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.
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.)
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.
Yay! Photos are back! These are the daisies I was going to put in last week’s post.
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.
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!
2015 pic totally unrelated to this post, but my media library search button isn’t working and this one caught my eye as I scrolled down the archive
(Audio recording coming tomorrow; sorry; asthma is kicking me a bit today.)
Whew! I’m climbing out from under a convergence of big projects. Cybils are over for another year; I’ve wrapped another issue of the Quill; I finished a hefty freelance assignment that takes over my February every other year. And I’ve taught Finding the Volume of a Cylinder for probably the last time.
I even made it to the eye doctor and ordered a new pair of glasses for the first time in years.
And then of course there’s the podcast! Instead of linking to individual episodes here, let me send you over to the Brave Writer Podcast home page where they’re all collected. Today’s episode is extra fun—a look at our favorite kinesthetic games and activities for learning grammar and math concepts, and more.
Julie and I recorded another episode today, an interview with reading specialist Dr. Marnie Ginsberg. I loved every minute of the conversation. That one airs in a couple of weeks. Immediately after we finished, I changed back into pajamas because it is snoooooowing here—first real snow this year. It’s a doozy. It’s a pajamas-in-the-afternoon kind of storm. Cocoa and a big sweater. A big, if I can wrangle my post-Cybils brain into a decision. Or better yet, a cozy mystery on audiobook while I do a bit of stitching. Yeah, that’s the ticket.
Of course that means I have to choose one. Fun decisions: my absolute Achilles’ heel. I know I have a list of cozy murder audiobooks somewhere, but by the time I find it and see what’s available on Overdrive and actually commit to one…it may well be time to take these pajamas to bed.
Well, I worked through the weekend and planned to take this afternoon off, which of course means I’ve spent much of the afternoon dealing with tax stuff and medical admin. I’m chronically bad at honoring my own breaks. So I’ve come here to tell on myself and create a little accountability for the rest of the day. I have a last few Cybils Easy Reader & Early Chapter Book finalists waiting to be picked up at the library, so I think I’ll walk over there while Scott is in his Tuesday family Zoom meeting, and I’ll stop into the grocery store on the way home to get dinner fixings. I’m roasting a chicken tonight.
Since I was finishing up a Dart, I didn’t write a Sunday stitching update. I did take a picture for it, though! I’ve added a few more circles since then. What I’m aiming for is capturing the loose, blendy watercolor feeling of the painting exercise I posted last week. The circles are meant to be irregular, with their colors bleeding into the adjacent rows. At first (the circles on the left, which is the bottom of the design) I was using a Frixion pen to draw circles as guidelines, but I quickly abandoned that plan. You can see from the marks inside some of the stitched rings that I didn’t even keep to the guidelines where I drew them. Now I’m just winging it.
I love using the heat-erasable Frixion pens for embroidery designs. A quick hit with an iron or blow dryer will zap those marks away.
I’m enjoying the looseness of this project, the way I can make a couple of extra-long stitches at the top or side of a circle to have its colors bleed into a new one. It’s also fun to be so deliberately imprecise—since most of my embroidery is quite the opposite.
It’s a meditative process and I’ve been stitching a few circles each morning, not even listening to anything for once. Just thinking, or not thinking.
I’ve needed those pockets of quiet because life has been rather full this month! Full in some fabulous ways, and some frustrating ones. I’ll be able to share more about the fabulous bits soon.
I do think it’s funny I decided to stitch these slow circles on fabric intended for a crossbody bag. It’ll be ages before I’m ready to get on with the bag assembly so that I can actually use it. But no rush.
Ha, the weather app has just informed me there’s a 50% chance my library books and I will get rained on. Guess I’d better scoot out the door!
Selvi gave me the keyword “stone” for my media-library game. My book Across the Puddingstone Dam popped up several times, but this long-ago pic of Rilla won the day.
When I said yesterday that I’m not a single-tasker, what I really meant was that I’m not a single-project-er. I can hyperfocus like a champ. It’s one of my greatest strengths and biggest struggles, depending on whether the thing I’m hyperfocusing on is the thing I ought to be hyperfocusing on. For instance, I never care about the state of my closets until I have a book deadline breathing down my neck, and then I’ll care about closets FOR HOURS.
But one project at a time, in an orderly fashion, finishing one before I start the next? Not possible. Not how I’m wired. I’m most creative and (to use a word we’ve all come to loathe, for sound reasons) productive when I have an abundance of projects to move between. A dozen hyperfocus opportunities at the ready, is what I’m saying.
Thus the half dozen stitching projects in various stages of completion scattered around my studio, and the comically long list of books marked “currently reading” in my Goo Dreads (to borrow a very young Rilla’s misreading of Goodreads many years ago—I’ve never not seen it that way since).
Of course this means I’m horribly prone to option paralysis. A pocket of free time can be an occasion for distress. Suddenly the thing that was the only thing I wanted to think about while I was working loses its allure, or at least seems no more or less alluring than any of the other creative projects I was yearning to dive into, or the stack of books I was aching to read, or the poem I was burning to fiddle with. As for the closets, I’ve forgotten they exist.
I’ve learned that in this state of curious misery, I have to pick up any book, any embroidery hoop, any drafts notebook. It really doesn’t matter which. If I can stick with it for sixty seconds, I’ll be consumed by it for hours.
A fun thing about being wired this way is that once or twice a year, I’ll realize I have a whole bunch of projects that are all pretty close to the finish line. Then I go on a finishing spree, which is super satisfying.
How about you? Are you a one-project-at-a-time person? Is anybody a one-book-at-a-time person?
It’s a wet, blustery day and I don’t have anything in particular to say. But I never let that stop me in the olden (blog) times, did I? Ha.
Here’s one thing: you can help me continue my easy-peasy image selection method by tossing out some random keyword suggestions. I’ll type them into my WP media library and see what pops up. Here, let’s try rain and wind.
Aw, this picture gives me a smile. It’s from our first spring in Portland. My youngest kids’ first time needing raincoats! When we moved into this house—a block and a half from Klickitat Street—practically the first thing I did was buy Huck a Henry-Huggins-yellow rain slicker. 😄
Wind didn’t bring up anything terribly windy…just a lot of pretty windows.
Well, my new Dart is underway, I finally wrestled some tax info into shape for the accountant, and I did a bunch of admin chores. Scott & some of the kids are watching an Iron Man movie. I think I’m going to take the rest of the afternoon off and do some prep for some stitching projects. I’ve found that it works well for me to immerse in the planning/cutting/choosing stages for several projects at once, and then I stick everything for each project in a different bin, and that way I can reach for whatever kind of stitching I’m in the mood for. Right now I have: a needlepainting project (begun last fall? summer? but idle for months); a saeksilnubi project (begun even longer ago); a hoop meant just for noodling around and trying things out; a really fun hoop based on Tove Jansson’s Little My illustrations (Rilla’s helping with the design of that one); and a long-in-progress piece I designed myself. Oh, and when all I feel like doing is hemstitching (by hand, which I was surprised to discover I adore doing—having believed Jo March for decades that it was a detestable activity), I work on a long-term project (what am I saying, they’re all long term): hemming big squares of linen to use as gift-wrapping cloths. I only got a few made in time for Christmas this year, but I’m determined to switch over from paper completely.
So that’s plenty to keep me busy for weeks (months) to come, and now I’m wondering why I thought I needed to prep anything new? I guess it’s that I have this cozy flannel I want to make pajama pants out of. Handsewn, if possible, because that’s the only kind of sewing I really like. The machine treats me with the disdain of a cat. If it could knock the scissors onto the floor, it totally would.