Garlic soup in Prague

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“What is something you miss about

Living in Europe?”


My first reminiscence is


In Prague for the blustery month of January

I discovered garlic soup:

Russet beef broth with tiny chunks of garlic mince swirling around,

Warm, gooey strings of melted white cheese,

Small coral-colored squares of ham.

One guy in the class I was taking

Ate so much garlic soup,

That he exuded a

Garlicky reek through the pores of his skin,

And I swear that,

Like a skunk,

When he got excited or animated,

His body released a puff of the odor.

We all avoided sitting next to him in class,

And someone eventually had to speak to him.

Perhaps one of the instructors who had lived there for awhile.

Riding the coach away from Prague to my next destination,

I had packed up some groceries for the journey and,

Not knowing Czech well,

I had accidentally bought two large bottles of


Rather than

Still water.

(I love that phrase,

“Still water.”

It calls up calm, deep, cobalt pools in

Pine-forest clearings.

And “sparkling” is a lovely word, too.)

I forced myself to drink it for hydration–

The merits of which I doubted.

It tasted to this American like

Diet Coke without the flavor.

Now, finally,

Nearly a decade later,

I understand sparkling water.

It’s the

The post-pop,



The Europeans get it, of course.

“Sparkling or still?” they ask in restaurants.

“Sparkling,” I would say now.

With a lime squeeze.

How to appreciate snow

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In Finland,

I learned to be a

Connoisseur of winter.

There, near the arctic circle,

Over generations of plodding survival,

Folks have passed down small

Observations and


About winter, snow and cold

That they carry with them like

Small, warm nuggets in their pockets

To wrap cold fingers around.

One thing I learned:

Snow makes darkness bearable.

In a place where you might not see the sun for weeks or months,

A coating of white snow

Suffuses the murky black nights and

Tentative gray days with sudden

Brightness and


From the ground,

Like the earth is glowing.

Writing in Helsinki

My second book I wrote in Helsinki.

We had a one-bedroom apartment

Above a YMCA,

And our windows looked out on

Snowy pine trees.

The entryway to our apartment was a

U-shaped staircase with a landing,

And above the landing was a huge window and wide window sill.

I would sit in the window sill and paint wine bottles.

For writing,

I would move the rocking chair to the top of the staircase

So I was facing the window and the snowy trees,

The stairs falling away below me.

It gave the illusion that the





Like I was floating toward the

Snowy pine trees

With my notebook in my lap

And a pen entwined in my fingers.

I finished that book in a different apartment.

Less geometrical.

But by then I was


And my growing belly gave the space

The dimension it needed.

I finished the novel Aug. 20

And my son was born Aug. 22.

Creating, creating.

Learning to write in Seattle

My first book I wrote in Seattle.

I was living in an apartment on a hill above downtown.

There was a view of Lake Union from the bathroom window.

I would pack my swimming gear and my

Laptop into my backpack and

Glide down the hill on my bike

Into downtown.

I would swim laps in the small basement pool at the YMCA,

Then go across the street to the public library.

I’d find my study carrel,

Usually the same one on the second floor,

And set up:

Laptop, CD player,

A secret snack in the backpack at my feet.

The library was full of homeless people.

Homeless men, boys, girls.

Gutter punks who rode the rails to this corner of our nation.

The young boys and girls

Pierced and tattooed and tired and wary under

Black sweatshirt hoods.

The older men were ragged and bearded in

Dusty military fatigues.

I’d see the same ones often.

They would put their heads down on the desk

For a few minutes of sleep before a security guard would

Nudge them awake.

I would look up,

Pausing to ruminate, and

Consider these folks.

They felt like my co-workers.

If I ever had to get up to use the bathroom,

I had to take everything with me,

Or it would be gone when I returned.

Meanwhile, the dimensions of my surroundings,

The mountain ranges to the east and west,

The narrow plunges and curves of the city streets,

Helped frame up the space I’d made for myself

For writing.