Adventures in Greening: Feeling Bubbly

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By Catherine Moran

I’d mentioned in a pre-holiday post that I was hoping that I’d be the recipient of a Penguin Sodastream, and I was very lucky to indeed receive such a generous gift from my lovely parents. They’ve been very supportive of my efforts to go green, even if they still think I’m a bit strange for composting (kidding, I think I’ve won them over to my side on that one, since they dropped off some compost with me once!)

SodaStream basically has the market cornered for home soda makers. There are a few other brands out there (like Cuisinart, Hamilton Beach, and Primo), but the reviews for these brands aren’t as strong as those for SodaStream. They have many options for soda makers, ranging in price and design to suit individual needs.

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The Penguin is the highest priced model, because it is made of metal and plastic (as opposed to the nickel plating/plastic and plastic only models) and because it comes with glass carafes instead of plastic carafes for water storage. The Penguin was the model I went with for these reasons, and because it is the preferred model of the ever-awesome Beth Terry.

I’ve been using my SodaStream daily. I can indulge in some fizzy liquids without having to feel guilt over adding new plastic bottles to the recycling assembly line. It takes about 30 seconds to make a new carafe of liquid, no wait involved! I’ve been experimenting around with flavors, adding lemon and lime. But my favorite has got to be a syrup I purchased at Whole Foods, made by Morris Kitchen: it’s ginger syrup. My homemade ginger ale tastes like I added grated ginger to the bubbles, and less like store bought ginger ale. It’s absolutely delicious. I’m inclined to stick with Morris Kitchen for my syrup needs because they have some great flavors, use fewer ingredients, and sell their products in glass bottles (they also have a great page of featured recipes). The flavored syrups from SodaStream all come in plastic bottles.

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Do you have a soda maker at home? If so, I’d love to hear of any fun concoctions you’ve dreamed up. Recipes welcome!

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Adventures in Greening is a column running on Kate-book.com every other Monday at noon. It is written by the very eco-conscious Catherine Moran. Follow Catherine on Twitter here, or check out her excellent book blog.

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Kate’s Book Club: Q&A with historicals addict Kate Furnivall

Kate Furnival, Shadows on the NileBy Kate E. Stephenson

In this fourth week of January 2014, I hereby call to order the 29th meeting of Kate’s Book Club. Every meeting, we shall be reading a tome either (a) penned by an author named Kate or (b) that includes a character named Kate. If you missed our last meeting, feel free to get caught up.

Club members, this week meet Kate Furnivall.

Kate says “I never had any ambitions to become a writer. It sort of crept up on me and now I’m hooked. Born in Wales, I studied English at London Uni and worked in advertising. Married, and reared two sons and numerous cats. A normal busy life. Then the bombshell hit. I discovered that my grandmother had been a White Russian in St Petersburg who escaped from the Bolsheviks and fled to China. What??? I had to rethink myself. I plunged into all things Russian, and out of my notes grew my first book—The Russian Concubine. Now I have written six books and live by the sea in a crazy world peopled by wonderful fictional characters. I LOVE it.”

Find Kate on Facebook and Twitter. She’ll you there!

Drum roll please…….. the answers! Continue reading

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Adventures in Greening: A Book Review of The Good Life Lab by Wendy Jehanara Tremayne

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By Catherine Moran

One of the books I received as a gift over the holidays was The Good Life Lab: Radical Experiments in Hands-On Living by Wendy Jehanara Tremayne. Tremayne is a former round-the-clock New York career woman who realized that her job was impeding on her life, and not making it any better. The cycle of needing the job to have the lifestyle necessary to keep up with the In Crowd, and to have to work even more to afford said lifestyle, didn’t appeal to Tremayne. Rather than stay in the loop of work in order to buy and then have to work more, she shucked that life and headed to New Mexico to live off the grid with her partner. She quotes Krishnamurti: “It is no sign of wellness to be well adjusted to a sick society.”

The book’s physical construction should be remarked upon here. The binding is unconventional, in that the spine is exposed. An explanation from the back cover:

“For this book, each folded group of sixteen pages, called a signature, was individually sewn together with thread, and then the signatures were sewn together into a whole, called a book block. This binding style is called Smyth sewn and is the highest-quality book binding available as it is more durable than glue and lets the book pen flat, making it easier to read.”

