Friday, November 12, 2021

Book Stack ~ September and October 2021

  A monthly post about my progress toward finishing a very large stack of books. Past months' posts:

In September I started a lot of books but didn't finish many of them until October, so this time around the two months are combined into one.

In service of researching ways of promoting my book I reread Austin Kleon's Show Your Work and read for the first time Steal Like an Artist. These are fun and fast reads that give good ideas for fostering creativity.

In the long-distance-hiking memoir category, I read Alone in Wonderland by Christine Reed, in which she recounts her hike on the Wonderland Trail in Washington, as well as an earlier partial hike of the AT while she grapples with what it means to be independent versus lonely.

For a long time I've been meaning to read Kathleen Dean Moore's Wild Comfort: Finding Solace in Nature, and now, a million years into the pandemic, felt like the right time to get around to it. I always love reading Moore's gentle words and her twining of philosophy and nature observation, and this book did not disappoint. 

Many years ago I read Wallace Stegner's Beyond the Hundredth Meridien, about John Wesley Powell and the history of water in the West, and I've been meaning to read more ever since. I finally picked up a copy of The Sound of Mountain Water, which is half essays about travel and the natural world around the West and half pieces on Western writers and writing, which is kind of an odd combination that I'm not sure would appeal to everyone. The travel and local interest pieces are delightful, especially one in which he and friends and family take a road trip through the desert not long after WWII, an experience that would be impossible to replicate today.

Continuing on the Stegner theme, I read Angle of Repose, which is one of his most celebrated novels. It's written in a style that reminded me of Victorian writers or William Styron's Sophie's Choice, in which one character tells another character's story, in this case the narrator is a man in the "present" (1970s California) who is suffering from a degenerative bone disease and trying to cope with his circumstances and a changing world while researching the life of his grandmother, a genteel Eastern artist who followed her husband to mining camps and frontier towns in California, Colorado, Mexico, Idaho, and again California in the late 1800s. It's a long book that took a long time to read. Very little actually happens, though the thing that happens is a big one (again like Sophie's Choice), yet it remained an engaging read almost the whole way through (I did feel that it lagged a bit in the middle, round about Mexico). Stegner's descriptions of the places his narrator's grandmother lived, her thoughts and feelings, her experiences are vivid and fascinating.

Finally, I read City of the Mind by Penelope Lively, a book a friend passed on to me several years ago. Again it's a book in which very little happens, but the writing is stunningly gorgeous.

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Drumroll, please...

It's here, it's here! The cover art is here! I hope you love it as much as I do. It's nowhere close to what I imagined when I envisioned my ideal cover and filled out the design worksheet for the publisher, yet it's exactly the perfect cover for this book (which, I suppose, is why I'm the writer and not the designer). There are so many things I love about it.

  1. It's a picture I took, which is gratifying and validating and makes this book even that much more a product of my creativity.
  2. It's iconically Colorado--dramatic scenery, blue sky, purple mountains majesty, and all that. You know what you're getting when you buy this book.
  3. The kids look SO small. I remember thinking as they hiked down this very slope how small and vulnerable they were (and no doubt I wrote that thought in the book). It tells potential readers that there will be kids in the book, and it tells them that that's a pretty awesome feat. I mean, that mountain is so big and they're so little!
  4. What you can't see is that this view is from the top of Hope Pass, a place whose name is symbolic of both this journey and of the stage of life I write about in the book. It's also one of the most physically and mentally challenging stretches of trail (something like 4,000 feet of vertical rise over four miles). So descending from that pass, though not quite halfway through our journey and though challenges would remain ahead, was an important symbol of overcoming obstacles and making progress toward goals.
  5. Doesn't that view make you want to sing Sound of Music tunes (as my friend Libby pointed out), especially if you didn't just climb 4,000 vertical feet to get to it?
This week I've been reviewing the page proofs of the book, looking for last-minute typos that I missed in the first 3,000 drafts (like writing "tail" instead of "trail"). Those proofs, along with the cover, makes it all seem so real. They're laid out exactly as the book will appear, with the font and the margins and the photos and illustrations. It looks so beautiful--and professional. A real, live, genuine book. I suppose the proper attitude, the grown-up writer attitude, at this stage would be nonchalance, but it's all so exciting! I'm elated to see five years' (and counting) of work coming to fruition in such a beautiful way, and I'm so deeply grateful to the editors, designers, and other people who have helped get me here, including you, dear reader. Thank you!

This post went out recently to subscribers of my newsletter, along with some bonus material. Subscribe here and receive a free PDF of my illustrated short essay "Eleven Ways to Raise a Wild Child" and also be entered in a monthly drawing to win a print of one of the illustrations from Uphill Both Ways.

