Friday, May 20, 2022

The Merry Month of May

Tulip season came and went, fast and furious. When tulips are ready to be picked, they are ready, kind of like avocados. If they stay outside too long in the heat, they'll blown open in the sunshine which negatively affects their vase life. So at times, I was harvesting tulips 3 times a day. They're kind of a pain in that way but oh, I love them! They come in almost every color, and there are many fancy types with fringe, multiple petals, and stripes. I planted about 460 this year and I'm trying to decide if I can handle 700 next year.





After tulips, things calmed down a bit, but then it was time to put in all the seedlings. I've planted between 600-700 seedlings which (not surprisingly) is hard physical labor. I forgot that I am 40 and not 20, and kneeling, squatting, and bending might not be as easily shrugged off as it once was. It will all pay off in a few months when I'm questioning my sanity. By that point I'm sure the weather will have "improved" to 90+ degrees and 100% humidity. 




It has not been a nice spring, weather-wise. It has been cold and gray and wet; and then immediately it's warmed up to what is supposed to be a 105-degree heat index tomorrow. I'd rather be hot than cold  though, so I don't mind. 

Reading

As soon as the weather warms up, I find that I want to read summery, lighter books. I always return to mystery series around now, with some thrillers and modern romance sprinkled in. One of my favorite things in the world is sitting outside in my hammock chair reading as the sun goes down. Here's a few books I finished lately:


The Bat is the first book in the Harry Hole series. The Snowman is one of the more well-known titles, but I always like to start series at the beginning and read them in order. Apparently this was a mistake in this case, as the books are supposed to drastically improve after the first few. I'll say it: this book was bad. Don't read it. The main detective is extremely bad at his job and there's homo/transphobia at the core. The only reason I finished it was because I wanted to know who the murderer was.


After that bad reading experience, I immediately checked out The Man Who Died Twice, which is the next book in the Thursday Murder Club series. (Right now there are only two, with the third coming out later this year.) I loved this book even more than the first! It's funny, the characters are all unique and developed, and Richard Osman has such a talent for writing that I hope he lives forever and writes 1000 books.


I picked up The Diamond Eye on a whim, since I've heard good things about Kate Quinn. The book is about the real Mila Pavlichenko, a female Russian sniper during World War II who killed over 309 enemy soldiers. It was fascinating, and shocking, and sad to read how a "regular" young mother could go from historian to sniper, but that's what war does. The first half of the book is about her time in combat, and the second half focuses on Mila's tour of America and friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt (also true!) The second half was not as interesting to me and was a little slower, but overall it was a good read. There are also some photos in the back of the real people in the book, which were pretty heartbreaking.

How about you - does your reading change with the seasons?

Thursday, April 14, 2022

The Flowering

Some people think that gardeners are born with a "green thumb", a natural ability to make plants grow. I'll let you in on a secret: gardening is 10% research, 60% physical labor, and 30% crossing your fingers and hoping things work out. Getting to see the actual flowers is the reward for many months of mud and hope. And the flowers have arrived!


Last fall I planted 456 tulip bulbs and 90 daffodils. For the purposes of cut flowers, a tulip is only good once; you pull up the whole bulb when harvesting, and that's it. It seems a little harsh to the poor plant, but once you cut off the flower and the leaves, there's nothing to feed the bulb for the next season and it may never flower again. Daffodils do multiply over time though, so I should have more and more every year with no effort at all! What you see below is a double daffodil, which are much more rare to find in grocery store floral departments, so I'll definitely be doubling up (see what I did there) on those next year.


I didn't have my flower stand ready in time to sell most of the daffodils this year, but the tulips are coming in fast and furious and I'm opening up tomorrow! I intentionally am not linking to my business here because the website contains my address and full name, and I don't want any weird people lurking around here. BUT if you are interested and I know you're a legit person, let me know below and I'll contact you through your blog or your email if you want to leave it.



This desk is actually my virtual meeting background, so I put these flowers here to strategically distract from a tense presentation I gave to 100+ people this week. I think they worked because no one asked me any hard questions. My art desk in general is sadly neglected these days. I keep an art journal open in case I have a few minutes to stop over and work, but things tend to stay unfinished for a long time. 


