Saturday, December 31, 2005

Diane's best books of 2005

Inspired by DebR, I thought I’d list the best books I’ve read this year. I read incessantly, and in fact am downright uncomfortable when I’m between books. When I was in elementary school, my sister (also book-obsessed) and I started a system where we logged our books by noting the title, author, date finished, and rating on a scale of 1 to 10. Sounds silly now, I guess, but I’ve kept it up my whole life. I like to look back at those notebooks from time to time as a walk through my personal literary history. Remembering a particular book will remind me of the time in my life when I read it and where I was.

So, from my notebook from 2005, here are my favorites (these got a rating of 9 or 10):

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
It took me a while to get around to reading this novel, as I wasn’t sure I wanted to read a novel told from the perspective of a murdered child. But I did, and I loved it. It’s haunting and beautiful and funny at times.

The Married Man by Catherine Alliott
I have a thing for British novels, and this light romp about single mum offered the opportunity to live in her dream house by the sea was fun and entertaining and charming. Perfect escapist fiction.

The Incumbent by Brian McGrory
This engrossing political thriller was written by a former White House correspondent, and it combines a clever and suspenseful plot with good writing. The story follows a White House reporter who is drawn into a mystery involving the president’s pardon of a felon... drama and excitement ensue, of course. Lots of twists and turns.

The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst
This unusual novel tells the story of a recently widowed linguistics professor who becomes obsessed with teaching his dog – the only witness to his wife’s death – to talk and reveal what happened to her. Odd, quirky, but compelling.

Vanishing Acts by Jodi Picoult
I have loved everything I’ve read by this author. In this story, a woman discovers a past she didn’t know she had. She is forced to re-examine everything about her life and her relationships with her family. Lovely, lovely story.

The Wilder Sisters by Joann Mapson
Another light but enjoyable story of two sisters whose lives come together after they’ve been estranged. It’s about family, men, horses, ranch life... a satisfying read.

gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson
This phenomenal novel sucked me in from the first paragraph. It’s funny and warm and deep and mysterious, all at the same time. Go read this book.

Sudden Death by David Rosenfelt
I can’t resist a good legal thriller, and I’m picky about the legal technicalities. I can’t stand a book where the legal stuff is wrong. Rosenfelt manages to write good thrillers while keeping his hero likable and believable AND the law and trial details are credible. In this story, the criminal defense lawyer goes to LA to defend a sports superstar accused of murder. It’s entertaining...and the lawyer’s golden retriever has a huge supporting role. What’s not to love?!

Three Junes by Julia Glass
This novel follows three people: a father, his gay son, and a young woman whose life is connected up with theirs, ultimately. I love how this explores love and relationships and family and expectations and finding true family around us. I was reluctant to let these characters go when I finished this novel.

Happy Slugs at Home

Sorry for the long silence, friends... We've had visitors since Christmas day and there've been whole DAYS where I didn't even turn on my computer. It's been a lovely break from reality.

But here's the recap of the past week:

Christmas day: We entertained my parents, my sister and her funny dog Katie, my brother Gregg and his wife Kitt, Kitt's mom Gloria...that's our usual immediate family holiday crowd. But this holiday was made especially special by the arrival of our dear friends Eric, Diane and Abby all the way from Bermuda!

We met Eric and Diane in China, where we were on the same trip to meet our daughters. We clicked instantly and have wonderful memories of meeting our daughters together and spending our two weeks in China traveling and coping with sudden parentage with them. Abby is about 8 months older than Caroline. They have always gotten along famously. Up until 6 months ago, they all lived in Maine (and when we lived in New Hampshire, 2 hours away from them, we saw them quite often). But they moved to Bermuda so Eric could take a pilot job for a charter airline there, and they have been having amazing adventures there.

Anyway. Their arrival was the best present Roger and I and Caroline could ever have gotten.

The Turducken: Ah, here's what you've all been wanting to know, right? Well, it cooked beautifully, right on schedule (a 15 pounder, 5 hours in the oven at 325). It smelled heavenly. Sliced, it didn't look like the picture. We weren't able to discern the three separate layers of turkey, duck, and chicken. And it was sort of hard to tell what portion you were eating until you actually tasted it. The duck flavor stood out, the turkey and chicken seemed fairly similar. I had ordered the cajun sausage and cornbread stuffing (reading that the plain cornbread one was too bland and the seafood jambalaya one was too rich) and most folks liked it. It was a bit spicy for those folks who don't like spicy food...But for those of us who do, it was fine. So, it was a qualified success. It was fun and entertaining and there was much joking around the table about the name, and it was all eaten and declared delicious and we didn't have to break out the emergency ham...But Roger and I agreed we wouldn't bother to do it again. One turducken is, apparently, enough.

