Archive for the ‘Assorted and Sundry’ Category

And there went June

June 26, 2020 @ 2:50 pm | Filed under: , ,

[Image: a mass of starry flowers, creamy pale yellow, against green leaves]

It’s been nearly a month since my last post here, and over a month since I shared any of my own photos on Instagram. This time, the silence was intentional, an awareness that I needed to sit quietly and read and learn, amplifying voices other than my own. I’m working through Mia Birdsong’s antiracism resource list, reading more slowly than is my usual gulping habit. I’m trying to listen more than I speak.

(Facebook friends will know I’ve not been totally quiet over there—that’s the space where I feel most compelled to speak out, for reasons that probably merit unpacking. That’s for another post, though.)

I’ve been wondering when I would come back to this space, and to Instagram, which is where I express myself in visual images—not planning for it, just allowing the tide to carry me back. I never feel entirely myself when I’m not blogging. Last year I read Austin Kleon’s Show Your Work and thought: aha, that’s it, that’s what I was doing for a solid decade on Bonny Glen—showing my work, thinking out loud, writing to discover what I know and what I think. Learning in public.

Of course, it was easier to “show my work” when the main part of my work was homeschooling young children. Thinking my way through various educational philosophies, curating resources, and chronicling our daily learning adventures—these were practices that felt fluid and natural. Inevitable, even. Once I made up my mind about how best to approach our home education experience, I found I had less to say—just as my feverish urge to discuss a book subsides after I finish reading it.

***

I wrote (a much longer version of) the above across two mornings. And now today I’ve written a new post, which I thought I was going to put on Patreon but (you’ll see me thinking through it below) decided to move over here, which means now I need to go through and reverse all the heres and theres of the first draft. And it’s getting late! Breakfast is nudging me. But I’m not ready to stop. If I include this morning’s efforts, this post will be monstrously long. Maybe that’s to be expected after a month away!

***

I’ve been driving myself a little bit crazy in the mornings. You’d think the quarantine would have seen me sinking deeper into the creative practice that nourished me all last year—the early rising, the yoga-stretching while water boiled for my cocoa, the fervent commitment to Poetry Before Screens, the writing of morning pages or what Holly Wren Spaulding calls “zero drafts” of poems, the heady feeling of having written, no matter what else the day brought. How gratifying to have the time and space for this practice; how satisfying to feel well begun each day. You’d think!

Instead, I’ve let my good habits slip, one by one. Standing in the kitchen reading Twitter while the water boils? Ah, there’s the whole thing dashed in one swoop. No stretching, no poetry, screens first. The most agitating kind of screen. One tiny choice each morning: which domino chain will I set off?

I resisted the Twitter urge today, the gnawing desire to see what happened in the night, in the East Coast morning while I slept (good thing, because the news of the Trump administration’s renewed efforts to cancel our healthcare would have utterly derailed any creative activity). It drains you, exercising willpower constantly. That’s why habits are so important; they remove the need to expend mental energy on constant choosing.

I worked hard to build good habits around creative practice. If I start my mornings reading—poems, essays, not news—I’ll want to write. Every time, simple as that. Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights, for example, sends me soaring and makes my pen twitch.

This morning I kept my rules, and here I am writing. I had a laughing revelation about myself a few minutes ago: I’d followed the steps of my creative practice faithfully, reading all the right things, and I’ve been trying (even, or especially, on the Twitter mornings) to do a tiny two-minute meditation to clear my mind for writing—just two minutes! With an aim to work up to five. This morning I couldn’t make it thirty seconds—and it hit me that what always happens, half a minute or a minute into silence and breathing, is that my mind starts writing. I wrench focus back to breath and two seconds later I’m scribbling another line in my head.

It was comical, suddenly, to realize that I’ve been trying to cultivate a habit that will help me write, and then I exasperatedly push away the writing that wants to interrupt the habit. It struck me as a bit like swatting away the action verb to focus on the helping verb. (And maybe that’s the point of meditation—sitting quietly with “I am” instead of leaping, scrawling, dashing.)

Laughing at myself shattered the silence and I gave in to the impulse to reach for my notebook. I wanted to write down the path my reading had taken before I tried to meditate.

Photo of a handwritten notebook page featuring the readings listed below

—A Holly Wren Spaulding post featuring a Ron Padgett poem, “How to Be Perfect.”

—Linked in the post, an exchange of letters between Padgett and a bright young student about Padgett’s delightfully inscrutable poem “Nothing in That Drawer.”

