Thursday, January 7, 2021

Book Stack ~ December 2020

A monthly list of books read. Previous months here: JanuaryFebruaryMarchAprilMayJuneJulyAugustSeptemberOctober, November.


December was a bit of a slow reading month, like November, and not for any *good* reason, like my hands being busy making a lot of holiday gifts, because this year I made nothing. Rather it was a combination of returning to work and watching way too much television. But I've made some changes that I hope will make it easier to incorporate reading into my life more regularly in 2021.

First, the nonfiction:

I finally finished reading The Norton Book of Nature Writing, College Edition, edited by Robert Finch and John Elder, which took me at least all year (I wish I'd noted when I began reading). It doesn't look that thick, but it has onion-skin pages and clocks in at 1,135 pages before the permissions section. Most traditional nature writing anthologies include a whole bunch of white dudes plus Rachel Carson. With this one, you can tell that the editors went to some pains to include more women and some more diverse voices, and these appear more toward the back of the book, among the more recent selections. But still, there's a whole lotta old white dudes represented. Nevertheless, it's an excellent survey of the genre, and it introduced me to several authors whose books I have acquired and read or plan to read soon.

As a companion, I read A Natural History of Nature Writing by Frank Stewart, which is a book that shows how American nature writing evolved since the time of Thoreau, and how Thoreau influenced some of the more influential writers of the 20th century (Aldo Leopold, Ed Abbey, Rachel Carson, Bill McKibben; in other words, a bunch of white dudes plus Rachel Carson). Unfortunately, I spread the reading of it out to coincide with reading the excerpts by the relevant authors in Norton, which means I didn't really take in the author's thesis as well as I might if I'd read it straight through. It's one I might revisit later, as I continue to hone my understanding of and approach to nature writing.

For fiction:

I listen to the #AmWriting podcast pretty religiously, so I heard a lot about the development, delay, and eventual release of The Chicken Sisters by KJ Dell'Antonia, so of course I had to read it. It's the entertaining story of a decades'-old family feud, conflict between a pair of modern-day sisters, and a reality TV show. Oh, yeah, and fried chicken. If you're looking for something fun and lively to read to escape from the insane moment we find ourselves in right now, check this one out.

Finally, I read The Christmas Story by Jean Shepherd, which is a collection of the essays/short stories (they seem to blur across the line) on which the movie was based. We were late comers to the movie, which my sister sent us a half-dozen Christmases ago or so, but it's since become one of our favorites. I think it gets more amusing every time I watch it, and the grinchy teenagers even seem to enjoy it still. I thought I'd never read it before, but now I see I read it in 2018, which is really strange, because none of it seemed familiar to me, except the parts that show up in the movie. If my book memory starts to go, I'm going to be really upset. In any case, it was a fun, fast read, and Shepherd's humor style is super engaging and fresh, even though the essays were originally published decades ago (and the events took place in the 30s).

Thursday, December 31, 2020

I Did It! 2020 (aka Apocalypse Year 1) Edition

For the past six years, I've tracked my annual accomplishments via an annual I Did It! list, originally inspired by writer Lisa Romeo. Previous posts can be found here: 2019 (including decade-in-review), 201820172016201520142013


Let me just start this year's list by acknowledging that 2020 was a real sh*t-show of a year, and if all you managed to accomplish was doom-scrolling Twitter and binge-watching Tiger King, that's okay. I'm not here to judge or make anyone feel bad. In terms of hours devoted, streaming TV was probably my most productive activity of 2020. Nevertheless, traditions are traditions, and my tradition is to take a minute to celebrate my wins for the year, big and small.

Writing I-Did-Its!

My big win for the year is, of course, finding a publisher and signing a contract for my book. This was a four-year-plus-long process to get to this point, and I'm not going to let 2020 take that away from me.

My stats for this year:

  • Submissions: 16
  • Acceptances: 3
  • Rejections: 7
  • Withdrawals: 4
  • Radio Silence: 2
  • Publications: 4

"The QuiltWillows Wept Review, September 2020 

"A Review of The Beginning of Everything by Andrea J. BuchananLiterary Mama, May 2020 

"Faith in a Seed" Spire: The Maine Journal of Conservation and Sustainability, April 2020  

"Sled Dogs and Search and Rescue" Maine Wilderness Guide, Winter 2020  

As  was the case for the last few years, while I've been working on The Book, I haven't been producing as many shorter works for submission. Some day I'll have to figure out how to keep short pieces going on the side while working on longer works. 

