Copper and ceramic

Slowly, in fits and starts, we’re turning our house into a home.

Renovating a house feels a lot like writing fiction, actually. You start with something raw and unfinished, and you slowly polish it until it shines, until it’s yours.

My house is starting to shine. The pieces are coming together: paint, new (and used, and refinished) furniture, new light fixtures, some new flooring.

It still needs quite a bit of paint and a good deep cleaning to get rid of all the leftover construction dust, but I can see it, there, my house, my home, exactly like I envisioned.

Photo of an old, tarnished copper mailbox

We found this buried in a pile of bricks in the back yard. I’m going to make it shine again.

We started a year and a half ago when we bought the house as a fixer-upper. It’s a 1920s wood frame. The original wood siding has been covered up (more than once), but many of the original interior features are intact: solid wood doors, glass door knobs, wood wainscoting, brick fireplace.

This past weekend I found what I believe to be light fixtures original to the house, as well as a copper mail box. Right now they are tarnished and brown, but I want to clean them up and make them shine.

History has always fascinated me, and I have a collection of objects from our renovations: ceramic pieces from the old knob and tube electrical wiring, a window weight (oh, if only I could afford to put in wood windows!), an old hinge, the transom from over the door that was just covered up when they put aluminum siding on the house.

I like that my house has character, even if that means it has flaws and weak points. That brings me back to my point about renovating being like writing. Flawed characters are what make fiction compelling.

There’s nothing interesting about a perfect, sterile environment. There’s no story there.

And I love my house—my home—the same way I love a good story.

Winter blessing Spring

The snow melts slowly over the candle flame, first compacting into slush and then pooling at the bottom of the mason jar. Sakura-scented incense smoke rises and curls above the altar as I hum a chant, my prayer to spring.

When the snow transforms completely to water, I begin the work of planting seeds for my garden—my first garden in my first house. A slight breeze finds its way to me through the open window, along with the sounds of children riding scooters up and down the street, calling out to each other, laughing.

I fill each egg carton cell with soil and carefully place each seed. Tomato, eggplant, celery, radish, turnip, beets, fennel, sugar snap peas, parsley, mint, dill, thyme, basil, lavender, sunflowers, coneflower.

Some of these—tomato, eggplant, peas, the herbs—I have grown before, and others are new to me. I have been reading book after book on gardening and growing food, but I learn best through experience, through working the soil loose with my hands and watching leaves and flowers unfurl.

For a final blessing I sprinkle each cell with a few drops of the melted snow–a promise for renewal, for growth. I place each egg carton in recycled plastic containers and set them on my windowsill. With dirty fingers and a happy heart, I snuff out the candle and offer thanks to the earth, to the sun, for the gift of seasons, of change, of new beginnings.

Writing magazines

A few months ago I  posted about my decision to read writing magazines on my lunch break on the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh blog.

Since then, I have been faithfully reading Poets & Writers, The Writer, Writer’s Digest, and Publisher’s Weekly each day (though obviously not every title every day).

It’s been a successful exercise.

I’ve found new markets to which I can submit thanks to listings in the back of Poets & Writers and The Writer. I’m enjoying the writerly advice column “Funny You Should Ask” in Writer’s Digest. And I’ve found about two billion new books to read thanks to Publisher’s Weekly (you’ll hear about some in future posts, for sure).

I’ve also found that giving myself twenty minutes each day to learn more about the craft of writing, fellow writers, and the literary community (in addition to my thirty-minutes-a-day writing regimen) keeps me motivated and excited about putting words on the page.

For awhile I tried reading The New York Review of Books, but none of the books they featured piqued my interest in the slightest. They were all dry, academic-sounding nonfiction titles–which is cool and all, but not my scene.

I did want more than one source of book reviews, though, so I subscribed to Kirkus’s enewsletter, and have been enjoying the down and dirty “skip it,” “borrow it,” and “buy it” reviews they do of current best sellers. Even if I don’t plan on reading most of these books, it’s good to have a pulse on the market.

This all fits into my wider goal of connecting with the literary community in Pittsburgh and elsewhere. Being around other writers and even just readers can spark new ideas, help you work through a problem you’re dealing with in your work-in-progress, and recharge your mental and emotional batteries.

How do you stay in touch with your community?