Y'all, look at what Rena set up for the Boston Love Blanket(s)! A Facebook page with photos!
I have many skills, y'all. I am a rice whisperer--my rice (sushi rice, white, brown, jasmine, even cauliflower rice!) always turns out amazing. I can make grumpy people laugh. I can tell a joke well even if I've forgotten the punch line. I can sew a dress and knit a sweater without a pattern. I write books, from Once Upon a Time all the way through to The End.
But hey-zeus, I can't get to the post office.
I owe books from the last drawing. I swear, that must have been a month ago. The books are still on my porch, sending me evil glares every time I walk past them. If I owe you a book, I haven't forgotten you, nor did I ask for your home address just so I could come watch TV with you some random afternoon (although if you're watching Nashville, scoot over, I'm watching with you*).
I do not know what my hang-up is. It's true, I hate the post office. That's a given. My post office is one of the scariest places I've ever been. The line stretches around the block, there's only ever one employee who obviously bitterly hates all of humanity, and the bullet-proof glass is dented as if it's been tested more than once.
But I have a rental mailbox! You know, at one of those fancy Not A Post Office places! I have it expressly so I can get deliveries that are important (because my mailman comes up my walk with the slip that says Sorry You Weren't Home pre-filled out . . . when I am home). My mailbox store is a lovely place, staffed by a smiling man whose name I always forget and Jean, whose smile could split timber. I love going there!
So why can't I just get the books into the post? Why can't I take them to Jean? I have no idea. This blog entry is by way of apology, a huge blanket mea culpa, to everyone to whom I owe stuff. Please forgive me. I can't explain it. I'll get there someday, I promise.
(Oooh! I swear I didn't start this post with this idea, but I just had it, and I JUST FIGURED IT OUT. Write to me! Send me a letter! Oh, my gosh, I'd LOVE a letter! A real letter! From someone who is not selling me anything! Oooooh! I haven't received a proper letter in, like, years. I will TOTALLY go to the mailbox if I think something might be there. I'm freaking out right now with excitement. My mailing address: Rachael Herron, 3542 Fruitvale Ave #135, Oakland, CA 94602.)
*Because, oh, my. Nashville's Deacon Claiborne. I mean. Damn. He's totally the imaginary hero of the book I'm writing right now. Here's an inspiring screenshot for you. You're welcome.
ETA Snowgoddess's wonderful comment: Dear Ms. Herron, Thank you for you continued patronage of our fancy Not a Post Office place. We strive to continue to offer you new and fancier Not a Post Office place services. We would like to introduce you to our newest employee Deacon Claiborne, formerly of Nashville, (actually on hiatus) currently researching a part for his next film, Let Me Do That For You, a lustful romance comedy drama about a fancy Not a Post Office place employee who lusts for a stunning writer wrapped in handknits with seemingly endless amount of packages to be mailed. Oh, and he will supply the strapping tape. We hope to see you soon. Your nearest fancy Not a Post Office Place
I travel lightly, so lightly that I now actually use a half-sized suitcase. (I AM SO BRAGGING RIGHT NOW -- I LOVE that I went to Italy for 18 days with so little. I think I've been training toward this Olympic-level packing my whole life.)
You asked for it! Here you go, the Traveling Lightly List.
I bought this suitcase, but it's sadly unavailable now. This gives you an idea of it, though. 17 x 10 x 13 inches.
Boot for scale.
So here's my method:
1. Pack one small roll-aboard suitcase. (Pictured above, red.)
2. Carry an empty bag. (Pictured above, the black and white one.)
3. Inside that bag, place your everyday travel purse/messenger bag, fully packed. (Below, in umbrella picture)
There! You just defeated the "one personal item/one piece of luggage" rule of traveling carry-on! They tell you what you can bring on board, not what you can take off with you. As soon as you step on-board the plane you can toss your suitcase overhead, throw what you don't need in your purse into the extra bag and heave that up, too. (Pro-tip: Always wear your heavy coat/sweaters on board. There's plenty of room under your seat to shove those things, or put them up top with your suitcase. Or in that empty bag!)
I happen to think that after a lot of research, I have the best travel bag EVER. It's the Pacsafe Citysafe 200 Gii, and I got the herringbone color.
A gadget I now find completely necessary and wonderful is the Travel Bungee. The best $15 you'll spend, it secures your extra bag (or purse or coat or small disobedient child) to your suitcase, like this:
So. Let's break it down, for those of you who, like I do, get off on lists.
For a winter trip of any duration (did I just blow your mind?), here's what I take and why.
To Wear on the Plane:
Jeans - I like the option to put things in my pockets sometimes
Black V-necked t-shirt - can be dressed up or down
Black cashmere thin sweater - I never travel without cashmere. Hello, fiber snob. But it's soft, very lightweight, completely smooshable, and can be used as a pillow. I got my new one (tags still on) on eBay for $25.
Handknit sweater - I wear this onto the plane because it's a little bulky. I use it as a blanket or pillow.
Wool socks - Handknit, of course. Take off your shoes as soon as you sit down. Your feet will thank you.
Cowboy boots - Your mileage may vary, but damn, I love my boots.
To Pack in Carry-On:
Black dress - Mine is stretchy, 3/4 sleeves, from Travelsmith. Easy to dress up and down
2 nice t-shirts - I brought one extra black one and a green striped one. Good to sleep in, wear with jeans, etc.
2 pair thin black socks - These are what I wear under my boots for lots of walking.
1 extra bra
2 extra pair underwear
Black down jacket
2 shawls - for variety. I brought one green, one red.
Merrell barefoot sneakers - I packed these on a whim, and I'm so glad I did. I had one day of blisters, and I wore these the next day and they basically fixed my feet. They weigh almost nothing and take up almost no room.
2 pair tights - one red, one black.
That's it, folks. Even on the coldest, rainiest day of our trip, the cold couldn't penetrate my t-shirt, cashmere, handknit sweater, and down jacket, topped with a cashmere scarf. I did forget a hat and gloves, so I had to buy some. (Unless you're trekking to Outer Mongolia, you can buy what you forget to bring. Don't overload on Band-aids and neosporin and Tylenol and tampons--that's all available where you're probably going.)
Also, remember: No one cares what you're wearing. Well, if you wear the big yellow shirt covered with parakeets and the jingly-bell necklace, and you wear this outfit twice in three days? Maybe the guy at the corner store will remember, if you're in town that long (but probably not). If you're in mostly black? NO ONE WILL KNOW you really only have two basic outfits. No one cares.
A pop of color goes a long way.
I'm sure you know this already, but roll your clothes. It makes them tiny and prevents wrinkles. I lay out my biggest piece (the dress) and lay everything else on top of that, then roll it into a clothes-burrito which I shove into a medium packing cube. I carry all my toiletries/medications in a small packing cube. Chargers/converters get their own little sack. I tuck extra knitting in the suitcase, also, because . . . you know.
In My Purse - Everything else
MacBook Air, kindle, iPhone, knitting, notebook, pens, duct tape (wrapped around half a chopstick, great for blisters!), earphones, eyemask, earplugs, snacks (Lara bars and nuts), corkscrew, GPS unit for geocaching, water bottle, umbrella (I never bring one but always end up buying one). That purse up there? Holds all this plus room for shawl/hat/bottle of wine. It's a great bag.
