Image Prompt Response 075 – Courtyard

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I chose the image of the courtyard on a university campus for my twenty-minutes sprint today.  Just playing around with a couple characters.  I hope you enjoy.

Courtyard:

Valerie checked to make sure she had her ID and her office key on her before stepping out into the cool evening air.  She took a deep breath and walked to the path and slowly down toward the end of the little courtyard.  She’d been in her office all day.  First for office hours and appointments with students, and then working on writing up the results for her dissertation.

This was her last semester and the research was all done, so it was just a matter of getting everything written up, edited, and polished.  She reached the end of the courtyard, rolling her shoulders before turning back to pace the other way.  It was important to take breaks to clear her head and the courtyard was one of her favorite spots for that.

At least, it was during the day.  As she began walking back in the direction of the door she realized just how secluded and dark the place was in the evening.  The sun wasn’t quite set yet, but the courtyard was already in heavy shadow.  There was light from a few classrooms and offices that were still occupied in the evening, but the usually bright and cheery plantings were hulking shadows in the dark.

She patted her pockets, reassured to have her phone with her.  She often forgot and left it on her desk.  Not that she should have anything to be afraid of really.  Campus was a pretty safe place overall and this courtyard wasn’t something most people were aware of, tucked away as it was.  You had to get into the building to get to it and only one of the doors was unlocked after six.  There were only a couple night classes scheduled and everyone else with access with faculty or a graduate student.

Valerie did a few more shoulder stretching moves as she walked back toward the door, which was when she noticed the figure.  They were sitting on the bench nearest the door, their butt near the end of the bench as they leaned back, one leg propped up on the other at the ankle.  Had they been there when she came out?  Her eyes hadn’t been adjusted to the dim lighting then.

“Don’t let me interrupt your walk,” the figure said, their voice a light alto and the pronunciation hinting at another language.

“I’m not used to finding anyone out here,” she replied.  At least not after three in the afternoon.  Students tended to use it as a quiet place to eat or study during the earlier parts of the day, but they were pretty scarce near classroom buildings after midafternoon.

“I like to enjoy a little quiet here in the evenings,” the figure replied.  “It’s my first semester here so I’m still finding all the little quiet places.”

“It is usually quiet in the evening,” Valerie agreed.

“I’ve seen you around the building,” the figure said.  “Are you faculty or a grad student?”

“PhD student,” she replied.  “It’s my last semester.”  It was so easy to fall into the standard conversations about studies and progress, even with a complete stranger.

“I hope it’s going well,” the figure replied.

“So far,” she replied.  “Just finishing up the data analysis and starting to write the results section.”  She’d written the introduction and the procedure as she was getting things set up for data collection.  It was so much easier to write all that while she was actively doing the procedure.  Once she had the results written up she could work on the conclusion, update the introduction, and get the abstract together.

“I’m not sure if I should congratulate you or console you,” the stranger said.  “I’m only two semesters away from mine and I remember everyone having strong opinions about whether the work of the experiment or the writing were the worse part of the process.”

“I like both,” Valerie replied.  “Writing has always been a bit of a hobby, so I don’t mind it as much as a lot of my classmates.”  She loved to write fiction when she could carve out the time.  Writing up her research was different, but not distasteful.

“Sounds like a good place to be,” they replied with a laugh.  “I’m Sam Black, by the way.  They just hired me into the open faculty line in Linguistics.”

“Valerie Carver,” she replied.  “I had to miss all the meet and greets for that because they ended up scheduled during my class or office hours.”  She was in the department, and going to things like that was encouraged for the graduate students.  They actually seemed to care about student opinions when they were hiring.

Image Prompt 075 – Nebraska Campus & Scottish Stream

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It’s the Second Friday of the Month, so today is an Image Prompt day.

I’ve included two images to work from.  Pick one (or both if you’re feeling ambitious) and write something inspired by the image.  You can use something in the image, the feeling it invokes, or whatever the image makes you think of.

If you write a piece and end up posting it somewhere online, please link back to it here on a comment so we can all enjoy it too.

I’ll be posting my own piece next week.

 

Image Prompt 075-01 Lincoln NE 2011-10-21 074

Image Prompt 075-02 Haggis Tour Scotland05-04-15 021

Experiments in Plotting: Success??

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If you’ve been reading here for a while you may have seen me talk about plotting before and the recent (in terms of my entire writing history) experiments I’ve been doing to try to find a plotting process that works with my drafting process rather than against it.  You can read about how I’ve tried planning back in 2019 and the beginning (or maybe the middle) of the plotting experiments I’ve been doing with the third book in the Sword and Shields series this past year if you’re interested.

