Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

It made my heart happy when gave me the winner this morning... Chandra. And you thought you wouldn't win. Congrats, it'll be in the mail this weekend. And how awesome is it that I don't even have to ask for your address?

Thank you so much to everyone that entered, and please check out Sisters of Misery on Amazon. It's affordably priced and you (or a teen girl in your life) will love it!

I also want to send a huge shout out and thank you to Kirsten, who thrilled my socks off when she sent me an incredible piece of Halloween decor. I hung it on this old mirror, and it looks PERFECT! I'm starting to love anything with a black bird on it. Thank you so much Kirsten, you have the best taste!

Happy Halloween girls! How fun is this? Earlier this morning I saw a woman dressed up like a cat in Starbucks and a man downtown dressed up like a bum. Or he could have really honestly been a bum. If so, I feel a little bad.

It's a perfect day for Halloween. The sun is peeking out from behind clouds, making leaf patterns all over the roads. The weather is perfect, everyone opening their windows and setting carved pumpkins on their front porches. Sigh. I hope you all have a lovely time, no matter what your plans. I for one will be passing out candy and watching my husband run amok (he likes to dress up and scare the kiddies, which is ironic coming from a man that doesn't like to be scared by his wife). Have a marvelous night... Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Shopping When I Shouldn't

I've been shopping when I shouldn't. You know what I mean. What I should be doing is planning our Christmas presents, joining Sams Club so I can buy those giant family sized containers of laundry detergent, making my own vinegar window cleaner. I should be doing ANYTHING more frugal than hanging out in antique malls.

But they call to me. They whisper, "We've got lots of things you need. $3 vintage planters. $10 cake platters. $5 cloche hat that may or may not be too small for your head." Just take a gander at this booth, for example. It's mostly done in greens and blues. Every time I see it my heart skips a beat and I fight the urge to buy everything in it and paint every wall in my house.

But this past weekend I had a breakthrough. I went antiquing with my mother-in-law and didn't buy anything! All day long, three antique malls, nothing. It was a break through of gargantuan proportion, so it's my goal to continue it. No buying anything in antique malls until after Christmas; unless it's a Christmas present.

Stop laughing... I can hear you.

Friday, October 24, 2008

A Halloween Giveaway: Sisters of Misery

Oh ladies, this was a good book! I read this curled up in a quilt, next to an open window, cold night air blowing the hair on the back of my neck and goosebumps on my arm. This book is just so, so, Halloween. It's set in a spooky seaside east coast town, overrun with suspicious townspeople, teenage girls, and a big run-down insane asylum. I cannot WAIT for the sequel, scheduled to come out next August. For a more in-depth review, check it out here.
Matt brought up a good point when I mentioned this giveaway to him. He said, “Wait. You just posted your book for free, and now you’re giving a book away? That’s a lot of reading.” Hmmm. He’s right. But I have faith ladies. You can do it.

So for all you book-worm-Halloween-loving readers out there, just leave me a comment to be entered in the giveaway. If you want your name to be entered twice, just mention the giveaway on your blog and remind me in the comment section. The drawing will be on Friday, Halloween of course. And if you don’t win, seriously, go out and buy this book anyway.

Dinnertime Revisited: The Highlights

First, I should apologize to all you fine folks for this recycled picture. It was taken WAY back in February (which is obvious by the hyacinths in the center of the table). I always try to have original pictures with every post, but it didn't happen this time. Last night I whipped out my camera and peered at the table, piled high with bills and crumbs and a dirty tablecloth, and decided it was a little more 'real' than I wanted to get this Friday.

I loved all the conversations that took place after this post. As I read all your comments, I kept replaying the clip from A Christmas Story in my head where the mom looks at her son and says, "Randy, honey, don't play with your food. EAT IT!" That's random. Sorry.

Anyway. After reading all of your comments, I had to share a few clips from the women that cracked me up! You ladies are FUNNY. And opinionated. I love that. So here you go, a few of my favorites.
Anne said:

"PAPER PLATES! Dora the Explorer to be exact. Sometimes at the dinner table, sometimes at the counter, sometimes in front of the boob tube. It's usually a game time decision depending on the 2 year old."

Anne... good for you! I don't know how you ladies with little kids do it. Half the time after coming home from work I forget to feed Mabel, and that's even when she's mashing her chin into my leg and grumbling at me.

