Shenandoah Valley of California
Amador County
The Cat in the Hat Laura Spinetta Library opens
Donations to the Laura Spinetta Library Fund can be made at amadorcommunityfoundation.org/local-charities. Checks can be mailed to Amador Community Foundation — with Laura Spinetta Library Fund noted on the check — PO Box 1154, Jackson, CA 95642.
Present at the recent opening were, from left, Charles, Amber, James, Anthony, and Michael Spinetta. Photo by Elizabeth Chapin-Pinotti
By Connie Boyd Reporter
Amador Ledger-Dispatch


The Cat in the Hat Laura Spinetta Library at Plymouth Elementary School opened on May 15. It’s appropriate that the new library was established in honor of a woman who was considered to be quite the library herself.

“Laura would bake bread, weave cheese cloth, make cottage cheese and cut matte board for the art in the Spinetta Gallery all at once,” said Theresa Fox, long-time friend and employee. “She urged me to go back to college and promised to frame my degree. And, you know what, she did just that. She had a way of putting fun into everything she did.”

For 35 years, Laura found her way into the halls, as well as the hearts, of the children and the staff of Plymouth Elementary. It was not uncommon to hear her playing the piano in the cafeteria while the children sang. Not only did they sing for Laura, they read for her, too. They were promised a big purple balloon with a letter on the end upon the completion of a book report.

“A few times, they would even receive a reply from the return address attached to the balloon,” said Charles Spinetta. “At the end, we wanted to get the kids involved.”He promised that, for every book report completed, he would donate $10. He came through with his promise

“The results were amazing,”said Plymouth Elementary Principal Donna Custodio. “The kids wanted to take ownership of their new library. So our kids ended up reading 1000 books. Ms. Toni Linde’s 2nd-grade class read over 100 books.”

The Spinetta family donated a check in the amount of $10,000 for the kids’ accomplishments, plus another $750. An additional $10,500 was donated by Laura’s friends, relatives, former students and staff of the school. Moreover, Charlie said, “I’ll pay for 500 book reports each spring and 500 each fall. With the students’ help, we will keep this library updated and well-stocked.”

One may wonder why Laura’s Library is named The Cat in the Hat Laura Spinetta Library. The reason stems from the fact that she loved Dr. Seuss so much that she wrote him a poem, to which he responded with one of his statements. “Us cats need to stick together,” Seuss wrote to Spinetta. The note is proudly framed in the library. Not only that, with the donations received, there is a book-listening center, with more than 1,500 books, and a colorful Dr. Seuss-themed library. Michael, one of Laura’s sons, provided appropriate artwork.

Laura Spinetta also touched the lives of the husbands of women she played bunko with. They fashioned a colorful bookshelf for the library.

This writer has her own story. Not only did I find Laura a beautiful person both inside and out, I enjoyed the experience of teaching Matthew and Sarah Spinetta (her grandchildren) catechism for nine years. Those of you who knew Laura surely have a story to tell. I wish I could have told them all in this brief article.

Her dear friend, Elizabeth Chapin Pinotti, Amador County Unified School District Assistant Superintendent of Schools, wrote a poem for Laura. This is just part of it:

To Laura Helen Spinetta 1946-2011

So, we want to thank her from deep down inside
For all that she gave with her Plymouth Pride
And we’d like to thank her swell
family
Thus we dedicate this li-brar-y
To the memories she made
And the work that she did and the help that she gave
To each little kid
Laura Spinetta Library kicks off fundraising efforts
Present at the recent check presentation were, standing, from left, Sara Dentone, Carolyn Lee, Tony Spinetta, Charlie Spinetta, Donna Custodio, Tracy Dehn, and, seated, Elizabeth Chapin-Pinotti. Ledger Dispatch photo by Gwen Bohdan
By Gwen Bohdan, Reporter
Amador Ledger-Dispatch


Fundraising for Plymouth Elementary School’s Laura Spinetta Memorial Library began Jan. 13 as Charlie Spinetta presented a check to the school for $7,500.

“She’d cry (if she knew the library was dedicated to her),” Charlie Spinetta said of his wife, Laura. “This is what she loves. She loves the library. She loves the kids, and she just dreamed about this.”

Laura Spinetta passed away last October, after a long battle with cancer. She had been a volunteer at the school for more than 35 years, spearheading both the library and the music programs.

“She took what was a trailer full of books and turned it into a library, recruited a volunteer staff, and trained them in the library arts,” said Laura’s son, Tony Spinetta. “When she left, it was a fully outfitted library with a volunteer staff.”

