Thursday, February 7, 2019

January 2019 Reads

I've decided to keep my book posts up for 2019, since without them I'd hardly have had any posts at all in 2018. And it should be easy this year, considering how few books I'm likely to read. After writing, mid-week hikes, and sleep, reading has been the biggest casualty of this whole job thing. Last month I managed only two books.

Nonfiction. I read the new book, Seaweed Chronicles, by Maine author Susan Hand Shetterly, whose work I always enjoy. Now you might think it would be hard to hold a reader's attnetion through a whole book about macroalgae, but Shetterly does it beautifully, weaving together biology, ecology, economics, and personal stories of the scientists and seaweed farmers, harvesters, and processors who are at the forefront of the burgeoining seaweed industry and have most at stake in the preservation of our ocean's gardens.

Fiction. Why, you may ask, when I have so little time available for reading, would I reread a book I've read at least twice, possibly three or four times before? The answer is, when it's cold and snowy outside and there's a fire in the woodstove, it's Jane Austen season. I hadn't read Emma in a good long while, so it was time, and Austen didn't disappoint. An utterly satisfying way of escaping January.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Dreaming in Squares

When Kaffe Fasset's Glorious Patchwork came out in 1997, I knew immediately I wanted to make the quilt on the front cover, Jewel Squares.

C bought me a copy that year for Christmas, but the pattern was too intimidating—157 squares, each made of 3/4" or narrower strips sewn painstakingly onto paper squares. Over the years, I made some other patterns from the book—M's baby quilt (in the second photo), both E's quilt and Z's quilt, a couple of pillow covers and, when those fell apart, another one. Over the years, I picked up fat quarters of fabric here and there, with this quilt in mind, but I held off on making it, partly out of a sense of duty to make quilts (both baby and big) for my children, and partly because it looked like so damn much work.  Then, last winter, shortly after Christmas, inspiration hit, I made a rare Saturday trip to town to photocopy the paper pieces, and voila, I was on the move.

It did take a long time, but usually while I find the piecing part of making a quilt tedious, after the planning part, this quilt was planned one square at a time and I found choosing the fabrics and putting together each one like composing a little picture, which kept it interesting, even when I got to the 68 2" squares. So interesting, in fact, that I finished the top in less than a year, dropping it off at the quilter in November (this is about 1/3 to 1/7 the time in which I normally finish a quilt).

The book proposes this quilt pattern as a window blind, because it looks so gorgeously stained-glass-like backlit by natural light. But, it would fade and fall apart in less time than it took to make left to the devices of ultraviolet rays, so I added a border to make it big enough for a throw and had it backed and quilted with a pattern of interlocking circles, which you can't really see in these photos.

Despite having had precise-sized paper squres onto which I sewed the strips, it still came out a little wonky in a few spots. Still, I'm very happy with the result. The wonky bits give it character.

I think it was worth the 21-year wait.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

January Writing

I had the great pleasure of interviewing, in real life, Caitlin Shetterly,  author of Modified, and our conversation was published this month in Literary Mama. I also wrote the editor's letter for this month's issue.

I also received my advance copy of This Side of the Divide: Stories of the American West, in which my short story "Confluence" appears, and which will be available February 12. I haven't had one spare second to read the other stories in the collection, but I hope to soon and tell you all about it.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

November and December 2018 Reads

A roundup of books I read over the last month. You can see past lists here:

October 2018 Reads
September 2018 Reads
August 2018 Reads
July 2018 Reads
January 2018 Reads

Not only has working put a major dent in my reading, it's put a dent in my blogging about reading, too. So here you have two months' worth of reads, and two very small stacks they are.

My November list, just three books tall and all fiction:

In November I felt compelled to return to my obsessive MPM (that's Mertz/Peters/Michaels) reading binge, which had cooled off a bit over the previous couple of months, but with a few books remaining unread from my summer used-bookstore hauntings. So I read Stitches in Time, which is about a haunted quilt (yes, I know it sounds cheesy. Okay, maybe it is cheesy, but fun no less). I enjoyed that two main characters from Michaels's first book, Ammie Come Home, make a reappearance in it. 

