Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A long winter's night

For those of you experiencing the dreary Seattle winter (yes, I think the sun is officially gone), or even folks looking for a new way to spend a weeknight at home, we have come up with the ultimate game tournament! While Tim could be content playing endless rounds of Backgammon or Rummy, I get bored after a few games/hands, so I came up with a little tournament that kept us busy for a couple of hours on Sunday night:

Round 1: Rummy

Deal each player 7 cards, and play until one player reaches 200 points instead of the regular 500. Players record the point value they receive at the end of the game as their first score.

Round 2: Backgammon

Play three games. Each game is worth 100 points to the winner, 0 to the loser. No doubling allowed. At the end of the three games, total each player's scores and add to the scores from Rummy.

Round 3: Scrabble

Play normally, until all letter pieces are drawn and there are no more possible moves. Add each player's final point value to the previous two for the final score.

Just to cite for the record, though I am normally a sub-par game player (even at Scrabble; my English degree is no advantage!), I won!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Christmas in Ithaca!

Well, we made it there and back again, and we had a great time spending the Christmas holiday with all the Upstate NY Psiakis. Getting there took a long time, as flight prices made it much cheaper to fly into JFK, and we rented a car for the 4+ hour drive from Long Island upstate. We got in at a solid 4:21 am, and Tim rustled me out of bed a few hours later so we wouldn't "miss anything." We had a pretty good laugh with Tim's mom over the course of the week about the bed we had--a so-called 3/4 bed, found in a generous neighbor's old barn, that measures somewhere between a twin and a double. It was quite cozy, and even being a smaller bed, it took up almost the whole cupola! (the tiny upstairs room that juts up from the house like a little cube)

Amid sledding, the annual Psiaki Caroling Party (in very cold, snowy weather, followed by lots of hot cider and tasty treats), good times with friends, and our very first meeting with our dear friends Matt and Jenny's precious daughter Cara (see pics below), it was a joyous holiday. I hope you all had a Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Seattle Snow Storm

They've been saying it's coming...and it finally did! When I woke up at 6:30 this morning I didn't even look out the window until about an hour later, and there was a bunch of snow on the ground...probably about 4 inches. It's been snowing big fat flakes almost steadily since then, and Tim didn't go into work. There is almost no ploughing or salting here, so the roads are pretty terrible (not like this past Sunday, when there was about a centimeter of snow on the bushes, none on the road, and hardly anybody showed up to church). We did head out this afternoon after a fun day of doing Christmas stuff inside, and mailed a couple of things at the post office. Most stores are closed, and we're a bit worried about getting to the airport tomorrow. Luckily we have plenty of time before our flight, so we can take it slow and steady. The highways should be fine by then. Happy snow day!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The most wonderful time of the year

I'm sorry I haven't been very regular with blogging lately. It's that time of year when I'd rather get up and do a lot of things--Christmas shopping, baking, little home-improvement projects--than sit in front of my computer. We've been enjoying the holidays lately with some fun time with friends and a great visit to my parents' in Indianapolis. Tim hadn't seen their new house before, so that was fun, and my brother Logan and his wife Tiffany were able to spend Thanksgiving with us. Not only that, but we were also able to drive to Cincinnati to see my Grandma and our friends Jacki and Drew Collins, who were in town to visit her family. It was a great week of fun food and relaxation, minus the various hiccups in travel, which I've now gotten over so I won't repeat them here (just know that it was bad, involving a missed flight, in-flight sickness, and way too many hours of traveling!). Ah, the holidays.

Here's a few pictures of our Friday-after-Thanksgiving festivities, the famed Indianapolis Duckpin Bowling. Unfortunately they're from my phone, so they're not that good. I'd never heard of it before, but it was fun! The pins are much smaller, as is the ball, and there are no finger holes. The lane is about the same dimensions as in normal bowling, but it was much harder, because the pins are so short they don't achieve a domino effect very easily. I'm happy to say I didn't get last place (that was, uh, my dear husband), and all the spoils went to my Mom!

In other news, we learned of the engagement of Tim's sister Jane to her boyfriend James, in a whirlwind trip to Korea where they first met, and also the engagement of our friends Dan and Becca. We're hoping Becca finds a good job out here so they'll be enticed to stay instead of moving back to the East Coast! So now, counting the upcoming marriage of two of Tim's crew friends, we'll have 3 weddings to attend next year, as opposed to the 1 we went to this year. It sure is relaxing to go to somebody else's wedding and already be married, and therefore not have to worry about a thing. On that note, the other day I realized that this year we've spent all 12 months married! I know that's obvious, since our wedding was last summer, but it's fun to think about.

A quick knee update: the combo of PT exercises, a little tape, and the shoe inserts I have is making my knee traction nearly perfect as I walk and run! I had a follow-up appt with my gait analyst last week and she is very pleased. She even said my right knee looks a little better than the left now! (Please don't let me go through this with the other side, Lord!). So I am spending more time on the treadmill and that is very exciting. I am now very close to hoping that I can leave all these knee problems behind me in 2008. In 2009 I will turn over a new leaf!

