Necessity is a mother. So is Nature.

I lived in NH for the Blizzard of ’78. I went to college in Syracuse. I resided in Minneapolis for the Halloween Blizzard of ’91 and the ensuing horrific winter. I know snow.

This, children, is a blizzard.

We’ve been without cable or internet since Saturday. Crews were pulled from the roads in MD, VA, and the District because white-out conditions made it too dangerous to plow. Metro’s only running underground.

Thank goodness for my iPhone.

Marred for life.

I am using the last of my precious winter break Metro time to do some pleasure reading.  Having sated myself on crime fiction, I got Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan from the library (which I thoroughly enjoyed – highly recommended to people who like YA, adventure, steampunk, alternate history, or breathing) and ripped through it in about two days.

Waiting in my pile was a book on writing my wise mother handed to me during her last visit, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird.  I’m pretty sure she refrained from saying “You’ll love this,” and I think we may have discovered another way around my reflexive filter.  Just hand the thing to me without a deadline for completion.  I’ll happily get to it in my own sweet time.

I have had this book (along with “Writing Down the Bones”) recommended to me at length, and often enthusiastically, which is probably why I hadn’t gotten to either of them before now.*  Predictably, I am loving it.**

As much as I am loving Lamott’s book, one of the charms of getting to read it in the way I did is the scattering of a few tiny post-it notes my mother tucked among the pages.  These notes have cryptic remarks jotted on them which I understand well due to our shared history but might well be written in Urdu for all the sense they would make to a stranger.

Lamott’s book is especially good in one way because it offers you interstitial assignments – they’re not listed as such, but if the reader decided to take them that way, it is very possible to pull literal instructions from every chapter.  In the early going, there is a section on writing about school lunches to break a mental logjam.  Lamott is right when she says that this topic is fertile ground for stories and descriptions.  She herself writes a few humorous paragraphs about the “code” of lunches – what was acceptable and what labeled you as “other” in the eyes of your classmates.  I recognized exactly what she meant, even if the specifics were different when I was growing up.

My lunches, I am afraid, were never up to code.  Mom made lunches that a 40-year-old foodie would swoon over: homemade multigrain bread, real cold cuts (no bologna in my mother’s kitchen), and often bean sprouts.  These were thick, hearty, character-building sandwiches in every sense of the word.  Once, a classmate snatched a tangle of sprouts out of my sandwich, screamed, and flung them away from her as if they were alive.  They stuck to a window high over our heads and remained there for the entire school year, closely resembling the desiccated corpse of a spider.

The other thing I remember about my school lunches were the notes.  Mom’s missives, often illustrated with quirky doodles, were like a quick squeeze of the shoulder or a warm smile.  I remember them as full of love and humor and topical information like, “Christmas Tree decorating tonight!” or “5 more days until vacation.”  Mom’s handwriting somehow manages to be both loopy and strong, so finding this note tucked into the pages of Lamott’s book was like something out of a time capsule:

“Sprouts!  Marred for life.”

I laughed like an idiot on the Metro and didn’t care who noticed.

*See above re: “You’ll love this”
**I only said I have a reflexive reaction to over-enthusiastic recommendations.  I didn’t say it was smart.

Yet more snow

Our crazy snow dog/porpoise.

Music: Shira Kammen, “Le Brandevin – Holly and his Merry Men – Angelus ad Verginem” used under a Creative Commons license.

Also, the bundt cake atop our picnic table:

Is it a cake?

Anyone for Scrabble?

Because we’re not going anywhere anytime soon.

This is a LOT of snow.

The great Julekake lamination of aught-nine.

As with last year, I made Julekake this year.  The big difference is I got off my hind end and decided to experiment.  My grandmother’s recipe makes five full-size loaves at one go.  This is a quantity of dough that swamps my stand mixer and, in the words of my mother, “You don’t knead it, you hug it.”  In other words, it is an incredibly daunting prospect to contemplate for any amateur Julenisse.

Modifying baking recipes is not something I’m qualified in any way to do.  My friend Linsey is an expert in such things, and from reading her blog I know there is seemingly endless trial and error in these experiments.  But I wanted cardamom and dried fruit in a lovely, slightly chewy, perfect for breakfast toast sort of way.  And so I fired up a spreadsheet and commenced to calculate.

