Today we are thawing out a turkey, shopping for yams and whipped cream, and preparing for tomorrow. For my international friends, I wonder — do you have something similar to our Thanksgiving? It’s a day of feasting with family and friends, for sharing gratitude. There are no gifts or songs — only cooking and eating. It’s just one day, but it often involves two days of preparation and two days of recovery from overeating.
Tomorrow morning, we’ll get up early and Sam will start making the stuffing. He is the primary cook on Thanksgiving, because it’s his favorite meal to prepare. We’ll have cranberry sauce, with a mix of wild and domestic berries, turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, candied yams, stuffing, green beans, dinner rolls, and for dessert — pecan and pumpkin pies with whipped cream.
In past years we’ve raised our own turkeys, but the local hatchery went out of business so we didn’t have an easy way to buy chicks. Tomorrow we’ll eat an organic store-bought turkey we had in the freezer. A neighbor bought it for us after his sweet but overly enthusiastic dog killed one of our turkeys last fall.
During the day, while the turkey is cooking, we’ll go sledding and snowmachining (that’s what we call snowmobiles or sno-gos in Alaska.) Depending on the conditions, we might also get out the cross-country skis.
On Friday, we won’t be among the many Americans who throng to the malls for Christmas shopping deals. Instead, I’ll be at the bookstore working for a few hours, and Sam might take the girls out on the snowmachine.
But I will be taking a short holiday from the Internet, so I’ll see you on Monday.
Dear determined reader,
I have come to an important realization — trying to build an ice rink when you haul water is a little insane.
Two hundred gallons seems like a lot of water until you dump it out of the tank in the back of the truck and into the 20×22-foot boarded ice rink. Then it looks like a couple of gallons, a couple of gallons that is leaking out the seams in the plastic.
But, crazy as it sounds, we are undeterred. Sam sealed the seams with slushy water that quickly turned to ice in the subzero temperatures, and the 200 gallons last night actually stayed inside the rink.
Later in the evening, I made the spirit-crushing error of looking online at instructions for building your own outdoor rink. We seemed to be right on track — build a frame, line it with plastic … then fill it with 12,000 gallons of water. TWELVE THOUSAND GALLONS! Let’s see. We get 200 gallons for $5 each fill and a 60-mile roundtrip drive, so we should have it done in about two months, 3,600 miles, and $300, not including gas for the truck. Brilliant!
Thankfully, our rink is small compared to the ones described online. I’m hoping that with another 1,000 gallons and a few more weeks, we might be able to strap on the skates. Fingers crossed.
I also came to another important realization — your comments on my blog make me happy, even as an ice rink sits like a half-finished, frozen curse in our backyard.
This last week, I heard from friends and neighbors Mr. Baer, Mr. Jim, and fellow Alaska authors AdriAnne Strickland and Vivian Faith Prescott — who all agreed that the weather has been chilly up here.
But I also heard from Sarah in London, who says November has been mild, and from Mrs. Penfold in Australia, who wondered what kind of boots we must wear to keep our feet warm. (Many Alaskans love “bunny boots,” military-style winter boots made of white rubber. Myself, I prefer Sorel boots and SmartWool socks.)
And earlier in the week I had comments from Portland, Melbourne, Chickaloon, Palmer, Chicago, and Buffalo. It really is a delight to hear from all of you!
I have sad news to report — my ice skating pond is not finished yet. But we have a good excuse. It has been so cold my husband was concerned the water might freeze on the trip home.
The conditions have been extreme here, even by Alaska standards. We had two nights of 20 below zero (-29 C). And then it warmed up a few degrees, and the infamous Matanuska River wind began to blow. In the nearby town of Palmer, where the wind really howls, signs were flying off buildings and people were dashing from cars to shops as quickly as they could. The Anchorage Daily News had this great photo.
We typically don’t get as much wind at our house as in Palmer, but the past couple of nights we could hear it howling over the tops of the trees and threatening to scatter our plastic sleds about the yard.
The Matanuska wind has been known to reach 100 mph in the winter, although this week I suspect it was closer to 50 or 60 mph. The wind chill factor makes an incredible difference. For example, when it was -10F (-23 C), but the wind was blowing at 50 mph, the temperature in effect drops to -45 F (-43 C.)
But we certainly didn’t have it as bad as some areas of the state. On the Kenai Peninsula, south of here, 70 mph winds knocked out the power to more than 1,000 homes. And north in Fairbanks, where it is often extremely cold in the winter, they set a new record for November 17. The temperature, with no wind, was 41 degrees below zero F, which strangely enough is -41 Celsius as well.
