Day one. "It goes like this," Collax says. "You lift up this flap, and then you punch in your greencode – you do know your greencode, don't you? They gave that to you in orientation, right? I thought so. Punch it in here, then pull on the lever by your left hand. No, your other your left hand – uh huh, there you go, champ. Voilà. You're in." The screen spanning the length of the room flickers and focuses. Colors fade in. From this angle, pedestrians look like beetles. Worse, you think you might recognize the neighborhood. This concerns you. Collax misinterprets the grimace. "Don't worry," he says. "You don't get to run it on your own until you log fifty hours. At minimum."
Day nine. Eighty hours logged, thanks to that mishap at the saw factory on Wednesday. Collax stops by, slurping from a styrofoam cup. "You'll get coffee privileges around week six," he says. "Sugar privileges a week or two after that. How's the hood?" It's alright, you say. It's under control.
Day eighteen. Or is it day nineteen? At noon, an announcement feeds through the ceiling speakers: the annual company barbecue is officially set for June the thirty-fourth. As always, the voice adds, please bring your own plates. Collax never comes by anymore, but you bump into him in the breakroom. "Hey champ," he says. "Day twenty one, already, huh? It flies by."
Day forty. The barbecue has come and gone. While the meat was grilling, you cracked a couple well-timed jokes, flattered the right people. After that they upgraded you to a room in the primary hall, the same rank as Collax. Now, instead of a neighborhood, you've got a whole city. You've got six hundred thousand people, and they look like specks on the screen instead of beetles. They all look exactly the same, except for – well, except for that one right there. A flick of your wrist and the screen zooms in. It's a boy. He's looking up at you, and he's holding a sign. Hello, it reads, in blocky black handwriting. Hello, up there.
Fiction Friday is an outlet for experimentation while I slowly work on becoming a novelist. Read the rest of the stories here...
I read a lot of fantastic books in January. About half of these I read the good ol' traditional way, and the other half I listened to via audiobook. I've learned to really love audiobooks; they're perfect when you're doing things like laundry or working out or stamping jewelry boxes. Anyway, here are my favorites, which all have something really special about them, whether it's the characters or style or humor or profundity or all of the above...
Dear Life by Alice Munro
This Cake is For the Party by Sarah Selecky
Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Everything That Rises Must Converge by Flannery O'Connor
The Rain Before it Falls by Jonathan Coe
The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
The Shipping News by Annie Proulx
I'm excited to share a few photos of The Flourish Collection with you today. You might recognize the space from this post – Assemble recently transitioned to being online-only, and though I was sad to see them go, I'm thrilled that another wonderful shop moved in. The Flourish Collection has lots of pretty paper goods and sweet gifts...
...as well as a few pieces of my jewelry. I'm thrilled to be included. Also, on Friday, February 8th from 6-9pm, a larger selection of my jewelry will be available for purchase and I'll be there at the shop, too. Please stop by if you're in the neighborhood!
The last few nights I've been eating snickerdoodles for dessert. Stefan made them from a Gale Gand recipe (yes, I do have a husband who spontaneously bakes cookies, which is pretty awesome). We didn't have corn syrup so I suggested that he use molasses instead, which added a lovely deep flavor. The brand of molasses we use is called Brer Rabbit, which I buy partly because I like the old-fashioned label and partly because I have an unexplained fascination with folklore (if you're unfamiliar with the tales, Brer Rabbit is a "trickster who succeeds by his wits rather than by brawn," as Wikipedia puts it). I've even been so into folklore lately that I'm attempting to weave it into my novel in some form.
And while I'm on the subject of the novel, I'm happy to report that it's still going well. Not perfectly, but well. If you read it right now, you'd probably say, "I'm sorry, Rachel, but a lot of this doesn't make any sense. There's a million plot holes here." But it will work itself out in time. Last time I blogged about it, I had just completed my first yellow legal pad. A few days ago I finished my second one, and now I'm making progress on the third. This physical accumulation is what I like most about writing by hand. I can literally hold my work in my hands, and every once in a while a word will smear off onto my palm as I'm writing. There is, I'm convinced, nothing quite like it.
