Some find inspiration in the wilderness. Others find themselves hopelessly lost.

Monthly Archives: October 2013

You buy your fruit at a farm stand to support local sustainable agricultural. You purchase holiday gifts at Ten Thousand Villages to support fair trade practices. What about the books on your e-reader?

Can your e-book buying choices make a difference? 


In this series, I examine alternatives to the mega-online booksellers.

Porter Square Books 2Part 1: Independent Bookstores

I love independent bookstores, but I rarely visit one to buy a book. In fact, I rarely buy any paper books at all. Thankfully, more and more small, locally owned bookstores are offering e-books.

It’s so easy to buy through the e-book Goliath, but, really, it’s pretty simple to buy e-books from an independent bookstore.

Today, Josh Cook of Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts is visiting my blog to answer all of my questions (and hopefully some of yours) about e-books and the future of independent bookstores.

Fun Fact: Several scenes of my novel, Drowning Cactus, are set inside Porter Square Books.

Hi, Josh.  Thank you so much for taking the time for this conversation.

To get started, can you tell me why might someone want to buy an e-book from you instead of one of the mega-online bookstores?

For the same reasons  they would buy a regular book from us; the sense  of community, the benefits of shopping locally, the recommendations  from and relationships with the staff.

With the rise in popularity of e-books, do you see your business changing? Will there always be a place for bookstores housing bookshelves full of paper books?

…physical bookstores aren’t going anywhere for the foreseeable  future.

Ebooks are just part of an overall changing landscape for independent bookstores. The big box stores, Amazon, online shopping in general, and now ebooks have changed how people buy books even if they haven’t done much to change why people buy books. Bookstores have had to go online, start carrying more gift items, and find ways to emphasize the particular value they bring to selling books. Many stores are successfully doing just that.

Furthermore, there is still plenty of other data to suggest that physical bookstores aren’t going anywhere for the foreseeable  future. For example, most ebook buyers also buy print books. And there is also some indication that ereading will reach a plateau. Already the year-to-year increases in ebook sales have been slowing down. That doesn’t mean ebooks don’t pose a challenge to stores like ours. Right now, ebooks prices are so low that almost nobody can make a profit selling them, but our response to that challenge is to continue to be a great resource to all the readers in our community. And, at the moment, it seems like there are enough of them to make a place for this bookstore full of paper books.

What types of e-books do you carry?Porter Square Books 2

Through the Kobo partnership with the American Booksellers Association we carry every ebook in the Kobo catalog; new bestsellers, classics, free public domain ebooks, and self-published ebooks, all in the .EPUB format. I believe the total catalog is well over three million titles. In the store we have physical limitations on what  we can and cannot carry which makes certain kinds of books, like self-published books by non-local authors, almost impossible for us to stock and sell. But there are no physical limitations with ebooks. We’ll probably never be able to carry Amish romances, or self-published conspiracy theories, or every book by Anthony Trollope in the store, but we can provide the ebook editions  to readers who want them.

So, how does it work? Can you talk my readers through the e-book purchasing process?

There are two ways you can buy ebooks from us. If you’re in the market for an ereader as well, you can buy the device from us. When you start up the device you’ll be prompted to create a Kobo account. Kobo will recognize you bought the device from us and will associate that account with Porter Square Books. After that all the purchases made with that account, whether through the ebook store on the ereader or on a separate device, will credit the store.

If you already have a device you can buy through our website. Find the book using the Kobo ebooks search box on the left side of the web page and buy it like you would anything else online. You’ll be prompted to create a Kobo account and just like with the device, that account will be associated with Porter Square Books, meaning your purchases  will credit us whether you start on our webpage or not. If you read on an iPad or an Android device, download the Kobo reading app. Login with your new account when you launch the app. When you synch the app, your book will be there. If you are reading on a Nook, Sony Reader, older Kobo or other non-Kindle ereader, download the .EPUB file to your computer after you’ve complete the purchase. Then download and install Adobe Digital Editions (it’s free). Open the .EPUB file in  Adobe. It will now be on your Adobe “shelf.” Plug in your ereader of choice. An icon for it should appear in the lower left of Adobe. Drag the ebook from the shelf  to the device and you’re done.  If the ebook is DRM-free and your ereader has a web browser, sometimes  you can download the .EPUB directly, but there really isn’t a way to tell from the purchase if this will work.

