20 Things I Like To Do

If you follow personal finance blogger and author Donna Freedman (and you should, because she’s awesome!) you know that she recently responded to a challenge by posting about 15 things she likes to do.

The original challenge called for twenty things, Donna said, but in the end fifteen were all she could come up with.

Being a completist myself (terrible habit, I know) I decided to see whether I could make it to the full twenty. Turns out I could.

So, in no particular order:

1. Read

I honestly don’t remember a time before I could read, and I’ve always had a voracious hunger for words. Fiction, non-fiction, short, long, serious, fluffy–I devour it all. Having to read via audio instead of text has slowed me down a bit but the appetite remains.

2. Write

I was in elementary school when I decided I wanted to write stories of my own for other people to read. That, too, is a thread that’s run throughout the tapestry of my life, sometimes on top and sometimes beneath the surface, to reemerge when it fits the design.

3. Critique

In 2005 I joined my first online writer’s critique group, and I was hooked. There’s something about looking at the nuts and bolts of someone else’s writing, figuring out what works well and what could work better, that makes it easier to improve one’s own.

4. Dance

From the intricacies of minuets and English Country dance to ballroom dancing to the sheer joy of moving one’s body to the beat of the rhythm of the night, I think there’s a force inside all of us that cries out to dance. I tend to gravitate to the more stylized variants myself, but it’s all good. I’d probably dance every day, given the opportunity.

5. Walk

One of my early memories is Mom taking my sister and me for walks in the evenings before bed. I don’t know if it was her intent, but I suspect we slept better for it. In retrospect, I remember a lot of walks with my parents–through the woods, along walking trails, and even (when we were stationed in Germany) on Volksmarches. In college, I thought nothing of walking for miles if I wanted to get somewhere. Since losing my sight, I’m having a hard time finding good places to walk, but it’s definitely something I want to do more of.

6. Do Arts & Crafts

If you’ve read my blog or known me for any length of time, you already know that I love to work with my hands and to make things. Embroidery, weaving, braiding and knotting, leatherwork, working with clay, felting, bobbin lace…you name it, I’ll try it. If I like it, I’ll do it again. I could probably make an entire list entitled “Twenty Arts & Crafts I Like to Do,” but that seems like cheating, so I’ve lumped them all together here.

7. Cook

There’s nothing as eminently satisfying as tucking into savory pot roast and vegetables over rice, or slicing into a fresh loaf of bread still slightly warm from the oven. Yes, I spend a lot of time in the kitchen, and yes, sometimes it gets old. But on those days when a favorite meal comes together or a new recipe works out just right, it feels pretty darn good.

8. Eat

Well, it just follows, doesn’t it? I’ve always enjoyed sitting down to a special meal with family and friends, but these days even when I’m alone I’m finding I have a whole new appreciation for the tastes, the textures, the sheer beauty of food. A little odd, maybe, but I’ve never claimed to be anything but.

9. Listen to Music

I’ve always had eclectic and wide-ranging taste in music, and that’s only deepened and expanded in recent years. Sometimes I feel like I’m more aware of music now, more attuned to its melodies, harmonies, rhythms, lyrics–all the tiny nuances that come together to make up the whole. But that could all be in my head.

10. Make Music

I had piano lessons when I was in middle school, and for years afterward I’d occasionally sit to the piano and play selections from my lesson books or, more often, the 80s songbook I picked up at a music store in the mall. Of late I’ve been thinking that I’d like to play again, though it’s a whole different animal when you can’t read the music. (More on that, perhaps, in a later post.) I enjoy singing as well, though I can’t claim any great skill at it.

11. Organize

One of my little quirks is that I like to sort, organize, and put things in order. Is it any wonder that one of my all-time favorite jobs was as a file clerk? When I didn’t have any records to file, I’d prowl through folders, looking for places where a sheet had gotten misfiled and created a tangle of incorrectly filed papers around it.

