Jumping ship (again)

I've been threatening to do this for a while, but now it's done: Wordpress came out with their New Blogger import, so I packed the whole show up and moved over to Wordpress. Why? Well, their layouts are a lot cooler, that's for sure, and they've got a bunch of fun other functions that I won't go into, because I'm not really trying to win you over to Wordpress. I just like it better, that's all.

So, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you: the new blog. Please update your links accordingly.


CLOSE RANGE, by Annie Proulx

Well, that's it. CLOSE RANGE firmly establishes Annie Proulx as one of my favorite authors. Why did this take three books to confirm? Because I mostly liked The Shipping News and I really liked Accordian Crimes, and I wasn't sure how all that averaged out, even when one figured in how much I liked "Brokeback Mountain" (a lot--"Brokeback Mountain" is one of the short stories included in CLOSE RANGE. I read "Brokeback" last summer, and only just now sat down to the rest of the stories). CLOSE RANGE brings it all together, and yes, ranks Proulx high on my scale of favorites.

The short stories in CLOSE RANGE all focus on the state of Wyoming, and are told with a sense of eerie, dark humor that is fascinating--without being perverse or excessive. Her writing is beautiful, seemingly effortless, and some of her simplest sentences stunned me into reading them aloud, including this one, from "The Bunchgrass Edge of the World":
Old Red in his pantry wished for deafness when the bedsprings sang above.
It's a beautiful sentence, even out of context. Some of my favorite stories include both "Brokeback" and "Bunchgrass," but also "The Blood Bay" (which made me laugh, and read the whole thing aloud to Mitch) and "Pair a Spurs."

There's something of Flannery O'Connor in the way Proulx tells a story--though the West is to Proulx what the South is to O'Connor--as well as something fluid and seemless in the way she writes. Proulx is brilliant, quite brilliant, and I can't wait to read another of her novels.


Redefining the grading "curve"

My dad sent this to me and it made me laugh. I thought it might make you laugh, too:

At last, an objective grading system!


Book Review: JACK MAGGS, by Peter Carey

JACK MAGGS is the sort of book that gives me goosebumps. Something about the characters, about the depth to which Carey tests them, just gets to me, particularly as Carey exposes all their vulnerabilities but also, exposes their strengths. The characters of JACK MAGGS (most notably the title character) are shown to an eerie depth, and it is this that lends the book its drive--it plows onward, relentlessly, and I do mean this in a good way.

A brief summary: Jack Maggs is an escaped convict in the 1830s. He has been exiled to Australia but has, for reasons unknown to everyone but himself, he returns to London with a specific design. As he pursues this, several other characters are drawn in, and the plot, as they say, thickens.



Book Review: THE AUTOGRAPH MAN, by Zadie Smith

To me, it seems like every vaguely successful author is hailed, at some point in their career, as the "voice of a generation"--for an author under thirty, this cliche may be altered to "voice of the next generation."

What that means, I have no idea.

Or, I had no idea until I came across Zadie Smith's THE AUTOGRAPH MAN, which seems to encompass--without being melodramatic, dull or self-indulgent--the very essence, somehow, of the issues my generation deals with. Somehow, Smith does seem to be the "voice of a (next) generation."

I'm really not sure how to flesh that out, but I know I mean it, and in one last attempt to back it up, I'll say this: without referencing iPods and other embarrassingly "relevant" things, Smith burrows right into the weird uncertainty an entire generation can feel when their sole purpose seems to be purchasing and admiring objects, whether these objects be gadgets, lifestyles or (as in the case of celebrities) people.



My new favorite cookies

I know they sound weird and gross, but trust me: they're amazing. (I wish I could say that I don't say that lightly, but I do: I say that all the time. Recently, I've said this about avgolemeno soup, that song by 16 Horsepower--the one with the concertina, concertinas in general, the Temple Bar's house wine, and Jonathan Safran Foer.)

But, without further ado, I give you:


In a food processor (or mixer) combine:
  • 1/2 c. (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 3 T light brown sugar
  • 2 T granulated sugar
  • a scant 1/4 t kosher salt
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 4 t finely ground Earl Grey tea (cut open 4 tea bags and extract tea; or use loose tea; grind it to a powder in a blender or clean coffee grinder)
Process to a light fluffy paste, 20-30 seconds. Remove the lid and add:
  • 3/4 c. plus 2 T flour
  • 3 T cornstarch
Pulse until the dough begins to clump together and the mixture is fairly uniform, 8 to 10 times. Gather the dough together into a rough ball, kneading a few times if necessary.

Shape the dough as desired into rounds (sliced from a chilled log) or press into a pan; chill. Bake in a preheated 325-degree oven until the edges are barely colored.

