Friday, December 28, 2007

Prairie crafts at the library

My talk and pioneer craft night at the Maud Preston Palenske Memorial (i.e. the St. Joe) Library last night was a big hit. I'd say about 30 gals of all ages showed up and after I chatted about my childhood growing up in Sodus, Michigan, reading and scraping up my knees chasing after my brothers, and my writing career, we got down to the crafts. Pat Peterson from the library staff did a wonderful job, preparing instructions and supplies so gals could try their hand at quilting, rug hooking, braiding rag rugs, embroidering, sewing a small purse, making rock candy, mixing up a rosewater spritzer, and playing jacks. Robin from Forever Books sold copies of The Prairie Girl's Guide to Life and Backcountry Betty and I was happy to sign copies and chat with the girls and the grownups.

It was delightful. Even more delightful were the people who showed up. I went to a Christmas dance in high school with Eric Ford (he was so smart and dreamy) and his mom Judy showed up to have me sign a copy for him, now a cancer researcher at Johns Hopkins. My dad's smooth friend Russell swung by. Mom's friend Mary came and presented me with the shirt I gave her to hem at the Christmas Eve Open House. Virginia Handy pulled out all sorts of photos and information about her family, who lived across the street from me growing up (in fact, it was her half-brother Paul who introduced my parents).

And then, toward the end of the event, something miraculous happened. I received a phone call through the library: it was my wonderful English teacher Jane Lindenmuth, calling from Holland, Michigan, where she recently retired. She only knew about the signing because her husband saw an article about the event on the Herald-Palladium website. I had tried to call her earlier in the week but without luck, since I didn't know she had moved. So it was a marvelous gift to hear from her (I immediately recognized her voice on the phone) and I can't wait to catch up with her properly.

Thanks again to the wonderful library staff and Forever Books for being so supportive and enthusiastic about The Prairie Girl's Guide to Life. It all started here in Michigan and it's nice to know it continues here as well.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Happy Holidays!

From our second trip to the Four Winds Casino. The first trip was on Christmas Day. Merry Christmas, indeed!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Go Lakers!

The Lake Michigan Catholic High School crew (I'll just say we graduated during an era of neon and Rick Astley and rocked out the blackwatch plaid skirts with lots of hairspray and crazy earrings): Maria, Donna, Sheila, and me. We have aged well, if I do say so myself. Must be all that clean livin' and dancing to rad 80s music.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Scenes from a blue-collar open house

A few photos from my mom's Christmas Even open house. Why write much when pictures say it all?

First up, a battered jar of whiskey cherries from 1990. Potent. Jim and I sampled a few vintages around 4pm. After a couple, I realized I was going to have to pace myself to make it to the end of the evening without passing out.

Then a photo of mom and me. This is what happens when you eat the whiskey cherries.

Terry brought about 10 pounds of venison stew in a Crockpot. He's on the left, my stepdad Jim is in the middle, and Toby is on the right, standing by the door to the back porch, where he planted himself for most of the evening. I visited with him every time I went to the pantry for another gin and tonic.

Then we've got the ladies: my stepaunt Pat, stepsister Denise, Legion friend Mary, stepniece Megan, and mom Judy. They are a fine-looking group of gals.

Legion post commander Pete stopped by with his daughter Crystal and her beau Nick, an aspiring writer.

"Jason, do you make Kelly walk behind you all the time?" I thought I was hilarious.

Kelly thought I was mildly amusing (check out her $9 Steve and Barrys sweatshirt! I am jealous!).

Mom and Mary are great friends. A handy seamstress (I am jealous of her too), Mary took home a nightshirt I bought at Old Navy and is going to transform it into a shirt for me.

And then there's mom and me. It was a great party, and we were a bit tired (i.e. corned) at this point. Merry Christmas to us.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The memories keep on comin'

My book signing at Forever Books was a whopping success yesterday, both personally and professionally. My mom and I spent the morning going to 10 places before hitting the signing (hairdresser, party store, Staples, Steve & Barrys, JC Penney, Gordons Food Service, Angelo's liquor store, Rite Aid, Schu's for lunch, and the dime store). I realize that I get my need to be productive and highly scheduled at all times from her. I am a novice practicing at the feet of the master!

Anyway, the signing. Mom was there, of course, but my dad (the photo is of mom and dad—see the resemblance?), stepmom, step-aunt, step-cousins, and step-grandmother all represented. Then Lake Michigan Catholic High School classmates Kelly, Jennifer, and Sheila all showed up to support me. I am truly blessed to have had such cool and caring women in my life, both then and now. Man, I used to love going to Jennifer's (then Jenny Rice's) home in junior high. Her basement was tricked out with a pool table, Intellivision, and some old version of plinko, and her house had a Betamax (we watched Zuma Beach with Suzanne Somers over and over) and a pool. It was a sweet crib.

Anyway, right after the signing, mom scooted me out of St. Joe so we could get back, prep dinner, and get to the Legion for some more socializing and storytelling. I heard a few things about my stepdad that I'm having a hard time blotting out of my mind, but overall it was a good, productive, and highly entertaining day.

Today was spent with my stepfamily, opening gifts and eating. I videotaped my stepbrother Jay talking about his love of the Cubs, and my dad and stepmom talking about their first date and wedding day. With all the activity, it's no surprise I sacked out on the magic sofa until it was time to drive to the beach to check out the wicked whitecaps (the wind has been relentless all day), as well as light displays along the St. Joe bluff and various neighborhoods (some folks can still afford to pay huge electric bills, bless their hearts). Now chilling back at home, I'm finding a moment of quiet. But in the spirit of Midwestern industriousness, I'm finishing up knitting a scarf before turning in.

Digestive digest

About two hours after the last post, I rethought the wisdom of the hot dog bar. Perhaps my enthusiasm for the chili cheese dog AND a ketchup-mustard-onion combo was misguided. Burp.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Scenes from a blue-collar Friday night

A few photos from the Legion post 362. Pete Petric (the current commander) hosted a hot dog bar tonight. My stepdad Jim sprung for my mom and me: it cost the three of us $8 to eat five hot dogs, loaded up with chili, cheese, relish, onions, ketchup, mustard, olives, hot peppers, and more (not all on one dog, obviously). Life is good.

Pictures include photos of me and my mom, me and high school classmate Kelly Robinson, the bulletin board featuring my brother John (who's currently serving in Kuwait), and, my favorite, the signage in the right stall of the ladies' room: "If you sprinkle when you tinkle, please be neat and wipe the seat." Word.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Michigan, Where the beer is cold and the people are warm

Ah, finally, the holidays are here (in a good way).

After 14 hours of travel (that included a three-hour layover in Vegas that netted me $150 on video poker), I arrived in Michigan late last night, exhausted and cranky.

Today is another story. I woke up refreshed and, after taking mom to work, I drove her car, complete with “Mrs. Eck” personalized plates (my stepdad’s last name is Eckelbarger and he goes by “Eck” for short), over to St. Joe so I could hunker down at a coffee shop and work.

