Thursday, April 29, 2010

What to Read?

NOTE: I just realized that the Intense Debate comments weren't showing up in the blog, even though I was getting them in email, so I uninstalled it, and lost all of the comments from the last three posts (thanks for commenting everyone!) Let me know if you have further comment problems. Maybe I'll try something fancy in the future, but for now I'll stick with the Blogger standard comment thingy.

I'm trying to read more contemporary fiction; since I want to write fiction, I suppose I should read it, right? The only trouble is, I don't know how to choose books. For some reason, I have no problem picking up a work of nonfiction and knowing instantly whether I want to read it or not, but with fiction I'll browse the new book section of the book store or library, turning volumes over, reading the back, putting them down, just not knowing whether I'm going to like something.

Lately, whenever I read a review of a book that sounds good, I go instantly to interlibrary loan and order a copy (if one is to be had in Maine, which is not always the case), this has worked out pretty well for me, but I want to know more. What works of fiction have you read lately that I should read?

Here's a sampling of the novels I've read (or tried to read) in the last few months:

Sky Bridge by Laura Pritchett. When I was at AWP, I rode the 16th Street Mall shuttle with a woman from the conference, named Laura, who mentioned she had a panel the next morning. She also said she freelances for magazines for a living, and writes fiction "in the mornings," which I figured meant like the way I write fiction--quietly scribbling bad stories and character sketches that will never see the light of day. When I got back to my sister's apartment, in stalker-like fashion, I looked up in the conference catalog panels for the next morning and saw that one had a panelist named Laura Pritchett, who had been spoken of very highly at a panel I had been to that day. When I flipped to the bio page, I saw that she had two published books. In further stalker behavior, I checked out her webpage when I got home, and saw that she has a PhD, 100s of articles, essays and stories to her credit and has edited a number of anthologies as well. And, the final blow, when I ordered her book through ILL, the library credit page listed her year of birth, which is only two years before mine. Wow. I better get to work. Anyway, I just got the book Tuesday, and I love it so far. It's the story of a young woman living on a ranch in eastern Colorado whose sister gives birth, then takes off, leaving her with the baby.

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon. After hearing Chabon speak, I was determined to love this book, but I can't get past chapter 2. I guess I'm just not that interested in the coming of age story of a Jewish son of a gangster in the early 1980s (am guessing at this date). This is Chabon's first novel (I only chose it because it was the shortest one of his on the library shelf); maybe I should read something more recent.

In the Year of Long Division by Dawn Raffel. This is such a strange book. It's a book of short stories that are more like poems, and, like poems, I have no freakin' clue what's going on, but the language is lovely. I ran out of time to finish this before it was due back at the library, but I'd be interested in reading more of Raffel's work.

The Fiction Class by Susan Breen. I was really excited about this book--there are writing exercises at the ends of some of the chapters. But the characters are not that well-developed and it mentions god, angels and church a bit much for my taste (this is the same reason I can't get past page 10 of an Anne Lamott novel). I think I'll let my checkout time run out before I finish it.

Borderline by Nevada Barr. I used to gobble up Barr's Anna Pigeon, Park Ranger mysteries, but the last couple I read had really excessively disturbing bad guys, so I quit reading her books. But for my flight home from Denver, I wanted to read something light (not the pile of Sun magazines I had crammed into my carry-on in hopes of catching up), so I bought this in the airport. Quick and fun read about a raft trip in Big Bend that goes seriously wrong, and much less psycho murderer than previous books (plus, Pigeon's latent maternal instincts get stirred up a bit).

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. I keep this book in my car for emergency waiting room episodes. I like how this character and life in this small town in Maine is portrayed from different points of view. Well-developed characters and for the most part avoids sentimentalizing the quaint Maine seacoast town, which I appreciate. I'm afraid I'm getting to the sad(der) part, though.

Bridget Jones's Diary and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason by Helen Fielding. Hurrah! These were both re-reads (possibly for the second time) in a fit of needing something light. I forgot how funny both books are! I found myself on the couch, wrapped in a blanket at midnight laughing my a** off. I needed that in March in Maine. It may need to be an annual tradition.

East Hope by Katharine Davis. The parallel stories of two characters who find themselves in a small town on the coast of Maine. One is a woman whose husband dies, has a son in college who's growing distant, is pregnant from a one-night-stand with a neighbor and goes to Maine to claim a cottage inherited from her husband's aunt; the other is a college professor falsely accused of sexual harassment whose marriage is falling apart and who takes a summer job running a used bookstore. I liked the surprising twists this storyline takes, though the book does fall into the sentimentalized "quaint Maine village" trap.

A Bird in Hand by Christina Baker Kline. A woman is involved in a car accident in which a child dies; while it's not exactly her fault, it infuses her with guilt and adds bumps to an already rocky marriage. If you're interested in writing, read Kline's blog, A Writing Life.

Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich. Wow. This book was amazing. I couldn't read it fast enough. It's the story of a woman trapped in an abusive relationship with her husband. It shows all the complexities of such a life in ways I had never considered before--that you can go from one moment fearing for your life to the next minute discussing what's for dinner. You can't help but wonder how much of the story comes from Erdrich's relationship with Michael Dorris. It's written from three points of view--the blue diary (which the woman keeps in her home office), the red diary (which she keeps in a safe deposit box at the bank) and a third-person narrator whose identity you only learn in the last couple of pages.

Moonspender by Jonathan Gash. C and I had been watching a lot of the early TV series of Lovejoy, so I had to check out one of the books. Lovejoy is a lovable chauvinist; an antique dealer, sometimes-forger and "divvy" (one who can tell on sight if an antique is real or fake). The book's written in East Anglian slang, so I only understood about every fourth word and I started saying things like "kip," "knackered," and "ta."

What have you been reading, or trying to read, or not reading lately?

Book Booty!

On Monday I received this in the mail:

It's a box of all of the books, literary journals and magazines I collected (some at great discount, some practically thrust at me as the booth attendants were preparing to break down and go home) at the AWP. There was no way these were going to fit into my suitcase, so I had my mom mail them to me. I'm super excited to add them to the pile of unread magazines and library books next to my bed read them.

I'm most looking forward to reading Tender Hooks by Beth Ann Fennelly. She was a panelist at one of the sessions I went to and read some of her poetry, which was wonderful--moving and funny and powerful. After reading her bio on the back of the book, and seeing she's an assistant professor of English a the University of Mississippi, I flipped to the Acknowledgements section, and sure enough, there was Ann Fisher-Wirth.

Ann was one of the instructors at a writing workshop I attended nearly six years ago (the other instructor started out the week mistaking me for one of his ex-girlfriends--he was there with his wife and two young kids--and even after he saw my name was Andrea, not Adrian, he still had to ask if I had ever lived in Yukon Territory. Uncomfortable). M was three years old (and I wasn't yet pregnant with the twinsies). At four days, it was the longest I had been away from him (I had only spent one overnight--a bridal shower turned bachelorette party--and one women's ski weekend away from him before), and I loved it (and, of course, payed dearly when I returned). Ann was such a fun, inspiring person. It was the first time I had taken writing seriously since my journalism "career" got derailed after three semesters in college, and I feel like it was the first step in a very slow and protracted process of becoming a "writer" (still working on it!). (Boy I'm into the parentheses today, aren't I?)

Also at the AWP bookfair, Writer's Digest Books was handing out coupons for 40% off titles on their website plus free shipping. I took the opportunity to order three books I've been wanting to get for a while, but have not gotten because I already have a pretty good sized stack of craft (of writing) books that I never use. But these will be different! I swear!

The books:

Writer Mama by Christina Katz

Writing the Life Poetic by Sage Cohen (I took Sage's Poetry for the People Class last spring, and while I wasn't in a good head space for it at the time, it was a good class, and I produced at least two decent poems).

Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Pilo O' Scarves

Before I left for Denver, I made these scarves for my sisters, my mom and a couple of friends I visited there.
Like the one I made myself last month, they're made with Anna Marie Horner Little Folks voile, from here (which is just down the road--which in Maine means a 20-minute drive--from me).
The fabric is a little bit wider than normal, so just a half yard, hemmed all around makes a perfect spring scarf.

I tried doing a better job on these than I had with my own--actually ironing under the hem before sewing. I also used a very narrow zig-zag for the seam, which gives it a nice finished look and also disguises the fact that I can't sew in a straight line to save my life (even with the newly-discovered fabric guide in place)!
The best part about these? No cutting! Except for the ironing (which I had done earlier), it only took about an hour or two to sew up all six, two nights before I left on my trip!
My only regret? That I didn't keep them all for myself! And also that when my mom and I were in a shop that had different colorways of the same fabric, I felt too sick to look around, enjoy myself, or buy anything!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

New Favorite Food--Gnocchi

Note: I just installed Intense Debate to make it easier to respond to comments. Let me know if it causes you any problems leaving comments!

Lately I have been loving cooking (and eating) gnocchi (which I believe is pronounced "no-key"). It's a rather time-consuming, somewhat elaborate (but not difficult) meal to prepare, not something you whip up after work on a Tuesday night. However, I don't mind cooking something a little elaborate every once in a while. Actually, in an ideal world, I would cook one big, fancy meal each week and not go near the kitchen again all week--not even to pour cereal or fix lunches. This is not an ideal world, however, so while I try to make one nice meal on the weekends, I still have to make a few quickish (but still mostly from scratch) things during the week, and fix lunches. C usually makes pizza the other weekend night and does most of our weeknight cooking, since he often works from home and can get started earlier. He's also the one who usually pours the cereal.

