today, and other things that flew by.

This morning, at 1:50 a.m: Finish the last sweet pages of a novel and turn off my light, knowing I'll regret the late night, but not the novel.

7:00 a.m. Regret the late night. Not the novel. Reset alarm.

8:00 a.m. Plunge into work. Yes! Work! Some days, it's so full of promise. Today? Today's one of those days. I remember to be deeply thankful.

10:00 a.m. The French press and I get reacquainted. I love our breakfast dates. We have such witty conversation.

10:30 a.m. Brilliant new details for the re-revision of Chapter Three fall from the sky (or from the caffeine) and onto my computer screen. Yes. I'll take it.

12:30 p.m. Crocheting some granny squares for a massive project I fell into (and am loving). Stitch away while coming up with more brilliant details. Chapter Three is looking great. So is this afghan. Two levels of productivity? Love it.

1:00 p.m. Realize next year's a leap year. Yeah! The work is going so well today (for the first time in--what, months? months!--it feels almost effortless), and I think, hey, another fabulous day to work on the novel!

I'm not actually singing "It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood," but I kind of think about it.

3:00 p.m. My sister and niece stop by for a few hours, with my brother-in-law to follow. Time to set aside writing for a while, in favor of talking, eating, laughing, and chasing my niece around the table, while she screams delightedly at the top of her lungs.

I scream at the top of my lungs too. Delightedly.

4:30 p.m. Making a cherry pie. Handing a cherry to my niece.

4:31 p.m. Niece hands back partially-chewed cherry.

5:30 p.m. As the scent of warm cherry pie fills the house, I make my niece laugh so hard, she gets the hiccups. I'm pretty sure there's nothing better in life than this.

5:45 p.m. My niece points to Lord Whitmore and says, owl!

5:46 p.m. I tell my niece what is true: She's a genius.

6:45 p.m. As we eat dinner together, we wonder and wonder: how soon until my nephew is born? Is it days, or a week?

And I wonder more quietly, if being an aunt to one little person can fill me with this much joy... will I explode when there's two?

7:15 p.m. And we eat the cherry pie. We talk about etymology, because my brother-in-law is awesome like that. Etymology. How I love it. And how it always hits my brain like a glug of Champagne. (Seriously. Just thinking about the Latin, Old French, the usage varieties, spelling changes... makes me tipsy.)

9:30 p.m. The work wasn't done, so I'm back at it. Brain's a little numb, but I'm happy. And the house still smells of cherries.

9:42 p.m. Realize: it's been another whirlwind day, of being a writer, of being part of a family, of being a die-hard pie lover, of trying to find some kind of balance.

Some days, I storm around like a crazy woman (which I probably am), saying Balance! Balance! Where is balance?! ... Like I'm trying to find the one single thing that will save us all from fiery destruction, this little key to the secret of balancing my whole entire life. (Because surely that's possible.)

Ha ha ha.

Tonight, though, I am remembering what one of my wisest professors once said: Balance is a dance. Not a heavy black line between right way and wrong way. Not always the rock or the hard place. A dance.

I like that.

Today was good.

Today, we were dancing.


in pursuit of stout denial.

"What is this sun that you all speak of? Do you mean anything by the word?" -- C.S. Lewis, The Silver Chair

It looks like January. The middle of winter. And I've been craving spring for weeks and weeks, only to get cheated out of it, now that the magnolias are blooming and there are fine little leaves on our bushes...

All snow-clogged, poor things.

So I'm going out in search of virtual sunshine. And this song does it for me:

(Ending's a little morbid, sorry.)

Annnnnd that always reminds me of this one:

(Confession: I love that trailer so much more than the actual movie.)

Yay. There it is: my snow antidote.

Happy weekend.


book crush friday: Yarn Harlot

Well. I've been writing feverishly, listening to the genius Inception soundtrack until I turned into a zombie. A zombie with a keen appreciation for Edith Piaf.

I've been trying to straighten out a bit of mid-chapter dialogue that won't work no matter what I do. Plus, there is snow outside again. It's all too much. So I'm here with a mug of tea and this wonderful book, for a much needed break.

