Monday, August 10, 2015

endings, beginnings and stuff

Did y'all think I died? Well, of course you didn't. Thanks to Facebook and the like, there's no hiding in the bunkers.

I'm going to get right to it. This is my last post on this blog. Yup. We're done here, and moving on to something new (which I will get to). This is an auspicious day. August 10th, 30 years ago, I became Suzy Vitello and banished forever the last name with ten letters that nobody could pronounce. Just look at me. Innocent, virginal (okay, maybe not), but damn, I had no idea, at age 24, what lay ahead. I mean, who does, right?

Frank and I wouldn't even make it to three years, as a couple, due to the unforeseen circumstance that took his life, but he gave me two wonderful children in those brief years, and a name I love.

I've been thinking a lot about the chapters in my life, and how they all seem to have their own little arcs. Ups, downs, new adventures born of out-of-the-blue circumstance.

So, what's up? Well, life has thrown me a bit of a curve ball again. Certainly nothing as dire as young widowhood, but it looks like my publisher won't be picking up my next Empress book, and I'll be putting it out myself. I have many readers anticipating the second book, and I feel (and my agent agrees) that it would be a shame to lose the readership and momentum I've been trying to build this past year-and-a-half. The second book is called The Keepsake, and it's finished. I am fortunate to have a street team assembled to help with the physical aspects of format/copy edit/cover. (Thank you Laura Stanfill and Max Fulton and Kit Foster!) And I'm pretty sure you all will be hearing from me in terms of helping to get the word out.

Now that I've been flung into the world of the "hybrid" author (and after several days of stunned sadness, I must be honest), I'm doing what I've done on the heels of other of episodes of misfortune: taking a deep breath and leaping into uncharted, scary territory.

First step, is to better organize my backend (ha! both digital and physical - I'm on day one of a cleanse!) and that means scrapping my bug-filled, complicated website for a newer, cleaner, more modern one. I loved all my curli-cues and fancy wallpaper in the old site, but the interface is ridiculous, and it seemed too hard to tear that one down, so I just started from scratch.

I'm very tight on the cashola at the moment, so I'm doing all of it myself, and I have to give a shout out to this guy, Tyler, who I googled up, and who youtube step-by-stepped me through the dev of my work-in-progress.

In about a week or so, I hope to migrate everything over, but if I haven't worn you out yet, come on over to my OPEN HOUSE!

Thanks, you guys, for hanging out with me lo these many years. Hope you'll keep in touch!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

around the bend

I’m edging closer to the full embrace of my next project. Step by baby step. How it goes is, I have a voice. A character. An idea. I wrangle some plot possibilities, and then abandon them. Wrangle, abandon, wrangle, abandon, and like that.

But meanwhile, I walk. Somehow, by walking, I can take the spits from the brain and absorb them. Through the skin, and into the nervous system. The ideas grab hold of muscle memory and the part of my body that knows, and alchemy begins.

Here is the endpoint of today’s walk. Time and circumstance required me to turn around before knowing what happens around that bend.

I’m going back tomorrow to find out.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

on the trail

Twenty-six years here and I'm still bowled over with the transformation each spring. The saturation of color, the bone-deep fecundity. A particular shade of the brightest of greens; the verdant rubber of new fir. Portland is known, normatively, for roses, but ferns, cedar, trillium and moss rule here this time of year.

Walking distance from my house are miles of trails through typical Pacific Northwest forest. If I wanted to spend a day in the woods, I could wander for hours, up hill, down hill, elevation changes amassing triple digits if we're talking feet. You want to knock off some steps? Come to my house. We'll send your Fitbit into apoplectic spasms.

Today, between projects like I am, and looking for inspiration for my next book, I decided to assuage my curiosity about the "ultimate Portland excursion."

I'm in that lovely early "dating" phase of my new project - the first 5,000 words where I cobble together snippets of ideas and then go hunt for context. In both The Moment Before and The Empress Chronicles, my characters (teenagers) tend to walk a lot. They move through landscapes that are sacred to me. They make decisions and come to realizations in some of my favorite places.

