Sunday, October 3, 2021

Time for some knitting

Whew - what a summer I had! I was looking forward to some nice chats here at Hugs about the thrill of making it through a heatwave with broken air conditioning, when a broken hip happened to an older relative Pete and I are responsible for. Usually a broken hip is the start of a sad story but not this time: she got right back up walking, and we got her moved into a residence with much more attentive care. It's much closer to our place, as well, which means we can see her a lot and catch small things before they get bigger. So many wins! It was a ton of work though, hence the dusty silence and cobwebs in the corners around here. I hope your summer was full of so many good outdoor things you didn't even notice.

Now that almost everything is settled down I find myself in my absolute flat-out favourite season. The weather is cool at night for sleep and perfect during the day for long walks - the kind that lead to a well-earned stretch in an armchair beside a bag of neglected knitting. What's not to love? Especially once I finish the white alpaca bed socks pictured above. I started making these for myself last year to wear on Boxing Day (aka the one day of the year when I do nothing whatsoever) and clearly, I never finished.

I always knit a pair of socks for Jan for Christmas and she'll notice if I don't, but Jan only wears purple. When I showed this stripe to anybody who was passing the aforementioned armchair the feedback was, 'It's not purple enough'. 

So I'm finishing them a few rounds longer for me, to free up the needles and start a new pair for her out of this yarn from the 2016 (!) Knitterly Things yarn club:

This stripe isn't really 'more' purple, but the purple is brighter, which is something?

Given my current knitting speed and commitment to interrupting my seated time with bursts of upright time, it will be a challenge to finish them, but I'll do my best. I suspect there is an audiobook in my future which I will forever associate with walking around the house, needles in my hand and a sock in progress dangling from them, slowly getting dizzy from covering the same loop over and over.

While hunting through my project bags for the socks I thought I'd already started for Jan, I also found this sad crumpled hat in progress...

and this hat, which got farther because it's not on lace-tip needles (omigosh, the stabby factor with lace tips)...

... and remembered my ongoing struggle with hats, before I gave up and resorted to lifting the hood on my parka whenever I went out. I spent years designing hat patterns looking for perfect finished object for my face, and my hair colour, and my coat colour/s, and different weather conditions, and still haven't quite hit the mark. (Clearly I needed to buy more yarn, amiright?) 

I'm sort of hopeful about these ones though. They're both versions of my Hatcowl pattern, an easy knit that feels super comfortable and seems to suit my head best. Maybe if I get a really engrossing audiobook, I'll manage to finish one of them before the weather is terrible.

In fact I am listening to a super engrossing Tana French novel at the moment, while sewing yet another round of 3-layer masks - this time with defogger flaps to keep condensation off my glasses. This is basically just a fold of fabric stitched into the top seam on either side of the nose bridge - any warm, exhaled air rises and gets trapped by the flap. 

Simple, yet effective. But it drags out the sewing and is the reason behind my machine still hogging the dining room table after six weeks of effort. I only have four more hours of narration in the current novel which probably won't get me through the finish... thankfully, there are still a few Tana French books I haven't yet read or heard.

I expect any knitting progress I make will continue to be slow, despite our entering Perfect Knitting Season, because I am also writing every day and drawing or painting little doodles.

I love being able to do that. It's such a plus to have this odd work area I've snuck into our dining room - just big enough for plotting out a novel on index cards or setting up cutting boards to make a mess of paint on ink on top of, and the ideal setup for spontaneous Making with quick cleanup to follow.

I think I'll leave you with this image of my surprisingly healthy plants and creative tools, and wish you a wonderful few weeks till I pop in again! Take care of yourself and thanks for stopping by.

Friday, July 9, 2021

I think I need to stop buying pencilcrayons

You know how, when you're in love with yarn, you want some of everything? And you want to make sure your favourite yarn stores and fiber artist feel (and are, financially) supported? And you cannot get enough?

Yeah. Art supplies are just like that. 