I am also enjoying my bike more and more, despite the occasional mortifying moments at a stoplight when I'm behind a line of cars and I can't get going fast enough when the light turns green. Sometimes I pull over to the side and pretend to check the chain until the cars behind me have gone... Oh well. I'll be the first to admit I'm an amateur. I've found a really beautiful 9.3 mile ride that I love, and in the afternoon when it's clear the light from the setting sun shines through the trees and over the waters of Lake Washington. I wish I could take pictures of what I see when I'm on my ride. Maybe there is some kind of helmet-camera I can use.

Here are our bikes, nestled up together in the bathroom!

Last weekend we got our tree! We went to the same place as last year, and this time got a Grand Fir. I wasn't sure about the needles because they lay flat instead of sticking out in all directions, so it has a different look, but it's nice and big and it smells great! We're going to have to figure out a way to keep it watered when we're visiting Tim's family in Ithaca for Christmas. For now I'm enjoying that and our newly decorated apartment! The last one is of the curtain we made this weekend to add a "door" to our bedroom. It reaches floor to ceiling!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

When the going gets tough, the tough write a lot of words

Ha! Just to prove my spirits have lifted since yesterday, today I sat myself down and wrote 2,085 words on my second novel. For those who don't know, that's a lot for one day. For me, at least. All you genuises out there who think that's measly, just keep quiet and let me have my glory day!

Ladies and gentlemen, I think we're back in business! (Even if that business has yet to see a profit.) :)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Let's be honest

Okay, so, I meant what I said in my last post about other people's problems often being bigger than mine. But let's not forget, I have feelings too! And I'd be lying if I said I wasn't really bummed by stuff (life-threatening or not) that goes on in my own life. Besides the knee issue, I have two other lovely things to complain about. They say they come in threes...

2. Was supposed to get paid for my work in the October issue of SEATTLE mag, oh, a couple of weeks ago. Calls to the accounting department went unanswered and unreturned. I emailed my editor for the scoop this morning, and bingo! It's not some conspiracy against me, personally: all freelancers are getting paid late, to the tune of 3 months. The July writers just got paid at the end of October. That puts my first check in the mail in January. Yikes. Apparently it's a "cash flow" issue. It won't stop us from putting food on the table, but my lovely visions of framed wedding photos adorning our wall from top to bottom (only 15 months late!) just went out the window.

3. I emailed that super agent this morning--you know, the one who responded to my query with a request for the full manuscript within 2 hours of my sending it--just to make sure she had, in fact, received it (yes, that was three weeks ago, and I am slow). She wrote back ten minutes later and said yes, in fact she looked at it over the weekend, and while she liked my writing, she wasn't pulled into the story enough to offer representation. It was a kind rejection, but obviously not specific--hey, they have no obligation to be. It would be nice, but if they're rejecting you, it's not their job to prove why (most of the time).

Sigh. It stinks, because I had already begun to form a semi-bond with her. The first agent who asked for my work! With a blindingly fast reflex to the keyboard! A match made in heaven! Sadly, the only match made that quickly was between me and my wedding dress (second one I tried on). And that in itself was no small feat.

I could just stop now, and the rejection would end. That's the thought that entered my head upon reading this agent's email. You know when people say somebody's trying too hard? I could just put this all aside, and that person would not be me. I would not be the person trying and trying and trying, and failing. But if I stop now, I would also not be the person trying and trying and trying, and succeeding. Nobody is going to do this for me. Likewise, no one else is going to take the fall. It's amazing how hyped up I can be on publishing one moment, and how absurd it can seem the next.

For now I choose to continue. I may not be good enough. But not all the doors have been closed. For now, I'm going to keep knocking.

Playing catch up

1. The famed Richard Simmons photo finally arrives! Here we are on Halloween. I think my good side is the opposite of Sarah Palin's, but hey, I'm no Tina Fey. Tim clearly gets the award for this one.
2. Last Saturday we went for a 24.5 mile bike ride around the Eastside. It was pretty fun, but I am still learning how to shift gears, and I do not like trying to go fast. Once, toward the end of our ride, I was trying to slow down on a hill and my front tire got all wobbly (in retrospect I should have let up on the brake) and I actually fell off. I landed on my feet, but we were on a rather narrow bike lane and a car was right next to me when my bike came crashing down. It was pretty scary, but I made it home. It's a bit daunting thinking about a) how much more expensive cycling is than running; 2) what more technical skills I need to be good at it; and 3) how much farther away from home I can get, with the potential of equipment problems or injury. I've slipped and fallen when running, but falling off a bike is very different. I would like it to be an infrequent occurrence!
3. I got a third request for my novel last week. This agent was in LA, and her assistant called me on the phone, which caught me totally off guard. That was fun. She wanted the partial manuscript, not the whole thing, but hey, I'll take it!
4. I had my first "gait training" physical therapy appointment today, and I came home very frustrated. I have all along felt that my current PT (my third) isn't super confident in helping me recover/build muscle strength, and that was confirmed today in my gait training. It's such a subtle thing to change the way you walk, and it's quite hard to understand both what I should be doing and whether I'm doing it correctly. And I left nearly in tears because she did not share the opinion that my original gait analyst has, which is that I'll be running again with some "quick and easy gait training." I'm left wondering whether to switch PTs and get someone who's confident in the same goals, or whether it's best to work with someone who isn't promising much (as a different perspective). I feel like this is a never-ending problem--my highs and lows are so extreme. But God never changes, and he is faithful whether my knee points straight when I walk or not, so that is grounding.
5. A lot of our friends/acquaintances have been going through very hard times this week. The more people I get to know out here, the more opportunities I have to see the brokenness of this world, and how difficult life is. These friends' struggles are bigger than my knee problems or my arguments with Tim about hanging his coat in the closet instead of dropping it on the floor (yes, that was yesterday). I think God is allowing me to meet so many people with difficulties (for their privacy I won't name them here, but they're health-related, job-related, just heart rending stuff) not only to make me more compassionate to hurting people, but also to put things in perspective sometimes. Also, it is a way to see his faithfulness. When we are at our lowest, he is still strong. He is mighty to save and never changes. And he often responds to our prayers for deliverance with a Yes! (Sometimes it's a later, or a different answer that we may not understand). Seeing the struggles of others helps me rely on God more in mine. And it makes me long for heaven in a way I've never understood how people can do before.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Small fish in a big pond

