Christmas Gifts Ideas: Part 1 | TSLN.com

Christmas Gifts Ideas: Part 1

Jeri L. Dobrowski

Books have always been one of my favorite gifts to give. There’s one for every interest. There’s no worry about the format becoming outdated. They’re portable and can be shared with others. (If you haven’t already set up such a record-keeping system, keep a written record of books you have out on loan.)

Out of chute number 1 is Gwen Petersen’s humorous handbook for country living, How to Shovel Manure & Other Life Lessons for the Country Woman. My Montana-raised brother-in-law and sister-in-law, now living in Reno, NV, each gave it two thumbs up. He liked the progression of stories starting in the spring – proceeding through each seasons’ activities – concluding with an appropriate poem. She appreciated the accuracy, having experienced many of the same things growing up on a ranch. Her particular favorite was opening the refrigerator and having calf vaccine fall into the Jell-O.

The publisher notes, “For good measure, the book includes poems and recipes that will transport you to a country state of mind – whether you hail from the city’s busiest streets or the ranch’s quietest gravel roads.” Called the Erma Bombeck of the farmhouse and the Ann Landers of the barnyard, Gwen makes country life sound like a lot more fun that it really is.

How to Shovel Manure & Other Life Lessons for the Country Woman (Voyageur Press, 2007, 224 pages, hardback, illustrations & recipes; ISBN: 0-7603-2862-5) retails for $17.95 at bookstores and is available at Amazon.com. Contact Petersen at PO Box 1255, Big Timber, MT 59011; (406) 932-4227.

A decidedly more somber view of life in the American West is represented by the letters and diaries in Best of Covered Wagon Women, edited by Kenneth L. Holmes. Originally appearing in the 11-volume series, Covered Wagon Women, eight selected works appear in “Best,” along with an introduction by Michael L. Tate.

The firsthand accounts of women who braved the westward migration between 1848 and 1864 convey the hardship, adventure, and camaraderie that made the overland experience tolerable. They tell of rough roads, rickety bridges, quicksand, swarms of mosquitoes, downpours that soaked bedding, birth and death, children with cold feet, foul drinking water, and the stench of dead livestock littering the roadside. But, there were also joys: fresh water; plentiful grass; breathtaking vistas; wild strawberries and currants.

Recommended Stories For You

Look for Best of Covered Wagon Women (University of Oklahoma Press, 2008, 304 pages, paper; ISBN: 978-0-8061-3914-2) in bookstores or order from http://www.oupress.com/ where it sells for $13.97.

Another group of individuals who saw their share of hardship in the nineteenth-century American West were soldiers. Jeremy Agnew shares the challenges of an enlisted man in Life of a Soldier on the Western Frontier. Bad food, substandard quarters, uncomfortable uniforms, harsh conditions, and tedious drills were hardly what young soldiers envisioned. Far from the glories they imagined, they were often bored and lonely, working seven days a week in desert heat and winter’s worst.

Mountain Press says: “In addition to describing the nitty-gritty details of a soldier’s daily life, this fascinating study explores the Indian Wars from the perspective of both the military and the Indians and examines all aspects of the post-Civil War army, including its organization, its weapons, and its personnel.”

Life of a Soldier on the Western Frontier sells for $16 from http://mountain-press.com. Buy it as a reference; buy it for the great stories. (Mountain Press Publishing, 2008, 272 pages, photos, maps & appendices, paper; ISBN: 978-0-87842-541-9.)

Robb Kendrick’s suite of tintype photographs, Still: Cowboys at the Start of the Twenty-First Century, earns my vote for this year’s most unusual coffee-table book. The positive images captured on primitive metal plates (versus film’s negative process) are captivating. Tintype photography was cutting edge technology back in 1856, but hardly considered newsworthy nowadays – until Kendrick used the process to portray today’s working cowboy.

Kendrick, a sixth-generation Texan whose work is seen in National Geographic, logged 41,000 miles traveling to where cowboys ply their skills. His figures his quest took him 16 weeks (over the course of six years), while traversing 14 states, Mexico, and Canada. Despite being characterized as a dying breed, Kendrick found the cowboy culture intact and functioning. Accompanying the 144 images is an essay by Marianne Wiggins and an afterword by Jay Dusard, both Pulitzer Prize nominees.

National Geographic hosts a video on the process behind photographing and developing tintypes: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2007/12/vaquero/tintype-interactive.

National Public Radio has a multimedia slide show narrated by Kendrick: http://www.npr.org/programs/day/features/photo_op/kendrick/slideshow/index.html.

Purchase Still: Cowboys at the Start of the Twenty-First Century (University of Texas Press, 2008, 232 pages, 144 b&w photos, hardback; ISBN: 978-0-292-71438-0) in bookstores or from http://www.utexas.edu/utpress/, where it’s priced at $33.50.