(You can find out everything about our ebooks, including the devices we sell here:

Books make great gifts but what about e-books? Can people gift an e-book from Porter Square Books?

Not really. Though Kobo has been exploring ways to gift ebooks, I’m not sure they will be able to create a mechanism that is as emotionally satisfying as wrapping a book and handing it to a friend or loved one.

The key to a successful future for independent bookstores, I think, will be embracing technology, while maintaining the pleasures of traditional ways of reading, browsing and meeting to talk about books. It seems Porter Square Books is managing that balance admirably.

  • Coming up next in the series: Indie presses and libraries, including those that don’t shelve any books!

Some say, “hunger is the best sauce.” Not true. Nothing piques the appetite better than sea wind, laborious recipes, and, of course, sugar.


The hip of a sea rose plant.

Thus, today, I bring you a recipe for wild rose hip jelly. The perfect autumn treat for foodies, edible wild plant enthusiasts, survivalists, and those who simply crave tedious manual labor for its own sake.

Rose hip jelly making is tiresome and the rewards are meager in quantity.  If you’re thinking in terms of hourly wage, you’d do much better making apple butter from windfall apples this time of year, or just buying your fruit spread at the market on the cheap. But, if you’re like me, and can’t resist a wild plant, you might want to try it. Here’s everything you need to know.

Why should I make wild rose hip jelly?

  • Wild foods are good for you.  In general, farmed plants are nutritionally inferior to their wild counterparts. So says the New York Times.
  • Rose hips are loaded with Vitamin C. I’ve seen all kinds of claims. Here’s one: According to The Organic Prepper, rose hips have 60 times as much Vitamin C as an equal quantity of citrus fruit.
  • Gathering rose hips for jelly is a delight and your final product will be delicious.
  • Sure, you could make blackberry jelly. That would be WAY easier. But you can buy blackberry jelly at the market. Rosehip jelly is a rare treat with the allure of the exotic and old-fashioned.
  • Your domestic skills will impress all of your friends.

How do I gather rose hips?

Roses are ubiquitous, and most rose bush owners will happily part with their rose hips. Just be sure the rose bushes haven’t been sprayed with pesticides.

I used the hips of sea roses. Sea rose hips are larger than typical garden rose hips and they have an added benefit: they are located at the sea. So, go to the beach, find a rose bush, and start picking.

The Sea Rose. Rosa Rugosa.

The Sea Rose. Rosa Rugosa.

The rose hips are the fruit that appears behind the wilted rose blossom.  They are easily plucked from a rose bush when ripe.  Apparently, they are sweetest after a frost. Around here (Scotland), they are available in the early fall. I’ve seen them ripe on Cape Cod around the same time. Look for reddish-orange hips that have just begun to turn soft and a bit translucent.  If you’ve successfully found a pesticide free plant, you will see some worms, spiders and other bugs on your hips. Bugs are not a problem. In fact, if you don’t see these, think again about whether your rose bush may have been sprayed with chemicals and look elsewhere.

Simply pluck the rose hip from the end of the stem.  You’ll be chopping and mashing, so no need to be too fussy about the process. Torn hips, stems, etc., are all acceptable.

What if I don’t want to make jelly? Can I do anything else with rose hips?

Yes! You can dry them for tea. I saved the seeded, mashed fruit from the jelly recipe and ate it with yogurt. You could also use the fruit in a scone or muffin.  Meat eaters might serve a rose hip jam as an accompaniment to roast meat, in the same way you might serve cranberry sauce.  Really, I think you could use these anyway you might use cranberries.

Is there anything not to love about rose hips?

