Friday, December 30, 2011


Sometimes you just want to close your eyes and ears to the predictable crapola media dishes out, don't you? All of the "Year in Review" lists are whirling around, listing the same stuff, over and over, like it's all pre-ordained and we've all decided, "Yes, THESE were the best movies, books, songs, moments." But how can that be? We're snowflakes, people, no two of us alike.

So, naturally, I've been thinking about my favorites, things that resonate still, after months or weeks, things that didn't just fly through my noggin making a brief stop to blast me with special effects or trendy "it" themes or manipulative sentiments.

These are my favorites of 2011.

Favorite movie: Circo, a gorgeous look at a family under the immense pressure of running a family circus in Mexico. Watch the kids, especially. They're spectacular and sad and strong. Resilience in motion.

Favorite TV show: Louie. I love this show, and I don't love TV. Profane at times, and almost always honest. The first time my husband and I watched it, we thought, fine, another comedy, and at the end we were saying, "Whoa. That's dark. But . . . awesomely dark." I don't know why I love it. I just do.

Favorite book: Okay, there's no way I'm going to tell you my favorite book, because too many of my friends write them. I did enjoy getting immersed in State of Wonder by Ann Patchett this year. It wasn't perfect, but few books are, and she kept me engaged. As someone who has a hard time reading fiction these days without seeing the scaffolding, that means a lot.

Favorite music: Fine, I'm predictable on this one, but can I help it that I love Adele? I got to see her perform this year, which seals the deal. She's the real thing, big soulful honest heartache. And then she giggles and says something wacky in her Cockney accent, and you have to love her even more.

Favorite moment: Now, on the verge of letting the year go, looking back, bittersweet and ready to move ahead.

Tell me your favorites . . .

And happy brand new year, everyone.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Happy Minimalist Christmas

My late mother's hypomania liked to kick into gear around holidays. It all seemed fun, as a kid: the twinkle lights everywhere, the ten varieties of sweets she baked, the mountains of gifts on Christmas morning. But a pattern began to emerge as my brain matured: Christmas maximus always led to my mother's eventual meltdown, which could mean anything from her turning mean and locking herself behind her bedroom door to an ambulance being called to take her away.

So . . . you can imagine that for a while, I thought Christmas sucked. A long while.

I tried it every which way: emulating the grandeur of my mother, skipping it all together, spending it with friends, with family. Trees, no trees. Baking, no baking.

Hubby also has less than wonderful Xmas memories, and from the start, we've been finding ways to make ourselves happy on Christmas day. We've developed traditions that make us giggle. Lox and bagels for Christmas breakfast. A firm "no-getting-out-of-your-pajamas-all-day" rule, even if we venture outside. Mimosas with our first cup of coffee. Catnip for awesome kitty antics. Movies. Lots of movies, happy ones only, please.

This year we were rolling along just fine as Christmas drew near. Then, as life would have it, something went wrong and the already dark days turned darker. Old emotional crud churned below the surface. I wallowed for a few days (though kind friends reached out and helped me through). Then one day, I did the old "fake it till you make it" trick and put on my new Pink Martini holiday CD, lit some pine incense, burned a few candles, and dug out last years remnants of wrapping paper. I wrapped gifts for the afternoon, small funny or sweet things I'd found for my large extended family. I packed shipping boxes, because they all live far away.

I felt better.

I dug out my favorite Christmas decoration, a string of pine cone lights I bought in a sweet little Oregon town a few years back. Good memories come prepackaged with those little suckers. I laid them on the mantel and plugged them in.

I asked hubby what his favorite Christmas cookies were. He said gingerbread. Not the crunchy kind, but the soft kind. I found a great recipe. I went to the store for ingredients. I picked up a rosemary tree, brought it home and decorated it with some of last year's ribbon remnants.

And voila! This year, I will enjoy minimalist Christmas: one favorite decoration, a rosemary plant that will be planted in the earth this spring, some soft gingerbread cookies. One husband, who understands. Bagels and lox on Christmas morning, a mimosa. Candles. Lots of candles. Maybe next year I will need more, but for now, this is perfect.

Happy Christmas, everyone, whatever that means to you. I hope you find those things that make it most meaningful and enjoyable, light and love filled, and in the spirit of peace and harmony for all.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Sometimes Things Go Wrong

Sometimes, they go terribly wrong. The worst thing happens. And it's the holidays, which somehow weights bad news with heavier lead than in, say, summer, or spring. Maybe it's because we know we will think forevermore, "Thanksgiving = Mom dying," or "Christmas was when that drunk driver ruined our lives."

