Thursday, August 31, 2006

Le Petit Plaisir

My dear French friend, Audrey, taught me the joy of the petit plaisir- that is, the small luxury that all French people allow themselves from time to time. The idea of the petit plaisir is that we should treat ourselves to a mini-extravagance once in a while. Here then are five little luxuries to savor in Paris.

Hot Chocolate at Angelina
Audrey introduced me to the legendary Angelina tea salon on Rue de Rivoli where Coco Chanel, Audrey Hepburn, and Marcel Proust were frequent customers. It’s a lavish affair with Belle-Epoque mirrors and gilded moldings. The hot chocolate appears in a pitcher, with enough thick, decadent potion for at least three cups, finished off with dollops of homemade whipped cream from a silver pot. Bon appetit!

Angelina, 225 Rue de Rivoli, 8th arrondissement. Metro: Tuileries.

La Sainte-Chapelle
La Sainte-Chapelle is a jewel box of a cathedral. It has two tiers, the lower chapel at ground level is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and the upper chapel has radiant tall windows, as well as a small balcony. From the website: Sainte-Chapelle was built during the second half of 13th Century by Louis IX, the future Saint Louis, to house the relics of the Passion of Christ. Adorned with a unique collection of fifteen glass panels and a large rose window forming a veritable wall of light, Sainte-Chapelle is a gem of French gothic architecture.

La Sainte Chapelle, 4 boulevard du Palais, 75001 Paris Tél: 43 73 78 41, Metro: Cité

Posh Picnic
A picnic is that oh-so-Parisian way to enjoy an afternoon in the sun. Luxembourg Gardens offer long, tree-lined pathways for strolling down, the sumptuous Baroque Medici Fountain (pictured above), a merry-go-round, a puppet theater, and short but thrilling pony rides for kids. Stop at any local boulangerie or patisserie for a baguette and adorable petits-fours (miniature cakes, tarts, and eclairs). Then find some creamy cheese and a bottle of wine and you have an instant feast!

Luxembourg Gardens is located in the Latin Quarter and bordered on the east by the boulevard Saint Michel and on the north side by rue Vaugirard and the Odeon Theatre, 6th arrondissement. Metro: Odéon

Place des Vosges

Place des Vosges is Paris’s oldest square. Located in le Marais on the right bank, it’s truly one of my favorite neighborhoods. An arcade extends around the entire square including Victor Hugo’s former home. You can also shop along Rue des Francs- Bourgeois with its many restaurants and art galleries that now make their home in what were private residences in another century.

The Place des Vosges is located in le Marais, and is part of the 3rd and 4th arrondissements.

Ice cream at Berthillon
Berthillon is a long-time French institution on the Île Saint-Louis, a small island in the center of the city. They are known for their fresh ingredients and superb flavors like Grand-Marnier, Honey Nougat, and Coffee with whiskey. I recommend a homemade boule of vanilla or chocolate served with a little wafer.

Glacier Berthillon, 29-31 rue Saint Louis en l'ile, 75004 Paris, Tél: 01 43 54 31 61 Open: Wednesday through Sunday- 10am to 8pm

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Savoir Faire

I have a thing for Nicolas Ghesquière. Don’t get me wrong. I love John Galliano’s genius creations for Dior and the ad campaigns for Elie Tahari and Blumarine, but NG has single-handedly restored the beauty and grace that Cristóbal Balenciaga brought to his original house while other venerable Parisian houses like Lanvin have floundered. Long ago, before celebs toted Balenciaga motorcycle bags, there were great mavens of style like Marella Agnelli wearing his designs.
The late great fashion icon is being honored with a retrospective at Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. (Take a peek at snaps from the opening party with Charlotte G. and other luminaries.) Balenciaga first began his design empire in San Sebastian (LOVE this seaside town!) and then opened his temple of French taste on avenue George V in 1937.
His sculptural creations—including funnel-shape gowns of stiff duchess satin worn by clients such as Pauline de Rothschild and Mona von Bismarck—were considered haute couture masterpieces in the 1950s and 1960s. Hubert de Givenchy, no slouch himself, was his protégé. He closed his business in 1968 after being disillusioned with the advent of pret-a-porter. Today under the direction of Ghesquiere, Balenciaga rivals other exciting young designers like Zac Posen and Phoebe Philo for Chloé . Finalement, my current bag obsession by Frenchman and designer, Pierre Hardy. Dommage!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Voulez-vous coucher avec moi? Charlotte and The Science of Sleep

When Nicki asked me to guest blog about French style, Charlotte Gainsbourg immediately popped into my head. Two of my very favorite actors, Gael Garcia Bernal and Charlotte, will star in Michel Gondry's upcoming film La Science des Rêves (The Science of Sleep), which is described thusly on IMDB: "An insecure young man (Bernal) who lives in his dreams as much as in his real life attempts to establish a connection with his new neighbor (Gainsbourg)."