Meg (I just LOVE her) said:

"We are a little Leave it to Beaver but a little Rosanne too. :) That's more real. There is fighting and grumpiness and name calling. But there is also laughing and manners and kindness. Some days it feels like it's not worth it. But then on those GOOD's all worth it. Hard and fast rule - no burping at the table."

Ah yes. THIS sounds like my family. And I loved Rosanne.

Lily Bart said:

"I remember watching Designing Women with my mom at the coffee table, eating tuna casserole and drinking milk. Those were great dinners."

Tuna casserole: yum. Designing Women: amen.

Blanca said:

"Dinner doesn't begin until my husband burns his tongue. Seriously does it all the time. I warn him and it still happens. "

I laughed out loud so hard at this. My dad always bites his tongue. Every meal. And we laugh at him, which is what happens when one lone man is surrounded by a family full of girls.

Sarah said:

"If left to my own devices I would wander."

Me too, Sarah. Once, when Matt was out of town I was trying to decide what paint color to choose, so I ate a sandwich standing in the hallway, staring at the bedroom. I definitely wander.

AJ said:

"Last night dh wasn't home so the girls had soup, popcorn and grapes on little kiddie trays on the family room floor. We watched the movie Witches and I let them stay up a little later."
Oh AJ. What a good mom you are! They'll remember that when they're all grown up and adults. They'll say, "Hey! Remember when it was close to Halloween and we stayed up late eating and watching The Witches?"

So thank you ladies, so much, for the comments. It was so fun to read all about you and your families! Have a great weekend.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A Sweet Niece and Not-So-Sweet Mabel

Last night we had family make a late arrival due to airport delays. It was far past midnight, and our sweet niece Elizabeth was bleary eyed and so very tired when they arrived at the house. And that's when Mabel, gated in the den for every one's inner-ear safety, began to lose her mind.

Mabel howled and barked and skittered around on her toenails, behaving quite inhospitably. Poor sweet Elizabeth, already exhausted, looked around in confusion.

"Puppy?" she asked, bottom lip quivering, her big blue eyes concerned.

"Yes, that's a puppy," her mom responded.

Elizabeth glanced around the house as Mabel's shrieks echoed maniacally from the den.

"Puppy?" she asked again, obviously concerned that my demon dog would strike at any moment.

"Yes, that's a very rude puppy," I muttered to myself, wishing desperately we'd invested in a muzzle.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Dinnertime at the Table: Does it Exist?

I didn't grow up eating at the table; usually because the dining room was filled with crafts and glitter and miscellaneous stacks of library books. Chalk it up to growing up in an artist household, but on some things, there were no hard and fast rules.

For instance:

Don't talk back to your parents: hard and fast rule

Brush your teeth every night: flexible

Never, ever stick your tongue out at your parents during a fight: hard and fast rule

Eating chocolate cake as a breakfast food: flexible

Never, ever throw away a National Geographic b/c mom might use it for painting inspiration: VERY hard and fast rule

Strict bedtimes, making beds every morning, reading instead of chores: flexible

You get the idea.

But since I've married and forged my own household, eating at the table has been such a big decision for me. I'm torn. A part of me wants to adhere to my freespirited childhood roots. We ate standing up, slouched on the floor with a good book, on the porch, or while watching a movie in the living room. Dinner time was a 'get it while it's hot and before your youngest sister helps herself to the rest of the pork chops' event rather than a formal, napkin holding, sit up straight at the table event.

In fact, the only time my mother told me to sit up straight was when she told me that's how old ladies get humps in their backs.

Another part of me longs to set the table each and every night, light a candle, put on soft music. But in all honesty, Matt and I have met in the middle. Luckily, our living/dining combo in the front of the house lends itself to table settings AND Matt's ESPN dinnertime updates. And while I don't light candles and usually eat in my sweatpants, I always have a tablecloth. And I just push the library books to the other end of the table.

So tell me. What are your dinnertime traditions? It really fascinates me. I'd like to imagine other households putting on lovely Beaver Cleaver style meals every night, complete with china settings and water goblets. But, I suspect there's more Chinette paper plates going around than any of us would admit. Fill me in!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

My Sister's Big Hair

OK. Whenever I post pictures of my middle sister, I get tons of comments on her hair. And emails. Mostly questions. So here are some answers

1. Is her hair natural?

Yes. I can remember when she was two and she had white little pin curls all over her head. I also remember her chomping her tiny little teeth at me while I ran and screamed and held her forehead so she couldn't bite me. Curls, totally natural.