This photo is of my pencilcrayon/marker/gel pen station on the windowsill over the table that does triple duty as a faux-coffeeshop perch, writing desk, and art table. From the top left it's:

Derwent drawing pencils

Caran D'Ache Supracolor watercolour pencils

Faber-Castell Polychromos drawing pencils

Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer watercolour pencils

Derwent Graphitint watercolour pencils

Caran D'Ache Museum Aquarelle watercolour pencils, a huge vast birthday splurge

Derwent Inktense watercolour pencils, a huge Boxing Day splurge

and Tombow dual-tip markers

and scattered here and there, blenders, burnishers, Gelly Roll markers, a masking pen, and more Pigma Micron pens than any non-artist should ever reasonably need.

Let me catch my breath for a minute... okay. And finally, all those open slots are where I put drying paintbrushes, which I have for the sake of self-preservation not included in this photo. So in theory, they'll never fill with more art supplies. Let's not think about 'in practice'.


I don't remember how the first crazy yarn purchasing started for me. I knit as a teenager and had tremendous self-control. Later, when I returned to knitting as an adult, not so much, as you'll know if you've been around here for a while. It was a general sort of freefall into hand-dyed and hand-spun yarn.

I do, however, remember distinctly where the art bug bit me. My artist friend Ady casually mentioned a tiny student-grade watercolour field set she took on camping trips and did beautiful things with. I bought one, and found I could do practically nothing, so I upgraded to a Winsor & Newton student-grade watercolour field set. Honestly I could have stopped there and enjoyed myself without running out of paint even now. 

But it's relentless, the appeal of new arty things and the illusion that better tools make better work (spoiler alert: only constant practise makes better work, as with most things.) I'm still not good at any of it and I want to try all of it anyway, within reason. Not oil paints, which smell, or acrylic paints, which I fear will take over the house, or alcohol-based markers, which give me a headache, or charcoal or pastel because they are messy. Anything else is fair game.

When I started knitting, I got good enough to want to make things from scratch, and then I got good enough at that to publish patterns, and then I got good enough at socks to want to spin my own yarn for them, and then I got good enough at spinning to produce viable yarn. When it came to the point that Trish and I were discussing buying and sharing a fleece, we both drew the line. See? I can be sensible sometimes. With help, anyway. Trish is my Sensible Friend, and is therefore a Good Influence.

If only I could approach painting and drawing like that. Art supplies are much cheaper than yarn, and you can do something with them much more quickly too. Maybe that's why my in-house art shop has expanded the way it has, without the matching increase in artistic skill.

Mind you, I'm not sorry to have a ridiculous array of pencilcrayons even though it turns out I have no interest in adult colouring. I love using them over top of or underneath watercolour paints and with gel pens and Pigma Micron pens (which I love most of all, hence the ridiculous number I own.)

And there are so many different kinds - oil based or wax based, watercolour or not, and also, inky. Derwent's Inktense pencilcrayons are great for backgrounds because once you wet them and move them around and blend them and let them dry - they are fixed. Which means you don't need dexterity or masking fluid to get a nice steady backdrop for whatever you want to put in front. The key is to scribble onto a plastic cutting board or a Caran D'Ache paint palette, wet the scribble, paint the liquid onto your paper, and let it dry. 

The bottom line here is that with pencilcrayons and paint to go with, you can pull off things that look good enough for a greeting card in about five minutes, even without much skill.

See what I mean? It's not socks, or bright colours even (why I picked these ones I'm not quite sure) but it's still pretty satisfying.

I think I need to stop buying pencilcrayons though. If I don't, the plants that rest on top of their storage cubbies might get altitude sickness.


Hope all's well with you and that any irresponsible shopping you're doing is entirely enjoyable. I have to dash off now and see if my pizza dough rose enough while I wrote this to be ready for stretching out and taking toppings. See you again soon!





Monday, June 21, 2021

Blends for the win

Hello again! I decided to open today's chatty and informative hug (of course I'm kidding, it will be all chat) with our resident lilac's spring show, unfortunately lit because it seems I love the lilac more than I do good photography:

I've been doing an art course about how to recognize the colour combinations you like and this is a classic for me apparently. I seem to prefer neutral backgrounds and with a pair of brights in front. If they smell great, so much the better. And lilacs are so, so delicious, aren't they?

Now that the flowers have served their purpose our lilac has gone back to its usual summertime tasks of offering shelter to passing birds, and painting shadows on the deck wall. It does an excellent at both. 

