You guys, I'm super excited about this Herb Fairies Book Club I just signed up for, but I feel so bad because the sign up period has already closed! I found out about it just before it closed and only barely got in in time, otherwise I totally would've mentioned it on here earlier. But it will open up again next April, so bookmark it, or pin it, or whatever, because it looks awesome!
We got our tree last night and made an evening of pulling out all the decorations and making the house all Christmas-y. We're starting a new tradition this year that I'm really excited about. I've been planning it for months.
I've been really excited to share this book with you. The first night we had it I sat up reading through all the projects. We're definitely incorporating it into this year's homeschooling routine.
We put all those cherries to good use and made TONS of cherry jam. A bowl of pits isn't exactly as lovely a sight as a bowl full of cherries; unless you've just pitted all 1,382 of them. In truth, Sam was a big help with the pitter. We made two different varieties, one from the inside of the Pomona's Pectin package and one from Canning for a New Generation. The second recipe had some weird ingredients, but was hands down our favorite of the two!
When Clay saw me reading this book he was like, "Why do you need a whole book? Can't you basically feed them like adults, only less?" Well, yes, more or less, except that what passes for food now (adult food and baby food) is so hugely different from what kids should actually be eating, that I think yes, we do need this book. Everyone needs this book! Check out these super scary statistics.
Were I not already a lover of sweet potatoes, this book could have hooked me with its opening reference to Anna Karenina! Of course, I am not surprised that a thoroughly researched, brilliantly written book full of powerful information and delicious recipes should open with a literary reference. The reason? It is written by one of my dearest friends, an all-around renaissance woman who can quote Tolstoy while whipping up a perfect sweet-potato frittatta!
It's that time of year, time to be buying and planting tons of little seedlings! Unless, of course, you are a planner and already have trays of little starts ready to go. I am sometimes, but not this year.
Instead, I'm trying another angle to get lots and lots of little plants for super cheap...
Wouldn't it be nice if someone boiled down all the magic and mystery of herbal medicine making into one tidy little book? Something manageable, something you would actually use? Oh, wait they did! It's right here.
The nice thing about Holly's book is that she focuses on thirteen basic herbs that she calls the essential herbs.
These sunny days have gotten me SO excited to be outside on a regular basis. Isn't it amazing how a little sunlight and fresh air can lift your spirits? I love the way the kids' hair smells after they've been playing outside, like sunshine and grass and leaves. I checked out a few books at the library about things to do with your kids outside. Of course, just being outside is usually enough. Kids will find plenty to do. But, I thought it would be nice for me to have some activities in mind to inspire ME to get out the door and into the green. Particularly because we live in an urban area I sometimes feel less than inspired to get outside, but after perusing these books I've got a whole list of fun ideas. The last book is my favorite:)
Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw is an amazing writer and illustrator and an absolutely lovely person. She sent our family a copy of her latest book to check out, and we loved it. You can win the same book HERE! Sam thought it was especially neat because one of the boys in the story is from India and says, "Namaste." (You may remember me writing about our neighbor who Sam calls "Namaste." We're now helping his daughter-in-law learn English!) Sam loved talking about what was the same and what was different, and tying that in to our neighbors. The message of the book is so sweet and peaceful, but not heavy-handed. What it succeeds best at is being entertaining, bright and enjoyable to read. I'm so glad to have it as part of our collection and love that Sam has been requesting it over and over.
I asked Jenny a few questions about being a mom and a writer and illustrator, having a personal interest in the combination myself:)
Nicole Faires' book, The Ultimate Guide to Homesteading, has been working its way into our evening reading. It sits in our fireplace actually, no disrespect intended, of course! The opening to the chimney is tiled over and turning it into a working fireplace is on our (long) list of things to do. In the meantime, the fireplace holds our current selection of reading material.
While we're still a long way from a real homestead, I've actually been finding plenty of great ideas that I can use right now, on our little 1/10th acre. What I love about the book is that it gives you straightforward, no-nonsense advice on a bazillion subjects, advice that you can turn around and use right away. Wondering how to make a simple herbal remedy? It's in there. Thinking about spinning yarn, or even how to choose the right breed of sheep from which to shear the wool? That's in there too, from really basic stuff to more hardcore homesteader skills (like logging!). It even talks about how to go about buying land, if you're at that place in the journey. I'm loving how thorough it is and how she's done all the work for the reader, boiling down tons of information into really manageable instructions. It seems like the kind of book any homesteader or wannabe homesteader should have on their shelf, ready for a quick flip through to answer any question. It gives you the basics and then, should you want to dig much deeper, you have a solid foundation from which to spring. I can totally see myself referring to this one again and again.