This morning at our house, though, the wind has calmed some and the thermometer reads a balmy 10 below zero, so we’re going to give it a try. Sam is bringing home 200 gallons of water in a tank in the back of the truck, and we’re going to see if we can make that ice skating pond.
P.S. We got some exciting news from Canada this week: CHATELAINE MAGAZINE (Canada’s premier women’s magazine – which reaches aprox. 4 million women monthly) has selected THE SNOW CHILD as their March issue Book Club pick (issue comes out mid-Feb). Previous titles that have been book club picks included The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano.
While my debut novel The Snow Child will be released here in the United States on Feb. 1, it is coming out in countries around the world during the next few months. The first was Norway, where it was published this fall as Snøbarnet and it has received tremendous support from book bloggers like this and this.
The Spanish edition is next and comes out any day now as La Niña de Nieve. Here’s a preview from a Spanish-speaking reader.
And at the end of November, Einaudi in Italy will release La Bambina di Neve. Here is a preview from an Italian blogger.
I also recently learned that my UK publisher Headline Review will distribute to New Zealand, as well as Australia and South Africa. And Little, Brown & Co. here in the United States will also be sending The Snow Child to Canada.
So I just want to say hello, hola and ciao to readers around the world.
I love ice skating outdoors. When I was a little girl, I would sometimes skate on Wolverine Lake. On good days, the ice would be black and smooth, and I could lay down, cup my hands around my eyes, and look down through the dark cold and see aquatic plants frozen in the ice.
But the lake was several miles from our house, and often it was too windy to really enjoy skating there. Once or twice, I recall, our road was so icy I was able to skate back and forth on it, but it wasn’t quite the same. So my dad built me my own little skating rink in the backyard. It was nothing overly elaborate — just a two-by-four frame. He put down sheet plastic, flooded it with the garden hose, and let it freeze.
I vividly remember skating on that little sheet of ice on winter evenings. It was magical. The cold darkness. Silence broken only by the swish of my skate blades. The ice all to myself, but the warm light of home spilling out the windows and onto the snow. I wasn’t doing any double axels or camel spins, but I loved twirling and gliding across the ice.
I’ve always dreamed of recreating that backyard skating pond. We live near a lake, but often it is too snowy or too windy to get out there. The nearby town of Palmer has an arena, but I have never enjoyed the harsh lights, strangely still air, and noisy crowds of an indoor ice rink.
A skating pond in our yard, however, has been until now virtually impossible. We don’t have a well or live within a city system, so we haul our own water. But over the summer, we got a 200-gallon tank for hauling water in the back of our truck. So…
Yesterday Sam and I moved back the wood pile so he could get the plow truck up into our yard. Then he plowed out a nice little square. Today I’m going to go through our heap of scrap lumber and piece together enough boards to make the frame. It might take a few trips of hauling water, but I think we can make it work.
I planned to wait for some cold, clear weather to flood the pond. But then we woke up to the moon, stars, and 15 below zero. (That’s Fahrenheit, so for Celsius readers, it’s -26.)
Hopefully my next letter to you will include some photos of our shiny new skating pond.
P.S. Thank you all for your kind, enthusiastic reponses to my last letter. I have had a few people email me to ask if I am in fact going to France. ABSOLUTELY! It is a definite yes, yes, yes that I will be going. We are also considering making it a family trip — my 12-year-old might never forgive me if I go to London and Paris without her.
Dear worldly reader,
I haven’t made crepes in years. Maybe decades. When I was in high school French classes with my brother-in-law Dan, I think we went through a phase of making lots of crepes topped with strawberries and cream. But it’s been a long time.
So it was a strange coincidence that the other night I spontaneously decided to cook crepes for the family. I don’t think our daughters had ever had them. I flipped the hot crepes out of the pan and onto their plates, and they quickly spread them with butter and syrup.
The second coincidence is that my husband and I had decided to get serious about our passports, just in case any travel opportunities arose. We had the applications printed out that evening ,and after we ate crepes we started filling them out.
Why is this all such a coincidence? Because the next morning I got an email from my French editor, Deborah Druba with Fleuve Noir.
“We have just heard that Festival America, a very prestigious and influential festival held every two years in Vincennes near Paris is inviting you for next year’s edition.”
And then I opened the attachments and read the invitation. The Festival America brings writers from North and South America to France for a celebration that in past years has included authors like Margaret Atwood, Richard Ford, Donna Tartt, Tobias Wolff, Barbara Kingsolver, Chang Rae-Lee, Chuck Palahniuk … this is where I started to swoon.
In Vincennes, on the eastern side of Paris, we organize four days of readings and panels, a “café littéraire” and a book fair but also movies, concerts and exhibitions in order to celebrate the wealth and diversity of literature coming from an entire continent. Thousands of people attend this event which gets mass press and media coverage.