(I stole this recipe from Sally Schneider's The Improvisational Cook. This book is also amazing.)


Book Review: THE IDIOT, by Fyodor Dostoevsky

How does one review THE IDIOT? I have no idea. I can tell you that I enjoyed it, very much, and I can tell you roughly why, but when I put the book down--after enjoying it, very much, for quite a long time--I was baffled to realize that I have only the slightest of ideas as to what THE IDIOT is actually about.

Prince Myshkin, our hero, was a wonderful character, surrounded by several other fascinating and complex characters, all of whom were prone to lengthy conversations on various subjects in various sitting rooms, most of which I was able to follow well enough. I think where I fell off was in the subtle, devious relationships between the characters--who seemed constantly to be thinking one thing and saying another, with all sorts of strange motives that I never was able to unravel.

This left me feeling a bit like the Prince must have felt in attempting to have any sort of interaction with the other characters, particularly when one factors in the irony that the Prince, though viewed as an idiot by nearly everyone at one time or another, is easily the cleverest and most good-hearted man of any to make an appearance in the book--he seems at times to suffer only from his own niavete.

Even with all the intrigue and (on my part) confusion, I loved THE IDIOT for these two reasons:

1) The Prince. The back of the book makes the bold assertion that Myshkin is "Christ-like," and I enjoyed teasing out the metaphor as I read--I think it holds, loosely, but I won't go into it much. I'm sure there have been all manner of dissertations and literary articles written on the subject, and I'm just not equal to that, so I'll sum it up with "I think it holds, loosely." On top of that, I liked the Prince an awful lot for who he was and how he responded to various pressures (for the most part). Also, his inclination to suddenly say something brilliant was quite endearing, as was his unpredictability in speech and action.

2) The stories within the story. I loved this about The Brothers Karamazov as well (most notably "The Grand Inquisitor"): Dostoevsky has a way of imbedding fascinating short stories within the novels, and it's those that were easily my favorite parts of the book. Think Ippolit's dream (within the story of his "explanation"), or Myshkin's tale of the beheading toward the start of the book--these helped to break up the dialogue, while somehow moving the plot along to a different level altogether.

While I loved THE IDIOT, I think The Brothers Karamazov safely remains my favorite of Dostoevsky's novels. Dostoevsky has the uncanny ability to set some of the kindest, most good-hearted characters alongside some of the most devious and down-right evil, and it's this tension that carries THE IDIOT along as such a brilliant speed.



My day is made

There is a girl at the bus depot who has a beautiful singing voice. How do I know this?

She sings aloud while waiting for her bus.

She also does birdcalls.


Who's excited? Me! Me! I am! I'm excited!

Yup, I'm excited. Why? Well, because today I met with the good folks of Murder Mountain Records, a local record label based less than, say, twenty blocks from my apartment, about recording a CD with their help, in their studio.

What does that mean? A whole week in April, spent in the company of microphones, musicians and people who actually know what the heck to do with a mixing board. Sounds lovely, it really does.

I can't wait.

Til then, watch out. I might sideline you with some scheme to make you play a random instrument on my CD--or, you might not be able to find me at all. I might be holed up in my apartment with my 4-track, my guitar and my notebook, composing ridiculously elaborate versions of five songs of my choice.

Which leads me to my next question: any suggestions? Any songs you've been itching to listen to on a spiffy compact disc? Comment. Let me know.

And yes, Morgan's song will be on there. That's the plan, so far.

Book Review: SHANTARAM, by Gregory David Roberts

When my dad told me that SHANTARAM was the best book he'd read in months, I knew I had to read it, right away. See, my dad reads even more than I do, and "best book in months" is very high praise coming from him, because he can read an awful lot of books in just a few months--for him to call SHANTARAM the best book he'd read in months is roughly the equivelent to a normal person saying it was the best book they'd read this year.

To have an idea of what SHANTARAM is about, you need to know a little about Gregory David Roberts: he was sentenced to nineteen years in an Australian prison for a series of armed robberies; he later escaped from prison and spent ten years on the run in Bombay. What happens in Bombay is more or less what SHANTARAM is about, and the fact that the book is based loosely on the author's life is probably a saving grace, because though SHANTARAM is a novel, not a memoir, the autobiographical aspect of the book lends it some crediblility that serves the story well. Without that credibility, I don't think I'd believe a word Roberts says.

The events of the book are so bizarre, so relentless and brutal, that the things this guy does, and things that are done to him, border on the unbelievable. I mean this in a good way, but if a novelist tried to convince me that all of that stuff actually happened to a fictional character I'd roll my eyes and laugh. The fact that some of this stuff (and more) verifyably happened to Roberts makes me take the whole book a lot more seriously--and kept me reading with wide eyes.

