Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Ten Years

I thought it would be fitting to share this image from one of my earliest blog posts, which depicts a page from a book M created as part of my half-assed and half-hearted attempt to make Thanksgiving crafts in emulation of my beloved/hated craft blogging domestic goddesses. For any mom worried about her six-year-old's obsession with weaponry, I can say to you that, in M's case anyway, it is a phase that does pass. Hang in there.

I published my first post on this blog on November 21, 2007…ten years ago today! A lot has changed in that time, not the least of which is that my kids went from being 2, 2, and 6 to 12, 12, and 16. In that time, my oldest child went from sitting in a booster seat to driving a car. How crazy is that?

I've used this blog for many things over the years—to show off, to vent, to share, to start a dialogue. The blog, in turn, inspired me to be a more interesting, creative person and a more engaged, crafty mom, because at the end of each weekend, I had to have enough material for a week's worth of blogs. (For a brief dip into the origin and evolution of my blog, see here.)

Lately, however, I've felt less driven to do things so I can share them on the blog, and less driven to share things I do do (don't be fooled by the ages of my children; they would laugh uproariously at the ending of that sentence, especially the 16-year-old). And time spent on the blog means less time working on The Book and other creative (or not-so-creative) projects.

So I have at long last come to the decision that it's time to say goodbye. Rather than just fading from the screen, as so many of my favorite bloggists have done over the years, I'm leaving in a slow, deliberate, you might say drawn-out fashion. I'm going to stick around through the end of the year, and maybe into January a bit, to document the holidays and the annual I Did it Post. I hope that you will stick around, too.

And I'm not disappearing from the internet. In fact, I've created an actual website and even bought a domain name:

The site includes a blog page, where I'll share news and updates, mainly related to writing, but who knows what I might dream up. Check out the new space and let me know what you think and let me know if there's anything from this blog that you insist I carry on to the next.

Friday, November 17, 2017

October Reads

A monthly recap of books I've read. For past months, see:
January Reads 
February Reads 
March Reads 
April Reads 
May Reads  
June Reads
July Reads
August Reads 
 September Reads

Where has this month gone? More than half over and I'm just now getting to my book post for last month. And there aren't even that many books on the list!

It appears that in October I undertook an unsystematic study of detective fiction. I cleaned out my bookshelves a while ago and filled up a rather large box which would be labeled, if I was the labeling type, "Read And Get Rid Of" or perhaps "Read Or Get Rid Of." In any case, I'm trying to work my way through them (so that I can buy more books, of course), and last month I read the mysteries among the pile.

But first, I read Talking about Detective Fiction, by P.D. James, a survey of the genre, specifically British realm of detective fiction, written by a titan of the form. I picked this book up at a used book shop a few months ago, thinking it might be useful if I ever decided to write mysteries myself. It was an engaging and entertaining read, which made me want to read some of the books mentioned within, so I turned to my box of Books to Read and/or Get Rid of and sorted all the mysteries out of the pile.

I'm not sure how any of these books came into my possession in the first place, or why I've never read them before, but I started with Dorothy L. Sayers, a name I was familiar with from the TV show Mystery adaptations of some of her books. Gaudy Night was a lot of work to get through—it was filled with references to Classical Literature, Elizabethan Poetry, the geography and inner workings of Oxford (both the town and the university) and other esoteric fields that us public-schooled Americans might not have the best grasp of (I think P.D. James mentioned that some have found Sayers' books snobbish for these references), but I persevered and enjoyed the books central conflict about the role of women in society (mother & caretaker vs. intellectual & working woman), and didn't let the fact that Lord Peter swooped in and solved Harriet Vane's puzzle bother me too much. The Nine Tailors, which was shorter and had a lot less esoteric detail (only in reference to the complicated workings of Anglican church bells) was a faster read, but also enjoyable.

By good luck, there was a P.D. James among the pile—unfortunately not Death Comes to Pemberly, which I've been wanting to read, but unable to find, for a while, but rather an Adam Dalgleish mystery, A Taste for Death (interestingly, the second among the pile in which the murder takes place in a church). James does interesting things with point of view and comes at the story from several characters' angles, including a young female detective, which made it more interesting to me (sorry, I just don't want to read about stuffy old dudes that much).

Finally, I read In Potters Field, a contemporary mystery by American writer Patricia Cornwell. It was, frankly, a big letdown after the three previous books. The writing was not nearly as rich and interesting as Sayers's or James's books. The plot not as complicated. There really was no "mystery" to it at all, just a chase for a serial killer (who, one presumes, has made an appearance in previous books). The book relies more on gruesome murder and an anxiety-riddled chase-and-kill scene than a clever puzzle to unwind.

