Thursday, September 4

Summer cooking

A couple of Saturday mornings ago I woke up smiling because I had just dreamed an original episode of The Office. Most of it was pretty hazy, but the final scene stood out in perfect clarity. In it, Jim and Pam got engaged. Apparently I am looking forward to the new season. After waking I thought it was a wonderful scene, but after trying to recap the dialogue to friends, I’ve come to the conclusion that the awesomeness was all due to the Jenna Fischer, John Krasinski and Rainn Wilson in my head and not the quality of writing. The actors delivered perfectly the warm, awkward humor I have come to love. The cameraman was also right on target, zooming in to capture everyone’s reactions to awkward moments. It was a bit unnerving to realize how much the pace of the show must have become second nature to me in order to have such an accurate and thorough dream. I’ve been watching Lost on dvd this summer, and I don’t want to start having Lost dreams.

The crinkly yellow leaves that are starting to fall on the front walk tell me that summer won’t last, so I’m trying to make the most of the long days and good produce. One night last week I stayed up past my bedtime in order to make kefta and zucchini kebabs, visit a friend, eat said kebabs and make blueberry crumb bars. A pink sunset was still in the sky at 8 o’clock that night. I love summer. I will be sad to see the zucchini and blueberries go.

These meatballs—I could eat them dipped in cool yogurt-mint sauce over and over. And I did, for lunch the next two days. Sometimes cooking for one is a good thing.

I took the blueberry crumb bars to a fish fry at my church, and they were CLEANED OUT. One man even scraped the dish when I came to take it home. I’ll definitely be making these again, because I don’t feel that I got my fair share.

Smitten Kitchen has served me well: I’ve also made huevos rancheros (easy and satisfying), couscous with roasted tomatoes (more time-consuming but delicious), pasta puttanesca (I thought of Violet, Klaus and Sunny while I washed up), dead simple slaw (a hit at growth group last night), and zucchini bread (more zucchini!). I also found I can grill eggplant on a George Foreman, and I have a pot full of healthy mint in the back yard, a first for me after many summers of failed attempts.

I try to remind myself of small victories like this because the yard itself is still putting up a fight. I’m working my way around the back perimeter, clearing out everything that doesn’t have a right to be there. It’s slow going, and the mosquitoes seem to be on the side of the invasive plants. No poison ivy outbreaks or West Nile yet, for which I’m thankful.

And because bullet points are so much easier than writing a real paragraph, here are some links to things I’ve enjoyed recently:
• Cheryl Kline gave a speech about writing, using the Harry Potter books as an example.
Pete Peterson and Andrew Peterson tell good stories well in The Rabbit Room.
Noisetrade has lots of great albums available for free download. I started with Waterdeep and Matthew Perryman Jones.

Friday, August 29

Chair Redo

Hello, internet. I have not forgotten you. Well, actually that's not true. I did forget, but only for a bit, and during that time I've been gathering stories and pictures to share. I've been working away to make my house feel more like a home. Most projects are still in progress, but I did finish recovering a chair seat and two pillows. This chair was purchased in Texas for $6 several years ago, and I had planned to use it with other citrus colors in the living room of my old place. The citrus theme never came to pass, and now the chair is in my bedroom, in close proximity to these throw pillows. Pink floral and bold orange stripes do not go together (I have a lot to learn about design, but I am confident about this much). So I took advantage of a sale at Quilt Arts and covered both in Amy Butler fabric. Notice the closet doors, which I painted white.

Next time: I dream an episode of The Office and haul more debris out of the back yard!

Thursday, July 17

U stand for uptight. That's how I'm feelin.'

If I had kids who were going to sing the same thing over and over I would show them this upcoming segment from Sesame Street in which Feist teaches kids to count to--you guessed it--four.

She joins a long line of musicians who've appeared on the show over the years. Altering your hit song to help children learn is a worthy cause... although I'm not sure what my generation was supposed to learn from Smokey Robinson's Sesame Street performance of "You Really Got A Hold On Me."