As I came up with the title for this post just now, it reminded me of the immortal Chris Farley line from SNL, "fat man in a little coat." Ah, something to make me smile.

Yesterday was kind of rough. I don't know what it was...oh, wait, yes I do. The more I learn about publishing from this side of the desk, the more daunting it becomes. A friend from church--someone I've never met, but who's in the same Mars Hill writers group as me--has been sharing about her querying experience, and in the process has given me a bunch of resources to check out: web sites with forums that talk about agents and all things publishing, blogs by agents and others in the biz, etc. In the last couple of days I've spent a lot of time reading about other people's experiences with trying to land an agent, and in particular agents I've contacted. From what I read it sounds like the majority of those I've queried are pretty big players, which makes me feel validated about my shots in the dark, and also explains my growing pile of rejects. But I'm also reading about cases of long delays after agents request complete manuscripts, etc. Seeing the number of people who have queried the same agents I'm targeting makes me realize, in a whole new way, how I'm just one of thousands with the dream of publication.

I was also a bit discouraged because this online friend disclosed more info about her process of researching agents, and I was left thinking, I didn't even know you could find that stuff out. It's important to me that I work with someone who not only loves my work, but also will be a good partner for my career. Someone who represents books I don't want to be associated with, whether because they just really don't mesh with my values or for another reason, will not be the right agent for me. And I've sort of looked into that, based on what people represent, but I think I've only caught the tip of the iceberg.

And last night I read about 5 interviews with agents and editors on Poets & Writers (I used to get their magazine), in which people talked about what they looked for in first novels, or what you should be asking prospective agents...there's just so much to know. And of course these were big people in publishing who were throwing out names of authors I've never even heard of. It's a big reminder that so much of publishing is about networking: getting to know other writers, going to conferences, meeting people and maintaining relationships--and if I do get published, being really active in garnering attention through readings, talks, and the like.

It just made me exhausted. One of the reasons I could never work as an editor is because of all the networking involved. When I was working at Cornell U.P., I saw my editors going to conferences and schmoozing with academics across the country, doing campus visits, lunches, cards, phone calls. I just don't have the stamina for that. I would much rather be the recluse-with-a-black-turtleneck kind of writer who lives out in the woods, than the New-Yorker-in-heels type charming everybody at dinner parties. It's really intimidating, and honestly just leaves me with the feeling that I need to catch my breath.

I want to accomplish something worthwhile, and right now for me that means publishing a book, and then another, and making a career out of it. But I also want a fairly small life. I am so happy to be married to Tim and to have the time to cook and exercise and do silly things on the weekend together. And I pray that God blesses us with a family. We have great friends, and I love our church, and I just basically love my life. But there is this whole other life out there filled with flashing lights and interviews and running the circuit. I want to be part of that world to some extent, but on my terms. And more and more I'm realizing how hard it might be to get there.

It's probably not good that I spent as much time reading stuff online last night as I did--it's almost like having a stomach ache and then going on Web MD to self-diagnose. Sometimes you can just get too much information. But I stayed up until midnight reading interviews and basically shaking in my boots while Tim sewed his Richard Simmons costume for Halloween. Oh yes, he made a sparkly red tank top and short little red-and-white striped shorts to wear to our party tonight. And that's why, with my current anxiety level and lack of sleep, I think instead of getting in another couple hours of anxious writing, I'm going to take a mental health day and bake pumpkin bread. Pictures of Richard Simmons to come.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Straightener

I read this poem in my November issue of Real Simple magazine while at the gym this morning. I think the former U.S. Poet Laureate and I might be kindred spirits:

The Straightener
by Billy Collins

Even as a boy I was a straightener.
On a long table near my window
I kept a lantern, a spyglass, and my tomahawk.

Never tomahawk, lantern, and spyglass.
Always lantern, spyglass, tomahawk.

You could never tell when you would need them,
but that was the order you would need them in.

On my desk: pencils at attention in a cup,
foreign coins stacked by size,

a photograph of my parents facing me,
and under the blotter with its leather corners,
a note from a girl I was fond of.

These days, it's the cans of soup in the pantry--
no, not alphabetical, it's not like that--
just stacked in a pyramid beside
the while candles lying in rows like logs of wax.

