Thursday, August 30, 2012

Goofing Off

Well...not exactly. But after a spring spent mostly revising my new novel, and a summer spent mostly teaching, I find myself unmotivated this week. Lots of puttering around the house, lots of cooking, lots of just being.

We are in the midst of rearranging some rooms, a project that has been ongoing since we bought the house in 1999 and which in spurts goes full speed ahead. What used to be my knitting room is now Annabelle's studio for her art and homework and playing. What used to be the guest room is soon to be my new knitting room. Just got a daybed with pretty duvets and a big armoire for it. The couch from my old knitting room is now in the TV room. The club chair from the old puzzle room is also up in the TV room now. The love seat in the fancy living room has been recovered in red flowers and stripes, and two new red chairs have been brought in. The reds look dazzling against the dark green walls! Love it! And the puzzle room has been transformed by the re-covering of our faded old green wingback into a bright blue and white pattern with an ottoman in a different blue and white. Plus my new puzzle table and my pink Cadillac lamp. Also: got rid of the old dining room chairs (yay!) and have the red leather ones with the seats done in a red, white and gold pattern at the table. Everything looks so fresh and pretty and colorful! Who knows, someday we may actually get the kitchen re-done (a girl can only hope!)

I have been making tomato pies in batches of twos, and they are getting eaten as fast as I make them! I have been making it since the recipe first appeared in Gourmet about a thousand years ago, and I only make it when tomatoes are fresh--like now! It is one of those recipes you simply can't ruin. It calls for either scallions or basil, though I almost always use fresh basil from my garden, last night I used both and it was terrific! Any good melting cheese works. The biscuit crust makes up in the food processor. Delicious no matter what. Here's a link to it:

Last night I also made Curried Chicken salad with cashews. Yummy! Two nights before I made Chinese Chicken Salad. Ditto with the yumminess.

I went out for dinner a couple of nights ago at Cafe Zelda in Newport. It was such a perfect night there. Steak au poivre delish. Even though when I left and slid gracefully across the banquette I dragged the corner of the tablecloth with me, and pulled off everything on the table--wineglasses, plates, water glasses, everything! And yes, it all broke. Still had a good dinner...

I am getting my usual back to school blues, but trying to treat myself kindly and take each day slowly. This is probably also why I am very unmotivated this week.

However, Annabelle has had a dazzling array of play dates, sewing classes, and trips to fun spots, like the Aquarium and Staples for supplies :)

We are throwing a dinner for several friends who are dropping their kids off at Brown on Saturday. I'll be making: figs stuffed with gorgonzola, wrapped with prosciutto, and baked; over roasted tomatoes with feta; (Olga's) cornmeal crust pizza; pork tenderloin with roasted garlic, herbs and bacon; corn salad; pasta with pesto and peas. A cornucopia of summer!

Sunday it's off to the Cape with friends. I intend to bring  book and my knitting, to sit by the water, to drink some nice cocktails, and say goodbye to summer...

Friday, August 24, 2012

Last day at Bread Loaf

Always a sad time when Bread Loaf comes to an end. I first came here as a contributor in 1984 and it changed my life. Bread Loaf made me realize I was a writer, and I left here that long ago summer day a different person than I was when I arrived.

So many new friends made, so much time spent with old friends.

Last workshop this afternoon. Last readings this evening. Then a dance and packing and rising early for the drive home.

I am looking forward to next week and spending every day with Annabelle--horseback riding and sewing lessons, a trip to the Bronx Zoo and the New Bedford Aquarium. Time to buy school supplies, pencils and notebooks and markers.

After all this time, the beginning of the school year still feels like the beginning of something new to me. Some people make resolutions at New Year's. I find that I make them now, as the afternoon light changes and children wear new shoes and backpacks.

This fall I am going to put myself on a schedule, partially because I have so much work and partially for comfort. Back to Pilates and yoga. Back to a work schedule. And even an attempt at a housekeeping schedule ("Your house," someone said standing in my kitchen and looking around, "looks like people live here." I think that's a good thing?), or at least at getting my knitting room finally finished...

