_____________

I am afraid to name her.
What if I call it wrong?
If my moniker choice resists
story, history, or song?

Details of breeding and face,
habits, regrets, disgrace...
These I'll slap on her like travel stickers on a suitcase,
but a name?

So much weight. 
So I wait.

One false christening could render her
uninteresting and ugly.
But then, 
even Scarlet O'Hara was first Penelope.

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No matter how far I travel from it, my heart belongs to Yosemite. My husband and I grew up there, fell in love there. That's why I'm so proud and excited to announce that my short essay "We Climb Anyway" will be published this winter as part of a new anthology from The Yosemite Conservancy:

Inspiring Generations: 150 Years, 150 Stories from Yosemite

"On June 30, 1864, amidst the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant Act to protect Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. This act that set aside the first public parkland for future generations was a legacy for our nation and an inspiration to the world.

"To honor the 150th anniversary of this milestone, a call went out inviting the public to celebrate in prose and poetry the national park they love. The 150 pieces in this book were selected from hundreds of submissions from people who have visited, lived in, or worked in Yosemite National Park. These collected reflections feature, among other things, treks up Half Dome, escapades at The Ahwahnee, revels at the long-gone firefall,and, yes, encounters with those bears; and range from the hilarious to the historical, the enlightening to the uplifting. Inspiring Generations will encourage many journeys to the park filled with family, friends, and the stuff memories are made of."


This commemorative book will be published by the Yosemite Conservancy and will be sold as a fundraising item benefiting the 150th anniversary of the Yosemite Grant.

"One of my passions is hearing from park visitors how Yosemite has impacted their lives in a positive way. This book is a great way to record those experiences and recount how cherished and important the park is to past and present visitors," said Don Neubacher, Yosemite National Park Superintendent.

Every piece in the anthology is less than 1,000 words. Micro-essays and flash fiction. Knowing even that much of my writing will appear in a book for sale in Yosemite National Park is a dream come true. 

Inspiring Generations will be available for purchase in YNP bookshops and visitor centers this December. At the Mariposa Storytelling Festival in March 2014, the book will receive an official launch. And you can buy the paperback on Amazon in May 2014 (preorder it now).

I encourage everyone to Like the Yosemite Conservancy on Facebook; it's an easy way to keep up-to-date on anniversary events and park news. And please buy a copy of this anthology to support the efforts of the Yosemite Conservancy.

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If you're planning a transatlantic flight in the near future and are looking for a book to keep you from going dull-eyed in front of the four-by-six seatback video screen, Gone Girl fits that bill. 

Once begun, it was difficult to put down. It stuck there in my hands, sticky the way blood is sticky. Four-hundred sixty-three pages in two days. I expected no less. A dozen people must have recommended this book to me within the last six months. 

Ordinarily, I am wary of pop culture phenomena like Gone Girl. Too many people entertained by the same book logically equates to a lower common denominator met. People are unique in their likes and dislikes, curiosities, and tastes in literature. When something appeals across the board, I hold back. Is it The Hunger Games? Is it Twilight? Is it Harry Potter? Is it Fifty Shades of Grey? 

At least in regard to the former three titles, I found the reading level to be too young for my taste, and didn't get past the first chapter of the first book in each series. This is not to say they aren't good books. Millions upon millions of people (and book sales) would beg to differ. It's just that they are easy reads. Manageable. Digestible. Entertaining. I assume the same is true of Fifty Shades, with the addition of one important adjective: titillating. All things an eager populace with short attention spans and addictions to the blood spatter of Dexter desire in their books, too.

As it turns out, Gone Girl's popularity is something of a relief to me, in that its foundation is an intelligent, high stakes plot conveyed by expertly-rendered unreliable narrators. 

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My bedside library slouches around the base of the small silver lamp on my nightstand. The New Yorker is to blame. Four issues, each only partially read. One still shrink-wrapped. They are too large. Their covers too slippery. In the pile, they move whole inches at the slightest jostle. Sandstone. The wrong foundation for this mound of literature. But I cannot tuck them away on the shelf yet. James Wood's review of Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch in the current issue refuses to be neglected that way. I also flag the best pieces, ones that resonate personally or strike me as prime material for teaching someday. Keeping the Faith: Egypt's preachers after the crackdown by Peter Hessler (Oct. 7) requires such a flag. Then I'll put the magazines away. I promise.