2. How can I get my hair to do that?

First, you have to have some natural curl. Then use a good curl enhancing mouse. Never brush your hair when it's dry (direct advice from my sister). Always pick it out when wet, apply mouse and blow dry with a good diffuser. Then fix the fly-aways with a good curling iron.

3. How does she have time to do her hair like that?

Really, she doesn't spend much time on it. She just sort of pins it up here and there and goes. As an admiring shop owner said this weekend, "I just adore her hair! It's so messy and chic, like you might could find a fork in there somewhere."

4. Does it make you sad that your sister got such great hair?

No. It fits her personality. If anyone has managed to plow their way through my book... you'll note my character Amelia has giant yellow curly hair. Not a coincidence.

5. Her hair is so... big.

OK, that's not a question. But yes, it is big. And she loves it. No flat hair for that girl. And I never lose her in a crowd. It does present problems when we go places, b/c that big giant mound of blond curls just ATTRACTS men from every corner and from under every rock. Whenever we go out, I just want to put a hat over her head. I spend my evenings scowling at the men-folk leering at her. I kind of look like a little yappy guard dog trailing around behind her.

OK. Hopefully that has completely answered all your questions about my little sister's phenomenal head of hair. Now go forth and curl and tease and hairspray your own big-hair masterpiece. May the force be with you.

(Photos courtesy of my mom and her awesome camera.)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Saturday With the Girls

And by girls, I mean my mom and sister. It was my mother's birthday weekend, so we made a trip northward for some fun. As you can see from my mom's front porch, I come by my love of Halloween honestly. As far back as I can remember, mom has always decorated with orange twinkle lights and jack-o-lanterns and pumpkins. Every year we go home, and drive far far out into the hills where we grew up, it always makes us smile to see mom's front porch, in the middle of nowhere, decked out for our benefit.

We spent some time outside, soaking up the beautiful fall weather. I also considered making an offer to buy this gorgeous pink inn right on the spot. But then I remembered that Matt doesnt like small towns... or giant pink houses. Hmmm... maybe if we painted it. Nah.

And of course, antique shopping.

We're also fairly sure we found the biggest pumpkin in the county...

And the friendliest cat.

I pondered taking a swing here, but wasn't quite confident in the results of my dieting. Those ropes looked a little flimsy.

It was good. It was fun. Just what a birthday weekend should be. Now, I just have to find some way to focus on this Monday. Sigh. It wont be easy.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Great Friday Fright and a Good Giveaway

I left the house later than normal this morning. I was basking in the cheerful patterns of sunlight on the wood floors, the crisp fall breeze through the screens, and my Ann Taylor sweater that I've waited all summer to wear. I had keys in hand, giant purse over shoulder and yanked the kitchen door open, singing to my heart's content. Singing; its a weird embarrassing thing I only indulge in when completely alone in the house. This morning I was belting "Somebody to Love" by Queen, and not doing it very well.

But I wasn't alone.

I opened the door and turned, singing, directly into a strange man's face.

I screamed.

He screamed.

I screamed louder.

He stumbled backwards, off the steps and sprawled on the concrete.

I threw my purse and cell phone and began to slam the door as hard as I could... before I realized the man laying prostrate on our carport was the friendly neighborhood bug man.

He was there for our monthly inspection, his poor mustache quivering and his face ashen from the shock of my shrieks.

If I hadn't been trying so hard to not pee my pants, I would have felt sorry for him. And just think; to add salt into his wound, he had also been subjected to my version of Freddy Mercury. My thoughts drifted to the great Boo Catastrophe and I realized I'd received my cosmic comeuppance.

In other more pressing news, my friend Deanna is having a fantabulous giveaway on her blog. I don't usually go giveaway crazy, but this one I'm excited about. Be sure to check it out and have a great weekend. Watch out for bug men.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Thanks, Again

Thanks for all your kind words and advice yesterday and today. I read every single comment in detail. You guys should get into the book industry... you sounded like professionals with all that savvy advice! Thanks again to everyone that downloaded it, last count there were exactly 100. It's not record breaking (and I'm sure there will be people that read it and say, 'uh... she should stick to blogging'), but it helps me put some closure on this thing. It feels good to be moving on. Thank you for helping me do that.

