Nobody: Gee I wonder if Rose’s rubber snake is still giving her mother heart attacks all these years later
Me, looking for an old photo in my blog archive:
Nobody: Gee I wonder if Rose’s rubber snake is still giving her mother heart attacks all these years later
Me, looking for an old photo in my blog archive:
The maple has dropped perhaps seventy percent of its leaves now. All the upper branches on its south-facing side are bare and the morning light glows through into my studio. The north-facing side is holding its secrets a while longer.
I love that I can see—in the wide gap between the Norway maple and a different neighbor’s Douglas fir—a distant blue smudge of mountains in Washington State.
In a middle-school art class in my hometown of Aurora, Colorado, I once painted a picture of blue mountains beyond a wide green valley speckled with wildflowers. Blue-green foothills, and mountains in deepening shades of blue and violet. We saw the Rockies every time we walked outside, and I painted those mountains the way I saw them in my mind’s eye. But then another student made fun of them. Mountains aren’t blue, he scoffed. And I remember the sudden flood of doubt. Of course he was right. Mountains are brown and green and gray and snow-white. What was I thinking? Mortified, I cut the entire mountain range off the page and threw it away. I tried pasting the meadow to a new sheet of paper and painting properly tinted mountains, but the glue wrinkled the paper and anyway, the new range was hideous. I trashed the entire thing.
And went outside and saw that I’d been right. There was blue in the hills. I’ve been watching for blue mountains all my life. For a few years I lived at the feet of the Blue Ridge and drank in those blues and violets all day long, feeling like I’d found my own personal Innisfree.
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,And evening full of the linnet’s wings.
I’ve thought often of that boy in class with a kind of wry gratitude and ruefulness. Of course I had no idea at the time, but that encounter helped shape me: it taught me to trust my own artistic vision. I knew what I knew. My mountains were blue, and they were beautiful. Everywhere I’ve gone, “standing on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,” I’ve seen them in the deep heart’s core.
Yesterday Rilla and I finished filling the bug snug with leaves, grass clippings, flower stems, and twigs. We’ll leave it be now and hope it went up in time to offer shelter to overwintering insects. We may be a bit late for this year, but now we know what to when late summer rolls around next year.
Ideally there would be a lot more twigs and branches among the leaves, but we used what we had in the yard. Flower stalks (we had zinnia, dahlia, rudbeckia, sunflower, and cosmos stems mostly) are excellent to include in the layers because insects can burrow into the stems, especially the hollow ones. Or you can simply leave the stalks in the garden all winter, right where they grew.
The neighbor’s Norway maple has conveniently leaf-mulched the large flower bed in this part of the yard (we call it the back yard, but it’s actually on the side of the house because of this quirky corner lot). The cherry, apple, and Tupelo trees are supplying the sheet-mulching project on the other side of the house. Scott is mightily amused by the way I greedily eye our neighbors’ giant paper bags of raked leaves awaiting compost pickup. I don’t need them—we’ve got plenty—but leaf mulch creates such superb winter habitat and decomposes into fantastically rich compost for your garden beds. The maple’s yellow leaves are rapidly turning brown, but to me they are nothing but gold.
Rilla and I made a bug snug yesterday. I don’t have a photo of it yet (too cozy to get up right now, and anyway if I go downstairs I’ll be swept into The Rest of the Day and this post will float into the drafts pile with the hundreds of other unfinished musings I’ve amassed over the years), so I searched for bug and then bee in my photo library. So. Many. Bee pics. This one isn’t the crispest but the red coneflowers felt more apt for this November morning.
Anyway, the bug snug! You make a tripod of sticks or canes—we used this video to assemble it—and fill it with twigs, leaves, flower stems, grass cuttings, all the wealth summer left behind in your yard. This creates habitat for overwintering insects. Also it’s very cute.
The bug snug is part of our big project: participating in Portland’s Backyard Habitat Certification program. The new house has a biggish corner lot, beautifully landscaped by the former owner (she’s my hero—oh the care and love she lavished on this house!), mercifully pesticide free, with roses and berries and perennials, but also a lot of grass. We’ve begun our project by sheet mulching over the grass along the retaining wall that runs along our corner sides (the front and west sides of the house). I’ve planted a few perennials there and some wildflower seeds, but the main goal for now is to knock back the grass and create beds for planting native shrubs and pollinator plants in the spring.
