Two projects: repurposed yard sale frame and new ink pencils

If I’ve imagined it, it’s probably on pinterest already.

However dampening that can be, we manage to craft on, somehow. These days I’ve rediscovered my love of yard sales and thrift stores, and upped the ante. My father’s tendency to check out roadside rubbish piles used to embarrass me, but in that frightful alchemy of adulthood, I’ve now come around to his point of view. Little ephemeral treasure troves, that’s what they are (or hold the promise of being). For example, a neighbor threw away a bunch of decorative birdcages a few months ago, and they became windchimes with the addition of some tinkly glass bangles. I was as proud of the find as of the repurposing.

My latest find was a pile of frames at a yard sale; some with glass, some without. i took one of the few decorative ones and added a few lengths of ribbon to the back with superglue:20150602_121451,

and it is now a place to display some of the digital photos I take by the millions and almost never remember to print out because there’s no place to put them and I mean really who has the time?

Result:20150602_184156

Note: I used ribbon so I could glue it, but wire would give a different look. Also, these spray painted laundry clips (the word for them completely escapes me at the moment) are not ideal, but they were on hand. They will eventually be replaced. Children love seeing images of themselves, so it’s a big attraction now, especially when guests are over.

Another project is both creative outlet and hopefully eventually another children’s book. Or who knows? I’ve been into macro photography and bugs since I found a gallery of bug faces and was blown away by the weird beauty of them. Right under our feet, and I never knew. Then I met Lewis Scharpf through my old job, who has taken tons of gorgeous photos that he offered use of, for whatever purpose (see them here!  My boy and I have enjoyed the spider folder immensely). So anyway, I’ve been imagining watercolor images of bugs, larger than life, especially after I saw these Derwent Inktense pencils. You draw with them like colored pencils, then apply water with a paintbrush to let the pigments flow like ink washes. The colors are amazing, and the pigment really flows. So I made my first practice drawing and am getting the hang of the medium, and am so. excited. This is a long simmering project coming into existence. I can’t wait to do the next one! I’ll take requests, too. Here are before and after photos:

lubber-stageone lubber-stagetwo

Next project: desktop windchimes. I see a real use for them.

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5 point plan for freelancing

Actually, I don’t know in this moment how many points my plan has, because they are randomly floating around in my head right now. But I have been researching and reading and noodling this whole business, and think this will help me move forward, while potentially being useful to someone else considering putting a toe in the freelance waters.

A few side notes: first, I have been freelance copyediting for a year, and have gotten all of my business through word of mouth. While I was working full time, this was all I needed to do to have as much work as I could handle. And that first word of mouth client? A friend. No getting around it, a foot already in the door helps. Also, I have read so many articles and posts that it would be impossible to keep it all straight. Most of what I’m writing is gleaned from somewhere, but I can’t remember where. If I do, I’ll definitely link!

So there are different sorts of writing people do and sell. Most of what I see can be divided into magazine articles, longer form web writing (profiles, investigative pieces, and essay), blogging, and content marketing/copywriting. Then there’s the mist-shrouded land where the real money is: selling writing advice to hopeful writers. I’ve downloaded a number of free ebooks, signed up for newsletters, and clicked through massive link chains to realize that the people making the best incomes are the ones with an established method of delivering advice – ebooks (one is fifty bucks!), webinars, online courses. Some of these are highly recommended training, and some seem to be mostly personal enrichment plan, with some mildly helpful advice and lots of peppy encouragement thrown in. But, between the recommended info and months of lurking in facebook groups for professional freelancers, operation freelance is under way here at my house.

What I have trouble finding is info about the beginning steps, other than “write some things, then here’s how to pitch to editors.” If the info is out there, I haven’t wanted to pay for it yet. But I have ascertained that for now, I want to try to get local content marketing clients. This can come in the form of social medial, blogging, white papers, or feature-y writing for content heavy marketing efforts. Probably more, I just don’t know it yet! So, here is what I know, what I have done so far, and what I plan to do. This is both manifesto and journal, intended to keep me focused on the next step (advice I read somewhere!) and perhaps provide a simple record of what works and doesn’t, should anyone reading this find that useful.

My Big Plan:

1) Set up a blog.  As you see, this one is checked off. This serves multiple purposes. One, the more you write, the better you write. Two, it’s a potential marketing tool, almost a portfolio. It was recommended by a guest post on the Write Life, I think, because it not only shows off your cool, web appropriate writing style, but shows that you can write regularly to a deadline, even if self-imposed.

2) Online portfolio. I set mine up through Contently: http://jessicanelson.contently.com. It needs work, mainly pulling out individual stories from the magazines that I put out in my previous job. Unfortunately, those were print only, so it’s hard to post them through this site. However, the Contently claims that people get jobs there; it’s supposed to be a freelance professional networking site. So there I am.

3) Website. This one will take longer, which is another reason that Contently + this blog will have to suffice for now.

4) Get business cards. These will almost certainly be necessary at some point, and should reflect all the ways to find me online.

