Friday, May 30, 2014

I've moved!

Friends!  (If there's anyone still checking this little corner of the internets) I've been meaning to let you know for ages that changes are afoot.  My friend Kim and I have started a sewing pattern company called Snapdragon Studios, and my blogging powers (hah) are being put to use on our company blog.

We'll be releasing our first collection at the end of next week (!!!), so hop on over or visit us at to check it out.  :)

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House

It's been about forever since I've written a book review here (... maybe I've never written a book review here?  Perhaps that was a different blog, long, long ago?), but I've been making time to read again lately and therefore have been Thinking All Sorts of Thoughts about books and wanted to share some of them.

The book that's been on my mind lately is Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House.  I meant to read it before Halloween to get myself into an appropriately spooky mindset, but as it turned out I didn't get to it until the first week of November.  Oh well.

Shirley Jackson and I have a bit of history because I'm a huge, huge fan of her short stories.  The funny thing is that I've been meaning to read Hill House for ages because I like haunted house stories, but somehow I never put together the fact that my short story hero also wrote what is arguably the most famous haunted house story ever.  But anyway....

The Haunting of Hill House is about a group of strangers who are called together because of their various experiences with the supernatural by Dr. John Montague to scientifically investigate a reportedly haunted mansion.  The mansion does not disappoint: there are plenty of unexplained noises and events to terrify the house's inhabitants, but the brilliance of this ghost story is that the ghosts don't even show up until halfway through the book.

Shirley Jackson's gift is writing characters.  It is clear that the people Dr. Montague invites to join him in his investigation are already haunted before they even arrive.  Eleanor, the character we get to know the best, experienced poltergeist activity in her home as a child and has grown bitter because she was responsible for caring for her invalid mother for many years until her mother's recent death.  Theodora, a devil-may-care free spirit, joined the team as a lark, although there are hints that she may be an outcast in her own way.  The final member of the group, Luke, is the heir to the house although no one has lived in it for many years.  The black sheep of his family, he hides his feelings under a smooth, dandyish exterior.

The house is a character in itself, built by the eccentric Hugh Crain eighty years before the story takes place.  None of the angles of the house are quite right, and the downstairs rooms are laid out in a spiral, with the inner rooms having no access to daylight or the outside whatsoever, leaving the inhabitants slightly queasy and disoriented.  The usual haunted house trappings are all there: musty Victorian decor, a creepy caretaker and cook duo, and a paranoid, spinster daughter who hanged herself in the library.

The first three-quarters of the book is wonderful.  The characters are getting to know each other, and the omniscient narrator gives us glimpses into Eleanor's thoughts as the characters settle into the house.  Eleanor's recurring theme is "Journeys end in lovers meeting", although she does not know whether Luke, Theo, or the house itself is the lover she would meet at the end of her journey.  The house is quiet the first two days the investigators are in it, and the tension the reader feels while waiting for the scary stuff to start is great.

I won't give away the ending because you really, really need to read this for yourself, but I've noticed with two of my favorite books: The Haunting of Hill House and Jack London's The Sea Wolf, the endings are totally unsatisfactory.  I've been thinking a lot about why that is since I finished Hill House, and I think that in both cases, the authors created unbeatable bad guys.  Hill House is too big, too creepy, to *haunted*, whether by the ghosts that were already there or by the baggage the characters bring with them, to be figured out and explained.  In The Sea Wolf, Wolf Larsen, the sadistic, larger-than-life captain of the seal-hunting schooner the Ghost, rescues the soft, city-bred progatonist Humphrey from a ferry wreck and subjects him to the brutality of the sea for the long seal-hunting season.  Aside from the character of Wolf Larsen, the plot of The Sea Wolf is actually rather weak, but Wolf Larsen is one of the great characters in American literature.  The trouble with him is that he's too strong, too invincible.  Jack London had to resort to a sort of deus ex machina to get rid of him because he was too powerful for Humphrey or any other character to beat him.  It is the same for Hill House.  Shirley Jackson brilliantly created a character that was too strong for anyone to best.  At the end of the novel, Hill House hasn't given up any of its secrets, and, somehow, even though it's painfully frustrating for the reader, it works.

Thursday, October 3, 2013


So really, honestly, someday I mean to write about the crafty stuff I've been doing; the stuff that has had me out of the kitchen and playing with Mod Podge and jewelry fittings and comic books and fabric scraps, but late summer and early fall in my world are about canning.  And canning, and canning, and more canning.

I finally got to make applesauce last week, but I am a bad blogger and forgot to take pictures, so I'll leave it to your imaginations for the moment.  Luckily for you, though, I'm picking up a bucket of apples from my aunt today to make more applesauce this weekend, so there's another chance for pictures.  Please try to contain you excitement.

