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Reading Around the World: Philippines My Faraway Home by Mary McKay Maynard

The Story

Before business went global after World War II, the people who were mostly sent to interesting places like the Philippines were either diplomats, bankers, mining or other engineers or missionaries.  Author Mary McKay Maynard is the daughter of an American mining engineer who was working  for a mining company in the Philippines when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor causing the U.S. entry into World War II.  Mary and her parents were trapped.

Even though her father had been reassured by General MacArthur personally that there was no reason to flee the islands, the family and several others were trapped. Then a child of elementary school age, who had once been a playmate of MacArthur’s young son, Arthur,  Mary tells the story of her family’s time in a remote mining facility in a true jungle. Along with several other Americans and other expatriates, the group hung on, making do, hoping they were remote enough that the Japanese would ignore them.

The story is also told thru entries in her mother’s diary.  The family’s courage and resourcefulness helped them to hold out away from Japanese internment even as others in their small community abandoned the remote location.

My Thoughts

This book is exactly why I love memoirs and first-hand accounts even more than fiction. While Mary was telling the story through a child’s eyes her mother’s diary entries revealed far more of the emotional strain and personal hardship that the family endured. This was a very compelling book.


4 stars

Interviews With the Author


For a local newspaper’s interview, click here.

To Listen to NPR’s Bob Edward’s talk with Mary McKay Maynard about her family’s ordeal

NPR Interview



Time to Start Packing!


If you read this blog regularly, you know I love to pack shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child! Collection day is about 2 months away! Time to get busy!



I like this program because it brings HOPE. Hope to kids and parents who have little of it. Whether it is in Soweto in South Africa, on a small island in the Philippines, an isolated village Bolivia or in the former Soviet Union–even in refugee camps, children are reached by this program.

Q: But, I read they must pay–that’s not fair. A: Yes, the hosting program must pay a small fee to help with transportation. This is important. Any time a program seeks to do good without investment from the community it pretty much fails. Without rules, a distribution of gifts would be a free-for-all and many would be hurt emotionally and possibly even physically.

Q: But kids get left-out. A: There is a limit to how much ANY program can provide. Boxes must be requested so that host has the right number for the right ages. If a child just shows up, that is unfortunate, but rules are rules. There are many stories of ways local hosts try to help with this. Boxes cannot be divided up between children. Those who give the boxes are guaranteed that their box will go to ONE child. While Operation Christmas Child may add additional items to less-filled boxes, only forbidden items may be removed from a box.

Forbidden items: Candy; toothpaste; used or damaged items; war-related items such as toy guns, knives, or military figures; chocolate or food; seeds; fruit rolls or other fruit snacks; drink mixes (powdered or liquid); liquids or lotions; medications or vitamins; breakable items such as snow globes or glass containers; aerosol cans. Camouflage socks or underpants are ok, but not pants or shirts unless pink. If you look like a soldier when you wear it, do not include it.


Children aged 2–14 are involved. Shoe boxes are packed with a gender and an age range in mind. A child may only receive a box once so that everyone in the area has a chance to participate. While today in the USA many are moving to gender-neutrality with toys and some clothing, it is important to respect the local culture in these areas. Girls should receive clothing and toys traditionally seen as for “girls.”  And boy should receive traditionally “boy” items. I can tell you from my own experience in Malawi, that everyone plays with whatever they have and clothes do get mixed around except for dresses.  One exception to this is a soccer ball. Girls love to play ball games, too, whether soccer or just a made-up game. Pick a girly color so the boys won’t want it.

Boy or Girl ages 2-4, 5-9 and 10-14


Sample box for a boy 5-9 years old.  The shoes are the “wow” item for this box  and the toys are little, but I did a Spiderman theme. Not shown: Soap, toothbrush, comb, composition book (look for the ones with flexible covers). A pencil bag (left) holds plenty of pencils, pens and a small pencil sharpener.

NEW FOR 2017



These changes are due to the maze of customs/import regulations in all the different countries.

