Thursday, March 31, 2016

Easter Things

One minute you're sharing a chair with one of your children, pretending to watch Stampy's Minecraft Easter Special, but really just breathing in the scent of his head, which smells faintly, unbelievably the way it did when he was a baby, sort of warm and sweet, kind of like a beeswax candle, but not at all, really, a smell as indescribable as it is unreplicable, despite the best efforts of baby lotion manufacturers. You remember the way you used to take small, surreptitious licks of his and his brother's head, like a cat, dabbing your tongue on the peach skin of his loose and fuzzy scalp, hoping to put a taste to the smell, but finding that the aroma stands on its own.

An hour or two later, or perhaps the next morning, you're threatening to cancel the Easter Bunny, because the child with the fleetingly baby-scented head and his twin brother just. won't. listen.

Of course you don't mean it, really. And they know that. You haven't cancelled a single Christmas or birthday yet, despite innumerable threats of the same.

You all three manage to get the house reasonably clean and haul up the and distribute the Easter decorations, because it is the day before Easter and you really can't put it off any longer.

And the children with the honeydew scalps pick up a basket of wooden eggs that they painted with a relative years ago and take turns hiding them around the house for each other and finding them. They don't put on the rabbit suit, which they wore for this activity year after year after year, until the leg cuffs of the costume barely reached their knees. And you miss the rabbit suit, a little, but you also revel in the wonder of two big boys finding joy in hiding and finding eggs--until they don't, until some unspoken rule of the game has been violated, and childlike play turns into shouting and they move on.

Later, one of those children, who saw his big brother snooping in the Easter candy which you had placed on the highest high shelf in the kitchen, tells you he thinks the Easter bunny brings some of the candy, but that parents help with the rest of it. They had argued hard against the possibility of Santa Claus and, though your only response had been, "Santa only brings presents to those who believe in him," you had expected that they were convinced by their own arguments. You marvel at the capacity of children to hang onto wonder, to believe in magic despite all evidence to the contrary.

The next day, after egg hunts and jelly beans and too many sweet breads and your idea of Easter dinner, which does not involve a ham, you pull out the Easter books and read to these children who no longer clamor for a story, who don't disdain picture books, necessarily, but who show no interest in them. You start with Jan Brett's Easter Egg, which has lovely pictures but a kind of vapid, in your opinion, story, and follow it up with The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes, a story so ahead of its time--feminist and populist and egalitarian--a story, you think, that if every child read it every Easter, you might live in a world with fewer fanatics and racists and misogynists in positions of power, where everyone is as wise and kind as Old Grandfather Bunny.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Spring Awakenings, or a Long Rambly Post about Tiredness and Blogging and Midlife Changes

I don't know what's happened to my blogging energy lately, but it's been kind of absent. All my energy has been absent, really. For weeks and weeks this winter I was so, so, so tired. All I wanted to do was sleep day and night, waking up occasionally to consume vast quantities of food, because in addition to being so, so tired, I was so, so hungry.

Instead of sleeping and eating all day and night, I went about my usual routines and got kids off early in the morning and went to work and grocery shopped and cleaned up after dinner. But then, instead of doing anything useful, I'd just lie on the couch and watch youtube videos with the E and Z and then DVDs with M.

When I get tired like that, I can't even remember what it feels like to be NOT tired. I feel like I've been exhausted since I was pregnant with M and never recovered. I wake up every bit as tired as I was when I went to bed. Maybe it was just the usual March Malaise. Or maybe it was "second winter" (you know since first winter was so wimpy it came back for a second go-round). Or maybe I've just been doing too much and my body said "enough."

I heard this story on NPR over the weekend, about how thirty percent of people in "midlife" are unsatisfied with their work or careers. This story really hit me emotionally. Here I'd been going around thinking I was crazy or selfish or unrealistic for wanting more out of life than my current work situation, but I'm right at home with nearly a third of people who are bored, disengaged, miserable. It's good to have company.

I'd actually wondered if I'm even capable of doing good, challenging, interesting work anymore. And then I'd remind myself that I do good, challenging, interesting work with my editing and teaching and writing (unfortunately, no one is interested in paying for those things, so far). I've built great relationships with the writers whose work I've edited. I've gotten fantastic feedback on my workshops. And while the writing can be teeth-grindingly frustrating at times, I can sink my teeth into a project and hang on like a Jack Russel Terrier until it's done (was that too many tooth metaphors for one sentence?).

So, yeah, I can bust my butt, but I've lost the will to do it for other people's goals and agendas. And it's so very exhausting at times, keeping up with these lives--the worker bee life, the editor/blogger/teacher/writer life, the mother/wife/homemaker life.