But What About Clean Clothes?
Dr. Bronner's Soap. I keep half a bar in a ziplock bag and I use it both for bathing and clothes-washing. IT IS NOT HARD TO WASH AS YOU GO, friends. When you wash your face, throw your socks and underwear into the sink, rub 'em with soap and rinse. In seconds, you're done. T-shirt? You really only need to wash the pits and where you dropped the spaghetti. Jeans? Wash them once on the trip. If that. No one will know.
To dry: Wring out the clothes the best you can. Then lay your towel on the floor, doubled long-ways. Lay your clothes on top of it. Roll tightly, and then stand on the roll. Your clothes will be almost dry when you take them out of the towel, and they'll dry overnight unless you're in the tropics, in which case, you're just wearing a bathing suit anyway, so who cares?
Put your souvenirs and gifts in that extra bag you brought and check it (or check your clothes and carry-on the gifts). I don't mind if my luggage gets lost for a while on its way to me when I'm comfortably at home, but I prefer not to have that happen while I'm on the road.
Then get home and do what we all do! Leave all the bags in the corner for a week because you can't stand to touch them anymore (I actually love unpacking, too, but sometimes it takes me a while to get the energy back.)
Last Random Thoughts
Instead of washing undies, bring your old worn-out ones, the ones you've been forgetting to throw away. Wear, and toss! It feels delightfully decadent.
And of course, this whole list is absolutely thrown out the window when I go someplace like a writing convention, when dressing up and networking is actually part of the game plan. In this case, I take a normal-sized carry-on suitcase, and I still manage to not check a bag -- I still roll my clothes and I just make sure my most fabulous Fluevogs match most of my outfits.
What are your favorite tips for packing light? I'm dying to know.
From today's Publisher's Marketplace announcement:
Rachael Herron's PACK UP THE MOON, in which a woman who has suffered the loss of her family has the opportunity to be a wife and mother again, if she can untangle the complications of her past, to Danielle Perez at NAL, in a two-book deal, by Susanna Einstein at Einstein Thompson Agency (NA).
You guys! You-guys-you-guys-YOU-GUYS!
I'm so excited about this book. It's not a romance (although there's a love story); it's more of a bring-a-Kleenex type book. No exact release date yet, but possibly in Spring, 2014. I'll let you know when I know more (and you can stay posted by being part of my mailing list--I never spam or sell names).
I've worked hard on this book, and I'm completely overjoyed it's going to make it to your local bookshelf.
In response to previous post: You all are amazing. I can't even express my joy at the response to the Boston Love Blankets. Rena, coordinator extraordinaire, would like to start putting the blankets (plural!) together around May 8th, and get them done by Mother's Day, in case you're wondering about the timeline to get your squares in. With all my heart, thank you.
Random Things I Thought About Last Night Instead of Sleeping
1. I googled an ex-boyfriend yesterday. No, don't look at me like that. I know you do it, too, unless you married your high-school sweetheart before the internet was invented. And if that's the case, you're missing some primo google-stalking, my friend.
So I googled this guy. Not many hits--it's an unusual name. It wasn't until hours later, when I was in bed, reviewing my day (you do that, too, right? You don't? No wonder I don't sleep) that I remembered I got his first name wrong.
I spent years with the guy. And I got his first name wrong. Very wrong, the equivalent of Peter for James. Not even similar names, and the first name I chose (at random, apparently) wasn't the name of anyone I'd ever known.
2. I thought about how much I had to tell you, dear reader. I swear to you, I'm so funny when I'm in trying to fall asleep. Not funny as in interesting (because I'm not that unless I've taken Ambien in which case I'm super-interesting and will tell you how I'm being held by the Nazis and that your face looks like the finest mahogany) but funny as in ha-ha. I make up jokes that would SLAY you. Not only that, I'm smart, too! I write paragraphs that are so brilliant I'm completely sure I'll win MEGA PRIZES AND FAME (Pulitzer, anyone?) and then when I wake up, it's all just gone.
Last night in bed I wrote in my head for hours. I'm sure that all writers do this, and I wonder if other artists do it, too. Do painters lose sleep, painting in their minds things they can't recapture the next day? Do pianists imagine whole pieces in their minds, only to be unable to hear them again in the morning? (Speaking of pianist and creativity, go read this amazing piece on dropping the remote and grabbing your dream: Go now. I'll still be here when you get back.)
So last night, I couldn't wait to tell you about __________.
I'll let you know when I remember it.
3. Several people have asked me about traveling light. How much do I LOVE traveling light? So much that sometimes planning for travel is more exciting than the actual trip. (That's horrible to admit, right? But honestly. Think about it. Sitting in that cramped airplane seat? Agony. Sitting in your desk chair, researching suitcases? Straight-up JOY, y'all. Sometimes I actually reread luggage reviews in the middle of the night, just for fun. Huh. I'm seeing a pattern here.)
My question: does this deserve a whole blog post?
4. Just because, a Digit sighting (with the beast Willie) .
Looking more like the crypt-keeper each day. Still officially Not Dead, though! The older he gets, the more he allows other things to cuddle him.
You guys, I get a lot of requests for help, and I can't honor them all, though I truly wish I could. (And man, has the news been bad lately.)
This one I want to honor. I got an email from a reader, who is friends with a woman named Wilma, who is Krystle Campbell's aunt. Krystle was killed in the Boston Marathon bombing.
It doesn't take long to make an 8X8 square, and if you've read my memoir or this blog for a while, you know what it meant to me to have a hug from people (strangers, some of them!), a hug I still wrap around my shoulders on cold mornings while I write. I coordinated one for Zoom a few years back. Love Blankets actually truly make a difference.
I'm making a square for Wilma (and if there are enough squares, we'll get a blanket to Krystle's father, too). Will you help, too? Here's Rena's letter:
Hi Rachael,This is a bit awkward for me because I've only just learned who you were a couple of weeks ago, but you were the first person that came to mind. I've been reading your book, A Life in Stitches, because I told my nook that I like to knit, and it thought I would love what you had to say about it. I do. I love it so much, and more than one chapter has attempted to choke me with tears (and succeeded...like yesterday in the lunchroom...my first sweater will now have rows of your memories in it).
I just got through the part where you talk about the Love Blanket everyone made for you when you lost your mother. Krystle Campbell, one of the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing earlier this week, was the niece of a coworker of mine. Wilma was so proud of her, so fond of her, you would think Krystle was her own daughter. It feels like it was no coincidence that I happened upon your book when I did, or read that particular chapter while flailing inside because showering Wilma with hugs this week just hasn't been enough. I started by going around the office and hounding my friends on Facebook in hopes of finding people who knit or crochet because the thought of, "Rachael knows who can help," just sounded crazy. I've hit that particular level of determination where crazy sounds like the Best Idea Ever.
If you can help get the word out, that would be absolutely amazing. I have no deadline at the moment, but none of these families have closure in one of the worst ways. If there are enough squares (which I'm hoping for beyond hope), I want to piece together a second blanket for Wilma's brother--Krystle's father. I can give them both to her here at the office.
Please, if you can help, feel free to pass out my email to anyone willing to put together an 8" by 8" square--crochet, knit, it doesn't matter, any color or style--and I'll get them my mailing address.
