In Norway, this time of year is called the M?rketid, the dark time, and the Norwegians, who are used to it, light candles at four pm and have dinner early and snuggle into their warm houses. Or, if it?s snowed, they put on their skis and head to the lighted trails that exist all over the country and ski and ski and ski. They cheerfully get up in the dark at dawn and go to work. Their creativity in dealing with more than 12 hours of darkness is impressive.
When we lived in Oslo, I started a new teaching job at a public high school just after New Year?s. I was three months pregnant with L and terribly morning sick, and two days a week I had class at eight. So I rose at six in the pitch black and attempted not to vomit as I navigated the shower, some clothes, a cup of tea, and the Trikk, the streetcar that took me to Majorstuen, where I would hop on the subway for two stops. By the time I arrived at Berg Vidergaendeskole there was a gray light, but the sun didn?t really rise until the end of first period.
We humans can romanticize all kinds of things.
We?re in our own dark time in California, which is never sure how to be winter, but tries, and I?m still setting the alarm for six as many mornings as I can muster. It is a strange sort of push and pull, for I really do loathe getting up early, but ever since I learned that the poet Lucie Brock-Broido calls the morning being ?wet from the other side? I?ve been unable to shake the notion that this time, this liminal time between night and day, is when the creativity is awakening and the words best flow?or sputter, or crawl. (And, because life is so busy, sometimes it?s the only time of the day, anyway.) Sure enough, I?ve been getting at least a poem a morning, though which are any good, it?s hard to say.
But creativity is a funny thing. Earlier this fall, I took a poetry class and vowed to just write, to generate work, to make, for as long as it took. And I did, all fall. It was glorious. But now, mere weeks later, I feel a familiar antsyness as I start to worry, to push, to want to force that raw, unfinished work into something meaningful?a book, a record, a testimony to the world that I am not lazy, that I am not, uh, bad, that I EXIST. In September, when I read up in Portland with the poet Stephanie Adams-Santos (who taught me about Lucie Brock-Broido), she said that when she writes she tries to scratch some metaphorical itch, to find something inside herself that needs fulfilling and, well, fulfill it. (She actually said this much more clearly and beautifully than that!) In answer to the same question, I said that I turned to my readers to tell me if something was any good. And then I thought about what she said and wondered, what if I did that, too?
So, I guess here I?ve answered my own personal logic puzzle: because I have taken a little break from reading from Little Prayers,?because I don?t have something else to publish NOW, because I always feel the glow from a published essay for about a month before it fades, I have been inhabiting this space, on and off here in the December dark, where I don?t feel like I?m any good. Hence the rush to publish something, to finish something, to frantically get out into the world a thing that isn?t even ready yet, just so I can prove something to?to whom? I don?t even know.
How stupid I am, sometimes.
I?m still learning to be a writer: to chase the joy and to find that balance between playful, creative inquiry and brass tacks. And I feel enormously comforted here at the end of this blog post, because somehow writing all of this down, I feel like I have permission to be in the playful inquiry stage a while longer. Brass tacks, be off with you. Glad we had that little chat.
So! In the meantime, while you (and I) are waiting for my second book of poetry (!), if you need a great little gift, you can buy my first, Little Prayers, and I?ll sign it for you. There are more good gift ideas for writers here and here.
And here?s to the beauty and the difficulty of this season. If you want to share what you love or loathe about December, I?d love to hear from you in the comments below.
Warmly and with my best wishes for happy holidays and a fruitful new year,
Truth, you guys: I secretly want to be a food blogger. (Well, guess the cat’s out of the bag now!) I know my way around a kitchen, but more than that, I just love the process around food-making (not so unlike writing), and I love the way food bloggers are always so matter-of-fact yet earnest about that process. My fave food blogs? Check out Cook With What You Have by my dear friend Katherine Deumling (and if you’re looking for a last-minute gift, her recipe subscription service is a winner), Conscious Food Choices by my sister-in-law Jorin Hawley, and the terrific Rachel Eats.
