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the everyman memoirs

The official blog of author Tali Nay.
JUN
25

Blizzard Season

I grew up in a small town, and Dairy Queen was really the only food establishment we had. This explains why I continue to have more affection for Dairy Queen, even in my adult life, than the average person. Dilly Bars, dipped cones, Peanut Buster Parfaits, and, of course, Blizzards. One of my favorite lines (yes, authors have favorite lines) in my most recent book is when I say that employees will work harder if companies install a Dairy Queen Blizzard machine in the break room. I was kidding, but only kind of.

The Dairy Queen closest to me now isn't located in a place that I have much (or any) frequency to be, so Blizzards are few and far between these days. But last week I made a point to drive over and order one to kick off the summer. Aside from the fact that my go-to favorite flavor doesn't appear to be on the menu any longer (sometimes life seems like a series of things we grow attached to that we must inevitably find ways to live without when they are discontinued), it was as delicious as I remember.

Nostalgic, too. Clearly. It's worth noting that there is no longer a Dairy Queen in my hometown. After some franchise dispute about fry sauce (or so I heard), it was replaced by another establishment. I still think of it as there though, and every time I'm at home looking over at the little building hanging over the creek, literally supported by a rather precarious configuration stilts that struck me as questionable even 30 years ago, I smile. And immediately crave some ice cream. Happy summer to you all! May yours include a vacation, a couple of fabulous beach reads, and all the ice cream you can justify consuming.

JUN
05

The Best Kind of To-do List

Last time I talked about reading, which I confessed I didn't devote as much time to as I wish I did. I have to split this time with writing, see, but that means I don't devote as much time to writing as I wish I did either. Especially in the early months after one of my books comes out, I become a bit lax. (Although Yuppie came out in October, soooooo I'm not sure I can keep using this as an excuse.)

Sending out a survey related to my next book project has re-energized me, and I spent last weekend writing several pages. It was a long weekend because of Memorial Day, and I had added three check boxes next to the "write" item on my to-do list, meaning I was going to write each of the three days. The best part was, by the time the third day rolled around, the only thing left on the list was the third "write" check box. In case this is in any way unclear, what I'm saying is that the only thing on my to-do list for Monday was WRITE! It was truly a writer's dream.

I'm pleased with the direction this new project is taking, and if it ends up being about the same length as most of my other books, then I'm about 30% done with the initial draft of the manuscript. And so progress is happening, even if it will be a long time before I get another chance to write for three days in a row. I'll take what I can get.

MAY
19

What Are You Reading?

They say what a person reads says a lot about them. I've certainly learned a great deal since becoming an author about reading preferences and how unique they truly are. I'll be at an author event right next to the person selling what seems like the weirdest, most uber niche-based book there, and yet I'll watch people walk past my booth and buy the weird, uber niche-based book. It takes all kinds of readers. And all kinds of books.

I don't read as much as I used to, at least not since I started writing. A bit sad to admit this, but I've become that person who really only reads for a few minutes before bed. I always really look forward to it, but the bottom line is that by that point in the evening, I'm tired. Like, really tired. And not just because I will have already taken some sort of sleep aid. So after only a few pages, I can no longer stay awake. I'm not proud of this, meaning I actually like myself better when I read more.

The above picture represents a recent rare weekend at a charming B&B up in the mountains where there really wasn't anything to do besides read or play checkers in the parlor. (There wasn't even a TV in the room! Which tells you how often I find myself at a B&B in the mountains.) That was sort of my plan though. To rest and read, also write. But mostly read.

I've gone from preferring fiction in my youth to preferring non-fiction as an adult, but I did have a rare novel on my Kindle for this particular weekend. I haven't finished it, still, which goes to show you just how much I prefer non-fiction (the physical book in the picture is non-fiction and I finished in no time). And yes, whatever it may say about me, I read the People magazine. It has for longer than I can remember been the only magazine I pay to subscribe to. A girl's gotta stay informed on trends, after all. Even if she's about 2 months behind in reading them and always shares celebrity gossip with friends only to have them respond that it's old news.

Whatever reading material you keep on your nightstand or bring with you to mountain B&B retreats, I hope it enriches your life (I'm looking at you, People), offers you solace and inspiration, and that you never stop turning to the written word for the escape/nourishment/laugh/knowledge you need. And if you see me at an author event, please, for the love of all that is good, stop and buy a book!

APR
30

Concert for One

I was traveling for work this past week, and one of the event speakers did this (super uncomfortable) thing where he would ask members of the audience to stand up and share very personal things...in front of hundreds of their business colleagues. Now, I don't recommend this. And even though some of the insights that were ultimately shared did border near truth and forward-propelling insight, I'm not sure it's worth putting a person through such public personal scrutiny.

