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farmer’s almanac.

It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything of substance here. There have been half a dozen potboiler posts bubbling away in my mind and in my drafts folder for the better part of a year, but those never come to anything. If I don’t finish it when I start it, it’s over. As I sit down to write this one, I’ve given myself no out. Phil is sitting on the other end of our weekend Hangouts call, with instructions not to let me finish the weekend without finishing the blog post. So far today, I’ve hung pictures on the walls, rearranged furniture, run an errand, started a laundry and taken a shower. He has asked me four times, “Blog post?” He’s a good partner.  Blog post.

Since mid-March, I’ve been spring cleaning and packing my apartment in NE Portland, in preparation for moving in with a friend a few miles away. She had a spare room. I needed to be paying less rent, and I wanted to break out of a pretty stale work-to-home-to-sleep routine. It’s worked out really happily for both of us. It also happened to coincide with the breakneck busiest time of year for Mavora, where I work. March and April were bumper months for us, and when we’re busy I’m on my feet for long workdays and pushing against the clock all the time to get everything printed and shipped on schedule. For the last 10 weeks, by the time I got home and/or to the weekend, I was pretty much a blank slate. I haven’t made any new jewelry in months, and except for keeping up my daily selfies for my 365 project, I’ve been mostly absent from social media.

During this time, though, there was a world where I’ve been fully present and thriving, hardworking and full of creativity and energy. While I was recovering from daily work and resting my mind being quiet at home, a tiny adorable farmer named Allergy was efficiently conquering every aspect of a place called Stardew Valley.

Summer 13, Year 5

Sparkle Farm, Summer 13, Year 5

I’m a fairly new player of videogames, having only really started playing four years ago. There have been many games that I’ve enjoyed, and a few that I’ve stuck with long enough to feel competent and comfortable. As it turns out, though, I hadn’t yet found my game, the one that hits all the right notes of mechanics, visual world, challenge and reward. Even the sounds are perfect. I had absolutely no idea what could happen when you find that game, but now I know.

Ol One Eye, Spring 21, Year 5

This traveling merchant cart, drawn by a purple fez-wearing pig, is my favorite thing in the entire game.

I have loved playing Stardew Valley so much. I’ve not so much played it as fallen all the way into it. It’s been the exact right thing for me at the exact right time. To begin with, it’s beautiful. It’s a farming/country life RPG, drawn in a retro-looking pixel style, but with tremendous depth and color. It’s the work of one man, Eric Barone, and is entirely created and made by him, from the first line of code to the last note of music. That alone is amazing, and made me want to explore every part of it. Making videogames is complicated, multilayered work, and to create something of this scope and detail by yourself is mind-blowing. The world of Stardew Valley is a place I want to be, listening to the soft chuff-chuff of my footsteps on the ground, walking through drifting cherry tree petals in the spring. Fishing as the shadows of clouds pass over the landscape in the height of summer, and clearing pink and golden foliage from my farmland in fall. The appearance and origin of the game were enough to keep me interested, but the mechanics and goals have also been perfectly appealing to me, and I’ve been completely immersed for two months.

Taking my diamond to town

Urgent diamond business recalls me to town.

The tone of Stardew is a perfect balance between cheerfulness, sadness, and hilarity. It’s essentially a happy game, but it’s tempered with a few moments of genuine seriousness. When the game begins, the scene opens on your grandfather’s deathbed, and he’s telling you that he remembers wonderful days earlier in his life on a farm. As he slips away, he gives you a letter and tells you to open it when you’re at your lowest point. The next scene reveals that you’re an office drone worker for a gigantic corporation called JoJa Co. The camera pans over desk after desk, showing one drooping, dispirited person after another. (An interesting point here, though, is that the developer’s eye for detail has given each of these downtrodden workers their own personality through clothes or cubicle decorations or body language. You only see them that once, but they’re still distinct people. This is a game that’s meticulously well-developed and balanced, and although it has a cartoonish and familiar appearance, it has an incredibly full personality.) Finally the camera reaches your desk, and you slump in discouragement. Then you remember the letter, and open the drawer where you keep it. When you open it, you find that Grandpa has left you the family farm in Stardew Valley, and charged you with keeping the family legacy alive.

