Wednesday, December 31, 2008

184: top eight of two thousand eight

And, of course, the disclaimer: These are all "things" experienced, as opposed to released. If only I led a life that included being in "the know" about these sorts of things, but really, I'm contentedly just keeping up. Thus, my lists might be woefully out of date, but because it's mainly media-focused (in books and film), if you are interested, these things are still floating about. And, of course, my memories are simply ones to bear witness right here, or in "real time," if I'm lucky enough to be able to spend that sort of time with you.

Wishing everyone the best 2009.


(online) Poems:
- "Running Away Together" by Maxine Kumin
- "Late Hours" by Liesel Mueller
- "Water Lilies" by Thomas James
- "Naming the Stars" by Joyce Sutphen
- "Chrysalis" by Arthur Sze
- "The Pond" by Amy Lowell
- "Autumn" by Adam Zagajewski
- "The Wedding Vow" by Sharon Olds
A poetry resource page I'm always working on: HERE.

- Late Wife by Claudia Emerson
- The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood
- Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
- The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason
- The Shell Collector by Anthony Doerr
- Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernierres
- American Sublime by Elizabeth Alexander
- Letters from Side Lake by Peter Leschak

Runners Up: The Ice Storm by Rick Moody, Bee Season by Myla Goldberg, Without by Donald Hall, The Whale Rider, Women of the Silk by Gail Tsukiyama, The Wednesday Wars by Gary D Schmidt, Sold by Patricia McCormick, Midwest Eclogue by David Baker, The Dancer Upstairs by Nicolas Shakespeare, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski, Mudbound by Hillary Jordan, The World Without Us by Alan Weisman, Rebecca by Daphne duMourier, The True Story of Hansel and Gretel by Louise Murphy, When the Elephants Dance by Tess Uriza Holthe, and No One Writes to the Colonel and Other Stories by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
(Number of books read in 2008: 128)
A permanently growing list of favorites: HERE.

- Borat
- Kikujiro
- Spring, Summer, Winter, Fall... and Spring
- The Lives of Others
- The Savages
- Margot at the Wedding
- Lars and the Real Girl
- Away From Here

Runners Up: Love in the Time of Cholera, Catch and Release (because Boulder is gorgeous), and Never Forever
A permanently growing list of favorites: HERE.

- "Gone Gone Gone" by Alison Kraus and Robert Plant
- "Breakable" by Ingrid Michaelson
- "These Words" by Natasha Bedingfield
- "Foundations" by Kate Nash
- "You Don't Know Me" by Ben Folds with Regina Spektor
- For getting stuck in my head: "That's Not My Name" by the Ting Tings
- "East to the West" by Michael Franti and Spearhead
- Rodrigo y Gabriela

Favorite pictures of the day (since the blog move):
- June 7
- June 22
- June 29
- July 5
- August 8
- September 26
- October 17
- November 25
- extra: December 21

Runners up: June 8, June 18, June 10, June 25, June 26, July 2, July 7, August 24, August 30, September 27, September 28, November 13, November 15, November 22, November 23, November 30, December 19

Favorite blogs of 2008:
- sweet | salty
- the glass doorknob and shari's new blog
- webster's daily
- the habit of being
- simply breakfast
- 3191
- soulemama
- orangette
And others.


- Palm Beach Poetry Festival. The end of January in Florida, every day--poetry. A magical, magical week for me.
- Getting into the University of Minnesota MFA program. Huzzah! (And ten others...)
- I have a nephew! A godson! And I was witness. :)
- Well, it seems strange here in the middle, but I have to tell you: still crazy about that husband of mine. Still feeling blessed, and somehow, some way, our partnership has even improved since we've been married.
- Camping: Afton, Jay Cooke, and William O'Brien
- Seriously, working at a bookstore is way too good and way too ... addictive.
- I'm pretty hopeful about our next president.
- The seasons this year have felt richer to me: perhaps because I've been getting into the dirt more, exploring, learning, walking, wandering. I hope to do more of that next year too.

Worst (Anything):
- Madison passing away. She had a good, long, life, and we were blessed to have that sweet pup in our lives.
- Missing Grandpa. Knowing how much my grandma misses her husband.
- I suppose our string of bad car luck this winter could count, though we didn't get too frustrated. The pipes freezing also wasn't a plus. But really, all has been repaired and there was no major inconvenience. It's good for me to walk to work (and for Ryan to wash his hair in the tub).
- Many, many books, including: I Know This Much is True, Absolute Friends, The Almost Moon, Nineteen Minutes, A Multitude of Sins, Blind Your Ponies, and The Worst Thing I've Ever Done.
- Many, many films, including: Premonition, Captivity, The Contract, The Butterfly Effect, The Reaping and Conspiracy.
- That internship was not exactly a positive experience. I'll leave it at that.
- The economy. Yeech.
- Sarah Palin. Yeech. (And Bush. Yeech, yeech.)

