Moby-Mix – Oceanic Book Recs

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Earlier this year, Sam and his dad started reading Moby-Dick at bedtime. It was an abridged version, from the dollar store, and it was a big hit, at least for Sam. While there are infinite layers of symbolism that he might explore when he reads Moby-Dick down the road, for now it lives in his mind as a great adventure tale, which is good enough for me.

The story became even more intriguing, when we recently found Moby-Dick In Pictures by Matt Kish. He really created one drawing for every page of the original novel, and each illustration is fascinating. Even though I didn’t start as a particularly rabid Moby-Dick fan, this is a book that I must own. That I will own!

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We’re both in love with the book, and with Matt’s art, so we also recommend his very fine blog.

I thought our whale tale was settling down, and then we found Moby-Duck: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalist, and Fools, Including the Author, Who Went in Search of Them. If you made it through the title, you might enjoy the book. It’s a dense, non-fiction account of exactly what the title describes. I’m reading it to Sam, and I think we’ll be maximizing our renewal limit on this one. But he loves it, so I’ll keep on reading, all for the love of a water-loving boy.

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What are your watery book recommendations? 

Imagine Childhood

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“Of all nature’s materials, dirt is possibly one of the most underrated (except by those of you out there who are gardeners and know dirt, or rather soil, is kind). It’s a nuisance that’s tracked into the house, making your floors dirty; it’s the sand in your spinach that you couldn’t wash out completely. It always ends up somewhere you don’t want it. Yet for all its ability to be in the wrong place, when it’s in the right place, there’s no denying its versatility.”

-From Imagine Childhood, by Sarah Olmsted

I’m enjoying this book and the Olmsted family’s accompanying blog and web-site very much. I was reminded of this short passage about dirt, when Sam finished school today covered in mud, stripping off water-logged boots and socks before jumping in the car. We both smiled all the way home.

Imagine Childhood is a collection of nature essays, ideas for play, and simple projects. Sarah has divided the book into three major sections: nature, imagination, and play. The three areas are intertwined by her thoughtful text and beautiful photographs contributed by  many members of the Olmsted family.

Book Review: An Artful Alphabet

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Groom by Jennifer Kincaid

You might have gathered by now that we’re defining the category of Games pretty broadly. Anything that leads you to engagement and playfulness could be a game. Tonight’s book might bring exactly those elements into your life.

My step-sister, Jennifer Kincaid, is an artist and entrepreneur, based out of San Francisco. In addition to creating beautiful “traditional” abstract art, she plays with large-scale collaborative works that engage the public – crowdsource art. Six Factorial Times Four to the Sixth is a wonderful example of art morphing into game playing, with the whole process leading to conversation and community engagement. She’s taken that project and created an on-line beta version called Interactorial, which is very game-like and fun.

Jennifer’s current project is called An Artful Alphabet of Scribel Dudel. The first free coloring book in the series is A is for AbstractYou can download and print the free PDF version of the book, and then color and create to your heart’s content. Once you’ve scribbled and doodled some masterful work, you can upload photos of your work to a flickr pool, and see what others are up to.

I hope you’ll check out Jennifer’s work, share it with friends, and then get in there and play!

Eat Your Words: The Fresh & Green Table

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When I found this weighty paperback on the new book shelf, I assumed its main selling-point would be the beautiful photographs. Since I’m easily seduced by beautiful photographs, that would have been enough. When I finally dug in to read The Fresh & Green Table (Chronicle Books, 2012), I was impressed by chef/author Susie Middleton’s knowledge base and her accessible writing style. From the introduction:

“You might think that cooking vegetables is all about the ingredients. (Vegetables are, after all, so sexy.) But I think the real secret to making delicious vegetable dishes is a repertoire of good and easy techniques, brought to life – of course – in detailed recipes.”

I’ve made more than a few good veggies go bad because of my poor cooking techniques, so I’m closely reading these recipes, rather than simply gawking at the gorgeous photos by Annabelle Breakey.  The recipes are diverse, and adaptable once you’ve mastered some of the basic techniques. The Fresh & Green Table isn’t meant to be exclusively vegetarian, so a few of the recipes include meat, making the book an excellent resource for bridging the culinary gap in herbivore vs. omnivore households. Vegans will need to adapt the recipes a bit more, as Middleton is absolutely (blessedly) in the Julia Child camp regarding the use of butter, cheeses, cream, and eggs.

The Fresh & Green Table is Middleton’s second cookbook, a semi-sequel to Fast, Fresh & Green. The two books complement each other: her first book focuses on vegetable based side-dishes, while her latest offering is meant to showcase main dishes. You can read more about Susie’s cooking and farming adventures on her blog, Six Burner Sue.

