Our Impending Empty Nest

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empty nest
During a wood cutting expedition a few years ago, my husband cut down a dead tree and found this little treasure which he saved and brought home.

Somehow, I’ve returned to the emotional rollercoaster I rode when I was pregnant with my son twenty years ago. On the way home from work this week, I had myself in tears over our forthcoming “empty nest” status.

Then, when I did get home, I had to blink back more tears because of the actual EMPTY NEST on our front porch. It’s cool, but a bit too literal of a reminder of what is going to happen in the next six months.

It doesn’t take much to set either myself or my husband off when we think of our kids leaving. What the hell are we going to do?

Our weekends will no longer be filled with soccer games, waiting up for kids to get home, and just the general noise and activity of having teenagers in and out of the house.

On the one hand, I tentatively welcome it because I’ll have more time to write, quilt, and even read – all those things I love to do but have to fit into the tiny crevices of my life between work, family, and kids.

But then, I wonder if those silent spaces, that I don’t even realize are filled with noise right now, might grow too big.

I can make myself cry thinking about it, at least until I get reminders of life with small children.

My daughter has chosen to go to a school in California, about twelve hours from our house. It’s a long way. Yesterday, I was emailing a college buddy about it. She started her family much later than I started mine, and her kids have just begun elementary school. She’s got years to go before she has to face her babies leaving home.

I was expressing my concerns about the distance we’ll have to drive to see my daughter, and she sent me this response:

“Yeah, but as you guys get to be really F-ing old you can drive to Truckee, stop at our place there…then drive to the bay area and stop there [at her house]…and then remind yourselves how happy you are that your kids aren’t still in elementary school….I’m at the zoo right now.”

I about spit my coffee at my computer screen I laughed so hard when I read that. And, if I really give it an honest look, she’s right. I thank God I’m more concerned with registering my daughter for dorm housing than registering her for kindergarten.

I think we’ll be just fine.

My Lone Quilt of 2014

scraps

amy isaman writerTen or fifteen years ago a quilt magazine ran an article featuring a prolific and talented quilter. I remember neither the magazine nor the quilter, but I do remember one thing she discussed.

Her son was getting married, so she let her future daughter-in-law choose a quilt top from her fairly large stash of completely pieced but unquilted tops.  This woman would finish the quilt for their wedding gift.

I remember thinking, “What the hell? Somebody has actually has unfinished quilt tops stuffed in a box? Who is this woman?”

At the time, I was making quilts for my family, for all the beds in my house, for gifts. Every quilt had a purpose. I knew where they would end up when I started making them, but now I’ve been piecing quilt tops for almost twenty years, and like the lady in the article that I read, I make quilts for no reason other than I love to create them.

My latest quilt took all of last year to put together because finding time to sew, with a full-time job, two teenage children, and a fledgling writing career, has been tough. But it’s the one “piece” of my life that I refuse to give up.

I’m now that quilt weirdo with a tub of unquilted quilt tops under my bed, and each year I manage to add one or two. I’ve thought about quilting them, but they’re just easier to store as tops. My daughter has claimed one of them, and my husband claimed this one, but the rest I’m saving in my tub until I need them.

Some of them will never be quilted as they’re truly ugly – an experiment in color, prints, or value gone seriously wrong.

Most of them are scrappy because I believe that the more fabrics there are in a quilt, the better. I love pulling fabrics and putting them all together, playing with colors and value.IMG_2390Some of the individual fabrics look terrible next to each other, but all together, you don’t see those combinations which I love. It’s all about the whole.

One other thing I love about this quilt is the lack of a border. I haven’t put borders on a few quilts now, and I like the look. Sometimes a border can overtake a quilt, and on a historical note, few scrappy antique quilts had big borders. Nobody had giant chunks of fabric necessary for a proper border, so they didn’t use them.

My next quilt will actually be a much smaller one, and I have a deadline with only a few months left before that quilt’s new owner makes an appearance in the world. So maybe, just maybe, I’ll get more than one done this year.

 

Lessons in Free Verse

I suck at teaching poetry

Apparently I suck at teaching poetry.

Though I failed this year, thankfully the student who shared my shortcomings and his poetic discovery, also provided the solution for next year.

In my Creative Writing class, we spend the month of November participating in NaNoWriMo. Then in December, we take a break from cranking out hundreds or thousands of words each week and write poetry.

I am not a poet by any stretch of the imagination, but I do enjoy reading and sharing really great poems with the kids. All year, I try to share at least two to four poems a week, if not more.

During last December, our “poetry month,” I tried to find great poems to use as models.  I crafted lessons on imagery, descriptive details, and different types of poems. We talked about rhythm, rhyme, and word choice. We watched videos of amazing spoken word poems.

But, according to one of my seniors, I missed the mark, failing to teach one of the easiest strategies for crafting great poems.

I discovered my lapse when Erik submitted this reflective piece at the end of the semester, aptly titled “Flexibility.”

poetry teaching fail

All I needed to teach was the ENTER key?!?

