Thursday, December 29, 2011

out with ye olde

So we're creeping up on the end of another jam-filled year and it's time to make some changes. Some years, I throw out all my underwear and buy new dainties to celebrate the turnover. Other years I fast. Once, I nearly burned down my house. But that wasn't on purpose.

In a few hours, I'll be saying good-bye to a little piece of myself. Nope, not getting a nose job. Or a divorce. I'm not euthanizing a pet. What I'm doing is, well, dumping my starter website for a new one. There, I admitted it. My hardworking, clever little flash pony of a website is going to that ephemeral corral in the sky, where it'll join other digital free agents (maybe there's a for unattached websites? Think about it, an outerweb dating service?).

It really is dumb, what I'm doing, broadcasting this upcoming launch. It's worst practices to announce a website's birth before it's actually, um, born and has had its fingers and toes counted, but I'm thinking everyone's off on holiday, or watching basketball, or a movie, so, I'm doing it. Hard launching. Right here and now.

Poor Ira, my web developer, he's been laboring over this build--the new website is a bit of a princess (think, trophy wife), and she's given quite a headaches with all her frilly self-importance, but he's got her corset nearly laced, and sometime in the next 12 or 24 or 36 hours, the new suzyvitello will be unveiled. I hope.

So, farewell, little crab. I hope you meet someone really nice.

P.S. all you fans of the crab--the website's twin sister, wordsinahurry, is still going to be around, so you can get your flash fix.

Friday, December 23, 2011

merry merry merry

Well, folks, I'm taking the holiday week off from most things cyber. But I shall return first thing 2012 with my fresh newly launched website, a few interviews with cool writerly types, and more sass and fancy.

Be well, and enjoy the splendors of this last week of 2011. May you occupy the full measure of your dreams.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

a few of our favorite things

Though we're always open to trying new things, each year we revel in a smattering of traditions around the holidays. Here are a few that seem to keep coming back:

1. Sushi. I remember one particular Christmas Eve taking Sam and Maggie to a sushi restaurant when most people were either at church or carving into a hunk of roasted meat. What seemed an odd thing to do that night turned into a welcome break from the usual holiday stuff-fest where sugar, butter and overindulgence reign supreme.

2. Hoops. Every Christmas break Kirk's buddies get together for a tournament in Jesuit's gleaming gym. Usually an East Side versus West Side affair, lately the younger generation has made inroads and now there's a variety of ways they mix it up: Oldsters versus Young bucks; Whites/Darks. But given the collection of knee braces and such at this year's hoops night, they may consider a future version where they break teams up into various categories of afflictions.

3. Eggs Benedict. Whatever I said about combating excess with sushi, it'll never apply to Christmas morning. Eggs Benedict is always on the menu, and must be eaten prior to any gift unwrapping.

What about you? Any gotta-do-it-every-year rituals you feel like sharing?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

my cups runeth over

Here's a bevvy of gifts given to me recently by an assortment of my favorite people. Folks who know me well. Know what I drink and how I behave. (I fear that Santa is, right this very minute, getting his coal chute ready to load my stocking up.)

I'm a huge fan of unabashed over-the-top gift exchange. I'm not talking Eartha Kitt sparkles and gold mind you--just gifts that reflect the personalities and heart of the giver, the receiver, or both. Our oldest kids--married and now expecting their first child--made kaluha last year, and personalized stationery wrapped in Pacific Northwest twine and brown paper. Kirk's brother and sister-in-law gave us tea they'd harvested from flowers and herbs in their yard. My dad wrote us a check and sent along a "house divided" doormat reflecting our split college team allegiance. All the gifts resonated completely with who we know these people to be.

I love perusing the various "put a bird on it" places Portland has become famous for and finding little things that somehow speak to my kids or husband. Tiny trinkets to fill a basket or stocking. It's inevitable, now that we're in that final countdown, that I'll be logging more miles on the plastic at the last minute. So be it.

What are your wishes for Christmas? (Besides peace on earth, I mean.)

Monday, December 19, 2011

santa baby

Eartha Kitt is just so steamy with her, "Come and trim my Christmas tree." The spirit behind this song is so sultry and fun. Who wouldn't want a yacht or a platinum mine?

I'll settle for some chocolate from Alma though.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

on winning

Ask my husband, he'll tell you that I'm scary competitive. I hate losing. I'm strategic to the point of ridiculous with the games.

Tonight we played Smart Ass at a dinner party in teams of three. Then we switched to Scattegories. My team won Smart Ass, and I won a round of Scattegories and I was quite self-satisfied.

I hate losing. I really, really do. I've grown out of throwing hissy fits, but I still simmer angrily when the cards or dice don't fall my way. I'm a big, fat baby.

While I was at this dinner party, my 12-year-old was playing an indoor soccer game. He called me up to give me the blow-by-blow. It was one of those tied up until the last 10 seconds and he scored the winning goal deals. As it should be. Forever and ever amen.Winning concretized by dramatic example.

So what is it about winning? It's so completely unpermanent. It's like, okay, you got the most, the highest the best score, but tomorrow, you'll wake up and start all over. Square one. Chutes and ladders. Groundhog's Day. Sucker. Or is winning more of a cumulative thing?

I remember the semester I decided to be an anthropology major as an undergrad. I took this Indian survey class, and I learned that Hopi children only win when they all reach the finish line at the same time. Really? How fucked up is that? But at the time, I was an idealistic 20-year-old and I thought that was terrific. There are more important things than being first, I believed.

Now, I think the idea of winning is a little more complex. Outside of a parlor game, winning--being first--is more about how you feel at the end of the day. For me it has to do with how closely my day matched the template I created that morning. You know the drill: lists, priorities, tasks, goals. I "win" if I feel like I accomplished what I set out to do. I "lose" if I got derailed.