(I must warn you, though: don't go looking Roberts up until you're a good way into the book, unless you want to know the key points of what happens. You might look up a photo of him, if you like. That's entertaining.)

So what was so fascinating about SHANTARAM? Why, the main character. Lin is one hell of a character, that's for sure, and though I still don't know what to make of him, I like him. Most of the other characters were incredibly strong as well, especially Prabaker, Abdullah, Didier, and Khader Khan. I won't lie, though--I never cared much for Karla.

It did take me awhile to get into Roberts' writing style (he's really into reflections on the nature of love and freedom and so on; also, some of his metaphors took a little getting used to), but by the end of all 900 pages, he'd won me over, not least because he managed to resolve everything so well. I have to admit that, with all the plotlines, sub-plotlines and sub-sub-plotlines, I was skeptical that he'd be able to bring everything together at the end of the book, but he did. The book ended well, and I was glad.

Do I think this book is for everyone? No. Do I think you should read it anyway? Definately. It's a good one. Also, there's a rumor that Johnny Depp will be producing the movie version soon, and I sincerely hope that he takes the role of Didier and not the role of Lin. He would be an excellent Didier, but a terrible Lin.



The Subaru returns!

This morning, at 3 a.m., I got a call from the Kent Police, informing me that yes, our car had been found, and yes, it appeared to be "driveable". Could I meet them at the site in twenty minutes? No. The car was towed.

This morning, at 8 a.m., Mitch set out for Kent with our friend Tuoc, on a grand adventure to reclaim our estranged vehicle. We were thoroughly (I think) prepared for the worst: to never see the car again, or to find it on blocks somewhere, minus wheels, CD player, several windows, ignition switch and so on. What we did not expect was to find it in roughly the state we'd left it (very messy), with a few things broken (rearview mirror, armrest, glovebox), but for the most part intact.

Nothing was missing, not even the CD player.

Now, from the time we bought the car, the lock in the hatch door has been broken. We've known this. We've looked into getting it fixed, but the fact that it would require an enormous amount of labor and the replacement of certain parts that are otherwise in fine condition deterred us from ever actually having the lock fixed. Yet, somehow, the fact that our car does not lock properly didn't deter us from parking it in SeaTac, unchaperoned, for an entire week--and look where that's gotten us.

But here is what we really did not expect: we got our car back (oh joy!) with a few things broken, but with one surprising thing fixed.

That's right.

The hatch locks.

Also, Jesus Christ Superstar survived unscathed. That's an awful lot of answered prayer, right there.


The car turned up in Kent! The officer who called us (at 3:00 am this morning) said it "looks driveable." That must mean that the wheels are still attached, right?

We've yet to go pick it up, so more info later.


The mystery revealed

Turns out that "baby block cakes" are full-size (delicious, many-layered) cakes, decorated to look like baby blocks. They were a whole lot of fun to make, definately--I was in charge of piping the ABC's and the ducks. On a random note, I fell for one of those one-question quizzes, and got a good laugh as a result:

Thea --


A person with a sixth sense for detecting the presence of goblins

'How will you be defined in the dictionary?' at QuizGalaxy.com


By weekday, a mild-mannered dental assistant. By weekend...

For the last month or so, I've been working for my friend Ashley the Pastry Chef in her gourmet dessert catering business. She's teaching me tons, and I'm quite enthusiastic about this. In fact I'm so enthusiastic that if you've talked to me recently, you're probably sick of hearing about Ashley and her fancy desserts, and I apologize, but seriously, I'm having a great time learning the tricks of the pastry trade. I made meringue this morning for fun.

I'm not joking.

And if you know me at all, you know about my sweet tooth--it's enormous. Putting me in a kitchen with gourmet desserts is dangerous, not least because "official taster" has somehow worked its way into my job description. I'm pretty sure I've gained a few pounds already in hazelnut cookies and drinking chocolate.

Speaking of teeth, the irony of my two jobs is not lost on me--my new favorite joke is, "during the week, I solve the problem; over the weekend, I create it." Dentistry and sweets. Perfect. At least I have free dental, right?

Tomorrow I go to work for Ashley, and I hear we're making "baby block cakes." I'm not sure what these are, though several possibilities come to mind: cakes shaped like alphabet blocks? Mini cakes shaped like babies? Or just regular old rectangle cakes, but small? I don't know. But I'll find out, and then I'll tell you.


Crafty Coyote: The Christmas Edition

In an earlier entry I mentioned Christmas gifts--how I was making them, every one, this year, and how it would be dirt cheap. I mean, heartfelt and crafty, not cheap. Did someone say cheap?