I'm not sure what this post is about, except that I feel a little bit of energy seeping in. I spent the weekend cooking for Easter and prepping for my next workshop and read a whole entire book in the downtimes. Then last night I read in the tub after the kids went to bed (believe it or not, that was an energetic evening activity compared to the last few weeks) and tonight E and M and I played a game of cribbage and now I'm doing workshop prep and actual blogging. So even if it's not very springy outside, I just might be getting a little more spring in my step.

P.S. Something about writing this post inspired me to update the blog look. What do you think? Is the photo in this post too big? How about the one in the header?

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Spring Hikes

There's been much storm and drang about the short, anticlimactic winter we had around these parts, but I have to say I'm very much enjoying the opportunity for snow-free (and bug-free!) early hiking and I've been trying to take advantage of it as much as possible. 

Last Sunday, E, Z, and I went out to breakfast on a gift card Z won in a raffle and then went to walk off the carbs on a hike up the blueberry barrens.

Then this past Saturday, I snuck out by myself to do a little shopping and climbed a local "mountain" when I was done.

The area had been recently cut-over, so the walking was a little rough. 

But it was a beautiful day, and I had a picnic from one of my favorite bakeries.

The next day I managed to drag the whole, reluctant family out for another hike at a nearby preserve.

Those mare's tail clouds brought in about six inches of snow the next day, along with cold weather ("second winter"), but it's mostly melted by now and should be ready for hiking by this weekend.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Cake Angst

On the eve of my eighth birthday, my family gathered in my grandparents’ kitchen, preparing a late-summer dinner. My grandmother stood at the white formica counter and molded hamburger into patties. My aunts sliced cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions. My mother sat on a chair beneath the antique school house clock and shucked corn. I leaned on the gleaming oak pedestal table, restless with anticipation of the meal, the cake that would follow, the presents. And then my mom, buried under corn husks, pressed her hand to the side of her lap, which had grown round and unwelcoming in recent months, and announced that it was time.
I had a short essay about birthdays, cakes, and the ways in which our childhoods influence our parenting featured at Brain Child last week. You can read the rest of it here, if you'd like.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Chickens

One spring a friend incubates a clutch of eggs for you, and on a rainy Earth Day you bring home a baker’s dozen balls of yellow fluff and place them in a cardboard box near the wood stove. Your children gather around, holding the downy babies, listening to them peep, lying eye-to-eye with them on the floor, laughing hysterically when they poop. When the chicks sleep, they lie face down in the wood chips, looking dead, so you poke them and they wake up cheeping, which makes you feel bad and reminds you of how you used to wake up your own newborn children from naps because you were worried they’d stopped breathing.
I've been working my way through the "Writing" folder on my laptop, dusting off and finishing up old, neglected essays and sending them out into the world. A little piece about the sad saga of our chickens found a home at Mutha Magazine this week. If you'd like to read on, you can find it here.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Writing Advice

I am a slow, slow writer. Most of the time it takes me months, if not years, to finish an essay. This month I hit "submit" on one I started in April 2014 and another that I made the first notes on in August 2012. I also finished the last scene in a short story which I had started for a call for submissions so long ago that I not only missed the deadline, but the book has already been printed.

So it's nice once in a while to move with a bit more speed. As in, come up with an idea on Monday, research it on Tuesday, write and submit it Wednesday, get the rejection and resubmit Friday, and see it in print a week-and-a-half later.

That's how it went with a short humor piece, Advice to Writers from 80s Hair Bands, that appears on Beyond Your Blog today. C and M helped me research--flipping through their extensive (and dusty) record collection in the basement. I'm quite pleased with how it turned out and grateful to Susan at Beyond Your Blog for accepting and publishing it. If you haven't taken a spin around BYB's website, check out all of the great resources for writers, including lists of places to submit and great podcast interviews with editors of magazines and websites.

Meanwhile, if you've always wondered what writing advice Quiet Riot and AC/DC might have to offer you, please check out Advice to Writers from 80s Hair Bands.

Monday, March 14, 2016


Saturday afternoon. C is making syrup. Again. Still. E and Z run around outside, "helping." M is in the basement, making music.

I've gone round and round, written and rewritten and rewrittenwritten an essay a zillion times. I'm not quite ready to hit "submit," but I don't want to look at it anymore. I'm sick of the inside of my own head, and the inside of my house, and sick and tired of hiking the same old same old trail to the same old same old river.

I hop in the car.

"Where are you going?"


