Tuesday, January 09, 2018

A New Year

An Instagram app summed up my 2017 pretty accurately. Cats, kids, rainbows, rage.
Why am I not here, enjoying your company? Because I can't tell you what else I'm doing, but I know that it's the strangest mix of franticness and inertia. 

Even now. I wrote those two sentences, and then sat here for a full three minutes. Ben is playing piano in the blue twilight that's bouncing off the snow, and there is a cat sleeping on the library's cookbook that I was reading (Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables, which is stunning), and Birdy is making herself a snack downstairs, probably something involving rice cakes and almond butter. Peaceful.

Not shown: Ben applying to college.
But also I am drowning in desperately frantic, dull busywork (hello, college secretary job!), and I'm nine days into my January thing, and I wouldn't mind looking forward to a big, frosty glass of beer or a nice full jelly glass of dark wine. More closely forward than the end of the month, that is.

Fulfilling bookplate requests was one of the loveliest parts of my holiday! Thank you for asking for them. And for not complaining that they were just cheesily-printed labels with my crap signature on them.
And I'm terrible with the holidays being over (as my psychiatrist friend-running partner Lydia likes to say, "This is not new information.") Oh, but it was a magical time, full of puzzles and games and music and cheese and movies (Coco! Three Billboards!) and favorite houseguests and the kind of bonebiting cold that I love for some reason, that reason mostly being staying indoors all cozy with the leftover ham, binge-watching Stranger Things.

My handsome dad, exuberantly kicking someone's ass at Don't Tip the Waiter. We have totally hacked that game, partially by changing the rules, and mostly by combining it with Animal Stackers. Just email me for more on that. I will try not presume that everybody needs this information.
Big Blitz with the perfect nephews. 
Every Christmas, my parents give us a decadent, stunning puzzle from Liberty Puzzles, and I can hardly describe the multi-sensory beauty of them. If you like puzzles, just check out the website, but imagine that each puzzle piece smells deeply of wood and smoke and also that you will need to refinance your house. When I lend them, they're the only puzzles I ask to get back.
I don't have a new recipe today, and that's partly because the clean stuff I'm doing feels so weird and unapproachable. Cultured cheese made from cashews? A rice cake with almond butter and miso? (Run, don't walk!) But I will see if something shakes out soon that I can share. Something that the kids don't look at smirkingly before saying, "Wow, decadent snack, Mom! Two whole green olives in a little bowl!" Speaking of the kids, have I mentioned my Umpteen column at Motherwell? Please check it out. There's a new one up today.


What else I can offer, on the off-chance you're Whole 30ing or Cleansing or otherwise heinousing up your January, is this list of recipes from years past.
Clean and Delicious Soup for One
Clean Clean Blueberry Pie Smoothie
Clean Green Soup (with bonus ideas)
Crazy (Good) "Latte"
Raspberry-Cardamom Smoothie (with bonus thoughts on curry and sashimi)

It's weird that there's no salad in there, because I'm pretty much a rhinoceros at this point, or some other zoo herbivore, inhaling giant troughs of leaves every second. Here's a fantastic one: greens, shredded raw beets, a tin of Trader Joe's Smoked Trout, and then a hot topping made from slivered almonds fried with capers (blot them on paper towels first) and garlic in lots of olive oil. Then a big squeeze of lemon juice. It's the best.

Sending love out to you! Stay safe and warm and well and angry. xo

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Homemade Pine Car Air Freshener (But why?)

There's a new tallest-person in town putting on the star.
Oh, my loves! I was going to post recipes and latkes and cheer and who knows what all holiday else, but then there was pneumonia, and a sinus infection, and deadlines, and the twilight zone of college applications. Also, weird bouts of eggnog drinking that had me in bed by 8:30 with first Love and Trouble, then Conversations with Friends, and now Pachinko, all of which are wonderful books to curl up with should you find yourself in bed at 8:30 while someone on the crouton (i.e. the little futon) coughs and coughs from your bedroom floor and the humidifier blasts out its eucalyptus steam. Just saying.

Mostly all we do is talk in Snapper's little voice about how excited he is for Christmas. Every morning there are 30 ornaments on the floor.
So all I got is this weird last-minute craft, from my very special line of "drunk tutorials." JK! I'm 100% sober at the moment! Just really, really tired. Which is no reason for you not to make a DIY pine air freshener for your car or the car of a beloved! I have had it in my mind to make this for ages. I like that it's kind of Christmas-y, but then it won't give you that horrible off-season ennui when you see it in, like, February, because the pine air freshener is an actual non-holiday genre of object! Maybe you don't know what I'm talking about, which is also fine.