Seeding.  It’s incredibly time consuming and annoying to remove the seeds from rose hips.  But you’ll feel so productive and accomplished once you finish. Anyway, you’re reading this blog. You’ve got plenty of time to waste.

Can I get the recipe already?


Most of the recipes I found online assume you know something about making jelly.  I’ll go ahead and assume you are a domestic incompetent like me.  Also, people like to get all science-y with their jam recipes, but I figure, people were making jam long before the invention of the metric system, so we can be relaxed and guesstimate.

  1. Go to the beach.  Find a rose bush. Pick rose hips until you get at least a few generous handfuls. More is better.

    Making it happen.
    Don’t I look serious?

  2. Stick a spoon and plate in the freezer.
  3. Wash the rose hips.
  4. Chop off the stem and blossom.
  5. Cut the hips in half and scrape out the seeds.  This is your limiting factor. Depending on how much patience you have for this, you may make a good big batch of rose hip jelly, or just lightly flavor a smaller portion. Both are OK. You’re already being super-virtuous by even attempting to make your own wild-harvested fruit jelly. In all likelihood, you’ll have picked way more rose hips than you’ll want to de-seed. Add the adjective “small batch” to your post on Rose Hip Jelly and feel satisfied.*
  6. Yes, you can sample the raw rose hip just don’t eat the seed.  Tangy!
  7. Add the rose hips to a pot.  I also added a couple of peeled, cored & cubed windfall apples and a peeled chopped orange along with the juice of two lemons. The apple and lemon are supposed to provide adequate natural pectin but that didn’t work for me.
  8. Add water to cover and bring to boil.
  9. Simmer for 25 minutes.
  10. Mash the fruit and pour through a strainer. Save the fruit mash.  It’s yummy.
  11. Add a couple cups of sugar to the strained liquid, to taste.  Obviously, this will depend on how much liquid you managed to make.
  12. Now add about a teaspoon of store-bought liquid pectin per cup of rose hip liquid and boil for a few minutes.

    See that smile?  I just snuck a sample.

    So happy.

  13. Grab that plate and spoon from the freezer.  With the cold spoon, scoop out some of your concoction. Drop it onto the plate and see how gelatinous it is.  You can cook it longer and add more pectin as necessary.
  14. When your rose hip jelly is perfect, pour it into a jar. No need to get involved with boiling jars and all of that.  You’ll eat this in the next few days.

The ebook version of my novel, Drowning Cactus, is on sale until Sunday (through my publisher’s website only) and it’s ridiculously cheap.  If you’re thrifty enough to consider making sea rose jelly, you might want to check it out.

*I have seen recipes that don’t require de-seeding. In these, you simply chop up the roses, and then, at step 10, strain the liquid through muslin or other fine cloth so that none of the seeds go through. Having been warned that the fine hairs on the rose hip seeds cause anal itching, and equipped with only a coarse sieve for straining, I decided against this method. If you have some muslin and/or aren’t worried about anal itching, by all means, skip the de-seeding! Let me know how that works out for you.

There Is No Substitute For America’s National Parks–

Except Maybe These Places.

Ack!  You’ve been planning a trip to a National Park and now it’s closed due to the shutdown.  Fear not. You have options.

Our National Parks are treasures and truly irreplaceable. Nevertheless, thanks to comparatively functional state, tribal and local governments, you can still get your scenic awe fix even though National Parks across the country are closed to visitors.

If you wanted to visit: Arcadia

Try: Camden Hills State Park or, further north, Quoddy Head State Park. Charming coastal walks, lighthouses, and conifers, all within spitting distance of lobster shacks. Take a detour to Moody’s Diner for THE BEST blueberry pie in Maine on the way there.

Coastal Maine charm at Quoddy Head State Park.

Coastal Maine charm at Quoddy Head State Park.

If you wanted to visit: Arches, Bryce, Zion

Try: The aptly named Kodachrome Basin State Park for vibrant colored desert rock, or, a bit further afield, Colorado Spring’s city park, Garden of the Gods. It’s free and phenomenally beautiful. For mountain biking among mesas, roll right out of Moab.

