Thursday, December 31, 2020

Goodbye 2020

 A few weeks ago we had our first snow of the winter. Last year it only snowed a few inches, so the girls went outside and froze themselves out of sheer joy. The ice lingered on the trees for a few days, which I hate more than wind, because we lose large tree limbs. Luckily nothing was so big we had to call a tree company, and no structures were damaged. We'll just be chopping wood for the next several months.

During my days off work I had some time in the office/craft room/art studio/cat bathroom and made a Divided Basket. This is the 5th one I have made, but the first for me. It is perfect for all the things I had rattling around in the car, like masks, hand sanitizer, and kid snacks. This is a great pattern and easy enough for beginning sewers. I want to make several more, as well as try a few more Noodlehead patterns.

Jason and I drove down to DC one day to take pictures. The weather was warm enough not to be freezing, and since it's not prime tourist season, the crowds were at a minimum. We visited some monuments that I had never seen before, despite growing up in this area and living in Maryland for almost 12 years. (The Lincoln and Washington monuments were not in that category - it's hard to miss those.)

I had not seen the FDR memorial before, and it was pretty odd. It's a large area that has a caveman-type feel about it. There are a lot of rock piles, sprawling vegetation, and water pools. It looks like something a polar bear might be living in at a zoo.

I have seen the Jefferson Memorial many times (it's hard to miss if you drive anywhere in DC), but I can't remember being inside it. I'm sure there was a school field trip years ago, but who remembers that ancient history? There were only 5 people in sight; a massive difference from the overwhelming cherry blossom crowds.

I love end-of-year and new year musings. Give me all the "year in review" and resolution posts! One format I saw and will steal here is:

Things I Started in 2020 That I Want to Continue

  1. Walking: In October I started going for a walk in the morning before I started work. This turned out to be a great way to get some time outside of the house, and replicate my commute with some space before sitting at a screen all day. It has been more challenging to make it out in the winter, but I plan to continue as long as it's above 30 degrees and not raining outside.
  2. Audiobooks: I've listened to a few audiobooks over the years, but was limited to easy-to-read thrillers or autobiographies that didn't require much attention. Somehow I finally trained my ear to listen to all types of books, and have had one book always on the go since the spring. Plus, it's great to be able to combine reading and knitting or walking. I read 81 books this year which is my all-time record.
  3. Minimizing ongoing projects: Even though I want to make all the things, I realized that having more than a few projects in the works at the same time stressed me out. I needed to get them off my to-do list instead of actually enjoying them. I'm going to refrain from starting any huge projects, like quilts (although I have 2 to finish), and focus more on little things that I can complete.
  4. Separation between work and home chores: I started working from home in March, like a lot of people, and it took quite some time (over 6 months) to work out a schedule. While at first it seemed easy to have laundry going throughout the day or clean the kitchen during my lunch break, the constant blending of work time and chores made me feel like I wasn't paying attention to anything. Now I keep laundry to the weekends and cleaning to after I finish up my work day.
  5. Reduce/eliminate social media scrolling and choose inputs intentionally: I have mentioned this before, but I hate the feeling of time disappearing while scrolling through social media, and then not remembering anything I've seen. I have unfollowed a lot of accounts on both Facebook and Instagram, and have added more blogs to Feedly instead. Now I go onto Instagram only for certain reasons, such as to look at other examples of patterns I am considering, or to get ideas for art. (Did you know that if you look at Instagram through your browser, there aren't any ads?)
Here is a photo from my walk this morning; it was in the 40s which is as good as you can get this time of year, in this climate. Goodbye 2020, and welcome 2021. Happy New Year, everyone!

Monday, December 21, 2020

Good Enough

This month I'm going for "done is better than perfect." No, I didn't get around to moving my camera photos onto my computer, so these pictures are from my phone. No, they are not in order because for some reason Blogger imported them most-recent first, and if I try to move them, they disappear. (Know that the sentences preceding this have now been sitting as a draft for 12 days. Moving on.)

The Christmas season is now upon us (because it is December, not in September as Home Depot would have you believe), and the girls and I have been excited to decorate. I'm not a fan of winter, it's too cold and dark, but I think the twinkly lights and warm baking helps. I keep saying there need to be traditions to get us through January and February, but so far no one has invented any. Maybe the tradition in my family is for everyone to have babies in January. 4 out of 6 cousins have birthdays in January.

I was doing pretty well keeping up with walking, but then winter happened. My face gets too cold for comfort under 30 degrees, and then the snow and ice came and never went away. I have been reading in the mornings before work, but it's not the same as getting outside. I spend most of the day in one room!

