It’s my mood these days.

I feel like I am saying goodbye to something, like I’m on the verge of something saying goodbye to me – I can’t make out. It’s a good, bittersweet kind of nostalgia, the kind that makes me extra sensitive to kind and beautiful things.

A tip-off to what is at the bottom of this is the music that appeals to me these days, like this beautiful music, and this (thanks, Jenna). Some of what it means for me to live in this place is in this music (and in Ritter’s music, for instance, “Roll on”). Roaming, moving on and leaving behind, wandering, drifting. Having to leave, wanting to leave, wanting to stay…

It is strange but on second thought only makes sense that  as I get more rooted in this place, as I consciously and conscientiously put my roots down, here, that this wanderlust sets in. I’ve known for some time now that if I didn’t have a husband and child I’d be a drifter.  I would not have known it five years ago, I didn’t have the maturity back then to know myself so well. It’s ironic that I have my husband and my daughter to thank for that maturity.

I’m not leaving. I’m making myself at home, but it is in this country of leaving, of having left.

I know, I know. This post is neither here nor there…

When you’re down, there’s nothing better than to give yourself a gift. Mine is this:

to start writing in my journal again, every day.

My present self will go to a trusted place every day, my future self will be happy we got the habit back, and all the good things that are happening will be recorded. I’ve already cleaned my fountain pen and located the ink.

In the picture: microgreens from the basement.

We had a glorious weekend. After 5 days of noise and dust, the patio is finished. I’ll take a picture of it once the coming rains have washed it clean. The challenge now is to level the surrounding soil and clear it of stones, stones, stones, and to grow grass and plantings around it. I found that Home Depot has a neat little tractor for rent with a scoop, a leveler, a trencher and augers. It’s not too  expensive and it will fit through our garden gate. It’s on our list for the next rainless weekend.

The seedlings (except for the brassicas and spinach) went out twice for some sun, the first time in the diffuse light of the hoop house, the second time in the morning sun on our balcony. I also fed them (fish emulsion) for the first time. Some of them are ready for transplanting, but I’ve been moving things around on my garden plan and haven’t settled on a place for them yet.


I also dug two more new garden beds (each 4 x 8′). The first one took 3 hours. The second one took about 10! It’s only the5 feet West of the first one, but the ground was full of glass, tree and other roots, marbles, small liquor and medicine bottles, broken tiles, and stones (bricks), stones (boulders), stones (slate).

In the picture below you see the operation. I dig half the bed, 1 foot down, dumping that soil on the other half. I place the screen (1″ and 1/2″ hardware cloth) over the hole and sift the soil from the other half through it. It takes some manouvering, especially in the end. That fills the hole, and for the bed itself (the extra 9″) I use the soil from the old potato towers and the excavation for the new patio (also full of rocks). It’s good not to bring in new (already sifted) soil and to use the materials on the property, but that material is quite a challenge.


What was best of all was Amie making herself at home in the garden while I worked. Here she is, writing secret messages in her diary.



Amie’s idea of cleaning up

As I was vacuuming I deplored (again) how often the work of a homemaker is lost. It is lost when half an hour later the flour gets spilled and a day later the dust bunnies are convening under the sofa again. It is lost when the dishwasher is full – or empty – again. It is lost when we step into the made bed, put on a clean sweater, finish the meal… And it is lost all over again when at the end of the day I tell myself:

“I didn’t get anything done again!”

Usually the latter refers to the work on my novel and my garden. I clearly don’t reckon all that invisible work that doesn’t get paid, or appreciated even by the one who does it.

But I feel I want to mark it. It is a large part of my life, after all.  I played with the idea of recording it in the blog, but how monotonous that would be, for reader and writer alike! Monotony – doing the same thing, over and over again – is the essence of this work, after all, no matter the tunes we dance and sing to.

