Saturday, May 20, 2017

This Guy

Milo, 6, at a monster truck rally.

Turns 16 today.

Milo, almost-16, behind the wheel. I think his 6-year-old self would be disappointed it's a Volvo and not a monster truck.

In the last month, he's finished drivers ed, gotten his driving permit, and interviewed for (and got!) his first job. I've been joking that he can move out now. But I guess he still needs me for a little while longer—at least until that permit becomes a license and his paychecks start coming in.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

These Guys



Turn 12 today!!!



We already started celebrating over the weekend, as is our custom, with a movie and bowling with their BFF and an old-fashioned red velvet cake.

It's been a wild ride, twelve years of mothering TWINS. So what can I say about these guys on the big One-Two?

Z: Climber of trees and walls. Cartwheeler, flipper, rural parkour-er. Lover of Norway. Baker of scones. Eater of all things sour. Duck-tender.

E: Lover of cats. Reader and mine-crafter. Sayer of the funniest words and sentences. Baker of banana-chocolate-chip muffins. Rider of bike. Watcher of You-Tube.

We have more celebrating to do this afternoon—a hike, dinner at their favorite spot, and presents.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Trying New Things

The 100 Day Project is a worldwide collective art project in which participants do something creative every day for 100 days and post about it on Instagram. There are no rules and what you do is completely up to you. I first heard about it sometime last year, after reading The Crossroads of Should and Must (the author, Elle Luna, is one of the organizers), but I didn't join in because I was getting ready for our big trip.

This year the project began on April 4, the exact same day I finished The Artist's Way, which was too much of a coincidence to pass up. I spent some time mulling over what kind of creative project I would want to work on every day for 100 days. I considered nature journaling, a poem-a-day, a flash fiction a day, sketchbook, and watercolor. The writing ideas didn't inspire me—I've been writing every day for a very long while and I've done a poem-a-day twice before for National Poetry Writing Month—I've also nature journaled (nearly) every day for a whole year before. I wanted to do something new and challenging and watercolor painting drew my interest more than anything else: I've always wanted to learn, but have never had the patience. This would be my chance: If I can't figure it out in 100 days (that's like 3.25 months!!), then I never will.

Still, after coming to that decision, I still had some resistance, mainly to do with the mess and the hassle of getting out paints, setting up, cleaning up. I resolved this by buying a super cheap watercolor set with lots of colors. I know it's generally preferable to use high-quality art supplies when learning, but these $5 paints helped me overcome the mess and setup issues and also made it okay to make a mess and "waste" paint, which a $75 set would tie me up in knots about.

So far it's been fun and I've learned a bit. It's also really hard. It requires patience and an understanding of how the paint behaves. I'm still in the stage of trying to control the paint. I have not graduated to the level of working with the paint to create the effects I desire. I alternate between lessons I found on some random website and just playing around with the paint. I prefer the playing around to the lessons, but I am beginning to understand why piano teachers make you learn scales before you can play songs—a solid foundation is helpful.

The picture above is in the playing around category. It's my second attempt. The first ended up a muddy mess. (When I turned the page to start again, E said, "Don't be a quitter, Mom." I showed him that I finished the first painting, but I wanted to do it again to make it better. Later he said I should get a job as a book illustrator. "I've seen some drawings in books that are way worse than yours. Or maybe you can be a butterfly painter." Aww, kids.)

Forty days in, I've hit a bit of a lull. Or maybe it's a plateau. I feel less compelled to do a painting every day (and I even missed a day this weekend!). It may be time to mix things up, get out the tube paints (or at least the slightly higher-quality travel watercolors), take a real lesson, or establish some sort of goal or theme.

Have you tried something new lately, started a new hobby, or set a creative goal for yourself?

You can see more on Instagram @andrea.lani and #100daysofandrealearningtopaint

Also see #the100dayproject and check out all the cool, crazy, and creative things people are doing.

Friday, May 12, 2017

If Mom's Happy

Many years ago, I was shopping in Portland with a friend when she nudged me into a little boutique and, before I knew what was happening, I was standing in a room surrounded by whips and dildos.

"Don't worry," she said. "It's a feminist toy shop."

