Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Nibbling on the Elephant ~ I Did It! 2014 Edition

I've been feeling frustrated lately by my apparent lack of progress in my writing career, and I've had to remind myself that even if things are not moving as quickly as I would like, and not in as big and flashy of ways as I would like, that if I look back over the last ten years, there has been progress. Baby steps, bird by bird, one bite at a time, and all that. The annual I Did It! list (hat tip to Lisa Romeo) is a good reminder that, slow as it may be, there is progress year to year, and that progress should be celebrated.

Writing I Did Its!

Of course, my biggest I Did It! with regard to writing was graduating from my MFA program in January. As part of that graduation week, I gave a presentation on figurative language, gave a reading of some of my work, and gave one of the commencement speeches.

Since graduation, I've been submitting the fiction I worked on during the program as well as various pieces of nonfiction. My submission stats for 2014:

2014 Submissions: 40
2014 Acceptances: 7
2014 Rejections: 29
2014 Publications: 7

Among my publications for the year, two pieces were included in print magazines and one in an anthology (there's something about holding your work in your hands that is very satisfying, even if it makes it harder to share that work with your friends!). My 2014 publications:

A Place in Mind, Northern Woodlands, Winter 2014
Four Days at Russell Pond, TrailGroove, November 2014
Here Be Dragons, Motherlode: Essays on Parenthood, KY Story, October 2014
Skinny Big Hill Hard Mountain, TrailGroove, October 2014
Memento Mori, Mutha Magazine, May 2014
The Mother as She Writes, Literary Mama, May 2014
The Place Where You Live, Orion, January/February 2014

Also during 2014, I joined the editorial staff of Literary Mama, a job I am enjoying very much so far.

Finally, I passed my seven-year mark of blogging in this space, wrote 139 posts, and completed another Month of Poetry in April.

Other Life I Did Its!

It's important to have a full life in order to have a full writing life. Some of my other I Did Its! for 2014 include:

Travel: I didn't travel much last year, but I did make one trip to Western Massachusetts, stopping at Walden Pond on the way (something I've wanted to do for a long time), and another trip to New Hampshire to spend a weekend with friends. As a family, we added one day to our annual Hermit Island camping trip and we took the kids on their first backpacking trip (and my first trip in 13 years). And when my parents were here, we visited many sites and trails and beaches right here in Maine that we don't make it to very often in normal life.

Craft: Again, I don't think I was as crafty as usual this year, but I did finally, finally finish M's quilt after many years of work (and not-work). I started cutting squares for quilts for E and Z and have been learning to cable and knitting away at hats for the whole family. I crocheted a few more rocksrecovered cushions for our new couch (ahem, futon), and made a bunch of lightweight water-resistant stuff sacks for our camping trip.

Nature: I enrolled in the Maine Master Naturalist program, which began in the spring. As part of this training, I've learned how to key out wildflowers (and identified 100 of them over the summer), ferns, insects, and tree via their leaves, bark, and twigs. I've maintained a regular nature journal, plus a plant list, a bird list, and a phenology chart. I've also volunteered to help with E and Z's class during their monthly trips to a nature center. I also saw whales for the first time (for more than a glimpse) as well as a pair of otters and a swarm of honeybees. For the second year in a row, we raised and released checkerspot butterflies and are now overwintering two swallowtail pupae.

Over the next few days, I'll be thinking about goals for the coming year and how to get from here to there, but for now I'll just give myself a little thumbs up for what I managed to pull off over the last year.

Do you keep an I Did It! list? How do you celebrate your accomplishments and stay positive in the face of slow progress? 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Handmade Holiday ~ Made & Received

What we made.

I did a lot less holiday making this year than usual. I'm not sure why--some combination of too busy and not in the mood, I suppose. But I got the kids going on projects and for of our relatives (parents, stepparents, my siblings), we put together little packages that contained a small gift made by each of us, containing:

Candy. I usually make several kinds of candy, but this year I only made apple cider caramels. Which are quite good enough to stand in for several kinds of candy, I think.

