Tuesday, January 15, 2019

November and December 2018 Reads

A roundup of books I read over the last month. You can see past lists here:

October 2018 Reads
September 2018 Reads
August 2018 Reads
July 2018 Reads
January 2018 Reads

Not only has working put a major dent in my reading, it's put a dent in my blogging about reading, too. So here you have two months' worth of reads, and two very small stacks they are.

My November list, just three books tall and all fiction:

In November I felt compelled to return to my obsessive MPM (that's Mertz/Peters/Michaels) reading binge, which had cooled off a bit over the previous couple of months, but with a few books remaining unread from my summer used-bookstore hauntings. So I read Stitches in Time, which is about a haunted quilt (yes, I know it sounds cheesy. Okay, maybe it is cheesy, but fun no less). I enjoyed that two main characters from Michaels's first book, Ammie Come Home, make a reappearance in it. 

I also read a collection of short stories by Margaret Atwood, Wilderness Tips, which I picked up at the library book sale over the summer, and which I enjoyed very much. I haven't read a lot of short stories since grad school, when I read a ton and, frankly, got sick of them, but I liked these and think I'll reintroduce the short story to my reading diet. They make sense with limited reading time.

And, finally, E, Z, and I finished the penultimate book in the Amelia Peabody series, and we're still going strong. This one had kind of a wacky plot premise (then again, a lot of them do), but it was a fun read nonetheless.

December was another month of three books, three slender books. In fact, the month was so cucoo-crazy that I'm amazed there was even one book (I didn't even do my annual read of David Sedaris's "Santaland Diaries"!!):

Nonfiction: I needed a short book to read during little snippets of time that presented themselves here and there during the month, so I pulled off my shelf a book I've owned for a long time but never got around to reading for some reason: Woman Who Speaks Tree by Maine author Linda Tatlebaum. I've read a few of her other books and I enjoy her straightforward tone. This book is a collection of essays, into each of which trees play some role—her and her husband's arrival in Maine as back-to-the-land hippies and their sometimes misguided efforts to establish a homestead among the trees; her failed attempt to save a beautiful old tree on the college campus where she teaches; the cutting of trees on the property that borders her own; the ancient apple tree that served as spiritual guide as she raised her son. All good stories, full of heart and humor.

Fiction: I picked up Snapper by Brian Kimberling at the library book sale, I will not lie, 100% because of the cover. The novel is a first-person tale of a bird researcher in Indiana and his experiences. It's an odd novel, in that it reads like a loosely connected series of vignettes, and I still wasn't sure when I got to the end what exactly the plot was, but it was still entertaining. 

During my extended holiday weekend, I found myself with a little spare time and in the mood for something Christmassy, so I delved into A Christmas Story by Jean Shepherd, which is a book into which the short stories that make up much of the material that iconic movie have been collected. Though the book is billed as fiction (and the kid in the book is named Ralpie, not Jean), the stories read an awful lot like personal essays, and I wonder how much truth winds among the fiction. If you love the movie, or if you like humorous stories about life in the Midwest during the depression (I mean, who doesn't?), it's worth a read. 

Both of these books take place in Indiana—one Southern, one Northern; one rural and the other suburban, covering, I figure, the whole of the state—and it was odd to have read two books about Indiana in a single month when I don't think I've ever read a single book that took place in that state before. It makes me think I should organize my reading geographically from now on.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

I Did It! 2018 Edition

For the past several years, I've paused at the turn of the year and, before listing my goals for the upcoming year (and instead of berating myself for those things left undone from the previous year), I've made a list of accomplishments and goals achieved (originally inspired by this post from blogger and writer Lisa Romeo), both with regard to writing and other things in life.

Writing I Did Its

Books written: 1

My one, overarching goal for 2018 was to finish writing my book, and…I did it! I completed a full draft in June, subjected it to one round of revision, and then sent it off to two writing friends for suggestions and further edits. I subsequently sent off queries to several agents. No bites so far, but I have plans for deeper revision and further querying in the new year.

