Monday, December 29, 2008

How I Spent My Christmas

I'm in Portland at the moment, for the holidays, and quite enjoying it. I've been here for about 10 days now, and I have several more to go before I return to balmier climes.

I made it into town in the nick of time, just before the ridiculous amount of snow (well over a foot in a town that rarely gets more than a dusting!) shut down the airport, train station, highway, and a good portion of the businesses in town.

Luckily, snow in Portland means even MORE snow up in the mountains. So, thanks to one of D's friends with an all-wheel drive car and traction tires, we drove up to Cooper Spur (on the edge of Mt. Hood, I think) to snowshoe on Christmas day.

Here's D and I in the snow. Second Christmas in a row that we've spent Christmas Day playing in the snow (Last year it was cross country skiing at Teacup Lake, also on Mt. Hood)

And here I am, after Dan pushed me down in the snow. (Well, okay if you want to get all technical about it, I tried to push him, he rather cleverly stepped out of the way. Serves me right, I guess.) I'd like to point out that I am still laughing, even though my pants were filled with VERY cold snow at this point. Good thing D. is cute, huh? Boy knows he can get away with an awful lot!

Thursday, November 13, 2008


As usual, life has gotten hectic for me lately. I've been working some very long days, with few days off, and also dealing with some family illnesses (D's family, not mine). Plus, I've been, um, kind of obsessed with sewing lately, which always happens when I learn a cool new skill. I've spent most of my free time working away at lovely hand-sewn Christmas gifts for my whole family, so of course, this blog has been the thing to fall by the wayside. But I'm back! (Well, for today, anyway.) With a new installment of my vacation recap.

So when we were on vacation in September, one of the adventures we had was exploring slot canyons in Escalante-Grand Staircase National Monument. Escalante is in southern Utah, east of Bryce Canyon National Park and southwest of Canyonlands. The slot canyons had been recommended to us by multiple people both before we left home and as we chatted with folks on the road, and I'm so glad we took their advice. Slot canyons are scattered throughout the Southwest, where you have a combo of the right kind of rock and other conditions necessary to create them. Basically, they're very narrow canyons eroded into the relatively soft sandstone that's so prevalent in the area. I'm not entirely sure what makes the canyon erode out while the sandstone around it stays solid, but here's a great list of slot canyon locations.

To get to the canyons, we drove 27 miles down an unmaintained dirt road that was nearly washed out in places from recent rainstorms. You have to stop at the Ranger station before you even try to drive out there, just to make sure the road hasn't, you know, disappeared entirely. Thank goodness for my high-clearance jeep -- I lived on a dirt road as a kid, but I have NEVER experienced washboard as bad as this! The road's called Hole-in-the-Rock Road because it apparently ends 50 miles down at a place where some early Mormon explorers had to actually blast a hole through the rock to keep on going. Yeah, we didn't drive that far.

So once we actually made it to the parking area, we had to hike a mile or two down to the canyons from the parking area. First, we headed across the bright orange slick rock that is so ubiquitous in that part of the country. Since we were basically hiking down the sloping face of a huge rock, the trail was marked with cairns (stacks of rocks). Then we followed a (temporarily) dried-up riverbed between soaring sandstone walls for another mile or two. They get some CRAZY flash flooding in the country, and this is what the riverbed ends up looking like as the thick mud dries in the sun:

Isn't that insane? Some of the chunks of mud were twice as thick as my hand! It looks almost like some odd cinnamon-sprinkled dessert, doesn't it? Anyway, you have to check the weather before you head off on this hike, because you do NOT want to be stuck in this riverbed (or worse yet, the very narrow canyons) if it starts raining hard. People die every year in flash floods, apparently. Scary.

So anyway, you hike down this river bed until you get to the entrance to the slot canyon, which is basically just a slit in the rock walls. Here's a picture of Dan in front of the entrance to Spooky Gulch:

So you start heading down the slot and at first it's narrow, but not crazy narrow. Except then it starts to get more and more narrow, and you can see less and less of the sky. This is a view looking up from the floor of the canyon:

I'm not especially easily frightened by stuff like this, but I have to say that I did start to get a little freaked out as we got deeper in. In places, the canyon gets REALLY narrow. Like, so narrow that you have to take off your day pack to squeeze through. And your front and back are STILL both brushing against the walls:

Plus, I just about put my hand down on a rattlesnake taking a nap on a ledge when I went to pull myself up. (Don't worry, mom, we turned around at that point!)

So, as you're wending your way through the canyon, you really start to see why they call it Spooky. And, of course, it didn't help that my lovely boyfriend kept on jumping out from behind curves in the rock and doing things like this:

But despite the spookiness, it was amazingly beautiful:
Look at the color of the rocks! And the sinuous curves. So lovely. In the end, it was totally worth the 27-mile filling-rattling drive, the hike, and even the slight claustrophobia. Definitely something not to miss if you're in this part of the country.

(I should add, there's another slot canyon in the same area, Peekaboo, which is supposed to be equally spectacular. However, we weren't able to get into it the day we were there. You normally have to wade through a shallow puddle and climb about 10 feet up rock wall (which has footholds dug into it) to get into Peekaboo. Challenging, but do-able. But because we were there soon after a huge storm, the shallow puddle was closer to thigh-deep, with the stickiest mud EVER underneath the water AND the ground was so washed out that the climb was closer to 15 feet, with the first foothold above my head. Oh well. Next time, I guess)

Friday, October 31, 2008

Random notes a rainy afternoon

1. I need to remember that eating eating meals composed primarily of white bread for both breakfast and lunch is the best way to spend my afternoon feeling like crap. Ugh. I had a bagel for breakfast and a too-big sandwich for lunch and now I feel all fuzzy-headed. All the caffeine in the world can't help when I feel like this, either. I brought my breakfast and lunch from home every other day this week and felt MUCH better than I do today! I must remember this when I am seduced by the ease of a great big sandwich from the cute bakery down the street!

2. I also need to remember that I MUST stop for candy on my way home from work today. Someone who lives just a few blocks from me told me that she gave out thousands of pieces of candy last Halloween. That's a freakin' lot of sugar. (Though perhaps the rain we're having this afternoon will scare some ghosties and ghouls into staying home!). Also, do you think the neighborhood kids would be mad if I handed out valentines-themed candy for Halloween? It's on sale CHEAP at Grocery Outlet right now! :-)

3. I can feel the annual winter mood creep coming on lately. At this point in my life, I like to think of myself as a pretty happy person. However, winters are still pretty tough on me. As soon as the days start to get late-fall short, I feel myself getting more and more blue. And now the rain has started, which means days that are both short AND grey. It's not depression, exactly, but it IS a lot harder to be in a cheerful mood. And, boy, does it get difficult to motivate myself to do anything, including going to the gym (the one thing that really HELPS with the creeping blues!). Last night, I sat on my couch for pretty much the whole night, thinking about going out to the gym, the fabric store, anywhere but then doing nothing at all.

4. One thing that has also kept me cheerful the past couple of days is baked eggs for dinner. I slice up some zucchini and drop it into the bottom of some ramekins. Then, I saute a handful of sliced leeks with a touch of butter, flour and milk and pour it over the top of the zukes. Add a handful of cooked wheatberries and crack an egg into each ramekin. Top with a sprinkle of shredded sharp cheddar and bake at 350 for 15 minutes or so. YUM! Perfect with a big green salad on the side. Or a baked sweet potato, which is what I had last night.

Tonight, my downstairs neighbor is having a Halloween party, which I will probably go to, though I have no costume. I figure I might as well go, since it's not like I'll be able to sleep, anyway, as long as the party is going on. And I made a very YUMMY pumpkin gingerbread pineapple upside down cake to take.

