I've been to the San Juans several times as a kid but not at all in recent years. Visiting again after all this time reminded me how special of a place it is. (Here's what we did, if you missed it.)
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I've been reading a bit less in the last couple months, but am still working my way through my ever-expanding reading list. Here's four books I loved and would recommend...
1. The Moons of Jupiter (Alice Munro) — "It had been a different story the night before. When I brought him into the hospital, to the emergency room, he had been pale and closemouthed. He had opened the car door and stood up and said quietly, "Maybe you better get me one of those wheelchairs." He used the voice he always used in a crisis. Once, our chimney caught on fire; it was on a Sunday afternoon and I was in the dining room pinning together a dress I was making. He came in and said in that same matter-of-fact, warning voice, "Janet. Do you know where there's some baking powder?" He wanted it to throw on the fire. Afterwards he said, "I guess it was your fault—sewing on Sunday.""
2. On Such a Full Sea (Chang-Rae Lee) — "Quig came briefly to examine her leg and the splint, but he appeared both times in the middle of the night, his mini-flashlight rousing her from sleep, her heart bounding in a fitful dash; and before she could form any words, he'd have retightened the cord and checked the splint bindings and extinguished the light and left, depositing her back in her dreams. And what were those dreams? They were tableaus of the unknown, naturally, visions of anxiety and miserable solitude, the kind you might have when you are a child and clenched by high fever, when you see your loved ones from the bottom of a salt pit and they are as far off as the moon, when your arms are too heavy to lift, much less wave, and your voice has no carry."
3. Clever Girl (Tessa Hadley) — "Night falls while we are eating and the darkness outside presses greedily against the glass; an autumn moon swims up over the water, dowager-stately, trailing clouds like scarves, looming over its own reflection. The restaurant by this time is crowded and noisy. Somehow we get on to talking about coincidence: Madeleine believes in premonitions and synchronicity and ghosts and we quarrel about this amiably enough, not for the first time. She gives me examples of things that have happened to her which can't have been accidental and I insist that this perception is only confirmation bias. She says there are patterns of energy we can tap into, if we allow ourselves to read the signs. We're neither of us going to change our minds."
4. Train Dreams (Denis Johnson) — "Now he slept soundly through the nights, and often he dreamed of trains, and often of one particular train: He was on it; he could smell the coal smoke; a world went by. And then he was standing in that world as the sound of the train died away. A frail familiarity in these scenes hinted to him that they came from his childhood. Sometimes he woke to hear the sound of the Spokane International fading up the valley and realized he’d been hearing the locomotive as he dreamed."
How about you? Read anything fantastic lately?
To celebrate our anniversary, Stefan and I spent two days on San Juan Island, exploring Cattle Point, Lime Kiln Park, South Beach, Jakle's Lagoon, and the American and English camps; we visited an alpaca farm (so cute) and a lavender farm (so fragrant), glimpsed eagles and deer and foxes and seals and jellyfish in the wild, played bocce at Roche Harbor, feasted at Duck Soup Inn and Pablito's Taqueria, stumbled upon the farmers market in Friday Harbor, and admired the natural beauty of the island – the wind-bent fir trees scattered in the dry grasslands, the cool mossy woods, the rocky beaches, the mist lifting off the farmlands early in the morning, and, thanks to catching a very early ferry to beat the crowds, we watched the sun rise and set on the same day.
(More photos soon, once I get my film developed.)
You guys... a short story I wrote won the Little Bird Writing Contest! I almost don't believe it. The contest was created by Sarah Selecky, whose "In the Spotlight" series I took part in. The day my spotlight went live, I received a phone call from Sarah with the news that I'd also won the Little Bird Contest—the most wonderful kind of coincidence. (Sarah hosts the contest, but the stories are judged blindly by a guest judge; this year the guest judge was Rebecca Lee, who wrote Bobcat and Other Stories.) Needless to say, I'm thrilled and amazed to have my story become a prize winner. Wow.
Here's an excerpt from my story, "Woman in a Drawer":
When I arrived, the girls were somewhere deep in the house, so Mrs. Fielding called them out to meet me. Harriet and Gracie looked like miniature versions of their mother, but with delicate, sharply defined chins, and roving, bright eyes. They stared at me for a while without saying anything, until Mrs. Fielding asked where their manners were, and would they please show me around, and then she herself disappeared into another room. The girls—Gracie, the younger one, taking me by the hand—began the tour.
Their home was larger than ours, but its layout was oddly linear: there seemed to be no central heart of the home, only rooms that led into other rooms, or a hallway that criss-crossed with another hallway. Pop music pulsed in the distance. Gracie pointed out her sister's bedroom, then her own, then a little study in which "daddy doesn't like to be bothered," and another room with toys spread over the carpet and a big poster of a blue solar system on the wall. They showed me the kitchen, then the half bath intended for guests, both startlingly white and sweetly aromatic.
When they finished—struck by listlessness, a large portion of the house still left a mystery—they asked why my hair looked the way it did. "It's called a pixie cut," I said, and then, a little desperately, "It's in style." What I didn't mention was that my haircut was the solution to a bob I'd tried giving myself using the tri-fold mirror at home. Gracie asked, "Can you cut mine like that, too?" and smiled for the first time. She had long, sun-lightened hair, the sort I envied. I was tempted to say yes. I suggested we play a game instead.
"She only knows how to play hide-and-seek," said Harriet.
"So?" asked Gracie.
"I can teach you a new game," I offered.
"No," said Gracie. "I don't like any other games."
If you'd like to read the rest, you can find it in Little Bird Stories Volume IV. All your support and encouragement truly has had an impact on my writing—so thank you.
I've been enjoying the fruits of my labor – the radishes, strawberries, and snow peas in particular. There's a tiny broccoli head starting to grow, and my bell pepper plant is getting big, and the potatoes I shoved in the ground two months ago have sprouted. Overall, there hasn't been enough yield to significantly affect what I buy from the store, but it's still rewarding and fun and a great learning process for future gardening.
These popsicles are a bit more decadent than ones I normally make, but when I ran across this recipe I couldn't resist. Mmm. Happy 4th of July!
1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs, lightly packed*
2 Tbsp melted butter
1 8-ounce package cream cheese
2 cups sliced strawberries
1/2 cup confectioners sugar
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
Mix together graham cracker crumbs and melted butter; set aside. Blend together the cream cheese, strawberries, sugar, and yogurt. Pour into popsicle molds, leaving a little space at the top for the crust. Top with the crumb mixture, gently pressing down to compact. Add popsicle sticks and freeze for at least 4 hours.
*easy way to break down graham crackers: put them in a ziploc bag and crush with a rolling pin until they're evenly crumbled.
Have I ever mentioned Story Is a State of Mind? It's a fantastic online writing course created by the talented Sarah Selecky. I signed up for it a few years ago and it helped me get out of a writing slump. It's great for many reasons, but what I really loved was how encouraging the lessons were — I felt like I had a personal cheerleader.
Sarah has a series on her blog called "In the Spotlight," where she features writers and their works-in-progress, and I was hugely flattered when she asked me to contribute. If you're interested, here's my feature, where I shared some thoughts on writing and also a very brief excerpt from my novel.