Archive for Life

On Indefinite Hiatus
December 30th, 2014 | Link

You may have noticed that I haven’t updated here much in the last couple years. I thought about taking the site down altogether, but people have linked to the content over the years, and I for one hate it when people break links! So I’m leaving the archived content up, but I don’t expect to be actively posting in future.

Nothing’s wrong, I just don’t have much to blog about these days — I’ve given up bookbinding (finally) and when I knit I’ll post on Ravelry. Occasionally I blog about geekier topics at, and most regularly I’m on Twitter as @shannonsans.

I’m grateful for the people I’ve connected with through this blog over the 10 years (!) it’s been up. Thank you for reading!

The Reorganized Kitchen
January 14th, 2013 | Link

Some of you know this about me, but for those who don’t: I’m a bit of an organizing freak. I’m not a clean freak, but I like things to be in order. I get euphoric when I go to The Container Store; and yes, my books, CDs and other media are alphabetized. I’m pretty good at eking out more order and more storage from limited spaces. And I’m also not bad at getting rid of things that are unused, inefficient, or just not working out.

So last month, while I was procrastinating on writing reviews for my team (ahem — I’m also good at procrastinating), I decided it would be much more fun to get rid of things that weren’t being used in the kitchen. Remember the apple sauce? Turns out canning, while an enjoyable experiment, works out a lot better if you have room to store the food (not to mention the equipment). So all those accoutrements got given away. I discovered we own a kettle, which I am pretty sure hasn’t been used since my parents visited in 2005. There was an assortment of small utensils that we never use; a rather large serving dish; and an extra colander. All that has gone to Goodwill, which freed up a surprising amount of cupboard space.

Then I started thinking about what was left — what worked, what didn’t, what was commonly used but not close at hand, etc. The problems mostly boiled down to these:

  • Limited working counter space — too much stuff on the counters, and not a lot of counter to begin with.
  • Inefficient use of drawer space — not taking advantage of available space, or storing things more or less accessibly than they need to be.
  • No recycling solution. We take cardboard to the recycling downstairs but we toss a lot of smaller stuff we should be recycling.
  • Stuff buried in the back of deep cabinets that requires pulling everything out to reach it.

So after much browsing on Amazon and a few trips to The Container Store — followed by another trip to Goodwill to drop off more stuff — we have a reconfigured kitchen that is so much better! I might even start cooking! And just for you, here’s a video!

Getting stuff off the counters

  • Replaced the knife block with a wall-mounted magnetic knife strip.
  • Moved cooking utensils from a holder on the countertop to a drawer.
  • Moved the food processor and grill into newly freed up cupboards.
  • Got rid of a large breadbox that held vitamins and such, moving rarely accessed contents to high cupboards.
  • We use the toaster oven and bread machine regularly, so we kept those on the counter — but moved them to the awkward corner area, opening up workable counter space next to the sink and stove.

Reorganizing the drawers

  • Our largest drawer next to the stove held dish towels, oven mitts, and other miscellany that migrated there over time. By moving these into a smaller, lower drawer, we were able to move all the cooking utensils from the counter and about half of the contents of the other drawer into this one.
  • The cutlery drawer had an ill-fitting organizer that left unusable space around it. Replacing it with this resizable, customizable drawer organizer from OXO enabled us to also move some other small, frequently used utensils into the same drawer.
  • Moved plastic wrap, foil and wax paper from a drawer into a door-mounted rack under the sink.
  • Replaced the bulky thick dish towels that could only be stored 2-3 high with flour sack towels that fit 7 in the same space.
  • Lined the one deep drawer we have — which stores Pyrex glass containers for leftovers — with adhesive-backed cork, preventing the containers from sliding around.

Reorganizing the cupboards

  • Moved rarely used serving dishes and such to high cupboards and awkward back corners.
  • Moved overstock food items to the back of the higher cupboards (rather than mixing it in with day-to-day food).
  • Replaced the slide-out garbage can under the kitchen sink with this duo trash/recycling setup. After the first few days we switched the bins around so that the larger black bin is now used for recyclables.
  • Stored baking supplies and pantry items in the deep cupboards in plastic bins, so that they can be pulled out more easily.

Discardia, Summer ’12
June 25th, 2012 | Link

My theme for this season’s Discardia (which runs through July 18th) is about evaluating the Things I Do for Fun — or at least, with my spare time. I started with a big cleanup of my studio and evaluating what I do and don’t want to spend my time on. Some of the things that didn’t make the cut:

  • apparel fabric that I bought before my wardrobe rework that doesn’t fit with my new image
  • most of my quilting fabric stash
  • an assortment of lace trim, elastic, webbing and other sewing odds and ends
  • tools and supplies for printmaking (I never took it up)
  • most of a ream of white card stock I bought to make accordion books for my Etsy shop (I’ve realized I don’t enjoy making accordion books)
  • many sheets and largish scraps of colored paper and leftover bookcloth

All of that (several trips to the car) went to SCRAP (Scrounger’s Center for Reusable Art Parts), a local non-profit that resells the supplies for cheap and serves many local teachers and community groups — and will accept donations of a big stack of card stock and colored paper. I also sold my coverstitch machine on Craigslist, which is something that’s been on my to-do list for months.

