New Year: Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, etc.

Posted by admin on Thursday Dec 30, 2010 Under Uncategorized

HERE’S MY LIST OF NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS. What does your list look like?

1. I will begin (and complete) Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way

2. I will self-publish my novel Palace of the Blue Butterfly

3. I will meditate (almost every day)

4. I will write down my dreams (almost every day)

5. I will practice 15 minutes of yoga (almost every day)

6. I will walk down my little country road (almost every day)

7. I will practice compassion EVERY day.

And so I begin the New Year with this Buddhist prayer.

May I be medicine for the sick.
May I be food and drink in a time of famine.
May I be a lamp
for those who need light,
a bed for those who need rest.
May I be a guide for all seekers
to the Other Shore.
May all find happiness through my actions.
Whether they love or hate me,
whether they hurt or wrong me,
Let no one suffer because of me.


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Winter Solstice on the Ranch

Posted by admin on Thursday Dec 23, 2010 Under Uncategorized

PaintingI love winter, the time of candles reflected in darkened window glass, the blazing fire, the Christmas tree covered with faceted, jewel-like ornaments.

Of course at two am when I need them most, the candles are gone, and the unlit tree is a large shadow in the corner.

I am — I have to admit — a terrible insomniac. Or rather, I used to be a terrible insomniac.

I still wake at two am, but in the quiet of the mountains, it no longer seems so terrible. I don’t lie in bed dry-eyed, staring at the ceiling, turning over in my mind every failure, every shortcoming. Even the coyotes ululations don’t alarm me as much as city sounds did — the distant sirens, the big rigs down-shifting on Highway 24, the sound of someone rummaging through the garbage on the nights we dragged the bins to the curb, the time I heard a woman sobbing by the side of our house. Her grief — whoever she was — still haunts me.

Now when I wake in the early hours, I just try to fill myself with darkness, with silence. Up until a couple of days ago, I had yet to be completely successful. I only seemed to grasp those things by their opposites, by sound and light. In autumn — the owls. In summer — the frogs in the pond. And last night, after nights and nights of dark rain, the setting moon blazed so brightly through the bedroom window, I was afraid of a fire on the northwest hill.

But there was one moment in the midst of all this, as the rain of a fierce winter storm pummeled the roof and battered the oaks on the hill, where I almost got it. I was awake at two or three in the morning, taking all of it in, when I heard a dull thud.

Christmas KitchenThe refrigerator cut off.


Power outage.

Now THAT is silence. That is darkness.

It is also no coffee grinder, no coffee, no toast, no laundry, no Christmas tree lights, no reading the New York Times, no computer, no telephone, no dishwasher. No Kitchen-Aid whirring the butter and sugar, no making the traditional three-layer coconut cake.

So much for metaphoric darkness, spiritual darkness, the wonderful darkness of poems like Theodore Roethke’s “In a dark time, the eye begins to see . . . ”

Folks, it was just plain dark, damp, cold, and boring. Really boring. Poor Dave kept trying to read, but the color of the print blurred with the gloomy color of the room, so he finally gave up.

After thirteen hours of no electricity, we lit every candle in the house, and I tried to rustle up some dinner.

Then, just as the pasta pot was filled, I heard it — the metallic whine of the refrigerator! The power came back on! We had light!

Christmas TreeIt was Christmas!

Here’s the pasta I made, destined, I think, to be a Winter Solstice tradition. It’s a traditional Roman dish called . . .

Pasta Cacio e Pepe. (A Mario Batalli favorite!)

1lb dried spaghetti
1/4 cup olive oil
2TBS butter
2 tsps fresh ground black pepper
1/4 cup pecorino cheese grated.
1/4 cup Reggiano parmesan cheese grated

Cook pasta in boiling salted water until al dente. Don’t overcook

Heat butter and olive oil in large pan until very hot. When pasta is done, drain, saving the cooking water.
Stir the pasta around in the hot oil and butter. Add about a cup of hot pasta water, sprinkle in the cheese and stir until the sauce is creamy. Add more water as needed to make it creamy and smooth. Sprinkle in the pepper, taste for salt and serve. Bring the pepper grinder to the table for those who want more.

