Sunday, November 28, 2010

The snow has stopped and it is a clear blue morning.  These are my favorite days of winter.  I love the sunlight sparkling on the high snowbanks, and the contrast between blue sky and white snow.  And it is a free day, a day for us to do what we please, to stay inside with books and hot chocolate, or to tramp for miles through the cold, clear, blue and white world if we wish.  I refuse to think about the week to come today, the necessity for driving anywhere, or such mundane things as wet clothing and heating bills.  'Tis a glorious day and I mean to enjoy it.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Portrait of the Author as a House-Frau

Hosted Thanksgiving dinner for the first time this year.  Fun!

Good times with friends and family.

And they washed up!

Monday, November 22, 2010

So, I recently unearthed a partially completed manuscript, abandoned a number of years ago.  It was the last manuscript I wrote by hand, which would explain why it survived the tragic deaths of two laptops which perished during that time, taking other half-baked ideas with them.  (I really must learn from my mistakes and save back-up copies.)

I know enough now to realize that the story would never survive the publishing world of today.  The protagonist is entirely too contented, the setting too picturesque, and I have a feeling that ragged-yet-cheerful gypsies with hurdy-gurdys and hearts of gold are on their way out as popular characters.  It makes absolutely no sense to finish it, and no doubt that's why I abandoned it at the time... but there's something in it, a freshness and innocence, that I can't help wanting to recapture, and I think the characters are impatient with me for not finishing their stories.  I may have to complete it anyway, if only for its own sake.  And you never know... 

I did recently stumble across a novel at the dollar store, which manages to smash together about five genres somehow, as well as ripping off the plots of at least three popular novels at once, with healthy doses of time-travel, sex, kilts, and rock 'n' roll, not to mention poor writing.  Yes, I might be a little bitter, but somebody published it!  Yes, it was at the dollar store, but first somebody had to read it and think, "This is good stuff.  Let's print it!"

So perhaps it means there is hope for me after all.  Or it means I shall have to resort to writing bodice-rippers to pay the bills.  Or I shall keep my dignity and work at Flowery Trail until I die.

Saturday, November 20, 2010


There is a place I go in my mind when life becomes too much, too complicated, too busy.  There is a bare stone floor, a blazing fire, and me.  Beyond, I think there are no walls, for it feels open to the world, but I have never looked.  It doesn't matter.  I am alone with stone and fire -- at peace, unafraid.

There are probably some who will read this and think I'm crazy.  Others, I think, will know exactly what I'm talking about.

Friday, November 19, 2010


We had our first valley snow today.  For over a week I've been watching the snow line creep down the mountains, and today it came to us.  I walked to work at 5:30 this morning in the dark as usual, but did so with soft little white flakes dancing around me and sparkling under the streetlights.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


My bread dough is rising on the counter, filling the house with its warm, yeasty smell.  I love making bread -- kneading it, watching it grow, cutting into the fresh loaves and watching them steam.  People always seem surprised to learn that I still bake at home after baking at work every day, but it's really a very different thing.  At work I always bake the same thing, or at least a variation of the same thing, in a designated amount in a certain way.  Even though I enjoy it, the creative aspect is almost completely lost.  Besides, I am at heart a flinger.  I rarely measure things, and like deciding to change things at the last minute.  Like Aaron's birthday cake.  I knew I wanted cream cheese frosting, then at the last minute discovered a mini Bailey's in the liquor cabinet.  Turns out cream cheese frosting is tasty but cream cheese frosting with Bailey's is fantastic.  My last-minute ideas don't always work so well, and I have had to throw things out before, but it's all part of the fun of the thing.  I went through a childhood faze when I would get up very early in the morning before anyone else and go into the kitchen to "experiment".  I think I did it early in the morning at least partly because if my parents knew what I was going to do they would stop me.  Also, I always had a grand sort of notion that I was going to create a masterpiece and surprise everyone. My mother never tried to put an end to this that I can remember, I think because she is herself a very creative person, and she didn't know how to put an halt to my culinary escapades without also squashing my creativity. So I would tiptoe into the kitchen nearly every morning and play with ingredients.  Sometimes the things were palatable, and sometimes I was forced to try to dispose of them before anyone found out.  On one particularly memorable occasion I recall having just heard that putting apple sauce in cake would make it moist.  Therefore, feeling that I could not possibly go wrong, I proceeded to bake a large cake that was approximately half apple sauce, with a very minimal amount of flour.  My long-suffering family, after this, suggested that perhaps I limit the size of my "experiments" in future.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Odds and Ends

It's a chilly day with more than a touch of winter in it, but it's warm inside and every so often the sun breaks through the clouds and shines through the red curtains, making the room glow and bringing out little iridescent lights in the tulle I'm working with.  My workday was shorter than usual today, so I've spent the morning since my return sewing.  Later I'm driving out to my parents', ostensibly to pick up my piano music, since I now have an instrument to play it on, but really to take a walk in the Autumn woods and sit on the rug by the fire with my mother and pretend to be a little girl again.  It's not far to drive, less than half an hour, and it will give Gerry his exercise.

