Thursday, January 29, 2009

blogcrush '09: chickens in the road

Ever had a blogcrush? You know, you discover a blog (either by accident or because someone insisted you MUST go check it out), and then before you know it you're checking that blog for new posts compulsively, just like a high school girl waiting for the phone to ring, certain that HE is going to call at any moment. Uh, not that I ever did anything like that. No sirree Bob.

Anyway, I've had Suzanne McMinn's blog, Chickens in the Road, on my sidebar for some time now. I was initially drawn in by the title, because anything with "chickens" in it - from blogs to casseroles - is fine with me. Then, in late fall, our entire little flock of silkies was killed, and I was, frankly, too much in mourning to read about someone else's chicken adventures.

But one day I was drawn back to Suzanne's blog, and I'm so glad I was. She's been "discovered" by the blogosphere recently, with her 2008 Bloggies Award mention, which makes the blogosphere very lucky. Because there's something about the way she writes about the tiny details of life on a farm in rural West Virginia. Her words are celebratory and joyful without being too navel gazer-ish. And the recipes! Oy! Just one look at the Burnt Sugar Cake, and I'm a goner all over again. How much does it suck that I don't "do" refined sugar or flour anymore (at least not in large quantities)??

Earlier this week I made sourdough starter from her recipe, which is something I haven't done for many years. Here's a pic of my starter on day one (okay, yeah, so that's refined flour. I never said I was perfect):

The last time I made starter I was living at sea level, so we'll see how it goes at 7,000 feet. I'm hoping to make some good rustic, whole wheat-ish loaves with cranberries, walnuts, etc., sourdough fanatic that I am. Hopefully, they won't turn out rock hard and flat as pancakes. I'd probably still eat them if they did, as long as they had that tang.
So, I'm always up for discovering new blogs: What's one of your blogcrushes?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

w.o.k. wednesday: yoga humility (or, stopping the flow)

Humility is definitely one of my favorite things, which makes it a perfect candidate for Whiskers-on-Kittens Wednesday, when I hold forth on the things I love most. And, as I said before, I love humility.

But actually, wait. Let me rephrase that. I love the IDEA of humility, especially when it happens to other people who so clearly deserve a good dose of it. I can personally do without the experience quite nicely, thanks.

So, I’m sitting in a waiting room not too long ago, reading about Jennifer Aniston, who is about to be 40 and who maintains her 19-year-old A-list bod by practicing Yoga several times a week. Now, I was born just a few years after the Summer of Love, and I was raised just a few miles north of the Golden Gate. I went to school at UC Santa Cruz, for crying out loud. So, I’ve kinda been there done that where stuff like Yoga and Tai Chi – all those kinder and gentler forms of physical discipline - are concerned. Which made it a no-brainer to show up for a class called Flow Yoga at the athletic club this morning – a class that just happened to be starting a few minutes after I arrived for my workout. I recently took another Yoga class there – Pillow and Blanket Yoga, that one was called. And it was lovely: Dimmed lights, warm room, the soft, droning voice of the instructor. You could almost feel your chakras being given a colon cleanse, and afterward you felt so…At One with the Universe.

So, this morning I went ahead and removed my shoes and socks, unrolled my Yoga mat and began stretching while eagerly anticipating the arrival of Universal Oneness. It was a very small class compared to the Pillow and Blanket Yoga, a fact I chalked up to the time of day (late morning rather than lunchtime). Also, I noticed that the other people there just had that Yoga “look.” You know the one I’m talking about: Long, braided hair, no makeup, and SERENITY written all over their faces with indelible rainbow marker, which – now that I think about it – should have been a red flag. The Flow Yoga instructor turned out to be the same guy who taught the other class. He greeted some of the people in the room by name, and he soon had us all stretching and bending and assuming some of the more basic poses like Downward-Facing Dog and Chair pose. It was a breeze.

And then something went horribly, horribly wrong.

We had just come out of the Plank pose – breathing in as we looked up toward the ceiling and then breathing out as we assumed the butt-high DF Dog pose. “Raise your right leg up behind you,” the instructor cooed. So far so good. “Now bend it at the knee, so your right foot falls toward your left hip.” I had to look around at the other folks to see exactly what he meant by this, but I figured it out fairly quickly. Finding my balance thusly was a bit challenging, but in a peacefully exhilarating kind of way, the way I imagine Mahatma Gandhi felt taking a cold shower.

Then the instructor said, “Now grab your right ankle behind you with your left hand.”