Friday, October 17, 2008

hiking lake tahoe

Dan and I spent a long weekend in Lake Tahoe a couple of weeks ago -- so pretty! We actually stayed up in Truckee, which might just be the cutest little mountain town ever. Can't wait to go back when there's snow!

Monday, September 29, 2008

I don't watch TV. Really.

So I always tell people that I don't watch TV. Except that it's not entirely true. I own a TV, but I use it only to watch movies. Where I live, the ONLY way to get any channels at all is to get cable. Literally -- you can't even buy a $40 antenna to get three network stations. But I actually DO watch a few shows online. Here's what I think about the season premiers I've seen so far:

1. Heroes. This was a solid C for me. Okay, but I don't GET why people thought this premier was so great. I used to love this show, but the season premier just didn't re-hook me. I may not watch at all this season.

2. Grey's Anatomy. Eh. It was decent but not spectacular. WTF was up with the gratuitous Denny cameo at the end? Denny is DEAD, Grey's Anatomy writers. Just let the man GO already! And I was freakin' pissed at the whole "play with your emotions thing" of having Rose tell Derrick that she's pregnant and then be like "just kidding" and having Mere dream that Derrick was dead but the viewer doesn't know that it's a dream at first. Just stupid -- totally designed to fuck with the viewer's head, not to advance the plot. And it is annoying. So no more of that BS, okay? Shonda Rhimes I'm looking at you.

3. Dexter, on the other hand, had a kick-ass season premier. I think this is the best show on TV right now. Though I am admittedly disturbed by the "help Dexter dispose of the bodies" game on Showtime's Dexter website. Who thought THAT was a good idea?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Oh Give Me a Home . . .

. . . Where the Buffalo Roam.

This was my first buffalo sighting, on the drive from Zion National Park to Bryce. I wish I could say that they were wild, but sadly, they were not -- it was a herd in a fenced pasture next to a resort. I suspect that they are destined to be burgers. There were baby buffalo in the herd, though! And if that's not freakin' adorable, I don't know what is. (Sorry - I didn't manage to get a very good picture of them.) Are you surprised that Buffalo are so skinny in the ribs? I totally was.

Also, on the drive between Zion and Bryce, we stopped for lunch in Hatch, UT at this small town diner called Cafe Adobe. SO good! Dan had the burrito, which was delicious -- it was huge, and crammed with chicken and beans and veggies, not just lots of rice as a filler. I had a southwestern chicken sandwich with hot peppers and avocado and all kinds of other goodness. Oh, and beer-battered fries to die for! Definitely plan to eat here if you're driving through (you don't have many other choices, anyway). A great road food find.

Monday, September 22, 2008

On Being a Regular

As I've mentioned here before, I've lived in a LOT of different places since college. Boston; Chicago; Washington, DC; San Francisco; East Lansing, Michigan. Plus short stints in Philadelphia and Houston and a lot of travel for work to Pittsburgh, North Carolina, Austin, Madison, etc. One of my favorite things about having moved around so much is the way that I was constantly getting to discover something new. Some favorites:

--Alamo Drafthouse in Austin and Houston.

--Diedrich Coffee in Houston - the only time I've ever actually been able to taste the subtle flavor differences in coffee the way I can with wine and beer.

--Reading Terminal Market in Philly. A huge indoor farmer's market in an old train station downtown. It's full of fantastic farm stands, fish mongers, amish dairies, etc. Plus, you can get a killer good cheesesteak at the counter at the front. Just don't expect it to be lowfat :-)

--Capigiro Gelato, whose Pinapple Cilantro and Blueberry Thyme gelato flavors might just be the best things I've ever eaten. So good that I've actually been seriously tempted to spend the $100 plus it would cost me to get 6 pints shipped to me.

-- $2 beer and hot dogs on Thursdays at Lansing Lugnuts minor league baseball games. Their mascot is called "The Big Lug" -- a dinosaur with a bolt through his nose. And they do things like having people down on the field between innings to try to slingshot rubber chickens into a dumpster. Methinks that the dumpster company is, perhaps, a Lugnuts sponsor :-) And did I mention the wading pool behind the outfield lawn and the fact that tickets are only $6? Yeah, you really can't go wrong.

-- Pecan bars at Alliance Bakery in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago. Alliance is also, by the way, a great coffee house for a poor grad student to hunker down for an afternoon with a stack of papers to grade. :-) And so much good food in Chicago in general!

I could go on and on with this list. But back to the point of this post. It's also, of course, incredibly emotionally challenging to move around so much. Just when you finally start to feel like wherever you're living is "home" you move somewhere new and start all over again. When you move a lot, you're constantly having to scour Craigslist for apartment listings, as you try to figure out whether apartments in this town usually include heat and electric, where you'll feel safe walking home late at night, who will take pets. You have to sort out where the hell the grocery store is, and whether it is possible to shop in your new town without having to patronize Safeway (uh, in Rockville, Maryland, the answer is pretty much NO). You have to seek out a new favorite coffee shop -- Starbucks does NOT count. Oh yeah, and then determine out how, exactly, one goes about making friends in Washington, DC or Lynn, Massachusetts or wherever you may be living (my go-anywhere strategy - join a sports team. Kickball totally counts!). While I find all of that stuff really exciting, on one level, it's also pretty exhausting and lonely, at times. Especially when you do it again and again and again. (And when you're not so great at keeping in touch with friends from past residences).

So, anyway, I realized yesterday that I'm coming up on my 2-year anniversary of living in the Bay Area. This is the longest I've lived in a single town since somewhere around 2000 or 2001. Normally, at this point in my "relationship" with a town, it'd already be just a "place I used to live." But, instead, I'm still here, and lately I've been really appreciating the joys of staying put. One of those joys that has really struck me lately is being a regular.

I don't mean to go all Cheers on you or anything, but it IS really nice to go someplace where everybody knows my name. Or at least where the wonderful barista knows my name and that I like my double Americano in the medium-sized cup, not the big one. Where someone greets me by name and with a big smile first thing in the morning.

I've got a few places where I feel like a regular now -- Della Fattoria, the bakery/coffee shop a 5 minute walk from my house. Their coffee is better than the Starbucks on the next block by MILES. And Vanessa really is a wonderful barista. I'm a regular, too, at the fabric store where I've taken sewing lessons, and I'm starting to feel like one at the pizza place in Point Reyes where they make the BEST brick-oven pizzas. Dan and I go out of our way to be hungry everytime we're driving through there so we can stop for pizza and an organic greens salad. Yesterday, the owner remembered us and chatted with us about how we hadn't been in for a while. And it felt good to be remembered.

I've also just started my second season with the same soccer team, I know all the back roads to get anywhere I could possibly want to go in my town, and I'm even starting to get TIRED of some of the same old places in town. I can't remember the last time any of those things happened to me. And you know what? It feels really good to be a regular, for once, instead of the new kid. It's a feeling of belonging that I don't think I've had very often in my life. My parents still live in the same house they brought newborn me home to 32 years ago, but as an adult, I so often feel like the new kid at school, an outsider. Like everyone else has more friends, more people who know their name and smile at them in greeting. But maybe part of that is just a matter of staying put for once. Putting down roots, and seeing what grows.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Bryce Canyon Amphitheater

I think I'm coming down with a cold (AGAIN!), so I can't quite wrap my head around writing anything intelligent. Ugh. But here's a picture of Bryce Canyon to tide you over.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Reading Update: September 20

Well, crap, the book I just finished reading and LOVED just got picked as the latest Oprah book. Now it looks like I just read it because Oprah said I should! That's what I get for waiting to post my response, huh? (Why, yes, I DO, in fact, dig through the shelves at the bookstore searching for a copy without the annoying little Oprah medallion when I buy a book that has been an Oprah book. What of it?)

