Wife, writer, tinkerer, grower of food. I'm happiest outside our rambling farmhouse with a basket looped on my arm, picking dinner from the garden. That's joy right there. Please follow along; I'm so glad you're here!
Things are changing, here. I'm not sure if they're permanent changes or not, but right now my winter looks different from just about every other winter of late. And it's not just the walls of snow everywhere. (This is the snowiest winter since I was 10, I think.) This winter, parts of our house have become factory and warehouse. Parts of my days-- pretty big parts, really-- have been given over to sourcing, manufacturing, keyword research, order fulfillment. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays are post office days. Usually I have between four and ten orders to ship. The Etsying business has been thrumming, and I am so grateful.
Of course, in wintertime I have the space to log long hours into Etsy. I have no idea what this all is going to look like when it's canning season, or even springtime. I have no idea if I am going to come back to regular posting when I have things that are post-worthy again. Sigh.
As much as I hope to be able to find the time again, I'm also feeling like the urge to share parts of myself online is being sated right now with Etsy things-- new product announcements and Twitter posts and Facebook posts-- and I'm wondering if perhaps the old blog has run its course.
That thought makes me sad.
Sigh. Well. If you've been a longtime reader and you're interested in keeping up with me and with our life, then I invite you to friend me on Facebook at Kristina Plath Strain. I think I know who all the longtime readers are, so that'll be a good way to keep in touch. Be aware that Etsy updates will be part of the package!
Next time I check in, it'll be spring! Let's hope, at least...
Oh my goodness, I truly did not intend to be gone for over three weeks, but there you go. That's January for you.
Sometimes you continue on exactly as you've been continuing, and sometimes you veer off into the woods. Sometimes you take up snipe hunting. Sometimes you build a cabin in a clearing and decide to stay.
I'm trying to decide which of those metaphors best describes my life right now, the snipe hunt or the cabin-building, but it's definitely one of 'em. I've been spending nearly every waking moment thinking about my Etsy shop, or making new stuff for my Etsy shop, or ordering new materials to make stuff for my Etsy shop. I am absolutely loving it. I'm also a little nervous, but I'm getting sales, so, I tell myself, nothing ventured, nothing gained. I have made bath bombs and massage bars and bath salts. I ordered a dozen new essential oils and extracts last week and CAN'T WAIT to play with them. Every time I order a new installment of (expensive) stuff, I think I'm off on a foolish snipe hunt. And every time I get an order, I decide the snipes must be tigers, and not snipes after all. Yes. Surely these are deadly tigers I am stalking through the undergrowth. Surely the tigers will be caught and I will realize, after they are caught, just how important it was that they be caught.
And then I stand at the window and watch it SNOW, and I pace, and I come up with new ideas and dive back into the undergrowth. Surely they are tigers and not snipes. Surely this will turn out to be The Thing that gets me back on track, that enables me to make a (fulfilling) living in Gilbertsville.
The on-track feeling is so good. So far, 2015 has felt that way nearly every single day, and I don't want to deviate from that feeling. I'm in Bronx this week, helping my aunt through Round 1 of chemo (she's doing great) and even here I'm feeling on track. Yes. This is how it's going to be. I am needed here. I am needed here, and in between being needed I am Etsying like a fiend.
I am looking for more writing work. I am going to interview for a part-time (OUTSIDE THE HOUSE) job doing arts promotion at a theater. I have not gone to a job interview for a very long time. Like, five years. Oh my god. I probably shouldn't let myself be nervous about that fact. Nope. I should not at all.
I am going to try to be better at blogging, moving forward. I don't want to talk to much about Etsy (because it's tedious to everyone but me) and there isn't really any crafting happening at the moment. But it is winter, and it is lovely (still). I am cooking great quantities of last garden's produce every night, and we are eating well and spending not much. Del and Pete and Olive are well. The chickens are well, and still laying.
That's the news from Gilbertsville. How are things where you are?
Christmas, 2014: check! There was much carousing, there was the eating of Christmas cookies, there was caroling, giggling, presents, and way too much to drink. There was Del, tearing open his new (honking) pheasant toy (and efficiently giving it a tracheotomy) on Christmas eve. There was a bright, sunny, warm day the day after Christmas, and we all stood around blinking (and groaning) because we legitimately had not had a sunny day since before Thanksgiving. The next day, and the day after that, we hiked.
Nothing feels better than a good hike after indulgence.
And now, on with this business of seeing out the year. 2014. Better than 2013. Still tough, though, but there's... cough, pardon me... there's reason to believe maybe this year will be better than the last. I'm finally starting to figure it out, I think-- that I want to do more than just write, that even if I'm doing incredibly fascinating work, the will to sit at my desk 40 hours a week just isn't there. Even 20 feels like a stretch sometimes. But I do enjoy it, I do like flexing my brain muscles, and you can't beat the overhead. So off I am merrily going, in 2015, to build a champion hybrid life: to grow the Etsy shop, to find a better writing gig, to support Patrick's departure from his (soul-sucking) job that he's needed to leave for years, to figure out how we're going to stay solvent financially in the interim. It needs to happen this year. It has needed to happen for years, actually, and yet they have flown past and nothing has changed. But no longer. THIS IS THE YEAR. I'm sure of it. No kitchen to remodel (woo hoo!) no major life changes, no menacing car repairs (knock on wood). This is the year. Fingers crossed.
