My New Favourite Gardening Book

Posted by on Apr 4, 2012 in Books, Gardening | 0 comments

We have a whole shelf in our book-filled house dedicated to gardening.  Last year I posted a list of my favourites, and since then I have a list a mile long of books I have read from the library, and those that I hope to read.

But of all the gardening books I have read so far, I now have a new favourite.

You Grow Girl by Gayla Trail.

This book is different from any gardening book I have read before, and I think that is why I love it so much.

To start with, Gayla keeps things simple.  After reading stacks of gardening books with flawless photos and long lists of plants I can never seem to find, and a confusing amount of information on soil and ph and watering and garden design, it is refreshing to find a book that is, well, fun!  Rather than getting bogged down by how much there is to be done, she makes gardening sound doable, reminds you that it doesn’t have to be perfect, and then gives you lots of great ideas for making your garden a success.

And it’s not that the book isn’t meaty, because it is.  There is a wealth of information in there on starting a successful garden, no matter how small the space you have to grow (and even what to do if you are growing on a public space!)   But there are also really fun crafty projects like making your own leaf-shaped concrete stepping stones (I so want to do this!), sewing yourself a garden apron, creating moss-covered pots and stones, making tea with your own home-grown herbs, and on and on.  All told in a relaxed, you-can-do-this kind of way.

And as much as I love reading about gardening, I sometimes find the process a little stressful as the list of things I have to be doing and I should be doing and I need to be planting gets longer and longer.  You Grow Girl comes without the panic.  Instead there is the kind of enthusiasm you get when talking to your best friend about the thing you are passionate about.  I finished reading the book inspired and excited about the gardening season ahead.  (and I have yet another book  I am going to keep out of the library as long as I can….) :)  I am also adding “grow my own loofah sponge” to my list of gardening things to do.  I had no idea this was something you could grow in your garden – how cool is that?!

Gayla also has an amazing gardening blog which I read regularly, and two other gardening books which I can’t wait to check out.

Have you read any good books lately?

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Cookbook Review: Ripe From Around Here

Posted by on Apr 1, 2012 in Books, Cooking/Recipes | 0 comments

I have spent all March cooking from this cookbook:

Ripe From Around Here: A Vegan Guide to Local, Sustainable Eating (No Matter Where You Live) by Jae Steele.

I shared with you some of my culinary adventures with Lemon Poppyseed Pancakes, Roasted Applesauce, West African Stew, and, what I called, the Best Ever Vegetarian Split Pea Soup.

I loved all of these recipes and I know I will make them again and again.

I also tried several other recipes from the book with mixed results.

Oatmeal Raisin muffins were delicious, but crumbly.  We made the most of their crumbly nature by cutting them in half and using them like the biscuit in strawberry shortcake, topping them with yogurt and berries.

I was really excited to try the baked beans, as we love our baked beans around here, but sadly they just didn’t work out for us.  I kept having to add a lot of extra water as they thickened to the point of burning, and they ended up lacking in flavour.

Coconut Curry with Seasonal Veg was also disappointing.  In this case, it may not be the recipe’s fault, as I had to play around with the spices a bit to use what I had on hand.  We ate the curry with “Naked Oats” also called “Rice of the Prairies” which was also a new venture for us.

Coconut Curry with Seasonal Veggies over Rice of the Prairies


Ginger Miso Almond sauce was another recipe that I wasn’t happy with – until I changed a few things. :)   I found the original recipe to be overpowered by the almond butter (but someone else might think it’s fine!)  It’s not perfect for us yet, but it’s a recipe worth playing around with.

There are still several other recipes in the book I want to explore.  I want to try making my own oat and nut milks, and have all the ingredients for making the dried fruit compote, but just haven’t gotten around to it yet.  And because this book works with seasonal ingredients, I only made recipes that used winter ingredients.  There are so many other recipes I want to try when our garden is producing again, including Blueberry Peach Pancakes, Raspberry Millet Muffins, Herb Garden Hummus, Homemade Ketchup, White Bean and Lovage Soup, Roasted Fiddleheads with Garlic, and two different Pad Thai recipes, to name a few.