We joked that for dessert we were having a cake stuffed with a pie stuffed with a cupcake.... And we were greatly amused in the following days as we found ourselves saying things like "Want turducken sandwiches for lunch?" or "wonder what a turducken burrito would taste like?"

As a side note, Roger and I have this ongoing game where we invent new names for cars. Our favorites thus far are the Cadillac Sinatra, the Homeo Pathfinder and the Honda Jalapeno. But this event led to another: The Toyota Turducken. You can stuff a whole family inside! (Harharhar.)

Scooby Dooby Doo: This has become our family name for Soduku, to which both Eric and I became severely addicted, despite our inability to remember the actual name of these puzzles. On Christmas Eve, the grown-ups in Roger's family do a gift exchange, one of those games where you bring gifts, draw numbers to choose, and you can choose what someone has or something new. Our rule is that the gifts have to be "consumable," something that gets used up, and under $20. I had selected several Soduku books and bundled them up mysteriously and attractively, but I was worried that they'd bomb and no one would want them. To my delight, they were the gift that people fought over and repeatedly stole from each other!

Well, Santa had put a Soduku book in my stocking, and when Eric arrived he confessed that he had done them on the plane all the way west. So, much of our week involved all four of us adults sitting around the family room, with Eric and me engrossed in our "scooby doo's", Diane reading (a Carl Hiasson novel) and Roger doing line edits on his textbook manuscript. Very companionable.

Here is Eric in his "Scooby Doo" position, looking sleepy very relaxed.

And here is Roger, similarly sluggish but happy:

Oh, the rain, rain, rain came down, down down... Perhaps you've heard on the news that northern California is getting torrential rains. The past week or so has been really unusual for all of the rain, with something like 4 inches of rain in a 24 hour period. This Winnie the Pooh song keeps running through my head as a result! But it's made for great cozy inside enjoyment, with rain splattering against the windows and the wind howling. Good reading and scooby doo weather!

It did mean that some of the outings we might have taken with guests were abandoned in favor of indoor comfort. We always love going to SF's Chinatown for shopping and dim sum, but that's constant walking in and outside. We considered going to SF to see the new Harry Potter film at the Imax theatre, but the weather (for the 90 minute trip south) and Abby's vertigo nixed that option.

Kids? What kids? I mentioned that Abby and Caroline play amazingly well together. Basically, from the moment Abby arrived, the girls settled into Caroline's room playing and chattering together constantly, appearing from time to time for meals and snacks. Each time we went to check on them, they were totally engrossed and happy, playing with horses or legos or computer games. Abby brought along a computer game called the Age of Mythology, where (as far as I can tell) you create simulated worlds with mythological creatures. Eric and Roger figured out how to link the girls' computers together so they could be allies and help each other. These kids aren't "Barbie" girls (although they did watch with me and Diane as we viewed the Project Runway episode where they designed for Barbie and they enjoyed that)...they're more like Titan/Gaia/Hydra loving kids. I THINK that's a good thing...

Snoopy Lives! We did get out to visit the Charles Schultz museum in Santa Rosa, and that was a very fun visit. (If you're ever in this area, be sure to do that!) It's a very fun place, and we were instantly charmed by the tiny, real Charlie Brown Christmas tree at the entrance.... like the TV one, it had a few twig-like branches, a few sparse needles, and one red ornament. It was very fun to see Schultz's original drawings and storyboards for the animated shows. We also saw the exhibit of Japanese Peanuts-themed quilts that were very fun. (I was also excited to learn that they have a great Education Room where they teach cartooning! I have to investigate and consider that for Caroline...and me, too! )

Circus Magic: My brother's gift to all of us was tickets to see Cirque du Soleil's new show, Corteo, in San Francisco on Wednesday night. Unfortunately, my sister was not able to come so we bought her ticket for Abby, and Roger and I took Caroline and Abby while Eric and Diane enjoyed an evening to themselves in Healdsburg. We had dinner on the way down to the city (California Pizza Kitchen) and then had a fantastic time at the show. This show was funny and amazing and always surprising. With Cirque du Soleil, it is hard to know where to look -- there are interesting and amazing things happening in the air, on the stage, all over the place. But I was just as enthralled watching the girls' faces as they looked surprised and excited and amused and awed. It was a very, very fun evening. (Watch the clip at the link above!)

