Christmas has always been my favorite time of year, probably because I am age-inappropriately attached to my family and prone to nostalgia. And, isn't it incredible and so strange, when you think about it, to have a tree in your house, an enormous just-cut one, the breadth and the smell of it? The other night I babysat Ty (who, at twelve, let's be honest, doesn't really need babysitting--it was more an excuse to make holiday crafts and watch Elf. The main character is Christmas-obsessed and Ty teases that it is really a documentary about me.) 

Every year we set up the creche and arrange all of the little creche figures so that there is some sort of narrative, which over the years has become entirely unbiblical. We do, however, get pretty competitive when unwrapping the figures: everyone wants to get the baby jesus, though any of the other main players (Mary, Joseph, Gabriel, the three Kings) are secondarily desirable. This tradition did not strike me as odd until I told Ali about it, who immediately thought we were Christian fundamendalists. 

Ty got the baby! He's been on a four-year streak. Mom unwrapped the bandit, a one-armed lone wolf with a dagger and a red cape, who is all of our next-favorite. I got a few miscellaneous barn animals, the single mother and two-thirds of the Kings. 

Ty with the Jesus figure (and me, jealous but trying to be supportive):

Hm, what else? Tonight I am going to a belated birthday dinner. I chose the restaurant because they've got nice lighting and really good mac and cheese. 




Doesn't everything feel more effortful at this time of year? Reading, writing, walking long distances, now that the weather here has dipped low into the forties. Even the challah we baked didn't turn out right--something about the yeast--and, instead of expanding, remained dense pretzel-like miniatures. 

But a week from today I go home to so many good things! Today I am compiling a mix for my yoga class which is 90% Christmas songs. I will apologize beforehand to students who are not holiday people. 



Woke up this morning with a very bad headache, so I took a walk to the Vassar farm with the hope that fresh air would banish it. (It did.) I had never been to the farm before; it was vast and grayish and spindly, as November usually tends to be.

At first I listened to music, but that began to feel like sensory overload. There was something calm and simple about the sight of so many bare trees,

and the crunch of gravel under clogs. 

At one point I heard a rustling behind me and thought someone else was there, but it was only a leaf, following along.

Mostly the walk affirmed to me how much I like to be alone; it is never really a lonely feeling. This might change as I get older, but probably not.



Last week Ali and I had friends over to celebrate our twenty-first birthdays. We asked everyone to bring a dish of food and dress like their favorite literary character. Hester Prynne came with eggplant moussaka, Hamlet brought plantains, and Kira, as the momma from The Namesake, arrived with a big pot of pea soup. Jay Gatsby and Nick Carraway went in on a roast chicken; the boys next door baked muffins and claimed to be assorted characters from 1984. Ali went as Oliver Twist, and I was Lolita. I was not sure whether this was appropriate but it gave me an excuse to wear an old pair of heart-shaped glasses and attempt a complicated braided hairstyle. 


gray* november dayz

* Gray or grey? I googled and was directed to this helpful website. If Samuel Johnson is down with gray, it works for me.


mission impossible

What my brother wrote when I asked him to give me a long division problem so I could practice for the GREs:




I am home for October break! This morning I went downstairs and found my stepmom meditating, with her eyes closed and her headphones on, in the lotus position. It is 68 degrees and there is strong Peet's coffee brewing in the kitchen. When I left Poughkeepsie it was SNOWING! I asked a scientifically-inclined friend whether he thought this was a good or bad sign in terms of global warming. He was not sure. 

Last week, Ali went apple-picking with the guys next door. I had to stay home to grouchily finish a ten-page paper, but lived vicariously through their photos. 

