Blogging for Books: Make it Yours, by Christine Schmidt

May 10, 2017

This is a collection of clever ideas for household craft projects, with an accent on customizing goods with stencils or other patterns. Projects range from tote bags to linens to leather wallets.  They evidence a modern, bright, simple aesthetic–think Pottery Barn. Schmidt presents projects in a manner similar to a recipe, listing supplies needed,  level of difficulty, time needed for completion, and a numbered series of steps needed to accomplish the project.

I made a set of sculpey ceramic tags, suitable for personalizing gifts, jazzing up jars of homemade jam, or even jewelry.  They were simple to make and didn’t require a lot of expensive supplies–I was able to use my own rubber stamps, cookie cutters, and copper piping (for making holes) and only needed to buy sculpey and a tube of gouache paint.

One nice thing about the craft “recipes” is that the basic techniques can be applied in a multitude of ways.  Now that I’ve learned the technique I could use the same process to make beads, buttons, or tree ornaments.

As might be expected, the time requirements listed are optimistic.  The clay tags were supposed to take one half hour; they actually took an hour and a half.  (I am, truth be told, kind of pokey)

A comprehensive appendix discusses craft concepts and materials and provides traceable designs for the drawing – challenged.

As might be expected, the photographs and illustrations are lovely.

Wendy’s recipe file: nourishing shrimp and noodle soup

March 16, 2017

The curse of the Ice King is on the land, I had a big bunch of cilantro turning yellow, and I felt the need for a nourishing soup to counter our endless gray, damp, chilly weather.  Hence this Thai style soup, aromatic, delicious, nutritious, and a big hit with my family:


Serves 4

Broth:  6 whole cloves

6 green cardamom pods

4 star anise pods

3 dried Thai chiles

2 cinnamon sticks

2 tsp black peppercorns

1 bunch cilantro

1/2 medium onion, sliced

5 garlic cloves, sliced

1 lemon, sliced and seeded

1 4″ piece ginger, peeled and sliced

1 T fish sauce

12 cups chicken broth

Toast cloves, cardamom, star anise, chiles, cinnamon, and peppercorns in a large pot over medium heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes.  Add Broth, cilantro, garlic, lemon, onion, ginger, and fish sauce.  Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer for one hour, letting flavors meld.  Strain into a large bowl, pressing on solids to extract as much broth as possible.  Return broth to pot.


1/2 cup roasted and salted cashews (I like the chili/lime cashews from Trader Joe’s)

1 T chopped hot peppers (I make my own Hatch pepper sauce but jalapeno would work fine)

juice of 2 small limes

1 1″ piece ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped

1 T dark brown sugar

1 T fish sauce

2 T toasted sesame oil

Pulse cashews in the food processor until finely ground.  Add remaining ingredients and process until smooth.


1 12 oz pkg brown rice pad thai noodles

1 lb. raw shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 cup sugar snap peas, destringed and halved

1 cup shitake mushrooms, thinly sliced

1 small bunch radishes, sliced with greens

1 cup bean sprouts or micro greens

fresh basil and mint for garnish

After straining the broth, keep warm on the stove.  Cook the rice noodles according to package instructions.  While the noodles are cooking, add the shrimp to the soup and return the broth to a boil.  When the shrimp are almost done, add vegetables and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes.  To serve, fill about half of each soup bowl with noodles.  Top with 2 T cashew paste and pour soup on top.  Combine until well mixed; garnish with basil and mint.

blogging for books: Harvest, by Stefani Bittner and Alethea Harampolis

March 4, 2017

This is an enticing book for this time of year, when I am weary of cold gray days and take refuge in planning my garden.  I like plants that are useful as well as attractive so I was excited to learn about so many edible and/or fragrant plants I was unfamiliar with.  I marked many a page with post-its to reference when I order my seeds and make that long-awaited first spring trip to the nursery.

Harvest is a beautiful, well organized book.  Each of the 47 plants featured includes a gorgeous picture, a description of the plant and its potential uses, gardening and harvesting information, and a potential project.  The projects range from salts to flower arrangements to beauty products and herbal teas.

Some intriguing plants that may make their way into my garden this summer include peppermint candy flower, black cumin, anise hyssop, gem marigolds, calamintha, chinotto orange, viola, and mashua.

My only criticism of the book is that their gardening instructions could be more extensive.  I know some of these plants are more difficult to grow that the authors make out!

our revolution’s got soul

February 23, 2017

For once, I opened the newspaper and found good news!  First, six earth-like planets are orbiting a star only forty light years from Earth.  So if the Trump administration destroys our planet, there’s six other planets we can choose from.  Secondly, remember Our Revolution, Bernie Sander’s organization? As reported in Thursday’s, Wall Street Journal,  they’ve quietly been up to loads of good.  They’ve been backing grass roots candidates for local Democratic positions all over the country, achieving considerable success.  Meeting usually dominated by a few political wonks are drawing unprecedented crowds. In the Sacramento suburb of Elk Grove, more than 1,000 people stood inline outside a bowling alley in a torrential rainstorm to vote for delegates to the California Democratic Party’s May state convention.  Sanders campaign alumni swept elections for local Democratic officer positions in Brevard County, a Trump stronghold. And so on, people filling town halls across the country. Looks like the Democratic Party is going to be a lot more democratic, wielding a lot more moral authority and a lot more grassroots energy, once 2018 rolls around.

