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Relaxing with Romance

My roommate my freshman year of college was a huge fan of romance novels. I was (and am) a Sci-Fi and fantasy fan and had never ready any romance before. She was thrilled to have someone to introduce to the genre, and she gave me book after book. College, being what it was, I didn’t have much time for ‘fun’ reading, so I would save these books for after finials. I learned that romance novels were the perfect relaxation read after the stress of final exams. The stakes are generally low, and genre convention requires a happy ending, so the stress of reading was practically zero for me.

Since she only gave me books she was done with, and had enjoyed, my introduction to romance reading was a lot of really good books. She got me hooked on Outlander, for example, back when there were only two books in the series. Only years later, when I had to find my own romance novels did I stumble into the sorts of books that have given the genre a less positive reputation. Because even after I had long moved on to other housing situations, I kept my new habit of reading romance after finals to unwind, and destress. (Thanks Heather!) But I had to start paying attention to authors and publication lines because a story about a captive that fell in love with her rapist was defiantly not remotely relaxing. It was enraging. Yet those books were mixed in there, so I had to learn to be selective on my own.

After college, I returned to my science fiction because I had more time and mental and emotional energy for different stories again. I wish I could remember what I’d learned in that process of selecting romance novels now though. Because since Covid and shelter-in-place times, I have rediscovered the value or romance. I was having major sleeping problems. Anyone who has had sleeping problems knows that bad sleep just leads on to other life problems. One night I decided to read a romance that I’d picked up for free and had sitting on my kindle. I think it was The Governess Affair by Courtney Milan. It shut my brain up and let me drift off to sleep much more peacefully. I’ve since bough the rest of the series, and gradually worked through them at bedtime. There is enough plot to be interesting but not so much that I’m confused if I fall asleep in the middle of a chapter and have to figure out the next night what was happening when I drifted off. It’s perfect. But I guess I’m afraid for my new sleep routine when I run out of Courtney Milan books. Luckily we now have the internet to point me toward novels that will fill the role I need of them. My daytime books can be as intense as I want, but my bedtime books over the past few months have become something I guard, and am careful and very selective of.

Still, if you have a favorite romance book or author, please share it with me. I’ve moved on to fantasy comedy (Diskworld) for my bedtime reading, but I am having a little more trouble following the plot while sleepy. I plan to return to a romance read next again. More importantly though, one can never have too many stress reducing book recommendations to work through.

crafty things · crochet

Among Us Amigurumi

We celebrated yet another socially distanced birthday in our household over the weekend. The kiddo wanted to play Among Us with the family. It was much more fun than I expected it to be, and while the grandparents had some minor problems with the technology involved, there was more laughter than frustration, and it all ended with “we should do this again”. So I see why the game is so popular. I got killed a lot and never got to be the imposter, but by the time we quit, I could at least find my way around the ship better.

To go with the game, I made the above Crewmate amigurumi. With the popularity of Among Us, there are lots of patterns to choose from. I used this one from Tiffany at Cafe del Craft. It worked up very quickly so I had time for the dead crewmate too, which seems morbid, but gave the kiddo a giggle.

crafty things

Learning to spin cotton

My first cotton yarn (and Panther in the background)

While I do actually have a full spinning wheel, it hasn’t been used since we moved, many years ago and is not exactly in operational condition. Also, from what little spinning experience I have, I learned that spinning cotton is more difficult than spinning wool because of how much shorter the fibers are. What I found when I researched the topic, was the recommendation to use a spindle called a tahkli for spinning cotton.

I’m a disaster at using a drop spindle, but the tahkli sounded different. It’s a supported spindle, so it spins on a surface – in bowl or on a desk, or against your leg, etc. It doesn’t dangle. That sounded like it might give me more control, and it was a new crafty thing to play with so I ordered one from Etsy. There are all kinds of very fancy, very beautiful ones available, but I just needed functional, and hopefully, affordable so I ended up ordering this one. It really spins like a little champ!

