Monthly Archives: April 2012

A Novel World’s Guide to Green – Book reviews & More!

Having made significant progress in my journey to healthy eating, it seems that my mentality towards food is beginning to seep into other areas of my life. Namely, how I personally effect the environment. If I’m going to be green with my food, then why not be green at home, at work, in the car, on the road, basically…everywhere?

Going green seems to be such an overwhelming thing, particularly when you see the ridiculous number and volume of books, articles, documentaries, etc., about people going to the full extreme to either drop off the radar, or stop the sins of consumerism. I’m not looking for that. I love the San Francisco hippie/ hipster reputation as tree-huggers, but believe me, I love my luxuries of hot showers just as much, if not more. How can one live a sustainable and eco-friendly life in the city? My best friend keeps chickens in her backyard in Portland. Alas, I have no yard, front or back. My husband maintains the upkeep of his container garden on our apartment balcony, because I have a penchant for killing all living flora with my black thumb.

What do I do then, since homesteading is out of the question? I can’t do as much as I want to, but I hope that what I do actually is making a difference.

  • I use reusable cloth bags for all my shopping trips. Or I throw small items into my purse.
  • I don’t bag produce items. I don’t want plastic grocery bags, why would I want these? Most items don’t need to be bagged anyways.
  • I use a glass water bottle that I picked up from Starbucks (although they are starting to pop-up in other stores now). No plastic, no pollutants.
  • I use a Zorjirushi Tuff Mug thermos for my coffee. It was a present from one of my best friends, and it is seriously the best gift I have gotten. It keeps coffee warm for HOURS, and you don’t feel the heat holding the thermos.
  • Bikes! Well, I just picked up my bike last night, so I haven’t done much with it yet, but I plan to.
  • I take public transportation to work 3x a week, and I hope to take it more often. I’d rather have my money go to local city services than oil companies.
  • I’ve cut back on meat, which has really just saved me $$ on the grocery budget. I’m not sure how it is effecting meat production, but I can sleep easy knowing a baby moo, a baby oink, and a baby chick haven’t died because of me.
  • I’ve unplugged everything in my apartment. I run around turning off unnecessary lights at work too.
  • Print & make copies on both sides of a paper. Reuse paper as makeshift notepads.
  • I use bar soap instead of body washes.
  • Use cotton dishcloths instead of sponges for washing dishes, use rags instead of paper towels to clean up spills and messes.
  • I try to avoid using cleaning supplies as much as possible, and make my own whenever necessary.
  • Donate, donate, donate. All my friends know that I’m a bit of a Goodwill nut, and will usually donate a couple of bags every month or so.
  • Recycling. I’m big on recycling whatever I can, but recently it clicked that unless I actually buy goods made of recycled products, then I’m not really doing anything beneficial. I’ve been trying to find products that are made from recycled goods, and it’s actually a pretty touch search. =/

Keep reading! There’s more!

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Anne of Green Gables (LM Montgomery) Tween-Teen Book Review

Anne of Green GablesAnne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery
Age: 10 +
Source: My copy
Publisher: Bantam Classics
ISBN: 055321313X / 309 pages
Find this book at your local library

If you haven’t heard of Anne of Green Gables, then what fascinating rock have you been living under? Maybe it was the same rock I lived under, since I have just started reading the 8 book series by LM Montgomery. I have seen the celebrated PBS mini-series, and have most of it memorized to boot. I mentioned in another post, that once a year I sequester myself away from friends and family and have an Anne of Green Gables PBS mini-series marathon. Megan Follows is Anne, from head to toe.

The story, is about a feisty, imaginative red-headed orphan, who is mistakenly brought to Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert’s home, Green Gables, on Prince Edward Island due to a mix-up at the orphanage. Despite having originally requested a boy, Mathew and Marilla are quickly taken with Anne, her rambling tongue, imaginative and friendly nature. It’s not long before Green Gables and all the residents of Avonlea are smitten with Anne and her penchant for getting into trouble.

