Book Bonanza

After lunch at the Copper Dome this morning, Sheila and I headed over to Sixth Chamber Used Books. Sixth Chamber is one of my favorite bookstores in the Twin Cities; they have an excellent range of books in primo condition. You will never get home and discover you have just paid $10 for a book with pink highlighting in it.

Sixth Chamber

Best of all, you can bring in used books and get credit for them (they also offer cash, but you get a better deal with the credit and after all, one will always need books). From my (very personal) perspective, I consider literature, poetry, and religion to be Sixth Chamber’s strongest suits. But then also, a good selection of cookbooks and food writing, a solid mystery section, and a huge history section (I already have far too many history books on my shelf that I want to read, so I rarely linger in history).

cradleMy happiest find of the day was Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things. This has been on my radar for years, but it’s expensive ($27.50 in paperback!) and to find it seeming brand new for $10—well, I was happy right there. But of course it’s a bookstore and one must browse.

While I was browsing, the owner called me over to look in a box of books (this was 1 of 8 that they purchased)—from a book reviewer. Each book of poetry had a post-it with the reviewer’s overall summary. What a treasure trove! I didn’t go too deeply into the box before I found one that intrigued me: Cloudy with a Fire in the Basement, by Ronna Bloom. Paging through the book, reading a snippet here and there, I found it very appealing. The verdict from the reviewer:

NO. Not enough emotion. BUT. There is a brevity that I enjoy. Each poem is a perfect little idea-machine. Crystalline: cold and pretty.

I love this! I love the idea of each poem as a perfect little idea machine. And I love having the little post-it that I will forever keep with the book. (I suggested they charge an extra dollar for the note, which of course they won’t do. But I still say having the note in the book will always make it extra special.)

In the religion section I found Joan Chittister’s The Friendship of Women: The Hidden TraditionChittester of the Bible. A short book with each chapter focusing on a different woman of the Bible, I was intrigued. Chapters include Deborah (wisdom), Esther (leadership), Ruth (availability), and Miriam (joy). There are more, but those are the names I most recognize.

I also got The Yoga of Time Travel: How the Mind Can Defeat Time, by Fred Alan Wolf, physicist. He won the National Book Award for Taking the Quantum Leap, which I didn’t find particularly compelling, but it was understandable; and I figured I’m interested in yoga and time travel, so if Fred Alan Wolf can make it understandable, I’m all for it.

Plus I got Just Checking: Scenes From the Life of an Obsessive-Compulsive, by Emily Colas (the book I seem to be most compelled to read, as it is the only one I’ve started and I’m already several Hungry in Parispages in).

And lastly, a novel: Hungry Woman in Paris, by Josefina Lopez. A journalist, an activist, food, France—what’s not to like?

I am rich in books. And I still have some credit left over!

Signs of Spring and Poetry


rhubarb nubMy rhubarb is coming in! Just small nubs, not even an inch out of the earth and still surrounded by frozen mulched leaves. But here it comes. I love rhubarb because it starts so early (most especially if it is on the south side of your house) and it requires zero attention other than water, love, and picking.

I have planted chamomile seeds indoors and they are sprouting! I’ve never grown chamomile before. It’s nice to have something already growing for my garden—even if it is indoors and in a little plastic greenhouse.

The Modes of Transportation reading theme got me to pick up Mozart’s Carriage by Daniel Bachhuber (a poetry book purchased in February of 2004 at Micawber’s). I love this poem that I read this morning:

Faure’s Sonata for Violin and Piano, No. 1

So much labor from young hands:
Essays, paintings, poems—
Report card time.

The music saps my fragile resolve
Like the scent of lilac through an open window:
The vow of summer, the tomb of spring.

The piano like footsteps in a cold stream,
Violin a swirl of water
Around the plunging feet.

The music proclaims surface and depth are one.
Tightened bud is full-grown flower.
How can I put a grade on creation?
God is dreaming here.


Herb Profile: Rosemary

rosemaryI have liked rosemary for as long as I’ve known it existed—rosemary-scented soap, rosemary lotion, and in the culinary realm, rosemary potatoes (very good at Amore Victoria restaurant in Uptown—I must remember to make them this summer when I have fresh rosemary in my backyard and new baby red potatoes from the farmers’ market). Anything with a rosemary element catches my eye.

