Thursday, November 17, 2022

Book Stack ~ October 2022

A monthly post about what I've been reading, with aspirations but no real hope of reading down a very tall stack of books. Previous posts from this year:

May & June 2022 

My last post was about how fast October went by, and now here we are, already halfway through November. What? I've been spending this week deep-cleaning my kitchen in preparation for Thanksgiving. On one hand, it's deeply satisfying--getting rid of stuff I don't need, finding things I've been missing or forgot I had (Although I did not find my garlic press. How does one lose something like that??), seeing my Fiesta ware all clean and shiny and lined up on the shelves. On the other hand, I'd rather be curled up with a book, like one of these I read last month.

Audiobooks (not pictured above):

I had some credits left in the audiobook account I got last year for my long cross-country journey. The first two volumes in Richard Osman's Thursday Murder Club series got me through a good deal of the long drive home, and I really loved the narrator so when the third installment, The Bullet that Missed, came out in late September, I knew I had to listen to it. But when? I didn't have any long car rides planned, so I wasn't sure when I'd fit in listening to an audiobook. I downloaded it anyway and listened as I was going to sleep at night, and again when I got up in the morning, to catch up on the bits I'd dozed through, and while I ate breakfast and lunch, and when I went on my afternoon walk, and while I cooked dinner, in short, at every chance I got. After I listened to Bullet, I went back and re-listened to both of the first two in the series and then I listened to Bullet again. I love the characters, the plot twists, the humor, the light-handed social commentary. I'm back to reading on paper again, but now that I think of it, I should have listened to this series again while I cleaned the kitchen!

Now when I walk, I listen to podcasts, often Selected Shorts, and that's where I heard an excerpt of Nora Ephron's Heartburn. I enjoyed it so much, I picked up the book, which is entertaining and funny and a little maddening (the husband is a rat).

And back to murder, we visited M during homecoming weekend at his college in October, and as always when we're there, we popped into the book store, which always has good deals on the clearance shelf, which is where I picked up Anthony Horowitz's The Sentence is Death. Now I recall there being something about the first book in this series (The Word is Murder) that frustrated me--a flaw in the timeline, I believe (strangely I can't find it in my past blog posts!). But I've enjoyed Horowitz's other mysteries, so I gave it a chance and enjoyed it thoroughly (in part because the mild October weather allowed me to read it in my hammock!).

After my Amelia Peabody jag of August and September, I wanted to keep it going with the Egypt theme, so I found a copy of a book I've been meaning to read for a long while, The Names of Things, by Susan Brindles Morrow, about the author's time spent in Egypt and Sudan as a young woman, traveling to remote regions of both countries. It's written in very much the lyric vein, as in much more impressionistic and poetic than factual and detailed. It's a beautiful book, and it made me wish I'd been that brave when I was young.

Wanderers: A History of Women Walking by Kerri Andrews is a book I picked up in Colorado when I was there last November, and somehow it took me a whole year to read it, dipping in and out. It tells the story of women writers for whom walking was an important aspect of their lives, such as Dorothy Wordsworth, Virginia Woolf, Anais Nin, Cheryl Strayed.

In other book news, when I cleaned out my closet, switching summer clothes over to winter, I went through the box of books that I'd stashed in there as well as a couple of other teetering piles of books in other corners of my room, and decided that I'm not ever going to get around to reading most of them, and ended up taking a large box and a bag of books to the used bookstore! My original goal was to read all the books I have and then get rid of them, but if they've been sitting around for years getting pushed aside in favor of new books, I think it's a good sign that it's never going to happen. Now someone else can enjoy them.

Finally, Arctic Dance is a biography of Margaret Murie, author of Two in the Far North and Wapiti Wilderness the "mother" of the modern American conservation movement. This book is a companion to the documentary of the same name (narrated by Harrison Ford!), and is filled with photos and stories that fill in the gaps about Murie's life that don't make it into her books. She was a courageous, self-effacing, gifted woman who made the world we live in a better place.

Thursday, November 3, 2022

Mini Adventures and Nostalgia

I'm trying very hard not to start this email with a banal statement like, "Can you believe it's already the end of October?" Because I can't believe it. Where did the month go?