See also: Recipes. Next year, I intend to create a "top nine" recipes, but for now, you can see my slowly growing list of favorites.

See also: Fiber arts. Again, next year, I'll see if I can create a "top nine" crafty projects, though I'm not always as focused on knitting and sewing as I might wish.

See also: Top Six of Two Thousand Six. And: Top Seven of Two Thousand Seven.

And of course: THANK YOU all for visiting this little spot of mine on the web. It means so much to hear back from you, via email and via comments, and I love being able to live vicariously through so many wonderful experiences out there. I love how inspirational this blogging world can be; it's made me quite a bit braver, I know.

And you? Your "best" and / or "worst"?

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

183: quotidian

Love words? Powell's is hosting a contest, until January 5th, for a free multi-volume OED (oh, how I have wanted one myself...) in which you simply share your favorite word and why.

182: the cream

Emily says this is not the time to be "the cream on the pie." One dear friend's husband was let go with a flimsy excuse and the knowledge that they were overstaffed, and we've been lucky, Ryan and I: his work is still going strong, and my TAship still covers my tuition, gives me health insurance, a wee bit of a salary to get us by. The economy has been talked about, has edged gas prices to ridiculous lows, has pulled back the reigns: big businesses aren't able to make donations now, both out of the reality of the economy and the fear of the economic chatter.

And the campaigns to hit up individuals have begun. My email inbox and my porch are full of pleas, all so very reasonable, and I'm finding my graduate assistantship even more ill timed. I am lucky to have survived the holidays in one piece, to buy that cheap gas, to have food on my table (to buy small stacks of books at the local bookstore where I work). I'm afraid of what might happen in the floodgates if I start to write checks, especially when we need a new windshield, need to fix our plumbing, should think about the vet bills. It doesn't stop, all this need, both inside and out.

I spent my morning watching the video from Intermedia Arts, who refuse to close, but instead call what they are going through "a crisis." They've had to lay off most of their salaried staff, everyone save the director, and instead turn to the program managers as hourly contractors, a precarious position indeed, and close their doors for regular gallery hours, along with the poetry library and various other programs. I then read through a letter from The Great River Shakespeare Festival, who refuse to shut down, and an email from Miles Coon, asking for help for the Palm Beach Poetry Festival, and seemingly every other day, a prominent figure in the nature writing world sends a plea via Orion Magazine (email) for help--Barry Lopez, Jane Goodall, Michael Pollan.

It all just leaves a girl feeling a bit helpless. And we do what we can, I suppose. Buy locally. Support the things we love when we can, how we can. We have to truly find ways to express what we value, and right now, so much of it simply comes down to money. Awful, icky money.

PS: See also: this article in The New York Times about bargain hunting for books and "feeling sheepish about it."

Monday, December 29, 2008

181: tomatoes, asparagus, book club

Two recipes for you today--part of what I made for book club tonight, along with asiago cheese bread and brown rice; we finished things off with Orangette's peppermint bark:

Asparagus Soup

• 3 cups (½ inch) sliced asparagus (about 1 pound)

• 2 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth (I used vegetable broth)

• ¾ teaspoon fresh thyme, divided

• 1 bay leaf

• 1 garlic clove, crushed

• 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

• 2 cups 1% low-fat milk (I used skim)

• dash of ground nutmeg

• 2 teaspoons butter

• ¾ teaspoon salt

• ¼ teaspoon grated lemon rind


Combine asparagus, broth, ½ teaspoon thyme, bay leaf, and garlic in a large saucepan over medium-high heat; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer 10 minutes. Discard bay leaf. Place asparagus mixture in a blender; process until smooth. (Pictured above.)

Place flour in pan. Gradually add the milk, stirring with a whisk until blended. Add pureed asparagus and ground nutmeg; stir to combine. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, and stir in ¼ teaspoon thyme, butter, salt, and lemon rind.

Cream of Carrot Soup: Substitute 2 cups baby carrots for asparag
us. Omit bay leaf.

Cream of Leak Soup: Substitute 3 cups sliced leek for asparagus. Substitute ¾ teaspoon rosemary for thyme. Omit bay leaf.

Note: the first time I made this, the soup was greener and I had too much garlic. This time it was frothier, and I think that's because I left it boiling a bit longer in the last step. It was much better this time.