Gerry is my faithful automobile.  He is a 1990 Buick Regal, who was previously owned by a smoky old man who drove him nowhere but back and forth from the casino until the day he died, and whose presence is still palpable in spite of a string of air-fresheners.  His driver's side door no longer opens from the outside, and thus getting in requires a certain amount of creativity, not to mention flexibility.  He is generally cranky first thing, and doesn't like to shift into second gear until he's warmed up a little.  For all these reasons his name is short for Geriatric.  But he consistently runs in spite of frequently threatening death, and he gets through ice and snow in the winter better than any other car I've driven in spite of not having four-wheel-drive, which is usually a necessity around here.  Basically, he is a small tank.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Remedy for a Bad Day

I'm somewhat ashamed to state that I've been rather grumpy lately, the combined result of a cough which refuses to leave me in peace even after a month and another form rejection which arrived recently.  En route home after work today I realized that this must stop.  Eight years ago I was in the midst of a stint of chemotherapy, had lost my hair and had two life-threatening allergic reactions to the drugs that were supposed to keep my immune system strong.  Yet I remember that being one of the most peaceful times of my life.  Weird, no?  People talk about living for the moment, but you never realize what that means until the moment really is all you have.  Somehow, at sixteen I was able to place my future, my life or my death, in the hands of God, and enjoy what I had.  Shakespeare was right, "the readiness is all".  Life or death, to be ready for either... and when I found out it was to be life, it was almost harder to get used to, because I'd all but forgotten how to plan for the future.  And now I get myself out of sorts because of a cough and the whims of a literary agent I've never met.  Have I forgotten?  Not entirely.  I still enjoy the simple things.  I still weave my life into a fairy tale of my own creation, and if the villains are a little darker, well, the heroes are a little brighter, for what is the measure of a hero if not the strength of the foes he has vanquished.  It is only a little harder sometimes to remember, so I am making a list of good things about today.

1.  The weather.  It's the end of Autumn.  You can feel the approach of snow.  The Mountain Ash berries are so bright they almost glow.  

2.  The patch of Sweet Alysium I found under a hedge on my walk home, still fresh and sweet-smelling after all this cold weather.

3.  My iTunes playlist... an interesting mix of Simon and Garfunkel, Giori, Beats Antique, The Weepies, The Killers, Jeremy Fisher,  Duke Special, John Tams and others, along with selections from Blood Brothers, Phantom of the Opera, and the Buffy the Vampire Slayer musical episode, Once More With Feeling.

4.  My delicious mug of tea, and the slice of birthday cake left over from Aaron's birthday party last night.

5.  Last night's birthday party belongs here too, even if it's not technically part of today.  Good times with great people.

6.  The cough, while still in evidence, did not wake me up at all last night.  Hurrah for a good night's sleep!

7.  My wonderful husband, lovely parents, and excellent sister, not to mention a whole parcel of friends, near and far, who make life interesting at all times.

8.  The new novel, which is finally coming together in my mind.

9.  Elephants!  Even if there aren't any nearby, just the fact that such a creature exists makes me happy.  Same with giraffes.

10.  Ballet class tonight.

11.  The fact that my moody spell seems to have evaporated.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Customer Service

After more than five years in food and beverage service I have to say, it's not as easy as most people seem to think.  It's also more rewarding.  There's a mixture of science and art to making a good latte, but that's only the first of a number of skills necessary for being a good barista, and certainly the easiest to define.  Here are a few more.

1.  Cheerfulness (preferably genuine).  You are often the first person the customer sees in the morning outside their immediate family.  They are tired and grouchy.  Sometimes they have bed-head.  Often they mumble incoherently.  They NEED COFFEE.  Always important to remember that you are supplying an addiction.  If you give them good coffee and smile while doing it, they will love you forever.  If you don't, they may come and kill you in your sleep.

