Tuesday, October 17, 2017


In the South, we talk a lot about blessings. It's standard for sports and entertainment figures to talk about being blessed when they are awarded, we say "bless you!" when we hear somebody sneeze.  Fast food workers tell us to have a blessed day as they hand over our fries, and the phrase "bless your heart" doesn't always mean "you are a damned fool." Sometimes it means "I'm sorry, and I love you.""Bless" is a sacred word, a word from God and faith, a word that also means, for us, a blanket of grace and protection and benevolence that settles around our shoulders and keeps us safe.

I count among my blessings, then, the fact that I am surrounded by a wonderfully diverse group of people...MY people. My friemily, who exist in spaces where I can touch their faces, and in spaces where we can only dream of hugs as we exchange love over the internet. My friemily contains people of color and people who are in the LGBTQ community. I love people who are of varied faiths and no faiths, who are American citizens and who live oceans apart from me. I am loved by men who shoot turkeys for Thanksgiving dinners prepared by their wives, and by women who are fiercely, breathtakingly, gloriously unattached to that traditional picture, who rage against it. These people whom I love are blessings to me.

But those blessings sometimes come with a curse, a thorn twisted, cunning and sharp, in the threads of the blanket, waiting to pierce my skin and wake me up. Maybe the curse is the blessing. Maybe it's all the same.

There's a video going viral on social media right now, one more way for people to try to explain privilege to the privileged. People line up on a field for a race, only to be held back by things that they can't control, mainly having to do with financial stability. If you'd like to look at the video, you can find it here. It's pretty good, really, a nice little exercise using kinetic learning that seems to be reaching some folks. The focus is on race, a throw-away line near the end, and so it leaves some things out. It leaves out gender (often a factor in economic mobility), it leaves out religion (also a factor depending on one's community), and it leaves out sexual orientation (which the current administration is now saying is not protected by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in terms of employment.) It also leaves out the implications of culture, and the damaging effects that privilege, specifically white, heteronormative privilege, can have on our culture and our selves.

Yesterday, my brother and his partner were targeted for being gay in public. That's the only thing they were doing "wrong":  they were existing in a grocery store as a homosexual couple. It started with a family giggling and pointing at them. It ended with a manager putting his hands on my brother, calling him a faggot. It ended with police officers treating my brother, who called 911 because he felt threatened, like a suspect.

Privilege isn't just being able to win the race of life. It's being able to go to a grocery store and get a candy bar without people pointing out that you aren't like the majority. It's calling the police and knowing they will believe and protect you. If you are a person who doesn't ever think twice about those things, you are privileged. If you are almost always a member of the majority in any situation, you have privilege. This is galling for some folks.

It's galling for me, when just yesterday I was laying claim to the Me Too hashtag. As a woman and a girl, I've been sexually harassed and assaulted. My gender removes some of the privilege my skin color and sexual orientation lends me. But even though I flinch under that thorn, I can shift the blanket. I can snuggle up safely under a different corner of my blessings. Even my brother, who is in pain this morning, for whom I want to burn down the world right now, even he can shift his blanket and find safety in his color, in his gender, in his economic stability.

There are people in my friemily whose blankets are so thorn-twisted that they live their lives in discomfort. They are hurting, they are angry, they are agitated by the pain. Can you imagine trying to find rest under a blanket filled with thorns? I can't, and because I love these folks, it is my responsibility to ease their pain, to share my blanket. Better yet, it's my responsibility to pick out the thorns from their blanket. It's my responsibility to make sure that the blanket factory is discarding the thorns before they become part of the fabric.

That is what is happening in our country right now. Thorns are being woven into the fabric of our lives. Racism and sexism have always been there, tangled in the warp and weft of our history. Some of us bear scars from generations of scratches. Homophobia and religious bigotry have marked some of us, too. But it seems worse right now. It seems impossible to find a soft spot, a piece of comfort as the duly-elected president and his administration drive thorn after thorn into the skins of our brothers and sisters. It feels, to be honest, that regular citizens feel empowered to hurt others. Their prejudice is okay--it's protected by their privilege. Every day, there's another story of a casual racial epithet, a religious slur scrawled on a building that's not a church. Every day, there's another story about a member of the president's cabinet or one of his nominees or politicians he's endorsed or people he's called "fine" wanting to hang gay people, or outlaw Islam, or prevent women from voting. Everyday, the blanket feels coarser, pricklier, harder to breathe under.

