The bird is the word

Well, Ryan.  You finally got your wish.  I’m on Twitter at last. The content should be pretty good for the first few weeks because I’ve been saving up pithy little one-liners, but after that we’ll just have to take our chances.

I’m @SterlingFink. Are any of you on Twitter?  Tweet at me!

— Amanda


I’m the boss of me, but it might be too much responsibility

My hair matches my cardigan! And look — I’m wearing both eye makeup and contact lenses! That hasn’t happened since my wedding in 2007! So much crunchy gel! So many exclamation points! Wow!
Somehow it only recently occurred to me that as a recluse self-employed person married to a person whose hair color used to cycle through the rainbow and who prefers to sing “What a Wonderful World” with the lyrics “I see hair of blue, black lipstick, too,” I would face no penalty, and likely only buttloads of encouragement, if I were to dye some or all of my hair a color not genetically inheritable by my species. When I mentioned to Matt that I had been thinking of getting a Rogue streak or a band of green in my hair he replied “Do it! Do it!” And then, pointing his spoon at me and looking grave, “Do it,” in a threatening tone.
I am happy to report that, while it was an incredibly time-consuming process (particularly for someone who has only ever used boxed dye kits from the health and beauty aisle of the supermarket) it was cheap and easy and not much messier than boxed dye. I’m afraid it might be addictive, though. I’m already trying to figure out where else I’d like a pop of color on my noggin.
When I turned 30 I decided I was going to stop dyeing my hair. I let it do its thing for about two months before I freaked the hell out and ran to the store for a box of my beloved Garnier Nutrisse. Under 10 years of #20 Soft Black was a startling amount of gray. Asked to estimate a percentage I said 50, but after consulting a few websites I am forced to admit it’s more like 20%, but that’s a lot to get used to all at once. I dialed down the pigment to #40 dark brown for a slightly less garish contrast with my wintertime pallor, but I gave up on the no-dye experiment. Now that I’ve had a little taste of the good stuff, though, I have a new plan. When I turn 40 I will do as my favorite librarian of all time did: skip the bleach and dye just the gray a candy color. Granted Mrs. Anderson had an advantage by having naturally super-black Asian hair, but my natural color is still pretty darn dark (think Hershey bar) so it’ll probably work. Man, if I could be half as cool as Mrs. Anderson . . .
Incidentally, do you know how hard it is to take a selfie? I took fourteen pictures in the bathroom before I decided that getting a decent angle was going to be impossible.

And then another 6 in the living room. You can see me getting progressively less thrilled with the process.

Flimsy excuse to try making an animated gif, eh? This is what procrastination looks like, folks. When you’re supposed to be editing you’d be amazed at how productive you become in every other area of your life. My bathrooms have never been this clean. I’m even thinking of vacuuming out my car.

— Amanda

P.S. Gifs were made at, which was super easy to use and thoughtfully did not slap a watermark on my finished product.

RIP, Mr. Coffee

It is a sad day in our household.  A beloved member of our family, Mr. Coffee, who had been with my husband for over 15 years, died quietly on the counter top this morning, alongside his companion of 9 years, Toaster. He died doing what he loved: making sweet, sweet coffee. One year ago he received a life-extending therapy in which his warming plate was recoated. He is survived by Fridge, Oven (Kenmore), and Microwave IV, and was preceded by Microwave I, Microwave II, Microwave III, and Oven (Roper).  A private service will be held this afternoon in the back yard where Mr. Coffee will be laid to rest in the garbage can. No flowers, please. Condolences may be sent in the form of espresso stand gift cards (Java Island is our fave).

— Amanda

New year’s resolutions, part 2: the actual 2015 resolutions this time

You’ve suffered through my review of the successes and failures of my 2014 resolutions, so now here’s what I hope to accomplish in 2015.