I’m sorry?

Just turning my head to check what the Yoga goddess to my right was doing was hard enough, let alone removing one of my main pillars of balance from the floor. But she was doing just that – balancing on one foot and one hand while contortioning the rest of her body into a completely unnatural (and possibly unbiblical) shape. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I’ll just wait quietly until this pose passes, I thought to myself, not wanting to cause a scene by actually attempting the maneuver. I mean, how much worse could it get?

“Now back to Downward-Facing Dog and into Warrior Two pose,” the instructor said. Phew. THOSE I could do.

“Now into Airbus on the Hudson.”

Okay, so that’s not exactly what he said, but it may as well have been. I kid you not: My classmates were actually balancing on their hands alone, knees tucked under their armpits.

“Now Inverted Gorilla with Athletes Foot Lashed to a Hot-Air Balloon. Good, Maya.”

At which point I simply sat on my haunches and resigned myself to being the lone squatter in a room full of levitating pretzels. After a couple minutes of this, I realized that it was not going to get any better and that I had two options: I could either sit there wearing the Dunce Cap of Oneness Failure for the next twenty minutes until class was over, or I could excuse myself as discreetly as possible. Needless to say, I chose option 2, wincing as I hastily rolled up the Yoga mat, then grabbing my shoes and socks and heading toward the door.

Apparently, you’re supposed to bow to your instructor any time you leave a Yoga class having lost 95% of your dignity less than halfway through. Who knew? As he bowed at me with sorrowful eyes and went to hold the door open, my arms were so full of stuff that the most I could manage was a sort of cringing nod of my head. So, I figure my karma has officially been flushed down the toilet to boot.

Be sure to turn in next Wednesday, when you’ll hear Nicole say, “But I’m sure I wasn’t Ivan the Terrible in a past life!”

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

'tude tuesday: on reading time (or the lack thereof)

So, I have running lists of books that have been recommended to me. I have lists on paper, lists on the computer and lists in my head. The problem is, I’ve turned into the polar opposite of an Evelyn Wood Speed Reading School Graduate (which would be…what exactly? Hopefully, you get my drift).

I don’t know if I’ve actually started to read more slowly or if the time I am able to devote to reading has just diminished dramatically due to life’s relentless schedule. I do know that the ratio of waiting list books to books I’ve actually read has increased a gazillion-fold in recent years. So, maybe I’ll have to name a Year of Reading Dangerously come some future New Year’s Eve.

Anyway, while full of attitude yesterday about all the authors I’ve been hoping to read but haven’t (Kate Morton, Bill Bryson, Jhumpa Lahiri, etc., etc., etc.) I found myself in two bookstores. The first was Bookman’s, a longtime Flagstaff institution and gathering spot, where you can trade your old books for new/used ones and find some real treasures along the way. One evening back in the early nineties I was hanging out in the poetry section when a guy asked me if I knew where they kept Robert Graves’ books. I didn’t know, but I wish I had. Maybe that way I could have given Michael Stipe of R.E.M. a little tour of the store and then the town while we hung out and discussed our views on life. I could have asked him about his inspiration for Fall on Me (my favorite R.E.M. song of all time – and his, too, according to this old Unplugged recording), and I could have told him that the first boy I ever really kissed had a big R.E.M. poster on his bedroom wall. Of course, once I realized who the guy in Bookman’s was, I got all tongue tied instead (which was probably just as well), and there went my fifteen-second brush with fame. The next day it was all over the local grapevine that he’d been in town.

My next stop was the local B&N where I didn’t find exactly what I was looking for. I did, however, find a really cheap hardback copy of Special Topics in Calamity Physics, which has been on my list ever since it came out and started that whole debate in the writing community about author photos and whether or not it's easier to get published/marketed if you're drop-dead gorgeous - especially if you've just graduated from pre-school when your debut novel comes out.

Before I dive into the Pessl novel, though, I need to finish Messud’s book. I’m in the home stretch and still, for the life of me, can’t figure out how this became a National Bestseller. Maybe you have to be a New Yorker to get it. Then, I plan to read Tammy’s Two Rivers. So, maybe Calamity Physics will have to wait just a bit. I mean, how long can it take me to finish one book and then read another? I figure I’ll easily be cracking open my new find by the time grandkids arrive.

Friday, January 23, 2009

photog friday (or, there she goes with the blog format thing again)

I'm going to try using the blog for some photography talk on Fridays. Nice way to keep in touch with my ever-expanding picture collection, I figure.