—An Austin Kleon newsletter, which I can always trust to send me in good, writery directions. Such as:

this article about the arson-suspected burning of Andy Goldsworthy’s Spire sculpture in the Presidio (reminding me, because of a long-ago Goldsworthy connection, of John Stilgoe’s Outside Lies Magic, which I should think about rereading);

• a mention of zuihitsu (re Kenko’s Essays in Idleness), which reminded me I meant to read Sei Shonagon’s Pillow Book, purchased months ago on a recommendation from Kimiko Hahn in her exquisite zuihitsu collection, The Narrow Road to the Interior

Tonia Peckover’s new blog post, especially this:

In the garden this morning, I noticed the cool-weather crops have been lingering around longer than usual and the summer plants are still small and unsteady, different than other late Junes – but not surprising for this cool and rainy one we’ve just had. There is no sense of frustration there, no anxiety vibrating off the tomato leaves. I want to live by such confidence, content with the sun I am given, and the rain when it falls, taking what I can and growing. I admit I am not there yet.

I have notebooks full of these connection-lists, each entry dissolving into original writing, notes toward poems or posts. It strikes me that I used to do this kind of chronicling of the day’s rabbit trails here on the blog almost daily! Those collections of thought are invaluable to me now, and they’re much easier to revisit in my blog archives than in my heap of crammed notebooks.

I’m sure there’s a reason I needed to spend the past year writing by hand, but I’ve become frustrated with the aftermath: I can’t get to the particular note or draft I’m looking for without paging through half a dozen Leuchtturms. (Not to mention the expense. That paper is a dream to write on, but those purchases were a thing of the Before Times. My quarantine reality is: use what you have.)

I’m uneasily aware that one reason I keep dropping the blogging habit is because of my Patreon. I have the hardest time deciding where a post belongs. There, because it’s about creative practice? Here, where I’ve stashed fifteen years’ worth of booknotes? There, where I have a bit more privacy, which changes how I write? Here, where search engines can find me (meaning I’ll have an easier time, myself, finding references and quotes later)?

For better or for worse, today it’s going here.

I wrote that line on Patreon and then immediately decided, nope, wrong spot. So here it is, all of it. Way leading on to way.

This is me, showing my work.

I live in a garden

May 25, 2020 @ 7:22 am | Filed under: , , ,

actually my poppies

First: very important: in that last post, I forgot to caption the photo! This matters only because I meant to say it was my neighbor’s garden, not mine. That daisy-and-lupine combination is magical and I’d like to copy it as soon as I can…which may not be for a long while. The vicious pandemic grocery budget has absorbed several other categories of funds at present. Plus I’m still paying off my little skin cancer adventure.

Fortunately, living in my Northeast Portland neighborhood has expanded my take on gardening. My first spring here, I walked around in wonder, dazed, drunk on beauty. The yards all around me astonished me daily with wave after wave of bloom. If you followed me on Instagram in Spring 2018, you saw my enchantment in action—every day, photo after photo of some delightful combination of petal and leaf in a neighbor’s front yard. And, knowing Portland has many dazzling corners, I kept thinking: gotta get to the rhododendron garden, gotta get to the rose garden—but I was still recovering from radiation then (it takes a long while before you feel fully yourself after treatment), and “gotta gets” weren’t in the cards yet. Then one day it struck me: I live in a giant garden. This whole neighborhood. It’s all right here rolling out from my doorstep, free for the drinking-in, and not a morsel of work required on my part.

That realization hushed the gotta-gets right up, and ever since, I walk around this neighborhood (it’s called Roseway, for Pete’s sake) feeling like Mary Lennox. Everything’s wick and wonderful and surprising.

I met the neighbor who owns the lupine garden (oh I wish you could see her entire yard; there’s no lawn (my ideal); it’s all daisies and lupines and poppies, and one big peony in the middle) once last summer, during the hot months, when I was out for a nature walk with Huck and Rilla, and the neighbor (we didn’t exchange names, pity) was out front, weeding. I gushed over her lemon balm, which smelled heavenly, and she immediately grabbed a shovel and dug up a clump for me. Gardeners and sourdough bakers are the most generous folks around, always eager to shove some treasure into your hands. It helps, I suppose, when your treasures are things that multiply abundantly.

Sourdough: of course you know I had to restart my starter this spring, what with 80% of the internet obsessed with baking at the moment. I had a good one going two years ago but never seemed up to baking with it (see above re: low energy for a good long while post radiation) and eventually I let it go. Before that, I had years of sourdough starters on and off in San Diego and Virginia. Again: much more tending of the starter, not so much baking of bread. (Sourdough bread, that is. I baked honey wheat loaves almost daily at some points. Remember when I had a whole bread blog?)

