Tuesday, August 1, 2017

August Newsletter

The August issue of Common Ground, in which I wrap up my 100 Day Project of watercolor painting, flew out to inboxes yesterday.
If you didn't get your copy, you can read it, and also subscribe, here.
If you are a subscriber and didn't get your copy, check your spam box and "promotions" tab in Gmail.

Monday, July 31, 2017

July 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 
April Reads 
May Reads 
June Reads

This month I went into in full-on summer reading mode. No poetry. No nonfiction. No literary fiction. No catching up on magazines and literary journals. I didn't even read The East Village Inky when it came in the mail. I'm actually a little embarrassed by that giant pile of (eleven!) books up there. Did I do anything at all besides read this month?

You know how this got started. I made a skirt. Then I read Crocodile on the Sandbank, because I had recently acquired my own copy, and because it matched my skirt, and because why not? Then I ordered copies of three of the next four books in the series (I had a copy of the fourth) and plunged in, going much faster than I expected, because soon I caught up to a hole in my collection (I already owned most of the later books, but only a smattering of the early and middle ones) and began combing used book stores, where I was not only able to fill in the gaps, but also scored a signed copy of one (true confession, I did already have a paperback of this particular volume, but at seven bucks, I could hardly pass it up). While I was still searching for a copy to fill the last gap in my selection, I took a detour and read another Elizabeth Peters book, from outside the Amelia Peabody Series.

So, what is my deal with these books? My mom was a long-time reader of Elizabeth Peters, nom de plume of Barbara Mertz, aka Barbara Michaels. The Barbara Michaels books are tales of suspense with supernatural elements and Gothic themes (crumbly old manor houses, ghosts of dead children, etc.). The Elizabeth Peters books are classic who-done-its, with a lot of humor (and history) thrown in. The Amelia Peabody series, which is the most extensive collection of an Elizabeth Peters character, is about a "lady" archaeologist, beginning in the Victorian era and on to the 1920s over the length of the series.

When I was in high school, I picked up one of my mom's paperback books, Search the Shadows by Barbara Michaels, and was immediately hooked on both Barbara Michaels and Egyptology. I read most of both Barbara Michaels's and Elizabeth Peters's books over the next few years. It took me a little longer to get into the Amelia Peabody books, but once I got the sly humor and satire of of our dear, unreliable narrator, I kept up with the Peabody-Emerson family's penchant for trouble ("every year, another dead body") as each volume was released. When I was home on maternity leave with M, I reread the series (up to 2001) while nursing the baby. I reread them all again three years ago (picking up a few I had missed along the way), in order of publication, which is not in order of chronology, so it was a little confusing, but still thrilling. This time I'm reading them in chronological order, which is very satisfying. I really do think they get better every time I read them. I cried through the whole last chapter of The Falcon at the Portal, even though I knew what was going to happen.

These books are not only rollicking good fun, they're suspenseful, funny, wickedly satirical, informative (about ancient Egyptian history as well as Victorian and Edwardian behaviors, norms, hypocrisies and fashion), and relevant. The history of occupation (by the Ottoman Empire and then the British Empire) in Egypt and surrounding countries as well as local tribalisms and religious fanaticism explored in the books all play into today's troubles in the Middle East. And the characters are just so engaging. I really can't say enough.

So now I come to the latest edition. Ms. Mertz /Peters/Michaels, died in 2013, leaving the Amelia Peabody series at 19 volumes (plus a companion book of photos and history of Egyptology in the Emerson/Peabody's time period), with 19 other books published as Elizabeth Peters and 29 as Barbara Michaels, which really *should* be enough for any reader, but…we always want more, don't we? So, I was thrilled that one final Amelia Peabody book was released this summer.

It was written by Barbara Mertz's friend and colleague in mystery writing, Joan Hess, based on copious notes written by the former, with help from other friends and colleagues. I bought my copy earlier this week, with great anticipation. I have to say, I'm a little disappointed. The dialogue feels off. The characters not quite true. The pacing, the phrasing, the whole thing like a photo that's not quite in focus. I keep telling myself to think of it not as an Elizabeth Peters book, but as a Joan Hess book, but I'm not entirely convinced. The good news, though, is that since this book is #14, I have six whole more books to read after I finish, all written by the one, the only, the true Elizabeth Peters.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

July Things

How can July almost be over already? Oh, summer, why do you have to be such a warp-speed time warp? I thought this would be the summer that I sat on my front porch, watching the bees pollinate the flowers, but we don't have a front porch, and I let the marigolds on my deck die from lack of water. And, well, there's been a lot of other stuff going on.

