Sunday stitching notes, but it’s a Tuesday

January 17, 2023 @ 5:30 pm | Filed under:
three in-progress rows of small irregular embroidered circles on red fabric

watercolor-inspired circles-in-progress

 

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!

I blinked

January 13, 2023 @ 4:47 pm | Filed under:
baby huck covering his face with a train

time, it flies

Gotta be quick today: it’s a birthday in these parts. Y’all, my baby is 14. That’s bananas.

In lieu of a new post, here’s something delicious: my father’s family recipe for biscuits with chocolate gravy. When I was growing up, this was the star of the meal whenever we had breakfast for dinner (eggs, bacon, fruit, and biscuits with chocolate gravy—heaven on a plate). After Scott and I had kids, it gradually became our special birthday breakfast. Maybe that’s why we wound up with such a big family—more birthdays!

Okay, I thought this was going to be a quickie. Turns out that old post 2007 had an image hosted on my original Typepad blog. I didn’t know that was even still around! I had to update a bunch of old links and images and now it’s about time to go make dinner—Huck has requested paninis. We’re all about the food today!

Outlines and without-lines

January 11, 2023 @ 3:54 pm | Filed under: , ,
pink and yellow flowers against a peach-colored stucco wall

This photo was taken in June, 2018, in a little town on California’s Central Coast. At least that’s how I remember it. Today Portland is gray and bedraggled, and I needed a bit of color.

 

This photo reminds me that at one point, I had a whole secret theme going on my Instagram. I never told anyone (except Scott, of course) what I was going for, but I kept the project going for months. It wasn’t every photo, just one or two a week, and the theme would have been hard to guess at. It was a look at juxtapositions of color: manmade structures and objects behind or next to objects from nature. Flowers against walls, brilliant red poppies in front of a bright blue recycling bin, lime-green moss next to yellow rain boots, that sort of thing. I remember one of my favorites was a scatter of autumn leaves in a leaf-shaped pothole.

It was fun, having a secret art project. I tend to spill all my artistic secrets out of enthusiasm—sometimes to their detriment. It’s easy to lose steam on a project after I’ve had the fun of telling about it.

Back when I was writing Little House prequels, I used to have to turn in outlines for approval by the Laura Ingalls Wilder estate. Outlines are deadly to my writing process; once I’ve mapped a book out in that level of detail, the energy fizzles. It’s like I’ve had the fun of telling the story and now what’s left is the hard part, the actual writing.

So every time one of these outlines was approved, I’d sit down and write a totally different book. I never meant to; I would just start writing in the middle somewhere, searching for life, and suddenly the story would grow legs and skitter off in a different direction than the map I’d submitted.

And you know what? No one ever seemed to notice. When I turned in a manuscript, my editor edited the book she got, not the one she didn’t. I’m proud of those books and I’m happy they wouldn’t stay in their boxes. Some of the broad strokes do parallel the original outlines; there were parts of each story that I knew from the beginning I wanted to tell—the Roxbury hurricane; the story of Charlotte’s baby brother—but most of the everyday happenings in those stories grew as I wrote, not before.

I’ve been treading cautiously with my current novel-in-progress. With this one, I could see the broad outline very clearly from the first—danger! But as soon as I started writing, new developments elbowed in, pushing the early conception to the far corners of the page.

Which was a huge relief. I have to do this dance with any written work: know enough, but not too much. I remember once complaining to Scott that I had a paper due, and it seemed like a pointless exercise: “I know I can write it, and the professor knows I can write it, so why can’t we just leave it at that?” Heh. That was toward the end of a rigorous two years in graduate school and I was tired. Grinding out that paper felt rather, shall we say, academic.

Anyway, that’s where my thoughts have wandered on this cloudy afternoon. I didn’t plan this post in advance; I just searched “color” in my photo library and let my thoughts roam where they pleased.

“With practice, they begin to see carelessly”

January 10, 2023 @ 1:26 pm | Filed under: , , , ,
view from point loma lighthouse

A somewhat grainy photo of my four oldest children taken at the Point Loma Lighthouse in 2007, not long after we moved to San Diego. The Pacific was still quite new to them. When I coined the term “tidal homeschooling,” we lived in Virginia and the image was entirely figurative—but when I think back to those early tidal-learning days, this pic is the one I see.

 

I remember writing here long ago about how my favorite category of post was connections. The serendipitous links of thought we encounter when something we’re reading or experiencing echoes or relates to some earlier conversation, book, film, experience.

