Still Drawing!

Way back in April 2020, I signed up for a drawing class over Zoom on a whim. I was bored and home all the time, and hobbies I had previously enjoyed (meeting friends, going out to eat, gaming in person, theater), were suddenly off the table. That class was one of the better decisions I have made! It was all about drawing hands, which are not easy to draw.

Hands–April 2020

I was pleasantly surprised my drawings did not look like they were done by a toddler, and continued with the class. Then I took a watercolor class. Then I took another drawing class. And I have not stopped taking art classes and now it is just over two years later and I decided to try to draw a hand once again.

Hand–April 2022

Seeing obvious improvement makes me feel so satisfied! I am so excited for whatever comes next!

Sustainability Project: November 2021

Quite some time ago, I switched from standard, plastic toothbrushes to bamboo toothbrushes. All was well, but awhile ago, I was wandering blissfully around Bed, Bath & Beyond, and came across the Preserve Toothbrush (available here).

Ziggy suffering through the indignity that is her
Halloween costume brought a smile to lots of faces.

On the website, you can read about the company’s Preserve Ocean Plastic Initiative. They make all their plastic items from reclaimed items on the coastlines and waterways. What I can say is that their toothbrush feels much more like a traditional toothbrush, and I think I might not only continue to buy them for myself, but for the kids as well. I might check out some of the other products as well!

Fall Camping 2021!

We usually go cabin camping in September because I love fall in the woods! But this year, we instead went tent camping in October! Okay, it was the first week of October, but nonetheless still October.

Ziggy discovers the simple joys of barking at cows at dawn!

I can already tell this post is going to be photo-heavy! It was so beautiful at the farm we stayed at in upstate New York. And the best thing was that we were the only campers there. It was a private campsite! Just us, a canvas tent (provided by the farm) and an outhouse everyone except me was scared to use. The photo above shows the cow field that bordered one side of the field we were in. Twice a day, someone came to feed the cows. But other than that, we didn’t need to see anyone if we didn’t want to.

Opposite the cow field was a river!

However, we did end up seeing others, since the farm was having a fall festival. And if there’s one thing I cannot pass up, it’s a fall festival. We walked about a half mile down a dirt road to the main farm area, where we got to do all the activities for free, since we were staying on the farm. There was a climbing wall, hay maze, giant slide, hay rides, and various games. The kids enjoyed it greatly!

My kids were impressed at both my ability to make fire and to turn it green!

Other than the festival, we spent most of the weekend just hanging around our campsite. My main complaint about camping has always been how loud it is and how many people are crowded around. Not this time! It was so wonderful to wake up with the sunrise and the quiet of the river and birdsong (and cows mooing!). My kids played very nicely with each other and my spouse and I had plenty of time to read and enjoy the beautiful fall weather!

Alone at sunrise–it was so beautiful!

This trip definitely made me want to tent camp again, but unfortunately it’s getting a bit too cold for me, and we’ll probably wait until next spring.

Sustainability Project: October 2021

“I want biodegradable poop bags too!” yells Oz.

Today, October 13th, is a special day for me. If my grandmother were still alive, she would be turning 116! But it is also a special day because it’s the fourth anniversary of our adoption of our cat, Oz! When I clean the litter box, like most people, I use plastic bags. I’ve always saved the plastic bags from shopping for this purpose. But since the great move of the plastic bag ban in NYC, I’m finally out of plastic bags!

After reading a lot of reviews, I bought some biodegradable ones here. Having used them for about a month, I would say they are easy to use, affordable, and big enough. Recommended!

Bonus photo of my grandmother, who loved every animal she ever met, including the goat we owned in the 1990s.

Sustainability Project: August 2021

My girl Ziggy, the inspiration for this post.

Ever since I got a dog last year, the thing I’ve liked the least about having a dog is (and this is possibly really obvious), is having to pick up dog poop. But even worse still are the plastic dog poop bags. To reduce my use of single-use plastics, I found poop bags made from corn starch. The idea is that the corn starch (and the poop itself, of course) will completely biodegrade. Actually, there are a couple of different brands, but the only brand that I have tried and can vouch for is this one.

The bags themselves are, in my opinion, very similar in quality to the plastic poop bags that I used previously. Meaning that yes, they hold poop, but no, I still cannot easily get them open.

Summer Vacation: The Poconos

My family recently spent a week in the Poconos! This was my third time there. I also went once when I was 18, once just before or after I got married (so 15 to 17 years ago). The day we left for vacation, my younger son woke up saying his ear felt “wet.” I looked in it, and saw the expected and dreaded pus. Off to the doctor we went, who confirmed it was an ear infection, and told us he was fine to go on vacation, but no going in the water. Since most of what we planned involved water, we were disappointed, but tried not to let him see that. So only a few hours later and we were off!