This is how it's supposed to be. Saturday afternoon. Christmas cookies. Carol of the bells.
I spent all week in the Bronx, with my aunt. I always love being with her: she's a sunlamp radiating sweetness and warmth, even in dark times. Even when she's recovering from surgery and traveling headlong towards scary months of chemo. This is a recent development-- sudden might actually be a better word-- and in between reeling, I have moments of grace where I feel completely and satisfactorily sure how this will play out: it will suck, but she will have me with her.
My place is to provide whatever I can to get her through this, just the latest insult heaped upon the sweetest, gentlest person I know.
Yep. That's how it's gonna be. She's gonna lick it-- kung fu karate chop it is more like it-- and sweetly hand it its walking papers. That's her way.
Also in progress: snow globe bases, and a vintage suitcase re-vamp. I can't share what that's going to become, but I know it's going to be cool. And slowly, the pile of wrapped things is growing downstairs, and slowly, the gift baskets are filling out and looking ready to trot. I love this time of year. What kind of merry-making is happening 'round your parts?
In a lot of ways, it's good to be back to normal. The thing I miss most when we're away is my own cooking-- or rather, I miss the sense of control and comfort that comes from creating my own nourishment. Sunday night I made a giant pot of lentil soup, which is usually my excess detox meal of choice. Garden leeks and carrots and a jar of summer tomatoes-- oh yes. The comforts of home.
And then, there is the Christmassing. I put the tree up before we left, but hadn't decorated it yet. So last night we did that, and drank a bottle of wine, while the opening chords of a two-day Nor'easter played out over the house. Patrick sat on the couch and changed all the batteries in the window candles while I installed the snow village on the mantel, and we put the antlers on Del (poor Del) but Del was too zonked-out from soaking up the warmth from the fireplace to care much. Love that dog.
And now we are on Day 2 of the Nor'easter, and Patrick has had to go to work this morning anyway. Sigh. I am making bath fizzies for the Etsy shop, which has thrillingly had five sales in just its first three weeks. It feels like it has promise, and I can't even articulate how good that feels. BIG thank you to those of you who are readers here who have supported it so far! I am cheering. Thank you.
In other news, a change of Christmas venue has occurred. As in, it's not going to be at our house this year, which means I don't have to CLEAN, or even cook, and, after a moment of aw shucks, I was like I DON'T HAVE TO CLEAN! and that was terrific. So in lieu of cleaning, I am focusing on Etsy and gift-making, and that is just fine with me.
It's not a bad groove to be in, really. Especially with so many awesome memories to keep returning to as I go about the days.
First, synopsis. Last year, we came to Nashville for five nights and four days, and it was absolutely magical. We left feeling like we'd gotten just the very tip of the (amazing) iceberg, and we wanted MORE. So, back we came, hoping that the magic wasn't a fluke, hoping that, though we'd gained some familiarity, the element of surprise would be as present as it was the first time. We knew it was a tall order, but still, we hoped.
And we were rewarded with a week (seven nights, six days) that was absolutely full of serendipity, surprise, and magic. Like, did this really just happen-type magic.
Our journey began at about 9am, the day after Thanksgiving, when we folded ourselves into the car and embarked on an eleven-hour drive down 81. It was not fun, but it was uneventful, and when all was said and done, we were able to check in, unpack, shower, and be downtown by 9pm. Plenty of time to rock.
Last year, when we came, it seems like we hardly left Robert's Western World all week. It's the ONLY good honkytonk downtown, the one where they still play real country music, and it's special. This time, we told ourselves, there's more to Nashville than Robert's Western World. We made up our minds to see more of the city. And we did. But we also spent a LOT of time at Robert's, because there is no other place like it. The back door leads right out into the alleyway behind the Ryman, and in another time all the greats would wander over after their show at the Opry. The faces are on the wall. The boots are on the shelves. The magic is in the air.
Saturday afternoon, we were back. This is Rachael Hester and the Tennessee Walkers, probably my favorite band that plays Robert's regularly. Lots of Patsy Cline.
Then we saw Chuck Mead playing at a record store called Grimey's. Anyone know who Chuck Mead is? If you like hillbilly music as much as I do, make it your business to know Chuck Mead. He basically set off the whole downtown Nashville revival back in the 90s, playing at Robert's with a band called BR5-49. And there he was, in a tiny space, doing his awesome hillbilly front man thing, and after I bought the new vinyl he was there to promote, I went up and he signed it. I told him it was nice to meet him, and apologized for being the drunk chick at his Oneonta show (back in the spring, when he came to play just 20 minutes away!) screaming for "Ramona." And he was courteous and funny.