Grandpa is pleased Spring 1 Year 3

 

Off you go, you own a farm. It’s a shambolic mess, several acres full of trees and boulders and detritus. It just needs a little care and attention! It’ll be great! Off you go. Off I went, and from the very first morning on Sparkle Farm (of course I called it Sparkle Farm), I was smitten.

Vintner Spring 2 Year 3

 

It was damn hard work, though. Videogame farming shares some exhaustion and some heartbreak with real life farming. In my second year, I could finally afford a few fruit tree saplings. I planted six, only to have two of them struck by lightning and burned to stumps. Welp. (And no insurance options available at Sparkle Farm, either. In a recent update, lightning results have been changed and now just scorch a tree for three days instead of burning it down. That is kinder, but the total loss of the expensive trees to an arbitrary act of weather felt real.) At the beginning, my only goal was to get sprinklers for my crops so that I didn’t have to spend half the day watering them with a watering can that I had to keep refilling. From that one simple goal, I began looking at what I needed to do, and I could see the entire game full of tasks unfold in front of me, filling in little imaginary slots in my head. It’s the first time I’ve ever had a wholecloth picture of what I needed to do, and in what order, right from the beginning of a game. That is due, in main, to the perfect balance that’s built into the game. There is no aspect of play that you can master without needing to achieve competence in other levels to support you along the way. It was enormously satisfying, even in the very early stages, to tick something off that massive flowchart of goals and build the next piece onto it.

New pig Rumptydoolie

I bought a pig.

As my real world home was increasingly chaotic and unrestful, piles of boxes in the corners, and an ever-fresh heap of bags to donate collecting by the door, my farm home was coming together in adorable and rewarding ways. I learned how to mine and I made sprinklers. I got better at fighting monsters, went deeper in the mines, and made better sprinklers. With better sprinklers, I grew more crops. With more crops, I made more money. With more money, I built a coop and a barn and bought livestock. I contributed to town infrastructure and started to make friends with the villagers. I bought flower seeds and did a little landscaping. Hey, if I’m growing flowers, I should probably make some beehives to make honey.

Artisan Harvest 2, Summer 13, Year 5 Artisan Harvest, Summer 13, Year 5

 

From there, I ventured into artisan farming, making goat cheese and wine and pickles. There is nothing more satisfying than collecting entire rows of pickles, jams, wines and cheeses, to the accompaniment of a little popping sound as you pluck each one from its keg or press. As I mastered those tasks, I started to learn cooking, and to bring better gifts to the villagers. As those relationships developed, they unlocked further areas and abilities of the game. And so on and on, ticking things off my master plan, and knocking one achievement after another off the game board.

sparkle-quick

Gourmet Chef, Summer 3, Year 5

Gourmet Chef Achievement: cook every recipe

The only thing I ignored for a long stretch was fishing. There’s a fishing mini game, and it’s staggeringly hard when you first start out. Hard to the point where I failed over and over again and thought, well, I may never even get beginner-level able to do this. I’ll at least leave it until there’s nothing else to do, or until it’s necessary to move forward. Of course, there came a point when it was necessary to master fishing to move forward. It was maddening, and I was so bad at it for so long, but in the end I beat it. I finally caught a fish, and then another, and then a harder one. Eventually, my fishing skills hit the max level, and I caught every fish in the game, including five legendary fish that you can catch only once. I am stupid proud of my fishing achievement. Ask me about my fishing achievement. The eye patch you’ll see Allergy wearing in a couple of these screenshots is earned with that achievement.

The Legend!, Spring 18, Year 5

 

Most of the time, I have a very sensible (for “sensible,” you may also read “lazy”) approach to lists. I’m pretty happy to postpone, reorganize, or abandon as necessary. To-do lists must be flexible, or we make ourselves ill. It’s not often that a goal really gets under my skin in an uncompromising way, but this one did. I had to finish ticking it off or slowly itch myself to death. The day I caught the last legendary fish and saw that whole collection filled in, I felt an actual physical sense of accomplishment. When I was playing Guild Wars 2, and I finally got good at climbing vistas, I felt a similar sense of pride and satisfaction, but this was personal in a way that never was.

