Category Archives: Organizing and Improvement

Ditching the Tree for an Alternative

The first snow of the season was a beast. A snowplow busted the mailbox right off the post, a total of about 18 inches fell, and part of the lilac bush in the front yard of the house cracked away from the rest.

Solstice tree

When my dad was here for this past holiday weekend, I told him how I was thinking of bringing in the busted part of the lilac bush, a large branch indeed, and using it as a seasonal tree inside the house. Dad used the big snippers took the branch off the rest of the way, and upon closer inspection, there are buds on there.

Solstice tree

We’re forcing narcissus and amaryllis bulbs, the ones in the pictures below, and Colin thought maybe the branch would leaf out if treated the same way.

Solstice tree

Solstice tree

I collected some stones from the gravelly roadside. I’m lucky that the plow has uncovered a bunch of good stuff on that will work for this purpose. After carefully rinsing all of the rocks of any potential road salt, Colin and I used them to hold the lilac branch upright in a planting pot. The planting pot, inside of a bucket, is super stable and can hold water without making a mess. I can also see the level of the water, should it need refilling.

Solstice tree

It came out great. There are some advantages to having a tree like this in the house. No dried out needles all over the floor, completely free of cost (you could use a downed branch easily), and you can see the ornaments really well. Things work a little differently, like how the lights can be strung. In some ways, this branch is stronger and can hold larger ornaments in places, but instead of the structure going from wide to tall as it goes up, it’s the opposite. I went for wrapping the main sections of the branch only. Still plenty of lights.

Solstice tree

Solstice tree

Solstice tree

Solstice tree

I don’t have a lot of holiday stuff, as I’ve worked down a lot of my not-so-needed possessions. I hold myself to one storage bin worth of stuff for this holiday, ornaments, lights and all. I do have some knick knacky things, and I like to subtly have the same things as always in the space, but done up a little to brighten things up, like putting tiny fake lights on things, or having books around and about that are holiday themed.

Solstice tree

Solstice tree

Decorating isn’t that important to me, really. Marking the season with some kind of ritual is. I’m looking forward to the days getting longer and for some news from people via mail and holiday cards. That’s the important stuff. Don’t sweat trees or buying ornaments if you don’t have the means, the room, or the energy. You’re better off taking long walks in snowshoes, or making sure you feel the sun on your face if it gets warm one afternoon, know what I mean? It’s what you do, not the stuff, that helps you mark the year and welcome the season.

Elizabeth City has great lights.

Winter Projects: Splicing Wire Rope

Colin splicing wire rope. #rigging #sailing #cruising #diy #boats

The time has come to replace the standing rigging on Mimi Rose. As Colin practices splices, we come upon this great quote. Brion Toss has a way of writing that adds levity to difficult tasks around the boat, and his words about fairing out a bumpy splice are pretty darn funny. From The Rigger’s Apprentice:

It is difficult to describe in print exactly how hard one should strike to fair different-sized wires, but the matter is important, so as an aid I will tell you a little story. A sailmaker and I once had a loft on the top floor of City Hall in Anacortes, Washington. Ours was the only unrenovated room in the old building–below, city employees typed and filed away in carpeted, fluorescent-lit comfort. Trying to work quietly, I discovered how little muscle was actually needed to fair a splice. Since gentleness is a good thing for wire, imagine, as you fair, a nest of bureaucrats below. For wire up to 5/16 inch in diameter, the noise will not bother them at all; pounding 3/8-inch wire is noticeable but reasonable; 7/16-inch can be tolerated anytime except first thing Monday morning; 1/2-inch should be done only during lunch or after hours; and 5/8-inch and up will drop plaster into the typewriters, so should be done in the parking lot.


The Tally

Here are my classmates and all the great stuff we made! #diy #boat #canvaswork #woodenboat

Well, here we are. In the photo above you see various cushions, bags, handy tool holders, a dog bed, some repaired dodgers, and a couple o’ flags.

Not enough flags. DARNIT.

About midday today, even though I’m tired from a full week of focusing on this, I was really wishing we could have three more days of this class. I feel like I’ve only just started understanding all the mistakes I’ve been making with the machines so I can get more sewing done than fixing. Less ripped seams by the end of the week, less feelings of being out of control or that the sewing machine was going to eat my hand, or worse yet, eat my project. HA!

It’s one thing, and a good thing, to learn something on your own but classroom learning is the way for me. I envy the people who can read about knotwork and splicing rope and all that jazz who can learn straight from the book. That’s just not me. And like a lot of people who have been out of school for a while, I figured for a long time that if I couldn’t learn something on my own from a book, then maybe I just didn’t get it or wasn’t going to be good at it anyhow. I’ve changed my tune on that, thankfully.

I made canvas bags! #woodenboat #woodenboatschool #diy #salty

All in all I made a couple of salty-lookin’ canvas bags, a spirited pennant flag, a darn fancy cover for a flotation cushion, and I repaired the beat dodger, possibly giving it another season’s worth of oomph.

