Yes We Can

One cooking project I’ve been scared to tackle is canning and preserving. A  year or two ago, I asked for a set of canning supplies for Christmas, received them, and promptly relegated them into the closet in my house where things go to be ignored, nestled cozily alongside an accordion binder of old tax returns and paperwork from the vet.

I did it!

I decided to get over my fear of messing up and give it a shot, and guess what? It’s not so difficult, after all.  I made some quick garlic pickles and a batch of strawberry jalapeno jam, and now I’m ready for more. Of course, I turned to some trusty library resources to show me the way:

Dare to Cook – Canning Basics (DVD) – Chef Tom doesn’t have the on-screen charisma of your favorite Food Network star, but what he lacks in panache he makes up for in know-how.  Watching this DVD is what finally convinced me that I could do this, and that my fear of giving all my loved ones botulism was unfounded, as long as I followed the clear and simple instructions.

Canning for a New Generation: Bold Fresh Flavors for a Modern Pantry – Almost every review you read of this book says something along the lines of: “If you think caning is just for oldsters, think again!”  It’s true that this book includes lots of contemporary twists on classic recipes and quite a few things you won’t find in other canning books, but it also has good practical advice and recipes for ideas on how to use the jams, sauces, relishes, and condiments you’ll be preserving.

The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving – I loved that this had a large number and variety of recipes, and small batch is just right for a beginner like me. It helped me feel like even if I messed something up, I wasn’t wasting a ton of ingredients.  There are lots of recipes in this book for sauces and jams that you don’t have to process and can, so if you are scared of pectin and want to get those skills down pat first, try this one out.

Strawberry Jam Print. Click through for the artist's portfolio.

Strawberry Jam Print. Click through for the artist’s portfolio.

More Canning & Preserving Resources:



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Reel Redundant

As I’m not a fourteen-year-old girl and it’s not 2009, I wouldn’t call myself a Taylor Lautner fan. Granted, I haven’t seen everything in his filmography, but he’s a relatively competent actor in everything I have seen him in. When I learned about his latest film Tracers, I was intrigued that the premise sounded so similar to 2012’s Premium Rush, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Michael Shannon. Both feature bike messengers, some vague Asian mafia, crooked federal employees and also act as how-to guides of what not to do when you’re biking around a city.

Tracers distances itself from Premium Rush by adding parkour into the mix. I thought they were going to build up to the parkour, but no, they drop it in without much explanation. Are there really gangs of at-risk youth doing parkour in New York City? If so, I need to buy myself a pair of American Eagle jeans and move there ASAP.

While both are fairly decent action movies, I gotta give the edge to Premium Rush. It opens with “Baba O’riley”, features the band Sleigh Bells and Michael Shannon’s gambling addict antagonist reaches Nicolas Cage levels of hilarious overacting. Still, Tracers is pretty solid. Neither are Citizen Kane, though.

Citizen Chain, on the other hand ...

Citizen Chain, on the other hand …
© Citizen Chain Cyclery

Anyway, watching Tracers got me thinking of other movies with similar premises. Often these movies get released within a few months of each other and can give audience members a case of déjà vu. Blame it on some kind of filmmaking multiple discovery theory, competing studios or Hollywood’s broken down originality machine.

We’ll experience such repetitive redundancy in 2016 with Jon Favreau’s remake of Disney’s musical version of The Jungle Book followed by Andy Serkis’ directorial debut of the horribly titled Jungle Book: Origins in 2017. It’s supposed to be a closer adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s original stories–no songs or kingly orangutans. Favreau’s cast boasts Bill Murray as Baloo, Idris Elba as Shere Khan, Ben Kingsley as Bagheera and Scarlett Johansson as Kaa. Serkis, on the other hand, will be playing Baloo and has Benedict Cumberbatch, Christian Bale and Cate Blanchett portraying the other roles, respectively. This is one of the only times when I’m actually interested in both versions; the two casts are enough to get my butt in the cinema.

Here are some other movies from the last few years with similar premises. You be the judge on which one was better.

The Illusionist (September 2006) vs The Prestige (October 2006)



Released about a month apart, both feature magicians magicking stuff up, but only one has Michael Caine. I’ve always wanted to but have not yet seen The IllusionistThe Prestige, however, is my favorite movie from Christopher Nolan and one that reveals something new with each subsequent viewing. With a box office gross $14 million more than The Illusionist, it seems like audiences liked The Prestige too.

