At the end of the block on the corner there's a garden planted on the edge of the road. It's tucked between the street and a stockade fence. It's so small, and jammed into such a small space, it seems more than a garden. It's a declaration. A fertile sign of determination and grit.
Someone wanted a garden and they were not to be deterred.
They wanted to grow peas, and tomatoes, and peppers. We know that's what's growing because they impaled the empty seed packets on sticks to mark what was in the ground. And we've watch them grow for weeks now.
There's a tradition in New England ... peas and salmon on the Fourth of July. Why? The salmon swim upstream this time of year, just when the peas begin to sprout.
I'm not sure the neighbors will pair salmon with their peas, but the garden's bounty is proof there's plenty to be savored when the seed of determination is planted.
This month there will be no excuses.
It's Anti-boredom Month and we've got adventures to find and things to do.
Are you a chess player, a model boat builder, Scrabble star, space explorer? Yes? Good for you. I'm not, but by the end of the month, they may be hobbies I can call my own.
It can be scary to start something new, but really, doing little more than binge watching your favorite streaming service or scrolling through your phone for hours gets boring. And boring is, well boring. And a bit depressing.
So how can we approach Anti-boredom Month?
Nothing beats boredom like doing something. And, as I've learned over and over again, it's taking action that makes all the difference.
Yes, it's hard to get started. And yes, it takes effort, even a bit of gumption. That can of gumption up above was inspired by Popeye. Open a can of spinach, gobble it up, and find renewed courage and strength. Was it really the spinach that gave him strength? I'm not so sure. Have you tasted canned spinach?
I think it's something else.
I think it's more about stepping up, gathering gumption, and giving it a go. Saying, "OK, I'll try." Or, "Hey, it's my turn."
So this month, I'm going to try new things. And, because it's also Baked Bean Month and I'm inspired by canned goodness, I'm going to try something out of the can. I'm going to make baked beans from scratch. I’m looking for a recipe. If you’ve got one, would you be willing to share it?
Or, if you’re like me and have never made your own baked beans, let's try it together.
Here are more things happening in July. I'll post what I'm doing, and would love to hear what you're up to, too.
International Zine Month
A whole book from one sheet of paper.
National Anti-Boredom Month
We’ve got that covered.
It’s knob easy.
National Baked Bean Month
Cook ‘em low and slow.
Ice Cream Month
Are they sprinkles or jimmies?
National Picnic Month
Take it out to the park.
A wedge will do.
International Cherry Pit Spitting Day
Watch where it lands.
How many ways are there to make this happen?
Embrace Your Geekness Day
Space Exploration Day
What’s a light year?
Paperback Book Day
A real page turner.
National Avocado Day
Check in throughout the month to see what we find. And if you’ve got ideas, share them with us. After all, it’s Anti-boredom Month and you've got a can of gumption waiting to be opened.
p.s. Riddle Me Mail subscribers will recognize that can of gumption. Stayed tuned for new stationery offers and more canned goodness all month long.
Figuring out what works Collage work has become my go-to art form. After trying a bit of watercolor, line drawing, pencil, and more, collage is it.
It's the perfectly imperfect nature of collage that works for me.
It's not that things are sloppy or unfinished. No, I pay attention to detail and form, but its more conceptual than precise.
Finding the rhythm
All of my collage work is done with painted sheet music. No other papers: no book pages, receipts, or found paper. Just sheet music.
That, too, took a while to figure out.
There are no distracting words on the page and I like how the music adds texture to the pieces I cut.
And I've learned it best to keep a supply on hand. A stack of painted sheets. An assortment of reds and yellows, blacks, grays, and greens. Blues, purples, and pinks. Each with varied amounts of paint, rough edges, and dry brush strokes.
Ready when the ideas are
If I have an idea, I like to sit down and start in. If I have to begin from scratch, to paint the colors I want or need, I risk losing some of my enthusiasm, some of the spark that comes with having a new idea.
Having an assortment of colors on hand helps me stay with the idea, to keep my momentum.
I've been running on scraps for a few weeks now and I can feel it holding me back. Little bits of paper cut from larger sheets. Yesterday I ran out of the green I wanted. Lots of scraps, but not enough to finish what I started.
It's time to take stock ... and restock.
Painting the sheets has become part of the process. Part of the preparation.
Be sure you've got what you need to get started. It could make all the difference.
Extraordinary but real
The first time I saw what I would later learn was a bleeding heart plant, I thought it was a fanciful creation. Imaginary flowers created by some skilled craftsperson with an affinity for hearts.
We’d been invited by friends to join them for the weekend at the family “home,” a second home that went back generations. Though no one lived in house, it was occupied regularly by different members of the extended family, often in the way we were using it: a weekend get-away, a few days in the country.
It was a grand old farmhouse with an eclectic mix of antique furniture, professionally painted portraits, pillow-soft sofas, a staircase off the living room and another in the kitchen, threadbare bedspreads, a large lawn, formal garden, and a hand-crafted lamp with bleeding hearts cut from tin.