For most of the more than twenty years I’ve been writing fiction, I’d been what writing communities often call a pantser or a discovery writer.  I have an idea and some characters, and I start writing.  There’s no plan, no plot, just a vague idea of the inciting incident and the eventual end point.  This works great for things I never finish, or for fanfiction where it doesn’t have to be very polished and can meander and change course and no one minds.  This doesn’t work quite as well when the plan is to publish the book at the end of the process.

Most of my experience with plotting and outlining a book comes in the revision stage.  After I have a big messy draft, I’ll do a brief summary of the scenes and make an outline of what’s there, and then work on adjusting that outline to work better.  For the second and third books in the Swords and Shields series, I completely redrafted from an outline written after the initial draft of the book.  I think this ended up being pretty successful for book two (which is out for another round of beta reading at the moment) and I’m fairly proud of how it’s turned out even if it does still need a bit of work.

I spent part of this week rereading book three, which still isn’t quite finished (as in the ending hasn’t been written yet), but is in a lot better shape than I remembered it being.  I’ve spent somewhere between six months and a year away from the draft working on other projects, and in that time some of the problems I was having with the outline, the scene ordering, and the general pacing of the book seem to have fixed themselves in my head.  I know what to do with the scenes now and how to structure the book in a way to keep reader interest while also laying out the story in a way that’s understandable.  Now I just need to write a few scenes missing from the middle, possibly redraft whole sections of the middle as well, and then finish writing the big climactic ending which should be the fun part.

So I think those two plotting experiments have been successful.  I think I’m beginning to get an idea of how to use plotting strategies and outlines to revise a book I’ve already drafted.

I’ve also recently experimented with some plotting before I started drafting.  This was my NaNo 2020 project, which I started brainstorming, writing, and plotting for in October, wrote a little over 125k on in November, and continued working on well into February.  It started out as one idea, which several story beats planned out, a cast of characters, and no antagonist.  It was supposed to be something relatively light, fluffy, and happy.  A slice-of-life anime style low stakes sort of plot.  This is not what I ended up with.  I now have partial drafts of three novels, totaling about 52k, 38k, and 11k respectively.  The 11k one being the original story idea.

All the planning, prep, and plotting work I’d done in advance did help keep me writing for nearly five months on one project though.  Yes I was bouncing between the three books and a good week of that time was pulling all the scenes out of the massive NaNo 2020 document into their respective books, but the outline wasn’t a stumbling block like I’ve experienced in the past.  That’s a big deal, at least for me personally.  I’ve been avoiding outlines for years (in fiction and non-fiction writing) because I think better as I write and my end products have been better when I draft them, then outline them, then revise them to have a better outline.

I think, this might be a practice thing.  I need to practice writing outlines and then drafting them.  I need to practice revising with outlines.  I need to practice having a more structured writing process.  The reason the drafting method worked so well is because I’d been doing it for more than twenty years.  So plotting and outlining is something I need to keep trying, keep working on, and keep practicing so I can get better at it.  Practice makes you better at almost everything.

While I may not have a completed book based on any of my plotting experiments yet, I do have some very positive forward progress.  I call that a success, or at least a success so far.  I’ll likely still do some discovery writing during my outlining process to get to know my characters and better think through who they are so I can better know how they’ll react in various circumstances in the outline.  I’ll probably deviate from and rewrite my outlines as I go.  I’ll occasionally go completely off the rails and write a completely different book (or two) as I did in November.  But that’s okay.  That’s still practice.

I’m going to keep practicing and keep trying out plotting options and planning tools and seeing how they work for me.  I’ll always keep writing no matter what my process looks like.  With any luck, those two things will eventually turn into new books I can share with everyone.

Life in a Time of Pandemic: One Year Anniversary

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As with all posts that start with “Life in a Time of Pandemic,” this is going to be talking about my life, thoughts, and reflections on the current pandemic conditions and crisis, so if you aren’t in a space to want to read that, please leave with my blessing.  I don’t want these posts to be a stress on anyone else.

Writing and reflection go hand and hand for me, so as we have recently crossed the one-year mark with pandemic conditions, I wanted to take some time to think about where I’ve been and what the past year has been like.

It varied quite a bit when pandemic conditions started.  For my little corner of the world (North Carolina, USA) and specifically for the university I work for, pandemic conditions started in mid-March 2020.  We were all instructed to work from home if we could, spring break was extended for a week so faculty could redesign the second half of their courses to be delivered remotely, and masks and social distancing began to be encouraged and then mandated.

It’s now the end of March 2021.  So for more than a year, I’ve been wearing a mask whenever I’m out of my apartment and within six feet of other humans.  If I was going for a walk outside, I’d always bring a mask, but I usually didn’t put it on unless I was passing someone within six feet.  This should, in theory, mean that I’m at low risk of passing the virus to anyone or getting it passed to me.  Or so say those with epidemiology and fluid dynamics experience.  (For the purposes of physics, air is a fluid, if you weren’t aware.)