Thank you so much,
If you can make a square, please email me at email@example.com or leave a comment here and I'll pass on your email directly to Rena (I'll act as filter in case you're some crazy person and want to send her a Lego square or cast-iron triangle or something.)
Let's do this? Yes?
(PS - if you could pass this on to friends/knitting circles/etc, even better.)
(PPS - I hug you in advance.)
(PPS - Update from Rena: You all are so wonderful, I don't really know how to put it into words. Thank you...thank you so, so much for being willing to help. I've gotten a lot of emails already, and I'll respond to each with my mailing address. However, I've noticed a lot of questions about yarn weight and such (because I honestly didn't think of that). DK or worsted weight is preferred. Wilma lives in central Florida, but we still do get chills here (and the air conditioning is sometimes worse). Fiber is free game. Same with color and pattern. That is the artist's discretion. Hugs for you all!)
Ever since we moved into this house seven years ago, Lala has hated my rickety old table and wished for an island in the kitchen instead. I couldn't really get on board that domestic train because I loved my fifties formica table and I think most kitchen islands are ugly (at least, the Ikea ones we can afford are). I'm not really sure why I loved that old table so much--it was given to me when someone needed the space, and it came to me rickety. Every time we set anything on it, it swayed. God forbid a cat jump on it--the whole thing creaked like a Model T. But I didn't want to get rid of it. When I got it, it meant home. I could have people over to eat. I could host. I had a table, so I was a grownup.
But a squeaky Lala gets the grease, and she came up with a compromise. What if we put the table top on top of an island? Best of both worlds. We weren't really sure how we were going to do it, but we headed to Urban Ore in Berkeley to check things out.
We found several likely candidates, but we knew our island when we saw it.
It was an old cabinet, cut into two pieces.
Still not sure we weren't crazy, we loaded them up into Lala's mammoth station wagon. Then we went home where we were exhausted just thinking about a home project, so we made some music instead of working on the island.
Today, Lala took apart the table. After a trip to the hardware store and to Target, this is what we came up with.
RIGHT?? Look how happy Lala is!
And I love the pull out shelf (finally, we have space for our pots!).
Isn't it darling? I just love it. (And even though I swore a LOT putting in all that contact paper, I will admit that I love everything about contact paper, even the smell.) I haven't even filled the drawers yet, except for one for cloth napkins. I just can't decide what all should go where. It's a delicious feeling. (Sometimes I have dreams of finding new drawers or closets in the house.)
Total price: $171 ($89 for both cabinets. $28 hardware. Stools (Target) $54.)
And now I'm going to go admire it some more.
Thanks for the AWESOME comments in my last post. The ten winners have been drawn and notified by email. You guys make me happy with all the happy you were making yourselves.
I HAVE MADE A DECISION. (It's entirely possible I've made this decision before, but because of my legendarily bad memory, it feels like the first time. Yay!)
From here on out, I'm going to read only books that I LOVE. I've been pretty good at that--sometimes. Other times, I think, okay, this book has great reviews, everyone loves this book, and boy, I'd rather be reading this than stabbing myself in the eye, so I'll keep on plodding through. You know those books.
On the other hand are the books that you adore. You can't wait to get back to them. You think about them during the day and sneak time to read wherever you can grab it (on the bus, on the toilet, underneath the porch). At night you wish your eyes would stay open longer.
Yeah, I've decided I'm only going to read that type from now on. We live in the future, people! With an e-reader you can load up your device with samples and then lie back on your fluffy pillow and read through them until you find something that makes your eyelashes curl. THEN you hit purchase.
And if that beloved book stops delivering half-way through? I've decided I'll give it maybe a chapter or two more before throwing it in the virtual round file. No more guilt about books on the e-reader that are only halfway read. Books you really love don't stay half-read. Delete away! And it's not like we could ever run out of AMAZING books, especially with friends that recommend good reads to us.
In that spirit, I offer you a couple of great reads, books I've read recently that I haven't been able to put down. (There's something here for everyone. I've been reading widely and happily.)
The Family Man, Elinor Lipman. My friend Sophie sent me this. You have to love a friend who knows you well enough to say, Here. This is for you. You'll love it. And it was lovely. I read it in Italy, and it was the perfect vacation read. No spoilers (I hate to know ANYTHING before I start reading a book): it's about a retired gay lawyer in New York who finds his long-lost adopted daughter working the coat check of his hair-dresser's salon (this happens at the very beginning). It's adorable. It's sweet. It's funny while managing to keep some of that bittersweet flavor of life that makes the funny funnier, you know? She has such a delightful voice that I'm immediately putting all her other books on my Check It Out pile.
Sharp Objects, Gillian Flynn. By the author of Gone Girl, this is rather the polar opposite of the book I just recommended. Absolutely jarring, it's the story of a family torn apart by a secret. And honestly, while I love light and sweet, I have to admit I love a very dark story well-told. Flynn's voice is not only unerring but also completely fearless. She crossed lines with this story that I, as an author, would never dare to cross, and I kept gobbling it down. It's my favorite of her three books.
Purgatory Chasm, Steve Ulfelder. This is a hard-boiled mystery novel that reads like . . . a Bruce Springsteen song. I'm not the biggest mystery fan, and I can give the Boss a miss most days, but combined? This is dirty-sublime. Great fun.
Arranged, Catherine McKenzie. DARLING. Zany chick-lit romp with the added bonus that the heroine's name is ANNE BLYTHE. ::rolls on the ground in ecstasy:: The author clearly knows Anne like we know Anne, and this was great fun.
The Beginner's Goodbye, Anne Tyler. Oh, Anne Tyler, you wonderful thing, you. I think you're not going to able to pull it off, and then you do. I'm only half-way through this one, but it's glorious and sad and sweet and so very her. Her prose makes me want to be not only a better writer but a better person. She knows emotion.
Any amazing recs from y'all?
Yesterday's was such a mammoth post (the Italy catch-up post), so this is just a quick giveaway of the new book that you can only get in Australia and New Zealand! (I'll keep you posted on the US/Canada/UK sell date as soon as I know it, darlings.)
Cora, a farm-girl who's been hurt too much in the past, safeguards everything--except her heart. Mac is a large-animal veterinarian who has already risked it all and lost everything that mattered. When a secret is revealed, Cora has to decide whether Mac is a safe bet . . . or the worst gamble of her life.
I'll give away TEN COPIES. That's good odds, yo. Five will go to random commenters on this post, and five will go to randomly drawn members of my mailing list.
And because I like my comments to be fun for all to read, please tell me in the comments what you plan to do this week to make yourself happy. (Oh, my goodness, I can't wait to read these. I can feel the vicarious happiness already building.)
I'll draw on Friday. Good luck!
My sister Bethany and I did something very smart on the flight back from Italy. I took out my laptop, and we flipped through our photos and catalogued what we did on each day -- where we went, who we met, what we saw and ate and drank.
It surprised me. For a very relaxed vacation, we did a hell of a lot. Bethany put it well when she said that traveling with each other was like traveling alone with company -- I felt the same way. I'd expected that we would split up some days to do different things because we're both pretty independent travelers, but we didn't. She sneaked out early some mornings to explore while I slept in (because I slept SO well there), but otherwise we just wandered together, happy to find what we found.