  • Savings. Try again with the little bit in savings every payday thing. (See 2014 recap.)
  • Continue toward ultimate goal weight. In the past I have cited the scientific evidence that the more precise one’s resolution, the more likely one is to achieve it (i.e. “exercise 30 minutes three times a week” is a clearer, easier to grasp goal than “be healthy”) but this time I am making my goal more diffuse. As I learned the hard way last summer, losing weight becomes asymptotically harder the closer one gets to one’s goal. This is because your basal metabolic rate changes as you become leaner, meaning that the number of calories needed to maintain your current weight shrinks with your waistline. So when I was obese (at 220 lbs) and eating 1600 calories a day the pounds melted off even though I was sedentary. But when I was 140 lbs last summer and walking around the neighborhood several times a day, 1200 calories a day kept me at a frustrating plateau. At some point a pound a week becomes a Sisyphean task. But if I set the goal at 1/2 a pound a week I wouldn’t reach my goal weight until June of 2016. You see my dilemma? I know that hard-set goals get better results but I’m going to have to be flexible on this one if I want to keep from being disappointed. So the goal is to continue on my increasingly healthier lifestyle with an eye to achieving my goal weight sooner rather than later. (There will be more on what I mean by “healthy” in another post. Hey — don’t roll your eyes!)
  • Vegetable garden or bust. I raised no edibles what-so-never in 2014. I planned on moving the vegetable garden to the front yard but then I got hurt. I was pretty much unable to lift anything heavier than a sandwich with my right arm for three months, whereupon I overdid my recuperation exercises and put myself right back where I started. I have regained full range of motion and almost 100% usage of my shoulder now. I also overdid my cardio and in November I injured the medial collateral ligaments of both knees, which landed me on the couch for a few weeks. My knees are recovered now but I learned my lesson,so no more lunges or squats (which I knew I shouldn’t be doing anyway) and no more attempts to do the work of five people by myself in one weekend. Going slow and being able to keep going is infinetly preferable to hurrying, getting hurt, and sitting out on life. I’m going to refrain from potentially damaging physical activity and focus on my goddamn garden! (It’s going to be fucking beautiful, man. Raised beds, weed-free paths, a pergola-covered bench, berry bushes, cold frames . . .)
  • Publish Ellipsis. The book I have been alluding to off and on. This resolution is pretty simple. This was put on hold for Nanowrimo but I shall restart the process of sending it out for editing and reviews and then it’s off to the presses! Websites (yes, plural) are in place and business cards and promotional plans are ready and waiting. Muahahaha!

I have inside information that at least one of my readers has made a revolutionary new year’s resolution.  What do you resolve to do in 2015?

— Amanda

2014 Reading List

It’s that time again.  Time to bombard you with the very very very long list of what I read in 2014, what I tried to read and gave up on, and the coobooks I drooled over.  You can also see the list (in a graphic, interactive format) on my Goodreads page. Given that I finished 89 books this year, washed out of 45 more, and flipped eagerly through 17 cookbooks, I will invoke the “break” feature (for possibly the first time ever).

