Thursday, April 8, 2021

Book Stack ~ March 2021

A monthly post about my progress toward finishing a very large stack of books. Past months' posts:



Last month's stack is another mini one. I'm getting cranky about how much work is interfering with my reading time (I've decided to stop blaming television and point toward the real culprit instead--capitalism).

Nonfiction: Erosion by Terry Tempest Williams. I've been a huge fan of TTW ever since I was assigned to read Refuge in college. Her writing is just so beautiful and searingly truthful. This one so much so that it hurt a little to read--about the realities of climate change and the abuses to wild lands by the fossil fuel industry and the previous administration. There's none of the cheery optimism so many nature writers feel compelled to tack onto the hard realities of we're basically f*cked. So yeah, a hard read, but a necessary one.

Fiction: A Deadly Inside Scoop by Abby Collette. This book, by contrast, was just pure fun--an ice cream shop, a murder (okay, maybe that wasn't fun for the murder victim), and a number of suspects, including the narrator's father...all tied up in a nice bow after a mildly suspenseful scene, in the best cozy style.

What are you reading this month?

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Ordinary Days



Last month I was scrolling through my online bank records for 2020 while preparing our tax info for the accountant. I started in December and worked backward, and when I reached the early part of the year, before the pandemic and the lockdown, I became unexpectedly, unbelievably sad. Not because I had booked tickets for the vacation of a lifetime that would have to be cancelled or put a deposit on a venue for a major event that would never happen, but quite the opposite. The utter ordinariness of the transactions--a trip to Goodwill or the bookstore, haircuts for the boys, a pair of shoes--seemed so foreign to the way the world is now that I felt a deep, deep grief.

The pandemic did not change my life materially. My nearest and dearest have stayed safe and healthy so far. I would have been off of work for the entire summer and fall anyway. I might say I even thrived on the opportunity to be in the company of my family and to have the time that I would otherwise have spent socializing, ferrying my kids around, or running errands to focus on writing and spending time in nature around my home instead.

Many people are expressing optimism that now that vaccines are making their way into arms at a thrilling pace, we'll soon be able to go about our ordinary business. But this last year has driven home the reality that "ordinary" is relative. That what's ordinary to me is not an experience that is available to many: Black men and women who are brutalized and murdered by police and vigilantes while going about their ordinary business of buying a sandwich, going for a jog, sleeping. Elderly Asians who are attacked in the street by white supremacists. Asian women shot in their places of work, again by angry white supremacists. Women of all races beaten and murdered in their own homes by those closest to them.

The weather this year has also been anything but ordinary: wildfires going into December; tornados in February; blizzards in the Deep South; a town flattened by a derecho. Thirty years of denying and ignoring the science on climate change are coming home to roost. It seems unlikely we'll ever see an ordinary season again.

Early last year, I was working on a short story called "Soccer Moms at the End of the World." It was to be a somewhat comic, near-apocalyptic tale (quite possibly a genre I invented) about people going about their normal business as if a quite obvious catastrophe was not looming. As the coronavirus epidemic swelled toward pandemic, I felt the urgency of writing it and was making progress. Then, after my kids' school shut down, I lost my daily writing time, the half hour between 7:30 a.m. (when I arrived at work after having dropped them at their bus stop at 7:00) and 8:00 (when I had to actually go into the office and work). Then my work closed too, and what could have been a full-time writing schedule instead became a full-time doom-scrolling schedule. And the apocalypse had become all too real--bizarrely slow-moving but incredibly palpable--which made writing about a fictional apocalypse a little weird. Also, I didn't know where that story was going. I didn't know what to do with those moms, blissfully ignoring the burgeoning crisis as they bought snacks, drove their kids to soccer games, and sat on the sidelines chatting about everything but what was most important. I still don't know what to do with them. They have to get up every morning and take care of their families. As do we all.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Finish it Friday ~ Little Bird Embroidery

This isn't much, but I'm all for celebrating small wins this week. Several years ago C gave me an embroidery kit for Christmas (because I asked for it) by Cozy Blue Handmade. It has four patterns--all of the same image of plants and birds but in a different color scheme for each season. They're totally adorable, but the thing is, I don't really like following patterns or instructions (except while knitting). Also, it's harder to embroider while watching TV and the lighting in our house wasn't that great. Which is to say I hadn't gotten very far over three or four or five years since I got them.