Other writing accomplishments:
  • I re-reinvigorated my newsletter, moving to a monthly schedule and sending out 11 issues.
  • I only wrote 35 blog posts--my lowest number ever--but I didn't abandon the blog entirely.
  • I mostly finished drafting a second book and I did a fair amount of research on a third.
  • I started a novel and got pretty deep into characters and plot, but had to shelve it at the point when I needed to delve into historical research, just when all the libraries shut down for the pandemic.
  • I continued to edit for Literary Mama, both as a department editor in the Literary Reflections Department and as a Senior Editor (I suppose you could call another publication my letter from the editor in the July/August issue).
Travel and Adventure I Did Its!

Well, it wasn't much of a travel year for anyone, was it? Weeks went by in spring when I barely even left our property, let alone the county. What I did manage:
  • Several local kayak trips, including one night paddle among the bioluminescence. I had fun making journal pages for some of these trips
  • An overnight at a cottage on the beach, courtesy of a friend.
  • A November hike with my family (who are usually impossible to drag out of the house) up a mountain not too far from home.

Arts and Crafts I Did Its!

Likewise, this wasn't a very crafty year, although it seems like it should have been what with all the stay-home-ness. What I did do:

  • Made a cute little table topper thingy.
  • Made a table runner.
  • Made a billion face masks, starting with these.
  • Finished C's fair isle vest.
  • Remodeled my old dollhouse (phase 1, phase 2, phase 3).
  • I've been working on one, long, endless knitting project most of the pandemic. It's been a good TV-watching knit, since it doesn't require a lot of attention-paying, but I've fallen out of the habit the last few weeks. Time to pick it up again.
  • I did not do as much art as I would have liked, other than a little nature journaling and a couple of watercolor paintings. This is an area of my life I'd like to reinvigorate in 2021.
Household I Did Its!

2020 was the year of dealing with deferred maintenance, from repairing little things (bracelets and wind chimes that have been broken for years) to finally, finally repainting (most of) the house trim and the exterior doors. (See above. How much do you love that purple and green together?) Not that anyone other than the UPS man has seen the results, but it makes me smile every time I come home. I also:
  • Finally cleaned up and organized the basement, starting with the "jar room." Other areas that got tidied up were my arts and craft supplies, three big bins of hand-me-down clothes that are all now either in kids' drawers or at the thrift store (or waiting till spring to go to the consignment store). I would still like to do a better job of organizing the camping gear and my fabric stash (maybe either burn through or get rid of some of it), and I finally threw out stuff I was waiting for recycling opportunities to open up for--old floppy disks and vinyl bags, that sort of thing. What I'd really, really like is for C to finish off the corner of the basement where all this stuff is stored and put in better lighting and shelving so I have better space to work with. Maybe some day...
  • Expanded my Fiestaware collection...by a lot. I admit, I got a teensy bit carried away, but I'm pretty happy with my purchases (it all started with Goodwill but after the pandemic began, I turned into eBay, Replacements Ltd., and Fiesta Factory Direct for my fixes). Okay, so maybe buying stuff isn't exactly an accomplishment, but Fiestaware was invented during the Great Depression to cheer people up, so I feel like I'm carrying on that tradition--of cheering myself up with colorful dishes. All the new dishware necessitated reorganizing kitchen shelves and cabinets to create storage and display space where there was none before, so that's something
  • In this same vein, I continued on my never-ending (and vain) quest to get the house so clean it stays clean by reorganizing and decluttering various book cases, cabinets, closets, and rooms.
  • I spread topsoil and grass seed in front of our house, something we neglected to do after building, resulting in a bald, weedy lawn (don't get me wrong; I'm okay with "weeds" and even planted violets and bluets in the new lawn, but more green growing things than brown dirt was my goal).
  • And I planted a butterfly garden, where I long ago put in an herb garden and then neglected it.
Nature I Did Its!
  • I co-coordinated the Maine Master Naturalist training course for 2020, with three other terrific leaders. We pivoted and retooled with the pandemic, and were able to continue carrying out a complete and robust course using remote learning platforms, videos, do-it-yourself field trips, and socially distanced field days. The further I get from the elbow-deep, day-to-day operational logistics of this, the more I realize what an accomplishment it was. As a bonus, sitting through all of the lectures reinforced my own learning from the course (back in 2014-2015) and re-sparked my interest in several nature topics.
  • I took an online class in butterfly ID and ecology, and discovered 40+ species of butterfly on my property alone.
  • Most of my birding I did at home, yet I managed to log more checklists on eBird and more species than any previous year. I also had a couple of life birds and a few not-seen-in-a-long-time species, including two great sightings of sandhill cranes (not on my property), and I worked on my birding-while-kayaking skills. One of my big plans for 2021 is to get a lot better at birding.
  • All the kayaking reinvigorated my long-held but recently dormant interest in dragonflies, and I reacquainted myself with some of my favorite species and learned several new ones. I look forward to pursuing this more in 2021.