Eat Your Words: D.I.Y. Delicious

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When city life starts to wear me down, my go-to escapist fantasy is to somehow have the time, space, and energy to make everything. I mean everything. This idea was probably covered on an episode of Portlandia, but I’ll give you a quick run down. First you should imagine a farm, then a house built by me and a crowd of handy friends; the house is filled with hand-crafted furniture and blankets and dishes and clothes and toys and books and jewelry and…food.

The food part of the fantasy is really the most important. You won’t find any factory-processed foods in the cupboards. There’s probably a pantry and an ice box, and those are filled with 100% homemade goodness. Everything has been made from scratch. The spices are grown in the kitchen garden and then ground by hand using a mortar and pestle. The alcohol is distilled in the barn. The coffee… That’ll be hard to grow. My utopia won’t fly without coffee. Wait, the farm has just transported to Hawaii, so I’m back on track, and I see an avocado tree in the back yard. Now I’ll need a lot of friends to help with the farming and cooking.

Vanessa Barrington and the folks at Chronicle Books must have had their own homestead survivalist fantasies, which led to D.I.Y. Delicious (2010). Barrington covers more than forty base ingredient recipes, ranging from aioli to kimchi, and then folds those ingredients into forty more recipes that look crazy delicious, like Sustainable Seafood Stew with Meyer Lemon and Parsley Aioli Croutons and Spicy Soft Tofu Soup with Kimchi. Sara Remington’s gorgeous photographs seal the deal. This is a book worth owning, if you’re longing to bring a kind of Laura Ingalls Wilder meets Anthony Bourdain flair to your kitchen. That’s a little weird to imagine the two of them together, but maybe it could have worked, in another time and place.

D.I.Y. Delicious makes returning to this time and place a little easier, because you have to stay present and focused if you expect to properly chop all of the fresh ingredients. We’re looking forward to trying many of the recipes, especially the cheeses and breads. And the condiments. And the drinks chapter looks really good. And here I go again…

Eat Your Words: Party Edition

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If I was forced to choose just two current cookbooks featuring party foods, I’d go with Hors d’Oeuvres (DK, 2012) by Victoria Blashford-Snell and Eric Treuille and Real Snacks (Sasquatch Books, 2012) by Lara Ferroni.

Both titles are filled with beautiful photographs, if not the simplest of recipes. I’ll take gorgeous food shots over easy recipes any day, because the photos are the key to getting me re-inspired and re-interested in cooking and eating. Not that I’ve ever had any real trouble eating, but every once in a while I dip into a phase of just going through the motions, either eating unconsciously or eating for energy alone, enjoyment forgotten in the wake of five thousand responsibilities.

Hors d’Oeuvres is a lovely book that will strengthen your will to host honest to goodness parties, and hopefully inspire you to liven up your day-to-day meals. The authors have created “6 ways with…” features, which include innovative approaches to crostini, wraps, skewered foods, and more. I think that skewered foods are going to be a big hit at our house.

Real Snacks is basically Pandora’s jar (yes, I do mean jar!) in book form. If you open it, even once, I cannot guarantee your safety. You’ll most likely be persecuted by snack demons, demanding that you try every last recipe. Think of any favorite, guilt-inducing processed food snack (goldfish crackers! potato chips! TWINKIES!), and chances are that Lara has created a sublime and somewhat healthy version. So far we’ve only drooled over the book, but the first recipe we plan to try (hopefully tomorrow night) is her version of fried mozzarella sticks. Lara’s blog and web-site are also amazing, and to top it all off, this photography and snack food goddess is from Portland. As if I didn’t have enough reasons to want to move back…

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Eat Your Words

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My rough plan for Wednesdays, is to share book reviews (though you might see summaries or lists), based on the topic of the month. I’ll aim to include titles from the past year or two, but there will always be exceptions. Today I’m focusing on two writers who’ve always been able to reignite my interest in food, even during dark times.

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At the top of the stacks, by my bedside and on the kitchen counter, is everything and anything I can find by M.F.K. Fisher. I feel like she’s been overlooked during recent years, because of the Julia Child frenzy. Mary Francis didn’t host a television program or become the focus of a year-long blog project (oh, now there’s an idea…), but she wrote and lived beautifully:

“It is said that a few connoisseurs, such as old George Saintsbury, can recall physically the bouquet of certain great vintages a half century after tasting them. I am a mouse among elephants now, but I can say just as surely that this minute, in a northern California valley, I can taste-smell-hear-see and then feel between my teeth the potato chips I ate slowly one afternoon in 1936, in the bar of the Lausanne Palace.”
― M.F.K. Fisher, Once a Tramp, Always…

Doesn’t that make you want to find or make potato chips, immediately?  The down to earth quality of Fisher’s work is why she’s the go-to food writer for so many chefs and gastronomes – she adored potato chips as much as caviar. I’m reading the 50th Anniversary Edition of The Art of Eating. If you’re considering adding to your culinary library this is the one I’d buy, because it includes Serve It Forth, Consider the Oyster, How To Cook A Wolf, The Gastronomical Me, and An Alphabet For Gourmets. Enough reading to nourish you through the entire year.