Anyway, I just finished reading The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski, and it was absolutely lovely. (I can't believe it only has 2.5 stars on Amazon. Oh wait, it's only 6 reviewers. Who all must be idiots. ) Anyway, this book is beautifully written, with the most compelling characters I've met in a long time. And I use the word "met" on purpose -- these characters felt SO real to me, so fully formed, I felt as if I knew them in real life. The book has these wonderful moments of thrilling happiness, but it's also heart-breaking. I cried pretty hard at the end, in fact. The way Wroblewski captures the interior lives of the characters (including the wonderful, loyal, amazing dog Almondine) stunned me. I didn't want this book to end, and yet I also couldn't put it down. Spectacular.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Just in Case I Had Any Confusion About Where, Exactly, I Live. . .

. . . there was a grape spill on the highway this morning.

Yes, you read that right. No, I didn't get to see it (I am currently avoiding the highway because they've shifted the lanes and turned a 20 minute commute into 1+ hours of traffic HELL).

Only in Northern California, people. Only in Northern California.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Zion Wrap-Up

Before I talk about Bryce Canyon, I thought I'd do a quick wrap-up of Zion odds-n-ends. Both Dan and I thought Zion National Park was beautiful, but we also both thought it wasn't nearly as spectacular as, say, Yosemite. When I go to Yosemite, I feel constantly in awe. I just didn't feel that in Zion. However, the two hikes I've already written about were completely spectacular, and we did a couple other less spectacular but still perfectly lovely hikes.

Camping: We stayed in Zion for 2 days and 2 nights, camping at the South Campground in the park. It's first-come, first-serve and wasn't at all crowded the days we were there (right after the big Labor Day holiday weekend). However, as far as campgrounds go, it was just so-so. It's not especially pretty, and there are no showers, no privacy, not a ton of shade. What was great about this campground was proximity -- we could literally walk 2 minutes to the visitor center to catch the shuttle bus up to whatever trailhead we were aiming for. If you go, the campsites along the river are quite lovely, though they're right next to a biking path, so privacy is completely out during the day. It's $14 bucks a night, pretty standard for a National Park Campground -- bring exact change or your checkbook, as it's self-register only.

Getting Around: And speaking of the shuttle bus, at Zion you can only drive as far as the park entrance for most of the year. Once you're in the park, you need to take the free propane-powered shuttle bus wherever you want to go. Despite the minor inconvenience of not having your own car with you, we both loved the bus system. To be sure, the bus was slower than molasses in February, but it was really lovely to be able to just sit back and enjoy the view as we drove up through the canyon. And I've always HATED all the car traffic you have to fight in places like Yosemite. (And don't even get me started on RVs!)

Gear and Activities: Other than that, a few recommendations in Springdale. First, I've already mentioned the Zion Adventure Company. Not the friendliest or most helpful folks I've ever met, but they've got the gear you want for the Narrows hike. In fact, as far as we could tell, they're the ONLY ones who've got the gear, so you're pretty much stuck with them, anyway. They also run lots of guided trips. We didn't do any of those, as we'd rather explore on our own, but some of them looked fairly cool. Someday I'll try canyoneering!

We didn't end up going bicycling, because there wasn't really a route that was long enough in the area to make it worth our while (my boyfriend being the type who thinks nothing of riding 100 miles in a day). However, we if we HAD, we totally would have rented bikes from Zion Cycles We stopped in to investigate, and the woman working their (the owner?) was WONDERFUL! One of my favorite vacation strategies is to NOT do a ton of pre-planning. Instead, I like talking to the locals once I get to a place and finding out what THEY think is can't-miss. The lovely bike shop lady gave us all sorts of great advice on everything from the best place to eat in town (The Whiptail Grill-- Yum!) to where to camp and hike once we got to Escalante in a few days. So helpful!

Eating: As mentioned above, we loved the Whiptail Grill. It's not much to look at -- a tiny little place in what looks like a converted gas station. But if you sit outside under the canopy, you get a great view of the red rock cliffs around Zion. The service is friendly, helpful, and fast, and the food was SO good! Dan had the spaghetti squash enchiladas, which were to die for. I got about one bite because he didn't even want to share. And I had the steak tacos, which had the most tender meat I've ever tasted, not the sub-par meat you often get disguised inside tacos. Yummy! We never would have gone in if it weren't for the recommendation from our bike-shop friend, but I'm so glad we did.

(On the other hand, we thought that the Bit and Spur was a total miss, even though it had been recommended by a friend back home. Totally overpriced, for starters. We went in thinking we would eat dinner there, but after ordering margaritas, chips and salsa, and stuffed jalapenos, all of which were pretty mediocre, we decided dinner probably wasn't worth it. Confirming our suspicions, locals told us that The Bit and Spur is really hit-or-miss. If you order the right thing, it can be great, but if not, eh. They DO have a really lovely porch, though, so maybe go there for a beer :-)

Springdale Fruit Company. Great little stop on the way to Zion, right as you get into Springdale. This was a total impulse stop for us -- the cute store is surrounded by an apple orchard and Dan and I are both suckers for produce bought right at the place it was grown. We picked up a bag of apples, which were delicious. They also have all sorts of food-y treats and organic/natural soaps, shampoos, etc.

Other than that, we pretty much ate hiking food -- salami, cheese, and bread for lunch, stuff over the campfire for dinner the night we didn't eat at the Whiptail. Ooh, and campstove pancakes with bananas for breakfast. Yum!

More soon.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Narrowing it down

Look! Another vacation post! Maybe this small bites thing is working!

So another really cool hike that Dan and I did on vacation was the Zion Narrows in Zion National Park. This has to be one of the most unique hikes anywhere. Basically, the Virgin River IS the trail. You walk down this winding trail along the river's edge for maybe 3/4 of a mile and then the path bottoms out at the river and you just keep going up the river. You can hike as far as about 5 miles up the river and then turn around and come back. If you're more motivated than us (and if your very cute but sometimes absent-minded boyfriend didn't leave his backpack in, oh, say, Portland when you're supposed to be going on a hiking/camping/backpacking vacation), you can also do the hike as an overnight backpack from the top down (about 16 miles total). You hike a few miles down the Narrows, stop at a designated campsite for the night, and finish the hike the next day. We did the day hike version and I'd say we made it maybe 3.5 or 4 miles up the river and then turned around and came back.

We rented special equipment for the hike from The Zion Adventure Company, located right outside the park in Springdale. This included special "canyoneering" boots (which look like a cross between a cross-country ski boot and a hiking boot, but are much more flexible in the sole -- you can see me wearing them in the picture above). We also got neoprene socks to keep our toesies warm and heavy wooden staffs for balance.

Before we did the hike, we went back and forth about whether it was worth $18 each to rent this stuff. We certainly saw lots of folks doing the hike in tennis shoes and Teva-type sandals, but we ended up being glad we had the gear. It looked pretty miserable doing the hike without a walking stick, which helped with balance and also with feeling out what was coming ahead, as the water was the color of Earl Grey tea with milk, and totally opaque. This saved both of us from many unexpected steps into much deeper water. And since I'm always cold, I totally appreciated the neoprene booties. I was surprisingly uncold during the hike, even though the water temp was only about 65 degrees and the air wasn't much warmer when we started. And I was super-glad I didn't have open-toed sandals on -- it was impossible to not stub your toes on the extremely rocky river bottom.

So, as I said, most of the hike is actually IN the river. For the most part, the water came up to just under my knees or so. Occasionally it was thigh-deep, but my shorts, which stop a few inches above my knees, barely got wet. Basically, you wade up the river, using your walking stick to help you avoid obstacles and keep your balance against the current, which was strong at moments, but never really powerful.