Unfortunately, the Harrisons had to leave this morning so we are in that post-holiday, post-company let-down/get-back-to-reality mood. But we have had an absolutely wonderful week with great friends.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Christmas dinner surprise

Have you ever had that experience where you've never in your life heard a word, and then all of a sudden you're hearing it everywhere? (It's like the "baguette" thing, if you remember Don Hollinger on "That Girl.")

Well, I had that experience with "Turducken." My good friend Pat casually dropped it into conversation one day, as in "They're having a turducken for Thanksgiving." On further inquiry, I learned that it's a turkey, stuffed with a duck, which is stuffed with a chicken. Get it? Tur-duck-hen. The name just cries out for a good limericks, doesn't it?

Weird concept, huh? I found it highly amusing and then forgot all about it. But around Thanksgiving, I was watching the Food Channel to see Paula what's-her-name, the smiley southern cook, and what was she cooking? Turducken! She raved and raved and I was further intrigued.

Then, while sewing one day, I was watching the family soap opera (my mom and sister and I all watch and it feels weirdly like extended family), and one guy went into this whole thing about turduckens.

Clearly, the universe was thrusting turduckens in my face. So, I got online and learned that the concept was invented by Paul Prudhomme, who actually got people to do all that deboning and cramming of one fowl into another, in their own kitchens. If you have the urge to read about it, check this out. It conjures up some very funny images (for me, anyway) and makes cooking a plain old turkey seem so EASY.

So. Guess what we're having for Christmas dinner?


How could I not? Fortunately for me, Roger was as amused and intrigued by the idea as I am. We ordered one (pre-stuffed) from, which research revealed is the source raved about by various reviewers. It's been sitting in the fridge for a few days now, thawing. It looks pretty normal, sort of like a slightly squashed turkey.

When cooked and sliced, it's supposed to look like this:

That's stuffing between the fowl layers, by the way.

Out of an abundance of caution, we have a precooked ham sitting in the fridge to heat fast just in case the thing is too awful to serve to our guests. But I'm hopeful.

It's the Year of the Turducken at our house. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Merry Christmas, every one!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Where's the Camera?

Apparently I need to hang my little digital camera around my neck, where I will always have it handy and will, thereby, remember to use it.

Yesterday was cookie-baking day at our house. I vowed I was going to keep my camera handy, record the day and then have actual photos to post on the blog about it all.

But I got into the mixing and flour was flying and the dog was prancing around, leaving muddy footprints everywhere due to the constant downpour outside... and I never did make it up to my office to fetch the camera.

Still, we had fun...Christmas carols playing nonstop in the background (I am becoming increasingly fond of cable tv's music channels), Caroline and pressing and cutting and sprinkling cookies. Roger did what he often does during holiday preparations...he figured out an urgent reason to leave. So he reappeared around dinner time, hungry and smiling and glad to have missed all the mess.

Today is more errands... shopping for one last Christmas present, the final grocery store run, and maybe a stop for a gingerbread latte as a reward for me! When I return, I'll need to clean the bathroom and Caroline's room and the guest room in preparation for guests arriving on Christmas day, then bake another batch of cookies (dough is chilling as we speak), and wrap presents. My tradition is to watch White Christmas while wrapping ("Snow, snow....SNOW!") and if I even get in a few minutes of Bing, Rosemary, Danny and Vera, it'll really feel like Christmas to me!

Hope all of you are enjoying the holiday...whether it's the fun of preparing, or the peace of sitting back and enjoying the calm...

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Capitol Cookie Experience

How time flies when you're doing Christmas activities! Things have been busy around here, what with shopping and wrapping packages and other holiday-related events. The blog has suffered, and my sewing machine is languishing from the lack of attention. Ah, well. It's that time of year, and other fun things are going on.

This past weekend found Caroline and me in Sacramento, to attend the annual cookie-making party of my best friend, Beth. (Roger usually attends, but this year he was tired and overworked and craving a day at home to veg...a feeling I understand and accomodate.) Beth and I have been friends since college, where we roomed together, saw each other through disastrous dating choices, strange jobs, law school applications...Then we went off to different law schools during the same 3-year period, and started our law careers at the same time, albeit on different routes. She is the funnest person I know, and I never, ever tire of being with her. We pay each other the highest of compliments: being together is as easy and as enjoyable as being alone! We both love to do "nothing" together.

