Tuesday, May 25, 2021

World of Wonders

I've started a new project on Instagram--a #bookstagram series combining to of my favorite things, books and Fiesta dinnerware, #bookfiesta. Once or twice a week I pair a book I've recently read and loved with a complementary piece of Fiesta. I love the juxtaposition of something totally frivolous (my dish collection) and something deeply consequential (really good books). I also love picking our the dish that will go best with a beautiful cover design. And I love sharing what I read with the world. 

Today's post is of World of Wonders by Aimee Nezhukumatathil, alongside a p86 (that's produced after 1986 for you Fiesta ware novices out there) rose individual creamer, and some white lilacs. It's extra-special because I also reviewed the book at Literary Mama for this month's issue. My review begins:

The axolotl is a pink amphibian with dark eyes, feathery gills, and a disarmingly human-like smile. One gazes serenely from the cover of World of Wonders by Aimee Nezhukumatathil, lovingly painted by illustrator Fumi Mini Nakamura and tucked in among a colorful collage of magnificent plants and animals, some familiar (flamingo, narwhal, monarch butterfly) and others unknown to me (potoo bird, ribbon eel, southern cassowary). The axolotl’s cryptic, pink, Mona Lisa smile amid this kaleidoscope of wild creatures is an irresistible lure inviting readers to pick up the book and behold the wonders held within.

You can read the rest of the review here, and you can follow me on Instagram @andrea.lani.

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Friday, May 21, 2021

Finish it Friday ~ Bedroom Curtains

I didn't really set out to give my bedroom a facelift, but things kind of snowballed from a sewing a quilt to painting furniture to making curtains, the previous set of which had gotten faded and tattered since I made them ten years ago, last time I gave my room a total overhaul

This fabric is Anna Maria Horner's Hindsight "sinister swarm" moth print. Because I bought it online, I had no idea how big the moths would be. They're enormous! But perfect for curtains. And, as you can see, they're carrying on that surprising salmon theme I mentioned last week.

I also did a major cleanup of book and sewing clutter (though not having reached any real storage solutions--there are boxes of books and magazines, temporarily, in the closet, and the bin of fabric I usually keep close at hand has moved to the basement. I'm hoping this will make the space more conducive to other activities--like yoga, reading, and writing. I'm just waiting on a comfy chair I ordered like a million years ago to show up, which will make this the coziest reading/writing nook. I'd also like to repaint--not a new color but a fresh coat--but that will have to wait till I have more time on my hands. And I'm still contemplating artwork. I think my way of celebrating vaccination will be to visit art shows and galleries this summer.

Friday, May 14, 2021

Finish It Friday ~ Chalk Painted Furniture

Most of our furniture is junk--either other people's castoffs or purchases from the unfinished pine shop. I believe I've referred to our aesthetic in these pages as "early '90s college student." All we're lacking is a cinder-block-and-board bookcase. I really believed that some day we'd graduate to grownup furniture, but that hasn't happened yet. In the meantime, I thought I'd give a little refresh to a few scraggly looking pieces in my bedroom, using chalk paint, a new medium for me and one I liked the sounds of (no prep work!).

1. The bookcase. An unfinished pine piece originally bought to house kids' toys in the living room. It has since served stints in my room, the kids' room, and then back to my room. When I first bought it, I slapped a coat of interior house paint on it (I think this is the periwinkle of the mudroom) and made back panels of foam core covered in fabric because the back is literally just four narrow slats of wood.

Anyhow, it was due for a new coat of paint--the knots in the cheap pine were showing through the inappropriate paint and it was dented and dinged from years of use. The paint I bought the paint was from Chalk It Up, and it was a dream to work with--easy to apply, great coverage, easy to clean up. The chalk color I picked for the bookshelf is called "blackberry," and it's a bit more magenta than I imaged it would be. I was afraid it would clash with the red fabric panels, and it kind of does, but I think I like it. 

2. The nightstand. This little end table came from one of C's relatives houses when they were moving. It was a badly finished ugly brown when it came to us, but I liked the spooled legs, the book storage area...

...and the groovy scalloped top. So, again, I slapped a coat on of paint (possibly the bathroom lavender?) and called it good.

It wasn't in too bad of shape all these years later, considering it was basically recovered trash, but I was ready for a change and went with "clay pot" for the paint color.

I've never been a pinky-pink girl, but for some reason this salmony color is emerging as a theme in my bedroom makeover (see quilt top and stay tuned for curtains). I think it's a reaction to the testosterone overload caused by being cooped up in the house with four men/manchildren for the last year.

3. Mirror. This item I think C actually did dumpster dive for, or maybe picked up on the side of the road. It's cute, and handy, but the wooden base was painted an anemic yellow of  peeling (probably lead-based) paint. (I forgot to take a before picture.) The purple is much nicer, and in addition to a fresh coat of paint, I gave the glass a good cleaning, so now I can actually see myself in it. 

Clay paint requires finishing with a wax coating. I found some at the craft store that goes on with a brush and is water-based and very easy to use. After the wax dries overnight it just needs a light buffing and then a week to cure, after which I put my books back on the shelves. These are my writing resource and current project books. I used to have them arranged by color (much to C's bemusement), but the sun has bleached the spines so much that the books aren't that colorful anymore. Maybe I should reorder them some other way...size perhaps (to continue to annoy and perplex the spouse, whose books I should mention are in the order of archaeological dig, with the most recent reads on top and a lot of in-situ dust)?

I have a box leftover of stuff that was cluttering up the top and fronts of the shelves. Not sure what I'll do with all that, but I kind of like this clean, minimalist look, and instead of books and papers and stuff taking up the top surface, wouldn't it be nice to have nice things, like an orchid and some sort of object d'art? And then there's the question of those babies--do I keep them or replace them with some fun art?

