one last peek: 10 from 2010

I always have a little trouble coming to grips with the end of a year. Just a little.

And though I'm doing a lot better than I used to, it still takes me a while to adjust to the thought of it, to a clean calendar lying at my feet. All those boxes... waiting to be filled. Filled with what?

2011's gonna be a big one, I just know it.

But as a way to say goodbye to 2010, I spent some time poking through the old posts on this blog, sifting through the words of the past year. Wow. We've been through a lot, oh blog of mine! There's a lot we've chronicled here, you and I.

So here are a few posts from the past, a handful of moments from 2010, maybe the best ones, or maybe just the ones that still hit me.

Ten from 2010:

1. these things i keep

2. spring cleaning

3. gusto

4. the small & unguessed life

5. dear summer,

6. lost & found

7. a platter of figs

8. let's count the days like falling leaves

9. for the love.

10. the gift of your presence

Okay. Okay. Now I think I'm ready. ... Bring it on, 2011.

*I admit, I kinda stole this idea from hula seventy. Elsie has a similar list. It's a fun way to celebrate the past, isn't it?


store update! (and number four.)

Take pictures on a cold and windy day? And then celebrate with a post-photo snack of ... hot, crispy bacon? Oh yes we did! (It was a really good day.)

Kristen designed a new kind of neckwarmer for Squirrel & Serif's new year: here's a peek...

It really was cold out, and let me say: these neckwarmers work! My neck felt so cozy. The rest of me ... not so much.

Annd, in other Serif news, I can finally cross number four off this list: five new scarves for the store? Check!
The Sir Michael Scarf:

The Christopher Scarf:

Perspective Scarves:

Waffle Scarves:

And the Winterfield ... mmmm, which might be my favorite:

Whew! It's been a busy scarf time... suddenly I'm dreaming of hats.

Bright red hats.


book crush thursday: Clementine

I have had not so good of a week. -- Sara Pennypacker, Clementine

When a million pigeons take off at the same time right above you, you can feel their wing beats exploding inside you, like fireworks. -- Clementine

This year I am in the gifted class for math. And here is the bad surprise--so far no gifts. -- Clementine

Clementine is one of the most brilliant books about being a kid that I have ever read. Ever.

I mean: seriously. Wow. I am so glad I stumbled across this book: an instant favorite. I read it in one sitting, one headlong happy gulp.

Sara Pennypacker is just an amazing writer. Amazing! Clementine's voice is absolutely dead-on. She captures the feelings and moments of childhood in beautiful sentences that left my ears ringing. And Marla Frazee's illustrations are the perfect complement.

And what to say about Clementine herself? And her busy, crazy, trouble-filled week?

I wish I could beam myself back to third grade just so I could be her friend. She's so warm-hearted, so quick and insightful, and ... just completely hilarious. I laughed so hard through this book, and yet she also captures the sweet-sadness of being a kid as well. The ending ... was exquisite. So much fun.

A genius of a book! I want to give this one out to everyone I know.

And ... oh. Ohhh. Guess what I didn't know. Guess what I just found out: this is the first in a series.

So... my day just got better.

Recommendation: Grilled cheese and a chocolate milkshake. Read this one by the window for one glorious afternoon. You'll be so glad you did.


writer in progress: cobwebs

It used to freak me out.

I'd have a few days--sometimes, a few weeks--of being, oh, just the littlest bit brain-dead. Something would happen, some kind of huge renovation project, or a minor crisis, or a major happy occasion. My routine crumbled to ashes, the writing stopped, and the story grew cold.

Sometimes, I just forgot that I was a writer for a few days in a row. Sometimes it was that simple.

Whatever the cause, there have been times when I've stopped writing.

Which means, there have been many times when I've had to figure out how to start again.

For about four years, my "favorite" technique was: Let's make a list. (You're shocked, aren't you. Aren't you? Yeah, me neither.)

You can make a list for anything, right? It's like building a beautiful, optimistic ladder in black and white, and if you touch every rung, you make it to the top! Brilliant! Perfect!

I'd program myself to death, and maybe I'd get started again.

Lately, though, I've abandoned the list-making technique.

This morning, the first Monday back at it, after the blaze of holidays and vacation... I've come back to it peaceably. Without lists. Without stress.

