Emotional states for which the English language has no precise word

The mix of admiration, curiosity, and chagrin when you google your flunk-out elementary school bully and find that he now owns a law practice and is heralded for his professionalism and gentlemanly conduct;

The surprising burst of tenderness when you unexpectedly come across a photo of the aging parents of a former friend you haven’t seen in twenty years;

The ineffable consciousness of future loss triggered by the body heat left behind in your toddler’s doffed sandals;

Realizing that the entire purpose of a cat is simply to be a cat.

Third time’s the charm

Another baby, another 12-point star blanket. This is such an easy project to work up, simple to memorize, and I love the way it looks when finished. I’ve previously made this pattern (two ways) with Red Heart It’s a Wrap Rainbow in “foggy” (Levi’s blanket, Sami’s blanket); this blanket is for Mayah, an old friend’s baby girl, and since the package finally made it to her I can blog about it now!

This also uses Red Heart It’s a Wrap, but in their “Sprinkles” line rather than Rainbow. As you can see, Sprinkles is an apt name for it! All those lovely long colour changes are still present, but one of the four strands is variegated, which breaks it up visually and disguises the change-points somewhat. This colourway is called “sundae” and I got it from YarnCanada.ca (that’s not a referral link; they’re just my go-to).

As usual, this blocked up nicely. This is in my tiny little basement craft room, and it’s got almost the last bits of carpet left in our house — which I suppose I can’t get rid of or I’ll have nowhere to dry large projects!

And now that this is finished — both blanket and post — I’m going to take a drink and a book outside and enjoy the sunshine in our backyard. Happy Sunday!

One day this quilt will be all patches

Almost exactly two years ago, I posted about mending our wedding quilt, which I chose to do by employing visible mending. I love the philosophy of making repairs visible; they become part of the item’s story, a testament to the love and care we (hopefully) take with our things. Since that post I have put on a few more patches, using different colours and patterns of fabric from my scrap bin. The process for these is exactly the same: iron, cut, press seams, hoop, stitch, fini. I put on a large block patch over a long rent in the border, and a series of smaller ones that fold over some tattering edges.

Well, the quilt has continued to wear, as these things are wont to do, and it was recently time for another round of repairs. There was one hole I found in the centre of the quilt, but the borders showed a lot more damage. (Which makes perfect sense as those are the parts that get yanked on while making the bed or adjusting the covers during sleep.) And since I was a bit bored of patches, I decided to see what I could do with embroidery. Here is satin stitch covering the tear in the middle:

Another example of satin stitch on the border, as well as some… star shapes? We’ll go with that.

For this long rent, I decided to do a backstitch outline/border around the tears, and fill it in with running stitch. I like the effect of not patching this and letting the batting show through. Time will tell if the running stitches are enough to hold it in place, but I think they’ll do fine.

I did a few small sections (only one pictured) in a loose cross-stitch:

And finally, the part that took the longest: a blobby, backstitched spiral around and onto another large tear. It reinforces the fabric around the tear as well as being decorative.

All of this took me several good evenings of work after the children were in bed. It reminded me how much I enjoy hand sewing, and especially embroidery — which, prior to these repairs, I hadn’t done for probably a good fifteen years. But I’ve got the itch again; I’ve sent off for an embroidery kit, and I’m working on adding some embroidered embellishments to a heretofore rather plain tshirt. That will be revealed when it’s finished — well, at least if it turns out!

Going Home for Christmas / Going South

Once upon a time, I lived in a city that was a few hours north-east of my hometown. At the time I didn’t have a car (or a driver’s license, for that matter) so visiting my parents usually meant a long Greyhound trip. Sometimes, though, the train tickets went on a big enough sale that I could mentally justify the expense of the much pleasanter rail trip. I loved taking the train — still do, really.

