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6 posts from April 2013

ThingsApril 27, 2013

In response to previous post: You all are amazing. I can't even express my joy at the response to the Boston Love Blankets. Rena, coordinator extraordinaire, would like to start putting the blankets (plural!) together around May 8th, and get them done by Mother's Day, in case you're wondering about the timeline to get your squares in. With all my heart, thank you.

Random Things I Thought About Last Night Instead of Sleeping

1. I googled an ex-boyfriend yesterday. No, don't look at me like that. I know you do it, too, unless you married your high-school sweetheart before the internet was invented. And if that's the case, you're missing some primo google-stalking, my friend. 

So I googled this guy. Not many hits--it's an unusual name. It wasn't until hours later, when I was in bed, reviewing my day (you do that, too, right? You don't? No wonder I don't sleep) that I remembered I got his first name wrong.

I spent years with the guy. And I got his first name wrong. Very wrong, the equivalent of Peter for James. Not even similar names, and the first name I chose (at random, apparently) wasn't the name of anyone I'd ever known.

2. I thought about how much I had to tell you, dear reader. I swear to you, I'm so funny when I'm in trying to fall asleep. Not funny as in interesting (because I'm not that unless I've taken Ambien in which case I'm super-interesting and will tell you how I'm being held by the Nazis and that your face looks like the finest mahogany) but funny as in ha-ha. I make up jokes that would SLAY you. Not only that, I'm smart, too! I write paragraphs that are so brilliant I'm completely sure I'll win MEGA PRIZES AND FAME (Pulitzer, anyone?) and then when I wake up, it's all just gone.

Last night in bed I wrote in my head for hours. I'm sure that all writers do this, and I wonder if other artists do it, too. Do painters lose sleep, painting in their minds things they can't recapture the next day? Do pianists imagine whole pieces in their minds, only to be unable to hear them again in the morning? (Speaking of pianist and creativity, go read this amazing piece on dropping the remote and grabbing your dream: Go now. I'll still be here when you get back.) 

So last night, I couldn't wait to tell you about __________. 

I'll let you know when I remember it.

3. Several people have asked me about traveling light. How much do I LOVE traveling light? So much that sometimes planning for travel is more exciting than the actual trip. (That's horrible to admit, right? But honestly. Think about it. Sitting in that cramped airplane seat? Agony. Sitting in your desk chair, researching suitcases? Straight-up JOY, y'all. Sometimes I actually reread luggage reviews in the middle of the night, just for fun. Huh. I'm seeing a pattern here.) 

My question: does this deserve a whole blog post? 

4. Just because, a Digit sighting (with the beast Willie) . 


Looking more like the crypt-keeper each day. Still officially Not Dead, though! The older he gets, the more he allows other things to cuddle him. 


A Boston Love BlanketApril 18, 2013

You guys, I get a lot of requests for help, and I can't honor them all, though I truly wish I could. (And man, has the news been bad lately.) 

This one I want to honor. I got an email from a reader, who is friends with a woman named Wilma, who is Krystle Campbell's aunt. Krystle was killed in the Boston Marathon bombing.

It doesn't take long to make an 8X8 square, and if you've read my memoir or this blog for a while, you know what it meant to me to have a hug from people (strangers, some of them!), a hug I still wrap around my shoulders on cold mornings while I write. I coordinated one for Zoom a few years back. Love Blankets actually truly make a difference. 