And, the suggested donation, to help with shipping costs, is now $9.00 per box. It is suggested–not required. If you pay this online and print the label, you will get an email telling where your box(es) went. Or you can simply put the money in the top of the box (yes, one check can be used for all of your boxes).


What NOT to pack

No matter what others may say, from my experience abroad in Malawi and visiting neighboring countries as well as my time in Ukraine, these are the things I say DON’T PACK:

  • Kleenex
  • Wet Wipes
  • Deodorant (Yes, it’s on the official list–I have no clue why.  No one outside the developed world even knows what it is. And, does your 7 year old use deodorant??)
  • Tampons (Toxic shock syndrome from too few– discreetly pack washable, cotton pads if you want to help with menstrual hygiene. Be sure to include a cloth bag to carry them in, a few pairs of underpants and some Ziplock bags).
  • Stuffed or plastic snakes  Too many taboos. Same with Skull & Cross bones on ANY item. Just don’t.
  • Provocative clothing for girls including more adult styles of underpants. These can help make a girl more sexually attractive. Sadly, girls are sold for money all over the place. Let’s try to help them have a childhood. Stick to traditional, full coverage underpants and plain thick tops. No cut-out shoulders, no shorts with writing on the butt, nothing like that.
  • Boxer shorts. If they have an unsecured fly, sew on a snap. They will most likely be worn as shorts and not as underpants.
  • Flip-flops. Have you ever walked in the rain on an uneven, unpaved surface in flip-flops? Twisted ankle, bleeding feet and the memory of a lifetime for me. The don’t last.

Remember to remove as many tags and as much packaging material as possible. They’ll just become trash and they add to the shipping weight. Most countries do not have organized trash collection. Those price tags will be blowing all around as will the plastic wrapper from the underwear.

Read more about what to pack and what not to pack HERE.

How to start packing?

Well, if you have children start with their closet and bedroom. Is there a shirt they’ve never worn? Half a pack of underwear they hated and that never even got washed? A stuffed animal that’s new and never loved? Grab a shoe box! Now look for a few “new” party favors or Hot Wheels or similar. Fill in the gaps with a new washcloth, toothbrush, hair brush, socks etc. Those receiving blankets or extra baby blankets–great for a 2-4 year old who must sleep with siblings under one blanket.

Sample box for a girl ages 2 to 4. Baby blanket, stuffed animal, dress, underpants, socks, pencils and pens, crayons, pencil bag, hair clips, Stuffed Cinderella [actually a key chain!], coloring book, jump rope, Bible picture book, big shopping bag to carry it home in, a bandana and hygiene items. I shop Clearance for all clothing and any shoes as well as many of the toys. Right after Easter is the best time to get stuffed animals. Tennis balls are popular small items and are very inexpensive when you buy a bag of them at Wal-Mart.



Read more about Operation Christmas Child on their website.


Note: Wal-Mart now carries 10 packs of plastic shoe boxes for under $8.00! Great deal!



Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Books on my Fall To Read List


Top Ten Books On My Fall TBR List




Love and Other Consolation Prizes by Jamie Ford. I simply LOVE his books and can’t wait for this one!

To Be Where You Are by Jan Karon. I’ve loved all of the Mitford books and I’m sure I will enjoy this one just as much.

The Travelling Cat Chronicles. First of all, thanks to The Last Word Book Review blog for alerting me to this book. American readers please note–this is a UK release. It is not yet available in the USA. The link is to Amazon’s UK site, hence the UK spelling of traveling.

The Other Alcott by Elise Hooper. This just arrived. I’ll be starting it soon and, if I finish it, I’ll review it.

George and Lizzie by Nancy Pearl. I love Nancy Pearl. She’s the only librarian with her own action figure! I just got this one so I’ll be reviewing it soon if I finish it.

Caroline: Little House Revisited by Sarah Miller. Little House–enough said.

The Address by Fiona Davis. A novel about New York’s famed Dakota? Sure!

Christmas in London. Because…well.. London!