This meant a lot of changes in my life.  No more Sunday afternoons at my favorite café with my writing friends.  No more evenings at a friend’s place for D&D.  No more visits to family without serious planning for before and after.

Thankfully, there were a lot of online tools available for me to make adaptations to my usual routines.  My Sunday afternoon write-in moved from a café to my NaNo region’s discord server.  Roll20.net gave our D&D group an online space to play.  My work access to a paid Zoom account gave me the ability to host a weekly meet up of friends to replace the once-every-couple-months party another friend used to host.  For a lot of things, this works alright.  I’m still able to see and laugh with my friends on Friday nights.  I’m still able to get my Sunday writing in with those who join me on discord.  I’ve recently started having an hour long Zoom call with my parents every Wednesday.

For some things, not so much.  I was able to enjoy playing in and running some sessions of our D&D pseudo-campaign over the course of April through September.  Most of the group does NaNoWriMo, so we took a hiatus for October through December.  We started back up in January, and I realized that I could DM with about the same level of enjoyment, but that I struggled more to engage as a player.  I’m currently on a semi-hiatus from the group so that I don’t ruin anyone else’s fun.

Similarly, the online write-in doesn’t work for everyone.  A few of my favorite regulars from the in-person meet up don’t get the same things out of an online meet up, so they haven’t been coming and I miss them.  I totally get that it doesn’t work for everyone though.  I just hope we can get back to in person eventually and I can see them regularly again.  As an added future sadness, the café we used to meet at was one of three locations of a local café chain, and they’ve (possibly permanently) closed the two secondary locations, one of which was ours, so even when all this is over, we likely can’t go back to our favorite spot.

Seeing family became a logistical nightmare.  Things didn’t seem too bad for travel that summer, so after everyone quarantined at home for two weeks, my husband and I traveled to his parent’s house to spend a little over a week relaxing and hanging out with his family.  His sister was already there (as emergency help for training two poodle puppies) and her husband joined us a few days later.  It was really great to see family, especially since we hadn’t seen sister- and brother-in-law since the previous summer.  It was a chance to decompress and not worry about work and have a little time with the people we cared about.  Husband and I also quarantined for two weeks after that just to make sure if we picked something up in transit we didn’t spread it any further.  We’re all lucky and no one in the family has had any exposure due to that trip or since.

By the time the winter holidays came around, cases were on the rise and all the Thanksgiving travel spreading was becoming obvious, so we decided not to travel for the holidays.  We leveraged online tools again.  We spent a couple hours on Zoom calls with my mother’s side of the family on Christmas Eve, with my parents, sister, and niece the morning of Christmas, and with my husband’s family for nearly four hours later that day.  It was a reasonably good solution.  I’ve never seen that many of my relatives in so short a time before.  With an aunt in Washington state, an uncle in New York state, and the grandmother on that side in Florida, it’s rare to have that entire side of the family together all at once for any reason.  Similarly, my husband’s family is spread across North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, so we usually only get together once or twice a year.  It wasn’t the most ideal holiday option, but with the risk of picking something up in transit, it was the safest option we had.

All that said, I’m still doing pretty well meeting my social needs.  I have a few friends who started Twitch Streaming recently, so that’s one way that I get in a little social time.  I’m also a member of several discord servers, some for in-real-life acquaintances and some for online-only communities.  These have given me a place to chat and talk and interact with others when I need it.  Between that, my weekly Friday Zoom with friends, Zoom meetings at work, and actually living with another human, I’m doing alright.  I don’t want this to be forever, but I can probably last another year without any significant issues with my ability to meet my social needs.

The pandemic has also led to some routine changes that have been beneficial.  I’ve realized having a consistent bedtime and wake up time all seven days of the week does amazing things for my quality of sleep and my general wellbeing.  So the habit of setting my work wake up alarm for every single day regardless of whether I’m working is going to follow me forever.  I sleep so much better, I get to sleep faster, and I wake up more reliably on-time.  It’s pretty amazing.  It also means my weekend days feel longer.  I’m not sleeping until noon and going to bed at midnight.  I’m waking up before six and going to bed around ten.  That’s consistently four additional hours of awake time, which means four more hours to read, game, craft, or get stuff done.  It’s been really great.

Being stuck at home with very few outside dining or entertainment expenses has also meant saving a bit of money in pandemic conditions.  We’re being more thoughtful and frugal with our grocery purchases as well.  Between that and consolidating out debt at the end of 2020 it’s put us in a better financial position going into 2021 than we’ve been in for five or ten years.  It feels really great, and with any luck that trend will continue past the end of the pandemic too.