Tomatoes in Spicy Yogurt Sauce

The tomatoes are warmed, not fully cooked, in the sauce, leaving their softly solid texture intact. Serve them alongside broiled, grilled, or steamed fish and be sure to have plenty of rice to soak up the sauce. Prep and Cook Time: 30 minutes. Notes: For this recipe, use tomatoes that are still firm when ripe, such as Early Girl.


  • 8 ripe but firm tomatoes (about 2 lbs. total)
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
  • 2 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 serrano chiles, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup plain whole milk yogurt
  • Cilantro sprigs (optional)


1. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Meanwhile, fill a large bowl with cold water and a few ice cubes and set near the pot. Put tomatoes in boiling water for 10 seconds each, then use a slotted spoon to transfer them to ice water. Drain tomatoes and pat dry. Core and peel tomatoes (leave them whole). Set aside.

Note: For this portion, especially if you've never blanched tomatoes, you may want to give yourself some extra time. Here's a little blanching tutorial with pictures, if needed. I found the peeling a bit tricky, but I think it's simply a matter of timing.

2. In a large frying pan, heat oil over high heat. When hot, add cumin seeds and mustard seeds and reduce heat to medium-high. Cover and cook until seeds start to pop, about 2 minutes. Remove cover and add butter. When butter is melted, add turmeric and cayenne and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add garlic, chiles, and salt. Cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Reduce heat to low. Add yogurt and stir in one direction until smooth. Add tomatoes. Gently stir to coat with sauce. Cook until tomatoes are just warm, about 5 minutes. Garnish with cilantro if you like and serve warm, with plenty of sauce.

Note: As my book club girls observed, you need to be awfully aware and smooth with this last step--Chris caught me burning things when I was distracted by the soup. I saved it, and the sauce was actually pretty decent; all I have left is the sauce and some brown rice, but I think that will do for lunch tomorrow quite well.

Also, I couldn't find brown mustard seeds, so I used yellow, and I couldn't find cumin seeds, so I used powder.

Over the holiday, Ryan and I went to Festival Foods in Green B ay to stock up on goods for the parent dinners we cooked, and I swear, my jaw absolutely dropped. They have a side organic market that's bigger than our co-op! And the cheese counter... the sushi counter... the meat! I know, too, if we lived in the Twin Cities, I'd be at Whole Foods and the Wedge often, but we're here, and we make do. I'm daydreaming about summer gardens and farmer's markets in the meantime.

Our book club selection: Good Poems edited by Garrison Keillor. We read to each other our favorite poems, and I have more I want to share here. I did bring up Lisel Mueller's "Late Hours," which I fell in love with.

Next up: The History of Love by Nicola Krauss. That's been on my must-read list for a while, so I'm glad it's what Angie picked.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

180: sun set

I napped on the drive to Green Bay for this holiday season, which meant it was my turn to drive back to Minnesota. Me and that stick shift, we don't entirely get along, and though it's a bit easier now that there is a new clutch, the snow in the first bit of the drive kept me wobbling.

But all that anxiety can dissipate when one looks up at the sky. Ah, that crutch: seventy miles an hour and the tetchiness of me plus automatic, but the clouds kept shifting, kept swelling inside as they did out. The frosting knife remnants, the spatterings, the great bursts of strange orange-pink--the sky in perfection, the acrobatics that kept me moving.

Above, that's the results of something strange Ryan did with his camera phone. He has one of those gadget-y phones, the ones with a flat screen that involves a stylus, and I'm still trying to figure out how on earth one might call another phone from that darn thing. What happened to rotary phones? I miss them. You had to be really certain of a phone call at that time. Lots of bravery built up for calling the fifth grade boyfriend--many opportunities for hanging up and trying again.

All this is to say, here is what I can give you, despite my trotting down the highway, beneath several Amish wagons on the bridge above, and just below, several snowmobiles (all this to remind me of my place here in the Midwest, in case my wild rice slow cooker recipe last week was leading me to forget). It is the best I could do while driving, but I think the truth is this: that things like snowflakes and sunsets are impossible to photograph, not in the way we see them anyway, and no matter the rising anxiety at solid ice (our driveway!) or drifting snow, at stalling out or denying the smell of french fries across the car (damn impending resolutions!), these small beauties can smooth it over. This eased my breathing: the black silhouettes of trees against blue, blue sky, the three hawks in a row on treetops I spotted, and the dozens of wild turkeys pecking amongst the corn stalk stubs.

This, and daydreaming of a small hobby farm, learning to make cheese, of canning jam made from our raspberry bush, of double yolk eggs from chickens, of the garden sprawling out and flourishing from my wee worm deposits.