Does anyone else remember being mildly creeped out when they saw Smokey being chased by a giant letter U?

Monday, July 7

“The rent here may be low but I believe we have it on very hard terms.”

Our neighbors aren’t meddling and trying to match us up with eligible young men, but my roommates and I have discovered that our new house doesn’t come without a price. I don’t know when the last person who cared lived in the house, but it wasn’t too recently. After I finished painting my room and bathroom I turned my attention to the yard. This photo shows the result of Thursday evening and Friday morning’s work. When our landlord said we’d be responsible for the yard, I didn’t think that would include moving 20 rusty pipes that were lying under what was probably years’ worth of sediment and leaves. I would rake off a layer, haul a pipe to the street, rake off some more, haul another pipe away, and so on. We can walk around the north side of the house without being scared now!

Last week was a hard one. Some of the things that happened sound like the back cover of a Lemony Snicket book. On Monday alone there was an unsuccessful shopping trip, a homeless fish, a small amount of bloodshed, cold waffle fries, and an unwanted guest.

By Thursday things were looking up. My boss gave me the afternoon off, which was the beginning of a beautiful weekend. It included such good things as fireworks, homemade muffins, new fabric, Atonement (finally!), and time with friends. Not to mention the sleep earned by one who has done much yard work. I finished the weekend with a sense of accomplishment and refreshment, which almost never seem to go together. We just need more three-day weekends. I want this house to be a place my roommates and I can feel at home, and where others enjoy being. After this weekend I feel a little bit closer to that goal.

Friday, June 27

Night at the library

Last night I went to the library to return some books and decided to stay and read for a bit. I found an empty corner and flopped down with Walker Percy’s The Last Gentleman. A group of adults who seemed to be having a meeting were a few feet away, obscured by a bookcase. I couldn’t tell what they were saying, but when the babble of their voices dropped down to one man speaking alone I could tell from his rhythm that he was praying. “…We ask that you would bless…” jumped out clear from the murmur. I smiled and tears sprang in my eyes (as they are prone to do when one is tired). In this messed up city, it is good to know that some people are praying.

Tuesday, June 17

Small and white, clean and bright

If I have been quiet here for the last few weeks it is because I’ve mostly been occupied with mundane domestic tasks. I’ve moved to an old house with lots of quirks. Some of these I love—the phone nook!—and some of these I don’t—the large cracks in the corners of my bedroom walls. I decided not to live with the cracks and messy paint jobs left by previous tenants, so I’ve been spending most of my free time for the last few weeks painting my bathroom and bedroom. I’m almost done now (I’ve been saying that for a while, but it’s more true now than it used to be), and I’m pleased with the result.

Most people probably wouldn’t paint colored walls in a rental home white, but I’m happier in rooms with clean white walls. I change my mind so often about colors for other things that it’s good to start with a neutral base. And there is a certain satisfaction in smoothing new paint over a dirty surface. It reminds me again that summer feels like the start of something new in many ways. It’s a good time to look up from the usual busyness and try to see where I’m headed. It’s hard to believe that we’re almost halfway through 2008. I still have a 5K to run and an empty sketchbook waiting.

Thursday, May 8

I love Tom Waits.

Paste has the dates and locations listed here. Anyone up for a trip to Mobile on July 2?

Monday, April 7

Sense and Sensibility drinking game

Take a drink every time Margaret (called Meg in this version) runs and yells to announce the approach of a visitor.

I'm sad the Jane Austen season is over. Now to the books!

Friday, April 4

...and then I found $20.