Then, we made apple pie. I was not convinced that picked apples were very different from store-bought ones, but I was wrong. Also, they're huge. 


day trippin'

In the morning we left for Rhinebeck, a town lined by chalky, thin-boned Victorian houses and trees with mustard-colored leaves. It was a pretty drive--through Hyde Park and past the intimidating site of the Vanderbilt mansion (from the highway, only its tall gates are visible--tantalizing!) We spent the morning poking around in shops and ogling the oldest inn in America; then we got a soupy lunch at Gigi's and chatted with the owner of the town sweet shop. The store is nearing its sixteenth birthday, and we celebrated by buying champagne truffles and chocolates shaped like racecars. Ali also got an edible mustache whose primary ingredient was wax (?). Before we left for Poughkeepsie I picked up a pair of cozy socks in which to nestle, like the burrowing owl, all winter. It was the best escape.

Owl in burrow,

me in sox.


i think this is turning into a food blog. oops.

Tonight there is a potluck for my writing class. I am going to make a round loaf of Irish bread and hope someone else picks up the slack when it comes to main courses. My cooking is improving this year, but I am still a little nervous about raw meat and fish, the way some people get skittish near big dogs. I like that flour has not ever been alive; also, there is no risk of salmonella. 

A few days ago Ali and I made these monster scones (!!):

In one week I go home for October break. I am pining big-time for dinners with Momma, long walks to Green Apple, visiting Nora at Iris and all-over fog. That's the trouble with San Francisco--it's difficult to live quite as happily anywhere else. (Though today Elana directed me to this illustrated Haruki Murakami story, which helped!)



While in class a few days ago, listening to a discussion about doppelgangers and Nabokovian double gangrels (oy), I tried to draw my professor--a difficult task, as I tend to draw both men and women exactly the same way, with round owly eyes and heart-shaped mouths. (The nose is always done as though in profile--a small, anatomically impossible L.) The result was pleasing because it did not come out quite so androgynous as usual, and also because it looks the way I always imagined an English professor would.* 

*But Nora says it just looks like my dad--so perhaps I have only moved from my original gender-neutral formula to a general male template. 



Why is it that baking always seems to cure a glum mood? Was feeling blue this afternoon due to a lot of built-up homework and a botched bike ride (ouch, ankle), and instead of tackling my reading for Deviant Subcultures, I made muffin squares*. There isn't a grocery store within walking distance, so I had to get creative--bought four raw eggs from the kitchen in the Retreat and gluten-free baking mix at House of Nutrition (which, it turns out, sells more than protein powder and homeopathic remedies with long, inscrutable names). We don't have vanilla at the house, so I subbed soy for regular milk, then added almonds and apricots and walnuts. The verdict? A little dry, as gluten-free things tend to be--but overall, satisfying.  

* The recipe was for muffins, but muffin tins are another thing we don't have, so I spread the mixture out thickly in a baking pan. Chomp.



One week into school and I've already sprained my ankle. Also got a bloody knee. Now I walk with a tiny limp and must put off bike riding--yow. More time to read Nabokov? 



The walls are almost bare, some light fixtures don't work and my dresser has no knobs, so that each drawer can only be opened by scraping at its underside after pulling out the one beneath it--but it is lovely to be here, still. It's been one and a half years now since I have been in Vassar, and I appreciate it all more now, even the small things: the stream that runs by the path to the senior housing, the roundabout near Raymond avenue whose island has yellow flowers and a tall clock, my tiny rectangular mailbox. Each day is filled with so many different components and I like this, how busy it is. Yesterday it was only at four in the afternoon, when I sat down to eat a large sandwich at Babycakes, that I realized I hadn't stopped moving all day. This morning I tried to get into the Nabokov class (fail) and bought a bike (success!). It is blue and was ninety-nine dollars from Target. I never had a bike as a kid, so Evan had to teach me how to ride it. The thing is you can't stop--it is all about forward momentum, and hesitance usually results in a fall. I can only hop on, push down hard on one pedal and go!


corner store

I thought moving out of my apartment would be painful, and I think it was because of this--because I had been sort of premourning that moment--that it was okay. It was not so bad to part with the overgrown backyard, my room with its shelves of books and view of the garden, all of our strange refrigerator poems and Nora's potholders shaped like goldfish. They were, it turned out, just things. 