Curried Golden Split Pea Soup


Despite a few so-so recipes, I generally loved this book.  I especially love the way it is organized.  So many cookbooks that focus on seasonal ingredients are organized by season.  This one is organized like a traditional cookbook, but uses symbols beside each recipe to show you in what season the ingredients will be available.  I like the interesting descriptions for each recipe (it’s fun knowing the history behind things!), and like so many vegan cookbooks, it is packed with other useful information, such as how to start your own vermicomposter, which house plants to buy to purify the air inside your home, and recipes for simple household cleaners.  The fact that it is Canadian makes it even more useful to me, as it is based on seasonal ingredients I can find right here (and the author does an excellent job of offering a wide variety of produce, and mentioning when a certain ingredient might not be available locally.)  I am sure anyone in the Northern part of the United States, with their similar growing season, would find the same thing.

The recipes are not overly fussy, although some look quite beautiful, which makes this a perfect, all-around cookbook.  And although it is a vegan cookbook, I think the recipes have appeal for a much wider audience (after all, my meat-loving hubby enjoyed these dishes too!)  The recipes are very easy to adapt to your own tastes and preferences (I will admit to using butter and milk when trying out some of the recipes!)

This is a book I will definitely keep out of the library as long as I can! :)  And when the librarians won’t let me keep it any longer, it will definitely be added to my “to buy” list.

This month I am cooking my way through “The Food Matters Cookbook” by Mark Bittman.   I was inspired by the Food Matters Project and can’t wait to try out some of the recipes!

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Giants, Beanstalks, and a Brave Girl Named Kate

Posted by on Mar 20, 2012 in Books, Creative Kids | 2 comments

I am so excited to be writing my very first Creative Kids post!  I actually had an activity I did in my classroom last week that I wanted to write about, but had such a fun and amazing afternoon with my students yesterday that I can’t resist writing about that instead!

On Monday afternoons I do something in my classroom I call “Story Adventures.”  Usually this begins with the reading of a story, and then we get involved in all sorts of adventures inspired by what we just read.

Yesterday I read them the story of Jack and the Beanstalk.  Not just the ordinary tale, but the one found in this book:

One half of the book is the tale of Jack that we are all familiar with.  After reading the story we had a short discussion about Jack, and his actions, and how we felt about the giants.

I then read them the other half of the story; which is the same story, but told from the point of view of the giant’s wife.  In this version the giants are all very innocent and Jack is made out to be one very naughty (and greedy) boy indeed!

We then talked about whether their feelings about Jack or the giant had changed.

And then the fun began.  What I often do with a story like this is tell my students we are going to put on a play, and have them create all of the props/costumes necessary, and then spend some time acting it out, allowing different students time to try out different roles.

But I took a risk with this young group and decided to try something I have never considered doing with a class so young.  We decided to put Jack on trial.  (It was smooth sailing once I explained what a trial was!) :)

Students who sided with the giant sat on one side of our meeting mat, students who sided with Jack on the other, and one undecided student played the role of Jack.  I sat as judge so as to have some control over the proceedings.  Then we proceeded to debate.  Giants had their say, humans had their say, and Jack had a chance to defend himself.  And after a few minutes, my classroom was no longer full of 5 and 6-year-old boys and girls, but giants, offended at having been robbed, and humans, explaining their neediness, and for goodness sake Jack might have asked permission to take some of the giants things but the giants were too intent on wanting to eat him to notice!  Without any prompting or prodding from me (I only called for order when too many people were talking at once), the two parties came to the conclusion that they would share the stolen goods, and the giants would agree not to threaten to eat any more humans.  Without any formal teaching at all, my K/1 students have learned to debate, to persuade, to compromise, and to keep order in a large group discussion.  And they worked the judge right out of her job!  When I brought the drama to a close, the only thing I heard was : “Can we do it again?”

Because they enjoyed all of this so much, I decided to read them yet another version of the story today.