Happy Feet (November 2006) vs Surf’s Up (June 2007)



Both are computer animated. One features the voice of Robin Williams. The other features the voice of Shia Labeouf. Both are about penguins doing stuff that penguins don’t do, like winning the Stanley Cup more than three times. Oh snap! What do you put on a freezer burn? Because, you know, ice … This is why I don’t write about sports. Happy Feet made over three times as much as Surf’s Up, perhaps indicative that audience fatigue with penguins reached its peak that started in 2005 with March of the Penguins.

No Strings Attached (January 2011) vs Friends with Benefits (July 2011)

No_Strings_Attached_PosterFriends_with_benefits_posterBeautiful people don’t want feelings to get in the way of all the beautiful-people sex they have. Spoiler alert: feelings get in the way. It seems like by the time Friends with Benefits came out, audiences were tired of seeing physically perfect specimens on display; it made about $15 million less than No Strings Attached. Still, it probably made more than it would have if it had starred a pair like John Goodman and Roseanne Barr.

Mirror Mirror (March 2012) vs Snow White and the Huntsman (June 2012)

Mirror_Mirror_FilmPoster Snow_White_and_the_Huntsman_PosterOne features actual little people playing the seven dwarves, the other is a veritable who’s who of English actors portraying the dwarves with camera trickery. Both were largely forgettable and although Snow White and the Huntsman made more than twice as much at the box office as Mirror Mirror, it still came about $15 million short of making back its budget. Currently, there are no plans for Disney to remake its own version (yet).

Olympus Has Fallen (March 2013) vs White House Down (June 2013)

Olympus_Has_Fallen_poster White_House_Down_poster_with_billing_blockThe White House is under attack and only a beefy guy can save the president. Olympus Has Fallen not only made back its $70 million budget, but also out-grossed White House Down by a whopping near-$26 million. Kim Jong Un got upset about The Interview but these two films came out within just three months and featured wanton destruction of our nation’s capital and no one batted an eye. There’s some kind of commentary to be made about that, but I’m not the one to make it.

Do you find different films with similar concepts redundant or does it not bother you at all? Let us know in the comments below!



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Love Craft

wheel throwing

In exchange for watching a dog for a week this summer, I was given unlimited access to a pottery wheel. My friend was given the wheel as a gift, but neither of us has ever thrown pots before. Naturally, I turned to the library for assistance. I like to get both books and DVDs for tips and techniques.


My 10 year old daughter loves to create things with paper. She has come up with many amazing creations on her own. I brought her a few books this past month, and she was off and running (actually just cutting and pasting – no running with scissors!)

Here is one of the things she made! (Photo by author)

Here is one of the things she made! (Photo by author)

So what’s next? I want to take up knitting this winter. There is a huge selection to choose from! I find it’s easier sometimes to browse the shelves to get just what I want. My daughter likes to make puppets. I’ll get her some puppet making books for kids.

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh has lots of great instruction books and DVDs for all kinds of arts & crafts techniques, some especially for kids, and some for adults from beginners to advanced levels. Try a few!



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Thorn Jack and the Briar Queen

I have hit a dry spell in regards to reading this summer. Usually I have a pile of ‘to be read’ books that I found in the library or in a store, but this summer nothing has piqued my interest. Romance? Meh. Mysteries? Not Really. Science Fiction? I guess.

It’s been tough….really though, you guys. There are books spread all over my house, cracked open on arm rests, flopped on to side tables, racking up fines…with plots that didn’t hold my interest and characters I found to be more harrowing than heroine (har har har).

bookcover.phpOne night while on vacation, after yet another disappointing mystery, I was surfing around on OverDrive, the Library’s ebook sharing app, when I found Briar Queen. With a mysterious cover and a synopsis that stated, “an intriguing blend of Twilight, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Alice in Wonderland and A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” I was hooked. Then I realized that Briar Queen was the second book in the Night and Nothing series. Jackpot! The first book in the series, Thorn Jack, “A spectacular, modern retelling of the ancient Scottish ballad of Tam Lin—a beguiling fusion of love, fantasy and myth vividly imagined and steeped in gothic atmosphere” seemed just as promising. The possibility that I could fall into a new world and get stuck was tantalizing. I hadn’t found anything to obsess over all summer…could this be it? Fortunately both were available and I immediately downloaded them.bookcover.php