I did some online research at Caffe Tosi for a spell, my dad came by for a visit, and even though I have three different deadlines to hit by Friday, I was really enjoying myself. I took a break and stopped by the bookstore where I’m signing books on Saturday. I chatted at length with a woman in a local artists’ coop. I poked my head into the paint-your-own-pottery place to visit high school classmate Stephanie Hosbein (she owns the shop). She is going to try to swing by my signing and wants me to bring her some Prairie Girl Potions to check out.

I freakin' love Michigan. Folks are so nice. They take time to talk, whether they know you or not.

I went down to the beach and took some photos of the North Pier before doing some Christmas shopping and meeting up with my mom for a drink (or two) at the Legion (post 362). My brother’s photo was on the bulletin board with various well wishes (John is stationed in Kuwait). My stepdad Jim was playing poker and we sat at the bar with Kelly Robinson, another high school classmate who is active at the Legion and who set up my mom’s computer at home. (Thank you, Kelly, for bringing my mom into the 21st century.) I finally feel as if I am experiencing the holidays. I’m talking with people, drawing stories out of them (like how my stepdad proposed to my mom at the kitchen sink or how my brother rifled through his wife’s glove compartment on their first date). I even got some great stories out of the woman at the artists’ coop, who is going to try to come with her artsy teenage son (who takes tea outside every evening at his boarding school) to my talk at the library next week. Forget presents: these experiences are my real gifts. I’m totally addicted.

Ask your family a few questions about high school, likes and dislikes, how they met their spouse or significant other, childhood crushes, or what they wanted to be when they grew up. You might be surprised at the answers!

Happy holidays, wherever you may be. Stay tuned for more Michigan posts…

Monday, December 17, 2007

Making Michigan memories

In the spirit of the holidays (that is, hyping my book and craft appearances), I wanted to let you know that I'll be signing copies of The Prairie Girl's Guide to Life at Forever Books in downtown St. Joseph, Michigan this Saturday (12/22) from 1 to 3pm. If you are in town or anywhere in Southwestern Michigan, please stop by and say hey. I'd love to see you. Afterwards, we can get coffee and walk to the bluff and look at the lighthouse for about 60 seconds until the wind coming off the lake feels like it is cutting our cheeks. Good times.

Where: Forever Books, 312 State St. St. Joseph, Michigan
When: Saturday, December 22, 1–3pm

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A face for radio

Every time I do an interview I'm so nervous that I don't remember exactly what I said. When I actually read or listen to the interview, I chew my cuticles and hope for the best. Well, an interview I did with KMPS, the country station in Seattle, aired back in November and I have to say, I rocked it out. It's only a few minutes long so if you will indulge me, check it out here (scroll down to 11/18 to find my interview).

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Jewelry and lotions and aprons, oh my!

Thanks to those gals who came out last night for Sugar & Swank's "shop local" open house. We sampled chocolates, tried on the most adorable aprons from Go2Girl, watched Jen Muscatel make over several ladies, played with Leslie's pooch Ollie, and had a great time chatting each other up.

I am obsessed with my Prairie Girl Potion Creme Brulee Body Souffle. It smells heavenly and whenever I shove a jar under someone's nose, they want to dive in and eat it. And what's not to like about slipping on a sparkly bauble or two? The nice thing about these parties is that I can tart myself up with all sorts of silver and crystal creations and in the context of a party, they all look like they go together. There's no such thing as excess at a Sugar & Swank party!

Next up is a book signing at amazing outdoor clothing store Nau this Saturday! Come out to Belleview Square, finish up your holiday shopping, and stop by for a signed copy of Backcountry Betty.

When: Saturday, December 15, 2–5pm
Where: Nau, 242 Belleview Square (second floor, by JC Penney)

Saturday, December 8, 2007

The holi-daze

I've been trying to practice my prairie preaching, but it's hard. I'm trying to remain calm in the face of the holiday tumult.

It's not working.

I haven't started Christmas shopping because I've been busy selling. I had a great signing at Hilltop Yarn today, talking with folks, signing books, and making them sample my crème brulée body soufflé (which wasn't that hard, actually, since one dab on the hands made the shop smell like a bakery). It jacked me up for my events next week, which, if you're in Seattle, I hope you make. I'd love to chat with you!

This Monday (as in the day after tomorrow)!
Stacya Silverman & Associates, Queen Anne
My pal and brow guru Stacya Silverman is opening up her Queen Anne Craftsman salon for an evening of shopping in a real boutique atmosphere. In addition to my crystal baubles and Prairie Girl Potions, there will be glamorous jewelry and treats for everyone! Swing by after work and take a look. Cash or check only, please.
When: Monday, December 10, 6–9pm
Where: 16 W. Boston St.

Tuesday (the day after the day after tomorrow)!
Sugar & Swank, Mercer Island
Shop local this holiday season. Ignore the crowds and come out to the Sugar & Swank Studio. Sip champagne, peruse my Prairie Girl Potions and sparkly baubles, and shop for chocolates, linens, custom-blended mineral makeup, and much more in the company of other sassy gals. Cash or check only, please.
When: Tuesday, December 11, 6pm
Where: 3418 77th Place SE

I know there are a lot of things going on this month (there's a weird vibe in the air: people and pets are sick and/or cranky) and if you can make it to one or more events, I’d love, love, love to see you. I suspect your mood will improve.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Spinning a yarn this Saturday

My favorite yarn shop in town is Hilltop Yarn, a Craftsman house that's been converted into a cozy retail and classroom space, chock full of yarns in every possible color and fiber.


I also like the store because of the friendly staff. When I first moved back to Seattle a couple of years ago, I used to walk over there and pet the yarns. I was finishing up a knitting book (Getting Started Knitting) and needed help. Owner Jennifer Hill was only too happy to supply me with the necessary items to complete the book. When I taped an episode of Knitty Gritty (which I still haven't seen!), Susan was a study in patience as she helped me figure out a complicated Cat Bordhi cast-on.

So I'm tickled pink to be talking about The Prairie Girl's Guide to the Holidays this Saturday at Hilltop Yarn. Stop by, pick up yarn for last-minute gifts, get a signed copy of The Prairie Girl's Guide to Life, and join the conversation about how to make the holidays more meaningful and less crazed.

Where: Hilltop Yarn, 2224 Queen Anne Ave. N
When: Saturday, December 8, 1–3 pm

Monday, December 3, 2007

Hand-made gifts for everyone

As the holidays approach, you may wish you had a small but lovely gift on hand for a hostess, friend, or coworker, or even family member. Don’t be caught empty handed; buy one of my jewelry creations or indulgent Prairie Girl Potions. There’s something for every gal on your list. I’m happy to arrange for delivery, everything charmingly packaged and ready for gifting.

Happy and peaceful holidays!

crystal rings and pendants $40
Swarovski crystals are woven into one-of-a-kind rings and pendants.

button rings $40
Charming buttons make stunning centerpieces on these unusual rings. Each ring is truly a conversation piece.

felted rings $15
Made of wool, these fun rings add a playful touch to any outfit.