Gilded Suffragists: The New York Socialites Who Fought for Women’s Right to Vote by Johanna Newman

Last of the Tsars: Nicholas II and the Russian Revolution by Robert Service. I read nearly everything that comes out on the Romanovs.


Top Ten Tuesday is held each week at The Broke and The Bookish. You can check out the details here. Or, you can read this week’s posts here.

Books to Read After Watching Ken Burn’s Vietnam War on PBS


Vietnam. That one word brings my childhood into focus. It was the nightly news for all of my remembered life in elementary school. My Mom’s cousin served. He resigned his commission and finished his tour as an enlisted man. He went on to be an expert in PTSD treatment of Vietnam-era veterans.

If you are planning to watch Ken Burn’s sure-to-be-excellent documentary series on the war, then some of these books may interest you. I confess, having studied the war in most of my political science courses in 1980–1984, I haven’t read too much on it since. I find it too painful, too raw.  There’s not enough distance. The men in those photos were alive in my lifetime. To me it is not “history,” it is “real.”

There are thousands of books, both fiction and nonfiction, on the Vietnam War. These are a few that I have read and that have had a lasting impact. As you can see, memoirs are a favorite of mine. I have not read much on the war recently, however, so some of these may need to be found used.




This is the companion book to an earlier PBS series on the War. It is an interesting read with or without the companion series. Although more information is available today than at the time it was written, it is still a useful book. Vietnam: A History by Stanley Karnow.




Like the fabled “Class the Stars Fell on” (1915) and the equally distinguished class of 1846, the West Point class of 1966 produced the young officers of the Vietnam war who would go on to lead the Army.  This is a fascinating look at an extraordinary group of men. The Long Gray Line: The American Journey of  West Point’s Class of 1966.  by R





One of the classics on America’s Vietnam generation of leaders, policy wonks and politicians, The Best and The Brightest is a behemoth by the standards of today’s Book Club mandated 300 page limit, but is well worth the time. The Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam.


Personal Stories




Wives and children also “served” when the man of the family was at war and none served longer than the wives and children of POWs.  America’s highest ranking POW Ben Purcell and his wife, Anne, jointly told their story of the war. Ben of his captivity and Anne of her life at home and her efforts, with other POW wives, to gain attention for the POWs. While this book appears to be out-of–print it can be found online used for a reasonable price or in many libraries. I hope this documentary will encourage a re-release of the title. Love & Duty by Ben and Anne Purcell.



As America’s longest held POW Jim Thompson lived thru more than mere hell. Back at home his wife felt trapped as well. This is their story.  Glory Denied by Tom Philpott







Nurses played an extraordinary role in the war–as they have in every war since the Crimean War. This memoir is raw and gritty and unforgettable. If you were a fan, back in the day, of the television show China Beach, you probably read this book. Sadly, this is another to find used or in a library. It, too, should be re-issued.  Home Before Morning by Linda Van Devanter






What was it like to be the young wife of a soldier in Vietnam? What about after that service ends–however it ends? Lonely Girls With Burning Eyes: A Wife Recalls Her Husband’s Journey Home From Vietnam by Marian Faye Novak. Another one to find used or at a library.





See also my recent review of the personal memoir of Hmong refugee of the war, resettled from Laos to Minnesota. The Latehomecomer by Kao Kalia Yang reviewed here.







Former Secretary of the Navy, Naval Academy grad and one-time presidential candidate, James Webb, is also the author of several volumes of masterful, compelling fiction. Fields of Fire is on the experiences of soldiers in the Vietnam War. I recall staying up half the night while reading this–I didn’t want to put it down. Fields of Fire by James Webb.



The Book of the T.V. Series



The Vietnam War: An Intimate History by Geoffrey C. War and Ken Burns




Reading Around the World: Laos: The Latehomecomer by Kao Kalia Yang

What Made Me Choose This Book

Memoirs are a staple in my reading life. I enjoy hearing how other people have lived their lives. I especially enjoy memoirs of challenges. When I discovered a memoir of a Hmong girls growing up as a refugee in the United States, I knew I’d enjoy it–how ever harrowing the tale. And, I was right.

