New Craft Books

New books are arriving in droves right now at the library because we are at the end of our purchasing year, and those on the topic of arts and crafts are no exception.

Since we are definitely moving into that time of year when we are stuck indoors more often than not, how about learning a new art technique or craft to keep you busy during the long fall and winter months?

Some of the new arts and crafts books available on the shelves at the Main Library.

There are many different titles to choose from, so in an attempt to show the variety, I grabbed eight new books off the shelf to check them out. Take a look, and place some holds to pick up through curbside service!

Drawing with Fire : a Beginner’s Guide to Woodburning Beautiful Hand-lettered Projects and Other Easy Artwork by Aney Carver, starts off with this quote that I truly believe – we all can be creative.

“Millions of people spend their spare time watching television day in and day out, and most feel unsatisfied. Why? I’m convinced that everyone is hardwired to create and be creative in their own way, despite how they may feel about their creative aptitude. It all starts with a moment of inspiration that encourages us to think, I can do that; I can be creative! Of course you can! Now get up and let’s do it.”

Drawing with Fire has projects that are mostly focused on lettered signs, which would be a good way to learn the techniques and develop control.
Templates are provided in the back of the book and can be enlarged to fit your project.

Check it out and see if you aren’t a little tempted to try woodburning. I know I am, especially the eagle project.

Beginner’s Guide to Screen 
Printing : 12 Beautiful Printing 
Projects with Templates by Erin Lacy, explains screen printing at it’s simplest. Card stock can even be used as a stencil for the most basic designs. Information on screens, paints and inks, and fixing your design after printing are covered, and then the projects begin, which involve surfaces of clothing, fabric, and paper.
Templates are provided at the end of the book.

Garden Mosaics : 19 Beautiful 
Projects to Make for Your Garden
by Emma Biggs and Tessa Hunkin has some gorgeous designs and projects to offer. The authors cover the direct and indirect methods of creating a design and explain surfaces and tesserae (the pieces of glass or tile used to create a mosaic design). While most of the projects employ the use of square and other simple shaped pieces, the designs are striking and professional looking.

Creative Alcohol Inks : a Step-by-Step Guide to Achieving Amazing Effects by Ashley Mahlberg showcases the fascinating effects that can be achieved with this medium whether the surface being painted is tile, glass ornaments, special papers, or wood panels.

If you’ve never explored alcohol inks, check out this book and try one of the projects. You’ll probably soon be buying more inks and supplies than you can ever use.

The Woven Home : Easy Frame 
Loom Projects to Spruce Up Your Living Space by Rainie Owen features large and small projects ranging from camera straps to string bags to wall hangings.

There’s a section on how to make your own loom, and the projects are all pleasing to look at; in fact the whole book is beautifully photographed. Weaving can be a peaceful meditative pastime for these stressful times.

50 Knitted Wraps and Shawls by Marisa Noldeke features a real spread of wonderful, warm looking yet not too bulky creations. Instructions and charts are provided for each project.
The author states there are projects that are suited to those learning to knit up to more complex designs, and there are illustrations of both knit and crochet techniques in the front.
Not being a knitter, all I can say is I want them all, and may beg my coworker who is a knit and crochet whiz to make me one!

Macramé : Techniques and 
Projects for the Compete 
Beginner by Tansy Wilson and Sian Hamilton
Macramé comes and goes in style, and clearly it’s back in again. This book is full of a variety of projects; one of the most simple yet beautiful is a dip-dyed wall hanging attached to a driftwood branch. The authors seem to excel at using color to add depth to their works.
Other macramé artists and their works are featured as well.
This is another craft that you can lose yourself in and free your mind.

Crocheted Dogs by Vanessa Mooncie features patterns for ten different dog breeds to choose from: Dachshund, Border Terrier, French Bulldog, Labrador, Chihuahua, Dalmation, Spaniel, Yorkie, German Shepherd, and Poodle.
Each set of instructions is thorough and fills several pages. Materials, and stitches are explained in the back of the book, as is stuffing and sewing. Check it out and try creating your own miniature dog!

If you are yearning to create but don’t know where to start, remember the library and all the books waiting patiently to be checked out. Give us a call at 425-257-8000 if you need more help finding books on any subject – we will be glad to pull some for you and place them on hold for curbside pickup.

Summer Sewing

Get out that machine and give sewing a try (again) this summer.

It seems like lots of people have taken an interest in making things by hand these days, whether it be bread or soap or clothing. Some of the library staff have been busy baking sourdough, making masks, remodeling, tidying, and gardening during the time the library was closed, and for some of us the creative frenzy continues even now that we are back in the library.

If you have a sewing machine collecting dust and never really learned how to use it, check out this beginner level class on how to make a tote bag from Creativebug, one of the library’s most recent additions to our online resources.

To see the whole video, follow this link: Market Tote Bag.
You will need to login with your library card number and PIN.

Everyone can use another shopping bag, right? Well, maybe if it’s a cute, lined, one-of-a-kind version! In this session, instructor Cal Patch makes sure to explain the project in terms that any beginner will understand. There’s even a section on how to thread the needle. The good thing about Creativebug classes is that they are broken up into segments; if you don’t need to watch a section just skip ahead.

I tried out this project and found it to be easy to follow, but there are a few places where you can go wrong. I had to take mine apart twice! (It is pictured at the bottom of this article):

1. Make sure to pay special attention to what she does with attaching the straps. The straps must be placed on the outside of your bag cover before you put together the lining and outer cover.