Prairie Girl Potions
crème brulée body soufflé $12
Smooth your skin with this decadent and calorie-free treat! Cocoa butter and Vitamin E protect and treat the skin, a touch of shimmer catches the eye, and the scent of chocolate and dulce de leche captivates the senses.

herb garden body soufflé $12
A shimmer-free version of the Body Soufflé, this concoction is chock-full of lavender, rosemary, and peppermint, so you feel both peaceful and perky.

lavender linen waters $7
An unexpected and genteel gift. Spritz your sheets, curtains, and anything that needs freshening up. Perfect for sprucing up clothes while traveling! Shake well before each use.

pucker up lip balm $5
An ideal stocking stuffer! This soothing balm is chock-full of nourishing ingredients like Sweet Almond Oil and Vitamin E and smells vaguely like your favorite chocolate mint candy. Tuck a tin in every coat and handbag.

rub it in cuticle cream $5
An ideal stocking stuffer! Jojoba oil, Vitamin E, beeswax, and lemon essential oils create a protective treat for your cuticles. Keep a tin within reach of your fingertips!

If you are in Seattle, you can peruse all of these items and more during the Sugar & Swank event next week.

Sugar & Swank, Mercer Island, WA
Shop local this holiday season. Ignore the crowds and come out to the Sugar & Swank Studio (it is a surprisingly quick ride to Mercer Island from Seattle, I swear). Sip champagne, peruse my Prairie Girl Potions and sparkly baubles, and shop for chocolates, linens, custom-blended mineral makeup, and much more in the company of other sassy gals.

When: December 11, 6pm
(RSVP by December 4 via e-mail or call 206-351-3213)
Where: 3418 77th Place SE

And if you need to shop for knitting supplies to finish up holiday projects, come visit me at Hilltop Yarn this Saturday.

Hilltop Yarn, Seattle, WA
The folks at Hilltop Yarn have invited me to speak about The Prairie Girl's Guide to the Holidays and sign books. Pick up some yarn for last-minute projects, learn how to make inexpensive but meaningful gifts, and enjoy the holidays a little bit more than usual.
When: December 8, 1-3pm
Where: 2224 Queen Anne Ave. N

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Don't miss the Urban Craft Uprising this weekend

I have been holed up in my apartment, frantically creating Swarovski crystal rings and Prairie Girl Potions for this weekend's Urban Craft Uprising at the Seattle Center. More than 100 vendors will be selling their craftsy wares. I went last year and was blown away. My friend Liz and I resolved to be a part of it. So we kept talking about making body products, tote bags, and jewelry all summer and then fall hit. Liz and talented jewelry designer Nora Olson applied, we got in, and we have all been working hard to create one-of-a-kind gifts (and yes, gifts can be for yourself!) at a reasonable price point.

I've got great lip balms and cuticle creams for stocking stuffers, and fancy crystal cocktail rings and glitzy pendants; Liz has created nifty glass and paper pendants; Nora's calling is making intricate chains; and Jenna is working on pendants and adorable makeup bags. We are selling under the name three4ten; see you there!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Seattle Magazine excerpts a Prairie project

The December issue of Seattle Magazine features an article on The Prairie Girl's Guide to Life and excerpts the popcorn-and-cranberry garland project, just in time for a rustic holiday. I'm a big fan of downsizing your holidays and creating new traditions. I don't know if you got sucked into shopping on "Black Friday," but there's still time to back away from the mall. (I went poking around in my favorite neighborhood and was rewarded when I ran into Indigo Girl Amy Ray on the street.) Make gifts, buy handmade crafts at a show (such as the Urban Craft Uprising, where I'll be selling Prairie Girl Potions and my crystal rings), or forgo gifts altogether and spend time with friends instead.

And let some activities go. I still feel a pang of lameness for not sending out a hundred holiday cards but I'm using that newfound time to babysit for harried friends, knit, and spend time with loved ones (and that includes myself!). I have to constantly police myself, as it's far too easy to get caught up with shopping, parties, and various "responsibilities" that you can actually chuck. But I'm trying to be aware and not overschedule during a supposedly joyous time.

Monday, November 19, 2007

It's a family affair

When I couldn't sleep last night, I started thinking about my grandma's farmhouse. While it's been years and years since I've seen it, it is still vivid in my mind, from the grate we huddled over in the winter, doing crosswords on a metal TV tray (my grandma, a German immigrant, was a whiz at wordplay), to the wonder of the many drawers and shelves in her bedroom, to the attic, chockablock with my grandfather's WWI uniform, Mason jars of buttons, dried bunches of flowers, and dusty furniture.

I long for such a home, but I don't have to long for the comfort of family. Copies of The Prairie Girl's Guide to Life went out to various family members and I'm getting wonderful comments. My brother Chris writes from Georgia, "My personal favorite story was your mention of Marvel Gordon and the fresh roadkill in the pot. I had to turn my nose up when you described the recipe on rhubarb pie. I never liked it. Somehow it always reminded me of red celery and just didn't look like a pie." Hmm, he's got a point. My stepmom Pat sent encouraging words from Michigan. My niece Rebekah e-mailed me, telling me that she has to try the rock candy project again, as her fifth-grade experiment didn't work.

While I love getting praise from the media, friends, and readers of my books, hearing my family embrace my words, thoughts, and memories brings me to tears. Not only do I want to do them proud, I want to represent them accurately and lovingly. With The Prairie Girl's Guide to Life, I hope I'm on the right track.

I'd love to hear your thoughts about the book. What was your favorite part? What project are you interested in trying? Holla back here, post a review on amazon, or e-mail me.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Who's crying, "Nau?"

Me, that's who. I just got back from a great event at the Nau store in Bellevue Square, where I was signing books for Backcountry Betty. The store features clothes with amazing silhouettes that are made out of recycled materials. They give you a discount if you let them ship your purchases to you via UPS Ground (this allows them to keep minimal inventory in the store) and 5 percent of your purchase goes to an environmental or humanitarian charity of your choice.

But I just really liked the clothes. And I liked author Erika Dillman, who was also on hand for the book signing event. Her book, Outdoors Online, also published by The Mountaineers, is a humorous and helpful resource for websites covering anything outdoors.

The photo is of me, our publicist Ashley, and Erika.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Important changes to The Prairie Girl's Guide to Life

The most important step in canning is achieving a vacuum seal on the jar, which will ensure your food stays fresh and safe. After filling the jars and closing the lid, LISTEN FOR A POP and look for a depression in the lid, which will tell you the jar is vacuum sealed. My mother usually stops here. The USDA guidelines for processing and sealing, however, require an additional hot water bath, directions below.