The experience was eye-opening, to say the least, and it served as the kernel of a humorous short story I wrote during grad school about a mom in a toy shop. I had fun writing it, but I didn't expect it to go anywhere. It had everything going against it: the protagonist was a mom (protagonists are children, or coming-of-agers, or elderly people looking back over their lives, or men of all ages and types; never moms); it was funny, and not even darkly funny; it was not the least bit tragic; it was not sic-fi, fantasy, horror, or speculative in any way; it was not weird and not hybrid and not experimental and not lyrical. In short, not the stuff of which literary magazines are made.

And then last fall I saw a call for submissions for If Mom's Happy: Stories of Erotic Mothers. From the editor:

"Mothers might be exhausted, over-touched and under-appreciated, but they’re problem solvers who know how to get their “self-care” on.  In If Mom’s Happy: Stories of Erotic Mothers, we hear from women waiting for their child’s arrival; mothers of infants, toddlers and teenagers; straight, queer, partnered and single mothers. We hear from mothers who like it vanilla and others who want some kink. They lust after their longtime partners and near strangers, in public and in private, alone or with another…or a few others. No matter where, when, or how, these stories capture the complex and profound–and ultimately satisfying–task of attending to your own desires while tending to children."

My story was still a humorous tale about a trip to a sex toy shop, not erotica, but I figured it was worth a shot and submitted. I heard back in short order from the editor, who liked the premise, liked the characters, liked the dialogue, liked the writing, but wanted me to turn up the heat a bit…okay a lot…to make it more erotic.

And I did, which was a lot more fun than I had anticipated (why had I anticipated writing sexy scenes to be un-fun? Let's blame a prudish Catholic upbringing, shall we?). So now my story, "Toy Story," is in good company with many other stories of sex after kids in If Mom's Happy, available for order now, just in time for Mother's Day. Not that I would recommend you buy a copy for your own mother, but there's nothing to say you can't get yourself a treat; after all, if Mom's happy, so is everyone else.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Wild Wednesday ~ Serviceberry Flowering

The trees in our woods have been flowering for a while, starting with the quaking aspen back in April. But most of them, so far, have been of the subtle flower type—catkins and tiny maple blossoms—easy to miss if you're not paying attention and not exactly showy, flower-flowers. The first of those to come alive around here is the serviceberry.



Serviceberry is also known as shadbush, because it blooms at the time shad, or alewives, run up the rivers to breed, and back in Colorado, C and I used to work in a national forest with an area known as Sarvis Creek Wilderness because, apparently, they're called sarvisberry there (one ranger we knew even named his sone Sarvis after the shrub).



Because not much has leafed out yet, they're very visible and easy to spot from a distance, though I have to admit this is the first spring that I've taken the time to get up close and personal with them.



I'm pretty sure these are Allegheny serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea), one of the two species in Maine that grow into a small three (the other five being shrubs), because the emerging leaves are reddish and not downy.



The flowers are pretty, large for a tree flower, white, and five-petaled. My book says they smell sweet, but I couldn't detect an odor in these (maybe all the rain we've had lately has washed it away).



The twigs and leaves are alternate and the buds, before they open, sharply pointed.

The bark is smooth and gray and at this stage, almost indistinguishable from red maple (the tree in the center is maple, to two on the outside are serviceberry). If you look very closely you can see faint vertical lines on the serviceberry bark.


And if you look straight overhead, the branches are so intertwined, you might think you're seeing things: a tree with red maple leaves and showy white flowers.

What's blooming in your neck of the woods?

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Wild Wednesday ~ The Great Unfurling

Doesn't it seem to you like you wait and wait and wait for spring and then suddenly it's here and somehow you missed it? This year—this morning, in fact, I think I caught the moment of spring, which is, appropriately enough, a verb as well as a noun. The trees are in the midst of opening up their buds and unpacking their flowers and leaves and shaking them out in the sun.




In other exciting nature news, several days of rain have added a bit of water to our gravel-pit pond, and at least three painted turtles have made themselves at home.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

April Reads

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

March Reads



I read a lot of skinny books last month, which I guess is as good a way as any to read a lot of books.