My mom died 21 years ago, not on any holiday. I've not been in a horrific car accident this month, nor has anyone I know. But something has gone wrong, terribly wrong, and it's private. The thing that was never supposed to happen did, as happens in life, and I'm old enough to know that, well, shit happens. To all of us. At any moment. In spite of holidays.

This isn't a plea for sympathy or prayers. This is a statement of fact, and I say it only because I know that sometimes things go wrong for you, too. At the worst possible time. The thing that was never going to happen didn't care that you ate green leafy vegetables or sprinkled salt on the icy sidewalk or sent your son to the best doctor in the city. It happened anyway.

So let us just stand together silently, those of us with these wrong things happening, and be solid in our conviction: This is a part of my life, just as happiness and good events are. It does not change who I am even though it makes me horribly sad or angry or frightened. I'll curse and cry and mope and wallow, and I'll get through it. I will still find joy in life, take breaks from awfulness, and ask for help and support and love and talking and forgetting when I need to.

And I'll notice all the things going right all around me. Every day.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


After seven sunny days in Colorado over Thanksgiving, we arrived home Tuesday night to cold rain and a suspiciously nippy house. The cat, rather than being happy to see us, looked pissed. The furnace was out. It was too late to find anyone to come fix it. We bundled up in sweaters and socks and threw extra blankets on the bed, and spent an uncomfortable night trying to sleep with a desperate feline between us, determined to draw whatever warmth we had out of us.

Did I mention that I was in the midst of a snotty, head-achey cold, and had been traveling since early in the day by car, bus, plane, and taxi, hacking, coughing, and burning through three travel packets of tissues, much to my fellow travelers' delight?

At 2:00 a.m., afraid to roll over for fear of having to warm up a new spot in the bed, I thought, "Hats! Why didn't we wear hats?!"

This morning, after securing an emergency appointment with only the second HVAC company I tried, I read this:

Warm Trees, Cold People

And realized: I have not one thing to complain about. And I have a request for all you knitters and knit bombers out there: clothe people this winter, not trees. Make hats, scarves, gloves, sweaters, blankets, and give them to those without heat. Not a knitter myself, I will procure those items by other means, and get them to people in need.


Friday, November 18, 2011


For long slow mornings, for words on the page, for the tiny hands of yellow red maple leaves in my office window, for the smell of coffee lingering in the rest of the house. For time spent chatting with friends about very little, for important talks and hard discussions, for quiet solitude and rain hitting the skylight late at night. For all the love that has come and gone, for the love that remains, and the love to come. For crisp cold air and the smell of apples, the crunch of leaves, the early streetlights, the bright moon, the fog that obscures it. For friends who make me laugh, who lift me, who save me from myself, who understand, who don't understand but try to. For songs that make me sad, because they remind me what is important. For songs that make me happy, because joy is always available. For you, and for you, and for you, and did I say, you? And yes, for you, too. Thank you.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Hey 19

Yes, I know that if you're reading this you're more likely to be the parent of a 19-year-old than 19 yourself. But then you also know of the wisdom I'm about to impart. Pass it on to all the pre-olds you know, the pre-wrinkled and pre-arthritic, the pre-age-spotted and yet-to-be-disappointed-by-their-lives.

Because some of this stuff doesn't have to happen. The age spots? Preventable. The chronic aching back? Preventable. If we could turn back the clock and take better care of ourselves, we would. And yet we can't (and would our young selves listen, anyway?) Will these pre-olds listen? Perhaps if we showed them photos of our lined and freckled decolletages, our spotty hands. Our monthly output for Advil and massage appointments, laser appointments to remove the age spots, therapy to deal with not dealing with problems when we were young.

Perhaps not. But we can try. Here are my suggestions for aging a bit more gracefully and happily than the rest of your friends. (Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments.)

1. You know that dumb spoken song about using sunscreen? It's not dumb. It's so fucking true. Slather it not only on your face every day, but on the tops of your hands, your neck, your chest. Anywhere you don't want to be spotty and leathery one day.

2. In fact, any skin care you do for your face, do for those exact same areas, for they are exposed to the sun and elements the most, and end up looking the oldest. Thinking I'm being alarmist? Look at any old person naked. You will find that the parts of their body that have always been protected by clothing look young and supple, while their hands, necks, faces, shoulders, chests, look old. It's freaky.