While I was super proud of that yarn in the photo when I did it, it doesn’t look so great to me now. Although compared to my very first attempt that can’t be photographed because it’s just a pile of broken pieces of cotton with the occasional twisted section included it is a huge improvement. Considering the photo was my second day’s attempt, I think my learning curve maybe isn’t too bad. There is a lot to learn – how much to feed at a time, how much to spin, how to balance everything, how to wind it up when it gets long, what the best angle to hold the cotton at, etc. More than I had expected to have trouble with. I’m honestly still not sure what I’m supposed to be doing with the hook at the top, but since some of the videos I’m learning from don’t have a hook, I guess I will continue not to worry about that.

The Etsy seller I bought my tahkli from included some pretty cotton samples, and some more raw but nicely carded and prepared cotton so that’s what I learned on. It was very nice of them because I was afraid of messing up my own cotton so it helped me feel okay with making a mess in the beginning as I learned. thought I’m saving that pretty cotton they sent for when I know what I’m doing.

My next step is to learn how to set the twist and how to ply my spinning into a 2-ply yarn. My understanding is that these steps are important for cotton yarns, but I don’t know how. Luckily, I like to learn things. Expect more photos when I get it all figured out.

crafty things · garden

Harvesting Cotton

My cotton is starting to pop open and be ready for harvesting. I’m such a proud little container gardener! I was looking something up about cotton, and learned that these five-sectioned boils are less common than the four section ones. So I had to check my plant, I found one boil with four, but it looks like most of mine will be five. Maybe some varieties have five more often? I wonder if there is a reason. Something more to research I guess!

I spent a chunk of time picking the seeds out of this boil, and that was more work than I expected. I already have more seeds now from one boil than I bought to start with. I have a nice handful of fluffy cotton now as well. I want to try and spin it, but my understanding is it is harder to spin than wool due to it’s shorter fibers, and my wheel needs some love before it will be operational, so I ordered a spindle called a tahkli cotton spinning spindle to try out as well.

I’m nervous about messing up and ruining my pretty cotton, but I’ll need to get over that because the only way to learn is to try, and mistakes are likely. I can always grow more, and in fact, I have at least a dozen more boils out there on my cotton plant that haven’t opened yet. Still, if any experienced cotton spinners are out there, I’m open to advice!

cats

They Stay With Us

My sweet Bob

I’m not sure why, but I’ve been thinking about my Bob lately. He passed away 2 years, 8 months ago. It doesn’t feel like he’s been gone that long. It’s tempting at this point to write about how great Bob was. He was a great cat. But what prompted this post today is more my thinking about why and how I think about him.

Most of the time I don’t know what bring him to mind. Other times, something happened that reminds me of something he did, or a time we had together and it’s more clear. While the memories also remind me how much I miss him, time has done its work to some degree in that I am mostly happy to think about and remember him.

Then sometimes, my mind will continue on, remembering other cats I’ve shared my life with:

Shindy – the first cat I got after moving out on my own

Magic – the only cat I’ve had that I knew his actual birthday because he was born under my best friend’s bed when they took in a pregnant stray

Sheba – the trouble-making tiny Bengal with the huge voice

and my childhood cats Patches – the barn cat who knew she was really a princess and Charley – the silly calico who acted like a puppy.

Hansom Bob

I know what these cats have meant to me. Working as an RVT for over twenty years now, I’ve seen the bonds people share with their pets. They add so much to our lives. I actually get sad for the ‘it’s just a dog/cat/pet’ people. They’re missing out on so much by limiting who their hearts can hold dear. I’ve been present while so many people said goodbye to their fluffy family members. Or while they stood by their side to fight through an uncertain recovery. These are not frivolous emotions or values. They are important.

And our memories are precious.

writing

I May Have a Writing Routine

This is my 18th day of writing every day. I’d gone many months of not writing much of anything. I knew my excuses to myself about why I wasn’t writing were mostly crap, but I just couldn’t seem to make myself sit down and do it.

I used to really dislike exercise. Maybe a short nature walk. Maybe an easy bike ride, as long as it wasn’t too often. Since my recovery from the string of surgeries a few years ago, I’ve gotten a nice exercise routine down. With the pandemic still raging, I’m not at the gym with weights anymore, but I’m still exercising at home with a pretty good routine. Now, I feel off if I don’t get some form of exercise in every day. Sometimes it’s just a short go on the stationary bike if I’m really tired, but I do something each day.