This time around, I’m baking. Yesterday’s loaf wasn’t my best: the cooler weather? A wetter dough? I got a decent oven spring but the crumb was dense, not airy like I aim for. And I thought the loaf was just a tad undercooked. Which made for a hilarious moment when Rose told me this was my best sourdough bread yet: it’s the perfect texture, she said. Rilla emphatically agreed. They like a dense, moist loaf. Which means I can never go wrong! No matter how the bread turns out, someone in the house will think it’s perfect.

Which is how I feel about my neighbors’ gardens, all of them. What you’ve nurtured here: perfection. Any gaps or flaws you may perceive are invisible to me. All I see is your magic. Those purple irises against the lime-green euphorbia: inspired! Your lawn full of tiny blue forget-me-nots: a poem I’m learning by heart.

69 days and counting

May 19, 2020 @ 2:53 pm | Filed under: ,

Astonished, I watch people in other states flocking back to crowded rooms and long queues. I shudder to imagine the steep rise we’re bound to see on the charts in the coming weeks. We don’t have widespread testing or contact tracing in place. Hospitals are still desperately short on PPE. An entire TV news/entertainment network goes on blithely lying to its viewers, putting so many of them in danger. The President of the United States is a feckless narcissist who cares more about his own ratings (ratings!) than the staggering numbers of dead and dying Americans.

My feelings about all of this have made it more than a little hard to write posts here. The staggering misinformation campaign that’s costing so many lives—and putting ours at risk, and people I love. The horror of knowing breastfeeding mothers are being separated from their babies (perhaps forever) or having to endure crowded detainment facilities where the virus is spreading, spreading. The sickening cruelty perpetrated by the current administration. The underpaid, underprotected “essential workers” who bag our groceries and tend our elderly. I’m so angry and feel helpless to fix it. All I can do is keep calling my electeds, who are already fighting the good fight.

Our home life is fine, lovely even. Jane is working fulltime from home, Rose has a part-time job and another one lined up (pending reopening), and is due to start classes at PSU in the fall. Online, probably? Derailing her dorm plans, of course. Beanie is finishing up this quarter’s classes at PCC. Wonderboy has been doing school from home since March 12—the day our whole family began cloistering. I’ve been nowhere except the doctor’s office (for a torn tendon in my hand) since then. I haven’t minded much? I fervently miss Low Bar Chorale and my weekly ramen/OMSI dates. I miss working in coffee shops. But my work has been uninterrupted by the pandemic, and my garden is a mellow and happy place, and I’m playing lots of Animal Crossing with my kids (their recent gift to me!), which is a delight.

Not reading as much as I’d like—or maybe I’m reading more than I give myself credit for? I wrote on my Patreon yesterday about how much I’m enjoying Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights, and I’m getting a ton out of B.J. Fogg’s Tiny Habits as well. I’m reading a new Arrow selection to the kids—can’t say what, since the big reveal doesn’t happen until May 28—and we’re all pretty darn glued to it. What I’m missing is some juicy and captivating adult fiction: I haven’t looked for anything lately. Hundreds of options in this house and on my Kindle. That immense ever-growing list of novels I specifically want to read—but I can’t settle on one. My mind is restless and veers away. Poetry works: I’ve read Olav Hauge’s The Dream We Carry almost to tatters.

I might be in the mood for another Riddlemaster reread.

My wretched hand is much, much better (but I still have to be careful when picking things up. I have dropped so many things!) and my nose is almost back to its old shape. I certainly picked a good time for significant facial surgery, I suppose! I’m so grateful the surgery was in the rear-view when the shutdown began.

In bloom: rhodendrons, gloriously. One poppy was unfurling in my back garden this morning—I need to go see if it’s awake! And roses, oh I’m swooning over the roses I inherited from my neighbor last fall—eleven large potted rosebushes, every color.

The peas are nearly ready, and blueberries and strawberries are coming. I don’t have tomatoes yet. There’s curbside pickup at the garden shop; I should look at their order sheet. Our salad greens are just about done—I only planted one round. Still lots of time for more.

Last week I finished a rather big stitching project—a test stitch of an upcoming sampler by one of my favorite embroidery designers, who plans to use it in her next Creativebug class. Whenever that may be! She’d been due to film in mid-April but of course that changed. I loved stitching the sampler and comparing notes with the other three test stitchers. I was mighty chuffed to be asked, I must say!

Now that that’s done, I’m back at work on, oh, four or five other hoops. Including my own secret project (not so secret since I have talked about it on Patreon). Writing about them makes me want to close this tab and get stitching. I’ve got a pile of work waiting for me this afternoon, though.