“And it’s grown ever since,” added Donna Custodio, principal of Plymouth Elementary School. “This is our way to dedicate to her in her memory.”

The Spinetta family owns Charles Spinetta Winery and Wildlife Art Gallery in the Shenandoah Valley. Laura ran the framing shop located inside the tasting room. She and Charlie married in 1965 and raised three sons together — Tony, Jim and Mike. Literacy was an important part of her child-rearing philosophy.

“We always had closed caption on TV, so the kids could learn to read,” Charlie said. “It was a learning tool that she loved, too.”

Laura started volunteering at the school by teaching kindergarteners and first-graders basic music skills, including how to play the recorder. She also coordinated the school’s holiday program. Over the years, she taught several generations of students.

“You’d go out grocery shopping with mom and you would have someone who had kids of their own and the mother or father would say, ‘Oh my gosh, this is Mrs. Spinetta,’” Tony reminisced. “‘She taught us the song about the — insert name of children’s song here — and we’d get a rendition of this song in the middle of the grocery store. That was an everyday occurrence. It would just be hilarious.”

In 1986, Laura started focusing on the library. At the time, the books were sitting in a tiny trailer with no one to assist the children using them.

“Laura came in and volunteered at a time when we weren’t going to have a librarian and funding was short,” said Elizabeth Chapin-Pinotti, assistant superintendent for the Amador County Unified School District, and former Plymouth Elementary student. “She whipped the library into shape.”

The current library takes up one half of a modular building. The Laura Spinetta Memorial Library project will place an archway in the wall separating the two sections, thereby doubling the size of the room. The school also plans to add shelving, supplies, computers and other multi-media equipment, as well as several hundred more books.

The theme of the library will be Cat in the Hat, inspired by the Dr. Seuss books. In 1988, Laura wrote a letter to the children’s book author — in Seuss-style prose — advising him of the influence his books had on local literacy scores. He wrote back, thanking her. A copy of her letter, as well as Dr. Seuss’ response, has been framed and are on display at the school.

The official dedication of the library will be held March 2 to correspond with Dr. Seuss’ birthday and the start of National Read Across America Week.

The anticipated cost of the project is $25,000. To help raise additional funds, the Plymouth Elementary School Pep Club is holding a crab feed dinner Jan. 21 at the Amador County Fairgrounds. Festivities will also include a raffle, auction and music by DJ Aaron Q. Tickets are $30 and can be purchased by calling 245-4405.

Donations to the Laura Spinetta Library Fund can be made at amadorcommunityfoundation.org/local-charities. Checks can be mailed to Amador Community Foundation — with Laura Spinetta Library Fund noted on the check — PO Box 1154, Jackson, CA 95642.
Shenandoah Valley Ecclectetcetera
#29 Learning from History, November 2011
By Michael Spinetta, Reporter
Gold Country Times


Amber’s ‘Baba’ – my Mom – passed away last month. My brother Jim ‘volunteered me’ to work at my old school and Mom told me to write this column (formerly titled Plymouth Elementary School Gardens) as a way to have a positive hobby with Amber. If you knew her and want to learn more, you can find two pages online. One is written by my brother Tony and the other is by Mike Dunne of the Sacramento Bee. Both celebrate the dedication she had to children and to the land.

Mom the Librarian

She volunteered as the librarian and K/1 music teacher at the elementary school for over two decades. The sound of kids stomping up the metal stairs leading up to that drab-colored, single-wide full of books is one of a dozen lingering memories there.

Another is the pictographic sticker system she applied to the book spines that showed if they were a romance (a heart) sci-fi (a rocket ship) or whatever other genre. Poring over the encyclopedias (NOT Google), reshelving and repairing books, reading newly delivered periodicals like Cricket, Highlights, and World. The Dewey Decimal System, specifically 741.5 for comics, and resultantly labeling my Scholastic order books FIC BLU for Superfudge, FIC ALEX for The Black Cauldron, and so on, and so forth.

Reading Programs

Mom was well known to encourage communal education. She created a reading program in 1982 in which students had to read a certain number of books, depending on grade level, to receive one balloon. (The photo above is from the year-book showing her in November of that year with an enthusiastic student.)

Each balloon carried a tag so pen pals might find the student's name with the school’s address and write back. Students participated to such a degree that the principal, Rick Carder, looked lost in the thousands of balloons hovering in the school cafeteria. And yes, multiple dozens of pen pals were made from the experience, some across state lines.

