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Archive for the ‘Gastronomy’ Category

Still Life with Turkey Pie - 1627 - by Pieter ClaeszThe other day I realized I hadn’t updated the blog in over a year. Partly it’s because I wanted to focus on writing books rather than blog posts. But this being the holiday time of year, I figure a blog post can function a bit like the traditional annual Christmas letter to sum up my life for the people I don’t otherwise keep in touch with as well as I should.

Life for me still largely revolves around writing, and this has been a pretty productive year on the writing front. Two posts ago I mentioned that I had finished a historical novel (the third novel I’d written) set in France in the late 1850s. In the Fall of 2011 I queried a small number of agents on it, mostly to stick my foot in the water and get a sense of how much interest there might be in it. A couple of agents asked to see the manuscript, and one liked it but sent me five pages of editorial notes on changes she wanted to see. This was encouraging but also helped me see that there was a lot more work to be done. I had in the meantime started on a new manuscript (novel #4) that I was thinking would be a contemporary comic novel in the style of Christopher Buckley, with Mormons and spies in it. But I wasn’t very happy with how it was going, and it was dawning on me that I was not Christopher Buckley, so I set that one aside. I went back and spent about 6 months rewriting the historical novel, aka Novel #3.

In the spring I sent the revised version of Novel #3 to the agent who’d been interested in it. In the meantime she’d gotten very busy, and so while I waited for her to read it and get back to me, I started on a new book idea, which I’ll call novel #5. As the months dragged on with no answer on Novel #3, I kept thinking I should start querying other agents on Novel #3, but was crazy busy at that point myself, between working full-time, trying to keep my daughter entertained, trying to keep our apartment mostly free of health-code violations, and squeezing in writing time wherever I could, to keep up the momentum on Novel #5. So I didn’t get around to querying anyone until about a month ago. To my surprise, I’ve gotten a much stronger response than I ever have before on a book. I don’t want to get anyone’s vicarious hopes up, but I have sent out some partial and full manuscripts to some pretty good agents. What’s next? If you guessed “a lot more waiting for responses,” a gold star for you!

Meanwhile, I’m about 26,000 words into the first rough draft of Novel #5. It’s going to be another historical novel, but this time set in the ancient world, in the time of Christ, about the life of Judas Iscariot. Credit for the initial idea goes to my boyfriend, who is also a writer and is nice enough to let me steal his ideas. Apart from being a wonderful person, he has more cool story ideas in a morning than most people could come up with in a decade. One major challenge with this book, however, is that the historical research is so much fun, I keep just wanting to read and read and read instead of getting down to writing.

Also, I’ve signed up to go to my first ever full-blown writers conference! It’s in New York City in December, and is sure to be an adventure.

On the publishing front, it’s been a busy year as well – through my little micropublishing imprint, Strange Violin Editions, I’ve published Steve Peck’s novella A Short Stay in Hell as well as a nonfiction book by two former-Mormon sociologists of religion, Ryan Cragun and Rick Phillips, called Could I Vote for a Mormon for President? An Election-Year Guide to Mitt Romney’s Religion. (Spoiler: They don’t tell you who to vote for in the end.) And I’ve committed to publish one more book, a novel by Eric Jepson called Byuck, which is coming out shortly … in fact, writing this blog post handily allows me to procrastinate on some work I should be doing for it right now!

But the biggest news of all is on the personal front: My daughter is now in kindergarten! Yes, she is a big sophisticated school-ager now. She has definitely enjoyed the increased prestige. But the actual going to school? Not so much. I can’t say I blame her, because I never really liked school either. Luckily she only has seventeen more years to go!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Here’s hoping yours is wonderful and food-filled!

