Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Why I Can't Get Anything Done

It is the first sunny and truly dry-dry weekend morning in weeks, and I want to tear the mudroom apart to figure out where the musty smell is coming from--and eliminate it. I take all the shoes and dump them on the deck. I hang the coats over the deck rails. I pull out the shoe rack and start to mop the floor when Z calls me outside because he has caught this:

So of course I have to get the dragonfly books and my nature journal so I can sketch it and try to identify it. It seems to be a female black-tipped darner. Unfortunately one of its wings seems to have gotten damaged either in the catching or examining, because when it finally flies away, it makes a buzzing sound and doesn't travel very straight.

That afternoon, I go to take the laundry off the line, when I see this looking me in the eye.

So I have to go get my camera to take its picture, and The Songs of Insects so I can try to identify it. It seems to be a bush katydid (which is a type of false katydid) of some type. I call E and Z to come see and when Z tries to grab it, it flies off.

When I get to the towel it has relocated to, I go and get the camera again and the book again. Maybe it's a Northern bush katydid, but to know for sure, I have to examine the top of the tail cover, and I don't feel I know this guy well enough to get that intimate with him.

When I get to the end of the laundry, I look up to see this bands of clouds striping the sky.

So I go and get the camera again and The Cloud Collector's Handbook. They seem to be some species of undulatus. Cirrus undulatus perhaps? How do you tell how high or low they are, I wonder?

Later, I sit down to try and do some writing, but Z calls me outside to show me the snake he caught, so I go get my camera again.

What's distracting you this summer?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Birthday Weekend

Because my birthday fell on a Monday this year, and because M would be at camp when it came, I planned to celebrate on Saturday, with a trip to the beach and to my favorite restaurant, El Camino.

Saturday started out gray and rainy, and I didn't feel all that well, so I spent the morning cleaning house ('cause doesn't that make everyone feel better?) and getting M all packed up for his week away.

Finally, after a late lunch, C finally motivated us all and we headed toward the beach in the late afternoon, gray skies and all.

When we got there, the sun peeked out of the clouds, and we remembered that gray days are pretty great days to go to the beach, because hardly anyone else is there, and you don't have to bother with annoying things like sunblock.

We also decided that Reid State Park has the best waves for body surfing.

Last week when we went to Popham with my niece, she and I swam out a bit, and then discovered that as hard as we tried to swim back toward shore, we weren't getting anywhere.

We finally broke through, but not without mentally writing the headlines, "Two former lifeguards swept out to sea." It turns out this was a rip current, and we should have tried to swim out of it, parallel to the beach, but since we were between two masses of rock, that might not have worked.

After a couple hours on the beach, we headed to El Camino, where the kids behaved themselves and ate their dinner, despite it being close to bed time and despite the fact that they didn't serve grilled cheese. I must have been too tired and hungry to think to bring in my camera (and now that I have a big giant camera, I would feel kind of conspicuous taking pictures in a restaurant). Suffice it to say, the food was amazing and the atmosphere fantastic. Yum.

Photo by Z.

Swimming in the ocean must have pushed me over the edge with the cold I had felt coming on Saturday, because I felt terrible Sunday morning. Here I am making a picnic lunch, wearing the security blanket sweatshirt I bought in New York City when I was eight months pregnant with M and expected the weather to be a lot warmer than it was. I only wear it when I have a dirty job to do (like painting or gardening) or when I feel like I need a wearable hug.

We dropped M off at camp that afternoon. It seemed so, I don't know, monumental. Even though he's been away from home plenty of times to stay with friends and family, this is the first time he's been away for a whole week with total strangers and no way of knowing what he's doing or if he's having fun. I'm guessing he is. I mean, look at all the canoes.

For my birthday, C made me this camp stool. I've been wanting a whole set of these for a long time, and have been looking for vintage ones. This one is a lot bigger and more luxurious than anything I was thinking of. Now we just need four more.

E and Z keep wrapping up random things from around the house and giving them to me as gifts (and sometimes taking them back immediately). E also had us stop at Goodwill on the way back from taking M to camp so he could buy the piece de resistance, a framed picture of ducks flying over a lake, printed on layers of glass so that it looks 3-D. It's somethin' else.

On my actual birthday, I still had a cold and I had a dentist appointment and I had to go to work, so it wasn't nearly as nice as the weekend. But C made me dinner and a blueberry-rhubarb (bluebarb) crisp, so that was nice.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Full Tilt

I feel like summer's running away with me, like a semi-feral horse onto whose bare back I've climbed and whose mane I've just barely managed to wind in my fingers before kicking its flanks.

Maybe it's all of life that's galloping full tilt.