And you know what I love about Italy? My tourist-level conversational skills are just enough to understand someone who speaks slowly to me. I can ask how to get somewhere and understand the answer. But when I'm in a crowd, and people are talking with their friends, I can only catch flutters of the conversation, words here and there. And this, more than anything else, calms my brain. I don't have to listen. My day job (911) is all about listening as hard as possible to other people. My heart job (writing books) is all about listening to my own voice. In Italy, when I don't write, it's just . . . quiet. Which is hard to find.
(New goal: to find that quiet at home.)
Here are a few highlights from the trip so that in the middle of the night, when I need to remember, I can come back here and find that feeling again (because isn't that what vacations are for? For stockpiling the relaxation?).
I like the scale of things in Europe. See this gorgeously huge over-the-top chandelier?
Those chandeliers were FLYING all over this cathedral in Rome (Church of the 12 Apostles). Look at them up there! Gah! I LOVE THE BIGNESS. (I have a problem or two with the church, but I sure like some things, namely the reverence the grand scale inspires.) (And no, thank you, this is not the place to try to convert me. I prefer Twitter for that conversation. Heh.)
Click for embiggening.
In Rome, we stayed at a B&B in Trastevere which couldn't have been nicer. Marco was the soul of kindness. (If you ask me whether or not he gave me his own migraine medicine when mine failed? I would tell you no, of COURSE he didn't do that. *Big exaggerated wink.*) And the best part of staying with him was that he was so excited about the city which he loves. It absolutely rubbed off on us.
Lovely breakfast room.
There were, of course, accordion players (no, not IN the hotel, but THAT would have been something, huh?):
And there was a twilight stroll or two across the Tiber to our favorite part of town, Trastevere (where we stayed).
Because we'd built time into our schedule for unplanned stops, we stayed an extra day and night in Rome, because we loved it. Then we took the train to Orvieto, purely based on reader Krista's recommendation and the extremely exciting fact that it had a funicular.
It's a quiet hill town.
In Orvieto, I had a fail-moment with my Italian skillz. We walked through this monastery/religious house, poking our heads into vast empty rooms and going up a marble staircase, eventually finding a short, squat, jolly man who agreed to rent us a room after a long conversation through which I thought I navigated well. We wanted nothing but a view. And maybe wifi. Aspetta, he said.
He looked up from the book with joy. Yes! I could have the room! No view! No wifi! WAIT A MINUTE WHAT JUST HAPPENED. Downstairs, I broke it to Bethany that I thought we were going to have to take whatever room he gave us, because I might have already agreed.
In the stairwell.
It was the strangest place, supposedly "full," but we never saw another soul. We heard people in the great room, toasting and drinking as jovial monks are wont to do, and we saw the detritus in the morning, wine bottles and dirty plates covering long wooden tables, but only ever saw the stout fellow bumbling about. Never saw another guest, not once. And I have to state for the record that I have never slept on a narrower bed (just a touch wider than I am, with the bonus of both sides angling down so steeply that falling off was guaranteed -- when I did, I noticed that the marble floors were cleaner than any I'd ever seen. Under the beds! So clean they were reflective! It was the strangest place).
In Orvieto, we also bumbled our way into THE hot ticket for dining. La Palomba opened at 7:30pm and we were there at 7:29. The sign said Completa - reservations were full, no tables available. I found some chutzpah and went in anyway. We smiled and entreated and smiled even bigger and were finally seated (to the utter annoyance of others who were turned away) by the owner who seemed delighted by us (as opposed to the waiter who was like, great. Another freakin' table).
And I ate PIGEON. Piccione. Even the waiter was surprised when I ordered it, and called me brave. It was delicious! (Anything would have been, smothered in that much divine olive-garlic tapenade.) Bethany had boar, which was also very tasty and reminded me somehow of a stew Mom used to make. (Really, Mom?) The place filled up with locals and tourists with the skills to make reservations, and we had a ball.
Then we tried to get to a seaside town (just south of the Cinque Terra) called Lerici that reader Patoonia had told us about. It wasn't easy. Going solely on the word of one thing I'd read online, we got off the train in a town called Sarzana which was industrial and bleak and, on a Sunday, completely closed. It was raining. We couldn't find the bus to Lerici. When we did find the bus, we were told that contrary to what the station agent had told us, we couldn't buy tickets on the bus. All the shops that sold tickets, though, were closed, and we couldn't find the supposed machine which might sell them.
I tripped and fell and skinned both knees and snapped at Bethany when she tried to tell me it would be okay. We went back to the train station where we'd seen cabs, and for $20, got a ride to Lerici. Best $20 we spent.
Once in town, we walked past a schmancy hotel, Michelin-rated. We knew we couldn't afford it. But Bethany said, Let's just ask. Jerry hooked us UP with a two-bedroom suite (two balconies!), at a rate well within our budget, with this view. I'm still not over it.
We took the room for two nights, and on both nights we had picnics on our balcony like this:
We walked around (NO other tourists) and took pictures.
There was knitting, with spritzes.
There was, alas, that food poisoning I mentioned that we think we picked up at the hotel breakfast (because it was the only thing we ate that was the same that day) so that rubs a bit of the sparkle off our Lerici memories, but I think as our stomachs get stronger (we still feel a little queasy, a week later), our memories will go bright orange and happy again.
After Lerici, on to Venice! My city! Where we spent the first two days in bed (and by "bed" I mean "bathroom"). Bethany laughed at this progression of my face:
OH BOY. My stomach hurts but I'M FINE. I'LL GO TO THE STORE! [Bethany was by now in the apartment, very sick.] I'LL GO GET A DRINK! I'M FINE!
I'M SO FINE JUST SHUT UP.
Bleah. Bleah. Bleah. (This was on my walk/crawl to the pharmacy.)
We had had two days in Trieste scheduled, but broken-hearted about losing the time in Venice, we cancelled the Trieste stay and extended the time in our apartment, which was the PERFECT thing to do. Venice wooed Bethany as she does, staying cold and drizzly as we geocached (Venice must be the hardest city in the world in which to geocache -- no good signal, confusing streets, SO FUN), until the sun broke through in the most glorious way.
When Venice sparkles at you? You're doomed to lose your heart forever.
We had prosecco at the Gran Caffe in Piazza San Marco and watched the rain.
And this turned out, again, to be my most useful traveling scarf:
For fashion . . .
and for warmth.
I've just had fun culling through the photos, adjusting some and putting more on Flickr, but it's taken so long that I think I have jet lag again. Thanks for being along for the ride, my friends. Ciao, ciao, salve, ciao. Thanks, Little Mama, for sending us. And thanks, kiddo, for being an amazing traveling partner and all-around fabulous person.
This is possibly my favorite picture anyone's taken of me, ever. Yesterday there were a couple of kids playing and running after the pigeons in Piazza San Marco, but Bethany couldn't grab them with her camera because they kept stopping. So I did a silly dance and a joyful,glorious I AM WHERE I AM run. I ran in circles. I flopped around. I danced with my umbrella. I was so happy. (Pretty much, I'm lucky enough that I'm happy most places. But in Venice? It's ridiculous.)