Gainsbourg, the daughter of Serge Gainsbourg (who once said: "There's a trilogy in my life, an equilateral triangle, shall we say, of Gitanes, alcoholism, and girls.") and Jane Birkin and wife of filmmaker Yvan Attal, is a true fashion idol and the epitome of seemingly effortless chic. At 13, she recorded the controversial song "Lemon Incest" with her father and she's starred in numerous films including Jane Eyre, 21 Grams, and La Petite Voleuse (The Little Thief). --Kim

Paris, Je T’aime

I’m declaring this week at TMQ's 3 Things Before 40, French Week, as all should experience the pleasure of a little French culture before they turn forty. I’ll try to include les petites trucs on cinema (below), art, museums, and the Parisian scene in the next few days. And my French friends better not laugh at me!
When I saw Un Homme et Une Femme at sixteen, I thought Anouk Aimée was the most beautiful woman in the world and I hoped to one day be as sexy and cool as her. Right. The film's score alone is worth the rental. French cinema has such a mysterious and alluring quality. It’s at once romantic and moody, and hilarious as Jean-Luc Godard’s après-sex scenes smoking cigarettes in bed.
This is just part of the reason why I am so excited for the new film Paris, Je T’aime. The original tagline was Stories of Love from the City of Love, and now it is One City. 10 Million Hearts. One Love Story. One Film. Each contributing filmmaker was given the task of making a five-minute short set in a Paris arrondissement that reflects the spirit of the neighborhood, the city, and the nature of love itself. Piece of cake, right? Many of the directors were American, like Alexander Payne, Wes Craven, Gus Van Sant, and Ethan Coen, and thus not very familiar with Paris or French culture. Even if the film is a total flop, it’s a great excuse to watch the beautiful people (Natalie Portman, Maggie Gyllenhaal) move through every neigborhood in the City of Light… and love.
Last year, Kim and I saw an incredibly moving documentary called Ballet Russes at the Balboa. I am eager to watch a similar film which should prove just as promising, Gaîté Parisienne. It stars Alexandra Danilova and her partner in life and dance, Frederic Franklin (who was also interviewed in Ballet Russes). I love that film historians and directors are preserving these great dance performances for future generations to enjoy.

Monday, August 28, 2006

And You Can Be My Cowboy

I am guest-blogging for Wendi Kaufman at The Happy Booker today. Lucky me got to interview MQ Lily Burana who is white hot right now with her new novel Try. With a cowgirl heavenly review on Daily Candy and a strong lead for Nerve’s Henry Miller Award for “best literary sex scene published in the English language,” this book will certainly exceed your expectations!

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Whip It Good!

Here’s an amusing 15-second commercial spot for MQ Jennifer Weiner's latest The Guy Not Taken starring Jen and Susan Bott, better known as...the Swiffer Lady! From Jen’s blog:
Those of you who've read Goodnight Nobody know the role the Swiffer Lady plays in the story -- basically, she's the woman the heroine, Kate Klein, imagines when she's daydreaming about who her children, and her life in picture-perfect Connecticut, might really belong to. Susan emailed me to tell me how pleased she was to find her work dusting to Devo immortalized in print. I wrote back to tell her how thrilled I was to hear from her. So when it came time to cast the female principal for the commercial, it was an easy call. I emailed Susan, who is a very fine comedian in her own right, and asked whether she'd consider coming to Philadelphia to shoot a low-tech, low-budget, fifteen-second spot for a book in my favorite neighborhood bookstore. Astonishingly, she said 'yes.' Jen’s short story collection is coming to stores September 5th.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Cute As A Cupcake

Kim and I were just recently interviewed by Rachel Kramer Bussel at Cupcakes Take The Cake. Sinfully fun! In related cupcake news, I discovered a yummy Magnolia Bakery cookbook at Green Apple Books on Wednesday night- More From Magnolia: Recipes from the World Famous Bakery and Allysa Torey's Home Kitchen. And just because I can't resist the temptation, here's the Lazy Sunday video with my man Samberg. For an extensive list of insights, references in the song, and spoofs, click here.

Jennifer Baumgardner's 3 Things

I am a great admirer of Jennifer Baumgardner and the work she does. I especially love listening to her eloquently debate on NPR. You can peruse my "Girl Talk" interview with her over at The Happy Booker. These are things Jennifer wants to do before she's 40. She said, "they range from mundane to cliched to delusional!" I think they're all insanely cool.
1. Go to Switzerland.

2. Reconnect to my teenage ambitions and appear in a movie (as a character, not merely in a documentary as myself--though that is cool, too).