A few evenings ago we were sitting around the living room with my niece, who was visiting for a few days, when C brought in the mail. He handed me an envelope, which was a card from my mom, wishing us a happy anniversary.

"Our anniversary's tomorrow!" I exclaimed. "Did you remember that?"

"No," C said. "Did you."

"I think it's our fifteenth, too," I said. "Isn't that like the pewter or tupperware anniversary?"

"Has it really been fifteen?"

"Yeah, 'cause it was nineteen-ninety-nine," my niece chimed in. "That means it was fifteen years ago last time I was here?"

"Doesn't that make you feel old?" I asked.

A little while later, while I was brushing my teeth, it occurred to me, Oh yeah, this is two-thousand-twelve, not two-thousand-fourteen

"Good news," I said to C as I got into bed. "We've only been married thirteen years, not fifteen."

"I thought the math was off," he said.

"My math was fine, I just had the year wrong."

Now, while most people in Maine wish it was 2014 right now (except for the few who enjoy having a lunatic at the state's helm), I'm not in any rush to have a thirteen-year-old and two nine-year-olds. 

Life is speeding by fast, but it's not every day that you get back two whole years.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Nature Journaling: A New Journal and a New Journaling Project

In the comments to my last Nature Journaling series post (which was almost a year ago--where does the time go?), Rachel asked, "Do you mainly sketch or do you add writing and/or poetry to these experiences as well?" I meant to respond with a whole post on writing in the nature journal, but, well, things get away from one, don't they? 

Historically, I've written or drawn in my nature journals as the spirit moved me--sometimes leaning more toward words, other times toward pictures. Writing has included mini-essays, rants, poetry, random thoughts, lists (of plants, birds, sounds, sights, etc.), descriptions of things I see or events from my day, quotes from fields guides (to aid memory), and whatever other random sorts of things come to me at the time.

But recently, I've started a new journal with the goal of writing every single day for the next year. It's kind of a side-bar to what I plan to do for my third-semester project.

I'm going into this journal with the intention to write more deliberately and with purpose than I have in past journals (although you can see there's still plenty of drawing going on, as well as photographs and contributions from other members of the family).

I have several goals in mind with the daily journaling:

1) To get me out into nature more (many of the first few entries went something along the lines of "I didn't get outside at all today, except to walk back and forth to my car"; already I'm getting outside in a much more regular manner if for no other purpose than to make my journal entries more interesting).

2) To get me to slow down and pay attention when I am outside.

3) To get me outside in nature with my kids more and to slow down and pay attention to them while we're there.

4) To work on better describing the natural world and natural phenomena, and using metaphor in my fiction. (I just read the selected stories of Katherine Mansfield and she was amazing at this).

The topic that I intend to focus on for my third-semester project is women writers who write about both motherhood and nature (Louise Erdrich's The Blue Jay's Dance, for example), with of course the end result of me doing so in my own work. 

It's been nearly a month since I started this journal, and I've managed to make an entry every single day (sometimes crouching in the bathroom at 10 p.m., so as not to disturb anyone, and sketching the moon out the window). What's more, I look forward to it, as a quiet, calming moment in my day, a time to be mindful or reflective, a time to focus on something other than what is required or expected from my days.

If you keep a nature journal, what sorts of things do you write about?

Do you have any favorite authors who incorporate nature writing and motherhood writing in either fiction, nonfiction or poetry?

Edited to add: 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Garden Goings-On

It's funny how near the beginning of summer, everything seemed to be coming on so fast and furious,

All the spring flowers bloomed (and faded) weeks early, the strawberries jumped the season by a week or two, and the peas were all eaten and pulled up by mid-June.

But now that we're nearing the end of the season, everything seems to have slowed to a crawl.

We just started getting tomatoes last week (and many of those are dropping off the vine before they turn red--tomato blight again?)

C just dug up all the potatoes last weekend and he estimates that he took out of the ground about an equal weight to what he put in as seed potato. 

And he just planted the beans, which seems a little late to me, but since I'm not the gardener, I guess I don't get to criticize. He claims they're a 45 day crop (but won't we have frost in 45 days? Perish the thought!).

My own efforts at keeping the herb garden and "perennial bed" weed-free have been completely defeated by sheer laziness and a preference for spending summer days at the beach (or doing almost anything other than weeding).

Saturday afternoon, while C took the boys to town for junk food (this is how the menfolk bond) and I was putting in some much needed writing time, this butterfly came and visited the deck.

It liked posing for photos. At first I thought it was a black swallowtail. It was joined by this white admiral, which was much more skittish, and would only sit still when on the old bath mat I had draped over the deck rail.

When I looked it up in the butterfly book later, I learned it was a red spotted purple, which is a different morph of the exact same species as the white admiral! According to the book, it shouldn't show up this far north (nor should it have those rusty spots with the blue ones on its hind wings). Was it lost?