Other things that were stacked up in the studio: enough folded sections of Mohawk Superfine paper to make at least 20 books. But, oddly, paper for 20+ books is daunting — it says, “You have to make 20+ books now!” And then I run out of the room. But since my Japanese papers were all suddenly so nicely organized, I cut enough book board and cover papers (the step that take the most spreading out and dealing with large sheets of stuff) to complete all of the books. Now it feels like finishing them is much more manageable — a little sanding, a little gluing, a little sewing. I’m thinking Coptics.

So — w00t! Clean studio! It’s quite nice in here when it’s not yelling at me.

Other targets on my list for the coming weeks: working my way through accumulated reading debt, getting rid of iPad time-sucks (I’m looking at you, Zuma), and tuning my new computer into the perfect productivity companion.

Christmas Sweets
December 18th, 2011 | Link

My mom was a big Christmas baker when I was a kid: shortbread, sugar cookies, gingersnaps, Nanaimo bars, mincemeat tarts and chocolate-covered cherries (which had a crunchy nut layer between the maraschino cherry and the chocolate — I loved the nut layer and the chocolate but not the cherries, and years later we found a bunch of petrified cherry remains behind the piano). When I moved out of my parents home I continued that tradition for a while with my own specialties: miniature brownies, meringues, gingerbread.

I haven’t done much baking since I got married, since E. won’t (or can’t) eat most of it, and we were often at my parents’ place for Christmas anyway. Sometimes, though, we have a party or two to attend, and then I have an excuse to indulge my sweet tooth a bit. Yesterday was more about making candy than baking, but it was indulging nonetheless.

Pieces of peppermint bark

This peppermint bark recipe from the Food Network was super easy to make. I cut the recipe in half because I didn’t really need two pounds of candy(!), and I sprinkled a handful of leftover crushed candy canes on top for some sparkle. I melted the white chocolate in the microwave 30 seconds at a time at 50% power, stirring after each burst, until it was fully melted. Took maybe 15 minutes, including hammering the heck out of the candy cane.

Cut squares of chocolate fudge

I love fudge, but I don’t remember the last time I tried to make it — probably as a teenager, and I sort of remember it being a major fail. Perhaps because I didn’t have a candy thermometer at the time and was trying to cook to some “ball” stage that I had no reference point for. Candy thermometer and Alton Brown’s Chocolate Fudge recipe for the win! My one critical mistake was that I accidentally used semi-sweet chocolate instead of unsweetened, so it’s really, really sweet. But still edible!

The Bay Area Association of Disabled Sailors
November 16th, 2011 | Link

Since I mentioned some volunteer projects recently, I thought I’d talk about the one that launched last month.

I work for Salesforce. It’s a fairly large software company; as I write this it’s growing and for the last several years has been in Forbes magazine’s list of 100 Best Companies to Work For. One of the things that earns the company that ranking is Salesforce’s 1:1:1 model, which is this: 1% of Salesforce’s product is free to non-profits in the form of donated or discounted licenses; 1% of the founding stock was placed in a foundation to be used in grants; and 1% of each employee’s time is made available to volunteer with non-profits of their choice.

That last part means that each Salesforce employee receives 6 paid days off per year to volunteer. But during my first couple years at Salesforce I found it hard to make time for volunteering outside of the 2-3 corporate team-building events my team participated in. So this year I made it a goal to use all my hours.

Enter the Bay Area Association for Disabled Sailors (BAADS), a local non-profit that offers sailing programs to people with disabilities, fostering independence, confidence and a whole lot of fun.

Ironically, BAADS’ website wasn’t accessible to members with certain disabilities: the screen reader software used by blind and visually impaired users to read web pages couldn’t access some of the content. Additionally, the site was full of broken links, and the content was outdated: any time BAADS wanted to make a change they had to pay the consultant that had developed the site to do it, so they’d save up several changes and then there would be some delay before the changes were actually done.

Old BAADS Website

One of the things I do at Salesforce is participate in a workgroup that works to make our web-based software accessible to users with disabilities. I’m also a bit of a WordPress geek (the content management software I use for this blog). And one of BAADS’ board members happens to be my neighbor. So I devoted my volunteer hours to setting BAADS up on WordPress so they could update their own content, and creating a WordPress theme (the wrapper that handles layout and style for a website) that would be accessible to all of BAADS members.