Now, for just over one week, I am back here:

Before driving to my Dad's house with the movers, I went to the corner store on Church to say goodbye to its owners, a father and two of his sons. Oddly, when I think of this year, it is the three of them I feel most nostalgic about. I came in a few times each week for avocados or coffee or granola, for which they often gave me discounts. Each time we talked in a pleasant, compartmentalized way, so that it almost seemed we knew each other.  Only one of the sons was working the day I moved, and when he came out from behind the register to hug me, I realized that I didn't know his name. I knew only observable details: that they are Middle Eastern, that they work all seven days of the week, and in January--because of the cards lining the counter--that their mother died. He asked me to come back, to write. He said I was a good person. Those words came out of nowhere--we had been talking about candy bars--and I felt undeserving of their kindness, their gentleness. Interactions with strangers so often feel transactional, and sometimes, I think, we have to be startled out of that, to be made aware of the potential for things to be otherwise. 

Now I am back in the Richmond, with its quiet and fog and home-cooked meals. I discovered a small bikram yoga studio on 25th avenue. A banner hung from the roof advertised $10 for 10 classes, and the impressiveness of this deal overrode how much I dislike to exert myself in hot temperatures. Work has finished for the summer, and this lull accommodates the undertaking of small things: walks with friends in Sutro Park, lunches at Q with my little brother, afternoons reading Austen. (It turned out that Northanger was a good pick after all! Now am starting on Emma and can't remember why I hated Pride and Prejudice so much in high school.) 


one's books, oneself?

This morning, a selection of books had been left on the trash can by the 38 bus stop. The stack began with an emphasis on DIY practicality--Single in a Married World and Dr. Phil's Love Smart: Find the One You Love, Fix the One You've Got--but rose optimistically. The One was followed by Living Serendipitously; on top was Expect a Miracle. The collection was pleasing to come upon because of its cohesiveness, however cliche--only Dialogue ("How to get your characters talking to each other in a way that vividly reveals who they are, what they're doing, and what's coming next in your story") and Grey's Anatomy (the book, not the TV show) were outliers. Still! I enjoyed taking photos of them until the 38 came, though the suited man waiting in the bus shelter gave me strange looks. 



It was trivia night at the bar, but we got there an hour late, so we nabbed a corner booth and tried to catch up. The questions were tough and I got most of them wrong, except for, Who wrote The Satanic Verses? (Rushdie) and, almost, the ones about the Giants. The bar itself had dark wood and many filled tables and a string of old Niners jerseys along one wall; the gender ratio leaned heavily toward men but still the place felt inexplicably cozy. The simplicity of having a source of action at which to direct my attention both excused and enabled conversation; I liked feeling equally free to talk or quietly observe. Later in the night we were told that Padma Lakshmi would be attending trivia night next week. We all have crushes on Padma and this, above all else, provided an incentive to return. 



At 2:30 I left to go to the library. The walk was about 30 blocks and I enjoyed it because I was talking on the phone to a friend. I wanted to read Villette or Shirley but the only Bronte they had was Jane Eyre, so I borrowed Northanger Abbey instead, which may or may not turn out to be a good substitution. After the library I had a food craving I could not pinpoint. Bought candy, but that wasn't right. In the candy store I asked to sample the red bean ice cream, thinking this might do it--nope, but closer. I thought of moon cakes, which we used to make in elementary school, and that sounded good, but not substantial enough, and that was when I realized: sesame balls! 

I had not had one in years and suddenly there was nothing else I wanted more. Most of the dim sum restaurants on Clement street were closing and their offerings were picked over--banana cake, almond cookies--but in a bakery across from Green Apple two sesame balls were left. I bought one and it felt decadent--glutenous, just chewy enough, and the size of a baseball--decadent too because it is something I rarely eat. On the bus to Elana's I read Northanger Abbey and felt sated.