12. Help People

Whether it’s registering visitors to an event, critiquing a friend’s story, holding a group office or moving tables and chairs to set up a feast hall, I love pitching in and helping out. It was one of the things that drew me to the SCA, and feeling that my help was no longer needed or wanted was one of several factors that caused us to pull away again.

13. Learn Things

If money were no object, I’d go back to school and never leave. (Yes, I know there are a slew of places online that offer free courses.) It’s no coincidence that despite having withdrawn from the SCA almost entirely, MrH and I still attend University of Atlantia when we can.

14. Dress Up

I don’t necessarily mean getting all dolled up for a night on the town–though I do own an 18th-century ballgown should a situation arise that calls for that. Rather, I like to think that I’m becoming more aware of my clothes and what they say about me, and developing a personal style that sets me apart–but not too far apart–from the rest of the crowd.

15. Travel

Whether it’s a European tour or a roadtrip to another state, I like to go new places, experience new things, hear new voices/languages/accents, and generally get to know more of the world. We’re not able to do a lot of it right now, but it’s something I’d love to do more often.

16. Go Camping

I suppose this could technically go under travel, but there are campgrounds within an hour’s drive, so we’d hardly have to leave home. I suppose we could set up a tent right in our own yard, but that’s just being silly…

17. Go Swimming

Or at least, play around in the water. True fact: Despite years of childhood lessons, I’m not very good at traditional swimming. Instead, I always preferred to take a couple of deep breaths, duck below the surface and swim along underwater, which I was pretty good at.

18. Grow Plants

Caveat: I like to do it. I’m not necessarily good at it. With one exception, my straw bale gardens have turned in a mediocre performance at best, though I once had a trio of bell peppers that lived in (indoor) pots for several years. My current foliage consists of several spider plants, an out-of-control aloe, an air plant, and a lovely pot of marjoram given to me by an optimistic lady suffering under the delusion that I’d be able to keep it alive.

19. Shop

Sometimes a little retail therapy can go a long way. MrH and I don’t usually spend much, but it’s fun to while away an occasional Saturday morning cruising the farmer’s market or thrift store and come home with something we need or have wanted for a while.

20. Spend Time With People

Yeah, surprised me too. I was never much of a social butterfly and frequently felt ill at ease hanging out with people. But in recent years (specifically, since Bob the Brain Tumor was evicted from my skull) I’ve come to really enjoy my family and friends and treasure the time I get to spend with them. I’m making new friends, too, which is great.

What about you? What things do you like to do? Can you come up with twenty? Feel free to share them (Well, maybe not all of them!) in the comments below.

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The Face Jug Class – Part 2 of 2

C had our face jugs waiting for us when we arrived for our second Saturday of class. I ran my fingers over the features I’d put on the week before, getting reacquainted.

I was tired this week, so I may have some steps out of sequence. As I remember it, the first order of business, now that our jugs had had a week to set, was to trim the excess clay from the bottom and smooth that edge.

As I ran the knife around the circle, clearing the excess clay, I accidentally hit my jug’s nose, leaving what felt like a nasty gash. Well, okay. He’d just have a scar. I smoothed the spot a bit with my thumb, returning to it several times as I smoothed (and smoothed and smoothed) the bottom joint.

As we worked, we discussed what to name our creations. Of course, my mind went immediately to “Scarface”. But when I touched the nose where I thought I’d scarred it, I couldn’t find the hideous gash I remembered.

And then it hit me. Why should my jug default to a “he”? No, she was a she. I decided on the spot to give her pouty Cupid’s-bow lips.

This proved harder than expected. I didn’t feel my piece of coil was thick enough, so I tried to smoosh it toward the middle, rolling it thinner on the ends. When I thought it was about right, I pressed an indentation into the center.

As I worked on my lips, C talked to us about teeth. A lot of face jugs have exaggerated teeth protruding from the lips. They’re often made from shards of broken pottery, and she had some on hand for us to try. I decided to forego teeth, as I didn’t think they’d go well with my lady’s puckered-up mouth, but I think both K and A tried some.

