Friday, April 14, 2017

Thirty-Minute Almost-No-Sew Bandana Bunting

We had some friends over for Mexican food this past weekend, and I wanted to make a special decoration to make the house festive. In the past, I've bought papel de picado—those beautiful punched-paper flags—but they get faded and tattered very quickly (especially when you have kids who shoot them with Nerf bullets), and then they look sad and you feel bad wadding them up in the recycle bin. So I thought I'd make something almost as festive and much less expensive and more durable—a bandana bunting.

To make your own bunting, determine how many flags you want your bunting to have, divide by four, and purchase that number of bandanas in the colors of your choice. I wanted a 12-flag bunting so I bought three bandanas.

I had a very specific color scheme in mind—yellow, orange, green—and unfortunately my usual bandana source didn't have any of those colors, so I bought some instead at the craft store. They're not quite as nice of quality, either in color, the printing of the design, or the squareness of the bandana, but they served the purpose.

Step 1. Iron the bandanas.

Step 2. Cut them into quarters.

For each bandana you started with, you'll end up with four equal squares.

Step 3. Place a bandana square on the ironing board in front of you, wrong side up, and turn it 45 degrees so that the two finished sides come to a point at the bottom and the two cut sides come to a point at the top. Fold the finished sides toward the center and press.

Step 4. Open the sides back up and fold the top down even with the tops of the side folds and press (You could also cut the top off, but pressing seemed easier to me.)

Step 5. Fold the sides back in. Now you have a triangle.

Repeat with the remaining bandana squares. So far no sew.

Now comes the time to put your bunting together. This is the only sewing part, although you could use pins, fabric tape, or glue. Double-fold bias tape would be ideal for the string part of the bunting (what is that? garland?), so that you can fold it over the raw edge at the top of the each flag. The craft store did not have any bias tape so I bought ribbon instead (a 5-yard spool). I thought I might be able fold the ribbon, but it was too narrow. It occurred to me belatedly that I could have bought two ribbons, one for the front and one for the back to give it a more finished edge on the back side, but I think it's fine how it is. 

Step 5. Figure out how you want your flags spaced on the ribbon. I could probably have used math to do this, but instead I laid the ribbon out on the floor and lined the flags up in a pleasing arrangement. They ended up about 3 inches apart with about a foot-and-a-half or two feet of extra ribbon on each end. Pin flags in place and sew (or tape or glue).

A few guests requested recipes from the dishes I made. Almost everything came from Rick Bayless's Mexico—One Plate at a Time cookbook (including the gorgeous flan M made with my help—a first time making flan for both of us and it came out perfect). I found a couple of recipes on his web page:

Chipotle chicken salad tacos
Mexican-style zucchini tacos

One dish I did NOT use a recipe for was the cheese enchiladas—for those I just rolled up grated cheddar in corn tortillas, laid them in a baking dish, topped with a magic secret ingredient, sprinkled on more cheese and baked until melty and bubbly.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Wild Wednesday ~ Slow Spring

Spring has been very slow in coming this year (as it is every year), but we finally got some warm weather this week. I went out today to take some pictures of the melting snow, but most of them came out blurry (I've spent so much time away from my camera of late I've forgotten how to use it!).

Signs of spring I've seen and heard (but have no photographic evidence of) this week: spring peepers singing the last two nights in a row, the phoebes are back, and the aspen trees have unfurled their catkins. Spring is surely on its way.

Monday, April 3, 2017

March Reads

Having a single post to cover all I read in 2016 was a bit overwhelming—both to write and, I'm sure, to read. So I've decided instead to do a monthly recap of books I've read, and share a little about each book. For past months, see:
January Reads
February Reads

Nonfiction. I badly broke my rule about having only one book in each category going at a time this month. I started one book (which isn't even on this list because I haven't finished it yet) and then started two more and read a fourth after I finished one of those two.

