Friday, December 30, 2011


Calvin and Hobbes Dec 30 1995

The end of the year already! This one went by in a blur, with no real standout moments. In past years, I’ve had a graduation, a milestone birthday, a retirement, a baby niece, or some other life event to mark the digits in my memory. 2011 was a year of many strange illnesses, as well as financial and employment struggles, for both me and my loved ones. Nothing terribly traumatic, but nothing I need to remember, either.

It is nice to look forward to the turning over of a new year, even though January 1 is an arbitrary selection of a day distinguished only by the calendar we happen to use. On that day, we all take a deep breath (or a handful of aspirin, depending on the previous Eve), and plunge back into life. My deep breath will be expelled with the wish that we will all be much healthier in the coming year. If you haven’t got your health, you haven’t got anything.

Calvin and Hobbes Jan 2 1995

I, like Calvin, am from the no-New Year’s resolution tribe. I make changes as I see fit throughout the year, and don’t see the point in forcing myself to do something when I’m not ready, just because it’s a particular day of the year. Especially in January, which in my experience is a gloomy time when you need all the emotional crutches you can find. I quit smoking (28 years ago) in April, because it was just time to do it. I chose to leave an unhealthy relationship and make a better life (16 years ago) in June, because I suddenly had the strength to do it then. I vowed to restrict my compulsive spending (3 months ago) in October, because my financial situation was weighing very heavily on me. In all of these cases, it was very fortunate that I didn’t wait until January to make a change.

That’s not to say that I don’t slip and backslide and fall into bad habits again, just as many people do with their lists of resolutions made on January 1! If I had a nickel for every exercise program I’ve started and then abandoned...

I would love to know whether you make resolutions and whether you’ve had success with them.

Well, whether you are a New Year’s resolution person or not, I wish you a safe and happy New Year’s Eve and a wonderful 2012.


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Collection

I was inspired by some of my favorite bloggers and their collections (snowmen, boots, sewing machines … you know who you are!) to revisit one of my favorite collections – owls! I like to think my love of owls predated the current owl craze, since I started collecting them in the 60s, and actually worked with real owls for several years during the 70s.
This week I gathered my owlish things together to take some pictures. You just don’t realize how many items you have until you put them all together. And you don’t realize how dusty your house is until you start moving things around – urgh!

Here are a few representative pieces from the collection.
Owls of bark, metal, and clay,

Owl clip art, owl postcards, and owl cigar boxes,
Brass owl bookends
Owl beanbags
Adorable sleepy owl teacup
Fuzzy owls in an old bamboo cage
And some retro owl pendants
There are a few other owls around here, including a stack of owl books, some old photos, and a number of owl rubber stamps.
Some of the collection has disappeared over time, like my owl candle, which probably just melted at some point, and the owl tee shirt that I wore until it was nothing but threads. My mom has my embroidered owls, which is nice because I see them when I visit. And there are probably many more that I haven’t thought of!

Fun owl facts:
There are between 150 and 220 species of owl worldwide (if you know any biologists, you know they can never agree on classification).
A baby owl is called an owlet.
A group of owls is called a parliament.
Owl “ears” are actually just tufts of display feathers. The hearing apparatus is in the head just behind the big discs around the eyes.
Most owls capture and dispatch prey with their extremely strong feet. (Important for owl handlers to know this – watch for the feet, not the beak!)

I’ve learned over the years that some people dislike and/or are deathly afraid of owls. I hope the current popularity of these birds is helping our oclophobic friends, rather than putting them in a constant state of anxiety!

What about you? Love owls, or no?

Monday, December 26, 2011

Return of the Caftan

Thank you all for your patience with my trials and tribulations of the past weeks. I appreciated your comments, and reading your blogs kept me inspired and amused!

I managed to finish a couple of easy caftans. Both are a simple rectangular shape where the shoulders extend and the side seams float far away from the body, creating a type of sleeve.
I used Simplicity 8354 from 1969, and this lovely African fabric with giraffes. It’s a bit literal (caftan with African fabric?), but what else am I going to make with giraffe fabric?

And yes, I call it the Girafftan.The satin belt is not part of the original pattern but the huge bat wings threatened to knock glassware off the shelves when I reached for anything, so I thought a kimono-style tied waist would help rein things in.
I had the exact amount of this beautiful trim necessary to go around the neckline and hem.