And to everyone that laughingly volunteered to paint my office yesterday... watch out. I may hold you to it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Book News From an Office in Progress

I’m becoming more and more excited about the office redo. I can’t put my finger on it; perhaps it’s the plants, the new table, or the mirror that acts as a third window when the sun shines down in the afternoon. Maybe it’s the jars of shells and vacation finds on the desk. Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve narrowed down a paint color for the walls. I think.

And maybe it’s because I started on a new book. The premise is murky, my main character exciting, the setting puzzling. And plot… let’s not even talk about it. But perhaps good, creative things happening in a room suddenly make it appear better, prettier, more inspiring than before. Either way I’ll take it. Now I just need someone to paint for me.

I have a confession, and it’s not an easy one to make. Everyone knows about the book I wrote. I’ve been querying agents for weeks, months. And, nothing (so far) seems to have gelled. So, I’m doing something that most find a little (if not a lot) unsettling.

I’ve decided to put The Secret of Cold Springs into eBook form, so it could be downloaded for free. You can click on the link in this post or the permanent link on the sidebar to your right (under the book picture, click download here). I know what some of you are saying.

“She’s lost her mind.”

“Anyone can read it now, that’s scary.”

“It hasn’t been professionally edited yet, it’s not ready.”

Yeah, I know. I'm sure you'll find grammatical errors and some 'huh?' spots. But the idea of shelving it, pushing it into my office closet to never be read and collect spider webs was even more horrifying. Even though it may not be ‘publisher’ ready, and even though it doesn’t make me an ‘author ‘ in the true sense of the word… at least it will be read by a few people. And in the end, that’s all that any writer really wants; to have fun creating a story, and for other people to read it.

So I hope you wont think me too crazy, and I hope you’ll all feel free to download it. Did I mention it’s free? I figured I owed it to you to at least make it available. After all, you are the ones I’ve bemoaned and yammered at, thanks so much for listening. I’m going to sit right here in my evolving office and begin a new chapter, so to speak, and start working on a new story. After all, that’s what moving on is all about.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Longing for Italy, Baking Fruit Tarts Instead

I haven’t enjoyed a book like this in years. And it surprises me; it didn’t seem like the kind of book I would enjoy. I often passed it on a shelf and chalked it up to being like the Oprah book-club literature I have for so long steered clear of. I read my first Oprah book while plowing through two boxes of Kleenex. The second book cost me another two boxes of Kleenex and four Tylenol for the crying headache. Fool me twice Oprah.

But Under the Tuscan Sun is, to be frank, the next best thing to an Italian vacation. While reading I kept slapping my forehead and muttering, "Why didn't I read this when it came out?" And then I saw that it was published in 1997, the year I turned 17 and stopped reading in favor of dating an older, slightly scary boyfriend. But, I digress.

The only way Tuscany could be more real would be if I went there myself. Which I cannot. Which is why after finishing the book and sighing with a hint of depression (and simultaneously imagining my own little fantasy villa in Tuscany), I decided my longings were best put to use through baking. And what else? Frances Maye’s tart recipe.

I’ve got a thing for tarts, or any dessert that involves fruit. As much as I adore all food, the simple Italian fare that Frances describes in the book steals my heart.

So here is her recipe:

4 to 5 large peaches, sliced

¼ cup sugar

1 cup mascarpone cheese

Toasted almonds

Pie Crust (I used 2)

I did a tiny derivation, mixing peaches and strawberries. I also left out the almonds b/c they make Matt’s tongue swell up in a really scary way. Another story for another day. I mixed the chopped fruit, sugar and cheese together (it was enough for two tarts) and then piled it in the centers of two pie crusts. I folded the crust over and placed them in the oven at 375 for 30 to 40 minutes (I really can’t remember now). Then I sprinkled some powdered sugar on top and added some spearmint from the herb garden, but those aren’t really necessary if you don’t want them.

The only thing I would do differently is brush some butter or egg white on the crust before putting it in the oven (to make it crispier). But it was really delicious. Frances didn’t steer me wrong, and neither did her fantastic book. I ate this tart while dreaming of green shuttered villas, nuns dressed in white, fresh fruit markets and ravioli. It was the best dessert (not to mention book vacation) I’ve had in a long time.

