Friday, June 7, 2024

The Great Big World

Right after I published my last post, I saw that Jeremy at Read More Books had written about two books that are probably a lot more articulate about the flattening of culture. Check out his post!

Sometimes I avoid starting a blog post because I think it has to be paragraphs and paragraphs with tons of photos. That amount of work is overwhelming - so I'm going to make this one a short one, and hopefully relieve some of that pressure and post more often!

About every 5 years I convince my employer to pay for me to attend a conference, and you better believe I choose that conference based entirely on where it is located. This year, I found one in Portland, Oregon, a city and state I have always wanted to visit. The conference itself was held in what I can only term the "dungeon" of a hotel, rooms with no windows, dim lighting, and visible air ducts. And they didn't even give us a free totebag! The Portland weather was typically rainy, which hardly mattered due to the lack of windows. 

I enjoyed the city but didn't see much of it, spending my time as a dungeon-dweller 9 hours a day. I visited Powells, the largest used bookstore in the world, but other than that, I missed many of the main attractions. I didn't mind because that's not what I was looking forward to; after the conference ended I headed out to see the more wild parts of the state (and neighboring Washington.)

I lucked out SO MUCH on the weather. For the remainder of the fun part of my vacation, the skies were clear and sunny. I visited Cape Disappointment in Washington, then drove down (over the extremely terrifying Astoria Bridge) to Cannon Beach in Oregon.





I was in awe of this beautiful place. Most of the time, I could hardly believe I was there. Pretty much all I did was walk around - over 90,000 steps over the course of the week! I'm not a big foodie (most of my meals came from Safeway) and I'm not a big shopper, so walking along trails and the beach was the best I could ask for.

Next I turned myself around and drove east, back through Portland to the Columbia River Gorge. As a waterfall lover, I was in heaven! My first stop was Multnomah Falls, which is the tallest waterfall in Oregon. From the bottom it was easy to look up and say, sure, I'll walk up to the top, but about switchback 11 of 17 (they were helpfully labeled) I was starting to regret my decision. I always finish what I start, though, and almost 1000 vertical feet later I was looking down at the falls from the top.



I also sampled Horsetail Falls, Wakena Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls, most of which also involved a great deal of up and downhill walking. The next day my calves froze and I hobbled around, but it was worth it.



On my final full day, I achieved a life-long goal of walking part of the Pacific Crest Trail! I have long been obsessed with long-distance hiking (mainly reading about other people doing it), and the PCT is the ultimate beautiful long trail at 2,650 miles. I hiked a connecting trail up to the PCT and hiked to Lake Gillette.




It was nearly 90 degrees that day, and a lot of the trail wasn't shaded, but I powered through because how often does one get to hike the PCT?? I sat by the cool stream above to have my lunch. When I finally returned to my car, I was completely sweat-soaked and dehydrated, but because I still had to return the rental car and take a shuttle to my airport hotel, I spent the next several hours very gross, and I'm sorry to everyone at Safeway who passed by me later that day!

This was an amazing trip that I will forever be thankful for. It seems like whenever I travel, something goes wrong - bad weather, long waits, delayed flights, weird noises in hotel rooms. On this trip, the forces of the universe must have aligned because nothing went wrong.

Oregon is now one of my favorite states, and I will definitely be back!

Thursday, May 2, 2024

Against Sameness

I'm not sure if you are aware: a very famous pop star released a new album last week. Now, I have nothing against said pop star, but think, have you heard of any other albums being released lately? Surely, that must have happened?? (Other than Beyonce's.) I have been struggling with sameness, a consequence of this hyper-connected society. What is happening to our collective creativity when all of our inputs are the same? This article explains how the publishing industry is basically run on celebrity memoirs and Colleen Hoover. Now, as a reader I have not had difficulty finding boundless wonderful books to capture my attention. But how many more talented authors are not being published because they don't have social media reach, or are writing in styles other than the most popular? Aren't we all missing out?


There has been a lot of talk recently about artists being paid for their work. Many are using platforms like Substack and Patreon to create income streams for themselves. Here's the thing, though: this is still all still rooted in capitalism. Consumers will only consider paying for content if they like that content. As an artist, your potential reach is limited by how palatable and consistent your product is. You guessed it: this leads to sameness. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we had the freedom to create what we needed to create without the pressure of sales? I salute everyone working that day job and creating on the side, everyone publishing free blog posts just for the love of it, everyone who tries new things and shares them without guarantee of payment and success.


