things not expected

He looked for himself but he could not find himself anymore. -Victor Hugo, Les Miserables

Well. Here I am again. Post-blogging break, post-everything break. I did, indeed, get that life sabbatical, and so many things that I wanted to happen... well, they happened!

I went off to England for two weeks, and followed it up with another week in Louisiana. Three full weeks of change: I swapped time zones, I swapped cultures, I swapped food and habits and patterns.

I searched for beauty and found it. I looked for good reading and found it. (My nightstand is piled with books, books of all kinds. I'm an unabashed reading glutton, lately, and I am loving it.)

And I wanted to write aimlessly and vulture-free, and oh my friends, did I ever do that.

Quite aimless. Quite vultureless. In two weeks of English rain and English sun, I filled a notebook with crazy drawings, copied conversations, notes on what strangers were reading, lists of street names, ideas for the future, thoughts, descriptions, and pure heedless rambling.


There's just one catch.

I promised myself I would come back with something to say. I went off looking for new ideas. A new gist, a new crux, a new kernel that would turn into something, something great. Ideas for novels, chapters, character names. Ideas for our Etsy store, ideas for this lovely blog.

And it's funny. I searched everywhere for ideas, and all I found was a huge plateau of silence.

I'm back home, facing my computer, and where there used to be tangles of words and armies of characters, milling around in my brain, there's just peace and quiet.

At first, I was completely taken aback.

And then, being me, I asked myself "what the heck does that mean?" a dozen times, and in a dozen different ways.

I've settled out what it means for my writing life: I'm taking this peace and this lull, and turning it into days of reading, studying, diving into creativity books, savoring new pages of my trusty dictionary, and generally praying my head off.

Not a bad way to spend an August.

But as for the blog: well, my friends, I'm not going to be posting anymore. Not for the foreseeable future, anyway.

The foreseeable future: a phrase that's made me laugh lately. This summer has taught me many things, one of which is: I can't see five minutes in front of my face, let alone The Future. Three months ago, I felt sure of all kinds of things. And now, I'm sure of ... well, not much.

But there's such peace in this quiet, peace in the not-knowing, that I'm not sorry for it. And no, I wouldn't trade it for the three-months-ago me.

It's a lovely break from the Jenn who knows everything. For a while, I get to be the Jenn who doesn't know much, and it's a stunning relief. Like mental rain after too much sun.

If that's not a life sabbatical, I don't know what one is.

So. Here is the last thing I have to say:

It is an enormous privilege to have an audience. To be read by my friends and also found by strangers. And so, for all your kind listening, thank you.

Good luck, with everything you're doing. I know you're doing big things: I wish you well in that.

But take some time, this late summer and early fall, and seek a little mental rain. Bring a stack of books, and a cup of coffee, and know that I'll be doing the same.


... and straight on 'til morning.

One of the symptoms of approaching nervous breakdowns is the belief that one's work is terribly important. If I were a medical man, I should prescribe a holiday to any patient who considered his work important. - Bertrand Russell

They say in the blogging world that you shouldn't stop writing for a while. "Your readers simply won't be there when you come back," is what I've heard.

But a break, my friends, is precisely the thing I need. I've been in a strange place mentally, and I've been there for quite a while. And I'd like--actually, I crave--a good step back, from everything.

"Like a life sabbatical?" my sister asked. Yes. Like a life sabbatical.

I've had a few months of wondering and wandering, and then this past week, a time of real malaise. Now I'm itchy with a restlessness that I've been fending off for nearly a year, and so yes, I think it's time to pursue a break.

Because I do weird things in this frame of mind. Yesterday I chopped three inches off my hair, without quite realizing I was doing it. One moment, long hair. The next: well, not so long. (Or even. Hmm.) I had to put down the scissors and back away, because who knows what else I might do? Turn my Dickens collection into a series of paper cutouts? (Interesting idea, though.)

So. I'm off in search of real rest, in search of beauty, in search of good reading. I want to write aimlessly, without a vulture sitting on my shoulders, snarking at me over the usefulness of every word. (Yes there are vultures at my desk. Aren't there some at yours?)

I'm taking a break from blogging too. I'll come back in mid-August, which, I know, is kind of a long break from a blog. But I'm taking courage from others who have had breaks as well: habit is on summer vacation after all, so ... there you go. They always seem so wise and savvy.

I'm off to put my pieces back together. And I promise you this: when I come back mid-August, I'll come back with things to say.

that says it.

Here's a quote for your morning: the genius Nick Hornby was able to define a condition that I've noticed all my life...

Xenagorabibliomania: an obsessive curiosity about the books that strangers read in open spaces.

I knew I had it; I just never knew what it was! I can be a complete reading parasite if I'm not careful. I've literally read whole chapters over the shoulders of strangers... yes, really, it happens.



what started it all...

Every time I watch this brilliant video, I get the goofiest grin on my face. And laugh my head off.

