Monday, November 27, 2017

A Quilt (Top) for E

Ever since I finished Z's quilt (top) back in February, the squares for E's quilt have been sitting forlornly on my sewing table, gathering dust and waiting for someone to come and do something with them. Around mid-October, I finally got the inspiration to put them together (probably fueled by something else I wasn't inspired to do, like clean the house or write a book), and so I cleared and dusted my sewing area, threaded my machine, and put a few squares together.

Then the late October mega-windstorm came, wiping out both our internet and the daily solitude that's a prerequisite to writing (did I mention the kids got a whole week off school with that one?), and I got cracking, putting together most of the squares. The momentum continued, and in less than a month, I had the whole top assembled, which is something of a record, even if you include the years since I started cutting pieces.

The original motif was to have been frogs, and I started with some fabrics from my stash and some my mom sent me. Over time the theme expanded to include salamanders, lizards, turtles, alligators, butterflies, crickets, beetles, fish, and parrots. I guess we can call it "Non-Mammal Vertebrates Plus Insects." I suppose it would have been more age-appropriate had I finished it back in 2014, but who doesn't love frogs, really? They're timeless. And he doesn't have to take it to college with him if he doesn't want to.

 In the meantime, I got Z's quilt back from the long-arm quilter months ago.

We chose a quilting pattern called "West Wind," which is highly appropriate, and not only for the nature theme of the quilt. For the backing, my quilter recommended this tan and brown flannel with a pattern like tree rings and to my surprise, I liked it. The front is so busy, that a neutral backing made sense. After much hemming and hawing, I've decided to use the same fabric for the binding, not only because I have a lot of it (nice and long so I won't have to do much piecing), but also because I thought it would be lovely to have a soft flannel edge to one's quilt.

I was hoping to give both to the boys for Christmas, but I finished E's to late to get it quilted. I'll have to wrap up the top for him with a promise of finishing it in the new year—a family tradition I carry on from when my mom used to wrap up fabric and a pattern or yarn and needles, the promise of a gift later on.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Ten Years

I thought it would be fitting to share this image from one of my earliest blog posts, which depicts a page from a book M created as part of my half-assed and half-hearted attempt to make Thanksgiving crafts in emulation of my beloved/hated craft blogging domestic goddesses. For any mom worried about her six-year-old's obsession with weaponry, I can say to you that, in M's case anyway, it is a phase that does pass. Hang in there.

I published my first post on this blog on November 21, 2007…ten years ago today! A lot has changed in that time, not the least of which is that my kids went from being 2, 2, and 6 to 12, 12, and 16. In that time, my oldest child went from sitting in a booster seat to driving a car. How crazy is that?

I've used this blog for many things over the years—to show off, to vent, to share, to start a dialogue. The blog, in turn, inspired me to be a more interesting, creative person and a more engaged, crafty mom, because at the end of each weekend, I had to have enough material for a week's worth of blogs. (For a brief dip into the origin and evolution of my blog, see here.)

Lately, however, I've felt less driven to do things so I can share them on the blog, and less driven to share things I do do (don't be fooled by the ages of my children; they would laugh uproariously at the ending of that sentence, especially the 16-year-old). And time spent on the blog means less time working on The Book and other creative (or not-so-creative) projects.

So I have at long last come to the decision that it's time to say goodbye. Rather than just fading from the screen, as so many of my favorite bloggists have done over the years, I'm leaving in a slow, deliberate, you might say drawn-out fashion. I'm going to stick around through the end of the year, and maybe into January a bit, to document the holidays and the annual I Did it Post. I hope that you will stick around, too.

And I'm not disappearing from the internet. In fact, I've created an actual website and even bought a domain name:

The site includes a blog page, where I'll share news and updates, mainly related to writing, but who knows what I might dream up. Check out the new space and let me know what you think and let me know if there's anything from this blog that you insist I carry on to the next.

Friday, November 17, 2017

October Reads

A monthly recap of books I've read. For past months, see:
January Reads 
February Reads 
March Reads 
April Reads 
May Reads  
June Reads
July Reads
August Reads 
 September Reads

Where has this month gone? More than half over and I'm just now getting to my book post for last month. And there aren't even that many books on the list!

It appears that in October I undertook an unsystematic study of detective fiction. I cleaned out my bookshelves a while ago and filled up a rather large box which would be labeled, if I was the labeling type, "Read And Get Rid Of" or perhaps "Read Or Get Rid Of." In any case, I'm trying to work my way through them (so that I can buy more books, of course), and last month I read the mysteries among the pile.

But first, I read Talking about Detective Fiction, by P.D. James, a survey of the genre, specifically British realm of detective fiction, written by a titan of the form. I picked this book up at a used book shop a few months ago, thinking it might be useful if I ever decided to write mysteries myself. It was an engaging and entertaining read, which made me want to read some of the books mentioned within, so I turned to my box of Books to Read and/or Get Rid of and sorted all the mysteries out of the pile.

I'm not sure how any of these books came into my possession in the first place, or why I've never read them before, but I started with Dorothy L. Sayers, a name I was familiar with from the TV show Mystery adaptations of some of her books. Gaudy Night was a lot of work to get through—it was filled with references to Classical Literature, Elizabethan Poetry, the geography and inner workings of Oxford (both the town and the university) and other esoteric fields that us public-schooled Americans might not have the best grasp of (I think P.D. James mentioned that some have found Sayers' books snobbish for these references), but I persevered and enjoyed the books central conflict about the role of women in society (mother & caretaker vs. intellectual & working woman), and didn't let the fact that Lord Peter swooped in and solved Harriet Vane's puzzle bother me too much. The Nine Tailors, which was shorter and had a lot less esoteric detail (only in reference to the complicated workings of Anglican church bells) was a faster read, but also enjoyable.