Thank you, all you fellow citizens, for caring, and more important, for doing! I’d like to share the last lines from Marge Piercy’s inspiring poem, “The Low Road”.  It was written in 1980 but couldn’t be more relevant today:

A dozen make a demonstration

A hundred fill a hall

A thousand have solidarity and your own newsletter

ten thousand, power and your own paper

a hundred thousand, your own media

ten million, your own country

It goes on one at a tie,

it starts when you care

to act, it starts when you do

it again and they said no,

it starts when you say WE

and know who you mean, and each

day you mean one more

who are these people?

February 21, 2017

I’m an optimistic person by nature, so I still hold out the hope that Trump voters are on the whole reasonable and decent, if misguided people, who voted for Trump out of desperation.  I hope they are appalled by his behavior of this past month, and are having “buyer’s remorse” over their choice for President.  I still hope that we can come together, throw this idiot out of office, and get our country on some semblance of the right track.

An article I read in the Wall Street Journal casts doubt on this hopeful view.  Several Trump supporters in Fauquier County, Virginia held forth on why they still stand fully behind him.  Note that Fauquier County is not a hollowed out factory town or a coal mine ravaged valley.  It’s lovely, rolling hill country, in the shadow of the Blue Ridge mountains.  The average per capita income is $90,000 a year.  Residents are more likely to be riding their horse than shooting up opiates behind the abandoned steelworks.  Not exactly a vision of desperation.

“This is Redskins country,” notes one man.  “If you support the Dallas Cowboys, you should move down there.”

“Heaven has a gate and a wall,” notes one woman.  “And they’re doing extreme vetting over there.”

Okay.  So you’ve got one person analogizing support for the President, who represents the entire nation, and loyalty to a sports team who represents one small region.  Not to mention that the quarterback of the Redskins does not have his hand on the nuclear button.  And since when can’t a Cowboys fan live in Redskin country? Then you’ve got another person implying that the USA is heaven and that the Trump administration is God. No comment.

I still believe that the authors of these stunning statements love their children.  Maybe we like the same bluegrass bands, or fried chicken restaurant.  But their beliefs as regards our constitutional democracy are so at odds with mine (and at least 50% of the population) that I despair we can ever find common ground.  It’s  a long path to walk, and they’ve got to realize it’s a two way street.



why I wear my resist button

February 9, 2017

I wear a resist button on my jacket every day.  This is why.

I wear my resist button to remind me to act, not just complain:  to call my congresspeople; to deliver household items for refugees; to march in the streets.

I wear my resist button to remind me that this is no time to be polite.  We have to be firm.  We have to be loud.  We have to be heard.

I wear my resist button to drown out the drumbeat of people saying my concerns are overwrought, or that Trump is simply a “different” kind of president, or (as one Wall Street Journal columnist said yesterday) “this isn’t Germany in 1933”.  Because maybe it is.

I wear my resist button so others will see it, and ask where I got it, and if they can have one.  I want there to be a sea of people wearing resist buttons everywhere I look, so we can all support each other, and be strong.

I wear my resist button to remind myself that no matter how much the bully-in-chief tries to intimidate us, we will only push back harder.


Blogging for books: Everything you need you have, by Gerad Kite

January 31, 2017

This is a self-help book based on the idea that most of us live at the bottom of a pendulum, subject to alternating highs and lows.  Kite offers a guide to “climbing the pendulum” so that you’re operating from the still center at the top.

While at the lower levels Kite offers wise, common sense advice:  accept yourself as you are; accept others as they are; don’t prejudge; don’t make didactic moral judgments; live in the present without regrets; respect the needs of your physical body.  But when he goes higher on the pendulum (in the latter part of the book) he veers into weirdo land.  First we learn about which bodily organs are awake at which time (apparently the spleen is partying at 3 AM and the kidneys at 5?).  While we do indeed have diurnal cycles, I’ve never seen any scientific evidence for Kite’s specific schedule. At the very top of the pendulum one is supposed to let go of free will, make no moral judgments, and accept what comes in life as if one was watching it on TV.  This way we will be free of pain.

Sorry, I can’t buy this.  In the eyes of God, perhaps we are all equal, from a malarial mosquito to our newborn baby, to an alien in a distant galaxy.  Maybe all our problems don’t amount to a hill of beans in the immensity of space and time.  But back in the micro world of our own little lives, our choices do matter.  There is free will and there is right and wrong.  If that knowledge leads to pain, so be it.