At first it sounded like tissue paper being crumpled, big sheets of it, and Zola wondered, Mama's wrapping presents? before remembering that her mother had gone out to the hairdresser and wouldn't be back until four that afternoon. Though she was alone in the house, she crept noiselessly down the stairs toward the living room. Once or twice she stopped and just listened. If she tried hard enough she could pick out the individual parts of the sound. Like... yes, there. One sharp pop. Then another and another, in quick succession, so that when they were all strung together it sounded like a single unbroken sound.
No more stairs left. She crossed the living room and the sound grew louder, the way music often did during a long, sad song. What was the word for that? She had learned it in school. Mr. Olstead had scrunched up his forehead when he said it, his eyebrows wriggling like caterpillars. Ah, crescendo. That was it.
At the window, she saw what it was. The trees. The trees, all of them. The trees out in front of the house – and as far as she could see, when she pressed her left cheek against the cool water-stained window – all of them were blossoming audibly. Already there were creamy white-and-pink flowers painted all over the magnolia tree in the front yard. Spring would not wake lethargically this year. It was coming all at once, arriving before she could hardly comprehend it.
Fiction Friday is an outlet for experimentation while I slowly work on becoming a novelist. Read the read of the stories here...
I finally read Fahrenheit 451 and loved it all the way through. There are a lot of quotes you could pull out from those pages, but there were two parts that particularly stuck with me. The first:
Once he saw her shaking a walnut tree, once he saw her sitting on the lawn knitting a blue sweater, three or four times he found a bouquet of late flowers on his porch, or a handful of chestnuts in a little sack, or some autumn leaves neatly pinned to a sheet of white paper and thumbtacked to his door. Every day Clarisse walked him to the corner. One day it was raining, the next it was clear, the day after that the wind blew strong, and the day after that it was mild and calm, and the day after that calm day was a day like the furnace of summer and Clarisse with her face all sunburnt by late afternoon.
"Why is it," he said, one time, at the subway entrance, "I feel I've known you so many years?"
"Because I like you," she said, "and I don't want anything from you."
And then this part:
Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you're there.
It doesn't matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that's like you after you take your hands away.
It's been a while since I've had a sale in my jewelry shop, so I thought I'd have one now! Take 20% off all jewelry orders thru Jan 23rd. Just use the coupon code "WINTER" during checkout (click "apply shop coupon code" first).
p.s. if you're a new reader to the blog (welcome!) here's my Etsy interview from 2011 about how I started my shop & some of my thoughts on running a small business.
They had promised her a planet: one warm, white planet that she could build however she pleased. The air was clean and the land was fertile. She could cultivate it, if she wanted to. They'd been watching her for some time and took note of how often she paused on one of her walks to look with envy at a neighbor's well-manicured garden. She could trade all this – here they motioned with their long graceless arms to mean her current situation – she could trade it all for a new life. She could have six seasons, extinct animals reconstructed, her favorite music infused into the air. Anything.
That had been a week ago; now she stood on the slick surface in disbelief. She was unsure where to start. She knew they were watching, and she had to resist the urge to cry.
"You're just adjusting," one of their voices said, slipping through the air. "But there's no rush. Try something small."
She nodded. She murmured, "Maybe a lawn, then." It sprouted from the white surface, richly green. "And a small house. A one-bedroom house." When it appeared, it unfolded from the ground, creaking and stretching as if it had been there for ages just waiting to be called on. She went inside. It smelled of lemon, but both the short metal refrigerator and the cabinets lining the nearest wall were bare. In the middle of the house was a bed made up in gray linens. She'd take a nap, she decided, and then start figuring things out. This life, like the last one, would take some time to get used to.
Fiction Friday is an outlet for experimentation while I slowly work on becoming a novelist. Read the read of the stories here...