So once in a while I write it down in my handwritten journal. Recently:

Woke up, got myself and Amie dressed. Breakfast. Dropped off Amie at preschool. Cleared breakfast table. Made beds.  Dusted furniture. Vacuumed whole house. Emptied dishwasher. Filled dishwasher. Handwashed big pots and pans. Wiped stove and kitchen counters. Picked up Amie. Prepared and ate lunch. Cleared table. Emptied dishwasher. Filled (laundry) washer, ran it, emptied it. Hung laundry to dry. Moved some of the woodpile. Refilled wood basket. Snack time. Played “Max” ten times. Prepared dinner, set table, ate. Cleared table. Put leftovers away. Soaked beans and split peas for soup tomorrow. Dishes. Got Amie ready for bed. Read story and stay with her until she’s asleep. Cup of tea and write this. Got nothing done today!

I can only imagine how much less I would get done if I also had to drive my child(ren) to extracurricular activities, and/or if I had to get to the gym and hairdresser and…

But of course that wasn’t all of my day. For instance, I played “Max” ten times because Amie insisted we get all the animals home safe, and I got to spend most of that time marveling at my daughter’s efforts to reconcile the lives of the chipmunk, the squirrel and the mouse (and their babies, waiting for them in the tree) with the hunger of Max, who would get sick if he only had treats and got nothing wild to eat, and maybe the mouse was worth sacrificing because it has only one baby, whereas the bird has three…

Still, at the end of it, that’s how my day felt. The journal entry may not be a statement of (all) the facts, but of the feeling of accomplishment, which was zilch. In that sense it is a true entry. And in that sense, it has to be recorded, once in a while.

Amie has often expressed an interest in my journal – in the book itself (the journalist Moleskine) and in the process. I haven’t been writing in my journal regularly, but over this weekend revived my resolution to do so. This morning I pulled it and she asked if she could have a journal too, just like mine.




Several hours later:


I told her what I write in my journal: what my day was like, what I wished my day had been like, what I plan to do, TO DO and other lists, all kinds of information, drawings and photographs, etc. And I showed her the baby journal I kept for her all too briefly.

I proposed she write it herself but if she gets tired of that, she can dictate and I will write it down (literally) for her. When she does choose to write it herself, I help her with the spelling whenever she asks, and if she proposes her own (phonological) spelling, I don’t argue.

I hope she will get as much joy out of journaling as I have over the years.

Over the weekend I attended a two-day Training for Transition – during which she was constantly on my mind. I learned so much, and am still exhausted, it was so intense. Will report on that soon (oh, add it to the list).

Driftwood (c) Katrien Vander Straeten, 2004


Every year, once a year, I need to return to that long poem by Mary Oliver, The Leaf and the Cloud (published in 2000). It is a poem like life, with everything in it, only magnified and condensed. I can’t say much about it, only that it reverberates deeply with me, and comforts me, and puts me in touch with myself, makes me more honest. And then it also creates that distance, the kind of poetic distance that allows me to take a good look, at everything. It’s a good poem that way. An excerpt:



Be good-natured and untidy in your exuberance .

In the glare of your mind, be modest.

And beholden to what is tactile, and thrilling.

Live with the beetle, and the wind.

This is the dark bread of the poem.

This is the dark and nourishing bread of the poem.

Look! This is how it starts:

Welcome to the silly, comforting poem.

An idea is brewing, for a new novel. I’ve sent my first thirteen chapters off to ten readers, and though I still need to write down the last chapter – yes, I deprived them of the ending! – and then edit, and sell it to an agent and a publisher, and all that… I feel I have let it go. And now it’s time for a new story.

Some more pages from my 2004 zine The Puffin!

Puffin 1, page 9 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten Puffin 1, page 10 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten Puffin 1, page 11 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten Puffin 1, page 12 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Pages 9 and 10 make me laugh. I like the second last drawing (page 11) best of all. I still remember that meal in detail: how the food tasted, what we talked about, the atmosphere in the kitchen, even at the end of what kind of day it came. I’m sure that if I hadn’t drawn that scene on the spot, that whole event would have been lost to my memory.

Front Page of Puffin 1 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Years ago, in 2004, I put together a (literally) small “zine” called The Puffin.

Picture of Puffin 1 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

It was a zine for family and friends, inspired by Dan Price’s awesome Moonlight Chronicles and Danny Gregory’s Everyday Matters blog (before he became so insanely popular).