I also learned how to wield a seam-ripper like a champ, but then again, I’ve always said my epitaph will most likely be, “SHE WAS A GOOD SPORT.”

If you could take a class, what would it be?

WHAT HO! A Name Pennant!

Today's project I did at Woodenboat School- a pennant for the top of the mast! #sailing #boats #flags #diy

I have, in all seriousness, been thinking about making this one simple thing since about a year ago. A whole year of pulling in somewhere close to a boatyard and not even thinking of asking someone for some flag material and some insignia cloth. A whole year of excuses and procrastination, but I’m telling you, when I got the “MIMI” from MIMI ROSE onto this little shiny red thing that I sewed, I was in the corner of the sail loft, grinning at it. I was completely beaming right at this inanimate object.

I love flags and have a nice collection of them aboard. I love them because they invite conversation. Yacht club burgees say something about where you’re from or what you’re proud of. Our SSCA burgee says we’re proud to be a part of such a great organization and that we’d like to meet more members. Letter flags, spelling the name of a guest aboard, makes them feel so special. At the new year I hoisted up the four flags needed to proclaim “2013.”

They’re a moving decoration, alive with motion and bright in color. They’re attention-grabbers, and I suppose their land-based counterpart would be a brightly colored front door that says, “HELLO! YES PLEASE, WE’D LIKE TO SEE YOU, COME ON BY!

And that’s what this hot little number is. I made this at Woodenboat School and am so proud of it. Read more about Woodenboat here.

Holy Carp, I Made Something

That’s right, I made a cushion cover. Our old one was beat, but we still had the foam part which floats just fine. I picked a couple of cheerful colors and BAM! Jaunty new cushion cover. Of course, these photos are like the “magic of television” type cooking shows from the 80s that would leave out all the bad trial runs and the mistakes and give you a beautiful reveal at the end that’ll leave you thinking it was real easy. It totally wasn’t. It took me the better part of two days’ class time, which is embarrassing to say, but only a little bit.

I made a cushion cover with piping and everything! The first thing I've ever sewn. #sewing #beginner #woodenboatschool #diy

I’m really new at all this, and I’m enjoying that squirming, uncomfortable feeling that you get when you’re learning something new. There’s danger in it. There’s wasted time and wasted material. There’s seam-ripping and surprise. There are multiple attempts. There are slow starts.

Some people who really hate learning don’t relish that discomfort, and that’s probably the only thing between them and that thing they’d really like to do. But think of the stuff that could hold you up from doing! (How to speak a new language, how to play a new instrument, how to bake that complicated cake, how to navigate a new city.)

If I have only a couple of talents, they are these two things: I enjoy the discomfort of newness and I enjoy the journey as much as I enjoy the place I’m trying to get to. Are those talents or attitudes? Well, I’d hate to think that anyone would willingly adopt an attitude that would make them miserable most of the time, so let’s call them talents. Talents that could be learned.

Here are some photos of the process and our great space, but just a few.

Working on my piping.

My zipper panel and the cushion top, ready to attach.

Oh man, that thin is ready to turn right side out so I can see the magic!

James working in "the pit" with the machine named "Robin." #sailing #sailloft #diy #woodenboatschool

John at his beautiful old machine, Ann in the background working on her beautiful flowery cushions.

Oh heck, it’s Woodenboat School. One more photo. Here’s a picture of a wooden boat on campus.

ELATER out of the water for the season. #woodenboat #beetlecat #catboat #sailing

Woodenboat School, the Sunday Intro Dinner


I’m taking a class at Woodenboat this week, and all of their classes start with a dinner on Sunday night. You meet your instructor and your classmates, you get a deluge of information about Brooklin and about the campus.

Oh, and you get a really kickin’ dinner.

The kitchen at the Woodenboat School always KILLS IT with their food. Tonight it was a choice of chowder or roasted tomato soup with salad. I had wasabi cucumber dressing on that. Then it was blueberry lemonade to drink and apple cake to round it all out. It’s like that every night of the week, too. Not fancy, but totally solid mainstays that are well-made and lovingly delivered. And there are always choices for vegetarians and gluten-sensitive types.

Normally I’m the sort of person who is ok with sitting with strangers, introducing myself, and whatnot. Today I decided to hang back in the room, to sit by myself, and to just take it all in while observing the other people in the room.

Eventually my instructor came in and chose to sit with me. A benefit of sitting alone, maybe? I should try that more often. It was nice to make chit chat about how we share the same first name, to let her in on what I wanted out of the class and where I’m coming from.

The class is Introduction to Canvasworking, and I’m in awe of the reputation this great lady has. It’ll be a good week, for sure, and I plan on sharing my projects and my experience with you throughout.

Postcards: New Rules & How to Build Yourself a Writing Kit

Fresh batch of cards went out yesterday! #postcard #travel #sailing

Joy. Absolute joy.