2014 Books Read:
  1. Good Year, A by Peter Mayle
  2. I Was Told There’d Be Cake by Sloane Crosley
  3. Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
  4. Ghost and Mrs. Muir by R. A. Dick
  5. Tenth of December by George Saunders
  6. Orchardist, The by Amanda Coplin
  7. Homestead by Rosina Lippi
  8. Alena by Rachel Pastan
  9. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
  10. Still Life with Chickens by Catherine Goldhammer
  11. Holy The Firm by Annie Dillard
  12. Innocents by Cathy Coote
  13. The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope by Rhonda Riley
  14. Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us by Jesse Bering (Audiobook)
  15. The Pleasure of My Company by Steve Martin
  16. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
  17. The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick
  18. Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan
  19. The Emotional Eater’s Book of Inspiration by Debbie Danowski, PhD
  20. Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman
  21. Harvest by Jim Crace
  22. Glaciers by Alexis M. Smith
  23. A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle
  24. The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson
  25. Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes
  26. The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz
  27. After the Wall by Jana Hensel
  28. Stasiland by Anna Funder
  29. The Lady and the Lumberjack by Olive Barber
  30. Magnificence by Lydia Millet
  31. Contents May Have Shifted by Pam Houston
  32. I’ll Never be French (No Matter What I Do) by Mark Greenside
  33. The Giraffe’s Neck by Judith Schalansky
  34. The Cove by Ron Rash
  35. Food and Loathing by Betsy Lerner
  36. Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life From Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed
  37. Light Years by James Salter
  38. An Education by Lynn Barber
  39. Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe by Bill Bryson
  40. The Confabulist by Steven Galloway
  41. Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman
  42. Welcome Home: Travels in Smalltown Canada by Stuart McLean
  43. Love & Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere by Poe Ballantine
  44. Lost Cat: A True Story of Love, Desperation, and GPS Technology by Caroline Paul
  45. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
  46. The Madwoman in the Volvo: My Year of Raging Hormones by Sandra Tsing Loh
  47. Making a Literary Life by Carolyn See
  48. The Indie Author Guide by April L. Hamilton
  49. POD for Profit by Aaron Shepard
  50. Breaking Free from Emotional Eating by Geneen Roth
  51. Appetites by Geneen Roth
  52. Break Through Your Set Point by George L. Blackburn, M.D., Ph. D.
  53. Tibetan Peach Pie by Tom Robbins
  54. The Mask of Zorro by Johnston McCulley
  55. When Ghosts Speak: Understanding the World of Earthbound Spirits by Mary Ann Winkowski (research)
  56. Horns by Joe Hill
  57. Haunted by Judith St. George
  58. Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit
  59. Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes
  60. Gypsies: Wanderers of the World by Bart McDowell
  61. Lila by Marilynne Robinson
  62. The Ploughmen by Kim Zupan
  63. Your House is on Fire, Your Children All Gone by Stefan Kiesbye
  64. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: and Other Lessons From the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty
  65. Is Your House Haunted? By Debi Chestnut
  66. Last Days of California by Mary Miller
  67. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
  68. The Alchemist by Paul Coelho
  69. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (audiobook)
  70. How to Be Your Own Best Friend by Dr. Paul Hauck (audiobook)
  71. Writers on Writing: a Breadloaf Anthology ed. by Robert Pack and Jay Parini
  72. What Are You Hungry For? By Deepak Chopra (audiobook)
  73. The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living by the Dalai Lama and Dr. Howard C. Cutler (audiobook)
  74. When Food is Love: Exploring the Relationship Between Eating and Intimacy by Geneen Roth (audiobook)
  75. Bite by Bite: 7 Guidelines to Break Free From Emotional Eating by Geneen Roth (audiobook)
  76. Obsessed: America’s Food Addiction and My Own by Mika Brzezinski (audiobook)
  77. How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran
  78. The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan
  79. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  80. The End of Dieting: How to Live for Life by Joel Fuhrman, M.D. (audiobook)
  81. Fluent in 3 Months by Benny Lewis (audiobook)
  82. The Happiest People in the World by Brock Clarke
  83. Horrorstör: A Novel by Grady Hendrix
  84. Down a Dark Hall by Lois Duncan
  85. The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock
  86. Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury
  87. The Unspeakable by Meghan Daum
  88. Idyll Banter by Chris Bohjalian
  89. The Boy Who Drew Monsters by Keith Donohue