5) Beef up social media. I need to optimize my LinkedIn profile, jump on Twitter (good for learning and pitching, apparently), and potentially get back on Tumblr, though I tend to lose time there that is never quite accounted for. I mean, really, did I just spend an hour looking at Orphan Black fan art? The answer is yes, easily, when it comes to Tumblr. I love it, but not sure how it would help me here. Where was I? Oh, yes. Social media. Linked In. Twitter. Contently. Those are the first targets.

6) Acquire local nonprofit client (on a volunteer basis). This one is done. One of the things self help books can’t sell you is a stroke of luck. Though finding a non-profit to take your offered free work is probably not hard (I had several targets in mind), I happened to find a GREAT one that is aligned with my interests and experience: Desert Island Supply Company (DISCO), a local creative writing non-profit whose founders live down the street from me, and whose son comes over frequently to play with mine. We met, they are amazing, and I the plan is to help them and get a clip for the portfolio while I’m at it. Best of all possible worlds.

7). Send out letters of interest. This is by far the hardest. I need to craft a letter of interest (I’m pretty sure I have a link bookmarked or a free ebook with samples somewhere) to start customizing and sending to local businesses. I’ll start with email and potentially LinkedIn.

8). Write personal essays and pitch them. This one is an unrelated foray into another side of freelancing that I would love to break into – essays. I know I read dozens of these a month. They are compelling personal narratives with a larger message, and some of them are incredibly powerful. I have a few that I’m working on in my head, but nothing concrete yet.

There you have it. My big plan. Some other things I’ve read that seem useful, but I’m unsure how to implement:

Find a niche. (Um, okay. I’ll get on that. I thought my niche was “I can write whatever you need.”

Find your ideal client online and network with them. (I don’t know who my ideal client is yet!)

Position yourself as a thought leader. (This reeks of business jargon, but it seems like a sound principle. But this one too is dependent on knowing your niche, and I’m still struggling on that.)

And finally, I want to write fiction. So the plan for that is to write for at least ten minutes per day on my current favorite manuscript (incomplete novels are starting to pile up on my hard drive). This might mean I get one sentence out. But hopefully some days it’s more. One of the big lessons from editing is that good things come to those who just write. Bigger than any other hurdle to making money writing is just working. Writing. A lot. You hear this lesson in many forms from writers, but it’s true in ways they don’t even intend. More important than talent, than originality, than having lyrically beautiful prose: words on the screen. Without them you’re all aspiring and no author.

The neighborhood experience

It’s been a while since I had the full neighborhood experience. You know, the one with kids that have the run of the street and show up in each other’s yards to play. Where you know the names of the people living in the houses near yours, and maybe even their pets’ names. Our recent move put us in a wonderful, throwback neighborhood with all that and more.

And by more, I mean people up in our business.

Most days I just love the way people in this community smile and introduce themselves if their dog walk catches us outdoors. I certainly love the phalanx of children my own kids’ ages, or most days I do. And we knew when we moved in that there would be pressure to have a nice looking lawn, even though we’re only renting.

It’s a big lawn for the city. A corner lot, with what amounts to another half lot beside it that has lots of run-around space and a an oak tree that came with a rope for swinging.

At first, when one neighbor kept mentioning lawn care providers in the neighborhood, I thought she was being friendly. We bought a lawn mower and mowed the lawn, and it was promptly stolen from the shed that the landlord didn’t provide a key for. Maybe two weeks after we mowed, a local realtor called and said “a bunch of us” wanted to chip in for a one-time lawn care service to welcome us to the neighborhood. I thought it odd, but wrote it off as the oddly friendly neighborhood, though I did imagine a conspiracy of neighbors stealing mowers in order to drive business to the lawn care professional on our street. Another time, my husband walked out to find an across-the-street neighbor tending to an unruly bush on the sharp slope that faced her yard. When I finally hired someone to mow as we looked for a used mower, another neighbor paid for half of it without telling me, and meanwhile no less than three neighbors gathered on the sidewalk to discuss our lawn as the person mowed.

One neighbor offered to mow it for 20 bucks a week. A deal, he pressed, because it was so large. And I should call and get the landlord to pay for it. He’s a lawyer, he can afford it, they said. Another took the chance to impress upon me again how important it was to keep it up. Those single girls who lived here before didn’t take care of it, you know. Someone called the city and they were fined. Well she called, she said, because she was trying to sell her house and the realtor said it was dragging her property value down. (How bad did it get, I wondered.) Better keep it up, or someone might call the city.

A few days later, we found a used mower and mowed. Every two weeks is reasonable, we figured. Then my husband had a gout flare up and missed the next scheduled mowing. I’d have mowed, but was out of town, so we planned to mow the next weekend. No big deal. Later in the week, I contacted the landlord about some plumbing, and he casually mentioned that a “concerned neighbor” had CALLED HIM to complain about our yard.

So what I’m really wondering about is what is reasonable. The yard was shaggy, but not jungle wild. There are certainly worse looking yards on the block, so why the preoccupation with ours? Now, there’s always an unreasonable person in any given community, and perhaps identifying my snitchy neighbor as the loon in residence gives me a pass. If you can point to the crazy one, chances are it’s not you, right? But what about the others? Why are so many people so interested in our lawn?