In the South, the weather is finally turning.  The air is growing cooler, Visiting Season has begun, and we're drawing closer to the ones we love.  We are blessing the season's first sneezes, and saying the blessing over autumn feasts, and counting our blessings with thanks.  We are drawing blankets over our loved ones' shoulders, snuggling closer, loving a bit more tenderly. I hope that this change of season will bring a change of heart, too. I hope that we'll start looking more closely for the wounds our loved ones carry, and that we'll be willing to remove the thorns that caused them.

I hope we can learn to be blessings and not curses. I hope it's not too late to heal.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Personal and the Political

I have to take a break from social media, because it is making me sick.  All I've been doing is reading political posts and sharing political stories and articles about intersectional feminism and presidential overstep, and I'm feeling exhausted and shaky.  I told a friend that I needed to take a break, and while I knew that was my privilege speaking, I just couldn't see how actual ACTIVISTS did the activism without dying.

Stephen's response:  "That's probably the goal."

I know many of you will be glad to see the posts stop for a few days, but before I go, lemme just share a little something with you.

Many of my FB friends knew me in high school.  While I understand that people undergo great changes in life, it cannot be surprising to those people that I'm a fan of discussing politics.  I was in DEBATE, for heaven's sake.  I didn't take that class for the free legal pads and travel.  I was in that class because, as I told my mentor, teacher, and queen, Sandra Worthington Silvers, "I like to argue."  Debate class put a fine point on my arguing skills, introduced me to a wide variety of political realms, and helped me understand how policy affects everyday human lives.  So if you are shocked that I want to discuss politics, or share articles that introduce concepts that apply to policy in America, it's probably because I was too busy being a debate nerd for you to actually know me in high school.  This is me.  Hi.  Nice to meet you.

Additionally, many of my FB friends know because I taught THEM in high school.  Y'all know I coached the debate team, right?  Y'all know that I taught literature from the perspective that literature is an author's reaction to the effects of policy on human life, right?  I mean, maybe you don't.  Maybe you were too busy putting on lip balm, or chattering with your bff, or worrying about, like, whether your hair was flipping correctly after the careful application of a stinky baseball cap (and fixing to earn yourself a detention,) BUT...that's how I taught it, because that's what it is.  People get all gushy about the Romantics, because they talk about flowers and beauty, but they were also writing in opposition to the Industrial Revolution AND the failed French Revolution.  (Seriously, I still have my notes if y'all want to have a little convo about Wordsworth.)

My point is that my political posts might drive you nuts, but they can't be a surprise.  You knew who I was when you sent me or accepted a friend request, ammiright?

Speaking of friends, I think that we have two critical spheres of influence that include both who influence us and who we influence.  The first one is personal:  the god or gods we worship, our families, our closest friends.  These influences are intimately entwined, since we grew up with our families who gave us a religious foundation.  We attend church or go to school with or live next door to our people, and it is those folks that we "visit" with on Facebook.  We put the pictures of our kids up so they can see them even if they live hours (or continents) away, we share recipes because we know they like strawberries or pickles or cake (no, I'm not pregnant.)  We send prayers because we know that they believe like we believe, and that they need them, and we ask for prayers for our kids to do well in a swim meet or on a college exam or on a mission trip because we know those prayers will be sent and we know we believe that they are sent to the same god.

This personal and seemingly vastly more important sphere (to you) is the one that has the least affect on somebody else's life.  I love looking at pictures of your pretty mantel or your dog or your babies.  I am always up to sending you prayers or good vibes.  I think your recipes are FAB.


None of those things change my life or the life of the gods and people in MY personal sphere of influence.  Your religious affiliation, your children, your recipes might make me ponder or smile or eat a good meal, but they won't directly influence the way I enjoy my life in any intrinsic way, unless you are in my own closest circle of friends.

What is WEIRD about living in a society is that the secondary sphere, the one that we might feel doesn't touch us as much or that we only think about once or twice a year or every two years or every four years...that's the one that actually causes CHANGES in our day to day living.  And while I know that many people believe that God affects actual change in our lives, and I respect that, this is not a universal truth that all people outside of your personal sphere believe.

So let's say that there is a gay pagan living two states away from you.  This person has LITERALLY no affect on your personal sphere.  You don't know this person.  This person is a vegan, has no small children, and doesn't believe in the same god as you. Nothing this person ever does, in all probability will EVER have an affect on you.  She probably won't ever even pass by your town, because she prefers the mountains to the beach.