But that's not really want I wanted to share today: instead, I want to talk about - well, I'm going to say tea, but not really only tea.

Allow me to explain. There's this wonderful scene at the end of the film The Cat Returns in which the chaotic main character, whose life is always a disorganized rush, appears calmly at the breakfast table, neatly dressed and sipping tea, when her exhausted professional-quilter mother staggers in for caffeine. She offers her mother some of her tea, which she has blended herself, thereby completing her character arc from utter disaster to On Top Of It All. 

The scene has stayed in my mind ever since I saw that film ten years ago or so, and yet, it's only occurred to me in the last week or so that


Gah. I've been so, so bored with my decaf tea options for months now, only able to get loose Assam, and a blend of Darjeeling and vanilla. The vanilla one is nice, but lacks something, and the Assam is kind of flat. But one day I was looking glumly at the tin holding my current favourite caffeinated tea, knowing I wouldn't be able to handle it, and I suddenly registered the subheading - 'a blend of Assam and Darjeeling teas'. 

Did I already say Gah?

Turns out, decaf Assam and Darjeeling with vanilla combine to make a really nice tea. And blending a little full-caffeine Darjeeling with decaf Assam is very manageable and full of flavour. I don't bother pre-mixing any of this. I just put half as much as I normally would of one tea, and and then as much again of the next, into an empty tea bag.


It's official: I can drink tea I blended myself.

(Also, I finished the writing part of my current book project and am on to editing, which I can do in far shorter bursts, allowing me to tidy up the house and catch up on laundry. I'm sure the timing of all these developments is a complete coincidence.)

And now that I've written this down, maybe it won't take me so long to notice simple and obvious solutions to the next of life's tinier challenges. A girl can hope, right?

That's me for today - stay well, and I'll see you again soon!


Thursday, June 10, 2021

Learning from dirt

Hello again! I know I've been VERY quiet here but trust me, I've been super noisy working on a new book project. It is difficult to juggle both so I'm going to try something new, again: small posts more often, instead of long posts not nearly often enough. Let's begin with this treasure:

I couldn't paint something as delicate as the abstract art in the middle of this beautiful Wedgewood plate if I tried. Do you find it as compelling as I do? 

(don't answer that.)

(unless your answer is your jaw dropped in admiration, like mine.) 

It's almost sepia, one of my favourite colours to work with, and the lightning bolt coming down from the centre is just wow. That thing looks good sideways, too.



I rescued this plate many summers ago from a sort of performance art event where visitors could smash plates in a safety booth, so the artist could add the pieces to a growing pile of broken pottery stretched out over a very long table. 

It was an interesting idea for sure, and she explained that plates are made excessively and with no recycling plan, as they can't be composted once they have been glazed. All true and worth thinking about. But if you're an old-school Hugs reader from before my regular posting routine got interrupted, you know I have a huge passion for old plates, which are some of the most basic artifacts of social history, and affordable examples of graphic design history too.  It was basically a "heart meets melon baller" moment, watching those plates smash.

(disclaimer: I house five sets of dishes in my kitchen, at the expense of food storage space. I'm not exactly level headed on this subject.)


So: I rescued this dish and two or three others to use under plant pots. And for the last few weeks/months this plate has sat under a pot with a drainage hole in the bottom after the pot's original matching saucer broke. It was the perfect size of pot to display the floral border of the plate and nothing more, and also, it's fired with black enamel, so they looked great together. But while I was reorganizing my indoor garden today I dismantled that part of the setup and discovered a sad truth:


sifting through the rocks in the bottom of a pot
is a better artist than

I have since washed the plate. You'd think that was just a single dusting of dirt but you'd be wrong- there were layers and layers of it. It was really thick! I am totally learning from the dirt and doing tons of layers on my next abstract effort.

And that 's me for today. Hope you're well, and I hope to see you again here soon!

Friday, April 9, 2021

A paper garden

Hello again, and welcome to my garden! Since it's on paper, it's easy to share here at Hugs. I will begin with some flowers that look like flowers and are in fact made with watercolour...

pencils. I still canNOT master the hand movement you need for flowers painted with a brush. Something else to work toward I suppose, and in the meantime I have a huge collection of watercolour pencils I might as well be using. I used three different brands to make the pots and cut flowers for that sketch, and three different techniques, though my favourite was just dipping the pencil into water and drawing with it. No intermediaries.