I think every avid reader can connect to Anne in one way or another. While I was most certainly not outspoken as a child, I did have quite an imagination and a penchant for wandering and daydreaming rather than doing my work. Not to mention I love being in parks, and around nature.  

I think fans of Little Women, Little House on the Prairie, and Sarah Plain and Tall will enjoy this series. It’s a classic, written over a hundred years ago. The stories and the themes of friendship, first crushes, mean girls in school, and family are still themes and concepts that kids deal with today. Likewise for Anne’s insecurities about her looks, which is tied to her quick temper to remarks about her hair. Never call her carrots, as poor Gilbert Blythe learned the hard way.

Ah, Gilbert. The casting for him was spot-on. Dreamy eyes, curly brown hair, friendly smile and brains to beat all the other residents in Avonlea, excepting Anne of course.

The book was different from the PBS series in many ways, and I don’t think its better or worse. I like the changes PBS made, although now I realize on the number of extra characters they cut out of Avonlea. It’s not a different world in the book, but its more populated and more varied. The nosy Mrs. Lynde doesn’t play nearly as a big of a role in the book as she does in the mini-series.

I’m almost done with book two, Anne of Avonlea, so stay tuned for a review of the next title!

Literacy Love Sundays – Book People Unite

I came across this video via Jen Robinson’s Book Page. I’ve watched the video and taken the pledge to be a book person, have you? You know you want to. Book People Unite is an organization aimed at promoting literacy and book love in today’s youth.

What are we about?

We’re bringing together people who share our love of reading to help up get books into the hands of kids who need them most. The movement recognizes the incredible effect books can have on a child’s imagination, sparking ambition, overcoming obstacles and inspiring curious minds.

The video is incredibly adorable, featuring all of your and my favorite childhood literary characters from Madeleine, Humpty Dumpty to Greg Heffley.

If you go to the website Book People Unite you’ll be asked to take the pledge:

Reading lovers are coming together to help us get books into the hands of kids who need them most. Remember visiting Narnia, playing Jumanji, and eating Green Eggs and Ham? Books can have an incredible effect on children’s lives, yet there’s only one book for every 300 kids living in underserved communities in the US. SO we’ve brought together some of our most beloved literary characters to help make this film and rally Book People for the cause.

I read and interact with children in the library 3 days a week, (2 of which include 3 sessions of storytimes). Encouraging kids to embrace literacy and fostering a love of hand-held books is an amazing feat, and one I am proud to attempt each day at work. I hope you’ll share the same sentiments with me and give a child you know a book they can cherish for the rest of their lives.

Paris Je’ taime, j’adore le tour Eiffel

That is all. Happy Friday everyone!

Literary Locales

One of my absolute favorite PBS mini-series is Anne of Green Gables. Every year I sequester myself for a weekend, and watch the entire DVD set start to finish. This year, I’ve decided that its high time I actually sit down to read the books that the series is based on.

This had me thinking about visiting Prince Edward Island to see Green Gables in person. Then this thought led to the other literary locales I’d like to visit before I kick the bucket.

Chatsworth House


top withens past

  • Literary Places I Have Been
  1. Shakrespeare & Co (Latin Quarter – Paris)
  2. Victor Hugo’s Notre Dame (Paris)
  3. Hans Christian Andersen Statue (Copenhagen)
  4. John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row (Salinas)
  5. Robert Louis Stevenson’s House (Monterey)

Where have you gone? Where would you like to go?

Check out SJSU’s fantastic list of Literary Locales for some ideas.  

Paris in Love (Eloisa James)

Paris in Love by Eloisa JamesParis in Love by Eloisa James
Age: Adult
Genre: Memoir
Source: Library
Publisher: Random House, 2012
ISBN: 9781400069569 / 260 pages
Find this book at your local library

In 2009, Eloisa James, her husband and two kids took a big leap in their lives, hopping across the pond from New York to Paris for a year. The move came during Jame’s recovery period from her diagnosis and struggle with cancer only two years after cancer took the life of her mother. The memoir isn’t really about the cancer and learning to live in the moment. In her own words she:

did learn that moments could be wasted and the world would continue to spin on its axis.