So it appears I will be going to France in September. And, when I informed my UK publicist Samantha Eades, we discussed the possibility that I might be able to stop over in London and for the first time meet people with Headline Review, my publisher there. Perhaps in this letter I sound calm and accepting of this turn of events, but in fact I have been dancing around the house for two days straight.
My only worry is my poor French. But my friends with Little, Brown & Co. pointed out that I surely remember the key phrases. “Une biere, s’il vous plait.” And “… des gateaux! Et du fromage! Et du pain au chocolat!” And, of course, “Non, je suis CANADIENNE” or at least “Je suis Alaskan.”
So now my only question — why didn’t I cook crepes before now?
Dear stormy reader,
While the western coast of Alaska is facing what meteorologist say could be the worst storm on record, with hurricane-force winds and 25-foot seas, all is fairly quiet, but very snowy, here at our house. We are in Southcentral Alaska, hundreds of miles from places like Nome where the storm is expected to hit hardest.
Around here, it has been cold — about 5 below zero Fahrenheit yesterday morning. Over the past week or so, we received a good blanket of snow. So in a word, it’s winter! And as evidence, here are some photos I took around our place yesterday.
Dear artful reader,
Do you have a pile of snow in your yard? Or are you planning on traveling to a museum or art show? I’m hoping that during the next month or so, you will be on the look out a “snow child.” I want to create a gallery on the website to share snow child images from around the world.
I’m viewing it through very loose guidelines. I’m hoping people search far and wide for different ways to imagine her. It could be an actual figure made out of snow in your yard, or a photograph, painting, sculpture or a piece of fiber art that somehow says “snow child” to you. It could be images of just snow flakes, or just children, or tracks in snow. I’m hoping somebody discovers an embroidered coat like the one the snow child wears. And I might even award a few little prizes.
I have collected a few images already, including an amazing illustration from a UK artist and, of course, the many book covers from around the world.
I won’t officially ask for you to send them until later in the winter. But I hope you will all begin to keep your eyes open. I can’t wait to see what you find.
Dear steadfast reader,
I’m a little worn out today. As you will soon see, I’ve been busy with more than just sledding down our driveway and shelving books at Fireside Books. These past two weeks I’ve also been fortunate enough to participate in some wonderful interviews. So today, I’m going to kick back, relax, and let everyone else do the writing. Here are two links for you to follow:
Have you ever wanted to know how many cords of wood we burn each year to keep our house warm, or how I found my literary agent? Here’s a Q&A with Alaskan author Melodie Wright who was so kind as to feature me on her blog, Forever Rewrighting. I loved her questions!
I also chatted on the telephone with British journalist Charlotte Williams, who writes for The Bookseller, the UK equivalent of Publishers Weekly. The article came out today, and can be found online here. Much gratitude to Charlotte for writing such a kind article, and to Alaskan photographer Stephen Nowers for a photograph of me that doesn’t make me cringe.
Dear warm reader,
It’s official, whatever the calendar says. Winter has arrived. We have snow on the ground, the temperature has stayed between 5 and 25 degrees Fahrenheit, and the winter wind has been howling.
The good news? This means sledding season has begun. We have one of the best sledding hills in the land, if I may say so myself. And we have a pile of sleds, for when friends, relatives, and neighbors come over for the fun.
My favorite, though, is our Norwegian kick sled. They are terribly expensive to purchase new here in Alaska. But we were fortunate enough to get a gently used one from a friend. For those who have never had the pleasure of riding one, it’s a blast!
They are designed a bit like a dog sled, with runners, a chair seat where one person can ride, and a place on the back of the runners for another person to stand and steer. You can ride it on flat ground by kicking with one foot. But we prefer to fly down our hill on ours.
The bad news? The same hill that is so fantastic for sledding is also our driveway. When the snow gets deep or the ice gets slick, it isn’t nearly as much fun to drive up as it is to sled down.
And here enters our poor, rusty old 1978 Chevy plow truck. If you wanted to, you could run it like a Flinstones’ car, by sticking your feet out the rusty hole through the floor. Its tires go flat between snow storms, and Sam has to spend more time inflating the tires and trying to get the truck to start than he does actually plowing.
So the snow is here, and we’re both celebrating and grumbling.
P.S. I have some news from London I’ve been waiting to share — BBC Radio 4, one of the UK’s biggest national radio stations, has selected my debut novel The Snow Child for their Book at Bedtime slot. It will be adapted for radio and broadcast in 10 episodes in April. Other episodes have included some of my very favorite novels: Things Fall Apart, A Christmas Carol, On Canaan’s Side, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and many more. Can’t wait to hear that lovely British accent!