Both novels follow Serafina Sullivan, known to friends and family as Finn. Having suffered the loss of both her mother and sister, she and her father move to his home town of Fair Hallow in upstate New York. Finn is set to begin her freshman year at the prestigious yet small university in town and is busy trying to overcome the depression caused by the sudden and violent loss of her sister. Finn quickly makes friends and also finds herself falling for the mysterious Jack, whom she encounters at a lakeside party. Jack has a secret—in fact the whole town, college and possibly even her own family, have secrets. Jack and his friends are Fae. Some are good, some are evil, all of them are mischievous, and for some reason they are very interested in Finn.

I really wanted to like both Thorn Jack and The Briar Queen. Both books had some really awesome elements, especially being based on the story of Tam Lin. The setting was beautiful: upstate New York in the fall and early winter. The feeling of a small town with a beautiful little square and elegant university in the background, lakes and woods. There were times I felt like the author must have been a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Gilmore Girls and every other teen show I loved…but sadly Thorn Jack and Briar Queen ended up being a little too Twilight and not enough everything else for me. This is one of those situations where I love the author’s idea and vision but disliked the execution. In fact, I just wanted to take the books and re-write them. I did finish them and when the third in the series comes out I will probably read it, just to get some closure, but these weren’t books I put down and immediately googled to find out when the third would be released.


Who wants to go to Lake Placid with me? Come on…don’t you want to live there? Look at how peaceful that looks!

One thing they did do is cause an urge for fall in New England…I have spent the last few weeks searching for other books set in New England/New York state in the fall with a supernatural element to them…and I have also been annoying my brother and his wife (who live in Whitesboro, New York, 45 minutes from Syracuse) with threats of coming up to visit them this fall. Thanks to these books I am craving some nice crisp fall weather so unless you feel like getting the urge to plan a trip to New York’s Adirondack region or really, really want to relive your Twilight and Gilmore Girls addiction, you can probably skip the Night and Nothing series. Or if you loved them, tell me why I am wrong.


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Tangled Roots

I’ve been working on Juhmpa Lahiri’s The Lowland for the past week or so. I’m normally a slightly faster reader, but Lahiri’s work kind of demands that you give it your full attention. She’s one of those envy-inducing writers who bring the most simple things to life with gorgeous, lyrical writing:

They found a thick tree that had fallen, the tangled roots exposed. They saw the drenched ground that had given way. The tree seemed more overwhelming when it lay on the ground. Its proportions frightening, once it no longer lived.

The Lowland begins in the Tollygunge area of Calcutta, with two brothers, Subhash and Udayan. Born just fifteen months apart, they grow up more like twins. As they come of age in the ’60s, the bolder Udayan becomes caught up with the growing Naxalite movement and the quieter Subhash moves on to the US to further his studies in oceanography. When Udayan is killed by the police, Subhash is left to pick up the pieces. While the story is told mostly from Subhash’s point of view, it is fallout from Udayan’s political involvement that dictates the course for the rest of the family.

Lahiri’s bread and butter is family and the Indian/American culture clash – something I hope she doesn’t ever deviate too far from, because she works those themes so very well. Her other works include:

  • Interpreter of Maladies – This collection of nine short stories won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2000.
  • The Namesake – Her first novel, published in 2004, follows the Ganguli family from the immigration  and assimilation of Ashima and Ashoke to the first generation experience of their children. It’s one of my favorites.
  • Unaccustomed Earth – Lahiri’s second collection of short stories, further exploring Indian Americans and the blending of cultures.

– Jess


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Reader, She Nailed It

You know what’s better than a classic novel? A classic novel retold in a fresh, exciting way. I recently stayed up way past my bedtime to finish Patricia Park’s Re Jane, and am completely delighted with how Jane Eyre’s story might have played out if Jane were a 21st century Korean-American woman from Queens. Park has captured the spirit of the original novel while also exploring how a story’s theme–in this case, the story of an orphan trying to find her rightful place in the world–can be influenced by a character’s race, class, and culture.

Photo by Allana Taranto, all rights reserved. Click through to read the New York Times review of Re Jane.

