Author: Christine Lee (page 1 of 4)

Hobbiton Farm

I have a farm. (I feel like Isak Dinesen/Karen Blixen: “I had a farm in Africa,” sans empire and imperialism).

I was reluctant to call what I had, a farm. I had chickens and bees and several vegetable areas–but somehow, it did not feel like enough. Likewise in the early days of writing, I couldn’t bring myself to say I was a writer. But with all identities, the pendulum shifts at a certain point; with writing, I gained confidence, I gained some achievements, and I formed a community, which helped me make the transition to calling myself a writer.

Someone once told me that identity is composed of three things:

  1. Legal identity
  2. Social identity
  3. and most important: Self identity

At some point, Hobbiton Farm became a farm not just in name but in function. Over the winter, I began ripping out ornamental plants with the intention of replacing them with edible plantings. I chopped down some nameless, non-fruiting trees and built a hugelkultur bed in their place (and using the wood therefrom). I’ll be experimenting with hugelkultur and planting vegetables in that bed at some point.

I got some frustrating news mid-winter, so what can you do when you feel helpless and exasperated? You learn to use a chainsaw and tear down a twenty-year-old trumpet vine, of course. Over the course of a few days, that vine came down. I sawed and hacked away at it. I was covered in tree detritus everyday. I chopped that thing down bit by bit, and then I dragged the pieces away one by one, too.

And I added the vines and branches and leaves to the–yes, the hugelkultur bed.

By week’s end, the wall was rid of vine. The trellis was rid of vine. It was ready for a peach tree. And it was ready for grapes.

My daughter was dismayed when she saw I’d cut down the trumpet vine. But has been consoled by the peach tree and grapes. (And yes, it was exciting getting bare root fruit trees delivered in the mail–such is my life that this is what excites me).

In the past year, I made new farming connections. From them, I learned about no-till practices. And also Korean Natural Farming practices. We geeked out on farming information. On gardening. On plants. On horticulture. I started making lactic acid bacteria. I’ll tell you more about that in subsequent posts. Along with bees–the bees the bees the bees!

But mostly, I’ve been out in the garden every single day. This winter, I became a farmer.

I’ve been obsessed with amending the soil. Last year, I could tell the soil needed help–plants would top out at a certain point in certain places in the garden. And that I’d have to lay down new foundation.

I learned about sheet mulching. Thank goodness the Amazon boxes have finally come in handy–the cardboard boxes are the first layer when you do sheet mulching (which I like to call “lasagna gardening). Which then you top with compost and leaves and what have you. This method chokes out the weeds below. It builds new soil. It is a no-till method, whereby you don’t disturb the earth (and micorizzhae and earthworms and what have you) below. It replicates what happens in nature: earth, then the leaves that follow upon it.

It’s been therapeutic for me to hang out with my bees and chickens and experiment with soil amendment and learning about new gardening practices. Maybe it’s the Vitamin D from sunlight. Maybe it’s touching the earth. Maybe it’s the adrenalin from sweating. Maybe it’s witnessing the matriarchy of the bees (and the matriarchy of the chickens). But it makes me feel better. It makes me feel comfortable in my own skin. I just want to share it with you, in hopes that it enlightens and maybe makes you feel better, too. Or know that the world is still somehow working, even though the world feels like it’s going sideways.

So I’ve expanded. My goal is to turn the entire yard into an edible landscape. Whatever is on it, I think, must serve a purpose. I’m making space.

I feel helpless a lot–and it’s not a feeling I like to carry around with me. Farming makes me feel less helpless. There’s always something to do. The farm is self-sustaining. It is about having purpose. In that sense, I’ve always been a farmer.

I’ve believed in productivity my entire life. It happens when you’re a child of immigrants. I was raised to be aware of where I put my energy, and what the harvest might look like. This is the place.

As a woman, I wasn’t raised to hold tools. As a woman, many of the tools sold at the store are too big for my hands. But this winter, I learned to use a chainsaw. I used big-ass drills to help build a trellis. I bought cattle fencing and fence posts, so I can build a squash arch. It feels good. A tool belt might be next. Do they come in women’s sizes, I wonder?

(picture of the garden, Summer 2017)

Lifehacks on giving birth to a book


Book publication is like giving birth.

Thus, I provide two lists, with advice and lifehacks for each.

When you give birth to a baby:

  • 6 weeks before giving birth, start the perineal massages. It is not sexy. But it is helpful.
  • Take all the hospital supplies home with you–the squeeze bottle, the cloth underpants, the pads, the chux, everything. You may need all of it. You may only need some. You won’t have time to get more. Take them all home.
  • Amazon.com and Diapers.com are your friends.
  • Get a flat waterproof crib sheet. That’s not for the baby just yet. Put that under you while you sleep for the lochea (there will be lochea).
  • Get a headlamp for nighttime diaper changes.
  • Coconut oil is your nipples’ friend. I tasted lanolin, and it was so gross I couldn’t fathom giving it to my baby–so I slathered coconut oil instead. I still have that jar.
  • Dermaplast spray if you gave birth vaginally. ‘Nuff said.
  • Tucks pads.
  • That first bowel movement after giving birth? It’s epic. Hold on to the walls. You will be okay.

