Friday, December 31, 2010

An Apology to My Family


I just finished reading Lord of the Rings last night, and I feel I owe my family an apology for several things related to said reading. Like, for example, disappearing for hours at a time. Or not making it to the grocery store. Or not wrapping gifts as prettily as I might have were I not anxious to get back to the book. And also for referring to my children as "Risa, Vida, and Lea of the Shire." But most of all, I think I should apologize for the following statements and a dozen others like them:

Statement: The Dark Lord calls.
Translation: I'm going to bed now.

Statement: I have scaled the black mountains of Mordor. I have battled on the Fields of Pelennor.
Translation: Sure, I'll play a round of Clue.

Statement: I prefer the trees and flowers of Lothlorien.
Translation: No, I will not consider a camping trip in 2011.

Statement: Beware the web of Shelob, my halflings. Away!
Translation: Clean your bedroom. Or else.

I am wishing you and yours all the delights of Middle-Earth in 2011. Make merry and be safe. I'll see you back here in the new year.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Bad Start, Strong Finish

After a morning and early afternoon of unrelenting mayhem (buy 30 bagels! buy 6 cookie sandwiches and a giftcard at Teacake! buy 2 gallons of milk! now use the milk to make a vat of homemade cocoa! cut out a few more corrugated cardboard circles! transfer cocoa to thermos carafe thingies! pack chocolates, cookies, and...well...everything! bring it all to school, but make sure none of it gets wet! put your hood up! try to maintain some dignity, you hood-wearing pack mule! set up 2 class parties! do a craft with the 3rd graders! try not to scream while all of them at the same time say, "Ms. Montes? Ms. Montes? Ms. Montes? Ms. Montes?") punctuated by equally unrelenting rain, the kids and I crossed the threshold of our warm little house. Vida went to the den to read. Lea went to her room and shut the door. Risa checked in at Woozworld. And me? I earthwormed into my bed and read Lord of the Rings while the rain pattered my window. Just like that, the hours preceding disappeared and life was good, warm, dry, and so nice.

Then I decided I would make Arroz Caldo with Chicken. The recipe (I know what you're thinking: why does she need a recipe?) called for "1 small chicken." I didn't have "1 small chicken," but because the cookbook was my mother's and was published in 1970, at which time I imagine chickens were quite small, I just decided to use the fat chicken breast in my refrigerator. Also, sadly, I lacked "1 small onion, chopped." I did, however, have a leek. So I used that. And it turned out so excellent and reminiscent of both my childhood and, not unpleasantly, the Greek version (is it avgolemeno?) of the soup. Now the kids and the SU are sitting in front of the fire playing Monopoloy and drinking eggnog. And, yes, there are Christmas carols and twinkling lights and stockings. I like it here.

Despite the annoyances that occurred earlier today, I just caught sight of the holiday craft I did with the 3rd graders, and it's kinda cute. Here's Lea's:



The SU says it's the "least offensive craft ever." I think that's what people mean by the term "faint praise." I'll take it.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Post in Which I Start with Lord of the Rings and then Veer Off Course

For reasons unfathomable, I picked up a copy of Lord of the Rings, pondered briefly, purchased it, and now cannot stop reading it. I don't know why I've never read it before, though I have a vague memory of thinking that it must be exceedingly dorky. Now I don't care if I'm dorky. Frodo rulez!

On the same day, I found a new, hardcover copy of The Dictionary of Imaginary Places (which I have wanted for quite some time now) for twelve dollars! So if I ever get lost in Middle-Earth, I can refer to it, and all will be well. But seriously, it's difficult to pass up a book billed as "...an invaluable guidebook to more than twelve-hundred places-that-never-were," including Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, Eco's Island of the Day Before, and...how much do I love this?... a two-column entry for Dictionopolis and Digitopolis from The Phantom Tollbooth!

As I continued to ride the train of consumerism that day, I also purchased Hunter rain boots. But I did this for good reason, as heavy rains were imminent and my current boots had a hole. And also I bought other things, for reasons not as logical.

Moving on...

The spousal unit and I recently watched two films which I thought were excellent. First, I Am Love with Tilda Swinton as the lady-what's-in-charge of a villa-dwelling Milanese family. Super rich folks have major issues, people, but they also have dreamy shoes, textiles, food, and wait staff:



And then there was The Kids Are All Right with Julianne Moore (on whom I have a huge crush) Annette Bening, and the charming, rakish Mark Ruffalo. It was hilarious and true and good:


While I'm on the subject of recommendations, I shall now call your attention to my Pinoy/Pinay lit recommendations for this holiday season, which were cross-posted at the PAWA blog and the Re: Angelica's Daughters blog.

Finally, I will post a picture of my youngest, who now appears to be not-so-very-young. I post this because she was so extraordinarily overjoyed on this day and it made me—by maternal extension—extraordinarily overjoyed, as well. She performed in a holiday dance show, you see, getting all jazzy to the strains of U2's It's A Beautiful Day. I find these dance shows absolutely hilarious, but they also make me cry. Life is confusing.




Hey, the doorbell just rang and it was the UPS guy (did you know I harbor a not-so-unreasonable belief that one day I will open the door and the UPS guy will be an old high school classmate? Well, I do) with a big old box of holiday cards for me to address, so...yeah. I have to go.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

An Overabundance of Harmless Musings

I like this time of year. I wrap myself up in a sweater, throw on jeans, manipulate myself into my boots (I have challenging calves, okay? Okay!), pin my hair up into a messy bun with randomly placed bobby pins, and make my way out into the world.

***

I'm all for music in the schools, but maybe not so much for my kids. They've brought home a trumpet and a flute, and they are to practice for 20 minutes a day which, I can tell you right now, is about 19 minutes and 30 seconds too long.

***

In theory, I have nothing against Harry Potter. Whatever. He's a wizard, and that's cool. I personally didn't find the writing compelling and have only read about half of the first book. The fantasy genre, in general, doesn't appeal to my kids (I've tried, I've tried...), so they haven't read them either. What drives me nuts is that some folks believe that the extraordinary length of the books makes them somehow more challenging or important than books that don't weigh in at 10 pounds. The owner of a children's (indie) bookstore, The Reading Reptile," reports on an experience with a customer who has fallen for the fallacy:
I’m standing [in front of this lady] trying to find a book thick enough for her brilliant six-year-old...It’s bizarre, and troubling. I think about Jenny and the Cat Club, My Father’s Dragon, Randall Jarrell’s Animal Family, and all the treasures this young genius may never read because they have too many pictures and they aren’t thick enough. Somewhere along the line Harry Potter has become an arbitrary benchmark, something much different than the literary cure-all it’s still touted to be. The fact is Harry Potter has stolen as many readers as it has inspired. Banished them to strange criteria of weight and size, and hype. “Big” books are now published in the hundreds of thousands, stacked up like buildings in stores where most of the employees have never even heard of Angela Johnson or Jack Gantos, Tor Seidler or Polly Horvath.
The whole post (scroll down to "TEN SECONDS: Running the Hurdles with Harry Potter") is super funny, sharp, and distinctly bittersweet.

***

Sometimes I'm just infuriated.

***

Lately, I am fascinated by business. By commerce, by globalization. I was just reading a riveting article about why, despite valiant marketing attempts, we do not eat chocolate from Venezuela, which is a country that boasts the best cacao beans in the world and which, in turn, sells this raw material to the famous chocolatiers of Europe. Well, it's because we've been conditioned to believe that fine chocolate comes from Switzerland and Belgium. It's the same for Chilean winemakers, airplanes from Brazil, or Turkish refrigerators. Corona beer (once described as "Mexican lemonade") used to have the identical problem, but their relentless branding now downplays its country of origin. Anyways, the term for this is the "provenance paradox."

It applies to a lot of things, as far as I can tell. Including writers.

***

Some months ago, our microwave oven fritzed out. We have not spent the time required to ease it out of its cabinetry (I think the cabinets were built around it when we had the kitchen remodeled), so we've just been going without. And you know what I've discovered? You don't need a microwave FOR ANYTHING.