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Ketchup

Photo by Gordon Joly, via Wikimedia Commons

Since I haven’t updated the blog in a few months, some catching up is in order. Here’s what’s been going on with me:

September

At the beginning of the month, I had an exciting work trip to Kansas City, Missouri. I hadn’t realized (as you probably hadn’t either) that Kansas City is actually a very cool place. My coworkers and I were there for a week, and during the days we were busy working, of course, as that was the point of the trip. But in the evenings we had some memorable meals. Kansas City is known for its barbeque, so one night we made a pilgrimage to Gates, a local chain. They are known for yelling, “HI, MAY I HELP YOU?” at you the second you walk in the door. In the spirit of adventure, I had the barbecued mutton, just because I’d never had mutton before. It was rich, fatty, and wonderful. (I am a fan of fat when it’s not (yet) on me.)

Another night we went to JP Wine Bar in the artsy district, and I had foie gras with peaches. Yum. It was as chic and the menu as sophisticated as any DC wine bar, but at better prices. We also went to Garozzo’s for red sauce-Italian one night. Hoo-eee, lots of garlic. I will never forget my appetizer of stuffed artichoke, which the waitress described as “light,” but when it came turned out to be an artichoke solidly packed to the gills with shrimp, cooked proscuitto, melted cheese, garlic-lemon-butter-suffused bread crumbs, and Lord knows what other sinful things, swimming in a big pool of cheesy melted butter. I’m not saying it wasn’t good, and I’m not saying I didn’t eat it, but it was about as light as an anvil.

The culinary highlight, though, was The American Restaurant. The restaurant was founded by the owner of the Hallmark Corporation, and the decor was a mix of really cool art-nouveau built-in architectual details and kind of odd hotel-ish furnishings.

American Restaurant

The American Restaurant in Kansas City, via CitiesAndMe.com

But the food was beyond amazing. If this place were in DC, you’d be paying $200 or $300 a plate, but being in Kansas City, it was considerably less, and hence a great value. I had foie gras (again!) with a sweet wine called Picolit, and a truly amazing poached egg, and … I just wish I’d taken notes on everything I had, because in the meantime the menu has changed and it was several months ago, so I can’t remember the many details. But there were cubed geléed things and homemade fruit leather-type things and tableside flambéed-things, seemingly incongruous combinations of things that worked wonders for each other as the flavors melded. If you’re ever in KC and you’re any type of gastronome, that’s the place to go.

I stayed an extra day and night in KC so I could do a little exploring and meet up with a friend from grad school who I hadn’t seen in ten years. Luckily for me, the day I was there on my own was a First Friday, which is a monthly event in the arts district where all the galleries and many other businesses stay open late and people gather and walk around and mingle. The morning before it started I found a nice independent coffee shop in the arts district, called Crossroads Coffee, and sat there and worked on editing my book for a good solid four hours.

As I was wrapping up with my writing and getting ready to go out to see the galleries, some musicians started playing. Normally I don’t go much to live music shows these days – they don’t fit too well with the mom lifestyle – but felt it would be sort of rude to leave just as they were starting. So I stayed and listened a bit and then got hooked and ended up staying through the whole first set – the singer, Danny McGraw, turned out to be extremely talented. I liked the music so much that I ended up going up to buy one of his CDs when he paused for a break. Definitely worth a listen if you get the chance.

INKubator Press

INKubator Press, via http://artsincubatorkc.org/

Then I hit the galleries, and the evening became increasingly surreal. There was an old-fashioned book bindery, and an “arts incubator” place with a real old-style printing press as well. I wandered down to the end of one street and found a hair salon that was functioning as a gallery for the evening, packed with art and people. In one corner, DJs were spinning vinyl records. I came out of the salon with my mind slightly blown by that, only to see a pack of about 20 men running down the street wearing nothing but diapers and athletic shoes. No explanations, just men in diapers.

I wandered in and out of more galleries and stopped to hear a few bands playing in alleys or on streetcorners or in parking lots. I stopped for a while at a drum circle in a vacant lot. There were heavily tatooed white girls, their hair in red dreadlocks or tiny braids, their eyes made up with curlicues of kohl at the corners, wearing black lingerie and giant electric-blue furry boots, dancing to the drum music with hula hoops of flashing lights in every color.