And if I can avoid phoning my talkative aunt
on her eighty-something birthday,
or doing my taxes

I will measure with a ruler the space
between the comb and the brush on the dresser,
the distance between shakers of salt and pepper.

and I will devote as much time as it takes
to line up my shoes in the closet,
pair by pair, in chronological order

or according to my degree of affection for them
if I can put off having to tell you, dear,
what I really think and what I now must do.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Some life updates

This has been a relaxing few weeks for Tim and me after getting back from our East Coast trip. This time last year we were still unpacking stuff in our first rental and trying to get off any delinquent thank you notes for wedding presents. And up until about six months ago we were still scouring web sites and stores to get some furniture. Now we feel totally settled, and our weekends are less about "getting stuff done" and more about relaxing and having fun together. This lull between travel (we're headed back to my parents' for Thanksgiving) is allowing us to enjoy being at home and outside during the fantastic fall weather. It's been sunny and clear most days and that really lifts my spirits.

One major development is that I've been seeing a biomechanics type provider named Shari who did a gait analysis on me (videotaping the way I walk and run, checking out how I wear out my shoes, observing my bone structure). This has been very encouraging because Shari found that basically the reason I've been having knee problems this year is that my right foot has an uplifted neutral position, which means that I severely pronate inward when I walk and run. That in turn causes my knee to roll in during movement, and that's been causing the stress on my joints and muscles. With a new shoe insert she created for me, additional strengthening excercises, and gait training--changing the way I walk and run--she says I should get back to running. According to Shari, there is no reason mechanically why I shouldn't be running--it's just that my gait has finally put enough stress on my knee to be prohibitive. Also, the deteriorated meniscus issue was likely caused by my knee cap rolling inward and rubbing on the cartilage, and not by some degenerative problem. This is all very exciting, because there is hope for running again! To date I've seen three physical therapists, two physicians, and this gait analyst, and it's been 10 months of trial and error all told. I suppose 2008 has just been a bum year for me in this regard, so I'm hoping 2009 is my comeback!

On a related note, Tim and I have still been planning on buying road bikes, and last weekend we finally got one! Because I'm relatively short and unused to the whole road bike thing (especially the curved handle bars) it's going to take a bit longer to find the appropriate frame size, etc for me, but last Saturday Tim and I took out a few bikes on test rides and Tim fell in love with a yellow and blue LeMond. We brought it home and it sits alternately in our guest bathroom and propped up against the kitchen counter. Tim likes to look at it and pat the seat, and I've had to yell at him a couple of times for riding it around the living room. He got clipless pedals so there are new shoes as well--all he needs is a helmet and he'll be ready to go! My camera isn't working right now so as soon as I get some space on my phone I'll take a few pictures. It sure is beautiful weather for riding! Tim plans to ride to work and I'm hoping for lots of Saturday bike rides together. Oh, how I miss exercising outside!

We've also had some changes in our apartment. There continues to be a lot of construction noise, but to alleviate some of the neighborly noise we've been having, we switched our bedroom with my office. Now, our bedroom is the open-door room with no closet or windows, significantly farther away from other units' bedrooms (meaning better rest for us, ahem) and my office is in our spacious former bedroom with the sliding door! I feel ten times more productive because I have all this great space and natural light. We still have yet to get some things up on the walls and off the floor, but I really love being able to look outside while I work and not be resigned to the "cave" or the temporary feel of the dining room table.

Hurrah for fall!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Back down to earth...

Well, after my first awesome query response I got three rejections. And not flowery rejections; form rejections. The "not exactly what we're looking for at this time" rejection. Which could mean just that--they have similar projects already or are actively trying to acquire something different. Or it just means what I sent wasn't good enough. There can be a whole host of reactions behind a form reject letter. I know because I used to write them! But they aren't anything to be taken personally. They are, though, a reminder that it's not all smooth sailing ahead. What's ironic is that these three rejects came from 1. the only agent I'm querying who's actually in Seattle; 2. the partner of an agent I met at a conference, who invited me to submit; and 3. someone who works with first novels who I thought I'd connect with. I'm not going to keep a daily tally on this blog of Accept v. Reject, but if this were my experiment and my office were a lab, I'd hang a sign on the door that said Do Not Enter: Thick Skin in Development.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

In wine country with Lucille Ball

No, we didn't actually get to stomp the grapes with our feet, but a few weeks ago Tim and I went with our friends Johnathan and Jenny to help their winemaker friends crush grapes! Their winery is in White Salmon, WA, a small town located near the Columbia River across from Hood River, Oregon. It was our first trip to Eastern Washington, and boy is it different: lots of small hills and wild sage and dried, golden grasses. Not the familiar evergreens and rocky peaks of Western Washington.

We sorted through two half-ton bins of delicate purple grapes, which will eventually become the Major Creek Cellars 2008 Syrah, and then poured them into The Crusher, which separated the grapes from the stems. After a couple of hours of bending and sorting, pouring, and declogging the machine, Steve scattered dry ice over the slightly crushed grapes to bring the temperature down and prevent early fermentation. He also added sulfites (a clear liquid) and planned to incorporate his own yeast at some point. We each got a bottle of wine of our choice for our labors, plus free reign of the winemakers' friends "cabin" (actually a double-wide trailer) and a delicious dinner. Check out the pics below.

The crusher in front; bin with grapes to be sorted in back.