Instead of the programs and lists, it's a lot more fun to find the bits of the project that I love.

To flip idly through the last draft and come across the moments I still believe in, the bits of dialogue that make me laugh. It helps to look my characters in the face, and remember why I'm writing about them, why I'm telling their story, when it could have been anyone else's.

When I get reacquainted with the heart of the story, when I find my own heart as a writer, then it's the easiest thing to brush out the mental cobwebs, and to start typing again.

I write because I love it, after all.

It's a small lesson, maybe. But one I come back to again and again: if my heart isn't engaged in the words, then I might as well not do this. If I'm not writing for the love of it, then it's time to find a new job.


just like the ones i used to know ... kind of.

Last night, I wasn't dreaming of a white Christmas.

I didn't even have visions of sugarplums, dancing in my head.

Nope, every dream was about assassins, near misses, quick getaways, explosions, and lethal intent.

Fortunately, the white Christmas came true... the adrenaline-filled chases did not.

And I can live with that.

The only sad thing is, with the last bits of my holiday cold, I can't dash outside for snow angels.

Maybe next week.

Merry, merry Christmas, white or not.

And don't let the bad guys get you.


merry & bright: the Christmas week

Instead of just a Christmas Day celebration, my family's doing a kind of Christmas week celebration. And I'm pretty okay with that.

Even if it does mean that all the presents were opened yesterday, and the massive family gatherings are yet to come.

Which puts me in a bit of a holiday-spirit limbo right now.

I'm still soaking in the afterglow of yesterday: our family together, eating epic food, watching my niece do laps around the house with a bright yellow giraffe...

And then unwrapping presents, which is never a quick thing. Each gift seems to bring a story with it, and we take our sweet time, talking and laughing and passing things around.

So, yes. The memories of yesterday make me linger today: I don't want to cover them up too quickly--I just want to savor it.

Today, then, was laidback. A day for watching White Christmas yet again.

And then googling "how do I cut awesome paper snowflakes?" and not finding anything noteworthy. But trying my hand at it nevertheless. (Always good to keep those grade school art skills at the ready.) 

Today was also devoted to drinking as many Vitamin C drinks as I could manage, hoping to stave off the latest of colds... and whatever else colds might bring my way. I'm not in the mood to chance it, so: bring me another fruit smoothie, if you please.

As I sip, I'm dreaming up better plot twists for my novel-in-progress. Draft Two is definitely happening in a very big way come January. A very big way. Like: cue the goose bumps. It's going to be fabulous.

Not gonna lie: There have also been naps, today. And I've been reading Terry Pratchett's Nation, which looks fantastic. And, too, peeking over Kristen's shoulder, as she posts our latest batch of awesomeness to our Squirrel & Serif site.

Tomorrow will probably be more of the same. More rest, more Vitamin C (I'm not going down without a fight!!), more reading, more plotting, more peace.

And then hoping for a bit of snow to fall before the weekend, just to sweeten things up.

Merry Christmas, wherever this finds you! May your days be merry and bright.

And blessed.


book crush thursday: Jamie's Italy

If you want to blow people's socks off, make this soup. -- Jamie Oliver, Jamie's Italy

This is a fantastically quick recipe to make, and when you open the bags you'll be rewarded by the most amazing smells from the earthy mushrooms and the herbs. Really nice. -- Jamie Oliver

I walked around the town one day asking the locals who made the best couscous, and, of course, every answer was "Mia mama!" That is, until one lad took me along to meet his grandmother--Nonna Giusy. She was the most incredible woman. -- Jamie Oliver

Lately, when it seems like the sun is setting around noon each day (you know what I mean), I start craving food that tastes like summer.

Don't get me wrong, I'm still loving the wintry overcast days. But I'm also in the mood for ... lemons. And rosemary with chicken. Pasta in tomato cream sauces. And risotto.

A lot of risotto.

Enter this book, Jamie's Italy by the brilliant "Naked Chef," Jamie Oliver. He's the one who taught me how to make risotto: white risotto, risotto with pesto, and then ... roasted mushroom risotto with parsley. I know. Get out. It's so amazing.

... Okay, so Jamie didn't teach me in person, but I was stirring and chopping with his book open in front of me, and he's so much a part of his cookbook. So many pictures of him cooking, and his writing sounds so fresh, like he's talking face-to-face with you about all this food he flat-out loves.

