Oct 13

cake 1 It was a special weekend at Chez Golightly. My oldest sister turns, well, a milestone age next month, and since fall break gave many of us a long weekend, we gathered from different parts of the country to celebrate.

We enjoyed dinner at Bricco Trattoria on Saturday evening, all of the siblings, my parents, and a few of my sister’s long-time friends (note, I avoid saying oldest) sharing stories and a lot of laughs.

I woke up early on Sunday to bake my sister’s birthday cake. I used this lemon ricotta cake recipe, leaving off the lemon curd.

cake 2Only one small piece remained. I think it was a hit!

What did you do this weekend?


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Ethical Elegance: Moop Bag Review

Oct 09

letter bag You’ve probably heard me mention one of my favorite bag makers plenty of times: Moop! Today I’ll tell you about a few of their bags and wax poetic about the one that serves as my Mary Poppins bag.

The Tiny Clutch 2 is a great bag for tossing into a larger bag when you want to keep necessities–phone, debit card, cash, lip stick–all together. I use it all the time when I don’t want to carry a handbag and a tote.

I reviewed my Paperback bag here (scroll down to the end of the post). Now that I have an iPad mini, the bag holds even more. I especially like this bag when I’m biking to do my errands. It also makes a terrific clutch when I snap off the strap.

I’ve long been on the search for the perfect handbag, but I already own the perfect work bag: the Moop Letter Bag in waxed canvas. Like Mary Poppins’s carpet bag, this bag can hold it all (almost)! Mine is gray waxed canvas, with one of my favorite details–a gorgeous turquoise lining, which makes it easy to find all the things I stuff into the bag. Most days, the slip pocket holds my bullet journal and pencil case, the front pockets hold my reading glasses and sketchbook, and the inside pocket holds text books, work folders, student papers, articles I need to read–you get the idea. And there is a key fob, the handiest detail on any larger bag! The inside pockets are great for my iPad cord, Altoids, and other bibs and bobs I need throughout the day. While I love the look of leather bags, this one is so much lighter than my leather briefcase. I can carry it, stuffed to the brim, with little pain. I also get a lot of use of the shoulder straps–I don’t often carry bags messenger style, but I do like having the options the adjustable strap offers.

It’s more than a terrific bag for work. You can see the Letter Bag at the Louvre when it served as my second carry-on and day bag during a weekend in Paris. Moop makes many styles that are refined enough to wear with more sophisticated looks.

Of course, the fact that the bags are manufactured in the USA using ethically produced materials goes a long way in my love of them.

Stay tuned for an interview next week with Wendy, the genius behind Moop.

In the meantime, spill in the comments–which is your fave Moop bag?

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Phoenix Draft: Written

Oct 06

Novel It started in 2004 with a writing prompt to craft a 25-line story featuring a childhood place. I wrote “Queen of the Tobacco Field,” set in the shade tobacco farms of the Connecticut Tobacco Valley, my birthplace.

Are you surprised? Most folks not from here are. They think the south owns all the rights to tobacco. But I grew up watching local and migrant workers tend the plants as they pushed against the ghostly nets that create the just-right environment for some of the world’s best cigar binders and wrappers, and those fields, that netting, the red barns…those are my markers of childhood and home.

I digress. My first MFA workshop saw that 25-line story morph into a proper short story, and as I drafted my dissertation, it grew into a novella. I defended my dissertation in 2008, yet I still couldn’t let go of the story.

Every May, when my teaching gig was over for the summer, I promised myself I’d write a new draft, the one I could shop around. I have at least five half-finished drafts in which I changed huge parts of the story, but they were never right. As September arrived, I would give up.

This year, I didn’t make myself a promise. I gave myself permission.

Permission to try it one more time. Permission not to give up. Permission to do what I had to in order to write a brand new draft with a brand new focus. I made the commitment matter by hiring a terrific writing coach.

Around the same time, I saw a tweet from Rachael in which she used the term Phoenix Draft. And I knew she’d written it just for me (okay, she didn’t, but it flew past my eyes at the moment I needed to see it). See, almost every time I begin a new draft, I open a brand new document and start from scratch. I rarely (except with short stories) get to the point where I’m satisfied enough with the story to revise the existing draft.

This one, I told myself, would be the Phoenix Draft. The last one to rise, new and different, reborn, if you will, from the ashes of ten years of drafts.

Last week, I finished the draft. 81,800 words of a brand new story, the story I was meant to tell, the story that precedes all of the events I crammed into the 25-line “Queen of the Tobacco Field.” I kept the name I gave it in novella form, The Hardest Bent, because it is a true and right name for this novel.

