Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Apocalypse? Resolutions?

Up for an apocalypse? Check 'er out:
Cool, noh? Speaking of animation, Jim and I finally saw both Wall-E and Kung-fu Panda, and loved them both, but especially Kung-fu Panda, which is gorgeous. And funny. With awesome kung-fu!

So, Cybils shortlists will be finalized this afternoon, at long last. Yay! I'm finishing reading my last book today (Graveyard Book, which is great so far) and then it will all be OVER. Yay! It's been fun, but I need to get back to work! And it's a good thing, because my book-in-sort-of-progress is beginning to spill out of my brain. I'll be upside-down blow-drying my hair and suddenly have to dart to my writing room and scribble in my notebook. Or, trying to fall asleep, and some sentences converge and fall into perfect alignment and I have to run downstairs to the writing room, blinking and squinting when the light comes on. Sometimes just ideas, but other times whole swatches of dialogue or narrative. I think this means the story is ripe and ready to be plucked. Baked, and ready to come out of the oven? Either way: ready.

"As for my next book, I am going to hold myself from writing it till I have it impending in me: grown heavy in my mind like a ripe pear; pendant, gravid, asking to be cut or it will fall." -- Katherine Mansfield

Kind of like that. I would never advise this course of action, because I know from experience that it can take years for a book to reach that state, but sometimes, breaks are a good thing. For me, there were periods of non-writing on Blackbringer that really shaped it. When I'd come back to it after a break (of, say, designing Laini's Ladies), I'd be able to see it clearly and know what to do with it. And, I'd love it again and be eager to work. BUT. Breaks are much more likely to lead to not ever finishing, so go with caution. Now, though, I am so bursting with this book I feel like I might explode. I'm happy that the explosion will coincide with the beginning of the New Year, because I am one of those people who likes beginning new things, laying out new goals, on "special days." Like, Mondays are best. January firsts are great. When January first falls on Monday, that is the perfect alignment for goal-setting. But a Thursday will work too. I would love to have the house cleaned by then, and all other obligations temporarily suspended. The Cybils will be over, I'm done with copyedits on both Lips Touch and Silksinger. Ooh, I've finally broken down and ordered the new Mac operating system for my laptop, so I can download Scrivener for the new book. I hear from reliable sources that it *practically writes your book for you.* Ha ha. Maybe not. But I hear it is extraordinary, and I will soon discover HOW extraordinary. I'll keep you posted! (Also, the Blurb software required the newer OS, so that was part of the impetus.)

Does anyone make New Year's resolutions anymore? I don't, not really. But I have some New Year's *notions*, some things I'd like to do. I want to write this book, of course, and also some stories. And I want to learn how -- finally -- to use my camera that Jim got me three Christmases ago. It's a great camera, but I always use it on the fully automatic settings, which is very limitting. I want to take a class, or at least get a good instructional DVD and start to experiment.

See, nothing grandiose, a couple of manageable goals.

How about you?

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas 2008!

So, Christmas! Despite the crazy snow (a new all-time record for Portland), we did make it across town to my parents' house, but only because my father heroically got his car down their icy, snowy, steep private road to the nearest ploughed route, and set about chauffeuring everyone paintakingly back -- slowly, with tire chains clanking. This was the night of the 23rd, because with another storm predicted for the next morning, we didn't want to risk not being able to make it there. So we all -- including my dear friend Alexandra, stranded alone in town and on-call (she's a psychotherapist who does crisis prevention for the county) for the holidays -- headed up to the hills for a big cozy house party.