Work is…really hard, under these circumstances. Staying focused, staying connected, staying sharp. If I read one more post urging us to slow down, take naps, allow more white space in our days, I might scream. Our grocery store workers and hospital personnel don’t get to slow down—they’ve been soldiering on day after day without hazard pay, reusing masks that were never meant for weeks of wear. And for those of us who are fortunate to be working from home, the work is much harder and more intense because of these circumstances. The effort of concentrating is exhausting. The long hours of work are necessary. I’m still paying off breast cancer, and skin cancer set us back another two grand. Boy do I know how to have fun with money or what?

Oregon is moving more cautiously than many states, for which I’m grateful. A slow rollout of Phase One reopenings will happen in rural counties soonish, but not in Portland for a while. I suspect the inevitable spike in cases in other more recklessly reopening states will slow Oregon’s plans as well, and without a robust test-and-trace program I can’t imagine my family (with some particularly high-risk members) will feel able to risk crowd situations until there’s a vaccine in place.

So. Every day I take some time to catch up, to stay informed about what’s happening beyond my home, good and bad. And then I make a list of things that are lovely. A nuthatch at the suet feeder. Rilla’s oat bars cooling on the counter. My vigorous, adorable sourdough starter. The masks my friend Ramona sent. My friend Ben leading hundreds of solitary singers in virtual singalongs every Tuesday evening. The sound of the M*A*S*H opening credits drifting down the hall in the afternoons—Scott is watching with the kids. For me, that’s the theme song of this pandemic.

Oh my friends! I hope you’re staying home, and staying well.

Social Distancing, Day 29

April 9, 2020 @ 5:48 pm | Filed under:

I just counted and this is day 29 of isolation for us. I mean, if you can call it “isolation” when there are eight people in the house. But yeah, March 12 was my last foray into the world, except for a doctor visit when I injured my hand two weeks ago.

I’m no longer taking walks in the neighborhood because my seasonal asthma cough has kicked in & the cool air we’ve had (until today) exacerbates it. And anyway, even with a mask I’d worry my non-covid cough would make others uncomfortable. So I moved the garage clutter off the treadmill and have been using that. And gardening as much as my bad hand can handle. (It’s lots better now but not 100%.)

WB’s school is officially canceled for the rest of the year, and Jane’s job is remote. Beanie’s college classes are online this quarter. Rose graduated from PCC in March (without fanfare—finished last week of classes + finals online, will get her diploma in the mail) and is enrolled at PSU for the fall…whatever that may look like.

For Huck & Rilla, it’s absolutely a low-tide homeschooling time, but we’re keeping up with a few daily things. I’m feeling pretty slammed with work. The usual stuff plus as much extra as I can scrape together. And am feeling uneasy about how back-burnered my own writing is, not to mention outreach to help give Nerviest Girl a good start when she launches in August. There’s not enough time in the day—not when keeping focused moment to moment requires such Herculean effort. It’s exhausting, working through this thing. And yet I’m so grateful to HAVE the work. I just wish my brain weren’t so tuckered out all the time! It’s been…quite a year. Skin cancer surgery, the damaged tendon, my stupid cough which is so worrisome under the circumstances.

Scott’s the only one going to the grocery store, and he takes major precautions. Still nervewracking, though.

My parents’ neighbor’s grandson died of COVID-19 yesterday—the youngest person to die of it in Colorado so far. My sister also had warm ties to the family. It’s so awful. And I’ve had my heart in my throat for friends in NY and elsewhere for weeks. (Keep us updated, y’all. We worry about you.)

Reading is another tricky pursuit right now…I’m darting from book to book like a butterfly. Stitching + listening to stuff works a lot better—embroidery occupies enough of my mind that I don’t start absently opening tabs. Mostly I read coronavirus news.

When Jane was going through chemo as a toddler, we often shared a hospital room with post-op surgery patients. Sometimes we would hear distraught parents weeping on the other side of the curtain while awaiting their child’s return. Then, inevitably, the parents would find out Jane was in for leukemia and they would begin making profuse apologies for crying about elbow surgery or a broken leg. And I’d be like: no, no, you get to feel how you feel about this! You’re going through something hard and real and frightening. You don’t have to grade it on a curve or downplay your feelings just because the kid in the next bed has something more dire. I think about that a lot right now as I see people being honest about what they miss or are struggling with and then immediately apologizing because so many others are dealing with worse. It’s okay to say what you miss & articulate what’s hard. It’s okay to feel upended and anxious even when your day-to-day isn’t bad.