I've lost track of how many times I've tried to write a novel, and yet despite all the false starts I keep trying. I keep starting again, failing again, filing these unfinished drafts away in a black hole (also known as the "working" folder on my computer), then waiting for the next spark to come along. There is always a new spark. That part never fails me.
It makes me cringe to say that it feels different this time, because I'm pretty sure I say that every time, and therefore the declaration has become meaningless. So I'll just say this: the last two weeks have been good. I have written every single day — a small miracle — and the result of that is one yellow legal pad, every page filled from top to bottom.
So now what? On to the next yellow legal pad. In fact, it is sitting here on my desk as I write this. My only hope is that two weeks from now these new pages will be filled up, and that the spark will still be just as bright. I know the odds are not in my favor, but I also know one of these times it will last. It just has to.
p.s. You might have noticed that I also redesigned the blog. It was one of those things that I just started playing around with on a whim and then ended up spending the entire night working on. Thank you, as always, for reading.
For the last couple years I've been making a list on New Year's Day – not resolutions, exactly, but things I'm looking forward to. When I re-read last year's list, I happily realized that it turned out to be a pretty accurate summary of the year. I hope the same thing is true for this list. This year I'm looking forward to...
Buying a house... we hope!
Taking up gardening, if we do buy a house.
Getting more serious about novel writing. (My big dreamy goal is to write one before I turn 30, which is not happening this year but is nonetheless creeping up on me.)
Reading a lot. (If you're on Good Reads, let's be friends!)
And lastly, baking my way through the huge gorgeous Bouchon Bakery cookbook.
Today I'm making pad thai from scratch (using this recipe). Last year I decided to make it my New Year's tradition. I wouldn't say that two years in a row quite counts as a bona fide tradition, but you have to start somewhere, right?
Hope you have a splendid day.
Listen to this story here:
Even if the week had been slow at the restaurant, there never failed to be a line come Saturday morning. At eight o'clock the oldest Munro boy flipped the sign in the window and the middle Munro boy pushed the last of the refilled ketchup bottles across the small square tables by the back windows. The youngest boy, Victor, sat on a high stool in the kitchen watching his father whisk the eggs into a froth in a metal bowl. Mr. Munro had never liked being the cook, but his wife had insisted because he was good at it. He did not deny this. But what he would have preferred was to actually converse with the customers. He often fantasized about how different it would be. Instead of donning a grease-smeared apron, he would wear a dark crisp button-up shirt, ironed smooth each morning. He would spend the day asking the diners, "Everything to your liking?" and lean in gently over the table, resting a hand on the man's shoulder and smiling to the wife. He would offer wrapped mints to the restless children. At the very least, he was convinced that his charm would bring in more customers on the slow quiet weekdays. "That Mr. Munro," he imagined them saying, "He's such a nice man; he runs such a lovely restaurant."
It would come, eventually. The boys got older, and while two of them went away to out-of-state universities on scholarships, the youngest stayed with his parents. Victor had spent so many years watching his father cook that when he finally picked up a whisk to ready the eggs for that morning's omelettes, he knew the entire menu by heart. It was never difficult for him, and unlike his father, he desired to stay isolated from the dining room. He was taken by surprise the first time his father poked his head into the kitchen to relay compliments from an elderly couple who had been dining at the restaurant for years. "Oh, that's–" stumbled Victor, wiping his forehead. He seemed to have forgotten about the diners entirely. "That's nice," he finally said. "That's awfully nice of them."
Victor had a boy of his own a few years later, and he brought him into the restaurant and sat him up on the high stool in the kitchen as he himself had sat so many years before. "Do you want to learn?" he offered, but the boy shook his head no. Maybe in time, Victor thought. He cracked the egg into the metal bowl, and then another and another, and for a moment paused with the last weightless shell in his hand before setting it next to the others.
Wishing you a bright & merry Christmas!
(The photo: it was 1989, my grandfather was dressed as Santa, and I had totally figured it out. He had excused himself to "take a nap" and then Santa appeared suspiciously soon thereafter. Also, notice how my blouse matches the curtains? So stylish.)
