Saturday, March 25, 2017

Writing the Colorado Trail

The whole (purported) purpose of quitting my job and hiking the Colorado Trail last summer was to write a book about the hike, a hike on the same trail C and I took 20 years ago, and the social and environmental changes that took place in the mountains during those two decades (there were many ulterior motives as well, but we don't need to get into those here).

Writing a book is a HUGE undertaking. Not only do I have to take journal notes from two separate six- to nine-week hikes and turn them into a coherent narrative, I have to research, digest, and summarize in an engaging way such things as water rights and reclamation, fire suppression, mining, climate change, public lands, grazing, recreation, and about two billion years of plate tectonics, uplift, and erosion. No problem. The writing and research are moving forward apace now, but I did take a little bit of a break from about November into February. I think it was a necessary period of senescence, letting the thoughts and experiences marinate a bit before turning to the monumental task of information-gathering. But I was not entirely idle during that time: I worked on several shorter pieces, some of which pertain to the hiking of the trail, two of which went live last week:

On, "How Being a Mom Helped Me Hike 500 Miles," a short list of ways that my experience of being a mom made hiking the trail easier than it had been 20 years ago.

At Mothers Always Write, "Five Hundred Miles," an essay about sharing the trail experience with my teenage son.

If you're game, please check them out and let me know what you think. And if you do the social media thing, I'd love it if you shared either or both on Facebook or Twitter.

Friday, March 17, 2017


The Situation: E and I pulled out the mancala board last weekend and, with a little help from M, figured out how to play, coming back to the smooth wooden grooves and cool glass pebbles again and again as the weekend went by.

The Stories:

Endless Weekends. Now that I don't work outside of the home anymore, I no longer feel like I need to live my entire life—both all of the things I need to do and all of the things I want to do—during those two days each week. Time stretches out. Whole weekends go by where I accomplish almost nothing. It feels good and it feels strange. A little guilty. Which brings me the next story: how I spend far too much of my newly acquired free time.

Boredom and Screens. The boys have gotten very intense with their screen time lately. I tend to ignore it for a while, taking advantage of the quiet it creates, until it has built up to a head and then I careen in the other direction, the screen nazi. So when I got an email from a teacher about a homework situation, screens disappeared. Boys went through the stages of grief—surliness, teariness, stomping, sulking, a slow return to real play. I feel like it's my obligation to engage them in real-world activities, even when screens haven't been disappeared. I know kids need to figure out what to do with themselves when bored, that it's actually good for them to be bored, but left to their own devices that's just where they'd turn, to their devices. E is much more amenable to being roped into a game or a project than Z, who would rather wander off by himself and daydream. Which brings me to the next story.

Twindividuation. The essay I told you about last week, which will be coming out in the Multiples Illuminated anthology, is about how spending an intense amount of time together over the summer seemed to trigger an intense period of individuation between E and Z. But when I wrote it back in the fall, I hadn't seen nothin' yet. Then they chose to divide their wardrobe and dresser drawers, and busied themselves with separate activities much of the time. Now they hardly have anything to do with each other, rarely want to play together or talk to each other and are often cross with each other. I think this has been harder on me than it has been on them. I miss their tight bond. Which brings me to the next story, and back to the first one.

Time. I don't know how to characterize time raising kids. The cliches—"it goes by so fast" and "long days, short years" don't quite capture the reality. It's more like you, here, now are point A and time accelerates as it moves away from point A, in both directions. So that the present is slow and stretchy, like taffy, but the farther it moves into the past or future the less viscous and more fluid it becomes as it ribbons away from you like meltwater sheeting down a rock face. I think I'm mixing my metaphors there. Today you think you will spend the rest of your life arguing with your 11-year-old about how much screen time is enough screen time, but if you look back at that 11-year-old as a baby, he's careening away from you at light speed, even though then you thought you would be changing his diapers forever. Same when you looking into the future. He as a teenager, an adult, and old man, shoots away from you at warp speed, but when you're there in some future incarnation, time, a moment, will feel slow and still, as you both move glass beads along a mancala board with your old, withered hands.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

How to Write with (or Despite) Kids

At risk of turning this here blog into the department of shameless self-promotion, I have another publication to share with you today.