3. Write a screenplay.

4. Fall in love.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Misty Mountain Hop

There's nothing quite like an 8,000 feet elevation gain to make you breathe easier. It feels a bit like walking on the moon. Over the weekend, my family and I went to Highland Lakes in the Sierras off Highway 4. On the way, we passed through mining and Gold Rush towns with intriguing names like Copperopolis, Angels Camp, and Murphys. After some interesting mishaps with a hummingbird and a looney mouse at home the past week, I was a bit reluctant to confront nature once again. However, the only animals we saw were a family of chipmunks living in a giant log, a marmot, a few blackbirds, and some fish. (Thank God poison oak and rattlesnakes can't exist at that elevation.) We roasted hot dogs over the fire and made smores, collected firewood and tried to show Lily how to "rough it" in the wilderness. At night, cuddling by the fire, telling stories, and snuggling in our sleeping bag were a sweet comfort. Our noble mutt, Pablo, playfully romped through the creeks and bounded through the soft meadows of wildflowers- Indian paintbrush, lupine, Alpine daisies in lavender and white, and red tear drop flowers- that carpet the valley amid rocky granite outcroppings. I highly recommend a stay near here.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Different Worlds Many Voices

My good friend and MQ contributor, Flor Morales, will be reading her story from TMQ, Crossing the Border, as part of a Marin Literacy Program special event on September 14 at Book Passage. This is an important night for Marin Literacy Program. We will be honoring both the students and our new fearless leader and director, Susan Charlton. A few MLP students will also read from their new book Different Worlds Many Voices and signing them afterwards. MLP has a huge presence in Marin County with a variety of programs- inmate tutoring classes for fathers at San Quentin, F.L.A.G. Ship- a family literacy mobile unit that delivers books to kids, Families for Literacy, and tutoring classes and workshops. For every copy of The May Queen sold during the event, Book Passage will contribute 20% of the cover price to Marin Literacy Program, an amount that is matched by a donation from Bank of Marin. Please come out and support the MLP and our community on September 14.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Your Dose of Democracy, Uncensored

MQ Ivy Meeropol has directed a new documentary series called The Hill that premieres on the Sundance Channel tomorrow night. The Hill will run Wednesdays at 9 p.m. in half-hour installments for six weeks. It follows U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) and four of his staff members who research foreign policy, the environment, labor, Social Security, and many other issues. Ivy knows her subject first-hand. In the early 1990s, she was a legislative assistant and speechwriter to U.S. Rep. Harry Johnston (another D-Fla.). She hopes her new series (with a score from Brendan Canty of Fugazi fame) will appeal to young people and thus make them more concerned and involved in politics. Read a Q&A with the filmmakers from Roland Park Pictures and don't forget to Tivo the show tomorrow night.

“Everyone's being horrid today, Uncle Arthur. Let's go out to tea!”

I generally leave discussion of literary film adaptation to my good friends at Romancing the Tome, but I noticed that one of my all-time favorite films is celebrating its twentieth anniversary. It seems incredible that twenty years have passed since Merchant Ivory turned E.M. Forster’s breathtaking novel into the awe-inspiring film A Room with a View. From the moment, Julian Sands as George Emerson, returned to his room to turn the painting with the question mark back around, I was smitten. To my mind, this is the perfect romantic comedy. The social mores of repressed, polite Victorian society meet the liberal-minded passion of a Tuscan summer in Lucy Honeychurch's romance with her "unsuitable" suitor George Emerson. Mr. Sands plays George with a mysterious brio, playfully turning the ? frame around and then gleefully screaming at the top of his lungs "Joy! Beauty! Love!" from a treetop. The casting is perfect- from the impish Rev. Mr. Beebe played by Simon Callow and the delightful Dame Maggie Smith as Poor Charlotte Bartlett, to the lusty Dame Judi Dench as Eleanor Lavish and irrepressible Daniel Day Lewis as Cecil Vyse. I especially love that Charlotte Bartlett and Eleanor Lavish discuss the plotline of E.M. Forster's other Italian novel Where Angels Fear to Tread when on their picnic. I ordered the two-disc special edition DVD set because I never tire of watching this film. Twenty years or forty years later, it will remain a timeless classic.

My next pick for what I hope will be an exceptional romantic adaptation is Ian McEwan's masterpiece, Atonement, now filming on location in Redcar and London. The cast includes a new crop of Brit actors, Keira Knightley and James McAvoy, who will play the star-crossed lovers. The radiant Vanessa Redgrave will star as the adult Briony. I was lucky enough to see Redgrave in Ibsen's John Gabriel Borkman at the Royal National Theatre in 1996. We have to wait a year for Atonement to appear in theatres, but it should be quite extraordinary and well worth the wait!

Friday, August 18, 2006

Ready For Their Close-up

More snaps from our reading at Cody's Books compliments of Kat Donohue. Thanks Kat!

Kimberley Askew reading Hold Your Applause, Please

Dao Strom reading from Side of the Road

Michelle Richmond reading Getting Ready

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Moms Living Clean Benefit

The filmmaker Sheila Ganz (Unlocking the Heart of Adoption) is having a mini-screening and benefit for her film-in-progress, Moms Living Clean, tomorrow night. This important film reveals a positive program that supports mothers and families in crisis in our community. Moms Living Clean profiles six women as they move through residential substance-abuse treatment and transitional phases of recovery. The mothers face challenges to stay clean, learn parenting skills, and become self-sufficient. Filmed on location in San Rafael, this is a model for whole family rehabilitation for mothers and their children as an alternative to incarceration and the breaking of family ties. These intimate portraits combat the social stigma that mothers on drugs are lost to society forever. The benefit of the documentary-in-progress will screen a clip from the film and have special guests- several mothers from the film.