I've been trying to buckle down and focus on my new book project this month, but it's at that big, unwieldy stage where it's hard to see where I'm going or how I'll get there. So instead I seek distractions. One of those distractions is going on mini adventures--a trip to the beach with friends, a hike on a nearby trail. I read in Laura Vandercam's newsletter the recommendation to have one big and one small adventure each week. I can't remember why she recommends this, but for me adventures serve several purposes: getting me out of the house and out of my head, exercise, time with other people, and a teeny bit of excitement. C and I have been watching the TV show M*A*S*H lately, and during the opening credits, I feel this little thrill in my chest when the helicopters come in and the medics run up the hill. I want that, I think, although I definitely do not want to either be in the army or work in the medical field, but I want that surge of excitement, that urgency, that sense that there's something so important that I need to run to get to it (is that why people take up jogging?). While there's not, and not likely to be, anything of such urgency in my life, I can at least create a little excitement by getting out on mini adventures.

Today my method of distracting myself was less exciting even than a hike--I spent the morning reading my old zines. Back before I wrote e-newsletters and blogs and books, I created a print zine--producing 13 issues over seven years. In the back of every issue I included a roundup of amusing things my kids said (which were no doubt more amusing to me than they were to my subscribers). I pulled the zines out because I remembered that one of the boys had invented a new word for one type of rain. (I swear this was related to an essay I was toying around with.) I found the quote, which had come from from E: "It was not dribbling, pouring regular rain, or sprinkling. Might have been twizzling." But I couldn't stop there and started reading all their adorable quotes and then looking at my hilarious cartoons, and then reading bits and pieces and whole essays, and pretty soon, an hour and a half had evaporated.

The funny thing is, I don't feel like the same person who wrote about trying to get three little kids to bed or deciphering toddler twin talk. Did any of that actually happen? To me? If I didn't have a written record, I wouldn't believe it. And if I didn't have a photographic record, I'd hardly believe the boys were ever so small. Last week I got the prints of E and Z's senior photos and, for the last time, did the annual tradition of taking apart the picture frames and going through all of the photos stacked behind the current one, from preschool to now, laughing at the various stages (Jack-o-lantern teeth, tough-guy third grader, suit-n-tie sixth grader, crossed eyes, crazy hair, the year I forgot about picture day and they were dressed in rags with bird-nest hair). Although there's a glimmer of familiarity between those earlier photos and now, it's hard to believe they're the same people as these big, tall men I now live with.

I've heard that all the cells in a person's body are regenerated every seven years, so in a way they really aren't the same people, and neither am I. But if that's so where have those other people, the ones we were then, gone? 

A version of this post went out recently to subscribers of my newsletter, along with some bonus material. Subscribe here and receive a free PDF of my illustrated short essay "Eleven Ways to Raise a Wild Child."

Friday, October 28, 2022

Finish It Friday ~ New Duvet

Since about mid-July, C has been begging me to put the down comforter back on the bed. At any temperature below 70 degrees, a quilt and two blankets just isn't enough for him. But, in addition to not wanting to be roasted alive, I enjoy having the summer quilt on the bed--it even inspires me to make my bed (almost) every morning. Besides, our old duvet had become threadbare, with the fabric eroding to tickly fringe all along the top edge. And no wonder--I made that one thirteen years ago!

I'd been meaning to replace the old duvet, which I'd made by piecing together fat quarters, for a while, but one of the fabric stores near me never reopened to in-person shopping after the pandemic, and the other one moved to a location farther away and changed focus to long-arm quilting, cutting way back on fabric inventory, so I hadn't been able to amass the requisite fat quarters. I finally gave in and ordered a couple of bundles online, supplementing with a couple of additional prints I picked up on a shopping trip with my mother-in-law (to a fabric store that's both open and still selling fabric!), and last week put them together in a big rectangle.

Last time I went with a lot of pastel hues (although, looking back at that old post, it was not as pastel-ey at the beginning as it was after 13 years of sun-bleaching). This time I went with bright, bold prints. My favorites are the feathers, the turkey-tail fungus, the snail shells, and the agates. So fun!

The procedure is pretty simple: for a queen-sized duvet, piece together 20 fat quarters in four rows, five quarters high. Sew this to a full-sized sheet*, wrong-sides together, leaving an opening of about 18-24 inches along the bottom edge. Fold the raw edge of the duvet top, at this opening, over on itself and hem, reinforcing the points where the opening meets the sewed-together bits, if that makes sense.

