I was visiting my parents a couple weeks ago and since their kitchen is much larger than my apartment kitchen, I decided I wanted to do some cooking. With fresh fruit easily available during the summer, I decided to try my hand at making jams. For many years I have watched from a distance when my mom made jams, but if I had known it was so easy I would have tried my hand at it years ago. I made a batch of rhubarb-ginger jam, which is a standby in my house because the rhubarb plant in my parents' backyard is enormous, and then decided to branch out with this delicious raspberry, jalapeno, and cilantro jam from Cupcake Rehab. If you like a bit of heat in your preserves, this is the recipe for you!
Summer is the perfect time to catch up on reading and I am a huge fan of British detective stories. I saw a reference to the Rivers of London series with Constable Peter Grant and knew I had to find a copy. One of the blurbs on the back cover refers to the series as "Harry Potter joins the Metropolitan Police" and the books do not disappoint. The first in the series is Midnight Riot and is not pictured above because I have already passed it onto my mystery-loving mom. If you like a little bit of magic, a lot of wit, and a great plot, then you should check out this series by Ben Aaronovitch. I have finished all five books that are currently out and am already impatiently waiting for the next installment!
If you are looking for an easy project to work on this summer, check out this tutorial from Spoonflower on how to make recipe tea towels. I made a batch for my family reunion and they were such a big hit that I had to order more fabric to keep up with the demand! I did not have handwritten recipes to scan, so I used GoogleDocs to create a design that looks like a recipe card. They look great, can be completed in an afternoon, and make a great gift for family members!
I live in a tiny studio apartment which means that I am always trying to find creative ways to maximize my space. One of the ongoing annoyances has been that one of my two windows is not very private. My apartment building is U-shaped and I am at a back corner of the U, looking over the interior courtyard. This means that my window and the window of the apartment next to me make a ninety degree angle and that when the blinds are open, there is a clear sightline from my apartment to my neighbor's apartment.
A little over a year ago, I read an article in the New York Times about using window decals to create privacy while still allowing for natural light. I finally followed through and put up decals on my own window. Since my place is a rental, I chose a static cling instead of a sticker so that they can be removed cleanly. I wanted something that let in a lot of light, so I chose a clear cling with dots that obscure the view into my apartment. As a bonus, when the sun shines through, the dots create hundreds of little rainbows.
Now I can leave my blinds open AND sit next to the window without feeling like my neighbor's eyes are constantly on my back. What design tricks have you used to make living in close quarters feel a little bit more private?
Memorial Day weekend has come and gone so it is now officially summer. School is finishing up, vacations are being planned, and now you might even have a chance to read some of the books that have been piling up in the corners of your home. This is also the time that lists of "summer reads" and "beachy books" start showing up all over the place. Most of these are easily digestible and lighthearted novels that don't take up a lot of room in a suitcase and won't leave you dwelling on the plights of the characters when you are supposed to be relaxing. Now, I love fiction as much (and maybe more) than the next person, but I don't understand why fiction has been branded as fun and relaxing, while nonfiction is considered heavy and even to be work to read.
Let me start with a story. Right before I started eighth grade, my family moved halfway across the country and landed in the Midwest. In the process of packing and unpacking, all sorts of things surfaced that I had never seen or paid attention to before, including quite a few books. Among them were two books about mathematical problems by Lewis Carroll, Euclid and His Modern Rivals and Pillow Problems and A Tangled Tale. I've always been up for reading just about anything and I liked math, so I plucked the books out of a box and stuck them on my bookshelf. When I started my new school a few days later, I discovered that I was required to keep a book with me for quiet reading time during English class (which was called Language Arts). Here is where the problem started: I don't read in ten or fifteen minute increments. When I start a book, it will stay attached to my hand until I finish it or something very compelling interrupts me. Since I knew that the Carroll books would be slower reads, I thought that they were great candidates for in-class reading time. I brought in Euclid and His Modern Rivals, which is written in play format, and had a grand time learning about geometry and that you can write a play about literally anything. Unfortunately, my teacher did not agree and I was forbidden from reading it in class. Euclid and His Modern Rivals was not considered by my teacher to be "pleasure reading" and I had to choose something less academic to read in class.
Fifteen years later I still find this ridiculous. The benefits of reading don't come solely from reading novels and other works of fiction. Nonfiction also enriches our reading lives and can be very fun to read! My college boyfriend was not a reader, despite the fact that his mom was a librarian who kept a steady supply of books in the house. This wasn't because he didn't like to read, but that he hadn't yet found what he did like to read. It turned out that his literary interests veered more towards humorous memoirs, popular science, and books about American politics that featured a strong narrative voice. For him, it took discovering nonfiction to really grasp the concept of reading "for fun."
Classifying fiction as "fun" and nonfiction as "work" does a disservice to readers. If you haven't dipped your toe into the pool of nonfiction recently, then try picking one up on your next trip to the library or bookstore. I find nonfiction easier to read in small chunks because there aren't generally cliffhangers at the end of the chapters, so it is perfect reading material for a busy schedule. Here are a few of my favorite works of interesting, informative, and amusing nonfiction that are great additions to any summer reading list:
Dry Storeroom No. 1: The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum by Richard Fortey
Have you ever wanted to know what it is like working as a researcher in a large museum? Trilobite expert Richard Fortey takes readers through the Natural History Museum in London with fascinating stories about the history of the natural world, gossip about what happens behind the museum doors, and a love of learning that will make you care more about fossilized creatures than you ever thought possible.
Country Matters: The Pleasures and Tribulations of Moving from a Big City to an Old Country Farmhouse by Michael Korda
If you have ever daydreamed about moving to a picturesque farm where you could drink summer cocktails on the front porch while surveying your land and livestock, then this is the book for you. This memoir about country living is not all sunshine and rainbows, but that makes it all the more endearing. In every chapter they face a new issue, sometimes with the house, other times with the neighbors, but always with wit and charm.
Shut Up, I'm Talking: And Other Diplomacy Lessons I Learned in the Israeli Government by Gregory Levey
Do you ever wonder what it is like to be a diplomat? In this humorous memoir, a Canadian finds himself working as a speechwriter for the Israeli Mission to the United Nations where nothing ever really seems to run smoothly. There are the daily issues, like trying to decipher the screams coming from the library down the hall, as well as panic-inducing moments, such as when he is the only Israeli representative at a vote on nuclear proliferation and has to ask the United States how he is supposed to vote. It is a fascinating insight into diplomacy and politics in the Middle East, and is wrapped up in a narrative that will keep you laughing.
War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning by Chris Hedges
I realize that this list is getting a little heavy on the memoirs, but the tone of this book is quite different from the others. Chris Hedges is a longtime war correspondent and this book is part memoir, part philosophy on war. He weaves his own experiences and the stories of the people he met in war zones into a meditation on what it means to go to war and how it affects those who live through it. It is a relatively short read, but will stay in your thoughts after you finish.
Before European Hegemony: The World System A.D. 1250-1350 by Janet L. Abu-Lughod
This book was originally assigned to me my freshman year of college, but not in its entirety. The parts I initially read were so compelling that I consumed the book cover to cover over the following winter break. My K-12 education did not have a lot of focus on world history and what little we did cover was focused pretty squarely in Europe. This book looks east and uses the trade routes of the time to discuss politics, economics, and trends of the time. There are plenty of maps so you don't have to keep an atlas handy while reading and the narrative is quite compelling. Though I hesitate to compare its readability to a novel (which seems to be the en vogue way of saying a work of nonfiction is "fun" to read), it is a work that is engrossing. I reread it on a regular basis because it is packed with interesting tidbits about a time period and area that I know less about than I should.