But while I’ve loved rosemary’s smells and tastes, I was unaware until recently of its medicinal qualities. Rosemary, like many of our common culinary herbs (e.g. sage, thyme, basil, cayenne), has some very potent healing qualities. It is:

  • Antibacterial
  • Antifungal
  • Antiviral
  • Analgesic (painkilling properties)
  • Anti-inflammatory (painkilling properties but more localized)
  • Astringent (tightening/drying)
  • Antioxidant (reduce free radicals in the body—this is not on my radar)

That’s a lot of A’s and it means rosemary has a lot of medicinal properties. It’s like aspirin and penicillin and vicodin all in the same plant. Herbal remedies are not typically as immediately effective as prescription drugs (there are exceptions), but they have the advantage of being much safer (rosemary is nonaddictive), they can be taken more frequently, there are generally no side effects, and if the kids get into your rosemary stash, you don’t have to call poison control.

Rosemary is particularly good for muscle aches and strains, rheumatism, and arthritis. It can be applied as a salve or compress directly to the affected area for immediate relief. Rosemary also improves digestion and circulation, as well as bronchitis and sinus problems.

That’s a lot of ground for one little plant to cover. But wait, there’s more: Rosemary improves memory and concentration. It’s a mood elevator. If a cup of rosemary tea (or merely inhaling the fragrance) doesn’t elevate your mood, try the song Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes.

Some studies have found rosemary impedes or retards various cancers. It may even stimulate hair rosemary potgrowth.

In short, rosemary is a good thing to start experimenting with. I added just a small bit in a recent meatloaf, and when I ran across it (it can be noticeable) I realized I needed to add quite a bit more next time.

A small little explosion of happiness on the tongue.

Modes of Transportation

TransportThe reading theme for March is “Modes of Transportation.” At first blush I thought it would be boring and possibly difficult to find titles, but since jumping in, I’ve found an abundance of titles and I’ve liked most of them. I recently finished The Hearse You Came In On, by Tim Cockey (a mystery I could not resist because the main character is an undertaker and I grew up in a funeral home). I didn’t like it as much as I wanted to. Also in the mystery realm I read Last Car to Elysian Fields, by James Lee Burke. Spending a few days in Louisiana in early March is just the thing—even if it is only in the pages of a book. Reading is a mode of transportation in and of itself. I only recognized that as I was writing this. Books have transported me so many places over the years.

I’ve also read Trains and Lovers (fiction); Four Wings and a Prayer (a most excellent Monarchsnonfiction book about the monarch migration, by Sue Halpern); A Week at the Airport (nonfiction by Alain de Botton, still in process); Uncommon Carriers (nonfiction by John McPhee, about ships, semi-trucks, trains, etc. which to me are rather common carriers but McPhee’s writing is uncommon—in a good way—so it works for me); and Riding In Cars With Boys, by Beverly Donafrio—a very good memoir about being a teen mom, and how hard it is all around. Which is not to say it doesn’t have its rewarding moments. They made a movie with Drew Barrymore from the book. (I tried to get it from the library but they didn’t have it. I love Drew Barrymore and it seems like she would be perfect in this role.)

My poetry shelves also contained modes of transportation:

And I even had a graphic novel (perhaps better labeled a graphic novelette), The Twilight Zone: Walking Distance.

And that’s what I love about the monthly reading theme. I’m getting around to reading some books I’ve had on the shelf for years (e.g., I bought The Hearse You Came In On in 2003 at The Open Door in Schenectady, New York). I tend to get into reading ruts that last a few years. Most recently it’s been primarily food, food issues, and sustainability. When I go to pick a new book from the shelf, those are the sections I go to. I can go for months without perusing history, memoir, science, nature, mathematics, science fiction/fantasy, graphic novels, cultural studies, and travel. (I don’t know how to categorize John McPhee. He has his own shelf by the fireplace.)

MilkweedSo this month I’ve read several poetry books (still so happy that I’m back to reading poetry again), a spiritual book, a couple of mysteries, a John McPhee, a memoir, a graphic novel, and a nature book. The book I’m most pleased to have read (that I would never have read—at least this month) is Four Wings and a Prayer. When I first was glancing over the books and I saw it I passed right by, thinking—oh, a whole book on monarchs and monarch migration, that sounds so dull and dry and scientific. But I went back a few days later (because I did like the title for the theme reading—I’m shallow that way) and looked at the first few pages, and I was totally drawn in. Not dull, not dry, and plenty of science woven throughout beautifully. A high recommend. And if you don’t have time to read the book, at least plant some milkweed.