Lots of people live their lives making it up as they go along. I used to do that. In fact, I think my basic temperament has that tendency as a default. But years of living with someone whose life was one derail after another had me switching tracks in order to prevent a complete collapse of our basic existence. I'd say my deal these days is about setting an intention, and then allowing for the various miracles and human exchanges to bend that intention.The process relies heavily on intuition. I make a lot of mistakes. Denial sometimes enjoys too wide a berth with that policy, but all in all, I've managed to win more days than not following that paradigm, so I'm not planning on giving it up anytime soon.

I am curious though, about how others see the idea of "winning" in a granular, daily sort of way. Anybody?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

the distraction of me

Facebook is taking self-referential (okay, let's call it what it is: unbridled narcissism) to new and spectacular heights with Timeline.

That said, it's really excellent! How many ways can there be to say ME?!

Here's a few. Feel free to chime in with your greatest hits!

  • Here's looking at ME kid.
  • I and love and ME.
  • Someone like ME makes it hard to love, somebody else.
  • Do re mi ME ME ME
  • I am the sunshine of my life.
  • Even though we ain't got money, I'm so in love with ME honey..
  • Well, you get the picture.

So, Facebookers, whatcha think of Timeline: Fun distraction, or the slippery slope of ME-VIL?

Friday, December 16, 2011

from the archives: revising during "the season"

December is galloping along the way it always does. Candles, boughs of holly, ornaments, gingerbread creatures and their lairs. Who put all of these props on the stage? And then there's the concerts, plays, parties and festivals. Wassail? Why not! It's been a while since I had night free of alcohol.

I am a big fan of the seasonal hyperbole. As long as I stay clear of malls, I'm not unduly affected by the stress of too many people, spending too much money and the ennui that comes with abject commercialism.

My biggest complaint about December is that it's really hard to hunker down with the pages. Especially revision. Writing new stuff aligns with the mania of December. Sober judgment of existing work--not so much.

This Sunday afternoon, I'm thinking of sequestering myself in my office in order to tweak sentences, gain clarity on voice consistency, make back-story pacing decisions and to hopefully solve a host of other second draft problems, and I hope my brain cooperates instead of pining for whimsy and baubles and rum balls.

 This is an encore presentation of a post from 2009 (because it still applies!)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

a little wrap music

Tonight we turned the entire family room into a sparkle fest. In one corner, there I was with my tape and glue and scissors and stickers, gift wrap and Christmas cards, while on the floor beside me Carson attacked his Spanish project with the spray glue. Yes, you heard me correctly, I armed my 12-yr-old with a can of Elmer's spray adhesive. And spray glitter, too. Which, by the way, is now covering my yoga pants.

Amid the toxic waste land known as craft night, we kept racing each other to the iPod player every time a song finished to employ the next craft night tune. We have different styles, different, um, tastes. Are they just generational, I ask myself? Are they gender-specific? If I were male and an adolescent, might I, too, be drawn the melody and lyrics of, say, Move Bitch?

I think not.No, I much prefer a little Ingrid Michaelson. Some Florence and the Machine, perhaps.

Call me crazy, maybe a little old fashioned, I just don't like to be yelled at and insulted when I listen to music. This, I pointed out to my son, might make me a grouchy old mom, but so be it.

Oddly though, as the evening of sticking reindeer heads to paper wore on, I found myself embodying the road rage and bass of Move Bitch. There's quite a bit of rhythm in it. After an hour in Christmas shopping traffic earlier (I was on carpool duty, taking the kids to their sports psychology class), I can't claim the words "move, bitch, get out the way" never materialized in my brain -- though I can honestly say they never sprang from my lips.

Ah, but now, as it approaches midnight, all is well. Carson scrubbed the glue from the floor, and I finally figured out how to get the Avery template to work with Microsoft, thus eliminating my scrawl from ruining my fancy Christmas card envelopes. And, I'm pretty sure I didn't swear ONE TIME during the entire craft night. Which is a record. (Well, if you don't count me singing along to Carson's rap music).

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

there's one born every minute

The other day I paid $120 for lotion and $67 for tea. Sure, it'll all get doled out into various stockings and whatnot, but, c'mon, 120 bills for cold cream?

I must confess, I have an affliction. I cannot engage with a samples hander-outer and not get sucked in. If I try it, I buy it. I'm a marketer's dream. I fall for everything: the hand-severed, organically grown aloe vera planted in harmony with the stage of the moon speech. The, I'll-throw-in-five-bottles-for-free spiel. I even fell for the: not just any container will do, line. The claim that necessitates the purchase of a vacuum-sealed canister to house 8 oz of oolong. Really? We're not talking pot ... it's just, well, tea!

I sign up for stuff, give out my email, engage with solicitors over the phone and I think I'm on six different Greenpeace lists. And why? Because I've somehow crept through a half-century of life without a solid battle plan. I completely lack savvy and skepticism when it comes to engaging with the hucksters of the world.

Here's a correlative: when I was six years old, I introduced the cat to my gerbil (actually, I think it was my sister's gerbil). After watching a Disney flick where a great Dane nursed a bunny rabbit, I believed in the Disneyesque goodness of all creatures. Like Cindy Lou Who to the Grinch, I held up the eviscerated rodent to the smiling feline whilst rubbing sleep from my eye and asked, "But why did you chew up our little pet, why?"

Now, I'm not above posting a scathing Google review when I get bilked by a charlatan--it's just that, well, I'm a patsy by nature, and I never learn. I'm a believer. I want to wholeheartedly embrace the notion that my fingernails will be as strong as Teflon, and those new tires will keep me accident free, and that knee exercise dvd will make me a black diamond skier. So I shell out the cash. I sign the forms. I take the frequent buyer card and cram it into my torn and bulging wallet and stride off, trying really, really hard to avoid eye contact with the mall carnies who dot my path with their gold and silver trays of samples.

The real solution though? I just need to stay home with my headphones on and my phone in the silent mode.

