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Preserving Tradition

So, it turns out that mason jars have other uses besides decorating tables at Pinterest-inspired rustic-themed weddings or drinking “Southern” style drinks at chain restaurants.

That’s right, folks, I’m talking about their original purpose — canning food to preserve it for later.

Canning is a family tradition, specifically on my mother’s side. My great grandmother had an enormous garden and spent all summer canning. She might have burned my grandmother, Millie, out on it, because when my mom was growing up, Grandma only canned tomatoes and froze sweet corn. Her mother-in-law, though, was quite the canner, and had a victory garden during World War II (she would lose her son, Russell, when his plane went down over France). Perhaps talent skipped a generation, because my mom returned to the ways of her forebears, and turned half of our back yard into a vegetable patch.

When I was growing up, every summer was a cornucopia of fresh vegetables. Mom was always in a rush to can and preserve everything before it went bad, or, it seemed like that to me. Our house was built in 1899, and heating and cooling it wasn’t always efficient. To save money, we didn’t run the AC often, and when Mom canned, the kitchen got pretty hot. So as a selfish kid/teen, this always really annoyed me. If I complained, though, my mom would say something like, “So in the winter, you don’t want any garden green beans, then?” Canning, while making the kitchen a sauna, was preferable to the day she dried all her basil in the microwave to keep it for the rest of the year. Something about that drying herb smell, mixed with a little burning, made me want to puke.

In hindsight, my complaints were pretty silly, considering the amazing things my mom was doing. Think about the hard work — growing your own vegetables, tending the garden all summer, and then preserving the harvest, all so your family could eat healthy and save money. Yeah, the woman was (and still is) a total superhero. I remember sitting at the kitchen table drawing, or doing homework (at the beginning of the year) while she watched endless marathons of Law and Order, or her soap opera, Days of Our Lives, and canned canned canned all day.

While I can’t have a garden (I live in a condo) I am attempting to keep the tradition alive. I’m proud to call myself a fourth-generation canner! Today I got five pallets of tomatoes at the farmer’s market and I’m ready to preserve.

I’ve decided to do two pallets of plain crushed tomatoes (can be made into anything), two pallets of spaghetti sauce (we went through all of last year’s) and one pallet of extremely hot salsa (just for me, nobody else likes it that hot!).

Step one is to wash all of my cans, lids, and rings in hot soapy water. Next, I’ll put four quarts of water in my pressure cooker and start gently heating it with the empty jars inside. You need the jars, food, rings, and lids all hot at the same time.

I’m going to do the plain tomatoes first. When I do crushed tomatoes, I don’t like skins in it, so I’ll need to remove those. I gently boil the tomatoes until the skins start coming off, and then I squeeze out the inside of the tomato into one bowl and put the skins/cores in the other. You can get this neato device called a vittorio strainer that removes all the skins, stems, and seeds for you, but I don’t have one. I don’t mind seeds in any of my tomato products, and neither does my family, so no worries.

When I’ve de-skinned all the tomatoes, it’s time to ladle them into hot quart jars, and put the hot lids and rings on them. Then, I cook them in the pressure cooker at 11 pounds of pressure for 10 minutes.

For pasta sauce, you can remove the skins if you like, but it’s not required. I cut up and sauté whatever veggies I have laying around (onions, eggplant, zucchini, summer squash, bell pepper, mushroom, etc) and then create a pasta sauce using the diced tomatoes or crushed, skinless tomatoes. Make sure to give it some spices, like salt, pepper, garlic, basil, etc. I also love to throw in kale, because unlike some of the other veggies, it’ll keep its texture through the canning process.

My spaghetti sauce is pretty runny, so when I use it in the winter I sometimes mix it with some tomato paste. I also make it vegetarian so I can add the meat later if I want to. If you decided to do meat, you will have to adjust the canning time and pressure. It takes a LOT longer.

Vegetarian spaghetti sauce should be canned at 10 pounds of pressure for 15 minutes.

Last but not least, hot salsa! I use a recipe (with variations) that I found in the little booklet that came with my Presto Pressure Canner and Cooker.