The river winds through a towering sandstone canyon, which narrows to maybe 20 feet across in places. The picture above was taken in a part of the Narrows called Wall Street. It's a bit dark, but you can see Dan standing on the rocks on the right edge of the picture, which will give you some scale. It was really quite amazing.

Ultimately, Dan and I both thought that Bryce Canyon (more on that later) was more beautiful than Zion, but that this hike was spectacular. Even if you're a little nervous about it, I'd say The Narrows hike is a can't-miss if you're in Zion. We saw plenty of grandma-types doing it and they did just fine. (Though, confidential to the 40-something banker-type who let his 70-year-old mother flounder away without ever offering her a hand, even when she was clearly frustrated and in need of some physical AND emotional support -- you're a jackass).

If you go, definitely wear light-weight, quick-drying clothes, and stuff that will keep you warm even if it's wet (no cotton!) I wore polyester soccer shorts, which dry super-quick, a workout tank, a fleece, and a lightweight windbreaker. That felt about right -- mostly I kept all the layers on, though I did strip down to the workout tank a couple times when we were in the sun for extended periods. Also, spend the $ on the equipment rentals -- you'll have a much more pleasant experience. And be sure to look at the weather report -- this hike has a high flash-flood danger. Since you're in the river the whole time, and often between two soaring canyon walls, you don't want to get stuck in here during a flash flood!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Public Service Announcement

Dear Internet,

If any of you are planning on making the Caramel Pear Butter from the current issue of Bon Appetit, beware! That shit's like molten lava when it's bubbling away on the stove, and it splatters like you wouldn't believe. My poor hands . . . Also, it's really good with a few whole cardamom pods added along with the nutmeg.

Oh yeah, and if you're thinking about going to see Burn After Reading, you might want to reconsider. Brad Pitt is absolutely hysterical, but the movie as a whole was just . . . eh. I kept on looking at my watch to see when it would be over, even though it was only 1:40 long. Never a good sign.

And as long as I'm giving advice, the Dale Chihuly exhibit at the De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park is amazing, and it closes in just two weeks. Totally spend your $$$ to go see that instead of Burn After Reading.



Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Where only Angels Can Land

Every time I come back from vacation, I promise a big recap post, and then it never happens. So this time, I'm trying a different approach -- bite-sized posts about parts of my vacation. For vacation last week, Dan and I went on a road trip to Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument (with a brief but terrible stop in Vegas on the way). The first hike we did in Zion was a whopper -- the 5 mile up-and-back to Angel's Landing.

Angel's Landing gets its name from Frederick Fisher, who visited Zion in 1916 and exclaimed about Angel's Landing that "only an angel could land there." The first 2 miles up are a cool hike, but fairly tame. First, you spend a lot of time zig-zagging up the mountainside on switchbacks:

Then you travel through a cool (and chilly) canyon called The Refrigerator. Me goofing around in a sandstone cave in Refrigerator Canyon:

Finally, you top out on a wide sandstone saddle called Scout's lookout. Once you make it to Scout's Lookout, things get pretty hairy, pretty fast, and many people don't continue.

The final half-mile of the hike involves climbing up a narrow spine of sandstone with a 800-1200 foot drop on either side. At times, the ridge is as narrow as 3 or 4 feet. The sandstone is actually quite rough, and therefore very sticky on your feet. And there is a heavy chain attached to the rock for much of this final half mile, to hold onto as you climb, but it's still scary as shit. 5 or 6 people have fallen to their deaths from this trail. (It's probably good I didn't tell my mom I was doing it till after it was done. Seeing as how it probably would have given her a heart attack, which would suck. Hi mom. I love you.)

Once you DO make it to the top, though, the view out across the mountains is astounding. Uh, as long as you don't think too hard about that chain that looks like it's going right over the side of the mountain into the abyss. Which, you know, you actually have to climb back down to get back to safety. Better to think about the fact that shuttle buses on the road below look like ants from up here, and the river is so green! And, hey, look at that pretty birdy!

Anyway, here's Dan sitting on the edge of the abyss. That's a 1200 foot drop underneath his feet -- can you see how tense his arms are? Can you hear me in the background saying "Ohmygod are you crazy?!? Don't put your feet over the edge! Well, ok, if you're going to do it anyway, at least let me get a picture." I'm such a good girlfriend :-)

Finally, here's me going back down after reaching the summit. I'm smiling because I'm pretty darn excited to be alive after that freakin' scary hike up (and I'm not even scared of heights!). And also because, as it turns out, and contrary to what I expected, going down was actually quite a lot easier than going up. (Though perhaps the women I saw going down inch-by-inch on their asses, white knuckles holding the chain in a death grip would disagree.)

Anyway, if you go to Zion National Park, I highly recommend this hike. Except, uh, not so much if you're afraid of heights. And do yourself a favor, and DON'T read anything else online about the hike before you do it. You'll just freak yourself out.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Reading Update: September 9

1. Aryn Kyle -- The God of Animals

2. Gillian Flynn--- Sharp Objects
Disturbing. It creeped me out, and not in a delicious thriller-ish kind of way. Can't say I recommend it.

3. Sarah Hall -- Daughters of the North
Eh. Do yourself a favor and read The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood, instead. This book covers the same emotional and intellectual ground, but not nearly as well. It was a short book, but it still took me several days to read, which is a good sign that it wasn't doing much to grab my interest.

4. Frank McCourt -- 'Tis
Sequel to Angela's Ashes (which I tried to read once and gave up on after about 20 pages). I picked 'Tis up off of one of those book exchange shelves in a coffee shop in the tiny hamlet of Boulder, Utah. I had finished my book on vacation and couldn't wrap my head around the only other one I'd brought (Crime and Punishment -- not exactly light vacation reading. I don't know what I was thinking). Dan was about ready to kill me before I found this book. He wanted to lounge around the campsite and read, but I was whiney and grumpy, having finished my own book. And then we found the book exchange. So, in a way, 'Tis saved my relationship. How's that for praise? All kidding aside, this was an enjoyable little read, though far from my favorite of the memoirs I've read. One thing -- the narration suddenly changes from present tense to past tense (and becomes completely stylistically different) about 3/4 of the way through the book, which bugged me. I might go back and give Angela's Ashes another try.

Also, I'm about 50 pages into Crime and Punishment, and I don't get the fuss. So far, all that's happened is that I've gotten thoroughly annoyed with Rasholnikov's interior monologue. Anyone want to convince me that I should keep reading? Or even just explain to me why people think this book is so darn wonderful? I really feel like I'm missing out, since everyone raves about Dostoevsky, but it's just not doin' it for me . . . Instead, I've been reading The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, which I am absolutely loving so far.

The Only Thing I Liked About Vegas

As previously mentioned, I found Vegas to be, well, horrifying. I just don't GET why people love it there so much. It was full of incredibly drunk people acting incredibly stupid. Loud. Dirty. Gross weather. Did I mention absolutely filthy? D. insisted that we at least TRY gambling, so we dropped 10 bucks in a slot machine. That has to be the most boring way to lose 10 bucks EVER. Seriously.

However, I did take some really lovely pictures of the neon sign at the Paris casino. And the Bellagio fountain was pretty cool. And, finally, when we stopped for the night in Vegas again on our way home (staying well off the strip, thank you very much), we had a fantastic dinner at Table 34, an unassuming little family-owned place in an office park near the airport. Their mac 'n' cheese was, I think, the best I ever had. Yum.