This winter, I bought new lamps to make working and reading in the evening easier and more comfortable. And I found that if I'm watching something sort of mindless, embroidery and TV aren't totally incompatible. And so I finished the first of the four seasons: winter cardinals (which, truth be told, was the one I'd made the most progress on in the past, so it really is a small win, but still a win).


While I had my embroidery box out, I tidied it up, winding all of the floss onto little cards. (I don't have a "before" photo, but picture a packrat's nest.) This was a useful activity for keeping the hands busy during interminable conference calls when knitting might be a little too obvious.


Also in the embroidery box was this little scene I stitched up a few years ago on a weekend trip to the pond. This is more my kind of embroidery. It might not be as professional-looking as the kit, but it was more fun and personal. I have to think of what to do with it, though.


I also found these embroideries from drawings M made when he was very little: a smiling, happy elephant and turtle and a very long, winding snake (which, apparently, was my Waterloo on this project). 


I don't remember what I planned to do with these and I don't know what I should do with them now, if anything. I could dig out my kids' old drawings and do a whole series, put them together in a wall quilt or something. But I'm not sure I could handle it. They are so far from the cute little kids who drew cute little animals (and, if I recall correctly, I had to really dig to find these little animals--M mostly drew robots and space and war scenes).

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Book (Mini) Stack ~ February 2021

A monthly post about my progress toward finishing a very large stack of books. Past months' posts:

I only managed to finish two books in February, but they're both from my Book Stack and they're both on my list of twelve particular books I want to finish in 2021, so I'll call it a win.


First, for fiction, I read Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy. I'd read Tess of the d'Urbervilles way back when (in 2009! How is it possible that 12 years have gone by?) and absolutely loved it. I don't know why, but I never got around to reading any more Thomas Hardy since then. My sister had given me Far from the Madding Crowd sometime between then and now, but I never picked it up--a book that long is just such a commitment, you know?--until last month when I finally compelled myself to dive in. And you know what? I was reminded of what I loved so much about Tess. Hardy's lush descriptions of landscape and people and weather (there's a thunderstorm that goes on for three chapters). He does have a tendency to make unflattering sweeping generalizations about women, though I suspect these are tongue-in-cheek, since they're usually used as counterpoint to what the women characters (usually Bathsheba, heroine of this book) actually are like or what they actually do. I will admit that it got a little bit slow in the middle, and I didn't love it quite as much as I loved Tess, but I was happy that it didn't end tragically (for Bathsheba and the hero, Gabriel Oak, anyway; other characters did come to unhappy ends). Perhaps I'll read Jude the Obscure or The Mayor of Casterbridge before another dozen years go by.


In contrast to that nearly 150-year-old novel, my nonfiction for the month was nearly brand new: World of Wonders by Aimee Nezhukumatathil, subtitled In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments. "Praise" is a fitting description; it's like a series of praise poems written in prose, which is apt, since Nezhukumatathil is poet. I won't write too much about this book here and now, because I'll be reviewing it in Literary Mama in a couple of months, and I'm already excited to read it a second time for the review. Stay tuned!

Friday, February 26, 2021

Finish it Friday ~ Wavy Charms Quilt

This quilt began as a package of vaguely S-shaped charms my mom sent me several years ago as part of a de-stashing effort. I never got around to finishing it because: a) I didn't have enough charms for a whole quilt; b) I didn't have the original pattern piece to make new ones out of (nor nearly enough stash); and c) I had no idea how to sew wavy lines and get the resulting fabric to lie flat.


I decided to just let all that go and dive in. I made a pattern from one of the pieces my mom sent--this is a good way to introduce error, and indeed the new pieces I cut ended up longer than the others, but like the guys of the buildings and grounds crew where I worked the summer after I graduated from college used to say whenever someone started to get uptight about the imperfection of a small project, "It's not a f-ing piano." I'm not sure if I sewed the curved edges "properly," but I just kind of stretched and molded one piece to fit another and, when the two pieces were being recalcitrant, by using the occasional pin.


For the backing, I went with a romantic rose print, which I thought fit with the calicos on the front. I didn't like it at first and wished I'd gone with something more simple and monochromatic, since the front is so busy, but it's growing on me. Like the 70s quilt, I used fluffy batting and tied the corners, old-school style.