Half done with my second Wave blanket, the purples a beautiful combo.

More knitting this fall. More reading.

Fresh starts are always a good thing, yes?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Bread Loaf light

The most perfect weather here on the mountain. Cool and sunny by day, downright chilly at night. In the afternoon, the light turns everything golden. Not unlike Tuscany, someone commented to me yesterday. And I have to agree. By my guess, I've heard over 60 readings at this point. Some will certainly resonate long after I leave here and return home to the end of summer, to Labor Day dinner parties and then Gogo's 81st birthday dinner. Sam will already be back at college when I get home on Saturday. But Gogo and I are driving up to Ithaca the weekend after Labor Day to bring him supplies, and of course to just have some Sam time.

As the conference here wanes, only two more workshops, one more lawn party, my thoughts of course turn toward fall, with a heavy schedule of teaching and more conferences ahead. My thoughts turn too, to September, Grace's birthday, the grief already rising in me. A birthday, a day that held such hope. Now it holds such sadness over all that's been lost. Last night I dreamed of her grown, a teenager flitting through our ordinary family days, a smile so dazzling that I woke with a broken heart...

Readers here know that travel has always provided escape and comfort. So my thoughts turn also alight on our winter Nordic trip, another week in Jackson Hole in December, and beyond to Alaska next summer. Already my night table is groaning beneath the weight of guidebooks, my imagination has taken hold of moose and glaciers, of fjords and the hope of a glimpse of the Northern lights...

Friday, August 17, 2012

Atop Bread Loaf Mountain

Here I sit in my lovely cabin at the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, watching rain approach, the maple and birch leaves rustling on the trees. I first came here as a student in 1984 (or was it 1985?), then returned as a Fellow in 1987 with my first novel SOMEWHERE OFF THE COAST OF MAINE. Since then, I've come back to teach, and this summer I have a really terrific non-fiction writing workshop. In so many ways, being here feels like coming home. Lots of work. Lots of wine. Lots of ideas and readings, lectures and late nights talking about things both heady and silly.

This time made even better because I have Annabelle and a nanny with me! Makes a huge difference to have her here. Sam got home last night, and I am just dying to see him. BUt--big sigh--must wait until he comes to Vermont on Sunday.

For the next two hours, I get a break after a day and a half of pretty steady work. So I/m going to make this brief, read the NYT, take a cat nap, and then go to the 4:14 reading.

For you writers out there, I am teaching my online Personal Essay class through 24 Pearl Street, September 17-October 12. Go to to sign up!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Best Newport Memories

I can't think of too many things greater than sitting in the bookstore of the astounding, jaw dropping Breakers mansion in Newport, surrounded by young readers and the four books of THE TREASURE CHEST. But that's how I spent yesterday afternoon, and it was such a wonderful day that I couldn't help but think of other wonderful times in Newport.

As I battled street clogging traffic (why do people drive SUVs there on those narrow streets? Maddening!) that included bicyclists, pedestrians, and even a skateboarder or two darting in and out of side streets and parked cars, I thought I might have a nervous breakdown. And my mind took me back to Newport before all the renovation and touristy stuff, when I was a youngun' and my father was based there. I think we even used to take a ferry to get to Newport! For me then, it was sailors in there dress whites and ships and ice cream; eating at the base and begging my parents for toys from the Exchange; our grocery carts bulging down the aisles of the Commissary.

In college we used to go to a restaurant/bar called Yesterdays. The wharf area had a few places, but it wasn't as crowded, and a gang of girls could have a lot of fun! And we did!

I remember too the first time the Tall Ships came to Newport and a guy took me in a Boston Whaler to see them. Fog descended and we traveled in circles for a long time, finding it funny instead of scary. How impressive those ships were to me! I went back several times to see them, loving the different uniforms the sailors from all over the world wore. In my memory, we drank and ate at the Black Pearl...but that could be a trick of time.