Friday, August 18, 7 to 9pm
111 Minna Street, San Francisco
Admission is Free ~ Seating is Limited
Hors d’oeuvres and Cash Bar

Please RSVP to

Ganz began filming the women in April 2005 and will continue to the end of 2006. This fundraiser will help with camera and other equipment expenses, and editing the final film. If you would like to simply make a donation, click here.

The Curious Mr. McBean

A retrospective, Angus McBean: Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery in London, brings together over 100 photographs including his striking surrealist portraits of the 1930s and his period as indisputably the most important photographer of theatre and dance personalities of the 1940s and 1950s. Highlights of the exhibition include the iconic 1951 photograph of the then unknown Audrey Hepburn, and also portraits of Marlene Dietrich, Mae West, and Katharine Hepburn. The exhibition also features several defining portraits of Vivien Leigh, whom McBean photographed many times over the course of their thirty-year association. The photographer’s torrid arrest and glamorous yet unapologetic lifestyle are detailed in the The Sunday Times.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Having It All

When I was in my early twenties, I read Helen Gurley Brown's Sex and The Single Girl mainly out of a curiosity about the life of a liberated lady in the swinging sixties, but I was also fascinated by a woman who would go on to create a publishing empire. So I was thrilled when Colleen Rush called to interview me for her Cosmo article Everything You Need To Know About Your 30s featured in the September issue. I want to thank her for including me in such fine company. Within the section I’m quoted, Colleen argues that women, pre-pregnancy, or even during pregnancy, have legitimate fears and worries, but tend to think this is a sign that they may not be ready, or worry that these anxieties mean they're selfish, or they're too focused on what they're going to be giving up. She points out that this means they're really considering all of the angles about the decision they're making, and maybe mourning a little bit of what they might lose. The rest of the well-researched article focuses on women's health, relationships, body image, and career changes. Look for it on newsstands now.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Que Será, Será

Last Sunday, we offered a letter from a daughter to her mother, and today, we have a loving mother's letter to her daughter. After reading TMQ with her book club, Kim's mom Dianne Askew felt inspired to write this moving letter to her. Thanks, Dianne, for agreeing to share it.

Hi Kim,
I really enjoyed The May Queen. When the book group decided to read it, the joke was that we didn't remember our thirties. However, once I figured out what years they were, it all came back to me. It was interesting to me to think about it.

When I turned 29 it was the worst birthday of my life. I was so down and depressed, I wanted to stay in bed all day. But I couldn't for obvious reasons. When I turned 30 I had 2 children and so many dreams. I wanted to be a writer and more than once had started the great American novel. Of course, with so many interruptions and moves, everything got lost in the shuffle. The efforts probably wouldn't have amounted to anything anyway, but the dream was fun. By the time I was thirty five, I was a stay-at-home mom again after a brief stint working in an insurance office in Germany. By the time I was thirty six I had an interesting job in a warehouse office in Lubbock, Texas, and was still there by my fortieth birthday.

Who knew that I would spend 10 years teaching high school business subjects and then move on to where I am now. The writing I do is procedure and training manuals. I also do some training. Not very creative, but I like to think, important.

When we discussed The May Queen this week at our meeting, we commented on how the idea of children or not was a central theme, and how different it was in our time. Having a family was pretty much a given, and our lives didn't revolve as completely around our children as it seems to with mothers now. I mean that our decisions were based on what was best for the children and how our time was spent but it wasn't the spiritual bond that it seems to be now. Everyone had a different 2 or 3 that were their favorites, and we didn't agree on which ones were our least favorites.

With all of us being tough critics and having different criteria for judging a book, the response was pretty special, I thought. With 7 members present we had 5 2-thumbs up and 2 1-up 1-down.

I am so glad that you are able to make a living with your writing and live in the city you love. I wish you continued success in your job, your freelancing, and the books that are in your head and in your heart.


Monday, August 14, 2006

Dirty Sugar Cookies

From the back cover of MQ Ayun Halliday's latest book Dirty Sugar Cookies:
How does a picky eater morph into a low-budget epicure whose digestive indiscretions are a matter of public record? Just how far can a pregnant woman stray from the Best Odds Diet until a food-borne bacterial infection lands her in the hospital? Can a serial monogamist really keep track of every post-coital breakfast she's ever enjoyed?
An omnivorous, rollicking chronicle of culinary awakening, Dirty Sugar Cookies is an oil-splattered, accidentally-dropped-on-the-floor, self-mocking love letter to everything Ayun Halliday has ever eaten — and a few of the things she wishes she hadn't.
Read her amusing Food Blog, Blog Tour, and Q&A with Powell's. Ayun will be coming to a bookstore near you soon- so check out her appearance calendar. (Photo of young Ayun with pigtails and color-coordinating dress and candles!)

Sunday, August 13, 2006

The Brunette Venus

It's a bit belatedly, but Kim won the Naughty Reading Contest at Edward Champion's Return of the Reluctant. The coy minx poses in a bubblebath with a copy of Emile Zola's Nana! Congratulations, Kim! (Photo credit should go to Chris Askew for taking the daring winning entry.)