I miss working in coffee shops. I really miss Chorale. But for the most part I’m not finding it hard to be cloistered here at home. My life was already pretty home-based. (Although what’s happening now looks very little like our real homeschooling lives. Homeschooling doesn’t mean you stay home all the time.) I look forward to my early-morning writing sessions, watching the sun rise and listening for the train whistle, the Northern flicker, the first sparrow’s call. I wish I could spend these strange days just hanging out with my kids and making art. I wish I were doing a better job of documenting it all. I wish the federal government would do its job. I wish for people back who are gone.

I wish you all well and appreciate your posts!

It’s Friday, I think

March 27, 2020 @ 9:16 am | Filed under:

The Prairie Thief by Melissa WileyMy Homebound conference Prairie Thief readaloud this week has been a lot of fun. I love the first few minutes when the chat is open, and families pour into the Zoom room and greet us from all over the world. You can watch replays of the first four days at the Homebound page.

I’ll continue today at 4pm Eastern/1pm Pacific (register at the same link), and next week I’ll keep reading the book on Instagram Live (sharing to FB if you prefer to watch there) until we get to the end!

My own kids tuned in to the Jim Weiss storytelling broadcast on Tuesday, and I’m looking forward to enjoying the replays of his other days, as well as all the talks by Julie Bogart & Susan Wise Bauer & other special guests. Totally worth checking out the lineup!

***

Meanwhile, life at home. We’ve had a lot of rain, which is nice for my garden, still in fledgling form. Tulip magnolias and camellias in riotous bloom all over the neighborhood, and cherry blossoms, forsythia, daffodils, the first tulips. We can go out walking as long as we keep our distance from other strolling neighbors. Everyone does a little dance at intersections, slowing down, speeding up, crossing over, smiling and nodding at one another. We’re glad to see each other and chat from driveway to porch. Yesterday, the neighbor with the two pet goats was taking them out for a walk. The day before, it was the neighbor with the very large pet pig. Northeast Portland: an urban petting zoo. Except—no petting just now, only waving.

My injured thumb (I took a spill last weekend) is slowly improving, which is good because the constraints on typing and stitching have just about driven me round the bend. I do can both for little bits of time, but not the long stretches I crave. Or need, where typing (and therefore work) is concerned.

Yesterday, combating cabin fever, I bought a stop motion app for the kids’ iPad. (Stop Motion Pro for $4.99, purchased on the recommendation of a local stop motion animation teacher.) The short videos Huck and Rilla have come up with so far are downright enchanting. One of them can’t be shared yet because it’s a birthday message for someone special, but I’ll see if I can get permission to share the others. They started with a busy Hotwheels scene on our dinner table, which is probably the heaviest traffic you’ll find in Portland these days.

There, my thumb is ordering me to take a rest. I hope you’re all staying well and comfortable, with everything you need to make hunkering down as pleasant as possible. I’d love to hear how you’re managing!

Related: Tell Me Three Things

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Things I did this week when I wasn’t obsessively scrolling the news

March 22, 2020 @ 12:33 pm | Filed under: , , ,

Ha, joke’s on me! I wrote this post yesterday morning and left it sitting in drafts, awaiting photos. Went out to putter in the garden and took a spill jumping from the raised bed (I mean it’s not that high, just a step). Smashed flat on the patio. Thumb and wrist now killing me and elbow is pretty ouchy. But nothing broken, I’m reasonably sure. Just sprained, I think? And bruised? And basically furious at me for forgetting I’m not a gazelle?

We scrummaged up an Ace bandage from the first-aid kit and wrapped the hand overnight. I’m not keen on paying a visit to urgent care this weekend, GEE I WONDER WHY, so I’m just keeping it wrapped and we’ll see how I do. Can type for brief periods before my thumb starts to yell but I’m not doing much. Reading. Walking around my garden, longing to dig. Fortunately, the injured hand is my left and I’m righthanded. I might even be able to embroider if I use the hoop stand. Hooray for hoop stands! Okay, no more exclamation points. They’re the ones that hurt my thumb.

(Who even AM I without exclamation points??)

Anyway, on to yesterday’s plague journal. 😉

Things that happened this week:

• I finally planted the veggie starts I bought a couple of days before we went into isolation. (We isolated a bit earlier than the rest of Portland due to some high-risk family members.)

• I repotted a whole bunch of houseplants

• and cleaned the garage

• I got a tower of review books from a (beloved) publisher who, despite nearly three years of dogged efforts to get them to update my mailing address in their system, continues sending packages to our San Diego address. UPS saved up NINE BOXES and redirected them to Portland all at once. Yes, the delivery guy thinks I’ve lost my mind. He’s not far off.

