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4 posts from September 2013

Giveaway! You Will Love This BookSeptember 25, 2013

Many (many!) years ago, there was blog called Dogs Steal Yarn. The writer, Cari Luna, was a knitter. She was smart and funny, and she liked me, too. We fell in, you know, as you do. I had a permanent room at their Brooklyn brownstone (until they had kids, WHATEVER) and even now, if I showed up on their doorstep on the other side of the nation, bedraggled from the Portland rain, Cari would hug me till she was as damp as I was, then she'd wrap me in handknits from the top of my head to the tip of my toes while she dried my clothes. She'd put tea in my hands, and she'd talk with that incredible voice of hers, and she would listen, and everything would be okay even if nothing was okay. 

I learn from her. All the time. She's my best friend. (Who has a best friend at 41? Me! Lucky me!) 


Cari is one of the most gorgeous writers I've ever had the luck to read. Me, I'm a good writer (I'm not putting myself down or pumping myself up -- this is just true. I'm solidly, pretty reliably good at writing). Cari is one of those Great Writers. In terms of greatness, I admire Andre Dubus (Sr.) and Alice Munro and her. 

I read almost every draft of her debut novel, which just came out from the prestigious Tin House Press. Every time I read it, the book touched me more deeply. It's one of the two books in my life that, at times while reading, I HEARD out loud. I heard that incredible last chapter.

The book is about squatters in New York City in the 90s, when the city came to evict people who were both living their lives and making a difference. The book, however, is even bigger than this ambitious plot. Sitting here in the cafe, thinking about Amelia and Gerrit and Steve and Anne, I miss them.  

I love this book. Obviously, I love Cari, but I would love this book if I didn't know her and then I'd be all fan-girl when I met her and I would freak out when I found out she was a knitter, and it would be ugly. (She's getting great reviews all over the publishing world, from BUST to Kirkus.) 


Cari will send a personally inscribed copy to a randomly drawn commenter on this post. Personally, I think you should just buy it. You'll love it. 

And please enjoy this excerpt, and the book trailer at the end. 

Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Powell's / Indiebound

Back at the house, Gerrit hefts his bike up onto his shoulder, thumbs his key in the lock, and slips inside. He’s greeted by that good honest smell of fresh lumber and plaster, and also the more worrisome smell of must and wood rot. Over the years they’ve rebuilt most of the joists, replaced crumbling plaster ceilings with drywall, fixed the roof. But there’s still so much they haven’t had time or money to do, like the rear facade. It’s not watertight; it needs repointing. Until they can get that done, water will keep finding its way in, softening the wood around the windows, compromising the building’s structure. Already the weather is too cold to work with mortar. If they can hold on until spring, they’ll do it then.
            Suzie is on the folding chair by the front door, dog-eared paperback in hand. “Nothing?” she says.
            “Quiet. Here, too?”
            She nods.
            Footsteps on the stairs, Ben headed down to relieve Suzie. He has a deck of cards in hand, and a thermos tucked under his arm. “Hey, man. Want to play?”
            “No, I’m headed up to bed.”
            Marlowe emerges from his first-floor apartment, coat on, ready for his shift. He’s wearing the green scarf Amelia made for him a while back. Amelia said he cried when she gave it to him.
            Her knitting is like magic. She’ll take a huge old sweater bought for a dollar at the Salvation Army, unravel it, wash the wool, and knit two smaller sweaters, a hat, and maybe some mittens from it. Gerrit’s got a drawer full of warm socks she’s knitted for him from recycled yarn, a scarf, two watch caps, three sweaters. She has no idea that when you slip on that hat or scarf or sweater she’s made for you, you feel the work of her hands in it. You feel her love for you. That was why Marlowe cried. Gerrit gets it. He feels the same way every time he pulls one of those hand-knit sweaters over his head. The girl thinks she’s invisible. She has no idea, the impact she has on people. Seven years he’s been trying to get her to see it. Maybe she never will.



OH MY GOD I LOVE THIS BOOK. Leave a comment for a chance to win. 

Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Powell's / Indiebound

Happiness UpdateSeptember 16, 2013

Remember last November when I said I was suffering from depression? That was a brutally honest post, and I can't even tell you how big (and wonderful) a reaction I got from people. I just realized that some of you might wonder how I'm doing now. 

I'm doing great. 

Yep, I'm still on the medication at a low dose. I have absolutely zero side effects. And I still feel completely normal, like I finally did when I wrote that post. I have regular day-to-day highs and lows (I got a royalty check! The cat puked on the couch!) and I'm myself. I'm still singing along to songs in the car and in the kitchen. I laugh a lot. My productivity is high. 

Taking care of myself last year was really the best thing I could have done for myself. 

Other Health Areas 

(Sleeping is the most exciting part. Skip to the end if you want to get to that.) 

Food: I'm still eating almost as well as I have been for more than a year now: only meat, eggs, vegetables and fruit (a modified anti-inflammatory diet). I try to eat no grains, beans, dairy, or processed foods, although I've fallen off the sugar wagon since my gallbladder surgery. Augh. Such a hard wagon to get back up on. Speaking of wagons, my wine consumption is way down (I realized this was all sugar, and it was messing with my moods, big time). I've also given up caffeine again, but I don't expect this one to stick because I hella heart a great big coffee with cream. Oh, now I'm yearning. 