(white) house cleaning

January 27, 2017

I’ve been on a cleaning/organizing kick the past couple weeks, lining books up by size on bookshelves, putting boxes of photos into albums and frames, labeling all the glass jars in the pantry, recycling mounds of irrelevant paper, you get the idea.  The winter weather is part of it–this organizing binge started when I was snowed in and it’s still pretty gray and dreary out there. And I am doing less child care than I have in 36 years, so I have more time.  But I think the main reason is political.  If I can’t control the country, I can control my house.

Unfortunately, no matter how much organizing I do, I can’t reorganize Donald Trump out of existence. I can’t throw him out with the trash.  If I could, I would.

Chevoo: two flavor sensations in one

January 26, 2017

Chevoo:  two flavor sensations in one!  I realize that sounds like a 1960’s advertisement, but it is the best way to describe this new product.

Chevoo  combines cubes of flavored goat cheese with infused olive oil.  Both the cheese and oil contribute their own flavors to the mix, and while both entities remain separate they play off each other wonderfully.  There are currently three varieties:  chili chevre and lemon oil; smoked sea salt chevre and rosemary oil; dill chevre and garlic oil.  You can dip bread in the oil then top it with its accompanying chevre.  Add a little balsamic mixture and the whole jar enlivens a salad.  Or do the same on top of pasta or roasted vegetables.

Gerald and Susan Tuck, Chevoo’s producers, emigrated to Northern California from Australia, where marinated chevre is a staple.  They begin with local goat curd and extra virgin olive oil, then steep the oil for 4-8 weeks in a giant “tea bag” filled with the appropriate crushed botanical.  Then they bring the chevre and oil together in the jar.  The oil lends the cheese a richness, and all the flavors are robust but subtle.  Our family’s favorite was the sea salt and rosemary.

Chevoo is sold in over 400 stores: Whole Foods, New Seasons, and Market of Choice in Portland and Seattle, as well as many smaller stores in California.  The Tucks recently opened a 10,000 square foot production facility in Healdsburg.  The standard 7 oz  jar retails for $9.99; “picnic size” 4 0z jars and a 2.3 food service tub have just been released.

new year’s day 2017

January 1, 2017

It’s been an edgy, uncomfortable time, but I am in a good mood today.  I saw a great concert last night, the jam band Railroad Earth, in a loving environment filled with light and balloons.  this is coming off of a holiday season filled with friends and family.  Our house is cozy and warm.  I tend to be a default positive person, and I cannot help but feel happy.

Please forgive me if I sound preachy, but there has been a wringing of hands/end of days mood going on since the election that is driving me crazy.  I have a few New Year’s meditations and advice to send out into the world:

  1. Remember that no matter how heartfelt and valid your opinions are, there are no doubt people in the world–both in this country and in countries that are our supposed enemies, who hold equally heartfelt and valid opinions that are quite different  It’s especially important in these divided times to listen to people with an open heart and grant their viewpoint and values the same weight that you do your own.  While campaigning for Bernie Sanders last year, I ran into several people who preferred Bernie to Hillary because they thought he was more supportive of their socially conservative views.  In reality, his personal views on these issues, such as abortion, were the same as Hillary’s.  But what he was doing was validating other, equally respectable beliefs instead of scorning or pitying them.  If Hillary had not called half the US population “deplorables”, she might be President today.  Also people’s values are not a package deal. They come in many nuanced varieties.  Do not presume.
  2. The means determine the end.  I definitely come down on that side of this ancient philosophical debate.  If you wouldn’t overlook political malfeasance in the Republican party, not to speak of foreign countries (ie Russian hacking) don’t overlook it in the Democratic party.  Demand integrity from all entities.
  3. Think critically.  Not every meme blasted about social media is true.  For that matter, neither is everything written in the New York Times.  Think like the investigative journalists that should be out there.
  4. Be as strong as you need to be.  I don’t know how we will be tested this year.  I hope not as much as we think.  But whatever we face we are going to need to face it with courage and never be afraid to speak out or take appropriate action.
  5. Let’s forget about identity politics and concentrate on our shared humanity.  We are one little species on one little planet; do our minor differences truly define us?  I don’t think so.  Every human on this planet deserves their basic needs met, every one deserves to live a meaningful life.  Let’s concentrate on that and fight the economic structures that hurt us all and the threats to the environment that endanger us all.
  6. This is no time for wringing your hands!!!  (no time is, really, but especially not difficult times).  We cannot control what life throws at us.  But we can control our reaction.  How strong we are, how understanding, how joyful–these are decisions that are always in our power, every minute of every day.  We are resilient beings.  We will get through this.
  7. Happy New Year to everyone!