The next one was McCalls 3255 from 1972, which is recommended for knits – I don’t know why, as there is no need for it to stretch!
I used this pretty burnout rayon jersey.
Very soft, drapey, and comfortable, and it will be perfect for hot weather.
I love this rustic-looking hemp trim. It really adds to the early-70’s feeling.

I made a large dent in the stash, and I'm quite pleased with both of them!

Next up in caftans: I have two on the table that are slightly more structured, with sleeves and collars.

What's everyone else sewing? Lots of coats?


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

I Should Have Asked Santa

If I'd asked Santa for my new computers they would probably already be here, installed and running perfectly. Instead, I ordered from a major manufacturer's website. One computer was built and delivered within four days of my order. The other was delayed for two weeks and since then I've watched it via the FedEx tracking screen, making its way from China to Memphis, and now, hopefully, to Phoenix.

I could have ordered standard pre-built items. I could have bought something similar at the local office superstore. I could have done this any time other than the holiday season, when businesses get overwhelmed with orders and shippers get backlogged. So I guess I should stop complaining.

In other news, we are having some wild weather here. We had four days of overnight freeze, four days of high winds, and four days of pouring rain. Very biblical. I spent most of the time running in and out to put sheets over the plants or pull them off again. We'll probably be okay unless we get ice, wind, and rain all at once.

Unrelated note: A couple days ago I was out and about and saw a gas station selling regular for $3.02 per gallon. Could it go below $3? Amazing, considering it was up around $4 not that long ago. This was on the same day that there was a news story about Americans spending a record high percentage of their income on gas in 2011. The whole fuel industry is just such a mystery it's no wonder people think it's a vast conspiracy. I should ask Santa for some honesty and transparency in the petroleum business.

Even more unrelated note: Everyone's having babies! One of my cousins just had a big baby boy, another cousin is about to have her second child any day now, and the Piemaker's niece also just had a boy. Interesting trend - both of my cousins are starting their families in their late 30s to early 40s. Much love to the babies and mothers!

I hope you are all having some peace and joy during this holiday season.


All images from the amazing Graphics Fairy.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christmas Decorating

The month of December is flying by! I sent the holiday cards out on Monday, but it wasn’t until yesterday that I realized the month was half over and we still didn’t have a tree. I ran out to Home Depot and got one of their $25 specials – it looks like a gigantic shrub that someone pruned into a Christmas tree-shape. But it smells good and holds the ornaments and gives a festive air to the house.

When we first moved here, I got into home décor in a big way – selecting paint colors and making coordinated bedding, creating themes with lamps, pillows and rugs, arranging attractive vignettes on each shelf. For a couple of Christmases I went wild with color themes, teal and silver one year, magenta and gold another. They were lovely, but the Piemaker would look around and ask, “aren’t you going to put up any Christmas colors?” He did not have much appreciation for a sparkling color-coordinated tree that did not have any of the homey, mismatched ornaments we both remember from our childhood holidays.

These days we’re back to a generalist decorating approach where we put up everything we’ve ever collected. This is not as much stuff as you might think, because we have very little from “before.” I think I must have had some ornaments and holiday decorations in my previous life, but I either left them there or lost them on the way here. There was one period in the late 90s when I moved five times in five years. Not conducive to holding onto things of sentimental value.

So although we have many boxes of pretty colored balls and teardrops and stars, we only have three items that are real keepsakes.

The first one is a little angel, an ornament given to me by loving relatives when I was a child.
It has a rustic macramé look and boasts the famous avocado green that was so popular in the 60s and 70s. I don’t know how I managed to hang on to this one but I’m glad I did.

Skip forward 30-plus years, to when the Piemaker gave me this little polar bear for our first Christmas together. It is very heavy, and has musical chimes. Awwwwww.

The third is a funny little house I got to commemorate the purchase of the home we live in now.
We actually spent the entire Christmas holiday moving in! Exhausting and stressful at the time, but it makes for fun memories now.

Now our decorating is finished, the cards and gifts are mailed, and now all we have to do is watch some good old Christmas movies and eat holiday treats.

How about you – do you have a lifetime collection of miscellaneous ornaments that you enjoy every year, or do you prefer a more cohesive, formal look?


Monday, December 12, 2011

The Blahs

Since I'm slothful by nature, it's hard to notice when I slow down. But it does seem like I haven't felt like sewing or crafting or gardening or doing much of anything for the last couple of weeks. I think it might be my new medication.