And if you haven't already been keeping tabs on Nicole and her family, you have GOT to see what they're doing! You know those crazy dreams we all get? Well, they're living theirs! They've renovated a Blue Bird bus and are touring the country in it (it's fully outfitted as a home!) interviewing organic farmers- amazing! Read all about their family's adventures on her blog, watch their youtube channel or connect on twitter or facebook. You might even consider donating to their cause.
PS If you're a homeschooler, Nicole has put together an amazing resource list that you can download for free. What a gal!
These two books go so well together that I had to review them side by side. Cohousing, pocket neighborhoods, they both have the same goals: creating connections between people, a sense of community, a wiser use of resources, and a smarter way to develop. Pocket Neighborhoods, offers practical ideas and a good background in what constitutes a pocket neighborhood and some historical background on the movement, but its real strength lies in its ability to stir the heart and fill it with hope. I LOVE thumbing through the pages and thinking, "Yes! This is already a reality somewhere, I can make it a reality for our family some day too!!" The closing line in Creating Cohousing reads, "We hope the future will see more and more folks getting together and asking themselves, 'Are we ready to figure out how to best live our lives in a way that allows us to experience life at its full potential- and leave nothing on the table?' Too lofty? We think not. Achievable? Very!"When I latch onto an idea it's pretty hard to wrench it from my mental grasp. I'm sort of like a pit bull in that way:) I've totally sunk my teeth into this idea. The idea of a community where my kids can run freely, where they have meaningful relationships with a variety of trusted adults who can teach them and serve as role models, where safety is a by-product of relationships and watching out for each other, where the pace of life slows down to that of a leisurely conversation across a porch railing, a stroll to the community mail boxes, or a neighborhood dinner or work project. It's hard to be rushed or dismissive when you know all your neighbors on a first-name basis. I find that despite the thousands of people I cross paths with every day here in the city, that I can often go through an entire day without really connecting with anyone I don't actually live with. This is the idea behind cohousing and pocket neighborhoods, that we are social creatures and we are meant to connect with each other. This is why so many of us feel a deep down tugging, a longing for a stronger sense of community, and deeper connection with people around us.
If this daydream of mine sounds appealing to you too, these are the books for you! Use Pocket Neighborhoods to get your mind churning, to give some validity to those dreams. It's so important to nourish dreams so they don't fade away. I plan on referring to this book often, flipping through the glossy pages to rekindle my committment to these ideas. Creating Cohousing is where I'll turn for the nuts and bolts, to answer questions, to begin the planning process. It's also full of inspiring stories of successful neighborhoods. The last section of the books contains headings like "The Participatory Design Process," and "From Dream to Reality." This is where I'll turn when it's time to let this little dream of mine take shape and become something solid and real.
You know that story about the guy in solitary confinement who mentally practiced his golf swing a bazillion times every day for dozens of years, and then when he got out and actually hit a golf ball his swing really had improved? Well, I'm a firm believer in that whole idea of thoughts shaping reality. So, I consider all this planning, reading, and dreaming, "practicing my golf swing." Someday when we really are in a position to make something like this happen (oh, and it will happen, don't you worry!) the ideas will already be there, formed and ready to take shape.
I was sent a review copy of this book , but haven't yet been able to get my hands on it! It was one of the first books my mom picked up to read and she was through with it in a matter of days. Before I could snatch it up, Clay had already adopted it as his evening read. The fact that it's so appealing to both my mom and Clay has bumped it to the top of my must-read list.
We're fans of Eliot Coleman's books (I even reviewed one) and gardening methods, so I've been very curious to read about him from a completely different perspective. From what I've gleaned from my mom, it's not a particularly flattering portrait that his daughter, the author, paints. So much of what we read about the back-to-the-land movement is idyllic, picturesque and idealistic, so I think it will be very interesting to read about it from a different perspective.