One of Fisher’s many fans is Ruth Reichl, the renowned writer and editor. She struck fear in the hearts of New York restauranteurs during her stint as food critic for the Times, and then went on to lead Gourmet magazine from 1999 to 2009. She’s also written a series of funny, smart, culinary memoirs. I had the pleasure of surfing through her stories in non-chronological order, beginning with Garlic and Sapphires, then moving back in time to  Tender at the Bone and Comfort Me With Apples. Her most recent title is  For You Mom, Finally

Of course hundreds of other writers have dug into food writing and reporting with aplomb. Molly Wizenberg is a favorite, for her memoir A Homemade Life, and for her blog Orangette.  I’m also reading Endless Feasts: Sixty Years of Writing From Gourmet, edited by Reichl. The collection includes pieces by a few expected food writers (Fisher, James Beard), and many unexpected contributors, including Annie Proulx, Paul Theroux, and Laurie Colwin. I’ll leave you with this short excerpt from Colwin’s short essay A Harried Cook’s Guide to Some Fast Food.

“The refined slob does not, for instance, even tie up her chicken. Her fancy imported linen kitchen string – which she bought at a snooty cooking shop at great expense and which was, she told her family, for trussing the chicken only – has been purloined by her child, who has used it to make spider webs by tying all the chairs together. Before I had a child, I would no more have cooked an untrussed chicken than I would have re-used the dead coffee grounds, but today I know an untrussed chicken is perfectly fine.”

Laurie Colwin, February 1992

Who are some of your favorite food writers? Or writers who happen to write about food from time to time?

What do people do all year? 13 for ’12

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It’s time for the big wrap up! The thirteen posts below were the most popular during 2012 (according to wordpress), and include many of our favorite moments.

The biggest surprise was that the spinach ice cream made the list. Nobody has expressed any interest in using that recipe again. The two kids are lobbying for plain chocolate and strawberry, and I’m plotting the pureed veggies we could sneak in… Here’s to another year of family adventure, inquiry and play – we hope your life has been equally blessed.

What were the top 13 events in your life during the past year?

Book Love: Review and Interview with Melissa Taylor

What’s better than falling asleep with a few good books? Even if her chosen titles this week push the limits of “good” in my mind (you might have spied a few sparkly princesses in the stacks), she was thrilled with the collection of Tiara Club books she scored from the library. Most of her joy came from carrying the pile around the house, periodically counting them to ensure that she still had exactly nine. I read one of them aloud, all of it, which is what finally got her down for a Saturday nap.

She’s already a book lover, interested in every title she can get her hands on, repeating back the refrains with just a few comic reversals. She rocks Pete the Cat and The Big Red Barn. She’s already coveting her brother’s books, even the ones without pictures. She’ll sit by herself, flipping through chapter books; reading, reading, reading.

Sam’s relationship with books has been rockier. We’ve always been heavy on read-alouds, and he still loves that, thankfully. The rockiness arrived last year, in kindergarten, with phonics lessons and vowel patterns and guided reading groups. He could not, would not read for twenty minutes each night. He even went on a library strike, boldly proclaiming, “The only thing I like about the library are the DVDs.” Oh my. A dagger to my heart, mainly because reading has been my preferred obsession since I was four years old.

I also assumed that my master’s degree focused on language and literacy development in young children would sort of be my golden ticket in terms of teaching my own children. Sam’s book loathing has been a wake up call, yet another reminder that raising and teaching kids has got to be a group effort. This year, I’ve been thankful for his saintly first grade teacher. Now he’s coming home quoting Charlotte’s Web and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and he’s beginning to check out the book shelves in the library again.

In addition to the encouragement he’s finding in his classroom, I’ve been able to implement  more interesting reading experiences for him at home, thanks in large part to the work of Melissa Taylor, a local author and founder of the comprehensive literacy blog Imagination Soup. When I found out that Melissa was looking for bloggers to assist with the launch of her newest creation, Book Love: Help Your Child Grow from Reluctant to Enthusiastic Reader, I jumped at the chance. She had me with the title, so I couldn’t wait for the chance to preview the text.

