Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween, and things

Happy Halloween!

Tonight, Patrick and I will have our very traditional beer-drinking dance party while handing out candy to trick or treaters (dancing to this crazy weird hippie Ithaca band). Mostly I dance. It's always the same music-- the one dedicated time each year we listen to all four albums we own. They sound like NOBODY else, and are so perfect for Halloween. That makes it special, somehow.

Then later we'll walk down to street to our neighbor's house-- one of the Tuesday Group-- who always does chili and chill-out post-treaters, but not before walking to the center of town to see if one of the local hooligans has placed a pumpkin-carved helmet atop Gilbertsville's Civil War monument. Nothin' like a good local legend.

It's been a good week. I've ordered all my supplies except for maybe some boxes and tissue paper. I designed a sticker. Two stickers. One for bottles and jars, and then a fancier, colored one for each individual order. I can't wait for everything to get here so I can start filling jars and photographing stuff. 

It's a good time of year to switch gears. I can feel it.

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Thursday, October 30, 2014

A pretty corner

On Monday evening, I found myself with twenty five minutes between writing time and cooking dinner time. What do I do, I wondered. I am giving myself permission to spend any and all spare 25-minute blocks on pleasure-- and that's admittedly an easy bargain to make once canning season is over. But still. I had 25 minutes to spend on pleasure, it was sunny, and I had been meaning to address a wilted vase of flowers for a week or so... the project announced itself.
With pruners and Del and Pete in tow, I walked up the rise to our back fence. 
I am learning how to use weeds. Last Christmas I had the best time picking and then spray-painting handfuls of dried weeds-- one of the best, easiest crafty projects ever. This time, no spray paint was required, just Siberian iris seed pods, yarrow, queen Anne's lace, milkweed, dried grasses, and poppy seed pods. I moved over a squash and two little pumpkins. And then, the next day I added three ferns in a green bottle, because ferns. I never realized hayscented ferns-- that's what those are-- essentially self-preserve after a frost. They're almost leathery, and oh my goodness, that movement. 
So satisfying.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Getting under way

Yesterday, I spent some really excellent minutes kneeling next to my sage plant, and then my parsley, snip snipping. It was a lovely day-- the last really warm one, probably, before winter sets in for good. Pete trotted over as he almost always does when I'm kneeling in the garden, acting like the whole day-- the sun, the warm breeze, the squirrels and birds and butterflies to chase-- was my idea, and wanting me to know how ever so happy! I've made him. On rainy days, of course, he sulks around blaming me for the cold, the wet.

Then I came inside with my basket of herbs and I made vinegar. I started steeping four different kinds: raspberry, lemon bay, herb, and garlic. And I minced up the sage I'd picked and made sage infused salt. It was satisfying.

I want to thank everyone who commented on Monday's post, and everyone who read it and thought good thoughts. I feel so much better. I feel directed. Or rather, direction-ed. I have a whole case of 4-oz glass jars en route to me, and about two tons of coconut oil, shea butter, and beeswax too. I have friends telling me how great my shop is going to be. I have a friend who told me what I needed was to find joy (!!!) and that inspired me to spend a few minutes on Tuesday cutting and arranging dried weeds in a jar. Yes. I call the shots on what does or does not take up space in my life, and I need to remember that. The canning and crafting and writing have permission to be here. The molding, perhaps, does not. I haven't touched that nail gun in five days, and I feel great. 

Onward! I'm feeling so good I might start posting five times a week. No one would be opposed to that, would they?

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Monday, October 27, 2014

The Truth.