In other farming news I had a huge pile of leaf compost delivered last week. The backyard is fenced, so I need to shovel and haul it one load at a time onto the beds. The new garden is now ready to go. I'm excited to get my blowtorch out again and burn holes in more landscape fabric. I will not be doing this on a windy day like I did the first time, which resulted in me having to relight the torch after almost every. single. one. of the 155 holes.


This may have been one of my longest knitting-free periods... ever? Because I've been crocheting instead! All of the yarn I'm using, besides the black, is leftover from other projects. I finally decided not to keep saving it for some future unknown project and just use it up. I did absolutely no planning for this, so I'm just randomly choosing colors and I guess I'll just keep going around and around until I decide I'm done. I think this would make an excellent children's book: a woman keeps crocheting the same blanket until it gets bigger and bigger, swallowing her house, her neighbors... etc. You can have my idea if you want to write it!



I've now finished 21 books this year. I have been a lot better about quitting books I'm not into, so even though I probably won't match my total from last year, I see that as an improvement. I really enjoyed The Thursday Murder Club, which is about a group of amateur investigators in a retirement home who end up involved a real murder. The writing was quite funny and I loved the backstories and personalities of the main characters. (Trigger warning for multiple suicides, though.)

I also finished Maggie O'Farrell's I Am, I Am, I Am on audio. It blew me away! I usually like every memoir I read, but the writing was top-notch. The book focuses on "17 brushes with death" which was a unique take on the standard memoir. It made me immediately go and check out another book of hers. 

I hope you're getting at least a hint of spring where you are!

Thursday, March 31, 2022

Things That Are Actually Totally Fine

Last year I turned 40. I've never been a person who cared much about what others thought, but there is something about aging that makes you really not care. I think you just realize that life is too short to put up with things you don't want to, and to live in ways that are not authentic. Here is my permission slip to do things that actually totally fine.

Watching TV while wearing a firefighter costume, living her best life.

Letting your kid watch TV or use a tablet: Anytime I read a parent's shameful admission that they let their kid have any sort of screen time, I am a little sad. This admission is usually followed by a caveat like, "But they only play educational games" or "She only uses it on the weekend/days off/certain number of hours a day." I am here to tell you that letting your kid watch TV or play games on an iPad is totally fine. Ok, don't let your 3 year old watch Nightmare on Elm Street, but if they want to watch every Disney movie 500 times, hallelujah! Letting my kids watch TV is literally the only thing that allows me to have any rest, downtime, or time to work on any of my own projects. I grew up in the 80s, so of course we didn't have tablets or streaming. My family didn't even have cable. But I sure played a lot of Nintendo, and I managed to become a contributing member of society. Let the guilt go! Do what you feel comfortable with and what works for you, and don't judge others for how their families work.

Reading whatever you want: I know several people who describe their preferred genres as "trash." How did certain types of books get labeled as trash anyway? I'd guess it was by Judgey McJudgersons who believe that only classics or literary fiction or award winners are the only worthy types of literature. There are many different reasons for reading, but most people read to be entertained. We don't judge people who watch superhero movies over black-and-white classics, right? (Well, we shouldn't.) If you like to read vampire romances, fantasy in outer space, or the same police procedural format over and over, have at it! We only get to read a finite number of books in our lifetime, so make sure to read what you like.

Chocolate mini wheats for a snack. They're really good.

Eating without guilt: Honestly this could be a whole post in itself. Diet culture is everywhere, telling us what food is "bad" and what food is "clean" or "healthy." These determinations are completely arbitrary. Bacon is bad if you're on a plant-based-whole-foods diet, but it's just fine if you're on Paleo or Keto*. Fruit is good for you because it has antioxidants and fiber but it's also terrible because OMG so much sugar! Most of us have been conditioned to think in a certain, limited way about food. These thoughts have the power to literally destroy people's lives. Everyone is on their own journey so please seek professional help should disordered eating impact your mental and/or physical health. For everyone else, I just ask that you question your beliefs.

