• nature,  travel

    The Snowy Wilds

    We have taken advantage of the long weekend and have shot up to rural Vermont with some friends for a weekend of skiing.  I say skiing with some hesitancy there, as I have not left the house since we arrived two days ago, but instead have been spending my time enjoying the glistening carpet of snow that covers everything with the nerve to be outside.  I have never seen snow like this before and the triangular piles on top of every fence post just look like tiny wild snowmen to me.  Outside, on a deck that we can’t access for the three feet of snow blocking the door, I can just see the tip of what looks like a vacuum cleaner that someone left outside.  There is so much snow that it spills from the second story porches onto the ground until you cannot tell where one floor ends and the next begins.

    This seems like a place where winter means waiting; it is a long deep breath where you must force yourself to rest.  To do anything else, to fight through these insurmountable acres of snow, is unnatural.

    vermonthorseThere is a horse on the property, which I can see from the bedroom window, and I have risen from my seat every few hours to see if she has dared to stamp out more of the snow from her paddock, but she does not seem to want to move far from the comfort of roof and trough.  I can empathize with this, as I have barely moved myself and have not been too sorry for the vertigo that pushes skiing out of my reach.  I have been happy enough to sit in the farmhouse and admire the filet crochet curtains, the snowshoes on the walls, the hanging quilts that make you reach out and draw a finger along the curled white lines of the quilting.  There are no fewer than four stuffed deer heads mounted low on the walls, which disturbed when we first arrived, but are now beginning to feel like old friends.  With everyone out of the house and over at the mountain, there is a silence here that is deep and restful.

    I have been taking care of writing obligations with deadlines on them, which is work that does not fill me with much joy.  I have been pushing through so that I can get back to reading and editing and writing creatively, which has been difficult to find time for in the last month.  A frustrating state of affairs.  The deadlines have been met now, which means the next forty-eight hours are entirely mine to remind myself how to do the things that I love best to do.  With the peace of the last two days, my brain is recharged and I am ready to go.  I don’t think I will want to go home.


  • introspection,  nature,  new york,  yoga


    Like a good part of the country, we experienced abnormally cold temperatures early this week.  The coldest we felt was about -17F with the wind chill, which doesn’t compare to a good part of the rest of the country, but is cold enough for your breath to get your scarf wet enough that it will freeze to your face.

    Ask me how I know.

    I struggle in the winter months.  I’ve been in New York long enough that I’ve learned to cope with temperatures of 20F as a normality, but anything below that literally terrifies me.  Each year, I dread January and February, which are the coldest months here, because I spend so much time just trying to survive. There’s very little energy left to do much of anything else.  I am very much a homebody, so you would think that the plummeting outdoors temperatures wouldn’t matter so much, but the house and my office are drafty and I spend two months a year shivering everywhere I go.  I walk two miles each day as part of my commute and figuring out how to survive that involves a lot of strategy and planning in my clothing selection.  That — and my actual fear of the cold — is distracting enough that it’s easy to allow myself to slip into apathy as life becomes a fight with the outdoors.

    Me, Trying to Make it to the Train
    Me — Trying to Make it to the Train

    In yoga class on Saturday morning, my excellent teacher told a story about what we think we can and cannot do and invited us to push the envelope of our definitions of ‘can’t’.  Obviously, she was talking about the more challenging yoga poses; the focus of the class was an arm balance that I did not and have not ever attained.  Certainly, one of the best ways to move along in challenging poses in yoga is to ignore your brain’s laughter at the idea that you might be able to contort your body into that of an acrobat and to just keep on trying them until you can.

    Yet I found myself thinking about the weather instead; about how this week’s temperatures had pushed my own definition of what I can and can’t deal with.  In my brain, I think, “oh yes, I can thrive when it’s 20F or warmer outside.  I’ve done that now often enough in the decade since I’ve moved here that I’ve nearly gotten used to it.  No problem.”  20F?  Can.  When we saw the weather reports for -17F, my brain immediately said, “Panic!  Can’t.”  As a result, I was exhausted on Tuesday and Wednesday, not because the weather was so terrible (well, it was really, really awful but never mind that) but because my brain got into this exhausting panic state and put me into fight-or-flight mode.  This is not a useful reaction to have about the weather.  The weather is non-negotiable.  It’s going to happen regardless of my feelings about it.  What I did have a choice about was how much I was going to let the weather affect my spirits. I admit that I lost badly.  I can’t.  I can’t.

    My eyelashes did freeze with all the tears from the wind in my face.  That’s got to count for something.