Mary turned 7 in November. Like nearly all girls her age, unicorns and small, cute animals are her obsessions.

This is also the time of year when I, and everyone, starts thinking about plans for the new year. 2020 of course was different than any of us imagined, so I'm not making any ambitious plans for 2021. This year I was supposed to fly to India on February 28, and that didn't happen. That's probably what I'm most disappointed about; but I hope I get to travel to India at some point in my life.

The increased reliance on virtual everything made a lot of us really contemplate the Internet and specifically social media. I watched The Social Dilemma and now I'm reading How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell. Last year it was Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport. Instagram is my vice of choice, and I spend way too much time scrolling through posts and stories. Can I remember more than 5% of what I saw? Probably not. 

I have been blogging for 15 years (not including the several years break I took leading up to this year). I will always love blogs the most; I actually read the content and engage with a post for as long as it takes, as opposed to a second or less on an Instagram post. I can curate what I read and not be bombarded by ads that follow me around the Internet or are based on my "likes." I am making the choice, not an algorithm. I don't think blogs ever really "died", but they certainly aren't as popular. I hope that this form of communication gets rediscovered; and it is, through newsletters, which seem to be increasingly popular. Isn't that just a blog post that gets delivered to your email?

I am trying to avoid making set plans for the next year, since it's impossible to plan a whole year in advance, and who knows what is going to happen? But I am contemplating deleting the Instagram and Facebook apps (which I mainly use to admin my local Buy Nothing group) at least for awhile. I want to blog at least once a month, and that has led me to ask WHY I do this. I can see my stats and I know that not a lot of people read this (it's ok!), but it really is the best way to connect words and pictures. I am planning on having my blog printed into an actual book because I don't trust Google not to start deleting blogs after a certain point. They have already released their intentions to do this with photos!

What are your plans for the new year? Thoughts on the attention economy? Merry Christmas!

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Autumn and Creativity

Ah, fall, the season in which Instagrammers and bloggers everywhere relentlessly post photos of colorful leaves and steaming mugs of tea. There aren't any mug pics in this post, but I'll try to fulfill the regulated amount of leaf content. Also: knitting content for once! I have been thinking about what to do with all my sock yarn leftovers (the dilemma of any long-time knitter), and since I admittedly have a purple addiction, I pulled all my purples and arranged them in a gradient. I'm using the Boneyard Shawl pattern since it is simple, and knitted all my scraps in order until they are used up.

Although there hasn't been a frost yet, the garden is wrapping up. These were the last bunch of dahlias I picked before the buds stopped opening. I grew these from seed last year, and although I thought I had dug up all the tubers, these hid in the ground and bloomed better than ever this year. I'm going to attempt to lift and store them over the winter, although winters have been getting warmer here [climate change] so they might survive just fine in the ground.

The mornings have been foggy lately which is setting the perfect fall mood. It allows me to take pictures like these, which give the impression that I live in an idyllic country wonderland, and not actually in a county of a million+ residents.

At the beginning of the month I took myself to the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts and saw an exhibit on the children's book illustrator Jan Brett. If you have access to a child, you've probably seen one of her books. They are rooted in folktales, and her art is incredibly detailed. It takes her a year to illustrate one picture book, and she does extensive research by traveling all over the world. It sounds like an enviable life!

Thanks to Anne at My Giant Strawberry I won free access to her Skillshare class Beyond Beginner: Tips and Tricks to Level Up Your Watercolors. This class is very well-done and I'm looking to putting all her ideas into practice. I am also taking a class by Alisa Burke, The Flower Journal. I am attempting to actually do all the lessons instead of just watching the videos, like I usually do. Even if a technique is not something I'd usually do, I'm hoping to surprise myself. The page below was done only using my fingers. I liked how it turned out, but boy was it a challenge for my mess-avoiding self.

Finally, I had something of an epiphany regarding making art. I love reading anything on creativity; if there is a book out there, I've read it or it's on my list. (Austin Kleon's are particularly digestible.) It is quite popular to talk about "enjoying the process", "play", and the fact that you shouldn't worry about results. Have fun! Ok, but I can have Type A tendencies. Having a desk full of messy sketchbook pages and scattered scraps of paper and art supplies drives me absolutely insane. While I do like working in sketchbooks and making looser art journal pages, having no real end product leaves me feeling like bothering to make art like that is pointless. (That's not true! It's just what my brain tells me.) 

