I'd been down that path before. It's a short trail through the woods that loops out to a field and back again.
Just weeks ago, the trail was upgraded and I found myself looking at the ground as we walked:
- at the downed tree branches repurposed as edging
- the new wooden bridge that carried us over that always-muddy section of the trail
- at the (so many) mushrooms that blossomed after the rain
- and the changing foliage ... reminding me autumn is a cool couple of weeks away
It was entirely captivating until the trail took a turn.
A hard left in the middle of nowhere
When we rounded the corner, I glanced back over my shoulder. I'd been down this path before, but I didn't remember such an abrupt turn.
But it was there, clear as could be when I looked back.
And then I saw the sun ... casting light high upon the tree trunks. And farther on, the mist ... hovering over the field.
Was I missing the forest ... for the mushrooms?
While I was focused on the trail I discovered the mushrooms, signs of autumn in the leaves, and a squirrel sprinting across the path.
But when I looked up, I saw which direction the trail was headed, the light streaming through the trees, and the early morning mist.
And all of a sudden, I wasn't sure where to look, afraid I might miss something.
And it made me think the next edition of Tinplate: Birds & Birding.
The day before I was doubting everything about it. Wondering if I should toss it out and start over. Or forget the whole thing. I was deep in detail ... ruminating over homing pigeons, plumage, and migration. All the while, losing direction ... and all sense of why I started it to begin with.
Until the walk in the woods.
I realized I'd been looking down ... for too long. That it was time to look up, to review the project as a whole, check my bearings, and see where I was.
I started Waystation Whistle and Tinplate because I believe in the power of hobbies, passions, and distractions to help you (and me) tell a different story about your day.
I'm no birding expert, but by watching the birds I see in my neighborhood and doing a bit of research I'm learning more and more, and I'm hoping to encourage you to make a few discoveries of your own.
There's plenty of work to be done, but for now, maybe that's the answer for all of us: focus on the details to make whatever it is the best it can be, but remember to look up, too. To check in to see where we are and where we're going ... so we can spot the turn up ahead ... and the light streaming through the trees.
And maybe a bird or two.
Making something from nothing
My mother used to make lampshades. Mostly hand-stitched silk shades with fringe. They're beautiful. She also did a turn with paper shades featuring cutouts as well as vintage florals, butterflies, and birds collaged on parchment papers.
She no longer makes shades but still has the vintage papers. When she and my sister were clearing things, they asked if I might be interested in them.
While I usually use painted sheet music in my collage work, I'm really enjoying the challenge and change of working with different materials.
I'm not sure if it's a fanciful flower or butterfly floral? Doesn't really matter, I can't stop.
Yesterday I created more. And in the process relished the satisfaction of making.
For well over an hour I sat snipping papers, switching one flower for another, digging deep into the pile of papers, tilting my head from left to right to analyze the layout before settling on the best possible arrangement, then gluing things in place.
It took most of the afternoon before I talked myself into sitting down at my desk to get started, and am so glad I finally got there.
Of course gluing papers in place may not be your idea of fun, but whatever it is, I encourage you to sit down, stand up, or do whatever it takes to get going. I think you'll be glad you did.
Unsolicited but welcome advice from my neighbor, Charlie
It wasn't the first bit of advice from Charlie, but I remember it because I realized how much I had to learn.
"Them there are pole beans." he said, "You need to put a pole in the ground so they can climb."
We were standing in the backyard admiring (well, I was admiring) my first vegetable garden. Things had started to sprout and Charlie spotted the green beans.
While I was well aware they were green beans, I missed the "pole" part. He was right. They needed poles to climb.
I pushed three poles into the ground and watched them twist, turn, and reach new heights every week.
The next summer he got me with a bit of a joke.
It was this time of year, early July, when he came out back and said, "July fourth's come and gone, time to put the storm windows back on."
My eyes widened and his twinkled as he let loose a big smile and a chuckle.
It was a bit of an exaggeration, but there was some truth in what he said. Summer is fleeting. How do we make the most of it?
What are your must-have and want-to-do activities this summer?
How do you remember and squeeze in all the things you want to do?
Use Tinplate, the new activity journal.
Use Tinplate, to find inspiration, track, and record the best that summer has to offer. It's an activity journal filled with stories and prompts to boost your curiosity and encourage you to do more with the time you have between the things you have to do for the things you want to do.
It's available now!
I think you'll like it.
With the exception of the issue I bought a few months ago, the only time I read Highlights magazine was at the dentist's office when I was a kid. I loved the idea of stories and projects and puzzles in a magazine.
It was the same with the early editions of Martha Stewart's Living magazine ... a curated collection of ideas, inspiration ... and activities.
The transformative power of hobbies ...
When I was 14 years old, home alone and bored, I discovered the transformative power of activities. Of doing ... something.
That day it was making oatmeal cookies.
Since then I've had a go at sewing (definitely a good skill to have), fishing (not for me), ice skating (no camel spins or leaps, but I cut a fairly good figure eight), skiing (all set with that), snowshoeing (a keeper), gardening (which way to the farmers market?), hiking (I'll take a day hike, but there will be no Appalachian Trail for me), and lots of other things.
Some experiences (like letter writing, baking, and collage) became long-lasting efforts, others one-and-done.
But all along, what I've enjoyed most is how the doing makes me feel.
Be they long-lasting, short-lived, or complete failures, our hobbies, passions, and distractions leave us better informed, more confident, and happier for having tried.
And because of that, I believe it's in the doing, the learning, and exploring where we find our best selves.
What is Tinplate?
Tinplate, a 32-page activity book that feels like a long letter packed with ideas for things to do and try.
Ideas I think you'll like.
Why the name Tinplate?
Tinplate is a layer of tin applied to steel or other metal to protect against rust and corrosion. And that, I believe, is what our hobbies, passions, and distractions do for us. They are a layer of joy, distraction, and renewed curiosity between us and a sometimes hectic world.
I believe hobbies, passions, and distractions are the waystations of life. They offer the respite and opportunity we need to do the things we want to do ... in between the things we have to do.
July is Anti-boredom Month, the perfect time to launch Tinplate ... get your copy today!
If you're working on a project, hang in there. Try something different. But most of all, don't give up. Give it time.
This cactus is my only plant. I'm fairly certain the only reason it survives is that it is a cactus and it doesn't need a lot of water. And that's a good thing, because I forget to water it.
All the time.
Dry as a bone when I take it down off the shelf. So I water it and talk to it and earnestly try once again to remember not to let it go so long.
It was a little starter plant when I brought it home. Just a few sprigs. But it was healthy. It blossomed and flowered ... and maybe even more than once a year, I think.
Is that possible?
When it grew too large for the starter pot, I re-potted it ... and then again when it outgrew that pot. It did well and continued to flower. Year after year.
Until it didn't.
It just stopped flowering and I don't know why. I talked to it, I paid more attention to watering and fertilizing, and did some research. But nothing. For years.
I tried moving it from one room to another, some with more light, some with less, but it never made a difference. Last year I put it in yet another location, high up on the top of a book case.
And something shifted.
It came back to life with a whole bouquet's worth of flowers. More plentiful, joyful, pink, and beautiful than ever.
Was it a fluke? Would it flower again? I wasn't sure.
It was not a fluke. It blossomed again this year with another round of fireworks ... new blossoms opening day after day.
I'm not sure what made it stop flowering, and I'm not sure what made it blossom again, but it reinforces the idea that we have to hang in there. Keep trying different things until something clicks.
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.
Where words and paper come together