Not too shabby for an otherwise hellish year. Another goal for 2021 is to not try to wish time away--even pandemic time, even work time--but to appreciate each moment as it comes. I'll let you know how it goes in next year's I Did It! post.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Tiny Things

 


This holiday season has had a strange, slow-motion feel to it, as if we're operating underwater. Oddly, during this high-anxiety year, this normally high-anxiety season is pleasantly un-fraught, thanks to evenings and weekends that aren't overloaded with parties and concerts, my having done much of my shopping early for the first time ever, and a surprising willingness to let things go. Not so much resignation (though that's part of it) as an openness to doing things differently. For instance, instead of badgering the kids into watching classic Christmas movies, we've been watching the holiday episodes of our favorite TV shows (a fitting cap to a year where much binge-watching ensued). I've also contented myself with buying ornaments for the kids and the family ornament exchange, rather than making them by hand. In fact, I haven't made anything by hand, all my crafty energy instead being channelled into a totally unrelated, all-about-me project: renovating my childhood dollhouse.

I wasn't looking for a project last month when I came across a friend's photo of toy mice living in dollhouse rooms and decided to dig out the house my grandparents made for me. But a project it's become, as I've stripped, sanded, painted, carpeted and decorated over the ensuing weeks. Feel free to offer your diagnosis--I'm acting out a desire to escape from politics and pandemic, a need for control in a world out of control, an attempt to cling to the past as my kids near adulthood and I careen toward 50. I plead guilty on all counts. 

But the real explanation might be simpler. It's been a year of big projects for me. I finished my book and found a publisher. I started two more books. I co-coordinated the Maine Master Naturalist training course. I painted the exterior doors and the trim on our house as far as I could reach with a 20-foot extension ladder. Even my pandemic knitting project is an enormous poncho that's starting to resemble the afghan in Like Water for Chocolate.

Maybe the dollhouse project is all about focusing on something small--tiny even--with very low stakes. I don't need anyone to accept, publish, wear, graduate from, or even like this project. It's instant gratification with zero external validation required, although I've inspired a surprising number of my friends to haul out their own dollhouses and received a surprising amount of criticism from those who like to police how others spend their time. More importantly than any psychological analysis of my motivations, I'm having a huge amount of fun, which during a year like this one is saying something.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Book Stack ~ November 2020

A monthly list of books read. Previous months here: JanuaryFebruaryMarchAprilMayJuneJulyAugustSeptember, October.





November's book stack is not so much a stack as a teeny, tiny little pile. What was I doing in November instead of reading. There was, of course, the dollhouse project. And a fair amount of work on The Book. And, if I'm being honest, an awful lot of television.

In the fiction department, I finished up the last two of the Flavia de Luce novels that I've been devouring over recent months (the last that I'm aware of anyway). These, The Grave's a Fine and Pleasant Place and The Golden Tresses of the Dead, were as entertaining as ever, although I admit to kind of losing the thread of the mystery in the latter one. Also, earlier books have veered a bit into espionage and these veered right back out again. I'm curious what that's about (market research?) and I'm also curious if there will be more.

For nonfiction, I finally read Robin Wall Kimmerer's Brading Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teaching of Plants. Though it came out in 2013 and I've had it in my possession since last Christmas (or maybe the one before???) I had been saving it up, in the weird way I have of delaying gratification. It was worth the wait. The essays within are lovely meditations on the author's life, her heritage as a Native American, and the interrelationships of plants and culture. This book may be another reason my November stack is small--this book is weighty, both in size and in content, and each essay demanded slow savoring and quiet reflection.

I also read Entangled Live: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures by Merlin Sheldrake (isn't that the perfect name for a naturalist???). This one was less memoir-ey than the nature writing I normally read, and more straight nonfiction (though the author does not remove himself completely from the narrative). Nevertheless, it was a completely fascinating deep dive into a kingdom we so rarely notice or think about and the many ways our lives are entangled with the fungal world. Ever since reading it, I study the fungi growing in containers in the refrigerator before dumping them in the compost and, when I walk in the woods, I think of the vast networks of mycelia underneath my feet. Also, isn't the cover one of the most gorgeous you've ever seen?


What have you been reading lately?