***

Just noticed: I have very thin, old lady wrists. 'Tis the only thing "thin" about me. But never mind: I celebrate my medium-ness. Really. Oh, crap.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Getting Things Sort Of Done

On the one hand, I am ever-grateful to the inventor(s) of Daylight Savings, for it has meant the end of this Fall's relentless march of soccer and baseball practices and, in fact, the end of the "Fall Ball" season entirely. On the other hand, my sleep is completely wrecked: I can neither fall asleep nor wake up. I'm in a perennial state of half-wakedness which, thank God, has nothing to do with half-nakedness, and thus unable to perform tasks with any sort of elan. I am simply s l o g g i n g.

And yet, and yet...things do get done. The lunches are made, the house is standing, homework is neatly completed, and the kids and I take turns reading to each other after dinner. Lately, Ri likes to read from her own writing: stories set in Sweden for no apparent reason, sunsets the color of "orange sorbet," and characters who like to "ponder" quite a bit. It's hilarious. Her sisters listen attentively and offer appropriate praise when she's done. Vi likes to read out loud from Stone Soup (remember Stone Soup?!), which is filled with stories and art by kids who are around their age. And Lea is into Jack Prelutsky poems—clever little rhyming pieces about "homework machines" and gigantic pizzas and whatnot. Last night—miracle of miracles!—they requested I read from Gombrich's A Little History of the World, and then they asked for Rex Warner's Men and Gods: Myths and Legends of the Ancient Greeks (the NYRB edition with Edward Gorey illustrations!), and after more than an hour of this I had to have been the happiest mother in the world.

Then they all wandered off humming Katy Perry songs and arguing about who would get to log onto Woozworld first, and I was forlorn. But you know what? We got some good stuff in, right? I've decided that I will use the same rule of thumb I use for their eating: as long as they consume leafy greens every day, I'm okay with some Halloween candy.

In other news of the world, Cecilia Brainard came to San Francisco to join me for the PAWA-hosted book launch of Angelica's Daughters. I turned my report around quickly, and you can read it here (with pictures and everything!). Cyndi Vasallo, who joined us and read a wonderful story, also blogged about the event. Anyways, I can't think of a more pleasant way to spend an early Saturday evening than hanging out with folks who write, enjoy, and support Filipino and Fil-Am literature, so high-fives all around.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

The Post Where I Recommend Two Stories, Announce an Event, and Explain My Non-Participation in NaNoWriMo

First of all: did you vote? Because it's important to offset the crazy.

Now, back to the regular stuff:

It's the beginning of November, so that means that I've spent the last four days or something like that pretending to myself that I'll participate in NanoWriMo. But of course I never do. I'm not someone who can write with a water pistol pointed at her face; life is already too much of a do it! Do it now! Do it NOW OR SOMETHING AWFUL WILL HAPPEN existence. I'll take my writing slow and occasionally steady, thanks. But I wish the most buena-est of suerte to all those writers who are about to brave the NanoWriMo storm! May the muse kiss your keyboard (I'm talking to you, Cecilia Brainard!).

Speaking of brave and wonderful writers, I would like to draw your attention to two excellent stories. The first is "In My Country," by Tony Robles; the second is "Like Fish to Ginger," by Rashaan Alexis Meneses. Take a few minutes out of your Internet surfing and enjoy; I know I did.

This Saturday, PAWA is hosting a book launch for Angelica's Daughters. It'll be a nice way to start your evening, so come out, come out, if ever you can; I would very much like to see your face.


When: Saturday, November 6, 2010, 5:30 - 7:00
Where: Bayanihan Community Center, 1010 Mission St., San Francisco
What: Reading (Cecilia and Veronica), book signing, and light refreshments

And bonus:
Arkipelago Books is also located in the Bayanihan Community Center, so you can shop for those hard-to-find Filipino and Fil-Am titles before or after (um, not during, 'kay?) the event!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Sleepy-But-I-Can't-Sleep-Post

I had the world's best break in my scintillating routine of soccer practice, soccer games, softball practice, softball games, homework, dance class, homework, dinner, lunches, breakfast, homework EVER, and it came in the shape of a reading at Eastwind Books in Berkeley. My full report is posted at the Re: Angelica's Daughters blog, so do click over if you haven't read it yet.

I'm often guilty of ADD reading, and it seems especially true right now. I've been dipping in and out of a lot of things, but the anthology My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: Forty New Fairy Tales, (edited by Kate Bernheimer) has claimed my reading-in-bed-time for now, and I have to say that the sinister element in these stories has kept me up more than a few nights. The title is a dead giveaway, is it not, that these are not Disneyesque versions? So far, it feels like an homage to Angela Carter, which is very cool indeed. Two thumbs up.

Also I'm reading from Barbara's Diwata and Maiana Minahal's Legend Sondayo. They make a nice complement to the fairy tales, actually. At Eastwind Books, I also picked up a copy of The Solemn Lantern Maker by Merlinda Bobis, and I'm looking forward to starting it. As for Illustrado, I see it every night as I climb into bed, but we continue to pretend we don't know each other. Why? WHY?!

And I do like my non-fiction, now and again. From the book Nudge I learned it is a proven fact (as opposed to an amusing, but not necessarily true, observation) that two people who have lived together for a long time start to resemble each other. Why? Because of shared diets and eating habits, yes, but also because they imitate each other's facial expressions. I buy this to a certain extent, but let's face it Nudge: my 6'3" smooth-domed, white spousal unit is never going to look like your Nesting Ground Mistress.

The moon is waxing gibbous this evening. I don't know why I mention this; I just like the way it sounds.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

The Wonders of Self-Googling

I don't generally receive objective, third party feedback on the stories I write. Every once in awhile, though, a voice rings out from cyberspace, and then I feel kinda naked and vulnerable, actually. The other day on Facebook, Cecilia Brainard posted a review of Growing Up Filipino II from Cha: An Asian Literary Journal. The reviewer has a strange aversion to the cover of the anthology, as well as to its marketing position (wha?), but then has some positive things to say about the many good stories in the collection. And then all of a sudden—boom!—your Nesting Ground Mistress merited a mention:
For readers unfamiliar with Filipino fiction, though, the most welcome discoveries in Cecilia Manguerra Brainard's selection here will probably be the stories by Veronica Montes and Dean Francis Alfar. In "My Father's Tattoo," Montes tracks the story of a couple's tense relationship through the eyes of their daughter. Her prose is rich in wry, telling details, from "the young artist" who "surrounded it [the problematic tattoo of the title] with elegant curlicues at no extra charge" to the little verbal game the girl plays with her father to the conversation that the girl's father and uncle have when they go to wake her up from a nap. It closes with a moment of uncertainty that tips over into resolution with just the right light touch.

Hey, thanks! This, of course, piqued my curiosity: has anyone else commented on one of my stories? This review of Philippine Speculative Fiction 5 offered up little 2- or 3-sentence observations on each of the stories in the collection. Here's what the reviewer had to say about mine:
Part-coming-of-age story and part old wives’ folk tale, Veronica Montes’ "The Left-Behind Girl" is a wonderful exposition into a town’s beguiling mysteries that echoes southern gothic sensibilities and thickly veiled dream states. The story, however, is short and it leaves you wanting for more.

It made me laugh because my stories are forever too short. And also: southern gothic? Who knew?! Further googling unearthed a mention of my story, "Bernie Aragon, Jr. Looks for Love," in an academic article from Dance Research Journal. Written by Lucy Mae San Pablo Burns, it's titled, "'Splendid Dancing': Filipino 'Exceptionalism' in Taxi Dancehalls." I wish I could read it, but it's one of those sites that requires a subscription.

And then I said to myself, "That's enough self-googling for you, young lady."

In other literary news, I am reading with Barbara Jane Reyes and Maiana Minahal at Eastwind Books in Berkeley in October 16th. Stop by! Complete information here.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Angelica's Daughters In the Manila Bulletin


Did I tell you we are blogging about our dugtungan novel at Re: Angelica's Daughters? Well, we are! And the current post has the full text of an article that was published in The Manila Bulletin yesterday. In it, Nadine and Susan spill the haricot verts on our writing process.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Invisibility: What Is Acceptable, And What Is Not

As a woman growing older, I feel increasingly invisible. I'm getting used to it or—maybe this is more accurate—growing into it. It doesn't have to be a bad thing. I'll figure it out.