A Woman of Noble Character

When my charming friend Susan confessed TMQ stories had inspired her to write a letter to her mother, I asked her if she would be willing to share it with us. Thank you, Susan, for your thoughtful and generous remarks.
Dear Nicki,
I had so much fun at your San Francisco reading of TMQ that I decided to not only buy a copy for myself but one also for my mom. It would make for a unique Mother's Day gift. As promised, the book was a delightful read! What I didn't anticipate, however, was the ever growing desire in me to honor my mom. The more I read about each woman's experience, the more I thought about my mom and how she loved and raised us. She had truly helped shape me into the woman I was today and I'm embarrassed to say that it took reading your book to finally bring that truth to light! As I pondered how I might have written my own story, I realized that an intentional expression of my appreciation was in order. This was no easy matter though, for you see the past between us had not always been so rosy. Although we'd been reconciled for years, a heartfelt “Thank you for being my mom”, had never been shared. So, not only did my mom receive a copy of your book, but also a letter of appreciation to bless her, encourage her, and thank her. Here is a little excerpt of my letter to her. Thank you for your book - I'm sure you never dreamed that TMQ would inspire someone to move beyond simple reconciliation with their mom to an outpouring of gratitude and blessing.

Hi Mom! Happy Mother’s Day! ~May 2006
A Woman of Noble Character: Proverbs 31:29 “Her children arise and call her blessed...”
I hope you enjoy this book. I bought it months ago in anticipation of Mother’s Day. It is an interesting collection and I'm amazed to see how completely differently so many women view life! To be honest, I don’t relate to several of the stories and yet, the themes of motherhood strike a chord and quite a few stories made me smile and sort of knowingly nod my head to myself. I think the part of the book that made me most want to share it with you is Nicki’s introduction. I identify with what she wrote on the bottom of page 2, “I’ve discovered that women of my generation have grown weary of embracing the modern-day myth of ‘having it all’ and the reality of what this means for most women.” Although we want to make the most of the hard fought-for opportunity of having a fulfilling career, we don’t want to short-change our families in the process. Thanks to you and Dad- I was told and I believed I could be anyone I wanted! So part of this note to you is to acknowledge and thank you for instilling in me the belief and self-confidence that I really could be and do anything I wanted. I never doubted that ever. When asked how I handled the “cold environment” of being a woman in the physical sciences or how I managed to overcome the lack of female role models in my career to encourage me, I can honestly say I didn’t notice! I was oblivious to any supposed cold or hostile environment because you built into me such a subconscious belief I could do it that it really never crossed my mind that I was overcoming such obstacles. Thank you!

I also wanted to acknowledge that your example as Mom in my life also gave me the confidence to whole-heartedly embark on this journey of motherhood and to not feel like I’m giving up anything in my career to be a mom myself. In fact, I joyfully and willingly accept that my career will likely stall over the next decade or so because I want to be around for my son like you were for me. In addition, we always had dinner together as a family at the table with great meals. And you let us play so much ! So few chores and so much play! And so it is incredibly easy to release the “having it all” pressures and revel in the rewarding pursuit of recreating the home environment I grew up in for my family.

And finally, one last tidbit to share… as I read through the short stories, I was baffled and dismayed at the number of women who would allude to some sort of Christian upbringing or exposure and yet had completely turned their backs on it. Of course I have no idea what role faith truly played in their upbringing but it does make one sit back and ponder it. Why did it stick for me and not for any of them? Anyway, not to get overly philosophical but I do want to thank you and Dad for giving me such a solid foundation to my faith, one that has shaped who I am today and continues to shed light on my life story. If I were to write about turning 30, I would add to these other stories the wonderful completeness which God brings to my own story. Love you lots and lots and thank you for being the kind of mom that I want to be too. HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Kiss Me, Kate

My sweet friend Katie from our NACEL days of teaching English in southwestern France (sigh) very kindly wrote a note explaining how she feels about TMQ and turning 30. On one of our days off in the Pyrenees, I accompanied Katie hang gliding, so it came as no surprise that she celebrated her thirtieth birthday by hang gliding again!
Hi Nicki,
Your book has been decorating my nightstand since the first day it was released. I've been looking at it longingly, wanting to start it, but wanting time to really “get into it.” Teaching takes it out of me during the week and I'm so pooped when I get home...or at least that's why I thought I was delaying starting it. I kept telling myself, “I'll read it over Easter weekend when I have four days off and I can really dive into it and think about it.” I finally started it and I realized that I have been subconsciously putting off reading your book because by reading it I'll have to admit I'm in my 30s and want to read a book like this! As a schoolteacher just starting this third decade of my life, I lead a very different life from most of the women in this book, yet, I surprisingly found myself identifying with each woman's perspective in a unique way. I wanted to savor each contributor's experience and ponder over our similarities, our differences, and our mutual desire to cherish this time in our lives. I enjoyed getting to know each woman as she gave a glimpse of her personal thoughts and life experiences. I read a new section every few nights or so and got used to the idea that, okay so I'm in my is not OVER!
-Katie McCorkle