Mostly, though, our kitchen has been covered in tomatoes.  When I say covered, I don't mean a little box of them sitting in the corner waiting patiently to be processed, I mean covered.  Bags sitting on every available surface, piles in the sink waiting to be washed and peeled, bowls holding the overflow that wouldn't fit in the pot simmering on the stove... covered.

I got a bit lazy this year and last with my tomato canning: some years I've gone all out and made pizza sauce and spaghetti sauce in addition to my usual salsa, but the past couple of years I've just canned lots of whole tomatoes (using this recipe with the addition of a couple of whole garlic cloves and some basil leaves stuffed in the jars with the tomatoes - I know, I know - never change a canning recipe.  But I've been adding garlic and basil for years and haven't died of botulism yet, for what that's worth.  You've been warned nonetheless).  My excuse for the whole tomatoes is that they're more versatile - if we want pizza sauce we can cook them down and puree the sauce; if we want spaghetti sauce we can do that, but if we just want some tomatoes to round out a recipe, they're good for that, too.   The real reason, though, is that it's about a million times faster to can whole tomatoes than it is to make sauce, cook it down to perfection and then can it.  It's the lazy person's guide to home preserves from me to you.

My one concession to ambition this year in the tomato department was in making V8 juice.  That was less work than making sauce because I did it at my aunt and uncle's house and used their juicer to crush all of the veggies after they cooked - much easier and less messy than doing it with a blender.  I used this recipe and it turned out really good - it's tasty cold, but it also makes a solid soup warmed up and it's definitely a killer Bloody Mary mix.  My only changes were to use swiss chard instead of celery (there was no celery at the market, so I used the white-ribbed swiss chard and it seemed like a good substitution - not bitter at all) and to add more horseradish than the recipe called for because I like it a bit spicy.

This was my super-lazy tomato preserving plan - I had a ton of cherry tomatoes, which I love, but which we would've never been able to eat before the went bad, so I rinsed them and spread them out on a jelly roll pan and threw them in the freezer.  When they were frozen solid, I dumped them in a ziplock baggie like a bunch of tiny cue balls and now we'll have them for omelettes, stews and what have you this winter.  Easy peasy.

I made two batches of tomato salsa this year, plus a batch of salsa verde.  I used this recipe for roasted tomato salsa (I think the recipe calls for just the chilis to be roasted, but I fired up the charcoal grill and I figured that as long as it was going I might as well roast everything in the world, so basically every ingredient called for by the recipe got a taste of the flames).  I highly recommend this recipe - I made one batch as a milder salsa with just a few jalapenos and another, hotter batch the next weekend with jalapenos and some Scotch bonnet  chilis, and both came out really well.  This will be my go-to recipe for salsa from now on - you can taste the nice, roasted flavor along with the usual salsa-y thing going on.  Yum.  I always make a ton of salsa because it's good for chili base as well - rather than add a ton of ingredients to my crock pot chili I just brown up whatever meat I'm using, add whatever veggies and spices I have on hand and then toss in a jar of salsa to round everything out.

And now I'm hungry for chili.

I used this recipe for the salsa verde - this was the first time I've tried making it before and it was awesome.  The only change I made was to roast all of the veggies on the grill (I made it the same day as one of the batches of tomato salsa and I was in the mood to GRILL EVERYTHING) and to add salt, pepper, cumin and a splash of apple cider vinegar.  We made chicken enchiladas for dinner the other night (I'm an overachiever and made homemade tortilla shells, too, which were easy after I figured out that when they say "flour" tortilla, they mean "coat every surface in your kitchen including yourself in flour so they won't stick when you're rolling  them out and then you're golden") and slathered them in salsa verde - it was kind of heavenly, really.

I think the final total was something like 110 lbs. of tomatoes plus five lbs. of tomatillos that I processed.  It was a little bit ridiculous, and there was a week or so there when I couldn't stand the thought of a tomato, let alone countenance one sitting brazenly in my kitchen mocking me, but I'll be happy for these jars come wintertime when the thought of a sun-ripened tomato seems a long way off.

So I promise the season of canning is winding down for me and I'll find something more interesting to write about soon.  In the meantime, though, my larder is stocked and now I can settle in and enjoy fall.  Current project: get the family to a pumpkin patch to get some super cute pictures of Jack among the pumpkins.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


My meditation for the day:

When everything is bothering me and I'm having trouble remembering why I wanted to do anything other than live alone in a cave far from humankind, it's possible that I'm the one who needs an attitude adjustment, not everyone else in the world.