I bring this up only because his first question to the first person called up on stage has stuck with me: "Tell us something that no one else knows and that you are ashamed of." See what I mean about this maybe not being the kind of thing you want to answer in front of hundreds of people? I wanted to be prepared in case I was brought up on stage (the horror), and about the only thing I could think of that truly no one in the audience knew, and something not overly intimate or revealing, was that I was a talented violinist and yet decided to quit playing violin.

Clearly this is not a super critical or important thing, and I doubt it has had much impact on the overall course of my life, but I think about it a lot. Not in a haunting way, necessarily, but in a way that makes me feel sad for neglecting to nurture a gift I feel I was given. At the time it was too much with all the things my teenage self had going on, and by that I mean the PRACTICING was too much. I wanted violin to be something I played when I felt the need to, when it struck me, not because my parents required me to...every day. So when my saintly violin teacher died and the only other alternative was a rather mean lady a few towns over who expected much more in terms of effort and improvement, it was, as they say, the straw that broke the back. I was OUT.

I felt good about the choice at the time, which is to say I felt relieved to have it off my plate, but now it sits there as this thing from my past that I gave up on. This thing I actually had a talent for. I feel like I have this on pretty good authority, because when my conscience got the better of me and I eventually agreed to ONE LESSON with the mean lady, she proclaimed to my siblings afterward, "Well, Tali is the one with the talent." But this is the crux, the thing my writer mind can't figure out, because is this seeming obligation to pursue those things at which we are gifted more important than the need to pursue those things we are truly passionate and joyful about?

Honestly, there are things, many things, I enjoy more than playing violin. So I feel overall pretty good about where I've ended up. That said, I may never shake the possibility that violin was the thing I could have been the best at. It's why I still think about it. It's why I considered sharing this with hundreds of business colleagues over breakfast. It's why I purchased this painting over all the others when at an arts festival on last week's trip. I think it's OK to have things like this occasionally occupy our mental energy, so feel free to answer the question for yourself, and just be glad no one's asking you to do it in front a full ballroom.

In case anyone's curious, the speaker also asked us to stand up if we worked with anyone who we wish we didn't, which is also an interesting thing to ask a room full of people who are surrounded by THEIR CO-WORKERS, BOSSES, and COMPANY EXECUTIVES. I can neither confirm nor deny whether I stood up, but let me just say that I believe in being honest. I'll leave you with that, so picture me serenading you out and onto your next adventure, the one you're choosing because you love it.

APR
17

Carlsbad Flower Fields and a Survey

This is one of those times that I quiet the inner voices of frustration and panic over how ridiculously expensive it is to live in San Diego County and consider that the financial premium is sometimes worth it. Because it's just so damn beautiful here. The ocean, the weather, and, more specifically, the Flower Fields in Carlsbad that bloom each spring.

For those of us who live here and take time to notice, we can see the evolution of the fields coming together over the entire year. I don't know much about flowers, BUT I do know it sure looks like the overall maintenance of the fields is a large undertaking. And there's nothing quite like seeing the fields in full bloom, which they were this weekend, looking nothing short of spectacular. If you're in the area, don't miss this. If you're planning a visit in the next few weeks, don't miss it either. If you're in any other category, put this on your bucket list for an April in your future.

Easter is a lovely time to reflect, not just about the religious significance if it holds that for you, but also about spring and re-birth in general, new paths or projects that can leave us refreshed. I'm continually working on myself and my own next steps, both small and large, and one of those is to continue plugging away at my newest writing project. If you're at all interested in contributing to that project, I'm currently looking for perspectives from women...those with children and those without. Click the link below that applies to you if you have 3 minutes to take a brief survey. Your anonymous comments may end up making it into my next book!!

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/PTNNQR3 Children

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/PTGJWQQ No Children

MAR
20

Make the Bread

Remember that book, Make the Bread, Buy the Butter? Yeah, I never read it either. Supposedly it walks you through those things you're better off making yourself (nutrition-wise?, cost-wise?, complexity-wise?) and those you should just get at the store. Since I didn't read it, the only piece of advice I took away from it was what I gleaned from the title. Even that has taken years for me to implement, but among my list of culinary items to tackle in 2022 (including lasagna, bread pudding, homemade pasta, and a bakery-worthy layer cake) is to make bread.