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The Good Life Lab is part memoir, part reflection on the benefits and challenges of living off the grid, and part recipe book (recipes for food, medicinal tinctures, how to build a building with papercrete, how to roast coffee beans in a popcorn popper…the list goes on). Beautiful illustrations fill the interior, as do photos of Tremayne and her partner working with various materials.

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I found this book to be inspiring, but also intimidating. While I enjoyed The Good Life Lab and definitely resonated with Tremayne, I can’t say this book is for everyone. I’m not even sure it was for me, but I’m more inclined to say that it wasn’t for me at this point in my life, but could very well be a handy resource in the future. As I said, Tremayne’s story is quite inspiring: she has been able to create a life in which she and her partner are sufficiently able to make almost everything they need for themselves (or buy it secondhand to repair and use). I would like to be able to do as much as she and Mikey do, making all food from scratch and taking classes to learn to weld and solder and craft things with my hands. But herein lies the problem for me, and I’d imagine many other casual readers: I’m still stuck in the work-to buy-to work cycle (though, in my case, not necessarily to keep up with any crowd so much as to afford rent and cat food). As someone who is not ready to pick up my life and live off the grid just yet, I felt sort of bad about my efforts while reading.

Tremayne’s story itself, in terms of how she made it to New Mexico to begin the life she wanted to lead, was what I enjoyed most. All of the tidbits, such as how to install PV solar panels and use WVO (Waste Vegetable Oil), made me feel sad that I cannot adapt my lifestyle more drastically. I think this book is an amazing resource for someone looking to live a self-sufficient and meaningful life, but I would recommend Beth Terry’s book, Plastic-Free for the city dweller, or the person who is looking to transition portions of her life to be more eco-friendly. Terry’s prescriptions are meant to be taken in small steps, and aren’t as drastic as starting a new life elsewhere, but more about working with what you have, and making change where you can.

Finally, one point that Tremayne touches upon about our society really stuck with me:

“I wonder if people are afraid because they know that they don’t understand the real world? Acculturated knowledge is shallow, and the landscape of commerce is not necessarily logical, fair, reliable, sensible, or just. The footing is unsteady.”

She observes that “Since we are part of the natural world, civilization’s acculturated knowledge is not our own. We cannot intuit it. […] For a world that cannot be intuited and is difficult to understand, we have created a variety of interpreters: lawyers, accountants, and highly specialized people who interpret civilization’s code.”

My mouth dropped after reading these passages. In large, urbanized cities, we are unable to care for ourselves at a human level. Doing taxes is complicated because it is not knowledge we are born with, nor is it knowledge everyone possesses. The law is confusing because it is made up of rules upon rules that do not govern the natural world. This is something I’m sure I was subconsciously aware of, but had never really thought about before, so I felt my mind being blown open while reading such ideas.

In short, I’d recommend this book to anyone looking to make large-scale changes in his lifestyle. You won’t find a more in-depth, helpful resource about starting a homestead from scratch, unless you check out Tremayne’s blog, Holy Scrap, which she runs with her partner. This was a lengthy review, but warranted, because there was so much packed into this book, a true labor of love from the author; such is everything in her life.

 

Adventures in Greening is a column running on Kate-book.com every other Monday at noon. It is written by the very eco-conscious Catherine Moran. Follow Catherine on Twitter here, or check out her excellent book blog.

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Kathleen’s Kitchen: come in, get warm!

By:  Kathleen Neafsey

Oh the weather outside is frightful, but this soup is so delightful!  Chilly temps, snow, and biting winds got you down?  Maybe it’s just the winter blahs?  Whichever the case, this hearty soup will warm you inside and out.  Last week’s bitter chill had me craving something warm and filling – without a lot of fuss.  What started out as one idea, and snowballed (pardon the pun) into another idea may easily have become one of my favorite soups.  I present to you:  Sausage, Spinach, and Potato Soup!  Ta-Dahhhh!

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This soup offers a lot of flavor, without using a lot of ingredients.  While it appears to be a rich, creamy soup, there is no cream or dairy in this recipe.  All you’ll need is:

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One quart of chicken broth or stock

One pound of sausage – pork, turkey, or chicken (already out of it’s casing)

One small onion, chopped

Three large potatoes ( I prefer Yukon Gold), peeled and diced

Half of one 10-ounce box of frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and drained

Salt and pepper to taste

Let’s begin:  Place sausage and onion in a large pot on top of the stove.  Break apart the sausage, and cook thoroughly till no longer pink.  Remove from the pot and set aside.