Now, here's where things get kind of whackadoo.  Because of her personal sphere, she's going to vote for people who will help her continue the way of life that makes her the happiest and gives her the most security.  For her, that means voting for the candidate that will protect her right to stay married to her spouse, help her continue to keep the air and soil and water around her as clean as possible, help her keep the job that puts her vegan food on the table.  Her being married literally has no affect on you.  Neither does her job or diet.  Her wanting to have a candidate who has pushes for clean air and soil and water WILL affect you, but if the candidate manages those things, it will be a positive for you.

But you...YOUR vote DOES affect her life, it does affect her personal sphere, intimately.  If you vote for a candidate because he is (or claims to be) a Christian and he uses his beliefs to influence legislation to marginalize her religion, she is affected.  If you vote for a candidate who uses that faith to guide marriage legislation, she is affected.  If you vote for a candidate who believes that a smaller federal government is the only way to go, she, as a federal employee, is intimately affected.  If your candidate believes that climate change is ridiculous and that companies will take care of the water and air and soil without any government intervention, when the climate changes or the water and air and soil become tainted beyond repair, we ALL will be affected.

And it would go both ways, I assume, if we lived in a different world than the one in which all of our spheres jangle.

I've read many posts this week about people needing to respect other people's feelings posted by folks who voted for a man who literally doesn't care about other people's feelings.  That's one of the draws for him, right?  He says whatever he thinks.  I've read many posts from folks who think that liberals want things for "free," which ignores the costly legal battles and personal decades-long struggles many minorities have waged in our country to get the same rights and protections as others, let alone the same pay scale.

The fact that you can't understand that the beliefs you cultivate in your personal sphere influence the rights of others outside of that sphere is why I post political things. The fact that people are angry and worried and need to explain how they feel, what policies are going to change their personal spheres,  and their need to protect those within their personal sphere is why I post political things.  It isn't because I'm trying to make you mad.  It isn't because I'm trying to bore you.  It isn't because I don't love to read about your kids and your recipes and your needs.

It's that my personal sphere is going to be crushed by your vote.  It will be hurt by your vote.  It will lose rights because of your vote.  Any prayers you send are going to operate in a world in which Donald Trump is president, and in which he will influence legislation to take away my brother's health insurance.  Any pictures of your baby that you post will exist in a place in which Mike Pence believes that my brother's homosexuality can be therapeutically removed from his being.  Any recipes of yours that I cook will be eaten by a child who might have his access to public schools jeopardized.

That isn't political.

That's personal.

Monday, November 28, 2016

I Will Show You Fear in a Handful of Dust

It's dry here.  It hasn't rained since September, and at our house, that rain was a spattering, a brief settling of the reddish dust that sifts over everything as the almost constant wind blows.

Everything is dead, or dying.

The tender herbs are gone.  I watered the basil and catnip for weeks, watching as the heat and wind blasted and withered the leaves, making them bitter.  The thyme went.  The lemon grass, the lemon balm, the tarragon.  I finally gave up on the basil when a weekend unwatered left it exhausted and limp.  It curled up on itself and died.

I tried to transfer the spicy marjoram into the big garden, but it withered away.  The squirrels tore the the mulching hay away, and pawed at the chives, desperate for water.  The last bit of chocolate mint alive in the yard sits in a cup of stagnant water on the patio.  I'm afraid to transfer it into the desert the big garden is.

Only the lavender and Mama Rosemary, depleted, are alive in the herb bed.  I water her and worry at the yellow tips of her leaves.

The big garden has been neglected for a month.  One of the blueberry bushes died.  The other droops, nitrogen-starved and parched.

The raspberry bushes sport crisp-edged leaves.  All but five of the strawberry plants are gone.  I bend the leafless branches of the pomegranate tree, wondering if I'm imagining that it bends as if it were alive.  These plants are half buried in hay, the only thing sheltering the soil.  The last Roma tomato is mulching itself as it collapses into decay.  I can't bring myself to pick a single green or yellow fruit, even when frost threatens. The Thai peppers shriveled on the vine.  Maybe I'll harvest some for seed, I think, but I don't believe myself.

There is no fall garden this year.  The rows that should be silver-green with collards and broccoli and lettuce are little sand dunes, marked with pinecones scalped by the damned squirrels.

The muscadines vines feel like brittle bones under my hands.  They need to be moved, staked, pruned.  I'm afraid sand will spill from the cuts my shears make.