I figured if I could do that – if I could become someone who exercised habitually, I should be able to write regularly too. A writing routine should be easier even. I LIKE to write after all. Don’t I?

So I did a lot of thinking about how I got to where I am with my exercise and decided to use those ideas to get a writing routine down. What is working for me so far:

  • My exercise bike keeps track of my daily streak, and makes a fuss about milestones. So I’m trying to keep a writing streak going. Even if I can only manage a sentence, it will count.
  • I plan the day before when I will write and what project I’m going to work on: my fiction, my staff newsletter for the day job, a writing exercise, or something else.
  • I’m generous about what counts as writing. As above, if I’m exhausted and can only manage a few minutes, that’s okay. Over time I will try to extend this. I love reading books and listening to podcasts about writing, but those don’t count on their own. If I do a writing exercise with it, THAT can count. Editing might be time reading my own story and making some notes. That counts.
  • The biggie I think is deciding inside myself that this would matter. The streak would matter. The often tiny little pockets of time would matter. It was all important. I’ve found myself bopping around doing whatever in an evening and thought, “Ah! Look at the time, I better do my writing before it gets any later!” Then I do. I used to look and think, “It’s already so late, I’ll try to write tomorrow.” The mental shift is huge for me.

I’m only 18 days in. Nowhere near what the habit experts say you need to make something a habit, but it’s so, so much more that I had been doing that I’m proud, and excited that I believe this will stick. Some day eventually though, I’ll break my streak. I’ve done that with my exercise. Not only was I tired, but I had a pounding headache, or hurt my back or something and pushing though would have been worse than taking a break to rest. Resting is okay. Resting is good sometimes. But I hope with writing, as with exercise for me, it will be the exception, not the normal state of things.

If you have a writing routine that works for you, or for any good habit you’ve created for yourself, please share in the comments!

garden

Garden: before and after

The garden: before

I’m not sure how much you can really appreciate from the pictures, but since I mentioned how much work I’d done in my back garden area in my last post, I thought I’d try to share this. Looking through my camera roll for something else, I found that I had actually taken a picture early on in my cleaning up out back. This wasn’t the very worst of it, but almost. Mostly, I hope it shows how much those vines had taken over and were even smothering the big rose bushes to some degree.

The garden: after

Now it is a nice place to spend time, and I’m starting to get the occasional ripe tomato or bell pepper. I just moved some edamame and zucchini seedlings out there yesterday. Here’s hoping the continue to do well – edamame is another thing I’ve tried a few times to grow and failed, but these look great so far. Maybe I had my time of year wrong before.

garden

I’m Growing Cotton

Cotton plant in bloom

I’ve really gotten into my garden this year. Maybe because I’m physically in better shape, maybe because we aren’t out running around as much so I can dedicate the time, or maybe I just missed it enough to at last put the work in. I’m not sure why this year is when I finally fought off the invasive vines that had literally taken over the entire space, and salvaged the plants that had been suffocated by them, and cleared out the broken junk and debris that had gathered out there. But I did, and it’s so nice.

Calling my outdoor space a yard is probably too generous. Patio might be a better word. There’s no grass. Just concrete and a retaining wall against the back fence with some huge rose buses that were there when we moved in. So all my additions are in pots. A lot of my bigger pots had disintegrated over the years and I finally threw their crumbling husks out this spring. My two remaining large post are holding a tomato plant and pumpkin. I also have two large Earth Box style boxes ( I think only one is an actual Earth box). I just moved my other tomato plants into one when the peas that had been there were done. The second has lettuce and what I’d hoped was cotton.

I planted several kinds of seeds in that box and had trouble getting anything to come up. So i just kept trying new things to the point where I’d kinda forgotten what all I’d put in there. The lettuce was obvious when it cam up, so I knew what it was, and it’s still growing great. Pumba, our guinea pig loves it. The other plant that came up was unfamiliar to me. I hoped it was the cotton, because I really wanted to grow that, but it had been over a month since I put those seeds in , so I wasn’t sure if it was maybe a weed, or just something else I didn’t remember planting.

Time has confirmed it is cotton. I love the blooms. They start off white and get deeper and deeper pink over a few days. You can see several stages of color in my picture above. I don’t know how long it takes for the fluffy cotton to come along, or how to tell when it’s ready, so I have some research to do, but it’s exciting to watch. (feel free to drop any cotton wisdom you have in the comments please!) Now I need to pull my spinning wheel out of the garage and get it fixed up and operational. Fun!

