Taking a break today.

Pretty much what the title says. I might take the whole week off–not sure yet. I’m fine; I’m just having one of those hyper-critical, happy-with-nothing-I-write days, so I need to step away from the pressure of the blue “publish, publish right now” button. (Oh, wait, that’s not what that says? Oops.) I actually tried to do a post earlier–you might’ve seen it, if you were here in the middle of the afternoon–and, well, see above. So now that post is gone, and you’re getting this instead.

Sidebar, for those of you who are really curious about this other post (cough, Future Emi): it was about homemade bookmarks. Only I more or less covered the basics of that project in my previous post about homemade bookmarks, except for the mention of tiny stamps. And I wasn’t satisfied with the artwork this time. I am planning to make more bookmarks, though, so this may not be the end of that topic.

As ever, thank you for stopping by this blog! I hope you’re all having a good Monday, that you had a lovely weekend, and that you have a wonderful week!

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A Rainy Sunday Afternoon in Napa

Yesterday was one of those days when I just wanted to get out of town for a while. So I headed off to Napa for some food, some more food, and then, to mix things up, some more food.

The good news: I’m not much into wine, so the rain didn’t get in the way of any wine-tasting plans. Places where I stopped:

  • Oxbow Public Market
  • Bel Aire Plaza

Oxbow was surprisingly crowded for such a damp day, but I found myself enjoying it. The close-packed people, the rain falling outside: it was all wonderful. I snagged an ahi burger at Gott’s, and then, since finding seating at Oxbow is often a bit of a challenge, I ate in my car before heading off to Bel Aire Plaza, which was quieter.

Napa is pricey, so that’s something to keep in mind. (One reason why I can’t be going out there all the time.) But for yesterday, it was nice to have a treat. And both Oxbow and Bel Aire are relatively friendly stops for rainy weather. Oxbow is mostly indoors, except for places like Gott’s, so once you get to the main building, you could theoretically stay there for a while. Bel Aire you might want to bring an umbrella to, if you’re planning to walk to the different stores. But (unless you feel a need to seek out dirt) you’ll basically be walking on sidewalks and concrete when you’re outside. That’s great for me, because honestly, I’m not that fond of walking on dirt or grass or nature-stuff in sunny weather. In wet weather: sidewalks, please.

With that, I hope you all managed to stay dry this weekend! And, as ever, that you’re having a wonderful Monday.

Making Tiny Rubber Stamps

One of my test pages. Pencil: Pentel Twist-Erase XP. The notebook is a Nakabayashi. Stamp: is supposed to be a mug. I'm hoping it actually looks like one.

One of my test pages. Pencil: Pentel Twist-Erase XP. The notebook is a Nakabayashi. Stamp is supposed to be a mug. I’m hoping it actually looks like one.

I love tiny stamps. You can get some nice sets–I actually have some that I bought a while back, that I really like. (“Diary stamps” was the search term that finally worked for me, I think.) But I’ve also found that I get vaguely discontented using someone else’s images. Even if my images are a lot less finessed, less professional, I like seeing them. So yesterday, I set out to make some small stamps for a journal/calendar-type thing I’m trying.

It’s been a long time since I’ve done a craft project, and I have to say, it felt really good. Unfortunately, I’d forgotten a lot of what I learned from making the first set of rubber stamps, so I had to learn again. And I don’t know what tutorials/instructions I used the last time–this time, I just winged it based on what I remembered.

I’m assuming you already know the basics of rubber stamp carving, but if you don’t, I think this is one of the tutorials I used for my first pass, who knows how many months ago. There’s another tutorial here, which I may or may not have seen before making my first stamps, but the way the X-Acto knife is used is quite similar to how I used my X-Acto knife this time, so there you go.

With that, here are the tools I found most useful in making particularly small stamps:

  • A piece of paper to draw the design on
  • Carving rubber to transfer the design onto (see tutorial links)
  • An X-Acto knife to trace the design once it’s on the carving rubber (see the second link)
  • A mechanical pencil. The “mechanical” part is important, because I used the metal tip to carve away rubber. It was really good for getting into tight spaces. I used a Pentel Twist-Erase XP, if that helps. I found the X-Acto knife/mechanical pencil team far more useful for the tiny stamps than a linoleum cutter.
  • Foam mounting tape. I’m sure I read somewhere, during my first foray into rubber stamp carving, that foam (though perhaps not specifically foam mounting tape) is the right way to mount these things, but I can’t remember where. I also remember reading a lot about adhesives, getting really confused, and then just buying foam mounting tape instead, which… I’ll talk about in a second.
  • Tiny wooden blocks to mount the stamps on
  • A stamp pad

Other tips: obviously, be super careful with the X-Acto knife. (And, for that matter, with the pencil.) Also, the foam mounting tape probably isn’t the best way of mounting stamps–I have found that it doesn’t stick as permanently as one might wish. But it is super easy to apply, which is a win for me. I don’t use my stamps enough to need a heavy-duty adhesive.