I interviewed my mom about her thoughts on the book.
Why couldn't you put the book down?
I just had to know how it was going to turn out; I cared about those characters, they were well-crafted. And I wanted to understand how the little girl in the story became the lovely author on the back cover. I felt like I was watching the whole thing unfold, like I saw the farm and trees and pond... The writing was vivid, but not disctracting; you just got swept up in it. And maybe it's because I've known people like this in my life and it felt familiar.
Which characters did you find most fascinating or intriguing?
Although she covers other characters in more detail and only alludes to the Nerings, because I knew who they were [our friend was friends with them] I was curious about her perspective on them. She gave some interesting glimpses into their character and lives. There was conflict, there were difficulties that I became invested in learning about how they were resolved. There was something voyeuristic about the story because the people were real. And because their lifestyle was so similar to that of friends of mine, and some were even friends of friends, it had a personal weight to it that made me feel very invested in the story.
Any good life lessons from the book?
The characters in the book grew up in affluent circumstances, they became disenchanted with their parents' liefstyles and left it all behind to go off an do this homesteading. The story, more than being a cultural tale, is about the father who is so self-absorbed and perhaps obsessed with his vision that he neglects his wife who checks out emotionally, the children are neglected and there's even a death. If anything it's a cautionary tale about where to devote your energy and a negative example of the importance of directing your energy, emotion and creativity to your family. Overall, it's a good read; there wasn't a boring moment. It didn't get too wordy or drag, it was just right. Perfect for snuggling up on the couch with grandkids on the rug:)
Well, there you have it, two thumbs up, direct from my mom:) If you manage to get your hands on a copy (I'm not having any luck yet!), let me know how it is!
For awhile I've felt like my photography was in a rut. I took quite a few classes in high school and have always enjoyed seeing the world through a camera lens. But lately I've felt like I've been taking the same pictures, more or less, over and over. So, I was pretty excited when Shambala Publications offered to send me a review copy of The Practice of Contemplative PhotographyThe Practice of Contemplative Photography. "Perfect!" I thought, "I'll get some ideas for new techniques, a few tips..." But, it turns out it was exactly the opposite.
This is a really beautiful book, the photos of course, are lovely, but the sentiment that the authors express is so exactly what I've been needing to hear. Let me share a quote.
Concepts about pictorial techniques can further constrict [the photographer's] vision. Trying to see the world through the "rule of thirds" to create good composition, shooting very early or very late in the day because the light will be warm, or playing with exposure and color balance to make images look more dramatic... This separates them from the immediacy of their experience.
So, instead of being a book of tips and tricks, the book seeks to help the reader liberate themselves from the things that actually prevent them from really seeing. I suppose I'm drawn to the slowness, the simplicity, the meditative quality of the process. All of that just sounds so appealing right now.This paragraph from the chapter, Art in Everyday Life, really stood out to me.
Ordinary experience is the raw material of our photographic art. Photographer, writer and curator Beaumont Newhall wrote, "We are not interested in the unusual, but in the usual seen unusually." When we separate our artistic activity from daily life, we cut ourselves off from our most valuable resource. We divide the world into the worthwhile and the unimportant; the meaningful and the merely functional. Instead of appreciating what we have we look for something better, something more beautiful, more entertaining... Instead of looking elsewhere for nourishment, we can live artistic, elegant lives, appreciating the details of our ordinary experience.
That sentiment speaks to me on so many levels, not just about creative expression, but about how we live our lives. If you're feeling like you need to shake yourself up creatively, see things in a new way, this is the perfect book. If you just want to feel inspired and renewed, it's perfect for that too. In each chapter there are little "assignments," encouragement to try something new. I plan on working my way slowly through the book, referring back to it when I need a little reminder to really see through that lens.