This, for you, our sunset:

Saturday, December 27, 2008


It's changed over from snow to rain here, the record-breaking accumulation in Wisconsin (39.7 inches) for December (since 1887) quickly melting into mush (global warming be darned!). The new clutch in Ryan's car actually makes driving easier, and I'm less timid getting into first from a standstill. Tonight's dinner was spent at my parents' house, where I learned that you mustn't speed through cooking, no matter how many episodes of The Iron Chef America you may have watched prior, and I used these salmon cooking tips, as I've only made salmon on the grill before. It appears I've not reverted to my vegetarian ways, but instead, only exhausted my palate for turkey after that fifteen pound free range wonder Ryan and I were left with when the clutch went out originally; I have, however, found a turkey I wouldn't mind making next year instead (so cute!).

Friday, December 26, 2008


Tonight, Ryan and I squared off with the kitchen:

Chicken and Leek Casserole (from Martha Stewart Living, January 2009). It calls for mushrooms as well, but I heated them separately as I'm the only mushroom eater here. It turned out fine--a little too soggy for my tastes; perhaps more bread to absorb the casserole or reducing the chicken stock / milk in the vegetable mix, but not by too much. This was my first casserole.

Ryan found pepitas at the grocery store and he roasted them on his own. These Mexican pumpkin seeds are completely addictive, I warn you. Here's how to roast them:

- 1⁄2 cup pepitas, raw
- 1⁄2 teaspoon oil, extra-virgin olive
- salt, kosher
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a bowl, combine the pepitas with the olive oil and mix with a fork. Sprinkle on ½ teaspoon of salt and again toss with the spoon. Spread the mixture on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, trying to be sure all the seeds are in one layer. Bake in the preheated oven for 5 minutes until fragrant and lightly browned. Sprinkle with more salt and, using the parchment paper, pour out onto a dinner plate to cool.

For dessert, we attempted Molly / Orangette's peppermint bark. We picked the tinfoil clean after separating the bark into four tins for post-holiday giving. I see now how easy it is to become addicted to dessert.

And later, peanut butter and toffee cookies, which turned out a bit crumbly.

Tomorrow: lobster and salmon pinwheels, Maine crab cakes, and asparagus. Wisconsin wine too.

And currently:
- Watching: the episode on Dirty Jobs that features a sheep ranch. So in love with sheep. (Kelly, the very next episode we watched was on pig farming--how perfect. And both episodes opened with one-day-old sheep/pigs. All kinds of happy.)
- Reading: How Far is the Ocean from Here by Amy Shearn, a graduate of the MFA program I'm in. I'm liking it OK, though I feel like this is a warm up to something much better.
- Knitting: the last of the Christmas washcloths. For Christian, who hasn't had his visit from Aunt Claus.
- Drinking: Tried one of those variety six packs at the liquor store. The raspberry wheat is much preferable to the cranberry. Bell's winter white is good too.
- Lucky: That my husband will help in the kitchen. That he's a good partner in so many ways.


Here: Snow up to our shins, the dogs jackrabbiting in circles, Ryan pressing himself into the ground, blowing snow and giving facewashes. My camera pressed against my eye, rapid fire, catching dogs mid-leap, and at night, the new flash with diffuser still blinding, but much less so. Still knitting, still sneaking pecan pie, still reading up late to the sounds of dog-snores, the house otherwise still. This is the kind of cozy you think of when you think of winter, though without that crackling fire in the fireplace. Instead: peppermint hot cocoa, warm breakfast, a day sprawled in front of you like a carpet unfurling, presenting itself with quiet possibilities. Simplicity too, the good sort--the kind where pleasure comes from the new potato masher, the felted mittens, the ceramic pie dish, the ribbons tied on packages. And of course, dogs bounding in the snow. As if you haven't seen enough of that already.

PS: The dogs, in case you are unfamiliar: the largest mastiff-lab mix (with the green collar) is Chance, and the smallest yellow lab mix is Sassy, both of which are Ryan's parents' dogs; ours, of course, are Penelope, the golden retriever, and Zephyr, the cartoonish black lab mix.

Thursday, December 25, 2008


Merry Christmas, all.

Tomorrow, I'll show you the fun the dogs and Ryan had in the snow.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

175: Wild Rice

For his work's pot luck. Feeling very Minnesotan: both wild rice and slow cooker. And I must admit, I've always wanted to try this long grained rice; it's so beautiful, all needle-y in the bag.

