Before Instagram

there was Laurie Colwin:

“She decanted everything into glass and on her long kitchen shelves were row upon row of jars containing soap, pencils, cookies, salt, tea, paper clips, and dried beans. . . . The shoes in her closet were stuffed with pink tissue paper and her drawers were filled with lavender sachet. In each corner of her closet hung a pomander ball. She liked to have tea on a tray and she was fond of unmatched china. The tray she brought . . . held cups that bore forget-me-nots, a lily-of-the-valley sugar dish, a cream pitcher with red poppies, and a teapot covered with red roses and cornflowers.”

Happy All the Time (Penguin, 1985; orig. 1971), 9-10. Note the Oxford comma separating the paper clips from the dried beans.

We’ve made more trips to the storage unit and I’m starting to unpack my fiction. It’s like browsing in a bookstore specially curated just for me.

Six on Saturday: this is winter

Dear garden-blog-friends in kindly climates, your posts about snowdrops and hellebores sound like fantasy literature to me, not that I’m complaining, as I read a lot of fantasy. Since we just had Christmas, this is surely not Narnia, but it will certainly be at least ten weeks until I see any signs of spring here.

This is the lilac bush and that white stone under it, which is even whiter now:

At the front of the house, the sedums are still with us:

There’s an accent plant which looks rather tropical but is stubbornly remaining green:

It appears in the back corner here:

Round the back, the squirrels are certainly not lying down with heat exhaustion, as last they did last summer:

Gardening activities move indoors for the winter; I re-potted some African violets:

I also spent a lot of time shoveling the driveway today, just in time for more snow tonight.

Six on Saturday is hosted by the Propagator!

Hail the new!

My intention for the year: roll with the punches. I’m sure there will be some.

That doesn’t stop me planning. I’ve re-booked a trip I had hoped to take last year, mainly (TBH) because the voucher I was holding was about to expire. The airline wanted me to use it within twelve months of when I first booked the trip. Well, ha very ha, sorry, but that’s not happening. It took quite awhile, but I did manage to get the trip pushed out to May, so we’ll see if that’s time enough to get vaccinated and for the library I want to visit to re-open. Considering that the alternative was just giving up and losing the money entirely, I’m willing to gamble.

Today I did two things I’ve been putting off for months: potted or re-potted some house plants (two African violet plantlets had been rooting in water since August), and hung pictures. The plants took under two hours, including setting up and cleaning up afterwards, and did not spawn any off-shoot projects. I certainly have had spare chunks of two hours in the last four months, but not the bandwidth to deal with getting out the new pots and soil, shutting up Basement Cat, clearing the kitchen table, actually dealing with the plants, putting everything back, and cleaning up. I spent my spare time reading fluff or going for walks, rather than embarking on multi-step projects, although I did at some point buy new pots, also drywall screws for the pictures.

Hanging the pictures took a little longer. There, the steps were find toolbox, get out drill, dig around for drill bits, discover that the little doohickey that tightens down the bit holder is missing, take everything out of the tool box to look for it, find that it is entirely missing, test various Allen wrenches and screwdriver heads to find something that will sorta-kinda replace it (and make note to get a real replacement on a day that is not a national holiday), measure various walls, make holes in walls, screw in the drywall screws, hang pictures, put everything away. I managed to lose the hammer at one point, but found it in the bag with the drill. The hammer was part of an off-shoot project; one picture frame was loose and needed to be tacked down again. Fortunately I recently turned up a little packet of the right sort of tacks.

It’s the propensity for off-shoot projects that keeps me from tackling tasks like this. So often, the steps go Find Object A, Discover that Part B is Missing, Spend C Amount of Time Looking for Part B, Spend D Amount of Time Going to E Stores for Replacement Part B, return home to discover that Cat F has Damaged Object A, Say “oh fuck it” and Pour Wine or Eat Chocolate.

I have also started setting up calendar stuff for January and beyond, which I’ve been putting off for a week, I think in rebellion against the entire idea of calendars and task lists.

Today’s productivity may or may not be a good sign for the rest of the year. Nonetheless, if I do nothing else but worky-work for the rest of the month, at least I’ve done these two things that will Stay Done (for awhile, anyway; eventually the plants will need more attention), so I’m claiming that I have Won January.

Fast away the old year passes

And thank Cat that’s over . . . except that one of my principles is “it can always get worse,” so I’m not entirely thrilled to see 2020 go. We’ll hope for the best. In 2020, I got to move, and discovered that I don’t hate teaching online as much as I expected to. As the introvert’s introvert, I’m very happy to be at home with Sir John, my cats, and lots of books, all the time. Life is good, though I miss traveling.

