Monday, February 26, 2007

More February Magic

I've been between freelance projects and have some time on my hands. I could regale you with what's really going on, for instance, I'm wheezing away (asthma) or this...I saw a woman in her early 20's on the street today, perhaps 7 months pregnant and smoking. I nearly stopped to yell at her. I was sorely tempted.

However, I want this blog to be cheerful (yea! fake cheerful!) so here are some neat things I've been doing. I'm reading The Faith Club and thoroughly enjoying it. It's refreshing to see three intelligent, thoughtful women talk about religion, the thing that's on everyone's mind but that some consider taboo to talk about in polite company. Best part? My fabulous local library had this book available for check-out, right after I heard the review on NPR.

I don't miss the hustle and bustle of big city living when it's stressful, but I do miss the perks of living in the nation's capitol. While I was visiting the ancestral Seiff home, I bought Last-Minute Knitted Gifts at a used bookshop. It's a clever book, good designs, and I'm a big fan of the editor. The shop gave me an extra dollar off because of a little nick in the book jacket. Here's the DC quirk:

Yep, see this? The Library of Congress had two of this book, so I got the extra. It's like being held up in traffic for the president's motorcade, bound to happen to you sooner or later if you live in and around DC. I've gotten soft, I think, because a true Washingtonian would say, "Whatever," but this struck me as pretty cool.

This weekend the professor got out to the garden and planted seeds: radishes, lettuces and onions, in and around the mache and arugula that's already growing there. Here's a photo of a particularly tasty looking bit of mache. I'm saving it to eat when there are other garden greens, too.

This is our first daffodil. A little droopy, but a harbinger of things to come.

Thursday, February 22, 2007


Mememe...testing. I'm a "new" Blogger whether I want to be or not. Some change is apparently mandatory in this bloglife. Hmmm.

We are still organizing our thoughts (and blue toys) around here. Coughing and sniffling too, although heaven knows it's time for this cold to go away for good.

First, Jan's question:
Do artists ever take a sabbatical to change venues and restoke the creative fires and replenish their professional energy like professors do?

Wow, good question, Jan! Artists consider "residencies" this great idea. A residency is a chance to go stay somewhere really nice and write/make art, whatever. This is also stellar for the artist's CV, since people like to know that artists compete for places at these residencies and win. (grants, residencies, awards--all signs that this is a good artist! Snort. Wonder how Van Gogh did?) There are residencies all over the world, although most focus on the delights of nature and isolation. (read: no internet or other people) Often, there's an application charge to compete, and then a "per day" charge when you get there. Rarely, the residency allows you to bring your partner (how thoughtful) and there is almost always this clause: We do not allow pets.

The professor and I discuss these issues frequently, especially because I was sorely tempted by this Azores residency. We're still too young for his first sabbatical, though some days we're counting the minutes! We moved together to KY and I gave up my college teaching job so we wouldn't have to be apart and have a long distance, academic marriage. Also, life without my dogs is intolerable for more than a few days, because they give me exercise, companionship and a routine, and I worry about them in dog jail (the kennel) while I'm away. Oh, my office here? It's isolated, I see a lot of nature through the windows, AND I have internet access. It's hard to get excited about leaving the spouse, the dogs, the convenience of my actual office, and pay extra to go off into the wilds by myself, cause I mostly am, anyway.

Still, creative people need outside stimulation. While nature is great and I like it, I desperately need intelligent human interactions as part of my creative outreach. I partially solve this problem by travelling relatively frequently, on shorter trips. In March, for instance, during spring break, I plan to watch my hardworking professor collect butterflies someplace warm. He'll work. I'll knit. Then, I'll eat out, people watch, and travel home ready to write some more. Last year's trip to Greece was fodder, as was the trip to D.C. Getting out can be good.