No, really! Yesterday as I was walking into the post office I found a $20 bill lying in plain view on the sidewalk. I walked past it at first. "Surely it's not a real $20 bill," I thought. "Someone else would have picked it up by now." I continued in and retrieved the mail from our box. When I came out, the bill was still there. So I picked it up and took it inside to Mr. Johnny, one of the employees. He was awarded a purple heart, so I think he is trustworthy. And I realized that I didn't even need to keep it; just finding $20 is exciting. The next time I find myself in a lagging conversation, I will tack this story onto the end of it, and all will be well.

Wednesday, April 2

Time for another Good Idea, Bad Idea

Good Idea: getting back together with old friends to make a successful collaboration.
Bad Idea: stealing old friends in order to copy a successful collaboration.


Good Idea: Sixpence None the Richer is recording and touring together again.
Bad Idea: NBC is creating a spin-off of The Office, set to air after the super bowl this fall. NBC executive Ben Silverman says, "It’s very likely you will see some of those actors [from The Office] on the spin-off."

I'm sure Leigh Nash and Matt Slocum have plenty of creativity left, but I'm afraid an Office spin-off while the original is still running can only hurt both the old and new shows. I think I'll watch this to cheer myself up.

Monday, March 31

And the winner is...

I'm pleased to announce that the winner of On The Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness is David. How did I arrive at this, you ask? Simple: I cast lots. That is, I wrote each of the commenter's names down on sheets of paper, folded them up, shuffled them around under my desk, and drew one out at random. The lot has fallen to David. Enjoy your book!

Friday, March 21

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness

Andrew Peterson has long been one of my favorite songwriters, so I waited with eagerness when I heard that he was writing a book. On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness arrived in bookstores this week, and I was fortunate enough to receive an advance copy. I approached it with some nervousness; I like AP's music so much--what if his first novel wasn't very good?

I needn't have worried. Book One of The Wingfeather Saga is a delightful read, full of humor and adventure. Janner Igiby, his younger brother Tink, and little sister Leeli live with their mother and ex-pirate grandfather in a little cottage in the town of Glipwood. Glipwood and the surrounding land of Skree are occupied and controlled by the Fangs of Dang, huge lizardlike creatures who make life miserable for the inhabitants. As danger and mysterious events build, Janner struggles with the responsibility of looking out for his siblings. It isn't an easy task when the evil Fangs seem out to get the Igiby children, though they don't understand why.

I love a book that begins with a map. On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness has two maps, footnotes full of funny asides, and heaps of made-up names that will make this an excellent book for families to read aloud. There is also plenty of gross humor that boys will love; my favorite example is when the Igibys' mother makes maggotloaf. It's obvious that AP has read Tolkien, Lewis and Rowling, but this story stands on its own. Like his predecessors, Peterson has created a world that is clearly much bigger than this first story shows, and I'm looking forward to reading more.

The folks at WaterBrook Press have given me an extra copy of the book to give away. Just leave a (relevant) comment in the next week and I'll choose randomly. Haven't you always wanted a book with the subtitle: Adventure. Peril. Lost Jewels. And the Fearsome Toothy Cows of Skree?

Thursday, March 6

Awkwardness at 6:00

Yesterday after tutoring at my church I went to Kroger for a couple of items. I bought escarole for the first time ever in order to make Escarole and Orzo Soup with Meatballs. I had some time to kill while I waited for 6 o'clock. You see, 6 o'clock is the magic hour when all of the baked goods at Broad Street go on sale for 50% off. So I lingered in the new international foods section, which turned out to be a lucky thing, because I also found orzo, a rice-shaped pasta the recipe called for. It was then that I realized just what this new Kroger could mean. I'm used to substituting or skipping when a recipe calls for ingredients that can't be easily found. I'd already bought some small macaroni to use in the soup when I found the small package of orzo in the "Italian" section. "This could change the way I cook," I thought.

I went to checkout and found myself in the uncomfortable position of buying something I didn't know how to pronounce. "What is this?" said the clerk when she picked up the escarole, asking the very question I'd hoped she wouldn't. I spelled it for her and resolved to look up the pronunciation so this doesn't happen again. Thanks to Merriam-Webster, I can now speak the name of escarole with confidence.