2. Copy exactly what she’s doing when she’s putting the two layers together. The outer piece, whether liner or cover, needs to be wrong side out, and the inner piece needs to be right side out. On my final try I just did what she did and it worked.

The bag and strap dimensions are left up to the maker. I cut my bag pieces to 17″x17″ for a 16″ square bag. You could make yours smaller, larger, or rectangular. Even if you aren’t a beginner, you may be inspired by this project to start sewing again


In addition to lots of Creativebug sewing classes, the library has many books on sewing. Here are a few 2020 titles for you to check out!

Sew Step by Step: How to Use Your Sewing Machine to Make, Mend, and Customize by Alison Smith, would be a great choice for anyone wanting to learn in depth how to sew. With chapters on fabrics, stitches, hems, patterns, pleats, and more, you can’t go wrong with this handy and complete guide.

Maybe your life is focused right now on your kids, or maybe you miss your grandkids and would like to send them a surprise. Animal Friends to Sew: Simple Handmade Decor, Toys, and Gifts for Kids by Sanae Ishida contains lots of simple projects to choose from.

House of Pinheiro’s Work to Weekend Wardrobe: Sew Your Own Capsule Collection by Rachel Pinheiro while not for beginners, has designs for wardrobe staples that you can mix and match to get you through the work week and into the weekend, and there are even accessories. Many of the garments would be suitable for summertime.

If hand sewing is more your speed, Joyful Mending by Noriko Misumi shows techniques for artful mending and reusing of clothing and other worn items that we still enjoy, instead of throwing them away. These attractive repairs will make your clothing more original and you will likely treasure the pieces even more.

Joyful Mending: Visible Repairs for the Perfectly Imperfect Things We Love! (Paperback)

Quilt: Modern Curves and Bold Stripes by Heather Black and Daisy Aschehoug contains 15 different projects for all skill levels. Quilting can be fun to get into because you can make a beautiful quilt entirely with simple straight lines, but the modern designs in this book are heavy into circles, a favorite motif of mine.


Sewing can be peaceful and meditative, and/or challenging and frustrating, but it’s almost always rewarding in the end. Get out that machine and those fabrics you’ve had for years and give sewing another try.

Homemade relief for your dry hands? Yes, please!

Lotion bars made by EPL staff member JoAnna

Hands getting dry after all the hand washing?  My horribly dry, painful hands got me thinking about what I could do to heal them, since regular old lotion isn’t cutting it. Then I remembered my coworker JoAnna had made a lot of lotion bars, which are very moisturizing, and it turns out she’s tested the following tutorial.

You’ve probably heard by now about our newest arts and crafts resource, Creativebug. I have looked at it quite happily for quick and easy art projects, but hadn’t thought to look for tutorials on making soaps, lotions, and other skincare and natural home products. But they do indeed have such classes. If you are looking for some relief for your hands, check out this quick and simple DIY Lotion Bar tutorial.

Tips from JoAnna:

* You can substitute coconut oil for one of the butters.
* If you do not have a double boiler, you can make it in a small crockpot or in the microwave. Be sure to use a glass bowl in the microwave as the beeswax takes a long time to melt and the bowl will get very hot.
* Melt the beeswax first, once melted you can add the other butters to mix.
* You can add vitamin E to help with skin repair; break 1-2 capsules into the mix.
* If you do not have any molds on hand, you can use silicone cupcake holders.
* Put completed bars in a tin or plastic bag to store so they don’t get messy.
* Beware, in warm temperature they can melt.
* To use, hold in your cupped hands. The warmth of your hands will soften the wax.
* The ingredients can be ordered and delivered from hobby and craft stores, or soap making supply companies.


Besides Creativebug (which really has tons of great classes) we have eBooks about making your own bath, skin care, and cleaning products.

The Organic Country Home Handbook by Natalie Wise, includes recipes for cleaning all areas of the home, from kitchen to bath, and everywhere in between. If you are so inclined you can find everything you need here to do some spring cleaning! There is also a chapter, “The Medicine Cabinet” that features homemade skin care products.

DIY Beauty: Easy, All-Natural Recipes Based on Your Favorites from Lush, Kiehl’s, Burt’s Bees, Bumble and bumble, Laura Mercier, and More!
by Ina De Clercq
From lip balm to bath bombs, these recipes attempt to recreate best-loved products from popular beauty product companies.

Homemade Bath Bombs & More: Soothing Spa Treatments for Luxurious Self-Care and Bath-Time Bliss by Heidi Kundin
This book focuses on bath bombs and other fun and luxurious bath products such as sugar scrubs, body butter, and bath jellies. Bath jellies? I will have to look that one up!

Natural Beauty: 35 Step-by-Step Projects for Homemade Beauty by Karen Gilbert
These ‘lotion and potion’ recipes for face, body, and hair, use readily available, natural ingredients and easy-to-follow methods.


I hope Creativebug classes and our crafty eBooks inspire you to try your hand at making healthy, simple home and beauty products! And may your hands be in much better shape than mine.

The Art of Making Soap

Anne-Marie Faiola is the owner of Bramble Berry, a soap supplies store in Bellingham, Washington. This is the third soap book that Faiola has written. Her first, Soap Crafting, is a useful resource. It is for all skill levels, and has 31 recipes covering all different special effects, colors, additives and molds. Her second book, Pure Soapmaking, focuses on making natural soaps. She includes 32 recipes that have all natural ingredients, colorants, and scents.