    It warmed up and by Friday and Saturday I found myself able to go outside in my favorite uniform of jeans, loafers-without-socks and a cardigan.   My entire being thrilled with the warmer weather.  I got out on my scooter and left the house no fewer than three separate times, which is pretty remarkable for me on a weekend. I danced through the house, throwing open windows and pulling down Christmas decorations.  I was filled with the energy that I find so difficult to find at this time of year and it was glorious.

    But I had to wonder — would I have enjoyed the 50F day on Saturday if I hadn’t experienced the -17F day on Tuesday?  Maybe, but probably not.  We learn by contrast, by comparing our experiences with those of others, but mostly with our own experiences.  There was a time where I thought a 20F degree day would be too much to survive, but it’s become normal.  I can’t turned into I can.  And every year I get a little better at still being able to function when it’s freezing outside, but this is definitely still a pretty low time of year for me.  For those of you that thrive in cold temperatures — how do you do it?  How do you keep your energy up when the landscape is bleak and the air is painful and cold?  How do you still find the energy to create?  I want to try your secrets.  I want to turn I can’t into I can.

  • nature,  travel

    Cherry Blossoms

    Cherry BlossomI am down in Virginia for a lightning trip, where I am staying with a very good, old friend. The weekend is beautiful, with temperatures in the mid-seventies and the kind of bright, blue sky that you never actually see in New York. Much of what I miss about Virginia is the endless sky that’s cribbed in only by the mountains – and I am getting a lot of that.

    We went to see the cherry blossoms today, which I have not done since I was about eight years old. The cherry blossom trees were gifted to the United States by Japan in 1912 and, as an American born in Japan and raised in D.C., I have always felt a special kinship with them. The festival is largely ignored by D.C. natives because of the crowds, but at the beginning of April every year, I think about the trees and how lovely it is that a huge festival is put on because trees are blooming. I have not been in town for it in nearly a decade, but since I happened to be here at the right time, I couldn’t miss the opportunity.

    The world is in bloom here. I forget how there are trees everywhere, even in the city and along the highways. There are cherry blossoms in shades from pink to mauve, dripping magnolias, Bradford pears and the white of the dogwoods. I didn’t have the names of these things when I lived here, because I had never grown anything. Now I am older, returned as a tourist, with a new appreciation and a greener thumb. It was a fine day, filled with the energy that spring brings. It is nearly appropriate that we are venturing towards the halfway mark of Camp Nanowrimo and that I am still on track, birthing my own characters, creating, blooming. Spring is here, with all that that brings. It is my favorite time of the year.

  • nature,  writing

    Artistic Spring

    Usually this time of year, as the weather warms up and the birds start singing in the mornings again, I feel a push to suddenly go forward and create things.  I imagine snow melting — I have never lived in a place where snow was a constant for the winter, but I hear there are places where spring is signified this way, and suddenly I want to write.  Only this year, I spent the winter months writing, which means I’m facing spring with a satisfied sense of accomplishment.

    Was it the hurricane?  This entire winter has been colored by Sandy.  My neighborhood still has many empty houses and storefronts, in a town whose many small businesses were already hit hard by the weak economy.  The weather was mild this year, but even so, it felt particularly arctic as I passed houses that had no heat, as I walked by empty doors and driveways and wondered which FEMA funded hotel the owners were living in, their entire lives rearranged by four hours of a single high tide.  We were close to disaster, merely a block away from the height of the water, but as I walk down ghostly streets, I can’t feel anything but my good luck.  This is a big change from how I normally go through winter.  Normally I am doing my best to just survive and function.  Leaving my house to do the grocery shopping is a moral triumph.  The cold feels like a personal attack, my own Mount Everest to climb.  Trying to create on top of that often seems impossible and I get lazy and out of shape.

    But this year, I’ve had a constant reminder of how much worse the winter could be.  My very constant gratitude has given me an energy I don’t usually have from November to March.  I’ve been deeply immersed in a large writing project.  It is the largest project that I have ever attempted and I am further along with it than I ever would have imagined I would be.  I’ve written over 60,000 words of historical fiction this winter, mostly scribbled on my train commute, and well over half of which is background that will never be shown to everyone else.  But it’s let me delve deeper into my characters, to know them better than I think I have ever known any others.  When I close my eyes at night, I see their faces and watch them interact.  When I wake in the morning, they are so real to me that I sometimes am confused between which life is truly mine; is it the world they’re living in or the one where I get up and get dressed and do all the other things that are required of me in a day?  They are waiting for their story to be fully told and this time I am finding their demands irresistible.  They have, after all, been with me for the better part of two years now, in imagining and exploration.  Now that they’re actually hitting digital paper, their voices are just getting stronger.