Today, for example: we read another Hauge poem (“Winter Morning”) and had a really rich discussion of how much is going on in those four simple lines—a discussion that incorporated some of the conversation we had in the comments here about yesterday’s poem. We talked about the way Hauge uses simple, crisp, concrete images (frosted windowpanes, the glow of a good dream, a woodstove “pour[ing] out its warmth/ from a wood block it had enjoyed the whole night”) to describe a moment, and something much bigger than the moment. And from that rather animated discussion we jumped to Linda Gregg’s “Art of Finding” essay:

I am astonished in my teaching to find how many poets are nearly blind to the physical world. They have ideas, memories, and feelings, but when they write their poems they often see them as similes. To break this habit, I have my students keep a journal in which they must write, very briefly, six things they have seen each day—not beautiful or remarkable things, just things. This seemingly simple task usually is hard for them. At the beginning, they typically “see” things in one of three ways: artistically, deliberately, or not at all. Those who see artistically instantly decorate their descriptions, turning them into something poetic: the winter trees immediately become “old men with snow on their shoulders,” or the lake looks like a “giant eye.” The ones who see deliberately go on and on describing a brass lamp by the bed with painful exactness. And the ones who see only what is forced on their attention: the grandmother in a bikini riding on a skateboard, or a bloody car wreck.

But with practice, they begin to see carelessly and learn a kind of active passivity until after a month nearly all of them have learned to be available to seeing—and the physical world pours in. Their journals fill up with lovely things like, “the mirror with nothing reflected in it.” This way of seeing is important, even vital to the poet, since it is crucial that a poet see when she or he is not looking—just as she must write when she is not writing. To write just because the poet wants to write is natural, but to learn to see is a blessing. The art of finding in poetry is the art of marrying the sacred to the world, the invisible to the human.

Okay, here’s the thing. I had planned to read this excerpt of Gregg’s essay, and to introduce a new  practice for the four of us—Huck, Rilla, Scott, and me. We have a spiral-bound sketchbook that, at intervals, we use as a shared family journal. In 2020 it was the whole family chiming in with quips, sketches, and interesting tidbits. It went dormant last year, and when the Linda Gregg passage resurfaced in my Readwise review over the holidays, I decided to appropriate the journal for this practice. Maybe not daily, but several times a week, we’ll jot down things we’ve seen or heard.

But weeks have passed since I reread the passage, and I’d forgotten that last line—the “marrying of the sacred to the world, the invisible to the human.” That’s exactly what we’d just been talking about with the Hauge poem, and what we talked about yesterday. The way he expresses a single image that speaks vividly both as a literal description (in a way that makes your breath catch) and as a reflection on some aspect of human experience. “Marrying the sacred to the world” is what Hauge does best.

So: part intention, part serendipity. The best kind of high-tide morning.

_____________________

A postscript added after I made today’s recording—listening to the Linda Gregg passage read aloud, I got to “the art of finding” and went Oh of course! And made a note to let tomorrow’s poem be Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art.” Another connection.

“—I get up. It’s lighter.”

January 9, 2023 @ 2:23 pm | Filed under: , ,
Two young children reading together side by side

This photo is dated October 2016, which seems too recent? Huck would have been six and Rilla around ten. I think. My time-math is blurry. Huck will be fourteen this week. Can you even?

 

Well, here they are, my last two homeschoolers. We kicked off a new high-tide season this morning, lightly. It struck me recently that while poetry has been a staple of our lesson times since forever, I hadn’t introduced much contemporary poetry to these two. Which is odd, because I read so. much. of it myself. At least one poem a day, often many more than that.

This revelation made my 2023 Fresh Start plans easy: I have loads of lovely and arresting poems I want to share with Huck and Rilla. We’ll keep reading our old favorites, of course, but I plan to dip frequently into the two gorgeous collections edited by James Crews: How to Love the World and The Path to Kindness, as well as Poetry Unbound, Poetry 180, and all the slender, marked-up books on my shelves.

(I say slender, because ages ago I learned a big lesson about myself: I don’t like reading poems in big fat Collected Poems volumes. I want a slim, portable book. I seldom go for a Best Of.)

Today I knew exactly what I wanted to reach for: Olav H. Hauge’s beautiful The Dream We Carry. We read “One Poem a Day” and I was delighted by how much Rilla loved it and saw in it. Huck was reserved at first but warmed to the poem as we discussed it.

One Poem a Day
by Olav H. Hauge
translated by Robert Hedin

I’ll write one poem a day,
every day.
That should be easy enough.
Browning did it for a while, though
he rhymed
and beat time
with his bushy eyebrows.
So, one poem a day.
Something strikes you,
something occurs,
something catches your eye
—I get up. It’s lighter.
Have good intentions.
And see the bullfinch rise from the cherry tree,
stealing buds.

That last image always goes straight to my core. The way he, after mapping out a simple, spare plan for himself, does just what he has resolved to do, capturing some small, striking observed moment in a few lines—lines that represent exactly what the poet does. Like the bullfinch, he rises up, carrying something small, simple, full of promise, the bud of an image that will unfurl into a poem.

Oh, I love him.