Book Love (currently released on kindle, soon to be available in print), lives up to its title. Melissa uses her own deep knowledge of literacy development, honed as a teacher, a literacy specialist, and a parent, in order to demystify the reading process. She addresses the roots of literacy and the most common challenges that kids face as they learn to read, with pertinent descriptions and examples. She avoids academic jargon, favoring clear, helpful tips that families can implement immediately.

Melissa begins the book by describing four of the main reasons that kids don’t enjoy reading. Her descriptions helped me pinpoint the areas that are most challenging for Sam. I realized that he was getting the hang of decoding words and identifying sight words, but the texts that match his reading level are very boring. The texts that he finds interesting are just beyond his grasp, so he gets frustrated and gives up. We’ve been on the lookout for compelling books that are at his reading level, and we’ve implemented many of Melissa’s innovative ideas around bringing excitement back to reading. We’re ‘breaking the rules’ and letting him read in bed with his flashlight (and he’ll be getting a headlamp for Christmas). We’ve cleared out an upstairs closet and created a secret reading hide-away. We’ve also been checking out more comics and graphic novels, as well as books based on movies.

This is a book worth owning if there’s a child in your life who is struggling with reading. Melissa includes more than a hundred tips, activities, and games that have the potential to inspire readers at any level. The work is accessible for families, but would also be useful to teachers, especially those who are new to the craft of teaching reading.

As both of my kids grow, I’ll be using many of the ideas to keep the magic in our Saturday morning library visits.  And even though the book is designed for reluctant readers, my already-enthusiastic reader is also benefitting from Melissa’s recommendations.

This is a gratitude post for the book that Melissa published, but I’m also thankful that she jumped in and answered a few “She Made It” questions, even as she was immersed in a book launch.

What do you make?

I write a blog called Imagination Soup about making learning playful, fun, and engaging. I also freelance write for websites like Parenting.com and magazines such as Scholastic Parent and Child

How did you begin?

When I decided not to return to the classroom, I read Strengths Finder 2.0 and it helped me focus on writing. I started taking a lot of classes and reading books on freelance writing and the craft of writing. In an entrepreneur group, someone suggested I start a blog as a way to showcase my writing ability and to promote my writing classes. The blog and my online writing eventually took off. I’m always learning and setting new goals for myself.

Why do you continue to make stuff?

I love, love, love what I do. It makes me so happy! 

What’s the best thing you’ve made lately?

I’m so proud of my new book, Book Love, it’s exciting to see this project come to fruition because I know it will help many parents and children.

How do you balance your creative life, with everything else that needs to be done?

I’m getting better at it. I really do try to be present with my kids and intentionally set time for work and time for kids. When the kids are home, I don’t work unless it’s an urgent deadline. When they’re gone, I work. But, the other stuff — house stuff – gets neglected a lot. I’d rather be writing.

What advice do you have for others, who want to complete any type of creative project?

Jump in. You’ll never be ready so don’t over think it. Just do it.

How do you know when you’re finished with a project?

Sometimes you just have to be done – usually for me it’s a deadline, and knowing that it works. But, it’s never really done – I could revise forever. 

Speed Round – The A-List

Artist: Me

Author: The Dream –almost there

Activist: Standing Strong

Aspiration: Growth and Giving

Action: Forward Movement

Advice: Therapy. It’s priceless for anyone who is creating and wants to grow.

She Made It: Lori Pickert

I was living in Hawaii, with a curious, active two-year-old. When he napped in the afternoons, I’d surf the internet (it was an hour long drive to the ocean), and I stumbled upon the most beautiful blog. Camp Creek was a gorgeous compilation of educational philosophy, project-based homeschooling ideas, inspirational photos, book and material recommendations, not to mention a community of parents, engaging in on-line dialogue with the author, Lori Pickert. I was inspired by the way Lori brought the processes of art, learning, and family life together, into a meaningful, self-sustaining circle.

I’ve continued to follow her work over the years, so you can imagine how happy I was to buy a copy of her new book, Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners. Before launching into my short interview with Lori, here’s an excerpt from the book, on the topic of authenticity:

This approach doesn’t work if it isn’t authentic. Your values have to match how you really live. Whatever you think is important for your child should be reflected in your own life and your own choices.

Your core values must align with your goals, which must align in turn with your everyday choices.

Really listen to what adults around you say about children – not their own children, but children in general. Many adults think very little of children and their abilities and motives – possibly because they think very little of themselves and their own abilities and motives. They transfer their negative beliefs onto children. If adults thought of themselves as strong, capable learners who enjoy challenges and want to contribute, presumably they would see children the same way.