I talked to my doctor about my unhappy hot flash-migraine cycle and she suggested I could try this drug which is an antidepressant but used for other things in addition to depression. I like to do lists and charts and diagrams and decision trees and power points, and here’s what my analysis of the menopause treatment alternatives looked like:

(1) I almost died from blood clots in my lungs a few years ago and birth control pills were the only possible cause the medical experts could identify. So no more hormones for me.

I'm taking the Effexor but I'm still in the loading phase and haven't even gotten up to a full dose yet since I have to get used to all the new ways of feeling sick instead of just sweating all the time and having headaches. I expect at some point I'll hit the right dosage and start feeling great!

In the meantime, I will just continue to read a lot and sleep a lot and look at other people's blogs.

What do you do when you feel blah?


Friday, December 9, 2011

No Pie For Me

In case you wondered why I haven’t posted any pie photos recently, it’s because the Piemaker has been sidetracked. He’s completely forsaken his piemaking duties in favor of a new motorcycle. He now has four motorcycles (actually I say it’s five, but he won’t admit to the one that is a pile of parts stacked in the corner of the garage), so you’d think the excitement would have worn off, but he just can’t stay away from it. He hasn’t even ridden it yet – he just spends all day every weekend and every night after work pulling it apart, cleaning and fixing things, and putting it back together. The last few days he’s been coming in and saying “it’s almost done!” and I hear “pie coming soon!” but it never happens.

So I’ve had to eat cookies from Trader Joes and some old lemon squares I found in the freezer, and pumpkin pie left over from Thanksgiving.

My dad sent me some stollen, which if you don’t know what that is, it is a German bread with fruit and nuts. It’s a little bit sweet, but not like cake. To me it tastes like childhood and Christmas and family, and I love it.


Here is a photo of a stollen that looks pretty similar to ours

For my dad to make this and send it to me demonstrates just how pitiful I am, because he is taking care of my mom, who after a lifetime of independence is all of a sudden the queen of neediness. Just because she had a little bout of non-Hodgkins lymphoma and then six months of life-threatening effects from the chemo, now she’s acting like a big baby. She’s not as whiny as I am, but what with the limping and groaning, she’s definitely giving me serious competition for the most piteous wretch of the year award. Plus when I call them and say “I don’t have pie,” Mom says things like “can’t you make your own pie?” Okay, she doesn't actually say that out loud, but I can hear her thinking it. Thank goodness for Dad!

And that is the situation. Hopefully the motorcycle will really be finished soon and I will get pie.


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

When All Else Fails... Puppies!

I can't believe how dependent I've become on this whole computer nonsense. Damn newfangled technology! At this point I can't download, upload, or print anything, and I can't access anything on my desktop, including my photos.

There is hope! I have been led to believe that even now, new components are winging their way to me, prepared to improve my life immeasurably with their unimaginable processing speed, unlimited storage space, and magical powers.

In the interim, I remembered that I had these on facebook: puppies!

I wish you lots of puppies and other good things today. Hope to be up and running again soon.


Monday, December 5, 2011

What Would a Goddess Wear?

When I started this blog (not even three months ago!), I was in a state of uncertainty about my appearance as it related to my age and that nebulous concept called “style.” It’s been a joy and a revelation to become acquainted with all the hundreds of wonderful sewing and style bloggers out there; women (mostly) of every age and background, all interested in looking good for themselves and creating beautiful garments. What a huge help it’s been to discover all the over-50 style bloggers who have gone through the same confusion I was experiencing. I am just so proud and pleased with our generation of women, taking all that post-feminist angst and transforming it, finally, into all the power and confidence that all the previous generations fought for. We are goddesses.
Goddesses can still be confused though. Apparently I’m not the only one, as the topic of dressing for our age arises repeatedly in these very blogs. Last week, Pam of Over 50 Feeling 40 recounted her own realization of a gap between her age and her personal style. The responses to her post showed that a lot of us are still struggling with that gap.

I am still puzzling over the idea of whether we define ourselves, and thus create our style, based on what is around us. I’m probably repeating things I’ve said before, but for most of my life my style has been directed by where I was or what I was doing: college (all three times) – jeans; finance career – suits; corporate – the dreaded “business casual.”

Now, without any daily activities to define my look, I’ve ended up with no look. To be honest, my style or whether I have one doesn’t really matter. I’d planned a wonderful new career after my “retirement”, but that never did happen, and due to health reasons I probably will not ever have a full-time job to get up and get dressed for.

