Chairs With Arms

After drawing Virginia Woolf’s reading chair, I began noticing armchairs and asking myself why they appeal. Partly it’s location, wanting to sit and have tea with a friend – our two armchairs classically pulled up by a warm fire. Or it’s longing – to be curled in a commodious armchair lost in a book, friendly feline apurr. Armchairs in bedrooms imply a generous room and a place to retreat. I know a double armchair in a bedroom – holds baby, mom, and older sibling – and it rocks!

The anthropomorphic character of armchairs, their limbs and heft embrace us. Accompanying adjectives reveal personality: overstuffed, shredded, or worn, floral, velvet, or leather. The few armchairs in those modern houses in the enjoyable TV series, “Big Little Lies,” appropriately look firm and toned.

Armchairs most often include pillows for color and comfort, or to beef up a saggy anatomy. They hang out with footstools, ottomans – some place for feet – whether of matching fabric or something repurposed, a trunk, a pouf. Armchairs need a lamp and a table right within reach, landing spot for teacup or beer and chips.

My parents had a voluminous armchair with sturdy square arms, slipcovered in an awful faux-tweedy fabric – I loved it. The arms held coffee cup and books, and I could hole up there for hours. With an old cabin, we inherited wooden-armed chairs with uncomfortable cushions, but so useful the flat surface of those broad arms.

My clever friend gave me a wicker armchair. It sits near my workroom with a little footstool and a great view. But, filled now with three old wool sweaters, fur-lined and curled into a nest, and occupied most days, all day, by Frances, it’s lost to me for afternoon tea.

You can probably sense a series coming – armchair pictures and paragraphs on “Her spirits rose…!”

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Maggie O’Farrell – Book Riches

Sometimes social media delivers a wondrous gift. A while ago Priya Parmer, who wrote “Vanessa And Her Sister” (the novel about Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf), posted on Instagram a photo of a small stack of books. I could make out one title and author, “This Must Be the Place” by Maggie O’Farrell.

Born in Northern Ireland and living in Edinburgh, O’Farrell has published seven novels set mostly in the U.K. Her characters – sufferer of eczema, journalist, linguist, reclusive movie star who disappears at the height of her career – are siblings, children, parents. Amongst themselves they grapple with secrets, loss, love, and tragedy. In “The Hand That First Held Mine,” O’Farrell guides parallel stories, separated in time, until they intersect.

Such a fine storyteller, she writes the kind of language I read for. Describing a café gone quiet: “A sack of coffee beans slumps, exhausted, against the counter. A bicycle skims past the window, the beam of its light veering over the dark street. The sky outside is mineshaft black, washed with orange. As if sensing the nighttime calm, the refrigerator obligingly shudders into silence.”

Later the sky goes from “mineshaft black” to “five-fathom blue,” and then “drains slowly into a milky gray.” I love how her observations, often piled up in lists, set scenes and capture the layers of grief or joy.

Describing a new mother after the baby feeds and falls asleep: “She looks about her, in the manner of a traveler who hasn’t seen their home for a long time. She is light-headed with the possibilities open to her. She could read a book, phone a friend, send an email, write a letter, do a sketch, make some soup, sort out her clothes, wash her hair, go for that walk, turn on the television, check her diary, mop the floor, clean the windows, fiddle about on the Internet. She could do anything.

But should she risk moving him?”

Houses – in the best books there are always houses (ones where the kitchen might hold a “kitchen dresser”). “She peeled up the rotten carpets and old, damp lino, scrubbed the boards and varnished them. She whitewashed the back of the house. She rubbed the windows with newspaper and vinegar until sunshine glowed through…. It seemed astonishing to her to own a patch of land, an arrangement of bricks, mortar and glass. It seemed an impossible swap: some money for a life like this.”

Given how often and well O’Farrell writes about children and parents, I enjoyed finding this piece about her “typical” writing day. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/dec/17/my-writing-day-maggie-o-farrell

I’ve read just two of her books so far, beginning with her most recent, so I’ve missed years of anticipating a new book – but now have treasures in reserve!

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Small, Simple Things

I regret my news consumption these days – responding to alerts on my phone with curiosity, dread, and some wild hope that things will change – a frustrating activity. What if I captured those moments?

Carl Richards, in a recent New York Times article, suggests how to “turn wishes into reality” instead of regrets. This sentence stuck out: “Small, simple things done consistently over a long time produce meaningful results.”

It seems to hold so much hope and possibility. A concept good for practical things – saving money, exercise, pulling popweed in the garden, and truly magic for creative work – the 15-minute freewrite, a drawing a day, a few rows knitted!

Having a self-assignment helps – an ongoing series like drawing teacups, flowers, house moments – assuring a place to start and asserting good pressure once begun. Lately I’ve realized that even the rabbit hole of Internet research on a personal project has far more benefit than incessant news viewing. (But still I struggle to resist.)