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Dollhouse Renovation ~ Part III, The Upper Floors

I was going to do a slow reveal on the rest of the dollhouse, one room per post, but then I decided that might be a bit much, so here goes, the upper floors of the dollhouse, starting with the Yellow Bedroom. This was my favorite room when I was a kid, because yellow was my favorite color, and because I thought bunk beds looked like fun (that was before I actually had to sleep in a bunk bed).


I kept the original, macaroni-and-cheese colored wallpaper, replaced the carpet with a similar color, painted the furniture a creamy yellow, and added bedding: yellow gingham mattresses and bright orange and green afghans.


I drew drawers and knobs onto the dresser, but did an even worse job than I had with the kitchen cabinets. I might paint it again and try redoing the lines, but I kind of like the childish look for this child's room. The rocking horse was mine as a kid (you can tell by the repaired break in one rocker), the red dala horse is an ornament that lost its string, the blocks on the dresser are beads, the tiny wooden owl I was something I had, the Mickey Mouse book came from a friend, the butterfly art is a cancelled postage stamp, and the bunting is cut from decorative paper and glued onto embroidery floss.


The bathroom cracks me up--for the realism it offers, both in its mere existence in a house for dolls and its long, narrow design, like all 20th-century bathrooms.


It's complete with all the basic fixtures: sink, tub, toilet, which I painted the same cream as the bedroom furniture. For faucet handles, I added map pins, for the white porcelain look.


The painted fixtures brightened it up, but it could use some artwork, and maybe a bath mat. 


The Blue Bedroom was the only room where the wallpaper was in too rough of shape to salvage. I replaced it with origami paper in a similar color, which, at 6x6 inches, exactly matched the height of the room's walls and the width of the inner right-hand wall (hot tip for dollhouse builders).


The furniture in this room was in pretty good shape, so I left it the original brown-stained color, adding a mattress and afghan to the bed, and C and I built a little desk.


The map on the wall came from a National Geographic magazine order form, the sailboat picture is a sticker my mom sent, the globe and dictionary on the desk and the old-timey camera, rock collection, and rock hammer (all of which you can barely see) on the dresser came from a friend, the car I had since I was a kid, the cat my dad made (along with the cat in the kitchen and the dog in the living room), and the skateboard, which is a tad on the large side, was my kids' toy.


When C and I were planning our house, we for a time considered a design very like this dollhouse, tall, wide, and only one room deep, to maximize southern exposure. It would have included an attic room like this one, which I'd envisioned as my yoga/sewing/writing/art studio. Now I just have to pretend this mini attic is my all-purpose studio.


The original bed for this room didn't survive, so C and I built a new one, and I painted it green, with a little attempt at tole painting on the footboard, and added a green gingham mattress and a striped afghan.


We also built a little sewing table (the tiny Singer came from C's grandmother's house many years ago). The art in the back corner, original to the house, is a picture of a sampler that says "Love Spoken Here."


The remaining furniture in this room includes two dressers (original) and a funky plexiglass table my dad made for me a long time ago. I added two bird postage stamps to the back wall (I hope I'm not overdoing stamps as artwork, but I love them so) and, after several aborted attempts at weaving or knitting a basket, I made a little tote bag for knitting projects. After I post this, I'm going to make a tiny yoga mat from leftover felt.


And now, except for little additions to be made here and there, it's done! Here are the upstairs rooms:


And here's the whole house, all snowy and decorated for Christmas:

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Dollhouse Renovation ~ Part II, The Living Room

After I finished remodeling the dollhouse kitchen, my friend Libby commented that it was a "very Andrea kitchen." The living room on the other hand, is not very me, covered with pink rose-patterned wallpaper. But I didn't want to replace the wallpaper--it's in pretty good shape, and it has sentimental value (it is very my grandma), and even though it's nothing I would ever dream of living with in my house, I like it. In fact, I decided to lean in on the late 70s / early 80s Hollie Hobby, Little House on the Prairie, Jessica McClintock aesthetic and go full-on "olden days" revival. 

Before:


I replaced the carpet (which had been originally magenta, and then dark green in the early 2000s remodel) with a deep rose color. The felt-covered couch and chair that my grandparents made had gotten moth-eaten in our basement over the last several years, so I had to reupholster, which was a lot more challenging than it looks (maybe because I was doing it at the kitchen table while my family was cooking Thanksgiving dinner all around me). I stuck with the original colors of green and yellow, and for both the furniture and the carpet, I used bamboo felt, hopefully not delicious to moths but with a nicer look and feel than acrylic.


None of the other original living room furniture survived to today, so C helped me make some new pieces. A coffee table, complete with a National Geographic magazine (with actual readable articles inside) and a bird book I made with a kestrel postage stamp and cutouts of birds from a bird seed bag (every house must have a bird field guide).