In the mid 1980s I worked with a large number of resettled refugees from the Vietnam war–including a few Hmong. The circle of refugees came from Vietnam itself and from Cambodia and Laos. They started over. Their children, and the young adult refugees, fared best. They took the traditional path to success–math and science. Engineering in the case of most of these refugees. College spots that American students at that time weren’t eager to fill at what was then a branch campus of  a state university. Nearly all found career success.

So, I started the Latehomecomer with a small amount of first-hand exposure to this group of refugees, a few of whom I kept up with somewhat until about 2000 when the ties became too tenuous, the memories of common experiences too old. They had mostly scattered from that city by then, as I had.

The Latehomecomer Story

Kao Kalia Yang’s family was part of a group of refugees arriving a little later than my former co-workers. Like so many Hmong in America they landed in Minneapolis/Saint Paul, Minnesota–a world light years from their one-time home in Laos. Part of an ethic minority in Laos, where they were badly treated, Hmong communities would be mistreated and often viewed with hostility in their new country, the USA, as well. Happily for the author, her parents tried to focus their children on the opportunities of America, instead of the short comings and out-right cruelties. In her case, after problems in school at first,  it worked well. She ended up going to prestigious Carleton College, one of nation’s most selective Liberal Arts colleges.


In addition to the family’s own story, the book also relates a few tales from Hmong folklore told by the author’s elderly grandmother. They make it possible to understand the worldview or mindset that the family and other Hmong brought with them to America–the lens through which they viewed American life upon arrival. They also help us to understand the Hmong culture which is often viewed with mistrust by Americans.

Finally, there  is a vivid recounting of the Hmong funeral which lasts for days and involves just about anyone who wants to show up. The grocery list alone was staggering–the number of beef cattle and chickens slaughtered alone was amazing. The rights themselves were a folklorist’s dream to witness, even just in words.



I found the folklore a bit trying. Sadly, I just couldn’t get that interested in it. I was engrossed, though, in the story of their day-to-day life of trying to succeed in America. In Peace Corps, I too, had to hit the ground running with support similar to theirs. Her writing is incredibly evocative–I felt I was “there” throughout the entire book. I especially wanted to sample some of the incredible food she described here and there in the book.

I recommend this to anyone, but especially to those who may be concerned about refugees or who have a sizeable Hmong community nearby.


Here is an interesting interview with the author.

Book Trailer

Top 5 Wednesday: Books to Read Without the Synopsis




I would allow a synopsis that only gives the time period of the story and the location. No other information. I hope someone will try reading one of these in that way! Get it from the library and cover it with brown paper. Or download it to your kindle and then skip the summary. Try it. You might find a new favorite book!




Top 5 Wednesday is a group you can join on Goodreads.com . Each week group members post themed lists either on a blog or in a Youtube video. Why not join the fun?





Top Ten Tuesday: Throwback Freebie: 10 Books I Loved From the Early 20th Century


This week’s topic is: Throwback Freebie: Ten Books I Loved During The First Year I Started My Blog, Favorite Books Published 5 or 10 or 15 Years Ago, Ten Older Books I Forgot How Much I Loved, etc. etc. Tweak however you want!



1900    Alice of Old Vincennes by Maurice Thompson

1905    Diary from Dixie by Mary Chestnut

1906    The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

1908    Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery

1909 Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton Porter

1910    Twenty Years at Hull House by Jane Addams

1911    Peter Pan (And Wendy) by J.M.Barrie

1912  Yosemite by John Muir

1913  Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence

1916    Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher



You can read the complete list of my Books Read by Year from the 20th Century here.


Top Ten Tuesday is hosted weekly at the Broke and the Bookish. You can read all about it here. Check out all of this week’s great posts here.

Review: Women Enters Left by Jessica Brockmole: Quite a Ride!