  • 10 cups chopped, cored tomatoes (about six pounds)
  • 5 cups chopped and seeded bell peppers (about two pounds)
  • 5 cups chopped onions (about 1.5 lbs)
  • 2.5 cups chopped and seeded hot peppers (about a pound)
  • 1.25 cups cider vinegar
  • 2 tbsp cilantro
  • 3 cloves minced garlic
  • hot sauce optional

Combine all ingredients in pot. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Ladle hot salsa into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Process at 10 lbs pressure for 10 minutes.

I’m pretty loosey-goosey with recipes, so if I don’t have enough of something, I’ll add something else. I’ve been known to put diced zucchini and summer squash in my salsa as well. I also really like adding corn. As long as you don’t put any meat-related things in it, you should be able to add whatever you want, veggie-wise.

I started canning today about 1:00. It’s 2:30 and I haven’t even put anything in the pressure cooker yet. I’m still skinning tomatoes, and writing this while I wait for them to cool. It’ll probably be 7:00 or 8:00 before I’m done.

Edit: more like 9:00!

I’m sure my daughter thinks it’s annoying that mommy can’t play right, now, and she definitely thinks the kitchen and stove are “too hot” (which is fine with me for safety reasons). However, I hope she’ll grow up and take on this family tradition. I’m writing down all my recipes and even making some videos so she’ll have my help, just like my mom is there to share her tips and tricks with me.

Well, this is has been fun. I hope you consider taking up this, I guess, hobby yourself, because it’s a great way to have veggies in the winter, save money, and have some fun experimenting.

I feel connected to my family as I slave over a hot pressure cooker, and it’s a priceless feeling.


A Haunted History of Denver’s Croke-Patterson Mansion

A Haunted History of Denver's Croke-Patterson MansionA Haunted History of Denver’s Croke-Patterson Mansion by Ann Alexander Leggett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book, which attempts to chronicle the colorful past and present of a very unique Denver building, was well-researched and enjoyable to read. I learned quite a bit about the house, through its story, the history of Denver as well.

The descriptions of some of the oddly shaped rooms, and the stories about the dogs and the mirror did give me chills. It also definitely made me want to visit the house sometime so I can experience it all for myself.

However, I would say my critique of the book lies with its heavy reliance on the author’s and other people’s “feelings” about the house and how the spiritual energy did things to their bodies. I actually believe in ghosts because I have seen them and felt some energy similar to what was described in the book. Although, when building a case for a haunting, relying on these forms of “evidence” is simply not convincing, especially since the ghost hunters with the experience and the equipment came back with results suggesting the property is not actively haunted.

The main “power” I think the structure has is its ability to weave a spell over people, to pique their interest, and to capture their hearts. Many people have dedicated a lot of time and effort into preserving the site as well as researching it and investigating it. It’s obviously a unique place that matters to a lot of people, and I respect that.

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Blood Water Paint

Blood Water PaintBlood Water Paint by Joy McCullough
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an exceptional book about an exceptional woman, a master painter who manages to survive in a man’s world and perfect her craft. Beautifully written in gut-wrenching verse. I couldn’t put it down.

Those of us who still struggle under the yoke of the patriarchy and deal with every-day misogyny will find strength in Artemisia’s character and determination. I have felt her rage and I know many other women who have as well. This is an important book for YA feminism, but for those of you out there who are teachers, please find a way to get male students to read this book.

As was mentioned at ALAN this year, and I wish I could credit which author said it — “Rape books aren’t just for girls.” If we want to change rape culture we need to get this book in as many hands as possible regardless of gender.

I read the author’s notes about this book, about the struggle to bring Artemisia’s story to light all these years after she died, and I’m very grateful that she was finally able to find a platform to share this with the world.

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Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King

The Bazaar of Bad DreamsThe Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve been a Stephen King fan since I was twelve years old and hiding his books under my bed because I wasn’t sure my parents would approve. I can’t say I’ve read all of his books, but I’ve read all the classics like “The Shining” and “Misery” etc.

I’m also a writer who doesn’t stick to one genre, so I enjoy that SK has a lot of different kinds of books and stories, but all with his signature voice and threads that tie the universes together.

This collection was a fun read for sure. It’ll take you to a lot of different places, make you laugh and cry and be scared and grossed out, so strap in for a good time.

“Mile 81” was classic King, but to a point where it became self-referential, which was very cheeky but also annoying. But I guess when you’re one of the world’s most popular authors you can get away with that stuff! I loved it anyway.