I love my parents' house. It's at the edge of Forest Park, which is the largest urban forest reserve in the U.S. -- a huge swath of green just above the city, safe forever from greedy developers! The trees rise all around their house and up and up into the hills, and it's like being in a treehouse, a really big treehouse. It's one of those cool houses where you enter on the top level and then the house sort of stair-steps down a hillside? It's got really high ceilings and lots of glass, decks aflitter with dozens of kinds of birds, bickering at feeders and chasing each other and perching sideways on icicles (I saw a woodpecker try this trick and slide right off). And then there's this whole extra strange living space down beneath the *regular* house, beyond the bedrooms and living room and kitchen and all the rooms you expect to find in a house. You go through this doorway that seems like it should just be a closet door, like you've discovered the whole house, but lo, it's not a closet, it's a hallway, that wends around to become a staircase, that descends to a whole unexpected split-level space we call "the pit." And from there another staircase goes UP, further beneath the house, to more rooms. I don't have the best of pictures, but here, sort of, is the lowest level of the pit, seen from above:
On Christmas Eve we all sort of took turns in the kitchen, prepping whatever we were cooking for that night or the next day, and there was a lot of lolling around, reading, napping. Jim and Leroy hung out in the second-to-lowest level, drawing:
While Alexandra staked out the fireplace in the pit:
And my sister Emily nested under the NEST letters I made my mom on a previous Christmas crafty binge:
So cozy! Before they moved to Portland, my parents were in Marin County, north of San Francisco, which is a crazy-pricey county, and their house was wee compared to this one, so that when we all converged there for the holidays we were stepping on each other all the time and there was nowhere to be (thought it was beautiful, too). This house could hold a much bigger clan than ours, comfortably. {Portland, I [heart] you! This is what Portland is like: a beautiful city of hundred-year-old homes, built at the convergence of two great rivers, with forest on all sides. And it's afforable, has great restaurants, lots of artists and musicians, skiing, hiking, river-rafting, unique shopping, a symphony and ballet and other "big city trappings", but with the feel of a small community. And if you want to see crappy strip malls and big box stores, you have to drive way out to the suburbs. You won't accidentally see them in the city. There aren't any. You can live here and pretend the world is free of strip malls. Portland is the best. California, I don't miss you at all. Just some of the people still living there!}

Anyway, Christmas Eve. It kept on snowing, while we stayed cozily inside. Check out the cluster of icicles on the cat fence!
(My mom has never been a believer in indoor cats, but living in coyote territory, she has had to adapt, hence a cat enclosure beneath the house where they can at least stalk some birds.)

We celebrated my birthday a few days late. I suspect some people with Christmas birthdays might suffer from joint giftage, you know, "here's your birthday-slash-Christmas present," but not me. I am a spoiled girl with no complaints :-)
From Em, a gorgeous Indian vase, and a book to feed my fascination with parasites!
Playing dress-up as I went, new earrings, headband, hair clip, and necklace, all at once (ah, what an ensemble!)
The awesome monkey-flower necklace, from Jim, is a one-of-a-kind by local artist and friend,Maggie Kearns. Isn't it the awesomest? Here it is, against a gorgeous pink cashmere sweater from my parents:
Also from my parents, these journals that beg for something wondrous to be written in them:

We celebrated Leroy's 15th birthday too:
He got his own meat cake, with strips of bacon on top and a candle, which he did not blow out, but tried to eat.

For Christmas Eve dinner we always have clam chowder, and this year my sister, not a huge fan of clams, also made a vegetable tart with honeyed goat cheese, and it was delicious. My family are all amazing cooks (including my brother Alex, who made us all fresh pasta and jars of his sauces, along with infused oils and cool kitchen goodies in baskets), and I love the holiday traditions of meals. Like for Christmas brunch, my mom makes several fresh breads (along with a store-bought panettone), like an apricot-almond swirl bread, and my dad makes a giant egg/sausage/cheese casserole that sits overnight, egg custard soaking into bread, and that gets baked while we open presents. To tide us over until then there are mimosas and coffee and sausage rolls and platters of Christmas cookies. Yum!

Late Christmas Eve night, Alex finally arrived from Seattle with his girlfriend Brandi and her daughter Malika. Jim and I had gotten Malika this tiger stuffed animal, which Leroy had of course been fascinated with:
And Malika, being an usually gracious two-year-old, was happy to share:
Leroy then gave the tiger a good cuddle:
It was all very adorable.

Last thing on Christmas Eve is the stuffing of the stockings, which I love love love to do. Stockings are So. Much. Fun. We've hooked in Alexandra, who is Jewish, to our traditions, partly out of the sheer joy of stockings. Here's my mom's:
If you click to enlarge, you can see the lollipop in front that has a real scorpion encased in it. What you can't see, grace of my sister, is that there is also a snack box of cheddar-covered larvae behind it. Ewwww! Where did she find those?? I don't know, but my mom's reaction, on glimpsing the scorpion, was the shriek, "Quick! Get it!" as if it were alive and lurking there! To my knowledge, no one taste-tested the larvae.
Sans larvae, mine and Jim's stockings.

It snowed more on Christmas morning, which worried my sister, who was to catch a flight to Honduras at midnight to study pink boa constrictors on a tiny island (she made it out), but though it was snowing, it was also warming up, which heralded an interesting new development: great sheets of snow and ice beginning to slide off the roof and come crashing down onto the decks with a sound like thunder.