Photo by Allana Taranto, all rights reserved. Click through to read the New York Times review of Re Jane.

21st-century Jane is an orphan who just had a sweet job offer rescinded due to the bad economy. Now she’s stuck working for her uncle at his grocery store, and his whole family is getting on her nerves. Because she’s honhyol (only half Korean), she gets a lot of flak–and pity–from both her family and the local Korean community. Fed up with having to be on her best behavior all the time (a strict code of respect called nunchi), Jane takes a job as a live-in au pair with the Mazer-Farleys, a pair of college professors in Brooklyn.

Jane and Ed Farley develop feelings for each other much in the way that Jane #1 and her Mr. Rochester do: slowly and awkwardly. But then the narrative takes an unexpected turn, sending present-day Jane off on a literal voyage of self-discovery. The more she learns about Korean culture, her family, and herself, the more Jane comes to realize that she’s going to have to take charge of her own destiny if she wants her life to have a happy ending.

Click through to read an excerpt of the novel and listen to an interview with Park on WBUR.

Click through to read an excerpt of the novel and listen to an interview with Park on WBUR.

When the world is full of unread books to consider, and your TBR list takes up multiple bookshelves, it’s a pleasure when such a terrific piece of literary fiction finally makes its way to the top of that list. Re Jane is a thoughtful exploration of a woman’s life that’s grounded in an obvious respect for, and careful study of, the text that inspired it. It’s difficult to discuss more of the plot without giving away a major spoiler; No matter where in the world Jane happens to be, though, her tone remains true to Bronte: although the language is contemporary, it’s not hard to imagine the original Jane having the same kind of thoughts and feelings, and going through similar internal struggles with belonging and self-image. A little moody and melancholy, but at the same time, focused and determined. I was so captivated that I’m probably going to grab an audio version, too, so I can hear how the narrative voice I imagined plays out in a recording.

If you find re-examinations of classic themes as fascinating as I do, you should definitely check out Re Jane in your format of choice. Have you read Jane Eyre or Wide Sargasso Sea? How do you feel, in general, about modern twists on classic lit? The floor is yours in the comments section.

–Leigh Anne


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Somebody’s getting married! (A guide to your first same-sex wedding)

First, congratulations! Someone you know is getting married, and that’s a significant and happy thing. It’s quite likely this wedding couldn’t have happened two months ago, and it almost definitely couldn’t have happened ten years ago, which probably makes it even more meaningful for the people involved.

Given this newness, it’s likely you have some questions. Many social institutions are still figuring out how to recognize same-sex marriages and married couples. The laws are changing all the time; in the United States, the most recent significant change happened less than two months ago when the Supreme Court ruled that states must “license a marriage between two people of the same sex” and “recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-State.”* Since this ruling, approximately 40% of Americans still opposed this legalization.** Religious bodies are making new decisions as to whether they will bless these unions, and whether they will treat them equally with those of opposite-sex couples.

The cover of the New York Times from June 27, the day after the Supreme Court ruling, showcasing a dozen happy couples.

The questions you have probably depend a lot on your role in this wedding. You may have just received an invitation in the mail from a friend or relative. You may have been invited to be an attendant (i.e. bridesmaid, groomsman, usher, etc.). You may have been asked to officiate, to take photos, to bake a cake. Someone may have just proposed to you—in which case, even more congratulations! It turns out, in many ways the questions and the answers are the same as they would be in the case of an opposite-sex wedding. A wedding is a wedding, and most of them look alike in most ways. The only thing you can count on at a same-sex wedding is that there will be either two brides or two grooms and at the end of it they will consider themselves married to each other.

It turns out, a lot of stuff traditional etiquette or wedding planning books might tell you about weddings is gender-specific. Things done for the groom, by the groom’s family, with the bride, by her father, etc. Everything from who proposes marriage to who takes who’s last name has gender-specific traditions. And while anyone can choose to be walked down an aisle by or dance with a parent, everything needs to be planned and paid for by someone. These weddings can take more active thought and decision than opposite-sex weddings, because there isn’t a tradition to fall back on.