I just happened upon the original .jpg version of The Puffin – I no longer have a complete copy for myself, all 50 went out the door – and laughed myself silly!

As a way of illustrating what my life was like before I became a mom (very academic – okay: nerdy!), I thought I might share some of the pages with you.

Teapot from the Puffin no 1 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Here are the first couple of pages that make the draw-for-your-life pitch and the first page of the rest of the journal, which puts the drawing philosophy in practice. Enjoy (click on thumbnails to see original size)!

1. Page 3 of Puffin 1 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten 2. Page 4 of Puffin 1 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten 3. Page 5 of Puffin 1 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

4. Page 6 of Puffin 1 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten 5. Page 7 of Puffin 1 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten 6. Page 8 of Puffin 1 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

More will follow.

Slippers from the Puffin no 1 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Ah, no… I don’t draw in my journal anymore. I still do draw, in Amie’s Map Book, our communal Drawing Book and on the occasion of all our crafting, of course. But no longer in my own journal. Why? Sigh. I can only speculate. The best excuse I’ve come up with is that, once drawing “vivified” (jump-started) my journal again, I quickly fell back into my old journaling habits, which are back to being prolific and energetic, but drawing-less. I do miss it though, not so much when I’m writing, but when I’m rereading my journals.

The second project I started right after Amie was born fared better than her now defunct Baby Journal, in that it is still up and running. It is a Map Book, or Place Book.

I love maps: topographical ones, city, architectural, personal, subjective, objective, three-dimensional, temporal… you name it.

From the beginning of Amie’s life I collected and drew maps of where we live and where ever we travelled. Depending on how busy I was, I would simply paste in a tourist map I had picked up, draw one myself, and/or add commentary. There are also spreads about the wildlife and the people, and anecdotes about how she reacted to the place.

This is the page about our visit to Billings Farm in Woodstock, Vermont, over a year ago:

Amie’s Map Book: Billings Farm, VT (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

This page chronicles our trip to Europe (Belgium and Italy) in June of last year, and locates everyone in our families on the globe:

Amie’s Map Book: Billings Farm, VT (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Here’s the spread about a magical visit to the Hall’s Pond Sanctuary in Brookline:

Amie’s MapBook: Halls Pond (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

It’s not as much work as the Journal: I put in as much time as I want or can afford. I skip visits that we make regularly, like to the Pond or the Farm, except when something special happened that needs visual representation in the form of a map.

One day soon Amie will understand the concept of a map, and she’ll make her own maps. It’s one of those many moments that I look forward to.

Fragment page from Amie’s Baby Journal (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

From the moment Amie was born, I started a daily baby journal. I have been keeping a journal since I was 14: sometimes it’s a habit, sometimes a refuge. So it made sense that I would make a separate journal for my daughter, addressed to her and relating the events of her young life before she could pen them (or even understand them) herself.

It soon proved impractical, though.

For one, I had to write it out slooooowly so that Amie would later have some chance of deciphering my handwriting – I usually write FAST and in a kind of shorthand of my own making. Then there was the lack of time – oh time where didst thou go?

But the biggest problem was the separation of Amie’s story from my own – her journal from my own. It was impossible. I tried writing down everything in my journal, warts and bad spelling and scribbling and all, then sifting out a cute story for her, which I penned out (semi-) legibly (judge for yourself), with a little picture of the day and even some illustrations of important objects in her life.

Here are some examples (click on thumbnails for larger view):


Page from Amie’s Baby Journal (c) Katrien Vander Straeten  Page from Amie’s Baby Journal (c) Katrien Vander Straeten


Page from Amie’s Baby Journal (c) Katrien Vander Straeten  Page from Amie’s Baby Journal (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Well, who has time for that once the baby starts rolling over and getting into all kinds of mischief? Not me. I abandoned Amie’s Journal soon after her nine-month birthday. It looks extra bad because I was only 100 or so pages into a new moleskine!

I took up another project, however, when Amie was born, one that is still on-going. But about that, some other time…