Monday, November 23, 2020

Big News

November is always a long month for me, what with the short days, downed leaves, and impending work season. This year it has been especially long, thanks to the agonizing wait for the election and the agonizing wait for the vote count and the ongoing agonizing wait for some grownup somewhere to step in and do something about the Keystone Kop Koup attempt. And now the holiday season is approaching, and it's hard to know what to do about it during a pandemic, when every holiday since the beginning of time has revolved around meeting other people's expectations.

If it were up to me, I'd spend Thanksgiving on the couch, watching movies and eating macaroni and cheese. It's not my favorite holiday: I don't care for the food, I don't care for obligatory gratitude, and I don't care for the whitewashed version of our genocidal relationship with the indigenous peoples of this land. However, C and the boys want turkey and all the trimmings (these being the same boys who for the first half dozen or so years of their lives ate nothing from the Thanksgiving table except cranberry sauce), so we'll have turkey and all the trimmings. At least I won't have to clean the house.

And this year, despite the pandemic and the political uncertainty (will we or won't we trade in democracy for a fumbling and inept authoritarian state?), I have much to be grateful for: my and my family's health, my oldest son close to home at a college that takes the pandemic seriously (and can afford to do something about it), and (drum roll, please) now the very real possibility that the book I've spent the last four years writing and rewriting will see the light of day! I'm very happy to share with you that yesterday I signed a contract with Bison Books, the trade imprint of the University of Nebraska Press, for publication of Uphill Both Ways: Hiking Toward Happiness on the Colorado Trail.

It will still be a couple of years before you can hold the book in your hands (start planning your 2022 holiday shopping now), and between now and then there will be many rounds of editing and I'll no doubt take a few turns through the emotional blender. But for now I'm elated! Not even November can dampen my spirits. And hopefully by the time it's published, it will again be safe to breathe each other's aerosolized spit particles and we can celebrate in person at the biggest book release party you've ever seen!

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Friday, November 20, 2020

Dollhouse Renovation ~ Part I

My friend Jenna has an instagram account called @townandcountrymousehouse, where she turns the shelves inside a cabinet into perfect little mouse house rooms. I was scrolling through her photos Friday night and got inspired to dig out my old dollhouse and give it a refresh. After much searching through barn and basement, I finally unearthed it. It was in rough shape, like Grey Gardens after a tornado. 

Like you do when you buy a pre-owned house, I ripped out the carpets and gave it a good cleaning. The budget even extended to a fresh coat of paint on the ceilings and the exterior, although the roof will have to wait until until the home equity loan comes in, or until I get to the craft store to buy aqua paint, whichever comes first.

My grandpa built the house for me when I was about three years old (I thought I had a picture of me unwrapping it at Christmas, but it turns out I have a picture of me right before I unwrapped it). I assume my grandma decorated it, with felt carpeting and shelf paper on the walls. I'm guessing they worked together on the handmade wooden furniture. I passed the house on to my younger sisters for some years and then repossessed it when M was little. He and E and Z got a few good years of playing out of it before it was ignominiously put away to gather dust and wool moths.

I'm going to renovate one room at a time, maintaining the original '70s aesthetic for the most part and using handmade and found objects for furnishings, like the original, mostly. If you know me at all, you know I started with the kitchen. Here's how it looked pre-remodel: 

First of all, it needed some color, what with white walls and floor, so I decided to paint the cabinets. The originals were unfinished pine with doors drawn on in pencil by one of my grandparents.


I painted them turquoise with a white countertop. I felt bad about covering up the lines my grandparents drew, so I tried to recreate them with a white chalk pencil. It turns out I'm not very good at measuring or drawing straight lines. But the teeny-tiny dishtowel obscures the wonkiness. The cookie jar is a small wooden spool with a bead glued to the top, painted red.

Next came the appliances. These were originally what I thought was a beige-ish color, but after I started paining, I noticed a metallic gleam, and realized they were meant to be copper, like my grandma's stove and fridge were back in the '70s. I might repaint them copper later, but for now I like the white. And of course I had to knit the world's tiniest potholder to go with the stove.

The original table and chairs are long gone, and I don't remember what they looked like, so I had to start from scratch. C cut a small rectangle of wood for me and I glued it to a large wooden spool and painted the whole thing red. This is a nod to my grandma's kitchen, which had a pedestal table. Though hers was of gleaming oak, the chairs were cushioned in red vinyl before her early '80s upgrade. 