Frankly, it’s a mystery to me, but I’m not known for being super sharp at figuring out the intricacies of social convention. But maybe this just means we’re now living in true civilization, rather than the known savagery (that’s irony, not raging elitism) of a poor neighborhood in small town Alabama. Snitchy neighbors are just the price you pay for free ranging packs of neighbor kids to entertain your own.

Anyone have neighbor-wrangling strategies? I’d love to hear some.

in which i make things of the edible variety

I’ve never really been into cooking. Maybe the mood would strike me every once in a while, but mostly it was a chore. One that required a panel of judges critique your efforts. People are generally nice when you’ve cooked for them (spouses, friends, family), but you always know the difference between edible and ‘this is actually really good!’ You know, with that surprised tone? I digress.

On top of my general disinclination for it, cooking within the bonds of marriage has been a little fraught, as my husband grew up with the spice-laden cooking of the Indian subcontinent, whereas I could happily eat variations on a theme of bread and cheese for most of my meals. While he was doing most of the cooking, I received it gratefully, as the best seasoning for any meal in my opinion is someone else’s labor. Also, it’s actually really good.

But now in these changing times, I’ve got to cook, like, every day. It was hard at first, but it is definitely getting easier. I could always follow a recipe when I needed to, but I’m doing a little improv these days, and I think I’m seeing more positive outcomes than not!

So today, I made things.

supper tonight: salmon patties, brussels sprouts, aloo (and some other stuff) bharta
supper tonight: salmon patties, brussels sprouts, aloo (and some other stuff) bhorta. it was better than it looks.

We make salmon patties often, and generally use some variation of ginger paste, garlic paste, cumin, coriander, garam masala, onion, and maybe cilantro, with an egg and bread crumbs (panko if we have it) to hold it together. Tonight, I felt faincy. That’s like fancy, but more special. Instead of store-bought cilantro, I added a small handful of chopped mint leaves grown by my very own self. Then I thought “why not?” and added a little bit of butter to make it more moist (moister? no, definitely more moist.).  And it. was. awesome. Best ever. The six year old ate two. The toddler ate none, but that’s irrelevant. And it was all just me throwing stuff in a bowl and hoping for a good outcome. That’s like a win on another level.

I also took a recipe for aloo bhorta (mashed potatoes, Bangladeshi style) and added some crowder peas and a boiled egg, which didn’t really change the taste much but kept me feeling faincy. Finally, rice, oven roasted brussel sprouts, and a yogurt sauce with chopped onion and mint that I’m calling a raita (also improvised, also yums.) All together it was seriously tasty, the adults both agreed.

I was feeling so successful, and also have family 20150519_002213coming to visit, that I decided to make these coconut macaroons, too. I’ve made them before and she’s not lying, they are great. This time I added a splash of rose water, and really love the result. It’s not immediately noticeable, but it’s nice. I did the chocolate dipped bottoms, of course. I did the whole double boiler thing with a metal bowl on a pot of water, and used ghirardelli (spelling? too lazy to check) bittersweet chips.

Then I got this great idea and dipped some mint leaves from out front into the chocolate. Y’all. I am faincy times two today. 20150519_003224They would make a great garnish for a dessert, but I’ll just nibble them from time to time, most likely. I tried one once they set in the fridge, and they are as nice as I hoped. I thought the little budding tips would do best, but the leaves did just as well. So today I’m feeling all right about cooking. Maybe I’ll do it again tomorrow.

 

life is like these tomato plants

This, my first post, has no audience. The thought is freeing. My life recently changed–for the better, I’m pretty sure–when my family relocated, and I find myself without an 8-to-5 job for the first time in many years. I’ve been a freelance copyeditor for about a year, working mostly with self-published and indie authors, and this side gig has suddenly become the main show, in addition to default household manager.  Housewife. Work-at-home mom. It is rather a surprise, but welcome, as I struggled with burnout in my dayjob for some months before the big move. Perhaps, I wondered, I am not fit for an office job. My skin is too thin, my expectations too high. It’s not that I don’t think freelancing has these sorts of troubles; it’s that I wouldn’t have to rub elbows every day with people maneuvering for advancement at my expense.

The workload hasn’t really changed, it seems. I’m still pulling late nights several times a week to meet deadlines. I still have a huge to-do list (this blog post represents one checked off item. Start a blog: done.), and mundane work tasks are replaced by laundry and cooking. We shared those duties before (perhaps unevenly, but at least nominally), and now they’re all mine. Not where I saw my career going.

However, it’s also an opportunity to leap into the void that I’ve feared for so long. Can I truly be a writer under my own steam? I’m about to find out! And in the meantime, I’ll learn to be a better cook, make things, and grow things, which brings me to tomatoes. I had no idea how much care it takes to grow a couple of tomatoes in buckets. I’ve had to fertilize them, tie them up with snipped up tights and stakes, and water them every day.

But on the upside, these unremarkable plants are running wild. They’re growing every which way to escape their rigid containers and bursting with potential. Blooms all over and some burgeoning fruit. Do I identify with these plants too much right now? Maybe. But aren’t they pretty, and don’t they make you feel like big juicy things are coming?

two tomato plants 20150515_100114