Recently I had the thought: but what if I don't fight against it? I know that an end product is important to me, so why not work toward actual end products? Instead of focusing on finishing 100-page sketchbooks, why not make a book on a theme with a few pages and then rejoice when it's completed in a short amount of time? Instead of working in my watercolor sketchbook, is there anything wrong with working on sheets of paper and then framing or giving away the result? This is primarily why I have always been more of a crafter. When you knit a hat, well, at the end you have a hat. Or you have a quilt, or a table, or a sweater that can be used.

I'm almost 40; I don't know why it took so long to figure this out. 

Enjoy the fall, the crispy leaves, and your steaming mugs!

Sunday, October 25, 2020


Now that I know my teleworking purgatory will last at least 9 more months, I realized I needed to switch up my routine: I started walking in the morning before I start work. Walking 5 steps to my computer was prematurely aging my body, I'm sure. I haven't missed sitting in the car for hours, but I do miss my public transportation commute when I could read and walk before sitting down at my desk.

We are lucky to live in a suburban pocket that is not completely taken over by houses. Across the street are 42 acres of farmland which can't be subdivided, and there are several other farms nearby. Unfortunately these are marred by a McMansion neighborhood, but I conveniently cropped out those monstrosities. The good news is that apparently people who live in McMansions don't need to come outside because they can just lap between their giant rooms, so it is usually quiet and serene.

The weather has been beautiful lately as the trees reach peak color. The fog settles into the valleys early in the morning before it burns off. The sky is a brilliant blue and the fields are just starting to turn a golden brown. I am trying to soak it up before it becomes too cold and dark. 

I am usually fine until Christmas; the bare trees are fairly new, and everything is twinkly and festive. But then, January through March happens, those brown, dead months before gardening season begins. I wish there were some traditions or something to help us get through those months (and not valentine's day... no one really cares about that right?) What do you do to survive the dead of winter?

Friday, October 2, 2020

That Golden Autumn Light


The months, they fly by! This is hardly a unique statement but I feel like I need to say it anyway. The week before "school" started we stayed at a cabin near Shenandoah National Park for a week. My little hikers were good sports but after the 4th hike they were getting tired of it; there is not much else to do these days. The cabin had a hot tub which was a fun activity for them, despite the fact that it was 95 degrees out, hotter even than the water in the tub. 

Now that it's October the garden is pretty much done, and true to form I'm tired of it. After 6 months of gardening I'm usually ready to finish it up and move on to something else. I'll try to squeeze in as many art, craft, and house projects as I can before it starts getting truly cold and I commence hibernation.

My work announced that we will continue teleworking until July 1 of next year. That will mark 15 months of working from home, when we originally left the office thinking we'd be back in 2 weeks. I haven't been back since and I'm sure the mice are having a field day with the food I left in my desk. (Mice, on the 6th floor of an office building? True story.) A coworker managed to rescue my plants so at least I'm not worried about them shriveling up.

Everything continues to be the same every day so I am not sure what else to say. Mary started 1st grade online and we look at our screens all day, and are basically all trapped inside in the same room trying not to develop cabin fever.

Friday, August 21, 2020

The Long and Light Days of Summer


I am pre-mourning the end of summer. All of the places open to us are outside: trails, the yard, parks, more trails. It won't get truly cold and dark until November, but I am already dreading it. I've heard the saying, "There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing," but I'm calling BS on that one. Yes, we can put on jackets and hats and we won't freeze to death, but it's certainly not fun to be outside when it's below 40 degrees. Were I still a kidless individual, I'd have no problem cozying up inside with blankets and books and candles, but children do not appreciate ambiance, and they cannot be trusted around open flames.

I think there are two types of blogs. There are the big money-making ones that are all about the big reveal, seemingly renovating entire rooms and building a new piece of furniture every day. There are also the ones like mine, where life moves along at a trickling pace, changes happening so slowly that they are hardly noticed. It doesn't make for great Content, but it's real life. Around the houses, small changes are happening. I moved some paintings around. Some light fixtures were replaced. I cleaned out a closet. The laundry was done, the floor was swept, the dishes were washed, and then it all got dirty again.

Crafting has taken on a similar pace. I knit a few rows of a sweater each night, I do half of a painting, complete some ordinary art journal pages and move ever-so-slightly forward in those blank books. I cut out fabric, and it sits for months. 

I've added some blogs to the sidebar with a similar pace. I love reading about ordinary lives, the incremental, imperceptible changes, and seeing the flowers and knitting grow just a little bit from photo to photo. If you have any suggestions for more of the same, please let me know.

So here there are picnics (and cleaning up picnics), art projects (and cleaning up art projects), baking (and washing dishes), growing plants (and then throwing them away when they die), fort building, TV watching, book reading, going for drives, exercising, working, and putting kids to bed. It's the same, everything repeats itself, and live moves forward.