Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Mice Are Away, So the Cat Will ... Scrub Floors?

Above: The quilt I'm currently quilting. It's called Sit-In.

Speaking of islands (as I was last week), Will is off on his own island vacation. His friend Henry spends the summer on Harker's Island, which is an old fishing village in a part of North Carolina known as Down East. If you want a great shrimp burger or a wooden duck decoy, Harker's Island is the place to go. Henry very kindly invited Will to come visit for several days, and Will left this morning.

While Will's gone, I'm going to clean the floors in his bedrooms. Yes, that's right--Will has bedrooms, plural. He started out with just one, but it's a room that's flush against the walk-in attic and gets super-hot in the summer. Many years ago we started moving his bed across the hall into my (mostly unused) study when the weather got hot. Come mid-September, we'd push the bed back into his old room, which had cooled down by then.

At some point, Will permanently relocated to my old study, his former summer-only bedroom. Soon after, I found a pretty nice Ikea table by the side of the road and installed it in Will's first bedroom to make him a nice study area. Two summers ago Will and I painted the walls a very mature and sober dove gray. I found a futon couch frame on Craig's List for a hundred bucks, bought a futon and a small dark gray shag rug, and--voila!--a guestroom/study was born.

Will almost immediately moved back in. Yes, it was steamy, but the room looked so good he just couldn't resist. And somehow instead of being a guestroom/study, the room became part of Will's upstairs suite.

He actually keeps his study pretty clean. The bedroom? Not so much. One of Will's summer projects is to really, truly weed out his old tee shirts and socks and underwear from his dresser so that he can fit the clothes he actually does wear inside the drawers.

One of my summer projects is to empty all my old junk out of the closet and the desk drawers. I want Will to start high school with a clean and very organized slate.

To that end, I'm sprucing up the floors in both rooms. This involves hands and knees cleaning and then the application of mop-on floor polish. It will probably take three coats, but I just did Jack's room a month or so ago, and it really makes a difference. Not exactly like you've had the floors redone, but close.

I hope I'll get both floors done before Will comes back on Saturday. It's still so much easier to get work done in the boys' rooms if they're not around.

Here's something fun: The Man and I are going to pick Will up from Harker's Island on Saturday, and on Friday night we're going to spend the night in Kinston, NC, home of the somewhat famous Chef and the Farmer restaurant (and halfway between here and Harker's Island). Have you watched A Chef's Life on PBS? It's all about this restaurant and its wonderful chef, Vivian Howard. You can check it out here. I'll give you the report when we get back!

Saturday, July 8, 2017

I have a friend from Finland named Monica who moved to the States with her family ten or so years ago. Her husband, Dan, is an engineer. They've been a couple since high school and have four sons, the youngest of whom goes to school with Will. One of her older sons is in graduate school here in North Carolina, and her other two sons live in Europe.

Every summer, Monica returns to her home village with her youngest son, which means that every summer all of her Facebook posts are in Finnish. Finland in the summer looks very cool and inviting. North Carolina summers are anything but cool, although they're quite beautiful and the tomatoes are delicious. Whenever I start feeling too jealous of Monica and her Finnish summers, I think about the fact that it's very hard to grow tomatoes in Finland.

I've been thinking about Monica this morning because I just purchased via Amazon a book by Finnish author Tove Jansson called The Summer Book. It was first published in the early 1970s, but is periodically reprinted. Apparently it's a classic of sorts. Here's how Amazon describes it:

This brief novel tells the story of Sophia, a six-year-old girl awakening to existence, and Sophia’s grandmother, nearing the end of hers, as they spend the summer on a tiny unspoiled island in the Gulf of Finland. The grandmother is unsentimental and wise, if a little cranky; Sophia is impetuous and volatile, but she tends to her grandmother with the care of a new parent. Together they amble over coastline and forest in easy companionship, build boats from bark, create a miniature Venice, write a fanciful study of local bugs. They discuss things that matter to young and old alike: life, death, the nature of God and of love. “On an island,” thinks the grandmother, “everything is complete.”

I think I'd like to spend the summer on an island, albeit one with tomatoes. 

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Have I Mentioned the Garage?
I've just recently become acquainted with the paintings of Mississippi folk artist Theora Hamblett, and now I'm smitten.

The garage is the attic's cousin. Its temperament is sweeter than the attic's, its condition less grave. Also, you're less likely to collapse from heat exhaustion if you spend a summer's morning trying to impose some semblance of order upon a garage. The attic is no-man's-land after 9 a.m.