2020 saw an international trip in January, the only trip I made this year. I re-submitted an old R&R, which was rejected a few months later (I immediately submitted it elsewhere). I made strawberry-rhubarb pie for Pi Day. I lost track of the weeks at the end of the pivoted-to-online spring semester, and still came up with a final assignment that the students enjoyed writing and I enjoyed reading. It might not have been wholly rigorous, but this year, I’m taking continued student engagement as a Big Fat Win. We finally got an offer on our old house and went into contract on it. I did a whole series of posts about house-hunting, starting here; it was somewhat stressful staring down a closing date and having to move during a pandemic, but we were so happy to be getting out that really it was all okay. I did my last old-house Six on Saturday.

We love the new house. Basement Cat and Reina have achieved détente here, although the dialogue reported in this post is still enacted regularly. I considered five decades of changes in my life. For a couple of days, the surface of my desk was visible. I enjoy the new garden.

I discovered Maria Nikolajeva’s blog, and am sadly reminded, today, that I have to put together my documents for annual review. It’s a comfort to know that even the wildly accomplished hate the process. I emulated a minor character from Barbara Pym. Once the semester was over, I thought about all the things I needed and wanted to do over winter break, far more than there is really time for. A good bit of the break has gone to reading and doing jigsaw puzzles, and we have also managed a couple of runs to the storage unit for more boxes, so I’ve happily done some re-discovery of Books I Have Missed.

I found at least two books in the fantasy/YA stash that I have no recollection of either reading or buying. I am guessing that I acquired them not long before the Massive Declutter Effort, now some four years back, when I thought the house would sell quickly and I’d only be without the packed items for six months or so, and that I packed unread books thinking that they’d be an incentive to unpack once we moved. I wonder what other unexpected treasures I’ll (re)discover once the weather cooperates enough to let us go for another load.

I plan to celebrate the New Year on Nova Scotia time and go to bed after that. See you in 2021!

Six on Saturday: the Forest Fence

These images are not from my garden! We celebrated the Feast of Stephen by driving several leagues to a park that runs along a river, where we walked with friends. They are avid birders, so we kept stopping to look at birds: a kinglet, a downy woodpecker, a red-bellied woodpecker, a merganser. I tried to get pictures of them, but my camera was in no way equal to the task. The best bird picture I managed was this group of Canada geese, on the river:

I also caught a robin’s silhouette:

I always love walking by water:

There’s a woodpecker in here somewhere:

One thing I like about plants is that they will hold still while you get a good look. These canes were a fairly bright purple, in person:

I’m not sure what sort of insects made these artful carvings:

Not good for the tree, but interesting to look at!

So that’s my six for this week, and I hope they’re at least in the spirit of the thing though they’re not anyone’s garden. Six on Saturday is hosted by The Propagator; please go there to find more lovely pictures and garden bloggers.

Winter Break, day eight

CATS!

I’ve taken my notes on the big fat ILL book, and I’m going to take it to campus, scan some bits, return it, and pick up other books that I need for planning classes and finishing that dratted essay revision.

Speaking of which, after a week of procrastination (during which I drilled a lot of Greek, read the medieval Spanish art exhibition catalog from the Met (http://www.metmuseum.org/art/metpublications/the_art_of_medieval_spain_ad_500_1200), started Sénac’s Charlemagne et Mahomet en Espagne, which I purchased five [!] years ago in Paris, read two mystery/ suspense books in full [https://clothesinbooks.blogspot.com/2020/12/reprint-of-year-award-2020.html], baked two batches of cookies, ordered flowers for the dowager Lady Hull’s birthday, bought presents for my great-niblings which will no doubt arrive after Xmas, and talked to two different friends on the phone), I got back to said revision this morning.

First I opened up the four most recent documents I’ve been tinkering with. Then I printed one, a series of topic sentences, and cut them up to spread out on my desk in an effort to ensure that the whole thing is well-organized before I start messing with large hunks of prose.

Glendower came in and, ignoring his food dish on the floor, leaped to my desk, sliding in among the little slips of paper. I rewarded him for this bad behavior by putting his food in front of him, because we’re always trying to make sure he eats enough.

Hissing in the living room was followed by Sir John yelling at Basement Cat for harassing Reina. I went out to see what was going on, and encouraged Basement Cat to stay upstairs. Then I went to the bathroom.

Back in my study, Basement Cat was definitely encouraged to stay upstairs—he was on my desk, eating Glendower’s food, with the slips of paper in even greater disarray than before.