Two of my writing assistants.

In How to Write with (or Despite) Kids over at WOW! Women on Writing, I share some of the ways I've been able to make writing work for me over the years, even with three kids using up as much of my time and many of my brain cells as they possibly can. I hope you enjoy it and find some useful advice.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Multiples Illuminated, Part I

As they say, when it rains it pours. Or at least rains a little bit harder. I have several publications coming out over the next few months that I'll be excited to share with you as they hit the presses (or pixels as it were). Last week, my essay "No Fun" appeared on Manifest Station, in case you missed it. And then I had a guest blog post up on Multiples Illuminated.

Cunning little devils, weren't they?
It's called "Post-Twin Stress Disorder" and I don't really have to tell you what it's about, do I? It's part of a series leading up to publication of the anthology Multiples Illuminated: Life with Twins and Triplets, the Toddler to Tween Years, which will be coming out this spring, and in which my essay "Individuality, Mutuality, and a Game of Twister" will appear. (That's why this post is called Part I; Part II will appear when the book becomes available.)

If you're one of those people who's always wondered what's it like having twins anyway? or one of those people who says things like, I always wished I had twins, check out my post. It will have you running for the hills (or the birth control pills) faster than you can say "multiples."

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Slow Writing ~ No Fun

You've heard of the Slow Food movement, yes? Well, I'm a member of the Slow Writing movement. Three years ago, come April, I attended a Psychedelic Furs concert in Portland with a friend. (The poster, which I, er, liberated from a wall downtown has been hanging on the side of a bookcase ever since.)

There were several things about my experience at the show told me I had a story there, and so I started writing down my initial memories and impressions right away. After a while, though, I got bored with my writing, and felt it was going nowhere, so I set it aside.

Several months, maybe a year, later, I opened the file again and though, Hmm, maybe there is something here after all. I continued to work on the piece off and on until I finally finished and hit "submit" one month shy of two years after the concert. I'd had a place in mind to which I wanted to submit from the very beginning and I had high hopes of it getting accepted there, but I waited. And waited. And waited. After six months I sent the nudge email and got back a "thanks but no thanks" for my trouble. Over the next few months, I sent it out to seven more places, getting rejection after rejection (but at least on a faster timeline). Finally, after a total of six rejections, The Manifest Station picked it up and it appeared on their site yesterday.

A funny thing happens to writing that's been sitting around a long time—you fall out of love with it. You start to notice nitpicky problems. It no longer resonates. But, not this time around. I'm happy to report I still enjoy this piece and I'm happy to see it finally out in the world. I hope you like it, too.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Wild Wednesday ~ Lichens Tree

A week or so ago, I was walking in the woods and came upon this tree that appeared to be covered in every type of lichens imaginable. Lichens are organisms up of members of two or three different kingdoms. Fungi form the structure of the organism and either algae or cyanobacteria, or both, create food for the organism through photosynthesis. We just brushed over lichens in our Master Naturalist training, and to be honest, I have not pursued the subject with a great deal of vigor (I can't even find my lichens key—need to do some organizing). But I do remember that license are divided into three major groups based on their form and this tree had specimens of all three.

Crustose lichen holds tight to the surface it grows on, almost like paint; i.e. it forms a "crust" that is virtually impossible to separate from the rock or bark it attaches to.

Foliose lichen are more leafy in appearance (think "foliage"). The leafy bits are called "lobes" and they're either attached to their substrate with rhizines or, in the case of umbilicate lichen, from one central attachment point. 
Fruticose lichen grows in a shrubby, branching pattern. The shrubby part is called the "thallus" and the attachment point the "holdfast."

This tree was a festival of life. Along with the many types of lichen, it had this little patch of moss.

And this little guy, which looks like it could be a lichen, but is actually a liverwort, which is a type of nonvascular plant.

So what kind of tree was this that so bloomed in February? I must confess I almost forgot to notice (you might say I couldn't see the tree for the micro-forest). But I did remember to arch back and look up at the branches—opposite—and I snapped off a twig, just to be sure: red maple (it's hard to tell in this picture, but red maple twigs and buds are red and the buds grow opposite of each other.

As my college bio teacher used to say, "Life is so cool; it goes anywhere!"
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