When you give birth to a book…

  • Enjoy the book cover reveal. Enjoy the galleys. It’s all a thrill!
  • Don’t ask anyone to help with publicity if you haven’t sent them a copy of an ARC. Send out a lot of ARCs, if you can.
  • Be ready to set aside time to write articles and such to help with book publicity.
  • There will be haters. Don’t let them get you down.
  • Be prepared to email blurbers yourself. Email them. They may not be able to say yes. Shake that off, and keep emailing.
  • Thank your blurbers. Send a card. A tiny gift. They read your damn book and then said something nice about it.
  • Goodreads.com is not your friend. DO NOT RESPOND to Goodreads.com reviews. In sum, do NOT respond to ANY bad reviews of any kind, be it Goodreads or the Nytimes.
  • If you have a book launch party (and you should), bring a guest book so people can sign and leave you notes. You’ll find you have very little time to have meaningful chats with each person. (This advice was gifted to me by another friend).
  • Make a list of your allies–litmags and organizations and people who have genuinely supported you throughout the years. Never forget them.
  • Keep friends who aren’t writers close to you. Maintain the part of your life that has nothing to do with writing.
  • Have a friend you can vent to about bad reviews or the process of book publication. Someone who won’t be jealous, preferably someone who’s been through it before.
  • Keep a running list of press, so that you can update your website later.
  • If you will be doing radio interviews, practice speaking without saying “um, uh, like,” and other things that buy you time. It’s better to pause a second or two then say “uhhh.” I did this by recording myself speak and counting the times I said “like.” (the Southern California girl in me flows strong).
  • Now’s also the time to strengthen yourself as a book reader. Mark your manuscript and reading copy up–put notes down indicating where you want to increase volume, slow, speed up, or pause.
  • Prep a few lines of greetings for when you sign books. So you don’t go blank.
  • Thank your publicist (if you have one). They work hard for you and your book.
  • Self care, self care, self care. If you have the resources, plan a getaway for after book launch and publicity duties end. Do what you can to make sure you nurture yourself.

Chickens and Bees

I’ve been meaning to write about my burgeoning urban farm (I’d say homestead, but I’m just not there yet–though it’s my ultimate goal to have one). The other night, I picked up a nuc of bees, and I figure it’s now time to share a little with you.

I’ve wanted bees since I was 8 years old and did my animal research report on bees. What little I learned then, nurtured a growing love and interest for bees. Where my friends had bee fear, I had none. I loved their diligence and found their worker hierarchy endlessly interesting. My uncle on my mom’s side was a chicken farmer and chicken veterinarian. I remember seeing his farm of chickens and being intimidated by the raw number of cheeping chicks and squawking hens. But I was struck and interested, once again–they had entered my psyche and my world and were no longer a foreign thing but a farm animal to be grown and nurtured.

Then I visited my friend Novella Carpenter’s urban farm about ten years ago–and that made me want to undertake an urban farm and get some chickens.

My husband-at-the-time was firmly opposed. He wanted a strictly ornamental, well-manicured garden. And he wasn’t too hot about livestock, let alone the two tomato plants I did have that ended up attracting rats, to his great dismay. So those plans were on hold indefinitely. Until they were not. Continue reading

My writing playlist

In case anyone is wondering…this is my writing playlist.

There are a lot of Jonsi and Sigur Ros tracks. I’m indebted to Jonsi and Sigur Ros for the bulk of my writing, as you can see.

Also, while I love lyrics (in my non-writing life I love Journey and Sia and Kate Bush and New Order and the Killers and Houndmouth and Imagine Dragons and Postal Service and Blondie and David Bowie and Adele, etc., etc), I bend towards ambient or non-lyric-based songs for my writing (the words from the song get mixed up with my own words). You’ll see at the tail end of the list, I have some songs with lyrics; that’s me coming out for a breath of air from a deep dive into my own writing. The beginning is mood-setting, and the middle is pensive and slow.

It’s a 4 hour long playlist, which is about the maximum amount of time I can sit at any one time to write. I rarely make it to the end.

And sometimes yes, I do skip around.

(I’ve only very very recently discovered Standing At Last–recommended to me by a superior friend who suggested them after I shared my general predilections with her). Always looking for more. Always looking to lengthen my writing time.

What is your writing playlist? What do you like to hear while writing? Anything I might be missing, based on what I’ve got?