So this brief post is really to chronicle that I'm at the point in my bread quest where I've moved from plain artisan loaves to a jalapeno cheddar variety that turned out fabulously. Looking forward to future varieties, and to hopefully getting the loaves to rise just a LITTLE higher. But really, I'm susprised how easy the bread is to make, and really from just 4 ingredients. I've heard certain ovens have a "proofing" setting to make bread-rising easier, but, come on, I'm a regular person. With a regular oven. I'll settle for a sunny spot on the dining room table.

Really I should be spending all this kitchen time writing, or at the very least reading, but I'm enjoying the change of scene. And the toasted cheese sandwiches.

MAR
06

Popcorn Popping on the Apricot Tree

There's a children's song that likens apricot blossoms to popping popcorn, and I have to say, it really does kind of look like that. This is my first blossom season as the owner of an apricot tree, and the whole thing is pretty charming. I now own three different types of fruit trees, and it's interesting how it makes me more aware of the seasons. Or maybe it's the passage of time. Or maybe it's that the passage of time is now more formally segmented in these seasonal cycles. Don't get me wrong, fruit trees are a bit tricky to figure out, and I'm still learning. But overall it adds a new element to the year based on where the trees and their crops are at any given time.

My lemon tree produces fruit all year round. Meaning the tree is covered with lemons in various stages of growing, from tiny green bulbs to medium-sized fruit gradually turning yellow, to fully-grown lemons that are ready to pick. There's less pressure with a lemon tree, in that you always have what you need when you need it. And when you pick one, there's another one growing right behind it. My orange tree produces throughout the year as well, but it's more in batches, where the oranges tend to grow at the same rate, meaning they're ready at the same time. And then there's the apricot tree, which works all year to produce one harvest. It's one and done, perfect for making a big batch of jam to enjoy throughout the year, but it does mean more pressure, in that if anything goes wrong, you're not going to get any fruit and will have to wait a whole year before getting another chance.

I would guess you can categorize almost everything in life as being like one of these trees. I think of writing like a lemon tree, in that there's no one single right time for it. It happens all year round, anytime, as you need it or as it finds you. There's no season for writing, per se, and I think that's what we could say about any of our hobbies. They fill the time when we have it and provide everything from escape to relief to satisfaction. For things that require more time, work, and preparation and ultimately produce a single brief but amazing result, these are like apricot trees. I'm working on one right now myself, and have been for months. It's something I've wanted to make happen for many years and involves multiple parties and schedules and quite a few logistics that need to align. I'll only get one shot at it, and although the result will be amazing and completely worth it, it's not something I'll get to experience again. I guess that's what makes apricot trees so special.

One last note about fruit trees. Their seasons remind me that while nothing is permanent (the winters of our lives turn into springs), the pattern certainly is. Meaning getting through a metaphorical winter doesn't mean there isn't another one coming behind it--one that could be even more devastating. But springs truly do follow every winter, so I'll leave you with the lyric of one of my Grandpa's favorite songs: "Deep in December, it's nice to remember, although you know the snow will follow. Deep in December, it's nice to remember the fire of September that made us mellow. Deep in December, our hearts should remember and follow."

FEB
19

Catching Up

I didn't realize an entire month had gone by since my last post, but before we discuss anything else, we simply must discuss this chicken. Er, this not chicken. As a vegetarian, I've been thrilled with all the fake meats that have become so prevalent (and dare I say...popular?), but chicken is notably harder to imitate than ground beef. That said, I was pretty excited about KFC getting in the Beyond Meat game. Admittedly, I was a teensy bit less excited after eating it, only because I guess I had hoped somehow that the texture would be more chicken-like, but coated in that delicious coating and dipped in a tangy sauce, it's another solid non-meat option when opting for fast food. (Word to the wise, 6 of these "nuggets" are MUCH more filling than 6 standard chicken nuggets. And in more wise words, Quorn has my favorite meatless nuggets. Try them if you haven't.)

What a month it's been. From fake meats to making my first-ever lasagna (with, you guessed it, Beyond Meat!), there have been two work trips (including a complimentary upgrade to a $1900 per night villa the likes of which I will never find myself in ever again), one family trip, a new at-home work station, a private showing of a record-breaking $1 Million dollar pearl, multiple meet-ups with dear friends from my hometown, a new kitchen table (it only took two of us an hour and a half to put it together), my first runs both on a treadmill and in sub-30-degree temperatures, a probably related new running injury, and, naturally, as much Olympics viewing as I've been able to fit in.