In fact, I don’t have much reason to leave the house except for the occasional run to the bank or pet store. I make myself go out at least once a month to visit the botanical garden or the museum or just tour around the lovely old neighborhoods. Once in a great while I have lunch with friends or a dinner date. I could have one dress and that would be enough for an entire year of social activities. I could get by for the rest of my life with only one suit.

At this point, five years into retirement, I could even be one of those people who wears sweat pants every day. (Hmm… elastic waist…) But that doesn’t set well with my love of color, art, fashion and creativity! Not to mention my acquisitive nature, little magpie that I am. I always want to be touching or seeing or making something new and colorful.


At one point in my confusion of several months ago, I posted this question to the blogoverse: “What does age-appropriate mean to you?” (in regard to clothing.) I love the common-sense response from Anita of Sew Vintage Sew Fun:

“To me it means wearing anything that I feel wonderful in! If I have to pull it down, pull it up, or otherwise adjust it every time I move, then it's not for me.”

Smart! She’s not obsessing about what category her clothing falls into, she just goes with what fits well and feels right. I’ve had too many garments that prevented me from walking with my long stride, or from sitting comfortably, and others that I had to constantly hitch up or hold on to.

Patti of Not Dead yet Style is all over this topic, and her opinion is that with our wider experience and deeper self-knowledge, women our age are both better equipped to make wardrobe choices and more comfortable in those choices than we were when we were younger.

I want that to be true, and I agree many women of our age have excellent personal style and seem perfectly comfortable with it. I, however, still feel slightly unmoored and it may be that I’m trying to force a direction or category on myself when it is totally unnecessary. The good news is, through all these wonderful “style at a certain age” blogs, and my own experimentation, I think I’m finally starting to focus in on a style, or a set of styles that a) I love to look at, b) I feel comfortable wearing, and c) are enjoyable for me to make myself.

Anna Sui

To my eye, the things that are best for me are long, flowing garments that are slightly fitted around the shoulders and waist to give shape, but mostly skim the body with graceful waves of fabric floating over the lumps and bumps of age. Goddess dresses, I like to call them. (Appropriate, right?)

Duro Olowu

As was probably obvious from my obsession with caftans, I’m drawn to ethnic, bohemian, peasant and gypsy styles, things that are draped and gathered and layered and long, but lightweight and full of movement. Yes, I'm a genuine product of the Age of Aquarius. The wrap dress is the perfect shape (not to mention adjustable!) except for its annoying tendency to fly open at embarrassing moments. I also love the modern silhouette of the shirtdress, as long as it has a full, long skirt and a defined waist. Anything in a maxi length will make me happy, and peasant styles are great as long as I stay away from lacy frills.

So, after a lot of projects that didn’t work for me (the pencil skirt, the bombshell dress, the boxy tee, the loose chemise), and some that did work (the flared skirt, the long shirtdress, the fitted blouse, anything in knit), I think I can start to focus on sewing styles I’ll really love to look at and wear.

Of course, you can still expect to be entertained by plenty of poor decisions, beginner sewing mistakes, and unexpected results from my sewing room.


Images source

Friday, December 2, 2011

A Victory of Sorts

First let me confess that I’ll be posting ahead for a few days due to those computer problems. If my entire system collapses, at least my blog can go on temporarily without me.

So, the month of November is over, which means that National Novel Writing Month has ended. I just wanted to look back on it to see if there are any lasting impressions.

After 30 days, which included 2 complete rewrites, a full day dedicated to closet cleaning, a holiday, a half day of watching talking-dog videos on youtube, hundreds of hours of television, short bursts of sewing, 11 migraines, and 43 haiku, I did finally managed to get slightly past the 50,000 word minimum.

It surprised me a bit that I had so much trouble forcing the words out, since in the past I’ve had trouble stopping them. I’ve always been excessively verbose in my writing. In writing classes I was always the one having to pare down the 17 pages I wrote for a ten-page assignment. The first novel I wrote started out around 121,000 words and I finally got it down to about 95,000 after months of editing. I usually just have so much to say that I can’t stop.

In this case, I’m afraid I didn’t really have much to say. I had the idea of the story rolling around for a few years, but as I mentioned a few days ago, it was really only a short-story-like glimpse into a person’s life. I tried to help it along by adding a lot of backstory, an additional character, and just generally embellishing everything, but it’s still as flat and lifeless as one of my uninspired collages.