—+—+—+—-

(In case you’re averse to itunes, here is a list of the songs):
1. Anthem by Moby
2. The Newsroom Main Theme
3. Hymn by Moby
4. Myth by Beach House
5. Chasing Cars by Sleeping At Last
6. Around Us by Jonsi
7. Growing Till Tall by Jonsi
8. Hengilas by Jonsi
9. Untitled 4 by Sigur Ros
10. Indian by Sleeping At Last
11. Marl1 by Tsewer Beta
12. The Hunt by Youth Lagoon
13. Holocene by Bon Iver
14. Montana by Youth Lagoon
15. Flume by Peter Gabriel
16. Why Not? by Jonsi
17. VCR by The xx
18. Building the Barn by Maurice Jarre
19. Boy Lillikoi by Jonsi
20. Mariner’s Song by Cowboy Junkies
21. AEvin Endar by Jonsi
22. So Long, Lonesome by Explosions in the Sky
23. Sun by Jonsi
24. Cannons by Youth Lagoon
25. We Bought a Zoo by Jonsi
26. Hoppipolla by Jonsi
27. Viva La Vida by Coldplay
28. Snaerisendar by Jonsi
29. Into the Blue by Moby
30. Opus 26 by Dustin O’Halloran
31. Southern by Sleeping At Last
32. Whole Made of Pieces by Jonsi
33. Sweet Jane by Cowboy Junkies
34. All Through the Night by Sleeping At Last
35. Hallelujah by Jeff Buckley
36. Your Hand in Mine by Explosions in the Sky
37. Knife by Grizzly Bear
38. The Book of Love by Peter Gabriel
39. Poison & Wine by The Civil Wars
40. A Whiter Shade of Pale by Annie Lennox
41. On the Sea by Beach House
42. Youth by Beach Fossils
43. The Others by Birds of Tokyo
44. Yellow Roses by Animal Hours (my boyfriend!)
45. Entropy by Grimes x Bleachers
46. Everything Little Thing She Does is Magic by Sleeping At Last
47. Simple Things by Miguel
48. Lo Boob Oscillator by Stereolab
49. What a Pleasure by Beach Fossils
50. Cybele’s Reverie by Stereolab
51. The Story by Dolly Parton
52. Still Falling For You by Ellie Goulding
53. Two Weeks by Grizzly Bear
54. Train by Niklas Aman
55. Daydream by Youth Lagoon
56. I Drove All Night by Cyndi Lauper
57. True Colors by Cyndi Lauper
58. Total Eclipse of the Heart by Bonnie Tyler
59. I Will Always Love You by Dolly Parton
60. Anthem by Moby

Tote Bags

I found a stash of tote bags for TELL ME EVERYTHING YOU DON’T REMEMBER. I thought I’d given all of them away by now!

What to do, what to do?
GIVE. THEM. AWAY!!!!

So.

  1. Tweet or Facebook or instagram or email me a picture of yourself with your copy of TELL ME EVERYTHING YOU DON’T REMEMBER, You can tag me (@xtinehlee on twitter and @xtinehlee1 on instagram)
  2. Then email me your mailing address to: xtinehlee AT gmail DOT com (so that I can get the tote bag to you).
  3. The first 30 people to do the above will receive a free tote bag.*

Thank you for reading. I’m blown away by your response, and love hearing from readers. And the best thing about all this are all the new connections in my life**–so I’m looking forward to building more.

*I haven’t counted, but I’m pretty sure I have more than 30 bags, so I may be able to go over this number.
**Also, I love seeing pictures of readers + TELL ME EVERYTHING YOU DON’T REMEMBER out in the world. 😉

(how to buy) Personalized/Signed Copies of TELL ME EVERYTHING YOU DON’T REMEMBER

I’ve been getting a number of requests for signed and/or personalized, signed copies of TELL ME EVERYTHING YOU DON’T REMEMBER. I’m not going on book tour, but WANT to fulfill your wishes (without having to live at UPS or FedEx or the US Postal Service office).

So–here’s the deal: DIESEL, A Bookstore in Oakland will send out signed copies to you, when you purchase from their site. This is the direct link to Tell Me Everything You Don’t Remember on their website.

In the “notes” section of your order as you check out, PLEASE INDICATE TO WHOM YOU WOULD LIKE THE BOOK SIGNED (otherwise you’ll get a generic signature-only copy), and they will work with me to make that happen and ship it out to you!

Hopefully, this makes it easier for you and for me, and everyone is happy, and a local bookstore wins! They’re the only place from which you can buy a signed copy.