The stinkweed stands like an old man in the midst of the ruin, clinging to its wishes.  It will not let go.

 Everywhere, life is passing.  It goes into dust, covered in dust.  It is just giving up, dead before it hits the ground.  Only the hawthorne blazes like an autumn tree should.  I whisper to it amidst the thorns. "Come back," I murmur, pricking my fingers, an offering to a silent god.  The blood is brighter than the leaves.  

As I edit these pictures, sharpening and sizing, I start to lighten them, turn up the saturation to give them more color, the kind of color for which I'm known.  But that wouldn't be the truth. The truth is, there is little color here.  The truth is, I feel colorless:   muted and quiet and slipping into a dusty sort of despair.

Years ago, Will wrote papers about how inspiration was drying up.  He traced the path from Tintern Abbey to Dover Beach and wound up silent and sad in Eliot's Wasteland.  That's how I feel.

My favorite time of year, which is supposed to be full of gentle, spiced winds and damp, cool mornings that energize me and set me to dreaming, is wearing me down.  I smell the smoke from the mountains burning, and watch the fires of hatred kindling again from one shore to the other and feel as if I am ancient.  I am ancient and trapped in a labyrinth of desiccated brambles, chased by the ghosts of wicked men forcing themselves into the present skin of wicked men.

They say rain is coming.  I stand in the wind and spit dust from my mouth and pray it is enough.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Making Thyme...Biscuits

First, I just wanted to say that I'm doing okay as far as the political debate addiction goes.  It almost killed me yesterday when the AP article about the Clinton Foundation was tossed around, but I persevered and posted a picture of the kitten.  Yay!

Whilst trying to avoid writing about poor journalism and the gullibility of society during a political campaign politics, I decided to turn my attention to my herb garden and come up with something good for dinner.  The herb garden has suffered almost as much as the rest of the garden this year with the awful heat and dryness, but Will dumps Frodo's water bowl out every morning over the top of it, so it's a little bit better.  I did lose the dill and parsley (between the zebra swallowtails and summer in middle Georgia, my dill always struggles) and one of the sages, but everything else is at least trying hard.  Only the lemon thyme and lavender are truly flourishing, and so I decided to grab a few sprigs of the thyme to add to some biscuits for supper.

When I first got married, I kept a mental list of all the things I wanted to do differently than my mother, because I was twenty-four and that's what one does.  One of them, for some bizarro reason, was to find a different biscuit recipe.  To this day, I can't figure out why.  My mother's biscuits are small, round pieces of Heaven and to claim otherwise would be to lie like a rug.  I went through about seventeen different recipes before realizing I was being an idiot and going back to her recipe.  I do make a few changes:  I use all purpose flour instead of self-rising and I use buttermilk in place of whole milk.  I also knead the dough lightly eleven times (I don't know why eleven...it's just the magic number) in the bowl and she doesn't knead it at all.  I think it makes better layers to knead it. ANYWAY, I used that recipe (found below) as the base for these luscious little yum yums.

First, I put the thyme on a plate and took pictures of it because it was beaaaaauuuutiful (please sing this as you read it.  I'll wait while you go back and sing.)  Lemon thyme is a more yellow green than English thyme and last year, I actually had a few variegated sprigs in the clump in the garden, although none this year.  Boolaid.   It's still beautiful, really, and it has a nice lemony scent and flavor (but it's not sour, which is always so odd. Like, you expect it to be sour because...lemons, but no.)

Next, I stripped the leaves from the stem.  In a stew or sauce, I might not strip the leaves, but the stems are a little tough from the heat (or something...I sound knowledgeable, though, don't I?) and I only wanted tender bits.  Then I took a picture, because beaaaaaauuuuuttiful!

I minced the leaves next.  Thyme leaves are very small and probably would have been fine whole. However, I really wanted to get as much lemon flavor into the biscuits as possible.  In case you were wondering, I used about a tablespoon and a half of thyme.  I probably will use more, maybe two tablespoons, packed, next time.  Then I cut up my butter and compounded it with the thyme.  (This is a fancy way of saying "smashed it up with a fork until it was all blended.)  Before doing so, I fell on the floor with the beauty of the green leaves against the yellow butter and white plate and red table. When I got up, I took pictures.  YOU WILL NOW SEE TWO ANGLES OF THYME AND BUTTER.  (It's okay, you're going to see two angles of biscuits in a minute.)

