Nachos for One

This idea started a few days ago with an offhanded comment as I shared a link on Facebook.

nachos-for-one

My friends, of course, responded in kind with their own quippy remarks. “Nachos for Two… for One, Please,” said one, replied to by another with “Nachos for Four…One Fork, Please.” (And so on, and so on…)

The thing is, these all started sounding like chapter titles to me. Beyond chapter titles, I started thinking that they sounded like individual stories. I’ve been fighting a nasty cold for the better part of a week, so I wasn’t sure if I had a fun idea forming or if I was just loopy on cold medication.

So, I thought about it for a few days.

giphy

And after thinking about it, I’ve decided that it is an enjoyable idea rolling around in my cold-addled brain.

Nacho Stories

Tell me your story – fiction, nonfiction, poem, cartoon, limerick – however you want to tell it, the only stipulation being that it involves nachos somehow. I recognize that this is very silly, but I think that’s what makes the idea so fun.

I’ll emphasize that this really is just for fun, at least for now. I’m a big proponent of writers being compensated for the work they do online; I think that it’s a shame there are so many websites that won’t even deign to consider paying writers for their work.

This project is not work. It’s a bit of a goof, a chance to flex some creative muscles, play around with an idea for the sake of playing. I’d like to regularly post these stories on the blog, and if you have any other links or passion projects you would like for me to link to when posting your story I would gladly include those as well.

If you’d like to get in touch about a submission, you can reach me through my contact form, send me a message through the Facebook page, or give me a shout on Twitter.

comic2-2492

Book review – Horrorstör

There are few pastimes in this world that make me happier than reading scary books or watching scary movies. One of those few happens to be strolling through Ikea. I know it’s probably indicative of some sort of psychosis, but I find Ikea very soothing. The second time I moved to Beijing I lived pretty close to one of the 10 largest Ikea stores in the world and I went there often. Sometimes just for dinner.

So, when I heard about a horror novel that takes place inside an Ikea knockoff store I knew that I absolutely had to read it. Horrorstör, by Grady Hendrix, follows a group of employees who stay overnight at Orsk, “The Better Home For The Everyone”. They’re trying to figure out why the morning crews keep arriving to unwelcome surprises like broken Liripip closet solutions and a Brooka memory foam sofa covered with putrid goo.

Horrorstör novel by Grady Hendrix

Before I get into the finer points of the plot, I think it’s important to talk about the stunning design of this book. It’s larger format, the exact dimensions of an Ikea catalogue, and organized like one as well. The inside front cover has a map of the store, followed by a welcome page and how-to guide for shopping at Orsk. There’s a detailed home delivery order form that slyly and seamlessly integrates the copyright and publisher information.

Orsk yourself

Take it from someone who derives great enjoyment from the Ikea design esthetic, this book fully embraces their iconic combination of form and function. All of the chapters are even named for imaginary Orsk products, and the products become more twisted as the paranormal plot progresses.

As for the plot, the best synopsis I can give without spoilers is that it builds in a very expected way until very suddenly it diverges into something wholly unexpected. The characters are your standard horror archetypes: A snarky skeptic who just wants the overtime pay; A ditzy babe with a ghost obsession; A suave hunk who feigns interest in spirits to get a date; A nervous older woman with a fear of “Creepy Crawlies”; A level-headed manager whose religion is the Orsk ethos.

The basic premise is that things are getting busted up overnight while the store is empty, and Basil (the manager) wants to get to the bottom of things before representatives show up from the Orsk corporate offices. He asks Amy (the skeptic) and Ruth Anne (the nervous older woman) to stay in the store with him overnight and catch the assumed vandals in the act. They both say yes, because Amy is perpetually short on cash and Ruth Anne is a dedicated lifelong Orsk employee. Matt (the hunk) and Trinity (the babe) sneak into the store the same night, convinced the vandals are actually angry spirits, armed with gear to film a concept episode of their ghost-hunting show.

The entire first half of the book, this is what was playing in my mind:

The second half of the book completely justified the feelings of “hell no”, with a darkness that is made perhaps even more dark by the flippant humor of the first half of the book. It’s not the most original plot, but it is the most original telling of a classic plot that I’ve read in a while. Overall it was an enjoyable book, written with a unique voice and an admirable attention to thematic details.

Horrorstör is available in print or as an ebook, but if I were you I would buy a print copy. You can find it at any major book retailer or get it directly from its publisher, Quirk Books.

A how-to guide for the hibernation enthusiast

Even though the recent solstice means the days are getting longer, it’s still going to be a while before the days are hospitable. Considering the weather around here seems to be either bitter cold or sopping wet, the most inviting place to me right now is inside of my own home (or more specifically, inside of my sweatpants, inside my home).

