Friday, January 17, 2020

Finish It Friday ~ The Jar Room

For years (and years and years) I've put "organize basement" on my new year's resolution/goals list, and for years (and years and years) I've not gotten the basement organized. This year I got smart, I think, and broke "organize basement" into a few discreet tasks, the first of which I tackled last weekend: a small storage room which we originally conceived of as a root cellar, similar to what my grandparents called the "fruit room" in their basement (because they canned a lot of fruit; and they were a LOT more organized than I). After my last major reorganization of this room, I took to calling it the "jar room" because it seemed to primarily hold empty mason jars. In the nine-plus years since that effort, entropy had taken over:

So, inspired by two ulterior motives—I was trying to find something and I wanted to make room in the kitchen by moving some little-used items down here—I launched into a major clean-out last weekend. After a morning's labor, a trip to the dump, where I recycled about eight thousand yogurt containters plus various and sundry boxes, jars, lids, and tubs, and a trip to Goodwill where I unloaded several boxes of stuff I haven't looked at in years, this was the result:

Mason jars only take up two shelves now, leaving room for Z's glassware collection, overflow mugs, cookie tins, and even some blank space. Meanwhile, in the kitchen, I've cleared room for my new hobby: trawling thrift stores for Fiestaware. In truth, it's been a hobby for nearly thirty years, but, spurred on by a few successes, it's become a minor obsession with visits to the thrift store two to three times per week. I've even had a few friends alert me when they see items in certain stores and one spontaneous gift of a found bowl. Most of my finds have been dinner plates, Tom & Jerry mugs, and teacups, with or without saucers. I've done a little rearranging of the blue cabinet (which used to be quite bare!) to squeeze all the finds in among my existing collection.

Most fun of all, I added cup hooks to the underside of the second shelf in order to hang the dozen teacups that have come into my life in the last month (with room for three more). My best friend in high school lived in a house with a galley kitchen. Space was at a premium in that tiny space, and the teacups hung from hooks screwed to the bottom of the blue-painted cabinets. I've had a great fondness for teacup hooks (if not tiny kitchens) ever since, and I'd intended to put them either beneath or above the narrow shelf that runs beneath our cabinets, but it turned out that it made more sense for the cups to sit on the shelf. Now I finally have cup hooks of my own.

People keep asking me what I'm going to do with all these tea cups (apparently looking at and loving them isn't enough), so I've started a tea ritual. On weekend (and snow day) afternoons, I make myself a pot and have a jolly good time sipping from one of my new cups.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Finish It Friday ~ 2019 in Knits

I started the 2019 knitting year by repairing my knitting project of 2017, a lace-weight cashmere hat, which sat for all of 2018 waiting to be fixed. I also used this as an opportunity to wax philosophical about knitting as a metaphor for writing.

I quickly moved on to another hat, made from some two-color yarn I picked up at a fair the previous summer, and which knit up faster and more fun than the cashmere hat (and which I have worn exponentially more times).

After that, I started on one of my most ambitious projects to date--a mitered squares poncho, which I finished up just in time for summer to begin and the weather to be too warm for wool (but it's gotten a fair amount of use this fall).

Then I moved on to some color work, which I forgot I loved (I mean, it truly is thrilling) and made a jeweled scarabs cowl from some truly luxurious silk-alpaca-wool yarn.

Not-quite-finally, I made myself a new Noro Spiral One-Skein Hat to replace my favorite hat, which disappeared sometime between hat seasons.

Notice a theme with all these knits? All for me. Yes, it's been a bit of a selfish knitting year for me (okay, several years). But who better to enjoy and appreciate all that hard work than the person who actually did all the hard work?

But, just so you don't think I'm totally selfish, I'll let you in on a secret--there's a project on my needles now for someone else. It was meant to be a Christmas present, but that didn't quite happen, what with all the distractions the month of December offered (and that hat I *had* to knit for myself in the midst of it all). But it's a good 5/8ths, maybe 2/3 done. And it is even more ambitious than the shawl--there's color work involved, there's mixing of two patterns, there will be steeking (gah!). You'll be (among) the first to know when it's done. In the meantime, you can visit my Ravelry page for deets on these and other projects. Happy knitting in 2020!