Like most of the projects I do, this one is pretty easy–the complexity of the carving depends on the complexity of the image. (I did carve another stamp on Sunday, but it… did not go as well. Or maybe it’s ok; I’m just not sold on it yet. The point is, the mug was a lot simpler.) I’m thinking I’ll add more stamps as needed. And I’ll try to use some of the stamps I already have, because they’re fantastic.

With that, I’ll let you all get back to your Monday. Good luck to anyone who’s planning to try a craft project! And to everyone else: I hope your week is off to a good start, and that it’s full of (to sort of quote my sample calendar/journal entry above) only the best things happening, and wonderful stuff to note!

Opening My Heart to Books (and Cats)

Ok, that title sounds really melodramatic, but I’m going to try to explain what I mean. First, though, some background: a couple weeks ago, as some of you may know, my mom’s cat passed away. That was obviously far harder for her than it was for me. But that cat was still part of my family for a long time. And also, losing him called back a lot of the emotions I had when I lost my own cat, about two and a half years ago.

I’m not going to go into detail about that here. Not now, and maybe not ever. In short: he was my cat for 16 years, and I loved him, and failed him, and missed him terribly, and now, two and half years later, even if the edge is off those feelings (for the most part), they’re still there. I’m not mentioning this because I need comfort, or anything. I just feel like there should be some context for this statement, made around that time, in my journal:

“[Book title, which I’m not going to name here, because it’s not fair to an enjoyable book] is not big or encompassing enough to fill the sad empty place in my heart. But I’m not looking for that right now. I’m looking for fun, easy, quick reads with happy endings, I guess. I chose [this book] because of that–because my mind can’t latch onto too much right now.” (For Future Emi: that’s on July 30th, in the plain brown notebook, because I know you’re going to care about that. Moving on.)

I’m not an expert on grief, but I think that was a reasonable reaction at the time. My heart was just so badly bruised, which sounds crazy to anyone who’s never had a cat, but it was. And it got more badly bruised as the year went on. (Suffice to say that losing my cat wasn’t the last bad thing that happened that year.)

Somewhere in between all of that, and picking up my own writing projects again (which typically don’t leave a lot of brain space for other people’s worlds), I suspect that keeping a certain distance from books got to be habit. Not to say I haven’t read any good books since my cat’s death–I have. And certainly, they haven’t all been “fun, easy, quick reads with happy endings.” But with apathy, depression, and what I now recognize as the fallout of some serious grief still dogging my mind after that year, I feel like my book screening process became a question of how much energy each book would demand of me. How much it would require of my mind and heart. Because I didn’t have that much to give, so I had to be careful with what I did have.

This is all subjective, of course–just the impression I have right now, looking back. The thing is, though, I’ve been slowly coming out of that. And I’m starting to wonder: at what point should I look for a book that’s going to really grab hold of my heart again? Should I look for it? Come to think of it, did I look for that before, or did I just not try to avoid it?

Either way, I think I need to stop being afraid to love books. Because that’s one of the reasons–maybe the reason, as basic as it is–that I’ve always been a reader. I love stories. And if I stay away from books I think I’ll love, then I can’t be surprised when this happens:

Reading Slump

From the post I wrote when… well, the title is pretty self-explanatory: “I’m back!”

Anyway, I’ll get there, I think. I hope. I want to hope? I’m still rather wary, it seems, of getting my heart broken again, by anything. But I think I’m recovering, too. It’s taken a lot of prayer. (I know I don’t talk about my faith a lot here, but I haven’t made this journey without God, and I shouldn’t and couldn’t pretend that I did, because that’s taking a lot more credit than I actually deserve.) It’s also taken time, of course. And it took, in some part, the persistent purring and meowing of a cat who didn’t even belong to me, but who helped mend my heart in ways I didn’t completely understand until he was gone.

I miss him, of course. His death has been a rainy spell on the road. But the good he did seems to be sticking even through that. I may be able, now, to care about books–and even possibly cats–the way I did before. Almost. Getting there. Starting to be ready to get there. To want to get there.

Someday, who knows, maybe I’ll actually blog about some of this in detail. I don’t know if I should. But I hope this post helped someone out there. It does get better on the other side. That’s always been my experience. And it still is. It’s ok if it doesn’t happen right away. It’s even ok if it takes a very long time. Healing can be like that. But it does get better. You start to care again. You start to feel.

So for now, I wish you all some joy and strength, peace, energy, a purring cat if you want one, a good book, and as always, a happy Monday. And thank you, as ever, for putting up with my ramblings. This blog continues to be helpful for me. And it’s probably largely because of how supportive everyone who’s commented has been that I feel like I can post something like this. Thank you all again, and hopefully, I’ll see you all next week with something a little lighter!