2014 Books abandoned:
  1. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Other Stories by Robert Louis Stevenson
  2. To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
  3. Such a Pretty Face by Cathy Lamb
  4. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
  5. The Liar by Stephen Fry
  6. Horseman, Pass By by Larry McMurtry
  7. The Witch’s Daughter by Paula Brackston
  8. Trying to Save Piggy Sneed by John Irving
  9. Self-Help by Lorrie Moore
  10. A Mad Desire to Dance by Elie Wiesel
  11. The Life of Objects by Susanna Moore
  12. Dead End Gene Pool: A Memoir by Wendy Burden
  13. French Women Don’t Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano
  14. Three Squares: The Invention of the American Meal by Abigail Carroll
  15. Half Empty by David Rakoff
  16. NOS4A2 by Joe Hill
  17. My Abandonment by Peter Rock
  18. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
  19. The Average American Male by Chad Kultgen
  20. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
  21. When It’s a Jar by Tom Holt
  22. Steal the North by Heather Brittain Bergstrom
  23. Fay by Larry Brown
  24. The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim
  25. Almost French by Sarah Turnbull
  26. In Times of Fading Light by Eugen Ruge
  27. Assholes: A Theory by Aaron James
  28. Nella Last’s War ed. by Richard Broad and Suzie Fleming
  29. The Tale of Raw Head & Bloody Bones by Jack Wolf
  30. The Explanation for Everything by Lauren Grodstein
  31. Torch by Cheryl Strayed
  32. The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman
  33. Ghosts Among Us by James Van Praagh
  34. Women in Clothes by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, and Leanne Shapton
  35. She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb
  36. It’s Not What You’re Eating, It’s What’s Eating You by Janet Greeson (audiobook)
  37. The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon
  38. The Skinny Rules by Bob Harper
  39. Nightingale Wood by Stella Gibbons
  40. The Glass Sentence by S. E. Grove
  41. Eat to Live by Joel Fuhrman, M.D.
  42. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
  43. The Girl with the Silver Eyes by Willo Davis Roberts
  44. One Hundred Names: A Novel by Cecelia Ahern
  45. John Dies at the End by David Wong
2014 Cookbooks:

  1. The Little Paris Kitchen: 120 Simple but Classic French Recipes by Rachel Khoo
  2. Food & Wine Best of the Best Cookbook Recipes: The Best Recipes From The 25 Best Cookbooks of the Year (14th edition, 2011)
  3. Bold: A Cookbook of Big Flavors by Susanna Hoffman and Victoria Wise
  4. Aida Mollenkamp’s Keys to the Kitchen: The Essential Reference for Becoming a More Accomplished, Adventurous Cook by Aida Mollenkamp
  5. Nigella Kitchen by Nigella Lawson
  6. Williams-Sonoma French, ed. Chuck Williams
  7. The Food52 Cookbook Volume 2: Seasonal Recipes From Our Kitchens to Yours by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs
  8. America’s Test Kitchen Cooking for Two 2009 by the Editors of America’s Test Kitchen
  9. Food52 Cookbook: 140 Winning Recipes From Exceptional Home Cooks by Amanda Hesser & Merrill Stubbs
  10. Ottolenghi: The Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
  11. True Food: Seasonal, Sustainable, Simple, Pure by Andrew Weil, MD, ans Sam Fox, with Michael Stebner
  12. It’s all Good by Gwyneth Paltrow and Julia Turshen
  13. Olive Oil Baking by Lisa A. Sheldon
  14. American Heart Association Low-Fat & Luscious Desserts by Pat Harmon Naegele
  15. Honey & Oats by Jennifer Katzinger
  16. Saveur: The New Classics Cookbook: More than 1,000 of the world’s best recipes for today’s kitchen by James Oseland
  17. A Kitchen in France: A Year of Cooking in My Farmhouse by Mimi Thorisson
— Amanda

New year’s resolutions, part 1: 2014 resolution review

I had two sets of resolutions for 2014: major and lesser. The major ones were thought up at the end of 2013, like most new year’s resolutions, but the “lesser” ones were concocted later. There was also a mid-year vow I have managed to stick to that I did not announce on this blog.