Rad Dad and Rad Families. I'm not going to say much about these here, because I read them in order to do a profile of editor and rad dad, Tomas Moniz, for Literary Mama's Father's Day issue in June. So, you'll just have to wait to read that, but if you're a parent or know anyone who's a parent, and/or if you care about gender equality, inclusiveness, social justice, and just generally raising kids to be decent human beings, get yourself a copy of both books.

Suburban Safari. I read this for my naturalists' book discussion group. The author, Hannah Holmes, explores just about every facet of her backyard in South Portland, Maine, from insects to soil to geologic history to human history, right down to the spider in her office window. It's surprisingly interesting how varied and full of life a small suburban lot can be. Holmes invites experts, from the state entomologist to Amory Lovins to her home to talk about different aspects of what's going on in her yard and also travels around the country to look at things like lawns in the desert and wildlife habitat yards in California,  I was at first annoyed by Holmes's very perky voice. But it grew on me after a while and I began to think I need to perk up my own writing.

Poetry. For poetry I read Blue Window by Ann Fisher-Wirth. A very long time ago (12 1/2 years or so) I went to my very first writing workshop—a week away at a small college here in Maine. I managed to get work to pay for it, and to make the trip appear more legit, I signed up for the environmental journalism track, but it turned out there weren't enough participants to run two separate tracks, so we spent the morning with the journalism guy and the afternoons with the poet, Ann Fisher-Wirth. In her sessions I rediscovered a long-dormant passion for creative writing. I usually try to buy a copy of at least one of the author's books whenever I take a class or go to a reading, and while I read this right after the workshop, I was due to read it again. Her poems touch on life and death, California during Viet Nam, when she was young; Mississippi, where she lives, and it's heavy burden of history. The poem's are heavy with atmosphere, rich with imagery, and unafraid.

Fiction. My sister bought me Magnificent Vibration by Rick Springfield for my birthday a couple of years ago and I only just now got around to reading it. Normally, I object to celebrities writing books other than the obligatory ghost-written memoir—stay in your own wheelhouse, dammit (although in one of my writing workshops we had a great time comparing Molly Ringwald's writing to Virginia Woolf, which I suppose is a tad unfair to Molly). But this is Rick Springfield, so I totally give him a pass, because he was my first heart-throb when I was but a mere teeny-bopper. And it's also a fun, weird, funny, and surprisingly thoughtful book (though the narrator does have an inordinate obsession with his, ahem, anatomy). Look! My copy is signed and personalized with a heart (swoon), and you'll note that rick also illustrated it, which is just one too many talents for a single human being if you ask me. This was supposed to be my escapist book for the month, but it turns out to be kinda about the end of the world…there is no escape.

How-To (I'm still not sure what to call this category-"self-help" makes me squirm, "self-improvement" is almost as bad, and "craft" is not quite broad enough. 4/417 edit: I thought of a category name: Inspiration!!). I finish up the 12-week The Artist's Way program tomorrow. I'm actually a little astonished that I stick with it the whole time and did almost all of the exercises, including three "morning pages" every single day (that's 252 handwritten pages!!). I did not experience any dramatic results and very little "synchronicity" as some people report happening, but I did, about halfway through, kick back into gear on writing book that had been languishing since November, so that's something. And I enjoyed writing my morning pages, taking myself on artist dates, and doing small things to treat myself, so I plan on sticking with it—Artist's Way for life. And I'm also moving on to another creativity-generating activity which I'll tell you about tomorrow.

What are you reading this month?

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Upcoming Nature Journaling Workshops

If you're local and you want to learn more about nature journaling, I have a whole slate of workshops scheduled for the next year, starting in April at Viles Arboretum and Hidden Valley Nature Center. 