Ernest Hemingway's In Our Time and a slim, white volume of poetry by T.S. Eliot rest lightly atop the rest. I finished In Our Time weeks ago now, but I can't put it back on the shelf yet. The brutality of its passages about wartime, the bloody pilgrimages and hoary revelations about man's character, stick like burs to my brain. No, I need it in arm's reach for a while. Before he was Papa, Hemingway was a young man with a machete-pen and a raw, stark way of looking at the world. Everyone has a beginning. Every author has a first book. So, it sits there, reminding me when I roll to the left and open my eyes first thing in the morning that I've got a first book waiting within me. 

Eliot's poetry, too, has been finished (if one can ever truly finish reading a poem). I picked it up at Shakespeare & Co. in Paris on my last trip. Last week, it was my bath time book. Light as the bubbles in the tub, I drank the whole thing in a single soak. Prufrock, yes, but other meditations on life, aging, family, society, poverty, and play also. It is here among the rest of the nightstand mess because, warm and blushing from the bath, I wandered straight to bed and fell fast asleep without remembering much that came between. My poetry shelf in the office is too disorganized to welcome Eliot anyway. So, he'll stay.

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Even before learning the language, an expat must contend with the proper nouns of life in a new country. City names. Street names. Metro stop names.

Pronunciation, particularly in places which use grander alphabets than we're used to, can be a problem. Skøyenåsen, anyone? Nuances in accent and emphasis can also cause a problem. In California, I used to love watching non-Californians attempt names like Mission Viejo or Joaquin Murieta or even San Jose. (Which exit takes you to downtown San Joh-zy?) My own parents admit that, when they relocated to California from Illinois in the early '80s, they mispronounced Tuolumne Meadows for a while... Too-oh-LOOM-nay.

The inability to pronounce place names can be disorienting, but because it's a question of survival--you must know how to navigate your way to work, food, community, airport, and entertainment--as an expat, you do it. We did. Thanks to brunt force memorization, words like Stortinget, Jernbanetorget, and Frognerseteren entered our vernacular. Quickly, we knew where these places were and how to get there via the clean, efficient Oslo Metro. Nailed it.

Only later in our immersion did we realize that we were actually visiting Big Thing, Railway Market, and Frogner Farm. That's why I love this hilarious direct-translation map of the metro.

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The next time you're in Oslo, make sure you visit some of my favorite places (on this list), including Spankfield, Son of Toe, Stretch, Hellfire, Stump, Breastfeed Farm, Funny Hillside, and Scary Laugh.


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When Jonathan and I decided to move to Norway almost three years ago, we knew only a few things for certain: 

  • We'd be able to travel more.
  • We'd need warmer clothes.
  • And we'd likely never receive any visitors.

This last, we understood, because, unlike France or Italy or Switzerland, Norway just isn't one of those legendary, popular European destinations. Few non-Europeans can name any Scandinavian city other than the three big capitals. Even fewer could locate the capitals on a map without help. Plus, unlike Denmark, which shares a border with Germany, Sweden and Norway are just plain UP THERE. Oslo and Stockholm share roughly the same latitude as Anchorage, Alaska and St. Petersburg, Russia. So, we resigned ourselves to our loneliness, determined to make new friends and buy plane tickets back to California as often as necessary to remain recognizable to our old crowd.

And then the unthinkable happened. People came.

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It's hard to say what the best thing is about Oatmeal Chocolate Chip cookies. I mean, is it the amazing flavor, or the wholesome aroma (which takes me straight back to my mom's kitchen in Newark, California... and the sound of her hand-held electric beaters inside a large, orange plastic bowl), or the way gooey chocolate feels when it's smeared on your lips... or that making such perfect cookies requires a cute apron? See? Tough call. 

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  • 1/2 c Butter (softened)
  • 1/2 c Brown Sugar (packed)
  • 1/4 c White Sugar
  • 1 Egg
  • 1 tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 1/2 c + 2 tbps All Purpose Flour
  • 1/4 tsp Baking Soda
  • 1/2 tsp Salt
  • 1 1/2 c Quick Cooking Oats
  • 1/2 c Chocolate Chips

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C).

In a large bowl, cream together the butter, brown sugar, and white sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs one at a time, then stir in vanilla. Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt; stir into the creamed mixture until just blended. Mix in the quick oats, walnuts, and chocolate chips. Drop by heaping spoonfuls onto ungreased baking sheets.

Bake for 12 minutes in the preheated oven. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Yield: 18 Large Cookies

Hope you enjoy them! Original recipe here: Chewy Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

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