Anyhoo. Before you start, make sure you have some green felt and some spruce or pine essential oil. You can get the oil at a store like Whole Foods, or you can order it online. (I have this, and like it, but you could get this from Amazon.) Start by making your paper template. I Googled "pine tree template" and scrolled through images until I found the one I liked best, which was this:

But it would also be cute to use something more traditional, a la:


Or, of course, just freeform it like a normal person. Whatever you use, scale it to about 4 inches high. I did this by taking a screen shot of the image, and then resizing it in the Preview program on my Mac. (It's not rocket science or anything, but there's definitely always a moment when I'm sure how to do the thing I want to do on a computer, even if that thing is very very stupid and basic.) Print your template, and cut it out. 
Now stick it to some nice green felt with a piece of double tape or a pin and cut out two trees, one at a time. (I used some lovely wool craft felt that I happened to have, but you could use a shrunk sweater or even crappy acrylic felt. It doesn't matter that much, since I'm not thinking of this as a real heirloom type project, if you know what I mean.)

Now cut a piece of felt to sandwich in between the trees (one that won't extend beyond them), and saturate this piece of felt with essential oil. I mean, really go for it. Some will even bleed through the felt, and that's fine, although if you get a weird rash, don't come crying to me about it. 


Now pin the two trees together and stitch around them. I used white thread and a very basic little running stitch because I had this idea of how I wanted it to look, but you can do whatever kind of sewing you like with whatever kind of thread because the world is your holiday oyster!


Finish by tying a thread through for hanging, and voila! The world's weirdest holiday gift. 


Sending so much love to you all, now and always. xo

Monday, November 27, 2017

Gift Guide 2017

Portland! (The Maine one.)
We are actually still digging out from under our turkey and catching up with work, even though what really want to do is see all the movies and binge-watch Stranger Things. But I do realize that the holidays approacheth. Thus, this annual Gift Guide! Please note that this year's gift guide will not result in an explicit donation, since we did all our 2017 charitable giving prior to filing the dreaded FAFSA [shudder]. 

But we are saving to send our kid to college [sob], so I promise we won't be, like, buying a Lexus if we earn Amazon link commissions.

Anyhoo. Maybe you were in the mood to *make* something giftish? Please allow me to offer a few ideas!
More in a kind of a *buying* space? Please allow me to offer my thoughts from the past:
  • Last year's gift ideas are here
  • The year before, here.
  • The year before that, here.
  • The year before that, here
  • And the year before that, here.
  • As always, the master list of games is here.
and the present:

Games and Puzzles



Don't Tip the WaiterWe don't have this game yet--or rather, it is in the house, but not yet out and about. I always like to give a silly game that kids and grandparents can play immediately without a lot of rules hoo-ha, and this one fits the bill. (The oddly-named Animal Upon Animal is the classic of this genre, and still the game I keep in my bag at all times.) Also, I'm sorry in advance if you fall into the Kikkerland rabbit hole.


Bounce-Off Rock‘N’ Rollz! So, everyone has been making fun of me for buying this because apparently it is kind of a *drinking game*! Who knew? But the truth is that I could picture Ben and all his crazy friends playing it all hours, and boy was I right about that. (They even play a hacked version where you have to bounce the balls in from a standing position.) But the four of us play it all the time too, especially at the end of the evening, when everyone is done with homework or needs a break from it. It’s just a brainless dexterity game of bouncing balls into a grid pattern on a tilty board, and you can play in teams or as single players, and it’s really fun and silly. I highly recommend it, with or without giant plastic red cups of beer.


Edited to add: Dutch Blitz Expansion pack! Because if you already have Dutch Blitz and you get the expansion, then you can play with up to 8 players instead of only 4! It is not unchaotic. And we ended up making a rule that if you finished a stack you were in charge of removing it from play to free up a little space. But it is really, really fun. I said this, initially, about the original game: Is it the vague Amish theme? The fact that it says "A Vonderful Goot Game" so campily on the box? I don't know--but make no mistake, this is one of our family's very most-played-ever games. It's got a very simple Solitaire-style of play (stacking consecutive cards) and is all about speed and concentration rather than, say, strategy. It's a great game to play a few rounds of if you've got just 15 or 20 minutes to kill, and it's good with 2, 3, or 4 people. We've given it as a present at least a dozen times. I'm never quite sure what makes it so much fun, but it is, and we continue to play it regularly.

p.s. Feel free to queer it up, if you like. That is, rather than the mandatory boy-on-girl style of play, play girl-on-girl and boy-on-by. Just saying.