Anyhoo, back to the gnocchi. First I tried the Beet Gnocchi from Apples for Jam. This is basically a potato gnocchi with a little pureed beet root added for color. And what a color it is. Mixed with the last little bit of last summer's pesto, it looked like nothing so much as raw stew meat marinating in something green, which needless to say, freaked me out a bit (though I still managed to gobble down a heaping plateful). And the texture was a bit on the glutinous side (with the emphasis on "glue"). I'm not sure if that was the recipe's fault or mine.

(Photo by M)

Next I made Gnocchi di Patate alla Veronese (potato dumplings from Verona) out of my hand-me-down-from-my-mother The Romagnolis' Meatless Cookbook (c. 1976). This is a potato gnocchi, made in the traditional shell shape by rolling small pieces on a cheese grater. I had to start cooking at two in the afternoon, however, because the gnocchi required two hours to dry, which may have helped in the much improved texture of these (serving them with an entire stick of melted butter didn't hurt either!)

When I was in Denver, I went to a restaurant near my sister's apartment called Root Down. It's located in an old service station, with the works "breaks," "shocks," and "mufflers" still over the garage bays that are now big windows into the kitchen. I had just been to a conference about brownfields (i.e. redeveloping old industrial sites for new uses), so I was excited to be eating in one (and hoping they had done a good job with the cleanup). They also cook with a lot of local foods and use as many recycled materials as they can. I ordered a "little dish" of carrot gnocchi. I was already not feeling well the night we went there, so I'm afraid I didn't enjoy the gnocchi as much as I might otherwise have, but they kept haunting me--I wanted to go back and eat them again and give them my full appreciation.

With the long commute, however, I did the next best thing and Googled "carrot gnocchi" and came up with this recipe, which I think is a good approximation, flavor-wise. I doubled the recipe, because the first 1/2 pound of carrots didn't look anywhere near enough, and I ended up doubling the flour a second time because the dough was so sticky. These were made by blopping spoonfuls of dough into the water (you're supposed to somehow form a 3-sided pyramid with the spoons, but that was not working for me, even with all the extra flour), so they came out pretty ragged and unattractive. But delicious, and not at all gluey, and, with the doubled version, just enough for our family of five.

My kids have actually eaten every type of gnocchi I've made so far, with varying degrees of coercion and spoon-feeding (dinner is not a popular meal among the short people in our home). Now that I know you can substitute carrot for the potato, I think I'll try experimenting with other mushable vegetables, like sweet potato and winter squash. Parsnip perhaps? I'll let you know how it goes. In the meantime, here's the Romagnoli's recipe:

Potato Dumplings from Verona

2 lb baking potatoes
3-3 1/2 c. unbleached all purpose flour (approx.)
1/4 t. salt
6-8 T melted unsalted butter
4-6 T grated Parmesan cheese (I always use Peccarino Romano rather than Parmesan)

Boil the potatoes with their jackets on, drain them the minute they are tender and peel them as soon as they can be touched. Put them in a big bowl, add the salt and beat until smooth with an electric beater or mash well with a potato masher.

Add the flour gradually, working it in with a fork. Keep adding flour until you have a workable, rather solid dough.

Generously flour the pastry board or counter and your hands, take a handful of dough and roll it into a long cylinder no more than 3/4 inch in diameter. Cut it into 1-inch slices. Press each slice with your thumb against the side of a cheese grater. Roll your thumb gently downward and away, allowing the dough to curl up a bit and be dimpled by the grater, making a shell-like shape--a gnoccho. Keep on rolling cylinders, cutting slices, and shaping until all the dough is used. As you finish each gnoccho, line it up on a floured cookie sheet. Gnocchi should dry at least 2 hours.

When it's time to cook, bring at least 4 quarts of water to a boil in a big pot and add 1 teaspoon of salt for each quart of water. Drop in just enough gnocchi to cover the bottom of the pot. As they are done, the gnocchi rise to the top. Let them cook gently as they float for a minute or two more. Remove with a slotted spoon, drain well over the boiling pot and put in a warm serving dish. Repeat this process until all the gnocchi are cooked. Dress with the melted butter, sprinkle with the cheese, and serve. For 6 to 8.

Friday, April 23, 2010

A Peek Inside My Drawers

For Christmas, C got me One Year to an Organized Work Life by Regina Leeds, and I've actually been following along (it is organized in a month-by-month, week-by-week format), organizing my cubicle drawers, setting up a filing system, etc. Admittedly, it's almost cheating for me, since I changed jobs in December and had already jettisoned 12 years of accumulated crap. However, it's nice to start out nice and fresh, with an actual filing system. Funny, but a liberal arts education doesn't teach you anything useful, like how to organize and store files. The only task I have had a hard time with is getting out the door and to work on time in the morning (the author only devotes one week to this exercise, when I need about six months of individualized steps...probably doesn't help that I get up early to blog when I should probably be showering and fixing lunches!).