Bushkill Falls–so pretty!

We were staying in a very nice AirBnB that had a creek on the property and allowed dogs. We had arrived so late, we went right out to dinner at an outdoor restaurant, since we didn’t want to leave Ziggy alone at an unfamiliar location. Then, we went to buy a few breakfast things at the grocery store and headed back to the cottage. Everything was fine until 3am, when the kids came into our room saying that our son’s ear hurt so much he couldn’t sleep.

I had a bad feeling then, but we gave him some pain reliever and hoped for the best. In the morning, we decided to do a thing that did involve water, but not going into it: hiking Bushkill Falls! I’ve been to this hiking spot (really, a tourist spot) every time I’ve been to the Poconos. We had a nice hike and then everything fell to pieces. My son wanted to go home, badly. You know when you’re sick and not in your own bed? It sucks. He asked to go to grandma’s house, which was much closer than our home.

A younger me at the falls!

With many tears (I tried not to cry but it was impossible), I said goodbye as my husband drove him to his grandma’s house. Skipping ahead, I want to note that we video chatted every day (although 90% of the video chats were just him asking to see the dog), and he is much better now and we have a follow-up with his ENT scheduled. It was the right decision, as my older son and I probably spent about two hours a day in the pool.

Same spot, years later, with three of my favorite Earthlings!

Other things we did included a two-hour canoe trip, waterslides, go-karts, mountain tubing, mini-golf, zip-lining, and lots of relaxing and not having to cook or clean up after ourselves. I really wanted to hike more, but it just didn’t happen. This was mostly due to the one other bad thing that happened: my older son got bitten by a wolf spider. There were many, many spiders in the area for some reason, and because I am the only one not afraid of spiders, I had to go in and remove a bunch from the cottage. When my son got bitten, he was down by the creek and throwing sticks, and the spider was on one of them. I’ve also been bitten by a wolf spider, and I know it really hurts. But we gave him a pain reliever and it was mostly gone (the fang marks were still there) the next day.

My son on the terrifying zipline!

Anyway, that was the trip! Mostly good but I will definitely have to make it up to my younger son in some way!

Sustainability Project: July 2021

Please enjoy this image from when I canoed in the Delaware Water Gap last week. It is only tenuously related to this post.

For my July Sustainability Swap, I got some really nice reusable cloth rounds. I bought them in the in-person store, and the only place I can find them online is here. I don’t use them for nail polish removal, only make-up removal (I don’t know if this is incredibly obvious.), so they should last a good long time. I don’t feel like I would do the best job rinsing them by hand, so I just throw them in the washing machine. After about three washes, they still look as good as new. Definitely recommended if you are looking to decrease your consumption of single-use cotton rounds.

Book List 2021 (part 1 of 2)

I finally finished reading Moby-Dick!

After only reading thirty books in 2020, I was determined to make more of an effort in 2021. Here are the books I read in the first half of the year.