The kids were surprised when I told them it will likely be two or three years before we get to the Silver certification level, and longer than that to qualify for Gold. For me, the leisurely timeline is a comfort. It’s a puttering project, a little here, a little there, doing what we can do.
Huck has done most of the digging for the south-side border. We’re sheet-mulching over the grass (layers of cardboard, compost, and leaf mulch), but we needed to remove a narrow grass right along the retaining wall so we could tuck the cardboard down, and he’s making another narrow trench to edge the bed. He has discovered that he loves digging. This is excellent news for his mother.
Well. It’s been a minute. After such a long silence, I can’t imagine anyone is still checking for new posts here. And yet I’m writing!
If you’re on my newsletter mailing list or my Patreon, you know this bit of news already—I’ve started a Substack and will be posting there twice a week. Lots of reasons for this shift, as explained in my entry post. I’ve put the Patreon on a long-term hiatus and am giving myself a year for the Substack experiment.
But that doesn’t mean I’m abandoning this dear old corner of the internet. Quite the opposite. One of the reasons I moved to Substack is that it allows subscribers to get new posts via email. (Or on the website, or in the app.) But of course I don’t want to spam everyone’s email with daily posts. And since writing begets writing (a truism I experienced in full force during my years of daily blogging), I’m boiling with quick, raw tidbits of thought. Like in the old days! Too raw to plop into people’s inboxes.
(Take that extremely clumsy metaphor, for example. If I’m boiling, how are the thoughts raw? At first I wrote “unpolished.” Maybe the better metaphor is a rock tumbler. You collect the rough stones and dump them into the tumbler with a bit of grit. Hmm, I like that. Let me think about it.)
I did a few days of Summer Brennan’s Essay Camp and loved her take on a daily practice of writing a “Five Things” post:
Just quiet your mind for a moment and then write the first true thing that comes to you. Something you’ve been thinking about. Something you noticed or saw. There is no need for explanation or preamble—just dive right in. There are no wrong or stupid choices.
I’ve been doing a version of this for basically my entire adult life, in fits and starts, in notebooks and—for a good fourteen-year stretch—on this blog. (Or one of my side blogs. Remember when we all had side blogs? I had a bread blog, a daily-homeschooling-notes blog, a private blog. So many blogs!)
The “five” is an arbitrary number. In my notebooks it has most often been three. Three things that caught my attention today—images, ideas, remarks. The funny kid quips that used to fill these virtual pages. The reading notes that moved from Bonny Glen to my Kindle, almost without my noticing.
We’ve seen other iterations of the Five Things concept over the years—Jen Fulwiler’s “Seven Quick Takes” idea, or what was that other format? It went something like: I’m reading, I’m seeing, I’m thinking about…I loved reading those. Trying to recall the name of the blogger who began them. It started with a P, I think. But wasn’t Pioneer. Poppins? Penny?
ANYWHO. Five is a good number. I’m liking how the rock-tumbler image fits it: imagine picking up five pebbles a day to toss into the tumbler. Five rough, unpolished stones. Just about the limit of what I can hold in one hand.
I’ll play with that for a while and see if it feels like the right practice. It’s all a big experiment. All I want to do in this space right now is collect pebbles.
Like this one!—outside the window of my studio space in the new house (it’s a truly scrumptious space; I’m still pinching myself to see if it’s a dream) there is a giant Norway maple. It’s in our neighbor’s yard but half its branches overhang ours. I love this tree, even though this species is considered invasive here in the PNW. (I am constantly having to wrench tiny, adorable maple seedlings from the cracks in our walkways.) I loved it all summer when it was an amiable green presence against the morning sky. And I love it even more now, with its leaves gone golden and half of them falling. Every morning: more gaps of light. Behind this tree is the eastern sky. I get part of the sunrise off to its left—enough sunrise to make me gasp some mornings—but I’ve known that I’ll get the whole pink sky behind the dark branches this winter. And now it’s coming. In the blue dark before first light, pinpricks of morning shine through the leaves. More than pinpricks now—stars. I’ve never before welcomed an oncoming winter like this. But no rush—these golden curtains framing the glow—for now it’s perfect.
There. One pebble for today.
This feels incredibly weird to write, but I’ve hardly picked up a needle in months. That feels a little like saying I haven’t stopped to think in months, because handstitching has become such a key part of my creative process: keeps my hands busy but allows my mind to roam. This may explain why my brain feels a bit like a dartboard right now. It’s been seven months of pointy Life things flying straight at me. I’m ready to take back the needles. (This metaphor is falling apart fast.)