So many hours we writers spend at the desk. Our research is often conducted via search engine. Our insights are somewhat fueled by an imagination jacked by Twitter trends and the like. I'm not judging; it's just the way things are now.

For me, though, it's hard to access the deepest level of "what if" without a slog through the three-dimensional world. Maybe it's just that I'm at the mercy of my senses - all of them together. The chill cut of drizzle and wind against my ears. The variety of hues in a popular Oregon cultivar. The smell of decaying pine needles. The sound of a happy retriever churning the mud on a trail behind its person. Even the metallic taste of Bull Run water gurgling from a Benson bubbler. All of this is part of the training. The interstitial ingredients between desk sits that contribute the final product.

So, today, I went for an exploration - traipsed along the 4T on a cold spring morning, and it did not disappoint.

I dropped my son at school, then parked the car in a downtown garage. Hopped on the MAX to the zoo, then trundled across the parking lot to where there's an overpass that spans above one of the busiest corridors in Portland. You have to actually walk down the onramp before connecting with the trail through the forest to the highest point of the West Hills. I will admit, that first quarter mile up this wooded muddy bank, all the highway traffic sounds below me, I was a little freaked. I mean, great place to kill a female walking alone on a trail. I didn't see another human on this initial leg, not one. But I did stop to catch my breath and snap a few pics of the amazing color wheel of trillium. Purple, pink, white - so astonishing in their diversity.

You get spit out on an intersection that's part of my daily travel (My friend Molly refers to this crossroads as Gas & God, a Shell station across from a Catholic School/Church). From here, you walk along the road a bit before connecting with the forest trail again - and then it's another uphill slog to the tippy-top.

Council Crest was gray today. Not much of a view (meaning - no Hood, no St. Helen's). I should say here that I was somewhat underdressed, but wanted to travel light. I knew the temp would climb a bit before I was done, and I hate having to tie my outerwear around me when it gets too warm. It was right about here where My fingers finally got warm though.

Then, after indulging in the bit of jerky I packed, I began the epic descent. Which was quite steep, and, because it's been raining, was somewhat perilous mud-wise. This was where I came up with some potential backstory for my supporting characters. This playground in the woods? A common Portland scene: ingenuity and natural resources combining to create this sort of Paleo kid space.

Down, down, down I ventured. Arriving at a part of a trail where I could have slogged back up hill to take the tram down to the waterfront, and then the streetcar. Instead, I decided to hoof it into town - I had a goal of reaching the Fox Theater by 12:45 to see Woman in Gold (which deserves its own blog post, because I had a strong reaction to it - very different from the meh reviews due to my personal history with a similar family saga).

All in all, this day was five star.

What did you do today?

Thursday, March 19, 2015

screen break

Guys, it's spring break eve day, here in the ridiculously mild Pacific Northwest, and I'm enjoying an unprecedented pause in work. That's right. A pause.

I finished a bunch of editing jobs, am between LitReactor classes, am at the tail end of a business writing agreement, my latest novel (for adults!) is out on submission, and I'm awaiting feedback on a draft of the second Empress Chronicles book, and I just finished and submitted a longish short story. Plus, I just revamped my website, turned in taxes and spent several hours in an idiocracy-esque hall of mirrors with various corporate entities getting to the bottom of their slapdash billing systems.

Okay, okay, I haven't written a blog post in over a month and I've chilled big time on social media. So there's that.

I can't remember a time in the last thirteen years (even during trips abroad, where I was still working) when I allowed myself a wee break. When I wasn't writing or editing something, or working with clients on one project or another. It feels fragile, this interstices. As much as I'd love to just breathe and let go, I have to admit, I feel odd and vulnerable.