I feel incredibly lucky that I’m doing so well in pandemic conditions.  I know the isolation can be depressing for many, the stress of working remotely grates on others, and the overall stress about the world as a whole can be downright oppressive.  I’m able to insolate myself from a lot of this and rely on my partner to filter the general news and world happenings into times and places when I can deal with it, and I don’t find the isolation of working from home and social distances as stressful or depressing as some do.

As we sit here at the one-year mark with vaccines on the market and plans for distributing them as quickly as can be managed, I’m hopeful.  I know the distribution plans aren’t necessarily going as well as planned everywhere and different places are doing better or worse than others, but the vaccines exist, and they are getting to people.  My state is actually doing pretty well.  They keep opening the next phase early because they’re filling appointments and getting vaccines out fast.  It means that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  There will be a time after, and we’ll be able to redefine what normal is (because it’s not going to ever be quite like it was before), and we’ll be able to move forward again.

But for now, we just have to keep going and keep our spirits up as we wait in the interminable time between before and after.  I hope that we can use the time to improve and to be better and to think about ways that the After Times can be better than the Before Times.  Being able to redefine what normal means is an opportunity to make normal better for everyone.

Image Prompt Response 074 – Red

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I chose the image of the moss-covered, stone stairs leading up a hill for my twenty-minute prompt this time.

Red:

After months cooped up inside her apartment, Kelly was glad to get out of the house for a while.  She’d been doing alright with online meetings for work and seeing her friends in online spaces and doing occasional calls with family and her best friends, but it was getting old staring at the same walls all the time.

So she’d driven up the mountain to find a place to hike for a while.  It was safe enough to be out in nature as long as there weren’t too many people.  It was still early in the season, and the parking lot hadn’t been very full, so she figured she’d be alright.  She kept a mask in her pocket anyway, just in case.

The first part of the trail was a little busy, so she put her mask on and picked her way around people a little off the trail most of the time.  She was an experienced hiker and even had a little climbing experience, so she was willing to go off trail a little, always careful where she stepped to avoid damaging anything, and she managed to get out away from the others by taking the more difficult option when the trail forked.  It wasn’t long before she came to her favorite section of the trail.

There were stones set into the side of the hill to help make a rudimentary set of steps to get higher up the hill.  They were covered in moss and could be very slippery in the wrong conditions, which was part of why this was a harder trail, but it was dry and bright today, so she was able to walk up them quickly to the top of the hill.

There were remains of a railing that hadn’t been kept in good repair.  Back from an older period of trail tending.  These days the goal was to change as little as possible.  The trail was there to keep humans off the rest of the mountain, so they didn’t damage things.  It wasn’t necessarily there to make the climb easier.

When she crested the hill, the light blinded her for a moment.  She held up a hand to shield her eyes and blinked quickly, her eyes actually watering from how bright it was.  She hadn’t been expecting that this early.

When her eyes had adjusted, she was able to lower her hands and gaze out at the mountains spread out before her.  She was so glad she’d moved up here.  So much better than being stifled in the city.

“Haven’t seen you around before,” someone said from her left.

Kelly shifted to her right as she grabbed her mask out of her pocket, slipping it over her mouth and nose and wrapping the elastic over her ears.

“Never got that reaction before either,” the voice said.

Kelly couldn’t see anyone on the trail to her left.  That was weird.

“Down here,” the voice said, so Kelly looked down.

There was a fox sitting just off the path, front legs straight, head held high, tail wrapped around it’s feet.

“You seem surprised,” the fox said.

“That’s because foxes don’t talk,” Kelly replied.  Had she slipped and fallen?  Hit her head?

“Oh, right, you aren’t used to this,” the fox said, looking down at itself.  “Is this better?” it asked before being enveloped in a puff of smoke.

The smoke cleared to reveal a slim figure about four and a half feet tall with fox ears poking out of it’s red hair, amber eyes with vertical pupils, and a bushy fox tail swishing slightly from side to side.

“No less unbelievable, but it’s been a weird year, so what the hell, I’ll roll with it,” Kelly replied to the fox person.

“They said belief was down these days, but I didn’t realize it was this bad,” the fox person said.  “How about we start with names, then?  You can call me Red.”

“Kelly,” she replied.  “Nice to meet you,” she added.  “Do you get human diseases?  We’re dealing with a pandemic, that’s why I put the mask on when I heard you.”

“Oh dear, a plague?” Red asked.

“We’d probably have called it that back in the day,” Kelly said.  “It’s a potentially deadly disease at any rate.”

“It shouldn’t hurt me any,” Red said.  “Never heard of a puka getting a disease before.  Probably because of all the magic.  Keeps us healthy.”