Friday, August 11, 2006

Southern California Wants To Be Western NY

I had the pleasure of touring the Finger Lakes and attending Rochester’s Lilac Festival with a boyfriend many moons ago. Although we could still see our breath in May, I thoroughly enjoyed the splendid beauty of upstate New York. When Kim and I were in NYC in April, I must confess I was also in complete awe of the lilacs in bloom. Now, for a fan letter to Kim from a New Yorker inspired by her story. Thanks Kelly!
My girlfriend passed The May Queen along to me. I am passing it along to another friend who will also love it. In fact, I have been talking about it to all of my friends. My thirties will be coming to an end soon so I am devouring this stuff up while I can. I specifically liked your essay because I too felt exactly the same way about New York State as you did about San Francisco. My husband dragged me (kicking and screaming) to Michigan for three years. I couldn't get back here fast enough.
Every day as I drive to work I am in awe of the scenery (and the gobs and gobs of lilacs) and so thankful to be home. So, I return home from work and sit on my deck with my cute husband and cute baby and drink wine while the Adirondack Mountains loom in the distance. I think you should do a book signing in upstate New York or Vermont and join us for dinner. My husband is an awesome cook and you would love my group of girlfriends.

Your new fan, Kelly

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Turning Point

Musings from a lovely fan and dancer!
Dear Nicki,
I just finished reading The May Queen, and I wanted to thank you for this wonderful book. I am a 31-year-old professional dancer, and I've been living and dancing in New York City for thirteen years. To make a long story short, I'm approaching the end of my career and I am a bit lost. I found great inspiration in your book. I could relate to these women and their stories, and I felt validated by them. I've been living my thirties just as I lived my twenties, but I haven't felt fulfilled. The May Queen really hit home with me, and now I feel motivated to make changes in my life. I've been telling all of my friends to read your book, and they love it! It amazes us that it focuses on so many of the things that we're experiencing and discussing. Thank you for this book, what a valuable resource for women!
Sincerely, Karen More

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Congratulatory Notes From the Underground

TMQ contributors gave the finished collection glowing reviews. Here are just a few letters with their compliments.

Nicki - First of all, I have to tell you that the book is wonderful! My God, I had no idea. I'm glad I didn't know how good it was going to be or I never would have had the nerve to write for it. I mean, I couldn't put it down. I was reading it in the subway and didn't want to stop when I came to my station!
You should be proud - it's so fascinating and utterly readable! I hope they're giving you marketing money because this thing could really sell. I'm totally proud to be a part of it.
-Heather Chaplin

I'm reading the book, literally in the middle of the night with a flashlight under the covers. I think it's amazing. Like reading diaries. Like seeing lives that are parallel to mine, of people I've never known. Very empowering. You've made a brilliant book. Congratulations.
Yours, Erin Cressida Wilson

Hi! I just wanted to thank you again for asking me to be a part of The May Queen. It's a fantastic book and you did an amazing job. I wish I had the time to get to one of the readings. I hope all else is well with you.
Take care, Tanya Donelly

Nicki, I just wanted to let you know how gorgeous the book is and how excited I am to be a part of it. I'm only on the third or fourth essay, and I'm staggered by the quality of the writing. The scope and depth of what's being explored is incredible.
-Heather Juergensen

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Curtain Call

Our good friend Amy Helmes (and Kim’s sidekick in reporting the very latest in literary adaptation on Romancing the Tome) gave her pal Michelle TMQ as a birthday gift. Read Michelle’s impressions in her thank you letter to Amy.
"Suddenly, somewhere in your thirties, all of the quick, sometimes hard decisions fall into place and the life you've been rehearsing for becomes the life you are living." This made so much sense to me when I read it today. I ran and got my highlighter as if it were something I needed to memorize for a class. Anyway, I decided to do some reading for fun today, instead of what I have to read for class. I came across that book you got me for my birthday and love it! For the past few years, I have sort of been going through life as if it is some sort of dress rehearsal... What the hell am I prepping for??? Hopefully somewhere in my thirties it will all come together... :) See what a few days off from teaching does to me!!!! As you well know, I don't get a lot of extra time to read for fun and The May Queen was perfect. Some of the stuff really hit home with me. Thanks!
-Michelle Hader

Monday, August 07, 2006

C'est la Vie!