And I'm so sorry, but this is merely a drive-by placeholder post from Venice, where I'm holed up with my sister Bethany in a warm and cozy apartment overlooking the stormy nighttime lagoon. All the time--and I mean ALL THE TIME--I have a running commentary inside my head of all the things I want to tell the blog. Like yesterday, when I was at the spa in the Lido (right?) and they gave me a disposable g-string to wear. And people, I could NOT tell which way it went on, and in my fear, I stepped on it and ripped it in half, which I thought was hilarious, and I was also glad the masseuse would never know, and then she flipped me onto my back and massaged mah belleh. In my years of getting massages as often as I can fit them into the budget, I've had many things massaged, but never my stomach, especially two days after having a 36-hour bout of the worst food poisoning of my life (thanks, hotel breakfast!). Apart from the strangeness of my belly-rub, and the hospital-issue paper g-string, it was a great massage! (Truthfully, it was heaven. The best massage I've ever had. Except maybe for Raul in Alameda, who is more pain than pleasure, but that's a whole 'nother rabbit hole.)
And that's how my brain runs. It's full of things to tell you.
But we've been running around, see. And by running around, I mean exactly the opposite. When we got to Rome, we did too much the first day. By conservative estimates, we walked somewhere between twelve and fifteen miles, which was too much, but it's what you do when you're freaking out about the amazing weather (sunny and cool) and the everything of it all. (Rome was the little mama's favorite city, and she especially loved the way the ancient abutted the brand-new. Bethany loves that too.) But since that day, and since I got a migraine (omg, I think I'm actually gluten-intolerant! Color me the last to know! Two pizzas in two days, and I was laid flat for half a day), Bethany and I have travelled this way: Where's the next place we'll get a caffelatte? or, if it's anytime after 11:31 a.m., Where's the next place we'll get a gelato/spritz?
In between drinks and dairy products, we Happen Upon Things. (Then, wonderfully, enough, Bethany goes home that night to the hotel/scary monastery/apartment and Googles everything and tells me what I saw.)
So now I have a HYOOGE list of things to tell you, but first I should tell you this:
1. If you like Italo-pop, buy Mike Patton's Mondo Cane album right NOW. It will freak you out with how amazing it is. Read about it here. (We found the CD in the Venice apartment tonight, put it in blindly, and proceeded to both start shaking our booties all over the tiled floors.)
2. If you'd like to see more photos of our trip before we get home, head over to Flickr, where I've been posting a few of my favorite snaps (I'm so pleased with my camera choices for this trip. I only brought two: my iPhone 4 and Bethany. One or the other is always ready to snap a pic. Her Flickr account is here).
Oh, darlings. I'm getting so excited about so many things, and most of them are Italian in nature. So I'm going to list them, because I do love a list.
1. Yes, I'm going to Italy again. This time I'm going with sister Bethany, who's never been. When Mom died, she left us all a little money, just enough for a special treat of a trip. My two younger sisters went to Ireland together last year, this year it's my turn. So we're off soon, for a Great Adventure. We're both very much alike in that we like to just wander, so we have little planned. We even have about four completely unstructured days between Rome and Venice (tell us what little town between those two you love the most (and why)! Reachable by train, please).
2. Speaking of lists: I LOVE THEM. Sometimes I just open my packing list and stare at it. I've been doing that a lot lately. I'm taking a half-sized suitcase and a small messenger bag on this trip. Both pieces will fit under the seat in front of me. I get almost as excited about packing lightly as I do about our new budget, YNAB. (That surprisingly sexy program has changed our lives, and we've only been using it for two months. Apparently I had no idea how money worked. Oops. Try the free trial, tell me what you think.)
3. My new thing is geocaching. I'm sure you know about this. Pretty much, if I dive deeply into some obsession, I'm about four years late and the bubble of the hobby is about to collapse, but it is SO cool. Basically, you use a GPS to find treasure. Bethany has been doing it for years, and I've gone with her at least once, but it didn't grab me. A friend at work has been doing it, and I was idly listening to her wax rhapsodic, and then I put the two thoughts together: Treasure hunting. In Italy. Immediately, I was online, signing up at Geocaching.com, making lists of the caches we'll hunt for in Rome and Venice. Can you imagine? The fun of that? There are puzzles, people.
When I was a kid, my dad would buy used metal-detectors at yard sales and fix them up. We'd take them to the beach and carefully comb the sand, diving with the shovel at every tiny beep. I don't remember us ever finding anything more than empty metal tins washed ashore by the tide, but there was always that blissful hope that the next beep would be The Big One. The treasure chest of a pirate schooner, just waiting for us to dig up.
Of course, when I was a kid, I was good for about fifteen minutes of searching before I got frustrated and ran away to build sand castles that looked more like wet lumpen apartment buildings than actual castles, and that same letdown could certainly happen with geocaching. It's possible I'll be excited about it twice and then wander away whistling, thinking about a new plot for the next book (the only things I've ever actually stuck with are Lala, knitting, and writing), but you never know. NEW OBSESSION YUM.
4. I have purple hair. I don't know why. I just knew it was important to do.
First of all: There's a new book out in Australia and New Zealand! The fourth Cypress Hollow! Oh, my goodness! I would jump up and down, but I'm in my office, and you wouldn't be able to see me, and then the dogs would start barking at me and I'd trip over a cat or two, so I'm going to skip all that and just show you before I hurt myself.
Cora, a farm-girl who's been hurt too much in the past, safeguards everything--except her heart. Mac is a large-animal veterinarian who has already risked it all and lost everything that mattered. When a secret is revealed, Cora has to decide whether Mac is a safe bet . . . or the worst gamble of her life.
Available at book retailers in Australia and New Zealand, Random House Australia and e-book link here. (Good New Zealand link HERE.) It will be available in other countries including the US, but I don't have a date yet. I'll keep you posted (I'm as impatient as you are to get it into your hands, I promise).
A Life in Stitches
My memoir! You know, the one blurbed by Josh Kilmer-Purcell, winner of the most recent Amazing Race? (Dude. I love him, and his writing is lovely if you haven't checked him out.)
It's only $1.99 for the whole month of March on Kindle! (If you don't have a Kindle, you can use their free app on your phone, notebook, or computer.) And if you like anything about my blog, you'll find 20 essays in there which are WAY more thought-out and funny and smart than these rambles over here ever turn out to be. I hope you'll like it. The Amazon reviews are wonderful and completely humbling. Available HERE. Canada, it's here for you.
And from my last post, the winners of the drawing for Sophie's amazing boook, Garden of Stones:
From the blog comments: Darling Maggi! From my subscriber list (I love my list): Hmkaup! You've both been emailed.
Thanks, all of you. Britain and all other places left out of this post, I promise you something more exciting soon. Pinky swear. MWAH!
Disclaimer: Sophie Littlefield is a very dear friend of mine. This, however, has nothing to do with the way I feel about her writing. In fact, I'd say that the only problem I do have with our friendship is that sometimes I think, Why does a writer like HER like ME? She's so good. She writes emotion so that you feel it knife your gut, and then you turn the page and you read a sentence that makes you sigh with happiness.
I'm better, and thank you for all the well-wishes! I had all the -itis's in slow, painful succession-- bronchitis, laryngitis, tonsillitis...