And I'm pretty much invisible as a writer, but that's okay, too. It certainly doesn't prevent me from writing, and it's 100% commensurate with what I have or haven't done so far.

Occasionally, I am invisible in my house because my older daughters are—I just need to face this—dreaded TWEENS, and they sometimes ignore me. This, too, makes sense. They are maturing, testing their limits, getting a feel for what's okay and what's is absolutely not freaking okay.

So these are invisibilities that I can deal with because they represent a natural progression of things, or my personal limits, or just the way that life is sometimes sucky. But what you see here in the trailer for the documentary The Delano Manongs: Forgotten Heroes of the United Farm Workers? Not so much:

The Delano Manongs from Media Factory on Vimeo.


The filmmakers have raised a lot of funding so far, but from the call to action on the website, it looks like they need a little bit more to finish their project. If you can, help to honor these Filipinos and their story. Because sometimes invisibility is acceptable, and sometimes it's not.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

The Post In Which I Share Exciting News

I don't know about you, but I spend inordinate amounts of time doing things and checking them off some list, mental or otherwise. I do and do and do, but nothing gets done because these things aren't really Things; they're just tasks. And tasks never end. Making lunches, running errands, grocery shopping, sending this e-mail or that e-mail, dialing the phone to make an appointment, etc. It's so hamster-on-a-wheel. Which is a necessary and even sometimes enjoyable part of life, don't get me wrong. But what often goes missing when making my countless rounds on the wheel is any true sense of accomplishment. You know, the kind of accomplishment someone must feel when they wake up one morning thinking I will climb Mt. Kilamanjaro, and then they take all the necessary steps for two years or whatever to do so, and then they finally, finally ascend, and then descend, and then they sleep for a long time. When they awaken, they will have freaking ACCOMPLISHED their goal of climbing Mt. Kilamanjaro.

All of which is to say, I finally DID something. I didn't do it alone, and I couldn't have done it alone, because the whole point was to do it together. Do what, you ask? Why, write a dugtungan novel entitled Angelica's Daughters, I answer. And before you ask what the hell that is, I'll just tell you. No wait! What I'll do is share with you Brian Ascalon Roley's blurb, which defines it nicely:
"Part of the pleasure of reading Angelica's Daughters, the engrossing new collaborative novel by five established Filipina writers, is seeing how deftly the authors deal with the challenge of writing in this resurrected literary form. A dugtungan is a genre of Tagalog novel popular early in the 20th century, in which each writer creates a chapter and hands it off to the next, who writes another chapter without direction. The result, in this case, is an ensemble performance that contains something of the exhilaration of theatrical improv. One watches these accomplished authors inventively weave a historical romance, creating gripping heroines and turns of plot, crossing decades and national boundaries, tapping into cultural roots of the Philippines, Spain and America. Reading Angelica's Daughters is a gripping experience.~ Brian Ascalon Roley, Author of American Son (W.W. Norton)

My co-authors for this project are Cecilia Brainard (Los Angeles), Erma Cuizon (Manila), Susan Evangelista (Palawan), and Nadine Sarreal (Singapore). At one point—and this is something Cecilia discusses in the introduction to the novel—the amazing Marianne Villanueva was part of our crew, but in the end if was just the five of us e-mailing files like mad, trying to make sense out of the tangle of characters we'd invented, and trying to smooth out our writing styles into a cohesive narrative. It was a long and sometimes frustrating process that took about like 350 years. Or maybe it was just six. I've blocked it out, but I believe that detail, too, is included in Cecilia's introduction. The bottom line is that the novel is being released by Anvil (Philippines) this month, and it's being mini-launched at the Manila Book Fair on the 18th, where Nadine and Susan will represent our motley crue and field questions from interviewer Ivy Mendoza.

More on all this later, as I need to hop back on that hamster wheel (hello reality). But I'm happy to leave you with a small image of the cover, at least. I love it because the woman is going absolutely batshit crazy:

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

The Post In Which Three Disparate Topics Are, In Fact, Not Disparate But Rather Related Via the Theme of Time and Its Passing

I think the first day of school is a lot like New Year's Day. At least for stay-at-home parents of younger, school-age, out-schooled children. It's the day we think things like now I'll start working out regularly again, now I'll get the house in order, empty every laundry basket I see, have lunch with my friend, make an appointment for a haircut, get the oil changed, call the refrigerator guy. I took a little unscientific survey of moms this morning. "What are you doing today?" I asked. And every single one was going to yoga or running or doing some other physical activity. It's all so re-birth-y. In fact, for the past two years my personal yearly calendar has begun in August.

And speaking of rebirth: my children look like completely different children now. When did this happen? How did this happen? In July they were just little tangled-hair-water-nymph-like babies, and now they look like...I don't know. Well, let's just do a visual. Now they look like this:


It's ridiculous that I'm always so shocked that...gasp!...the clock keep ticking. All I know is that if I had a superhero power it would be The Ability To Freeze Time.

***


So I downloaded Scrivener (tagline: "Outline. Edit. Storyboard. Write.), and I kinda love it. It took me a minute to orient myself, but once I watched the intro video, I was good to go. I think it lends itself well to the way I write and organize, and it addresses my need to have a bunch of sketches and bits and pieces super close at-hand. If you're planning on tackling National Novel Writing Month (I don't know if I will this time, but you never know), you should definitely take a look at Scrivener. And guess what? It's free for 30 days and NaNoWriMo is...ta-da!...30 days long!

***


In other news, except under rare circumstances I am (sort of) no longer transported by the shopping experience. But I have to confess that I have lost all semblance of control when it comes to GILT. I don't know what it is, people. Actually, I do: they combine some great stuff + good prices + the thrill of the chase. The sales open and close at certain times, quantities appear to be super limited, and you become paranoid that you're going to miss out on something amazing because as you peruse, all kinds of super cute dresses or whatever are suddenly marked as "In Members Carts Now," and you start thinking oh my gosh that IS super cute and if I don't get it right now they're going to sell out so I better hurry, gah I hope they have my size oh oh oh... Then sure enough if you're a few seconds too late, the loathsome "SOLD OUT" message pops up on said super cute dress. There's also a gameshow element because even if you do manage to scoop up the super cute dress of your desires, you only have ten minutes to pull the trigger or the item is removed from your shopping cart and set back out into circulation. It's all too much. In fact, I'm going to head over there for a minute right now...

Monday, August 16, 2010

Mothering and Writing and What-Not

Remember when John Travolta was on Welcome Back, Kotter, and his character used to describe his activities as "Rockin and rollin' and whatnot?"


Yes, I am old. Leave me alone

I am feeling like quite the on-top-of-it wunderkind mother. Of course all of this will fall to pieces in a couple of weeks, but for now I can sit gingerly on my laurels having...

...brought everyone for their summer teeth cleaning
...brought everyone for eye check-ups
...made everyone appointments for tooth sealing
...input a total of 32 soccer games on my iCal
...input dozens of soccer practices, fall ball practices, and jazz classes (note to brother: don't get excited—it's just the rec center)
...insured all uniforms, shoes, accessories, equipment, etc. has been obtained
...become fully cognizant of the 3rd grade and 5th grade school supply lists
...mapped out an attack plan for back-to-school shopping

*rubs hands together in gesture of semi-triumph*

In other mindboggling news, I submitted a little piece to a little place and we'll see if I have a little luck. I realized it had been a while since I last launched a story into the unknown, and this was making it a struggle to continue to think of myself as a writer. Easy enough fix, right? Write something, send it out. It doesn't have to be such a big freaking deal. She says to herself. Rhetorically.

And remaining on subject (for once), I shall now draw your attention to the exciting fact that the excellent Bamboo Ridge is soon to publish their 100th issue, and they have two fun ways to submit. From their recent e-newsletter:

Don't forget that the 100th issue of BAMBOO RIDGE is coming. There are two writing events running right now to celebrate the landmark 100th issue.

There are two writing possibilities here. The first is a 100 line max story or poem for possible publication in the upcoming 100th issue of BR. The second is The Great BR Short-Short Story Contest, 100 words max:

First, the submission guidelines for pieces submitted by mail for publication consideration in issue #100 of BR:

1. 100 lines maximum of poetry or prose. (Approximately 3 typed pages, double-spaced, 1" margins, 12 pt Times Roman font. Poetry may be single spaced and more than one poem may be submitted as long as the total number of lines is
100 or less.)