“Magic, right,” Kelly said.  “Is that how you do the fox to mostly human thing?”

“That doesn’t take magic,” Red said, waving one hand in denial.  “That’s just something puka can do.”

“Cool,” Kelly said, carefully taking of her mask.  “So what’s a puka doing here anyway?”  She might as well have a conversation.  It had been a long time since her last face-to-face conversation.  So what if it was probably just a hallucination brought on by a head injury.

“I like to visit and people watch,” Red said.  “Been a while since anyone’s been able to see me.”

“Not everyone can see you?” Kelly asked.

“Only humans with a little magic of their own can see us these days.”

Image Prompt 074 – Woods Near Maggie Valley, NC and GA Renaissance Festival

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It’s the Second Friday of the Month, so today is an Image Prompt day.

I’ve included two images to work from.  Pick one (or both if you’re feeling ambitious) and write something inspired by the image.  You can use something in the image, the feeling it invokes, or whatever the image makes you think of.

If you write a piece and end up posting it somewhere online, please link back to it here on a comment so we can all enjoy it too.

I’ll be posting my own piece next week.

Image Prompt 074-01 Family Vacation 2007 - Maggie Valley 018

Image Prompt 074-02 GA RenFest 2011-05-29 244

February Craft Goal Success (Mostly)

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I promised to report in about my February Creative Crafting Goals after the month was over.  I talked a little bit about progress in last week’s post, but this will be the full report with photos.

Project #1: Be the Light Cross Stitch

I’d started this project in January, so finishing it was my first goal for February.  I think it turned out pretty awesome all told, and looks great on my wall.

Cross stitch of a jar of fireflies with the words Be the light incorporated in the design.

Project #2: Teal Jeans to Teal Pencil Skirt

This pair of jeans originally belonged to my mother.  When she lost weight, they no longer fit, so she let me have them to do what I would.  I had to take them in at the waist in the conversion process, so there was enough material to make them into a pencil skirt.  I did this largely with basting and trial and error.

Let’s highlight the error:

They turned out pretty good when I got them completely done.  There’s a slit in the back up to the knee so that I can walk in them without being super constricted.  Part of the conversion plan was to preserve the decorative bits on the side seam at the bottom.  I may still do some additional work to add similar embellishments along the hem all the way around or maybe just around the edges of the back slit.  But these are now in wearable condition, so I’m calling them done.

Project #3: Light Blue Jeans to Light Blue & White Skirt

After the experience with the first pair of jeans my mother gave me (this pair was the same brand and size as the teal ones in project #2), I decided to do my more usual conversion style, which is a wider, more flowing skirt, with triangle inlays in the front and back.  I’ve made three or five versions of this adaptation before, so I knew what I needed to make it work beautifully.  So I started by taking out the inner leg seam so I’d have as much material to work with as possible, and then I did the pleats at the back to make the waist fit properly.  This let me bring in the waist while retaining all the belt loops and the original waistband with side elastic.  This worked out better than the darts I did in the other pair.

I decided white would be a good color for the triangular panels, so I ordered some white denim to use for this, as well as enough extra for another project as some point since it was fortuitously at a decent sale price when I ordered.  I think the panels and pleats method turned out much better in the back than the pencil skirt design, and I’m definitely going to be adding some embellishments to this one, but again, since it’s wearable as is, I’m counting the project as complete for the purposes of my February goals.

Project #4: New Dress Shirt

This is a pattern I picked up a while back when there was a really good sale on patterns (I think they were $1 each) but I hadn’t gotten around to making yet.  It’s Butterick B6563 if anyone’s interested.  The goal for this one was to at least make some substantial progress, not necessarily to finish it completely.  Step one was copying the pattern from the flimsy pattern paper onto muslin to make a mockup.  This fabric doesn’t have much stretch, so I could make something that was nicely fitted as my base, and then I could make it with both normal non-stretch fabrics or with slightly stretchy ones.

It took the better part of a Saturday to copy the pattern over and cut it all out because I had to take fairly frequent breaks.  I have the front and back shirt pieces, both collar options, and all three sleeve options.  That should let me test out each sleeve option to make sure the arm holes are right so I have the basic pattern pieces in muslin and the fitting adjustments figured out before I start working with the actual fabrics I want to use.

This process reminded me that cutting out patterns is one of the worst things I can do to my lower back though (hence the frequent breaks).  The best place I have for laying out, transferring, and cutting is my bed.  It’s on risers, so it’s closer to a standard dresser height than a standard desk height, but it’s still not ideal.  I’ve researched cutting tables and while they are expensive, it’s definitely something I want to figure out how to save up for.