Faiola’s latest book, Milk Soaps, is all about adding milk to your soaps. There are 35 recipes in this book, and they range from beginner to advanced levels; the levels are determined by their techniques. The recipes include the type of molds and special tools that were used, and list the oils, amount of lye water, fragrance oil, colorants, and additives used.

Why do you want to add milk to your soaps? Most soaps are made with water, and Anne-Marie equates adding milk to soap to making hot chocolate. Do you notice a difference when you add milk versus water to your chocolate? Milk soap creates a rich lather and is creamier than soap made with water. The natural oils and acids in the milk add more moisturizing qualities to your soap.You’ll learn the different milks that can be used and the soap making process.

If you are just beginning to make soap the cold process way, using lye, you should watch a video on soap making and how to use lye, such as this one on Creativebug. Bramble Berry has some good videos too.

Faiola suggests that if you have never made soap before, to start off with a basic recipe so you can get an understanding of the process. Adding milk does complicate the process a little. What I did when I first got into soap making last year was buy a beginner’s kit from Bramble Berry. They have 2 kits, one that includes a scale, goggles and a mold, and another kit that just has the ingredients in it. I have made the basic cold-process recipe in the Milk Soaps book but I put bubble wrap inside my mold.

Bubble wrap basic soap

With each recipe you can change the mold, the essential oils, colorants and additives. You can use any kind of milk with each recipe. This way you can be making your own soap. I would not change the lye mixture and oil amount. If you change the oil this is where the SAP value of the oils comes into play. SAP value is a quick way of saying the ‘saponification’ value – when lye and oil are mixed the process of the mixture becoming soap is called saponification. Faiola discusses properties of different oils, along with their SAP value, which you will need to know if you are designing your own recipes, and adding color and scent and exfoliants to your soap.

I have made a few recipes in the book so far and they have all turned out great, and as you will see, I changed the mold, essential oils and colorants in my soaps compared to what is in the book.

I made the In-the-Pot Swirl Buttermilk Castile soap. Instead of lavender and peppermint essential oil blend I used Raspberry Jam. And the olive oil I used was the extra virgin oil which I had in my cupboard. This caused the soaps to be darker. I did find that making a soap of pure oil takes a long time to come to trace. I had to put my blender down a few times because it felt like it was burning in my hand. This was the first recipe I made out of the book and it is a beginner recipe.

In-the-Pot Swirl Buttermilk Castile soap

Another recipe I made was the Dead Sea-Salt Brine Bar. As you will see I changed out my mold to a citrus mold, changed my oils to a grapefruit fragrance oil, and my colorant was changed to an orange color to represent the grapefruit. The directions said the recipe would move fast and it did. You have to be quick to get it in the mold. These bars don’t take long to set up at all. This was an intermediate recipe.

Dead Sea-Salt Brine Bar

Another recipe I tried making was the Hangered Drop Swirls recipe which is another intermediate recipe. In this recipe I changed my milk to coconut milk, changed my fragrance to Lemongrass and tea tree oil, and changed my colorant to green and activated charcoal. I made this one for my nephews and felt the lemongrass would be a little more masculine. This is a very nice soap but takes a while to get the swirling down.

Hangered Drop Swirls soap

If you are a soap maker and have your own favorite recipe, you could certainly use that and change out some of the water for a milk product. You can use this book for ideas on techniques.

As Faiola says, “Handmade is bestmade”.

Give cold-process soap making a try, you will find it rewarding and addicting. Making your own soap allows you to control the ingredients, and it makes washing up more fun I think.

Modern Cat Lady 2017 Edition

Well hello there, kittens! With the holidays behind us and that calendar somehow saying “December” it’s the purrfect time to do a wrap-up of the best cat books of 2017! Stick with me like fur to black pants as I jump into the list like a cat into an empty cardboard box.

For all you modern cat ladies out there who can’t have a real live cat of your very own, I have some fantastic news! You can make your own lifelike kitty companion if you follow the steps outlined in Needle Felted Kittens by the amazingly talented Hinali. Okay, so this can be more than a little creepy and the techniques are way beyond my less-than-novice needle felting status. However, I can’t help but be fascinated with the eerily lifelike felines in this book. There are step-by-step instructions for everything from making the right shaped head to adding specific color patterns–the tortoise shell cat is especially adorable–and even advanced posing (a movable head and neck! Oh my). I mean, I would even love just a cat head on its own. Seriously! There are some instructions to teach you the basics of felting, like needle techniques and how to blend different colors of wool. My girl Kathy says this is definitely advanced, but beginners might like to see it as something to aspire to. Also, the author taught herself all this, so there’s hope for us all!

Want to make a cat but lack felting skills? If you can knit you’ll definitely want to check out Knitted Cats & Dogs by Sue Stratford. Yes, yes, there are dogs included. But all modern cat ladies should be secure enough in their cat lady-ness that they won’t balk at a couple of canines peppered throughout the book they’re reading. From fuzzy kittens to gorgeous Siamese and even a super cat–complete with superhero outfit, eye mask, and cape–you’re sure to find your next fun knitting project in these pages.

 

For a more sophisticated look at our feline friends, there’s no better place to start than Desmond Morris’s Cats in Art. This book is organized by time period, starting with prehistoric depictions of cats on cave walls in France and continuing through Warren Kimble and beyond. All but two of the 137 illustrations are in full color, which really brings the cats to life. Don’t miss the hidden gem at the back of the book: a three page bibliography full of sources of more kitty information.