I'm making a square for Wilma (and if there are enough squares, we'll get a blanket to Krystle's father, too). Will you help, too? Here's Rena's letter: 


Krystle Campbell


Hi Rachael,

This is a bit awkward for me because I've only just learned who you were a couple of weeks ago, but you were the first person that came to mind. I've been reading your book, A Life in Stitches, because I told my nook that I like to knit, and it thought I would love what you had to say about it. I do. I love it so much, and more than one chapter has attempted to choke me with tears (and succeeded...like yesterday in the lunchroom...my first sweater will now have rows of your memories in it). 
I just got through the part where you talk about the Love Blanket everyone made for you when you lost your mother. Krystle Campbell, one of the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing earlier this week, was the niece of a coworker of mine. Wilma was so proud of her, so fond of her, you would think Krystle was her own daughter. It feels like it was no coincidence that I happened upon your book when I did, or read that particular chapter while flailing inside because showering Wilma with hugs this week just hasn't been enough. I started by going around the office and hounding my friends on Facebook in hopes of finding people who knit or crochet because the thought of, "Rachael knows who can help," just sounded crazy. I've hit that particular level of determination where crazy sounds like the Best Idea Ever.
If you can help get the word out, that would be absolutely amazing. I have no deadline at the moment, but none of these families have closure in one of the worst ways. If there are enough squares (which I'm hoping for beyond hope), I want to piece together a second blanket for Wilma's brother--Krystle's father. I can give them both to her here at the office.
Please, if you can help, feel free to pass out my email to anyone willing to put together an 8" by 8" square--crochet, knit, it doesn't matter, any color or style--and I'll get them my mailing address.
Thank you so much,


If you can make a square, please email me at yarnagogo@gmail.com or leave a comment here  and I'll pass on your email directly to Rena (I'll act as filter in case you're some crazy person and want to send her a Lego square or cast-iron triangle or something.)

Let's do this? Yes? 

(PS - if you could pass this on to friends/knitting circles/etc, even better.) 

(PPS - I hug you in advance.) 

(PPS - Update from Rena: You all are so wonderful, I don't really know how to put it into words. Thank you...thank you so, so much for being willing to help. I've gotten a lot of emails already, and I'll respond to each with my mailing address. However, I've noticed a lot of questions about yarn weight and such (because I honestly didn't think of that). DK or worsted weight is preferred. Wilma lives in central Florida, but we still do get chills here (and the air conditioning is sometimes worse). Fiber is free game. Same with color and pattern. That is the artist's discretion. Hugs for you all!)

Hehu IslandApril 14, 2013

Ever since we moved into this house seven years ago, Lala has hated my rickety old table and wished for an island in the kitchen instead. I couldn't really get on board that domestic train because I loved my fifties formica table and I think most kitchen islands are ugly (at least, the Ikea ones we can afford are). I'm not really sure why I loved that old table so much--it was given to me when someone needed the space, and it came to me rickety. Every time we set anything on it, it swayed. God forbid a cat jump on it--the whole thing creaked like a Model T. But I didn't want to get rid of it. When I got it, it meant home. I could have people over to eat. I could host. I had a table, so I was a grownup. 

But a squeaky Lala gets the grease, and she came up with a compromise. What if we put the table top on top of an island? Best of both worlds. We weren't really sure how we were going to do it, but we headed to Urban Ore in Berkeley to check things out. 

We found several likely candidates, but we knew our island when we saw it. 


It was an old cabinet, cut into two pieces. 


Still not sure we weren't crazy, we loaded them up into Lala's mammoth station wagon. Then we went home where we were exhausted just thinking about a home project, so we made some music instead of working on the island. 


Today, Lala took apart the table. After a trip to the hardware store and to Target, this is what we came up with. 



RIGHT?? Look how happy Lala is! 


And I love the pull out shelf (finally, we have space for our pots!). 


Isn't it darling? I just love it. (And even though I swore a LOT putting in all that contact paper, I will admit that I love everything about contact paper, even the smell.) I haven't even filled the drawers yet, except for one for cloth napkins. I just can't decide what all should go where. It's a delicious feeling. (Sometimes I have dreams of finding new drawers or closets in the house.)


Total price: $171  ($89 for both cabinets. $28 hardware. Stools (Target) $54.)

And now I'm going to go admire it some more. 

My Favorite Recent ReadsApril 12, 2013

Thanks for the AWESOME comments in my last post. The ten winners have been drawn and notified by email. You guys make me happy with all the happy you were making yourselves.