Monday, December 12, 2011

macy's getting all steampunk and groovy

A mesmerizing interlude (and antidote for yesterday's plastic penis post). Fa la la la la. La.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

the white elephant in the room

The parties, oh the parties. December is not even at the halfway mark, and my rum ball limit for the month has been far exceeded. I fear I may have to go on that dreaded cleanse again in January. But until then, I'm having a whopping good time.

I'm up to party number five. This weekend was especially festivusish, beginning on Friday with my husband's staff party. He's a teacher at one of those focus group schools that attract outside-the-box types. Turns out, the school also attracts a rowdy, fun bunch who believe in the sanctity of the happy hour and throwing white elephant parties.

Oh the range of human behaviors and Myers-Briggs typing opportunities at one of those soires! There's the "we have to get the best gift at all costs" type--those are often couples who team up to win the one item that someone might actually pay money for.

Hoarders tend to bring six or seven different items so they might acquire that many in return.

The conflict avoiding, codependent folk who attend these gatherings will often bring useful items because they can't bear to disappoint anyone, and they hope to pick the least desirable item to avoid being part of the "seizing" aspect.

Lazy slobs just grab the first thing they spy in a corner of their garage and stuff it into a grocery bag, and often leave the party without their acquired prize.

Of course, I fall into another category. Life has bestowed many graces upon me, and along with those have come the spoils (or, extrys as they're sometimes called). If I attended a white elephant party every weekend of the year, I would still have plenty of ornate candy dishes, religious paint-by-number sets, and macrame plant hangers in my basement. I'm proud to say, the gift I wrapped up was one so vile, its "winner" made a spectacle of herself, practically bursting into tears with hope that someone would steal it. (I can't tell you what it was, because. alas, it was an actual gift, a vastly unmathomable gift, and was most likely dumped into the maw of a Goodwill bin on its new owner's way home from the party).

It's fitting then, that I would end up with the plastic pink penis cocktail shaker and the half bottle of crappy vodka, right?

What about you? Been to any white elephant parties yet?

Friday, December 09, 2011

occupy santa's lap

Raising three kids in the 90's and the '00's was sort of like being in Berlin just before the wall came down. Yeah, that metaphor's a stretch--but what I'm getting at is it's only been the last couple of years that social media and smart phones have become so ubiquitous, they've changed the way we do, well, everything! Even, as I found out today, visiting Santa Claus at a mall.

Turns out there's this website where you can virtually be in line, when in actuality, you're at Nordstrom purchasing the lacy, itchy party dress that you'll slap on little Sally in the restroom (tags tucked neatly inside the collar) and then, you'll get a text message, giving you 5 minutes to stride down the hall, sit Sally on Santa's lap, snap-snap, and then it's back to the restroom to take off the dress and return it.

Okay, that's a little Guerrilla. Seriously though, as much as I hated standing in that line with fussy kids (who would only be assuaged so long by the free See's Candy samples), it was part of the ritual. And the bonus was, it was the best people-watching of the year! What with all those reindeer sweaters and holly hair ornaments.

I heart my iPhone more than anything, so you won't hear me ranting about bringing back the good old days when we were all rotary dialing and if we weren't home when someone called, too bad. However. This enterprise is all about commerce. You don't want people just hanging out at the mall with their credit cards sealed up, growing moss. No. Every minute counts. I'm sure a few months back some IT company sat down with the big-wigs at all the stores and presented a power point with graphs and charts and metrics announcing the climb in POS-per-minute by instituting this brain child. I can hear their smarmy talking points:

"If you can't bring the merchandise to them while they're standing there, do the next best thing..."

"Your ROI on this puppy will pay out within a week!"

Of course, I'm a big, fat naysayer (and getting fatter by the minute with all the free samples I've been plugging in my pie hole) so I'm sort of eager to actually see this in action. I anticipate that there will be some angry moms without texting capabilities who are shit-out-of-luck, 'cause there they stand whilst their richer, smarter contemporaries breeze past them and their screaming kids holding their glowing iPhones up like MVP frequent fliers.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

in the beginning

before there were hand weights, moms hoisted babies
In case you missed it, in addition to getting ready for the holidays, I'm in the process of a website revamp. What I've learned from nearly a decade in the "biz" is that when a person or a business embarks on building or redoing a website, what they're really doing is deciding what they want to be when they grow up. It's inevitable.

You have to consider bios, mission statements, values, brand promises, blah, blah and blah. The imagery questions alone can send a committee into a frenzied panic:

Blue is so 2005, financial services! Green can look so pukish with certain browsers! Make my logo bigger!

Now that I'm wearing the client hat--you'd think I'd know better. That I'd draw from years of experience on the other side of the conference table. But, no. Sadly, I have big ideas that don't really work, technologically. I want layers of stuff to look like one composition. Seamlessness and beauty. Is that too much to ask?

my first toys were german paperbacks
Not surprisingly, the area I'm wrestling most with are the visual elements of my new site. In particular, the images I want on my bio page. I started off with a head shot--your basic sort of professional, sort of whimsical author-type picture. But, trying to find one image that all the time stands for who I am and what I write and how I look, well, let's just say it took my narcissistic tendencies to the stratosphere. That is why I'm not having a mere headshot on my new site. I'm having a whole damn slide show. Fuck it.

And, like Julie Andrews in that Sound of Music number sings, I'm starting at the very beginning. Back when I was a clueless, myopic infant who thought the world one big marvel. It is my story after all.

What about you guys? What's your idea of the perfect writerly headshot?

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Santa Claus is-coming to town.

Is it just me, or is there a little more 'ho in ho-ho-ho these days? From Timberlake and his SNL sketch "Dick in a Box" to the Viagra emails that pepper my inbox with such clever subject lines as Christmas is-coming, 'tis the season to be, um, jolly?

Not that there's anything wrong with it.

However, if we're all gonna get down and busy this holiday season, let's do it the right way. The honorable way. The Jersey Girl way. With Bruce.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

suzy vitello dot com to be

Hey there all you lovely cyber buddies! I just wanted to give a heads up on some exciting web changes ahead for moi.