*It took me way too long that you only need a full-, not queen-sized sheet to back a queen-sized duvet.

My goal with this project was keep it simple as possible, with minimum labor, and so I used the fat quarters as they came. Unfortunately, there ended up being a difference size between quarters of up to two inches, and I don't think there was a square corner among them, so I had to stretch and fold and fudge to get it to all fit together. To save yourself that headache, consider cutting your quarters to be all the same, exact size.

The photo above is just staged--two blankets and a quilt still lie beneath the duvet, because it's still a smidge too warm to really need a down comforter, at least until November.

Friday, October 21, 2022

Finish It Friday ~ The Everything Bookcase

When I was visiting my parents last November, I pointed to a bookcase in a magazine and asked my dad something along the lines of, "Do you want to build that for me?" Now, I say similar things to my husband all the time nothing ever comes of it (well, almost never), so I didn't expect to actually get a bookcase, but my mom mentioned sometime last spring that he was working on it, and then she sent me a photo of the finished product a month or two ago, and then last week a freight carrier truck was trying to negotiate my driveway with a heavy wooden crate in the back that contained this:

It's a round table with bookcases on four sides, set on casters (the original design had a lazy Susan mechanism for allowing it to spin, but casters were more practical from a building standpoint and, as it turns out, from a user standpoint as well). I'm not very good at spatial visualization, and I was expecting something end-table-sized that I could tuck into a corner of the living room (although I became suspicious that I had that wrong when I heard about the woes my dad had at finding a way of getting the table across the country to me). It ended up being much, much bigger than I imagined. At first I wasn't sure where we'd put it, but it fits perfectly in a dead zone behind the couch, which is close to my desk (and who am I kidding, I do most of my work on the couch anyway, so it's doubly handy). Since it's on casters I can move it around so I can access that big piece of furniture next to it or move it in a place where the light is better on a rainy day.

And, even better, it solved some major storage problems I was having--stacks and stacks of books on my bedroom floor from a new project I'm starting, which I'd have to dance around to avoid tripping over (and knocking over) every time I went to bed; clutter on my desk from admin tasks and works-in-progress as well as works-in-aspiration; boxes of Uphill Both Ways on the living room floor. There's enough shelf space (12 feet, I'm told) to solve all those problems with room to spate.

And the top of the table is high enough I can use it as a standing station, if I slip a little something under my laptop to raise it up a bit for extended periods of use. My new rule is to check email only when I'm standing, which I figure will help me achieve two goals: to spend less time sitting AND less time checking email.

Other people in this household had other ideas for how to use it--kitchen island, cookbook storage, drinks cart--but though it's rare I ever win an argument around here, I brooked no dissenting views. My bookcase; build your own island/cookbook shelf/drinks cart. 

While I didn't really have much to do with accomplishing this Finish-It-Friday project, other than a casual suggestion, ground-guiding the freight truck, and directing my kids to carry it into the house, I think it deserves a post of its own. And now that my storage and organization challenges have been resolved, I have one less excuse for not getting going on my own new project. Onward!

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Book Stack ~ September 2022

A monthly post about what I've been reading, with aspirations but no real hope of reading down a very tall stack of books. Previous posts from this year:

May & June 2022 

So...September's book stack looks a lot like August's, which I guess shouldn't be a surprise, except I kind of expected to spend a lot more time writing and a lot less time reading once all the boys went back to school full time. Then COVID-19 hit, and I spent several days sick on the couch, reading, and the previous week I'd been under the weather as well, and there's no such thing as boys at school full time (in the first seven weeks of school, there have been only two when all three of them--C, Z, and E [at least if M's not in school he's still away at school]--have had five days of school, and only one of those four short weeks was due to illness. So let's say the fall writing program has been off the a rocky start. But the reading? The stack is tall, anyway.

Fiction. I finished the ten remaining Amelia Peabody books (by Elizabeth can read more about them in last month's post). I skipped The Painted Queen--the posthumous homage or pastiche or I'm not sure what you'd call it, because I was disappointed the first time I read it. But these ten did not disappoint. I had as much fun reading them as I did the first three or four times I read them. In fact, I kind of more like inhaled them than read them--like a chain smoker lighting up a new cigarette from the butt of the last one, I turned the last page on one book and picked up the next without missing a beat. Rereading them all was a fun and soothing experience. I can't recommend it enough.