Christmas was, of course, awesome. There were some presents:

Emily and I both got these gorgeous shawls from mom:
Emily gave me another one, made in Kashmir, that's sky blue and embroidered with pink flowers, so beautiful, so I must officially become a wearer of shawls now. And maybe turbans too. No, not turbans, but look at my new hat:
LOVE it.

Mom got her bird garland:
and got teary eyed that my grandmother, whose amazing crafts and afghans and quilts are all over the house, didn't live to see her granddaughter become crafty, or to experience the general craft revival/revolution that we have been experiencing, and loving, for the past ten years or so. Alexandra and Jim with Al's bird garland hanging from the mantle:
Alexandra and Malika played all morning:
And Leroy slept the way only a very contented old dog can sleep:
And Alex slept too, while Brandi crocheted madly to finish Jim's scarf:

Oh my word, there were so many good presents. Cool books, six-inch platform boots from Jim (SO awesome and tall-making. I will post photos), a beaver skull (yay! I love skulls!), and more. Exhausting, opening presents all day! We take turns, youngest to oldest, so it really does take hours, with breaks for food!

Speaking of food, my contributions to Christmas dinner were an orange salad and arancine, that is "little oranges" or Sicilian fried risotto balls filled with mozzarella and ham. Funny to confess, I've never ever ever fried anything before. Never! While I was googling "how to fry" on Christmas day, I thought how Southerners would laugh at me. But they came out great, and I highly recommend them. When I was in Sicily I bought these practically every day for snacks. First you make a batch of risotto. I made plain risotto, with just onions and chicken stock, white wine, and parmesan cheese (lots). If you haven't made risotto before, it's easy, you just have to stand at the stove for about a half hour. You use starchy, fat arborio rice, cook uncovered, adding simmering stock about a half-cup at a time, waiting till it is absorped, then adding more, until you have a pot of creamy, delicious, flavorful risotto:
Yum! You could add mushrooms, saffron, tomato sauce, dozens of other things. So many yummy ways to make risotto. To make arancine, you want to refrigerate it, then when it's cold, I stirred in a beaten egg to make it stickier, and shaped it into balls about the size of "little oranges" (hence the name):
Stuff these with chunks of chopped fresh mozzarella and ham. You could also use bechamel, or a meat ragu, or whatever you want. Then, when you're ready to cook them, dredge in flour, then beaten egg, then bread crumbs:
Then fry in about two inches of extra virgin olive oil (about 350 degrees, careful not to burn the oil), turning over once, just a minute or two on each side, until all golden and beautiful and filled with delicious, gooey, mozzarella:
So fun and delicious! I can't wait to make them again. Next time I think I will try a tomato risotto.

We had the traditional roast beef, plus my mom's beautiful pastry "timpano" or Italian savory pie. I'm not sure if it is a traditional timpano without the pasta, but it's basically a layered savory pie in pastry crust, with cheese and pesto, roasted peppers and other good things inside. It was SO GOOD:

And my orange salad, which was simply sliced oranges (supposed to be blood oranges but we couldn't get to the store) sprinkled with: sugar, marsala, toasted almonds, and pomegranate seeds. Yum!

Look at the adorable handmade stockings (by Chary) for the individual place settings. LOVE them.
And English "crackers" from which we extracted toys and hats.

Well, whew. That's our Christmas. I know this is a long post, but it kind of is the record, for me, of the day. Which makes me think I should turn it into a "blurb" book or a shutterfly book, to both indulge my love of laying out books, and make an actual physical photo album, which are in too short supply in these days of digital photography. Maybe I will!

I hope you all had wonderful holidays too! Oh, our snow is almost entirely melted now! I am mostly finishing up the last few Cybils books I need to read before Wednesday. It is lazy work, and it is almost over. As wonderful as the books have been, I will be glad when this is over so I can get back to WRITING. I will be kicking off the new year of writing in a wonderful fashion: a weekend writing retreat at a beautiful beach house with local YA writers Lisa Schroeder (whose second book Far From You just came out), and LK Madigan, whose first novel, Flash Burnout, comes out in '09. Can't wait!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

look what I made

Hello there! Back from Christmas escapades. Hope you all had a wonderful time of much eating and drinking and giving and receiving. All worked out well here; my father managed to get out with his snow tires and come to pick us up. Whew! But more on that when I have a chance to put together a longer post. This is just a quickie about bird garlands.
I gave in to my holiday craft craving sparingly this year, and really only made one thing, well, two of the same thing: these felt bird garlands. I spent a solid day blanket stitching at the beginning of the snow-in, and would likely have kept going in an obsessive way, but that I fortuitously ran out of felt.