There you have it, what I now call Power Outage Pasta.

I should tell you the traditional versions of this recipe use all Pecorino cheese, but I like it a little milder. Besides, Dave just brought back a beautiful wedge of cheese from the Pasta Shop in Market Hall in Oakland, so I had to use it. A nice Umbrian red wine from Vino on College Avenue in Oakland added to the festivities, along with a big bowl of satsumas, pears and some local pecans from Tom and Mary Riffel at the Riffelhof Farm and Vineyard in Miramonte.

Merry Christmas to you all.

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Mexico City (Part 2)

Posted by admin on Thursday Dec 16, 2010 Under Uncategorized

Here’s a picture of my friend Frances and me.

On the morning this photo was taken, we’d met for coffee in leafy Parque Mexico before Dave and I were to embark on the rest of our day. However, we ended up spending a lot of time talking about our families, our gardening plans and our enneagram signs. ( I’m a six. She’s a two. Does this mean anything to you?)

I’ve come up with a new math equation. Women + Interest in Personal Growth = Cultural Universal. Anyway, Frances and I always marvel at the fact that we come from two different cultures and yet have so many of the same interests.

When we finally looked at our watches (OMG the time!), I got on the cell phone—like every other Mexico City resident— and arranged to meet Dave in another of my favorite neighborhoods in Mexico City—The Roma. Actually, the two neighborhoods that I love sort of merge into one another and are sometimes referred to as Condesa/Roma.

I wanted to walk around Parque Rio de Janeiro—the setting that inspired my novel. After the 1985 earthquake, the buildings around the park, which are so romantic, fell into disrepair. Many were abandoned, and it didn’t take long for Mexico City’s artists, musicians and writers to move in.

I don’t know what it’s like for other writers of women’s fiction, but I didn’t make a conscious decision to write about the two expat sisters—Vivienne and Lili— who inhabit a house on this park. They just came to me, like new friends do—and I spent the rest of the time trying to get to know them—their passions, their rivalries, their secrets. Finally, the whole draft came together and the title —Palace of the Blue Butterfly— as well. I have no, I mean it, no idea how I got the title. It just flew into my head the way a bird might fly into a room.

If you are familiar with Nahautl, you’ll know that Quetzalpapalotl means Blue Butterfly, and if you know that, you’ll know that Blue Butterfly was the rain god’s (Tlaloc) wife. Okay. Actually, the real translation is iridescent, blue-green butterfly goddess. Not really a book title.

Well, to continue in this pedantic vein a moment . . . the actual Palacio de Quetzalpapalotl is a beautiful temple to Blue Butterfly at Teotihuacan, which houses this mural . . .

The Paradise of Tlaloc. It is considered to be one of the most beautiful examples of Pre-Columbian art.

A little digression, I know, except that’s Mexico—so many layers, ancient, colonial, modern—and they all sort of blur.

After poking our heads into the OMR gallery, Dave and I ended up in a little tea shop on Orizaba—the street that wraps around Rio de Janeiro Park, the street where my characters Vivienne and Lili live. Okay. Live? I can hear you say. Uh . . . Jane?

Oh dear. That’s why I have to get this book out there in the world . . . as an e-book, anything, so Lili and Vivienne can actually live— in someone else’s head not just mine— and can be sitting at a table in this exact cafe on a lovely, autumn evening when one of them gets the news that . . .

If any of you folks out there know anyone who has published an e-book, I’d love to hear about it. And yes, I’ve gotten agents and so on. They were both lovely, supportive people who only wanted the best for me. And then, there’s the publishing industry, the economy and well . . . If you write, you know the rest of the story. Let’s just not go there. Life, my friends, is too short, and there’s still so much to do!

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A Trip to the Big City (Part 1)

Posted by admin on Thursday Dec 9, 2010 Under Uncategorized

Whenever I get a hankering for a bit of glitz and glam, I head to the city . . . the really big city, the biggest city in the world . . . Mexico City.