Watch it. Be blessed. Celebrate a few good things.

And happy Fourth!!

PS: Thanks to Chris, for showing me this in the first place. You always have good taste. :)


not a tale of love and devotion.

This is The Amazingly Improbable Celia.

Why improbable? Because her face and her body don't really match up: she stole the face from a pug, and the body from a beagle, and no, it really isn't that cute. (The photos... well, they make her look good.)

She has a rude sense of humor, lies through her teeth, and is even lazier than I am. I spent a lot of time with her recently, calling her as many names as I could think of, and then rhyming them all in a long ballad of Celia-ness. (Not a flattering song, but oh-so funny.)

She doesn't have many good qualities, but I will give her this much: In spite of my not-especially-warm reception of her, she still wanted to sleep curled up at my chest, staring at my face.

Which was kind of endearing.

And I just might admire that kind of insane, blind, foolish devotedness. Just a little.

Or, I don't know, maybe she just wanted to bite my nose off, as soon as I closed my eyes.

(Wholly undeserved. After all, she was the one who devoured The Joy of Cooking, not me, I don't care what she told you.)

But even in that case: I'd have to admire her cunning.

And her general Celia-ness.


i'm not always so good with pep talks.

The significant, life-forming times are the dull, in-between times. -- Jan Karon

Sometimes I get homesick for the way things used to be. For faces that are more home than any house is. For patterns and moments already past.

For the feel of a certain kind of night (the velvet fog, the street light tenting down, that one path, the paper coffee cup, remember?). For the smell of a particular day.

And sometimes I get homesick for things that haven't happened at all.

Do you ever get this way? It's the beginning of a storm, the start of a trip, or maybe the first crazy itch an insect feels, before it wriggles right out of its skin.

I'm gearing up for something, something big. Many somethings. Not all with names and faces, and certainly not all have endings in sight.

In fact, there are no guessable endings at all.

I find myself saying the same things over and over in conversations. Do you get this way too? I hear my own voice echoing around my ears later: We'll see, I keep saying. We'll see, we'll see, we'll see.

Just to switch things up, I also say: I'm learning a lot!

It's in a perky voice, too, and I wonder who I'm trying to convince: my listeners, or my own stubbornly scared self.

Maybe I say, I'm learning a lot, to drown out the little whine that begs, but could I please just learn one thing at a time?

Do we need seventeen lessons all thrumming along at once? Because I'm feeling just the littlest bit sore and tired.

I don't like that whining voice.

Because of course, I am learning. Each day has more in it than I can hold, and I spill over, all the time. All this thinking, pages and pages of writing, all the reading I'm doing, the wondering, going in circles that are sometimes familiar and sometimes not.

The air is extra-charged, and any moment the spark will come, will set everything off. Maybe burn off all this mist, and then I can see clearly. (We'll see.)

I usually don't mind learning. But sometimes, I don't want to we'll see, I want to know. To have learned.

To get out of the car at the end of the road, stretch my legs, get the crick out of my back, and smile and smile.

Poor cowardly heart. Poor cranky brain. 

Sometimes I don't want to grow anymore. I just want to settle. ... It's one more reason to love (already-written, already-published) books. When the suspense is too much, you can skip ahead, can't you? Skim a bit, get the feel of things, and head for the finish line?

But I know I'd regret it, I'd hate it, if I turned around now.

What happens to the bugs that decide to stay in their old skin, all zipped up and buttoned down tight? Do their little insect brains blow up?

Sounds like a nastier fate than being tired.

Besides. I can just go make more tea, right? Right.

And then keep going, somehow, somewhere. We'll just have to see, right? We'll just have to see.

(Because I think, eventually, eventually, and by the grace of God, the view will be well worth it.)


a summer 100

Hula Seventy is good at so many, many things. One of them is appreciating summer: she always inspires me to love summer better. (And on ugly humid days, I need the inspiring. Not today, though. Today's been perfect.)

Go peek at her list, and the rest of her lovely blog, and get your summer off to a yummy start.


what's still there.

The Source of Stories was a hole or chasm or crater in the sea-bed, and through that hole, as Haroun watched, the glowing flow of pure, unpolluted stories came bubbling up from the very heart of Kahani. There were so many Streams of Story, of so many different colours, all pouring out of the Source at once, that it looked like a huge underwater fountain of shining white light. -- Haroun and the Sea of Stories, Salman Rushdie

How can I describe it? A moment impossible to catch, even as it happened, and a sensation I don't know the name for, though I've felt it before.

And what called it out? Some kind of alchemy, brought about by the Illinois highway, through perfect wheatfields and growing corn, the old watertowers, the clouds tangling at the horizon.

Maybe the music (Mumford & Sons, Freelance Whales) lately doing dances in my ears. Maybe because my busy full brain was sitting back in exhaustion. Detaching for a while, and letting go of all it held.

And there it was.

If Salman Rushdie didn't talk about a Stream of Stories, I'd think I was crazy. (At least now if I am crazy, I'm in elite company.)