All this said, I've done NO WRITING over this same time period. I've got it on my list for this blessed long weekend, and I'm looking forward to getting back into it. It's always a bit hard when a new book comes out to let the launch mode you've been so focused on go and to move back into writing mode. Especially when you're starting a new project, it can take a while for things to start cranking. But just from the stray hours here and there while preparing for the launch of Yuppie where I did manage to buckle down and write something, I'm already almost 20% done with what MIGHT end up being my next book. So I'm excited to see where this new little manuscript baby might take me. I'm equally excited to see how much progress they've made on fake chicken by the time it's done.

JAN
22

A Return to Author Events

I've done many an author event in my day, various festivals or community nights where markets or bookstores feature a group of authors for an afternoon, an evening, a couple hours here or there. These events see the authors setting up tables with flyers, bookmarks, and, of course, books to sell. I immediately loved them when I started 10 years ago, because they made me feel so official. Like a real author. Over time they got harder, mostly because I started to learn how difficult it is to sell books. Picture readers perusing a parking lot full of author tables, where they mull over everything from poetry to mystery to romance to self-help to literary novel to historical non-fiction to delightful everyman memoir. With such selection (and with every reader coming into such events with his or her own specific genre preferences), I can tell you that the odds of these readers selecting YOUR book to purchase are low. So I got used to ending these events having sold almost no books. (In some cases, selling actually no books.) In short, it started to feel discouraging.

And so I took a break, which turned into a longer break, which turned into totally being out of the habit, which turned into a global pandemic where events didn't happen anyway, which all turned into a new attitude when it came to participating in the Sunset Market's Author Night this past week in Oceanside. After so long without doing an event like this (and especially after so long without even having the option), it felt fun again. It made me happy to be out seeing people, talking to them about my books, and to be meeting other local authors and writing professionals. And to my delight, I sold some books too! More than I thought I would.

These events are of course full of you, the author, giving your spiel over and over again to those that stop at your table. I usually start by asking if the person likes to read, giving them an out if they don't. I then ask what kinds of books they like to read, again giving them an out if they say something like "exclusively sci-fi" or "straight-up erotica." But if they like the delightful everyman memoir, or if they say they are open to whatever catches their eye, I explain that I tell stories about life, and I walk them through each of the themes of my five books. I can 100% tell you that there is nothing as satisfying (or shocking) to an author as hearing a stranger who has stopped at your booth, listened to your spiel, and stood there reading the back covers of your books say, "I'd like to buy this one." I always think there must be some mistake. You want to buy my book?? Because, again, this scenario is so rare. For them to have picked your book. For them to reach into their wallet and put money down for this thing that is not like art or jewelry, this thing they can't simply look at and know they will love, this thing that is, when you get right down to it, a gamble. As an author, I will always be grateful for those readers who choose to bet on me. And I'm looking forward to more author events in the near future. I'll hope to see you there!

JAN
01

For Joan

I'm of course still reeling from yesterday's news of Betty White--it's safe to say it put a damper on the entire country's NYE festivities--but while on my Christmas vacation, I was quite sad to learn about the passing of Joan Didion.

There's just something about her. A coolness, an authenticity. As far as writers go, she was one of the real ones. I don't even really know what I mean by that, except that she was able to make her living that way, and she was able to put so much of herself (and California) in her nonfiction. I heard her described recently as "California Gothic" and it made me smile.

When I moved to New York, I got rid of almost all of the books I owned...along with everything else, of course. New York opened up a new chapter for me, one where I not only had less space, but also less income to do things like buy books. Yet Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking is one of the few books I kept during that time. It is such a unique and dare I say accurate portrayal of grief and how the mind processes it (or doesn't). But here's something else worth mentioning about me and books, because even those that I kept, even those relatively few that remain in my possession (I never really got back into the habit of buying books once my financial situation once again allowed it), I very rarely read a book I own more than once. Not sure why, I just don't find myself going back to books once I've read them. My exception, however, is The Year of Magical Thinking, which I have read many times, including in 2021. To me, that is significant. It makes not only this book significant to me, but Joan Didion as well.

It's hard to read The Year of Magical Thinking and not feel completely tragic about Joan's loss of her husband, though these kinds of losses befall certain of us every day. And that it all happened while their only daughter was in the hospital experiencing serious health complications. And that this daughter would go on to die herself not too long after, leading Joan to write the also-tragic Blue Nights. And so I'm sad for this world's loss, but can't help but feel a tinge of happiness for the reunion now happening in another.

In Joan's own words, goodbye to all that. And onto a new year for us. One that starts with nothing but blank pages for us to fill, should we be fortunate enough to get that chance.