Here's an (old) photo of the professor's sweater. I've now knit over 11 inches of the back. It's a corrugated slip stitch rib, it's flying along. The pattern beneath is a template--I'm not going to make a shawl collar, probably something more like a henley.
I've also blocked a swatch, tutored a student, washed the kitchen floor, and started the brisket cooking for tomorrow's dinner. While I wasn't looking, another of my "Letter from Kentucky" columns came out online here. I haven't solved all my deep career questions, but just like Blogger, it changes whether I'm ready or not. Sally's got the key: If you organize and prepare everything just so, you'll be game for whatever happens, right?

Monday, February 19, 2007

groovy contemplation

I've felt loopy, which is why I haven't posted. I'm fighting cold #3 of the season, which leads me to think that either a) there are a lot of bad viruses this year or b) my immune system's stressed or c) both.

I'm staring into space, which might be because of cold medicine. It also might be because I'm at a crossroads. The latest small snowstorm slowed life down and provided us with ample time to look out the window, take snowy walks, and enjoy the winter weather.

Part of my contemplation is this. I've now been freelancing as a writer and designer longer than I've done any other single job in my adult life. In some ways, it's been a success and gives me lots of pleasure--my recent grant from the Arts Council, for instance, or finding out that the yarn museum posted my latest silk skein online in their Anything Goes Gallery . (scroll to the right, you'll see my Kool-Aid silk there)

In other ways, it's been a struggle, even as I've had more articles and designs published. I've recently discussed some of this with Lynae as I've tried to sort things out. I'm a stickler for having patterns edited, for working with editors to do final, detailed readings of my patterns, even if the editors sometimes resent this. Yet, designing is not a lucrative--or even financially viable--field if you want to pay your bills. In my efforts to market my patterns without traditional publishing, I've tried some self-publishing on my website. While that's been rewarding creatively, it also hasn't been a huge success. For instance, I've only sold two Heart's Ease sock patterns. Since there are fees associated with selling via paypal, etc., I've made $7.16 off that design. It means that it's a labor of love, but not a living. I depend on article and photo sales for actual income...and it's not much.

I've been thinking about this, especially because I had one dependable ongoing university freelance job terminated, out of the blue, last week, without explanation. I suspect it's because they've run out of funds, but as a freelancer, no one owes me any more information.
What are my new goals? Where should I go next? What is my next big challenge? What's next on the horizon?

Sally the dog reminds me of creative joy whenever we mention "dinner" or a "walk". Here she is, doing her groovy dance of excitement, accompanied by urgent staccato barks, while the professor fixes her dinner.

I still feel this way, ready to bark and dance, about the creative aspects of what I do. Knitting for a few hours gives me a reassurance, a meditative bliss, and I'm captivated by the milky-tea light of the night sky before a good snowstorm. I want my "creative" snowstorm to be one that brings much needed water for the next growing season, peace, and beauty to the landscape. I don't want it to flood the basement and in the end, cost me money rather than bring me abundance. It's no wonder I'm pausing at the crossroads. In a big enough storm, one could get lost.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

I heart art

In the past, I've taught or shared poetry for Valentine's for family, lovers, friends, whatever. In that vein, I share Dakota, by Lowell Mick White. It's for you if you love animals or poetry, or both.

If not, or if you need some comforting after reading that incredible poem, (I know I did), here's some arty stuff to liven up your day. First, a new painting by my talented sister-in-law, Jennifer Seiff. I love it and can't wait to get it framed and hung up. Thank you! I'm lucky to have such talented relatives.

...Some handspun silk I've just finished. The first photo is the ball before I plied it. Finished, it is Navajo plied, hand-dyed with kool-aid, and worsted to bulky weight. Yes, I have some fine yarn I spun with this silk, but my naturally impatient nature said You should live so long! so I spun this 3 oz. thicker- instant gratification.
I love how the colors pop and remind me why no one should consume kool-aid (my family called it Bug juice)...or at least, not too often!

We have a local art festival here and I try to submit things every year. I've even won prizes once or twice. This past weekend, I used electric wire, beads and buttons to do this sculpturey thing. I think I'm calling it cosmos fabric or something like that. (the buttons are all those satellite dishes, lost like Pigs in Space) I used knitting and crochet techniques, mostly with my fingers, to do all those wire twisty bits. (shhh, twisty bits is a technical art term, can't you tell?) This is when you turn to the person next to you and say, Geez, can you believe she got an Arts Council Grant? Don't worry, it wasn't for my twisty sculpty skills. It's for my non-fiction. Whoosh, what a relief, 'cause the writing is so lyrical here...