Later I wandered into a small gallery where the artist, a guy, was blatantly hitting on every girl who came in. I allowed myself to be hit on, because as a mom it’s not something that happens so frequently, so I figured why not just enjoy it? Then the artist-guy’s friend came by and the three of us got into conversation. Casanova-artist’s friend had a very elaborate tattoo on one leg that went from his thigh down to his toes, and he took off his shoe and sock so I could see it better. I mentioned that I had a daughter, and it turned out Mr. Casanova-artist had a daughter too … and a wife (ick). And then it turned out that Mr. Casanova-artist’s tattoo-toed friend and his wife (not Casanova’s wife, but the friend’s wife) had quadruplets. Yes, quadruplets, and they had them naturally – it was a one in a million chance. They were born very early, of course, and only three of the four babies survived, but the rest were healthy. So basically, they were raising triplets.

And no, I wasn’t taking any hallucinogenic drugs that evening. That’s just Kansas City for you.

Shuttlecocks at Nelson-Atkins Museum

Shuttlecocks at Nelson-Atkins Museum (via Matt Unruh, Emporia State University)

The next morning I met up with my long-lost friend from grad school, who’s now a professor at the University of Missouri, and met her husband for the first time too, which was great. We went to the Nelson-Atkins Art Museum and then went for barbecue at Jack Stack’s. Jack Stack was good, but the menu is a bit meat-heavy. You can get a meat appetizer, a meat main course with a side of meat, and then for dessert, they have a selection of meat brulee, creme de meat, meat parfait, or, on the lighter side, a few scoops of meat gelato. Okay, I’m kidding, but it was a whole lot of meat.

All in all, an excellent trip.

October 

  • My daughter and I moved from the DC-Maryland suburbs into a new apartment in DC proper.

November

  • The one-year anniversary of this blog!
  • Started a new novel! (See my Writing page for details.) Have not gotten much time to work on it so far, but it’s coming along.
  • Spent Thanksgiving in Tucson, and my daughter got lots of good Grandma time in and got into all kinds of highjinks with her cousins. After Thanksgiving, I drove her down to Tennessee, where she is going to stay with her dad for six months (we decided to change to a 50-50 custody arrangement, because I was getting kind of overwhelmed with solo-parenting). The plan is that I’ll be going down to Tennessee to visit every other weekend or so. Was very excited to learn that Megabus now runs a Chinatown town bus express to Knoxville! That is going to make my life a lot easier.

December

  • Won free tickets to a really cool event at the National Geographic Society – my favorite singer Neko Case did a showing of her photography.
  • Bought an inexpensive, used piano off Craigslist. Very exciting. I played piano seriously through college, but haven’t had a piano at home in 15 years.
  • Due to peer pressure, finally caved in and joined twitter. One of these days I am going to figure out how to get one of those twitter-widget-thingies up here on the blog.

That’s all the recent news – cheers and happy holidays everyone!

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Moonshine

Moonshine, via Mark Oldman (http://www.markoldman.com/)

(Quick announcement first: I’ve added a new section on Mormon-interest books to my “Recommended” page, in case anyone’s interested.)

So, the weekend before last, Amandine and I drove down to Knoxville, TN, so she could spend some time with her dad. The drive was long (8 1/2 hours), but I dulled the pain somewhat with one of those portable DVD players you hook on to the back of the passenger seat, so Amandine could watch videos. (Her hands-down favorites: Barbie in The 12 Dancing Princesses and Angelina Ballerina.)

Once I dropped Amandine off at her dad’s Friday night, though, heaven awaited: a weekend all to myself, my first since Amandine was born nearly three years ago. (Amandine seemed pretty excited about it too. She was all: “Okay, Mommy, you can go now.”) I stayed at the St. Oliver Hotel in downtown Knoxville, right on Market Square. It was pretty close to my ideal as far as hotels go: historic, with charm and character, clean, cozy without being kitschy, and not too expensive. All the rooms were furnished with antiques, but there was no chintz and lace like in some stuffy Victorian B&B (the kind I never get to stay in, because they tend to be child-hostile)—instead it just looked cool and chic. And my room had real wood floors, even in the bathroom!