This month has been very full (I'm trying to excise the word "busy" from my vocabulary—and my mindset—and if I look at it objectively, this July hasn't been nearly as busy as in years past, when I had to go to work every day and stuff). I spent a weekend, plus one bonus evening, in the company of alumni and faculty from my MFA program, which was lovely. We talked about things like point of view and revision, publication and rejection. Things that would make people in my normal life glaze over with boredom. I imagine it's like when my husband and his building buddies get to talking about dimensional lumber and R-values.

And I had a whole entire weekend (well, just from about mid-morning Saturday to Sunday evening) all. to. my. self. And it was so amazing to be the master of my own (very, very quiet) universe. I spent a great deal of the time uploading and backing up photos, in my Sisyphean quest to open up space on my hard drive. With no one else home hogging up the bandwidth, I got a lot done. I also read. A lot. (More on this month's reading Monday.) And I only left home to pick up Saturday night's dinner and I only cooked to heat up leftovers. It was glorious.

C and M returned Sunday evening and Monday I headed up to join E and Z at their grandparents' camp. The weather had turned cool and cloudy, so after lunch, we packed up and headed to their house, where we played games and then, the next day, headed to the coast where the boys tried their hands at seine-netting (they caught a few tiny fish and some shrimp, which they had fun eating for lunch).

We've also gone swimming at various lakes and ponds, made one more trip to the beach, and raised two monarch caterpillars, which is very exciting, since it's been years since we've seen monarchs around here. I'm almost done with my 100 days of learning to paint (I'll be talking about that in my next newsletter; don't forget to sign up here). I've gotten less work done on the book than I hoped, but more than I feared. And other than book work and all that photo uploading, I've spent very little time on the computer, meaning I've ignored blogs, both mine and yours (I'm sorry). I've also rarely gotten the camera out, which you know is out of character for me. So maybe I have been watching the bees just a bit, metaphorically speaking.

We leave for vacation in a couple of days, which means it's going to be quiet around here again, but if you want, you can follow along on Instagram @andrea.lani.

What July Things have you been up to?

Monday, July 17, 2017

June 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 
April Reads 
May Reads
I don't have an excuse for just now getting to June's books, other than the relentless march gallop of time. How can July already be more than halfway gone?

Anyway, June was a light reading month, partly because I read more than half of a book that appeared on May's list (Mountains of the Mind), partly because I was doing a lot of reading for research, none of which added up to a whole book (but which entailed reading most of an enormous tome on grazing in the west), and partly because I made an effort to catch up on magazines and literary journals—not a success, but an effort. Here are the books I did manage to read in June:

Poetry. For my morning poetry reading, I read Sandra Steingraber's collection, Post-Diagnosis, in which many of the poems center around her experience of being diagnosed with bladder cancer in her early 20s. But they also range far and wide, from nuclear testing to the poet Audre Lorde. The book makes clear why Steingraber's nonfiction writing about environmental health (see my review of one of her books here) is so lyrical, despite her training as a scientist. She does not leave that training behind while writing poetry, however. This is the first book of poetry I've ever read that is footnoted with sources of the events and information in the poems.

I also read two chapbooks by my friend and fellow Stonecoast graduate, Amanda Johnston. I LOVE hearing Amanda read her poetry, and I was wishing for her voice as I read, but reading them was the next best thing. Her poems are smart, sexy, thought-provoking, gut-punching, and word-playful, all in one and I can't wait for her forthcoming book!