I can do that. It will be one of my first poetry lessons for next year…

Free verse via ENTER

The Meandering Path of my Writing Life

The Meandering Path of the Writing Life

The Meandering Path of the Writing LifeMy life as a writer started with this little blog, and over the past four years, it’s taken many turns, some I expected, some not so much. But like any good ride, they’ve all been fun.

Since I haven’t posted here in (too) many months, I thought I’d do a little review of where I’ve been and hopefully where I’m headed on this winding writing path.

February 2011 – As a kid, I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. I’m all grown up now, and I realized that, yes, I’d still like to write. It took awhile, but I got there despite the mean professor in college who told me that my story about hiking sucked. It probably did, but I didn’t take it well. It only took twenty years to get over it.

March 2011 – I started this blog and with shaking hands and panicking heart, posted my first post. I declared “I am a writer.” My husband, mom, and dad read my post. Progress.

The rest of 2011 – I kept a really great blog schedule, posting pretty much once or twice a week, and outlined novel #1, The Overlander’s Daughter.

2012 – I kept posting here and wrote my novel, well, I wrote lots of it, but it was a long, slow learning process. I could whip out an essay or academic piece in thirty minutes. A novel? Not quite so fast.

August 2012 – I went to the Willamette Writer’s Conference and learned how much I  still had to learn about writing. It’s a never ending process.

2013 – Blog? What blog? Oh yeah…this one. Um, didn’t write much here, but kept working on my novel and planned for…

March 2013 – …launching WhereTeensWrite.com, my online community for teen writers. This is where I posted during 2013 & 2014 (when I went missing from here). There, I post about writing and try to answer all those questions my students ask me about writing. The site’s growth is slow but steady…and I’m still enjoying the whole process.

November 2013 – Along with ten of my intrepid students, I completed Nanowrimo – finishing 50,000 words of a young adult contemporary mystery.

January 2014 – Whew – three years after embarking on my new “life as a writer,” I finally finished The Overlander’s Daughter. It’s a good feeling, but I completely ignored this blog, as in, I never posted a single time in 2014. Ooops.

February 2014 – I finished draft one of my YA mystery – woah, two novels done. Am I a writer yet? I also queried Overlander’s and actually got requests for manuscripts – happy dance.

March 2014 – Rejection.

March-July 2014 – I decided to have OD professionally edited before querying it again and found an amazing editor who wouldn’t be able to get to it until October. She’s that good, so I set that manuscript aside and spent all summer polishing my YA mystery.

August 2014 – I went to Willamette Writer’s Conference again and pitched my YA mystery. Agents requested it – happy dance.

September & October 2014 – YA novel rejection, but good to know I can write a decent query and pitch a novel.

October 2014 – My amazing editor began polishing the rough spots out of  Overlander’s and making it shine. After daily emails all month clarifying details, plot, and characters, she asked if I “would mind” if she sent my manuscript off to an agent with a recommendation. Um, no – I didn’t mind.

November 2014 – I signed a contract with an agent! Biggest Happy Dance ever!! I’ll write more on this milestone later. My new agent wanted more Overlander’s revisions – back at it.

January 2015 – I continued revising Overlander’s until, I can say, it’s finally done and ready to go. Well, at least until another editor decides it’s not.

February 2015 – I’m back here! I’ll still be writing at WhereTeensWrite, but I found when I got back on here, I kind of miss writing my random musings about life, writing, teaching, and quilts. And hopefully, I’ll have some writerly updates to report on my writing career – that’s what I’m calling it now.

Onward…

Fall & Winter Descend

Oct. 15, 2013

When I meet people who are not from Nevada and I tell them I am from Nevada, they will often ask how I deal with the heat in Las Vegas. Like many native Nevadans, I end up explaining that Las Vegas is in the very southern tip of the state, and there are thousands of square miles north of Las Vegas. Really. Not everyone from Nevada is from Vegas.

The Nevada I call home is high desert. We have four seasons here with snow every winter.

I live at 5000 ft. at the base of the Ruby Mountains in the northeast corner of the state. These are the mountains that the Hastings cutoff skirted. Rather than following the California trail along the Humboldt River to the north, the Donner party went around the south and inadvertently added several hundred miles to their journey. Bad idea.

I took these pictures from my front yard over the past month as the changing colors slowly descended the slopes. I’ve always enjoyed watching, so this year, I decided to record it.

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The Rubies in August (with my son getting ready for his fall archery hunt).
Sept. 23, 2013
Sept. 23, 2013 – the top of the canyons are brushed with yellow patches as the leaves begin to change color.
October 7, 2013
October 7, 2013 – Two weeks later, the trees have almost completely changed their colors.
October 10, 2013
October 10, 2013 – the first dusting of snow on the peaks. Ruby Dome, to the right of the pyramid peak, is the tallest point in the mountain range with an elevation of 11,388.
Oct. 15, 2013
October 15, 2013 – The leaves are dropping and the mountain tops are whiter.
Oct. 19, 2013
October 19, 2013
Oct. 29
Oct. 29 – Winter arrives. We woke to heavy wet snow.
Oct. 29, 2013
Oct. 29 – The weather here can make a person crazy. Blizzard at 7:00 am…beautiful sun shining on the snowy mountains at 5:05 pm of the same day.
Oct. 29 2013
Oct. 29 – the same day, 20 min. later, clouds are moving in again across the mountains. Winter is here, and the leaves are gone.