  1. Walden, by Henry David Thoreau. 3 stars. Goodreads tells me I started reading this book in May 2019. Parts of it were really beautiful but parts of it were really dull.
  2. The Art of War, by Sun Tzu. 4 stars. An NPC in an RPG I was playing in a few years ago told my PC to read this book. So I did. Actually enjoyed it quite a bit.
  3. Frederick Douglass: The Story of an American Slave, by Frederick Douglass. 5 stars. I am still trying to read more biographies and autobiographies, and this is a good one.
  4. Animal Farm, by George Orwell. 4 stars. I read a couple of books about the Russian revolution this year and this was a good addition. If you do read the edition that I did, with a forward that goes on about why the original subtitle was “A Fairy Story,” please do not read that forward because it’s maddening.
  5. Into the Magic Shop: ! Neurosurgeon’s Quest to Discover the Mysteries of the Brain and the Secrets of the Heart, by James R Doty. 4 stars. I non-so-secretly love books on neurology. Both the parts about neurology and meditation were very engaging.
  6. Auschwitz: A Doctor’s Eyewitness Account, by Miklos Nyiszli. 4 stars. Another non-fiction book. I’m not sure why I wanted to upset myself with this, but I did.
  7. Black Like Me, by John Howard Griffin. 5 stars. This was written by a white journalist in the 1950s who medically darkened his skin to pass as black. This was a really stressful book to read, but worth it.
  8. The Queen’s Gambit, by Walter Tevis. 5 stars. As fun as the show.
  9. The Worst Is Yet to Come, by SP Miskowski. 4 stars. A continuation of the Skillute cycle, which I read last year.
  10. The Man in the Brown Suit, by Agatha Christie. 4 stars. The only Christie book I read so far this year, but it was a good one.
  11. If You Find Me, by Emily Murdoch. 3.5 stars. I got this as a free audiobook. It’s about abused children living in the woods, and I usually only like books with the second part of that equation. The story was okay but the narrator deserved 4 stars, so I bumped up my rating.
  12. The Doors of Perception, by Aldous Huxley. 4 stars. Honestly, it’s absurd that I hadn’t read this yet.
  13. The Worm and His Kings, by Hailey Piper. 4 stars. If you like urban fantasy set place in NYC, read this. After you read the books I wrote, of course! 😉
  14. The Temple of My Familiar, by Alice Walker. 5 stars. I had no idea there was a sequel to The Color Purple. This novel was so good, so broad in scope, so many great characters.
  15. The Forgetting Machine: Memory, Perception, and the “Jennifer Aniston Neuron,” by Rodrio Quian Quiroga. 4 stars. I love books about neurology. This one focused on memory, obviously. If you like that sort of thing, you will like this book.
  16. The Book of X, by Sarah Rose Etter. 5 stars. This entire book is both a metaphor and a mood and covers a lot of women’s issues and I very much enjoyed it.
  17. Buddism for Beginners, by Thubten Chodron. 3 stars. It is what it says, but I thought it could have been better organized.
  18. A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel, by Hope Larson (Adapter, Illustrator). 4 stars. This was one of my favorite books as a child, adapted into a graphic novel. I bought it for my son, but he had a hard time telling what was flashbacks (slightly muted illustrations).
  19. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, by Anne Bronte. 4 stars. I haven’t read hardly anything by the Bronte’s, and I choose this book because of its feminist themes. Enjoyed it!
  20. The Secret History, by Donna Tartt. 5 stars. I so much enjoyed this while reading it! My only criticism is that there should have been more women characters.
  21. In the Vanisher’s Place, by Aliette de Bodard. 4 stars. This was a really fun, quick fairy-tale read.
  22. Adi Parva – Churning of the Ocean, by Amruta Patil. 4 stars. This was a very beautifully illustrated collection of mythology.
  23. Habibi, by Craig Thompson. 4 stars. Another graphic novel, but this one for adults.
  24. Good Neighbors, by Sarah Langan. 4 stars. Horror is not usually my thing, but this was well done, with just a hint of supernatural horror as well.
  25. The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern. 5 stars. I very much recommend this novel about two rival mages, set in a magical circus.
  26. To You We Shall Return: Lessons About Our Planet from the Lakota, by Joseph M. Marshall III. 4 stars. Of course it’s somewhat depressing, but all of us who live in the United States should read this.
  27. Choke, by Chuck Palahniuk. 4 stars. I can’t believe I haven’t read anything by this author before! Reminds me very much of Kurt Vonnegut.
  28. The Starless Sea, by Erin Morgenstern. 5 stars. Never have I ever read a more that is more me than this book! It has everything I love–an enormous magic library, secret doors, secret societies. I cannot recommend this enough!
  29. Buddism for Beginners, by Tai Morello. 4 stars. This is a better book than the other one I read with the same name.
  30. Nightlights, by Lorena Alvarez Gomez. 4 stars. I bought this graphic novel for my older son at the book fair, but the artwork is so beautiful!
  31. Cat’s Eye, by Margaret Atwood. 5 stars. I’ve been wanting to read something else by this author for a long time and finally did! I was not bullied as a child, but this is very visceral and I think everyone should read it.
  32. Why Buddhism Is True, by Robert Wright. 5 stars. I took a Coursera course with this author on evolutionary psychology and loved it. This book is the product of those lectures!
  33. Moby-Dick or, the Whale, by Herman Melville. 2 stars. I believe this is the longest I’ve ever taken to read a bookI think I started in 2018? I didn’t like it and when my dog started chewing the pages, I did not rush to stop her.
  34. The House by the Sea, by Louise Douglas. I didn’t rate this book because I really didn’t like it but feel bad about it for an unknown reason. My husband bought this on kindle by mistake.
  35. The Order of Time, by Carlo Rovelli. 5 stars. I loved this non-fiction book on the nature of time! I read it on audible, and part of the rating is probably due to the narration by Benedict Cumberbatch.
  36. Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, by Neil deGrasse Tyson. 5 stars. This was very poetic, a good follow-up to the book I read before it, and easily understandable.
  37. The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller. 5 stars. I specifically wanted to read this for Pride month. It was so good! I don’t usually read love stories, but this retelling of the Achilles/Patroclus myth is a definite must-read.
  38. Fingersmith, by Sarah Waters. 5 stars. This was another I wanted to read for Pride (also by a lesbian author). I wish I hadn’t watched the Korean film, The Handmaiden, before reading this. That film was so good and totally recommended, but it was based on this book. Oh well. The book is still better than the film, and very beautifully written.
  39. Nomadland, by Jessica Bruder. 4 stars. This is a completely nonfiction book that the semi-nonfiction movie was based on. Actually, it’s a bit more hopeful than the movie. I have a secret desire to travel the country by van and/or build and Earthship, and both those things are in this book.