"Hiking? Alone? Where?"

"I haven't decided yet."

I drive to a place that, according to my guidebook, I haven't been to since 3/14/04. Which is proof that it's not always snowy in March. I follow the first loop trail I come to, along the river. I wonder, not for the first time, to be the "mother-nature writer" whose kids don't want to hang out with her in nature anymore. I pick up a stick on the ground that looks like a magic want and cast spells and charms as I walk along. "Wingardium leviosa."

I practice the focusing questions that John Muir Laws recommends in his life-changing book The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling: I notice. I wonder. I remember. I notice moss, lots of green moss. I wonder what that lemon-colored lichen is. I remember walking here 12 years ago.

I finish one loop and make my way to another. There are people taking photos by the falls. A wet dog that does not honor personal space. More people on another branch. I run into a friend by the kiosk, also tired of her same-old trail, out for a big adventure. We chat for a while and go our separate ways; she to finish her loop, me to return home refreshed, renewed.

Friday, March 4, 2016


As a knitter, with other knitters in the extended family, we have no shortage of hats. In fact, we have enough to cover the heads of a small, cold army. But I wanted some lightweight caps to take hiking and so I whipped up a few this weekend.

I used this pattern and some micro fleece I've had in my stash since forever, and it really did take less than 10 minutes per hat. I left the bottom edge unfinished, so it can either be rolled or folded up or tugged down for more coverage.

This blue striped fleece is left over from pants I made for E and Z when they were three. They wore those pants all the way through kindergarten, at least, maybe longer. So flppin' cute!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Wild Wednesday ~ March Greens

We had about as much snow on March 1 this year as we had on May 1 last year. Okay, that may be an exaggeration, but only a slight one.

Usually by this time of year, I'm starving for some sign of green in the world.

Other than the inevitable pine and fir needles.

But now, with so much of the ground bare, there are mosses and lichens, and little green leaves galore.
It  may not be fresh, spring growth sort of green... 

But it's green no less.

Mosses aren't something I know much about (nor lichens, either, really, though I've got a key to them that I can use with a lot of laborious referring to the glossary), but they're something I'd like to learn more about someday.

So much to learn, so little time.

This little guy I do know, however; a princess pine (Lycopodium) or club moss.

And this fern I think is spineless wood fern (Dryopteris carthusiana), but don't quote me on it.

This little green plant poking through the leaves is partridge berry (Mitchell repens)
And this electric green log has succumbed to green stain fungus (Chlorociboria spp.). The fruiting bodies are apparently these amazing green cups, but I've never seen them in real life. I'll have to remember where this log was and come back to visit often.

Sometimes a trip into the woods generates more questions than answers.

For instance, what tiny insect drilled the perfectly round hole in between the two much messier woodpecker holes?

And who will emerge from this cocoon come spring?

I noticed these powdery orange holes excavated all over the bark of a dead fir tree.

I was looking around at nearby trees to see if they, too, had similar holes when I noticed these weird, pyramid-shaped growths around the base of another fir. What's up with that? It looks like a troll's leg.

This hollow log I've come across on other off-trail outings and I like to imagine it's the husk of a chestnut tree. I'm not sure why I like to think that, since it's clearly dead and not coming back, but it gives a nice link-to-the-past sort of feel.

And, finally, this little tower of fungus growing vertically up off a log. 

I've been looking at fungi like these all over our property, trying to figure out what they were. A friend pointed out violet toothed polypores (Trichaptum biforme) on a hike in her neighborhood, and they seem pretty similar to those I see around here. So I'm going to go out on a limb (or maybe climb up a branch stub on the dead log) and say that's what these are. Correct me if you know better.

What's wild in your neck of the woods this week?

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Boy Trouble

You know how boys turn everything they touch into a gun?

I've got a short story up at Brain, Child about this phenomenon:
This story begins with a Pop-Tart. No, not a Pop-Tart, but, as you explained to the teacher, the principal, the deputy sheriff, the sheriff, and two muzzle-faced State Troopers, an organic toaster pastry with whole-grain crust and all-natural, no-sugar-added, real-fruit filling. Definitely not a Pop-Tart. Perhaps the story does not begin there anyway. It could have started six years earlier, with a pair of Duplo-sized Lego blocks, on the day one square Duplo, attached to the bottom of one rectangular Duplo, was clasped in the dimpled hand of your sweet babe and pointed at you with an accompanying, “Blam-blam!”
It's also about the many things we worry about as parents, and the things society worries about (as opposed to the things it should actually do something about). You can go here to read the rest, if you'd like. And let me know what you think!

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