Tonight, I put my kid on a plane for a soccer tournament in SoCal, and tomorrow Kirk, Ruby and I are taking a weekend road trip. We'll be home Sunday night, and planning to staycation the rest of it. knee-deep in soil. Maybe take the skis for a run if it does, indeed, snow up on the hill.

I'm giving my eyes a rest. And my brain. They deserve it.

When's the last time you took a breather from the screen?

Sunday, February 08, 2015

epic love stories

Wow, somehow it became February. Thank the gods I don't have to post about food anymore. I'm going to post about love instead.  And chocolate. (Contest below!)

What's everyone doing for Valentine's Day? I'm thinking of pulling the trigger on one of those fancy prix fixe reservations at a swanky restaurant for me and my guy - because, how often is VD on a Saturday? (Actually, duh, we know the answer to that  - give or take a leap year.)

So, aside from the possible foie gras torchon and bon bon-popping, I'll spend part of the day as usual: hammering away at the keyboard, and living in the dream of my novel-in-progress (which is, for now, Empress Chronicles II).

The air is certainly thick with love in February, and it's making me a tad sentimental. For a while, maybe five, six years ago, I had this tagline emblazoned on my website. Do you remember it?

Somehow it disappeared or got rolled over by the Mac truck of updates, quickly and unaesthetically rendered in favor of "call to action" - you know, the whole "buy, buy, buy" thing.

Well, I'm here to say, I stand by that statement, the love story one, and I'm hoping to swim my way back to it in 2015. I want to embark on a journey of love. The epic saga of heartbreak and humanity.

I have a good start. For one, Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond recently called me up to opine on one of their Dear Sugar Radio topics. The theme was "deal breakers" and the particular advice-seeking letter involved the dilemma of "alive boyfriend jealous of dead one." Give it a listen, let me know what you think.

The invitation to chat with the Sugars made me think about my very favorite love stories. Lately, I've been on this Liane Moriarty kick. I love all of her books. They're funny, true, and accessible. But in another chamber of my heart dwells the "epic saga" type love story, and I'm sort of ashamed to admit, my top three of this sort are all written by men:

McEwan's Atonement, Stegner's Angle of Repose, and Spanbauer's I Loved You More. That's the answer for the "if you were deserted on a desert island with only three books" question. Yikes! Do I have to revoke my vagina? I hope not. I mean, I also love, love, love other ones written by women. Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake, for instance. And J. Courtney Sullivan's, Maine.

In the car yesterday with my buddy Teri Carter, driving back to the airport from our week long writing retreat in the desert, we revisited a conversation we'd had the night before. There'd been this question posed: "If you suddenly were given the chops to write an amazing example of any type of book, what territory would you conquer?" I'd dashed off the idea of a Lorrie Moore type smart, literary short story collection, but on deeper thought, in the car, I amended my answer to: the ultimate epic love saga.

When I think about lasting impact and the sort of story that moves through my bones and settles in my heart for the long haul, stories of love and loss that don't tie up in the romance trope of "happily ever after," are sacred to me. I just finished writing a book that, I think (I hope!) conveys an alternative to the typical girl-gets-boy ending, but my appetite is whetted for more. More!

As Tom Spanbauer recently said in an interview, "I have to have a dream. I have to have a dream, and for me the dream is the next book, and if I don't have that dream it just turns into ordinary drudgery."

I feel that too, do you? What are your favorite epic tales of love? Share yours in a comment below, and on February 14th I'll randomly pick a winner, and send you a box of bon-bons from Alma Chocolate!

Monday, January 26, 2015

omg vegan sweet potato brownies

You guys! Thanks to that Averil Dean girl for the link to Ella - (Averil, we're gonna make the beet-potato soup tonight). I made these vegan, gluten-free sweet potato brownies, and they are, as advertised, delish.

You all have to make them. Seriously. They taste decadent. Totally satisfying, fully anti-inflamatory, plant-based and fat-fucking-free. (The food's free of inflamatories, but the language? Not so much.)