2. Submissions must be postmarked by Dec. 31, 2010.

3. Authors must include a legal size self-addressed envelope with sufficient postage for notification and return of your manuscript.

4. No online submissions will be accepted.

* * * * *


And here are the online only submission guidelines for the Great BAMBOO RIDGE Short-Short Story Contest:

1. The piece can be no more than 100 words long.

2. The piece must have a title, and the title does NOT count against the 100 words.

3. The piece must be submitted on the Bamboo Shoots page of the BR website between July 1, 2010 and December 31, 2010

http://www.bambooridge.com/bambooshootlist.aspx

and you must be registered on the BR site in order to submit an entry. You can use a "pen" name if you choose when you register : )

4. The author must write "BR 100 word contest" in the "A blurb about your piece or a good quote from your piece" section.

5. Only one submission per calendar month is allowed (six total submissions possible).

6. Any designated "winner" will receive a $10 Bamboo Bucks to use in the BR online store.

7. The winners may or may not be published in the 100th issue of BAMBOO RIDGE

I can swing 100 words or 3 pages, can't you? Let's shake on it.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Post Wherein I Advise You Not To Look For Sesame Seeds at the Grocery Store in the Mountains

I am freshly returned from the mountains, and I carry the extra poundage to prove it. For what else is there to do in the mountains but find a comfy place to sit and...sit there? And eat fried foods (french fries, sweet potato fries, fried shrimp, fried fish)? And eat ice cream (the supremely evil Chips Galore chocolate chip and vanilla ice cream sandwich!)? Ack, the shame. But I think the view was extraordinarily beautiful this year:


Nothing of note happens at the lake in the mountains. Absolutely nothing. Or, more accurately, the only things of note that occur are things like this:

At the grocery store, I meandered about in search of sesame seeds. Out of luck, I approached a young man—let's say he was eighteen years old, or so—and said, "Excuse me, do you have sesame seeds?"

The young man looked terrified. He stared at me as if I'd asked if they carry human flesh in the meat department. He said nothing. I repeated my question. Then he said, "I don't know what you're talking about."

It was my turn to stare at him. How does one respond to such blankness? Finally I said, "You know those little white things on the outside of hamburger buns? Those are sesame seeds."

"Oh!" he said. He led me to another aisle, stopped in front of a selection of dry beans, and pointed.

"That's okay," I said. "I'll ask someone else."

"It's my first day," he explained. At which point I raised my eyebrows and performed a crisp about-face.

What will become of this young mountain man, my friends? WHAT WILL BECOME OF HIM?!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Some Summer Reading

What's everyone reading this summer? As usual, I've committed to reading a classic during these warm months, namely In Search of Lost Time. Unfortunately, I brought it to the lake over the 4th of July weekend, and even though I know it returned safely to our home, I can't find it anywhere. So I am, in fact, in search of In Search of Lost Time. Maybe it's just as well because the more pages I consumed, the more it sounded like Proust was completely insane. But in a good way.

I secretly love Sarah Dunant's historical novels, and I've read two of them in as many months: In the Company of the Courtesan and Sacred Hearts. This is the intro to the latter, and I have to ask...wait, I'll ask after you read it:
By the second half of the sixteenth century, the price of wedding dowries had risen so sharply within Catholic Europe that most noble families could not afford to marry off more than one daughter. The remaining young women were dispatched—for a much lesser price—to convents. Historians estimate that in the great towns and city-states of Italy, up to half of all noblewomen became nuns. Not all of them went willingly...This story take place in the northern Italian city of Ferrara in 1570, in the convent of Santa Caterina.
Come on! How could you not want to read that?! I couldn't resist. Read the whole thing in like 48 hours.

As an aside...I'm kind of disturbed by the fact that I've pieced together bits of European history based on shows like Rome and The Tudors, films like Elizabeth and...A Knight's Tale (I'm kidding! Kind of!), and historical novels. Alas, what's to be done? Nothing. I shall live with the guilt.

Speaking of books, Vida is at a publishing camp for the next two weeks (hat tip to my pal J.). It's run by the formidable Klise sisters, a powerhouse author/illustrator team. So she gets to spend half the day writing, and the other half illustrating with a bunch of different materials. I'm as ecstatic for her as she is for herself, and I'm also super jealous. You've read that New York Times article, have you not, about French insurance companies footing the bill for spa visits? Well, we should have that in this country, but they should pay for grown-up camp. Yeah.

I have a copy of Ilustrado, but have so far been unable to crack the spine. Why is that? What am I waiting for? Well, if I can't find In Search of Lost Time in the next 24 hours, Ilustrado it is...

Oh, wait! I forgot that while at Kepler's the other day with the girls, I picked up this gorgeous edition of Keri Hulme's The Bone People, with cover art by tattoo artist Pepa Heller:


It's one of those books that I always meant to read, so I think it will come first. Then Ilustrado.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

All By Myself. Don't Wanna Be. All By...

I'm all by myself.

It's weird. The SU and Risa are in San Diego for the Cal-State/Junior Olympic Games, where Risa will be swinging her bat and playing first base for her softball team. Vida is on day 4 of sleepaway camp (Risa was there, too, but we had to pull her out early for the San Diego jaunt), and Lea is at an overnight at her camp, as well. I will spare you an overwrought description of the dramatic maternal emotions I've cycled through in regards to all this sleeping-away business. Suffice it to say it's been a bittersweet week.

For two days now, my friends have been asking what I'm going to do tonight. "What are you gonna do? You'll be ALL BY YOURSELF." I felt compelled to plan something. Salsa dance class, anyone? A massage and/or facial? A movie? But then I came home from taking the SU and Ri to the airport, and the housekeepers had just finished their work, and the house is all clean, and my books beckon, and my moleskines send out their siren call, and the pillows on the couch in the den have been plumped up and then punched down perfectly in the center, and well, at heart I am a homebody. So I'm just gonna keep my body home.

As I type, I'm caramelizing onions. I'm doing this because I figure that if I get hungry later, they will provide a tasty base for whatever I eat. I think I will also fry some garlic. Is my life not fascinating? Am I not now FASCINATING you with the details of my FASCINATING life?

Speaking of fantastical (yes, I know, the word I was using was fascinating; stop quibbling), I'm reading a book by the late Italian children's author Gianni Rodari. It's titled The Grammar of Fantasy: An Introduction to the Art of Inventing Stories. It's amazing in that it outlines a sort of curriculum for the imagination of children. I'm fuzzy on the details, but it seems that the work in this book is part of the famed Reggio Emilia teaching method. Here is what Rodari has to say in his introduction:
I hope that this small book can be useful for all those people who believe it is necessary for the imagination to have a place in education; for all those who trust in the creativity of children; and for all those who know the liberating value of the word. 'Every possible use of words should be made available to every single person'—this seems to me to be a good motto with a democratic sound. Not because everyone should be an artist but because no one should be a slave.
*dramatic pause in which you realize the import of Rodari's message*

I'm here to say that the book doesn't just work wonders for children. Your Nesting Ground Mistress was so generally inspired by the ideas that she has begun to write a new story. Oh bless-ed happenstance...

Monday, June 28, 2010

Doing Food Penance

I am trying with all my Nesting Ground Mistress might to correct the terribly wrong nutritional turn our lives have taken. It's been weeks now since I became utterly overwhelmed and gave up on any attempt to bring at least SOME healthy food to the ballpark. Good-bye to fruits and carrots, and whassup to nachos, burgers, fries, polish sausage, etc. etc. ad nauseum. It's mortifying, really, to think of all the badness we've consumed. I didn't want to shock our systems by swinging too wildly back into the direction of a healthy diet, though, and so began easing our return to the world of proper living with a little Joe's Special tonight. Ground beef, yes, but with forty thousand pounds of spinach. Some potatoes on the side, yes, but roasted rather than fried. I hope this works or, frankly, WE ARE GONNA DIE.