When I discover someone who is doing something I have never seen before, I jump with joy. People like Maira Kalman, Ella Frances Sanders (her newsletter is the best I have read), and this guy who writes a daily story on his typewriter. There are people making giant artworks and embarking on ridiculous life experiments for no reason other than they think it will be fun or interesting. And that is the way to live, my friends! My antidote to sameness is limiting what I consume online. Short videos (reels and the like) have been creeping in, so I now avoid them at all costs. I try to only go on Instagram when I have to post something for my business. I stick to YouTube videos by channels I am subscribed to. And of course, I love everyone's blogs about their everyday lives. What other artists should I be paying attention to?



In other news, I picked up my final pottery pieces, which are the most functional I have made such far. I dream of a day I can have my own pottery setup at home, but I know I don't have the time or space for that in my life right now. I love that I can see improvement from the several months I took classes. I will have to pause my practice for now, however, as flower season has started.





Tulips were fast and furious, then over in 3 weeks. Every year I say I'm not going to grow them anymore, and then I few weeks later I put in my order for next year.


I picked up this typewriter at a local thrift store for only $10! I didn't need a typewriter, but who could say no to this beauty from the 1970s? After I installed a new ribbon, it works like a charm.


I finally finished spinning this fiber that was on my wheel since 2020. It's a 3-ply that worked out to about a heavy fingering, so if you are a spinner, you know those are verrrrrry thin singles and why it took me so long to spin this 4 ounces. I'm not enthused by spinning these days (if this is not the perfect illustrative example) but I'm keeping my wheels (plural) because you never know what will inspire.



I also finished up this giant shawl I've been knitting all winter. The pattern is Lake Constance and the yarns are a mismash of various things I had in my stash; I do know that the gradient is Stroll from Knitpicks. The shawl turned out way bigger than I usually knit shawls, but I didn't even finish the pattern! I knew I had to stop early before it took over. I am going to pause on knitting shawls for the time being and work on more wearable knits to incorporate into my dream handmade wardrobe. 

I hope you all are having some warmer temperatures where you are. Coming out of the dark and dreary winter is the best feeling!

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Reading Lately: Winter 2024

Reading Lately

On January first I woke up and something had happened to my brain. It turned back on! After spending a lot of the past year reading fast, short, catchy, and new books, I started craving slower literary fiction that would make me think. I am still sprinkling in plenty of memoir and mysteries, consciously avoiding the call of the New Titles shelf at the library and the "must reads" that publishers are trying to sell us. I've logged over 1,000 books since I started tracking my reading, so it's about time to start trusting myself to know what I like.

I read more than these eight titles during the first quarter of the year but these are my favorites:


Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff: This has been one of my favorite books since I first read it in 2015. I have been wanted to re-read my favorites to see if they stand the test of time, so I checked this out on audio. It turns out I had forgotten a lot about the plot of this book so it was just as enjoyable reading it the second time. The book is the story of Lotto and Mathilde's marriage, told from both of their perspectives. The characters in this book have so many secrets and are not likeable, but I'm of the belief that unlikeable characters does not equal a "bad" book. Groff's writing is absolutely beautiful and the characterization perfect. 

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout: Everyone loves Olive and now I understand why. Told in interconnecting stories, this book is about a small town and its inhabitants, with Olive playing a role in most of the townspeople's lives. Grumpy and sometimes downright mean, she has a good heart hardened by a difficult past. She is one of the most real characters I've ever read. I'm looking forward to reading more by Strout.

Dinosaurs by Lydia Millet: Usually when I pick up books randomly they are a miss, but I was pleasantly surprised by this one. This is the story of Gil, who walks from New York to Arizona after a breakup. As it turns out, he's very rich and doesn't have to work for a living. He forms a relationship with the family next door, who he watches through their glass-walled living room. This sounds creepy, but it's not! Gil is such a nice man, and uses his privilege to volunteer and help others. This was a slow-ish read, but not boring. I think the world needs more novels about nice people.

North Woods by Daniel Mason: Another novel told in interconnecting stories, this is a book not about people, but the land. Mason follows one parcel of land in Western Massachusetts over hundreds of years, describing the evolution of a house and the people who occupy it. Most of the stories are completely captivating and original, but my favorite thing about this book is how Mason respects the reader's intelligence. He doesn't explain everything outright, but trusts that if you read closely, you pick up on the full story. This is my pick for the Pulitzer this year, I hope I'm right!