So for all these years of blogging about writing and parenthood and other things, I’m not sure I have ever posted a recipe. But hey, if Donald Trump can get elected,?anything is possible. So here goes. I’m only sorry I didn’t take photos as I went!
After?Thanksgiving, a friend on Facebook posted this recipe?for cranberry clove cookies, as a way to use up leftover cranberry sauce, and they looked delicious. (Besides, I had about three cups of leftover cranberry sauce in the fridge.) But being gluten-free, I couldn’t eat them as is. I tried just subbing in an equal amount of America’s Test Kitchen gluten-free flour mix that I had on hand for the flour in the recipe, but the cookies came out insanely greasy and spreading all over the place. So I got out some cookbooks, did some experimenting, and tried again.
Herewith, my recipe. They’re perfect holiday cookies, unusual, delicious, rich, and gluten-free. Enjoy!
Gluten-Free Cranberry Thumbprint Cookies (adapted from a recipe by Moriah VanVleet)
1 3/4 c. America’s Test Kitchen gluten-free flour blend**
3/4 cup of gluten-free oats, coarsely ground in the food processor
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon xanthan gum or ground chia seed (I always use chia these days)
12 tablespoons of butter (1 stick and a half), chilled and cut into 1/4 inch slices
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
finely grated zest of one orange
1/2 cup cranberry sauce
In your stand mixer, if you have one, mix the flour blend, ground oats, salt, cloves and chia seed until blended. Add your butter and let the machine run until the dough comes together (5 minutes, at least). Add vanilla and orange zest and briefly combine.
Roll the dough into small-ish balls and place on a parchmented or sprayed cookie sheet. Flatten slightly and use your thumb or index finger to create a little indentation in each. Put the cookie sheets in the freezer for 5-10 minutes while you preheat your oven to 350?. After the dough has chilled, fill each indentation with a tiny blob of cranberry sauce.
Bake for 18-20 minutes until golden. Cool completely before eating.
** Note: you could probably sub in your GF flour blend of choice or even a packaged flour like King Arthur or Bob’s Red Mill. I had some of the ATK stuff on hand, so I used it, but I make it a little differently than the recipe calls for in the first place.
You know how the song goes:?Deck the Halls with Books, Books, and More Books.?That’s right, folks: in case you missed the obvious signs?muzak carols, Black Friday sales, Cyber Monday ads, the Northeast dumped with snow, and Christmas decorations flooding out the doors of Walgreen’s, not to mention the giant trees lit up?in every town square?it’s that time again.
Despite being an agnostic-verging-on-atheist who decries commercialism and doesn’t let her kid eat a ton of sugar, I have a particular weakness for Christmas. I love the short days, especially when, come six pm, my cup is filled with a festive glass of red wine or a stiff eggnog. I find myself following all the Christmas traditions we had as kids: the Christmas calendar, which “elves” fill with goodies every night for my son during Advent; listening to Amahl and the Night Visitors while we decorate the Christmas ficus; the extravagant brunch we eat on Christmas day, whether we’re celebrating with my family or not; and giving gifts to my loved ones. This time of year is rife with possibility for great gift-giving: in addition to Christmas, there’s the eery and magical Solstice, on December 21; Kwanzaa, starting on the 26th; and of course Hannukah, starting on?December 16?which means that as of this writing, you still have between 14?and 24 days to purchase (or make!) gifts for the favorite writer or reader on your list.
And so, without further ado, I present?my 2014 Literary Gift Guide.
Grab yourself an eggnog and start reading.
The Secret Garden panties, courtesy of Lauren Carroll and superpowerstudio.
1. Literary Undies? Why the heck not??Lauren Carroll at superpowerstudio has cooked up these beautiful, comfortable, upcycled (this is key: they’re NOT recycled underpants!) underwear for women. Here’s the literary gem: The Secret Garden. And they’re packaged nicely, too.?
You can find these and more (Lemon Ice! High Tea! The Life Aquatic!) on etsy.