So, in conclusion, having spent a little over 8 waking hours in Vegas, I don't feel the need to EVER go there again!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Vacation, Time to Get Away

For the past week, D. and I have been having wonderful adventures in the surprisingly lovely state of Utah. (Seriously, who knew that Utah was actually gorgeous? Vegas, on the other hand? Hell on earth. We stayed a night on the Strip on our way to Utah and OMG after about 5 minutes I was on the edge of a anxiety attack. Ugh.) The above picture is me relaxing in Bryce Canyon. Those crazy rock stacks behind me are called hoodoos, which is one of the best names EVER for a natural phenomenon. The colors were astonishing. Anyway, more pictures soon! (Which probably means, um, that I'll get distracted with other stuff and you'll be lucky to see a picture or two sometime next year)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Connecting Threads

So I've been learning to sew lately. That's one of my very first projects above -- the ubiquitous tomato pincushion. It's been such an interesting process. I grew up in the 80s, with a high-powered corporate attorney mother. She is a brilliant, talented lawyer, but she certainly didn't sew. And while one of my grandmothers was actually quite an accomplished craftster, we weren't especially close, so I never learned any of this from her. I wish now that I HAD asked her to teach me to sew, knit, crochet, etc when she was still alive. I think it would have been a wonderful way to get to know her better. But, alas, I wasn't all that interested in this sort of thing until recently.

So, at the start of this process, I could not have been more of a beginner. I could sort of sew a button on a shirt, but I'd never actually touched a sewing machine before. I started by taking this class called "Crash Course Sewing" at a local sewing shop, StitchCraft. It was a 2-hour course on the basics of using a sewing machine, and I cannot recommend it enough. Nicole, the owner of the store, is a fantastic teacher! She made it all SO easy and non-intimidating, even for an utter newbie like me. After I took the class, I immediately went out and trolled ebay for a sewing machine. Then, last weekend, I took a second course with Nicole, on making a summer blouse. I used this pattern, by Mahnee Titus and this was my result:

(Please ignore the off-center buttons, I need to pull them off and reattach them. Or add a second set parallel to them. I haven't decided which yet. Since they're purely decorative and don't actually have any fastening function, either is a possibility)

And here I am wearing the shirt. (Sorry for the out-of focus picture -- my camera would NOT cooperate). But, do you see? It FITS! And for any of you who actually know me you can see that it is totally, as my friend Lisa would say, a Chris shirt. I even wore it to work on Thursday!

I was very glad to have someone walk me through the process. Nicole gave me lots of hints about working with patterns, cutting fabric, etc. that were SO helpful in getting around some of the things I had struggled with with my very first project -- a dust cover for my sewing machine.

So, anyway, I was laid up all weekend with this crazy summer death cold (In August! WTF?!?) Here is what I spent most of yesterday and today making:

Isn't it SO cute!? It's the Birdie Sling from Amy Butler, and it is a ginormous bag. Much bigger than I usually carry, actually, but it was so cute I couldn't resist. And I'm glad I made it. It can fit books and a water bottle and a sweater and all kinds of stuff all at once. And it's made of quilting cotton with a layer of fusible interfacing to give it a little more strength, so it's pretty light-weight. It turned out so well that I'm actually planning on making several of them to give as Christmas presents. So, uh, if you're a girl who is likely to be on my Christmas list, pretend you never read this. Uh yeah.

For any of you who are interested in the details, the main fabric here is from Amy Butler's Midwest Modern Line, and the polka-dotted fabric for the handles is from Mary Englebreit's line of quilting fabrics. You can't see it in this picture, but the bag is lined in pale yellow and has two big pockets. The pattern had a lot of steps, but was quite easy to make, actually. I only had to Google one thing -- how to make gussets (The folds that square up the bottom of the bag a bit so it sits flat). And I'm getting better at using my machine, too -- I also only had to "unsew" and redo a couple of seams that I messed up. I am just thrilled at how this turned out! It's completely made me want to run out and buy more patterns and make more and more and more cool things . . . I think this hobby could get out of control!

But anyway, the thing I wanted to say is that in this weird way learning to sew has made me feel this closeness with my grandmother that I never really felt while she was still alive. She and my grandfather, my dad's parents, were typical midwest farm types -- stoic, practical, not especially warm. Wonderful people, but I always felt sort of . . . distant from them, especially in contrast to my mother's side of the family -- effusive, raucous italians. When my grandmother died a few years ago, I saved some of her old sewing and craft materials. Something about them just called out to me. And so I sewed this purse using my grandmother's measuring tape, seam ripper, straight pins and I felt, I dunno, almost like she was there with me. My grandmother stored her sewing pins in a small plastic compact that was once filled with face powder. Every time I open it, her scent wafts up to me, bringing back memories of her, wearing a sweatshirt she had made herself, bringing us jars of cherries preserved from her own back yard. Her working at one of her many looms, making a colorful rag rug. The green velveteen stuffed frog she sewed for me before I was ever born, which is in so many of the earliest pictures of me in this world. I wish I would have asked her to teach me to sew when she was still alive, but at least as I'm learning now, I feel like there is a little bit of her here with me, anyway.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Random thoughts

1. Why does the little weather thingie in the toolbar on Firefox always say that there is "light rain" in Petaluma when I am looking out the window at perfect sunshine and blue skies. (And, when y'know, it doesn't actually RAIN in this part of the world oh, all summer).

2. Why can't I have a job that allows me to jet away to the Bahamas and get paid to learn how to SCUBA dive?

3. I have discovered that my neighbors have an absolutely lovely lemon tree in their backyard and I have struck a deal with them. They will provide me with all the lemons I could possibly want in exchange for a few jars of my lemon curd. Score! Now if mother nature would just get on with it already and ripen the darn things!

4. I am learning to sew. I have been composing a post in my head for, like, a week, about this, so I won't say much more than that. Oh, except that I made a shirt on Saturday that actually looks like I bought it in a store. I KNOW! Who'd've thunk I'd be capable of that particular feat of home-ec-ness.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Reading Update: July 22 -- August 11

Chris Adrian -- The Children's Hospital

Hmm. Don't know quite what to say about this one. I really enjoyed parts of it, and even though it's over 600 pages long, I never once felt like I was ready to bail on reading it. (Rare for me in a book of that length). However, Adrian desperately needs a better editor, if you ask me. This novel could literally have been 200 pages shorter. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that cutting this book way back could have taken it, for me anyway, from a merely good novel, to a really great one. There was just so much here that felt like the author was being allowed to be overly self-indulgent. So much unnecessary verbiage to muck up the lovely bits. Ugh.

David Benniof -- The City of Thieves

I really enjoyed the main story of this book, but I was thoroughly irritated by the "frame" bit at the beginning. Completely and totally unnecessary. Especially since the author doesn't even come back to it at the end. Basically, the only purpose for it being there is to allow the author to finish the book with a cutesy little surprise ending. SO not essential to the book. I wish that Benniof would have just trusted his amazing writing ability and let the story stand on its own.

Jeanne Birdsall -- The Penderwicks

Cute kids chapter book, of the variety that I would have adored as a kid, if it had been out then. It reminded me quite a bit of the Narnia books, in terms of the sibling relationships in the story, but it's not a fantasy book.

Hillary Jordan -- Mudbound

Quite lovely, really, in a melancholy, grey-skies and rainy days kind of way. The scene at the beginning of the book with the two brothers burying their racist ass of a dead father drew me in immediately and I was hooked. And the ending is quite wonderful, too. Jordan does the best job of any author I've read, I think, of recognizing our very human desire for a happy ending, even while she is simultaneously aware of the reality -- happy endings aren't always a part of real life, even when they're really, really deserved. Highly recommended.