And here we have a plant drawn using a waterproof Micron pen over a dried wash of leftover watercolour paint. Simple to do if a bit daunting when I first put pen to paper, and every time I get such a lift looking at the results.

I've been trying to keep up with twice-monthly Hugs, but I got knocked off my feet by some sad news and couldn't bring myself to post last weekend. I am guessing you're all too familiar with that experience, especially lately. 


Hugs has brought a lot of good things and people into my life, but two friends in particular - Lynn and Julia - found me here early on and kindly reached out by e-mail, which I have appreciated enormously over the years. I have learned so much from them both and been able to talk to them about very specific things that don't especially interest other friends, and don't we all need people like that in our lives? I know I do, and I never take it for granted.

Julia sent me a farewell message a few weeks ago, having been diagnosed unexpectedly with a very late-stage, untreatable cancer. She was very accepting of what was coming and I am grateful for her sake that she did not last even as long as the short time her doctor estimated, but also conscious of how young she was, and how bright, and how much she still hoped to do. 


I am sure that practically all of us have lost someone important over this last year and that we all have a giant sack of feelings about it. The dominant one for me at this moment is, Life is short and it's best not to wait around to pursue the many interesting things it offers because you just don't know what's coming. It's too easy for me to struggle with indecision over what to do next and get tangled up with doing nothing at all. I'm going to try not to do that going forward.

Not unlike Lynn, Julia had such an appreciation for animals and plants that I couldn't help noticing more about the ones near me than I did before we met, and appreciating them, and cultivating them. She was really good at easy, practical, healthy cooking, which added a valuable dimension to my kitchen time. She was also incredibly resilient and resourceful and strong, no matter what life threw at her. I seem to have gathered many friends with those qualities over the years, but she was exceptional. Witnessing the way she approached things has given me courage to deal with my own obstacles many times, and will go on doing so, I know.


So: instead of posting pictures of some doodle flowers and riffing on the random silly things that made up my week as I'd planned to do for this post, I'm planting a little memorial garden for Julia. That's another piece of inspiration she gave me, and one I can see now is a great comfort for the people left behind after a loss. I would be very glad to share it with you: there is space here for anybody you would like to honour, even if you only do that in your mind while reading this.


When I was uploading photos for this post, I clicked the wrong menu option and was offered this photo, taken shortly before Julia first contacted me, and embellished I suppose by Google with the .gif of falling snow. I decided to accept the serendipity and close today's Hug with it: a cosy spot close to home and a warm cup of tea, with a pair of handwarmers I knit for a friend. If you've been reading Hugs for any length of time you know what a selfish knitter I am, but one very bad winter when Julia's feet were always cold I knit her a pair of socks with my most special, hand-dyed, very heavy mohair yarn. It felt good to do that for her at the time, but now, I am so glad I took the trouble.

I hope you have a lovely couple of weeks filled with fond thoughts of the good people in your life, past or present. Take care and stay well, and I will see you again soon!

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Caffeine Day

Every week or two there's a magical day at my house, in which I consume caffeine and my housemates are filled with joy. It's not that I'm cranky without caffeine. I gave it up as a daily event a few years ago, and there are no withdrawal symptoms if you're not reliant. The difference is energy


If it's my turn to make supper on Caffeine Day, it will be delicious and served in coordinated fashion, just before everyone is starving and not an hour afterward.  And if it's a haircut day (because yes, scissors and clippers and combs are new creative tools I have been enjoying since last spring) the chances of my co-habitants getting out of the chair looking ready for a Zoom closeup increase dramatically. I can't say they get to 100%, not after the time I cut the front of somebody's hair a whole lot shorter on one side than the other, but it's better than average. 

(okay, I admit it: I've made that mistake twice now. On two different people. And yet every few weeks I'm still asked to turn the kitchen into my my amateur hour hair salon. I don't think ANYbody looks that trustworthy, but here we are.)