Not Hustling: At work, I've been a people manager for nearly 10 years. There are people who want to climb the ladder, get constant promotions, eventually be a CEO. There are also people who have had the same job for 15 years and are amazing at it. I love those people! They have found balance in their lives and have committed to what they like doing and are good at it. You don't have to have a side hustle; you don't have to grow your business; you don't have to be constantly seeking improvement. How about that?!

So, tell me: what else is actually totally fine?

*Don't even get me started.

Friday, March 25, 2022

Backwards Post

I bulk loaded these photos through Blogger and they came in reverse-chronological order. I don't feel like rearranging them so here's a backwards post.

My farmer neighbor who runs the sunflower field across the street came over and tilled up my new garden area! It is 18x25 feet, and ultimately will contain 100 feet of flowers. I'm pretty excited to see what this looks like in July.


Spring has sprung and I got the first bunch of flowers out of the garden. I hardly planted any of these, the white daffodils were all over the garden when we moved in. I don't know if people actually want to buy daffodils since they are all over the place, and because I don't have my infrastructure quite ready yet they'll probably just come live in my house. I'm not mad about it.


I went to a library that is not my usual, and they have a huge section of graphic novels. I probably would have gotten more, but I didn't have a bag with me and I could only carry so many. You know how I feel about books with pictures! I will be back.


I was in TJ Maxx recently and I saw a picture printed on canvas that was cute. I snapped a picture on my phone, and ended up painting my own version. I really enjoy painting but with work and all my other projects I hardly have time for it. There were a few cold mornings where I didn't want to go out for a walk and painted instead. I'd love to incorporate more art into my life but there is only so much time. I have the curse of too many hobbies.


Reading: Son of the House was really good. Thanks to Nicole for the recommendation! I love books set all over the world, and I've only read a handful from Nigeria. The characters were both fascinating and there is a thread that brings them together in a really clever way. (More bathroom floor reading, this time I actually did read and not look at my phone!)


I'm nudging my girls to become readers as well (so far, so good), and here is Cora at our local library. I love the kids' section. The shelves are low, and there is only one entrance/exit, so the kids can't escape.


A freak snowstorm in March - although we usually do get the last snow around St. Patrick's Day. This one was a proper blizzard, with sub-freezing temperatures and snow blowing sideways. Cora did not last long outside.


I finally took the plunge and got some of my content off the internet and into physical form. I had this blog printed through Pixxibook since it had the best looking layout of all of the blog printing services I could find. The pages are really thick and it looks beautiful. It is pricey, but worth it because anything on the internet is impermanent. Google likes to get rid of services so I won't be surprised if they shut down blogger some day. I also had an Instagram account that I closed, so I printed all the photos from that into a book too. This one was from Shutterfly, and was really cheap (around $8) since I got a softcover and had a promo code.


Happy Spring everyone, and I hope it's even just a little warmer and brighter where you are.

Saturday, March 5, 2022

Doorstop Crisis of 2022

I figured it was about time for ye olde blog post, but man, looking back through the pictures from the last few weeks, I have nothing but those photos you take to text someone later. I remember those days, pre-kids, when I would bust out the tripod, take many photos of myself modeling knitwear, and edit them all individually. Now you get a picture of the doorstop aisle at Home Depot, which I took to illustrate that there is a severe doorstop shortage WHY IS NO ONE TALKING ABOUT THIS.

Next up is a photo of the rear of my car, which I am slowly covering with stickers. At some point in my life I would have been concerned about "resale" and damaging the paint, but I fully intend on driving this car until its death. Back when I was commuting 2 hours a day, I really enjoyed when a car had stickers for me to read when I was stuck behind it on the highway, going nowhere. I do need some more stickers (obviously) so if you have any suggestions, let me know!

This is my usual walking route: after I make it through the neighborhood of McMansions, I walk to this nice little park. Ugh, it's so brown right now! I have been really appreciating the lengthening days and the increased opportunity to get outside and not freeze. But BROWN SO BROWN. 

Ice storm! Another reminder from nature that, hey suckers, it's not spring yet!