“The Dune” was an interesting one with a fun twist. “UR” was also thought-provoking and very fun. The best part of King’s work to me is the characters, and there are many to love and hate in the collection. “Mortality” was also very thought provoking and makes you think about the ripple effect of violence. “Blockade Billy” was also highly enjoyable and I would consider using it in a sports lit class.

There are a couple of down points in the collection that I didn’t care for, specifically “Herman Wouk is Still Alive.” I found King’s portrayal of low SES women to be two dimensional and bourgeois in way that borderline offended me. This story is actually the whole reason why I gave this four stars instead of five.

By far, however, “Bad Little Kid” was my all-time favorite. It had some of the same flavors as “IT” so if that’s one of your King favorites, I think you’ll like that story. “Obits” was also on fire. I love how King makes you examine your values and there isn’t always a clear hero in a story. He can also break your heart, like with “Summer Thunder.”

Superfans will definitely love this collection. If you’re brand new to SK, I wouldn’t start here — go back and hit the classics and then come on over when you’ve read “IT” and “The Shining” and maybe like “Pet Sematary” too. See you there!

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My Face to the Wind

My Face to the Wind: The Diary of Sarah Jane Price, a Prairie Teacher (Dear America)My Face to the Wind: The Diary of Sarah Jane Price, a Prairie Teacher by Jim Murphy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My husband is really cool. Okay, so you’re thinking… what exactly does that have to do with this book? Okay, well, he planned a surprise trip out west for our anniversary, and he bought me a book for every place where we would be staying. Our first stop was Broken Bow, Nebraska. You folks are all readers, right? So you know why my dude’s a keeper.

This book was pretty good, though I was reading it as an adult and obviously it’s aimed at upper elementary/middle grade readers. I’m a teacher, so I was thinking about which of my students would enjoy it.

I’d say that I’ve read better YA and Middle Grade books. There was a sprinkling of modern language and turns of phrase that distracted me from the time period in which the story takes place.

As a teacher, I definitely felt for the main character as she struggled to take her father’s place and do her job with no support from the community, no textbooks, and a garbage classroom. A lot of teachers this very second are in a similar situation! I couldn’t help but put myself in Sarah Jane’s shoes. The snowstorm element brought up good memories of reading “The Long Winter” by Laura Ingalls Wilder. But then I thought, maybe I should just re-read “The Long Winter.”

Some very good descriptions. I loved how the wind was personified in the story, and when I got to Broken Bow, yeah, the wind feels like it’s out to get you!

The story could have done a little more with the Native Americans. The characters were operating under racist misinformation that was disproven, but it wasn’t something that was lingered on or developed.

On the other hand, I really felt like there was something romantic between the landlady and the priest that was never developed. I thought that was a cool subplot, especially because the MC was too young to really get what was going on, but nothing came of it, which wasn’t very rewarding for people who bother to pay attention to subtext.

Might be worth adding to your classroom library, as I think it would definitely interest some readers.

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Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team

Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football TeamUndefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team by Steve Sheinkin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received this book in my box when I attended the AERA conference two years ago. Reading it embarrassed me, because I had never heard of Jim Thorpe, and everyone should have heard of Jim Thorpe. He was a one-of-a-kind athlete, a borderline demigod from a mythological world. Admittedly, I am not a sports fan really of any kind (I’m an indoor cat) but what I appreciated about this book was that it has many audiences who might want to read it.

As an educator, I this book would appeal to reluctant readers who happen to be football fans. Then, they would inadvertently learn about the cultural erasure of Native Americans around the turn of the century. Or, if you’re like me, the football came as a secondary interest, and the stories about the schools and what the children suffered were compelling and made me feel outraged.

This book has a great, clean layout, with great pictures and a look that will appeal to many readers of various interests and levels. Thinking about my readers who struggle, my only issue is that it does skip around in the timeline a bit, which is artistic and cool to confident readers and confusing to others. Also it really didn’t talk much about his later years, and I wanted to read about how a town allegedly offered to rename their town if the family agreed to bury Jim there.

All in all, a good read, and a must for your secondary classroom library.

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Getting Caught Up on my Goodreads Acct… here is the first of MANY reviews!

199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die by Loren Rhoads
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As a semi-professional creepy person and recovering goth, this was the perfect book for me! It was a Christmas gift from my mom, who has always been my cemetery buddy and BFF in morbidity.