Additional directions for Applesauce (page 31) and Sweet Treat Cherries (page 40): After filling and sealing the jars, place them back in the boiling water of the canning kettle, taking care to set the jars on the rack so they don’t touch the bottom or side of the kettle. The boiling water should cover the jars by about 1 inch. Leave the applesauce in the boiling water for 15 to 25 minutes, the exact time depending on your altitude (the higher, the longer) and leave the cherries in for 25 to 40 minutes. After the allotted time, remove the jars from the hot-water bath and set on a clean dishtowel to cool. It’s important to check that the vacuum seal has set; listen for a pop as the jars cool and look for a depression in the lid.

On page 28, even though they don’t need to go through a hot-water bath, be sure to check that the seal has set for the Bread-and Butter Pickles as well, by listening for the pop and looking for a depression in the lid.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Come see me at Nau this Friday!

Backcountry Betty is partnering with hip outdoor organic clothing company Nau for a night of fleecy fashion and fun. Come out to Bell Square; you know a trip to the Eastside is long overdue.I'll be joined by Erika Dillman, author of Outdoors Online: The Internet Guide to Everything Wild & Green. She also owns and operates, a gear review website. I don't know about you but I'm impressed.The store will be open to the public and women will be able to shop, while enjoying appetizers and drinks. Books will be on sale and both Erika and I will be more than happy to sign copies (but only if you purchase them).

When: Nov. 16th, 6-8pm
Where: 242 Belleview Square

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The Beauty Confessional is open for business!

As the resident "Beauty Confessor" at, I am blogging about beauty mishaps, bloopers, tragic-comic stories, and weird experiments. Those of you who know me, know I have a lot of these.

I'm not the only one. The Beauty Confessional is live and chock full of wacky admissions and sage advice. Check out the video confessions here.

It may seem that this is at odds with my penchant for all things prairie. But I'm finding that pulling out stories and anecdotes with other women is akin to talking with family and other folks about traditions and meaningful experiences. It's just another way of connecting with people.

I want to hear your stories, your thoughts. Upload video or write down your own beauty obsessions, tips, and secrets here. You'll find that it's actually fun to confess!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

See you at the Crave Show this weekend!

This weekend's Crave Show in Seattle promises to be one for the history books. But before we become the stuff of which legends are made, let's have a good time. I'll be speaking both Saturday and Sunday at 11am on the Explore stage about The Prairie Girl's Guide to the Holidays and then again at 1pm on the Beauty stage about Beauty Confessions on behalf of's newest feature, the Beauty Confessional. Finally, it's fun to confess!

In addition, the show features amazing wares for sale (get a jump on your holiday shopping), all sorts of vibrant speakers, and indulgent body treatments. What's not to like?

Pike Street Annex (across from the Convention Center)
Saturday and Sunday (November 3 and 4)

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

KUOW Sound Focus interview now online

I taped an interview this morning at KUOW (the awesome NPR station in Seattle) for their Sound Focus program. It aired this afternoon and I heard the beginning of the interview as I was driving home from a doctor's appointment. I ended up sitting in a parking lot listening to the rest of the piece and crying.

Admittedly, it was just a few tears but I was affected by the experience because I opened up and talked about my family and the struggles I've had connecting with them, pretty much all my life. As the previous author on the program (the awesome Amanda Ford) pointed out, life is not a checklist and for me, that's certainly true. My relationship with my family is improving but it's ever-evolving with setbacks and breakthroughs.

What's your relationship like with your family? I'd love to hear from those of you who struggle with finding common ground or who feel like they are the white sheep of the family.

Listen to the interview.

P.S. As I'm writing this in a coffee shop, there is a woman on the phone talking to her mom on her cell, and asking about her grandparents' history (profession, date of birth, hometown, etc.) for a geneology project. I kid you not.

Monday, October 29, 2007

DIY video available on youtube

Check out the DIY video I posted on youtube, showing how to make lavender linen waters with just three ingredients. The project is from The Prairie Girl's Guide to Life and while video production and post-production is definitely not my forté, you'll get the idea and be able to make inexpensive and soothing linen water to spritz on your sheets, curtains, ironing, and clothes that may need a bit of freshening up.

If you like what you see, please rank it. If you don't care for it, post a comment here and let me know why. I can take it. And believe me, I know the production value is low and the video is grainy. I'm working on that.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Carrie Akre, pure goodness

I discovered Carrie Akre when she fronted for the band Goodness in the 90s. Goodness is still what I turn on and turn up when I want to rock out. Carrie has a new album out (Last the Evening) and I was fortunate enough to catch her release party at the Tractor Tavern last night. It's soulful, it rocks, it's chock-full of songs that if I close my eyes, I can see being used as a soundtrack for a Drew Barrymore rom-com montage (and I mean that in the best way). Check out a couple of the tracks here. Let me know what you think.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

I have officially gone down the rabbit hole

I just got a call from the office of a medical specialist I visited earlier this week. They were confused about the doctor I listed as my primary care physician, since they couldn't find her in the network. After about 10 seconds of drawing a blank, I realized I gave her the name of Mac Daddy's vet, not my g.p.

In my defense, I've seen Dr. Westerdahl a heck of a lot more in the past two years for Mac Daddy's many issues than I've seen Dr. Weitkamp. I know, I know. I have officially lost my mind.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Prairie girls can be hip and tranquil as well

Kimberly Wilson, aka Hip Tranquil Chick, is airing her interview with me on her podcast today. We cover how to have a fun spa evening with the girls, my writing process (or lack thereof!), and The Prairie Girl's Guide to Life and Backcountry Betty. Check it out here.

Thursday, October 18, 2007 Q&A

Craft magazine's online blog has featured a Q&A with me about The Prairie Girl's Guide to Life, and is sponsoring a contest to boot. Submit your most creative handmade apron; five winners will be sent a copy of Prairie Girl. Check out the interview, where I share my thoughts on everything from modern design to the importance of undergarments to how downright crafty Laura Ingalls Wilder was. (Apron from Annie's Attic, at Etsy.)

Aaarrggghh! Peter Gwin on pirates

Check out the October issue of National Geographic (the one with the ear of corn on the cover): my pal Peter Gwin wrote an amazing story on modern-day pirates. "Dark Passage" chronicles the problem of piracy in Malaysia's Strait of Malacca. In some ways, I envy his adventures as a journalist. But then I got to the part where a machete was held against his throat and I was okay with writing about lacing corsets and spinning yarn.

Hear his interview on NPR's Weekend Edition. Gosh, I'm so proud of Peter. I knew him back in the days when I worked at The Magazine Group and he was the managing editor of Europe magazine. We liked our jobs then, we love them now. (photo by Peter Gwin)

Monday, October 15, 2007

"Prairie Girl's Guide to Life" in stores now!

The wait is over. The Prairie Girl's Guide to Life goes on sale today. Like Bobblehead Laura, run, don't walk, to your local mercantile and pick up a copy. Heck, it's only 14.95, which makes it a great gift or an inexpensive way to learn 50 crafts and skills. It's October—don't you need to know how to make applesauce or a scary scarecrow?