This year we couldn't get tickets to the Newport Folk Festival (sold out in March!) but I remember my cousin and me taking Sam, age four months and dressed in a tie dyed onesie. Joan Baez singing Diamonds and Rust as the day drew to a close. And then all the folk festivals heard from our sailboat, Obsession (and later, Rogue), full of friends and food and wine and music. Of course, there was the year that the hubby got us a spot and then went off in the dinghy back to land to attend a funeral. We opened the wine and listened to the music and ate, as the boat drifted and smacked right into another boat. Ok. That isn't in the best memory category...

But last year we went with friends (by land) and got to hear Emmylou Harris and Pete Seeger close the festival. I stood there singing Where Have All the Flowers Gone with everyone, crying like crazy.

Ah! Newport! Land of traffic and tourists, music and sailors, mansions and sailboats, warm and lovely memories...

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Planning a big dinner party

I won't go into detail again about how these new storm windows don't allow an air conditioner to fit. Instead, I will just announce that I went to Sears yesterday and bought an AC unit on wheels that sits right on the floor and blasts me with cold air. I can think clearly again!

And with that clarity, I turn my attention to my big dinner party Thursday night. Just finished planning the menu and making the shopping list.

Matunuck oysters
stuffed quahogs
pie (baked by my guest of honor! note to self: always invite a guest who bakes pies)

Today I bought pint Mason jars to serve the gazpacho
Tomorrow I will make that gazpacho, using the Pioneer Woman's recipe, and keep it chilled
Shop for the paella and put out all my tableware (husband is conveniently out of town but did retrieve the long folding table from the basement and put it in the yard before he left)
Buy lots of rioja
Day of party, pick up oysters (already shucked!) and stuffies (autocorrect wants these to be stuffs, but here in RI they are stuffies)
Make paella that afternoon; bake the stuffies
Set beautiful table outdoors (maybe do dance to keep rain away?)
That's it!

I am trying to figure out where I can get cute little forks for those stuffies...and maybe some twinkly lights...and I think I'm going to set Pandora with The Girl From Ipanema--I know it's not Spanish! But I was at a brunch in Beautiful Portland, OR and that's what the brilliant host had on and it was just perfect music.

Sigh. I love dinner parties...

Too hot to knit. But I will take my new Wave blanket along to Bread Loaf next week, where hopefully there will be some knitting weather.

If you are in Newport on Saturday, come to the Breakers on Bellevue Avenue and see me between 1 and 4!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Didn't Hemingway write standing up?

Maybe he was also sweltering and needed to stand in front of a fan--like me right now. We got new storm windows back in the fall and they open out instead of up, so our air conditioner can't sit in the window. I am about to melt. I keep reminding myself that i am not as hot as when we were in Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia. That's my bar for hot. I've had about six glasses of water with lemon and cucumber slices, and I'm still parched. Ugh.

Dinner tonight: cantaloupe and prosciutto; tomato mozzarella salad with pesto; Gogo's spaghetti and meatballs. Note this requires me to NOT cook. Boil water. Slice melon. Drizzle pesto.

Back to NYC early tomorrow with GJ and Annabelle. We have tickets to NEWSIES on Saturday and a musical of Skippyjon Jones on Sunday. If you have kids and you haven't discovered the Skippyjon Jones books yet, stop reading this and go and buy them. We also have them on CD to listen in the car, and they never fail to make me laugh.

Last week's trip was such fun. Seeing INTO THE WOODS in Central Park was a real experience. The next day I took Annabelle and her buddy Ella to two bookstores and it made my heart sing to atch them sit and read until I had to force them out so I could get to the radio station to tape my later installment for NPR's The Story. Link to it below!

ONCE was sold out, so we saw ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS instead and boy, did I love that play! I highly recommend it. We spent the next morning at the Central Park Zoo where we got to see some really good polar bear action. Then on to my event at the NYPL with kids before getting the train home.

I am happy to drive tomorrow though--my car has very good AC!