The crusher! Basically a big fancy metal funnel with claws.

Dry ice.

Timmy and me sorting grapes.

Beautiful scenery.

Tim with an old plow at a fruit stand we stopped at on the way home. We got lots of super cheap pears!

The "Fruit Loop" in Hood River, Oregon. There were more than 30 fruit stands to choose from!

Monday, October 20, 2008


Oh yikes.

I don't know what to say first.

Quick version:

I spent the last couple of weeks drafting, editing, and polishing a query letter (one each for about 27 different agents, personalized) and a four-page synopsis of my book, and then all day today I made like it was college application time and stuffed envelopes, addressed them, and in general made people whiny at the post office with my stack of stuff.

I also emailed about half the agents, those who are living in the 21st century, with my queries and samples.

I just got home from the P.O., having said a quick prayer for patience when all was said and done, and lo and behold I had a request for THE ENTIRE MANUSCRIPT in my inbox! Not three chapters, not a partial, but the whole stinkin' thing!

This feels pretty awesome. I don't know what will come of it, but someone out there is reading my work for the first time, and I hope she LOVES it. If she doesn't, maybe somebody else checking their inbox or mailbox this week will...and if not them, then maybe one of the other 25 agents I have on my list--the second string, as it were.

But just the fact that somebody has requested my work: this is freaking awesome! :)

My new virtual writing community

I've just joined an online writing group at the invitation of someone in my church community group. Every week there is a one-word prompt, and we're all supposed to post something on Mondays that relates to it. Mostly, from what I've seen, this translates into personal essay-type writing and some poetry. I think this is a fun outlet because it's different from what I do on this blog, and certainly different from my fiction. Having different arenas for writing always makes me better. Plus, there's the opportunity to get together in person every six weeks or so, which means I will be meeting more people! It's a closed blog for the privacy of the members, but now and then I'll post my entries on here as well. Today's prompt was Stress.

I walk into the bustling chapel, where groups of two or three are gathered here and there, someone is setting up chairs, clicking through the powerpoint, tuning a guitar. Masses of teenagers filter in and out of the doorway, running, laughing, tackling someone who has just come in, comparing different shades of Converse. I switch my phone to vibrate and drop my purse, looking for a likely place to break in. I pull my jacket tighter around me, push my hair behind my ear. Smile. Sometimes it is hard to remember why I am here. As a youth ministry leader my purpose is to engage with kids, make relationships with them, and point them to Jesus. But so often my primary goal is just to get somebody to talk to me for five minutes before flitting off to the next shiny object. I'm like a fisherman, only not the kind that Jesus talked about, not really--I'm just hoping to throw out the right kind of bait that these kids will latch onto, anything really, so that I'm not the only one left with an empty line.

Most of this time it's hard to rationalize why I do this. How is it that a group of kids ten years younger than me can make me feel like a total loser, a joiner, an in-crowd wannabe, a mom constantly asking, "How was your day?" How is it that I had such a tight connection with the kids in my last youth group in New York and the girls in my bible study, and here everybody seems to have the attention span of a toddler and interests I can hardly relate to? God, is youth ministry really my thing, or did it just happen to click at one particular church, for a couple of particular years, with a few specific kids?

Another leader asks me if I can switch with her and join the middle school programming tonight, so she can listen to the high school message. I think, if high schoolers are intimidating, then middle schoolers are from another planet. But I agree. When the handful of kids seventh grade and under separates from the larger group and I walk into the kindergarten classroom, I surprise myself by breathing a sigh of relief. The leader laughs at the grandma rocker he sits in and the little chairs circled around, as if for story time. He starts reading from Mark, and I glance around the group. The bodies are smaller, with the same mix of self-conscious and self-assured, but there is something different on their faces. One boy leans his elbow on his knee and cups his chin, attentively watching the leader. Another can't stop asking questions about evolution, which his class is studying in school right now. And a sweet little boy whose bangs completely obscure his eyes says he really misses his late grandfather, and asks for prayer. One of the girls answers questions with the confidence of a twelfth grader but none of the ego. I am amazed by the earnestness in their eyes, the nodding at questions, their desire to learn about Jesus. Stress drops off my shoulders and I think that maybe I have found my place at last, in the most unlikely of places.

Kent Fuchs named Cornell University Provost

Maybe it's a strange thing to put on my personal blog, but I just found out that the father of my sister-in-law Anna's good friend Christine Fuchs, who's been the Dean of the Engineering School at Cornell for many years, has been named Provost of the university. The Fuchs family has been friends with the Psiaki family for a long time, and Christine was actually in a high school girls' bible study I led while we were still living in Ithaca. I think this is pretty awesome, because the Fuchs family are strong Christians, they love Jesus, and they've been a big part of the church that Tim grew up in, which I attended all through college and my year working in Ithaca. Dean Fuchs has been recognized in the university for being an excellent professor and administrator, and it just goes to show that people who love the Lord, work hard, and exhibit exemplary character will go far. The Provost is the second most powerful position in a university administration, and I think it's an amazing statement that the person who will be in that office in the next pivotal decade in the university's future--as more growth and partnerships are planned, and as the aging and soon to be retiring faculty core is replaced--is someone with a Christian worldview.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Camel wrestling

Found this:

Camel wrestling is a sport in which two male Tülu camels wrestle in response to a female camel in heat being led before them. It is most common in the Aegean region of Turkey, but is also found in the Marmara and Mediterranean regions of that country. There are an estimated 1200 camel wrestlers (or Tulu) in Turkey, bred specially for the competitions.

