Sunday, April 24, 2016

Moving on up: My new attic studio

We recently had our attic insulated and sheet-rocked, without a clear plan for how best to use the space. The second floor of our story-and-a-half 1920s-era bungalow was about 2/3 (kind of) finished and 1/3 attic, and our main goal was to get the whole upstairs properly insulated, which has been accomplished. We certainly could have, at that point, just used the attic part for storage, as attics traditionally are.

The attic/future studio in January: insulated, sheetrocked, and painted a pale peachy beige. The window looks east; the light shining on the wall at left is from the skylight.

But we have a roomy dry basement with plenty of space for storage in addition to other uses, and the attic has an east-facing window overlooking our backyard, so we thought there must be something we could use the room for, taking advantage of the pleasant view. With that vague idea in mind, we had a skylight added on the south slant, to let in more natural light and provide a view of the southern sky at night.

But the door leading into this space is smaller than standard size, and because of the intersecting ceiling angles, there wasn't really a way to make it much larger. (For a thousand dollars or so, we could have had it made slightly larger, but still not standard.)

Above the doorway leading into the attic (before the new insulation and other work), viewed from inside the attic. Not much room to expand!

That isn't a problem for me at 5'4" tall, and hubby suggested that the room could become my office and studio, potentially replacing two separate spaces I was using, neither of which was quite working out for me. 

You may be surprised that it took a little persuading for me to agree to it. I actually thought the space was potentially too nice to be all mine. I got over it, though. 

We replaced the leaky double-hung window on the east with a slightly bigger casement from Marvin windows, with grillwork mimicking the original. 

Tres checks out the view from the new larger attic-studio window.

We splurged on hardwood floors made by Wood from the Hood from reclaimed elm trees that had been removed from our city boulevards. Once the finish was cured on the floors, Craig started moving my things up from the basement single-handedly, since my gimpy knees meant I would have posed more of a hazard than help. He was pretty stiff the next day!

Along the north wall it's an office, with my desk and two rather large printers. A wide low filing cabinet (not yet assembled in the photo below) doubles as a printer stand for the Canon laser printer, while the Epson sits atop a three-shelf bookcase that holds most of my printer paper and card stock. The ledge to the left, where the Canon sits in this photo, will eventually become my photo booth corner. 

Attic office taking shape. Filing cabinet/printer stand waiting to be assembled.

The mix of free-standing small storage units directly under the skylight divides that side of the room into two spaces, with lots of cubbies and shelves for keeping relevant supplies readily at hand. And, of course, a cat shelf on top, directly under the skylight. It wouldn't really be a good spot to keep anything prone to fading anyway.

The corner to the left has my work table, with a couple of lamps on the table top, for drawing, painting, and book and card making, with Phinney overseeing the operations. 

To the right of the skylight is my order fulfillment area, a kind of writing desk adapted from a small table. And shelves for  more paper, including tabloid size, and some mailing supplies. 

The tortie, Molly, is actually a very lightweight cat (we call her a cream puff); the shelf was already bowed in the middle.

A second small table facing this one holds my paper cutter and a few random old books to provide material for various projects. (That's a paper shredder  under the table, with a bag for the scraps, because you're not supposed to put shredded paper loose in the recycling bin.)

One of the cubbies, which is open at the back, will be left empty to accommodate cats who like to have their little secret passageways.

Molly demonstrates the cubby passageway ...

... and back through the other way
Of course, when I really want to get some work done, I usually have to shoo the cats out and shut the door.  

Out you go, Tres.
I still have a lot of organizing to do, figuring out where to put the rest of my stuff and moving (some) things around —small things, not furniture.  The card rack now sits on a different spot (where the red dictionary sits in this photo), and the photo corner will be painted a different color for a better background (a grayish green works well for many things, I have learned). 

But it's such a pleasure to be in this space that I don't mind taking my time organizing and setting up. And I have a nice amount of open floor space for my yoga and Feldenkrais practice, which I really need to get back to!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Letter writing month — April? February? Or how about whenever?