On Caffeine Day, it's likely that everybody will get some quantity of clean laundry, neatly presented. Random neglected corners are dusted or tidied or made beautiful and suddenly noticed and admired. Orders get placed for things somebody wants and I put off coordinating. Sometimes, there's even a random act of luxury baking. And because I make progress on my own work as well, coming close in this case to finishing a sock...


... I'm happy all day long. Always infectious!

I don't think it's just the drug, though obviously that has an impact. I think it's just the sheer number of hours I have to work with. On a caffeine day, I get up early so I can finish my morning tea at least 14 hours before I expect to be asleep again, and from there the whole day feels like a never-ending gift.

Also, tea with caffeine in it tastes SO MUCH BETTER. (With the notable exception of Harnet & Sons' wonderful Vanilla Comoro, highly recommended and available in big bags of loose tea as well as sachets.) Who isn't going to be extra cheery with a delicious cup of tea in hand, rather than a sad cup of brownish water?


This week, I timed a Caffeine Day to fall on the first Monday after the time change, a twice-annual event I personally would like to see the back of. I dragged myself downstairs early enough to see sunlight pouring in through our back windows onto the fine spray of crusty-loaf breadcrumbs that covered our kitchen counter, but had been invisible to me before. While the water boiled, I swept them away and wiped down the counters. 

See? Just thinking about imminent caffeine offers a power boost. And as we slog through a pandemic I'm not too (house)proud to consider wiping down a crumbly counter a heroic achievement.

The best piece of that Caffeine Day's magic was figuring out how to solve a problem with my current writing project that has eluded me for weeks. But I also painted a get well card for a friend. These are the rejects and I wish I could say the final choice was an improvement. 


Still, finished!

And I used the leftover paint to set up backgrounds for future doodlings, as I learned watching a video interview with a commercial artist who does this every time she finishes with one palette and begins another.


I have since started The Doodlings. They don't have to be good to be a satisfying break between other mentally taxing things. And somehow, the messy colour at the back and the unskilled drawing on the front usually adds up to something I might see on an actual greeting card. I am now kicking myself for not pursuing this avenue for the get well card I did send.


The trouble with Caffeine Day is that it never seems to end at midnight. That means the day after is always Groggy Day, in which I flail my way forward till bedtime. So I have to ask myself, does one day of super productivity result in enough to cover two days' worth of requirement? And also, does it matter, if I manage to enjoy both days regardless?

I still don't know the answer. I just know it was hard work to free myself of caffeine in the first place, and I sleep better without it. I guess everything in life is a balance. 


Hope you've had a good couple of weeks, with or without a good strong cuppa tea or coffee. And I hope you're not as disappointed as I am that I still cannot paint a plausible flower! Soon. If persistence is enough to make it happen, then maybe next time we meet there will be one at the top of the Hug :^)

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Procrastination by Organization

Hello again! I have dropped in to share my adventures with paint storage, and since that sounds dull even to me, I think it's best if we start with a photo of successful knitting. Plus a box of sort-of matchy pins.

These are socks I've knit and toe-grafted and run in the ends on, but somehow forgot to wash so I could get to wearing them. Mostly they sit in this attractive bowl which was a present from the last friend I got to see in person for lunch before the pandemic. Sandy found it in a dollar store and used it as a vehicle for (amazing) chocolate brownies, but I've appreciated this dish so much and admire it every day, not just for the socks that are in it now. It's like half of a cracked egg: it suggests possibilities. And not just the possibility of a mess on the counter, either.

I've been organizing my art and office supplies for the past few days. Which is much more interesting than, say, paperwork, if only because it's colourful. Just be grateful I'm not here to tell you about all masks I stitched up before treating myself to the organization project because that really was dull and also, hard on my back.

Let's start with a mostly respectable picture of my paint problem, shall we?

Even though I still can't paint a proper, recognizable watercolour flower, I did upgrade to better brushes, and treated myself to a good set of Daniel Smith paints in a tin. That set came with a second, empty tin and it seemed like a wonderful storage solution for my many extra paints, some of which were still in their original tiny sets with no mixing wells or other conveniences. It was such a choppy setup I wasn't using them, and that made me feel even more guilty about having bought so much more than was sensible.


