From Makers for Makers: 2015 Gift Idea List

Dec 08

We don't (yet) have ice or snow, but doesn't it make you feel more festive to see a picture like this?

We don’t (yet) have ice or snow, but doesn’t it make you feel more festive to see a picture like this?

I’ve gathered together a few of my favorite makers to share our 2015 Holiday Gift Idea lists with you. All week long we’ll post cool indie-made items, can’t-do-without tools, and favorite diy projects.

  1. Whether you make one to give or offer a crafty loved one a kit, Alicia Paulson’s softie kits are darling. Her instructions are clear as can be, and while I can’t spill any beans about what’s happening re: softies at my house, take my advice and order a kit for yourself, too.
  2. For watercolorists, Greenleaf and Blueberry hand makes my favorite paints. She’ll help you customize a kit, or you can order the paints and make your own in an old tin.
  3. If your favorite artist prefers drawing, TSandN’s crow quill pens are beautiful. Christine responded quickly to loads of questions when I ordered mine, and I enjoy drawing with it.
  4. Book lovers, journal keepers, or magpies who need to keep stacks of paper in order will love the monogrammed burlap bookends from Next Door to Heaven. Mine are currently holding most-referenced books of the semester upright.
  5. There are a lot of terrific project bags on the market, but my favorites are Stitched by Jessalu’s box and bucket bags. The quality is excellent, and Jessalu, an avid knitter and spinner, understands a stitcher’s needs. You’re bound to find a bag in a fabric that will suit every friend!
  6. Need a charming bijoux? Sara from Et Voila! Design crafts her jewelry from vintage pieces she finds in French brocantes and American flea markets. I always get compliments whenever I wear one of her pieces!
  7. No time to knit, but you want to give a cushy handmade scarf? My former student and dog lover extraordinaire Chelsea sells scarves and hats to raise funds for no-kill shelters at Scarves for Paws.
  8. Anything from Alabama Chanin makes a welcome gift, but I think this Starter Sewing Kit is a great project for a new #chaninista.
  9. Another make-it-yourself-or-give-it-as-a-kit,-but-make-sure-you-order-one-for-yourself gift idea (phew! What a mouthful), totally stolen from Jani: a limited edition Starcroft Tide Pool, which longs to be a pair of Through the Loops’s Kanagwa Mittens and a Trig hat by Mary Lou Egan.
  10. And if you have Starcroft yarn in hand, you’ll love Gale’s Nash Island postcards, too!
  11. These HodgePodge Farm crochet mug cozies, especially with the Cuppow lid, make an adorable, environmentally-friendly gift for your loved ones who are always on the go with their morning (afternoon, all-day) coffee.
  12. When you want a little something to add to a gift set, Amy sells notebooks–perfectly sized for a handbag, project bag, any bag–that feature her awesome original art.

Be sure to check out these lists all week long:

Wednesday: Mary Lou Egan

Thursday: Cal Patch

Friday: Gale Zucker

And don’t forget to leave a comment with your favorite gifts-for-makers ideas!

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Phoenix Draft: Written

Oct 06

Novel It started in 2004 with a writing prompt to craft a 25-line story featuring a childhood place. I wrote “Queen of the Tobacco Field,” set in the shade tobacco farms of the Connecticut Tobacco Valley, my birthplace.

Are you surprised? Most folks not from here are. They think the south owns all the rights to tobacco. But I grew up watching local and migrant workers tend the plants as they pushed against the ghostly nets that create the just-right environment for some of the world’s best cigar binders and wrappers, and those fields, that netting, the red barns…those are my markers of childhood and home.

I digress. My first MFA workshop saw that 25-line story morph into a proper short story, and as I drafted my dissertation, it grew into a novella. I defended my dissertation in 2008, yet I still couldn’t let go of the story.

Every May, when my teaching gig was over for the summer, I promised myself I’d write a new draft, the one I could shop around. I have at least five half-finished drafts in which I changed huge parts of the story, but they were never right. As September arrived, I would give up.

This year, I didn’t make myself a promise. I gave myself permission.

Permission to try it one more time. Permission not to give up. Permission to do what I had to in order to write a brand new draft with a brand new focus. I made the commitment matter by hiring a terrific writing coach.

Around the same time, I saw a tweet from Rachael in which she used the term Phoenix Draft. And I knew she’d written it just for me (okay, she didn’t, but it flew past my eyes at the moment I needed to see it). See, almost every time I begin a new draft, I open a brand new document and start from scratch. I rarely (except with short stories) get to the point where I’m satisfied enough with the story to revise the existing draft.

This one, I told myself, would be the Phoenix Draft. The last one to rise, new and different, reborn, if you will, from the ashes of ten years of drafts.

Last week, I finished the draft. 81,800 words of a brand new story, the story I was meant to tell, the story that precedes all of the events I crammed into the 25-line “Queen of the Tobacco Field.” I kept the name I gave it in novella form, The Hardest Bent, because it is a true and right name for this novel.

I printed it out, mapped out a revision plan based closely on Rachael’s, and in my last coaching session with dear Charlotte on Friday, firmed up how I’ll spend my next three months of writing time.

