Good neighbors and good eggs

Dahilas 1Seventeen years ago this week we moved from Boston to Portland, Oregon, a place we’d never even visited before.  We’d had it with the East Coast rat race — not to mention a two-hour commute each day — and were ready to light out for the territories.

We’ve never looked back.

We landed in a ’50s ranch tucked away in a quiet little neighborhood ten minutes from downtown.  From my kitchen window I can see my neighbor’s barn and tidy home, part of the original dahlia farm from which our small subdivision was fashioned.  I was reminded of this last night when my husband and I took our dog for a walk.  It was twilight, and suddenly the air was alight with swallows.  We stood and watched them dipping and wheeling in their graceful airborne dance.  Then just as suddenly, they were gone.

Swallows’ Haven Farm is long gone, too, but my neighbor honors its memory by growing dahlias of her own.  Come winter, she’ll dig up the tubers and store them in the original bulb house with its wall lined with wooden drawers, but now, in late summer, her garden is alive with color.  She plants dozens of varieties and produces dazzling bouquets, many of which, like this one on my breakfast table this morning , make it across the back fence to our house.  So do vegetables of all varieties, and now that she’s added her own flock of chickens, so do fresh eggs.  It’s like having our own private farmer’s market. 

Her chickens arrived just as we were saying goodbye to ours (see my related post “End of an era“), so the eggs have been especially welcome.  I bake fresh bread each week for my family, and I give her a loaf in exchange for a dozen.  It’s an arrangement that makes everybody happy. 

But then, who wouldn’t be happy, living next door to such a wonderful neighbor — and such a good egg?

Let me arrange a movie date for you

ArrangedHow did I miss this film?  A friend tipped me off, and I’m so glad she did.  I just watched it on Netflix (that cool instant streaming feature) and even though it’s nearly midnight I’m ready to sit right down and watch it all over again. 

Yes, it’s that good.

Suffused with rare insight, intelligence, and heart, it’s an exquisitely acted story of two young teachers — one an Orthodox Jew, the other a Muslim — who find unexpected common ground in the world of arranged marriages that their separate cultures embrace.  Oh, and it’s funny, too.  Skip the latest explosion-filled megadud at the cineplex and watch this sweet gem instead.

First draft blues

rollerbladeI’m flailing away on the first draft of my next novel here, which I liken to trying to navigate through an unfamiliar house on roller skates, blindfolded. 

To cheer myself up, I asked a group of writer friends to share their analogies for the process.  Feel free to add your own to the list – the more the merrier!

 “Writing a first draft is like starting off on a long journey in your car, and even though you don’t know your destination, your annoying GPS says, ‘recalculating’ at every turn you make.”   — Mary Jane Auch

  “Julia [Durango] says ‘it usually comes with a heaping side dish of revelation and discovery’ — and a pile of steaming mussels even though you thought you were ordering the lamb.  At least that’s my experience in both writing and ordering food at a restaurant in France.  Bon appetit!!!!”  — Andrea Beaty

 “Writing the first draft is the process of discovering everything you left out or got wrong in your outline.”  — Fred Bortz

  “Writing a first daft is like driving through a howling snowstorm. Your headlights pick out only a few feet of the snowy tunnel ahead of you. If you go slow, don’t stop, and keep just a bit of the edge of the road in sight, you might make it without slipping off into a ditch or crashing into something large right in front of you.”   — Shutta Crum

 “Writing a first draft is like going to a foreign country without knowing the language. There is much pointing and gesturing and humility involved.  Fortunately, it usually comes with a heaping side dish of revelation and discovery.”  — Julia Durango

  “First drafts are like that high school dream. You know the one. You’re back in the 10th grade, and you’ve forgotten a whole semester’s worth of homework, and you have to stand up and give a presentation.  Oh, and you’re naked.  Every mistake, every fault, every personal flaw is going to be exposed. Yup.  It’s like that dream. Only real.”  — Kersten Hamilton

 “Writing a first draft is like stepping off a cliff and hoping the story will catch you.”  — Rukhsana Khan

 “Writing a first draft is like trying to assemble a giant jigsaw puzzle without getting to look at the picture first.”   — Jo Knowles