Incredible colors at Kodachrome Basin.

Incredible colors at Kodachrome Basin.

If you wanted to visit: Mesa Verde

Try: The Hopi Reservation. Mesa Verde is an incredible archeological site, but the mesas on the Hopi Reservation are living pueblo communities with a rich history, offering a unique insight into historic and contemporary Native American life. Or, if you’d like to visit an incredibly scenic location of particular spiritual importance, try Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park.

In most cases, the U.S. pushed Native American communities off of the most valuable land. Monument Valley is a notable exception. This land, owned by the Navajo Nation, is a treasure, especially beloved in Hollywood.

In most cases, the U.S. government pushed Native American communities off of especially valuable land. Monument Valley is a notable exception. This land, owned by the Navajo Nation, has proven surprisingly valuable in the modern age, especially given Hollywood’s fascination with it’s stunning light and rock formations.

If you wanted to visit: Redwood National Park

Try: Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Big trees can be found up and down California’s coast. Here’s one of many options to walk among them.

Ethereal old growth redwoods outside the National Park System.

Ethereal old growth redwoods outside the National Park system.

If you wanted to visit: The Badlands

Try: Custer State Park for hiking, biking, horseback riding, and bison encounters in the Badlands.  And while you’re out there, feeling sorry for yourself because you may have missed your once-in-a-lifetime chance to view Mount Rushmore, check out the massive carving at Crazy Horse Memorial instead.

Is that Badlands National Park?  Nope.  It's Custer State Park and It's Open.

Is that Badlands National Park? Nope. It’s Custer State Park and It’s open for business.

If you wanted to visit: Rocky Mountain National Park

Try: Hike right out of Telluride or Aspen for gorgeous Colorado mountain scenery.  Maybe you can’t afford a lift ticket in winter, but you can walk out to vistas and waterfalls for free. While you’re there, check out one of the nearby hot springs, like Orvis.  Just a word of warning: Orvis is clothing optional.

Majestic Bridal Veil Falls in Telluride.

Majestic Bridal Veil Falls in Telluride.

If you wanted to visit: The Grand Canyon

Try: The Hulupai Nation’s Grand Canyon West for an incredible overlook, or, if you can somehow get reservations, head down to the Havasupai reservations to see and swim in amazing waterfalls among steep cliffs. If you can, plan your trip to allow for a stop at Macy’s Coffeehouse in Flagstaff for the best coffee in America.

The photogenic grand canyon, from a different angle.

The photogenic grand canyon, seen from a different angle. One not managed by the U.S. government.

Got a favorite non-federal park or wilderness area? Share your tips in the comment section!

Maybe you’d like to take a break from the reading about the U.S. government shutdown, angry finger-pointing, and exasperated hand-wrenching. If so, I’ve got something completely unrelated but equally troubling today.

Humor writer Scott Erickson is visiting my blog, sharing his thoughts on satirical writing, genetically modified seeds, and pesticides. Heavy stuff, but, amazingly, Scott manages to write about it with levity. Scott is the author of a number of books, including his latest, an eco-satire, The Diary of Amy, The 14-Year Old Girl Who Saved The Earth.

Thanks, Scott, for visiting!

Oh, and, in case any Monsanto executives, attorneys, or goons are visiting today, the views and opinions in the following blog post are soley those of the guest blogger and do not necessarily represent those of other contributors to this site. See, you can take the lawyer out of the law practice, but you can’t take the law practice out of the lawyer.

Without further ado, here’s Scott Erickson:


How long until Monsanto proposes genetic engineering of the human race?

The hardest part about writing satire is trying to write things that are more absurd than what real life comes up with.