Nonfiction. I didn't have time to read much other than Amelia Peabody, but I did read one book for my book coach training program: The Artful Edit by Susan Bell. It's intended to help writers in editing their own work, but I found a lot in it that would be useful for editing others' work as well, and I was very entertained by her use of examples of the editing relationship between F Scott Fitzgerald and Maxwell Perkins while The Great Gatsby was in process. I'm intrigued enough to pick up that book, a few decades after the last time I read it.

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Autumn Bluebirds


I tend to get morbid in fall. I realize that's not a particularly original reaction to the season that brings us Halloween, Day of the Dead, and innumerable religious holidays that center around remembering those who have cast off their mortal coil. And then there's the whole leaves falling from trees, plants turning brown and shriveling up, cold wind blowing in from the north business. 

This year it hit me harder and more suddenly than usual. Perhaps because it's the last fall in which I will watch my children head back to school, or because it's the last fall when I'll still be less than half a century old. Every year fall is a reminder of passing time and aging bodies, but this year that reminder has a more ominous ring to it.

A couple of weeks ago, I went out to the garden to gather tomatoes for dinner and found, in place of the laden beds of fruits and vegetables that had threatened to overwhelm our kitchen and our stomachs for more than two months, there remained only a handful of overripe cherry tomatoes clinging to blackened, withered vines. We hadn't even had frost yet.

The only way I could describe how I felt was betrayed, as if July's and August's abundance had constituted a contract, a promise of endless summer. Fall comes every year, yet somehow, this year, I thought it might pass me by.

And then COVID struck our house, knocking back three out of four of us for a week. Another betrayal--by our bodies, by the public health system, by society.

Early this week, when I'd regained enough energy to make the trek to the mailbox, I paused at the spot where our driveway takes a hard left turn at our neighbor's field. He hadn't mown this summer, instead letting it grow into waves of tall grass that turned tawny in late summer, when a farmer from down the road came and cut and bundled it into hay bales. Fresh grass grew in since then and, despite the drought, stretched in a mat of bright summer green. Another promise. The leaves in the trees along the edge of the woods had begun to change, however, golden and orange and russet. Darting between the grass and the trees was a small flock of bluebirds, six, seven, eight of them, their cerulean wings bright against the greens and coppers. 

A few of them alighted on the next box we put up next to the field a couple of years ago. Perhaps they were part of the brood that had grown up there this summer, or part of the three broods from last summer. Perhaps they were travelers checking out the real estate for next year. It's hard to feel melancholy while watching bluebirds. There's a reason they're the bird of happiness--their bright feathers, their lithe flight, their gentle song. In visiting the nest box, the green field, the golden trees it was as if they were saying, Yes, summer is over, and spring a long way off. But we'll be back next year, and so will the sun.

A version of this post went out recently to subscribers of my newsletter, along with some bonus material. Subscribe here and receive a free PDF of my illustrated short essay "Eleven Ways to Raise a Wild Child."

Friday, September 30, 2022

Finish it Friday ~ Cross-Country Hat

This is my seventh--and last--season with a kit on the high school cross-country running team, so in classic last-minute-Andrea fashion, I decided to take this opportunity to knit a running hat for Z. 

I actually got the idea at the last meet of last year's season, when I noticed the kids from the more well-resourced/well-organized schools wore mass-produced acrylic beanies with little runners sprinting around their crowns. I'll take any excuse to do a little two-color knitting, and there happened to be a fabulous yarn store in the very town where the meet was held. I just didn't get around to starting on it until after this year's season got started. This wasn't a huge problem, since the first meets of the year are usually swelteringly hot, and it's not till the last few that the cold breath or winter breathes down the runners' backs.

I couldn't find the exact pattern I wanted, so I made this one up, using a couple of other patterns as the basis and a sheet of graph paper and markers to work out the little running guys. You can see my pattern on Ravelry. They ended up with Ancient Egyptian-style hands, which is a detail I might leave out if I were to do it again. You can also see that every once in a while, where I carried my blue thread, it shows through the white. I'm sure there's a technique for avoiding that, and I'm sure I'll figure that out before I do more color work. 

Now the only question: Will Z actually wear the hat? There are only two or three meets left. But there's plenty of cold winter weather ahead, so the hat might get some use even if it never puts in an appearance at a meet.
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