 

If quirky is more your speed, you’ll want to pick up Crafting for Cat Ladies by Kat Roberts (OMG even the author’s name is on point!). Inside you’ll find thirty-five different projects using a variety of mediums and techniques. From party bunting to a clay jewelry tray, storage bins (with whiskers, so adorable!) to paw print stamps and bracelets–there really is something for everyone in here. The skill level seems to be low to medium, so for the crafty cat ladies with more enthusiasm than experience, this is the book for us.

Next I’ll briefly list some of the more traditional cat books that published this year. Jackson Galaxy has a new book out with Mikel Delgado, PhD (another cat-named author! How cool!) called Total Cat Mojo: the Ultimate Guide to Life with Your Cat. It covers the basics of cat ownership, as well as techniques for dealing with common kitty-human conflicts like biting and scratching. The Inner Life of Cats by Thomas McNamee also digs into the thoughts and psyche of our cat BFFs. The History of Cats in 101 Objects shows the direct influence cats have had over us (and vice versa) in some truly unexpected ways.

Poetry has been having a modern renaissance lately and I was delighted to find a book of poems focused solely on our relationships with our pets. Reading Darling, I Love You: Poems from the Hearts of our Glorious Mutts and All Our Animal Friends by Daniel Ladinsky and written by Patrick McDonnell is guaranteed to give you the warm fuzzies and maybe even shed a tear or two. This one gets me misty-eyed every time:

 

Gratias:
Food in my bowl
caring sounds
gentle hands

no longer alone
on the street weeping
at times

if you see me
kneeling in
prayer,

repeating
for
days

gratias
gratias, gratias
gratias

never
wonder
why

I’m not crying; you’re crying!

Okay, let’s pep ourselves back up with some fun books about real-life cats who have lived extraordinary lives in one way or another. Bolt and Keel by Kayleen VanderRee & Danielle Gumbley is based on the Instagram account of the same name. Follow these rescue cats as they go on outdoor adventures with their owner in the Pacific Northwest. Bookstore Cats by Brandon Schultz has the absolute best opening line in the introduction: “Confession: I’m a crazy cat person.” Do you really need to know anything other than that?! If cats living in bookstores aren’t quite enough awesomeness for you, check out Distillery Cats by Brad Thomas Parsons. In addition to all the cool cats between these pages, Parsons includes some cocktail recipes, too. Disclaimer: I’m fairly certain all cats survive to the ends of these books, but please read with caution. Nothing makes me sadder than reading about an amazing animal only to have to grieve for them at the end.

And last by not least is my favorite combination of practical nonfiction with an extremely humorous slant. If you’ve ever been accused of equating cat ladyship with being in a cult or religion, I can definitely relate. Some things are just different for us, you know? Thankfully the genius Jeff Lazarus has written Catakism: Bow to the Meow. It’s a funny take on how obsessed we humans can be with cats. While the photographs are downright hilarious and the text can be tongue-in-cheek, don’t miss the actual good advice inside. Covering cat pregnancy and kitten weaning as well as advice for human relationships when one person is pro-cat and the other is…not? Is that A Thing? I suppose I’m lucky I married a modern cat sir, but it’s good to know there’s help out there for those who want to make it work with someone who really isn’t as into cats as you are.

Those were my favorites, but of course there are so many more gems waiting for you to discover them in the stacks. Start at 636.8 (cats as pets) and go from there. And who knows? Maybe someday soon you’ll look like this:

The Big Tiny

Enjoy the latest from Katie as she continues to work through her Reading Challenge:

I am obsessed with tiny houses.

There, I said it. I love them and I want to build one of my own someday. This is a fairly recent development in my life. Tiny houses have been in the back of my mind for a while but I never really paid them much notice. I’m not quite sure how this all happened but one day I was reading an article about people who decided to live in tiny houses (I’m talking 250 sq. ft.) and the next I was checking out a stack of books and drooling over those unique, tiny bundles of joy. I may not have baby fever but I certainly have tiny house pneumonia.

Pic1

bigtinyI recently read Dee Williams’ Built-It-Myself memoir, The Big Tiny, and this book could not have come into my life at a better time. Williams lives in Olympia, which places her lovely book in the category “A Book Set In Your Home State” on my reading challenge. Not only was this convenient for blog writing and reading challenge purposes but it also instilled the absurd notion that I could one day meet the author and become best friends with her.

I love so many things about Dee’s writing. It is personable, warm, humorous, heart-breaking, inspiring and so very interesting. In addition to discussing her construction process, Dee allows us to share in the pain and fear she suffers as a woman with a heart condition. The passion and sheer stubbornness she exhibits while trying to construct a home for herself and her adorable Australian Shepherd RooDee, even while navigating the pitfalls of medical issues, is incredible.

Pic2

The anecdotes she interwove with discussions of the building process were just lovely. Not only did I get concrete ideas and jumping off points for my own tiny house but I got to see the creation process through the eyes of a woman I now very much admire. It’s very clear in her writing that she is a joyful human being with abundant zest for life. While her preference for living without things like running water or indoor plumbing is not something I care to emulate, I do hope to capture something of her spirit and drive.

I am glad that I read about other tiny houses before delving into Williams’ book as I now know just how customizable they are. Paring down your possessions and space does not have to equate to living without things like Internet, hot water or a normal toilet. This relieves me because I’m not sure I could live without Netflix.