I am over the moon about revising this Phoenix Draft. I am terrified about finding a home for the novel, but it deserves that from me. So when this revision is over, when my trusted readers give me one last round of feedback, I plan to once more give myself permission. Permission to write a terrific query letter. Permission to find the agent and editor who will love my story the way I do. Permission to let The Hardest Bent do more than press against the netting…to burst out from under it, into the world.

How about you? What have you given yourself permission to do lately?

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Selecting Book Club Reads

Jan 13

My book club met in late December to select the books for 2012’s meetings. When the first group began a few years ago, we’d just email each other with a book title and meet at some point after we’d all read it. All, by the way, was three.

The group is much bigger now, and while we only have four to six people at most meetings, we clearly need better organization. After asking for ideas about best practices for an organized book group, we decided to select a year’s worth of books at one time, and to schedule the meeting dates. Since schedules fluctuate, we’re pretty easy about changing a date if needed, but we only had to do that a few times last year.

Since we have a private Facebook group, communication is easy. Neal is the only member not on FB, and I just give him whatever information he needs. A few weeks before we were to select books, I posted a bunch of lists. Since I’m militant about NOT reading crap, the lists are a useful jumping point. Here are some that I posted:

Like most artwork lists, these are somewhat arbitrary, but they do help.

This year, I was asked to give “homework”: I assigned a list to a few group members, who each selected 3-5 books to bring to the group. At our meeting, everyone explains why they selected their books, and if anyone has read them, s/he adds feedback. After the book presentations, there’s a shuffling sort of time when we eliminate books or make firm claims that some books MUST be on the list. Is everyone happy with the list? Probably not, but at least we’ve all had a chance to participate in the selections.

After that, we set dates. The person who presents the book is responsible for arranging the location and time of the meeting. We’ve had some fun choices: we met at an Ethiopian restaurant when we discussed Cutting for Stone, and an Indian restaurant for White Teeth.  I take everyone’s month requests into consideration (“my book is set in the south; give me a hot month”; “I don’t want to commit to a Friday”; “Friday is best, so I can Skype” [our overseas member, Sara] “No cold months for me”…you get the idea) and match books to a date. I love working out that little piece of the puzzle.

Curious about our 2012 list?

  • February: Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
  • March:Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
  • April: Black Water by Joyce Carol Oates
  • May: The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
  • June: Empire of the Sun by J.G. Ballard
  • July: As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
  • August: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
  •  September: Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood
  • October: At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft
  • December: Radical Son by David Horowitz

Are you in a book club? How does your group select its books?




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Sentimental Saturday: House Frog

Aug 13

House Frog
I found this toy frog in the tiny back yard of my Albuquerque casita. If you’ve read my blog since its Wearing Black in New Mexico days, you might recall that casita–my adorable home in the North Valley; the site of many a Crafty Friday, spinning adventure, and knitting challenges. I bought it about a month after my co-op in New York sold and couldn’t wait to be in my own place again. I loved living in an adobe home, adored the two kiva fireplaces, and never quite had enough furniture to look right in the place.

Sure, knowing I would be in Albuquerque for only a few years, I wanted to live in an adobe home, and my casita filled that requirement…but it also filled the dog-related requirement: I needed a back yard. When I saw my unit’s yard had a tree and room for Maddie to run around, I was sold.

Shortly after Maddie and I moved in, I started prepping for the big backyard-reno that Neal promised me. Instead of wood chips over plastic, I would have a patch of grass and a stone path and sitting area. As I decided where I best liked my chairs one day, I caught a glimpse of something green.

A treasure from some previous resident, the House Frog took up a place of honor in the casita, and he now lives on the window sill in my studio, New Mexican dirt still encrusted on his legs. When I hold him, I think of all the friends who shared time in my dear little home: Dana and Mike, David, Billy, Jamie, Cari, Mona, Noelle, Lizzie…oh, I’m leaving out far too many of them, but the laughs and conversations and special moments we shared, like that dirt, are encrusted all about the House Frog, my little household deity.

Do you have anything you’ve taken from home to home that reminds you of where you’ve lived? Feel free to leave a note in the comments, or share a link to your own Sentimental Saturday post (pictures are great!).

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Sleeping Weather

Aug 12

Summer Friday
We’ve had perfect weather the last few days. Warm, sunny, humid-free days and cool, breezy nights. Good sleeping weather, everyone says with a grin. Sleeping in air conditioning relieves the hot, humid nights of July, but sleeping with windows wide open is so much nicer, don’t you think?

I’ve been spending time with a good book and West Knits Mystery Shawl. I vacillated on colors for a while, but consultation with Irene from SnB and Jodi from my LYS led me to the perfect orange yarn, and I think my book’s cover may have influenced me a bit, too.
Book and Shawl
I’ve been doing a lot of crochet design work, which I can’t show you quite yet, and I’ve discovered that knitting is a fantastic way to take a break from the hook. I’m a rather severe hooker (oh, I can’t wait to see what the search engines do with that!), but a loosey goosey knitter, so knitting relaxes my wrists a bit.

I hope you have good sleeping weather, too. What have you been crafting when you’re not sleeping?

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