Anyway, all that cleaning and organizing of drawers at work, got me itching to tackle my drawers at home. So finally, this weekend, with cloudy/snowy/rainy weather, I had time to tackle them.

This is what I had to face:

The computer desk. (This is the desk I freed up for writing a couple of years ago, only weeks before our laptop crashed and C bought a desktop, and my "room of my own" became his office!)

My sewing table. The drawer on the right wasn't too bad--it got cleaned out a little when I got my sewing cabinet. The drawer on the left was crammed full of tutorials and patterns printed off the Internet--not stapled and completely mixed up and out of order.

My "writing table." This is just a tiny table crammed in my bedroom between my sewing corner and the Big Ugly Chair (you can see it in the last picture here), at which I rarely sit to write.

And, finally, not a drawer, but my "writing shelf." This is a shelf in my closed where I cram my writing notebooks, back issues of zines, sketchbooks and, apparently, all the other crap I own and don't know what to do with. It's the one shelf I did not deal with when I did my major closet clean-out.

Scary, huh?

Where to begin? On Saturday afternoon, I emptied the contents of all five drawers and the shelf onto the living room floor and began sorting things into piles and categories (the biggest pile being "recycle"). I dusted out each drawer and only put back what I actually wanted in each one. Here's how they look "after":

Better, no? However I still had a gigantic mountain of homeless crap in the middle of the floor (my children were not pleased with me a. taking up all the play space and b. not cleaning up my stuff--except that they wanted me to play with them so that I couldn't clean up my stuff. You can't win, I tell you!).

Sunday morning, I emptied out my drawer in the filing cabinet (we have a four-drawer filing cabinet, with two of the drawers for C's work, one for our family financial stuff, like taxes--which I'm sure should be next on my list of cleaning, sorting, organizing and dumping--and one just for me). I went through each and every file folder, with the recycling box by my side. My goal was to free up most of the cabinet for writing, with files dedicated to works in progress, submission guidelines, my zine, etc.
I did keep some items strictly out of sentimentality--does anyone else have a hard time tossing the papers you wrote in college? And I have a file of poetry dating back to when I was in third grade, which consists mainly of a vast body of melodramatic work from the tween years, including one poem that begins, "Have you ever had a broken heart?/Have you ever cried like I have?" Yikes. Maybe I'm relieved I don't have any daughters (not that men don't write their share of broken-heart poetry--which is a good thing for the pop music industry--and not that my boys don't engage in their share of melodrama). I also saved my seventh-grade diary and an entire file on the Southern Methodist University Swim Team circa 1991-1992 (hey, I covered the team for the college paper!).
By Sunday night, still ankle-deep in papers and piles, I was starting to whimper a bit, and C asked me why I hadn't just tackled one drawer at a time (clearly he does not know me very well--hello! I gave birth to twins, remember? I don't do things by halves.). But I got the floor cleared and the filing cabinet refilled (with not as much free space as I'd been hoping for, and with a system probably not up to the standards of Regina Leeds, but much improved no less)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Earth Day and One Small Change Wrap-Up

Happy Earth Day!

What do you do to celebrate? I hope to get out for a walk at the Arboretum at lunchtime, if it's not raining.

The Motherhood Muse Subscription Drawing Winners

That's right. It turns out I have two subscriptions to give away after all. And the winners are:

Jaimie from Two Chicks and a Hen


Lone Star Ma

Congratulations and please send me your email so you can get your subscription.

In the meantime, be sure to check out the rest of The Motherhood Muse blog tour for more chances to win a subscription. There's an interview with me posted at Blogging Mama on April 6 (I thought it was going to be on the 19th so I didn't check! Oops!).

One Small Change Wrap-Up

My April Change--realizing that Hoarding is Not the Same as Recycling--has been slow to take off. So far I have:

--taken a huge bag of plastic cutlery to work where it will actually get used (then thrown away). Ok, I admit it was still March when I did this, but it was the inspiration for April.

--finally convinced C to take our ancient late-1980s Macintosh computer (a.k.a. The Big Mac) to the E-waste recycling dropoff at our transfer station--after I got it out for M to try out and the screen just showed a little frownie-face icon and it coughed out a pile of rust.

--put three pairs of old glasses in the Lions Club collection box at the optometrist's office.

I still have several more things (or categories of things) I want/need to find ways of recycling in the next couple of weeks. It may not happen before April is done.