Viles Arboretum
At Viles Arboretum I will hold four classes over the next year Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., one for each season.
Spring Nature Journaling ~ Birds, April 29Summer Nature Journaling ~ Bugs and Blooms, July 22 (tentatively)Fall Nature Journaling ~ Event Mappping, October 14Winter Nature Journaling ~ Trees, January 20
The workshops are suitable for both beginners and experienced journalers. Each class will include an introduction to nature journaling during which participants will learn a variety of drawing techniques designed to help even the most reluctant artist overcome their fears. From there we'll explore a different aspect of the natural world using a variety of journaling techniques specific to the topic and the season, so that participants may come for just one session without feeling they have missed anything or enjoy all four while learning new ways to journal at each one. Choose one or register for all four. Registration fee: $35 per workshop for Arboretum members, $45 for nonmembers.

Workshop Descriptions:

Spring Nature Journaling ~ Birds! In this workshop we'll use our nature journals to learn more about the birds that populate our fields and forests. We'll employ a variety of nature journaling techniques—from field sketching to detailed drawings, note-taking to poetry-writing—that will help participants become acquainted with our feathered friends. 

Summer Nature Journaling ~ Blooms and Bugs! In this workshop we'll take to the fields to seek out, draw, and write about the season's wildflowers and insects. We'll observe dragonflies, bees, and butterflies, practice sketching moving objects, and celebrate midsummer flowers in our journals. 

Fall Nature Journaling ~ Event Mapping! In this workshop we'll learn how to create an event map—an illustrated depiction of a route we take through the landscape—while we wander the Arboretum's trails. Through noticing and recording the sights, sounds, and moments in nature that draw our attention, we'll sharpen our observation skills and deepen our connection to the natural world.

Winter Nature Journaling ~ Trees! Artists from Da Vinci to Cezanne have found inspiration in the spare, bare branches of leafless winter trees. Focusing on those trees, we'll work on several drawing techniques that will help us truly see the natural world before us, practice describing nature using all of our senses, and write our way into stories about the winter world around us.

What to bring: 
We will spend time both outdoors and inside during all four workshops, so please dress accordingly and bring sunscreen and insect repellant as needed. Bring a blank book, notebook, or journal and your preferred writing and drawing tools (pencil and pen, and colored pencils, if you have them), and something to sit on outdoors (lightweight camp chair, sit mat, extra jacket, etc.). If you have binoculars and/or a field guide to birds, please bring them to the bird workshop.

How to sign up: 
The workshops aren't on the the arboretum's website yet, but you can call the Arboretum at (207) 626-7989 to register.

Hidden Valley Nature Center (Midcoast Conservancy) I'll also be holding a summer nature journaling workshop at Hidden Valley Nature Center on Jun 17, 9:00 am - 12:00 pm.


June is an extra-special time at Hidden Valley Nature Center, when the woodland wildflowers carpet the forest floor. Join us on Saturday June 17, as we seek out, identify, draw, and write about some of the season’s blooms. We’ll start the day with an introduction to nature journaling, during which participants will learn a variety of drawing techniques designed to help even the most reluctant artist overcome their fears. Then we’ll head out into the woods in search of pink lady’s slippers, fringed polygala, creeping dogwood, pitcher plants, and other woodland beauties. We’ll sketch, make observations of, and celebrate these flowers in our journals.

If you’re a novice naturalist this class will help you start identifying flowers, with your journal as your aid. If you’re an expert botanist you’ll learn ways to record your observations and deepen your appreciation through journaling.

Please bring a blank book, notebook, or journal and your preferred writing and drawing tools (pencil, pen, colored pencils), as well as water and snacks. We will spend time both indoors and outdoors and will walk up to a mile or more in search of flowers, so please dress accordingly and consider wearing a hat, sunscreen, insect repellant, and whatever tick-proof clothing you prefer.

Register here.

I'd love to see you at any or all of these workshops!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Writing the Colorado Trail

The whole (purported) purpose of quitting my job and hiking the Colorado Trail last summer was to write a book about the hike, a hike on the same trail C and I took 20 years ago, and the social and environmental changes that took place in the mountains during those two decades (there were many ulterior motives as well, but we don't need to get into those here).