As for me, in between publicity, consulting, and writing projects, I'm hunkered down knitting swatches for a class this Saturday (leave it to me to have homework for a knitting class) and eating my way through a strawberry-rhubarb pie. Things could be worse.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Prairie girls are coming out of the woodwork

Check out this great review of The Prairie Girl's Guide to Life by Denise Neil, a columnist for the Wichita Eagle. The beauty of Prairie is its blend of easy-peasy projects. If knitting or braided rag rugs seems too daunting, start by mixing up your own lavender linen waters to spritz on your ironing or make homemade insect repellent.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Little fan on the prairie

I've been having the time of my life in Minnesota. I am absolutely in love with St. Paul, visiting Garrison Keillor's bookstore Common Good, driving through funky regentrified neighborhoods with my Aunt Carol, marveling at the manses on Summit Avenue that F. Scott Fitzgerald passed through, sitting around the dinner table with my cousins, and poking through generations of family photos with my Uncle Greg.

In addition to these activities, I had to travel to the absolute epicenter of all things prairie, seeing as I wrote the book on prairie girl pursuits.

I went to Walnut Grove.

I climbed in my rental and drove to Southwestern Minnesota on Saturday, stopping at the Dairy Queen in Sleepy Eye for a snack. I sat in a window seat, watching a train heading east. I continued west on 14, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Highway, until I reached Walnut Grove, pop. 599. At least that's what the sign said.

When I pulled over to take a photo, I climbed out of the car and was immediately assaulted by a hot prairie wind. It was unseasonably warm, to say the least--87 degrees, but it felt warmer. I could have done with a trip to an ice house at that point but who am I to complain? I just crawled back into my air-conditioned Saturn.

I found the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum and I have to admit, I went just this side of nuts. I bought out the gift shop (the prices were downright reasonable and how can any self-respecting prairie girl pass up a limited-edition bobblehead Laura?) and checked out the displays, staring into the eyes of Charles Ingalls in his wedding portrait, gazing with admiration at a quilt Laura had made, and marveling at the low ceilings. Prairie folk sure were short.

As I hit the road, I hit seek on the radio and found the NPR station, just as A Prairie Home Companion was beginning and the sun was setting.

It was as perfect a moment as any prairie girl could ask for.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Walnut Grove, here I come!

I'm headed to Minnesota to promote The Prairie Girl's Guide to Life. I'm especially excited to drive to Walnut Grove to visit the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum there. I love walking where others have gone before and I'm tickled pink to soak up the atmosphere and imagine what it must have looked like in the nineteenth century as a burgeoning prairie town. But mercantiles have come a long way, and I'm going to load up on Christmas gifts at the museum store, which is chock full of Laura and prairie souvenirs. Paired with my book, I suspect there's something for everyone.

Reports from the prairie to come...

Sunday, September 30, 2007

"Bust" excerpts "Prairie Girl" in current issue

Check out page 25 of the October/November issue of Bust to learn how to make your very own rag rug, one of the 50 skills featured in The Prairie Girl's Guide to Life!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Mystery of Massacre Bay

I just got back from Orcas Island with three of my closest friends. We had a marvelous time, tide pooling, spotting otters and blue jays, obsessing over the vivid purple and orange starfish we spied everywhere, hot-tubbing, and willingly falling into carb comas. Jared and I rowed across Massacre Bay to a deserted island we dubbed Skull Island. We roamed all over it, and I channeled my inner Nancy Drew when I found a bit of cloth rolled up in a tree with the cryptic message, "Go to the hobo shack." Let me tell you, Jared and I investigated that island and there was no hobo shack. We were duped!

I didn't mind. As soon as Jared rowed me back to our happily situated rental cottage, Sacha and I drove into town for the farmers' market, where I bought a natural headache remedy, a t-shirt, and some strange but delicious-looking vegetables (lemon cucumbers?). We snacked on fried oysters.

I was in heaven. When we got back to Blackberry Cottage, Alison and I jumped in the hot tub, which overlooked the bay. Later, after dinner and a viewing of Heathers, Jared and I stargazed from the dock, our bellies full of grilled salmon.


I love to be a Backcountry Betty and a Prairie Girl every chance I get and this week allowed me to be a bit of both. I eschewed the makeup, embraced fleece and a bare face, built a fire, talked with locals, looked for wildlife, and learned to love the silence. And I completely forgot about Rock of Love, Britney's meltdown, and things that don't matter.

When I got back to the mainland, I was reminded of it all. But I have the memories of peace, laughter, food, and otters to counteract the white noise. Never underestimate the power of an otter.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

There's no such thing as bad publicity

At least, that's what my former colleague and publicity director Justin Loeber used to tell me when one of our company's books got a less-than-stellar review. The word is getting out there, that's the important thing.

I am trying to keep that in mind after a disappointing profile was published today in Seattle Weekly. The good news is that it's a lengthy article, complete with professional portrait. The bad news is that the reporter just didn't get me, or at least get the whole me.

He didn't say anything technically wrong or untrue. But I don't think he hit the mark that is, uh, me. First of all, let me just say that I love reading. I love fiction, I admire writers of all genres, be it J.D. Salinger, David Sedaris, Malcolm Gladwell, Ian McEwan, or Amy Bloom (who's latest book, Away, is terrific, by the way).

I also love what I do and I am constantly challenging myself as a writer. I think there's absolutely a place for well-written how-to books. The Prairie Girl's Guide to Life and Backcountry Betty are both substantial books, chock-full of skills, crafts, cooking, and information. War and Peace they are not. But they aren't supposed to be. Tolstoy created a fictional masterpiece, but did he give instructions on how to knit, quilt, cure meat, or deal with dangerous animals in the wilderness? I didn't think so.

My next project is a memoir and it's proving as gut-wrenching as I imagine any fiction writing may be. I may have published a lot of books but believe me, none of them have come easy. The schedules for Prairie and Betty overlapped and had distinctly different voices. Prairie ended up around 45,00o words, Betty at 35,000—80,000 words in total written in a six-month period. I can't compare it to other writers' output (I suspect Stephen King would leave me in the dust) but this was a Herculean task for me, one I'm incredibly proud of.

One more note: I adore Richard Simmons. I admire his ability to connect with his audience and to have done it successfully for decades. He is a proven brand and there's a lot to learn from him. My reference to J.D. Salinger during the interview was in regards to his reclusiveness. I think it's extremely difficult to be a successful writer and a hermit. There's too much emphasis on sales and the marketplace. I didn't create the world I do business in, but I'm learning to navigate through it. Publicity and public speaking do not come naturally to me. I feel nauseous every time I step in front of a mic, but I do it to support the books that mean so much to me and took so much care and effort to conceive and write.

That's part of my job. And being an author is a job, one that I find incredibly satisfying and challenging.

Read the original article (photo by Steven Dewall for Seattle Weekly)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Do the Puyallup

I headed down to the Puyallup Fair last night and had a blast. Was there any doubt? I sampled the fair's specialties: hamburgers with grilled onions (the stand I went to goes through 7 1/2 tons of beef and 10 tons of grilled onions during the fair) and scones with raspberry jam. I hit the livestock and craft barns, checking out handmade Kleenex boxes and intricate produce arrangements. I talked with a beekeeper and learned all about the benefits of raw honey. I was so busy having fun (and buying locally spun yarn) that I didn't even miss the nausea-inducing Zipper and Matterhorn rides.