It was gray and wet this morning when I woke up, and instead of opening up my laptop like I usually do, I started a pot of coffee and whisked two eggs for a dutch baby batter, and fed Bodhi while the oven finished warming up. He is very, very enthusiastic about meals. So much so that he makes a point of checking his bowl throughout the day just to make sure there isn't a surprise meal waiting there for him.
The last few nights I've been making hot toddies for Stefan and myself about an hour before bed. I kind of wing it, but it's basically just whiskey, hot water, lemon, honey, a few whole cloves, and a pinch of nutmeg. I mention it because this thought just occurred to me: doesn't a late-night dutch baby served with a hot toddy sound good? I think I'll have to test this theory. Yes. I'll definitely have to test it.
Dutch Babies (serves 2)
adapted from All Recipes
2 room-temperature eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup sifted all-purpose flour
a pinch of ground nutmeg
a pinch of salt
2 Tbsp butter
powdered sugar for dusting
Place a cast iron skillet (mine is 10") into your oven and heat to 425˚F. In a medium bowl, beat eggs with a whisk until light and frothy. Add milk and stir. Gradually whisk in flour, nutmeg and salt. Remove skillet from oven. Melt butter in the hot skillet, rotating to coat. Pour the batter into the skillet and return skillet to oven. Bake until puffed and lightly browned, about 12 minutes. Remove promptly, slice into quarters and squeeze lemon slices over the pieces, then sprinkle with powdered sugar.
I've been reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and I'm ashamed that it has taken me this long to get around to it. There are a lot of books that fall into that category; I go back and forth between being happy that there will never be a shortage of good books and panicked that there's not enough time to read them all. Anyway, I really, really like this one. I love how much Francie loves books:
From that time on, the world was hers for the reading. She would never be lonely again, never miss the lack of intimate friends. Books became her friends and there was one for every mood. There was poetry for quiet companionship. There was adventure when she tired of quiet hours. There would be love stories when she came into adolescence and when she wanted to feel a closeness to someone she could read a biography. On that day when she first knew she could read, she made a vow to read one book a day as long as she lived.
I also recently read The Fault in Our Stars, which was fine. I'm neutral about it. But I so appreciated this part:
Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book. And then there are books…which you can’t tell people about, books so special and rare and yours that advertising your affection feels like a betrayal.
Yes. That. I feel so protective of my favorite books. If I had to guess, I'd say that you feel that way too.
I thought I'd be posting more regularly but the Great Flurry of Holiday Orders arrived. (If you were one of those nice people who placed an order, thank you!) Today it's officially past my Christmas delivery cut-off date, so I still have plenty of work to do but I think I can see an end in sight. After the last of these orders gets mailed I'm taking a looong hot bath.
Hope you have a good Monday.
How was your weekend? I worked a lot, got Christmas songs stuck in my head, watched House of Games, and made biscotti, which despite starting off as the stickiest dough ever turned out to be pretty amazing. I think this biscotti tastes great as is, but I'm also sharing a quick maple glaze for those of you wanting a sweeter version. (Alternatively, you could make a lemon glaze instead. Or dip them in chocolate!)
Almond Biscotti with Maple Glaze (makes 1 dozen)
adapted from All Recipes
1 1/8 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cups white sugar
1 tsp baking powder
a pinch of salt
1/4 cup chopped almonds
1 tsp orange zest
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 tsp vanilla extract (or almond extract)
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 Tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp milk
Preheat oven to 350˚F. In a large bowl, mix together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, almonds, and orange zest. Add the eggs, oil, and vanilla extract. Mix well with a spoon (or your hands). Dump the dough onto a baking sheet (optionally lined with parchment paper). The dough will be very, very sticky. Form it into a rectangle about 3/4 inch thick. Bake for 20-25 minutes.
Remove from the oven, cool slightly, then slice into 1/2 inch wide pieces. Set the biscotti back onto the baking sheet, laying them on their sides. Bake for 10 to 20 more minutes, turning over halfway through. Finished cookies should be hard & crunchy. For the glaze, combine the powdered sugar, maple syrup, and milk. Mix well. Add more milk if it's too thick to easily pour. Drizzle over the cookies and let dry. Serve with hot coffee or tea.