P.S. Those vines in the background of the picture are the ones that had taken over in the past several years. I am letting them keep that corner they started in and gave them a small lattice to climb. But I wonder if this is asking for trouble and if it would be better to tear them out all the way. They do make a pretty purple flower in the spring. I feel maybe I can keep them under control now that I’m paying attention out there. Thoughts?

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Thoughts on home learning from a 12 year veteran homeschool parent

I’m grateful for the position my family is in regarding our kid’s education this fall. We homeschool, and always have. We use a charter, so we follow state education standards. We do the yearly state testing (except last sprig when they canceled it). But we have a lot of friends in the local homeschooling community and I know a lot of families who do things very differently. So I know there are so, so many options on how to educate a child.

Parents are being put in a bad place right now. I’m hearing a lot of politicians confidently say that schools will be open as normal in the fall. I see schools saying they are unsure if they can open safely, and they are working on systems and plans. More and more top universities are saying they will be offering only online classes for the fall. I’m grateful I don’t have to wonder who to trust, and what will be safe for my children. A luxury most parents don’t have. I want to share some thought to those parents who are considering keeping their kids home, but are daunted by the idea. Who think they aren’t qualifies or prepared to teach their child.

I hear a lot from non-homeschooling parents that they could never do what I do. I think people think I have the skills of a classroom teacher. I do not. Classroom teachers have to teach a group of 30+ children all at once despite them all working at their own levels. They have to juggle so much, and deal with parents and school board expectations on top. I have to help two students that I have known from birth, and understand very, very well. I can move the daily schedule, and even the calendar around to best suit our needs. If I don’t like a book or curriculum isn’t working for us, I can drop it right then, and do something else. Homeschooling is a picnic compared to teaching in a classroom.

Parents who were trying to quickly adapt to a distance learning situation last spring while also dealing with shelter in place orders and either working from home or doing essential work with all kinds of new rules (I was in this group) were not homeschooling. They were emergency pandemic schooling from home. High five to everyone who made it through that.

My oldest will be a senior in high school, and my youngest will be in 8th grade. So I will also have to luxury of not needing daycare for them on the days I work outside the home. We have been homeschooling forever, and they know how to learn on their own: they have spent their lifetime learning how. Anyone starting out won’t be able to jump in where we are and have it work. But if you don’t want to send your kids into a classroom this fall, you can find a way for them to learn at home. It really isn’t hard. It’s just something you aren’t used to because our society assumes you send your kids away to school, that’s just expected.

I know people who work full time and still make homeschooling work. They do school in the evenings and weekends – or at least the parts that need parental involvement. The younger your kids the more involvement they will need. And the littles will still need an adult with them during the day, and this is where it gets rough if the parents jobs are moving them back out of the house. I don’t know all the solutions to all the logistic problems you might have, but someone is doing what you want to do. I recommend finding local homeschool groups, and asking questions. You can ask me your questions too, and I’ll do my best. Google or Facebook groups are a good starting point to find them. The only reason I haven’t completely dropped Facebook is to stay connected to my local homeschool group. I’ll give this advice: unless you want to have a Christian influence include the word ‘secular’ in every search you do – for support groups, for books or curriculum, for everything. Even then some Christian slanted stuff will creep in, so check, but it helps.

On the plus side, homeschooling takes way less time than a traditional school day. There are no lines to form and wait in. No waiting for other students to finish something before moving on. No busy work. Young kids need 2 to 4 hours maybe, and my big kids finish a day’s work in 4 to 6-ish hours (the high end is for the high schooler and includes local community college classes she has taken since the 9th grade). Then they’re done. No ‘homework’ later. And in case you think they can’t be getting a good education, they always test well above standard on the state tests and the high schooler is acing her college work. Going to school does not equal getting educated. But I digress.

Every state will have its own rules for regulating homeschooling so that’s another reason to find local groups to guide you if you are considering this. For Californians, I can point you here for the basics. The California Homescool Network is another spot for info. And ask me questions! I can’t promise I’ll have all the answers, but I’ll do my best.