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 caf├ęs, 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.


writer in progress: learn from the little

The first secret of good writing: We must look intently, and hear intently, and taste intently. ... We must look at everything very hard. -- James J. Kilpatrick

Once again, some of the best writing lessons come from watching my niece. Watching her intent expression as she studies everything, as she looks at everything very hard.

Little writer in training, perhaps? Not that I've been reading her my writing advice books. Well... not often.

Spending just two full days with her (and for the best and loveliest of reasons!), I'm amazed all over again at what she notices. The spot of chocolate on the floor, the faint freckle on the back of my hand, the way a paisley print looks like a turtle.

She sees it all, and points it out earnestly to me.

And there it is, a tiny slice of world at the tip of her finger.

And I'm so grateful to her--for many reasons, but this is certainly one of them. She slows me down, brings me close, and helps me notice, helps me see everything like she does. The little things.

Together we crouch down and look intently, we look very hard.

A vital refocusing. And today, on my own, I'm noticing, looking very hard at the new burst of flowers on our crabapple, looking at the little hyacinths, blooming when we thought they were dead.

I thought everything was dead with the freak snow last weekend. But no, everything is blooming, and so I'm hopeful for the rest of spring.

That trick candle hope. I had given up on so many things, and now, suddenly, I'm eager for the lilacs to come, craning my head to spot the early tulips.

And when they come, I'll take a cue from my niece and put my face up to them, too close, and let my eyes refocus, and then, and then, I'll see what I can see.


what? who writes this thing? is that me?

Okay, so here's some news: I wrote myself a little About Me page. Yes, really.

For some reason, writing about myself that directly makes me blush, so I interviewed myself. In the third person.

Right. Somehow that made it easier.

Anyway, if you stumbled across this blog without knowing who I am, well ... now you can know.

Just click that picture at the top of the left column: So, I'm Jenn. That one.

Then you get to read more about me.

Um, only if you want to.

Right, I'll stop talking now.

book crush friday: The Good Thief

At times Ren felt like he was reading fragments of his own dreams, reassembled into words that pulled at his heart, as if there were a string tied somewhere inside his chest that ran down into the book and attached itself to the characters, drawing him through the pages. The boy read and read and read and read. -- The Good Thief, Hannah Tinti

Every now and then, I itch to read a literary novel. Just to prove I'm an adult, or a successful English major. Or maybe to give the librarians a break from handing me huge stacks of middle grade fantasy.

Who knows why it strikes, but the solution is usually to pick one of those books that says in the blurbs on the back that it has luminous writing.

Luminous writing. I love that. You can read them in bed after dark, and you don't need a flashlight or a lamp, nothing--the words glow in the dark. You should try this. Probably tonight.


Actually, I suspect I'm not grown up enough to read most literary novels, never mind the English major. I don't think I appreciate them like I'm supposed to. I give up about three or four chapters into stories of semi-psychologically-tortured-women-returning-home-or-having-affairs-and-then-not-finding-a-real-resolution-to-any-of-their-problems... I just can't take that kind of storyline. I want to strangle the characters. I say rude things about them.

Also, good English majors probably do not laugh at so-called "luminous" books. Sigh. I might be a hopeless case.

In spite of all this, my curiosity gets the better of my reason, my craving for gorgeous writing builds to a pitch, and I start looking around for another literary-ish novel.

So recently, I picked up The Good Thief, enticed, I admit, by the cover. And inside, it was everything I was in the mood for, without knowing it. I mean--really, it hit me just right. Hannah Tinti is a truly stunning writer: I'm in awe of her sentences. Really. And there's a fantastic cast of unusual characters... and, let me be honest, most of this book is quite bizarre.

And I love bizarre.

There's the mousetrap factory, the ever-shouting Mrs. Sands, the dwarf on the rooftops, Dolly the giant, grave robbers, the enigmatic Benjamin, and through it all, there is Ren. One-handed Ren, finally out of the Saint Anthony orphanage, hoping to find out about his parents, hoping to somehow navigate the weird and wonderful world of this book.

Okay. I loved this. I'm flipping through my copy as I type this, rereading my favorite moments. There's such a brilliant mix of the deeply believable and the highly bizarre...

I want to lean close and reread chapters of it to you, just so you get a feel for it... but maybe I'll just let you discover it for yourself. You'll love it.

Like I said, it was exactly what I wanted.

Recommendation: This book makes me think of a patch of sunlight, a slice of apple cake, and a cup of black coffee. Yes. Read it while there's still a little chill in the air.