The good part is that since I’ve got it all out of my head, this particular character should go away now and stop taking up space in my head. Maybe someone new and much more interesting will move in! We’ll see. I have a good start if I ever want to make it into a short story, so I don’t feel that my time was entirely wasted. Plus I’ve documented much of my writing excitement-waning-into-disillusionment here on the blog, so if I ever get tempted to do something this silly again, I can remind myself why it didn’t work out.

On the global level, the end of NaNoWriMo is actually very exciting. While I seem to be genetically predisposed to a lack of enthusiasm about my own accomplishment, the fact that approximately 2.9 billion words were written by something like 270,000 people in one month is beyond impressive; it gives me a lot of hope. Literacy is clearly not dead yet, and books (in whatever form: paper, digital, as yet unimagined) will be with us for some time. It is an encouraging sign that that many millions of individuals around the globe felt strongly enough about their own vision, their own message, or their own story, to temporarily turn their lives upside down and tell it.

Well, that’s that. Next, resolving the computer problem is an unavoidable priority. Sewing’s up after that, and holiday preparations. I still haven’t mailed those cards out!

Hope to be back in blogland with you all soon,

Thursday, December 1, 2011

And Now, For Our Next Challenge

Geez, it’s always something.

In September I was complaining about the heat. In October I couldn’t stand the migraines. November had NaNoWriMo. For December, you’ll get to read all about my computer situation.

Back when I was trapped in the gigantic corporate maze I was part of a “team” and we had a “mission” and were so very “proactive” about meeting our “personal improvement plans.” Gag. We learned that there were no problems, only “growth opportunities.” There were no disasters, only “challenges.” Also we used “finger quotes” all the time. LOL

So I present to you my challenge of the month: both of my computers are about to quit. I have a patchwork system made up of a 12-year old desktop computer with a slightly newer monitor, a 5-year old laptop, and an array of antique printers, scanners, etc, all linked to my wireless network installed 4 years ago. The laptop was a lemon from the start and has had so many parts replaced there’s nothing original left. It’s been getting slower and slower and sometimes the screen just never comes on at all. The desktop has been reliable all these years except for being overwhelmed by the vast amounts of data weighing it down. Now it freezes up when I turn it on. So far this week I've spent hours just trying to get one or both of the things to boot up. I’ve done defrags and virus scans and system checks on both, and there is no noticeable improvement.

You’ve guessed where this is going – I need a whole new system. The idea of going to computer stores strikes even more terror into my heart than dealing with auto mechanics. At least with cars, I can bring the Piemaker along for a reasonableness check on what they tell me. With computers, I’m at a complete loss. All I know is I want something that can hold a lot of pictures and that travels fast on the great information highway. That type of naiveté is likely to net me a system twelve times the size, complexity, and cost of what I actually need.

So I have to try to force myself to buckle down and start researching computers. Yuck! Then once I have a better idea of what I need, I have to start comparing prices, which may involve going into actual stores. Bigger yuck! Of course at some point I will have to spend a huge sum of money on the whole business, which is the biggest YUCK of all!

As Roseanne Roseannadanna used to say, “it’s always something.” (I miss you, Gilda!)

I do see the bright side, which is less frustration in my daily computer activities (once the whole mess is installed).

In closing, if this blog goes dormant for the next few days or weeks, at least you'll know why.


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Preparing to Say Goodbye

Perhaps the holiday season is not the usual time for discussing loss and grief, but life and death do not always wait for a convenient date.

My friend, who shall be known here as D, is dying. D could be the poster child for a "Lust for Life" campaign. He loves everyone and has seemingly infinite energy and enthusiasm for any and all adventures. He’s fought prostate cancer for eight years, which is a testament to his personal fortitude and the amazing advances of modern medicine. But now the cancer has moved to the bone, and will not be diverted from its course.

While the details of cancer’s attack on the body are horrific, and the impending loss of a loved one is heartrending, it is comforting to know that in this post-industrial world where everyone is separated and we rely on machines for our everyday survival, our culture has begun to return to some of the old ways.

