and I missed it! But not really, because I just finished hand writing postcards to every last person in my address book.
I’ve written before about my love of real mail. My weakness for stationary, for anything letterpress, for stamps and funny cards and pens with unusual colors of ink.
I made postcards for Gaining Daylight–my first book-promoting effort.
My friend Susan Reid sent 34 postcards in one day, and now she calls me every time she hears from a relative in Virginia or that friend in Germany who got one and says they’ll look for the book. Susan also spent four hours last Saturday addressing envelopes to small bookstores all over Alaska. Thank you Susan. It makes me happy just picturing starfish and squid arriving in mailboxes all over the country.
Last night as I pulled into the driveway after work I heard Garrison Keeler signing off the Writer’s Almanac. I count it a good day if it includes that voice, and the words “be well, do good work, and keep in touch.”
I believe in keeping in touch.
Eva Saulitis writes in her blog that “…the raw material of writing comes from bodily contact with the world” and that …meditation, and walking, and observing the world, all of it feeds into the words that appear on the page.
Sometimes I regret that I’m better at nurturing relationships than my own writing life-in mothering and in friendship–bringing food to a friend who just had knee surgery, or making time for a walk or a handwritten letter. But this month, with the book release just a few weeks away, it’s friends who are addressing letters, creating and hanging flyers and making cupcakes for a book celebration in spite of my reluctance, reminding me of the blessings of a balanced life.
When we sent postcards from India on our honeymoon it involved a pot of glue applied with a twig, which you found under a tree outside of the post office.
I’ve been trying to figure out how to embed images on wordpress, and how you go about giving the right attribution. You can find this artist on etsy- Naomi Wilkinson-. I love her color combinations. They remind me of a beautiful fishsite in Uyak Bay. Danny and Sandy are both artists and it’s evident everywhere–driftwood sculptures on the shed, painted cabin floors, wooden canoe paddles holding up the laundry line. Even the rocks on their paths are handpicked and pretty. The first time I got to visit their site, I was so inspired I went home and painted the trim around our woodstove the orange of that mermaid’s tail.
Someday I’d like to make a place that upliftingly beautiful. By August, I sometimes feel like my greenhouse is close. It’s just missing a clawfoot tub.
I wonder if I thought of this website more as a place, would that give me some sense of purpose? Because honestly, most of time it seems like we’re all sending these posts out into the world without much of a point. Well, beyond “here’s some more stuff to buy.” Maybe if I was trying to create a little place of inspiration I’d feel better about updating and spending time on this, even though I’d still be thinking that there are already a bajillion moms-turned-blogger who take better photos. Something else that’s been bothering me: who is my audience anyway? And how many books does a writer have to sell before they can give up updating a website and just write books?
I’m pretty sure that my sister is my sole reader. My mom would read this too, but my dad tends to think that all computer problems were caused by the last person seen near the computer desk. Hi Mary Beth. You’re the best. I hope something on this site makes your day a little better.
MaryBeth met us in Hungary the spring I was pregnant with Liam & we took the train to Dubrovnik[/caption]
Or maybe if I just managed to share something useful every once in a while, like the greatest coconut cream pie recipe ever, I’d feel better about this site. I first had Tom Douglas’s coconut pie at Dahlia Lounge in Seattle. Someone must have told me to try it because I don’t even like coconut, but I love this dessert. I like to make two or three miniature pies from the recipe and leave them unexpected in friends’ fridges. This recipe is in Tom Douglas’ Seattle Kitchen cookbook and it’s also here at cake spy.
Triple Coconut Cream Pie
For The Coconut Pastry Cream
2 cups milk
2 cups sweetened shredded coconut
1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise
2 large eggs
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
For The Pie
One 9-inch Pie Shell
prebaked and cooled
2 1/2 cups heavy cream, chilled
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 ounces unsweetened “chip” or large-shred coconut (about 11/2 cups) or sweetened shredded coconut
Chunks of white chocolate (4 to 6 ounces, to make 2 ounces of curls)
1. To make the pastry cream, combine the milk and coconut in a medium saucepan. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and add both the seeds and pod to the milk mixture. Place the saucepan over medium-high heat and stir occasionally until the mixture almost comes to a boil.
2. In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, and flour until well combined. Temper the eggs (to keep them from scrambling) by pouring a small amount (about 1/3 Cup) of the scalded milk into the egg mixture while whisking. Then add the warmed egg mixture to the saucepan of milk and coconut. Whisk over medium-high heat until the pastry cream thickens and begins to bubble. Keep whisking until the mixture is very thick, 4 to 5 minutes more. Remove the saucepan from the heat. Add the butter and whisk until it melts. Remove and discard the vanilla pod. Transfer the pastry cream to a bowl and place it over a bowl of ice water. Stir occasionally until it is cool. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pastry cream to prevent a crust from forming and refrigerate until completely cold. The pastry cream will thicken as it cools.