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

I Did It! 2019 and Decade-In-Review Edition

For the past six years, I've tracked my annual accomplishments via an annual I Did It! list, originally inspired by writer Lisa Romeo. Previous posts can be found here: 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013. It's very easy to get to the end of the year and see all the goals you did not achieve, so this is an opportunity to celebrate the ones you did … and some other non-goals that you hit as well. First I'll give you my 2019 list, then we'll talk about the 2010s as a whole.

This is me, wondering why it's so hard to climb to the top of this writing business.
Writing I Did Its!
This year I felt pretty stuck in quicksand, writing-wise. I had a lot of big goals, but not a lot of forward momentum. Let's see how that shook out, by the numbers:
  • Submissions: 8
  • Acceptances: 1
  • Short Lists: 1
  • Rejections: 12
  • Publications: 3, as follows:
"Persistence Is the Thing with Fins" A Dangerous New World: Maine Voices on the Climate Crisis, December 2019"A Conversation with Caitlin ShetterlyLiterary Mama, January 2019"Confluence" This Side of the DivideFebruary 2019
Okay, well, the numbers confirm that stuck-in-quicksand sensation. Dang. One of those submissions was the proposal for my book, which took all summer to write and therefore took time away from other writing and submitting activitites, so there is that, and I did work an awful lot of overtime between January and June, which didn't leave a lot of time or energy for writing or submitting. Let's see some more positive writing news.
  • I reinvigorated my newsletter, sending out 17 issues since June, when I attempted to relaunch as a weekly missive. I've since scaled back to "twice-monthly-ish."
  • I tried to reinvigorate my blog, and wrote 68 posts (including this one) over the year, which is a pretty low number, but 27 more than last year, and more than half of them I wrote during the last three months, the period of reinvigoration.
  • I did another big revision of my book and wrote a book proposal which I've sent to one publisher.
  • I attended three writerly events: a presentation on novel writing, a poetry festival, and a crime writing conference.
  • I attempted to make contact with other writers, sending emails to two writers whose books, in my genre, I enjoyed, contacting two Maine-based writers and becoming "friends" with them via social media, and making one real-life writing friend.
Travel and Adventure I Did Its!
We didn't get out a whole lot this year, but we did manage a week in DC, which was terrific. E and I went to Boston for a day, E, Z and I went on a weekend camping trip with friends, I did some toodling around on local ponds in my new kayaks, and I took sailing lessons. C, Z, E and I also hiked the Precipice Trail up Champlain Mountain in Acadia National Park in October, which felt like a major accomplishment for my elderly body (see photo above). We also did a lot of local touristing and micro-adventures when my parents were visiting in the fall, and C and I went to two super-fun concerts (Howard Jones and Rick Springfield!!!) at a local winery, which I count as adventures.

Art and Craft I Did Its!
I'm pretty happy with my knitting results from this year, which I'll share at the end of this week. I also  finish-finished (as in bound off) my jeweled squares quilt, made an infinity scarf, made three fleece skirts and then three more, gave new life to an ugly old table with a coat of purple paint, and made a dozen sparkly little houses. I also did some drawing and watercoloring and taught a nature journaling workshop.

Household I Did Its! 
I focused a lot this year on giving our house a little spa treatment. I (with some help) repainted E and Z's room and, some months later, cleaned, repainted, and organized their closet. I also (again with help) patched and repainted the stair walls and (without much help) cleaned and decluttered the whole house above ground level (basement, I'm looking at you in 2020), none of which rated a blog post I guess. I had written that I need less clutter in my life when I was working on last year's goals, and I think I achieved that (above ground level) this year.

2010s Decade in Review

Writing I Did Its!
These numbers are approximate and mostly post-2014.
  • Submissions: ~128
  • Acceptances: ~ 21
  • Rejections: ~93
  • Publications: ~56 (not sure why acceptance and pub numbers are so out of alignment)
  • Blog Posts: ~932
  • Books Written: 1
I also got my MFA in 2014 and have been volunteering as Literary Reflections editor and senior editor at Literary Mama for about 5 years, and I taught a couple of nature writing workshops locally. And I got to spend a week at an artists' colony, where I worked on the first revision of my book.