Junot Diaz -- The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Tried and failed. I just don't get the hype. I read about 20 pages and was so freakin' irritated with the postmodern pretensions that I couldn't take it anymore. Mr. Diaz, please repeat after me: "Footnotes do not belong in fiction. Footnotes do not belong in fiction. Footnotes do not belong in fiction. Not even if they're trying to be wryly self-aware and funny." Blech!

Laura Kasischke -- The Life Before Her Eyes
Another FAIL. This one came off the recommended shelf at my local indie bookstore, Copperfield's, where they have never before steered me wrong. However, I found the main character of this book so very smug and self-congratulatory that I wanted to reach right into the pages and smack the beejezus out of her. Too bad, too, as the first few pages are quite lovely and haunting.

Also: Dozens and dozens of very easy chapter books, for work. Seriously. Pretty much every "first chapter book" out there, I've read it! My current Excel grid of notes on books I've read for this project is hovering at 119. Urgh. So you can understand, perhaps, why most of my at-home reading of late has consisted of craft books and travel magazines that can be read in 5-minute bites.

(I have been trying to post this stupid reading update for literally three+ weeks now. I think the inevitable summer lethargy has set in or something)

Saturday, August 9, 2008

dumb and dumber

Dumb: The fact that only 4 women of 22 on my soccer team showed up for our tournament today. It was six-a-side, and not really a competitive thing, so we just begged and borrowed players from other teams, but still . . . annoying.

Dumber: The fact that this bee-yotch from my former team (which I left after 1 season because it was full of mean girl cheerleader types) totally tried to get all snotty with me today. We were sitting next to them in between games and I was about to step in and play on a team that's not mine, because they were also short people. So this woman from my old team sees that and was all like "yeah, Chris reeeeallly likes to switch teams. She just floats around wherever" in this totally snotty voice. WTF? Are you really that upset that I left your team? Seriously?

Dumbest: The fact that I managed to well-sunscreen my face, neck, ears, etc and yet somehow completely forgot to do my legs. My calves were covered by shin guards and socks, but OMG are the backs of my knees red. Owwwww.

In other, non-dumb news, this women's athletic wear catalog, Athleta, is having a warehouse sale in my town this weekend. I went this morning and scored some SWEET deals -- fabulous Isis ski pants, a one-piece athletic swimsuit for lap swimming, a couple workout shirts, yoga pants, and a warm base-layer shirt for winter sports. All for, like $50. Seriously. The ski pants alone would have been 3-4 times that regularly. SCORE!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


The first time as an adult that I had a pet die, I was blown away by how much grief I felt. We always had pets when I was a kid, and while I have vague memories of sadness when one of them passed away, I don't remember the loss really affecting me that much. The only pet death I even remember explicitly was when I was in 8th grade and my hamster, Pavlov, killed my other hamster, Skinner. (Yes, I was that geeky). I remember discovering them, bloody in the cage, and then sitting on the dirty steps in the garage, sobbing hysterically while I waited for my dad to get home and comfort me. But other than that, nothing. Maybe that's just the blurring of time, or that kids are just really resilient creatures, or that those pets were not as much mine as the pets I've had as an adult. I dunno.

But when my cat Kermit died a few years ago, I was devastated. He had a seizure in my arms out of the blue one afternoon. Though we rushed him to the vet immediately, it was too late. He'd had a congenital heart defect and his little heart finally just gave out. I remember walking around in a teary daze for days. Weeks even. Missing the way he always had to be touching me. I'd raised him from kittenhood, working hard to socialize him and overcome his skittishness. He'd been with me through multiple moves across the country. Through my breakup with my ex-fiance. Through the beginning of grad school (and, as it turned out, the end). It felt as though I had lost a person in my life. But I always thought it would be easier the next time around.

I don't know if that's turning out to be true. Sure, I know what to expect more this time, because I've been through it before. But I miss Scout pretty terribly at the moment. Last night, I dreaded going home from work, because I knew she wouldn't be there on the porch, waiting to be let in and fed her dinner. I knew she wouldn't be there to curl up with my just as I was trying to go to sleep. To lick and lick and lick with her rough little tongue until I paid attention to her. I realized that I didn't have to put away the ball of yarn I was working with on a project, because Scout wasn't there to bat it all over the house, tangling the red wool around the sofa legs, under the dining room table, into the coat closet. Three days in, I'm still breaking into tears at random moments, hit by sudden aching bursts of missing her. Scout moved with me across the country, too. From Chicago to DC and then from DC to here. She was always good for a funny story or six. She was the longest cat I ever saw, stretching her skinny body out as she craned to look at whatever she found interesting in the moment. Everyone who met her loved her. I feel terrible guilt over letting her be an outside cat. If I'd only kept her inside, this wouldn't have happened, the voice in my head keeps telling me. But she was always so much happier outside than she was in. And I don't keep myself inside just because I might get hurt. And, really, let's be honest, Scout used up her 9 lives long ago with all of her escapades. She had a good life, short as it might have been.

And losing her has reawakened fears that are always lurking there for me -- terror over the possibility of losing my parents, my sisters, D., all the other people I love in my life. Fear of getting old and dying myself. Frankly, the circle of life scares the crap out of me. And sometimes I worry that I don't feel things as much as other people -- that I bounce back more quickly than I should from anger, from sadness, from whatever I'm feeling. My moods feel so . . . transient, so quicksilver. And then something like this happens and suddenly I fear that I feel too much. Fear that the sadness won't go away this time.

I guess what I want to say is this: My heart hurts. I'm hanging in there, but it's hard -- so much harder than I expected.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Not the post I hoped to write today

Today, I went to the county fair with some friends. Much fun was had by all, and I'd planned on writing a wonderful post with lots of pictures.

Unfortunately, life decided to up and bite me in the ass, instead. A little while after I got home, I got a call that my cat, Scout, had been hit by a car and that she didn't make it. Obviously, I'm devastated. RIP Scouter. I miss you already.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Not quite doing wheelies, but moving in the right direction

Today I did something I've never done before -- I rode my bike someplace that I would normally drive. This is a big deal, because I am an extremely nervous bike rider. I very nearly learned to drive a car before I learned to ride a bike, for starters, so I don't have that deeply ingrained childhood "feel" for being on a bike. Plus, until a few weeks ago, I had never even ridden a bike on the road before. I bought my cheap-ass Target bike when I lived in DC, but only ever rode it on the C&O canal towpath, which is pancake flat gravel, with no cars.

But dating someone who rides his bike constantly has helped me see just how many places I could get to on my bike instead of in the car. So today, I was brave, and I rode to the library. It's only a couple miles away, but the ride involved multiple left turns, crossing two major streets, and riding across a drawbridge. I cheated a little, riding on the sidewalk when I had to go across the scary bridge (that metal grid stuff it's made out of freaks me out even in a car -- there was no way I was riding a bike across it!). But I did it! Go me! And as I was riding, freaked out about impending left turns, hectic intersections, etc, I realized that I was feeling pretty much exactly like I did as a new car driver. Back then, I would sometimes go miles out of my way just to avoid a left turn onto a busy road with no light, and my heart would pound in the same way it did today on my bike. But I learned to drive a car just fine, and now I'm not even (very) afraid of driving in San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Atlanta, or any of the other major cities I've lived in and visited. The fear is, I realized, an unavoidable part of the learning curve, and the important thing is that I did it anyway. (And my only injury was a minor scrape on my finger from when I snagged it on something sharp locking my bike up. Clutz!)

I doubt I'll be commuting to work on my bike anytime soon, but progress is being made . . .

P.S. I have been watching lots of old kids TV shows lately for work. Do yourself a favor and go YouTube Morgan Freeman as Easy Reader on The Electric Company. I promise you won't regret it!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Where I spent my weekend

This is where I spent my weekend. Campsite in Stanislaus National Forest, just outside Yosemite.