Wait a minnit. Isn't this basically everyone's experience with knitting? Whereby one must buy Every. Pretty. Yarn, even before one can knit with even tension? And then it gets worse from there because you decide to learn to spin, too, and have to buy a spindle and some roving and then a wheel? Plus, naturally, a swift. And maybe a bag of undyed roving straight from the sheep, and dyes, and...


In any case: one thing I finally decided to do was squeeze out a bit of all the paint I bought in tubes, after spotting discounted sets from Schminke and QoR, and never use because it turns out I'm more comfortable with dried up paint in a pan. I had an inexpensive plastic palette, discovered long ago on an Urban Hike with my friend Jan, and it turns out it has just right number of wells on one side for the Schminke paint, and on the other, for the QoR. Yay! 

(except for the cut I got on one hand trying to unscrew a particularly stubborn cap. that was Ow.)

Then it was time to test-swatch all the colours and decide what I want in primary rotation. This job required meticulously cutting up little 1x3" cards and drawing a line on them, precision work I will definitely do again next time I'm stressed and need to calm down:

Incidentally, the whole time I was working on this speckly board I was missing shopping in HomeSense. I bought this and a smaller matching cutting board there and I use the two of them together when painting, to protect my desk. Now I think, Why didn't I buy a second big one?? Seriously, when I think of the first thing I'd like to do once the pandemic is over, it's taking a walk to the nearest HomeSense so look at different dishes than I already own. Three great pleasures in one outing. 

I really need to aim higher.

Completing all of the cards was a satisfying project even though it forced me to acknowledge just how much I have overbought and duplicated my watercolour stash.

Thankfully, this stuff is not going to go bad. I might have reached the point of having more than I can use up in my lifetime (see: yarn references above) but it will definitely last my lifetime.

A sidebar about my idea to use the empty Daniel Smith box to store all my additional paint: 

Even though it has the same dimensions as my brilliant Winsor & Newton metal box, the clips are too close together to allow anything more than a brush to sit between the two primary rows of paint. This is where online shopping is a sad substitute, because I would have noticed that issue in person. And honestly, why waste space like that in the design process? To say nothing of the fact that the second flap full of mixing wells doesn't open sufficiently far enough to be useful. 

However! by filling the middle channel of my Winsor & Newton box, then removing the insert and setting it over the mixing well of the first Daniel Smith box (see photo above), I was able to get a lot more paint out into one compact area. I figure if I can see it, I'll use it. 

Because let me tell you, this mess is not enticing me to paint.


Another project I took on just yesterday was putting together my very first Dot Journal. Holly, who went with me to a pen show a few months before the pandemic started, tipped me off about these things. Almost apologetically, because she assumed I must already be keeping several given my ridiculous stash of coloured pens and markers and notebooks. But she was so wrong! I was using journals with dots in them all the time and hadn't even considered linking up the dots to make personalized charts and planners. It's the perfect hobby for me, in that it gave me an excuse to watch for sales on even more coloured pens and markers and notebooks.

Again... I seem to have overdone it even by my standards.

It's not like I'm tops at decision-making to begin with, and there I was, faced with all these colour options for keeping the journal. I finally decided to do a small palette, like I would for a painting if I ever learn to do a real one, and doubled up a colour or two with a different brush tip.

I was very proud of this achievement and got all the way around the house to show it off before I realized that I wanted to use the yellow book to plan out a novel I'm researching.  I'd picked a green book for the meal planner I wanted to work on first, so I would be prepared, rather than paralysed, at 3pm on days when I'm supposed to make dinner. And I'd already bonded with the healthy-looking green for this purpose. GAH.

I considered using the same pen palette and just getting on with it already, but I know myself too well, and coordinated a new palette with the new cover. It's not like I was running short on pens or anything.

 All of this pen selection nonsense boiled down to me being afraid to put a mark in the book. I'm always wary of 'ruining' a notebook like this, which is why I generally use books with tear-out pages. But I was determined to use all this gear I've been accumulating, and - whoa.

The paper in an Oasis Light notebook is smooth like glass. I already knew I loved writing with LePen markers because I've been using a pair of them over the last few years, but LePen on Oasis paper is amazing.