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Book Stack ~ April 2021

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

I redeemed myself in April after a couple of months of very short book stacks. Admittedly, a couple of these were nearly done before the month began, but still, I'll call it a win.


The Ecopoetry Anthology, Ann Fisher-Wirth and Laura-Gray Street, eds. I bought this book on a whim because it was facing out on an eye-level shelf the first time I went into a bookstore after the lockdown started, way back in August, on my birthday (which is why browsing in bookstores is so much better than buying online; how else would these serendipitous finds take place?). At an average of one poet per day, I finished all 576 pages exactly eight months and two days later, on Earth Day, fittingly. About 1/4 of the poems are historical, the other 3/4 contemporary, which was a nice mix I thought. Overall, it's just a stunning collection with an expansive notion of "eco." My sister asked if any poems in particular stood out, and while it's hard to choose, here are a few that I found memorable:  The Hurricane Katrina poems by Patricia  Smith ("5 p.m., Tuesday August 23, 2005" "Man on the TV Say," "Won't Be But a Minute," "8 a.m., Sunday, August 28, 2005") are heartrending. "The Stars" by Eliot Weinberger was inspirational. W.S. Merwing "For a Coming Extinction." Lucille Clifton "The Killing of Trees." And really I'd recommend everything in the collection except for a small few that left me scratching my head.

What Kind of Woman, Kate Baer. A very different kind of poetry collection, about womanhood and motherhood and wifehood, about the expectations society places on all of the above. I'm looking forward to reading Baer's forthcoming collection of erasure poems.

Poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life with Words by Susan Goldsmith Woodridge. Not an actual book of poetry, but a book about writing and enjoying and living poetry. I've owned this one a long time but only ever got through a couple of chapters. I decided to write a poem (or do a poetry exercise) every day through April, and used this book as a guide for some of those poems, and just read it for enjoyment otherwise, finally making it to the end. It's a delicious invitation to play with words.


North with the Spring by Edwin Way Teale. I started reading this two years ago and set it aside when spring ended and summer began. I somehow forgot to pick it up last year, but I resumed this year, and I really enjoyed the quiet, gentle account of a ramble from south to north following the flush of spring over the land.

The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man's Love Affair with Nature by J. Drew Lanham. This is a lovely and moving account of family, place, nature, and race and growing up on a farm in South Carolina and challenges of being a birdwatcher, a biologist and a Black man.

One Long River of Song: Notes on Wonder by Brian Doyle. This is another book that jumped off the shelf at me. I'd always enjoyed Brian Doyle's essays when they appeared in Orion or The Sun, but I hadn't picked up one of his books before. The short essays and prose poems here were collected by writer and editor friends after Doyle's death from a brain tumor. Each one is incandescent with joy, love, and humor, even those that were clearly written as he knew he was dying.


Malice Domestic, edited by Elizabeth Peters. I came to this book in the nerdiest way possible: listening to a podcast about the original source of apples (somewhere in Kazakhstan), I heard that the Latin for apple is Malus domestica, and it rung a bell in my head--I knew there was a mystery novel or something similar out there by the name Malice Domestic and I thought I must read the book with such a clever play on words. Turns out it's an annual conference and anthology of short stories, originally started by my mystery goddess Elizabeth Peters. This one, edited by said goddess, is the first of the collection, published way back in 1992, and was highly entertaining. I think short works--both stories and essays--are a good fit for me right now, mentally, especially fun short stories, like those in this collection.

What are you reading these days?

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Tuesday, May 4, 2021

April Delights

 This winter was long, longer than most, despite its relative snowlessness (another reason to read apocalypse in the tea leaves). March brought no relief. It never does. But April, despite what Eliot said, is perhaps the kindest month. Warm breezes and wild flocks migrating north, even in years when the snow hangs around until Earth Day (this year the old snow was long gone, but a new dusting sprinkled down on the 22nd). And though I'm a Leo and a summer girl through and through, April may be my second favorite month. As the world begins to wake up, so too do I, turning outward and uncurling from a winter's introspection, which always, inevitably, leads to moroseness. And so I thought I'd take stock of what's waking me up and bringing me joy this April. 

My father-in-law is a hot air balloonist. But that does not mean he hands out rides in the basket like candy. I've been up only once, long, long ago. Earlier this month, when he was taking the balloon for its post-inspection trial flight, he took E and Z along for the ride. C and I served as chase crew, and it was like a small miracle to see our two youngest children ascend into the sky in a rainbow.

April is the month the birds return, and with no leaves on the trees and none of those pesky other b-words trying to suck my blood, it's the month for bird watching. I made a resolution to bird every day this month, and I've managed 18 so far. A first-of-year bird appears almost every time I go out. This week's new arrivals: yellow-rumped warbler, belted kingfisher, American kestrel, broad-winged hawk, and hermit thrush.

Yesterday I stalked a velvety chocolate-brown mourning cloak through the woods. These butterflies overwinter as adults and are always the first to appear and a sure sign of spring. I was amazed a few days earlier to see a little blue butterfly, a northern spring azure, perhaps. I chased it through the field, it flashing luminous blue upper wings while I tried to sneak up to take its picture. Now I'm aquiver with anticipation of butterfly season.

I have no doubt that social media will usher in the downfall of civil society. Nevertheless, it has its good points. For instance, I've been keeping a close eye on the flower buds of trees and shrubs in the woods around our home and snapping phone photos when the buds open and sharing them on Instagramand Facebook. It's made me much more attentive to the slow unfolding of spring, and I'm discovering that there's much about tree flowers I've never noticed, like the flowering twigs of aspen and yellow birch are high out of reach, and oak flowers, which come out after the leaves, I've never seen before.

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