DEC
11

O Christmas Tree

It's a bit hard to explain why this is the first Christmas tree I've ever had in all these years of on-my-own adult life. Except it's not. Hard to explain. Because my first house in California was a little beach bungalow that really didn't have the space. Before that I was in studio apartments in Manhattan, first on the Upper East Side and then in Harlem, that didn't have the space either. Before that I was in Cleveland, and while I did have the space, I always chose not to since I didn't have any decorations and always traveled home for the actual holiday anyway.

And that is how it's finally come together in a place where I not only have the space, but have also over the years accumulated more than enough materials to decorate an entire tree. When you're a gemologist, it's true that people like to gift you anything gemmy, or at the very least tell you when IKEA is featuring a line of gem-shaped Christmas ornaments so you can drive over and buy all they have. And I rather love my gem tree, complete with gem-shaped lights! It makes me happy and smells so delicious that I spend at least a few minutes each morning and evening curled on the couch just appreciating the pine scent.

At a time when the world is crazy and there certain aspects of my life that seem somewhat less than settled, it helps to focus on gratitude. For this season, for belief, for those who love me, spoil me, and help me on a daily basis. For employment and family and health and beautiful sunny days. For citrus trees, Tiffany-blue walls, and a living room that smells like a pine tree...at least for a couple more weeks. May you each find similar joy from the blessings in your own lives. Merry Christmas! And if you need any last-minute gifts, buy books!

NOV
21

How It's Going

It's been a while! But I wanted to report on how the launch of Yuppie is going, mostly because this was the first "virtual" launch I've done. And by virtual, I don't even mean that I organized some sort of Zoom-esque book reading, because that sounded awful. And complicated. So my traditional book signing invites that get mailed out were replaced by general announcements, giving readers the chance to order autographed copies of Yuppie that would ship directly to them.

I have to say, it's been quite delightful to see the names come across of books for me to sign, and I've enjoyed the process of signing, packing, and shipping them all over the land. And really, I mean it. I've shipped books to New York, Ohio, Montana, Oregon, Washington, Indiana, Texas, Utah, Idaho, Canada, New Jersey, Nevada, Arizona, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Washington DC, Virginia, and, of course, many to various California locations. I've become such a frequent visitor at the post office that they know me if not by name, then by the blue Scotch shipping tape I wrap all the books in. "Do you WRITE books?" one of the employees finally asked me. "Because I see your stuff everywhere," he continued, referring to the signature blue wrapping. "Yes!" I replied. "Yes I do!"

Of course, I should mention that getting people to order this way (by actually taking action to request their signed copies) has been harder than I thought, meaning less people have done it than I hoped. I figured placing an order on a computer is much easier than driving to an event and sitting through a reading and waiting in line, but there's something about those events, I guess. Being there, taking your friends with you, seeing the author, going to lunch after and making a day of it, etc. And once at an event, you have a pretty captive audience, in that they're all going to buy books. So that's been a bit disappointing. But considering how much of an author's sales that book stores take after a signing, financially I've ended up ahead of where I would normally be at this point. So it's all good, and overall it's been a fun change-up to the way I usually launch books.

If you haven't ordered your autographed copy yet, you most definitely still can! There's some blue Scotch shipping wrap with your name on it. (And with a few more orders, I think I just might get my own parking space at the post office.)

OCT
09

A Cuppie of Yuppie

 

And then there were 5!! That's right my dear, small band of readers. My fifth book, Yuppie, is launching this month after much deliberation and back and forth regarding what to do about this pandemic. Since there is exactly nothing to be done about the pandemic, the book is launching anyway, although without the usual fanfare and in-person events and signings I so love doing. Admittedly, this is a huge bummer. As an author, these events and signings are such highlights for me. They also help me sell books. In case this is in any way unclear to you, BOOKS ARE HARD TO SELL. They are exponentially harder to sell in a global pandemic. And so I hope that those of you who may have attended one of the signings will still choose to purchase a book.

This book focuses on my young professional years, answering a question that absolutely none of you asked: what is it really like to work in business? From start-ups to Corporate America to non-profits, I attempt to answer this question, at least from my own experiences. There are certainly benefits to going the business route, and on most days, I do find satisfaction in the work I do. But there are also downsides, and so also on most days, I find myself wishing I had become a teacher.

Since I'm not doing any in-person readings, I thought I would attempt to read a few excerpts here in case anyone wants to listen to a bit of background on Yuppie and, more importantly, get a glimpse of my stellar Halloween decorations. I have no idea if the video will correctly post here, but for any who make it to the end and hear the slip-up that inspired the title of this blog entry, enjoy!! A cuppie of Yuppie for each of you this fall!