3. When the pastry cream is cold, fill the prebaked pie shell with it, smoothing the surface. In an electric mixer with the whisk, whip the heavy cream with the sugar and vanilla on medium speed. Gradually increase the speed to high and whip to peaks that are firm enough to hold their shape. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a star tip with the whipped cream and pipe it all over the surface of the pie, or spoon it over.
4. For the garnish, preheat the oven to 350°F. Spread the coconut chips on a baking sheet and toast in the oven, watching carefully and stirring once or twice, since coconut burns easily, until lightly browned, 7 to 8 minutes. Use a vegetable peeler to scrape about 2 ounces of the white chocolate into curls.
Today I cleaned our bookshelves and unearthed a drive with photos from our honeymoon, a backpacking trip we took seven years ago. Walking through markets, I felt shy about taking pictures. Most photos were shot from the hip. I wasn’t trying to be sneaky, I just couldn’t bring myself to hold the camera up to my eye, even though it didn’t ease the feeling that I was stealing. Usually the bus or train or truck windows wouldn’t open very far, so I’d hold my arm out and hope I captured something good. That strikes me as a metaphor for writing in disconnected blocks of time. Each time I sit at the computer I’m hoping to pin down maybe one good idea that I can come back to.
I like the way looking through these pictures from India reminds me of how it felt to be traveling there, trying to take in all the life going on around us
Ellen Gilchrist writes in an essay, “The Middle Way”—”The years I spent raising my sons are as important to my happiness as the books I have written. If some of that time was frustrating, if occasionally I wondered whether I was wasting my talents, then that was the price I had to pay for being happy now. There are always dues to pay.”
She ends the essay with a story about running into Eudora Welty on campus. Ellen was with her three little red-headed boys.
Welty said, “Are they yours? Do they belong to you?”
“They’re mine,” I answered. “Aren’t they funny?”
“Why would you need anything else?” She asked. “Why would you need to be a writer?”
I did not understand what she was saying to me but I do now. Eudora had no children of her own and that year she had lost her father and her brother. Her mother was in a nursing home. Think how my riches must have looked to her. Think how far away from wisdom I was not to know what she was telling me.
In the end happiness is always a balance. I hope the young women of our fortunate world find ways to balance their lives. I hope they learn to rejoice and wait.
“Certainly for artists of all stripes, the unknown, the idea or the form or the tale that has not yet arrived, is what must be found. It is the job of artists to open doors and invite in prophesies, the unknown, the unfamiliar; it’s where their work comes from, although its arrival signals the beginning of the long disciplined process of making it their own.”
– Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost
I admire really creative people. Christoph Niemann’s book, Abstract City came in the mail the other day and brightened my whole week. And Amy Krouse Rosenthal, you had me at hello the yellow umbrella. Somehow she makes book promotion look fun. I love The Jealous Curator blog for her byline: “A collection of art that inspires and depresses me. I know it’s good when I’m thinking DAMN I WISH I’D THOUGHT OF THAT.” She isn’t afraid to use the word jealous over and over. And she’s introduced me to artists like Kate Pugsly. Pugsly reminds me a little of another artist I love, Maira Kalman. I wish I could capture the world the way she does. I envy the energy that artists and creative thinkers seem to have. My only muse these days is strong coffee.
I’m feeling a little short on creativity this month. Maybe it has to do with going to work in the dark and coming home in the dark. Now that I think of it, January is usually when I start compulsively painting color over white walls or jabbing at the dimmer switches, convinced the light bulbs aren’t shining at full strength. This week I’ve been trying to think up ways to spark inspiration. So far, searching terms like sunshine, Matisse, lemons, and Italy on Pinterest hasn’t really worked. It did lead me to Femke , though, a blogger in Amsterdam with an aesthetic I love. This form of procrastination, I mean, research, is problematic because basking in someone else’s brilliant productivity is generally followed by envy. I’m jealous of anyone making the time to make art. But even if I had a room of my own to fill with color and images of travel and beauty, I wouldn’t have much time to sit alone being inspired. My laptop bag is so heavy it sets the passenger seat belt siren off every time I drive, and yet I haul it around everywhere, like Gollum, hoping for a few minutes alone with it. That’s my current reality, along with work and winter and a messy house. If I’m honest with myself, all my Internet searches for inspiration are just a pleasant way of robbing myself of writing time. I’d be better off to quit searching for beauty and admit that creating something of beauty takes work and time and the only way I’m going to get it is to take it when I can. In a section about reasons for writing in Dinty Moore’s book, The Mindful Writer, he quotes Stephen King:
Yes I’ve made a great deal of dough from my fiction, but I never set a single world down on paper with the thought of being paid for it … I have written because it fulfilled me. Maybe it paid off the mortgage on the house and got the kids through college, but those things were on the side–I did it for the buzz. I did it for the pure joy of the thing. And if you can do it for joy, you can do it forever.