Hang on to your seats, it's going to be a long one.
Somehow, I've gotten off track here. Scary to admit, but true.
But I need to own it: somehow, I have managed to build a life here that takes all of my time and all of my energy and almost all of our money and keeps me from being able to enjoy what I, what we, really came here for. The slower pace, the ability to curate our whole existence right down to what kind of tiles we step out of the shower onto and what we see out our kitchen window, the self-sufficiency. 
Really, it all came down to Friday. Friday, I was trying to cut a piece of quarter round to fit between the kitchen and the dining room on the left-hand side of the doorway. It's a mitered piece, and I cut it wrong three times. Then I sort of had a meltdown. I have no idea why. The home improvement is supposed to be one of the things that's kind of fun-- something I can choose to spend a few hours doing here or there, for the empowerment of looking back at a freshly installed baseboard and feeling the satisfaction. It is not supposed to be THE thing I measure my whole life against-- which is kind of what it's begun to feel like. So, I melted down. I laid in the garden with Pete on my chest and cried. 
You know how we all have monsters lurking around the edges, and we all sing lullabies to said monsters to quiet them down? That day I think my voice was so hoarse from just singing singing singing those lullabies that they didn't work. The monsters flooded in. 
My writing income has been edging downward steadily for a a year or so, mostly because writing for other people is almost as enjoyable to me as cutting a piece of quarter-round wrong three times. Yup. As long as I'm here being honest, I should admit that THAT is the real monster here: a year in which we bought a new kitchen, a new (partial) roof, spent about $2,500 on our rust bucket cars, and are looking at buying a new furnace (ours is nearly 40 years old) and insulation, as well. And meanwhile, instead of looking for potentially better/more fulfilling writing clients, I've been ticking off tiling, house painting, shelving, trim. Canning. Swallow. 
All these expenses, and Nashville on the horizon, and my checking account looks like a limp, yellow piece of celery. Y'know, right before it grows mold and starts turning brown in the crisper? Ack! What the hell happened? I'm one fiscally smart chick! How did I not realize I was surrounding us with expensive inevitabilities as I planned out our year?
Okay. That is the explaining-my-malaise part of the story. The story of how I peeled myself off of the garden path, removed Pete from my chest, and figured out an exit strategy is better, I promise. 
Really, what I need is more interaction. Validation. The biggest problem with my latest writing client is that the coming-up-with-topics is my responsibility, and it's not easy, and I get a crumb of feedback from the editor about every two weeks. "Everything looks strong, thanks for all the work you're putting in" is about par for the course. I mean, I'm an introvert, but I need more than that. 
In the past year, I've started selling on eBay, and I've found that pretty enjoyable. I really like packing stuff, I like going to the post office. I absolutely love making up Christmas baskets for family gifts, and I absolutely love putting together gorgeous boxes of garden stuff to bring to my mother in law, my mom, my friend who has triplets. I made favors for my sister-in-law's bridal shower and had people asking if I sold that foot scrub as a business. You might be able to see where I'm going with this. 
Where I'm going, again, with trepidation, is Etsy. Trepidation because I had an Etsy store in 2009 and didn't sell a thing. But, back then, I was sewing stuff, putting it up totally haphazardly and without any direction or "brand." And my photos were bunk.
Now, my goodness: if I can say anything it's that I have a brand. Friends and acquaintances on Facebook want to see it, they want to be a part of it, they ask if they can move in with me when I tell them what I ate for lunch. That is what I'm really here for-- not to be envied, but because those minute little things like making lunch and walking the back fence with Del and hiking these hills are special. Magic. How did I get away from talking about that here, and from really feeling that specialness when I'm out there? 
I think that with an Etsy shop full of flavored vinegars, infused salts, scrubs, homemade lotions and maybe herbal teas, and a blog that's about not what I achieved or ticked off the list, but about the moments in between... about reveling in the little things... I could make this fly. Then picking up the camera and going to find something gorgeous would be part of my job, you know? It would be advertising. It's very much the model Alicia has set up, I think-- not sure if you read her blog, but she has the dreamiest fairy tale-esque life, and a crowd of readers who just want to gobble up her little girl and her flower-filled backyard and her days at the river and buy all her craft kits. 
I could be like that, only more rural, and more... herbal. What do you think? Sweetfern Handmade, the business? (One thing that surely doesn't have to change is the name!) 
And meanwhile, I'm going to keep writing, because I'm good at it, because I've worked hard to accrue a pretty nice-looking resume, and because winter is coming! 
Okay. That is my direction. Thanks for reading. There are going to be some serious changes around here in the next couple weeks, but hopefully they will be the positive kind. Hopefully you'll stick with me. I think I might have finally found something that I can work at as hard as I can, joyfully, until it succeeds. 