Every Fish, Spring 18, Year 5

 

Partly because I’m so impressed with and attracted to the world of Stardew Valley, and partly because of this chaotic and transitional time in my life, mastering the elements of building a home and community in that world has created a response in me that I’ve never felt for any other game. The more accomplished I became, the more determined I was to truly finish the game: to completely cross off every single element. The one exception to this is a social achievement: you have the option to marry one of several townspeople, and to have or adopt two children (same sex marriages are available, and there are no gender restrictions on character appearance – yet another reason to love it). In-game marriage and kids don’t appeal to me, and the kid aspect in particular I find a bit disturbing (they never age past toddler.) I have no interest in pursuing that element of the game. I find the conversations with townspeople fairly natural, if a little repetitive (that in itself is natural in a small town – everybody’s tracks are very well-worn). The ways your relationships with them develop is comfortable and moderately realistic. But adding a courtship element to those rote conversations would make them stop feeling authentic to me. So I enjoyed building my relationships with the townspeople, but I didn’t want to marry any of them. That achievement will have to remain unticked on the master list, but this run-through feels complete without it. (There may be a second run-through with a different character at some point, if I find I’m obsessing over getting every achievement.)

Rawr

Rawr.

For now, though, I’ve nearly completed my list, and it feels like my time in Stardew Valley is winding down. I tumbled through completing five of my last seven achievements this week: catching all the fish, cooking every item, selling every item, crafting every item, and reaching a max friendship level with 8 characters. Those were the ones that felt truly compelling to me, and the last two are longer-play goals that I can continue to chip away at over time. After this week, though, I don’t think I’ll be spending hours at a time on Sparkle Farm anymore. It looks more or less as I want it to, and it has carried me through an exhausted and depleted time in the real world. It gave me joy and organization and peace in chaos, and I am profoundly grateful for every maddening and adorable minute I spent there. I’m proud of my thorough knowledge of something I admire so much, and it’s always going to feel like home every time I walk through the gate.

Full greenhouse, Summer 13, Year 5

Onward now, to the next world, the new home.

NOTES:

If you’re interested in playing Stardew Valley, there are three great resources I’ve relied on throughout (and more being developed every day, but these are the ones I used most often):

The official Stardew Valley Wiki, created and maintained by ConcernedApe and the player community. Really, really helpful and thorough.

The Stardew Planner, which allows you to workshop your full farm space with all available buildings, farming implements and plants.

Stardew.farm, where you can download software that captures a screenshot of your full farm at the end of every game day and saves it to the website. This is new and a bit glitchy (there are some frames missing from the gif Phil made for me because there was an update to the way they posted), but still a really cool tool. If you’re using it, make sure the software is active in your taskbar before you end a day. As long as that’s running, it will grab the screenshots even if the website that displays them is glitching. They’ll turn up there eventually.

blaugust #24: home improvement.

2015-08-24 15.33.57I posted something earlier today, but as it’s a business post I’m not counting it for Blaugust. Which meant that this afternoon I looked up and realized I needed a plan for today’s entry. I turned to a project I’ve been meaning to do for months.

My bedside lamp is a beautiful, graceful bust of a woman atop a column. It’s a faintly greeny yellow, with slight crazing in the paint. It’s absolutely lovely, and it deserves a much nicer shade than the plain one I stuck on it when I bought it. There’s a fabric I’ve had in mind to use for covering it, in a modern geometric print that echoes the chartreuse of the base and adds punches of black and aqua. So that’s what I did this afternoon.

2015-08-24 16.18.01First, I measured the shade and cut a piece of fabric to fit. Then I used a spray adhesive to coat the shade, and rolled it onto the fabric, smoothing it as I went. A quick trim of the edges, and then I tacked them down over the top and bottom edges of the shade with a hot glue gun. I also folded the fabric over at the seam where it met, and then glued that down as well. Ta da, lampshade! Now that it’s done, I’m acutely aware that this shade isn’t big enough for the lamp, but it’s all I could find that had the old fashioned grip-wires that grab the bulb. I’m also not entirely sold on this particular fabric for this lamp, although I really like the contrast between old-fashioned base and modern shade. This was really easy to do, though, so I’ll live with it for a while and if I find a better shade I can do it again.