Early Summer Yard Update

Last year was my first year with a grassy yard. I also had a number of plants around the edges of the yard. Then, in September, I got a puppy. Not only did I have way less time for yard maintenance, the puppy thought the plants were “playing” with her, and jumped upon and bit every single one of them until they died.

Destructive puppy in the yard! (From last fall.)

Now, she is almost a year old and and maybe won’t kill them as much if I replanted? I’m also thinking I would like more hardy plants, if possible. Perhaps a rose bush or some other kind of shrubbery? But before I plant anything, I would love to have an area of the yard delineated for non-grass plants.

The sadness of now (mid-mow).

There is one long edge of my yard that’s against a fence that I think would be perfect for this. So, without much planning (besides measuring–I’m not totally inept!), I went and bought concrete edging materials, brought them home, and then attempted to dig. After a half hour of digging and a few inches to show for it (the total space is 35 feet), I called some contractors. The lowest price I was quoted was around $1,500. But I don’t want to pay that much, so now I am thinking of going back to digging.

This entry is me, setting my intention and trying to get up the courage to dig!!!

Spring Camping (sort of) Trip!

I love writing about my vacations with family, as it helps me to remember and appreciate them more, and some day I imagine I’ll be able to look over past blog posts with fondness. That is why I hesitate to write this one.

Having spent a portion of my life living alone in a rural area, I am not easily freaked out by animals or whatnot that one might find in the woods. I have come very close (too close!) to bears while hiking, almost stepped on more than one rattlesnake, had a litter (I know it’s not a litter–what is it?) of garter snakes hatch in my linen closet, had a tarantula appear SOMEHOW in my closet on a day I moved into a different apartment (I tried to trap it for a year, but only saw it again the day I moved out). I’ve been bit by a Northern Widow spider (fortunately a baby) and a Wolf Spider while camping. None of those things bothered me that much.

But there is one thing that very much bothers me and that thing is ticks!!!! Despite many hours of hiking, and a lot of that going off trails, I have seen maybe a dozen ticks in my life. I wish I could go back to those days! But let me tell the story from the beginning.

Ziggy perhaps sensing she is not alone in her skin.

My family of five (two parents, two kids, and a dog) left the relative tick-less safety of New York City on a Thursday. After stopping to see the kids’ grandma for lunch, we got upstate (near Kingston, NY) by late afternoon. Almost immediately, I was reunited with my very good friend who I haven’t seen in almost a year and a half. We got everyone situated and left to go grocery shopping. After a joyful but quiet night, we all went to sleep.

The next day, I was my birthday! I wanted to celebrate with a morning hike, lunch at a restaurant, mini golf and go-karts, shopping, and then dinner at another restaurant. Basically, I wanted not to cook or clean up! Well, we went on the hike on the trails near where we were staying. The trails were marked but a bit overgrown. I didn’t think anything of it, because the dog is on flea and tick preventative and we all sprayed ourselves.

“Kids, go stand by that Murder Shed!”

The hike was underwhelming until we got back and saw we each had varying numbers of ticks and the dog probably had 35 or so. UGGGHHHHH. After tick picking and showering, we had lunch in town, which was nice. After lunch we decided to go back to the campsite and take stock but ended up falling asleep somehow. When we all woke, we realize there were more ticks on the dog and ourselves, and even just on the ground where the dog was going to the potty. So we left. We sealed everything in plastic bags and went to Target for new pjs and a new dog bed (the old one was discovered to be full of ticks). Then we went to eat because it was somehow after 9pm and most restaurants were closing.

My friend offered for the five of us to sleep in his apartment, and it was very much appreciated. We all showered again and gave the dog a bath in flea and tick shampoo. Then we went to sleep. The next day, somehow, more ticks were found, albeit not on Ziggy. I think the preventative was killing any that landed on her. We made breakfast and spent the day walking around Woodstock, which was fun. The flea market and most of the stores and restaurants are very dog-friendly. But that night, we found more ticks, which made me think we picked them up either in Woodstock, or in the yard where I took Ziggy to go potty.

Found in a shop in Woodstock. Highly recommended!

The next day, we left, but obviously brought some ticks with us. I picked one out of my younger son’s hair on Tuesday afternoon. I don’t even know what to say. I’m still horrified. I washed everything ten times and sent the dog to the groomers (they found nothing on her). We are supposed to go camping two more times this summer (different areas), and I don’t want a repeat!