Gallery

To Oregon and Back Again

Last week, my mom’s much-beloved cat passed away, so this weekend, looking for some different scenery, the two of us took a trip to Oregon. I’m not quite ready to talk about the cat on this blog, and honestly I’m not sure if I will be any time soon (or maybe ever), but Oregon was lovely. There’s just something about the forest, all those towering trees, and a beautiful sky overhead.

A few wonderful things about Oregon, on a very quick pass through (part of) the southern edge:

  • I hate to sound like a broken record, but the scenery really is gorgeous.
  • No sales tax!
  • They pump gas for you, which I’m sure is quite nice when it’s chilly or rainy outside. (Although the weather was pretty good this time through–very little rain, and not as cold as it could’ve been.)

Of course, there is something to be said for California, and the sun, as well. So wherever you live, I hope you’re all having a splendid Monday! And that if you can’t travel at the moment, you enjoy these pictures from a weekend on the road.

 

Reading vs. Rereading

*Note: There is always the possibility that you have some incredible spoiler sense, but I have tried to keep this spoiler-free.

A few years ago, I read Cinder, by Marissa Meyer, basically because I like fairy tale retellings. I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t my stand-out book of the year or anything. (Although, to be fair, that was the same year I read The Hunger Games, so there was some pretty stiff competition.) I kept up with the series more or less as the books were released, not bothering to reread, until Winter, when suddenly… this wasn’t working.

I don’t blame Winter for that–honestly, considering that I’ve been reading this series one book at a time over a period of years, I’m surprised that I managed to go so long without rereading, and without (to my recollection) feeling lost during each new installment. Hats off to Marissa Meyer for that.

But now, finally, I set out to reread the series. And I discovered that this time, I liked–not just appreciated, or understood, but likedCinder more than I had the first time through. The characters, the setting, the structure–it connected in a way that it hadn’t, at least as far as I can remember, on that first read. It was all comforting and familiar and fun.

I’m sure people have said this before, or similar things (Nabokov’s quote comes to mind), but it makes me think that maybe some books are meant to be reread more than they’re meant to be read. Sort of like wine aging in a cellar (that’s a wine thing, right?), or (possibly?) the second brewing of some teas: it’s not the first read you’re really after. That’s not the ultimate, top-notch vintage of this particular book. It’s the second, or third, or whatever read.

Or maybe it’s similar to how sometimes, life circumstances can make a first read powerful: events completely outside an author’s control can nevertheless have a huge impact on how much that book hits home. That can happen with a reread, too. And while theoretically we should know it’s coming, since by definition this is our second/third/whatever time through the book, we can still be surprised, because we really don’t know what kind of chemical reaction will happen when life and book meet until we start reading.

For me, on this reread, I think it’s a combination of the two. Now if only I can get myself to reread a little faster, because as it turns out, enjoying a reread doesn’t make me devour a book at any great speed. The urgency is decidedly gone. It’s a much more leisurely kind of fun.

That could be a whole other post. But since this post has already gone on way longer than it should’ve (I’m sorry, injured hand!), I’ll wish you all a happy Monday, and happy reading! Or rereading, as the case may be.

Resting

My hand got injured, so I’m taking it easy today. Hopefully it will be better soon, and I’ll be back to typing normally, but in the meantime… I don’t know. Here’s this picture of my stuffed cat, Duncan, reading a book.

Reading Scarlet

The book Duncan is reading, as you may have noticed, is Scarlet, by Marissa Meyer. Duncan has great taste in books. Because he’s a smallish cat, he’s using a “book chair,” which is also awesome. (Closest link here, if you’re curious–I’m not sure it’s the same company, since I got mine ages ago, but anyway.)

And with that bit of random silliness (about the cat, not the book–Scarlet really is a fun read/reread), happy Tuesday to you all! I hope life is treating you well!

I am comfortable with the size of this room. (Blog. Whatever.)

I promised myself that I would do this post when I got to 50 followers. (Well, sort of. I thought about it, and now I’m doing it.) Which, by the way, thank you to everyone who’s followed this blog, liked posts, and commented! Now I’m going to talk about how you all freak me out.

Seriously, though–I love getting likes/comments/follows. Who doesn’t? It’s actually become kind of a game for me; I never know what you guys are going to respond to, so it’s fun for me to discover what you like. And of course, getting positive responses is lovely, just in general.

That having been said, I usually have quite a bit of anxiety before hitting “Publish.” It’s ironic; for someone who wants to write for a living, I’m quite terrible at sharing my work. (I sort of talked about that here, but I don’t recommend reading that post. It’s long.) Like a lot of writers, no doubt, I’m naturally shy. Not as shy as I used to be, but in some ways, it seems I’m still the sort of person who thinks she wants to be in the spotlight, but then once the spotlight is actually on her, gets awkward and uncomfortable and tries to get out of it as fast as possible.