Saturday was a nearly perfect day. I slept well, woke up early, got dressed, and went downstairs to the library room, where the hotel had free wi-fi, to check my e-mail. After that I stepped outside, and market day on the square was already booming, with farmers and artisans setting up their stands. I wasn’t hungry for breakfast, and the coffee shop wasn’t open yet, so I sat on a park bench and people-watched in between working on novel revisions. Then I found I was hungry after all, so I went and had flapjacks at Trio Cafe, which were very good (if only they used real maple syrup, though; my Canadian connections have spoiled me for the fake stuff. I had to make up for it by smearing the pancakes with a whole ball of butter …).

Next stop was Coffee & Chocolate for a chai latte, more people-watching, and more work on novel revisions until the early afternoon, by which point I was hungry again. Then to Tomato Head for a nutritious and fortifying lunch of carrot soup and chorizo-avocado enchilada. After that I was in a bit of a food coma, so I went back to the hotel for a short nap.

Through the afternoon heat and into the early evening I stayed in my hotel room and had a particularly successful revising session. I finally managed to rewrite a scene that almost every one of my critiquers had said was a missed opportunity, and which I had felt intimidated about attacking.

It’s a peculiar sort of pleasure, but a genuine one, to spend almost an entire day in the company of  one’s own imaginary novel characters. A bit like being around a group of delightfully well-behaved children who go around saying one absurd, adorable thing after another—at least, when your characters are clever likeable people rather than, say, depraved evil villains.

At 7:30pm I had a reservation at one of my favorite restaurants in the whole country, RouXbarb,* headed up by chef Bruce Bogartz. (Other favorite restaurants: Buck’s Fishing & Camping in DC and Boulevard in San Francisco. All three of these I’ve liked better than wd-50 in New York.) Since I was eating solo, I was seated at the “chef’s table,” which is sort of like bar seating, but in a u-shape so it’s easier to talk to other people. Being a shy yet sociable sort of person, I appreciated this setup. At one point, back when I was single the first time around, I trained myself to enjoy eating in restaurants by myself. Since then, I’ve known I can always do fine with my own little table and a book, and as often as not I end up in conversations with people at other tables anyway. But the chef’s table was still a nice accommodation—sort of the restaurant equivalent of a youth hostel atmosphere.

I had the chicken liver appetizer, the watermelon salad, the scallops, and the white-chocolate banana pudding. Everything was amazing, especially the chicken livers, which were sumptuously crispy and perfectly complemented by the sweet-tart tomato jam and cheesy grits. It’s a BYOB place, and I hadn’t thought to bring anything to drink, so the bartendress poured me a glass of house red, looking sorry that I wasn’t getting anything better. Then some of the other people at the chef’s table invited me to share a glass of some really nice wine they had brought, and the bartendress was greatly relieved.

Meanwhile, Chef Bruce kept leaning over from his post in the kitchen, greeting new guests, teasing and hassling the regulars (of which there were many), and making colorful remarks. Upon learning why I’d come to Knoxville, he declared I ought to be drinking moonshine. I laughed it off, but later in the evening a mason jar was set down on the counter in front of me, containing a clear, cold liquid, alongside a couple of chilled shot glasses.

“We don’t have a liquor license, so you’ll have to pour it yourself,” I was told.

Intrigued, I screwed off the lid of the mason jar and poured myself a shot. I asked my newfound friends at the table for advice as to whether I was supposed to sip it or just knock it back. The consensus opinion was that I should take a sip first so I’d know what I was getting into, and then knock it  back. So I took a sip, and ended up sipping all of it, because it was actually not bad-tasting at all. It was the sort of drink that wakes you up, too, instead of making you feel sleepy, so fortunately it gave me renewed energy for tackling my banana pudding.