Major resolutions:

  • Savings. Last year I vowed to put away a certain small amount from each paycheck. This worked about half the time, which is better than not at all. Better yet, over the course of 2014 I went from being pretty OK at paying the bills to being pretty goddamn good at paying the bills, and with my new payment schedule integrated into the 2015 calendar, this goal should be much easier to attain. Someday I would like to sock away an automatic 10% of every check, as the old advice goes, but I’ll have to work my way up.
  • Reach goal weight. Fail. I want to explain how this isn’t my fault but that is a very long story and extremely unpleasant and possibly offensive to some readers (like I said — long story). Suffice it to say I was doing fan-freaking-tastic until about midsummer when I received some emotional blows directly related to my weight loss efforts.  They seemed to be petty annoyances at first but ended up becoming enormous emotional hurdles. My weight loss graph for 2014 makes a perfect U-shape: a smooth parabola down to ten pounds away from my goal around the 4th of July and then just as smoothly right back up to where I had started by Christmas. I cried, I binged, I meditated, I became a virtual recluse, I read more than a dozen books about emotional eating, and I eventually identified the issues and wrote battle plans for handling them. I now feel armed and dangerous. I have my feet firmly back under me and I have learned harsh truths about myself, my foes, and weight loss in general, and I am ready to go to war. I have tools to fight those who would keep me fat and unhappy (including myself) and I can finally really say that I have made a lifestyle change. Bring it!
My “good things” journal.

Lesser resolutions:

  • Fix my bangs. The idea here was to grow out my bangs, which were beginning to take over my entire head, and then cut out a new, shallower fringe. I did not cut my bangs once in 2014. I unrealistically expected that this meant that they’d be long enough come summer to count as “just hair” and no longer “long bangs” but I failed to take into account the curliness of the hair at the front of my head (it’s curliest right up there and gets progressively straighter as you get closer to my nape). When I pull them straight they are now just below my chin, but left to their own devices they corkscrew up to about eyeball level. At least I can finally tuck them behind my ears. Everyone tells me they like my hair now (especially Matt) and I agree that a center part is flattering to my long, long face — but I love the goddamn bangs and I will have them again no matter what anyone says! . . . I just don’t know when anymore.
  • Write in my “good things” journal every day. Bust! I was utterly faithful to this for almost three months. I had an adorable palm-sized sunshine-yellow Moleskine and I wrote something positive in it every day, whether it was a gush of scribbled joy or just a terse “had coffee.” But it stopped quite abruptly on the date of the Oso slide and I never got back in the habit. All I can say is that the slide messed me up quite a bit more than I could have anticipated.  And that I should stay the f@*% away from the online emergency services scanner.
  • Stop hoarding recipes. Success! I no longer put any clipped or internet-printed recipes in the big black accordion folder of dormancy. Now they go on top of the cookbooks in the kitchen and go on that or the next week’s menu. This has resulted in a buttload of interesting and delicious dinners and whole new series of posts, the Recipe Roundups.
  • Read the books on my library lists before they get out of control. I tried. Failure on this front is not really my fault. The lists keep growing because I keep getting stellar recommendations from the library and bookstore newsletters I receive by e-mail or follow on Tumblr. And I have been ordering them from the library by the dozen but they just sit in my queue forever because A) another patron is hogging them B) another patron has lost them C) they haven’t actually been released into the system yet because I requested them before their actual publication date D) there are 300+ other people on the list. I’ll keep on keepin’ on.

And another thing:

  • Sorry not sorry.  Several studies this year, the book Lean In, and, notably, a Pantene commercial, pointed out that women have been culturally conditioned to begin almost every sentence with “sorry,” particularly in the work place.  It was a wake up call for a lot of us.  I began noticing that I said it all the time — and also that when it comes at the beginning of a sentence I am never ever actually sorry at all. So no more of that crap.  In July I vowed on my Tumblr to stop apologizing when I have nothing to be sorry for, and I haven’t looked back.

Next post: 2015 resolutions.

— Amanda

I call him Doug

Or: I’ve Been Paying More Attention to This Goddamned Squirrel Outside My Living Room Window Than I Have Been to the Revision of My First Novel or the Completion of my Second and I May Have a Touch of Cabin Fever.

Doug at the end of the fence, ready to launch himself into the trees along the driveway.