Jam. Sticking (inadvertently) to the apple theme, I also made apple butter. I can't link to a recipe, because I made several batches and didn't use the same recipe twice (mainly because I couldn't find/remember from one batch to the next). This batch uses apple cider vinegar, which is the way I like it best; it reminds me of the mincemeat pies my grandmother used to make--appley and vinegary and allspicy.

Boards. C built a nice little stack of butcher block cutting boards.

Vanilla. Z, my little herbalist, made vanilla extract (following the Catherine Newman recipe).

Potholders. E started out knitting potholders and mug rugs.

Popcorn. But he soon got tired of that ("Why can't I make something all at once, like Zephyr?") and for the remainder of his gifts, he put together little packages of multicolor popcorn and Meryl's popcorn salt.

CDs. M recorded and mixed a CD of some of the songs he's written, plus some Christmas tunes (not pictured).

What we received.

My sister sent us this painting of flowers. I've been moving it around the house, auditioning it on different walls (it goes with every single one of our paint colors).

My dad made Z this shelf with little pots for storing herbs.

 And for E he put together a building kit,

from which E assembled a pair of bat houses.

My mom made the customary grammie jammies for the boys.

And this little angora angel for our tree.

Some other things we received that I didn't get a chance to photograph include a beautiful hand-turned wooden bowl, a picture frame, and an upcycled Christmas stocking.What were your favorite holiday handmades?

Monday, December 29, 2014

Before ~ After

After three Christmases over the last five days, it's safe to say we're all pretty much holidayed out. We were all resoundingly spoiled, and have enough chocolate, games, puzzles, legos, and new music to last well into the new year. The boys are relishing their second week of vacation--with hopes for lots of time to do exactly what they want to do, in between the trips to friends' houses, movies, and New Year's parties.

We're not too tired of Christmas, however, to carry out our Twelve Days of Christmas rituals--reading a page each night from My Wonderful Christmas Tree, adding an animal to our own wonderful tree "calendar," lighting candles on a birthday ring (12 on Christmas day; each subsequent day we remove a candle and replace it with a tree), and singing a different carol every night as the candles burn.

We once had a landlord who sawed all the branches off his Christmas tree and stuffed the whole thing in the fireplace the day after Christmas (we could see the poor de-branched tree through the bay window). I prefer holding on to the tree and a little bit of Christmas--the quiet, pleasant, noncommercial bits--for a while longer.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas Train ~ Hanukkah ~ Winter Solstice

Our holiday celebrations have been proceeding apace. I think these pre-Christmas holidays--borrowed from cultures and countries around the world and adapted to fit our family, free of dogma and expectations and materialism,with traditions created, remembered, and enhanced year-to-year--are my favorite part of the season. 

I felt good going into the weekend, my Christmas shopping and preparations pretty much done (other than wrapping, which is another tradition: a late night "It's a Wonderful Life" viewing and wrapping party on the 23rd). But now the Christmas anxiety is setting in. Did I buy enough? Too much? C and I have large extended families and several groups of unrelated people to buy for, and it's always a struggle for me to know what is the right way to give--do you put the same amount of money and thought into every single gift for everyone, or match simple with simple and extravagant with extravagant? Sometimes it can feel like an arms race. And then C does his shopping very last-minute, which leads to other complications--too much stuff for the kids, always, and weird, impulse purchases. He lacks my garbage filter. Or he's just more fun than I am. Maybe both. 

We are hosting three Chrismases at our house over the next week--Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Christmas, Observed, on Sunday--but I only have to cook for one of them (Our guests will bring dinner Christmas Eve, C will make brunch Christmas morning and I'll put out finger foods in the afternoon for whoever feels like taking a break from their new toys to eat something--one of my holiday traditions is to not cook on Christmas Day). Our third Christmas will take place Sunday evening. I think I'm most looking forward to the two days in between--time free of work and obligations. I hope to finish knitting the hat that is clearly not going to get done by Christmas, lie on the couch and read a book, build a puzzle with the kids, sit by the fire and sip eggnog. 

Happy holidays, however you celebrate, and happy winter! Can you feel the days getting longer already?
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