My colleague and web designer extraordinaire, Julia Stoops, has submitted her final designs to another colleague and web developer extraordinaire, Ira Pasternack.

The site's home page will look somewhat like you see in the picture, but with some fancy, subtle details in the nav area. I am especially grateful to photographer Brooke Shaden who has generously offered me use of her gorgeous artwork, and stay tuned for an interview with her in this very blog coming up after I launch the site.

I will also be posting an interview with Julia, where we'll be discussing authors' websites generally, so I'll give you the 411 on all that very soon.

Meanwhile, if you feel moved to comment on this post and give me your thoughts on what you think an author's website should or should not include, I'd love to hear 'em!

Monday, December 05, 2011

monday, monday

Kid home sick today. Sun out. My work-ever-in-progress tapping me on the shoulder with bold, new ideas. Lost in the research of Viennese diseases.

It was an odd Monday. Thank goodness I'm off to workshop tonight. Ever have one of those days you need to be around people or you're going to implode with the weight of your churning mind?

Here's a sweet little Pixies song to sum up the day.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

archival interlude

Nostalgia, that silly fucker. 

The holidays are awash with sentimental invitations to take a walk down Lane Memory, are they not? How does that Streisand song go again? Now, in addition to misty watercolor memories, I have digital detritus to comb through whilst I tarry in the land of Before Now. Five-and-a-half years of blogging to revisit.

Just for fun, today's post is a reprise of one posted in December, 2006. It's an experiment in staying power, and a tribute to the cross out, blatant edit, horizontal disclaimer, delete-but-not-really tool in the blog bag. What fun!

The thought snuck up on me today, on this, yet another “shortest day of the year,” December day, that I am only 20 15 years younger than my grandfather was when he died on the table during open heart surgery. I am 20 15 winter solstices away from that age. Sobering, but oddly, not in a bad way.

Meanwhile his wife, my grandmother, rots slowly in a nursing home. She is 94 99.

I think about them more and more, those two— my Oma and Opa. I think about them especially, having recently closed the book on an 11-year marriage. I think about them especially after writing a book that that takes place near Vienna.

When my sister and I were children, we spent many summers with our grandparents. They were Austrian immigrants, and their house (where my sister and her family now reside) was appointed with all manner of Viennese Bourgeois mixed with Tyrolean kitsch. The cut crystal. The gleaming Steinway. Shelf upon shelf of Hummels. The kitchen smelled of sour cherry jam spread on warm toast, and that smell mingled with oil paints and turpentine from my Oma’s back porch studio adjoining the kitchen. Separating a formal dining room from that studio stood a built-in, floor-to-ceiling teacup display case. On every conceivable occasion, it was my grandfather’s habit to present to his wife a fancy teacup and saucer.

My grandfather’s office was separated from the house by a garage, and at the noon hour you could hear the series of doors opening and closing as he made his way over for lunch. My grandmother would serve him a frankfurter, some brown bread. A little cucumber salad. Opa wolfed this down before striding over to the piano in the parlor, where he spent the remainder of his break time playing mostly original music. Stuff he’d spent decades composing, erasing, composing.

My grandfather was a physician by trade, but his artistic nature burst cholerically from every cell. He sketched, he wrote poetry. He built my sister and me a lavish, multi-story dollhouse with every miniature refinement found in their own home: little Victorian chairs, cabinets festooned with bric-a-brac. When my father, their only child, was a boy, the result of Opa’s obsessive handiwork was a railroad masterpiece spanning half the cellar. Not wanting to leave anything out, Opa fashioned forests and mountains. A village bisected by a paper-mache creek. The railroad sat in grave disrepair during my childhood, finally becoming permanently disassembled by my sister and her husband ex-husband just last year a few years back.

My grandmother was a temperamental hausfrau, ruled and defined by the degree to which she felt uncherished. Her sole creative outlet, painting pictures that became more and more abstract as she aged, was not embarked upon until she reached 50. Compelled by duty to engross herself in quotidian tasks she abhorred, she became as brittle as her teacup collection, over the years. And yet. And yet. At 94 99, she somehow continues to supply the necessary trickle of blood to her wounded heart.

That my grandparents had a horrible marriage intrudes vaguely on my recollections of them. (Much like the ever-present tinge of turpentine still permeates their house.) The sharp bickering between them, cast in German aspersions, is far less defining to me than their strong personalities. My grandfather clearly could not bear to spend time in the same room with his difficult wife—a woman who has outlived him by over 30 35 years, keeping the same middle-aged likeness of him in a gilt-frame within arm’s reach of her bedside. But still, I continue to think of them as a pair of bookends—Oma riding shotgun and Opa trying to escape.

So here, on yet another winter solstice day, I have more humanness than I can easily contain. I am feeling deeply part of a tribe, and less alone, actually, than usual. I feel weirdly connected to my dead grandfather, a man whose heart gave out from over-use. I feel, in turn, playful, adventurous, contemplative and, well, I’m just going to say it—sexy. It’s part unfettered liberation (hard won and playing, always, with guilt), and part flagrant gratitude. In short, I guess I just I’m just having a good day—even us dark, over-thinkers can have those now and again.

Addendum: On a revisiting my solstice walk through Forest Park this afternoon, my grandfather's presence loomed even closer. That he would have loved the park, that he died decades before I moved to Portland, and that my grandmother, upon hearing that I'd moved to Oregon muttered only, "But Washington is so much more beautiful!" all seemed a harmonious and fitting alignment to my solo trudge. Oddly, a freshly fallen monolithic fir (the last storm sent this puppy crashing down over the path, to rest atop a tree that had fallen in a storm a couple of years nearly a decade ago) gave me pause. As did a brand new bench, memorializing someone young. The epitaph on the plaque from RW Emerson read: "The measure of a life is not in its length, but in its depth."