I really liked the One Small Change challenge. It's given me an opportunity to focus on things I've been "meaning to do" one thing and one month at a time. Here's the low-down on my changes this year:

January--Buy Nothing and Wrap-Up

February--Getting the Plastic Out, Stage One and Wrap-Up

March--Getting the Plastic Out, Kitchen Edition, Week One and a Half and Wrap-up

April--Hoarding is Not Recycling

There are always so many little things we can do to reduce our personal impact. I plan on keeping it going right through the rest of the year. For May, however, instead of a new change, I'm going to keep going with Hoarding is Not Recycling in the hopes of getting rid of most of the stuff I have piled up in the basement, waiting for new life. I also plan on doing a major clean-out and re-org in the kids' room (in time for their birthdays), and I would love it if I could find new homes for about half of their clothes, toys, etc (not sure if that would actually be good for THE environment, but it will help our personal--and my mental--environment); along these same lines I plan on cleaning up (and moving out) some of the white-trashiness in our yard. And speaking of birthdays, I'm going to try to keep it simple--follow that "something to wear, something to read, something to play with" rule, perhaps. I'll keep you posted, and remember, it's never too late to make One Small Change!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Catching Up

Remind me, next time I go away for a week (if there ever is a next time, which I am seriously beginning to doubt), to take the day after I get back to just lie on the couch with a rice bag over my eyes, letting my kids crawl all over me so that they won't feel compelled to cling to me like famished deer ticks for the next two weeks (or more).
Thanks to the Patriots and the state budget crisis, I had another four-day weekend this week and was able to slowly creep back to where I was before I left. Saturday, after dropping M off at relatives for the weekend (with a possibly broken arm...more on that in a later "stellar parenting moments" installment), I was actually able to log a few minutes on the couch, with the rice bag, even dozing off for a bit while C took the boys to the mailbox (which, in my opinion, is not nearly far enough away), before embarking on an epic organization project, which took me right through until late Sunday night and which I'll tell you about in its own post later this week (I know how you love my organizing posts). Monday, I actually took a great deal of delight in dusting, vacuuming and cleaning bathrooms. I really don't know what's wrong with me--apparently I've been bitten by the spring cleaning bug. Fortunately, we had a date to spend all day in Belfast, visiting with friends and family and picking up M, otherwise I might have done something drastic, like wash windows or mop the floors.

I was able to sneak a bit of creativity in amidst the flurry of cleaning. When I was in Denver I went into a store that sold herbal body products and they had these mini prayer flags made with scraps of fabric and I realized it was the perfect project for our Easter egg dyed fabric straps. E and Z took turns putting a running stitch across the top of our little scraps and we hung it across the front door.

And Monday night, while the boys were in the tub, I finally made our spring book basket, resulting in the boys staying in the tub way too long and going to bed way too late (which I payed for dearly the next morning, believe me). I embroidered the words while watching our March Netflix selection (we're on the two movies a month plan and still cannot manage to get them both watched before the month is out!). Again with the crooked letters--apparently I have issues with actually measuring things.

Our spring books are mostly made up of bunny and bird books, with an Easter and a Passover book for good measure (if you don't already have it, you MUST get The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes--it's this amazingly populist, feminist story from 1939, where a little country bunny, mother of 21 children, becomes one of the five Easter bunnies).

Friday, April 16, 2010

Guest Post and Giveaway: Mother Nature’s Library

Today I have a guest post from Kim Zook of the Motherhood Muse. The Motherhood Muse literary magazine is a new publication that features the writing of women, men and children who find nature as their muse. In addition to creative non-fiction essays, short stories, and poetry, we publish features and columns, including my column, Mother Nature's Muse, which focuses on women writing at the confluence of nature and family. Welcome Kim!

Before I became a mother I used to arrive at airports well in advance of my flight departure time to give myself plenty of time to watch people. I was fascinated by their actions, appearances, and dialogue. It gave me plenty of material to feed my imagination when I picked up my pen to write. But then I became a mom. We still arrive early to an airport, but somehow we always manage to get to our gate a few minutes before boarding!

My observant eyes, however, have found a new interest to take in: the books lining the shelves of moms who we visit for play dates. While my toddler and baby play with friends, I feast my eyes on all the books, inquiring about a title or two, trying to memorize intriguing reads. I usually find one or two books on healthy living, nutritious meals, organic lifestyles, or post-pregnancy pilates. Occasionally I find the title Last Child in the Woods or Sharing Nature with Children. Like our own bookcases at home, I find more children’s books on nature, both fiction and non-fiction, that are diverse, colorful, and creative.

Before I created The Motherhood Muse my own bookshelf contained only a few more books on Mother Nature: Cries of the Spirit, Earth Prayers from Around the World, Sisters of the Earth, and Writing About Nature. During the initial days of creating the idea of The Motherhood Muse, I realized I needed more literature on nature written by mothers. The writing in my books focused primarily on the perspective of women, but I wanted to read about the relationship between mothers and nature. When I decided to create The Motherhood Muse magazine, I did so with the hope that I would receive many submissions written by women and men that look at Mother Nature through the lens of a parent.