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While sausage is cooking, peel and dice the potatoes.  Rinse well under cool water, drain.

Place spinach in a strainer and rinse with cool water to thaw.  Be sure it is drained well, and pat dry with paper towel.

Add potatoes to the pot that you just used to cook the sausage.  Pour in the chicken broth or stock.  Cook on medium heat until almost “mushy”.  Remove about one-quarter of the potatoes, and set aside.

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Remove from the burner, and using either a blender, or an immersion blender, puree the remaining potatoes and broth till nearly smooth.  It’s okay to still have some chunks of potato in there. Season with salt and pepper to taste – I even added about 1/4 teaspoon of sage for flavor – that’s optional on your part.

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Now return the pot to the burner and add the sausage with onion, spinach, and potatoes that you’ve set aside.  Stir the soup till all the ingredients are combined and heated throughout.

This is a soup that eats like a meal, and doesn’t really need any extras – but who am I to deprive you a warm, crusty loaf of bread on the side? Whatever you choose to accompany this soup, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!  Till next time, stay warm!!

Kathleen’s Kitchen is a column running on Kate-book.com once a month. It is written by the amazing Kathleen Neafsey, who loves trying new recipes. Follow her on Twitter @dbmomkat. And make sure to look out for her amazingly fun column, Fabri-Kate.

 

 

 

Kate’s Book Club: Q&A with criminally good novelist Kate Ellis

Kate Ellis, The Shadow CollectorBy Kate E. Stephenson

Happy New Year!

In this second week of January 2014, I hereby call to order the 28th meeting of Kate’s Book Club. Every meeting, we shall be reading a tome either (a) penned by an author named Kate or (b) that includes a character named Kate. If you missed our last meeting, feel free to get caught up.

Club members, this week meet Kate Ellis.

Kate Ellis was born and brought up in Liverpool and studied drama in Manchester.  She is now married with two grown up sons and lives in North Cheshire.  She worked in teaching, marketing and accountancy, none of which she particularly enjoyed, before discovering that writing crime fiction was what she’d wanted to do all along!

Before ‘turning to crime’ she first enjoyed literary success as winner of the North West Playwrights Competition in 1990.  Her keen interest in history and archaeology features strongly in her books.  Described by The Times as ‘a beguiling author who interweaves past and present’ she has written seventeen novels featuring black archaeology graduate, DI Wesley Peterson and his Liverpool-born boss DCI Gerry Heffernan and four crime novels with a supernatural twist featuring DI Joe Plantagenet (as well as a standalone historical mystery, The Devil’s Priest, set in Tudor Liverpool which is now available on Kindle).  She also writes short stories and has been shortlisted twice for the CWA Short Story Dagger and also for a Barry Award in the USA.

Her latest Wesley Peterson novel is The Shadow Collector.

Find all of her books on Amazon. Then reach out and contact her; email or tweet Kate.

Now onto the answers: Continue reading

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Adventures in Greening: Green in 2014!

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By Catherine Moran

Happy new year! I can’t believe 2014 is here already. While I’m not a big believer in resolutions starting at the beginning of a new year (I think if you resolve to make a change, you should start when you can, and not wait for a day predetermined by society…end rant), I am looking ahead to 2014 for some green changes.  What’s on the agenda, you ask? Here are a few green goals I am keeping in mind:

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• Reading more books about being environmentally-friendly. I have a stack of green lifestyle books on my to-read shelf, but I’ve been neglecting them in favor of fiction. This shall be rectified this year!

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• Buy fewer items packaged in plastic. This is an ongoing challenge, and one that I don’t always win. I tell myself I will buy more goods at the farmers market, but that isn’t possible all the time. I know it requires me to plan ahead, and make it part of my weekly routine. Food is the biggest plastic culprit for me, which is why I want to make it a priority for the coming months.

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• Try to think of new ways to reduce plastic consumption, and make my lifestyle greener in general. Sometimes I get frustrated, thinking that I have done everything I can to be greener, while also feeling as if I haven’t done much at all. I want to take a hard look at what else could change in my day-to-day life to help reduce my carbon footprint.