Saturday, December 03, 2011

trees: then and now

My first date with Kirk (five years ago next week), we took a walk in the woods and he tried to explain the difference between fir and pine needles. He held the samples up to my face, and with gentle earnestness, described what was what.

But it was December and really cold out, and, frankly, I just wanted to keep walking. I was worried about my kids home alone and whether this date might actually be a psycho who could easily do away with me and hide me amongst the towering conifers of Tryon Creek. In my head, I was going, "well, he can't be a maniac because he's a scientist." But then, I remembered that the guy who made Frankenstein was a scientist too. A mad scientist.

But my scientist was legit, and I felt so calm and relaxed after our trudge through the chill, that I abandoned my dating rules and invited him in for tea, even though my house was a disaster with kids running hither and yon, and I'd started to put Christmas together in a very half-assed sort of way. Greeting cards were spread out on the table along with the kids' homework and unpaid bills. My oldest son walked out of the bathroom with a towel around his waist and my youngest son was out back skateboarding over rods of rebar. Why Kirk didn't get into his minivan and zoom off, I'll never know.

I had a practical reason for inviting this scientist into my home though. I wanted him to tell me the type of Christmas tree I'd cut down the day before. I'd gone up to Mt. Hood with another single mom type, and we'd gotten a Forest Service Tree Cutting Down Permit. We'd taken one of those pocket knife saws into the woods, and were distressed to discover that a half-mile walk off the highway would merely uncover the Charlie Brownest of Christmas trees.

He examined the tree (which jutted out from the corner of the living room in its sad, delicate state) and my date-who-would-become-husband declared it a hemlock. And when I described its condition and location before cutting it, I was mortified to learn that it really wasn't a "tree" at all--more like a nursing branch off of a tree.

Well, now it's five years later and I still couldn't tell you the difference between a pine and a fir, needle-wise, much less a Noble from a Nordmann, but this morning my scientist and I ventured off to the tree farm in our minivan and picked out a very Un-Charlie Brown tree, had it chain-sawed and baled, and tomorrow we'll trim it up with our joint cadre of ornaments, and I'll marvel at it, and I'll count my blessings that my five-years-ago life is not the life I'm living now.

Friday, December 02, 2011

powerless in pasadena

My name is Suzy, and I’m a tech-a-holic.

Hi Suzy!

I’m looking at a screen more than half (okay, more than three-quarters) of my waking day. For a while, a year or so ago, I experimented with an Internet Sabbath. No Screens Sunday, I called it. I think it lasted three Sundays.

November and December are huge months in the marketing business. Right now my company is in the midst of several integrated campaigns. Email inboxes are overflowing, I leapfrog from one conference call to the next. Forget about trying to find something on my desk. From before the coffee starts spishing into its carafe at 7:00 a.m. until pumpkin-turning time, you’ll find me at the keyboard in my little office that my husband not-so-affectionately calls “the cave.” 

Until yesterday.

Over the past 36 hours the Santa Annas have been on steroids down in SoCal. InPasadena, where my business partner and our main SEO guy lives, 300,000 homes are without power. Including theirs. Massive power outage in the tech biz is what the lockout is to NBA. Ain’t nothing going forward once the laptop batteries give out.

In frustration, our developer loped off to one of the few Starbucks with electricity in the area, and found himself among many—all bellying up to the bandwidth. Can you say cue the Jeopardy music?

Consequently, deadlines have passed and work is at a standstill for our team until:
a. the power in Pasadena comes back
b. our team relocates out of their present power grid

Now, if that isn't an invitation for me to hunker down and polish up my manuscripts, I don't know what is!

Thursday, December 01, 2011


I hate shopping. I am a bad, anxious shopper. Malls make me go all deer-in-the-headlights, and I do my best to avoid them in December.

Now, I can handle the lull and herbal tea of a classy boutique. Or the endless tasting parties at, say Trader Joes or New Seasons. Got chocolate? I'm there. But when you have kids, the call of the Big Box Store is all too ubiquitous.

When my youngest was a toddler, he liked nothing more than to stack all of his toys in a tsunami swell of stuff. I think it grounded him to bear witness to the sum total of his terrestrial stock--but even more, repeating the tasks of acquisition seemed to nurse an addiction. He was a little hamster wheel of need with the stacking and locating of his crap. Which, in a two-year-old is sort of cute, yes?

But in a 70-year-old, that behavior is less so.

The other day I was treated to an episode (#46: Ron/Carol) of Hoarders, featuring my ex-husband's uncle--yup, that would be the great uncle of that little guy you see in the picture above. I watched with interest, and then revulsion and sorrow as the subject, Ron, led the Hoarders crew through his stockpiled ramshackle abode. Books, papers, collectibles, knick-knacks, were all precariously heaved into chest-high hills with no pathway between them. A burner left on for heat sent a flame within inches of the combustibles. His "bed" was a mattress atop a makeshift loft that bowed downward, onto metal debris, ready to crack any minute.

But that wasn't the worst part.

Ron--who has an advanced form of prostate cancer, it should be noted-- was confronted by his only child, my ex-husband's cousin, who led the Hoarders intervention. Ron's inability to be accountable for the havoc his hoarding caused in his primary relationships was excruciating to witness. The denial. The stubbornness. It was the end-stage of the behaviors I struggled to understand in my ex husband, and ones that are all too genetically wired into my son.

The older I get, the more evidence I collect for the theory that living is simply a set of practices, one after the other. Intention starts the ball rolling, but it's only a spark. A tiny catalyst. It's the actions that ensue that make or break a life. The things a person does, repeatedly, are the only concrete clues we have to their personhood.

In the Hoarders show, it ended with Ron putting an arm around his daughter. Placating her, yes, but offering the only gesture of comfort he knew how to dole out. He was a man comfortable with himself, unwilling to change, and not entirely without introspection. He'd convinced himself that his patterns were indelible. His prostate cancer has spread to his brain, I heard. Brain cancer is a pretty undignified way to go out--but I have to say, no less undignified than being buried beneath piles of treasure.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

about intention

As soon as the Christmas Tree lots pop up, this mixture of emotions and anxiety hits me like Santa's sleigh. The Martha in me pans my dark, unfestive living room, photo-shopping in trees, candles, holly, swags. Joy swells for a brief moment, before being immediately knocked down by lists.