Writing a book is a HUGE undertaking. Not only do I have to take journal notes from two separate six- to nine-week hikes and turn them into a coherent narrative, I have to research, digest, and summarize in an engaging way such things as water rights and reclamation, fire suppression, mining, climate change, public lands, grazing, recreation, and about two billion years of plate tectonics, uplift, and erosion. No problem. The writing and research are moving forward apace now, but I did take a little bit of a break from about November into February. I think it was a necessary period of senescence, letting the thoughts and experiences marinate a bit before turning to the monumental task of information-gathering. But I was not entirely idle during that time: I worked on several shorter pieces, some of which pertain to the hiking of the trail, two of which went live last week:

On, "How Being a Mom Helped Me Hike 500 Miles," a short list of ways that my experience of being a mom made hiking the trail easier than it had been 20 years ago.

At Mothers Always Write, "Five Hundred Miles," an essay about sharing the trail experience with my teenage son.

If you're game, please check them out and let me know what you think. And if you do the social media thing, I'd love it if you shared either or both on Facebook or Twitter.

Friday, March 17, 2017


The Situation: E and I pulled out the mancala board last weekend and, with a little help from M, figured out how to play, coming back to the smooth wooden grooves and cool glass pebbles again and again as the weekend went by.

The Stories:

Endless Weekends. Now that I don't work outside of the home anymore, I no longer feel like I need to live my entire life—both all of the things I need to do and all of the things I want to do—during those two days each week. Time stretches out. Whole weekends go by where I accomplish almost nothing. It feels good and it feels strange. A little guilty. Which brings me the next story: how I spend far too much of my newly acquired free time.

Boredom and Screens. The boys have gotten very intense with their screen time lately. I tend to ignore it for a while, taking advantage of the quiet it creates, until it has built up to a head and then I careen in the other direction, the screen nazi. So when I got an email from a teacher about a homework situation, screens disappeared. Boys went through the stages of grief—surliness, teariness, stomping, sulking, a slow return to real play. I feel like it's my obligation to engage them in real-world activities, even when screens haven't been disappeared. I know kids need to figure out what to do with themselves when bored, that it's actually good for them to be bored, but left to their own devices that's just where they'd turn, to their devices. E is much more amenable to being roped into a game or a project than Z, who would rather wander off by himself and daydream. Which brings me to the next story.

Twindividuation. The essay I told you about last week, which will be coming out in the Multiples Illuminated anthology, is about how spending an intense amount of time together over the summer seemed to trigger an intense period of individuation between E and Z. But when I wrote it back in the fall, I hadn't seen nothin' yet. Then they chose to divide their wardrobe and dresser drawers, and busied themselves with separate activities much of the time. Now they hardly have anything to do with each other, rarely want to play together or talk to each other and are often cross with each other. I think this has been harder on me than it has been on them. I miss their tight bond. Which brings me to the next story, and back to the first one.

Time. I don't know how to characterize time raising kids. The cliches—"it goes by so fast" and "long days, short years" don't quite capture the reality. It's more like you, here, now are point A and time accelerates as it moves away from point A, in both directions. So that the present is slow and stretchy, like taffy, but the farther it moves into the past or future the less viscous and more fluid it becomes as it ribbons away from you like meltwater sheeting down a rock face. I think I'm mixing my metaphors there. Today you think you will spend the rest of your life arguing with your 11-year-old about how much screen time is enough screen time, but if you look back at that 11-year-old as a baby, he's careening away from you at light speed, even though then you thought you would be changing his diapers forever. Same when you looking into the future. He as a teenager, an adult, and old man, shoots away from you at warp speed, but when you're there in some future incarnation, time, a moment, will feel slow and still, as you both move glass beads along a mancala board with your old, withered hands.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

How to Write with (or Despite) Kids

At risk of turning this here blog into the department of shameless self-promotion, I have another publication to share with you today.

Two of my writing assistants.

In How to Write with (or Despite) Kids over at WOW! Women on Writing, I share some of the ways I've been able to make writing work for me over the years, even with three kids using up as much of my time and many of my brain cells as they possibly can. I hope you enjoy it and find some useful advice.
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