Dear editor, it’s not exactly the-dog-ate-my-homework but it’s definitely in that genre . . . .

I may have to take my slips of paper to campus with me and spread them out in my office. Good thing I have to go return that ILL.

Winter break, day 3

Or is that “break”? I have no classes or meetings to show up for (oh, thank Cat, no meetings), but I have two classes to prepare for online delivery in the “spring” semester. In this climate and since spring break has been omitted from the calendar (to prevent students going away and spreading The Virus), that will be the “winter” semester for most of its length, I expect.

But I digress. One of these classes I have taught before, and preparing it is just (“just”!) a matter of revising for online delivery. And now I know how much is involved in that revision. Last summer I did a whole lot more planning and writing of assignments than I normally do in summer, and vastly more to build an online site for the class, and still I was scrambling nearly every week of the semester to finish putting up the necessary online stuff in time.

The other class, well, technically I’ve taught it before. Once. Over a decade ago. And I will not be teaching it in anything like the way I did then. Different books, different approach, different assignments, different everything. So effectively starting from scratch. I kept trying to find time to work on it, this fall, but all I really did was order books and start assembling a reading list.

So I’d have my work cut out for me, if class prep were all I had to do in the next four weeks.

There are also the dread Annual Documents to prepare, an accepted essay to revise (I kept trying to work on it all through the fall, and could not keep momentum going), a new essay that has been nagging at me and which I’d like to have a bash at, a whole lot of reading that I want to do, starting with a book on medieval Spanish art that Jon Jarret kindly recommended, continuing with various books that I have more or less impulsively bought or requested from the library, and assorted PDF essays that I ran across while helping students with their projects and more or less impulsively downloaded for research purposes of my own. Also I must take notes on a big fat ILL book, now overdue, which I have finally finished reading but only by dint of putting in a sticky note wherever something caught my eye and plowing on, so now I must return and see if I can work out what was important on the marked pages. There are only a few copies of this volume in the US, and none in my state, so I have it from Far Away, thus the need for good notes and perhaps some scanning.

I’d also like to do some more settling-in to the new house. Some repairs need seeing to, and I really want to get books and other items out of the storage unit and unpack them. Then there will be a whole lot more reading I’d like to do, when I have my favorite fiction available again! Also pictures to hang, and china . . . well, I probably shouldn’t unpack the china until we acquire a suitable sideboard or china cabinet for it. But I can gloat over the boxes, at least.

I came here planning on reporting on the first two days of break. So far, I’ve done yoga before breakfast three days in a row (yay), written nearly 1000 words of notes on the big fat ILL volume, cut my own hair, gone for a six-mile walk (and a shorter one the second day), baked cookies, read a very frothy novel published in 1910, loaded a bunch of teaching files into a shared folder on Dropbox for a colleague at another institution, and drilled a lot of Greek vocabulary, principle parts, and noun endings.

Do I know how to have fun, or what?

How I wish it were true that university faculty don’t work more than six hours a week and swan off to the Caribbean the minute classes are over (or maybe before) to guzzle brightly-colored drinks with little umbrellas.

At any rate, it’s time to get down to work on the writing and planning, so here we go.

An Academic Lady Goes A Walk

Take long walk in unfamiliar area to east of new house. Pass large park, some very interesting “contemporary” houses as well as perfectly dreadful McMansions. Get slightly lost on way back, that is to say, know location and direction but discover some side streets discontinuous, so detour to more heavily trafficked street. Walk past house that looks strangely familiar.

It’s The Brothel, all tricked out for Christmas. Lit-up tree in bowed, water-damaged front window. Wreath on fancy front door. “MERRY CHЯISTMAS” banner facing street, backwards R in Christmas giving rakish appearance. Detumescent inflatable decorations collapsed in front yard (after hard night of celebrating?).

Online search informs me that the Brothel sold in August, for price I consider inflated given the work it needed. Clearly new owners are continuing the party tradition.

Writing Trolls, according to Trollope

How often does the novelist feel, ay, and the historian also and the biographer, that he has conceived within his mind and accurately depicted on the tablet of his brain the full character and personage of a man, and that nevertheless, when he flies to pen and ink to perpetuate the portrait, his words forsake, elude, disappoint, and play the deuce with him, till at the end of a dozen pages the man described has no more resemblance to the man conceived than the sign-board at the corner of the street has to the Duke of Cambridge. . . . Let biographers, novelists, and the rest of us groan as we may under the burdens which we so often feel too heavy for our shoulders; we must either bear them up like men, or own ourselves too weak for the work we have undertaken. There is no way of writing well and also of writing easily.

Barchester Towers (1857)