So that’s kind of what I mean by saying I’m comfortable with the size of this room. (Or blog.) Sharing things can be a lot of fun, but I mostly prefer to stick with individual conversations or maybe small groups of people. And that’s what this blog feels like right now: a small room, where I can talk about some things that are on my mind, without a whole lot of pressure. Except maybe for the imaginary kind.

That’s not to say I’m against more people following–if I wasn’t open to that idea, I wouldn’t have made this a public blog. I guess I’m just saying that I’m grateful for where I am right now. It’s so easy for me to lose track of that, to get caught up in wanting more. But this, right now: this is kind of working for me. It’s probably not a bad idea to appreciate that a little.

So thank you all for not scaring me back into my shell! I hope you enjoy your time in this little corner of the Internet at least as much as I enjoy putting these posts together. Ideally with less nervousness.

With that, I return you to your regularly-scheduled Monday events, and what I hope is your own wonderful, happy corner of the world.

And for those of you who might be stopping by here for the first time… I’m sorry. I was going to put in a random picture as consolation, but I couldn’t find anything that satisfied me. Enjoy this old picture that you probably haven’t seen before instead.

Not Better compareOh, oops, that’s not very comforting. But it sort of fits with the theme of the post, yes?

Cooking Journal

Food Journal and PenI should have known this would happen. Making breakfast burritos turned out to be so easy (and, once I got the method down, the results were so delicious) that it’s sucked me into the dark side of actually wanting to cook.

Mind you, that’s not to say I’m going straight into gourmet chef territory. I’m still looking for things that are quick, easy, and don’t use too many pots and pans.

To help me keep track of all of this, I’ve conscripted this mini Eccolo. It’s kind of a victory for me, actually using a notebook I already had instead of going out to buy a new one. And who knows? Maybe some of those foods will make it onto this blog as well. (In picture form, at least.)

So, sorry, that’s all I have for you today. I’m just happy about starting a new journal, and I felt like blogging about it. I hope Wednesday is treating you all well, though! And with any luck, treating you to some delicious food.

San Francisco Tea Weekend

Lately I’ve been wondering if it would be a good idea to switch to loose-leaf tea. It seems like it might be a more ethical way of drinking tea, and it’s also arguably a small thing that’s quite doable for me–most days, I only drink one cup of tea (maybe two), and I technically have enough time to make that cup a good one. So this weekend, I decided to investigate some tea shops in San Francisco and Berkeley, along with my friend Grace. (Follow her on Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube! There might even be some pictures of me somewhere on one of those accounts, thus proving that I am a real person.)

The city was lovely, and the tea shops were a lot of fun. Here are the ones we visited, in order:

Red Blossom was definitely my favorite, in terms of both the particular teas that I like, and the price (not all their teas worked with my budget, but there were some good ones that did). I also really liked that you could open up the canisters and smell the tea without having to ask someone behind a counter to get things down. (Smelling teas: both fun and surprising.) That having been said, though, I didn’t have bad experiences at any of the tea shops. Unless you count not being able to make up my mind, and not having infinite money to spend on every tea that interested me.

We ended up buying teas from two of the places. From Red Blossom Tea Company, we bought keemun, genmaicha, and lychee black tea. And from Asha Tea House, I got the House Blend Assam. Then, the next evening, Grace and I tried brewing these teas for ourselves. (By which I mean that Grace brewed the teas, really. It worked out great for me.) The teas were still lovely, and we’re not loose-leaf experts or anything, so that bodes well for the future. I even managed to make some tea myself this morning, despite my complete lack of an infuser. And it was delicious.

All in all, I’d definitely like to try some more loose-leaf teas and tea shops. But the next step, for now: to try drinking only loose-leaf for a few days, and see if my taste buds notice the difference when confronted with bagged tea again. (My taste buds are not generally very picky about tea, so all bets are off there.)

Other notes:

  • Thanks to this article for helping start this particular adventure!
  • Loose-leaf tea is not as hard as I thought. You can tell because I made it, and enjoyed it. (Thanks to another article for helping clarify some things.) Supplies I used (aside from tea and water, of course): water heating device, spoon (for scooping out tea), measuring cup (for steeping the leaves–great because it pours really well), a sieve (for catching the tea leaves), and a mug.
  • Loose-leaf tea also does seem to taste subtler than bagged tea, but this might be partially because I expect it to. It also smells wonderful–not just in those splendid canisters, but the actual cup of tea. I don’t know if I’ve ever noticed that about bagged tea before.
  • I don’t mean for the book/reading/maybe-sometimes-writing posts to go away! I’ve just been enjoying life-type things recently.

As ever, happy Monday to you all! And now off to make another cup of tea work. Definitely work.