SEP
25

Here for the Snacks

My partner in Disney crime and I just completed a triumphant return to adult Disney-ing after a year and a half absence. Everything (with the exception perhaps of mobile ordering on all the food) is fabulous as always, from the rides to the characters to the snacks. Snacking in particular is something we're very good at when at Disneyland, and it always amazes me just how many options one has when considering food in the parks. Because it's on my mind and because the topics on this blog are entirely up to me, I've put Disney dining into the following buckets:

Level 1 = Bring all your food in with you, in the form of sandwiches, granola bars, and carrot sticks packed into various plastic containers. I see these people sitting at tables as I eat my beignets, passing homemade pasta salad between them, and it makes me a little sad. That they aren't eating the beignets. It's really half the fun, the snacking. Maybe even 60% of it.

Level 2 = Bring almost all your food in with you, but eat one meal a day in the park. This is what my family used to do when we were kids, at least from what I can remember. As much as I wanted to eat the park food, I do remember feeling bad that we spent ALL the money my parents handed us one night to go get our dinners, knowing that it was probably more than they wanted to spend on a single meal. Note that at this level you're still not eating the beignets.

Level 3 = Eat meals only in the park but don't buy any snacks. This approach is purely functional, the kind that says "we have to eat to sustain ourselves but do not need any extra treats or sweets." This is a very sad and beignet-less way to go through life.

Level 4 = Eat some meals and snacks in the park and supplement with snacks brought from home. I appreciate the effort of those at this level to experience some of what the park has to offer in the way of food, including beignets, but to also implement some sort of budget cap. Still, it must be said, if something is worth doing, it's worth doing right. Plus, if you give a mouse a beignet, he's going to want a mint julep. I'm sure you see where this is going.

Level 5 = Eat all meals in the park and get a snack every hour. This is the level where the beignets and mint juleps are followed by churros which are followed by a corn dog which is followed by ice cream sundaes which are followed by shawarma falafel wraps which are followed by more churros which are followed by Dole Whips which are followed by more ice cream which are followed by burgers and fries which are followed by a cheese-filled pretzel which is followed by more churros which are followed by all the candy you get at the Oogie Boogie Bash. It goes without saying that this adds hundreds of dollars to your trip and leaves you comfortable in nothing but sweat pants, but I'm convinced there's no better way to go.

"I can't think of anything I didn't eat," is the last thing spoken between us before we left the park on Day 3, and surely there isn't a truer measure of success. Until next time, Disney. Long live Level 5!

SEP
12

Welcome to my Laboratory

What you're looking at is chicken. Vegan chicken, that is. It's a recipe I recently got from my sister-in-law that has become a regular staple for me. It requires ingredients like Vital Wheat Gluten and Nutritional Yeast (both of which I had previously never heard of), although what I can't get over is the way the recipe produces a dough...a dough that then gets steamed into a solid state and somehow becomes these, for lack of a better term, blobs. Honestly, when I'm making it I can't help but feel like I'm some kind of scientist in a laboratory, you know, just growing chicken blobs from dough. As you do.

I've oft lamented the fact that I can't really create anything with my hands. I don't know how to make stuff. Art, crafts, homemade gifts. I don't have any skills that translate into creating anything that anyone would want. Or consider particularly well done. Writing really is my only creative vehicle, and on most days, this is enough. But on other days, I yearn to CREATE something from nothing. So I get a weird enjoyment out of creating these chicken blobs.

I turned my home into a laboratory again this weekend by attempting my first-ever batch of homemade mosquito repellant. Mosquitos really aren't an issue here in Southern California, and in all time I've lived in my house, I haven't had a problem. Imagine my surprise when a sneaky (and greedy) lone mosquito proceeded to bite me 10 times over the course of a 30-minute window while I sat in the backyard reading. My reaction was swift and unyielding, in that I am TAKING BACK MY YARD. It's now full of citronella plants, and I crushed a bunch of leaves yesterday and spent hours brewing my homemade concoction. I won't say it smells great (it doesn't), but I did sit outside yesterday for an hour, surrounded by my plants and covered in my homemade goop, and no mosquito dared approach. Creation at work.

And finally, again in the spirit of creation, I'm brainstorming some cookie ideas (ingredients and flavors), because what laboratory could be more fun than a baking laboratory??!! I'd love to be good enough at making cookies that people seek them out. Not a shop, necessarily, but maybe a friend will ask me to make cookies for her kid's birthday party. So the creation will continue. I think it's such a natural part of life, to want to take things that exist and turn them into other, more desirable, helpful (or delicious!) things. Here's to creation, of all sizes and scales!

