeply guarded secrets of tea manufacturing and horticulture. Fortune encounters many dangerous predicaments as he commits brazen acts of corporate espionage. The book makes reference to Robert Fortune’s travelogue published in 1847. My interest was piqued so I did some research and found that The Google Books Library Project has made available an eBook copy of the travelogue Three Years’ Wanderings in the Northern Provinces of China. So as I read one book, I was able to simultaneously browse and read his first hand and clearly embellished accounts of heroic feats, and consider the many maps and illustrations to enhance my reading.

Another way reading can be enlivened is through “Reading Maps.”  Neil Gaiman’s American Gods has a great example of one the American Gods Reading Map.  As much of the story takes place throughout the Midwest and Wisconsin (in particular House on the Rock in Spring Green, WI), it’s natural to want to explore these locations. This companion site contains suggestions for further reading on American Gods thematically tied in topics like road trips, gods and goddesses, and tourist traps. Your appreciation for the text can further be augmented with links to reviews, a Reading Guide for the Book, images of Gaiman’s notebooks for American Gods (he wrote the book in longhand) or listen to a sample excerpt of the audiobook. So if you were inspired you could plan out a road trip to explore the locales described in the novel. Someone has even mapped out your route for you if you’re ambitious this Summer.

Thanks for allowing me to share some ways I’ve noticed our reading can be enhanced. I’m curious, what have you done to enhance your own reading experience? Leave a comment below.





The Incredible Edible Luffa

Every February I try to satisfy my longing for spring by browsing the seed packet racks at local stores. Last year I came across this gem: Luffa gourd. Huh? In the 30 seconds of thought I’d given to luffa sponges over the course of my life, I had assumed that if it was a sponge it must be from the sea. Interesting. I flipped the packet over to read the planting information, and received my second shock of the day. The packet read, “Surprisingly tasty when eaten young.” Sold!

I’ll spare you the suspense; young luffa looks a lot like a ribbed cucumber. Peeled and eaten raw, it tastes a lot like one, too. Considering that at maturity a luffa forms a tough, fibrous mass that you can use to scrub stubborn gunk off of pots and pans, I would say that the fact it’s edible at all is surprising. I recently learned it’s a popular ingredient in China, Vietnam, and other Asian countries, so this year I intend to harvest a few more to make soup or stir-fry.


Harvested Luffa Sponges

I found that the best part of growing luffa was the sponge harvest. Imagine a luxuriantly climbing vine with tons of zuchinni-sized, brownish-green, wrinkly gourds on it. Wearing gloves you can wash, you bang each gourd on the ground until it cracks, then peel it. With the right crowd, this is a great party game! Shake out as many seeds as you can, then rinse in water and repeat until the fiber is clean. Hang to dry, and presto! Sponges from the garden.

One of the best things about hobby gardening is that it’s full of surprises. Of course the MORE catalog has a ton of useful information on gardening. I’m very excited that L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library is now also host for the Eau Claire Grows Community Seed Library! You can check out seeds for free, and enjoy some gardening goodness yourself. Find out how the program works here.

Luffa isn’t one of the seeds in the library, but I for one intend to borrow several different varieties of heirloom seeds. I know I’ll be surprised again, as I am every year, by how tasty fresh-picked can be.