I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself a recluse, but I would say that I’m at the top of my hibernation game. To help the rest of you get on my level, here are some suggestions for making the most out of the remaining winter months.

Achieve maximum cozy

The aforementioned sweatpants are all well and good, but if you really want to show the season who’s boss, full-body comfort is key. The monastic styling of the iconic Snuggie does the best it can for a glorified bathrobe, but you can do better. For the ultimate in cuddly softness, there’s only one word you need to know: Kigurumi.

Mascot of Tsu Mie

Broadly, a kigurumi is any character costume, and the characters in Japan are notably weirder than anywhere else in the world. Because, Japan. More recently, the definition of the word has been expanded to include fleecy, magical, character onesies, affectionately also known as “disguise pajamas.”

positivelynatalie-totoro-kigurumi

I picked up a Totoro kigurumi while I was living in China, and I have several roommates who can attest to the fact that I wear it regularly. If you’re not lucky enough to live somewhere within Taobao delivery range, you can order online from the Kigurumi Shop. They have a pretty good selection of various animals and characters, including quite possibly the most adorable likeness of Dracula I’ve ever seen.

Take up marathoning

Running is not my forte. Running is not even remotely close to my forte. Binge-watching television, on the other hand, is an activity where I would have earned stacks of medals (if it were the sort of thing that they gave out medals for). My Netflix marathons are a thing of beauty, carefully balanced to both entertain and also occasionally allow me to pretend that I am learning something.

How does this scientific balance happen? Historical dramas. They are more interesting than documentaries, by far better acted than actual history shows, but also still full of incidental education. I spent some time re-watching the entire series of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (vaguely educational if you squint your eyes and tilt your head sideways). After watching a season, I would take a pause for a period drama.

I started with The Paradise, which is a British series about a guy with immaculate facial hair who opens London’s first department store in 1875. Despite the fact that everyone has perfect teeth and the ladies seem to prescribe to 20th century grooming techniques, it’s still an interesting window to a period of time I didn’t know much about. Also over on that side of the pond, I very much enjoyed The Bletchley Circle. It follows a group of women who worked together as code breakers during WWII, who come together a few years later to solve a crime they realize the police got wrong.

great-hat

I’m now currently re-watching the entire series of Psych (in preparation for watching the final season for the first time) and I punctuated a few season breaks with the Canadian series Bomb Girls. It’s about ladies who work in a WWII munitions factory in Toronto and wear a lot of awesome hats. It also features some stellar dialogue, such as this line, delivered from a hospital bed:

asthma-cigarettes-quote

Snack like a champion

Now that you’re all snuggly and settled in for a day of sedentary streaming, it’s crucial to throw a bit of comfort food in the mix. Since you don’t want to pack on the pounds like an actual hibernating animal, I’m going to share with you a recipe for perhaps the greatest thing to ever come out of my microwave. Or any microwave, for that matter. It also saves you the sadness of hunting down a copy of Microwave Cooking for One.

The most important step in this process is finding yourself a very large mug. If the mug is too small, this delicious concoction will never make it out of your microwave and into your mouth. That would be a terrible tragedy.

Into this large mug, add:

  • 1 heaping Tb. almond flour
  • 1 heaping Tb. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 Tb. unsweetened vanilla almond milk (or coconut milk)
  • 1 Tb. honey (or maple syrup)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

Use a fork or whisk to mix it very well. I find it’s best to start with a slow stir, otherwise the cocoa powder will puff out of the mug, then more vigorously mix until the ingredients are fully combined into a batter. You could leave it at that, but I would strongly recommend taking a big spoonful of your favorite nut butter and dropping it into the center of the cup.

paleo-chocolate-mug-cake

Timing is probably going to vary based on your microwave, but I find that 1min30sec does the trick for me. The end result is a totally guilt-free mug of chocolate cake that you can then curl up with in front of the television. She’s not the prettiest girl at the ball, but damn does she know how to have a good time.

The hibernation of the mind

I have two basic states of being – creating and consuming – and I’ve found that they tend to be mutually exclusive. The interpretation of either state is relatively broad, but the main constant is that they remain separate. When I was younger, the transition was seamless. I would write feverishly for fifteen minutes, then pick up a book and read for an hour before going back to writing. It was a reflex, a natural jump from pen to paperback.

Now, I need to make a much more conscious effort to get myself from consuming to creating. It’s tempting to just place blame on the passage of time, to say that nothing is as simple as it was twenty years ago. Which, to be fair, is true. But I don’t think age is the issue so much as the time constraints of adulthood. Working full time means that I have limited free time and there’s only so much I can pack in.