By good luck, there was a P.D. James among the pile—unfortunately not Death Comes to Pemberly, which I've been wanting to read, but unable to find, for a while, but rather an Adam Dalgleish mystery, A Taste for Death (interestingly, the second among the pile in which the murder takes place in a church). James does interesting things with point of view and comes at the story from several characters' angles, including a young female detective, which made it more interesting to me (sorry, I just don't want to read about stuffy old dudes that much).

Finally, I read In Potters Field, a contemporary mystery by American writer Patricia Cornwell. It was, frankly, a big letdown after the three previous books. The writing was not nearly as rich and interesting as Sayers's or James's books. The plot not as complicated. There really was no "mystery" to it at all, just a chase for a serial killer (who, one presumes, has made an appearance in previous books). The book relies more on gruesome murder and an anxiety-riddled chase-and-kill scene than a clever puzzle to unwind.

In sum: classics are classic for a reason (even in genres) and I need to find a Little Free Library in which to deposit these books.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Wild Wednesday ~ Nature Journal Recharge

A few weeks ago, our family attended a presentation by the naturalist Bernd Heinrich. After the talk, I picked up from the book sale table a copy of Heinrich's recent book collaboration with ecologist Nathan Wheelwright, The Naturalist's Notebook, which is a how-to guide for tracking nature's changes (phenology), with a five-year calendar/journal in the back.

It's a lovely, lovely book, with gold-edged pages and (my favorite) a built-in ribbon bookmark, illustrated with Heinrich's sketches and watercolors throughout.

While most of the information wasn't new to me, having read a lot of books about nature journaling and having gone through the Maine Master Naturalist program, I always appreciate a refresher and I especially liked the ideas of experimentation and citizen science presented throughout the book—ways of taking your nature experience beyond appreciation and observation.

I had been in a bit of a nature-journaling rut and just looking at Heinrich's illustrations inspired me to get out and get sketching.

The months I spent learning to use watercolor paints last winter finally paid off—this is the first time I've tried using them in a journaling format (other than a few stray and unsuccessful experiments over the years) and coincidentally, the art store changed brands of my preferred field notebook, to one with heavier pages that take the paint beautifully.

Heinrich describes his art supplies thus: "I use only number 2 pencils with erasers or Micron 01 indelible ink pens. I have eight brushes (but use no more than three) and two watercolor sets. Each set …holds 24 colors…. Most likely I received both sets as gifts when I was a teen and there is still enough paint left in both to last another lifetime…."

This inspired me to rethink my art supplies and drawing tools. Not that I have an excess of either, but I really do love trying out different media and adding to my large colored pencil collection.

So I've been experimenting with watercolor and number 2 pencil, and watercolor and colored pencils.

And I've been working on making the most of my different watercolor sets (three travel sets of various smallness, and a palette of colors squeezed from tubes), learning the different characteristics of each and figuring out how to maximize color combinations, especially with the little travel sets.

Most importantly, I've been using my journal to help me appreciate the natural world during these waning days of autumn and learn a little more about the world around me.

Friday, November 3, 2017

October in Review

October seems to have gotten away from me—there were many things I meant to post about, but somehow never got around to it.

It was a beautiful month, sunny and dry, until it wasn't (more about that in a minute). I got the kids to walk through our woods a few times and we even went on a family hike once (I have mentioned how no one likes to leave the house, haven't I?). Unfortunately, I didn't take along my camera for documentary evidence.

E and Z and I did a Van Gogh art project, with various interpretations of what that meant.

And we all made tie-died t-shirts, which is so much easier now, with squirt-bottles of concentrated dyes, than last time I tried it, 30 years ago, with dipping shirts in and out of buckets of watery Rit.

C and I did our best to wrangle the last of the garden produce. He made several large batches of tomatillo salsa and I boiled or roasted the rest of the tomatillos and froze them for winter cooking.

With the last of the VERY LARGE harvest of chile peppers (jalapeƱo and habanero), I made hot pepper jellies, hot sauces, roasted and frozen peppers, and dried peppers. That was a lot of peppers.

With the end of the month came a crazy wind-and-rain storm, which knocked power out for most of the state, littered roads with fallen trees and downed power lines, and drove most of the leaves off the trees (though the beech and oak hung on tight).

The upshot for us was NO SCHOOL for this whole week, with power out almost everywhere (except, thank you sun and solar panels and batteries, our house) and roads too hazardous for buses to pass through.

Three people in our house were pretty psyched about this development. I even got into the spirit of it for the first couple of days, playing Snow Day, baking cinnamon rolls and watching movies, but a whole week with a houseful of kids (and no internet) put a serious dent in my work flow.

Despite calls here and there to postpone Halloween until Friday (to which we said "Phooey"), we braved the dark and tree-littered streets to make our usual trick-or-treat rounds.

Our usual hay wagon being unavailable, we made do with C's work truck, which worked out nicely, as grown-ups got to sit inside for once (although it was such a mild night, it wouldn't have been bad to be in a trailer).

The power outages and candle-lit homes made for an extra-spooky Halloween-i-ness, and I think people appreciated a diversion from sitting around in their dark houses, listening to their generators run. And I think the kids appreciated being part of a lower-than-normal turnout that led to even more candy in their buckets than usual.

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