I recommend this wonderful little book to anyone who is curious about tiny houses or who really enjoys stories about people and their resourcefulness. I was so impressed reading about the work Dee did on her own to make her tiny house happen. The amount of bumps and bruises she sustained was shudder-inducing, but the love that she expresses for her little house made me feel what I know to be true—that building a tiny home is worth every struggle, every ache and stubbed toe. Her contentment (despite occasional longing for a shower of her own) soothes me. I know that my tiny house is still far in the future and I’m okay with that. Right now I’m happy with designing my own house and booking a trip to stay at the tiny house hotel in Portland. If Dee’s book taught me anything, it’s that the important things require hard work, but boy are they worth it!

The Means of Production

Growing up, there was always one person on the block who made their own home brew. Usually it was something really appetizing like ‘wine’ made from cherries/dandelions/elderberries that you would be forced to taste, without making a gagging noise, when you visited their house. Nowadays, the creation of fermented beverages at home is no longer the purview of the neighborhood eccentric. In fact, the corporations are getting a run for their money with the masses producing a surprising number of formerly commercial products at home. Good evidence for this is the many books here at the library that will guide you through the process. Here is a just a sampling of the titles on offer.

Beer, Beer, Beer and Mead
The beer world has been decentralizing for years now with the advent of microbrewers and craft beers. Why not take it a step further and do some home brewing to create a truly unique and original elixir? While there is definitely a learning curve, brewing isn’t rocket science, so there is no reason not to give it a try.

Beer

We have several manuals for home brewing beer here at the library, but a good place to start is with Mastering Homebrew: The Complete Guide to Brewing Delicious Beer by Randy Mosher. Mosher lays out the basics of brewing at home, complete with colorful graphics and illustrations to help you through the process. Once you get the basics down, you will want to try out different recipes to get the perfect glass of suds. Craft Beer for the Homebrewer: Recipes from America’s Top Brewmasters by Michael Agnew and Make Some Beer: Small-Batch Recipes from Brooklyn to Bamburg by Erica Shea are both chock full of recipes to help you experiment. If you find the idea of brewing at home too time consuming, take a gander at Speed Brewing: Techniques and Recipes for Fast Fermenting Beers, Ciders, Meads and More by Mary Izett. Finally, if you want to get in touch with your inner Viking, sans the pillaging of monasteries one hopes, take a look at Make Mead Like a Viking by Jereme Zimmerman to learn all about this fermented honey-based brew.

In Vino Veritas
While wine and winemaking tends to have a lofty reputation, don’t let that scare you away from trying to make your own. Long before wine experts were declaring their favorite chardonnay ‘busy but never precocious’ the Roman plebs were quaffing the stuff by the amphora while cheering on their favorite charioteer. Why not throw caution to the wind and give it a try?

wine

While there is, of course, Home Winemaking for Dummies, you might want to start with First Steps in Winemaking: A Complete Month-by-Month Guide to Winemaking in Your Home by Cyrill Berry for a yearlong approach to winemaking. Once the basics are down, move on to The Home Winemaker’s Companion by Gene Spazani and Ed Halloran with more than 100 recipes for different types of wine and easy to understand diagrams. If you don’t have access to grapes or other fruits, Winemaking with Concentrates by Peter Duncan is for you. Using concentrates allows for the creation of small batches and a wide variety of types of wine. If you want to move on from winemaking as a hobby and take it to the next level, both the Winemaker’s Answer Book by Alison Crowe and From Vines to Wines: The Complete Guide to Growing Grapes and Making Your Own Wine by Jeff Cox will give you sage advice about selecting land, vines and equipment to get your wine vineyard up and running.

Teetotaler
While for many the whole point of brewing and fermenting at home is to produce beverages with alcohol, there are actually a surprising number of items that you can produce at home that are alcohol free. Cheese, yogurt, sauerkraut, vinegar, and kimchi, to name but a few, are all products of fermentation and can be made at home. As always, the library has your back. Take a look at these books to get you started.

fermentation

Fermentation for Beginners and The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz are two great books to get you on the road to home fermentation with detailed instructions and easy to understand concepts. Once you have gotten the basics down, definitely check out Mastering Fermentation by Mary Karlin to hone your skills with more than 70 recipes including sourdough, vinegar and mustards. It is easy to think of vinegar as simply wine ‘gone bad’ but that is far from case as you will find out in the book The Artisanal Vinegar Maker’s Handbook.  Learn the ins and outs of vinegar fermentation, distillation, and infusion from the Austrian distillers Helge Schickl and Bettina Malle. Kombucha, a type of fermented tea, is gaining popularity but there is no need to buy it at the store. Instead check out The Big Book of Kombucha by Hannah Crum and Kombucha Revolution by Stephen Lee to learn how to make your own at home.

The means of production are now in your hands. Go forth and ferment!

My Love-Hate Relationship with Valentine’s Day

my love-hate relationship with valentines day

When I was a little girl, Valentine’s Day was a special time. The green and grey corridors of my school would be awash in reds, pinks, and whites. It was an intense pop of color among all the grey plaid jumpers the girls wore and blue shirts and pants the boys wore. The teacher would lead us in crafting a box where classmates would dutifully deliver Valentines designed with She-Ra, He-Man, Rainbow Brite, or G.I. Joe. It was fun to pick out what I’d give my classmates, and even more fun to read through them all at the end of the day and see if I could read anything into the one I got from my secret crush.

Oh, to be 8 again!

As I grew older, the appeal of the day lost its luster. Don’t get me wrong: I still enjoyed putting out Red Hots candies and Sweetarts, but it seemed that there was a ton of pressure on adults to get it right, and it all boiled down to the bottom line. How much money did you spend on your honey? Did you upend both of your lives for the entire day to make ‘A Grand Gesture?’ No? Well, then you’re obviously not in love like you thought.

