Thursday, January 31, 2008


By the way, I've baked five more loaves of bread since I reported to you two weeks ago. Six loaves of homemade bread in two weeks...I'd better start riding my bike to work again soon.

2008 Books 4, 5, 6, and 7

4. Shade's Children, by Garth Nix. I picked this up spontaneously at the library because I enjoyed Nix's Abhorsen series. Shade's Children is so-so science fiction, I thought. It brushes up against questions about free will, human agency, and artificial intelligence; it's interesting, but the characters never seemed fully developed. (Or maybe I've been too spoiled by Robin Hobb lately.)

5. Harpy's Flight, by Megan Lindholm (the author who now writes as Robin Hobb). I enjoyed reading a shorter novel by this author. I dearly loved the two trilogies of hers that I have so far read, but Harpy's Flight provided a nice change of pace. Lindholm's worlds are so vivid and crisp, her characters so fully fleshed, that even a relatively brief story like this one is a delight.

6. Shaman's Crossing, by Robin Hobb. Book one of her newest trilogy. Hobb has created a new world (all 9 of her previous books, as far as I know so far, were set in a different world) and describes it for us as vividly as ever. Obviously I adore her descriptions and characterization skills; even more, I admire her ability to create and use political and military histories in her stories.

7. Forest Mage, by Robin Hobb. Book two of the newest trilogy. I should mention here the way Hobb resolutely pushes her protagonists through trial after trial until they are all but wrecked. Perhaps it's because I spent so many years of my life in a subculture that more or less ignored those kinds of stories in favor of Jeanette Oke-style rainbows and warm fuzzies, but I find this painful, true kind of storytelling absolutely gripping.


Shade's Children, by Garth Nix. Published 1997, 345 pages. Fiction.

Harpy's Flight, by Megan Lindholm. Published 1983, 202 pages. Fiction.

Shaman's Crossing, by Robin Hobb. Published 2005, 591 pages. Fiction.

Forest Mage, by Robin Hobb. Published 2006, 718 pages. Fiction.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Knead? No need!

Several years ago my parents moved into a much smaller home than ever before, forcing them to downsize considerably. They took many loads of stuff to Goodwill, held a yard sale or two...and surreptitiously sneaked things into the trunk of my car whenever I visited them during this period.

I believe that's how I ended up with a rusty ancient 12-inch cast iron Dutch oven--I think I found it in the back seat of the car one weekend when I was unpacking after a trip to Oregon. I was too amused to get rid of it, and I suspected it had been in the family for too long to let it go, anyway. Mr. Thel and I hatched cheerful schemes of taking it camping to cook over a fire.

Since our tiny kitchen had no available space to store the hulking blackened thing, we stored it carefully in a corner of the garage. Naturally it sat there for the next two years. When we moved into this house, it migrated into a corner of the basement. There it sat all year beneath a growing pile of cardboard and camping detritus.

Recently someone (probably Kimberly) reminded me about the No-Knead Bread Recipe from the New York Times over a year ago. Everyone on the internet loved this bread recipe so thoroughly that I wanted to try it for myself...but my crusty, rusty dutch oven deterred me all year.

Yesterday I finally clomped down to the basement and dug it out. I was quite afraid that I'd pull the lid off and find a seething mass of black spiders inside, but was pleasantly surprised to find its sturdy innards completely insect-free. I hauled it upstairs and cleaned it out. Still unsatisfied with the weirdly tacky texture inside, I put it upside-down in the oven at 500 degrees for almost two hours, which seemed to do the trick. Last night I mixed the ingredients for the bread; today I baked the bread.

Now, I already liked baking bread. I don't even mind kneading bread all that much (more of a deterrent for me is the gluey floury mess afterward). But this loaf --this effortless dome of crispy, crusty, chewy goodness--is the best bread I have ever baked. Friends, I'm afraid it may not last until morning in this household.

When I called my mom to boast about my perfect bread, she told me that this particular dutch oven came from my great-grandma Mickey's house. It's probably been in use for over 50 years. Somehow knowing that, and feeling that link to a great-grandmother I hardly had a chance to know before Alzheimer's disease took her away, made my second slice of bread taste even more satisfying.

Monday, January 14, 2008

2008 Books Two and Three

The second book I finished reading in 2008 was The Subtle Knife, by Philip Pullman. I'd read it once before, a couple of years ago, but I felt like I'd rushed through it too quickly to give the story and the writing the level of attention they deserved. After a second reading I realize that I missed certain elements the first time around, but that I still don't feel any deep affection for this series.