Despite the weather, I still have several trays of seeds started which will eventually go outside pending an unexpected, sudden ice age (and let's never say never, people, after the past few years we've had). Yes, I am starting a flower farm. Yes, it is a SMALL flower farm. I have a little bit of a complex about it because I think people imagine acres and acres with barns and greenhouses. It's surprising how many thousands of plants you can fit into a small space, but I'm also not ready to write on my website "um actually the farm is in my backyard". Shout out to my fellow micro-farmers!

Books! Beautiful Country by Qian Julie Wang was excellent. It's a memoir of the author growing up as an undocumented immigrant in New York City during the 1990s. I was constantly imagining where I was during this time and what my life looked like (I'm just a few years older than the author), and the difference was shocking. One of the reasons I love reading is that it has made me so much more aware and sympathetic to the other lives being lived on our planet. 

Another shot from real life: reading while sitting on the bathroom floor, supervising bath time. (Ok fine I didn't actually read, I just brought the book with me and then proceeded to scroll on my phone. We've all been there.) I've been aware of the Chris McCandless story, but I had never read Into the Wild. The book itself is wonderful. The way the story is told is not just a linear account of events, but a slow piecing together. I know many people have personal opinions as to if McCandless was a hero or an idiot, but at the end it's a tragedy of a person who died too young.

I took a day off work this week, while everyone else was a work/school, and it was amazing. I spent about three hours laying on the couch, sometimes reading. I finished up a project for the basement gym, started a painting, and then sat on the couch some more. Best day ever!! This meant I had a little more energy than normal for Saturday, and took out my own sketchbook while Cora played with play-doh. So why isn't the 4-day workweek being adopted universally yet? The entire world would be so much more relaxed and happy!


Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Mid-February Smorgasbord

First, a shout out to my fellow bloggers who manage to post on a regular schedule, or even every day. I don't know how you do it, but I love reading your posts. Thanks to everyone who reads and comments on my posts as well! I do love this little blogging world we've all nested inside of.

Remember when this was a knitting blog? Hey look, I knit something!


The pattern is the Midnattsol Hat and I used Knitpicks Gloss which is merino wool and silk. I do love colorwork but the pattern had many rows that used three colors (it's usually just two) and it was difficult to manage the yarn. I kept having to stop and untangle the giant mess. The pattern ended up looking really nice but I probably won't knit it again. The soft and squishy hat went off to live with my cousin, who has been a grateful knitted hat recipient in the past (he even took one mountaineering in Argentina), and who is dealing with some pretty serious health issues right now. I also knit a hat for his wife, because in Chicago everyone needs multiple hats, but I didn't take a picture of that one. It was that hat you see everywhere, you know the one with the horizontal ridges alternated with 1x1 ribbing, and a faux fur pompom on top.

A word of warning about faux fur pompoms: one of my coworkers was out walking and a hawk dive-bombed her because it thought she had a dead rodent on her head.

A three year old became a four year old. Three definitely had its cute and fun moments, but four is when kids get easier. We are all breathing a sigh of relief around here. 


So I'm pretty much an idiot and I bought Mary one of those teeny tiny dollhouse kits for Christmas. It does look adorable, but it is ridiculously tiny. RIDICULOUSLY. You have to build everything almost completely, and an 8 year old approaches the project by just dumping every teeny tiny part into a (teeny tiny) pile, and half of it rolls off and disappears down the heating vent. Fair warning to anyone who falls for the cuteness of these kits. In case you don't believe me about the teeny tiny claim, here's a stick of deodorant for scale.


Jason and I escaped for one night to Annapolis. It was fairly cold and we didn't have much time, so we just walked through the city, which was not that big. It was worth it though, to have coffee, dinner, and breakfast while sitting down the whole time, never having to get up to bring anyone milk or tell anyone to just STOP IT. There are boats there. I am not sure what else one does in Annapolis, maybe drinks and eats crabs?




I also read a couple of good books. I loved Miss Benson's Beetle by Rachel Joyce, which had been on my list for some time and I finally got around to requesting from the library. It's a book that sounds a little weird from the description, but ended up being an exciting, endearing story. A middle-aged woman and her mysterious younger sidekick go exploring New Caledonia in the 1950s in search of an elusive, undiscovered golden beetle. It was both funny and heartbreaking. I had never heard of New Caledonia before and I assumed it was made up, but nope, it's an actual place!