Once I had the lips formed, I had to fit them under the nose. I ended up thinning them out some, but they fit–barely.

And then it was back to smoothing.

We tried the ends of different tools to press pupils into our eyes. I used the rounded end of a paintbrush, but I think the eyes were too dry, because they didn’t feel like they took well. Ah, well.

Given more time, I could have made more facial features. Eyebrows could be scratched on, formed from bits of coil, or both. Cheeks are pads kind of formed to shape and pressed and smoothed into place. Ears…well, I don’t know exactly how ears are done, but many face jugs have them. A moustache would have been another possibility.

Almost there…

Before we broke for lunch, we started the tops of our jugs. This meant learning a new technique–coils.

Under C’s direction, we wound a piece of coil along the top of our cylinder, broke it off, and tapered the ends. We scratched and slipped, pressed the coil firmly into place, and smoothed. And smoothed.

Because the top of the cylinder had set and dried somewhat, it was hard to get it and the new coil to blend. Eventually they did, but now there was something new to watch out for: Unless you’re careful, coil pots tend to flare outward.

“It doesn’t feel like it’s going outward,” I groused, but C showed me how to bevel the top edge inward slightly with my thumbs. Sure enough, after I’d gotten more coils into place, there was a palpable bulge where I’d started the coils.

Somewhere in there, we broke for lunch–a welcome relief! I was feeling cranky and tired and not at all capable of this new process.

After lunch, it got better. A few things really helped:

  • As I felt time growing shorter, I stopped trying to smooth one coil into the next and began smooshing and smearing them together. This let me move a lot faster, and made the clay into a sort of shaped slab.
  • The new coils were fresh and blended readily into each other, making my new technique possible.
  • I realized that even when I put them on at a sharp angle, the new coils stuck to the previous ones rather than fall inward. By the time I pressed the final coil around the outside of the stack to form the jug’s rim, I had no fear of losing it to gravity.

I was the last to finish, and I could easily have spent another hour adding bits and refining my jug. I never did get eyebrows or cheeks on, and I kind of wanted to add a little mole or beauty mark to one of those cheeks.

It wasn’t until later that I realized I had neglected to add a handle, so I guess my face jug is actually a face bottle. Ah, well.

Over the next few weeks, C is going to dry them slowly (to prevent cracking, as the pieces are of many different thicknesses) and fire them in her kiln. I can’t wait to see the final results!

Things I Learned Making Face Jugs

Besides the obvious, of course.

Clay is a lot like bread dough. It’s malleable, it sticks to itself, and if you mess up, you can just ball it up and start again.

The basic techniques of working with clay are fairly easy to pick up, though I can tell there’s still a lot out there to learn. It might be worth taking another class sometime, perhaps at the community college.

I could have done a lot more if I’d had time. Eyebrows, cheeks and a cute little mole or beauty mark, for starters. I think I could have scratched in lines to turn that bulge at the top of the cylinder into the beginnings of an upswept hairdo, perhaps with a ribbon painted or tied around the bottle’s neck. Or used a scrap of slab, rolled a bit thinner, to create a tongue.

I need to get out and do more–and the times I feel like it least are probably the times I need to do it most. And I can totally navigate the world with people other than MrH and the boys, family and close friends.

I really, really want to offer a class in our church’s next goods and services auction, probably an afternoon of historical dancing and desserts.

How about you? Do you work with clay, or have you in the past? Do/did you enjoy it? What exciting new projects have you been up to? Share in the comments below!

Taking a Face Jug Class: Part 1 of 2

Way back last fall, our church held a goods and services auction, one of our annual fundraisers. Among the many wonderful items up for bid were spaces in a face jug-making class.

I had heard of face jugs, but didn’t really know much about them. Still, working with clay seemed like the kind of hands-on, craftsy thing I’d really enjoy, and after touching base with C, the instructor, I signed up.

The class was held at c’s home the last two Saturdays in April.