So complete is this Pavlovian response to the holidays that often when I'm stressed, I find myself humming Christmas tunes. This phenomenon is true regardless the time of year. Frosty the Snowman has been known to accompany preparations for a July BBQ.

Retail is on steroids for the next six weeks. Catalogs, free-standing newspaper inserts, e-blasts, charity drives, kid demands, eggnog lattes--they all compete in this jangle of frantic energy sending me into daily Grinch mode. What about art? What about writing? Give me more coffee. I need my glass of merlot. Happy hour!

Oddly wrong that the month of excess corresponds to less daylight. Shouldn't we all be sleeping this month? Getting up each morning with our candles, tip-toeing into the kitchen to boil water for herbal tea? Meditating on what is sacred. Kissing our children and lovers. Making soup. Writing (yes, by hand) old fashioned holiday wishes, thoughtfully and particularly rendered to the special people in our lives?

It does start with intention, doesn't it?

Part of my job as a marketing specialist is to create the call-to-action behind the impulse buy. To use the season's effluence to manipulative, cunning advantage. I love my clients, but--I am loath to play that game. Why not give customers poetry instead? Why not evoke real joy? Alas, I am torn.

So, here is my advent compromise. Each day in December, I will set out to post something here that speaks to intention, love, or art. My guidelines are authenticity and inquiry. And I promise not to be drinking whiskey (or coffee) while doing it.

What are your advent traditions?

photo credit: Orin Zebest.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Thanksgiving, Portland style

The harried hostess pouring filtered water for the masses.
The Thanksgiving Dinner countdown has begun, and like many modern families, we're blended. Which means we get to do this more than once.

Kirk and I have five kids all together--including two with partners. Counting siblings, significant others and close friends, we need something on par with a Google algorithm to figure out possible holiday dining combinations. So, being welcome to excess in all of its permutations, today we hosted a sort of Fakesgiving potluck. Most of the kids were here, and a few of their pets, too.

Such good sports. Aren't they?
Now, bear in mind that many of our kids are embracing restrictive diets of one sort or another. Vegan, gluten-free, food sensitivities. And then there's the elders who like to stick to low-glycemic fare. Some of us enjoy our meat. Others are fine with whatever, as long as the wine is flowing. I'm proud to say that our table was replete with foods from all of the new-fangled food groups. Bring on the soy-sausage! Enjoy the wheat-and-dairy-free eggplant "parm." Want pureed cauliflower in lieu of mashed potatoes? No problem!

Pass the vegan gluten-free brownies! Pour me some of that 2007 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir! Anyone for brined organic turkey? For the Chihuahuas we even had soy-, wheat-, and corn-free treats. And for those allergic to Chihuahuas we had Benedryl.

The food scrap compost bin is a big part of Thanksgiving this year.
And after everyone was satisfied and plump, we sent them packing with leftovers. On my stove now is the carcass, melting like a Wizard of Oz witch into a pot of simmering water, carrots and celery.

Kirk and I will be heading over the mountains and through the river on Wednesday for the Thanksgiving part 2, to bunk down with a group of friends who like to start each morning with a good breakfast porter and a side of bacon. 

How about you? How many 2011 Thanksgiving Dinners in your future?

Friday, November 11, 2011

like crazy

Now that's chemistry: Anton Yelchin & Felicity Jones in LIKE CRAZY
On the heels of last night's at-home movie fail I trotted myself downtown for a make-up matinee, and the timing worked out perfectly for Drake Doremus's Homeland Security-Interruptus Love Story, "Like Crazy."

The movie is a boy-meets-girl sort of a deal with a post-911 swerve and a terrifically innovative narrative arc. I won't spoil the ending, but the film left me feeling hungry and satisfied at the same time, which is really my favorite way to feel after two hours in the dark with strangers. Really.

As a student of Happily-Ever-After, both in my work and in life, this story offered an authentic glimpse at a seldom-studied aspect of that oft-wielded cliche: the soul mate. Framed in modern times but sprinkled with age-old romance stuff: male ego, quest for self, individuation versus taking one for the team, etc, the movie delivered a unique and quietly uncomfortable snapshot of the many layers involved in living in today's multi-faceted world. Plus, Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones are well-cast and adorable as the young lovers fraught with pond-hopping troubles.

The masses can have the Hollywood blockbusters, but for my $8.50, I'll take art.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

bad movie night at chez soule

So tonight, the husband and I are going to hunker down in our "viewing room" aka "the tweener stink pit" and watch a shitty movie.

Why not a Fellini flick, or some socially responsible doc or even some erudite British film? I mean, c'mon, we live in Portland, replete with art house movie theaters and whatnot, but instead of thought-provoking, creative, smart cinema options, we will crank back the vintage La-Z-Boys and watch the Depp-Jolie flop that has been called, "the thriller with no thrills."

Why? Because, dear friends, marriages often stalls out at the impasse known as the "what are you in the mood to watch" moment. I'm headed for some obscure, dark nihilist Indie flick, and the husband is in the mood for deadpan boy humor. So we grab a couple of dvds off of the shelf and do the "hide behind the back pick one" thing, and somehow we end up with "The Tourist."

We're gonna give it a shot, this little experiment. I'll let you know how it turns out. Maybe the critics will be totally wrong, ioho, and we'll be all, "that was the best fucking movie ever!" But probably not.

BTW, what's the shittiest movie you've watched lately?

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

for your viewing pleasure

MLS versus NFL. The pictures tell the story, yes?
the adorable.

the athletic.

the amazing.

and, um, him...
Just sayin'...