I travel a lot, and I’m always looking for a good cemetery to visit that has connections to the history of the locations I visit. I’ve actually been to several of the cemeteries on the list in the USA and Europe, and it would be a serious dream to visit them all. I’ve loved many cemeteries for many different reasons, but if was forced to choose an all-time favorite, it would probably be Pére Lachaise, which seems to be everyone else’s favorite, too. I mean, it’s amazing to read about how many cemetery planners used PC as an inspiration for their own boneyards. It was really cool to read about how and why the cemeteries were planned and what the creators were thinking during the design process.

The pictures in the book are gorgeous. I don’t keep many books once I’ve read them, because I live in a tiny condo where space is at a premium, but I can promise you I’m keeping this one. In fact, it is going on a road trip with my family and I this summer as we drive out to New England. One I know for sure we’ll be visiting (again) is the cemetery in New Haven, CT. I’ve been before and I can’t wait to go again and walk under the Egyptian gate!

If you’re a creepo cemetery wanderer like me, this is the book for you. I would recommend you pair this with “Stories in Stone” by Douglas Keister.

My one criticism of this book is that it focuses on a very Western-centric, Anglo view of history and importance. I figured in the USA section there would be more about Native American sacred places, or in other countries, showing off burial sites from native peoples. There were some, but there was also a great silence, which speaks instead, perhaps, to the disappearance of these sites or that they are not being cared for and have been erased, as the colonizers have always wanted to do with the culture of those they colonize.

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Get Your Mind Out of the Toilet… or Don’t.

Yesterday, I cleaned up poop an estimated 8 times.

I’m potty training my daughter, and we had an abundance of accidents yesterday. See, we’re doing this “newfangled” potty training method where you spend like three days at home letting the kid run around naked and putting them on the potty when they start to go. Step two is going about your normal life, but kiddo is wearing pants commando. Then, allegedly, you are allowed to put them in underwear when they are consistent with the potty habit. Yeah, we’re not there yet.

On top of that, I (or SOMEONE in the house, ahem, it doesn’t HAVE to be me every time, just saying) forgot to change the cat litter on Wednesday, and possibly the Sunday before that. So, in rebellion, our three cats spent yesterday while we were out leaving various land mines scattered throughout the house. So I got to clean those up, as well as change the litter and scrub out the box, etc.

By 8pm, I threw up my many-times-washed hands and cried, “I’M SICK OF POOP! NO MORE POOP FOR ME TODAY, OKAY?”

“I get it,” said my husband.

Thank God Alyssa’s last poop of the day was in her nighttime diaper.

So, I’m really, really sick of seeing and smelling and cleaning up poop. HOWEVER, my online buddy Elizabeth tagged me in a meme this morning, and I’ve been laughing about it on and off since 6am:


Full disclosure: I am 34 years old. And I’m giggling right now, yet again, looking at this. Which, I’m sure many of you are thinking, is too old to find this kind of thing funny.

Of course as kids everyone thinks poop, pee, farts, and butts are hilarious. One of the best middle grade novels I’ve ever read is The Day My Butt Went Psycho. You may remember some playground gems that included chants like “Milk milk lemonade, ’round the corner fudge is made, stick your finger up the hole, what comes out, a tootsie roll.” Some of my friends from childhood and I actually co-wrote songs about poop. Here are the lyrics to one of our masterpieces:

Poop potty pee

Oh poop poop poop

Poop potty pee

Oh poop poop poop

Poop potty pee

Oh poop poop poop


If you made it through this post so far without laughing, congratulations. You are a smarter and more sophisticated person than me. But you may also be dead inside, just saying.

I have a coworker who literally laughs every time I say “duty.” She’s older than me, and always feels like she has to explain herself or apologize for having a middle school style sense of humor. Obviously, I’m not going to judge her, because I think it’s funny too. Another of my coworkers and I were talking about how we both had diarrhea over the weekend (I love my job) and we started messaging each other refrains from the famous Diarrhea Song, which, by the way, has its own official website. This one was our favorite:

When you lie down for siesta
and your ass has a fiesta…

Diarrhea (toot toot) diarrhea

So now we say things like, “I ate at Red Lobster this weekend and my ass had a fiesta” or “I’m home with an ass fiesta.”

She kept asking me, “Is there something wrong with us that we think this is funny?”

Well, I declare here and now before the whole internet, that if thinking the Diarrhea Song is funny is wrong, then I don’t want to be right!