A camel can win a wrestling match in three ways: By making the other camel retreat, scream, or fall. The owner of a camel may also throw a rope into the field to declare a forfeit if he is concerned for the safety of his animal.

Camels wrestle with others in their same weight class. Camels have different tricks, and contest organizers match camels with different skills. Some camels wrestle from the right and some from the left; some trip the other with foot tricks ("çengelci"), and some trap their opponent's head under their chest and then try to sit ("bağcı"); some push their rivals to make them retreat ("tekçi").

A camel wrestling event involves considerable pomp and ceremony. The camels are decorated, and participate in a march through town followed by musicians on the day before the event. The actual wrestling can be somewhat underwhelming to someone not familiar with the intricacies, although onlookers must often flee from an oncoming camel that is retreating in defeat from his opponent.

In the heat of the tournament, camels spew foamy saliva in their excitement. Additionally, camels are retromingent animals, and so spectators would be advised to beware not only of flying saliva but of flying urine as well.

Popularity of the sport is declining, as the relative costs of caring for such an animal rises, as well as concern for the animals' welfare.

From wikipedia.org

Friday, October 10, 2008

Playlist from the past

I've been getting bored with our current music selection and just dug up an old CD marked '26 Mix (remember mix CDs?), which means I made it to play at the Cornell fitness center where I worked as a student. It was in the old Class of 1926 dorm, which has long since been demolished to make way for all the fancy new house-style upperclassman digs on West Campus. Back in the day, before the center bought satellite radio, lowly fitness monitors had to bring in their own music to entertain sweating members. I was always mortally afraid of this: Would everyone hate my music? What if the CD skipped and I had nothing but [gasp!] the radio?

I like to think I wasn't the biggest dork, though now when I play this CD I am laughing out loud. Many of these are clearly high school favorites, though I probably made this for the fall of my sophomore year in 2003. And a lot are one-hit wonders. But some are still hot! So here's an old school glimpse at my taste in music...

'26 Mix
1. Avril Lavigne, "Things I'll Never Say"
2. Third Eye Blind, "Semi-Charmed Life"
3. Blessid Union of Souls, "Hey Leonardo (She Likes Me for Me)"
4. Lifehouse, "Spin"
5. Sister Hazel, "Shame on Me"
6. Train, "Something More"
7. Jackson 5, "One More Chance"
8. Seven and the Sun, "Walk With Me"
9. Ruby Horse, "Sparkle"
10. Goo Goo Dolls, "Sympathy"
11. Nickelback feat. Carlos Santana, "Why Don't You and I"
12. Michael Jackson, "The Way You Make Me Feel"
13. Janet Jackson, "Doesn't Really Matter"
14. Matchbox Twenty, "Last Beautiful Girl"
15. Coldplay, "Clocks"
16. Counting Crows feat. Vanessa Carlton, "Big Yellow Taxi"
17. Eve 6, "Open Road Song"
18. Goo Goo Dolls, "Here is Gone"
19. Good Charlotte, "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous"

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Jay-Z what?

We just found out this morning that somebody stole our credit card number and bought tickets to a Jay-Z concert in Orlando. What?? Also, $400 at Wal-mart. [Scratch that: it was a casino.] Come on people. Get a job. And get some better taste in music!

Cards canceled, it leaves me to ponder this less-than-sunny side of adulthood. Credit scores...insurance...health care... Sometimes I think if I could raise chickens on some unincorporated land in Canada life would be easier. But then I'd probably die of cholera or something.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Oh the joys of apartment living

I have to say, although I love our apartment and am totally grateful to be long out of our last renting situation, there are some things about living here that are really pretty ridiculous and just make me laugh. Nightly noise hasn't been too much of an issue, though the bar next door that was supposedly "closing soon" when we signed our first lease in March is still going strong. There are several construction projects going on in and near our building, and while thankfully much of the drilling/hammering in the new restaurant space right below us is happening later in the day and no longer waking us up at 7:00, nothing ever finishes when it's supposed to.

I came home from physical therapy this morning to see this bright green notice outside my door:

Friday, October 10, 2008, Between 1pm - 4pm
Dear Residents,
The good news first -- the construction of the restaurant space is well over halfway finished [read: was supposed to be COMPLETELY finished in September]! ...We have an important piece of the construction occurring on Friday. During this timeframe the reconfigured plumbing in the restaurant will be attached to the building's main plumbing lines, which all residential pipes lead into as well. The issue is, if anyone flushes a toilet or puts anything down a sink drain, all the disposed waste will dump all over the plumbers working on the lines.
That being said, it is very important that no one use their toilet or put anything down their drains on Friday, October 10, 2008 between 1pm - 4pm!
Since everyone's participation is crucial, to help everyone remember we will be passing out birghtly colored notices on Thursday for you to put in your sinks and on your tiolets Friday morning. This way you will see the notice before going to use the sink/toilet, which will prompt you to look at what time it is before proceeding.
Ah. Well said! Were they just totally cracking up when they wrote this?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

My work in Seattle magazine

It's only just occurred to me to put some links on here to a few bits of my work over the last year for Seattle magazine. I've done more than 30 pieces for the mag, ranging from the multi-page events listings in the back Datebook section to short travel pieces, interviews and profiles of local folks. If you search for my name on Google some of my more recent pieces will come up, as well as a feature on Tim's and my wedding on TheKnot.com, of all things. Not everything I do that makes it into print shows up online, and a few things have been online-only, so it's hard to corral them all...