Speaking of chairs, I'm not sure what I'll do about those--maybe benches or spool stools. Right now it doesn't matter, because I don't know who (or what) is going to live in my house and what kind of chair might fit their anatomy--mice? pipe cleaner people? peg people? hedgehogs? I never really had suitable dolls for my dollhouse, so playing with it was mostly a matter of arranging and rearranging furniture, which suits me just fine. To finish off the kitchen, I added a plate rail to the back of the cabinets. The buttons were meant to be placeholders until real dishes arrived, but I liked them so much, I decided to let them stay. I gave the table a cloth and covered the gap in wallpaper with some complementary washi tape.

Finally, the dishes. I know I said I was going to furnish the place with handmade or found items, but technically, I bought these before I made that decision, as the result of late-night Etsy scrolling (very dangerous). But, oh! So cute. Four fruit plates, a bowl, and four pitchers or creamers (they're from France, but the yellow creamer and sage green pitcher have a very Fiesta aesthetic, n'est pas?). 

That sounds like a lot of pitchers, considering there aren't even any glasses or silverware. But compared to my kitchen, were there are about 35 pitchers or creamers visible (not counting the five in the living room or the ones behind closed doors because they're purely utilitarian or there's not room to show them off), the hypothetical people (or mice or hedgehogs) living in my dollhouse are very restrained.
Note two more tiny touches: the folk art coffee pot stamp (5 cents) wall art
over the stove and the teeny toaster, which was a gift from a friend.

Playing with a dollhouse is a very solitary, antisocial activity (and not just when you're forty-ahem years old; I don't remember ever playing dollhouse with my friends or sisters), which is just what the doctor ordered for month 10 of the pandemic and a welcome distraction from the Keystone Kop Koup attempt.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Book Stack ~ October 2020

A monthly list of books read. Previous months here: JanuaryFebruaryMarchAprilMayJuneJulyAugust, September.

While we're all chewing off our nails waiting to find out whether we'll be saved from full-on fascism by a tiny thread, I thought I'd lighten the mood, or at least change the subject, with a rundown of last month's reads.

October for me involved an inordinate amount of adulting. There was the sending for, filling out, returning, and making sure it arrived-ing of my absentee ballot. There was used-car-shopping and convincing C that we really do need to get another car, not only to make his 65-mile-a-day commute more gas efficient but also to save me from having to drive the hugest, most gas-hogging, impractical truck in the world. There was FAFSA-filling-out. There was a contract to decipher and negotiate. (A good contract, one I hope to tell you about very soon, but a contract no less.) So my reading list consisted mainly of escapism. I also continued to watch way too much TV, finishing up New Girl and starting in on The Gilmore Girls (apparently all the shows I watch have to have "girl" in the title--a side-effect of living in a house of men). Expect that bingeing trend to continue at least through the vote-counting.

Anyhoo, on to the books. I'd been watching Z devour volume after volume of a series he loves and has read at least once or twice before and I felt a little envious. Other than Amelia Peabody, I haven't gotten into that many book series, but that urge to plow that finish one book and dive into the next experience looked really appealing. Then I remembered the Flavia de Luce books by Alan Bradley that I'd started in April and stopped mid-series in May, and went to the bookstore to pick up the next three: The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches, Thrice the Brindled Cat Hath Mew'd, and As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust. True, they get a teensy bit off the rails with the introduction of a spy element, but still I find Flavia a complete delight and the books endlessly entertaining. I've got the next two in my stack for November. If you like a good mystery, if you like a smart and spunky narrator, if you like a bit of English countryside, you'll love this series.

My mom sent me Whispers of Warning, the second in the Change of Fortune series by Jessica Estevao, the first of which I'd picked up at a conference last summer. Another mystery, this series is about a young woman in the early 1900s who has escaped a checkered past and been welcomed into the fold of her mother's sister, who runs a hotel in Old Orchard Beach, Maine, that caters to spiritualist interests. The narrator, Ruby, reads cards and hears a voice that warns and guides her, and she uses this psychic ability to help solve a murder and avoid being exposed. If you like historical fiction, especially with a bent on women's history, a hint of the supernatural, and strong women characters, you'll enjoy this series.

In the nonfiction department, I read White Feathers by Bernd Heinrich, about the nesting behavior of tree swallows. This is pretty much straight up natural history, with a little hint at the author's life and his humor thrown in. We have swallows that nest in boxes near our house, so it was fascinating to learn more about their behavior. If you're interested in birds and the scientific process, this one's for you.

Finally, I read Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter. You already know about my Hamilton obsession, and you can read my mini review of the book here. So all I'll say here is, get yourself a subscription to Disney+ and watch the show if you haven't already, and then watch it again and read this book. It's your civics assignment now that the other important civic duty of this month is done.

What have you been reading?
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