My first experiment (five loaves down to three) was actually very successful.  Not enough cardamom, but I was (I believe) understandably cautious: cardamom is pretty pungent.  But the texture was perfect.  And I could get the bulk of the kneading done with the stand mixer and finish by hand.

We stored two of the loaves in the oven.  John’s idea, and not a bad one.  But it is a bad idea to preheat the oven without checking to see if there is anything in there first.  And so, preparing to roast a chicken, John essentially laminated two loaves of Julekake.

So I made two more batches.  Nine total loaves is proof of concept, I think.  And I think I’m finally getting the cardamom calibration correct.

I still won’t make the mistake of thinking that I did anything other than get lucky with my first attempt at modifying a baking recipe.  But it’s nice to have a more manageable version.

Newton. That bastard.

In the last month or so, I have:

  • Gotten a ridiculous amount done at work
  • Written two papers for school and the outline for a third
  • Done I-don’t-know-how-many homework assignments
  • Managed (in tandem with John) to keep the house from exploding (no small feat when it is also home to four furry critters)
  • Thrown our big household party of the year

In the last month or so, I have not:

  • Written a short story
  • Photographed anything of note
  • Blogged meaningfully
  • Done any significant amount of knitting (we shall not speak of the spinning which has not happened, nor the designing)

In other words, the work, the school, and the life stuff have taken over – seemingly permanently, and while I still may rebel to stand and shout, “There are four lights!” I feel that the creative part of my little corner of the world is… crumbly.  Perhaps crispy.  It certainly isn’t lush and vibrant just now.  I have only my internal assurance to know that it even exists.

And I have what may amount to a hubristic faith in that assurance.  So thanks for sticking with me.

Laughter, drifting down from on high

This week is one of those funny, stubby weeks – a few days of work, a few days off, John is picking up my mom from the airport and working an odd, late day tomorrow due to a faculty senate meeting.

As a result, we have that semi-giddy, let-off-the-leash feeling you get when life is off kilter.  We watched Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch this evening – growing up in Red Sox Nation, we felt both the hero and the heroine’s pain.  And also their triumph.  It was a surprisingly nuanced movie.  If you like sport, or love someone who likes sport, I can recommend it.

I’m not ready to go to bed yet, and I can hear John upstairs laughing at Milo.  It’s a good sound.  Hearty and loud.  It makes me look forward to the holiday weekend.

Overheard at our house, sci fi edition

“Is that the guy from the hive thing?”

“‘Every sci fi show has a hive of some kind.  Can you narrow that down for me?”

Overheard on a recent visit to friends, Silicon Valley geek edition

“You know, as we were driving up to your house, we almost couldn’t find your exit?”


“Yeah – it’s 404.”


He’s a magic man…

I got a Wii console for my 40th birthday – because though I may be 40, inside I am 12.  I generally use it to work out (EA Sports Fitness – though occasionally glitchy – is surprisingly intense), though I did get sucked into “World of Goo” on a friend’s recommendation.  Other than that, we only have the sports game that came with the console.  We had a party recently for my school colleagues, and the Wii was the hit of the party.  There is something about the game that seems to bring out the positive, encouraging side of people.  Miss a hit in baseball?  Nobody jeers.  Instead, cries of “You wuz ROBBED!” ring out, even from the opposing side.

As someone who really hates what my mother calls the “nyah nyahs,” I have been surprised to witness this sort of behavior.  Life has taught me more often that games where there are winners and losers are just… well, nasty.

Even John, who doesn’t really like video games, likes to play Wii.  Well, he likes to play Wii Bowling.  Since we are both New England kids, I usually respond to his, “Wanna bowl?” with, “Yeah – ya gonna take me bowlin’ an’ buy me a beah?”  We’re pretty well matched and the usual score is close.  But I found out today that John, well… he’s a magical Wii bowler.  He ran upstairs to do something when I was playing my turn, and his turn came before he had returned.  Suddenly, his figure went live, and I watched his Mii bowl a perfect strike.  Moments later, he ran downstairs and said, “How’d I do?”  He had brought his controller upstairs with him and heard it “ding.”  So he played his turn blind.  From upstairs.

Magic, I tell you.

(He smoked me that game by over 30 points.)