Here are a few links for recent issues:

August 2008: Local Authority with Seattle Opera's general director, Speight Jenkins; a review of Washington Wine books; and a Q&A with a local artist who helped illustrate the first commissioned illuminated Bible since the advent of the printing press

September 2008: Fall Arts Preview, for which another intern and I did a ton of research and writing of blurbs and ended up taking on a different format than we'd originally imagined

October 2008: an interview with a local oncology chaplin who wrote a book about her own struggle with breast cancer; a mini-review of a new book out about a farming school with a focus on sustainable agriculture; and a profile on a local guy who raises a heritage breed of pigs and sells the (delicious!) meat to area resaurants, which isn't online yet but will be sometime this month

PS, most titles change after I submit the articles, so if you think they're weird, just know I didn't write them!

Visit SeattleMag.com for more! (but be warned, the site is rather slow)

Back home in WA

I have logged a lot of miles in the last couple of weeks, and seen practically everyone I know in Ithaca, NY; Washington, DC; Indianapolis, IN; and Cincinnati, OH that time would allow! It's great to catch up with friends and family, especially those I hadn't seen since Tim and I got married last year!

It is funny, the various "former homes" I visited...of course Ithaca is the one that resonates with me the most, and has shown the least change, except for the ever-advancing construction projects at Cornell. Indianapolis was home for just a couple of months after my graduation in December 05 (nearly 3 years ago! yikes) so all I really register is my parents' change of residence to a fantastic 1920s Tudor literally 2 blocks from their last place. I fell in love with their new home in the few days I was there at the end of my trip, and had it not been in Indianapolis--a place I don't really care to live and certainly not the last place they'll call home--I might have asked to inherit it. Perhaps not surprisingly, I didn't have any strong emotions upon returning to Cincinnati, where I've spent most of my life but haven't lived for the past 5 years. It was like going through a time warp, seeing my high school and listening to the old radio stations I favored back then, which are still stuck in the infamous Cincinnati past, a la Mark Twain's comment that it's where he'd choose to be when the world ends, since everything comes to the Queen City 10 years late. No kidding.

A piece of my heart may still be in Ithaca, but I'm glad the rest of me is safely back in Bellevue. I had an idea for a third novel while I was away, and I'm itching to get back to work!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A visual history of my trip to Ithaca SO FAR

As the first half of my two-week excursion to the East Coast comes to a close, I am realizing just how long such a vacation, especially without my husband for the second half, can be! But it's been a lot of fun and I'm grateful for the opportunity to see lots of family and friends!

Here are some highlights...

Tim preparing for his role as sommelier during dinner with the whole fam, minus Jane and James

Timm and Karen have a very serious conversation; Mike examines his piece of garlic bread

Sarah and me; can't believe she's almost 8!

Grandpa Bill and Grandma Enid's (Mary's parents) new rental house in Brooktondale! Word has it their flat screen TV is a favorite with little girls...

Tim and Mike are in awe of Rebekah's skills at her volleyball game

Anna and me at the game; she's a Cornell freshman now, continuing the Psiaki legacy on crew

Mandy, Dave, Tim and me at Purity Ice Cream, one of our favorite places! It was so great to spend time with them for a couple of days!



Karen and Mike, Dave and Mandy, me and Tim (bad grammar, I know, but that's the order!)

Time to unwind

We went apple picking at Littletree, my favorite u-pick farm! Sarah shows off her 1/2 bushel bag

Tim helps Lydia reach the best apples

Lydia in the apple barn; I still have a bunch of dried statice from this place!

The apple cider doughnuts are half the fun!

Shelby the new dog does his version of Superman

Humphrey is not easily impressed

Tim, aka Mr. Fix-It, works on his parents' "new" 1840s table. The thing has something like 6 leaves and expands to the length of the entire room!

This is as close as Jenny's belly will let me come!

The happy parents-t0-be! If the baby comes on time, which will be Thursday, she and Matt will have the same birthday. I'm leaving Ithaca on Saturday, so I told Jenny I was giving her two extra days. Meanwhile, we're rounding up all the labor-inducing old wives' tales we can find...

View of the Washington Monument from the Smithsonian Freer Gallery, where I spent part of Monday afternoon. After dropping Tim off at the Binghamton airport on Sunday (people with real jobs don't get to take such long vacations!) I continued down to DC to visit Krista, Dorsy and Haven. It was beautiful weather and a fun, quick trip!