The bleeding hearts were a life-size decorative element at the base of the lamp. The tin hearts were painted pink, pierced, and threaded with wire to hang and sway like the real thing.
I’d never seen such a plant and the heart shapes seemed too extraordinary to be real. It was only years later when I saw a bleeding heart plant growing in someone’s garden did I learn they were real.
It’s clear the lamp was inspired by nature, but I wonder ... was it created to mirror a passion for gardening? After all, there was that formal garden. Or was it a way to explore the potential of cut metal?
Maybe it was simply a one-and-done hobby project.
It’s spring here in Maine and the bleeding hearts are in bloom. Seeing them always reminds me of that lamp. Of my doubt. How I admired the skill and artistry of the lamp, but scoffed at the idea of heart-shaped flowers.
My ignorance colored my perception of what I was looking at. I realize now the artist must have been inspired by one or all of the elements that made the lamp what it was: the flowers, nature, their craft. And how, by creating a lasting reminder of the plant, they preserved a moment in time.
I’m in the early stages of journaling, but I see that no matter what we create, the materials we use, or the subject we choose to represent, by giving it form, we’re able to share it and touch others in ways we’ll never know. The artist who created that lamp will never know how much I think about it, what I learned from it, what it means to me.
Or how I wish it was in my living room.
So share your art, your craft, your writing. You never know who's looking.
What are you working on?
Who will tap the trees?
Nearly every morning I walk the neighborhood. Up one block and down another. And every spring I look forward to seeing the sap buckets hanging.
But it seems the people who lived in the houses and tapped the trees moved. From both places.
One family used traditional metal buckets, and the other used plastic. The plastic buckets were translucent and I could see the sap levels rise from one day to the next. I'm going to miss that.
My brother has lots of hobbies and fortunately, one of them is making maple syrup. Did you know it takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup? The two glasses above (sap and syrup) are samples from his his harvest.
What does sap taste like?
Straight from the tree, sap tastes like water. It's not sweet, but if you concentrate, you can (kinda, sorta, maybe) taste a hint of maple. Though sometimes I think we want so much for it to taste like maple syrup before it is maple syrup we trick our taste buds into thinking it does.
As the sap water boils down, the liquid thickens, the color shifts, and it becomes syrup. Sweeter and sweeter the more it cooks down.
There are still no buckets in the neighborhood. But I'm watching.
What signs of spring do you see in your neighborhood?
What to do?
I was 14 years old, home alone, and I was bored. I paced from my bedroom to the living room to the kitchen, and back again. In the kitchen, I opened and closed the cabinet doors. Over and over again.
I was looking for something. Something to eat? Something to do? I didn't even know. Round and round I went, until I found what I didn't know I was looking for: a tub of Quaker Oats oatmeal.
I decided to make cookies.
My mother was an occasional baker and her go-to cookie was the oatmeal raisin. I'd seen her make them, helped her make them, and I knew where to find the recipe: it's printed on the underside of the lid of every tub of oatmeal.
I gathered the ingredients, followed the instructions, and waited for the first batch to bake through—ten minutes, maybe twelve.
To my surprise, baking the cookies lifted my spirits, erased the boredom, and filled the better part of my afternoon. When my mom and brothers and sisters came home we ate cookies together. And they were good. Really good. Just as good as Mom's.
And I was hooked.
I went from being bored (and to be honest, a little lonely), to feeling good, productive, interested, and happy.
It was the gathering of ingredients, the measuring, and the mixing that shifted things. I was focused on baking, no longer distracted by my boredom. Dollops of dough and a baker's dozen. I was hooked.
Baking cookies helped me understand that it's the doing that makes the difference. That hobbies offer not only distraction, but reward, too. Maybe not always with baked goods or a finished product, but a shift ... in mood, progress, outlook, or skill.
The cookies became the start of a life-long pursuit of hobbies, passions, and pastimes. Of baking and hiking, sewing and stitching. Writing letters, cooking, and camping. Some experiences long-lasting efforts, others one-and-done.
I sometimes think my hobby is finding new hobbies.
And why not?
I can whip up a batch of bread and butter pickles, stitch a popped button back on a shirt, and skate backwards on a frozen pond.
And I can bake.
I make a pretty good apple pie, a decent Irish soda bread, and yes, a darn good oatmeal raisin cookie.
I made some this morning. Here's the recipe.
Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
(Adapted from the Quaker Oats Vanishing Oatmeal Cookies recipe. I don't add the cinnamon.)
Heat oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, beat butter and sugars on medium speed of electric mixer (or by hand) until creamy. Add eggs and vanilla; beat well.
In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt; add to butter and sugar mixture.
Add oats and raisins; mix well.
Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown. Cool slightly on cookie sheet, remove to wire rack. Cool completely. Enjoy!
If there are any left over, store tightly covered.