I HAVE MADE A DECISION. (It's entirely possible I've made this decision before, but because of my legendarily bad memory, it feels like the first time. Yay!) 

From here on out, I'm going to read only books that I LOVE. I've been pretty good at that--sometimes. Other times, I think, okay, this book has great reviews, everyone loves this book, and boy, I'd rather be reading this than stabbing myself in the eye, so I'll keep on plodding through. You know those books.

On the other hand are the books that you adore. You can't wait to get back to them. You think about them during the day and sneak time to read wherever you can grab it (on the bus, on the toilet, underneath the porch). At night you wish your eyes would stay open longer. 

Yeah, I've decided I'm only going to read that type from now on. We live in the future, people! With an e-reader you can load up your device with samples and then lie back on your fluffy pillow and read through them until you find something that makes your eyelashes curl. THEN you hit purchase. 

And if that beloved book stops delivering half-way through? I've decided I'll give it maybe a chapter or two more before throwing it in the virtual round file. No more guilt about books on the e-reader that are only halfway read. Books you really love don't stay half-read. Delete away! And it's not like we could ever run out of AMAZING books, especially with friends that recommend good reads to us. 

In that spirit, I offer you a couple of great reads, books I've read recently that I haven't been able to put down. (There's something here for everyone. I've been reading widely and happily.) 


FamilymanThe Family Man, Elinor Lipman. My friend Sophie sent me this. You have to love a friend who knows you well enough to say, Here. This is for you. You'll love it. And it was lovely. I read it in Italy, and it was the perfect vacation read. No spoilers (I hate to know ANYTHING before I start reading a book): it's about a retired gay lawyer in New York who finds his long-lost adopted daughter working the coat check of his hair-dresser's salon (this happens at the very beginning). It's adorable. It's sweet. It's funny while managing to keep some of that bittersweet flavor of life that makes the funny funnier, you know? She has such a delightful voice that I'm immediately putting all her other books on my Check It Out pile. 

Sharp Objects, Gillian Flynn. By the author of Gone Girl, this is rather the polar opposite of the book I just recommended. Absolutely jarring, it's the story of a family torn apart by a secret. And honestly, while I love light and sweet, I have to admit I love a very dark story well-told. Flynn's voice is not only unerring but also completely fearless. She crossed lines with this story that I, as an author, would never dare to cross, and I kept gobbling it down. It's my favorite of her three books. 

Purgatory Chasm, Steve Ulfelder. This is a hard-boiled mystery novel that reads like . . . a Bruce Springsteen song. I'm not the biggest mystery fan, and I can give the Boss a miss most days, but combined? This is dirty-sublime. Great fun. 

ArrangedArranged, Catherine McKenzie. DARLING. Zany chick-lit romp with the added bonus that the heroine's name is ANNE BLYTHE.  ::rolls on the ground in ecstasy::  The author clearly knows Anne like we know Anne, and this was great fun. 

The Beginner's Goodbye, Anne Tyler. Oh, Anne Tyler, you wonderful thing, you. I think you're not going to able to pull it off, and then you do. I'm only half-way through this one, but it's glorious and sad and sweet and so very her. Her prose makes me want to be not only a better writer but a better person. She knows emotion. 


Any amazing recs from y'all? 

New Book GiveawayApril 7, 2013

Yesterday's was such a mammoth post (the Italy catch-up post), so this is just a quick giveaway of the new book that you can only get in Australia and New Zealand! (I'll keep you posted on the US/Canada/UK sell date as soon as I know it, darlings.) 


Cora, a farm-girl who's been hurt too much in the past, safeguards everything--except her heart. Mac is a large-animal veterinarian who has already risked it all and lost everything that mattered. When a secret is revealed, Cora has to decide whether Mac is a safe bet . . . or the worst gamble of her life. 