Ahem. BS!

All of these feelings were reaffirmed when I met the man whom I now call my husband. “Valentine’s Day is just a commercial holiday manufactured to sell greeting cards, flowers, and chocolates,” he said as he handed me all three of those things on our first Valentine’s Day together. In a bold move that later solidified our mutual affection and everlasting bond, I asked why he bought me stuff if he thought it was all bull. He did it all because it was expected. Once we compared notes and realized we both would rather celebrate milestone dates in our relationship (first date, wedding anniversary, etc.) we ditched the Valentines and never looked back.

Whether you’re like my husband and me and eschew this holiday, or if you count down the days until you can surprise your honey with the biggest box of chocolates imaginable, I have some books that will appeal to your Valentines sensibilities.

be mine sally j shimBe Mine
by Sally J. Shim
Guys, you really need to stop buying us ladies those giant red heart boxes of assorted chocolates. They’re never as good as we think they’ll be, and there’s always at least one variety that makes us gag. Why not make something instead? From adorable greeting cards to eye-catching garlands, this book will become your go-to resource for everything Valentine’s Day. Your sweetie will be impressed and amazed when you present him/her with an in-your-face pop-up card or a personalized message in a (tiny) bottle, complete with confetti hearts and an honest-to-goodness cork sealing the deal. The supplies are easy to acquire (you crafty people may already have a lot of them already) and the instructions are clear and easy to read. Just a little bit of time with some scissors and glue will impress your Valentine more than some random card you grabbed at the market on the way home from work. The thoughtfulness and effort you put into any of these projects will show your love in a way a store-bought something can’t.

one pan two plates carla snyderOne Pan, Two Plates by Carla Snyder
Sure, for Valentine’s Day you could make a reservation at a favorite restaurant, and wait before and throughout the meal for your food to arrive because you are eating out on one of the busiest nights in the restaurant industry. It’ll probably cost a pretty penny (more, if you’re going the valet route with the car) and depending on where you go, the atmosphere might not be quite as intimate as you’d hoped. Instead, why not cook at home? You can cook together, which is an activity that can actually be fun and bring you closer together. Or you can surprise your lovey with a home-cooked meal that will be just the perfect amount for the two of you. Most, if not all, of the recipes in One Pan, Two Plates are so quick and easy to make you’ll probably want to keep making these recipes all year long. All recipes include a beverage pairing and ways to make the meal more filling. Sauteed pork chops with sweet potato, apple, and mustard sauce is tart and flavorful and takes 40 minutes. Balsamic turkey with artichokes and eggplant caponata marries some really complex flavors and is ready in just 30 minutes. You get the idea. So tie on that apron and get cooking!

tinder nightmares unspirationalTinder Nightmares
In the grand tradition of Richard Benson’s F in Exams and F This Test comes Tinder Nightmares. Benson compiled some of the most outrageous and ridiculous answers college students used on tests and exams. Now the infamous Unspirational shows us the absolutely absurd side to the dating app Tinder. I mean, assuming there’s a side to Tinder that isn’t absurd. Granted, I’ve never had the need to swipe right since I was married years before Tinder was invented. But it doesn’t take a seasoned Tinder user to appreciate the cluster of stupid in this book. It’s full of bad pickup lines like “Hey, did you fall from the sky? Cuz you look like a dead bird.” You’ll also find bizarre date ideas like “I would take you on a date to Popeye’s for some light appetizers. Then, I would bring you back to my place for some TV dinners, grape soda, and two hours straight of Full House!” I like to think these are trolling texts, but I’ve met enough people to know that sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction.

This year I decided we shouldn’t let Valentine’s Day slip by unnoticed. That’s why my husband and I have plans to see the Deadpool movie on February 14th. We’re going to pig out on movie theater popcorn and puns courtesy of Mr. Sir Deadpool, Esq. Then we’re going to go back to our place for a jointly-prepared, mutually agreed upon home cooked meal, and we’ll follow it up with binge-watching old episodes of The League. Because that’s what romance means to me. ❤

Imagine a Blogger’s Holiday

books for bloggers‘Tis the season for giving, and as you may have seen here on A Reading Life, we love the idea of giving friends and family books, books, and more books for the holidays. Leslie wrote about book-gifting traditions in her family, and we bombarded you with our staff members’ favorite books, music, and movies of 2015.

I’m here today to offer a different perspective. I’d like you to close your eyes (well, after you read this part first!) and imagine a holiday made especially for bloggers, specifically those here on A Reading Life. Do you hear each blogger’s distinctive voice? The types of books or music they usually enjoy? Okay, somehow you need to know to open your eyes now, even if you’re not reading this because I told you to close your eyes and you’re obviously an excellent listener. Are you back? Great! I’ve been thinking a lot about my fellow bloggers and have decided to share with you and with them the books I would give them if I had a pile of cash at the ready. The good news is that all of these books are available at the library, and I happen to know they all frequent it.

Heartwood
Heartwood, you post about books that may have skipped our radar the first go-round and new translations of epic reads. You have a firm grasp of worldwide literary fiction, but I have something more localized in mind. I offer you Writing America: Literary Landmarks from Walden Pond to Wounded Knee by Shelley Fisher Fishkin. This book straddles the line between fiction and nonfiction–those good ole 800s. It takes the reader on a journey throughout the lower 48 and offers deep insight into the places that birthed America’s greatest words, from The Paul Laurence Dunbar House in Dayton, Ohio to Angel Island in San Francisco. There’s even a chapter featuring the 135th Street Branch of the New York Public Library, where the Schomburg Center for Research on Black Culture resides. You will love this book about books featuring a library!