In other news, I recently attended the 40th birthday party of my very sweet friend, J. at a shmancy locale in lovely Woodside. Let us discuss the appetizers. Why? Because they made me so happy I wanted to...sing. There were gougeres super-fresh from the oven; crunchy crostini with that super-milky mozzarella and tomatoes; demitasse cups of sweet corn chowder; prawns with some sort of spicy sauce, etc. I was so over-zealous (perhaps it was because of my near-constant diet of "snack shack" food) that by the time our actual dinner was served I was seriously regretting having Spanx-ed myself into my dress. My kingdom for a muumuu! Or at least something A-line.

Elsewhere in food...maybe things are not as gastronomically dire as I think. The other night (but when was it? Two weeks ago? Three? Everything is a huge softball blur...) I finally made the Slanted Door's Chicken in Caramel Sauce. I have a problem, though, with the name of this dish. Chicken in Caramel Sauce? Simply having brown sugar as an ingredient does not necessitate the use of caramel as descriptor, especially when the resulting dish tastes nothing like caramel. So, that's confusing. What's not confusing is the fact that it's so good and easy, and that the sauce over rice will make you dance a little dance, and that it's as satisfying as adobo in like a fraction of the time. I am a kind and thoughtful Nesting Ground Mistress, so I am cut and pasting the recipe here. If nobody currently loves you, you should make this, and then everyone will:

Chicken in Caramel Sauce

Serves 4 to 6

The inspiration for this dish that Charles Phan serves at his Slanted Door restaurant in San Francisco came from a street cart in Vietnam. It's a good example of the great food that is served from street stands throughout that country.

1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup Asian fish sauce (see Note)
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon dark or regular soy sauce
1 teaspoon slivered ginger
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 small Thai chiles (fresh or dried), broken in half
1tablespoon canola oil
1 shallot, sliced
1 3/4 pounds skinless, boneless dark-meat chicken, cut into bite-size pieces
1/4 pound skinless, boneless white-meat chicken, cut into bite-size pieces
Steamed white rice
Cilantro sprigs for garnish

Instructions: Combine the brown sugar, water, fish sauce, vinegar, garlic, soy sauce, ginger, pepper and chiles in a small bowl. Mix well, and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large pot over high heat. Add the shallot and saute until brown, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the chicken and saute until it is slightly browned, about 5 minutes.

Add the sauce mixture and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has reduced by half, about 12 to 20 minutes depending on the pot size. Serve over rice and garnish with cilantro.

via the San Francisco Chronicle


Farewell.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Good Day, Mini Rant, 500 Books, and Softball

Yesterday was my definition of a pretty much perfect Summer day. Behold:

1) Slept in slightly, awoke, made chocolate chip pancakes, ate one too many
2) Pilates. Ouch.
3) Drove to Menlo Park with the kids, singing Journey songs super-loud while enjoying the scenic 280 route
4) Ate a shrimp melt on sourdough for lunch
5) Moseyed over to Kepler's Books, where we browsed for well over an hour. Purchased 12 books.
6) Left and had chocolate milkshakes at McDonald's (and we're still alive!)
7) Drove to Risa's softball practice and, since it went for FOUR hours, played at the park with the other two and read our books

Lovely day.

***


So, I've been disheartened by the constant barrage of complaints about President Obama. He's doing too much say some. But...isn't there an awful lot to do? And doesn't the list keep growing? He's not doing anything say others. Really? Maybe he'd get more done playing cowboy every other week at his Texas ranch like his predecessor? He's not doing exactly what I want him to do so he's an idiot others seem to be saying. I don't feel like there's an awful lot of time for special interests at the moment, do you? In the immortal words of LOST's Jack: "Live together or die alone." We can get to the special things when the not-so-special things have been resolved. He's going to be a one-term President scream the gloom-and-doom crew. Well, you know what? I hope he IS a one-term President just so he doesn't have to put up with this crap anymore. Jeeeezus.

I appreciate what Andrew Sullivan has to say in his Getting Shit Done post. Here's a piece of it:

I sure understand why people feel powerless and angry about the vast forces that control our lives and over which we seem to have only fitful control - big government and big business. But it seems to me vital to keep our heads and remain focused on what substantively can be done to address real problems, and judge Obama on those terms. When you do, you realize that the left's "disgruntleist" faction needs to take a chill pill.


And also:

[Obama's] refusal to pose as a presidential magician, and his resistance to taking the bait of the fetid right (he's president - not a cable news host) seems to me to show not weakness, but a lethal and patient strength. And a resilient ambition.


You can read the rest here. It's really good.

***


The kids have created a family goal of reading 500 books before school starts again. We have about ten under our belts so far, but these deserve special distinction:

Henry and Beezus by Beverly Cleary - read this out loud to Lea at bedtime.
The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet by Reif Larsen - I just finished this; I thought it was amazing. Go get it.
The Magician's Elephant by Kate DiCamillo - read this out loud to them. Another good one.
The Sisters Eight, Book 5 by Lauren Baratz-Logsted - Vida and Risa love this series.
Sophie The Awesome by Lara Bergen - Lea thought this book was pretty funny.

***


This coming weekend is yet another one devoted entirely to softball. But whenever I look at this picture of Risa with her teammates, I can't find the heart to complain. Look at her just right of center. Have you seen a happier kid?

Thursday, June 03, 2010

The Post About Keeping Secrets, Nonsensical Cheering, and Random Photos

I have in my fevered possession some book galleys to look over, but...oh, gee, I can't tell you because the whole thing is a big huge secret. Sorry.

I have in my fevered possession some architectural drawings to peruse, but...oh, gee, I can't tell you because the whole thing is a big huge secret. Sorry.

I bear the very great burden of burning secrets, it's true. I am a bee trapped in honey, a bird with clipped wings, a guitar without strings, a wallet with no money. Mostly, I'm bad at rhyming. But that's a whole different topic. Let's just say that I've come to understand that having to keep these two secrets a secret has prevented more frequent blogging. In casting about for something I CAN blog about, I settled on the following:

1) Over the Memorial Day Weekend, Risa and her All-Star Slammers team played six softball games. They were the victors in all six, and thus crowned winners of the tournament, which was all very wonderful and all, but by the sixth game, it's fair to say that we (we being the rest of our family) were sun-drunk, covered in softball diamond dust (this begs the question: why do I shower? EVER?), and generally just OVER it. To amuse ourselves, the spousal unit and I began to yell nonsensical things any time our team displayed particularly noteworthy softball prowess:

"Uh-huh! That's how we do it in SAN MA-TAY-O, people!" (other teams in the tournament had come from all over the Peninsula, East Bay, and San Jose) I screamed this one while bobbing my head left to right, prompting Vida to cringe in embarrassment and mutter, "Mother..."

At one point, the spousal unit yelled, "Yes! Yes! That's how it goes down in GLOVE TOWN!" The gloriousness of this outburst, the inanity of it, almost made me fall through the bleachers, where I surely would have drowned in a sea of sunflower seed shells, coins, and corn nut wrappers.

2) About a month ago, I read a quote from someone somewhere that went something like this: "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle." I've been trying to live by these directions ever since, but you know what? It's a difficult thing to remember in the heat of annoyance with people who...test me.

3) I think it was Sunny who shared this video via Twitter earlier this week. It made me cry, and I'm not even PMSing or anything like that. What? Too much information? Never mind—just watch the video:



And now...pictures! Here is Risa with the aforementioned trophy:


And here's one I've been meaning to post. This is when the spousal unit took the girls to Yosemite. The great outdoors is so lovely, especially when I'm not there and can enjoy them via pictures from the safety and comfort of my own home, free of bug bites, allergies, and the threat of being mauled by a bear:


I bid you good evening.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Shame Is My Middle Name

(Actually, VERONICA is my middle name. Prizes for those who know my first name! To enter this imaginary contest, you must not be related to your Nesting Ground Mistress)

I'm experiencing Blogger Shame. Why? Because I haven't posted since the beginning of the month.

I'm also experiencing Softball Mother Shame. Why? Because I'd like the season to be over immediately, thank you. Now that I've voiced this truth, the shame will increase tenfold if, per chance, the girls lose their quarterfinal playoff game tonight.