Saturday, November 05, 2011

grimm thoughts

The face of tv this year? I can only hope...
So on the one hand, I'm thrilled that fairy tales are once again the hit parade in pop culture. And that it's obvious to fairy-tale tv location scouts that the Pacific Northwest is the perfect place (outside of the Black Forest) in which to film a series based on the characters conjured in the Brothers Grimm.

But I have to admit, I'm not 100% sold on this new series, and I'm trying to figure out why. Let's start with the elements that are working well IMHO:

Nice special effects--the shape-shifting faces that only the "insiders" can see.
Setting--as previously mentioned: towering firs, ferns, gingerbready houses--the lush, dark environs surrounding our fair city.
Conceit--here's where I'm a little less convinced, but on the whole, I think it's pretty clever to evoke a sort of "ancestry" wherein a descendant of the Brothers Grimm is faced with saving the world from the descendants of the monsters in the fairy tales. I even really like the "Big Bad Wolf" storyline, featuring the reformed (or recovering) villain, played by Silas Mitchell--who promises to be an ongoing comedy-relief aspect of the show.

But what annoys me about the series (and TV generally) comes down to, well, the writing. Our hero, Nick (David Giuntoli), is, well, to be blunt, kind of a pussy. Now, Giuntoli is sorta cute in that Ken doll way, and for younger gals he probably even holds a little sex appeal, but with lines like last night's deathbed: "You can't die, you're all I have," I can't help but say, Really? That's all you got?

By all accounts though, it seems that fairy tales are this year's tv viewer obsession (have not yet watched ABC's Once Upon a Time, but I'd better get on the stick!). And having just completed my own fairy tale book, I'd be foolish to be anything other than thrilled.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

happy nanowrimo

here's to castles in the air
Today is that very auspicious 11/1/11 day. It is also the opening bell of this year's NaNoWriMo. I just wanted to give a shout out to all my buddies who have pledged to write their hearts out this month--and I am visualizing the fantastic stories that are not yet written, but will be in 30 days. It really is an amazing thing, the idea of writing a novel in a month, and I continue to be humbled by those who strap on the boots and the "just do it" attitude.

It's been a couple of years since I participated, and the 23K words I churned out never did not really qualify as "a novel," but the resulting vision and intention and discipline (not to mention the sore ass and shoulders) all contributed to the scaffolding needed to propel me ever-forward in my efforts as a writer.

Last year at this time I finished the first draft of "The Empress Chronicles." Since then, it's been revised three times, and I am now nearly finished with yet another revision (this one based on some fantastic insights by editors). With each version, the book has become cleaner, stronger and more alive inside of me. I don't regret any of the 150,000 words I've written, rewritten and, at last, have boiled down to 60,000.

The secret of NaNoWriMo is that when you're looking down the barrel of it: a blank slate, with nothing but faith and the muse to get you to the finish line, you don't allow December 1 to enter into the picture. First drafts are deliciously free (or they should be) from anything other than the next word. The magic happens when something you seemingly had nothing to do with crystalizes into its own thing.

So, all you WriMos out there, get your Advil ready. Drink plenty of fluids. World-build 'till your heart's content. I'm eager to hear your story.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Austria--here I come!

Durable, sexy and fun. The pants are nice too!
So I'm going to follow the Sisi Trail next summer -- my very own version of it, anyway, and I'm dragging Kirk along with me, and last night I got like two hours of sleep because I'm so pumped about it. Nice problem to have, yeah?

I'm pretty set on the idea of flying in to Munich--Elisabeth's birthplace, and the very first Oktoberfest--and then off to Innsbruck, Salzburg and Vienna (my own birthplace, btw). Then it's off to Italy: Venice, Grosseto, and a Tuscan Beach near Castiglione della Pescaia where I stayed for a week several years ago. But the highlight of our trip, at least from a fantasy perspective, is a stay in Bad Ischl, the mountain-spa town of Sisi-Franz engagement lore.

Yesterday, I took the first step in turning this fantasy into real life and booked a room here. Can't you just see me frolicking on a hillside carrying my wimple and offering that the hills are alive with the sound of music? Too bad I can't sing. I think that's why I'm bringing Kirk. He's got the pipes, I've got the vision. I may even have to buy him some Lederhosen for his birthday.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Awards were announced and mistakes were made

one of these books is not like the others...
So I'm sure y'all have heard that Portland is the literary center of the universe this year? Pretty awesome that the NBA finalists were announced in the Rose City earlier this week. No, Blazer fans, I'm not talking lock-out...

Seriously, it was terrific news that they chose Portland as the coming out city (But a little scary that the Oregonian featured the story right next to an article on suicide. Connection? You be the judge...)

In case you missed it, here are the finalists. As homework, I'd like you all to read every single one of these books, and make a diorama of your favorite one!

"The Sojourn" by Andrew Krivak (editorial note, repped by the fabulous Betsy Lerner)
"The Tiger's Wife" by Tea Obreht
"The Buddha in the Attic" by Julie Otsuka
"Binocular Vision: New & Selected Stories" by Edith Pearlman
"Salvage the Bones" by Jesmyn Ward

"The Convert: A Tale of Exile and Extremism" by Deborah Baker
"Love and Capital: Karl and Jenny Marx and the Birth of a Revolution" by Mary Gabriel
"Swerve" by Stephen Greenblatt
"Malcolm X" by Manning Marable
"Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout" by Lauren Redniss

"Head Off & Spill" by Nikky Finney
"The Chameleon Couch" by Yusef Komunyakaa
"Double Shadow" by Carl Phillips
"Tonight No Poetry Will Serve" by Adrienne Rich
"Devotions": by Bruce Smith

"Chime" by Franny Billingsley*
"My Name is Not Easy" by Debbie Dahl Edwardson
"Inside Out and Back Again" by Thanhha Lai
"Flesh and Blood So Cheap" by Albert Marrin
"Shine" by Lauren Myracle*
"Okay for Now" by Gary D. Schmidt

*there was some controversy over "Chime," and like-sounding "Shine." One of them was on the list by mistake, but the National Book Foundation has decided to save face and keep both on the finalist list.