That's all really great, but I started writing in earnest in 2005, started a print zine and took my first writing class in 2006, started this blog in 2007, started grad school in 2012 … and it just feels like I should have made more progress in all that time. Granted, I also gave birth to two babies in 2005, but they're nearly six feet tall now; shouldn't my writing career be a lot bigger too?

Travel I Did Its!
One of my greatest joys in life and the thing I always want to do more of is travel. I tend to think that we don't do much of it, but while there might not be a lot of variety in our traveling, we've gone on some pretty cool trips over the last decade.

Family Trips:
Just Me Trips
There was also a lot of local Maine travel, hikes, boat trips, etc. over those years, and I spent some weekends away with friends and went on several bird-watching adventures.

Art and Craft I Did Its!
Other Life I Did Its!
  • Trained to become a Maine Master Naturalist and joined the MMNP board of directors.
  • Raised my kids from 8 and 4 years to 18 and 14, saw them graduated from middle school and high school, and sent one off to college.
This is supposed to be a positive post, but I can't look back on the last decade without pointing out that the 2010s were a complete bust professionally, a total failure, in terms of income, advancement, development, the whole shebang. I started the decade working maybe not my dream job but doing work that was interesting, challenging, and dear to my heart; now I make less money per hour than I did 10 years ago, and I'm basically just biding my time, adding to my retirement, waiting for my summers off, when we go broke but at least I get to hang out with my kids, write, and do some things I enjoy doing. My 30s-40s decade, the one where I *should* have been advancing in a career, was a crater, and, unless I can turn writing into something more than a really time-consuming hobby, it's likely that I'll never have a career or professional fulfillment. 

But, other than professional failure and painfully slow progress in writing, it's been a pretty great decade. What are you celebrating this New Year's Eve?

Friday, December 27, 2019

Finish it Friday ~ Holiday Edition

I didn't do a lot of hand-making this holiday, and the one big handmade gift I had planned likely won't be done for a long while, but I did put together little cardboard putz houses for the ornament exchange I do with my family (you can read more about the history of these houses here).

I had thought of making these a long while ago (maybe last Christmas), but of course I didn't get started until December, so there were a lot of late nights and assembly-line-style cutting and painting and gluing sessions. And my house looked like a glitter bomb went off in it for most of the month.

I found several patterns for these houses online, but ended up reading through their instructions and then making my own pattern using an old house I picked up at an antique store a while ago. After my first prototype house, I figured out that painting and glittering the pieces before assembling the houses was the easiest way to go. I also made the windows with orange kite paper rather than the transparent red tape I tried with the first house.
They looked so cute lined up with twinkly lights poked into the holes in back that I was tempted to keep them all for myself, but since Christmas is the time for giving, I sent them on their way to new homes, including the prototype, which I'd intended to keep until I realized I'd miscalculated the number I'd need.

Then I found out I needed an ornament for a Yankee swap at work, so I decided to make two more. These I made with simpler rooflines, because the double peaks were a little challenging to glue, and a little bigger, to fit with the larger bottle brush trees I had left. The bigger size made it possible to fit battery operated tea light candles inside, which made them even better.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

December 2019 Nightstand

December was a slow reading month, in part because I was still finishing up one of last month's selections, in part because I went back to work, and though I don't read much during the day even when I'm not working I'm just too tired now, what with getting up all kinds of early, to read when I go to bed at night, and in part because my evenings have been taken up by holiday preparations—making and baking (and trying to finish up another round of watching Friends before it goes off Netflix).

But I did get a little bit of reading in. First, I'd picked up an Everyman's Library volume of Stories of Motherhood last month, a book I'm surprised I never ran across when I was in grad school specifically looking for short stories on this topic. Not all of the authors are mothers themselves (some of them are in fact men), and not all of them are written from the mother's point of view (one interesting example by Alice Munroe was from the POV of the daughter, even though most of the book takes place before she was born). I enjoyed it and enjoyed finding a few new authors or new stories by authors I was already familiar with.