Nonfiction. I'm trying to keep a steady stream of hiking/outdoor literature going as inspiration and instruction while I write my book and I happened to find a remaindered copy of Colin Fletcher's River at a bookstore (for fifty cents!!!). I'm a big fan of The Man Who Walked Through Time, so I was excited to read River and was not disappointed. Fletcher strikes the exact right balance between description and reflection (how does he do it, I don't know) as he describes his trip from the source to the delta of the Colorado River. I was sort of thinking of him as a mild-mannered Ed Abbey as I read, and then I came to the part where he talks about Abbey, who had contacted him around the time both Desert Solitaire and The Man Who Walked Through Time were published, and how he had responded somewhat churlishly, and missed the opportunity of meeting the more cantankerous of the two (otherwise similar) men. Fletcher took the trip late-ish in life (in his 60s), and while he's fairly reticent about details, he does some looking back over his years and airing regrets, of which the Ed Abbey incident was only one.

Fiction. Okay, once I reread Crocodile on the Sandbank, I dove back into the world of Amelia Peabody, Victorian Egyptology, murder, mystery, mayhem, and other hijinks. One final, posthumous, Amelia Peabody book is coming out next week. I reread the entire series about two years ago, so I didn't think I'd need to read them again, but it turns out that I do and I'm hot on the trail of finishing the 12 or 13 that come before the forthcoming The Painted Queen (some out-of-order writing publishing took place; last time I read them in publication order; this time I'm reading them in order of events). The two I read during June are The Curse of the Pharaohs and the Mummy Case.

What are you reading this month?

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Wild Wednesday ~ Damsels and Dragons

Naturalists are, by definition, generalists, but many, if not most, have a particular area of interest about which they are most knowledgeable—birds or flowers or rocks or moss or trees. Et cetera.

Powdered dancer (Agria moesta) and Variable dancer (Agria fumipennis)
Me? I know a little about a lot of things, nothing about some things, and a lot about nothing. Birds, I'm decent at, wildflowers, trees. But I don't really have that one thing. That one area of expertise. That passion.

Pond damsel spp?

As a result, since becoming a Maine Master Naturalist, a requirement of which is to share naturalist knowledge with others, I've taught classes in nature writing and nature journaling, my area of "expertise" and a naturalist skill that can be applied to whatever interest a person has.

Ebony jewelwing (Calopteryx maculata)
That being said, one realm I've been dabbling in for many years, and which is the thing that will be my "thing" once I take the time to really get to know it, is the Odonata—dragonfly and damselfly family.

Dragonhunter (Hagenius brevistylus)

Because they're just so darn cool.

There are 158 species of odonates in Maine alone, and some can only be identified under the so it might take me a while, but half the fun is in the chase.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Weekend Things ~ Water

We had a quiet weekend, the last one with nothing scheduled for the foreseeable future. E and Z had a friend over Friday night and, after we'd finished the morning housecleaning (which I very meanly made them do, despite their friend's presence) I asked them what they wanted to do and the unanimous vote was to go swimming. Which I'm always happy to do.

We made our first trip of the summer to our friends' camp on a lake where we had the beach all to ourselves. I enjoyed sitting in the shade reading as much as they enjoyed swimming and dunking and being wet and the obligatory ice cream stop on the way home.

Sunday afternoon, we headed down to wade in the river, for the first time all summer.

C took underwater video.

E and Z chased fish and crawdads.

And I stalked dragonflies and damselflies (more on that tomorrow).

On the way home, C and E visited one of the garden beds and discovered two monarch caterpillars on a nearby milkweed plant—the first monarchs we've found in years! We brought them in raise in our butterfly jar (they have a better chance of survival inside, away from predators). And I'm thrilled.

Three more reasons summer is the best season of all—water, dragonflies, and butterflies!

Friday, July 7, 2017

Weekend Things ~ July-ing

I am a summer girl at heart—despite the bugs and the poison ivy and the deadly caterpillars—and July in Maine is summer.

As often happens, it came on suddenly.

After a chilly June and a late end to the school year, suddenly it was Fourth of July weekend and it was hot and humid.

For some unfathomable reason, the members of my family do not like going to the beach.

They like it once they get there, but the getting there is always an ordeal.

I managed to coax E and Z to the shore Sunday, and they discovered/remembered that, yeah, they actually enjoy the beach.

They've gotten brave enough this year to swim out to where the water is deeper than they are tall, which means I have to swim with them or watch them closely again.