CardinalToday is the vernal equinox, marking the official onset of spring and an equal balance of dark and light. It may not seem so, but spring is beginning. The cardinals are singing their spring song, and the sap is running in maples. And even while we are getting more snow in Minnesota, the snow is melting.

The spring equinox is the festival of promise and the breaking of the chains of winter. In the pagan tradition, the light (or sun) is associated with the male while darkness (the moon) is associated with the female. During the equinoxes light and dark—male and female—are balanced. That makes this an excellent time to bring more balance into your life. It’s a kind of magical time.

The arrival of spring also signals the imminent arrival of Easter: The date of Easter each yearSpring is set by determining the first Sunday after the first full moon after the equinox. Seriously! It doesn’t get much more pagan than that. Not surprisingly, many traditional Easter customs predate Christianity—the rabbits, the eggs, dressing up in new clothes (I actually had an Easter bonnet one year when I was little)—it’s all about fertility and newness. And balance—don’t forget balance.

The spring equinox always calls for a celebration, be it small or large. Here are some suggestions from my various books:

  • Sing spring songs (do I know even one spring song?)
  • Dance (appropriate to almost any celebration!)
  • Dress in the colors of flowers
  • Wear flowery fragrances or burn flowery incense (or even better, if you have them, eat some edible flowers)
  • Eat decorated eggs, breads flavored with anise or cardamon, and drink Rhine wine
  • Start a few seeds indoors (I am trying chamomile and calendula)
  • If you are a solitary type, burn a green candle and focus on balance

If you can, it’s best to do your celebrations at dusk or dawn, capturing the in-between time: in between winter and spring, and in between night and day.

Blessed be!

Haiku Challenge

J treeOne of my sabbatical projects is the haiku challenge. I got the idea from a book I picked up in the Half Price Books dollar bin, The Haiku Year. A group of musician friends decided to stay in touch via the haiku challenge—a haiku every day for a year, “a shorthand way to stay in touch with where each others’ heads were at, far more poetically and accurately than a four-page letter could.”

And this is the part that hooked me:

This book surely will have succeeded if mail carriers begin to notice an increase in postcards with three lines scribbled on them. Then slowly but surely the amount of poetry in the mail would increase, and cut in on the amount of junk mail we get.

And I thought of the postal carriers (I love our postal system) and how fun it would be to have the occasional haiku to deliver, rather than the same old bills. And the haiku challenge sounded like an excellent vehicle to capture the experiences of my year off. But who to send it to? That seems so much the essence of the challenge—the sending of it. It’s putting it out there, a small creative act.

Margery Allingham

Margery Allingham

And then I thought of my friend Lori in Montana. I liked the idea of sending the postcards farther away than across town. Plus I trust Lori. We went to graduate school together. She intimidated the hell out of me because she was so smart and so serious. But she was also nice, and we became good friends. Interestingly, she’s the one who introduced me to mysteries (via Margery Allingham’s Albert Campion series) and reminded me how important it is to read for fun—even when you’re in graduate school and can never even remotely finish all the reading you should do. I will always love her for that.

Lori and I have stayed in touch throughout the years. Off and on, but almost always letters at Christmas and an occasional lunch when she’s in town. And we recently got back in pretty close touch when I got a Christmas card from her with a change of address, which I saved. And when I got around to her Christmas card (I am pretty sure it was early January), I had to send it to the old address because I couldn’t find the card she sent anywhere. Turns out she had moved, but she hadn’t sent me a card (cue Twilight Zone theme). And we’ve been in pretty close touch ever since. Lori graciously agreed to be the recipient and is holding on to them for me (which is really nice since I’ve used some of my most favorite postcards that I’ve collected over the years).

Back to haiku: I love poetry and haiku in particular, and I loved the idea of examining and capturing an essence of each day through poetry. Haiku is a Japanese poetic form of three lines, the first being 5 syllables, the second 7, and the third 5 again. In English the syllable rule is often disregarded, though English haiku are still (typically) three lines and succinct. Here was my very first attempt (I started at the end of October last year):

Happy home herbals
Making tinctures
Oh no—it’s GMO!

Here’s my second, when I was harvesting my hops (for the first time):

picking and clipping
cleaning for days
hops everywhere!

As I wrote more and more haiku, I put a little more effort into following the Japanese 5-7-5 form. Here’s the first that followed the form:

a beautiful day:
Foxy Falafel bookclub
haiku in the mail

And a couple of my favorites:

       The high of baking
a shiver of happiness
I had forgotten

      big fat flakes of snow
beauty—you are so slippery
happy indoor day!