I followed that up with The Guide by Peter Heller. This book is set in Colorado, and the descriptions of the West really got me. We lived for awhile in that part of the country, and Heller manages to capture the beauty of the place. It ended up being a weird mashup of literary fiction, thriller, and dystopia that made for a quick read. Also there was an extra line between every paragraph which I couldn't really figure out. Was that just to make the book longer?


I am now about halfway through Matrix, which I was so excited to read because I love Lauren Groff. But... I don't know if I can do it. If you've read this book, you know what I mean. Where are the quotation marks? I'd debating if I should abandon it - the parts about 12th-century life are pretty interesting/horrifying, but I don't know if I can slog through more religious visions to get there.

We're now halfway through February, and daylight savings time starts in less than a month! The increased light has had a huge impact on improving my mood and energy, and I can't wait until spring.

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

My Favorites: Handwritten Books

In college I couldn't decide between English and Art History, so I majored in both. It should come as no surprise that I have a slight obsession with a niche genre of book: those that are hand-written. I'm not talking about comics or graphic novels, both of which I do enjoy, but books where the author has actually written out the text of the book in their handwriting. Most often this is accompanied by art. Now, if Amazon reviews were to be believed these books are "annoying" and "unreadable", but my glasses-aided eyesight is up to the task! (Note: Don't read reviews on Amazon, stick to Goodreads. I have seen so many 1-star reviews because "the book arrived too late" or "the book was damaged" when it just had a deckled edge.) Here are some of my favorite authors and books.

Another note: it's possible that some of these books are not completely handwritten, but were composed in a font that is based on the author's handwriting. I spent much time comparing letters to try to figure this out, but then my brain exploded.

Lynda Barry

Lynda Barry is the queen of this genre and I adore all of her books. Every page is a combination of words, drawings, doodles, and collage. She has published many books in this format, but my favorites are What It Is and Picture This, which focus on creativity, writing, and where images come from.


Susan Branch

You may know Susan Branch from her illustrated cookbooks, but she has also written three memoirs that are illustrated by hand: The Fairy Tale Girl, Martha's Vineyard - Isle of Dreams, and A Fine Romance. The first two books cover her life in California and divorce, and then her move to Martha's Vineyard and start of her career as a professional artist. A Fine Romance is a travel journal of a trip to England which is great inspiration for keeping an illustrated journal.


Vivian Swift

I have read just one of Vivian Swift's books, When Wanderers Cease to Roam: A Traveler's Journal of Staying Put. It was published in 2008, but it turned out to be quite appropriate for pandemic times.


Danny Gregory

Danny Gregory has written many, many books in his signature sketchbook-like style. Some are memoirs and others are instructional drawing books. My favorite is The Creative License, which is focused on drawing and journal-keeping, but has a lot of great advice about creativity in general. Of all these artists, Danny Gregory is the one who makes me want to draw more. He makes it seem so accessible; he even has a book called How to Draw Without Talent.


Claudia Nice

Claudia Nice writes how-to books mainly about watercolor and pen-and-ink drawing. The textures she can achieve with watercolor are mind-blowing. I have Creating Textures in Pen and Ink with Watercolor and How To Keep a Sketchbook Journal, both of which are beautiful, but a lot more intimidating than Danny Gregory's books! I love looking at the work of accomplished artists though, and all of her books are worth studying if you are a watercolor artist. Note that although she has published multiple books, some of them repeat content.


Mary Woodin

Mary Woodin's The Painted Garden is charming. This book is a chronicle of her year in the garden, and is a bit more sparse than some of the others listed in this post, but I particularly love her watercolor flowers. I was so excited when I saw that Anne of My Giant Strawberry was writing an illustrated journal like this - in fact I think I heard of this book on her blog.


Lauren Redniss

Lauren Redniss is a new-to-me author that I only heard of a few weeks ago, so I haven't read any of her books yet. I did purchase Century Girl which is visually stunning. Unlike the authors above, Redniss uses mainly collage as her medium, which gives her books more of a scrapbook feel. Her books are also not personal journals or artist how-tos, but history and biography.



Do you like reading these types of books, or is it too hard on the eyes? Are there any authors I'm missing?