Lovely, no? Longer post soon with many lovely pictures . . .

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Yum, Yum, and More Yum!

I made these Plump Pea Dumplings from 101 Cookbooks for dinner last night and OMG were they good! It's amazing that something so simple can taste so damn good. And they're pretty healthy, too! I have seriously been thinking all day about how soon I can go home and eat some more. YUM!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Reading Update: July 8

Per Petterson -- Out Stealing Horses

Quiet and lovely. Not a lot happens, but I couldn't stop reading.

Mark Dunn -- Ella Minnow Pea

For my book group. After 100 Years of Solitude, The Road, and Middlesex as our last three books, it was time for something lighter. I read it in about a day, and it's both fun and serious at the same time. The book is set on the fictional island of Nollop, named after the man who invented the sentence "The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog," which includes all letters of the alphabet. The trouble begins when a letter falls off the statue of Nollop in the town square. The town council decides that this is a sign from beyond the grave and bans use of that letter in all writing and speech. As more letters fall, the citizens' language is restricted further, and the letters also disappear from the book itself. It's totally clever and fun, even as it tackles the dangers of censorship.

Joan Didion --The Year of Magical Thinking

Honestly, I don't get the hype. Not at all. The book is the story of the year after her sudden death of her husband and her daughter's terrible illness. The idea, I think, is that Didion is looking death and grieving straight in the face and writing about it in a way that no one else has. I really wanted to like this book. I did. But I find Didion so freaking annoying that I couldn't even pay attention to the book. I couldn't feel even a lick of sympathy for her, couldn't empathize with her (which seems like sort of the point of the whole book). I dunno. Maybe it's just me, since the whole world seems to think this book is amazing. I've never much liked Didion's writing, though. Way back in high school, a teacher gave me a copy of Slouching Toward Bethlehem, thinking I would really enjoy it. But I couldn't even make it through the first essay there.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Do you think it's bad . . .

. . . that I have consumed almost a full jar of jam since I made it yesterday?

What if I ate most of it standing over the sink, spoon in hand, straight from the jar?

(perhaps I should give away several of the 12 jars I made yesterday? My waistline would probably thank me later)

Cookin' up a storm

This weekend was full of lovely weather, good food, and lots of cooking. What else does a girl really need?

D. and I had dinner on the Fourth at Ubuntu in Napa. It's this fancy vegetarian place, and yes, it really is a yoga studio, too. (Only in California, people. Only in California). I thought the food was decent, overall, though a little fussy (look at the menu -- you'll see what I mean). The dessert, though, was spectacular -- a corn pudding cake with grilled peaches and some sort of honey ice cream. It came garnished with this super-thin wafer sprinkled with sweet popcorn. And the best part? When the waitress came over to our table and told us that they had a back patio, and would we like to have our dessert out there so we could watch the fireworks? All the fireworks with none of the beer-swilling crowd? Hell yes!

As for cooking, on Saturday we made grilled pizzas. Yum! This might be my favorite thing I've cooked in a while, and it was so easy. We used Trader Joes Pizza dough, and then experimented with toppings. The best combo was proscuitto, gorgonzola, and figs. Y. U. M. We also made a grilled veggie version and one with caramelized onions and ricotta. Making the onions was fun -- it's totally magical to me the way the character of something can change so much just by cooking it slowly. That version of the pizza, though, lacked pizzaz. We decided that next time we'd add some gorgonzola to it and maybe something with a bit more crunch. The fig and gorgonzola pizza was the clear winner of the night, and we liked the super-thin crusts we did the best.

To actually make the pizzas, roll out the dough into thin, small pizzas, which are easier to work with. brush with olive oil and toss onto an oiled grill for a few minutes. Take off the grill and flip onto a plate so the cooked side is up. Add your toppings (pre-cooked or no-cooking needed, since they don't get a ton of heat) and then put back on grill for a couple minutes, uncooked side down. You'll want to keep the flames low, so you don't burn it. Here's directions from someone who is better at this recipe thing than I am: Grilled Pizza on 101 Cookbooks.

Yesterday, after D. had abandoned me for the cooler climes of Portland (A 7 am flight! On a Sunday morning!!) I heated up my kitchen with a great big batch of strawberry jam and, once it had cooled down enough for me to even contemplate turning the oven on again, chicken stock.

Chicken stock is such a fun thing to me. When you tell people you make your own chicken stock, they tend to be rather impressed, as if you've told them that when you were fifteen you ran away to join the circus and you are really quite good on the trapeze. It always makes me laugh a little, because chicken stock is just about the easiest thing anyone could make in their kitchen. All you need is a few hours when you don't need to leave the house, so you can keep an eye on the pot. This is cooking even my dad could do. (Sorry, Daddy! You know I love you, cook or not!)

Here's how I do it: Throw a chicken carcass into a enormous stock pot with 16-20 cups of water. (I toss the leftover bones and meat into the freezer whenever I make a roast chicken and pull 'em out when I want to make stock). Also toss in a couple scrubbed carrots, broken in half; a couple ribs of celery, a big onion cut into quarters (no need to peel), parsley, peppercorns, and a bay leaf. Add a bit of salt. Bring to a boil, then simmer very gently for several hours, until the chicken falls off the bones. Strain and freeze to use whenever. If it tastes bland, add more salt. Tada! You'll impress all of your non-cook friends to no end. (Even more so if you also feed them the chicken you roasted in order to get the bones -- another simple recipe, for another day).

I also very much enjoy making jam. I feel like my grandma would be proud of me, if she could see me canning like a pro, even though I wasn't smart enough to ask her to teach me before she passed away. I like freezer jam the best, which is convenient, as it's the simplest to make. Basically, you just mush together whatever kind of fruit you want with sugar and a packet of freezer jam pectin from the grocery store and then dump it into jars. It'll keep forever in the freezer, and it's wonderful in the dead of winter to spread strawberry freezer jam on your toast -- I don't think anything could taste more like summer. Plus, when you're making freezer jam, you can add herbs to it without them tasting over-cooked. I like a little bit of fresh mint in my strawberry jam. Sounds a bit odd, but it's SO good. And today's peach-strawberry jam got some sliver-thin ribbons of basil.

But I also like the more complicated kind of jam that you cook on the stovetop till it gels and then can in a hot water-bath. There's something very soothing to me about cooking down strawberries and sugar till they get thick and lava-like, bubbling languidly on the stove. And then the sealing process! It's like magic -- boiling the jars, hearing the 'ping' of sealing lids, popping them open with a can opener weeks or months down the line. And it's nice to live someplace now where this is not such an odd thing to do. Once, when I lived in DC, I spent an afternoon making jam. When I mentioned it later that night, one of my relatives responded, with some horror in her voice, why would you want to do that, as if I had spent my day cleaning the poop off the hindquarters of a not-so-meticulous dog. Here, people just ask when I'm bringing them a jar :-)

P.S. I've been on a regular cooking binge lately. Along with this weekend's wonders, last weekend I made a rustic plum and port wine tart (from the June issue of Bon Appetit) and pickles, for the first time ever (pretty good, but too sweet, even though I cut the sugar in the recipe in half).

Friday, June 27, 2008

Reading update: July 2

Despite the lack of updates on my reading, I actually have found quite a lot of time to read lately. (Funny what happens when your social life consists almost entirely of a boyfriend who is 600+ miles away most of the time and 6 or 7 friends who are currently all completely snowed under at work). Here's the list, to the best of my memory. I'm sure I'm missing some, but if I can't remember them, they probably weren't all that great, anyway.

Amitav Ghosh -- The Hungry Tide

Lovely throughout, not all that satisfying in the end. Hate that.