I suppose everyone, and especially at my age, has a few threads left unwoven into the fabric of his or her life. Mine is Mexico City. It was a love affair that started on a road trip when I was seventeen and has pretty much continued. And while I love life up here on the ranch, I really did want to get out my fancy clothes, paint my nails, put on the Chanel red lipstick and be all urban and sophisticated and stuff. So . . . a week before Thanksgiving, Dave and I headed down Mexico way to visit friends, hang out in cafes, wander around galleries and museums and generally soak up comaraderie, culture, and haute cuisine Mexico City style for a week.

I wrote my beautiful friend Frances and said, “What I really want is an apartment in the Condesa where my friends can come over and hang out, where we can dine on rooftop restaurants and wander around parks, you know, where I can really feel like I live in the DF for a week.”

She told me about this delightful couple, Daysi and Homero Nava, who have just opened a lovely B&B—the Hotel Villa Condesa—on Calle Colima between Avenidas Guadalajara and Veracruz. The Navas are as fascinating as they are charming, and the place was was perfect— a beautifully restored Art Nouveau building, the kind I always dream I will live in when I come back in another life.

I love this neighborhood so much I wrote a whole novel about an expatriate who lives there just so I could be in the Condesa if only in my imagination!

Just look at some of these buildings!

Here’s a picture of the restaurant on top of the Condesa DF Hotel above Parque Espana. I heard somewhere that the writer Octavio Paz lived on this park, and I kind of hung over the edge of the railing hoping to catch a glimpse of his ghost deep in thought walking under the shadows of the tree. Ghosts… it IS Mexico, after all.

The first morning we were there, we headed to the Palacio de Bellas Artes for a look at the Saturnino Herran exhibit. Very cool. I snapped this picture of the skyline over Alameda Park from Bellas Artes while I was waiting for Frances.

Notice how clear the air is? That’s because of these . . .

The Ecco Bicis.

The idea is you borrow one from the bike stand and deposit it in the stand nearest your destination. How civilized is that?

After oohing and ahhing over the beautiful Art Deco interior of the Palacio de Bellas Artes, we dined at El Cardenal— a restaurant right behind the Metropolitan Cathedral where I had an incredible Mole. Then it was onto the Museum at the Templo Mayor and the treasures of Moctezuma II.

We finished up the first evening with great margaritas in the Opera Bar. If you look up you’ll see the bullet hole Pancho Villa put into the ceiling when he rode in there on horseback. I’m smiling because I’m sitting in the seat Diego Luna sat in for a photo shoot on Mexico city. Be still my heart!

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Meditation: Late November

Posted by admin on Thursday Dec 2, 2010 Under Uncategorized

The Thanksgiving guests have all departed, gone back to their busy lives in the Bay Area, and I’m left here on the ranch in the quiet stillness of frost and fallen leaves. Friends’ absences or not, there’s always something quiet and still about this time of year— that lull between holiday celebrations. It’s when I feel the season most intensely.

This morning, standing on the porch, coffee cup in hand, just as the sun came up over the hills, I watched the mist lift from the meadow as the flickers pecked around in the snow searching for insects.

By the time the sun hit the porch roof, the snow began to melt, and clear droplets fell from the side of the house. It was the only sound I heard— no wind, not even falling leaves.

I wanted some way to describe this feeling of melancholy, joy and even a little fear— of the coming winter, the inevitable revelations the new year will bring— and I remembered an exquisite poem by Louise Gluck.

Stanley Kunitz described her poetry this way: Everything she writes turns to music and legend.

See what you think.


Even now the landscape is assembling.
The hills darken. The oxen
Sleep in their blue yoke,
The fields having been
Picked clean, the sheaves
Bound evenly and piled at the roadside
Among cinquefoil, as the toothed moon rises:

This is the barrenness
Of harvest or pestilence
And the wife leaning out the window
With her hand extended, as in payment,
And the seeds
Distinct, gold, calling
Come here
Come here, little one

And the soul creeps out of the tree.

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