Monday, October 13, 2008

State Fair

What do mullets, funnel cakes, monster truck derbies, tattoos, grandma’s homemade plum jam and eardrum-bursting-music have in common? That’s right. It’s time for the state fair.

I have to confess, a tiny part of me misses my hometown county fair. I miss the quant hand sewn lace displays, the blue ribbon jam tasting night, the local beauty pageant host who yells into bad quality speakers. The state fair is missing in a little of that home-grown quaintness, with the exception of the cow and goat barns, where the 4-H students and farmers make everyone smile.

And this, ladies and gents, is “The Screamer.” And it was just that. I clenched and seized muscles I didn’t even know I had on this ride, and truthfully, am still sore.

Matt and I tried to put on a good face, tried to pretend that we weren’t old and nauseous and totally unfun in front of my little sister and her friend. But thankfully, “The Screamer” (along with the overwhelming aromas of turkey legs and fried candy bars) had induced nausea and dizziness in all of us. We rested for several blissful minutes on these hay bales.

And then, after the near-barf experience wore off, we decide we could eat. I know, it didnt make any sense to us either.

And just to prove that I’m not making this up, I present to you the “Pig Licker” food stand…. chocolate covered bacon. Matt’s eyes lit up and I responded by saying, “Not in a thousand years.”

And as we made our way home, our bellies full of fried food and our heads still slightly dizzy, I realized there is something timeless about the spinning rides, the squealing children, the gentle wafting aroma of animal manure. It makes me think of State Fair and Charlotte's Web and hundreds of good childhood memories. There’s always something truly comforting about participating in an event so rooted in history.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Fall Dinner Party

Last night we had a dinner party. Supper club to be exact. The windows were open, the garlic cooking, my favorite Harvest Wreath candle burning, and the house abnormally clean for a Thursday night. It was a really nice change of pace.

Matt fixed tomato salad and an Italian dish; gnocchi with sauteed mushrooms, artichokes, pesto, onions, red peppers, basil, and garlic. I tried to take a picture of him cooking, but I was forbidden. Chef Matt does not like distractions.

When I told him he was going to have to write the recipe down, he shrugged his shoulders. That's because he does not operate in the world of recipes. It's really exasperating for list makers like me. He throws things in the air, a dash of this, a pinch of that. You'll just have to take my word for it; it was good.

And you're probably asking yourself, "Uh, what did Liz contribute to this dinner?" Well, I present this goofy photo as evidence that I contributed the dessert (blogged about here but with raspberry jam and fresh strawberries), cleaning power, and of course the fluffing. You know, candle lighting, pillow plumping, table setting. I love the fluffing.

Our dinner guests were so much fun. There was laughter and talking and one rousing game of Taboo. It made me think, "Wouldn't it be fantastic to not work? To stay home and cook food and set tables with flowers and entertain people?" I've obviously been watching too much of her and reading too much of this.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Fairest Table of Them All: An Office Re-Do Update

Remember when I found the shop with my office inspiration? Well, I went back and paid them a little visit. I pondered that cute little desk in a big way, but when it came right down to it I couldn't trade in the one I already have. I love it... it's solid wood, an old science classroom table from the 20's (or earlier). I'm keeping it.

So, my eye began to rove elsewhere and I spied this adorable side table.

I marched straight to the front of the store, where the owner was reclining outside on a vintage rocker while watching shoppers walk by in the dappled afternoon sunlight (I had to struggle hard not to hate him for having my dream job) and said, "I'll take it."

It was a good bargain, but as I stuffed it into the back of my itty bitty car, I began to think, "Um, what did you just do? Where are you going to put this? What in the world does this have to do with an office re-do?"

But as I eyed its cute farmhouse table legs, its yellow and aqua flecked paint, I realized I didn't care. I'd put it in middle of the living room and walk around it every day if I had to.

So my office got another rearrange, and surprisingly this little table is working great as a plant stand. Plus, it's directly next to my desk, so I can gaze at some lovely greenery in the winter when I'm longing for the sun to come out again.

Not only that, but the aqua paint on it has inspired a possible paint color for the office walls. If you cant tell, I'm a little giddy.