The above mentioned books and The Motherhood Muse literary magazine are valuable sources of literature, but Mother Nature’s library consists of so much more. While living in the rainforest I learned that an area as small as 12” x 12” stretching from the forest floor up to the top of the canopy can tell a story if one sits and observes it over time. My almost three-year-old daughter is discovering the joy of reading cloud shapes, patterns carved into leaves by leaf miners, and tracks made by animals on the ground. While working as a naturalist I watched people of all ages read the course of a river to find their way to a 300’ waterfall. As a biology teacher, my students created nature journals to explore and discuss their observations and questions about nature.
My bookshelf now contains many more books on motherhood and nature. The bookstore of The Motherhood Muse features these books in hope that our readers will find new titles that will inspire them to reconnect with nature. We would love to learn of more books on the topics of motherhood, nature and children, so if you know of any that are not featured in our bookstore please mention them in the comments here today! Thank you for stopping by Andrea’s blog today to read our guest post!
Leave a comment on this post between now and Wednesday April 21 for a chance to win a free subscription to The Motherhood Muse, and be sure to follow the other posts in Kim's blog tour.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


Whew! I made it.

Thanks everyone for the kind words about my essay, my jacket, etc. while I was gone.

It's funny that I went into this trip with the idea of escape. Turns out there is no escape.

The trip started with a bit of self-inflicted stress and drama (about which all I'm going to say is: a) if you lose your ID while traveling, the Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles is immensely helpful--don't even bother trying the airports, airline or TSA--and b) it may or may not help if you burst into tears while on the phone with them) and ended with an illness that felt like dysentery or salmonella from the yucky cilantro soup I ate at a Mexican restaurant (when I had ordered chile rellenos), but was probably a variant of the stomach flu M had the whole time I was gone. The middle part, though, was invigorating, exciting and exhausting.

I loved being right there in the city (my sister's apartment is a short walk from downtown) and having everything--restaurants, shops, markets--right at my fingertips. And public transportation? I know the bus doesn't appeal to some, but I would kiss my car goodbye in a heartbeat if I could trade it in for the freedom of walking and taking the bus.

The conference--amazing. Wow. I went to almost as many panels and speakers as I could (I missed one to meet a friend for lunch and by the third day between exhaustion and illness I missed a few more). All of the speakers were really interesting. I went to a bit of poetry, a bit of fiction a bit of nonfiction...all part of my whole "I'm interested in everything; I can't focus on anything" shtick. But I came away from everything inspired, with a list of things to read and ideas of things to write about (I even squeezed some writing in between sessions and in the evenings and mornings). Michael Chabon, though I have read none of his books so far, was such a great speaker I will definitely read them now. And I feel privileged to have had an opportunity to hear Ann Waldman, Gary Snider, Rick Bass and especially Terry Tempest Williams (the fact that she was speaking was about 50% of my reason for signing up) speak.

I did not, however, come away with an answer to the question I most wanted to have answered, that is, can (and how can) someone in my situation (full-time job, three kids) pull off an MFA? The students and recent grads who staffed the table at the Stonecoast program were, er, not exactly at the same life stage that I am. Of course everyone has their challenges, and I know from experience that at 23 you think you're already doing everything you can handle doing, but these were not the type of students I was hoping to get inspiration from (duh, the ones with jobs and three kids were clearly not gallivanting around the country going to conferences). Anyway, I think it will come down to my friend JM's (with whom I was thrilled to spend two days with--though I was sick most of the time) philosophy, which is: "you make it work." And then there's the guiding principle of my parenting career, especially since having had twins: "lower your standards."

Other than the conference and visiting with two good friends, I spent some time with family. It was kind of surreal, seeing some of them for only part of a day, almost as if I lived there and would see them again the next day or next week. And of course there were the usual reminders of why one might have chosen to live a couple thousand miles away in the first place.

Between illness and knowing how much the boys were missing me (which was a lot more than I had anticipated for some reason, which makes two ten-day residencies per year for an MFA, not to mention a week at a spa in Mexico, seem kinda unrealistic) I was ready to get home. I kept a firm watch over my ID, especially in Logan Airport, where I had to travel a few miles between terminals, exiting and reentering security, and got home just after their bedtime. In our front yard I saw the stars for the first time in a week, and instead of the steady hum of a nearby interstate, heard only the spring peepers and our river, gurgling by somewhere back in the woods.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Just In Time

I made this jaunty little jacket to wear on my trip (and 'cause I needed a spring jacket):

(Photo by Z)

using the fabric and pattern I bought last month. I'm actually quite impressed with myself for getting it done (I even figured out how to machine-sew buttons!). It did come at a price. I had to be extra-b*tchy Mom all day last Saturday (Z and M kept coming in and asking me for things, "Mom, do you have any thread?" "Mom can you tie my shoe?" "Mom, do you know where X is?" After about a dozen interruptions from each of them, E, who had been outside, minding his own business, came in to ask me something, only when he shouted, "Mom!" from the bottom of the stairs, I had heard that word one too many times and snapped, "WHAT!!!" Poor kid. I had to go outside and toss him the wiffle ball about a hundred times to make up for my meanness.
Have a great week. When I get back, I'll have a guest post and giveaway from Kim of The Motherhood Muse as part of her blog tour. So do come back for that, and in the meantime, check out the other blogs on the tour.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


Early tomorrow morning I'll be flying out of Augusta on a jet plane (at least I hope it's a jet plane...the Augusta airport is about half the size of your average Old Navy...I keep envisioning sitting in a sardine can on the back of an albatross!).