D is at home now for his final weeks, attended by his partner and children who are thankful for the existence of Hospice and opiate derivatives, both of which help diminish the physical agony aspect of death and allow them to squeeze in every last minute of togetherness and joy for this man. I’m not an anthropologist, but it seems to me that our species has a long history of ushering our dying members carefully and lovingly into the afterlife. This was lost briefly in the decades of the last century where we sent the elderly and dying to institutions “for their own comfort.” Now it seems there is a trend to keep our elders near us in whatever way we can, and to stay close to them as they die. I know not everyone has the opportunity to spend quiet moments with their loved one just before their death; there are too many things that can kill us unexpectedly. But given the opportunity - and plenty of assistance, I’m not suggesting that people give up their careers or put themselves into bankruptcy in order to keep an elder at home - it seems like home is the best place “for their own comfort.”

Who is D to me? As with most of my relationships, it’s a little hard to describe. Officially, he is the son of my partner’s mother’s late second husband. We are completely unrelated, and yet he is family. But a more meaningful description would be something like this: a kindred spirit, a brilliant artist who simultaneously laughs with childlike glee and takes the weight of the world on his shoulders, a man who assumes everyone is a friend unless proven otherwise, and, most simply, a good man.

Here are a few of the things I know about him:

D is a devoted family man – a son, father, brother, and husband, as well as uncle and in-law to many generations and at many removals.

D is a world traveler - he and his partner have traveled all over the globe, seeing beautiful sights and collecting incredible art objects.

D is an artist – actor, dancer, wearer of magnificent costumes.

D is a vintage automobile enthusiast – he’s collected some gorgeous cars and attended more vintage auto shows throughout the country than he can probably count.

D is so very generous – anywhere he goes, he comes bearing gifts selected with the recipients’ special interests in mind (a collection of vintage hand bags for me); he is always the suave host (even now as he is confined to bed he asks visitors if they’d like something to eat or drink); and he is unfailingly supportive and complimentary of other people’s efforts (the mud-green color I chose for my family room walls was universally hated by everyone but me, until D arrived and pronounced that that very color was going to be the next big thing.)

D leaves an indelible impression – the flash of his brilliant Hawaiian shirt as he inspects a vehicle at an auction; the happy grin as he dances effortlessly past, tossing and twirling a breathless partner; his solemn joy and pride in a special ceremony; the smiles of all his children, nieces and nephews, gathering around him at a picnic.

I wish for you a smooth ride to your destination, my dear friend.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Caftans, Part Deux

The caftan craze continues: I took advantage of the many sales on Etsy as well as a couple of trips to the Goodwill and Savers, and ended up with an even larger collection of patterns.

My latest acquisitions:

And I scored these lovely Vogues:

This one eluded me for some time:
At first I couldn’t find it anywhere, then it popped up on Etsy for $60. Really, people? $60 for a 1970s pattern? I stopped obsessing about it for a week and then happened to be browsing through patterns on eCRATER, and there it was for $4. I've got you now, my pretty!

So if there are any other intriguing caftan patterns out there, please do not bring them to my attention. I really think eleven is enough. Although I'm still drawn to those Polynesian Patterns...

Caftans are great for burning through those 4- and 5-yard lengths of fabric that somehow get accumulated through free gifts, mystery bundles, and, okay, overbuying. I'll make a few out of odd fabrics I'm not completely in love with (pink and blue striped shirting?), and a few more out of insanely gorgeous fabrics (hello, magenta and chartreuse chiffon!). And as my friend at the local fabric depot says, "if you love sewing straight lines, you'll love making caftans." Straight lines, that's me.

I have a few already cut and ready to sew, and I’m hoping to get to them later this week. I have a feeling they'll contribute substantially to my quality of life during this uncomfortable (and growing more so) period of my life. I can make all the beautiful wool skirts and fitted dresses I want, but until I stop these raging hot flashes (I call them the "sweat-downs"), I won't be able to wear anything but very loose, very lightweight clothing. Plus, I can imagine myself looking cool and elegant, breezing around the house in my caftan, just like a pattern illustration.

Hope you all scored some great deals during the Black Friday - Small Business Saturday - Cyber Monday extravaganza.


Monday, November 28, 2011

When your novel finally admits it was a short story all along

Yes, it happens. What do you do when you realize that you’ve taken a decent short story idea and stretched it to the breaking point in trying to force it to be a novel?

Actually I came to this conclusion around the 20th of November. I wasn’t completely finished with the narrative of my main character but I knew I had little left to write and forcing more words out would just be a waste of time. I stopped writing for a few days, thinking about the story and writing in general. I considered various alternatives for amplifying the story, even going so far as the possibility of writing a completely new story and adding it in – two 30,000-word works would certainly exceed the 50,000 word minimum. There is no rule that says you can’t do that (in fact there aren’t really any rules at all about what you write). But that led me to the next thought – what if it was the same story told by another person? It’s been done before in books, and more popularly in movies. How interesting to view the same things through different eyes!