Related: Hoping Risa's All-Star Team Doesn't Make It to the Nationals in Arizona Shame. Or maybe this is actually secret pride? Because I will not spend money in that damned state; not one cent. Then again, I'll miss a prime opportunity to wear a "Reasonably Suspicious" tee shirt. Hmmm. This requires more thought.

Then there's my ongoing Haven't Been to the Doctor in Quite Awhile Shame. Thankfully, I have an appointment today at 3:00.

Also ever-present is...Fail To Sweep the Kitchen Floor More Often Shame. Well, maybe this isn't really shame, since in the scheme of things I actually don't give a twisting piece o' taffy about a few crumbs beneath my feet.

And I have a new one: Playing Wurdle When I Should Be Grocery Shopping Shame. This soft addiction, like others, should dissipate soon. *fingers crossed*

So, I'm happy I've taken a few moments to check in with my blog, but I have to go because I am now, of course, experiencing Blogging While I Should Be Prepping for the 4th Grade Art Lesson I'm Teaching In an Hour Shame.

I apologize in advance to those of you who download Wurdle as a result of reading this post.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Humor Me.

It is Mother's Day, and I decree that I shall blog! And I further decree that in this post I shall exercise any and all maternal bragging rights. You might want to make sure your seatbelt is tight and, of course, have your discreet vomit bag at the ready.

1) Vida—along with twelve other classmates—qualified to represent their school at the National Math Bee in Indianapolis. Ours was one of only 3 schools from California, and it was the only PUBLIC school (rep.re.sent!). Add to this that the team was 99% students of color, and you have a situation over which the entire school community was ecstatic. Everyone donated time and money to get the kids to Indy. In one extreme example, a small cadre of parents sold $1500 worth of nachos, lemonade, and homemade tamales.

The kids, some parent chaperones (including my intrepid SU), two teachers, and our principal left at 4:00 in the morning on Thursday, spent the afternoon at the impressive Children's Museum, went swimming, and dropped off to sleep. The following day they walked to the competition at the Indianapolis Zoo, and the computers promptly crashed. After a few hours of fruitless tinkering, the damn National Math Bee was CANCELLED. Oh, the sadness. Apparently there was a team of 61 kids from Alabama who not only arrived in completely color-coordinated attire, but who had endured an ELEVEN HOUR bus ride. Oh, the sadness.

There are many different levels of disappointment: several Math Bee parents sacrificed quite a bit to get their kids to Indy; many teachers worked hard to prepare them for competition; the kids themselves drilled and drilled; and our parents and administration worked a small miracle to raise all the necessary funds. In the end, the kids had a great time (about half had never been in a plane or stayed in a hotel before); they just didn't get to do what they'd gone to do.

But getting back to Vida. Of course the fact that she made the team = she will one day be a Nobel Prize winner in Economics. Here she is solving incredibly complex math problems with a couple of her teammates. Or maybe she's just having a great time? I'm not sure:



2) While Vida was at the Bee, Risa decided she would try out for the All-Star softball team. You know those All-Star girls, right? The ones with the fancy embroidered jackets and equipment bags? The ones who walk a little taller, look a little more smug, and seem to know something that you have no hope of ever knowing because they are freaking ALL-STARS, man! And you? You are not.

The tryouts, which kept us at the field until 9:30 pm on a school night—hello!—was stress-inducing (not only that, I was bummed to miss Miguel Syjuco's reading at the Ferry Building). Risa had to run the bases and slide; she had to bunt twice and swing away three times; she had to catch pop flies; and she had to field grounders in left field and throw all the way to first base. She's a strong player, but I really had no idea how she did. I mean, she ran fast, yes. She can slide. She hit both bunts, she fouled twice and then hit a scorcher into left field. She caught all the pop flies. She missed one grounder, but whipped every ball off super-accurate to first base.

Well, she made it. I have already instructed her not to be smug. Walking taller and brandishing her fancy embroidered jacket is fully acceptable, however. Of course the fact that she made the team = she will one day win a gold medal in softball (once it's reinstated as an Olympic sport, that is).

Here she is, about to hit a homerun that propels her team into first place for the season (never mind that there's another team that has yet to lose a single game). Or maybe she's just having fun playing ball? I'm not sure:



3) Lea has invented her own language. It has no verbs, but that's not the point. Also, her chalk, El Greco-inspired drawing, was chosen for an art show. Of course the fact that she has invented her own, verb-less language and had a drawing that was chosen for an art show = she will one day become a multimedia artist whose work will be featured at the 2030 Whitney Biennial.

Here she is displaying her quirky, artistic nature. Or maybe she's just at Disneyland trying on the Mad Hatter hat/wig? I'm not sure:



Because it is Mother's Day, you just have to go with me on all this, okay?

Friday, April 30, 2010

Solo

A strange silence. The spousal unit, in a heroic back-to-nature attempt, has taken our children to Yosemite for the weeekend. They left at about 12:30. It is now 7:14, and here is what I have done so far:

1) watched the Madonna episode of Glee on hulu.

2) answered a bunch of e-mails.

3) checked in on FB and typed a response to my brother's posted photo of an A & W, where we used to eat ten cent Coney Dogs on...Tuesdays? Wednesdays?

4) in The Normal School, read an epistolary story by Susan Straight titled, "Dear Mr. Atende." Thumbs up.

5) in The Normal School, read a report by R.B. Moreno titled, "The Hair in Your Texas Garlic Toast," which was all about how, yeah, we're probably eating human hair. Thumbs up. I guess?

6) in The Normal School, read a gorgeous fairytale-type story by Maud Casey titled, "The Prince Who Wanted To See the World." Thumbs extraordinarily up.

7) In The Normal School, read a story by Steve Almond titled, "Old Glory," which was about some guy who wakes up with guacamole on his balls, or maybe this was a metaphor? Thumbs down, down, down.

8) became annoyed by Steve Almond's heartless ruination of my Normal School reading experience.

9) sat in the sun.

10) took a nap.

And now I write. Epic afternoon.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Tilting at (Non-Imaginary) Windmills

You know what's depressing? The "achievement gap" is depressing. It's the kind of thing that makes me want to put my chin on the table and just...sigh. But instead—in one of your Nesting Ground Mistress' typical Don Quixote moments—I decided I would recruit friends to help teach our Spanish-speaking Kindergarten parents (many of whom are not literate in any language) letter sounds, beginning and final consonants, blends, and sight words. To teach them, in other words, the things their children are learning in Kindergarten. My logic was that regardless of their own level of schooling, our parents could learn these basic things. And that by learning these things, they could help their children—at least to some extent—with reading; or they could, by example, show their children that reading is important; or they could realize that by partnering with their child, they can help their child to be more successful; or etc. etc. etc.

My hilarious pal M. jumped aboard, as did two of my go-to, bilingual outreach moms, L. and E. We dove into this project thinking of it as something we HAD to do, SHOULD do, and COULD do. What we didn't realize is that it would be...pretty fun. It's fun to create an atmosphere where parents don't have to feel shy about yelling out letter sounds (and believe me, we make them yell)—even if they're the wrong sounds. We create said atmosphere via our willingness to be as ridiculous as possible. M., for example, pretends to be a dj scratching vinyl to demonstrate the sound of "w," or Tarzan swinging on a rope for the short "o." And I whip out my high school Spanish for comic relief and to prove that I will readily climb out on a limb if they will. Throw in some donuts, coffee, and fruit, and you've got one helluva morning.

So I don't know if these workshops will amount to much when it comes to bridging the achievement gap at our school. Maybe? Not likely? Yes? I'll keep my fingers crossed. Or my...how shall I say it?...dedos cruzados. *laughter ensues*

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Sure Is Quiet Around Here

I'm alone in my house for the first time in I don't know how long. Just me and the clanking of a sweatshirt zipper as the dryer spins 'round and 'round. This is quite a change for me, as your Nesting Ground Mistress has endured and/or enjoyed several weeks of pure lunacy. Highlights are as follows:

1) Our acacia tree tried to kill me, but it only succeeded in causing debilitating allergies that morphed into a sinus infection. For twelve days, I could not taste or smell at all (I also couldn't hear very well). Because eating held no attraction for me, I ate only to relieve that little knot that forms in my stomach when hungry. And what did I learn? I learned that I clearly overeat in my regular life because all it took to relieve said knot was four almonds, say, or half an apple. Now that my senses have returned, do you think I continue to sate my hunger with four almonds? Of course not, you silly. In fact, I just ate an It's-It.