AUG
22

Virtues of the Novel

It's no secret that I'm a non-fiction girl. Memoir, specifically. I get annoyed by good, fascinating novels when I think about the fact that it's all made up and didn't actually happen. For me, it's much more satisfying to read about something that actually happened. More than that, something written by the person it happened to (as opposed to a biographer or historian). There's just no comparison to real life, and the fascinating, heartbreaking, and triumphant situations we get ourselves into.

That being said, in my regular line-up of exclusively memoirs, I usually read one novel per year. To change it up, really, and because there's usually some novel that enough people have recommended that I feel like I ought to read. This year's novel is A Gentleman in Moscow, which I swear I've been hearing about for years. It's been on my radar, and when my sweet Mom recently gifted me a copy, I felt I couldn't put it off any longer.

Here's the thing with novels that I always forget because I read them so infrequently. THEY ARE SO DECRIPTIVE. It's like a whole different world of lush language and description. This one in particular is filled to the brim (500 pages is VERY long for me) with descriptions of every single detail of the hotel where the story takes place. I forgot how all this description creates visuals of the setting and story in your mind, really without you even trying or actively envisioning it. It just happens. This is something you don't often get with memoir, in that much of the book is the author's thoughts, and the stories are much more succinct and measured. There simply isn't the opportunity to picture an entirely new setting in your mind and feel completely transported each time you open the book.

I still prefer memoir, and I probably always will, but there's certainly a place for the well-written, all-encompassing novel, and this one is a true gem.

AUG
05

This is My Jam

I recently acquired some fruit trees. The lemons and oranges are pretty straightforward, and the only issue I run into is that I can't really use them fast enough. I always wondered why people would bring in heaps of home-grown produce to the office with a "take what you want" sign, but now I know. Also, let's be real. Many of the things you can make with lemons require a ridiculous amount of sugar. It's like seeing how the sausage is made, but with lemonade. And you can only make so many pitchers of lemonade before you start asking yourself if you should really be drinking so much of it.

The apricots are another story entirely. For one thing, in my head I was confusing them with peaches. Or I was at least picturing peaches in my mind as I watched them grow from small green spheres to small peach spheres. "I just need to wait for them to get bigger," is what I thought every time looked out at the tree. Nevermind that they were the perfect color. Nevermind that the branches were already weighing heavy from the small spheres. Nevermind that they started falling OFF the tree. I thought they would get bigger, so I waited. Luckily I realized they were as big as they were going to get and perfectly (if a bit over) ripe in time to harvest the entire tree's worth.

Of course, what does one then do with an entire tree of apricots that pretty much need to be eaten immediately? Naturally, I turned to jam. Nevermind that I had never made jam of any kind. Nevermind that I had to ask the store clerk where to find the canning jars (wouldn't you assume baking??). Nevermind that I only bought about half the jars I ended up needing. Nevermind that I came very close to only putting in a fraction of the required sugar. In any case, the jam got made, and it's more delicious than someone with no experience should have been able to produce. Really. And it delights me that both the apricots and required lemon juice came from my own backyard.

I guess it's jut refreshing to be trying new things, even if those new things require "working" tree fertilizer into the soil, far enough out to cover the "drip line." (Cue Moira and David Rose trying to fold in cheese.) Here's to next year's harvest!

JUL
11

Thinking Woman

I love this little sculpture, that it's of a female and that she appears to be in thought. I've also enjoyed decorating my house with stacks of my favorite books--books being such a big part of what I myself think about. Whether writing them or reading them, one might argue the best thing about books is that they make you think, and usually about things outside your comfort zone, things you know nothing about, or things you never had a reason to even contemplate prior to reading about them. So I really couldn't think of a better spot for this little sculpture.

I confess I'm behind on my 2021 reading goal. This tends to happen when I'm more focused on writing a book, but even though I haven't been writing one in 2021 (the one I wrote in 2020 is being typeset as we speak!!), it still seems like reading hasn't been getting the time it deserves. And I feel badly whenever this is the case. It's so important--and enjoyable--that it's hard to accept that any excuse could really be good enough.

To prove that at least some reading has been happening, I'm currently reading Ethan Kross' Chatter and really enjoying it. Because as long as we're talking about thinking, I am a chronic overthinker. It keeps me up at night, the various stressful or unpleasant things I think and worry about, and while some people are better than others at internal self-talk and diffusing negative chatter, I'm not one of those people. If I feel overwhelmed, I'm going to think about being overwhelmed until I am even more overwhelmed. If I'm worried about how a co-worker is going to interpret an email I'm worried may come across with a tone I didn't intend, I'm going to think about all the ways it could blow up in my face. I try to think of myself as just interested in playing out all the scenarios, just wanting to be prepared for any number of outcomes, but there's really no sugar-coating the fact that I spend more time than I should worrying about insignificant things that usually blow over anyway. So, bottom line: it's a great book with actual suggestions for managing self-talk.