I’ll be sharing these with young friends after I read/review them

• I swapped out the regular suet feeder for the squirrel-proof one (rediscovered during the garage cleanout) because the starlings kept wiping us out, leaving nothing for the bush tits and chickadees. However, the down side of the cage feeder is that the downy woodpeckers and flickers will be as stymied as the starlings. Either way, we only have a few suet cakes left. Our favorite retailer does have curbside pickup during the quarantine, but given the state of things, suet might not make it into next month’s budget.

Bush tits at the old feeder, before the starlings moved in. They’re tiny and travel in a flock of forty or so.

*Sunday update: we spotted a Northern flicker at the feeder this morning! Its beak is long enough to reach the suet through the cage. Not so for the starlings. This may be a solution! Waiting for the bush tits to return. Meanwhile, we had an absolutely new-to-us bird at the feeder just now. Still trying to id. Finch size, blue-gray back (more blue than gray), yellow belly, and the tip of its tail looks like it was dipped in white paint. A warbler of some kind? Photo coming–we got one goodish snap–but transferring the memory card from camera to laptop is beyond my poor hand’s ability right now. As are em dashes. Had to go with double hyphens. This may be the end of me.

• I taught the final week of my Comic Strip Capers class at Brave Writer. I get a week in between and then I’ll start a new session on the 30th. These kids, their comics—such a delight. (My class is sold out but Brave Writer does have openings in other fun courses if you’re looking.)

• I also continued my work on Brave Writer Arrow literature guides. I’m both revising/expanding older guides and writing new ones for the current year’s subscription. I recently finished the Arrow for Bronze and Sunflower, a beautiful tapestry of a book by Chinese author Cao Wenxuan, translated by Helen Wang. The literature guide was challenging to write but oh, so worth it! I’ve walked around for weeks pondering this gem of a novel, turning its poignant scenes and lush imagery over in my mind. I think now that my work on it is done, I might reread it (or read it aloud to the kids?) just for pleasure.

• I worked on a secret stitching project that is different from my OTHER secret stitching project—this one a test stitch of a new sampler for a favorite instructor’s upcoming Creativebug class. Originally I was supposed to finish it by mid-April, but now the class taping is postponed like everything else on the planet. It’s a gorgeous sampler and I’m having a wonderful time with it.

• I did some prep work for my Prairie Thief readaloud sessions in next week’s (free! online!) Homebound conference. (You can register for my sessions here. The schedule and other session links are here.)

• I went on a few walks in the quiet neighborhood, nodding at neighbors from a prudent distance or chatting from the sidewalk. Our streets are empty but I’m noticing that porches are full. So many more neighbors sitting out front in the evenings.

• Huck is crushed that he can’t play with friends, but at least his very best pal doesn’t have to be kept at a distance. Our next-door neighbor, for whom Huck & Rilla have a standing weekday dogwalking gig, is working at home for now and is therefore walking her mini Schnauzer herself, but several times a day Huck and Barkleigh meet up in the backyard for some buddy time.

I took this photo through the fence. Only one of them noticed.

• I completely failed at playing a game of Ticket to Ride with Huck. I tried, I really did! Couldn’t focus. Got so squirrely between turns, my mind racing. You’d have thought I was the eleven-year-old child, not the mom.

• I laughed over this memory that popped on Facebook from 2013:

So the 4yo is standing beside me and asks, “Are you Mommy?”

“What?” I say, confused.

“Are you MOMMY?”

I’m laughing, thinking he must be playing a game. “Yes, I‘m Mommy.”

He points across the yard at his 17yo sister, nods to himself.

“OK, so that one is Jane.”

• I put in some more work on my rebooted newsletter which I am trying very hard to get out this weekend!* You can sign up here.

*Laughing somewhat hysterically. Obviously that was written before yesterday’s tumble!

 

Three things on Leap Day

February 29, 2020 @ 11:00 am | Filed under: ,

watercolor painting of a green moth

1.

I was looking for something in Dropbox and found a bundle of design elements I bought for my website a zillion years ago. Lots of pretty watercolor images and other goodies. There don’t seem to be any designer credits in the files, though surely there was documentation somewhere? I haven’t looked through all the files—much of it looks like things easily created in Canva now—but there was a folder full of watercolored butterflies, moths, leaves, and other bits of nature. I grabbed the image above to brighten up this post, and it turned into a twenty-minute effort to find a designer name in order to credit the artist. I mean, the entire purpose of a design elements package like this is that you’re allowed unlimited (and uncredited) use of the images. But someone made this art and it bugs me not to be able to say who.