2) Over spring break, we took a road trip to Disneyland, Santa Barbara, and Monterey. Disneyland was...Disneyland. But Santa Barbara? It was a revelation. We lived there for four or five years before we had kids, and though I thought it was lovely THEN, everything seemed to appear in technicolor this time around. There was much frolicking in the waves, there was much traipsing around the zoo, there was dinner with friends, and there was some seriously good eating (I'm so grateful that my sense of taste returned on Day 1 at Disneyland) at Jeannine's American Bakery, La Super-Rica (where I was almost brought to tears by my tamale), and even the humble hamburger joint called The Habit. Here is a picture of the charming Jeannine's (taken from their website):


3) Our trip ended in Monterey, where the spousal unit set us up with luxe accommodations at The Clement:


Pampering, though, was not the goal of our visit. The goal was to cross the threshold of the fabled Monterey Bay Aquarium, a place that none of us had ever been before (I know: losers). I was enthralled—like, ridiculously enthralled—with the jellyfish and the seahorses. I could have watched those creepy seahorses all day. I knelt down in front of one of the tanks and had the following silent, one-sided conversation with the seahorses: You are so creepy. How'd you get so creepy? Why do you all have your tails wrapped around that particular thing? You float around and float around and float around in the creepiest, creepiest way. You crazy, creepy seahorses. Like that. Anyways, here is Lea's silhouette against a tank of jellyfish:


4) Two days after we returned from our trip, my two brothers, two nephews (ages 16 and 14), and one niece (20ish) arrived to partake in a week of relaxed (hahahahahaha!) celebration in honor of my parents' 50th wedding anniversary. Translated, that means we ate a lot. One night, we stormed the doors of a restaurant and my eldest brother, my 16-year-old nephew, and the spousal unit ate this:


5) On Saturday, the I-Hotel Manilatown Center hosted a book launch for Growing Up Filipino II, and I had the pleasure of reading again with Tony Robles, Oscar Penaranda, Rashaan Alexis Meneses, and Marianne Villanueva. It was a well-attended event with a lovely vibe, and so what if a young man approached me afterwards and prefaced his question with the word, "Ma'am?" I am, indeed, a "Ma'am," and I should just get used to it.

6) Yesterday, we took the last of my family to the airport, and now I'm quite melancholy.

7) But then I learned that Philippine Speculative Fiction 5, in which I have a speculatively-told story, has just been released in the Philippines, and they are having a launch party this weekend. This makes me happy, as does the cover of the book:


You can read more about the collection at Dean Alfar's blog.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Rocking In My Rocking Chair & Staring Into the Distance

Remember when we used to blog a lot, and we used to comment on each other's blogs rather than commenting on each other's Facebook pages? At the risk of sounding like the old guys who used to "walk to school barefoot in the snow while being chased by wolves," I miss those halcyon days.

Last week while cleaning up after some sort of spambot that was leaving a trail of pornographic messages in its wake, I ran across some of said comments. And I was reminded of the funny little fact that we used to sign off with our word verification and a made-up definition. Here are a few, circa 2005 (!):

From Sunny - yecojk: flaky Lithuanian pastry similar to apple turnover
From Gladys - ovbzzv: go away, little fly
From me - dnmhipw: a hybrid dance form originating south of the Equator
From Bec - alvqhais: n. sneeze; v. to bless someone after they sneeze
From Bec - tvkdoxh: n. what penguins really wear
From Oscar - deaokrp: is the werd that ya heard

Perhaps I'm in a glorifying-the-past mood because my birthday is tomorrow. I think I will now churn butter and listen to some Andy Gibb on my record player.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Not So Stinky No More

Since I was so quick to out my 4th grade writers when they were being the Stinkiest Stinkers ever, I should be just as quick to praise them when they are the Loveliest Lovelies who ever sat writing in a little room. Since their Stinky episode, they have joyously tried their hand at writing a 12-line pantoum. In fact, most of them wrote several. One kid said, "Wow, almost no matter what you do, these turn out good." Hahahahahaha! Oh, and here's an actual exchange between the spousal unit and your Nesting Ground Mistress (NGM):
Spousal Unit: What're you doing?

NGM: Typing a pantoum.

Spousal Unit: What's a pantoum?

NGM: A...poetic form.

Spousal Unit: Oh. [pause] Tell me again: why did you marry me?

Hahahahahaha! My 4th grade writers also stepped up and did a fantastical job with my Where Are You From lesson, which I adapted from something I saw on the Teachers & Writers Collaborative site. First I asked them where they were from, and they offered up typical answers: from Stanford Hospital, from my mom, from San Mateo, etc. etc. Then I showed them this video I found on YouTube:



They were really into this video. I think I need to do this kind of thing more often, as they are, after all, the Childrens of the Internets. Afterwards, I passed out a hard copy of the poem, and we read it together. Then I asked them if they felt like Hughes' poem answers the question, "Where are you from?" Lots of chattering ensued. And then they wrote.

This little girl has moved around a lot, and she became visibly upset while writing. Her classmates were supportive, though, and she ended up with this:
I am from the hot dogs of New Jersey
I am from the colorful, spotted peacocks of Arcadia
I am from the fresh air of North Carolina
I am from the humid temperature of Simi Valley
I am from my friends and family
I am not from the crowds of San Francisco
This girl is obsessed with fighting with her brother. She writes about it almost every week, and I was afraid she was going to turn out yet another piece entirely devoted to how "lame" he is, but she managed to restrain herself:
I am from chocolate that my mom makes me. I am from the fights I have with my brother. I am from the books I read; they change me. I am from my loving family. I am from the ice skating we do in Lake Tahoe, I am from Tom and Jerry, I am from the bright city that I live in. I am from lots of colorful ice cream. I am not from jail, where the bad people are.
And this is from my own Risa, who almost finishes writing things before I even give direction. She's so fast. The bad part is she has no interest in editing her work. But her first drafts are usually pretty good:
I am from the letters in my name
I am from the colors I wear
the lines on my skin
and the words that come from my mouth
I am from the people before me and
The people before them
I am from the numbers in my age, which you do not know
I am from the words my teacher speaks
And from the lines my pencil makes
I am a Filipina princess
I am from the world
Here are a few lines from a girl who is reluctant to write when things get too serious. She's from a broken family, and it's so easy to see the different ways it affects her. Her short piece ends with a stab to the heart, pretty much:
I am from the stories that my mom tells. I am from the recipes my family writes. I am from the fierce animals that are inside me. I am from Utopia. It’s perfect there.
And this is from our only boy. He's kind of all over the place when he writes, and this is a good snapshot of his work in general:
I am from the tall grass of England
The buttery smell of lobster
From my dog Brandy
I am from the tall redwoods
The flying football and baseballs
A huge mountain
A lasting friendship
A cookie factory
I am the Christmas spirit.

So I am happy for now. But they are like a dam fixing to burst. Sooner or later we're headed back to fart-talking, crush-revealing, test anxiety, and who knows what else. I must hunker down and plan my offensive NOW...

Friday, March 12, 2010

So Close, And Yet...

The other night the Spousal Unit and I somehow ended up watching a show on the Discovery Channel that recounted several instances in which people, via absolutely ZERO work or dedication to craft, became suddenly "rich." A meteorite shower in a small Illinois town resulted in several neighbors picking meteorites up off their grass, and then selling them to a museum for anything from $2,000 to $40,000 dollars. The SU looked at me incredulously. "Who sets the price?" he asked. I nodded in silent agreement with his unvoiced sentiment. Any of those people would have been happy to take $50, so...bad on you, museum.

In another story, an older couple were clearing out their antique store when the lady-half of the couple found an old baseball card. She put it up on eBay for $9, but then her son and husband realized it was extraordinarily rare. They begged her to remove it from auction, but she refused because she'd never before taken anything off auction. After much cajoling, she finally agreed to part ways with her auction principles, and it's a mighty fine thing she did, too, because she ended up selling the faded card for $75,000.