So I am writing this as a reminder, an encouragement – and to chastise myself. A short time consistently carved from the day might increase skill and will fill a drawer, a sketchbook, or a computer file. Whether those endeavors result in “meaningful results” or not, at least they don’t exacerbate anxiety – and do offer moments of absorption. Some of the best moments life offers.

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Plants and People – “Lab Girl”

I read “Lab Girl” by Hope Jahren, a geochemist and geobiologist, because I was curious what she would say about plants. In her book’s three sections, titled in a way that applies to both plants and people, “Roots and Leaves, “Woods and Knots,” and “Flowers and Fruit,” Jahren alternates descriptions of plant biology with tales of her life.

She writes about her relationship with her parents, her education and career (using stable isotope measurements to analyze fossil forests), Bill (her singular lab partner), a professional life with male scientists, and eventually, a happy love story with her husband Clint.

As I read, absorbed mostly in Jahren’s personal chronicle, I remembered my mother who always declared people more interesting than plants. But the next day I awoke and looking at the trees out my window, thought about how long trees have been here (400 million years), and how we endanger them (50 billion cut down in the last 10 years), and about recent scientific inquiry exploring how trees communicate and recognize their relatives (!).

Jahren wrote this book before our government took a bad turn, but even so she says, “My job is about making sure there will be some evidence that someone cared about the great tragedy that unfolded during our age.” Now that we live in a mess, “guided” by the anti-science “leadership” of our country with non-defense-related research funding flatlined and “curiosity-driven research” (what a wonderful concept) threatened, it’s both grand and sad to read this so accessible book about science.

An engaging writer and a driven scientist, Jahren writes, “Science has taught me that everything is more complicated than we first assume, and that being able to derive happiness from discovery is a recipe for a beautiful life. It has also convinced me that carefully writing everything down is the only real defense we have against forgetting something important that once was and is no more, including the spruce tree that should have outlived me but did not.”

In the epilogue, she encourages us to plant a tree this year if we own property or even if a renter with a yard. “Every day, you can look at your tree, watch what it does, and try to see the world from its perspective.”

“Lab Girl” makes one better at that worthy attempt.

 

 

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Sweet Baby Turns Two

If you ask Sweet Baby how old she is now, she’s quick to answer – “TWO!”

She’s quick to answer about many things these days – using her vast vocabulary of English and Thai words – and some phrases that are a combination of both. She requests a hug in either language and gives great ones in return. With reliable consistency and genuine pleasure she delivers pleases and thank yous. They are always attached to a name (“tink you Shes-tar”).

She and her mom have a really good time – they chatter in Thai, sing together, laugh together. Her dad and I might get breakfast ready, but Sweet Baby enjoys it best when her mom arrives. Sweet Baby eats most everything – she loves fruit of all kinds, avocados (‘cados), rice, oatmeal with peanut butter, and the cream cheese off a bagel.

Sweet Baby deftly employs third person verbs with her name – declaring Sweet Baby going walking, going sleeping, going hiking. And she identifies our activities and belongings – daddy working, Granna Katy’s sweater, Poppa Jim’s hat, daddy’s hat, sunglasses, shoes, phone – on and on. She points to her hair clip (“kee-ip”) and mine. Sweet Baby’s hat is a hot pink ball cap worn with her ponytail through the back.

She’s thin and very strong. (Baby Brother weighs almost as much!) She runs and hikes on those little legs at a great clip – fast, coordinated, and determined. She samples the coming pleasures of snowboarding and swimming with style and concentration.

She’s remarkable with names and faces – repetition might help – after being introduced, she’s apt to repeat “Hi Justin!” (or whomever) multiple times. On her January trip to Thailand, she remembered names of relatives she has met only once. She has an endearing habit of pointing to something that puzzles her, person or thing, and, putting forefinger to chin, inquiring: “it’s ummmm…?”

She shrieked in delight at the sight of her cousins on a recent time together. She patted Baby Brother with affectionate intensity, and was a classic two-year old taking toys when playing with Lady Baby (so grown up at five, amazingly patient and kind with her little cousin).

Sweet Baby’s learned a lot about birthday celebrations – two so far (oatmeal yogurt cake first, fruit tart second). Another evening of candles and treat is in the offing when her Thai granny arrives this week.

Happy Birthday Sweet Baby!

 

 

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Ubiquitous Flowers

That’s what a reader called daffodils when I posted them on Valentine’s Day. She’s right, especially the sturdy yellow ones (the color of dandelions, not everyone loves them), and especially on Bainbridge Island where the commenter lives. There, plantings have naturalized along roadsides and at intersections all over the island. These daffodils, bunched buds from the grocery store, opened on my drawing table. Daffodils begin to bloom in the garden –  welcome in their ubiquity.

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Flowers From The Garden – Hellebore

Hellebore – the Lenten rose, Christmas rose – even braver than snowdrops, hellebore bloom here in January, bowing their blossoms for protection from inclement weather. My plants are 10 years old now, big leathery leaves get cut back each fall, so the blossoms appear as a surprise in the depth of winter. I read a long time ago, that helleboe lift their heads and endure indoors if you carefully slit the stem vertically in several spots.

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