The focus on finishing the book, meant that my efforts in other writing areas lagged a bit:

Submissions: 14
Rejections: 7
Acceptances: 2
Publications: 3 essays:

"Memento VivereStill Point Arts Quarterly
"The Sparrow's SongThe Sunlight Press
"The World in their HandsNature Writing ​(republished)
 I launched a freelance career and enjoyed its brief glow before I had to go get a real job, producing 5 pieces:
"Sharing a Love of Wilderness" and "Naturalist's NotebookMaine Wilderness Guide
"Jargon: Anatomy of a MountainTrailGroove
"Rachel Carson's Maine" Green and Healthy Maine Summer Guide
"Becoming a Trail NaturalistTrailGroove
"Reduce, Recycle, RetireGreen and Healthy Maine Homes
I also taught four nature journaling workshops, including two in quite ideal circumsances—one on a sea kayak excursion and another on a weekend in a cabin up north.

Other writing numbers:

Writing residencies applied for: 1
Residencies accepted to: 0
Grants applied for: 2
Grants received: 0

I did earn more than twice what I made the year before from writing and teaching—not enough to live on, but a kind of nice bump in the otherwise nonexistant income. I made an attempt to keep a little toe in the literary world by attending a few writing workshops and presentations/panels, as well as the nearby annual poetry festival.

Travel I Did Its!
This was a poor year for travel, being a poor year, literally. All of our trips were fairly local: our usual May camping trip and visit to the in-laws' camp, and another camping trip with friends, plus a trip to Boston in February to visit colleges with M and a family expedition to Vermont this summer for a funeral/family reunion/more college visits, as well as trips to the beach and other day trips.

Art and Craft I Did Its!
For the second year, I participated in The 100 Day Project, this time drawing each day. In the end, I think I only accomplished somewhere around 85 days, and they were nowhere near consecutive, but I did improve greatly on my pencil drawing skills.

I haven't had much of a crafty year. The only knitting I did was preemie hats for the twins' class to donate to the hospital. I also finished up E's quilt, made a fun (but perhaps not that professional) farm quilt for a friend's new baby, and put together the quilt you see at the top of this post, which I'll get back from the quilter any day now, and which I'll tell you all about soon.

Tell me about your 2018 I Did Its!

Thursday, December 27, 2018

The Holiday Squeeze

I had to make some adjustments as I figured out—or relearned—how to Christmas while working full time.

We had the added complication this year of M's weekend work and play practice schedule.

Plus the plays and music concerts and other performances to attend ourselves.

We worked around, cut back, and made-do. I let some things drop—St. Nicholas Day, St. Lucia Day, the Winter Solstice hike and fire in the woods.

No one seemed to miss the missing celebrations, and I'm not sure how to take that—be happy that my kids are easy to please or disappointed that our traditions over the years didn't make more of an impression.

We DID host our traditional Hanukkah feast with friends, on the same afternoon we brought in our tree.

C and the boys took charge of decorating said tree, while I prepared latkes, and festooned it with miles of yarn garland from E and Z's finger-knitting days.

It took me until two days before Christmas to finish hanging all our ornaments, the same day I spun like a whirlwind, baking three kinds of cookies and my first-ever yule log cake (Black Forest flavor).

And we went on a traditional family Christmas Eve hike to the river with our guests.

Followed by family and feasting and, of course, round after round of gift-opening.

The greatest gift I received was five full days off to spend doing all of that baking and decorating, and a little last-minute shopping, and, of course, doing what I love best on Christmas: hanging out at home with my kids, watching them enjoy their gifts, nibbling all day on cookies and crackers and cheese, and just being for a little while, with nowhere to go and absolutely nothing we have to do.