I could literally feel its presence on my skin, the otherness of its air, and my eyes tricked me into seeing it, flashing in and out of the shadows beside the road. Real glimpses of impossible places, keeping pace with our car.

Rushdie calls it a stream, and I agree. Though this time, it was a river: fast, cold, and deep. I've felt the current of it before, and best of all, that giddy conviction that there are stories there for the drinking, thousands and thousands. Some have my name on them, and they're looking for me.

And if there was a way to reach them, I'd have stuck my fingers out, my hand riding the wind, and I'd have trailed my fingertips in it...

For now, it's enough to know it's still there. Under the exhaustion, busyness, recent conversations, errands, activities, distractions... it's still there.

Fast and cold and deep.



a book crush, the dream discussion, and #10. (at last.)

So here's a new book for your summer list, especially if you're an artist, a dreamer, or a candlestick maker...

I admit, it's not my usual kind of recommendation. A book about business, Christian media, VeggieTales, success, failure... not my typical cup of tea. And I thought it was an okay book, until I hit Chapter 21: "Dreams, Part II."

Which is currently changing my life.

Phil Vischer, obviously enough, created VeggieTales. Watched it get really really big. Watched it die. And in the end, he learned a lot about business management, creative enterprise... and dreams.

It's the dreaming thing that got to me.

I've dreamed of writing for as long as I can remember. I was a good student all through school, a super good student. Give me a tough assignment, I double-dog-dare you. I worked hard; I did well. And when I graduated, I came home to write, determined to change the world.

Or at the very least, the young adult section of every bookstore in the U.S.

(What can I say, I'm modest. Ha ha ha.)

Over the last five years, I've worked hard. I've got drafts of three novels, in various states of disrepair. I've learned a ton about characters, pacing, plot, setting, dialogue...

I also decided that my identity was that of Girl Writer Taking Over The World. My sense of worth depended on how well work was going. I loved the books I was writing. I also hated how crazy I felt, how exhausted I was, and how it felt like these books would never be good enough. Ever.

I knew I was working against myself somehow, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. (Hence #10 on The List: my attempt at quelling the noise in my head.) And I was pretty sure that if I just worked harder, it would all be good.

Enter Phil Vischer, Me, Myself, & Bob, and Chapter 21. Where Vischer talks about a lot of crazy things, super-crazy. He talks about Christians and their dreams of changing the world for God. And a lot of what he says sounds just like me. Exhausted, driven, determined, Girl Writer me.

Crazy things. Like:

When people of great faith in the Bible don't know what God wants them to do, they don't just run off and make stuff up. They wait on him.

I've actually read that before. I've read this chapter before, nodding my way through. I know what God wants me to do: how many times have I said I was called home to write? I sincerely believed that, and I still do.

But what to write?

That's where I made stuff up.

Then he said this:

The Christian life wasn't about running like a maniac; it was about walking with God. It wasn't about impact; it was about obedience. It wasn't about making stuff up; it was about listening.

Maniac. That rings a bell. So does "impact." And "making stuff up."

He asks if we serve our dreams, or if we serve our God. And he also says of himself:

My ambition, my dreams, my misplaced sense of identity and value were dragged kicking and screaming up onto the altar. And now they were dead.

Like I said, I've read this chapter before. I always flinched away from those sentences, but this week, this week it feels like something's unraveling inside me.

Something that, surprisingly, I don't mind losing as much as I thought I would.

Misplaced sense of identity and value? Hmm. Hmmmm.

God is enough for you, Vischer writes. But you can't discover the truth of that statement while you're clutching at your dreams. You need to let them go. ... The impact God has planned for us doesn't occur when we're pursuing impact. It occurs when we're pursuing God.

Over and over, Vischer talks about walking with God. And waiting on God. Waiting. That's what got me. Wait? I don't want to wait for anything. I wanted to write a brilliant novel in one year flat.

But this week, that goal has fallen away. All that running uphill, all the urgency and frustration... those crazy ambitions are unstitching in my heart.

And here's what I'm left with: if I write at all, I only want to write the book God tells me to write.

I don't mean that in a silly way--like there would be a cherub sitting on my shoulder, dictating every paragraph. That's not what I mean. But I want to be still in the midst of my writing life. To be still, and to listen, and to wait.

I don't want to keep chasing every novel idea that comes along. I want to write the book I'm supposed to write. It's actually that simple, that strange, and takes effect immediately.

My June plans are still in full swing: I'm still journaling, reading, doing those writing exercises. I'm also praying a lot more, and feeling the burden of my writing life slip from my shoulders. And can I just say: that's a huge relief.

So that's summer. Tending the soil of my writing life. Being faithful to still put my time in, practicing, and listening. I don't know what's coming next, what seeds there might be in this soil. But I'll keep watering it and waiting, and we'll see.

I feel free. Excited. And free.

