Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Weekend Things--Reentry

We had a quiet weekend, getting back into the swing of a normal life. Shuttling kids to friends. A walk in the woods for the first time in a very long while.Journaling while E smashed ice with a pole.Catching snowflakes.A rare moment of brotherly love. 

A bit of progress on M's neverending quilt.And a couple more rocks.The first one I made while watching Jeeves and Wooster DVDs with Milo and the second during Downton Abbey and Sherlock.Two of my mentors to whom I gave rocks from the last batch saw the most lovely metaphors for writing in them––about putting unlike things (rock and lace) together, how the lace bends around the rock, how it looks impossible to do, but it's not. I wish I could remember only a fraction of what they said. By contrast, I was showing the finished rocks to a crafty friend at work when one of her coworkers walked by and said, "Crocheted rocks? Now that's proof that someone has too much time on their hands!" This is why I much prefer the company of imaginative people.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


So, I graduated from my MFA program Saturday night, and it was pretty incredible.

I remember at my first residency, watching the graduating students file into the auditorium in their black gowns. At that moment it hit me, "I'm getting a masters degree!" Because somehow, through the application process, the writing and reading in preparation for residency, the applying for financial aid, the packing and moving into a hotel for ten days, the sitting through nine-tenths of the presentations and workshops and readings, it hadn't quite sunk in that what I was doing was real. Serious. And then I knew, that would be me someday in the black gown.

Last week's residency was the best one yet (not counting Ireland, of course, which doesn't really compare). There were no workshops, there were no evaluation forms to worry about filling out, I got to spend a lot more time than usual with people in my class, getting to know and love them a lot better. I also stretched myself in new and surprising ways:

First, I gave a one-hour presentation on figurative language. While I've never felt called to teach, I found that I really enjoyed preparing for and giving the presentation and it seemed to go over well with my audience.

Next, I read one of my stories to a packed roomful of students. Although I have been practicing reading my own work in the public speaking club I attend, this reading, before actual writers, and following on the heels of two really incredible readings, had me nervous and shaking, but after it was over, I got lovely feedback from my friends and even a few students I didn't know.

Finally, I gave one of the student commencement speeches. It took me a long time to write the speech. Or, actually, it took me a long time to not write the speech before I finally sat down late Wednesday night (yes, three nights before graduation) and wrote up something I was happy with. It seemed to go over well, too. I was super nervous before going up on stage (I clapped extra-long for things preceding my speech in hopes of prolonging the time before I would speak), but once I was up there, looking out on the familiar faces of my fellow graduates, the faculty, and my family (all three boys slumped and curled in their seats like they'd been held in the auditorium for a month rather than twenty minutes), and especially after I made one certain faculty member laugh really hard at one of my jokes, all nervousness dissipated and I just had a good time giving it.

Now I'm feeling a bit nervous about what comes next: submitting my stories. Finding the inspiration and motivation to write new stories. Keeping the momentum going and creating a writing life. But stepping into that unknown space turns out to feel good, once the anxiety subsides. So here goes...

Thursday, January 9, 2014

I Did It! 2013

Writer and blogger extraordinaire, Lisa Romeo, recommends that writers make an "I Did It" list to remind ourselves of all we accomplished, with regard to writing, over the past year, rather than beating ourselves up for those things we didn't get to.

The last two years have been tremendous on the writing front for me, thanks to being in an MFA program (here's my 2012 I Did It list). In 2013, as part of that program, I wrote a 95-page paper on women who incorporate the themes of motherhood and nature in their fiction, nonfiction and poetry for my Third Semester Project, and I completed my 150-odd page thesis, which includes nine short stories revised from earlier semesters and now "publication-ready" (one hopes!).

Aside from my required graduate work, I submitted ten pieces of (creative nonfiction) writing, for which I've received three rejections and five acceptances, four of which were published during 2013: Catch 22 in the Water issue of About Place Journal, The Place Where You Live on Orion online (and this month in print!), "This Good Field" in the Fall 2013 issue of Kindred, and the book review Father Nature on Literary Mama. I also published the 13th issue of my zine, GEMINI, and created a website.