If you're a knitter or fiber-appreciator and you haven't heard of the Yarn Harlot, aka Stephanie Pearl-McPhee... well, you're in luck.

A lot of luck.

Because in her brilliant books and blog, she will prove she understands your knitterly psyche inside and out. She will also make you laugh until you collapse. Medical intervention may be required.

I love her because she gets knitting. She understands the sweet, deep, emotional significance of it... and also the raw fury and tantrums that accompany the mistakes. (Remember those tangles yesterday? Right. I never throw tantrums.)

So, consider this quote, from Yarn Harlot: The Secret Life of a Knitter:
Each knitted gift holds hours of my life. I know it looks just like a hat, but really, it's four hours at the hospital, six hours on the bus, two hours alone at four in the morning when I couldn't sleep because I tend to worry. It is all those hours when I chose to spend time warming another person.

And this:
Knitting is love, looped and warm.

I love that. Love it. Because she's so right.

It's why I love knitting for family and dear friends, and why I feel a rush of pride every time we send one of our scarves or neckwarmers out to a customer. I always want to say: this is part of my life I'm giving you! And I'm so happy to do it!

Love, looped and warm.

... And then there's the dark side of knitting. The obsessions. The crazy shopping sprees. Needing sedation the fifth time you tore out the same inch of stitches...

I cannot bear the look on the children's faces when we are all homeless (with fabulous sweaters) because I've spent the mortgage money on yarn.
The sight of this mess is enough to send a seasoned knitter into a catatonic state; as it is his first sweater, I expect his reaction to reduce him to the fetal position, gibbering and weeping. This sweater is cursed.
I sit on the floor clutching the sleeves and waiting for the blackness around the edges of my vision to go away. ... With God as my witness I swear that I am going to pick up the scissors and cut up this sweater.

Yes. I have been there. And it gives me such delight to read her tales of knitting success and knitting, um, not successes.

I'd love to read those chapters to everyone who said, "Oh, you knit? How ... quaint."

Nothing quaint, thank you, in our knitting, not the way Stephanie Pearl-McPhee (or I) go about it.

Recommendation: Read her books or her blog in a wide window-seat, hopefully in a yarn shop. A yarn shop that sells coffee.

Oh, that sounds great. Save me a seat. I'll be right there.


because, sometimes i only see the tangles

Even when all we see are the tangled threads on the backside of life's tapestry, we know that God is good and is out to do us good always. -- Richard Foster

This quote's been on my mind a lot this February and March.

A lot

And I have a hunch I'll need it in April and May, too.

Heck. It's just a good one to memorize.

Thanks to my knitting alter ego (Serif the Wonder Child), I've spent a lot of time with tangled threads. (Have you tried to do intarsia knitting? Or that Fair Isle stuff? Wow. Intense. It takes tangles to a whole new level for me.)

I'm not always the most patient with the stuff I can't understand. A snarl in my yarn (or my life) usually strains my vocabulary. And then I find the scissors and hack away.

This is probably why I'm not God.

I think that if I could scissor away at what I don't understand these days... well, I'd have a pretty small life. With some pathetic, tame little stitches that don't add up to much.

You risk a snarl every time you add a new color, you know.

So it's good to be swimming through a much larger canvas, to be walking across that enormous tapestry. Even when I don't get it.

Even when I'm itching to cut a thread or two.

There. That's as philosophical as I'll get on a Thursday, I promise. (It's that second mug of coffee today... it did me in...)

P.S., Speaking of tangles, I'll have a new Book Crush tomorrow. It's yarn-related and is another funny book. Yay! I love funny books. And so do you, of course. So stay tuned. 


the best of yesterday

The best of yesterday was the way my little niece screamed, just screamed with the fiercest delight, every time we sent a batch of bubbles floating toward her across the lawn.

I can't wait 'til she discovers fireflies.