(This is my 24th daily post for Blaugust.)

 

blaugust #14: artifact.

Last night I was scrolling through my draft blog posts in search of some things I could finish up and use for Blaugust. It’s pretty slim pickings in there, to be honest. Most of it was a couple of photos with no text (deleted all those), and some poems I’m collecting for next year’s National Poetry Month. There were a couple of things that I thought could be interesting, and then there was this little snippet of a list:

in the past year I have:

gone 36 hours without food only to eat 3 full meals in 4 hours.

done without milk/peanut butter/laundry detergent in order to buy silver/beads/bubble mailers.

spilled tomato sauce on my ottoman and liked the resulting color story so much I went back to work before cleaning it up.

watched 19 straight episodes of Dark Shadows while preparing inventory for holiday sales.

worn the same pair of pajama pants from Monday-Thursday. WHAT.

claimed deep tissue massages as a business expense.

Well, that’s interesting. I have no idea how long ago I wrote this, or what I was planning to do with it. This blog originally lived on a blogger site, and when I ported all of it over to WordPress, the drafts came too, but their dates didn’t survive. So what year was this when I went without groceries and was utterly slovenly in the service of color? The draft had a title – “My name is Kateri & I’m a crafter” – but that doesn’t tell me anything about where I was going with the post, or what else might have been on that list.

It did make me think about how the life of making has changed for me in the last few years, though. I’m much better at self care than I was when I started out in small business. I’m careful to eat (mostly) healthy food at almost regular intervals. I’m better at budgeting, and have also been in business long enough to have a pretty substantial supply inventory. I don’t offer what I can’t produce with materials on hand, so although there are still some very thin months, I don’t go without peanut butter in order to keep stocked. My day job now is so much different than it was when this was written, and I no longer have summers off or two week holiday breaks.

Other things remain the same. If Dark Shadows was still on Netflix, you can bet I’d still be marathoning it while I work (there’s never any chance of running out of Dark Shadows, there are 9 frillion nearly identical episodes). If I get four uninterrupted days at home, I am definitely wearing the same pajama pants the entire time. There’s even a word for this now, thanks to Shawn Hampton: pajampion. (That’s actually a good dating device for this draft post – it must predate the word pajampion, or I’d have used it there. So no later than 2010 by the linguistic yardstick.)

There is no way on earth I’d leave a tomato sauce spill in situ now, as the tiny ants that plague Portland would be all over it. Honestly, I can’t really imagine doing it then, either – I may have exaggerated that one for effect, who knows. Not the spill, I spill everything all the time. But leaving it while I made something might have been made up.

My takeaway from this is that the life of making is messy and compelling. It takes your time. It makes you forget time. It teaches you to care more for the thing you make than for your own body. The thing you make feeds you just as surely as food, and it is necessary sustenance. And it makes order out of chaos. From all the tumbled stashes of materials, a steady thread of coherent design is woven. I can see it stretching from that draft post to this one, from that home in Chicago to this one in Portland, from the thing I make now to the thing I will make ten years from now.

As I write this, I’m surrounded by piles of messy making supplies. Part of my plan for this weekend is to do a proper clean and sort so that I can start on new work for fall with a fair idea of what I have to work with. But not too much, not too clean. The work lives in there, and it’s my happy job to dig it out.

please don’t feed the dustbunnies.

I’ve been spring cleaning. Ok, it’s significantly more than spring cleaning, but I’m calling it that because Trimming My Life’s Possessions Down in Anticipation of Moving to Another Country is just bulky. For the last six or seven weeks, I’ve had the urge to have a massive clear-out and tidy-up and throw-away, and when I came back from visiting Phil in England, that impulse could no longer be ignored. We may not know exactly when, yet, but we know I’ll be packing up and moving to Yorkshire to be with him in the not-impossibly-distant future. So I came back to Portland all fired up to do the spring cleaning, but also to start getting rid of things I know aren’t going to make the trans-Atlantic cut.