I also read a collection of short stories by Margaret Atwood, Wilderness Tips, which I picked up at the library book sale over the summer, and which I enjoyed very much. I haven't read a lot of short stories since grad school, when I read a ton and, frankly, got sick of them, but I liked these and think I'll reintroduce the short story to my reading diet. They make sense with limited reading time.

And, finally, E, Z, and I finished the penultimate book in the Amelia Peabody series, and we're still going strong. This one had kind of a wacky plot premise (then again, a lot of them do), but it was a fun read nonetheless.

December was another month of three books, three slender books. In fact, the month was so cucoo-crazy that I'm amazed there was even one book (I didn't even do my annual read of David Sedaris's "Santaland Diaries"!!):

Nonfiction: I needed a short book to read during little snippets of time that presented themselves here and there during the month, so I pulled off my shelf a book I've owned for a long time but never got around to reading for some reason: Woman Who Speaks Tree by Maine author Linda Tatlebaum. I've read a few of her other books and I enjoy her straightforward tone. This book is a collection of essays, into each of which trees play some role—her and her husband's arrival in Maine as back-to-the-land hippies and their sometimes misguided efforts to establish a homestead among the trees; her failed attempt to save a beautiful old tree on the college campus where she teaches; the cutting of trees on the property that borders her own; the ancient apple tree that served as spiritual guide as she raised her son. All good stories, full of heart and humor.

Fiction: I picked up Snapper by Brian Kimberling at the library book sale, I will not lie, 100% because of the cover. The novel is a first-person tale of a bird researcher in Indiana and his experiences. It's an odd novel, in that it reads like a loosely connected series of vignettes, and I still wasn't sure when I got to the end what exactly the plot was, but it was still entertaining. 

During my extended holiday weekend, I found myself with a little spare time and in the mood for something Christmassy, so I delved into A Christmas Story by Jean Shepherd, which is a book into which the short stories that make up much of the material that iconic movie have been collected. Though the book is billed as fiction (and the kid in the book is named Ralpie, not Jean), the stories read an awful lot like personal essays, and I wonder how much truth winds among the fiction. If you love the movie, or if you like humorous stories about life in the Midwest during the depression (I mean, who doesn't?), it's worth a read. 

Both of these books take place in Indiana—one Southern, one Northern; one rural and the other suburban, covering, I figure, the whole of the state—and it was odd to have read two books about Indiana in a single month when I don't think I've ever read a single book that took place in that state before. It makes me think I should organize my reading geographically from now on.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

I Did It! 2018 Edition

For the past several years, I've paused at the turn of the year and, before listing my goals for the upcoming year (and instead of berating myself for those things left undone from the previous year), I've made a list of accomplishments and goals achieved (originally inspired by this post from blogger and writer Lisa Romeo), both with regard to writing and other things in life.

Writing I Did Its

Books written: 1

My one, overarching goal for 2018 was to finish writing my book, and…I did it! I completed a full draft in June, subjected it to one round of revision, and then sent it off to two writing friends for suggestions and further edits. I subsequently sent off queries to several agents. No bites so far, but I have plans for deeper revision and further querying in the new year.

The focus on finishing the book, meant that my efforts in other writing areas lagged a bit:

Submissions: 14
Rejections: 7
Acceptances: 2
Publications: 3 essays:

"Memento VivereStill Point Arts Quarterly
"The Sparrow's SongThe Sunlight Press
"The World in their HandsNature Writing ​(republished)
 I launched a freelance career and enjoyed its brief glow before I had to go get a real job, producing 5 pieces:
"Sharing a Love of Wilderness" and "Naturalist's NotebookMaine Wilderness Guide
"Jargon: Anatomy of a MountainTrailGroove
"Rachel Carson's Maine" Green and Healthy Maine Summer Guide
"Becoming a Trail NaturalistTrailGroove
"Reduce, Recycle, RetireGreen and Healthy Maine Homes
I also taught four nature journaling workshops, including two in quite ideal circumsances—one on a sea kayak excursion and another on a weekend in a cabin up north.