The water was co-o-o-old, which is just what the doctor ordered on this sticky, sunny day, and they stayed in the water until their lips turned blue around their chattering teeth.

I almost thought we'd be too cold for ice cream on the way home, but once we hit town, and the heat island effect, we were ready for a cold dessert.

Monday, C, E, Z and I partook of July's other favorite activity—strawberry picking (M is working at the strawberry farm this summer and had no desire to go there on his day off).

C was determined to get the 40+ pound discount.

So we picked. And we picked. And we picked.

Coming home with 57 pounds of berries!!!

C has been busy hulling and freezing them, and, when it became clear we'd never eat them before they went bad, I relented from my anti-domestic stance and made a double-batch of jam.

And that, dear Reader, is why I am a summer girl.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Free and Fun

Free and Fun has become my mantra for the summer. I fully anticipate that this will be my only summer "off" with the kids (other than those two maternity leave summers, and, of course, last year's hiking summer) and I want to take as full advantage as possible of all summer has to offer. Unfortunately, since I've been "off" for a year now, we have to be judicious with the cash flow, and so I want to take as full advantage as possible while spending as little money as possible.

We got started right away with a trip to a nearby pond, two days after they got out of school (their first day off we spent running errands, which is neither fun nor free). It's a pond I've known about for years, but not one we've ever visited before, since the choice of public access is either the edge of the road or a short hike through the woods to a rock jump-off spot. Not exactly an ideal spot to take little kids, but perfect for big ones. I convinced E and Z that they wanted to try this new adventure by craftily inviting along their BFF.

The day was nice, the water pleasant and the pond just the right size for 12-year-olds to swim across. Their friend made several leaps off the rock, but only Z mustered up the daring to try it—once. Which is fine with me—I spent too many years as a lifeguard, where the dangers of jumping or diving into mysterious waters from heights were drummed in ad nauseam.

When Monday rolled along I threw around some ideas of how to spend the day. I wanted to go to the beach, mainly to sooth the rash from my brown tail moth run-in with cold saltwater. M wanted to do nothing, it being his day off work, though he proposed sending me grocery shopping while they played tennis. E's enthusiasm for returning to the pond overruled everyone else's ideas and so that's what we did, even dragging M along with us.

The rest of this week, E and Z went to a canoe and paddle board camp—also Free and Fun! thanks to our local conservation organization and a grant they have to get more kids outside. Now, looking ahead to July, I'm looking for more ideas of Free and Fun! things to do. Any ideas?

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Wild Wednesday ~ Browntail Moth

This might be as close to a PSA as I come with this blog. First, the saga: Saturday evening, I took a walk to the end of our driveway and back, as I often do several times a day. I'd heard some peeping sounds in the birdhouse where swallows make their home, and I made a detour to check out the box, squeezing between a pin oak and an apple tree, both with lots of low leafy branches, on my way there. About halfway home, I felt a stinging sensation on my neck. Assuming the noseeums, which had been out in force earlier in the week, were back at it, I brushed and slapped at the stinging spot, which seemed to move around and grow worse. Back at the house, I started to rub an after-bite stick on the spots that stung, but rather than soothing, the minty ointment intensified the stinging sensation. Then I noticed a small, brown, fuzzy caterpillar on my shoulder. I ran outside, brushed it onto the ground, and smashed it with a rock (I said "I'm sorry" to it as I did so; it should be noted that the caterpillar did not apologize to me). Then I ran in, shouted to C to look up browntail moth, and jumped into the shower, where I attacked the area with soap and water. By the time I got out of the shower, swollen red welts covered my neck and shoulder from sternum to nape. Meanwhile, C found a picture of the browntail moth larva online, and it looked roughly like me attacker, but a quick scan through the literature didn't offer much in the way of treatment advice, so I took a massive dose of Benadryl and another antihistamine we had leftover from one of the kids' rash episodes, and went to bed.