I just don’t think anyone should be in a hurry to grow up so much. There’s a universal quality to toilet humor. We all have to do it. Kim Kardashian poops. Many of us have to clean it up (not Kim, she can pay someone to do that, which is why she sucks). If you can’t find the humor in poop then all you’re left with is… shit.

Feel free to judge me. I sorta do hate myself a bit for enjoying toilet humor. I know what sophisticated people I respect would say about me. But I can’t live a lie, either.

There is a time and a place for everything. There is a time to sow, a time to reap, a time to use intellectual wit and dry, complex humor, and a time to laugh at farts.

And that time is NOW. Enjoy one of my favorite songs from Bob’s Burgers. 

Basking in the Holidaze…

We’re in that weird time in between Christmas and New Years where, traditionally, I have either played whatever video game I got for Christmas for several days straight, or have done other activities all while hating myself for being fat and unproductive. There’s this great Sylvia Plath quote from The Bell Jar.

I felt overstuffed and dull and disappointed, the way I always do the day after Christmas, as if whatever it was that the pine boughs and the candles and the silver and gilt-ribboned presents and the birch-log fires and the Christmas turkey and the carols at the pianos promised never came to pass.”

If the typical Christmas celebrations are part of your life/heritage, then you probably know what Sylvia and I are talking about. Depending on your experience, there can be something about the avarice and gluttony of Christmas that can make you hate yourself pretty much a lot. I know there are a lot of mental health triggers around Christmas, including managing expectations, remembering what things were like as a kid, etc. Typically I usually wrap myself up in the warm arms of a video game and then hate myself for wasting time, or hate myself for eating too much and being out of shape. This all counts down to when I try to do a New Years Resolution and inevitably fail.

Typical me post-Christmas

But… not this year, you guys.

I’m not sure exactly what makes something the best or worst Christmas ever, but I don’t think I’ve ever felt so good exiting a Christmas as I do this year.

I mean, it can’t hurt that this was a really amazing Christmas. Tons of people were able to make it, including the entire Carl extended family minus Uncle John, who is living the dream on an island (literally, so I get it why he didn’t come back). Wait, can we back up to Christmas Eve Morning, when it SNOWED??? IT SNOWED A BEAUTIFUL SNOW! It hadn’t snowed more than few flakes up until that point. Yeah, the roads were a little dicey, but that didn’t stop us. Okay, it nearly killed my brother and sister-in-law, but they made it just fine, all right?

My daughter was just in love with the snow. That morning she was going crazy running through it to leave tracks with her rolling suitcase.

Alyssa and Princess Poppy enjoy the Winter Wonderland

Though it was admittedly a tamer White Elephant year than previous years (no Trump and Hillary masks or bail bonds swag this time) I managed to get rid of some stuff I didn’t want (okay, and get some stuff I didn’t want, but whatever) and as they say, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. The best part of the eve was just having everyone able to make it, with my cousins coming all the way from NYC and Seattle.

Of course we had tons of awesome FOOD both days. We ate salmon primavera, chilles rellenos, oysters, pork roast, orange duck, and SO MUCH CHEESE. Also we had so many presents we had to start on Christmas Eve and periodically start and stop so we could get meals in. I KNOW I KNOW I KNOW it’s not about the stuff, but I must not have pampered myself much lately because I was like crying with happiness because I got the kinds of things that were very much about self care and making me feel good about me.

I think I got a total of 8 bath bombs, a bunch of skincare products, and a fitness tracker and wireless headphones to encourage me to exercise. And things to make me feel pretty like clothes and jewelry. All of that just makes me excited about… being me and enjoying being me, which is not something that I often allow myself.


So I just got my fitness tracker set up today, and got all my healthy apps and stuff going. Check out the news/updates section of to read about my thoughts on New Years Resolutions and all that crap.

It was great. Nobody was sick. Nobody got in a fight or even a mild disagreement. It snowed and everyone was happy.

I’m all set to have a great few days off… even though I’ll be spending most of it potty training (we already had poop and pee on the floor today! WHEEEEEE!). Though I have to admit, trying to clear all of the Christmas music out of my personalized stations on Youtube Red and Pandora is getting pretty damn annoying…

Anyway, to anyone reading this, I hope these dark solar days are instead filled with good times of whatever sort you enjoy the most.

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