In this version the hero is a brave girl named Kate, who steals not for her own benefit, but to return the giants items to their rightful owners.  And when the story was finished, my students immediately started working out their own version of the drama, assigning roles and deciding who sided with who.   (Who needs the teacher anyway?) :)

If the interest lasts another day or two, here are a few other things we might do together:

  • build our own giant beanstalk, – we will have to decide how tall it should be (hello math!), and then the challenge will be deciding how to create a beanstalk out of the materials we have on hand – or we might build other giant things too – how big would a giant’s shirt be?  Or the food on his table?  (If I had a big enough oven, I would have loved to have created some giant food to share!)
  • plant bean seeds and watch them grow
  • go on an imaginary adventure where each child can climb the beanstalk and enter into their own magical worlds (and then write about it!)
  • create and tell our own story, replacing the giant beanstalk with another giant plant, and the giant’s castle with another magical place (Perhaps entitled….Our Class and the Humongous Apple Tree, or something of that nature)

Fee Fi Fo Fum, I see some kids having lots of fun! :)

What would you do with a giant beanstalk?

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New from the Nightstand – January Edition

Posted by on Jan 27, 2012 in Books | 0 comments

I have quite an eclectic mix of books to share today.  I actually allowed myself the pleasure of devouring a few fiction selections in the last few weeks, and devoured they were! :)   I also discovered a new non-fiction favourite and attempted some projects from a crochet book. 

I told you I would come back to this.  The author describes the Renaissance Soul as a person who is multi-passionate.  The kind of person who loves change, variety, and moving in new and different directions all the time.  (She had me from the title – I know who I am!)  I absolutely love this book!  It has been instrumental in helping me to find focus, weigh priorities, deal with my want to do everything and all at once, and with more than a little help from Michelle Ward, is helping me to design a life and business that fits my dreams and personality.  A must read for anyone who struggles with balancing diverse interests and passions.

Ok…I know I’m a little late in picking this one up.  (After all, the book was released years ago and the movie hype has long died down.)  But I’ve never been one to do something when everyone else is anyway….(hmm…or at least not since I left high school…)  I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  I have not seen the movie, so was not tainted by visions of actors dancing in my head.  This book takes you an a journey, lets you spend a year in the life of the author, and allows you to meet a host of wonderful people in the process.  It’s not a high-action, can’t-wait-to-see-what-happens-next page- turner, but it’s honest, engaging, and satisfying.  I will definitely be seeking out more from this author!

This was a book that I loved, until I actually started trying to make one of the projects in it.  I love all of the full-colour photos, the wide range of projects, the fun and casual writing style.  Where I ran into problems was in trying to follow the patterns.  And perhaps I just happened to pick the project with the most errors, but errors there are.  Enough errors to fill two pages on the errata link (although I believe these have been corrected in the 2nd edition), and then I discovered some that were not on the errata list at all!   Although I gained a lot of crochet practice and was really proud of myself for not only finding the errors, but figuring out how to fix them (After all, I’m no expert crocheter)  in the end, it just seemed like too much work and time when there were other projects I wanted to tackle, and I gave up on the book. 

This was a fun read!  Especially if you are a fan of food tv (which I am!)  The characters are interesting, the story enjoyable, and I was happy with the ending.  It’s one of those books that makes you smile and then you pass it on to a friend so they can smile too (which is how I ended up with my copy, which I then passed on to my mom!) 

What books are on your nightstand?  Please share your favourites in the comments – you can never have too many books to read!

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News From the Nightstand: Fabulous Fiction

Posted by on Jul 19, 2011 in Books | 0 comments

Summer days are upon us, and although I am still up to my knees in non-fiction titles to read, I also like to take some time for fiction reading.   When I was a kid, summer was the time I would get to go to the library, take out a huge stack of books, spend a whole week reading, and then head back for more.  I still like to take huge stacks of books from the library, but I don’t read through them quite as fast as those carefree summers when I had nothing else to do. 

One of the problems I have with great fiction books is that I have a really hard time putting them down once I get started.  This means that many things are left undone, or I am up to the wee hours of the morning, trying to keep my eyelids open so I can find out what happens next!   My summer hours are much more relaxed, and a perfect time to get engrossed in a book. 