I even recognized the advantages of having set up a 6-pen palette. It's really nice to have those decisions already made and neatly grouped with the notebook.

Because there are so many pages, I've been able to note down a lot of nutritional information to make grocery planning easier as well. I will regret the hours I've already spent on this after my three-month planner period is done and I have to start a second book for the next three months. But maybe after the first book is through, I can do this job with my eyes closed?

A girl can dream. But first: she's gotta paint the map for the new paint boxes!

Hope you're having a lovely March so far. Stay safe and I'll see you again soon... maybe even with a plausible watercolour flower at the top of the Hug.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

A lot of nice things

Well I've been a pretty terrible internet friend, haven't I! No new hugs for months. Rest assured though, any hug would have been the same as the hug from the day before, because things here are much the same as ever. Perhaps with more plants in the windows, art supplies on every horizontal surface, and cans in the pantry. Which is to say, the sock obsession continues.

I've been knitting this particular sock while watching our endless supply of pre-taped episodes of Escape To The Country. If you don't know this show, it goes like this: home buyer/s longing to get out of the city go along with a charming host to look at three houses in the UK region of their choice. This might not sound absorbing until you consider all the staggeringly beautiful landscapes you get to look at while they explore their dream destination. I put it on par with the countryside views in All Creatures Great And Small, which you may also find yourself watching these days.

The plant obsession is newer. I have only ever been able to keep one plant alive - this gorgeous tall sun-dappled monster, grown from a cutting twenty years ago when the man who looked after my then-office's plants gifted one to me and two other employees from an 8-foot tall tropical tree we all admired. 


(sidebar: two summers ago I ran into one of those two friends and mentioned that my cutting was doing really well. She had NO idea what I was talking about, even after I reminded her about that wonderful day and the secrecy we were sworn to by the plant man and the fact that I'd actually seen the cutting still in water and growing nicely on her windowsill a few months later. So I'm thinking it's even more astonishing that mine survived, because hers had to have died.)

My plant has absolutely loved its new home in this window our much-loved contractor Ray suggested we add, when we renovated the house. In its old configuration, the rooms were so dark the plant survived but stayed pretty compact. Since we moved back in to the more sun-drenched version, it's doubled in size and produced a cutting which is also pretty good-looking. I'm getting worried, actually. In another twenty years, I'm going to have to live in a house with enough space for a tree. Or else get rid of things to make enough space for a tree. Or maybe find someone who will take the tree and give me a cutting so I can start over.

In November I had time to catch my breath after the long recovery from my ankle sprain, which I might possibly have milked to eke out more writing time. While taking said breath I decided we could give more plants a home here, and I ordered eight small pots to be delivered before the weather got too cold for them to spend even ten minutes unattended on the porch.

There's ivy and parlour palm and a baby Monstera Deliciosa with glossy, intact leaves (my favourite, but don't tell the others) and a few other varieties.

(whispers: I might have taken this portrait of Baby Monster with the cute cup I use when watercolour painting, because I love that plant so much.)

Most of the new plants have been a delight, growing very slowly and politely, looking adorable and respecting their companions' needs. Not so the golden pothos, which is putting out new leaves every few days. Even on the cuttings I've already had to take and put in water. 


I have no experience with random plants that do this well on my watch. Should I be grateful, or just make sure I don't give it a bigger pot before it's absolutely necessary? Is it cruel to send out an e-mail blast in spring, offering cuttings to my neighbours before it takes over our house entirely?

Of course, another daily thrill here is cooking a meal. Again and again, and again. Sound familiar? One recent discovery at my house:

I really like anchovies!

Well, I like them melted into a mixture of shallots and garlic and olive oil and brick-red tomato paste, and served over pasta (thank you, Alison Roman, for inventing Caramelized Shallot Pasta and sharing it with The New York Times.) I am craving that dish most days, but spacing it out by two or three weeks so we don't lose the sense of being in a good restaurant as valued guests and devouring an amazing meal we could never possibly produce at home. Here is a pot of pre-caramelized shallots and garlic:


Another new craving is Italy's apparently famous Rio Mare tuna. I heard so much about this tuna I had to give it a try, but was a little daunted when mine came out of the can looking like something you might not be inclined to feed the two-legged members of your family. Valiantly, I kept faith with the positive reviews and gave my dining companion the larger pieces to eat as is, while smearing the olive-oil-soaked shreds left behind onto toast for myself. We ate in silence, sneaking looks at each other between bites. 