Earlier this year I got all jazzed about a letter writing challenge called a Month of Letters in February, promoted by Mary Robinette Kowal, encouraging people to send some correspondence every mailing day that month. She led a real cheerleading campaign via a Facebook page throughout the month, and has since taken an understandable break, with no new posts since March 1.

And I really got into it for a while, especially since Valentine's Day is a natural occasion for sending cards in the mail, right? I even got out some rubber stamps and washi tape I hadn't used in a long time, bought an assortment of postage stamps from USPS online,  embellished the envelopes, and had fun with it.

I did my mailing in clumps, skipping days and then sending several things at once. I didn't keep track of whether I achieved a one-to-one correspondence with mailing days, and in fact I kind of ran out of steam shortly after Valentine's Day. But I did mail a bunch of cards and ephemera, so I felt pretty good about that.

Then I came across something about April being National Letter Writing month, which the US Postal Service promoted last year, issuing some fun commemorative stamps while their collaborator, Scholastic, promoted a curriculum called It's a Delight to Write to encourage schools and families to teach letter writing.  

Last year's enthusiastic promotion, including a first-day-of-issue stamp kickoff, is followed this year by silence from the USPS, although plenty of others are taking up the cause, as a Google search reveals,  from those who just love to send and receive cards and letters in the mail to companies and makers wanting to sell you stuff for the purpose.

I confess I count myself among the latter. I am a card maker, so naturally I am eager to embrace any occasion for people to buy cards, whether they mail them or not. (The following shameless promotional photo clicks through to the card section of my Etsy shop, btw.)

But that whole mail-every-day-for-a-month thing just doesn't work out so well for me. Who really has the time and inclination for such an intense and sustained burst of postal activity?

So I've come up with my own alternative, which I have so far followed only sporadically, because it requires relearning a practice that our mothers and grandmothers followed as a matter of course. It has to do with birthdays and other occasions that once carried a certain expectation of postal correspondence.

For example, you could mail a birthday card with a personal note and maybe a little enclosure, if you are so inclined, on people's birthdays, instead of offering up the Facebook greeting that everyone knows you were prompted to do anyway. What a quaint notion, right?

You'd have to plan ahead for that, rather than rely on the Facebook prompt, and allow for the sad reality that US first class mail now takes 3 to 5 days. I've started by making a list of the birthdays I know, adding them to my calendar and setting up an alert for 5 days before.  

I've also found that I can view all the upcoming birthdays on Facebook, and add to my calendar the ones I'd like to acknowledge postally. Here's how: From your Facebook home page, click on "Events," then look in the upper right where it says "Birthdays this week," then click on "See all," and there you will find them all laid out before you. Add what you wish to your calendar to help you remember to mail a card. Nifty, huh?

So far I've mailed one birthday card. Hey, it's a start!

Yes, it's another sneaky attempt to get you to look at a card in my shop.

Then there are the once-obligatory thank-you notes. For those aspiring career-hopefuls, it's an excellent follow-up to a job interview, thanking the interviewers for their time and reiterating what you really like about that company you'd like to work for. 

But why not also send one to the friend you had lunch with? A little note sent through the mail, saying how nice it was to have lunch and catch up, and how you're looking forward to the next get-together. It gives you the opportunity to pause and reflect on how much you value the other person's friendship, and actually commit a few words to paper about it. 

My husband's friend Seth sends him a card in the mail on random occasions — a clipping he came across that he thinks Craig would like, or a photo he took a long time ago that he made into a card. He also sends photos of the two of them after they've had lunch together. These little notes are brief and unexpected and always a pleasure. 

Recent cards from Seth

There is something kind of luxurious — although it really takes little time and effort; and the cost is minimal — about committing a few friendly words to paper, putting it in an envelope and adding a stamp, and then taking a walk to the nearest mailbox.

I'm not going to challenge you to commit to mailing something every day for a month, or once a month, or for every birthday of everyone you know. Just try it once, and see if it doesn't give you a certain satisfaction. You may even want to do it again. Sometime. Randomly. Without obligation. A moment of slowing down, for both you and the recipient.