I present hat #7 for the season. This is a stretchy cotton blue dog hat, and it's going to a special cousin in Miami. Joshie, check it out! Harry the dog didn't appreciate the modelling session, so the floppy tongue is hidden, but you get the point.

Tomorrow, I will wear my Heart's Ease socks for the very first time. Gotta love warm woolly feet in February.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

February magic

I've had a few emails with very kind worries over my stress and wintertime coping skills. All is fine--there are just a few things that, while not completely public blog material, are weighing on our minds around my Grandfather used to say, "It's a stage. This too shall pass!" In the meanwhile, I love your notes and comments. Here's what we're doing to pass the time around here.

It's been noted by the professor that even though I love snow and winter time activities, I cope with February, the longest shortest month, in very specific ways.
#1) I sleep. (Sally posed for this picture in the interval when I was not in bed. It was brief.) Who knew anyone could sleep so much? I compete with the bears. I also cook and eat tons this time of year--Yesterday's Shabbat dinner included a tagine with beef, carrots, apples, potatoes, prunes, onions, saffron, tumeric, coriander, and other spice delights. Challah, couscous, a green salad, and some red zinfandel rounded out the meal. For dessert, handmade 70% cocoa dark chocolate bark, with roasted pine nuts, salt and sugar embedded in it. (yes, this is the way that word might have been used, before the war in Iraq...)

#2) I consume books like cotton candy. Although our town has only one big bookstore and one small used one, we have a fabulous public library. It holds book sales to raise money to support its events. This time, I spent $7, and bought some old favorites to reread, and some new ones, too...(Cross Creek, The Shell Seekers, and Plain Jane are the old favorites, for those who are curious.) On an average week, I read a novel and listen to an audiobook each week. February isn't average here, especially because there's little snow to shovel, nowhere to ice skate, and still, the lows are in the teens at night. Aside from dog walks and an occasional lecture at the university, there's no reason to go outside! In the background of this photograph, you can see my cookbook shelf. Those are all cookbooks. I read those too. Current reading: Reading Lolita in Tehran (the author, Azar Nafisi, is coming to WKU to lecture this Tuesday) and Jay Weinstein's The Ethical Gourmet. I'm between audiobooks.

#3) I'm a Daddy's girl. My dad's hat, pictured in this entry, didn't fit him. I volunteered to make him another one. Since I'm always cold in the winter unless I wear a lot of layers, I sympathized with his need for extra warmth. Here's my newest solution:

This thick hat is magic in the warmth department. Doubled up, like some Scandinavian hats I've seen, it's reversible. One side is handspun brown wool and camel. The other side is handspun brown llama and wool, and Cotswold blue wool, plied with llama. Now, I hope it fits, because this is the 5th? hat I've knit this season..and as a double layer hat, this counts as my fifth and sixth! I've already started my 7th and last February hat for a little cousin. I'll send it all off in the mail soon.

Stay tuned for more ways of making cabin fever February magical. What's your magic for this month?

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

food & friends

I got home last night from my trip to see family and friends in Virginia and D.C. There were highlights and frustrations. This post has links, but lacks pretty photos. I'm sorry. I didn't bring the camera...

Bad stuff #1) It was so dang cold that I couldn't breathe. I wondered (not idly) if I might die in broad daylight while walking home to my folks' house from the metro station, which is all of a quarter mile from their house. The high that day was 10F. Then, their kitchen faucet froze up. That's cold.

Bad stuff #2) A neighbor recreationally set off 1 AM, several nights running. This made all of us grouchy. I tried to be good humored but since my body clock says "good morning, wake up!" by about 7, I found the firecrackers and bad manners frustrating. Luckily, the cold weather seemed to stop him or he froze to death trying to light them so by the last night I was there, I slept through the night.