Next, every holiday season I must read, at a minimum, "Santaland Diaries" from David Sedaris's Holidays on Ice. I thought I wouldn't have time this year and tried listening to the audio from This American Life while I baked cookies, but though it was very enjoyable, it wasn't the same and I squeezed in a reading in the bathtub later that evening.

Finally, I decided we needed to read The Outsiders as a family this winter break, when I found out that three out of five of us have not read it. I picked it up late the night before the night before Christmas, started reading while I waited for the Christmas stollen to bake and finished this morning. I didn't cry quite as much as I did when I first read it in seventh grade, or even as much as I did about six years ago when I gave it to M and reread it myself, mostly because people kept talking at me during the sad parts. I haven't yet convinced anyone else that they need to read this book, but I haven't given up yet, either.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Peak Grinch

I've hit peak Grinch this week. It happens this time every year, when expectations about how this holiday season should unfold collide with reality. The song "I hate Christmas" from the musical Scrooge runs through my mind on repeat, and I wish that Christmas could come at a quieter time of year, like February, or come but once every other year.

Each day, it seems, brings reminders of one more Secret Santa or Yankee swap gift I need to buy, one more dish I need to make for one more party. I obsessively watch the progress of the package I needed to arrive byTuesday as it ping-pongs back and forth between Massachusetts and Connecticut for five days. We haven't finished decorating the house, but it's already succumbed to entropy after all the careful pre-tree cleaning. I haven't baked a single cookie, and the handmade gifts, though few, may not be done till Valentine's Day.

I have, however, finally achieved my lifelong goal of reining in spending, gift-giving, and contributing to the too much stuff-ness of this holiday, though not through willpower or mindfulness, but rather because I don't get my first paycheck until Christmas Eve. Despite buying less, I'm having as hard a time as ever finding those very particular gifts I want to get.

Meanwhile, holidays with teenagers lack the magic of holidays with little kids that makes all of the headaches worthwhile. They don't ooh and ahh over lights. They sleep in late on a snow day rather than running outside in their pajamas to play in it. They're over all the holiday movies. They don't eve want to hang their own ornaments on the tree. I suppose I'll look back on these teenage holidays--when all they want is a ski pass, "soft, fluffy clothes," or a pair of black ripped-knee skinny jeans--with nostalgia in 20 years, when I'm mailing them gift cards for snow tires and a night out from their kids.

Don't worry about me--my heart will grow three sizes in five days, when all of the parties have been had, the gifts opened, the wrapping paper swept away, and the guests gone home. We'll crowd together on the one couch that remains in the living room after the other was evicted to make room for the tree, nibbling on cookies and candy and watching Scrooge, or perhaps all of the Friends Christmas episodes. Another holiday will have passed, pleasantly if imperfectly (what is perfect anyway?), and we'll enjoy the waning days of yet another year.

This post went out last week to subscribers of my newsletter, along with some bonus material. You can subscribe here.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Holiday Countdown Week 4 ~ Fire

We like to squeeze in a few fun, noncommercial, vaguely pagan celebrations where we can in the holiday season, and fire is always a hit with boys. First, before we could make new wreaths, we had to immolate last year's wreaths and release the wire forms. Wreath-burning is always fun, because you can twirl them around on a stick, and it's a tradition we used to do on spring equinox or summer solstice, but never got around to it this year (in fact never got around to taking the dried brown wreaths down off the house).

Another fiery celebration for us is Solstice, when we traditionally hike down to the river and have a small fire. This year we observed Solstice one day late, mainly because we were all too darn tired on Saturday night. It was a good choice--the night was mild and windless, and we were able to comfortably sit around the fire for a good long while, just chatting and enjoying a quiet, stress-free evening, with nothing to do except try to keep kids from setting themselves and each other on fire.
Which isn't any easier at 14 and 18 than it is when they're three.
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