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Friday, October 24, 2014

Victory, kind of

The short version of this story is, the shelves are installed, and I got to spend a few hours yesterday filling them, and it was awesome. The kitchen finally looks like MY KITCHEN. I love everything about it. It was the best, most gratifying "step" in the process so far.

But oh, the long version. The long version is, I suppose, a lesson in improvisation. Sometimes it works and it's awesome, and sometimes... oh, sometimes.

You might notice the brackets. You might notice (or maybe not) that they are, in fact, builders' hardware angle ties. Like, the kind of steel bits folks use to attach studs to sills or headers. I liked their simplicity; I thought with a nice coat of glossy black paint they'd look awesomely industrial, understated, and chic. And they do. They're gorgeous. But... they wobble. And sway. The steel flexes under the weight of the dishes. In fact, you can the forward-tilt pretty clearly in the above photo. 

I feel totally confident that they aren't going to break, and they certainly aren't going to pull out of the wall (I used toggle bolts rated for 265 lbs, two per bracket). But... the sway. I spaced out the heavy stuff, but even so.

Suffice it to say that, even in spite of the time I got to spend playing with my new shelves, yesterday was not a good day. It was a day of realizing that much time and money had gone down the drain.

It's days like this I wonder how REAL DIY bloggers keep going/kept going. It can be sooo awesome so do something yourself, for small monies, and get it just the way you want it. BUT it can also be one of those experiences where you don't realize how in-over-your-head you are until... the shelves go up, and the bleeping things wobble. Quiet sob. 

I think my November plan is to give up home improvement! No, seriously. It'll be just like giving up drinking, only SO MUCH BETTER. I'll get a head start on Christmas gifts, maybe (just maybe) paint a window or two (the kitchen ones are a little dingy) maybe do some organizing.... yesss. I need to stop pushing myself so hard, even though I want to get crown molding installed in the dining room, replace a couple baseboards, and fix the laundry room ceiling before Christmas. Oh, man. This balance thing is so tricky to figure out sometimes. Wish me luck! 

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Not quite.

Remember this cool thing?

Well. It sat all summer. I used the shelves in the pantry alcove area for my pots and pans (highly inconvenient). But then, this week, probably because the brackets I'm using to install the shelves upon are giving me a royally hard time, I found I had a minute to shout at my friend Jay, the sculptor, who offered to help make the small modifications this marvelous piece of junk needed to become a pot rack... four months ago. He was still game, as luck would have it. 

Twenty minutes of welding and grinding later and, voila. The main modification was installing that straight central piece, for stability.

After a few minutes of pacing and fretting to make sure I put the hooks into the ceiling in the right places, it took only about ten minutes to install. 

And, I LOVE it! The whole view from the first picture will look a lot better sans clutter. And, actually, now that I mention it, it does bother me a little that it seems to compete with the dining room lights. That might be one of those things that's way less noticeable in person, because I didn't notice it until looking at the picture. We'll see. 

And in other news, this is the state of the open (freaking) shelves, which I foolishly thought I'd have done by the end of last week. Pah. Silly human. Oh, sweet chaos of toggle bolts and heavy-duty anchors and tile-cutting drill bits and spade bits and knee pads...

Once the brackets are all set, though, it should be a ten-minute install. The boards are ready to go. And I can't WAIT to fill 'em with all kinds of fun stuff, some decor and some function and just... the perfect stuff to complete the farmhouse vibe. 

I do loves me some farmhouse vibe. We're getting there.

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Monday, October 20, 2014

Philadelphia escape


These weekends in Philly are so excellent. After a big summer and fall of just going going going, of the digging and planting and cooking and weeding and raking... I need to uncork. Literally and figuratively. And that's just what I, what we, did. 

The drive wasn't bad. It was way better than taking the bus, which is what I did last time. Friday night there were tasty beers, including homebrew, and Chinese food, and Trivial Pursuit. I slept like a log on six inches of memory foam. 

Saturday, there was brunch at an excellent, excellent farm-to-table kinda place, and champagne. There was some driving around gawking at the attendees of the Chestnut Hill Harry Potter festival. Grown men in capes, I tell you.