That is all.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

the egg and I

This morning, we officially became former backyard chicken keepers. For the past four-and-a-half years we've had a variety of chicks, pullets and hens, and in some seasons we were fully-stocked in nature's most perfect food.

Say what you want about cholesterol, but the balance of protein (7 grams, high-quality), fat (of the 5 grams in an egg, only 1.6 grams is saturated), and disease-fighting nutrients like lutein and zeaxanthin shown to reduce age-related eye issues (macular degeneration) have caused the medical poobahs to reverse their stance on egg as enemy.

Plus, the choline in eggs is brain food; i.e. thought to help keep memory problems at bay.

I loved my chickens. Particularly the only one left after four-and-a-half years that wasn't killed by Ruby or a faulty nervous system. We sent our "production red," Chelsea, off to her retirement home today, in the back of a Waldorf family-owned trailer, along with her coop, food, etc... And, as if psychic, she left us with a farewell egg (after not laying for two months). Carson just made French toast with it, this very last egg from the Boundary Street back yard.

It's bittersweet, this decision to give up on urban chicken farming. The dog, travel plans, the attraction that raccoons and rats have to all the stuff of chickens - all of these considerations weighed in on our choice to fly the coop.

This is the second time I had a stint at chicken-raising - the first time I actually lived on a farm, so it seemed more natural to keep chickens. It's unlikely that I'll ever be moved to give it another go, and that makes me sad. It's kind of like a reverse bucket list: things I'll never do again. Some sort of admission of mortality.

But enough of that maudlin crap.

This post is in honor of chickens everywhere. For their valiant service, their industry, their embodiment and demonstration of every chicken aphorism known to the world. Long may you cackle. Forever may you lay.

Omelettes, anyone?

Friday, January 23, 2015

put a beet on it

How's the clean eating going? It's that third week of January slump, right? Maybe your toe isn't better yet. Maybe you have a slightly scratchy throat. Maybe you're looking outside at the gray sky and longing for sunshine. By "you," I mean "me," of course. I'm a writer - that happens.

I haven't been 100% clean, let me tell you right now. Still have my fun-size York Peppermint Patty addiction (and, curses, I found a "cleaner" version - they sell them all over town, and they are my new martini.) But I think I'm about 80% compliant. What helps is that I live in a city where healthy eating is pretty damn easy.

Speaking of easy, today, I want to talk about a product that takes the mess out of one of my favorite nutritionally sound foods. Trader Joe's Baby Beets. They're in the veggie section, cooked/peeled, ready-to-eat and super low in calories, high in nutrition. (I sound like an infomercial, I know...)

Lest you think that they're only palatable when paired with a half-pound of chevre, here's how I consumed them over the past 24 hours:

Breakfast - atop Tillamook Farmstyle Honey Peach Yogurt (with a sprinkle of raw cashews) - 200 calories.

Lunch - Power salad - again tapping into the convenience of TJ - Kale, microgreens, baby spinach, beets, ready-to-eat pom seeds, 2 ounces fully-cooked grilled chicken breast strips, a half-ounce of crumbled goat cheese, a Tablespoon of balsamic vinaigrette. So good! 200 calories.

Dinner - Looking pretty on a plate of fettuccine (I scraped the Alfredo sauce off in favor of a half tsp butter and a sprinkle of parm cheese). A bit more caloric, this dish. 450 calories, but super filling.

I think I deserve Happy Hour tonight.