Happy Halloween!

My Summer Quilt

My Matrix Quilt

Yes, I know its almost Halloween, a little belated to be posting my “summer” quilt, but I did actually complete a quilt this summer.

Last winter, I got inspired to use up some of my fabric stash. I pulled out stacks of fabrics and cut out all the strips and rectangles for two different quilts. One of them is still a pile of now dusty strips on the end of my sewing table. The other one is actually done!

Seeing as I’m a teacher . . . on vacation in the summer . . . I probably should have gotten both of these quilts done, but I didn’t. The one I did finish took awhile though.

The pattern is the “Cobblestone” quilt from the book Scrappy Firework Quilts by Edyta Sitar. It’s a great collection of patterns for scrappy traditional quilts.

I chose to do it in brights and it ended up not looking like a cobblestone street, but more like some sort of digital matrix. This was a fun project to play with the fabrics and work with their values rather than their colors. I’m not super happy with how the middle left side turned out. It kind of mushes together, but I didn’t realize that until it was all sewed together. I wasn’t about to pull it out to add some more darks to it.

My Matrix Quilt
My Matrix Quilt

I’m not going to put a border on it, as I like how it looks as is, and it’s not getting quilted anytime soon either. I have no more beds for the quilt tops I’ve made, so its going into a tub under my bed until I have a home for it. I’ve learned that when you live in a small house like I do, unquilted quilts are easier to store than quilted ones.

I’ll Keep my Laptop, Thank You

Yesterday, a friend tweeted this article on The Guardian, “Unthinkable? Bring Back Typewriters.” While the author makes some great points about how using a typewriter slows the writer down, thereby making writers more intentional about word choices, and how typewriters remove the distracting allure of the internet, I’d have to say, “hell no!!” I’ll keep my laptop thank you very much.

In fact, I wonder if the author ever had to actually type something that mattered on a typewriter, like a research paper or even an important letter. If so, I think the nostalgia for the click of the keys would quickly wear off.

I still have my antique ribbon typewriter. It has lived buried in the back of my daughter’s closet for years. When I was seven or eight years old, my Dad brought it home for me to write my stories on. It made me official. I was a writer.

I never use it, but I’ve lugged the thing with me for my entire life. It weighs around 50 lbs. and represents my youthful attempts at writing, my dreams to become a writer someday.

My ancient typewriter that made me feel like a true writer.
My ancient typewriter that made me feel like a true writer.

I actually don’t remember writing that much on it. I remember spending more time trying to get it to work so I could write. The ribbon would come unwound, little mechanical metal pieces would get stuck. I remember jamming more than one butter knife in to get it going again.

You also have to hit the keys hard to get them to work. Fingers don’t fly over these old keyboards. Nope, typing a sentence gives the fingers a pretty good workout. One letter at a time.

If you hit more than one key at a time, the little letter bars fly up at the same time and stick to each other, creating a mess and nothing gets typed. It’s the equivalent of your computer screen freezing, but in this case all you have to do is reach a hand in and unstick everything. There are definitely days that I wish I could do that with my laptop.

All the keys stuck together in a wad. This happened a lot.
All the striker bars stuck together in a wad. This happened a lot.

Typing is a sensory experience unlike writing on a computer. There is the sound of the letter striker bars (or whatever they’re called) hitting the paper and the carriage. You have to watch where you are because at the end of each line, the typewriter doesn’t automatically “wrap” around. As the typist, you have to reach up and move the carriage back to the left margin. It’s labor intensive. Mistakes cannot be fixed.

The letters are also quirky, with each typewriter having its own “fingerprint.”

The Letters
The Letters

I loved reading mysteries as a kid (and still do), and I remember typewriters often providing clues. Detectives would study typewriter fonts with the forensic intensity that today’s CSI investigators go after DNA evidence.

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No MS Word conformity here. My typewriter has a definite style. The “e’s” are all red. For some reason it dropped down a half a line halfway through the word “kind.” If I had committed a crime and left a clue on my typewriter, I’d definitely be caught.

Perhaps it would be good to create clues for a mystery on this, but I think that’s about it. I won’t be cranking out any stories on this old thing, but I also don’t think I’ll get rid of it. It’s comforting to know that even though I haven’t used it since the early 1980’s, I still can. My computer would never work like that. I could not shove it in a kid’s closet, have kids sit on it during games of hide and seek, leave it there for 20+ years, pull it out one day, write something on it and then print it to paper like I did with my typewriter this morning.

I have no idea whatever happened to any of the stories I wrote, or even if I ever finished a whole story on it due to all of the issues with actually using it. Even so, when I think of my typewriter, I think of my 8 year old self imagining stories, and for that alone, I’ll hang on to it. It reminds me that yes, I am a writer.