Juxtabo is a game I recommended in the summer, and I'm recommending it again. The pieces are lovely and heavy, and it's quickish and engaging, which makes it a great game to play when people have odds and ends of time, but can't commit to a real board game. But what's it like? If I say a combination of Othello and Blokus and Colorku, will you think I'm a dork?

CodenamesThe company kind of adorably describes this as a "social word game," which is pretty much all my favorite things rolled into one! There's some kind of spy theme, but it doesn't really come into play that much. Mostly, you are working with your teammate (2 teams of 2 people works well, but you can play with bigger teams and that's fun too), hoping to give them one-word clues so that they'll guess which word cards from a 5 x 5 g rid belong to your team. 

You might say "powerful," hoping that your partner will guess that two of your words are "king" and "superhero," but then they might pick "kangaroo" and you will want to kill them, even after they explain about the animal's powerful leg muscles.
There's a picture version too, and a special two-player version. Please report back if you've played either of them!


Modern Art is a game I recommended many years ago, but it's been out of print for ages until recently. It was our second-ever European-style board game, which is kind of funny because it is the most deceptively complex of them (for the record, Acquire was the first, and it is a wonderful game). What I wrote a long time ago was: "Of the mind-twisting games we play, this is the mind-twistingest. In fact, every time we play it, I say, 'Oh, wow, I think I'm only just beginning to understand this game now.' And we've played it, like, a hundred times." That is still true. In sum, it's an art-themed auction game that progresses over four rounds. The art is new in this version, but it looks just as ugly as it was in the old version. We hacked our game to make new art cards that we liked better. 

I don't assume that every family will share this inclination.
We did this neckties puzzle over Thanksgiving, and I can't think of a better puzzle I've ever done. It is gorgeous, for one thing, and just the right cross between challenging and doable. My mom and I spent many pleasant hours side by side with it.
 

This popsicle puzzle and this bookshelf puzzle are what I have on hand now--one for generalized  eggnog-fueled December puzzling, and the other for actual Christmas-Day puzzling, which is a longstanding tradition. Usually, I am in my nightie, working on the puzzle with my mom, when I suddenly look at my watch and say, "Fuck! I forgot to put the ham in!" 

(Quick question: Has anyone played this game? I am thinking of getting it for Ben and Birdy. . . Also, I'm adding a tiny unillustrated plug here for Kan Jam because we play it so much.)

Writing, Crafts, and Activities


Stitch Camp looks like a GREAT BOOK! But don't take my word for it, since I wrote it with my friend and it's filled with pictures of my daughter! Take Amazon's word for it, since it's on their official Holiday Toy List. (Right? I mean, even though it's not a toy.) It's a craft book for kids and teens and tweens that introduces all the main fiber crafts (sewing, embroidery, felting, knitting, crochet, weaving) and is filled with projects, many of which use recycled materials. If I were giving this book as a holiday gift, which I can't really do in good conscience given the aforementioned facts, I would give it paired with an excellent pair of sewing scissors--the kind that makes crafting so much easier, and that someone will have for their whole lives. These, for example. Or you could gift the book with a sewing kit, an embroidery kit, or a pair of knitting needles and some of our favorite wool.I can't bring myself to mention crochet supplies, because crochet baffles me.


My Rad Life is a journal filled with feminist prompts, quotes, and inspiration, and woodcut illustrations of women authors, athletes, artists, and activists. The publisher describes it as "An inspiring, empowering journal that encourages its owners to think, create, reflect, and explore their own radness." I know lots of people who could be exploring their own radness in journal form! My friend Kate Schatz created it with the illustrator Miriam Stahl, and it's a companion to their other rad books, Rad American Women A to Z, and Rad Women Worldwide.