    The storm didn’t touch us, but it did.  It is everywhere I look, it is as unignorable as my characters have become.  It was, in many ways, like a forest fire.  It destroyed so much that was valuable and worthy, but it also left room for growth.  And now it is spring, the time for things to blossom.  It is time to finish the first draft, to explore my secondary characters, to finish etching out my subplots.  It is time to create with a purpose.

  • knitting,  nature,  spinning

    December String

    I’ve been very distracted lately, because I’ve discovered Librivox, which is a collection of public domain audiobook recordings. For free. This means that I can knit and have someone read Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy and Charlotte Bronte to me. If you don’t know about it, go now and download the books you always wished that you’d read, but never made time for. You can multitask! It’s a dream.

    We went down to Virginia for Thanksgiving and had a very quiet visit, which was actually really what the doctor ordered. I took my new spinning wheel, the Majacraft Rose, because, well, it has a carrying bag. And carrying bags ought to be used. I managed to spin up about 2 ounces of alpaca, which I really ought to finish working on, as I have another 2 ounces left. My spinning has gotten so much better since SOAR, so now I must show a picture of the last skein I finished:

    I’m not a master by any means, but I have improved an awful lot, which feeds into spinning as a new obsession. I’ve picked up a few tomes on spinning techniques now, as well as having subscribed to SpinOff, which mostly seems to be an excuse to look at pictures of weird looking sheep. Like merinos.

    I have been doing a fair amount of knitting as well, including picking up a cardigan that I never quite liked the fit of and making the shawl collar twice as wide. It’s the first sweater I ever made and nearly took me two years to complete, as I naturally picked the most difficult cable pattern in the universe to learn how to cable on.

    I feel like this picture should really be called Self-Portrait. Plants, books, games and knitting. If only it paid better.

    Somehow it became December without me looking, but I’m procrastinating finishing up my holiday shopping. (I can say that, as I have purchased exactly two presents already). Tomorrow I’m going to find someplace in the house to put the tree and potentially procure one. I never used to be much of a fan of Christmas trees until I realized that having something gigantic and organic (unlike, say the giant fern in the picture above) is kind of awesome. We may even get ambitious and climb ladders and put up lights – coming home to a nicely lit house makes the dark of December so much more bearable.

    As does sock yarn.


  • nature,  new york,  ocean

    Hurricane Irene

    Is that really two blog posts in a row about the weather? Oh yes, yes it is.

    Hurricane Irene hit this past weekend. I was too busy to blog about it because we were worrying about a possible mandatory evacuation, which we got sometime on Friday night. Unlike the majority of my neighbors, apparently, this means that we packed up and left and spent a really uncomfortable twenty-four hours in a hurricane shelter.

    Of course, my neighbors didn’t have a tree drop on their car in Hurricane Isabel in 2003, but I did. Maybe it’s the Virginian in me, but I know what a hurricane can do. When the police tell you to leave, staying behind is asinine.

    People are now screaming about the government and media overreacting, which is also asinine, as when the order was issued, there was a Category 2 hurricane due to hit us, which is not a joke. We got lucky in that it downgraded to a tropical storm just as it was leaving our area, but it could have been so much worse than it was. It’s likely to still be days until we have public transportation back up and running the way it normally does, since quite a lot of semaphores are damaged, so the trains can’t run.

    My neighbor yesterday said to me, “What, you were scared or something? I mean, they said the police wouldn’t arrest you if you didn’t leave, so what was the problem?”

    Long Island, my friends, Long Island in a nutshell.

  • nature,  travel

    Stockton, NJ

    I’ve come to realize that I really, really like colonial style.  Big red wallpaper with big red stripes, pineapples everywhere, houses made of stone.  The whole country estate, pastoral ideal, yeoman farmer thing.

    But, y’know, without the oppression and slavery that seems to come with it.

    We spent the weekend at a lovely B&B in Stockton, NJ, which is right next to the Delaware River (as in, “Washington crossing the”).  We haven’t had much time to ourselves, just the two of us, and His birthday is coming up next week, so we thought we’d get away.  It was just lovely.  We stayed in a converted colonial farmhouse.  It had sheep.  And pineapples.  And bizarrely shaped canopy beds with netting over it that we spent a good amount of time trying to reverse engineer.

    Maybe the colonial thing is just an extension of my obsession with fiber arts.