The next day, I posted a picture of my leprous skin on Facebook with a warning that the caterpillars had moved inland. My field guide describes the moths' range as "presently dunes, coastal strand communities, and adjacent woodlands from Maine to Cape Cod." Last I'd heard about the moths, was when M was a baby, 15 years ago, and I was strongly advised against taking him into a state park near the coast. But as advice and consolation came in from friends, I realized that they had invaded much of Central Maine this summer. I also realized there's not much you can do about them. Again with the field guide: "Its short, deciduous setae (or spicules) [i.e., "hairs"], tightly packed into the rusty brown tufts over the dorsum, are highly irritating to most people and produce pronounced dermatological reactions if numbers of them get embedded in the skin." Yeah, no kidding. It's not only close and intimate contact with the caterpillar that's a problem, but the setae can become airborne and get you as you walk around (I believe this happens when they pupate and shed the old skin). They like all woody plants, but prefer apple and cherry trees as well as beech and oak—all of which abound on our property. The thing to do, apparently, is to look for the webs in the winter and early spring, snip them off, and drop them in soapy water. Too late for that this year.

This summer, I have had a neck covered in blackfly bites, an imbedded tick, clusters of bites from noseeums that somehow found their way inside my pajamas, as well as several dozen mosquito bites, and a small patch of poison ivy. Not one of these irritants, however, has deterred me from going outside. After the browntail moth incident, however, not only did I want to stay inside, I was ready to burn down our entire 15 acres. Every time I stepped out, I got goosebumps (which, of course made my rash hurt more, as each hair follicle stood on end, tugging at the stinging, embedded setae) and I cringed away from all vegetation. Over the course of days, however, I started going out, almost as usual (though not stepping off our driveway) and today, I did a visual survey of our pin oak, looking for evidence of brown tailmoth larvae. This is the only caterpillar I found, and I wasn't entirely sure it was the offending specimen (I could have brushed my skin against it as a test, but I'm not that dedicated to science) until I enlarged the photo and saw the two indicative orange dots at the back end (they really weren't that visible at normal size, and they're this caterpillar's most distinctive feature).

As a PSA, this is not very helpful, since I have no idea what to do about the caterpillars or about going outside without getting a "pronounced dermatological reaction."A Tyvek suit, perhaps? One information sheet recommend long sleeves, long pants, tight collar, hat, polyester fabric (apparently less prone to the setae attaching than cotton). But the whole point of summer is to be able to go outside not suited up for an Arctic expedition! As far as treating the rash, among the various remedies people suggested was scrubbing the affected area with a brush. After reading this, I jumped in the shower, and scoured my neck with an exfoliating face wash and repeated the procedure the next morning. This helped immensely, and when a few more spots sprang up on my wrist, I went at them with a nail brush with the result of almost immediate relief. C, who had a small patch on his lower arm, remarked how satisfying this remedy is, when it's what you most want to do to a rash anyway, but are usually not allowed to do.

Update: More information about the caterpillars' lifecycle and marginally useful treatment info here.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Rad Parenting

A couple of months ago, I had the great good fortune of chatting with Tomas Moniz, creator of Rad Dad the zine, co-editor of Rad Dad the book, and editor of Rad Families. We talked about zine-making, storytelling, family, and what it means to be a rad parent. Transcribing the interview later, I noticed a recurrence of certain words—community, collaborate, conversation—words that I think represent much of what we need to heal our cultural wounds. You can read my interview with Moniz here and then consider picking up his books and reading those, too.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Blue Hair!

For a while Z has been asking me to dye his hair blue and I've been resisting, not because I have a problem with a blue-haired kid, but because the whole process seemed like it would be a huge pain in the a**. Finally, though, he convinced me, and last Saturday he went from this:

To this:

I forgot to take in-between shots of his head covered in bleach and his head covered in blue dye with a shower cap. What I really wish I'd captured was the post-bleached/pre-dyed hair, when he was back to his old white-blond toddler self. We went to a cookout that evening, and Z kept his hood on the whole time. Then I was gone all day Sunday and when I came home, I found that this had happened:

It turned out that a kid who prefers to blend into the background was a mite uncomfortable with a mop of blue hair, so he had C buzz it all off.

But he bravely went to school the next day and bravely took his hood off (because hoods aren't allowed at school).

And, of course, other kids said the usual, predictable, a-holey things kids say. In the meantime, Z got used to his blue head and now he kinda likes it. So do I.

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