Listen to this story here:
It had been a tradition since before Suze married into the family, and this whole time she had kept her mouth shut, because who was she, really, to say anything about it? So she stood by, her face half-buried behind a scarf, watching the boys slide and slip down the thick coating of snow, whooping with laughter, clambering back up the hill and sometimes racing each other to the top because everything, she had noticed, everything was a competition. Nelson, the younger one, had almost choked on a piece of zucchini the evening before because he'd been trying to clear his plate faster than his brother. And once the commotion had settled down, he had gone right back to shoveling food into his mouth with even more fervor, as if what had just happened was already shed from his memory. She could hardly believe it.
As she stood out in the cold, Suze watched Nelson more closely than she watched the others, thinking that maybe if she did, nothing bad could happen. If she kept her eyes on him, it would be impossible for his sled to careen off its path and head straight into the maple tree that stood near the edge of the yard. It would be impossible for Nelson to slide down the hill with so much momentum that he would skid out into the street where the cars, though driving slowly, were not really driving that slowly. If it had been her son, she would have said something. Or if she hadn't started those fights at the previous family gathering, she would have said something. Yet she had promised. "Please, no scenes this year," her husband had begged of her, as they pulled into his parents' driveway. "Anything for you," Suze had replied, meaning it but not being able to look fully at him.
Now Nelson was waving to her from the bottom of the hill. Most of the family had gone back inside the house. It had to be her that Nelson was signaling to. She called out, "What's wrong? Are you okay?" feeling the panic reverberate in her voice. Then she realized that all he was doing was inviting her to join them. He feels sorry for me, Suze thought, calling out that she was just fine as she was. Yet saying it reminded her of how awful it was to be standing still in the cold. She rubbed her arms, blew hot air into the scarf and closed her eyes a moment at the pleasure of warmth, as slight as it was. When she reopened them, Nelson was almost back up at the top of the hill. Closer now, she could see the joy in his face. "Hey," he said. "Watch me, okay?" And before she could reply he took off, the snow flying out from behind him, and Suze kept her eyes on him, kept him straight and unwavering.
I'm excited to share that I'll be participating in the '57 Biscayne Holiday Open House & Gift Sale next Thursday. '57 Biscayne is a studio space for all kinds of creative types, and this event is an open house for the studios and also a holiday gift sale with invited guests (like me!). I'll have a table set up with my jewelry, so if you're in Seattle, please come and say hi!
'57 Biscayne Holiday Open House & Gift Sale
110 Cherry Street (on the 2nd floor)
Thursday, December 6th, 6-9 PM
Somehow I went from carrying my film camera around with me every day to hardly ever using it. Funny how that happens. While I work on getting back into the habit, here are a few photos from earlier this year. A neighborhood walk, the drive home from Ocean Shores, and the boys keeping an eye on each other... as they always do.
Listen to this story here:
After following The Indigo Man for three weeks, there were two truths I knew about him. The first was that he never left his apartment on Wednesdays. On those days he had Chinese food delivered around noon, then let the hours pass while he sat in his lumpy maroon recliner watching TV. Across the street, through my binoculars, all I could see were the changes in his expression, how his face morphed from laughter to boredom to a drowsiness brought on by the now empty cartons of takeout. Okay, I figured, so it's just his lazy day. But once, when he left his medicine cabinet open, it provided me a reflection of the TV he was laughing at. But there were no daytime talk shows, no overzealous infomercials. The TV wasn't even on.
The second truth I knew about him was that he spent the other six days a week making deliveries. He went on foot, a bag slung over his right shoulder and a wool cap on his head that he would periodically remove and peer into, as if verifying something. On State Street, he made six deliveries, skipping only the house with the orange cat sitting on the stoop. Out from his bag came small packages, tied in twine, which he slipped into the mail slots. Forty or fifty deliveries later, the sun had gone down, and I was tired of crouching behind bushes and park benches, and The Indigo Man retired to his favorite bar.