I hope you and yours had a wonderful holiday season, too.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Memento Vivere

It is a shining fall morning and my husband, our three sons, and I are hiking at one of our favorite local trails. I say ourfavorite, because its a place weve visited regularly since the children were small, when the twins, Emmet and Zephyr, rode in backpacks and our oldest son, Milo, ran down the mossy trail, stopping to dig up Indian cucumber root and wild sarsaparilla and gnaw on spruce gum. Me and Papa are the plant eaters,hed declare. But today those children are disgruntled. They are eleven and fifteen years old and have better things to do than go hiking with their parents on a bright October day.
So begins my latest published essay, "Memento Vivere," which is about impermanence, growing children, and the artist Andy Goldsworthy and appears, alongside some gorgeous photography of Goldsworthy sculptures, in the Winter 2018 issue of Still Point Arts Quarterly, and which you can read, download, or order in hard copy here. Hope you enjoy it!

Monday, December 10, 2018

November Writing

I spent November trying to relearn how to be a writer who also works a full-time job. I remember back when I used to have small children and I made a zine, then blogged regularly, then went to graduate school, I was sometimes asked, "How do you find time to write?" I wish I'd had a satisfactory answer then, because I really need it now. One big difference is that I used to have children who went to bed at 8 p.m. Now the twins stay up till 9, if I'm lucky, and M until who knows when. And, though it's hard to believe, since I was so much closer to twinfant sleep deprivation days back then, but I think I need a lot more sleep now. If I don't get my 8 hours of zzzzz's, I'm zombiesque all day, which doesn't leave me much time for me. But I've been trying my best, and this is what I've come up with:

Early Mornings. Keeping in mind the essay "Five a.m., Writing as Ritual," by Judith Ortiz Cofer, I endeavored to get up at 5 every morning. I failed most days, but I did manage to get up sometime between five and six, which gave me somewhere between 15 minutes and an hour of writing time, in a silent house, with no one around being distracting; it's been a constant war between the gratification of a long writing session and the warm coziness of my bed.

NANOWRIMO. I've never participated in National Novel Writing Month, which falls in November every year, because in November I'm too busy panicing about the impending holidays without doing anything to prepare for said holidays. But somehow I decided that this year, during the month when I was starting a new job would be the perfect time to do my first NANO. And by doing NANO, I don't mean I signed up on the website (I didn't even visit the website once), nor did I track my word count, which came nowhere near the 1500-odd words per day required to reach the NANO goal of 50,000 for the month. I didn't join any discussion groups or attend any write-ins. What I did do was work on a novel every day of the month, working from premise to plot, sketching out scenes, fiddling with character details, laying out a rough outline, and revisiting one of my favorite fiction-writing guidebooks. I did not write a novel, and I'm totally fine with that. Perhaps by next November, I'll have a terrible first draft of this one and can rewrite it for NANO.

Lyric Essay. I took a workshop with the Maine Writer's and Publisher's Alliance on writing the lyric essay, which I've been interested in learning more about for a long time. From the workshop I got a better grasp on the form, assembled a reading list, and have a few ideas for lyric essays of my own. Now I just need more time...

Podcast. Coincidentally, I discovered the Marginally Podcast, which is about writing while working a day job, at almost the exact moment I returned to work and have been binge-listening to all the back episodes during my commute and breaks. When I was writing full-time, I had a vision of incorporating "professional development" into my days, but I rarely made time for these activities because I was so focused on getting my book done (and, I admit now that those days are gone, wasting too much time on leisurely breakfasts, obsessive news-following, and, though I wouldn't call this a waste, playing outside). Now, though I'm ever mindful lest I become not a writer but a person who takes writing classes or attends writing conferences or listens to writing podcasts, I feel like this is the exact kind of professional development I need—how to fit writing into the teensy margins of my life. I enjoy the hosts' back-and-forth chats about how they struggle with writing-while-working as well as the advice from their many guests. My writing community is mostly spread far afield, so it's been fun to listen and pretend I'm part of the conversation. I've picked up a few helpful tidbits along the way, like touch (or poke) your work every day, and the concept of default mode, that time when you're doing something like walking, that doesn't require a lot of mental concentration, and your mind can wander (I stopped listening to the podcast during my morning commute after that, so that I have at least a little time during the day to let my brain just be).