So I started writing about another, previously secondary, character in the story. Her personal history and how she experienced the main character’s story, and the later events that befell them together and separately, made up the rest of the book.

I was also wondering about novellas. Whatever happened to the novella? I don’t usually rely on Wikipedia as a primary source, but it does provide a good composite definition of the genre:

A novella has generally fewer conflicts than a novel, yet more complicated ones than a short story. The conflicts also have more time to develop than in short stories. They have endings that are located at the brink of change. Unlike novels, they are not divided into chapters, and are often intended to be read at a single sitting, as the short story, although white space is often used to divide the sections. They maintain, therefore, a single effect.
I like this definition, as opposed to simply applying a random word count to differentiate the shorter novella to the novel.

Judging by Wikipedia’s list of notable novellas, the genre hit its peak in the late 1800s – early 1900s. Famous books include Animal Farm, A Christmas Carol, Heart of Darkness, Of Mice and Men, The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde.

There are several modern books on the notable novella list, but they are only an imperceptible fraction of the total works of fiction published in the last 30 years.

Why? Is it because of book prices? I suppose if I’m going to pay $25.95 for a hardcover (or whatever they’re going for these days) I would like it to be a hefty tome of at least 500 pages. Short stories are okay, but there’d better be a lot of them for the price.

Or maybe it’s the cost of printing? Or a marketing challenge – which bookstore shelf would feature something that isn’t a full-length novel?

Or is it just that readers don’t know what the novella is and so shy away from it unless it’s from a highly popular, productive author. I may be part of the problem rather than the solution. I don’t think I have ever bought a novella, and if I did, it was because I thought it was a novel.

So, my story is finished, at least for NaNoWriMo purposes, and it's a bit over 50,000 words, before editing. Too long to be read in a single sitting, so it doesn’t meet that criterion for a novella. Plus, it does have chapters. On the other hand, the conflicts are few and complex, and the story ends as the characters are on the brink of change.

I think it is a novella. And I’m glad it's done! Sort of. I think I'll have a few more comments on the topic when I get some distance from it. Soon I’ll be back to happy, crafty, lightweight things.


Friday, November 25, 2011

Changing Traditions

Holiday traditions evolve over time, not just within a culture, but within families, too. Children grow up and start new families, elders pass on, people move back and forth across the country (or the world) in search of better jobs or living conditions. New family units regroup and rethink and plan new ways to celebrate.

Part of the joy of my holidays now is just being alone with my partner to savor some peace and quiet, stuff ourselves with everything we like to eat, and count our many blessings. No more insane five-hour drives in pelting rain to arrive on time for a relative’s turkey dinner, no sleeping overnight at the airport because of delayed flights back home, no worrying that you’ll stir the gravy wrong and piss off your mother-in-law, and no cringing when old Uncle So-and-so gets to the bottom of his third scotch and starts blowing off steam.

Ah, solitude.


Enjoy your holiday weekend!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Big Picture

Although I'm usually the first one to indulge in holiday excess and conspicuous consumption, every so often something reminds me that there is more out there than just myself.

Like this photo which left an entire world nearly speechless in awe when it first appeared in 1972,

a new video has just been released by NASA which should have much the same effect. Even if you don't come to any deep philosophical conclusions while watching, it's still an enjoyable piece of art.

I can't figure out how to embed the video into this post, but if you have five minutes to enjoy a fascinating view of our world, click here.

I wish you all a happy and contemplative Thanksgiving.


Monday, November 21, 2011

Season of Contrasts

Just thought I'd check in with everyone! We're having wonderful days and nights now… highs in the 60s for a couple of days, and an unexpected rain last night.

Mud puddle on flagstone, masquerading as abstract art.

I say unexpected rain, because we even if our meteorologists tell us rain is coming, no one believes them. The general assumption is they’ve all broken under the strain of endless sunny days and no longer have any idea what they’re talking about.

The garden is full of beauty (if I close my eyes to the weeds); the contrast of exotic fruits and flowers mingling with native trees and shrubs to create an unusual autumn palette.

First beans

Ancient lemon tree still going strong

Pyracantha in full flame

Mesquite pods

Baja Red Fairy Duster


I hope you are all enjoying the abundance of this season!