As evidenced by the gap in posts, I’ve spent the past month voraciously consuming. Sometimes several books in a day (though the multi-book days were decidedly YA fiction) and quite a bit of film and television on top of that. There have been many times when I told myself I should sit down and write, but I’ve found it’s best not to force it if the will isn’t there. So, to jumpstart myself back into the swing of things, here are a few recommendations based on my recent consumption.

If you’re looking for an enjoyable quick read, look no further than The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. While American Gods remains my favorite of his novels, Ocean is creative, charming, and just the right amount of dark. In his distinct style he blurs the line between childhood imagination and reality, weaving an interesting tale in the process. I also quite literally loved the book – the pages (shown above) were rough cut, making it feel like a journal in my hands. Even if you’re not a fast reader, you could probably get through the book in a day (I read it in one afternoon).

Another jaunt into magical realism (with a heavy dose of both magic and reality) is Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being. The way she builds the story is absolutely masterful, as is her ability to be both bitingly funny and heartbreakingly serious. This is a much longer read, and is best enjoyed as slowly as possible. There is a lot of subtlety and a lot of footnotes (though the footnotes are a creative device, not a burden) so my advice is to take your time to absorb and appreciate the details.

Other books to add to your reading list:

  • Horns (Joe Hill)
  • The Leftovers (Tom Perrotta)
  • Vampires in the Lemon Grove (Karen Russell)

Tried my hand at overnight oats. Added coconut milk, honey and freeze-dried strawberries.

A post shared by Natalie Litofsky (@positivelynatalie) on

Other forays into consumption have naturally involved testing out new recipes. As an addition to my breakfast rotation I’ve started experimenting with overnight oats made in the fridge. It’s a relatively simple formula – at its most basic just equal parts oats and liquid – and very easy to adapt. The batch above was equal parts oats and coconut milk, plus some freeze-dried strawberries and a touch of honey. The only catch is that you have to remember to mix it up the night before. It’s a total bummer to open the fridge in the morning and realize that your breakfast has not already made itself.

My favorite combos:

  • 1/2 cup oats, 1/4 cup freeze-dried blueberries, 2 Tb unsweetened shredded coconut, 1 scoop vanilla protein powder, 1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup oats, 1/2 cup pumpkin puree, 1/2 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk, 1 scoop vanilla protein powder, 1 tsp. cinnamon, dash of nutmeg and ginger

While I won’t be NaNoWriMo-ing, I will make a commitment to write at least two blog posts a week for the month of November. While I’m working my way out of the hibernation of the mind, I suspect it will soon be followed by the hibernation of the body, so expect a lot of recipes in your future.

The weaving of a tale

There is a spider who lives in the window over my bed. Her web is strung like a safety net, woven horizontally between screen and glass so that she’s able to perch herself in the joint of the window frame. At the point in the morning when I open the blinds, the sun is at just the right angle to reflect the iridescent slopes of her handiwork. Myself a creature of habit, I’ve taken to greeting her as I start the day.

It’s generally just an offhand comment, a quick “Good morning, window spider!” as I fold sheets and fluff pillows. (I have yet to come up with a better name than that, but often simple observation just feels right.) Sometimes I’ll remark on the fact that she continues to grow, despite me never seeing her actually catch anything to eat. This morning I noted that she seemed to have weathered last night’s storm rather expertly, already adding a secondary layer under her net where holes wore through.

window-web

I realize that it must sound rather bizarre to hear me explain so casually my chatting up an arachnid. And on that point, I probably should have prefaced the post by telling you that I’ve always been a bit of a talker, even to inanimate objects. Any of my previous roommates could relay an instance where their shouts of “What?” were met with statements like, “Not you, the microwave!” or “I was talking to the sofa!” My internal monologues have a way of becoming external dialogues.

So, in that sense, it really is only fitting that I should transition myself from dreams to wakefulness by talking to a spider. She quite literally watches over me while I sleep, and the poet in me has started thinking that she’s there to filter out the negativity that would latch on to me in the vulnerable night. Or maybe she is really he, my own little Anansi to gift my subconscious with tales of clever triumph. I hold a tiny (very tiny) hope that one morning I’ll wake to see “SOME WRITER” woven over me like a silken miracle.

window-spider

Of course, the pragmatist in me knows that she is just a spider. But in researching what kind of spider she is (a task that proved to be a war of wills), I learned that she’s just my kind of spider. Tegenaria domestica, the common house spider, is also known as a barn funnel weaver due to the conical retreat built into the end of the web. It’s an immigrant spider – coming over on ships from Europe in the 17th century, they found a new home in the port cities of the Eastern seaboard.