I have written about Journal Sparks before, here, but this book would make such a lovely gift for any writer or artist in your life. And just because it has pages of really cute stickers at the back doesn't mean an adult wouldn't be thrilled to get it! (And while we're at it, Emily's first book makes a supremely wonderful gift for creative children.) Again, if you wanted to package the book with a related item, I might include this set of Flair pens, which is our go-to, pens-wise. Here they are in use by our Ava friend, on our perennially paper-covered coffee table:



Speaking of pens: we bought this Bullet Space Pen for a great friend of ours who is exactly the kind of person that needs a pen originally designed for NASA. It has a pressurized ink cartridge and can write upside-down, on wet and/or glossy surfaces, and under any conditions: extreme cold and/or heat, for example, should you find yourself trying to take notes in the arctic while being burned at the stake. Suffice it to say: he loved it. It also happens to be exhibited in the permanent design collection at the Museum of Modern Art, which may or may not speak to your snobbery, but it speaks to mine.
We also gave our friend this set of Expedition Field Notes, because if you've got a pen that can write in all conditions, you need a notebook that has waterproof pages. Also, they're super-stylish and cute. Please note that these are smallish notebooks (3.5 X 5.5). I love the idea of giving this set of pen and notebooks to more of our friends. It's kind of perfect.
When my kids were small, our sealing wax kit pretty much turned thank-you-note writing from a chore to a kind of fume-filled arsonist's fantasy. If you still have younger kids, or or giving presents to the kinds of children whose parents won't never speak to you again if you give them a gift that involves matches and fire and melting plastic, then I can't recommend this bit of old-fashioned and elegant fun highly enough. Note that you can pick your own child's initial, not just my children's! (Is it wrong that I want this anatomical heart sealing wax kit for myself?)

Books for Kids

If I haven't managed yet to pressure you into buying One Mixed-Up Night, let me take this fresh opportunity! If I were giving it to my kids, I'd probably include a gift certificate for an IKEA trip complete with bonus plate of meatballs, but maybe that's just me! (Besides, how lame would it be if I gave this book to my kids?) If you would like a signed bookplate for this book, or any other book of mine, please just contact me here, and I'll send you one. Edited to add: If you email me for a bookplate, please let me know the name, if any, you'd like me to dedicate it to! And please send me your address.


For an engineering-y kid, consider this young-reader's version of the Elon Musk biography. Ben read the original over the summer and was enthralled and inspired.


If you are giving books to younger kids, some of my favorites are in this post (along with the Maira Kalman book I still give to adults and teenagers at every opportunity). Other perennial winter delights include The Snowy DayOwl Moon, and The Mitten.

Books for Adults

What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons, Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong, and Less by Andrew Sean Greer are three wonderful novels that happen to be about loss. But so, so good, I promise. The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After Happiness by Heather Harpham and The Bright Hour by Nina Riggs are two astonishing memoirs that happen to be about illness. Both fantastic and both utterly life-affirming, even as they skirt death or meet it head-on.

Dinner is the best new cookbook I got this year. I took it out of the library so many times that I finally ended up buying it. It's full of delicious, unfussy recipes that solve the main problem, which, as everybody knows, is dinner. It might be nice to give it with a wonderful pan, like this one that I recommended last year and still love.
I will also be giving the new translation of The Odyssey, which is by a woman. (YAY!) If you look at it on Amazon, it will say, "by Homer and Emily Wilson." And it will sound like it was translated by a married couple. Until you think about it for a second.

Misc.

Even though we already have and love a regular angel-chime candle holder, I really want this Moomin one. (Also, kind of, all the Moomin things.)


Ben and Birdy went in together on this aromatherapy diffuser earlier in the year, and they love it. I feel like it would make a great gift for any stressed-out teenagers you happen to know, since it offers such a lovely opportunity for calmness and self care. My kids' favorite oil is rose geranium. (The price is alarming, but it lasts a long time.)


As always, our friends' beautiful cider products are the most intensely wonderful additions to your pantry or the pantry of a loved one. (Ew. But why? Because it sounds like "panty"?) And you don't have to take my biased word for it, since Ruth Reichl wrote them up! #superstars


I bought myself one of these teeny ramekins from Facture Goods, and I use it every day. It is crooked and rough and somehow just the most perfect thing in the world for olive pits or a bite of cottage cheese. I think it would make a special present.

Finally, okay, this is a gift only for you. . . Are you attracted to those Yoplait Oui yogurts because of the glass jars, but then you have these little glass jars, and you aren't quite sure what to do with them besides drink Limoncello? These Weck covers fit them! Not, like, tightly. But well enough that you can use them to store odds and ends of things in the fridge or on your countertop. You're welcome. 

But I can't even say that as a joke, because: Thank you. Enjoy the season. Light the candles. Call your representatives. Take care of each other. xo