Still, the garage needs some work. A few years ago it was in relatively good shape. We even had room for a ping pong table so that I could school my children in the sport of kings. But then we sold our little house in the mountains and carried its contents back to Durham, where they have sat scowling in a corner ever since. In my experience, stuff attracts stuff, and junk attracts junk, and over the last two years the garage has become a sorry site indeed.
This morning I spent a very sweaty hour in the garage moving things around in order to move things around. We're going to need to hire a dump truck to haul junk to the dump and another kind of truck to haul stuff to the Goodwill. I'll also be making use of Jack and the minivan.

I believe that once the attic hears about what's going on in the garage, it's going to want to get in on the action. 
Travis, my good pup, has taken to sleeping on the foot of my and the Man's bed. He is getting old (as are we all) and can't tolerate being on his own at night any more. This is all fine and dandy, except that he's started waking me up around 6 a.m. It's like having a one-year-old again. Little Jack in particular was fond of getting up at sunrise. Me, less so. I will say that in the summer it's very nice to be up while the air is still cool, and so I usually let Travis convince me to go downstairs by 6:30.
Theora Hamblett was born in 1895 in Paris, Mississippi. Her paintings often depict scenes from her childhood. I learned about her from reading a book called Local Color: A Sense of Place in Folk Art by the folklorist William Ferris, who teaches at UNC-Chapel Hill. I didn't know when I ordered it that the book would primarily be comprised of oral histories by Mississippi folk artists. I was so delighted by Theora Hamblett in every way; not just her paintings, but her story. She grew up on a farm, became a teacher, and eventually became a painter (she took a correspondence course).You can learn more about her and three other women artists (including a wonderful quilter named Percolia Warner) in a short documentary film found here:  Theora Hamblett starts talking around minute 16:20, but it's all good stuff.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Attic Update

Corkey's Store, Ocracoke Island, NC

Alas, there is actually nothing to say about the attic. I have made very little progress since I last wrote. What happened is this: we had some friends over for dinner in early February, so I had to move all the stuff I pulled out of the attic back into the attic. And there it stayed and there it stays until the next time I work up a head of steam.

How've ya been? I've been pretty good, all and all. The spring was super-busy with getting Jack graduated from high school and getting Will baptized and confirmed and commenced from middle school. I had periods of moderate free-floating anxiety, which always happens when there are ceremonies to be attended and lots of small talk to be made. But everything went off without a hitch, and as usual all that worry was wasted.

Now we're back from our annual trip to Ocracoke Island and I'd love to think that things will settle down, but they won't. Will goes to soccer camp at the end of this week, and then next week he's going down East to Harker's Island with his friend Henry. On the 17th, Jack leaves for a week-long camping trip, and the week after that, Will is volunteering at a baseball camp for middle schoolers. Then we go to Kentucky for our annual family reunion, and a couple weeks later we take Jack to college.

Which is to say, no settling down for us.

I'm eyeballing my house (but not my attic) for ways to spritz things up a bit. Have you ever looked at around at your stuff and thought, 'This isn't what I meant at all?' I don't feel that way entirely, but the fact is I think I meant to have more painted furniture than I do. I think I was supposed to go to thrift shops and junk stores and buy roughed-up antique tables and chest of drawers and paint them red or aquamarine. Somehow I never got around to that. But there is a spot in my bedroom that is exactly right for a small lavender dresser, so now that's my goal.

I hope you're having a good July so far. It's early days, but July can be a long month for me. Summer doesn't always bring out my pretty side. Fortunately, I've got Travis, and he reminds me that life's too short not to be as cute as you can be. Wish me luck!

Travis says Happy 4th of July, Yanks!

Saturday, January 28, 2017

What My Saturday Looks Like So Far

The attic work has begun--again.

Now, if the Man had his way, we'd just throw everything in big plastic trash bags and take it to the dump. Even the good stuff. The Man is a Shock & Awe kinda guy. But me, I want to make sure all the good stuff goes to a good home. I want to box up craft supplies and take it to the Scrap Exchange. I want put together boxes of similar things (play camping gear, play kitchen stuff) that I can advertise on FreeCycle.

Which means it's going to be messier before it gets neater. But I have a dream, and right now I have an almost free Saturday to make my dream happen. To get a good solid start.

Are my outer messes physical manifestations of my inner messes? Part of me thinks that if I finally get my attic put to order, my brain will be put to order in some way, too. It will help clear out my head. Give my soul a little room to move around. Maybe that's crazy. Might be, could be.