I rode to C’s house with the other ladies in the class,. I was feeling a little timid about taking off without MrH or our sons–strange for me, as it’s hardly the first time I’ve done it–but K and A were wonderful companions and I’m glad I didn’t ask MrH to drive me. I feel I’ve become more timid and withdrawn lately, and it’s a tendency I don’t want to encourage.

First Things First: Laying the Foundation

C had prepared thick blocks of clay for us, and the first order of business was to roll these into slabs of the proper size and thickness with a rolling pin. This is somewhat tricky, because the clay adheres to the cloth mats it’s rolled out on and has to be flipped periodically and worked from the other side.

Once the slabs were rolled out, we cut rectangular pieces and transferred them to a board. We were each given a thick cardboard tube wrapped with newspaper, the forms our jugs would be made around.

We beveled the ends, pressing each into a tapered wedge, then scored those surfaces, painted them with slip (a thin slurry of clay and water that acts like glue) and pressed them together. A little smoothing (okay, a lot of smoothing) and voila!–we had the beginnings of our jugs.

We took a break for lunch–and to let our clay set. After we ate, C told us a bit about the history of face jugs. Let me see if I remember it:

Many cultures have put faces on their pottery, but the origin of what we think of as face jugs is attributed to a group of Africans brought to America and sold as slaves in an area where a lot of pottery was produced. The jugs were often deliberately made with distorted features and set on porches to frighten devils away from the house or on graves to scare away the devil and allow the soul to escape to Heaven. Another name for them is “ugly jugs”. [Note: Any mistakes in this account are mine, not C’s. I should’ve taken notes!]

After lunch, we scored, slipped and sealed our cylinders to a flat slab of clay to create the bottom of the jug. After we cut away most of the excess, we pulled our jugs off the cardboard tubes, upended them, and beat the bottom with wooden spoons to ensure a good seal and to make the bottom slightly concave. This allows the jug to sit securely on the rim, rather than teetering around if the bottom is uneven.

Since the class, I’ve been feeling the bottoms of ceramic cups, bowls and even plates, and many of them have this kind of rim. Very few have flat bottoms. Neat!

Finally, we used a coil of clay (and yet more smoothing) to seal the inside joint where sides met bottom.

You’ve Got the Cutest Little Baby Face…

At long last, we were ready to put on our faces. So to speak.

I’d been dreading this part because I was convinced I had no talent for sculpture, but it proved easier than I expected.

A chunk of thick coil, flattened and thickened at one end and narrowed at the other, became a nose. I put a bit of flare into the nostrils and accidentally made an odd bump in the septum that I found endearing.

Eyes were slightly flattened balls or beans of clay pressed into shallow depressions we made with our thumbs. They were held in place by eyelids, bits of narrow coil smoothed into the face at top and bottom but left to stand out against the eye itself.

And just like that it was time to go. I was beat, and I don’t think I was the only one! We wrapped our jugs and took our leave, promising to be back for the next week’s session.

Even though I was nervous about the class, I had a great time. C, K and A were a lot of fun, and it was great working together in a creative environment.

It was tiring working with the clay, especially having to translate what I was hearing into what I was feeling in the clay. It helped that C gave super-clear instructions and took the time to think about what we were doing from a tactile perspective, and that clay is such a forgiving medium.

I was going to try to squeeze the whole class into a single post, but this is getting a little long, so I think I’m going to do a separate post for the next class. It shouldn’t take too long to write, but this is a busybusy week, so I’m not sure when it’ll go up.

Until next time…

New Year, New Start

At least, I’m hoping.

I sort of dropped off the face of the earth after my trip to Michigan. Sorry about that. The trip was fun, if tiring. Then there was life stuff, and some health stuff, and anyone knows that the longer you go without doing something, the harder it is to get back to.

I did post a bit to my social media, especially Twitter, but I don’t think I’ve logged into Facebook for months. Probably should do some catching up there, too. *Sigh.*

Anyway, to recap:

Michigan

The trip to Michigan was great. It was awesome visiting with my mom and getting to know her boyfriend. I got to visit with my aunts and uncles, several of my cousins, and my nieces and nephew.