It occurs to me that I very rarely post pictures of myself here (or anywhere, for that matter), and it's because I very rarely like pictures of myself. But here's one anyway, because, while it's no longer the year of "Try It," it is "The Year of Writing Dangerously" (and, for me, this counts as the latter):

I kind of like it, actually. My dad took it over Labor Day weekend when I was manning (womanning?) my booth at the County Fair. It's one of those weekends of my life I will likely never forget, mainly due to the confluence of extremely stressful/world-altering events that were all going on at the same time in my personal and professional life.

It's a bit blurry (which is maybe one of the reasons I like it), and my hairstyle's changed since. But I don't know. Maybe it's the conversation I had with an old friend about martial arts last night - how that type of discipline can break you open in necessary ways, can give you a perspective from which you can start to see that you've actually made some progress along the path toward betterment. Man, that sounds cheesy. Hopefully, I'll figure out how to say it better someday.

Anyway, something about this picture makes me want to turn around and look at the path behind me. It makes me want to walk up to the gal smiling in her cute western shirt and say, "Right now, you're acting like it's all going to be okay. Keep doing that. Because you're right."

Thursday, January 22, 2009

fancy buns and cool eye news

To quote an oft used Internet phrase: Wow. (Hey, Honey? All I was trying to do was vacuum up some dust bunnies under the table, and now the darn thing's clogged!)

I owned a rabbit once. I was in grad school, and I kept her in one of those collapsible dog kennels in my rented, upstairs bedroom of a tiny yellow cottage in the country. She was a dwarf lop (or some such thing) and she used to thump incessantly on the wood floor in the middle of the night. She also liked to eat paint and drag the dog kennel across said wood floor with her teeth, until I'd say, "Shut UP already." We made each other nervous, to say the least.

In other, totally unrelated news, Mama has a new set of eyes. I was actually hoping to have LASIK done, since I'm pretty much legally blind when I'm not wearing my glasses or contacts. Unfortunately, I was told that because my prescription is so severe and due to the shape of my eyeballs (which apparently resemble eggs lying on their sides, pointy ends out) the doc would have to laser off so much "material" (read "cornea") that I would actually lose contrast in my vision. Yikes.

"But would my eyelids droop, since there wouldn't be so much eyeball there to hold them up?" I wanted to know. At which point the technician just stared at me and said, "Uh, no. Those eyelid muscles pretty much work on their own."

So, I was bummed. I've been in hard or RGP (rigid gas permeable) contacts now for over twenty years, and I was really looking forward to the miracle of vision without corrective devices. No such luck, BUT...

Enter Hybrid Contact Lenses!! They're basically soft lenses with RGP centers, which means they should, in theory, be much more comfortable. Also, I have 20/20 vision on one eye while wearing them - and darned close to 20/20 in the other eye. Now I'm just crossing my fingers that they stay as comfortable and clear as they are at the moment.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

w.o.k. wednesday (or, picasa had me at hello)

It's Whiskers-on-Kittens Wednesday again already, which means you get to be subjected to my expounding on one of my newest favorite things.

So, I've been having image anxiety lately. Not about my own image which is, as they say, what it is (i.e. sometimes meh, sometimes rather J. Garner-ish (if frequent, random comments by strangers are to be believed), and sometimes (to moi, at least) a little Krypt Keeper-ish - 5 a.m. mirror check after being up grading papers until midnight, anyone?).

Ah, January...

No, what's been making me lose little bytes of sleep here and there ever since my laptop started acting out a few months ago are those literally thousands of digital photos I have stored on the hard drive. Not a good idea, I know, especially since I'm shooting with a 10 mp D80, and most of those files are still in their original size. At least I don't have any RAW files on there, but still. I know they've been slowing down the Dell's performance significantly, and if the system ever had a major hotflash, all those precious images could be toast.

t. greenwood's premiere reading of Two Rivers in Flagstaff

Now, I'm not a total butthead. I have been backing up the files, to an extent: I've been a (mostly) happy Shutterfly customer for year, and I've found it to be an easy way to organize, share and print photos (I even made a leather-bound photobook for my dad's birthday a few years back, and it turned out really well). I also have a few jumpdrives that are packed to the gills. Still, I was fairly disorganized about backing stuff up, and most of the original files were still on my hard drive, because Shutterfly does not do high-resolution downloads (which means you can't pull the original files back off their site for editing in, say, Photoshop after you have uploaded them to Shutterfly). Result: Total virtual clutter (e-clutter? iclutter?) on the 'puter, and while I'm hardly FlyLady, I do grow less tolerant of unnecessary clutter as the offspring grow.