Right?  How beautiful is that?  Then I made a car out of compounded butter.  Not really, but it sort of was shaped that way, and so I took a picture of it.  Because I'm not right in the head.

You know it looks like a speckledy car.

After it chilled in the fridge a while, I cut it into the flour of my regular biscuit dough and made the dough normally.  Except that it was kind of speckledy.  And also, I cut the biscuits with a tiny round cutter I usually use for making crackers.  I made them small because if they tasted bad, I figured we wouldn't be as sad if each biscuit was only two bites.  (We take our biscuits seriously.)  Be advised that my hands are always this wrinkly.  They have been since I was a little girl.  I'm finally growing into the age of my hands, I guess.  Huh.  Also, yes, I do always hold my pinky out when I cut biscuits.  Because I am FANCY.

We had these last night with supper along with salmon, rice, and steamed carrots.  They were a big hit.  We decided that they would be awesome with a little cheese thrown in...maybe parmesan or something kind of subtle.  And I think I'll try to make shortcakes out of them to serve with strawberries or blueberries later...it's just adding sugar to the dough, essentially.  I couldn't take pictures because it clouded up around sunset and the light died, so I saved out some really pretty samples for breakfast and picture taking this morning.  I did find that the lemon taste was stronger today, but the texture was the same as next-day biscuits always is (not as great as fresh), so I think I might try to refrigerate the cut-out biscuits covered for a few hours or even overnight to try to let the herb oils get all infused in the dough.  (I don't think "infused" is the right term.  Permeated into? Something like that...) In any case, I paired the biscuits with homemade blueberry jelly and strawberry jam and they were faaaaantastic.  

And beautiful!  Aren't they pretty??  Many thanks to Phil Smith for my inlaid serving board, which I use for everything from staging biscuits to serving cheese. You can find his work and the work of other talented Georgia artisans in the link above.

For those interested, Mama's biscuit recipe (with small changes by me) is below.  Don't even bother trying to find a better one.  You won't and then you'll be sad because of all the wasted thyme.

Get it?  You get it?

Sigh.  Go make some biscuits, y'all.  Add some thyme to your butter and tell me how it goes...

The Best Biscuit Recipe
                    printable recipe
Preheat oven to 450 degrees

2 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt (a little less if you're using salted butter)
1/4 cup (half a stick) cold butter
1/2-2/3 cup buttermilk (depending on humidity)

1.  Mix flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.
2.  Cut butter into cubes and use a pastry blender or fork to cut into the 
3.  Making a small well in the center, add buttermilk 1/2 cup at a time.  Mix
     with a fork, using a light hand.
4.  When the dough is almost completely mixed, but there is still flour on the
     sides of the bowl, knead eleven times to pick up flour and create layers.
     I knead by folding the dough gently in half and pressing it lightly to the 
     sides of the bowl.
5.  Turn out onto a floured surface (I use about 1/8 cup of flour) and roll to 
     about 3/4 to 1 inch thickness.  Cut out with one smooth motion--DO NOT
     TWIST your cutter 
6.  Place on a cookie sheet so that the biscuits are not touching, but are very 
7.  Brush with melted butter.
8.  Bake in a 450 degree oven for 9-10 minutes, or until lightly browned.  

Tuesday, August 23, 2016


This morning I got a call from my brother.

"Dude," he said.  "Why?"

That's all he had to say, because I immediately knew what he was talking about, which was that I had engaged in a Facebook political debate with somebody with whom I should know by now I should not.

"It's like a drug!" I wailed, and I was completely serious.

Political debate is, for me, like cigarettes.  I smoked from the time I was eighteen until the year before I got pregnant with River, which is a lot of years.  Fifteenish, with a couple of years off for Jeffrey's pregnancy and the year or so after that.  I didn't enjoy it.  I didn't enjoy the taste of cigarettes at all.  I didn't like the way they made my lungs and sinuses feel.  I didn't like the way they made me smell.  I didn't like the money I spent on them.  BUT.  I also loooooved smoking on the first warm day of spring, driving with the windows down.  I enjoyed smoking my way through long phone conversations with far-away friends or chats around a fire pit.  I liked kicking back with the hubs at the end of a long day with a companionable smoke on the back patio.  BUT.  I knew cigarettes were bad for me, I knew smoking would eventually kill me, and I wanted to quit for years.