But writing requires a full life, and I Did It with a few non-writing related things, too. After much trial and error I finally figured out how to crochet my little rocks (above). I also knitted two pairs of mittens, made a new rocking chair cushion, sewed a travel journal pouch, recovered my kitchen chairs, and experimented with beeswax to make waterproof placemats.

In the travel department, I went camping somewhere new and somewhere old, stayed on an island off New Hampshire, took a trip to Colorado, and went to Ireland.

And, under the heading "various and sundry," I walked a 5K with my kids, raised two little checkerspot butterflies from caterpillars (but, sadly, no monarchs), finished three photo albums (though now another year has gone by, putting me behind again), reread (almost) the entire Harry Potter series to the boys (we're about 1/4 of the way through #7), and took the 30-Day Vegan Challenge.

Do you make an I Did It list at the end of a year? How do you celebrate your accomplishments?

I leave for my graduate residency tomorrow...when I return to this space, I will have a Masters degree! Something for next year's list!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Twelve Days of Christmas

I have to admit, I like after Christmas much more than before Christmas, or even actual Christmas. I just enjoy the quiet down time, with nothing that needs  to get done, and nowhere we need to go. No building up and planning and list-making. No boys so wound up with anticipation they're about to spring. But I'm not one to take down the tree the moment the last crumb of plum pudding has been brushed off the table. I like to stretch out and luxuriate in holidayness, without any holiday fuss. Also, I like any excuse to use my holiday tablecloths.

We have been having such a wintery winter here this year.

But it's hard to feel annoyed by the cold, when everything is so incredibly beautiful all around us. 

It's like we're in Narnia (only without the White Witch) or Winterland.

I mean, at the risk of sounding a bit daft, the world positively appears enchanted.

(This is actually a pin oak, trying to get into the spirit of things by dressing up as a Christmas tree.)

Even our sugar shack looks beautiful.

Of course, it's easy to say all this from my spot inside, warm and cozy by the fire.

Meanwhile, indoors, we've been carrying on our little Twelve Days of Christmas rituals.

The boys, as is to be expected, are a little less enthusiastic about playing along this year, but as we get further away from actual Christmas, they have shown a little more interest in hearing about the day's animal in The Wonderful Christmas Tree and hanging the ornament on said tree. And, of course, they're always game to blow out candles (though not so much for singing Christmas carols, especially since I've declared "Grandma Got Run Over by A Reindeer" to be not a proper carol.

I hope your holiday season--whether you celebrate one day or twelve (plus a few) has been merry and bright, and I hope winter is putting a little sparkle into your New Year!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Handmade Holiday 2013 -- Received

We did very well in the "received" department of handmade gifts this year.

First this bright and cheerful quilt, made by my mom.

And, of course, the requisite grammy jammies.

For E, my dad made this lap desk.

The impetus was a story E was writing a couple of months ago, and a brother battle over a similar, but not nearly as nice item that Z had already claimed. Right now it's being used as a Lego desk, but I expect (or hope) the writing bug will grab E again soon.

For Z, my dad put together all of the pieces and parts necessary for building a screech owl nesting box.

Which he and I put together this weekend.

My mother-in-law painted this edible plate, which is really a big gingerbread cookie.

C's stepmother's husband (it's a long, complicated story), turned this cherry burl bowl on the lathe for us,

And made this mortar and pestle for Z, who is currently obsessed with herbs.

And finally, M made these t-shirts for C and me, each with our sandwich preferences. He also made a mix CD for his brothers (lots of Van Halen, Weird Al, AC/DC, and Cake. Boys!). This is where I've been hoping all of these years of holiday making would get us--where the boys take their own initiative and make something great with whatever talents and materials they can get their hands on.

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