No longer a moonshine virgin, I came back to the hotel, read a few chapters of a book (Allison Lurie’s Foreign Affairs, which I picked up randomly in a used bookstore and ended up enjoying a lot), and went to sleep.

Sunday afternoon I went to pick up Amandine from her dad’s house and heard about her many adventures, which included making cookies, swimming, drawing, and playing with power tools, apparently.  Then we headed back to DC. So it was a short trip, but a successful one all around.

In moonshine’s honor, I leave you with this nostalgic video to contemplate:

*I wrote a fuller review of RouXbarb a couple of years ago on TripAdvisor, after the first time I went there (it’s the one entitled “So good it made me want to do backflips”).

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Hazelnut Tart at wd-50

Hazelnut Tart at wd-50

Happy Fourth of July!

Some good news to share: Starting next month I’ll be joining the ranks of the (fully and gainfully) employed. I’ve accepted an offer from a federal government agency and will be going back into my old line of work as a program analyst (subject, of course, to background checks and paperwork, etc. etc.) So, this Independence Day I am lucky enough to celebrate the prospect of going back into public service and also being a little more financially independent. I’m excited about the job, which is going to involve research, interviewing, writing, and analysis on all kinds of interesting topics, and even some travel.

And now, of course, all the usual disclaimers and caveats will apply: this blog isn’t and won’t be intended in any way to reflect the views of my new employer.

Thanks so much to everyone who encouraged me and kindly  passed on opportunities, tips, advice, and references during my job hunt. I can admit now that it was slightly scary to be looking for work in the middle of such a difficult economy, and all that kindness and encouragement helped me keep my chin up.

Since I wrote last, a whole adventuresome weekend trip to NYC came and went. Two weeks ago Amandine and I went on a road to trip up to Westchester County, north of New York City, to see my little sister graduate from her medical residency program.

Google maps said it would take five hours to get there, which I thought might just be doable with an almost-three-year-old in the back seat. Of course, I didn’t count on being stuck on the DC beltway for an hour in traffic on the way out, or missing the turnoff to the Jersey turnpike and getting totally lost driving around small towns in rural New Jersey … or getting stuck on the Washington Bridge on the way through NYC at 11:30 at night for 45 minutes during which Amandine woke up and cried nonstop … yeah, so in the end, seven hours give or take. And not a very fun seven hours.

But the Westchester Marriott, where we stayed with my parents, was nice, with a tasty steak and eggs breakfast the next morning. We spent the day visiting Sleepy Hollow (of headless horseman fame), the Rockefeller mansion called Kykuit, and Phillipsburg Manor. I don’t recommend trying to tour the inside of the mansion with an almost-three-year-old, but Amandine had a great time playing outside in the fountains and wandering around the gardens, which are full of cool modern scultures.

Then in the evening was the big graduation ceremony for my sister at another hotel, with dinner and dancing afterward. To everyone’s surprise, after Amandine had spent the whole day yawning and being cranky, as soon as the DJ started the dance music, she grabbed my hand, pulled me out into the middle of the ballroom, and started tearing up the dance floor. I’ll post the video on Facebook. Meanwhile, this will at least give you the flavor of it:

The next day my sister and parents went to a Broadway Show in the afternoon, while Amandine and I meandered down to Central Park. It was really hot and miserable, but they had sort of a splashpark section in the middle of it, with sprinklers and waterslides, so even though we weren’t prepared with swimsuits, I let Amandine splash around in it to cool off a little. I wish we’d gone to the Met or something more air-conditioned instead.

Then in the evening we went to a restaurant called wd-50, which looks like a hole-in-the-wall, but is actually on a list of the top 50 restaurants in the world. The chef’s name is Wylie Dufresne, and I think this constituted my first brush with the so-called molecular gastronomy style of cuisine. I had a beautiful red cocktail that involved lychee and rose flavors, and in the spirit of adventure ordered the smoked eel appetizer. For a main dish I had the skate (fish) with salsify (obscure vegetable), wild rice, and butternut squash.