The Beekeeper's Bible is the ONLY book you will ever need on beekeeping, or anything remotely related to bees, for that matter. I was so thrilled to get this book and it's found a regular place in the nighttime reading rotation (I have to fight Clay for it). I was first attracted to the cover. I will admit, I totally judge books by their covers. But just look at it; it's gorgeous! My only complaint about the book is that once I crack the cover I can't put it down! Seriously, it is so fascinating, so comprehensive and so beautiful. I know, I know, I'm gushing a little. But I just really love it! It begins with a discussion of bees in myth and symbol, covering everything from prehistoric cave drawings to Plato to Winnie-the-Pooh. It takes you through the history of beekeeping and scientific advancements. If you're not a history buff you can skip ahead to the hands-on, practical how-to section; it's comprehensive and accessible and covers everything you need to know: how many hives to get, buying bees by mail or catching swarms, colony inspection, disease prevention and treatment etc. It made me so excited to get bees again! After the broad history and the deep how-to comes the really fun part: recipes, medicinal uses, crafts and projects! Honey-broiled scallops, spiced honey hummus, phyllo goat cheese and honey parcels (yum!), walnut and honey cookies, honey polenta cake, honey eggnog oh man, I could just go on and on, but I think I'm drooling... Those are just the edible recipes, then there's a whole slew of beauty recipes: creamy hair conditioner, cold cream, lemon and honey face pack, peppermint and beeswax foot treatment, solid perfume, honey soap... And some health remedies: cough syrup, green mountain salve, honey and lemon toddy. The crafts section is excellent too. I'm definitely trying the beeswax furniture polish to use the beautiful pieces Clay makes for us. And here's a project from the book just for you:
Prepare 1-2 molds by shaping aluminum foil into small, rectangular block molds and lubricate with cooking oil. Next, melt the beeswax in a bain-marie over low heat. Add the grated soap and melt, keeping the heat low and stirring until smooth. Add the food coloring paste and stir thoroughly to combine. Pour the mixture into the molds and allow to cool The crayons may be melted again after testing if more coloring is required. Makes two crayons.
This book was sent over by Abrams Books. Thanks, guys!
I've been thinking, recently, about motherhood. There was the recent holiday, and the book, of course, and I'm also working on a little project with my mom that I'm excited to show you soon. All of these things have got me thinking about this amazing, exhausting, exhilirating profession of Motherhood.
One of the things that struck when reading all the essays in the book, were just how varied the experiences of mothering or being mothered were, and yet how poignant each one was. There is a depth and power to each and every story, whether a glowing tribute to a mother or a complicated dance of misunderstanding and trying again. That was really the common thread, that motherhood is messy, complicated, hard to define and yet we know it when we see it because something there resonates with us, on a gut level. It doesn't necessarily have anything to do with blood and birth, though that is often a part of it. It doesn't necessarily have to do with titles or marriages, though those things certainly factor in. My essay talks about the connection I feel to a mother who hasn't been a part of my life since I was seven, and who yet is inextricably interwined in who I am. It also touches on my relationship with someone who is in most ways even more of a mother to me, my step-mother. Crazy, complicated, beautiful stuff this mothering...
I won't go into too much detail about this project I'm working on with my mom (step-mom, for clarification); I don't want to ruin the surprise! But, can I ask you a question? Or a few? What do you think are some of the most important things for mothers to know? I mean, if you had to sum up a few crucial ideas for a mother-to-be, what would they be? Tips on juggling it all? Reassurance that she can do this? Encouragement to trust her intuition? Advice on keeping teenagers close while giving them their independence? How to keep your kids safe in this crazy, scary world? Or just to relax, it's not that crazy and scary? What do moms really need to know about how to be a mother?
PS Here's a little excerpt from my essay. You can get the entire book for $4.99 and enjoy the whole range of essays. I promise; it's totally worth it!
Breast cancer has its virtues, though few. It doesn’t steal in and snatch away loved ones in the dead of the night. The process is slow; there is time to prepare. My mom, Tinnel, told my step-mother that she thought God had hand-picked her to raise me. And she was right. I can’t count the number of times I have thanked Him for the gift of a loving (step) mother. I’ve told my step-mother everything, even about the time I brushed the dog’s teeth with her toothbrush during a fit of teenage rage. But my biological mother, there are a lot of things I wish I could tell her.
When it became clear that the end of my mom’s life on Earth was near she began to write me a book. It ends abruptly and is composed of mostly blank white pages, an apt metaphor for her unfinished life. She was only 37 when she died. But within the first few pages of her graceful handwriting and watercolor illustrations are as much wisdom and love as she could conjure up in those last few moments.