Don't get me wrong--I like these books quite a lot. The writing is excellent, the storytelling superb, and the details imaginative. Still, too many of the characters feel like puppets--and, even worse, they acknowledge that they're puppets; they seem to know that they're only doing certain things because the author needs them to. Dr. Malone gives Lyra an inexplicable little expository speech in chapter Four, saying even as she does so, "Why am I telling you this? I shouldn't.... I'm a little crazy this afternoon." But she goes right on telling anyway, because that's what the plot requires. At the end of the book, in chapter Fifteen, Will is struggling with a witch and we are informed that "because she was a witch she wouldn't have been afraid of a boy, normally. But she was afraid of Will. This young wounded figure held more force and danger than she'd ever met in a human before, and she quailed." She wouldn't have been afraid of him usually--but she recognized him as the Protagonist, and was therefore terrified. Hm.

On the other hand, I'm always having trouble understanding people's motivations even in real life. So this could very well be a problem with me and not the text.

The third book I finished in 2008 was The Ladies of Grace Adieu and other stories. I loved Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (once I finally stopped being so intimidated by its length and popularity that I could undertake reading it at all), and this was a pleasant collection of stories set mostly in the same world, with one story that's set in a sort of hybrid of that world and the world of Neil Gaiman's Stardust. Susanna Clarke's deft use of a writing style straight out of the early 1800's is just as delightful to read in these stories as in Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, and it's fun to get additional tidbits of the sort that were sprinkled in footnotes and allusions throughout the novel. All in all, The Ladies of Grace Adieu added nicely to my picture of that parallel England. And it was satisfying to get a story about the Raven King in there, as well.


The Subtle Knife, by Philip Pullman. Published 1997, 288 pages. Fiction.

The Ladies of Grace Adieu, by Susanna Clarke. Published 2006, 235 pages. Fiction.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Crisscrossing a continent

On Friday the mailman brought me the Amtrak book of timetables that I had requested online. I pored through the book greedily, slowly accepting that one month is not long enough to experience every single route that Amtrak offers, even if I never spend any time exploring along the way. And what kind of trip would it be if I didn't spend some time lollygagging and sightseeing along the way?

Yesterday afternoon I sat down with the book and set up a tentative itinerary:

Seattle to Vancouver, B.C.
Vancouver to Toronto (!)
One night in Toronto
Toronto to New York
Three nights in New York (I've never been!)
New York to...somewhere in Vermont. Or Portland, Maine. Somewhere up east.
Two nights in whichever place--including my birthday.
Vermont or Maine to Washington, D.C.
One night in D.C.
D.C. to Chicago via one route
Chicago to Charlottesville, VA via another route
One night in Charlottesville
Charlottesville to New Orleans
Two nights in New Orleans
New Orleans to Memphis
Three nights in or near Memphis
Memphis to Chicago
Chicago to St. Louis
Two nights in St. Louis
St. Louis to Kansas City
Kansas City to Chicago
Two nights in Chicago
Chicago to Seattle

Believe it or not, this itinerary actually leaves a couple of days of wiggle room in case I decide I need more time to explore somewhere, or get sick, or miss a train and have to linger for a day...

This itinerary is bound to change, but putting it together made me feel for the first time like this trip is really going to happen. Here's hoping!

Saturday, January 05, 2008


My friend asked me if I could spare a few hours to help out the organization she works with. Several nights a week they seek out folks sleeping on the streets of the downtown Seattle area and offer blankets, hats, socks, gloves, scarves, sandwiches, and hot chocolate to whoever wants some. Last night the wind kicked up, slicing up the streets with a chilly malice, so the blankets especially were quite popular.

I took the bus downtown to meet them, and on the way I finished Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere. It's a fantasy novel about the hidden Other World that exists in and under London, and what happens when unassumingly mousy Richard Mayhew finds himself inexorably entangled up in a plot and a quest with the people and creatures of London Below. Neil Gaiman has a way with description and plot and OtherWorldly characters (and their plots) that makes for an absorbing read.

It also makes for a bit of a haunting afterward. All night I kept doing these little double-takes--at the bright red light I glimpsed, ten feet beneath my feet, through a sidewalk grating. Or the little plaque at the edge of a pier that memorializes a ship that "sank beneath your very feet on this spot in 1909;" Tim pointed out a padlocked iron door at the edge of the platform and said that when he was a kid the door used to be open. "You could go right down and look at it," he assured me.

Saying that the world is a "magical" place tends to evoke rainbows and unicorns, twee talking animals and harmless, dainty fairies that sip from buttercups. Neil Gaiman remembers that "magic" is deep and dark. He knows that if there are talking puppies with limpid eyes, then there are also slinking creatures, all pointy teeth and rapacious hunger, who prowl in the dark and disembowel the puppies and feast on their eyes. If there are gleaming towers and languorous feasts, there are weird dirty caves hacked out under the freeway concrete, small worlds clustered in the hidden places, and thin, bright-eyed men with curly beards who speak sadly but firmly of others that have been tossed into the dark, cold waves...

So, then, the world is a magical place. Shudder at the thought.


Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman. Published 1996, 352 pages. Fiction.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

January 2, 2008 - Minus Ten

I had my second chemo treatment exactly ten years ago today--Friday, January 2, 1998. My parents had taken me to the first one, back on December 18. A girl named Michelle who'd lived on my floor the year before drove me to this second one. My doctor was extremely upbeat when he found out I'd never been sick after the first treatment.