Recommendation: Frankly, you don't even have to read this whole book if you aren't interested in VeggieTales. Just skim it, get the gist of it, and then slow way down at Chapter 21.

Read every word, my dreaming friends, and I promise it will change you.


right this moment.

I am wearing socks, which is confusing for my feet. They thought they were in flip-flops from here 'til October, but no.

It's cool outside and in, and it puts me in the mood for cozy things. Coffee. Lap blankets. Quiet music on the radio. It's a day to have a dog curl up on your lap, but no dog. So I'm wearing the socks.

I'm awake rather earlier than usual, and the day decided to celebrate with a thunderstorm. I love how the sound of rain feels so companionable. A nice old-fashioned chat with the sky, that's what I'm having.

It's pouring. Plenty of thunder, a fabulous morning for Noah. In fact I can see myself with him, at the edge of the ark, squinting into the rain and waiting for that feeling of lift-off. I'm saluting him right now with my coffee.

Noah definitely had a dog, I'm sure of it.

I'm catching up with some of my favorite blogs, like Joy the Baker. Please tell me you read Joy the Baker. She makes me laugh so darn hard, I want her to be my best friend. And all her recipes are swoon-worthy, truly.

And then there's the lovely habit. I haven't been by in so long, so I'm catching up, piling all those gorgeous images and words in my head. ... It's hard, actually, to describe just what kind of mood habit always puts me in. Something exhilarating, yet quiet at the same time.

... Makes me want to have twelve kids, an uproarious garden, fantastically casual dinners (on a huge pine table), grass-stained knees (again), a ramshackle house, and a pretty sweet camera. Makes me want to not worry so much. To laugh with my mouth wide open. ... Not to mention, find even more time to read and time to write. Um, and more rainy days. And more sunny ones.

Something like that. (How many hours in a day would that be? 48? Or 60-ish?)


Well then. The storm is finished, and light is soaking through the window. My socks and I are off to my writing chair, eager for a good day of work. A lot of questions on my plate today, and heck, maybe there will be a few answers. 

Who knows what will happen? Because it's a Tuesday.

And Tuesdays--even with socks--are full of promise.


it's ReLove-ly.

In all the commotion of late May and early June, the wonderful Squirrel & Serif hasn't gotten much of my attention.

Which is to say, I haven't done anything with it. At all.

(Probably this is something that savvy businesswomen do not admit on their blogs. Probably I am not a savvy businesswoman. Fair enough.)

I've been trying to comfort myself by saying it is truly meant to be a hobby store, created for the love of knitting, the joy of making things for other people, and--why not--a fun way to earn a little money.

And I tell myself that it's perfectly understandable that the store has taken the back seat, with everything going on. (And not just the back seat, really. It's been put right out of the car and is sitting on the roadside.)

Two road trips to Louisiana, graduation ceremonies, and then even more ceremonies, loading that moving truck on the hottest day of my life (maybe), all kinds of goodbyes (ack!), and then, finally finally trying to resurrect a writing practice. Which is, after all, what I'm supposed to be doing all this time.

Nevertheless, I've felt a little panicky. So much neglect of the poor store!! What's going to happen to Serif the Wonder Child, my knitting alter ego? In fact, where is she, with her lists of brilliant ideas, her unending romance with yarn stores, her wizardry with the knitting needles?

If I can just find her, she would be undaunted by the idea of knitting in hundred degree heat. She'd be undaunted by knitting at all.

Because I really don't want to let the store go. I still love Etsy and will sing its praises to anyone who asks. Just browsing the site makes me happy--I feel like I could be a better person if I look at enough items. I'd certainly have better style. I get lost in all the treasuries, and I think I've taken their taste test twenty times.

(This same feeling slaps me in Anthropologie, until I'm downright giddy. And--while I'm confessing--I almost didn't leave a perfectly tiny model apartment at Ikea. Seriously. I wanted to move in.)

So a few weeks ago, I launched what I'm calling The Etsy ReLove Project. It's like I'm revisiting all the reasons why I love knitting. Snuffling through my knitting books. Cruising through the creative happy blogs I love. Brainstorming.

Trying to avoid the inspiration myth. (You know the one. It says you have to be inspired before you write, or cook, or clean, or knit, or ... I don't know, floss. It's a complete lie.) But at the same time, I'm trying to reinvigorate that part of my brain, find that knitting time again, recover the creative energy that's a part of me, somewhere.

We'll see where the ReLove Project takes me. I have high hopes and long lists, so how could it go wrong? I'll get there. Somehow.

So I guess this is just a long note to say: Please don't give up on our little store. Because I haven't.


writer in progress: homesick.

It is the gift of all poets to find the commonplace astonishing. -- Margery Sharp

So it's been busy. A busy week, a busy month, a busy year so far. Busyness. Bleck. It's like the opposite of writing. Dashing about at a million miles an hour, versus letting words drip onto a page.