River East, River West by Aube Rey Lescure: This book is told in two timelines, one following 14-year-old Alva in 2007 Shanghai, and the other from 1985 moving forward, telling the story of Lu Fang, Alva's stepfather. Alva is mixed race: her unknown father is Chinese and her mother is white American. The coming of age story isn't unique in itself, but the setting is not something I knew a lot about which made the book compelling. There is a lot of history and secrets that are revealed as time goes on. I don't think this will win the Women's Prize, but I'm glad I was introduced to this book through its nomination on the longlist.

Survive the Savage Sea by Dougal Robertson: Continuing on my mission to read every lost at sea survival story ever written, I picked up this memoir written in the early 70s. When whales sink their boat, a husband and wife, their twin sons, and a young man who was helping them on their boat survive 37 days on the ocean. This was the first survival book I have read involving children (I think they were around 12) and that added a higher element of stress. Having hope for rescue and putting all your effort into survival seems like the common theme among all these books. Also, knowing what you are doing - I have no idea how someone can navigate and sail in a certain direction without any tools, but this guy did it and saved his family!

The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner: So many trigger warnings for this book about the author's life growing up in a polygamous cult in Mexico. With countless siblings and half-siblings, Wariner's family is in constant danger from abhorrent living conditions, frequent traveling, an abusive stepfather, and poverty. Wariner is sexually abused and describes the abuse exactly, which is sickening to read, so heads up if this is something that you want to avoid. I felt so much anger toward the adults in this situation who didn't act to stop these awful things. Eventually, Ruth escapes with her youngest siblings and raises them herself. This book reminded me of Educated by Tara Westover, where the beliefs of adults lead to their inability to protect their children, and ultimately lead to tragedy.

A Ghost in the Throat by Dorieann Ní Ghríofa: For some reason I thought this book was fiction when I picked it up, but it's actually a memoir. Combining the author's experience of motherhood with the life of an 18th-century female poet, this book has a hauntingly beautiful quality. Ní Ghríofa is a poet and this fact shines through in her writing. One reason why I personally enjoyed this so much is because I studied abroad in Ireland at University College Cork, which is the same university that the author attended. We are exactly the same age so I can only assume we were there at the same time - the mentions of places in Cork that I remember drew me back to this time.

Women's Prize Longlist 2024

I have never been too interested in literary prizes in the past, but after reading so many excellent blog posts and watching reading review videos I have caught the bug. Like many other readers, I had not heard of most of the books on the Women's Prize Longlist for 2024. It was fun to go through the list and identify the most intriguing ones to add to my TBR stack. I won't be reading all 16 books; more likely about half of them, because I'm not about forcing myself to read something I am not interested in. My library had several of them and I ordered Soldier Sailor and The Maiden from Blackwells since I couldn't find a way to access these titles otherwise. A few others (Ordinary Human Failings and 8 Lives of a Century-Old Trickster) I reserved on audio.


So far I have finished River East, River West (loved-see above!) and am halfway through The Wren, The Wren. I am losing interest in this one: the writing is beautiful and unique, but it's not enough to un-bore me. I am not connecting with any of the characters and am really over the "messy millennial" trope. I am willing to overlook a lack of plot if the characters are well-drawn and fascinating, but I feel like I've read this story before. I have also started Brotherless Night, which is set amid the Sri Lankan civil war, and I think it's going to be a great read.

I love that so many of the longlist titles take place across the globe and are by new-to-me authors. I definitely will not finish most of these by the time the shortlist is announced on April 24. Are you reading any prize lists this year?

Saturday, March 9, 2024

Late Winter

I recently finished my second ceramics class, an 8-week series. I spent my last class in the glazing room with several other students, finishing up our projects. Questions and advice flew from one woman to another as we made decisions about what glazes to avoid, what to layer, how to finish the bottoms of our pieces. A young student in her early twenties timidly asked us older ladies for guidance, so nervous about making a mistake. I wanted to tell her that in general mistakes are not a big deal, and us middle-aged ladies love sharing what we know - but that confidence comes with time and boy, am I glad I'm not 20 anymore.



I loved my teacher for this class, a no-nonsense lady in her 70s. She is one of those few teachers who can read her students and strike the perfect balance between offering advice and encouragement, and allowing us to make our own discoveries. I'm not thrilled at how my mugs came out, but I sure learned a lot by making them. Surprisingly, I've found myself less attached to the final products than I thought I would be. I think this comes from knowing that the first knitted object will be wonky, and the 100th will be glorious. That the first flower bouquet will be uninspired, but the 200th and 300th might be something special. It's now time to focus on the flowers, but I hope to return to the ceramics studio in the fall to keep learning.