I don't enjoy political debates on Facebook.  I don't like it when loved ones call me a "libtard" or smear the candidate I support.  I don't like it when I spend precious minutes researching non-biased information to share only to have the person on the screen say, "You are a shill."  Or "I have to go with my gut on this."  I don't enjoy having people I respect treat me badly or show me sides of themselves that I truly, truly don't think they'd show me in person.  (Because, if they did, we couldn't be friends.)  AND YET--there is a part of me that just craves it.  I crave the clash.  I crave the research.  I crave the moment when I've done my research and the person I'm debating has nothing to say and either shuts up or insults me.

But...it's not good for me.  It's just NOT.

The negativity can drag me down and put me in the dumps all day long.  I can get so sidetracked on researching and coming up with zingers and comebacks that I will look up and realize that it's lunchtime or time to go pick up the kids and nothing has been done around the house.   It's probably not good for business given that I live in a conservative (NOT an insult, just a truth) area.  And I've come to realize that Facebook is just not the place (FOR ME) to have the debates.  Debates should be done in person, with people who are just as informed as you are, and who are not willing to insult you to your face.  I've discussed this before, on Facebook, on the old blog, with random people in Walmart--it's just NOT GOOD for me to debate on Facebook, and yet I keep going back to it.  Seriously, it has to stop.

So, what's a girl to do who loves politics and who, moreover, believes that political discussion is healthy for a growing republic?

I...uh...don't know.

Currently, I've decided that it's best to just stop, at least until the election is over.  I'm going to try to go cold turkey, like I did when I quit smoking the last time.  Just stop it with the political stuff.  Post only about gardening and writing and the HORROR that I feel that the lady who wrote for Breaking Bad  is going to be writing a reboot of Anne of Green Gables.  (I feel like the raspberry cordial scene could go dreadfully, dreadfully DARK.)

Or...my new kitten.  LOOK!  Here she is:

Her name is Lyra and she is about ten weeks old.  She is insane.  She wrestles with my potted plants, is the Destroyer of Lego Worlds, plays with rocks she knocks off my desk, and would STILL make a better president than Donald Trump.  

Recovery is a long process.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Resolved: I Will Overcome the Hartwell Syndrome

It will surprise none of you who know me even a little bit that I do things differently than other people.  It's part of that whole "folded fitted sheet thing."  That, or I'm a total bad-ass rebel.

That, or I'm a little whackatoodly.

It could go a lot of ways, really.

The point here is that, if given an opportunity to go down a completely different path, unless somebody can convince me that I'm not under any threat of A:  spiders, B:  tornadoes, or C:  lately, it's been bears, but it vacillates between those and pumas...well, I'll take that path.

Consider, if you will, resolutions.  I'm speaking of the New Year's type of resolutions, the kind wherein you vow to eat better and lose weight while there are still Christmas cookies in the house and you have to get through the championship games, Valentine's Day, and Easter before the weather heats up enough for you to get out and walk a sensible thirty minutes a day.  I fail at these resolutions miserably, usually, because it's fricking cold for two months and I am too busy hibernating to be any good to anybody, much less MY body.  So in a fit of rebellion (or whackatoodliness), last year, I decided to shake things up a bit.

Instead of pinning my "new year" on the dead of winter, I pinned it on my birthday.

Self-centered, much, Heather?

Yes.  But I think it's OKAY to be self-centered here, because...hello...it's MY resolution, right?  I'm not asking my children or husband to jump aboard my fast train to awesomeness (unless they want to.)  And I'm certainly not going to ask a bajillion other people to join me in starting the new year by shivering and starving.

My birthday is in June, y'all.  Nobody shivers in middle Georgia in June unless she caught some kind of insect-borne illness or her husband turned up the AC again while she wasn't looking.

Also, my resolution is not related to losing weight or getting healthy.  I mean, that would be nice and I'm working on doing that in a hit or miss kind of fashion, but I haven't set it as a goal for myself.   Instead, I am working on unfinished business.

There is a running joke in my family that we trot out from time to time whenever some project gets abandoned.  We call it "The Hartwell Syndrome" after a beloved and procrastinating uncle, and it has been applied to a varied list of half-finished attempts including:  houses, landscaping, out-buildings, swimming pool pavers, gardens, cars, and furniture.  I have used the term exclusively toward my male relatives, but I have come to accept that I, too, suffer from The Hartwell Syndrome.  I'm not sure if there's a cure for this disease, BUT I have given myself a year to try and work that mess out of my system, beginning with the following:

This would be my "cookbook."  No, I am not kidding.  Yes, I wish I was.  It is basically a smudged, sticky, unsorted stack of recipes in page protectors gathered from websites, emails, and magazine pages that grew too big for the binder I put it in. I go back to these recipes all the time and constantly find myself shuffling through the main courses looking for cookies (the ones here, btw, are faaaaanttttaaaassstic) and weeping bitter tears over my lack of organization.  So one project I'm working on is putting all the recipes into one file and getting it printed out somewhere.  Anybody have any good sources for cookbook printing?  I don't need anything fancy, just better than...um...this pitiful display.