It was certainly all very inventive and clever and wonderfully presented, and some of the flavors were intense and pleasing … but somehow, the dishes I had just didn’t, well, taste all that amazing. I mean, it was okay, and goodness knows, it certainly wasn’t bad. But with the smoked eel it mainly tasted like, well, chunks of smoked fish. Which is not a bad taste by any means, but you know, it’s smoked fish. And the skate was actually kind of rubbery. I’ve never had skate before, so maybe that was how it’s supposed to be. Maybe all the subtleties were just lost on me.

But the dessert. Now the dessert blew me away. It was a little disk of hazelnut torte, with thin layers of cool, silky, intensely rich coconut cream and chocolate ganache. The idea of combining coconut and hazelnut was very original, I thought, and worked beautifully. But the kicker, the truly mind- and palate-blowing bit, was a slightly bittersweet chicory foam on the side. I mean, if that didn’t beat all. You know, chicory. A bitter vegetable. With a superrich, tiny, cold hazelnut tart. And it was delicious. The delicate hint of frothy bitterness was the perfect thing to compliment the cold chocolatty nuttiness. It was genius. So that saved the dinner for me, and saved wd-50’s reputation in my mind.

On the drive back, I took a different route to avoid NYC and that terrible bridge, through Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. This only took five hours, but when we were still two hours from home the air conditioning in the car stopped working, and it was 92 degrees outside. So again, that was not too fun.  But it was worth it to see my sister and have a little adventure.

Before I go, a few quick movie reviews:

Eclipse

Thankfully, this was nowhere near as bad as I was expecting. I actually thought the first movie in the series was surprisingly well done. And then New Moon was such a disappointment, full of every imaginable cliche and silliness, complete with a flash forward of Bella running in slo-mo through a field of flowers in a flowy dress with syrupy music playing. It was so bad it was laughable. So I was wary about Eclipse, but thought I’d give it a chance. And they did better this time. Bella was less annoyingly grim, it was funnier (the scene with Bella telling her dad she’s still a virgin was priceless), and the Edward-Jake tensions and rivalry were funny, too.

Letters to Juliet

This is another one I had low expectations for. It looked totally sappy and brainless in the trailers. But I ended up enjoying it. Of course, the film’s contention that people who love each should want to spend every waking moment together was silly, and personally I wouldn’t have complained about traveling through Italy eating cheese and truffles and going to wine tastings with Gael Garcia Bernal. But the whole film was easy on the eyes (both scenery and people), and kind of refreshing in the way it managed to sneak in bits of intelligent dialogue and characterization in between the typical by-the-numbers rom-com moments.

Good Dick(on DVD)

I know, what a name! I fear it’s going to attract the totally wrong sort of traffic to this blog. But I had to mention it because this was a great, great little film. It’s about a guy who works in a video shop, his fellow misfit coworkers, and a mysterious, reclusive young woman who comes in every afternoon and rents an armload of softcore porn videos. The story is moving, funny, and original, and the acting was well-done. (Although, Mormon friends, I don’t think this is one for you, unless you are on the far-liberal end of the spectrum.)

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Columbus, OHAmandine and I are in Columbus, OH, this weekend visiting friends. It has been a pretty low-key visit so far, mostly just hanging out, chasing Amandine around, eating, and reading. I figured I might as well take advantage of not having a job yet to get a little traveling in before I start work.

The most exciting thing we’ve done so far was the Columbus Race for the Cure yesterday morning—it was fun to walk around the downtown area (my friend and I were both pushing strollers, so it was definitely a walk, not a run) and see all the buildings, hear the bands play, and get high-fives from all the biker-dudes and -dudettes who parked their motorcycles on the sidewalks and revved their engines for the last stretch. Afterward we had brunch at a place called the Northstar Cafe, which I really liked.

Meanwhile, I’ve been thinking about some of the similarities between writing and parenting. The friend I’ve been staying with was a single mom for several years, and so is full of constructive tips and advice about how to manage. In general, as a parent, one gets all kinds of advice from all directions, sometimes conflicting or contradictory. Be more laid back. Be less laid back. Be stricter. Don’t hover, or your child will be too dependent on you. Do hover, or your child will end up kidnapped.