Those lost minutes exemplify my theory that everything in modern life takes a minimum of 20 minutes longer than than you think it will. Especially internetty things. We’ve built a rabbit warren and we’re forever getting lost in meandering tunnels. And every seemingly simple task involves half a dozen steps, at least one of which will rack up your extra 20 minutes.

2.

As of yesterday, we are now a one-vehicle family. Since our move to Portland, I don’t drive much at all. Our old Saturn was out of commission for a long while, but we got it running again last fall and decided not to renew the minivan lease when it expired. This after I did the math and realized just how much each infrequent van trip was costing us each month. I’d rather take a Lyft if I’m going across the river, anyway—I loathe hunting for parking downtown. And we do most of our daily errands on foot now: possibly my most favorite thing of the many things I love about living here. Groceries a block away. Dozens of cafes, pubs, and restaurants within walking distance. Two bus lines moments from our door, making it easy for my older kids to commute to work and school and Powell’s Books and other essential destinations. I could even walk to my doctor’s office if I needed to. I don’t tend to, because it’s next door to a grocery store I like, and the walk home is uphill. But I could.

Of course this means we’re now three seats short for a whole-family excursion, but an occasional rental (or two Lyfts) is still a lot cheaper than keeping the Odyssey.

Scott and I had been worriting over the end-of-lease busywork for a while, and yesterday’s turn-in appointment felt a bit anticlimactic—we’d had no one big family moment where we said goodbye to the minivan that bridged our time between San Diego and Portland. It’s just suddenly…gone. Along with (we just this minute realized) my I’d Rather Be Reading Betsy-Tacy license plate frame. Whoops. Scott’s making a call to the dealer as I type. Fingers crossed!

3.

I got the stitches out of my nose on Thursday! And things are looking pretty good. Still in my jammies this morning so no pics:) There’s one small bump of scar tissue on the bridge of my nose that I’m worried is going to hang out and look like a perpetual pimple, but other than that I’m really quite amazed at how well the incisions have healed already. The scar is a faint red line zigzagging along my nose, and it’ll fade. There’s still some swelling so that my nostrils aren’t in exactly the same places they used to be. In a few weeks I’m supposed to start kneading and massaging the tissue daily to help break down scar tissue and restore the original shape. I’m hoping that means the one little scar bump will flatten out as well? If not, it’s only noticeable in profile. I’ll live. 🙂

I’m not yet able to put sunscreen on it, which means I’m going to have to overcome my aversion to wearing hats long enough to get my walks in—spring has arrived in full force and I need to be out in it! Cherry blossoms, plum blossoms, daffodils, grape hyacinths, hellebores—oh it’s a magical time! Rilla just noticed the neighbor’s clematis vines have climbed into the hedgehog tree. The tree (a dogwood) hasn’t yet begun to leaf out, but its bare limbs are clothed in a green shawl embroidered all over with starry white flowers.

Oh gosh, that makes me want a leaf-green shawl I could stitch all over with little white flowers. —Because that’s what I need: another stitching project. I have so many going at once right now! I spent some time reorganizing my studio this week, and now everything has a place again and I know what I’ve got in progress. A few things are quite close to being finished. Why am I still writing? There’s stitching to be done!

Show-and-tell is my love language

February 24, 2020 @ 6:39 pm | Filed under:

Last week, I had surgery to remove a small amount of basal cell carcinoma from my face. Not my favorite experience in the world, I must say! But not terrible, either. I shared the adventure on Instagram Stories and saved it in a highlight on my profile, and I’ve poured all those slides into a gallery at the bottom of this post.

Short version: I’ve had a small red patch on my nose for a while; I asked a doctor about it 18 months ago and he said it was just a pigmentation change, nothing to worry about; he was wrong. In November I noticed the patch was a bit bigger and it had begun flaking. I asked my new primary care doctor about it, and she too didn’t think it was likely to be anything worrisome, but she referred me to a dermatologist just to be sure. Good thing! He did a biopsy and it turned out to be basal cell carcinoma. That’s the better kind of skin cancer—it doesn’t metastasize—but you still need to have it removed. The most common procedure is called Mohs surgery and it’s a trip! I had it done last Thursday. The surgeon removed a disk of skin from my nose, checked it for clean margins, took another slice, and whew, that was enough to get it all. Sometimes it takes several more rounds to get that clean margin.