Of breastfeeding, my mother wrote, “I loved to nurse you. It created the bond we share to this day (the day you’re reading this), and I was sad to give it up even after 2 years.” I would tell her that she was right, that I can feel her in my body and my being, that I am made of her, as my own daughter is built of my very essence, cell by cell. No distance or death can change that initial construction. I have the feeling that those early years when she poured herself into me both literally and emotionally, gave me strength for difficulties ahead.
images from Stock Exchange
I'm so excited about this anthology I was asked to contribute to, and really honored to be included among some writing and blogging greats (read the "extended description" for links and bios). The book is called Stories I've Only Told My Mom and includes all sorts of essays that cover the spectrum from heart-warming to gut-wrenching, confessional to controversial. It's a really amazing collection of work (and I can say that because I'm only one of seventeen authors!). I'm looking forward to Mother's Day when I can reread some of my favorites while curled up with a cup of tea and no one will be allowed to interrupt:) That's all I ever really want for Mother's Day, just a little uninterrupted time to think or read, plus a few snuggles with my babes. And maybe breakfast in bed...
This is the perfect book to share with your mom, or with your best girls (my mom is both!), the girlfriends you call first when you're crying in the middle of the messiest kitchen in the world, or after you've read your daughter's diary, or when your toddler eats dog food while you're taking a shower (is it so wrong to want to take a shower?!). Share these stories with them. Maybe over a cup of tea.
The essay that I wrote is about my biological mother. You may remember from past posts that she died of breast cancer when I was very young. It was a good experience to write this essay for and about her, a bit healing in a way. The essay touches on loss and connection, body image and breastfeeding, and the unbreakable (even by death) bond between mother and daughter. I guess it's my mother's day present to her. I hope you like it.
What about you? What will you do for your mom this weekend? What will you share? Are you anticipating anything special from your kids or hubby? Here's hoping your weekend is full of good things!
Is there anyone else that sometimes reads craft or recipe books like novels? You know, slowly flipping the pages, savoring each one, reading all the details whether or not you plan on immediately making the project/recipe? I've been flipping through Natural Patchwork and daydreaming about having the time to create some of these beautiful projects. It almost feels like the mere act of sewing these sweet, nostalgic things would somehow magically open up more time in my day. That sounds counterintuitive, but I'm pretty sure there's some sort of mathematical equation where excess time is equal to the number of charming patchwork items in one's home. Natural Patchwork is one of those Japanese craft books translated into English. Don't you love those? There's just a certain something, a balance of wildness and refined style, that I love. All of the projects can be done at the machine or meditatively by hand. My mom's coming out to visit next week and I would love to have something sweet and handmade to greet her: a throw or new pillow for her bed, perhaps the comfy patchwork house slippers, or a colorful tote bag... Maybe I'll magically find time to squeeze a little project in before she gets here; we all know how little encouragement I need to put aside the dishes and laundry:)
This book was a review copy sent by the publisher.
So, this book is sort of changing my life. Well, okay, maybe not yet, but I think it's going to:) I was sent a review copy and I thought, "Great, I always procrastinate, this will be perfect!" Of course, it did take me awhile to get around to reading it... It's one of those books that I might have passed by in the book store, but it totally hooked me once I got into it. I enjoy armchair psychology books, especially when they apply to me. I was impressed with how well the author nailed me, and the reasons I procrastinate. I hadn't really thought about the why before, only that I wished I didn't put things off so much. Does anyone else suffer with procrastinitis or is it just me? I always feel like I could get SO much accomplished if I didn't spend so much time beating around the bush.
Speaking of beating around the bush, the book gets off to a bit of a slow start. I mean, it was interesting, but I was antsy for him to get to the meaty stuff, i.e. how do I stop procrastinating? But once I waded through all the back story it made sense why he included it. Realizing why you procrastinate goes a long way in helping you actually get on top of it. In the second half of the book while talking about the ways we procrastinate, he includes action points after each section, little take away tips you can incorporate. I underlined as I read so I could go back and make a list of changes I want to implement. He talks about three main types of procrastinators and then gives solutions tailored to each type. Some of my personal favorites:
So, with this new aim of mine to simplify, organize, streamline and generally consume less, enjoy more etc. etc. I'm really liking some actionable, practical ways to get out of that procrastination rut. What about you? Are you a procrastinator? How do you keep it in check?