Jessica Brockmole, in  the short space of three novels, has become an author whose books I now anxiously await!  Here newest, Women Enters Left, is a deft shuffling of two road trips–one by the mother, the other by the daughter a generation apart. It takes a well-organized mind to plot such a book and a talented writer to keep it from being confusing. Jessica Brockmole has that mind and is that author.

The Story

!in 1926 Ethel and Carl are at a impasse. Divorce looms. In the middle is their daughter A.L. (Anna Louisa). Enter Florence Daniels, the one-time third of this group. She and Ethel take off on a road trip after Carl leaves with A.L. to acquire a Nevada divorce.  Fast forward the the 50s of McCarthy’s famed House Un-American Activities Committee and daughter A.L, is now the grown-up movie star, Louise Wild, making her own journey to decide if her career and her marriage can survive. In and around these two journeys are a few love stories, both open and hidden, a script by Florence and a lot of hamburgers.

My Verdict

3.75 Stars

There was really nothing I didn’t like in this one. I just thought the script got in the way a little–hence the  fraction of a star. I found the story of Florence’s and Carl’s frustrated love stories very sweet. They were told so gently, so true to the time of the story. I always love this–it is a mark of historical fiction done right. I also enjoyed the frightening story of the radium sickness. When people complain that U.S. Business is over-regulated, they need to remember that this is why.

I hope this soon becomes a movie–it will be a good one.

Woman Enters Left by Jessica Brockmole.

Read here why I loved the short story Jessica had in the World War I anthology Fall of Poppies.  Her first book, Letters From Skye,  is on sale for Kindle–only $4.99.


To learn more about the radium tragedy:


The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore. Currently on sale for $2.18 for Kindle

Review: ‘Over the Hills and Far Away:’ The Life of Beatrix Potter


My Beatrix Potter story



My own most vivid memory of  a Beatrix Potter tale is over the version broadcast on PBS in 2003. My kids and I were watching The Tale of Samuel Whiskers–suddenly the poor guy is wrapped in pie crust and ready to be baked! My daughter, understandably, fell to pieces. She clutched our beloved big orange cat, Stanley, and wept uncontrollably.  I tried to reassure my daughter that all would be fine and that, more importantly, it wasn’t real and that our big guy was fine. She didn’t let our cats out of her sight for a week. It took hours to get her to sleep–and this was the kid who collapsed so early, I cheated and put the clock ahead so she’d go to bed! No need to tell you that no more Beatrix Potter happened at our house!

Matthew Dennison’s Book

Dennison chose to tell Beatrix’s story a little differently. He anchors each chapter with a quote that goes with the theme of the chapter.  He also tried, whenever possible, to show what aspects of her children’s books came from real life. So we learn of scenery being at real places Beatrix lived or that certain real animals were involved–that real children dear to Beatrix were the first to receive her stories as illustrated letters.

He also tells the story of Beatrix’s isolation. Her eccentric parents went above and beyond the normal Victorian mantra of keeping daughters at home. Starved of company outside her family circle, she turned inward. With no one to befriend, she befriended a menagerie of animals and shared her thoughts in her carefully coded journal.  From childhood into early adulthood she was very lonely.  Her parents kept such a tight reign on her that even as an adult with her own home she was forced to spend most of her time as a sort of lady in waiting to her parents. I found this very sad.

I  loved learning that in addition to her children’s books with their marvelous illustrations she also quite an amateur natural scientist. She was especially fascinated by fungi–mushrooms. Nature journals, were a popular past time for Victorians and Edwardians. They would find specimens, draw or watercolor them and label them beautifully. Her nature drawings were of a professional standard as her parents had at least given her excellent tuition in art from private teachers. The book includes a few color plates with some of her nature drawings. Her love of nature also led her to be an early land conservator–buying up land to protect if from encroaching development.

Having loved the movie Miss Potter,  I was pleased to learn the real stories of her first engagement and later marriage. For having such a lonely, often isolated childhood, she at least found someone with whom to share some aspects of her life.



Finally, I was so pleased to see that the author and published used such lovely endpapers for they were a fixation of Beatrix’s in her own books.