Migraines: (I knock wood when I write this) GONE. Gone! I haven't had a migraine I couldn't trace directly to gluten since the beginning of the year. Anytime I accidentally eat gluten? (Like when I was at a friend's house and ate her couscous because I thought it was rice-based?) I get smacked with a migraine within hours. If I stay away from it, I never even get the threat of a migraine. 

Confession: This makes me feel like a great big hipster tool. *Nose in the air in the bakery*  Do you have anything gluten-free? But avoiding gluten has changed my life and has removed an enormous amount of uncontrollable pain. So I do still go all hipster about it, and try not to mind the eye rolls sent my direction. 

Meditation: OH MY GOD, I'm SO going to be a hipster tool right now. Maybe I should just accept that's what I am. Deep breath. Okay, that's done. Adjusts fedora.

So, I found this meditation app. I warned you. It's AMAZING. It's called Headspace, and they have a free Take-10 ten day trial, and then you subscribe if you like it (which I did, immediately). The subscription gives you 365 daily meditations. They're led by a British guy called Andy Puddicombe, ex-monk and circus performer (his TED talk here), whose voice and attitude everyone universally loves.

I'm learning the basics, all over again. That meditation takes actual practice, and that you can't sit down and just be good at it (which is good because I was always so BAD at it). That you can't get upset about what your brain is doing, because that just ups your anxiety level. Andy gives you things to do, and you do them, and in the process, you find yourself in the moment and not-doing. I expect at the end of the year he'll tell me to rob a bank and send him the cash, but until he does, I'm going to listen to this guy. 

The best part so far? The free sleeping meditation I found on their site! 

Sleep: See, I have trouble sleeping because of my crazy shift work. Because of my job, my going-to-bed time varies from 6pm to 2am. Every single day it varies, and I can't change that. That's a lot of stress on the body. I try not to take sleeping aids other than valerian/melatonin, etc, but every once in a while I'll get a bottle of Ambien from my doctor and I GO TO TOWN. The two addictions that I will always struggle with are cigarettes (I haven't had even a puff in eleven years but I still want one) and Ambien. If that stuff's in the house, I can't not take it. I so desperately crave sleep, and that blessed pill knocks me out so deeply that the next night I MUST HAVE IT AGAIN SO GOOD YES PLEASE. 

So yeah. I asked for Ambien for the three nights I was at the hospital, and they gave it to me (helped wonders for sleeping in pain). Then I got my Rx filled and took it every night during my recovery. That's fine. It helped. The problem comes when I stop taking it. Usually I can't sleep for a week, and it's awful and painful and I always swear I won't get any more refills and then I dooooo, but that's another story. (I know it's scary stuff, I've read all the you-will-die reports -- they don't help. I want it.) 

The first night I was off Ambien this week, I didn't sleep. At all. 

The second night, I found the above linked meditation to listen to (and I've listened to LOTS of them, they never work). I'm going to spoil it a little for you, so stop reading if you want to be surprised (?), but first Andy walks you through turning off your muscles. I've tried this on my own approximately eleventy million times, and have never succeeding. In fact (this is true), last month when I couldn't sleep, I managed to pull a butt muscle trying to turn off my muscles. It hurt for a week. But when Andy explained it to me? I could do it. 

Then? He said to count backwards from one thousand. My brain stalled. One THOUSAND? I count backward from a hundred often, and it always PISSES ME OFF because I get to one and then I'm all like WHAT NOW BEEYOTCH? If I count sheep, they get all interesting and wooly, just like my thoughts. But counting backward from a thousand? I supposed I could give it a try. 

I fell asleep somewhere around 300. And stayed asleep. 

Last night, I only got to 829. (I remember because I kept drifting away. 830! Ooh, pleasant feeling... 830, 829... ooh, this feels nice! 829... 829, um, 829...)

And again, I stayed asleep. (When I say I stayed asleep, that means I only woke six or seven times before falling right back asleep. That great sleep for me.) 

You should try it. Now my darling chickens, this has been all about me. What about YOU? 

Planning or Pansting Webinar September 11, 2013


Attention, all writers that hang out here at Chez Yarnagogo! 

I'm going to be doing a live webinar with the NaNoWriMo people (Chris Baty, Grant Faulkner, and Tavia Stewart-Streit) next Tuesday, and you can play along! You can ask questions! You can stand on your head (we'll be able to seeeee you!). 

And don't worry if you're not a Wrimo -- we'll be talking not so much about NaNoWriMo (which is the insane fun of writing a novel in a month) as much as HOW TO GET YOUR WRITING DONE. In particular, what are the different ways of gearing up to writing, and then how to keep doing it. Are you a planner like me?  Or do you fly by the seat of your pants? (Also called "discovery writing") Or do you just stare at the screen and go, "awhp?" 