Even though almost no two of these prints would go together in any rational way, they kind of work as a big kaleidoscope of color.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Finish it Friday ~ That 70s Quilt

The first quilt top from this post, the one my mom started way-back-when and then passed on to me still not-quite-as-way-back-but-still-pretty-far is done! And don't you love the way the alternating rectangles and triangles make that cool diagonal pattern?

Since my mom got the original pattern idea from a movie about poverty and tragedy (she still doesn't remember which, but I still think it was along the lines of Coal Miner's Daughter or The Dollmaker), it wouldn't have been right to pay a hundred bucks to have it professionally quilted. And besides, tying is more appropriate to the 70s aesthetic. So is puffy polyester batting, which is all my quilt lady had in stock when I finally made it to her shop--she's moved way out to the boondocks (boondocks that are far away from the boondocks where I live), and she's downsized, becoming more of a longarm quilting service than a fabric store, which makes me no end of sad. But she did give me the idea of turning the quilt, which saved me the hassle of making and sewing on binding.

The purple part of the backing is a length of fabric I bought at our local department store--Reny's--way back when they still carried fabric, with this project in mind. I thought it had a groovy 70s vibe. Unfortunately I didn't buy enough for the whole quilt back. At the quilt shop, I picked up some plain muslin to finish it off with, but that seemed far too dull for this particular blanket. So I dug through my stash and came up with this orange that has an almost imperceptible leaf print. I had just enough to make two strips along two edges of the purple. I spent several TV-watching sessions threading embroidery floss through each corner and the center of each block, and voila! A bright, cheerful, totally cozy, ecstatically retro throw for those chilly evenings in front of the TV (yeah, a lot of TV happening these days).

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Dollhouse Updates ~ Tiny Carpentry Projects

I thought I was done with the dollhouse, but every once in a while, I get something in my head that it absolutely *needs* and I don't rest until I've made it come to pass. One thing I planned to add all along, was a desktop tablet--everything the writer/artist living in the house would need for creation. I had this piece of lucite-like material in a desk shape (something my dad brought home from work a good 40 years ago for me to use in this very dollhouse). It makes for an ultra-modern workspace. 


I honored that aesthetic with a lamp made of two buttons and a thin plastic tube (found in my "box of random things that might come in handy some day") and added a blotter (I don't really know what purpose a blotter serves, but I've always wanted one), a set of watercolors (piece of popsicle stick, painted) with a brush (toothpick) and a water jar (bead), a pencil (toothpick again), and a small book (paper, folded and sewn). A spool stool and a groovy rug make this corner of the attic bedroom the coziest little workspace.

For the other projects I've wanted to complete, I've had to take up carpentry--very tiny carpentry. First I gave the bathroom mirror (a piece of shiny silver paper that I'd added when the boys were little) a popsicle stick frame. Then, using some little plywood pieces (also from the "box of random things that might come in handy some day") and a toothpick, I built a shelf with towel bar for the wall over the tub. A fancy towel, groovy bathmat, and pair of shampoo bottles (glass beads), along with some seashells (every bathroom needs seashells so that bathing feels like a trip to the beach) and a cup (bead), finish the room.


My Fiesta ware-like dish collection continues to grow, and so the kitchen needed some more storage space (just like my kitchen in real life). So I built a little wall shelf (more little pieces of plywood and a popsicle stick) to go over the table.


A set of colorful mugs necessitated a mug tree (chop stick, toothpick, and button).


Here's how the kitchen looks in its current state:



Finally (but not really finally), another problem that corresponds to one of my own: the growing book collection necessitated a bookcase. I made this one with more pieces of plywood--they have an angle at one end, and I made use of this to create a dictionary-stand-type bookshelf--and a toothpick (to keep the books from sliding off the top).


I didn't think about the books being mostly dark green when I decided to paint it that color, but I think it works okay. (The books here are field guides to wildflowers, birds, and moths/butterflies, Pride and Prejudice, plus two "dummy" books that look old; in other parts of the house are Winnie the Pooh, The Night Before Christmas, a dictionary, and the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook--see the kitchen photos--which is a pretty good collection of essential books, if you ask me.)

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