Three weeks of this and I was ready to give up – and then it happened. One of his little packages slipped from his bag and landed on the sidewalk, face up. I emerged from behind a dumpster, where I'd been holding my breath, almost turning blue, and dashed for the package. "For You And You Only" was written where the return address would have normally been. I flipped it over, and ran my thumb under the flap. But a voice said, "Hey," and the Indigo Man had realized his mistake, had turned back and was standing in front of me. For the first time, I was afraid of him. But all he did was hold out his hand, and wait for me to give back what was not mine.
Listen to this story here:
She is born in the winter. It snows that year, and even more so the next year, like thick frosting on a cake, and the winter after that they move to Monroe, where her father has a new job waiting for him. Every day he comes home smelling of flour and cinnamon. She is four when her baby brother is born and nine when he has his accident. Gentle now, says her mother, when she hugs her brother, newly home from the hospital. After a while the scars on his legs aren't so noticeable. When she is ten, her father brings home a dog from the shelter. She insists on naming him Lady and cannot be convinced otherwise. He sleeps at the foot of her bed every night except for one week out of the year when they are on summer vacation. Those days they spend driving down the coast with the windows down and her hair whipping across her face. She collects sand from every beach they go to, scooping it into little vials and labeling them with tape. In the middle of a fight with her brother, he smashes one of the vials on the living room floor, specks of sand everywhere.
Then she is fifteen and telling people to call her Anna, not Annabelle; then fifteen and a half and she almost crashes the high school's Driver's Ed car, her hands sweaty and slipping on the steering wheel; then sixteen and sitting in a dark movie theater beside Alex Atwood, hardly breathing when he runs his hand over hers. She writes everything down in lined journals, which her brother steals from her nightstand drawer and reads, hooting with laughter, until he gets to the part about him. When she is eighteen she wins a prize for a poem she has written, and her mother hangs a copy of it in the house, which embarrasses her only slightly more than having to read it in front of the senior class at graduation. We all were once young, it begins. Nobody in the house remembers to flip the calendar hanging in the kitchen, and it lingers on July as the months go on. Then, suddenly, she is coming home for the first time from college. Her mother has put new sheets on her bed; how large and luxurious it feels now, after being away. Her father comes home from work, still smelling of flour and cinnamon, and turns on the local news while dinner is bubbling on the stovetop. The weatherman is predicting snow, days of it, the first flakes likely falling in a few hours.
Rufus loves this bar stool, but he does not appreciate me taking photos of him on it (or so I gather, based on the expression he is giving me in the second photograph). More than once I have I glanced over and seen him sitting there, on the bar stool, facing in toward the counter, with his two little green eyes staring at me impatiently as if waiting for dinner to be served. King of the castle, indeed.
I've been working on a short story (of much longer length than the ones I've share with you) with the intention of submitting it to a lit magazine when it's ready. It's tentatively called "The Painters." It's about a boy and his grandfather. I've written just over 1,700 words, but trust me when I say that it's in pretty terrible shape and there's still a big chunk that hasn't even gotten onto the page yet. But I am feeling hopeful because this time* I have a solid vision of my characters and their wants and their troubles. That's the hardest part, developing characters that are so vivid in your mind that you forget they don't actually exist. Well, I guess they do exist, in little bits and pieces taken from real people in your life, but you know what I mean.
*have I ever mentioned the 60+ unfinished, abandoned stories on my hard drive? Yikes.
This blog is a mix of my own photos + images by others. Please link back if you share one of my photos on your blog. Email me if you'd like me to remove a post that features your images.
A small disclosure: I use affiliate links in my "what to wear" posts as a way to pay for my blog fees. In other words, I earn a tiny commission if you end up buying the item from my link. The posts are entirely curated on my own. I do not have sponsored posts.
This blog design and all original content ©2014 by Rachel Ball / Elephantine.