Have I mentioned that I'm taking a sabbatical? Not from writing, but from most social media, too much news, anyone who stokes the fires of doom and gloom on a daily basis. I am intent on taking the long view. Is the sky falling? Maybe. But maybe not.  It won't fall if people of good will listen to each other more, call fewer names, seek communion with one another across our differences. But when I propose this as a possibility, I don't get a lot of buy-in. Even in church, I fear, so I'm taking a sabbatical from church as well. I want to get re-centered in my faith and my thinking. I want to look for a way ahead.

Yes, I do believe I'm cleaning out the attic in my head. I need more light shining in. Please keep me in your prayers.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Me, Again


Usually I write in the morning and run errands, go to the gym, meet with friends, what have you, in the afternoon. I pick up Will at 3:05, and after that I'm typically home for the rest of the day.

But today I had to do something late in the morning that was going to cut out a chunk of my writing time. So I decided to switch things around. I'd run my errands and go to the gym before my morning appointment, and then I'd write in the afternoon.

As soon as I came up with that idea, I wondered if maybe I shouldn't try switching things around on a more regular basis. Maybe not on the days I have lunch with friends (which I'm trying to limit to once a week), but on other days? I could get stuff out of the way and then sit down to write without those nagging thoughts that I have so much to do, so many errands to run. Also, my gym holds most of its classes in the morning, and I've been wanting to do yoga and stretch these old bones out.

I've written for two hours this afternoon, and plan on sitting down tonight around 7:00 (another good time of day for me--I'm often energized in the early evening) and do my last hour of work. So far I feel like the day has worked out well, and it's been fun to think that my errands are done as well as my exercise.

The thing is, I've been thinking a lot about things I'd like to change in my life, but I've felt sort of stuck. That attic I'm always writing about? Still a mess. And now, as we've collected the contents from the old mountain house my mother-in-law passed onto us years ago (and which we sold a few years back) as well as things  that the boys have outgrown or have outlived their use, the garage is another huge problem area. Will we ever get either of these storage spaces cleared out?

And will we ever get new counters and back-splashes in the kitchen? A new carpet in the living room? Will I ever lose twenty pounds?

Maybe by changing my schedule around, I'll open up windows of opportunities I wasn't aware existed. Maybe I can get some of that cleaning and organizing done with my morning energy, and still feel I've got plenty of juice to write later. I'll keep you posted! In the meantime, how do you get things done? Have you ever made a serious change in the way you do things?

Saturday, January 21, 2017

I Don't Know if I'm Back, But I Thought I'd Say Hi

A baby quilt I made in December. I still need to give it to the baby, but the holidays got in the way, and then the weather got in the way ... Soon!

It is a gloomy Saturday morning. I just dropped Jack off at school, where he boarded a bus to a debate tournament in Raleigh. In a little bit I'll eat breakfast and then work on some quilts. At 2PM, I'll meet my writing workshop girls at a nearby Barnes & Noble. Our group is small, and sometimes I think my presence isn't necessary, these girls are such good writers, but it's true I do keep them on track.

I had not meant to stop writing here when I last wrote, but I did. It was a hard, hard summer. My mother-in-law had a stroke in early July and died in late August. I have often relied on theologian Sam Well's words, "If you can't make it happy, make it beautiful," but we could make that time neither happy or beautiful. To protect the Man's privacy, I can't go into details, but the actions of some of his relatives made his life--and our life together--miserable. To give you some idea of what it was like, I actually convinced the Man, a total non-self-helper, to read a book called How to Talk to Crazy. I highly recommend this book if you have to deal with difficult people on a regular basis.

It's not really over yet, as the Man is the executor of the estate, which is a huge job. He finally hired an estate attorney to help him with some of the paperwork, and we're hoping everything will be taken care of by the end of the month.

Some nice things happened this fall. I published my first book for adult readers (it's about quilts and quilters--you can check it out here), and it's gotten a great response. I entered three quilts into the Modern Quilt Guild's national show, QuiltCon, and two were accepted. The show is next month in Savannah, GA, and I'm going! Jack applied early decision to Davidson College and was accepted, which he's very excited about (as are we all).

I've been working really hard, maybe too hard. The good news is, as soon as I get my show quilts mailed off to QuiltCon on Monday, I'm going to have a nice long period of quiet time.  I plan to write and quilt and to maybe take a hike or two, maybe find a new house cleaner (the old one didn't work out in the long run) to come in every couple of weeks to clean the bathrooms and mop the floors. I plan to take a little time off to do nothing. Doing nothing sounds really nice.

I hope this finds you well. I hope I won't be a stranger.