In other butterfly news, the monarch caterpillar Z found had made its chrysalis while we were away camping and it emerged today. When we got home this evening, Z took the jar out on the deck and it flew off before I even got a chance to look at it (let alone take a picture!).

How does your garden grow?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


We went on a camping trip over the weekend, with four other families (there were seventeen of us altogether) and the beautiful and secluded group site, Mud Brook, in Lily Bay State Park on Moosehead Lake.

As we were packing to go Friday, in that kind of very hot and humid weather that makes you hate the world (and I had already been feeling, for the last week or so, that everyone, and I mean everyone, was on my nerves, although it is hard to stay grouchy when whenever I thought about how much everyone was on my nerves I could hear my children's voices in my head saying, "On your nerds?" which is what they say whenever I tell them that they are on my nerves) and I kept groaning, "Isn't anyone going to help my pack? Doesn't anyone else want to go camping? Why am I the only one getting ready here?" as I cooked up and prepared my usual pre-camping food (pizza dough, pizza toppings, two kinds of granola bars, cornbread mix, etc.).

We finally got on the road only an hour later than planned, when we realized that the loud noise I had ignored the day before was the front muffler developing a very large and noisy leak (I had just had the rear muffler replaced two weeks earlier) and the burnt rubber smell I had also tried to ignore was the front right brake caliper sticking (I had just had the rear brakes done two weeks earlier).

While I ran into the grocery store, C called our mechanic, who told him to bring the car right in and he put it up on the lift, canoe and all, and replaced the caliper (the muffler, though, has to wait until next Thursday; in the meantime I'm driving around sounding like an entire fleet of Harley Davidsons). This is why we have to keep driving crappy old Volvos--because we have a mechanic who will fix them when they break down on a Friday afternoon even though he is technically closed. It is a vicious cycle.

By the time we got to camp, though, just a few hours later than hoped, we forgot all our troubles (other than the really loud muffler, which was kind of hard to ignore).

And set to work with the business of the weekend: swimming, paddling, fishing, relaxing in camp chairs, and of course cooking and eating and cooking and eating and cooking and eating.

I made a couple of new recipes this time: these energy bars, which were so super good that I'm going to make them again this weekend for my niece who is going to visit and eats gluten-free, and this soup, which was such a great camp food (what with it using canned food that kept without worry of going bad, what with the cans and all). There was no way to puree it in camp (I meant to bring a potato masher, but I forgot), but it was delicious all the same. We served it with some veggie chorizo (I had intended to also get the real thing, but the farm store near us was having a freezer issue when I went there) and blue cornbread cooked over the fire, which actually worked amazingly well (it ended up being very dense and moist, cakey rather than bready, but very very good).

The wind came up Sunday, when we went around the lake to climb Mt. Kineo, stirring up ocean-sized waves that tossed the water taxi about like a little toy boat.

I had been thinking that we should take the boys up Mt. Katahdin next summer, but oh, my, that little hike kicked my butt. As C says, I have a whole year to get in shape (ugh). Here's M coming down the fire tower at the summit:

And here are all the little people, as seen from the top:

And the view looking out:

With six seven-year-olds and two eleven-year-olds in camp, there was a lot of refereeing of playground politics, which is not my favorite thing in the world to do

But also plenty of playing and having fun.

It's so hard to know when to intervene and when not to, don't you think?

I would prefer just letting them all work it out on their own, but some kids need a little direction in that department...and of course I don't want my kids being mean to others.

With all of the kids and all of the fun, there were no serious injuries (Z did manage to fall out of a tree about five minutes after we got there--he was winded and sustained a scrape, but otherwise fine; and he learned a good lesson about not using dead branches for support).

M stayed an extra day with his friend and his friend's mom, which left a lot of extra room in our car (that and having burned up the wood C insisted on bringing). We stopped in Newport for an ice cream dinner Monday evening, and before we left, I just had to take a picture of our funny car, loaded down with stuff and cammo canoe (borrowed from a friend). A scrawny old bearded man who looked sort of hobo-ish and appeared to be collecting cans in the street came over after I snapped this photo and said, "Were you taking my picture? Cause I'm camera shy."

I didn't do any school-related work all weekend, not even reading either of the two books of short stories I brought along (instead reading most of Cheryl Strayed's Wild, which I bought to read for fun). I did a lot of nature journaling, but no short story writing. I did, however, manage to get my first packet in the mail today (only three days late--and yes in the actual mail; that's how my mentor wants it). At one point the thought crossed my mind (when I was mentally berating myself for doing no work over the weekend), "fiction has nothing to do with my real life." Hmm, not to over-analyse that comment, but what did I mean by that??
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