Other writing numbers:

Writing residencies applied for: 1
Residencies accepted to: 0
Grants applied for: 2
Grants received: 0

I did earn more than twice what I made the year before from writing and teaching—not enough to live on, but a kind of nice bump in the otherwise nonexistant income. I made an attempt to keep a little toe in the literary world by attending a few writing workshops and presentations/panels, as well as the nearby annual poetry festival.

Travel I Did Its!
This was a poor year for travel, being a poor year, literally. All of our trips were fairly local: our usual May camping trip and visit to the in-laws' camp, and another camping trip with friends, plus a trip to Boston in February to visit colleges with M and a family expedition to Vermont this summer for a funeral/family reunion/more college visits, as well as trips to the beach and other day trips.

Art and Craft I Did Its!
For the second year, I participated in The 100 Day Project, this time drawing each day. In the end, I think I only accomplished somewhere around 85 days, and they were nowhere near consecutive, but I did improve greatly on my pencil drawing skills.

I haven't had much of a crafty year. The only knitting I did was preemie hats for the twins' class to donate to the hospital. I also finished up E's quilt, made a fun (but perhaps not that professional) farm quilt for a friend's new baby, and put together the quilt you see at the top of this post, which I'll get back from the quilter any day now, and which I'll tell you all about soon.

Tell me about your 2018 I Did Its!

Thursday, December 27, 2018

The Holiday Squeeze

I had to make some adjustments as I figured out—or relearned—how to Christmas while working full time.

We had the added complication this year of M's weekend work and play practice schedule.

Plus the plays and music concerts and other performances to attend ourselves.

We worked around, cut back, and made-do. I let some things drop—St. Nicholas Day, St. Lucia Day, the Winter Solstice hike and fire in the woods.

No one seemed to miss the missing celebrations, and I'm not sure how to take that—be happy that my kids are easy to please or disappointed that our traditions over the years didn't make more of an impression.

We DID host our traditional Hanukkah feast with friends, on the same afternoon we brought in our tree.

C and the boys took charge of decorating said tree, while I prepared latkes, and festooned it with miles of yarn garland from E and Z's finger-knitting days.

It took me until two days before Christmas to finish hanging all our ornaments, the same day I spun like a whirlwind, baking three kinds of cookies and my first-ever yule log cake (Black Forest flavor).

And we went on a traditional family Christmas Eve hike to the river with our guests.

Followed by family and feasting and, of course, round after round of gift-opening.

The greatest gift I received was five full days off to spend doing all of that baking and decorating, and a little last-minute shopping, and, of course, doing what I love best on Christmas: hanging out at home with my kids, watching them enjoy their gifts, nibbling all day on cookies and crackers and cheese, and just being for a little while, with nowhere to go and absolutely nothing we have to do.

I hope you and yours had a wonderful holiday season, too.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Memento Vivere

It is a shining fall morning and my husband, our three sons, and I are hiking at one of our favorite local trails. I say ourfavorite, because its a place weve visited regularly since the children were small, when the twins, Emmet and Zephyr, rode in backpacks and our oldest son, Milo, ran down the mossy trail, stopping to dig up Indian cucumber root and wild sarsaparilla and gnaw on spruce gum. Me and Papa are the plant eaters,hed declare. But today those children are disgruntled. They are eleven and fifteen years old and have better things to do than go hiking with their parents on a bright October day.
So begins my latest published essay, "Memento Vivere," which is about impermanence, growing children, and the artist Andy Goldsworthy and appears, alongside some gorgeous photography of Goldsworthy sculptures, in the Winter 2018 issue of Still Point Arts Quarterly, and which you can read, download, or order in hard copy here. Hope you enjoy it!
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