More to come!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A new heart for Seattle

Tonight I was driving home from my friend Chelsa's house in West Seattle, which is the little "thumb" that sticks up southwest of the city, separated by Elliot Bay. She lives in a precious little apartment on a street not unlike ours in Queen Anne, with great big trees and cute old houses. The sun had set by the time I headed home (we made my favorite Moosewood lentil soup together for dinner) and I was struck by the awesome view of downtown Seattle from that neighborhood and the highway as I was traveling east. Something compelled me to pray for the city as I passed its lights and tall buildings. I don't really feel like I'm part of Seattle now that we live in Bellevue. At the time that we moved, I felt like I had been burned by the city. We had a horrible thing happen to us, and really, when we moved across the water I truly felt like we were "getting out."

But I think God is working in my heart to let go of that bitterness. Seattle can be a very dark place, with the pain of homelessness, violence, and addiction very apparent sometimes. The hearty folk of the often gloomy Pacific Northwest seem to pride themselves on getting by on their own strength. They put a lot of stock into their individuality, especially in pursuits like art and music. But I know there is a lot of emptiness in those things. Many man-made things are worthy of admiration, but they don't ultimately offer us joy.

But there is a lot of beauty here, too--in the majestic peaks of the mountains, which turn purple at sunset; the sun glinting off the water; the ever-present evergreens that just give me a peaceful feeling. I'm thankful that we live here. It will probably take more time for the effects of our break-in back in February to completely dissipate, but I'm trying to let go of my bitterness toward the city and pray for it instead.

Bellevue Proxy & Worship

Some of you know that right after moving to Seattle Tim and I got involved with Mars Hill Church. We found an awesome community group (like a small group bible study with people in our neighborhood) and made some close friends who have still been a big part of our lives, now that we've moved to Bellevue. I can't believe we made the move nearly 6 months ago!

Mars Hill is a multi-site campus church, meaning it takes the approach of having campuses throughout the city of Seattle. There are about 7 now, I think, including a campus that is starting up in Olympia. It took us a while to decide whether to start attending the Bellevue campus of Mars Hill instead of the Downtown campus our old community group was affiliated with. We were serving in the children's ministry of Downtown and felt connected there. We were still attending our Tuesday night community group in our old Queen Anne neighborhood. But as we took a look at what our real community is -- the Eastside -- we decided this summer that it was time to make the switch. You can read a little about that process in my post to the Downtown campus blog here.

Anyway, we feel very blessed to be living in Bellevue. One of the things that's great is that we're able to explore areas of ministry we feel called to, but didn't have the opportunity to do while we were living in Seattle.

For me this means joining the volunteer leadership of the Bellevue youth group, called Proxy (the name indicates Jesus' work as a proxy for us on the cross, dying in place of us for the atonement of sin). I have been wanting to do this since we moved to Seattle because I had been involved with the youth ministry at our church in Ithaca and really enjoyed it. But I couldn't get involved with a youth group at the Downtown campus because most of the kids are under 5 years old! So I was excited to learn that the Bellevue campus had teenagers.

While I don't think I'm necessarily "gifted" in all the crazy youth group antics--you won't see me standing up in front of the group making jokes--I remember what junior high and high school were like. I had people who took an interest in me and invested in my life, and that's what I want to do for the girls in Proxy. I also led a girls' bible study and loved building those relationships, so that's what I'm going to focus on in Bellevue.

For Tim this means pursuing a place in the worship ministry. When we were first getting started last fall, the idea of Tim's new job + our new city + our new marriage did not = a lot of time for worship practice and all the red tape our church (often rightly so) makes people go through to get involved in specific areas of ministry. But now that the multi-site model has taken off, worship is no longer centralized, which means Tim can contact the folks at our home campus instead of going through the "main" campus in Ballard.

It's been kind of slow going, in part because of the summer, but Tim is excited to get involved with leading worship here in Bellevue. I know he is really gifted in this area and am so glad he's got the opportunity. It's a promising new season!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Be friends with my blog!

I never put a counter on this blog to record traffic because I didn't know how. And to be honest, I really have no idea who reads it, besides my parents and my mother-in-law (and a handful of very sweet friends).

So, if you'd like to become a "follower" of this blog, you can click the Followers link on the left side and become its friend. Then I will know that you are reading, and so will everyone else! I think there's also an anonymous option for non-joiners.

We'll see how this works. If I don't get many "followers" it may prove too much of a strain on my self-esteem and I'll have to remove the feature. And probably eat a whole tub of ice cream. Just warning you.

Mom's visit and Yankees game

Here we are at the marina on Bainbridge Island.

My mom came to visit over Labor Day weekend. We had a great time eating out at one of our new favorite Kirkland restaurants, bin vivant, which is "vinocentric" and offers awesome flights of wine. Tim and I actually went twice that week because I wrote about it for Seattle mag's November issue.

Plus, we did a little shopping and took the ferry to Bainbridge Island, where we had brunch and spent the afternoon exploring the little downtown area of the main city, which I think is also called Bainbridge Island. Or Winslow. Not too sure.

Last Sunday Tim and I went to the Yankees v. Mariners game, which was pretty fun even though the Yanks lost. I know very little about baseball but am happy to cheer for them for Tim's sake. Word on the street is that the playoffs aren't in the cards. Oh well!

Safeco Field. Pretty swank. Also, we got to sit about 25 rows behind home plate, which was awesome.

Yay. We were not the only Yankees fans! Although we did sit next to this eight-year-old kid who was cheering for both sides while wearing a Tampa Bay hat.

Where else but Seattle can you get Thai food at a baseball game?