I wrote about the webinar over at their site, and I really hope you'll consider joining us (you'll get a recording if you can't be there with us on Tuesday). It'll be 90 minutes of goofy good stuff, with LOTS of useful information. And it would be fun to hang out. (Don't tell them, but I'm planning to knit during the session. It sure would be nice to have a few others doing the same in the audience.) 


Dear Fairy Godmother, 

The Night of Writing Dangerously is coming up.  YOU DON'T HAVE TO SEND ME AND MY SISTER AGAIN. You really don't. We don't expect you to. 

But if you want to, I'll wear fairy wings that night in your honor. 



(who, two hours after posting this, now knows she'll be wearing wings to the Ball. Thank you, darling fairy godmother. love love love.) 

Easy, Cool Dinner PartySeptember 8, 2013

Last night, we hosted THE EASIEST HOT NIGHT DINNER PARTY EVER. I wanted to share the recipes with you in case you wanted to host a party that would look like it came out of Sunset magazine, even if you're still recovering from surgery and maybe should have gone a little easier on yourself. (Do they even sell Sunset anyplace but California? Is this a West Coast reference only? If so, it's a cutural reference for grown-up, interesting nights out on patios that don't look real, nights no one really has. Except for last night.) 

First of all, I'd been planning on making red thai curry but by ten A. M. it was almost ninety degrees out. Lala mentioned maybe I should make something like gazpacho. Or possibly just ice cubes. Lots of ice cubes. The party got more complex as I had to figure out how to keep everyone out of the house, which holds on to heat like pills on cheap cashmere. We have a nice porch, but there's no big table out there, so guests would be balancing food on their knees.

But that made me think. See, I took the plunge a few weeks ago  and bought a Vitamix (right about the time I got the gallbladder problems -- IS THERE A CONNECTION?). Yep. I bought one. I really did. I wrapped all my change that I'd saved for years (this is true) and by the time a good friend got me an amazing deal, it was pretty much paid for. (Best part about a Vitamix? It cleans itself. And how.) 

So yesterday, I thought, cold soup! In the Vitamix! A little bit of Googling took me to this cucumber-dill soup recipe which turned out to be freaking amazing. I served it in lowball glasses, which made lap-balancing a non-issue. 

Copyright Williams-Sonoma

That soup? Completely made ahead and refrigerated. Perfect and chilled. Also, I didn't wear pants in the kitchen while I made it because I didn't have to. People - stay cool, at any cost! Heat is dangerous! Take off your pants! T-shirt and underwear is plenty hygienic for a kitchen! (It is, right? I mean, I'd just be wearing a skirt anyway, which is basically the same thing . . . oh, whatever. Let's just forget about this conversation. Hydrate, people.) 

Main course? We fell back on our favorite chicken recipe. Basically, this really is the best grilled chicken on salad you will ever, ever have. People freak out about this chicken. You brine it early, so that's chilling in the fridge, too. Basically, when people come over, all you have to do is rub on the spice mix (premade, also while standing in front of the fan while not wearing pants), and give it to the Grill Person (Lala) to cook. While she's doing that, put spring mix and (pre)chopped green onions on guests' plates. Add the lemon juice and oil to the OTHER spice mix you (pre)made for the Moroccan Dipping Sauce (same recipe page). Chicken's done? Chop one breast per person, perch on salad, drizzle with dipping sauce, and there! A knee-balance dinner that is gobsmackingly delicious. 

Dessert? No problem. Fire up the grill once more for a few minutes, scrape off that char, and make

Grilled Peaches and Vanilla Ice Cream with Balsamic Vinegar Glaze. 

Confession: we own a chocolate balsamic vinegar (which is to die for) that I use for this. But you can use any good quality balsamic for the same intensely wonderful results. 

Halve (good quality, firm but ripe) peaches, one half per person. Set face down in a plate of balsamic vinegar so that the cut sides absorb the deliciousness. Let rest for ten minutes. Turn over on plate, dust each cut side with a bit of brown sugar. You'll know how much. Grill on low, 2 minutes(ish) on each side. Hope for those lovely grill marks. 

Serve with a little scoop of good vanilla ice cream. At the last minute, have the genius idea of drizzling a little of that brown-sugar vinegar glaze that was still lying sad and abandoned on the original plate over the ice cream -- just a little trickle. Then watch your guests go dreamy and fuzzy around the edges as they eat, melting into their chairs in happiness. 

Let me repeat, I did not overheat having this dinner party. There was very little sweat on my part (a MIRACLE -- I hate hot days). And I spent 95% of my time on the porch in the warm (but not hot) air, with my friends, talking. Not scurrying around the kitchen.

And that, really, was the best part. The talking. That was the Sunset moment. White twinkle lights shone through the flowers along the porch rail, and up in the deep blue night sky we could see the flashing lights of passing planes. Chris and Wendy rocked on the swing, threatening to steal our dog, Clementine. Grant and Heather told stories of the viciousness of the PTA. Lala was charming and funny and a great griller. And I got to bask in the fact that this was my life. Those intense in-the-moment feelings of gratitude, those are the moments that mean everything. What a gift. 

And then, there are peaches. Damn, how lucky I am.