So though it was just me, the risotto, and the book, I felt like I was being coached by an exuberant older British cousin.

And that's okay with me.

(Incidentally, the risotto turned out awesome. Every time.)

The recipes are so inspiring. Just reading the titles feels like a vacation. And you know I love Italian food...

And then the photography... every cookbook needs a brilliant photographer, agreed? This one delivers. I completely love all the outdoorsy shots--most of this book feels like the food was purchased, prepared, and eaten outside. And I love that.

Can I say it again? I love that.

Something gets put back together in my soul when I eat outside.

There's also a handful of pictures of amazing old Italian women. ... I want to be an amazing old Italian woman when I grow up. I really, really do. They look so wise, saucy, and sweet, all at the same time. Can I spontaneously become Italian when I turn, say, 75, and work up to wise/saucy/sweet from there?

It's a goal.

... You need this book. It's a trip out of winter for a while. Not to mention: a ticket to some pretty astonishing cooking. Have fun.


it's beginning to look a lot like Etsy.

If you're still stumped on holiday shopping, and if you haven't spent some time on Etsy, well... consider this an invitation. I love this site!

... Best of all, I love doing random searches, and seeing what comes up. You never know what you'll find! So... with a tip of the hat to number 13 on the list, here are my ten favorite searches lately:

writerly, especially this one

ferret, especially this

London (yeah, I know, that was a hard one!), especially this!! makes me wish I had a laptop!!

library chic, especially this

repurposed books, especially these

unicycle ... look at this!!

typewriter... especially this one!

Sherlock Holmes, especially this lovely thing ... and wow, I couldn't resist, this too!!

ink ... so many gorgeous things, but check this one out!

And last but far from least ... ampersand. I'd love just about everything on this list, but especially this. Okay, and this. Annnnd this.

So much fun, isn't it?? Happy browsing!


book crush friday: Weekend Knitting

I knew it was my stitches and the love I knitted into them that were keeping his hands warm. -- Melanie Falick, Weekend Knitting

[These projects] fit into my idea of an idyllic weekend, one filled with fresh air, beautiful scenery, good friends, delicious food, laughter, and time to knit. -- Melanie Falick

Yes, this book crush is a day late. Yes, it's also worth it. Because this is a book that, against formidable odds, flat-out changed my life.

And I can't say that about just anything.

First of all, it was August. A hot, sticky, 100 degree day on our vacation, and we wandered to the cabin next door, which turned out to be: a yarn store.

And that's where I, an off-again, on-again crocheter, who repeatedly turned down offers of knitting lessons, first saw this:

I pulled it out of the crammed bookshelf, to see this:

And when I opened it up, I fell in love with an entire lifestyle.

Melanie Falick certainly knows how to present a book! The photographs are charming, the projects are intriguing, and she really does do it: she sells a way of creative, beautiful, joy-filled living in Weekend Knitting.

In between the wonderful projects and their photos are great quotes about knitting or creativity ... and we all know by now how great quotes are a direct path to my heart...

He who works with his hands is a laborer. He who works with his hands and his heart is a craftsman. He who works with his hands, his head, and his heart, is an artist. -- St. Francis of Assisi

Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up. -- Pablo Picasso

Certainly knitting is not the only thing that fingers can do, but it is a good thing: simple yet capable of endless complexity. -- Anna Zilboorg

And then, there are recipes, for the perfect cup of tea, or hot chocolate, or butter cookies. She's compiled lists of movies for a knitting-movie festival, or books for a knitter's reading list. There are ideas for decorating with yarn, or gifts to give a beloved knitter.

After resisting for such a long time, I fell so hard and so fast for knitting.

I sat outside in the August heat and flipped through these pages, again and again, trying to decide what I'd make first. (It turned out to be the lap blanket on page 20, and then the union square poncho, and then the look-back leg warmers...)

I showed it to everyone in my family at least once, I begged my mom to teach me to knit as soon as we got home, I dreamed about wearing the hats, the mittens, the legwarmers.

Now, as you know, I'm a full-out knitter. I've made a bazillion scarves by now, launched this sweet little shop with my sister, and hey, I'm off to a ladies' knitting night in two hours. I dream, quite literally, of new projects to try.

