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!