Also in need of attention:  

The crochet bag, filled with at least four different projects in need of completion.  The one on top left is a blanket I'm doing for my bedroom.  It's almost finished, but will require that I purchase a few more skeins before it's done, which will mean I'll have to go to a craft store, which will mean somebody will have to come with me to prevent me from getting something else to start a new project.  I NEED somebody to drag me away from the paper aisle.  Volunteers?  The beautiful swirl of rainbow colors is the fabric strips I sewed together to crochet a rug for my kitchen.  Alas, having sewed and ironed the entire thing, I discovered that my giant rug-crocheting hook has disappeared. Because of course it has.  Once I find it, I think I can get this and the blanket finished up before the fall sets in, when I will move on to...

A super-secret cross-stitch project for Will.  I'd tell you what it was, but then I'd have to kill you.  Or at least, you know, yell strenuously at you not to tell him.  I should go ahead and tell you that, yes, that is a King Arthur Flour catalog on the table behind my cross-stitch bag and, yes, one of the recipes within is in the stack of recipes on my desk.  Also, yes, my cross-stitch bag is one of those wine bags you get at grocery stores.  Make whatever assumptions you need to make, my friends.

Moving on:  

This is a two-part Hartwell Syndrome catastrophe in that 1:  the pile of clothes on top of the tub is actually a pile of Jeffrey's old tee-shirts which I will be making into a blanket for us.  I love tee-shirt quilts.  But also, 2:  the tub is big.  It's one of those tubs into which you could conceivably hide the body of a friend who was told about a secret project.  (Gah.  Am I macabre today or what?  I blame the low pressure system sitting over us right now.  Or the chigger's I picked up during the weekend photo shoot I did.)  Anyway, this big tub is filled to the brim with all of the craft junk I didn't throw away during the Purge of the 41st Birthday Resolution (more on that later) and that would not fit into the smaller tubs which are stowed neatly in the office cabinets.  It's got fabric, clipboards, various pieces of felt, doilies, random bits of doodads for jewelry...it's stuffed.  My PLAN is to get it empty by Christmas, but to be honest, I think that I might be feverish when I say that.  Pretty sure I have chiggeritis.

I've set aside an hour a day to work on the recipes (so...many...recipes) and have made myself a Word template and everything and I can work on the crocheting and cross-stitching sitting in the car rider line waiting for the kidlets.  After I tackle the blanket and tub, I'll turn my attention to shoring up projects around the house that are still unfinished, like the laundry room shelving system and the kitchen pantry door.  And then...a year will have passed and I'll be coming up with a different resolution, filled with the pride that comes from defeating a hereditary plague and bringing joy and completion to my loved ones.

Or something like that.

What about you?  Think something like this would work for you?  Hit me up in comments about your most successful resolution strategies!

Friday, February 26, 2016


A few days ago, right as the Great Home Overhaul of 2016 began, I sat down at the computer to clear up a few files.  There was actually a problem with a client's photo gallery and I needed to get to the bottom of it, the kids were still asleep, and I had a few hours to spare.  I noticed immediately that something funky was going on.  There was an error message on the screen and it was running all catawhampus. After a few attempts to get rid of the rainbow circle of Mac confusion, I pressed the power button for ten seconds and started over.

At least, I tried to start over.

The Macbook, she was not starting over.  She was, however, doing a great impression of something that doesn't work at all.  Given the vastness of the home projects in front of me and with a sinking feeling, I just closed the cover and got to work emptying the kitchen cabinets onto the kitchen table so we could sand the empty cabinets in preparation for painting.  But, I reasoned, I had just run a diagnostic test, and everything was fine.  I was good, I thought.

I thought wrong.

Wednesday, it came to light that my hard drive had suffered an unexpected, unexplained, and absolutely catastrophic crash.  There was nothing to be done but to replace it.

What could not be replaced, and could not be recovered by the folks at the Apple store, was the data from my old hard drive.

