Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas in the Delta

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Pamela the Poet

She's known as the queen of Baywatch and star of Borat's fantasy, but did you know that Pamela Anderson is a poet? Neither did I. But Playboy thinks's an excerpt from her debut piece published in the most recent issue, entitled "Musings from the bed of Pamela."

The youth ... The wild that rose up from the ashes. The adults ... Living and dead that fought for our rights ... Artists ... Sweet artists .... Hold on ... Crazy, the world goes on ... And goes ....

Dig it.

Friday, December 17, 2010

For Crissake...

A group of scientists has taken every single word out of every book from the 18th Century to the present, and compiled them in a database dubbed Culturomics. They claim that words are like genomes for our culture...hence the name. But is this true? I'd argue that only emotionally charged words and phrases (war, marriage, racial slurs, religious terms, etc.) can be thought of as such. The and's and or's are not as important. And then, what information about our culture can be gleaned from such numbers? Our level of pessimism or optimisim? Maybe. Our creativity? That's a little bit harder.

This theory can be tested at Culturomics' sister site, the Book Ngram Viewer. Simply type in a word or phrase to see how often it was used in a certain time period. Sadly, the use of both "love" and "joy" has sharply declined since the early 1800's. But not to worry..."in a pickle" is holding steady, and "for crissake" (which first appeared in the 1930's) is experiencing a tremendous rise in popularity.

But I think where it gets more interesting is when you start to compare the same word in different languages. For instance, in French and German literature, the word "love" is on the rise. In Russian lit, "love" had a crazy peak in the 1920's, but hasn't been used much before or since. And in Chinese, it wasn't even seen before the 1920's. Strangest of all, Spanish language books used the word like crazy in the early 1800's, but not much since.

So are we less loving than the Europeans? Did something happen in the Twenties to spike Russian love or introduce it to Chinese lit? And why did love disappear from Spain? While the data is interesting, conclusions are hard to find.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Workshop: Party On, Wayne

This is the season of parties--cocktails, dinner, gift-swapping, tree-trimming--yet, I've noticed there are very few poems about soirees and get-togethers. Which is strange. The elements are all there: decorations and outfits that can be either festive or garish, depending on your mood; rich, indulgent food and drink; and fascinating personalities you wouldn't normally come into contact with on such an intimate basis. So why so few poems about parties?

I propose we correct this. Let's write poems about holiday parties, whether they are of the intimate or wild and jolly variety. Let's gather the images of the season--the lights, the wrapping paper, the bedazzled sweaters, the food rolled into log shapes, the punch, the cookies, the red cheeks and noses, the obscure and inappropriate relatives--and hold them close. Let's celebrate!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Movie Monday: Who Would Play...

Unlike most classic Christmas movies, It's a Wonderful Life has never suffered a remake (although it has been adapted to other media). And it's no is considered one of those perfect films: perfect stars, perfect story, etc. But, if it were to be remade, who would dare to trod where Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, and Lionel Barrymore came before? Here are some possibilities:

George Bailey -- Joseph Finnes

Mary (Hatch) Bailey -- Katherine Heigl

Mr. Potter -- Anthony Hopkins

Clarence -- Tom Hanks

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Rhymes for Reagan

Because there just aren't enough poems about our 40th president...

Illinois students can enter their best verse in the Poems for the President contest, in honor of Reagan's 100th birthday. I predict many an ode to the Jelly Belly...

Monday, December 6, 2010

On Spiders

This year, as it got colder and darker, we discovered our heater wasn't working. It was busy--the Thanksgiving holiday, Christmas shopping, repairs to our new home--so we compensated with space heaters. One in the bedroom. One in the office. One in the bathroom. One by the couch. A few nights, when the temp dipped below freezing, we put them all in the bedroom and shut the door to the hallway to seal in the heat. It kinda worked. But when I discovered that I couldn't have the space heater and computer on at the same time as I was preparing my morning toast (or risk having to go outside to the breaker box in my slippers) I decided it was time to call in a professional.

He's a nice guy, the Chess Air man, and he knew right away what the problem was. Apparently, our spider population was productive enough that their webs completely blocked the pilot light from the heater's sensor. Now, I knew we had a lot of spiders in our house. They can be found in nearly every corner of every room. And once every month, I'll go around and suck them up with the vacuum hose. But I'll always leave one or two to get the bugs that eventually get inside. I guess that was a bad strategy. I guess I didn't have to worry about killing all the spiders, because there were plenty doing their spidery best right beneath our feet.