Then Meghann and I headed to center city for... oh... girl stuff. We were like, have a drink... a little shoe shopping. Have a drink...

...go to Anthropologie. Have a drink...

...get a makeover. Yes, really. Then have a drink... a little guacamole.... catch the train home, for take-out Indian and more board games at the house.

Evidence of said makeover:

I wore eyeliner, people. Just terrifying.

Ahh. What a splendid weekend. 

It's SO nice to have a sister-in-law this awesome, who somehow thinks I am awesome, too. You don't get to choose your mate's family, and in a lot of ways it's a crapshoot-- but I have to say I just feel luckier and luckier as I go along. I'm already looking forward to next time. 

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Friday, October 17, 2014

Fall view

Yesterday was officially the last 70+ degree day of the year, I am pretty sure. It was tanktop weather. I canned 26 pints of applesauce, which took all day, and in between doing that I cut and installed ceiling trim in most of the kitchen, and overhauled and planted a couple of cold frames, and started mapping out next year's garden. I also flopped in the grass with Del and Pete, not realizing until afterwards that I was flopping directly on top of a rotten green tomato I'd lobbed towards the compost and missed. Swell! 

But then later I got to call my mom and flop into bed and watch my one weekly episode of Nashville, which I love so much. (Anyone else into that soapy, ridiculous show?) And today, after busting out a quick article, I am going to Philly. And in Philly it is going to be 70-ish and sunny all weekend, while it rains and threatens to snow (!) here. Good timing, that. Yep. Feeling generally pretty excellent about that. Ciao!

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014


The hole in the laundry room ceiling where I tore out sodden and moldy ceiling panels.

The hole underneath the panels that goes directly to the attic, where there once was a chimney.

The brackets for our new kitchen shelves being painted (glossy black).

The kitchen tiling I finished last week.

The kitchen shelving boards being varnished.

Woo! I had a feeling this would happen once I unplugged myself from the giant time-suck of painting the house. (In some moments I have thought of that project as a giant leach with vampire fangs, sucking sucking sucking the momentum out of my weeks.) Free from spending half the day chained (not really) to the manlift, I am thrillingly getting shit done. I usually spend the morning hours at some kind of physical project, because I have found, at least lately, that sort of discharging some of my physical energy in the AM makes me much more able to focus on writing in the PM. That's something I'd like to keep up even after winter descends. We'll see if I'm able.

So I've been swinging from cutting, sanding, and staining these boards to painting those brackets here to loading the truck for the dump there, trying to get as many things underway as possible-- because each little thing has many steps, and often the next step will be delayed by the necessity of waiting for varnish to dry. So it goes. 

The laundry room ceiling is something I'm really not thrilled about having to redo, for the third time, since we bought the house. Remember two years ago, when we had water damage? We bought a fresh bucket of tar, Patrick lugged the (80 pound) bucket of tar to the roof, and spread it out, and then I scraped and primed and painted the ceiling, and we expected the damn roof would hold water. And it didn't. The water stains spread like cancer all across that pretty white ceiling, all over again. So this summer we coughed up nearly $2,000 for pros who came with rubber membrane and covered up the flat part of the roof with that. It appears to be holding, though making it through ice-dam season will be the real test. 

And so, I am this time tearing off the trim, and replacing the drywall, and spackling, priming, and painting. And if this doesn't keep out those damn leaks I'll... I'll... 

Establish a laundry room pond, with frogs and lily pads, and replace the whole ceiling with a screen.

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Monday, October 13, 2014


Just a few pretty pictures to help start the week. Patrick and the band played in my hometown this weekend, at a harvest festival of sorts, and it was so nice to tag along. Those hills... 

Somehow, even though Gilbertsville has its own scenic hills, the hills of home are always a little sweeter.

This week, with the house exterior painting over with, I'm looking forward to ticking off a bunch of smaller jobs. Less daunting jobs. Some trim, and some touch-up painting (inside), and those open shelves above the sink. That should be good. And then on Friday, I get to head to Philly for girl time and the complete dispensing-with of responsibility. Yeah. It's gonna be a good week.

