Around My Block

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This moonflower opened in less than two minutes. Unfortunately I didn’t record it because I didn’t realize it would open so fast. I went around to the back of the flowerbed to take a picture of the squash and when I came back, it was open.

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All three squash plants are putting out a second round of flowers. They are also struggling with a gray fungus on the leaves. I’ve sprayed the plant with dish soap and water two days in a row and the fungus seems to be going away. As we have no bees, if these flowers open, I’ll have to hand-pollinate them.

If not for this . . .

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. . . I would have walked into this.

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Gorgeous wildflowers. I didn’t pick any.

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An honest-to-goodness fairy ring that goes all the way around the cedar tree.

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With and without flash

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Something took a big bite out of this one

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The house next door is empty, and the back yard has gone wild and witchy, and I hope it stays that way.

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Something Fun

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I have a lot of hobbies: reading, drawing, sewing, gardening . . . well, that’s not a hobby, it’s a big part of my life . . . photography, and collecting dolls. Lately, things in the world and the U.S. in particular have been so depressing that it’s a struggle to write for the day job and work on my novels. I’m 44, and I’m starting to have problems with arthritis, so I’ve neglected my sewing and drawing. When I lived on Long Island, I spent hours every day driving around taking pictures. That’s difficult where I live now because I lost my SUV in the divorce due to my ex-husband’s lies and financial connivance. It’s hard to go off-roading in my Kia. On Long Island, it’s commonplace to see people parked on the side of the road, taking pictures. Here, it seems to be bizarrely annoying to people who rocket past in their giant pickups, laying down on their horns as if stopping on the shoulder, putting on your hazard lights, and standing on the opposite side of the road with a camera is some kind of unpardonable sin.

But I digress. I’ve found cemeteries and parks and other places where I can take pictures without someone trying to run me over. There is still the issue of having to go somewhere instead of simply going about my daily business with the camera in the passenger seat. I get some nice shots around my yard from time to time. I got this shot of the full moon tonight:

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I’ve been actively collecting dolls for about 17 years. Doll collecting has gone from a casual hobby to something that keeps me sane. I know what the majority of people think about doll collectors, and I frankly don’t care, because those people collect baseball cards, comic books, model trains, sports team memorabilia, and lots of other things that bore me to tears.

Doll collecting isn’t about returning to one’s childhood, at least not for me. Today’s dolls would have struck me speechless when I was 10. I would have loved the Monster High dolls in particular. I still collect Barbie . . . articulated Barbies, Fashionistas, Holiday Barbies, special collector Barbies. I keep an eye out for a couple of dolls, Star Fairies and Chrissies, that I particularly loved as a child. I’m fascinated by doll photography. I’m terrible at it, but I try. I’ve been incredibly lucky–no, I worked really hard and saved my money and bought three Monster High repaints and three Tonners. I bought the Tonners nude, otherwise I would never have been able to afford them. I found a wonderful lady in North Carolina who makes clothes for Tonners. I dressed the dolls myself, and I’m quite proud of how I personalized them.

Some dolls, you set up and look at and enjoy, like my Wonder Woman dolls. Some dolls you dress and photograph, like my Tonners and my Monster High dolls. I bought a used Ever After High doll, Cerise Hood, the daughter of Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf (I’m assuming he was a werewolf, nothing will sway my opinion) so I could try giving her a short haircut. So few dolls have short hair. The haircut came out gorgeous. I redressed the doll. The entire project cost $33 (and a bruised thumbnail because I evidently don’t know how to hold barber shears) and was so much fun. I took a mass-produced doll and made it unique. I only wish I had the talent to repaint doll faces.

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Aren’t my twin sisters lovely?

My point in writing this post is to say–hobbies are important for your mental and physical health. ESPECIALLY today. Gardening is a hobby for many people, but to me it’s like running every day. It’s just something I have to do to live, and it does relieve mental stress, and it gets me out doing something physical. It’s healthy and productive.

But so are hobbies. Hobbies take your mind off all of everything that’s going on today for a little while. That’s why coloring books for adults are so popular. That’s why crocheting, knitting, building models, and creating model railroads are so popular. If you don’t do anything but work and try to spend some time with your family before you go to bed so you can get up and go to work again, you’re almost certainly tense, exhausted, and unhappy.

Get a hobby. Make doll clothes. Go fishing. Paint something. Become an amateur astronomer. Do yourself a favor, and make sure that you regularly take a mini vacation.

Put your phone down.

Sometimes I wonder if people wonder why this blog isn’t devoted to books, writing them and reading them. I love writing. I love reading. Writing is my job. Reading is part of my job. I talk books and writing with other writers on Twitter. Here, I like to talk about other things, although since I’ve broken through my writer’s block, I’ll likely be writing more posts about writing, and what I’m reading.