The book is a wonderful collection of snippet observations that James had posted via Twitter and Facebook and emails during her time in Europe. This is by far, one of my favorite memoirs about living in Paris. James’ observations are witty, clever and eloquently written. The brief stories range from the experiences of her entire family. There was a very unique twist of her American born children going to an Italian school in France (their father is Italian, so the children are already bilingual). Both James and her husband, Alessandro, are teachers taking a year old sabbatical to live in the city of lights. The sections about the children’s time in school was the most entertaining for me. It added a depth of understanding to French culture that other memoris gloss over.

There is also an adorably overweight chihuahua that makes appearances throughout the book, although Eloisa’s mother-in-law might not want to hear him described as such. Eloisa seems to have a fantastic relationship with her family, and it was nice to read about their family adventures, particularly in the ordering strange foods department at restaurants.

Each chapter starts with a few pages of Eloisa retelling a particular story in-depth. The rest of the chapter is followed by snippet observations. The book chronicles their time in Paris from summer 2009 to summer 2010.

Here are some of my favorite posts to give you a feel for her writing style:

Quelle horreur! The guardienne came to clean and noticed that our glassware was smeared, which had been driving me crazy. The box of dishwashing powder that we’d been using? Salt! It looked like dishwashing powder, it was under the sink, and I never bothered to puzzle out the label. We have been running the dishwasher with salt alone for two months.

Due to my disinclination to chop off chicken heads, my butcher whacks them off for me, but he leaves the knees; black and red, hardscrabble knees for running hard. Parisian chickens are much more chickenlike than Mr. Perdue’s; furthermore, eggs come ornamented with tiny feathers. My children shriek: “Butt feathers!” Having grown up on a farm, I like remembering the sultry warmth of newly laid eggs.

Marina said today the first thing she plans to do back in Florence is find a new vet. That nasty vet who told her Milo is obese, she said, is too young and doesn’t understand Milo’s emotional problems. Taking his life in his hands, Alessandro pointed out that the vet was the third and most recent to cast aspersions on Milo’s weight, and that the most important number to keep in mind was not the vets’ years, but the figures displayed on their scales.  

Eloisa James’ also describes May Day in Paris, which is filled with protests, and lilies of the valley being sold throughout the entire city. My husband bought a bundle of the flowers, some wine, cheese and bread, and we had a fantastic picnic on our hotel balcony watching the rest of the world walk by. Although we didn’t see any protests on the streets last year.

I also adored the story of Milo getting stuck between the wall and the couch while making a run for a treat, because he couldn’t fit.  There are also a number of beautiful descriptions of the rain/snow falling down her window, off the roofs, on the floor; the relationship she and her family formed with the homeless man sitting outside their nearest metro stop, and their experiences with visiting family and friends.

Eloisa James is also a highly successful romance novelist, so this book will be a welcome addition for her current fans. I finished this book in 2 days, and would have probably finished it in one night, if I hadn’t started reading it at 11p. As an added bonus, James’ includes a list of the shops & restaurants that she and her family frequented during their stay in Paris.

Just for kicks, this is my favorite picture of Paris from my honeymoon last year. We stayed in the Rue Cler district, and this was our view every morning when we went out for breakfast. Is it any wonder why I’m so desperate to go back there? Maybe that’s why I’ve relegated myself to living vicariously through other people’s Parisian memoirs. I think I’m bordering on pitiful at this point. Oh well. C’est la vie.