I've brought these habits with me into December, which is the month in which I really need to start panicing about the holidays (and actually doing something about them). I'm still getting up early to write (though taking Sundays off now), pecking away at my novel every day, listening to podcasts, and squeezing in writing, and writing-related tasks like submissions, publicity, website updates, editing work, inbox cleanout, etc., whenever I can—once the kids finally go to bed, after I walk for the first half of my lunch break, during stolen moments on the weekends. After the holidays are over, however, I'm determined to take at least a couple of weekend days per month to focus solely on writing, so that I can delve more deeply than 15 to 30-minute sessions allow. Because I need to expand my margins.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Showing Off ~ And Achieving Goals

I don't brag much about my kids on this blog, because it's much more fun to complain about them. Conflict is the essence of story, right? In fact, I don't write much about them at all anymore. I'd like to say that it's because I'm respecting their privacy and their agency over their own stories, now that they're getting older, but the reality is, older kids are just less interesting than little ones. Or maybe it's that parenting concerns are less urgent—everything is not a crisis anymore. Whatever the reason, I'm breaking that rule, and the not-bragging rule as well, because….

M won a pageant last weekend!

Each year, his school holds a fundraising event, which is part talent show, part mock beauty contest, in which senior boys perform group dance numbers, walk the catwalk in leisure wear, and show off their talents before a panel of faculty and staff judges and a crowd of adoring parents and classmates.

You'd never peg me for a stage mom or a pageant mom. I'm not even a very good sports mom because, while I get excited when my kids' team in general and my kids in particular do well, I also feel a bit of anxiety about the other team and the other kids. Whenever there's a winner, there have to be losers, and that doesn't sit well with me. (I was the mom who used to tell my kids after soccer games, in lieu of the score, "As long as you did your best and had fun, you're a winner!") I felt that same anxiety about all the enthusiastic young men onstage Firday night. At least the event didn't require much pageant mom-ing. I wasn't backstage with the can of Aquanet or anything. All I had to do was sit in the audience, take lots of pictures, and cheer.

M's participation was part of a long-held dream. He'd attended the contest his freshman year and, when I picked him up afterward, declared his intention of winning the prize when he became a senior. He held onto his dream for the next three years and Friday night brought home the crown in a tight race with a group of boys who dislpyed a lot of great talent, good humor, and inspiring enthusiasm. It's an inspiring story of having a goal and achieving it, and I've refrained, mostly, from saying things like, "Imagine if you'd made up your mind to become valedictorian instead." M, for his part, isn't resting on his laurels, but has now set his sights on the next big dream: Prom King.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Making Space

C and I started our house when I was pregnant with M, and at the time we didn't expect to stay here more than five years, let alone have twins four years later. So we only planned one bedroom. This worked fine for several years, since all the kids preferred sleeping in our bed anyway. But eventually things got tight. Over the years, we've adjusted the furniture to make use of the space, starting with bunk beds with a double on bottom, that the twins shared, later adding a loft bed for Z when he and E were ready for their own space. But as the boys continued to grow, the room has shrank, and M has been agitating for his own space, so for the last several months, C has been working to transform a corner of our basement into a bedroom.

When last we saw the chosen space, I'd transformed it into the Lego corner, but over time it became the dumping ground for whatever toys and junk no one wanted to deal with otherwise. It took a lot of transporting of stuff to the barn (yes, I know, not an ideal decluttering method, but this was C and M's project and I didn't have the time or inclinaiton to sort and find new homes for the stuff). A lot of weekends later, the corner was transformed into this:

It's so bright and sunny, not to mention fresh and clean, that I wondered why we didn't make a room here a lot sooner—for me. Wouldn't it make a nice writing studio?

But I'm a nice mom and didn't steal the room for M, but rather moved his furniture for him while he was at work. The room's cozy, just enough room for bed, dresser, desk, but it's a room of his own, and it's good preparation for dorm life.

A friend on Instagram suggested it looks a bit like this space:

I guess there are worse places to sleep than Van Gogh's bedroom. The rest of the basement still looks a lot like the first photo in this post (inexplicably, cleaning and organizing a space does not make it permanently clean and organzied). 

And here's the lad himself, in one of our many attempts at a senior photo.

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