No surprise, then, that writing has pretty well tanked these last two months. They have been wonderful months in their way, full of family and celebrations and joy and change. But then when I sit down to work, all my brain has is a slideshow of past events, or far worse, a gently hissing static.

Which is when I start asking myself bad questions, like, Why am I writing anyway?

But last weekend I had a brilliant conversation with a good friend, and we were talking about rest. Rest. Just thinking about that word makes me want to breathe differently.

Anyway, as we talked about what recharges us, I felt my vision for June shifting. And I started asking myself, with a very different tone, So, why am I writing anyway? Why do I write? Why is this part of me, what do I love about it, what's so great about words?

So instead of whipping myself, my writing life, and my novel back into shape (my usual tactic), I decided to try a different kind of strategy. I'm putting the novel aside temporarily, and I'm going back to basics this month. As in: really basic.

Like--writing exercises. I haven't done writing exercises in an eon! I usually despise them, but all of a sudden I'm thirsty for miniature writing challenges... working my way through this lovely book and its sequel. I love Monica Wood's perspective on the whole writing life: she is so cheerful and sound.

Also, I'm getting reacquainted with journaling. How did I let journaling go, for pete's sake? No idea, but somehow it turned into a burden, when I felt obligated to do it.

Not anymore. I've been sitting by the window, letting myself ramble across the pages, talking about anything, anything, anything. Just writing for the bliss of solitude. Putting one word after the next for the sheer joy of it. Such a luxury, really. And if I'm writing about the view out my window as the sun sets, and if I'm sipping a glass of wine, well, so much the better.

And then reading. Oof. I've so let my reading life slide, and it's horrible! How can you write novels when you forget the intoxicating feeling of being swept away in someone else's world? Encountering their characters, and being encountered in return?

I'm firmly convinced of reading's importance in a writing life, and yet it's so hard to make time for it. It feels too much like relaxing, like something I should just wedge into my day at the very end... not anymore. I'm giving myself acres of time to just sit and devour novels.

So that's June. And I'm giddy about it. ... Can ya blame me?

Because I do love writing. So very much. I've missed these basics, and it's good to come back to them, good to come home.


i couldn't agree more.

Here's a little Bach for your morning:

Without my morning coffee I'm just like a dried-up piece of roast goat. -- Johann Sebastian Bach

Ha ha!! Who knew he was so funny?

Cheers to all my fellow roast goats.


listapalooza 5: let's go back.

When you're a kid, everyone talks about growing up like it's the prize destination. And, well, yay for growing up.

But I've been watching my niece and thinking about how awesome childhood can be, and I can't help thinking: there are some things I gave up that I didn't want to give up.

You know what I mean?

So here's some of the stuff, the ideas, and the habits from childhood that I want back.

1. my imaginary friends. (Oh wait. I write fiction. It's kind of the same.)

2. my popsicle stick collection: it was truly huge. And felt so useful, except ... it wasn't.

3. stickers. We don't have to outgrow stickers, do we? I don't think we do.

4. naming the trees in the backyard

5. keeping spiral notebooks filled with one-page stories... I really should bring back the whole one-page story idea.

6. my repertoire of handclap rhymes. Where did they go? Probably pushed out of my brain by utterly useless things, like chemistry equations and memorized lists of history facts. Pfft. Who needs it. And now that it's time to teach my niece handclap rhymes... I got nothin'.

7. expecting to walk on the moon. I was so sure I'd get there one day. Now? Now I think I'll just stick to waving at it.

8. I used to plot my escape from any room that I was in. Just in case I became a spy and that habit would be useful. So... where's the air duct I could crawl through, or how would I break a window, or what could I do to cover my footprints... yeah. Haven't thought about that in so long...

9. my habit of hiding random notes where I thought strangers might find them

10. dreaming about what amazing, life-changing secrets could be hidden in our attic

11. those awesome gel sandals... kids' clothes are so fun!

12. keeping massive lists of names I would give animals, if I ever happened to find, say, a hedgehog or wildebeest I could call my own.

Because you just never know.

And that's what's so awesome about being a kid.


listapalooza 4: surprise, surprise, i love you.

It's only fair, after the last post, to have a kind of corollary, right? So here's a list of the things I love in spite of myself. At some point, I was skeptical about each entry on this list, but now... well, now I'm a really big fan.

1. coffee ice cream. Once upon a time, that sounded horrible. Now? Well, now it's a bit of heaven in a bowl.

2. kalamata olives--briny bliss.

3. that old-book smell in libraries and used bookstores... it used to make my nose itch, now it smells like perfume

4. the wonderful Kristen introduced me to Karmin: completely amazing!! Totally worth a listen, and just so much fun...

5. sweet potatoes

6. The Killers ... love them so much now.

7. wearing red lipstick. Usually I'm all for subtle makeup ... usually.

8. crappy 1980s adaptations of Charles Dickens novels. ... Really. I mean, I shouldn't even admit that in public, but they're weirdly addictive... (This one's more recent and is genius, so go watch it. Make some tea.)