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•  Be kinder with myself when I do not make an eco-friendly choice. I am hyper-conscious of my actions toward the environment, and I have a tendency to get upset with myself if I don’t make the greenest choice. For example, if I forget my travel mug if I get coffee, I will often berate myself for the rest of the day. I need to work on not feeling angry with myself for being forgetful. It’s not helpful to me in the long run, and I’ve found that the desire to change my habits for the betterment of the planet is a better motivator than guilt for decisions I have made that were not especially green. I am not a bad person if I’m not perfectly green all of the time. I can only strive to do better, and I shall!

What are your green goals for 2014?

(This post brought you in part by Pushing Daisies gifs).

Adventures in Greening is a column running on Kate-book.com every other Monday at noon. It is written by the very eco-conscious Catherine Moran. Follow Catherine on Twitter @folowbredcrumbs, or check out her excellent book blog.

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Fabri-Kate: you say you want a resolution? That’s nothing to “scarf” at!

By:  Kathleen Neafsey

Happy new year’s eve!  Are you one of those people that makes new year’s resolutions?  Are you one of those people that keeps your new year’s resolutions?  I personally don’t make them because I figure I’m just setting myself up for failure; however, there are goals I’d like to achieve throughout the coming year.  One of my goals this year is to be more consistent in my journaling efforts – I have an great incentive in that my niece, Laura, gave me a gratitude journal for Christmas.  I’m quite excited about that.  Another goal for this year is organization!  Not just the kind that I understand, as in “oh, I know where that is” – but no one else would think to look there.
I thought I’d start small by finding a way to keep my beloved scarves hanging in one place; not neatly folded in a pile (that requires ironing every time I reach for one).  My first step was to head over to Pinterest to see what I could find. I found this genius idea that would work for me, and I thought I could pass along to you.
Let me start by saying that not everything on Pinterest is as easy as it looks.  For instance, this project had no tutorial, only a few photos.  The photos looked straightforward enough – but even photos lie.
I thought to myself – this looks easy, and I’m a reasonably intelligent woman; I can figure this out.  Let me say this:  any task that calls to mind one’s reasonable intelligence should probably be abandoned immediately. Never one to shy away from a challenge, I leapt head-on into said task.
Had there been an actual tutorial, the project would have gone a little more quickly.  Having to make it up as I went along took a little more time.  For you, dear reader, it should be a breeze as I have included not only photos, but a tutorial as well.

Supplies needed:
One sturdy plastic hanger
12 plastic shower curtain rings
Yarn
Glue

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I started by wrapping the hanger with the yarn.  I placed a small dot of glue at the start of the yarn, and in random spots along the way just so didn’t slip around too much.  Set aside the hanger.
Now wrap each shower curtain ring with the yarn, using the same method with the glue as used on the hanger.
After each ring has been covered, join two rings together with yarn; looping it two or three times through the rings before knotting it.  Continue to do this until you have three rows: one of five rings, one of four rings, and one of three rings.

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Now join the three rows together, also using the yarn.
Then you can attach it to the hanger, being sure to tie the knots tightly so the rings don’t slip.

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Now it’s up to you:  slip your scarves through the rings, and they’re all neatly stored in one place!

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Have a happy, healthy, and peaceful new year.  If you make resolutions, then I wish you the best in keeping them.  Here’s to a bright, prosperous future for us all! Cheers!

Fabri-Kate is a column running on Kate-book.com every other Tuesday. It is written by the crafty Kathleen Neafsey, who wields a mean pair of scissors. Follow her on Twitter @dbmomkat and look for a brand new craft next time.

 

Kate’s Book Club: Q&A with Ellie MacIntosh creator Kate Watterson

Kate Watterson, BuriedBy Kate E. Stephenson

On this Christmas Day, do I have a gift for you! In this fourth week of December 2013, I hereby call to order the 27th meeting of Kate’s Book Club. Every meeting, we shall be reading a tome either (a) penned by an author named Kate or (b) that includes a character named Kate. If you missed our last meeting, feel free to get caught up.

Club members, this week meet Kate Watterson.