In sum: classics are classic for a reason (even in genres) and I need to find a Little Free Library in which to deposit these books.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Wild Wednesday ~ Nature Journal Recharge

A few weeks ago, our family attended a presentation by the naturalist Bernd Heinrich. After the talk, I picked up from the book sale table a copy of Heinrich's recent book collaboration with ecologist Nathan Wheelwright, The Naturalist's Notebook, which is a how-to guide for tracking nature's changes (phenology), with a five-year calendar/journal in the back.

It's a lovely, lovely book, with gold-edged pages and (my favorite) a built-in ribbon bookmark, illustrated with Heinrich's sketches and watercolors throughout.

While most of the information wasn't new to me, having read a lot of books about nature journaling and having gone through the Maine Master Naturalist program, I always appreciate a refresher and I especially liked the ideas of experimentation and citizen science presented throughout the book—ways of taking your nature experience beyond appreciation and observation.

I had been in a bit of a nature-journaling rut and just looking at Heinrich's illustrations inspired me to get out and get sketching.

The months I spent learning to use watercolor paints last winter finally paid off—this is the first time I've tried using them in a journaling format (other than a few stray and unsuccessful experiments over the years) and coincidentally, the art store changed brands of my preferred field notebook, to one with heavier pages that take the paint beautifully.

Heinrich describes his art supplies thus: "I use only number 2 pencils with erasers or Micron 01 indelible ink pens. I have eight brushes (but use no more than three) and two watercolor sets. Each set …holds 24 colors…. Most likely I received both sets as gifts when I was a teen and there is still enough paint left in both to last another lifetime…."

This inspired me to rethink my art supplies and drawing tools. Not that I have an excess of either, but I really do love trying out different media and adding to my large colored pencil collection.

So I've been experimenting with watercolor and number 2 pencil, and watercolor and colored pencils.

And I've been working on making the most of my different watercolor sets (three travel sets of various smallness, and a palette of colors squeezed from tubes), learning the different characteristics of each and figuring out how to maximize color combinations, especially with the little travel sets.

Most importantly, I've been using my journal to help me appreciate the natural world during these waning days of autumn and learn a little more about the world around me.

Friday, November 3, 2017

October in Review

October seems to have gotten away from me—there were many things I meant to post about, but somehow never got around to it.

It was a beautiful month, sunny and dry, until it wasn't (more about that in a minute). I got the kids to walk through our woods a few times and we even went on a family hike once (I have mentioned how no one likes to leave the house, haven't I?). Unfortunately, I didn't take along my camera for documentary evidence.

E and Z and I did a Van Gogh art project, with various interpretations of what that meant.

And we all made tie-died t-shirts, which is so much easier now, with squirt-bottles of concentrated dyes, than last time I tried it, 30 years ago, with dipping shirts in and out of buckets of watery Rit.

C and I did our best to wrangle the last of the garden produce. He made several large batches of tomatillo salsa and I boiled or roasted the rest of the tomatillos and froze them for winter cooking.

With the last of the VERY LARGE harvest of chile peppers (jalapeño and habanero), I made hot pepper jellies, hot sauces, roasted and frozen peppers, and dried peppers. That was a lot of peppers.

With the end of the month came a crazy wind-and-rain storm, which knocked power out for most of the state, littered roads with fallen trees and downed power lines, and drove most of the leaves off the trees (though the beech and oak hung on tight).

The upshot for us was NO SCHOOL for this whole week, with power out almost everywhere (except, thank you sun and solar panels and batteries, our house) and roads too hazardous for buses to pass through.

Three people in our house were pretty psyched about this development. I even got into the spirit of it for the first couple of days, playing Snow Day, baking cinnamon rolls and watching movies, but a whole week with a houseful of kids (and no internet) put a serious dent in my work flow.

Despite calls here and there to postpone Halloween until Friday (to which we said "Phooey"), we braved the dark and tree-littered streets to make our usual trick-or-treat rounds.

Our usual hay wagon being unavailable, we made do with C's work truck, which worked out nicely, as grown-ups got to sit inside for once (although it was such a mild night, it wouldn't have been bad to be in a trailer).

The power outages and candle-lit homes made for an extra-spooky Halloween-i-ness, and I think people appreciated a diversion from sitting around in their dark houses, listening to their generators run. And I think the kids appreciated being part of a lower-than-normal turnout that led to even more candy in their buckets than usual.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Book ~ In Process

I recently read a column in which the author claimed that no one who says they are writing a book will never, ever finish writing a book.

This made me neurotic for a little while. Had I already told too many people that I'm writing a book? Should I delete all references to it? Do I need to invent a fake job as cover? Is it already too late?

I've decide instead to throw caution to the wind and tell you all about my book-writing process thus far. See that big pile of paper to the right of my laptop? That's my book.

Also can you see the sad cracks on my laptop screen from the day I left it on the couch and someone must have sat on it?