Then it was on to Broad Street, where I was happy to see that they had a couple loaves of honey whole wheat bread left. I asked for one and had handed over my money when the employee at the next register asked the guy who was helping me, "Did you just sell a loaf of wheat bread?" He looked confused, and I looked to my right to see the customer from whom I had just taken a loaf of bread away. And wouldn't you know, it was a friend of mine. She'd asked for the last two loaves of wheat bread, but I beat her to one of them! I tried to get her to take it, but she would have none of it. "I guess you know each other?" the girl employee said, as my friend gave me a hug. After some more protestations I received my change, took my bread and headed out the door, wondering what my friend was going to eat instead. I'd just taken food away from her!

I ate my bread with the escarole and orzo soup (which was delicious, by the way) for supper. I wonder what my friend had.

I have known for a while that if I go to McDade’s at 5 o'clock there’s a good chance I’ll run into some guy friend or another on the beer aisle. Now I know that I must be careful when buying Broad Street bread at 6:00.

Tuesday, February 12

You, you… me! ME!

Guitta tagged me, so I’m going to talk about myself for a little while.

1. My books are organized by color. I got the idea from Apartment Therapy, but I have only myself to blame. This might sound crazy to some people, and I know it’s not for everyone. But I remember things visually and I don’t have very many books in my apartment. It’s working so far, and I like the way it looks.

2. I much prefer going barefoot to wearing shoes. As long as the floor is clean and the right texture. (See number 3.)

3. I can’t stand shag carpet. CANNOT bear to come in contact with it, and thinking about it too long makes me start to feel nauseated. I know white shag rugs are hugely popular right now, but nothing could induce me. No. Ugh.

4. I think Rembrandt was amazing. Did you ever look at the Bible and start thinking, “Why are these the books in the Bible and not others?” Then you read bits of the other possibilities and think “Oh, that’s why.” It’s like that with art. After a while looking at an art history book you think, “Why are these the famous artists and paintings and not others?” Then you get a chance to see an artist like Rembrandt in a museum, with his work hung alongside his contemporaries. Then it all becomes clear. Others tried, but he achieved something they couldn’t quite get.

5. I’ve never seen A Christmas Story. This can be amusing when the person I’m talking to starts referring to it without even checking first. I nod and smile for a little while until it comes to me. “Oh, I get it,” I eventually think. “It’s from A Christmas Story.”

6. In elementary school I ate everyone else’s unwanted black jelly beans at Easter. Now I probably wouldn’t want to eat food that had been on another kid’s plate, and I don’t crave candy so much anymore.

7. When I see how I have changed my mind about things in the past—the jelly beans for example—I worry that I will change my mind about other things I hold true now. What if I decide that putting bobble headed plush cats and dogs in the back window of my car is cute? Will someone stop me, or will they let me just go down that path of tackiness?

Monday, January 14

Books Read 2007

I know you've all been eagerly awaiting my annual list of books read in the past year. Now the anxious clamor can subside. Without further ado, here are the books I read in 2007:

1. The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien (f) (reread)
2. The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim (f) (recommended by Bethany)
3. Postern of Fate by Agatha Christie (f)
4. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons (f)
5. On Being Presbyterian by Sean Michael Lucas (nf)

6. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling (f) (reread)
7. Dreaming in Clay by Christopher Maurer with Maria Estrella Iglesias (nf)

8. Dragons in the Waters by Madeleine L’Engle (f)
9. A House Like a Lotus by Madeleine L’Engle (f)
10. The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World by A.J. Jacobs (nf)
11. I Feel Bad About My Neck and Other Thoughts on Being A Woman by Nora Ephron (nf)
12. Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling (f) (reread)
13. Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott (nf)

14. An Acceptable Time by Madeleine L’Engle (f)
15. Tears of the Giraffe by Alexander McCall Smith (f)
16. The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper (f)

17. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling (f) (reread)

18. The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie (f) (reread)
19. The Hidden Staircase by Carolyn Keene (f)
20. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling (f) (reread)
21. A Treasury of Great Mysteries Vol. 2 edited by Howard Haycraft & John Beecraft (f)
22. The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden (f)
23. Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie (f) (recommended by Daniel)
24. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (f)

25. Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome (f) (recommended by Liz)
26. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling (f)
27. The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis (f) (reread)

28. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole (f)
29. Greenwitch by Susan Cooper (f)
30. Enchantment: The Life of Audrey Hepburn by Donald Spoto (nf)
31. The Grey King by Susan Cooper (f)
32. Silver on the Tree by Susan Cooper (f)

33. The Luckiest Girl by Beverly Cleary (f) (reread)
34. Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky (f)

35. Atonement by Ian McEwan (f) (recommended by Kari)
36. Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man who Would Cure the World by Tracy Kidder (nf) (recommended by Wendell and Sara)
37. Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding (f)
38. The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey (nf)

39. The Christian’s Great Interest by William Guthrie (nf)
40. Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote (f) (reread)
41. The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien (f) (reread)
42. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut (f)

43. Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen (f)
44. To Own a Dragon by Donald Miller (nf)
45. Villette by Charlotte Bronte (f)
46. Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans (f) (reread)
47. The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman (f) (reread)
48. The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman (f)

You'll notice that I did not reach my goal of 50 books. I suppose I could have rushed through two more books to have them completed in time to make the list, but what would be the point of that? To meet an arbitrary deadline I've imposed on myself and miss the content of the books in the process? Instead I've resolved to read less in 2008 (which I'm chronicling at GoodReads.) I want to devote more time to making art and getting exercise, and I know that time is going to have to come from somewhere.

The Enchanted April was probably my favorite book of the year. It came at just the right time and told me truth about myself and the world while entertaining and giving hope in the dreary month of January. I wouldn't expect everyone to get as much out of it as I did, but it is certainly worthwhile, and the movie version is lovely.

Cold Comfort Farm and The Know-It-All were two of the funniest books I read all year. If you've ever read Wuthering Heights and thought, "Get a grip, people! Take a bath and get over yourselves!," Cold Comfort Farm is the book for you. The movie with Kate Beckinsale, Ian McKellan and Rufus Sewell also quite amusing. The Know-It-All is A.J. Jacobs account of his attempt to read through the Encyclopedia Brittanica. I laughed a lot, learned a little bit, and found his thoughts on Ecclesiastes interesting.

In the original version of The Hidden Staircase, I learned that Nancy Drew kept a loaded revolver under her pillow. And she had curly hair! These two facts make her a lot cooler than the 60's version of Nancy I grew up with.

A Treasury of Great Mysteries was a garage sale find that included The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler. Chandler and Dashiell Hammett pioneered the hardboiled detective novel in the 20's, 30's and 40's. True to its reputation, I found the plot of The Big Sleep hard to follow, but I loved the heavy use of similes like "...he used his strength like an out-of-work chorus girl uses her last pair of stockings."

Atonement was another of the best books of the year. I still find myself thinking about it, but perhaps that's because I've been looking for a movie location near me (there isn't one).

I will always be grateful to Charlotte Bronte for giving us Jane Eyre, but Villette was hard to get through. At first I wasn't all that interested in the story or the characters, and when I did finally get hooked, the ending was crushing. SPOILER: I'd imagined M. Paul Emmanuel to look like this guy, so I had to make some adjustments in my imagination to see him as a romantic possibility.

In addition to reading less in 2008, I also want to choose books carefully and examine my motives for reading. If it's to get something checked off a "must read" list someone else has compiled, that's a bad reason. If it's to learn more about a subject I enjoy, that's a good reason. So here's to reading good books for good reasons!