J birdsI’m loving this haiku project. I’ve missed only a very few days in the 4+ months I’ve been doing it. There are times when I have to do some catch-up of a day or two (occasionally more). I do try to at least draft a few lines each night, to capture the key points of the day. Sometimes it can be a good processing tool—after an emotional hectic day I may write many many lines (of indiscriminate length) and after things have settled I come back and the haiku almost writes itself.

And it’s fun. It gets my mind thinking in a different way. And it makes me appreciate each day in its own unique way.

Herbs 101

Rosemary Gladstar bookOne of the things that has come to my attention in these last few months while I’ve been reading about and playing with medicinal herbs, is how many of the most potent herbs are common pantry items. This has been underscored most pointedly in Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs, which I’ve just recently started reading.

The word “herb” is being used very broadly here. As Gladstar notes, “[W]hen herbalists speak of medicinal herbs, they are basically including any plant that can be used in healing.

In Medicinal Herbs, Gladstar focuses on nine key herbs for the home apothecary. I was surprised I had all nine in my pantry (excepting the ginger, which is in the refrigerator).

  • BasilSage
  • Cayenne
  • Cinnamon
  • Garlic
  • Ginger
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Thyme
  • Turmeric

Seriously—who would have guessed? But as Gladstar notes,

It only makes sense that people would use what they had available, in the kitchen or in the backyard. Many of the most common plants are still our best and most popular remedies for common ailments.

What do they do? Ginger is good for nausea, morning sickness, and motion sickness. It’s also warming and decongesting. Basil is also good for relieving nausea, and is helpful in treating irritability and fatigue, anxiety, and insomnia.

dandelionsThe second half of the book covers 24 additional herbs with healing qualities, and I was pleased to note that I have several, either in my yard (dandelion, plantain, St. John’s wort, yarrow), in among my houseplants (aloe vera), in my pantry (oats, peppermint), or plan to grow this summer (calendula, chamomile, lemon balm).

For those of you interested in what the other 14 might be: burdock, chickweed, echinacea, elder, goldenseal, hawthorn, lavender, licorice, marsh mallow, mullein, nettle, red clover, spearmint, valerian.

In future posts I’ll focus on specific herbs, to give you more of an idea of how broadly useful so many of these herbs are. This is not weird esoteric stuff—it’s already in your kitchen!

What I’m Reading Now

McPheeMy primary book right now is Uncommon Carriers, by John McPhee. The reading theme for March is modes of transportation, and this is a perfect fit, covering all kinds of carriers: semis, ships, canoes, and trains for sure and likely some other mode of transportation I haven’t yet reached. This is what I love about McPhee—he brings to my attention things I’ve never thought of. This is the fourth McPhee book I’ve read and the first I haven’t loved. I’m wondering if I just don’t care about transportation. But I didn’t really care that much about Oranges, and was amazed at how fascinating and interesting oranges can be in the hands of an excellent writer. And I could mostly care less about tennis, but I also loved Levels of the Game (recounting a match between Arthur Ashe and Clark Graebner in 1968). But Uncommon Carriers I’m having a bit of trouble with, likely because I’m having a hard time wrapping myself around all the language and terms and jargon of the different transportations.


Kathleen Outside Great Waters

To balance that and move away from beetled brows, I started Walking a Literary Labyrinth: A Spirituality of Reading, by Nancy M. Malone. I was talking to my friend Kathleen about this book today (on Pubcrawl #2 at Great Waters in downtown St. Paul: excellent conversation, good beer, okay food, and fun ice sculptures): I told her that I was liking the book, but not as much as I thought I would; and yet I had this compulsion to keep reading it—a little more and a little more (I’m nearly two-thirds through now), and I feel that at the end it will all hang together in a way that makes perfect sense. And now that I think about it, it occurs to me that the book itself is being a bit of a labyrinth: I am compelled to keep moving along, reading, and yet it all seems like a meandering. Reading the book is itself a sort of meditation.

I’m also reading Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs, a beautiful book that I’m already marking for things I want to make, most notably ginger jam (possibly even today).

For fiction, I’ve picked up Last Car to Elysian Fields, by James Lee Burke (one of the Robicheaux mysteries), but I am not sure I will stick with it. While I’m loving the Louisiana factor of the Burke book, I might jump ship for The Hearse You Came In On, which is a bit more in the light-hearted realm that I need at this point in winter. On the other hand, the siren call of po’ boys and Tchoupitoulas Street may win out after all.