Happy spring.


book crush thursday: The Book of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks

People are developing new and exciting ways to use the quotation mark every day. In fact, there are literally "millions" of ways to use these little word adornments to express yourself. -- Bethany Keeley

Here are quotes as we love them best: Doing horrible damage to the English language. -- from the back cover

I don't know whether to call this a book, an ab exercise, or therapy. Because The Book of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks is certainly all three.

... And I am really struggling with the impulse to pepper the rest of this post with possibly unnecessary quotation marks. I mean... really struggling. But I'll spare you.

So. It's about the unnecessary quotation marks. I mean... need I say more? It's a collection of all those signs and notices that just arbitrarily add quotes, or decide that a quotation mark is a form of emphasis. We've all seen them. And maybe (hopefully) winced.

But if you're like me--and like followers of Bethany Keeley's hilarious blog--you reinterpret those marks as signs of sarcasm or code words... and then, instead of cringing, we all get to laugh.

And we laugh a lot.

As in: this book incapacitated my whole family. 

And it was certainly a great excuse to get out my snarky inner proofreader, and let her have a good run around the block.

So please do yourself a favor, and spend some time with this book. And then spread the word.

Because the more of "us" who know how to "use" quotation marks, the "better" our "communication" will be.

(I could only hold out for so long, guys.)

Recommendation: Under no circumstances would I eat or drink while reading this book. Nope. I would probably choke, in a moment of hilarity. (Seriously. Even just preparing this post, and browsing her book while I do... I'm wiping away tears.)

Certainly read this with friends, though. Quotation marks are best shared.


it wasn't dead, it was just sleeping...

Guess why I'm freaking out right now.

Right now. Right this minute. (And all of yesterday, incidentally.)

Hint: It's not the crazy, what-the-heck-is-happening massive snowfall. (!?) Nope. It's so much better.

(And warmer. And yummier.)

Okay, here. Look:


My beloved magazine! In print, bless you. Back, however temporarily, from the grave! Hello you gorgeous cover, you!

Recipes and stunning photos from the Gourmet archives.

We're talking drool-worthy.

Thank you, thank you, Gourmet, for this little posthumous visit.

(I keep thinking of that line from Sherlock: What a busy afterlife you're having.)

If only all ghosts were this pretty.

And of course it's all on Italian food. I think that's appropriate. I think that means we'll all be eating Italian food after death, and Gourmet came back to tell us so.

This totally fits my personal theology of food.



book crush thursday: Les Miserables

To travel is to be born and to die at every instant. -- Les Miserables, Victor Hugo, trans. Julie Rose

You don't want anything to change, for you hold the face of your homeland in your heart as you would your mother's face. -- Les Miserables

Winter was going, and winter always takes something of our sorrows with it. -- Les Miserables

Well. You saw this coming from a month away, didn't you? How can I not be talking up this book, after spending a wonderful February in its company?

Wow. Where do I start? Where do I start? After 1200 pages, it's like trying to sum up a continent, an ocean.

Is there any way to describe Les Miserables? It's certainly the epic of the life of Jean Valjean, and a miniature epic of the myriad lives that intersect his. It's also an epic of Paris, an epic of France. And in its way, an epic of humanity, of what it is to live.

It's also pretty funny.

... I always used to get stumped by that question, If you were on a desert island and could choose only one book to have with you...

Ha, but not anymore. I would so bring this book. It's like bringing all of civilization with you! That desert island would be packed with lives, voices, bustling, noise, the very highest, the very lowest...

Exquisite dramatic moments (I was gasping!), hilarity, poignant love scenes, clashes with villains, and then ... vast swaths of information. About convents, Parisian sewers, the Battle of Waterloo, urchins, even slang. It is massive, and it is brilliant.

And I admit: I was a little nervous about reading this translation. What if it was awful? What if it felt all slangy and packed with modern idioms? A cheapo version of a classic? I would feel so cheated, and my bold book dare would feel a bit silly.

But I was impressed. The writing was beautiful. Listen to this--

All the birds that fly hold the thread of inifinity in their claws.


To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable spelled out sparkles.

And other times, I literally laughed out loud...

To brush your teeth lies at the top of a slippery slope at the bottom of which lies: losing your soul.

How hysterical is that?