Later that night, we went to the Bluebird to see four songwriters play in the round. Last year we had a terrible experience (mostly due to a song with a refrain of hey y'all hey y'all) but this year we decided to give it another shot and it was wonderful. Marshall Chapman, Will Kimbrough, Tommy Womack, and Matraca Berg (who wrote "Strawberry Wine"). So we got to see Matraca Berg tell basically her life's story in song, and she sang Strawberry Wine, and then her husband Jeff Hanna from Nitty Gritty Dirt Band got up and sang "Mr. Bojangles."
Oooooookay. No biggie. It's just Nashville. It gets better.
The next day, we were back at Robert's seeing Rachael Hester again. There is something to be said for exploring the city, but there is also something to be said for doing the comforting, sure thing. Watching her band, with Chris Scruggs on guitar and her dad on fiddle, drinking a $2.50 PBR at Robert's on a Sunday afternoon is about the best way to pass time I can contrive.
At a set break, Chuck Mead walked in. And then Rachael invited him to sit in, and he sang one of Hank's. Oh right, no biggie, we're in Nashville. I put my camera to use.
That was incredible. Then, we went to see the Time Jumpers, a ten-piece country swing outfit featuring three fiddles and one Vince Gill on lead guitar. That's right.
Ohhhhh man. But oh right, no biggie, we're just in Nashville. This is just the kind of thing that happens in Nashville.
From that point on, it was like, did we really just see Chuck Mead at Robert's? Did we really just see Vince Gill last night? Dream-like and crazy. But then it got even better. How? Well, we spent some more time at Robert's.
Of course. But then we had to go get ready. We had tickets to see chef Sean Brock talk about his new book with his buddy Jason Isbell. So: sit and watch a sweet Virginia boy and a sweet Alabama boy talk about what their grandmas cooked for Sunday supper? Oh, yes please.
As luck would have it, we made it out to East Nashville with just enough time to... eat fast food before catching the event. Oh, the irony. So painful.
Topics of conversation included: cooking cornbread on a car door, Sean's quest to cook the perfect brisket, and Jason's wife's first biscuit attempt, which did not end well. ("So I picked it up and dropped it on the table, just to see, you know, how loud it would be. It turns out that was not a good idea. That was not something that I should've done.")
And then I got my new cookbook signed by Sean. And then I stood there hyperventilating for a minute, and then I met Jason Isbell and his wife Amanda Shires.
Just go ahead and add that to my list of Peak Life Experiences. They were both totally sweet and accommodating, and I managed to not say anything stupid.
And then we walked out and to the car and my feet were not touching the ground...
We went to Robert's for the rest of the night. We sat in the balcony and met a really nice couple from Indiana, and I tried in vain to get a decent picture of the two of us...
Sigh. The never-ending quest.
Then it was Thursday morning: Our Last Day.
We went to Percy Priest Lake. We walked around in the mud. I picked up rocks. Patrick let me sing him lines from the Jason Isbell song with the chorus that goes:
Girl hang your dress up to dry
we ain't leaving this room
Til Percy Priest breaks open wide
and the river runs through
and carries this house on the Stones
like a piece of driftwood
Cover me up
and know you're enough
to use me for good.
Finally got a good picture.
And then? Well, maybe you can guess.
Yup. And then we walked on the Shelby Street pedestrian bridge, for what's becoming our traditional Last Night in Nashville swansong experience. Someone was kind enough to ask if we wanted our picture taken, and Patrick couldn't even make funny faces or give the finger.
He was less well-behaved when I tried to take a selfie.
We got back to Robert's in time to see another set from a different band.
And for a picture out front. Best, sweetest place on earth. Friendliest place. Then we walked to the car. I'm not to going to say I didn't have tears streaming down my face, because I did. Mostly happy tears. Smile-because-it-happened tears. Smile because this incredible happy kind comfortable little bastion exists on Lower Broadway in Nashville, and we can go to it when we need it, and Lord willin' it will always be there to take us in. (That's right, I just said Lord willin'. But I just spent a week in the South, and I figure it's justified.)
We capped off the night in fine fashion by going to see a real bona fide rock show at the Mercy Lounge. We wanted to see the Mercy Lounge-- a pretty iconic little venue-- and we wanted to see the band, Centro-matic, because they're good. And then I heard rumors that Jason Isbell would be sitting in, and that sealed the deal.
It was so good to rock out all the we're-leaving-Nashville angst, and to hear all that glorious guitar work. I got to meet Amanda again-- she remembered me-- and for an encore Jason sang No Matter What by Badfinger, which was about as awesome and unexpected a cover as could be imagined.
I decided the song was Nashville singing to me:
No matter where you go
There will always be a place
Can't you see it in my face, girl,
Ooo girl, want you.
No matter where or what, there will always be this place. I think that's what it is, more than anything. In Nashville, the fourth wall comes down, and you can meet and greet people without a pretense of fame or separation or other-ness. That's what I love. It's a warm, friendly bubble where the barriers are erased and we can go just sort of hang with the most talented people out there-- the ones who make the music we cherish.
I am absolutely full of gratitude. I am going to try as hard as I can to hold on to that feeling.