Please don't ask me if it's done yet. Writing a book, in my experience, is not like baking a lasagne, where you prepare all of the parts, put them together, and toss it in the oven until it's all bubbly. It's like making a lasagna if you individually make each part from scratch (including growing the tomatoes), put it all together, bake it until it's bubbly, then take it out, taste the whole thing, then take it all apart, scrape the cheese and sauce off of the noodles, add different seasonings, switch out the spinach for eggplant, add some sausage, then take it back out again, then put it all together again, bake until bubbly, then repeat, several more times until it actually tastes good (or, possibly, turns into an inedible mass of burnt cheese and noodles). Have I taken this metaphor too far?

When we returned from our hike on the Colorado Trail last year, I spent the next couple of months transcribing my journals, adding from memory, rewriting as I went along, and dropping the notes from my first Colorado Trail hike into the document at about the same geographical points. I finished this process the day before the election, after which I went into a bit of a tailspin. I can see now that I needed a bit of temporal and emotional distance from the material, but I would have been perfectly happy to attain this break another way. After a couple of months' hiatus, I spent some time working on shorter pieces which helped me step away from the whole big huge manuscript and focus on specific themes and ideas and begin to process the experience.

Around that same time (January) I also started The Artist's Way, which entails daily writing of three pages, long-hand. Several weeks into TAW, I started to work on my book again, three pages a day, long-hand (coincidence?). This helped me put together my introduction (which has since become Chapter 1). Beginning around February, I printed out my journal notes, one section at a time, and retyped them into a fresh document, revising, researching, and incorporating the first hike as I went along. After a few months of this incredibly slow process, I put a hold on the research and focused instead on retyping/revising/incorporating only (putting in bracketed "research ski industry/spruce budworm/mineral belt" as placeholders). Summer threw me for another loop, what with kids home all day and a big road trip and the sun and the beach and stuff, so that by the time my writing retreat came, I was about two sections, or 60 pages, shy of finishing this process.

Nevertheless, I printed out all I had finished as well as all I hadn't and took the stack of paper and several different colored pens to the artist colony, where I wrote all over the manuscript in a color-coded system (teal=general edits/changes/revisions; pink=find a better word; orange=research; lime green=write better). Now I'm going through that stack of paper, incorporating the edits into my draft and doing research as I go along. I'm up to Chapter 5, which is about where I stopped researching during the first go-round, so I expect the process to s-l-o-w-w-a-y-d-o-w-n again.

During a session at a writing conference this summer, one of the panelists described revision as smoothing out a scarf—you start at one corner and push the wrinkles ahead of you, coming back to that first corner again and again and again. I've been holding this image in my mind—the scarf (book) doesn't have to be ironed flat with each step, just smoothed out a little more than before.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Nature Journaling ~ Event Mapping

An Event Map is a visual depiction of your time out exploring nature. Using words, simple drawings, and mapping symbols you recreate on paper the world around you—both elements of the landscape, like trees or mountains, and things that happen, like a visit from a chickadee or a dragonfly that zooms across your path. Usually an Event Map will trace your route through the landscape as you hike, wander, or explore, but you could also make an event map while sitting still. Event Mapping slows you down and helps you pay attention to and record little details; it gets you out of your mind and into the world that surrounds you.

I'll be teaching a workshop on Event Mapping at Viles Arboretum in Augusta on Saturday, October 28, 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. $35 members/$45 non-members. Call the Arboretum at 207-626-7989 to register.

This workshop will be a little different from my other Nature Journaling classes in that we'll spend less time indoors working on drawing techniques and more time out in the field exploring. After a brief introduction to Event Mapping and a few quick drawing skills, we'll wander the Arboretum's trails and create our own Event Maps. 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.

Please bring: a journal, notebook, or blank paper and clipboard; simple drawing tools (pen or pencil with sharpener); snacks, water, and lunch; and a backpack to carry everything in. You may also bring binoculars, a hand lens, and field guides if you would like, though this workshop will be less about identifying and more about observing and experiencing. Please dress for the weather and wear sturdy shoes, a hat, and sunscreen or bug repellant if needed.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Monarch Summers II

In late summer, my children and I search for caterpillars. The milkweed is thigh-high at this time, with fragrant mauve flower clusters swelling into rotund seed pods. When we see leaves that are missing great chunks of green flesh, we peer underneath of them, hoping to find a fat yellow-, black-, and white-striped caterpillar hiding there. When we do find one, we bring it home and place it, along with a good handful of its milkweed host, in our butterfly jar, a bulbous vase of blown glass, to complete its cycle of eating and growing and transforming into a monarch butterfly.

So begins my essay "Monarch Summers" which was published last fall in the journal Snowy Egret. JUST in case you didn't order a copy of that print-only journal, you can now read the piece at the website Nature Writing. I'd love to hear what you think.

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