Here are some of my current favourites:

Jerk, California  by Jonathan Friesen 

This book was such a great read!  I tore through it in 2 days.  I actually read this book in April, during a community event where everyone in the town where I work reads the same book, and then the author comes for a series of book related events at the end of the month.  We were lucky enough to have Jonathan Friesen come visit our school, and although I did not get to meet him, the students and teachers who did had nothing but wonderful things to say.   This book was well received by everyone that I spoke to, and I know the local high school students, who were all given a copy of the book to read,  commented on how hard it was to stop reading and were found reading the book in between classes (and sometimes during class….)    It was easy to read, but a compelling story.  I will definitely be checking out more books from this author!   

The Summer Kitchen  by Lisa Wingate

I picked this book up at our local library sale.  I don’t often buy fiction books (because I’ll be the first to admit that I’m picky about what I read) but this one caught my attention as Lisa was compared to Richard Paul Evans, whose books I have really enjoyed.  I am really glad that I took the chance on this one.  This is the kind of book where you become attached to the characters and become as interested in their welfare as if they were flesh and blood.   And although it would never make it into my “top 10 books” list, it was still an enjoyable read and I will definitely be looking for more from this author as well. 

Teach With Your Heart by Erin Gruwell

Here is a book that just might make it onto my top ten list.  And I apologize, because it actually isn’t fiction.  Having never seen the movie and with only a vague idea of the story behind the Freedom Writers, I became totally engrossed in this book from page one.  I read it on a recent airplane flight, and I must say it seemed like one of the fastest flights I have ever been on (and half the book seemed to just disappear over that time.)   I know it speaks to me because I am a teacher, and I have a huge respect for the time and dedication Erin puts into her class.  But above all, she is also a wonderful storyteller, and once again you get sucked into the book and forget that a world exists around you.  I appreciate the candidness and the truthfulness in what she writes, and am both inspired and humbled by her story.  What a great responsibility we have as teachers.

Now it’s your turn.  What are you currently reading?

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News from the Nightstand

Posted by on Apr 14, 2011 in Books | 2 comments

A good book should leave you… slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading it. ~William Styron, interview, Writers at Work, 1958

As my life seems to be getting busier and busier I am finding it even more important than usual to carve time out of my day to read.  Living vicariously through the lives of others gives me a wee break from my own thoughts and worries and tops up my tired brain with new insights and ideas.  Here are a few I have been pondering over the last month or so.

Better Off  byEric Brende.  I loved this book.  Probably because sometime in my early twenties I decided that I was born in the wrong century and really wished I could spend my life on the ‘ol homestead.  At its core, that is not really what this book is about, but it is what got me hooked.  The author takes his brand new wife on an 18-month adventure  living in a rural community without electricity or electrically controlled mechanics of any kind.  He explores what it really means to be “self-sufficient” and how “work” can become something that doesn’t feel like “work” at all.  He tries to answer the question “Is there such a thing as too much technology?” and what he discovers resonated with me.  (But I still love my computer.)

Thunder and Lightening by Natalie Goldberg.  Having devoured Natalie’s earlier books Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind several years ago, this one came as a bit of a shock.  There is a hardness, a sadness, to Natalie’s voice that certainly did not appear in her earlier works.  But there is a deepness there too.  In some way I believe (at least in my mind) that she has moved from encouraging teacher to wise writing mentor, and although I miss the upbeat positivity I remember from her earlier works, there is the truth of “Real Life” that resonates through this book that I can’t ignore.  In its serious and sincerity, I am reminded that there is a lot of work I still need to do. 

29 Gifts in 29 Days by Cami Walker.   I am not sure how this book came to be on my reading list.  I think it was one of those Amazon “If you liked this book, you might enjoy this one” (which I always take to mean…if you liked this book, see if the library has that one…)  or perhaps it was a suggestion I read on someone’s blog post?    Regardless, it got moved way up on my reading list for the sole reason that the library, indeed, had a copy and it was available right away. 

In this autobiographical work, the author shares how she moved past her struggles with MS by cultivating a giving attitude in giving 29 gifts in 29 days.  The spirituality in this book is definitely not my own, and the foul language that appears in parts of this book grates on me,  yet there is something compelling about this story.   I think there is truth to her words in how focusing on giving to others changes who we are and what we believe about ourselves and our lives.  I love that most of the gifts are not monetary, but gifts of time, compassion, a listening ear.   Her idea obviously resonates with many as it has grown into a worldwide movement of giving documented at

What about you?  What books have you read recently?

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