So, let's play a game. What would be the first thing you'd do if your book were nominated. I'll start: shit my pants.

P.S. and update: "Shine" author withdraws under pressure.What do you all think of that?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

the watch hill frog

Going through my online scrapbook the other day. This is a photo my daughter took in a Rhode Island bog. I can so relate to this photo... I think it's my totem creature...

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

death and its structures

Am I obsessed with death, or just this crypt?
Today, while doing some research for the Sisi blog, I came across this photo on the left and I couldn't get the image out of my head. Maybe because Steve Jobs died today; maybe because it's October, the month of ghouls and skeletons; maybe because I've been thinking a lot about what we leave behind, us writers and artists. I don't know, but all day long this mausoleum imprinted itself on me the way characters often do in prelude to embarking on a new project.

I was born in the city where this mausoleum lives, five or so districts away from this homage to Wilhelmine and her husband, the Prince of Montleart. When I look at this picture there is something spookily reminiscent. Like maybe I was rolled by it in my pram or perhaps I trundled alongside it on my way to school. I'm guessing it's the wrought iron gate that looks so familiar. Vienna is big on iron curlicues.

Next summer when I do my lemming-salmon-return to the scene of the crime, I want to stay in the adjoining castle-turned-bed-and-breakfast. I have this fantasy that, first thing one morning, I'll skip out into the forest dressed in white gauzy nightgownish material and rub up against this gothic mini-schloss. Like a bear rubbing its back against tree bark.

Maybe it's all these 50-something people that keep dropping dead of horrible diseases. Maybe it's that nobody gets to be laid to rest in structures like these anymore. Maybe it's that I still believe the fairy tale.

Hey, Steve, here's to staying hungry and foolish. RIP.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Hey Portland. Thanks.

Me and my hair. Summer of 1990. Carrying...Max Fulton?
Today I woke up early and went off to the dentist for some drill and fill. The decay was particularly loathsome, festering away in the backest of my back teeth. The dentist kept shaking her head and reengaging something called a bur, then doing a "carries check," then back to the bur, whilst I sat there with my ratcheted open jaw.

I left the dentist's office with a numb mouth and the directive to come back next month to have a crown replaced. Joy.

So off I scuttled to my favorite neighborhood latte place for a rousing one-woman pity party, my sore mouth another reminder that the wheels of time don't move backwards. More dental work, more decrepitude, more decay in my future. Poor, poor girl.

The latte cheered me up though, as did acknowledging that I was sipping it down the street from my first house in Portland. I moved here 22 years ago this week, and as that realization dawned on me, I decided to reward myself with a nostalgic and hedonistic trip down memory lane -- which culminated in a spontaneous Timbers Reserves soccer match, because, hey, why the fuck not!?

A Timber walking the ball into the net. 5-1 victory.
I took a walk. There: the bungalow where I first marveled that tomatoes could still grow in November. The store that used to be a toy store that my kids called "Halloween" because it was there that they first experienced a face painter. Where Trader Joe's now stands, there was once Thriftway, to which I'd dash off for milk while my babies napped in the apartment across the street (what's the statute of limitations on child protective services, anyway?). The park where Sam first learned to generate his own lift on a swing set, and where Maggie first spied an amputee and shouted, "Hey that girl's arm is broke off!"

Northwest Portland is my brier patch. My salmon-spawn stop. The neighborhood most likely to cause me to sigh, tear up, or change some significant aspect of my life. When I moved here 22 years ago, I had a baby on each hip. I had an unruly mop of 80's hair (as opposed to the unruly mop of 2011 hair I sport currently). I was in my 20's. I had no idea what lay ahead and frankly, I didn't care.

Life proceeded, unfurled, grew up and out. Boyfriends, husbands, another child, a new degree, publication. Projects, jobs, stories, houses, rejections, cars. The usual. Portland has seen me through a bunch of lives. Movement through its quadrants. The blessings, the tragedies, the myriad miracles and disappointments.

I gotta say, though. I can't imagine a city more conducive to building a writer. Not a week goes by without a meaty literary event or book-related happening. Even before Wordstock (anyone remember LitEruption? I think that was even before websites!), this has always been a writer's town. And a reader's haven. A place where a mouth can go slowly to shit whilst the muse keeps thinking up new tricks. God, I love living here.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The power and grace of Abby Wambach

National pride abounds as the USWNT warms up
Nothing like a night with a US National Team to bump up the swell of pride we Americans are so famous for. Last night's energetic soccer exhibition match against Canada was such an occasion. Jeld-Wen is a fabulous venue for national spirit, with its practiced army chants and well-timed cheers. The only thing missing was the green smoke from bombs-bursting-in-air that stayed in the opening anthem.

A rare hot late September night helped, no doubt, and the sell-out crowd stayed until the bitter end, when Alex Morgan nonchalantly stabbed in the third goal in the last second of extra time. Well, most of the crowd stayed. Kirk, Carson and I prematurely departed at the end of regulation, thus relegating my witnessing of the third goal to You Tube.

We were in the stands for goals one and two, however, delivered passionately by Abby Wambach. Die hard fans couldn't have scripted it better -- keeping the game scoreless with several "almosts" by Rapinoe against the crossbar, right up to the 63rd minute for goal number one - an expertly placed left-footed strike by Wambach, and then, as the perfect follow-up, a crowd-pleasing diving header to all but clinch the win in minute 70.

Look at those guns. Abby and co at open practice session September 21
Nothing against pink-studded Alex Morgan, who's extra goal added dessert to the meaty meal at Jeld-Wen, but for pure athleticism and inspiration, Wambach knocks it out of the park. Thousands of young girls in the stands were witness to a role model who is the pinnacle of power and grace, and that alone was worth the price of admission.

It was another great night to live in Portland, and, okay, even a great night to raise a Springsteen-esque fist in Born-in-the-USA delight.