9. the redesigned Bon Appétit. Yay. The May Italy issue was brilliant, and I'm so excited about where that magazine's going. Better photography, better writing, better layouts... it's fantastic. I do a little dance when I see it sitting there on the coffee table.

10. sushi. Yum.

11. granny squares... I was a hard sell, because I loved knitting so much, but I'm still awfully smitten with these bright pieces of color.

12. Mumford & Sons. I really didn't think I'd enjoy them, but they're awesome, so go listen.

13. Iron Man. I was so burnt out on comic book adaptations, but, uh, can anyone not love Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark?

14. M. Night Shyamalan is a genius.

15. oof, and then nerd glasses. I admit, it took me a long time to be reconciled but... they're complete fun.

So there it is.

What can I say, sometimes it's good--so good!--to be wrong.


listapalooza 3: sorry, but i just don't love it.

I feel like I should love these. But I don't. I just ... don't. So I feel kind of apologetic for some of these, but confession (they say) is good for the soul.

So for what it's worth, I'm not wild about

* bubble tea!

* Jack Johnson

* jeggings (yiiiiikes.)

* Glee

* or, for that matter, Modern Family

* nail polish on my own fingernails (looks so weird! and I can hear my old piano teacher snarking at me again...)

* Ernest Hemingway

* milk chocolate

* iPods (yikes)

* okay, and since I admitted to that, I also can't like cell phones. Really.

* carrots (never ever ever could manage to like carrots)

* cast iron pans

* cake pops (ack!)

* food coloring

* spearmint

* ooof, or black licorice

* taxis

* Toms shoes (I love what they do, I just don't love the shoes, okay?)

* soft cooked eggs (shudder)

* annnnd, while I'm in a confessing mood: Harry Potter. Yes really. Just couldn't get interested, though I promise I tried.

Wow. Confession really is great. I feel so ... relieved, some how. And like I've just designed some weird utopia, strangely free of all the above...

hee hee.


listapalooza 2: book sirens

There's something wonderfully safe about owning books that you haven't read yet. I mean a certain kind of book--it sits there on the shelf looking like money in the bank. It's waiting for just the right time, the right mood, the rainy afternoon or the late late night... and it might be your new favorite.

I love the books I haven't read yet.

Of course, when I get too many of them, with their beautiful spines and titles haunting me, I want to just lock all the doors and close the curtains and read myself sick. Just take a week and read and read and read and read.

Maybe that means I'm already sick, I don't know. But here are the unread books that are whispering at me from my shelves...

* The Great Typo Hunt (this looks so awesome... and like a proofreader's dream come true)

* Don Quixote

* The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

* The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop

* Poirot in the Orient

* A Thousand Days in Tuscany

* A Tale of Two Cities

* Alone in the Kitchen With an Eggplant -- this one seems to be brilliant on so many levels, I just can't wait...

* The Undertaking

* West with the Night

* The Count of Monte Cristo

* Sonnets from the Portuguese

* Gilead

* The Thirteenth Tale

So, apparently, I'm a miser, a hoarder, lining my little nest with brilliant unread books... Or maybe I'm just looking for a week of rainy afternoons.

Maybe June will be filled with words.


listapalooza 1: bakery wishes

What is it about flour, sugar, butter, and eggs that can turn the unbearable into something bearable? Add a bit of chocolate, and we might even come through smiling.

As a wise aunt of mine said recently: I think if I could bake my way through life, everything would be okay. She is so right.

So. If I had limitless energy (and a bottomless pantry), here's everything I'd learn to make right this minute:

* Homemade doughnuts. It just sounds like a good idea.

* Palmiers

* Biscotti

* This crepe cake and I still need to get together

* Tiramisu

* Eclairs... or profiteroles... heck, let's make 'em both.

* Brioche

* Those pistachio-cardamom macarons are still calling me...

* Croissants

* Annnnnd croissants with chocolate

* Clafouti: I've made a cherry one, and somehow feel like I've only just scratched the surface of something wonderful...

* Madeleines

* Truffles

Mmhmm. That's a good place to start.

listapalooza. or, surviving the end of May.

There are times when I hate to be right, and this is one of them. I was dreading May, way back at the beginning of it; and here comes the end, the goodbyes, and all that bittersweet.

And I only like bittersweet when it's applied to chocolate.

But here's the thing: I can't make all my lamenting sound interesting to myself. So I'll spare you the moaning. And we can all breathe sighs of relief.

Instead of talking about the anxiety tunneling through my heart--yikes--I thought: let's do a festival. A festival of lists. Because I love lists.

A list is a collection of brain splinters, in neat order. Just looking at one gives me a thrill. (Yes. You already knew I had a fair streak of nerdiness in me, right? So there it is. Lists thrill me. Now you know.)