“Writing a first draft is like stumbling blindfolded through a labyrinth chasing cave creatures who are doing their best to get away from you as fast as they can. You can’t make a noise because if you do they will shut up and you will never find out their stories. You work really hard at listening and soon you start hearing something that sounds like a story.  When you think you have enough you stop in the middle of the labyrinth and start scribbling like mad, even though you can’t see a thing.  You get used to the darkness and you learn to avoid the drip from the ceiling.  Just when you think the pages are stacking up and you’re halfway there, the cave creatures laugh at you and change directions and you find out the drip was the most important thing in the story after all.  Now instead of a labyrinth you’re really following a water cycle and everybody’s got gills but you.”   — Uma Krishnaswami

  “Writing a first draft is like heading to New York from Chicago, and suddenly discovering that you really want to go to San Antonio.”  — David Lubar

 “Writing a first draft is like knowing you need eggs, lemon juice, and melted butter to make hollandaise, but that you will have to find the hen, the cow, and the tree in order to assemble your ingredients. And once you find them–they will not be in the same place, of course–you will have to use every bit of wit and charm and energy you can muster in order to get the hen, the cow, and the tree to part with their goods. Once you figure out the proportions and technique, you will realize that you wanted a bechamel sauce after all, and you will need to start all over again.”             — Susan Patron

 “Writing a first draft is like bungee jumping off a bridge—halfway down you think, ‘What the hell am I doing and is it too late to back out?’”  — Mary E. Pearson

 “Writing a first draft is like trying to get into a room that is neat and orderly, with everything in its proper place. First, you have to figure out how the door unlocks. Then it’s so haaaaard to push it open.  Finally, you slip through the doorway and get a delicious glimpse of that glorious room when BAM!  Another door slams in your face.  After a big sigh and a few donuts, you settle in to figure out how THIS door opens . . . . .”  — Dian Curtis Regan

  “Writing a first draft is like not knowing there’s a monster until you’re in the belly of the beast.”   — Cynthia Leitich Smith

Surfin’ Spy Mice

nenelogoFun!  I just found out that my book Spy Mice: The Black Paw has been nominated for a 2010 Nene Award in Hawaii!  Kids in fourth through sixth grade all over the Aloha State will read the books on the recommended list this coming school year, and then vote on their favorites next spring.

Several friends are on the list, too, which makes me even happier — including fellow Oregonians Rosanne Parry, for her fabulous debut novel Heart of a Shepherd, and Graham Salisbury, for his hilarious Calvin Coconut: Trouble Magnet.  Congratulations, everyone!

It’s reigning Julia

2009_julie_and_julia_001Just in the door from seeing “Julie & Julia” — in a word, divine!  Meryl Streep is amazing; they might as well just hand her the Academy Award right now.  Stanley Tucci more than held his own, and Amy Adams was adorable as always.

The HP (Handsome Prince, my mother’s code name for my husband) took me out for French fries afterwards — Five Guys, of course, he knows me well.  OK, so a patio table on a sidewalk in Beaverton, Oregon isn’t quite the same as a corner booth in a bistro in Paris, France.  We pretended to be Paul and Julia anyway…

Julie & Julia & me

Julie & Julia opens today at theaters nationwide, and I’m guest blogging about it for The Christian Science Monitor  — click here to read my post!

I’m really curious to see how the filmmakers will manage to make the average-height Meryl Streep look tall.  As I mention in my CSM post, at six foot two Julia Child was the same height as my aunt.  In fact, inspired by Julia’s example, my aunt and uncle (talk about a match made in heaven – he dwarfed her at six foot eight) had their kitchen counters built an extra two inches high, just like Julia did in her Cambridge, Massachusetts, kitchen, now on display at the Smithsonian Museum

Reading Julie Powell’s Julie and Julia and Julia Child’s My Life in France while revving up for the movie was a delight.  I’m feeling inspired to go back and re-read other food-related books that I have loved over the years, including those by Gourmet editor Ruth Reichl and the late, great novelist and food writer Laurie Colwin, whose Home Cooking and More Home Cooking have a special place on my shelf and in my heart.

Still waters

I’m a still water girl.  Always have been, always will be.  For other people, the crash of the surf does it, or the thrill of the rapids.  Not me.  Give me a quiet lake in the mountains and I am a happy camper (literally).  Add a canoe or a kayak and I’m ecstatic.

Here’s one of my favorite spots in the whole world:

Oregon's Best Kept Secret

Nice,  huh?  I’ve been day-dreaming about it a lot recently — especially when temperatures here in Portland soared to a HUNDRED AND SIX degrees last week! 

If all goes as planned, we’ll be there in a little over a month.  But I have whole lot of writing to do before then.  So I’ll get back to work now.

OK, I can’t resist.  One more picture:

Oregon's Best Kept Secret 2