It felt great. Taking bags of seldom-worn clothing and decade-old knick knacks and never-unpacked picture frames to Goodwill. Pulling exactly seven DVDs that I actually want to keep and selling off all the rest. Culling supplies for crafts I am never going to learn and donating them to Scrap PDX. That bit was my favorite: having all those yards of fabric and yarn and obsolete embroidery transfers and bags of buttons gone gave me a breath of creative fresh air. Things I wasn’t ever going to use – wasn’t even interested in using – still managed to make noise in the back of my head and when they were gone the quiet was suddenly so productive. I’ve made more new things in the last two weeks than I have in the preceding six months.

The hard part of this process came when I got down to letters and photographs and picture albums. During the move from Chicago to Portland in 2012, I deliberately didn’t look at any of those things. I just sealed them up and brought them, with a lick and a promise to go through them later. I knew at the time that I wasn’t going to keep a lot of it, but I wasn’t ready to go through 15 or 20 years of my own history and talk to it. So I’ve been doing that these last few weeks, and it’s been joyous and painful and funny and sweet. A lot of things simply got read and discarded. Many more have been uploaded to online storage or allocated to be scanned for later uploading.

The process has made me think about how I interact with the artifacts of myself. I haven’t made everything digital, by any means. I’m not comfortable with the idea of keeping all the papers and pictures of my life in the cloud. There are things I may never look at again now that they’re in internet storage limbo, but I’m still not willing to say goodbye to them completely. I have problems with fuzzy memory and there are things I want to keep as touchstones to situate myself. There are other things that make me cringe and that I’d love to let go, and yet, and yet: some of those things are very important artifacts of ways in which I’ve changed and how hard it was to make those changes. And so I kept them in all their awkward physical reality in order to keep the threads of who I am and how I got here.

But I think the most interesting part of the process for me has been the things I’ve chosen to let go, but have given closure to in some way. Either I’ve found a new home for them – dozens of postcards I bought during a summer college course in England, quilt blocks for a project I’m never going to finish – or I’ve given them a sort of social media Viking funeral via Twitter or Instagram or Facebook. The act of posting a picture or a few lines of memorializing text about the thing I’m letting go has somehow made it more concrete in my memory, more fixed in the story of myself, than keeping it in a box in the closet ever did. Those things, that were not important or intact enough to keep, have somehow achieved a more vivid life than a number of the more vital things that got put back in boxes or uploaded to archives. How often will I visit or remember or need the things I’ve kept? Who knows. But the tiny white jacket with red trim that my mother crocheted when I was born, which I wore and which all my siblings wore after me, and which was far too greyed and shabby to give to the next generation, got a fitting and affectionate goodbye before I put it in the trash. I think that’s better than keeping it forever in a heedless box under the bed.

101.

Jimmy is a plaid dumpling of a man. He makes leather goods – belts, wallets, jewelry, bags – and he opened a little shop in my neighborhood at the end of summer. It’s a rotten location for something like that, but he’s doing his best. He sees me go by his window about four times a day, on my way to drop things in the mail or catch the bus or get coffee or just take a walk. We’ve been waving and nodding to each other for several months now, and a while back I found him standing out front smoking a cigarette, so I stopped to ask how the shop was going. We talked for a while about what he makes and what I make and about selling what you make. He’s asked me to bring my jewelry in so he can see and “maybe sell some at these gun shows I do.” I doubt that’s going anywhere, professionally, but I’ll take some things in and show him and we’ll have another nice talk.

On my way home from the grocery store tonight, just as I was coming up towards Jimmy’s shop, I passed a very tall man wearing headphones who said “Hey…” to me in a flavor I didn’t like. I got slurped at last night, and I’m always skittish for a couple of days after an episode of street harassment. So I was happy to see the lit windows in the leather shop, and I waved and yelled “Hi, Jimmy!” And he came and stood in the door and said, “Hi, hon.” And tall and strange sloped off without saying anything else.

I don’t really have a point here, except that it reminded me of leaving Chicago and how much I was sure I’d miss my neighborhood and feeling like I knew absolutely everyone who worked or walked there. I’ve lived here for a year now, and as I walked the rest of the way home I realized that I recognize and chat with most of the clerks in the stores where I shop, and several of my neighbors, and a couple of neighborhood regulars like Jimmy. I’m a regular here now, too. That felt nice.