Or this:

A heap of crap has this going for it: It does not lie.

That's no inaccessible classic, my friends. That's pretty hilarious. (And true.)

So it's a huge book, no doubt about that. But it's like the Grand Canyon, or a forest of sequoias. You need to witness something on this scale. You need to wade through something this enormous. You don't even have to do it in a month, you can take your time...

But I promise it's worth it. So go do it. Meet Jean Valjean and the bishop, meet Cosette and the horrible Thénardiers and silly Marius and the amazing Monsier Mabeuf. Be astonished by Enjolras, and let Javert make you nervous, and laugh at Petit-Gavroche. Do it. You'll love it.

Recommendation: Eat something French, for pete's sake! Black coffee, or a cafe au lait. Take it to your window seat with a buttered croissant, brioche and raspberry jam, or--for the love of sweet goodness--make this. If you're reading Hugo (and yeah, even if you aren't), you totally deserve it.

Seriously, if you're reading this book, give me a shout out and let me know. I'll totally cheer you on.


so that's who we are.

Here's a brilliant quote for all my fellow writers (artists, cooks, creators) ... from the wonderful Heather Sellers:

We aren't better than other people. We're just paying better attention.

Just what I needed to remember this Monday...

Here's to another week of noticing.


writer in progress: what my characters sing in the shower

So, this much you already know: The major theme of my last five years has been: How do you write a novel?

And part of that is coming up with dozens of ways to answer this question: How do I cross the gap between my life, my thoughts, my voice ... and get over to where and who and when my characters are?

How do I get rid of Jenn and jump into them?

I'm finally getting a few clues, a few tricks. There is, finally, something up my sleeve.

I work up some kind of mental shorthand: for a character, a moment, a theme.

So, for last fall's project: If I could conjure up the smell of rain hitting stone, if I could think about the sound of rain and a certain color of grey... then I was ready. I could keep writing.

Something about the feel and sound of the rain got me right back into the world of that book, the sense of who those characters were.

Wow. ... That looks so funny typed out, and yet it was such a huge part of my process!

And then, last summer, I realized that one song could be a thumbnail sketch for a whole character's story--her worldview, captured in three minutes of lyrics. The song held a place in my mind, got me right back into that character's point of view, reminded me of what she was up against.

It was invaluable. I could slough off everything that had been on my mind, whatever dramas, whatever busyness, whatever familiar chaos I had in my pockets, and presto: I was set. I was writing. The characters came out when they heard the music, and they had so much to say.

So now I have whole playlists for my novels-in-progress, dozens of songs that sum up the main character, the love interest, the villain, the funky little side character that (hopefully) makes us all laugh... it's all done in songs.

If I listen to it straight through, I'm itching to get back to work. It's like my novel's musical. (Just without the brilliant dancing.)

I've been wondering all week why this song has been in my mind so much:

And this afternoon, I realized it. It is the perfect song for one of the characters in this current project. I mean it. The perfect song.

For anyone else, it's just a fun little love song. But for her, it represents everything that she's gone through, how she's changed by the end of the book. Oh, this character. She's learned so much, she's a different girl... and this is exactly what she'd say.

Yep. This is Jane's song. Jane's song in the last chapter. There we go.

(Jane would like me to mention: the lyrics sound like her. Ingrid's whole space-travel-plant-thing? The hair? The mascara action? Not so much her. The gloves--well, okay. She'd like the gloves. And the words: yes. Crazy eyelashes: no. Not this book at least. Check back for the sequel.)


a dangerous formula.

So, just to warn you:

If you happen to read Hula Seventy's brilliant posts about train travel, follow them up with Chez Danisse's beautiful musing on escape, and do it while listening to this song...


You might find yourself checking your savings account, just to see what's in there.

You might find yourself booking a ticket, or at the very least, tying a few things in a kerchief, hitching it to a stick, and setting off.

You might find yourself on a train, next to a girl in huge sunglasses. By her side: a stack of blank books, a clutch of new pens. She just might be me, going as far as she can.

And you can't say I didn't try to warn you. You can't say I didn't try.