"That's great! he kept saying, and told me that if one is going to be sick at all, one would be sick the first time. "So," he smiled, "if you didn't get sick at all the first time, I'd say that's a pretty good sign you probably won't get sick."
Two treatments in, I was beginning to be surprised that Having Cancer wasn't a continuously grueling ordeal every moment of every day. I was about to start the second quarter of my sophomore year at SPU, trying to maintain as many of my routines (school, work, campus volunteer activities) as I could and amazed that it looked surprisingly possible. With two down and ten to go, I was 17% done with chemo already.

More than anything, I was beginning to be humbly astounded at how many people were adamant about wanting to do what they could to help me. I've always tended to be a shy kind of person, standing on the sidelines dragging my toe awkwardly through the dust and assuming nobody likes me. So I was taken aback that so many people who were so much cooler, smarter, more popular, prettier, richer, more spiritual, and funnier than me--in my own true opinion--were genuinely enthusiastic about wanting to help me out.

I was also beginning to be flattered (and slightly uneasy) by the number of people who were already telling me I was inspirational, strong, and brave. Some had already started appropriating my cancer fight as a parable for whichever sermon or object lesson they happened to want to tell. At the time I remember being flattered and proud to be so recognized; but I remember a stirring of discomfort with that aspect of it, too.

And meanwhile I was secretly mourning that the boy I had a crush on had started dating someone else.

Looking Back

On November 26, 1997, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Disease, a form of lymphoma--cancer originating in the lymph system (I just learned from this article, just this very minute, that Paul Allen was treated for Hodgkin's in early 1983). I was 18 years old, a sophomore in college. After six months of chemo and a month of radiation treatment, it was declared to be in remission. Except for a short period the next fall when my oncologist worried that it was coming back (it wasn't), it's been in remission ever since.

I haven't written much about it here. But next summer it will have been in remission for ten years. More than a third of my life will have been lived post-cancer. I've been thinking about that a lot lately; it's part of the excuse reason for my planned train trip in the spring, and it turns out I've forgotten almost everything but the highlights--the date I was diagnosed, the number of treatments, things like that. I don't really want to wallow in the past, but I find myself wanting to revisit those months, to look back and remember what it was like not just to be diagnosed and to be declared in remission, but also to remember what it was like during my seventh chemo treatment, or at what point it was that I shaved my head, or how much more I worried about the boy I had a crush on in April than I did about my low white blood cell count.

This probably won't interest anyone but me, but I think for the next few months I'd like to post a weekly snippet about what I was doing during that time, ten years ago. I'd commit to posting diary excerpts from those days, except that I was 18 and most of my diary entries really were melodramatic accounts of my most recent interaction with whichever classmate I was swooning over that month. So if anything jumps out at me, I'll share it; otherwise it will just be a summary.

Why not start today, while I'm thinking of it, spending far too long browsing online info about lymphoma (I think some of this information has changed since I was obsessively researching it ten years ago), and flipping through old diaries and such?

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

All Was Quiet on New Year's Eve

Last night I went to see Mr. Thel's band play a show not too far from the Space Needle. The organizers planned a break in the middle of the show for folks to go outside, have some champagne, and watch the Space Needle fireworks just a few blocks away. We went outside, counted down, and downed our bubbly, but the Space Needle fireworks seemed a little short-lived. They sputtered and stopped, sputtered briefly and again halted. We waited around for a few minutes, thinking, "Was that it?" I kept thinking there must be more, but it was pretty frigid outside so I went back inside.

Today I found the news that there was a corrupted file that caused the glitch. And then I found a video of the final fireworks show. Friends, I laughed myself silly. It's the funniest fireworks show I've ever, ever seen. I feel for the poor folks in charge of the show, who must have been freaking out... heck, they're probably still freaking out a little. Really, if you have about ten minutes and need a good chortle, I highly recommend the KING5 video of the "event," below. Or, for you busy souls, here's just one little taste of it, found at the Seattle livejournal community:

Wasn't that wonderful? I'm still wiping the tears of laughter from my eyes.

Holidailies has once again been a blast, but I really don't have the stamina or time to do this kind of thing year-round. I may be able to get a post or two on the "best of" list but I can't for the life of me write an interesting post off the cuff. It takes me far too long to write something I'm satisfied with; too long to do it every single day. But I think Holidailies 2006 helped me gear up to post a bit more in 2007 than I had in previous years, mostly by helping me get over myself and my internet version of stage fright. When you have to show up and post every day without fail, or spend days trying to catch up, you soon stop biting your nails over every comma in favor of just writing the paragraphs and hitting "post," for heaven's sake. I hope this trend continues into 2008; it's good practice.

Thank you all for reading! I humbly hope the "gift of my prose," which is what Holidailies is all about, was a gift you enjoyed receiving. I've certainly added a few new bookmarks for 2008.

Happy 2008, everyone.