“I am offended by the manner in which you stack your wood!”

“This ground is filthy!”

Doug samples a maple samara. “Reprehensible. There’s nothing worth eating around here.”

For years now I have been mercilessly taunted every time I step into my own back yard. A small creature, which until recently I assumed to be a chipmunk, heckles and screeches at me the whole time I am in the back 40. Pyew! Pyew! Pyewpyewpyew! For hooooooours.

(Out here were we live there is a strange species of chipmunk with a long tail and no fear of death which we call Kamikaze Chipmunks. I have only witnessed their eponymous behavior on our road. They crouch on the white line, waiting for who knows how long for the perfect moment: two vehicles approaching at better than the speed limit (even I speed on our road — if only just a touch), one from each direction. Aha! Now is the time! Run, chipmunk, run! Dodge not one set of four tires, but two! Fly, fleet Mercury! A moment of terror for both drivers (Shitshitshit!) but all must hold their course, truck, car, and rodent alike: there is no shoulder, there is not an inch of wiggle room in these narrow lanes, there is no escape. The humans squeeze their eyes shut and hold their breath and pray that their kids didn’t see, then boggle and crane to look in the rear view mirror when the little bump isn’t felt underfoot. There in the mirror, small but sure, a victory dance on four tiny paws on the fog line. Ha ha! Death is forestalled another day! Then stillness as the chipmunk crouches, tenses, hears another pair of engines approach, readies himself to do battle once more against the titans.)

When we went to the peninsula again this fall for our anniversary we were halfway up a mountain (regretting, as usual, the impulsiveness which led us to go “hiking” in Mary Janes and chukkas with espressos in hand) when I heard the familiar litany of abuse coming from a nearby vine maple: Pyew! Pyew! Pyew! I made Matt stop to help me look for the screeching rodent. When I spotted him, trembling with rage on a limb not three feet over our heads, I was surprised to see that he was not a chipmunk at all but a small squirrel with an orange belly, sleek, otter-like grey-brown back, and a tail considerably less poofy and extravagant than the kind one finds on the fat-ass Eastern Grey Squirrels (which I call Dumpster Squirrels). The next time we found ourselves at a ranger station (later that day) I learned that the species of squirrel which I so offended was the Douglas Squirrel, a mid-size native tree squirrel.

After years of hearing but not seeing my own back yard Douglas Squirrel he has suddenly become brazen enough to leave the towering Douglas Fir he lives in in the greenbelt behind our house. He has a new daily ritual of racing along the top of the wooden fence between our house and the next until reaching the line of hemlocks and firs that separate our driveways. He then throws himself up into these trees and scampers around for several hours, hurling abuse at anyone who happens to pass (cars, dogs, birds, people — anyone and anything) while cutting down cones. When he’s had enough of that he flings himself from the end of a branch, Errol Flynn-style, and lands like Spiderman, clinging to one of the supports on our woodshed, which I face when I sit at this here laptop all day. He then commences a complicated OCD ritual at high speed, running up each vertical support and down the other side, in a clockwise fashion. When he has done every vertical support he runs the horizontal supports, back to front, in a zig-zag. That done, he is free to explore the contents of the woodshed, investigating each piece of firewood carefully (shrieking in his usual fashion when he finds that I have had the audacity to remove some for heating the house: Pyew! Pyew!), making snide (and well-deserved) comments about the slovenly manner in which we are storing our oil buckets and tarps (Choo!). He may spend a few minutes on the actual ground (a shocking sight) to nibble a few maple samaras before throwing one down in disgust and leaving in a huff as our wide-eyed cat comes upon the scene. He has fled the scene — back to his big fir via the fencetop expressway — by the time she is looking up at me through the windows in agony as if to say “You knew about this? You knew this was happening in my yard and you didn’t tell me?”

I slide open the window and say “Do what you will to the moles and rats, Ms. B, but leave Doug alone.”

I swear she rolls her eyes.

— Amanda