One of the funny things about traveling between these two cities was that winter arrived in them at different times. About a decade ago I took the train home for Christmas, and while it was thoroughly cold and snowy in the city where I lived, it was really still just late fall where I was going. It was so odd to see the scenery change from winter to fall, as if a time-lapse film were playing in reverse.

Naturally, I wrote a poem about the experience. It has just been published by The Scriblerus in their Spring 2021 “travel” issue and you can read it here.

Small spring updates

Garden

The tulips are out.

Kitchen

I made lasagna today for the first time, and so the kids and I also made homemade ricotta following this recipe from America’s Test Kitchen. Dead easy, delicious, and about half the price of a tub from the store. We’ll be doing this again.

Gelatine adventures continue. I’ve been doing teas! Vanilla Rooibos is delicious in jelly form, Jasmine Green Tea a little pretty so-so. I’m thinking my next experiment will be cubed jellied Earl Grey with a sweetened condensed milk pour-over. Also I’m saving bones in the freezer to try my hand at p’tcha. More foods should have names that fun to say. P’tcha!

Words

My poem “Seclusion (A Checklist)” has been published by Jet Fuel Review (issue 21) and can be read online here. It’s part of this issue’s special section featuring golden shovel poems — a relatively new poetic form that is technically challenging and used to pay tribute to another poem or poet. The poet chooses a line by another writer, and each word of the origi line becomes the last word of each line in the new poem — such that the original line may be read down the right-hand side. Confused? I always find it a bit difficult to explain but seeing an example will make it fairly obvious.

In my case, I used a line by Christabel LaMotte, a poet who does not, technically speaking, exist; she’s a character in A. S. Byatt’s remarkable novel Possession (about which I have written here, and which also makes my list of desert island books). I was struck by the line “to drag a long life out in a dark room” in one of LaMotte’s/Byatt’s poems, and — well, click the link above if you would like to see where that took me!

Anniversary bake and jelly cake

No, not our wedding anniversary, although we did have one relatively recently. I mean this little lady’s anniversary:

My good girl Sheryl has been hanging out for a year now. She lives in the cold and the dark and puts up with gross neglect for weeks on end. Yet for all that, she still makes some lovely loaves! My kitchen is cold and so they never end up as lofty as other peoples’ seem to, but they’re chewy and tangy nonetheless. Way to go, Sheryl.

Just look at that blistered crust. I have to say, I think that sourdough starters are a lot more flexible and resilient than a lot of people seem to think. The internet is awash with all sorts of finicky methods (usually named after somebody) that involve very precise times and temperatures and adjusting the amount of water in relation to the humidity of the air, as well as (I assume) performing certain obscure incantations and using flour that was ground in the light of the full moon.

I do pay attention to my measurements — a kitchen scale is a handy tool for this sort of thing — but other than that? I figure that people have been making sourdough for thousands of years. This is something you would carry around in a crock while you followed your goat herd and then baked over hot rocks. It’s a yeast colony. It will survive.

In other culinary news, I’ve been (somewhat inexplicably) really getting into gelatine lately. Why? It’s hard to say. I’ve always loved jell-o (especially with a little dab of fake whipped cream on top, like we always had at summer camp). And when I made panna cotta in the kids’ breakfast milk cups for April Fools, I realised how easy it actually is and a whole world opened up.

Anyway, here’s a jelly cake:

The top layer is orange jell-o with shredded carrot inside (something I remember having at potlucks long, long ago) and the bottom layer is a milk gelatin made with sweetened condensed milk. I don’t actually have any proper molds so this was made in a lightly greased bread pan, which worked well except for being slightly too long for the plate once decanted.

As you can see from that “bloom” of milk jelly in the middle, the orange layer wasn’t quite set enough when I poured in the second, and there was a little intermingling. No matter; I count this very successful as a first attempt and look forward to more experimentation. Nobody here likes jellies as much as I do, so I’ll probably be eating most of those experiments alone.

I am 100% ok with this.

Maryland Summer

Toddler Perpetua in Ocean City, MD.