2.  A good poker face.  They may have just ordered the most disgusting combination of flavors you've ever heard of.  They might smell like they haven't washed in several months.  That old man's tasteless joke was most definitely not as funny as he thought it was.  The elderly woman just snapped her fingers and yelled, "Ma'am!" at you from across the room.  Yet your countenance must betray no hint of what you're feeling.

3.  Intuition.  Sometimes a customer will not know what they are ordering.  Sometimes they try to sound like they know when they don't.  It is up to you to figure this out, without making them feel stupid for not knowing. Example: Preteen girl orders "espresso".  You know she doesn't want a straight shot of espresso in a cup.  But it really would be rude to laugh.  So you smile and ask, "what size would you like?".  If she says 20 oz, you know you're on the right track, because the shots it would take to fill a 20 oz cup would probably make her little heart explode in her chest.  So then you ask if she wants any flavor.  "Ummm, yeah, chocolate, and can you add caramel?  And can you make it blended, with whipped cream?"  Last question.  "How many shots of espresso would you like?"  "Umm, one."  So there you have it.  "Espresso" has turned into a 20 oz blended caramel mocha with whipped cream.

4.  Creativity. When people don't know what they want, often the best thing to do is tell them.  Invent something so delicious they'll never have to wonder what to order again.  

5.  A thick skin.  Here I must state that nine out of ten customers I deal with are splendid, polite, wonderful people.  But there is always that one.  The one who is never pleased, who constantly makes unreasonable demands, who treats you like something sub-human -- some machine which exists solely to dispense coffee.  And there's generally nothing to do but take it -- and mimic it to your friends later, which does actually help.  Also, a side note to #5, owing to a growing number of "bikini stands" and "barista babe" Halloween costumes, it has become fairly commonplace to frequent coffee shops with the purpose of ogling the girls.  This is rarely, if ever, pleasant for the person being ogled, especially when accompanied by creepy remarks or invitations to join the ogler at their "ranch".  Of course, I am not referring to harmless flirtation, which is just that, but there is a huge difference between appreciation and the drooling of a lech.  How to deal with this sort of situation has to be figured out on a case by case basis.  Sometimes you can laugh it off, treating the whole thing as a huge joke.  Sometimes the only solution is to turn on what my sister calls "Ice Queen".

Sunday, November 7, 2010


Had a perfectly horrid dream last night.  It's already beginning to fade, so I'm grateful for that, but I remember running away, running in fear from someone I had liked and trusted.

I don't have frightening dreams very often.  As a child, I did sometimes dream that my blankets had turned into snakes, and that was terrifying, but generally my dreams were just amusing and adventurous, or strange, like the recurring dream I had for years that I was falling from the top of our bunk bed.  I never fell more than halfway down, and then I would suddenly bounce back to the top and fall again, like a yo-yo.  It would go on like that for what seemed like hours, and was always kind of fun and soothing.  I also had dreams fairly regularly that involved being lost in a large old house, or sometimes a castle, with a group of friends.  We were generally on a quest of some kind, and sometimes followed, but it always felt more exciting and adventurous than scary.

I will go for months at a time without remembering any of my dreams, and then I will have a string of them all at once, very vivid and strange.  For the last week or so it's been the latter.  I don't really go in for dream analysis.  I don't spend considerable time wondering what it means when I dream that a friend was sent a pink cupcake for mother's day, or a king died and left his daughters scrunchies which they were commanded to wear every day for the rest of their lives.  There are times when I wonder a little... like when I had recurring cancer dreams the year before I was diagnosed.  Then I dream about sledding to work and stopping to order Dutch Babies (the breakfast food, not infants from Holland) on the way at a phone hanging from a tree, and once again I discount meaning entirely.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


The dancers of American Ballet theatre are visiting Cuba for the first time since 1960, to honor ballet legend Alicia Alonso, who still directs the Cuban National Ballet at the age of 90.  I've attached a link to an article.  I love seeing this, artists going where politicians fear to tread.  In Alicia Alonso's own words:

"We need beauty inside, we need peace inside of us, I think through art.  The more we advance, the more necessary it is, and the more we can touch each other -- if not the same language, at least the same feeling of humanity."

This from a woman who danced into her seventies in spite of being nearly blind, and does more to promote relations between Cuba and America than a legion of diplomats.  I can think of no better example of the triumph of the human spirit.

American dancers in homage to Cuban ballet legend - Entertainment -