I think we underestimate how important it is to find the people who are interested in the same things as we are. I have a wonderful group of friends who are all artists in different ways - writers and cooks and home designers - but there was something special about being in a room with six people all covered with clay, discussing the best brand of underglaze.

I am also a member of my state's cut flower grower's association, predictably full of flower nerds of all types. But, getting a group of farmers off their farms and into the same room is virtually impossible. And once the flowers start blooming, we're all off in our own worlds. Is there a particular interest you have? Skydiving or weaving or ultramarathoning? Find your people - it will make all the difference. If you're an introvert like me and nervous at the thought of joining a group of knitters or runners or potters that you've never met, trust me, it's worth it.


We had proper snow in January, so much that the school district exceeded their planned TWO snow days. (Climate change is real but that's overly optimistic in a district that has literally closed for wind.) We now have an "asynchronous learning" day to make up for the snow day. No one really knows what that means but sure, I bet the kids are all going to be studiously doing their work at home. Remember that time there was a pandemic and we all had our kids trying to do online school for a year while we also tried to work and take care of a toddler at the same time? Actually, let's not remember that.







A few weekends ago the kids were at their grandparents' house, and I had a lovely solo day. I went to visit a flower subscriber who is also a yarn dyer at an event she was holding at her studio. We ended up chatting for an hour! (Of course I also bought some yarn.) After stopping at Tractor Supply to buy chicken wire to keep rabbits out of the tulip bed, I took a short hike at a local park. I think these pictures illustrate the hardest part of winter in this region. It's brown. So brown. We rarely get snow to brighten the landscape, and for the majority of the days the sky is also gray. 

The daffodils are about to bloom, I have 4 yards of compost in the driveway, and 800 seedlings in the basement. Brighter days are not far off now.

Saturday, January 13, 2024

Another Year Ends

I will refrain from commenting on how fast the past year seemed to go, as that appears to be the pace of life. In December I wrapped up my first pottery class, bringing home nine completed pots. Everyone in my class commented on how productive I was, but you know me - have to get my money's worth! My goal was to learn and practice as much as possible, with little expectations for the finished products. My vessels just ended up how they did. They are all fairly small and I plan to give most of them away. I have already signed up for and started my next class, which is completely student-led. There are students of all levels, so everyone picks their own projects and asks for help when they need it. I'm working on some mugs now and hope to make some larger items that can be actually used in kitchen. Then I'll have to take a break until next fall, as flower season is upon us.


I also finished another pair of shortie socks. I almost always have a sock on the go because they are so portable and the project fits so comfortably in my hands. I've gone beyond the point of needing any new socks. However, I will continue to make them because I love the process. I did make a slight mistake when I neglected to change the toe color on one of the socks, but I don't care at all, and it's very likely the toes will never even be seen, tucked inside my shoes.



We had our first snow in December, the first in over 18 months! It didn't last long, but the kids were excited to finally have enough to play in. As an adult, I am well experienced in the annoyances that snow can bring, like shoveling and cancelled school. The transformation to the brown landscape is worth it though, right? It makes winter seem like a destination rather than something to get through on our way to spring. Despite predictions of a snowy winter by all the local weather forecasters, I am doubtful we'll ever go back to consistently snowy times.


While waiting for a kid attending a birthday party, I unexpectedly came across this bookstore overflowing with character. Once I started browsing, I quickly found it overwhelming, but it was still fun to search for treasures. In the end, I didn't find anything special enough to be worth buying.


Christmas happened - this was the first year that the kids were old enough not to receive any oversize plastic gifts, and I was overjoyed. There were many craft kits gifted which I am hoping will at least last a month.




After Christmas we headed to my parents' house in Virginia. I always enjoy walking in their neighborhood, which includes a lake and a marina with a marshy feel, heading out to the river, the bay, and eventually the sea. At some point I need to figure out a way to get my hands on a kayak!


I have been seeing dehydrated citrus decorations all over the internet for a few years, and I finally tried it. And, I probably will not again - it took TEN HOURS to dry the oranges in the oven. They turned out brownish in the end because I kept turning up the heat in an attempt to speed up the process. I made a garland with some dried strawflowers and am happy with how it turned out. If anyone knows a better way to try oranges, let me know!

I love the feeling of a new year and the opportunity for a reset. In the past I would have been thinking about my accomplishments from the past year and figuring out a way to be the most productive and efficient going forward, but my mindset is shifting. I don't have any goals for the year, other than to keep doing the things I enjoy. It seems that many of my fellow bloggers are doing the same thing! 