Our family lived in Maryland for almost three years, in a walk-up apartment with a South-West facing balcony. I loved to sit out there in the long summer evenings: our complex was surrounded by trees, which were perfectly silhouetted by the changing colours of the sunset. They would slowly shade to black as the sky became a deeper and deeper blue, until finally the first stars came out. Behind the nearby sound barrier, the cars on I-83 sounded like waves on the beach.

I’m very pleased to announce that my piece “Maryland Summer: Three Small Evening Poems” has just been published in the second issue of Humana Obscura.

You can read the entire issue online here, or purchase a print copy here. You’ll find me on page 19.

Sic transit gloria Samsung

My cellphone is dying.

My cellphone is dying, and I am rapidly cycling through the stages of grief. Denial: repeatedly rebooting in hopes that it will magically fix things. Bargaining: trying to appease my phone by deleting unused apps and updating the rest. Anger: my CloudLibrary app won’t open and I’m halfway through a giant fantasy novel and I’m second on the holds list for a physical copy and I need to know what happens next, what is your problem, phone?? Depression: none of my apps work, I can’t even respond to texts, my phone is useless, nothing will ever be good or right in the world ever again. Acceptance: ordering a new phone from our provider. Oh, it’ll take a week to get here? Back to anger we go!

It’s got me thinking, though: it’s funny how quickly we adjust to an object’s functionality, and how destabilizing it is when it breaks. My first cellphone — and I was a relatively late adopter, so this was only about a decade ago — could basically do two things: make and receive calls, and send and receive text messages. I think there was a simple game on it, Brickbreaker or Snake or something like that. My second phone had a slider keyboard, which was pretty awesome, but not much more functionality except for a very minimalist and difficult to use internet browser, and a camera that took incredibly low-res pictures. That phone eventually stopped being able to receive calls (I think it was), which roughly corresponded to our move to the US, so I got a cheap copycat-Blackberry from AT&T that got me through school. Again, this phone was minimally functional: bad pictures, phone, text, and I don’t even remember if it could get on the internet or not. I think it might have, but it was so much of a pain to do that it wasn’t generally worth the time.

And then came our big move post-graduation, for which my husband and I both updated to actual smartphones. What a world opened up! Apps! Games! Google maps! Beautiful pictures from decent cameras! Internet! Email! I chose a Samsung Galaxy S7, which was small enough to fit in my purse with ease and, unlike the Note 7, was not prone to exploding. Because I have the natural coordination of a drunk toddler, it was carefully outfitted with a screen protector and shielding case. (Side note: these did their jobs remarkably well under difficult circumstances; the only damage that actually got through to my screen was when a toddler Perpetua decided my phone would make an excellent teething toy.) That was five years ago, and five years is a pretty good run for a smartphone. A really good run, actually, and in that sense I suppose I don’t have much to complain about.

But complain I shall — even though the chief mal here is that my phone will only do the things that used to be the only things that phones could do. (Except for my messaging app crashing, which it didn’t do yesterday but is doing today, and which I hope might surprise me and start working again. Oops, back to denial!) I’ve gotten very used to being able to send an email while I’m nursing the baby, or to put on a podcast and stick the phone in my pocket so I can listen while I clean or fold laundry. I’ve come to rely on GPS when I’m driving somewhere new, and count on being able to quickly look things up online no matter where I am in the house, or whether I’m even in the house at all. These things that used to be novel conveniences have become expected essentials, and suddenly being denied them has left me, well, floundering.

I’m vexed at this loss of functionality. I’m vexed at how vexed I am. And I’m coping less well than I might because lovely, darling, beautiful Tertia has recently decided that sleep is for chumps and weaklings and has been holding me hostage accordingly.

My cellphone is dying. And please, pretty please, I would like it back.