Friday, October 29, 2021

Finish it Friday ~ Little Bird Embroideries


My word for 2021 is "finish," and I started the year with a list of 21 things I wanted to, you know, finish. Some big, some small, some totally unreasonable. One that fell into the smallish department, both in terms of physical size and in effort to get done was this set of seasonal bird embroideries. I have a tendency to buy, or ask for as gifts, craft kits (usually some kind of stitchery that I don't normally do) that look super cute, and then never getting around to executing them. 

This embroidery kit from Cozy Blue Handmade was a Christmas present from a year or two ago (and if you look at her website, you too will be overcome with desire for one of these kits!). I'd started a couple of them (during the corresponding season, of course), but had lots of excuses for not getting them done--it's harder to embroider while watching TV than to knit; I couldn't see to stitch because we had poor lighting; I couldn't see to stitch because I needed new glasses. I resolved the latter two issues with new glasses and better lighting, and I just got over myself and worked on them while watching TV. Most of what we watch is dumb and doesn't require full attention (though I think I missed an important clue when embroidering while watching Only Murders in the Building). And I finished! 

And checked another item off my list. I'm up to ten, which is dangerously far from 21 with only two months left in the year, but it's ten more items than were done at the beginning of the year, so I'll call it a win for now.

As for the embroideries, I hang the seasonally appropriate one on a panel of wood separating our south-facing living room windows, which looks cute and festive.

Friday, October 22, 2021

Finish It Friday ~ Bedroom Refresh and Reading Nook


As you may recall, I spent the spring and early summer refreshing my bedroom. First I made a quilt, my first-ever queen-sized quilt made just for me. Then I gave a couple pieces of furniture a facelift. Then I made curtains from some stunning fabric. I'd thought briefly about repainting the walls (the same color, which I still love; it's just a little dinged up), but that wasn't going to happen in June, when I was working a gazillion hours a week, and once work was over I'd kind of lost the oomph to paint. I'd also envisioned spending the summer spent visiting art galleries around the state to collect new artwork to hang on the walls, but with the pandemic resurging, I didn't feel much like shopping. So, aside from those two items, which may still happen in the future, all that was left to do was wait for one last item on my list, which came home not too long ago. Introducing the Reading Nook Chair:

I ordered the chair in January, during what can only be described as a pandemic-induced retail therapy session. It took until late August to be ready to come home (the place I bought it from had it as a floor model, but couldn't let it go until its replacement was in the store), by then it had been so long, I let a couple of weeks go by before making the long trip to pick it up. But it was worth the wait--cute and comfy and completing the salmon color theme. It's a great spot to sit and read or write or carry on zoom calls or just hide out from the rest of the household. 

In preparing for the chair's arrival, and in an attempt to remove all possible obstacles to my getting writing done, especially during the summer when there were people underfoot all of the time, I turned my sewing table into a writing table and disappeared most of my sewing and knitting supplies to the basement. What remains is in this small cabinet and a few baskets, plus my machine, which is hiding under the cozy. (You'll note the poor dollhouse has been consigned--temporarily, I hope--to this corner.)

Finally, I did get one print  earlier in the summer. It's temporarily hanging over my dresser, but I have plans for rearranging things once I get pieces for the various walls in this room and (when I find the right piece) the living room. (It's called "Fog Below Cadillac Mountain, Acadia," and it's by Peggy Clark Lumpkins, and now I see it's a little crooked.)

I think my room is all ready for wintering--snuggling up in my new chair, wrapped up in my wavy charms throw quilt, with a stack of books, a basket of yarn, and a pot of tea at the ready--while the weather and the world does its best outside the windows.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Book Illustration Giveaway!

Once a month between now and when my book, Uphill Both Ways: Hiking toward Happiness on the Colorado Trail, comes out in March, I’ll give away an 8x8 inch matted art print of one of the book’s illustrations. This month is Alpine Springbeauty. To enter, just subscribe to my newsletter by midnight, October 31. 

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Life is Good

The atmosphere outside is heavy with moisture and an incoming low pressure system. It's hot and humid, but the wind, which blows from every direction, has a chill to it, and it tears the yellowing leaves from the ash trees. Many of the wild apples have already lost most of their leaves, and their bare branches hang heavy with yellow, gold, and green fruit. I'll pick a few sour, mealy apples to make Curry a pie for his birthday next week, but the rest will fall to the ground and rot or feed the deer through the winter. We still have jars of apple butter we made two years ago on the shelves.

The staghorn sumac have taken on their Christmas appearance--half red, half green--but the oaks, the beeches, the hornbeams, even the maples, are still green. I recite their names like a spell to keep summer around a little longer. But in the understory the Virginia creeper has turned crimson, the wild sarsaparilla has faded yellow-brown, and the false Solomon's seal is weighted down by clusters of scarlet berries. Bumble bees nose in the last of the asters, the wild wind tosses grasshoppers and sulphur butterflies, and I hear a late cicada among the crickets, but there's no denying the truth: fall is here.