Although the title includes the term homeschooling, it’s a book about learning, creating, and living authentically – important themes for all creators. Whether you’re homeschooling, unschooling, public schooling, or charter schooling, this book will feed your thinking about the way people of all ages learn. The questions and ideas presented are thought provoking, no matter what your relationship is to educational systems – if you’re a learner, then there’s probably something for you in Lori’s book.

As for the interview, please make note of her answer to the fourth question – housekeeping is highly overrated – move your creative priorities up the list and go make something! After reading the interview, of course.

What do you make? How did you begin?

I’ve made a business, a school, a family. Most recently I wrote and published my first book about children and learning.

I started my first business when I was only 22. My husband and I have spent years hacking our life. We’ve done a lot of interesting things: ran the business together, renovated the top floor of a historic building for office space, founded a school, built our own space to hold our business and the school, built a barn house. We had two sons who we took with us everywhere.

I think the beginning for me was working my way through college and realizing that I had no interest whatsoever in working a regular 9-to-5 job. Then, starting a company in my early 20s, I got used to living an alternative lifestyle. Being in control of your life is addictive.

Why do you continue to make stuff?

I’m motivated to create because I want to make my vision come to life. I’m not good at settling. Whether it’s a house for my family or a school for my kids, if I can’t find what I want, I make it.

Thoreau said something in Walden: “I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself than be crowded on a velvet cushion.” I think a lot of makers and doers feel this way. I would rather make something myself and have it be imperfect in general but perfect for me.

One of my favorite things to create is community. When you articulate your vision, there are always other people who are looking for the same thing. You share the same values and priorities. So when you make something, whether it’s a physical product or an experience, you’re also making friends, community, a life.

What’s the best thing you’ve made lately?

A few months ago I published my first book, Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners. It’s the culmination of everything I know how to do — writing, publishing, helping kids be in charge of their own learning.

Along with the book, my husband and I made a new site with a forum — so we created a community as well. This project really combines all the things I love.

How do you balance your creative life, with everything else that needs to be done?

There’s other stuff that needs to be done?

I relentlessly prioritize. If it’s not really important to me, it falls to the bottom of the list. (That’s where you would find things like housekeeping.)

Being with my sons and working with them is a vital part of my creative life. They are the best collaborators. I feel so lucky to be part of their lives, watching them create. They’re my biggest supporters — and I’m theirs. That goes for my husband as well. Our family life is centered around helping each other learn and make.

My work life isn’t something separate from the rest of my life. My need to work and make things is woven into my family life, my home, and my relationships.

Even when I ran my school for seven years, that just became part of my creative life and my personal life. I love to learn, and I loved the experience of making something that huge and complex. I loved the people. I suppose my answer for balance is not to keep things separate. Just make everything creative. Absorb what you have to do into what you want to do.

What advice do you have for others, who want to complete any type of creative project?

Be deliberate about your choices. Define who you are and what you want out of life, then make it your everyday mission to live that life. Surround yourself with people who fill you with peace and energy; stay away from negative people. Make your environment support your goals — everything you see and touch should remind you of your priorities and values.

Relentlessly prioritize. Drop the things that make you feel good in the short term but aren’t part of your ideal life. I watch TV, but I don’t watch it every single night. It may feel hard to sit down and do your work, but the work will actually give you energy. Meaningful work is nourishing.

Remember that it’s not the end result that matters — don’t focus on rewards or recognition. The reward is living your most authentic life and doing your work every day. The only recognition that matters is yours, when you realize you get to spend your life doing what matters most to you.

How do you know when you’re finished with a project?

Being able to finish is crucial. I’m a reformed perfectionist, so it was hard for me to publish the book when I knew I could make it better. The problem is, you can always make it better. I could have held onto it for the next thirty years and kept improving it, but it doesn’t really exist until you let it go and share it with people.

One of the tenets of project-based homeschooling is that you must share what you make with others — it’s the final stage of learning. To really master something, you have to reach the point where you can explain it to someone else. And you need to help others. Pass your knowledge along to someone who can really use it.

If you focus on helping others, you can stop focusing on yourself. Fail enough times and keep going, and you internalize it as a method of eventual success. I’m a writer and that means writing and publishing books and getting better at what I do over time. In order to be something, which is a never-ending process, you have to keep taking on new challenges. Just push your work out into the world and move on.

Speed Round – The A-List: 

 Artist: Maira Kalman

 Author: Laurie Colwin

Actress: Juliette Binoche

Activist: Eleanor Roosevelt

Aspiration: Help parents help kids take charge of their own learning.

Action: A little every day adds up to a good life.

Advice: To quote Woody Guthrie, “Take it easy, but take it.”