I'll give away TEN COPIES. That's good odds, yo. Five will go to random commenters on this post, and five will go to randomly drawn members of my mailing list. 

And because I like my comments to be fun for all to read, please tell me in the comments what you plan to do this week to make yourself happy. (Oh, my goodness, I can't wait to read these. I can feel the vicarious happiness already building.) 

I'll draw on Friday. Good luck! 

Italy 2013April 6, 2013

My sister Bethany and I did something very smart on the flight back from Italy. I took out my laptop, and we flipped through our photos and catalogued what we did on each day -- where we went, who we met, what we saw and ate and drank. 

It surprised me. For a very relaxed vacation, we did a hell of a lot. Bethany put it well when she said that traveling with each other was like traveling alone with company -- I felt the same way. I'd expected that we would split up some days to do different things because we're both pretty independent travelers, but we didn't. She sneaked out early some mornings to explore while I slept in (because I slept SO well there), but otherwise we just wandered together, happy to find what we found. 

And you know what I love about Italy? My  tourist-level conversational skills are just enough to understand someone who speaks slowly to me. I can ask how to get somewhere and understand the answer. But when I'm in a crowd, and people are talking with their friends, I can only catch flutters of the conversation, words here and there. And this, more than anything else, calms my brain. I don't have to listen. My day job (911) is all about listening as hard as possible to other people. My heart job (writing books) is all about listening to my own voice. In Italy, when I don't write, it's just . . . quiet. Which is hard to find. 

(New goal: to find that quiet at home.)

Here are a few highlights from the trip so that in the middle of the night, when I need to remember, I can come back here and find that feeling again (because isn't that what vacations are for? For stockpiling the relaxation?).

 I like the scale of things in Europe. See this gorgeously huge over-the-top chandelier? 


Those chandeliers were FLYING all over this cathedral in Rome (Church of the 12 Apostles). Look at them up there! Gah! I LOVE THE BIGNESS. (I have a problem or two with the church, but I sure like some things, namely the reverence the grand scale inspires.) (And no, thank you, this is not the place to try to convert me. I prefer Twitter for that conversation. Heh.) 


Click for embiggening. 

In Rome, we stayed at a B&B in Trastevere which couldn't have been nicer. Marco was the soul of kindness. (If you ask me whether or not he gave me his own migraine medicine when mine failed? I would tell you no, of COURSE he didn't do that. *Big exaggerated wink.*) And the best part of staying with him was that he was so excited about the city which he loves. It absolutely rubbed off on us. 


Lovely breakfast room. 

There were, of course, accordion players (no, not IN the hotel, but THAT would have been something, huh?): 


And there was a twilight stroll or two across the Tiber to our favorite part of town, Trastevere (where we stayed). 


Because we'd built time into our schedule for unplanned stops, we stayed an extra day and night in Rome, because we loved it. Then we took the train to Orvieto, purely based on reader Krista's recommendation and the extremely exciting fact that it had a funicular. 

Putting the FUN in funicular

It's a quiet hill town. 


In Orvieto, I had a fail-moment with my Italian skillz. We walked through this monastery/religious house, poking our heads into vast empty rooms and going up a marble staircase, eventually finding a short, squat, jolly man who agreed to rent us a room after a long conversation through which I thought I navigated well. We wanted nothing but a view. And maybe wifi. Aspetta, he said. 

He looked up from the book with joy. Yes! I could have the room! No view! No wifi! WAIT A MINUTE WHAT JUST HAPPENED. Downstairs, I broke it to Bethany that I thought we were going to have to take whatever room he gave us, because I might have already agreed.


In the stairwell. 

It was the strangest place, supposedly "full," but we never saw another soul. We heard people in the great room, toasting and drinking as jovial monks are wont to do, and we saw the detritus in the morning, wine bottles and dirty plates covering long wooden tables, but only ever saw the stout fellow bumbling about. Never saw another guest, not once. And I have to state for the record that I have never slept on a narrower bed (just a touch wider than I am, with the bonus of both sides angling down so steeply that falling off was guaranteed -- when I did, I noticed that the marble floors were cleaner than any I'd ever seen. Under the beds! So clean they were reflective! It was the strangest place). 