This post isn’t one of my ranty posts. It’s for you and so many other people who have reached the end of their tethers with the excruciating stress of daily life. You have a hobby you’ve been neglecting or want to try but haven’t. Do it.

“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality.” Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House

Today’s reality is soul-crushing. Do something fun to escape it. It will improve your mood and hopefully lower your blood pressure.

My Great-Grandmother’s Mirror

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In packing up my aunt’s personal belongings before her house is sold, my mother and I came across a very precious item. My mother was overwhelmed because of who it had belonged to and how long it had been since she last saw it. I was a bit stunned that we found it. I’ll say why in a moment.

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This is a mirror that hung in my great-grandmother’s house.

I never had the good fortune to meet my great-grandmother because she died of pancreatic cancer in 1956, when my mother was eight. Even the coldest older members of our family almost break down when asked about her. Grandmother was sweet, grandmother was quiet, grandmother was always working, grandmother always had her head down.

Well, with the jackass she married–and I’ve heard plenty about HIM–I don’t doubt she kept her head down.

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I was told that she made her wedding dress. Then she became a farmer’s wife. She lived in a tumbledown farmhouse and had seven daughters and a son. They all lived, even my grandmother who had diphtheria as a kindergartener.

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After all the children were born, my great-grandfather sold this property and moved the family into a nice “modern” house. And that is where my mother remembers seeing the mirror.

The mirror is rounded, dim, and distorted, but you can still see yourself in it. The first time I looked into it, I had an unsettling sensation. My great-grandmother looked into that mirror. It doesn’t seem to be the style of mirror a woman would have in her bedroom. Did it hang in the hallway, near the front door? Did my great-grandmother stop, look into it, and adjust her hat before she went out? Did my great-grandfather pause before it, take a comb from his pocket, and run it through his hair? Did she wish for something prettier, more stylish? Where did she get the mirror?

These are things I will never know. I’m going to add sturdy hardware to the back and hang it over our sideboard, and then I will always be drawn to look down that dim tunnel, and wonder.

Edit: I forgot to explain why I was so shocked that we found the mirror. My grandmother, even though she was the second-oldest child and the oldest girl, she got almost none of her mother’s belongings. Sadly, a couple of her younger sisters cleaned out the house before my grandmother got there. All she had (and we still have) was an old bottle with a cork, a foot-long hatpin, and a rhinestone brooch. We had no idea she had the mirror. She must have kept it put away, and my aunt found it after her death.

Family members can turn greedy and do things you wouldn’t expect after a death, especially the death of someone like my great-grandmother who held a very large extended family together. My grandmother loved her sisters, but at the same time, she carried the hurt of being left out of the dividing up of her mother’s things for her entire life. We live in my grandparents’ house. I suppose bringing the mirror home made me feel that my grandmother knows somehow and it made her happy.

The Gentle Adventures of Justine and Vivian 2: Vivian

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What is there to say about me? Once I was a mother. I lost my daughter.

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I felt that I was becoming a shadow. I couldn’t bring my daughter back. I couldn’t keep living in our home. One day, I woke up and packed a valise and went to the airport.

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I don’t require much, and when I make a decision, I act. I left England for the United States. I was used to a quiet life in a green countryside. I took a taxi cab from the airport to the train station, and when I walked out onto the street and looked up at the metal and glass buildings and heard the noise of so many people and so many cars, I almost turned around.

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I thought I had made a dreadful mistake, that I should return home, but I kept walking until I found myself in an old part of the city. Though the buildings were young compared to my home, I did sense age, and the passage of many lives, and there was life all around me. Street vendors selling food, clothes, handbags, shoes. I didn’t need shoes. I thought that I might seek lodging in this neighborhood, at least for a little while. Then I heard a woman calling a cat. I looked up, and she was standing on a balcony with a wrought iron railing.

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“There!” she called, and pointed, and I saw a kitten with blue eyes hiding under a food vendor’s cart.

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I have never been a great fan of cats and was surprised when it came to me. The woman ran down, and I saw she was just a little older than my daughter had been. I told her I was new to the city. She said that she had a room to rent.

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This is how I came to live with Justine. She loves books and old-fashioned things. I am an old-fashioned thing. She said that I must have more clothes, so she took me to her dressmaker. I paid. I paid for a new dress for her, too. One thing I did bring plenty of was money. The apartment is tiny, even thought it has two bedrooms. We’ve been talking about moving. I’ve grown to like the little beast, whose name is Pyewackett after a cat in an old movie. We like old movies. We aren’t exactly friends yet. Perhaps we are both trying too hard. I must never tell Justine how much she reminds me of my daughter. Sometimes I hear Justine’s step behind me and think it is . . .

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But it isn’t, and it never will be.