In related news, Jack is having a really hard time teething and was up four times again last night and I'm not my usual sunshine-y self when I get very little sleep for weeks on end.

*goes to happy place*

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


To me, there's nothing like the first couple of crisp days when fall is definitely in the air and you need a sweater to leave the house in the morning.

The first nights when you can leave the window cracked and snuggle under the feather duvet are heaven.

(It's fairly dorky to admit, but our feather duvet might be my very favorite purchase I've ever made for the house.  When I was a kid my best friend's parents had one on the bed in their guest room and whenever I spent the night there the feather duvet just seemed like the most luxurious thing in the world to me.  I caught one on sale a few years back and I still feel like the queen of Sheba when it's cool enough to put it on the bed.  ... it's the little things in life?)

The neighborhood is quiet now during the day because the kids have gone back to school.  The onslaught of tomatoes from the garden has subsided somewhat (thank goodness), and our produce consumption is turning toward winter squash and potatoes.

The peaches at the market have given way to the apples, which means that I'll be hauling a couple big boxes of seconds home because it's almost applesauce time.  (Paul is super excited about applesauce time: his enthusiasm for my applesauce is second only to his enthusiasm for the bushels and bushels of corn I haul home every summer.)

At the coffee shop, lattes have replaced my summer fare of iced Americanos.  The very first trees are beginning to hint at reds and oranges instead of breezy greens.

And, the best sign of fall, my pumpkin, the one I didn't even mean to plant, is turning orange.  The very first pumpkin that I haven't killed, discouraged, or otherwise maimed, is ripening in our side yard.  Really, it should probably be considered Jack's pumpkin, since the only reason it grew there is because I had pumpkins out for decoration in the yard last fall that I never bothered to bring in (possibly because I was ridiculously pregnant and bending over to pick them up didn't suit, and after Jack was born I spent three months curled up on the daybed doing nothing but nursing him, so that may have had something to do with the fact that they were abandoned.)  But, hope springs eternal for the pumpkin, and when last year's decorations rotted, new life was born.  How poetic.  I just hope it finishes ripening in time for Halloween so that Jack's first jack o'lantern is one that grew because of him.  

Monday, September 9, 2013


I've been thinking a lot about intentions this week.

Admittedly my thoughts have been somewhat scattered on the subject because my darling son is teething like crazy right now and hasn't slept for more than 3 hours at a time in over a month, but here's what I've come up with so far.  

I want to live intentionally.  

By which I mean that I want to take the time to notice the little things in my life.

(I told you this wasn't going to be rocket science.)

As far as I can tell, intentions can go one of two ways.  You can intend to do something and actually do it, or you can have all the best intentions and keep going on the way things always have been.

The boy-o is 10 months old now, and watching how fast he is changing and growing up is what sparked these musings.  I want to be intentional about the time I spend with him.  I'm his primary caregiver while Paul is at work, and some days that's not so easy.  Staying home with an infant is isolating and lonely and there are days when you feel like you'll never be able to put your boobs back in your shirt and have an adult conversation ever again.  (I hear that strippers have a similar problem.)  Then, once the kiddo is bigger, you might feel like you'll never be able to get anything done again because he is into EVERYTHING ALL THE TIME.  If it's not the oven broiler drawer it's the dog's water bowl. (You don't realize how much water is actually in there until it's all on the floor.  Five dishtowels-worth, in case you were wondering, and then the floor is *still* wet because you've run out of dishtowels you're willing to mop the floor with.)   

But there are a lot of awesome moments, too.  He learned to clap his hands a few weeks ago, and now we get a round of applause when we walk into the same room he's in.  That feels pretty good.  He also learned to high-five from a friend of ours at the farmers' market, and that's charming, too.  He imitates our "HAH!" when we're playing with him, and he knows how the lizard goes (picture an adorable 10 month old boy poking his tongue in and out of his mouth as fast as he possibly can.  That's comedy gold.).  He delights in his new-found skills of putting objects into bowls and dumping them out again.  He loves the water.  He watches everything and tries to figure it all out.  He's learned to pet Penny gently, and the two of them share toys (... we're working on building good immune systems?) and genuinely seem to get a kick out of each other.

I want to remember all of that.  

And more than remembering it, I want to enjoy it while it's happening, too.  I intend to do that.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Public Service Announcement:

Refrain from taking your youngster to a wet beach unless you have all of the following:

A) A high tolerance for mess

B) The willingness to get wet and messy yourself while trying to hose him off afterward

C) A dry towel and a change of clothes for both of you

D) The desire to watch your little goober have the time of his life