In Orvieto, we also bumbled our way into THE hot ticket for dining. La Palomba opened at 7:30pm and we were there at 7:29. The sign said Completa - reservations were full, no tables available. I found some chutzpah and went in anyway. We smiled and entreated and smiled even bigger and were finally seated (to the utter annoyance of others who were turned away) by the owner who seemed delighted by us (as opposed to the waiter who was like, great. Another freakin' table).

And I ate PIGEON. Piccione. Even the waiter was surprised when I ordered it, and called me brave. It was delicious! (Anything would have been, smothered in that much divine olive-garlic tapenade.) Bethany had boar, which was also very tasty and reminded me somehow of a stew Mom used to make. (Really, Mom?) The place filled up with locals and tourists with the skills to make reservations, and we had a ball. 

Sexy like a boar. 

Then we tried to get to a seaside town (just south of the Cinque Terra) called Lerici that reader Patoonia had told us about. It wasn't easy. Going solely on the word of one thing I'd read online, we got off the train in a town called Sarzana which was industrial and bleak and, on a Sunday, completely closed. It was raining. We couldn't find the bus to Lerici. When we did find the bus, we were told that contrary to what the station agent had told us, we couldn't buy tickets on the bus. All the shops that sold tickets, though, were closed, and we couldn't find the supposed machine which might sell them. 

I tripped and fell and skinned both knees and snapped at Bethany when she tried to tell me it would be okay. We went back to the train station where we'd seen cabs, and for $20, got a ride to Lerici. Best $20 we spent. 

Once in town, we walked past a schmancy hotel, Michelin-rated. We knew we couldn't afford it. But Bethany said, Let's just ask. Jerry hooked us UP with a two-bedroom suite (two balconies!), at a rate well within our budget, with this view. I'm still not over it. 


We took the room for two nights, and on both nights we had picnics on our balcony like this: 


We walked around (NO other tourists) and took pictures. 


There was knitting, with spritzes. 


There was, alas, that food poisoning I mentioned that we think we picked up at the hotel breakfast (because it was the only thing we ate that was the same that day) so that rubs a bit of the sparkle off our Lerici memories, but I think as our stomachs get stronger (we still feel a little queasy, a week later), our memories will go bright orange and happy again. 

After Lerici, on to Venice! My city! Where we spent the first two days in bed (and by "bed" I mean "bathroom"). Bethany laughed at this progression of my face: 





OH BOY. My stomach hurts but I'M FINE. I'LL GO TO THE STORE! [Bethany was by now in the apartment, very sick.] I'LL GO GET A DRINK! I'M FINE! 






Bleah. Bleah. Bleah.  (This was on my walk/crawl to the pharmacy.) 

We had had two days in Trieste scheduled, but broken-hearted about losing the time in Venice, we cancelled the Trieste stay and extended the time in our apartment, which was the PERFECT thing to do. Venice wooed Bethany as she does, staying cold and drizzly as we geocached (Venice must be the hardest city in the world in which to geocache -- no good signal, confusing streets, SO FUN), until the sun broke through in the most glorious way. 


When Venice sparkles at you? You're doomed to lose your heart forever.

We had prosecco at the Gran Caffe in Piazza San Marco and watched the rain. 



And this turned out, again, to be my most useful traveling scarf


For fashion . . .


and for warmth.

I've just had fun culling through the photos, adjusting some and putting more on Flickr, but it's taken so long that I think I have jet lag again. Thanks for being along for the ride, my friends. Ciao, ciao, salve, ciao. Thanks, Little Mama, for sending us. And thanks, kiddo, for being an amazing traveling partner and all-around fabulous person.