I'm just gonna let you reread that last word again.
TONSILS. I HAZ THEM.
I had them out when I was thirty. And again when I was thirty-five. Five years later, guess what? They're back!
I went to the doctor last week. Now, I normally wouldn't go to the doctor with the flu.I know you just have to get over it. But do you know how quickly I dialed the phone for an appointment when I saw the white spots that looked exactly like strep on something that looked tonsils in the back of my throat? People dial 911 slower than I dialed the appointment line.
I said to the doc, "It looks like strep."
Doc, to whom people say this all day, said, "Mmmm. Open wide." Pause. Impressed, "That does look like strep." [It wasn't, actually, just a nasty case of tonsillitis which mimics it well.]
"Those look like tonsils, am I right?" I said. "Please tell me I'm overreacting."
She got a brighter light and shook her head as if to clear it. She peered in. Then she said in the smallest voice a doctor can possibly have, "They...do...look like tonsils."
"Could they be anything else?"
"Given their location, probably not."
So that's exciting! I'm a regrower of things that are really quite useless! I expect to grow parsley next. That or those painted wooden ducks whose wings spin when you stick them in a flower box.
In other news: I spilled this much ----> . water on my MacBook Air and it stopped working. Just fitzzlettz and nothing comes on but the fan. Yes, I'm drying it out. Yes, I'll leave it for a week to dry before trying to turn it on again (I did try again after two days and no dice). I'm kind of feeling like my tiny little friend might never wheeze back into life.
And dude, I was panicked over this. I spent nine days (!) in bed with the Itis's and never opened my laptop once. Then I spilled the water the day I went back to the desk and felt as if I couldn't live another hour without my computer. Lala very rationally pointed out that I could work on any of the other computers we are so lucky to have littered about the house (her iPad, her laptop, the Mac Mini in the living room (which I kind of forgot was a computer because I only watch TV on it)). So I did work, but I tell you what, it's weird writing fiction on a big flat-screen television. THE DIALOGUE WAS SO BIG. IT FELT VERY LOUD.
So I bought an iPad Mini to fill in the gap while I'm waiting to see what will happen with the computer. I'm writing this blog on it now, and I really like it. I'd forgotten how nicely the iPad does just one thing at a time. Sure, I can check Twitter, but it takes actively moving away from this writing screen, and it slows me down. I'll probably return it when I get the computer fixed or if it turns back on.
Oh! I'm so chatty today I almost forgot to tell you (but I told Twitter): I finished a sweater! I love it.
Lady Marple, details at Ravelry.
Aside - Did I ever tell you about the surgeon I mortally offended when I joked that I could cut off a finger, no problem, because I'd just grow it back? He held up the four (total) fingers of his right hand and said, "It's not funny. I almost lost my profession when I lost this." (I hadn't noticed his missing finger, and I probably never would have. I did feel awful and apologized profusely.)
Hooo. What with all that clean living and healthy eating, I've gone and fallen really sick (bronchitis, knocking at pneumonia's door, says the doc). I've been sick 8 days now and still can't walk across a room without breaking into a coughing fit that scares the neighbor's dogs. I'm mightily over this, but it's over me yet, so I'm just dropping in to say a couple of things:
1. I'm knitting legwarmers. I would have bet all the quarters in my change jar (there are a LOT of them) that I would never say this, but I'd have lost the bet. I want a sock-like thing to tuck into the tops of my boots and go up over my knees on top of my tights, so it looks like thigh-high knitted socks, without the work. Legwarmers, scooted up, right? Is there a term for this? Thigh-warmers just doesn't sound right. (You should search on Ravelry for legwarmers, I'm just saying. There are some doozies. And before anyone gets prickled by my mocking poor, misunderstood, useful legwarmers, please understand that in California we do not wear such things unless we are in Southern California and Making a Fashion Point. And everyone has to be allowed to mock something. Crocheters are a protected group now, so what else do we have?)
*falls over in a coughing fit that looks suspiciously like laughter*
Please forgive. I'm a crocheter, too. And being sick makes me an asshole. Ask Lala.
2. Finished Lady Marple. This is seriously exactly the sweater I've been wanting, and it was a joy to knit. She just needs buttons and for me to feel well enough to model it.
3. On Wednesday, I felt better for approximately forty seconds, during which I made soup. This was bottom of the barrel, kids, and it turned out SO WELL I have to share it with you. We had no stock. We had no nothing, and this still worked. You probably have every ingredient to make this right now, and it's easy and fast. The roasting is the secret here--if you throw squash into a soup, it cooks, all right, but it remains rather flavorless. Roast the veggies and chicken first? Magical soup. The total is WAY more than the sum of its parts. (Also, if I call for something you don't have, don't worry! Use a different spice! Time to play!)
Heat oven to 425. Peel and cube that butternut squash that's been languishing on the table since Thanksgiving. Rough-chop one onion (or shallot, or garlic, or all three!). Place these on a foil-lined cookie sheet along with the kinda freezer-burned chicken breast (or thigh, bone-in, bone-out, whatever) or two that you just defrosted in the microwave. Roast at 425 for about 30-45 minutes, till you like the way it looks. Bring about 8 cups water to a boil. Remove the chicken to a plate, add the veggies in to the boiling water. Lower to a nice happy simmer, and use a potato masher, big fork, or immersion blender to mash some of the squash/onion up. Add a tsp of cumin, a tsp of ground coriander, some powdered garlic if you didn't feel like adding fresh, a little rosemary perhaps, another chili powder that you like, whatever you love. SALT is necessary--perhaps a Tbs? Also necessary: an acid of some sort. I used the juice of a lemon, but vinegar would work, too. That makes it happy and bright. Shred or cube the chicken, add it to the pot, simmer till you get so hungry you can't stand it and EAT.
Now. I can't stop coughing, so I'm going to push the computer aside and lie back down and pretend I feel well and that I'm having a glorious lie-in (which won't work--it never works--why can't we ENJOY being in bed when we have to be there? Grrr). I hope you're well. xo
I found myself very inspired and moved by this short TED talk by Karen Walrond on seeing the beauty and finding connection in other people. (I totally have a crush on her now. She's crush-worthy.)
Her 1000 Faces project, showing the uncommon beauty of regular people, is worth some time, too.
I was on BART the other day, coming back from San Francisco at 6pm, right at rush hour. I followed a woman onto the packed train, and a flower dropped from her hair. I picked it up and gave it back to her, and we had that moment. You know that one? Where you talk to someone, just for a few minutes, and you get them, and they get you too. I'm pretty convinced we could all find more of these, if we looked. In the fifteen minutes we spent speeding under the bay, we talked gardening and shoes. We compared her kids to my cats (her kids buy her more birthday presents than Digit buys me, I tell you what). We bonded over tuberoses and gardenias, burying our noses in the flowers she was carrying. She gave me a sprig of jasmine from her hair and wished that her plant was in bloom already, as ours is. She touched me on the arm at least five times, that You know? Right? touch, and it was so lovely, as she was.
Of course, people on the train (the ones not wearing earbuds) stared. We were obviously strangers, but we were laughing out loud at each other's jokes, grinning at each other in delight. Those who weren't staring at us kept their eyes on the devices they were holding.