Well, my new space is set up for creative practice beyond my wildest dreams. There’s so much room! Including a large flat counter for cutting fabric. Now comes the absolute hardest part of embroidery: deciding what to stitch. I have several hoops in progress, not to mention the linen bag pictured above—it’s a weekend pattern but I slowed it down by, gosh, months by deciding to stitch those wonky watercolor-inspired circles on the front panel. I mean, it’s no rush. I have bags aplenty already. So perhaps that’s the project to dig out? Something to do while I decide what new thing I want to make?
A frequent refrain in my head lately is how the two hardest parts of my day are: starting and stopping. Starting work on the thing I want or need to do, and stopping when it’s time to stop. The modern wisdom about motivation (the impetus to do a task) is that you have to start work first, and only then will motivation arise. But a lot of the discussion around best practices seems to assume that starting is as simple as deciding to start. And for me, there’s a gap between those two actions.
I have all kinds of tricks for hurtling across that gap. But employing a strategy is itself an act that requires a launch. I often feel the most intense resistance about taking the first step in a strategy I know to be effective for me. Like: Click on Scrivener. Simple as that. Or: Ask Scott to hang out with me until I’ve gotten started writing. That works every time and he’s always happy to oblige. But I’ll resist clicking or asking. It’s my absolute most frustrated state of mind. I’d rather sit at the DMV. Actually, it’s kind of like sitting at the DMV without having taken a number first.
I mention this because it occurs with fun stuff as well as work. I mean, a lot of my work is fun—once I start working. But I mean it happens with down-time, leisure activities too. Like embroidery, which I adore doing and often feel I don’t have enough time for.
Well, here I am, well past my allocated time for writing this post. The only thing harder than starting is stopping!
Things I noticed this week:
• A tiny yellow praying mantis the color of the fronds of ornamental grass in front of our dining-room window. I was leaning over the bushes to turn on the hose and saw him, bright against the shiny green leaves of the vinca that carpets the mulch. He (she?) stayed put long enough for the kids to come see him, then disappeared into the jungle. I haven’t spotted him since, but I’m braced for him to wind up in my hair one of these mornings.
• A borage volunteer blooming in a pot of delphiniums. This is amusing because I planted a lot of borage seeds in May and they’ve been spindling along at a snail’s pace.
• Drafting blog posts in other apps simply does not work for me. This is a head-smacking realization because I made the shift to drafting in Scrivener or Evernote, gosh, months, years?? ago—thinking it was a smarter practice than drafting directly in WordPress, which sometimes gets snippy and logs me out without autosaving. But, duh, I wrote ALL my posts here in WP for like 15 years, at a pretty steady pace. Since I shifted to Scrivener (which I’ve used successfully for writing novels and Brave Writer lit guides, and whose quirky features I utterly adore and honestly couldn’t do without) for blogging, I’ve amassed a pile of unfinished drafts and have posted about once a month, on average. Um. Yeah. Obviously there have been other factors, like, say, exhausting myself with a move, but still. I had this system that worked beautifully for me, and then I changed it up because I love change, and whoosh, consistency went out the window.
• That no matter how sluggish I feel, certain songs galvanize me into motion and high spirits. Lately, that’s been (don’t laugh) “Mmmbop,” “Bad Romance,” and Katy Perry’s “Roar.” These three, along with “A Little Respect” and (no, seriously) Justin Timberlake’s “I Got This Feeling” from the Trolls movie, top my morning playlist and never don’t work.
• That I’m not capable of writing an even-numbered bullet list. Heh.
WordPress won’t let me include a photo, for some reason, not even an old one. When my upload of daisies in this morning’s garden failed, I searched for a daisy pic in past posts. I found this post from 2016, a happy rediscovery. But they won’t load either!
As I stirred my cocoa this morning, it struck me that this time the obstacle to posting here is backstory. So much has happened, these past six months, that filling in the gaps feels like a chore, a too-big undertaking. So in lieu of rich exposition, a two-sentence summary: our landlord is selling the house we rented for the past six years, and (long story short) we wound up buying a very sweet little mid-century home less than a mile away. It’s adorable and has a beautiful yard, and although the past six months were incredibly fatiguing, everyone is settling in nicely and oh, I love this house so much.