But the most interesting thing was talking with people. From the beekeeper to a mom knitting a hat next to her daughter's sheep entry (a bit ironic, I think) to a belly dancer who knits, everyone was happy to chat. Everyone was nice. And when I left with my baker's dozen of scones, I wondered if I could somehow make it back before the Puyallup ends this weekend.

It's because of events like the Puyallup and the people who love it that I wrote The Prairie Girl's Guide to Life. You can have a small-town experience in the biggest of cities. You just need to slow your pace a bit.

"You can do it at a run, you can do it at a gallop, you can do it real slow, so your heart doesn't pal-pi-TATE, just don't be late, do the Puyallup."

The Puyallup Fair runs until September 23rd. Check out more of my fair photos.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Sugar & Swank

Through my involvement with Ladies Who Launch, I've met some wonderful and motivated women. I have a girl crush on Jen Muscatel, who does a little bit of all things glam and girly through her business, Sugar & Swank. She custom blends mineral makeup, she cleans out your closet and shops for you (even on a budget), creates invitations and gift bags, and she throws sassy parties to boot!

On that note, Jen is hosting an evening for the two of us on October 3rd. If you're a gal and in the Seattle area, we'd love to see you. Here are the details:

Sugar & Swank is excited to invite you to spend the evening of October 3rd with Jennifer Worick, New York Times Bestselling Author and Contributing Editor for

Jennifer writes books that make us more well-rounded women and has been reporting on the latest and greatest in the beauty industry for years.

Take advantage of this special opportunity to meet Jennifer and get the inside scoop—straight from the source—on the most secret of all beauty tips.

Preview Sugar & Swank’s brand-new line of fall make-up colors as well, while munching and sipping on delicious goodies.

Expect an interactive evening where you’ll be able to explore new tricks of the trade and even share your own insider beauty secrets.

Wednesday, October 3rd, 7 pm
3418 77th Place SE, Mercer Island, WA
All are welcome, so please invite friends!
RSVP by September 28th at or 206-351-3213

Learn more about Sugar & Swank.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Affairs of the Art

As an author, I don't usually get to pick the illustrator for my book projects. In the case of Backcountry Betty, that didn't matter. The publisher hired Kate Quinby to create the cover art and spot illustrations for the interior and she was, well, spot on. I was tickled to see her illustrations of owls, raccoons, and Betty herself, tricking herself out for the trail, bathing in a lake, or creating a mud mask out of dirt. And her cover art looks like Nancy Drew getting ready to hunt down some nefarious hikers on the Pacific Coast Trail. If you know me, you'll know just how obsessed I am with this illustration. I can't say enough about how lovely both Kate and her art are. She just headed to RISD for her master's but she's still freelancing and designing a line of illustrated onesies, perfect for the sassy baby. Check out more of her work here.

Monday, September 10, 2007


I saw a woman in a lavender gingham dress, replete with a stiff crinoline beneath her skirt, at a doughnut shop today. I do not exaggerate. Prairie chic is hitting the streets!

Photo finish

I had my portrait taken a couple of days ago for an upcoming story in the local weekly (more on that when the issue hits the stands). I was nervous about the shoot and all sorts of insecurities about my appearance surfaced. How could I appear thin, attractive, and professional all at once, when I usually only feel one out of three of these qualities at any given time?

So I asked my friends and colleagues for tips. Stacya said, "Don't let him photograph you from the ground up. That's not a good angle for anyone." Kerry advised, "Neck up, chin down, face turned slightly away from the camera." I think Mariah Carey lives by that one.

Then there's Tyra. An ANTM junkie, I live for panel when she gives an impromptu lesson in the art of modeling. "There's a way to look like a corpse and still have fire in your eyes. It's the difference between this (she stares off blankly) and THIS (she narrows her eyes and they spring to life). Do you see the difference?"

I was determined not to be a lifeless corpse (which, in the world of Tyra Banks, is not redundant).

The photographer told me to wear black, white, or grey clothing, so I reached for my black go-to sweater, the one that makes my decolletage rock in the most tasteful yet spicy of ways. When I've done television interviews before, I've always been told to wear bright, solid colors so I invariably find myself in the Point of View department at Nordstrom looking for some Classiques separate that will find itself at the bottom of the sweater pile in short order.

On the day of the shoot, I artfully made up my face, pulling out the shadows and liners and concealers that I normally forego. I painstakingly blew out my hair so it was smooth and shiny.

When I got to the studio, I made sure to take a few minutes to powder my nose and comb my hair, checking for visible bra straps and lint. I was armed with a lint brush, makeup kit, hairbrush, hairspray, and even some nail polish for touch ups. I learned my lesson after my disastrous high school senior picture. I was a hick with aspirations of grandeur. I didn't know that there would be a dressing room/bathroom where I could plug in my curling iron and check out or change up my makeup. I didn't know I could take my time. I just brought a sweater to change into. Consequently, my hair looked like ass, my face was shiny, and I didn't know how to pose. You can imagine the results.

So when the photographer popped in a Morphine CD to get me in the mood and I stepped in front of the lights and camera, I channeled my best ANTM pose, straightened my back, lowered my chin, and saucily looked at the lens out of the corner of my eye. I was fierce, y'all.

I haven't seen the results but I suspect I'll make it to the next round.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Living your brand

During my travels today, I found myself on the Skytrain at DFW. At one of the C stops, a man climbed aboard who looked like the spitting image of Santa Claus (without the red suit, as it was 90 degrees in Dallas). I marveled at his snowy beard and waxed curlicued mustache. And then I heard him talking on his cell phone, telling a colleague about an art show he had just participated in. He had received a commission to create an African-American Santa sculpture.

At this point, I realized the guy was brilliant.

He was living his brand, his business. On a smaller scale, he's sort of like Gwen Stefani, who I was had just been reading about in InStyle. She simultaneously came out with an album and clothing line with the name LAMB (Love Angel Music Baby). This fall, she's launching L, a perfume. Like my Skytrain Santa, she understands branding, and this is what I'm struggling with.

With so many interests and varied book ideas, I've been having a hard time coming up with the concept or phrase that defines me and my work. I'm thrilled about my books coming out this fall but I don't know if I can really bring myself to wear petticoats and gingham dresses every day to promote The Prairie Girl's Guide to Life. It just isn't always practical.

But after seeing Skytrain Santa, I'm considering it.

If you've got any ideas, I'd love to hear them.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Best. Baked. Beans. Ever.

With Labor Day looming, I reach for my mom's tried-and-true baked beans recipe when bringing a dish to a cookout. With a pound of brown sugar, they are a guaranteed crowd pleaser. I like to think of them as savory candy and with a scoop of these baked beans on your plate, your dessert is taken care of as well (unless of course, someone brought pie).