I'm heading to Denver for this conference, and to spend some time with family and friends, no boys allowed (well, I suppose, in a city of a few million, there might be a few boys, but I did not give birth to or marry a single one of them, so they are not my responsibility). I keep whip-sawing between being two states of being. On the one end of the saw I am wicked excited to escape--escape from the constant drone of gratuitous noise that emanates from all four males in this household; escape from the steady hum of the word "Mo-o-om!" (the only time I will hear that word for a whole entire week will be in reference to my mom!); escape from our daily routines, which I have begun to think of as "rounds" (as in a boxing match); escape from in-laws who think hazardous waste makes an excellent child's toy; escape from the tyranny of the computer and the havoc it is wreaking on my wrists, shoulders and eyes; escape, even, from myself (sometimes I hover over my own head, listening to myself talk, and I just want to smack me). Maybe I should have scheduled a week at a spa, or a monastery, or in a sensory deprivation chamber.

On the other end, I'm consumed with guilt and anxiety, and a little bit of an urge to just stay home and give the kids haircuts, clean out the filing cabinet and pull out the hand-me-down bins to find the boys' spring and summer clothes. I have a little bit of a sensation that all hell is going to break loose after the plane takes off. There is some basis for this sensation; every imaginable (and unimaginable) scheduling conflict that could possibly arise has presented itself for the upcoming week: C has a class in Portland two mornings that starts at 8 a.m.--M's bus comes at 7:30; E and Z's school opens at 7:45; Portland is an hour away. M's school scheduled the spring concert for Thursday night. The boys are invited to a birthday party Saturday afternoon. M has baseball practice Saturday morning. C has agreed to give a workshop at a home and garden show Saturday afternoon, at the same time as the birthday party. E and Z are on snack duty at school this week--two snacks per kid per day for 24 kids all week. M has a project due at school the day after I get back. And a film crew is coming to our house to film C for a "Hardest Working Man in America" movie. Don't even ask me about that one. I have the sinking sensation that the occasional barking cough E has is going to blow up into some major illness (I'm in the middle of reading Hope Edelman's The Possibility of Everything, so I may be somewhat influenced by that book; at least our resident imaginary friend, Tom Lighthouse, hasn't made an appearance in a while, so we should be all set on the "child possessed by demons" front). Oh yeah, and my boss's, boss's boss--the head honcho--scheduled a meeting with me for 9:30 the morning after I fly in. Talk about hitting the ground running.

I keep trying to remind myself about the time last year when C went to his grandfather's funeral in Florida, and it was really, really cold, and snowing, and Z, my febrile seizure baby, had a fever and we were all out of children's ibuprofen, and all we had was an old bottle of infant Tylenol that had come out of emulsion into a grainy soup, and I had to help M make a model of an avalanche out of cardboard and cotton balls for a school project. And there was another time, when Cwas away, and I had to drive around with Z, who had stomach flu, in the back of the car, taking all of our returnables to the bottle drive at the soccer field, and into town to get ginger ale and crackers. And I survived. And they'll survive. And I'll resume where I left off, perhaps a few paces back in the Red Queen's Race. I'll have to pick up the pace a bit to get back where I am now, which is barely in sight of where I want to be.

Monday, April 5, 2010


Whew! Another holiday successfully celebrated and done. Now we have a bit (a very tiny bit) of a lull until Birthday Season.

We keep our Easter festivities simple, and though I have cooked Easter dinner in the past (no, not a ham--spanikopita!), every time I thought about the effort involved, my body went into spasms of anxiety, plus the weather was predicted to be very nice, so we decided to continue last year's tradition, of going for a hike and eating out.

But first, a little decorating. We refreshed the nature table for Easter.

It had gotten a bit crowded with all our hand-painted wooden eggs, so it now we have overflow onto a nature windowsill.

I knitted a few Easter eggs from Kendra's pattern in Rhythm of the Home. Super easy. They live in a bowl I knitted for a decoration last spring, but didn't get finished until this Chrismas (when a friend with a top-loading washer and lots of wood-heated hot water felted it for me. Maybe I'll have her felt the eggs before next Easter).

Saturday afternoon we dyed some eggs.

I tried using red cabbage, beets, turmeric and paprika, which I know I have done successfully in the past (including last year), but I guess the stars weren't aligned this weekend, or because I decided to wing it, and only got out directions after it wasn't working out, but all I was succeeding in dyeing was our stovetop,

so I added a few squirts of blue, yellow and green food coloring that I found in the back of the cabinet (we were already out of red, and I used the last drops of green and somehow lost the blue, so I won't have that for an out next year!).