Last month, after many hours of work, the new BAADS site went live. (Yay!) The visual design was provided by one of Salesforce’s visual designers, Grant Anderson. There are many things that I could explain about why the new design is more accessible than the old one, but I’m saving those for a post on my other blog, where I usually geek out over such things.

New BAADS Website

I’m pleased with the way everything turned out. Between this and another volunteer project this year, I turned in more than 100 volunteer hours — well over the paid 1%, but totally worth what I learned through the process and the satisfaction of helping a great group of people. And BAADS is thrilled. Everybody wins.

In Search Of… Gluten-Free Pizza
September 11th, 2011 | Link

I have not given up on my plans to try one new recipe a week. It hasn’t quite been every week, but it’s been more than usual. Unfortunately, it hasn’t always worked out.

After my moderate success with the gnocchi, I decided to try some real baking: pretzels. That attempt ended in tears: the dough completely failed to rise and refused to be rolled (much less shaped into anything pretzel-like) and pretty much looked like anemic dog poop on the baking pan, and I binned it without even trying to cook it. That dampened my enthusiasm for the whole try-cooking-new-things thing quite a bit.

Friday I took another shot at it, this time with pizza crust. E. had been hiking all week and I wanted to surprise him. I used the Gluten Free on a Shoestring recipe (as I had with the pretzels), and again, epic fail. The dough failed to rise at all, and was pretty much a dense, heavy brick. I don’t know if it’s the flour (Bob’s Red Mill All-Purpose), or if the yeast was bad, or if it’s because I clobbered it in the food processor, or perhaps didn’t clobber it enough. Fail, fail, fail.

When I was at the grocery buying flour for the pizza, I also picked up a box of Arrowhead Mills Gluten Free Pizza Crust Mix, figuring (apparently wisely) that if the scratch version went the way the pretzels had, I could try the mix and see how that went. So yesterday I tried it.

It wasn’t perfect. I followed the directions carefully, first dissolving the yeast in water (which the Shoestring recipe doesn’t say to do), then stirring in the dry ingredients by hand until it came into a ball, and turning it out on a board to (try to) knead it for 10 minutes. But it was so sticky I had to keep dumping more flour on the board to keep it from sticking. After about 10 minutes of swearing and punching at the dough (occasionally managing to knead it properly) and scraping it off my fingers, I put it in a bowl with a damp towel over it, and put it in the oven to rise (along with a bowl of hot water that I had placed in a few minutes previously, on a tip I’d found on the ‘web).

And… it didn’t. When I took it out 1/2 hour later it looked the same as when I’d put it in. It was, however, significantly less hockey-puck like than my previous attempt, so E. convinced me to bake it anyway. I think by this point I’d so tortured him with the idea of pizza–which he once loved but has not able to eat since long before before we discovered his wheat allergy–that he would have eaten it regardless of how it turned out.

Well, this is how it turned out:

The last slice of pizza in a pan

It wasn’t bad! The crust was slightly spongy (not dense and cracker-like, as I’d feared), and had sufficient structural integrity to pick up a piece to eat. We topped it with a can of pizza sauce, ground turkey, minced onions, half of a leftover tomato that was nearing the end of its useful life, and a mixture of grated reduced-fat mozzarella and fat-free cheddar (which we added after about 10 minutes of baking).

I had two slices and E. ate the rest, and was so pleased with it that he wants to make the second one (the mix makes two crusts, so we put one in the fridge) tonight.

And so I am emboldened to try again.

Backpack Prototype in Action
August 5th, 2011 | Link

We drove an hour north of San Francisco for a couple of days of hiking at Point Reyes National Seashore. And while we were there, we got live action pictures of the pack!

Side view:

Side view of me wearing a backpack, with the California coast in the background

Back view:

Back view of the fully packed backpack on my back, with a seating pad anchored by horizontal straps

That’s my seating pad in the back there — the sleeping pad is tucked inside the frame of the pack. It’s the same kind of accordion fold foam pad, 20″ wide by 51″ long. The pack probably wouldn’t fit a full-sized (72″) pad — there are 7 folds in this one and it was tight.

After two days, I will say that so far it’s pretty comfortable — we weren’t carrying much weight, but aside from needing to rethread the shoulder straps properly so they can be easily adjusted, there weren’t any major issues. I will probably put in a couple more pockets on the sides for the next one. And, I need to make some kind of wrapper or case for my water bladder — it’s sandwiched between the dry bag and the sleeping pad, and it squeaks as it rubs against the foam pad.

Like the Band?
March 13th, 2007 | Link

According to a study by social psychologists, musical preferences are good indicators of our personalities. In other words, there’s a reason for all those mix tapes we make for potential partners and friends.



My name is Shannon Hale. This blog is on indefinite hiatus, but it contains archives of the last 10 years of posts about bookbinding, knitting, sewing. and other random things in my life.


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