Jennifer
Girl, you read all the books I am too afraid to even pick up, let alone read! But I finally found something we can both agree on: Charles Bukowski on Cats edited by Abel Debritto. Sure, there’s a black cat on the cover, its back arched and ready to pounce. But what else could this book shelved in the poetry section have to offer? I’ll tell you: filthy, hilarious poems about cats and their undermining ways, and excerpts of prose that tell you just what is going on in those feline minds. At 3 am. In the alley below. Nonstop. There are also some very heavy words, but I know you’re good for it.

Leslie
If there’s one thing I learned early on in my career it’s this: never recommend a picture book to a children’s librarian. Either they’ve already read it and loved it, or they’ve already read it and hated it. This goes doubly true for you, the librarian who buys those picture books for the library! But I’m going out on a limb here to bring you How the Library (Not the Prince) Saved Rapunzel by Wendy Meddour and illustrated by Rebecca Ashdown. The message is solid: you don’t need a man to get things done for you. But it’s delivered in a way that is compelling for storytelling purposes. The text is conversational, and the illustrations are humorous and action-packed. If you can’t use it for preschool storytime, you could totally read it with your granddaughters at home!

Linda
You write these amazing Did You Know? posts for the blog, and I always learn something new! But you also run the successful and fun Crochet & Knit Club at the Evergreen Branch, so this book speaks to those creative fiber urges I know you have. Knitless: 50 No-Knit, Stash-Busting Yarn Projects by Laura McFadden has a plethora of ideas for you to use up those remnants I know every crafty lady has. There’s a huge range of project difficulty, as well as different uses–wearables, home goods, gifts, and more. No matter what color or type of yarn you have leftover from a project, there’s something in here that will speak to you!

Lisa
Although you’ve been focused on blogging about music this year, I know you have an adventurous palate and love to cook. I confess I couldn’t pick just one book for you, so you are getting two! My Life on a Plate: Recipes from Around the World by Kelis marries a little bit of musical memoir with recipes and an obvious talent for cooking. I had no idea that Kelis became a chef via Le Cordon Bleu, but paging through this cookbook made it obvious that girl is talented no matter what she does. And if you want to get a little more focused in your culinary adventures, Fermented by Charlotte Pike is just what you need. It covers kimchi, yogurt, labneh, miso soup, and more. You can also learn to make drinks like mead, kombucha, and lassi, though I know you will still prefer Priscilla’s lassi the best!

Margo
Not only have you founded and successfully run the overwhelmingly awesome Southside Book Club, but you also have a love of food and cooking. Therefore I give to you the gift of Simply Scratch: 120 Wholesome Homemade Recipes Made Easy by Laurie McNamara. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Laurie’s blog, but the Simply Scratch book follows in the footsteps of the Simply Scratch blog. Laurie doesn’t take premade shortcuts, preferring instead whole food options I know you’ll appreciate. I think you’ll find a lot to love about Simply Scratch, and maybe even find a recipe to bring to the next Southside Book Club meeting in February.

Richard
Science is your thing, and it’s definitely an area where you know more than I do! However, I know you really liked 2014’s What If?, so I now give to you Randall Munroe’s newest tome of amazingness, Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words. Munroe is a genius, this we know. He proves it yet again with this book, where he uses only the “ten hundred most common words” to explain very complicated processes. Everything from toilets to car engines, microwaves to space exploration. Of course Mr. xkcd illustrates throughout, so we get simple words and basic pictures to help us along. This book is also ginormously tall, so it can be used for other things besides reading: flattening posters, shooing the dog off the couch, or knocking something off a tall shelf.

Ron
Like Lisa, this year you dedicated a lot of blogging to music. I’m really happy you both do this, as I am no good at explaining what music sounds like and why it would appeal to anyone other than me! You’re also into some out-there fiction, a lot of it touching on Science Fiction. Therefore you get Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits by David Wong. Down below I’m going to post a quote from the dust jacket and you’re going to see why I might think this would appeal to the guy who can dig into Science Fiction and loves seeing an absurd plot travel along at light speed.

From the disturbed imagination of New York Times bestselling author David Wong, and all-new darkly hilarious adventure. Nightmarish villains with superhuman enhancements. An all-seeing social network that tracks your every move. Mysterious, smooth-talking power players who lurk behind the scenes. A young woman from the trailer park. And her very smelly cat. Together, they will decide the future of mankind.

In case that doesn’t hook you, on the back cover there’s also a life-size photograph of a cyborg hand (I assume–it has metal joints sticking through the skin) flipping you the bird. And did I mention the sidekick slash familiar c-a-t? You need this book in your life!

Just in case Santa is reading this, here are some books I wouldn’t mind finding under the tree:

carol wants

Nerdy Nummies: Sweet Treats for the Geek in All of Us by Rosanna Pansino
I am a nerd! I am a geek! And I love to make and eat sugary treats! Rosanna is behind the incredibly popular web series Nerdy Nummies and all of her talents translate perfectly into this book. The book starts off with teaching you the basic building blocks for the recipes that follow. And OMG, the things I could make with this book! D20 cookies! Motherboard cake! Mana and health potions! Can we just call this the gift that keeps on giving? Because it totally will be.