So how awesome would it be if you protected your face with a hat (hey, they're fashionable!) and your chest with a scarf when in direct sunlight? You can still wear low-cut slut clothes (they are fun, I know) but just cover up a little when no one's actually looking.

3. Working out is good for you to a point, and I'm not talking to the couch potatoes, here, I'm talking to the gym rats, like me, who pound away in step classes and on machines, and with kettel bells and all of that high impact stuff, because you're young enough to get away with it, for now. And I'm here to say: STOP. Think twice about putting that much pressure and impact on joints and ligaments and body parts that have to last a lifetime.

Sure, you look great now, but you are going to hurt, all the time, later. Instead of waiting until you're fifty to stretch or do yoga, do it now. Try swimming instead of kick-boxing, biking instead of running, or at least running on grass instead of pavement. (A good walk is a good thing.) Do more reps with lighter weights instead of fewer reps with heavy weights. Long lean muscle is beautiful. Short bunchy muscle turns to flab when you get lazy, later. Truly. And you WILL get lazy later. Or too busy, or too stressed, to work out. Poll everyone you know over 30. Do they still work out religiously? Um . . . no. But they're going to, just as soon as they get less busy, less stressed out . . .

And did I mention the pain? All those little injuries you incur now come back to haunt you later, and there isn't enough ibuprofen in the world to make you feel the way you did pre-injury, pre-impact, pre-torn-cartilage and herniated disk.

4. Wear the most awesome revealing clothing you can, right now. Wear it all the time. Take lots of photos of yourself. Even if you think you look horrid now, save them. Do not delete! Tuck them away for a rainy day when you're 40 or 50 or 60, when you will realize how incredibly hot and gorgeous you were then.

5. Do not look at older people and think, "I'll never be like that." You will be like that. EXACTLY like that. No one gets out of this thing not getting old and decrepit unless they die young. And that sucks more.

6. Do not look at older people and think that they wish they were like you. They don't. They look at you and think, "Oh god, I remember being that young and dumb, and making really stupid mistakes, and not appreciating my youth, and thinking I knew everything." I'm not making this up. We are not saying it as sour grapes. We mean it. We like most of being old, just as you like most of being young.

7. Appreciate everything. Be thankful for the job you're fired from, because you will discover much better things down the road. Be thankful your parents and siblings and friends are still alive and with you, every day. Be thankful that some of your dreams crash and burn, because out of them, your real life emerges. Be thankful you have such a long lovely road in front of you to dream about. All of a sudden—after 20, 30, 40 years have passed—it will have all felt so fast.

8. Do what makes you happy. Whether it's a job, the place you live, the person you mate with, the group of friends you keep, make decisions based on what you love, not what you should do. The hardest thing to reconcile when you are no longer young are the years you let yourself be unhappy.

Friday, November 4, 2011

How to Eat

Food manifestos are not new. I love Michael Pollan’s simple rules for eating only those things that come to us from the earth, not from packaging. I love the phrase “Life is short; eat dessert first.” Food means so many things to we humans that the “rules” are often conflicting. In my second novel, Eating Heaven, the main character Ellie is a food writer with food issues. By the end of a story fraught with figuring out her past, her present, and her unhealthy relationship to food, she figures a few things out. See if Ellie’s 7 simple rules for eating make sense to you, too.

How to Eat

by Eleanor Samuels

Why do most women in our country have an obsession with food, the eating as well as the not eating of it? We gladly feed others, yet we struggle with our own hunger. Is food a panacea to fill our empty souls? Have we lost touch with something vital—say, self-fulfillment, or even just self-acceptance—and all we can do is medicate ourselves with the pleasure of fat and calories (or heaven forbid, carbohydrates)? On the other hand, if we don’t eat and lose weight, might someone love us more? If we’re hungry and our stomachs growl, are we more virtuous than if we’re full and satisfied?

I’m just one woman, with my own variations on the female love-hate relationship with food, but I say, let’s start a revolution. Let’s make food simply food again, sustenance and nourishment, and fun when the occasion calls for it. From here on out, I will try my best to live by these seven secrets of the sane and happily well fed:

1. Eat when you’re hungry, and don’t when you’re not.

2. Eat food that tastes good. Period. No exceptions.

3. Eat food that leaves you sated instead of waiting for the next allotment.

4. Eat food that nourishes your soul as well as your body. Consider it a spiritual quest.

5. Savor every bite. Enjoy every meal. If you’re not fully aware and appreciative of what you’re eating, you’re just wasting it.