Preheat oven to 300°F.

  • 1 One-pound box of dark brown sugar
  • 6–8 strips of bacon, fried and crumbled
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1 Tablespoon yellow mustard
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • Approximately 4 pounds of Bush's Baked Beans (I use the Original or Homestyle variety and drain most of the liquid out of the cans before adding to the mix)

Mix the above ingredients together in a glass cooking dish or metal pan (a cake pan works well). Bake at 300°F for 3 hours, or until the liquid cooks down and sort of caramelizes the beans. A low, slow oven is the secret to perfect baked beans.

I just hope there is some Polish sausage at today's barbeque to go with the beans. That's my idea of a perfect meal.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Smells like football...

It's a gorgeous breezy day here in Seattle and it just feels like football weather. I can sense the change in the season and I always love the shift into fall. I think of changing leaves, homecoming, the smell of a wood fire and sharpened pencils, and roadtrips into the country.

I don't think about Appalachian State beating my Michigan Wolverines.

Goodbye #5 ranking, hello b-list bowl game. I think I'll go back to reading the Fall fashion preview issue of Vogue and watching the America's Next Top Model marathon on MTV. There are other delights to be had in the autumn months.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


I have a bit of an OCD problem, particularly when it comes to my closet. I have a hard time focusing on my work, knowing that the pile of black sweaters has topped over or that my shoes are jumbled together.

So I procrastinate in the closet. I sort garments by type (skirts, trousers, etc.) and by color (having once worked at JC Penney, I know how to create a pleasing rainbow on the rod). My shoes are in translucent plastic boxes and stacked in four rows, about ten boxes high. Some boxes have two pairs of shoes in them. Boots and shoes I wear frequently are stored separately. Do the math.

When I went through my closet last weekend, weeding out items for consignment and Goodwill, I rediscovered shoes I forgot I owned. Hello, pink Prada sandals. Nice to see you, blue suede ballet flats from the Barneys Warehouse. Even though I could sort of see the shoes in the boxes, it wasn't good enough. Many shoes had fallen out of rotation.

So I photographed all my sandals, boots, loafers, Mary Janes, kitten heels, mules, clogs, slingbacks, and stilettos in various settings. I printed the photos and laminated them at Kinkos. I cut them out and pasted them onto each box for easier identification.

What's next? A barcode system?

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Backcountry Betty

I got back from my whirlwind trip to the East Coast to find that advances of my new book, Backcountry Betty, had arrived. To my delight, the book is adorable—I want to cuddle with Kate Quinby's illustrations of owls, bear cubs, and Nalgene bottles, and the text still makes me giggle after having spent months writing and editing the manuscript.

It's for all of you girly girl/tomboys who want to be a style maven even if you're deep in the mountains. Trick out your fleece, pack strategically, whip up smokin' hairstyles without product or hot rollers, sex up your campsite, mix up cocktails with Crystal Light, identify flora and fauna, and push beyond basic s'mores for captivating campstove cookin'.

I just need to plan a trip to the Cascades so I can practice what I preach and teach. It'll give me an excuse to rock my pigtails again.

P.S. I'm still continuing to find sand in my ears after being mauled by a wave in Rehoboth last weekend. What's up with that?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Hot Dog

I love me some prairie dogs, especially when they sit up on their hind legs to investigate. My cat Mac Daddy does it sometimes when he suspects sushi is in the vicinity. You can imagine my delight when I was forwarded a YouTube video a couple of weeks ago by a lovely man who gets my affinity for all things prairie and prairie dog (and well, just doggone cute). I like the Kill Bill remix, as well as the Zoolander take on it.

I'm telling you, prairie chic is spreading like wildfire!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

P.S. The Maxx for the minimum

As a follow up to yesterday, Alison and I hit TJ Maxx this morning shortly after they opened. Within an hour, I found myself in the checkout line with a Max Studio dress, a linen pencil skirt, Vitabath lotion, and Votivo bath salts in my favorite mandarin scent.

I have a problem.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Marshalls is for me

I'm visiting friends in Philly right now and the second thing I wanted to do (after eating my way through my favorite dives) was head to Marshalls. Today my dream came true.

Alison and I had about an hour and half before dinner so we hauled ass to a giant Marshalls somewhere in New Jersey. In short order, I snatched some Votivo soap, lotion, and room spray; some madras espadrilles; shorts perfect for the beach, and at the last minute, Paper, Denim & Cloth jeans that hug me in all the right $49.99 places.

On deck for the week are a concert in the park, lunch at the Four Seasons, and a weekend at my favorite place in the world (Rehoboth Beach) with my favorite people.

Is it so wrong that what I'm really looking forward to is the TJ Maxx and the Banana outlet at the beach? Part of it is that is what my best friend Alison and I do. But mostly it's so I can score some sweet deals. I'm still on the hunt for Vitabath.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Cocktails and Confessions

Last night, as part of my contributing editor gig with, I hosted what i hope will be the first of many "cocktails and confessions" party with some of my gal pals. It's amazing what booze and a video camera will produce. I don't think anyone expected the raucous, bawdy, uninhibited evening that ensued. Nonie kept us doubled over with her stories of Juvaderm and Botox (she, we can safely say, is a Botox junkie), all blurted out in her bloody fantastic British accent. Laurel thankfully watched the grill for me while I was grilling everyone about their beauty confessions, both tragic and tragic-comic. Emily, reluctant at first, was cajoled into telling us how she doesn't wash her face yet gets completely waxed down there. Amy, a few glasses of wine in her, showed us just how she bites her toenails. Yes, toenails.

What's your beauty confession? Diss and tell! Finally, it's fun to confess.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Raising an eyebrow

It's decidedly not prairie, which means it took me longer than most to come around to it, but I had my eyebrows shaped and tinted this weekend. Usually, I pluck them when a stray appears. This has worked pretty well, except for a tragic experiment in seventh grade that resulted in me looking like Claudette Colbert for a couple of months.

But I was curious so I went to the best (and definitely the most obsessed). Stacya Silverman specializes in brows and operates a charming salon out of her Craftsman home. A collector of vintage etiquette books and Girl Scout manuals, she may be my new best friend. Check her out at

Now if I could only resist the urge to pluck the stray hair that is growing in below my left eyebrow, all will be well in my world.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Fighting the fleece

I live in Seattle, which means I'm surrounded in fleece. At the farmer's market, on the ferry, in the office, at snazzy restaurants, next to me at the theater. The place is lousy with fleece. There's no sense of occasion. Guys and gals leave their baseball caps on inside. It makes me crazy.

I understand it. It gets damp and chilly here. Fleece is warm and cuddly. It's like being surrounded in furry puppy. I get it. And if truth be told, I own a hoodie or two, a couple of fleece sweatshirts, even a fleece throw that my cat loves to knead (he probably couldn't try that with a furry puppy). But I don't wear fleece unless I'm on a bike, walking around Greenlake, or feeling sick and sorry for myself on the couch. I've been fighting the allure of fleece for a while now and I feel how easy it would be for me to slip into its warm, water-resistant embrace.