Kate Watterson is the author of the suspense series featuring homicide detective Ellie MacIntosh published by Tor/Forge. She is also national bestselling author Emma Wildes when she wakes up and decides to don her other (historical) hat. Kate lives in the Midwest with her husband Chris and her handsome feline companion, Mr. Poot.

Kate’s June release Charred was reviewed here on Kate-Book.com, and her current release Bleed is available now. Buried will be released this New Year’s Eve.

Want a chance to win a signed copy of Kate Watterson’s new novel Buried?

Leave a comment here. Tell Kate’s Book Club what you love about Kate Watterson and her cunning character Ellie MacIntosh. The winner will be chosen at random on January 22, 2014; so don’t delay!

Chat with Kate through Twitter and email, and find her books on Amazon.

Without further delay, Kate answers all our questions: Continue reading

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Adventures in Greening: Happy Holidays!

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By Catherine Moran

Happy eve before Christmas Eve, greenies!

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This is a short post to wish you all a happy end to 2013, and a fantastic start to 2014. May it be the best, and greenest, year yet! Here in NYC, we’re off to a great start to getting more eco-friendly in 2014, with a ban on Styrofoam containers starting next year, as well as beginning a composting program in large food establishments in 2015. Woohoo!

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Also, to lift another article from Treehugger, if you still have any holiday shopping left to do, check out Unstuff. It’s the experience gifting site of experience gifting sites, and it uses Facebook to help find events and experiences your friends and family may want, if you’re short on ideas. Awesome!

Have a safe and happy end to the year, everyone. Be well!

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Adventures in Greening is a column running on Kate-book.com every other Monday at noon. It is written by the very eco-conscious Catherine Moran. Follow Catherine on Twitter @folowbredcrumbs, or check out her excellent book blog.

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Kathleen’s Kitchen: a yummy alternative to holiday cookies!

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By: Kathleen Neafsey

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…..there are cookies, candies, and goodies everywhere!  I started my baking some of my Christmas cookies this weekend.  Each year I try to add something new to my old family favorites, and the list is pretty extensive by now.  I was, however, trying to do something a little bit different this year – a break from the cookie norm, if you will.
Everyone loves sweet, buttery cookies but sometimes it’s nice to mix it up with something sweet and salty.  Chocolate covered pretzels!  They’re so easy, and you can get a lot done at one time.  The key is having a rhythm:  melt, dip, decorate, repeat.
Let’s start by gathering the ingredients:

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* Pretzel rods (mainly because they’re the easiest to work with)
* Chocolate morsels (semi-sweet, dark, milk, white – it’s up to you)
* Decorations, sprinkles, colored sugar, red and/or green chocolate melts for drizzling

Kitchen items needed:
* microwave-safe bowl(s)
* baking rack covered with parchment or waxed paper
* spoons

I’ll be honest, I started this project with caramels.  I thought it would be a little different to dip them in caramel before the chocolate.  Needless to say, they were not the success I’d hoped.
First things first:

Melting the chocolate – there are several methods to melting chocolate – one using a double boiler (not my preferred method), and microwaving the chocolate.
Microwaving the chocolate can be tricky, but I’ve found the key is in the timing:  start out slow, and do it in small increments.  Chocolate can go from “almost melted” to “hard, useless rock of chocolate” in a matter of seconds. That’s kind of the purpose of this column; you get to learn from my trials and errors.

Pour half the bag of chocolate chips in a glass, microwave-safe bowl.  Place in microwave and cook for 50 seconds.  Remove from microwave and stir.  Cook for another ten seconds, stir again.  Work in ten second increments after that, until the chocolate is melted.  You may reach a point where you see only a few chips that haven’t melted; stir them around and they will melt without being nuked again.
I like to work with half a bag at a time because the chocolate doesn’t get too cool to work with, and will still flow or swirl easily.  This is especially true of white chocolate – it tends to harden quickly, so it’s much better to work with smaller batches.

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If you use a deep bowl to melt the chocolate, you can dip the pretzel directly into it, holding onto the end of the pretzel.  If you use a more shallow bowl, just hold the pretzel over the bowl and spoon the chocolate onto it, making sure to cover it all around.
If you’re going to decorate the pretzels with sprinkles or sugar now is the time to do it; while the chocolate is still soft and the sprinkles will stick to them easily. If you’re going to drizzle them with the red and/or green melted chocolate, then time isn’t an issue and that can be done after you’re done dipping all the pretzels.
* Place on covered baking rack to cool and let chocolate set.
* Melt the colored chocolate in the microwave using the steps shown above.  Once it’s melted, use the tip of a spoon to drizzle on to the pretzels.