David Mitchell -- The Cloud Atlas
This one was a surprise to me. I normally hate super-postmodern/experimental books, and Mitchell definitely falls under that category. But after hearing several friends whose taste in books I really trust rave about how great this book was, I finally gave in. Boy, am I glad I did. The Cloud Atlas is a series of 6 or so stories, set in all different time periods and worlds, linked only tenuously to one another. Each story is a different genre, from futuristic sci-fi to 18th century epistolary novel and so on, and the book has a sort of nested set-up, in which each story breaks off suddenly, only to be resumed again in the second half of the book. Hard to explain, but lovely, lovely, lovely to read. Every single one of the stories grabbed me and pulled me in, and I am still utterly amazed at Mitchell's ability to write so eloquently in so many different voices and genres. Not a top-5 book for me, but definitely way up there in terms of favorites.

Jennifer Sey - Chalked Up
Had a brief period of minor obsession with gymnastics. Something about the Olympics coming up, I'm sure. This just came out, the memoir of a former US gymnastics champion. Interesting, not great. I found it to be a fairly typical lambasting of the gymnastics world and its negative effects on little girls' bodies, minds, and spirits. I will say that Sey places more accountability on herself than most books of this type -- she doesn't just blame all her misery on the coaches, so that was refreshing.

Joan Ryan -- Little Girls in Pretty Boxes
Not much to say about this one. Part of the same momentary obsession as the above book. (And you know what the silliest part is? I don't even have a working TV, so I probably won't watch even a lick of the Olympics this summer).

Jack O'Connnell -- The Resurrectionist
Very interesting novel. I'm struggling to even describe it. It's very film-noir, in a way, and it makes me feel like you feel when you hear the words "It was a dark and stormy night." In other words, in my head, the book is all wrapped in blue-black sky and menacing clouds. Basically, it's about a father, Sweeney, who brings his young son, Danny to a hospital where the doctors claim they'll be able to wake him from the coma he's been in since a tragic accident. O'Connell interweaves the story of Danny and his father with the world of a series of dark comic books that the boy was reading before he lost consciousness, and it's the blurring of fantasy and reality that's most interesting. I loved the way O'Connell leaves us wondering what is real and what is the grief-fueled fantasy of a devastated father. Really enjoyed it.

Lee Martin -- The Bright Forever
This book left me feeling a little . . . dirty. (No, not in THAT way!) More like . . . complicit. Basically, it's the story of a little girl's tragic disappearance and the ripples of its aftermath out into the world of those around her. Martin does a masterful job of revealing the story bit by bit so that the reader only gradually realizes that the solid ground beneath her feet, and her clear understanding of "what happened" and how the various characters were involved, is little more than quicksand. You're left feeling like you bought into the lies the characters told themselves, and like you're somehow complicit in what happens to the girl. I didn't find the characters in this story likable at all, in the end, but they were real, to be sure. And, in fact, I didn't much like the story, but I like the mastery behind it. This is not a book that leaves you feeling good when you've finished it, it's not beautiful. But it does make you feel unsettled, uneasy, and it sticks with you, and I think that takes, in fact, more talent, then just writing something that makes your reader feel good.

Lloyd Alexander -- The Book of Three
A book I loved as a kid. I still enjoyed it this time around, but didn't find it nearly as compelling. Reading it did, however, make me totally nostalgic for the Black Cauldron PC game my dad bought for me in the late 80s. Of course, he was the one who spent most of the time playing the game -- he kicked ASS at it, and I was, unfortunately, too easily frustrated.

Robyn Scott -- 20 Chickens for a Saddle
I listened to this one on CD in my car, and it was a good book for that approach. First of all, Scott has a beautiful, lilting New Zealand accent, which I could listen to for approximately, oh, forever, without tiring. But it was also a fascinating story. I've read many white-person-out-of-place-in-Africa books before, but usually they feel much more distant from my life. (The Poisonwood Bible, for example, is set in the '60s, and Out of Africa somewhere earlier, even, than that). But Scott is actually a few years younger than me, so her childhood in Africa was happening so close to my own childhood in a world as far off as imaginable. Really, really funny, but also poignant, and Scott has a real ear for description of a landscape. I've never been to Africa, but I could imagine it all in my head so easily. It also totally made me want to run away and live in a converted cowshed in the African outback for a while. :-)

Beverly Cleary -- The Mouse and the Motorcycle
For work. Never read this one as a kid, but it's cute.

Beverly Cleary -- Ramona the Pest
Also for work. I'd forgotten that Ramona's cat is named Picky-picky. What a great name! I'm totally naming my next cat Picky-picky. (Aside: I have a friend that named his cats Beezus and Ramona. So cute! I wish I'd thought of it first).

L. Frank Baum -- The Wizard of Oz.
Yep, for work. The slippers aren't ruby in the book! I feel betrayed by the movie industry!

Astrid Lindgren -- Pippi Longstocking
Yep, my job involves reading lots of kids books. Didn't like this as much as I did as a kid. Now Pippi seems sort of annoying, whereas then she was totally jealousy-worthy because of her freedom and complete disregard for the rules.

Trenton Lee Stewart -- The Mysterious Benedict Society
Best new kids chapter book I've read in ages and ages. Loved the characters, loved the writing, loved the story. Stewart's writing reminds me a bit of Roald Dahl, in terms of both style and quirkiness. I actually picked this one up from a display in a bookstore -- not for work! Can't recommend it enough, for kids of all ages.

Jeffrey Ford -- The Shadow Year
This book creeped me out. Seriously. It gave me nightmares. I made myself finish it, but I can't say I really enjoyed it that much.

These are totally not in order, and I'm positive I'm missing some, but oh well. Right now, I'm trying to plow my way through 100 Years of Solitude for my book group, and I'm also reading Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

I want

That is all . . .

more cat pictures

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

What I did all weekend

I pretty much spent my whole weekend sitting on my postage-stamp-sized porch, drinking lovely icy cold drinks. This is my favorite -- a watermelon margarita. Can you see that the ice is heart-shaped? I love you, Ikea, for enabling my adorably shaped ice-making! Oh, and I also read a whole lot. And cleaned my office, which was dangerously close to being eligible to be declared a FEMA disaster zone. Woo!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Warning: Slacking Ahead

Argh. I am clearly not responsible enough to have a blog, as I don't seem to be even remotely capable of regular updates. In my defense, things have been hectic. I was in Michigan for a week, helping my mom recover from surgery, which included an oh-so-lovely day spent at the horribly over-air-conditioned emergency room at St. Joes in Pontiac, Michigan. And then when I got home, I turned right back around and flew out to Portland a few days later. And while I was in Portland, I was really preoccupied, what with the eating of enormous amounts of delicious food and the drinking of enormous amounts of delicious margaritas (spiked with watermelon aqua fresca -- TELL me who could possibly think of their blog with an icy cold watermelon margarita in their hand???) And also with the watching of my hot boyfriend racing on his bike against dozens of other cute-but-not-quite-so-hot-men in spandex. And I hiked 12 miles in one day, too, while I was there. Up hill both ways! Doesn't that count for something? Plus, I have totally written, like, eighteen blog entries in my head in the past few weeks. (What do you mean you can't read my mind?!? Slacker!) So, um, yeah. Today, I turn over a new leaf. Regular posts, at least three days a week. Yes, a new leaf today or, uh, tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Have I ever told you how I feel about otters?

This clip of a commercial from the Minnesota Zoo (from Cute Overload) totally made my morning. I'm fairly convinced that if they wanted to, otters could take over the world with their cuteness. I dragged D. to the Monterrey Bay Aquarium a few weeks ago for the otter show alone. And it was TOTALLY worth the 50 bucks it cost the two of us to get in!