2015 gift guide

Each year, I try to post about other people’s work over on the MIEL blog in the runup to Christmas and the increase in sales that makes such a difference to small businesses’ and independent artists’ finances. If you’re looking for a present at this or any time of year, here are my recommendations.

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Itsuko Naka (Kyoto) makes absolutely beautiful paper and textile objects. I love her pouches and tenugui (thin cotton towels) especially. She’s also on Instagram. The ‘Clover’ pouch here is about $15.

A small handmade pouch printed by the maker with an abstract 'pebble' design in various blues.

A gouache painting of a goose standing on a fox, looking at some plants.Twamies is a longtime favorite of mine (I nurture the hope of printing a book of Alan Brown’s illustrations one day). Alan and Katie make beautiful, whimsical things, all with a tinge of the weird. This is “Cosy“. I also love “Hoppit” (grasshopper!) and “Berries“.

If you happen to be looking for a new planner, let me recommend “The Weekly Times” from the Korean stationery company Seeso Graphics. I got mine at Fox & Star in the UK. The pages are undated, so if you skip weeks or neglect it for a while, it doesn’t ‘go bad’. There’s also a monthly version (and a large-format desk calendar), but the week works ideally for me—I can see everything at a glance, without being overwhelmed. © shadra strickland

Shadra Strickland‘s best work is evocative and direct all at once: her illustrations of black life in the US don’t gloss over the ways in which
white supremacy has been its constant companion, but her paintings refuse to concede their subjects’ dignity, power, and beauty. I especially like “Lineage” (right) and “After the Flood“.

The acorn necklace from Bullseye Beads (below) combines the artificial with the actual in a very pleasing way. And if you have $150 for a coffee mug (!), these are beautiful (from BDDW). If you don’t, just go look; looking’s free. Here’s a t-shirt with a pigeon and the shipping forecast. Lots of justice-oriented prints, posters, books, and zines in bullseye beadsthe Just Seeds shop. If you know a knitter or crocheter you’d like to spoil, I’m pretty sure you can’t go wrong here (although how far you’ll get is dependent on the depth of your pockets).

Of course, should you be so inclined, there’s always the MIEL shop: try a 2016 subscription (which arrives in four batches at your recipient’s door), a calendar (two to choose from; free shipping), or a chapbook (25% off with the code WINTER2015 at checkout).

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soft things

almost in focus

November light. I was in Antwerp yesterday and although the temperatures are unseasonal (65°F/19°C) the light drained out of the day around 4:15 p.m. and by the time I got on the 5:07 train home it was dark. I walked through Deinze and realized I really do live here and in this way.


These are some of my favorite things. We rarely have candles here (in part because with residents I forget or just don’t; in part because there’s so much light I don’t feel the darkness the way I did in our very dark house in Ghent).


My desk has entered full-on chaos. Right now it’s serving multiple-duty as a stationery factory, the repository of all my planned/hoped-for reading materials, my teaching space, and the home of the editorial side of MIEL. Speaking of which, if you’re interested in working with me on some books next year, would you get in touch? I am looking for an assistant editor.


Gathered on Thursday. The meadows are mostly cosmos and calendula now, but still pretty full. (See temperatures, above.)

stationery production facility

A closer glimpse of the stationery factory. Calendars for 2016 are in the shop now (two versions!). Cards coming soon.


My beautiful things make me happy.

unauthorized use of couch

This is certainly one—I saw this couch in the thrift shop in Deinze (we had a super fun outing with our last three residents this past week), and I loved it and expressed that love quite freely. And then yesterday I wen to Antwerp for the day, and, unbeknownst to me, Jonathan went out, bought this, and brought it home. (€30!) He left the tiny white Christmas lights in the living room on when he went out to pick me up, so when I came into the living room this, in the lights’ subtle glow, was the first thing I saw. Perfect.


the end of October

October began with my birthday and a trip to the UK to talk and write with friends and writers there, then directly back into the swing of residencies. (Speaking of which, if you are interested in applying for a writing or visual arts fellowship for 2016, the application process opens November 1 and closes December 15. Information is here.)

October at Dickinson House

The garden is in between states. The cold weather at the beginning of the month meant that most things kind of began shutting down; lots of fog and mist and some rain has brought mold on the flowers and mushrooms in the woodchips and lawn. But now there’s a resurgence of cosmos. The tomatoes are completely done (black spots on all the remaining ones) but we are waiting until the residents leave to do the messy work of cleaning the greenhouse and back garden out. The plan is to buy a load of rotted manure/compost, clean the gardens out, add manure, and then cover them in hopes of keeping weeds down somewhat.

October at Dickinson House

When we were in Paris in August, both of us were impressed by the way that squashes of all kinds (hard and soft) were interplanted with flowers in the Jardin des Plantes. Based on this, we’re planning to transform part of the front meadow into a more deliberately planted garden containing sunflowers, squashes, corn, onions/garlic, and herbs.

October at Dickinson House

Definite successes this year were our tomatoes, especially the San Marzano, which we harvested twice for canning/freezing and could easily have done a third and possibly fourth time, zucchini, onions, kale, and tomatillos. With an earlier start the tomatillos should be fine next year, too. Shiso was a treat to have—it’s all gone now, pulled out before going to seed to avoid it volunteering everywhere. We got many fewer pumpkins than we expected, but given that we didn’t enrich their soil at all (just tossed an old pumpkin into some pretty sandy dirt last January and waited to see what would happen in the spring), five or six is a pretty good yield. Artichokes are probably more trouble—and space—than they are worth, attract aphids like nobody’s business, and don’t produce much food. Radishes I had good intentions for but always neglected, which meant very tough ones in this dry summer. The eggplants never got off the ground; neither did the peppers. I will start more (and start chilis) inside this year and plant them in better soil. Beans were pretty good, but the variety is a little tough I think—cooking them longer helped. We had some strawberries but need a better method for growing them, because mice and birds had more than we did.

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getting chilly

getting colder in the mornings

Getting cold here now, down to 1-3° in the greenhouse at night, no real frost yet but many mornings and even afternoons when I can see my breath. But also still bearable to work outside without too many layers. We have needed the fireplace a few times in the evenings but if there weren’t residents here we wouldn’t have had the heat on yet; we will turn it off again after the last residents leave. Still cosmos, phacelia, many colors and kinds of calendula, a few poppies, a few zinnias. Much damper weather now—fog and rain—so a lot of mold and mildew on the meadow plants. We gathered seeds already and I don’t see much chance for more of that. These first cold days, it’s nice to remember the pleasure of wearing many warm clothes.



September at Dickinson House

The weather changed in the last week of August and it was suddenly apparent that we were no longer in ‘summer’ but in ‘late summer’. Strange that ‘summer’ is equally long (from a purely numerical point of view) as the other seasons, but feels so much shorter. This summer felt particularly short and fast. It’s the first time in my life that I have felt a little sad at the start of fall: only because summer felt so rushed (from work, from the drought) that I hardly feel I got to revel in it. This was also the first summer in two years that I didn’t spend a majority of the season in the US.

September at Dickinson House

We planted sunflowers from seed we collected last year and many of them came up in mixed colors, with multiple heads, with rings of color on yellow petals. We have already begun collecting seed again and I wonder what results we will have next year. The plans for the front meadow have evolved, in part because we spent so much time in the Jardin des Plantes in Paris this August, but also because the soil is richer than wildflowers need and we want to try something with more structure. So half of the meadow will be planted with sunflowers, sweet corn, squashes (zucchini, pumpkins, butternut, cucumbers), and beans, and half will be allowed to be as it is.

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