Anyway. This cookie-making fest has actually been honed in recent years to a very nice routine: various regular attendees have the task of rolling out the cookie dough, and then the kids -- mainly Caroline and another young girl, Kendall, cut out shapes. The baking proceeds until there are enough cooled cookies to decorate, at which point Caroline and Kendall usually produce the ugliest, gloppiest cookies imaginable. (This has the advantage of making them not at all tempting to eat.) However, the girls have a good time and are happily occupied while the adults can drink wine and eat snacks and have much fun.

My part (aside from providing Caroline to achieve her share of decorated cookies and to consume my share of wine) is in the apricot-pastry assembly line. Kevin rolls and cuts the dough into squares. Cindy, Kendall's mom, plops neat circles of jam into the dough, and I fold them into neat little triangle packages for baking. And we all consume more wine to keep the production line going.

When it's all over, we clean up and then lie around, exhausted and tipsy and content while Caroline and Kendall act out elaborate shows for us, which usually involve a kung-fu type fight scene, cartwheels, and much hilarity as two big dogs always get into the act at unplanned moments.

We stayed over night (I got to sleep on the couch in front of the fireplace...heavenly!) and because it was storming so severely on Sunday (with lightening! and thunder! and downpours!) we decided to avoid the undoubtedly heinous drive home and stay another night. So, Caroline and I had a leisurely day on Sunday visiting with Beth and sitting in front of the fire and talking incessantly.

Caroline loved the cookie making, and playing with Kendall, and hanging out with Auntie Beth. But most of all, she loved the thrill of having Krystal sleep on the bed with her all night long! Don't they look happy?!

It was a lovely bit of time away...both festive and relaxing. And I am reminded, once again, that there is nothing as wonderful as quality time with a dear friend.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Random Monday Thoughts

I'm at my desk, procrastinating the start of a new work project. And what better way to do that than add a blog entry? As always, I've been circling the AQ web ring and thought I'd take this opportunity to respond to a few entries that have struck me.

Gabrielle bravely asked why people make those quilt post cards. Good for you for throwing the question out there, Gabrielle! And I confess that it's not a fad that appeals to me, either. I see the attraction: small format, very fast result, instant gratification. As exercises in fast creative composition, they're probably excellent. I see the fun of sharing them, too. I love the ones I've received from friends. But those things don't make me want to do them. I've done the mail art thing in my book arts phase, and I'm too protective of my creative time now. I want to spend my time on things with more significance to me. (Not that my work is of any significance to anyone else, of course...but they're projects that make me want to invest my time and that's enough for me.) Maybe, for my own process, they'd be useful as small studies for something bigger. Still, I'm just not going to do the 4x6 thing.

I've been reading Melody's blog with some amount of envy at her ability to spend so much time every day developing an idea and applying such intensity to her art and working so quickly to produce such stunning results. (I'm talking about the red and green quilt entries of late.) I react similarly to Pam's and Gabrielle's and Lisa's and Liz's blogs, and those of other professional artists and teachers. Then I remember that art is their full time job and livelihood, and that requires their full-time energy and attention and their lives are structured to provide that. My life just isn't like that. I love my life and my family and even, most of the time, my work. I'm an art quilt dilletante, I guess. But that doesn't stop me from envying the time and ability to focus for days on end on creating something exciting.

I am tempted to jump into the small group of AQ ring members starting to work through Katie Pasquini's Color and Composition exercises. I got excited at seeing what folks posted for their first exercises, and went and pulled out the book and heck, maybe I will even jump in at some point. But I remembered the stuff I have in my mind I want to make, and the unfinished assignments due in January for my Practical Design workshop, and I know I need to focus on those things first. So I'm trying to show some restraint.

I've got an urge to finish some of the unfinished things hanging around my studio. The dotty circles quilt is still up on my design wall, with the pieced border in progress. I have a second Christmas-y top done, yet to be sandwiched and quilted. I have a project I started two years ago in a workshop with Jane Sassaman that has started calling to me again. And it's time to make another donation quilt for the children's center, I think. When Caroline is home for Christmas vacation, we'll work on donation quilts for kids in need.