Likewise with writing. You have your anti-adverb people, your show-don’t-tell obsessives, your pro-purple prose people, and so on. There are people who profess to love your writing, and people who, given half a chance, will stab at your pages bloodthirstily* till your manuscript is soaked with red ink.

The trouble is, with both writing and parenting, I have blind spots where I need advice. There are places in my manuscript where I know that I don’t know whether or not there’s something deeply wrong with it. The only way to get a better sense of the major flaws is to get input from other people. It’s frustrating, because often when I look at other people’s writing, their mistakes stand out glaringly to me, and these turn out to be the same mistakes I’m making with my writing.

And with my daughter, I have a sense of where my faults as a parent lie (tendency to be a pushover, absent-mindedness), but it’s hard know the best ways to counterbalance them so as to make sure I don’t accidentally ruin her life and render her forever socially inept. Having so little experience at parenting, sometimes it’s hard to gauge when your countermeasures go too far (e.g., being extra strict to balance one’s pushover tendencies, or being extra attentive to make up for one’s absent-mindedness).

And then, with both writing and parenting, sometimes your critics disagree with each other, and sometimes their criticisms just sound wrong. So where you have these blind spots, you end up having to do a complicated triangulation between other people’s opinions and your own instincts, paying careful attention to what’s coming from which source.

I wonder if the best writers—and the best parents—are the ones with the fewest blind spots, or if even the best ones still need outsiders’ perspectives, but have just gotten very good and quick at doing the triangulation on those outside opinions to measure them against their own judgments. In any case, I’m hoping I can improve over time both at having fewer and smaller blind spots and at making the best use of other people’s advice. I’d love to hear what others think  …

*Take that, anti-adverb people!

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Illustration by Sylvia Long

Illustration by Silvia Long, via http://www.sylvia-long.com/

The morning daycare for Amandine is working out great so far. She seems to like it, and I’ve been able to get some revisions done on my book. I think the manuscript is just about ready to send out to some of my friends who’ve said they’d be willing to take a look at it. Apart from that, I’ve been filling out loads of federal job applications, some of which require the applicant to write more or less a novel-length description of their KSAs (knowledge, skills, and abilities). So the writing stamina I’ve developed by getting novels down on paper has stood me in good stead. You can’t say novel-writing doesn’t have its collateral benefits, even if one never gets published.

A friend lent me The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and I finished that this week. I enjoyed the book as much as the movie, even already knowing the main plot points. The prose style was nice in the English translation, although obviously I can’t say how well it reflects the original Swedish. It’s kind of Ikea-style writing—clean and uncluttered lines, with function taking priority over form, but concern for pleasing design as well.

Amandine, who’s going on two-and-three-quarters now, is becoming very talkative and using complex sentences. She also makes up long, interesting songs about cats and bunnies and naps and diapers. I was particularly impressed the other day when she modified the lyrics of a lullaby that I’ve sung to her a lot. There is a children’s book by Sylvia Long with beautiful illustrations and alternative lyrics to the “Momma’s gonna buy you a mockingbird” song, that go like this:

Hush little baby, don’t say a word, Mommy’s gonna show you a hummingbird.
If that hummingbird should fly, Mommy’s gonna show you the evening sky.
And when the night-time shadows fall, Mommy’s gonna hear the crickets call.
As their song drifts from afar, Mommy’s gonna search for a shooting star.
Etc.

The author’s idea was that the traditional lyrics are too materialistic—“I’ll buy you this, I’ll buy you that.” So instead she wanted to make the song about a mother comforting her child with the beauty of the world around them and her own love. I liked the idea, so I’ve always sung that version to Amandine as a bedtime song. The other day she was putting her favorite stuffed cat down for a nap and singing the song to the cat. Except Amandine’s version went like this:

Hush lillel baby, don’t say a wook, Mommy’s gonna show you a … cupcake.