I most recently finished The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat, by Edward Kelsey Moore, a fun novel of three women (dubbed The Supremes when they were in high school in the ‘60s) and their lifelong friendship. It got me to thinking about my friends and my relationships, and how lucky I am.

LongboatsIn poetry, I’ve just started In the Longboats With Others, by Susan Sonde. She is a new poet to me, and I’ve just started, but the first few pages are promising. It starts out with a long poem, “Letters from the Poet Zhang Jie,” and I will close with a snippet that I particularly like:

The weather is good
Remarkably clear-eyed and warm.
Although I miss you, your sweet breath
On the bed next to mine,
And I have grave doubts about your safety
I want to sing.

February Reprise

Books. February was another reading month. (Translation: It was really cold and it snowed a lot, and I spent a lot of time curled up reading—complete with a cat on my lap and a hot cup of coffee.) I read 20 books in February. As in January, a lot (8) were poetry, and poetry books tend to be short (all the February poetry books were less than 100 pages). Of the remaining books, 7 were nonfiction and 5 were fiction.

Blessed GluttonyMy big reading obsession in February wasn’t poetry though, it was collective nouns. Of the 20 books I read, 18 had at least one collective noun in the title. My favorite books from February are The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson; Our Common Wealth, by Jonathan Rowe; and State of Blessed Gluttony, by Susan Thomas. There’s a  nice range of poems in State of Blessed Gluttony (including a pantoum, a ghazal, and a villanelle). One of my favorites is “Total Dioxin Barbie.” It’s longish so I won’t include the whole thing, but here’s the first stanza which will give you a good idea of the gist:

Total Hair Barbie is tired
of paying taxes for military buildup.
Sparkle-ized Barbie is pale.
She hates bovine growth hormones
in her strawberry milkshake.
Aerobic Barbie is flat on her back.
She is sick of supporting
multinational industry.
Even Hawaiian Fun Barbie is laying low.
The Barbies have just heard the news:
PVC plastic contains dioxin.
They have a body burden,
And Ken may be shooting blanks.

Cooking. I didn’t make a lot of new things in February. Perhaps I was too busy reading. Here is the short list:

      • Pumpkin bread (from the pumpkin I baked in January)
      • Beef stew (so good I made it twice)
      • Hamburger-parsnip hotdish

The pumpkin bread was excellent—nice and moist and loaded with walnuts. The beef stewpumpkin bread was very good the first time and even better the second time when I added rutabagas. The hamburger-parsnip hotdish also had rice, carrots, onions, and potatoes, and a little rutabaga would be a good add next time. For those readers not from Minnesota, hotdish is a local word for casserole. We never had casseroles when I was growing up. It was always hotdish.

chamomileMedicinal Herbs. I decanted my first two liniments—one hot and one cool. The hot liniment (ginger and cloves in an oil base) is primarily for sore achy muscles and also arthritis—conditions where you might normally apply heat—a hot compress or heating pad. The cool liniment (rosemary, chamomile, and comfrey in witch hazel) is good for sunburn, rashes, and itchy skin—when you want something cool and soothing. They’re nice to have on hand and, as you can imagine, they’re useful in a variety of circumstances.

I also used a bit of the ginger-clove liniment to make a ginger-clove salve. I couldn’t resist. I loved the smell and it seemed like just the thing to rub on my feet after they’re freezing from being outside shoveling (and shoveling and shoveling and shoveling).

And I still have several oils infusing which I will go into more as I decant them. One of the things I enjoy about herbs is that you often have several projects going at various phases of completion.

Other. I continued the haiku challenge (a haiku a day, trying to capture the day’s essence or at least its notable moments)—my fourth month! I added nine posts to my blog. I replaced our water heater (in fact Scott the Plumber did the actual replacing, but I held the door and helped get it in the house).


Como Conservatory

I went birding with Eliot in Sax-Zim bog in northern Minnesota (we saw three snowy owls and one northern hawk owl!) and I went to the Como Conservatory with my friend Nancy. The conservatory is the best place to go in Minnesota if you want a taste of the tropics in February. And finally, I am starting to use more of a cash economy. I’m trying to use it for pretty much everything now except bills. So far so good. Advantage: I bet I’ve reduced my spending by 25%.

The adventure continues!