Also: I think a series of lists might just preserve my sanity. So that's what we'll do. Scatter about a bunch of lists, like a breadcrumb trail, and somehow somehow I'll make it from this moment into early June.

Listapalooza 2011. I'm so up for this.

(Obviously, very inspired by the brilliant Hula Seventy.)


love is sandwich cookies.

"Do you think you could get away with that?" "There are no limits to what I can get away with when I am functioning properly." -- P.G. Wodehouse

So there was a birthday celebrated last weekend. And I thought: hey! Let's make macarons! It's been a while, and isn't it time for that kind of crazy baking challenge again?

I've had a quarter century with the best little sister in the world... I think that's worth some snooty French cookies, yes?

And if one flavor is a good idea... surely three flavors is a much, much better one?

Of course it is. Waaaay better to splash a lot of culinary love around: Espresso-Blackberry, Chocolate Earl Grey, and Grapefruit. (Like all good things, these recipes came from Gourmet magazine.)

Next question: Is it possible to make those tricky beauties assembly-line style?

Why yes. Yes, you can.

Finally: is it wise to pile all the cookies on top of each other, and balance a candle-lit cookie on top?

Probably not. I did it anyway.

Worth it.

Because she is a darn awesome little sister.


jenn versus the month of may.

Some Monday mornings I wake up full of pluck. Today was not one of those mornings. I had the covers over my head, thinking maybe, if I decide not to get up, this week doesn't have to start.

This certainty cut through my heart: once I get up, the days will fly by, and I will reach the end of May much too soon. The end of May threatens with a fistful of goodbyes. And while I have a very long list of things I love, goodbyes are not on it. Not anywhere.

So yes, it's true again, I'm the Chicken Little of the calendar. (The days are flying! The days are flying!)

I got up anyway, still clutching the warm memories of yesterday, and hoping that somehow, I can learn to greet May with an open mind and a quiet spirit.

Getting back to my writing desk helps. Hey there, characters. I think I write so I can create people more brave than I am. And then I try to be like them. Sometimes it works. Sometimes I'm not brave at all.

But today's been about more than bravery (lost or found): I've made peace with chapter three (I think). And then rewarded myself with a warm banana muffin, and white chocolate peanut butter smeared over it... that will restore some pluck, let me tell you.

You can face a lot of things with a warm banana muffin. And that white chocolate peanut butter? That's like a superhero cape.

Went for an afternoon run in the rain. Chased sixteen mallards down the road and got myself quacked at. Waved at all the dog walkers, dodged the dripping-est trees. Came home feeling better, so much better.

And I made a decision about number 12 from The List: that vintage-y knit skirt? I love it so much. But maybe next year. The project I'm making instead has to do with these gorgeous things...

Yes. A granny square quilt. I'm so excited. I mean, really.

Over the last few weeks, I've been turning all kinds of yarn scraps into these cute little squares. I love watching the abandoned bits and pieces come together in one unique patch after another...

And then gathering up all those patches into a quilt that's both warm and full of stories. Yes. Making much of leftovers.

Shoot, that isn't just a quilt, that's a whole philosophy.

And maybe that's the spirit for May. We will make much of all we have, right?

Every scrap of color, every bit of time that's worth a stitch. We'll turn this calendar page into something warm, something full of stories.



color for a grey day

A little late, but we still went for it.

My niece's "OH-H-H!" was completely worth it.

And much as I've been loving all this rain... it's nice to look at something bright.


writer in progress: drink deep

A few weeks ago, I was privileged to see the exhibit of Carol Carter's Italian Suite. It was the perfect kind of night to begin with: great conversations with my family, all the collective excitement of an opening night, and, um, Thai food.

And then, the paintings. The paintings were exquisite.

As in, draw in as deep a breath as you can, because you think you can probably smell the Italian countryside, you can hear the voices, you feel the change in air. That kind of exquisite.

Her paintings are full of a bright, clear beauty that reminds me of the best summer evenings, the very best. You want cool white wine and your closest friends, and you don't want the night to close in, not just yet.

I thought: gorgeous.

I thought--not for the first time, either: So, when can I move to Italy?

And I also thought: she spent ten days in Italy, ten days. And produced eighty paintings for that exhibit. Eighty stunning paintings.

So, what kind of mega-inspiration can I pursue for ten days? What kind of landscape can I immerse myself in? And might I have a similar outpouring of work?

Landscape. Hm. I've been wishing to trade my landscape lately.

Maybe I'll move into the art exhibit, or run away to an art museum? Maybe I'll find a train after all? 

(Also, it is totally fun to mess around with the kids' section of an art gallery... yay for interactive paintings! Completely brilliant idea... they should do that with novels, yes?)

The exhibition opening also reminded me of this: the deep, deep value of spending time around other artists. The important exchange that happens between creators.

I love to think of us all sitting around an endless feast of inspiration, all kinds of artists, each sparking off the others. I was walking around that exhibit, drinking in the way Italy looks through Carol Carter's eyes, and it make me think of essays I could write, of a slim perfect novella of self-discovery in Italy, of food essays (shocking!), maybe a children's picture book ...