Final Thoughts

So that was my February of sewing and needle craft projects.  Overall, I’m pretty proud of myself.  I followed through with my plan and got some substantial progress on things without breaking my streak of writing every day.  I may not have gotten as far on the new dress shirt as I’d wanted, but that’s okay.  I knew that a fourth project was probably ambitious when I set out my goals for the month.  And not getting much further on that one was as much about self-care as it was about sewing.  When I do something to aggravate my back, I need to be extra careful with it for a few days and not do anything else to make it worse.  It took a lot of years of physical therapy and following doctor’s orders to get myself back to a baseline that didn’t involve daily pain, and I don’t want to undo that work.  I love my hobbies, but it’s important to make sure that they don’t detract from my overall wellness, as that defeats the purpose most of the time.

Life in a Time of Pandemic: Diving into Hobbies

Cross stitch of a jar of fireflies with the words Be the light incorporated in the design.
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This one isn’t going to be talking too heavily about the pandemic itself, but I still wanted to tag it as such for those who just want a break from talking/thinking/reading about anything relating to it.

For the rest of you, this is going to be a lot more about crafting and writing and hobbying in general than anything else.  I was inspired to write about this because the university I work for started up a recuring series of stories on our staff/faculty newsletter/newspaper article site about all the hobbies people are picking up, or diving further into, because of the pandemic.

The stay-at-home to keep your exposure risk down mentality has had me fairly confined to my apartment.  Since March, I’ve only really left my apartment for groceries and other essentials, a few doctor and dentist appointments, and one week-long staycation at my in-laws (we all had a two-week quarantine prior to and right after).  It’s meant a lot of time that used to be devoted to things like my daily commute (about 2 hours total per workday) and driving to various social things (easily a recovery of another 2-3 hours each week) are now time I have for other things.

Not all of this time is going to a hobby.  About half an hour of my morning commute time is now devoted to more sleep, for example.  But the new daily routine I’ve worked out for pandemic conditions is helping with my commitments to my hobbies and my ability to follow through with them.

Prior to the pandemic, I took a regional express bus to work.  It’s about 30 minutes on the bus in low-traffic (my morning commute window) and 45-60 minutes in high traffic (my evening commute window, time highly dependent on driver and whether they take the shoulder when allowed).  This time has usually been writing time for me.  One NaNoWriMo, I started doing sprints with others on our online spaces during my commute, then the time between when I got to the office and when I had to start work at eight.  In Pandemic conditions, that has transitioned to being a 20-minute sprint called by chat bots every day at 7am, 7:30am, and 8am.  I usually make one or two of them every day, and there are a few other regular attendees who join me.  This has turned into an amazingly consistent morning writing habit.  I even get up that early on weekends now (though that’s more about consistent sleep times being better overall).  This regularity, started in October as NaNo Prep, has led to a daily writing streak over 130 days long already.  I’m a little amazed at myself.  And even if I’m only making one sprint a day, that’s 20 minutes, and I can rack up a significant amount of words or editing work over the course of a week or a month even with just 20 minutes a day.  It’s been pretty amazing how productive I’ve been so far this year.

My evening recovered commute time hasn’t been devoted to writing as much as my morning recovered commute time.  It’s allowed my partner and I to be a little more intentional with dinner timing.  I have a post-work routine set up where I’ll wash my face and do the other little hygiene things I do at night, and then help him finish up dinner prep.  It’s nice to have that time with him each night sharing a meal and enjoying a little time together.  After that is my time to either hang out with him longer, do a little online socializing, game, or engage in another hobby.  And of course weekends end up involving my hobbies now that out of the house socializing isn’t an option anymore.

So what else have I been getting up to?

Almost all of the hobbies I’ve dived back into or added to my hobby collection are needle crafts.  I’ve enjoyed sewing for years now and I’ve taken some of the recovered time during the pandemic to finish off some works in progress and things from my pending sewing projects pile, as well as starting a few completely new things.  I’ve also started trying my hand at cross-stitch.  I mentioned some of this in a recent post about crafting goals for this February, and I’ve posted about the memory bears project I finished for a friend.

One of the first projects was new flannel pants for me that fit properly, had pockets, and had the just enough to seal around the leg style elastic at the bottom.  I made one pair out of jersey too but the pattern didn’t translate quite as well to the stretchier material.  I’m most proud of this pair of rainbow heart pants.  I pattern matched the pocket and it just looks so lovely.

A pair of flannel pants made from a white fabric with a rainbow pattern of hearts featuring a patch pocket sewn on to match the pattern below it.

The biggest project since March was finishing up the memory bears I’d agreed to make for a friend.  With six of them to do and a decent amount of prep needed on the various fabric pieces, it took a lot of time, but I’m very proud of them.  Since I’ve covered this type of project on the blog before I’m not going to go too in depth about it here, but I’m very proud of the set I completed for her.