Nonfiction
I finished reading Rebecca Solnit's A Book of Migrations, which I'd started in March (fittingly, since it is about her travels in Ireland). I really loved it to begin with, and wished I'd had it with me when I went to Ireland three years ago, but as the book went on, it seemed to wander off into to many side tracks. She kind of tracks her travels through the country with accounts of historical figures and events in Ireland's troubled past. Which was all very interesting, until it wasn't anymore. And it felt a little directionless, in the external story. I guess I wanted more grounding in the places she was going to and why.

I also read a slim little volume called Field Notes from the Grand Canyon, by Teresa Jordan, which is exactly what the title implies—Jordan's handwritten and illustrated journal from a run down the Colorado through the canyon. It also includes a short essay and introduction. I bought it some time ago but just now sat down to read it, in part because I've recently taken up watercolor painting (which I plan to post about sometime), and I enjoy Jordan's watercolor illustrations. It also fits into my own book-writing about a trip. (Notice a theme in my reading?)

Poetry
I read the poetry collection I Am a Horse, by Kate Newmann. I had the good fortune of meeting this Irish poet in her home country a few years ago. She has a gentle presence that belies the power of her poems. Newmann has a fascination for tragic geniuses, Polar explorers, obscure Irish heroes—people who endured frostbite, tuberculoses, the madness inside their own heads. She writes about men and women of great talent who were in some way fatally flawed, or condemned by society because they did not conform in some essential way. The title poem, which is about dancer and choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky, contains the lines, "A ballet...about / the agony / of an artist / when composing." This is what so many of her poems are about, the agony of an artist, whether it's a self-inflicted agony, or physical or mental illness, or rejection by the world, or some combination of the above. Newmann approaches her subjects with clarity and directness, but also with a tenderness and compassion, something we could all use more of in the world today.

Fiction
I read an odd little novel called Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, by Edwin A. Abbott. Published in 1884, the book is  a satire of Victorian society and an allegory about the perils of close-mindedness set in a two-dimensional world where all of the characters are shapes—lines (the women), triangles (the lower classes), squares (the author and minor bureaucrats), polygons (the upper classes) and circles (royalty). The whole book is kind of a thought experiment. I'd heard about it a long time ago, was reminded of it when considering some of the dystopian novels that have been making a comeback lately, and happened upon a $3 copy at a used book store, which seemed like fate.

Inspiration
For writing inspiration and education, I read The Science Writers' Essay Handbook, by Michelle Nijhuis, which probably sounds like the dullest book ever, but which was actually a very engaging and an enlightening journey into the essay form. It's companion to a book called The Science Writers' Handbook, which I plan to get my hands onto post-haste. If you enjoy good nonfiction writing, I recommend checking out any of Nijhuis's many essays.

Note: I used to try to find links to books from independent booksellers, but that is rather time-consuming, so I broke down and linked to Amazon on this post. Don't construe this as an endorsement of the evil giant and do consider finding books that interest you at your local library or indie book store.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Market Crates

So I meant to tell you about our latest house project when it first happened, weeks ago. I don't know what happened. But I do know, that I love it nearly a month in. I've been thinking for a while that we needed some kind of storage unit back in the corner of our kitchen, by the refrigerator and a wall of shelves that hold various nonperishable foods. Something to hold fruits and vegetables, which generally get stacked up in baskets on the blue hutch, creating all kinds of clutter.

C asked me to draw up a design and I happened to run into a picture of "European Market Crates" which I had cut out of an old William Sonoma catalog ages ago, which seemed to fit the bill perfectly. We made a few modifications, making them wider, but shallower (from to back) and slightly taller. We also raised them up on a base, under which we can slide empty egg cartons, which we return to the farm store, and the caddy of milk jars we take back and forth to the farm where we get our milk.


Each crate is separate, with tongue-in-groove sides so they lock together and hand-holes on the sides, so you could pick them up if needed. They also have slatted bottoms for ventilation, which will hopefully help keep produce fresh. Unlike the William and Sonoma crates, which cost $40 15 or so years ago, these were totally free (except one or two days of C's labor).