But none of this will get done unless I finish my work, so I'd best get to it. Thank goodness for these blogs to keep me thinking and feeling inspired!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Weekend Warrior

You have no idea what a huge task I have accomplished this weekend.

I have cleaned our garage.

This is no small feat. The last time I attempted this herculean task, I tripped (over the leg of an exercise machine, ironically) and broke my kneecap. This taught me several lessons (aside from the wonder of how nice it was to HAVE to sit on the bed and be waited on for 2 weeks), of which the primarly lesson was how dangerous cleaning really is.

But since we moved into our house several years ago, the garage has been the repository for all sorts of stuff. Boxes and boxes and boxes and garbage bags full of baby clothes that no longer fit our "baby," discarded kids' toys and baby furniture, miscellaneous chairs that we no longer use, etc. I'd have taken a picture, but I didn't want to memorialize it. The only good part of the mess was that it provided our two cats with a cardboard jungle they loved to prowl through and hide in.

Anyway, Roger headed out yesterday morning to take Caroline to her riding lesson, and I decided to surprise him with enough space to park a car in. (He is new-car shopping, so having space in the garage to park it in is the ultimate Christmas present.)

I'm very proud of myself for discarding so liberally. All those lawyer clothes I haven't worn in years and will never wear again? Off to Salvation Army, along with belts and shoes and working-woman-accessories like clunky gold jewelry and power scarves and such. And the size 8 jeans that, at this rate, my daughter would fit into before I would again. And old dishes we don't use, and a bookshelf we always disliked because it was wobbly, and books and old albums and all sorts of stuff.

By the time Roger returned, there was space for a car (with visible garage floor!) and a small pile of boxes yet to be looked through.

Although my muscles are sore, I feel psychologically lighter from having discarded all that junk! Last night, we celebrated with tamales for dinner, then I took a long soak in the tub while looking through Quilting Arts magazine.

Today is another load to Salvation Army and a load to the dump. Merry Christmas, husband!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Christmas is coming...

We're getting in the spirit around here. The floor may be messy, the bedrooms may be cluttered...but signs of Christmas have appeared.

The bannister is decorated with faux (ahem) pine and snowflakes, and the stockings are hung in their traditional place above the winerack. (Hey, that way those heavy stocking holders can't fall off the mantle and conk some little kid on the head...they'll just smash a few wine bottles. And we do move them to the mantle for Christmas Eve.)

The new Christmas Candy quilt is on the couch in the family room, making things look cheery. (Note Bing, Rosemary, and Danny in their traditional places on the mantle in the background.)

And we even got the tree up, very early for us.

Caroline is excited because when she stands on the small step-ladder we have, she can almost put the star on the top of the tree. Well, not really...but it seemed that way to her. She IS growing way too fast.

Geez, these walls look so white! That's my project for 2006, getting these pale walls painted with some color!

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Christmas Candy

I'm not sure why, but I'm in that mood again where I want to sew but don't want to think about it. And making art quilts is, for me, a thoughtful process. It requires looking and deciding what comes next and evaluating every step of the way. I love that process, but sometimes I'm just not in the mood.

And, since that's where I am now, I jumped in and started with my red/green Christmas-colors-but-not-Christmas-print fabrics. I settled on a block that just looked happy and fun to me, like a piece of candy. So I made this:

And next thing you know, there was this:

And pretty soon, I got all the way to this:

It's a happy holiday quilt for the couch in the family room. So today I'm piecing the back and hopefully will get it sandwiched so I can start quilting.

Not surprisingly, due to my tendency to buy more fabric than I need for any one project, I had leftovers of all of these fabrics...So different blocks are under way for another one. Very fun, very happy, and very mindless.

Fa la la la la...

Friday, December 02, 2005

Our baby is growing

I'm proud to announce that the Artful Quilters Web Ring hit 110 members today! The ring is approaching its FIRST BIRTHDAY (Jan. 5), can you believe it?

As always, it's so fun to read through the ring and see what others are doing. When I'm in a non-art-quilting slump (like now) it's encouraging and inspiring to see what others are doing. And I love hearing about everyone's lives, how we all share the jumble of trying to create and take care of families and deal with houses and work and animals and fun adventures and holidays. So, before too long, make yourself a cup of coffee or tea and take the time to look through the ring. Start at the bottom of the list and check out our newest members!

And put yourself on our frappr map by clicking on the frappr box to the right!