Friday, February 14, 2020

Finish It Friday ~ Valentine's Edition

Some time ago (years, perhaps?), I picked up a couple of little packs of fabric charms for Enlish paper piecing. However, after my first foray into the craft, I wasn't eager to do it again. It is a little, shall we say, fussy? And I'm a little, shall we say, ramshackly?

But while tidying up in my room a few weeks ago, I ran across the charms, and was inspired by a batch of vintage-looking prints in mostly pinks and reds to make a little Valentine's Day…I don't know what you'd call it. Table mat? Doily? Fiddle-faddle?

So over the course of the next few weeks, I stitched together tiny hexagons during our evening family television time, and last weekend I kind of improvised putting on a backing while trying to maintain the zig-zags of the hexagons. The corners didn't come out as sharp as I would have liked (ramshackly), but otherwise it looks pretty sweet, and it goes well with my lemongrass Fiesta heart bowl (displayed here with some cherry-date-almond-chocolate "truffles").

While I had the sewing machine cleared off, I whipped up a gift bag out of this lovely fabric to wrap a wedding present in, using my fat quarter gift bag method. Now I need to think of something else to make out of this fabric so I can go back to the store and buy a fat quarter for myself.


Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Lingering in January

January has been a slow month, but not in a bad way. I spend a lot of time wishing time would just slow down, for goodness's sake, and this month I've gotten my wish: long lazy weekends of reading classic books, sewing tiny hexagons together by hand, baking cakes, watching old movies with the kids, taking long walks in the snow. Weekday mornings are still a hurried and harried mess of running late and forgetting things, and the evenings are sometimes overbooked, but I've taken to spending my lunch break combing the local thrift store for Fiestaware (and having some success), and we've found a show that all of us at home enjoy, which means we have an hour of family togetherness before bed each night, 1980s-style, all eight eyes focused on the same screen.

My word for 2020 is move. Maybe not the most glamorous choice, but having felt stagnant in my writing life in 2019, I need forward motion, momentum, and all the movement words. I also like how it has both a figurative and literal meaning: I can move toward my goals, and I can literally get up and move my body. When I feel stuck, I ask myself what can I do to embody movement: send in a submission, type up some notes, craft a newsletter. Sometimes I need to take a walk or put a Duran Duran karaoke song on and dance around the living room or take a belly dancing class. When in doubt, move about.

I've also made a 20 For 2020 list a la Gretchen Rubin. It's a wide-ranging lists with some old favorites (like upload photos and make into albums and organize basement--although this time I've broken that daunting task into chunks and already completed one of them)--some discrete and doable tasks (finish knitting project), an ambitious target (100 submissions), and one goal outside of my control (sell manuscript). I'm a lists and goals person, so the 20 for 2020 works for me--and 20 is a good number, both ambitious and restraining at once. I'll keep you posted here or on the blog as I tick items off.

In the meantime, I'm enjoying the lingering feeling as January unwinds into its last week, and I hope this sensation of slowed time carries through the year (though maybe not in March; March is too long already).

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

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

The Book Stack ~ January 2020

I have a large stack of books in my bedroom--volumes that were lent or gifted to me or that I picked up at used book sales or author events and never gotten around to reading. One of my 20 for 2020 goals is to read 52 of those books this year. When I made that resolution, I imagined that I read around 100 books per year, so that only about half would have to come from that stack. Though I pose books I read for photos and write about them here, I don't count them. One day when I had time to kill in a doctor's office waiting room, I scrolled through my book posts, mentally tabulating the volumes read, and it turns out that last year I read fewer than 50 books, the previous year it was in the 80s, and the year before that I don't know, because I was interrupted mid-count. So, reading 52 books from the stack and other books I want to read is going to be a challenge.