I’ve also been working on other little things, like mending that I’ve been putting off, converting a few old pairs of jeans into skirts, and I have some fabric that arrived in the mail this week to make a new button-front blouse for myself.  I’ve been wanting to make more of my own clothes for a while now because I can’t seem to find things that fit properly and are made well these days.  It ends up costing me time, and sometimes the fabric supplies are more expensive than just buying a new shirt, but being able to make the pattern exactly fit me so that it looks good and knowing that the construction and finishing will hold up to the test of time (and are all things I’m capable of fixing and repairing) is worth it.

In a completely different and more decorative direction, I’ve been trying my hand at cross-stitch.  I actually started because I had some old craft kits from my mom (copyright on the directions is from the 1970s).  I made a few of them a couple years ago that were coasters.  Basically, it was cross stitch with yarn, a big plastic needle, and the plastic grid stuff you can find at craft stores.  The last kit I had was crewel work.  It was a bookmark, so a material similar to what cross-stitch uses but with wider warp/weft threads with a picture printed on it.  I followed the directions to make free-hand embroidery stitches that followed the printed picture.  It was a ladybug on a stem with leaves, and it actually came out quite nicely.

It was really nice to get a physical thing out of it, so when I was spending down a gift card to a craft store, I included some cross-stitch kits.  This had mixed results.  The first two, which were very cheap in their defense, didn’t have enough embroidery floss included in the right colors.  I had some super close embroidery floss (mine was glossy while the kit came with matte, but the color was almost exact) so I was able to finish my first kit, which was a little baby dragon.

The next kit looked like it might have done a little better, but I also planned for what to do if I ran out of thread, so I was able to make an adaptation to the pattern to use more of colors I had and less of the color I ran out of.  This one is a Unicorn, and I’m quiet proud of my on the fly adaptation of it to accommodate the lack of thread I needed.  I’m gifting this one to my niece for her birthday.

The third kit was a much better kit (it was also more expensive).  It came with an actual hoop and more than enough of every thread I needed.  I even still have extra thread.  This one took longer, mostly because it was bigger and the stitch counting was a bit more complicated with all the gaps.  I’m pretty sure I did something slightly out of alignment with the pattern, but no one is likely to be able to tell, so it’s fine.  It was a nice project to work on while chatting with friends online or while watching a twitch stream or anything else that struck my fancy.  I also just love the message of this one, it resonates with me.

Cross stitch of a jar of fireflies with the words Be the light incorporated in the design.

I have a fourth kit from that initial order, which is a paisley cat design.  I’m looking forward to that one and may even try to incorporate it into something bigger like a throw pillow.  Or maybe it will just be another think I hang on my wall.  We’ll see.  Before I get back to that I’m trying to finish up the February sewing project goals.

I’ve completed one skirt and I’m down to the seam finishing on the second skirt.  After that I’m starting on the mockup of the shirt, which will then be recreated from both the new material I have on order and the material from a shirt that matches one of the pairs of jeans I’ve converting into a skirt.  I’m hoping the shirt turns out well in mockup, because then I can take the mockup apart and use it as a definitive pattern for a shirt that fits me the way I want.  Having a pattern made out of muslin will hold up better than one made out of pattern paper, which is only slightly more durable than tissue paper for those unfamiliar with it.

So that’s where my crafting and hobbying has been since March.  There’s been an incredible amount of writing, and a decent amount of sewing and other needle craft creation happening.  It’s another one of the silver linings that’s come out of the pandemic for me.  I’m devoting more time to the things that make me happy and give me joy and a sense of accomplishment.  I’m hoping I can carry some of these things (like the regular sleeping schedule) with me after pandemic conditions are over and make them part of my normal from now on.

If you’ve taken up (or dived deeper into) any new hobbies lately, I’d love to hear about them.

Image Prompt Response 073 – Winter Holidays

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I chose the image of the snow-covered tree for my twenty-minute sprint this time.

Winter Holidays:

Carl shivered as he slid out of bed, pushing his feet into his slippers and making his way to the window.  It had only just begun to snow when they were turning in last night, but now there was a couple feet of the stuff.  The big pine out back was so weighed down with snow that some of the branches were partially buried in the drifts.

It was beautiful, the pristine sparkling whiteness in the early morning light.

It was also a royal pain because he’d have to shovel enough to get the truck out of the driveway and pray that the plows came through sometime before noon so they’d be able to get out of the neighborhood.  He knew they should have left yesterday.

Sighing, Carl headed for the kitchen to get the coffee brewing and breakfast started.  That almost always woke everyone else up, luring them with the scent of caffeine and bacon.