6. Eat with friends, with people you love, or with your own good company—anyone who appreciates food, drink, and good conversation as much as you do. (This would not include a TV set.)

7. If you start worrying about eating, stop it. Be happy you can eat.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Face Time

Today I will drive three hours south from Seattle (in autumn-leaf colored fog) to Portland, where tonight I'll hang out at Rain City Coffee. The owner, Karen, is having a community book group there to chat about my book, When She Flew. The important word in that sentence is "community."

This is what books do in the 21st century: they create community. This is what coffee shops—and bookstores, and libraries, and theatres, and galleries—do. We are a society yearning for connection, and we seem to be finding it mostly online these days. Even though I'm telling you this online, what I'm really saying is: come out. Come out of your office, your house, and walk your neighborhood. Have coffee with a friend. Talk about something other than how busy you are.

People ask me why I still visit book groups when I could just as well call in with Skype (which was what I was going to do for this one). Skype has, indeed, been a wonderful way to communicate with readers and friends all over the country (and world, as half of my relatives are Australian). But when it comes to community, there's nothing like being there.

Today I'm going out into the world, to feel the fog envelope me, and to watch trees whizzing by on the highway, to park on the damp streets of Portland in the early dark of late October, and to enter a light-filled shop with espresso machines hissing, people chattering and laughing, a sense of all being in one place for an hour or two to do something meaningful together.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Will Work for Meaningful Contribution to Society

We writers are an odd bunch. We choose lives in which we sit alone all day in front of computers. Not in cubicles, not in rows of other computers, mind you, but completely, entirely alone. All day. Did I mention every day?
Now, this is fine if you’re deep in the “introvert” range of the Meyers-Briggs scale, but for those of us who nose over the line into the “extrovert” category, it can get a little lonely.
Lucky for me, I live in Seattle, a holy grail convergence zone for writers. Sure, the Pacific Northwest is dark and dismal nine months each year, but it’s excellent (either in spite of or because of all that moisture) for quite a few things: coffee, music, natural beauty, bookstores, and many of the authors that fill those shelves.
When I first moved here five years ago, I didn’t know a soul, but that didn’t last long. I met Garth Stein (before the dog book) at an event we were both reading at, and liked him immediately. It’s hard not to—he’s pretty much the most likable guy on the planet. As writers are wont to do when frustrated by writing, we met for coffee. It became a regular thing, and soon other writers were joining us. Before long, there were seven of us.
What is now formally called Seattle7Writers, an awareness and fundraising nonprofit comprised of over 40 published authors, started simply as a coffee klatch, a kvetching, laughing, celebrating bunch of friends who got what each other was going through on a daily basis. We could clink to the good stuff—a good cover, a manuscript turned in—and offer condolences on the not-so-good stuff—a delayed pub date, a request for massive revisions, even sometimes the “orphaning” of a comrade (the state of an author whose agent or editor has left for greener pastures at another company).
The core group now gathers monthly for business, and by business I mean juggling the demands of putting on several fundraisers at a time, collecting and distributing donated books for pocket libraries throughout our community (in shelters and prisons), and the myriad other requests we receive and ideas we generate. It’s exhausting, and it’s amazing. Groups of writers in other cities are now considering organizing as well, the most lovely tribute of all to the work we do.
Lest you think we’re workaholics, the entire group of forty plus is invited quarterly for social time, that precious couple of hours where we laugh hard at our stumbles and mourn together over titles not chosen, readings ill-attended. If not for the company of these writers, we’d all still write. We’d still publish and tour and do the work we do. We just might not be as happy, or as fulfilled.
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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

You are.

Well. Hello.

I think it was two years ago, around the time my last book was about to be released, that I decided to blog. I made this pretty page. I thought about things I might write that wouldn't bore you into a stupor. And then When She Flew came out, and I went on tour, and then I started writing another book, and then . . .

This is my life. Too busy to do things I should do, or want to do. Each time I come to the end of some big project, I think: I shall reform! I will make time in my life for the important things! And last year I did take a tap dance class (although by the time we got to aerial landings, I realized my knees weren't as up for tap dancing as they were when I was 10). And I traveled, a lot. I volunteered a little, and oh yeah, I spent a ton of my time managing the inner workings of a nonprofit I started with a bunch of other authors.

I have finished the next book. I have a moment to breathe. I want to take this time to tell you something of importance, something beautiful. Here it is:

You are important. You are beautiful. Thank you for being in my life.