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.


Spring Changeover

Changeover in my old life in Anchorage meant changing the tires. Drive to the tire shop with studs grinding on roads gritty with leftover winter sand, air full of dust (also returning geese and hints of warmth), and drive home suddenly lighter, friskier with summer tires.

Here a winter-for-summer changeover trades pillow covers. Two sets of patterned fabric cover the nook bench pillows according to season. This year tulips broken off by a hard rain and brought inside prompt me to it – they need spring cover colors to be a pleasing scene.

Setting aside other chores, I sit down to sew. Spring sunshine pours in – the window beside me open for the first time in months. I squeeze each pillow out of its winter cover made from a Bali sarong – stylized tropical flowers and birds on warm-toned backgrounds of khaki and rust – and change to garden blossom colors in stripes, polka dots, and flowers.

When I used to make quilts, I treasured such quiet moments of stitching – the needle rhythmically piercing the cotton, in and out pushed by a thimble. I could listen for ideas about what was next.

Clearing thinking space can be tricky some weeks, and a good thing for my skittering mind is to read some part of Brenda Ueland’s 1938 book “If You Want to Write” – even just the introduction. In it, the writer Andrei Codrescu admits his own need to have “inspiration refreshed regularly” – and he always finds renewal in Ueland’s book.

Codrescu identifies Ueland as a teacher who is a believer whose faith is contagious. Codrescu says Ueland believed in “…the power that comes from paying complete attention to one’s circumstances. The joy that infuses attention pays off beyond one’s wildest dreams. It’s simple, but still secret, because it takes Courage.”

The fresh covers lift my spirits – like road tires instead of winter treads. They smell like the bar of lavender soap they’ve been stored with all winter.

In the midst of the task, I wonder what life will be like at the next changeover. You never know. But this is a chance for gratitude for life going on with comforting routines, a chance to recognize a change of the season – and a chance to pay attention.


In winter rains when last we saw those workers in straw – microorganisms, earthworms, shiny-black and iridescent-green beetles, many spiders, and a mouse or two looking for bedding – they were focused on transforming straw and compost berms into rich soil for garden beds.

You can plant a sheet-mulched bed right away, either by topping with a layer of compost or soil and sowing a cover crop, or by digging holes to fill with a little potting soil and a plant. I resisted, but on an autumn visit I planted species tulips in the northwest bed.

The earliest tulips to bloom, species tulips are hardy relatives of wild tulips found on rocky shores throughout the Mediterranean and Central Asia, arriving in Europe in the 16th century. I chose Tulipa kaufmanniana ‘Shakespeare’ and mixed bag of T. Greigii.

Species tulips are champs. Short and sturdy, brave and tireless, neither wind nor rain nor surrounding straw keeps them from beauty and color. About the time even my good-natured husband, who rarely asks about such things, inquired if we’d always have a yard full of straw, tulip leaves, pointed ends held wide, emerged.

Plump buds rose on thick stems, followed by dazzling flame-orange and red tulips. They close tight in rain and wind, but open wide to pollinators in sun, powered it seems by some strong stretching muscle.

That first spring Frances lounged on the straw, sun on her flank, in the midst of a blaze of colorful tulips. And five years on, in a spring rainstorm, descendants of the first tulips (true to their reputation for persistence and ruggedness) color the courtyard.