Below is a letter from one of MQ Kim Askew's friends from her French Pod Class group.
Dear Kim,
First, I have to say I really love The May Queen! I mean, I expected it to be good, but I didn't expect it to be my favorite book of the summer which I am passing around to all my girlfriends. Almost all of the stories give me the sense of, had things gone just a little bit differently, that could have been me or my friends. Your piece (Hold Your Applause, Please) in particular really resonated with me. It certainly made me think--I was engaged at 19 to an Air Force non-commissioned officer, but called it off four months before the wedding day. Anyway, I'm sure you have people coming out of the woodwork to tell you their stories after this! But then again, that's one of the best aspects of this book--it opens the door to conversations that might otherwise not take place, especially regarding how it feels to not "have it all" when we were all raised believing that we could. So thank you for a wonderful introduction to a great book!
-Wendy S.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Bunny Love

This week, I have gathered a few letters from our May Queen readers who have shared their generous enthusiasm about the collection. Before Catherine OBrion wrote an article about me in June, she sent along this kind note.
"I am doing my best to do you and your book justice! I started reading more of it, but I wanted to comment on the first story about the Dalmatian (The Difference Between 3 and 30 by Ashley Warlick). I had a stuffed bunny, Bunky, when I was little and left it at the beach, cried the whole way home and it never turned up. Every year my mom searched for this bunny, never finding it, but buying other bunnies that were never as cute and never as soft. This year, my boyfriend found the same type of bunny on eBay. I haven't cried about that bunny in over fifteen years, but it felt good to be crying about the reunion instead of the loss. When I read the story in your book, I wanted to cry all over again because not only did I know how the child felt, but I think I also know how her mother felt. Anyway I really enjoyed it and learned something too. I can't wait to read the rest. Thanks again." -Catherine

Saturday, August 05, 2006

On The Fringe

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe begins tomorrow. Read the BBC News piece on the blogging focus in this year's festival. Most bonny lads are awaiting the play Bloggers: Real Internet Diaries directed by Oliver Mann. For show times and performances click here.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

My City By the Bay

Here then are my favorite spots to unwind and while away the hours in San Francisco. That's me and my girl only two years ago on the top of the San Francisco Art Institute with Coit Tower and the tip of the Transamerica Building looming in the distance.

If you've got three hours in San Francisco.... Stroll along the streets of North Beach in Little Italy and take in the countless authentic restaurants and coffee shops. Stop at City Lights Books and wet your whistle upstairs at Vesuvio or Specs' (just across the street). Then head up Chinatown’s Grant Street for browsing. Continue along Grant across Columbus for more window shopping and people watching. End your jaunt with a big bowl of spaghetti carbonara and a carafe of house wine at Bocce Café on Green. You’ll feel as if you’ve stepped into a secret hideaway.

Where would you go for an intimate dinner? San Francisco has so many amazing restaurants, it's difficult to choose just one, but Hyde Street Bistro is parfait. The service is impeccable, the ambiance cozy and warm, and the food divine. What a sublime little piece of France in Russian Hill. C’est magnifique!

Best neighborhood cafe? I used to adore Café de la Presse for their fabu croque monsieur and cool newsstand vibe until they recently revamped the restaurant into a cold, imposing space. My new fav is Pizzetta 211- a pizzeria tucked away in the Richmond. They only buy fresh seasonal products, which they use to cook great Mediterranean dishes. You must check out the little theatre in the bathroom when you’re there as well.

Favorite building? I’m in awe of many of the art deco buildings downtown like the City Club. Yet for me The Palace of Fine Arts radiates such a calm serenity especially at night. I get the same feeling from the interior of the Swedenborgian Church.

People should know... I walked everywhere when I first moved here eight years ago. I didn’t have a car for the first eight months, butI was glad of it because I discovered much of the city by walking aimlessly until I happened on hidden gems. The city is designed on a grid so it’s very easy to find your way around and explore its countless charming neighborhoods.

Do you have a favorite SF view? If you don't mind windswept vistas, the view from Twin Peaks takes my breath away every time.

If you could own one place... I’ve always thought one of the old mansions in the Presidio would be pretty cool to live in. There’s also an Edwardian cottage on top of a hill in Diamond Heights I’ve had my eye on for years.

How to escape summer in the city? Pt. Reyes Seashore is my absolute favorite spot in the bay area. We like to hike to Montara Beach and see the Tule elk roam the hills above. I recommend exploring Pt. Reyes Station and dining at Station House Cafe. I especially love the magical town of Inverness. You should stay at Manka’s Inverness Lodge or at least have dinner there.

What is your favorite shop? I indulge my designer clothing lust by window shopping at American Rag (has affordable vintage finds) or Erica Tanov. Ms. Tanov has two bay area shops now, but I prefer her Berkeley location. We’re so lucky to have such a talented designer as a local resident. For gifts, I love Dandelion and for Lily’s pressies, I shop at The Ark. On Sundays at the Alameda Flea Market, I always stop at La Tulipe Noire stall.

Where would you go for a dream date? A candlelit dinner at Le Colonial. We would then take a private yacht from the Marina to East Brother Light Station Inn where we would stay in Walter’s Quarters and sip cognac by the fire.

What's a San Francisco stereotype that fits? Based on its renown as the land of hippie counterculture, I expected San Franciscans to be nutters.. and some of them truly are. The majority are progressive, interesting, and interested citizens. I appreciate the diversity of SF- the giant Asian community and Latino population in the Mission and elsewhere. My one peeve is the holier-than-thou self-righteousness of a certain Berkeley set- in particular men who wear berets whilst reading The Nation in the gourmet ghetto on Sunday mornings- whom I find truly obnoxious.