So Mr. Chess Air cleaned out the cobwebs, berated me a little for having such a bad "spider problem," and suggested I use bug spray to keep the heater working. Now, we're toasty warm, able to toast and type at the same time. But do we still have spiders in the house? The answer's yes, and I'll tell you why: the winter rains have begun in earnest, and I need my eight-legged soldiers to battle the coming onslaught of ants.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Weekend on the Farm

frost in the orchard

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Do Good This December

Yes, the holiday shopping frenzy is well underway. Have you checked off your gift list yet? If not, consider buying from Better World Books for your literary friends and relatives. You can find all the newest publications here as well as some great deals on used books. There are even movies, CD's, and package deals (3 books for $10? Right on!). Oh, and did I mention the free shipping? No $25 restriction on that either, for those of you used to the Amazon way of life (there's nothing more frustrating than when you're $1.02 under the limit).

Ready for the best part? Better World Books really is committed to a better world. When you check out, you can choose to offset the carbon footprint of your shipment by adding a few cents to your order. And if you click on the B.W.B. link from the International Book Bank website (they send books to needy populations around the world), a portion of your order will be donated to them.

So do something good this December, and order from Better World Books.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Movie Monday: Bells Will Be Ringin' Part 2

As Thanksgiving draws to a close, do you find yourself dreading the weeks of dark chill before Christmas? Want to keep the fun alive? Then you might want to consider popping a movie or two into the ol' VHS (or, you know, stream it on Netflix). Here are a few more worthy holiday movies to choose from:

Why it's good: Really, the only Thanksgiving movie out there. And who can go wrong with two kings of comedy?

Why it's good: When you put a grown man in an elf suit, good things happen.

Why it's good: Ok, not technically a holiday movie, but the hostages were attending a Christmas party...and sometimes you just want to watch things blow up.

Why it's good: This proves dysfunction can be heartwarming.

Why it's good: A perfect compromise for holiday fanatics and humbugs who find joy in a drunk Santa.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Workshop: Oh, Ode-ee oh!

Since this is the time of year to reflect on what we're thankful for, I thought, what better time than now to write some odes? The ode is a form as ancient as the Greek myths, used to exalt an extraordinary person or event. It was originally put to music and had a regular rhyme scheme:


Keats wrote the most famous set of odes, which together are known as the Five Great Odes of 1819 and include "Ode to a Nightingale" and "Ode on a Grecian Urn." These more traditional odes are intellectual and ruminative in tone. If that's your style, try writing one using the rhyme scheme above.

Or, if you prefer flights of fancy and joyful praise, you might want to refer to Pablo Neruda's wonderful odes for inspiration. He turned the ode on its head by writing in free-verse about such mundane things as ironing, artichokes, and the smell of wood. So if you're really in love with your Snuggie, or you would like to expound on the wonders of mashed potatoes, this is definitely the way to go.

Happy writing, friends, and Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 22, 2010

I'm Thankful for...

home ownership! Here's a sneak peek outside:

And inside:

More details to follow...

Friday, November 19, 2010

Regional Pride

Northern Californians, both natives and transplants, take note: a fabulous new publication is now available to celebrate the place we call home. California Northern: A New Regionalism is a beautiful magazine full of long-form journalism, memoir, and creative writing with a focus on our region's particular concerns and culture. The first volume includes a history of the eucalyptus, an examination of Jerry Brown's political past, and a "mythology" about Beat-era poet Nestor Groome.

The second issue, which includes poetry, photography, a piece on water issues, and another on borders, promises to be just as substantive. Be sure to attend their release party at the Avid Reader in Sacramento on December 9th to hear a preview from contributors and purchase a copy. Or, if the rainy winter weather keeps you indoors, you can buy a subscription from their site for only $11. And if you live in Northern California, consider submitting your work for future issues. Visit their submissions page for all the details.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

On Princesses

I learned some lessons about princesses recently. For instance, they're easy to fall in love with. We saw our princess (scientific name: Tibuchina urvilleana) on a day trip to Half Moon Bay. She was fascinating and exotic and absolutely beautiful. We had to have her. The gentleman that sold her to us assured us that she needed moderate watering and loved full sun. Perfect, we thought, for our sunny little piece of farm.
Pretty, pretty princess

But we should have known better. Princesses are, after all, delicate beings. Remember that beautiful girl who was terribly bruised by a single pea in her bed? Our princess was the same. Sun curled and scorched her fine purple petals, and she never seemed to have enough water. Even now, when the mornings bring a blanket of fog to the orchards and fields around the house, she suffers, parched. Apparently, full sun and moderate water mean different things on the Pacific coast.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Movie Monday: Bells Will Be Ringin'

Can you believe that there are people out there who have never seen A Christmas Story? I met one recently. She mistakenly thought we were discussing a movie version of the Nativity. That is, until mention of the leg lamp was made.