Writing means to try

Right now I am about halfway through reading the first volume of Beverly Cleary’s memoirs, A Girl from Yamhill. It covers her early years, from her first memories of their family’s farm in Yamhill, to her adolescence Portland, Oregon, where her family moved when she was six. As a child, Cleary lived near Klickitat Street — a name you may recognize from the Henry Huggins and Ramona books. She was born in 1916, which makes her a few years older than my oldest grandparent, and A Girl from Yamhill is a wonderful peek into the world of children a century ago.

It’s also given me a lot to think about when I consider the craft of writing. I enjoy catching moments from Cleary’s own life that later made it into her books, like the school play in which she played a soldier, bowled over with her leg in the air after being hit with a basketball cannonball; the same thing happens in Henry’s school play. But more than that, Cleary relates an epiphany she had as a young girl of eight or nine, about the practice of writing:

If I lost something, Mother said, “You’ll have to learn to look after your things.” I did. If I was involved in a neighborhood squabble, I got no sympathy. “What did you do?” Mother always asked, leaving me with the feeling that, no matter what happened, I was to blame. “Try,” Mother often said.

And try I did. When Abendroth’s store across from Fernwood [School] announced a contest sponsored by Keds shoes for the best essay about an animal, many of my class planned to enter. I chose the beaver, because Oregon was known as the Beaver State. On green scratch paper left over from printing checks, which Father brought home from the bank, I wrote my essay and took it to Mr. Abendroth. On the final day of the contest, I ran to the store to learn the results. I had won! Mr. Abendroth handed me two dollars. Then he told me no one else had entered the contest.

This incident was one of the most valuable lessons in writing I ever learned. Try! Others will talk about writing but may never get around to trying. I also wrote a letter to the Shopping News, which published the letter and paid me a dollar.

Beverly Cleary, A Girl from Yamhill, 105.

Try! I’ve been writing poetry for years and years, since I was a girl not much older than Beverly Cleary with her beaver essay. And I’ve wanted since I was a teenager, in a vague sort of way, to be a published poet. I don’t know how I thought that would happen given that I never submitted a single line anywhere, but want it I did. In the middle of the 2010s I started sending things out — barely — just one or two poems to one or two outlets about once a year. My expectations were not realistic; when I wasn’t instantly picked up by the first places I tried, I just stopped trying. This may have soothed my feelings, but it’s not exactly a path to publication.

Last summer, though, I also came to realize that if this was really something I wanted, it meant, well, trying. Now I sit down once a month, browse open calls on submittable, and send out a big batch of poems. This takes me an evening or two; there’s a lot of fiddly work to do in making sure that I’m following each journal/magazine’s particular guidelines, picking poems that I think would be good matches for their themes or style, and the like. Mostly I submit to outlets without reading fees; occasionally I will pay a few dollars if I think I have a particularly good match. Everything goes in a spreadsheet where I keep track of what I have out for consideration, response times, acceptances, rejections, and a page just for nice things people say about my poems that I can read over when I feel like a phony. And you know what? Trying works.

Here are my current numbers:

  • Contest placements: 1
  • Accepted poems: 4
  • Withdrawn from consideration: 8
  • Rejections: 141
  • Still under consideration: 42

There are some things that have become clear to me. One is that this is a numbers game. Perhaps more than any other genre, poetry is highly subjective, and it takes time and a lot of tries to match up what you’ve written with someone who wants to publish it. The second thing is that publishers need writers. Poetry magazines and literary journals could not exist without writers submitting to them; in a way, editors need me just as much as I need them. And the final thing is that rejections are a good sign. I don’t mean that I’m never disappointed when a submission is rejected (although as time goes by this is less and less true), but rather that I can take every rejection as evidence that I’m trying, I’m putting the process in motion, and that’s a good thing.

Of course, all this trying doesn’t necessarily mean that I’ll succeed. I might keep sending things out for the next five years and never publish another poem. I don’t know, and that part of it is out of my control. But I do know this: trying gives me infinite more chances to succeed than not-trying does, and that? That is something I can work with.

Here’s to trying.