I guess it's not surprising, though, that it was a book that finally opened my heart to knitting. Pick this one up and see if it does the same to you.

Recommendation: Yes, absolutely, you need to page through this whole book in one glorious sitting, with your cup of earl grey tea and a few shortbread cookies. Most definitely. It's ideal for a Sunday afternoon, so grab a copy before then.

On a side note, I can never get enough of anything done by Stewart, Tabori, & Chang. They are geniuses of design and presentation, and I drool over every single book they produce.


this is one of those.

It's kind of a year-end tradition, this thinking through, sweeping cobwebs from the rooms of my brain. Shaking out all the rugs in my life, washing the curtains that hang on the windows of my mental universe.

I have some questions muddling my mind, big and helpful and extraordinary questions. Directions I'm looking for, ideas I'm feeding. I'm not always sure quite how to puzzle out what I'm thinking... perhaps I'll find it at the bottom of my next cup of coffee.

But it means that this blog and its schedule have gotten a little... short changed? And I'm so sorry about that. I've spent so much time thinking, and not so much time posting.

This isn't meant to sound dreary, because nothing's wrong. Actually, I'm exploding with happiness. (Yes, my one-year-old niece has been kissing my nose again. It's like sunshine.) I've just also been thinking a lot, considering where and how my writing might go next year, what our plans are for Squirrel & Serif, even what the future might hold for this, The Ampersand CafĂ©. 

I'll be back soon with another book crush for Thursday. Meanwhile, have you been keeping up with the beautiful posts over at habit? I've always admired the calm and simplicity of their presentation... they make me want to be a better person. And lately, the posts have put me in a holiday mood. Go take a peek.


book crush thursday: Calamity Town

The slopes of Bald Mountain looked as if they had been set on fire and everywhere you went in town you breathed the cider smoke of leaves burning. ... The stars were frostbitten, and the nights had a twang to them. Out in the country you could see the pumpkins squatting in mysterious rows, like little orange men from Mars. -- Ellery Queen, Calamity Town

Mr. Queen found it harder and harder to work on his novel. For one thing, there was the weather. -- Calamity Town

The leaves are down by now, and all we have are skeleton trees and dull lawns. Crisp air. Overcast afternoons. ... I think that means it's time for another mystery, don't you?

I'd heard of the writing team Ellery Queen before, but never read one of their mysteries. I was surprised to find that Mr. Ellery Queen is the name of the protagonist--he's a novelist who also happens to solve mysteries. How brilliant is that? I'm a sucker for any writer appearing in a book, but the self-referential aspect of this one completely delighted me.

And this is the perfect mystery for this season. All the main events happen on holidays (including a wedding on my birthday--that was unexpected!)... Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's... I love reading books in their season! So it's the right time to pick up Calamity Town.

It's the kind of puzzlish mystery that I love... gently-paced, but as it unfolded, I found it harder and harder to put down. I read the last fourth in a rush. I do want to give you a taste of the mystery itself, but I don't want to give anything away... Hmm. I'll need to tread carefully...

There's the mysterious house, nicknamed Calamity House, which split up a couple a day before their wedding. Another man died just taking a look at it. So Mr. Ellery Queen rents Calamity House and gets to know the family who owns it, and hears the story of their jilted daughter. And then, one day, the runaway groom returns...

Three cryptic letters. Arsenic. Poisoned drinks. A love triangle or two. Blackmail. A complicated trial. The enigmatic Mr. Queen himself. You'll be guessing till the very end...

It's all that good stuff you wanted in your December! After all, what's Christmas Eve without a little murder attempt?

Recommendation: Apple cider, definitely. Some warm socks. And a window seat. ... Have fun!

i guess it's just that time of year...

... when I catch myself humming "Let It Snow," sitting on the floor of the office supply aisle at Target, contentedly picking out mailers for Squirrel & Serif...

I don't feel as stressed as I should. There's all the work to be done during the Christmas season, I'm a little behind on my writing, the gifts to seek and wrap... Nope. I'm just not too worried. The days are going so quickly, but each one feels precious and happy and golden.

I love this season.

I love how the air smelled like snow last night, how the stars felt so very close. I even liked, just a little, the way the icy air cut right through me, making my nose tingle, making me dream about gingerbread and cocoa.

I love it, love it, love it. Trying to savor each day as it slips past...