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* Let set for a couple of hours and store in a tightly sealed container until you’re ready to use them.  When storing them, I put a layer of waxed paper or plastic between the layers so they don’t stick to one another.
You can purchase the plastic goody bags in the dollar store and wrap a few together to give as treats, or to set them out with the other desserts and goodies after dinner. I’ve made trays of these to put on tables at birthday parties, and I’ve seen them at bridal and baby showers.  They’re always a hit!

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As the year winds down I wish you all a happy holiday season.  May the new year bring joy and peace to everyone, everywhere.

Kate’s Book Club: A Q&A with Bad Girl author Katie Alender

Katie Alender, Marie Antoinette, Serial KillerBy Kate E. Stephenson

In this second week of December 2013, I hereby call to order the 26th meeting of Kate’s Book Club. Every meeting, we shall be reading a tome either (a) penned by an author named Kate or (b) that includes a character named Kate. If you missed our last meeting, feel free to get caught up.

Book Clubbers meet Katie Alender.

Katie Alender is the author of the Bad Girls Don’t Die series from Hyperion and the upcoming Marie Antoinette, Serial Killer from Scholastic. She is a graduate of the Florida State University Film School and lives in Los Angeles with her husband, daughter, and the world’s politest small brown dog, Scooter. When she’s not writing novels, she can usually be found in her sewing room, reading, eating delicious high-calorie foods, and hanging out with her friends (very occasionally she manages to do all of those things at once). Follow Katie on Twitter and find links to her books on her website.

Without further ado,  Kate answers all our questions: Continue reading

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Adventures in Greening: Green Gifts

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By Catherine Moran

Is it that time of the year again already? It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since last Christmas. Growing up, when people told me that time flies, I had trouble believing them. Now that I’m getting older, I find it’s true. Another year older, another year wiser.

Last year, I shared a list of green gift ideas. Today, I shall do the same! To those of you who celebrate Hanukkah, happy belated holiday! To those of you still in need of gifts, here we go. (As I mentioned last year, I am suggesting Stuff to give that is better than some alternatives. But, you can consider gifting classes or your time to someone this holiday season, which are gift options that don’t include any hard-to-cut plastic).

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1. Etsy is one of my favorite shopping sites. You can support artists both far away and close to home. If you find an artist in your area, there’s a good chance that they’ll be able to tell you if any local stores carry their goods, and then you save on the packaging (and cost) that goes along with shipping.

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2. Arts and crafts/food. This is a gift idea that I’m not all that great at executing, as my physical creative skills are less than ideal for gift-giving. But if you can draw, paint, write a song, make some candles, bake some cookies, share them with a loved one! Gifts that require some investment of time always touch my heart, and stick with me for a very long time, even if their actual existence is not long-lasting (cookies are a perfect example).

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3. A sodastream soda/seltzer maker. I don’t drink much soda anymore; when I do, it’s a special treat. Seltzer, on the other hand…I’ve become a seltzer fan recently. The sodastream is an item I do not own, but one I have requested for Christmas, because even though I love seltzer, I war with myself before purchasing a bottle at the grocery store. I’ve heard very good things about these soda makers from friends, and from plastic-free guru Beth Terry. If Santa deems me a member of the good list and brings me a sodastream, I will be sure to review it in the new year.

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4. A giftcard for digital downloads. There are plenty of sites that sell mp3s and movies for download. Forget the plastic, space-consuming CDs and DVDs/Blu-Rays, and get that media on your computer and mobile!

Good luck in your gifting endeavors, greenies. And don’t forget, amidst the frantic feelings that may accompany the holidays, to go outside and breathe some fresh air, or mediate in a yoga class or own your own. Take the time to remember the good things all around you!

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Adventures in Greening is a column running on Kate-book.com every other Monday at noon. It is written by the very eco-conscious Catherine Moran. Follow Catherine on Twitter @folowbredcrumbs, or check out her excellent book blog.

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