One of the best parts of the trip was connecting with my sister. We went on a couple of walks together, and she had me and Mom over for lunch one afternoon.

I haven’t always been good at staying close with my family, and I feel blessed to have a chance to reconnect now. I also (re)learned that I can manage without MrH, though to be fair I didn’t really stretch my wings or go anywhere without my family. There was just so much to do!

Guess I’ll just have to go back!

I’ll take “Things That Aren’t A Good Sign” for $200, Alex…

In mid-September, MrH went to the ER with blood in his urine and excrutiating abdominal pain. The ER doctors diagnosed a massive infection, gave him antibiotics and pain medication, and referred him to a urologist.

But wait. The urologist had bad news: An enhanced scan showed not an infection, but a mass in MrH’s kidney. The size and position of the growth suggested cancer.

That isn’t ever a word you want to hear in relation to someone you love.

On the good side, both the urologist and the oncologist to whom he referred us have been very positive. We seem to have caught this thing in its early stages, and kidney cancer is very treatable. Many patients experience complete remission. Naturally, we’re hoping for the best.

Oh, Crud

December hasn’t exactly been a great month for my health, either–though nothing so drastic as MrH has experienced.

Early in the month, I came down with the crud. No big deal, and it had almost cleared up by Monday the 11th when our son drove us to Chapel Hill to meet MrH’s surgeon.

As we came out our front door, I slipped on some ice on the front steps and landed hard on my left shin. Ouch! There didn’t seem to be any serious damage, though, so we continued on.

The surgeon seemed very nice, and he had good news: His plan was to remove only the part of the kidney with the growth in it, meaning MrH wouldn’t be down an entire kidney.

The rest of that week sped by, full of church activities, visiting with friends, and general busyness. I probably should have rested my leg more, but it seemed to be okay.

Sunday night I felt a little nauseous, but chalked it up to something I’d eaten. Not. I went to bed early and woke in the middle of the night with fever and chills, sinus drainage and a cough that wouldn’t quit.

I chalked it up to a repeat of the crud, but no, it turned out to be full-blown flu. And I’d gotten a flu shot, too!

My fever finally broke Thursday, by which time mrH was feeling run-down and feverish. And it went on from there.

Yes, the entire family got the flu for Christmas. Worst Christmas present ever.

We did have a nice (if simple, because no one felt much like cooking) Christmas dinner together and exchange a few small gifts. In spite of everything, it was a pretty swell Christmas.

Happy New Year!

So what’s in store for the year ahead?

I don’t make resolutions, but I’ve spent some time today thinking about goals I want to set. (Clearly, I’ve already blown “Avoid procrastination.” out of the water.)

I want to write more, here and elsewhere. I’ve got some lovely fiction developing that I really ought to do something with. I want to be more physically active. I want to include more veggies and grains in our diet. I want to continue to work on decluttering and organizing the house. I want to spend more time with family and friends. There’s a post in here somewhere, but those are the highlights.

How about you? Was the second half of 2017 good to you? Anything you’re looking forward to in 2018? Goals, resolutions, or neither? Let me know in the comments below!

Playing Catch-Up…Again

OMG, y’all. Computers!

As some readers may know via social media, early this year we replaced my dying computer with a new-to-me refurbished machine. Great, other than the steep learning curve of upgrading from Windows 7 to Windows 10–until the new hard drive tanked and had to be replaced.

We backed up my files, but I lost all my settings, programs, bookmarks and cookies. So, for the second time in a few months, I was back to square one, trying to remember what settings I’d tweaked and where, finding and reinstalling programs, recalling what sites I wanted to bookmark and relocating them, digging up passwords so I could log back in.

Urgh! And, frankly, it was a lot harder to drum up the same enthusiasm the second time around.

Balls were dropped–among them this blog.

I did write you a few posts, but, daunted by the complexity of logging back into WordPress, relocating my dashboard, changing the settings in the editor to accept my html tags, and actually posting, I let them lie fallow in my blog folder.