Guys, Scott Simon of NPR Interviewed Me

I had the privilege of being interviewed by Scott Simon at NPR Headquarters in D.C. last week. Scott Simon was an incredibly handsome and poised gentleman. NPR Headquarters was amazing–there is a huge news board in the lobby and a newsroom in the building’s atrium and so many wonderful recording rooms. Also, it felt like one of the safest places in America, at least psychically speaking. So I felt comfortable and welcome and ready to share my stroke recovery experience, living with a 15 minute short term memory, and the writing of Tell Me Everything You Don’t Remember

My interview aired on NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday this past weekend. You can listen to it here. Also, there is a written transcription of some of the interview.

Where I’ll be at AWP 2017


Friday
February 11, 2017 // Washington, DC

Beyond the Hospital: The Memoirist on Writing About Health, Illness, and Injury
Monument, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Four
Friday, February 10, 2017
4:30pm-5:45pm


Friday
February 11, 2017 // Washington, DC

In Praise of Junot Díaz and Claudia Rankine: Furthering the MFA vs. POC and AWP 2016 Keynote Conversations
Room 207A, Washington Convention Center, Level Two
Friday, February 10, 2017
10:30am-11:45am

And at the hotel bar + book fair!

Christine’s Favorite Things: Instant Pot

THE INSTANT POT.

Guys. This thing. Get it.

And right now, for at least this week, it’s on sale at Amazon for $68.95. That’s about 50% off its usual price tag of $119.95. (And even at that full list price, it would be worth the purchase).

The instant pot is all these things:

  1. A pressure cooker
  2. Rice cooker
  3. Slow cooker
  4. Sauté/browning pot
  5. Yogurt maker
  6. Porridge maker
  7. Steamer

The pressure cooker function (followed by the sauté function) is what I use most. I am SCARED of conventional pressure cookers. HOT EXPLOSIONS: nope no thank you. But this thing makes pressure cooking what it is (fast, efficient) without the primordial fear of having to REMOVE THE TOP OFF OF SOMETHING FILLED WITH BEYOND BOILING CONTENTS. It’s the BEST.

I noticed the Instant Pot first when a friend kept mentioning her instant pot on Facebook. WHAT IS IT, I asked.

I hesitated–because you know: pressure cooker. SCARY. But then I started imagining EATING.

And while I love reading instruction manuals (really, I do)–the instructions for this thing fit on one page. Like, you hit “soup” for your soup contents. Or “stew” for your stew contents. You adjust for time. Then you wait for the thing to beep and it…just…starts. And it’s amazing.

So far, I have made the following things (in a span of 3 weeks):

  • Korean braised short rib stew (aka galbi jjim)
  • Braised oxtail stew
  • Chicken soup
  • Chicken jook
  • Beans
  • Bean soup
  • Korean sullungtang soup
  • Stock. Lots of stock.

All under an hour. I don’t know about you, but when I want to eat, I WANT TO EAT NOW. I also don’t want to mess up more than one pot. And while I love love love braised meat, I’m really not into waiting four hours while a meat braises.

It’s winter now–and so I appreciate warmth in the house–but in the summer, I like imagining using the instant pot and NOT having the house turn into a heat ball. Because all the heat is CONTAINED in this appliance. If I lived in the dorms or a small apartment with a tiny kitchen, this thing would be a core necessity–it relieves stress off the stove and makes it so you can make a great meal in one receptacle. Even though I’ve got a full kitchen, this thing has become such a core part of our household cooking.

For more recipes, I highly recommend nom nom paleo (scroll down to the pressure cooking /instant pot section).

Feel good.
Eat good well.

Christine’s Favorite Things: Poo-pourri

I was at the park with my friend C, telling her about how matches don’t quite cut it in the bathroom. I mean, I went into more details, but I don’t want to throw the members of my household under the bus here on the blog.

“Poo-pourri,” she said.

What?

“Poo-pourri.”

What?

It’s a clever spray product–you spray the product into the boil BEFORE you go. All the fragrances have a citrus oil base that coats the water in the bowl and then basically kills the smell of poop. Also, the packaging is cute and not at all industrial looking, even though it’s pretty industrial strength.

We’ve tried everything in our household to hold off the odor in the bathroom. We had a lavender air fragrance that would just mingle with the effluvium, such that I now no longer like the smell of my previously beloved smell of lavender. Same with roses. We’ve used matches galore, but the smell of sulfur drove my daughter nuts.

Poo-pourri is as effective as lighting a match, but WITHOUT the smell of sulfur dioxide. I think it’s even better than a match, because instead of poop, you smell lemons. It really works.

My friend C owns a housewares shop in Berkeley.

Do you carry it? I asked.

“No,” she said, “but I could.”

And she did. It’s now my go-to spot for restocking Poo-pourri (I like the original scent, but all of them are fabulous, with awesome names like “Ship Happens” and “Potty On.” Check out Ellington and French for poo-pourri products. They’re an official “Poo-tique.”

I can’t recommend this product enough. Poo-pourri is amazing.

Feel good.
Smell good.

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