Perhaps it was this conversation--or maybe it's just because it's chilly out and I'm already bundling up in sweaters and slipper socks--but I feel like the holidays have come early. So, to celebrate, I've decided to compile a list of must-see (or must-see-again) holiday movies (of the mostly irreverent variety). Enjoy, boys and girls.

Why it's good: Any movie that gets played for a full 24 hours during Christmas has to be at the top of the list.

Why it's good: Randy Quaid is funny before he actually goes crazy, and Clark Griswold tells it like it is: Hallelujah! Holy ****! Where's the Tylenol?

Why it's good: Well, Bill Murray, for starters. Who doesn't want to watch him slowly lose it as he is visited by three weirdo ghosts?

Why it's good: The perfect mash-up of fright and cheer...and you gotta love a holiday movie with a black light.

Why it's good: My mom will be happy to see this here...and anyone my age will understand. Macaulay is, essentially, Ralphie Redux.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Weekend on the Farm

Mt. Diablo and the Delta

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Monday, November 1, 2010

Movie Monday: I've Been Watching...

viewing partner: solo
stars: **1/2
notes: A strange mash-up of fifties noir and seventies kitsch. Not Altman's best.

viewing partner: Isaac
stars: ****
notes: Ingredients for a great comedy: Kristen Bell and Aldous Snow--check. Kenneth from 30 Rock--check. Full frontal male nudity--check. A musical about Dracula--check. That's all, folks.

viewing partner: Isaac
stars: **
notes: This could have been so much better as a moody period piece, but it suffers from Hornby's bro-lit touch.

viewing partner: Isaac, George (no relation to Clooney)
stars: ***
notes: What can I say that the many sterile hotel rooms (or George's empty apartment, for that matter) do not already?

viewing partner: Isaac
stars: ****1/2
notes: Surprisingly, a Netflix recommendation does not disappoint. We laughed, our hearts were warmed, and we did not once think of Twilight.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Four-legged Friday

Anyone who talks to me for five minutes knows how much I love my dog. I also love poems about dogs, and therefore it stands to reason that I love the current poem up at Ted Kooser's American Life in Poetry. Mark Smith-Soto must have a dog obsessed with coyotes, like mine. Or maybe all dogs just love to bark at things in the night.

The Coyote-Whisperer

There will be no new posts next week as I will be on a business trip. But don't fret. One of my poems from Perpetual Care will be up Monday at American Life in Poetry. And on Thursday, The Learning Network, a New York Times-affiliated blog, will be pairing it with a news piece (like these). Enjoy, friends and readers.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Workshop: Under 30

I'm getting ready to coast into a new decade soon, and I'm pretty excited. I'm also pretty excited about these microfictions under 50 words up at We Who Are About To Die. I like microfiction because it seems like something a poet like me with little patience to get beyond the first page can write. So, keeping this post short, the workshop is simple: write a microfiction under 30 words. Go!

Monday, October 18, 2010

On Tomatoes

We currently have three paper grocery bags full of tomatoes on our counter. They are heavy...about 10 pounds each. They are beautiful and delicious and I have no idea what I'm going to do with thirty pounds of them.
My mother recently sent me the Ball Blue Book, a guide to canning and preserving absolutely anything. Wondering how to process rutabagas? Or how to make green grape marmalade? This book tells all. Apparently, you can even can chicken, seafood, chili, and a lot of other meat-based foods. But one of the trickiest items to can, it turns out, is tomatoes.

I recently made up my own tomato-canning recipe which, unbeknownst to me, cut out a lot of the botulism-killing steps. Like boiling them in the jar for 45 minutes (I think I boiled them for about five...oops). Don't be scared, though, dear friends and readers. I froze those puppies rather than let them sit and develop disease on my shelves. But it seems that, with even three years on the farm, I haven't learned everything.

So here's my tomato-canning mantra. As I sterilize my jars and peel my tomato skins, I will do so carefully. My cook times will be precise. I will be neat. I will be mindful. And when I open a jar in the deep, deep winter and hear that sacred "pop," I will thank the canning gods, the Ball Blue Book, and my mom.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Movie Monday: Who Would Play...

James Franco inspires me. Well, at least, he inspired me to write this post, a new feature of Movie Monday. It was the magazine cover in drag that did it. I instantly thought of Tim Curry. And if they ever (they shouldn't, but they might, those kooky Hollywood types obsessed with remakes) redo Rocky Horror Picture Show, here's who should play:

Dr. Frank-N-Furter -- James Franco

Brad Majors -- Zac Efron

Janet Weiss -- Dianna Agron

Rocky Horror -- The Rock

Eddie -- Jack Black

Riff Raff -- Rhys Ifans

Magenta -- Milla Jovovich

Columbia -- Katy Perry

Dr. Everett Scott -- John Lithgow

The Criminologist -- Terry O'Quinn