About six months ago, my brother Jim came up with "Bulbs for Books" that he’s going to use for the seventh and eighth graders in Ione. I kind of stole the idea, and with a thousand daffodil bulbs from Amador Flower Farm, we’ve implemented it here in Plymouth. The after school reading clinic kids and the extended learning kids, about 60 in total, are participating. Once the goal of a thousand is reached, the bulbs will be planted by the kids on the Amador County Fair-grounds and on campus. Mom thought this was a pretty cool idea. I have no idea how she did things with the entire school, but there was a lot less of a time restraint in the school day back then.

The cool thing is that the daff's should be blooming come 'Read Across America Day' – March 2, and 'National Grammar Day' – March 4. Surely the kids will remember exactly where they plant their bulbs and maybe read a few more books now and then. My mom’s past volunteer efforts will be honored at one of the planting sites at the school, and I’d like to thank the teachers there very much for that. Another point of recollection is that my mom made it mandatory for my eighth grade and senior class write thesis and research projects. If the Class of ‘92 didn’t have the highest cumulative grade point average by the time we graduated, it sure felt like it.

Mimeographed Music

The smell of that old blue ink paper pushing machine in the office is tattooed in my nose. Sooo many sheets of lyrics for kids to put in order and so many songs learned through osmosis in classrooms and on the piano bench at home. All that back then and watching Mom and Amber play and sing the same songs, especially Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf... and all our Christmas music means more because of all the programs she played for at the school... it’s all an endless loop of good times.

Cookies in the Vineyard

Always, always, always giant bags of granola side by side with cookies ready for us to eat in the garage freezer when we were working in the fields. Biscotti, oatmeal raisin, chocolate chip, M & M, Hershey Kiss, sugar cookies, and most of all, peanut butter cookies. I have the last two fork-pressed peanut butter cookies (Amber ate the third one when she saw the bag in my truck) and I’m going to keep them in my freezer like all good Italian kids do with their relatives’ best recipes. Sometimes those cookies would appear in our lockers at school along with Whoppers and fries, too. The best thing, though, was the smell of sweet rolls for Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Cups of drizzled sugar all over them, yum! Candied walnuts from the trees of our ranch – all these things made sure we weren’t cold in the winter. And no matter what happens, I don’t think we ever will be cold.

Support Local Schools

Donations to the Laura Spinetta Library Fund can be made at amadorcommunityfoundation.org/local-charities. Checks can be mailed to Amador Community Foundation — with Laura Spinetta Library Fund noted on the check — PO Box 1154, Jackson, CA 95642.
Mom taught and touched a lot of lives, and her legacy will, too.
A Year in Wine

Seeking Wines With Stories To Tell
Sunday, October 16, 2011
Laura Spinetta, Shenandoah Valley Pioneer

Mike Dunne, Sacramento Bee Columnist
The personality of a tasting room can say as much of the aspirations and values of a winery as its wines. Whenever you walk into the tasting room of the Charles Spinetta Winery in Amador County's Shenandoah Valley you sense right away that this is a hands-on family business with each member pursuing their chores with as much joy as pride. Charlie, the patriarch, could be behind the counter, cracking wise while pouring tastes for touring wine enthusiasts. His wife, Laura, could be just across the aisle, in her work station, painstakingly framing paintings for the wildlife art gallery upstairs. Their three sons would be here and there, tending fermentation tanks in one wing, moving around pallets of cased wines in another.

That dynamic and the warmth it radiated will be different now with the death Wednesday of the family's exuberant matriarch, Laura Spinetta. She'd put up a valient struggle with a stubbon illness, seeming never to relinquish one bit of the positive spirit with which she embraced life. We last saw her two months ago, at the annual barbecue of the Amador County Grape Growers Association. She was as upbeat as ever, urging us to try her brownies on the dessert table. And for the last time, as it turns out, we again shared a hearty laugh provoked by our memories of an amusing incident when we were part of a group touring Italy several years ago. Her quips and her laughs were spotaneous, genuine and catching, giving lift to any moment.

Last fall, when I stopped by the family winery to check on the progress of the harvest, she gave me a jar of jelly she'd just made. It was a blend of primitivo and zinfandel from the vines about the family home. Each autumn, just before her husband and sons calculated that the grapes were ready to pick for wine, she'd grab bunches of the fruit, figuring correctly that they were just at the right maturity for a jelly bright and sweet. She was a marvelous cook, as well as craftsman, farmer and artist.

She and Charlie were married in 1965, making their first home at McCloud in Siskiyou County. He was in the timber trade. He still was when they relocated to his home county of Amador in 1972. Three years later they settled in Shenandoah Valley as one of the area's first pioneers to see potential in a revival of the region's historic though slumbering grape and wine industry.