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Friday, October 10, 2014

What a journey

I shed actual tears on the man lift this morning, as I pushed the joystick for down for the final time this season. It feels like praying, being up there in heat and cold, shine and sometimes rain. And I only know that because I have a friend who said, once, when we were weeding the garden we shared together, this feels like praying. I am not the type to pray, but my friend is, and so, I guess I know what it feels like. Or what it should feel like. And I have to say, I spend an awful lot of my time in things that feel prayerful. Canning, weeding, and painting this magnificent old house. 

It's humbling and empowering at the same time. It's a privilege, a curse, a cross to bear. The price of living. The most intimate connection to this place and its history. Up there, I get to think about how they raised the roof in 1888, making it two full stories instead of 1 1/2, and a story ran in the local press. "Mr. Brewer will have quite a nice residence, with a fresh coat of paint, when the work is finished," it said. Yes. Mr. Brewer had quite a nice residence, in 1888, and Mrs. Strain will have one, too, in 2014. One little piece at a time.

I might finish off that little corner by the door, but I'm really really really ready to put this project away for the season and check off the inside jobs, and then maybe I'll have a few weeks to do something sewy, too. That's all I want.

I got the kitchen tiling finished this week, too, which was a long time coming (we needed to address the wiring issue in the wall on the left of that window-- two outlets suddenly not working!-- before doing the tiling) and feels good to have done. So that means next week, I get to move forward with putting up those awesome open shelves I've been dreaming of for months. Almost a year. Goddamn. Crazy how so often the thing you want the most, when you begin a renovation, is the thing that takes the longest to put into place.

Those open shelves, and that wacky pot rack, and then it can snow. What a journey.

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Monday, October 6, 2014

Last rites

We had our first frost Saturday night. I was ready. I wasn't ready. It's always bittersweet-- the end of so much work, but also the end of so much joy. Sigh. 

This week the tomato plants will come out, and more leaves will be hauled and spread on the garden. The garlic will be planted. Green tomato chutney and vegetable stock and perhaps pickled beets will be made. 

Still there is broccoli and kale and beets and carrots, plus everything that's already been harvested and put in storage. Pesto. Dried beans for soup-making. Thirty-five quarts of stewed tomatoes. Fifty pounds of potatoes. 

Hoof. It's been a good year.

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Friday, October 3, 2014

Falling leaves, changing light, and some quick (!) reupholstery

It's fall. It's really fall. The light is changing.

The leaves are falling. The backyard hickories hit October 1st and just... sneeze, hemorrhaging their leaves all over the yard. 

Piles of materials are showing up inside...

...and out.

This week, I reupholstered our little Victorian couch.

You can see it pretty well in this picture from Christmas--

It was a really nice hand-me-down from Patrick's parents, right as we moved out here. It's been our primary lounge area and only couch since then, and it's served us well. The quick, in-a-pinch reupholstery job P's mom did, with bedsheets and a shower curtain (!) was showing its wear, however, and most of the year I'd been on the lookout for something to recover it. Last week I found a set of six giant unmistakably 70s gold curtains for $8.99. The fabric has almost a faux bois look, and, well, that harvest yellow is definitely one of "my" colors. It's in the painted wall in the great room, and in splashes in other rooms. And who could beat that price?

Anyone who went with me through the Great Reupholstery Adventure of 2010 may question my willingness to get involved with another project. I did too. But let me tell you, all reupholsterings are not created equal! This was a two-afternoon project. Sewing the rubber-backed fabric together to create pieces long enough for the back and cushion was the toughest part-- everything else was total cake. There's so much wood on this couch frame, all the seams get tucked away. That's what made it easy. 

Olive approves. Olive approves, and I am beyond satisfied. Nine dollars and maybe five hours of my time? Most excellent.

In other news, the exterior continues to inch closer to completion. Patrick's dad came out this week to apply the fish scale to the peak, and so now I'm gunning to get that painted and the rest of the windows scraped, etc, by the end of next week. I did get the yellow trim painted this week, which really helps to bring it all together. I love this thing, this place. 

Next up: finishing that last section of kitchen tile and installing open shelving, addressing the laundry room ceiling, and replacing a couple baseboard pieces in the dining room. Oh yeah, and installing crown molding in there. Yay, fall.

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