An object in the mail, there in your mailbox… Just because. Just a note of hello. And OH! To be the sender!!

When I talk to people who are also travelers, whether they’re cruisers or otherwise, they see me throwing a fist full of postcards into the mailbox and they intimate that they’ve always thought about sending some, but just don’t get around to it. When I dig more as to why, the following points come up and I’d like to address all of them and give some pointers for joy-slinging success.

You’ve already left the place where you bought the postcard. 

And you’re afraid that it’ll look like you were absent-minded and forgot to send it on time. On time? Hm. The other classic variation on this is that you’ll be home before the post card gets to its recipient. Question: Do YOU care? Like, have you ever checked the postmark on a piece of mail from a friend and scrutinized when it was sent? The answer is no, most likely. Heck, even if it was your birthday and you got a card a week later, you wouldn’t think anything bad of the friend who sent it, would you? I think that’s all a bit outdated now, for sure.

You never seem to have the right things on hand.

Set yourself up for success with a letter writing kit. If you’re the sort of person who really truly wants to send post cards, then here’s my method, the way I came to have a fairly good postcard practice. Firstly, addresses. Collect them. Think of five people who you know would adore getting a post card and ask them for their addresses. Get a notebook you’ll enjoy using, nothing fancy or particular like an address book unless that’s what you really want, and just start jotting them down. You’ll find you want more but my first few addresses were my grandmother’s, my parents of course, my penpal and soulmate Lori, my west coast Lori, my best friend Jo, and the list goes on. Once I started thinking of people with whom I had exchanged fun mail like valentines and stuff, it just kept rolling. I even send letters to the pubs I love.

Now that you have a list, get stamps. Now. Don’t wait to get cards. Postcard stamps are cheaper than regular stamps. Forever stamps are a good concept but who cares if the price goes up, now you can stamp on all kinds of neat tiny denomination stamps like this:

My latest batch of postcards going out.

Now you just need cards and words. When I get to my destination I look for cards that are either 4 for a buck or 3 for a buck, in that kind of price range. I also have blank note cards, just in case someone has a birthday. In the picture below, you can see that I found awesome vintage post cards. They were an unbelievable 25 cents a pop so I sent to my whole list and used them as Christmas cards. That was for about 50 recipients.

Found a treasure trove of vintage post cards, sending heaps of them out. #travel #watchout

Now that you’ve got your supplies, you might want to think about making them accessible so you can write on a whim. I have a little file-o-fax type box with sections and keep all my stuff in there. I have a section for stickers, note cards, stamps, envelopes, etc. I have a section for the cards I receive, and they serve as a reminder that I need to send a reply.

For on-the-go post card mailing, I also keep some stamps ready to go in my moleskine notebook that has a little pocket on the back cover.

But Anne, I really think I don’t have time to write cards.

Well, for this one, I’m going to have to say that you should just start by writing one or two at a time. When you start recounting your adventures via postcards, it becomes a really enjoyable activity and a meditation of sorts. In some towns, I only buy postcards that are really great or that specifically remind me of someone, so that cuts down how much I write sometimes. Plus, postcards have so little writing space that you can really only communicate a few little thoughts, so really, it’s not all that much of a time commitment. In the picture below, I’m stamping and writing while we were underway.

Stamping Post Cards While Under Way

Other Details

I like using sharpie extra fine tip markers instead of pens. They do well on both the papery and glossy backs of cards without smudging.

On the papery-type cards (not glossy), if you’re into doing water colors at all, consider not writing words but maybe just doing a nice painting in the writing space- maybe of a pelican or a monument that you liked or of a building you enjoyed. I’m not great with watercolors, so sometimes I just put hearts, trees, or pen drawings of the dog.

Traveling internationally? Consider buying just one post card and making the rest out of interesting paperboard packaging from things like cookies and snacks. You can trace the right size out, cut, and make something really interesting and cheap.

Interesting stamps: If you go to the post office and ask for stamps, start your inquiry by asking if they’ve got anything new and interesting in. Sometimes you can get really pretty stamps. In my opinion, getting the letter rate for a stamp is worth it even if you’re just sending the post card, the post office could use the extra 10 cents or so anyhow.

Stickers: I also keep, in my little writing-supply-file-thing, a section of stickers. Great for holidays, seasons, birthdays and congratulations, you can slap one of those on and it communicates extra words you can’t fit on a small post card.

If you’re on a long trip and intend to send cards in waves as you travel, consider putting the date and location where you’re writing the note. It gives some context to the writing. Like I said way at the beginning, don’t worry too much about sending it right away or about the date being a kind of expiration date. It’s just not true. Pop it in the mail when you can, and it’ll be loved all the same.

Well, that’s about it for now, I suppose. Have questions or ideas about this? Have other stumbling blocks or success stories? I’d love to hear about it!