They're going to come in extra-handy during summer harvest season. The only downside so far is that the space between crates is kind of small, so it's hard to get things like bags of potatoes and oranges through. Also, I worry that things could get forgotten about in there and rot, though we haven't had this happen yet. And my hutch is delightfully uncluttered, so that I can use it for other things, like lining up desserts during parties.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Wild Wednesday ~ Finally Spring!

This post is a week late. I keep thinking about blogging, but then I spend the time doing other things instead (turns out there are only so many hours in the day—and only so much creative energy in the day). In any case, we had beautiful, warm, sunny, dry, perfect weather on Easter (a week ago this past Sunday), a day that finally ushered in spring.



The first flowers appeared in the lawn—blue-striped squill and yellow crocus (I know, not exactly wildflowers, but still, spring!!).



And the first flowers appeared in the wild. Coltsfoot.




And willow catkins. Other trees and shrubs have been flowering, too—aspen, alder, red maple. I've been remiss in getting out with the camera (maybe next Wednesday).


Meanwhile, our gravel pit is dry, dry, dry. This is the same pond where I saw a pair of otters three years ago. I don't think any otters will be stopping by anytime soon. And I wonder where all the turtles have gone (especially the snapper the size of a trashcan lid I saw down there once). I don't hear any frogs coming from the pond, either (but I do hear them in a nearby alder swamp—spring peepers, wood frogs, and American toads so far).

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Poetry of Hope

On Saturday we headed to the nearby town of Gardiner for a stream cleanup/awareness raising event, put on by the organization Upstream, which was created by my fabulous friend and fellow naturalist Tina Wood to restore fish passage around the three dams that block Cobbossee Stream.

I had originally thought I would go to Boston for the March for Science, but as the time drew nearer, I became less and less enthused about the drive…and even the March itself. Yes, I support the responsible use of science, I oppose hiding, burying, denying, failing to fund, or destroying scientific research. But the idea of a march for science had me feeling a little ambivalent. Because science is not inherently good (or bad), but science can be put to good use, for the betterment of humanity, or it can be abused for financial gain while hurting people and the environment. And that's way too complicated a message for a picket sign.

Also, the three hour drive on Earth Day didn't sit well with me. So I was happy to join Upstream and their event, which had a clear focus and end goal for the day—get the trash out of the stretch of stream between Bridge Street and Maine Street—and long-term—get the alewives back to their native breeding grounds in Cobbossee Lake.



C, E, Z, and I were joined by the boys' best buddy and his parents. We left the kids on the sidewalk to ring cow bells and hold signs with the other marchers while us grownups headed down to the stream banks to fill up several large garbage bags with cigarette butts, Dunkin' Donuts cups and straws, sodden sweatshirts, and random hunks of plastic. The worst we found was four hypodermic needles and this bird's nest, made of strands of vine, fine rootlets, and cigarette pack wrappers.



The previous day, I had attended a poetry festival which had included a panel on poetry and climate change. The panelists spoke of nature poetry becoming more elegiac, and one said she had trouble writing a poem of celebration after the large dams were removed from the Penobscot River and fish passage restored. The big question in the room was: where was the hope? As I scrambled up and down banks, invasive multiflora rose brambles clawing at my jacket and my skin, filling my bag with other people's garbage, it occurred to me that hope is in action. In cleaning trash out of one small section of stream. In ringing a cow bell to let passers-by know that people are out there working to bring back the fish. In restoring anadromous fish runs that have been blocked for more than 250 years.



There's a lot to despair about these days, for those of us who care about clean air and water and fish passage and birds not nesting in garbage, who want more love and inclusiveness in our human communities, but nothing good comes of despair (I think in some ways despair brought us to where we are now—the despair of people who have been left behind by the modern world, looking for  an "other" to blame and a quick ride back to imagined "golden days"). The antidote to despair is hope, and hope comes from action. So we must go out and do the work that is important to us, and we must write poems about our work and our hope. We must write poems that celebrate being alive and all of the small victories we achieve, even if it's only cleaning up one small section of stream.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Thirty-Minute Almost-No-Sew Bandana Bunting

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



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

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



Step 1. Iron the bandanas.


Step 2. Cut them into quarters.

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



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

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


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

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



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

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

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

Chipotle chicken salad tacos
Mexican-style zucchini tacos

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