Notorious RBG: the Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon & Shana Knizhnik
Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! I am awed and inspired by this woman, and this book goes deep into her life while still being entertaining. The Tumblr of the same name is simply incredible, but if I had this book on my shelf I could get my RBG fix even when the power is out and I’m forced to read by candlelight.

Small Scenes from a Big Galaxy by Vesa Lehtimäki
I love LEGOs. I love Star Wars. And I love a great mash-up! Vesa originally created this book as a birthday gift to his son. Using the snowy scenes inspired both by his native Finland and the planet Hoth, Vesa composed photographs that became a sort of retelling of the space saga I love. Not only are the photos incredibly detailed and fun to look at, but I could get some serious macro photography inspiration, too.

So there you have it. Unfortunately, I don’t have a bucket of money to buy you bloggers these incredible books, but it’s the thought that counts, right?

Happy holidays!

Modern Cat Lady: 2015 Edition

Modern Cat Lady 2015

Adorable cat top by ModCloth.

Last year I wrote a little piece about the struggles of the modern cat lady, and how we should totally embrace the stereotype and wear our fur-dotted-clothes with pride. There was a much larger positive response than I’m used to here on A Reading Life, so I thought this year I would bring it back. A lot has happened in the world of cats and cat ladies, and I can’t wait to share with you all the new stuff you may have missed this year.

You Need More Sleep: Advice from Cats by Francesco Marciuliano
Okay, you’ve gotta love adorable photographs of cats or you wouldn’t be reading this right now. This humorous quick read is packed with cute feline faces and advice that will probably get you fired, dumped, or even arrested. My favorite nugget of wisdom has got to be from page 92. Just because others can’t see it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t chase it:

Love. Friendship. Success. Ghost mice. If you can picture it in your head then you should pursue it with all your might, sometimes at speeds achieving sonic booms. Sure, others may exclaim, “There’s nothing there!” or, “How many times can you run into a wall and still remember your name?” But no one ever achieved anything by waiting…unless it’s to stare up close at a blank wall. Because when that wall finally does do something, oh, man, it’s so gonna be worth those three days you sat still without blinking.

Cats Galore: a Compendium of Cultured Cats by Susan Herbert
Have you ever visited an art museum or gallery, stood still pondering the beauty before you, and wondered to yourself, ‘Yeah, but what would this look like if cats stood in for all the people?’ Well, wonder no more! The posthumous publication of this compilation of Susan Herbert’s artistic genius is not-to-be-missed by the modern cat lady. Whether it’s opera (Aida), film (Singin’ in the Rain), or art (Mona Lisa), nothing is safe from Herbert’s interpretations.

Shake Cats by Carli Davidson
Speaking of art, I’ve always thought of photography as one of the more difficult artistic mediums, mainly because there are so many varying factors that are outside the artist’s control. Lighting, weather, and most of all, the subject’s temperament can change drastically from one instant to the next. I think that’s why I love Shake Cats so much. Sure, the concept is simple: get some cats wet and photograph the resulting magic. But as any modern cat lady worth her catnip knows, cats generally hate water and will instantly let you know their displeasure. Davidson captures the magic in the split second before the claws come out, and thus the best coffee table book of them all was born.

Modern Cat Lady 2015 part 2

97 Ways to Make a Cat Like You by Carol Kaufmann
Modern cat ladies like yourself may not be inclined to look twice at this book on the shelf, but I’m here to sell it to you in a different light. You have at least one friend, significant other, or child in your life who could totally use this book. Packed with actual proven behavior-based tips, someone in your life will thank you for this book. You’ll make your ‘fraidy-cat pal comfortable and happy in your home and subsequently send good vibes to your kitties. What could be better than that sort of harmony?

Catster Magazine
Formerly Cat Fancy, Catster puts a modern cat lady spin on a classic periodical. I will confess I was never much for Cat Fancy, mostly because the title totally turned me off. Now that it has been re-dubbed something modern and catchy, I’m more likely to be seen out and about with it (see photo above for proof of my approval).

The Maine Coon’s Haiku: and Other Poems for Cat Lovers by Michael J. Rosen
Set the youth in your life on the right path to modern cat ladyhood and give them this book of haikus appropriate for kids and the young-at-heart. Whether it’s singing the praises of the Manx or extolling the virtues of the American Shorthair, there’s plenty of poetry to make your heart fuzzy. Young readers and those still considered novice cat ladies will appreciate the glossary of cat breeds tucked into the back of the book.

Catify to Satisfy: Simple Solutions for Creating a Cat-Friendly Home by Jackson Galaxy
And finally I want to tell you about this forthcoming book from my new best friend, Jackson Galaxy. Last year I said I had no idea who he was, and it was true. But after reading his book Catification, I realized this was a modern cat fella after my own heart. I haven’t had a chance to see this one yet, as it doesn’t come out until Tuesday, but getting to hear about a book before it’s even delivered to the cataloging department is a rare thing to share with someone. And you modern cat ladies are definitely worthy of this hot tip.

So that wraps up this year’s modern cat lady highlights. As for me, I still have three adorably insane cats at home and I’ve started getting interested in wearing cat-themed fashions, like the top in the photo above. I’m here to tell you that declaring yourself as a modern cat lady and wearing that badge with pride is a freeing and fulfilling thing. It also has a side effect of outing other cat ladies who aren’t yet ready to step into the tantalizing beam of sunshine where our cats like to nap.

Meow, what were your favorites of 2015?