It made me think of who I am, who I've been, who I want to be. It made me want to write the way she painted--to get down the feeling of her colors, get that into words somehow... I walked around and around, and I felt like I could write forever.

I forget too easily how much I love this kind of thing. And lately, especially lately, when my brain feels like a collection of lists, it is too easy to forget the need for inspiration. The need to see things I couldn't dream up on my own, the need to hear new sounds, taste a different kind of air, to be challenged out of the way I usually think, see, imagine.

So maybe I'll hop on a plane to Italy. Maybe I will. Until then, I'll stare at the Carol Carter postcard I've tacked to my bulletin board, and I'll think, dream, and write myself there.


beautiful red number 6

Two more reasons why this April has changed my life for the better. The much much better:

1) I now have a nephew. Yes!!! He's a week-and-a-half old and so tiny. I've spent much of this week memorizing his perfect face.

2) Number six from the list. It happened yesterday. Oh my.

Like I said, I've been at my sister's place a lot this week. It hasn't been a week for writing, but it has been a week for living. Living so that there's something to write about. My next book will be peppered with nephews and jam-makers. Quite sure about this.

Yesterday, after some quality time with stuffed animal acrobats (my niece's stuffed white rabbit can do a wicked cartwheel, that's all I'm saying), I collapsed next to my sister on the sofa. Niece and nephew both napping; she in her room, he on my sister's lap.

And as I looked down at him, Adrienne and I had a conversation that went something like this:

Me: You're the mother of two! That's so crazy! That's so awesome!
Her: Also crazy: I have two pounds of strawberries in the fridge.
Me: Whoa. ... Let's make jam.

I used this recipe, and found it supereasy. You mash a bunch of strawberries, sprinkle some sugar and pectin into it, squeeze a bit of lemon, boil it, and let it cool. I mean ... so easy.

Even after the stuffed animal olympics. And with half a brain functioning. It was still easy.

We tasted it before it had cooled properly, spooning bits of jam on some quality bread. We popped that bread-and-jam into our mouths and then burst out laughing. In spite of the sleeping infant on her lap.

This is true: Wide-eyed laughter is my highest compliment to a recipe. Laughing over food usually means: We Just Made Something Good.

And this strawberry jam, my friends. Oh. It's just so good. Really. You'll laugh too.

(Some of the reviewers on that recipe say that it makes for a runnier jam than they'd like. And yes, I needed to spoon this over bread. But we were all too busy exclaiming at the astonishingly good flavor to say "hey, wish it was jellier." Besides, it thickened a little more overnight. So, no complaints here.)

You really must try it. So easy, so impressive, and it will make you think of summer and all things good.

If you're very very lucky, you'll also get to watch your niece smear it all over her cheeks.

A strawberry jam grin is a beautiful thing.

I may or may not have made a few ultra-lame jam puns. (A strawberry jamboree? Jam sessions? I wouldn't have said such things, would I?)

I may or may not have eaten this jam by the spoonful.

I may or may not have licked my plate clean, like a four-year-old.

Oh toast. The newest fine dining experience.


heart heart heart.

One of the many reasons why I'm jumping up and down today: this gorgeous book arrived in the mail this weekend, and is as truly lovely as I'd hoped.

Actually, it's rather lovelier.

Also, I now want to use the phrase kitchen journeys whenever I can.

Kitchen journeys. Isn't it perfect? Makes me want to pack a little bag with vanilla bean and harissa and raw cashews and dark chocolate and a loaf of coarse bread, and then stow myself away on a train, and see what I can see. Hmm.

And instead of a pillow, I'll put my head on this cookbook, and have the most delicious dreams of my life.

So, if I go missing, you'll know what happened.


decoder rings and black tea: aka, saturday night.

Do we ever outgrow wanting to be spies? Or, I don't know, maybe that particular bug never got to you, but it certainly infected me when I was little.

My sisters and I would confer in our basement closet, sitting on cinder blocks under a naked lightbulb, decoding the notes we had taken during the day.

Usually, it was such breathtaking news as, Lou is out weeding his tomato patch today, wearing those saggy pants. And Barb called him inside, because he got a phone call.

Wow. You can see why we were careful, with neighbors like that. That's some volatile information right there.

Then a few years after the Tomato Patch Files, I discovered Harriet the Spy (!!!), and a few years after that, the Mrs. Pollifax stories.

Maybe it's why I'm a writer--license to eavesdrop in cafés, to make up stories to explain the glimpses we see of our neighbors our friends...

It's certainly why I loved watching the new version of The 39 Steps over at Masterpiece. It's a completely fun spy movie, with a healthy dose of romance and stunning Scottish landscapes. Probably won't win any awards for "most brilliant movie," but it's perfect for a fun Saturday night.

With a mammoth cup of Earl Grey.

And my new decoder ring.