Alas, the non-comsumerist subtext has clearly not sunk in. But at least it appears my daughter is a poet in the making. At any rate, I took the hint and made cupcakes yesterday.

Some soothing music to send you on your way:

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William Boyd's "Any Human Heart"

William Boyd's "Any Human Heart"

Last night I finally finished reading William Boyd’s Any Human Heart, which I’d been working at for a while (it was one of those tragic cases where I was halfway through the book when my library renewals ran out and I had to return it, and was too sheepish to turn around and special-request it again immediately; but then I was lucky enough to come into a used copy of it, a cause for celebration). It’s a novel about the fictional life of an English writer spanning nearly the whole twentieth century. He meets everyone who’s anyone: Picasso, Hemingway, James Joyce, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, gets involved with the Bader-Meinhoff Gang, etc. It’s nicely written and the story pulls you in. After a while you feel as if this character has become a friend, and you care about his ups and downs.

The thing that really drew me to the book, though, was that it was presented in journal format. Since the second half of my own most recent novel was also in journal format, I was keen to see an example of this technique being used well, and this book was helpful for that.

Now I’m beginning another chapter-by-chapter read-off between Wolf Hall, A.S. Byatt’s The Children’s Book, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and a nonfiction compendium of fairy lore originally published in 1880 (lent to me by a writer friend who, incidentally, just had a lovely short story published involving alligators). This is going to be a pretty fierce competition, I think.

I’m tempted, though, to drop them all and read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. My last moms’ night out with Ms. Connect-the-Dots and friends, we went to see the movie version. It was a bit violent for me, and I definitely do not (!!) recommend it to any of my Mormon friends.* But apart from the violence, it was well-done, exciting, and suspenseful and made me want to read all the books.

Productive literary activity (e.g. revising my novel, drafting anything new) has sadly been at a standstill this month due to the stresses of job hunting, etc. But next week my daughter (the one who swears like a sailor) will be starting daycare three mornings a week, so that she can gradually get used to it before I actually start a new job and also so that I’ll have a reliable place for her to stay if I get called in for any interviews (fingers crossed). So I’m hoping I can go off and work in my usual neighborhood coffee shop and get something done that way. Even without job hunting, making time to write has gotten a lot harder since my daughter stopped taking regular naps. I’ve only had evenings for relatively-less-interrupted work, and at the end of a day of chasing Amandine around, I am often so kaputt that I just don’t have energy for anything but collapsing in a heap. So this daycare thing is sort of an exciting development if it works out. We’ll see how it goes.

In gastronomic news, I had a girls’ night out with some non-mom friends and we went (sans Amandine) to a restaurant called Dino in Cleveland Park. It was great, just my sort of place, fresh and sophisticated Italian, pretty presentations but not too fussy, and—my favorite part—a focus on seasonal, local, sustainably-grown ingredients. The owner and his wife both popped by to say hello. I highly recommend this place. Also in gastronomic news: A friend of mine from college, a sweet, bright, and wonderful guy, turns out to be in the restaurant business these days and has started a fun blog called LDSFoodCritic.

And I already told all my Facebook friends, but one more piece of news is that I’ve had another essay accepted for publication. The title is “The Economy of Souls,” and it will appear in the Summer 2010 issue of Jabberwock Review. I am happy to have found such a good home for this piece, for one thing because the essay is long at 10K words, and I was worried that the length would be prohibitive for getting it published. But more importantly, because it’s the most ambitious writing project I’ve taken on so far. It actually took longer to write than either of my novels, so it will be quite a thing for me to see it in print.

That’s all for today, Amandine and I are off to a brunch/playdate at the house of a Finnish friend to celebrate a Finnish holiday called Vappu. (It’s the Finns’ version of Walpurgis Night. Who knew?)

(Stolen from here.)

*And for everyone else, if you do go see the movie, I recommend closing your eyes, sticking your fingers in your ears, and singing “La la la la” during the awful parts.

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