3. Is reading sexy??Yes, it is.?As usual, books make great gifts. My favorite reads of the past year include Run by Ann Patchett, The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Hamid Mohsin, and Just Kids by Patti Smith. On my to-read list is Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge and Meghan Daum’s book of essays called The Unspeakable (in case you missed my “Personal Essays that will Gut You” post, you can find a link to one of those essays here.) Here are some other great resources for finding out what books were the talk of the town in 2014: A talk with New York Times editor Pamela Paul on KQED’s show “Forum,” with Michael Krasny, and The Best Books of the Year, from The Guardian (two parts!). And here’s a plug for your local bookseller: buy your books from them, not Amazon. That is all.
The dark watchers, creatures not unlike the elves who fill my son’s Advent calendar.
4. Here’s another?beautiful book:?In Search of?The Dark Watchers, with paintings by my incredibly talented father-in-law, Benjamin Brode, and text by his good friend Thom Steinbeck (yup, you guessed it: John Steinbeck’s son). You can pick yourself up a copy here.?Softcover is $40; the exquisite hard cover is $125.
5. Of course, if your giftee isn’t into books (for shame!), there are always magazines and literary journals. Consider supporting?the journal Rock & Sling (current issue features poems by me and my pal Mike Dockins!).
6.?A desk. No, I’m serious. Your favorite writer probably writes at her kitchen table (busted), or on the go. How amazing a gift would a desk be? This blog post by The Writing Nut describes perfectly the best criteria for selecting a writer’s desk.
7. Or maybe you’re thinking smaller.?This website has a whole host of funny mugs (my favorite? “I’m figuratively dying for a cuppa”), as well as other whimsical bits and pieces for your?resident grammar nerd.
8. If you’re feeling crafty, this Pinterest page has some fun ideas for you, like Steampunk Altered Books and origami book marks. Yes!
I looked for a piece of writing about the Solstice to post today, darkest day of the year. When we lived in Norway, the Solstice was a big deal; the pinnacle, or the nadir, depending how you see it, of the m?rketid (the dark time). I remember then both feeling a festive sort of connection and relief that from then on, the days would get slightly less cold and dark. I was pregnant, morning sick, and homesick, and it wasn’t the happiest Solstice, then in 2008.
This year, I’m with family, appreciating my gifts, appreciating the dark.
So here, since I can’t post a Solstice-y bit, I decided to post an excerpt from my memoir. It’s just a little piece about Christmas, and I hope you enjoy. (Context: B and I are traveling in Peru in 2004 with his dad and stepmom, whose names I have abbreviated below to T and S.)
Incidentally–you know that fiction contest? My story is in the top handful. If you still can and want to vote for it using your Twitter account, I hope you will–and share with anyone you think might be interested.
Happy Solstice, everyone.
We got back to Cusco just before Christmas. I was a little weepy and sad to be so far from home during the holidays, but we kept busy. We dragged T and S on a ten-hour bus ride to the famous Colca Canyon and joined a tourist trip there. A combi drove us into the canyon to visit the spot where you can watch the condors soar. I didn?t see any condors. But we did get to spend the night in an ancient stone posada halfway down the canyon. The air hung heavily, laced with frost. In a stone room with a large fireplace, our hosts fed us omelets, alpaca steaks, and an unusual quinoa soup with milk as its base and chunks of queso fresco and fresh herbs. They brought wizened, tart little apples for dessert. The table was one long slab of wood, a farmer?s table with benches on either side.
The next night was Christmas Eve, and back in the city of Arequipa we shared a holiday meal?roast turkey, red wine, salad, and chocolate mousse, this last the offering of the Belgian woman who was there?with the Peruvian family who ran our hotel and had booked our trip to the canyon. I gave my three companions a gift each: Hiram Bingham?s book about Macchu Picchu for T, a pair of earrings for S, and a handmade journal for B.
Christmas day, on a dare, B ordered guinea pig in the one restaurant that was open in Arequipa. The cuy came fully intact, its little legs pulled up, its eyes wide open. B pulled his lettuce garnish over the cuy?s head so it didn?t stare at him too much as he ate. ?Mascotas?? I could hear Veronica saying, in my head.