Gourmet Rhapsody (Muriel Barbery) Weekend Cooking

Gourmet rhapsodyGourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barbery
Age: Adult
Genre: Fiction
Source: Library
Publisher: Europa Editions, 2000
ISBN: 9781933372952 / 156 pages
Find this book at your local library 

Gourmet Rhapsody is, in short, an ode to food in all its forms. The premise of the book recounts the final days of a renowned French food critic, on his death-bed, craving a certain food that is just on the tip of his tongue. The chapter’s alternate between his voice, the voices of his children, wife, servants and even the pets. It is a beautiful little tribute to food, and its preparation.

Muriel Barbery also wrote one of my absolutely favorite books, The Elegance of the Hedgehog. While Gourmet Rhapsody pales in comparison to the former novel, the book is not without its merits. Barbery’s gift with descriptions brings food to life in a new way, a three-dimensional way, for me at least. I could visualize and sort of smell the food she was describing.

The characters were pretty boring, to be honest. I didn’t really care for any of them, except for the food critic’s wife, who was neglected by her husband and pitied by her children. I liked the maid’s chapter the best, and I didn’t really see the point of the chapter’s told through the cat and dog’s perspective. I did like how all the stories were tied together, and each revolved around food. Food loved, food devoured, and food that was disgusting.

A snippet…the description of whiskey:

To start with, the unfamiliar aroma unsettled me beyond anything I thought possible. Such formidable aggressiveness, such a muscular, abrupt explosion, dry and fruity at the same time, like a charge of adrenaline that has deserted the tissues where it ordinarily resides in order to evaporate upon the surface of the nose, a gaseous concentration of sensorial preicipes…Stunned, I discovered that I liked this blunt whiff of incisive fermentation.

The book is brief, as are each of the 29 chapters. One of the chapters is narrated by Renee, the concierge and one of the primary characters in Elegance of the Hedgehog. This book can be a bit of a disappointment if you’ve read Elegance of the Hedgehog first, but don’t let that deter you. It’s still a good book about the love and search for good food.

National Library Week (April 8th-14th)

Love your library, thank your librarian, be appreciative of the free resources at your fingertips.

Key things to remember this week as you drive by, walk by, or even enter a library this week. Libraries are there for the people as city-run entities designated to provide all the resources you could possibly want and need to further your education, literacy, computer literacy and more. With the recession and state budgets, libraries have been hard hit in recent years. Many were forced to close their doors, others have to reallocate their hours, shorten hours, deplete staff, and in effect deplete the resources much needed for the public. Share your love of the library with your friends and family. Encourage people to sign-up for their library card and use their library. Go to library events, write to your local councilmember, and tell them you want more funds allocated to the library. Its a place to nurture growth and knowledge for children, teens, adults and everybody inbetween.

Articles and Newbits of note

Favorite library/reading quotes (

  • Throughout my formal education I spent many, many hours in public and school libraries. Libraries became courts of last resort, as it were. The current definitive answer to almost any question can be found within the four walls of most libraries. — Arthur ASHE (1943-1993)
  • A house without books is like a room without windows. No man has a right to bring up children without surrounding them with books…. Children learn to read being in the presence of books.  — Horace MANN (1796-1859)
  • It does not matter how many books you may have, but whether they are good or not. — Epistolae Morale
    Lucius Annaeus SENECA (3 B.C.-65 A.D.)
  • I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library —Jorge Luis BORGES (1899-1986)
  • A democratic society depends upon an informed and educated citizenry. — Thomas JEFFERSON (1743-1826)

A History of the World in 6 Glasses (Tom Standage)

A history of the world in 6 glassesThe History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage
Age: Adult
Genre: Non-Fiction / History
Source: My copy
Publisher: Walker, 2006
ISBN: 9780802715524 / 284 pages
Find this book at your local library

Tom Standage provides a history of the mostly Western world through the lens of 6 different fluids that have fueled economies, encouraged trade between nations, inspired exploration across seas, and have fully come to shape our modern human lives in ways that seem like second nature.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, although it took me a while to really get into it. The book follows a chronological order as we encounter different drinks throughout the eras. I found the earliest sections on beer and wine to be somewhat boring and also tightly packed with information. The coffee chapter was too short, but enjoyable and enlightening. I liked the amount of trivia found in the book, along with its social and political implications and influences of various drinks (tea houses, coffee-houses, prohibition, etc).