They had fun building their twin business of grape growing and winemaking, rearing their sons, and being engaged in the community - church, school, county fair. She was a real farmer, capable of completing any and all chores with spunk and glee, including gardening, sewing, baking, volunteering as a music teacher at the local school. Her family will miss her most, but the entire Shenandoah Valley and Plymouth community is experiencing a profound loss. May her questing and sharing spirit live on in the couple's three children and three grandchildren.
Some of Mom's recipes are here on our web site. Below is a wonderful story by Mike Dunne regarding the best foods our family was lucky enough to eat.

Thank you for your kind words about our Mother
from both now and then, Mike.
A Year in Wine

Seeking Wines With Stories To Tell
Monday, October 25, 2010
First Review Of Vintage 2010: Great Jelly


Mike Dunne, Sacramento Bee Columnist

Harvest crew at Charles Spinetta Winery before storm
In just being herself - artisan, farmer, cook - Laura Spinetta has come up with a sweetly American way to fill a curious void in the nation's wine appreciation. Other wine cultures have homegrown and original rituals to celebrate the yearly harvest of grapes, but not the United States. In Germany and France, for example, winemakers have entire festivals built around the fermenting juice. On a recent tour in Bordeaux, I didn't attend any such festival, but at virtually every chateau we visited the winemaker pulled some cloudy and fizzy sauvignon blanc or semillon from a fermentation tank and filled our glasses while calling for a toast to the success of the harvest. Almost without exception, the partially fermented wine tasted like pineapple, banana or apple juice, prompting someone inevitably to quip that the vintner should be bottling it as a breakfast wine. The French also, of course, are responsible for Beaujolais Nouveau, the first wine of the most recent harvest, the promotion of which over the years has been a commercial and promotional boon for the region's winemakers.

In the United States, some vintners have tried to emulate Beaujolais Nouveau by releasing their own versions of fresh, young and simple wines within a couple of months of the harvest, but results have been mixed both critically and commercially.

Up at the Charles Spinetta Winery in Amador County's Shenandoah Valley, however, Laura Spinetta naturally and routinely goes through a fall exercise that could be the foundation of a distinctly American way to acknowledge the yearly harvest of wine grapes. From the vineyards surrounding the family home, she gathers baskets of grapes just when she thinks they are ideally ripe, which is just before her husband, Charles, and their three sons think the fruit is ideally ripe for their purpose, which is to make wine. She, on the other hand, uses the grapes to make jelly. If the grapes are zinfandel, she makes zinfandel jelly. If they're barbera, she makes barbera jelly. She even does some blending. Her 2010 blend of primitivo and zinfandel is all deep bright color and sweet berry fruit. If the wines from the same vineyards are as forthright, refreshing and balanced as the jelly, the 2010 harvest will go down as successful.

Right now, Charles Spinetta calls this year's picking "the harvest from hell," even though he brought in the last of his grapes just before this weekend's storm, which dumped 3.5 inches of rain on his vineyards. A few days earlier, he'd been fretting, noting that his harvest this year got under way six weeks later than usual, the consequence of a prolonged spring and an unusually cool summer. Even before this weekend's storm his vines had been dampened with showers, though not damaged extensively. "Each of the past five years we finished in September," he remarked while giving a tour of his winery and vineyeards.

In the cellar, he pulled a sample of his nearly finished rose from the 2010 vintage. A fruity and firm blend of zinfandel and orange muscat, it is expected to be released in time for the year-end holidays. Whether in wine or jelly, the Spinetta family knows the appeal of sweetness. The rose is just a little sweet, but two-thirds of the winery's sales are for their definitely sweet "fun and yummy" wines, such as a proprietary zinfandel called Zinetta. They also make dry wines, including petite sirah, primitivo and barbera. For now, they're continuing to hang their commercial success on the wines and on the art gallery that Laura Spinetta oversees in the tasting room. Charles Spinetta, however, acknowledges that the family is "toying with the idea" of making the jellies commercially. But for the time being, Laura Spinetta makes them solely for family and friends. If she can be persauded to put them up for sale, and other wineries also get into the practice of releasing new jellies just as the harvest commences, a decidedly American wine tradition could be established. Eventually, maybe wine competitions will have a division for varietal jellies.
Below are recipes we found online. Mom would go to The Kitchen Store in Jackson, CA for specialty cookware, in case you need to buy a pizelle iron.
LIFE - TASTE - RECIPES
Tuesday, Mar. 15, 2011
Pizelle Italian Cookies

• Prep time: 15 minutes
• Cook time: 15 minutes, depending on your pizelle maker.
• Makes about 14 (5-inch) cookies
Here is another recipe for Katie Jordan of Sacramento, who was looking for a recipe to make thin, delicate cookies like her grandmother used to make.