I also recently picked up (as in actually took it on a plane with me instead of my Kindle) an oldie but goodie, one of my absolute favorites, The Year of Magical Thinking. It's been years since I read it, but it's such an honest and refreshing look at grief. I love Didion's mentions of the memory vortices we get sucked into and the way irrational thoughts (such as being prepared in case a departed loved one comes back) can actually seem quite rational. It's hard to fathom the back to back losses she endured, but the rest of us are forever bettered by the books she wrote from those experiences.

So, I'm still reading, (however slowly), still anticipating the release of my new book in the fall, and newly experimenting with a topic that may become my next book. In short, I'm thinking more than ever. My little sculpture is in good company.

 

JUN
23

The Wall

I recently went through the experience of painting my first wall. Or, more accurately, I watched someone else paint the wall while I hovered in the background rather uselessly, offering to fetch any number of items—brushes, trays, rollers, snacks. I promise I did eventually do some of the painting myself, a task more satisfying than I would have thought, especially given how much prep work is required before you can even begin.

What amazed me about the wall was how much better it looked after we were done. And from just one measly coat of paint. The whole room was transformed, all the obnoxious nail holes and pencil lines gone, as if they’d never been there. Even though, technically, they were all still there. I don’t know, the whole thing just made me think about our own transformations, some of them superficial and really just band-aids to the problems we face (not necessarily good), and some of them completely genuine opportunities to begin again or try something new (almost certainly good).

The latter is the type of transformation I’m most interested in, the one I hope we’re all striving on some level to achieve. Some of these transformations are initiated by us, by our own actions, passions, and ambitions—or sometimes our desires to flee certain places or people who have ceased to be the assets to our lives that they once were. Other transformations are thrust upon us in ways we may not have chosen or wanted, and these offer their own opportunities to grow, adjust, and re-imagine what color, shade, or pattern might be the next path for us.

The comfort to me is in knowing that we’re still ourselves as we transform, all the layers and flaws and previous iterations still there, a perfect record of our past. It’s equally comforting that we can always revert back to these layers should timing or circumstances line up better for them in the future. So much about our lives is within our control—the things we choose to pursue, the ways we choose to spend our time, the people we align ourselves with. Even the jobs we have and cities we live in. The houses we buy. I fully acknowledge those things we cannot choose, and the heartbreak and frustration that often accompanies them. But in instances where transformation is within our grasp and feels warranted—or even essential—we can slap on a coat of something radiant and bright (or even just your basic swiss coffee white) and move forward, ever hopeful, ever determined, ever grateful.

MAY
31

The Return of Business Travel

My company apparently tracks our top travelers, a rolling report looking at the past year and ranking those who've logged the most trips. I'm a person who typically does travel for work, but not at a level that would ever normally earn a spot on this list. Amusing then, that I'm currently showing as the company's #1 top traveler because the business trip I just returned from was the first one that got approved since the pandemic shut everything down. It was just a one-hour flight to Phoenix, which makes this pretty hilarious, but I suppose it's also a strange sort of badge of honor, as if I'm helping to usher in a return to business normalcy.

The business trip was to an industry event, an event that had assured the wearing of masks, the requirement of health screenings, and the presence of sneeze guards on all booth tabletops. Features that were all completely rejected by the event attendees, which, combined with the relaxation of requirements by the CDC, resulted in an event that felt downright pre-pandemic. I kept asking myself if I was comfortable not wearing a mask (since in California we are still required to wear them everywhere we go) and the answer, of course, was that I wasn't. Not so much because I felt at risk of getting COVID, but because I hadn't been prepared to go cold turkey. I had underestimated how comforted I had grown to feel in a mask. It's a layer of protection that apparently did as much for me mentally as it did physically. Yet I joined my industry associates and shook hands and gave hugs and broke bread and did business, and despite the previously mentioned discomfort (should we be doing this???), I confess it felt refreshing to step, however tentatively, back into a world where people do such things.

Other things are moving forward as well, including cover options for my new book, out later this year. I'm a bit torn between an option with a familiar style a bit reminiscent of my most recent book, or one that has a completely different look and feel. This decision, too, feels nice. The kind of decision that wreaks of normal life. Of everyday pursuits. Of questions, answers, and individuals having more influence on the futures we are shaping together.