  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 3 celery, thinly sliced
  • 2 (6 ounce) packages dry instant long grain and wild rice mix
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 1 (10.75 ounce) can condensed cream of mushroom soup
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 pound processed American cheese
  • 1/2 cup sliced fresh mushrooms

In a slow cooker, place onions, celery, rice mix, water, condensed cream of mushroom soup, butter, American cheese and mushrooms. Cover, and cook on Low 6 to 10 hours or on High 2 to 4 hours.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

174: 25

Originally uploaded by chelseasutton

Today my little sister turns twenty five, the first time I'm actually starting to feel less like a distance runner in this whole aging process. I think twenty five for me was in the midst of my first Master's, the M.Ed, and here I am, on the other side of three years of teaching high school and back in a Master's program again (is that
making progress?).

Of course, this isn't about me. This is about Chelsea, who lives way down in Austin, who is hosting a karaoke party to somehow ease the aging, whose boyfriend (pictured above) works part time at Kinko's and made her this insane sign, and it's about me having a dream about her last night (about her and my mother actually, where my mother took over directing the musicals when I left This High School and me sitting in on rehearsal to help give notes--seriously?--) and there my sister was, in the audience, joking along with me about the strange hamburger costumes and whatnot.

When I was three, all I wanted was a baby sister and a kitten. I got both, and I figured all my big wishes could come true.

We eventually gave away the kitten for biting the little sister on the face.

But Chelsea's stuck around. Despite the car accident she was in at fifteen, when she spent time in the ICU, one man dead and the other brain damaged for life, and she survived. Despite being robbed as she slept in Madison, her camera stolen from her bed stand beside her. Despite living in New York City, which I'm sure has tales alongside it, things we don't know to keep us from that worrying we tend to do.

Yup, I've got a little sister, though I don't know if twenty-five qualifies her as "little" any more. Younger, true. I'm facing thirty in a quick turn of time, so I shouldn't press the issue, but I think there's that time in our lives when we start to wonder what we should have done, start lining ourselves up with others and judging the paths we took. We start feeling a little lower, a little more like putting skid marks on this whole time moving thing.

And then, as I hope will happen with her, we start to realize that our lives are beautiful. That if we took any other path we wouldn't have become who we are or found the things we did--if Chelsea hadn't gone school-hopping, she would not have met Cole, who is seemingly a good match for her (unlike the boy she left behind in New York, who is still a good person, but sometimes good people don't always match). She is finding her passions in life, at her own pace, just as I am. And that's a good thing, because she's an awfully talented person and the getting there is part of the package.

Happy birthday, baby sister. Hope it's a good one.


PS: You can go wish her a happy birthday too: her blog and her flickr.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

173: Science Museum of Minnesota

Today: our field trip to the Science Museum of Minnesota, bringing along Brianna to the Twin Cities, meeting Lane and Angie. CSI exhibit: following a crime scene, peering into microscopes, comparing fingerprints and the shape of footprints, learning about blood spatter. Elsewhere in the museum: swabbing for germs, touching a tornado (and watching it dissipate), competing in science trivia, gawking at dinosaur bones and fossils (my favorite), watching a rubber ducky pummeled by waves, remembering what it was to be eight or nine and wanting nothing more than to be swallowed up by the facts of science, the magic of long-ago.

More museum images here.

Dinner with the same good company, brie and green apples, spicy wings, the smushy texture of rice burgers. Oh, and the lights of downtown St Paul! A small ice rink, our fingers tingling from the cold, the statue of F Scott Fitzgerald keeping company with the nutcracker across the park.

More from today:

Found a quilt I had been hunting for days. All it needs is the final hand quilting, and I intend to get that done just as soon as my last two Christmas projects come to a close (which should be just in time for the actual holiday). This quilt was originally going to be a double sided pillow for Yvonne, a woman who was like a second mother to my sister and myself as we were growing up, but she died of cancer before I could finish. The lion for bravery and the turtle for patience. Now, I hope to finish it as a quilt for one of her grandsons, and I'd like to send it out early in the New Year.

The car luck continues. As in, bad luck. As we were returning home, I heard that crack, the sort that one hears on a pond as the ice eases, but instead, it was my windshield, splaying one way and then the other. Fortunately, the crack is on the outside and along the dash. And though I'm a little nervous at the idea of it traveling without being fixed, Ryan has to take it to the cities tomorrow as his is still in the shop and he needs to get to work. One thing I can say about these (now four) car issues, the frozen pipes, the lost lens to the eyeglasses, the garage door malfunctioning: neither one of us is in a tizzy over it. How easy it would be to swirl into a fit of frustration at these misfires, but the truth of it is this: we have each other, we are loved, we have a home, we are happy. Good family, good friends, good love. A crack in the windshield just keeps things spicy. Or rather, chilly.