I don't have any goals or schedules in mind for this blog, so I'll just be posting as the whim strikes. More and more I find myself wanting to experience my life instead of writing about it. I do want to share the beauty I can capture, so be assured there will be a deluge of flower pictures as usual.

Happy New Year to you all!

Thursday, January 4, 2024

Read in December 2023


At the beginning of the month I decided that I wanted to break my all-time reading record of 101 books in a year. So, I went to the library and scanned the shelves for the thinnest books I could find. This turned out to be a fun exercise and led me to pick up several books I wouldn't have otherwise. If I didn't like them, then the time commitment would be low. I did it: I read 115 books in 2023!

Because there are so many, I'm doing brief reviews and ranking the books by how much I liked them. I'll be back soon for my 2023 Reading Wrap-Up!


You Could Make This Place Beautiful by Maggie Smith

    An absolutely gorgeously written memoir about the author's divorce

Dancing At the Pity Party by Tyler Feder

    A sensitive and raw graphic memoir of the author's mother's death at a young age

The House At Riverton by Kate Morton

    A very Downton Abbey-type feel. All of Morton's books are so readable and immerse you in the past.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

    A re-read to celebrate my age being the meaning of life (if you know, you know). One of the funniest books I have ever read!

Into the Planet by Jill Heinerth

    Heinerth is a cave diver: yep, swimming into tight caves filled with water. Everything she does is so incredibly dangerous you will be screaming "WHYYYYY?" constantly.

So Late in the Day by Claire Keegan

    Three brilliant short stories. I don't know why there isn't just one Claire Keegan book containing all of her stories and novellas in one. I'm sure it's just a way for publishers to make a profit!

Fire Story by Brian Fies

    A graphic memoir about the author's home burning down in a wildfire. 

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

    Following the collective lives of Japanese women immigrating to the US in the 1920s (I think?), this short book has no named characters and is told in the first-person plural. The structure was creative, I learned a lot, but I probably would have become annoyed if it had been a longer book.

The House of Doors by Tan Twan Eng

    Set in the early part of the 20th century in Penang, we follow the author Somerset Maugham and the family that he's visiting. Beautifully written with a strong sense of place.

The Life-Changing Manga of Tiding Up by Marie Kondo

    Nothing new if you've read Kondo's other books, but it's a cute illustrated story about a woman who is helped by Kondo to clean up her apartment.

The Christmas Appeal by Janice Hallett

    I didn't realize this was part of a series, so I missed a lot of background on the characters. The whole story is told in emails and texts. The mystery wasn't engaging but there were tons of funny lines.

Look at the Lights, My Love by Annie Ernaux

    A memoir entirely about superstores; relatable because we've all experienced what these places are like!

The Young Man by Annie Ernaux

    Truth be told, this should not be considered a book. It's an essay about the author's affair with a man much younger than herself. Well-written and insightful.

In Light Years There's No Hurry by Marjolijn van Heemstra

    This reminded me SO MUCH of Enchantment by Katherine May. There is even an identical scene! Read if you are very into outer space.

Going Zero by Anthony McCarten

    A fun thriller about 10 people who are in a contest to disappear for 30 days - if a big-brother-type corporation can't find them, they win 3 million dollars. I liked the strategies that the contestants tried, but about 2/3 of the way through the book jumped a big 'ol shark.

It's Lonely At the Center of the Earth by Zoe Thorogood

    A graphic memoir about dealing with depression - can someone please write a memoir about kittens and ice cream?

And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer by Fredrik Backman

    A short novella about a man with dementia and his grandson. Heartfelt but a little on the cheesy side.

Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide by Isabel Quintero

    I had never heard of Graciela Iturbide before, who is a Mexican photographer. Her work is interesting, but the book is written in an avant-garde way that lost me.

A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow

    Not exactly a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, involves some other dimension travel(?) where somehow cellphones still work. 

Commute: An Illustrated Memoir of Female Shame by Erin Williams

    A graphic memoir about some hard subjects (alcoholism, sexual assault). I found it to be too much, too explicit, too intended to shock. [I'm ranking books based on my enjoyment of them, not on their merit, so you might connect with this one. Definitely these subjects shouldn't be silenced.]

Whew! Even reading through this list made me tired. I won't be repeating this level of reading for a long time. January is already shaping up to be a slow and steady month. Happy New Year everyone!