I have a cozy, brown wraparound sweater that I'm not allowed to wear until after the first frost and my favorite chartreuse teapot I can't use until it's snowed at least once. These are my talismans, or perhaps my bribes. If you don't run away to the desert before winter, you may wear your sweater, drink your tea. And then, wrapped in warmth inside and out, you can look out on the falling snow and remember summer, when everything was so easy. Only it's not always easy in summer, is it? What with the black flies, deer flies, horse flies, and mosquitoes. When it's too hot and humid to move. When you have other obligations and can't be outside witnessing every flower bloom and bird hatch and insect buzz by. It goes by so fast, and I miss so much.

This morning I was salvaging the last of the peaches, cutting away the bad parts and putting the rest in my cereal bowl, and I got a bit of mushed peach on my shirt and it reminded me of baby food, and that brought on the most unbelievable wave of nostalgia, even though my kids hated baby food. In fact, getting them to eat anything other than the gunk behind the radiators during their first few years of life was one of the greatest challenges of my parenting journey, right behind potty training and teaching teenagers how to drive (my current phase of motherhood).

This is what people mean when they tell new mothers, "Enjoy every minute; it goes by so fast." Only it's not impossible to enjoy every minute of motherhood, like all those times you peeled and mashed peaches, scooped the sweet goodness on a tiny, silver spoon, and held it to pair of clamped-shut lips, any more than it's possible to enjoy every minute of summer, like that time you were drenched in sweat, covered in dirt, and swarmed by mosquitoes because you decided to transplant perennials from your neighbor on a 90-degree, 90-percent humidity day. But after you were done with the plants, you went and swam in the pond and then lay down in the hammock with a popsicle, and life was good. So very good.

This post went out recently to subscribers of my newsletter, along with some bonus material. Subscribe here and receive a free PDF of my illustrated short essay "Eleven Ways to Raise a Wild Child."

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Book Stack ~ August 2021

 A monthly post about my progress toward finishing a very large stack of books. Past months' posts:

Oh, August was a read-ey month! I'm already feeling nostalgic about the time spent in the hammock with some of these titles (though today, the first day of fall, is warm enough to lie in the hammock, it seems like much more of an indulgence to do it in September than in the summer,  doesn't it? I'll have to change that mindset, before winter comes).

I got briefly back into my habit of reading poetry first thing in the morning, with an older book by Pattiann Rogers, Generations. These poems are utterly gorgeous, though I have to admit to being at a loss as to what they were about most of the time. Though the language and the structure is all accessible, the themes are perhaps (though I'm not entirely sure) metaphysical.

Last month's fiction was mostly of the mystery genre, with one older book, Detection Unlimited by Georgette Heyer, a classic whodonit, with a wry detective inspector and an entertaining if somewhat confusing cast of characters (a lot of them had names that start with H), and a good number of red herrings. The other two I picked up after I attended a (virtual) crime fiction conference this summer (the authors were panelists). Death in D Minor by Alexia Gordon is a fun cozy mystery, with a couple of fun ghosts, about an African American classical musician living in Ireland who finds herself caught up in art theft and murder. The Cipher by Isabel Moldonado is about an FBI agent who becomes the target of a serial killer. I usually prefer amateur detectives to police procedurals, but it was super interesting to see inside the workings of an FBI unit, and the main character was every bit as relatable as an amateur. This one fell just inside my disturbing/psychotic killer line. If you have a low tolerance for that sort of thing, you might want to pass, otherwise I'd gladly recommend all three of them to mystery lovers. 

One non-mystery I read was The Nest, by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney. I picked it up in a Little Free Library in a friend's neighborhood several years ago--mostly because I was attracted to the robin's-egg blue cover--but never got around to reading it until now, which explains why I'm so far behind the times on this 2016 bestseller (but it's a book from the actual Stack, which is exciting!). I enjoyed this multiple point-of-view story of a family of four adult children grappling with the loss of their inheritance (the "nest" of the title), thanks to the reckless actions of one brother. It's a great example of many protagonists in one story, each having his or her own narrative arc, and each changing by the end (except, I would argue, the main protagonist who stubbornly refuses to change).

Two more books from The Stack--Vesper Flights by Helen Macdonald (author of H is for Hawk), which is a beautiful, melancholy, moving collection of mostly nature-based essays, and My Other Ex, a collection of essays about former best friends edited by Jessica Smock and Stephanie Sprenger. I really like anthologies where you can delve into numerous takes on the same topic. As with all such books, some of the essays are better than others, but overall I found it a strong collection that made me think more deeply about friendships I've let fall to the wayside over the years.

Finally, to round out July's swimming theme, I read George Saunders's A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, which isn't about swimming at all (except for a single paragraph of a Chekov story--"Gooseberries") but rather a deep dive into six lessons in short story writing from four great Russian writers. It's positively brilliant and beautiful and it makes me wish I could spend all my time reading and writing short stories.
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