I'm usually a device-holder, too. I hate being that guy, but I like to read a book on my phone on the train. I like to check Twitter. I like to send texts. I really like to not have to eavesdrop on annoying half-conversations people have on their phones (I'd rather eavesdrop on both sides if possible). But how many flower ladies do I not chat up? How much light am I not seeing? How many conversations between stations (converstations?) am I missing?
Food for thought. Tell me your most recent nice random encounter?
[Book recommendation: I'm reading Jerusalem Gap, and the voice is amazing. I can't stand for it to end, and I'm only half-way through. Dog lovers, this one's for you.]
New Orleans was better than I expected, and I'd had pretty high hopes to begin with.
What I expected: a Disney-fied city full of lights and magic and people who only cared about making a tourist buck.
What we found: a working city full of lights and magic and people who cared about their city and the people visiting it.
We stayed at the Hotel Villa Convento in the French Quarter on Ursulines. I'd just finished reading Heads in Beds (which was awesome, by the way, plus being half-set in New Orleans and written by someone who loves the city), and I was obsessed by this advice: Always tip the front desk clerk.
Now, I was a front desk clerk for years. I worked a tiny hotel in San Luis Obispo, a sweet place where I made four loaves of bread every night before going to bed (we shut the desk from 11pm-7am, and I slept in a back dorm, staying from Friday night until Monday morning) so that the guests had fresh bread when they woke up. Every once in a while, I got a tip, and to that person I was grateful though I was sometimes confused.
In the book, Tomsky says that you should always tip the desk. What's a twenty going to get you? Maybe nothing, but then you're only out twenty bucks. But hey, you might get an upgrade, or an extra perk, like a bottle of wine. I wanted to try it, but I was nervous. What if the clerk carefully picked up the bill between two fingers and sneered, "Is this a bribe, madam?" (Tomsky said this never happens.)
So as soon as we got to the small desk at the very old hotel, I said, "Hi, checking in, and uh, this is for you." I slid the bill across the old, scarred wood.
The darling man behind the counter said, "What's this?" (Worst nightmare.)
I said, even more nervous, "It's for whatever you can do for us. [Stammering] You know, for a nice room, maybe?"
"You're the last one in, and the only other room I have is the budget room."
"Okay, then. That's just for you. I used to work front desk and I know how people can be."
Oh, my friends. The look on his face! He just melted. "Oh! I NEEDED this. It's been SUCH a day, you have no idea!"
I wasn't trying to buy a friend, and I know we would have made fast friends with Vincenzo anyway. But that just made it faster, right? Twenty bucks very well spent. I will absolutely do this on all my future trips.
So our new bestie Vincenzo sent us down the block for a drink (I'd been up for literally 48 hours at that point, but really wanted to see a little of the city before we went to bed) to his favorite place, Pravda. At Pravda, we had a wonderful cocktail waitress named Lucy, who was so friendly it was unreal (we're from Northern California. We do politely disinterested, at best). She said, "Oh, you're not from here? Can I tell you some places to eat?" We expected her to return with a printed list of recommended restaurants. Instead, she brought us this.
And then she proceeded to take the time to tell us what she liked at each place and how to get to each one. ("Well, you could take a cab, but it would be better to take the streetcar. What you do is...") This was Friday night after Mardi Gras season had just started. (Lala and I kept looking at each other and saying, "What? Are we in Canada or something? People are so nice.")
Speaking of Mardi Gras, we NEVER would have booked a trip had I known that Mardi Gras is not a day or even a week, but apparently a month or so of crazy-pants-time. But we were innocently clueless. Lala had an old friend there, and we met up with him and friends (awesome friends! Adopting them!) and did a local's night, watching the Petit Rex parade. A whole parade of little tiny floats! Plus bands! Jayzus!
And, oh, oh! We did a bike tour with Bob of Big Easy Bike Tours. This cannot be highly stressed enough: if you go to NOLA, go on a bike tour with him. Read his reviews there on Yelp. The man knows everything, and is passionate about the city.
Three hours, pedaling through the (mercifully flat) town, we got miles and miles of information. The stories he told us about Congo Square in Armstrong Park made me teary, and I'll always think of that as the spiritual center of the town.
His excitement was contagious, and the most important part was that he told us about THE DOG PARADE which was happening on Sunday.
The Dog Parade (Barkus)! With New Orleans jazz bands? What? HEAVEN.
You know that game you play at the bar? "Who would you go home with?" We played "Who would you adopt?" This was the one I'd have taken home.
She was very small, very short like a French bulldog with a head like a pittie and legs splayed like a cowboy long months on the trail. I fell in love with her joyous waddle.
Dachshunds are natural peacocks, after all.
Her sign says "Show us your ticks!"
Mr. Smartypants here would like Miss Idaho.
We saw Bob!! He gave us a football for Clara.
There is a very cute moment when Lala gives herself over to something. Example: She's going to LA. Fine. That'll be fun, she thinks. Then, when she's there, she's all, "DID YOU KNOW ABOUT HOLLYWOOD? THE STARS! THEY'RE AMAZING!" There's hand-flapping, friends. It's awesome. At the dog parade, at first she said, "Nah, no beads, no worries. Don't need 'em. Just here for the dogs, thanks." And as the children continued to throw them at us from their dog-mobiles, she turned to me and said, "THIS IS AMAZING. I LOVE THIS SO MUCH. I WANT MOAR BEADS MOAR." In the above picture, she was finally (regretfully) culling her Mr. T. stash.
It was the best freaking parade ever.
I also got a very funny shirt while there:
New Orleans, it turns out, is Lala's Venice. She wandered at night, long after I'd gone back to the hotel, jamming on the banjo with some punk kids, losing herself in the streets. She's in love. (And in a particular way, New Orleans reminded me very much of Venice. A city that runs on tourist dollars yet still retains stubborn civic pride; a city falling down, crumbling at the edges but still beautiful; a city that smells of diesel and stagnant water and pastries; a city gorgeous in its unapologetic debauchery.)
We packed so much wunnerful stuff into a single weekend. And I adore the fact the fact that we'll be back.
This story is from my friend Katie. My day (and my life) is brighter because of it. This is her story, and it's best told in her words, with her permission. (This is the good stuff, friends. This is what it's all about.)
* * *
I live in the historic downtown of a small town in the central valley of California. Hanford. You might have seen the sign on the I-5 or even driven thru it on the way to Sequoia. It is the county seat, which means this is the only place where you can get welfare or mental health help or free meals from churches.
We have a huge homeless population, and because I'm out early in the mornings, walking the dogs in the alley, I see pretty much everyone. I'm not talking about the guys standing at the stoplight out by WalMart. I'm talking about the guys who are sleeping behind dumpsters wrapped in trashbags. People who have lost their jobs and been evicted with all their belongings in a Target bag.
This winter has been particularly wet and rainy and foggy and dreary. I was taking out the trash and saw a young woman with two kids...proably school-age but just, so maybe 5 and 6. They were wearing a half dozen t-shirts all on top of each other for warmth because they didn't even have sweatshirts on. They were digging through the dumpster for something to eat and the kids had on FLIP FLOPS. It is rainy and they are digging thru trash for food in flip flops. Mom wasn't even dressed as warmly as the kids and they all had that skim milk colored skin...sort of white and blue at the same time. Broke my heart.