One of those tall, spindly tables that people used to put potted ferns on but that would never survive in my house. I made it from a wooded spool that the heavy-duty thread I sew outdoor gear from comes on and a circle of wood C cut for me. On top, a lace coaster I had lying around and a little jug of blossoms snipped from a dried flower arrangement.


The original house did not have a fireplace. We lived in the suburbs and my grandparents had left woodturning behind on their respective farms decades earlier. But now that the house is in Maine, it needed a fireplace, mostly because a mantel is a handy place to display things. A friend of mine gave me a baggie of miniatures she had collected over the years but didn't want anymore. Among them were the Nat Geo mag from above, this tiny photo frame for which I made teeny silhouettes, and a mini bud vase. The original paper rose had faded with time, so I made a fresh bud from crepe paper. The candles are beeswax birthday candles and the logs are oak.


I said in my previous post that I was going to use handmade/found-around-the-house items to decorate the house. But then I remembered The Rambling Rose. When I was little, the local mall, Cinderella City, boasted all the best of malls in the their heyday: escalators, fountains, Christmas trees two stories high, rising into the vaulted ceilings. A below-ground level called Cinder Alley was designed to look like a small town Main Street, with sidewalks and a black-painted "street," each storefront made to look like actual buildings. (The irony of the role of the mall in round-one, pre-Walmart decimation of actual Main Streets was lost on six-year-old me.) My favorite store in Cinder Alley was called The Rambling Rose. I don't know what its primary merchandise was--only a dim vision of  a tumult of ribbon and lace and chintz. But I do remember the jewelry case with shelves that revolved vertically, each one crowded not with diamond rings but with dollhouse miniatures. I could stand and watch those shelves cascade for hours. But I never never bought--or was given--a miniature from the case. Maybe I never asked. Maybe my parents figured that I'd lose or break it within minutes (they would not have been wrong). But whatever it was, I had almost no realistic dollhouse items, and I figure, why not indulge that inner little girl now? 

So for the living room, I bought this tiny frame, painted it gold and made a tiny watercolor from a photo I took on the Colorado Trail. It's fancy like the living room, but also very me.


I also bought two framed botanical prints to hang over the mantel--also a little Victorian and a little me.


The new art complements the original art, a print of wildflowers just barely visible on the side wall.


And finally, the finishing touches: an afghan for the couch, so you can snuggle up and read the magazine by the fire, a little dachshund, for my friend Lisa who needed a dog in the house before she could move in, and a teeny rotary phone, which is one of the only real miniatures that I had as a kid (an antique store purchase probably), with the cord and receiver long gone.

After:


Don't you want to move in there?

Monday, November 23, 2020

Big News

November is always a long month for me, what with the short days, downed leaves, and impending work season. This year it has been especially long, thanks to the agonizing wait for the election and the agonizing wait for the vote count and the ongoing agonizing wait for some grownup somewhere to step in and do something about the Keystone Kop Koup attempt. And now the holiday season is approaching, and it's hard to know what to do about it during a pandemic, when every holiday since the beginning of time has revolved around meeting other people's expectations.

If it were up to me, I'd spend Thanksgiving on the couch, watching movies and eating macaroni and cheese. It's not my favorite holiday: I don't care for the food, I don't care for obligatory gratitude, and I don't care for the whitewashed version of our genocidal relationship with the indigenous peoples of this land. However, C and the boys want turkey and all the trimmings (these being the same boys who for the first half dozen or so years of their lives ate nothing from the Thanksgiving table except cranberry sauce), so we'll have turkey and all the trimmings. At least I won't have to clean the house.

And this year, despite the pandemic and the political uncertainty (will we or won't we trade in democracy for a fumbling and inept authoritarian state?), I have much to be grateful for: my and my family's health, my oldest son close to home at a college that takes the pandemic seriously (and can afford to do something about it), and (drum roll, please) now the very real possibility that the book I've spent the last four years writing and rewriting will see the light of day! I'm very happy to share with you that yesterday I signed a contract with Bison Books, the trade imprint of the University of Nebraska Press, for publication of Uphill Both Ways: Hiking Toward Happiness on the Colorado Trail.

It will still be a couple of years before you can hold the book in your hands (start planning your 2022 holiday shopping now), and between now and then there will be many rounds of editing and I'll no doubt take a few turns through the emotional blender. But for now I'm elated! Not even November can dampen my spirits. And hopefully by the time it's published, it will again be safe to breathe each other's aerosolized spit particles and we can celebrate in person at the biggest book release party you've ever seen!

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