So, here's a little sidebar info just for the hell of it:
  • Low in calories (provide only 45 kcal/100 g), and contain zero cholesterol and small amount of fat. Its nutrition benefits come particularly from fiber, vitamins, minerals, and unique plant derived anti-oxidants.
  • The root is rich source of phytochemical compound, glycine betaine. Betaine has the property of lowering homocysteine levels within the blood. Homocysteine, one of highly toxic metabolite, promotes platelet clot as well as atherosclerotic-plaque formation, which, otherwise, can be harmful to blood vessels. High levels of homocysteine in the blood result in the development of coronary heart disease (CHD), stroke and peripheral vascular diseases.
  • Raw beets are an excellent source of folates. It contains about 109 µg/100 g of this vitamin (Provides 27% of RDA). However, extensive cooking may significantly deplete its level in food. Folates are necessary for DNA synthesis within the cells. When given during peri-conception period folates can prevent neural tube defects in the baby.
  • Fresh tubers contain small amounts of vitamin-C; however, its top greens are rather excellent sources of this vitamin. 100 g of beet greens provide 30 mg or 50% of RDA. Vitamin C is one of the powerful natural antioxidants, which helps the human body scavenge deleterious free radicals one of the reasons for cancer development.
  • The root is also rich source of B-complex vitamins such as niacin (B-3), pantothenic acid (B-5), pyridoxine (B-6) and minerals such as iron, manganese, copper, and magnesium.
  • Further, the root compose of moderate levels of potassium. 100 g fresh root hold 325 mg or 7% of daily requirements. Potassium lowers heart rate and regulates metabolism inside the cells by countering detrimental effects of sodium.

 Any other beet fans out there?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

staff of death

You guys who know me know I'm not a zealot, right? I'm like the opposite of that. Live and let live. Variety is the spice. To each his, well, you know.

But the more I embrace the idea behind "clean eating," the more trouble I have with the way food comes to us. Economics and science together have created a default in which compromised food is cheaper, more available, and easier to store than whole food, and nowhere is this more apparent than in grain products. 

I won't get into boxed cereals and snack foods, because, we all know they're loaded with sugar and preservatives, but something I looked into the other day has me all riled up. As though I'm a zealot! Which I'm not. I promise. Well, maybe I am. Here's the scoop:

Fresh bread, homemade bread, is amazing, right? But if you don't eat it right away, it'll sprout mold. Within a half-week, you'll need to toss it. Let's face facts, it's just not realistic for today's busy household to make bread twice a week. So, what's the next best thing?

In the Pacific Northwest, I'd say Dave's Killer Bread (which comes in several varieties) is probably your best bet. Or visit a bakery with a reputation for good, preservative-free bread. But, more than likely, if you have kids, they want that soft bread that makes excellent cinnamon sugar toast or PB&J sandwiches. Why do you think it's so soft? Some tricky whitening potentially asthma-causing chemical called azodicarbonamide. It's a dough conditioner that, in addition to whitening and softening the bread, helps the machinery run smoothly at the bread factory, and the loaf last forever on the grocery store or pantry shelf. 

Oh, and here's another fun thing that's been okayed by the FDA. DATEM, otherwise known as Diacetyl Tartaric Acid Esters of Monoglycerides. Yet another dough conditioner - this one helps bread look prettier. More uniform.  A 2002 study  on rats showed DATEM to cause "heart muscle fibrosis and adrenal overgrowth."

There are other nasty preservatives in bread, too. Here's a link to the full article from the blog of one of my most trusted sources, Fooducate

I had Carson read the article before breakfast this morning. "How about French Toast?" I said. I pulled out a loaf of his favorite store brand bread with a special sticker on the front claiming the bread was made using a baking process called "Tender Twist" - while also claiming to be made using whole grains. (the ingredients panel is shown below). I also offered him the one non-heel slice of Dave's Powerseed that we had left. It felt somewhat stale. He sniffed them as though he was a sommelier. 

"One of each," he said.

Once the bread was dipped in an egg-and-milk batter, sprinkled with cinnamon and drizzled with maple syrup (the real kind), and dotted with blueberries, he said he couldn't tell the difference taste-wise, and gobbled them both up. So I asked him if he would be willing to do without the azodicarbonamide-laden bread with the flour that had been taken apart and put back together again (that's what the term "enriched" means, btw), and he agreed to try it for a month. Looks like we'll be sampling our way through Dave's selection.

Baby steps, right?

Any label war stories out there? What lies bring out the zealot in you?