Adventures in flora, fauna, food, and the great unknown.

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A little strange

Last year was a year of big changes for our little family. We’d been saving as much as possible for years, started researching and looking earnestly in April, and by mid-June had closed on our first home. The whole process was both intimidating and exhilarating. So it’s not without a hint of amusement and disbelief that I say that the best thing I bought last year may well have been an e-reader. It’s ridiculous, on the face of it—that something so small and cheap (relatively speaking) could have made such a difference—but it’s not an exaggeration to say that it’s changed my day-to-day life about as much as home-ownership has.

As a kid, I was always a reader. On my first day of kindergarten, our teacher helped us record our goals for the year; mine was to learn to read, and so I did, and more and more as the years went by. I devoured books. I’d curl up alone in a chair with a book at family parties, invariably thought of as either “bright” or “a little strange,” depending largely on whether the the beholder was a reader themselves. I’d lose myself in mysterious worlds more satisfying than the one I found myself in. And I wrote—poetry and stories—sought to understand myself and others through words, to cope with the incomprehensible, to birth beauty and process pain.

My reading tapered off a bit as I neared the end of high school, and all the more throughout college. As an English major, I was still reading plenty of books, but all assigned, very little for pure pleasure. When I entered the workforce, after spending each day copyediting scientific manuscripts, the last thing I felt like doing in the evenings was reading even more. I still considered myself a reader, but only rarely I actually read—maybe eight books a year on average. I had lost something along the way.

Years passed. “I was happier when I was reading,” I thought to myself one day in early September. “I want to get back to that again.” My whole life, I’ve had something of a love affair with paper—there is nothing on this earth like a used bookstore, the scent of it, the feel of pages beneath fingertips—but the idea of an e-reader had been meandering through my mind for a while, and I had a bunch of unused cash-back rewards on my credit card. “What the heck,” I thought, and charged full-speed ahead. The combination of having so many books right at my fingertips, the simplicity of the e-ink display, the lack of distractions, and the lightness and ease of reading in bed changed everything for me. A fire was re-lit. My love affair with paper endures, will always endure (yes, I am still reading paper books), but I also haven’t looked back since.

In 2017, I read 32 books, almost all of those from September on. I thought it would be fun to take a look at some numbers (inspired somewhat by Jessamyn West) this year and beyond, to get a sense of what I’m reading and how it’s evolving:

  • Total read: 32
  • Fiction: 18 (56%)
  • Non-fiction: 13 (41%)
  • Poetry: 1 (3%)
  • By female authors: 19 (59%)
  • By male authors: 13 (41%)
  • By authors of color: 2 (6%)
  • Favorites, fiction: The MaddAddam trilogy (Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood, and MaddAddam; Atwood), The Fifth Season (Jemisin), Station Eleven (Mandel)
  • Favorites, non-fiction: Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea (Demick), The Shepherd’s Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape (Rebanks)

I’m pleased that I managed to read so many books by women without making an effort, but I could clearly stand to be much more diverse in my reading, so if you have any recommendations, leave them in the comments. I’m especially partial to science fiction, dystopias, smart fantasy (I’ll skip the generic/derivative stuff, thanks), historical fiction, and microhistory. I am admittedly somewhat whimsical in my reading, following moods as they strike me, and that’s not likely to change—but if it’s on my To Read list, I’ll get to it eventually, so that’s where I’ll start.

I’ve knocked off eight books already in January. For the first time in a long while, I’m confident that it’s going to be a good year for the written word.


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There once was a thing called blog

It’s been a while—far too long, really—but 2017 has been remarkably draining for a great many reasons (some good, some bad), and most days it’s been all I could do to keep my life at least vaguely in order; writing posts and editing photos for a mostly unread blog has just not been high on my list of things to accomplish. But as the cold air settles in and I surround myself in hand-knit woolen goodness, a faint creativity begins to sparkle in the shadows, and I find myself wanting to stretch those writing muscles again. I aim to do better in 2018 and beyond, and I hope you’ll join me.

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Sew easy, sew hard

For months now, I’ve been talking about how I wanted to learn how to sew. Both my mother and my mother-in-law had sewing machines languishing in basements, just waiting to be used and loved, and both offered them up to me. Last weekend, I finally got my hands on one of them, and I got right to work.


Well, okay. Before we get too ahead of ourselves, let’s back up a moment. In truth, I got my hands on two machines. The first is that absolutely gorgeous Singer—which, based on a very limited amount of research, I believe to be a model 15-91 born in 1948. (Her name, if you’re wondering, is Evelyn.) The second is a newer (but not new) Singer Esteem II.


It’s the latter one that I’ve decided to use for now. I figured I’d have enough to learn without adding an older machine to the mix; most of the tutorials I’ve seen, including the Craftsy class I’m learning from, focus on newer models. I didn’t want to overcomplicate things unnecessarily at the beginning.

Don’t worry, though; Evelyn isn’t going far. She’s returning to my mother-in-law’s, where she will reside, in the table designed just for her, until we have the space to give her a permanent home.


Fast-forward again. That first day, I spent a bunch of time cleaning and oiling the machine; learning to wind bobbins, use the automatic needle threader, and bring up the bobbin thread; and sewing on some scrap fabric with a few of the available stitches, at various tensions and widths. Basically, I played—but I was also quite eager to actually make something.

Now, if you’ve been paying any attention at all, you know that I’m a knitter. It seemed logical, therefore, to make my first sewing project be a project bag. (It’s important to cultivate one’s Vulcan instincts.) I picked out some nice cotton quilting fabric and a similarly shaded trim for a drawstring, and followed along with this pattern from Purl Soho as best I could.


It was both easier and more difficult than I expected—suitably challenging.Cutting straight lines in fabric is totally different than in paper, and my edge was a bit ragged and uneven; thank goodness the rotary cutter I ordered gets here soon. The fabric wanted to tug every which way (I suspect that would be less of an issue if I had a bigger workspace or, better yet, a proper sewing table to set the machine into), so my straight lines aren’t straight. I had to relearn how to iron; I pressed more fabric for this small bag than I have in the last ten years. Some things were left unsaid that are probably second-nature to those with experience, but not to me; I improvised as needed. I struggled with folding the bag to mark off the gusset, and the first gusset seam that I made needed a visit with the seam ripper. But in the end, after  (all things considered) not all that much time and effort, I had a functional (and pretty) project bag. Goodbye Pretty Cheep—you were great for what you were, but there’s a new game in town, and her name is JD.


The colors in these photos are a little off, but trust me when I say that both the fabric and drawstring trim are lovely shades of silver; they really compliment each other quite nicely.

So what’s next? More of the same, but with this pretty blue fabric and a lighter gray drawstring. I’m hoping to make some adjustments, though—in particular, I’d really like to  add a zig-zag stitch to the seams to reduce unraveling. I had actually intended to do this for the silver bag, but it only dawned on me after I sewed the gussets that I really should have done that earlier in the process, when there was no interference from the perpendicular seams. That’s okay; mistakes are how we learn.


In case it’s not immediately obvious, I am hopelessly drawn to tendrilled, art nouveau-esque designs. But this is the fantastic thing about crafting—customization, coupled with the thrill of creation. I find so much satisfaction in making, even (and sometimes especially) in the fledgling stages of learning a new skill. And more and more, as you improve, you find that you’re able to take your vision and make it reality.