Best place to sample sourdough bread? San Francisco's oldest restaurant Tadich Grill has the most delicious bread. I had grown rather tired of sourdough bread until I bit into their crisp, sweet manna. The food is greasy and seafoody and perfect. Also on occasion, I have been lucky enough to glimpse the SF twins here.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Kimberley Askew Hearts SF

I don't think I know a single person who adores San Francisco as much as my dear friend Ms. Askew. Discover where Kim goes to eat, chat, and chill in SF.

If you've got three hours in San Francisco....
That's easy. Afternoon tea in the Garden Court at The Palace Hotel.

Where would you go for an intimate dinner?
Emmy's Spaghetti Shack on Mission at Virginia Street. The first time I went there, the very pregnant waitress and the bartender kept pausing for impromptu make-out sessions, which didn’t seem at all malapropos.

Best neighborhood cafe?
On a warm summer evening, Revolution Cafe in the Mission--especially when the jazz trio is performing. It was at Revolution where I was reminded recently that Buddy Holly's Greatest Hits is best enjoyed at top volume. The best bar is Zeitgeist, of course.

Favorite building?
The Palace of the Legion of Honor museum, even though it's a copy, because of the location and the collection. Also, it was donated to the city by a laundress who became a millionaire. That's so San Francisco.

People should know...
about the Mechanics' Institute Library.

Do you have a favorite SF view?
The view from the roof at Chez Askew is penthouse perfect. It encompasses Alcatraz, Coit Tower, and the Bay Bridge. There's the view at night as I'm cabbing home from SFO after a long trip (though lately I've been Bart-ing it like a good San Franciscan should).

If you could own one place...
The Sentinel Building, which Francis Ford Coppola purchased in the '70s or the James Flood Mansion on Nob Hill that houses the Pacific-Union Club. Can anyone get me inside?

How do you escape summer in the city?
Find a friend with a motorcycle or a convertible and head to Muir Beach for the day. When the fog rolls in, get cozy over hot toddies at the Pelican Inn.

What is your favorite shop?
Green Apple for Books, Belle Cose on Polk for lingerie, and Recchuiti Confections in the Ferry Building for chocolate.

Where would you go for a dream date?
It's a secret.

What's a San Francisco stereotype that fits?
We like to live on the edge.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Michelle Richmond's San Franciso

Thanks to MQ Michelle Richmond for answering our San Francisco Questionnaire. Step into Michelle's world of secret haunts and scenic walks...

Where would you go for an intimate dinner? The Richmond, a great little restaurant at 6th and Balboa. Wonderful ambiance, great service, delicious food.

Best neighborhood cafe? Simple Pleasures in the Outer Richmond, on Balboa Ave. between 37th & 38th. Exceptional paninis also known as Dae-nini, constructed with care by Dae, the dreadlocked hottie behind the counter. Their coffee is some of the best in the city, and the cozy tables and sofas and chairs are always packed with regulars.

People should know... Tourists tend to see the Embarcadero and Chinatown and the Marina and that great travesty known as Fisherman's Wharf, but many of us San Francisco residents love the city in large part because it is so UN-urban. I spend most of my time out in the quiet, windswept avenues of the Outer Richmond, or among the wild gardens of the massive Golden Gate Park, or out at Land's End. SF has the largest percentage of green space of any major city in the world! When folks who "aren't from around here" complain that they just couldn't stand the crowds and the traffic, I want to ask them how many miles of protected beach, how many acres of public gardens, how many duck ponds and walking trails they have where they live.

Do you have a favorite SF view? Looking out toward the bridge and the Marin headlands from a little opening between the trees on the Land's End trail.

If you could own one place... There's a nice mansion for sale in Sea Cliff for 23 million, with sweeping views of the Golden Gate. I think I'd have to choose a more lucrative career, though.

How do you escape summer in the city? Why would you want to escape it? Sure, it's cold and foggy, but that's part of the charm. When we want something warmer, we go to Monte Rio on the Russian River--it's like stepping back into the 1950s, only there are more leather bars.

What is your favorite shop? Ambiance on Haight for clothing and purses, plus a little hole-in-the wall "party supply store" by the post office on Geary where I go to buy balls for Oscar, novelty children's books, storage baskets, yo-yos, stationery, and odd handbags. De la Sole on 18th in the Castro for shoes. The second side of Cliff's Hardware for home decor oddities. Sloat Garden Center for plants and dirt.

What's a San Francisco stereotype that fits? I am just SOOO much greener than you. I make my own sushi from scratch (oh, yes, I breed the tuna myself), I wouldn't dream of owning a car (I'm happy to ride in yours--in fact, could you give me a lift? it's not really out of your way--just across the Bay Bridge--forgive me if I don't contribute to the gas fund, it's against my principles). A stereotype that does fit me is the "buy local" obsession. It's just so much more pleasant to buy lug nuts and duct tape from the little hardware store around the block than to try to brave the crowds at Home Deopt. At my hardware store, they'll pull what you need off the shelves and tell you how to use it--definitely worth paying a little more!

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