?It tastes like chicken,? he announced finally, and I leaned over to try a bite.
Yeah?stringy, greasy, flavorless chicken, with a lettuce-leaf hat, beady eyes, and ratty little teeth. I was eating ceviche, perhaps a gastric risk in an inland city, but it was delicious. I thought the Peruvians had gotten that one right.
We returned to Cusco the next day, said goodbye to T and S several days later, and spent the next week traveling around the Sacred Valley together and hanging out.
The ten days between B?s parents leaving and us getting to Bolivia were some of our nicest times in South America, and I didn?t much feel like leaving Peru. I loved being in Cusco, living in an apartment with hand-me-down furniture from travelers long gone. I loved to wake up in the morning and make coca tea and look out over the backyard of the cattycorner house, where the woman in the apron was collecting eggs and feeding her chickens. One day I saw her groping after one with one hand, machete in the other, but the chicken ran away, and then I did too before I saw her catch and kill it.
The sky was enormous in the Sacred Valley, and most mornings were clear. The romanticism of the place made me feel pregnant with longing and very far from home, but as though I could stay away forever. The evidence of gringos who?d stayed was all over Cusco: in San Blas, the arty, chic part of town, ex-pats ran restaurants that served delights like quiche and salad and chilled chardonnay. There were bars and places to hear music, and a caf? where one day I sat with my coffee and journal all morning and heard nothing but English. That was strange. We planned to spend New Year?s Eve in Cusco. Then, on the second or third of January, we would catch the bus to Puno, the big city on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca, and pass into Bolivia.
I know it’s clich?, and that the holiday has become little more than a period of greed, commercialism, and obligatory giving?but I love Christmas. I always have. I love drinking spiked eggnog, eating bourbon balls, and gazing at the Christmas tree. I love to light candles and listen to “Amahl and the Night Visitors.” I love being with my family when we’re all feeling easy and rested. And I love giving gifts. I admit it.
And so all morning I have been thinking about my 2012 Literary Gift Guide.
1. I can’t decide how I feel about Kindles and other e-readers, but there’s no denying that the reader on your list would probably love a portable e-reading device. And while I have complained about Audible.com in the past, I wouldn’t say no to an Audible gift certificate (3 months for $45).
2. What about a subscription to Poets & Writers Magazine? A few weeks ago, I got an email asking me to become one of “200 new friends by December 31st.” You can give a $35, $50, or up to $200 donation, and you get a year’s subscription. Great gift. In recent years, because of the Internet, P&W’s classifieds have become a little less relevant and important, but they have good articles about publishing, plus profiles and interviews with wonderful writers.
Thank you google images and pw
3. If it’s cold hard books you want to give, check out Tara Conklin’s popcorn post My Top Five Books for Fall. I haven’t read any of these yet, though the Zadie Smith and Junot Diaz are on my to-read list as well.
4. Or let your reader choose for herself: give a gift certificate to your local bookstore! This article in The Billfold says the independent bookstore is not dead; I hope not. This time of year especially, I really try to support my local bookstore.
5. Every writer needs a great notebook or journal. I thought this one was pretty cool, especially for a man who participated in MOvember. And apparently the maker of this one didn’t hear that unicorns are alive and well in North Korea.
6. Well, I couldn’t post this guide without a self-plug. Give the gift of Faith! I’ll sign it for you. You can buy it directly from Finishing Line Press, on Amazon, or directly from me?my price is $12, plus shipping. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested.
7. A subscription to a literary journal is always a good present. I like to support my friend Mike Dockins’s journal Redactions, based out of Spokane, Washington. And there are so many others…
9. A room of one’s own. Offer to babysit for your favorite writer who is also a parent. Or buy them some time at a local coworking space like Citizen Space.
10. Give the gift of support. No, I don’t mean bankroll your favorite writer for a year (though that would be a very, very nice gift). Tell her you love what she does and take her out for a pick-me-up when she needs it!