I can't bear to let anything go to waste, so we dyed some scraps of muslin with the leftover egg dye (the beets worked much better on the cloth than the eggs!). Not sure what we'll do with these, but they were fun to make.

Like with our Christmas Traditions, M just wasn't into egg dyeing. He dropped a couple of eggs in, then headed off to do his own thing. It makes me kind of sad that he's growing up so fast! I can picture myself alone in the kitchen dying eggs like some lonely old spinster in a couple of years when all of my kids are off doing more interesting things.

I went a bit overboard with the Easter candy this year. I think I feel the need to follow a period of deprivation (e.g. Buy Nothing month, getting the plastic out, etc.) with a period of over-indulgence/consumption. It must date back to a childhood of giving up candy every lent (NOT voluntarily, I'd like to point out) and then pigging out on Easter. Anyway, after eating all of the first batch of Easter candy, I ordered some chocolate bunnies from this organic chocolate place my friend was putting in an order to (they came wrapped in bubble wrap! Grr.), bought some jelly beans at the health food store, some yogurt-covered pretzels and chocolate-covered pretzels from the bulk bins at the grocery store and re-stocked on jelly bellies, fruit slices and Dutch mints at the place I went to the first time.

We have about a million plastic eggs which are apparently offspring of the original 12 I bought when M was little, that spend the rest of the year reproducing in a box in the basement. C filled them with jelly beans and yogurt raisins and hid them around the living room and kitchen. The boys got up early to go on the hunt (E was ready to go at 2 a.m. and we both lay in bed, wide awake, for a couple of hours, waiting for morning)! Amazing how much fun such simple things can be (Z kept saying he wants every day to be Easter).

I also got each boy a book and a small notebook. I was trying to resist buying any "stuff," but they've gotten a book every Easter their whole lives, and I'd already gotten one of the Beatrix Potter books at a discounted price from a used/overstock bookstore (M got Charlie and the Chocolate Factory--that's what Easter is all about , right?)

I also made some little bird nests with peanut butter, chocolate chips and rice cereal. Mostly these are for me.

I was going to make brioche for breakfast, but decided at the last minute to make challah instead (yes I do see the irony there), because I'd made it a few weeks ago, and knew it turned out well. Unfortunately I'd forgotten that it had taken all day to rise, so that when I put the dough in the fridge Saturday night, I fully expected it to have doubled by morning, but when I took it out at 5:45 a.m. nothing had happened. So I put it in a warm oven for an hour, still noting. I kneaded it and put it in a warm oven and an hour later it had risen a bit. Finally, after another hour and a half, dough nowhere close to double, I gave up, rolled and braided and let it rise on top of a warm oven. In the meantime we at hard-boiled eggs, fruit salad and candy for breakfast. The bread came out of the oven just at almost 11, and we took it on our hike, eating torn-off hunks with pieces of cheese and apple for a snack. It was delicious and very Heidi-esque. I think a loaf of fresh bread will be a hiking staple from here on out.

We headed to Dodge Point, fully expecting the warm weather to be tempered by breezes off the water as it usually is, but the air was still and sunny and beautiful. I felt something I haven't felt in a long time--hot. It was incredible.

The boys did the whole three- or four-mile loop with little complaint (E and Z were ready to "be home by now" for about the last half mile). We took lots of breaks to explore beaches.

E and Z found a horseshoe crab shell, which I had the thrill of carrying for about a mile before they decided they didn't want to keep it. And Z found a smoothed-out deer antler to put on our nature table.

This big root mass was the highlight. I think if we weren't all already tired out by the time we got to this point, the boys could have played in this for hours.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Motherhood Muse and April One Small Change

The Spring issue of The Motherhood Muse (Secret Gardens) e-zine is available today!
This issue includes my Mother Nature's Muse literary reflections column featuring Louise Erdrich's wonderful book, The Blue Jay's Dance: A Birth Year, and many more great pieces of writing. I admittedly have only had time to read half of my advance copy, but I've enjoyed everything I've read so far. You can purchase this issue for $4 or subscribe for $14.

April Change

My One Small Change for April is to recognize that hoarding is not the same as recycling, and find homes or recycling options for many of the things hanging around our basement that I'm not sure how to recycle, but that I can't bear to throw in the trash (a bag of toothbrushes, vinyl zipper bags, 3.5 inch floppy disks, etc.). I kicked it off earlier this week, taking a one-gallon (plastic) Ziploc bag of plastic cutlery to the kitchenette at my office. Most of the forks and spoons came with an apartment we rented like 15 years ago (the rest came in with various take-out meals), and while I never use plastic cutlery (and if I do I wash and re-use it), I for some reason never offered them up to anyone who does--because then they would get thrown away. But now at least they will get to fork up a few bites of cake before their final demise. Even though this is the final month of the official challenge, it's never too late to make One Small Change. In fact, I'm thinking about keeping it going all year.
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