That scares the bejeezus out of me. What's next? Going without a slip? Letting my bra strap show? Well, I'll tell you. I just bought, gulp, a backpack for my laptop. A backpack! Like fleece, I believe backpacks do have a the backcountry. I never thought I'd trade in my stylish laptop messenger bag for a backpack. But I'm riding my bike to coffee shops these days and I can't believe it's good for the iBook or my body to have a bag bouncing against my thigh. And my back is a mess. So there's my confession. I have (and love) a laptop backpack. But you'd better believe that it's sleek and urban and won't be holding trail mix or water purification tablets anytime soon. That's what my butt pack is for.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

A love letter to the library

I am in love with the Seattle Public Library. I can go to their website, search for the books I want, place a hold, and indicate the neighborhood branch where I want to pick the book up. When the book arrives, I receive an e-mail and walk across the street to the branch. I find the book, shelved according to the first three letters of my last name. Then I scan in my barcode and the sensors on the counter read what books I'm checking out. I print out a reminder slip and leave.

I don't have to talk to a soul.

It's genius. But I have to confess I miss the Mrs. Ribeckis and Ms. Kadings of the world. Mrs. Ribecki was the librarian at the one-room Sodus Township Library. She was a kindly old woman in a floral housedress who checked out my picture books ten at a time (I think that was the limit). During the summer reading program at the library, my competitive spirit merged with my zeal for books and turned me into a reading machine. I'd beg my mom to drive me to the library every few days so I could give verbal reports to Mrs. Ribecki and get more stickers added to my contest sheet, each year a different theme. One year, it was a dinosaur and the stickers slowly filled in its green form. The first kids to complete the sheets got special prizes and I'll be damned if Julie Hartman was going to beat me.

I eventually exhausted the offerings at the Sodus library, so I ordered books from Troll and Scholastic book clubs and hit the school library. In high school, I'd be damned if I was going to work at a part-time job where I had to wear a hat and take orders for Whoppers or french fries, so I got a job in the children's department of the Benton Harbor Public Library, working with Ms. Kading and her assistant Rose. I sorted and shelved and sent out overdue notices. I laminated all my Monet and Matisse posters on my lunch break. I ran the projector and showed old movies and cartoons on Saturdays. And I quizzed kids about the books they read, helping them add stickers to their own sheets during the summer reading program. Sometimes I was suspicious so I read the book with them, assisting them with the tough words.

We had some regulars, good-hearted kids about to go wrong because their absent parents used the library as all-daycare. Maybe one book, one librarian helped a couple of those kids to believe in themselves and their ability to cover an entire sheet with stickers until they saw the big picture.

Mrs. Ribecki certainly helped me and set me on a lifelong love affair with books, both as a reader and now a writer. And when I scan my barcode in at my tiny branch here in Seattle (which is no bigger than that Sodus library), I have to confess I miss the kindly lady in the housedress.

What about you? Do you have fond memories of your library or librarian? Did you rock the summer reading contests?

Friday, July 20, 2007

Craft services

I was at a friend's house once, hanging out with a few pals and waiting for a potential love interest to show up. While I was waiting, I picked up a scarf Alison was knitting and worked a few rows. Both male friends in the room told me in no uncertain terms to put the needles down and out of sight. Jared told me, "Honey, knitting is so not sexy." Josh agreed.

Wha wha WHA?!

Knitting is not sexy? What could be more smokin' than showing off my nimble fingers, all the while crafting some cool scarf or hat or bikini top? Okay, I'm not usually knitting saucy undergarments or beachwear but the point is that I could. I can make all sorts of things, do all sorts of things with these hands, and I think that's hot.

What do you think? Knitting, embroidering, crocheting, and other rustic crafts: hot or not?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Nobody puts half-pint in a corner

Melissa Gilbert is going to start in a musical version of Little House on the Prairie, playing Caroline Ingalls this time round! Seriously. I know it's hard to believe, but it gets better. Playing Pa to her Ma is none other than Patrick "Nobody puts Baby in a corner" Swayze. He's no Michael Landon, but, um, where do we sign up? Well, the bad news is that the Rachel Portman-composed Prairie is currently a workshop that is closed to adoring fans.

Let's just pray that the musical is smokin' hot and sets the prairie (and theater world) on fire!

For more information, check out the story here.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The birth father

Stuck at the border after a whirlwind trip to Vancouver, I read anything I could get my hands on. I had already exhausted my Us Weekly (dang, that Hilary Duff is a hottie) so I idly looked over my dad's birth certificate. A few things I knew: his name, his birthdate. I saw that he was born in "Sodus Township," so I asked if he was born at home. Yep. I asked if grandma had a midwife or any real assistance. Dad replied that it was just grandpa and a rusty knife. He was joking—I'm sure the knife was clean.

Anyway, that sort of gave me pause. The days of pushing out a baby from your home without monitors or meds seems to have gone by the wayside. (And that's a-ok with me.)

But more interesting were two other parts of the birth certificate. One was a column headed "white, black, mulatto, etc." Are you kidding me? I guess there wasn't a lot of diversity in rural Michigan in 1939. Thankfully, this sort of ethnicity classification has disappeared over time. Mulatto? I haven't heard that word since reading a Kathleen Woodiwiss bodice ripper set on a plantation in the West Indies.

And the last thing I saw that made me thankful to be living in this day and age was an area for "father's occupation." Nothing about the mother; her occupation was assumed. My dad's birth certificate is a quaint memento of another time, but as I looked it over, it seemed to me to be a benchmark of how far I—along with the world—have moved away from that place and time. At this point the line, mercifully, started to move.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Vacation, all I ever wanted

My parents are in town. My friends kept asking me if when I was picking them up at the airport. Yo, my parents do it up old school. They drove cross country, even stopping in Pepin, Wisconsin, birthplace of Laura Ingalls Wilder, without any prompting from me (who just wrote my love letter to Laura in the form of The Prairie Girl's Guide to Life).

As much I get carsick sitting in the backseat of a car for hours on end, I miss the two-week epic vacations that involve bad road food, amazing scenery, and unexpected conversations with colorful but kind strangers. Working for myself, I haven't done a good job of clearing my schedule and my mind for a proper holiday. Instead, I take weekends here and there, crashing at friends' houses and apartments.

It was refreshing to take the keys from my dad (which guaranteed that the trainspotting would be kept to a minimum) and point their car for Whidbey Island yesterday. Without a map, we drove onto a ferry, poked around in shops, hunted for interesting rocks on the rugged waterfront, stuffed down fish and chips, tasted a few bad wines, took photos of stunning scenery, and gambled at two casinos on the way home.

I've done the trip before so it wasn't completely spontaneous but it was as close to a stress-free, work-free day as I've had in a long time. And there was no threat of an early-morning departure to yet another trainyard.

This weekend: Vancouver and, I suspect, another casino or two.

A sampling of my books