So I wrote a little note on Facebook, asking if anyone had extra anything could they drop it off at the back of my building. I'm on an alley, so you hardly even need to slow down.
A couple of days later, I park my car and this raggedy guy is digging thru the one cardboard box I have out there and asks me if I'm Miss Angel. Rachael, I am so far from being the A in Angel that I'm the end of the Russian alphabet. He said he had heard that Miss Angel had a box for poor people; a box they could just look thru and get whatever they needed. He had found a pair of pants that would fit but he had found two pair of socks (old ones of my son's) and wondered if it would be okay if he took both of them so his boy could go to school in dry socks. I told him I could not see any reason on earth why that wouldn't be okay.
Then I wrote another little note on Facebook, telling about this guy and within a week, there are four or five boxes of clothes and blankets and stuff being dropped off at the corner of my building. Last night, I saw a little family...dad, mom and a little boy about four (I taught kindergarten, so I can tell when they are little about how little they are.) I'm upstairs with the window open, just checking on things because I don't want some professional yard sellers to be driving by and just scooping this stuff up.
So the grownups are digging through the boxes---people have put blankets in trash bags so they will stay dry--and they find some little blanket that is blue and drape it around the little kid's shoulders. Then, the dad pulls a little teddy bear out of one of the boxes and you would have thought that money was raining down on them. The last little bit I saw was the kid, wrapped up in his blanket, snuggled up on dad's shoulder, clutching his teddy bear. Heck, I don't even know if they were a real family...I just know a little boy had a dry blanket and a teddy bear to sleep with.
In the meantime, people drive by, drop off boxes or bags of stuff as well as little bags of hygiene items...those travel sized toothbrushes and tooth paste and soap.
I'm not running a charity. I'm trying to stay out of it as much as I can but the outpouring of abundance is just amazing me. Two months ago, I was finding crack pipes in the alley. Now I'm finding blankets and socks and tampons...because even homeless women have periods. Someone even dropped off a big box of Tampax (did you know homeless women use socks and ripped-up tee shirts?)
I know there are several shelters here in town and also several churches who provide hot meals. But these people are on foot and so transient that they don't have anyplace to keep anything. So the people in my little town are dropping off not huge boxes of fur coats, but extra socks or blankets or sweatshirts. It has sort of taken on a life of its own. I still see home guys in the alley when I take the dogs out and they still will tell me to not go east down the alley because it's not safe. But here? They say it is safe because they keep an eye on it, making sure that the wimmens and chillern can find something dry for the night.
And sometimes I findt little notes...little bits of paper saying "Thank you, I havent had dry feet in so long." or just little scraps of paper saying "Thnk u"
Does it just blow you away? Homeless people around here are not like they are in San Francisco. They are invisible. They sleep behind dumpsters or in the little spaces between buildings or in the little alcoves of the back doors of buildings.....and those are just the ones I see because I'm out with the dogs. I see a lot of homeless guys I had in class in prison....and I feel safer because I know they know I'm a person, just walking my dogs.
All I did was write a couple of little posts on Facebook.
So there is the whole story. If all it does is make you feel as good as it makes me feel, fine. If you decide to share it, dandy. I guess what I'm saying is that even a teeny little bit of help is good for you, for your self. And if people who have yard sales every weekend of the world come in and take every last little bit...that is on them.
But the world is not as bleak as I thought it was. And my life is not as hopeless as I sometimes think it is.
* * * *
Katie mentioned in a follow-up email to me that there have been SEVENTY-FIVE boxes dropped off silently and anonymously in her alley so far.
Usually I do an end-of-year recap, don't I? 2012 was rough on a lot of folks, and it seems like we were ready to boost it out the door. I'll throw a quickie out there and call it good.
On the low end of things, I had a hysterectomy for medical reasons, discovering in the process a life-threatening condition that hurtled me into full menopause at 39, and tried depression on for the first time (it doesn't suit my coloring, I found out). Good times!
On the higher end of things, I traveled to Pittsburgh and San Luis Obispo to teach creative writing, went to Italy by myself, finished writing two novels, camped in the great outdoors, and bought the SmartCar of my dreams! I sewed a lot and bought many pairs of glasses on cheap internet sites. I changed my diet completely (to an anti-inflammatory regimen, which is amazing), and I dropped thirty pounds as a result. I spent more time with family and friends than I had in years, which was the best part of all.
The word for this coming year? ENGAGED.
Last year, much of the time I was present but not engaged. It was a symptom of the depression (and it took me forever to recognize that). I hated it.
This year, I want to connect. I know it sounds trite and easy, but I'm really serious about it. I mentioned it a while back, but the volunteer work I've been doing at the George Mark House (the hospital for children with chronic, life-span-limiting and terminal illnesses) is blowing my damn mind. I can't give particulars, naturally, out of respect for both the patients and HIPPA regulations, but take a look at their website if you're curious. And in a couple of weeks, I'm training there to work with the palliative aquatics program! Eee!
The above video has a bunch about the aquatics program and a little about the house itself.
And you know what I'm MOST excited about this morning? I just signed Clara up for the first step in training her to be a therapy dog! She's the most empathetic dog I've ever met--she plays hard with exuberant kids and big dogs and is beyond gentle with timid children and animals. And if she gets certified, then she can come with me to George Mark!
So this year is already lining itself up to be a good one, as I hope it is for you.
(And apropos of nothing but thinking about awesomeness, my new favorite yarn in all the wold is Cascade Eco Cloud. I haven't felt like this about a kind of yarn in years, literally. I want all of it. Check it out if you haven't already.)
I have craft ADD going on right now. I always get this way when I start writing a book. First drafts are rough for me, and I flap about during this stage, searching for anything else I might be good at so that I won't have to write.
I'm deep into being in love with metalworking at home. I want to make jewelry! Like the darling Kate Richbourg does in her great Craftsy classes (highly recommended). I bought the tools but I'm kind of being a chicken about starting, and I'm not sure why. (I was this way with my serger, too. It took me a full week to get the guts to take it out of the box.)
I'm also sewing my little fingers off. Made this today at Sonya Philip's studio:
It's yet another dress for my Uniform of Tunics. It has flashy gold on the bias tape, which I love.
And I made Tiramisu by Cake Patterns! It turned out great in $3/yard sale fabric.
I was so inspired by that success that I tried to make another one in quilt cotton. IT DID NOT WORK, YO. The whole dress was beyond hope. So I tried to make some zippered bags to make myself feel better and put the zippers in upside-down. You take the crumbles with the cookies, right? (I think I just made that up. Because it doesn't make sense, I'm willing to bet this isn't a common phrase.)
I've been painting, too!
I painted Clementine for Lala for Christmas.
Want to know what's funnier than that painting? The fact that Lala painted me a picture of Digit. Same size frame, mat, everything. We laffed. It's the anti-Gift-of-the-Magi!
And yet, even with all the ways I try to get out of writing, somehow I still get my grumbling ss to the cafe and get my writing done in the mornings. Because someday a first draft will be a second one, and I love revising. And then a revised draft will someday become a book!
That's the best bit of all. And it's my favorite craft.
(Except for knitting.)