There. We’re all caught up. Now I can write! I’m going back to the practice I had just barely begun to cultivate in January when the landlord’s bombshell email arrived: posting a single photo, not necessarily related to the post, often pulled up from the archives here via whatever random search term jumps into my head, but now—now that I have this lovely bit of earth to play in—sometimes a new picture taken in my morning ramble around the yard. And then I can write for a few minutes, warming myself up for work on the novel.
I wake up earliest of all the family and I relish my gentle time in my favorite chair—now with a rooftop view, if I turn my head a little, of blue mountains in the distance, and plenty of sky. During these last few months of the move (we closed in April, got Covid for the first time in May, and did the heavy lifting in June), my nourishing morning practices fell away one by one, and I often started the day with Stardew Valley and social media—the former a respite from thought, the latter a really unwise choice for beginning the day in a state of equilibrium.
This week (not only the move behind us, but a trip to the East Coast, and then a very tight deadline to meet, so that I didn’t really felt like this new chapter of life had properly begun until yesterday) I’m returning with profound relief to my old habit of Poetry Before Screens. I thought it would be a lot harder to ditch the dopamine slot machines I’ve been reaching for first thing, but I was wrong. I woke up yesterday relieved and hungry: hungry for a particular kind of nourishment, like when you’re craving a good salad after a few days of fast food.
Yesterday: a few poems from Henri Cole’s Middle Earth (I’m going to love this book, I can see already) and then I reread some of my own notebook entries from December—bread crumbs, I discovered, leading me back to what I think of as my Shining Intention: to treat all the primary areas of my life as art. Family, house, work, health, and, yes, my creative practices, my literal art-making. Not all of them, all the time (and of course you can see there are things I’ve omitted: friendships, for one; parts of life I value deeply but can’t give first priority to—which means I’m thinking about my friends much more often than they know). But much and as often as I can manage. The words help get me out of my head and into the present moment. Remember your Shining Intention. I feel as if I used to live this way (even if I didn’t have that language for it) for many, many years; but the stresses of the past few years shoved it out of my mind.
It came back to me in December and then went on a shelf in January. I did try, often, to experience the house-hunt, the move, the whole exhausting, distracting upheaval, as art, but I never really got there. Every thought circled back to the to-do list. There were only flashes—washing our empty floors with Murphy’s Oil soap, one of the best smells in the world, in April after we took possession of the house but long before we moved in—and the scent of honeysuckle (the actual best scent in the world) meeting me in the garden on an early-morning walk—and the joy of watching some rather glorious sunsets from our bedroom windows, a view I hadn’t realized came with the house.
Flashes, but will-o’-the-wisps, easy to lose sight of as you pick your way through the swamp.
I can hear in these (perhaps a bit dramatic) words how exhausted I am. But rest feels possible, now. Not time off work—not a vacation—but something better (for me, at least)—a daily rhythm that intersperses work with plenty of down time. Like this hour right here! A quiet space with books, and art, and a blank page beckoning.
Look how much I needed to write! I didn’t even get to today’s perusal of Lydia Davis and Grace Paley, who hit me like a bolt of lightning.
Anyway, I’m back. I’m home.
Not long after I resumed regular blogging here, our lives skittered sideways again: we learned that our landlord is going to sell this house and wouldn’t be renewing the lease. He gave us a generous six months’ notice and the right of first refusal on buying the house, but (long story short) we couldn’t make that work and we wound up buying a less expensive house not far away.
It’s lovely and I love it and I think we’ll love living there, once the horrors of moving are past, which won’t be until June. I’ve been writing a lot about it on my Patreon, so I won’t repeat the stories here. But there are stories already!
While our housing situation was in flux (I mean it’s still in flux; we’ve barely made a dent in the packing; but packing-and-moving is a different kind of flux than eek-where-will-we-land), I found myself unable to write much over here. I needed the more private (non-searchable) space of Patreon to talk about all this. But now that we’ve closed on the new house and have a clear timeline for moving, I want to re-reestablish the Bonny Glen habit I was reestablishing in January when shoes began to drop. So here I am. Saying not much of anything, but it felt good to click on Add New Post.
Anyway, here (above) are cherry blossoms on the branches of a tree that wasn’t mine when I took the photo—but is now! Consider this the start of a bloom diary for the new house. A cluster of daffodils by the front walk has just begun to fade, now that our rainy spring chill has turned to hot summery sunshine all of a sudden. (Hopefully not to stay. I’d love to land somewhere in between for a bit.) Everything else in the yard is just beginning to bud or leaf out. Lots and lots of treasures there. A lupine, even!