Good stuff #1) I saw both my brothers, their wives, my folks, and my grandmother. We celebrated her 91st birthday here at L'Auberge Chez François. This was an incredible meal. Yes, we ate at 5 pm on Superbowl Sunday and the restaurant closed after it served us, but if I had to choose between this meal and any sporting event, well, there's no choice. Just look at the appetizers, Entrees,and the desserts, well, desserts. It was amazing. I had a chocolate soufflé for dessert, by the way.

Good stuff #2) I got to hang out with Nate, the incredible nephew, for quite a while. This one year old can really dance, especially to the Latin music. It's amazing! I love getting to be Auntie Joanne for a little bit. He's a rocking kid and decided to smile at me almost right away.

Good stuff #3, 4 and 5) I saw three good friends. One, a former student of mine, is home safe from Iraq, with all his bubbly good humor, sarcasm, and good looks intact. Seeing him was a delight, as usual, I'm so proud of how he "turned out" and I'm honored that he wants to keep up with me. (He reminds me that I used to be a hip English teacher once, and that I might still be interesting.)
- I saw the professor's second cousin, who just exactly our age, expecting her second kid, and she took me out for lunch where I ate potato knishes and chopped liver. (notice the food theme about visiting the hometown?)
-Then I saw my buddy from high school and we went out for Afghan food. Pat, who not only is part of a band, The Franchise, but he's a full-time writer who's gone and bought a house and become a grown up. He and his wife are going to be parents, too. Amazing, especially when I remember how he used to skip math to eat lunch with me in high school, just so we could take Algebra II together the next year. This guy is now a responsible adult. Hard to believe!

All considered, it was a nice break from the computer, the collegetown, and home. It was a great chance to eat ethnic food, buy books, talk with smart people, read a big city newspaper and get lots of hugs. I missed the professor and my dog guys, but we're all home again. Harry suffered--he hurt his nose somehow at the kennel, and Sally is hoarse from barking at the indignities of dog jail. It's hard to be the dog...

Friday, February 02, 2007


I heard all your helpful images and sugggestions. I remembered, Hey, these are only stressful things about my job, the professor's job, and our life here. I put it into context. The world is a mess right now. I'm warm, overly well fed, and my spouse and dogs love me. I'm just fine.
I was lucky enough to wake up to this snowy scene. Not only do I like snow, I wish for more of it, but I have to be satisfied with what little I's mostly melted, but here's what it looked like.

I finished this. You were right, knitting is calming. This is a table runner. I talked about this, and why I knit it, all the way back in June but I've had a request for the pattern, so I needed to knit another sample. I was happy to oblige, and not just because I had enough Euroflax left to do a second one out of the same skein! A miracle. In fact, I skeined the leftover ball, figured out the yardage, subtracted that from the amount on the ball band, and hey, wow--this is how to figure out the actual yardage used when it is less than a skein.

I'm going to be travelling this weekend, and I wanted to pass along this newfound, fragile calm. I'm so calm that I didn't even get upset because our clothes dryer seems to be broken. No heat, and I'm leaving tomorrow, and my wet clothes are draped around my basement and back porch. Oh well. I wish I were one of those people who just always hung out clothes to dry instead, but I haven't achieved that level of eco-goodness yet. My guess is that we'll have the dryer fixed, and keep it from ending up in a landfill. There, that's not a bad solution...although not as good in the long term as drying outside or an energy efficient dryer or or...oops. Losing my calm. Back to calming thoughts. Hmmm.

I'll leave you with one of the little, uneventful things that coax me into a smile, even despite these little hiccups in life like soaking wet clothes.

Sally has a new hobby. She collects and sorts and organizes all the dog toys. On the crocheted roving dog living room rug, she's organized all the plastic bones. Now here, on the office futon, that this is the place for stuffed squeaky toys and one dog towel for damp days. Harry messes up her organization every day, and she must clean up. It's no wonder why Sally was destined to find a home with us. She organizes and sorts just like the professor studies fruit flies and moths. Too bad she doesn't clean up for me the way she cleans up after Harry.