There are a few categories of things to consider if you have some responsibility for putting on one of these weddings:

The Law

Here in Pennsylvania, marriages between couples of the same sex have been legal since a district court ruling in May 2014. As of July 2015, marriage is legal throughout the United States regardless of the gender of the couple involved. This applies in all 50 states and the territories (with the possible exception of American Samoa). Federally recognized Native American tribes operate under separate jurisdiction, and can still decide individually whether to recognize and/or perform same-sex marriages. Currently, twenty other nations also allow these marriages to be performed legally. If the wedding in question is being held outside the country, the legal logistics may be different than at home.

However, there are places within the country where the law is not being applied. Couples in some counties have been refused licenses, and some state government officials have been encouraging this refusal. Additionally, while marriage is legal, in many parts of the country discrimination based on sexual orientation is also legal. This can make it more difficult for to arrange vendors for things like locations, flowers, cakes, photography, etc. When contracting for these sorts of services, it is often good to ask what experience they’ve had with same-sex weddings, and if they (and their staff) are comfortable with them. While there is value in fighting for your rights, there is also value in feeling supported and appreciated by everyone involved in your wedding day.


Many people getting married (even those not actively involved in a congregation) find themselves wanting a religious presence within the ceremony. As Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson says, the state licenses unions; the church blesses them. That sense of blessing may manifest by holding the ceremony within a church, having it performed by a religious official, and/or having passages from sacred texts read. If one or both partners are members of a religious group, it is likely one where they feel accepted and welcomed. However, sectarian restrictions may prevent even a supportive religious official from officiating at a same-sex wedding ceremony, or holding one within their building.

While sects may have policies regarding entering, performing, or sanctioning same-sex weddings, neither policy nor doctrine address other kinds of participation such as attending or performing contracted services. No couple sends invitations to a wedding intending to cause people to sin, or even to witness sinning. They desire their guests to love, and witness loving.

Etiquette and Protocol

Many parts of weddings are dictated by tradition—cultural, ethnic, religious, and more. Weddings are rituals, and have meaning in part because they have so many familiar elements within them. Unfortunately for same-sex couples, many of these traditions are specific to one or the other gender. Adapting to a couple’s needs may be as simple as changing language (e.g. best men, groomswoman, couple’s shower), or as emotionally fraught as deciding whether one or both partners will change their last name.

Same-sex couples are older, on average, than opposite-sex couples when they get married. This may change in the future as the couples who were only waiting for marriage legalization take advantage of new opportunities. Nevertheless, because they are older, they are more likely to have established financial independence from their parents. This means that they are more likely to fund and host the event themselves, and may have less familial pressure as to the wedding’s specifics.

As anyone not a bride or groom, etiquette is pretty much identical to that at any other wedding. You are a part of this because somebody cares about you and believes you care about them. They think you and they would be happier if you showed up. If there are specifics you are unsure about (i.e. how to address the couple after they are married, what to wear, whether it is appropriate to bring children, what sort of gift to bring), ask!

Or, just wear your best top hat and rainbow unicorn horn. Always in style.

Want to know more about planning a same-sex wedding? About the process of legalization in America? About religious attitudes towards same-sex marriages? The library has some great resources for all of these!

Planning Guides

The Essential Guide to Gay and Lesbian Weddings

The Gay Couple’s Guide to Wedding Planning

Modern Brides and Modern Grooms: A guide to planning straight, gay and other non-traditional twenty-first-century weddings

The Lesbian Couple’s Guide to Wedding Planning

The New Gay Wedding: A practical primer for brides and grooms, their families and guests

Gay and Lesbian Weddings: Planning the Perfect Same-Sex Ceremony

Church and State

Blessings Same-Sex Unions: The perils of queer romance and the confusions of a Christian nation

The Bible’s Yes to Same-Sex Marriage: An evangelical’s change of heart

God Believes in Love: Straight talk about gay marriage

When Gay People Get Married: What happens when societies legalize same-sex marriage

Speak Now: Marriage equality on trial

From the Closet to the Altar: Courts, backlash and the struggle for same-sex marriage

Same-Sex Marriage in the United States: The road to the Supreme Court

Essays, History, and Etiquette

Here Come the Brides! Reflections on lesbian love and marriage

Same-Sex Marriage: The personal and political

Charity and Sylvia: A same-sex marriage in early America

Outlaw Marriages: The hidden histories of fifteen extraordinary same-sex couples

Steve Petrow’s Complete Gay & Lesbian Manners: The definitive guide to LGBT life

-Bonnie T.

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