I redefined what counts as a book from the stack to include any book I already owned at the start of 2020 and haven't already read, so books I got for Christmas count, as do books I shelved but never read. I'm off to a good start this month, with nearly five books from the stack read so far. These are:

Murder in a English Village by Jessica Ellicott. I bought this book at a crime writing conference I went to earlier this year, along with another from a different series (under a different name), which I wrote about here. There's a wintery scene on the front cover, so I saved it as a wintery read, and started it on New Year's Day. It turns out weather wasn't a significant enough of a factor to make the time of year essential, but it was a nice, cozy ready for the quiet relaxing days after the holidays. I liked the characters and the set-up for what is clearly a series, as well as the setting of an English village post-WWI. My only complaint is that it was poorly proofread, which is more of a reflection on the publisher than the author, but I found it somewhat distracting.

A Modern Mephistopheles by Louisa May Alcott. I found this book in the thrift store and was intrigued by the dark description of a book by the author of Little Women. I finally pulled it out and read it while preparing to go see the latest film adaptation of that more gentle story. It's a Gothic tale about manipulation, vanity, and innocence. It has a kind of play-like atmosphere, and one can imagine its beginnings in one of Jo's theatrical productions in the garret. Apparently the book was written earlier in Alcott's career, before Little Women, and not published in her name until after she died. I was interested to learn from the introduction that she  suffered from mercury poisoning from her time as a nurse during the Civil War, which is a story I want to learn more about.

Lord of the Wings by Donna Andrews. My mom gave me this book over the summer, and I started it in October, because it's about Halloween. I ended up getting distracted by something else and put it down halfway through. There's a lot going on in Andrews's books--way too many characters and plot points to keep track of. I finally decided to give up on trying to keep track and just go along for the ride. If you like an entertaining, cozy, and somewhat ridiculous mystery, this one's for you.

Eager: The Surprising Secret Life of Beavers and Why they Matter by Ben Goldfarb. This book is the current selection for my naturalist book club, and I arranged for my kids to give it to me for Christmas. It's a fascinating look at beavers as essential elements of our ecosystems, the history of their near-decimation, and the people working to protect them today and encourage their dispersal back into damaged landscapes. You get to know some interesting characters along the way (Beaver Believers) and a few beavers as well. I have renewed admiration for these giant rodents.

The Shepherd's Life by James Rebanks. This book has been on my shelves a long while. I pulled it out after seeing a coworker was reading another book about sheep. It's the memoir of a young-ish (about my age; for some reason I was expecting a wizened old man) shepherd in the Lake District of Northern England, telling the story his life growing up on the farm and the history of ancient sheep breeds and sheep herding practices that have been handed down through time and how the modern world devalues work like farming. I like the way it's written, in short vignettes and antidotes that move back and forth in time, sometimes within a single paragraph. I'm about 3/4 of the way through the book, and it's interesting to me that not one mention has so far been made of spinning, knitting, weaving, or anything to do with fiber other than selling it (or burning it when the prices are low). Is that because it's written by a man, or because fiber arts aren't part of the tradition of his family or the region as a whole?

I also read two books not from the stack this month:

Howard's End by EM Forster. Not sure why I never read this book before, when I'm a fan of Passage to India and A Room with a View, but it took a PBS dramatization of it to get me going. After the first episode, I picked it up at the library and read it all before episode 2 (luckily there was a three-day-weekend in there). And I loved it. It's full of astute observations about human nature and the class system, the characters are charming, and every twist of the plot was a surprise. I also added a new word to my vocabulary: ramshackly, which pretty much describes my whole life.

Outer Order, Inner Calm by Gretchen Rubin. I have a love-hate relationship with Gretchen Rubin books, mainly owing to a blind spot that I think a lot of "self-improvement" authors have, which is that not everyone's life lends itself as well to happiness or time management or self-care as those of people who are literally getting paid to make themselves happy, manage their time, or take care of themselves by writing books on these topics. However, I responded to an uncontrollable urge to buy this book, right around the time I was clearing out the jar room. There's nothing in it that I didn't already know, but it was still helpful to read it and focus my thoughts on decluttering. I like her three-tiered list of questions to go through when deciding to get rid of something: Do I use it? Do I need it? Do I love it? I also like that she doesn't go for a one-size-fits-all approach. If you're comfortable with clutter, then don't declutter. We don't all have to live like monks.

What's in your book stack this month?

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.

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