Sam was the first one down, their hair sticking up every which way as they rubbed their eyes and sat down at the table.

Carl had already set out the sugar and cream along with four mugs, so when the coffee was done brewing he brought the pot to the table.  Sam could be trusted to pour coffee without being fully awake, but not to carry it across a room.  They had an agreement about it.  Two broken carafes, two cuts that needed stitches, and one third degree burn had been more than enough.

By the time Sam had finished fixing a mug of coffee for themself as well as Carl, Valerie was wandering in.  Her hair was brushed and gleaming and her pajamas were cute and coordinated.  She was a bit of a fashion diva and Carl still didn’t quite understand why she wanted to live in the middle of nowhere on the top of a mountain, but she was a good roommate, so he wasn’t about to suggest she leave.

Carl was done putting breakfast on plates by the time Kelly came down, scratching the stubble on his head and yawning.

“It looks like getting out might be an issue,” Valerie said as they all sat down at the table together.

“I didn’t look outside,” Kelly said as he fixed his coffee.

“We got two, maybe three feet,” Carl replied.  “I haven’t checked yet.”

“Weather ap said thirty-four inches,” Valerie said.  “But we sometimes get more than where they measure.”

“I’ll check after breakfast,” Carl replied.  They didn’t have a very scientific methodology, since drifting could happen, but they had a pole near the front porch that was marked every inch so they could know how much snow they’d gotten.  Carl had put it in two years ago and just never pulled it back out.  It was in one of the mulched areas, so it wasn’t even in the way when they had to mow the lawn.

“To be perfectly honest, I’m planning to use the snow as an excuse not to go,” Sam said.

“Have they been that bad?” Carl asked.  Sam’s family wasn’t supportive of the non-binary thing, or Sam’s career as an artist, so Carl understood why Sam might not want to go home for the holidays.

“My brother has been in one of his evangelical moods this month,” Sam replied.

“Ouch,” Valerie said, reaching over to pat Sam’s hand.

Sam’s brother was a preacher at a non-denominational church a few hours south near where Sam’s family lived.  It was a huge place and very hellfire and brimstone from what Sam had said.

“It is what it is,” Sam said with a shrug.  “If anyone in the family asks I’ll tell them you left earlier and that’s why only I got trapped.  I know my brother stalks you guys on social media.”

“If we got more than three feet, I’m not sure any of us are going anywhere,” Carl replied.

“My parents are actively encouraging me to stay home,” Valerie said.  “They don’t even want me on a train in this apparently.  It’s been even worse west of us and I haven’t even checked to see if there are train delays.”

Carl nodded.  The original plan had been for Carl to get everyone off the mountain in his truck.  Valerie was taking the train home, Sam had left his car in the Walmart parking lot earlier in the week, and Kelly was catching a ride with a friend in town.

They were quiet during the rest of breakfast, and Kelly was actually the first one to get up, taking his coffee with him as he went into the front room.  They could all hear the door opening.

Carl shivered just thinking about how cold it must have been standing in the doorway with just the storm door for insulation.

“Well, I think we’re staying home,” Kelly said before shutting the door.  “The pole’s actually in a bit of a dip and it reads forty-two inches.”

“Damn,” Carl said.  That was a lot of snow to get in a single night.

“I like you lot better than my family anyway,” Sam said, toasting them with his coffee mug.

“I can do a video chat with my parents on Yule,” Valerie said.  “It’ll be fine.”

“No worries,” Kelly said, patting Carl on the shoulder.  “You did tell us we should have made arrangements to get off the mountain yesterday.”

“It’ll be nice to spend the holidays at home,” Carl said.  He loved his family, but they were a lot.  He was only going to have made the last few days of Hanukkah anyway.  Now he could share traditions with his roommates.  Valerie and her parents were pagan and celebrated Yule, Carl still wasn’t sure how devout Kelly was but he did celebrate Christmas, Carl was Jewish, and Sam gave everyone gifts that they called Winter Wishes, since they wanted to celebrate and share the joy of holidays with everyone but didn’t actually have a winter holiday to celebrate.  It would be neat to have so many different traditions all happening in the same house.

Image Prompt 073 – Snowy Tree and Parliament

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It’s the Second Friday of the Month, so today is an Image Prompt day.

I’ve included two images to work from.  Pick one (or both if you’re feeling ambitious) and write something inspired by the image.  You can use something in the image, the feeling it invokes, or whatever the image makes you think of.

If you write a piece and end up posting it somewhere online, please link back to it here on a comment so we can all enjoy it too.

I’ll be posting my own piece next week.

Image Prompt 073-01 Carl's Tree03-01

Image Prompt 073-02 Parliament House05-04-14 004