Happy 23rd Birthday to my guy, Zzari!

So, the hunt was on for an online storage site that would allow me to upload and store lots and lots of images and would also allow me to download the full-res, original files for frequent Photoshop playdates before re-uploading the revised files. I didn't care much about editing features of the prospective site, since these features are generally pretty limited and I'm a PS groupie at heart. So, I hunted and I gathered, checking out sites like Fotki (which looks pretty cool) and Carbonite (which has gotten great reviews, but is more like an entire system backup tool - and which I may end up using anyway).

Congrats on your new family, little Belle!

Enter Picasa. Not only is it free (unless you want a ton of storage space - which I do), but it automatically uploads images from your hard drive and organizes them in a logical way. Plus, you can pull those original files any time. Also, since it's Google's baby, chances are it's not going to go belly-up overnight (and I'm not going to wake up one morning to find that all my images have vanished into the ether). I still won't use it as my only backup, but I'm pretty secure with Google since I use it daily for email/browsing and since my employer has recently switched over to Gmail as well.

So, I'm sold, and I'm sleeping better at night, too. Which means I may start to resemble the Krypt Keeper a little a less and the female half of Bennifer a little more. (Hey, a girl can dream, can't she?)
What's not to love?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

attitude at altitude tuesday

It's Attitude at Altitude Tuesday, Folks - where you get to hear me opine from 7,000 feet on anything that contributes to me having a big 'ol attitude (good, bad or ugly). Let us begin:

Bad character - my own or anyone else's. It ticks me off when someone gets the chance - over and over - to simply do right, and they choose to do wrong anyway. A bit of a vague "thing" this is, I know, but it's true. It especially ticks me off when I realize I've chosen to do the wrong thing (i.e. getting whiney about a situation rather than getting productive and doing something about it, thus becoming part of the problem rather than part of the solution).

I was driving home from town in the late afternoon the other day and was treated to one of those cotton candy-and-violets winter skies that are peculiar to the month of January here at Arizona altitude. The 4Runner's radio was tuned in to a country station (unusual lately, since I've been more inclined toward Thousand Foot Krutch, Nickelback (Chad, sigh, yada yada), etc.). Anyway, this song was on the radio. I kinda like it, and it kinda speaks to the whole character thing.

Tuesday 'tude over and out.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

whiskers-on-kittens wednesday

I was also thinking of titling this post "Nicki's Favorite Things," but it just seemed to be a too-blatant Oprah rip-off.

So, here's the deal. I'm already figuring out that keeping up with the blog is going to be a bit of a challenge during this Year of Writing Dangerously. So, I figured I'd try to carve out some kind of format, little by little.

And I'm well aware that most people don't give a rat's patootie about my favorite things, but it might help me keep in touch with my itsy corner of the Interwebs. So, there.

Oh, and in case your brain hasn't yet found that file of origin for the phrase "Whiskers on kittens," think Julie Andrews. Think nun. Think the vast green hills of Austria. Think Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens... sung in her inimitable voice. Got it? Good.

In fact, I think I'll kick off this first installment of WOK Wednesday by taking us right there, right now:


Sunday, January 04, 2009

food for sunday thought

I came across an interesting signature line recently:

"Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future."

Turns out, it's a pretty well known saying, but I'd never heard it. The pithiness impresses.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

the year of writing dangerously

...may not sound like much of a motto. Maybe it's more of a theme. But I've decided it's going to be the overarching challenge to myself for 2009.

That may mean I blog more, or it may mean just the opposite as other projects pull me away from AWAAR a bit. I don't know yet how it's all going to shake down.

What I do know is that this year of writing dangerously begins with an edit, which I am in the thick of (of which I am in the thick?) as I type. I know this book and these characters so well at this point, and it never ceases to amaze me that they can both continue to change significantly each time I go back in for a rewrite.

I've got another book on the back burner as well, one I've been working on in fits and spurts throughout the past year. And, who knows? Maybe I'll even take another crack at NaNoWriMo in November.

I plan to read a lot as well, since I've had so many great-sounding books recommended to me by friends old and new this year. But I intend for the writing to be at the forefront. We'll see how it goes.

So, the burning question: What's your motto for 2009?