Standage does a good job of tying our history and modern connection with the specific drink. It adds a level of appreciation for the drinks that we have easily accessible and the hardships our ancestors faced trying to sell or buy these same products. If there is any particular drink that you want to learn more about, this book provides a good introductory view at the 6 main drinks in our history. Beer, wine, spirits, tea, coffee, and soda. Standage provides a detailed list of sources in the back for further reading. There are also various black and white illustrations throughout the book, highlighting significant people, and events. This book provides a new insight and perspective of our history and evolution as a culture as a result of our desire to create and share drinks. Some of the more fun trivia:

  • The Mayflower did not land at their planned destination because they ran out of beer on ship (at the time, beer was less contaminated that water, and therefore healthier to drink)
  • The first coffeehouse in England was started by an Armenian servant. He was eventually run out-of-town by his competition.
  • Coca Cola’s original formula did in fact come from the cocaine plant.
  • Coca Cola was originally distributed in syrup packets. Buyers had to provide the carbonated water.

Weekend Cooking – Happy National Beer Day!

Today, April 7th, is National Beer Day in the US. I thought I would use today as an Ode to Craftbrew and why it is wonderful, creative, and just plain good for all of us (over the age of 21 that is).

Although I don’t discuss this on the blog, my husband & I are huge fans of craftbrews, as are our two best friends. Both men of the group love to brew their own beer at home, and have gotten really good at drafting their own recipes.

Beer tasting is just as detailed and time-consuming as wine tasting. There are so many different types of beer styles, each with its own nuances, that its mind-boggling. My favorite beers are porters and red ales, and my husband loves his hoppy IPAs. We luck out in San Francisco, as craft brew is really on the rise here. A local brewery, Anchor Steam, just opened its own tap-room at the Giants Ballpark!!

If you want to learn more about beer, craft brew, and the beer industry here are a few recommendations to get you on your way: 

Beer Wars PosterThe movie is very well paced, and well documented. Our own Weekend Cooking host posted a wonderful review of the movie a while back. The movie (directed by Anat Baron), documents the rise and fall of beer, and the current competition between the small breweries (craft brews) and the larger breweries (Anheuser-Busch, Coors & Millers). Right now, there is a fight over space on TV ads, on shelf space in stores and in our refrigerators at home. The big three have an advantage in regards to financial backing, but the smaller craftbrews have been expanding, and the desire for fully flavored beer is only furthering the rise of craft brews. The main takeaway of the movie is that Anheuser-Busch is the WalMart of the beer industry. The bully with the cheaper goods of terrible quality.

Brooklyn Brew Shop Beer Making Book Cover ImageThis book is awesome on a bunch of levels.

  1. The recipes are amazing varied and delicious (peanut butter porter anybody??).
  2. The recipes are written in 1 gallon batches (perfect for small kitchens) and 5 gallon batches (perfect for larger kitchens).
  3. You can order the ingredients online and have them shipped to your home, or you can look up your local beer store and buy the ingredients locally. If you don’t want to piecemeal your beer, you can order kits online which are then sent directly to your home.
  4. This book has been immensely helpful for my husband, who used it as a guide to draft his own original homebrew recipes. Having the recipes broken into the smaller 1 gallon portions makes it easier to experiment without kits at home, as there is less waste.

A fantastic resource. Its like the IMDB/Goodreads/Librarything for beer. You can keep track of what you’ve drunk, write reviews, create a wishlist, find out what stores sell the beer you want, and look up information on breweries. They also have a fantastic iPhone app for travelers looking for a good drink on the road.

Once a year, Bay Area residents are treated to a week-long tribute to beer, local breweries, and good merry-making all around. It’s usually held in February, and events span from San Francisco to San Jose. LA also has a beer week, so search online to see if there is one near you.