I printed it out, mapped out a revision plan based closely on Rachael’s, and in my last coaching session with dear Charlotte on Friday, firmed up how I’ll spend my next three months of writing time.

I am over the moon about revising this Phoenix Draft. I am terrified about finding a home for the novel, but it deserves that from me. So when this revision is over, when my trusted readers give me one last round of feedback, I plan to once more give myself permission. Permission to write a terrific query letter. Permission to find the agent and editor who will love my story the way I do. Permission to let The Hardest Bent do more than press against the netting…to burst out from under it, into the world.

How about you? What have you given yourself permission to do lately?

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Stitching with the Ladies of Gee’s Bend

Sep 29

Earlier this year, I got a hankering to sew a quilt top by hand. I’ve always pieced by machine and quilted by hand in the past, and I wanted to slow down the top-making process.

Quilt block

This urge coincided with special guest artists at  Fiber College : three of the Gee’s Bend Quilters.

I spent a relaxing Saturday afternoon at the world’s prettiest camp ground drawing out fabric from my stash, ripping off strips, stitching them together by hand as I listened to the murmur of sewing machines punctuated by laughter and conversation (Gale posted photos and a short video from the day). “Doing it your way” was the theme–pick the fabrics that speak to you, let them cozy up next to fabrics that you might not normally put together, but that tell you they want to be together.

Anyone expecting to be instructed exactly how to create a Gee’s Bend quilt was probably let down by the afternoon. But anyone who really listened, who bent her will to the fabric, realized she had, in fact, learned how to create a Gee’s Bend quilt: stitch what makes you happy.

Every now and again, I add another strip to the block. I’m not sure if I’m going to make one large lap-quilt-sized block or make several more about this size and stitch them together. I’m using stash fabric, old cotton shirts, sheets, and the cutest contribution from Amy Lou–the denim-patch fabric includes apples and the saying “I like you” on it.Sajou box


When I open my Sajou sewing box, a beautiful gift from Sara years ago, I see treasures like Cal’s business card, a reminder of watching her sew on a vintage Singer; a thimble from Clementine placed sweetly on my cottage cot pillow; the embroidery knife I purchased in Paris with Sara after we spent hours in the gorgeous Sajou shop pawing over all the pretty things. I love that hand stitching drenches me in sweet thoughts of friends, of places like Maine, Paris, my porch. I love that each fabric reminds me of someone or some moment in time. That’s how stitching this quilt makes me happy.

I’d love to read about a project that’s making you happy–what are you doing your way?

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Sophie’s House of Cards: a Review and Contest

Sep 26

This summer Sharon Oard Warner emailed to see if I’d be interested in reading an advance copy of her new novel Sophie’s House of Cards. I’ve known Sharon since 2003 when I took a workshop with her at Iowa’s summer writing festival. She’s responsible for my decision to go to graduate school and for my eventual move to New Mexico. I’m fortunate to have studied with her, and I remain grateful for her guidance as my dissertation chair.

So, yeah, when Sharon, a wonderful teacher and even more terrific human, asks anything of me, I say “yes”!

It doesn’t hurt that I love her writing. She doesn’t shy away from hard ideas, and she is a writer to study if you’re interested in a model for crafting flawed characters that resonate with the reader.

I just posted my review on GoodReads, which I’ll add here in case you don’t feel like clicking:

In her second novel Sophie’s House of Cards, Sharon Oard Warner tackles tough questions, just as she has in her debut novel Deep in the Heart: How do we allow loved ones to live their lives as they feel is right, even when we disagree? How do we handle betrayal? What does it mean to be a family?

As in her first novel, the characters in Sophie’s House of Cards are individuals, depicted with authority, leaving the reader confident that they had rich, complex lives before the story opens, and will continue to do so long after the book ends. Even minor characters in the novel are three-dimensional and might warrant having their stories told, too.

The story follows three women as they grow to understand how their lives entwine through love and betrayal. Warner renders not only the women with care and precision, but also the men who complete and complicate ideas about love, betrayal, and family.

Set in New Mexico, the novel brims with details that let the reader almost smell pinon wood in the kiva and Hatch chile peppers being roasted. The narrative structure—a tarot card reading—adds layers of meaning to the story, reminding the reader that even if fortune and destiny are at play in our lives, we can’t help but to be flawed. Warner allows us to see the beauty in our flaws, which may be the greatest gift of the novel.

Want to read the novel? Of course you do! Lucky for you, there’s a give away contest going on right now. Hop on over for your chance to win a copy of Sophie’s House of Cards and a set of tarot cards! Don’t want to put yourself in the hands of Fortune? Order your copy here.

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