Anyway, now that the holiday has come and gone, I can unveil to you my grand scheme for thrifty Christmas success. Here is a complete gift:

That's what they looked like, packed up and ready to go. The contents of one gift may or may not include one or more or none of the following:

  • A stack of hand-drawn greeting cards (blank white cards purchased in bulk--years and years ago--and decorated with calligraphy, felt pen illustrations and/or metallic gel pen highlights), attractively wrapped with hemp cord left over from the hemp craze circa 2001.

  • Origami ornaments. Remember the origami boxes I mentioned several times over the last month (usually in conjunction with Arrested Developement)? They're super easy to make, and I bet you could come by directions online. I made boxes mostly, though a few stars and snowflakes worked their way in there, and then threaded gold-braided ribbon through 'em and tied a little loop on one end so the whole thing could hang, attractively, from a bough.

  • Chocolate chip cookies! We can thank Ashley for the most amazing choc. chip recipe ever. These bad boys have uber-dark chocolate, milk chocolate, espresso dark chocolate and sugar-free Belgian chocolate in them instead of plain old Tollhouse (not that there's anything wrong with Tollhouse). I wrapped them in brown wax paper, tied them hemp and a calligraphied tag, and dropped them in the bag.

  • As for the wrapping, it's exactly what it looks like: brown paper lunch bags, with hemp cord and a gift tag. The gift tags were either hand-stamped or (an idea I blatantly stole from Erin--because it's absolutely brilliant--and therefore take no credit for but will definately use again) cut from leftover Christmas cards. The one shown was one of this year's cards that was sent to my work by another office. It's a gorgeous card, and now it lives on in an attractive gift tag.

  • Voila!

    If you have questions or ideas, I'd love to hear them--especially the ideas. I had a blast making the gifts, and the best part was definately putting each one together for my loved ones. You know, designing cards specifically with my mom in mind, or trying to pick out the ornament that most reminds me of my brother, and so on.

    I'm curious to hear what everyone else came up with for fun and thrifty gifts.

    A tragedy

    We just discovered that our copy of Jesus Christ Superstar: The Motion Picture Soundtrack was in our car, wherever it may be. We also discovered that, unlike the other CDs we lost, Superstar was not in our computer library, nor was it on either of our iPods.

    It's one thing to steal our car. But to steal Jesus Christ Superstar? That's another thing completely.

    To help soften the blow, here is a picture of Gunner, atop the cat palace Mitch constructed out of old boxes and packing tape:


    Book Review: STARDUST and CORALINE, both by Neil Gaiman

    Somewhere in the acknowledgements of STARDUST, Neil Gaiman thanks a slew of authors (C.S. Lewis included) for showing him that fairy stories can be for adults and not just for children. This is exactly what STARDUST is: a fairy story for adults.

    Generally when something is referred to as "for adults" that means either a) that it's boring, or b) that there's sex involved. However, STARDUST is neither boring nor sleazy (though it's not without its romantic moments)--the story moves along rapidly, through the village of Wall and the Land of Faerie, switching from character to character, subplot to subplot, in such a seamless fashion that I was reminded often that authors like Neil Gaiman are why I love reading. The man can tell a story, without a doubt.

    RATING: 4

    Which brings me to CORALINE.

    While CORALINE seemed marketed more explicitly toward kids, it was a whole heck of a lot scarier than STARDUST. The eerie environment and creepy characters, however, merely added to CORALINE's charm, as did the illustrations by Dave McKean (you may or may not recall that Gaiman and McKean teamed up on the movie Mirrormask--which was very cool).

    See, Coraline lives in a flat with a door that opens into another flat--the flat where everything is better. The one catch, of course, is that the mother in that flat wants to keep Coraline. Forever.

    The conditions on which she wants to keep Coraline, as you might imagine, are not good. The story that unfolds is spooky and utterly absorbing, and the book is short and perfect for times when you're bedridden with the flu (in fact, having a fever when you read this book seems to spice things up).

    I loved CORALINE, maybe better than STARDUST, because Coraline was such a fascinating character, and Gaiman let her carry the whole book. A strong character leading the plot along always makes me happy.

    RATING: 5


    Warm and fuzzy

    Since the news broke about our stolen car, I've been humbled by the response from the folks at Oikos: at least five people have offered to let us borrow their cars, either indefinately or on an as-needed basis, and plenty more have offered us rides, whenever we need them. Still more have come forth with offers to help in any way they can.

    We keep asking ourselves what it is we need to learn through all this, but maybe it's as simple as learning to accept help when we really do need it, though I'm sure there's plenty more to be learned as well--how little we need our possessions, but how much we rely on them, for example. How stupidly attached to them we become. I don't miss having a car nearly as much as I miss having our car. Alas.

    But thank you everyone, for all your help already. It's good to know we're so completely surrounded by wonderful people.