This species is shy, not poisonous, and more perceptive than her orb-weaving cousins. Her web isn’t sticky, so she can’t rely on chance prey, but she’s also not an aggressive hunter. Instead she sits patiently, her front pair of eyes able to detect shapes, and waits for the opportunity to grab food she knows she’s able to dominate without danger. House spiders can see humans, perceive their enormity, and choose to back away rather than confront them.

Still a poet at heart, I keep coming back around to the tale of Arachne, the spider’s mythological namesake. Her story is meant to illustrate the danger of excess pride, though it seems to me to be more about female jealousy than anything else. Of all the versions out there, I prefer Ovid’s, in which Arachne not only out-weaves Athena, she does so with a tapestry that illustrates various scenes of gods taking advantage of mortals. Athena, proving Arachne’s point, throws a tantrum in which she destroys the tapestry, poisons Arachne, and curses her to be a spider for eternity.

My own addition to the tale is the thought that perhaps Arachne, having suffered the unjust wrath of the gods, is determined to look out for us mere mortals. That by cursing her into a spider, Athena inadvertently also blessed her with a certain immortality. Quiet and unassuming, she weaves a protective layer between the angry sky and my gentle heart.

The lost art of the letter

There is something inherently magical about a letter. It’s tactile communication – paper touched by the hand of another, tucked into an envelope that traps their air inside and transports it to you. I find it fascinating, and even slightly romantic, that we still lick envelopes to seal them shut. In a sense, peeling a letter open is like a kiss on your hand.

Letters have a cadence that facilitates a reply, built right into the structure. Not only do you tell the person how you’re doing, what you’ve seen, how you feel, but inevitably you also ask the receiver of the letter about his own well-being. And then, contrary to every modern impulse you have, you wait patiently for a reply. The anticipation is part of the joy of the sending.

postcard-collection

When I was a kid I collected postcards. Most of them are blank, souvenirs I picked up in gift shops or brought back to me from friends or family. But flipping through my collection today, I found a few that were actually mailed to me. A handful are from Elodie, a French girl we hosted one summer when I was nine or ten. She sent the family a postcard from each destination she traveled to on vacation – a stunning pink sky against the pristine snow of Val Thorens, shop lights reflected in the harbor of Saint-Tropez, fireworks over the Eiffel Tower.

postcards

Some of the postcards function like time capsules, capturing little moments that would have otherwise been forgotten. A friend on vacation writing to see if I want to go to the movies when he returns home; a mentor on a business trip describing the museums of Paris; greetings from a Polish girl I met at summer camp.

The one that struck me in particular was a postcard sent to me from New York in 1994, the Twin Towers bathed in copper light. The writer is someone named Christina, though I can’t remember who she is or where I met her. She asks how my novel is coming along. I don’t remember that either, but apparently it sounded really good to her.

NY-pen-pal

In fact, a few of the postcards are from pen pals – perfect strangers who received my name and address through chain letters. These days we’re all so guarded, so private, that the idea of giving out an address sounds like a crazy risk to take. But when you think about it, it’s really not such sacred information. Not only are most of us listed in the phone book, but the phone book is now an online database with address, map, and even age.

As an experiment in personalizing the cold reaches of cyberspace, I’m going to ask you to send me your address. With the request comes a promise of handwritten correspondence. A letter, or a postcard, or a drawing, or maybe even a box, sent to you from me. This invitation is open to friends and strangers alike, in the hope that I can keep the magic of the mail alive. You can get in touch with me using my contact form (and I sincerely hope you do).

The dawn is a blinking cursor

One day last week, I woke up with a line of verse in my head. It didn’t go anywhere, but it also didn’t go away. For days, any time my mind was at a lull, the line would float back up to the surface. I wrote it down, stared at it, willed it to continue on into another line. Frustratingly, it did not oblige.

But experience told me that if there is power in one line, then it’s worth waiting for the rest to take shape. Last night, something clicked. I’m not much for defining something as good or not good, but I am for taking pride in something you patiently nurtured into being. I’m also trying to get more comfortable with the idea of sharing what I write, because I have a tendency to be guarded when I should be more open.

I’m not sure that it’s finished (whatever that may mean), but I’m content with where it is at the moment.

shadow-self-portrait

The dawn is a blinking cursor

Some days I am almost a bird.
It is a becoming,
a certain of-ness,
a craning of the neck that glides
into an unintentional alert nod
over a tilted shoulder.

I startle easily.
There is something so natural
about the rush of blood,
thumping chest pushing back
against the constraints of skin.
As if the sudden intake of breath
were just an extension
of the wind.

But also I wonder at times if
what I want is a conscious choice,
and if that choosing is mine entirely,
or just a reflex wired through
the half-awareness of my
avian heart.