Something especially fun about the way our lessons have worked these past few years is that Scott is present for them. He’s got his coffee and his computer, but he listens to the readalouds (of which, despite the kids’ ages, there are many, because we all like learning that way) and he chimes into the discussions, and when I want to show the kids a picture of a bullfinch, he’s already got one pulled up on his screen.

We also began our next Moomins book (Tales from Moominvalley) and watched a couple of scenes from Taming of the Shrew, just for the fun of seeing John Cleese as Petruchio.

A mellow beginning, and then lunch.

Sunday stitching notes

January 8, 2023 @ 4:38 pm | Filed under:
An assortment of embroidery projects in progress

This was my works-in-progress array in Sept 2021. I finished most of these up, abandoned one, and am still working on another. Slooooowly!

 

At least once a week I like to make quick notes about my stitching projects in progress. This is mainly to help me keep track of what I’m working on so that nothing gets lost if I tidy up. I usually do this in my notebook, but I thought it might be fun to see if I can make a Sunday habit of it here.

The hitch will be photos, so no promises there. Or maybe just a quick snap like the one above? None today, I can’t be bothered.

Projects I actively worked on this week:

• I finished hemming the rust-colored linen square and added it to my wrapping-cloth pile for next year.

• Scott ripped a hole in his jeans so I did a quick mend.

• KZ Stevens dropped the pattern for her Wide-Strap Crossbody Bag! I’ve been eyeing her example pics on Instagram and hoped she’d be offering the pattern soon. I snapped it up in a hurry and cut the exterior fabric on Saturday morning from some red and blue linen fat quarters I had on hand. Chose a striped cotton for the lining. Hand-sewed the two shorter linen strips to either side of the big red block. Spent ages last night looking at my idea files to see what I might like to embroider on the fabric before I assemble the bag. Found something that lit me up: a painting of little watercolor circles I made when I took Lisa Solomon’s Color Meditations class on Creativebug in 2020. Last night I tried a few stitch variations on my scratchpad hoop and decided on satin stitch with some variegated floss to mimic the watercolor effect. Hoping for time to start stitching this evening.

watercolor painting of rows of closely packed circles in many colors

This watercolor exercise was immensely satisfying and I’m excited to translate it to satin stitch

• I put in a little time on the needlepainted dandelion hoop. Really glad I made good notes about floss colors before the holidays because I’d be hopelessly lost now if I were trying to dive back in cold.

That’s it for this week! I need to go finish my Sunday housework (Sunday seems to be the day I’m best able to lavish attention on the house), and then I ought to be able to stitch this evening after dinner.

Happy new week, friends!

Owl, leaf, tree, wonder

January 6, 2023 @ 4:58 pm | Filed under:
close-up of the underside of a pilea leaf

Today’s pic is from Emily J’s keyword suggestion of leaf. This one was taken in 2019 and I remember being smitten by the green light shining through!

 

Well, today turned out to be a medical-mom day, by which I mean I spent 3 1/2 hours on the phone making appointments and updating records. But now my boy is set for the next few months, pending a few callbacks I should get next week.

All part of the job, eh?

Now the blue dark is settling outside the east window. Over the side fence, my neighbor’s magnolia tree looks a bit forlorn; our landlord sent some guys today to cut back the branches that were overhanging our patio. I can see clear through the tree to the trunk now and it feels a bit impolite to stare at its secrets.

Have you read Wishtree? I wrote a Dart for it, one of Katherine Applegate’s loveliest novels. If you don’t know it, you should treat yourself, even if you haven’t got a small child around to read to. I don’t either, anymore! How strange is that? But Huck read this one, perched beside me while I wrote the Dart (he often chimes in with adjective suggestions), and it was his favorite of last year’s Dart line-up. A gorgeous book about the long memories of trees, and the bustling world in and above and under and around them, and human stories, too: prejudice and pain and friendship and wonder.

We saw an owl in the magnolia last summer. Heard it calling and one by one we gathered in my studio to listen. He flew silently into the hidden center of the tree, behind the wide flat leaves, and resumed his thoughtful two-note meditation as we stood there, hushed and awed.

two owls sitting on a branch, painted by Rilla, age 7

There. I put in “owl” and look what I found. Rilla painted this pair in 2014, just before she turned eight. Sometimes I forget what riches this blog holds for me.

Multi-projecting

January 5, 2023 @ 6:20 pm | Filed under:

 

a small barefoot child stretched out on a sofa, reading a picture book

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?

I’ve never been what you’d call a single-tasker

January 4, 2023 @ 5:14 pm | Filed under:

 

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.

two raincoats, one green, one yellow, drying over a shower door

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.

Well, I also have the book Melanie recommended the other day, A Ghost in the Throat, on audio, so I suppose I could put that on and work on one of the million projects already sitting beside me. I’m so glad we had this little talk! 😊