Here’s an example: I just published a satirical novel about environmental destruction: The Diary of Amy, the 14-Year-Old Girl Who Saved the Earth.  cover-AMY

In the novel, our young protagonist Amy Johnson-Martinez encounters the evil corporation GloboChem. A spill of the agricultural chemical “GrowMagic” has led to a hospital full of sick babies. Amy does some research into what “GrowMagic” is, and she is shocked – SHOCKED! – to discover that “GrowMagic” is actually ONE OF THE MOST POISONOUS AGRICULTURAL CHEMICALS EVER MADE.

This is what she finds on the GloboChem website:

“Our main product is HappySeeds™ which grow 73% of the world’s vegetables and grains. Most of those seeds are Magic-Ready HappySeeds™ that are genetically engineered to accompany GrowMagic™ “agricultural helper.” As happy farmers around the world say, “I need the miraculous GrowMagic™ to keep my Magic-Ready HappySeeds™ happy!”

If you guessed that “GloboChem” is a thinly-disguised “Monsanto,” and that “GrowMagic™” is a thinly disguised “Roundup,” then good for you! You win 10 points and advance to the semi-finals.

Later in the story, things take a darker turn. Since weeds have evolved into super weeds that are increasingly resistant to agricultural chemicals, bold measures are necessary. Thus, GloboChem’s spokesperson announces a radical new proposal:

“I am proud to announce that GloboChem has developed an innovative new product that will absolutely end all problems with human exposure to agricultural chemicals.

Our new product is a highly-advanced version of our famous ‘HappySeed’ technology. As you surely know, ‘Magic-Ready HappySeeds’ are genetically engineered to go with our ‘GrowMagic’ agricultural helper. I am proud to announce GloboChem’s brand-new product, which we call ‘HappyHuman.’ It will make human beings – people like you and me – able to withstand the ‘GrowMagic’ that brings us the clean and inexpensive food you serve to your loved ones.

Each capsule of ‘HappyHuman’ contains specially-engineered radioactive isotopes that go throughout the body, miraculously altering the genetic code to change the cell chemistry in each and every cell. Then, our bodies can withstand the ‘GrowMagic’ that brings us attractive pest- free food at a reasonable price. In other words, it will make us able to withstand ‘GrowMagic’ 100 percent naturally!”

Funny stuff, huh? Well, maybe less funny after the recent announcement by the Environmental Protection Agency. Since weeds have evolved into super weeds that are increasingly resistant to agricultural chemicals, bold measures are necessary. The EPA has decided to allow larger traces of the herbicide glyphosate in farm-grown foods (;

Yes, glyphosate is the key ingredient in the company’s GrowMagic™ label of herbicides. Sorry, I meant to write Roundup label of herbicides.

Don’t worry, though – the acceptable level of glyphosate is only rising a little bit. The EPA is increasing limits on allowable glyphosate in food crops from 200 ppm to 6,000 ppm. That’s not much – only 3,000%.

Yes, scientists have linked glyphosate to cancerous diseases.

Yes, a study by The Cornucopia Institute concluded that glyphosate “exerted proliferative effects in human hormone-dependent breast cancer.”

Yes, another study concluded that “glyphosate enhances the damaging effects of other food borne chemical residues and environmental toxins.”

Later in The Diary of Amy, the story eventually takes an even darker turn. The public has so far resisted GloboChem’s plan to genetically alter the human race. But the situation has gotten worse, and the economy is in a tailspin due to a sudden oil shortage. We have to act fast! Fortunately, GloboChem comes to the rescue:


We recently announced our new HappyHuman™ product and sought to receive congressional approval to market it. But public reception was less-than-positive and the congressional bill stalled in committee.

We believe that now is the time to pass the bill and rush HappyHuman™ to the American public. Only by genetically engineering a human race able to withstand our products can we preserve our American way of life.

We must increase the “magic” within GrowMagic™ to a level high enough to kill every form of life that has not been genetically modified to resist it. In other words, the only way to sustain human life is to modify ourselves to resist killing the rest of it.

This was much funnier to me when I wrote it. Now, not so much.

I’m just wondering how long it is before I see such a press release in real life, or before I see such a plan being proposed by a GloboChem spokesperson. Sorry, I meant to write Monsanto spokesperson.

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