    We also rented bicycles and acquired ourselves a picnic lunch and spent much of Saturday just pedaling and trying to pick the perfect place to splash down to the water to eat our sandwiches.  I haven’t been very hungry since the weather became hot, so I’m afraid I didn’t do my sandwich much justice at all, but I had a grand time eating it and splashing my feet in the river from on top of a log.  Sitting on logs makes me really happy.

    Exhausted from our cycling, we took a nap and then woke up to go into town, where there was a music festival going on at one of the local restaurants.  (All the restaurants were amazingly good — and expensive — which goes to show that their economy is tourism.)  We had one of the best meals of our lives, while watching two youngins in skimpy bathing suits make out (and then some) on the one corner in the center of town.  I mean, where else would you?

    We took a walk out onto one of the many bridges spanning the Delaware and watched the moon over the river.  It would have been perfect, if someone hadn’t disappeared in the river earlier, so our romantic talk was punctuated with sirens and an airboat, which is the loudest thing you can imagine on a river that still.  Not much for ambiance, but the moon was still nice.  There’s just something about a full moon on a river.  It reminds me very much of where I grew up, which is just a happy thing.

    By Sunday, it was definitely time to get back to the home front and check on the cat, who has been recovering from an illness.  We stopped at Washington’s Crossing and oohed and ahhed at the “Washington crossed the Delaware near here” signs and took lots of pictures of the river and the geese of the river.  It was a beautiful weekend away, filled with many naps and quality time and nature and pretty memories.

    But you’re not getting me on that river one on of those colonial boats.  That current’s swift.

  • friends,  knitting,  nature,  spinning


    Spring has officially sprung. If it weren’t raining, I’d be running out taking pictures to show you my daffodil that finally put forth a nice yellow bloom. Our Asian pear tree #1 has also sprouted flowers this year, which is a new development. It is now two years old, which means that this is the year we should see fruit, providing that Asian pear tree #2, which is a bit runtier and slower on the uptake, manages to pollinate it properly.

    I wonder if it would be weird if I dig up the pear trees and take them with me when we move. Or, y’know, pollinate them manually. Is that legal?

    We’re also on year two for strawberries and raspberries, but year one for blueberries, so we should alternate a bit. I think this means that I need to plant some more two year fruiting plants this year, but I’m told that the remaining part of the garden is going to tomatoes. OR ELSE.

    Hey, I know which side my bread is buttered on.

    It’s been the loveliest weekend ever. My birthday is tomorrow, which means that I’ve given myself full permission to not be productive, which I generally fail at. (Note: took up knitting in order to be able to sit in a room with others while they watch TV.) This morning I took a big long bath in our big long bathtub, while reading The Intentional Spinner, which is clearly some kind of sickness. I was on the chapter about how people harvest gossamer, which is a word all of the readers in the audience will have heard of. What they might not realize is that this means *spiders*, which is not really what I wanted to be thinking about while in the tub located in the basement. But I did learn that spiders make no fewer than five different types of thread, one of which turns into gossamer. McCuin gives helpful suggestions on which bit of the web to collect. I am not squeamish about bugs (unless discovered without a proper introduction, but I believe no one will look down on screaming in *that* situation), but I think it’s going to be a very long time before I go out with a used toilet paper roll and start collecting.

    But as it’s filament, not fiber, all you need to do is ply it, rather than spin singles and then ply. But it did come out of a spider.

    I spent part of the afternoon sewing an eye pillow. I finally got my sewing machine back up and running, after some disasters with breaking the needle on it and trying to find the correct replacement. I went through a period where I made eye pillows and sold them, as they’re pretty fabulously easy sewing. There wasn’t much profit in it, so I gave it up, but I had a request. I was reminded about how much I hate sewing, which is probably because I just don’t know how to do it very well or easily. I took a class when I was about eleven, but I’d be interested in taking another one to try and learn a bit more. Of course, I need another hobby like a hole in the head, but I keep accumulating a basket of masculine clothing with holes that I’m apparently expected to fix and it’s starting to take over my desk. I’d also really like to sew some dresses for myself. Dresses that fit and cover all relevant parts (which includes knees, in my book) and are sold commercially are basically nonexistent.

    We finished off the night with a giant and delicious Easter dinner the house of friends, which was delightful. I’ve been working on a Shipwreck Shawl on and off for the last year and have finally gotten down to the netty bit, which I somehow failed to realize meant fifty rows of YO, K2tog. Yawn. But it’s great knitting for sitting around a living room while digesting your carrot cake and Fragelica coffee.