Then he did the repair, which is a bananas process! He made a series of small zigzagging cuts all the way up my nose and then shifted the skin down a notch so that the bottom zag covered the surgical hole. Then he stitched me up. I’m on day five now, with stitches running the entire length of my nose. I spent the weekend swollen and bruised, but today the swelling is almost gone and my black eye is yellow. 😉

I’ll have a scar right down the side of my nose for a while but Mohs scars fade to nearly invisible over time. (Could be months or a year, I’ve heard conflicting accounts.) I’m super curious to know what my nose will look like when the dust settles, but for now I’m amazed at how well it’s already healing (even if things look a bit lopsided at the moment), and I’m glad to be cancer-free once more. Sheesh.

(No, really! That’s the short version!)

Instagram Stories version:

Tell me three things

February 19, 2020 @ 9:33 am | Filed under:
photo of a female northern flicker

Northern flicker in our backyard

Click the player below (or this link) to listen to an audio recording of this post. Sorry about the slight rustle behind the title of this post—I didn’t catch it until now and I’m about to head out the door, so I’m just leaving it as is. The rest of the audio is better quality!

Because I’m queen of overcomplicating plans for myself, I enjoyed the “An Ordered List” episode of  Amy Cowan’s Creativity Matters podcast, in which Amy examines a simple “tell me three things” practice:

Back in Episode 353, I talked about the “3 things” idea after reading Tell Me Three Things, a YA book by Julie Buxbaum. I have come to really appreciate the practice of “3 things” and the way it can be used to bridge the distance, break through a silence, invite someone to share, or open a door. I notice this approach has become increasingly common as a formulaic approach used by marketers, thought leaders, and writers, in newsletters, at Instagram, and on podcasts. The number may vary (e.g., 3, 5, 10), but this idea of an ordered and finite list sets the parameters for the sharing and the receiving (listening, reading, seeing). More and more I see “a list of things” come into my inbox as newsletters, the list format providing the structure and scaffolding for the sharing of sometimes random details. It isn’t a new wheel, but it is a wheel that works, and I enjoy the order of it. There is such beauty in a simple list.

For a long while I’ve been trying to keep Lynda Barry’s daily diary format (with intermittent success), which in my case is boiled down to lists of Things I Did Today and Things I Saw Today, plus notes on what I read, watched, or listened to, and an ‘overheard’ section for any funny or intriguing bits of conversation I’ve picked up, including kid quips, which are my favorite part. Sometimes I’ve aimed for a specific seven or ten items in each list, but mostly I just do bullet points and list as much as I can remember from the day.

For me, this practice is more about recording the bits and pieces I’m likely to lose if I don’t write them down—a yellow-rumped warbler at the feeder, our first!; a new leaf on my hoya plant (it’s a very slow grower, you see); hearing my friend Jennie say, “I’ve only ever once held a dolphin skull in my hand.” That line is enough to call back up the whole conversation—Jennie and her sister Julie, and my friend Ben’s mom Carolyn, whom I’m enjoying getting to know; the four of us sitting in a booth in the OMSI cafe with seats sliding gently from side to side on caster wheels; conversations about art and photography and the sisters scuba diving into a cave full of dolphin bones—and afterward picking up ramen with Rilla to take home, and Rilla looking around at the small tables, the window full of plants, people leaning over giant bowls of broth and noodles, the neat trays of paper-wrapped chopsticks and jars of spice—watching her take it all in, her hair in little twists behind each ear, her purple-glitter nail polish, her sparkling eyes—oh! all of it from one Jennie quote in my notebook!

It’s a good practice, but I had to write “I’ve been trying to keep” rather than “I’ve been keeping” because I’ll sometimes let it lapse for days at a time, a whole week even, and I may try to go back and fill in, but you can’t really—the entire point (for me) is capturing the things I’m not likely to remember a week, a month, a year later.

I’ll remember having lunch at the brick-oven pizzeria with my friend Lisa yesterday and even the main drift of our conversation—words seem to file themselves in a more accessible part of my memory—but will I remember the prosciutto and arugula piled high on our pizza, drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette? The glow of the oven behind Lisa’s shoulder? We talked about our radiation tattoos and our creative practices. We arrived on opposite corners outside the pizza place at the exact same moment, and since the light was against me we stood smiling at each other across the wide boulevard for long minutes as the cars rushed by. Now that I’ve written that moment, I’ll have it for keeps.

Tell Me Three Things would make a terrific format for blog posts, and I may keep it in my pocket for times when I’m not sure what to write about. I didn’t think I knew what to write about today, but just mentioning the Three Things gave me 700 words’ worth of things to say.

I would love to hear your Three Things for today, if you’d like to share them.