*Pause here to allow everybody to gasp in horror.*

I tried to be light about it:  all of my clients' photos (except for the ones in the messed up gallery) were in online storage for ten years.  Most of my pictures and documents were on disks or external hard drives.  I subscribe to the Creative Cloud, so I still had access to Photoshop, Bridge, and Lightroom, if I ever decide to learn it.  I didn't lose everything in a catastrophic fire.  I didn't lose a limb.  It was okay.

Except, of course, that I keep running into...glitches.  Yes, I have Photoshop, but what I don't have is five or so years of actions and settings that I built as I learned:  all of my photo processing "stuff" is gone and has to be reprogrammed.  Yes, I have MOST of my pictures, but some are mysteriously missing from my disks:  2011 and 2013 have huge gaps in them and in those gaps lurk some of my favorite pics that now can only be viewed via Facebook or my creaky, probably about to implode old Dell (copying those to an external hard drive now.)  2015 and most of 2014 is gone, unless I edited the pictures and loaded them onto the online gallery I built for my family.  All of the pictures of the house I took for my blog and Instagram, the "befores" waiting for "afters..."  gone.   New logos and marketing info...gone.  It's all just GONE.

*Pause for me to clutch at my chest dramatically and cry out to the heavens.*

I gave myself a day to mourn and glump and berate myself for FOOLISHLY not backing up my hard drive every week, after every download from every camera disk, every time I changed my logo, uploaded a product...EVERY TIME.  Foolish, Heather.  Jeez.

Then...I took a deep breath and rebooted.

The truth is, after five years, I was ready to change the direction of my photography business.  I love working with folks, and I adore most of my clients, but I felt my work getting stale.  I fell behind in editing because I was just simply bored and could do it in my sleep.  NOT that my clients weren't beautiful, awesome, great human beings, but because I just felt bleah about doing the same old thing over and over again.  I was already lining up a shift to a new style, a new pricing system, a new delivery system, a stronger marketing plan.  Now, I have no excuses to fall back into the "old way" because the "old way" is gone.  Literally, it is not there anymore.  Heather Ray Photography is officially rebooting and will be launching anew in the next couple of weeks.  (Thankfully, I was smart enough to order the items for my logo design from Creative Market, which offers online access to your purchases for a good long while.)

Another truth:  after years of stops and starts and weird backward loop the loops, I'm FINALLY on track in terms of what I want my home and work life to be.  I've lost lots of links to recipes I've never tried, projects that interested me, self-help articles that I was saving to...help myself.   I've lost bookmarks to sites that I thought would make me more marketable, that would make me sound more hip or smart or whatever.   All I can say is, "Thank goodness."  Those bookmarks and recipes and storage cabinets made out of leftover turf scavenged from golf courses were weighing me down, man.  They were constantly making me question myself, constantly making me try to be cooler or meaner or more tear-inducing.

GAH.  I'm just me.  I say dumb stuff.  I say smart stuff.  I build cool stuff and completely fail at planting cucumbers successfully.  I can crochet a lovely blanket and wind up crying over learning how to knit.  And it's okay.  If you don't love me for my perfect imperfections (sing it with me, now), that's cool.  It won't hurt my feelings and you don't have to spend a lot of time framing a perfect response to something I said that was wrong or angered you or made you think I was a spawn of the Dark One.

Buh bye, bookmarks and websites filled with things that made me want to be more awesome than I already am.  You were cool and pretty, but I've rebooted and I'm doing okay without you.

In fact, I'm doing just PEACHILY without you.  The Willster and I have come up with a one year plan to get the house all spiffied up, the kids and I are working on the garden and planning for chickens, and I didn't eat ice cream for breakfast today.  (I ate it for lunch yesterday, but...you know...protein.)  My forty-second year is ending up awash in productivity.

Now, don't get me wrong:  I've saved the old, crashed hard drive and maybe one day when I become an insanely successful something or other and people are throwing buckets of money at my head to do something fantastic, I will be able to find a tech wizard to get my pictures off of there, because that loss still stings.  But...I lived those moments already.  They will always be with me and I can see them any time I want to by closing my eyes.  Sure, I'd like to show y'all a picture of my table before I paint it and make it faaabulous, but most of you have already seen it in pictures of biscuits I post on Instagram.  Don't follow me on Instagram?  You should totally do it.  You can see pictures of biscuits!  On my table!

Said table currently looks like this:  

 I'm rebooting.

Sometimes it takes a while.