They were fun, and extremely easy. I do not know how to sew; anyone at all could make these, but I think they are very adorable! I wanted to post pics before, but the recipients (mom and Alexandra) would have seen them here. Here are the individual birds before stringing:

You may remember I was tempted to make round felt garlands I'd found at Anna Maria Horner's blog, but I restrained myself, and the felt, it was just sitting there in a stack, and one blustery night I found myself cutting out bird shapes. I used the colorful embroidery thread I bought at a Mayan market in Chiapas last spring and had so far not done anything with. I wish I'd bought much more of it. The colors are so ludicrously beautiful!
(I did not buy all of this; this is the stash at the market; I plundered it for maybe ten balls of yarn. I want more!)

Along with buttons mostly from my grandmother's button tin, and some little scraps of patterned fabric I buy from time to time despite the fact that I do not and cannot sew, and I was ready to go.

I plan to make myself one (or two) too, because they looked so cute hanging in my writing room (pic above). I'll have to acquire some more felt first! Perhaps I'll make them while watching the "Pushing Daisies" DVD Jim gave me -- color all around! I'm also keen to watch the other DVD Jim gave me, which is this:
It's called Baraka, which means "blessing" in many different languages, and it's a non-narrative exploration of. . . well, I haven't seen it yet, but I think it's a visual exploration of the world, of humanity in all its many faces, and of the planet too. Religious ceremonies, death camps, everyday scenes, extraordinary scenes, filmed at 152 locations around the world. Cool. Can't wait to see it, though it would be best on my parents' new giganto HD TV, not our own ancient thing.

Anyway, I'll be back with pictures of food and family, icicles and presents, soon. Hope you are all well!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Hilarity ensues

You know what's funny? Calling around for tire chains in Portland right now. Auto-parts store employees find this very, very funny.

What's even more fun than that is to scour the garage for old tire chains, find them, and try to put them on, only to discover they don't fit the new car. Because putting on chains is fun.

And then, calling every cab company in Portland to try to schedule a ride across town for Christmas Eve (with a dog and lots of presents) and getting a perpetual busy signal or ringtone everywhere.

ARG! Did I mention a new storm is supposed to hit tomorrow? WTF?

We feel like such eejits, for not having chains or anything. My dad actually did go and get studded tires and chains, but the hill they live on is still too steep and treacherous for driving -- he would have had to park at the bottom of it (like the neighbors did) to be able to come and go. So those expensive studded tires are sitting in the garage, no help to anyone!

Yeah, Midwesterners and Northeasterners (and Norwegians :-), go ahead and laugh at us, the fumbly, pathetic West Coasters! Here, by the way, is what happens when Portlanders try to drive in the snow:
Hi-Larious, noh?

Maybe, just maybe, my parents' neighbors will drive over some time and retrieve us. We are at their mercy. Fingers crossed.

* * *

In better news, there was coconut cream pie for breakfast:

And last night, as promised, a pile of legs for dinner. Yummy!
The "snowed-in" birthday was very nice. Crab and pie, pretty presents, a snuggly movie. I don't feel any older, and have not yet sighted the "lightning bolt wrinkle" that strikes on 37th birthdays, according to Alexandra.

Hope all is well out there in the wide world!

Monday, December 22, 2008

It's STILL snowing!

Unbelievable. I mean, this is Portland. In the eight years we've been here, we've been "snowed in" twice, and those times were nothing like this. Our neighbor says she hasn't seen anything like it in the thirty years she's been here. It's beautiful -- tranquil, perfect dry powder, glittering ice branches. Enchanted.

Well, it would be "enchanted" any other week. Next week, I'd welcome it. But this week. Agh! Looks like we'll be celebrating my birthday alone this evening. Jim and I walked to the store a few hours ago and bought some dungeness crabs and some good bread, so that will be dinner (with plenty of butter :-). Sometimes salad is part of the plan, but usually, with a big bowl of crab legs in front of me, I can't be bothered with salad. Barbaric, no? Eating a pile of legs? Yummy yummy legs.

I love that walk to the store in the snow. Whenever we get snow (NOT often), we walk there for "provisions", and there's something magical about it, the way the mundane landscape is transfigured. Leroy had to walk in the tire ruts.

A Laini's Lady lost in the snow:
When it started snowing last week, I really wasn't too concerned about the weather continuing until Christmas -- but. . . now I'm worried. How will we get to my parents' house? So many people's travel plans have been cancelled. Flights cancelled. I don't think my brother will be able to make it here. This sucks. Why didn't it wait until next weeeeeek???????