Laura Spinetta of Plymouth shares this recipe for pizelle (also spelled "pizzelle"), a traditional Italian cookie that is thin, delicate and made with a special iron, similar to a waffle iron. These cookies can be made flat, then dusted with powdered sugar, or rolled immediately after baking and filled with whipped cream to make cannoli.
• Ingredients:

2 eggs
6 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup salad oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1 cup unsifted all-purpose flour
• Instructions: Beat all ingredients together until smooth. Follow instructions included in your pizelle iron user's manual. Cool pizelles on wire racks or roll immediately and fill with whipped cream for cannoli.

• Per cookie: 100 calories; 2 grams protein; 12 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams fat (1 saturated, 1 monounsaturated, 2 polyunsaturated); 30 milligrams cholesterol; 9 milligrams sodium; 0 fiber; 5 grams sugar; 42 percent calories from fat
THE MAILBOX
Monday, Oct. 29, 2001
Cupcake Cones

Name: Cupcake Cones
Type: Desserts
Origin: American
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
Servings: makes 24 cupcake cones
24 colored flat-bottomed wafer ice cream cones without cracks or holes
1 box devil's food cake mix
1 1-pound container vanilla or cream cheese frosting
Candy sprinkles (optional)
Maraschino cherries with stems, drained (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a 13-by-9-by-2-inch baking pan,
arrange ice cream cones, standing them up. Prepare mix according to
package directions.

Spoon batter into cones, filling three-quarters full. Bake for 35
minutes until wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean.
Remove to rack to cool completely. Frost and decorate with sprinkles
and a cherry, if desired.
Nutrition:
Per cupcake cone: 240 cal.; 3 g pro.; 31 g carb.; 11 g fat (3 sat.; 3
monounsat.; 3 polyunsat.; 2 other); 31 mg chol.; 212 mg sod.; 0 g
fiber; 43 percent calories from fat.

Notes:
Laura Spinetta of Plymouth was hoping someone had a recipe for cake
baked in ice cream cones. Jeri Burrows of Modesto sent this recipe
that should fill the bill for Spinetta. Children love these treats,
especially at birthday parties.

Source: The Mailbox, as published in the Sacramento Bee
THE CALIFORNIA WINE COUNTRY COOKBOOK II
Mediterranean Fish Stew
Page 137

This recipe is built for our Heritage White (Dry Chenin Blanc) table wine. Click on the above link to view the page. You can find online the cookbook from the authors Robert and Virginia Hoffman.
Laura Helen Spinetta (Melo) died peacefully on October 12, 2011 at her home in Plymouth, CA. She was born on January 10, 1946 in Weed, CA.

Laura is survived by her husband, Charles; her children, Anthony, James (JulieAnne), and Michael; and her grandchildren, Matthew, Sarah, and Amber. She will be missed by her large extended family and many friends.
Spinetta Family Portrait
Laura’s brother, Jere, introduced her to Charles, and the couple was married in 1965. Wesley, Laura’s second brother, walked Laura down the aisle at the wedding. Charles and Laura made their first home in McCloud, CA before moving to Sacramento and later relocating to Charles’ hometown of Jackson, CA in 1972. The family moved to Shenandoah Valley in 1975.

Laura enjoyed her role as homemaker and devoted her life to raising their three sons. She kept house, sewed clothes, tended the vegetable garden, baked wonderful goodies, and could always be counted on to help with classroom activities. Laura entered food and garments in the Amador County Fair almost every year.

For many years, Laura served as a volunteer elementary school librarian and also volunteered her time to teach music and singing to elementary school students. She loved it when those students, as adults, would see her in the grocery store and sing those childhood songs for her with their own children.

When the family opened a winery, Laura operated a frame shop in the winery’s art gallery. She framed thousands of beautiful prints and especially loved framing treasured heirlooms for countless clients. Laura’s framing hangs in the Charles M. Schulz Museum, the California State Archives, and many, many private collections.

The Spinetta Family wishes to thank Dr. Delphine Ong as well as Hospice of Amador and Calaveras for their care and support.

A Catholic funeral mass will be held at Immaculate Conception Church in Sutter Creek on Tuesday, October 18 at 11:00 a.m. with Father Larry Beck officiating. A reception will follow at the Immaculate Conception church hall.