Dinty Moore writes, “It is good to be reminded that writing is not just hard work, not just worrying about being blocked, not just struggle. Stephen King refers to the buzz of writing, that feeling of exhilaration that comes when the writing is flowing, streaming out like the tail end of a comet. That’s the joy of it and the reason, I suppose, that we keep coming back.” My job then, is to write through distractions and self-doubt and scattered fragments of time until I get to inspiration.
A final quote that Dinty Moore shared from E.L. Doctorow: “Planning to write is not writing. Outlining, researching, talking to people about what you’re doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing.”
It took 30 hours and 6 flights to get to Melbourne. By the end of our trip we’d played 300 games of Simon Says and hours of I spy. We lost one pair of shoes and went through 3 bottles of sunscreen. We stopped at 14 playgrounds. We left November in Alaska for the start of Australia’s summer–outdoor markets, sunshine, swimming, fish & chips, zoos, city walks, rose gardens, camping, roller coasters, fruit bats, kangaroos, wombats, mangoes, flat whites, aquariums, and roundabouts. It was a long trip home again, and we all had the flu our first day back in Kodiak. It was worth it.
Jan Pennington took these pictures for us last year because our lab, Schooner, is getting old. He lags behind us on walks now and groans over sore joints whenever he flops down. Pete & I have our seventh anniversary this month, but it really feels like the life we’ve made together started with bringing Schooner home as a puppy in New Mexico eleven years ago. Some people mark the first years of marriage by a place or a first house, but ours are all tied to a brown dog. Schooner’s photo was our save-the-date postcard, he lived with us in third story apartments in Seattle, he rode along on drives up and down the Alcan Highway. He was equally miserable the summer we spent finishing the cabin in Uyak Bay. He hates loud power tools and raised voices. His presence in the house means that arguments end just as we realize we’re fighting, when Schooner’s tail sinks between his legs and he leaves the room.
I took him for a walk today, and maybe it was because I’d just read Diane Ackerman’s essay about the beauty and decay of falling leaves that I was thinking about change and the significance of endings.
“In time, they will become fragil, and, like the body, return to dust. They are as we hope our own fate will be when we die: Not to vanish, just to sublime from one beautiful state into another.”
Maybe the anticipation of winter and the waning light has me sad today. Or maybe it was the realization that Schooner’s lessening mobility and his last, slower years happen to parallel a kind of settling down into this stage of parenthood and life–working, planning, compromising. I’m nostalgic for the sunlight and warmth of the Southwest in the fall, for long drives to new places, Schooner at our feet in the tent, nights we watched for trails of light across a deep, still sky.
“But we really need to make an effort to get in the picture. Our sons need to see how young and beautiful and human their mamas were. Our daughters need to see us vulnerable and open and just being ourselves — women, mamas, people living lives. Avoiding the camera because we don’t like to see our own pictures? How can that be okay?
Someday, I want them to see me, documented, sitting right there beside them: me, the woman who gave birth to them, whom they can thank for their ample thighs and their pretty hair; me, the woman who nursed them all for the first years of their lives, enduring porn star-sized boobs and leaking through her shirts for months on end; me, who ran around gathering snacks to be the week’s parent reader or planning the class Valentine’s Day party; me, who cried when I dropped them off at preschool, breathed in the smell of their post-bath hair when I read them bedtime stories, and defied speeding laws when I had to rush them to the pediatric ER in the middle of the night for fill-in-the-blank (ear infections, croup, rotavirus).
I’m everywhere in their young lives, and yet I have very few pictures of me with them. Someday I won’t be here — and I don’t know if that someday is tomorrow or thirty or forty or fifty years from now — but I want them to have pictures of me. I want them to see the way I looked at them, see how much I loved them. I am not perfect to look at and I am not perfect to love, but I am perfectly their mother.
When I look at pictures of my own mother, I don’t look at cellulite or hair debacles. I just see her — her kind eyes, her open-mouthed, joyful smile, her familiar clothes. That’s the mother I remember. My mother’s body is the vessel that carries all the memories of my childhood. I always loved that her stomach was soft, her skin freckled, her fingers long. I didn’t care that she didn’t look like a model. She was my mama.
So when all is said and done, if I can’t do it for myself, I want to do it for my kids. I want to be in the picture, to give them that visual memory of me. I want them to see how much I am here, how my body looks wrapped around them in a hug, how loved they are.
I will save the little printed page with four squares of pictures on it and the words “Morgan’s Sweet Sixteen” scrawled across the top with the date. There I am, hair not quite coiffed, make-up minimal, face fuller than I would like — one hand holding a sleeping baby’s head, and the other wrapped around my sweet littlest guy, who could not care less what I look like.