And then a woman found an abstract painting in a garbage can in New York. She brought it home and eventually discovered that it was the work of a famous Mexican artist, that it had been stolen 20 years before, and that a Sotheby's auctioner had been obsessed with finding it for lo those many years. Blah, blah, blah, the woman was granted a finder's fee and some kind of financial thank you from Sotheby's.

During a commercial break, I remembered that earlier in the week I'd raided the change bowl for parking meter money and found a Wisconsin state quarter from 2004. I'd never seen anything like it, so I tossed it in with my jewelry and forgot about it until this crazy show came on. Said I to the Spousal Unit, "That reminds me. I found a Wisconsin state quarter in the change bowl, and I meant to google it."

"They made a bunch of state quarters," said the Spousal Unit. He readjusted his lounging position. "It's nothing."

"Well, with that attitude young man, I will not be sharing whatever riches come my way."

"Okey dokes," he said. "Go to town."

And I marched into my room and opened my jewelry drawer and pulled out my Wisconsin state quarter, and googled it.

AND YOU KNOW WHAT?

Some of the Wisconsin state quarters contain a flaw which makes them valuable to collectors.

These flawed quarters came from the Denver mint, and they are worth up to $500.

AND YOU KNOW WHAT?

My Wisconsin state quarter came from the Denver mint.

I reported these facts to the Spousal Unit. "What? Really?"

I began to laugh hysterically. After calming down, I reported that the flawed quarters have an extra corn husk leaf protruding from the left side of the corn. Sometimes it points up, sometimes it points down.

AND YOU KNOW WHAT?

My Wisconsin state quarter did not contain the flaw.

So this is not the best blog post ever. But you have to admit: it was close.

Friday, March 05, 2010

A Letter from Me to Five 4th Graders

Dear little stinkers in my 4th grade writing workshop,

You are all stinky stinkers. I brought to you the loveliest of lessons yesterday, all about Sei Shonagun and her pillow book and palace intrigue and how it's so amazing that we can read the diary of a woman who lived a thousand years ago, etc. etc. And I told you all about her 164 lists, and I showed you a painting of her, and I told you how she disappeared after leaving the imperial palace and that no one knows what happened to her...and you! You didn't care!

I held out little fortune cookie-like slips, each with the title of one of Shonagun's lists, and set you free to write because I am The World's Most Bestest 4th Grade Writing Workshop Facilitator. I ask: who among us would not love to put pencil to paper and go crazy writing lists to represent...

Splendid Things?

Rare Things?

Awkward Things?

Things That Irritate Me?

Things That Make Me Happy?

Things That Pass By Rapidly?

Well, apparently, stinky stinkers like YOU would not love such a thing. Stinky stinkers like YOU just wanted to crack up about bodily functions and hobos (wtf?!), classroom crushes, the morning's epic dodgeball game, and your fear of the upcoming Gold Rush test. So then I had to make you flip your notebooks back to the very first page and made you recite our group agreements, and then you all become contrite and sorry, and I almost forgave you. But I didn't. Because you are the stinkiest 4th grade stinkers to ever stink up a writing workshop.

Grudgingly Yours,

Ms. Montes

Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Letter from Vida to the School Principal

I made a copy of this letter because it's just so Vida.

Dear Mr. A________,

First of all I would like to inform you that if you take this letter as a friendly suggestion rather than a demand, it will sound much better, so please do. Secondly, I would like to say that this is not a classroom assinment [sic], but just a thing that has come to my attention on the school yard. That "thing" is Mrs. C_________. I have noticed that she is sort of harsh. This first came to my attention when she benched me for running around the lunch tables. If she has a reason to do that, I am entirly [sic] ok with it. But isn't lunch for getting out our energy? The other, bigger thing that concerns me about Mrs. C________ is that she never lets us explain why we did whatever it was that we did. In my case it would have been, "Mrs. C_________, I was only playing tag." I am not sure if it would've worked, but it would have been nice to tell her that I meant no wrong. Thank you Mr. A_________.

Sincerely,

Vida

P.S. please, for my own good, do not show this to Mrs. C__________.

After he received the letter, Mr. A. made an announcement over the school sound system: "Vida W., come to my office right now. You are in BIG TROUBLE." She did as she was told, and then of course the two of them just kicked it for a few minutes and shot the breeze about Mrs. C. I love our school.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Soup & Sentences & Stories

The upside of having your desk in the kitchen is that you can blog while making a pot of soup. Which is exactly what I'm doing now. Judging from the past few days, it seems that Winter is on the wane, and so I wanted to make this Caldo Verde one more time. The first time was very good (especially on the second day), but this time around I'm making Nesting Ground Mistress adjustments: more chorizo! more linguica! more garlic! slice the kale thinner! It's so simple to do that I doubted the legitimacy of the recipe, which I found while perusing the San Francisco Chronicle. A quick Google search later, though, it seems that it is, indeed, basically the real deal. And so I have no qualms about passing it on to you. Here's a tiny picture of the finished product:


Doesn't that just look like the best mess ever?! And here's a link to the recipe. Make some, and then invite your parents over for dinner, and then you will be my Nesting Ground Twin!

***

Here are some blog post sentences that I've found quite moving today, actually:

From Weez: But I can rely on you to fill in the blanks, and if you do not know the specifics, you’ll think of something that made you feel whatever it is you recognize, and you think you will know me, and that I would understand you. Maybe that’s why I write, and why you might read - for an illusory if not actual accidental communion.

And from Tony: There’s something very endearing about 70 year old (or older) men wearing Members Only jackets.

So here's to Weez and Tony and their blogs in general. And, more specifically, to actual accidental communions and Members Only jackets.

***

I've been writing a little bit lately. I'm working on a series of short-shorts that all include a line from a story I wrote years ago, "As a Filipino, it's my responsibility to be a good dancer." I'm doing this because it's endlessly amusing to me.

Also I'm fumbling through writing an essay about my father and his whistling. Whistles all the time, that guy. Has whistled for as long as I can remember. I'm not a very good writer of essays; I lack the ability to relax into my topic. Too self-conscious, too much thinking, fear, whatever. But I'm trying. I like these short craft essays over at Brevity. Helpful.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Hearts A-Bursting @ Nesting Ground

There are half-finished Valentine cards scattered all over the place. Vida is making her own, Lea chose these, and Risa is custom-coloring these. The latter has requested (in a whisper) an additional Valentine for a "special boy." I am fine with this, as he always greets me with a cheerful, "Hi Ms. Montes!" and his hair is impeccable, and he listens intently when I teach art. He only makes it to school a few days a week, probably because—I think—he lives in an apartment with just his teenage cousins, but never mind; he's a good boy.

In more hearts-y news, I've been meaning to post pictures of the shower I hosted for my little cousin which had, if you recall (and I'm sure you do), a woodland forest theme. And perhaps that was a ridiculous theme to have, but these types of social events really ought to have a theme or else there is a very real danger that they'll downward spiral into an unpleasant aesthetic mish-mash. Do I sound crazy? I got your crazy right here. I made my front room into a dining room:


Does this owl not very much belong? My delightful mother-in-law gave it to me:


I am a fan of party favors. These are soy candles scented with lemon & verbena. I found hemp ribbon that twists out into a leaf shape. Boom:


And here is the winning entry in my Draw-A-Baby-Please game, which I invented just that morning when I realized that oh shit, I didn't plan any games.


I bring you this close-up of the table because I want you to see the little marzipan toadstools made by S.:



Love all over the place here.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Post With Two Links and a Question

Hey, here's is Rashaan's write-up of the Growing Up Filipino II book launch. She covers a key topic of that afternoon, one which Marianne Villanueva hilariously expounded upon. Namely: why are Filipinos so cool? Why, indeed? Read it to find out. Or, if you happen to be Filipino, simply glance in the mirror and wink at yourself. NAKS!

In other blogging news, our own Tony Robles has started one here. Make sure to read his new poem, which was inspired by a short meeting with a fellow Filipino security guard. I eagerly await a post in which Tony waxes poetic about his love of Hall & Oates and other old-school cultural icons.

Utterly unrelated: how do we feel about the new Moleskine "passions" journals? I feel...not so good. Why are you all of a sudden so strongly suggesting what I should put in my Moleskine? Annoying.



And that's all for now.