- Melissa Westemeier
A couple of bird feeders hang outside my window and flocks of visitors arrive all day long. Even on this dreary winter day, sparrows, finches, cardinals and woodpeckers dart and swoop around, providing me with much entertainment. It has become about the little things lately, hasn't it? Small and simple pleasures.
For a slow as life has become, I've not written here much, mostly because I'm so dead weary of looking at a screen after teaching via a Zoom call all day. I also teach in person, but the screen time required of my work lately makes me dread any extra time staring at my laptop. I do one quick-and-dirty dive into my personal emails over the weekend and log out. Occasionally a special group of friends will meet up for a video chat. That's it.
I've read a LOT of books.
I hike regularly at the nature center up the road.
I watch the Great British Baking Show on Netflix (I know, that activity involves a screen, but staring at the TV set isn't the same as my laptop).
Aside from heading to Room 209 to teach in-person and virtual students, my travels include grocery shopping and regular (masked) visits to an elderly friend. D and I watch the boys play sports (basketball and wrestling these days). Sometimes we sit socially distanced and masked in bleachers. Sometimes we sit in our house and watch the events live-streamed. Occasionally we sit in the bleachers at one event and peer at the feed of another on my phone. (Two boys in different sports presents unique challenges.)
During this quiet season I have tackled weird little projects around my house, like oiling squeaky hinges and scrubbing the floor beneath the washer and dryer.
I purged, filed and sorted through my pile of random recipes and old cooking magazines.
Out of the hundreds of recipes I'd clipped and saved over the years, I dumped all but a handful into the recycling bin. In my youth I had aspirations. Now I have time on my hands and zero interest in futzing around with "Easy Cheesy Family Fajitas." Plus I have plenty of tried and true recipes earmarked and anything I need to find, I'll look up online. In that pile of random recipes, I only ran across one that I'd forgotten about that was worth keeping and making again. The recovered counter space in my kitchen is so satisfying.
Besides, I don't really care to cook. I'm a baker at heart. So back to this British Baking Show business. I've become a huge fan. I watch about three or four episodes a week. Out of three seasons, I felt inspired to try one recipe challenge: Black Forest Gateau. For some reason, that particular bake burned in my mind. Cherries. Chocolate. Whipped cream. Layers. I could bake that. From scratch. Today I purchased the Cherry Liqueur and it's game on. The cakes are in the oven as I type this. They'll cool overnight and tomorrow the filling and piped whipped cream will smother their chocolatey goodness. A masterpiece will await my family for Christmas Eve dinner.
I do have one other moment of inspiration to share, it occurred while my family was quarantined for a couple weeks following a positive COVID test (one of the boys, he was sick, but not seriously, we're all fine now, no one else contracted it). I taught from home in my library, enduring the tedium of staring into the Zoom abyss as my students diligently worked on writing their arguments about land use and water pollution in Room 209. Obviously I had a LOT of extra time as I taught from home--there's only so much lecturing into a black screen that one can do, then long waits between students asking for help (they're reluctant to ask for help online--you cannot believe the questions awaiting me when I returned in person). Teaching online is QUITE different from the in-person experience. While I jostled for space to work on the laptop, I became aware of the massive pile on my desk--a pile of manuscript notes from Through the Channel (a book you can buy for yourself or a loved one), some letters and cards, articles I'd read during my grad class last summer and a bunch of other notes from when I started writing the Bassville books. I started to pick away at the layers, excavating the artifacts I'd used to develop the plotting. I sifted through newspaper clippings about fishing on the Wolf River, powerboats on the Wolf River, a culvert dispute, some rough character sketches in a notebook I'd written during a writing workshop and TWO newspaper clippings I'd set aside because I had felt they'd make a great story someday.
Much like the recipe for Easy Cheesy Family Fajitas, I'd forgotten all about these little gems. I sat back and reread the slightly crumpled articles I held in my fingertips. Folks, I've been stalled out since finishing Through the Channel. My creativity has been tapped in a million other ways, so I think I had nothing left to give to writing. I had fooled around this summer with a book about a baseball player, but frankly, it felt like a chore to write.
And then I ran across these two articles tucked away in a pile on my desk. My imagination latched onto them and for the first time in a while I felt excited to explore what could happen.
I have purged, filed and sorted--and discovered! With nearly two weeks of sweet freedom from my Zoom classroom, I plan to start sketching the bones of my next project. Stay tuned!
Happy Christmas break, readers! I hope your short, dreary winter days are filled with simple and satisfying pleasures.