Bad blogger! No biscuit!

So, other than the harrowing tribulations of the modern computer age, what’s been going on here?

A Plethora of Produce

When our younger son found out we’d signed up for a weekly produce box through a local CSA program, he didn’t miss a beat.

“Just what this family needs,” he said. “More things we don’t eat going bad in the refrigerator.”

Thanks, kiddo.

So far, that’s a fate we’ve mostly managed to avoid, though I’ve been kept scrambling trying to figure out how to use all of our veggie bounty–another contributor, no doubt, to my lack of internet presence.

We’ve enjoyed fresh figs and blackberries, discovered that our son likes oven-roasted beets and I rather enjoy stewed okra, and reconfirmed that none of us particularly likes spaghetti squash.

I wanted us to try new fruits and veggiesand to increase the amount of them in our diet. I think I’ve succeeded, but but it remains to be seen whether the gains will last past the last fall produce delivery.

MrH Goes to Kamp

Kilt Kamp, that is, where participants start on Sunday morning with a pile of fabric and notions and leave the following Friday with a completed kilt, taught and assisted by professional kilt makers along the way.

MrH has wanted to go for years, especially now that he’s trying to establish a historic/fantasy men’s tailoring business, and I’m so glad we had the chance to send him. We couldn’t have done it without the help of a couple of generous sponsors (who prefer to remain anonymous) and I want to thank them for helping make this a reality.

Visiting Michigan

I’ve been kind of down lately, wishing I could visit family and old friends in Michigan. Well, it looks like I’m going to get a chance to see at least some of them!

My neice is getting married the first weekend in September, and my mom and her boyfriend are driving down to North Carolina next week to pick me up. I’ll be there for about two weeks, and I hope I’ll get a chance to dosome visiting and reconnecting.

I’m so excited! And also apprehensive, because this is the first time I’ll be away from MrH and the boys for any length of time in an environment that isn’t specifically set up to deal with us blind folks.

I’m pretty secure by now about my ability to handle the big stuff–getting around the house, eating, dressing, bathing. It’s all the little things–will I be able to use their microwave? Find things in their kitchen if I want a snack? Run the washer and dryer?

Mom and G will be there to help me, but what if they’re asleep or they need to go out? Or what if they get frustrated by all the little things we’ve gotten so used to we just take them for granted?

What if I get bored? What if I get overtired? What if I get stranded somewhere at the wedding and don’t know where to go?

I’m sure it’ll all work out fine. I think this trip is going to stretch my boundaries in a good way, and I’m excited about that.

It’ll be an adventure.

And having adventures and being visible in the world are pretty much the reasons I started this blog. So…here I go!

A Memorial Day Video: Green Fields of France

I stumbled across this WWI remembrance song by Eric Bogle a few years ago and was really taken with it. I’ve wanted to share it for a while, and today seemed like a good time.

I wanted to post a video of Eric Bogle performing the song, but couldn’t find one without an ad. So here’s a video of The Corries, one of my favorite groups, singing it. A search on YouTube will turn up dozens more versions if you want to check them out.

I wish everyone a safe and happy Memorial Day weekend. I hope that along with whatever you have planned, you’ll make space to remember and honor those who have fallen in service to our country.

Be well.

Update on The Irish Music Concert: Now There’s Video!

Unbelievable. I tried to edit my previous post, but WordPress opened the editor in the wrong mode, so that my html tags didn’t work. I closed the window and tried again, and now it’s giving me a dialogue I can’t read or seem to get past. Because WordPress.

But on to more exciting news: There’s video!

I linked to my post on FaceBook, and Simon replied:

It’s on YouTube! Here is a message from videographer James Gemmill: It’s posted. Currently at 360p, it’ll take a few hours before it’s ready in 4K:

So now you can not only hear what songs were played, you can hear them played–and see the trio in action.

Enjoy!

[Hmm. I just previewed my post. Apparently I didn’t just link to the video; I embedded the video. So you can watch it here or on YouTube. :)]