We had one opinion immediately after the meal: that looked weird, but tasted all right. 

An hour later, we had another: how soon can we open another can?

As I type this: how many more hours now till Wednesday?

But enough about fish. Let's talk art supplies! 

As you know, I am no artist, but hope springs eternal and I still try most days to do something, even if it's just the odd doodle, such as this one of a head of garlic having a chat with an onion. And yes, I did specify what they are just now because I can't imagine it's easy to guess.

Trust me, it looked almost convincing when I drew it in its original tiny scale.

Unfortunately, access to creative space has become a problem since my non-plant companions in the house are all here all of the time now too, and hunting for quiet places to work or Zoom without interruptions. Over the first few months of this strange year-plus yuck, I did add a total of six new desks to this house, plus two generous work pads on the dining room table, allowing all of us a dedicated space plus a few shared options to drift through for variety. But... 

... my cute tiny office, the room subcontractors kept asking when the plumbing was going into during construction, had to be sacrificed to the needs of others.

 I know! Heartbreak. It's the only room we have with soundproofing in the walls, and a door. It was inevitable.

I thought I could still write or paint in the office sometimes but the good feeling I had there is gone now that I'm finding random pencils on the sitting desk, or a stack of books for their laptop camera to be at the right height, or a random power cord.

Thankfully, nobody at all was interested in the 5' wide, 16" deep console table I shoved under our dining room window. I can't imagine why. It is the perfect place for watching the world go by when taking a break from staring at a screen and typing. (during my breaks from typing this, I am seeing runners, walkers, and dog-walkers, some of whom are also running - dogs and dog-walkers both.)  

This picture has terrible exposure, but it's so sunny today it's impossible to get a better shot. 


Sitting here is a lot like sitting at the window ledge counter on a barstool in a coffee shop in the Before Times, but on a shorter chair with back support. I sometimes make a decaf Americano (sad, at-home, pour-over version) to strengthen the similarity. And since two of my housemates are currently baking chocolate-chip cookies - I wish you could smell what I do! - I think today needs to be one of those days.

Wondering about that horizontal box under the plants? It's a Tombow marker case, unfolded and laid flat. I'm so proud of myself for thinking of this arrangement, which allows me to see exactly what I want to use without interfering with my plants' daily sunshine feast. I did worry about the surplus lid being a space hog, but I couldn't have been more wrong.

And when I'm not using it as a desktop sorter, it tucks neatly onto this very small bedside table we snapped up years ago in a charity shop. It's turned out to be a hugely versatile piece, its scuffed surfaces mattering not at all since it's usually against or under something. Or both.

I keep my watercolour paints in the drawer, and tucked between the right side and the table leg, two black cutting boards large enough to protect the surface of the table. The other day I set up a watercolour tutorial on a screen in the little gap on the windowsill, thought I'd like to try it, and in less than two minutes had the table set up and ready to go thanks to everything being organized and close at hand.

(whispers: I think this might be even better than my little office??)

Actually, I can see this being the office of the future, for me. I never intended to use our dining room for dinner parties, though we have done that once or twice: what I see is an excellent work room with a long table, ample cabinet storage that passes for china cabinetry but actually holds office supplies and sewing/knitting gear, and bright overhead light. Already, I have started swiveling my chair around to the dining table immediately behind me to reach things I've set there, credenza-style. It doesn't feel weird to share this area like it does in my actual office, and when somebody else needs to have it to themselves I'm usually ready to shift to another location anyway.

Unrelated news: I have now eaten two of the cookies baked by Not Me. They are delicious. Do you think I can have more with the coffee I'll make as soon as I finish typing this?

(whispers: say yes!)


Now that I'm writing a hug, I find I have a million other trivial things I'm longing to mention, but I'll save those for another day, which I hope won't take months to pin down next time. For now, I hope you like the way the sun painted the fence behind our lilac tree as much as I do.


And until we meet again, stay well and please do take care of yourself!